December Requiem: the Halifax Explosion

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’

Pearl Harbor was attacked December 7, 1941. The world remembers this horrific event and its consequences.

Less well-known is the devastating Halifax explosion that happened on December 6, 1917.

Have you read the link to Blizzard of Glass from Debbie Rodger’s blog Ex Urbanis?

Halifax harbour is one of the world’s best, deepest and largest natural harbours. Its main harbour is relatively easy to protect from intruders. It has plenty of room for docks and ships. In 1917, the dockyard and naval yards along the harbour were always busy. Trans-Atlantic convoys gathered weekly in Bedford Basin, headed for the war in Europe. Since the start of World War I, Halifax Harbour had been busier than at any other time in its history…but harbour traffic control had failed to keep up.

An accident, arising from miscommunication and poor planning,  led to the explosion that destroyed the city.  More than a thousand people died that day, with another thousand to follow. Nine thousand more would be injured and maimed in the largest man-made explosion the world had ever seen. Until the bombing of Hiroshima it was the greatest explosion in history.

An extensive comparison of 130 major explosions by a team of scientists and historians in 1994 concluded that, “Halifax Harbour remains unchallenged in overall magnitude as long as five criteria are considered together: number of casualties, force of blast, radius of devastation, quantity of explosive material, and total value of property destroyed.”  Wikipedia

In 2003 he Canadian Broadcast Corporation (our CBC) made an outstanding film of the event and developed an excellent website with further information. It is well worth the time to explore it. I found the section called Connections particularly interesting.

Here is a segment of the broadcast that recreates the explosion. If you are feeling both strong and curious, there is also a video about the special effects used to show the horrifying extent of injuries and human suffering!

The ballad sung by Eric Mestre deals ambiguously with  pronunciation…  Halifax or Helifax?

Hit by the explosion, wind from the concussion of air, fires, a tsunami, and then an early blizzard… Halifax must, indeed, have been a vision of hell!

 

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3 Responses to December Requiem: the Halifax Explosion

  1. This a wonderful post, Ellen. I especially appreciate the video links.

    The horror is really almost inconceivable, isn’t it?

    • motleydragon says:

      Thank you, again, for calling this to my attention. I have ordered both Blizzard of Glass and Barometer Rising from the library… thay are available in multiple copies. The Hamilton Spectator did not memtion the anniversary at all, although Kate Middleton’s pregnancy and the suicide of the hospital desk cleark received ample coverage and the entire front page of section two was devoted to a man who has collected seven hundred cookie jars, complete with coloured photos!

  2. Curmudgeon Bludgeon says:

    ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’

    Sorry, Motley D. I’m sure you don’t mean anything too much by it, but this silly expression is a pet peeve of mine. Superficially true in single instances (yes, of course, we must learn from our mistakes), it is manifestly false under any general interpretation (‘the’ past? really? all of it?), and thus is inevitably a tool of selective application. In other words, the “past” we are urged to remember is never more than a minute sample of all that we might reflect upon and learn from. It could hardly be otherwise, of course: the problem is just that, in practice, that sample is almost always chosen by someone with an agenda.

    And yes, that too is probably inevitable. And not necessarily always a bad thing.

    But remember what Orwell said in 1984: “Those who control the present control the past and those who control the past control the future.”

    So I would amend Santayana a bit:

    ‘Those who cannot remember the past cannot question it, and those who cannot question the past are at the mercy of those who control the present.’

    George and George, Orwellantayana, lol. Less pithy-sounding, perhaps, but more true.

    p.s. Watched the video. As Big Jim McBob would say, She done blowed up real good!

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