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JOHN DeMONT: I’m better off — statistically — than the average Nova Scotian from 1917

It helps that times have changed and large-scale calamity rarely visits us anymore. These thoughts and others occupy my mind as I prepare for vacation.

The year 1917 was a hard one for the people of Canada. But 100 years ago, it was harder still if you happened to live in the province of Nova Scotia.

Where to start? With the 65 coal miners who died and hundreds more injured a century ago this week when a blast tore through New Waterford’s No. 12 colliery? That, it is worth noting, is 23 fewer than those who perished in Pictou County’s Allan Mine just a year later.

With the Nova Scotians who fought at France’s blood-soaked Vimy Ridge? There, on a corpse-strewn field in April 1917, Canada was arguably said to have become a nation.

But the cost was immense in a battle in which 3,598 members of the Canadian corps were killed and 7,004 wounded. Many of them were members of the two Nova Scotia battalions — the 25th (Nova Scotia Rifles) and 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) — that saw action there.

The Nova Scotian carnage, we know, was even greater 100 years ago this Dec. 6, when the Imo and Mont Blanc collided in Halifax Harbour. The greatest man-made, pre-atomic-bomb explosion left approximately 2,000 dead in the smoking ruins and collapsed buildings and another 9,000 injured. (My daughter Belle DeMont and I have a children’s book on the tragedy, titled The Little Tree by the Sea, being published this fall by Douglas & McIntyre.)

Yes, it seemed death waited everywhere in those days, when the average Canadian male’s life expectancy was just under 59 years, and women lived, on average, two years longer.

According to the latest statistics, Nova Scotian men and women now live more than 20 years more than they did a century ago.

It helps that times have changed. Only a few Nova Scotians go down into a coal mine in this province, now that the Donkin mine is open and large-scale calamity rarely visits us anymore.

Still, you can’t let your guard down, if the recent news is any indication. As I start some vacation, I’ve filed away the fact that a rip tide swept a vacationer to his death at Port Hood Beach and almost did the same thing to a mom and her son across the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Prince Edward Island.

With the water finally warm enough to sample along the coast of Nova Scotia, it is chastening to learn that the Portuguese man-of-war has suddenly appeared in these parts. That is no cause for celebration: it’s a weird looking thing, akin to a gigantic Chinese dumpling. Its sting, which has been compared to “a hot knife going in,” can kill in certain circumstances.

I’m not expecting to immerse myself in the waters of the Minas Basin in the next little bit. But if I were, I’d be scanning the waters for the dorsal fin of Pumpkin, a 2.7-metre, 300-kilogram great white shark lately detected there.

On land, you’re advised to keep looking over your shoulder, too. Just the other day, across the Bay of Fundy, a drunken machete-wielding amputee in a clown mask was apprehended in Hollis, Maine.

On my Twitter feed today I noticed that a woman in Ohio, admittedly a long distance away, recently awoke with a boa constrictor snake coiled around her head, which had to be quite a start to the day.

Why, as I start some vacation — after 540 days off the job — am I going on about this gloomy stuff? Why, indeed.

Jim Abraham tells me that the weather is supposed to be fine in the days ahead. By all accounts, he knows his updrafts and warm fronts, so I’m going to take his word on it.

The statistics, after all, are on my side. I’ve made it this far. I’m hoping to see you when I get back — unless Pumpkin migrates a little to the south — wherever my words happen to appear.


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