This Day In History: Massive Explosion In Halifax Harbor (1917)

On this day in 1917 at the exact time of  9:05 a.m.,  Eastern Time in the harbor of Halifax in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia,  a huge explosion occurred. It was to be the largest explosion caused by men before the dropping of the atomic age. The explosion was the result of a ship exploding in the harbor of Halifax. The explosion happened on a French munitions ship Mount Blanc and was a result of the Mount Blanc colliding with another ship.  The explosion took place some ten to twenty minutes after the collision. The city and port of Halifax were busy with military personnel and ships. The city was an important location for the Canadian War effort. On this day in 1917, a small ship the Imo came free from its moorings and it collided with the French ship as it was entering the harbor.  The French ship, was packed with high explosives, it is believed that there were 2,200 tons of explosives and also gasoline. It had arrived Halifax in order to join a convoy that was making its way across the Atlantic.  The ships and others would be escorted by Canadian and British warships to Europe. The collision had occurred at about quarter to nine. It would appear that some chemical substance on board the Mount Blanc caught fire and after a few minutes it set some of the hold ablaze. The ship’s crew realized that a fire had broken out and they abandoned the ship. They tried to signal to the harbor that there was a fire on the ship and that it could explode. The ship was soon ablaze and many people gathered to witness the sights little did they know how dangerous the situation was. The local fire department was eventually alerted and began to position a fire tender at the harbor. However, there was suddenly a huge explosion a great blinding flash of white light.

Some of the damage in Halifax (1917)

It was heard many miles away. In a few seconds the town of Halifax was devastated and would never be the same again.   The explosion destroyed every window in the city and the blast caused a massive wave to sweep over a large area of the city. The massive explosion is estimated to have killed more than 1600 people, mostly civilians. There were almost 10,000 people injured, many of them losing limbs. It is estimated that over 100 people were blinded for life. It is believed that almost 2000 homes were destroyed and the North-side of Halifax was left in ruins.  One entire community was wiped out. The explosion caused a small tsunami and it devastated an area near the town. It wiped out a community of Indians, the Mi’kmaq. The explosion actually threw some ships, including the Imo on to the shore.

At first, the local population believed that the explosion was caused German sabotage. It was later established that this was not the case. A later investigation blamed both the Imo and the Mount Blanc for the disaster.