On December 6, 2019, the twin cities of Halifax and Dartmouth will mark a devastating event in their histories. On that morning in 1917, a cataclysmic event occurred, leaving large sections of the two cities in ruins. It would go down in history as the largest man-made explosion of its time and would remain there until the atomic bomb in 1945.
The SS Imo, a Norwegian vessel chartered to transport relief supplies overseas, struck the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship en route from New York to France. Loaded with wartime explosives, the Mont-Blanc caught fire. It raged out of control and ignited the cargo.
The resulting catastrophic blast obliterated nearly every structure within a half mile. The pressure wave inflicted major damage at points well beyond that. The blast created a tsunami that destroyed what the explosion had left standing in the Mi’kmaq community at Turtle Grove and tossed the British ship Curaca upon its shore. On board the ship, 45 crew members were killed. At Turtle Cove, nine of the twenty-one residents died, and the rest were seriously wounded.
The explosion killed more than 2,000 people and injured another 9,000 mostly through building collapses and fires. Anyone within a certain radius at the moment of the explosion was struck with debris from the blast. Those outdoors a moment afterwards were inundated with falling objects of various sizes. The objects—both falling and flying—moved so fast, they cut holes into flesh, removed limbs and decapitated. Objects coming from near the centre of the explosion were molten hot.
Among those who died were individuals who had initially survived the blast and fires but succumbed to frigid temperatures and the blizzard that moved into Halifax that evening while they awaited rescue. Many of those blown into the harbour or swept away by the tsunami died from hypothermia and drowning.
The Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book is an online database containing the list of the dead. It includes name, place of residence, age, date of death and other pertinent information.
In 2017, Quarter Castle Publishing published a collection of short stories written with the explosion at centre stage. The Coldest December brought together the imaginations of eleven Nova Scotia authors.
The ebook is available here: