In 1917 Halifax, Nova Scotia, was devastated by an exploding munitions ship

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The munitions did exactly what it was designed to do, just in the wrong place. Hmmm.

I grew up near Halifax and as a kid was pretty fascinated by this event. The city still bears the marks of the disaster in how it got redeveloped afterwards.

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As I love to point out to anyone who can’t get out of the room, the ship my uncle served on during WW2 (a little minesweeper) left Halifax Harbor less than two hours before this happened.


My grandfather lived through it. He was 5 at the time, and very lucky to be on the other side of the harbour and far enough away that he wasn’t badly injured. I think the aftermath scarred him for life though. I heard his account of it, obviously at 5 years old not really understanding what was happening, and his memories were vivid and terrifying.


The book A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit has a chapter on the 1917 Halifax explosion and the community’s response in the aftermath. This is one of my absolute favorite books, and I’m constantly recommending it when I do disaster preparedness talks.

Nova Scotia sends a Christmas tree to Boston every year in thanks for help during the disaster.


My stepmother used to tell the story of her mother surviving this; she was at school, next to a window that shattered and the glass pieces were embedded in one side of her face.

The family at home was closer to the explosion, but survived because a heavy oak kitchen table kept the collapsed house from crushing them til they could be rescued.

I recall reading this book about the explosion a rly long time ago, don’t know if it holds up:

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A similar explosion happened in Leiden during the Napoleonic era. A barge with 17 metric tons of gunpowder blew up, killed 150 or so people and cleared so much space the area is now a park apparently.

There’s no more than a line or two in the English wikipedia about this, run through your preferred translator.

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Did you uncle hear the explosion? He certainly would have been close enough.

Thanks to the Futility Closet for covering this. I had never heard about the explosion so I went over to Wikipedia to read more about it yesterday. I posted about it on the Today I Learned subreddit and it seems a lot of other people (mostly non-Canadians apparently) had never heard this story either:

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