Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower time capsule

Colour photo of the Explosion Memorial Bell Tower

Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower, 1985. Courtesy of Maurice Crosby. HMA CR58-31.2

On December 6, 1985, Halifax Explosion survivor Millicent Upham Swindells and her granddaughter, Anne Louise Ihasz, placed a time capsule in the recently completed Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower. The contents had been selected by the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bells Committee.  

Here they pose with Committee member Alec McCleave just before placing the time capsule in the Memorial Bell Tower. This photograph was donated in 2017 at the opening of the time capsule.

Colour photo of Explosion survivor, Millicent Upham Swindells and her grand-daughter Anne Louise Ihasz pose with Committee member Alec McLeave just before they place the time capsule, in front of the Memorial Bell Tower.

Millicent Upham Swindells, Anne Louise Ihasz, Alec McCleave place the capsule, 1985. HMA CR6-079.5

For the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion in 2017, Anne Louise Desrosiers (née Ihasz) returned to assist with the opening of the time capsule. 

She is pictured here with Committee members Alec McCleave and Lt. Col. Bernard Allard and his wife, Sheila, and with the freshly-opened time capsule. 

Colour photo of people gathered around the newly opened time capsule

Opening the time capsule, Aug. 16, 2017. Courtesy of HRM Culture and Events

This webpage presents a selection of the contents of the time capsule. A full description of each item can be found in the Archives Database.

The history of the Memorial Bell Tower is best told in the words of historian and Memorial Bells Committee member, Janet Kitz. She, who prepared a brief history of the Halifax Explosion and the development of the Memorial Bell Tower to include in their 1985 time capsule. 

Time capsule contents from 1917

Richmond School photographs

These photographs show Richmond School and its students prior to the Halifax Explosion in 1917. Jean Hunter, who loaned the original photos, is pictured amongst the class in the third image (CR58-1.3). Richmond School was obliterated by the blast, and many of its students killed.

Post Explosion photographs

These photographs depict the devastation caused by the blast. Originals were lent to the Memorial Bells Committee by Miss Nellie Adams, whose father was a professional photographer in 1917, and by Mr. Charles Vaughan.

Booklet linked to origins of Memorial Bells

Written by Rev. C.J. Crowdis as a testament to the shared history of Grove Presbyterian Church and Kaye Street Methodist Church, this souvenir booklet also helped raise funds for a new Kaye-Grove church, which later became United Memorial Church on Kaye St. Read the entire booklet.

Front cover of booklet

Memorial booklet cover. HMA CR58-5

The bells that now ring out from the Explosion Memorial Bell Tower were initially a memorial gift to United Memorial Church (see Kitz' history). Church leaders were instrumental in creating the enduring legacy that the Memorial Bell Tower has become.

Time Capsule Coins

Coins, whether common currency or minted special editions, are often found in time capsules.

In 1985, the Memorial Bells Committee included a 1917 penny in the capsule. The list of contents also mentions a 1985 coin, however one was not found in the container. For the 75th anniversary in 1992, Mayor Moira Ducharme gave an Explosion commemorative coin to survivors and dignitaries.

Colour photo of 1917 penny

Canadian one-cent coin. HMA CR58-4

1917 grocery bill found in mortuary bag

A copy of a 1917 grocery bill that was found in a mortuary bag was also included in the time capsule. It is made out to Mrs. Julia Carroll, who died in the Explosion along with her 6-year-old daughter Lily. The bill is from Constant Upham's general store on Campbell Road (later Barrington St). Constant Upham was one of the first to call the Halifax Fire Department after observing the fire on the Mont Blanc from his store windows. Upham and his daughter were killed in the subsequent explosion. The Uphams were close relatives of Millicent Swindell, who placed the 1985 time capsule in the Memorial Bell Tower.

The Memorial Bells Committee added a Sobey’s receipt from Dec. 3, 1985, to their capsule; the 100th Anniversary Committee will similarly add a grocery receipt from Dec. 6, 2017, to the new time capsule.

Time Capsule contents from 1985

Halifax Explosion Memorial Bells Committee

Black and white group portrait of committee in board room

Halifax Explosion Memorial Bells Committee, 1985. HMA CR58-32.9

These are the dedicated citizens who banded together to build a lasting monument to the victims of the Halifax Explosion and the survivors who rebuilt Halifax and Dartmouth.

Seated left to right: L.Cdr. Bernard Allard; Roy Wilson; Alec McCleave; Terry Sullivan; Honorary Chair Judge Robert E. Inglis; Dr. Ian MacGregor

Standing left to right: Dick MacLean; Honorary Chair Edmund Morris; Chair Reg Prest; Jean Harrington; Janet Kitz; Harold Shea; Lorne White; Ed Rubin; William B. Orr; J. Rod McLeod.

Missing: Frank Harrington, Charles Vaughan, F.R. Nickerson, Bruce Nickerson

(As identified by former Committee members Bernie Allard and Alec McLeave)


Letterhead for Memorial Bell Fund

Letterhead for Memorial Bell Fund

Huge fundraising effort to build the Memorial Bell Tower

The Memorial Bell Tower construction cost $333,000 in 1985. Funds came from all levels of government, and the Memorial Bells Committee generated many donations and interest from the community. Hundreds of individuals and organizations donated to the construction of the Memorial Bell Tower. Large donations are acknowledged on the plaque at the Tower.

Memorial Bell Fund Donations ~ Explosion Testimonies

Along with a cheque, many grateful survivors sent in touching stories of their memories of the Explosion. Read the file of these letters, along with a list of donors, that were included in the time capsule.

Memorial Bells: A Gala

Memorial Gala Poster

Memorial Bells gala poster, 1984. HMA CR58-30.1

The Memorial Bells Committee organized a fundraising gala event, a tribute to the victims and survivors of the Halifax Explosion. The event was held Sept. 29, 1984, at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.

Hosted by renowned Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, the evening also included musical performances, and an appearance by special guest Hugh MacLennan reading from his novel Barometer Rising.


Newspapers and news-clippings collected for the Explosion time capsule

Newsclipping "Halifax Explosion Memorial project nears fruition".

The Mail Star, Nov. 26, 1983, p. 1 (cropped from original). HMA CR58-34.

Many related newspaper clippings were included in the time capsule (CR58-34). Some examples include an insert from the Chronicle Herald/Mail Star entitled Welcome to Gottingen and Neighbours, and a collection of clippings related to the Memorial Bells and time capsule projects.


1984 television documentary

Janet Kitz hosted a documentary on the history of the Memorial Bells Tower, which aired on Channel 10 in June and September 1984. The documentary includes images of the Explosion and interviews with survivors of the Explosion, Barbara Orr, Frank [Burford], Archie Upham, Noble Driscoll, and Eric Davidson. She also interviewed Robert E. Inglis and Reg Prest, Chairmen of the Bells Committee.

Broadcast by Halifax Cablevision Production. Produced by Jacqueline Kirk; research by Janet Kitz; song written and performed by Danny MacIntyre. 34 minutes.

Digitized copy of documentary presented here courtesy of Eastlink TV.

The Memorial Bells...the Halifax Explosion Remembered

A new time capsule for 2017

In 2017, the Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Special Advisory Committee began planning their Legacy Project, a new time capsule to be placed back in the Memorial Bell Tower, with contents based on the Committee’s guiding principles. The new time capsule will be opened in 2067, to mark the 150th anniversary of the explosion.

Other Halifax Explosion sources

See the Municipal Archives Halifax Explosion source guide for other Memorial Bells Committee records and Explosion-related material.