A view of the pyrocumulus cloud
|Location||Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada|
|Date||6 December 1917 |
9:04:35 am (AST)
|Deaths||2,000 (estimate) (1,950 confirmed)|
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Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Halifax Explosion was a maritime disaster in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, which happened on the morning of 6 December 1917. The Norwegian vessel SS Imo collided with SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin, causing a large explosion on the French freighter, devastating the Richmond district of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed by the blast, debris, fires or collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured. The blast was the largest man-made explosion at the time, releasing the equivalent energy of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT (12,000 GJ ).
Halifax, officially known as the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), is the capital of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. It had a population of 403,131 in 2016, with 316,701 in the urban area centred on Halifax Harbour. The regional municipality consists of four former municipalities that were amalgamated in 1996: Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, and Halifax County.
SS Imo was a steamship that served in passenger and freight trades and later as a whaling supply ship. Christened SS Runic, she was bought, sold and renamed numerous times during her career. In 1917, Imo was under Norwegian registry chartered by the Belgian Relief Commission to bring supplies to war-ravaged Europe.
SSMont-Blanc was a freighter built in Middlesbrough, England in 1899 and purchased by the French company, Société Générale de Transport Maritime (SGTM). On Thursday morning, 6 December 1917, she entered Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia, Canada laden with a full cargo of highly volatile explosives. As she made her way through the Narrows towards Bedford Basin, she was involved in a collision with SS Imo, a Norwegian ship. A fire aboard the French ship ignited her cargo of wet and dry 2300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, and 10 tons of guncotton. The resultant Halifax Explosion levelled the Richmond District and killed approximately 2,000 people, and the injured were approximately 9000.
Mont-Blanc was under orders from the French government to carry her cargo from New York City via Halifax to Bordeaux, France. At roughly 8:45 am, she collided at low speed, approximately one knot (1.2 mph or 1.9 km/h), with the unladen Imo, chartered by the Commission for Relief in Belgium to pick up a cargo of relief supplies in New York. On the Mont-Blanc, the impact damaged benzol barrels stored on deck, leaking vapors which were ignited by sparks from the collision, setting off a fire on board that quickly grew out of control. Approximately 20 minutes later at 9:04:35 am, the Mont-Blanc exploded.
The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne in the Gironde department in Southwestern France.
The Commission for Relief in Belgium or C.R.B. − known also as just Belgian Relief − was an international organization that arranged for the supply of food to German-occupied Belgium and northern France during the First World War.
Nearly all structures within an 800-metre (half-mile) radius, including the community of Richmond, were obliterated.A pressure wave snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels (including Imo, which was washed ashore by the ensuing tsunami), and scattered fragments of Mont-Blanc for kilometres. Across the harbour, in Dartmouth, there was also widespread damage. A tsunami created by the blast wiped out the community of the Mi'kmaq First Nation who had lived in the Tufts Cove area for generations.
A tsunami or tidal wave is a series of waves in a water body caused by the displacement of a large volume of water, generally in an ocean or a large lake. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami. Unlike normal ocean waves, which are generated by wind, or tides, which are generated by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun, a tsunami is generated by the displacement of water.
Dartmouth is a former city and community located in the Halifax Regional Municipality of Nova Scotia, Canada. Dartmouth is located on the eastern shore of Halifax Harbour. Dartmouth has been nicknamed the City of Lakes, after the large number of lakes located within its boundaries.
Tufts Cove is an urban neighbourhood in the Dartmouth area of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It is situated on the eastern shore of Halifax Harbour in the North End of Dartmouth. The neighbourhood boundaries of Tufts Cove are approximately from Albro Lake Road in the south to Highway 111 in the north, and from Victoria Road in the east with the harbour to the west.
Relief efforts began almost immediately, and hospitals quickly became full. Rescue trains began arriving the day of the explosion from across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick while other trains from central Canada and the northeastern United States were impeded by blizzards. Construction of temporary shelters to house the many people left homeless began soon after the disaster. The initial judicial inquiry found Mont-Blanc to have been responsible for the disaster, but a later appeal determined that both vessels were to blame. In the North End, there are several memorials to the victims of the explosion.
New Brunswick is one of four Atlantic provinces on the east coast of Canada. According to the Constitution of Canada, New Brunswick is the only bilingual province. About two-thirds of the population declare themselves anglophones, and one third francophones. One-third of the population describes themselves as bilingual. Atypically for Canada, only about half of the population lives in urban areas, mostly in Greater Moncton, Greater Saint John and the capital Fredericton.
The Northeastern United States, also referred to as simply the Northeast, is a geographical region of the United States bordered to the north by Canada, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the Southern United States, and to the west by the Midwestern United States. The Northeast is one of the four regions defined by the United States Census Bureau for the collection and analysis of statistics.
The North End of Halifax is a subdivision of Halifax, Nova Scotia occupying the northern part of Halifax Peninsula immediately north of Downtown Halifax. The area once included historic Africville, and parts of it were severely damaged in the Halifax Explosion during World War I. A neighbourhood with strong African Nova Scotian roots, more recently the area has undergone gentrification.
Dartmouth lies on the east shore of Halifax Harbour, and Halifax is on the west shore. Halifax and Dartmouth had thrived during times of war; the harbour was one of the British Royal Navy's most important bases in North America, a centre for wartime trade, and a home to privateers who harried the British Empire's enemies during the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812.
The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.
The American Revolution was a colonial revolt which occurred between 1765 and 1783. The American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) with the assistance of France, winning independence from Great Britain and establishing the United States of America.
The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).
The completion of the Intercolonial Railway and its Deep Water Terminal in 1880 allowed for increased steamship trade and led to accelerated development of the port area,but Halifax faced an economic downturn in the 1890s as local factories lost ground to competitors in central Canada. The British garrison left the city in late 1905 and early 1906. The Canadian government took over the Halifax Dockyard (now CFB Halifax) from the Royal Navy. This dockyard later became the command centre of the Royal Canadian Navy upon its founding in 1910.
The Intercolonial Railway of Canada, also referred to as the Intercolonial Railway (ICR), was a historic Canadian railway that operated from 1872 to 1918, when it became part of Canadian National Railways. As the railway was also completely owned and controlled by the federal government, the Intercolonial was also one of Canada's first Crown corporations.
Royal Naval Dockyard, Halifax was a Royal Navy base in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Established in 1759, the Halifax Yard served as the headquarters for the Royal Navy's North American Station for sixty years, starting with the Seven Years' War. The Royal Navy continued to operate the station until it was closed in 1905. The station was sold to Canada in 1907 becoming Her Majesty's Canadian Dockyard, a function it still serves today as part of CFB Halifax.
Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Halifax is Canada's east coast naval base and home port to the Royal Canadian Navy Atlantic fleet, known as Canadian Fleet Atlantic (CANFLTLANT), that forms part of the formation Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT).
Just before the First World War, the Canadian government began a determined, costly effort to develop the harbour and waterfront facilities.The outbreak of the war brought Halifax back to prominence. As the Royal Canadian Navy had virtually no seaworthy ships of its own, the Royal Navy assumed responsibility for maintaining Atlantic trade routes by re-adopting Halifax as its North American base of operations. In 1915, management of the harbour fell under the control of the Royal Canadian Navy under the supervision of Captain Superintendent Edward Harrington Martin; by 1917 there was a growing naval fleet in Halifax, including patrol ships, tugboats, and minesweepers.
The population of Halifax/Dartmouth had increased to between 60,000 and 65,000 people by 1917.Convoys carried men, animals, and supplies to the European theatre of war. The two main points of departure were in Nova Scotia at Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, and Halifax. Hospital ships brought the wounded to the city, and a new military hospital was constructed in the city.
The success of German U-boat attacks on ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean led the Allies to institute a convoy system to reduce losses while transporting goods and soldiers to Europe.Merchant ships gathered at Bedford Basin on the northwestern end of the harbour, which was protected by two sets of anti-submarine nets and guarded by patrol ships of the Royal Canadian Navy.
The convoys departed under the protection of British cruisers and destroyers.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, and the weight of goods passing through the harbour increased nearly ninefold. All neutral ships bound for ports in North America were required to report to Halifax for inspection.
The Norwegian ship SS Imo had sailed from the Netherlands en route to New York to take on relief supplies for Belgium, under the command of Haakon From. The ship arrived in Halifax on 3 December for neutral inspection and spent two days in Bedford Basin awaiting refuelling supplies. Though given clearance to leave the port on 5 December, Imo's departure was delayed because her coal load did not arrive until late that afternoon. The loading of fuel was not completed until after the anti-submarine nets had been raised for the night. Therefore, the vessel could not weigh anchor until the next morning.
The French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc arrived from New York late on 5 December, under the command of Aimé Le Medec. The vessel was fully loaded with the explosives TNT and picric acid, the highly flammable fuel benzole, and guncotton. She intended to join a slow convoy gathering in Bedford Basin readying to depart for Europe but was too late to enter the harbour before the nets were raised. Ships carrying dangerous cargo were not allowed into the harbour before the war, but the risks posed by German submarines had resulted in a relaxation of regulations.
Navigating into or out of Bedford Basin required passage through a strait called the Narrows. Ships were expected to keep to the starboard (right) side of the channel as they passed oncoming traffic; that is, vessels were required to pass "port to port". 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) within the harbour.Ships were restricted to a speed of
Imo was granted clearance to leave Bedford Basin by signals from the guard ship HMCS Acadia at approximately 7:30 on the morning of 6 December,with Pilot William Hayes on board. The ship entered the Narrows well above the harbour's speed limit in an attempt to make up for the delay experienced in loading her coal. Imo met American tramp steamer SS Clara being piloted up the wrong (western) side of the harbour. The pilots agreed to pass starboard-to-starboard. Soon afterwards, Imo was forced to head even further towards the Dartmouth shore after passing the tugboat Stella Maris , which was travelling up the harbour to Bedford Basin near mid-channel. Horatio Brannen, the captain of Stella Maris, saw Imo approaching at excessive speed and ordered his ship closer to the western shore to avoid an accident.
Francis Mackey, an experienced harbour pilot, had boarded Mont-Blanc on the evening of 5 December 1917; he had asked about "special protections" such as a guard ship, given the Mont-Blanc's cargo, but no protections were put in place. am on 6 December and was the second ship to enter the harbour as the anti-submarine net between Georges Island and Pier 21 opened for the morning. Mont-Blanc headed towards Bedford Basin on the Dartmouth side of the harbour. Mackey kept his eye on the ferry traffic between Halifax and Dartmouth and other small boats in the area. He first spotted Imo when she was about 0.75 miles (1.21 km) away and became concerned as her path appeared to be heading towards his ship's starboard side, as if to cut him off. Mackey gave a short blast of his ship's signal whistle to indicate that he had the right of way but was met with two short blasts from Imo, indicating that the approaching vessel would not yield its position. The captain ordered Mont-Blanc to halt her engines and angle slightly to starboard, closer to the Dartmouth side of the Narrows. He let out another single blast of his whistle, hoping the other vessel would likewise move to starboard but was again met with a double-blast.Mont-Blanc started moving at 7:30
Sailors on nearby ships heard the series of signals and, realizing that a collision was imminent, gathered to watch as Imo bore down on Mont-Blanc. 's prow pushed into the No. 1 hold of Mont Blanc, on her starboard side.Both ships had cut their engines by this point, but their momentum carried them right on top of each other at slow speed. Unable to ground his ship for fear of a shock that would set off his explosive cargo, Mackey ordered Mont-Blanc to steer hard to port (starboard helm) and crossed the bow of Imo in a last-second bid to avoid a collision. The two ships were almost parallel to each other, when Imo suddenly sent out three signal blasts, indicating the ship was reversing its engines. The combination of the cargoless ship's height in the water and the transverse thrust of her right-hand propeller caused the ship's head to swing into Mont-Blanc. Imo
The collision occurred at 8:45 am. The damage to Mont Blanc was not severe, but barrels of deck cargo toppled and broke open. This flooded the deck with benzol that quickly flowed into the hold. As Imo's engines kicked in, she disengaged, which created sparks inside Mont-Blanc's hull. These ignited the vapours from the benzol. A fire started at the water line and travelled quickly up the side of the ship. Surrounded by thick black smoke, and fearing she would explode almost immediately, the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship. A growing number of Halifax citizens gathered on the street or stood at the windows of their homes or businesses to watch the spectacular fire. The frantic crew of Mont-Blanc shouted from their two lifeboats to some of the other vessels that their ship was about to explode, but they could not be heard above the noise and confusion. As the lifeboats made their way across the harbour to the Dartmouth shore, the abandoned ship continued to drift and beached herself at Pier 6 near the foot of Richmond street.
Towing two scows at the time of the collision,Stella Maris responded immediately to the fire, anchoring the barges and steaming back towards Pier 6 to spray the burning ship with their fire hose. The tug's captain, Horatio H. Brannen, and his crew realized that the fire was too intense for their single hose and backed off from the burning Mont Blanc. They were approached by a whaler from HMS Highflyer and later a steam pinnace belonging to HMCS Niobe. Captain Brannen and Albert Mattison of Niobe agreed to secure a line to the French ship's stern so as to pull it away from the pier to avoid setting it on fire. The five-inch (127-millimetre) hawser initially produced was deemed too small and orders for a ten-inch (254-millimetre) hawser came down. It was at this point that the blast occurred.
At 9:04:35 am the out-of-control fire on board Mont-Blanc set off her highly explosive cargo. The ship was completely blown apart and a powerful blast wave radiated away from the explosion at more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) per second. Temperatures of 5,000 °C (9,000 °F) and pressures of thousands of atmospheres accompanied the moment of detonation at the centre of the explosion. White-hot shards of iron fell down upon Halifax and Dartmouth. Mont-Blanc's forward 90-mm gun, its barrel melted away, landed approximately 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) north of the explosion site near Albro Lake in Dartmouth, and the shank of her anchor, weighing half a ton, landed 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south at Armdale.
A cloud of white smoke rose to over 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). The shock wave from the blast travelled through the earth at nearly 23 times the speed of sound and was felt as far away as Cape Breton (207 kilometres or 129 miles) and Prince Edward Island (180 kilometres or 110 miles). An area of over 160 hectares (400 acres) was completely destroyed by the explosion, and the harbour floor was momentarily exposed by the volume of water that was displaced. A tsunami was formed by water surging in to fill the void; it rose as high as 18 metres (60 ft) above the high-water mark on the Halifax side of the harbour. Imo was carried onto the shore at Dartmouth by the tsunami. The blast killed all but one on the whaler, everyone on the pinnace and 21 of the 26 men on Stella Maris; she ended up on the Dartmouth shore, severely damaged. The captain's son, First Mate Walter Brannen, who had been thrown into the hold by the blast, survived, as did four others. All but one of the Mont-Blanc crew members survived.
Over 1,600 people were killed instantly and 9,000 were injured, more than 300 of whom later died. 2.6-kilometre (1.6 mi) radius, over 12,000 in total, was destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of people who had been watching the fire from their homes were blinded when the blast wave shattered the windows in front of them. Stoves and lamps overturned by the force of the blast sparked fires throughout Halifax, particularly in the North End, where entire city blocks were caught up in the inferno, trapping residents inside their houses. Firefighter Billy Wells, who was thrown away from the explosion and had his clothes torn from his body, described the devastation survivors faced: "The sight was awful, with people hanging out of windows dead. Some with their heads missing, and some thrown onto the overhead telegraph wires." He was the only member of the eight-man crew of the fire engine Patricia to survive.Every building within a
Large brick and stone factories near Pier 6, such as the Acadia Sugar Refinery, disappeared into unrecognizable heaps of rubble, killing most of their workers. km (0.93 mile) from the blast was destroyed by fire and the collapse of its concrete floors. The Royal Naval College of Canada building was badly damaged, and several cadets and instructors maimed. The Richmond Railway Yards and station were destroyed, killing 55 railway workers and destroying and damaging over 500 railway cars. The North Street Station, one of the busiest in Canada, was badly damaged.The Nova Scotia cotton mill located 1.5
The death toll could have been worse had it not been for the self-sacrifice of an Intercolonial Railway dispatcher, Patrick Vincent (Vince) Coleman, operating at the railyard about 750 feet (230 m) from Pier 6, where the explosion occurred. He and his co-worker, William Lovett, learned of the dangerous cargo aboard the burning Mont-Blanc from a sailor and began to flee. Coleman remembered that an incoming passenger train from Saint John, New Brunswick, was due to arrive at the railyard within minutes. He returned to his post alone and continued to send out urgent telegraph messages to stop the train. Several variations of the message have been reported, among them this from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic: "Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbor making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys." Coleman's message was responsible for bringing all incoming trains around Halifax to a halt. It was heard by other stations all along the Intercolonial Railway, helping railway officials to respond immediately. Passenger Train No. 10, the overnight train from Saint John, 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. Coleman was killed at his post as the explosion ripped through the city. He was honoured with a Heritage Minute in the 1990s, inducted into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame in 2004, and a new Halifax-Dartmouth Ferry was named for him in 2018.
First rescue efforts came from surviving neighbours and co-workers who pulled and dug out victims from buildings. The initial informal response was soon joined by surviving policemen, firefighters and military personnel who began to arrive, as did anyone with a working vehicle; cars, trucks and delivery wagons of all kinds were enlisted to collect the wounded.A flood of victims soon began to arrive at the city's hospitals, which were quickly overwhelmed. The new military hospital, Camp Hill, admitted approximately 1,400 victims on 6 December.
Firefighters were among the first to respond to the disaster, rushing to Mont-Blanc to attempt to extinguish the blaze before the explosion even occurred. 200 kilometres or 120 miles) and Moncton, New Brunswick, (260 kilometres or 160 miles) on relief trains. Halifax Fire Department's West Street Station 2 was the first to arrive at Pier 6 with the crew of the Patricia, the first motorized fire engine in Canada. In the final moments before the explosion, hoses were being unrolled as the fire spread to the docks. Nine members of the Halifax Fire Department lost their lives performing their duty that day.They also played a role after the blast, with fire companies arriving to assist from across Halifax, and by the end of the day from as far away as Amherst, Nova Scotia, (
Royal Navy cruisers in port sent some of the first organized rescue parties ashore. HMS Highflyer, along with the armed merchant cruisers HMS Changuinola, HMS Knight Templar and HMS Calgarian, sent boats ashore with rescue parties and medical personnel and soon began to take wounded aboard. Morrill, also sent a rescue party ashore. Out at sea, the American cruiser USS Tacoma and armed merchant cruiser USS Von Steuben (formerly SS Kronprinz Wilhelm) were passing Halifax en route to the United States. Tacoma was rocked so severely by the blast wave that her crew went to general quarters. Spotting the large and rising column of smoke, Tacoma altered course and arrived to assist rescue at 2 pm. Von Steuben arrived a half-hour later. The American steamship Old Colony, docked in Halifax for repairs, suffered little damage and was quickly converted to serve as a hospital ship, staffed by doctors and orderlies from the British and American navy vessels in the harbour.A US Coast Guard cutter, USRC
Dazed survivors immediately feared that the explosion was the result of a bomb dropped from a German plane.Troops at gun batteries and barracks immediately turned out in case the city was under attack, but within an hour switched from defence to rescue roles as the cause and location of the explosion were determined. All available troops were called in from harbour fortifications and barracks to the North End to rescue survivors and provide transport to the city's hospitals, including the two army hospitals in the city.
Adding to the chaos were fears of a potential second explosion. A cloud of steam shot out of ventilators at the ammunition magazine at Wellington Barracks as naval personnel extinguished a fire by the magazine. The fire was quickly put out; the cloud was seen from blocks away and quickly led to rumours that another explosion was imminent.Uniformed officers ordered everyone away from the area. As the rumour spread across the city, many families fled their homes. The confusion hampered efforts for over two hours until fears were dispelled by about noon. Many rescuers ignored the evacuation, and naval rescue parties continued working uninterrupted at the harbour.
Surviving railway workers in the railyards at the heart of the disaster carried out rescue work, pulling people from the harbour and from under debris. The overnight train from Saint John was just approaching the city when hit by the blast but was only slightly damaged. It continued into Richmond until the track was blocked by wreckage. Passengers and soldiers aboard used the emergency tools from the train to dig people out of houses and bandaged them with sheets from the sleeping cars. The train was loaded with injured and left the city at 1:30 with a doctor aboard, to evacuate the wounded to Truro.
Led by Lieutenant Governor MacCallum Grant, leading citizens formed the Halifax Relief Commission at around noon. The committee organized members in charge of organizing medical relief for both Halifax and Dartmouth, supplying transportation, food and shelter, and covering medical and funeral costs for victims.The commission would continue until 1976, participating in reconstruction and relief efforts and later distributing pensions to survivors.
Rescue trains were dispatched from across Atlantic Canada, as well as the northeastern United States. The first left Truro around 10 am carrying medical personnel and supplies, arrived in Halifax by noon and returned to Truro with the wounded and homeless by 3 pm. The track had become impassable after Rockingham, on the western edge of Bedford Basin. To reach the wounded, rescue personnel had to walk through parts of the devastated city until they reached a point where the military had begun to clear the streets. By nightfall, a dozen trains had reached Halifax from the Nova Scotian towns of Truro, Kentville, Amherst, Stellarton, Pictou, and Sydney and from the New Brunswick towns of Sackville, Moncton and Saint John.
Relief efforts were hampered the following day by a blizzard that blanketed Halifax with 16 inches (41 cm) of heavy snow. Trains en route from other parts of Canada and from the United States were stalled in snowdrifts, and telegraph lines that had been hastily repaired following the explosion were again knocked down. Halifax was isolated by the storm, and rescue committees were forced to suspend the search for survivors; the storm aided efforts to put out fires throughout the city.
The exact number killed by the disaster is unknown. The Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book, an official database compiled in 2002 by the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, identified 1,950 victims.As many as 1,600 people died immediately in the blast, tsunami, and collapse of buildings. The last body, a caretaker killed at the Exhibition Grounds, was not recovered until the summer of 1919. An additional 9,000 were injured. 1,630 homes were destroyed in the explosion and fires, and another 12,000 damaged; roughly 6,000 people were left homeless and 25,000 had insufficient shelter. The city's industrial sector was in large part gone, with many workers among the casualties and the dockyard heavily damaged.
A mortuary committee chaired by Alderman R. B. Coldwell was quickly formed at Halifax City Hall on the morning of the disaster. The Chebucto Road School (now the Maritime Academy of Performing Arts) in Halifax's west end was chosen as a central morgue.A company of the Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) repaired and converted the basement of the school to serve as a morgue and classrooms to serve as offices for the Halifax coroner. Trucks and wagons soon began to arrive with bodies. Coroner Arthur S. Barnstead took over from Coldwell as the morgue went into operation and implemented a system to carefully number and describe bodies; it was based on the system developed by his father, John Henry Barnstead, to identify Titanic victims in 1912.
Many of the wounds inflicted by the blast were permanently debilitating, such as those caused by flying glass or by the flash of the explosion. Thousands of people had stopped to watch the ship burning in the harbour, many from inside buildings, leaving them directly in the path of glass fragments from shattered windows. Roughly 5,900 eye injuries were reported, and 41 people lost their sight permanently.
An estimated c$35 million in damage resulted (c$591 million today). About $30 million in financial aid was raised from various sources, including $18 million from the federal government, over $4 million from the British government, and $750,000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Dartmouth was not as densely populated as Halifax and was separated from the blast by the width of the harbour, but still suffered heavy damage. Almost 100 people were estimated to have 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 in Dartmouth and many of the victims were treated there.
There were small enclaves of Mi'kmaq in and around the coves of Bedford Basin on the Dartmouth shore. Directly opposite to Pier 9 on the Halifax side sat a community in Tufts Cove, also known as Turtle Grove. The settlement, dating back to the 18th century, had been a subject of controversy because white settler landowners wanted to remove the Mi'kmaq residents. In the years and months preceding the explosion, the Department of Indian Affairs had been actively trying to force the Mi'kmaq to give up their land, but this had not occurred by the time of the explosion.The fire aboard Mont-Blanc drew the attention of many onlookers on both sides of the harbour. The physical structures of the settlement were obliterated by the explosion and tsunami. A precise Mi'kmaq death toll is unknown; records show that nine bodies were recovered, and the settlement was not rebuilt in the wake of the disaster. The Halifax Remembrance Book lists 16 members of the Tufts Cove Community as dead; not all the dead listed as in Tufts Cove were Indigenous. Survivors were housed in a racially segregated building under generally poor conditions and eventually dispersed around Nova Scotia.
The black community of Africville, on the southern shores of 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.Africville's small and frail homes were heavily damaged by the explosion. Families recorded the deaths of five residents. Africville received little of the donated relief funds and none of the progressive reconstruction invested in other parts of the city after the explosion.
Many people in Halifax at first believed the explosion to be the result of a German attack.The Halifax Herald continued to propagate this belief for some time, for example reporting that Germans had mocked victims of the explosion. While John Johansen, the Norwegian helmsman of Imo, was being treated for serious injuries sustained during the explosion, it was reported to the military police that he had been behaving suspiciously. Johansen was arrested on suspicions of being a German spy when a search turned up a letter on his person, supposedly written in German. It turned out that the letter was actually written in Norwegian. Immediately following the explosion, most of the German survivors in Halifax had been rounded up and imprisoned. Eventually the fear dissipated as the real cause of the explosion became known, although rumours of German involvement persisted.
A judicial inquiry known as the Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry was formed to investigate the causes of the collision. Proceedings began at the Halifax Court House on 13 December 1917, presided over by Justice Arthur Drysdale. 's captain, Aimé Le Médec, the ship's pilot, Francis Mackey, and Commander F. Evan Wyatt, the Royal Canadian Navy's chief examining officer in charge of the harbour, gates and anti-submarine defences, for causing the collision. Drysdale agreed with Dominion Wreck Commissioner L. A. Demers' opinion that "it was the Mont-Blanc's responsibility alone to ensure that she avoided a collision at all costs" given her cargo; he was likely influenced by local opinion, which was strongly anti-French, as well as by the "street fighter" style of argumentation used by Imo lawyer Charles Burchell. According to Crown counsel W. A. Henry, this was "a great surprise to most people", who had expected the Imo to be blamed for being on the wrong side of the channel. All three men were charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence at a preliminary hearing heard by Stipendiary Magistrate Richard A. McLeod, and bound over for trial. A Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice, Benjamin Russell, found there was no evidence to support these charges. Mackey was discharged on a writ of habeas corpus and the charges dropped. The charges against Le Médec were also dismissed. This left only Wyatt to face a grand jury hearing. On 17 April 1918, a jury acquitted him in a trial that lasted less than a day.The inquiry's report of 4 February 1918 blamed Mont-Blanc
Drysdale also oversaw the first civil litigation trial, in which the owners of the two ships sought damages from each other. His decision (27 April 1918) found Mont-Blanc entirely at fault.Subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada (19 May 1919), and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London (22 March 1920), determined Mont-Blanc and Imo were equally to blame for navigational errors that led to the collision. No party was ever convicted for any crime or otherwise successfully prosecuted for any actions that precipitated the disaster.
Efforts began shortly after the explosion to clear debris, repair buildings, and establish temporary housing for survivors left homeless by the explosion. By late January 1918, around 5,000 were still without shelter.A reconstruction committee under Colonel Robert Low constructed 832 new housing units, which were furnished by the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Fund.
Partial train service resumed from a temporary rail terminal in the city's South End on 7 December. Full service resumed on 9 December when tracks were cleared and the North Street Station reopened. The Canadian Government Railways created a special unit to clear and repair railway yards as well as rebuild railway piers and the Naval Dockyard. Most piers returned to operation by late December and were repaired by January.The North End Halifax neighbourhood of Richmond bore the brunt of the explosion. In 1917, Richmond was considered a working-class neighbourhood and had few paved roads. After the explosion, the Halifax Relief Commission approached the reconstruction of Richmond as an opportunity to improve and modernize the city's North End. English town planner Thomas Adams and Montreal architectural firm Ross and Macdonald were recruited to design a new housing plan 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 neighbourhood. The planners designed 326 large homes that each faced a tree-lined, paved boulevard. They specified that the homes be built with a new and innovative fireproof material, blocks of compressed cement called Hydrostone. The first of these homes was occupied by March 1919. Once finished, the Hydrostone neighbourhood consisted of homes, businesses and parks, which helped create a new sense of community in the North End of Halifax. It has now become an upscale neighbourhood and shopping district. In contrast, the equally poor and underdeveloped area of Africville was not included in reconstruction efforts.
Every building in the Halifax dockyard required some degree of rebuilding, as did HMCS Niobe and the docks themselves; all of the Royal Canadian Navy's minesweepers and patrol boats were undamaged.Prime Minister Robert Borden pledged that the government would be "co-operating in every way to reconstruct the Port of Halifax: this was of utmost importance to the Empire". Captain Symington of USS Tacoma speculated that the port would not be operational for months, but a convoy departed on 11 December and dockyard operations resumed before Christmas.
The Halifax Explosion was one of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions. An extensive comparison of 130 major explosions by Halifax historian Jay White 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."For many years afterward, the Halifax Explosion was the standard by which all large blasts were measured. For instance, in its report on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Time wrote that the explosive power of the Little Boy bomb was seven times that of the Halifax Explosion.
The many eye injuries resulting from the disaster led to better understanding on the part of physicians of how to care for damaged eyes, and "with the recently formed Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Halifax became internationally known as a centre for care for the blind", according to Dalhousie University professor Victoria Allen.The lack of coordinated pediatric care in such a disaster was also noted by William Ladd, a surgeon from Boston 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. The Halifax Explosion also inspired a series of health reforms, including around public sanitation and maternity care.
Having affected virtually every family and working collective in Halifax, the event was incredibly traumatic for the whole surviving community, so the memory was largely suppressed. After the first anniversary, the city stopped commemorating the explosion for decades. The second official commemoration did not take place before the 50th anniversary in 1967, and even after that, the activities stopped again.Construction began in 1964 on the Halifax North Memorial Library, designed to commemorate the victims of the explosion. The library entrance featured the first monument built to mark the explosion, the Halifax Explosion Memorial Sculpture, created by artist Jordi Bonet. The sculpture was dismantled by the Halifax Regional Municipality in 2004 and largely destroyed while in storage. In 2015, the remaining fragments were shipped to Bonet's family in Montreal despite a public campaign to return the sculpture to memorial display. The Halifax Explosion Memorial Bells were built in 1985, relocating memorial carillon bells from a nearby church to a large concrete sculpture on Fort Needham Hill, facing the "ground zero" area of the explosion. The Bell Tower is the location of an annual civic ceremony every 6 December. A memorial at the Halifax Fire Station on Lady Hammond Road honours the firefighters killed while responding to the explosion. Fragments of Mont-Blanc have been mounted as neighbourhood monuments to the explosion at Albro Lake Road in Dartmouth, at Regatta Point, and elsewhere in the area. Simple monuments mark the mass graves of explosion victims at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery and the Bayers Road Cemetery. A Memorial Book listing the names of all the known victims is displayed at the Halifax North Memorial Library and at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which has a large permanent exhibit about the Halifax Explosion. Harold Gilman was commissioned to create a painting memorializing the event; his work, Halifax Harbour at Sunset, "tells very little about the recent devastation, as the viewpoint is set back so that the harbour appears undisturbed".
Hugh MacLennan's novel Barometer Rising (1941) 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's use of the romance genre to fictionalize the explosion is similar to the first attempt by Lieutenant-Colonel Frank McKelvey Bell, author of the short novella A Romance of the Halifax Disaster (1918). This work follows the love affair of a young woman and an injured soldier. Keith Ross Leckie scripted a miniseries entitled Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion (2003), which took the title but has no relationship to Janet Kitz's non-fiction book Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery (1990). The film was criticized for distortions and inaccuracies.
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.That gift was revived in 1971 by the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association, which began an annual donation of a large tree to promote Christmas tree exports as well as acknowledge Boston's 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. The tree is Boston's official Christmas tree and is lit on Boston Common throughout the holiday season. In deference to its symbolic importance for both cities, the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources has specific guidelines for selecting the tree.
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Andrew Randall Cobb, ARCA, FRIBA was a Canadian-American architect based in Nova Scotia.
Patrick Vincent Coleman was a train dispatcher for the Canadian Government Railways who was killed in the Halifax Explosion, but not before he sent a message to an incoming passenger train to stop out of range of the explosion. Today he is remembered as one of the heroic figures from the disaster.
Halifax Harbour is a large natural harbour on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, located in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Halifax, Nova Scotia was originally inhabited by the Mi'kmaq. The first European settlers to arrive in the future Halifax region were French, in the early 1600s, establishing the colony of Acadia. The British settled Halifax in 1749, which sparked Father Le Loutre's War. To guard against Mi'kmaq, Acadian, and French attacks on the new Protestant settlements, British fortifications were erected in Halifax (1749), Bedford (1749), Dartmouth (1750), and Lawrencetown (1754). St. Margaret's Bay was first settled by French-speaking Foreign Protestants at French Village, Nova Scotia who migrated from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia during the American Revolution. All of these regions were amalgamated into the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) in 1996. While all of the regions of HRM developed separately over the last 250 years, their histories have also been intertwined.
Dartmouth founded in 1750, is a Metropolitan Area and former city in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
HMS Niobe was a ship of the Diadem class of protected cruisers in the Royal Navy. She served in the Boer War and was then given to Canada as the second ship of the newly created Naval Service of Canada as HMCS Niobe. The Naval Service of Canada became the Royal Canadian Navy in August 1911. The ship was nearly lost when she went aground off Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia overnight 30–31 July 1911. Repairs were completed at the end of 1912 and the ship returned to service in late 1914. During the First World War, Niobe patrolled the approaches to the St. Lawrence River and then joined the Royal Navy's 4th Cruiser Squadron to patrol off New York City. The cruiser returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia on 17 July 1915 and never put to sea again. Niobe was paid off in September and served as a depot ship in Halifax. Damaged in the 1917 Halifax Explosion, she was sold for scrap and broken up in the 1920s.
Benjamin Russell was a Canadian lawyer, professor of law, judge, and politician in the province Nova Scotia.
Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery is a 1989 Canadian non-fiction book by Janet Kitz describing the experience of the Halifax Explosion with an emphasis on the experience of ordinary people and families who became victims or survivors of the 1917 munitions explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The book broke new ground, making extensive use of oral history interviews conducted by Janet Kitz to tell previously unknown stories from the event, illustrated by documents and photographs collected by the author as well as images and artifacts from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The first book published in many years about the explosion, it broke the record for the largest number of books ever sold at a book launch in Nova Scotia and has been credited as creating a renaissance in published accounts about the 1917 disaster. The book has been reprinted several times and has remained a definitive account of the disaster which has influenced numerous works that have followed. Janet Kitz went on to write two follow-up books: Survivors: Children of the Halifax Explosion (2000) which explored in more detail the stories of children who survived and December 1917: Revisiting the Halifax Explosion (2006) with Joan Payzant which looked at the impact of the explosion on the landscape of Halifax and Dartmouth.
The Halifax Provincial Court is a courthouse on Spring Garden Road in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
John "Eric" Davidson was one of the last survivors of the Halifax Explosion. He was 2 and 1/2 years old when he was blinded by the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917. At the time of his death in 2009, Davidson was the penultimate living survivor with permanent injuries from the Halifax Explosion, which killed more than 1,600 people.
The SS Picton was a British steamship, chiefly known for its involvement in the events of the Halifax Explosion.
Whangape was a cargo ship measured at 2,931 gross register tons (GRT), built in 1899 by Sir Raylton Dixon & Co., Middlesbrough. The vessel was constructed for the British Maritime Trust as Adriana, sold while on the slips to Elder, Dempster & Company and renamed Asaba. Her engine was built by T Richardson & Sons, Hartlepool.
Stella Maris was a steamship built in 1882 as the Royal Navy gunboat HMS Starling and converted to steam tug in 1905. Stella Maris played a major role in the events of the Halifax Explosion in 1917.
The Nova Scotia Cotton Manufacturing Company was a cotton mill located in Halifax, Nova Scotia which was founded in 1882 and destroyed with great loss of life by the Halifax Explosion in 1917.
Ebenezer Moseley was a Boston-born ship builder in 19th century Nova Scotia. His best known ship is the barque Stag.
Sir Charles Ogle was a ferry that operated from 1830 until 1894 for the Halifax-Dartmouth Ferry Service. The ferry was the first steamship built in Nova Scotia and the longest serving ferry in Halifax Harbour. The ship is named for Royal Navy officer Sir Charles Ogle, 2nd Baronet, who served as Commander-in-Chief of North America and West Indies Station from 1827 to 1830.
Joan Payzant was a Canadian author most known for her historical fiction. She wrote about the history of Dartmouth and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Janet F. Kitz was an educator, author and historian in Halifax, Nova Scotia who played a key role in the recognition of the 1917 Halifax Explosion, the largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bomb and the worst man-made disaster in Canadian history.