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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stuff Your Stocking Blogfest: Jennie Marsland

Boston’s Christmas Tree

Every Christmas tree is special, but the magnificent evergreen that glitters each year in Boston’s Prudential Plaza is unique. It’s a holiday symbol with a deeper meaning, a special gift in remembrance of help provided in a time of desperate need many years ago.

The year was 1917, and much of the world was at war. North along the Atlantic coast from Boston, the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, bustled with activity as convoys bound for Europe with troops and supplies prepared for the dangerous crossing. Traffic on Halifax Harbour had never been so busy. All vessels had to come and go during daylight hours, as submarine nets were drawn across the Harbour’s mouth at night. Amid the bustle, the city looked forward to Christmas. The economy was booming and the shops were full of festive goods to cheer yet another wartime holiday.

On the morning of December 6th, as men set off for work and children made their way to school, two ships collided in the Harbour. One of them, the French vessel Mont Blanc, was fully loaded with explosives – TNT, picric acid, airplane fuel and gun cotton. The collision sparked a fire. Knowing their deadly cargo, the crew of Mont Blanc took to the lifeboats and left the ship to drift into a pier in Halifax’s industrial North End. At 9:04 am Mont Blanc detonated in what is still the largest non-natural, non-atomic explosion in recorded history.

The North End was devastated. Homes and businesses were blown away, and ships touched bottom as the Harbour parted with the force of the blast. Over a thousand people were killed instantly and a thousand more died later of their injuries, but horrific as the loss of life was, it would have been much worse but for the bravery of Vince Coleman, a railway telegraph operator who sacrificed his life to send a warning message to an oncoming train. Thanks to Coleman, the whole world quickly got word of the disaster. Response was overwhelming, especially from the state of Massachusetts, where so many Nova Scotians had family ties.

Within a day, a train loaded with relief supplies, doctors and nurses set out for the stricken city. They relieved Halifax’s exhausted medical personnel and remained to provide aid and distribute supplies until the casualties had been cared for and aid began to arrive from other sources. There is no doubt that without the help provided by Massachusetts, one of the worst disasters of the twentieth century would have caused even more hardship and suffering.

Nova Scotia has not forgotten. And so, every year, we send a carefully chosen, towering tree to “the Boston States” to stand in Prudential Plaza, a reminder that kinship and generosity know no borders.

About the Author:Jennie Marsland is a teacher, a painter, a musician and, for most of her life, a writer. She fell in love with words at a very early age and the affair has been life-long. She enjoys writing songs and poetry as well as fiction.

Jennie is a history buff as well as an unashamed romantic. Glimpses of the past spark her imagination, and she believes in happily ever after. A resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the last thirty years, she lives with her husband, their cat Emily and their outrageously spoiled Duck-Tolling Retrievers, Chance and Echo.
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Debby said...

What a captivating story. From tragedy comes so many unexpected returns. Thanks for sharing such a heart warming story. I never knew that.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Jennie Marsland said...

Thank you for commenting, Debbie! It seems that some good always arises from even the worst disasters.

Jean P said...

That is so amazing, such a tragic story, and how everyone came together to help. And how the Nova Scotians remember the generosity.

skpetal at hotmail dot com

Frank said...

Oh my. What an incredible story, Jennie--thanks for sharing it, and the reminder so that it will always be remembered!

--flchen1 using DH's account
f dot chen at comcast dot net

shadow_kohler said...

this! its caught my attention. this sounds like a great story. thanks!

Jennie Marsland said...

Thank you for your kind comments, everyone! One of the reasons I write historicals is that I think it's important to remember.

VampedChik said...

Wow what a fascinating story! I would love to read more. Thanks for sharing!