TRURO – It was 100 years ago on Dec. 6 when two ships – one carrying munitions – collided in the Halifax Harbour.
Nearly 2,000 people died, another 9,000 injured, and the Colchester Historeum is highlighting the role Truro played following the Halifax Explosion.
‘Colchester to the Rescue’, housed on the third floor of the museum, will be on display until the end of January.
“It’s important to know about this,” said Sarah Campbell, the secretary of the board of directors at the Historeum. “We can learn from history. There were so many things done that were not talked about. It was overwhelming at times, but it’s so moving.”
The exhibit features various topics of how residents in Truro and Colchester County assisted after the explosion. The Truro Daily News was one of the first to get word out to the community, by posting a sign on the office window. The explosion occurred around 9:05 a.m., and by 10, a train was already on its way from the hub of Nova Scotia.
There’s information on many of the prominent people of the day and how they helped out, and the story of how Fred Hamilton was reported dead, however was still alive.
“It was so catastrophic, people weren’t where they were supposed to be,” said Campbell.
The secretary’s grandfather, George Watt, is also showcased, having conducted a train from Moncton, N.B., to Truro through a blizzard.
“I knew about my grandfather’s role, although he never talked about it,” Campbell said, adding most people didn’t share their experiences. “People were very modest and were just doing what was there to be done.”
With the exhibit being the brainchild of Janet Maybee, Elinor Maher was brought on board and quickly started putting the pieces together.
“I didn’t know any of this,” said Maher. “Janet brought it all to my attention. She told me there was a treasure trove of relief records here and her enthusiasm was infectious.”
The work people in Truro and beyond did covered a variety of aspects – firefighters travelled to the city to help put out fires, makeshift hospitals were opened to accept patients, and a family took in children who were injured in the blast. There’s even a story about 10-year-old Doug Rutherford assisting nurses in one of the makeshift hospitals.
“There were three possible Doug Rutherfords here at that time – one was too young, and one was too old,” said Campbell. “No 10-year-old today would do that, but he did. I even phoned his nephew, and he remembers Doug’s brother saying he helped out.”
Joe Ballard was doing some research in the archives at the Historeum when he heard about the exhibit. The former president of the historical society found himself on the third floor.
“It’s very image-rich, which I like to see,” said Ballard, adding he likes to glean information from photos. “Quite a few people died here in the makeshift hospitals.”
Maher admits reading some of the accounts made her tear up, however many got their start in Colchester County because of the explosion.
“Until you immerse yourself in it, you don’t realize how horrible it was,” she said. “The railway was a big thing here. People were overwhelmingly generous. It’s a dramatic story.”
From now until May, the Colchester Historeum is closed Saturday through Monday, and open 10 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.