By Jim Reid
In working on an event commemorating the effects of the Halifax Explosion on the people of the Eastern Shore, I have been struck by how often people have talked about the Explosion as if it were some kind of peacetime event, with no connection to WWI.
But the Mont Blanc and its huge cargo of explosives would never have been navigating the Narrows in Halifax Harbour if there had been no WW1. I see the civilian losses from the Explosion as collateral damage from WWI. In the end 1,630 people died, and 9,000 were injured. The Explosion did not care if you were a Scot from the Island of Barra, if you were Mi’Kmaq from Turtle Grove, if you were Irish from Richmond. The ripples of loss affected families and communities across Nova Scotia whose loved ones were, for whatever reason, in Halifax / Dartmouth / Bedford on that fateful day.
To me, “The Halifax Harbour Explosion” is another Day of Remembrance, a day on which we remember the losses of civilians. And it’s also a day that casts some perspective on the much larger losses of Canadian men and women in combat during WWI. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, 66,655 young Canadian men and women died in WWI. These deaths were equal to forty-one Halifax Harbour Explosions; or to look at it another way, equivalent to four Explosions in each of our ten provinces. The wounded of WW1 numbered 172,950, twenty times that of those injured in the explosion.
Over the last 100 years, people have paid more attention to some stories about the Explosion than others. Some stories have been long ignored, or even lost. On December 2 at the Old School Gathering Place in Musquodoboit Harbour, we will be telling as many of those stories as we can about the impact of the Explosion on the communities of the Eastern Shore. From 1pm to 4pm, there will be exhibits on view, plus a screening at 2pm of John Versteege’s documentary, Thunder in the Sky. At 4pm we will take a break for the annual Parade of Lights in Musquodoboit Harbour, which starts at 6pm. Then at 8pm, we’ll be back at the Old School for an Explosion concert with local musicians.