THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION
On the morning of 6 December 1917, the French cargo ship SS Mont Blanc collided with the Belgian Relief ship SS Imo after a serious miscommunication in Halifax Harbour. To most onlookers, the fire which erupted on the deck of the Mont Blanc seemed innocuous
enough; what many people did not realize was that the ship was loaded with more than 2,500 tons of explosive material. As the vessel burned and the crew abandoned ship, people gathered on the Halifax waterfront and in shop windows to watch the proceedings.
Even as the crippled Mont Blanc drifted towards Pier 6 with artillery shells on board exploding at irregular intervals, few could have predicted the devastation which was to follow.
Just before 9:05am, the Mont Blanc exploded. The force of the blast levelled huge portions of the city, the shock being felt as far away at Sydney, Cape Breton, a distance of over 400 kilometres. The sky was filled with soot and shrapnel, and whole city
blocks were destroyed. Piles of rubble stood everywhere, and fires burned in ruined buildings throughout the city, but the degree of human tragedy only became apparent in the hours and days which followed. Nearly 2,000 people were killed instantly, and
another 9,000 were wounded, many blinded and maimed by flying shards of glass. Many thousands more had been made homeless.
Emergency and military personnel, as well as civilian volunteers, worked tirelessly to rescue victims, extinguish fires, give medical aid to the injured, and gather the remains of the dead. Trains from throughout the Maritimes, as well as from Central
Canada and New England, were swiftly dispatched to deliver aid, a gesture acknowledged annually to this day when the Government of Nova Scotia ships a huge Christmas tree to Boston as a token of Halifax’s appreciation for the aid provided by that sister
The areas of Halifax devastated by the explosion were eventually rebuilt. The memory of the disaster, however, continues to loom large in the public memory of the region. No other event brought the horror of war to the Canadian home front as devastatingly
as the Halifax Explosion.