10 Books About the Halifax Explosion
On November 28, 2018

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, and its effects are not lost on us today, even after all these years


The event has fascinated everyone, from scholars to history buffs. But you don’t have to be historically inclined to be curious about the tragedy or want to learn about the Halifax Explosion and its aftermath. We’ve put together some titles that cover a variety of topics surrounding the explosion, and believe that their stories will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.


1. Explosion in Halifax Harbour, 1917 by Dan Soucoup

This little book is great for a straightforward overview of the facts and figures of the explosion as well as the people involved and the adjoining communities that were affected. It’s a recently released book (last year), and has a small section looking back now that we’re one hundred years later.


2. Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery by Janet Kitz

This has been a longstanding reference work for folks interested in the immediate and long-term aftermath of the explosion. The author remains one of the most knowledgeable people on the event and her multiple books attest to this fact. In the book she goes into a lot of detail of the relief efforts and contributions from countries all around the world. It’s a very complete history with a strong emphasis on the victims as well, providing names and faces along with their testimonies. There’s even a CBC miniseries based on this book produced in 2003.


3. The Town That Died: A Chronicle of the Halifax Explosion by Michael J. Bird

The Town That Died
The tone of this account is that of a definite story, albeit a very moving and heart-wrenching one. It’s also a chronological timeline of the days leading up to and following the explosion, including survivor testimonies. Complete with letters and photographs, it reads more like an engaging novel than a tale of one of Canada’s greatest disasters.


4. Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion by Allison Lawlor (Nominated for the Silver Birch Award)

Of the thousands of stories related to the explosion, this one is about fourteen-year-old Barbara Orr. Walking to a friend’s house at the time of the blast, Barbara survived while the rest of her family did not. The author has done a great job of telling young readers Barbara’s story while explaining the explosion, even highlighting terms for a glossary at the end. We learn about key players in the event too, like Vincent Coleman, Ashpan Annie, and World War I.


5. Too Many to Mourn: One Family’s Tragedy in the Halifax Explosion by James Mahar and Rowena Mahar

Too Many to Mourn
Some tragedies are too enormous to be believed and this is one such case, where forty-six members of a single family (the extended family of James and Elizabeth Jackson) were killed in the explosion. Pieced together with documents, the authors’ narrative reads as one long and unbearably sad account, complete with dialogue. As unbelievable as it is to think of such a number as being gone from one family in the span of only a few minutes, it’s equally as amazing to witness how much their bravery and faith enabled them to carry on.


6. Miracles and Mysteries: The Halifax Explosion December 6, 1917 by Mary Ann Monnon

Miracles and Mysteries
This is the author’s tribute to her father, a man to whom she naturally owes her existence, who miraculously survived the disaster. The first person voice is very informal and personal, with everything from ads to figures to give you a sense of what life in the city was like at that time. Monnon tells her father’s story as well as other survivors in such a way that you feel you are there with them. It adds a unique, timeless feel to the book, especially when combined with pictures and news clippings.


7. A Blinding Light by Julie Lawson (Shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bilson and Victoria Book Awards)

This young adult book is about the close bonds of a sister and brother as they face prejudice over their their German-born father in the midst of World War I. It also focuses on the Halifax Explosion and its aftermath for Livy and her family. There are a lot of unanswered questions and lives (never mind a city) to be rebuilt. The author takes us through this journey, which is both heartbreaking and inspiring.


8. Aftershock: The Halifax Explosion and the Persecution of Pilot Francis Mackey by Janet Maybee (Winner of the Dartmouth Book Award for Non-Fiction and Shortlisted for Margaret and John Savage First Book Award)

The message behind Maybee’s book is that Pilot Mackey was unfairly persecuted in the public eye for the rest of his life following the explosion. This is a fascinating look at a subject not discussed as much as the damage and carnage surrounding that awful day: the pilots behind it. What’s clear is that a hundred years later we’re still left not entirely sure who dealt the final fault though some are convinced it was ultimately one pilot or the other. Nonetheless it’s always interesting to learn new information, to speculate, and decide for ourselves the key to a mystery, even if it’s to one as tragic as this.


9. Survivors: Children of the Halifax Explosion by Janet Kitz

As difficult as the explosion was to bear for its loss of life and destruction, it’s especially horrible to imagine the heartbreak over the amount of children who never got to grow up (as the author says, over five hundred). Kitz profiles the lives of seven children who survived, what became of their families, and what their lives were like at the time of and following the explosion. This book does its best to provide insight into the perception of these children, and to see the tragedy through their eyes. Images and documents of the time complete this picture well.


10. The Blind Mechanic: The Amazing Story of Eric Davidson, Survivor of the 1917 Halifax Explosion by Marilyn Davidson Elliott

Some people overcome adversity in the most incredible ways. The triumph of Eric Davidson, as he worked for decades as a mechanic after being blinded in the Halifax Explosion, is a perfect example of beating the odds. His story is beyond inspiring, and serves as a great reminder to let nothing stop you from following your passions. It’s also a new take on a devastating event of Halifax’s past, and a wonderfully detailed account of one of its survivors.


Blog post by Meaghan Steeves