How the Halifax Explosion helped temporarily shatter racial barriers
In the highly-divided Halifax of 1917, it’s clear that the largest man-made explosion in history at the time didn’t discriminate against one’s skin colour.
Africville was one of the many segregated communities that felt the Halifax Explosion’s impact. Despite that, historian and author Blair Beed says they were among the first to help the thousands wounded.
“(Africville residents) are somewhat ignored in the fact that they were actually one of the first responders,” says Beed. “People who are bleeding go along the rail line, and the first place they get to is Africville.”
The general consensus has always been that Africville was geographically-shielded from the brunt of the explosion. But four residents were listed among the dead, including a popular midwife, a barrel maker, and eight-year-old Aldora Andrews. She was home with her parents when the explosion happened.
“The effect of the blast and the shock apparently knocked her backwards, and apparently hit her head and she died," says author and historian Coleman Howe.
Howe has spent nearly a decade writing what will be the definitive history of Africville. His family was the first to buy land there in 1848.
He says in the days after the explosion, class and colour didn’t matter anymore.
“People from the north-end community actually came down to Africville and stayed overnight because a lot of their homes were gone," he says.
The Mi'kmaq was another group impacted by the blast. At the time, they had lived in the small community of Turtle Grove since the late 1700s. But that all came to an end the morning of Dec. 6, 1917.
One hundred years later, Millbrook First Nation is set to reclaim a large portion of their ancestral homeland. Hundreds of residential units are in the works, along with businesses and recreational areas.
"The intent is to allow our community to come back to the area, to work, to live and visit the area over multiple generations,” says Chief Bob Gloade of Millbrook First Nation.
So in the age before sound came to motion pictures, the silence of the 100-year-old news reels still speak volumes about a few days when everyone was equal – at least for a time.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Bruce Frisko.