‘The great halifax explosion’ a forgotten wwi story of tragedy and heroism features heraldpalladium.com electricity cost nyc


“The Allied Forces are starting to lose World War I, which they called The Great War,” Bacon says. “The Russians had just dropped out thanks to the (Russian) Revolution so there was no Eastern front. The Western front was getting hammered, so what do you do? Well, you overreact.”

“They put 3,000 tons, or 6 million pounds, of explosives on this one ship – 13 times the weight of the Statue of Liberty to give you some incredible context,” Bacon says. “These high explosives were the most dangerous thing at the time. It includes TNT, picric acid, which is very volatile because the oxygen element is included in the molecule of these things, so unlike gas it doesn’t need oxygen to blow up. It’s already in there. Then, on top of the ship, at the last minute, they load 400 barrels of airplane fuel.”

“They had this game of chicken of who was going to back off first,” Bacon says. “The Imo had no idea what they had on Mont-Blanc, almost nobody did. It’s a secret because German U-boats have already knocked out 3,000 Allied ships at that point, including Lusitania and civilian ships. They bump in the harbor at 8:46 in the morning on Thursday, Dec. 6, and that’s enough to start the airplane fuel on fire.”

“It was one-fifth the power of the atomic bomb,” Bacon says. “We know that partly because J. Robert Oppenheimer, who built the atomic bomb, held a conference in 1942, at Cal-Berkeley to study Halifax because it was the only model they had as to what was going to happen with the atomic bomb. So this thing is incredible. The question then becomes of those 9,000 wounded, how many can you save?”

A sailor, believed to have been sent ashore by a naval officer, warned Coleman of the Mont-Blanc’s cargo of explosives. Although the telegraph office was only a few hundred feet from Pier 6, Coleman continued sending warning messages along the rail line.

Bacon puts into context that in 1917 relations between Canada and the U.S. were strained at best. The War of 1812, saw the U.S. and Canada on opposing sides of the conflict with invasions across the border. Fears of an American takeover played a role in the formation of the Dominion of Canada (1867), and Canada’s rejection of free trade (1911).

“The message gets to Boston to the governor’s office, and within an hour, they decide to send one train and then a second train and a ship and another ship and 100 doctors and 300 nurses and $1 million worth of medical supplies, which is $20 million today, up to Halifax,” Bacon says. “What’s cool here is that humanity trumped nationalism. The Canadians accepted U.S. help, and the U.S. came through in spades, even through the worst blizzard in 10 years, they still got a train through to Halifax. As the Canadians pointed out, it wasn’t Toronto or Montreal that came first, it was Boston. The survivors some 60 years later in the 1970s, the first thing they mentioned wasn’t losing family or their homes, it was getting help from Boston. That’s how powerful that was, and I’m convinced it was the first step to turning us into actual allies.”

The Boston train came as a godsend to Halifax, and the relief effort was credited with saving thousands of lives. The people of Halifax and Nova Scotia still commemorate that fact each year by sending an enormous Christmas tree to Boston, where it is lit up on the Boston Common. It’s a century-old gesture of thanks from the descendants of those who suffered, to the descendants of those who rushed to help.

“It costs the taxpayers of Nova Scotia $180,000 to do that every year,” Bacon says. “That’s not chump change, especially when most people in Boston have no idea who is giving it to them or why. That was brought up to a woman in Halifax last year and she said, ‘I don’t care. Why should we stop saying thank you?’ That to me is the wonderful part of this story. It’s about gratitude and doing noble deeds when no when is really watching you. And I think it’s a powerful story that resonates with people today.”