Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917

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by Sally M. Walker

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On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbour. One ship was loaded top to bottom with munitions and one held relief supplies, both intended for wartorn Europe. The resulting blast flattened two towns, Halifax and Dartmouth, and killed nearly 2,000 people. As if that wasn't devastating enough, a blizzard hit the next day, dumping more than a foot of


On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbour. One ship was loaded top to bottom with munitions and one held relief supplies, both intended for wartorn Europe. The resulting blast flattened two towns, Halifax and Dartmouth, and killed nearly 2,000 people. As if that wasn't devastating enough, a blizzard hit the next day, dumping more than a foot of snow on the area and paralyzing much-needed relief efforts.

Fascinating, edge-of-your-seat storytelling based on original source material conveys this harrowing account of tragedy and recovery.

This thoroughly-researched and documented book can be worked into multiple aspects of the common core curriculum.

Editorial Reviews

Pamela Paul
…riveting nonfiction…Walker [is] a skillful storyteller…
—The New York Times Book Review
Children's Literature - Leigh Geiger
This riveting, true story of a collision of two ships in Halifax Harbour in 1917 will appeal to readers on many levels. First, it is a gripping tale of a collision that resulted in damage not only to the ships, but then to the town as an explosion erupted from the munitions carried on one of the ships, followed by a tsunami, and massive fires and flooding. As the townspeople attempted to recover, a snowstorm and huge drifts further complicated the terrific damage. Secondly, it is a glimpse into the life and culture of the period. We learn about the daily life including the schools, homes, and telegraph station, as well as Canada's efforts to support England in World War I. And finally, we see the disaster unfold from five very personal viewpoints. Walker opens the book with diagrams which introduce us to the members of five local families. We learn about the brave telegraph clerk who stayed behind to warn approaching trains of the disaster. But there is special emphasis on the child's point of view. We follow children of all ages through a perfectly normal morning as they eat breakfast, walk to school or stay home sick, and prepare for the day. We feel the terror and disorientation of the blast, the crumbling buildings, the fires, and the flooding. Yet Walker manages to describe the trapped bodies, severe injuries, and nearly 2,000 deaths without sensationalizing the story. She treats all of her characters, not to mention her readers, with great respect. The narrative continues several months into the future describing the aftermath, with special emphasis on the child's point of view. We learn about the orphanages, lost and misplaced children, and adoptions. But Walker also describes reconstruction of the town's infrastructure in terms young readers will understand. She especially emphasizes how the community pulled together and the role of other countries in supporting their effort. Reviewer: Leigh Geiger, Ph.D
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—This intriguing title tells the story of a little-known event. In late 1917, the French freighter Mont-Blanc was sent to North America to be refitted and loaded with much-needed war material. With its hull packed with TNT, picric acid, and gun cotton, and its deck stacked with barrels of benzene, it made its way along the coast of Nova Scotia to Halifax Harbour before setting sail for Europe. It was there, as it entered Bedford Basin, that the Mont-Blanc encountered the empty Belgian relief ship Imo riding high in the water. Amid a cacophony of ships' whistles, communication became muddled, and the Imo rammed the Mont-Blanc. Sparks soon ignited the leaking benzene. Though the ship began to burn almost immediately, it happened slowly enough that people became aware of it and either started toward the harbor or stood at their windows to watch. Unfortunately, it did explode, creating the largest man-made blast in the world prior to the dropping of the atomic bomb. The impact flattened more than 16 square miles and killed almost 2000 people. The author describes the holocaust and how it changed the lives of five families. The text reads smoothly with unfamiliar words defined in the text. Illustrations consist of two full-page maps and numerous black-and-white photos. The final chapter revisits the featured families and their descendants, thus tying up the loose ends. The acknowledgments, source notes, and bibliography indicate thorough research. This tragic, but well-told story belongs in most collections.—Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS
Kirkus Reviews
A terrible explosion devastated Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a neighboring town in 1917, causing local residents and others miles away to act heroically in response to an unprecedented catastrophe. Thousands of miles from the action of World War I, two ships headed for the conflict collided in Halifax Harbour and precipitated an astonishing disaster. On December 6, 1917, the Mont Blanc and the Imo were slated to deliver supplies to Europe. "In less than five minutes, an explosion--the likes of which the world had never seen before--and a tsunami had destroyed homes, factories, and businesses, wiping them from the land as though they had never existed." Rescue was hampered by a blizzard the next day. Nearly 2,000 people perished in the town that a few years earlier had helped with the remains of Titanic victims. Sibert Award–winning author Walker (Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, 2005) tells this story with detailed immediacy, focusing on five families affected as well as the accident itself. Tension builds as the hours before the explosion are described. The attempts to provide relief as well as to rebuild add another level of interest to the unfolding story. Despite the immense tragedy, the satisfying concluding chapter tells how loss and heroism are remembered by descendants of townspeople and those who helped. Period photographs contribute to the high level of authenticity. Source notes reveal how much came from personal narratives and interview comments of those involved. Riveting. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

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Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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3 MB
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10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Blizzard of Glass

The Halifax Explosion of 1917
By Sally M Walker

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Copyright © 2011 Sally M Walker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780805089455

Blizzard of Glass
1A STORY TO TELLHALIFAX, THE LARGEST CITY OF Nova Scotia, Canada, has a story to tell. Fourteen bells in a memorial tower ring part of the tale. In the city hall clock tower, the locked-in-place hands on the clock that faces north freeze a moment of the story, left as it was on that long-ago day. A museum containing grim reminders and libraries filled with age-old pages share more. The people of Halifax add chapters to the story each time they speak the memories of those who lived--and died--at that time. Old scars are hidden by sturdy stone houses, and tall trees line remade streets. But the roots of the story are still there, and they grow deep.Located on a small peninsula surrounded by salty water, Halifax is rich with history. People have lived in the area for ten thousand years. "Since time out of mind," the settlementsand campsites of the Mi'kmaq, members of Canada's First Nations people, have dotted the landscape. Generation after generation, men and boys hunted in the evergreen forests; they fished in the lakes and flowing rivers. Women and girls built sturdy birch-bark-covered wigwams and gathered plants for food and medicinal use. They stitched clothing and made baskets decorated with elaborate patterns of interwoven porcupine quills. For hundreds of years, the Mi'kmaq found the rocky shore along Halifax's large, hourglass-shaped harbor a perfect place to live.In the early 1600s, French explorers reached the shores of Nova Scotia and called the land Acadia. The Mi'kmaq allowed them to establish settlements where fishers dried theircatches before shipping them to Europe. By the 1620s, Scottish settlers had made their way to the land, calling it Nova Scotia, which means "New Scotland" in Latin. For the next century, Great Britain and France played tug-of-war over Nova Scotia. Great Britain was the eventual victor.In 1749, under the leadership of Edward Cornwallis, ships carrying more than 2,500 British settlers arrived and established a town they named Halifax. It became the capital of Nova Scotia, the leading port city for eastern Canada, and the site of a naval base. The Mi'kmaq, still living on most of their traditional lands, signed peace treaties with the British. In the late 1700s, an earthen fort named Fort Needham was constructed on the top of a 220-foot hill that overlooked the dockyards along the northern end of the city. In 1828, a stone fort called the Citadel was built on an even higher hill nearby. And all around the two hills, people built homes, schools, and businesses. Merchant ships sailed in and out of Halifax Harbour. By the 1860s, trains chugged into the city. Together, the railroad and ships created a transportation network that carried timber and fish and other trade goods to places around the world. And so Halifax grew.By 1914, the population of Halifax had swelled to over 45,000 people. But it wasn't the only thriving town in the area. Across the harbor, more than 6,500 people, including a small settlement of Mi'kmaq, lived in the city of Dartmouth. There, an oil refinery as well as companies that produced goods such as ice skates, rope, beer, and chocolate providedjobs for the area residents. While many of them knew there was political unrest in Europe--there was even talk of a war--it seemed unlikely that it would affect them, being so far away. During the summer of 1914, however, shattering events in Europe began a deathly trail that eventually found its way to Halifax and Dartmouth.As countries in Europe began challenging each other for control of territory, they amassed armies that grew ever larger. Suspicions and mistrust escalated to a fever pitch as countries formed alliances with one another. An alliance is an agreement between different countries that joins them together for a purpose, often to wage war. By joining forces, allied countries also have greater power to withstand an enemy army. In 1914, Great Britain, France, and Russia formed an alliance against Germany, Austria-Hungary (which at that time was one country), and Italy. And then, in June, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the throne ofAustria-Hungary, was assassinated. The assassin was a man from Serbia, a country that was a longtime enemy of Austria-Hungary.Enraged by the killing, the government of Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia. The action was supported by Germany, its ally. Invasions of territory and further declarations of war followed as Austria-Hungary and Germany challenged the allied governments of Great Britain, France, and Russia. By the end of August 1914, Europe had plunged into the four-year maelstrom of death and destruction that became known as World War I. Since it was then a colony of Great Britain, Canada entered the war at this time, too.Because of its thriving port and deep harbor, Halifax became a major "jumping-off" point for ships carrying troops and supplies from North America to war-torn countries across the Atlantic. Three years later, it became even busier after the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, and entered into the alliance that included Great Britain. By the first week in December 1917, Halifax was bursting at the seams. Ships of all sizes, many of them from the United States, floated in Halifax Harbour. More than five thousand Canadian soldiers, some of whom brought their families with them, flooded the city. The housing crunch was incredible: Rooming houses, apartments, and private homes were packed, perhaps no area more so than the Richmond neighborhood, at the north end of Halifax.Richmond, built around the steep flanks of FortNeedham, was a bustling place. Yet even though thousands of people lived there, the neighborhood still held reminders of country life. In many backyards, hens clucked in chicken coops. Pigs snuffled inside sheds. Cows chewed their cud in backyard barns. And certain businessmen, such as milkmen or wagoners, owned horses to pull their vehicles. Many of the dwellings were single-family homes. There were also row houses--homes connected to one another--with several apartments in each. Most of the dwellings were made of wood. Only some of them had electricity. Many had indoor bathrooms that included a toilet, but some did not.An electric tram trundled on a track on Barrington Street, which ran north and south along the waterfront.Horse-drawn wagons rumbled over dirt and cobblestone streets. Automobiles and trucks were becoming more frequent, but most families in Richmond did not own a car--they simply could not afford it. Although concrete sidewalks were on a few streets near businesses, they were a rarity elsewhere in the north end of Halifax.Richmond was largely a working-class neighborhood. The dockyard, shipping companies, and railroad employed thousands of people. Several factories produced goods such as cotton fabrics, flour, newspapers, beer, and metalwork, all of which provided steady work for the city's residents.Many men were employed at the Acadia Sugar Refinery. Among other businesses, the shops in Richmond included groceries, pharmacies, furniture and shoe stores, and at least one laundry. At that time, most married women worked in their homes, caring for their children and keeping house--a full-time job with few, if any, of today's labor-saving devices. And of course Richmond's children went to school.The war in Europe cast a pall on the autumn season. The newspapers carried stories of battles and listed names of the dead on a daily basis. Many families had a father or a son who was fighting overseas. Wounded soldiers in the military hospitals were a constant reminder of the dangers their loved ones faced. Even so, as December arrived, many people in Halifax and Dartmouth looked toward the holiday season with hope and excitement, thinking about the good times in store for them and what gifts they planned to make and give. Probably none of them knew about two ships named Imo and Mont-Blanc, each one making its way across the Atlantic Ocean. And if they had, they probably wouldn't have given them a second thought; ships were commonplace in Halifax Harbour. No one had the slightest inkling that these two ships would create the most terrible chapter in the two cities' story--one that would change lives forever.Copyright © 2011 by Sally M. Walker


Excerpted from Blizzard of Glass by Sally M Walker Copyright © 2011 by Sally M Walker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Sally Walker is the author of Written in Bone, Fossil Fish Found Alive, and Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, which was awarded a Sibert Medal. She lives in Illinois.

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Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its harrowing, horrifying, exciting, sorrowful, unexplainably amazing. It left me in silent tears.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a really good non fiction book about a terrible ship explosion that took place in halifax harbor. This is not a biography or autobiography. It is really 160 pages long but my nook shows it as 96 pages. Anyway, awesome read especially for book reports. YOU MUST READ IT!!!!!!!!! :) <3
VincentCCheng More than 1 year ago
It's a great book, it really explains what happened on December 6th, the book is a non-fiction book where 2 boats collided in the Halifax Harbor, where the first man-made explosion that destroyed cities, and buildings took place. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago