Hundreds gather and ship horns sound at 9:04 a.m. to mark Halifax Explosion
Halifax Explosion claimed the lives of 2,000 people and injured another 9,000 on Dec. 6, 1917
Drenching rain was not enough to keep hundreds of people from gathering in Halifax's north end this morning to mark the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.
At 9:04 a.m. there was a moment of silence at a ceremony in Fort Needham Park. At the same time, a cacophony of ship horns, bells and a cannon blast from Citadel Hill rang out to commemorate the explosion in Halifax Harbour 100 years ago that claimed the lives of 2,000 people and injured another 9,000.
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Gillian Fowler's grandmother was among those to survive the blast.
"She was standing in front of a window and she ended up with more than a hundred pieces of glass embedded into the side of her face and neck," said Fowler, who was at the ceremony.
Among the hundreds who turned out at Fort Needham, where there is a monument dedicated to those who died in the explosion, were people from as far away as Ontario, Vancouver, England, Boston and California.
Jackson family legacy
Catherine Jackson Tuber travelled to Halifax from California for the commemoration. She said her grandfather was living in Halifax at the time of the explosion, but he and her grandmother happened to be out of town at the time of the blast.
"That's the only reason I'm here, because he did not get killed during the explosion," said Jackson Tuber.
Forty-six out of 66 members of the Jackson family died in the blast — the greatest loss of life by any one family in Halifax.
'I can't even imagine the horror'
"It's very emotional. I keep thinking, a hundred years ago, what it was like here. What were they thinking, their life before, nobody knew what was coming and just going about their day," said Jackson Tuber. "The town was decimated. I can't even imagine the horror."
Maureen Manuge and Charlene Day are part of a nursing group that was looking into the history of the explosion. Some of the group's members travelled to Boston and met with the nursing history committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Staff from that hospital helped with relief efforts after the explosion.
"There were probably over 800 nurses who volunteered so it's pretty significant," said Day.
"It's very hard to find their stories, though," said Manuge. "A lot of the nurses didn't write their stories so they're kind of hard to locate unless people have personal letters, stuff like that."
'A fascinating story'
Ann Moynihan, originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, said she attended the 75th anniversary of the explosion. She lives near the park where Mont-Blanc's anchor is preserved.
"We're very aware of this event and how it impacted Halifax, I think in a very profound way. We want to be here to remember all those poor people, the brave people," said Moynihan.
"It's a very fascinating story, a tragedy. There's still so much unresolved about it."
'He wondered why he survived'
Colleen Burgess and Linda Coolen attended the memorial to remember their uncle who survived the explosion.
"He was the only survivor on the Patricia, the fire truck," said Coolen. "We come every year in his memory and for all the people that were lost."
"We live with that, the stories," said Burgess. "He didn't dwell on it but was very poignant and brought up at different times. He always, he wondered why he survived."
The Royal Canadian Navy's Stadacona Band kicked off the service, which not only remembered those who were killed and injured but also the people who courageously helped rebuild a devastated city.
"I want to acknowledge all of those who 100 years ago showed that courage to give us the privilege to be here today, to stand and honour them," said Premier Stephen McNeil.
Parliament's poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke, recited a poem on rain-soaked paper that included imagery of what the smoke cloud would have looked like following the explosion.
"Lavender plumes disgorged from wrathful, aerated char," he said. "The skies tinged, absinthed, chartreused here, gangrened there, or rose pink and chocolate there, as if one spying spumoni ice-cream spirited into fumes."
In attendance was Jim Coleman, grandson of Vince Coleman. He was the dispatcher made famous in a Canadian Heritage Moment for giving his life to warn a train full of people of the imminent explosion.
"He had a choice," said Jim Coleman. "He had a choice to stay or a choice to leave and try to save his life. We believe he made the right choice. He stayed and for that many people lived."
A new plaque was also unveiled to mark the 100th anniversary as was a time capsule that will be sealed until 2067.
With files from Paul Palmeter and Carolyn Ray