On Dec. 6, 1917, World War One hit North American shores. But it didn’t come in the form of an invading army, or even a naval battle. Instead, it came in the form of an event that is known as the Halifax Explosion.
Halifax’s Importance to the War Effort
During World War One, Halifax was the command centre of the Royal Canadian Navy. Military and medical corps vessels embarked and disembarked from the harbor. Supply convoys also used the port.
The harbor was protected by a garrison and anti-submarine nets.
The ships of neutral nations were inspected in Halifax before being allowed to move onto other North American ports.
During the war, traffic through the harbor increased dramatically and so did the population, many of the new citizenry military men and transient employees.
That Fateful Morning
On the morning of Dec. 6, a ship from neutral Norway, the Imo, was in Halifax for inspection. It was headed to New York City to pick up supplies destined for Belgium. Another vessel, France’s Mont-Blanc, had left New York and had traveled to Halifax to join a convoy. It was carrying TNT and other explosives, and it was running several hours late.
Vessels were supposed to move in and out of the harbor port side (left) to port side. The Narrows, the exit to the harbor, necessitated this rule.
That morning, however, Imo was traveling on the wrong side, the consequence of encountering one boat traveling on the wrong side. Mont-Blanc blew its whistle at Imo on more than one occasion but Imo refused to change its position.
The ships collided. Sparks from the collision started a fire in Mont-Blanc. The ship was abandoned and began to drift toward Pier 6.
Meanwhile, the commotion attracted the attention of city residents who gathered near the pier or watched from windows.
At 9.04 a.m., Mont-Blanc exploded with such force it could be felt more than 100 miles away. Several acres of the city were instantly destroyed, while every building for a mile and a half was damaged, and a tsunami was caused by the shockwave.
And what happened to the people who had gathered to watch? Hundreds were blinded by broken glass, dozens permanently. Others were impaled and beheaded. Others were vaporized. In the end, nearly 2,000 people died outright, and 9,000 were injured, some fatally.
The explosion was the largest on earth at that time.
First responders and hospital personnel were overwhelmed. By the day’s end, relief had begun arriving from surrounding communities and from Royal Navy and U.S. Navy ships. Relief trains sent supplies.
The military went on high alert, unsure for a few hours if the explosion was the result of a German attack.
Thousands were homeless while thousands more had homes severely damaged.
Damages were in the millions. Financial aid came from the Canadian and British governments as well as the Massachusetts state government.
The day after the explosion a blizzard hit. The harbor reopened within days.
Scenes from Halifax
The following are photographs of the Halifax Explosion.
What runs through your mind when you see the destruction caused by the Halifax Explosion? Leave a comment below.
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