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Letter: Newfoundland and the Halifax explosion

The aftermath of the 1917 Halifax ship explosion is shown in this file photo. The massive explosion that devastated Halifax 100 years ago tested all who survived, including a handful of Cape Bretoners who helped treat the wounded. CP PHOTO
The aftermath of the 1917 Halifax explosion. — CP file photo

The Halifax Disaster of Dec. 6th, 1917 was the largest man-made explosion at that time. Newfoundland, being a close neighbour and trading port of Halifax, was involved in many aspects of the disaster.

Children attending private schools and those attending the Nova Scotia School for the Deaf, although exposed to the blast, all survived. Militia Minister J. R. Bennett was seconded to travel to Halifax and look after the Newfoundlanders affected by the tragedy. Merchant seamen aboard Newfoundland-registered ships and Newfoundland members of the Naval Reserve and Canadian Navy witnessed the blast, some writing home and having their vivid descriptions of the event published in the St. John’s news. A disaster fund was subscribed through the local St. John’s papers. Glass, a scarce commodity in Halifax after the blast, was shipped from St. John’s to Halifax, and in early January 1918, over 40 workers went to Halifax to help with the reconstruction.
Able Seaman Walter Critch of the Newfoundland Naval Reserve, originally from Random, remained manning a pump for divers who were in Halifax Harbour at the time of the explosion. The divers miraculously survived and Critch was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal for his service and bravery that day.

A number of Newfoundlanders, probably greater than 50 people, either working or living in Halifax, were killed, including women, children and sailors. Two poignant examples include Boy Steward Edward Pieroway, serving in the Royal Canadian Navy on the HMCS Musquash, was 16 years old — legally underage as the Navy accepted young sailors as “Boys” — an official Naval rank. He was killed instantly by the explosion and his body brought back and buried in Sandy Point, Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Memorial Screen in Mount Pleasant Cemetery St. John’s, as a wartime casualty. Thomas Ricketts, age nine, was living in Halifax with his mother, Mary, while his father Francis J. Ricketts was serving in the Canadian Army overseas (Francis previously served in the Newfoundland Regiment, No. 451). Thomas’ body was brought back to St. John’s and buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Although the previously mentioned stories only touch on the tragedy, it would be interesting to collect individual oral stories of Newfoundlanders involved in and affected by the Halifax Explosion to bring to life this little known aspect of Newfoundland and Labrador history.

Ean Parsons
St. John’s

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