In Nova Scotia, cemeteries tell story of 1917 ship collision, explosion

Joe McSweeney, a retired teacher who has an affinity for history and for exploring cemeteries, stands next to the Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery gravesite of Vince Coleman in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Coleman was killed in the Halifax Explosion in 1917 that claimed the lives of 2,000 and injured 9,000 more. -CNS photo | Francis Campbell, The Catholic Register

By Francis Campbell Catholic News Service

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (CNS) — The tall, gray and weathered headstone in Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery is carved with 11 names, all from the same family, and with a simple statement at the bottom: “They died Dec. 6, 1917, at 66 Veith St.”

One hundred years later, the tombstone in the west end of Halifax is a stark reminder of the catastrophic Halifax Explosion that killed 2,000 and injured 9,000 more.

Under the name of the family’s father, Joseph D. Hinch, 50, is the list of his 10 children and their ages, from 19 to 2 — Clara, Helena, Thomas, Mary, Joseph, James, Annie, Margaret, Ralph and Helen.

All were caught in the a 326-acre area around Halifax’s north end that was torn by the destructive force of the blast, just after 9 a.m. Fires ignited and hundreds of buildings were flattened or damaged, including the Catholic church the Hinch family attended, St. Joseph’s, not far from the harbor.

“Every single church in the area was damaged, all the way out to Windsor Junction (21 miles from downtown Halifax),” said Blair Beed, a local historian and author of a book on the explosion.

“Churches of all denominations,” Beed said. “Four churches were destroyed. The Methodist, the Presbyterian, the Anglican and the Catholic churches in that neighborhood. Every other church, Catholic and non-Catholic, and the synagogues downtown were damaged in some way. Some of them were so damaged, like St. John’s Presbyterian on Brunswick, it was torn down and they moved to another location to rebuild.”