A port on the Atlantic, sleepy Halifax became a bustling city during the First World War. The military moved in as did workers for the factories producing war material. The boarding houses were full especially those close to the docks. The harbour was busy but guarded closely. Little did they know that the most deadly threat came from friendly shipping within their own waters.
There was a sense of optimism in the city in 1917. The US had entered the war in April of that year and the tide was turning in the allies' favour. December 6, 1917 started as a working day like any other. People were just starting their working day when two ships, the Imo and the Mont Blanc, collided in the harbour. The Imo retreated to see what repairs were needed but the crew of the Mont Blanc abandoned ship. They knew that the Mont Blanc's cargo made it a floating bomb. After the collision the cargo started to burn. As the Mont Blanc drifted closer to the Halifax shore people stopped to watch the flaming ship. It was quite a spectacle as the flames shot up and the burning ammunition created a fireworks show. And then the ship exploded.
People were killed, houses were wrecked. The blast went deep into the harbour and caused a tsunami wave that pushed onto the streets close to the docks. Adding to the destruction were the house stoves that were used to fight the winter's chill. These toppled over in the blast and started fires in many of the houses. Richmond, the area closest to the docks, was devastated. Most of the houses in the North End were wrecked and even some in the richer South End were uninhabitable. Halifax paid dearly for its part in the First World War.
Kitz, Janet and Pazant, Joan, December 1918: Re-visting the Halifax Explosion. Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2006
Mahar, James and Mahar, Rowena, Too Many to Mourn: One Family’s Tragedy in the Halifax Explosion. Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2008.