The Halifax Explosion of 1917 Is Part of Our Family’s History

This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion of 1917 and it is part of our family’s history.

The Explosion

Thursday, December 6, 1917 dawned just like any other sunny, early December morning.

Around 50’000 Haligonians went about business as usual that morning and had no idea that in a short time their life would be turned upside down.

At 9:04:35am (AST) the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship full of high explosives on the way from New York via Halifax to Bordeaux France, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in the Narrows of the Halifax port. The resulting fire onboard of the SS Mont-Blanc ignited the cargo, causing the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons.

explosion location and wrecked IMO

IMO on the Dartmouth Shore
MMA MP 207.1.184/270
(photograph only)

Credit: image from Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

That fateful day

  • 2’000 people were killed and more than 9’000 were injured.

The city was left in ruins and

  • 548 buildings burned
  • 824 buildings collapsed
  • 1,249 buildings were wrecked

The day after the explosion, winter set in with a vengeance and it got bitter cold which made life even more miserable for the survivors.

For the full story about the explosion check out on Wikipedia

Our Family’s Story

Story written by Marlies Cohen wife of Maxwell Cohen grandson of Jacob Cohen.

Jacob and Alice Cohen

Jack and Alice

This is the story of my husband’s grandfather Jack Cohen. I joined the family when Jack was already 89 years old.

Whenever we asked Jack where he lived in Halifax when the explosion occurred, he said that he did not want to talk about.

Now, as I am working on putting this story together, things are slowly starting to fall into place. After a fruitless online search, someone suggested that I should look up old city directories. I called Alderney Library and got in touch with Rosemary, a very helpful librarian who directed me to the 1917 city directory where I could find the information.

1917 Halifax City Directory Listing

city directory 1917 | 264 Maynard Street

Thursday, December 6, 1917 dawned just like any other sunny, early December morning. 30 year old Jacob (Jack) Cohen had already left his home and his 6 months pregnant wife Alice and 3 year old son Joseph at 264 Maynard Street and was at work at the Boston Ladies Tailoring Company, his tailor shop, at 9 Gottingen Street.

264 Maynard Street does no longer exist

264 Maynard Street
Plan showing devastated area of Halifax City, N.S.

Based on the large map this image is from their house on Maynard Street was on North of North Street.

Jack survived the explosion at his tailor shop on Gottingen Street and ran immediately to his home on Maynard Street, but he had a hard time finding it as (according to what he did tell us) the houses on the street were either destroyed or collapsed. He called out for his wife and young son. His son was OK, but his wife was buried underneath the rubble of their collapsed home. So, he started digging with his bare hands removing rubble. He worked tirelessly until the next day when he rescued his wife, Alice. Both Alice and his unborn baby were OK.

hfx devastated area

Plan showing devastated area of Halifax City, N.S.

We could never exactly find out when Jack and his family left Halifax, Nova Scotia for Saint John, New Brunswick.

On March the 9th 1918 Alice gave birth to a healthy boy Samuel Cohen, my husband’s dad in Saint John, New Brunswick.

According to Jack, the explosion was such a horrible event, that he never wanted to return to Halifax and we are quite sure that he never even went back even for a visit.

Close up images from Plan showing devastated area of Halifax City, N.S.

Family Tree

Jacob (Jack) Cohen Jan 17/1887 Poland → Oct 26/1989 Saint John, NB
married to Alice Kunitzky 1884 – 1958 Saint John, NB
Son – Samuel Cohen March 9/1918 Saint John, NB – April 14/2000 Saint John, NB
Grandson – Maxwell (Mal) R Cohen – March 20/1950 Saint John, NB
Great-Grandson – Reuven (Ruv) J Cohen – August 29/1978

Aftermath Pictures

Jack’s home was within the 1 mile radius

Map of the Halifax Explosion’s blast radius, image via Library and Archives

Blast radios area

blast radius area

Blast radius area image – credit: Cityscape: Halifax Hydrostone District a Blast from the Past

CanadaMap showing actual repairs till January 23/1918
credit: Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Committee Photographs – Photograph 70

Map showing actual repairs up to Jan 23/1918

Map showing actual repairs up to Jan 23/1918

Additional Links About the Explosion

I used to create my post

If you have any information to contribute to this post, I am happy to hear from you. Either leave a comment below or contact me.



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