Transcript: Canada's Worst Disaster | Dec 05, 2017

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and striped purple tie.

A caption on screen reads "Canada's worst disaster. @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says IT WAS THE LARGEST
MAN-MADE EXPLOSION EVER,
SURPASSED ONLY DECADES LATER BY
THE NUCLEAR BOMB DROPPED ON
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN.
THE ACCIDENT IN HALIFAX HARBOUR
100 YEARS AGO KILLED 2,000
PEOPLE AND INJURED MANY
THOUSANDS MORE.
JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR
KEN CUTHBERTSON HAS PIECED
TOGETHER THE CHAIN OF EVENTS
THAT LED TO THAT TERRIBLE
INCIDENT, WHICH IS WELL-KNOWN
WHERE IT HAPPENED BUT NOT
NECESSARILY IN THE REST OF CANADA.
WHICH IS WHY WE WANTED KEN
CUTHBERTSON HERE TO TELL US
ABOUT "THE HALIFAX EXPLOSION:
CANADA'S WORST DISASTER."

Ken is in his seventies, with receding white hair and a trimmed goatee. He's wearing glasses, a gray suit, blue sweater and white tie.
A picture of his book appears briefly on screen. The cover is white, with a black and white picture of the aftermath of the explosion.

Steve continues IT'S A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU.
THANKS FOR COMING IN.

Ken says IT'S A PLEASURE TO BE HERE.

Steve says I SUGGESTED IN THE
INTRO THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T
KNOW ABOUT IT.
THAT'S MY HUNCH.
WHAT'S YOUR SENSE OF WHETHER
CANADIANS KNOW ABOUT THIS OR
NOT?

The caption changes to "Ken Cuthbertson. Author, 'The Halifax Esplosion.'"
Then, it changes again to "A blast heard around the world."

Ken says THAT'S CERTAINLY TRUE.
IT'S PART OF THE DNA OF HALIFAX.
IT'S SOMETHING THAT MOST PEOPLE
IN ATLANTIC CANADA KNOW ABOUT.
MY MOTHER, WHO WAS BORN IN
HALIFAX A FEW YEARS AFTER THE
EXPLOSION, CERTAINLY TALKED
ABOUT IT.

Steve says BUT THE FURTHER WEST YOU GO...

Ken says THE FURTHER WEST YOU GO, IT'S
SOMETHING THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T
KNOW MUCH ABOUT.
IF THEY KNOW ANYTHING, IT'S THAT
THERE WAS AN EXPLOSION, A BUNCH
OF PEOPLE WERE KILLED AND THAT'S
THE EXTENT OF THE KNOWLEDGE.

Steve says YOU CALL IT A
QUINTESSENTIALLY CANADIAN DISASTER.
WHY IS THAT?

Ken says THAT'S AN INTERESTING
QUESTION.
IT'S ESSENTIALLY CANADIAN, I
THINK, BECAUSE OF THE REACTION
TO THE EXPLOSION.
CANADIANS HAVE THIS... WE SEE
OURSELVES AS BEING SORT OF
ROBUST AND NOT COMPLAINING VERY
MUCH.
IT WAS AN EXPLOSION THAT KILLED
2,000 PEOPLE, INJURED 9,000,
WRECKED HALF OF A CITY, AND YET
WITHIN TWO DAYS, THE PORT WAS
REOPENED.
WITHIN FOUR DAYS, THE BANKS WERE
REOPENING AND STORES WERE COMING
BACK, OPENING THEIR DOORS, AND
PEOPLE WERE GETTING ON WITH
THEIR LIVES.

Steve says WE JUST MOVED ON.

Ken says THEY MOVED ON.
THAT WAS ONE ASPECT OF IT.
ANOTHER ASPECT OF IT WAS THE...
THE PERSON WHO BECAME THE ICONIC
FIGURE FROM THE EXPLOSION WAS A
BLUE COLLAR GUY, VINCE COLEMAN,
A TRAIN DISPATCHER.
THE DISASTER ITSELF WAS REALLY A
BLUE COLLAR DISASTER BECAUSE IT
HAPPENED IN THE NORTH END OF
HALIFAX, WHICH WAS THE WORKING
CLASS AREA, THE INDUSTRIAL AREA,
PRIMARILY.
AND WHEN THE EXPLOSION HAPPENED,
THE PEOPLE WHO DIED WERE, FOR
THE MOST PART, BLUE COLLAR,
AVERAGE CANADIANS.
AND AS I SAID, THE ICONIC FIGURE
WHO EMERGES FROM THAT IS VINCE
COLEMAN, WHO WAS A TRAIN DISPATCHER.

Steve says HOLD OFF ON VINCE.
WE'RE GOING TO BRING UP SOME
PICTURES HERE ON SOME OF THE
MAJOR PLAYERS IN THIS DISASTER.
VINCE, WE'LL LEAVE HIM UNTIL A
LITTLE LATER ON.
HERE'S THE FIRST.
AIME LE MEDEC.
WHO WAS THAT?

Black and white pictures show a bearded man in a formal sailor uniform.

Ken says HE'S AN INTERESTING
CHARACTER.
THIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS THAT
I WROTE MY BOOK IS THAT THERE
HAVE BEEN FIVE OR SIX OTHER
BOOKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE HALIFAX
EXPLOSION, AND THEY ALL TEND TO
START WITH THE EXPLOSION, AND
THEN THEY GO FORWARD FROM THERE.
AND WHEN I READ THESE BOOKS, I
BEGAN TO WONDER WHAT LED UP TO
THE EXPLOSION?
WHO WERE THE PEOPLE WHO
PRECIPITATED IT?
WERE THEY NEGLIGENT OR JUST
VICTIMS OF BAD LUCK?
AND AIME LE MEDEC WAS ONE OF
THEM.
HE WAS A CAREER SAILOR.
HE WAS 39, BORN IN BRITTANY,
WHICH IS ON THE FRENCH COAST
AROUND DOWN NEAR THE BOTTOM.

Steve says WHAT WAS THE NAME OF HIS SHIP?

Ken says WELL, HE WAS THE CAPTAIN OF
THE MONT-BLANC.
IN FACT, THIS WAS HIS FIRST
VOYAGE ON THE MONT-BLANC.
IT WAS A SHIP THAT NEVER SHOULD
HAVE BEEN LOADED WITH THE
EXPLOSIVES THAT IT WAS CARRYING.
IT WAS AN AGING TRAMP STEAMER,
AND THE ONLY REASON THAT IT WAS
LOADED AS IT WAS WAS BECAUSE
THEY WERE DESPERATE TO GET
MUNITIONS TO THE WESTERN FRONT.

Steve says WE HAVE TO SET THE
SCENE HERE.

Ken says ABSOLUTELY.

Steve says TOWARDS THE WORLD OF
WORLD WAR ONE.

Ken says WORLD WAR III... I HOPE WE
DON'T HAVE WORLD WAR III.
AS I SAID, THEY WERE DESPERATE
TO GET MUNITIONS TO FRANCE AND
THEY LOADED THIS SHIP IN NEW
YORK, AND THEY LOADED 3,000
TONNES OF EXPLOSIVES.
AND THEN A BRIGHT SPARK SAID,
WELL, THERE'S STILL ROOM ON THE
DECK.
WE'LL PILE ALL THESE BARRELS OF
HIGH OCTANE FUEL.

Steve says SO THIS SHIP IS...

Ken says A FLOATING BOMB.

Steve says A FLOATING BOMB.

Ken says AS ONE BRITISH NAVAL OFFICER
SAID, IT WAS A WONDER, WHEN THE
CREW SAW WHAT WAS PILED ON THE
DECKS AND DOWN BELOW, THEY
DIDN'T SIMPLY ABANDON SHIP AND TAKE OFF.

Steve says SECOND PICTURE.
HERE'S FRANCIS MACKEY.
WHO IS THAT?

A picture shows a bald mustached man.

Ken says HE'S A VETERAN HALIFAX
HARBOUR PILOT.
HE HAS BEEN ABOUT 20 YEARS AS A
HARBOUR PILOT.
NEVER HAD A BLEMISH ON HIS
RECORD.
HE'S A LOCAL GUY.
COMES FROM A FISHING FAMILY.
NAUTICAL FAMILY.
HE IS ONE OF THE MOST TRUSTED
PILOTS IN HALIFAX.

Steve says WHAT WAS HE DOING
THERE THAT DAY?

Ken says HE WAS ABOARD THE MONT-BLANC.
IT WAS HIS JOB TO BRING THE SHIP
INTO THE HARBOUR.

Steve says BECAUSE HE KNEW THE
HARBOUR.

Ken says BECAUSE HE KNEW THE HARBOUR.
IT CAN BE TREACHEROUS.

Steve says PICTURE NUMBER
THREE, THIS IS HAKAN FROMM.

A picture shows three men posing with different styles of hats.

The caption changes to "Key figures."

Ken says HE'S A NORWEGIAN.
ONE OF THE OTHER PEOPLE I WAS
ABLE TO DIG OUT INFORMATION ON
HIM, CONTACT HIS FAMILY.
THERE WERE NO PREVIOUSLY KNOWN
PHOTOGRAPHS.
HE WAS A REALLY INTERESTING
CHARACTER, CAME FROM A MIDDLE
CLASS FAMILY, WENT AWAY TO SEA
AS A YOUNG MAN AND HAD WORKED IN
THE WHALING INDUSTRY.
HAD BEEN AROUND THE WORLD MANY
TIMES.
HE WAS THE CAPTAIN OF THE IMO,
WHICH IS THE OTHER SHIP
INVOLVED.
IT WAS A NORWEGIAN RELIEF
VESSEL.
IN 1917, THE GERMAN ARMY HAD
OCCUPIED BELGIUM, AND LIKE
LOCUSTS, THEY WERE EATING ALL
THE FOOD.
SO THE BELGIANS WERE STARVING
AND THERE WAS AN INTERNATIONAL
RELIEF EFFORT TO BRING FOOD
THROUGH.
AND THE AMERICANS ACTUALLY,
BEFORE THEY GOT INTO THE WAR,
HAD ORCHESTRATED THIS THE IMO
WAS ON ITS WAY TO NEW YORK TO
PICK UP GRAIN TO TAKE TO
BELGIUM.
THEY WERE DELAYED A DAY.
FROMM, WHO WAS ERASABLE.

Steve says WHICH IS HE IN THE PICTURE?

Ken says HE'S IN THE LOWER LEFT.
THAT'S THE ONLY PHOTOGRAPH.
HIS FAMILY HAS NO OTHER
PHOTOGRAPHS.
THERE WAS NO PHOTOGRAPH OF AIME
LE MEDEC UNTIL I ASKED HIS GRAND
NIECE TO FIND ONE.

Steve says AND ONE MORE.
THE SO-CALLED CANADIAN HERO OF
THIS WHOLE THING, VINCE COLEMAN.

A picture shows a young man with wavy hair and a long mustache.

Ken says DEPENDING ON THE SOURCE HE'S
EITHER 43 OR 45, BUT HE HAS FOUR
KIDS.
HE LIVES A BLOCK OR TWO FROM THE
RAIL YARDS.
HIS JOB IS HE SITS IN A WOODEN
SHED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRACKS
AND HE TAPS OUT SIGNALS TELLING
TRAINS TO COME, TRAINS TO GO.
BASICALLY HE'S AN AIR TRAFFIC
CONTROLLER WHO CONTROLS TRAINS.

Steve says IT'S AN IMPORTANT JOB.

Ken says IT'S AN IMPORTANT JOB.
SHOULD WE TALK ABOUT WHAT
HAPPENED TO HIM?

Steve says NO, WE'RE GOING TO
SAVE THAT.
WE'RE GOING TO UNVEIL THE STORY
AS IT GOES.

Ken says WHAT HAPPENED WASN'T GOOD.

Steve says NO KIDDING.
TO THE EXTENT THAT PEOPLE MAY
KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, THEY
MAY KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT THIS
BECAUSE OF THIS...
SHELDON, ROLL IT, PLEASE.

A clip from and old colour movie plays on screen.

In the clip, an alarmed man runs along a crowded dock shaking other people.

He yells PEOPLE, GET OUT!
IT'S GOING TO BLOW UP!

A man in a telegraph booth sends a message and says THE SHIP IS ON FIRE.
STOP TRAIN.

The alarmed man barges in and says COLEMAN, THERE'S NO TIME!

Coleman says THE TRAIN IS COMING TOWARDS US.

Another alarmed man says C'MON, VINCE, C'MON.

Coleman says THERE ARE 700 PEOPLE ABOARD.
I'VE GOT TO STOP IT!

Ken says C'MON, C'MON, ACKNOWLEDGE.

The telegraph moves and Coleman clenches his fists in celebration.

The clip ends.

Steve says THAT'S ONE OF THOSE
CRB FOUNDATION HERITAGE MINUTES WHICH...

Ken says WONDERFUL DRAMA.

Steve says IN 30 SECONDS TELLS
SOME VARIOUS STORIES OF OUR HISTORY.

Ken says ABSOLUTELY.

Steve says OBVIOUSLY HE'S
TRYING TO STOP THAT TRAIN FROM
GETTING ANY CLOSER TO THE
HARBOUR, LEST IT BE ENGULFED IN
THIS WHOLE THING.
GO AHEAD.
TELL THE STORY.

Ken says WELL, THE STORY IS THAT THEY
CAME KNOCKING ON HIS DOOR AND HE
WAS WITH ANOTHER GENTLEMAN
TALKING AND THEY TOLD HIM THAT
THE SHIP IS GOING TO BLOW UP.
IT WAS LESS THAN 100 YARDS... OR
METRES, I GUESS WE SHOULD SAY
NOW, FROM HIS SHED.
AND THE GENTLEMAN HE WAS WITH
TOOK OFF, RAN OUT THE DOOR LIKE
A RABBIT ACROSS THE TRACKS.
COLEMAN HAD HIS JACKET ON, JUST
ABOUT OUT THE DOOR, AND THE
OVERNIGHT TRAIN FROM SAINT JOHN,
THERE MAY BE 300 PEOPLE ABOARD.
MY GOD, I HAVE TO SEND OUT A
MESSAGE.
HE TAPPED OUT A MESSAGE TO THE
TRAIN BUT UNFORTUNATELY HE DIED
IN THE EXPLOSION.

Steve says SO HE SAVED ALL
THOSE PEOPLE.

Ken says WHETHER OR NOT THE TRAIN
WOULD HAVE BEEN ON TIME, I DON'T
KNOW.
WE THINK HE DID.

Steve says HE SAVED THE PEOPLE
AND HE GAVE HIS LIFE TO DO SO.

Ken says THE TRAIN WAS BUFFETED BUT
THERE WAS NO MAJOR DAMAGE.
SOME PEOPLE WERE INJURED.
WHO KNOWS WHAT WOULD HAVE
HAPPENED IF IT HAD BEEN IN THE
RAIL YARDS.

Steve says PRESUMABLY AS HE WAS
TRYING TO GIVE THAT MORSE CODE
MESSAGE TO TRY TO TELL THE TRAIN
TO STAY AWAY, I DON'T KNOW IF
THERE IS ANYONE WHO KNOWS THIS,
DID HE NOT REALIZE HE WOULD BE
GIVING HIS LIFE IN THE PROCESS,
THE TIME WAS JUST THAT TIGHT?

The caption changes to "On the eve of the catastrophe."

Ken says WE'LL NEVER KNOW.
HE KNEW THE EXPLOSION WAS
IMMINENT.
THE ONE THING ABOUT THE SHIP
ACTUALLY WAS, WHEN IT CAME INTO
PORT, ONLY THE SENIOR NAVAL
OFFICERS IN THE PORT KNEW WHAT
THE SHIP WAS CARRYING.
IT WASN'T USUAL FOR A MUNITIONS
SHIP LIKE THAT TO COME INTO THE
PORT, PARTICULARLY ONE THAT WAS
OLD, RUSTING, SLOW, TOO SLOW...
THE ONLY REASON IT WAS THERE IS
BECAUSE IT WAS TOO SLOW TO JOIN
A REGULAR CONVOY.
THE THOUGHT WAS IF IT CAME TO
HALIFAX, PERHAPS IT COULD CATCH
ON.
SOMEBODY WOULD SAY, YES, YOU CAN
TAG ON THE END OF OUR CONVOY TO
EUROPE.
THE U-BOATS WERE SINKING SHIPS
RIGHT AND LEFT.

Steve says THE GERMAN U-BOATS.

Ken says YES.

Steve says KEN, LET US GO UP TO
30,000 FEET FOR A SECOND.

Ken says ALL RIGHT.

Steve says OR 10,000 METRES,
HOWEVER YOU WANT TO DO IT NOW.
HALIFAX, 100 YEARS AGO.
WHAT KIND OF A TOWN IS IT?

The caption changes to "Chain of events."

Ken says INSULAR.
THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS THAT
THE EXPLOSION WASN'T WELL-KNOWN
AT THE TIME TOO BECAUSE IT'S AT
THE END OF CANADA, IT'S AT THE
ATLANTIC SEA PORT, CANADA'S MAIN
ATLANTIC SEA PORT, BUT THE ONLY
TIE TO THE REST OF CANADA, TO
CENTRAL CANADA, IS THE RAIL
LINE.
WITHOUT THAT, HALIFAX IS JUST
SITTING OUT THERE.
PEOPLE TEND TO FORGET THAT
NEWFOUNDLAND DIDN'T JOIN CANADA
UNTIL 1949.
SO HALIFAX WAS CANADA'S ATLANTIC
SEA PORT, THE PLACE WHERE
CANADIAN TROOPS WERE MARSHALLED
TO GO OVERSEAS, THE PLACE WHERE
CONVOYS FORMED UP, THE PLACE
WHERE WOUNDED VETERANS FROM
OVERSEAS, SOLDIERS, CAME BACK,
THEY CAME TO THE CITY OF
HALIFAX.
IT WAS A CITY OF 50,000 PEOPLE.
IT WAS THE REGIONAL ECONOMIC
CENTRE, POLITICAL CENTRE,
CULTURAL CENTRE.
AND IN 1917, AS I SAID, THE
OFFICIAL ESTIMATE WAS 50,000
PEOPLE, BUT IT WAS A MAGNET.
PEOPLE CAME THERE LOOKING FOR
WORK.
PEOPLE CAME THERE FOR VARIOUS
REASONS.
SO THERE WAS REALLY NO WAY OF
KNOWING HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE
ACTUALLY IN HALIFAX.
THE SOUTH END, THE WELL-TO-DO
LIVED THERE.
NORTH END, INDUSTRIAL AREA.
VERY CONSERVATIVE IN TERMS OF
ITS... THE SOCIOLOGY OF THE
PLACE, RELIGIOUS.
THE NORTH END, A LOT OF LARGE
IRISH CATHOLIC FAMILIES.
EVERYBODY KNEW EVERYBODY.

Steve says LET'S HAVE YOU NOW
TAKE US THROUGH THE CHAIN OF
EVENTS ON THE 6TH OF DECEMBER,
1917, WHICH STARTED WITH TWO
SHIPS, AS YOU'VE DESCRIBED THEM,
COLLIDING, ALMOST IN SLOW MOTION.
PICK UP THE STORY FROM THERE.

Ken says WELL, WHAT HAPPENS IS THE
MONT-BLANC HAD SHOWED UP AT
HALIFAX, TOO LATE TO GET INTO
THE HARBOUR AT NIGHT BECAUSE
THEY HAD NETS THAT WENT ACROSS
TO KEEP SUBMARINES OUT.
THEY HAD TO WAIT FOR THE MORNING
TO COME IN.
FIRST LIGHT, THEY STARTED
THROUGH.
THEY WERE PROCEEDING VERY SLOWLY
BECAUSE MACKEY, THE PILOT, KNEW
WHAT WAS ON BOARD AND, WITH GOOD
REASON, WAS VERY CAUTIOUS ABOUT
IT.
AT THE OTHER END, THE IMO, WHICH
WAS UP IN BEDFORD BASIN, THE
CATCHMENT AREA WHERE SHIPS
ANCHORED, THE CAPTAIN FROMM WAS
IN A GREAT HURRY TO GET TO NEW
YORK.
COMING UP TO CHRISTMAS, HE WANTS
TO GET HIS GRAIN, PICK IT UP IN
NEW YORK, TAKE IT TO BELGIUM AND
GET HOME FOR CHRISTMAS.
AND HE'S IMPETUOUS TO BEGIN WITH
AND IMPULSIVE.
AS THE SHIP COMES OUT OF BEDFORD
BASIN, IT'S PICKING UP SPEED,
GOING TOO FAST.
MEANWHILE, THE OTHER END, THE
MONT-BLANC IS COMING, THERE'S A
SHIP IN FRONT OF HIM CALLED THE
CLARA, WHICH IS A TRAMP STEAMER.
THERE'S A YOUNGER PILOT ABOARD
THERE.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT HE WAS DOING.
NO ONE EVER REALLY ASKED HIM.
BUT HE WAS ON THE WRONG SIDE OF
THE SHIPPING CHANNEL.
THE RESULT WAS, NOT WHERE HE
SHOULD HAVE BEEN.
THE RESULT IS AS THE IMO
APPROACHED HIM, THERE WAS AN
EXCHANGE OF SIGNALS, AND BECAUSE
THERE WAS CONFUSION ABOUT WHO
WAS SUPPOSED TO PASS WHERE, THEY
IGNORED THE RULES OF THE ROAD.
THE USUAL RULE OF THE ROAD, AND
I'M NOT A SAILOR, BUT THE USUAL
RULE OF THE ROAD AS I UNDERSTAND
IT, AS TWO SHIPS ARE APPROACHING
EACH ONE, ONE TOOT MEANS I'M
STEERING TO THE RIGHT, THE OTHER
SHIP DOES THE SAME THING, THEY
PASS MY LEFT SIDE, THE OTHER
GUY'S LEFT SIDE.
IN THIS CASE, BECAUSE THE TRAMP
STEAMER THAT WAS PRECEDING THE
MONT-BLANC WAS OUT OF ITS PLACE,
THEY TOOTED AND THEN THEY PASSED
THE OTHER SIDE, OKAY?
SO THEY PASSED RATHER THAN ON
THE LEFT, TWO SHIPS PASS ON THE RIGHT.

Steve says THERE'S CONFUSION
ALL AROUND.

Ken says THERE'S CONFUSION RIGHT
THERE.
BUT AS THE TWO SHIPS ARE PASSING
THE TRAMP STEAMER FELLOW YELLS
TO THE PILOT ON THE IMO, THERE'S
ANOTHER SHIP COMING.
PILOT OF THE IMO LOOKS AHEAD AND
WHAT HE SEES IS A TUGBOAT
HAULING A BUNCH OF ASHES FROM
THE NAVAL.

Steve says WRONG BOAT.

Ken says THAT'S CONFUSION OVER THAT.
TO AND FRO.
THOSE TWO SHIPS GET IT SORTED
OUT.
THEN THE PILOT OF THE IMO LOOKS
AHEAD AND HE'S LOOKING INTO THE
SUN, HE SEES ANOTHER SHIP
COMING.
THAT'S THE MONT-BLANC.
MEANWHILE THE MONT-BLANC IS
LOOKING AND THINKING WHAT IS
THIS SHIP DOING ON MY SIDE OF
THE CHANNEL BECAUSE THINGS ARE
TOTALLY MESSED UP IN TERMS OF
WHAT THEY SHOULD BE.
THERE FOLLOWS, TO MAKE A LONG
STORY SHORT, THERE FOLLOWS A
SERIES OF TOOTS, GREAT CONFUSION
ON BOTH SHIPS, AND AT THE VERY
LAST MOMENT, BOTH SHIPS REALIZE
THERE'S GOING TO BE A COLLISION.
BOTH SHIPS, TOOT, TOOT, TOOT,
THREE TOOTS, MEANS THEY'RE
PUTTING THEIR ENGINES INTO
REVERSE.
UNFORTUNATELY, BECAUSE THE IMO
WAS FAILING IN BLAST, IT HAD NO
CARGO.

Steve says WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Ken says IT HAD NO CARGO.
THEY'RE SAILING ALONG.
THEY PUT THE THING INTO REVERSE.
I'M NOT A PHYSICIST BUT I'M TOLD
BY THE LAWS OF PHYSICS, THE SHIP
WOULD START TO SKEW SIDEWAYS.
THEY TOTALLY LOST CONTROL OF
WHERE THEY WERE GOING AND IT
JUST EDGED INTO THE BLAST OF THE
MONT-BLANC.

Steve says ONE OF THE THINGS
WORTH MENTIONING HERE IS THIS
WAS NOT SOME GRAND FULL SPEED
AHEAD COLLISION, THEY TWO
KNOWLEDGED EACH OTHER.

Ken says THE FIRST OFFICER OF THE IMO
WAS ON DECK, ABOUT 10 METRES
AWAY FROM THE COLLISION, AND HE
THOUGHT NOTHING HAD HAPPENED.
HE THOUGHT THEY JUST BUMPED.
THE HELMSMAN THOUGHT THE SAME
THING.
IT DISLODGED THE HIGH OCTANE
FUEL.
WHAT HAPPENED WAS THE BARRELS
TIPPED OVER, RAN DOWN INTO THE
HOLD, THE GASH, AND WHEN THE TWO
SHIPS PULLED APART, THE METAL ON
METAL CAUSED SPARKS, LITTLE
FIRE, WHICH STARTED OUT JUST
LIKE MAYBE ON YOUR BARBECUE.
QUICKLY GREW.
AND THE FRENCH OF COURSE KNEW
THERE WAS NO WAY TO PUT THIS
THING OUT.
THEY IMMEDIATELY ABANDONED SHIP
WHICH MEANT THE MONT-BLANC, THE
FLOATING BOMB IN THE MIDDLE OF
THE HARBOUR, NO ONE ON SHORE
KNEW ABOUT THIS, WHAT WAS ON THE
SHIP, SO THEY ALL CAME DOWN TO
THE WATER AND OOH AND AH AS
BARRELS OF BENZOIL BLEW UP.

Steve says PEOPLE FROM THE TOWN
CAME TOWARDS IT TO WATCH IT.

Ken says THE FIRST RESPONDERS, AS THEY
DO, THE FIREMEN, IMMEDIATELY
HOPPED IN THEIR FIRE TRUCK AND
RACED DOWN TO THE SPOT WHERE
THEY THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO
COME ASHORE, PIER 6 IN HALIFAX,
PEOPLE GATHERED AROUND TO WATCH
THE DISPLAY.
SOME OF THE OTHER SHIPS IN THE
HARBOUR, CREWS HOPPED IN LITTLE
BOATS TO GO OVER AND HELP FIGHT
THE FIRE.
POOR FIRST RESPONDERS WHO RACED
TO THE SCENE WITH THE BEST OF
INTENTIONS HOPING TO PUT OUT THE
FIRE WERE BASICALLY RACING TO
THEIR DEATH.

Steve says INCINERATED RIGHT
AWAY.

Ken says KILLED INSTANTLY IN THE
BLAST.

Steve says HERE'S HOW YOU TOLD
IT IN THE BOOK...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Tragedy on an epic scale." The quote reads "All told, the great Halifax harbour explosion of 1917 destroyed more than 1,500 buildings and damaged 12,000 more. Six thousand Haligonians suddenly found themselves homeless, while more than 25000 lacked adequate shelter. Almost 2000 people in alifax and suhaHalifax and surrounding areas lost their lives, with hundreds of victims perishing in less time than it takes for a single heartbeat."
Quoted from Ken Cuthbertson, "The Halifax Explosion." 2017.

Steve says SHELDON, BRING UP A
SHOT OF THIS PICTURE WE HAVE
HERE OF THE BLAST.

A black and white picture shows a massive column of black smoke rising. Then, a diagram shows the place of the explosion, just off the coast, and the huge radius, covering over half the city.

Steve continues THIS IS THE BLAST RADIUS.
LOOK AT THAT CLOUD.
NUMBERS DON'T ALWAYS TELL A
STORY AND GIVE YOU THE CONTEXT
OF WHAT AN EXPLOSION CAN DO TO A
CITY.
SO WHY DON'T YOU PUT SOME MORE
FLESH ON THAT BONE?

The caption changes to "The blast."

Ken says WELL, THE FLESH THAT I WOULD
PUT ON THE BONE IS, WHEN YOU
READ THE ACCOUNTS OF WHAT
HAPPENED TO SOME OF THE PEOPLE
WHO WERE CAUGHT UP IN THE
EXPLOSION, IT WAS PARTICULARLY
TELLING AFTER THE EVENT BECAUSE
THE NEWSPAPERS BEGAN RUNNING
DESCRIPTIONS OF SOME OF THE
BODIES THAT WERE IN THE MORGUE.
THEY SET UP A MORGUE AT A PUBLIC
SCHOOL.
IT WAS THE LARGEST MORGUE EVER
SET UP IN CANADA TO THAT POINT
AND PROBABLY THE LARGEST EVER TO
THIS DATE.
THEY BROUGHT BODIES THERE.
AND BECAUSE THERE WERE SO MANY
BODIES, THEY HAD BITS OF BODIES
AND THEY HAD BODIES THAT WERE
INTACT, AND NOBODY HAD CLAIMED,
THEY BEGAN RUNNING
ADVERTISEMENTS IN THE
NEWSPAPERS, LISTS, LONG LISTS
THAT ACTUALLY DESCRIBED SOME OF
THESE PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE.
WHEN YOU READ THOSE, IT'S
HEARTBREAKING BECAUSE WE HAVE A
TENDENCY NOWADAYS WHEN YOU HEAR
2,000 PEOPLE HAVE BEEN KILLED IN
AN EARTHQUAKE OR WHATEVER, THOSE
NUMBERS DON'T REALLY MEAN
ANYTHING, UNTIL YOU START TO DIG
INTO IT OR IF YOU KNOW
SOMEBODY'S WHO HAS BEEN INVOLVED
OR YOU SEE IMAGES.
THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS THAT
AFFECTED ME WHEN I DID MY
RESEARCH INTO THIS WAS I REALLY
STARTED TO FEEL SOME EMPATHY,
SERIOUS EMPATHY, FOR THESE
PEOPLE.
AS I SAID, BECAUSE PART OF THAT,
THEY'RE JUST NUMBERS.
IT'S 2,000 DEAD.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
9,000 INJURED.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Steve says IT'S 2,000 DEAD IN A
COUNTRY OF 8 MILLION AT THE TIME.

Ken says IT'S ONE IN 25 WHO DIE IN
HALIFAX OF A POPULATION OF
50,000.
EXTRAPOLATE.
I HAVE DONE THIS... I WAS
TALKING WITH A GROUP THE OTHER
NIGHT AND I MENTIONED THAT IF
THIS HAPPENED IN TORONTO, WITH
2.8 MILLION PEOPLE, I BELIEVE IT
IS, THERE WOULD BE 112,000 DEAD
AND 500,000 WOUNDED.

Steve says THAT'S THE
EQUIVALENT.

Ken says YES.

Steve says ASTONISHING.
HERE ARE MORE PICTURES.
THIS IS THE AFTERMATH.
SHELDON, LET'S BRING THIS UP.
WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT HERE, KEN?

A picture shows a large roofless building.

Ken says THE MAIN TRAIN STATION IN
HALIFAX, IT HAD A GLASS ROOF
AND... GLASS AND GIRDERS AND IT
COLLAPSED.
AND THERE WERE 60 SOME-ODD
PEOPLE KILLED THERE, PASSENGERS
ON TRAINS, PEOPLE, RAIL WORKERS.
THIS IS ACTUALLY A POSTCARD.
THAT'S ANOTHER THING THAT I
FOUND INTERESTING IS AFTER THE
DISASTER, THERE'S THIS GRIM,
REALLY, BLACK AS IT CAN BE, BUT
PEOPLE, THEY STARTED SELLING
POSTCARDS.
THEY STARTED SELLING... THERE
WERE BOOKS WRITTEN ABOUT IT, BUT
VIEWS OF THE DISASTER.
AND PEOPLE WERE ACTUALLY MAKING
MONEY OUT OF IT.

Steve says HMM.
WE HAVE ANOTHER ONE WE WANT TO
BRING UP AS WELL.
TELL US WHAT WE'RE LOOKING AT HERE.

Another period picture shows a ravaged coastline.

Ken says THIS IS THE NORTH END OF
HALIFAX.
THAT'S WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE AFTER
THE BLAST.
THE BLAST HAPPENED IN A PLACE
CALLED... A SPOT CALLED THE
NARROWS, WHICH IS THE NARROWEST
PART OF HALIFAX HARBOUR.
IF YOU THINK OF THE HARBOUR
BEING LIKE A KEYHOLE, NOT A
GREAT ANALOGY, BUT IT'S AS CLOSE
AS YOU CAN GET IN TERMS OF AN
IMAGE THAT YOU CAN PUT IN YOUR
HEAD.
IT'S WIDE AT THE BOTTOM.
IT NARROWS DOWN AT THE SPOT
CALLED THE NARROWS AND AT THE
TOP WHICH IS THE PART OF THE
KEYHOLE THAT IS THE BEDFORD
BASIN.
AND THIS IS A VIEW OF THE
NARROWS.
THERE'S A HILL THERE CALLED FORT
NEEDHAM HILL THAT OVERLOOKS
THAT.
THAT'S WHERE THE WORST DAMAGE
OCCURRED, THIS AREA CALLED THE
RICHMOND NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Steve says LET'S DO ONE MORE
PICTURE.
WHAT IS THAT AMERICAN FLAG DOING
THERE?
THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO KNOW.

A picture shows a group of about two dozen men in uniforms posing under an American flag.

Ken says THE AMERICAN FLAG IS THERE,
AS I MENTIONED, HALIFAX BEING
ISOLATED FROM THE REST OF
CANADA, BUT IT WASN'T ISOLATED
FROM BOSTON AND THE NEW ENGLAND
AREA.
IN 1917, HALIFAX'S MAIN ECONOMIC
TIES WERE NORTH-SOUTH.
THERE WERE A LOT OF PEOPLE IN
BOSTON, A HUGE CONTINGENT OF
MARITIMERS LIVED IN BOSTON.
THEY KNEW EACH OTHER AND WOULD
TRADE BACK AND FORTH.
WHEN WORD SPREAD THAT THERE WAS
THIS VAST EXPLOSION IN HALIFAX,
THE GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS
IMMEDIATELY MOBILIZED A MERCY
TRAIN, AND THAT'S A REALLY
INTERESTING STORY AS WELL.
THERE WAS A PHILANTHROPIST NAMED
CAP, THAT'S HIS NAME, A VERY
WEALTHY MAN WHO WAS INTERESTED
IN HELPING PEOPLE IN DISASTER
AREAS AND HE HAD DONE THIS ON
THREE OR FOUR DIFFERENT
OCCASIONS, WAS WILLING TO INVEST
HIS OWN TIME, HIS OWN MONEY.
HE WAS THE PERSON WHO THEY GAVE
THIS MISSION TO, TO TAKE A TRAIN
OF MERCY WITH DOCTORS, NURSES,
AND MEDICAL SUPPLIES, TO
HALIFAX.
AND THEY CAME AND THEY SET UP A
HOSPITAL, AND THAT'S THE
PHOTOGRAPH OF THE CREW OUTSIDE.
THEY DID MIRACULOUS THINGS.

Steve says GOTCHA.
WE'VE GOT A FEW MINUTES LEFT HERE.
I WANT TO TOUCH ON THREE MORE
THINGS: NUMBER ONE, THE FEDERAL
GOVERNMENT LAUNCHED A PUBLIC
INQUIRY INTO THIS.
THE PRIME MINISTER OF THE DAY IS
ROBERT BORDEN.
HE IS A NOVA SCOTIAN.
HOW MUCH PRESSURE WAS THERE ON
HIM AND THIS INQUIRY TO BLAME
SOMEBODY?

The caption changes to "The Wreck Commission."

Ken says THAT'S ONE OF THE INTERESTING
ASPECTS OF THIS WHOLE STORY IS
THAT THE DISASTER HAPPENS ON
DECEMBER 6TH, 1917.
THERE IS A GENERAL ELECTION
SCHEDULED FOR DECEMBER 17TH.
THAT'S 11 DAYS LATER.
BORDEN IS THE PRIME MINISTER.
HE'S FROM HALIFAX.
THE BIG ISSUE IS CONSCRIPTION,
WHICH IS A VOLATILE ISSUE.
THE EXPLOSION HAPPENS.
WITHIN TWO HOURS, THE DEPUTY
MINISTER IN OTTAWA IS TRYING TO
FIGURE OUT A WAY TO SPIN THIS SO
THAT IT DOESN'T LOOK TOO BAD FOR
BORDEN.
SO THAT'S THE REASON THEY
IMMEDIATELY CALL A COMMISSION.
IT'S CALLED THE WRECK
COMMISSION.
WITHIN A COUPLE OF DAYS THEY'VE
GOT THIS THING ON THE RAILS.
IF THIS HAPPENED TODAY, IT WOULD
BE PROBABLY TWO MONTHS BEFORE
ANYTHING WOULD HAPPEN.
BUT THEN, IT WAS WITHIN A MATTER
OF DAYS.

Steve says AND HE DID WIN THE ELECTION.

Ken says AND HE WON THE ELECTION.
THE WRECK COMMISSION WAS... I
THINK I'M BEING... I'M NOT BEING
UNJUST WHEN I SAY THAT IT WAS
BASICALLY A KANGAROO COURT
BECAUSE IT WAS INITIALLY
CALLED... IT WAS TO ESTABLISH
THE FACTS OF WHAT HAPPENED.
IT QUICKLY TURNED INTO A BLAME
SOMEBODY, AND THEY PICKED OUT
THREE INDIVIDUALS.
THEY PICKED OUT MACKEY, THE
PILOT, THE CAPTAIN OF THE
MONT-BLANC, AND ANOTHER
GENTLEMAN WHO WAS THE CHIEF
EXAMINING OFFICER, THE NAVAL
OFFICER IN CHARGE OF THE PORT, A
BRITISH FELLOW NAMED WYATT.
THEY WERE THE SCAPEGOATS WHO
WERE CHARGED.

Steve says HERE'S ANOTHER
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK...

Another quote from the book appears on screen, under the title "A cautionary tale." The quote reads "There is an argument to be made that the disaster at Halifax –like the accidents that claimed the Titanic and the Empress of Ireland and the deliberate sinking of the Lusitania- was the result of collective bungling, hubris, and the foolishness of men."

Steve says YOU DO SAY IN THE
BOOK THAT THERE IS NO
COINCIDENCE THAT ALL OF THESE
DISASTERS, WHICH WE'RE STILL
TALKING ABOUT 100 YEARS LATER,
ALL HAPPENED WITHIN A FAIRLY
NARROW PERIOD OF TIME, WITHIN
FIVE YEARS.
WHAT'S YOUR THEORY?

The caption changes to "A catastrophic decade."

Ken says SOCIETY WAS STILL WAITING FOR
THE TRANSITION FROM THE
PREINDUSTRIAL ERA, REALLY, TO
THE INDUSTRIAL ERA, WHERE NEW
TECHNOLOGY WAS COMING TO THE
FOREFRONT.
AND IF YOU LOOK AT EXPLOSIVES,
THAT'S JUST ONE AREA WHERE
PEOPLE WERE DOING A LOT OF
THINGS.
THEY HAD INVENTED THESE KILLING
MACHINES THAT THEY WERE USING ON
THE WESTERN FRONT, HIGH
EXPLOSIVES THAT PEOPLE REALLY
DIDN'T UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT OR
EVEN HOW TO HANDLE THESE THINGS.
THERE WAS A PHOTOGRAPH I GOT
FROM THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS IN
THE UNITED STATES OF A PLACE
CALLED THE BLACK TOMS, AND IT'S
IN NEW JERSEY.
THE PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS BARGES AND
THERE ARE WORKMEN STANDING...
THERE'S HEAPING PILES OF SHELLS
AND THEY'RE PASSING THINGS BACK
AND FORTH.
THERE'S ONE THING HANGING OUT OF
A FELLOW'S MOUTH THAT LOOKS LIKE
A CIGARETTE, IT MAY NOT HAVE.
THAT'S SYMPTOMATIC OF THEIR
CAVALIER APPROACH TO HANDLING
EXPLOSIVES.
PEOPLE WERE WARY OF EXPLOSIVES.
BUT AS IN THE CASE OF HALIFAX,
WHEN THE SHIP ARRIVED, NOBODY
REALLY KNEW WHAT THE EFFECT WAS,
IF THEY WOULD HAVE AN EXPLOSION.
THEY THOUGHT THE SHIP WOULD GO
UP AND THAT WOULD BE THE END OF IT.

The caption changes to "Connect with us: @theagenda, TVO.org, Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, Instagram."

Steve says THEY DIDN'T IMAGINE
IT RUINING HALF THE CITY?

Ken says THAT'S RIGHT.
THE TECHNOLOGY HAD REALLY GOTTEN
AHEAD OF PEOPLE'S ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND.

Steve says AND WE'RE STILL
SAYING THAT 100 YEARS LATER TOO.

Ken says WE'RE STILL SAYING THAT.
WE COME UP WITH ALL SORTS OF
INVENTIONS THAT WERE INTENDED
FOR ONE THING AND WE SUDDENLY
FIND OUT THAT THEIR APPLICATIONS
OR END RESULTS AREN'T WHAT WE WANTED.

Steve says KEN, LET'S FINISH UP
ON THIS.
SHELDON, LET'S BRING THE LAST
PICTURE UP, IF WE CAN.
A CENTURY LATER, HOW DO
HALIGONIANS REMEMBER THIS EVENT?

A modern-day black and white picture shows a memorial monument made of concrete and metal, with bells, in the shape of a right triangle.

The caption changes to "Memorializing the victims."

Ken says THE PHOTOGRAPH ON THE SCREEN
IS A MEMORIAL BELL TOWER THAT
WAS ERECTED AT FORT NEEDHAM HILL.
THAT'S THE HILL THAT OVERLOOKS
THE SPOT WHERE THE NARROWS ARE.
THE GOVERNMENT GAVE MONEY, THE
NOVA SCOTIA GOVERNMENT GAVE THE
MONEY FOR THIS IN I THINK 1983,
AND IT WAS COMPLETED IN '85.
THERE ARE 14 BELLS THERE.
THEY TOLL EACH YEAR ON
DECEMBER 6TH, AND THIS YEAR, I
KNOW THERE WILL BE A CEREMONY
THERE ON THE HILL TOP.
MEMBERS, ANCESTORS OF SOME OF
THE FAMILIES WHO WERE
PARTICULARLY HARD-HIT WILL BE
THERE, AND THESE BELLS WILL TOLL
OUT THE SAME CAROLS... NOT
CAROLS, BUT HYMNS.
THEY'RE TOLLING THE SAME HYMNS,
THE BELLS OF THE CHURCHES IN
HALIFAX BACK IN 1917.

Steve says ARE YOU SAYING THERE
WAS NO MONUMENT TO THIS UNTIL
THE 1980s?

Ken says THAT'S RIGHT.
THERE WAS NOTHING.

Steve says THAT'S ASTONISHING.

Ken says YEAH.
AS I SAID, THOUGH, WE'RE
TYPICALLY CANADIAN.
WE KIND OF MOVED ON.
PEOPLE IN HALIFAX REMEMBERED.
THERE WERE SCARS ON THE
LANDSCAPE.
THE HALIFAX RELIEF COMMISSION
REBUILT MUCH OF THE HOUSING IN
THE NORTH END THROUGH A PLANNED
COMMUNITY CALLED THE HYDROSOMME
DISTRICT.
THAT'S ANOTHER CANADIAN ASPECT
TO THE STORY WAS THE PROJECT WAS
NEVER ACTUALLY COMPLETED BECAUSE
THE BRITISH DESIGNER THEY
BROUGHT OVER ENDED UP FIGHTING
WITH THE LOCALS AND THEY NEVER
FOLLOWED THROUGH ON HIS VISION.
SO WHEN THEY PARTED, IT CAME TO
FRUITION.

Steve says WE'RE GLAD YOU TOLD
THE STORY.

Ken says IT WAS MY PLEASURE.

The caption changes to "Producer: Colin Ellis, @ColinEllis81."

Steve says IT'S CALLED "THE
HALIFAX EXPLOSION: CANADA'S
WORST DISASTER:
DECEMBER 6TH, 1917."
A CENTURY LATER, HERE WE ARE.
KEN CUTHBERTSON, THANKS SO MUCH
FOR VISITING US AT TVO TONIGHT.

Ken says THANK YOU, STEVE.

Watch: Canada's Worst Disaster