The Halifax Poet Laureate, Afua Cooper, reads poetry at the Halifax Explosion commemoration.
On Dec. 6, 1917, the munitions ship Mont-Blanc caught fire and exploded in Halifax Harbour after colliding with the Norwegian vessel Imo, a ship carrying war relief supplies. The blast flattened large areas in the northern section of Halifax, Dartmouth and the Mi’kmaw community in Tufts Cove, killed nearly 2,000 people and left another 9,000 injured. Fires raged and a snowstorm followed the next day. Relief trains from Boston and Montreal brought urgently needed medical supplies and aid.
International aid followed with funds from numerous nations coming in to support relief efforts and the Halifax Relief Commission operated from 1918 all the way through 1976, managing compensation claims, pensions and reconstruction.
That work was not without controversy, as African Nova Scotians found the commission denied much of their claims, Cooper pointed out. After Friday’s ceremony she expressed the importance of remembering the impact of the Explosion and its aftermath on minority communities.
“It’s tremendously important because many members of the black community, when they applied for the relief commission, many of them were denied (by) the commission, many of them were given a pitiful sum of whatever help they could have gotten, so the racial segregation, the racism, again reared its ugly head in a time of tragedy, and that was unfortunate,” the professor in Dalhousie University’s department of sociology and social anthropology said.