I took a blogging break over Christmas, but how great it is that today's post is about a symbol of Christmas and hope? Today's guest blogger is the wonderful Jennie Marsland. Not only is she a talent author (seriously, look at her Amazon page, her books rock and her covers are breathtaking!) but she knows her history as well. Thanks so much for coming out to chat today about Halifax and Boston.
Vicki, thank you for having me on your blog today!
Just before Christmas, I published the third book in my ‘Winds of War, Winds of Change’ series, set in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, during and after World War 1. The first two stories, Shattered and Deliverance, include a pivotal event in Halifax’s history, while the third, Flight, takes place as war gives way to the brave new world of the 1920s.
I find this time period fascinating because of the sweeping changes – social, moral, technological – that took place during those years. Nowhere were those changes felt more deeply than here in Halifax. As the foremost point of departure for personnel and supplies bound for Europe, this small port city swarmed with soldiers and sailors from all over the world, and our harbour handled more shipping than New York’s. That excess of traffic led to one of the greatest disasters of the 20th century, and to a tradition that Nova Scotians hold dear to this day. With the holiday season just past, I thought this would make a fitting story to share.
Boston’s Christmas Tree
Every Christmas tree is special, but the magnificent evergreen that glitters each year in Boston’s Prudential Plaza is unique. It’s a holiday symbol with a deeper meaning, a special gift in remembrance of help provided in a time of desperate need many years ago.
The year was 1917, and much of the world was at war. North along the Atlantic coast from Boston, the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia bustled with activity as convoys bound for Europe with troops and supplies prepared for the dangerous crossing. Traffic on Halifax Harbour had never been so busy. All vessels had to come and go during daylight hours, as submarine nets were drawn across the Harbour’s mouth at night. Amid the bustle, the city looked forward to Christmas. The economy was booming and the shops were full of festive goods to cheer yet another wartime holiday.
On the morning of December 6th, as men set off for work and children made their way to school, two ships collided in the Harbour. One of them, the French vessel Mont Blanc, was fully loaded with explosives – TNT, picric acid, airplane fuel and gun cotton. The collision sparked a fire. Knowing their deadly cargo, the crew of Mont Blanc took to the lifeboats and left the ship to drift into a pier in Halifax’s industrial North End. At 9:04 am Mont Blanc detonated in what is still the largest non-natural, non-atomic explosion in recorded history.
The North End was devastated. Homes and businesses were blown away, and ships touched bottom as the Harbour parted with the force of the blast. Over a thousand people were killed instantly and a thousand more died later of their injuries, but horrific as the loss of life was, it would have been much worse but for the bravery of Vince Coleman, a railway telegraph operator who sacrificed his life to send a warning message to an oncoming train. Thanks to Coleman, the whole world quickly got word of the disaster. Response was overwhelming, especially from the state of Massachusetts, where so many Nova Scotians had family ties.
Within a day, a train loaded with relief supplies, doctors and nurses set out for the stricken city. They relieved Halifax’s exhausted medical personnel, and remained to provide aid and distribute supplies until the casualties had been cared for and aid began to arrive from other sources. There is no doubt that without the help provided by Massachusetts, the explosion would have caused even more hardship and suffering.
Nova Scotia has not forgotten. And so, every year, we send a carefully chosen, towering tree to “the Boston States” to stand in Prudential Plaza, a reminder that kinship and generosity know no borders.
Jennie Marsland is a teacher, an amateur musician and for over thirty years, a writer. She fell in love with words at a very early age, and the affair has been life-long.
Jennie grew up reading Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey. She still has a soft spot for Westerns, and she draws further inspiration from her roots in rural Nova Scotia and stories of earlier times, passed down from her parents and grandparents. Glimpses of the past spark her imagination.
Jennie lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her husband and their two rambunctious Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Ceilidh and Echo. When she isn't teaching or writing, Jennie plays guitar, dabbles in watercolours, gardens, and caters to the whims of the four-footed tyrants of the household. Jennie can be found on the Web here!