mitchellirons

rough notes

Between the bridges

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I’ve been reading Laura M. MacDonald’s Curse of the Narrows this Christmas.  I’ve also been doing a lot of walking throughout the downtown and the north end of the city, and I can’t help myself from stopping every now again to think about how this town was eviscerated on 6 December 1917.  Although we all learned in our high school classrooms (even myself, back in Upper Canada) that the Halifax Explosion was the largest and most-destructive man-made explosion before The Manhattan Project brought our human depravity to a whole new level, I never realized the sheer might of the blast until I read MacDonald’s narrative account of the destruction that my adopted hometown faced ninety years ago.

Some of the facts which we all know: the North End was completely destroyed; all communication in and out of the town was cut off; a blizzard that dumped 18 inches of snow on the night of the 6th exacerbated things; Vince Coleman, dispatcher, stopped some of the trains from making it to town and increasing the death toll; the State of Massachusetts sent hundreds of medics and hundreds of pounds of supplies on a train more or less the same day without knowing how bad things were or if it was even necessary.

JG heard that his street, just north of North Street, is reportedly the southern end of the complete flattening of the old working-class district of Richmond.  This could be the case; MacDonald notes that after the Explosion, the Army and navy posted road blocks on North Street to prevent locals from re-entering the community to locate the shredded limbs of their families as well as to prevent others from looting from the dead.

There are two or three scenes which MacDonald writes about that stick in my mind right now.  One of is a ferry captain who was on the water in the Narrows at the time of the blast.  The last thing he remembers is being sucked into the waters by a tsunami-like blast, and then waking up, half-naked and clothing in tatters on the shores of Tuft’s Cove (near the base of the MacKay bridge) in Dartmouth.  The other vignette is of the man who was working in the port-lands around Pier 8  (about where the Halifax Shipyards are now).  He recalls being down on the water, and then the next thing he knows, he wakes up with his clothing in tatters, covered in soot and his head pounding, on the top of what is now Fort Needham Park, a glacial drumlin that separated the Richmond homes on the slopes of the hill from the rest of the town.

Doctors reported that most of the town was walking around in a PTSD-like state for 8 days. Townspeople were either concussed or in shock for eight days straight.  People had little to say, had little response to stimuli, and showed little emotion.  Throughout my walks this Christmas, I’ve found myself standing on particular street corners, looking toward The Narrows.   A couple times, I’ve checked my watch for the time, and then just begun to stare, and stare, in my own state of shock about how things were that day.  On that morning, hell came to Halifax, and no one was ready for it.  The Explosion was an unexpected visitor (of course), and it was as sudden as it was destructive.  Imagine yourself turning the corner on a road in your hometown, walking to school or work at 9:06AM, and then a massive fireball erupts from the harbour and throws your body half a mile away.   Imagine yourself and your town trying to cope with that.

How Sebaldian of me (without the poesy, of course)

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Written by mitchellirons

December 30, 2008 at 11:06 am

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