The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism

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On a cold December morning in 1917, residents of Halifax, Nova Scotia gathered at the edge of the harbor to watch a curious and alarming sight: two ships had collided and one of them, the French freighter Mont-Blanc, was ablaze and drifting listlessly in the water. Moments later, the Mont Blanc’s volatile cargo — 3,000 tons of explosives earmarked for the faraway war — erupted. The blast created 35-foot-high waves, flattened whole neighborhoods, and killed and injured thousands of people.

The Great Halifax Explosion is the story of that fateful day and its fallout. By turns thrilling and sobering, the story of the explosion encompasses hardworking heroes, infamous court cases, and a pivotal moment in the relationship between Canada and the United States.


"To get a better view of Mont-Blanc burning at Pier 6, hundreds of people had climbed the stairs of the harbor’s substantial new concrete-and-steel pedestrian bridge, which spanned the eight tracks of Richmond railyard. An instant later, the only evidence that the bridge had ever been built was the concrete moorings and deformed steel beams that had been thrown about Halifax and Dartmouth. The people who had been standing on the bridge had disappeared. The Patricia, the gem of the Halifax Fire Department’s fleet, had been transformed into a twisted hunk of metal. The blast ejected the driver, Billy Wells, from the Patricia’s driver’s seat and shot him up the hill. He was still clutching the steering wheel, which he had apparently ripped from the vehicle.”

John U. Bacon is an American author, journalist, and public speaker. His books include The Great Halifax Explosion, Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football, and The Best of Bacon: Select Cuts. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Published: 2017
Length: 374 pages
Set in: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada