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This Day in History: The Great Halifax Explosion

On the morning of December 6, 1917, two ships collided off of the Harbor in Halifax, Nova Scotia, creating the largest man-made explosion before the atomic age. The Norwegian vessel SS Imo collided with the French cargo ship SS Mont Blanc, which was filled to capacity with munitions and explosive ingredients (a total of 2,925 metric tons) meant for the French Army, which was then embattled in the calamitous Western Front of World War I. After colliding, some of the Mont Blanc’s combustible cargo began to ignite, spreading fire rapidly throughout the ship. Sailors from both ships attempted to warn onlookers on shore to get away, but it vain; at 9:04 am, the the Mont Blanc exploded, creating a massive shock wave which totally destroyed over 1,600 buildings (i.e. anything within a half-mile radius) immediately. The ensuing tsunami, which reached as high as 60 feet, spread more than three blocks into the city. Almost 2,000 people were killed with nearly 9,000 people injured. In the resulting chaos, local hospitals struggled to meet the requirements of caring for such a large number of wounded. The Halifax explosion was instrumental in the creation of stricter cargo safety regulations and harbor laws in Canada, the U.S., and around the world.


If you’re further interested in this historic event, the library also owns a copy of the critically acclaimed The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism by John U. Bacon. Click here to reserve our copy through our online catalog, or call the Reference Desk at 732-873-8700 ext. 111!

Image result for the great halifax explosion book cover

“In this definitive account, bestselling author John U. Bacon recreates the recklessness that caused the tragedy, the selfless rescue efforts that saved thousands, and the inspiring resilience that rebuilt the town. Just hours after the explosion, Boston alone sent 100 doctors, 300 nurses, and a million dollars. The explosion would revolutionize ophthalmology and pediatrics; transform Canada and the U.S. from adversaries to allies; and show J. Robert Oppenheimer, who studied Halifax closely, how much destruction an atomic bomb could inflict on a city.

Bacon brings to light one of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century, exploring the long shadow the world’s first “weapon of mass destruction” still casts on our world today.” -from

“The Dec 6 1917 Halifax Explosion hurled this 1140 LB anchor shaft 2.35 miles from the S.S. Mont Blanc to this park.”

Thanks for reading!
-George, FTPL

The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism by John U. Bacon
The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy by John Griffith Armstrong

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