100 Years Ago Today the Halifax Explosion nearly destroyed Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

On the morning of 6 December 1917, the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives left the dock in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and headed for Bordeaux, France. The explosives were destined to be used by the French military in World War I. At 8:45 AM, the SS Mont-Blanc collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin. A fire broke out on the French cargo ship. 20 minutes after the collision, at 9:04:35 am, the SS Mont-Blanc exploded.

The blast destroyed both ships along with most of the Richmond district of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed, about 500 of them children, by the blast or by flying debris, fires or collapsed buildings. An estimated 9,000 others were injured.

The Halifax Explosion was one of the worst disasters in North American history. It was the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons, releasing the equivalent energy of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT.

You can read more about the Halifax Explosion on the following web sites:

The Canadian Encyclopedia: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/halifax-explosion/

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion

History.com: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-great-halifax-explosion

CBC: http://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/halifaxexplosion/

In addition, Ancestry has released a collection of records online, the Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book, the first definitive listing and searchable database of those killed in the 1917 disaster. The collection is available to all Canadians for free on Ancestry.ca and contains records of courage and tragedy from those who lost their lives in the disaster.
Those commemorated in the records include:

Halifax Protestant Orphanage Memorial Records: Among the youngest causalities of the explosion were children from the Halifax Protestant Orphanage.

Vincent J.P. Coleman, Memorial Record: The 41-year old Intercolonial Railway Dispatcher was responsible for bringing all incoming trains around Halifax to a halt pre-explosion. Coleman saved the lives of about 300 railway passengers. Born in 1876, Coleman lost his life at his post of duty.

Captain Horatio H. Brannen, Memorial Record: As the Capt. of Stella Maris, Capt. Brannen and crew fought the fire caused by the collision of Imo and Mont Blanc. During his efforts to tow Mont Blanc away from the Halifax shore, the ship burst into flames. His tugboat, Stella Maris, was left crippled and tossed aside by the blast. Born in 1872, the Capt. lost his life at the age of 45 years old.

Captain Haakon From, Memorial Record: As the Capt. of Imo, Capt. From oversaw the ship that collided with Mont Blanc. Born in 1870, From lost his life in the Halifax Explosion at the age of 47 years old.

Pilot William Hayes, Memorial Record: Pilot and crewmember aboard Imo. Born in 1877, the pilot and crewmember of Imo worked amongst 41 French sailors. He lost his life at the age of 40 years old during the explosion.

Click here to access the the Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book.

2 Comments

I have always found it so sad to read about all the people who were missing, never identified and there was basically no way of knowing who actually was lost in the explosion. I understand they have graves with no names and that must be terrible to see.
There is also a new Canadian stamp out commemorating the 100th anniversary of the explosion and loss of life.

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In the last NEHGS newsletter. Very touching human story.

100th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion

by Lynn Betlock, Managing Editor
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. The Canadian Encyclopedia describes the tragedy: “Halifax was devastated on 6 December 1917 when two ships collided in the city’s harbour, one of them a munitions ship loaded with explosives bound for the battlefields of the First World War. What followed was one of the largest human-made explosions prior to the detonation of the first atomic bombs in 1945. The north end of Halifax was wiped out by the blast and subsequent tsunami. Nearly 2,000 people died, another 9,000 were maimed or blinded, and more than 25,000 were left without adequate shelter.” (Massachusetts was quick to respond to the devastation and each year Halifax supplies Boston’s Christmas tree in thanks.)

Here are a few links to stories about this disaster:

In the Boston Globe Magazine, The Roots of Boston’s Christmas Tree Go Back 100 Years to a Disaster in Halifax: “During World War I, Boston’s response to a devastating explosion in Nova Scotia created an ongoing bond between the cities, marked by the annual gift of a holiday tree.”

In the fall 2015 issue of American Ancestors, “How Can We Ever Forget Massachusetts?” Abraham Ratshesky and the 1917 Halifax Relief Effort: The Massachusetts relief efforts are profiled in this article by Stephanie Call.

The Halifax Explosion 100 website, a collaborative effort by a number of organizations in Nova Scotia, presents 100 Years, 100 Stories: “To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion we’re sharing 100 stories, from the tragic to the courageous to the hard to believe.”

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