‘He’s a genuine hero’: Railway dispatcher Vince Coleman’s grandson marks Halifax Explosion anniversary
“Come on, come on, acknowledge!”
Those words of Vince Coleman are etched in the memories of many Canadians who grew up watching Heritage Minutes commercials.
And for Jim Coleman, it’s a part of his family history.
“He’s a genuine hero to me and our family,” he said.
His grandfather Vince was a 45-year-old railway dispatcher on Dec. 6, 1917 when SS Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship, collided with Norwegian vessel SS Imo in Halifax Harbour.
According to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, a sailor burst through the doors of the Richmond railway station where he worked to warn of the impending explosion.
Coleman was about to leave when he remembered Train No. 10, the overnight train from Saint John, and its hundreds of passengers due to pass along the tracks directly in front of the Mont Blanc, which was now on fire.
He turned around and sent his famous telegraph.
“Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbour making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys.”
Train No. 10 did stop, and his message also reached every station from Halifax to Truro.
But Vince Coleman was killed when the Mont Blanc exploded, as were nearly 2,000 other people.
“It’s still a little chilling when I look over and think about what he did and he had a choice and he made the right choice. He stayed and stopped the train and saved lots of lives,” said Jim Coleman.
WATCH: Interview with Jim Coleman, grandson of legendary hero of the Halifax Explosion
Jim Coleman’s father was one of Vince’s four children, all of whom survived the Halifax Explosion. Vince Coleman’s widow, Frances, also survived.
Jim Coleman says the family rarely talked about the Halifax Explosion or his grandfather’s role.
“Maybe because it was such a tragedy, we didn’t really have a lot of discussions about him,” he said.
Jim Coleman, who now works as a lawyer in Calgary, says they never commemorated the Halifax Explosion while he was growing up. He returned to the city this week to mark the tragedy’s centennial.
“This is the first one in my mind that has become a great occasion to recognize not only my grandfather, but others living through that terrible experience and rebuilding the city,” he said.
In recent years, Vince Coleman’s actions have been immortalized not only in a Heritage Minutes commercial but also in the naming of a Halifax ferry and a downtown condo building.
WATCH: Mike Savage shares stories of the Halifax Explosion
Jim Coleman says the honour is both emotional and touching.
“A man who had a choice and obviously he could have left and probably survived but he didn’t. And for that, you know, he lost his life. And my grandmother lost a husband, and my father and [my aunts] lost their father,” he said.
“He did the right thing and it’s very powerful to see that and to think that’s part of your family.”
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