Historians with extensive knowledge of the Halifax Explosion are hoping experts in artifact identification are able to confirm what one Dartmouth family has suspected for nearly 100 years.
“This one is interesting because it’s part of a private ownership, a private collection,” said Brian Lilley, an architecture professor and one of the original members of a creative research group that’s worked to bring the history of the Halifax Explosion back to life.
“It’s been part of the same family for 100 years and it was actually mounted within the concrete framework to become part of a chair.”
The chair being referenced has been part of Dartmouth native Katy Jean’s family for the past several decades. She says the property was purchased by the family in the late 1940s and it came with a unique piece of metal in the yard that had been fashioned into a massive chair.
Jean says the family believes the metal part of the chair is an anchor’s “fluke” that either belonged to the Mont Blanc or the SS Imo. The two ships collided in the Halifax Harbour in December 1917, flattening much of region and killing about 2,000 people.
Historians say parts of the debris were scattered throughout the region, but are so tiny that many are still not found.
“I think one of the revelations is that not that many pieces have been found in relation to how many fragments there were. They estimate that the ship blew into maybe 100,000 pieces and there are probably less than 100 that are in collections that we know of,” Barbara Lounder said, a member of Narratives in Space+Time Society.
Jean says the family property has recently changed hands and she hopes the chair is preserved in the process, not just bulldozed over and forgotten.
“I hope that it’s not just my family that gets to enjoy it now. I hope everybody gets to see it,” she said.
The shaft of the Mont Blanc anchor was hurled over two miles from ground zero, landing on Spinnaker Drive in Halifax where it’s been preserved ever since.
Lilley says it’s not surprising for pieces of the ships to have flown that far away from each other.
“If you think about an explosion, it’s like a 360-degree radius from the point of the explosion. So something that’s on the arm, something’s that on Albro Lake, something’s that at the Gypsum Wharf, I mean it’s all part of that big circle,” he said.
Both Lilley and Lounder say the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is aware of the chair and they both hope work will be done to confirm its origin and preserve its legacy.
“There is a possibility that it could be installed on the waterfront, for example. There’s also an idea that it could go into a museum. Either way, I think it’s really important that one of the museums is involved in the preservation of the piece,” said Lilley.