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Military Lecture: Catastrophe – Stories and Lessons from the Halifax Explosion

January 20, 2022

Halifax Explosion Illustration

Catastrophe – Stories and Lessons from the Halifax Explosion will be presented by Roger Sarty, Editor of the recovered book manuscript of ‘Catastrophe’ by the late Professor T. Joseph Scanlon.

The Halifax explosion, 6 December 1917, was the worst disaster in terms of loss of life in Canadian history.  More than 1,900 people were killed and some 9,000 injured in a population of about 55,000; a quarter of the city was devastated and burned to the ground.

The explosion was the result of a minor collision between two ships close to the city waterfront.  Tragically, the impact set fire to one of the vessels, the French steamer Mont-Blanc, whose cargo of  3000 tonnes of high explosives destined for Allied armies on the Western Front detonated, in one of the largest man-made explosions before the atomic bomb.

Highlights of the talk will include the First World War context of the explosion, the crucial role of emergency relief work by the military, the involvement of the municipal government and the railway, and the politics and emotions surrounding this monumental disaster.

About Roger Sarty:

Roger Sarty has been a member of the history department at Wilfrid Laurier University since 2004.  A graduate of Duke University (MA 1976) and the University of Toronto (PhD 1983), he was a historian at the Department of National Defence (1981-1998), and then successively head of exhibitions and historical research and deputy director at the Canadian War Museum (1998-2003). A native of Halifax, Roger grew up hearing stories of the Halifax explosion; his great-grandfather, John Bell, MD, was one of the first responders. Catastrophe is the eleventh book on the military history of Atlantic Canada that Roger has authored, co-authored, or edited.

Offered in partnership with the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies.

Missed the live event? Watch the recording of Catastrophe – Stories and Lessons from the Halifax Explosion below:


January 20, 2022
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