Voices: Productions in Development

Written by David Woods


A play exploring Halifax’s Black community experiences during the historic 1917 Halifax Explosion (hereafter referred to as HX).  The play’s action follows the life stories of four personalities of the time: Dr. Clement Ligoure (1885-1922) Nova Scotia’s first Black licensed physician, the publisher of The Atlantic Advocate- Nova Scotia’s first black newspaper, and a hero of HX during which he saved hundreds of lives at his private hospital in northend Halifax; Rev. Capt. William White (1874-1936)- a preacher and military officer with the No. 2 Construction Battalion (a segregated ‘non-combat’ military unit proposed by the Canadian Armed Forces to enlist Black men interested in serving in the WW1 effort; James Johnston (1876-1915)- the first Nova Scotia born Black lawyer; community leader; co-founder of the Colored Hockey League- a semi-professional Black Maritime hockey league; Edith MacDonald (1885-1955)- an accomplished painter living in Africville- a Black community on the north-western tip of Halifax city.


The plot centres on the experiences of Dr. Ligoure, who had moved to Halifax to help organize the No 2 Construction Battalion and eventually serve as its medical officer.  Ligoure’s ‘difficulties’ begin when he is abruptly denied the role of medical officer a few weeks before the Battalion is about to head to the war front in Europe.  After previously being informing him he had passed the medical officer exam, Ligoure receives an unexpected letter from Armed Forces command indicating that an error had been made in the initial exam evaluations and he had in fact failed by a single point! This eliminated Ligoure’s qualifications to be the Battalion’s medical officer and he was immediately replaced by a white physician Dr. Dan Murray (the grandfather of popular Nova Scotia singer Anne Murray).  After this shocking turn of events, Ligoure decides to settle in Halifax and establish The Amanda Hospital, a private practice in northend of the city. He also takes over the publication of the Atlantic Advocate from its editor/owner William Da Costa, who left for Europe as a member the No. 2 Construction Battalion in March 1917.  However Ligoure’s life in Halifax is continually upended by the racism of turn of the 20th century Halifax society.  White citizens refuse to patronise his hospital because of the colour of his skin. The Armed Forces refuses to pay thousands owed to The Atlantic Advocate for recruitment ads for the No. 2 Construction Battalion and forces the papers into bankruptcy. And then the catastrophic HX occurs. Ligoure initially is a hero during the tragedy, turning his hospital into a Dressing Station for non-fatal injuries suffered by victims and also responding to emergency calls of victims throughout the northend.  He is credited with saving hundreds of lives during HX and its aftermath. However in the years proceeding the disaster, Ligoure is still unable to attract paying customers and is forced to close his hospital. He died mysteriously in 1922 at the age of 32.


Ligoure’s central story interacts with those of the other main characters as each attempts an ‘extraordinary act’ before, during and/or after HX: Rev. William White establishes the No.2 Construction Battalion and heads to the warfront as the Battalion’s captain. James Johnston Jr. is the driving force behind the creation Halifax Colored Institute- an educational institute that includes an orphanage, industrial school and normal college which began in a small cottage house just before HX. After being exposed to the works of Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris, Edith MacDonald abandons her ‘salon’ paintings and begins painting socially conscious artwork about Africville. HD Nicholas, a train porter and musician organizes one of the first jazz bands in Halifax – a new ‘Black’ music that is growing in popularity globally. Altogether the play’s panoply of personalities, events and stories paint a portrait of an extraordinary time when Black people in Nova Scotia faced actual and existential conflicts of time and place backdropped by some of the most dramatic events of the 20th century. Extraordinary Acts represents the first drama capturing the experiences of the Black community during HX.




 November 2023

Call for actors for staged reading version of play

(Roles for 16 actors)


December  2023

Selection of cast


February 19-26, 2023

Rehearsals and presentation at Museum of Immigration, Pier 21 Halifax (5 performances)


Check Voices website and Facebook page for information updates