Halifax Harbour Explosion

Check out Sophie’s brief but informative expository essay on the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

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It is December 6th, 1917 in Halifax, Nova Scotia at around 9:00 in the morning when suddenly a loud crash erupts and everything within a half a mile radius is obliterated. The SS Mont Blanc, a French cargo ship, and the SS Imo, a Norwegian vessel, collided in Halifax harbor, killing almost 2,000 people. One of the largest man-made explosions, the Halifax disaster caused massive destruction.

Captain Haakon, of the SS Imo, had been delayed on his route to New York and was still at port in Halifax. Not wanting to wait, he traveled out to sea from the harbour without his master’s approval. Meanwhile, the SS Mont Blanc, led by Captain Aime Le Medec, sailed into the narrows. The Mont Blanc and Imo maneuvered for position. Captain Haakon did not want to give way but eventually turned out of The Mont Blanc’s path. However, Aime could not move the Mont Blanc fast enough and the two ships collided. The collision itself was not as severe but explosives and flammable objects, such as Benzoyl and TNT, spilled onto the deck of the Mont Blanc. Barrels of Benzoyl shot into the air as crowds gathered on shore to watch the two ships. Although the Mont Blanc was completely obliterated, Captain Aime was able to row his crew to shore, escaping the explosion. The Imo was damaged, but repairable.

Ultimately, there were many effects as a result of the explosion that impacted countless people’s lives. The aftermath of the explosion wiped out the north end of Halifax, killed nearly 2,000 people, disfigured or blinded 9,000 people, and left 25,000 people without a shelter. One person in particular, Vincent Coleman, a railroad dispatcher, decided to evacuate his office but soon remembered an 8:55 am train was arriving from Saint John, New Brunswick with hundreds of people on board. As the Mont Blanc burned, Coleman stayed at his post and typed out a message on his telegram key warning, “Munitions ship on fire. Making for Pier 6. Goodbye.” Although he saved many lives, unfortunately he lost his life.

Unbelievably, as the Mont Blanc exploded, it sent shock waves in all directions resulting in a tsunami that washed over the Halifax and Dartmouth shores. All in all, more than 2.5 kilometers of Richmond was leveled by either the blast, tsunami, or structure fires. Unfortunately, homes, offices, churches, factories, vessels, railway stations, and hundreds of people in the immediate area were obliterated. Even a large portion of the Mont Blanc’s anchor was sent flying across the city nearly 4 kilometers away from the explosion, it sits there still.

In conclusion, the Halifax Harbour Explosion was a tragic event that affected thousands of people throughout the city.  Human error and a chain of events cost many people their lives. All in all, this event is remembered today as one of the largest man-made explosions, second only to that of the atomic bomb explosion of Hiroshima.

2 thoughts on “Halifax Harbour Explosion

  1. Sophie: You gathered interesting details about this famous explosion. I was fascinated especially with how it occurred with a series of what seem like random or preventable decisions. The man who lost his life warning the engineers on the train from New Brunswick was a hero. It was so sad about people obliterated, blinded, maimed, or without shelter.

    Liked by 1 person

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