Ever since 1971, Boston’s beautiful towering Christmas tree has arrived in the Common via a three-day, 660-mile journey from Nova Scotia.
The 45-year-old tradition is Nova Scotia’s generous expression of thanks to the city of Boston for their help in the wake of the Halifax Explosion, Canada’s deadliest non-natural disaster.
It began on the frigid morning of December 6, 1917. At the time, the city was the largest in the Atlantic area of Canada, with a population of 50,000.
Halifax was a booming port during World War I. Ships carrying troops, relief supplies, and munitions across the Atlantic Ocean arrived regularly, taking advantage of the deep, easy to protect harbor.
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The explosion occurred at 9:04 AM, when a French munitions ship, the Mont Blanc, exploded 20 minutes after colliding with the Norwegian vessel Imo.
Imo was leaving Halifax Harbor bound for New York City as the Mont Blanc was heading into the harbor carrying a deadly cargo of highly explosive munitions including 2,300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of high-octane gasoline, and 10 tons of gun cotton.
The ships collided at approximately 8:45 AM setting the Mont Blanc ablaze and propelling it toward shore from the force of the impact. The crew were able to abandon ship, but less successful at alerting those on shore of the impending disaster.
The massive explosion was reportedly heard hundreds of miles away. It lit up the harbor with a blinding white flash, killing more than 1,800 people and injuring another 9,000. 200 bystanders were blinded and the entire north end of the city was destroyed, including more than 1,600 homes.
History.com would later call it “the most devastating manmade explosion in the pre-atomic age.”
When Boston authorities received a telegraph informing them of the disaster, they sprang to action organizing and dispatching a relief train to assist survivors and relief workers. Unfortunately, the train was detained by a blizzard, delaying their arrival to the early morning hours of December 8.
When the train pulled into Halifax, the Boston responders distributing food, water, and medical supplies. They also relieved Nova Scotia medical crews, providing them with their first break since the explosion occurred two days earlier.
That year, Nova Scotia donated a large Christmas tree to the city of Boston to express their gratitude. The gesture was repeated in 1971 and every year since.
The Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association began sending the annual gift as a way to promote Christmas tree exports as well as acknowledge Boston’s support after the explosion.
The Nova Scotia Government took over in 1976 and continues the gesture to this day. The scouting for the current year’s tree begins in June and the selected tree arrives in Boston Common in November under police escort.
Its journey from point A to point B is quite the spectacle with a stop at the Grand Parade in Halifax for a popular public send-off ceremony. The tree then travels across the province by truck, takes a ferry across the Bay of Fundy, and picks up a second truck through Maine and New Hampshire to Boston.
The annual tree lighting ceremony on Boston Common occurs in late November or early December each year, attracting more than 20,000 spectators and commemorating a beautiful friendship with our Nova Scotian brothers and sisters.
Featured Image via Facebook/Visit New England