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The Halifax Relief Commission

On January 22, 1918, roughly six weeks after the explosion, the Dominion Government, finalized the structure of the Halifax Relief Commission. The mandate of the Commission was to assume the management of all aspects of the relief effort including the management of funding, and the work of the volunteer committees already hard at work. The Commission was required to report on the extent of the damage, to make recommendations for the further disbursement of funds from all sources, to determine how the restoration of property and the rehabilitation of survivors would proceed. The Commission consisted of T.Sherman Rogers (chair), William B.Wallace, Frederick L.Fowke, and Ralph Pickard Bell (secretary).

When we look at the photographs of the destruction and read the accounts of the survivors, it is easy to be overwhelmed even by the idea of attempting the restoration and the rehabilitation that would be required... "Where would you start?". The course of action for the Commission was clear: provide temporary relief where necessary, support the incapacitated, maintain dependents who lost parents or guardians, provide compensation for the injured, for loss of property, for loss of life, reconstruct the devastated area, and provide rehabilitation for those suffering from loss of health and property. At the municipal level the Commission assumed the responsibility to enter and clean up all damaged properties - appraise and estimate damage, demolish those not fit for repair, provide temporary housing for survivors, and act as public administration to expropriate, receive and expend contributions to the relief effort.

The Reconstruction

Temporary housing and restoration was the mandate of the Reconstruction Department. Immediate housing was required for approximately eight thousand homeless. The solution was tenement-style apartment houses to be used as temporary residences while original housing was repaired or restored and the devaststed area cleared. Tenement housing could be put up and taken down quickly. To begin the task the Restoration Department brought in building equipment, supplies, horses, with 2200 workers and housed them at the Exhibition Grounds. The local construction companies who were hired also brought in an additional 1500 men.

In a period of 30 days troops under the direction of Colonel Robert Lowe, of Ottawa, constructed accommodations for 1000 on the South Common. A working force of locals and imports, built 40 two-story buildings housing 320 apartments. They also erected 4 blocks of apartments containing 16 apartments each, and temporary stables.

The "Governor MacCall" apartments were completed by mid March offering an additional 2200 homeless shelter. These shelters of course were not meant to be permanent structures, their construction was simple - wood, tar paper outside, finished inside with beaverboard, with basic amenities - water, electricity, sewage and roads. Nonetheless adequate refuge from the bitter winter weather.

Furniture and household goods were supplied by the Massechewsetts-Halifax relief fund. Stoves and bathtubs were supplied by the Rehabilitation Department.

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