Next year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. Up until WWII, it was the largest man made explosion in history. In 1917, Halifax was a hub of activity for WWI. The harbour was full of convoys of ships carrying food, munitions and troops. Including troops the city had an estimated population of around 60,000.
On December 6 1917, at the early morning, two ships collided. One of the ships was the IMO, a Norwegian cargo ship that was travelling out of the Bedford Basin. It was on it's way to New York to pick up relief supplies for Belgium. The other was the Mont-Blanc, another cargo ship that was carrying munitions. It was going inbound to the Basin, to join the convoy gathering. The ship was loaded with, according the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's website "...2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton, and 35 tons of benzol:a highly explosive mixture...".
The IMO hit the bow of the Mont-Blanc. Fire broke out on the Mont-Blanc. The captain and crew abandoned ship. As a result, the ship drifted into Pier Six. Burning for 20 minutes, it unfortunately attracted spectators, none of which knew that it was loaded with explosives. The naval officers and railway dispatchers who knew of this had no chance to warn anyone.
At 9:06 am, the Mont-Blanc exploded, being totally obliterated. Ship fragments blew into the surrounding area, crashing through buildings. Those not killed instantly in the explosion and falling debris were horribly injured. Adding to the confusion was people being blinded by shattered glass from the shock wave of the explosion. Fires started in the aftermath and quickly spread, completely destroying 1630 homes. Another 12,000 were severley damaged. It blew almost all the windows in not only Halifax, but Dartmouth as well. The nearby Mi'kmaq community of Turtle Grove was destroyed. In all, almost 2,000 people died and over 4,000 were injured. A further 6,000 people were left homeless.
Thanks to the heavy military presence, rescue efforts began immediately. As well, that same night, a train from Boston came in loaded with supplies, medical personnel, and members of the Public Safety Committee. The state of Massachusetts was instrumental in providing help in the days and weeks afterward. As a thank you, to this day Nova Scotia provides the beautiful tree that is in Boston Common every Christmas.
One of the great heroes of the Explosion was Vincent Coleman. Even though he knew it would mean his death, he stayed at his telegraph station and warned Passenger Train No.10 to stay away. If he hadn't, the train would have been passing right by the Mont-Blanc. His actions saved the 300 people aboard the train.
To learn more about the Explosion, you can visit these sites:
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Timeline of the Explosion
Nova Scotia Archives As well as the Book of Remembrance, there is a section of personal accounts of the Explosion and aftermath
Halifax Fire Museum Personal stories of firemen involved
Halifax Explosion Website A website dedicated to the event