On Tuesday, a 53-foot tall white spruce will be welcomed at Boston Common, where it will soon be strung with thousands of festive lights.
This is not just any Christmas Tree, though; it’s 100 years of gratitude from Nova Scotia.
Each year, the Canadian province gifts Boston a Christmas tree as thanks for the aid the city provided after the deadly Halifax Explosion on Dec. 6, 1917, when two ships collided in the Halifax Harbor, resulting in the largest man-made explosion at that time in history.
Nearly 2,000 people died “almost immediately,” said Leo Glavine, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritages. Nine thousand more were injured and 20,000 left homeless — more than a quarter of Halifax’s population then.
“This was catastrophic, but that response that came out of Boston and the New England states ended up saving many lives,” Glavine said.
Every Nova Scotian child learns about the tragedy. Glavine knows the story especially well, having been a social studies teacher who taught the explosion in his class.
Glavine can rattle off all the details: Boston officials learned of the tragedy by telegraph within two hours of it happening, he said, and the next day, loaded a train with 33 doctors, 77 nurses, Red Cross relief teams, medical supplies and more. Boston residents also raised $100,000 to help Halifax rebuild — the equivalent of more than $2 million today.
“The response really was quite overwhelming, so Nova Scotia, and in particular the city of Halifax, wondered, ‘How do we respond with more than thanks?’” Glavine said. Officials sent the first tree to Boston in 1918, and then made it an annual tradition since 1971.
“That we continue to do it now into the 100th year [since the tragedy] is that real gesture of what it has meant, to not only several generations, but the generations of the future,” he added.
For Nova Scotians, sending off the tree from Halifax is a huge celebration. On Friday, Nov. 17, before the nearly-five-story spruce — the largest Nova Scotia has ever gifted — started on its journey while strapped to a flatbed truck, Nova Scotians gathered in Halifax’s Parade Square.
“Those who come to Parade Square get that moment where they can also feel very much involved, though they won’t be physically in Boston,” Glavine said. “It’s about the spirit of people wrapped up in moment, and [as the tree leaves], they walk behind the flatbed to start the parade to Boston.”
Glavine got to go a step further and accompany the tree all the way here, where it will be welcomed with another celebration around 11 a.m. Tuesday. As someone who has taught the tragedy and taken students to a local maritime museum that houses artifacts from that time, it’s a special honor.
“To see that, to me, and now to be able to accompany this tree…is really, I guess you’d say, a bucket list moment,” he said. “It’s something so meaningful and special for me, someone who does grasp the significance of the tremendous, compassionate and timely commitment from the people of Boston.”
Also accompanying the tree are Bob and Marion Campbell — the Canadian couple who donated the tree from their backyard — and a handful of first responders like Halifax police, firefighters, nurses and paramedics to honor those who responded to the 1917 tragedy.
The tree is expected to enter Boston Common at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets at 11 a.m. It will be lit during Boston’s Official Tree Lighting ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 30.