On December 6th, 1917, just after 9 o’clock in the morning, the largest manmade explosion prior to the bombing of Hiroshima in World War II rocked the harbour and north end of Halifax. This explosion was caused by the collision of the Mont Blanc, a French steamship carrying 2400 tons of explosives, and the Imo, a Belgian steamer, slated to carry blankets and supplies to war victims. On the morning of December 6th, the Mont Blanc entered the harbour while the Imo left the harbour. As the two boats approached the narrowest part of the hour-glass shaped harbour, their pilots shifted the ships out of their lanes to avoid other vessels in the area. Although each of the pilots saw the other, neither could avoid a collision and the Imo rammed into the Mont Blanc. Barrels of benzol housed on the deck of the Mont Blanc spilled and the gasoline, ignited by a spark, turned the Mont Blanc into a blazing inferno. However, because the Mont Blanc had not raised her red flag when she entered the harbour to indicate that she had explosives onboard, only the crew of the Mont Blanc and the Harbour Master knew that the boat was a floating time bomb. The crew of the Mont Blanc abandoned the ship, which then drifted for approximately twenty minutes, ending up just off the end of the pier. By the time the ship exploded, hundreds of Haligonians had assembled at the dock. Two thousand people were killed and another nine thousand injured in Canada’s worst disaster in history.
Cathy has also written a teachers’ guide for Chaos in Halifax, which is available from Ronsdale Press. Aside from including historical information about the disaster itself, it also includes background information about the city of Halifax and Canada’s role in World War I. In addition, the guide consists of an overview of the novel and its characters, detailed chapter questions that can be used as a jeopardy game, and differentiated post-reading activities.
Additional information about the Halifax explosion can be found at:
- Archives Canada
- CBC Radio and Television: The Halifax Explosion
- CBC: After the Explosion
- Highlander Museum
- Halifax Regional Municipality: The Halifax Explosion
- Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
- Vincent Coleman and the Halifax Explosion
- Historica Canadian History Education Foundation – Historica Minute video
- The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management (Halifax, NS)
- Halifax Regional Municipality Halifax Explosion webpage and list of monuments
- Map of Halifax as it existed in 1915 – “The Atlas of Canada” archives
- Photographs of the memorial to the Unidentified Dead, Halifax Explosion
- The Boston Christmas Tree
- Halifax Firefighters Museum
- Watch the NFB documentary, Just One Big Mess”: The Halifax Explosion, 1917
- The Halifax Explosion – CBC Archives with video clips
- Ground Zero: A Reassessment of the 1917 explosion in Halifa Alan Ruffman and Colin D. Howell editors, Nimbus Publishing (1994).
- Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917, Laura M. MacDonald, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2005. ISBN 0-00-200787-8.
- The Town That Died: The True Story of the Greatest Man-Made Explosion Before Hiroshima–A Chronicle of the Halifax Disaster, Michael J. Bird, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1967. ISBN 0-7700-6015-3.