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Halifax Explosion -- December 6, 1917

During the First World War, Halifax harbour was crowded with wartime shipping traffic. On December 6, 1917, a Norwegian ship, the Imo, collided with a French munitions ship, the Mont Blanc. The Mont Blanc caught fire and, about twenty minutes later, exploded. The explosion was the greatest known man-made explosion until the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.

Photograph of soldiers digging through ruins for victims of the explosion, Halifax, 1917


Soldiers engaged in rescue work after the explosion, Halifax, 1917

The Imo, behind schedule, rushed out of the Bedford Basin, bound for Belgium, while the Mont Blanc entered the harbour. At the entrance to The Narrows (the narrowest part of Halifax Harbour), after a series of ill-judged manoeuvres, the Imo struck the Mont Blanc. It was about 8:45 a.m. Fire immediately broke out on the Mont Blanc, which was fully loaded with explosives. The ship drifted and came to rest against a pier located in the north end of Halifax. Unaware of the danger, many people gathered to watch the burning ship.

Photograph of a huge pile of debris from the explosion, Halifax, 1917


Aftermath of the explosion, Halifax, 1917

Just before 9:05 a.m., the Mont Blanc exploded. Many churches, houses, schools, factories, docks and ships were destroyed in the initial blast. Fragments rained on the surrounding area. As debris landed on hot cooking stoves and furnaces, fires broke out throughout the city. A large wave, caused by the blast, ravaged the shoreline. By nightfall, a vicious snowstorm set in and continued into the next day. By the time the whole ordeal came to an end, there were more than 1,900 people dead, 9,000 injured, hundreds blinded by flying glass and thousands homeless.

Survivors quickly formed rescue crews. Hospitals and shelters were soon overcrowded. Word went out to the surrounding areas. Help poured in from all over Canada and many parts of the world, especially Massachusetts.

Photograph of Gottingen Street showing people walking passed the damaged buildings, Halifax, 1917


Damaged buildings on Gottingen Street and Fort Needham in the distance, Halifax, 1917

As a result of the tragedy, medical treatment, social welfare, public health and hospital facilities increased and improved. Regulations relating to the harbour were tightened. Many gravestones, artifacts and monuments in Halifax and Dartmouth are reminders of the explosion. The Memorial Bell Tower, built in 1985 on Fort Needham in the neighbourhood hardest hit by the explosion, is rung every December 6th at 9 a.m. in memory of the victims.

Newspaper article: HALIFAX CITY IS WRECKED

Newspaper article: HALIFAX DEAD MAY BE 2,000