December 8, 1917 A Gift of Gratitude

The December 7 sun rose over a scene from the apocalypse, as a blizzard descended across Nova Scotia.  1,800 were dead and another 9,000 injured, and not only homeless.  The whole town was gone. 

The participants in this story have long since passed from among us.  Every one.  It is their countrymen who remember a debt of gratitude, one-hundred years in the making.  For near-half a century, this has taken the form of a tree.  A gift, from the people of Nova Scotia, to the people of Boston.

As “The Great War” dragged on to the end of its third year in Europe, Halifax harbor in Nova Scotia was the bustling scene of supply, munition, and troop ships destined for “over there”. With a population of 50,000 at the time, Halifax was the busiest port in Atlantic Canada.

hbrships

The Norwegian vessel SS Imo slipped her moorings in Halifax harbor on the morning of December 6, destined for New York City. The French freighter Mont Blanc was entering the harbor at this time, intending to join the convoy which would form her North Atlantic escort. In her holds, Mont Blanc carried 200 tons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT), and 2,300 tons of TNP – Trinitrophenol or “Picric Acid”, a substance then in use as a high explosive.

In addition, the freighter carried 35 tons of high octane gasoline and 20,000 lbs of gun cotton. Not wanting to draw the attention of pro-German saboteurs, the freighter flew no flags warning of her cargo.  Mont Blanc was a floating bomb.

montblanc
Mont Blanc was a floating bomb

Somehow, signals became crossed as the two ships passed, colliding in the narrows at the harbor entrance and igniting the TNP on board Mont Blanc. French sailors abandoned ship as fast as they could, warning everyone who would listen of what was about to happen.

explosion

Meanwhile, the spectacle of a flaming ship was too much to resist, as crowds gathered around the harbor. The high-pitched shriek emitted by picric acid under combustion is familiar to anyone who has ever attended a public fireworks display. You can only imagine the scene as the burning freighter brushed the harbor pier, setting that ablaze, before running aground.

The explosion and resulting fires killed over 1,800, flattening the north end of Halifax and shattering windows as far as fifty miles away.  It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, destroying over 1,600 homes on the cusp of a Canadian winter.

Mont Blanc’s half-ton anchor landed over two miles away, one of her gun barrels, three. Later analysis estimated an output of 2.9 kilotons, an explosive force greater than many tactical nuclear weapons.

Mont_Blanc_Anchor_Site_1

The December 7 sun rose over a scene from the apocalypse, as a blizzard descended across Nova Scotia.  Over 9,000 were injured, many gravely so, and not only homeless.  Their whole town was gone.

Boston Mayor James Michael Curley wrote to the American Representative in Halifax “The city of Boston has stood first in every movement of similar character since 1822, and will not be found wanting in this instance. I am, awaiting Your Honor’s kind instruction.”

Halifax explosion, 6Curley was as good as his word. The Mayor and Massachusetts’ Governor Samuel McCall composed a Halifax Relief Committee to raise funds and organize aid. McCall reported the effort raised $100,000 in its first hour alone, equivalent to over $1.9 million, today.

President Woodrow Wilson authorized a $30,000 carload of Army blankets sent to Halifax. Within twelve hours of the explosion, the Boston Globe reported on the first train leaving North Station, with “30 of Boston’s leading physicians and surgeons, 70 nurses, a completely equipped 500-bed base hospital unit and a vast amount of hospital supplies”.

Halifax explosion, 5

Delayed by deep snow drifts, the train arrived on the morning of December 8, the first non-Canadian relief train, on the scene.

$750,000 in relief aid would arrive from Massachusetts alone, equivalent to more than $15 million today. Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden would write to Governor McCall on December 9, “On behalf of the Government of Canada, I desire to convey to Your Excellency our very sincere and warm thanks for your sympathy and aid in the appalling calamity which has befallen Halifax”.

Halifax explosion, 7

The following year, Nova Scotia sent the city of Boston a gift of gratitude.  A very large Christmas tree.

In 1971, the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association sent another tree to Boston, both to promote Christmas tree exports, and to once again acknowledge the support of the people and government of Boston, following the 1917 disaster. The Nova Scotia government later took over the annual gift of the Christmas tree, to promote trade and tourism.

So it is that, every year, the people of Nova Scotia send the people of Boston the official Christmas tree, to be displayed on Boston Common.   The tree even has its own  Facebook page.  More recently, the principle tree is joined by two smaller ones, donated to Rosie’s Place and the Pine Street Inn, two of Boston’s homeless shelters.

The 2018 tree begins the 600-mile journey south

This is no Charlie Brown shrub we’re talking about. The 1998 tree required 3,200 man-hours to decorate, with 17,000 lights connected by 4½ miles of wire and bedecked with 8,000 bulbs.

In 2013, the tree was accompanied by a group of runners, in recognition of the Boston Marathon bombing in April of that year.

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This year’s tree lighting ceremony on Boston Common, November 29, 2018. Hat tip http://www.facebook.com/pg/TreeForBoston/photos/ for the tree images used in this story

The 2018 tree is a white spruce standing 46-feet, for the first time selected from the Cumberland County town of Oxford, and donated by Ross McKellar and Teresa Simpson. It takes two men a day and a half to prepare for cutting, a crane holding the tree upright while the chainsaw does its work. It’s a major media event as the tree is paraded through Halifax on a 53’ flatbed trailer, before beginning the 600-mile journey south.

47574139_2040092056013388_8809205939614777344_n

For a small Canadian province, it’s been no small commitment. In 2016 Nova Scotia spent $242,000 on the program, including transportation, cutting & lighting ceremonies, and all the promotions which went with it.  The government of the province, says the program is well worth the expense.

“This is about friendship, unity and gratitude to the people of Boston,” said Deputy Premier Karen Casey on behalf of Premier Stephen McNeil. “We are forever appreciative of Boston’s immediate response of aid after the explosion. This tree embodies the spirit of our culture and is our way of saying thank you.”

Feature image, top of page:  This colorized photo only hints at the scale of the disaster.  Hat tip, CBC

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

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December 10, 1917 Oh, Christmas Tree…

On November 30, a monument was unveiled on Boston Commons, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion.  The official 2017 Christmas tree lit up for the first time, that night.

A few days short ago, a Christmas tree was erected on Boston Commons. Symbolizing as it does the friendship between the people of two nations, this is no ordinary tree. This tree stands in solemn remembrance of catastrophe, 100 years ago, today.

As “The Great War” dragged to the end of its third year in Europe, Halifax harbor in Nova Scotia was the bustling scene of supply, munition, and troop ships destined for “over there”.  With a population of 50,000 at the time, Halifax was the busiest port in Atlantic Canada.

The Norwegian vessel Imo left its mooring in Halifax harbor on December 6, 1917, destined for New York City.   The French ship Mont Blanc was entering the harbor at this time, intending to join the convoy which would form her North Atlantic escort.

In her holds, Mont Blanc carried 200 tons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT), and 2,300 tons of TNP – Trinitrophenol or “Picric Acid”, a substance used as a high explosive.  In addition, the freighter carried 35 tons of high octane gasoline and 20,000 lbs of gun cotton.

Not wanting to draw the attention of pro-German saboteurs, the freighter flew no flags warning of her dangerous cargo.  Mont Blanc was a floating bomb.

Somehow, signals became crossed as the two ships passed, colliding in the narrows at the harbor entrance and igniting TNP onboard Mont Blanc.  French sailors abandoned ship as fast as they could, warning everyone who would listen of what was about to happen.

As might be expected, the pyrotechnic spectacle put on by the flaming ship was too much to resist, and crowds gathered around the harbor.  The high-pitched scream emitted by picric acid under combustion is a principal feature of fireworks displays, to this day.  You can only imagine the scene as the burning freighter brushed the harbor pier setting that ablaze as well, before running itself aground.

That was when Mont Blanc exploded.

Halifax explosion, 2

The detonation and resulting fires killed over 1,800 and wounded another 9,000, flattening the north end of Halifax and shattering windows as far as 50 miles away.

It was one of the largest man made, non-nuclear explosions in history. Mont Blanc’s anchor landed two miles away, one of her gun barrels, three.  Later analysis estimated the output at 2.9 kilotons, an explosive force greater than some tactical nuclear weapons.

Halifax explosion, 3

The first ray of light the morning of December 7 revealed some 1,600 homes destroyed in the blast, as a blizzard descended across Nova Scotia.

Boston Mayor James Michael Curley wrote to the US Representative in Halifax “The city of Boston has stood first in every movement of similar character since 1822, and will not be found wanting in this instance. I am, awaiting Your Honor’s kind instruction.”

Halifax explosion, 1

The man was as good as his word.  Mayor Curley and Massachusetts Governor Samuel McCall composed a Halifax relief Committee to raise funds and organize aid.  McCall reported that the effort raised $100,000 in its first hour, alone. President Woodrow Wilson authorized a $30,000 carload of Army blankets sent to Halifax.

Within 12 hours of the explosion, the Boston Globe reported on the first train leaving North Station, with “30 of Boston’s leading physicians and surgeons, 70 nurses, a completely equipped 500-bed base hospital unit and a vast amount of hospital supplies”.

Delayed by deep snow drifts, the train arrived on the morning of December 8, the first non-Canadian relief train on the scene.

Halifax HeraldThere was strong sentiment at the time, that German sabotage lay behind the disaster.  A front-page headline on the December 10 Halifax Herald Newspaper proclaimed “Practically All the Germans in Halifax Are to Be Arrested”.

$750,000 in relief aid would arrive from Massachusetts alone, equivalent to more than $15 million today.  Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden would write to Governor McCall on December 9, “On behalf of the Government of Canada, I desire to convey to Your Excellency our very sincere and warm thanks for your sympathy and aid in the appalling calamity which has befallen Halifax”.

The following year, Nova Scotia sent the city of Boston a gift of gratitude.  A very large Christmas tree.

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In 1971, the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association sent another tree to Boston, to promote Christmas tree exports, and to once again acknowledge the support of the people and government of Boston after the 1917 disaster. The Nova Scotia government later took over the annual gift of the Christmas tree, to promote trade and tourism.Halifax Tree Sendoff

So it is that, every year, the people of Nova Scotia send the official Christmas tree to the people of Boston.  More recently, the principle tree is joined by two smaller trees, donated to Rosie’s Place and the Pine Street Inn, two Boston homeless shelters.

events3406This is no Charlie Brown shrub we’re talking about. The 1998 tree required 3,200 man-hours to decorate:  17,000 lights connected by 4½ miles of wire, and decorated with 8,000 bulbs.

In 2013, the tree was accompanied by a group of runners, in recognition of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that year.

This year’s tree stands 53′ tall, marking 100 years since the Halifax exlosion. It takes two men a day and a half to prepare for cutting, a crane holding the tree upright while the chainsaw does its work.  It’s a major media event, as the tree is paraded through Halifax on a 53’ flatbed, before boarding the ferry across the Bay of Fundy to begin its 750-mile journey south.download

For a small Canadian province, it’s been no small commitment.  In 2015 Nova Scotia spent $242,000 on the program, including transportation cutting & lighting ceremonies, and the promotions that went with it.

On November 30, a monument was unveiled on Boston Commons, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion.  The official 2017 Christmas tree lit up for the first time, that night.

Last year, Premier Stephen McNeil explained the program and why it was worth the expense:  “(It) gives us a chance to showcase our beautiful part of the world to a global community”.   Premier McNeil may have had the last word this year, at the tree lighting ceremony. “We had massive deaths and injuries,” McNeil said of the 1917 catastrophe. “It would have been far worse if the people of Boston hadn’t come and supported us.”

boston-tree-header

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy the same. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

December 10, 1917 Halifax Explosion

French sailors abandoned ship as fast as they could, warning everyone who would listen of what was about to happen

As “The Great War” dragged itself to the end of its third year in Europe, Halifax harbor in Nova Scotia, was the bustling scene of supply, munition, and troop ships destined for “over there”.  With a population of 50,000 at the time, Halifax was the busiest port in Atlantic Canada.

The Norwegian vessel Imo left its mooring in Halifax harbor on the morning of December 6, destined for New York City.   The French ship Mont Blanc was entering the harbor at this time, intending to join the convoy which would form her North Atlantic escort.  In her holds, Mont Blanc carried 200 tons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT), and 2,300 tons of TNP – Trinitrophenol or “Picric Acid”, a substance then in use as a high explosive.  In addition, the freighter carried 35 tons of high octane gasoline and 20,000 lbs of gun cotton.  Not wanting to draw the attention of pro-German saboteurs, the freighter flew no flags warning of its cargo.  Mont Blanc was a floating bomb

Somehow, signals became crossed as the two ships passed, colliding in the narrows at the harbor entrance and igniting the TNP onboard Mont Blanc.  French sailors abandoned ship as fast as they could, warning everyone who would listen of what was about to happen.

Meanwhile, the spectacle of a flaming ship was too much to resist, as crowds gathered around the harbor.  The high-pitched whine emitted by picric acid under combustion remains a feature of fireworks displays to this day.  You can only imagine the scene as the burning freighter brushed the harbor pier, setting it ablaze, before running aground.

The explosion and resulting fires killed over 1,800, flattening the north end of Halifax and shattering windows as far as 50 miles away.  With over 1,600 homes flattened, it was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.  Mont Blanc’s anchor landed two miles away, one of her gun barrels, three.  Later analysis estimated the explosive output at 2.9 kilotons, a force greater than many tactical nuclear weapons.

9,000 were wounded on the morning of December 7, as a blizzard descended across Nova Scotia.  Boston Mayor James Michael Curley wrote to the US Representative in Halifax “The city of Boston has stood first in every movement of similar character since 1822, and will not be found wanting in this instance. I am, awaiting Your Honor’s kind instruction.”

Curley was as good as his word.  He and Massachusetts Governor Samuel McCall composed a Halifax Relief Committee to raise funds and organize aid.  McCall reported that the effort raised $100,000 in its first hour alone. President Woodrow Wilson authorized a $30,000 carload of Army blankets sent to Halifax.  Within 12 hours of the explosion, the Boston Globe reported on the first train leaving North Station, with “30 of Boston’s leading physicians and surgeons, 70 nurses, a completely equipped 500-bed base hospital unit and a vast amount of hospital supplies”.

Delayed by deep snow drifts, the train arrived on the morning of December 8, the first non-Canadian relief train on the scene.

There was strong sentiment at the time, that German sabotage lay behind the disaster.  A front-page headline on the December 10 Halifax Herald Newspaper proclaimed “Practically All the Germans in Halifax Are to Be Arrested”.

$750,000 in relief aid would arrive from Massachusetts alone, equivalent to more than $15 million today.  Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden would write to Governor McCall on December 9, “On behalf of the Government of Canada, I desire to convey to Your Excellency our very sincere and warm thanks for your sympathy and aid in the appalling calamity which has befallen Halifax”.

The following year, Nova Scotia sent the city of Boston a gift of gratitude, a very large Christmas tree.

In 1971, the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association sent Boston another tree, to promote their Christmas tree exports, and to once again acknowledge the support of the people and government of Boston after the 1917 disaster. The Nova Scotia government later took over the annual gift of the Christmas tree, to promote trade and tourism.

And so it is that, every year, the people of Nova Scotia send the people of Boston their official Christmas tree.  More recently, the principle tree is joined by two smaller trees, donated to Rosie’s Place and the Pine Street Inn, two of Boston’s homeless shelters.

This is no Charlie Brown shrub we’re talking about. The 1998 tree required 3,200 man-hours to decorate:  17,000 lights connected by 4½ miles of wire, and decorated with 8,000 bulbs.

In 2013, the tree was accompanied by a group of runners, in recognition of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that year.2016-boston-christmas-tree

This year’s tree stands just short of 46′, for the first time selected from the Cape Breton area. It takes two men a day and a half to prepare for cutting, a crane holding the tree upright while the chainsaw does its work.  It’s a major media event, as the tree is paraded through Halifax on a 53’ flatbed, before boarding the ferry across the Bay of Fundy to begin its 750-mile journey south.

For a small Canadian province, it’s been no small commitment.  Last year Nova Scotia spent $242,000 on the program, including transportation, cutting & lighting ceremonies, and all the promotions that went with it.  Premier Stephen McNeil says the program is well worth the expense. “(It) gives us a chance to showcase our beautiful part of the world to a global community”.  Tim Whynot, manager of stewardship and outreach for the provincial Department of Natural Resources, may have the last word.  “With the Tree for Boston, obviously the history of why we do it is pretty significant…we don’t want that to be forgotten”.