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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Halifax Disaster and Boston

December 6, 1917 was the day of the infamous Halifax disaster. Two ships in the harbour exploded (one was a munition ship on its way to Europe) and devastated the city. This was the largest manmade explosion ever until the detonation of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

The statistic tell some of the tale: 2000 people killed. 9000 people injured, including 6000 severely injured. 1600 homes demolished 12,000 damaged.

Halifax harbour is bowl shaped with a narrow opening to the sea. It is one of the great natural harbours of the world. During WW I it was the strategic port on the eastern seaboard where convoys of ships transporting materials to Europe we assembled.

With the explosion, a tsunami was created that ran up over the land. There was also a shock wave that knocked down houses and trees and burning debris set the city on fire. Many people lost their eyesight as the glass windows broke into their faces.

To add insult to injury a blizzard hit the next day.

The plume of the explosion 15 seconds later.

My mother used to tell me about this disaster. Years after it she had worked for a man who was on the train which was about to enter the city before the heroic Vince Coleman returned to the telegraph to warn of the possible explosion and got the message out to stop the train, only to loose his life.

When I was is high school, we studied in literature class Hugh MacKennan's book Barometer Rising, a novel based around the disaster. (Sadly, the torrid bit were expurgated). I am sure because of this my generation knew of the disaster.

In those day, response time to a disaster was slow. Two American ships which had just left for New York turned around and offered aid. And within 48 hours a train from Boston arrived with supplies and medical help.

To this day the people of Nova Scotia send to Boston every year a giant fir tree for the Christmas Tree on the Boston Common as a symbol of appreication of the succor extended to Halifax in the disaster. The search the province for a free standing tree, usually on private property and people gladly give up their tree as an honour.

The years I spent on Boston I remember the tree and I was once again reminded of the Halifax disaster.

Christmas in Boston is a wonderful place to be to enjoy the season. I remember it fondly.

One other Boston tradition I enjoyed was the singing of Christmas Carols in Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill. It was always a lovely occasion, faint by comparison to wassailing or mummering in Newfoundland , but a nice civilized occasion none the less. Newfoundlanders definitely know how to have a good time.

Louisburg Square in Boston, with the island park in the center of the street. The Square is the most prestigeous adress in Boston. The building is the Alcott house.

Over the centuries the two great maritime seaports of Boston and Halifax have had a warm on going relationship like so many Canadian and American cities across the border from one another.

To view the archived CBC shows on the Halifax disaster go to


At 8:13 p.m., Blogger edifice rex said...

I really enjoyed this post; very interesting story.

At 10:22 p.m., Blogger Mary said...


I enjoyed walking with you down Memory Lane. I too learned of the Halifax Disaster when going to school and have also watched the documentary on the History Channel. It was a sad time in Canadian history. Thanks for sharing this.


At 1:29 a.m., Blogger Alyssa said...

That was really interesting. I don't think many Americans know of the Halifax disaster. I surely didn't and am amazed at the awful figures you gave. It's nice to hear about the Christmas tree and the warm feelings the people have.

At 10:34 p.m., Blogger KGMom said...

Goodness, this is a disaster I had not heard of.
Always interesting to visit your blog and learn something new.

At 4:41 a.m., Blogger Gattina said...

I have been to Boston, it certainly is a beautiful town for Americans, but for me it was just like being in a European town. It still looks very english there. From the Halifas desaster I have heard too what a terrible catastrophe !

At 8:28 a.m., Blogger judie said...

I haven't visited in awhile and catching up now. Your snow pictures are awesome!

At 10:38 a.m., Blogger Neva said...

A very interesting post.....A nice walk down memory lane via Boston! How nice the tradition of the tree is still symbolic of that time....and I would imagine New Foundlanders need to know how to party considering how long the winter must be!!!


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