“Assembled Piecemeal by Pack Rats and Vandalized Nightly”

As I continue to research my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s time as a cataloguer at the Toronto Public Library from 1919–1922, I’m using the Toronto Public Library’s annual reports as primary sources for the historical context of library services at that time. Prominent in these reports is the increased demand for children’s services identified by children’s librarian Lillian Smith. While Smith’s reports were interesting, I didn’t intended to write about them because Velma worked in a different department.

However, I kept coming back to the historical context for children’s library services. Of Velma’s direct descendants, only two are children now, my grandnephews James (10) and Liam (7). As Digital Natives who could swipe an iPhone before they could walk, they have instant access to information, their only challenge being to find it. As movie critic Roger Ebert so aptly put it:

Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.1

It then occurred to me that for the two generations following Velma’s, my mother’s and my own, our experiences with libraries were the same as hers. If we needed information that wasn’t in the family’s World Book Encyclopaedia, we had to go to the neighborhood library to look it up. If the information was in a book that wasn’t in the library’s holdings, we asked the librarian to order it through interlibrary loan.  Then we went home and waited.

James and Liam, on the other hand, go straight to Google. In order for them to understand and appreciate this young woman four generations removed from them who would become their great-great grandmother, they need the historical context for library services. They need to know that for much of the twentieth century, information was contained primarily in books and periodicals, which in turn were classified and catalogued according to a system, most commonly the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress System. This was a logical and orderly world that appealed to Velma, and she felt very much at home there. She would never, ever have entertained the notion of “a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.”

I therefore decided to write about children’s library services from the perspective of the historical context that would be most relevant for Digital Natives such as James and Liam to compare with their own experiences at the library. They will find similarities as well as differences!

Lillian Smith: A Champion for Children’s Literacy

I first encountered the name Lillian Smith on the back of one of Velma’s snapshots in The Family Archives. She was in charge of the Children’s Department at the time Velma was there. I went on to learn that Smith was the first professionally trained children’s librarian in the British Empire.2 In 1912, when she was twenty-five years old, the Toronto Public Library recruited her from the New York City Public Library.3  Her career with the Toronto Public Library would span a period of forty years and include many innovations in children’s librarianship.4 Her work extended beyond library walls to community outreach and leadership to provide children’s library services in the city’s schools and two settlement houses.5 From what I’ve read, she was a real dynamo, and the children of Toronto were fortunate to have her as their champion. A branch of the Toronto Public Library was later named for her.6

A Decrease in Book Circulation Due to Fear of Contagion

Smith noted in her annual report for 1919 that the Children’s Department had experienced an interruption of service when the library was forced to close for three weeks due to a smallpox epidemic.7 Curious, I went back a year, and sure enough, the library had closed for a time in response to the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.8 Smith went on to note:

The decrease [in book circulation] is not only due to the closing of the Library, but also because so many parents have  prohibited their children from taking books after the epidemic through fear of contagion.9

The fear of contracting infectious disease through library books was widely enough held at the time to prompt the Ontario Library Review to publish the article “Library Books Rarely, If Ever, Carry Disease” by the Director of the Institute of Public Health, H. W. Hill. According to Dr. Hill, the belief that diseases such as tuberculosis and scarlet fever could be spread though surface contact even after time had passed since the initial contact by the infected person was based on a faulty analogy with anthrax.10

Google Search Note: Apparently that fear is still around today, if blog posts and message boards are any indication. However, Dear Children, before you demand that Mother microwave, freeze, or spray your library books with Febreeze, just remember to wash your hands before you eat, and you’ll be fine.

Story Hour

One of Lillian Smith’s major initiatives was the establishment of regularly-scheduled story hours at all of the city’s branch libraries to encourage reading. From 1919 – 1922, the number of story hours held increased 118%, from 34511 to 73512. The number of children participating rose 151%, from 15,35913 to 38,55014. The average number of children at each story hour was 45 in 1919 and 52 in 1922. The following photograph from the 1922 annual report is testament to the Story Hour’s popularity.

What Children Were Reading

In the Library’s 1919 report, Smith wrote that “stories of pioneer life and Canadian history, Greek heroes, King Arthur and Robin Hood have been told with great success.”15 For the older children, reading clubs were established to encourage a shift away from reading the popular fiction of the day to reading “standard and classic literature.”16

In 1917, Smith developed a list of approved books to encourage children’s reading, although in her introduction, she does note that the list contains some books of mediocre literary value:

These are included through having justified their place on our shelves as stepping-stones to the better kind of books, which are not always immediately appreciated by children who come from bookless homes, or who have been saturated with the vapid serial reading matter contained in the Alger and Elsie books.17

Vapid Serial Reading Matter

Approved for Children Under Ten

Approved for Children Over Ten

I will close by asking readers to comment on the photograph at the top of this post. The children are wearing winter coats and hats. Do you think their clothing indicates that the building was cold or that the photograph was staged? I can’t decide.


1quotegeek, accessed December 16, 2018, http://quotegeek.com/personalities/roger-ebert/10697/, originally appeared in “Critical Eye” column, Yahoo! Internet Life, September 1998.

2“Lillian H. Smith (1887-1983),” Toronto Public Library, accessed December 16, 2018, https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/about-the-library/library-history/lillian-h-smith.jsp.

3“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

4“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

5“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

6“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

7Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from the Departments: Children’s Department,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Sixth Annual Report, 1919, 17.

8Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from Departments: The Children’s Department,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Fifth Annual Report, 1918, 14.

9Smith, “Children’s Department, 1918” 14.

10H. W. Hill, M.B, D.P.H., “Library Books Rarely, If Ever, Carry Disease,” Ontario Library Review and Book Selection Guide I, no. 1 (June 1916): 7.

11Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

12Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from Departments: Boys’ and Girls’ Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Ninth Annual Report, 1922, 22.

13Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

14Smith, “Boys’ and Girls’ Library,” 22.

15Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

16Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

17Lillian H. Smith, “A List of Approved Books for Boys and Girls,” excerpted from Ontario Library Review, August 1917, 2.

Image: “After School in the Children’s Room, Earlscourt Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Seventh Annual Report, 1920, 16.

Image: “Waiting for the Story Hour, College Street Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Eighth Annual Report, 1921, 10.

Book Cover Images: All book cover images are in the public domain, retrieved from Project Gutenberg.

10th Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge

I came across the 10th Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge on Janice Brown’s, Cow Hampshire: New Hampshire’s History Blog. Genealogy poetry challenge? Count me in! The poetry challenge is sponsored by Bill West of the West in New England blog. You can find the particulars of the challenge here.

I have been researching my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s early life in Economy Point, Nova Scotia for the past year, so I went to the Poetry Foundation website to see what I could find on the subject of Nova Scotia. “Two Winds on Nova Scotia” by Marshall Schacht called to me immediately as the voice of my family’s experience in the region.

The Moore family had been in Colchester County since William James Moore’s arrival in 1769. By the first quarter of the twentieth century, four Moores from my great-grandfather’s farm in Economy Point had been wooed by the wind from the south to leave Nova Scotia for Massachusetts: Jane Melissa (1870-1950), Esther Leila (1875-1962), Fred Laurence (1894-1971), and Velma Jane (1897-1975).

The Moores Together in Economy Point before They Heard the South Wind’s Lusty Song (c. 1901)


Sources

Gauffreau, Katharine Brown. The Ancestry and Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown. Unpublished manuscript, December 2013.

Schacht, Marshall. “January 1938: Two Winds on Nova Scotia.” Poetry Foundation. Accessed November 4, 2018. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=21912. Originally appeared in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Vol LI, No. IV, January 1938.

In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Toronto Days

Velma Jane Moore, Winifred Barnstead, Winnifred Reynolds in Toronto, 1921

Our Starting Point

I’m going to start the search for my grandmother’s Toronto days with my mother’s account:

I never knew that Velma lived in Toronto until I saw pictures of her Toronto days. I assume she went there after graduating from Dalhousie. An article in a New Brunswick local paper about Ronald [Brown] and Velma’s visit to Ronald’s Aunt Ann Worden during their honeymoon says that Velma was a graduate of Ontario University Library School. She then worked at the Toronto Public Library. A picture of her and the head of the department she worked in said 1919-1922 on the back. . . . I don’t know if those are the years she worked under the woman or the years she worked at the library. Velma attended a Bible class from 1920-1921. Velma had a very good friend, Winnifred Reid (married name) and fellow worker at the Library. Winnifred and her husband, Jim, ended up in Hamden, Connecticut, where Winnifred worked in the reference department of the Yale Library. They and Ronald and Velma visited back and forth through the years. I used to take Liz to visit them when we lived in New Haven. I don’t know when Velma left Toronto or if she spent time in Economy before going to the States.1

As you can see, there were significant periods of Velma’s life that her descendants knew nothing about until we had the opportunity to go through The Family Archives when my mother’s sister Margaret died in 2009.

Jim Reid, Baby Liz, Winnifred Reynolds Reid, Hamden, Connecticut, 1956

Leaving Economy

After Velma’s brief career as a teacher in Colchester County, Nova Scotia from September 1918 – June 19192, she was hired as an assistant in the Cataloguing Division of the Toronto Public Library in Ontario, the only assistant hired in 1919.3 At a distance of over 1,000 miles, the move from Economy to Toronto would have been no small undertaking for a young woman of twenty-two in 1919. Finishing the school year at Colchester West on June 30, 1919, she would have moved to Toronto sometime between July and December of that year.

The immediate question, of course is, why? Weren’t there libraries in Nova Scotia? With a little digging, I soon learned that Ontario was at the forefront of public library development in Canada at that time; Ontario was also at the forefront of library training, along with McGill University in Montreal.4

The Dalhousie Connection

Also in the frame are two Dalhousie University connections, which I suspect may have prompted the move to Toronto. The Winnifred Reid my mother mentions in her account of Velma’s Toronto days was Winnifred Reynolds before her marriage, one of Velma’s Dalhousie friends. Winnifred graduated from Dalhousie with the Class of 1919.5  She worked as a cataloguer at the Toronto Public Library from 1920-1922.6

Velma’s boss at the library, Winifred Barnstead, was also a Dalhousie University graduate, Class of 1906.7 In reading about the history of Canadian librarianship in the first part of the twentieth century, I discovered that Ms. Barnstead was a very influential figure.8 Velma learned from the best!

Winifred Barnstead, Velma’s Boss in the Cataloguing Department of the Toronto Public Library from 1919-1922

Winnifred Reynolds Reid

Winnifred’s critique in the Dalhousie Gazette shows her to have much in common with Velma; it’s easy to see how they would have been friends:

Stately and dignified, in cap and gown with a scroll in her hand, Winifred [sic] Reynolds will not be recognized by many. Quiet, but nevertheless possessing a deep sense of humor, Winnie was exceedingly well liked by those who knew her, but she was hard to get acquainted with. She took her studies seriously with good results.9

As my mother’s account indicates, Winnifred continued her career as a librarian. I found her listed in the 1955 edition of Who’s Who in Library Service10:

Winnifred retired in 1964 as the Head cataloger and Research Associate at the Yale Law School Library.11

More to come about Velma’s Toronto days! I’m also sorting through information about the public library system in Toronto that might be interest to other family historians looking for social context for ancestors who lived in Toronto in the early part of the twentieth century.


For additional information:

Oral history of Winifred Barnstead, recorded at the University of Toronto in 1974, the year she died: https://play.library.utoronto.ca/aUBKrGlYlUZY

Article describing Winifred’s Barnstead’s role in the establishment of librarianship education at the University of Toronto: https://www.exlibris.ca/lib/exe/fetch.php?media=wiki:newsletters:elan_special_summer_2004.pdf


1Kay Brown Gauffreau, “The Ancestry & Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown” (unpublished manuscript, December 2013), 25-26.

2E-mail from Harold Stewart, Little White Schoolhouse Museum, Truro, NS 11/19/17.

3Annual Report – Toronto Public Library, 33rd ed. (Toronto: Armac Press, 1920), 74.

4Mary Ellen Quinn, Historical Dictionary of Librarianship (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 72.

5“Convocation,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 11, 12, 13 (July 11, 1919): 11.

6Dorothy Ethlyn Cole, ed., Who’s Who in Library Service: A Biographical Directory of Professional Librarians of the United States and Canada, 3rd ed. (New York: Grolier Society, 1955), 404.

7“History: Biographies,” Ex Libris Association, last modified February 10, 2016, accessed October 14, 2018, https://www.exlibris.ca/doku.php?id=history:biographies:barnstead_k.

8 Diane Henderson, “University of Toronto: Faculty of Information Studies,” ELAN: Ex Libris Association Newsletter, Summer 2004, 8-9.

9“Critique,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 11, 12, 13 (July 11, 1919): 7.

10Cole, Who’s Who in Library, 430.

11American Association of Law Libraries, Biographical Directory of Law Librarians in the United States and Canada (St. Paul, MN: West Pub., 1964), [snippet view accessed in Google Books].

Velma Graduates: Parties & Class Exercises!

Velma Jane Moore, Dalhousie University Class of 1918

After three years of intensive study, my grandmother Velma Jane Moore graduated from Dalhousie University in May 1918. This photograph is part of a collage of the Class of 1918 that I found in the Dalhousie University archives. I chose it to head this post because it is not included in the photographs I have from her college days, and when I first caught sight of it on my computer screen, I thought it was a picture of me! (It gave me a bit of a turn, in fact.)

The Dalhousie Gazette devoted the entire June 1918 issue to the graduating class, which now comprised only twenty of its original seventy-two members due to the World War.1 In addition to convocation, commencement events included class day exercises, Senior outings, and several teas: a “dainty” one hosted by Miss Frances Jean Lindsay, the librarian,2 a “soul-thrilling” one hosted by the wife of Professor Murray MacNeil, which also included a contest and dancing,3 and a third one with a wartime “hooverised menu,” hosted by the Alumnae and presided over by the lovely Louise Power.4

I was very pleased to see how Velma and her classmates were fêted at the completion of their baccalaureate education. This stands in direct contrast to my own graduation from Old Dominion University in 1982. My graduating class was so large that commencement was held in the Norfolk Scope arena.  The ceremony went like this: Git up, School of Arts and Letters. I hereby graduate you, School of Arts and Letters. S’down, School of Arts and Letters.

Class ’18 Girls’ Walking Party

On May 2, the girls of the senior class set out for a picnic at a local natural landmark called the Rocking Stone.5 This large boulder is one of many picked up and deposited by retreating glaciers in the northeastern part of North America some 20,000-26,000 years ago.6 Rocking Stone was so-named because it was deposited in such a position that it could be moved from the bottom by applying a lever or rocked by someone sitting on top of it.7

“Rocking Stone,” Spryfield, ca. 1895

I’m sure that Velma would have joined the girls’ walking party, as she enjoyed being out in nature and picnicking. The girls first took a streetcar to the Northwest Arm section of Halifax, where they stopped to take photographs at the Arm Bridge.8 I found this picture of the Arm Bridge in Sketches and Traditions of the Northwest Arm, published in 1908:

Once they’d taken enough photos, the girls continued on foot to find the Rocking Stone; however, only one of them knew where it actually was, and the group became separated.9 The unguided contingent happened upon a soldier who pointed them in the right direction, but they were waylaid once again looking for milk for their tea.10 Luckily, they found “a meek-looking cow and obtained the necessary lactic fluid.”11 After they’d eaten, they found the Rocking Stone and “like the lotus eaters, wished to stay and dream, but the cameras were a continual nightmare.”12

I expect that the impulse behind all the picture-taking was to preserve their last days together as Dalhousie girls before they all went their separate ways for careers or marriage. The account of the day ends with the girls’ yell, which would not be befitting for grown women to utter, even at a class reunion:

As a side note, I got the impression from my readings in the Gazette that all the best class yells (which were obligatory, apparently) had already been taken by previous classes by the time the Class of 1918 rolled onto campus. To wit, the official class yell for the Class of 1918:

The Orpheus Party

Another of the events was an Orpheus Party, which involved a “merry group of Seniors and their guests” going to see a silent movie playing at the Orpheus Theatre.15 I’m not so sure Velma would have gone along with that merry group. My impression was that they would have been a bit too boisterous for her comfort.

A spokesperson for the group penned the following review for the Dalhousie Gazette:

When we arrived, a fair damsel on the screen was sitting at a table going through most heart-rending facial contortions and rubbing her cheeks or ears, we were not sure which. All became sympathetic at once feeling sure that the maiden was suffering either from toothache or earache. However, she apparently recovered and to our surprise we saw her strolling round a desert with a person who might have posed for a cigarette poster. The picture ended with violence and final happiness . . . 16

Barbary Sheep 1917In a subsequent article in the Gazette, I learned that the movie the group had seen was Robert Hichens’s Barbary Sheep.17 That writer declared the movie “rather uninteresting and not calculated to edify,” which was all right because no one paid attention to the screen anyway!18

A motion picture critic of the time had a different take on the leading lady’s acting ability: “There is a continual conflict of emotions in the character and Miss Ferguson brings out both feelings with a skill that has seldom been approached by actresses used to the camera and its exorbitant demands.”19 Toothache or earache, indeed!

The critic did concede, however, that the plot was “rather bare and slim . . . . It presents in brief the old story of the busy husband, the neglected wife and the other man–this time a native of the desert.”20

Class Day Exercises

Class day exercises held in the MacDonald Library the day before convocation provided the graduates with an opportunity for reflection and celebration in a formal setting. The program began with a roll call honoring the members of the class who were serving in the military, including the three who had been killed in action; an address by a Dr. Fraser Harris; the valedictory address by Ernest Parker Duchemin, whom we met in a previous post; two solo performances (presumably singing) as the entertainment; and readings of the class history and the class critique.21

The class prophesy predicted that Velma “went as a V. A. D. [member of a Voluntary Aid Detachment] to England, where her kindness and sympathy did much to cheer her patients.”22 This prophesy must have been a reference to Velma’s work in the hospital wards after the Halifax explosion of 1917.

The class critique, consisting of brief character sketches of the graduates, was read by Lois Smith,23 one of Velma’s friends whom we met in a previous post. It must have been particularly meaningful for Velma to hear her critique read by a close friend:

Velma Moore is not very well known outside of her class. Her college is brilliant. In addition to her class work, to which she devoted the greater part of her interest, Velma always found time to do her bit in affairs of the class and the college in general. Loyal and generous Velma’s friendship is one that is highly appreciated by those who enjoy the privilege of it.24

Next post: Convocation!


Image of Velma Jane Moore, Composite photograph of Dalhousie University Arts, Science and Engineering class of 1918, PC1, Box 26, Folder 40, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

1E. P. Duchemin, “Valedictory,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 14.

2“Class ’18 Entertained,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 2.

3“Orpheus Party of Class ’18,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 10.

4“Social Notes,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 13.

Photograph of Mary Louise Parker, 1916, PC1, Box 13, Folder 32, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Image of F. J. Lindsay: Photographic collage of the Dalhousie University Arts and Science faculty and senior class of 1903, PC1, Oversize Folder 30, Gauvin & Gentzel, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Image: Crowd at Spring 1999 Commencement, May 8, 1999, photograph, rg32-082-001-085.jp2, ODU Photographic Collection RG 32, Special Collections and University Archives, Old Dominion University Perry Library, Norfolk, VA.

5“Class ’18 Girls’ Walking Party,”Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 2.

Image: Notman Studio, “Rocking Stone”, Spryfield, ca. 1895, photograph, “Rocking Stone”, Spryfield, ca. 1895, Halifax and Its People / 1749-1999, Nova Scotia Archives.

Image: John W. Regan, Bridge and Roads at the Head of the Northwest Arm, 1908, photograph, Sketches and Traditions of the Northwest Arm, McAlpine Publishing Co., Halifax, Nova Scotia.

6Jane Hutton, “Erratic Imaginaries: Thinking Landscape as Evidence,” ed. Etienne Turpin, Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy, last modified 2013, accessed August 26, 2018, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/o/ohp/12527215.0001.001/1:12/–architecture-in-the-anthropocene-encounters-among-design?rgn=div1;view=fulltext.

7Hutton, “Erratic Imaginaries,” Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy.

8“Walking Party,” Dalhousie Gazette.

9“Walking Party,” Dalhousie Gazette.

10“Walking Party,” Dalhousie Gazette.

11“Walking Party,” Dalhousie Gazette.

12“Walking Party,” Dalhousie Gazette.

13“Walking Party, Dalhousie Gazette.

14“History of Class ’18,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 4.

15“Orpheus Party,” Dalhousie Gazette.

16“Social Notes,” Dalhousie Gazette.

17“Social Notes,” Dalhousie Gazette.

18Peter Milne, “Barbary Sheep,” in Selected Film Criticism 1912-1920, ed. Anthony Slide (Metuchen, N.J. & London: Scarecrow Press, 1982), 11.

19Milne, “Barbary Sheep.”

Image: “Elsie Ferguson,” Moving Picture World, September 1, 1917, 1331.

20“Class Day Exercises,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 2.

21“Class Prophesy, 1918,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 12.

22“Class Day Exercises,” Dalhousie Gazette.

23“Critique of Class ’18,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 8.

24“Critique,” Dalhousie Gazette.

The Halifax Explosion of 1917

Looking north toward Pier 8 from Hillis foundry after great explosion, Halifax, Dec. 6, 1917

“People were packed in our car like flies. Some of them came to the place with noses shot off, eyes put out, faces slashed with flying glass, limbs torn and distorted. One man came in with blood streaming from what was originally his face. On one occasion while we were working around a wrecked building we could see a little baby 50 feet or more underneath a burning mass crying for aid. We could not get within 30 feet of the child and had to watch while it burned to death. Men and women children were lying on the streets and hundreds must be buried beneath the wreckage.” ~Esmond P. Barry, Eyewitness to the Halifax Explosion of 19171

 

I first learned of the Halifax explosion of 1917 from my mother’s biography of her mother, Velma Jane Moore, who was attending Dalhousie University in Halifax at the time of the explosion:

I remember her telling about the awful Halifax explosion. Wikipedia says that on 6 December 1917 the S.S. Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship carrying munitions collided with the Norwegian SS Imo in Halifax Harbor. A fire on the French ship broke out and the munitions exploded. The explosion was the largest man-made explosion until the A-bomb, 2,000 were killed by debris and fires and 9,000 injured. I can see why Velma remembered this.2

 

When my husband and I visited Halifax in July of 2017, we made a point of going to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to learn more. Once we’d finished viewing the Halifax explosion exhibit and learned the full horror of what had happened, I was struck by just how incongruous the following part of the exhibit seemed. The central image of the little girl flying through the air conveyed a sense of whimsy that was really quite jarring.

Image: The Halifax Explosion Memorial Quilt, Collision in the Narrows Exhibit, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 2017

The following map from the Nova Scotia Archives3 shows where Velma would have been on the Dalhousie campus in relation to the waterfront. The blue shading at the bottom of the map indicates the area that was leveled.

Given the distance of Dalhousie from the waterfront, I wasn’t sure whether the campus would have sustained any damage. A search through the online University archives revealed photographs of buildings that had received some relatively minor damage, mostly broken windows. The Dalhousie Gazette reported that two students were seriously injured. One student lost an eye due to flying glass and another sustained injuries to her face and hands.4 Several people in the Law Library at the time of the explosion suffered minor cuts and bruises.5

Dalhousie University Science Building after the Halifax Explosion of 1917

MacDonald Memorial Library after the Halifax Explosion of 1917

The Dalhousie campus community rallied to help the injured:

Within fifteen minutes after the explosion, probably every student in the higher three years was rendering first aid, and the majority of the students from every faculty were assisting in a variety of ways as numerous as the needs they saw. In a few hours most of the medical and a goodly number of the others had found places of usefulness in the dressing stations, and particularly at the Victoria General and Camp Hill hospitals. . . . The fifth year men were at work for hours at a time, doing things in the operating rooms and wards of the V. G. H. of which specialists need not have been ashamed. Students of the fourth year did dressings, gave anaesthetics, and in many ways made practical application of surgical knowledge recently acquired.6

 

In the interest of balanced reporting, there was a brief mention in the article that, “There were a few regrettable actions by the students. A very few failed to do their duty as college men and women . . . ” 7

In addition to the medical students, the young women on campus were singled out for particular mention in two different articles:

Dalhousie girls responded nobly and promptly to the call for voluntary helpers. The day of the explosion many of them went directly to the hospitals, emergency and permanent, where, among the horrible confusion and sickening scenes, they did what they could towards assisting the doctors. Others helped in distributing food and clothing, or in house to house visiting.8

If there is any one class of Dalhousians which, in the writer’s estimation, is deserving of special mention, it is the young ladies of the University, who so quietly went to work, assisting in the dressing of wounds and ministering to the comfort of patients amid scenes of agony and death to which they were absolutely unaccustomed, and which are known to have shocked the nerves of even those accustomed to surgical work.9

 

I was proud but not surprised to find Velma listed among the Dalhousie girls who had provided relief to the wounded in the immediate aftermath of the explosion:

Ward work at the various hospitals: Freda Creighton, Bert Colwell, Merle Colpitt, Anna Creighton, Miss Clark, Marion Doane, Gwen Fraser, Ruth Glasel, Miss Harris, Miss Lindsay, Emmeline and Arabella McKenzie, Christine McKinnon, Sally MacDonald, Jean MacDonald, Christine MacCleod, Nell Melrose, Velma Moore, Florence Murray, Eliphail Nichols, Margaret Pugsley, Jean Ross, Frances Russell, Katherine Tattrie.10

 

However, I found the final article concluding the  Dalhousie Gazette‘s front page coverage of the Halifax explosion to be in poor taste, even for those of the adolescent persuasion:

NOT EVEN T.N.T. COULD STOP THE EXAMS

The Faculty, always so tenderly considerate of the students, felt that, in spite of this catastrophe, it would be shameful to deprive them of the Christmas Examinations, and so, on the twenty-first of January, they played Santa Claus, by presenting us with a series of one hour quizzes. Then, lest we grow blase with inaction, they ordained that lectures should continue through the Examination period. Great was the gnashing of teeth among the afflicted, as the explosion had blown every molecule of many a normally near-vacuum. Everyone agreed that district visiting was much more interesting than the Ablative Absolute, but alas the callous Senate refused to adopt this humanitarian idea.11

 

For Additional Information:

The Nova Scotia Archives has a wealth of primary sources about the Halifax explosion, “including records accumulated by Archibald MacMechan, professor of English language and literature at Dalhousie University, Halifax NS. Immediately following the 1917 Explosion, MacMechan was requested by authorities to prepare an official history of the explosion and was given the title of director of the Halifax Disaster Record Office, 1917-1918.”12 Dr. MacMechan was Velma’s English professor.


Image: W. G. MacGlaughlin, Looking north toward Pier 8 from Hillis foundry after great explosion, Halifax, Dec. 6, 1917, 1917, photograph, Reference no.: W.G. MacLaughlan Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1988-34 no. 14, A Vision of Regeneration, Nova Scotia Archives.

1“Eyewitnesses Tell of the Awful Scenes in Streets,” The Boston Globe (Boston), December 7, 1917, 6.

2Kay Brown Gauffreau, “The Ancestry & Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown” (unpublished manuscript, December 2013), 25.

3“Plan Showing Devastated Area of Halifax City, N.S.,” map, 1918, Reference no.: N.S. Board of Insurance Underwriters Nova Scotia Archives V6/240 – 1917 Halifax loc.4.2.3.2, A Vision of Regeneration, Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax.

4“Casualties at Dalhousie,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 1 (January 29, 1918): 1.

5“Casualties,” Dalhousie Gazette.

Photograph of the Dalhousie University Science building broken windows, MS-2-718, PB Box 14, Folder 23, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Photograph of MacDonald Memorial Library after Halifax Explosion / PC1, Box 31, Folder 12, Item 2, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

6“Dalhousians and Medical Relief Work,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 1 (January 29, 1918): 2.

7“Medical Relief,” Dalhousie Gazette.

8“Relief Work among the Women,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 1 (January 29, 1918): 1.

9“Medical Relief,” Dalhousie Gazette.

10“Women,” Dalhousie Gazette.

11“Not Even T. N. T. Could Stop the Exams,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 1 (January 29, 1918): 1.

12Province of Nova Scotia, “1917 Halifax Explosion: Personal Narratives and other materials,” Nova Scotia Archives, accessed July 4, 2018, https://novascotia.ca/archives/explosion/personal.asp.