Nova Scotia

Halifax Explosion survivor dies at 98

One of the last survivors of the Halifax Explosion has died.

Mary Murphy was pulled from the burning wreckage of her Richmond home

Mary Murphy attended memorial services throughout her life. (CBC)

One of the last survivors of the Halifax Explosion has died.

Mary Anastasia Murphy was 98 years old. She was just two on Dec. 6, 1917, when what was then the largest man-made explosion destroyed her Richmond neighbourhood. It killed two of her uncles.

She was pulled from the ruined and burning family home. Her mother was sent flying and carried a scar on her neck the rest of her days.

In 2006, Murphy described her narrow escape.

"You couldn't get down the stairs because of all the plaster. You had to slide down. If it hadn't been for my aunt in the house, I don't think I'd be here talking to you today," she said.

Her nephew Patrick Murphy remembered her as a "great listener and a good chum."

Patrick Murphy said it was initially hard to identify his aunt after the explosion.

"The only way they knew that Mary was Mary Murphy was because she wouldn’t take anything unless it was on a nice teacup and saucer. The girl was very particular about how she should be served — that was Mary, that was my aunt."

He said despite her young age when the disaster struck, it defined her life.

Raised with orphans

Her father was in Newfoundland on a sales trip and returned home to a devastated city. Mary was sent to Prospect Bay while the city rebuilt.

"It was a trauma. A lot of children were taken out of the city. There always seemed to be people in the home who were being looked after," Patrick Murphy said. "The explosion was a tragedy, but it made your family stronger."

Mary Murphy returned to the house the family built on the foundation of the destroyed house and lived there all her life. She only moved out a few months ago to seek care.

She attended events commemorating the explosion every year and struck up friendships with Halifax historians Janet Kitz and Blair Beed.

Long career in public service

Murphy worked for 48 years with the provincial government. Her nephew reckons had she started her career in more gender-equal times, she would have been a deputy minister. 

"Mary was a wonderful person," he said.

"I’ll remember Mary as someone who had a great personality, a great humour, a very intelligent woman. She was very determined, very exact. The only way to do any task was to do it right. That’s the way she was."

Mary Murphy died Wednesday. Her funeral is being held in Saint Patrick's Roman Catholic Church on Brunswick Street at 10 a.m. Saturday.