A bittersweet centennial observance

Last year I had the the good fortune of being able to visit Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada for the first time.

I had a wonderful time there, mostly because of the warm, friendly Haligonians (residents of Halifax).

What I didn’t know then, but since learned was of one of the most horrific man-made disasters in North American history happened there — the great explosion of Dec. 6, 1917, when a ship carrying three tons of highly volatile explosives destined for the Allied troops in Europe during World War I, was involved in an collision with another ship triggering a massive explosion, akin to one-fifth the magnitude of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in World War II.

The blast wiped out three-square miles of the peaceful port city, killed more than 2,000, many instantly, vaporizing them into oblivion, and injured more than 9,000 men, women and hundreds of children.

In less than one second, families, homes, businesses and lives were torn apart, never to be the same again.

The blast occurred on a Thursday at 9:04 a.m., when many were at work, on the way to school, at home, or on the way to the docks to see what the commotion was before the blast occurred.

In less than one second countless children were killed or left as orphans as mothers, fathers and siblings were killed.

The survivors were often left with ghastly injuries from flying glass, timber, plaster and any of a plethora of other projectiles.

The blast also caused a tsunami in the Halifax waters that took the lives of hundreds more.

I mention this story at Christmas time not as a downer, but to mention the incredible acts of love, kindness, unselfishness, valor, and bravery following the disaster.

The event is not well-known in the U.S., but Massachusetts played an important role in the aftermath of the catastrophic disaster.

As soon as word reached Boston, teams of doctors, nurses, Red Cross volunteers were assembled, along donations of cars, money, clothing, medicine, blankets and any other basic need.

Within hours trains and boats made a bee-line to the neighbors from the north, despite a roaring blizzard that hit that night from New England up to Halifax.

At the time Canada and the U.S. were not the best of friends. But when disaster hit, politics went out the window.

Help came not only from Boston, but from across Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia and China.

The stories of victims helping victims cannot be numbered, and for me to start to tell any of these stories would fall far short of the Christ-like events that were commonplace at and around Ground Zero in Halifax.

When I learned of the horrific event last year I read the 2005 release, “The Curse of The Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917,” by Laura M. Mac Donald. Last month, N.Y. Times bestselling author John U. Bacon published “The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism,” in time for the 100th anniversary earlier this month. I finished that publication yesterday.

I’m not trying to promote either book, but I highly recommend reading one or both (particularly Bacon’s) to learn of the strength and determination of the human spirit, when today, it seems, that everyone is only into themselves. Should you read about this event, I’m willing to wager you’ll come away with a story or two or more that will stay with you and within you, especially the efforts made to keep Christmas alive for hundreds of children who lost parents, siblings, homes, limbs, eyesight and a sense of normalcy and comfort in the blink of an eye — two weeks before Christmas.

davejolivet@anchornews.org


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