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There's A Heartwarming Reason Nova Scotia Gives Boston A Christmas Tree Every Year

As much as Canadians and Americans might enjoy looking at and drawing attention to the differences between the two nations, the fact is that they're alike in many, many ways. Much is made around the world of the fact that Canada and the United States share one of the longest borders yet, since the early 19th century, the two nations have been able to co-exist in peace.

Indeed, when one nation's back has been against the wall, the other has traditionally come through, like a good friend and neighbor should. That was famously on display following 9/11, when citizens of Gander, Newfoundland opened their homes to American travelers stranded by an unprecedented air traffic shutdown.

But back in 1917, tragedy struck Canada, and that's where the story of the Boston Common Christmas trees starts.

With WWI still more than a year from being resolved, supplies for the front lines were regularly sent overseas from North American ports. Among the supply ships headed to help the war effort was the French ship Mont-Blanc, which was weighed down with tons of munitions.

Making a stop at the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Mont-Blanc collided with another ship in the harbor on December 6, 1917. A fire broke out and, with few people realizing what was on board, a crowd of onlookers gathered to watch efforts to douse the flames.

The *Mont-Blanc* burned for about 20 minutes before it exploded.

When the munitions went up, they created a blast considered to be the largest ever caused by humans before the development of atomic bombs. Between the shockwaves of the explosion and the resulting tsunami, entire neighborhoods were flattened.

About 2,000 people died in the city of 50,000, and another 9,000 were wounded. About 25,000 people lost their homes in the explosion as well.

It's difficult to appreciate just how massive an explosion it was.

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It wasn't just wooden frame houses blown away in the blast, but large stone structures reduced to rubble as well. Some of the victims who weren't immediately killed were hurled into the sky and came down more than a kilometer away.

The blast flung the _Mont-Blanc's 1140-pound anchor more than two miles inland, and it remains there to this day. Windows were shattered in Truro, more than 100 km away, and sailors off the coast of Massachusetts claimed to have heard the explosion.

In the wake of the disaster, relief poured in, and in no small amount from the U.S.

Relief efforts in New England were organized in Boston and a train filled with supplies sent north almost immediately. Hampered by the blizzard, it arrived on December 8. But it didn't stop there; trains and ships kept coming in a nearly continuous fashion.

And it wasn't just material goods sent to Halifax for relief. The American Red Cross sent surgeons, nurses, and specialists to help treat the swath of eye injuries created by all the glass shattered in the explosion. Harvard University sent an entire hospital unit, while Maine sent 110 doctors, nurses, and other volunteers.

And the help from the U.S. didn't even stop when it was time for all the doctors and nurses to return home.

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Moved by what they had experienced, many of those returning to the U.S. banded together to form an organization called the Halifax-Massachusetts Relief Associates.

They continued sending aid and helping survivors in concert with the governments of Halifax and the province of Nova Scotia for five more years.

So in December 1918, the people of Halifax tried to say thank you as best they could, sending Boston a Christmas tree in gratitude.

It might not seem like much, but the tree went up in Boston Common that year, and lest anyone think that a bond hadn't been forged between the two communities, the tradition was revived in 1971.

Despite 53 years passing in between, Halifax never forgot the generosity of America, and how they had leaped to help before they'd even been asked.

Halifax has been sending a Christmas tree to Boston every year since.

More than a century after the explosion devastated Halifax, the city has recovered, but its citizens are as committed as ever to expressing their gratitude with this annual tradition.

Indeed, citizens of Nova Scotia can apply to the government to have a tree considered for the honor of being sent to Boston. Many other, smaller trees are donated to the Boston community as well, to be displayed at local charitable organizations.

The tree gracing Boston Common in 2020 is a 45-foot white spruce tree.

It comes from the property of Heather and Tony Sampson of Dundee, Nova Scotia. The tree will be lit in a grand ceremony on December 3 that will be broadcast and livestreamed.

h/t: City of Boston,

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