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Halifax Explosion survivor James Claes dies at 101

James Claes with Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis in 1990. Claes was one of the last know survivors of the Halifax Explosion.
James Claes with Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis in 1990. Claes was one of the last know survivors of the Halifax Explosion. - Contributed

One of the last known Halifax Explosion survivors has died.

James Claes was three months old on Dec. 6, 1917.

His mom carried him and his older brother to the basement of their north-end home, where they stayed until after the explosion.

Claes died at the age of 101 in North Carolina on April 24.

Kenneth Isles, who lives in Dartmouth, found out about his cousin’s death last week from another cousin. Claes’ son, Jeff, later reached out to Isles and confirmed his passing.

“I was calling him and sending emails, but I didn’t hear from him,” Isles said.

Isles called Claes, more commonly known as Jim, at his Florida home every few weeks.

“He’d ask me different things about Nova Scotia, and oh God, he always asked about rhubarb,” laughed Isles.

Claes moved to the United States with his family when he was six years old.

He served in the U.S. Army and was a veteran of the Second World War. He worked as a quality control inspector in aviation manufacturing after his service.

After retiring, he moved to Sarasota, Fla., where he lived for roughly 30 years.

 Halifax Explosion survivor James Claes, left, bundles up to keep warm while listening to the memorial service at Fort Needham in 2007, marking the 90th anniversary of the explosion. Mr. Claes was 3 months old at the time of the explosion. - File
Halifax Explosion survivor James Claes, left, bundles up to keep warm while listening to the memorial service at Fort Needham in 2007, marking the 90th anniversary of the explosion. Mr. Claes was 3 months old at the time of the explosion. - File

Isles and other family members would make trips to the sunshine state to visit Claes and his wife, Eleanor.

“I’d take him to the beach and he’d go into the little canteen and order himself a bottle of beer and a hot dog with sauerkraut,” Isles said.

“We’d just roam around and talk to people and just take in the scenery,” he said. “He was a real gentleman and always well presented.”

Throughout the years Claes returned to Nova Scotia. His last visit was in 2007 for a Halifax Explosion ceremony.

Although Claes was too young at the time of the explosion, he told The Chronicle Herald in December he “still remembers all the tales” and kept a drawer full of articles.

“He talked quite a while with (the recently deceased historian) Janet Kitz when he was up here. He went right in with details,” Isles said.

“He had such a memory.”

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