University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

An Introduction to the Halifax Explosion

Halifax, Nova Scotia, December 6th, 1917

Photograph of the Explosion cloud taken on 6 December 1917, 13km away from Halifax.
Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN ID number 3531262

At 9:05 a.m., a munitions ship blew up dockside in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

By 9:06 a.m.

Then a 20-foot tsunami created by the explosion swept through the damaged areas, scouring the land and leaving bare mud piled with debris. Fireplaces and furnaces caused fires in other areas, leaving acres of charred wreckage.

By 9:15 a.m. on Thursday, December 6, 1917, two square miles of a major Canadian city lay in rubble, and most of the undamaged area had no water or heat. All communication was lost with the outside world; the city had no telephone service.

That night, a blizzard hit the region, bringing gale force winds and temperatures of 10-15 F. Thick, wet snow soon hid the victims, hindered the rescuers, and halted relief trains; by morning, ice coated the streets and hills.

The Halifax Explosion was the largest man-made explosion until the first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

lanscape image

View from the waterfront looking west from the ruins of the Sugar Refinery across the obliterated Richmond District several days after the explosion. The remains of Pier 6, ground zero of the explosion, is on the extreme right.
Library and Archives Canada.

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