Twelve markers are now being put in places around the HRM to commemorate the Halifax Explosion. HRM chose architect Rayleen Hill and her team at Rayleen Hill Architecture + Design Inc. to design the markers.
“Oftentimes, you don’t think of the Halifax Explosion and the incredible impact it had on our city,” says Hill, who’s been an architect since 2010 and whose firm is in downtown Dartmouth.
The markers are at 10 locations: Fort Needham Memorial Park, former Richmond School, Devonshire Avenue, the Dartmouth ferry terminal park, Dartmouth Common, the Armoury, Citadel Hill and the former Halifax School for the Blind and DeWolf Park in Bedford. One marker will be placed at a graveyard near Bayers Road that’s the final resting place for unidentified victims of the Halifax Explosion, a location Hill says many don’t connect with the explosion.
“This is why this marker program is so great,” Hill says. “You don’t know all the stories.”
The design for the markers came together quickly; in about a week and a half, Hill says. Her first inspiration for the design was based on trees and how many would have been destroyed in the explosion. Hill says the team considered several factors when they designed the markers. The markers had to have somewhat of a neutral design that would fit in at any location because the locations weren’t determined early on. The design also had to be distinctive enough to attract attention, but also simple enough to create and meet budget.
One of the three Halifax Explosion markers at Fort Needham Memorial Park. (SUZANNE RENT)
The result is markers with two components: a Corten steel piece on which a story or quote about the explosion was inscribed and a stainless steel piece polished to an almost mirror finish. The stainless steel piece is pixelated so the sun cuts through the marker at various angles.
Unlike many monuments that are displayed on a tall pedestal, these markers are ground level, on a short cement foundation, so people can directly interact with them. Hill says people can see their own reflections in the stainless steel portion of the design while reading a story on the Corten part. She says it’s a way to incorporate the present and future with the stories of the past.
AldrichPears Associates did the inscriptions. Hill says one of the challenges was deciding how much of a story to include on each marker. But there is enough of a story on each piece that should encourage more research, including on an app on the explosion called Drifts.
“The writing is limited, but it’s just enough,” Hill says. “It will encourage people to learn more.”
Hill says the markers will appear different, depending on location and the season and time of day and the ways in which the sun reflects from the stainless steel. She says those factors will shape how visitors interact with the markers across the city.
“You notice them, but they also sit there quietly,” Hill says. “You can go by them as if it were a tree.”