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Hub holiday tree a continued thanks from Nova Scotia

Posted by Paul Kandarian  October 18, 2010 09:23 AM

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Gary Misner won't be whacking his head on the low branches of that 35-foot-tall spruce in his front yard anymore.

The tree, in the front of the modest home of Misner and his wife, Roseann, a retired couple in tiny Kentville, Nova Scotia, will be cut down Nov. 16, bundled up, hauled to Boston Common and lighted in an official ceremony Dec. 3.

This marks the 40th year that Nova Scotia, the balsam-fir capital of the world that annually produces nearly 2 million Christmas trees, has donated a tree to Boston, in continued thanks for the Hub's help in providing relief to the city following a devastating explosion in Halifax Harbor on Dec. 6, 1917, that killed 2,000 residents.

"Only thing I've done to that tree, really, is trim the bottom branches so I don't whack my head on them when I cut the lawn," Misner said. "These trees don't have a deep root system, so a good wind can topple them. One this big that's lasted this long, I guess, is what they're looking for."

Halifax tree.jpg

It is an honor to be chosen to donate the tree, the Misners said, and when the official cutting-down ceremony happens, schoolchildren will be brought in to watch, local dignitaries will gather, and regional media coverage will be huge, they say.

Picking a tree from around the province is a year-long job, said Ross Pentz, who bears the happy title Christmas Tree Specialist for the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.

"We have people all over the province, keeping an eye out," he said. "And we had our eye on this one for a while."

When the Misners got the call that the department was interested in their tree, Roseann Misner was flabbergasted and honored.

"I said, 'You really want our tree?'" she said. "It's an honor, the explosion is so much part of our history, it's taught in school and everyone knows it."

On that fateful December day, the French munitions ship, the Mont-Blanc, collided with a Norwegian cargo ship, the Imo. The Mont-Blanc caught fire and drifted to shore, where thousands gathered to watch it burn, unaware of the explosive cargo: 2,300 tons of pyric acid, 35 tons of benzene, and 200 tons of dynamite.

The ship soon exploded, a fiery mushroom cloud a mile and a half high billowing into the sky. The blast, which flattened a two-kilometer-square area of the city's shoreline, instantly killed those watching on shore and in nearby homes. Many who watched farther away were blinded as the concussive wave shattered windows in their houses. The ensuing tsunami from the blast swept many more to their deaths. Parts of the ship's anchor landed miles away. It remains the largest non-nuclear explosion in world history.

The area is one familiar with tragedy. The Titanic sank in 1912, hundreds of miles off the coast; 150 victims are buried in Halifax. And in 1998, Swissair flight 111 went down off the coast of Halifax, killing 229. Memorials to the crash are in Bayswater and Peggy's Cove, a short drive from Halifax.

Within 24 hours of the blast in Halifax Harbor, Boston rallied, gathered supplies, and sent off relief trains to Halifax. It is a gesture Canadians have not forgotten.

"In a small community, when something happens to a family, it's all about casseroles and hugs," Roseann Misner said. "When the explosion happened, it was in the form of the relief effort from Boston."

(A comprehensive exhibit on the tragedy can be found at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in downtown Halifax, see http://museum.gov.ns.ca/mmanew 

 

Photo of Gary and Roseann Misner with the tree they are donating to Boston by Paul E. Kandarian.


 

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