Indigenous community erased by Halifax Explosion looks to return
Halifax residents will mark the centennial of the worst human-made disaster in Canadian history with somber ceremonies in a vibrant city that was painstakingly rebuilt after Dec. 6, 1917.
Over on the Dartmouth side of the harbour, members of a Nova Scotia First Nation will join them in remembering the estimated 11,000 injured and dead. They will also be reflecting on how the Halifax Explosion erased an entire community from the map.
Turtle Grove was home to about 20 families when a powerful tsunami set in motion by the collision of a Norwegian vessel and a French ship carrying munitions swept away the small settlement, explains Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade.
Many descendants of the victims and survivors from Turtle Grove live on the Millbrook First Nation, a Mi'kmaw community about an hour’s drive from Halifax.
- WATCH: Before the 1917 explosion
- WATCH: 1983 report on the massive blast
- WATCH: Rare images from the aftermath
- PHOTOS: 100th anniversary of Halifax disaster
Their ancestors were ignored in the aftermath of the disaster. No records of their stories were kept. Those who survived were relocated to First Nations elsewhere in the province.
While the battered north end of Halifax was rebuilt, Turtle Grove was abandoned.
“There hasn’t been a lot of information that has been well documented and recaptured for this particular area, but there is some,” Gloade told CTV News on Tuesday. “We have a couple of community members that have been working to recapture some of the history.”
He’s excited by the prospect of reclaiming the history that was lost in the devastating explosion, but Gloade also wants to see the land his people were forced to flee occupied again.
Millbrook First Nation owns several acres earmarked for homes, shops and parks where Turtle Grove once stood. The ambitious project calls for infilling up to 20 acres of the existing harbour, in addition to development on the original 8.9 acre site. Gloade said he is also looking into acquiring up to six more acres to build on.
“Over the next couple years we have to do a lot of preliminary work . . . that is the stage we are at right now,” he said. “We are looking at approximately 600 to 700 residential units, and we are also looking at mixed-commercial as well, and some recreational on the infill.”
The Millbrook First Nation has a reputation for business success, and Gloade hopes to continue that legacy on a site where his people lost everything in a flash. Conceptual drawings are months away, but he can already see the potential ready to be unlocked on the overgrown land.
“When we left the area, when our community members lived here, we were poor. Now things have changed for our community over the last number of years,” he said. “We want to be able to have significant economic development here in this location, as we have in our other communities.”
Gloade can rhyme off an impressive list of agencies he says he is working with to make sure the project moves forward, including the City of Halifax, the Halifax Port Authority, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and the Canada Lands Company.
Members of the Millbrook First Nation will gather at Turtle Grove on Wednesday for a ceremony marking 100 years since the explosion. For Gloade, it will be an important reminder of the people he wants to honour by building a bright new beginning in a place with a dark past.
“The intention is to come back to the area and look at ways we can do more for our community members for years to come,” he said. “This site is going to be an important part of use moving forward.”
With a report from CTV’s Atlantic Bureau Chief Todd Battis