Nova Scotia

'Evocative' Halifax Explosion markers to be installed around city

The markers are part of a bigger project commemorating what is described as the worst man-made disaster in Canadian history.

Heritage Canada awarded the municipality $450K for the project

A rendering of what one of RHA+D Architects' Halifax Explosion markers will look like. (RHA+D Architects)

Twelve commemorative steel markers will be installed throughout the Halifax region to help tell the story of the Halifax Explosion.

This year marks 100 years since the massive blast on Dec. 6, 1917, which was caused by the collision of a Belgian relief ship and a French munitions vessel carrying TNT through the narrowest part of Halifax harbour.

The event, which killed about 2,000 people and injured 10,000 more, is described as the worst man-made disaster in Canadian history.

Jamie MacLellan, a spokesperson for the city, said the markers are part of a bigger project that will include upgrades to Fort Needham Memorial Park. The park was established in remembrance of the victims of the explosion.

The Norwegian steamship Imo is beached on Dartmouth shore after the 1917 Halifax explosion. Its collision with the munitions ship Mont-Blanc sparked the fire that set off the explosion. (Nova Scotia Archives & Record Management/Canadian Press)

Heritage Canada awarded the municipality $450,000 for the design, construction and installation of the monuments, along with a companion website and app.

"We're basically trying to create avenues into the narratives of the Halifax Explosion, both physically on the ground here in Halifax and I guess remotely for people who can't otherwise experience them in the public realm," said MacLellan.

The markers will be placed throughout Dartmouth, Halifax and Bedford, and will include details about the explosion and the marker's strategic location. 

Behind the design

Dartmouth architect Rayleen Hill designed the monuments, which she said are more like public art than interpretive signs.

The material chosen for the markers is symbolic, representing not only Halifax's past, but also present and future. 

"One of the forms is Cor-Ten steel, which is like a rusting steel. So, it's representative of the past," said Hill.

"The other part of the pair is polished stainless steel and it's kind of representative of Halifax now and us reflecting back on to that past."

Three of the markers will be installed at Fort Needham Park in Halifax. (The Canadian Press)

There will also be 100 perforations etched into the polished steel form, reflecting 100 years since the explosion and lives lost, said Hill. 

The markers will be between 3.5 and five metres tall. Three of the tallest ones will be installed at Fort Needham Park, said Hill.

Flexibility was key in designing the monuments. Hill said she did not know the locations at the time or the stories to be included and said it wasn't practical designing a different marker for each location.

4 themes

Instead, Hill said she designed four themes reflected in each design: child's storytime, the man in the mirror, close encounter and winter marches on. Hill was looking to design something more interesting than a commemorative plaque.

"We thought that this was an opportunity to actually put some public art pieces throughout the city that in their form alone might be evocative enough for people to be interested in them and to want to come up and explore them and read," said Hill.

MacLellan said the municipality's priority is to get the first three markers installed in time for the commemorative ceremony.

The city hopes the rest will be completed and installed by next spring.