I hadn’t heard of the Halifax Explosion before I moved to the Maritimes. I had no idea that it was the largest manmade explosion before the atom bomb. I felt a little foolish that such an iconic piece of Canadian history had eluded me until my first year of University. I remember sitting at my desk in residence poring over images of smoking ships, newspaper headlines, and decimated buildings. I remember archive photos of people standing in front of piles of rubble that were once their homes. I remember coming across the photo of a clock struck motionless at 9:05 AM.
It was the exact moment of the explosion. December 6th, 1917. 9:05 AM. It was a Thursday. Children were arriving at school. People had just begun their workdays. The photo of this clock, frozen in time, was a peaceful, yet unnerving image that I couldn’t get out of my head.
I revisited this photo as Xara began rehearsals for The Hours Turn To Nothing. I had always imagined the survivors of the explosion frozen in time with the clock. I imagined them stuck in that penultimate moment before their city was blown out from under them. I imagined how heavy every second must have felt as they sifted through debris, and prayed to go back in time. As the words played on in my head, “The hours turn to nothing…The hours turn to nothing…” I struggled to figure out what “nothing” was. Did these people give up? Did they lose hope?
I am still making discoveries about the women who fought tirelessly to save countless mothers and their newborns after the explosion. They were midwives, nurses, and survivors, all fighting against the clock to survive. They never stopped. How could they? The seconds fought to become minutes, which amassed into hours, and collected into days and nights. I hear their purpose pulsing through the chaos: “We carry on… We find a way… We do what we can…”
For the midwives of Camp Hill, time didn’t stop at 9:05 AM. It evaporated. The hours literally turned to nothing.
- Morgan Melnyk, Alto 1
Photo courtesy of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic