Halifax Explosion - A Devastated City

Five years after the people of Halifax buried so many of Titanic's victims, another ship caused a catastrophe in their own town.  It remains Canada's worst man-made disaster and is the subject of several books (including Shattered City by Janet F. Kitz).

On the morning of December 6, 1917, a Norwegian-owned ship called Imo - loaded with relief items for the people of war-torn Belgium - was leaving Halifax harbor.  As it traveled through the Narrows, it had to pass alongside a French-owned ship called Mont-Blanc - loaded with nearly 3,000 tons of explosives to aid France in World War One.

Very few people knew the Mont-Blanc was carrying munitions.  She was not flying a red flag (so as not to tip-off any German U-boats which might be lurking nearby).  Local pilots, who knew how to navigate the waters of the harbor, were at the helm of both ships.

Suddenly, the Imo struck the Mont-Blanc.  Harbor collisions sometimes occur, without much consequence except to the impacted vessels, but this situation was different.  Barrels of benzol, stored on Mont-Blanc's outer decks, caught fire.  The spectacle attracted the attention of many people who gathered along the harbor shore or watched from behind glass windows.

Then, the unthinkable happened.  When the flames from the burning benzol reached the cargo hold, they ignited 226,797 kg of TNT, 1,602,519 kg of wet picric acid, 544,311 kg of dry picric acid and 56,301 kg of guncotton. A massive explosion disintegrated the Mont-Blanc (whose crew had already abandoned ship), crippled the Imo (killing some of its crew) and devastated both Halifax and the nearby town of Dartmouth. 

Soon after, an explosion-caused tsunami sent 18 meters (nearly 60 feet) of sea water above the highwater mark on the Halifax side of the harbor.  In a matter of minutes, more than 1500 people were dead while thousands more were injured and/or homeless. 

Some people who survived were blinded for life from flying glass chards. The Richmond area of Halifax - near Fort Needham - was obliterated, left with little more than standing ruins

This clip, from the miniseries "Shattered City:  The Halifax Explosion," recreates what happened when the world's worst man made explosion (before the Hiroshima atomic bomb) devastated Halifax and Dartmouth. 


Media Credits

Clip from "Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion," online courtesy CBC and YouTube.

Bruce Pittman

Heather Haldane and Jenipher Ritchie

Miniseries teleplay:

Keith Ross Leckie

Vincent Walsh
Shauna MacDonald

Christopher Dedrick

Rene Ohashi

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
Tapestry Pictures


Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

Release date: October 26, 2003


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"Halifax Explosion - A Devastated City" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Dec 15, 2019.
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