Locals and visitors intrigued by history’s most infamous seafaring disaster will be steaming into Richmond from June 23, when a major new exhibition opens in the city. Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition combines more than 120 recovered items with evocative replica cabin recreations to tell the spine-tingling story of the ill-fated ocean liner that sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
First-Class cabin. | Photo: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

One of the biggest museum-like exhibitions to open in Metro Vancouver this year, the international show—which has already traveled to Paris, Melbourne, Las Vegas, and beyond—is being staged at Lipont Place, an events and cultural venue handily located just across the street from Aberdeen Canada Line station.

Telling the story

When visitors arrive at the exhibition, they’ll be whisked back in time with their own keepsake replica of a White Star Line boarding pass. From there, they’ll weave among displays that explore the emotional true story of the world’s largest passenger ship—from design and construction to eventual launch and those exciting first few days at sea.

Lipont Place
Visitors receive a keepsake replica of a White Star Line boarding pass. | Photo: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

Next comes the tragic retelling of the ship’s iceberg-triggered demise, when Titanic rapidly sank, and too few lifeboats were available or deployed and more than 1,500 passengers and crew lost their lives. The exhibition explores the heartbreaking human side of the tragedy via the personal histories of some of the individuals involved.

Titanic: The Artifact ExhibitionMemorial wall. | Photo: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

But that wasn’t the end for the ship White Star claimed was “practically unsinkable.” In recent years, Titanic has been respectfully explored in its deep, murky grave, with an international effort to rescue artifacts that can now serve to illuminate the story for later generations. The exhibition reveals some of the immense challenges of this complex recovery and conservation project.

Exhibits and recreations

There are dozens of deeply poignant Titanic artifacts on reverential display at the exhibition, each connecting visitors to the stories of those passengers and crew who were on board that day. These include dishes and items of luggage as well as a cook’s hat and an array of shiny cutlery. There’s even a rivet-studded hull section, its metal porthole twisted out of shape.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
Wall of serving utensils, dishes, tiles. | Photo: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

But for many, the most evocative parts of the exhibition will be the meticulously recreated rooms that make you feel as if you’re peering into the past. A replica third-class cabin houses cramped and basic wooden bunks adorned with thin White Star Line blankets. In contrast, the opulent first-class quarters include a sumptuous double bed, elaborately patterned wallpaper and deluxe dark wood furnishings that echo a superior hotel suite in a grand Edwardian hotel.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
Third-class cabin. | Photo: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

End of the line

On the morning of its final day, Titanic received its first warning—from another cruise liner—about the threat of icebergs in the area. Several more warnings were received from other ships over the next few hours. But at 11:40 pm, the huge, New York-bound vessel struck a giant ocean-going ice mass, buckling its hull and opening its watertight compartments to the sea. The damage was swift and irreversible.

You can conclude your visit by meeting an iceberg for yourself. A wall of real ice is included in the show—and you’re encouraged to touch it. It’s not quite the same as being there on that fateful night in the frigid Atlantic all those years ago. But if you close your eyes and reflect on the exhibits you’ve seen, it’s easy to imagine the sights and sounds of that uniquely terrible day in history and the lives it ended or changed forever.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
Iceberg Gallery. Photo: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

If you go:

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition runs at Richmond’s Lipont Place from June 23 to January 11, 2019. The exhibition is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, but during the first three weeks, hours will be extended to 9:00 pm every day.

Tickets are $17.95 for adults, $15.95 for seniors and $13.95 for students (accompanied children under the age of 5 are free). Audio guides in various languages are also available.