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2020 Christmas tree lands in Boston Common from Nova Scotia

A Nova Scotian tree will soon have a new home in the Boston Common for the 2020 holiday season.

Heather and Tony Sampson, residents of Dundee, Nova Scotia, stand by the tree they are donating to the City of Boston as part of a yearly tradition to thank Massachusetts for its aid to the Canadian province after the Halifax Explosion of 1917. COURTESY OF HEATHER AND TONY SAMPSON

The Canadian province of Nova Scotia gives Boston a free Christmas tree every year as a thank-you for the aid Massachusetts provided after the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

The 45-foot white spruce was donated by Heather and Tony Sampson of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, according to the province’s Lands and Forestry spokesperson Steven Stewart.

The tree will leave the Port of Halifax on Nov. 18 on a container ship before heading to Boston from Portland, Maine by ground, Stewart wrote in an email. Previous trees have traveled the 659 miles from Halifax to Boston by truck, but that was not possible this year due to COVID-19.

The Boston Parks and Recreation Department will host its annual tree lighting virtually this year on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m., to be broadcasted by WCVB TV-5.

Performances will be recorded without an audience, according to City officials. The tree will be lit around 7:55 p.m. after a virtual countdown. 

Barry Cahill, author of “Rebuilding Halifax: A history of the Halifax Relief Commission,” said Boston, along with Canadian cities, provided aid in a “massive” relief effort.

“They called it an expedition, and that was a good word for it,” Cahill said. “It was fully equipped with medical supplies and medical personnel and it arrived very shortly after the disaster on Dec. 6.”

Nearly 2,000 people died in the 1917 disaster after two vessels collided in Halifax Harbor. The collision caused a fire aboard the French “Mont Blanc,” igniting the ship’s 2,900 tons of explosives.

Some people lost their homes in the explosion, stranding them in the December snow, Cahill said.

Nova Scotia gifted its first Christmas tree to Boston in 1918 and has given the city a tree every year since the early 1970s, Cahill said.

Boston and Halifax have a long-standing relationship, Cahill said, dating back to before the disaster. Massachusetts continued to provide aid to the city until 1932.

The province chooses trees based on appearance, according to Stewart. The chosen tree is usually a balsam fir or red or white spruce, ranging from 40 to 50 feet tall.

Stewart wrote this year’s tree is dedicated to health care workers — those who had offered aid after the explosion as well as those now fighting COVID-19.

City officials said Boston wanted to maintain the tree lighting tradition as an end to a “challenging” year.

“We just really felt like it was important to keep the tradition going even if it’s a little different,” City officials said. “Hopefully we’ll be back for an in-person tree lighting in 2021.”

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  1. I’m so Happy that this Very Important Tradition is continuing this year !!!

  2. I was curious as to whether the wonderful tradition of Nova Scotia gifting a tree to the city of Boston was continuing. I was so happy to read about the Cape Breton couple who donated this year’s tree.

  3. As a person originally from Nova Scotia, now living in Ontario, I am proud Halifax and Boston maintain this friendly relationship. We all have to support each other, and it’s great to see kindness is still appreciated.

  4. Thank you!
    It was lit last night and it’s beautiful.