Michael Dupuis of Esquimalt, will host a talk at the Central Branch of the GVPL Dec. 2 at 2:30 to discuss his book, ‘Bearing Witness’ the story of the journalists who covered the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Victoria writer revisits the Halifax Explosion

Local historian Michael Dupuis looks back one hundred years, from a different perspective

In 2017 when disaster strikes, the media is never far behind. Technology has made it possible for journalists to report the news in real time, whether from a broadcast, through social media or via the remote capabilities now afforded by the internet.

But, 100 years ago it was a very different story for reporters had little more than typewriters, primitive phones, and a telegraph service.

“In an instant, nothing worked,” Michael Dupuis writes in the opening pages of Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers and the 1917 Halifax Explosion. But reporters got to work anyway, some filing stories a mere hour after a French cargo ship collided with a Norwegian vessel in the waters of the Halifax Harbour, wiping out the northern half of the maritime city, killing thousands of people just after 9 a.m., Dec. 6, 1917.

“This is about honouring the journalists who under the most difficult circumstances covered Canada’s worst maritime disaster,” says Dupuis who dedicated his book to marine reporter John “Jack” Ronayne, one of the first who rushed to the water to investigate a burning ship and was fatally injured as a result of the blast.

Dupuis, a local historian, writer and former teacher, says it was partly by accident Bearing Witness came to be at all. While working on a chapter for a book about Canadian journalists who covered the sinking of the Titanic, he discovered two Ottawa-based reporters covering that story were, five years later, assigned to the story of the explosion in the Halifax Harbour.

“There’s been an awful lot written about the explosion,” Dupuis points out, but none from the perspective of the journalists who were there.

“It was a tough assignment,” he says of those first sent to the harbour. “Reporters were there to get the facts. There was a lot of dead people, a lot of injuries, and you think – my goodness, how could they see what they saw and write so objectively?”

A story has to be compelling to buy a book, Dupuis says and he knew he had something unique when he pitched the idea to Fernwood Publishing in 2014.

They set a date of 2017 – the 100th anniversary of the disaster – to publish, and Dupuis set to work tracking down the stories of some two dozen journalists, only two of whom were women.

“Reporting in those days was hard-nosed,” he says, and much of it was graphic. “Without the press getting the story out, how on earth would the relief and recovery efforts have taken place in 1917?”

When Dupuis launched the book in June in at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, five descendants of the journalists featured in the book attended, three from the U.S. He says he was asked how he was able to verify the accounts of those “first responders” who came from across the country, and was proud to discover that 95 per cent of what was originally reported in 1917 was accurate.

In the book, he includes a quote from a former publisher of the Washington Post that reads, “journalism is the first rough draft of history.” That idea as well as other insights from Bearing Witness will be the focus of Dupuis’ talk at the Central Branch of the GVPL Dec. 2 at 2:30 p.m.

Dupuis is philosophical about it all now that the book is out and the journalists have seen some recognition. The book is in libraries in provinces across Canada, and as a historian, that’s a win, he says. And while he doesn’t consider himself a journalist, despite his penchant for researching and writing about them, he does share with them one similarity.

“My goal was to get the story out,” he says.

kristyn.anthony

@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Victoria and Saanich voters elect to move ahead with amalgamation talks

Victoria and Saanich voters have chosen to move ahead with exploring amalgamation… Continue reading

Prank pizzas delivered to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps’ campaign celebration

The fake orders happened throughout Helps’ campaign

Victoria gets back on the bike for week-long commute competition

Second Bike to Work Week hits the pavement Oct. 22 to 28

VIDEO: Tent city moves to Woodwynn Farm, arrests made

The group is asking the government to provide housing for 60 tent city members

Saanich passenger caught smoking weed in a car issued $230 fine

Saanich police did a field sobriety test on the driver and deemed it safe for him to drive

Tommy Chong says cannabis legalization makes him proud to be a Canadian

Legendary marijuana advocate and comedian celebrates cultural milestone at Kelowna event

Crime Stoppers most wanted for Greater Victoria for Oct. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you support amalgamation for communities in the Capital Region?

Residents in Victoria and Saanich will be voting on Oct. 20 on… Continue reading

MLA to become Nanaimo’s next mayor, could weaken NDP’s grasp on power

Leonard Krog’s win will trigger a byelection when he gives up his provincial seat

Horvat nets OT winner as Canucks beat Bruins 2-1

Young Vancouver star had spirited scrap earlier in contest

Team Canada gold medal winners for first time in world curling championship

Team Canada earned gold in Kelowna at the 2018 Winn Rentals World Mixed Curling Championship

Payette invites critics to ‘come and spend a few days’ with her

Governor General Julie Payette made her first official to B.C. back in March

More pot stores expected in B.C. in coming ‘weeks and months’: attorney general

Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth visited the new BC Cannabis Store in the province’s Interior

Telus launches charitable foundation to help vulnerable youth

The Telus Friendly Future Foundation complements other social initiatives by the company, including Mobility for Good

Most Read