An Unnatural Calamity
The Halifax explosion of 1917 was the deadliest disaster in Canadian history.
On December 6, 1917, Canada faced its worst disaster on home soil during the First World War — and it happened not due to an enemy attack but as the result of an apparently avoidable accident.
Halifax was Canada’s largest East Coast port and one of the most vital in the British Empire during the war. Soldiers and materials from across the country passed through on their way to Europe and the Western Front.
On the morning of December 6, in Halifax Harbour, the French freighter Mont
Blanc, loaded with more than 2,500 tonnes of explosives, neared the Imo, a Norwegian ship carrying relief supplies destined for Belgium. The vessels were on a collision course, and their crews were unable to avoid an impact that cut a huge opening in the Mont-Blanc.
When the freighter caught fire, its captain and crew abandoned the ship, which drifted until it collided with a pier. As onlookers watched in amazement, flames reached the explosives in the Mont-Blanc’s hold, triggering an explosion that destroyed large parts of Halifax and, across the harbour, Dartmouth.
Photographs on this and the following pages portray Halifax after the catastrophe, as well as the beginnings of the recovery efforts. And, in an excerpt from his new book,
The Halifax Explosion: Canada’s Worst Disaster, Ken Cuthbertson explains the devastation that occurred in the minutes immediately following the explosion.