Ninety seven years ago today (December 6, 1917), early in the morning, SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship fully loaded with wartime explosives, was involved in a collision with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo, an empty ship destined to carry relief provisions to Belgium. The collision occurred in the Narrows, a strait connecting Halifax Harbour (lower right) to Bedford Basin (upper left.)
Twenty minutes after the collision, a fire on board the French ship ignited her explosive cargo, causing a cataclysmic explosion that devastated the Richmond District (now better known as the North end) of Halifax and much of Dartmouth. The blast was the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons, with an equivalent force of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT.
Approximately 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, and collapsed buildings, and it is estimated that nearly 9,000 others were injured. Many of the injured were blinded by flying glass. To add to the disaster, a heavy snowfall followed, slowing relief efforts over the next few days.
These photos were taken from the Halifax Explosion web site:
This is Halifax today. Just beyond the left hand bridge tower is where the explosion occurred:
For a fictional account of the explosion and its aftermath, I recommend Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan. When I was growing up in the 1950’s and early 60’s, I had never heard about the Halifax explosion. I read Barometer Rising in University and was stunned that no one had ever mentioned it before.
To this day the city of Halifax sends a giant Christmas tree to the city of Boston to thank it for the relief help which it sent to Halifax. There is a Facebook page already set up for a commemorative 2017 tree. The cover photo on that page also shows the destruction caused by the explosion.
It has been said that the Halifax Citadel, a fortress established in 1749, only protected the city of Halifax once, and that was to shield the south end of Halifax from the devastation of the explosion, as a result of which you can still see Victorian houses in Halifax’s south end.