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The area now known as Tuft’s Cove in Dartmouth, N.S., was once the site of numerous Mi’kmaq villages. Catherine Martin says her research shows that up to 27 families lived along the shore. (Nova Scotia Archives) Nic Meloney is a Wolastoqew video journalist raised on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia/Mi’kma’ki. Email him at or follow him on Twitter @nicmeloney.

A Mi’kmaw playwright is ‘picking up the pieces’ of her family’s history 100 years after their traditional Mi’kmaq community faced the full force of the Halifax Explosion.

On Dec. 6, 1917, the Norwegian steamship Imo was cruising through Halifax Harbour, carrying Belgian relief supplies, when it rammed into the French munitions boat Mont-Blanc, which was carrying TNT and fuel destined for war efforts. The collision started a fire, and the resulting explosion killed nearly 2,000 people in the blink of an eye.

Along the shore, less than two kilometres from the explosion’s epicentre, sat the small Mi’kmaq village of Turtle Grove, or Kepe’kek, in the area known today as Tuft’s Cove in Dartmouth. Playwright Catherine Martin is performing Picking up the Pieces at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. (Nic Meloney/CBC) A tragic story

In her play, Picking Up the Pieces , Mi’kmaw Catherine Martin relives the story of her great-aunt Rachel Cope, who lived with her husband John and their many children in Turtle Grove.

The play listens in on Cope as she explains to her granddaughter Douzay the devastation their family faced after the explosion. Martin plays both the roles of her great-aunt and the spirit of her great-great-grandmother.

"Needless to say, it is an emotional experience," Martin said, adding that she didn’t intend on playing the role herself. A troubling reality of the Halifax Explosion relief effort — racism

The play is part of an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia called Kepe’kek from the Narrows of the Great Harbour. The photo-based exhibit, running until January 2018, showcases the work of Indigenous artists focused on the Indigenous community. Martin was asked by organizers to perform as well, which Martin agrees adds to its depth.

"It’s a tragic story, and it’s an important story for me to understand," she said.

"That some of them survived is a miracle. The Mi’kmaq tradition is one of oral history. Because many died that day and since, their story was nearly lost." Rachel Cope, her brother and her cousin, were watching the burning boat from near the ‘Indian school’ when it exploded, killing thousands in an instant. (Nova Scotia Archives) Born into chaos

Martin said the play is based on an interview her great-aunt and -uncle Rachel and John Cope gave to a family member in 1946. A friend of hers, writing a book on the community, had come across a transcript and gave her a copy to be checked by her family.

In the record, the deaths of 29 Mi’kmaq from Turtle Grove and surrounding villages are listed. At least five of them were family members, Martin said, including her great-uncles George Francis "Nanan" Cope and Thomas Henry Cope, ages three and 12, respectively.

Other entries on the list of the dead read: William Paul, 4hrs [old]. Son of William Paul and Mary Catherine Paul. The child of Bill and Mary died about four hours after birth … two or three hours after Father Underwood baptized him.

William Howard Nevin: 1 [year old], son of Richard Nevin and Madeline (Doucette). Was blown away. Found still alive some distance from the ruins of the Nevin house died a few days later.

The interview record is just one of "the pieces" Martin’s picked […]

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