STELLARTON — Hope and Survival: The Halifax Explosion Memorial Quilt is now on display at the Museum of Industry.
The quilt has been created by award-winning Nova Scotia textile artist Laurie Swim to mark the centenary of the 1917 Halifax Explosion. It recalls those who died in the explosion, the survivors whose lives the disaster instantly and dramatically changed and the heroic efforts made to assist and restore hope.
It is part of a display the museum is hosting on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until February 28.
Local quilters who volunteer their skills weekly in part of the museum got a chance last week to admire Swim’s poignant artistry. One of them is Pat Christensen, who cited an aunt and grandmother who perished in the explosion.
“I’m not sure how they identified my grandmother,” she said. “My aunt was identified by the pink dress she wore.”
The quilt depicts a number of events that include a map of Halifax Harbour, a clock noting the time of the explosion, the two ships that collided and caused one of them loaded with munitions to catch fire and explode and the destruction during and after the event.
Quilter Denise Pitts marveled at what appears on the quilt, depending on where she stood to view it.
“Every time you look at it, you see different details,” she said.
Depicted on the quilt is a woman who was sent flying through the air from the explosion’s impact. Her name was Barbara Orr; she survived the ordeal after she landed at what is now Needham Park in Halifax’s north end after being driven for a quarter mile through the air by the explosion. She later donated bells located at the park to commemorate her survival.
Museum director Debra McNabb said she is pleased the quilt is being displayed in Pictou County, a community that was the first to respond to calls for help after the explosion.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic first displayed the quilt last year leading up to the 100th anniversary of the explosion on December 6.
“I think it’s beautiful,” McNabb said. “The fact Pictou County was the first to respond makes for a pretty close connection between here and there.”
Swim, with the help of volunteers, originated and designed the quilt project after reading an account of the explosion called Shattered City by Janet Kitz.
“She thought about it and researched it over 14 years and was very passionate about it,” McNabb said. “I think it’s evocative of the events of the day.”
Besides the quilt, window frames hang beside it, along with window-like remembrances composed by 400 volunteers who noted the names of the 1,946 people whose deaths from the blast were recorded, both in English and Braille.
“They’re made to look like the windows because so many people were blinded by flying glass as they were looking at the explosion,” McNabb said.
A Nova Scotia Archives video of footage of scenes after the explosion is also available.
Volunteers with the quilt group that meets at the Museum of Industry stopped by to admire the quilt made in memory of the 1917 Halifax Explosion that is currently on display at the museum. Front row, from left: Linda MacLeod and Pat Christensen. Back row: Joyce MacPherson, Denise Pitts and Gerrie Ackkerman. (Goodwin photo)