CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers: The Halifax Explosion: Who Was Responsible?

History, Social Studies, Political Science
3 to 4 lessons
To perform internet research in support of an opinion
Students will use a variety of web-based resources to investigate and conclude who or what was most responsible for the tragedy of the Halifax Explosion.

Lesson Plan


On December 6, 1917, the wartime port of Halifax was shattered by the most powerful man-made explosion before the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945. Much of the city was razed. Casualties were tragically high with 9000 wounded and nearly 2000 dead. Over 1600 homes were destroyed, leaving 6000 homeless. At first people thought the explosion was an act of German sabotage. Later it was revealed that two Allied ships had collided in the busy harbour. One ship was loaded with munitions. Inquiries did not agree as to the cause of this awful tragedy and for some historians the issue is still unresolved.

The Task

Students will research the causes of the Halifax Explosion and decide what they believe is the most important cause of the explosion. Students will brainstorm some of the possible causes or personalities involved in the tragedy and then perform in-depth research to support what they think is the leading cause. After their research is complete, students will prepare a brief written report that both identifies and supports the leading cause of the tragedy. Students should be prepared to present an oral summary of their findings.

The Process

Students should begin their research by examining the clips on the topic The Halifax Explosion on the CBC Digital Archives website. Students can then expand their research to support their report. Students should keep careful notes that are dated and sourced.


When the reports are complete, organize a scholarly meeting to identify and debate the findings. Ask: Why is it often difficult to find the causes of major disasters? Is it worth still trying to find the truth for a tragedy that occurred over 80 years ago? How might this tragedy have been averted?

Download PDF

Related Content

Banding Together: Singing Out for Disaster Re...

Floods, famine, fire and drought -- when disaster strikes at home and around the world, Canadi...

Deadly Skies: Canada's Most Destructive Torna...

A tornado is the stuff of nightmares. Amid heavy rain and hail, huge thunderclouds roll in and...

The Ocean Ranger Disaster

Valentine's Day, 1982: a terrible storm rages off the coast of Newfoundland. On the Grand Bank...

1963: Trans-Canada Air Lines crash kills 118

Just four minutes after liftoff, flight 831 crashes outside Montreal.

1998: Swissair 111 crashes off Nova Scotia

More than 200 people perish after Swissair flight 111 crashes into the water near Peggy's Cove...

1996: Saguenay flood forces mass evacuation

In Canada's worst flood to date, residents flee their homes for refuge in army evacuation camp...