This is a cannon from the stern of the Mont-Blanc, a French munitions ship which exploded after colliding with the Imo in Halifax Harbor on December 6th 1917, an event otherwise known as the Halifax Explosion. It is now located not far from where it landed originally, at the corner of Albro Lake Road and Pinecrest Drive.
“It’s always called the Halifax Explosion, but the fiery blast from a collision of the ships Imo and Mont Blanc in Halifax Harbour’s Narrows the morning of Dec. 6, 1917 wreaked destruction on Dartmouth as well.
About 40 people on the Dartmouth side of the harbour were killed outright. More died over the next two weeks from injuries or from pneumonia that set in after a massive snowstorm that began the night of the disaster.
Former mayor Claude Morris, then a young pharmacy clerk, was lucky that day. Neither he nor his family suffered any serious injury from the blast. “There were two distinct blasts. I had no idea what it was, I was just running for home.” Running beside Morris was a blacksmith with the last name of Llyod, and Morris remembers the two wondered if the harbor had been bombed.”
“2000 Killed, Thousands Injured, When French Munitions Vessel Explodes In Harbor of Halifax, Wrecking the City.Buildings Collapse From Shock and Flames Break Out as Mont Blanc, Struck by Belgian Relief Steamer Imo, Blows Up.Two Square Miles of City Territory Devestated; Scores Burn to Death; Fatally Injured Crown Hospitals; Crews of Both Ships Escape: By the Associated Press. Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dec. 6 – Probably 2,000 persons were killed, according to careful estimates tonight, when the French munitions ship Mont Blanc blew up in Halifax harbor after a collision with the Norwegian steamship Imo, carrying Belgian relief supplies, at 9 o’clock this morning. Thousands were injured and it is expected many of them will die. The Ioma (sic) was beached.
Had Cargo of 5,000 Tons: Virtually all the north end of the city was laid waste and the property damage will run far into the millions. A part of the town of Dartmouth, across the harbor from Halifax, also was wrecked. Nearly all the buildings in the dockyard there are in ruins. The Mont Blanc carried 5,000 tons of munitions, including 1,000 tons of trinitrotuluol, the most powerful explosive known.
Two Square Miles Devastated: The zone of destruction in Halifax itself extends from the North street railway station as far north as Africville to Bedford basin, and covers an area of about 2 square miles in the section known as Richmond. The buildings which were not demolished by the force of the terrific explosion were destroyed by the fire which followed. Scores of persons were injured by the collapse of the railway station, arena rink, military gymnasium, sugar refinery and elevator.
Soldiers and Sailors on Guard: All business has been suspended. Armed guards of soldiers and sailors are patrolling the city. Not a street car is moving and part of Halifax is in darkness tonight. All hospitals and many private houses are filled with injured. As the search for wounded and dead progressed the total mounted, and at a late hour it was said that there probably had been more than 2,000 fatalities.
Long Processions of Dead: Temporary morgues have been established in many buildings, to which a steady procession of vehicles of all kinds have been carrying for hours the bodies of men, women and children. Most of them were so charred that they were unrecognizable. Thousands of persons seeking a trace of relatives and friends have passed by the long, silent rows, attempting, by the flickering light of lamps and lanterns, to identify the ones they sought.
Rescue Work in Dark: Virtually every building in the city which could be converted into a hospital is filled with wounded, many of them so desperately injured that there is no hope of their recovery. Scores already, have died in these temporary hospitals. An ever increasing number is being taken from the completely devastated Richmond district to the relief station. An army of rescue workers is searching among the ruins for bodies. The city was in darkness tonight except for the flames from the fires still burning in the wrecked buildings in the north end. The electric light and gas plants have been virtually destroyed and the only lights available are kerosene lamps. They furnished the illumination by means of which surgeons and doctors toiled heroically throughout the night caring for the injured.
Open Temporary Morgues: Temporary hospitals and morgues have been opened in school houses the western section of the city. The damage along the water front cannot yet be estimated. Many of the men composing the crews of the ships in the harbor were killed and injured. On one steamer, the Pictou, it is reported that 33 of the crew of 42 were killed. Bodies of many seamen have been picked up in the harbor. Rescue parties working among the ruins of buildings are removing the bodies of the dead. The collision which resulted probably the worst disaster in the history of the Dominion occurred near Pier 8 in the narrows leading from the harbor to Bedford basin. The munitions ship was bound from New York for Bedford basin when the relief ship, Imo, bound for sea, crashed into her.
Flames Follow Crash: The Mont Blanc was pierced on the port side almost to the engine room. The other ship, which was only slightly damaged, backed away when flames burst out on the munitions ship, and was abandoned by the crew. The captain of the Mont Blanc also ordered his crew to the boats as he realized an explosion was inevitable. The men reached the shore safely before the tremendous blast 17 minutes later which blew their ship to pieces and wrecked a large part of the city. The business life on the city had just begun for the day when the town was shaken to its foundations by the explosion. Persons in the streets were picked up bodily and hurled to the ground. Occupants of Office buildings cowered under a shower of falling glass and plaster. Houses in the Richmond section crumpled up and collapsed burying their tenants.
Houses Blown to Bits: In the main part of the city where the buildings are chiefly of stone or concrete the damage was confined to the shattering of windows and most of the casualties in this section were caused by flying glass. In the west and northwest ends the damage was more extensive and there the walls of many houses were blown to bits. It was in Richmond, however, opposite the scene of the explosion, that the havoc was greatest. Whole blocks of dwellings, mostly of frame construction were leveled. Street after street is in ruins and the structures which were left standing by the explosion were destroyed by fires which broke out simultaneously in a score of places and which it was impossible to check until they had burned themselves out.
Believe Scores Died: It is believed scores of persons who had been injured by the collapse of their homes perished in the flames from which they were helpless to flee. The fires in this district still are smoldering tonight. Five minutes after the explosion the streets in all parts of Halifax frenzied, panic-stricken throngs striving to reach the outskirts in an effort to escape what they believed was a raid by a German fleet. Hundreds of them had been cut by the shower of glass which followed the explosion. In the Richmond section the scenes enacted defied description. Seriously injured men and women crawled from the wreckage of their homes and lay in the streets until they were removed in ambulances and automobiles to hospitals. Those less seriously hurt aided those more gravely injured. In the streets piled high with debris were found the shattered bodies of many women and children. Several children were crushed to death when they were hurled against telegraph poles by the force of the explosion.
See Loved Ones Burn: In scores of cases occupants of homes who had escaped without injury or who were only slightly hurt were baffled by the flames in their search for members of their families, and were forced to stand by impotently while what once had been their homes became funeral pyres for loved ones. A government employe named Macdonald, who made all speed to reach his home after the explosion, found that his wife and four children had perished. His 2-year-old daughter had been killed while playing in the yard of her home. Among those killed were the chief of the fire department and his deputy who were hurled to death when a fire engine exploded.
Features of Greatest Disaster in Dominion: Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dec. 6 – Main points in the greatest disaster ever suffered by the Dominion are: The number of dead may pass 2,000 persons. Twenty-five wagonloads of bodies were delivered at one morgue at the same time. The Mont Blanc, loaded with munitions, carried a deckload of benzine, which caught fire from the boiler room. “The collision was due to a confusion of signals,” said Frank Mackie, pilot of the Mont Blanc. Aid has been asked and sent from all cities throughout Nova Scotia. Generous offers of all kinds have been received from many cities in the United States. The governor of Massachusetts telegraphed that the State “would go the limit.” American Red Cross sends train from Boston and another is going from New York. Glass, tar paper, building board, putty, bedding and blankets are needed. The weather is bitterly cold and thousands of homeless persons have no bedding and few clothes. Many millions of dollars is the nearest approach to an estimate of damage done. Numerous vessels in the harbor were turned over on their sides and sunk. The shock rattled houses 30 and 40 miles away, and was heard more than 100 miles. Two miles of freight cars were lifted from the rails and scattered over fields. People believed a German bombardment was at hand, and fled to the bombproof cellars, remaining there for hours. Scores of bodies of seamen have been picked up in the harbor. There were no troops for embarkation for Europe in the harbor at the time. The area of devastation is 2 square miles.”
Scores of Children Killed: Scores of those who lost their lives were children in the public schools in the north end. Many others suffered broken limbs, and were rescued with difficulty from the demolished buildings. The teachers who escaped injury worked heroically to save the lives of the children under their charge. LeBaron Coleman, manager of the Canadian Express Company, was killed when the roof of the North Station collapsed. In less than a half hour after the disaster 5,000 persons had assembled on the common and thousands of others had sought refuge in fields outside the city.
250 of Injured Die: Hundreds were reported missing by their relatives and it was not known whether they were alive or dead. The work of rescue and relief was promptly organized. The Academy of Music and many other public buildings were thrown open to house the homeless. Five hundred tents have been erected on the common and these will be occupied by the troops who have surrendered their barracks to the women and children. Every nook and cranny in all available buildings was made ready within an hour to receive the wounded. A steady stream of ambulances and automobiles arrived at hospitals which soon were filled to capacity with the injured. Doctors, nurses and volunteers toiled ceaselessly in the work of succor. Their ranks were soon swelled by others who arrived in constantly increasing number from nearby towns. It was announced before nightfall that 250 of the injured had died.
Death List to Be Increased: Those who were only slightly injured were sent to their own homes or to those of friends after their wounds had been treated. There were hundreds of cases of serious injury, however, and it is expected the death list will be greatly increased by those who succumb to their wounds. Automobiles were still scurrying about all sections of the city tonight carrying blanket-clad burdens. A committee of citizens already has been formed and assistance is asked from all outside points. The supplies most needed are glass, tar paper, beaver board, putty, bedding and blankets. The mayors of all towns in the province have been asked to rush supplies to Halifax. The force of the explosion was felt at Truro, 75 miles away, where windows were shattered. All telegraph and telephone wires were torn down and for several hours Halifax was completely isolated from the outside world.
Due to Pilots’ Confusion: The concussion shattered the big gas tanks of the city. All power plants are out of commission and newspaper offices have been so badly wrecked that publication is impossible. Pilot Frank Mackie, of the Mont Blanc, declared tonight that the collision resulted from a confusion of whistles sounded by the Imo. He believes the fire, which caused the explosion was due to the fact that the munition ship carried a deck load of benzene. Charles Prest, gasoline engineer on the steamer Wasper B, which had been in drydock, had a narrow escape from death.
Struck by Flying Shells: “We had 80 gallons of gasoline in our tanks when a shell from the munitions ship struck us,” he said. “We had just left the drydock to go to Bedford Basin to get some plates and we were opposite the Lorne Club when we saw the Ioma coming down from the basin and the Mont Blanc going up. “I heard the Belgian steamer’s whistle blowing and then I saw the munitions ship was on fire on the starboard side. We tried to turn back to warn the officials at the drydock, but before we reached there a shell struck us. I believe I was the only one of the five on board the Wasper B. to escape as she was blown up. My son, who worked with the drydock, was killed.”
Hotel Guests Are Safe: Col. Mackenzie Bell, who spent two years on the firing line in Flanders, said tonight he never had seen anything on the battle front equal to the scenes of destruction he witnessed in Halifax today. It was reported tonight that all the guests in the hotels of the city are safe. Some of them were cut by flying glass, but none are seriously hurt. Among the notable structures wrecked was St. Joseph’s Church and the school building adjoining. The immense cotton factory in that district was also demolished.
Fears of a Famine: The search among the ruins for bodies continued tonight under a great handicap, as a large part of the city was in darkness save for torches and lanterns. Fear of food shortage is entertained by some, though encouragement is found in the world that trainloads of provisions are already on the way here from several points. The immediate feeling of homeless ones amid the confusion remains, however, a serious problem. Everything possible is being done to systematize the distribution of food, as well as of clothing and bedding.
“That part of Halifax destroyed the explosion is shown in (the) map. The greater part of the city lies further south, and in that section, numerous fires were responsible for heavy damage to property, although the loss of life was chiefly confined to the area shown in the shaded portion of the map.”
“3 Blasts Shook City; People Feared Air Raid: Halifax, N.S. Dec. 6 – The horrors of an air raid possessed the minds of many when the explosion on the Mont Blanc shook this fortress city. There were three distinct shocks. First a comparatively light rumble like a seismic disturbance startled the city. A moment later a terrific blast made even the citadel quake. Then a crash of glass throughout a wide area completed the confusion. Thousands of persons rushing into the open saw a thick cloud of gray smoke hanging over the north end of the city. This strengthened their conviction of an attack from the air. It was feared that other explosions would follow. Great crowds assembled in open lots and remained there for hours until they believed all danger was passed.”
“Two relief Trains Rush from Boston to Halifax: Boston, Dec. 6 – Lieut. Col. William A. Brooks, M.D., acting chief surgeon of the Massachusetts State Guard, left Boston at 10 o’clock tonight with a unit of surgeons and nurses for the relief of citizens of Halifax. An America Red Cross train also was rushed to the scene. Officials of the Boston and Maine Railroad, the Maine Central and the Canadian railroads have made arrangements to put the special trains through on record time. The trip will probably take 20 hours. Executive Manager Henry B. Endicott of the Massachusetts public safety committee started the wheels turning as soon as the committee that met this afternoon at the Statehouse, after Gov. McCall’s offer of help had been accepted by Halifax. The first special train consisted of two baggage cars, two sleepers and a buffet car. Dr. Brooks had a dozen surgeons and as many nurses. The War Department used its wireless to inform the mayor of Halifax that the relief train was on the way.”
“Red Cross Rushes Relief to Halifax; Supply Train Hurried From Boston: Following a telephone conversation between Director General Jesse H. Jones of the Red Cross, in this city and the Hon. J.D. Pugsley at St. Johns (sic) supplies were ordered rushed to the stricken city of Halifax last night. The order Removing these supplies from the New York Red Cross warehouses to Halifax reached officials there last night, and bedding, clothing and food will be in the devastated district by tomorrow. Ten thousand blankets, besides bedding, sweaters, flour, bacon, coffee, soup, shoes, surgical dressings and condensed milk are among the items included in the relief supplies.
Learns Wires Are Down: Director General Jones got in touch with Mr. Pugsley shortly after 7 o’clock yesterday evening. He had, meantime, ascertained the situation as extremely grave. He informed the director general that Canada would be deeply grateful for any help the Red Cross saw fit to give. Arrangements were made then to rush a supply train from New York via the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railway. The tracks on the long 24-hour run will be cleared for this “Red Cross special”. Foster Rockwell and John S. Ellsworth will have charge of the relief work.
Will Be in Halifax Today: The former will be in Halifax sometime today. The latter had gone to that place to organize a canteen, and is helping the municipal officials to relieve suffering and restore order. In addition to the train from New York, the Red Cross sent out of Boston last night a train equipped with emergency dressings, surgical and hospital supplies and a corps of trained social workers. Director General Jones said last night that the Red Cross was ready to do anything it could to help the situation on Halifax. Supplies already sent will be supplemented by such other material as the workers on the scene find they need. Arrangements were completed last night to have any further emergency supplies shipped from Boston and New York.”
“Telegrapher Breaks Story He Was Sending to World To Attend Injured Wife: New York, Dec. 6 – At 10 o’clock tonight there was a sudden break in the story of the Halifax disaster coming into the offices of the Associated Press over the wire of the Canadian Press, the only one in operation. Efforts to raise Halifax here were ineffectual. An hour lateer it was learned that the operator who had been sending from the stricken city had left his key when a messenger brought him news that his wife had been dangerously injured. The regular Canadian Press operator at Halifax had been missing since the explosion. A second outlet for news of the disaster was established after several hours.”
“Fearing Menace Of Spies Censors Take Over Wires: Boston, Dec. 6 – In the midst of the chaos of misery reigning among the ruins of Halifax, the spy menace is fully reckoned with by the Canadian government. The government censorship has taken complete charge of the dissemination of news regarding the disaster. The Canadian Pacific telegraph offices are in complete control of the government. All civilians have been ordered out of it.”
“Fifteen Cars of Supplies Are Rushed by Maine: Augusta, Me., Dec. 6 – Gov. Milliken today sent the following telegram to the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia and mayor of Halifax: “I extend to you the deepest sympathy of the people of Maine in the terrible disaster that has stricken Halifax. Any help Maine can give is yours.” The offered help was accepted and fifteen carloads of supplies, including additional telegraph material, groceries and dry goods left Portland tonight by special train for Halifax.”
“Blast Kills Passengers and Motorman on Trolley: Halifax, Dec. 6 – An electric tram car passing the vicinity at the time was blown off the track, and the motorman, conductor and all the passengers were killed. A train of 300 returned wounded soldiers had just been sent west from the military hospital at Pier 2 which was badly wrecked. Hundreds of men, women and children were wounded on others trains and street cars.”
“Prof. Bell Hears Blast 200 Miles Off in Quebec; Wires News to Capital: The following telegram was received yesterday from Prof. Alexander Graham Bell by Gilbert H. Grosevnor, editor of the Geographic Magazine. Mr. Bell being in Quebec, Canada, at the time of the explosion: “The terrible explosion at Halifax this morning was heard at a distance of nearly 200 miles. Help is being rushed to the stricken city from all over Nova Scotia.”
“Aid by U.S. Bluejackets; Canadian Cruiser’s Losses: Halifax, Dec. 6 – Two members of the crew of the Canadian cruiser Niobe were killed by the explosion and several were injured. Bluejackets from an American warship are assisting in patrolling the streets tonight. An American hospital ship also is in port. It was formerly on the Boston-New York route. A hundred men were sent ashore to assist, together with the ship’s doctors and assistants.”
“Pilot of Relief Vessel Vanishes; Signaled Wrong, Asserts the Other Pilot: Halifax, Dec. 6 – There is a great mystery surrounding the strange action of the Belgian relief ship, which is blamed for the disaster. She was in charge of Pilot William Hayes. Pilot Frank Mackay tells a story which is in accordance with what was seen by those on shore. He said the other vessels gave wrong whistle signals. Pilot Hayes is missing; up to late tonight he had not been reported either at the pilot headquarters nor had he been heard from at his home. Hayes was considered one of the most experienced pilots of the port. A searching investigation is being proceeded with. The steamship Imo, which collided with the Mont Blanc in Halifax harbor, was a Norwegian vessel of 3,161 tons, last reported to have arrived at an Atlantic port in the United States October 9. The Mont Blanc arrived at a United States Atlantic port on November 9. No details are available of her movements since that date. The vessel was owned by the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique at Middlesboro in 1899, and her gross tonnage was 5,121. She was 320 feet long.
“Nieuw Amsterdam Safe, Company Officials Believe: Special to The Washington Post. New York, Dec. 6 – When news of the disaster in Halifax harbor reached this city this afternoon fear was felt for vessels which were believed to be in the harbor. The greatest alarm was expressed for the Nieuw Amsterdam, of the Holland-American line, which left an Atlantic port several days ago with 300 passengers and a cargo of corn for the Belgians. At the local office of the company, 24 State Street, it was learned that word had been received from Capt. J. Barron, of the Nieuw Amsterdam, that he had reached Halifax and was awaiting the official inspection of the British government authorities. He was directed to inform the company when he would leave, but no word has been received from him since. The company officials were basing their hopes that he had left that port on the fact that no persons are permitted to leave the ship after inspection.”
“German Diplomats Safe; Vessels Had Left Harbor: New York, Dec. 6 – Reports that the two Scandanavian liners carrying many German and Austrian diplomats returning home from Central and South America and China had been caught in the explosion, proved untrue. They are the Bergensfjord and Nellig Olav. Both left Halifax a few days ago, after the Teuton diplomats and their baggage had undergone a thorough examination at the hands of the British officials.”
“5,000 Tons of Munitions Explode; Few Shells Fly: Special to The Washington Post. Halifax, Dec. 6 – Probably a fifth of the city is in ruins. The Mont Blanc carried 5,000 tons of munitions, it is estimated. Differeing from similar explosions in the past, few explosive shells were thrown over the city, but the whole cargo seemed to let go with one terrific blast that rocked the earth and the sea.”
From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin: In 1920 we had the coldest winter for years. There were 21 days of good sleighing, and 11 days of sub-zero weather in January with the mercury down to 17 below near the month-end. In February the harbor froze over for the first time since 1898. … Read more
From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin: During the winter of 1917-1918 block after block of residential and commercial Dartmouth presented the appearance of a battered war-town, with most windows in nearly every house and shop boarded up and blanketed with tar-paper covering. One dwelling at 50 Pleasant St., near Burton’s Hill, remained … Read more
From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin: In 1917 the United States entered the Great War, and the Dominion Government passed a Conscription Bill. Christ Church celebrated its 100th anniversary and erected a monument to her war dead on the Church grounds. Canon C.W. Vernon published a Centenary Book of Anglican parishes hereabouts. … Read more