A Natural History

Survivor trees and community gardens

Overview

Exploring the debris field as landscape and environment.

A Natural History is a drift through a disaster landscape that is anything but natural. Trees, gardens, drumlins and landscape designs are on the route, as are charcoal, smoke, and a shattered school.

“Rosemary is a symbol of remembrance. Lavender brings a calming effect. Brambles are for remorse”.

The route is a suggestion, but feel free to wander and explore. You may contribute your own photos, videos and comments along the way.

Stay safe in the debris field.

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Ground Zero

1 0 A 1917 Map
1 0 B Blast Cloud
1 0 C Assembly Hall
In the decades since the explosion, the Graving Dock and Shipyard businesses grew, and now they are both part of the Irving empire. The Irving Shipyard is where Canada’s east coast Navy procurement program is centred; Arctic patrol vessels are being assembled here now. They will play an important role in the Canadian Arctic, as climate change frees up the waterways, and resources, that are now locked in ice.

Ground Zero, where the SS Mont-Blanc exploded, is next to where Pier 6 stood at the foot of Richmond Street. This location is now within the Halifax Shipyard, Irving Shipbuilding Inc.

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Community Garden

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We begin the walk at “Seedlings”, the Devonshire Community Garden, which was built a few years ago by residents on Roome and neighbouring streets.
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XYZ Marker

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The XZY marker is a ‘counter-monument’ made by students in a Dalhousie University School of Architecture Design and Build Freelab course in the summer of 2014. The sculptural design references the use of X, Y and Z coordinates in 3D drawing, and also hearkens back to the house foundations and chimneys left on the Richmond slope after the explosion.
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1 13 Xyz Braille Detail
During the explosion, many people lost their eyesight. The XYZ marker lists the names of the known dead in Braille. After the explosion, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind established strong roots here, with so many people to assist.
Printers Stones
The stones lining the driveway behind the XYZ marker are originally from the Richmond Printing Company, which was destroyed in the explosion. The Printing Company building was located on Campbell Road (now Barrington Street), closer to the Harbour.

Thank you for walking in the Debris Field.

3

Devonshire Arena

4 3Devonshire Arena Halifax
Opportunities for recreation are important in all communities. The Devonshire Arena and the swimming pool across the street are used by many local residents. There are plans to demolish the arena soon, which would force many children, youth and adults from this community to travel beyond this neighbourhood in order to skate. The land will be retained for city recreational use, possibly for a new community centre.
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Family Courthouse

1921 Courthouse
Image courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives. T.P. No. 11, Sept. 20, 1921. Gauvin & Gentzel. Janet Kitz no. 1992-359/negative: N-7151.
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4 4 Richmond Courthouse
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Architect Andrew R. Cobb designed the new Richmond School, completed in 1919, using some of the recovered bricks from the Richmond School, which had been destroyed in the explosion.The building is now the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Family Division.

"Even in the darkest times we have the right to expect some illumination. This may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth.”-Hannah Arendt, from Men in Dark Times (Mariner Books, 1968) ix]

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North End Community Circle Garden

4 5 Catherine Martin At Necc Garden
For over a decade, filmmaker and storyteller Catherine Martin of the Millbrook First Nation has conducted annual memorial ceremonies at Turtle Grove, in remembrance of the Mi’kmaq whose lives were lost, and the Indigenous families and communities destroyed during the explosion and afterwards.

The Irving Shipyard Assembly Hall dominates the view across the Narrows.

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The Irving Shipyard Assembly Hall dominates the view across the Narrows.

Filmmaker Catherine Martin has been researching and telling the stories of her family and community for many years. One of her great great-uncles, Henry, died during the explosion, but not all the details are known, and Catherine continues to seek answers and understanding on behalf of all of us.

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Memorial Bell Tower

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Walkers approaching Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower, December 6, 2014.
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The monument was designed to lead you down to Ground Zero

Brian Downey quotes David Suzuki & Harlow Shapley, showing how we all share in the air we breathe.
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Garden City

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This group of walkers is moving along the top of the western slope of Needham Hill, towards the Hydrostone District below.
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There are at least two sides to every explosion. Needham Hill is a drumlin, left behind after the last glacial era. The contours of the Needham hillside that face the harbour received the full force of the explosion. The west and south slopes were more protected, and those parts of the city were buffered from the worst concussive forces. The memorial on Needham Hill has recently been redesigned. https://www.halifax.ca/recreation/arts-culture-heritage/halifax-explosion/fort-needham-memorial-park
Hydrostone Aerial 1921
In this 1921 aerial photograph, the western side of Needham Hill can be seen on the right edge, with the newly built Richmond School just beyond it. Across the street is the new Hydrostone District housing development, with its regular grid of houses, laneways and boulevards.
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Back Laneway

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Although the whole Hydrostone area is a planned neighbourhood, with the front of the houses resembling one another, the back laneways are another story. Here, residents have asserted individuality and difference over time.
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During previous walks, we have explored several laneways and boulevards in the Hydrostone. Participants were asked to draw or take imprints of intriguing sites or surfaces, using charcoal and paper. These are some examples.

4 8 Tussie Mussies
Tussie mussies are traditional personal nosegay or boutonniere holders, popular in the era just prior to the explosion. They were used to hold flowers, selected for their symbolic meanings. For the first Natural History walk, NiS+TS commissioned artist Mel Doiron to make porcelain tussie mussies that were filled with rosemary, lavender, and brambles. Rosemary is a symbol of remembrance. Lavender brings a calming effect. Brambles are for remorse.
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Urban Forest

Urban forester Peter Duinker points out the inequities of the forest canopy: the many trees of the Hydrostone area compared to Mulgrave Park, for example.
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Urban forester Peter Duinker points out the inequities of the forest canopy: the many trees of the Hydrostone area compared to Mulgrave Park, for example.
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The Hydrostone boulevards provide plentiful green spaces for reflection and recreation, improving the living environment and benefiting the ecological environment.

10

Albert & Roome

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After the explosion, anyone who entered the devastated area was required to carry an official pass. Here, Renée Gruszecki shares the story of one of those passes, handed down with care.
4 15 1917 Aftermath Markup
Just months prior to the explosion, a new section of the school on Roome Street had been opened to accommodate a growing student population. Although much of the building was destroyed during the explosion, most students weren’t yet at school, since class only started at full light in the winter.
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4 10 5  Blueprint 2
4 10 6  Richmond School

Just months prior to the explosion, a new section of the school on Roome Street had been opened to accommodate a growing student population. Although much of the building was destroyed during the explosion, most students weren’t yet at school, since class only started at full light in the winter.

During a previous NiS+TS walk, a model of the school was destroyed as a reminder of the community spaces lost in the tragedy.
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Progress in the Park

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Our walk ends in the Progress in the Park community garden off Jarvis Lane.

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Mulgrave Park is home to many Haligonians, and adults, youth and children from this busy neighbourhood participate in activities organized by community organizations such as the Mulgrave Park Caring & Learning Centre, the Phoenix Youth program, Progress in the Park, and 4Cs community art projects. Community activist Paige Farah talks about the Mulgrave Park garden here on Jarvis Lane. Madeleine Putnam, a sketch artist for NiS+TS, looks on.

Thank you for joining us for A Natural History walk.

More Drifts

WhistleBlowing

The Approach from the Water

View Drift

Across the Narrows

Turtle Grove, Tuft’s Cove and Shannon Park

View Drift