Sunday, January 02, 2011

Happy New Year: In which I welcome the new year by explaining my lack of posting through a very long winded post filled with hope and destruction

Yes, happy New Year. To celebrate dear readers, I present to you a picture of a ship on fire

Yesssss. Just what you were craving I'm guessing. No?

Ah well. At least let me explain why I am presenting you a picture of an ill fated ship.
The reason is for the past couple of months I have been learning all I can about the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Now if you are reading this blog, you probably have some curiosity behind my doings (all 3 of you) therefore I'm betting that you are willing to give me the opportunity to indulge in the following:

1) What the Halifax Explosion of 1917 entails (besides...well an explosion! In Halifax! Sometime in 1917!)

2) What that has to do with this blog!?

Quick answer (well as quickly as I can that is):

1) The Halifax Explosion of 1917 was the largest accidental man made explosion pre-atomic bomb. On December 6th 1917 two ships, a Belgian Relief Ship The Imo and a French Munitions Ship the Mont-Blanc hit each other in the Narrows offshore Halifax.  The Mont-Blanc was so full of picric acid and benzene that as soon as the ship caught on fire its crew fled. Because of suspicion of German U-boats patrolling the harbor, ships at that time did not have to fly a red munitions flag, which would have effectively advertised what was on board. Because the Mont-Blanc did not fly a red flag,  no one knew off board how dangerous her cargo was. Therefore people on other boats rushed to aide the ship and the harbor was full of hundreds of onlookers dangerously close.

At 9:05 am  the ship exploded.

The explosion was the equivalent to roughly 3 kilotons of TNT.  
People were flung in the air and dropped miles away. Horses were cut in two. The blow caused a tsunami in the harbor and created a sound wave that blew out windows miles and miles away. The city became a "shattered city," for almost every structure's windows had been blown out. To make things worse, the explosion caused stoves, lamps and furnaces to tip or spill, spreading fires throughout the devastation, particularly in Halifax's North End, leaving entire streets on fire.  That night, while the injured and homeless struggled to find care and lodging, a terrible blizzard swept through the city. 

Wireless communication coming in and out of Halifax was cut off after the explosion, but a few telegraphs and messages managed to spread around the world before communication about the event was censured (Due to the war and suspicions that Germans had  bombed the city. It was still unclear or  what exactly had happened) 

Popular legend says that a message from train dispatcher, Vince Coleman helped spread the message that trouble was afoot in Halifax. Moments before the explosion, Coleman sent a wireless transmission warning trains to stop due to a ship on fire. Train tracks passed right in front of the drama, causing any train traffic to become be at risk.  

His message:  "Stop trains. Munition ship on fire. Making for Pier 6. Goodbye." successfully stopped all trains in the area.
Shortly afterwards the explosion took his life.

(This film, a "Heritage Moment," that used to run on Canadian TV during commercial breaks is  dramatic but not exactly true, there is no evidence that Coleman was running up and down the street to warn others. He really didn't have time for that!!)

Boston received a telegram at noon that day asking for help. The state of Massachusetts sent a relief train that night through the raging blizzard- A 27 hour 750 mile trip.  This train led to the creation of an American  hospital only hours after its arrival. The city of Boston continued to send more trains and supplies weeks afterwards. Relief from MA and Boston was so great that the Province of Nova Scotia continues to sends thanks today by selecting and shipping  a Christmas Tree every year. This tree is Boston's Official Christmas Tree.

And so now we get to #2 (What does this all have to do with this blog)

2) I'm writing and illustrating a children's book about the relief train and the story behind Boston's Christmas Tree. I have been working on it since the beginning to September. Two months on writing and researching (spending many hours at Boston Public Library reading Microfilm and handling official reports from 1917) and currently wrapping up a dummy book.

It sounds like a great topic right? EXPLOSIONS! DEATH!! PEOPLE ON FIRE! YES!! Perfect topic for a children's book!

Er....Ok, maybe not, but the story of a  train stubbornly fighting a blizzard and making a 750 mile journey to help and the symbol of the tree does, in my opinion, make a great story.

In Boston, when you watch the tree lighting ceremonies on TV the Prime Minister of Canada comes on to explain why Nova Scotia sends us a present every year. (This also explains why our Christmas is "Brought you to by Nova Scotia!" it's great for tourism.)

This year's Christmas Tree (with me in front of it) is from Gary and Roseann Misner from North Alton, Nova Scotia.

And that, dear readers, is what I have been up to since my last post in October!


Anonymous said...

I love the way you explained everything, Bonnie. I did know the story behind Boston's Christmas Tree but enjoyed everything you had to say. Great job.

Alisa said...

Wow, what an amazing story! I've never heard it, but it does sound like an interesting subject to research and illustrate! By the way our little tree this year was apparently from Quebec!