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					  A Defining Moment in
    Canadian History:
  The Halifax Explosion




Kristina Wantola
CHC2D1-03
April 22, 2005
Mr. Nicholson
        During WWI Halifax harbour was a main shipping port for supplies. Most of the

supplies from Canada were sent to Britain through Halifax. The main Harbour in Halifax

is about 10km long and almost 2km wide.1 The eastern passage of the harbour is too

shallow for any ship larger than a small fishing boat.2 On the morning of December 15,

1917 there was a collision between two ships in the harbour, which led to the devastating

explosion. The two ships involved were the Imo and the Mont Blanc. The Imo was a

relief ship that had arrived from Rotterdam and the Mont Blanc was a French single-crew

freighter that was smaller than the Imo. What happened on the frightful morning and who

is to blame? Many people think that the Imo or the Mont Blanc was at fault and others

think that they were both at fault. The fatal Halifax Explosion was the result of both

ships’ stubbornness and negligence. The crew of the Mont was negligent causing death,

where as the crew of the Imo neglected the rules of safe passage in the harbour. Both

crews were equally stubborn which resulted in the collision.

        The crew of the Mont Blanc was negligent leading to many unnecessary fatalities.

The Mont Blanc was a relief ship and carried explosives. She carried 200 tonnes of TNT,

2300 tonnes of picric acid, 61 tonnes of gun cotton and 35 tonnes of benzyl, which was

stored in barrels on the top deck.3 Even thought the Mont Blanc carried enough

explosives to annihilate a city, she did not fly the regulation flag showing that she was

carrying explosives. As a result, many unsuspecting bystanders went outside and were

curious of what was going on. If the regulation flag had been flown the citizens would

have realized the danger and could have run to safety. After the collision had occurred the


1
  Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Explosion (St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987) pg. 8
2
  Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Explosion (St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987) pg. 8
3
  Prince Andrews Social Studies Department. “The Day of the Explosion”.
http://www.halifaxexplosion.org/dayof.shtml (03/04/2005)
crew of the Mont Blanc did not even attempt to put out the fire because they were aware

of the danger. “There were no heroes aboard the Mont Blanc.”4 Had they tried, the

explosion may not have occurred because nothing would have been on fire. The Ship did

not explode for almost 20 minutes after the collision, which gives the crew plenty of time

to put out the fire. Instead they rowed to shore and ran for their lives not thinking about

the innocent bystanders. They could have warned them by sounding the alarm. The alarm

was not sounded for 15 minutes, only giving people 5 minutes to realize what was

happening and head for safety.5 By the time that they realized what was happening it was

too late. At 9:06 am on December 6, 1917 Halifax was changed forever.6 The Halifax

Explosion was the greatest man-made explosion before the atomic bomb and Hiroshima.7

The Mont Blanc was not solely to blame however; the Imo had its hand in the collision.

        The crew of the Imo neglected the rules of safe passage in the harbour. In the

rules it states that ships, which must pass each other, must do so on their left or port side

and stay to their right or starboard side.8 The Imo moved to the wrong side of the channel

setting a collision course with the Mont Blanc.9 This gave the Mont Blanc no other option

but to move into the shallow waters on the eastern side of the passage. The Imo should

never have been on the wrong side. The crew of the Imo claimed that there was a ferry in

their way so they had to go around. That is not an excuse because there was plenty of

time to correct their course after they had passed the ferry. Another option that they had

was that they could have simply waited for the ferry to move. The Imo didn’t respect the


4
  Monnon, Mary Ann. Miracles and Mysteries. (Hantsport: Lancelot Press, 1977) pg. 42
5
  Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Explosion (St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987) pg. 23
6
  Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Explosion (St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987) pg. 26
7
  Kernaghan, Louis. “The Halifax Explosion”
http://Thecanadianencyclopedia.com
8
  Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Explosion (St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987) pg. 18
9
  Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Explosion (St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987) pg. 19
rules of safe passage in the harbour, which started the chain reaction that led to the

explosion.

           The crew of the Mont Blanc and the Imo were both equally stubborn resulting in

the collision and the explosion. The Mont Blanc warned the Imo that it was on the wrong

side of the channel and that it should move. The Imo then replied saying that it was going

to stay on its present course. This went on back and forth until it was too late. The ships

had plenty of time for one of them to move. At the last minute the Mont Blanc turned

sharply to the left in a desperate attempt to avoid a collision.10 At the same time the Imo

threw it’s engines into reverse causing the bow or front of the ship to swing to the right

and directly into the path of the Mont Blanc.11 One or the other of these moves could

have avoided a collision but both sealed their fate. The crews on both ships could not

come to a compromise and didn’t act until it was too late. The crew’s actions had

devastating consequences.

           The crew of the Mont Blanc was negligent and the Imo neglected the rules of safe

passage in the harbour, which caused the death of many innocent bystanders. The crews

on both ships were stubborn and didn’t react until it was too late. The stubbornness and

negligence of both ships is what caused the Halifax Explosion and one was not more at

fault that the other. Through all this destruction and devastation people have come to

realise that rules are there to protect them and that they should be obeyed at all times. As

a result of this fatal collision captains are much more cautious and follow the rules of safe

passage in the harbour.




10
     Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Explosion (St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987) pg. 20
11
     Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Explosion (St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987) pg. 20
                                Bibliography

   Armstrong, John Griffith. The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy.
    Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002

   Carmichael, Kevin. “The Halifax Explosion”
    www.canoe.ca/CANOE2000/history_2.html (03/07/05)

   CBC Television. Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion. Television Movie. 2004
    3 hours.

   Kernaghan, Lois. “Halifax Explosion”
    Thecanadianencyclopedia.com/PrinterFriendly.cfm?Params=A1ARTA0003536
    (03/04/2005)

   Monnon, Mary Ann. Miracles and Mysteries.
    Hantsport: Lancelot Press, 1977

   Prince Andrew Social Studies Department. “The Day of the Explosion”
    www.halifaxexplosion.org/dayof.shtml (03/04/2005)

   Robinson, Ernest Fraser. The Halifax Disaster.
    St. Catherines: Vanwell Publishing, 1987

				
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