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The Destruction

Twelve thousand buildings were severely damaged in the Explosion. 1630 were completely destroyed.

Six thousand people were completely homeless, and the homes of many thousands more needed major repairs. What to do with so many people? They couldn't stay in temporary shelters for the winter.

At the disaster site, the supply system for the war had taken a body blow, and the heart of a major business and industrial area was rubble.

Almost every building in Halifax had some damage….and there wasn't enough glass in the Maritimes to replace the jagged holes that had once been windows. That would take months.

Finding Shelter

A collection of more than 30 temporary shelters sprang up through the afternoon of December 6. Some were planned, like church halls, but people stayed anywhere warm, dry and unlikely to catch fire. One family would spend 12 days in a railway boxcar before moving in with relatives.

Everyone shared one problem, whether they knew it or not: there was scarcely a window left in Halifax…and a blizzard was coming.

People who were still in their homes had to cover their broken windows somehow. With no glass to be had, shops sold out of tarpaper in short order. Carpets came off the floors and mattresses off the beds as anything that could provide a windbreak was nailed over, or jammed into, gaping window frames.

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Business and Industry

The toll on business and industry was substantial.

The industrial districts of Halifax and Dartmouth were nearly obliterated by the Explosion:

  • Acadia Sugar Refinery
  • Foundries (Halifax and Dartmouth)
  • Dominion Textiles
  • Dockyard
  • Oland's in Dartmouth
  • Richmond Printing Company
  • Richmond railway yards
  • Hillis and Sons Foundry

Hundreds of employees of these businesses died under falling beams or in fires. What had been a bustling area employing hundreds of people had vanished.

A working dockyard would have more business than it could handle. But the dockyard was itself a casualty.

There has never been an exhaustive tally of the financial cost of the Halifax Explosion. A commonly cited estimate for total property loss is $35 million US--in 1917 dollars.

The $35 million estimate includes losses to government, shipping and railways, houses, churches, manufacturing plants and inventories and personal belongings.

A very rough conversion of this amount to current dollars would come to more than $430 million today*, but it would be difficult to translate the component amounts that go into that total. The cargo of Mont-Blanc alone was valued at $3.6 million in 1917.

*Source: US government Consumer Price Index conversion formula, 2000. Aftermath & Recovery >

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Interactive Features
Devastation detail, interactive feature The Devastated Area, interactive feature Thomas Raddall - An Innocent Standing By, interactive feature
Flash and QuickTime players required
Galleries

Continue to Media Gallery Continue to Image Gallery
View Halifax map in 1917 Mrs. Bellew’s letter
Mrs. Bellew’s
letter

A moving letter describing the destruction of the city.
Black silhouette of a woman

Massachusetts Glass: The state of Massachusetts made major contributions to relief efforts in Halifax. One of the first shipments to arrive from Boston was full of window glass.

The glass also came with trained glaziers to install the new panes.


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