Chaos in Halifax historical info

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: