Bill Owen, a spirited nonagenarian from Dartmouth, recalled a harrowing tale of narrowly escaping the Halifax Explosion’s fury. Not completely certain if he’s the last survivor, Owen’s humility shines through. “I’m not one for recognition,” he mentioned, but given his age, there aren’t many survivors remaining.
Owen’s life began in a home on Prince Street in Dartmouth. He was merely seven months old when the fateful collision between Imo and Mount Blanc rattled the harbour. “The canopy my mother placed over my crib shielded me from shards of shattered glass,” he reminisced. Owen’s sister also escaped unscathed, even though she was blown down the stairs during the explosion.
Dartmouth: A Close-Knit Community
Post-explosion, Owen’s blacksmith father worked relentlessly, reflecting the Dartmouth community’s collective spirit. “People looked out for each other here,” Owen said. The depression era brought challenges, but with a sole minister, priest, doctor, and a few police officers, Dartmouth was a haven where everyone wore multiple hats, offering support and camaraderie.
Mischievous adventures during Owen’s youth often led to some repercussions. Recalling a school memory, Owen shared, “When I once laughed at my teacher, Mr. Cohoon, he was less than pleased. My arm paid the price.”
Early Employment and Adventures
Owen’s journey into the workforce began at T. Eaton’s in 1933, earning him $7 weekly for a strenuous 63-hour workweek. Navigating the challenges of the first superstores, known as “groceterias,” he recounted how a ferry ride to work would often separate boys from girls and share space with horses and trollies. Owen also made a mark as a goalie for the Halifax Herald Hockey team, boasting about his shutout mention in a newspaper column.
As a lively youngster, Owen was never one to shy away from some fun and mischief. Sneaking into dances with a pint of rum hidden away and blending it with pop ensured he and his friends had a memorable evening.
Service, Love, and Business Endeavours
Owen enlisted in the reserves in 1934 and was battle-ready by the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Serving diligently on the Frontenac 335, Owen returned to Dartmouth in 1945, though many of his comrades weren’t as fortunate.
His connection to the Micmac Aquatic Club began in the 1940s, with Owen highlighting the rigorous entry procedures and the fun-filled rivalry with Banook members.
Love blossomed when Owen, then 39, met Glady while working at Atlantic Packers. Their encounter was serendipitous, leading to a lifelong partnership. Atlantic Packers was at the forefront of refrigeration in Dartmouth, replacing traditional ice blocks.
Owen’s entrepreneurial spirit emerged when he decided to be his own boss, launching Dahlia Market with a loan of $1,500. His retirement came 16 years later, after which he lost Glady in 2001.
Owen’s life, filled with movies, bowling, and hosting events, is a testament to his vibrant spirit. One of his memorable roles was in the movie ‘Shattered City,’ where he portrayed an explosion survivor. Offering a simple mantra for life, Owen emphasized, “Be kind, stand your ground, and be open to taking risks. It’s often worth the gamble.”