Thoughts on a Strange Birthday

Author: robertinseattle

As with lots of other things in my crazy life, my birthday also has a few stories attached to it, happy and sad and everything in between. I was born on December 6th in Halifax, Nova Scotia. What was significant about that date? The Halifax Explosion happened on Dec. 6th, 1917. At 8:45 in the morning, a Norwegian relief supply ship, the Imo, collided with a French ship, the Mont Blanc, loaded with 2500 Tons of munitions. With both ships ablaze, the crews abandoned ship and they floated through the harbor until the Mont Blanc finally exploded at 9:04 a.m. Many still consider it to be the largest accidental man-made explosion in history. The explosion was measured in Megatons.

Dad had just arrived in 1916 from China as a young boy of 9 to join his Father at the Chinese laundry that he and several partners owned in Halifax. So he’d only been there a little over a year and was slowly adapting to life in a new country. On this particular morning, Dad happened to be a few minutes late leaving for school and was in a rush to run out the front door. As he grabbed the door knob to the big wooden door, the impact of the explosion literally shattered the glass from the outer door and sent the shards of glass flying into the wooden inner door that probably saved Dad from certain death had he only been mere seconds earlier. He immediately turned and hid under one of the work benches in the laundry, joined by some of the other men. No one had any idea of what had happened at that point and I’m sure it took a while for the news to travel in those days.

Back then, most of the schools had half-basements where the kids congregated and lined up before heading off to their respective classrooms. (I know this because our Junior High school had one of those basements.) Not long after the disaster – more than 2,000 were killed and at least 9,000 were injured (with 200 of those blinded by the flash) – most of these school basements were quickly converted into morgues to temporarily house the dead. It took weeks to begin the recovery and it was years before much of Halifax was re-built. The townhouse where my brother and his wife live today was in one of the areas that had been completely leveled by the impact of the explosion 95 years ago. I somehow doubt if very many of us can truly comprehend the extent of the devastation that happened on that cold winter morning in 1917.

Anyway, fast-forward a little to my years growing up with a birthday on the day of the Halifax Explosion. Everyone always managed to remind me about it every year: Dad would tell me his stories, my teachers would remind me about it on my birthday. So by the time I got to Junior High, I decided to take advantage of it. There have always been different memorial services held all over the city every year (and to this day) on December 6th. I started with my Grade 7 teacher by telling her that I would be attending one of the memorial services on my birthday and no one ever once questioned me about it. Once started, it simply became a tradition that Robert would be attending a Halifax Explosion service on his birthday. (“Such a nice boy!”) Of course, I did learn a little more about the history of the Explosion with each passing year when I went to these different services: one at Point Pleasant Park, another down at the harbor the next year and on and on. It was a pretty cool gig: I’d go to a service for maybe an hour each year and then play hooky the rest of the day.

And I’m sure the Statute of Limitations has run out by now on any detention so I’m happy to be sharing this story today!

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2 Responses to “Thoughts on a Strange Birthday”

  1. George Visger Says:

    George Visger

    Awesome story buddy. Happy belated BD.


  2. Joe Kennedy Says:

    What an amazing story! So glad that your father was running late for school that day.

    What do you do when you play hooky on your birthday these days?