Janet Kitz, writer who revived stories of Halifax Explosion, dies at age 89
HALIFAX -- Janet Kitz, an author who rekindled public interest in the deep changes the Halifax Explosion wrought on a devastated city, has died at age 89.
Her friend and colleague Dan Conlin, a curator at the Canadian Museum of Immigration, said he received an email indicating she died Friday at her home in Halifax.
Conlin says many in Nova Scotia are remembering the writer for her comprehensive research into the 1917 blast that resulted after two ships collided in the harbour.
"She was a formidable organizer of public history," he said.
Her interest in the topic of the explosion was heightened after she enrolled in the Saint Mary's University anthropology program.
Kitz went on to meet survivors through her research for books that included "Shattered City" and "Survivors: Children of the Halifax Explosion." She stored her notes and recordings at the provincial archives for future researchers.
It was that passion for sharing survivors' stories that led her to author Marilyn Davidson-Elliot.
“Janet was an inspirational figure to say the least,” said Davidson-Elliot, who eventually became Kitz’s friend. “We've lost a real inspirational person -- a person who contributed to the historic fabric of this city. I don't know who could ever fill her shoes.”
Conlin said many of the stories she collected came from the working class residents of the city's north end, and without her work the tales might otherwise have been lost due to the advancing age of witnesses and their relatives.
Kitz immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1971 after meeting and marrying Leonard Arthur Kitz, the first Jewish mayor of Halifax.
Conlin said Kitz spent many hours poring over "mortuary" boxes of personal effects of those killed in the explosion that had been stored in the basement of the legislature for decades during an era when the public preferred to forget the disaster.
There were thousands of artifacts that gave clues to ordinary peoples' lives in their last minutes, from coins to love letters written in French and stored in coat pockets.
Kitz carefully recorded the information, and when she went forward to conduct interviews, she was well-prepared and won the trust of the residents she met, Conlin said.
“The province will remember her for what Nova Scotians now know about the themselves and their history, that they wouldn't have known about, because of Janet's research,” said David Flemming, the former director of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
Along with her writing, Kitz visited schools and ensured the explosion was included in the history syllabus. She also participated in a committee to create the Fort Needham Memorial Park in the city.
"This was an important part of the city -- it changed the city. The whole of the north end was changed as a result of it," she told The Canadian Press last year.
In addition to the almost 2,000 people killed, the Dec. 6, 1917 explosion left 25,000 people homeless.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Amanda Debison.