The Halifax Explosion of 1917

A Disastrous Explosion Destroyed Much of Halifax During World War I

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada-General view of the remains of the explosion at Halifax.

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The Halifax Explosion occurred when a Belgian relief vessel and a French munitions carrier collided in Halifax Harbour during World War I. Crowds gathered around to watch the fire from the initial collision. The munitions ship drifted towards the pier and after twenty minutes blew sky high. More fires started and spread, and a tsunami wave was created. Thousands were killed and injured and much of Halifax was destroyed. To add to the disaster, a snowstorm started the next day and lasted for nearly a week.

Background to the Halifax Explosion

In 1917, Halifax, Nova Scotia was the main base of the new Canadian Navy and housed the most important army garrison in Canada. The port was a major hub of wartime activity and Halifax Harbour was crowded with warships, troop transports, and supply ships.

Date: December 6, 1917

Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Cause of the explosion: Human error


  • More than 1900 people killed
  • 9000 injured
  • 1600 buildings destroyed
  • 12,000 houses damaged
  • 6000 homeless; 25,000 people with inadequate housing

Facts and Timeline of the Explosion

  • The Belgian relief vessel Imo was leaving Halifax Harbour on its way to New York and the French munitions ship Mont Blanc was on its way to wait for a convoy when the two ships collided at 8:45 am.
  • The munitions ship was carrying picric acid, gun cotton, and TNT. Her top deck carried benzol which spilled and burned.
  • For 20 minutes crowds collected around Halifax Harbour to watch the billowing smoke filled with sparks and fire as the Mont Blanc drifted towards Pier 6. While crews from nearby ships raced to put out the blaze, the captain and crew of the Mont Blanc rowed in lifeboats for the Dartmouth shore. When the crew landed they tried to warn people to run.
  • The Mont Blanc rammed Pier 6, setting its wood pilings on fire.
  • The Mont Blanc exploded, flattening everything within 800 meters (2600 feet), and causing damage for 1.6 km (1 mile). The explosion was said to have been heard as far away as Prince Edward Island.
  • Fires spread quickly after the explosion.
  • Water around the ship vaporized, a huge tsunami wave flooded the streets of Halifax and Dartmouth and swept many people back into the harbor where they drowned.
  • The next day, one of the worst blizzards ever recorded in Halifax began, and lasted for six days.
  • Relief came immediately from the troops in the area. Assistance also poured in from the Maritimes, central Canada, and the northeastern United States in the form of medical supplies and workers, food, clothing, building supplies and laborers, and money. Emergency teams from Massachusetts arrived, and many stayed for months. To this day, the people of Nova Scotia remember the help they received, and every year the province of Nova Scotia sends a giant Christmas tree to Boston in thanks.
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Munroe, Susan. "The Halifax Explosion of 1917." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Munroe, Susan. (2023, April 5). The Halifax Explosion of 1917. Retrieved from Munroe, Susan. "The Halifax Explosion of 1917." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).