Ruins in the City of Halifax after the devastating explosion of the munitions ship the Mont Blanc on December 6, 1917. Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Canada.

COLUMN: 100 years since the Halifax explosion

Greg Scott looks at significant events from the past 100 years.

Greg Scott brings us excerpts from the Nelson Daily News in July, 1917.

December 7, 1917

As the result of a terrible explosion aboard a munitions ship in Halifax harbor that morning, a large part of the north end of the city and along the waterfront is in ruins and the loss of life is appalling. Late estimates place the number of dead exceeding two thousand. On one ship alone 40 persons were killed. Thousands have been injured. The property damage is enormous and there is scarcely a window left in a building in the city. Fire followed the explosion and this added to the greatest catastrophe in the history of the city. All business has been suspended and armed guards of soldiers and sailors are patrolling the city. (Ed note: final death toll 1,950 with 9,000 injured)

December 13, 1917

Efficiency on the part of the fire department was responsible for extinguishing the flames in the Provincial Court House. Damage will not exceed $1,000 it is ventured. The fire appears to have broken out in the lower part of the building and it is the general opinion that it was started from the electrical wiring. The alarm was put in by Caretaker McKim, who was aroused from sleep by smoke in his room in the lower part of the court house. Although the alarm was sounded at 2:40 the fire department were at work with a stream of hose at 2:45. Within a few minutes a second stream was playing on the flames, which at that time appeared to be enveloping the entire interior of the building. Dense smoke pouring from the top of the building indicated that the fire was making headway. The fact that the building was of stone made it impossible to ascertain the extent to which the flames spread. With one stream of water playing on the main floor and the second stream on the upper floor, Chief Guthrie and his men had the fire under control at 3:15.

December 24, 1917

The third annual Christmas tree for soldiers’ children under the auspices of the women’s committee of the Patriotic Fund held Saturday afternoon in the Eagle hall was most successful in every way, judging by the gay laughter and happy faces of the children who were present. The huge Christmas tree was gaily festooned with colored electric lights and laden with a present for every child. Santa Claus was in his usual good cheer. The afternoon’s entertainment for the kiddies was enlivened by games of various sorts, while in addition to a supper for the children and their mothers, every child was handed a Christmas stocking before leaving the hall.

December 25, 1917

Merchants of Nelson were united in declaring that the Christmas business had been the best in years. One merchant, who looked back in his records, announced that the 1917 Christmas was the heaviest in 20 years.

Yesterday Christmas was the biggest day of the season. From early morning until late at night the stores were filled with patrons. The great majority of purchases were of useful articles. Luxuries were even less popular than last year. The public, the merchants agreed, was spending money freely but only for the more necessary classes of goods. It was estimated that fully 90 per cent of the Christmas gifts purchased in Nelson were articles which will be worn, used in the homes or otherwise employed usefully during the coming year.

December 26, 1917

Christmas passed quietly in the City. The temperature had a tang lending a Christmassy spirit. “Merry Christmas” was the never old greeting heard on every street corner and in every home. Turkey dinners and the holiday feast were participated in throughout the city homes and in the hotels special menus graced the tables. During the afternoon the children took advantage of the coasting facilities of the streets and the picture shows were popular resorts. Telegrams of good cheer from friends all over the world were received at the local telegraph offices for Nelson citizens and during the morning telegraph boys delivered dozens of holly bordered envelopes around the city.

The dinner at the Hume won commendations from all who attended it. The menu was varied, the food tasteful and well cooked and the service excellent. Dancing continued until after midnight, the crowd enjoying the bright music provided by the orchestra and the fine floor.

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