The “Olympic” Hall Community Centre is named after the transatlantic superliner Olympic, sister of the famed Titanic. The Olympic had a storied career and connection to Halifax. The Olympic Hall Community Centre, also known as the Olympic Gardens, was opened to Halifax's public in 1948 by Victor Beed. The following passages are sourced nearly verbatim from Wikipedia and an article by Garry D. Shutlak entitled “The RMS Olympic and Halifax”, as found in the quarterly publication (The Griffin) of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.
The Olympic was a luxurious transatlantic ocean liner. Unlike her younger sister ships the Titanic and Britannic, the Olympic enjoyed a long career, spanning from 1911 to 1935. That included service as a troopship during the First World War, and thereafter the ship returned to civilian service, and served throughout the 1920s and into the first half of the 1930s. The slump in trade after the great depression made her operation unprofitable.
The Olympic was among the largest ocean liners in the world, and was built in Ireland at a cost of 7.5 million dollars. The first-class passengers enjoyed luxurious cabins, and some were equipped with private bathrooms. There was a lavish grand staircase, a Georgian-style smoking room, a veranda cafe decorated with palm trees, a swimming pool, Turkish bath, gymnasium, and several other places for meals and entertainment.
Olympic and Titanic were nearly identical, and alterations were made to Titanic (and later on Britannic) based on experience gained from Olympic's first year in service. Her maiden voyage commenced on 14 June 1911 from Southampton, with the final destination being New York. As the largest ship in the world, and the first in a new class of superliners, Olympic's maiden voyage attracted worldwide attention from the press and public. Following her arrival in New York, Olympic was opened up to the public and received over 8,000 visitors. The maiden voyage was captained by Edward Smith, who would lose his life the following year in the Titanic disaster.
Olympic's first major mishap occurred on her fifth voyage on 20 September 1911, when she collided with the British cruiser HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight. Hawke's bow, which had been designed to sink ships by ramming them, collided with Olympic's starboard side near the stern, tearing two large holes in Olympic's hull. HMS Hawke suffered severe damage to her bow and nearly capsized. Despite this, Olympic was able to return to Southampton under her own power, and no one was seriously injured or killed. Two crew members, Violet Jessop and Arthur John Priest, survived not only the collision with the Hawke, but also the later sinkings of Titanic and Britannic. At the subsequent inquiry the Royal Navy blamed Olympic for the incident, alleging that her large displacement generated a suction that pulled Hawke into her side. However, the fact that Olympic endured such a serious collision and stayed afloat, appeared to vindicate the design of the Olympic-class liners and reinforced their "unsinkable" reputation. It took two weeks for the damage to Olympic to be patched up sufficiently to allow her to return to Belfast for permanent repairs, which took just over six weeks to complete. To speed up the repairs, Harland and Wolff was forced to delay Titanic's completion in order to use her propeller shaft for Olympic. By late November she was back in service. However, in February 1912 Olympic suffered another setback when she lost a propeller blade on an eastbound voyage from New York, and once again returned to her builder for repairs. To get her back to service as soon as possible, Harland & Wolff again had to pull resources from Titanic, delaying her maiden voyage from 20 March 1912 to 10 April 1912.
Olympic’s connection to Halifax begins with her arrival here on March 28, 1912, when she docked at Pier 2, part of the old Ocean Terminals near the foot of Cornwallis Street. For Haligonians, it must have been a glorious site to see four great ocean liners, White Star’s Olympic, Cunard's Mauretania and Aquitania, and Canadian Pacific’s Empress of Britain sailing in close and elegant formation up the harbour to the terminals.
On 14 April 1912, Olympic, now under the command of Herbert James Haddock, was on a return trip from New York. Wireless operator Ernest James Moore received the distress call from her sister Titanic, when she was approximately 930 km west by south of Titanic's location. Haddock calculated a new course, ordered the ship's engines to be set to full power and headed to assist in the rescue. When Olympic was about 190 km away from Titanic's last known position, she received a message from Captain Rostron of Cunard Line's RMS Carpathia, which had arrived at the scene. Rostron explained that Olympic continuing on course to Titanic would gain nothing, as "All boats accounted for. About 675 souls saved [...] Titanic foundered about 2:20 am." Rostron requested that the message be forwarded to White Star and Cunard. He said that he was returning to harbour in New York. Subsequently, the wireless room aboard the Olympic operated as a clearing room for radio messages. When Olympic offered to take on the survivors, she was turned down by an appalled Rostron, who was concerned that it would cause panic amongst the survivors of the disaster to see a virtual mirror-image of the Titanic appear and ask them to board. Olympic then resumed her voyage to Southampton, with all concerts cancelled as a mark of respect, arriving on 21 April. Over the next few months, Olympic assisted with both the American and British inquiries into the disaster. Deputations from both inquiries inspected Olympic's lifeboats, watertight doors and bulkheads and other equipment which were identical to those on Titanic. Sea tests were performed for the British enquiry in May 1912, to establish how quickly the ship could turn two points at various speeds, to approximate how long it would have taken the Titanic to turn when it sighted the iceberg. On 9 October 1912 White Star withdrew Olympic from service and returned her to her builders at Belfast to be refitted to incorporate lessons learned from the Titanic disaster six months prior, and improve safety. In March 1913, Olympic returned to service and briefly regained the title of largest ocean liner in the world, until the German liner SS Imperator entered passenger service in June 1913.
In August 1914 World War I began. Olympic initially remained in commercial service under Captain Herbert James Haddock. As a wartime measure, Olympic was painted in a grey colour scheme, portholes were blocked, and lights on deck were turned off to make the ship less visible. The schedule was hastily altered to terminate at Liverpool rather than Southampton, and this was later altered again to Glasgow. The first few wartime voyages were packed with Americans trapped in Europe, eager to return home, although the eastbound journeys carried few passengers. By mid-October, bookings had fallen sharply as the threat from German U-boats became increasingly serious, and White Star Line decided to withdraw Olympic from commercial service. On 21 October 1914, she left New York for Glasgow on her last commercial voyage of the war, though carrying only 153 passengers.
On the sixth day of her voyage, 27 October, as Olympic passed near the north coast of Ireland, she received distress signals from the battleship HMS Audacious, which had struck a mine off Tory Island and was taking on water. Olympic took off 250 of Audacious's crew, then the destroyer HMS Fury managed to attach a tow cable between Audacious and Olympic. However, the cable parted after Audacious's steering gear failed. A second attempt was made to tow the warship, but the cable became tangled in HMS Liverpool's propellers and was severed. A third attempt was tried but also failed when the cable gave way. By 17:00 the Audacious's quarterdeck was awash and it was decided to evacuate the remaining crew members to Olympic andLiverpool, and at 20:55 there was an explosion aboard the Audacious and she sank. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, Commander of the Home Fleet, was anxious to suppress the news of the sinking of Audacious, for fear of the demoralising effect it could have on the British public. No communications were permitted and passengers were not allowed to leave the ship. The only people departing her were the crew of Audacious and Chief Surgeon John Beaumont, who was transferring to RMS Celtic. Steel tycoon Charles M. Schwab, who was travelling aboard the liner, sent word to Jellicoe that he had urgent business in London with the Admiralty, and Jellicoe agreed to release Schwab if he remained silent about the fate of Audacious. Finally, on 2 November, Olympic was allowed to go to Belfast where the passengers disembarked.
Following Olympic's return to Britain, the White Star Line intended to lay her up in Belfast until the war was over, but in May 1915 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty, to be used as a troop transport, along with the Cunard liners Mauretania and Aquitania. The Admiralty had initially been reluctant to use large ocean liners as troop transports because of their vulnerability to enemy attack, however a shortage of ships gave them little choice. At the same time, Olympic's other sister ship Britannic, which had not yet been completed, was requisitioned as a hospital ship. In that role she would strike a mine and sink the following year. Stripped of her peacetime fittings, and armed with 12-pounders and 4.7-inch guns, Olympic was converted to a troopship, with the capacity to transport up to 6,000 troops. On 24 September 1915 the newly designated HMT (Hired Military Transport) 2810, now under the command of Bertram Fox Hayes left Liverpool carrying 6,000 soldiers to Mudros, Greece for the Gallipoli Campaign. On 1 October she sighted lifeboats from the French ship Provincia which had been sunk by a U-boat that morning off Cape Matapan and picked up 34 survivors. Hayes was heavily criticised for this action by the British Admiralty, who accused him of putting the ship in danger by stopping it in waters where enemy U-boats were active. The ship's speed was considered to be its best defence against U-boat attack, and such a large ship stopped would have made an unmissable target. However the French Vice-Admiral Louis Dartige du Fournet took a different view, and awarded Hayes with the Gold Medal of Honour. Olympic made several more trooping journeys to the Mediterranean until early 1916, when the Gallipoli Campaign was abandoned.
From 1916 to 1917, Olympic was chartered by the Canadian Government to transport troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Britain. In 1917 she gained 6-inch guns and was painted with a "dazzle" camouflage scheme to make it more difficult for observers to estimate her speed and heading. Her dazzle colours were brown, dark blue, light blue, and white. Her many visits to Halifax Harbour carrying Canadian troops safely overseas, and back home after the war at Pier 2, made her a favourite symbol in the City of Halifax. Noted Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer made several paintings of her in Halifax. After the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, Olympic also transported thousands of U.S. troops to Britain.
In the early hours of 12 May 1918, while en route for France with US troops under the command of Captain Hayes, Olympic sighted a surfaced U-boat 500 m (1,600 ft) ahead. Her gunners opened fire at once, and she turned to ram the submarine, which immediately crash dived to 30 m (98 ft) and turned to a parallel course. Almost immediately afterwards Olympic struck the submarine just aft of her conning tower and her port propeller sliced through U-103's pressure hull. The crew of U-103 blew her ballast tanks, scuttled and abandoned the submarine. Olympic did not stop to pick up survivors, but continued on to Cherbourg. Meanwhile, the USS Davis had sighted a distress flare and picked up 31 survivors from U-103. Olympic returned to Southampton with at least two hull plates dented and her prow twisted to one side, but not breached. It was subsequently discovered that U-103 had been preparing to torpedo Olympic when she was sighted, but the crew were not able to flood the two stern torpedo tubes.
In sum, in the three-and-one-half years of ferrying troops across the ocean during the war, the Olympic carried some 72,000 soldiers – almost a quarter of all Canadian Expeditionary Forces – to the front. On return trips she carried passengers and brought the wounded home. She also ferried nearly 60,000 troops home to Halifax, including Canadian Victoria Cross winners, aviator Lieutenant-Colonel (Billy) Bishop and Major Thain W. MacDowell. During the war, Olympic was captained by Bertram Hayes. Captain Hayes, in an article published in 1931, spoke of the great kindness shown to him and his crew in Halifax, and how proud they were of the name “Old Reliable” conferred on the ship by the people of Halifax.
In August 1919 Olympic returned to Belfast for restoration to civilian service. Her interior was modernised and her boilers were converted to burn oil rather than coal. Oil was cheaper than coal; it lowered the refuelling time from days to hours, and allowed the engine room personnel to be reduced from 350 to 60 people. During the conversion work and drydocking, a dent with a crack at the centre was discovered below her waterline which was later concluded to have been caused by a torpedo that had failed to detonate. In 1920 she returned to passenger service, on one voyage that year carrying 2,249 passengers. Olympic transported a record 38,000 passengers during 1921, which proved to be the peak year of her career. During the 1920s, Olympic remained a popular and fashionable ship, and often attracted the rich and famous of the day; Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and Prince Edward, then Prince of Wales, were among the celebrities that she carried. Prince Edward and Captain Howarth were filmed on the bridge of the Olympic for Pathé News. According to his autobiography, Cary Grant first set sail to New York on the Olympic on 21 July 1920 on the same voyage on which Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were celebrating their honeymoon. One of the attractions of Olympic was the fact that she was nearly identical to the Titanic, and many passengers sailed on Olympic as a way of vicariously experiencing the voyage of Olympic's ill-fated sister ship.
On 22 March 1924, Olympic was involved in another collision with a ship. As Olympic was reversing from her berth at New York harbour, her stern collided with the smaller liner Fort St George, which had crossed into her path. The collision caused extensive damage to the smaller ship. At first it appeared that Olympic had sustained only minor damage, but it was later revealed that her sternpost had been fractured, necessitating the replacement of her entire stern frame.
In 1929, Olympic's first class cabins were again improved by adding more bathrooms, a dance floor was fitted in the enlarged first class dining saloon, and a number of new suites with private facilities were installed forward on B-deck. More improvements would follow in a later refit, but 1929 saw Olympic's best average passenger lists since 1925. The shipping trade was badly affected by the Great Depression. Until 1930 there had generally been around one million passengers a year on the transatlantic route, but by 1934 this had dropped by more than half. Furthermore, by the early 1930s, increased competition emerged, in the form of a new generation of larger and faster liners. During slack periods in the summer, Olympic and fleet mate Majestic were employed in summer recreational cruises from New York to Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Indeed, the Olympic visited Halifax twice in August of 1931. Visiting for the first time since 1919, she wore not her various war time greys or dazzle paint but the brilliant colours of the White Star Line: black hull, cream superstructure and gold funnels. Her arrival on August 8 in Halifax on a four-day cruise out of New York carrying over five hundred passengers was greeted with whistles, cannons fired from Citadel Hill, the citizens of the city, former soldiers, and the general public. Over three thousand people were at Pier 20, including Premier Gordon S. Harrington, Mayor George Ritchie, and Captain R.G. MacKay, president of the 85th Battalion Club. Captain MacKay had the honour of presenting Olympic’s Captain E.L. Trant with the Nova Scotia flag. Among the other dignitaries present were Colonel Earl C. Phinney and Alfred N. Jones, agents for the White Star Line. The former band of the 85th, now known as the Pictou Highlanders, kilted and wearing red tunics, played under the direction of Captain Dan Mooney. The ship was opened to the public and a good time was had by all. Olympic’s final visit to Halifax was a cruise from New York with 640 passengers. She arrived at seven in the morning and departed at seven in the evening on August 29, 1931. On this visit she flew the Nova Scotia flag from her foremast.
In 1934, Olympic again struck a ship. The approaches to New York were marked by lightships and Olympic, like other liners, had been known to pass close by these vessels. On 15 May 1934, Olympic, inbound in heavy fog, was homing in on the radio beacon of Nantucket Lightship LV-117. Now under the command of Captain John Binks, the ship failed to turn in time and sliced through the smaller vessel, which broke apart and sank. Four of the lightship's crew went down with the vessel and seven were rescued, of whom three died of their injuries. One crewman said it all happened so quickly that they didn't know how it happened.
Olympic was withdrawn from the transatlantic service, and left New York for the last time on 5 April 1935, returning to Britain to be laid up. Her superstructure was demolished in 1936, and in 1937, Olympic's hull was towed to Inverkeithing to T.W. Ward's yard for final demolition. The Olympic's fittings were auctioned off immediately before she was scrapped; the fittings of the first-class lounge and part of the aft grand staircase can be found in the White Swan Hotel, in Alnwick, Northumberland, England. The rest of her fittings found homes in scattered places throughout Great Britain. One suite at Sparth House Hotel, Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire has the original furniture from one of the state rooms, including light fitting, sink, wardrobes and fireplace. In 2000, Celebrity Cruises purchased some of Olympic's original wooden panels to create the RMS Olympic restaurant on board their new cruise ship, Millennium. According to the cruise line, this panelling had lined Olympic's à la carte restaurant. The clock depicting "Honour and Glory Crowning Time" from Olympic's grand staircase is on display at Southampton's Sea City Museum.
By the time of her retirement, Olympic had completed 257 round trips across the Atlantic and travelled 1.8 million miles.