CBC Digital Archives

Establishing blame in the Halifax Explosion

On Dec. 6, 1917, a collision in Halifax Harbour led to the biggest man-made explosion in the world before the era of the atomic bomb. The blast levelled most of the city and sent shards of glass and burning debris flying for miles. It left thousands dead, blinded or homeless. Although the explosion occurred before the creation of the CBC, the Canadian radio and TV network has retold the story throughout the years to ensure that this crucial event in Canadian history is not forgotten.

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Haligonians want answers. As retold in this CBC Radio clip, they demand to know how such a tragedy as the explosion that rocked Halifax harbour on Dec. 6, 1917 could have occurred. They want those responsible for the blast brought to justice. Some believe the explosion to be the work of the German secret service, while others place the blame solely on the Mont-Blanc. The hostility is so intense that Aimé Le Medec, the captain of the Mont-Blanc, places himself under police protection.

An inquiry headed by Mr. Justice Arthur Drysdale begins on Dec. 12, 1917, just six days after the explosion. Swayed by the angry public, Justice Drysdale finds the Mont-Blanc solely responsible for the explosion. Captain Aimé Le Medec, Pilot Francis Mackey and Commander Frederick Wyatt, who was in charge of the harbour at the time, are arrested and charged with manslaughter.

The Mont-Blanc owners appeal the ruling and the case goes back and forth before ending up at the highest judicial authority of the time, the Privy Council in London, England. The Privy Council's final verdict concludes that both the Mont-Blanc and the Imo had acted in an imprudent manner and places blame for the collision on both. 
• The manslaughter charges against Commander Wyatt, Captain Le Medec and Pilot Mackey were dismissed because there was insufficient evidence to prove "gross negligence imputing criminal culpability."

• Francis Mackey was reinstated as a pilot. He and his family chose to live in Halifax. Captain Aimé Le Medec continued with his career. He returned to France where he was awarded a medal for his contribution to the First World War. Commander Frank Wyatt went to Boston and worked in civilian shipping.
Medium: Radio
Program: Between Ourselves
Broadcast Date: Dec. 6, 1967
Host: Bill Fulton, Paul Hershon
Duration: 3:43

Last updated: November 6, 2014

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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