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The CBC Halifax Explosion Site


Main Page > Aftermath and Recovery > Where to Begin?

Where to Begin?

So much work to do. The community cared for its injured and its dead, but there was a ruined city to rebuild too.

The Explosion had completely destroyed more than 1600 buildings, including many landmarks: the sugar refinery, three piers, shipyards, Oland's brewery in Dartmouth, the Dartmouth city rink.

Thousands of other buildings stood damaged. And everywhere--in the relatively untouched south end, in Bedford and Rockingham--broken windows.

Where to begin? Winter had set in with a vengeance. People couldn't stay in temporary shelters.

The War Effort

On the water, more than thirty merchant ships had been waiting in Bedford Basin for convoy escorts. They were largely unharmed in the Explosion.

Some ships in the inner harbour, including Highflyer and Niobe, sustained heavy damage.

The ships in Bedford Basin were part of two convoys scheduled to leave on Friday December 7 and Monday, the 10th. But the harbour, the dockyard, and the navy's provisioning systems were in chaos.

Storehouses were exposed to the elements, and so battered that it was dangerous to go inside those that were still standing. Most of the civilian workers had left to search for and care for relatives. The military people loaded as many perishables as possible onto ships in the harbour.

Military headquarters in Ottawa and London looked for an alternative harbour for convoys. Montreal was no option: the St. Lawrence River was frozen.

For loyal servants of the Empire, it was all part of the list of obstacles to be overcome.

No replacement port was necessary. The first convoy after the Explosion left on December 11, and the system was maintained for the rest of the war.

No Help From Nature

The weather made the heartbreaking job of rescuing the injured and retrieving the dead more difficult. The Thursday that had dawned so sunny stayed clear long enough for those still alive at sunset to realize the enormity of the job facing them.

On the night of December 6, a vicious winter storm started after supper and continued into the next day. Searchers and cleanup crews fought gale-force winds and waist-deep drifts on Friday and Saturday.

Then the fickle Maritime winter took another turn, as the temperature rose to 12 degrees C (52 degrees F). The city was awash in melting snow.

Did You Know

1535: This number was an early estimate. More bodies would be found and more injured would die. Today, the estimate of the number of people killed in the Explosion is just over 1950. Their names are recorded in the Book of Remembrance.

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