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The Halifax Explosion


The Halifax Explosion, which occurred 98 years ago on 6 December 1917, is not as well known in Europe as it should be given its magnitude and the scale of the death and destruction.  A collision between two ships – one carrying explosives – in Halifax Harbour resulted in a blast which killed about 1,500 people immediately, with hundreds more dying from their injuries. It is thought to have been the largest manmade explosion in history, prior to the development of nuclear weapons.  The photograph below shows the devastation of Halifax two days after the explosion.


I first found out about the disaster when visiting Halifax to research the city’s Titanic connections – many of the bodies recovered from Titanic’s sinking in 1912 were brought ashore there. The Halifax Explosion is of course a vastly more significant event in for Nova Scotians, and the Novia Scotia Archives have recently released more material relating to the event, which can be viewed on their excellent website devoted to the explosion.

There is of course a First World War connection, as you would expect in 1917. The French SS Mont-Blanc was taking its explosive cargo from New York, via Halifax, to Bordeaux in France. The ship with which she collided, the Norwegian SS Imo, was on her way to New York to collect relief supplies for Belgium.

The SS Imo, previously known as the Runic, was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast, the same shipbuilders who built Titanic. Amazingly the Imo survived relatively intact, and was re-launched, eventually being run aground in the Falkland Islands in the early 1920s.



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