Professor Hyacinth Simpson
The Halifax Incident
March 6, 1916 was a fateful day in late winter when a ship carrying more than 1,000 British West Indian volunteers set sail for England. Their journey would take a tragic turn in the days ahead, and could have become a small footnote in the history of the war if not for the research efforts of Professor Hyacinth Simpson, opens in new window.
Over the past three years, the English professor has travelled to Canada’s east coast, Jamaica and England to piece together the story of what happened when the SS Verdala departed from Kingston, Jamaica, and arrived in Halifax’s harbour two weeks later after battling a fierce blizzard at sea. The men aboard the ship did not have warm clothing so were exposed to extremely cold conditions. As a result, over half of the contingent developed frostbite and more than 100 required immediate medical attention.
Her research led her to what has been dubbed ‘The Halifax Incident’. Now three years later, she has assembled a wealth of archival materials that give a full account of that incident; and she has been sharing this story with audiences in Canada, Jamaica and England.
Simpson is now finding out more about the small Black community in Halifax (some of whom had West Indian connections) that supported the servicemen who stayed behind in the city to recover.
“The presence of these Jamaican service men had a significant impact on how Canada was able to support its wounded troops during the First World War,” says Simpson.