Collision LogoI was there...
• Don Crowdis Recounts Family Experiences.
Exerpts From an interview with Janet Kitz.

Regarding the Explosion
K: Were you badly hurt, cut?
C: No, no, a little tiny bit.
K: Where were you?
C: Well, it’s interesting. Take a look at our house, and you realize that you are looking towards the harbor in both views. You are looking toward the harbor, do you notice this house, down this way.
K: And the house was looking towards the harbor.
C: That’s right.
K: And it must have been the suction of the blast…
C: So now when you realize the house was blown, toward the explosion, you think of a house of cards, you know you build a little house of cards, and unless it gets shattered, then the cards fall, one way or another, and so the house fell toward the explosion, and the end walls had to go somewhere didn’t they? So the south-end wall, apparently, drifted off to the vacant lot next door, and we were, it was after 9 o’clock. And my aunt Mary… was dressing my sister, we were late for some reason; I don’t know why it was...
C: …I was not-four, and she was not-six, so apparently what must have happened was that the end wall then, as the cards went towards the explosion that end card went toward the south, fell away from the house. Apparently we rode down on it. I guess so.
K: Really?
C: Neither of us was hurt. And then downstairs of course, my mother and my aunt were...
K: I suppose it was the glass that injured them so badly.
C: Yeah, almost, I think almost altogether and a... my aunt...
K: Were they watching by any chance?
C: I don’t think so, Dad had gone up on fort Needham to watch and I don’t know, I don’t know what Mum and Marj were doing, I think they were just going about their affairs. I don’t imagine they realized, who did, realize that there was that there was a boat on fire…
K: Well, the fire was spectacular.
C: Yeah, the fire was spectacular, yeah. They might have no even known that. I mean they…
K: Couldn’t see well from your house?
C: I can’t even tell you that. I don’t know what was on the other side of our house. See later on it was Richmond School. But Richmond School had been up in different location entirely. Those roads were laid out brand new, the devastation and such. Dad was up on Fort Needham and apparently the simply rained around him, just a shower of junk.
K: He wasn’t hurt at all?
C: Wasn’t hurt at all, wasn’t touched and the amount of materials that came down, when I was growing up I had occasion to know about, because we had a big garden and I was the digger and every spring we would put out this, what would now be precious of material, we brought out this pile of twisted iron from the plates of the Mont Blanc... heaps of it.
K: Yes, Eric Davidson talked about that…
C: You know, every spring you would find some more digging up the Rhubarb.
K: And you just threw it out I presume?
C: Absolutely, it was junk. But there was enough of it to let you know how much of it there was, really.
K: A whole ship.
C: A whole ship shattered.
K: A lot of, a lot of metal in that.

Regarding School and Community
K: When you were at school, surely, the children in your class even must have been badly affected by the explosion. Like orphans, children with scars and…
C: Oh sure, but you took it for granted. You see in my growing up the world divided into before the explosion and after the explosion, it wasn’t that it did, that was the way we spoke. “Oh that musta been a couple’a years before the explosion”. And so similarly the crippled or the blind or whatever, they were all just a part of it; and the foundations were a part of things, and the “day goes” were part of things, and the construction workers, and they immediately got categorized and they were the guys who did the digging… and it was just the way we grew up. It was only later on did you realize that it was not normal…
K: What about, you were at Richmond school?
C: Not before the explosion.
K: I know, after. The Protestant Orphanage children went to Richmond didn’t they?
C: Yes.
K: Did you just take orphanages as for granted that it was quite normal to live?
C: Absolutely, of course.
K: Those children didn’t seem underprivileged or… did you have friends from there for example?
C: Of course.
K: You just thought it was a normal home for them to have?
C: Well, we knew they were orphans, and foster homes I don’t think I ever heard of in those days.
K:There were foster homes.
C: But I don’t think I was conscious of them. I don’t that that we would be as kids, but, no the orphanage kids, sure, I don’t think they were looked down on or….
K: What do think they weren’t down on as, you weren’t sorry for them…
C: Not very much, no.
K: You thought they were perfectly…
C: I thought they had their own kind of a life and I never thought they were badly treated or anything.
K: No, no, I never thought for one minute that they were. But I was surprised as I was going through some of these records recently. The ease with which a single parent would consign their remaining children to an orphanage.
C: Oh, wouldn’t know anything about that. We always thought that orphans were genuine orphans and that was that.
K: A lot of them had one parent alive.
C: Didn’t know it.
K: And this is why I wondered if an orphanage was considered, a not too bad a place to live.
C: Well, they were little regimented and they didn’t have a great variety in clothes and so on. But some of them were smart kids and good kids and so on. There were friends of kids on the outside and so on.
K: You would take them home?
C: Sure! I remember I had a terrific crush on one of the older girls there. I think, you know, when you ask questions like this, when you’re a little kid growing up, how do you know the world is any different than your world and once more you know your getting into the whole business of.. Well I think I told you that one states the gain in my memory because we had that gymnasium built into the church that we quite often had the championship basketball team, there were leagues around. And as I remember one year our best team was made up of two Catholics, one Black, one Jew, and one of our boys. Yeah, and that was our team.
K: In your church.
C: That was our team, that’s right.

C:Father Curran and Reverend C.J. Crowdis, really put the North End back together and kinda held it together through the depression years, the early depression years. And so there were no hard feelings of that kind, we all were survivors. And you know, Thanksgiving dinners at the Church and Catholic women would bring turkeys and that sort of thing. And, Dad and Curran would get together you know, some common things.

K:Well I know about, that Rockhead Prison was actually emptied out more or less and survivors stayed there for two or three weeks.
C: Oh sure, oh yeah.
K: And the Upham‘s were there.
C: Yeah, very civilized, that’s right.
K: And it was because of Mr. Grant, who was a Presbyterian.
C: Sure he was one of Dad’s, you know that was part of the Church. And down over that was the hospital and that’s were Dad took my mother and me in a wheelbarrow, with my sister Jean running alongside. Oh mum was very badly cut up and that’s where we went, and we were out in the snowstorm when it hit.

C: Just to wander a little bit, oh, I was talking about the congregation, and how we got along. Up in the north of the hospital, of course down over the slopes. Was Africville, no one owned anything but they had been squatting there for generations and they had a culture of their own, and unless you knew them before the middle thirties, before the middle thirties. It would be very hard to get the flavor of what that area was like. There was no, as far as I remember, there was never any Black and White hostility. There wasn’t resentment.
K: That’s what everybody says.
C: Those was their homes, they belonged there.
K: People visited, you could go along there you were welcomed and...
C: Yes, that’s right. The first boat I ever had any share in I owned with a fellow from Barbados, Clarence Farrell was his name, he used to do some work for Dad. And we were the best of friends, and later on he went to the hospital…

Yeah, and I learned to swim I think up there, as much as anywhere. And Dad looked after them whenever they would be without a minister or whenever the minister…
K:Oh did he? He would service the church there?
C: Oh yeah, when they needed something, you know if the minister was not there, or if they were between ministers, or if the minister needed any kind of help or whatnot, Dad was there again. I’m talking about Dad really, and so he was you know a colleague of the Curran and as far as the Blacks, we didn’t call them blacks, I don’t know what we called them, colored I guess or I don’t know if we called them anything.
K: We would taught “Negro” when I was young, I don’t think you used that much here…
C: I don’t think so, I guess they were “Colored”. Anyway as far as that was concerned we were all buddies, really, I’m serious you know we were friends. If you were friends, you were friends, but you didn’t make friends with them all anymore than you made friends with every Scott…

Regarding His Father
C:Ok then, Rabi [Schlosberg], do you know the name.
K: I have found it yes.
C:Ok, ...And this is kind of a weird sort of a story. Dad was a farm boy, never got it out of his system. He always... he kept raccoons or he kept pigeons you know he was an animal character. And there are people up in the north end today who are now in their 50’s or 60’s who remember Dad when he was retired and the kids would be going pass the place on their way to school and how he would look after them, take them in and show them stuff and so on. But anyway after the explosion he figured he would raise a few hens, you know within the city then I didn’t matter, and so he got a dynamite shed, little dynamite shed about the size of this room here. And did very well and had eggs to spare and so on so we started selling them. I was kind of the... not slave but I hauled the water you know, did that kind of stuff. But he was the... he was a biologist, in a way. He could go out to Sackville to a farm and you know pick up hens and feeling them around he could just toss them right and left and the ones that he took way for a buck a piece they were laying no fooling about, he knew, so all our hens laid and the ones that didn’t, you know, ended up in the pot. Well he did very well with that and so he had a carpenter extend that and make it double then it was extended again and made into a long one, then it was extended the other way and made a broad one. Then he got a garage hauled from someplace or other and that became another hen house, and then he had that propped up and built underneath and made a two storey hen house. He was apparently the first hen keeper in the province to have two sets of electric lights, you know the brights and the dims so fooled the chicken and he had something like 600 hens there.
K: Did he?
C: Yeah, at the height of the thing.
K: What date would this be?
C: The twenties.
K: Food was scarce anyway.
C: Oh yeah, it was a very sensible thing. Ok, well Rabi Schlosberg was his friend and the Jewish people we amongst his very, very best customers.
K : Yes, of course because they didn’t have chickens.
C: And, and the chicken the chicken fat for the cooking, all the bits and pieces for the soup. Now we come to the interesting part of the thing, that’s right, so there was a corner, not a corner but about half of the furnace room, it was a big Manse. And half of the furnace room in the United Church Manse – was a kosher slaughterhouse. These two characters had been down there killing hens and talking philosophy…
… So any who you know, this is all talking about Dad and talking about the way they got on after the explosion….

Next >> • Evelyn Lawrence - Recollections