Today marks 96th anniversary of the biggest man-made explosion, prior to the atomic bomb, that levelled most of Halifax and left thousands dead, blinded or homeless.

Several hundred people, young and old, gathered to remember the victims, including 96-year-old survivor Violet Chisholm.

On Dec. 6, 1917 the Mont-Blanc, heavy with a cargo of explosives destined for the war in Europe, collided with the Imo resulting in a fire aboard the Mont-Blanc. About 20 minutes later, the ship exploded.

Official statistics gathered by the Halifax Relief Commission estimated 2,000 people died and 9,000 were injured. Some 1,600 buildings were destroyed and 12,000 suffered damage. The total property loss and cost of repairs was estimated at $35 million — factoring in inflation that sum would amount to nearly $700 million today.

The force of the explosion was so intense that part of an anchor weighing 2,000 kilograms was blown three kilometres across the city. A large chunk of the Mont-Blanc's cannon was found six kilometres away from the explosion site.

violet chisholm

Violet Chisholm, 96, is one of the last known survivors of the 1917 Halifax explosion. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The powerful blast shattered most of the windows within an 80-kilometre radius. The aftershock of the explosion was felt as far away as Sydney, Cape Breton — a distance of about 435 kilometres. An estimated 25,000 people from a population of less than 50,000 suddenly found themselves homeless.