Ninety-six years ago today, at 9:05 a.m., the French cargo and munitions ship Mont Blanc collided with the Norwegian supply ship Imo in the Narrows leading to Halifax Harbour, and the resulting explosion was the largest man-made explosion in the years before nuclear weapons. The North End of Halifax was flattened, and at least 2,000 people were killed while thousands more were injured.
Carol Bruneau writes vividly about the Halifax Explosion and its aftermath in her novel Glass Voices. Her heroine, Lucy Caines, gives birth to her son in a tent at the base of Citadel Hill on the night after the explosion, “the wind yowling like a cat as she’d laboured.” The hill and the tent village are covered in snow, “but that was as far as whiteness went,” because “the sky had rained tar earlier, what, a morning before? A lifetime? Tar and blood and needles of glass. It’d wept chunks of earth and flaming metal.” Immediately after the explosion Lucy finds herself on the smaller hill of Fort Needham, “arse over teakettle, limbs splayed,” “toes facing uphill, hands and feet the points of a compass rose. Blood drummed her ears as a mushroom grew in the sky, a giant, spreading fungus that crowded out the sun. The spiky grass grazed her cheek: an inch from her eye a bedspring, and something else, unspeakable, purple, with suckers trailing from it like a jellyfish’s. A hand?”
I reviewed Glass Voices for The Diocesan Times when it was published in 2007. The paper’s online archive only goes back a couple of years, but I reproduced the review on my website in 2010 and you can read it here. You can learn more about the Explosion at this CBC website.
There’s a memorial service at the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower at Fort Needham Park this morning at 8:45, followed by a reception in United Memorial Church, 5375 Kaye Street.