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Despite ceremony cancellation, residents find way to mark Halifax Explosion anniversary

Click to play video: 'Commemorating the 103rd anniversary of the Halifax Explosion' Commemorating the 103rd anniversary of the Halifax Explosion
WATCH ABOVE: Though it wasn't like services in years past, a small crowd gathered at Fort Needham Memorial Park Sunday morning at 9:04 a.m. to remember the Halifax Explosion, which happened 103 years ago. Graeme Benjamin reports – Dec 6, 2020

Though the day lacked tradition, a trickle of Halifax residents came out to Fort Needham Memorial Park Sunday morning to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

About 50 people turned out to the Halifax Explosion memorial site in the city’s north end to pay their respects. The mix of individuals, couples, families and military personnel congregated from a safe distance apart just before 9 a.m.

And at 9:04 a.m., when the SS Mont-Blanc blew up in the narrowest section of Halifax harbour on Dec. 6, 1917, a moment of silence was held, just as a sprinkle of rain began.

Jerry Jackson, who’s attended every Halifax Explosion service at Fort Beedham for the past 30 years, called the moment surprisingly moving.

“With such a small crowd here (on Sunday), to be able to hear the ship’s horns in the harbour, and to actually hear the cannon, the bells ringing,” said Jackson.

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“It’s been somewhat bittersweet not to have the crowd and the ceremony here, but it’s also been very moving.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 103rd memorial service for the Halifax Explosion cancelled

On Saturday, the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) announced that the in-person memorial marking the 103rd anniversary of the tragedy would be cancelled.

The cancellation was made to avoid large crowds due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

David Hendsbee, HRM’s District 2 councillor, turned out as he always does to pay his respects.

“I’ve been going to this event since 1985 and this is probably the smallest crowd you’ll ever see because of the pandemic,” he said. “I’ve been here when there’s a glare of ice, snowstorms, blizzards, and even hot, sunny days, but this is incredible to see hardly anybody here because of COVID.”

Click to play video: 'Woman who was 10-days-old when Halifax Explosion occured passes away' Woman who was 10-days-old when Halifax Explosion occured passes away
Woman who was 10-days-old when Halifax Explosion occured passes away – Dec 6, 2019

There were about half a dozen military personnel on hand as well, including Paul Hinkins, the commanding officer for HMCS Scotian.

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“I still think it was very dignified and very respectful of this very significant moment in the city’s history,” said Hinkins, despite the smaller crowd. “Seeing people from around the community, residents, many who have relatives who were victims of the explosion … was I think very moving.”

READ MORE: Uncovering of cathedral’s spectacular murals reveals Halifax’s tragic past

On the morning of Dec. 6, 1917, the cargo ships SS Imo and SS Mont-Blanc collided in the harbour, starting a fire on the Mont-Blanc. The Mont-Blanc was full of explosives — one-sixth the destructive force of the early atomic bombs.

The collision resulted in a devastating blast about 20 minutes after the collision. Nearly 2,000 people were killed, 9,000 others were injured, 200 were blinded and 25,000 were left homeless.

Click to play video: 'Halifax Explosion 101st anniversary' Halifax Explosion 101st anniversary
Halifax Explosion 101st anniversary – Dec 6, 2018

Halifax residents Ben Stone and Leesa Hamilton, who were down at the explosion site on Barrington Street on Sunday at 9:04 a.m., say that even as we deal with the pandemic, reflection is important.

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“Commemorating things and remembering things keeps us connected to the community at large and to the world at large,” said Stone.

“I think this year that things are just a little bit more private, and there’s actually something quite lovely about that,” added Hamilton.

“About taking a moment for us as a family and thinking a little bit about what happened.”

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