A Short Story Collection to Remember the Halifax Explosion
Original Stories by Nova Scotia Authors: Sheila McDougall, Phil Yeats, Lawren Snodgrass, Catherine A. MacKenzie, Polly J. Brown, Diane Lynn McGyver, Cheryl Lynn Davis, Bronwen Piper, Barbara-Jean Moxsom, Liana Olive Quinn and Annemarie Hartnett.
The warm breeze rustled the leaves on the potato plants as Wilber Coulson pulled weeds with a long-handled hoe. The showers the evening before and the warm July day had made the pesky plants explode overnight. Although Mathilda planned to weed, he insisted she rest instead. In her condition, she needn’t be in the sun working when he could tidy the garden after work. Their son Everett also helped with the chores while she recovered from the most recent bout of bronchitis. Doc Fraser left little doubt her illness would not clear unless she rested and avoided her womanly chores.
Wilber paused for a moment, wiped his brow and leant onto the hoe to stare off at the harbour a few miles away. From his vantage point on Break Heart Hill, he could see the growing cities of Dartmouth and Halifax, their streets divided by the deep body of water. From this distance, he could not make out people, but he knew they were there. Given the hour, most workers had gone home for the night, yet many remained on the docks, loading or unloading and tending to ships either bound for overseas or arriving from there. The war created traffic jams in the harbour he had not seen for more than twenty years.
The ferries between the cities carried all traffic that needed to pass from one shore to the other—trucks, carts pulled by horses or oxen and passengers—to avoid the long trip around the Bedford Basin. He watched the Dartmouth approach the dock on this side of the water, its stack pumping black steam into the almost clear mid-summer sky, and memories from last December drifted into his mind: the smoke, the terror in the passengers’ eyes, the frantic actions of the ferry crew.
He had been waiting to make the crossing when he heard shouts and looked to see thick black smoke pouring from the Governor Cornwallis ferry. It was still quite a distance from the dock, and onlookers speculated about the cause and whether or not help would go out to the ship or the ship would put ashore for assistance. Wilbur’s first concern was Would it explode? He recalled staring at the flames, unable to move or respond to questions. Once again, he was a fifteen-year-old boy shocked by terrible sights, sounds and smells and running for his life. The horrid taste of burnt oil resurfaced and sweat beaded on his forehead.
A sudden thud and cries for help jolted him from his nightmare, and he sprang into action as he had done in 1917. The Governor Cornwallis had docked. Passengers scrambled for shelter, and workers directed the trucks off the burning ship. Wilbur helped an elderly couple to safety, then returned to help a mother and her four children, then a wounded soldier on crutches who had returned from overseas only the week beforehand.
In short time, the more than 300 passengers and 20 motor vehicles were on solid ground, and the ship was towed to George’s Island and left to burn. He cancelled his trip to Halifax and instead returned home to Mathilda. She had seen the smoke, knew he would be there and when she saw him coming up the hill, she raced to him, threw herself in his arms and wept. They clung to each other, each reliving silenced memories of the first day they had met, the day they saved each other from Hell.
…to continue reading, pick up a copy of The Coldest December.
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