A Halifax Explosion story from Cumberland County

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Community Editorial Panel

Conrad Byers, noted Parrsboro historian, told a wonderful story about the Halifax Explosion on May 15 at the Cumberland County Museum. 

Conrad’s mother was a Canning from Shulie, one of 10 siblings. Two of her sisters were deaf as a result of a childhood illness so they were attending the School for the Deaf in Halifax when the Halifax Explosion took place on December 6, 1917. It took a day or so for a telegram sent to Joggins to be delivered to the family in Shulie because of the blizzard that hit the province in the hours following the Explosion. 

Conrad’s grandfather wasted no time:  he put on his mukluks, strapped on his snowshoes, walked the approximately ten miles to Joggins, took the coal train to Maccan and caught a train on the main line.  The train was stopped in Bedford as the tracks were impassible into Halifax. Mr. Canning strapped on those snowshoes again, prepared to walk, but he was stopped by authorities:  no one was allowed into the stricken city. He had two little deaf girls in there and he was determined:  they let him pass.  He had approximately ten more miles to snowshoe.

Meanwhile the children at the School for the Deaf had been very lucky. Because the Explosion occurred at 9:04 a.m., they were beside their desks on their knees saying the morning prayer.  The windows of their room exploded inward but glass that might have decapitated them sailed over their heads and they escaped with small cuts from small pieces of glass falling on them.  Their teacher took them down to a basement room with a stove where they stayed for the next couple of days. Blankets and food were found so they were warm and fed.

One of the sisters was looking up at the narrow windows just below the ceiling, ground level outside, when she saw her father’s mukluks go by. She recognized them instantly and went to her teacher, pulling on her dress, saying “Papa!  Papa!”

Papa and daughters were reunited. In no time flat he had a daughter under each arm and carried them that way, back on his snowshoes, the 10 miles to the train in Bedford. At Maccan he took the coal train to Joggins and there he trekked with them, under each arm again, the 10 miles back to Shulie. There is no record of how long this all took, where they spent the night, or what they ate. 

The girls spent the winter of 1917-18 at home with their family.

Decades later one of Conrad’s aunts sought out a doctor as a lump about an inch to the side of one eye was bothering her. The doctor removed a piece of glass - from the explosion, glass that probably travelled from above her nose across the top of her eye before it began to fester. 

Thank you, Conrad Byers, for checking this version of your family story.

Clare Christie is a member of the Amherst Daily News Community Editorial Panel. She can be reached at clarechristie0@gmail.com.    



Organizations: School for the Deaf, Cumberland County Museum, Daily News

Geographic location: Halifax, Shulie, Joggins Cumberland County Maccan Bedford

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Recent comments

  • Mark Rushton
    November 27, 2012 - 12:20

    Great bit of Nova Scotia history - these are the stories that can help to bring history alive for younger generations. Keep 'em coming!