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

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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 might have noticed an enormous plume of smoke billowing up from Halifax Harbour. From passersby, they might have heard that a cargo ship, the Imo, had only just collided with another ship, the Mont Blanc, in the harbour. They might 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.

View across the devastated neighbourhood of Richmond in Halifax, Nova Scotia after the explosion of 6th December 1917.
A view across the devastated neighbourhood of Richmond in Halifax, Nova Scotia after the explosion of 6th December 1917, 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. 7

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.8

Duffus Street, with Richmond School on left, which was destroyed in the Halifax Explosion of 6th December 1917.
Photographer: Cox Brothers. Halifax City Regional Library, Nova Scotia Archives. 9

In the aftermath, Merle’s body was laid to rest in Fairview Lawn Cemetery10 which, only five years earlier, had received one hundred and twenty victims of the sinking of RMS Titanic.11 Eighty-six more students from Richmond School had also to be laid to rest. After discharging the grim duty of attending the graveside of each 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 1921.12

As if fleeing the reminders of the devastation wrought on that fateful day in 1917, the family decamped to Los Angeles, where Mr. Huggins died in 1928.13

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.


Source citation for this page: — Kilpatrick, Alison. “The Halifax Explosion, 6th December 1917: Epitaph for Merle Huggins.” Article citing her death amongst thousands who perished in the Halifax Explosion, 6th December 1917. Published to Arborealis, 6th December 2015, then entitled, “98th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion,” edited 6th December 2020; online at arborealis.ca/family-history/irish/huggins/bio-merle-d1917/, accessed [insert date of access].

Footnotes:

  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) General Register Office, England and Wales. Certified copy of an entry of marriage. 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, 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 halifaxexplosion.org (accessed 2015-12-05). (d) Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Program. Online at halifax.ca/halifaxexplosion/ (accessed 2015-12-06).
  6. (a) Nova Scotia. Historical Vital Statistics. Civil registration of a death. Merle Huggins, died 6 December 1917. District no. 6, Bedford, County of Halifax. Archival ref. pg. 11, no. 30. (b) Nova Scotia Archives (Halifax). Halifax Explosion Book, 1917, pg. 46, no. 277. Online at Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, novascotiagenealogy.com (accessed 2008-08-30).
  7. James, William (Toronto). “A view across the devastated neighbourhood of Richmond in Halifax, Nova Scotia after the explosion of 6th December 1917, looking towards the Dartmouth side of the harbour.” Derivative of file, “DNDHfxExplosion-2.jpg.” Online at Wikipedia, “Halifax Explosion” (accessed 2015-12-05). Non-commercial production permitted by the National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.
  8. (a) The Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1917, (b), (c), (d), op. cit.
  9. Cox Brothers. “Duffus Street – Richmond School on Left. Halifax Disaster, Dec. 6, 1917.” Held by Halifax City Regional Library, Nova Scotia Archives. Archival ref. accession no. 1983-212. Online at the Nova Scotia Archives, “A Vision of Regeneration,” novascotia.ca/archives/Explosion/archives.asp?ID=37 (accessed 2015-12-05).
  10. (a) Nova Scotia. Historical Vital Statistics. Civil registration of a death; and (b) Nova Scotia Archives (Halifax). Halifax Explosion Book, op. cit.
  11. Wikipedia. Fairview Lawn Cemetery. (accessed 2008-08-30.)
  12. (a) The Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1917, (b), (c), (d), op. cit.
  13. State of California, Deaths, 1905-1929. Index entry for the death of George M. Huggins. Index, file no. 50497. Original record: Los Angeles County, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Online at vitalsearch-ca.com/ (accessed 2008-09-28).