Posted by: Jennifer | December 6, 2006

remembering a piece of halifax’s history

89 years ago, the landscape of Halifax changed dramatically.

The Halifax Explosion was a Canadian disaster which occurred on Thursday, December 6, 1917, at 9:04:35 a.m. local time in Nova Scotia’s Halifax Harbour.

The waterfront areas of the City of Halifax and its neighbouring community of Richmond, along with the waterfront area of the cross-harbour town of Dartmouth were devastated when the French munitions ship Mont-Blanc collided in a narrow section of the harbour with the Norwegian ship Imo chartered to carry Belgian relief supplies.

The Mont-Blanc was inbound to the harbour that morning while the Imo was outbound. At the time, two-way passage by vessels through the narrow section of the harbour (called “The Narrows”) connecting the Atlantic Ocean and outer harbour with the Bedford Basin was unrestricted, so long as vessels followed established collision regulations.

In the aftermath of the collision, Mont-Blanc caught fire and exploded, killing about 2,000 people and injuring thousands more. The explosion caused a tsunami, 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.

This was the largest artificial explosion until the first atomic bomb test explosion in 1945 and still ranks highly among the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions.

I grabbed a copy of a map from the National Archives and centered it on the local of the explosion.

map of halifax (1917)

See that blue X in the bottom right of the map? (You can click on it and make it larger if you want a better view). If I follow the roads that exist on the map, I can make a rough guess of where my apartment is in relation to the explosion. If there was anything here back then, it probably faired relatively okay — it seems to have been just outside the main blast radius. There was probably some damage and injuries, but nothing nearly has horrific as what happened in Halifax.

Of course, there are no official markers in the middle of the harbour to show where the Mont Blanc blew up, but there are monuments and reminders all around the city. This is a city that definitely tries to remember it’s past, and they are doing an awesome job of it. Personally, my favourite memorial is the one for the unidentified victims of the explosion, which is located across the street from the Halifax Shopping Centre.

If you are interested in learning more about the Halifax Explosion, there are some links in the extended portion of this post. A little learning never hurt anyone, and this is something worth learning about.

Oh, a little trivia for you to finish off my attempt at educating all of you. The city of Boston provided a tremendous amount of assistance in the aftermath of the explosion. Every year since 1917, as a way of saying thank you, the province of Nova Scotia donates a Christmas tree to the city of Boston. This tree is used as the official Christmas tree for the state and is lit and displayed in the Boston Common. So, if you happen to be in Boston during the holiday season, you can look at the beautiful Christmas tree and know that it came all the way from Canada as our way of saying thanks.

The National Archives
CBC Archives — this is the Histori video about Vince Coleman, one of the heroes of the explosion
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Mysteries of Canada


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