The Halifax Explosion and the Dundas Resident Who Came To Their Aid

Today (Wednesday, December 6th) marks the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. The worst disaster in Canadian history occurred in the Halifax harbour when the French munitions ship, Mont-Blanc, collided with the Belgium relief ship, Imo. The ensuing explosion, the largest man-made explosion prior to the nuclear age, killed 1,951 people and seriously injured 9,000 more. Much of the northern part of the city was destroyed, 25,000 were left homeless, and property damaged was estimated at $50-million dollars. To compound the misery, that night a blizzard blanked the city with more than 40 centimetres of snow.


Within one hour of getting news about the explosion, and without being asked, Samuel McCall, the Governor of Massachusetts, gathered 100 city of Boston leaders to put together a committee:  the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Committee. They sent two trains, two ships, 100 doctors, 300 nurses, cars with gas, chauffeurs and one million dollars worth of supplies, enough to operate several temporary hospitals. The ships and cargo weighted about six million pounds – 13 times the weight of the Statue of Liberty. Each year the province of Nova Scotia donates a large Christmas tree to the city of Boston in appreciation and remembrance for the help the Boston Red Cross and Massachusetts Public Safety Committee provided immediately after the explosion, a tradition which continues to this day.


What is generally not known is the name of the second largest financial contributor to the relief effort, which came through his offices as Lord Mayor of London, Sir Charles Hanson. Hanson, with his great interest in Canadian affairs, immediately opened a fund for the relief of the victims, raising $800,00 – the equivalent of $12.7-million in todays’ dollars. Charles Hanson was born in 1846 in the quaint English village of Poltuan, on the southern coast of Cornwall. A serious young man he became a lay preacher in the Methodist Church in nearby Fowey. At age 18 he left home and immigrated to Canada. Armed with letters of reference from Wesleyan authorities in England he was received into the itinerancy of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Canada. According to United Church archival records, in 1868, while still on trial, he was appointed to the Dundas Circuit where he joined senior minister Hendry Bland. In Dundas less than a year he ministered to the needs of the Dundas congregation at the original Wesleyan Methodist Church that stood on the site of the present-day St. Paul’s United Church. Under the guidance of Rev. Bland, Hanson began to preach at a number of smaller churches in the district; churches such as the little Wesleyan church on the 7th concession of Strabane, West Flamborough.


In 1883, after spending 22 years in the ministry, Hanson joined his brother, Edwin, in established the investment firm, Hanson Brothers, in Montreal. To look after his firms British interests Hanson returned to England in 1890 where he joined the London Stock Exchange, and became a partner in the firm Messrs. Coates, Son and Company. With his keen interest in political matters Hanson entered the House of Commons as an MP for the Bodham District of North Cornwall in 1916.  In November 1917 Hanson entered the pinnacle of his political career when he was elected Lord Mayor of London.


In a celebration that stretches back to the 13th century, the parade, which began at Guildhall, took the newly elected Hanson and his wife, Martha Applebee, daughter of Jermina (McDuffy) and James Appelbe of Oakville, to Westminster. There he presented himself for the approval of King George V and took the oath of office. With London newspapers filled with stories of the Great War the mood was sombre. The military presence was everywhere. At Hanson’s special request a detachment of mounted Canadian troops rode in the place of honour at the front and rear of the parade. Just two weeks earlier 4,000 Canadians died and 12,000 injured in the blood bath of Passchendaele.  As Lord Mayor of London (an office he held for one year) Charles Hanson was the Head of the Corporation of London, Chief Magistrate of the City and Admiral of the Port of London, and within the City he took precedence to all but the King.