Details of a disaster

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Former Queens County resident Katie Ingram has recently penned a book on the Halifax Explosion based on news reports that came out of the city in the first few days after the disaster.</p>

Freelance journalist Katie Ingram has long been fascinated by marine disasters like the Halifax Explosion, but when she decided to dig deeper, she began to look at the connections, stories, and details that poured out of the news outlets, both local and international, in the days after.

Ingram, a former Queens County resident, has just released her first book Breaking Disaster: Newspaper Stories of the Halifax Explosion highlighting some of those news reports and accounts that came out of Halifax and the wider world. Ingram started to research the explosion in 2013 in anticipation of writing a book, heading first to the Nova Scotia Archives to look at newspaper on micofilm.

"I started noticing that things were a little different than what I normally knew about the explosion, details were wrong, stories I'd never heard of and I thought, 'This could be something,'" she said.

It was there she started to see the many varying accounts that came out of the disaster in the first week after.

"I found stories of people in Halifax who kind of shared their losses."

Stories like that of Katherine White, a student at Mount Saint Vincent University who was sent into the woods to hide because her teachers didn't know what was happening. By the time she and other students came back to the university, the school was being used as a makeshift hospital.

News of the explosion reverberated around the world, across the Commonwealth, and thanks to the news wires, even ending up as far away as Hawaii in newspapers like the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Some reports contained accurate numbers and information, while others varied wildly.

With these reports however, came news stories that never completely followed up on a topic, like that of a man who thought he'd found his infant daughter, only to find it was another family's and his had perished. The news story only reported he'd found her, not the sad follow up to his tale.

"If you're reading that in 1917, you're thinking 'Aw, great, this man found his daughter,' but obviously later on we know that they found her rightful family and he never found his daughter."

The baby later became known as "Ashpan Annie" because she was found alive under a wood stove, likely surviving the subsequent blizzard because of the residual heat.

Unsubstantiated reports of German interference and plots went around, leading to the internment of German speakers or descendents being rounded up and detained in the city. Again, however, many of these reports were never followed up and rumours about the German plot spread around the world as the First World War raged on.

It's on that topic, Ingram recently published a cover piece with Advocate Media's Halifax Magazine.

Besides some of the human interest pieces and the varying reports of dead or wounded, Ingram also noticed the newspapers start to fill up with notice after notice naming places to seek shelter and food, stores that were actually open, and lists of dead or missing people.

"The stories locally were mostly focused on getting key information out, who is alive, who is dead, where you can get help," she said.

As time went on, those lists start appearing next to Christmas advertisements, creating an odd juxtaposition to the tragedy.

Ingram is pleased with the reaction the book has gotten so far and says this won't be her only book, however, she wouldn't give any hints as to what is next.

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