Before Hiroshima, There Was Halifax In The Busy Canadian Port Was Crowded With Ships Leaving For War Torn Europe On December , Two Of Them, The Mont Blanc And The Imo, Collided In The Hard To Navigate Narrows Of The Harbor Within Minutes, The Mont Blanc, Ablaze, Grounded Against The City S Docks The Explosion That Followed Would Devastate The City And Shock The World Set Against The Background Of World War I, Curse Of The Narrows Is The First Major Account Of The World S Largest Pre Atomic Explosion That Set In Motion A Remarkable Relief Effort Originating From Boston Breathetakingly written account of the Dec 6th, 1917 collision in Halifax Harbour of the French ship carrying high explosives and munitions that was waiting to join a convoy to cross the Atlantic The Mont Blanc was carrying the highly volital to shock picric acid, TNT, Benzol, monochlorobenzal and munitions She was struck by a Belgium Relief ship the Imo who was light and had limited capacity to maneuver as her props were half out of the water.The explosion ripped through the earth at 13,320 mph its shock wave crushing external organs, collapsing lungs, flattening houses and factories, as it hit the hills surrounding the harbour it slowed to 756 mph just.5 below the speed of sound An almost invisible fireball shot out 1 4 miles from the location of the ship, the air blast left a vacuum which pulled the air back toward the harbour puverizing foundations whether made of stone or concrete The heat generated was so intense that the sea water around the Mont Blanc evaporated within a 20 area, the in rushing sea caused a tsunami which flung ships upon the land and swept near 500 bodies out to sea Oppenheimer even studied the explosion to try to grasp the effect of an atomic weapon.The blast are extended 16 miles and devastated everything killing 1,200, leaving 6,000 injured and 9,000 homeless and then within a day a gale force blizzard followed by a hurricane force blizzard several days later.Rumor of the explosion and fires reached adjacent communities and all the Provinces and the United States Boston which had heavy ties to Nova Scotia had formed a year earlier the first disaster response organization and within half a day had organized a a relief train of medical personnel and equipment which would be delayed by the blizzard, as would other relief trains coming from the Provinces Written in a fast paced way and difficult to set down which is rare for historical accounts Laura MacDonald who grew up in Halifax did a superb job of giving life to this tragedy with her powerful writing style This was the greatest war related civilian disaster. I had never heard of the Halifax disaster After reading this book I can t imagine why This is an event of catastrophic consequence To imagine the power of 2,925 tons of TNT exploding the results of which are unimaginable to anyone that was not there But this author does a amazing job of putting you there This book was incredible The Halifax disaster is truly a tragic yet amazing event No matter what you like to read this book should be good to anyone and everyone Plus I noticed most of the poor reviews mention their disliking of the description of the carnage created by the blast What did you expect A couple boo boos and a bruise, or maybe a bump on the head Almost 3000 TONS of dynamite exploded I m sure the descriptions of injuries in this book could have been much worse than it was Here s a bit of advice If you don t like to read about people being hurt, DON T READ DISASTER BOOKS Fires, hurricanes, explosions, tornados, floods, blizzards, earthquakes, etc kill people So these would be subjects to avoid if you dislike carnage If you re curious to know what kind of damage almost 3000 tons of dynamite would do, this book will tell you. MacDonald describes how the tragedy occurred, and what different spectators saw around them as the Imo careened into the Mount Blanc Today, the whole world watches tragedies like this from every angle and aerial too on TV It took 90 years after the fact to have a definitive work on the Halifax explosion In our media age, as Katrina occurred, millions of published words, photos, videos and accounts documented it.While information has been revolutionized since then, human nature thankfully hasn t MacDonald tells of many small instances of heroic altruism, such as the MB crew, knowing time was of the essence, taking time to be sure all were accounted for people allowing the hijacking of their personal autos for the rescue effort a man taking a baby and falling on it to shield it from the expected explosion In Katrina we saw many instances of people helping people, in the Twin Towers, the young helped the old down the staircases Another thing that hasn t changed is the need to find loved ones I think of 9 11, the many poignant good byes on cell phones and how relatives appeared immediately with posters and pleas.In 1917 Halifax, other than blaming the Germans, there seems to be little finger pointing among the populace Liability seems to be an issue for the boat owners, not the people who lost families and homes While the streets are patrolled, it seems that the rumors of looting are prevalent than actual looting Finger pointing now drags out for years in court rooms with high priced lawyers and huge settlements Looting is a mixed bag, common in New Orleans and virtually absent from 9 11.When the sketchiest of info reached them by telegraph, medical and relief personnel throughout the region quickly boarded trains and some shoveled the train tracks to make their way to Halifax Again, in thinking of modern times, people are still generous when these tragedies occur 9 11 the tsunamu in Asia, Katrina but time is no longer a practical commodity for medical professionals Today, there are careers in disaster relief There are still volunteers working side by side with Red Cross and other paid staff to help Most people, particularly medical personnel, cannot just drop everything and go.The Red Cross had greatly evolved since the San Francisco earthquake In the following 11 years they had had experience in fires and other disasters They now had guidelines for relief and rehabilitation and had savvy advice about organizational structures, handling money, etc You can see the roots of the sophisticated organization that exists today.The distribution of relief funds has certainly improved The Black man who made an incredibly modest request especially considering many others was totally rejected because he requested a reassessment of his claim which begged the issue of the 10% rule for Blacks and 20% for whites. Seems like a good introduction to the event which I was totally unaware of although it deals pretty superficially with the cause of the explosion itself Covers some interesting details of such a catastrophe that you wouldn t have predicted Like the problem of family pets eating human remains left in the rubble Or that no churches except one held services for the first week because all the clergymen were too busy giving last rites or presiding over funerals.Oh oh Also, the recollections of an eye surgeon who talked about the eyes of patients that were so filled with shrapnel that they clinked when palpitated. I picked this after hearing about the release of a book about the same topic, though written by an American The Halifax Explosion was the explosion of the Mont Blanc that destoryed a good section of the city The Mont Blanc s anchor traveled miles MacDonald details the events leading up to the explosion as well as the aftermath She also looks at how society treated the different sections of society for instance the Mi kmaq damages and deaths were ignored and whites saw the First Nation people as looters, though there was no proof Black residents recieved far less than they were entitled to out of the damage fund and were short changed as a matter of policy.The writing is vivid, the story compelling. Each December the people of Boston gather to witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree Some of them probably do not know why the people of Halifax send a tree every year or even that it is a gift from Nova Scotia No one needs to know the story behind a tree to admire its beauty But the people of Halifax know where it comes from and they remember the story.The above is not actually the blurb for the book it s just a quick introductory paragraph, but I found it somehow affecting than a blurb It says what it needs to, in any case, as far as letting you know what this book is about If you know about the explosion, it s clear and if you don t, maybe it s intriguing enough to make you want to know In any case, there it is.This book was extremely well written As someone who s pretty much always had at least some family out East, and who despite having only lived there for four years during school has an inexplicably strong attachment to Nova Scotia, the Halifax Explosion is something that is very familiar to me As such, I pretty much knew, broadly at least, what happened, and yet the first part of this book held me riveted It was written in such a way to have me going, Oh no, don t do that and, Oh, maybe they ll make it Oh no, despite being fully aware that no, they would not make it A book that can do that is quite an achievement.The explosion itself, despite my familiarity with it, remains mind boggling The whole thing was just this utterly ridiculous string of things that shouldn t have been allowed to happen, compounded by uncontrollable natural factors It was such that, if you were to try and write this as fiction, by the time you got to the massive blizzards that hampered the relief efforts, your readers would be scoffing at how you ve just gone unrealistically overboard with the adverse conditions But there it was One thing after another after another, that was so frustrating to read, because at so many points, someone could have done something differently to prevent what happened People tried so hard to lay blame after it was over, but ultimately, I kind of have to agree with the British Privy Council neither of the two ships should ever have allowed themselves to get close enough that this was even a possibility There were plenty of other factors aside from that, and we ll never know the whole story, since the pilot and captain of the Imo were both killed, but really, there were so many errors in judgement from so many different people that to assign blame to just one or a handful seems ridiculous.And then there was the aftermath The sight of the Mont Blanc s anchor sitting on the other side of the Northwest Arm where it landed gives you some idea, but the devastation caused by this explosion was truly beyond the scope of anything most of us can really grasp The sheer number of dead, the fact that there was not a single building left in the city with its windows intact, entire communities flattened, and a ship the size of the Mont Blanc largely vapourized by the 9000 degree heat of the explosion are things that are really hard to even imagine The first part of the book, dealing with the events leading up to, and the explosion itself, read like a really good thriller I had a hard time tearing myself away, and blazed through that part extremely quickly The second part, dealing with the aftermath, was much harder It was no less compelling, but much of it was so truly horrifying that it became very difficult to read The scores of unidentified bodies, the mutilated people missing body parts, the buckets of eyes that had to be removed, the people so blackened by soot and burns that they were unrecognizable, were all very gruesome, and downright nauseating at times That part was a slog, but also a testament to humanity, with the way people responded, and refused to fall apart.The only quibbles I had with this book were very minor, and had to do with American spellings and conventions For one thing, despite the statement, I have cleverly avoided arguments between my American publisher and my Canadian publisher, as well as with my family and fellow HRM ers, by never referring to the harbor by its proper name except in the following sentence It is now, and in my heart shall forever remain, Halifax Harbour,she does in fact refer to it by name at least three times spelling it without the u, I might add, so it s clear which publisher won She s gone all American with the spelling, in fact, which does disappoint me a little It s a very Canadian book, about a Canadian event, and I would like to see things spelled according to Canadian standards But such is life, and it didn t bother me as much as it apparently bothered a previous borrower of this book, who corrected checks to cheques, which I found particularly amusing, because I guess all the other American spellings in the book were OK More than the spellings, though, I was bothered by the use of Fahrenheit degrees They mean nothing to me, and while I guess she can be forgiven for catering to the American publisher on that one, it would have been nice to also acknowledge the likelihood that many or most of the readers of this book will in fact be Canadian, and if you re going to use Fahrenheit, at least include a Celsius measurement in brackets or something I think the distances were also stated pretty much entirely in miles, but as I have little conception of distances generally, that didn t bother me as much Miles or kilometres I have no real conception of how far either of them is, so it makes little difference to me But that s another one where some acknowledgement of the Canadian audience would have been nice.In any case, this book was fascinating and informative, and absolutely well worth a read It may in fact be one of the better books I ve read so far this year Edit It has been pointed out to me that the only instances of use of the proper name of the Halifax Harbour were in titles and original quotations I only borrowed the book, and therefore can t confirm this, and could have sworn that at least once instance that I noticed was right at the beginning of a chapter, in the main text, but nonetheless, I am certainly willing to acknowledge that I could be mistaken As for the rest of the American spellings, I do understand that that is the result of going with an American publisher, and like I said, such is life It s still disappointing, though. This isn t a true three star rating, but I feel like two stars is too harsh If anything, the amount of research deserves to be recognized I m a huge fan of narrative nonfiction, but this book didn t always work for me The topic itself is fascinating, but the book was oddly paced and somewhat difficult to follow The climax of the book, the ship collision and explosion, happens approximately 40 pages into the work, and the book itself is nearly 300 pages long That s a lot of post incident information to present and absorb I wish the author had included of the backstory and history at the beginning of the book, rather than jumping around from topic to topic during the post incident writing Rather than writing in a mostly chronological fashion, the author often writes about different topics and then backtracks I feel like I read about the week after the explosion ten times, from ten different viewpoints, rather than as one integrated timeline. I have some issues with the book but I have to say that MacDonald has crafted a tidy account of what has to be the biggest disaster in Canadian history Without belaboring the obvious and summarizing the book, I will merely state that she starts at the beginning and carries on to way past the end of the disasterand what a disaster More than 2000 killed and 6000 wounded in the largest man made explosion to predate the atom bomb There is much that is gruesome in these pages, and no end of heartbreak for the doomed people of Halifax, but there is also much that is uplifting in the way that volunteers poured in unbidden to help rebuild broken lives and shattered dwellings Our neighbours to the south had a train on the way before they could even ascertain the extent of the carnage Volunteers, medications, clothing and building materials proffered unbidden from the generous people of the United States Bear in mind that communications to the city were pretty much obliterated by the explosion, and the relief party couldn t even get a response to their inquiries about whether help was neededthey sent it anyway MacDonald details the steps taken by these volunteers and gives them their due in this thoroughly researched and nicely written account.There is some sloppiness in the account, and it s hard to say who to blame it on Surely the publisher hires someone to proofread the publication On page 35 MacDonald identifies the BEF as the British Empire Force when for over a century now everyone else has been calling it the British Expeditionary Force And in the first sentence of Appendix B she startsOn November 21, 1917, nine days after Armistice was declaredSo, was that Armistice in 1918 not the real deal, or what In another page she refers to Prime Minister Borden as Premier Borden, a definite demotion for that illustrious gent But the one passage that had me scratching my head the most was this one that starts on page 71 Constant Upham, the grocer who alerted the fire department to the fire, was also killed instantly The back of his handsome grocery and supply store was ripped off its frame Upham s body was never found Most people assumed it washed out to sea Now, I ask you, how do you get killed instantly from someone whose body was never found Maybe he died an agonizing and lingering death being nibbled by sardines in the Bay of Fundy Maybe he lost his memory and ended his days as a missionary in the jungles of Ecuador We just don t know In the absence of a body or witnesses, we have a disappearance, not an instant death.There are other minor errors, probably typos, that should have been picked up, but I don t want to be niggling here The book is equipped with photographs, kinda, if you don t mind their being small and printed on the same coarse paper as the text I like my photos full size on glossy, if you please In brief, a good book with lots of further reading sources in the Sources, and the Appendices make for some good reading as well. Let s face it, I enjoy a good disaster book And this was one disaster I had never heard of I ve never been to Halifax But I guess I m half Canadian.This was one of the best Well researched, possibly a bit graphic But this was like a perfect storm of chain reactions a disaster in the harbor, causes a tsunami, causes a blizzard The explosion in the harbor should have been enough MacDonald goes in to vivid detail of how the explosion impacted the surrounding area Then, those who survived the explosion of two ships one filled with armaments were faced with the tsunami washing over their shores Calls for help are going out But then they get a blizzard Both Canada and America are sending relief trains only to be stalled by the blizzard This was a very vivid book and one of the best I have read recently I could not put this book down.
I was born in Halifax I ve lived in Montreal, Toronto and New York Consequently, I can no longer remember the preferred pronunciation and sometimes spelling of certain words such as process, route, pasta, cheque etc., but I do know that no one in Canada says aboot It s like a boat Here is an explanation I stole from a Yahoo Non CDNS will hear house as a funny word, because the vowel
- 356 pages
- Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917
- Laura M. MacDonald
- 11 May 2019 Laura M. MacDonald