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Halifax Explosion

The Halifax Explosion occurred on December 6, 1917, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was the largest man-made explosion until the first atomic bomb explosion in 1945.


At 8:45 on the morning of the 6th a French ammunition ship, the Mont Blanc, and the Belgian cargo ship Imo collided in the narrows of Halifax harbour. Benzol, which was stored on the deck of the Mont Blanc, had spilled and was set on fire by sparks from the collision. Then the burning benzol leaked through the ship's decks and into its hold. The Mont Blanc was shipping large quantities of ammunition to Europe because of World War I. The hold contained over 2 700 tons (2 400 metric tonnes) of explosives, including TNT, guncotton, and picric acid. After desperate attempts to extinguish the flames the crew of the ship leaped overboard and attempted to swim as far away as possible.

Mont Blanc cargo:

At 9:04:35 the fire reached the hold and a massive explosion ensued. The Mont Blanc was launched over a mile into the air. Over 2.5 km2 of Halifax were levelled and windows were shattered in Truro, Nova Scotia, 100 kilometers away. An anchor from the Mont Blanc was found five kilometers from the harbour. The disaster resulted in 1 635 deaths, five to six thousand injuries and, according to one conservative estimate, approximately 28 million dollars in damage. A detailed estimate showed that of those killed, 600 were under the age of 15; 166 were laborers; 134 were soldiers and sailors; 125 were craftsmen; 39 were workers for the railway. Many of the wounds were also permanently debilitating, with many people blinded by flying glass. The large number of eye injuries led to great efforts on the parts of physicians, and a collaborative effort managed to greatly improve the treatment of damaged eyes.

Casualties :

The following day a blizzard hit the city, crippling recovery efforts. But relief still came in from around North America and the world, but most speedy, and most generous was the help from Boston and from the state of Massachusetts to the south. To this day the citizens of Halifax still donate a large Christmas tree to Boston each year. The friendship also explains why even today many Nova Scotians are Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox fans.

The telegraph operator on duty that day, Vince Coleman, recognized the severity of the situation and remained at his post while attempting to contact a train that was headed toward Halifax carrying around 700 passengers. He was a casualty of the subsequent explosion but the train and its passengers were spared.

Much local folklore has stemmed from this event. One tale includes that of a window on the leeward side of the harbour in St. Paul's Church in Parade Square. The hole made in the window by the explosion resembles the bust of a person. A piece of debris from the disaster is still embedded in the foyer wall above the entrance to the sanctuary.

The explosion and aftermath were the inspiration for Hugh MacLennan's novel Barometer Rising.

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