Across the Narrows

Turtle Grove, Tuft’s Cove and Shannon Park

Overview

Catastrophes of colonization and war.

Although the trauma caused by the explosion in Halifax harbour is barely visible today, with few markers or official commemorations within the core of the most devastated areas, it continues to reverberate, shaping our identities and communities, and our future.

Across the Narrows, locations in the North Dartmouth communities of Turtle Grove, Tufts Cove and Shannon Park embody stories of devastation wrought by colonization and war time catastrophe. Although the 1917 population on this side of the harbour was much smaller than Halifax’s, the devastation was just as significant, as was the reconstruction effort.

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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St. Paul’s Cemetery

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St. Paul’s Cemetery overlooking the waterfront in Dartmouth was opened in 1835 and consecrated ten years later, but had been used as a Mi’kmaq burial site long before contact and colonization. According to some sources, hundreds of Mi’kmaq burials may have taken place here, over many centuries.
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This is as close as we will come on this walk to the Alderney Ferry Terminal. There were several passenger ferries between Dartmouth and Halifax in 1917. The public ferry service, which operated from this point along the shore, ran without interruption when the explosion took place, although the glass windows below deck shattered. In the hours and days following the blast, the ferry was used to transport the injured to hospitals in Halifax and Dartmouth.

From here, walk north through the cemetery, and take the wooden staircase at the far end, up to Fairbanks Street.

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23 Fairbanks

23 Fairbanks Photo
A number of houses built by the Halifax Relief Commission, with architectural designs by Ross and MacDonald, are visible today as you walk along Fairbanks and wander the neighbouring streets. These were not built using the hydrostone blocks, and many have been extensively modified over the years. The house at 23 Fairbanks was built for the Forsyth family.

There are more Ross and MacDonald houses near this location. Another Point of Interest on this drift (at 160 Windmill) is one. Have a look at the houses at 32, 34, 47, 48, 55, 60 and 73 Hester Street, and at 3 Elmwood and 218 Windmill to see what more of these Relief Commission houses look like now.

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Bootscraper

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On the morning of the Halifax Explosion, a chunk of the Mont-Blanc landed near a house close to this corner of Windmill Road at Mott Street. The women who lived in the house used the metal fragment as a bootscraper near the back door.
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DND

Joesph Howe Marker
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If you look through the branches next to the gate, on the other side of the fence, you will see a marker about Joseph Howe. Come closer and read what it says. This location is now part of the DND storage yard. The DND street names here, Ordnance Rd. and Armament Rd., are a pointed reminder of how much of the urban space around the harbour is now used for military purposes and off-limits to the public.

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View the Imo

Imo
From this point on Windmill Road near Pelzant Street, you can look towards the point on the Dartmouth shoreline where the Imo landed after the explosion.
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Brookside

The street name here, “Brookside” suggests that there was a source of fresh water nearby; this is a reminder that natural features such as waterways and harbours are part of the Indigenous cultural landscape that has existed here for millennia.

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Imo on Shore

Following the collision with the Mont-Blanc, both ships drifted in the harbour for approximately 20 minutes. When the explosion eventually happened, the Imo was violently blasted across the harbour to this part of the Dartmouth shoreline.

Imo Port Side Wrecked
Despite the loss of life and serious damage to the upper decks of the Imo, the vessel was repaired and put back into service in 1918.
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Grove Street

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Here on the corner of Grove Street is another reminder of the deep Indigenous history of this harbour landscape; the name of the street is thought to refer to Turtle Grove, the traditional Mi’kmaq encampment that was here. At the bottom of Grove Street is the French Cable Wharf building, which was built in 1916 and used by the French company that was installing and maintaining transatlantic communications cable. Made of reinforced concrete, the building was the only major structure on the Dartmouth shore to survive the explosion. There was a wharf extending from the building into the harbour at that time. The French Cable Wharf building is a recognized Federal Heritage Building, and is now part of the Defence Research and Development Canada facility here.

http://historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=7843

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Army and Navy Brewery

Army Navy Brewery
North of the French Cable Building, close to the shore, was the Army and Navy Brewery, which was destroyed in the explosion. A number of brewery workers lost their lives or were injured here.
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Mont-Blanc Fragments

This area of Dartmouth was heavily damaged by the explosion, tsunami and fires caused by the destructive force. Fragments from the Mont-Blanc landed in this location at the end of Wallace Street, and two of them are now in the collection of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Photographs of the fragments, and of this location where they were retrieved, were included in the NiS+TS exhibition at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, October through December 2017.

Fragment 37
Fragment 38
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Harbour Shore

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Walk down this road and to the parking lot at the end, near the shore. It was along here that the Mont-Blanc crew came ashore after rowing their lifeboats away from the burning vessel. The French sailors raced up the forested slope, trying to warn the Mi’kmaq gathered in the area of the impending catastrophe.

The view has changed dramatically since 1917. Walk back up towards Windmill Road once you’ve had a look.

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Windmill & Albro Lake Road

02A Binney Encampment
By 1917, the Mi’kmaq at Turtle Grove and elsewhere were being forced from their traditional lands. The government, acting on pressure from local settlers, was to have resettled the Mi’kmaq group further inland from here, by Albro Lake, well before December 1917.
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Tufts Cove School

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This street was originally called Nevins, the name of a well-known Mi’kmaq family with descendents still in the area. Near the corner of Nivens and Windmill was the Tufts Cove School, destroyed in the explosion. This was the local school for settler children.
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Turtle Grove School

Turtle Grove School
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This used to be known as “Indian Street”, possibly because it was part of the Mi’kmaq community of Turtle Grove

This spot near India Street and Nivens is where the Turtle Grove School was located. It’s where the Mi’kmaq children attended school. Catherine Martin, filmmaker and elder from Millbrook First Nation, shares the story of her great-uncle Henry, who died as a consequence of the explosion, and her great-aunt Rachel, who survived.
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From this spot on Nivens Street, there is a view straight across the narrows to the Irving Shipyard Assembly Hall, where Pier 6 once was, and where the Mont-Blanc exploded. This photograph gives a sense of how close the explosion was. If you unrolled a spool of thread here, it would stretch across the water to Ground Zero, with thread to spare.
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Turtle Grove Then & Now

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From this point along Sunnydale Ave, look north through the Tufts Cove Generating Station property. We think that this archival photograph from Turtle Grove was taken from somewhere very close to this spot.

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Tuft’s Cove Cemetery

Tufts Cove Sign
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This is the Tufts Cove Cemetery, established long ago by the settler families in this part of North Dartmouth. There are graves here for some of those who were killed in the explosion.

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Scrubland

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Look at the three smokestacks of the Nova Scotia Power plant. Adjacent to the plant is land that is part of the parcel owned by Nova Scotia Power, and is available for sale or lease. You can see past the fuel tanks close to the shoreline to scrubland further up the hill. This is a good example of the kind of semi-urban non-space that NiS+TS is intrigued by. There are no landmarks here, and it’s far from scenic, but it’s a site that tells a story nonetheless.

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Shannon Park

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We are now close to what was the military housing community of Shannon Park. It was named after the Royal Navy Ship, the Shannon, which defeated the American ship the Chesapeake, in waters off Boston in 1813 (during the War of 1812). The Chesapeake was towed into Halifax Harbour following the battle. For millennia before then, this area was inhabited by Mi’kmaq people. Their community of Turtle Grove stretched along here to the area south, towards what is now Grove Street in Dartmouth.

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6 18 3  Ojibwa Street Sign

Shannon Park was developed for Navy family housing in the early 1950’s Cold War era. Street names were given in the 60’s, after Navy vessels in the “Tribal Class” of destroyers (except Ojibway Way, which was named after a submarine). It has been vacant since 2003, and all the buildings were demolished in 2017. Most of this land is being redeveloped for residential and commercial uses.

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This narrow strip along Nootka, along with the shore of the cove and the tip of the point of land, has been given to the Millbrook First Nation.This recognizes their right to the land of Turtle Grove, lost in the Explosion. Of the approximately 30 Mi’kmaq who were living there at the time, 9 or 10 were killed, others injured, and their homes and school destroyed. The survivors were scattered, and dispersed to other communities. No relief or support for reconstruction was given to them.
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Mi’kmaq Ceremony View

Each year for the last decade, Catherine Martin has led a ceremony to honour members of the Mi’kmaq community who died and were injured here.
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Difficult Knowledge Circle

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Singular historic events such as the Halifax Explosion are clear examples of horrific disasters. It is perhaps more difficult to recognize disasters and traumas that have unfolded over longer periods of time. The loss of land, culture and community that Indigenous people have endured for centuries is “difficult knowledge” that needs to be acknowledged, along with the pressing need for reconciliation. By taking responsibility for our roles in this ongoing history, we can work towards reconciliation.

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Shannon Park Gate

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If you could have entered the ruins of Shannon Park before they were torn down, you would have seen how wildlife has taken over, including these urban deer.
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Hawthorne Street

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More Halifax Relief Commission houses can be seen in other parts of central Dartmouth, extending beyond this drift. This Ross and MacDonald house on Hawthorne Street has recently been given heritage status.
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22 Edward Street

This Relief Commission house was built as the residence for James A. Tobin, using a design by S.P. Dumaresq (who also designed Veith House and many other buildings). An excerpt from a 1918 poster (in the NS Archive Collection) captures the spirit of the relief and reconstruction effort: ‘A new city has risen out of the ashes of the old. We rub our eyes and look again — but the vision does not fade. The new city remains — and grows, building by building, street by street, amid the tumultuous music of a thousand hammers, the wholesome discord of a thousand saws.’

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160 Windmill

This house is one example of the Relief Commission housing built in Dartmouth after the explosion, using architectural designs by Ross and MacDonald. There are more Relief Commission houses near this location. Another Point of Interest on this drift (at 23 Fairbanks) is one. Have a look at the houses at 32, 34, 47, 48, 55, 60 and 73 Hester Street, and at 3 Elmwood, and 218 Windmill to see what more of the Ross and MacDonald houses look like now.

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15 Green Road

According to some accounts, Green Road was a shortcut between the Mi’kmaq community in Turtle Grove and Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church located near the bottom of Maple Street, where many of them attended services.

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24 Pinecrest Memorial

Dartmouth Cannon

Look towards your right, away from the harbour and up Albro Lake Road, to where the new location for the Mi’kmaq community was to have been. A cannon from the Mont-Blanc landed near Albro Lake Road, and is incorporated in a memorial in Pinecrest Park. A ceremony is held here each December 6, to remember those lost in Dartmouth.

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Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church

This church originated in 1829, when the initial structure was established in Halifax and later transported (in part) across to Dartmouth. Members of the parish included Mi’kmaq worshippers from Turtle Grove. Some historical accounts note that, following the explosion, the bodies of the Turtle Grove dead were blessed here, prior to burial.

First Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church
The first Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church.
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The second Saint Peter Church, built in the 1880's on the same site where the current church stands today. This second church lasted through the Explosion of 1917 - and two-thirds of the twentieth century - until it was destroyed by a fire in 1966.
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Saint Peter’s Cemetery

This cemetery, and the one on the other side of Park Street, has grave markers for a number of Dartmouth residents who were explosion victims. Some of the Mi’kmaq dead were also buried here, but their final resting places are unmarked at this time.

More Drifts

A Natural History

Survivor trees and community gardens

View Drift

Centenary Procession

100th anniversary of the explosion in the Halifax Harbour

View Drift