A Hundred Years Ago This December 6th, 2017 – An Explosion In Halifax That Shocked and Shook A Nation

A Brief One from Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper, followed by a Statement from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Posted December 6th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

One hundred years ago – on the morning of December 6th, 1917 – five-year-old Kaye McLeod was playing with her dolls inside her home in Halifax, Nova Scotia when a monstrous explosion slammed her to the floor.

The explosion was triggered by the collision two ships, one of them loaded with munitions on their way the First World War killing fields of Europe, in the nearby waters of Halifax Harbour.. Kaye McLeod died this past October at age 105, the last living survivor of what remains, to this day, one of the most destructive man-made disasters in recorded history.

Barely anything left but rubble in whole neighbourhoods near Halifax Harbour following explosion 100 years ago

Up to the time of her death, Kaye McLeod’s long life was a reminder that even though this horrific event, that killed close to 2,000 people and injured 9,000 , occurred a century ago, the sight, sound and burnt and rotting smell of it still loomed in the memory of someone living and breathing among us – a reminder that in the larger scheme of things, “the great Halifax explosion,” as it has been called, didn’t really happen all that long ago at all.

According to a recent feature article in The Globe and Mail about two new books on the explosion, one would have to look at the devastation left on the ground in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused by the atomic bombs dropped over those Japanese cities near the end of the Second World War for anything  resembling the destruction resulting from that blast in Halifax Harbour a hundred years ago today.

That same Globe and Mail article notes that Ernest Barss, a Nova Scotia native who survived those First World War killing fields and was one of the first to survey the destruction left over from the explosion, reported later that what he saw was actually worse than anything he remembered on those war grounds in Europe.

A hedline from The Globe, following the disaster

“There was not one stick or stone standing on another. Every house and building had just crumpled up and the whole was a raging mass of flames,” Barss wrote.

In a spirit of compassion and friendship between neighbours, the people of Boston, Massachusetts filled ships with medical supplies and other assistance, and were among the first to arrive on the scene to help the survivors.

At a time when you almost don’t want to turn on the television news because so much of the news we get these days is depressing, it was good to watch CBC’s ‘The National’ news broadcast late this November and see thousands of people gathered in a park in Boston for the lighting of a Christmas Tree that came to the city from the people of Halifax as a gesture of thanks for helping all of those years ago.

It is means a great deal to see that kind of warm and friendly hands reaching across borders in an age when Trump and his army and anger and hate work so hard to drive us apart.

Now here is a statement Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released this December 6th on the Halifax explosion –

Statement by the Prime Minister on the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion,  December 6, 2017, Ottawa, Ontario

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion:

“Today, we mark the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

“On the morning of December 6, 1917, in the midst of the First World War, the munitions ship SS Mont-Blanc and the freighter SS Imo collided in the narrows of Halifax Harbour. The SS Mont-Blanc caught fire and erupted in an explosion that levelled the north end of Halifax – changing the city forever.

“It was the largest human-made explosion before the atomic bomb, and remains one of the deadliest disasters in Canadian history. Nearly 2,000 people were killed in the blast, including hundreds of children. Thousands more were gravely injured. Half the city’s population was left without shelter in the immediate aftermath.

The ceremonial lighting of a Christmas tree late this November 2017 from the people of Nova Scotia to the people of Boston for the care and compassion Boston showed Halifax 100 years ago.

“The tragedy devastated Halifax, but Nova Scotians, like Vincent Coleman, responded with resilience and courage. A railway dispatcher, Coleman gave his life to warn incoming trains of the danger. Soldiers, sailors, police, firefighters, and hundreds of civilians rushed to the disaster zone to help the injured and rescue those trapped under debris. Communities across the province and country offered support, and help poured in from friends beyond our borders – from Massachusetts to Australia. Together, Nova Scotians recovered, rebuilt, and emerged stronger than before.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I invite Canadians to honour the memory of the victims of this terrible tragedy and those who came to Halifax’s aid. As the 150th anniversary of Confederation draws to a close, let us reflect on this powerful example of Canadians overcoming hardship and tragedy with perseverance and compassion.”

No, this isn’t Halifax, Nova Scotia after the explosion in December 1917. This is Hiroshima, Japan after an atomic bomb was dropped on it in August 1945.

To read a review and feature article published this December 2nd, 2017 in The Globe and Mail on a new book about two new books about Halifax explosion, click onhttps://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/on-the-100th-anniversary-of-the-halifax-explosion-two-new-books-examine-the-disasters-place-in-canadasmythology/article37123260/ .

To read an obituary published this November 2017 in The Globe and Mail on the death of the last surviving witness of the Halifax explosion, click on https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/centenarian-kaye-chapman-survived-halifax-explosion/article36982033/ .

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders



One response to “A Hundred Years Ago This December 6th, 2017 – An Explosion In Halifax That Shocked and Shook A Nation

  1. Unfortunately, for morale reasons, this tragedy was not widely publicized at the time. My great grandmother died the same day and the story is in print on the back of her obituary, which I still have. Otherwise, I would have never heard of it and I don’t think many Canadians are aware of it even today.

    Hundreds were blinded by glass, most of them children, due to watching the fire through windows which blew out in the blast, and that led to the creation of the CNIB. One doctor performed almost three hundred enucleations (removal of eyes) and the disaster also was the first time the Canadian Red Cross became active at home in Canada. An entire native settlement was wiped out on the shore and a tsunami carried many out to sea. Compounding the disaster was a blizzard that struck the next day and loss of communications for help.

    Haligonians still have a very strong tie with Bostonians for the help they provided as one of the few cities nearby and able to help. Canadians are often sorely lacking in knowledge of our own history, myself included.


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