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City of the dead: thousands killed in Halifax explosion
The destruction at the port in the city of Halifax after the explosion Photo: Nova Scotia Archives

City of the dead: thousands killed in Halifax explosion

Halifax, 10 December 1917 - A collision between two ships in the busy Canadian port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, has devastated the town and caused massive loss of life.

A final, accurate death toll may never be accurately known, but early estimates put the figure at 1,200.

A further 2,000 people are reported missing, with 8,000 injured and 25,000 left homeless.

A map showing the devastated area in Halifax. Click the image for larger version. (Image: Nova Scotia Archives)

Collision and explosion
The Irish Times has described the explosion as the ‘most appalling accident of its kind in history’. It occurred at 8am on 6 December when a Belgian Relief Steamer was leaving the port and, as a result of mistaken signals, rammed into an incoming U.S. munitions vessel, which was carrying 3,000 tons of high explosives. A fire caught hold on the latter despite efforts to flood the hold. 17 minutes passed from the moment of collision to the moment of an explosion, the shock from which was felt 60 miles away. 

It is reported that about half of the city of Halifax has been destroyed. The suburb of Richmond is said to have been partly razed, with the damage extending to the business quarter where the City Hall, Custom House, Post Office and other key buildings suffered serious damaged.

Most of the major damage has been caused to the wooden structured buildings as it has only been in recent years that stone and brick have been more extensively used.

The aftermath of the explosion in Halifax via British Pathé

The relief effort
The relief effort is being hampered by severe frost and a raging snowstorm. Many of the injured were to be found wandering helpless and freezing about the streets of Halifax, where soldiers have been offering every assistance.

As awareness of the incident and its severity have spread, the relief effort has gathered momentum. Help has come from American Red Cross societies in Washington, New York and Boston, from where thousands of blankets, sweaters and other necessary items have been despatched.

The Mayor of London has offered to open up a Fund of Relief.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.