Nova Scotia

Daughter of Halifax Explosion survivor wants greater role for families at service

The daughter of a survivor of the Halifax Explosion says families touched by the tragedy need a greater role in the city's memorial service. Marilyn Elliott's father, Eric Davidson, was blinded when he was two years old from the blast that rocked Halifax on Dec. 6 1917.

Family members have started tradition of wearing red scarves to show magnitude of tragedy

Marilyn Elliott laid a wreath at Friday's service, but was hoping to have the opportunity to speak. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The daughter of a survivor of the Halifax Explosion says families touched by the tragedy need a greater role in the city's annual memorial service.

Marilyn Elliott's father, Eric Davidson, was blinded from the explosion that rocked Halifax on Dec. 6, 1917, after the steamship Imo collided in the harbour with the munitions vessel Mont-Blanc.

Her book, The Blind Mechanic, details his remarkable journey of learning to be an auto mechanic without his sight. About 2,000 people were killed in the explosion and one in 50 Haligonians were blinded or suffered serious eye damage.

Friday marked 102 years since the tragedy.

"We want to be able to tell our stories because we are the storytellers now," Elliott told CBC's Information Morning. "My generation and subsequent generations, we're the ones that are going to keep the stories alive."

While several family members were in attendance at the annual service at Fort Needham Memorial Park, they didn't speak as part of the official agenda. Elliott laid a wreath during the service, but said she's asked the municipality for a greater role.

"I'm disappointed, that's for sure, because I've tried for the last couple of years to participate," she said. 

A spokesperson for the municipality said the agenda is set in the fall after consulting with the councillor for the area, but that it's open to making changes for next year.

Families marked the legacy of the Halifax Explosion by wearing red scarves to Friday's service at Fort Needham Memorial Park. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Elliott and many other descendents wore red scarves on Friday, a tradition, she said, that was started a couple years by a family that wanted to be able to identify one another in the large crowd at the service. 

She said it's become a symbol of the magnitude of the event and it's lasting impact on generations of Nova Scotians. 

Elliott's family was forever changed by that December day in 1917. She realizes now her grandmother suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, although it wasn't called that back then. 

It's been 102 years to the day that the Imo collided with the Mont-Blanc in the Halifax harbour. (Nova Scotia Archives & Record Management/Canadian Press)

"She couldn't get over her son losing his eyes," Elliott said. "She just couldn't get beyond it and you know she sheltered him. She just never wanted him to leave her."

For Elliott, the Halifax Explosion is far from a thing of the past. She felt its weight every time she looked at her father. 

"Whereas other fathers were not blind in the neighborhood. So we had a constant reminder of the challenges that our father had to face every day," she said. 

A spokesperson said the municipality is open to reviewing the program for 2020 to include family members. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

These are the stories she said deserve a place in the city's memorial service. 

Maggie-Jane Spry with the Halifax Regional Municipality said in an email that a representative from the arts community is typically asked to speak. George Elliott Clarke has held that position the last two years, and author and historian Janet Kitz before that.

"Due to the restraints around potential cold weather conditions we have always tried to limit the amount of speakers to ensure the event stays on schedule," Spry wrote in her email.

She said the municipality is willing to review the program for 2020 "to ensure the community is represented respectfully."

With files from CBC's Information Morning


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.