Halifax Explosion stamp captures moment after ships collided

Canada Post has unveiled a new stamp designed by a Halifax firm that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

Canada Post has unveiled a new commemorative stamp designed by Halifax firm Burke & Burke

A new stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion shows the moment after the Imo rammed the French munitions ship Mont-Blanc, and the front page of the Halifax Herald the day after the disaster. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A new stamp captures the moment in time 100 years ago that changed Halifax's history forever.

On Dec. 6, 1917, the Norwegian steamship Imo, which was carrying Belgian relief supplies, rammed into the French munitions vessel Mont-Blanc, which was carrying TNT through the narrowest part of Halifax harbour. 

On Monday, a new stamp commemorating the moment immediately after these two vessels collided was unveiled at Government House.

Two thousand people were killed in the Halifax Explosion and another 10,000 injured. The explosion is the worst man-made disaster in Canadian history.

Canada Post commissioned the Halifax marketing firm Burke & Burke to create the stamp in 2015.

Producing the tiny image started with the concept of incorporating the newspaper coverage of the disaster with an image of the two ships immediately after they collided.

Larry Burke, a partner with the firm and art director on the project, said his team worked with archivists, historians and experts on the explosion.

Detailed, historically accurate

"We've tried our best to try to portray what a huge disaster it was for the city, and all the human suffering, in a way that tries to tell the story as best as possible," he said.

"It's incredibly detailed. And every detail has to be absolutely historically accurate."

The steamship Imo is beached on Dartmouth shore after the 1917 Halifax explosion. Its collision with the munitions ship Mont-Blanc sparked the fire that set off the explosion. (Nova Scotia Archives & Record Management/Canadian Press)

Burke said it was an honour to work on the project, but it also came up with a lot of responsibility.

"That's, of course, one of the challenges — how do you represent the magnitude of a disaster of that enormity, how do you represent that on a tiny postage stamp?" he said.

The explosion levels most of Halifax. 6:08

To create the image, Halifax illustrator Mike Little recreated the final moments before the collision with 3D models of the ships constructed using floor plans of the vessels found in archives.

"Once they're recreated in three dimensions, he can actually move things around and the angles so we can get exactly what we envisioned," said Burke.

He hopes the stamp will help people across Canada and collectors around the world learn more about the event. 

"If it causes people to maybe go on Google and look it up and maybe learn more about it, I think that's a good thing."

Destroyed homes on Campbell's Road in Halifax are shown in this 1917 or 1918 photo from the Nova Scotia Archives. (Nova Scotia Archives & Record Management/Canadian Press)

About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past eight years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be found on twitter @elizmcmillan.