The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic has lost a colleague and a friend. Janet Kitz, educator, researcher and the foremost authority on the history of the Halifax Explosion died peacefully on May 10, 2019.
Janet became a volunteer research associate with the Museum in 1981 when she agreed to assist in cataloguing a collection of over 1000 mortuary artifacts, the personal possessions recovered from the unclaimed bodies of victims of the disaster. Her curatorial work led to an interest in interviewing survivors of the disaster. With her friendly and patient demeanour, she interviewed dozens of people and chronicled their memories in two major works on the Explosion: Shattered City (1989) and Survivors (1992). Many of these informants also became her friends.
Her oral history and collection research led to the mounting of two museum exhibits: Moment in Time (1987) and Halifax Wrecked (1994). For over 30 years, she participated in countless public presentations and school programs at the museum. Staff who worked with her always looked forward to her days at the museum.
We shall miss her warmth and good humour; however, her legacy will live on.
David B. Flemming
Former Director, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
The museum’s 2017 temporary exhibit marking the centenary of the Halifax Harbour Explosion, Collision in the Narrows, aimed to broaden public understanding of the many and diverse communities affected by these events. The exhibit and related community partnerships in 2017 further heightened our awareness of the need to more fully reflect Nova Scotia’s diversity in our interpretive activities. We are working to ensure that Mi’kmaq, African-Nova Scotian, recent migrant, and other communities historically excluded from many public institutions will see their experiences reflected here, and know that they belong.
In the coming year, the museum will refresh the permanent Explosion exhibit to include personal narratives reflecting more historically diverse perspectives.
Naval Museum of Halifax, Colonel Robert S. Low album
Matteo Ciccone joined a community of sojourning migrant labourers in wartime Halifax, working as a longshoreman on the busy waterfront and remitting wages to his family in Italy. On December 6th, 1917, he was far from home and the people he loved. The Explosion’s devastation reached deep into communities the world over…
Looking south from the Halifax Graving Dock, December 1917. MMA MP 207.1.184/1c
Rose Ethel Hickey was born in the African-Nova Scotian community of Hammonds Plains. Her husband Edward, a stevedore working on the Halifax waterfront, was killed in the Explosion, leaving her to raise six children alone. Her central Halifax home ruined, Ms. Hickey fought for and secured Halifax Relief Committee housing for her family. Then, she fought to overcome her neighbours’ racist attitudes and actions…
Halifax Relief Commission headquarters and housing. Sackville Street, view north toward South Commons and Citadel Hill, 1918. MMA MP207.1.184/87 [detail]
Rachael Brown worked hard to keep her family’s Columbus Street, Halifax, market garden and livery stable afloat after the death of her husband John in November, 1917. Her businesses destroyed by the Explosion, she fought to reclaim her property and her family’s future. Stakes were high: home and business gave African-Nova Scotian women like Ms. Brown independence and refuge from everyday indignities…
Looking north on Gottingen Street near Columbus Street, October 24th, 1918. MMA MP 207.1.184/122 [detail]
Freda and Morris Goldberg managed to re-open their north-end Halifax retail store in the spring of 1918, just months after the Explosion destroyed it. Relief Commission assistance helped the recent migrants sustain a business and establish lives as founding members of the Halifax Jewish community’s institutional life. In the years after December 1917, blasted ground gave way to new growth…
After three seasons, new life on the shorn slope of Fort Needham hill. View southeast across the blast site, October 7th, 1918. MMA MP 207.1.184/110
The year was 1917 and Halifax, like the rest of the world, was fully embroiled in the First World War. Serving as the assembly and departure point for transatlantic convoys carrying supplies and soldiers to the war effort overseas, the small city was quickly evolving into a world class port and major base of naval operations.
Halifax was a hub of activity. Troops bound for battle swept in and out of the city, labourers flowed to and from work as the war created a significant industrial and residential boom, and children of all ages wandered to their schools for lessons. In a time of war and devastation, Halifax was thriving.
That all changed the morning of December 6, 1917. Approximately six minutes after 9:00 am, a dreadful mis-communication between two ships in the harbour resulted in an Explosion of cataclysmic proportions. 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 more were injured. The city was reduced to ruins and debris.
Considered Halifax's darkest day, the sheer magnitude of the traumatic event left a lasting impression on the city and its residents. The tragedy bred countless stories of courage and hope that in many ways, shaped what Halifax has become.
Recognizing the significance of the Halifax Explosion as part of both the city's history and Nova Scotian history, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic developed a temporary exhibit in 1987 entitled "A Moment in Time".
Focusing on Halifax before and after the tragedy, the display received such an overwhelming public response that several years later, staff at the Museum took on the major project of creating and opening “Halifax Wrecked”, a permanent exhibit devoted to the Halifax Explosion of 1917.
The award-winning exhibit takes visitors through the time line of the event, establishing what life in the city was like and breaking down the unfortunate circumstances that caused the tragedy. Featuring personal effects and stories of those who both perished and survived, the exhibit explores the Explosion from an anecdotal perspective, giving visitors a sense of the devastation that occurred, but more importantly, a sense of the city’s bravery in the face of adversity.