Last week, Bostonians gathered on their Commons for the annual lighting of the city's Christmas tree.
     Not unusual, that -- it happens in cities and towns everywhere. But this tree is special. It didn't come from Massachusetts, or anywhere else in New England.
     Instead, it came from a foreign country, an annual "thank you" to the city and people of Boston for their help during a catastrophe 100 years ago today.
                                                        * * *
    On Dec. 6, 1917, the world was at war. Halifax harbour was then, as it is now, a major port of departure for shipping.
     Just before 9 a.m. that day, however, two vessels collided in the narrow channel between the ocean and harbour. They weren't going particularly fast, and the damage appeared minimal.
     But a fire broke out on one: the SS Mount-Blanc. It drifted to shore, abandoned by its crew, while sending a column of smoke skyward, which attracted the fascinated attention of those who could see the plume.
     Then it detonated.
     For the Mount-Blanc was a heavily laden munitions ship, and that explosion was the biggest man-made blast ever until Hiroshima.
     At least 2,000 people were killed outright, more were blinded by flying glass from the windows they'd been peering out of. The city's north end was levelled or rendered uninhabitable, and the final body wasn't recovered from the rubble until 1919.
     The news was quickly flashed, not least by a lone railway dispatcher who stayed at his post when he realised what was about to happen. An oncoming passenger train was advised to halt, which it did, and hundreds more lives were saved.
     But not Patrick Vincent Coleman, who died at his telegraph key, still sending out his final warning: "Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys."
     Canadians quickly rallied to the devastation, but a blizzard of epic proportions east of Nova Scota prevented relief from getting through from that direction.
     Boston, however, was outside the range of the blizzard, and by the next day, doctors, nurses, medical supplies, bedding, clothing, food and other necessities were on their way to the beleaguered port.
     That timely -- and unexpected -- intervention saved many more people from a slow death from injury, starvation or exposure. Lessons learned about treating eye injuries in particular are still enshrined in medical textbooks.
     So every year, Nova Scotians scour the province for the likliest tree (this year's came from Cape Breton Island), carefully fold up its branches, cut it down and ship it south.
     Halifax will never forget.

The aftermath....                                                                          (Wikipedia photo)

Views: 65

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 6, 2017 at 9:10am

Now there's the kind of message that brings me cheer in this otherwise bleak holiday season. I'm guilty as anyone of concentrating on the negative in the news, and we all ought to occasionally stop and think about heroes like Vincent Coleman. Like most people, I've never heard of him, and there are lots of other heroes in present times that don't get enough recognition. Here's my grateful take:

Not Every Angel Has Wings

I was down in a deep hole, bluer than I'd ever been

I fell so far down, I figured I'd reached the end

But somebody showed up just when I needed a friend

Yes, Heaven sent someone to set me on my feet again

The kindness of strangers sometimes amazes me

Like doctors and nurses who deal with some deadly disease

They risk their own lives for someone they don't even know

Angels of mercy who go where most people won't go

I may not get to Heaven, but I've already come mighty close

I've seen some angels, and I have been more blessed than most

I guess somebody up there must be pullin' some strings

All I can tell you is not every angel has wings

Not every angel has wings, no, not every angel has wings

But they must be angels 'cause they sure do heavenly things

©2014 Tom Cordle

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on December 6, 2017 at 9:24am

As usual, an excellent window into our past. Thanks!

Comment by Steel Breeze on December 6, 2017 at 10:40am

R&L....well done....

Comment by koshersalaami on December 6, 2017 at 10:52am

Never knew about this. Thank you.

Comment by Anna Herrington on December 6, 2017 at 12:04pm

I had no idea! Thanks for this, Bo, very interesting piece of history and still-current goodness among humans ~

I sent a link to my sister in Boston  : )

Comment by Anna Herrington on December 6, 2017 at 12:06pm

BTW, yesterday I posted another '100 years' kind of post but couldn't post it here on OurS until today....

great minds think alike.

or something like that  ; )

Comment by Boanerges on December 6, 2017 at 2:51pm

Nice one, Tom. And I agree about the everyday heroes -- they don't have to be first responders or service men and women, they just have to do the right thing at the right time.

Thanks, Jon.

And you too, SB.

It's pretty idiosyncratically Canuck, KS. Plus, like the Great War, it's now in the distant past. (Except for Nova Scotia, of course.)

Be interested in your sister's take on this, JT. And thanks. I'll go look up your post. (For the record, fools seldom think.)

Comment by Dicky Neely on December 6, 2017 at 3:04pm

Fascinating story.

Comment by Boanerges on December 7, 2017 at 8:03am

Thanks, Dicky.

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