Monday, November 24, 2008

Halifax Explosion

Taken from the shore of the Bedford Basin, you can just make out the two bridges that connect Halifax and Dartmouth. The closer bridge is right over a part of the Halifax Harbour called The Narrows, the site of the Halifax Explosion.

In December 1917, World War 1 was in full swing. Halifax was the launch point for any European bound war or supply ship. The harbour was filled with vessels of all shapes and sizes, sailors roamed the streets and army personnel arrived by the train load to get to the war front.

On the morning of December 6th, a regular work and school day, the Imo, a Norweigan relief ship, and the Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship, fully loaded, collided in the harbour at the narrowest point (called the Narrows). Fire broke out on the Mont Blanc and attracted the attention of those on shore who were going about their business. Only those on board the Mont Blanc knew the immediate danger the city was in and a few tried to put out the fire but eventually just jumped off the ship. Those on shore couldn't know what was about to happen.

People went to the windows of their home or stopped in the street to watch the fire. About 20 minutes after the collision an explosion occured and time stood still for a moment.

2000 people were killed, 9,000 injured, hundreds blinded by breaking glass. A tsunami flollowed the blast, and since it was winter many stoves and lamps were tipped over and fires spread quickly, destroying homes already weakened by the blast. A tsunami followed the explosion washing many victims into the harbour.

Rescue and recovery began immediately, of course, with med students and nurses being called on to look after the wounded. Military personnel assisted the civilians and within a few hours of the blast, aid was on its way from all points west and north. Men had to clear the railway tracks and repair them quickly so supplies and people could get through. And then Mother Nature dealt her own blow with a major blizzard dumping more than a foot of snow on the already incapacitated city. At least the blizzard helped to contain, if not extinguish, the fires.

Because it was war time, a lot of military personnel were able to help, though a lot of personnel were overseas at the same time. Civilian doctors and nurses were in short supply. The calls that went out for assistance were not unanswered. By later in the afternoon, people and supplies began arriving from across the country and by the next day they arrived from Boston.

The large number of eye injuries led to a greater understanding of treatment and with the recently formed Canadian National institute for the Blind, significant advances in the treatment of eye injuries were observed. Halifax became well known for its care for the blind. A Boston surgeon who had arrived to help noted the lack of coordinated pediatric care and that led him to pioneer pediatric surgery.

Every year on December 6th at 9:06, the bells at the memorial in the north end of the city ring out to mark the anniversary. And every year, since 1971, the people of Nova Scotia send a Christmas tree to the people of Boston to say thank you. Every year, when the tree is cut down the local media is there to document it. It is sent to Boston and set up on the Boston Common, lit up for the season.

The tree was selected, cut down last Sunday, and on Monday it was shipped to Boston. On December 4th starting at 6 PM the official tree lighting ceremony will be held. Singer Brian MacKnight will be performing along wih a Nova Scotian blues phenom by the name of Garrett Mason. If you like blues music, I guarantee you'll be blown away by Garrett. So if you're in Boston plan on attending the ceremony. Enjoy the performers and the tree. But most of all, feel the love. Oh, and thank you!


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