Must-read books about the Halifax Explosion

The wreckage of the Dartmouth Oland Brewery plant after the Halifax Explosion. Photo: Oland's Brewery

At 8:45 a.m. on December 6, 1917, the Mont-Blanc, loaded with high explosives, collided with Belgian relief ship Imo, causing what was then the world’s largest human-made explosion. Learn more about what caused it, how the city responded, and get your dose of historical fiction in these books about this singular event.
curse-of-the-narrows-halifax-explosion-halifax-magazineCurse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917
Laura Macdonald
This award-winning non-fiction narrative follows the military, volunteers, and citizens of Halifax as they struggle to organize one of the most complex relief efforts in North American history. While some reviewers say its descriptions are overly gory, the book captures what life on the ground was like during the early days of the aftermath.
shattered-city-2Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery
Janet F. Kitz
Packed with previously unpublished stories, photos and documents, this non-fiction book is thought to be one of the most comprehensive on the explosion. Kitz focuses on the aftermath of the explosion, and the terrible toll it took on the city and its citizens.
the-blue-tattoo-halifax-explosion-halifax-magazineBlue Tattoo
Stephen Laffoley
Part romance, part action adventure, this brisk-paced novel captures the shock and awe of the explosion through the lives of Elizabeth Beckett, medical student and a suffragette, and Danny Cohen, a sugar refinery worker. The couple splits due to their obvious class differences, but the explosion pulls them back to each other.
after-shock-halifax-explosion-halifax-magazineAftershock: The Halifax Explosion and the Persecution of Pilot Francis Mackey
Janet Maybee
Halifax Harbour pilot Francis Mackey was guiding the Mont-Blanc into the Bedford Basin with it hit the Imo, causing the Halifax Explosion. Mackey was charged with manslaughter, imprisoned, and black-listed from holding a pilot’s licence, even after he was vindicated in court. Through interviews, letters, and government documents, Janet Maybee explores the explosion, the trial, and the ordeal the Mackey family experienced.
barometer-rising-hugh-maclennan-halifax-explosion-halifax-magazineBarometer Rising
Hugh MacLennan
This novel is widely regarded as Canada’s most significant 20th-century novel. On its surface the story follows Neil MacRae, who returned from the First World War to clear his name after his uncle, a former colonel, blames him for a failed attack. Deeper down, it’s an allegory for Canada’s independence from Britain. As the old city and the old guard are blown apart by the explosion, MacRae finds the hero within himself. MacLennan was 10 years old at the time of the explosion, and used his own memories to capture the horror of the event.
the-town-that-died-halifax-explosion-halifax-magazineThe Town that Died: A Chronicle of the Halifax Explosion
Michael J. Bird
Written and first published in 1962, this classic was the first documentary account of the explosion. Bird was a British journalist who worked in newspapers and at the BBC before immigrating to Canada to work at The Chronicle Herald in the 1960s. He spent more than a year researching and writing this book which is filled with first-hand accounts of that morning, the explosion, and the aftermath.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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