The Week of Death – Day 4

Two tragedies have occurred in Canada on December 6. The second of these two tragedies, which resulted in the deaths of 14 Canadians, is formally recognized by the Government of Canada by the lowering of flags on all federal buildings. Countless vigils and memorials will be held across the country today. If you want to know more about this tragedy go here . This post is about the first of the two tragedies where 1950 Canadians died and another 9000 were wounded. Outside of Halifax I doubt few Canadians will remember the first tragedy today. Since they won’t, we will. – Reg

The Halifax Explosion, December 6, 1917

As two-thirds of our readers are not from Canada I’m thinking most of you have never heard of the Halifax Explosion before. This one minute vignette by historica.ca below gives a quick backgrounder:

Throughout her history the City of Halifax , Nova Scotia, has been key to the development and growth of Canada. It was hardly an accident that when the city was founded 1749 it was located where it was as the city overlooks a natural harbour called Bedford Basin that is wide, deep, and protected from the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean. With the start of World War One in 1914 the Port of Halifax became a key allied link in the supply of munitions and goods to England.

On any given day dozens upon dozens of ships both big and small, civilian and military, would sail in and out of her harbour. Just after breakfast on the morning of December 6, 1917 two ships, the Mont Blanc and Imo collided in ‘the narrows’ of Halifax Harbour and immediately started to burn. It didn’t take long for the good folks of Halifax to gather around and watch the events in the harbour. Had they known what was in the hold of the Mont Blanc they would have ran for their lives.

The French owned Mont Blanc was sailing in to Halifax after sailing from New York City. In NYC the Mont Blanc was loaded with (amongst other things) benzol, 544,000 kilograms of highly explosive picric acid, and 226,797 kilograms of TNT. After burning for approx 20 minutes the Mont Blanc exploded, instantly evaporating, with the equivalent force of 3kilotons. The explosion was the largest man-made explosion in history to that point and wouldn’t be equalled until the Los Alamos atomic tests in 1945. The City of Halifax was levelled.

The devastation was three fold. First, there was the explosion itself; Second, was the tsunami caused by the explosion; Third (from wiki):

Since the explosion occurred in the winter, the blast caused stoves, lamps and furnaces to tip or spill, spreading fires throughout the devastation, particularly in Halifax’s North End, leaving entire streets on fire. Fuel reserves were high in preparation for the winter. Many people who had survived the blast were trapped in these fires.

Some 1.32 km² (325 acres) of Halifax was destroyed, essentially leaving a 1.6 kilometre (1 mi) radius around the blast site uninhabitable. Many people who had gathered around the ship either to help or watch were amongst those killed in the blast, or were subsequently hit by the resulting tidal wave. Others who had been watching from the windows of their homes and businesses were either killed instantly or severely injured by the flying glass as their windows shattered inwards.

The human casualties are a statistical nightmare: 1950 dead, 9000 wounded, 38 people blinded from flying glass, 1600 houses destroyed – another 12000 damaged leaving 6000 Haligonian’s homeless. I just read tonight that the explosion caused more deaths in Nova Scotia than the war itself. It is hard to tell the story of something so terrible is just one post. For those interested I offer the following linky links: Wikipedia has an excellent page on the Halifax Explosion and the Archives Canada page has a wealth of photographic and newspaper material. CBC Archives has some fantastic silent film footage that was taken shortly after the disaster.

Week of Death total: 33,950 with more to come

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 , Day 5, Day 6, Day 7

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