The Champlain Society


Coming Fall 2017!
Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the 1917 Halifax Explosion

The Champlain Society to Publish Papers from the Halifax Relief Commission, Fall 2017

To mark the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Halifax Explosion, The Champlain Society is pleased to announce that this year’s forthcoming annual volume will feature key documents from the Papers from the Halifax Relief Commission. This volume, entitled “We harbor no evil design”: Rehabilitation Efforts after the Halifax Explosion of 1917, is expected to be published Fall 2017.

On 6 December 1917 disaster hit Halifax, Nova Scotia. A collision in the harbour set fire to a vessel laden with modern munitions, resulting in the most devastating explosion of the pre-atomic era. Approximately two thousand people died (about the same number as were killed in New York City’s 9/11 catastrophe), and much of Nova Scotia’s capital lay in ruins. Within hours an international relief effort was mobilized to provide survivors with medical aid, food, clothing and shelter.

Ottawa pledged financial support in the range of what today would be at least $300 million. The government also established the Halifax Relief Commission, a quasi-governmental authority endowed with sweeping authority to implement a long-term programme of reconstruction and rehabilitation that would, it was hoped, improve the quality of life for the people of Halifax and neighbouring Dartmouth.

This latest contribution to the publications of Canada’s Champlain Society explores the operations of the Commission’s Rehabilitation Department through the formative period, 1918-1919, when pioneer social workers from major cities in both Canada and the United States were recruited to set up an administrative structure that could provide disaster victims with assistance which supposedly was both efficient and equitable.
Inevitably, decision-making about who was most deserving and what form relief should take, became matters of controversy. An important feature of the case-file transcriptions that make up the bulk of this book is the extent to which they give voice to the common people of Halifax as they struggled to rebuild their often-shattered families and homes. Here readers will encounter a host of working-class women, some African-Canadian, who forged a complex relationship with the largely female front-line staff of the Relief Commission.

Scholarly opinion remains divided about the legacy left by the Halifax explosion. By bringing to light documents left behind by the Relief Commission, the 2017 Champlain Society Volume will deepen the understanding of the Haligonians whose lives were transformed by an unprecedented cataclysm. This volume is edited by David A. Sutherland of Halifax.