GRAND ANSE: After a challenging year for everyone, two Richmond County residents are proud their Christmas gift will bring happiness to many people.
The Tree for Boston is the annual gift Nova Scotia sends to Boston to thank the city for sending medical personnel and supplies to Nova Scotia within hours of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. The explosion devastated north-end Halifax, killed nearly 2,000 people and left thousands more injured and homeless.
Heather and Tony Sampson from Grand Anse are this year’s tree donors and soon their 45-foot white spruce will be on Boston Common.
Tony said after he identified a tree that had the height and look, he went on the Department of Lands and Forestry (DLAF) Web site, then sent an e-mail and pictures to the selection committee, which then visited the property – which is on Balmoral Road, just off the Black River Road.
“We had a spectacular one,” he said of the tree.
The property was left to Tony by his stepfather, and the family’s connection to Boston comes via his stepfather’s mother.
“His mother, she was adopted from Boston when she was two-years-old. She came to a family there in Grand Anse, and she married my father’s father, of course, and they took up farming there on a lot. It was an active farm up until the ‘50s or ‘60s,” Tony recalled. “Now it’s just a grown-in old farm down there.”
Noting that it was only 43-years-old, Tony said he used to live next to the soon-to-be Christmas tree.
“We used to live beside the tree, we had a house there at one time,” he recounted. “I watched it grow since it started.”
Not just a family link to Boston, Tony has a personal connection to the Halifax Explosion after briefly working in a machine shop at the Halifax Shipyards in the 1980s, in one of the buildings re-built after the explosion. Only two columns of the original building were left standing after the explosion.
“When the explosion happened, there was a big machine shop there, and a fabrication shop,” he recounted. “When the ships caught on fire, most of the people come out of the shops and they were standing on the wharf looking at the ships when it blew. You can imagine what happened to them. Plus the shops were destroyed, flattened out, and these were big buildings.”
At that same time, Tony also lived below Fort Needham and there were times he would look towards the harbour and imagine the destruction.
“I used to go up on to Fort Needham all the time, and walk around up there,” he said. “There’s parts, I believe, of the ship up there still.”
The province is dedicating this year’s tree to health care workers to honour both Boston’s response after the Halifax Explosion and those on the frontlines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heather, who works at Richmond Villa in St. Peter’s, said after a tough year, they want to put smiles on people’s faces.
“Everything surrounding the tree is different this year,” she told The Reporter. “It’s been a very, very hard year but everbody’s hard work at that nursing home has really paid off. There’s not been one sick resident in that home and we’re very, very proud of that. It’s all been through hard work on everybody’s part.”
“It’s been a hard year on everybody. Personally, Heather and I we’ve been kind of locked down since last March. We don’t have people over too much. And we’ve been doing our best,” Tony stated. “We have to do our best on this end, and we are.”
Before departing for Halifax, then eventually to Boston, the tree visited East Richmond Education Centre in St. Peter’s and Felix Marchand Education Centre in Louisdale.
The tree stops at nearby elementary schools each year for educational purposes,” said DLAF spokesperson Steven Stewart. “We also distributed some tree seedlings to the students. We held the visits outside this year due to COVID protocols.”
There will be no public events this year, but as is the case every year, the tree-lighting will be broadcast on ABC affiliate WCVB Channel 5 Boston on December 3. Also Nova Scotians can join on-line celebrations by following @TreeforBoston on social media.
“I can’t wait to see it all lit up,” Heather added. “It’s been a hard year on everybody. Christmas should be special this year, it just should.”