Symbolizing more than a holiday: The story behind why Nova Scotia gives Boston its city tree every year

General atmosphere at the Annual Boston Christmas Tree Lighting at Boston Common Park on December 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Christmas tree is donated by Nova Scotia each year after Boston was the first to send aid following the 1917 explosion of a munitions ship in Halifax Harbor which killed more than 2,000 and injured more than 9,000. Photo by Paul Marotta (Getty Images)

On Thursday, the province of Nova Scotia kept up a yearly tradition by sending the city of Boston its official Christmas tree.

Nova Scotia has done this every year since 1971 -- but why?

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It all has to do with appreciation, for what people in Boston did for Nova Scotia 106 years ago.

Here’s that story.

An explosion rocks a community

On the morning of Dec. 6, 1917, a French cargo ship filled with high explosives and acid collided with a Norwegian ship in Halifax Harbour, located near Nova Scotia’s capital city of Halifax.

The explosives on the French ship detonated, causing a blast that destroyed property within a radius of 1 1/2 miles. Homes, stores and a sugar refinery were all annihilated in the explosion, killing about 2,000 and injuring 9,000 others.

Rallying to help

After hearing about the explosion the next day in the newspaper, Boston Mayor James Michael Curley and Massachusetts Gov. Samuel McCall immediately took action.

The two organized a committee to help raise funds and provide aid, with $100,000 being raised after people saw ads for relief in The Boston Globe, according to

Roughly 12 hours after the explosion, a train for Halifax left Boston carrying medical personnel, beds and other supplies to help treat the physically injured survivors and the demoralized Halifax community.

Traveling through a heavy snow storm, the train arrived Dec. 8. A second train then arrived Dec. 9, and the people of Halifax received some much-needed help.

In all, Massachusetts helped raise more than $750,000 in relief aid for the Halifax community -- one that was incredibly grateful.

A tree that symbolizes more than just Christmas

In 1918, Nova Scotia sent Boston a Christmas tree as a way to say “thank you.”

In 1971, it became an annual tradition.

“Nova Scotia will never forget the support, kindness and quick response the people of Boston provided after the explosion,” states a message on a Nova Scotia government website page titled, “Tree for Boston.

The 45-foot spruce tree was officially lit on Thursday.

The process of selecting a tree from a forest in open land, cutting it down and transporting it to Boston cost Nova Scotia taxpayers almost $200,000 U.S. dollars in 2015, according to CBC.

But ultimately, it’s a small bill to foot each year to repay the kindness bestowed upon them more than a century ago.

This story was first published in 2020. It has since been updated.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.