December 4, 2017, by Dr. Meghan Gray

100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion

In my latest Sixty Symbols video with Brady Haran, I discuss a big bang.  Despite the fact I’m an astronomer, I’m not talking about THE Big Bang, but rather the largest explosion made by human beings before the development of the atomic bomb.  It was an accident, it happened 100 years ago this week, and it devastated my home town of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  As Brady can attest, I’ve wanted to tell this story for a long time, so I hope you’ll check out our discussion about how how the Halifax Explosion came to pass and a bit behind the science of the detonation*.


There’s been a huge amount of buildup in Canada to mark the anniversary of the explosion and the indelible mark it left on the city, and our video only scratches the surface. The Nova Scotia archives has a huge virtual exhibit. The CBC has put together a pretty slick interactive website**.  The site “100 Years 100 Stories” gives bite-sized but wide-ranging insights into the destruction of the city, the many heartbreaking personal tragedies, the massive relief and reconstruction efforts, and the unexpected results such as the advances in treatment of eye injuries that grew out of the overwhelming medical aftermath.

And for anyone interested in learning more of the details, I’d highly recommend Laura MacDonald’s excellent and compelling book, Curse of the Narrows.

And finally, I think it’s poignant and really quite lovely that 100 years on, the friendship and aid delivered by the people of Boston (the nearest large urban centre to Halifax) is still marked with a very Canadian sort of gift: a giant Christmas tree.


* and yes, I know that I inexplicably wrote “Darthmouth” instead of “Dartmouth” on my sketch in the video. I apologize unreservedly to all those from the Darkside….

** though at the time of writing I can’t get it to work properly on my browser


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