Book Review - Curse of The Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917 by Laura M. Mac Donald
I'm always amazed when I run across a major event or disaster that I've never heard about before. That happened last year when I was on a cruise that had a stop in Halifax. It was there that I learned about the 1917 Halifax explosion that nearly leveled the town. To get more information (and based on the recommendation of a friend), I went to the library and picked up Curse of The Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917 by Laura M. Mac Donald. It's not an easy read due to the overwhelming amount of information, but it definitely gives you the complete story behind an explosion that wasn't surpassed until the first atomic bomb was dropped in the 1940s.
A bit of history... The port of Halifax was a critical Canadian port both for commerce and the war effort. It was always crowded with ships getting ready to make the journey to Europe. On December 6th, 1917, a collision occurred between the Imo and the Mont Blanc in an area of the harbor known as The Narrows. A collision between two ships would normally be something that would be cleared away and promptly forgotten. Unfortunately, this was not normal. The Mont Blanc was packed with high explosives, and the contents ignited once the ship grounded itself on the waterfront. The ship was vaporized, the blast leveled the buildings in the town, and the tsumani created by the explosion flooded another portion of the town. The death and devastation was incredible, but it wasn't over. That night, a blizzard hit the area, cutting off Halifax from the outside world. The few messages that made it out started a relief effort that went as far south as Boston. To this day, there are ceremonies that commemorate the bond between Boston and Halifax that was forged during that disaster.
Mac Donald has written a book that could be considered the definitive resource on the Halifax disaster. She records an incredible level of detail for what happened pre- and post-explosion. In addition to the facts, she also adds analysis for what decisions and actions contributed to the catastrophic result. While the level of detail is invaluable for fully understanding what actually happened, it tends to make the book harder to read as a flowing story. After the explosion occurs, much of the narrative moves around to the various aid stations and hospitals. Much like the doctors and nurses, it's hard not to become somewhat numb to the level of injuries and death that was faced in the first week after the explosion. As such, a bit of scanning starts to happen after a while. It's not the fault of the writer, necessarily. It's more just the overwhelming tragedy of the destruction...
If you have any interest in the Halifax disaster, this is the book that you need to read. I don't think it's a "can't put it down" type of read, but you'll know everything you need to know about the event when you're done.
Obtained From: Library