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Halifax (and Boston) get ready to commemorate the Halifax Explosion’s centennial

Plans are coming together now for 100-year anniversary.

click to enlarge Close to $91,000 in community grants have been recommended to commemorate the Halifax Explosion’s 100-year anniversary. - VIA THE MARITIME MUSEUM OF THE ATLANTIC
  • Close to $91,000 in community grants have been recommended to commemorate the Halifax Explosion’s 100-year anniversary.
  • via the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

It’s a century-old tale of two seaport cities. The start of it was shaped by a carnage-causing mishap in the cold waters of Halifax Harbour. And the epilogue, created by a grateful province, continues today with a warmhearted, seasonal “thank you” from one city for the crucial humanitarian aid sent by the other.   

It is the cross-border story of how Halifax and Boston essentially became sister cities born out of tragedy—the 1917 Halifax Explosion. The centennial of the disaster is being planned now for December, 2017. It’s still early in the preparation process, but the City of Boston is intending to recognize the special relationship it has with Halifax and join this municipality in marking the occasion.

“The City of Boston is looking forward to celebrating the centennial of our friendship with the Province of Nova Scotia in December of 2017,” spokesperson Bonnie McGilpin tells The Coast in an email. “We hope to kick off the start of this celebration at this year’s...annual Boston Common [Christmas] tree lighting scheduled for December 1.”

About 2,000 people were killed in the 1917 blast, which levelled Halifax’s north end. Scores were injured and some 1,600 homes were destroyed during the morning of December 6. The Mi’kmaw community of Turtle Grove, on the Dartmouth side of the harbour, was also laid to waste.

Historic records and old news reports say the people of Boston responded to the Halifax Explosion promptly and efficiently; they mobilized as soon as the shocking news reached their city. Boston officials organized a relief train and dispatched it the night immediately following the explosion. It carried medical supplies and other emergency goods. Medical teams and other relief workers began helping the survivors in Halifax after the train’s arrival on the morning of December 8. (A blizzard following the blast delayed it.)

Aid continued to flow to Halifax from Massachusetts after the relief train got here. In Boston, fundraising efforts quickly got underway to help survivors of the catastrophe. For instance, the Boston Symphony performed a sold-out benefit concert for Halifax relief days after the explosion.

For decades, the government of Nova Scotia has given the City of Boston a large Christmas tree every year in gratitude for the kindness and humanitarian aid Halifax received in the aftermath of the 1917 disaster.

Halifax’s municipal leaders expect the remembrance will attract history buffs, academics, former Haligonians and other visitors to the city who’ll commemorate the devastating December 6, 1917 blast.

Among other plans, in March HRM issued a public appeal to residents for ideas for an official emblem to illustrate the tragedy’s 100-year mark.

City hall’s Halifax Explosion advisory committee has also so far recommended 10 local organizations be awarded a total of $90,760 in grants for projects to commemorate the explosion’s centennial. A scoring method included consideration of “enduring legacy,” “innovation” and “public engagement.”

Approved plans include: $10,000 for a commemorative concert by Symphony Nova Scotia; $10,000 for a music-and-prose recreation of the memorial service that took place at St. Paul’s Anglican on January 1, 1918; $10,000 for a play by Neptune Theatre and the Eastern Front Theatre Society based on three people from different ethnic backgrounds killed in the disaster; $5,000 for an original choral work by the Halifax Camerata Singers; and $6,760 for a digital photo essay at the Dalhousie University Art Gallery.

The Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Grants Program is now accepting applications for a second round of funding contemplating a second round of project funding, but nothing's approved as of yet, according to HRM spokesperson Tiffany Chase.

When considering the bottom-line cost of the centennial, which isn’t known yet, factored in will be the Fort Needham master plan. That’s the redesign of the north-end park that hosts the municipality’s annual Halifax Explosion ceremony.

Outgoing city spokesperson Jennifer Stairs said that project includes $2.2 million for Phase 1 (2016-17) and $3 million for Phase 2 (2017-18), pending Halifax council’s approval and the receipt of funding from other levels of government and the private sector.

“These budget numbers are based on the conceptual design” of the park plan, Stairs said. “The more detailed design work will generate more detailed cost estimates as the project progresses.”

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