Towards Pier 6

Ground Zero: the site of the explosion

Overview

The industrial, commercial and militarized context for the Debris Field.

We are moving closer to the site of Ground Zero, where the Mont-Blanc exploded at Pier 6. Traveling below Barrington Street and through Mulgrave Park and the Irving Shipyard, we can see how the construction of massive concrete retaining walls has created a new urban morphology on the blasted slopes of Richmond.

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

Walk your own path, and 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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Veith House

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Site of the former ‘Halifax Protestant Orphans’ Home, destroyed in the explosion.
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Aftermath2 1 Anti War Song Poster
‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be A Soldier’ Written by Alfred Bryan & Al. Piantadosi. Morton Harvey, tenor, with orchestra. 1914.
Audio
I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier
Morton Harvey with Orchestra
7 18 4  Veith House Winter
Veith House was built as part of the Halifax Relief Commission reconstruction efforts. It is now a community centre dedicated to the well-being of families affected by poverty.
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Painted Fence

Veith Fence
Halifax artist and activist Bria Cherise Miller has been working on a community art project outside Veith House. The painted fence tells the social history of the building, centering on what happened here at the time of Explosion. For Bria, the process of researching this history and creating the images reinforced her commitment to social justice and positive change. She sees the connections between what happened in the past, to today’s realities, and the possibilities for the future.
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Niobe Gate Bridge

At the time of the explosion, the HMCS Niobe was tied up at the Hospital Wharf at the north end of the Dockyard, and was being used as a depot. When fire broke out on the Mont-Blanc, the crew of a small pinnace (boat) set out from the Niobe and tried to board the burning boat, hoping to pull it away from Pier 6. The crew members were all killed moments later, when the Mont-Blanc exploded into 100,000 pieces. The Niobe’s anchor chain broke, and the anchor was lost on the harbour floor until 2014, when it was found during work on the seawall. Encrusted fragments from the surface of the Niobe anchor are now on display in the NiS+TS exhibition at the NS Archives.

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From a previous walk through the parking lots of the Irving Shipyard.
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The Richmond sugar refinery was located where the Irving Shipyard parking lot is now, between the 19th C graving dock and today’s assembly hall. Historically, sugar was an integral part of international trade and the economies of imperial powers, including the slave trade. Photo from the Notman Studio collection of the Nova Scotia Archives. Used with permission.
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Graving Dock

No photos can be taken here since the graving dock is still in use. It is also a National Engineers’ Historic Site. ‘Graving dock’ is another phrase for ‘dry dock’; to ‘grave’ something is to lay it down. The graving dock survived the explosion, with very little damage. The first image shows the graving dock just after the explosion. The second photograph, taken in 1905, is of the Niobe in the graving dock. The last photograph shows the graving dock under construction. These photographs are courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives, Notman Studio collection.

7 17 5 Graving Dock
5 04 05 Graving Dock Timepiece
Following the explosion, a watchman’s timepiece was found at the bottom of the Graving Dock. It is now in the collection of the Citadel Army Museum
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.
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History of the Walls

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This extensive wall supporting Barrington Street (formerly Campbell Road) is thought to have been built after the explosion, by the contracting company Cavicchi and Pagano, who were also contracted to clear the devastated area (the debris field) as part of the immediate relief and reconstruction effort. It is part of an extensive retaining wall system that stretches from Cornwallis Street to the end of the Irving Assembly Building. It has to deal with a lot of moisture and runoff, and the iron rust staining along with the cement patchwork adds colour and the texture to the surface. With the prediction of rising seawaters over the next 100 years, this wall could become a 'seawall'; the future shoreline for this area of Halifax
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During a walking event held on December 6, 2016, performer Brian Riley wears a garment entitled ‘Imo Aground’. Fashion designer Toban Ralston made the garment after seeing photographs taken immediately following the explosion; the colour of rusted steel was one of his historic references
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Ross and MacDonald Houses

There are six Halifax Relief Commission houses employing Ross and MacDonald designs along Veith Street. Two of them, at 3252 and 3195, have been renovated by Halifax architect Peter Henry. The other Ross and MacDonalds are at 3266, 3189, 3185 and 3179 Veith St. They were designed as part of the Halifax Relief Commission program, but not constructed of the distinctive hydrostone blocks that were used west of Novalea in the Hydrostone District. There are many houses throughout Halifax and Dartmouth, beyond the Hydrostone District itself, that were designed and built with blueprints, and funds, from the Halifax Relief Commission. The Nova Scotia Archives houses over 400 architectural drawings for these houses, in the Halifax Relief Commission Fonds. See: https://novascotia.ca/archives/explosion/

One of these homes was built on the site where the Frizzell family lived at the time of the explosion, and part of that foundation can still be seen in the back garden. Good design is built on what we know of the past, and makes for good neighbourhoods. Can you locate these houses that were designed almost 100 years ago, as part of the Relief Commission reconstruction?

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Richmond Train Station

5 7 1 Train Station
The train station on the waterfront was destroyed in the explosion
5 7 2 Tree Richmond 1977
This photo was taken in the 1970s, and the tree no longer exists.
7 23 1  Train Station Model Burning
Look towards Halifax. This is as close as we can get to the original location of the Richmond train station, where dispatcher Vince Coleman worked, and sent his final message from, warning that the explosion was imminent, and that the inbound passenger train should not come into Halifax.
5 7 4 Intercolonial Railway Station 1902
Caption: Vince Coleman was a train dispatcher for Canadian Government Railways, and worked at the Richmond station. When the collision happened and the Mont-Blanc drifted to Pier 6, he realized that a disaster was imminent. Just minutes before the explosion happened, he telegraphed this message, warning incoming trains to stay away: ‘Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.’ Hailed as a hero who lost his life in trying to save others, Vince Coleman’s story was commemorated in a Historica Canada Heritage Minute video from 1991: https://www.historicacanada.ca/content/heritage-minutes/halifax-explosion
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NiS+TS walkers visit Mulgrave Park

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Mulgrave Park and Acadia Park were popular green spaces in Richmond at the time of the explosion. They were destroyed on December 6, 2017, and much of this area remained vacant for many years. Temporary housing for military personnel was built on the hillside around the time of WWII, and it remained in use by veterans and their families in the post-war decades. In the 1960’s, the Mulgrave Park area was redeveloped by CMHC (Central Mortgage and Housing Canada) as the public housing neighbourhood that we know today. It was a showpiece for “urban renewal” in the late 1960’s, and was part of the same government effort that led to the destruction of Africville. Many of the first residents of in the new housing in Mulgrave Park were relocated from central Halifax; they had lived in older houses and tenements on streets that were cleared to make way for the Cogswell Interchange, Scotia Square, the arena and other major developments. The past, present and future of our city are represented at this crossroads. This detail from a 1989 plan drawing shows a community centre that was never built, and trees that were never planted.

5 13 2 Crossroads Mgp

In the summer of 2017, students from a Dalhousie Faculty of Architecture and Planning Design and Build Freelab worked with youth from Mulgrave Park, Blackbook Collective urban painters, and other collaborators, to create a lighting project for the murals in the neighbourhood.

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Abutment Remains

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This part of the Halifax harbourfront has remained relatively undeveloped, with a number of local and small businesses located in a commercial strip established after the explosion. These replace the many local businesses and homes that were destroyed in the explosion. In behind this strip of buildings is what’s left of the concrete abutment for a pedestrian bridge that once connected the bottom of Duffus Street to the shipyards below, until the explosion.

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Caring & Learning Centre

Elaine Williams talks to us about the Mulgrave Park community today.

Mulgrave Park is now home to a collection of contemporary wall murals.

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‘Live Out Your Dreams’: Around the corner from the Caring & Learning Centre, you can see the Tyler Richards mural, a memorial to a young man from Mulgrave Park.
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‘Walk Your Own Path’ through Mulgrave Park.

More Drifts

Aftermath

Immediate Responses to the Explosion

View Drift

North End & North Street

Building Communities

View Drift