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Mi'kmaw playwright recounts family's Halifax Explosion story from 'nearly forgotten' Turtle Grove

Mi'kmaw playwright recounts family's Halifax Explosion story from 'nearly forgotten' Turtle Grove
From CBC - December 6, 2017

AMi'kmawplaywright is 'picking up the pieces' of her family's history 100 years after their traditionalMi'kmaqcommunity faced the full forceof the Halifax Explosion.

OnDec. 6, 1917,the Norwegiansteamship Imowas cruising through Halifax Harbour,carrying Belgian relief supplies, when itrammed intothe French munitions boatMont-Blanc, which was carrying TNT and fuel destined for war efforts. The collision started a fire, and the resulting explosion killed nearly 2,000 people in the blink of an eye.

Along the shore, less than two kilometres from the explosion's epicentre, sat the smallMi'kmaqvillage ofTurtle Grove, or Kepe'kek, in the area known today as Tuft's Cove in Dartmouth.

A tragic story

In her play,Picking Up the Pieces,Mi'kmaw Catherine Martin relives thestory of hergreat-aunt Rachel Cope, who lived with her husband John and their manychildren in Turtle Grove.

The play listens in onCope as she explains to her granddaughter Douzaythe devastation their family faced after the explosion.Martin plays both the roles of her great-aunt and the spirit of her great-great-grandmother.

"Needless to say, it isan emotional experience," Martin said, adding that she did not intend on playing the role herself.

The play is part of an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia called Kepe'kek from the Narrows of the Great Harbour.The photo-based exhibit, running until January 2018,showcasesthe work of Indigenous artists focused on the Indigenouscommunity. Martin was asked by organizers to perform as well, which Martin agreesadds to its depth.

"It's a tragic story, and it's an important story for me to understand," she said.

"That some of them survived is a miracle. TheMi'kmaqtradition is one of oral history. Because many died that day and since, theirstory was nearly lost."

Borninto chaos

Martin saidthe play is based on an interview her great-aunt and -uncleRachel and JohnCopegave to a family memberin 1946. A friend of hers, writing a book on the community, had come across a transcript and gave her a copy to be checked byher family.

In the record, the deaths of 29Mi'kmaqfrom Turtle Grove and surrounding villages are listed. At least five of them were family members, Martin said, including her great-unclesGeorge Francis "Nanan" Copeand ThomasHenryCope,ages three and 12, respectively.

Other entrieson thelist of the dead read:

The interview record is just one of"the pieces" Martin's picked upon her journey to understand the lives of her ancestors. As she scanned the list of the dead, Martin said she started to realize what her great-aunt Rachel had gone through.

"She was on Nevin's hill, near the school house with her brother Henry and her cousin Louis," she said.

Feeling the horror

Honouring the dead

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