mont blanc dealers grim reminders can still be found in trees
HALIFAX a bucket lift, in branches, an arborist slit into a trunk with his chainsaw. Hedid not find wood inside. The sky was getting dark as the silver maple began to spark.
“Man, what is in this tree?” said Clarence Talbot to his three crew mates on the ground. “It looked like someone took a big handful of debris and stuck it in the middle of the tree.”
Talbot did not find a clothesline pulley, as often engulfed by a tree, nor did he find staples nor nails nor a portion of a backyard fence. Rooted into Albert Street in the north end of Halifax, this tree contained none of the usual manmade intruders.
“There was no way any activity in the last 10 or 20 years would’ve put that in the tree,” Talbot says, noting the entire core of the trunk was a column of metal shards. “It dawned on me, ‘wow, man, this is from the Halifax Explosion.'”
READ:The Halifax explosion: How newspapers covered the tragedy in 1917
One hundred years after the detonation, Halifax trees are notoriously impure. On Dec. 6, 1917, a French ship containing nitroglycerine and trinitrotoluene (TNT), among other explosives, collided with aNorwegian vessel in the Halifax Harbour, and many of the 2,000 victims were killed by debris. Shards of unidentified flying objects also got lodged into the city’s canopy, and today, lumber mills as far as the southern United States still don’t dare touch logs from Halifax, knowing some hidden metal artifact could wreck their machinery. By the time of the disaster’s centennial, few human survivors remain to tell their stories, but the oldest trees of Halifax were there, and they have lived to preserve a secretarboreal museum.
“There are maybe two, three types of trees that would survive what I would call a nuclear explosion,” says Talbot. He names poplars and possibly willows, but certainly sugar maples, as theirbrittle wood and fast growth heighten their “survivability.”
“The Germans have got us!” assumed locals who were not immediately knocked unconscious and killed. The Germans did not have them, but windows shot into eyeballs in the largest mass blinding in history; oil rained in the plum black sky; within 10 seconds a sugary refinery was ablaze, and 20,000 people were homeless, others with limbs dangling by threads of skin in injuries causing Robert Borden, soon to become Prime Minister, to visit the hospital and cry.
Homes and infrastructure suffered damage costing$35 million at the time, and trees were among the only fixtures sturdy enough to last the blast. A piano fell through a floor; a bank vault slammed and locked a man inside to die, and as reported by Grattan O’Leary in the aftermath, “some of the smaller homes not only collapsed, they were simply blown away, and three miles of desert were created in the twinkling of an eye.”
READ:In 2017, Halifax marks 100 years since its greatest disaster
A tsunami followed. The blast propelled an eight foot wave at the peninsula. If it didn’teliminate the remaining structures, the next day brought ablizzard. In the Halifax Harbour, the boat zigzagged in confusion with Norway’sImo, before the two ships collided (“What the deuce are they trying to do?” wondered one eye witness who watched the ships switch from Starboard to Port. Then a bedroom bureau fell on the witness, and all was black.)
Yet, Halifax arborists remain the unknown artifact curators. “With all that metal and debris flying through the air, and with trees being soft, it just got embedded,” says David Barry, an arborist and wood worker who makes salad bowls, cutting boards and dining tables out of old Halifax trees, leaving the debris in his creations. “When the saw starts to bump, you know you hit metal You hit something and you know it’s not a nail or a screw. It’s actually something substantial.” Barry recalls a friend sawing into a lump of metal so large the wood was useless, but he instead used the findings to build a fireplace.
READ:The Canadian who has been dodging death for 100 years
Americans know the explosion story so well because they were the first responders, especially Bostonians. “News of the catastrophe had barely reached the consciousness of the outside world,” reportedThe Journaldays later, “when Halifax was literally invaded by Americans American doctors, American nurses, American Red Cross workers, American engineers and American architects. “Aw man, I need that stuff,” he thought at the time. “We’re not tree cutters; we’re arborists. In Europe they’d consider us surgeons tree surgeons,” he says. When people ask him to remove a tree, he says, “I don’t want to get too emotional about this, but what gives you the right to cut down this tree that’s going to outlive you and maybe your grandkids?”He explains, “It’s part of history. It’s part of the city. It’s part of the landscape.”
And trees are part of commemorating the disaster. Each December, to say thank you for the aid after the explosion, Halifax sends Boston a Christmas tree.