Given my line of work, it’s probably no surprise I’m a sap for tree stories (no pun intended). Last week I was in Nova Scotia for the biennial International Christmas Tree Research and Extension conference. The conference and associated tours provided an opportunity to learn about Christmas tree production in Nova Scotia, one of the leading Christmas tree producing regions of North America. During the conference I also learned about the annual tradition of Nova Scotia’s Tree for Boston.
Each year Nova Scotia, through its Department of Natural Resources, presents a 40’-50’ Christmas tree (balsam fir, white spruce or red spruce) to the city of Boston. The gesture is an annual reminder of Nova Scotia’s gratitude for Boston’s and Massachusetts’ immediate aid and generosity in response to the Great Halifax Explosion of 1917. For those of you, like me, that were not familiar with the story, the Great Halifax Explosion occurred in Halifax Harbor on the morning of December 6, 1917. The French Freighter Mont Blanc, packed with explosives bound for the Allies’ war efforts, collided with another ship and caught fire. The explosion that followed, reported to be the largest man-made explosion of the pre-nuclear era, leveled a large portion of Halifax and neighboring Dartmouth, killing nearly 2,000 people and injuring 9,000 more. Within hours of the massive explosion, the governor of Massachusetts sent two trainloads of relief supplies to the devastated city. As a token of their appreciation, the citizens of Halifax provided Boston with a Christmas tree for Christmas 1917.
The tradition of providing a Tree for Boston was revived 1971 and has become an annual event ever since. While the cynical may deride this as a crass and commercial promotion for tourism and Christmas tree exports, the gratitude and affection of Nova Scotians for Boston seems heartfelt nearly a century after the disaster. And, if nothing else, Nova Scotia’s Tree for Boston serves as a history lesson, at least for those of us in the U.S., on this over-looked chapter of World War I.