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The CBC Halifax Explosion Site

 

Main Page > City in Shock > The Community

The Community

Halifax had dozens of community groups, many of them already well-organized and working for the war effort. Projects such as the preparation of "care packages" and comfort packages of blankets were now needed at home as much as in war-ravaged Europe.

St. John Ambulance, whose first Canadian brigade had been established in Halifax 25 years earlier, went to work quickly on the ruined streets.

The Salvation Army set up teams to serve meals in shelters and do other volunteer work as needed. One Army ensign found himself assisting in a hospital operating room.The Red Cross -- its entire Halifax membership consisting of women--focussed on bringing medical supplies to aid stations and hospitals.

Women had made their way into many areas of the workforce during World War I. When you look closely at some of the photographs taken after the Explosion, you can see women working in the hospitals and offices, and even on the cleanup crews.

Transportation and Communication

The first priorities were clear: to save lives and fight fires.

After that came clearing the streets and railways, and getting the harbour and communications systems running again.

Sometimes, military, fire and rescue crews had to do it all at once, clearing a passage to reach both casualties and fires. They used anything they could find with wheels. If a vehicle's owner didn't volunteer, the wagon, car or van was commandeered.

Makeshift ambulances made their way slowly up Gottingen Street toward the hospitals south of Citadel Hill. They navigated around wreckage and dazed survivors walking aimlessly. Many of the wanderers were badly hurt but seemed unaware of their injuries, as they looked for homes that were no longer there.

The rail lines were battered and blocked throughout the north end. Both the main passenger station at North Street and the harbour terminals near the blast site were unusable.

At first, trains from outside could only get as far as Rockingham. They arrived with relief and medical workers and left with casualties and refugees. Later, trains were diverted down a newly-built line, to a station under construction in the south end of the city.

The Explosion had severed the telephone cable link between Halifax and Dartmouth, and many telephone and telegraph wires and poles were down. For several hours after the Explosion, much of Halifax and Dartmouth had little or no contact with the outside world.

Telephone service was limited for days, and people were encouraged not to use their phones except for emergencies.

Did You Know

Telephone Cable: The explosion had severed the telephone cable link between Halifax and Dartmouth. Telephone and telegraph wires and poles were down throughout Halifax and Dartmouth. For several hours after the Explosion, much of Halifax had little or no contact with the outside world.

Telephone service was limited for days, and people were encouraged not to use their phones except for emergencies…just as they would be today in similar circumstances.

Page Feature: Red Cross

The Explosion was the first major civilian challenge for the Canadian Red Cross. Within hours of the blast, the Maritimes head office diverted supplies headed overseas to Halifax.

  • The first shipment included:
  • 9100 yards of hospital gauze
  • 600 pounds of absorbent cotton
  • 8 cases of rolled bandages
  • 46 cases of surgical dressings
  • 12 dozen wood splints, to bind broken bones
  • adhesive plasters (bandages)
  • 200 quilts

Office work was suspended and teams of volunteers headed to the city. They worked 12- and 15-hour days, bringing supplies twice daily to 57 different hospitals and aid stations.

The Halifax branch, run entirely by women, redirected their scores of volunteers from war relief to home relief as well.

Offices across the country sent help. In one day, the Ottawa and Ottawa Valley branch shipped eight train carloads of clothing.The national office sent a Mr. Milbourne to Halifax. On December 10, he reported:

"Have our end situation well in hand. Well organized supply depot with efficient staff, operating since Saturday morning (December 9) …

"Have on hand and receiving sufficient quantities to meet immediate demands, dressings, pajamas, hospital shirts, etc. Finding some difficulty obtaining drugs, anaesthetics…Am also purchasing on account (credit), all drugs, medical supplies required by all hospitals. Impossible at present to form even rough estimate…American Red Cross also have large supply all kind hospital supplies, expected (in the) morning…"

Have received valuable assistance from a strong team St. John Commercial Travellers. Have also received supplies all branches New Brunswick; clothing, Montreal. Winnipeg wire offer purchase clothing or anything required...have also telegraphed five thousand dollars through Bank of Commerce, offering further funds if required.

"All injured, numbering over seven thousand, being well cared for…"

Information and data are from Canadian Red Cross

Did You Know

Telephone Cable: The explosion had severed the telephone cable link between Halifax and Dartmouth. Telephone and telegraph wires and poles were down throughout Halifax and Dartmouth. For several hours after the Explosion, much of Halifax had little or no contact with the outside world.

Telephone service was limited for days, and people were encouraged not to use their phones except for emergencies…just as they would be today in similar circumstances.

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