The Ottawa Citizen from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on December 6, 2017 · 3
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The Ottawa Citizen from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada · 3

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Issue Date:
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
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WEDNESDAY. DECEMBER 6, 2017 OTTAWA CITIZEN A3 jfcSS The Halifax Explosion of 1917 left 2,000 n the right place He survived the Halifax Explosion not the last brush with death for Doug Snair BRUCE DEACHMAN "Who knows?" asks Doug Snair, "If I was a little bit taller, I might not be here today." The Arn prior resident is talking about the what-ifs and serendipity that played out minutes after 9 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, 1917, when acollision between two ships in Halifax's harbour resulted in an explosion the largest man-made detonation prior to the atomic age that ultimately left more than 2,000 people dead and thousands more injured and homeless. The blastlcvelledmore than 300 acres, including most of the north end of Halifax. For Snair, it marked the first of a handful of remarkable brushes with his own mortality, as ships, trains, automobiles and cancer have, over the years, all conspired to knock him off his mortal track. On each occasion, however, he's somehowmanagedtosidestepthe clarion call. Snair was only 1 12 at the time of the Halifax explosion and so has no memory of the disaster, but he heard the story told so often in his youth that he can easily recall many of the details. He was at his home on Louisburg Street with his mother, Mabel, his one-month-old sister, Marion, and an aunt. His mother was bathing Marion in a basin, and Snair was standing behind his mother. At 9:04 am., the window of the room they were in was shattered by the shock wave of the explosion, its shards blowing into the house. Mabel's back was embedded with glass. Young Marion got some in her eyes and face by the age of 16, she would be blind, a common result of the explosion. About 1,000 people lost their sight that day, which helped lead to the formation ayearlaterof the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Marion, Snair adds, alsocaught pneumonia from the cold, andboth she andher mother spent time in the hospital as a result of the explosion. Snair had glass cuts on the left side of his head. Over time, he says, the scars healed and disappeared. "I was standing sideways to the window. If I hadbeen looking at the window I mightn't be here. "But my aunt Ethel was living with us. She was 18 and in a part of the house that wasn't damaged too badly. She was able to get help for my mother and sister and looked after me. She bandaged me up she wasn't a nurse or anything, and she apparently bandaged me so much that you could only see my two eyes." The blast left the house uninhabitable the windows were all blown out, walls were damaged, andSnairrecallsthattheroofmight have been bl own off. So Aun t Eth el took him to the YWCA, where the two stayed the night. In the morning they boarded a train for Black Point, just over 40 kilometres west of Halifax, where Snair's grandparents lived. He stayed with them for four years. Some of Snair's goodfortune that dead and thousands more injured and Halifax telegrapher Vincent Coleman, kept at his post to warn an incoming train of the imminent explosion. daymighthavebeen inherited His father, Walter, was a telegraph operator who worked in the same office as telegrapher Vincent Coleman, who, knowing his death was imminent as the explosives-loaded SS Mont-Blanc drifted, burning, in the harbour, famously refused to abandon his post so he could tap out a final warning to an arriving train. On the morning of Dec. 6, however, Walter Snair had a dental ap-pointmentthatunwittingly spared his life. Not long after, he changed jobs, and he family relocated to Kentville, 100 kilometres away. "I never went back to Halifax," Snair recalls, although, as one of only 16 known living survivors of We were all right on the side of the car we were on, but on the other side, just beside us, there were four people killed. the explosion, he'll be there for a special ceremony on Wednesday to mark its 100th anniversary. Exactly three weeks later, another hallmark anniversary the 75th of Snair's incredible mixture ofgoodandbadluck will arise, as Ottawa and Ottawa Valley residents remember the Almonte train wreck of 1942. On Dec. 27, 1942, the local train from Petawawa to Ottawa, its 10 coaches overloaded with passengers returning home from Christmas celebrations, was rear-ended by atroop train as it readied to pull out of the Almonte station. Theeol-lision obliterated the last two cars of the passenger trai n, and spl i t an d severely damaged the third-to-last, killing 39 passengers and injur- t - I t - V ' It J . ' homeless, national archives of at the wrong time Arnprior's Doug Snair, who has a child a commemorative medallion marking disaster, bruce deachman V I Snair was a year-and-a-half-old on Dec. 6, 1917, when he survived the Halifax explosion. Since then, he's had a few close calls. ing more than 150 others, many of them severely. Snair and his then-girlfriend and eventual wife, Thyra Shore, were passengers on the third-to-last coach. At the time, he was an assistantpaymasterwith the Navy, in Ottawa. She was a secretary with the Royal Canadian Air Force. The two hadbeen visiting Shore's parents in Renfrew. When they first boarded the coach, there was a two-seat bench open at the front, but a woman there said was holding it for a friend. So Snair and Shore continued to the two rear cars, which werejammed. "So we went back, and I asked that lady again, 'Could we have that seat?'" he recalls, "and she said yes." When the collision occurred, the locomotive of the troop train plowed through the last three passenger cars, coming to a rest partway into Snair's coach. "I remember hittingthe floor and something falling on top of me it was the scat behind But what I remember most was the bigyellow headlight of the troop train. "I was dazed and didn't know exactly what was going on, but I managed to get up and get Thyra up, an d I said, 'Well, lefs get out of here.' "We were all right on the side of the car we were on, bu t on the other side, just beside us, there were four people killed." Snair and Shore, meanwhile, were unhurt "The only thing that happened," he recalls, "was that I broke the crystal of my watch." (A week later, incidentally, the pair went back to Renfrew to celebrate the New Year. Returning to Ottawa on the same Sunday Eve-ningSpecial, their train was heldup at Sti tts ville by a heavy sn o wstorm, and they and the other passengers were obliged to spend the night in the train, on a siding. "Everyone went off in search of a store to buy food," he recalls. "All we could find was a box of crackers") In between and after these two Canada survived the Halifax Explosion, holds the centennial anniversary of the catastrophes were other closecalls. In thelatcl920s,forcxample, when Snair was only 12 or 13, he and two friends were playing on abeach in the Bay of Fundy, and came upon an old wooden boat. "The tides are tremendous there, and my friend Johnny and I, and a friend of his, were fooling around. And we thought, 'When the tide comes in, we'll float it' So we did and had a lot of fun with it, but it got to the point where it was time to get out of theboat andget to shore, because the water was coming up and up." The third boy, boasting of his swimming proficiency, decided to swim back while Snair and Johnny navigated the boat. "He dove in," recalls Snair, "but he never came up, and they found his body the next day, in the mud." In 1944, two years after the Almonte train wreck, Snair had the good fortune to lose out on a job he wanted, as the supply officer, or purser, aboard the HMCS Atha-baskan, a Royal Canadian Navy destroyer. A colleague and friend of his also wanted the job, and so both applied "He had more seniority than I did, so he got the job." At 3 am. on April 29, 1944, the Athabaskan was torpedoed by German ships. One-hundred and twenty-eight crew members were killed, 44 were rescued and 83 were taken prisoner. In his 50s, Snair had skin cancer tumours removed from his head, check and ears. And in his 60s, while at a traffic standstill on the Queensway, he was rear-ended by a car travelling at 70 or 80 kmh. "People ask me if I think there's something religious about all this happening to me, but I say, 'No, it's just something that happened and I happened to be there.' There's no poin t worrying about it and saying it's going to happen to me again sometime and I'm going to get it. "I've just been in the right place at the wrong time." Huge blast shattered windows 100 km away BRUCE DEACHMAN At about eight o'clock on the bright, clear morning of Dec. 6, 1917, the Norwegian ship SS Imo left its mooring in Bedford Basin, atHalifax,headingfor the open sea and, eventually, New York. At the same time, the French ship SSMont-Blanc,carrying2,300 tons of wetanddrypicricacid,200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton and 35 tons of highly explosive benzol, headed into the harbour to await the convoy that would escort her to Europe and the First World War. The two ships collided, setting off a fire aboard the Mont-Blanc, whose crew immediately took to the lifeboats, crying out warnings as they rowed furiously toward Dartmouth. Their ship,meanwhile, drifting toward Halifax, brushed along Pier 6 and set it on fire. Nu mcrous onlookers came down to the harbour to watch. Many more looked on from the windows of their workplaces and homes. At 9:04 a.m., about 20 minutes after the collision, the Mont-Blanc exploded. An estimated 1,650 people died instantly, but the death toll even-tuallyclimbed to more than 2,000. Nine thousand were injured and 6,000 were left homeless in what was the largest man-made explosion until the nuclear age. One thousand people suffered eye injuries from shattering windows andother flying debris. More than 1,600 buildings and seven ships were destroyed. Twelve thousand buildings were damaged. Almost all of the north end of Halifax was destroyed. Much of what wasn't immediately levelled burned to the ground as buildings, many loaded with coal for the winter, were razed. The Mont-Blanc was torn into pieces. The barrel of one of her cannons landed five kilometres away. Part of her anchor went three kilometres in the opposite direction. Windows shattered in Truro, 100 kilometres away, and the shock wave was felt in Sydney, 400 kilometres away. The explosion was heard in P.E.I. Relief efforts were h ampered by a blizzard that dropped 40 centimetres of snow the following day. Within two months, 1,500 victims hadbeen buried, some unidentified. Others were discovered only the following spring. The explosion marked the first time that the Canadian Red Cross and the Salvation Army of Canada were involved in disaster relief. It also helped spark the formation of the CNIB. Sources: and bdeachm anpos tmedia. com 4 . A blizzard the next day hampered Halifax Explosion relief efforts. Sombre 100-year commemoration ceremonies will be held across Halifax on Wednesday, national ARCHIVES OF CANADA i

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