Halifax Wrecked

“Halifax Wrecked” was the newspaper headline screaming off the page on the morning of December 7, 1917. The day before, at 9:04 a.m., an enormous explosion in the Halifax Harbour wiped out a large section of the North End of the city, killing almost 2000 people and blinding many thousands more. Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of that event, an event that has become part of who we Haligonians are.

Two ships trying to navigate the harbour ended up in the same shipping lane and one, The Imo, trying to maneuver, strafed the hull of the other, the SS Mont Blanc. The Mont Blanc was a floating bomb, loaded with explosives for the war effort but not flying a warning flag because that would only invite a German attack. The ship caught fire and exploded. There’s a pretty good interactive recreation on this site if you want to know a bit more about the details.

The day after the explosion there was a winter storm. The army set up tents to help house the newly homeless. Schools and churches were converted into hospitals and morgues. The City of Boston loaded up a train and sent aid with supplies and medical personal almost as soon as they heard the news. Halifax sends Boston their city’s Christmas tree in thanks and has done since the 1970s.

The event is part of our history and there have been a number of books written about it, as well as novels that use the event as a backdrop.

Pretty much the most definitive of the non-fiction books are:

Janet F. Kitz – Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery – contains many first person accounts of the survivors. (1989)
Laura Macdonald – Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917
Michael J. Bird – The Town the Died (1962)

There are also three new books just released:

Katie Ingram – Breaking Disaster: Newspaper stores of the Halifax Explosion from newspaper coverage point of view which sounds pretty interesting. (Read an article about Katie and the book in the Chronicle Herald here)

Ken Cuthbertson – The Halifax Explosion: Canada’s Worst Disaster
John U. Bacon – The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
(Read a review of these books here at the Globe and Mail)

For the novels, I’ve read a few  and can recommend these:

Robert MacNeil – Burden of Desire from 1992. This Goodreads member review is quite good.
Genevieve Graham – Tides of Honour from 2015. I read this last year. Here’s my review.
Hugh MacLennan – Barometer Rising written in 1941 which I read recently. Review here.

An aside: Awhile back I wrote here about Project Bookmark, a project to focus on books written about various areas of Canada, a way you could “Read across Canada”. The 19th bookmark is going to be placed at the Halifax Citadel this afternoon and will honour Mr. MacLennan’s Barometer Rising.

Goodreads has a list of novels with the Explosion as a backdrop here.

A cannon from the SS Mont Blanc, found thrown several miles away from the harbour by the explosion near Albro Lake in Dartmouth

You can probably guess this has been a topic that has always fascinated me. None of my family were living here when it happened though my father grew up in the area that was rebuilt, on a dead end street leading to Fort Needham where the memorial now stands, overlooking the blast site below. I live around the corner from where one of the guns from the Mont Blanc was thrown, about 3 miles from the harbour. It’s mounted and there are a couple of information signs installed. They have a small ceremony there on the 6th every year though the main remembrance ceremony is at the larger memorial at Fort Needham.

To finish, a couple of interesting websites. The Nova Scotia Archives maintains the Book of Remembrance, a list of everyone that died, where they lived and how old they were. Another new site is 100 Years 100 Stories.


Review: Impact to Contact: The Shag Harbour Incident

2017: 48
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2013

October 1967. Nova Scotia’s south shore. There is a small fishing village named after a local sea bird called Shag Harbour. On the night of October 4, 1967 strange lights were seen over the sky and it looked like the object crashed into the ocean at one point. They were also seen elsewhere that evening, near the town of Shelburne and in the sky in Halifax. This book looks at the incident and digs into the documentation from various sources including the government along with testimony from witnesses. It seems likely that it was a genuine UFO sighting but no official word will ever actually say so.

It is centered on the Shag Harbour incident but also on UFO sightings in the area and in general, presenting evidence, interviews and research in an easy to understand fashion. Some of it is very interesting, relating geological anomolies in various locations to sightings that seem to coincide. Some of the research is a tad dry and I couldn’t always read a lot in one sitting but for the most part, the book contains some very convincing arguments.

My opinion: It seems to me that it’s  very isolationist to assume we are the only planet with life and a society in the whole universe.  We all wonder if there’s life on other planets and moons. Some would naturally be more technologically advanced and some are still in the basic stages of evolution and all points in between. For the advanced species, surely they are just as curious and adventurous as we would be, if  and when we have the ability to explore.

You can decide for yourself. The Truth Is Out There.

Review: Leonard by William Shatner

4 of 5 stars
Published February 2016

Whether or not you are a “Trekkie”, a fan of the classic science fiction tv series Star Trek, you will have heard of it and be familiar with some of the characters. The show and characters have become cultural icons and most of the actors will forever be connected with their characters in our collective minds. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner were jobbing actors before taking on the roles of Mr. Spock and Captain James T. Kirk respectively and the two men became very good friends. Leonard Nimoy died a couple of years ago and William Shatner has written a memoir of his and Nimoy’s friendship.

The book covers Shatner’s life as well as Nimoy’s, the two men having quite a lot in common with similar childhoods and similar paths breaking into show business. Shatner’s stories cover it all, the good, the bad and the ugly and he doesn’t let himself off lightly either. The memoir is written with honesty and obvious affection for the man he called one of his best friends.

Nimoy was an actor and director but he was also an artist and photographer, a patron of the arts, a teacher of acting and directing, and an alcoholic though had quit drinking several decades before his death. He and Shatner had a competitive, almost sibling rivalry sort of relationship, a result of actors’ egos, I think, fully acknowleged by Shatner who admits to being jealous of Leonard’s popularity as Spock. He also acknowleges Leonard Nimoy’s superb talent. They were close friends for 50 years though a seemingly small misunderstanding estranged them for the last couple of years, much to Bill Shatner’s sadness and regret. The book is written with a co-author but the voice is definitely Shatner’s.

It’s also an interesting look at actors and the profession of acting in general, particularly in the 1950s and early 60s with the rise in popularity of television and fans of Star Trek will find the background information that Shatner imparts, to quote Mr. Spock, “Fascinating”.


Review: Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan

2017: 6
3.5/5 stars
Published January 2015

Josef Stalin was an authoritarian dictator who was responsible for the lost of millions of lives, possibly, or more likely probably even more than were lost in the Holocaust. He was also a husband and father. His second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, was mother to a son, Vassili, and daughter, Svetlana and she died in 1932, likely by suicide which deeply affected a young Svetlana though she didn’t realize her mother’s death was suicide for some years. Svetlana was raised by a nanny and did not have much contact with her parents and after her mother died, her father continued to keep her at arms’ length most of the time, doling out small drips of affection now and then.

As she grew up, she became aware of her father’s policies and crimes, seeing friends and relatives imprisoned and disappear but as all Soviet citizens were aware, you kept your head down and your mouth shut. She went by her mother’s maiden name, Alliluyeva, which was not uncommon in that society. She married several times, had two children and after Stalin’s death, was awarded a pension and held down a job but in 1967 she defected to the west while in India where she had special permission to leave the USSR and had taken the ashes of her fiance to his home. It was a huge scandal and her character was decimated by the Soviet publicity machine.

She lived in the US, wrote a memoir, made a few friends. She married again and had another daughter in her 40s but the marriage didn’t last. Because of the way she was perceived, she generally went by “Lana Peters” and tried to keep who she really was quiet for her daughter’s sake and safety if nothing else. She often suspected the KGB of hoping to kidnap her back to the USSR.

She moved around a lot and also lived in England for awhile before going back to the USSR in 1984 even though she’d already become an American Citizen. She’d had to leave her first two children behind when she defected and had had no contact with them in over 15 years but apparently her son finally managed to get in touch and told her he was ill, would she return? She decided to return but then had very little contact with him anyway. She realized it could very well have been a KGB plot to get her back. She stayed for a couple of years but was able to leave again. She lived both in the US and the UK where her daughter went to school and finally back to the US where she eventually died in 2011.

Rosemary Sullivan has done a lot of research and spoken to a large number of people who knew Svetlana, including her daughter Olga and she seems to have had access to much of Svetlana’s correspondence,  excerpts of which are in the book as well. It’s an extensive biography and portrays a woman who was restless, mercurial, tempremental, mostly unhappy, but also intelligent and a talented writer. She moved a lot and I wonder if she was continually looking for something or running away from something. Her life is in turn interesting and frustrating to read about because it seems to me that sometimes she was the author of her own discontent or her own naivete.

I’ve read other descriptions of the woman that seem to contradict Ms. Sullivan’s descriptions but that only makes me think Svetlana had many sides to her and could present a different side to different people, probably keeping her real self closely guarded to all but the ones closest to her. And no wonder, since so many people rejected her and held against her the crimes of her father. She would be the recipient of hate mail, death threats and bullying and often used only for her connection to her father rather than for her own merits. An interesting biography of a woman who saw the USSR from the inside.

Review: Coronation Street Blog: The Book by Glenda Young


Rating: 5 Star
Published: November 2016

If you are a fan of Coronation Street, you will probably be aware of all the various online forums and sites dedicated to the show, written by a multitude of fans out of the love of the longest running soap on the air now. It’s got a Guiness record to prove it.

One of the most popular websites is the Coronation Street Blog. It’s been online for over 9 years and has a team of writers that contribute to the blog which was started and continues to be edited by Glenda Young, a lifelong fan of the show. The blog includes episode and weekly summaries, spoilers, news, editorial pieces, interviews, character studies, rants and raves. For the book, Each team member has picked their favourite posts and Glenda has pulled it all together in this great book.

It’s an excellent read and a heartfelt tribute to a show that’s got millions of fans all over the world. The team of writers all love Coronation Street even when there are aspects that rub them the wrong way. Event the occasional rant is written with the love of the show running through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. Corrie has been on the air for so long that for most of us that love the show, it’s been part of our lives and we can’t imagine it not being there to enjoy. Websites such as the blog and various other fan sites add to the enjoyment and are very clearly a labour of love, just like this book.