The Halifax Explosion: Canada’s Worst Disaster

The Halifax Explosion: Canada’s Worst Disaster – Ken Cuthbertson

Journalist Ken Cuthbertson breaks down the events which had led to the famed Halifax Explosion of 1917 as well as the ugly aftermath that consumed the Nova Scotia capital.

Despite being a Nova Scotian, the extent of my knowledge surrounding the tragic events of December 6th, 1917 mostly comes from a Heritage Minutes commercial that had shone a spotlight on train dispatcher Vince Coleman.  Thanks to Coleman’s heroic efforts, he was able to stop a train carrying nearly three hundred passengers from arriving just as the ship’s perilous cargo detonated and saved the lives of everyone onboard (spoiler alert: Coleman’s role in this book comes down to a handful of pages).

Coleman, like many others that day, lost his life in the blink of an eye.  Before the atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Halifax Explosion had the distinction of being the biggest and deadliest explosion on record.  Looking at the roles of all involved, to the ship captains, to the boat pilots, to the generals in charge of harbor traffic, Cuthbertson tries to make sense of the negligence that flattened a city quicker than a hiccup.

I really struggled with the first half of this book.  Cuthbertson dug heavily into each of the ships’ crews as well as the events that occurred in the days leading up to the collision between the Mont Blanc and The Imo.  Although I understand the need to lay the groundwork, a lot of this felt like filler with excessive detail.  Where the book truly excelled was in the covering of the moments immediately following the explosion (I was truly not prepared for the number of decapitations) as well as the aftermath when the “blame-game” captured the desperation of a shattered city trying to uncover the person or persons responsible and the corruption in spreading relief funds for those most in need.

I can’t imagine another book having as much detail about that deadly day in the Halifax harbor.  If you’re looking for a truly exhaustive look at the events that unfolded, then look no further than The Halifax Explosion: Canada’s Worst Disaster.

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