Historical Moments: A Halifax Explosion survivor shares his story with Holiday Retirement
It’s been 100 years since the Halifax Explosion ripped through the Richmond District of Nova Scotia, claiming 2,000 lives, injuring 9,000 others and reducing buildings to rubble. It’s also been 100 years since Jim Claez, a resident at Holiday Retirement’s Desoto Beach Club, was born, and promptly survived that tragic event. Jim was only 3 months old when the explosion happened Dec. 6, 1917, but he spent a lifetime hearing his parents tell stories of the day.
The Halifax Explosion was the result of a French munitions ship, the Mont Blanc, colliding with a Norwegian vessel, the Imo, in the harbor. The explosion didn’t occur until 20 minutes after the collision, but when it did, it was fueled by a cargo hold packed with high explosives. The resulting boom was the most devastating man made explosion in the pre-atomic age — and the entire Claez family was in the thick of the blast.
Jim’s mother would later tell him that she heard the explosion and took it to be a submarine attack. She grabbed her young sons and took them to shelter in the basement of the family’s home. Meanwhile, Jim’s father was at work — on a submarine in the harbor.
Later, Jim’s father would tell him, that his first sight of the family home came as a surprise. “And when he gets up to our place, he doesn’t see any house,” Jim recalled, “Just the basement. It had all been blown away by the explosion.”
The Claez family was lucky, they all survived. Eventually, the family left Nova Scotia for the United States. Jim grew up, got married and built a life of his own. He lost his wife to cancer, but managed to beat the disease himself. And in the years since he’s pursued hobbies ranging from golf to collecting small ships. He’s even devoted time in recent years to drafting a book about birds. But when the 90th anniversary of the explosion came around, he found time to make a trip back to Nova Scotia.
At the time of the 90th anniversary ceremony in 2007, Jim was one of 60 living survivors. He recalls the whole group of survivors standing together and being applauded by a crowd, an act he says brought tears to his eyes — a rare occurrence.
Just weeks after the 100th anniversary, Jim, who has survived so much, is one of just five living survivors of the Halifax Explosion.