Historic Canadian disasters include those caused by both humans and nature. Some, such as the Halifax Explosion, are rare, tragic accidents now etched in the country’s history. Others, such as forest fires and avalanches, are annual, natural occurrences that sometimes wreak havoc. This collection gathers survey articles on different types of disasters, as well as content on individual, historic events.
Halifax was devastated on 6 December 1917 when two ships collided in the city's harbour, one of them a munitions ship loaded with explosives bound for the battlefields of the First World War. What followed was one of the largest human-made explosions prior to the detonation of the first atomic bombs in 1945. The north end of Halifax was wiped out by the blast and subsequent tsunami. Nearly 2,000 people died, another 9,000 were maimed or blinded, and more than 25,000 were left without adequate shelter.1
A major feature of the 1917 Halifax Explosion was the high loss of life among not just men but also women and children. The death of male heads of household, or of their wives, proved highly disruptive for family life and created a major challenge for those providing assistance to the survivors.
Among the approximately 2,000 victims who died in the Halifax Explosion of 1917, one-quarter were children under the age of 18. Many other young people survived but would carry physical and emotional scars with them for the remainder of their lives. Dead and wounded children were the most poignant victims of the disaster.
In the early 20th Century, most North End residents of Halifax perceived themselves as being collectively disadvantaged, compared to wealthier South End residents. However, within the North End certain groups — notably racial minorities, the elderly, non-British immigrants, members of the military, and unmarried women with children — stood out as being particularly vulnerable. They were among the hardest-hit in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion of 1917.
The bombing of an Air India flight from Toronto to Bombay on 23 June 1985 — killing all 329 people on board — remains Canada’s deadliest terrorist attack. A separate bomb blast the same day at Tokyo’s Narita Airport killed two baggage handlers. After a 15-year investigation into the largest mass murder in the country's history, two British Columbia Sikh separatists were charged with murder and conspiracy in both attacks. They were acquitted in 2005. A third accused, Inderjit Singh Reyat, was convicted of manslaughter for his role in building the two bombs.
High above the St. Lawrence River, on a hot August day in 1907, a worker named Beauvais was driving rivets into the great southern span of the Quebec Bridge. Near the end of a long day, he noticed that a rivet that he had driven no more than an hour before had snapped clean in two.
"No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous," wrote Edgar Allan Poe of the "Red Death." "Blood was its Avatar and its seal - the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.