Hal­i­fax seeks liv­ing sur­vivors of dev­as­tat­ing 1917 blast

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - NATIONAL NEWS - BRETT BUNDALE

Hal­i­fax is is­su­ing a call for an ex­tremely spe­cific kind of cen­te­nar­ian — one who sur­vived the mas­sive blast that ripped through the city 100 years ago.

There are cur­rently no con­firmed liv­ing sur­vivors of the Hal­i­fax Ex­plo­sion, which killed about 2,000 peo­ple and lev­elled much of the city when a cargo ship car­ry­ing ex­plo­sives col­lided with an­other ves­sel on De­cem­ber 6, 1917.

As part of the 100th an­niver­sary, a spe­cial ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee to re­gional coun­cil is search­ing for liv­ing sur­vivors.

Com­mit­tee chair­man Craig Walk­ing­ton said sur­vivors would likely have had to be three or four years old to have their own per­sonal mem­o­ries of the blast.

“There’s a slim chance we could find some­one with their own per­sonal rec­ol­lec­tions from the ex­plo­sion,” he said in an in­ter­view. “They would have to be 103 or 104, but the­o­ret­i­cally there might be some­body with a vague mem­ory of it.”

Walk­ing­ton said the com­mit­tee has been con­tacted by dozens of chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of sur­vivors since it launched more than two years ago.

“We’ve re­ceived sev­eral let­ters and nu­mer­ous e-mails from rel­a­tives of sur­vivors,” he said. “We were re­cently con­tacted by some­body who said their mother was 105 and sur­vived the ex­plo­sion. If that’s the case, she could po­ten­tially have her own mem­ory of the events.”

Walk­ing­ton said any sur­vivors will be asked to at­tend the com­mem­o­ra­tive cer­e­mony in De­cem­ber, where they will be for­mally rec­og­nized.

Sur­vivors of the dev­as­tat­ing ex­plo­sion will help hu­man­ize the events that rocked the city 100 years ago, he said.

“We’re try­ing to turn it from a stat — nearly 2,000 peo­ple died, nearly 10,000 peo­ple were in­jured — into some­one’s story,” Walk­ing­ton said. “If you’re able to put a name on it, you can il­lus­trate the trauma and strat­egy that oc­curred.”

For ex­am­ple, Walk­ing­ton said the com­mit­tee was con­tacted by a Mis­souri woman whose grand­mother lost four chil­dren in the ex­plo­sion.

“The chil­dren were very close to the point of the ex­plo­sion and we’re told nary a bone was found,” he said. “She moved to the United States soon af­ter.”

Com­mit­tee mem­ber David Suther­land said it’s “bi­o­log­i­cally pos­si­ble” they will track down a hand­ful of liv­ing sur­vivors.

“We don’t cur­rently know of liv­ing sur­vivors,” the Dal­housie Univer­sity ad­junct his­tory pro­fes­sor said.

“But we have had some rel­a­tives reach out to us to in­di­cate that a sur­vivor is still alive, so we’re fol­low­ing up on that.”

Yet he said most sto­ries and rec­ol­lec­tions will likely come from rel­a­tives, the archives and his­tory books.

“The ones who went through the dis­as­ter as adults of­ten clammed up and wouldn’t talk about it,” he said.

A Hal­i­fax spokesman said the city will be pro­mot­ing the call for liv­ing sur­vivors on so­cial me­dia.

NA­TIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS HAND­OUT

The af­ter­math of the 1917 Hal­i­fax ship ex­plo­sion is shown in a file photo.

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