6 December

Devastation in the north end of Halifax after the explosion on 6 Dec 1917

Disaster at Halifax - Mont Blanc and Imo Collide

Canada's worst disaster took place at Halifax on December 6, 1917, when two ships collided in the harbour. One of them, Mont Blanc, was carrying explosives, and the collision set off a blast that killed 1,630 people, injured thousands more, and wrecked the north end of Halifax. The force of the explosion was strong enough to hurl a clock out of the tower at Truro, 60 miles away, and it was even felt at Sydney, a distance of 200 miles.

The inward-bound French freighter Mont Blanc was entering the narrows but, was not flying a red flag warning other ships that there were explosives on board. It collided with the /mo in midstream, and the impact punctured some tins of highly inflammable benzine on the decks of the Mont Blanc. The benzine began to burn with a blue flame that crept along the decks. In the holds were 2,300 tons of picric acid, 500,000 pounds of T.N.T., and 61 tons of other explosives.

Captain Lemedie of the Mont Blanc ordered his crew to take to the lifeboats and they managed to reach shore, but he neglected to warn Halifax. Two British cruisers Niobe and High flyer sent launches to put out the fire on the Mont Blanc but the explosion took place before they could get there. The smoke rose 5 miles into the sky, /mo and Mont Blanc sank, and a tidal wave drowned many people along the shore as it wrecked the waterfront. The tragedy was made worse by a blizzard when many people were living in tents, or homes without windows.

At an enquiry later, it was learned that the pilot of the Mont Blanc was English, while the ship's crew were French, so they could not conduct a conversation. The pilot was asked how he would instruct the French ship to reduce speed and he replied that he would shout "demi-tasse." Second Officer Leveque of the Mont Blanc was asked what he would do on hearing such an order, and he replied that he would go below for a cup of coffee!

Charges of manslaughter were dropped for lack of evidence but the judge recommended that licenses be cancelled for failure to warn the people of Halifax of the danger of an explosion.


6 December

-1752    The Halifax Gazette published the first book in Canada, an eight-page pamphlet for the Government.

-1880    The first issue of the Edmonton Bulletin was published.

-1907    The first recorded flight in Canada took place when Thomas Selfridge rose 168 feet into the air in a kite designed by Alexander Graham Bell (see September 30).

-1971    Prime Minister Trudeau and President Nixon met in Washington to discuss economic policy.