Some people collect bottle caps, others hunt online for rare baseball cards, but Rene Bergeron goes to much greater depths to satisfy his collector's itch.

Bergeron, 38, of Cornwall, Ont., owns the largest collection of Titanic artifacts in Canada.

With more than 1,000 pieces from the Titanic and its fellow ocean liner the Olympic in his possession, this Titanic fanatic is truly invested in the history of the famous passenger ship that hit an iceberg and plunged into the depths of the Atlantic April 14-15, 1912.

''My first piece I ever got was a Popular Mechanics magazine that I bought with my Mom in 1986,'' Bergeron said. ''I remember seeing it in the checkout aisle at the grocery store and asked my Mom if I could have it. The article was about how they were planning on raising the Titanic.''

Bergeron's fascination with the ship and its sinking started after he saw the 1958 movie A Night to Remember with his brother and Dad on a quiet Sunday afternoon when he was seven or eight years old.  The movie is a fictional account of the Titanic disaster that draws on actual events but introduces fictional subplots and characters.

''After the movie was over, I asked them if the story was true, and they began telling me that it actually happened, but they didn't know that much about it,'' he said.

It began with a plate

Learning about the real-life disaster sparked his curiosity and eventual life-long quest to discover new information about and artifacts from the Titanic.

Bergeron read books and articles about the Titanic and eventually started to amass his impressive collection of artifacts.

''My first big piece came about 20 years ago, when I really started to collect,'' he said. ''It was a blue cobalt plate that was used on the Olympic in the A la Carte restaurant.''

The Exhibit

Rene Bergeron's collection is on display from April 9th to 14th at his Bergeron Sleep Shop store in Cornwall, Ont.

Admission is free but donations are being accepted on behalf of Touch Ministries, with the money going towards helping Ugandan orphanages.

For more information on the exhibit, contact Bergeron at titaniccollector@hotmail.com 

The Olympic was the first in a fleet of three large ocean liners built by the shipping company White Star Line. The other two were the Titanic and the Gigantic (renamed the Britannic after the Titanic sank).

Since he started collecting, Bergeron has acquired a number of curious items — some from the wreck itself, others merely associated with it, including Styrofoam cups that were taken down to the wreck by the crew of the James Cameron-directed documentary Ghosts of the Abyss in order to show much they shrink when compressed by the effects of deep-sea pressure.

His collection also includes pieces of the actual dining room chandeliers on the Titanic, a part of the ship's hull and a piece of fabric from a second-class dining room chair.

Most-cherished item

Bergeron's favourite and most-prized artifact? A piece of wood from the Titanic's grand staircase, given to him by a friend who wanted to thank Bergeron for helping him track down Titanic artifacts.

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This piece of wood is from the grand staircase of the Titanic. It was recovered in 1912 when body-recovery crews were sent out to retrieve the corpses of people who died when the Titanic capsized. (Courtesy of Rene Bergeron)

''It is some of the only wood that we know exactly where it came from on the ship,'' Bergeron explained.

''Other pieces of wreckage got made into bowls, or cribbage boards, but this piece has the distinctive Berrien leaf pattern that we know was from the Titanic's grand staircase.''

The triangular piece of wood is one of the smaller pieces in his collection, with its longest side measuring about 7.5 centimetres, and it had quite the journey before reaching Bergeron.

White Star Line, the company that owned the fleet of ships the Titanic was part of, hired crews to go out and retrieve the bodies left in the water after the Titanic sank. People on other passenger ships that had to pass by the wreck were complaining about the spectacle.

''The seamen that worked on the hired ships took pieces of wood as souvenirs from the gruesome job they had to carry out,'' said Bergeron.

''A carpenter on one of the ships made this piece of wood into a picture frame that was passed down and sold through his family over the years.''

Eventually, that souvenir piece of wood was split apart and sold off, and one of the pieces landed in Bergeron's eagerly awaiting hands.

Collection on display in Cornwall

When asked how much he thinks his entire collection is now worth, Bergeron could not give a dollar figure. Most pieces have been given to him by people who have read or heard about him in the media or who have seen some of his collection displayed at his family-run mattress and hot tub store in Cornwall.

''People donate items to me, because they have seen my exhibit or heard my story and know that the piece will have a good home,'' he said.

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A bowl in Bergeron's collection that is from the A La Carte restaurant on the Olympic, a sister ship of the Titanic. This pattern was unique to china used on the two vessels. (Courtesy of Rene Bergeron)

Bergeron displays about 300 of his 1,000 White Star Line and Titanic pieces in an annual exhibit at the store that is usually held around the time of the anniversary of the Titanic sinking.

This year, the exhibit will be up April 9-14 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the disaster. This will also be the last time the exhibit is held in the shop for at least 11 years, as the collection has been leased to a museum in Canada.

Bergeron remains tight-lipped about the location of the new home of his collection. He insists his intention is not to make money, but to carry on the story of the ship that continues to intrigue him.

''I don't think to myself that I am going to buy all this stuff and then I am going to sell it and make a lot of money,'' he said. ''My goal is to make the collection grow and grow and then one day pass it on to my kids.''

What started as a childhood fascination has developed into a passionate hobby that continues to provide Bergeron with new insight into the infamous ship.

''You can learn something new every day about the Titanic,'' Bergeron said.

For example, Titanic enthusiasts have learned only in the past few years that the ship likely did not break into two pieces as historians once believed, he said. New debris discovered in recent years suggests the ship broke apart differently.

''I don't think we will ever uncover all her mysteries," said Bergeron.