Over 100 years since the Halifax Explosion, we are still learning about the people whose actions made an indelible difference to those who were affected by the tragedy.
One of those people is Dr. Clement Ligoure, a graduate of Queen’s University’s medical school and Halifax’s first Black doctor. In the aftermath of the explosion, he treated hundreds of patients, some with devastating injuries, and all for free.
Dr. Ligoure was born in Trinidad, emigrating to Canada by way of New York to study medicine at Queen’s. He graduated from there in 1916, just two years before the school enacted a ban on Black students that would endure until the mid-1960s. He then moved to Halifax, hoping to join the war effort, but was refused entry into the armed forces. He decided to stay in Halifax but was unable to obtain hospital privileges, so he set up a private clinic, the Amanda Hospital, in his home on North Street, not far from where the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge is today.
Reports filed in the Halifax Disaster Record Office recount that immediately after the explosion, Dr. Ligoure’s hospital filled with patients, some of whom had been turned away from the city hospital despite being severely injured. Under threat of a second explosion, he worked steadily throughout the day, assisted only by his housekeeper and a Pullman porter who boarded with him. That night, seven people slept on his floor.
As the disaster response continued, Dr. Ligoure worked around the clock for days to help people in his community, sometimes getting only one or two hours of sleep each night. Eventually, after he appealed for a dressing station to be set up in the area, two nurses and some military personnel were dispatched to help him; their work continued until Dec. 28. Records show that they assisted almost 200 people per day in the three weeks after the explosion.
In the years that followed, Dr. Ligoure continued to be heavily involved in community life in north-end Halifax, taking over the editing and publication of the Atlantic Advocate, the first Black newspaper in Nova Scotia. He also recruited widely for the No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canada’s first and only all-black battalion in the First World War. Dr. Ligoure died in 1922.
Dr. Ligoure’s heroism was brought to light in 2020 by playwright David Woods, who wrote a play called Extraordinary Acts about the experiences of Halifax’s Black community during the explosion.
In 2021, Doctors Nova Scotia awarded Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, with the inaugural Dr. Clement Ligoure Award in recognition of exemplary service during a medical crisis, for his role in leading Nova Scotians through the COVID-19 pandemic.
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