Sunday, December 6, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent - Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, whose liturgy introduces us to the person of John the Baptizer. John the Baptist made an appeal similar to the one prophet Baruch did to his contemporaries.

Challenging them to see that God was doing something new--fulfilling what had been promised by Isaiah--John called for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. `

While Mark and Matthew were content to speak of John as Isaiah's the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord...", Luke extended the quotation (every mountain and hill shall be made low) to show that God was making it easy to return to Him. In fact, God's present purpose was to offer redemption to everyone (all flesh shall see the salvation of God).

As this liturtical year's readings from Luke progress, we shall notice the evangelist's stress on the universality of God's saving plan and offer. For example, Luke showed that Jesus' inaugural sermon stirred up opposition when He proclaimed a ministry in the same line as the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who carried God's gracious purpose to foreigners, the widow at Zarephath in Sidon and the Syrian leper Naaman (Luke 4:24-28).

Women, soldiers, tax-collectors, lepers and sinners of every stripe would have good news proclaimed to them.

Luke consciously prepared his readers for this universalist perspective by situating the ministry of John the Baptist not only within the perspective of Israel's history (the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas), but within the ambit of the history of the Roman Empire (in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee ...).

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92nd Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion

On my first visit to Halifax in 1968 with a Jesuit colleague, a Haligonian by birth, I heard a great deal about the "Halifax Explosion" of 1917. In fact, the Canada Summer Games of that year seemed to be the biggest news to hit the capital city of Nova Scotia since.

On arriving in Halifax to teach in the fall of 1975, I got to know a bit about this charming east coast city that, while not very large in terms of population, has a feel for being much bigger. A sense of that happens regularly when I fly into Halifax from Ottawa; though Ottawa's population is three times that of the Halifax Regional Municipality, Halifax International Airport exudes greater heft.

Halifax's City Hall has a clock system with two faces: one giving the current time of day, the other permanently set a 9:04AM, the time when the munitions were detonated when the Mont Blanc and the Imo collided under what is now the "new" McKay bridge spanning Halifax Harbour. That took place 92 years ago today on December 6, 1917 as the Great War (WWI) was about to end.

As the number of survivors (obviously these were children at the time) diminishes, the memories will be preserved by civic ceremonies, prayers for the victims and the cherishing of fondness for those who came to the aid of the devastated city. Here is the link with Boston, whose succour led to the donation of an enormous Christmas Tree to the people of Beantown every year, with Nova Scotians vying for the honour of providing the tree.

On my most recent trip to Halifax, I walked from the far north end (on Lady Hammond Drive) to the old St. Patrick's Convent on Brunswick Street and stopped in on Fort Needham Park, which I had never visited during the 15 years I lived in Halifax and which is the venue for commemorative services every December 6th and a memorial to the more than 2000 who lost their lives that day and in the subsequent experience of deprivation, as well as the thousands who were wounded. Here are some photos taken on that walking tour:

The bell tower memorial to the Halifax Explosion in Fort Needham Park

The opening in the trees points to the precise point where the two ships collided in Halifax Harbour

After the Explosion, which levelled the north end of Halifax, calls were made for the reconstruction of houses for those displaced from their homes. Thus, came into being the "Hydrostone" section of Halifax, in which stone blocks were shaped into solid residential units. This section of Halifax has received a historical heritage designation; it is a registered National Historical Site.

More on the Hydrostone from Wikipedia:

The Hydrostone is a neighbourhood in the North End of the Halifax Peninsula in the Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia, Canada. It consists of ten short parallel streets and is bordered by Duffus Street to the north, Young Street to the south, Isleville Street to the west and Novalea Drive to the east.

The neighbourhood was designed by architect Thomas Adams to provide housing for working-class families displaced by the Halifax Explosion in 1917. Architectural design was by George Ross of the Montreal architectural firm of Ross and Macdonald. The neighbourhood draws its name from the special cinderblocks from which the houses were constructed. Most of the dwellings are row-houses in groups of four and six, except for the large, two-storey single-family houses at the eastern end of each street. Some have been converted to sets of flats.

All of the streets in the Hydrostone are boulevards except Stanley Place. These boulevards have treed, grassy strips which serve as communal outdoor space for the neighbourhood. This is consistent with the Garden city movement by which Adams was influenced. All streets are also served by back lanes, a feature not found in most other Nova Scotia communities.

Some of the homes have retained or been restored to their original likeness, such as this one:

Others have undergone redecoration, with siding added, additions and colourful painting, such as we see here.

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