Main Page > City
in Shock > 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.
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
Everyone shared one problem, whether they knew it
or not: there was scarcely a window left in Halifax…and a blizzard
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.
Business and Industry
The toll on business and industry was
The industrial districts of Halifax
and Dartmouth were nearly obliterated by the Explosion:
- Acadia Sugar Refinery
- Foundries (Halifax and Dartmouth)
- Dominion Textiles
- 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
Did You Know
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.
Page Feature: Mrs. Bellew’s letter
There was an element of luck in surviving
the Explosion . Some people walked away without a scratch from buildings
where everyone else died, as the stories in this letter show. Mrs. James
Bellew, of 30-32 Artz St in the north end wrote to her friend Hattie Dixon
Burrill in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, two weeks after the Explosion.
People in those days used some terms
we find offensive today; however they are a part of history. Mrs. Bellew’s
way of referring to Africville was common practice at the time.
Dec 21st 
[From] Mrs. J. Bellew
Hattie, Hattie, Thank God that you
& baby are – where you are! I’ll never to my dying
day (which was indeed near) forget that Awful Crash it is ringing
in my ears night & day – I can’t forget it. I’m
not naturally nervous although I’ve been sick enough at times
but this has broken my nerve.
My bruises & cuts are slight. I’m the
only one that was at all touched. I was blown across the bed room
with the window sashes, glass, blinds, curtains all on top of me &
my glasses blown to pieces on my face, it’s a wonder I wasn’t
blinded – I was stunned for a minute. I don’t know where
I struck but my head hurts yet & I was bleeding dreadfully from
flying glass. I cut three fingers of my right hand so I couldn’t
I remember hearing the Patricia & the rest
of the fire department go past the corner & they were flying so
I said to myself ‘Gee Whizz there must be a big fire near us’
– & I was still listening to the roar of what I thought
was the engines & the next I knew everyone was out on the street
screaming & cut & bruised & poor little Marie Marshall
badly scalded. The first death in the neighbourhood was a Miss Dimbrack
who fell dead on Dr. Campbell’s steps & then the news of
others began to pour in. Our homes were all badly ruined – ours
stood it best – of course doors, windows, plaster, dishes, pictures
& some furniture got badly damaged & if Mama had not been
sleeping in the boys room she would have been killed as everything
in her room was on the bed, beauro, windows, doors, plaster, table
& everything – papa had a narrow escape for there are three
windows in his room & they, with all the plaster, were on top
of him, he just sit up quietly & said “What the devils all
this?” but I was glad to hear him speak for I thought he was
killed. – We all thought it was an air raid. – I called
Vera who was in my bed & was just about to get up to go to school
at recess, & I’m glad now that she was there for she wasn’t
hurt, while a lot of the school girls lost their eyesight & had
broken limbs & she said, “Oh Mum are you hit” –
she picked me up & I said – “make for the cellar quick”
– well she was in her night dress, & bare footed. She picked
her way with me through the broken glass etc. & the doors all
hanging off it was cold, but my senses came back while.
we were crawling down stairs & I remembered
the engines – & I said “go back dear & dress,
the fire has caused some explosion” & I thought then of
the Power House at North St. & thought perhaps it was that. In
fact no body knew what it was – until after a few hours. –
The military ordered us all out on the Commons until the Magazine
at the Dock Yard was flooded, as that meant another explosion. Well
Hattie there were some pitiful, & some laughable sights. We didn’t
laugh then but we did after.
One old man – something like papa –
was wondering around the Commons with his wife’s clothes on
& his own in his arms – & he had his own hat on first
& her hat on top with a big paddy green ostrich plume flying bravely
in the breeze – he looked too comical for anything but he had
such a woebegone face that one had to pity him too. I suppose when
things began to fly he grabbed the first thing on hand.
And as Bert came running home he heard a fellow
up in a four storey window calling “Say fellow – it struck
here! – it struck here!” – I suppose he thought
it was a single bomb & that he was the only one that knew where
it hit – & all the town in ruins – nobody paid any
attention to him. Bert says that perhaps he is there yet.& Frank
had a working party digging at the ruins of the old Sugar Refinery
about a week later – and a little dog kept annoying the men
by getting under their feet & barking at a certain pile of brick
wall, they chased him away about a doz. times but back he came again,
so they decided to dig where he was barking at – & after
digging about ten feet through they came to four men all huddled in
a hole in the wall not hurt but cramped & nearly frozen for the
weather was awful. – The little dog went nearly wild his “boss”
was one of the men & in spite of their condition they had to laugh
at the dog’s crazy antics – & he was nearly starved
too for he must have been there all week. But what made Frank laugh
was the comical look of the first man that crawled out, and the way
he said “Who shoved this thing over on us anyhow?”
But what amused me is this – a friend of
ours I won’t say who – had every stitch blown off and
he ran clean to Mount St. Vincent – to the Sisters who had to
put him to bed until the Relief Committee could get him some clothes
& he had to stay there a week & not a scratch on him. –
He said after wards leave it to the Sisters to feed a fellow. –
He was sorry when his clothes arrived. The Mount is full of patients
Oh Hattie there was an awful lot of little ones
One woman was in to see me – a Mrs. Joe
Hinch – she has just come out of Hospital. She & her sister
alone survive out of fifty-two relatives. Her own particular family
consisted of Mother, two brothers, one sister, her husband & ten
children ranging from 20 years to 5 yrs all gone & the sister
who was with her – Mrs. Moore lost her husband & five children
& of course the same Mother, sister & brothers. Connie &
poor Grace Dumaresq are burned to death also Grace’s two uncles
Frank & Will over in Turtle Grove.
I go nearly mad when I think – I’ll
never feel safe in old Halifax any more. I suppose you saw lots of
names your recognized in the papers – if there is anyone you
wish to know about perhaps I can let you know. I pity poor May &
the Kiddies. – Syd was in to say good bye & he looks fine.
Milton got home for four days, the poor boy was
near sick from suspense. He heard that Artz St. was all gone, he didn’t
get our “wires”, he was afraid to come in when he got
here early in the morning. Hattie there is nothing left from the bridge
to Nigger Settlement, the houses blew away or burned down. You left
l87 Lockman St. in good time! Gladys Harvey got cut pretty badly in
the back, she threw herself across the baby carriage to protect the
baby who didn’t get hurt thanks to her Mother but I guess Donny
will lose one eye.
Poor Stan Hisler & George Richardson are
gone & Jack Ronane & dozens of others we all know.The old
home at 31 is almost past repair. May told papa to keep an eye to
it. George’s stuff is pretty well battered up. I doubt if much
of it is any good. Cass’s house is badly smashed up but I think
still stay & fix up. Mrs. Kelly is in part of our house (the front
room & Vers room). Mrs. Ferguson has left, Hibbetts, & Ashes,
Nolans are still there and all on our side are hanging it out, I don’t
know for how long.
Our place is looking fairly good now as papa
has put in all the glass – & Hattie he made me laugh. –
When we were all ordered out – he came back after we were all
gone and when I asked him what he wanted socks for he said “oh
to take the ashes out of the base burner & fill her up again –
in case we don’t have to leave for good” & I tell
you we were glad when we did get back to find a warm corner even if
everything was in “smitherines” – he is the limit
Gosh if that Magazine had gone up where would he have been.
Well now honey I’ve said enough for now
– but I could talk all day – so give my love to baby &
remember me to Emily, so with fond love to you I say by by.
From: Yarmouth County Museum Archives