Nova Scotia

Bells may ring again for Halifax Explosion's 100th anniversary

Halifax is looking for a company to restore and operate the bells in the memorial tower at Fort Needham Park in time for the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion in 2017.

Nearly a century ago the bells were donated in memory of people who died in the blast

Every Dec. 6, people gather for a memorial service in Fort Needham Park to remember the thousands of people killed, injured and left homeless after the 1917 collision between two ships in the Halifax harbour. Last years the bells at the top of the memorial tower were silent. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Halifax is looking for a company to restore and operate the bells at Fort Needham Park in time for the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion in 2017.

For decades the bells rang out as people gathered in Halifax's north end to commemorate the 1917 harbour collision between the Mont Blanc and the Imo, which resulted in an explosion that killed 2,000 people and injured 9,000 others. One of the ships was carrying munitions bound for Europe and the battlefields of the First World War. 

Over time the bells have fallen into disrepair. At last year's ceremony they didn't play at all. 

"They've been hit and miss," outgoing Coun. Jennifer Watts said. "It would have been inappropriate to play them." 

Lt. Victor Magnus had his camera at the ready in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion. (Victor Magnus)

In the 1920's Barbara Orr Thompson donated 10 bells in memory of the family members she lost in the explosion. The bells were moved to the Haifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower in Fort Needham Park in 1985. A decade later four more bells were added to the system. 

Now Halifax officials want all 14 bells restored and a modern, electronic system installed. The new system would allow the bells to chime through the day and with different sounds.

"At Christmas we can play Christmas chimes or traditional church music, so this will expand our playbook," municipal spokesman Brendan Elliott said.

The bells, which are atop a tower commemorating the explosion in Halifax's Fort Needham Park, were donated in the 1920s. (CBC)

Users still would be able to plug in an organ or use a laptop, Elliott said. 

It's unclear how much the project will cost but he pointed out that it is specialized work. 

The bells can be played through a keyboard set up in the base of the monument. (Submitted by Jennifer Watts)

The revamped bells are just part of the municipality's plan for the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, which also includes anniversary events, a grant program to encourage commemorative projects and landscaping at the Fort Needham Park.

The municipality's request for proposals for the bell tower work noted the hope is to provide place for the community to reflect on and remember the disaster.

About the Author

Pam Berman

Reporter

Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca

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