On December 6, 1917 at 9:00 AM, the Halifax Explosion severely destroyed much of the city. Boston authorities learned of the disaster via telegraph, and quickly organized and dispatched a relief train around 10:00 PM that night, to assist survivors.
A blizzard following the explosion delayed the train, which finally arrived in the early morning on December 8, and immediately began distributing food, water, and medical supplies. Numerous personnel on the train were able to relieve the Nova Scotia medical staff, most of whom had worked without rest since the explosion occurred.
Christmas Tree tradition
In 1918, Halifax sent a Christmas tree to the City of Boston in thanks and remembrance for the help that the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee had provided immediately after the disaster. That gift was revived in 1971 by the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association, who began an annual donation of a large tree to acknowledge Boston’s support after the explosion.
The gift was later taken over by the Nova Scotia Government to continue the goodwill gesture as well as to promote trade and tourism.
The tree is Boston’s official Christmas tree and is lit on Boston Common throughout the holiday season. Knowing its symbolic importance to both cities, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources has specific guidelines for selecting the tree. It must be an attractive balsam fir, white spruce or red spruce, 12 to 16 metres (40 to 50 ft) tall, healthy with good colour, medium to heavy density, uniform and symmetrical and easy to access.For the Christmas tree extension specialist in charge of locating it, the “tree can be elusive, the demands excessive, and the job requires remembering the locations of the best specimens in the province and persuading the people who own them to give them up for a pittance.” Most donors are “honoured to give up their trees… [and] most will gladly watch their towering trees fall” since everyone knows the reason it is being sent to Boston. The trees don’t often come from tree farms, but instead from open land where they can grow tall and full. It is so important to the people of Nova Scotia that “people have cried over it, argued about it, even penned song lyrics in its honor.”