100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion

6 December 2017 10:00

At 09:04 on 6 December 1917, the French cargo ship SS Mont Blanc, laden with high explosives and travelling from New York to Bordeaux, collided with a Norwegian ship the SS Imo in The Narrows Strait, Halifax.

The photo above is of a clock discovered in the wreckage

The blast that followed was the then largest man made explosion and caused the deaths of almost 2,000 people and a further 9,000 non-fatal injuries. It destroyed almost the entire north end of the city of Halifax, including more than 1,600 homes. The resulting shock wave shattered windows 50 miles away, and the sound of the explosion could be heard hundreds of miles away. The blast caused a tsunami which wiped out a sea shore settlement of Native Canadian People and brought devastation to a very wide area.

During and immediately following the First World War, 79 blinded Canadian Servicemen were re-trained at our hostel at St Dunstan’s Lodge in Regent’s Park, London. One of them, Private James Ross MacPherson, had been wounded in the Halifax Explosion. Born on 27 November 1895, and from Nova Scotia, prior to the war James had worked in the local saw mills. He enlisted in the 193rd Canadian Expeditionary Force in March 1916.

At the time of the explosion, James was working in a building half a mile away. The blast destroyed the building, and James was blinded, losing his right eye. After a long convalescence in various Canadian hospitals he was transferred to St. Dunstan’s for training and rehabilitation. He trained as a masseur, or physiotherapist, and having passed the exams of the Incorporated Society of Trained Masseurs qualified in this profession - a career which he continued in both England and Canada.

Private James Ross MacPherson

Whilst in London, James met and married Miss Edith Carmen and on 9 July 1920 they sailed to Canada to live on Victoria Island, British Columbia. However, in 1929 his wife became homesick and wanted to return to England. The couple moved (James rather reluctantly) and he found employment as a masseur in Paignton, Devon.

By 1931 the couple had decided to separate with James moving back to Nova Scotia where he lived until his death in 1966.

Although we had information about James Ross McPherson, we did not have any identifiable photos of him in our extensive archives. As part of our Historical Photography Project, and to coincide with the centenary of the Halifax Explosion, we contacted local Halifax media asking if any relatives or friends of the family had photographs of James.

A number of people responded with lots of information about James, but with no photograph, until an email was received from Nancy MacPherson. James was the great uncle of her husband Ian and they found this photo above of him and his dog in their family bible together with other pieces of information about his life. Nancy has very kindly allowed us to share the photo.

To see more stories from our Historical Photography Project click here or check our Facebook page for our #ThrowbackThursdays.