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The CBC Halifax Explosion Site


Main Page > City of Promise > Halifax Harbour

Halifax Harbour

Halifax harbour is one of the world's best, deepest and largest natural harbours. Its main harbour is relatively easy to protect from intruders. It has plenty of room for docks and ships.

In 1917, the dockyard and naval yards along the harbour were always busy. Trans-Atlantic convoys[?] gathered weekly in Bedford Basin, headed for the war in Europe.

Since the start of World War I, Halifax Harbour had been busier than at any other time in its history…but harbour traffic control had failed to keep up. The Dartmouth ferries, civilian and military shipping, and small fishing and pleasure craft all jostled about the harbour. Collisions were frequent.

The main rules were the "rules of the road," which are much the same on the water as they are on land. Examples:

  • keep to the right, or starboard[?] in traffic;
  • signal your intentions and respect those of others.

These two basic rules were about to be put to a deadly test.

After the Explosion many people said that it had been a disaster waiting to happen.

Did You Know

The ferry service between Dartmouth and Halifax never stopped running throughout the Explosion disaster. The 9:00 a.m. ferry from Dartmouth continued to Halifax after the blast, and so on through the day. Even though some ferry workers didn't know the fates of their own loved ones, they remained at their posts.

Page Feature: Dazzle Ships

Camouflage took on new colours at sea in World War I. There was no radar in 1917. German submarines just below the surface of the water looked for Allied prey through periscopes.

Allied ships were painted in grays and blues, in angled blocks of colour. The designs were said to make it more difficult for German submarines to see the ships clearly against the sky and rolling waves, and more difficult to calculate how far away they were--to "dazzle" the enemy.

Some of the dazzle patterns were developed by British avant-garde artist William Wadsworth.

Of 96 ships sunk in the last eight months of the war, only 18 were camouflaged. Dazzle painting was abandoned after the war.

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