Halifax Explosion’s Blinded Victims Remembered

Yesterday, I received a blog comment from a fellow named, George. It came for moderation and was directed off the ‘about Helen McFadyen’ page. George asked why I had not mentioned the significance of the day, particularly in light of the many victims who were killed, disabled, blinded…and my oft-spun blogs on the subject of blindness , “but being a PFA (Person From Away) it might not be familiar” to me….To tell you the truth, I did not ‘twig’ right away. I thought he was referring to the tragic news item from Afghanistan,  (100th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan) and that he was in some sort of reminiscing mode about Veterans. I’ve been woefully overworked, and writing ‘real’ articles and documents like a woman possessed (actually I’m a woman possessed by deadlines). so much so, that I had a restless night (that and my killer joint pain from this lovely, damp weather). But then, it struck me. I was mentally calculating dates (Christmas and all the billions of pot lucks and other events that require attendance) when I  decided to get up and check my Braille calendar. Thank you for the wake-up call, George. Of course, I am very familiar with this significant piece of Canadian/Nova Scotian/Haligonian history. I obviously missed the radio news reporting on local ceremonies.

Yesterday’s date was December 6th.  91 years ago (1917) on this date,  at approximately 9 am, the city of Halifax experienced the biggest man made explosion the world had ever seen. It came to be known as the Halifax Explosion. Before the sun went down that day, more than 1000 people would die, 1000 more would die later, and 9000 would be severely injured or maimed. Any person (including PFA’s) who lives in Halifax for a little while, will learn about this event. It is marked by solemn ceremony every year, and the local media always attempts to cover it in a big way. What happened? Canada was preparing for war (the Big One). The Halifax Harbour was busy. A Belgian relief ship (Imo) was preparing to clear the Bedford Basin, bound for Europe and the war. As it was going through the Narrows, the French munitions ship, Mont Blanc and the tug boat, Stella Maris which was towing two barges, all converged. A flurry of whistles followed, as the ships tried to figure which was passing to which side. The result, was a collision between the Mont Blanc and the Imo. The Mont Blanc was loaded with TNT,  benzol fuel and picric acid. The immediate result of the collision was smoke and fire. The Mont Blanc drifted towards the shoreline as it burned and smoked.  This scene drew curious people to their home and workplace windows to watch.  The CBC sums up best what followed; …”The steel hull burst sky high, falling in a blizzard of red-hot twisted projectiles on Dartmouth and Halifax.” The aftermath also included a tsunami-like wash of water (as high as 18 meters) over the survivors.

Result of Halifax Explosion:

  • In the Richmond area,  the destruction was so total that people could not recognize where their homes had been.
  • In the North end, entire streets were in flames as wood stoves, lamps and furnaces tipped over.
  • Firefighters came within hours from Moncton, Springhill, Amherst and Kentville, but their equipment (hoses) would not fit with differently-sized Halifax hydrants.
  • By noon hour the  officials  had gathered at city Hall, and The Halifax Relief Committee was put together in 45 minutes to begin to deal with issues of shelter, transportation, finance, food. Later that day,  more committees formed; medical relief, mortuary, fuel and Dartmouth Relief committees.
  • Medical aid began to arrive to support local hospitals. Aid stations sprang up. Massachusetts was a significant contributor of assistance (Halifax continues to send a huge Christmas tree to Boston every year as a symbolic thank you). Emergency triage treatment included amputations,  lacerations, eye removal, and life-saving surgeries.
  • Eye injuries and blindness were experienced by many Halifax Explosion survivors. One reason for this, is the tons of glass shards that exploded out of windows where people watched as the Mont Blanc drifted. Doctor G. H. Cox, an ophthalmologist arrived from New Glasgow to perform 12 hours of non stop eye surgeries.  The explosion caused 600 people to suffer eye injuries and 38 were totally and permanently blinded.
  • Many of the 1500 who died that day, died as buildings collapsed and burned around them.
  • 12,000 buildings were severely damaged. 1630 were completely destroyed. 6000 people were homeless.

 

Thank you for reminding me, George.

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