December 1917: Re-visiting the Halifax Explosion

December 6, 1917 marks two major events in world history: it is the date of Finnish independence as well as the date of the Halifax Explosion. To commemorate the centenary of both events I am catching up on my reading of all the books I have on both subjects. I researched the explosion and read quite a lot of books on the topic ten to thirteen years ago. I even got some rare books courtesy of my library’s interloans department. Thus the vast majority of books I have read predated when I started to write and publish book reviews in January 2010. I read one more book on the explosion since then.

Janet Kitz is the author of Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery as well as Survivors: Children of the Halifax Explosion, both of which I read before 2010. She and Joan Payzant wrote December 1917: Re-visiting the Halifax Explosion in 2006, but I don’t think I have had this book kicking around unread for eleven years. It is a short book of 140 pages, filled with photos of Halifax and Dartmouth explosion sites and photos from the same areas one hundred years later. This was not just a photo book, for the authors provided histories of pre-WWI Halifax and Dartmouth, the wartime environment, and the events that led up to the explosion.

Instead of being merely a before and after photo book showing destroyed or damaged houses and what the scene looks like today, the authors provided histories about every building they featured. I found it most interesting to know about the buildings’ histories decades before the explosion and who lived or worked there. Some churches and houses defied gravity in that they could still remain standing after the explosion. A featured photo of the Old Baptist Church, for example, had an enormous hole ripped into its roof. It was believed salvageable but the roof eventually caved in. There are very few sites that are still around a century later, only factory foundations and some miraculously standing houses. Maps were also provided to give a sense of the range of destruction and where one can visit featured sites.

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