This website is a complete book and will load slower for dial-up users.
Please be patient for pictures.

This website is dedicated to the brave and dutiful Ontarian,
Patrolman Henry Raymond Craig
Henry's family sent me his picture when they discovered this website.

"Mr. Thompson probably owes his life to the fact that he ran to the south
gate to give the alarm when the first outbreak of fire was noticed.
He said that while he rushed to the gate, Craig ran down the jetty towards the fire."
Henry was/is remembered fondly by his large family as a very loving young man.
He grew up on a farm in Aberfeldy, Ontario and was one of twelve children.
Click here to read about Henry on
And here is a newspaper clipping and memorial with his picture at
Veterans Affairs Canada

Awards to the Royal Canadian Navy
CRAIG, Henry Raymond, Patrolman (Posthumous) (V-63822) - Mention in Despatches -
RCNVR - Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 5 January 1946. Home: Harrow, Ontario.
CRAIG. Henry Raymond, V-63822, Patrol, RCNVR, MID~[5.1.46]
"For outstanding valour in the face of fire during the Magazine explosion at Halifax in July, 1945. this rating was on duty at the south jetty when the first explosion occurred. He turned in the necessary alarm and then attempted to proceed to the scene to help extinguish the fire. He was killed by the ensuing explosion before he could reach the scene. His bravery and resource were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Canadian Naval Service."

Also remembered is B. J. Pothier who was lost at sea in 1947
dumping explosion ammunition, a practice we have long come to regret.

Note from the Publisher:
This website book is based on a previous website I published years ago about a
letter written right after the explosion by a man named Cyril in Halifax to his mother in Cape Breton.
The newspaper article on this other webpage is about this author and the compiling of this book.
You can read the previous website by clicking this link.

The Other Halifax Explosion July 18-20, 1945
A Letter from Cyril

For Nova Scotians and those who know not the details of this event, prepare yourself for the riveting tales of your local history and the absolutely fantastic stories of civil service and duty by great men, women, neighbouring towns and much more that transpired 68 years ago, before, during and after...
The Other Halifax Explosion!


To H. Millard Wright
For "researching and compiling"
"He retired in 1992 and began writing as a hobby."

Bedford Magazine
July 18-20, 1945

The chapters are all linked for jumping down and book marking.
Be sure to scroll through, as all the many pictures are not linked.

Chapter l, Pre-Explosion
Chapter 2, July 18, Explosion and Evacuation
Emergency Services
Chapter 3, July 19, Explosions Continue
Chapter 4, July 20, Returning Home, Recollections
Chapter 5, Outside Help, Correspondence
Chapter 6, Aftermath
Chapter 7, The Inquiry
Chapter 8, The Minister’s Press Release
Chapter 9, The Story From Inside
Chapter l0, Epilogue
Special Acknowledgements
Resources & The Author
Back Cover with Mushroom Cloud


Although World War II continued in the Pacific, the war in Europe ended in May, 1945. The Port of Halifax and Bedford Basin had hosted transport ships, tankers, warships of all types, and merchant marine cargo vessels, all supplying materials and personnel for the war effort. They gathered here from all along the eastern seaboard of the United States, as well as from other Canadian ports.

There was always the fear in this seaport community of a repetition of the huge explosion of the 1917 ammunition ship collision, when, on December 6, the Mont Blanc steamed up from the harbour mouth where she had anchored overnight. Her cargo consisted of TNT, tons of picric acid, and a deck load of benzol drums. About the same time, the Norwegian steamer Imo chartered for Belgian relief purposes, came out of Bedford Basin. At the Narrows, the two collided. The result was the largest man-made explosion prior to Hiroshima, with over 1,600 deaths recorded and the destruction of thousands of homes.

Between this Halifax and the summer of 1945 there had been several close calls, largely unknown to Haligonians. The V-E (Victory in Europe) Day riots had caused strife between the service personnel and citizens, but the City was working hard to put that in the past.

Trouble came at supper hour on July 18, 1945, toward the close of what had been a hot summer’s day. An ignition of a high powered explosive on a jetty at the Bedford Magazine set off a series of fires, followed quickly by a big bang. The ground shook for miles around, and the jetty and the barge tied alongside disappeared. A high mushroom like cloud rose above the Magazine that could be seen from distances well beyond the populated areas surrounding Bedford Basin.

Minor explosions continued throughout the night, until approximately 4:00 am on July 19, when a huge blast shattered windows, shook foundations, blew off roofs, and rattled walls of major buildings throughout the area. The danger passed, but not before thousands of refugees evacuated to the parks, protected streets, gardens, and villages surrounding Halifax and Dartmouth. With limited roadways leading from Halifax, particularly to the South Shore, traffic was slow and tiring. Rescue and support systems were organized to give whatever aid might be required, and to dispense sandwiches and coffee. Children, adults, and seniors suffered not only physical hardships but mental anguish and fear of what might yet come.

Fortunately only one patrolman was killed, but it was service personnel who bravely, and without regard to their own safety, battled the flames at the Magazine. They saved Halifax from an explosion with the potential to wipe the city and its surrounding neighbours off the face of the earth.

This book attempts to describe the events as they occurred and the resulting investigations into the cause of the disaster. It draws on written documentation, personal interviews, and archival research.

Chapter 1, Pre-explosion Conditions

In The Story of Firefighting in Canada, Donal Baird wrote about conditions in Halifax. The war in Europe had ended in May, 1945 and the City was overcrowded and strained by its job as the key western terminus of the Battle of the Atlantic convoy line. Long in fear of a repetition of the colossal explosion of 1917, and with a couple of close calls, the citizens and the Navy could now relax a little. The V-E Day riots had caused bad feelings between the City and the Navy, but it was now a time for return to normalcy. Troopships were bringing the forces home, and naval vessels were coming home to be removed from service.

Before the many naval vessels could be decommissioned, the key job was to de-ammunition them. This should have been a slow process, as safety rules allowed only one at a time to unload its lethal cargo on the jetty at the large ammunition storage Magazine at Burnside, above Dartmouth on Bedford Basin. However it was politically important to speed the servicemen home as quickly as possible, and the regulations with respect to the handling of ammunition were bent despite protests. In an inordinate rush, three vessels’ stocks of ammo were on the jetties at a time. The large, carefully designed magazines in the rocky hillside on the wooded far side of the Basin were very safe when the rules were observed.

The possibility of another explosion preyed on the minds of Haligonians. ln the Halifax Mail Star, May 5, 1987, Alex Nickerson wrote that prior to the explosion at the Bedford Magazine, a cargo ship, the Trongate, was sunk by the Navy in Halifax Harbour in April 1942. The 7,000 ton vessel had been loaded with drums of highly inflammable toluene, and a quantity of ammunition. It had been waiting in the Harbour to sail in a convoy bound for England when fire broke out. In the forts, the gunners were hoping they might be told to sink the blazing ship, but the more knowledgeable among them knew that large calibre shells fired across the water could ricochet and cause great damage and loss of life on the Dartmouth side of the Harbour.

The Navy, when called in, fired round after round of solid shot from guns of the minesweeper Chedabucto into the Trongate below the water line. She went down without exploding between the Department of Transport wharf and the Sugar Refinery.

Although today the Canadian Ammunition Depot is perhaps an obscure complex to most Haligonians, during the Second World War the arsenal on Bedford Basin’s northeast shore presented a constant threat to the City. As a repository for ammunition, depth charges, TNT (tri-nitro toluene) waiting to be shipped to the front, it reminded residents of the 1917 explosion. Not surprisingly, on July 18, 1945, everyone assumed the worst.

Thomas Raddall in Warden of the North wrote, "After six years of war, (on VE Day) Halifax was sacked by an unruly mob of its own defenders and the dregs of its own population." Raddall went on to philosophize that for complete irony all that remained was to blow up the City with its own Magazine. The Navy had been busy calling in ships and men from the Atlantic reaches, and preparing to switch its efforts to the Pacific.

In Newfoundland, the St. John’s magazine had been closed and its entire stocks sent to the Bedford Magazine. Many ships had dumped off their stores and the magazines were filled up. Still the ships came and the depth charges, shells, torpedoes, pyrotechnics, and other lethal ammunition began to pile up in the open, even on the jetties. There was great pressure on the Magazine personnel to get the ships unloaded and away, so the rules were broken. For two months Canadian naval craft of all sorts had passed up the harbour and put ashore their ammunition.

By July 18 the Bedford Basin Magazine held an inordinate quantity of shells, bombs, mines, torpedoes, depth charges, and other powerful materials. Much of the ammunition was stowed away in the carefully designed and segregated buildings, but of necessity a good deal had been stacked outdoors for lack of storage space, and these dumps extended close to the jetty on the Bedford Basin.

Gilbert Tucker wrote in The Naval Service of Canada, "Throughout the war the magazines at Halifax handled a tremendous quantity of ammunition and underwater explosive missiles for many types of warships, as well as supplies for defensively-armed merchant vessels. Located in Bedford Basin, the magazines had been built in 1927 for the joint use of the army, navy, and air force. Even before the war they had proved inadequate for the needs of the RCN, and $130,000, a substantial amount in those days, had been voted in the estimates for 1939 for their enlargement. Nothing was accomplished before September however, and during the early days of war, improvised shelter and open storage had to be used."

As early 1940 the Naval Service had considered the provision of an inland reserve magazine accessible by rail to all east-coast bases in order to remove concentration of explosives at points vulnerable to air attack. A suitable location was chosen at Renous, in north-eastern New Brunswick, but because of the pressure of other commitments on labor and materials, construction was not undertaken. By the summer of 1943, over $1,300,000 had been spent on the development of the Bedford Magazine, which by this time was used exclusively by the RCN (Royal Canadian Navy).

Despite this relief the Halifax magazines continued to be so overtaxed that it was not possible to comply with all safety regulations. This was particularly true following the cessation of hostilities with Germany, when numerous ships were being de-ammunitioned.

For another assessment of conditions, the Halifax Chronicle carried an eye-witness account of the ammunition which had been placed on the south jetty shortly before 5:15 pm, about one hour and 20 minutes before the explosion: A frigate was berthed alongside the jetty and much of the ammunition piled there apparently came from this ship. On the south side of the jetty, stacked six feet high, were four and four-point-seven inch shells, cordite charges, fixed ammunition, and about 400 "Hedgehogs" and some small arms ammunition.

On the front of the jetty facing Halifax were approximately 80 depth charges. Facing north were six-foot piles of small arms ammunition, "Oerlikon" (medium calibre anti-aircraft projectiles) shells and a considerable number of hedgehogs. Along the north jetty were three loading barges and three lighters. Contents of one barge and one lighter were said to be depth charges, but the contents of the other four were not known. On the jetty was a hut said to be stacked to the roof with small arms ammunition, Oerlikon shells and hedgehogs. This was the situation prior to the initial explosion. Halifax and its environs were sitting on a powder keg.


Chapter 2, July 18 The Explosion and Evacuation

Trouble intensified by about 6:30 on the evening of Wednesday, July 18, 1945.

Thomas Raddall, in Warden of the North wrote, "The  summer had been very hot and on that day the heat was stifling. At the end of a sweltering afternoon, as the city was sitting down to the evening meal, an ammunition barge suddenly blew up at the magazine jetty. The blast shook the  whole metropolitan area and shattered windows in  Rockingham, Fairview, and the north end of the city. The  report and the characteristic smoke cloud, a toadstool growing swiftly in the northern sky, were like those of December 1917 when the munitions ship blew up in Halifax Harbour and wrecked such devastation and loss of life. This explosion seemed to come from the same spot. There followed an uneasy silence, but the exposed dumps had caught fire, and soon there began incessant rumbling and concussion which went on for more than twenty-four hours."

Raddall continued, "It was magnificent as the sun went down in a fine red blaze that lit the whole of the west, and as the huge cloud of dust and burning explosives arose and diffused over Bedford Basin, it produced a tint that would have done justice to an artist’s imagination. When the last daylight faded, the burning magazine produced its own display, a vast golden glow across the north, with crimson under lights, with sudden blue-white flashes, and with fountains of rockets and  star shells and flares." 

One third to one half of the ammunition dump was in ruins following the explosion. This would cover an area of approximately 400 acres and comprised for the most part the older section of the huge dump.

The newer magazines, most of which had been built since I939, were flooded by volunteer fire parties to avert the possibility of further explosions. These newer magazines were located in the area to the northeast. The blaze had started in the southwest corner and was gradually forcing its way to the new section when it was finally checked.

Magazine superintendent Tom Underhill much later (circa l990-2000) studied the explosion. He believed it was sparked by a stove left burning in a barge. When the explosion went off at about 6:30 pm daytime workers had already gone home for the night, Underhill concluded that the ammunition on the jetty exploded, setting off other stacks of ammunition. The first explosion killed a night guard, and at about 7:40 pm, just an hour after the original outbreak, there occurred a second explosion almost equal in intensity. After that there was a continuous roll of exploding ammunition of all kinds. The larger blasts could be anticipated. At the flash of an explosion, "at the end of l0 seconds we would get the report, blast and rattle." Finally at about 10:00 pm there was one major crack that really shook the solid steel and concrete federal building, at least three miles as the crow flies from the Magazine. The 30 foot square tower actually rocked back and
forth several times on its foundations.

Fairly heavy explosions occurred regularly until almost midnight when a very heavy detonation took place. Cartridges, the majority of which were four-inch, exploded intermittently well into the next day. The blast blew out windows in Africville, a community on the west shore of the Basin.

Again, in The Story of Firefighting in Canada, Donal Baird  related personal aspects of the explosion. He writes that Captain Robertson, commander of the Naval Dockyard, was at dinner with his wife at the Nova Scotian Hotel. He heard  the boom, and dashed to the top floor of the hotel, and looking north, had his worst fears confirmed.

As soon as the explosion took place, naval firefighters, the only people who knew the layout, went to work trying to control the fires that were spreading in the dry grass and bush near the open piles of ammunition. In no time, the nearby barracks burned down and other buildings were blown flat. The water main had been knocked out and its supply tank wrecked. Captain Robertson arrived at the Magazine and had, just moved from behind a reinforced concrete building when  it blew up, and he was thrown into a pond.

Naval firefighters under Robertson’s command kept working, to isolate the fires, in spite of the danger of flying bullets and explosions that continued throughout the night. Occasionally men were hit by shrapnel. A brush fire had been set at the railway siding some distance away, where several boxcars of explosives were set on fire and a tough battle for control was fought. Using portable pumps and drafting water from ponds, Robertson’s men achieved victory after several hectic days. Their wounds had been patched right on the spot by a courageous nurse.

ln An East Coast Part ... Halifax at War 1939-1945, Graham Metson quoted from the report of H.B. Jefferson, stored in the Provincial Archives of Nova Scotia. At the time, he was, by chance, looking through his binoculars and "right in front of my eyes fireworks began to shoot into the air. They went up fast and not very high in a sort of a sheaf of wheat formation, for all the world like regulation fireworks. This suddenly mushroomed into a ball of reddish flame, and a huge ball of black smoke soared into the air above it, followed by the hot wind of a concussion. Lesser explosions followed the main crash, accompanied by dense clouds of yellow smoke, and occasionally the acrid smell of burning cordite could be whiffed."

Almost before the first blast had died away, two large merchantmen that had been in the Basin could be seen weighing anchor and coming through the Narrows. Destroyers, submarines, frigates, corvettes, minesweepers, and scores of smaller craft straggled out to the naval anchorages east of George’s Island. Vessels under repair at the Shipyards also were towed or pushed into the outer harbour.

At the Union Coal Company, W.F.G. Fields, proprietor, was working on his books when the building was shaken by the explosion. After the first excitement had passed, he discovered the pen with which he had been working was not to be found. Mr. Shield’s office escaped damage probably due to the fact that the front door was open, also a window at the rear, providing an escape as well as an entrance for the implosion.

Action of a group of soldiers in averting a possible panic on an Halifax-Dartmouth ferry when the first explosion came was being praised by men and women passengers. Concussion of the ripping blast lurched the ferry dangerously, and the majority of the passengers feared the ferry itself had exploded. Witnesses said some passengers were scrambling towards the rails with the intention of jumping into the harbour waters when the soldiers stepped in. Ordering the fear stricken passengers to stay where they were, the Army men explained that the blast was not on the ferry, but at the munitions dump, and there was no cause for immediate concern.

George Roscoe, who operated a canteen from his home about 300 yards from the fire, was standing in the doorway of his canteen with his wife nearby when the explosion occurred. He is quoted in Harry Chapman’s In the Wake of the Alderney. "I was thrown to the ground," he told a newspaper reporter. "Our home and the canteen were completely wrecked. I got up and went out to help my wife to her feet. We started to make a survey of what had happened when smoke and flames surrounded us, forcing us to retreat." Roscoe, who was slightly injured, managed to remove himself and his wife from danger.

J. L. Smith, whose home was near Roscoe’s, also had a close brush with death when his dwelling was destroyed by the explosion. "l was first attracted to the disaster by what seemed like guns going off followed by bright lights and rockets shooting high into the air. I realized the danger at once because of my close contact with the unloading of the ammunition from the corvette onto the jetty." Smith was uninjured and remained in the area until he was forced to leave by a military patrol.

Several women from Grace United Church were a few hundred yards from the explosion as guests at the summer home of Dr. T. Courtney Browne and his wife. No one was injured. Eight people from the area however, were immediately taken for medical attention to a re-enforcement camp set up in Bedford. Three of the men treated were later taken to the Cogswell Street Military Hospital.

Within an hour of the first explosion, the navy had placed the entire area from Ochterloney Street north to Bedford out of bounds. The Town’s civil emergency association established emergency centers at Dartmouth High School, town hall, Somme Hall, the fire station, and Notting Park School. All available firefighters, permanent and volunteer, were sent to the Magazine to help. Then all available police officers were turned out along with the military to assist the sick and infirm and to establish order throughout the Town.

Fire raged, and reports that the largest munitions stock lay in its path turned the Halifax Commons into a tent city, the Armouries into a shelter for thousands, and Dartmouth into a ghost town. Service personnel were on full alert. Ships were removed from the harbour, civilians evacuated from areas adjacent to the munitions depot and hospitals prepared for casualties.

Mr. Jefferson recalled that during the night, three more huge blasts shook the Halifax-Dartmouth area, the loudest and most disturbing at 3:55 am when fire reached one of the small arsenals. "I remember seeing the blazing red sky and hearing neighbours say, ‘the power has gone off.’ Within ten minutes, as we hugged the ground, another explosion punctured the dawn and most people feared imminent disaster."

"Rumors, including one report by a naval officer that ‘no one in the immediate area of the blast could have survived,' terrified the citizens. Relatives called from ‘upper Canada’ to check on families. I recall one relative asking if it were true that ‘l,200 people are injured.' In Montreal, a hospital train outfitted with nurses and doctors waited for the signal to proceed."

"Because adults and media reports compared the 1917 and 1945 blasts with phrases such as, ‘reminiscent of l9l7,’ and 'the experience of First Great War still a hideous memory,’ young people assumed that disaster was inevitable. As rumblings continued, "I expected to see dead people strewn along Barrington Street or floating in Halifax Harbour."

When the first blast from the Canadian Navy’s Ammunition Depot rocked Halifax on that Wednesday evening, July 18, 1945, CBC’ers (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation staffers) were at the studios, on outside duty across the city, or at home. When they found out what had happened and what was likely to happen, everyone who could struck out for the Sackville Street studios.

As the evening wore on, and the situation grew worse, preparations were made to keep the local transmitter, CBH, on the air all night. Regional representative, George Young, kept in touch with the local authorities by telephone and made  arrangements for special committees on the explosions for the national hookup. News editor, Jim Kinloch organized a double night shift in the newsroom to take care of the news reports and official bulletins and warnings from emergency  headquarters, and the program engineering departments portioned out the night’s duties to announcers and operators.

The news bulletins were handled very carefully. The full significance of the situation was not minimized, but great care was taken not to give cause for panic. During Wednesday night and Thursday morning nearly one hundred items of one kind or another were aired.

On July l9, the Halifax Mail reported on the events of the day before. "Amid the calm and peace of a beautiful summer evening an explosion from the Bedford Magazine came like a giant thunderclap. From 6:30 pm onward, all through the night, it kept on like a continuous roll of drum-fire. It was a reproduction in flashes and flames and thunderous detonations through a pall of fire and smoke, which all soldiers experienced from mass guns firing along a battle-front. What began on the shores of Halifax Harbour did not end with the first terrific blast. It went on and on without a break, a continuous succession of detonations, punctuated frequently by roaring blasts of greater volume, vivid sheets of flame, Iurid and awesome. And the inferno raged on all through the night."

Zen Graves was working at the Magazine Hill ammunition depot in the summer of 1945 when it caught fire. Shells flared skyward, leaving arching trails of smoke as they exploded in the woods or the waters of Bedford Basin. "There were these explosions going on all around, and you had to keep diving in the ditch."

Bill McCall, a retired Mail-Star editor who was an army captain at the time, remembered, "I went up to the Magazine and when I got there I realized that terrible things were happening; everything was a shambles. Everything was exploding from inside the magazine. I didn’t know what was happening; shells were coming and going like rockets."

The heavily bunkered design of the depot ensured that all of the ammunition could not explode at once, but fed by dry shrubs and bushes, the flames quickly spread and storage facilities were destroyed. Only a l4-hour vigilance by military and volunteer forces, and a lot of luck, prevented a major disaster.

Fortunately the fire never reached the main magazine housed at the bunker where 50,000 depth charges were stored. "I don’t know just what to think of the dire predictions about what would have happened had the fire hit the main magazines. Some of the experts claim everything would have been levelled right down to Point Pleasant Park," Mr. Jefferson wrote.

Remarkably there were many less casualties than had been feared. Henry Craig, of Windsor, Ontario, a naval seaman on watch that night, was the lone casualty. He was believed to have been standing on the jetty when the first blast occurred. One of the few persons on the scene of the first explosion was Ted Thompson, a student at Pine Hill Divinity College, who was working at the magazine as an assistant timekeeper. Mr. Thompson probably owes his life to the fact that he ran to the south gate to give the alarm when the first outbreak of fire was noticed. He said that while he rushed to the gate, Craig ran down the jetty toward the fire.

The roll of injured was reduced to five, none of these seriously hurt, all members of the Veteran’s Guard. Civilians seemed to have escaped altogether in spite of the fact that in the areas nearest the magazine, both in Dartmouth and Halifax, houses were tossed and twisted, roofs crumpled, windows broken, sashes cracked and doors caved in around them.

Naval firefighters, under the guidance of the ammunition foreman, the only people who knew the layout, went to work to try to control the fires that were spreading in the dry grass and brush near the open piles of ammunition. The nearby barracks burned down; other buildings were blown flat. Keeping clear of the shells and casings they worked on the blazes constantly being set by flying ammunition, risking their lives every minute.

Among several big explosions, the largest came at 4:00 am, Thursday, July 19, when a concentration of over 360 depth charges and bombs went up, leaving a huge crater. The shock wave crossed the broad expanse of Bedford Basin to ricochet through the streets of downtown Halifax, breaking windows alternatively from side to side. The booming, banging, and whizzing went on for several days, but the worst was over.

Major city damage had been confined to broken windows, dishes and mirrors, and doors that had been blown out by the blasts. Surprisingly, looting was minimal, even though thousands had vacated their homes and places of work.

Halifax churches were damaged and among them was the Zion AME Church on Gottingen Street. Ten windows were blown out and much of the plaster destroyed. The 105-year old edifice had only recently been renovated.

Extensive damage was caused to Saint Joseph’s Church on Russell Street. The incident was not new to Saint Joseph’s, which had been completely levelled in the disaster of 1917, and up to 1945, had never been rebuilt beyond the basement. At Mount Saint Vincent College, which faced Bedford Basin, the large glass dome of the chapel was demolished.


H.B. Jefferson learned that orders had been given to evacuate the whole North End as far down as North Street, opposite the Dockyard. All Dartmouth residents, 10,000 or more, were being withdrawn to A-25 Artillery Camp beyond the Eastern Passage airport.

Patrols enforced the ban, and also kept watch for looting. With the first blast, glass started shattering, the business, community of downtown Dartmouth being especially hard hit. Many businesses in Halifax and Dartmouth remained closed during the day, and ferry crews, which had been working all night, kept one ferry going.

During the early evening of July 18, Citadel Hill was black with people afraid to stay within flying glass range of buildings. City parks were crowded with people from the North End and elsewhere. The Commons was packed with cars filled with people ordered from their homes during the emergency. People wrapped themselves in blankets and spent the night out in the open. Emergency shelters were set up in both Halifax and Dartmouth. In the latter, naval authorities declared "out of bounds" all North Dartmouth from Commercial and Ochterloney Streets intersection to Bedford through Tufts Cove and Burnside. Some 2,000 people from the area were moved to the army artillery training center at Eastern Passage.

Just before midnight, WRENS (Women’s Royal Naval Corps Personnel) were evacuated from HMCS Stadacona and Peregrine, and hundreds of them bedded down in Point Pleasant Park, navy trucks bringing down their cots and bedding. Later they were transferred to the Gorsebrook barracks.

Police co-operated in the evacuation Wednesday night when they issued certificates authorizing service station operators to provide gas long after hours, filling the tanks of cars parked with women and children eagerly hoping to be taken from the danger zone.

At 9:00 pm July 18, Naval headquarters broadcast a warning that all people living between North Street and Bedford Basin should evacuate their homes at once. Later the warning was extended to all living north of Quinpool Road, more than half the City.

Some of the refugees went towards the south end of the City where the woods of Point Pleasant Park offered space and shelter, but most headed out of the peninsula altogether. Here rose a problem envisioned during the war. The Halifax isthmus was a perfect bottle-neck. Only two roads led out of it, and the main one ran along the Bedford Basin shore, fully exposed to the blasts from the burning Magazine. The whole evacuation had to be made by the single road past the head of the Northwest Arm. Soon a solid mass of vehicles, ten miles long, crawled slowly to the west.

Some of the cars and trucks carried mattresses, and even a few chairs lashed to the top or rear of the cars. There were baskets of food, blankets, and luggage of all sorts crammed with family valuables. Along the roadside trudged a multitude on foot, many pushing perambulators, pulling hand carts, carrying babies, or leading little troops of wondering children.

There was no panic. The faces were serious, the voices low. In the crowd there were many soldiers wearing the stripes of long service, and now leading their families away from a scene such as they had often witnessed across the sea.

But thousands still remained in the North End, refusing to abandon their homes. These threw open windows and doors to save them from air blast, and went outside, sitting on pavements, in back yards and gardens, to watch the fireworks. From time to time a major explosion sent a huge yellow flame upwards, and all threw themselves flat, counting the seconds aloud and waiting for the blast.

Newspaper pictures showed a variety of Halifax shots. Swinging in a hammock slung between two trees in Grafton Park, a three-month old baby caught some sleep while the rest of the family lay on the grass. There was little sleep for a  group at the Public Baths on Horseshoe Island. Clutching bedclothes and personal effects, refugees from the Explosion walked along Quinpool Road, and home was anywhere you could make it, some taking refuge on the back of a truck. There were coffee and refreshments at Francklyn Park supplied by the Red Cross. At the Navy League Recreation Center, over 1,000 sought refuge on the spacious grounds. Staff members led in the singing of hymns and songs. Volunteers donated blood at the Cogswell Street Military Hospital in the event of heavy casualties.

Naval and army vehicles helped evacuate people in the Bedford area. The RCAF sent a convoy of trucks from the A23 Training Center at Eastern Passage to help evacuate people from Dartmouth. In addition, hundreds of people drove or walked to Waverly or Eastern Passage.

The Halifax Herald was quoted in the Senior’s Advocate, June 1986, "Every house for miles around the Magazine area was ordered to be evacuated as military and civilian police took action to avert a greater disaster should the larger ammunition dumps blow up."

Bedford immediately became the scene of the greatest military activity ever witnessed in that area. Sunnyside, the popular dine and dance centre, was taken over by the Army. ln nearby Tuft’s Cove, windows and doors crashed in after the First explosion and people streamed from their homes to get what protection they could find close to the ground. Within a few minutes orders came from police and naval headquarters closing the area to all who approached it.

Later those orders were extended and applied to all Dartmouth from which poured practically every resident as places of business and houses alike were evacuated.

The same situation was developing in Halifax, where wild rumors spread, fortunately without causing panic. Whole families by the thousands rushed to the Commons, Public Gardens, Point Pleasant Park and the Dingle. Their numbers were exceeded possibly only by the throng which filled the Shore Road toward the Head of Saint Margaret’s Bay. All movement out of the City toward Bedford was stopped early in the evening, and residents surrounding the Basin were ordered from their homes.

Police told a Mr. Barnes, his wife and their three children, to stay in a nearby field, away from the dangers of a collapsing home. Mr. Barnes said his family was sitting under a large tree, "when all of a sudden a big piece of iron took a branch off over my head and I said, ‘the hell with the bloody police. I ain’t staying here’. He ran with his family to safety further south. "I carried my daughter. She weighed about ten or fifteen pounds when I started and by the time I got to Preston Street I thought she weighed a ton." The Barnes family ran to a relative’s house. There was no room for them, so they were taken in by a neighbour and waited out the night.

By 9:00 pm, July 18, a large convoy of army trucks left A-23 Training Centre for north Dartmouth. There more than 2,000 residents were loaded on board and taken to the military base in Eastern Passage. The entire facility, including the hospital and medical staff, was put at the disposal of the evacuees. Several people arrived in a state of shock, and some had to be treated for minor injuries. As many as 10,000 people were evacuated from Dartmouth and the surrounding area that night.

Anne Rockwell Fairley recalls: "Citizens were advised to spend the night outside. Haligonians carried chairs, tables, afghans, blankets and pillows to their lawns and driveways. Many prepared to sleep in the middle of the street. Everyone  tried to place himself as far away as possible from windows and doors. Neighbors chatted, tea was made, and many of us played kick the can. Thousands climbed Citadel Hill and thousands more relaxed on the grass in the Public Gardens."

Dartmouth was hard hit by the blasts. The Town suffered immense property damage and hundreds of casualties. Evacuation of practically the entire civilian population from the Town, Tufts Cove, Albro Lake and adjoining areas was carried out. Hundreds of members of the armed forces, the entire personnel of Dartmouth Civil Emergency Association, town and auxiliary firemen and countless others worked heroically to relieve the suffering and distress for well over ten hours. In fact, the majority of them remained on duty at the town hall, or in patrolling the streets, operating the bus fleet, motor trucks and cars, until long after the break of dawn.

Pitiful scenes were enacted following the first terrific blast, as all the families from the stricken area and beyond it started to leave their homes, mothers carrying infants, when other transportation was not available. Following the first blast, scores of motor cars sped to the Naval Magazine arriving before time permitted for any organization to function. Wild confusion reigned for a time until the Mounties, Shore Patrol, and other members of the armed services, along with the Dartmouth police, newly organized service police, ARP (Air Raid Protection) workers, with the generous co-operation of hundreds of private citizens, got in complete control.

Five kilometres away in downtown Halifax, thousands of people, forced from their homes either by a military evacuation order, or scorching heat, began to gather on Citadel Hill to watch the spectacle. In the meantime thousands were being evacuated from the communities that ring Halifax Harbour and Bedford Basin. Most spent the night variously out-of-doors in the open, in fields, on the Commons, at Point Pleasant Park, in the Public Gardens, on Citadel Hill, at Woodside, and in many other locations away from the blasts.

Peter Richards described the situation in Dartmouth. "In the midst of the confusion, I managed to hitch a ride in the back of a half-ton truck which was heading out of the immediate danger area. As we drove slowly along, I noticed my friend walking along the side of the road, so got the driver to stop I and pick him up. We were left off at my parents camp, whereupon I quickly checked to make sure all were safe. Then I ran down the hill and found our neighbour’s cottage abandoned. I eventually made my way to the SF (Semper, Fideles) grounds and was vastly relieved to find my sister and her son along with a number of other cottagers. The SF grounds were not in direct line with the magazine and was away from falling objects and unstable structures. Bullets  were still firing and the popping continued unchecked. At this point, we had no means of transportation out of the area, nor any idea of the dangers that faced us."

"While we were at the SF grounds, we witnessed extremes of human reaction, from the selfish to the selfless. One car with the back seat unoccupied drove by without a glance to those needing transportation. Then another car came into the field and picked up some of the most needy, while shortly thereafter a half-ton truck came along and gathered up the remaining cottagers, and we headed off toward Dartmouth. The road was crowded with pedestrians and vehicles, all heading away from the magazine as fast as conditions would permit. As we drove through Tufts Cove, I caught a glimpse of our dog, Bingo, running along the side of the road. The driver stopped, I got out, scooped Bingo up in my arms and jumped back on the truck. The poor thing was absolutely terrified and was shaking uncontrollably. For the rest of his life, whenever there was a thunder storm, Bingo would hide under a bed until the storm subsided."

"My sister and I eventually made our way home in Halifax, only to find our parents had gone to Dartmouth looking for us. When told the entire area had been evacuated, and no one was allowed to enter, causing my parents a few anxious moments, but when they returned to the house, they were overjoyed to find us there safe and sound, and by and large unharmed. By then, the authorities were encouraging all residents to evacuate the city, since no one knew how far the fire would spread. They did know that certain of the ammunition bunkers were in immediate danger and could cause an explosion which would dwarf that which occurred earlier in the evening. My father decided to accept the advice and we headed for Herring Cove."

Stationed at Sandwich Point, Wedgepoint native Israel Pothier was used to dealing with explosives. In the summer of I945, Captain Pothier recalls hearing a "large crack" that people thought were depth charges going over in the harbour. When word came in, he and other military personnel found themselves conducting an evacuation of Dartmouth.

“We were moving everyone down towards Eastern Passage. The only ones who would not leave were a group of women from St. John’s Ambulance who said they had to stay in case they were needed," said Captain Pothier.

"We had just about everyone evacuated when the second blast came. I was standing downtown, near the ferry terminal, when I saw a flash towards the Bedford Magazine. I got down flat in the middle of the street and when the blast came, the stores shook and the trees almost bent down to the streets."

Traffic and communications were severely disrupted by the explosions. After arrival of the Maritime Express at 7:30 pm, all incoming trains were held at Windsor Junction and there; was no information when they would be permitted to proceed toward the City. Outgoing trains likewise were cancelled and the DAR (Dominion Atlantic Railway) train scheduled to leave for the Valley at 8:30 pm was kept at the depot.

Traffic on the Bedford Road was banned to all except official vehicles. The usually well-travelled highway was dark excepting for the occasional stabbing of the blackness by the headlights of speeding ambulances conveyed by motorcycle escorts. The still of the night along this picturesque highway was punctuated only by the continuing explosions and the wail of sirens.

North End train service was discontinued early in the evening, although Belt Line and Armdale cars were kept in operation until the usual hour. Taxi pool switchboards reported a deluge of calls from persons desiring to leave the City. They reported that the 20 cars operating had succeeded in handling every  emergency call originating north of North Street, the area ordered cleared by authorities. The pool reported that more than 200 calls had been serviced, the cars filled to capacity, transporting more than a thousand persons to destinations along the St. Margaret’s Bay Road.

While telegraph and telephone companies reported no line disturbances, they were unable to handle the rush of business. Long distance telephone officials reported the deluge of calls from people wanting to advise friends and relatives of their safety exceeded the rush of V-E Day.

On orders from authorities, the Canadian National Telegraph Company evacuated all employees from its operating positions in the upper floors of the building at George and Barrington Streets. The operators took up positions on lower floors.

Little food reached the weary evacuees who were moved out of Halifax and Dartmouth along country roads the night of the great explosions. They scrambled for food at cross-roads stores and stripped farmhouses and cottages of what they contained. Some of the evacuees were not only weary but hungry as well, as they made their way back to their homes Thursday afternoon. In the long procession every sort of vehicle had been seen, including horsemen and horsewomen with blanket rolls and other supplies tied about them. This was one of the strange features when the sky was lit up by the fitful flashes from the Magazine; a dozen or so horses trying to make their way through the jumble of traffic headed for St. Margaret’s Bay.

Without fuss or excitement, the Control Centre had been speedily manned by key personnel and the work began to run with rapid, smooth, coordination. Consultation with Naval authorities on the danger of further explosions enabled the organization to decide on the areas to be evacuated. Citizens were directed out of the danger areas, traffic diverted, and evacuation supervised. Temporary air raid shelters were arranged for those who could not be moved. The Control center kept messengers and firewatchers posted, and citizens responded "splendidly."

Emergency Services

The Red Cross had been given permission by military authorities to use the Armouries as shelter for Halifax citizens. It provided blankets, as did the Civilian Defence Committee, and arranged for the distribution of food for groups of citizens in various parts of the City.

At the time of the explosions Mayor Alan Butler was out of town, so the civic end of the business was being handled by Deputy Mayor Sham. When the question arose of sandwiches and coffee for the people on the Commons, Sham ruled: "Go ahead and dish them out. We can let the council and the government worry about who’s going to pay for them."

Between 1,500 and 2,000 residents of North Dartmouth and the Tufts Cove area had been given shelter at A-23 Artillery Training Center and the RCA (Royal Canadian Army) Base at Eastern Passage. Dartmouth residents were also sheltered at the Somme Hall and Greenville High School, and Clarence Park Recreational Hall in Eastern Passage.

ARP and First Aid workers were called out immediately after the first blast. The Brandram-Henderson plant, Richmond School and Alexander MacKay School were used as clearing points. After the order for people to evacuate the North End, a first aid post and blanket depot were established in the Armouries. There 3,700 blankets were distributed, while 200 were sent to persons who had sought refuge at the Dingle and 500 to Francklyn and Point Pleasant Parks.

Stretcher bearers and women members of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade were among those who remained on duty for 20 hours. The Red Cross opened soup kitchens and used mobile canteens to feed thousands. Ambulances were kept in readiness and workers helped locate lost children and quiet any signs of panic among the fearful crowds. When the evacuation to the south end began, First Aid posts were moved to Point Pleasant Park and Gorsebrook.

Lorna Innes wrote about the explosion in the Halifax Nova Scotia, Saturday, July 13, 1985: "At the Naval Armament Depot, three miles from the Magazine, Leading WREN Ruth Kidd, and WREN Marjorie Kwalheim manned their switchboards in turns throughout the night. They wore in helmets, ‘awkward things to work with when you have headphones on.’ After the heaviest explosion at about 4:00am had put the lights out, the girls worked by flashlight, putting calls through from crouched positions on the floor. Plaster covered the switchboard like snow. At the Dockyard, another WREN manned a switchboard while shattered window glass fell around her."

Families provided with accommodation at the RCAF A23. Artillery Training Centre, including the Military Hospital, and the Halifax County Hospital, following their evacuation, speak highly of the treatment received.

Everything possible was done for their care and comfort, declared all who were interviewed after their return to their homes. "We could not have received better attention, care and treatment, if we had been paid guests," they said. "The personnel of the staff at all these places were most kind and generous to us." Mothers with infants and older children expressed themselves as most grateful for the attention given and the generous meals served at regular hours.

The infirm, sick, and those suffering from shock were all placed in the Military Hospital at A23, Eastern Passage, by special arrangements made by Colonel Meighen. The Colonel came to Dartmouth and supervised the transfer of large numbers to the hospital, refusing not a single case even when he knew the facilities would be overcrowded. Every inch of hospital space was pressed into service. Many of the guests required special care and attention. One confinement case was handled. As the hospital was not specifically equipped to care for such large numbers of nursing cases, an emergency call for feeding bottles and nipples at 2:00 am on Thursday morning July 19, brought a ready response from the Dartmouth druggists. One guest, speaking on behalf of a large group said: "We cannot express in words the kindness extended to us, the care and attention we received, and we are most grateful."

More than 2,000 people, mostly women and children, were given food and shelter in the Navy League establishments in the City of Halifax throughout the night of July 18. The following day more than 15,000 meals were served to those who were unable to find accommodation inside. Volunteer workers laboured throughout the night to provide hot coffee, sandwiches, soothe and wash frightened children, and help prevent the spread of panic which would have been disastrous in the crowded quarters.

At the Merchant Seaman’s Club one aged lady, accompanied by her 80 year old husband brought her own stool to sit on. After a glass of hot milk she went to bed and slept peacefully all night. One woman reached the club with six children, complaining bitterly that her husband was in jail for six months and they wouldn’t let him out to give her a hand. Around midnight several women on the street outside went into hysterics and had to be brought in and calmed. Across the street a premature baby was born.

The Halifax Mail, July 20, reported that the Letitia, acclaimed to be the world’s most modern hospital ship, was being readied for emergencies and that it had been turned over for use in the explosion-stricken Halifax area. The ship had been berthed at Pier 20, five miles from the scene of the blasts after arriving on July 16 with more than 700 servicemen on board returning from Europe.

Services of the mercy ship’s staff and the facilities of her medical equipment were offered soon after the first detonations rocked the harbour. Fifty-eight patients were transferred by ambulance from the Halifax Military Hospital to the Letitia. Five were members of the Veteran’s Guard of Canada, who were injured while on duty at the Joint Services magazine when the original explosion occurred at approximately 6:30 pm on Wednesday July 18. None of their conditions was considered to be serious. The other 53 patients recently returned from fighting in Europe. No returned veterans remained in the hospital. Reasons for the move were to allow greater room in the hospital for handling explosion casualties. The hospital itself was believed not be in any danger.

Emergency services were made quickly available to the thousands affected by the Bedford Magazine explosions. It is apparent that although the war was over, facilities and organizations were fortunately still in a state of preparedness.

Chapter 3, July 19 Explosions Continue

Huge quantities of ammunition were embarked in ships alongside docks in Halifax, because it was the only Canadian high explosives export centre and the single depot for stocks going to Britain during the war, and later to the Continent. Thousands of Halifax citizens were aware of this. They did not know from night to night, how soon or how late a great catastrophe might occur. The danger was continuous and there was no averting it, but the City, as a national port, took this in stride. There was no complaining nor any demand that the movements of explosives be handled at some other, isolated and less congested port. lt was looked upon as part of the war effort, and that Halifax, as a naval and export base, must make its contribution.

At about 3:30 am on July 19 there was a major explosion which knocked out nearly all the plate glass on Barrington Street. Those who saw it said that the preliminary flash lit up the whole countryside as bright as day. The big Acadia Sugar plant in Dartmouth had been stuffed full of munitions during the greater part of the war. It was the possibility this might "go up" that led to the early evacuation of Dartmouth. This was unlikely because the plant was about four miles from the Magazine. The only real chance of an explosion there would be as a result of the Magazine fire from a heavy concussion, or by being hit by a stray shell.

In The Warden of the North, Thomas Raddall wrote about the events that frightened all of the citizens of the extended Halifax area. "The worst explosions came in quick succession about 4:00 am in the morning of the l9th, rocking buildings, shattering glass, and tumbling plaster and crockery. The design of the Magazine prevented the whole thing from going up at once, but there was a particular store of high level explosives which could level the whole north end of the city, and naval headquarters continued to warn the remaining population of a terrific blast yet to come. Still the stoics remained. The telephone, broadcasting, and power house staffs stayed at their posts. Household radios, turned on full, blared through the open windows of a succession of bulletins and warnings mingled with strains of music. This was the strangest part of a weird night for those still crouched or lying on the ground."

The explosion was heard 219 miles away in Yarmouth County. Those calling claimed they heard the noise or experienced the accompanying concussions of sound from the time of the first blast which shook the Halifax area. Many within the town limits of Yarmouth itself heard echoes of violent explosions from late evening, near midnight, at four in the morning, and later around 6:30 am. The times coincided with the actual blasts in every detail. It was also Iearned in Halifax that cloud reflection caused by the fire and explosions could be seen quite clearly on the highway between Truro and New Glasgow, and even as far away as Antigonish.

Later in the afternoon on Thursday, July 19, the danger of new and greater explosions at the Magazine had decreased materially, and restrictions were relaxed. Rear Admiral G. C. Jones made the announcement on his return from a personal inspection trip to the flaming munitions storehouse. This was reported in the Halifax Mail, which went on to relate that the Firefighters were believed to have the fire under control. They had been assisted by the City’s fireboat Rouille which was pumping water to the buildings along the waterfront at the  Magazine, where huge stocks of high explosives had been letting loose for 18 hours with only minor let-ups.

On his return from the inspection, Admiral Jones issued the following statement: "Following an aerial survey of the Bedford Magazine area early this morning, a rough examination has been made. Naval fire and patrol parties are controlling the area. It is still dangerous and must be avoided, except by those on official business. Rail and bus traffic on the Halifax side has been resumed."

Said one observer, "Admiral Jones went right into it at the height of the morning explosions. Of course he went down in the mud every time we did; with the stuff that was flying around. He’s got guts all right ..."

Compounding the problems, hundreds of tons of unexploded shells, parachute flares, and ammunition for anti-aircraft guns were thrown into the ground over a wide area. They were down from five to thirty feet, and no one knew then how to move them. Traffic in the area was halted until the roads were hand-swept for explosives. The explosions had damaged water mains, adding to the problems of the firefighters.

Although the Navy had cautioned that the fires were very difficult to control, miraculously by sundown of the following day only minor bush fires continued to burn. With risk of more explosions pronounced "small and remote," people began to return to their homes. But even with assurances from Mayor A.M. Butler, many remained unconvinced and families camped for one more night. Haligonians finally discovered that rumors of dead, dying, and injured had been grossly exaggerated.

On Thursday morning, over 75% of the shops, stores and restaurants located in the main business section of Barrington Street were either closed or expecting to close before noon according to a survey made earlier in the morning. Reasons given for the closings were mostly lack of staff. Other reasons however, were broken glass, staff needing rest, and because the "other fellow" is closing. Practically no restaurants in the main downtown district were open by 10:00 am, and it was difficult to get a cup of coffee.

All naval and merchant ships containing explosives were removed from the danger zone around Bedford Basin to places of safety at the south part of the Harbour. Corvettes, destroyers, and other naval craft occupied berths at the mouth of North West Arm, and behind George’s Island. They remained there until the danger of further explosions was over.

Most merchant shipping agents had reported they did not consider it necessary to move ships which not containing explosives. The fire ship James Battle was standing by at the Halifax Shipyards along with the smaller Rouille. Cunard White Star reported that the troop ship Ile de France had left port earlier in the morning after being cleared the day before.

The stories told by Halifax residents are many. It was not only those who were in the direct path of the explosion who suffered injury. One man, eager to gain a better view of the blast, leaned out of his fourth storey window just as another explosion occurred and down came the window with the gentleman’s neck still under it. A Halifax woman was discouraged from standing in open doorways, when pausing in the front door of her home, another explosion slammed her door shut, and propelled her down the hall. Another woman was distraught at the loss of her heirloom china, while her neighbor’s only casualty was a dozen eggs.

Efforts to revert to normal conditions were readily marked with surprising results. Weary and fatigued workers pushed ahead to re-establish home life which had been disturbed with dramatic suddenness from the disaster. Lack of rest and food did not deter them from carrying out their work of community service until long after the regular hours of a working day. The morning and part of the afternoon of July 19 marked the slack period in comparison to what followed from the hours of 4 pm to l0 pm. lt was during these hours that the heaviest part of the important and pressing demands were handled with success and dispatch. lt was during this period that things just had to be done. And they were done.

Reports of families stranded overnight in the woods, while deadly blasts rocked the countryside were investigated first thing Thursday morning. Investigation unfortunately proved them to be true. One case involved the parents and their five children, ranging in age from one to fifteen years. The eldest child of this family was a girl of fifteen. They belonged to the Tuft’s Cove district. All during Wednesday night and Thursday morning they feared every moment they would be hurled to their deaths from the flying of metal or suffer concussion from the blasts. The plight of the parents and their family was pitiful and everything was done for them once they were located. Walter Meridith heard of an ARP group in North Dartmouth that was the first to discover the case and, with assistance, had the family removed to comfortable quarters.

Three women and two men paralysed with fright, were found in the cellar of what was left of their home, one and a half miles from the centre of the danger zone. When the evacuation of all families in the area was ordered late Wednesday, these distressed people just could not muster sufficient courage to leave what they felt was their only means of protection from the great danger which surrounded them. So they remained hidden in the cellar of their home, surrounded by trees and brush.

Excellent news pictures which showed some of the devastation in the initial explosion at the magazine, were taken by the well-known Dartmouth photographer, Allen Benjamin. As the explosions occurred, Benjamin proceeded to the danger area and succeeded in getting graphic pictures of the scenes of destruction.

Newspapers reported on several "human interest" episodes. A west-end home, abandoned when windows started to fall in on the occupants, was invaded by looters, who were foiled in their attempts by a l7 year-old boy brandishing a revolver. Unnoticed by the looters, the barrel had been removed from the revolver.

Add one female deer to the known casualties of the explosion. Fleeing in long-legged bounds from the flames and rumbling blasts, which muttered angrily from the Bedford Basin yesterday, the doe swam the harbour waters, and entered the Halifax Shipyards. Here it suffered a broken back when it attempted to jump a ten-foot fence near the railway tracks in the yards. Yard workers including Ben Shaw, No. 1 Staff louse, saw the deer kicking in agony, and mercifully ended its suffering.

A Buffalo, New York woman, Mrs. Charles McKenzie, visiting Halifax, and feared to be injured in the blast, had been blinded in the Great Halifax Explosion of 1917. Her husband appealed to the rationing board in his city for gas to drive to Halifax, but his request was denied. She was visiting her father here, but his address could not be confirmed, and police said they had not been contacted on the matter. Local telegraph offices said it was possible she received the telegram from her husband and attempted to reply, but due to the thousands being sent out at that time, it was possible her reply was delayed.

Peter Hayes, in the Daily News reported on the "Other Explosion." The northern portion of Halifax presented a forlorn sight the following day (July 19). Very few windows were left, shingles were tom off roofs and houses, and things were generally in a state of confusion. Some people returned to their homes to find plaster hanging, wallpaper ripped from the ceilings, brickwork shattered, and houses looking as though a cyclone had struck."

Buildings, wharves, and sheds had disappeared. There was nothing to be seen but shreds of charred timbers, gaping craters, and bare earth. It was the older section of the property which had suffered the most damage. There the magazines had been separated by only earthen walls, instead of the concrete blast blocks used in the adjoining more modem erections. Two wooden piers and probably a dozen small, scattered ammunition dumps, none more than one storey high, had disappeared.

Until records were searched, it was impossible to estimate the quantity of ammunition destroyed, or the value of the wrecked property. The other two-thirds of the area, containing the main magazines while suffering some blast damage, was chiefly intact.

In spite of the devastation and confusion, some interesting events continued without significant interruption, including a wedding at St. Mathew’s United Church Thursday evening. During one of the heavy explosions early on the morning of the l9th, a piece of glass from the bell tower window severed a coupling pipe in the bellows, but the couple, not to be outdone, went on with their wedding without music. Flying Officer Robert Woolsey, was united in marriage with WREN Helen Rose.

Among the heroes of the night were firefighters from the National Harbours Board’s fire patrol. Chief James M. Coady, describing the work of the crews of the two fireboats, James Battle and Rouille said, "All on board proceeded to the scene at great personal risk. I feel very proud to be privileged to command a crew of men who showed so much devotion to duty and who went into that inferno. I am thankful to Almighty God that they came out again ...... "

The Battle, commanded by Captain Howard Verge with fire crew commanded by Captain John Zong, and the Rouille controlled by the Halifax Fire Department and commanded by Captain George Scott, braved falling shells to work as close to the Magazine as possible and put out a number of fires raging along the beach area. The next day, the Rouille cruised along the shore of Bedford Basin, pouring water on fires and extinguishing them. When civilians were allowed to return to their homes later in the day, the move was made possible "because scores of men had run the gravest risks to make the community safe."

Captain Robinson, with other naval officers and men, stayed on the scene throughout the night, in and out of the Magazine zone, "trying to get a picture of what was going on, hopping from jeep to ditch when discretion demanded it." Captain Robertson spoke later of the courage of firefighters: naval, civilian, and volunteers. Of one group he observed, "They took pumps to the top of a hill. Down there were a lot of four-inch shells; they were popping off and going into the hill and over the heads of the firemen who were trying to save a big magazine building loaded with explosives."

The firefighters were standing on top of what turned out to be a pile of depth charges, 400-500 in all. None exploded. "Then," added Captain Robertson, "when that building went, we decided to get out. There was no point staying." They withdrew to a safer place known as Father Martin’ s Hill. They had a chart of the magazine buildings and their contents and used this to follow the progress of the fire. Thirty-five of the Magazine’s buildings were destroyed. "Finally," said Capt. Robertson, “when a 14-inch shell landed alongside us, we got away from there."

The explosions had damaged water mains, adding to the problems of firefighters. William Sawler, civilian foreman of works, raced to the Magazine from Sunnyside. "When the pumping station power went off, he stuck to the job with a gasoline driven pump sending water down through to the navy’s firefighters in the heart of the conflagration. Duncan Lynch was with him and when fuel gave out, he set out afoot for Sunnyside to get more. The authorities would not let him return and no one could venture in to tell Sawler, who worked until the pump stopped of its own accord. Then he came out, not knowing that for hours the mains had been broken and the 500-gallon machines had been driven back long before. The firefighters had to be ordered out before they would leave."

Chapter 4, July 20 Returning Home, Recollections

As Raddall wrote, behind the announcements that the danger had largely passed, "There was an epic of heroism and endurance on the part of the men who for twenty-four hours had been struggling to get the Magazine fires under control. Chiefly the credit was due to naval volunteers who dragged fire-fighting equipment to the very edge of the inferno and remained there throwing themselves to earth for the greater explosions and working tenaciously at the blaze in the intervals, in a rain of stones, broken brick, unexploded shells, and whizzing fragments. As if the dangers were not enough, the parched woods and brush all about the Magazine caught fire and burned for two days."

Interestingly enough the results of the explosions were mixed. In the quarters of the Magazine staff, many window panes were left intact, yet the heavy ironstone masonry of All Saints Cathedral in the City’s south end, five miles away, was rocked and severely cracked. A lighthouse keeper seventy miles away along the coast reported a strange low rush of air about 4:00 am on the 19th, "as if a cat had brushed against my legs."

At 6:30 pm on Thursday, July 19, on the advice of Naval Authorities, Mayor Butler said that all might return with safety to their own quarters. That finished the exodus, though many lingered through the evening, finishing up what had been to the children a great picnic day.

Not so for many of the elders. There was actual suffering. Added to their anxiety over what was to happen if the reputed 50,000 depth charges in the main Magazine went up, was the fatigue of the long treks on foot through the City and along country roads. They spent the night without sleep and the day was hot and humid. But the good humour of the crowd on both sides of the Harbour continued, and there was general appreciation of the work of the volunteers in manning food dispensing stations where thousands upon thousands of sandwiches and cups of coffee were served.

The Mayor felt that there was always an element of danger in the handling of explosives and this would continue. Amplifying this, a naval authority said that one further explosion of a minor nature was possible, but only remotely possible.

As the body of Henry R. Craig, patrolman, the lone casualty was brought to the City from the Magazine, life went back to normal in Halifax. Offices opened, factories resumed operations, services were restored, and thousands of families picked up where they left off at 6:35 pm in the evening of July 18, many of them well fed for the first time in a 24 hour period.

Business blocks were boarded up. Cleaners had carted away the bulk of the broken glass which had strewn the pavements in Halifax and Dartmouth. What the cost of the blast would amount to had not yet been estimated, but so far as windows were concerned, more seemed to have been knocked out than during the V-E Day riots.

The question of reparation was on the minds of citizens. The mayor reported that on commercial establishments, payment would be depend on whether or not insurance policies had been taken out by the owners. Civic property was covered and would call for substantial payments for schools, as well as churches, which seem to have been the main sufferers.

One example of "making do" was at the City Market. There the windows were badly smashed and countrymen and dealers were forced to vend their wares in the open. Before 7:30 am on July 20, the crowds of buyers had begun to assemble, grabbing what they could from partially filled benches. However, grocery stores reopened, and general food supplies were back to normal. Milk deliveries which had been called off, were undertaken again, and dairies reported adequate supplies. The same was true of the bakers.

About half the City went without mail, although because most businesses were closed, and many people away from their homes, the inconvenience was not significant. Post Office officials said that only half the regular work force of letter carriers showed up for work on Friday morning, July 20.

Although train traffic into and out of the City was suspended during the series of shattering blasts, little congestion resulted. There was not much freight moving at the time, and when the "all clear" was given, traffic was moved with dispatch. The incoming train, the Ocean Limited, which had been held at Elmsdale Wednesday night, was finally given permission to enter the City.

Theatres which had advised their audiences to leave after the first blast on Wednesday, the l8th, remained closed until Friday the 20th.

Major O. R. Crowell, Director of Civil Defence, paid tribute to co-operation and calmness shown by Halifax citizens to the work of the Halifax Civil Emergency Corps, and members of the armed forces. "After four years of intensive training and just when the 6,000 workers were beginning to wonder whether their services would be needed in a major emergency, the Halifax Civil Emergency Corps had an opportunity to prove its worth."

All through the night of July 18 and early morning of July 19, police patrolled the streets, directed traffic, prevented looting, and performed other duties as required at the moment. Auxiliary fire groups assembled at their group headquarters. First aid stations and registration centers were established near the assembly centers and their locations announced by radio and sound trucks. Temporary shelters were selected and information on their locations transmitted to the public.

The Armouries became a source of food, milk, and blankets for the tired mothers and children who were spending the night on the Commons. St. John Ambulance women in uniform moved around the crowds, looking after their comforts, soothing frightened children, diverting panic, and treating hysteria and shock. At the same time, First Aid men with the assistance of wardens looked after the male population in a similar manner, even when all the lights went out. The Red Cross on short notice served about 25,000 lunches on Thursday and Friday. The cooperation of dairies, bakeries, and other food merchants in supplying quantities of food was essential to the comfort and hunger of the evacuees.

The clergy were quickly on the spot. The senior Protestant Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel. H. F. Cox, was one of the first to arrive. Army officials who accompanied the Padre said he refused to return to a safer area at Bedford and was responsible for rescuing an injured Naval rating.

Two Roman Catholic priests were also at the scene. Father John L. Quinan, Pastor of Saint Thomas Aquinas Church, had stationed himself as close as military officials would allow him, while Father J .J . Lanigan, Pastor of Saint Ignatius Church, Bedford, was pictured at the entrance gate to the Magazine.

Halifax citizens whose explosion fears were lessened by the cheerful glow of street lamps, owed gratitude to the employees of the Nova Scotia Light and Power Company who stuck to their posts throughout the long hours of the various blasts. Street lamps were more important than house illumination. Mr. Jack Smeltzer of Dartmouth, operator of the Tufts Cove substation, located dangerously near the burning ammunition depot, stayed at his station despite the advice of authorities.


Everyone who was in Halifax at the time had a different perspective of events, particularly as to what each was doing, and what each saw and heard. Among the civilians who arrived on the scene shortly after the first explosion, and who stayed until the next day, was A. Allen Benjamin, a Dartmouth photographer, who said later, " Fires were burning on the jetty and at the Magazine when I arrived. The first place I stopped was John Sawler's, a quarter of a mile from the explosion. The interior of his home was a shambles. The whole front was blown in and the veranda was torn off. I saw women and children under a shed in the yard .... only their heads were showing."

Benjamin went on, "At the main entrance to the Magazine were navy men placing injured in cars and getting extinguishers. A hill rises between the north and the south gates of the Magazine, which apparently acted as a buffer, as the the northern section was not damaged. The woods in the rear were catching fire, and the Dartmouth ARP sprayed water on them. Explosions occurred all the time I was there."

Malachi Jones (now Judge Jones) recalls that it was a very warm evening on the night of July 18, 1945. At about 5:30 pm he decided to go for a swim in Bedford Basin near his home at Bathing House Field. He found the water cold, in spite of the day’s heat, so he was just wading when the first of the explosions started, minor at first but then quickly followed by a large one. He immediately headed for home, up the hill over the railway tracks, and then across the Bedford Highway. When he walked up to the Bedford Highway from the beach, he found cars, jammed bumper to bumper but busses rushing by, leaving people stranded at scheduled stops.

When Jones arrived home, he found the house shaking as it might have during an earthquake, although there were no windows broken then and the family had felt no concussion. However, he could see debris falling into Bedford Basin, and the fireworks from the explosion. He quickly changed his clothes, grabbed a blanket, and climbed the hill behind their house into the woods. He thinks it was the Quarry Road where he found some shelter and protection.

Later in the evening Jones climbed aboard a military truck which was gathering up evacuees, after telling all to leave the area immediately. He spent the night on the Commons, near Cunard and Robie Streets. He could hear the sound of crashing glass from stores on Robie Street, and at times the whole Commons was lit up from the exploding ammunition. This kept up all during the night, and in the morning portable toilets and tents were set up to service the thousands of people who were stranded on the Commons.

In spite of orders, some "old timers" living in shacks in the woods took it all very calmly They sat on their porches, rocking back and forth, smoking their pipes, refusing to leave.

David Jones was 17 years old at the time of the explosion, living with his family in Rockingham. He had made arrangements the night before to meet a friend, Norm Wright, at Carroll's Store and Canteen. They intended to catch a bus and go into Halifax to see a movie. As they waited in front of the store for the 7:40 pm bus they heard a thump, thump sound, and ran up the hill to see if they could see better just what was happening. When they realized it was the Magazine on fire they ran back to the canteen, and got under a booth, because from the time they were children, they had heard from their elders that if the Magazine blew up, it would destroy Halifax.

The first big explosion rattled the building and they peered out to see a huge mushroom-like cloud rising over the Magazine. The bus came along, but didn’t stop, so David walked home, only to find all the doors locked, and no one about. For the next several hours he walked westerly along a series of roads and power lines, meeting people who were seeking shelter among the trees and rocks above the Bedford Highway. Some were terrified, others viewed the spectacle calmly, including two "old timers" who were sitting on a board nailed to two trees, and who told him they had no intention of going anywhere.

David eventually returned to his home, got some blankets and a flashlight, and got on the back of a truck carrying evacuees, on which he rode as far as the Kearney Lake Road. He walked to Hammonds Plains from there, and spent the night watching the fireworks. At 4:00 am there was a huge explosion that left the sky blood red, lighting up the area for miles around. One person in the group had a portable radio, so they listened to status reports.

One little episode was rather interesting. As they were riding a truck on one occasion, they caught up with two youths who were followed by two bear cubs. Apparently the boys thought they were just large dogs, but the men who were aboard realized the mother bear could be nearby, so chased the cubs away. The explosion was affecting more than humans!

By mid-morning David returned to his home and found that it had suffered substantial damage, with broken windows, ceiling plaster cracked and fallen to the floors in a number of rooms. It was truly a "Night of Terror" with a lot of destruction to homes and other buildings for miles around the blast site.

A relative of Mrs. David (Marie) Jones, Evelyn Martin, was at the theater in the Magazine grounds. After she and some friends had watched a movie for fifteen or twenty minutes the explosions started, so they immediately got out of the building and headed to the Dartmouth-Bedford highway. There they were picked up by an uncle of one of her friends and taken to Lake Major. They stayed up all night watching the fireworks as was so typical of all the people in the area. The following day they went on to Musquodoboit Harbour where they spent the next few days.

On the evening of July 18, 1945 Rube Hornstein, Officer in Charge of the Eastern Air Command Weather Office was heading for a Halifax and District baseball game at the Wanderer’s Grounds. He recalled it was a beautiful warm evening after a hot day, and he was looking forward to a good game, because the H & D League was semi-professional, and the baseball was of high quality. Shortly into the game, Hornstein heard the loud bang of the first explosion, and then he could see the pillar of smoke. From then on, Ace Foley’s official announcement of the game was frequently interrupted as he broadcast orders for service personnel to report for duty.

Coincidently another game was being played at the same time. It was called in the fifth inning. The Intermediate Baseball game had the Shipyards ahead of the Armament Depot by 3 to l. Gradually fans began to drift away, and when the second blast came, umpire Jack Shipley called the game.

There were rumors of sabotage ..... Germans had landed .... and other extreme guesses as to what was happening. As the stands emptied, the H&D game was called off, and Hornstein began to walk home. At the time, he was living at the comer of Robie and Morris Streets, diagonally opposite the fire hall. He could see people with blankets making a spot for themselves on the grass in the median between the north and south running streets. His own home was undamaged, so after getting the real story of the blasts, he went to bed. About 3:00 am, another big blast awoke him He thought he smelled gas, which was then in general use for cook stoves, including his own. Hornstein ran across the street to the fire station, and a fireman came back with him to check the source of the odour.

It turned out that the blast had snuffed out the pilot light on his stove, and gas was flowing out into the house. The problem was soon corrected, but if he hadn’t awakened, the consequences might well have been serious.

On the technical side, Hornstein saved a barograph tracing of the night’s activities, which showed a sharp dip down and then an equally sharp wave up at the times of the major explosions.

Mrs. Peter (Patsy) MacNeil was at the same ball game. She and a friend made their way to Citadel Hill, curled up in the grass, and watched the activities going on across the Basin. Later in the evening, they went to a friend’s house on Queen Street, and spent the rest of the night under their dining room table.

Don Tremaine was a teenager, living in Rockingham in July, 1945. His home was just across Bedford Basin from the Magazine. His mother was at a church supper, so he and his sister were in the process of making sandwiches for themselves when they heard a peculiar popping sound. Tremaine went up stairs to. see if he could see what was happening, when there was a huge bang, and the window blew in on him. He was not hurt, but not unexpectedly, a little excited, and when his mother arrived home, having seen the mushroom cloud of smoke, he was relieved to have her there with them. For a while they all sat out on the lawn to watch the "fireworks", but then realizing the potential danger, headed for the hill behind their house where they found a sheltered spot in the woods. From the hill they could still see the explosion site, and watched with awe as the tracers flew overhead.

Later in the evening came the command from a bull horn, "Anyone in the woods will have to be evacuated." About midnight the Tremaines boarded an open truck and were taken to the Halifax Commons where thousands of evacuees had already assembled. No one was sleeping, and there was much speculation as to what might happen. There was another large blast, and to make matters worse, it started to sprinkle rain, so as many as possible squeezed into the Armories. There they lined up for doughnuts and drinks, but about 4:00 am there was another huge blast, and the lights went out. An hysterical woman started to scream, so a number of attendees quickly took her in hand, and eventually got her calmed down. The main concern was that it might precipitate a panic, which of course could have been extremely serious.

Close to dawn, Tremaine and his mother and sister started walking down Quinpool Road. All around them they could hear and see glass storefronts and house windows come crashing down. It was still a very scary sight. They went to the home of an aunt and uncle on Churchill Drive where they had breakfast. About noon on July 19 after it seemed safe, Tremaines grandfather arrived to take them home in his car. There they found nine broken windows, the front door blown in, and plaster down in the ceiling of the front room. Eventually compensation was received for the damage. With cheques in hand, some homeowners purchased new cars, which became known as "Explosion Cars". Tremaine also remembers some "old timers" refused to move, staying with their homes, in spite of all the orders and instructions intended to hasten their evacuation.

Maxwell Barnes, a former boiler maker at the Halifax Shipyards, had just returned from work when the explosions began. "I went out to the store on Gottingen Street to buy some things for supper. I was in the store and there was a tremendous explosion."

Barnes ran home and saw his Leaman Street house had been badly damaged by shock waves triggered by the explosion several miles away. "The cellar door was a thick door, a heavy door, and it was rolled up like a roll of toilet paper and it was across the cellar. And the big, main beam in the cellar had moved sideways half an inch and plaster in the front room was cracked. I don’t think any of the windows were broken, but the back door was smashed in."

"Every once in a while there was a minor explosion. You couldn’t sleep you know. Scared to death. Then all of a sudden at four o’clock the depth charges or something caught fire and I thought the house was coming down. The big glass chandelier was swinging back and forth, and the plaster cracked and ran down inside the walls."

"My kids started to scream so my wife and myself threw ourselves on top of them to keep them quiet," he said.

Russell Harkness of Amherst was interviewed by the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s Amherst Bureau and was quoted on his memories. "A bunch of the guys were out back of the Provost Corps barracks on Cogswell Street playing horseshoes, when there was this loud explosion around 6:30 pm. At the same time we could see this large mushroom-like cloud. It was a very dark, black cloud with a tail. It drifted high in the sky and stayed there a long time. We all stood there for a moment wondering what was happening."

Harkness, then 25 and a member of the Canadian Provost Corps, soon learned the magazine had caught fire and was exploding. Around the same time Harkness’s horseshoe game  was interrupted, his wife Gwynne’s uncle, Arthur Patton, was  relaxing on the back porch of his Quinpool Road home when  he heard the explosion. A photography buff, he raced inside, found his camera and ran back to the porch in time to  photograph the cloud.

"Bullets were flying into the sky for much of the night. A lot of them were tracer bullets, and as a result you could see them clearly and they were going everywhere. At times it was just like fireworks, very pretty."

Harkness spent much of the night driving evacuees to the Halifax Commons, which became a tent city. He particularly recalls the fate of one downtown store. "Its big front windows were blown in. It was the third time the windows had been damaged that year. The first time happened when one of our van’s brakes didn’t work while going down the hill. It ended up going through the window. The second time was during the VE Day riots."

In the Halifax Nova Scotia, Saturday, July 13, 1985, Anne-Rockwell Fairley wrote about her vivid memories of the Bedford Magazine Explosion. She was riding her bicycle down Chebucto Road, when a large thunderclap threw her off balance, and she landed on the pavement. Immediately people rushed from their homes, shouting, "it must be the Magazine!" Everyone assumed the worst.

Sisters Mary Martin, Ellen Keller, and Cecelia Rooney of the Sisters of Charity, remembered vividly the evening of the explosion. All were at the "old" Mount Saint Vincent (destroyed by fire in 1951) where summer classes were being held, and a retreat was in progress. At the time of the first blast, Sister Keller was on the way to the lavatory to wash her hands, when suddenly the windows blew in on her. She swiftly departed the building and headed up hill to what was known as the "second farm." As they waited for instructions or news, Naval trucks arrived on the scene, and took the group to Saint Mary’s Basilica. She recalled they slept on benches, and had strawberries for breakfast!

Sister Rooney had a similar story. She was teaching novices, and was walking along a corridor parallel to the Bedford Highway when the library windows blew in. She immediately went to the back of the corridor only to discover a young girl lying prostrate on the floor. It turned out she had only fainted from fright, but it gave the others a scare for a moment. As there was a farm up the hill from the Mount, the farm manager led a number of them out of range of any possible explosive activity. Other people from Rockingham soon joined them, and they stayed deep in the woods all night. Some of the Rockingham men were veterans, and were able to give advice on how each could protect herself: "lie face down on the ground, open mouths, and cover ears."

Sister Mary Martin was a novice at the time, and when the first blast hit, they were evacuated from the building, and instructed to go up the hill. They were eventually picked up by Naval trucks and transported to Saint Mary’s Basilica, where they remained for two nights. The rumors were not encouraging, persistently being circulated that the next blast may be the last other words the City would be levelled. She and her fellow novices slept on benches in the basement, and were fed by Sisters from Saint Mary's Convent which was one of the few that didn’t have to be evacuated. Others, such as St. Patrick’s, St. Joseph’s, and Home of the Guardian Angel were all abandoned, as was the orphanage on Quinpool Road. They returned to the Mount in the morning of the 20th, also to begin the clean up, which took weeks.

The next day the Rockingham infants, huddled in the woods with their mothers, were in need of nourishment so Mr. Campbell went down to the farm and brought back milk and light snacks. As the day wore on (Thursday, July l9) they felt more secure and ventured back down the hill to the farm, where they were fed and housed. The Rockingham men ventured out periodically and came back with reports of the explosions. It was the only source of news they had. Late in the afternoon, it seemed safe enough to return to their homes.

Peter Richards (now Judge Richards) related his experience in the Chronicle-Herald, July 19, l99l. He began, "I was staying at our summer camp in Burnside. I guess we called it a ‘camp’ since it had no running water or inside plumbing. With me was my sister and her infant son, and their dog, Bingo. My father and mother who normally stayed at the camp in the summer, had gone to Halifax to entertain friends at a dinner party. Burnside was not, as now, a bustling industrial park. It was "country" with a few permanent residences and a large number of summer cottagers. Our camp was to the north of the SF (Semper Fidelis) grounds on a knoll overlooking the Cove and Navy Island. It commanded a good view of the entire area. The DND (Department of National Defence) Magazine was, and remains today, the explosives and ammunition storage facility for the armed services. The more dangerous material was stored in underground bunkers and, during the war, was transferred to the waiting ships in Halifax Harbour and Bedford Basin by steel-hulled barges. Magazine security was entrusted to members of the Veteran’s Guard, men who had served in World War I, and were either too old or medically ineligible for service in World War II."

"Members of the Guard were housed in barracks located outside the Magazine gates. As part of the guard complex there was a recreation building at which movies were held weekly. The veterans graciously permitted ‘cottage kids’ and other residents of the area to enjoy the movies with them."

"On this day (July 18) the movie was scheduled to start at 7:00 pm. After an early supper I left the camp to head for the movie. I met a friend on the road, and we walked the half mile to the veteran’s barracks. We arrived in good time, took our seats, and waited patiently for the show to begin. Shortly before seven o’clock, 6:35 to be precise, the serenity was shattered and the assembled moviegoers were terrified by an ear-splitting blast of indescribable intensity. The rec hall shuddered and shook, shards of glass flew wildly about, all combining to create an air of pandemonium. We quickly found our way to the outside, instinctively sensing that the trembling wood frame structure presented more danger than protection."

"Once outside, I vividly recall looking skyward and seeing a huge and ominous mushroom cap of dust and cloud with what appeared to be giant light bulbs spouting from it. I noticed my friend was bleeding somewhat freely as a result of the flying glass, and he noticed the same about me. I recall busying ourselves with picking the glass shards and fragments from each other’s hair, neck, face, and arms. The cuts, although bleeding profusely, were quite superficial. They did give us the appearance of casualties, which further intensified our feelings of adventure and foreboding. Adding to the rapidly unfolding drama were the constant popping and the ominous sounds of machine gun fire. I assume this resulted from exploding ammunition which had become overheated."

Albert Mackie, a member of the Guard, counted himself the luckiest man in Canada. He escaped unhurt although six-inch shells were whizzing by all around him. A heavy jagged base plug from a shell plummeted through the roof of the sentry box in which he had been standing moments before. "I was on duty at No. 3 jetty about 100 yards from the explosion, " Mackie said. "First I heard two or three little explosions and about two minutes later the whole thing went up. The concussion knocked me flat, but I picked myself up with the idea of getting to a fire alarm. I tried to ring two, but both were knocked out of order."

"By this time shells were going off all over the place. Five inch shells were whizzing by me, some landing on the asphalt road and others going over my head. Some shells landed point first and on their sides by the road bed, many of them driven practically out of sight. I didn’t know which way to turn. Everywhere I looked were dumps of ammunition, and I didn’t know when they would go up. All around the place I saw buildings flattened. I remember seeing two sailors running toward the jetty when the first little blasts went off, then I saw them running back. I don’t know what happened to them after that."

Chapter 5, Outside Help, Correspondence

The Ottawa Journal said that, "Halifax deserves the most support possible from this country: its contribution to victory in Europe is literally beyond computation. For its people, suffering this new blow, there will be widespread sympathy, and a desire to help them in every possible way. For whatever damage was done, the government is responsible and no doubt the government will put its great resources immediately at the disposal of the harassed citizens of the Atlantic Port."

Under the heading, "Honor is due", the Montreal Gazette, picturing the "anxieties and suffering experienced at that time in Halifax," suggested that this new misadventure brought forcefully to mind what the people of Halifax have endured in two World Wars.

The Ottawa Citizen, expressing thankfulness that the casualties caused by the Naval Magazine explosions had been so few, and visualizing what must have been for the inhabitants "a most unpleasant night," expressed the hope that Halifax, "which has come in for some rough usage at the hand of fate in recent years, may henceforth be spared."

The Globe and Mail, Toronto, noted that "the ancient City of Halifax has some reason to count itself a child of misfortune, considering the recent V-E Day goings-on, as well as the great tragedy which took place in l9l7."

Under the heading, "Guardian of the Gate" the Herald Tribune of New York printed the following editorial: "During the two great wars, Halifax has stood guard at the approaches to the North American continent. The navies and merchant marines of the world filled her magnificent harbour; much of the wealth of the west in men and materials, has flowed through the port to stem on distant battlefields the threat of aggression and tyranny. The old fort crowning Citadel Hill has been a symbol for Canadians and Americans alike of common resolve and common action."

"The enemy did not come to Halifax. But this City has paid dearly for its proud and dangerous role. For this, Canada and the United States can join in congratulating Halifax and Dartmouth, while paying a tribute of respect to the guardians of their Atlantic gate."

As soon as news of the Magazine Explosion was broadcast to the outside world, offers of help came from far and wide. Food was rushed into Halifax from Nova Scotia towns. As reported by the Halifax Mail on July 20, from Bridgewater, came Mayor E. J. Learman, Chief of Police Donald Oikle, and L. H. Corkum, with some 3,000 sandwiches and 75 gallons of coffee, prepared by the citizens of the South Shore town. The food was turned over to the Red Cross for distribution.

Over 200 sandwiches were forwarded to the City from Windsor, also prepared by the citizens of the Town. Telegrams of eagerness to help were received from the mayor of Pictou, who volunteered to furnish housing and to make arrangements to feed 1,000 persons. From Mayor Donald Macleod of New Glasgow came an offer of "all assistance in New Glasgow’s power, while Mayor R. T. Forbes expressed the sympathy of Fredericton and urged Halifax not to hesitate to ask for any help needed."

The Red Cross reported over 20,000 evacuated persons were given food throughout the organization. During the day over 100 pounds of coffee were purchased and distributed. Also thousands of gallons of milk for the children, and over 2,000 loaves of bread were purchased by the Red Cross to feed the tired refugees.

The Salvation Army under Majors C. Lynch, and Pedlar, served some 3,000 persons on the Commons, at the Dingle, and on the Gorsebrook Golf Club grounds. They were assisted by Betty Muir and Millie Tucker, and worked throughout the night of July 18, and during the day of July 19. The group also served coffee and sandwiches to ARP (Air Raid Protection) wardens and the soldier-sailor personnel on duty in the North End, while the big explosions were at their height.

The Saint John Ambulance Brigade, under Lady Provincial Superintendent, Mrs. Guy Little, OBE, was on duty with a strength of 70 workers. They operated in four sections of the City after the first big blast, and later moved to the Armouries, where they administered first aid, and assisted the Red Cross in supplying food to the hundreds there. The Brigade group supplied food on its own during the early part of the night, and operated an ambulance and staff car from that centre. Many who suffered cuts from flying glass were treated by the workers.

Major O. R. Crowell, Director of Civilian Defence, expressed appreciation for the valuable services rendered by thousands of volunteer workers in the Halifax Civilian Defence Emergency Corps. Appreciation was also expressed to the Army, Navy, and Air Force for their cooperation. Major Crowell cited the Army’s prompt response to help when they quickly supplied several thousand blankets and made available the use of the Armories and its staff, who rendered valuable assistance.

Letters were received and exchanged from a variety of sources, some expressing concern over payments or conditions, others offering assistance and support. Offers were received from Toronto and Saint John, which were prepared to send a mobile canteen. The authorities declined the offer when a survey revealed there were ample food supplies and facilities on hand. Official appreciation was expressed to the two cities.

From Brooklyn, New York, a man offered to provide glass and men to install it. The mayor of Halifax, Allan Butler, thanked the man for his generous offer, but explained that there was sufficient glass in the City to make the necessary repairs. Transcripts of some typical correspondence follow:

                                                                                                       July 20, 1945
His Worship Mayor E. G. Leaman
Nova Scotia

Dear Mayor Leaman:

May I on behalf of the City Council and the citizens of Halifax express to you the people of Bridgewater our very great thanks for the tangible assistance you brought to our City yesterday. This took the form of sandwiches and coffee and other foodstuff and the distribution of it in the areas where evacuation had to be ordered was something which brought forth the thanks and appreciation of the people who were the recipients of your generosity.

Bridgewater because of its solid proof of friendship will mean something special in the future to the people of Halifax as they journey there.

Yours very sincerely,

A.M. Butler. MAYOR

July 20, I 945

His Worship Mayor Ira B. Lohnes
Nova Scotia

Dear Mayor Lohnes:

I am anxious to write you early this morning, now that the people of Halifax realize the danger which threatened them is over, to voice the thanks of its citizens to you and the people of Windsor for the tangible proof of generosity shown yesterday.

You prepared and brought to us an abundant supply of sandwiches and other food and this assistance, when it was finally distributed to the people played a most important part in restoring them to normal. All during the day their nerves were taut and apprehensions were many. The food supply was scanty and in their homes which they had evacuated there was practically nothing to eat.

You may be assured that in acting in the generous way you did you gave us cause to remember the people of Windsor in a very special way.

On behalf of the people of Halifax I extend formal thanks.

Yours very sincerely,

A. M. Butler

July 20, I 945

His Worship Mayor H.F. Harper
Town of Pictou
Nova Scotia

Dear Mayor Harper:

I acknowledge your telegram of July 19th which did not come to my attention until this morning, not through fault of the Telegraph Company, but simply due to the fact that I was not in my office at all yesterday.

May I express on behalf of the people of this City our gratitude for your generous offer to house and feed so many of our citizens.

As you now know the danger appears to be over and I think it is safe to say it is over and therefore we shall not have to avail ourselves of your generosity. Let me, however, convey to you and the people of Pictou our warmest thanks and appreciation for what you stood ready to do for us.

Yours very sincerely,

A. M. Butler

                                                                                                           July 20, 1945

Vice-Admiral G. C. Jones, C. B.
Commander-in-Chief Canadian North West Atlantic
HMCS Stadacona
Halifax, NS

Dear Admiral Jones:

As mayor of the City I should like to request that the City of Halifax be permitted to send a representative to the Naval Court of Inquiry which you propose holding in connection with the explosion at the Bedford Magazine. The representative I have in mind would be entitled only to watch the proceedings and not participate in them, unless, of course, such permission would also be granted.

Perhaps the regulations are such that representation by a municipal corporation is precluded but because of the fact that the Bedford Magazine is not merely an outgrowth of the war but a permanent establishment for the peace time activities of the navy as well as wartime, I am of the opinion that the public interest of the citizens of Halifax is such that a representative of theirs should attend.

Would you be good enough to give this request consideration and let me know if it is within your authority to grant it.

Yours very truly,

A. M. Butler

                                                                                              July 20, 1945

His Worship Mayor Ray T. Forbes
New Brunswick

Dear Mayor Forbes:

The telegram you sent me offering help came to my attention this morning. Yesterday was a busy day and all efforts were directed elsewhere.

Would you please convey to the citizens of Fredericton and its City Council the thanks I extend to you on behalf of the citizens of Halifax for your sympathy and the offer of help which you expressed in the wire.

Fortunately, it will not be necessary to avail ourselves of your offer as the situation in Halifax appears to be over with everything secure again. Nevertheless we are grateful and I am prompt to express the thanks and appreciation of our citizens for help you stood prepared to give us.

Yours very sincerely,

A. M. Butler

July 23, 1945

Vice-Admiral G. C. Jones, C. B.
Commander in Chief Canadian North West Atlantic
HMCS Stadacona
Halifax, NS

Dear Admiral Jones:

Reports have just come in to me from the Chief of Police that cases of explosives have drifted to the shores of Bedford Basin on the western side in the vicinity of Africville and locations north of that point.

I would request that some action be taken by the Naval Authorities to patrol the shore daily in order to collect any such explosives that are still afloat. I would also suggest that a patrol of the waters should be maintained with the object of removing any explosives seen moving about. It is important to do everything possible to prevent them getting into the hands of the public who have still failed to appreciate the danger which might result from their being handled.

Would you be good enough to advise me if you will be in a position to meet my request.

Yours very truly,

A. M. Butler

                                                                                                         16 Regina Terrace
                                                                                                          Halifax, NS
                                                                                                          July 24th, 1945

A. M. Butler, Esq.
Mayor of the City of Halifax
Nova Scotia

Dear Mr. Mayor:

In this morning’s "Chronicle " your references to the explosion situation last Wednesday-Thursday were read with deep interest and entire concurrence.

As one citizen of this area, may I ask you to put on foot, preferably through one of our Members, a Campaign to have the Magazine removed elsewhere.

To the best of my belief such action was taken in England by the City of London as regards Woolwich Arsenal in 1937, to the great mental comfort of that City ’s inhabitants.

Yours faithfully
(Signed) Mr. H. Churchill-Smith

                                                                                                          July 25, 1945
Mr. H. Churchill-Smith
16 Regina Terrace
Halifax, NS

Dear Sir:

I am in receipt of your letter of July 24th and note with interest your comments on the removal of the Bedford Magazine to some point which will offer security and comfort to the people of Halifax.

Your letter will be kept on file and when the matter is discussed in future it will give me an opportunity to consider the point of view you now express.

Yours very truly,

A. M. Butler

Halifax, NS
July 26th, 1945

Dear Sir:

Would you please tell me what is going to be done about the damage caused by the explosion to property. I have a house at 99 Maitland St. The tenant was down to see me. The plaster is down, the windows broken, the doors are out of place, and the chimney is cracked. Please see about it as soon as you can.

Honora V. Killeen
297 Brunswick St.

July 28, 1945
Mrs. Honora V. Killeen
297 Brunswick St.
Halifax, NS

Dear Mrs. Killeen:

In reply to your letter of July 26th, it would appear from an official announcement at Ottawa that full payment of all claims will be made to a point and will include the value of the losses you sustained.

It will be some few days until an announcement is made as to how it is to be paid, but I would suggest that anything that needs repair urgently and cannot wait, that it be dealt with and the invoices showing the expense carefully kept and later filed.

Yours very truly,

A. M. Butler

Chapter 6, Aftermath

An editorial in the Halifax Mail, July 20, 1945 expressed the feelings of the entire populace of Halifax: "The tens of thousands of people in the Halifax Harbour area endured a night of terrors and alarms, and yesterday long agonizing hours of fear and anxiety, knowing not the minute that might bring an explosion far greater than those shattering blasts that had gone before."

"It was a dreadful experience, particularly for the women and children, the aged and infirm, the bed-ridden invalids, for veritable armies of citizens driven from their homes onto the roads, into the fields, fleeing before a menace the proportions of which were to them beyond calculation. The terrific blasts were in themselves appalling enough, but what racked nerves and tortured minds was the haunting uncertainty, the living from minute to minute, hour to hour expecting the next second to produce the cataclysm. It is natural therefore, for the citizens of this community on the shores of Halifax Harbour to be asking questions: what caused it? And, could it have been avoided?"

"We are bound, of course, to proceed on the assumption that in its original design and construction the Bedford Basin magazine was laid out and built in conformity with well defined plans and principles; that safety was the dominating factor. As all with knowledge and experience in these matters will affirm, there are well-defined plans and established principles in relation to the establishment of such ammunition depots in proximity to large populated areas. And we are bound, as we say, to assume that Safety was the dominating factor in such design and construction. How then did it happen? And could it have been prevented?"

"lt had been no secret to the public, within and outside this community, that the de-commissioning of service ships had been proceeding at a rapid rate on this coast. Merchant ships also had been in-process of being stripped of their armament and ammunition. Does the answer lie there?"

"With the war in Europe ended, with ships being de-commissioned, has ‘loose’ ammunition accumulated at a rate that entrenched upon safety? Did ammunition dumps grow up in the Bedford depot to the extent that they overtaxed the facilities of the establishment, and thus compromised established safety procedures? We do not know. But we do know that these questions are in the public mind today."

"In that item from the New York Herald Tribune, headlined, ‘Guardian of the Gate’ the reporter praised the citizens, ‘Haligonians are a tough breed,’ he wrote. Not many would disagree."

"It is announced from Ottawa by Capt. Harry DeWolfe, assistant chief of the naval staff that there would be an immediate investigation into the causes of this holocaust and the circumstances surrounding it. The purpose of such an investigation is, obviously, to determine the facts as a guide and a guard for the future."

As far as the Bedford Magazine was concerned, the older portion had been badly damaged; 90-foot craters in some cases were all that remained of some of the storehouses. Magazine sections that had been built during the war had been damaged, but much of their ammunition and explosives remained intact. There was criticism of the rapid de-commissioning of navy ships and armed merchant ships which had led to the vast supplies of explosives being stored at the Magazine.

First estimates of the damage were about $500,000 in Halifax and at least $100,000 in Dartmouth. It was also announced that businessmen and householders would be reimbursed from the federal government’s War Risk Insurance fund for explosion damage. Under the fund, householders were covered to the extent of $3,000, whether premiums had been paid or not. In the end, substantially more, about $4,000,000 was paid in compensation, and all claims were settled within three years.

On the whole, the people acted calmly and without panic or hysteria. They were admirable under conditions of peril and mental anguish. Moreover, they were disposed to await a disclosure of the facts before passing judgement. It was the position of citizens who, having looked Death and Destruction in the face, were capable of restrained attitudes and an honest desire to know the truth. It was hoped the Naval Court of Inquiry, which opened in camera, (preparing a report for presentation to Ottawa) would find out.

There was no one on the jetty at the time of the first explosion. As previously noted, the one man who saw the fire’s early flickering, and went down to see, was killed. Others were at the shore and escaped injury when crackling, not much louder than that of rifle fire, started. From the jetty area flames spread to depth charges, four-inch ammunition, rockets, flares, and the like, which had been left on the jetty by an corvette "de-ammunitioned" the day of the blast.

Magazine workers who walked and climbed over the boxes to get transportation to their homes wanted to know all the facts too, and in the evening of July 21 considered the situation. One of the resolutions approved by Local 148 of the Dockyard unions said: "From our own experience .... that the general conditions which brought about the explosions were wholly due to the overstocking of the total Magazine area and jetties through too rapid de-ammunition of the de-commissioning of the naval ships since V-E Day"

In the Penalties of War, Historic Halifax, W. C. Borrett wrote about the explosion and described the conditions in the City during and after the initial blast. As he noted, "Haligonians, who had been evacuated from their homes to country villages twenty and thirty miles away, never expected to find any of their City left standing when they returned in the next day or two. As the explosions became less and less, and by 6:30 Thursday evening (July 19), just 24 hours after the first blast, it was officially announced that the main danger had passed, and that while more explosions might be expected, they would not cause any significant damage as the fire was dying down and had practically burned itself out."

Haligonians gradually began the trek back to their homes, and for the second time in two months, the stores had to replace their plate- glass windows. It was a terrifying experience, wrote Borrett, and citizens should congratulate themselves on how well they came out of what might have been a very serious situation.

The authorities reminded citizens that they should not go wandering around the Magazine area, and if anyone should come across an unexploded shell, it should be left alone. They were also reminded not to go souvenir hunting but to leave salvage activities to the men who knew what they were doing. The Provost Corps or Ordinance Depot men would be the ones to remove any stray shells in the woods, and people could help most by staying at home, or at their regular places of employment.

Also, the July 21 edition of the Halifax Mail reminded hikers: "If you’re walking along the shores of Bedford Basin and find a box or case which has floated ashore, don’t touch it! It may contain quantities of high explosives. Just such boxes have already been found, police said last night, one of them containing 10 sticks of high explosives weighing 12 pounds. Reports have also been received of children bringing home what appeared to be detonators. All such materials, Deputy Chief George Fox said last night, have been turned over to Naval authorities for disposition."

A serious problem was posed by scavengers. The casings that contained explosives were largely made of brass and any man or woman who cared to collect them could earn twenty cents a pound from any local scrap dealer. Unfortunately it was very difficult to determine if a shell were still dangerous. Even the Crown Assets Disposal Corporation, which only disposed of casings certified "danger free" received an irate phone call from one unfortunate scrap dealer, who claimed that his furnace had been blown up by one of these "danger free" shells. If the experts were having such a tough time, one can imagine how accurate were the observations of untrained civilians.

The scavengers were to be found not only on land. Ambitious scuba divers, it was later learned, swam beneath the South Jetty, and made off with as much material as they could handle. Clearance problems were staggering. Ammunition was washed ashore on the nearby beaches with regularity, and on land some of the shells were buried in the ground. In 1960 some cartridge cases were discovered that were filled with cordite propellant. Although they had been submerged for fifteen years, the resulting tests showed that the ammunition was just as good, if not better, than anything available at that time. It is a misconception that explosives are de-activated when submerged.

Edgar Kelly, editor of the Halifax Herald and the Halifax Mail wrote an editorial entitled "Their Part" .... "And now a word for this community and its citizens - this community or group of communities that ring the perimeter of the Halifax Harbour area and lie within range of the menace of vast quantities of explosives stored or in transit."

"The City of Halifax itself, the Town of Dartmouth, Woodside, Imperoyal, Eastern Passage, Tufts Cove, Burnside, Bedford, Millview, Prince’s Lodge, Birch Cove, Rockingham, Fairview, Armdale, Melville Cove, Jollimore ..... these are some of the communities of the greater Halifax area whose citizens, to use the words of the Mayor of Halifax, have displayed such ‘steadfastness in the face of danger’, not this week alone, but constantly during the war years."

"Passing through long hours of terrors and alarms, the citizens of this port community have been magnificent .... men, women, and children, old and young, the sick and the well, the aged and the infirm. There has been no panic, no hysteria. Here the people knew, as one writer has put it, ‘probably better than the residents of any other city in the Western Hemisphere’ what the danger was and what measures had to be taken to cut down destruction and loss of life. To quote a Canadian Press news story in comment on the threat under which the citizens of this community ‘had been living for the last six years’."

W. C. Borrett’s The Penalties of War mentions at least twice during that time the threat of an explosion was extra close. Once a burning freighter containing ammunition was sunk by shellfire in the harbour, and on another occasion a blazing ammunition ship was towed safely to sea, passing close to the heart of Halifax before it reached open water.

Halifax’s radio station CHNS kept on the air throughout the hectic period. Their periodic broadcasts on the progress of the north-end calamity were instrumental in quieting the fears of the entire populace. The staff there worked without rest for twenty-four hours, squelching rumors of impending blasts and bringing up-to-date information to their great listening public. These "explosion" broadcasts probably contributed more to relieving the minds of the harassed public of Halifax and Dartmouth than any other means of communication.

The total claims ran into the millions of dollars, which upon verification, were presented and honored by the government, all claims being settled within three years.

The Maritime Command’s publication Trident, of August 9, 1978, looked back on the impressiveness of the cleanup operations. The same skill and efficiency that the Navy had used in controlling the blasts were put to use to clean up the damage. Surrounding woods were scoured for live and dead shells and the sea was dredged to a foot below the deepest explosive discovered. Divers worked for five years gathering ammunition, lifting it on to flat barges, towing it to sea, and dumping it.

No one has yet put forward a really satisfactory explanation of why the explosion occurred, although obviously the extent of the blast was due to the overstocking of the Magazine. Many theories were advanced before the Naval Magazine was identified as the source. An airplane had passed over the City just moments before the blast, and many believed the aircraft had exploded. Others believed the shock came from the Dockyard, and others still, remembering the disaster of 1917 were sure another ammunitions ship had blown up.

And yet, ironically, the disaster overcame the bad public image of the Navy following the V-E Day riots which had taken place two months earlier. The work done by naval volunteers reached heroic proportions. They fought the blaze for 24 hours, often being hurled to the ground by repeated blasts. They laboured under a constant barrage of shells, stones, broken brick, and other flying debris. Haligonians soon realized that it was because of the valiant efforts of naval personnel that their city had been spared more extensive damage.

Soon after the dangers from the Magazine explosion were well under control, a meeting was held in the council chambers at Halifax city hall under the sponsorship of the Halifax North aldermen. Mayor A. M. Butler disclosed he had attempted to obtain civic representation at the Navy’s investigation into the Magazine’s blasts, but his request had been denied. He was told the inquiry dealt largely with technical matters and was "somewhat over our heads." The meeting, called to consider measures to be taken as a result of the explosion, also heard that all citizens, whether their claims for damage were small or large, should be appropriately compensated.

A suggestion was advanced that the munitions storehouse should be transferred at least 25 miles from the City to remove the menace of explosions similar to that which had shaken the city on the night of July 18.

Reverend W.W. Clarkson, rector of St. Mark’s Church, declared that the Magazine must be removed, pointing out that "people in Halifax have been living in subconscious fear during the war years. We want to know that they will remove this menace altogether from the City of Halifax," he declared amid applause.

Reverend C.F. Curren, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, declared it was only through God’s intervention that loss of life had not been heavier He urged that the government be petitioned to have the Magazine moved 25 miles away.

A.M. McKay, representing the Board of Trade, said two things should be done: First, citizens should be recompensed, and second, the "menace under which Halifax has lived for six years should be removed."

Although the explosions had subsided and the fires put out, the dangers to the public were not yet over. The military and the police were expending much of their efforts protecting the public from harm. Many of the shells were not only still alive, but they were buried close to the surface of the ground, where some unsuspecting individual might easily take his last step. The surrounding woods were full of 4 inch shells, many of which had lost their protective caps. Signs were quickly erected that said, "GOVERNMENT PROPERTY. TRESPASSERS WILL BE FIRED UPON WITHOUT WARNING." One set of parents called authorities in to look at something their small son had dragged home behind his wagon. It was a 4 inch shell, and it was still very much alive.

In a delayed aftermath nearly two months later, when at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September l2, 1945, an explosion occurred aboard a gasoline powered harbour craft, berthed on the south side of the north jetty at the Bedford Magazine. Gasoline was showered on the water within a few feet of barges loaded with ammunition. Fears were renewed for a third Halifax Explosion.

Three barges, loaded with hundreds of tons of damaged, unexploded ammunition, were less than forty feet from the naval harbour craft. A cache of 3,000 depth charges was about 300 yards behind the flaming boat, and a number of war heads, mines, and 14 inch shells, were less than 100 yards from it.

One naval rating, a member of the crew of the craft, was hurled into the water as a result of the blast, but was hauled to safety by civilian workers. The rating suffered bums about his body. Approximately 260 civilian workers and a few naval personnel were engaged in work in the arsenal at the time.

The harbour craft, known as H. C. 20, was sent from the Dockyard to pick up a bomb disposal officer, Lieutenant. Rollo, who was at the Magazine. It docked shortly before 4:30 p.m., and as Rollo was proceeding down the jetty to board the craft, two naval ratings started the motor. It was then the explosion occurred. Gasoline from the craft spread all about the area, and flames shot as high as forty feet in the air from the blazing boat.

Two workers, engaged in demolition work on a barge less than forty feet away, cut the tow line of the craft, and attempted to beach her north of the jetty. Then naval firefighters assisted by civilians, worked strenuously to prevent spread of the flames to another of the nearby barges. Naval authorities reported the fire aboard the boat was completely out by 6:00p.m. Nevertheless, with the explosion of July 18 so recently in the minds of naval and civilian personnel, the scare of this event was enough to bring a sigh of relief when it was brought under control.


Chapter 7, The Inquiry

"Events Leading up to the 1945 Explosion at RCN Magazines, Bedford, NS and the Clearance of Devastated Areas." (Dated April 3, 1946).

This chapter presents a condensation of the Inquiry, conducted following the explosions at the Bedford Magazine, with some deletions, amendments, and interpretations, which do not alter the conclusions.

William Strange, the Director of Naval Information filed a report to the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff in Ottawa on April 3, 1946. The report summarizes the events leading up to the fires and explosions, which took place at RCN Magazines, Bedford, NS on July 18, 1945, together with methods employed to implement clearance. The Staff of the Director General of Naval Ordnance, RCN, compiled the report, which relates to happenings over a period of five years.

The Site

Firstly, the report delineated the general location of the site which was approximately two-thirds of the way between Dartmouth and Bedford. It extended from the water’s edge to the highway connecting the two towns. Property adjacent to the Magazine was sparsely settled, although the shore around Navy Island Cove was used as a summer resort, and many camps were scattered along the southern shore line of the cove.

Across the Basin were houses of a more permanent nature, scattered the full extent of the highway between Bedford and Halifax. The Magazine is located approximately four miles from the center of Halifax, three miles to Africville, with Dartmouth four miles to the south, and Bedford two miles to the north.

The Magazine area extended along the shore of Bedford Basin one and one-quarter miles and inland a distance of approximately one-quarter to one-half mile. It was completely surrounded by a security fence, enclosing everything other than six official residences, three jetties, a pump house, the Veteran’s Guard Barracks, and an empty warehouse. The south area of the Magazine was comparatively old, having been turned over to the Canadian Navy in 1941, at which time the north area was completed and occupied. The area was developed originally from a farm owned by H. Curran Inglewood.

Buildings in the south area were constructed generally with concrete foundations, tile and brick veneer walls, and wooden peak roofs, although some had flat, precast concrete roofs. The terrain, which sloped downward from north to south, permitted buildings to be placed in rows at different levels, with one roof overlooking the roof of another.

Due to the terrible catastrophe at Halifax in 1917, when some 1600 people were killed and thousands were injured by the exploding of a freighter carrying bulk high explosives, the general populace of the entire area was very explosive conscious. When this emergency arouse, people acted promptly and exactly as directed. When the authorities decided to evacuate the northern end of the City and the complete Town of Dartmouth, the residents immediately left their homes and proceeded to open areas and the adjacent countryside. Even without being instructed to leave, people started to evacuate these sections and the ease with which Air Raid Precaution Wardens, who were deputized police, performed their duties was an important factor as to the extremely low number of casualties. During the time the explosions were occurring, it was feared 22 persons had been killed and 12 injured, although when missing people re-appeared, this figure was reduced to one killed and l2 injured. From the time of the initial explosion until noon the following day, the entire population of Halifax and Dartmouth was warned to stay outdoors and 1,700 people had been evacuated from their homes. In addition to this figure, an untold number of residents were directed to vacate from Bedford and along the west shore of Bedford Basin. Nuns and summer students of Mount St. Vincent were among this group.


The Magazine received stores by both water and rail. Deliveries by rail were accommodated by two spur lines, with platforms built along one side of the rails. There were two jetties, the North Jetty, "L" shaped, was initially used for the de-ammunitioning of ships and receipt of stores, while the South Jetty was used for the issuance of munitions to HMC ships. Each jetty held sheds, including a hose house, with water being supplied from Anderson Lake, three-quarters of a mile to the north-east. For fire fighting purposes, a six-inch pump had been installed, to make use of salt water.

Magazine staff consisted of two main departments: Stores and Laboratories. During the latter months of 1944 some five hundred men and women were employed at the establishment. In early 1945, due to rapid personnel turnover, it was necessary to augment the civilian staff with varying numbers of naval ratings, used primarily to drive trucks, and occasionally for the handling of munitions.

During the period immediately prior to the cessation of hostilities in Europe, and for the period subsequent to V-E Day, the return of ammunition from warships, merchant ships, and other depots increased considerably. These demands served to accentuate the already overtaxed capacity of magazine facilities. Steps were taken to remedy the situation but due to various reasons, there were, on July 18, 1945, as great, but not appreciably greater, quantities of explosives in the Magazine area as on any other previous occasion.

Records reveal that during the period May 1 to July 18, 1945, a total of 83 ships, among which were 12 destroyers, the rest mainly frigates and corvettes, were de-ammunitioned at the Magazine. The manner in which most ammunition was returned from ships, as well as the condition of some stores, left much to be desired from the aspect of safety procedures. Explosive stores were landed, accepted, and stored in contravention of regulations. The landing of large quantities of unboxed cartridges in particular led to a potential hazard. In addition, considerable quantities of depth charges were stowed in outside storage dumps. A number of lighters and barges were nearly always moored alongside the receiving jetty. Serviceable ammunition was removed to one general area, while repairable items usually found their way to two large dumps, and this type of storage practically nullified any safety distance provisions.

Because of the congestion, and with staff unable to cope with the overwhelming quantities of ammunition being returned, much of it without proper packaging, each jetty usually contained some hundreds of tons of mixed ammunition. This was the situation prior to the initial explosion.

From what can be ascertained, the fire started at approximately 6:40 PM on July 18, 1945 at the extreme north-west corner of the South Jetty. Smoke and sparks were seen to be rising from this comer of the jetty, followed almost immediately by an explosion. Fragments and burning propellants were thrown over an area of approximately four hundred yards by this initial blast, spreading fires through the underbrush and piles of boxes along the shore adjacent to the jetty. A series of minor explosions followed which were attributed to small quantities of ammunition around the buildings located near the wharf. It was noted that with the first blast, which was extremely heavy, many of the roofs of the old type magazine buildings had collapsed, leaving only the roof trusses remaining.

A patrolman, Henry R. Craig, on duty at the South Jetty was killed instantly in the first blast while a member of the Veteran’s Guard received wounds from shell fragments, but managed to make his way out to the South Gate from whence he was sent for treatment. No action could be taken to cope with the spreading fires in the South Area by way of the South Gate so all fire fighting forces were sent to the North Gate and subsequently despatched down through the upper area.

Road blocks were erected about five hundred yards north and south of each of the two entrances leading to the Depot from Highway 7, while a party was rushed to the rail siding to lay out hose lines and stand by in the event of fires starting in or around the loading platforms which were laden with ammunition. To ensure water supply, the Clerk of Works stood by the pumps at Anderson Lake throughout the night and fire boats were sent from the Dockyard, but proved of little value, due to the heavy blasts and amount of debris flying through the air. All communications had been disrupted completely and it was necessary to install an R/T set in the North Gate Guardhouse, which became the temporary headquarters.

Fairly heavy explosions occurred regularly until almost midnight, when a very heavy detonation took place. The crew which had been unloading the lighter of its cargo of explosives had knocked off for supper just before the initial blast and to this fact they owed their lives. The barge and jetty to which it was tied, were blown to bits.

Two-Man Bucket Brigade Brave Death at Magazine

A weary naval official who said he was, but a spectator, told how two courageous naval ratings, armed only with buckets, braved imminent death Wednesday night as with shells bursting around them they tried to prevent spread of flames which followed explosions in the Bedford Basin ammunition depot.

The officer was Lt. V. L. Coade, Livingstone Place, Halifax, while one of the ratings was Shore Patrolman A. Hill, of Ontario. Name of his companion in the hopeless fight against the fire could not be determined. With Surgeon Lt. Cdr. Lemuel Prowse, of Charlottetown, Surgeon Lt. W. Tidmarsh of HMCS Algonquin, and three Sick Bay attendants, Lt. Coade was among the first to reach the blast scene after the first heavy shock at 6:35 pm.

Hill and the unknown rating were included in naval personnel who fought the rapidly-spreading fire, despite the danger of injury or death, until ordered from the area when officials decided it was no longer tenable.

Buildings were blowing up around the two ratings as they tried, with buckets of water, to stem the flow of the flames, said Lt. Coade, Medical Stores Officer for the Atlantic coast. "I was skirting around looking for casualties, and was really the only spectator", he related. "But the medical officers Prowse and Tidmarsh, went in beside the ratings and took them out. Hill had a bleeding wrist and the other fellow was suffering from shock."

Recalling the events of the hectic night, Coade said he and the two doctors sped to the scene, shortly after the initial severe shock, in the "Moby Dick", the Admiral’s barge which was the only immediate fast vessel available to them in the Dockyard. With them they took a chest of emergency medical equipment, including morphine syrettes, in expectation of heavy casualties. "When we got to where the jetty was before the explosion, there was nothing but small bits of wood floating in the water," he recounted. "The cove was thick with the wreckage. We landed at a concrete jetty still standing further down the cove."

Carrying their medical supplies, the officers and the sick bay attendants with them proceeded towards the explosion area searching for casualties. "On the way, shells were flying all around us," said Coade. "We could judge where the big ones bursting in the air would land, but there was no telling what the smaller ones would do."

Before they arrived at the heart of the blazing area the party could see naval firefighters swinging into action against the blaze, the officer added. "Apparently there was little water pressure after the first blast," Coade said. "We passed at least one navy pumper and went toward the flames looking for casualties. When we got near we saw two naval ratings in the center of the fire, with buildings going up all around them, trying to put out the fire with only three buckets in which they were carrying water."

Coade continued, "Prowse and Tidmarsh went in along side of them, while I skirted around looking for casualties. I saw them down in a hollow and then everything started to pop and I threw myself into some bushes until things quieted down. Then I started back towards the roadway. On the way I met a sailor and a member of the Veteran’s Guard trying to get to the road. We had to walk backwards with our eyes on the stuff falling from the shells exploding in the air. We could hear other stuff shooting by us."

"Just as we got to the road I noticed a large black puff of smoke rising from the ammunition sheds area. It turned red and orange as it rose and I threw myself flat before another blast shook the ground. Coade remarked that when things stopped falling he made his way between blasts to the gate leading into the magazine area, where more fire apparatus had been gathered. A small hose wagon entered the danger area to remove Prowse, Tidmarsh, and the two sailors. When Prowse came back he was all in, the officer recalled. "He had on a new uniform which had been ripped where something tore through it."

Later Surgeon-Lieutenant Prowse related he and Tidmarsh went within 30 to 45 yards of where the first blast occurred in order to evacuate the fire-fighting ratings. Tidmarsh told Coade to give Bell a shot of morphine before he started to leave the zone. "We were about half-way to Bedford when we met a padre. He had a faster car, so we transferred the ratings into his care and he took them to hospital."

The three officers and the sick bay attendants with them were in the danger zone for more than an hour. It was nearly midnight before Prowse returned to Halifax on a fire truck.

Reports were received that the first blast was felt 27 miles away, and that plate glass windows were shattered or pulled from frames in the most southerly extremities of the City. Low lying areas in Halifax felt the effects of the first blast more than higher sections as the detonation waves were transmitted from water level. The northern portion of Halifax presented a forlorn sight the day after the explosion. Very few windows were left, shingles were torn off roofs, and houses, signs and telephone poles were broken, leaving lines hanging.

The northern ends of both Halifax and Dartmouth were evacuated as well as Bedford, because of the heavy explosions. By July 19 the explosions had diminished and it appeared that the major ones had passed and that the remainder of the Magazine could be saved.

The Naval inquiry went on to document the chain of events that took place at the Magazine. In the morning of July 19 extremely heavy explosions were felt at 1:00, 2:00, and 4:00 am, while cartridges, the majority of which were four inch, exploded intermittently well into the day. The heavier detonations were apparently caused by a concentration of depth charges and 250 pound aerial bombs, depth charges, and stacks of "Squids" respectively.

The Captain of the Dockyard, utilizing the two other services, employees of the Magazine, and all fire fighting equipment available, personally directed all phases of the fire fighting. The whole area along the Dartmouth-Bedford Highway was ordered to be cleared, and in this the Army and Air Force rendered valuable assistance. The northern ends of both Halifax and Dartmouth were evacuated as well as Bedford, because of the heavy explosions. By July 19 the explosions had diminished in volume and strength and it appeared feasible to suppose that the major explosions had passed and that the remainder of the Magazine could be saved.

The contours of the land between the older area and the new undoubtedly prevented complete destruction of the entire Magazine. This is evidenced by a pile of approximately 800 depth charges lying just over the brow of the hill being disturbed by the blast, but otherwise not harmed in any way. On Thursday night (July 19), fires were noted in the densely wooded area east of the Railway siding, and trucks were used to clear the loading platforms of exposed ammunition. Portable pumpers were brought in to use along with backpacks and with the aid of nearly two hundred Naval Ratings from the Dockyard, the fires were brought under control by the end of the following week. Fire patrols were continued both at the railway siding and inside the Area until the end of the month, at which time all danger of fire recurring was considered remote, but due to the nature of the country, a sharp vigil was maintained.

At 4:00 am on July 19, a flash lit up the sky like high noon. Seconds later, a vicious explosion erupted from the Magazine, blowing out windows, ripping doors off hinges, and levelling trees. The throngs sleeping on Citadel Hill and in parks were shaken violently awake.

Military officials warned the worst could be yet to come.

A huge stock of depth charges, one estimate said as many as 50,000, each weighing 180 kilograms, was in the path of the fire. A munitions expert warned, "If those depth charges had all gone up together, it would devastate things for miles around."

The Naval Inquiry indicates that low lying areas in Halifax felt the effects of the first blast more than higher sections, as the detonation waves were transmitted from water level and the greatest impact was felt along the western shore of Bedford Basin at low levels. Africville and areas along the south-east side of the City were hit hardest, although the outward force ricocheted along the streets of Halifax and Dartmouth. The vacuum caused by this particular explosion appeared more serious than the blast shocks, as windows which withstood the shock were pulled from their frames and smashed on the street.

By July 19 very few windows were left, shingles were tom off the roofs of houses, signs and telephone poles were broken, leaving lines hanging. Things were generally in a complete state of confusion. When some people finally returned to their homes they found plaster hanging, wall paper ripped from the ceilings and walls, clothing strewn around, dishes smashed, brick work shattered, and houses looking as though a cyclone had struck.

Land contours supplied a natural buffer for the Town of Dartmouth and Village of Bedford, and very little damage was caused to either of these areas, with only a few chimneys and some plaster cracked by the concussion of the four larger explosions. Here too, people accepted damage in a more-or-less matter-of-fact manner.

The Director of Naval Services Report of April 4, 1946 catalogued the events that led up to the Magazine being returned to usable condition. On Saturday, July 21, three days after the original explosions, a meeting was held by Naval officials to discuss requirements and steps to be taken in order that the Magazine could be put back on a working basis.

It was decided that the first steps to be taken would be the closing off of the broken water mains and the erection of a stand pipe. This would enable all the lines to retain full pressure in case of any further emergency. The Nova Scotia Light and Power Company was to be contacted for the reinstallation of their pole lines, as these had been blown flat almost the whole length of the Magazine along the highway. A temporary communication line was to be installed at once.

Danger signs were to be prepared and placed in strategic positions along the main highway and the fence repaired. A security patrol was also considered necessary in addition to the routine fire patrol. A pass system was devised whereby only authorized personnel could have access to the areas where live ammunition was scattered about. Clearance of brush was considered of high priority. Heavy equipment, jeeps, and pick-ups were to be provided by Motor Transport as required. Approval had been received to ship any stores surplus to stowage facilities at Renous, NB, and as certain large items still remained in outside stowage, it was deemed necessary to begin shipments immediately.

A dumping program had been inaugurated as soon as the North Jetty became serviceable, and from then on scows were dispatched to sea at the rate of two a week. These scows averaged one hundred and fifty tons of ammunition per load but did not prove nearly as satisfactory as the frigates, which were used later. During the period from July 18 to October 1 approximately twenty-two hundred tons of ammunition were transported to sea and dumped.

Hundreds of Navy and Army personnel worked for five years to clear the magazine of buried munitions. Tonnes of munitions were dumped at sea, and one man was lost while unloading a barge off the coast. Some men were paid "danger money" at the rate of 25 cents per hour for digging armor piercing aerial bombs, torpedoes, depth charges, 40mm Bofor ammunition and hand grenades from the rubble.

Compared with the Halifax Explosion of 1917 that claimed more than 1,600 lives, casualties at the Bedford Magazine explosion were remarkably light. The magazine was remote from dwellings, and explosions detonated in succession instead of all at once.

Organization of Bomb Disposal Personnel

The next item on the agenda was to dispose of any active ammunition or armaments. It was decided to enlist the services of a Bomb Disposal Officer who was fully trained in the handling of explosive objects. Naval ratings were available at HMCS Cornwallis, and Royal Canadian Engineers stationed at Debert, NS could be called upon to give assistance, so 100 of these men were employed. Army personnel arrived the Monday morning following the explosions, being billeted at the Naval Armament Depot, Dartmouth, and were used during the first part of the week to clear roadways. When the Naval Ratings arrived later in the week, it was considered the organization of the clearance body was complete.

In view of the condition of the remains of the South Jetty, along with the fact that ammunition once stored there had been blown into the water rather than exploding or burning, it was decided that clearance of this section would be necessary also. The Mine Disposal Officer, a qualified diver, was appointed to these duties and he and a staff of fourteen, four of whom were divers, accepted the difficult task of implementing all underwater clearance.

Clearance of Land Areas Outside the Magazine

The land outside the Magazine area itself also had to be cleared. Ammunition from the South Area was scattered throughout an undetermined area. So as not to overlook any portion, plots were delineated, ten yards square, and one hundred plots constituted a grid.

It is of interest to note that the possibility of using Polish Mine Detectors was considered, but the ore content of the rocks and stones on the site was sufficient to continually attract the detector, and buried objects could not be overlooked. A visual inspection was the only practical alternative. The heavy undergrowth made it imperative to exercise extreme care to avoid tramping over explosives.

The operation was successfully and safely completed between July 23 and July 29, in spite of the discovery of numerous explosive objects, particularly adjacent to the Depot’s railway siding. It is also of interest to note that a four hundred pound squid projectile was encountered 450 yards beyond the siding, with no visible damage, having travelled a distance of over a mile.

The grids within which the Dartmouth-Bedford Highway ran were swept by the search crews four times and, much to everyone’s disappointment, a fourth sweep findings were as numerous as during the first search. Through lack of bush training, the Naval Ratings were having considerable trouble crawling over rocks, and instead of maintaining position would walk around obstacles instead of over them. Consequently Army and Navy personnel were mixed rather than separated into uniforce units, and the results were immediately deemed an improvement.

Owing to the nature of the terrain, the heavy undergrowth, the fact that some people were not as observant as others and that this search was entirely visual, it was impossible to declare these sections free from explosive materials. Nevertheless authorities were satisfied that the clearance was as thorough and as complete as it could be made under the circumstances.

Clearance of Waters and Shores of Bedford Basin

Directly after the explosions, the waters of Bedford Basin were literally covered with floating debris. It was thought that amongst this floating rubble detonator cylinders and possibly shells, which had been fired into logs and timbers would be found. A trip aboard a harbour craft was made throughout the Basin on the Monday following the explosions, and from the articles sighted it was very obvious that clearance of some means would be necessary.

The water was cleared by suspending a hundred foot line between two harbour craft, with floats tied every five feet along the line to hold it on the surface, and by sweeping the entire Basin in this manner, most of the floating objects were recovered.

After clearance of the waters had been completed, which took two weeks, one craft with a crew of four was anchored at the Narrows to watch for objects which might float in and out with the tides. The remainder of the search party, with the harbour craft, searched and cleared the foreshores of Bedford Basin. Suitable equipment was supplied and orders given that everything along the shore be moved to allow a thorough search. Logs and timbers were to be rolled over and debris to be shifted. Difficulties were experienced in sheltered shallow coves where the craft could not proceed and where debris remained thick on the surface. These areas, seven in all, were cleared by Naval Ratings swimming through the rubble in search of objects. It was only through their diligence and conscientious devotion to duty that this was completed successfully.

Heedless of constant warnings to the general public regarding the handling of or moving of displaced ammunition, people continued to expose themselves to these hazards.

Underwater Clearance

On the following Tuesday, July 24, work began on clearing the waters off the Magazine. In view of the possibility of explosive objects having rolled off the North Jetty, and this being the only wharf where ships could now be moored, it was essential that this section be cleared first. As it turned out explosive materials were not numerous in this section, an eighty foot path covering both sides of the jetty.

After completion of this operation the divers moved to the South Jetty, or what remained of it. A fifty ton crane was brought to the area, and everything projecting from the water surface was removed, with a diver assisting. Clearance was exceptionally slow and hazardous as the floor of Bedford Basin was very muddy. After a diver worked for half an hour, he could no longer see what he was doing, so had to depend on touch alone to discover ammunitions.

During the early part of December the weather became very cold. Although water temperatures would permit continuation, diving suits froze as soon as the men surfaced so that clearance operations were suspended for the year.

Clearance of the Magazine Area

Upon completing the clearance of the outside areas, it was decided that Naval and Army personnel would be used to search and clear sections within the Magazine proper.

The clearance started along the most northerly fence, and extended from the shore to the road. Recoveries were exceptionally heavy in the southern areas, but the search continued slowly and systematically until September 29, 1945. Explosive materials recovered were packed in sawdust and dumped from flat scows into the Basin.

With reference to disposal of materials, practices were established in 1945, and enforced at all subsequent times:

(1) Everything that holds or once held an explosive charge is to be dumped at sea, except items which are recovered from non-explosive storehouses and which are certain to be empty.

(2) Whenever digging for explosives, beryllium copper implements are to be used.

(3) When loading trucks a man is to be stationed thereon and he is to move all debris being loaded and extract any suspected items.

(4) A man is to be stationed always on the dump and he is to move everything dumped from trucks.

A further requirement was that recovered ammunition is, on no account, to be allowed to accumulate without being boxed, and boxes were to be distributed about the area and are to be piled in stacks of fifty with fifty feet between piles.

When the main roadways were cleared, the tedious task of clearing building foundations commenced. After the buildings themselves were cleared, three men remained behind to attempt to dig the shells from the top eighteen inches of soil.

To explain why work had to be suspended for five months during the winter, the climate in Nova Scotia from December to May can be cold. Although snow does not cover the ground continuously throughout this period, occasional heavy snow falls are experienced, and the earth can remain frozen up to a depth of three feet. This, and the fact that the worker’s hands would become too cold to handle explosive objects, caused the delay.

Clearing resumed in the Spring of 1946, and continued through 1947, 1948, and 1949. Improvement in the use of equipment and training of personnel contributed to ever more efficient clearing and disposal of explosive and potentially explosive materials. There were a few mishaps, but none serious. Private contractors were employed to assist service personnel, and they helped speed up the recovery.

It was recommended that the beaches and shores be re-cleared annually until the quantities of materials recovered were reduced greatly, and carried out in warmer periods as wading in water was necessary to ensure a thorough job. Re-fencing of the entire devastated area was deemed necessary, and to finalize the overall clearance program, it was recommended that the areas be levelled and graded for future use and expansion.

Final Report

On December 20, 1951 a letter was forwarded to C. M. Drury, Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence, Ottawa, which in part stated:

"The general course of action in clearing the devastated area as suggested in the Committee’s report of August 22, 1945, and in the later report of July 11, 1946, has been followed. Although it has been appreciated that the operations would of necessity be very lengthy, and would entail great labor, care and perseverance on the part of the personnel, the full magnitude of the task could only be realized when the step by step progress of the undertaking was unfolded and brought under careful review."

"With, but one qualification, we have no hesitation in classifying the area as fit for re-use. While we are satisfied that everything possible has been done to ensure underground clearance, yet no one could guarantee that no item remains undiscovered. In view of this, and not in anticipation of any real hazard, we do feel that, in the event of any excavation (as for foundations) having to be done, it would be advisable to have that excavation carried out under the control of an experienced representative of your department."

The letter was signed by committee members, chairman G. Ogilvie.

Fire patrols were continued both at the railway siding and inside the area until the end of the month (July), at which time all danger of fire recurring was considered remote, although a sharp vigil was maintained.

Immediately after all buildings had been examined, work began, making repairs, raising roofs, and clearing debris from badly damaged buildings in order to allow all explosive materials to be removed. Danger signs were prepared and placed in strategic positions, and the fence repaired. A security patrol and pass system to ensure that only authorized persons would be allowed to enter the area. Clearance of brush from around buildings was deemed to be of an early priority.

The question of salvage was raised, and it was considered possible to reclaim many tons of old brass, but the cost was estimated to exceed the value of the reclaimed material, so the idea was discarded.

The dumping program was inaugurated immediately, and scows were dispatched from the North Jetty to sea at the rate of two a week. From July 18 to October l, approximately twenty-two hundred tons of ammunition were transported by frigates and scows to sea where it was dumped.

The official report of the Naval Service Headquarters noted that by continual fire fighting the hazards from inside the area were brought under control by Saturday July 20, and maintaining a routine fire patrol during the following week, it was presumed the danger had passed. Throughout the early part of the following week an extreme period of hot weather was experienced, and it was interesting to note that in the evening, about 7:00 pm, as the air began to cool, the occasional shell "cooked-off" and that this was observed on three consecutive nights.

When the fires and last small explosions had ceased, picked squads of naval officers and men began to work in the Magazine area, removing to safety a great number of live shells, depth charges, and other explosive objects which had been flung in all directions by the blasts. Curious Haligonians, staring across Bedford Basin, could see part of the Burnside slope scorched and torn, and a few chaired pilings where the jetty had been. But they also saw how many of the grim brick buildings had been saved. It renewed the admiration of the Navy whose devoted efforts had saved the City.

The casualties were miraculously small, as previously noted, with only the one person killed by the first explosion. By chance the initial explosion had happened after 6:00 pm, when nearly all of the Magazine staff had withdrawn for the day. There were few civilian casualties, and no lives lost. Merchants lost plate glass store fronts, but there was no looting nor disorder of any sort. Halifax breathed again. It had been a narrow escape.

An assessment of the damage by Naval authorities began almost immediately. The South Jetty where the fire originated had disappeared with the exception of approximately thirty feet of the shore end and a few odd pilings. Apparently the roadway was intact, but covered with every size of shell from 20mm to 8 inches, as well as being liberally strewn with other projectiles. These appeared to be in every possible condition and a great many seemed to have burned out rather than detonated.

In almost all instances the outline of the foundations of the buildings could be traced, and they appeared to have held their form. All in all, 39 buildings of every size had disappeared and nothing was visible other than debris and a few structural members. Areas were originally covered with grass and some bush, but traces of grass and trees were just about obliterated. There were three large craters, one 160 feet in diameter and 80 feet deep, another was 100 feet in diameter and about 60 feet deep. These were the most distinct holes, although there were numerous others of varying sizes, but of no great depth.

Dozens of buildings were flattened or rendered useless for recovery. They seemed to have suffered mainly from the effects of the blast, whereas two buildings of new construction had the end walls pulled outwards. This is attributed to the extremely large concrete wings and earthenware traverses, which by forcing the blast waves to pass over the buildings and around the exposed sides, had created a partial vacuum, forcing the ends outwards. Damage to a Detonator Storehouse proved to be the most surprising, as there was absolutely nothing remaining of the structure except small piles of debris. Yet not one box of detonators, with which it had been completely stowed, appeared to have been detonated.

Roadways in two areas, although not covered with spoil, were littered with shells and cartridge cases as well as a great many fragments. The clearance of these roadways appeared to be the first job in order to enable transportation to function. The railway sidings had been disrupted and platforms badly burned in some locations, and the siding road was also covered with thousands of rounds of unfired small arms ammunition.

An inspection of power lines leading to the area had been disrupted and all pole transformers were down. Water service appeared to be in fair condition with the reservoir full. Water lines to Area "C" were cut off so that pressure could not be maintained. It was not possible to assess damage to steam lines although the North Central Heating Plant appeared serviceable and it was discovered that many steam pits were still in good condition.

Jerry Doyle, who was employed at the Magazine at the time of the explosion and spent more than fifty years there, recalled that he and his co-workers spent many years picking up spent ammunition and other explosives. Day added that even today personnel are ever vigilant for any that might have been overlooked.

Chapter 8, The Minister’s Press Release

On August 17, 1945 the Royal Canadian Navy issued this Press Release. Its contents are as follows:

The Honourable Douglas Abbott, Minister for Naval Services announced today that he had received and examined the minutes and findings of the Board of Inquiry convened to inquire into the causes of the explosion at the Royal Canadian Naval Magazine at Dartmouth, NS, on the 18th and l9th of July, 1945.

The Minister stated that while it has not been possible to determine the exact cause of the initial fire and explosion, the Government has decided to pay compensation on an ex gratia basis for the damage to property directly resulting from the explosion.

So far as the future of the Magazine at Dartmouth is concerned, the Minister stated that, in cooperation with the Hon. C.D. Howe, Minister of Munitions and Supply, an independent committee of explosive experts, under the chairmanship of Lt. Col. G. Ogilvie, of the Ammunition Production Branch of the Department of Munitions and Supply, has been appointed to examine into the history of the present magazine, its general design from a technical standpoint, the suitability of the existing buildings and facilities, the adequacy of the safety precautions which had been in force, and the methods of disposal of ammunition which are now being carried out.

Active steps are now being taken to clear the damaged area and to effect such temporary repairs as may be necessary. In the meantime, the magazine has been declared completely non-operational and, apart from the necessary clearing, no further transactions in explosive stores are being carried on.

The Minister summarized the findings of the Naval Board of Inquiry as follows:

The Board was unable to determine the initial cause of the explosion. From the evidence it would appear that fire caused explosives to ignite, thus increasing the intensity of heat to such a degree that detonation resulted. There was no evidence that fire had been observed by any person prior to the hearing of the first small explosions.

The possible sources of fire were unextinguished smoking materials or sparks, and spontaneous combustion of waste or other material.

Contributing factors to the possibility of fire and the major explosion which resulted were as follows:

(a) The landing of ammunition from ships to be declared surplus to requirements.
(b) The landing of ammunition from ships required for the Pacific Theatre which were to be refitted.

These factors resulted in a large accumulation of explosive stores on the South Magazine Jetty, where the original fire occurred, further accentuated by the fact the North Magazine Jetty was unusable due to its having been cleared to allow essential repairs to be undertaken.

The Board also found:

(a) That certain explosive stores had been accepted and stored on the South Magazine Jetty in contravention of Naval Magazine and Explosive Regulations and Regulations for Naval Armament Services.
(b) That the organization with respect to supervision was not sufficiently defined nor was enforcement insisted upon which would have made it impossible to smoke in prohibited places, and since the South Jetty is in all respects part and parcel of the Magazine Area, all magazine regulations should have been rigidly enforced.
(c) That there were not at this time included in the organization any arrangement for a guard to be placed on the jetty to ensure that smoking restrictions were enforced, both with respect to the jetty itself and also harbour craft secured thereto. This factor was most important at the time of the explosion on July 18th in view of the fact that large quantities of explosive stores were stored on the jetty.
(d) That the construction of the building and south jetty planking were of wood.

Taking into consideration the above factors, and having heard the evidence of witnesses who were in the immediate vicinity of the jetty just prior to the outbreak of the initial explosions, and the evidence of others who viewed the jetty from various locations, including observations of a passenger in an aircraft flying over the area, it was the Board’s opinion that:

(a) The fire and explosions did not originate in a Lighter or other craft moored alongside the South Magazine Jetty.
(b) The first explosions observed or heard appeared to be at the seaward end of the South Jetty.
(c) No fire was seen before the initial explosion.
(d) The cause of the explosions was considered to be fire, the probable origin of which was due to unauthorized smoking and carelessness with respect to disposal of ignited smoking materials.

Other possible causes considered by the Board were:

(i) The possibility of spontaneous combustion, as the congested state of the jetty would have made it difficult to see that all materials that might be subject to ignition were moved. (ii) The shifting of insecurely piled ammunition and the consequent striking of Primer caps. (iii) Sparks from smoke-stack of the coal fired boiler on the floating Pile Driver operated by the private Contractor. This was not considered very likely as the boiler fire had been banked at 4:00 PM on Wednesday, 18th July.

The Board reported that all personnel had left the jetty by 5:45 PM, and the only person proceeding on the jetty after that time and prior to the initial explosion was the duty Stoker, who at approximately 6: l5 PM had completed rounds of the power Lighters secured to the jetty. He had seen no evidence of fire at that time.

In inquiring into the events of the l8th-l9th July, the Board found that when the fire and explosion occurred, the alarm was promptly turned in and responded to by all Departments concerned. The fire party attached to the Magazine area brought to bear all equipment at their disposal and advanced to a position as close as was prudent, playing water on buildings and ammunition dumps. They were in turn assisted by the Fire Departments of the Naval Establishments in Halifax and Dartmouth. The extent of fire and explosions was such that it was deemed uncontrollable in a fire fighting sense, and withdrawal became necessary. The Board found that at great personal risk all personnel, Civilian, Veterans Guards and Naval had made a determined effort to bring under control a situation that was beyond their power, and that the withdrawal of personnel was not premature.

The Board further found that all Senior Officers concerned were recalled and promptly assumed their responsibilities. All Civilian Authorities were advised regarding areas recommended to be evacuated and the response and arrangements were effected efficiently having regard to the conditions prevailing. Prompt steps were taken to keep the other Services informed of the situation, the co-ordination being entirely satisfactory. Prompt steps were taken to resume fire fighting in the area as soon as an aerial survey and observation of the area on foot had been completed, and had disclosed that resumption was practicable.

The Board also found that certain conditions prevailing throughout the Magazine affected the efficiency of the area as a whole. Some of these conditions were as follows:

(a) The over stowing of Magazine Buildings and the stowage of explosive stores in the open in the Magazine Area in contravention of the regulations prescribing safety distances.
(b) The presence of wooden and other unsuitable buildings and of brush and grass in certain areas constituted a fire hazard.

The Board also reported that with the exception of the Inspection and Laboratory Staffs, practically no organized training had been carried out for the remainder of the staff which constituted the largest group of personnel at the Magazine. This resulted in a low average of technical knowledge. Organized training was rendered difficult owing to press of work and large turnover of staff in this group.

An adequate sense of responsibility respecting adherence to regulations was not instilled in all personnel attached to the Magazine area. This, combined with the fact that there were not sufficient guards and experienced Foremen and Charge Hands available, led to a laxity in enforcing the Safety Regulations and the Regulations for Naval Annament Services.

The Alarm system as installed was not in accordance with accepted modern practice, and no hook-up with the Naval and City Fire Stations could be effected in order to ensure immediate assistance as the situation demanded.

So far as personal responsibility is concerned, the Board, having been unable to determine the cause of the original explosion, were unable to attribute direct blame to any person or persons.

The Board found, however, that:

(a) Explosive stores were landed, accepted, and stored on the South Magazine Jetty in contravention of “Naval Magazine and Explosive Regulations," and "Regulations for Naval Armament Services" in force at that time. This constituted a hazard.
(b) Notwithstanding that certain Regulations could not be adhered to in their entirety, and that in certain specific instances these conditions had been authorized or acquiesced in by higher authority, it was the opinion of the Board that an energetic policy of enforcement was not pursued by those responsible in the Magazine itself.

The Minister further stated that Rear Admiral V. G. Brodeur, CBE (Commander, British Empire) Commanding Officer Pacific Coast, has been appointed Acting Inspector-General of Naval Ordnance charged with the duty of enquiring further into the situation at the Dartmouth Magazine and also of reviewing the present condition of all Naval Magazines throughout Canada, making whatever recommendations to the Minister he may consider necessary.

A further release, File: l70l, 4/4/46:



Most of the magazines destroyed in last July’s explosion at Bedford will not be rebuilt, according to an announcement released by Naval authorities, and the main storage will be at Renous, NB. The Halifax magazine will primarily be used in future for servicing the fleet operating out of the port and in such a capacity, will not be required to handle the large quantities of explosives it contained at the time of last year’s accident. Rebuilding such as is contemplated will be commenced with the completion of clearing up activities in the devastated area.

Speeding of the latter operation will get under way shortly. Winter conditions necessarily curtailed the work that began last fall, but favourable March weather has made possible an early start in the clearing up operations.

The extension planned is not for the purpose of providing additional storage for explosives, but is to provide additional safety arrangements and the relocation of the administration and technical buildings. These will be built adjacent to the old explosive area, in all probability.

Chapter 9, From The Inside

For many years Magazine personnel diligently scoured the blast area and beyond to recover any dormant ammunition or explosives that might remain. One cannot help but be impressed with the thoroughness of the investigations and clearing operations that began immediately after the explosion of July 18, 1945. Safety was paramount, not only for service personnel involved in the search, but for unauthorized others who might penetrate the Magazine area.

Typically the recovery year would begin early in May with a three-day training period. During this time, the Bomb Disposal Officer, M. E. McDowall would deliver lectures on explosive ammunition generally, displaced ammunition; related how the operation had progressed to date, and how it is proposed to finalize the clearance. Industrial safety training and practises were also included in the instructional period. This was followed by an examination and supervisors appointed.

As the physical activity got underway, brush cutting would commence, followed by a thorough surface examination of the site to recover all visible ammunition and explosives. This in turn was followed by flushing with high pressure pumps to a depth of several feet. Existing and newly-made water sources were used. A dammed-up swamp and creek brought water levels up by more than five feet in one area, and this provided an enormous supply of fresh water.

Sluiceways carried the debris away from the site after any explosives were culled out and removed. This was continued until explosive objects were no longer found in the sub-soil.

In 1947 approximately 660 tons of displaced ammunition was dumped, this being taken to sea aboard a flat-scow, which was towed by CNYC Riverton in six loads. Other than burned out objects, this ammunition was all packed in sawdust in boxes and dumped from the scow on shoots., which were permanently installed, two on either side of the barge.

All through the summers of 1946 to 1949, weekly reports were submitted by the Bomb Disposal Officer to the Superintendent Naval Armament Depot describing the events of the week, and how the various functions were carried out. Many obstacles were encountered, some perhaps unexpected. For example early in July of 1947, it was obvious that prowlers were entering the restricted areas in search of scrap brass. At midnight on Saturday, July 5, 1947, several military staff and an RCMP officer hid inside a shed and within a half hour observed four persons approaching the area. They passed by within feet of the shed, and at about 1:00 am, "Legs were sighted against the whiteness of the roadway. It could not be distinguished how many people were approaching, owing to the poor visibility. They were allowed to come within thirty feet of the hut, when Constable Skinner ran out, shone a light in their eyes, and apprehended the thieves. They were each carrying a sack of scrap brass."

Following a search, a small coal shovel, a pickaxe, and twenty-nine more sacks were found, of which five were filled with brass. The prisoners were questioned, and a Studebaker truck was discovered parked in front of a nearby house on the Dartmouth-Bedford Highway. The thieves were taken to the Halifax Police Station, where they were booked on a charge of theft. They appeared in County Court and pleaded guilty to the charge, "Theft of a quantity of scrap brass, valued at more than $25.00, the property of His Majesty the King, from RCN Magazine, Bedford, NS." They were fined $30.00, with the alternative of twenty-five days in prison, and all elected to accept the jail term.

This report, like many others was signed by M. E. McDowall, Bomb Disposal Officer.

Reports continued to describe the clearance operations, which were primarily by hydraulic means, high pressure pumps pumping water through long stretches of hose forcing rubble and ammunitions to be exposed and separated and collected. To ensure safety, a high degree of discipline was mandatory, even to such related activities as the transportation of personnel. Three men were observed standing in the box of a truck while in motion, and were deemed to be punished by suspension or dismissal.

While suspicious objects discovered outside the Magazine area were reported on a regular basis, often such objects were examined and found to be non-explosion related. During the week of August 9, 1947, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) reported an object along the shores of Bedford Basin. Following investigation, "The object was found in two (2) feet of water, and was determined to be an old gasoline tank, measuring eighteen (18) inches in diameter and forty-four (44) inches in length, that had been discarded from a small boat. It was left exactly where it was found."

On another occasion, on August 20, 1947, it was reported that a forty-five gallon steel drum had been sighted off Terrence Bay by three fisherman. This had to be investigated of course, as were all suspicious objects, but it turned out to be harmless and were not dumped by RCN Magazine.

There were often legitimate discoveries. On Sunday, September 7, of the same year, a night watchman on Kempt Road, Halifax, had found a projectile. The Bomb Disposal Officer, M. E. McDowall, went to investigate. He found the watchman in the heart of Africville, and was an employee of a Montreal firm who was dismantling barges purchased from War Assets Corporation. He related that while making the rounds of the barges, he spotted the shell in about eighteen inches of water. He also said that there was no need to handle the object with caution, as it would not "go off," because he had unscrewed the fuse and when nothing happened, he screwed it back down again. The man was given a severe warning, after which he replied, "Oh yes, I know all about these things, I was in the Army for five years!"

The projectile was four inch, from a fixed round, fitted with a badly damaged fuse. It was thought it came from the Explosion area, and that it was thrown the two miles during the explosion of 1945. It was taken to the Magazine, and packed with other explosive objects to be dumped.

McDowall told the RCMP that his department was only too willing to investigate reports of explosive objects, and acknowledged that a good deal of his time was spent in just such activities. He went on to request that a procedure be followed in making such reports. Pointing out that in his experience, practically all materials recovered had been tampered with at one time or another, and it could be expected that an accident would eventually occur. lt seemed that it would be in the interests of the public to have the local newspapers publish an article on the dangers of handling objects about which people had no knowledge, and that are usually in a damaged or deteriorated condition.

Another tragedy occurred on Thursday, October 9, 1947. A loaded scow was taken to sea by CNAV (Canadian Naval Auxiliary Vessel) Eastore and dumped. Six workers and the Bomb Disposal charge hand accompanied the scow to sea, but during the implementation of this operation, a member of the squad was lost at sea. The worker, B. J. Pothier, 47 years of age, was employed dumping boxes of ammunition which had been recovered from the sub-soil at the Magazine site. It appeared that his gauntleted hand became jammed between the handle of the box and the box itself, pulling him into the water when the box was dropped overboard. He did not come to the surface until the stern of the tow was well past the spot, but a lifebelt was thrown to within five feet of him. The crew reported that Pothier made a definite attempt to swim, but he appeared to be stunned, and once more the body disappeared, and was not sighted again.

The handling of boxes by their handles was contrary to standard safety regulations, as it was feared that the bottom of the boxes might collapse, causing the explosives to be dropped. In this instance none of the workers was wearing life jackets. Although safety of personnel was a prime objective of officers directing operations, lapses were bound to occur. This was a case in point.

Again in 1947, as the construction of the Bedford-Dartmouth highway proceeded, the contractor cut, piled, and burned the brush along the right-of-way. Ten or so men were working around the fires when a heavy explosion occurred, and three workers were knocked to the ground by the blast. Luckily no one was injured, although there was a great deal of excitement and nervousness. Prior to this time, a major difficulty had been keeping the men impressed on the danger of handling excavated materials. The psychological effect of this mishap was that any doubts about the importance of strict safety practises were completely erased.

Within the boundaries of the Magazine, emphasis was continued to be applied to observe safety precautions. The handling of fused Hedgehogs was of considerable concern. Fuses were often badly distorted and broken. During recovery, the projectile, if damaged in any way, was subjected to a "jerk test" by a worker pulling the object along the ground on an eighty foot line, and when clear of the operation, it was packed in sawdust and boxed for disposal. Naturally all hands stood well back and staging was placed so the object would not fall. In some areas these larger type explosives were exceptionally numerous, and as sometimes as many as one or two per day could be located, great care was required.

On May 5, 1948, Mr. George Fancy, an ammunition worker employed at the Magazine, reported that his two sons had been looking for salvageable material along the edge of the old Dartmouth-Bedford Highway and had found a quantity of ammunition, and that they had returned home bringing two rounds.

The Bomb Disposal Officer, McDowall, went to the Fancy residence where he took into his possession the two rounds, one being high explosive incendiary and the other high explosive tracer. The boys directed the way to the spot approximately three-quarters of a mile from the north gate of the Magazine, where an additional 96 rounds were recovered.

Due to the fact that the ammunition was found piled under a small spruce tree, and that it had the appearance of being placed, it was probable that they had been deposited by someone who had planned on picking them up at a later date. The RCMP was notified.

At 11:45, September 4, 1948, McDowall was informed by Naval Operations that an object, believed to be explosive, was on a fishing boat, moored at the Burns Fisheries wharf, Lower Water Street, Halifax. He was instructed to carry out an investigation and recovery, if necessary.

On arrival at the wharf, Mr. Burns, the proprietor, told McDowall that a Naval Officer had arrived to view the item, and had said he would return. The object was identified as a Hedgehog Projectile, with a damaged fuse. Naval Operations were contacted, said that everything was in hand, and that destruction by countermining would be carried out on McNab’s Island. McDowall pointed out that this had been "implemented in 1945, which caused considerable excitement and concern to both the Naval Authorities and the citizens of Halifax, and recommended that this type of demolition not be carried out so close to Halifax and Dartmouth." Attention was also given to the fact that a guard had not been posted, and that no one of authority was in attendance.

The Hedgehog Projectile was recovered and removed to the Magazine to be disposed of in the approved manner.

In August, 1965, a report was submitted to Naval Operations by Commander W. Onysko concerning the "Clearance of Ammunition from low water mark, RCN Ammunition Depot, Bedford, NS":

l. Submitted for information that at the time of the explosion at the Bedford Ammunition Depot in 1945, a large quantity of ammunition was projected into the water off the old South Jetty, much of it in a damaged condition.

2. Small quantities of this ammunition in subsequent years washed up onto the fore shore, was recovered, and subsequently dumped at sea. No concerted effort has been made to retrieve that ammunition, which was still under water and which is continually deteriorating and becoming exceptionally dangerous if handled.

3. In very recent years, SCUBA diving has gained immensely in popularity. In recent months, it has been noted that SCUBA divers in small boats are diving on this submerged, unexploded, ammunition and appear to be retrieving brass cartridge cases and other items, presumably to be sold as scrap metal. The dangers inherent in this practise, particularly by persons with little of no experience in the handling, examination, repair, emptying and/or destruction of ammunition cannot be over emphasized.

4. It is suggested that if a SCUBA diver inadvertently had an accident while retrieving or handling this ammunition, it could possibly prove very embarrassing to the Crown, due to the widespread publicity which undoubtedly would ensue. Action was taken by the Officer in Charge of the Bedford Ammunition Depot some months ago to place a four foot by eight foot sign on the perimeter chain link fence, near the old South Jetty, warning of the dangers of this unexploded ammunition.

5. It is recommended that in order to protect both the SCUBA diving public and the Crown, from accidents and/or unfavorable publicity, that one of more of the following courses of action be taken:

(a) Immediate arrangements be made for the Operational Clearance Diving Unit to retrieve all of the displaced ammunition and take it to sea for disposal in deep water.

(b) Have a notice to be placed near the perimeter of the diving area warning of the dangers to divers and others.

(c) Have the water area containing the displaced ammunition marked with buoys, with several of the buoys bearing signs warming of the danger.

6. In the interim, any further incidents involving SCUBA divers at that particular location will be referred to the Queen’s Harbour Master for information and action as considered necessary.

Original signed by W. Onysko, Commander

Previous reports had advised that the shores of the area were cleared and that further work would be unnecessary. However, with this disclosure and other diving unit exploration, it was obvious that the beaches and adjacent waters were far from explosive free. A re-search between the security fence and low water revealed astonishing results. A six inch shell, boxes of ammunition complete with rounds, and small arms ammunition of all calibres were found in large quantities. Further exploration and clearance was continued.

Roy Nelson, now retired, and living in Halifax, worked at the Magazine for "thirty-three years and seventeen days." He had been working in the Laboratory, repairing ammunition that could be returned to the naval ships.

He had just returned to his home in Tuft’s Cove after his shift on the 18th, and was standing at his open front door, when the explosion took place. The concussion blew him across the room and he landed on their chesterfield, unharmed, but pretty well shaken. Realizing what had happened, he bundled his wife and two children into his car, and drove towards Dartmouth, ending up at the RCAF barracks in Eastern Passage. About midnight there was a moment of panic, when an excited man rushed in and shouted that everyone should head for the "water"; that a "big one" was coming. Such rumors continued throughout the night and into the next day, most of them highly exaggerated, and usually unfounded.

Mr. Nelson and his family remained at the barracks for that night and the next, and finally returned home on the 20th, to find their house had shifted on its foundation, the chimney destroyed, and all windows shattered. He did receive some compensation, but "it didn’t amount to much," he recalled.

When he went back to work a few days later, and for the next six months, he and his co-workers began the task of retrieving "dead-headers" that had blown up all over the place. Small fires were continually being set by snow-flake rockets, which, like fireworks, would spiral up in the air, and when they landed, would ignite grass and scrub brush. He remembers a "Squid" missile destroyed a water tower up on the hill, and another one landed on a rock at the edge of the Basin, the parts of which they tenderly placed in a bucket of water, and took away for proper disposal.

For the employees of the Bedford Magazine, even though they had been working with and around all kinds of explosives for many years, the explosion itself was literally an earth shattering event. Those who felt it was just a "matter of time" before the volatile stores would activate had their worst fears confirmed. But, wartime experience and knowledge equipped personnel to literally haul Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, and surrounding communities from the brink of disaster.



Chapter 10, Epilogue

There have been several theories as to the cause of the explosions at the Bedford Magazine. The Magazine was not ready for the massive quantities of ammunition that had to be stored, so regulations were not observed. Those who were close to the situation knew that real trouble was going to be hard to avoid. Nothing was done to correct the improper storage or handling of the discharge of explosives and on July 18, 1945, the inevitable happened.

Although there were many injuries, only one life was lost, and that in the line of duty. Patrolman Henry Craig discovered the fire that had started in the underbrush at the South Jetty, ran up the pier to sound the alarm, and before he had time to consider his own safety, he was killed by the first enormous blast.

Once the alarm sounded, fire brigades sprung into action, and Naval authorities quickly took charge. Many brave men battled the blazes, defying the exploding ammunition which was flying in all directions. But for their courage, the damage could have been much worse. The civilian population evacuated their homes and businesses without panic. Their needs were attended by the many volunteer agencies that quickly mobilized. Hundreds of buildings were damaged, some beyond repair, both within the boundaries of the Magazine, and in the north-ends of Halifax and Dartmouth.

Returning to their homes after the "all clear" was given, many were shocked to find them completely destroyed. Full compensation was committed and paid. Much credit has to be given to the Military leadership and personnel for their diligence in unearthing the unexploded ammunition, not only during the first few years following the explosions, but for the decades that followed. Security and safety are rules by which the Magazine operates today.

Approximately 50% of the buildings in the Magazine prior to July 18 were destroyed or severely damaged. Two permanent buildings have been rebuilt along with a number of "temporary" storage buildings for non-explosives. There are plans underway to construct a new ammunition maintenance facility, and additional temporary storage buildings to replace some of the originals (now over 50 years old), also for non-explosives.

At present there are eight military personnel stationed at CFAD Bedford, along with some 59 civilian employees. Numbers vary slightly according to the responsibilities assigned. At the time of the Explosion there were over 200 combined civilian and military personnel. The Magazine has 552 hectares of area enclosed by fence, of which 230 hectares are high security. It is also the home to over 60 white-tailed deer, which during the hunting season increases to well over a hundred. They jump over an 8-foot high fence to escape hunters roaming the area.

The facility performs an essential service to the many Naval craft that require ammunition and other explosives for their training and peace keeping duties. Its personnel are ever working on new armaments and techniques. In its own quiet way, the institution itself and its people are part of the Halifax heritage, and will continue in that role for many years to come.

Special Acknowledgements

I wish to thank the commanding officer of CFAD Bedford, Lieutenant Commander David Ireland, for his valuable critique of the material presented in this book, and for his enthusiastic support throughout. Mr. Glenn J. Vallance, Material Control and Environment Officer provided me with documents and statistics which were essential to the accuracy of the research. I also am indebted to Marilyn Gurney, Curator of the Maritime Command Museum, who made available to me much of the archival material and photographs I have been privileged to use. Heather Harris agreed to read the manuscript for comment and suggestions for improvement, and I very much appreciate her contribution. There are many others, too numerous to name individually, but I hope each will know how much I am indebted to you for the recollections and data so willingly shared, which information I used to verify conditions both within and outside the Magazine during and after “The Other Halifax Explosion."



Interviews and newspaper accounts offered useful insights into "The Other Explosion." Other materials that were helpful were Thomas Raddall’s "The Warden of the North" and W. C. Borrett’s “Penalties of War." The reports of the Naval Inquiry were invaluable. Others included:

1. Halifax Nova Scotian, July 13, 1985
2. Chronicle Herald, Sept. 1989, August 1991
3. The Naval Service of Canada, Gilbert Tucker
4. Halifax Mail Star, May 5, 1987 (Alex Nickerson)
5. The Story of Firefighting in Canada, Donal Baird
6. The Senior’s Advocate, June 1986
7. The Royal Canadian Inquiry, April 4, 1946
8. CBC Staff Magazine, Radio Vol. 1, No. 10
9. The Halifax Mail, July 19, 20, 21, 23, 1945
10. The Daily News, Peter Hayes, "The Other Explosion" May 19, 1992
11. Ottawa Journal
12. Montreal Gazette
13. Ottawa Citizen
14. Toronto Globe and Mail
15. New York Herald Tribune
16. Trident, the Canadian Naval Newspaper, August 9, 1978, Felicity Hannington
17. Canadian Press, Gerry Arnold
18. Halifax Mail Star, July 20, 1945
19. Rube Hornstein
20. Don Tremaine
21. Sisters Mary Martin, Ellen Keller, Cecelia Rooney
22. Don Cunningham
23. In the Wake of the Alderney, Harry Chapman
24. Maritime Command Museum, Marilyn Gurney
25. Malachi Jones
26. David Jones
27. Lt. Cdr. David Ireland
28. Glenn Vallance
29. Jerry Doyle and Roy Nelson, Retirees
30. The Halifax Star
31. Halifax, The First 250 Years, Fingard, Guildford, Sutherland
32. Public Archives of Nova Scotia
33. Halifax City Regional Library, Reference Department

 Mr. Wright is the author of several other interesting books,
5 of which, like this one, can be found at this public library link.
H. Millard Wright Books

A few can also be purchased at

And this is his latest book.
Wartime British Schoolchildren Come To Nova Scotia

Other Links

Here are some other July 1945 Halifax/Bedford Magazine Explosion websites,
most with additional pictures and stories.


'An East Coast Port': Halifax in Wartime, 1939-1945

Mysteries of Canada


Magazine Hill Explosion - July 18, 1945

Bedford Explosion 1945 
Google Images

Halifax Explosion 1945
Google Images

The Memory Project - Sarah Earldine Krys (audio)
Speaks about the V-Day riots as well

The Memory Project - Ernest Hayward Winter (audio)
Speaks about Navy life as well

V-Day Riots in Halifax
Just a few weeks before the explosion

Any questions or comments can be sent by clicking the email below.