Halifax explosion: Wikis


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Halifax Explosion

A view of the Halifax Explosion pyrocumulus cloud, possibly taken from Bedford Basin at the head of the Halifax Narrows, looking to the southeast around 15 to 20 seconds after the explosion. Photographer unknown.
Location Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Date December 6, 1917
9:04:35 (AST)
Attack type ship collision and explosion
Death(s) 2,000 (approximate) {1,950 known}
Injured 9,000 (approximate)

The Halifax Explosion occurred on Thursday, December 6, 1917, when the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, was devastated by the huge detonation of the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship, fully loaded with wartime explosives, which accidentally collided with the Norwegian SS Imo in "The Narrows" section of the Halifax Harbour. About 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, or collapsed buildings and it is estimated that over 9,000 people were injured.[1] This is still the world's largest man-made accidental explosion.[2]

At 8:40 in the morning, the SS Mont-Blanc, chartered by the French government to carry munitions to Europe, collided with the unloaded Norwegian ship Imo, chartered by the Commission for Relief in Belgium to carry relief supplies. Mont-Blanc caught fire ten minutes after the collision and exploded about twenty-five minutes later (at 9:04:35 AM).[3] All buildings and structures covering nearly 2 square kilometres (500 acres) along the adjacent shore were obliterated, including those in the neighbouring communities of Richmond and Dartmouth.[1] The explosion caused a tsunami in the harbour and a pressure wave of air that snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels, and carried fragments of the Mont-Blanc for kilometres.


Halifax in wartime

View of Halifax before the 1917 explosion, looking toward the industrial north end from downtown-view North from grain elevator towards Acadia Sugar Refinery 1900

During World War I, Halifax became a major international port and naval facility. Halifax has one of the world's largest natural harbours that is ice free and was well connected through direct railway connections to other Canadian and North American cities. The harbour became a major shipment point for war supplies, troop ships to Europe from Canada and the United States and hospital ships returning the wounded. All neutral ships bound for North America had to report to Halifax for inspection. After German submarine attacks began in 1916, Halifax's harbour assumed an even larger role as an assembly point for merchant ships awaiting naval escort in convoys. A large army garrison protected the city with forts, gun batteries, and anti-submarine nets. These factors drove a major military, industrial and residential expansion of the city.[4]

Collision and fire

Two-way passage by vessels through the narrow, curved harbour passage (called "The Narrows" - connecting the Atlantic Ocean and outer harbour with the Bedford Basin) was not restricted as to direction of travel, provided that vessels followed established collision avoidance regulations. Shortly after the submarine nets were opened around 7:30 AM on December 6, Imo attempted to depart through the starboard channel. It met an oncoming ship, an American tramp steamer. According to nautical regulations, vessels pass on their port sides with both ships steering to starboard. The two vessels agreed to pass on their 'incorrect' (starboard) sides, with Imo steering to port (left). This was a convenience for the incoming ship, which was docking on the Halifax side of the harbour.

The two steamers passed harmlessly. By roughly 8:15 AM, Imo was in the port channel as Stella Maris, a tugboat towing two barges, evaded Imo by remaining on the Halifax side of the harbour, passing the Imo on her starboard side and keeping her in the port channel.

But as Imo departed through the port channel, a second incoming vessel, the French steamer Mont-Blanc was entering via the starboard channel. A series of whistle blows communicated from both vessels indicated their intent to remain on course—a collision course. Captain Le Medec eventually ordered Mont-Blanc hard to port, sending the ship into the center channel. At the same time, Imo reversed its engines to stop, but the backward action of the propellers altered her course, bringing her to the center channel as well. The last minute evasive maneuvers by both vessels had sent them back onto a collision course.

At roughly 8:45 AM, Imo's prow struck Mont-Blanc and became lodged in its starboard bow, sparking the benzol and picric acid. Imo attempted to pull back and dislodge, which likely generated further sparks. By now the barrels of benzol stored on the Mont-Blanc's deck were aflame.

As the fire spread out of control, Mont-Blanc's crew were unable to reach fire-fighting equipment and, aware of their volatile cargo, they quickly abandoned ship upon the captain's orders. Within 10 minutes, their two rowboats containing the 40-man crew reached safety on the Dartmouth side of the harbour as the burning ship continued to drift towards the Halifax shore. Any warnings shouted by the French speaking crew were not understood as they fled further inland away from the burning ship, as Halifax is located in a primarily English speaking part of Canada.[5][6][7] Other ships came to aid the burning Mont-Blanc. Efforts to scuttle the ship also failed as the seacocks were seized shut. HMCS Niobe and HMS Highflyer sent crews, in steam launches, to assist.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered on the shores of the harbour, watching as the flaming Mont-Blanc eventually drifted along Pier 6 on the Richmond side of the waterfront, spreading the fire onto land by igniting some munitions cargo stored on the pier. Fire Box 83 was quickly pulled and local shop owner Constant Upham began calling several other fire houses directly, while watching the scene from his store window. West Street (Station 2) housed the first motorized fire engine in Canada, a 1913 American LaFrance combination pumping engine. Members of the Halifax Fire Department aboard the Patricia, and horse-drawn apparatus from Brunswick, Gottingen, and Quinpool Road stations rushed to the pier.

Explosion and aftermath

At 9:04:35 AM, the cargo of Mont-Blanc exploded with more force than any man-made explosion before it, equivalent to roughly 3 kilotons of TNT. (Compare to atomic bomb Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima, which had an estimated power of 15 kilotons TNT equivalent.)[8] The ship was instantly destroyed in the giant fireball that rose over 1.9 kilometres (1.2 mi) into the air, forming a large mushroom cloud. Shards of hot metal rained down across Halifax and Dartmouth. The force of the blast triggered a tsunami, which rose up as high as 18 metres (60 ft) above the harbour's high-water mark on the Halifax side. It was caused by the rapid displacement of harbour water near the blast, followed by water rushing back in towards the shore. The effects were likely compounded by the narrow cross-section of the harbour. There was little information documented on this event as witnesses were generally stunned and injured as the wave washed ashore, though the wave contributed to the death toll, dragging many victims on the harbour front into the waters. Imo was lifted up onto the Dartmouth shore by the tsunami. Captain Haakon From and most of the crew that were on the bridge of the Imo and on its decks were killed by the tsunami. A black rain of unconsumed carbon from the Mont-Blanc fell over the city for about 10 minutes after the blast, coating survivors and structural debris with soot.

View from the waterfront looking west from the ruins of the Sugar Refinery across the obliterated Richmond District several days after the explosion. The remains of Pier 6, site of the explosion, are on the extreme right.

Since the explosion occurred in the winter, the blast caused stoves, lamps and furnaces to tip or spill, spreading fires throughout the devastation, particularly in Halifax's North End, leaving entire streets on fire. Fuel reserves were high in preparation for the winter. Many people who had survived the blast were trapped in these fires. Problems were compounded as firemen from surrounding communities arrived and were unable to use their equipment, as hoses and hydrants were not standardized across communities or regions. However, the winds cooperated, and firemen, soldiers and other volunteers had most of the fires contained by evening.

A view across the devastation of Halifax two days after the explosion, looking toward the Dartmouth side of the harbour. The Imo can be seen aground on the far side of the harbour.

Some 1.32 square kilometres (326 acres) of Halifax was destroyed, essentially leaving a 1.6 kilometres (1 mi) radius around the blast site uninhabitable. Many people who had gathered around the ship either to help or watch were killed in the blast or were hit by the resulting tsunami. Others who had been watching from the windows of their homes and businesses were killed instantly or severely injured by flying glass as their windows shattered inwards.

Professor Howard Bronson of Dalhousie University later wrote that the disaster had damaged buildings and shattered windows as far away as Sackville and Windsor Junction, about 16 kilometres (10 mi) away. Buildings shook and items fell from shelves as far away as Truro (100 kilometres/60 miles) and New Glasgow (126 kilometres/80 miles). The explosion was felt and heard in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, roughly 215 kilometres (130 mi) north, and as far away as North Cape Breton, 360 kilometres (220 mi) east.

Fragments of Mont-Blanc rained down all over the city. A portion of Mont-Blanc's anchor shaft, weighing 517 kilograms (1,140 lb) was thrown 3,780 metres (2.3 mi) west of the blast on the far side of the Northwest Arm; it is now part of a monument at the corner of Spinnaker Dr. and Anchor Dr. A gun barrel landed in Dartmouth, over 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) east, near Albro Lake. Another piece of wreckage was driven into the wall of St. Paul's Church, where it remains today.

The Royal Naval College of Canada building was destroyed, and several cadets and instructors maimed.[9]


Comparative power of explosion

The Halifax Explosion was one of a series of massive ammunition explosions which followed the large-scale manufacture, transport and use of high explosives in the 20th century and resulting in a grim list of large, artificial, non-nuclear explosions. An extensive comparison of 130 major explosions by a team of scientists and historians in 1994 concluded that, "Halifax Harbour remains unchallenged in overall magnitude as long as five criteria are considered together: number of casualties, force of blast, radius of devastation, quantity of explosive material, and total value of property destroyed."[2]

The RAF Fauld Explosion in 1944 exceeded Halifax in sheer force, but was contained underground, limiting its destructive effects.

The Heligoland demolition in 1947 produced more force but was a deliberate series of explosions on uninhabited islands, limiting range and human loss.[10] Likewise, the military tests Misty Picture and Minor Scale were larger explosions than Halifax, but, as deliberate tests, resulted in no loss of life or (unintended) damage.

However, both studies concluded that such large-scale explosions are difficult to measure and compare and even the largest non-nuclear explosions are less than one-quarter the power of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Event Approximate yield
Minor Scale and Misty Picture 4 kt
Heligoland explosion 3.2 kt
Halifax Explosion 2.9 kt
Texas City Disaster 2.7-3.2 kt
Port Chicago disaster 1.6-2.2 kt
Fat Man 21 kt
Tsar Bomba 50,000 kt (50 Mt)

These yields are approximated by the amount of the explosive material and its properties. They are rough estimates and are not authoritative.

Rumoured second explosion

A rumour of a second explosion had started roughly an hour after the first. Despite the high number of disciplined rescue workers, many of whom were military personnel, and although there are no records of an order to evacuate, soldiers reportedly had begun to clear the area with fear that smoke rising from the naval munitions magazine at Wellington Barracks was an impending second explosion. This site did store a large amount of explosive material and munitions, but the smoke/steam was a result of scattered coals being extinguished by personnel on site. Many rescue efforts were halted as masses of people fled to the high ground and open areas of Citadel Hill, Point Pleasant Park and the Halifax Commons, under the order of uniformed men. Rescuers and victims alike were delayed until almost noon when the situation was cleared, although some rescue parties ignored the evacuation and kept working. In the chaos and confusion, fear of German attacks had become rampant, leaving many to believe that the initial blast had been deliberate, further fueling the fear of a second explosion.


The next day brought a blizzard that dropped 40 centimetres (16 in) of snow on the community. Those who remained trapped in rubble, the injured, or those who had not been found or tended to, were often left in the bitter cold, adding to the loss of life. Rescuers were forced to work through the storm, and many people who were left homeless found shelter wherever they could. Houses left standing did not have windows after the blast, leaving survivors to use tar paper, carpets and other available materials to seal their homes from the elements. The snow, however, did aid firemen in ensuring any remaining fires were extinguished. This was apparently the largest blizzard in that decade.

Human loss and destruction

Explosion aftermath: Halifax's Exhibition Building

While it is unknown exactly how many deaths resulted from the disaster, a common estimate is 2,000, with an official database totaling 1,950 names made available through Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management in the Book of Remembrance.[11] As many as 1,600 died immediately in the blast, the tsunami, and collapse of buildings, with an additional 9,000 injured, 6,000 of them seriously. 1,630 homes were destroyed in the explosion and fires, with 12,000 more houses damaged. This disaster left roughly 6,000 people homeless and without shelter and 25,000 without adequate housing. The city's industrial sector was in large part gone, with many workers among the casualties and the dockyard was heavily damaged.

The explosion killed more Nova Scotian residents than World War I itself. Detailed estimates showed that among those killed, 600 were under the age of 15, 166 were labourers, 134 were soldiers and sailors, 125 were craftsmen, and 39 were workers for the railway.

Explosion aftermath

Many of the wounds inflicted by the blast were permanently debilitating, with many people partially blinded by flying glass. Thousands of people had stopped to watch the ship burning in the harbour, with many people watching from inside buildings, leaving them directly in the path of flying glass from shattered windows. Roughly 600 people suffered eye injuries, and 38 of those lost their sight permanently. The large number of eye injuries led to better understanding on the part of physicians, and with the recently formed Canadian National Institute for the Blind, they managed to greatly improve the treatment of damaged eyes. The significant advances in eye care as a result of this disaster are often compared to the huge increase in burn care knowledge after the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston. Halifax became internationally known as a center for care for the blind, accounting for a large proportion of patients.

According to estimates, roughly $35 million Canadian dollars in damages resulted (in 1917 dollars; adjusted for inflation, this is about CAD$500 million in 2007 dollars).[12]

Communities affected

While the city of Halifax's North End neighborhood of Richmond suffered the most damage from the explosion, several neighbouring communities and settlements were also affected by the blast.


The Dartmouth side of the harbour was not as densely populated as Halifax and was separated from the blast by the width of the harbour, but still suffered heavy damage. Estimates are that almost 100 people died on the Dartmouth side. Windows were shattered and many buildings were damaged or destroyed, including the Oland Brewery and parts of the Starr Manufacturing Company. Nova Scotia Hospital was the only hospital on the Dartmouth side of the harbour and many of the victims were treated there.

Mi'kmaq settlement

The small Mi'kmaq settlement directly opposite Halifax, in Tuft's Cove (also known as Turtle Grove), was completely obliterated. Unfortunately, little information was recorded on the effects of the disaster on the First Nations community. The settlement is known to have dated back to the 1700s, and on November 6 was slated to be relocated as reservations were established through Indian reserve status lobbying. Fewer than 20 families resided in this community, and had not begun their move before the collision and fire drew the attention of onlookers around the harbour. Records show that 9 bodies were recovered, and the settlement was abandoned in the wake of the disaster.


The black community of Africville, on the southern shores of the Bedford Basin, adjacent to the Halifax Peninsula, was spared the direct force of the blast by the shadow effect of the raised ground to the south. However Africville's small and frail homes were heavily damaged by the explosion which were described by a relief doctor as ruined but still standing.[13] Africville families recorded the deaths of five residents.[14] Africville received little of the relief funds and none of the progressive reconstruction invested into other parts of the city after the explosion.[15]

Heroism and rescue efforts

Many individuals, groups and organizations contributed to the rescue and relief in the days, months, and years following the disaster. Specific acts of heroism and bravery by individuals are detailed below.

Vince Coleman

The death toll could have been worse if not for the self-sacrifice of an Intercolonial Railway dispatcher, P. Vincent (Vince) Coleman, operating at the Richmond Railway Yards. He and his co-worker learned of the danger from the burning Mont-Blanc from a sailor and began to flee. Coleman remembered, however, that an incoming passenger train from Saint John, New Brunswick was due to arrive at the rail yard within minutes, and he returned to his post to send out urgent telegraph messages to stop the train.

Stop trains. Munitions ship on fire. Approaching Pier 6. Goodbye.

Coleman's message brought all incoming trains to a halt and was heard by other stations all along the Intercolonial Railway helping railway officials to respond immediately.[16] The Saint John train is believed to have heeded the warning and stopped a safe distance from the blast at Rockingham, saving the lives of about 300 railway passengers. The rescued train was later used to carry injured and homeless survivors to Truro, Nova Scotia. Coleman was killed at his post as the explosion ripped through the city. He is honoured as a hero and fixture in Canadian history, notably being featured in a "Heritage Minute" one-minute movie[17] and a display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Tug Stella Maris

Towing a string of barges at the time of the collision, the tug Stella Maris responded immediately to the fire, anchoring its barges and steaming beside the flaming Mont Blanc. The tug's crew began spraying Mont Blanc with their fire hose and were preparing to tow the burning ship away from the city when Mont Blanc exploded. The blast killed 19 of the crew aboard Stella Maris although five miraculously survived when the smashed tug was washed up on the Richmond shore.[18]


Firemen were among the first to respond to the disaster, rushing to Mont-Blanc to attempt to extinguish the blaze before the explosion even occurred. They also played an instrumental role in regaining control of the devastated city after the blast, with members arriving to assist from across Halifax, and by the end of the day from as far away as Springhill (180 kilometres/110 miles) and Amherst, Nova Scotia (200 kilometres/120 miles), and Moncton, New Brunswick (260 kilometres/160 miles), via relief trains.

Halifax's Fire Department at the time comprised 8 fire stations, 122 members (36 of whom were fully employed), 13 apparatus (1 of which was motorized), and roughly 30 horses. West Street's Station 2 was the first to arrive at pier 6 with the crew of the American LaFrance-built Patricia, the first motorized fire engine in Canada.

They were responding to Box 83, the dockyard alarm at the corner of Roome Street and Campbell Road (now Barrington Street), as Mont-Blanc drifted toward its resting place at Pier 6. Although the dockyard alarms were routine for the department, today was different, as North End general storekeeper Constant Upham could see the serious nature of the fire from his home and called surrounding fire stations to advise them. Upham's store was on Campbell Road, directly in view of the burning ship, and as one of the few buildings at the time with a telephone, he placed his call sometime after 8:45 that morning. Despite this warning, none of the firemen knew that the ship carried munitions. It was believed however, that the vessel's crew was still onboard, as West Street's Station 2, Brunswick Street's Station 1, Gottingen Street, and Quinpool Road's Station 5 responded to Upham's call.

Fire Chief Edward P. Condon and Deputy Chief William P. Brunt, were next on the scene, arriving from Brunswick Street in the department's 1911 McLaughlin Roadster. The heat was so overwhelming, no one could look at the inferno. Chief Condon pulled the Box 83 alarm again. In the final moments before the explosion, hoses were being unrolled as the fire spread to the docks. Retired Hoseman John Spruin Sr. was on his way from Brunswick Street in a horse-drawn pumper, and Hoseman John H. E. Duggan was traveling from Isleville Street's Station 7 with another horse-drawn firefighting wagon.

None of the firemen knew the danger that they faced as 9:04 arrived, bringing about the explosion that obliterated the dockyard fire site. Fire Chief Edward Condon and Deputy Chief William Brunt were killed immediately along with the Patricia's crew members: Captain William T. Broderick, Captain G. Michael Maltus, Hoseman Walter Hennessey, and Hoseman Frank Killeen. Teamsters John Spruin and John Duggan were both struck and killed by shrapnel en route to the fire. Their horses were also killed instantly in the blast. Patricia hoseman Frank D. Leahy died on December 31, 1917 from his injuries. Nine members of the Halifax Fire Department lost their lives performing their duty that day.

The only surviving member at the scene was Patricia driver Billy (William) Wells, who was opening a hydrant at the time of the blast. He recounts the event for the Mail Star, October 6, 1967,

That's when it happened ... The first thing I remember after the explosion was standing quite a distance from the fire engine ... The force of the explosion had blown off all my clothes as well as the muscles from my right arm...
It is explained that Billy was standing again as the tsunami came over him. He managed to remain on land.
...After the wave had receded I didn't see anything of the other firemen so made my way to the old magazine on Campbell Road ... The sight was awful ... with people hanging out of windows dead. Some with their heads off, and some thrown onto the overhead telegraph wires ... I was taken to Camp Hill Hospital and lay on the floor for two days waiting for a bed. The doctors and nurses certainly gave me great service

Notably, firefighter Albert Brunt also survived the blast, by chance, as he slipped while attempting to jump onto the Patricia as it rounded a corner on its way to the docks.

A new pumper was purchased by the city and arrived just a few days after the explosion. The Patricia was later restored by the American LaFrance company for $6,000, who donated $1,500 to a fund for the families of the firemen. The families of firemen killed in the blast received $1,000 from the city (close to $15,000 in 2007 dollars), with the exception of one, who received $500.

On the 75th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1992, the Halifax Fire Department erected a monument at the current Station 4, at the corner of Lady Hammond Road and Robie Street, in honour of the fallen members who died fighting the fire on Mont-Blanc.

Medical relief

Almost immediately following the blast, Halifax hospitals began to overflow with the dead and injured. Anybody with medical training and experience, both military and civilian, found themselves tasked with the treatment of thousands. Military medical staff, mainly from British naval vessels in the harbour provided some of the first response teams and set up an improvised hospital ship aboard the coastal passenger ship SS Old Colony,[19] which was enroute from the U.S. to Britain for naval conversion, and which had been tied up in Halifax for repairs. In the afternoon the USS von Steuben,[20] a seized German liner turned troop transport, and the USS Tacoma (CL-20), a Protected Cruiser that was returning to the U.S. from Convoy Duty across the Atlantic arrived to assist.[21] Relief trains with doctors, nurses and supplies first arrived from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick towns a day and a half ahead of American relief. The first outside relief train arrived via the Intercolonial Railway from Truro, Nova Scotia, 95 kilometres (60 mi) away, at about noon, followed by a Dominion Atlantic Railway relief train from Kentville, 100 kilometres (60 mi) away.[22] By nightfall, about a dozen trains had brought help from across the Maritimes including trains from Amherst (200 kilometres/120 miles), Moncton, New Brunswick (260 kilometres/160 miles) and New Glasgow, Nova Scotia (160 kilometres/100 miles).[23]

Later, American support was strong, particularly from Massachusetts, with support trains bringing doctors, nurses, orderlies and much needed supplies to the effort. A relief train left from Boston, 1,100 kilometres (700 mi) away, at 10:00 PM on the day of the explosion. Relentlessly chugging through wintry terrain, it was delayed by heavy snowfall but reached Halifax a day plus a few hours later, at 3:00 AM on December 8, unloading much needed food, water, medical supplies, and some aid workers to relieve the Nova Scotia medical staff, many of whom had worked without rest since the morning of the explosion.

Many of the emergency procedures involved eye injuries and removals, lacerations, or amputations, with operating rooms and medical wards working around the clock for several days. Medical students at Dalhousie University were enlisted to assist, even those who had just begun studying in September. The Red Cross, Salvation Army and Saint John Ambulance all focused their resources to the disaster, and away from the war overseas.

The lack of coordinated pediatric care in such a disaster was noted by a surgeon from Boston named William Ladd who had arrived to help. His insights from the explosion are generally credited with inspiring him to pioneer the specialty of pediatric surgery in North America.[24]


Halifax at the time had four public hospitals, four military hospitals, and seven private hospitals. The most important were Victoria General Hospital and Camp Hill Hospital, taking many of the critically injured while redirecting minor injuries to other sites and temporary facilities.

Victoria General Hospital was the largest civilian hospital in Halifax at that period. Three operating rooms ran non-stop after the explosion, treating the critically injured. The original structure no longer exists, as the current Victoria Building replaced it in 1948. However, the institution still exists today as the VG site, part of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, a 10 building group of facilities formed in 1996.

Located behind Citadel Hill, Camp Hill Hospital was a military hospital completed earlier the same year. It was built quickly in order to treat the large number of wounded returning from the war in Europe. It was completed only a few months before the explosion, and treated 1,400 wounded in the first 24 hours after the blast.

Archibald MacMechan, who collected many accounts of the disaster, describes Camp Hill Hospital as,

a synonym for horror ... broken bones, scalds, burns due to the contact with stoves or boilers, contusions, maiming, internal injuries--but undoubtedly the most ghastly wounds were those inflicted by the flying glass.

Camp Hill Hospital was also administratively absorbed into the QEII Health Sciences Centre, and none of its original facilities exist today. Its grounds now comprise the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII, including the Camp Hill Veterans' Memorial Building, the Abbie J. Lane Memorial Building, and the new Halifax Infirmary Building.

Also, the Hospital for the Insane, also known as Mount Hope helped handle the casualties on the Dartmouth side of the harbour. Having opened in 1859, Mount Hope was designed to support 250 patients when completed. It was renamed to the Nova Scotia Hospital in the early 1900s. It accommodated 200 patients following the blast. The hospital still exists today as part of the Capital District Health Authority, and is a fully accredited teaching facility affiliated with Dalhousie University.


The North End Halifax neighborhood of Richmond received the brunt of the explosion. In 1917, Richmond was considered a working class neighborhood and was excluded from basic city services such as weekly garbage pick-up or paved roads [25] After the explosion, the Halifax Relief Commission approached the reconstruction of Richmond as an opportunity to improve and modernize the city’s North End.[26] English town planner, Thomas Adams, and Montreal architect, George Ross were recruited to design a new housing plan[27] for Richmond. Adams, inspired by the Victorian Garden City Movement, aimed to provide public access to green spaces and to create a low rise, low density and multifunctional urban neighborhood.[28] The planners designed 324 large homes that each faced a tree- lined, paved boulevard. Ross and Adams specified that the homes be built with a new and innovative fire- proof material, blocks of compressed cement called Hydro-stone.[26] The two planners designed the construction of over 300 new homes using Hydro-stone for the hundreds of North End residents who had been rendered homeless after the explosion.

Once finished, the Hydrostone neighborhood consisted of homes, businesses and parks, which helped create a new sense of community in the North End of Halifax. Adams and Ross were revolutionary in their enlightened approach to the reconstruction of the working-class, poor neighborhood. The construction of this new and cutting edge urban neighborhood was criticized by many upper- class Haligonians who thought the Hydrostone was too extravagant for its working class residents.[26] Nevertheless, the Hydrostone remains a unique neighborhood and continues to serve as a valuable example of a modern urban- planning concept.

Popular culture

Memorial Bell Tower was erected in Halifax as a memorial to the lives lost or changed forever by the Halifax Explosion

The canonical novel Barometer Rising (1941) by the Canadian writer Hugh MacLennan is set in Halifax at the time of the explosion and includes a carefully researched description of its impact on the city. Following in MacLennan's footsteps, journalist Robert MacNeil penned Burden of Desire (1992) and used the explosion as a metaphor for the societal and cultural changes of the day. MacLennan and MacNeil exploit the romance genre to fictionalize the explosion, similar to the first attempt by Lieutenant-Colonel Frank McKelvey Bell, a medical officer who penned a short novella on the Halifax explosion shortly after the catastrophic event. His romance was A Romance of the Halifax Disaster (1918), a melodramatic piece which follows the love affair of a young woman and an injured soldier. A young adult fiction in the Dear Canada series, named No Safe Harbour where the narrator tries to find the other members of her family after the blast.

More recently, the novel Black Snow (2009) by Halifax journalist Jon Tattrie followed an explosion victim's search for his wife in the ruined city,[29] and A Wedding in December (2005) by Anita Shreve has a story-within-the-story set in Halifax at the time of the explosion. The explosion is also referred to in some detail in John Irving's novel Until I Find You (2005) as well as Ami McKay's bestselling The Birth House (2006). Ami McKay includes a passage in which protagonist Dora Rare travels to Halifax to offer her midwifery skills to mothers who go into labour after the explosion. In the 2009 novel, Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon the shadowy schooner Golden Fang is revealed as a re-outfitted Preserved, a vessel said to have survived the explosion.

Keith Ross Leckie scripted a mini-series entitled Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion (2003), which took the title but has no relationship to Janet Kitz's acclaimed non-fiction book Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery (1989). The mini-series follows soldier Charlie Collins through a romantic affair and his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder. The movie exploited computer technology in order to achieve impressive special effects on a budget. However the film was panned by critics and criticized by historians for distortions and inaccuracies. One aspect which was criticized was the representation of German spies in the city; Jim Lotz's The Sixth of December (1981) also toys with the fictional idea Halifax was home to a network of enemy spies during the war.


In 1918, Halifax sent a Christmas tree to the City of Boston in thanks and remembrance for the help that the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee provided immediately after the disaster.[30] That gift was revived in 1971 by the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association, who began an annual donation of a large tree to promote Christmas tree exports as well as acknowledge the Boston support after the explosion. The gift was later taken over by the Nova Scotia Government to continue the goodwill gesture as well as to promote trade and tourism.[31] The tree is Boston's official Christmas tree and is lit on Boston Common throughout the holiday season. Knowing its symbolic importance to both cities, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources has specific guidelines for selecting the tree. It must be an attractive balsam fir, white spruce or red spruce, 12 to 16 metres (40 to 50 ft) tall, healthy with good colour, medium to heavy density, uniform and symmetrical and easy to access.[32]

For the Christmas tree extension specialist the "tree can be elusive, the demands excessive, and the job requires remembering the locations of the best specimens in the province and persuading the people who own them to give them up for a pittance." Most donors are "honoured to give up their trees... [and] most will gladly watch their towering trees fall" since everyone knows the reason it is being sent to Boston. The trees don't often come from tree farms, but from open land where they can grow tall and full. It is so important to the people of Nova Scotia that "people have cried over it, argued about it, even penned song lyrics in its honor."[33]

See also


  1. ^ a b CBC - Halifax Explosion 1917
  2. ^ a b Jay White, "Exploding Myths: The Halifax Explosion in Historical Context", Ground Zero: A Reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell editors, Nimbus Publishing (1994), p. 266
  3. ^ CBC - Halifax Explosion - Disputes over Time
  4. ^ The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy John Armstrong, University of British Columbia Press, 2002, p.10-11.
  5. ^ "The Halifax Explosion". UBC.ca. http://www.slais.ubc.ca/COURSES/arst593b/03-04-wt2/Assignment1/Assign1_Forman_Bergen/home.html. Retrieved 2008-09-17.  
  6. ^ "Damn Interesting - The Halifax Disaster". DamnInteresting.com. http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=389. Retrieved 2008-09-17.  
  7. ^ "The Canadian Encyclopedia - The Halifax Explosion". TheCanadianEncyclopedia.com. http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=ArchivedFeatures&Params=A295. Retrieved 2008-09-17.  
  8. ^ David Simpson and Alan Ruffman, "Explosions, Bombs and Bumps: Scientific Aspects of the Explosion", Ground Zero: A Reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifax Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell editors, Nimbus Publishing, 1994 p. 288
  9. ^ Chaplin, Charmion (2006-06-14). "The Royal Naval College of Canada Closes | The Maple Leaf - Vol. 9, No. 23 | National Defence and the Canadian Forces". Forces.gc.ca. http://www.forces.gc.ca/site/Commun/ml-fe/article-eng.asp?id=2862. Retrieved 2009-12-06.  
  10. ^ Ibid., p. 288
  11. ^ "Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management - Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book". Gov.ns.ca. 2009-11-26. http://www.gov.ns.ca/nsarm/virtual/remembrance/. Retrieved 2009-12-06.  
  12. ^ Source: Maclean's, 07/01/99, Vol. 112 Issue 26, p24, and Government of Nova Scotia, Canada.
  13. ^ "Personal Narrative Dr. W.B. Moore", The Halifax Explosion December 6, 1917, Graham Metson, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 1978, p. 107
  14. ^ Halifax Explosion Book of Remembrance
  15. ^ Michelle Hebert Boyd, Enriched by Catastrophe: Social Work and Social Conflict after the Halifax Explosion (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing 2007)
  16. ^ *Dan Conlin, "Vincent Coleman and the Halifax Explosion", Maritime Museum of the Atlantic web page
  17. ^ "Halifax Explosion". Histori.ca. 1917-12-06. http://www.histori.ca/minutes/minute.do?id=10203. Retrieved 2009-12-06.  
  18. ^ "Stella Maris", Ships of the Halifax Explosion, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic website
  19. ^ SS Old Colony Data
  20. ^ The Interned German Passenger Liner SS Kronprinz Wilhelm that was seized when the US entered the war.
  21. ^ John Armstrong, The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy, (UBC Press, 2002) page 67.
  22. ^ Dan Conlin, "How Kentville and Wolfville helped a Stricken Halifax in 1917", Kentville Advertiser, Dec. 6, 1993, page 3A
  23. ^ Metson, Graham The Halifax Explosion McGraw Hill Ryerson, 1978, page 42
  24. ^ <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/77/5/764>
  25. ^ Robert Noble, Dorothy Clemens, Maudie Upham," What I Think of the Hydrostone", http://www.gov.ns.ca/nsarm/virtual/explosion/exhibit.asp?ID=133.
  26. ^ a b c Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Digital Archives. “Halifax Today, Clip 10,” http://archives.cbc.ca/war_conflict/first_world_war/topic/971. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
  27. ^ "A Vision of Regeneration, Reconstruction After the Halifax Explosion, 1917-1921, blueprint, August 10, 1918", http://www.viewpoint.com/installer/index.html?|frame&http://www.gov.ns.ca/nsarm/virtual/explosion/exhibit.asp?ID=74, published 2003. Retrieved January 25, 2009.
  28. ^ Ernest Clarke, “The Hydrostone Neighborhood”, in The Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1917, ed. and comp. Graham Metson (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 1978), 170.
  29. ^ "Jon Tattrie". Pottersfield Press. http://www.pottersfieldpress.com/authors/tattriej.html. Retrieved 2009-12-06.  
  30. ^ Beam, Alex (2005-11-29). "Tree's roots get lost in this flap - The Boston Globe". Boston.com. http://www.boston.com/news/globe/living/articles/2005/11/29/trees_roots_get_lost_in_this_flap/. Retrieved 2009-12-06.  
  31. ^ Mark Campbell, "Tree Expert Picks Province's Annual Gift to Boston", Nova Scotia Magazine, November 1993, p.12
  32. ^ Hana Janjigian Heald (December 15, 2006). "Nova Scotia's Christmas Tree gift to Boston has a Dedham connection". The Dedham Times 14 (51): 3–3.  
  33. ^ Keith O'Brien (November 26, 2006). "Oh! Christmas tree". The Boston Globe. http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/11/26/oh_christmas_tree/.  

Further reading

  • Reed, Blair (2002). 1917 Halifax Explosion and American Response. 2nd Edition. Dtours Visitors and Convention Service. ISBN 0-9684383-1-8.  
  • MacDonald, Laura M (2005). Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917. Harper Collins Ltd. ISBN 0002007878.  
  • Explosion in Halifax Harbour: The illustrated account of a disaster that shook the world, David B. Flemming, Formac Publishing, 2004.
  • The Halifax Explosion: Surviving the Blast that Shook a Nation, Joyce Glasner, Altitude PRess, 2003.
  • The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy: Inquiry and Intrigue, John Griffith Armstrong, UBC Press, 2002.
  • Ground Zero: A Reassessment of the 1917 Explosion in Halifax Harbour, Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell, eds., Nimbus Publishing, 1994.
  • The Halifax Explosion: Realities and Myths, Alan Ruffman, 1992.
  • The Survivors: The Children of the Halifax Explosion, Janet Kitz, Nimbus Publishing, 1992.
  • Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery, Janet Kitz, Nimbus Publishing, 1989.
  • The Halifax Explosion December 6, 1917, Graham Metson, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 1978.
  • Miracles and Mysteries: The Halifax Explosion, December, 1917, Mary Ann Monnon, Lancelot Press, 1977.
  • The Great Halifax Explosion, Dec. 6, 1917, Joan Horwood, Avalon Publications, 1976.
  • Catastrophe and Social Change: Based upon a sociological study of the Halifax Disaster, Samuel Henry Prince, AMS Press, 1968.
  • The Town That Died: The True Story of the Greatest Man-Made Explosion Before Hiroshima, Michael J. Bird, 1962.
  • Barometer Rising, Hugh MacLennan, Collins Publishing, 1941.
  • A Bolt of Blue, Joseph Sheldon, Cox Brothers Halifax, 1918.
  • Heart Throbs of the Halifax Horror, Archibald MacMechan and Stanley K. Smith, G.E. Weir Halifax, 1918.
  • Too Many To Mourn - One Family's Tragedy in the Halifax Explosion, James Mahar and Rowena Mahar, Nimbus Publishing, 1998.
  • The Irish Chain by Barbara Haworth Attard, ISBN 0-00-639215-6. (Fictitious novel)
  • Burden of Desire by Robert McNeil, 1992 ISBN 0-15-600609-X. (Fictitious novel)
  • Thermometers Melting by Glenn Grant, in Arrowdreams: an anthology of alternate Canadas, 1997 ISBN 0-921833-51-2. (Fictitious Short Story)

External links

Coordinates: 44°40′09″N 63°35′47″W / 44.66917°N 63.59639°W / 44.66917; -63.59639

Simple English

The Halifax explosion took place on December 6, 1917 when a French cargo ship with explosives collided with a Norwegian ship in the harbor in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. 2,000 people were killed and over 9,000 people were injured. This was the largest man-made explosion in history until July, 1945 when the first atomic bomb was detonated.

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