THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION

  1. Why did the two boats initially collide?

  2. What was the Mont Blanc carrying?

  3. Write down three examples that show the force of the blast?

  4. What was the death and injury toll?

  5. What happened to the Pattison and Jacobsen families?

  6. What was the Halifax Explosion known as until Hiroshima?


  1.   Why might this blast strike fear into the hearts of all Canadians?
                           The Halifax Explosion
     The largest explosion the world has ever known destroys much of the city

On the morning of December 6 1917, Halifax harbour was bustling with wartime activity.
Ships carrying soldiers, munitions and supplies headed for Europe while the wounded
returned to Canada from the frontlines.

The people of Halifax were well acquainted with the battles raging overseas. But on this
clear morning WWI would deal them a direct and deadly blow.
That morning, the Norwegian ship Imo was leaving the Halifax harbour carrying much-
needed war supplies. The Mont-Blanc, a French vessel was approaching from the opposite

A small craft forced the Imo to change course, putting it in the path of the Mont-Blanc.
Both ships blasted their horns in warning. At 8:45 A.M., they collided.
Initially, there was no explosion, just sparks, black smoke and flames, which drew the
excited curiosity of children, who ran towards the harbour. In schools, factories and
houses, people gathered at the windows to observe the extraordinary fire.
No one knew that the Mont-Blanc was carrying 3,000 tonnes of munitions and

The crew of the Mont-Blanc jumped into the lifeboats and paddled madly for the shore,
trying to warn onlookers to flee. Meanwhile, sparks set fire to barrels of gas lashed to the
deck of the Mont-Blanc, and fire spread slowly inside the hold.
Thirteen-year-old James Pattison was walking to Richmond School with his two
brothers when the ships collided. Twenty-one minutes later he remembered when the
fire reached the explosives.

"We didn’t hear the explosion, we felt the concussion. Knocked us unconscious. It did
come into my mind - is this the end of the world? You couldn’t hear a sound. Then of
course things cleared off a little and you could hear noises - people screaming and of
course you could hear the places burning."

Windows were broken 75 kilometres away and the shock waves felt more than 300
kilometres away. The shaft of the ship's anchor, weighing a half-tonne, was recovered
three kilometres away. Shards of iron, wood and steel flew in all directions.
People standing close to the shore were propelled through the air, sucked up in a strange
whirlwind and dropped ten metres away. Some people were vapourized by the force of
the explosion. Others lost eyes when windows shattered.

Six square kilometres of Halifax was simply wiped out. The explosion killed 2,000
people, and wounded another 9,000. James Pattison lost half of his family. His little
brother, Alan, died on the way to school. His ten-year old sister Catherine was killed
instantly at home. It was four months before his father's body was pulled from the
wreckage of the sugar refinery where he worked.
The search for the missing continued for months; bodies were still being recovered the
following spring.

The Jacksons all lived close together next to the port, in the working-class district of
Richmond. Forty-six of 66 in the Jacksons’ extended family died. Among the survivors
was Mary Jean Jackson, a 40-year-old mother who lost her ten children, her husband, her
mother, four brothers, two sisters and many nephews and nieces.
Mary Jean later remarried and bore another child, James, who remembered his mother's
deep sadness, especially during the anniversary of the explosion.

"Sometimes, at the time, when I came back from school, I could see that she had been
crying. But I didn’t know why. When I grew up, I understood that she must have visited
a place dear to her heart and closed to everyone except herself."

The Halifax explosion was the most devastating disaster on Canadian soil. It was the
largest manmade explosion the world had known (it would be 28 years before a larger
one was seen at Hiroshima.)

To top