Today is the One hundredth Anniversary
December 6, 2017 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Immediately followed by a blizzard, no less.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:47 AM on December 6, 2017

The Coast put up a really good excerpt from historian Jacob Remes' book Disaster Citizenship about the response to the disaster: Citizens of the disaster.
To relief workers and managers, the aid they offered seemed obvious: houses were destroyed and uninhabitable, and the army, people and institutions of Halifax stood ready to help. So they were confused and disappointed that so few people availed themselves of their generosity. The people they tried to help often preferred to stay in their ruined houses, in the overcrowded homes of their friends and relatives or even in hastily jerry-rigged shacks. The Hook family experience is suggestive. They initially went to an official shelter—indeed, Gertrude’s father helped to set it up—but, as soon as they could, they escaped the crowds of people “that they gathered up” and went to a friend’s house. That the objects of charity preferred other aid and support does not negate the original altruism. It does suggest, however, an uncomfortable aspect of charity: that even when offered in a spirit of genuine care, nonmutual charity carries with it a heavy burden of hierarchy that often makes it less desirable than mutual aid offered in a spirit of solidarity.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:49 AM on December 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

CBC has an interactive 360° video re-creation. After the video they have an interactive map showing the damage.
posted by papercrane at 10:50 AM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbour making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys."
posted by leotrotsky at 11:02 AM on December 6, 2017 [20 favorites]

Holy cow, Space Coyote, what a terrible experience.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:07 AM on December 6, 2017

A century after the Halifax explosion, grim reminders can still be found in trees -- The entire core of one tree trunk was a column of metal shards. ‘It dawned on me, ‘wow, man, this is from the Halifax Explosion,’ ’ says one arborist. (Meagan Campbell for Macleans, December 5, 2017)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:15 AM on December 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

For a long time, I've wanted to do a FPP about one positive thing to come out of the horror of the Halifax explosion: the work of Samuel Henry Prince, whose 1920 dissertation, Catastrophe and Social Change: Based Upon a Sociological Study of the Halifax Disaster, pioneered the study of the sociology of disaster. From its preface:
The following pages embody the result of an observational study of the social phenomena attendant upon one of the greatest catastrophies in history—the Halifax Disaster. The idea of the work was suggested while carrying out a civic community study of the disaster city under the direction of Professor F. H. Giddings of Columbia University.

The account deals first with the shock and disintegration as the writer observed it. Individual and group reactions are next examined in the light of sociological theory. The chapters on Social Organization are an effort to picture that process as it actually occurred.

The writer has also tried faithfully to record any important contribution which Social Economy was able to make in the direction of systematic rehabilitation. Special reference is made to private initiative and governmental control in emergency relief. This monograph is in no sense, however, a relief survey. Its chief value to the literature of relief will lie in its bearing upon predictable social movements in great emergencies.
It's a fascinating, if lengthy, read. You can learn more about Prince's work at FEMA's website (.pdf).
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:30 AM on December 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

Seconding the John U. Bacon book. He's an amazing author and very engaging speaker as well. The Halifax book is on my reading list along with his latest book on John Saunders (for the sports-minded around these parts).
posted by Gronk at 11:32 AM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd been thinking about making a Halifax Explosion post, but have been slammed at work and am glad someone did.

I wrote a song about the Halifax Explosion for a songwriting challenge earlier this year, and it's been in my thoughts for a while even before I realized this was the centennial. My ancestors are from Halifax; my great-grandmother had to identify her brother's body, and some of her cousins were involved with the relief efforts.

Among the 2000 dead and 9000 displaced was a vibrant First Nations Mi'kmaq community, whose home in Turtle Cove was decimated in both the fire and the tsunami that rose up after the Explosion. As you think about those we lost in the Explosion, please save a thought for their ancestors. (If anyone knows a way to donate to a charity that helps the Mi'kmaq, please let me know.)
posted by pxe2000 at 11:59 AM on December 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

'Their spirits are here': The Halifax Explosion's untold story of Mi'kmaw communities lost - The Globe and Mail.

The Millbrook First Nation, where many of the Mi'kmaq survivours relocated is planning on developing the land.
posted by papercrane at 12:32 PM on December 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've been immersed in the Halifax info for a while - we did an online exhibit about the eye relief efforts (including digitization of about 700 pages of correspondence no one had really looked at for most of a century...) Also a blog post and video, for a shorter summary.

I've also really been liking the 100 Years 100 Stories site for highlighting aspects of the explosion and aftermath that get glossed over in a lot of summaries.

And leotrotsky, the story of Vince Coleman breaks my heart every time. The Maritime Museum did a great page on him including photos of surviving artifacts.
posted by modernhypatia at 12:38 PM on December 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

The Halifax Explosion was one of my early lessons in hubris and humility. I grew up in Dartmouth, the city on the other side of the harbour, which also sustained great damage and loss of life. In 1971 I was in junior high school and we were studying Hugh McLennan's novel Barometer Rising. I was a gifted student, and because I was about 12, was insufferably snarky and contemptuous to go with it. Our English Literature teacher, whom I respected and admired, was on a long-ish medical leave and her substitute was Mrs Roper, who appeared to have been dug up from mouldy grave and poorly reanimated (at least as far as I was concerned). I was as rude, abrasive, and defiant as I could be without incurring actual retribution. As far as I was concerned, that old ruin had nothing to teach brilliant, 12-year old me. Eventually, we finished Barometer Rising and Mrs. Roper left.

My dad was in hospital a couple of years later. I was visiting with him and saw that Mrs Roper was a patient a few doors down. By then I was a little less convinced of my own importance and I popped in to say hello. Yes, she remembered me. Yes, she accepted my apology for my terrible behaviour (I was not the first insufferable junior high student she'd met in over 50 years of teaching she told me). And when we chatted, she told me she'd been 15 years old during the Halifax Explosion and had been a living resource for Hugh McLennan.

I couldn't stay, and she wasn't well (she was in hospital after all) so I lost my opportunity to listen to the amazing stories Mrs Roper must have had. And perhaps the shred of humility Mrs Roper taught me was more valuable. But every December 06 I remember my personal version of Pride and Prejudice.
posted by angiep at 2:50 PM on December 6, 2017 [12 favorites]

I love this story, but had never thought about the Hefty Price Tag For Nova Scotia.
posted by TwoStride at 4:41 PM on December 6, 2017

How times change. Halifax had a population of 50,000 at the time (higher if you included the military forces passing through), and five daily newspapers (plus a weekly across the harbour in Dartmouth).

Two thousand dead. That's 4% of the population. Another 9-10,000 injured. Being a Haligonian I hear about the Explosion every year, and I still learn new things about it. Survivors years later scratching an itchy spot, and pulling out a shard of glass. It led to the establishment of the pediatric surgery profession.

Earlier that year, Lev Bronstein was detained in Halifax, but eventually released to return to Russia where he adopted the revolutionary name Leon Trotsky. Shipping rules regarding munitions ships were relaxed at the time of the explosion because the Allies were concerned about German troops being released from the eastern front to move west because of the Russian Revolution the month before.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:45 PM on December 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

So many people were blinded by the explosion shattering their windows as they looked out from their hillside homes onto the burning ship in the harbour that this event led to the creation of the CNIB - the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
posted by thecjm at 6:57 PM on December 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

As I may have mentioned previously, when I first moved bed to Halifax, something I could not quite place struck me as odd in the architecture of the the neighbourhood where I lived and worked. It took me days to realize that while almost all the buildings were 19th century, of course they all had every window shattered in 1917. The replacement windows everywhere looked anachronistic in their Victorian buildings.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

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