LAKE OF BAYS - As Earl Northmore and his wife Sandra of Dorset commemorate the 100th anniversary since the sinking of the Titanic, they also take time to reflect on their own journey.
Earl and Sandra Northmore hold up a photo of the shoes, which helped solve a mystery regarding the Titanic.
Tamara de la Vega
It started with a small pair of shoes, which has preoccupied the couple for many years. Those brown, weathered child’s shoes were passed down to Earl by his grandfather who served as a sergeant in the Halifax police force when the Titanic sank in 1912.
“Their duty was to protect the bodies from souvenir hunters and they were also expected to burn some of the clothes,” said Sandra, who suspects that was done to prevent the spread of typhoid fever.
When the sergeant, himself a father, saw the child’s shoes, the Northmores suspect he was unable to put them in the fire.
“He was hoping that somebody would claim them,” said Sandra.
When nobody did, the sergeant put them in a little box; put the box in the bottom drawer of his desk and the shoes stayed there for six years until he retired in 1918.
“When he retired, he moved to Toronto and he took the shoes with him,” said Earl.
His grandfather died when Earl was approximately 12 years old and the shoes went to Earl’s father, and then eventually wound up with him.
“Now we got to thinking, why are they in our cupboard when they belong to a museum,” recalled Sandra.
The couple left for a trip out East in 2001 and decided to take the shoes with them and make a detour for the Maritime Museum to see how receptive they’d be about the shoes.
“They were not very interested and I think it was because they had so many offers of items that were supposed to be from the Titanic that were not authentic,” she said.
Being certain of the shoes’ origins, the Northmores refused to give up. After further queries and investigation, the couple was sent to a man who had written a book about the Titanic. His office was just across the road from the museum.
“He was in the middle of moving, everything was in a box and we sort of held up these shoes and we said ‘these are from the Titanic’ and the look on this man’s face. I don’t know whether he wanted to believe that they were really from the Titanic.”
Either way he connected the Northmores with the right people at the Maritime Museum.
It would take a couple of days but the Northmores would eventually meet with a curator there.
“He was interested in following through and making sure the history was right… and he was willing to validate these shoes. So that’s where the process started,” recalled Sandra who remembered only loaning out one shoe for fear of never seeing them again.
Sandra said the history of the shoes was examined; the DNA and tests were done to see if they had in fact been submersed in salt water. It would take another two years before the small child’s shoes would be rightfully displayed along with other items, once aboard the majestic ship.
The shoes were accepted in 2004 and placed in the museum, although their owner would not be discovered for another seven years.
Through the years the Northmores met many researchers, academics and others interested in the plight of the Titanic. But their biggest reward came last year, when it was discovered that those shoes belonged to an English boy by the name of Sidney Leslie Goodwin, 19 months old, who was travelling on the Titanic with his mother, father and five older brothers and sisters. The family travelled in third-class, hoping to make a better life for themselves in Niagara Falls, New York. Instead, they all perished when the Titanic sunk. Sidney Leslie Goodwin was the only member of his family whose body has been recovered and subsequently identified.
Although a sad ending, Sandra is glad those related to the family have had some closure.
“I was happy that we had been able to do something to help that process. It was just a wonderful ride for us. We met so many brilliant people.”
Asked whether the couple had considered selling the shoes, Sandra responded that out of curiosity, they had them evaluated and were told they could be sold for approximately $30,000.
“But we knew they belonged in a museum and not in somebody else’s cupboard and Earl always said, ‘I can just feel my grandfather saying get those shoes back to Halifax where they belong,’ and that’s what we did and it’s been very worthwhile.”