When two ships collided in the Halifax Harbour 100 years ago, triggering an explosion that killed more than 2,000 people and levelled the seaside city, the force of the blast shattered almost all the windows in nearby St. Patrick’s Church.
Despite extensive damage, the frame of the Catholic church survived, making it the last church in the north end of the city standing after the blast.
In an interview with CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme, historian Blair Beed explained how the place of worship immediately transformed into a vital headquarters for handing out aid and housing survivors.
“The church was the social services at the time,” Beed said. “And so for the fact that the other churches north of here were gone, the priests came here from the parish, and then people gravitated toward this centre of town where we ran an orphanage and ran a seniors’ home and ran the hospital.”
Wednesday marked the centennial of the deadly Halifax Explosion. A memorial was held in Nova Scotia’s capital to remember the victims, the 9,000 people wounded by the blast and 25,000 others left homeless.
At the time, it was the largest artificial blast in history, until the atomic bomb in 1945.
And yet, the story of the Halifax Explosion is hardly as well known as the sinking of the Titanic, which occurred five years prior and saw more than 1,500 people die.
The First World War likely played a factor in how the explosion was perceived, Beed explained.
“The Titanic got the press,” Beed explained. “They had the prestige, they were millionaires, the band played on, all those things. And ours was during a terrible war, the war to end all wars, and then into a depression, and before you know it, we were into the Second World War. And the people of Halifax, many of the survivors, always said the soldiers were the heroes. We just got on with life.”
In the aftermath of the tragedy, officials were quick to repair the church. A New York-based decorating company was hired to lead the renovations, and the parish was ready just in time to celebrate Christmas in the upper church.
It was a bittersweet moment for the parish, Beed admitted.
“A joyous Christmas, but yes, you’re sitting in the pews with people who are still suffering with the scars and injuries and they’re limping. Their life has changed.”
With a report from CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme