03/31/2014 05:08 EDT | Updated 05/31/2014 05:59 EDT

Sealing disaster's 100th anniversary remembered in N.L.

People in Newfoundland and Labrador are remembering the worst tragedy in a long and dangerous history of seal hunting, on the 100th anniversary of the 1914 sealing disaster.

A century ago, 251 Newfoundland sealers died in two separate but simultaneous incidents.

On March 30, 1914, 132 men left the SS Newfoundland to hunt seals and became caught in a sudden blizzard while out on the ice. Only 55 survived.

During the same storm, the SS Southern Cross sank while returning to Newfoundland from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. All 173 men died.

On Monday, the descendants of those caught in the disaster marked the anniversary with a commemorative service in St. John's.

Chris Collingwood, co-chair of the Home from the Sea campaign, said that at the time of the disaster, "every family was touched … and for a country then that had a population of 250,000 people, this was a horrific disaster, so it's touched everybody."

Legacy lives on

Collingwood said the sealing industry has a strong significance for Newfoundland and Labrador — an importance that other may struggle to understand if they don't know the province's past.

"Many of the families would never have made it through the winters if they didn't have the extra income from the sealing, and that contribution made settlements happen," said Collingwood.

"Sealing has been going on here for hundreds of years, and it was a very tough, cruel way to make a living, but it was a necessity, and that's the way people survived."

The disaster may have been a hundred years ago, but each new generation still remembers their connections.

Emma Hamilton, 11, knows the story of her great-grandfather, who was one of the lucky survivors.

"I know that he did survive and made it through. He had to get a lot of his toes amputated," she said.

"It's part of our history, and if we don't remember this, then it's just a part of us gone." 

As long as the stories remain, the legacy lives on, in a province still living on the water.