The Boston Christmas Tree, a gift from Nova Scotia
Given as thanks for their immediate help after the Halifax Explosion of 1917, a beautiful Christmas tree is delivered to the City of Boston from the province of Nova Scotia.
Glittering with festive Christmas lights and sparkling decorations, the Christmas tree grandly positioned in the Commons is an annual delight for the residents of the City of Boston, Massachusetts. The beautiful tree holds a special meaning aside from Christmas. Delivered from the Province of Nova Scotia, the tree is a seasonal “Thank You” to the residents of Boston for their immediate aid, generously given after the Halifax Explosion in 1917.
Crowded Harbour at Halifax
During World War One, large and small vessels filled the harbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The port was a central hub for convoys sailing for Europe with troops, supplies and munitions, and the Bedford Basin was often crowded. On the morning of December 6, 1917, the French vessel Mont Blanc was preparing to cross the ocean with a convoy. “She was loaded with 2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, ten tons of gun cotton and 35 tons of benzol: a highly explosive
mixture,” said the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in “The Halifax Explosion.”
Another ship was exiting the Bedford Basin at that same time. The Norwegian ship Imo struck the Mont Blanc and a fire broke out immediately. Rushing for the safety of lifeboats, the Captain and crew fled the dangerous burning boat. Floating toward a pier, the Mont Blanc’s blaze caught the attention of thousands of watchers on shore. Several navy officers and railway dispatcher Vince Coleman made great efforts to spread the word of the impending catastrophe. (After making contact with an approaching train loaded with passengers, Coleman did not have time to flee. He perished in the explosion.)
Explosion at Bedford Basin
Burning for 20 minutes, the Mont Blanc reached the crisis point. The ship exploded. The blast killed nearly 2,000 people and caused damage for miles around. Over 1,600 homes were lost, and businesses, schools, churches and factories were destroyed. It was one of the biggest man-made disasters in Canadian history and it left Halifax’s shoreline in utter devastation.
Help came quickly from across Canada and the world. Receiving word of the disaster that same morning, citizens of Boston, Massachusetts immediately came to Halifax’s aid. “That very night a train loaded with supplies, together with medical personnel and members of the Public Safety Committee, left for Halifax,” said the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The generous help from Boston during the winter of 1917 into 1918 would not be forgotten.
Thanking Boston with Christmas Tree
The residents of Halifax thanked the City of Boston with a Christmas tree in 1918. Instituted as an annual event in 1971, the citizens of Nova Scotia send their continuing appreciation to Bostonians
with the gift of a huge, healthy Christmas tree. An important custom province-wide, representatives from the Department of Natural Resources choose a tree donated by private landowners. The fir tree must meet specific criteria, noted the Government of Nova Scotia: “Balsam fir, white spruce or red spruce, twelve to fifteen metres (40-50 feet) in height,” healthy with good colour and shape, and with branches of moderate to heavy density.
A tree-cutting ceremony was held on November 16, 2011 on the farm of Ken and Donna Spinney of Central Argyle, Nova Scotia, with the help of schoolchildren, RCMP and government representatives and the Town Crier. A festive presentation about the selected 14-metre (48-foot) White Spruce tree included poetry, story-reading and information about the occasion. Prepared for transport, the tree was loaded onto a flatbed trailer, “bearing a large, blue sign that reads The Nova Scotia Tree for Boston,” according to the Government of Nova Scotia. Delivered on November 18th to the Boston Common in the heart of the city, the magnificent tree “is decorated with thousands of lights and becomes the focal point of the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony.”
40th Anniversary of the Boston Christmas Tree
The kind and generous actions of Bostonians in 1917 are ingrained in the hearts of Nova Scotians, important still over a century later. Coming up in 2021, Nova Scotia will mark the 50th Anniversary of the heartfelt tradition of thanking Boston with the beautiful Boston Christmas Tree.
- “The Halifax Explosion,” the Marine Museum of Nova Scotia Accessed November 25, 2011
- Department of Natural Resources, Government of Nova Scotia Accessed November 25, 2011
- “Tree for Boston,” Province of Nova Scotia. Accessed December 18, 2019