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

Relief from Outside following the Halifax Explosion

Relief Trains Sent from Canada and United States & Money and Supplies Pour into Halifax

One of many wrecked buildings

Nova Scotia Provincial Exposition main building, Halifax
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Medical relief trains. Within a few hours of the Halifax Explosion, relief trains set out from cities across eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. They carried doctors, nurses, and medical supplies, engineers, repairmen, and equipment of all kinds, and blankets, clothes, and food. The first trains were from towns in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces, from Ottawa and Montreal in Canada and from Maine, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts in the United States.

The relief trains faced major problems. First, a blizzard brought high winds and many inches of snow that slowed or halted the trains. Second, the rail system near Halifax had been destroyed or badly damaged. Finally, communication was limited because equipment and so many telegraph lines had been destroyed.

Supplies and donations. All across Canada and the United States, communities began to fill trains with emergency supplies and skilled professionals to send to Halifax. The railroad companies cancelled all regularly scheduled trains to clear the tracks for the relief trains and worked to restore telegraph connections with Halifax. Railway telegraphs were a principal communication network because trains were the primary transportation and communication system throughout Canada and the United States. The railroad companies were major organizers of relief efforts.

Newspaper headlines about the explosion

Newspaper headline from Dec. 8, 1917.
Library and Archives Canada.

Long after the immediate emergency, relief trains from across the United States and Canada continued to pour supplies into Halifax to help the people rebuild their lives—furniture, bedding, clothes, household goods, and food collected by both the Canadian Red Cross and the American Red Cross, community groups, and religious organizations.

Fundraising. People and governments throughout the British Empire—from Australia and New Zealand to South Africa—and the United States began to donate money for the relief effort. As examples of government donations and their value today:

1917dollars* 2008 value*
Canadian Government $8,000,000 $ 129.4 million
Great Britain $5,000,000 $80.9 million
United States (Congress) $5,000,000 $80.9 million
Australia $250,000 $4.1 million
New Zealand $50,000 $0.8 million
*Donation amounts from J. Castell Hopkins, The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs (1918):646-56; calculations of 2008 value by Reflections staff, University of Virginia.

Also, groups and individuals from towns, churches and synagogues, and aid organizations, from the wealthy to young schoolchildren donated money and supplies for recovery and rebuilding.

Special examples of relief donations:

Further Information: