Halifax Explosion




One man's heroism during this 1917 disaster in Halifax Harbour which killed or injured thousands of people.

"What do you think you're doing?" shouted chief clerk William Lovett as train dispatcher Vince Coleman turned back towards the office. "We've only got a minute or two left! Anyone in the office won't stand a chance, and you're a married man with a family to think of!" But Vince Coleman was thinking about the passenger trains speeding towards the threatened harbour. He had to stop them.

In that moment of pure and selfless action, Coleman telegraphed his urgent warning. At precisely 9:06 on December 6, 1917, the worst man-made explosion ever [before the atomic bomb on Hiroshima] tore through Halifax, claiming 2,000 lives, including the life of Vince Coleman.

The Great War had brought prosperity to Halifax. The harbour bustled with convoys of men and materials bound for Europe. But on the evening of December 5, two ships' captains anxiously awaited departure. Aboard the Imo, a Belgian relief ship at anchor in the harbour, Captain From was annoyed that a late inspection had forced him to delay departure until morning.

Outside the harbour sat the French steamship Mont Blanc, its captain Aimé Le Medec awaiting morning access to the harbour and official clearance. Captain Le Medec had good reason to feel uneasy. Four days earlier his freighter had been loaded with tons of picric acid, TNT, gun cotton and benzol. The Mont Blanc was a floating bomb.

At 7:30 a.m., on December 6, the Mont Blanc began its slow entry into the harbour just as the Imo pulled up anchor. Forced to the wrong side of the channel by a steamer and tugboat, the Imo continued its improper course in direct line with the incoming Mont Blanc. The two ships sighted each other. There was a confusion of whistle blasts, misunderstood signals and, at 8:45 a.m., a disastrous collision.

As black smoke and flames rose from the Mont Blanc, crowds gathered on the Pier to watch the excitement. Factory workers, stevedores, mothers and children rushed to the best vantage points. Few people had any idea of the danger.

But one sailor who knew about the imminent explosion ran past the railway freight yards, warning Coleman and Lovett to clear out. Vince Coleman knew what was at stake when he ran back to tap out his crucial message. In the worst catastrophe in Canadian history, one man sacrificed his life to save 700 others.

  • Coleman – Ron Lea
  • Operator – Paul Stewart
  • Sailor – Richard Jutras
  • Harry – James Bradford
  • Mrs. Jenkins – Judith Hilderman
  • Lovett – Griffith Brewer
  • Additional Cast – Katherine Trowell