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Vincent Coleman, the harbour ferry, begins service near Halifax Explosion site


HALIFAX — He is the ultimate hero of the Halifax Explosion: Vince Coleman saved a trainload of passengers at the cost of his own life.

On Wednesday, a ferry named for the train dispatcher was put into service in Halifax harbour, serving a route not far from the spot where a munitions ship exploded shortly after colliding with another vessel on Dec. 6, 1917.

Coleman, a father of four, was among 2,000 people killed in the blast.

He had stayed at his post to tap a telegraph message warning stations up the line to stop trains from entering Halifax, including Train No. 10 which was carrying several hundred people and was just about to arrive.

"Vincent Coleman epitomizes heroism, a man whose brave and selfless act lives on a century after our city's greatest tragedy," Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said Wednesday.

"There may be no better place to honour his name than on a new vessel that safely transports people across the Halifax Harbour."

Coleman's hurried message was also among the first to alert the world to the unfolding tragedy. As a result, the Canadian Government Railway was able to quickly dispatch six relief trains carrying firefighters, doctors, nurses and badly needed medical supplies.

The Vincent Coleman will serve alongside the Viola Desmond, which came into service in 2016 and honours the Halifax civil rights hero.

Coleman won a ferry-naming contest last year; another ferry named for Mi'kmaq poet Rita Joe will come into service later this year.

Ottawa is contributing about $6 million to the two new ferries, with matching funds from the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Halifax's harbour ferry has been running for more than 260 years, and carries about 1.7 million passengers a year on two routes.

The Canadian Press

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