An Un­nat­u­ral Calamity

Canada's History - - CONTENTS 20 - By Ken Cuth­bert­son

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.

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