Civil unrest, violent crimes, natural disasters, and war zone: journalists dive headfirst into dangerous situations while doing their jobs, but people seldom hear their personal stories. Michael Dupuis, an author and retired Canadian history teacher, shares some of those stories in his upcoming book Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers and the 1917 Halifax Explosion.
Dupuis breaks down the experiences of the 24 journalists and reporters who documented the events and the people surrounding the largest human-caused explosion to happen before Hiroshima.
“The perspective is that of the reporters and correspondents who were sent to cover the aftermath,” says Dupuis. “It’s the perspective of a reporter who has to be objective, and balanced, and fair, but is also faced with this calamity.”
While researching the Titanic disaster for an earlier project, Dupuis stumbled across a pair of Canadian journalists who also covered the Halifax Explosion: Grattan O’Leary (Ottawa Journal) and Tommy Gorman (Ottawa Citizen). The discovery led Dupuis down a research rabbit hole.
But the research process was hard. Dupuis says he encountered two major challenges while working on the book: first was finding the original accounts in the newspapers and magazines. The second, more daunting challenge was identifying and profiling the journalists involved. To make it harder, many of the stories didn’t have bylines.
“One of the journalists came from the Ottawa Citizen,” says Dupuis. “He wasn’t permitted a byline, but I have all of his original dispatches, which I found on microfilm. From there, I was able to contact his descendants.”
Dupuis ended up speaking with the journalist’s grandson, who told him about a journal his grandfather had written about his career.
“The journal explained how this reporter arrived in Halifax, and what he encountered and saw,” says Dupuis. “So I was able to tie his name to his stories.”
The result is a book containing original accounts of the event, along with over 30 images, including maps and photographs prepared by Joel Zemel, author of Scapegoat— the extraordinary legal proceedings following the 1917 Halifax Explosion.
“This is a recognition of the achievements of the mostly men, some women, who had to write in the midst of a tragedy and the aftermath, which was also so bad,” says Dupuis. “It’s to honour their contributions, and that’s why it was important for me to identify who they were.”
Fernwood Publishing releases Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers and the 1917 Halifax Explosion in Spring 2017.