Sunday, January 14, 2007

On December 6th, I Missed A Party!

The party I missed was at TV Ontario, where I spent several years. That day, I was helping to move my wife from a retirement home to the nursing home where she still is. It was such a busy day that it was over before I remembered the party. But the date is also significant for a much more lifelong reason (and I do mean lifelong) -- it was the anniversary of the day in 1917 when the greatest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bomb went off in Halifax Harbour. The blast was fueled by over 2500 tons of TNT, picric acid, and other volatile materials in the Mont Blanc, just leaving for convoy overseas to take part in the war of 1914-18. I was four years old, and survived physically unscathed, but my mother lost an eye and my aunt was thoroughly crippled. The large family across the street was not so fortunate -- all but one died at breakfast. It was, and still is, the dividing date in my life. During the next two and half years, I lived in seven places, three of them foster homes.

All this made me anything but a headstrong hero about anything. I learned I was not the boss anywhere, and this made me a very good boss later on, as a teacher, as the head of museums, and as the chairman of associations of various sorts. I was careful, and preferred to be understated until I showed my hand, although I know my real nature was to take charge. The Halifax Explosion took my DNA and made me what I became. On December 6 each year, I am very conscious of all this.

Life goes on, however, so no TVO party, and I try to come to terms with my wife's weakened state. Sadly, no one I met that day seemed aware of the significant historical event that happened exactly 89 years prior. Tempus does fugit.

36 Comments:

At 10:21 PM, Blogger bonho said...

Crikey. That's some D-day all right. So what if it's exactly six months (and 27 years) away from the one most of us know about?

It's sad that Canadians don't remember something like this, since it must be an inherent part of your history books. I've grown used to Americans not knowing/caring about our history.

 
At 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to ask you about that day, but I wasn't sure what was your experience from that horrible day.
I am a new Canadian, I will try to remember this and specially your account of Dec 6, carefully.
It must have been very difficult. I went through 8 years of war. Misplaced from home and I sure understand when you say, it made you the man you are now.
Sally

 
At 12:52 AM, Blogger Teresa said...

Incredible! Thank you for educating me. I can understand why it would be a defining moment in anyone's life. I feel fortunate to say that I have nothing in my own life that is comparable.
Just curious; did it leave you terrified of thunder, fireworks and the like?

 
At 8:34 AM, Blogger Rob Hutten said...

I live in the shadow of the Halifax Explosion memorial bell tower on Needham Hill, so I have a daily reminder of the explosion. It's still impossible for me to get my head around the idea that my entire neighbourhood - and beyond - was completely flattened. Hearing from a survivor reifies the story.

Dan McKinnon, one of Nova Scotia's greatest songwriters, has a powerful song about the explosion called "Remember Me". It's worth chasing down...

 
At 8:39 AM, Blogger kenju said...

Very interesting, Don, and a good reminder of the fact that we are all the sum total of all that we have experienced. Apparently that day changed you in a good way, so while it was horrible for others, it was a different kind of life-changing event for you.

 
At 10:23 AM, Blogger LaurieM said...

It has only been in recent years that I have learned anything about this event. By all accounts, you were extremely lucky.

I've just finished reading a very interesting book that discusses the type of interaction between environment and genetic disposition that causes ADD. It's called "Scattered Minds" by Dr. Gabor Mate.

Your post made me think of it because Dr. Mate holds that our environment and experiences are very important factors that shape who we are.

 
At 1:16 PM, Anonymous blork said...

Wow! Being a Cape Bretoner, the Halifax Explosion is something I grew up hearing about. But even when I was a kid in the 1960s it seemed like it was something that had happened impossibly long ago.

It's throwing me for a loop right now to be reading a blog written by a survivor of the Halifax Explosion. It doesn't seem possible. Of course the math adds up, but the gears in my head crunch and grind when I try to reconcile 21st century blogging with the Halifax Explosion. It just doesn't seem like they can connect.

I suppose this is stating the obvious, but thanks for this gentle reminder that senior citizens are both "now" and "then," and that they carry a wealth of wisdom and experience. Mind you, I'm reminded of that pretty much every time I drop by here, but still, this one really sticks!

 
At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Keith said...

If you read my blog for to-day you will see that during WWII I suffered a trauma as a child from a massive explosion, so I have some idea of what you went through Don.

 
At 11:28 PM, Blogger BuyBluePants said...

I had no prior knowledge of the Halifax incident, Don. Thanks for sharing your recollection. It always makes me wonder why your generation can go through these kinds of things and still have the poise and social decency you do, while my generation suffers out loud and to the detriment of society in general. Pardon the expression, but sh*t happens (see, there go the social morals) and people get through it without becoming social pariahs that blame their mistakes on others.

(but I digress...)

 
At 2:28 AM, Anonymous Ook said...

Maybe society has a mechanism of forgetting such trauma once the immediate necessity has passed.

The parenting I got, along with the mentoring from the adults surrounding me, was most effected by WWI and WWII--my grandparents and my parents respectively.

It was about being stoic, tough, on task, violent when necessary and ready to sacrifice and/or take your medicine if the time came. All else was suppose to flow from that.

But the grooming for a tough life only pissed me off. And the generation after me didn't assimilate any of it from what I can tell.

So the first generation that didn't require the lesson received it with mixed results. And the next generation may have ignored it entirely.

I lived in the most promising land in the world--albeit with one fly in the ointment called Vietnam--at a time when technology, standards of living and options for creativity and fulfillment were exploding exponentially. Only someone driven insane by hardship would want to turn their back on all that.

I was more impressed by the call to duty and sacrifice for civil rights, justice, peace and a safe environment. That path involved study and a diet of oatmeal and peanut butter rather than getting body parts blown off, or chewed off by farm machines as had happened to many of my childhood friends.

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger allswell said...

My Canadian generation is so out of touch about such things... such things only happen far away and on the news (or in history books, as in this case). I first learned about the Halifax explosion in Junior High social studies, but to hear from somebody who actually lived through it, puts a human face on it.

I wonder how Canada would cope with a disaster of that scale today? Not that I ever want to find out... closer to my home, I remember taking a school field trip and standing on the rocks that buried the town of Frank, Alberta, when Turtle Mountain fell. It was hard to picture all those people below, but necessary, too.

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger Jackee said...

Don, I found you a few weeks ago here online and read you daily. Sad to read about your first wife.We are going for 50 years in June but I bet you are way ahead of us. I never knew that about Dec.6th, you post such interesting things, I thank you.

 
At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Rob Reiter said...

It's all a matter of perspective and reading your description of this event was a good reality check for me. I just turned 60 and I've thought of similar nuances of age that separate me from the latest generation, but the best I can come up with is "I was born before TV." Your mention of that explosion so outdistances my revelation that I feel like I've been kicked in the butt, in a good way!

Thanks,

Rob

 
At 11:02 AM, Anonymous theboy said...

I had never heard about the Halifax explosion until I read an article about you. Hard to imagine and thanks for noting it.

Still, I thought this the most thought-provoking part of your post:

"I learned I was not the boss anywhere, and this made me a very good boss later on . . . ."

Good reminder for those of us that are bosses.

 
At 1:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi - I've been reading yor blog for a while now and enjoy it immensely. This post prompted me to write, because Dec 6th, 1917 is quite an important day for me as well, although I was far from being born back then. It happens to be the exact date when Finland, my native country, gained its independence. I guess what I'm trying to say is that even though the day was bad in Halifax, it was great in Helsinki - I'm sure it's been the other way around too. Global karma, or something?

- Matias

 
At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Daldianus said...

The Halifax event indeed seems to have been forgotten, I've never heard about it. But because of you I looked it up in wikipedia and the like and I'm quite intrigued. I like to read about such historical events. Especially from someone who has lived through it!

Great blog btw. You rock! :)

 
At 1:36 AM, Blogger Isobel said...

I didn't know anything about it either, since most of my "dividing memories" occurred in the 70s and early 80s, but my 70 year old Dad in Boston reminded me that Halifax still delivers a huge Christmas tree to Boston every year as thanks for the city's quick emergency assistance after the explosion. He says it serves as Boston's official tree, sitting in front of City Hall.

 
At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

don,,sorry to hear about your minor stroke. i hope you get better.you seem to be a intellegent man,,for your age you've seen and been through alot.its all amazing.i wish i could explore the world at times or at least show my children places but fiancaly i can't.but i can show them through memories of otheres and stories being told.and i wanted to say one more thing before i go,,i'll be keeping your wife in my prayers,,whats her name.you two have been so blessed.i'll be keeping you in my prayers as well.

stormyrain67

 
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At 3:22 AM, Anonymous EVANescense said...

I am newly immigrated Canadian who lives in Halifax. I found your blog and this article by chance. Reason that I am writing to you because you're one of survivors of this terrible event and I wrote a post about Halifax Explosion. Maybe you can take a look at: http://evanescense.wordpress.com/2007/12/06/halifax-explosion/

Please don't judge me because I took information wherever I could find it in order to write one interesting, but not long story. Post isn't finished yet, because I want to put more original photos and maybe stories of people who survived it.

It is true but sad that even in Halifax this event isn't popular. No wonder then, that world knows little about it. As a new resident of Halifax I wanted to pay tribute to all innocent victims and to tell world more about that horrifying event. I came from Europe and never heard personally about Halifax Explosion, only about Titanic, but even that without connection with Halifax (it looks as a bad-luck-city...). I was astonished that exactly here is morgue of Titanic victims.

To me, it looks that Halifax doesn't give proper credit to some historical events, which is wrong. Esspecially if we take in count that Canada itself is relatively young country.

To me, history make people feel to belong each other, and make nation and country stronger.

I plan also to post something about Titanic.

 
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At 2:07 PM, Blogger friendlyneighbour said...

Just came upon your blog trying to find my way around - I am new to this, and could not stop reading. My dad was 4 yrs old at the time of the explosion, and lost a baby brother due to it. When I was about 6 or 7 (not ure exactly) there was supposed to be another explosion in Halifax, and we were all evacuated from the city. A "magazine"?? was supposed to blow up in Halifax Harbour but it never did happen. Anybody remember this?

 
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