Merle Huggins (1906–1917), of Halifax, Nova Scotia

Merle Huggins was born in July, 1906 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ninth child and second youngest daughter of George Melbourne Huggins (1861-1928) and Florence Isoletta Cole (1870-1955). [1] The family lived in Rockingham, [2] at the southeast end of the Bedford Basin. She was a second generation Canadian—her grandfather, William Shuter Huggins, a native of county Tyrone, had emigrated to Nova Scotia after his marriage to Margaret Mackenzie in 1855. [3]

Merle's father had started out his career as a teacher: by the second decade of the 20th century, he was the principal of Richmond School in the north end of Halifax. [4] On the morning of the 6th December 1917, the sun shone brightly, and Merle and her father walked towards the school. They may have noticed an enormous plume of smoke billowing up from Halifax Harbour. From passersby, they may have heard that a cargo ship, the Imo, had only just collided with another ship, the Mont Blanc, in the harbour. They may even have gathered that the latter ship had caught fire and was drifting towards the Halifax shore. It was war time, accidents happened, and no alarm was sounded. However, what Merle and her father could not have known was, that the Mont Blanc was a munitions ship, loaded with benzol fuel and explosives—for fear of a submarine attack, the ship was not flying the usual red flag used to convey a warning of dangerous cargo. [5]

At 9:04:35, a cataclysmic shock wave struck them, and a deafening explosion convulsed the air immediately afterwards. In that instant, eleven-year-old Merle lay dead in the street. [6] Her father had suffered serious injuries.

halifax explosion harbour view1

A view across the devastated neighbourhood of Richmond in Halifax, Nova Scotia after the Halifax Explosion,
looking towards the Dartmouth side of the harbour.

The steamship Imo, one of the ships in the collision that triggered the explosion can be seen aground on the far side of the harbour - Halifax after 6th December 1917.
Source: Online at Wikipedia, "Halifax Explosion," en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion (accessed 2015-12-05). Non-commercial production permitted by National Defenceand the Canadian Armed Forces.

Click on image to view in new window.

A terrible toll was exacted on the north end of Halifax. Richmond School was destroyed, school children were killed while walking to school, and those remnants of buildings which were left standing were burning to the ground. More than 1500 men, women, and children died instantly. During the next few days, hundreds more died of their injuries. [5]

richmond school after the explosion 1917

Source: Photographer: Cox Brothers. Halifax City Regional Library, Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1983-212. Online at the Nova Scotia Archives, "A Vision of Regeneration," https://novascotia.ca/archives/Explosion/archives.asp?ID=37 (accessed 2015-12-05).

Click on image to view in new window.

In the aftermath, Merle's body was laid to rest in Fairview Lawn Cemetery [6] which, only five years earlier, had received one hundred and twenty victims of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. [7] Eighty-six more students from Richmond School had also to be laid to rest. After discharging the grim duty of attending the grave sides of his late charges, George Huggins directed his energies towards the building of a new school in Richmond. He retired shortly after construction was completed, in 1921. [5]

As if fleeing the reminders of the devastation wrought on that fateful day in 1917, the family decamped to Los Angeles, where George died in 1928. [8]

Epilogue: Every year, on the 6th of December, an annual remembrance ceremony is held at 9:05 a.m. beside the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower—this memorial was sited in such a way as to overlook the area, in the north end of Halifax, that was devastated ninety-eight years ago.

See also the blog article: 98th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

Sources:

  1. 1911 Census of Canada. George Huggins and family, Halifax, Nova Scotia. District no. 45, subdistrict 81, ward 6. Original record: Library and Archives Canada (Ottawa, Ontario). Ref. Series RG31-C-1. district no. 81, ward 6. Digital copy online at ancestry.ca (accessed 2008-08-28, by subscription).
  2. Nova Scotia Archives. Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book. "Huggins, Meryl; Rockingham, Nova Scotia; age, 11; died 1917-12-06." Online at novascotia.ca/archives/remembrance (accessed 2015-12-05).
  3. (a) Certified copy of an entry of marriage, England. Purchased from the General Register Office, Southport, application no. 484875-1, MXD 936171 (2008-09-11). (b) Lovell's Directory for the Province of Nova Scotia (1871). William Huggins, superintendent, Garrison Club, Halifax. Online at Library and Archives Canada, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca (accessed 2009-11-25).
  4. McAlpine’s Nova Scotia Directory, 1907-08. Online at Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management (accessed 2008-08-30).
  5. (a) The Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1917: a slideshow courtesy of Janet Kitz. Online at the CBC, cbc.ca/halifaxexplosion (accessed 2015-12-05). (b) The Halifax Explosion. Interactive web site, and resources for teachers. Online at the CBC, op. cit. (c) The Halifax Explosion: In the blink of an eye. Online at www.halifaxexplosion.org (accessed 2015-12-05). [d] Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Program. Online at halifax.ca/halifaxexplosion/ (accessed 2015-12-06).
  6. Civil registration of death, Nova Scotia. Merle Huggins, died 6 December 1917, in the Halifax Explosion. Book, 1917, pg. 46, no. 277. Online at Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, novascotiagenealogy.com (accessed 2008-08-30).
  7. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Online at en.wikipedia.org (accessed 2015-12-05).
  8. State of California, Deaths, 1905-1929. Index, file no. 50497. Original record: Los Angeles County, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Online at vitalsearch-ca.com/gen/ca/_vitals/cadeathm.htm (accessed 2008-09-28).

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This page was published on the 14th December 2015, and edited subsequently on the 26th December 2015.

Return to Huggins of Glenarb, parish of Aghaloo index page.
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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2015. All rights reserved.
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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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