Play highlights racial tensions during Halifax Explosion on 100th anniversary
Published Friday, October 27, 2017 1:35PM ADT Last Updated Friday, October 27, 2017 1:37PM ADT
Troy Adams, right, as Edward, Lisa Nasson, centre, as Genevieve, and Mauralea Austin, as Greer, are seen perfoming in "Lullaby: Inside The Halifax Explosion" in an undated handout photo. The new play seeks to tell untold stories ahead of the disaster's 100th anniversary, and although the plot of Lullaby: Inside The Halifax Explosion is fictitious, the play's themes about race are not. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Stoo Metz)
HALIFAX -- When Lisa Nasson was a young girl growing up on a reserve in Nova Scotia, she learned about the disastrous Halifax Explosion at school -- but its decimating impact on the local Indigenous community was never mentioned.
Years later, the Mi'kmaq actor learned of the destruction of the Turtle Grove Mi'kmaq settlement, which was nestled on the harbour shoreline across from where the munitions vessel SS Mont Blanc collided with the SS Imo, causing a massive blast that devastated the city.
"If I had known there were people like me affected by something so tragic, I would have been able to relate more to the story of the Halifax Explosion," said Nasson, who grew up on Millbrook First Nation, about an hour's drive north of Halifax.
The experiences of Indigenous Peoples and African Nova Scotians on and after Dec. 6, 1917, have been historically underrepresented, although both communities suffered in the aftermath of the wartime explosion that killed 2,000, injured 9,000 and left 25,000 homeless.
A new play seeks to tell those stories ahead of the disaster's 100th anniversary, and although the plot of "Lullaby: Inside The Halifax Explosion" is fictitious, the play's themes about race are not, said Koumbie, the play's director.
"It highlights the racial tensions at that time," Koumbie said during a recent rehearsal. "These characters talk about their backgrounds, their religion and their upbringing."
"Representation is important. We have centuries of seeing a predominantly white male narrative be told over and over again. I think people are tired of being left out ... We learn from our art and from our media and so we need to use that to learn about ourselves and each other."
At least six families were living at Turtle Grove when the Imo, a Norwegian ship bound for Belgium, collided with the Mont Blanc, a French vessel carrying explosive chemicals and ammunition. The resulting blast and tsunami razed Turtle Grove, killing at least nine of its residents and thousands of others in the surrounding area.
Africville was a black community near the Halifax neighbourhood of Richmond -- the hardest hit area in the city's north end.
"Relief efforts that came through the city went right through Africville, but none of that was given to Africville," said Troy Adams, who plays Edward in the play. "These are the types of things many people are not aware of."
Roger Marsters, curator of marine history at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, said the experiences of marginalized communities have been overlooked, in part because historical documentation was not preserved.
"They were not deemed sufficiently important by mainstream society at the time, and as a result, the documentation to tell the stories of other communities just doesn't exist," Marsters said.
"These are important elements of the story that have been almost completely ignored," he said. "If we want to fully and completely understand the impacts of the blast both in 1917 and its continuing legacies today, we need to tell those stories. Without them, we don't understand the blast and its consequences."
"Lullaby: Inside The Halifax Explosion," written by Karen Bassett, follows a black man (Adams), a teenage Mi'kmaq girl (Nasson) and a white woman (Mauralea Austin) in the moments after the explosion.
The play has already been performed before about 30 schools in Nova Scotia. It begins a tour of Nova Scotia theatres on Saturday at Bauer Theatre in Antigonish, N.S., before heading to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax on Nov. 22 for a three-week run.