2017-12-06

‘Bridgewater to the rescue’

by Brittany Wentzell

December 6 marks the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, so we did a dig into our archives to see how communities on the South Shore reacted to one of the most devastating losses of life to ever hit Nova Scotia.

The Bridgewater Bulletin headlined their article with "Catastrophe!" in the December 11 edition. Few photos were published in the Bulletin during that period, but it seems the author of the article wanted to make it clear what the state of the city was like, comparing the damage to a tornado sweeping the city and describing the poor conditions in which some were living or surviving.

"Every hospital, hall, school, or large building is filled with wounded men, women, and children."

It was also noted the city was essentially isolated when it came to news as some of the printing presses were not functioning for days afterward, however it's been documented that most were up and running the day of the explosion, despite those reports.

As with most news outlets, the Bulletin found local connections and sadly reported the death of a former Mahone Bay woman, Miss Mary Knaut, who was the matron of the Protestant Orphanage. She and most of the 40 children under her care died in the explosion.

The paper also kept track of locals coming home in the wake of the disaster.

"Some girl pupils from Mt. St. Vincent Academy and the Maritime Business College came home and all have exciting experiences to be related."

Bringing help to Halifax

Bridgewater and surrounding communities mustered up help in the days after the disaster.

An emergency council meeting was called by Bridgewater's Mayor Marshall almost immediately and council loaded a car up with clothing, bandages, and some construction supplies and sent it in.

Shortly after, the town also sent in help through empty passenger trains after collecting more bedding, clothing, and bandages. In total, the town expended around $3,000 in disaster relief and sent a message to Halifax's council offering to care for up to 50 injured if needed.

Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, and Chester also offered up help in the way of construction supplies and labour.

German plot

The initial reports refute the idea that the explosion was a German plot, but, strangely, in the next edition of the Bulletin a piece was published claiming it could have been done by our wartime enemies.

This claim seems to have been made because a carrier pigeon was found carrying a German message around the time of the explosion.

Of course, we all know now that the disaster was a terrible accident, but unfortunately the rumours probably didn't help with anti-German sentiment that was sweeping across the country at the time, including the internment of around 8,000 Germans or their descendents. Canada also abolished all German language instruction and presses were no longer allowed to publish in German.

That sentiment probably didn't help keep the language alive in Lunenburg either where it dropped off rather rapidly in the early 1900s.

The aftermath

Prior to the invention of nuclear bombs, the explosion was the largest man-made explosion and rebuilding the city became a matter of national importance.

It's estimated that around 2,000 people died in the explosion. Countless were blinded after going to their windows to see what happened. It's estimated over 9,000 were wounded. The blast not only wiped out entire neighbourhoods, but also an entire Mi'kmaq community.

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