The Heroines of Halifax and The World’s Greatest Explosion
In 1917, a ship collision caused the biggest accidental blast the world has ever seen. While the city’s male leaders dithered, a band of volunteer nurses leapt into action.
Just after 9 a.m. on December 6, 1917, 35-year-old nurse Clara MacIntosh was lying in bed, willing herself to get up. Just as she readied herself to start the day, the windows in her bedroom imploded, coating her bedsheets in glass. A distant blast reverberated alongside gusts of cold as the front door flew off its hinges, and the maid downstairs screamed into the echo of the detonation. Clara jolted from her blankets and the debris that now coated them.
Running down the steps, she met the maid in the empty door frame, staring out on to the city Commons, where trees laid ripped up by the roots. Tar, ash and melted iron fell from the sky in thick dregs like black rain. Flames had sprung up all along the shoreline, and ruined houses burned along the horizon. Staring out at this wreckage, Clara assumed that the war in Europe had found its way to the east coast of Canada. But she had little time to ponder what had caused the explosion, or assess the damage implicated by the broken glass and splintered wood scattered on the floor of her home. As she pulled a housecoat over her nightgown in the unseasonably mild air, a slow trickle of wounded people began making their way toward her.