December 6, 2017, signals the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, Canada’s worst Maritime tragedy to date. In mere seconds, a large portion of Halifax’s North End and waterfront were obliterated when the damaged munitions ship Mont Blanc exploded, killing 2,000 people and injuring thousands more. Many were left homeless as the force of the blast levelled the poorly-constructed houses, and fires consumed the wooden debris and trapped bodies.
“The full extent of the calamity will not be known for many months – perhaps never.”
Distinctive is the unique eye-witness account of Archibald MacMechan, who would become the Official Historian of the Halifax Disaster. When the Explosion occurred, Mr MacMechan was sitting in his Halifax home reading the newspaper. His house was damaged, but none of the occupants was injured. His reprinted account takes up approximately five pages in Bearing Witness, it being a chronicle that is thorough, compassionate and well-written, giving the reader of the day an idea (if that were possible) of the devastation and its impact on the city. He concludes:
“What happened on December sixth is the worst calamity that ever befell Halifax. The material damage is estimated at thirty millions. The physical suffering, the mental anguish from wounds, blinding, crippling, bereavement, cannot be reckoned by human calculation.”
This is a valuable book for historians (armchair or otherwise) to have on their shelf. A scholarly work that befits the quality of the titles produced by Nova Scotia’s Fernwood Publishing, Bearing Witness includes Appendices, Notes, References, and an Index. I have added it to the 2017 longlist for Non-Fiction, History for a “Very Best!” Book Award.