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A Christmas Tree and a Cruise to Nova Scotia.

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What’s the connection between Boston’s Christmas tree and Nova Scotia, you may ask. Well the answer goes way back to December 6, 1917 when a catastrophe and the generosity of the city of Boston bonded the two cities together.

A tragedy of immense proportions

On that morning two ships were active in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia. One, the Imo was leaving harbor on a journey to New York City. The other, the French munitions ship Mont Blanc, was headed into harbor to rendezvous with a convoy that would take her and her cargo to the trenches of the First World War, then ravaging Europe.

At about the time that people were getting to work and beginning their day in Halifax the two ships collided and the 2,300 tons of piric acid aboard the Mont Blanc were set afire. The Mont Blanc crew abandoned ship as the vessel continued to burn and the ship floated up to dock 6 in Halifax. Also aboard Mont Blanc were 200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton and 35 tons of high octane gasoline. Within a short time the Mont Blanc exploded with a blast that was the largest man-made non-atomic explosion in history. After the blast, a Tsunami washed over the city to a height of more than 54 feet above the usual high-water mark.

So immense was the blast that parts of the ship were blown miles away and the devastation in Halifax was almost total. More than 1,500 people died that day and an additional 9,000 were injured. Entire sections of the city were obliterated and a canon from the Mont Blanc was found more than 3 miles from the site of the blast. Imo was lifted from the water and stranded on shore on the Dartmouth side of the harbor. 1630 buildings were destroyed and more than 12,000 seriously damaged. The Halifax explosion was a catastrophe of the highest magnitude.

Boston, savior of Halifax

Medical facilities in the community were stretched past the limit. When Boston heard about the disaster they immediately sent relief north to their afflicted neighbor. Teams of nurses and doctors also headed north to help the wounded. The aid from the city of Boston to Halifax in response to the explosion amounted to more than $750,000, more than $14,845,000 in present day dollars.

A Christmas tree

A year after the disaster, the City of Halifax sent a Christmas Tree to the City of Boston as a thank you in recognition of the generosity of the people of Boston and Massachusetts . The thought lay dormant from then until 1971 when the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers, and later the government of Nova Scotia, revived it. So important is this symbol of thanks and community to Nova Scotia, that special teams are charged with keeping track of the best trees growing wild throughout the province.

This year the tree is a 47’ white spruce that arrived in the city on November 16. Now proudly erected on the Boston Common, its lights will be turned on tonight during ceremonies featuring retiring Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Nova Scotia Minister of Energy and Minister of Communications Andrew Younger. The lighting ceremonies will take place on Boston Common between 6 and 8 PM tonight, December 5, the eve of the 95th anniversary of the Halifax tragedy.

And a cruise to Nova Scotia

The strong connection between Boston and Halifax has led many Bostonians to travel to that delightful city on the sea, and many once traveled by overnight ferry from Portland Maine to Yarmouth on the south coast of Nova Scotia. That service ended a few years ago, but it is now being renewed by Nova Star Cruises, with service between Portland and Yarmouth to start in May 2014. That means that with a drive of only an hour and a half you can get to the province overnight and have your car with you for touring while there. The province of Nova Scotia is conducting a drawing for a free cruise for two aboard the new ferry as well as five nights’ accommodations. Tonight they unveil the new cruise line at the Omni Parker house with a six foot model of the brand new cruise ship that will go into operation in May.

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