Halifax Explosion Centennial Commemoration

On Monday, November 20, 2017, the Maine State Archives hosted an event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the deadly and devastating Halifax Explosion in Nova Scotia.  This event, held at Capitol Park in Augusta, coincided with this year’s delivery of the “Boston Christmas Tree” from the people of Nova Scotia to the people of Boston, Massachusetts—an ongoing show of gratitude for the humanitarian aid New Englanders provided to Nova Scotia following the explosion a century earlier.

Playing an integral part in the anniversary event was Maine State Archivist and Canton Historical Society Board Member Sam Howes.  As an undergraduate, Sam attended at Acadia University in Nova Scotia and was well aware of the history of the explosion and its aftermath.  He felt it was important that the anniversary be recognized in Augusta.  At Capitol Park, Sam shared the stage with dignitaries from both the State of Maine and the Province of Nova Scotia and gave a speech about the tragedy that occurred in 1917 in the midst of World War I.  In an interview about the event on WVOM radio, Maine’s Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, acknowledged Sam’s role in the commemoration.  Additionally, Sam appeared in several television interviews.

The Halifax Explosion occurred early in the morning on December 6, 1917.  Two ships, the Norwegian SS Imo and the French SS Mont-Blanc, collided in Halifax Harbor.  The crew, being aware that the ship contained explosives, swam to shore, doing their best to warn others.  While the unmanned Mont-Blanc drifted, those on the shore watched the beautiful colors that resulted from the burning.  What followed was the largest non-nuclear explosion in history to date—so intense that it caused a small tsunami.  The crewmembers swam to an area that was relatively unaffected, so they survived—but 2000 others died and 9000 were wounded, many as a result of flying glass.

The New England states were quick to respond.  The State of Massachusetts sent people and supplies in a train that arrived in Halifax on December 8 after traveling through a blizzard.  Carl Milliken, Maine’s governor at the time, sent a telegram to Halifax saying, “Any help Maine can give is yours.”  The train from Boston stopped in Maine and supplies were added.  Maine sent it’s own train that arrived on December 9.  It contained supplies as well as the Medical Unit from a Maine Army National Guard.  The Medical Unit quickly sent up a 500-bed hospital in Halifax Ladies College.  Many Maine communities offered and/or provided medical and humanitarian aid to Halifax after the tragedy—including supplying Christmas toys for the Halifax children.

Congratulations to Sam for helping preserve and highlight an important historic event in which Maine played a part.  Sam presented another talk on the Halifax Explosion on Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at the Maine State Library in Augusta.

Sources:  Adjutant General records from the Maine State Archives (http://digitalmaine.com/wwI_halifax_explosion/); articles from the Lewiston Evening Journal and the Lewiston Daily Sun from December 1917; “Curse of the Narrows,” by Laura MacDonald; and information from Sam Howes and Elise Despres.