The explosion destroyed 2.59 square kilometres, including 1,630 buildings and 7 ships. 12,000 buildings were damaged.
The deadly blast instantly killed 1,650 people. It injured 9,000 others and left 6,000 homeless. 25,000 were left without adequate shelter, in a metropolitan area of 65,000 people.
The miraculous Ashpan Baby
Only 23-months old, Annie Welsh was found in the wreckage of a home, sheltered in the ash pan of a stove. One of the oldest survivors of the explosion, she lived to age 95.
Hurled 4km by the blast
This piece of the Mont Blanc’s anchor weighs 502kg. It was blown beyond the Northwest Arm to where it sits today, off Anchor Drive in Regatta Point, Halifax.
Every year Nova Scotia sends a tree to Boston for the holidays. A symbol of gratitude for their response during the Halifax Explosion, it has been an annual tradition since 1971.
Heroism aboard the Stella Maris
As fire raged on the Mont Blanc, the crew of the Stella Maris was attempting to tow her away from Pier 6. The explosion threw the Stella Maris onto shore. Nineteen crewmembers perished.
The day after, captured on film
This rare footage provides a glimpse of the devastation and rebuilding efforts after the explosion. It was captured in eerie silence by cameraman W.G. McLaughlan
A vast supply of generosity
The Relief Fund from Massachusetts contributed $750,000 in goods, furniture and assistance. That’s more than $15 million in today’s dollars.
The Mont Blanc exploded at Pier 6, directly below the area known at the time as Richmond District. Not one piece of the ship remained on the dock.
A first for the Canadian Red Cross
The Halifax Explosion marked the first Canadian Red Cross involvement in disaster relief. After 1917 it became a core element of the society’s work.
The monstrous blast
The shockwave produced by the detonation was the equivalent of 2,989 tons of TNT. The blast shattered windows 100km away in Truro. It was heard on Prince Edward Island.
Etched in time
The Halifax city hall clock stopped at the precise moment of the explosion: 9:04:35am December 6, 1917. Today, the building's clock is a replica that forever serves as a reminder of the fateful moment.
Remembering A.C. Ratshesky
On the day of the explosion, Abraham ‘Captain’ Ratshesky left Boston on a relief train bound for Halifax. Within two weeks he became a hero to the citizens of Halifax and Boston.
Eye injury crisis
Flying glass and debris left thousands with eye injuries. Volunteer groups came together to help survivors and aid in recovery. The effort sparked the formation of the CNIB.
It would be their last alarm
Nine members of the Halifax Fire Department lost their lives fighting the fire on the Mont Blanc. A monument in their honour stands tall at Station 4 on Lady Hammond Road.
Courageous first responders
In the horrific aftermath, the response of the military was immediate and swift. Thousands of soldiers took to the streets rescuing the buried and tending to the wounded.
Built in memory of the victims
The Halifax North Memorial Public Library on Gottingen St. was built in 1964 with $100,000 support from the Halifax Relief Commission. The branch honours the victims of the explosion.
From the classroom to the front lines
With Halifax in a state of emergency, students at Dalhousie Medical School were rushed in to help with hospital care. Some had only been in classes for three months.
A book that speaks volumes
The names of 1,951 victims are listed in The Book of Remembrance at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. A page is turned every two weeks to display each name throughout the year.
Vincent Coleman, true bravery
Urged to abandon his post at the railway office, Vincent Coleman stayed to send a telegraph to warn an incoming train. It would be his last message.
A towering reminder
The Memorial Bell Tower at Fort Needham Park overlooks the area devastated by the explosion. It commemorates the victims and honours the survivors.
The bells of Barbara Orr
Barbara Orr lost her entire family in the explosion. The Memorial Bell Tower houses a carillon of bells, originally donated by Orr to the United Memorial Church in memory of the tragedy.
Medical help pours in
Within hours of the explosion, trains arrived with doctors and nurses from Amherst, Truro, Kentville and New Glasgow. Others followed from New Brunswick, Massachusetts and across Canada.
The vital work of relief hospitals
With hospitals overflowing, temporary relief hospitals were crucial in saving lives. They were set up in locations such as the YMCA, schools and military facilities.
The work of reconstructing the North End of Halifax was massive. A 23-acre area called Merkelsfield was central to the plan. It is known today as the Hydrostone District.
Building blocks of the reconstruction
The Hydrostone District got its name from the patented concrete blocks used to build the houses. A plant in Eastern Passage produced up to 4,000 Hydrostone blocks per day.
Rising from the ashes
The Hydrostone was a turning point for Halifax. The English-style garden suburb was described as modern and bright. It held the promise of a new start after the darkest times.
A national historic site
The Hydrostone District was Canada’s first public housing project. It was designated a national historic site for its unique design and connection to the explosion.
Leading the way
The Halifax Relief Commission was established to lead recovery efforts. It administered a $30 million fund for medical care, compensation and reconstruction.
Housing the homeless.
Thousands were left homeless by the explosion. Reconstruction needed time. The McCall apartments were built as temporary housing at the corner of Robie and Almon streets.
Only the crew knew what the Mont Blanc carried that day. The ship’s deadly cargo included 2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton and 35 tons of benzol.
Headed for disaster
The Imo was departing for New York to pick up relief supplies for Belgium. In the tight Narrows of the Halifax harbour, she encountered the Mont Blanc.
Collision, fire, havoc
The Imo struck the bow of the Mont Blanc. Fire broke out immediately. The Mont Blanc burned for 20 minutes as crowds watched, unaware of the explosive cargo.
Children in Brantford, Ontario gave up their Christmas presents to raise money for the children of Halifax. The community sent $15,000 for Halifax relief.
Sailors on the USS Old Colony were quick to open their ship to civilian casualties. Hundreds were brought on board for treatment. It became a floating hospital.
Pictou County answers the call
Surgeons, nurses, firemen and a coal-powered fire truck were rushed to Halifax from Pictou County. Westside School was turned into a temporary hospital.
From shattered glass to fragments of the Mont Blanc, telltale artifacts from the explosion continue to be discovered around Halifax today.
Daring rescue attempt
Anchored 700 yards from the burning Mont Blanc, the HMCS Niobe sent a boat with eight men to her aid. The explosion killed all of the boat’s crew.
A founding member of the Group of Seven, Arthur Lismer lived in Halifax in 1917. His sketches depicted some of the most compelling images of the explosion.
Upon hearing of the tragedy, Governor Samuel McCall sent his word to Halifax: “Massachusetts ready to go the limit in rendering every assistance you may be in need of.”
The explosion wiped Richmond off the map. Houses, schools and factories were reduced to kindling. It was described as a “field of horrors.”
Inferno in the North End
All over the North End, hot furnaces and upset stoves ignited the wreckage. Entire streets were in flames with residents trapped inside homes.
Evidence of the explosion’s power was everywhere. Collapsed buildings and piles of rubble dominated the landscape. Few structures escaped damage.
Grief in the ruins
88 students of Richmond School lost their lives in the explosion. Many had gone down to the waterfront to watch the burning ship.
Memory of Veith Street
With panic in the air, the matron of the Protestant Orphanage rushed 26 children to the basement. Miraculously, seven survived the explosion. Today the site is home to Veith House.
Although not as hard hit as Halifax, Dartmouth suffered widespread damage. Buildings along the shore collapsed. Almost 100 people died.
Tragedy at Turtle Grove
Tufts Cove in Dartmouth felt the full impact of the explosion. The blast and resulting tsunami destroyed the Mi’kmaq settlement at Turtle Grove killing most of its residents.
The elevated land to the south saved Africville from the direct force of the blast. Many homes were heavily damaged. Five known deaths were recorded.
Only ruins remained of the once grand Provincial Exhibition building at the corner of Windsor and Young streets. The Halifax Forum was built on the grounds in 1927.
The great blast smote the place
At the moment of the explosion, writer Thomas H. Raddall was in Grade 9 at Chebucto School in Halifax. He described his experience in a vivid memoir.
At St. Paul’s Anglican Church in downtown Halifax, the explosion shattered a window leaving a silhouette that is said to resemble a former priest. It remains in place today.
Dorothy Swetnam lost her mother and brother when the family’s home collapsed. This delicate mug with the words ‘Remember Me’ was found intact in the ruins.
Nova Scotian nurses like Georgina Curry Miner worked long hours caring for the wounded. She came to Halifax on a relief train with medical volunteers from Wolfville and Kentville.
First aid at the YMCA
YMCA volunteers were at work within the hour helping with dressings, food and medicine. The building on Barrington Street was used as a hospital, with 2500 people receiving treatment.
Caring for the children
Many infants were orphaned by the explosion. The YMCA cared for babies and injured children rescued from the wreckage in the North End.
Young soldiers like Bombardier Fletcher Bartlett of the Halifax Garrison spent many days recovering the dead, rescuing the injured and providing shelter for the homeless.
Marking the moment
This watchman’s clock was found at the bottom of the Graving Dock at the Halifax Shipyard. Its hands are frozen at the instant of the disaster: 9:04:35am.
Fragments of history
The Mont Blanc was literally blown to bits. This piece of the hull was found a mile away. The explosion twisted the steel around a sheared off pan rivet.
Leading the relief effort
The Halifax Garrison provided the largest recovery effort in the aftermath of the explosion. 3,300 soldiers were organized under the direction of Colonel W.E. Thompson.
The most extensive military response came in the form of medical services. Lt. Col. McKelvie Bell was appointed to lead the Medical Relief Committee and co-ordinate all medical support.
The sentry’s rifle
Recovered outside Wellington Barracks, this Ross Rifle is said to have been in the hands of the sentry on duty at the instant of the explosion. It is on display at the Army Museum Halifax Citadel.
Read all about it
Stories of devastation, rescue and survival filled the pages of the Halifax Herald in April of 1918. The paper held a story contest for eyewitness accounts, awarding prizes to the top entries.
The crew of the Patricia, Halifax’s new motorized fire engine, was first to arrive at the scene of the burning Mont Blanc. Only the driver, Billy Wells, survived the explosion.
Shelburne County’s legendary captain
Captain Horatio Brannen of Woods Harbour was commander of the Stella Maris. He was leading the heroic effort to reach the Mont Blanc, when catastrophe struck.
Day two: blizzard
Winter arrived in full force on December 7th, dropping 40 centimeters of snow. Almost a third of the population lacked proper shelter. Thousands needed food and clothing.
Shelter from the storm
Rows of army canvas tents on the Commons provided emergency shelter from the blizzard. People who still had their homes, covered broken windows with anything they could find.
Aid at the Armouries
Food and supplies were distributed at the Halifax Armouries throughout the winter. The “bread line” was a common sight outside the building.
A defining moment in medical care
The explosion highlighted Canada’s lack of a national emergency plan or public health care strategy. It contributed to the creation of the federal Department of Health in 1919.
Pioneer in pediatrics
Surgeon William E. Ladd treated hundreds of children injured in the explosion. He went on to become a pioneer in the specialty of pediatric surgery.
Fortunate twist of fate
Mandee D’Entremont’s ship was scheduled to be in Halifax on December 5th, the day before the explosion. A chance decision to remain at sea for one more day spared the crew from the disaster.
Lucky survivor from Trinity Bay
A sailor with the British Navy, Ben Smith was below decks on the Niobe at the moment of the blast. It likely saved his life as many shipmates on deck were injured or killed.
U.S. naval ships to the rescue
At sea 80km away, the USS Tacoma and Von Steuben felt the blast and saw the smoke cloud. The ships changed course for Halifax to help with rescue efforts.
“Nothing but stumps”
In a video interview, Gordon Boyd recalls the devastation he witnessed first-hand after the explosion. He was serving aboard the SS Grampian in Bedford Basin.
Patrolman Frank Baker kept a detailed diary of his experiences during the explosion. It sat for years in a desk drawer in Australia, until 2016 when his son donated it to the Dartmouth Heritage Museum.
Ferry passenger’s tale
Henry Rosenberg was on the 9:00am ferry to Halifax the morning of the explosion. He saw flames from the Mont Blanc shoot high in the air and then suddenly he was thrown to the deck.
“There came from every door a casualty”
A.H. Chipman was at breakfast at the Halifax Hotel when glass came crashing down in all directions. In a letter to his brother, he described what he saw after the explosion.
At 18 months old, Verna Jeffries was trapped in her home, covered in soot and shards of glass. She was rescued by her mother and turned 100 in June 2016.
“It’s the end of the world”
On her way to school, 6 year-old Jean Hodder was thrown into the veranda of a nearby house by the force of the explosion. She survived what she feared was the end of the world, to share her story.
United by disaster
The explosion destroyed Kaye Street Methodist Church and Grove Presbyterian Church. 250 members were lost. Together, the congregations built the United Memorial Church in 1921.
The Victoria School of Art and Design at the corner of Argyle and George streets was used to store coffins for victims. Today, the historic building houses the Five Fishermen Restaurant.
Monumental memorial quilt
Five years in the making, the Hope and Survival quilt by Lunenburg artist Laurie Swim commemorates the explosion. It includes the names of victims in Braille, in recognition of those blinded by the blast.
City Hall takes action
As chaos gripped Halifax, Deputy Mayor Henry Colwell and civic leaders quickly assembled at City Hall. Detailed minutes document the swift response to issues such as transportation, food and mortuary services.
A thankful visit
In November 1918, Massachusetts Governor Samuel McCall visited Halifax to tour the reconstruction. Haligonians showered the Governor with thanks for the explosion relief that came from Massachusetts.
Salvation from disaster
The Halifax Explosion was the first time the Salvation Army of Canada responded to a disaster. The Emergency and Disaster Services unit provided front-line aid including food, clothing, shelter and spiritual support.
What happened to Esther
A respected midwife of Africville, Esther Roan was injured in the explosion and later died in a Truro hospital. NSCAD student Jenna Marks told her story in an animated short film.
Morning of mourning
Mary Jean Hinch lost her husband and ten children in the explosion. Pregnant at the time, she and her unborn son were the only survivors of her family. Mary was rescued after being pinned under lumber for 24 hours.
Navy helps Halifax carry on
From 1920 to 1924 the Royal Canadian Navy provided free use of the Naval Hospital in Admiralty House to the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Commission. It provided a wealth of medical services and healthcare for the public.
Born of compassion
The compassionate relief efforts following the explosion led to the birth of the United Way Halifax. It began as a community chest fund created to raise money for local agencies meeting needs on the ground.
Living to tell the tale
As a one-year old, Douglas Snair escaped the explosion with scars from a shattered window. At age 100, he shares his story from his home in Arnprior, Ontario.
“As young as I was, I can see everything”
Kaye Chapman is one of the oldest survivors of the explosion. At age 104, she vividly recalls the details of that fateful day when she was five years old.
Volunteers from the HMS Highflyer rowed to the Mont Blanc to offer assistance. All but one perished in the explosion. The blast also killed three aboard the Highflyer and wounded 50 others.
Honouring the sacrifice
Lieutenant Commander Thomas Triggs of the Highflyer was awarded the gold medal for gallantry in life saving. Leading a crew to assist the Mont Blanc, he sacrificed his life to save others.
Curaca suffers heavy casualties
The British ship Curaca was loading horses at Pier 8. It was blown across the harbour by the explosion and sank at Tufts Cove. 45 crewmembers were killed.
First word reaches Boston
The morning of December 6, Boston banker J.J. Phelan received an urgent telegraph from an employee in Halifax. It began with the words “Organize a relief train.” He left his office to inform the governor.
As a toddler, Eric Davidson was blinded in the explosion. He went on to become a licensed auto mechanic, fixing cars by sound and touch. He lived to age 94.
Just born. Lucky to be alive.
Cecilia Coolen was only 10 days old on the morning of the explosion. Her cradle was thrown upside down. She was discovered underneath it in the aftermath.
One family's tragedy
46 members of the Jackson family died in the explosion – the largest loss of life in a single family. After almost a century, descendants of the family reunited in Halifax in 2015.
“My mother was 3 days finding us all”
Survivor Kathleen MacDonald shares her first-hand account of the explosion. At 6 years old she was blown into the bathtub and rescued by soldiers at Wellington Barracks.
By Spring 1918, global donations for Halifax relief totalled more than $23 million. Newspapers ran campaigns. Clubs, schools and cities held fundraisers. Contributions came from as far away as Australia.
City life before the explosion
In December 1917, Halifax was in the midst of an industrial and residential boom. During World War I the harbour was crowded with wartime shipping. The population swelled with troops, workers and families.