On December 6, 1917, the City of Halifax was the site of the most powerful pre-nuclear explosion in history. An ammunition ship in the harbor, the Mont-Blanc, collided with another vessel and caught fire; twenty minutes later, all the munitions aboard detonated with an estimated force of 2.9 kilotons. Some 2,000 Haligonians were killed, another 9,000 injured.
And the city, as you can see, was devastated.
Halifax was, and is, one of the great cities of the North Atlantic. Like my own town of St. John’s, it is home to fine people with proud traditions, great character, and an understanding of the law of the sea.
When someone is in peril, no one can stand by. This is fundamental.
In the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, no one did stand by –– least of all, the people of Massachusetts. Like the Nova Scotians and the Newfoundlanders, many of the citizens of that great American state made their living on the Grand Banks, and the bonds of the sea were, in some true senses, closer than the ties of nationhood.
Within hours of the explosion, responders from Massachusetts were boarding trains to go north, and warehouses of supplies were being dedicated to relief efforts. In the weeks after, throughout the state, ordinary men and women gave of their strength and treasure to help their kin from another country, who were in such a grave time of need.
These were, and are, the people of Boston. This is the character of the place which yesterday hosted the world for the 117th edition of its marathon.
These are the people who, along with their thousands of guests from around the world, were attacked.
Some have perished. Many have been wounded. Countless more will remember yesterday for the rest of their lives.
But they are not, I believe, defeated. They are not, I believe, alone. They are good people, and other good people around the world mourn with them, and rally for them. Boston is strong. The friends of Boston are many, and powerful. And all those friends are here.
Woe be upon the terrorists.
After the Halifax Explosion in 1917, Boston was first to send help. It was a debt that should never have had to be repaid. But it will be.