The Halifax Explosion continues to inspire artists, writers, and musicians alike. In late July, lyricist Alan Millen, a Canadian living in Switzerland and Tim Readman, a Vancouver singer songwriter, released “Song for Kate and Anthony,” about a nurse and a gravedigger who find love after the Explosion.
Millen says he’s always been a bit of a romantic, a trait that’s also inspired him to become a collector of black-and-white wedding photos he finds at yard sales and flea markets.
“I started collecting these pictures about 10 years ago,” he says. “I don’t have hundreds of them, I have dozens, let’s put it that way. The first time I started seeing them, I thought, ‘This is kind of sad, this is someone’s wedding picture. It shouldn’t be in the flea market, it should be in an album somewhere.’ So I always felt like I was kind of retrieving them to give them a home of sorts with other vintage photographs.”
One of those photos found its way into the YouTube video for “Song for Kate and Anthony,” which is mostly comprised of archival photos that have made their way into the public domain. But when it was time to give real-life faces to Kate and Anthony, he wanted to choose just the right one.
“I went through them all, and I was looking for a couple that would be about the right age, they just had to be sort of ordinary looking, not particularly beautiful or handsome,”
he says. “I found this one picture that I used, and I have no idea who those people are, all
I know is that there’s a reference on the photograph to a place called Galesburg, Illinois. So that picture is of someone’s grandparents, but I have no idea who they are. The couple represented closely enough my idea of what Kate and Anthony might have looked like.”
As Millen researched the Explosion, he was most struck by the number of people killed or injured (about 11,000 in total, from a Halifax population of about 50,000).
“I didn’t want to dwell on the horror, but I had to acknowledge it, and the song, the piece of music, is quite somber,” says Millen. “But I think in musical terms, my partner got it exactly right. It’s a somber story, but it’s also a love story, and a family story.”
100 YEARS LATER
December 6 marks the centenary of the Halifax Explosion, which the city will commemorate with a special ceremony at Fort Needham. For more on how the disaster continues to shape Halifax, see the December issue of Halifax Magazine.