It’s a bit early to be talking about the Halifax Explosion on one hand. The anniversary of that isn’t until December 6 but there’s a 13 metre (43 foot) Christmas Tree en route to Boston today. It was cut down from a tree farm in Anitgonish, NS yesterday and will be driven to Boston in time for their annual tree lighting ceremony on December 4.
Today there was a send off in the Grand Parade Square with music from The Stanfields (always worth a listen) and with a “Thank You” book that was available to be signed as well in gratitude the good people of the City of Boston. The tree was blessed with a First Nations ceremony and there were Town Criers from a few places in Nova Scotia there as well, though the one from the town of New Glasgow near where the tree was cut was the one to give the proclaimation. For the first time in over a week, the sun came out and the temperature was lovely and warm for this time of year.
On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax harbour. One, a Belgian ship, was carrying relief supplies as a WWI effort and the other, a French ship, was carrying munitions and explosive materials, also for the war effort. There was a miscommunication about which channel the ships were supposed to be in, one entering the harbour and one leaving it, and the munitions ship was t-boned. Sparks flew and the barrels of TNT on the deck went up. So did the rest of the ship. It was the larges man made explosion before the nuclear bomb and it levelled the north end of the city. 2000 people died and thousands were injured and made homeless. The day after all this, there was a winter blizzard. The army set up huge tents for people to stay in and schools and churches were used as mortuaries. Dishes rattled on shelves from the impact of the blast 100 miles away in towns like Truro and New Glasgow.
Within that first day, the City of Boston loaded up a train of supplies, medical gear and doctors and nurses and sent it on its way to Halifax. Since 1971, Nova Scotia has sent Boston a Christmas tree for their city hall square in the centre of the city as a thank you.
Halifax remembers the explosion and the victims in a ceremony every year on December 6. There are only 2 or 3 surviors left to attend, all of whom were small children at the time of the explosion. There is a memorial on the top of a hill in a park that overlooks the site in the harbour where they have the main ceremony but there’s also a smaller one just around the corner from where I live in North End Dartmouth, across the harbour. Nearby, a twisted cannon from the munitions ship landed, nearly 2 miles from the harbour and it’s been set up on a cross roads with plaques and information. There’s also a twisted ship’s anchor that’s on display in Dartmouth near the McDonald harbour bridge. That was found 3 miles away across the other side of Halifax. The city really was devastated but with help, pulled together and rebuilt the north end of the city.
Life goes on.
CBC has a good website with lots of information here.