Halifax Explosion

A street view following the Halifax Explosion in 1917

A street view following the Halifax Explosion in 1917

On the morning of December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, resulting in a massive blast that ultimately killed 2,000 people in the largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic age.

Background

Halifax was a wartime boomtown during World War I, and ships loaded with troops, munitions, and supplies sailed in and out of Halifax Harbor. 

The morning of December 6, the French freighter Mont-Blanc—with its cargo of 2,925 tons of explosives for the Allied war effort—prepared to join a military convoy that would escort it across the Atlantic. At the same time, another ship, the Norwegian vessel SS Imo, left its mooring to head for New York to pick up relief supplies for Belgium. 

Collision & Explosion

In an area of Halifax Harbor known as the Narrows, the two ships collided, sparking a fire on the Mont-Blanc. Its crew, unable to stop the fire, abandoned the ship, which drifted until it eventually reached a pier, setting the pier on fire.

The smoke attracted many onlookers, who came to watch as other ships tried to put out the fire and pull the Mont-Blanc farther from land. But at 9:04 a.m., the Mont-Blanc exploded, incinerating the ship and sending out a powerful shockwave that leveled most of the north end of Halifax.

Casualties & Aftermath

An estimated 1,500 people were killed instantly or nearly so from the explosion and shockwave, as well as from flying glass and debris, collapsing and burning buildings, and the tsunami created in the harbor that crested at 45 feet. An estimated additional 9,000 people were injured, and over the following hours and days, the death toll would rise to 2,000. 

12,000 buildings in a 16-mile radius were damaged (with 1,600 completely destroyed), leaving thousands of people without homes.

Rescue & Relief Efforts

The rescue effort began almost immediately but was initially hindered by rumors of a potential second explosion. Efforts were also slowed by a heavy snowstorm that hit the area the following day. 

In the days and weeks that followed, the rest of Canada, as well as the United States and other countries, sent relief supplies and medical professionals. Rebuilding the devastated area would take more than a year.

Learn more about the Halifax Explosion through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.


Articles and Clippings about the Halifax Explosion

Saskatchewan newspaper front page of the Halifax Explosion from December 6, 1917Saskatchewan newspaper front page of the Halifax Explosion from December 6, 1917 Thu, Dec 6, 1917 – 1 · Saskatoon Daily Star (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada) · Newspapers.comManitoba newspaper front page of the Halifax Explosion from December 7, 1917Manitoba newspaper front page of the Halifax Explosion from December 7, 1917 Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – Page 1 · The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) · Newspapers.comNewspaper article says Halifax Explosion disaster was caused by a Newspaper article says Halifax Explosion disaster was caused by a "misunderstanding of signals" Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – Page 1 · The Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) · Newspapers.comDescription of the aftermath of Halifax Explosion calling it the Description of the aftermath of Halifax Explosion calling it the "worst disaster on this continent" Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – Page 11 · Vancouver Daily World (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.comEyewitness and firsthand accounts of the Halifax Explosion in December 1917Eyewitness and firsthand accounts of the Halifax Explosion in December 1917 Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – 11 · The Province (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.comReturned World War I soldiers say Halifax Explosion is Returned World War I soldiers say Halifax Explosion is "the worst yet" Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – 16 · The Province (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.comEarly list of dead and missing printed in the newspaper the day after the Halifax ExplosionEarly list of dead and missing printed in the newspaper the day after the Halifax Explosion Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – 20 · Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) · Newspapers.comNewspaper article reports on the snowstorm that followed the Halifax ExplosionNewspaper article reports on the snowstorm that followed the Halifax Explosion Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – Page 1 · The Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) · Newspapers.comBoston and New York prepare to send relief supplies to Halifax after the disasterBoston and New York prepare to send relief supplies to Halifax after the disaster Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – Page 1 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Newspapers.comArticle reports that doctors and nurses are being mobilized in Massachusetts to go to HalifaxArticle reports that doctors and nurses are being mobilized in Massachusetts to go to Halifax Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – Page 1 · Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.comMaps showing where in Halifax Harbor the explosion occurredMaps showing where in Halifax Harbor the explosion occurred Fri, Dec 7, 1917 – Page 2 · The Washington Post (Washington, District of Columbia) · Newspapers.comMap showing section of city devastated by Halifax Explosion in 1917Map showing section of city devastated by Halifax Explosion in 1917 Sat, Dec 8, 1917 – 2 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.comPhotos of damage to buildings from Halifax Explosion in December 1917Photos of damage to buildings from Halifax Explosion in December 1917 Wed, Dec 12, 1917 – Page 7 · The Washington Times (Washington, District of Columbia) · Newspapers.comImage of the rescue effort to find people buried in the rubble following Halifax ExplosionImage of the rescue effort to find people buried in the rubble following Halifax Explosion Thu, Dec 13, 1917 – Page 18 · The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) · Newspapers.comPhoto of injured survivors of the Halifax Explosion in 1917Photo of injured survivors of the Halifax Explosion in 1917 Thu, Dec 13, 1917 – Page 18 · The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) · Newspapers.comPhotograph of children carrying food from a relief station after the 1917 Halifax ExplosionPhotograph of children carrying food from a relief station after the 1917 Halifax Explosion Thu, Dec 13, 1917 – Page 18 · The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) · Newspapers.comImage of families who lost their homes as a result of the Halifax ExplosionImage of families who lost their homes as a result of the Halifax Explosion Thu, Dec 13, 1917 – Page 18 · The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) · Newspapers.comPicture of temporary shelter set up for victims of Halifax disaster in December 1917Picture of temporary shelter set up for victims of Halifax disaster in December 1917 Thu, Dec 13, 1917 – Page 1 · The Salem News (Salem, Ohio) · Newspapers.comPilot and captain of Mont-Blanc are initially held responsible for Halifax disasterPilot and captain of Mont-Blanc are initially held responsible for Halifax disaster Tue, Feb 5, 1918 – Page 2 · Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com1918 newspaper article reports 1918 newspaper article reports "many were blinded in Halifax Explosion" Tue, Mar 19, 1918 – 5 · The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.com1919 article reports on the reconstruction of Halifax after the explosion1919 article reports on the reconstruction of Halifax after the explosion Sat, Mar 29, 1919 – 9 · Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) · Newspapers.comSpotlight on Boston Christmas tree given by Nova Scotia as thanks for help after Halifax ExplosionSpotlight on Boston Christmas tree given by Nova Scotia as thanks for help after Halifax Explosion Sun, Nov 26, 2006 – 173 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com
"Halifax Explosion," Newspapers.com Topics (https://www.newspapers.com/topics/world-history/halifax-explosion/ : accessed April 15, 2021)