Category Archives: Canadian

August 15th – Detroit is surrendered to General Isaac Brock during the War of 1812

American General William Hull (in blue) surrenders his sword and Detroit to British General Isaac Brock (in red) on August 16th, 1812. Tecumseh looks on, in the background.

American General William Hull (in blue) surrenders his sword and Detroit to British General Isaac Brock (in red) on August 16th, 1812. Tecumseh looks on, in the background to the left.

I apologize for the rather lengthy hiatus between now and my last post. The summer I have been busy with finishing up my thesis and starting medical school, so I have not been able to blog as much as I hoped. I have a bit of a break before things start back up, and hope to get back to posting the occasional post! Enjoy!

On this day in 1812, Detroit was surrendered to British general Isaac Brock during the War of 1812. At that time, Detroit was a strategically important fortress town on the American/Canadian border. Following the American declaration of war on Britain (and by extension, her colony of British North America), skirmishes were fought between American militia and British regulars (which included their Upper Canadian and Native American allies) along the border. General William Hull, the commander of American forces in the Michigan Territory, began plans for an invasion into Upper Canada (the land that now constitutes much of Southern Ontario). The American invasion of Upper Canada from Michigan began on July 12th, 1812. Hull and his forces quickly returned back to Michigan across the Detroit River soon after however, upon learning of the British capture of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island (north of Detroit). Faced with Native American forces (around 600 strong), led by Tecumseh, threatening his position from the rear, Hull and his forces (roughly 2500 in number) fortified their position, awaiting the upcoming attack on Detroit.

On the British side, things were not looking well. The British only had roughly 300 professional soldiers in the Detroit-Amherstburg (near present-day Windsor, Ontario) area, far outnumbered by the Americans. 400 Canadian militia are recruited by Brock to fight, however few have substantive combat experience. In order to give the appearance of a larger, stronger fighting force to the Americans, Brock dresses the Canadian militia in the redcoats of the British Army. This wardrobe adjustment had a dramatic effect on the upcoming battle.

On August 16th, 1812, British soldiers along with their Canadian allies dressed in red marched on Detroit. The British/Canadian forces still remained severely outnumbered by the Americans, however, with Tecumseh’s Native forces also joining the attack, the British side appeared formidable. In one of the grandest bluffs in military history, General Brock sent a message to General Hull, stating:
“The force at my disposal authorizes me to require of you the immediate surrender of Fort Detroit. It is far from my intention to join in a war of extermination, but you must be aware, that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops, will be beyond control the moment the contest commences.”

Hull, afraid of the result a Native attack would have on Detroit and its inhabitants, and the British artillery bombardment upon the fort, surrendered Detroit without a fight. General Brock and Tecumseh won the Battle of Detroit without firing a shot, leaving the British with virtual control of the Michigan Territory, and Upper Canada’s western flank protected.

The stunning victory at Detroit galvanized Canadian support for the war, who initially were tepid in their enthusiasm for fighting against the Americans. Native American people were also inspired by the American defeat at Detroit, causing many Native Americans to take up arms against American outposts throughout the Northwest (today’s Midwest). Tecumseh continued to lead a confederacy of Native American tribes during the war, however was killed at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813. General Isaac Brock was not able to celebrate for long, as he had to rush back towards the Niagara peninsula to defend Upper Canada from attack originating from New York state. On October 13th, 1812, General Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights. William Hull was court-martialed and sentenced to death for the disaster at Detroit, however the sentence was lightened to resignation from the army on order of President Madison, in recognition of Hull’s efforts during the American Revolution. Following his resignation, Hull settled in Newton, Massachusetts spending the rest of his life writing his memoirs in an attempt to exonerate himself of the failure at Detroit.

The following video is a short clip on YouTube summarizing the events of the battle:


Filed under American, Canadian, Military

May 3rd – “In Flanders Fields”, by John McCrae, is written

A memorial located outside John McCrae House in Guelph, Ontario. The memorial features John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields", with two Canadian-style remembrance poppies laid on top.

A memorial located outside John McCrae House in Guelph, Ontario. The memorial features John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” poem, with two Canadian-style remembrance poppies laid on top. Lest we forget.

On this day in 1915, John McCrae, a Canadian doctor serving in the battlefields of Belgium during the First World War, wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”. One of the most popular and often-quoted poems from the First World War, “In Flanders Fields” invocation of the poppies growing over the graves of fallen soldiers has been adopted by Commonwealth countries through the “remembrance poppy” as a symbol of those soldiers who have died in conflict. Almost one hundred years after the poem was first written, “In Flanders Fields” is taught in classrooms throughout the Commonwealth, and in particular, Canada, John McCrae’s native land.

Born in Guelph, Ontario in 1872, John McCrae wrote poetry throughout his lifetime, alongside his medical work. Once the First World War began in the summer of 1914, McCrae quickly enlisted to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Despite McCrae’s medical training and expertise, he opted to join a fighting unit instead of the medical corps, and served as both a gunner and a medical officer. McCrae fought at the Second Battle of Ypres, where the Germans first used poison gas on the battlefield. For seventeen days, the Canadians were able to hold their position against the German assault, however conditions were nightmarish and casualties high. Amongst those that were killed in the battle was Alexis Helmer, a former student and close friend of McCrae’s. After performing the burial service of his friend, the next day, May 3rd 1915, McCrae sat down on the back of an ambulance, and noting how quickly the poppies grew over the graves of his fallen comrades, wrote the following poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

It would be months before McCrae’s poem became published. On December 8th 1915, McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” was published in Punch magazine. It became an instant hit. McCrae’s poem soon became republished around the globe, and translated in several languages, and utilized to bolster support for the war effort in Europe. The words of “In Flanders Fields” were used to sell war bonds and promote soldier recruitment drives throughout the Allied countries.

Later in the war, McCrae was transferred out of his fighting unit (much to his chagrin) to a military hospital, and rose to the rank of colonel by 1918. On January 13th 1918, McCrae caught a case of pneumonia, and in light of the years of stress that war had placed on his body, fell ill with cerebral meningitis later on. On January 28th 1918, John McCrae passed away at a military hospital in Wimereux, France, where he was buried with full military honours.

The most well-known legacy of “In Flanders Fields” are the remembrance poppies worn throughout the Commonwealth during the weeks leading up to Remembrance/Armistice Day. First introduced by the American Legion in 1920, the Remembrance Poppy was then shortly adopted by the Royal British Legion with support from Field Marshall Douglas Haig. From there, the Remembrance Poppy was introduced throughout the Empire. Today, Legions associations are actively involved with the production and sale of poppies during the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day, with funds going to support veterans and their families.

Here is a link to a Heritage Minute clip that was released by the Canadian government to commemorate John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields”:



Filed under Canadian, Military

March 7th – The University of Western Ontario is founded

Here is a picture of Western's campus back in 1933. From this picture, you can see the J.W. Little Football Stadium (now the present site of the South Valley Building). University College (then known as the Arts building) and the Natural Sciences Building (now known as the Physics and Astronomy Building) can be seen in the background.

Here is a picture of Western’s campus back in 1933. From this picture, you can see the J.W. Little Football Stadium (now the present site of the South Valley Building). University College (then known as the Arts building) and the Natural Sciences Building (now known as the Physics and Astronomy Building) can be seen in the background.

On this day in 1878, the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, my alma mater, was founded. With 12 faculties and professional schools, and three affiliated university colleges (Huron University College, Brescia University College, which is Canada’s only female university-level college, and King’s University College), the University of Western Ontario, Western for short, has approximately 30000 currently enrolled undergraduate students and 5300 graduate students from 107 countries around the world. Western is nationally and internationally well recognized as one of Canada’s prestigious and illustrious institutions.

Western’s founder, Bishop Isaac Hellmuth was born in Poland in 1819 and educated at the University of Breslau (present-day University of Wrocław). While Hellmuth was originally Jewish in faith, discussions with theologians at Breslau made Hellmuth question his faith, and upon moving to England in 1842, Hellmuth converted to Anglicanism. In 1844, he entered the ministry, and was then sent to the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. Following some time spent as a professor of Hebrew and rabbinical literature at Bishop’s University (in Lennoxville, Quebec), Hellmuth found himself in London, Ontario.

Once in London, Hellmuth recognized the need for an institution to educate and train clergy in the area. In 1861, Hellmuth set off for England to raise funds to establish this clerical training institution in London. After enough funds had been gathered, in 1863, Hellmuth founded Huron College, which remains to this day as one of Western’s affiliate colleges. In 1871, Hellmuth became the Bishop of the Diocese of Huron, and with his newfound clout, began pushing the provincial government for the establishment of a university in London, Ontario. Hellmuth would invest much of his own money to the procurement of a charter for the new school. Though legislation for the creation of an university in London met stiff resistance in provincial parliament, in 1878 a charter for Western was finally authorized, undoubtedly aided by the fact that Hellmuth was married to the sister-in-law of the Minister of Education, as well as support from Premier Oliver Mowat.

Beautiful picture of University College (Arts Building) and the Lawson Memorial Library (now known as Lawson Hall, home to the Department of History) in 1940.

Beautiful picture of University College (Arts Building) and the Lawson Memorial Library (now known as Lawson Hall, home to Western’s Department of History) in 1940.

On March 7th, 1878, ‘The Western University of London Ontario” was founded. Three years later, Western opened its doors to students for the first time, with degrees in four faculties: Arts, Divinity, Law, and Medicine. At this time, Western was still a religiously affiliated institution, and it was clergy members that served as faculty for the school, with Bishops of Huron serving as Western’s first chancellors. Only in 1908 did the school become non-denominational and secularized. In 1923, the university was officially renamed “The University of Western Ontario”. Contrary to what many current students and alumni believe, that name is still the institution’s official name; while in 2012 the university re-branded itself as “Western University”, that epithet is only the school’s marketing name and not its official legal name.

Here are some of the notable alumni/faculty to have passed through Western’s doors:

  • Sir Frederick Banting – Nobel laureate in Medicine, for co-discovering insulin
  • Roberta Bondar – first female Canadian astronaut
  • Margaret Chan – director-general of the World Health Organization
  • David Furnish – filmmaker and civil partner of Sir Elton John
  • Dr. Chil-Yong Kang – developer of an HIV/AIDS vaccine currently undergoing clinical trials
  • Silken Laumann – Canadian champion rower, Olympic medalist
  • Alice Munro – author, Nobel Laureate in Literature for “mastery of the contemporary short story”
  • Kevin Newman – previous anchor of Global National
  • Kevin O’Leary – chairman of O’Leary Funds, dragon and shark on CBC’s Dragons Den and ABC’s Shark Tank respectively
  • Michael Ondaatje – poet, novelist of The English Patient, which was adapted into multiple Academy Award-winning film of the same name
  • Adrian Owen – neuroscientist, the Brain and Mind Institute
  • John Robarts – 17th Premier of Ontario
  • Alan Thicke – actor in Growing Pains and father to Robin Thicke
  • Paul Wells – columnist and journalist for Maclean’s Magazine

So on this Founder’s Day fellow Mustangs, wear purple and white, and let us take pride in our school’s past and the exciting future that is yet to come. Happy 136th birthday Western! Go ‘Stangs go!

Here is a video released by Western for this year’s Founder’s Day:

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March 6th – The city of Toronto is incorporated

Front Street in 1804. Today, the CN Tower, the Fairmont Royal York, and Union Station are found on modern-day Toronto. While Front Street was right next to Lake Ontario back in 1804, following late 19th and early 20th century land reclamation, the lake shore is now 800 metres south of Front Street.

Front Street, Toronto in 1804. The CN Tower, the Fairmont Royal York, and Union Station are found on modern-day Front Street. While Front Street was right next to Lake Ontario back in 1804, following late 19th and early 20th century land reclamations, the lake shore is now almost 800 metres south of Front Street.

On this day in 1834, 180 years ago, the city of Toronto was incorporated. Due to its key position on Lake Ontario and its access to many rivers (such as the Humber, Don, and Rouge), Toronto was a highly influential and important settlement throughout history and to this day. This post will largely cover Toronto’s history (albeit succinctly) up to the city’s incorporation.

Prior to English settlement, the area made up of present-day Toronto was inhabited by various First Nations peoples, including the Neutral, Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga, Wendat, and Mississauga (from which the Toronto suburb is named after) nations. By the mid-1750s, the French had began exploring the northern shore of Lake Ontario where Toronto is today located. The French would build a trading post in this area name Fort Rouillé, located around Exhibition Place (where the Canadian National Exhibition, or The Ex is held every August) in 1750. By the 1760s however, the French abandoned Fort Rouillé after their defeat by the British in the Seven Years War.

It would be another war that would greatly influence Toronto’s history pre-incorporation. During the American Revolutionary War, Loyalists (roughly, those American colonists loyal to the British crown and did not want to be part of America) from the Thirteen Colonies settled in large numbers in the lands constituting modern-day Toronto. In 1787, the British negotiated the purchase of the lands constituting Toronto (almost a quarter million acres) from the Mississaugas of New Credit. Two years later, John Graves Simcoe declared this area to be known as “York”, functioning as the capital of Upper Canada (modern-day Southern Ontario, contrast with Lower Canada being the area of the province of Quebec situated along the St. Lawrence River).

Previously, Newark (mind you, not the one in New Jersey, but on the Niagara Peninsula, present day Niagara-on-the-Lake) was the capital of Upper Canada, but due to the threat of an American attack, York became the colony’s new capital. At the time, York was largely a bay formed by the Toronto Islands, with Fort York defended the settlement from attack. Simcoe also ordered the construction of military service roads to allow easy communication between York and Kingston, and York and Newark. Kingston Road (still exists in some form today) formed the eastern route out of Toronto, Dundas Street the western route (also exists in some form today, moving all the way through southwestern Ontario, through London and towards Windsor), and Yonge Street northwards to Lake Simcoe. Yonge Street still exists to this day; at almost 1896 km in length (counting the portion of the street known as Highway 11), it was popularly known as ‘the longest street in the world’.

Yet another war would influence Toronto’s history in its early days. In 1813 during the War of 1812 (I know, confusing), York was attacked and burned by invading American forces. Despite the presence of Fort York, the garrison was lightly manned, therefore unable to adequately repulse the Americans. Following this defeat, a stronger fort was constructed west of the fort’s original position, easily turning back the Americans after another attack in 1814. While originally on the city’s coast, this newer fort (that which exists to this day) is now hundreds of meters inland, due to land reclamation.

After York’s “baptism by fire” during the War of 1812, it was decided to further elevate the status of this important community. On March 6th, 1834, the town of York was incorporated, changing its name to Toronto to distinguish it from New York City, as well as remove its negative image as ‘dirty little York’ by the local inhabitants. Toronto is derived from the original Mohawk name for the area, tkaronto, meaning ‘where there are trees standing in the water’. William Lyon Mackenzie would be Toronto’s first mayor. It was Toronto’s first mayor that was grandfather to William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s prime minister through the Great Depression and the Second World War (and also the prime minister featured on the Canadian fifty dollar bill). Happy 180th birthday Toronto!


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December 25th – Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese

The Hong Kong Memorial Wall located in Ottawa, Ontario, to honour the Canadian troops that fought to defend Hong Kong during the Second World War. On one side are the names of soldiers from the Royal Rifles of Canada, and on the other side, the soldiers of the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

The Hong Kong Memorial Wall located in Ottawa, Ontario, to honour the Canadian troops that fought to defend Hong Kong during the Second World War. On one side are the names of soldiers from the Royal Rifles of Canada, and on the other side, the soldiers of the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

On this day in 1941, the British crown colony of Hong Kong fell to Japanese forces. After seventeen and a half intense days of fighting by Canadian, British, and Indian troops and exhausting their ammunition, food and water, the Governor of Hong Kong surrounded the colony to the Japanese on Christmas Day.

Believing that Hong Kong would be unable to hold upon a Japanese attack, Winston Churchill and the British government had pulled out most of the British forces from the colony. A token British force was left in Hong Kong, and to reinforce the Allied garrison, the Canadian government was called upon to supply men. In the Autumn of 1941, two Canadian battalions (almost 2000 men in total) were sent over to Hong Kong from Vancouver, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada. Both units had little training or combat experience, yet within a short span of time, would soon find they were thrown into the heat of battle.

The Japanese invasion of Hong Kong began on the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. Japanese troops swept down from the Chinese mainland and into Hong Kong territory. Japanese forces moved quickly through the New Territories and Kowloon (the portions of Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland), forcing Allied troops to retreat to across the bay and onto Hong Kong Island. Allied troops were simply outnumbered (14000 troops to 52000 troops) and outgunned, and on Christmas Day, 1941, the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Mark Aitchison Young, surrendered the crown colony to the Japanese at the Peninsula Hong Kong hotel. This day has since been known in Hong Kong as “Black Christmas”.

Hong Kong would remain occupied by the Japanese until August 30th, 1945, where the populace endured horrendous treatment by their Japanese rulers. Canadian, British, and other Commonwealth POWs were sent to northern Japan and kept in Hong Kong, where they were worked literally to death in labour camps and submitted to cruel treatment by the Japanese captors. The Allied dead from Hong Kong, including Canadian troops, are mainly interred at the Sai Wan Military Cemetery and Stanley Military Cemetery. Of the 1975 Canadians who sailed from Vancouver in the autumn of 1941, more than 550 would never make it back home.

Though the Canadian involvement on the Second World War in Europe (e.g. the Battle of the Atlantic, Dieppe, Italy, D-Day, the Netherlands), few know of Canada’s involvement in Hong Kong. In fact, the first Canadian ground soldier killed during the Second World War was at Hong Kong. The first Victoria Cross (the highest military decoration to Commonwealth troops) given to a Canadian during the Second World War was awarded to John Robert Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. Upon seeing a Japanese grenade roll into the bunker where Osborn and his fellow men were, Osborn jumped on the grenade, covering it with his helmet, sacrificing himself and saving the lives of 10 other Canadian soldiers in the bunker. Military service animals were not exempt either from receiving medals. Gander, a Newfie, was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal, the “animals’ Victoria Cross” in 2000. Gander, assigned with the Royal Rifles of Canada, received the Dickin Medal for taking a Japanese grenade thrown at his soldiers and running with it towards the enemy, dying in the explosion but saving the lives of his fellow Canadian.

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December 10th – The Nobel Prize is awarded for the first time

The medal awarded as part of the Nobel Prize. Nobel laureates also receive a diploma recognizing their achievement along with a monetary prize.

The medal awarded as part of the Nobel Prize. Nobel laureates also receive a diploma recognizing their achievement, along with a monetary prize.

On this day in 1901, the Nobel Prize was awarded for the first time in Stockholm, Sweden. Since its inception over 100 years ago, a total of 835 individuals and 21 organizations have been awarded with the Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize takes its name from Alfred Nobel, a prominent Swedish engineer and inventor. Besides the award that contains his name, Nobel is known as the inventor of dynamite, one of the greatest paradoxes in history. Upon his death in 1896, Nobel’s last will specified that his wealth be used to fund a series of prizes for those who contribute the “greatest benefit on mankind” in the fields of physics, chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine, and literature. Almost $190 million (current day monetary value) was used to establish these Nobel Prizes.

On December 10th, 1901, five years to the day after Alfred Nobel passed away, the first Nobel Prizes were handed out. Amongst the inaugural class of Nobel laureates were Wilhelm Röntgen (Physics) for his discovery of X-rays and Henry Dunant (Peace) for founding the International Red Cross. Here are some other fun facts:

  • The Nobel Prize for Economics was not one of the original five prizes, and was only awarded after 1969.
  • Only two individuals have multiple Nobel Prizes in different fields. These individuals are Marie Curie for Physics (1903, for her work in radiation phenomenon) and Chemistry (1911, for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium) and Linus Pauling for Chemistry (1954, for his work on the nature of the chemical bond, more specifically orbital hybridization) and Peace (1962, for his work in campaigning against nuclear weapons testing).

A total of 23* Canadians have won a Nobel Prize. The asterisk indicates that some of these individuals were not born in Canada nor were Canadian citizens, but performed much of the work the Nobel Prize recognized while in Canada. Here are five notable Canadian individuals who have won:

  1. Ernest Rutherford for Chemistry (1908). You may know him as the scientist behind Bohr-Rutherford diagrams from high school chemistry class. Rutherford’s work on the half-life of radioactive substances while at McGill University in Montreal was the basis of his Nobel Prize (Rutherford was, in fact, a Kiwi, having been born in New Zealand).
  2. Frederick Banting for Physiology/Medicine (1923). Banting was rewarded the Nobel Prize for his work in (co)discovering insulin while a the University of Toronto. Prior to his arrival at Toronto, Banting was a faculty member at the University of Western Ontario, teaching orthopedics and anthropology.
  3. Lester B. Pearson for Peace (1957). The future prime minister of Canada won his Nobel Prize for his role in defusing the Suez Crisis through his work at the United Nations.
  4. John Polanyi for Chemistry (1986). This Hungarian-born scientist won his Nobel Prize for work on chemical kinetics. Today, Polanyi still teaches chemistry at the University of Toronto.
  5. Alice Munro for Literature (2013). This year’s Nobel laureate in literature received her prize for her work on the short story. Munro is a fellow alumnus of the University of Western Ontario (Go Mustangs!), having studied English and journalism during her time here as an undergraduate student.

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December 6th – The Halifax Explosion

Headline from the Halifax Herald on the day after the Explosion

Headline from the Halifax Herald on the day after the Explosion

On this day in 1917, an explosion occurred off Halifax, Nova Scotia when the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship filled with munitions, collided with the Norwegian ship SS Imo. The explosion generated by the two ships’ collision was the largest man-made explosion prior to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, equal to almost 3 kilotons of TNT exploding.

Halifax was an important port for the British Empire and contributed greatly to the Allied war effort during the First World War. From Halifax, Canadian soldiers and war supplies (including munitions) were shipped from Canada to the European battlefields. One ship in particular, the SS Mont-Blanc, happened to be laden with explosive cargo in Halifax Harbour on December 6th, 1917, enroute to Bordeaux, France. Another ship in the Harbour on that day, the SS Imo, was enroute to New York City to pick up food to be brought across the Atlantic for the Belgian people. Mixed messages (literally) between the two ships in the Harbour resulted in the Imo colliding with the Mont-Blanc, sparking an ignition of the explosive compounds onboard the Mont-Blanc.

The collision between the two ships did not immediately cause an explosion, however generated enough commotion to get the attention of Haligonians (denonym of those who are from Halifax). Many stood in the streets of Halifax looking upon the collision in the Harbour, or peered through the windows of their homes and businesses for a view. Once the Mont-Blanc exploded, fragments of the ship came raining down on the city. The gun from the Mont-Blanc was claimed to have been found 3 km away from the epicentre of the explosion. The blast was so powerful that the explosion in Halifax Harbour was heard from 300 kilometres away. The blast produced a massive cushion of air that blasted through the city, destroying/damaging city property. For those that were not dead from the initial explosion, eye injuries were common, as the air cushion shattered the glass from windows through which Haligonians viewed the two ships collide. In the end, approximately 2000 people were killed in the Halifax Explosion, and approximately 9000 left injured.

Emergency response to the explosion and its aftermath was hampered by a blizzard that was moving through Nova Scotia. Help however did come, from both near and far. Across Nova Scotia and from other provinces, firemen and medical staff hurried to Halifax to assist in the relief of the city. One notable international contribution to the city’s relief was from the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee. In commemoration of the assistance rendered by the city of Boston to Halifax, in 1918, Halifax sent a Christmas tree to Boston in gratitude. Starting in 1971 and continuing to this day, a Christmas tree is gifted by the Nova Scotian government to Boston every year, just as in 1918, during the holiday season. This tree is Boston’s official Christmas tree and is lit up in Boston Common outside the State Capitol.

Canada’s ‘Heritage Minute’ infomercials (for those who grew up during the 90s in Canada, you know what I am talking about) featured the story of Vince Coleman, a train dispatcher in Halifax on that fateful day. Coleman learned that the Mont-Blanc was carrying explosive cargo in its hold and aware it could explode at any minute after the ships collided. Vince Coleman stayed at his post to warn an incoming train from Saint John, New Brunswick via Morse code of the impending explosion in Halifax Harbour and to stop the train immediately. Many variations of the message transmitted to the train have been reported, but they all typically appear similar to the following:

“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.”

Coleman’s message saved this inbound train from proceeding further to Halifax, as well as warning all other inbound trains to Halifax. Hundreds of lives were saved by Coleman’s warning to the trains. Sadly, Vince Coleman perished in Halifax. Here is a link to the Canadian ‘Heritage Minute’ for the Halifax Explosion:

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November 30th – The Welland Canal opens for shipping

A modern day ship moving through the Welland Canal, near St. Catherines, Ontario

A modern day ship moving through the Welland Canal, near St. Catherines, Ontario

On this day in 1829, the first ship moved through the Welland Canal in the Niagara Peninsula, ushering in a new age in North American shipping. Connecting Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, the Welland Canal allowed for shipping to move successively through the Great Lakes and into the St. Lawrence River, and from there, to the Atlantic Ocean.

The waterways of North America have long functioned as natural highways, being used as transportation routes by the First Nations. With the rise of important American Great Lakes cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, there was a demand for moving goods from the Great Lakes out into the Atlantic and over to Europe. An artificial waterway was necessary to connect Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, as the Niagara River, which naturally connects the two lakes, is impeded by the Niagara Falls. This natural barrier prevents any shipping from moving through (at least in one piece).

The first ground was broken for the Welland Canal in Allanburg, Ontario (in today’s Thorold, Ontario) on November 30th, 1824. Five years later to the day, the Welland Canal was completed on November 30, 1829 and shipping could now move from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario through the Niagara Peninsula, extending from Allanburg to Port Robinson. Over the years, the Welland Canal would be expanded to allow for larger ships to move through and taking different routes through the Niagara Peninsula.

The Welland Canal was a tremendous boon to both Lower and Upper Canadas. Due to the amount of shipping now moving through the Great Lakes and into the St. Lawrence River, the cities of Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City rose in economic and political prominence. The Welland Canal rivalled the Erie Canal for Great Lakes shipping traffic. While the Erie Canal connected the Great Lakes to New York City, America’s burgeoning port city, via the Hudson River, the Welland Canal was far wider than the Erie Canal, allowing larger ships to move through. To this day, the Welland Canal remains an important infrastructure to the economy of the Great Lakes, almost two hundred years when work on it first began.

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