Into the Debris Field:

The Halifax Explosion

A 100th Anniversary project recognizing the profound impact of the Halifax Explosion and how the reverberations of December 6, 1917 continue to shape the consciousness of this place and its people.

Drifts

Explore the debris field of the 1917 explosion in the Halifax harbour, encountering ruins, scars, shards and fragments from the disaster. Immerse yourself in an interactive guide of ‘drifts’ (suggested walking routes) that tell stories about the past and present. Share your own images and experiences … and stay safe in the debris field.

Download on the App Store
Drifts App Screenshots

Debris Field

This drift in the debris field of the Halifax Explosion introduces you to some key areas of what was known as Richmond, including Fort Needham, the Hydrostone district, and Mulgrave Park. You can see the Narrows (where the Imo and the Mont-Blanc collided) from some vantage points, but not the site of Pier 6 (where the Mont-Blanc exploded). Across the harbour on the Dartmouth side, Tufts Cove, Shannon Park and the site of the Mi’kmaq community of Turtle Grove are visible.

The route is a suggestion, but feel free to wander and explore. You may contribute your own photos, videos and comments along the way.

Stay safe in the debris field.

See Drift

A Natural History

Exploring the debris field as landscape and environment.

A Natural History is a drift through a disaster landscape that is anything but natural. Trees, gardens, drumlins and landscape designs are on the route, as are charcoal, smoke, and a shattered school.

“Rosemary is a symbol of remembrance. Lavender brings a calming effect. Brambles are for remorse”.

The route is a suggestion, but feel free to wander and explore. You may contribute your own photos, videos and comments along the way.

Stay safe in the debris field.

See Drift

Across the Narrows

Catastrophes of colonization and war.

Although the trauma caused by the explosion in Halifax harbour is barely visible today, with few markers or official commemorations within the core of the most devastated areas, it continues to reverberate, shaping our identities and communities, and our future.

Across the Narrows, locations in the North Dartmouth communities of Turtle Grove, Tufts Cove and Shannon Park embody stories of devastation wrought by colonization and war time catastrophe. Although the 1917 population on this side of the harbour was much smaller than Halifax’s, the devastation was just as significant, as was the reconstruction effort.

The route is a suggestion, but feel free to wander and explore. You may contribute your own photos, videos and comments along the way. Stay safe in the debris field.

See Drift

WhistleBlowing

Retracing the ships’ passages from the mouth of the harbour to the Bedford Basin.

This is a waterborne excursion in the debris field. The Imo and the Mont-Blanc collided in the narrows of the Halifax harbour, at a point just west of the French Cable Wharf. What caused the two vessels to be on this collision course? After the collision, as fire engulfed the Mont-Blanc, it drifted for 20 minutes, ending up at Pier 6 where it exploded. Before the blast threw it ashore, the Imo drifted east, towards Dartmouth. The ferry operated without interruption throughout the crisis. Can you imagine this sequence of events from vantage points on the water?

The route is a suggestion, but feel free to drift and explore. You may contribute your own photos, videos and comments along the way. Stay safe in the debris field. Carry a whistle.

See Drift

North End & North Street

In 1917, Halifax was a divided city, shaped by racial segregation, class distinctions, and differences in religious affiliations. 100 years later, how much has changed? In this part of the city, the work of repairing, uniting and building communities continues.

The route is a suggestion, but feel free to wander and explore. You may contribute your own photos, videos and comments along the way.

Stay safe in the debris field.

See Drift

Aftermath

What follows in the days after a disaster.

Aftermath is a drift through the Halifax landscape of the explosion, exploring some of the events that followed immediately after the disaster. Music and sound are featured in several sites along a route that includes ghostly locations such as the Orphanage, the Cotton Mill and the morgue at the Chebucto School.

“Of all the comrades that e'er I had
They are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had
They would wish me one more day to stay.”
-from The Parting Glass, traditional Irish song, 17thC

The route is a suggestion, but feel free to wander and explore. You may contribute your own photos, videos and comments along the way.

Stay safe in the debris field.

See Drift

Vanished • Volatilisée

“Richmond with land to spare knew no over-crowding and was spared the greater city’s greater problems. She could not boast of wealth nor complain of poverty. Here dwelt the artisan, the railroad man, the independent man of moderate means, the home-maker, the man of enterprise building the city’s newer part.”
Reverend C.J. Crowdis, 1920

« Dotée d’un grande superficie de terres, Richmond n’a pas connu de surpopulation et a échappé aux problèmes plus importants de plus grosses villes. Elle ne pouvait ni se vanter d’être riche ni se plaindre d’être pauvre. Ici habitaient l’artisan, le cheminot, l’homme indépendant aux revenus modestes, le chef de famille, l’homme entreprenant construisant la nouvelle partie de la ville. »
Révérend C.J. Crowdis, 1920

See Marker

City at War • Une ville en guerre

“There are no ships in for examination. During the afternoon 10 transports steam up to the basin...with convoys of soldiers for France. They anchor in the basin, where they will await the departure of the battleship to escort them across the Atlantic.”

Frank Baker, Sailor
1917

« Il n’y a aucun navire dans le port aux fins d’inspection. Dans le courant de l’après-midi, dix transports de troupes se dirigent vers le bassin… avec des convois de soldats en partance pour la France. Ils jettent l’ancre dans le bassin où ils attendront le départ du navire de guerre qui les escortera lors de leur traversée de l’Atlantique. »

Frank Baker, marin
1917

See Marker

No Sparing Dartmouth • Dartmouth n’est pas épargnée

“We returned to our ship at 11 p.m. sick at heart with the appalling misery with which the city abounded, the glare from the fires lighting the harbour up like day. On the other side of the bay, the little town of Dartmouth was also in flames, on sea and land nothing but misery, death, and destruction. Looking out on the flaming city from our ship, I cannot help but marvel that we escaped sharing the fate of thousands of souls in this terrible catastrophe.”

Frank Baker, Sailor 
1917

« Nous avons regagné notre navire à 11 h la mort dans l’âme au vu de l’effroyable détresse dans laquelle toute la ville se trouvait, de l’éclat des incendies qui illuminaient le port comme s’il faisait jour. De l’autre côté de la baie, la petite ville de Dartmouth était elle aussi la proie des flammes. En mer comme sur terre, rien que misère, mort et destruction. En regardant la ville en flammes depuis notre navire, je ne puis que m’émerveiller de ne pas avoir subi le même sort que celui de milliers d’âmes lors de cette terrible catastrophe. »

Frank Baker, marin 
1917

See Marker

Torn Apart • Déchirés

“Men were crying for their families and women crying for their children still trapped in burning homes. Some were kneeling in the streets praying to God for help. It was a terrible sight.”
Annie Chapman, Survivor

« Des hommes pleuraient leurs familles disparues et des femmes appelaient leurs enfants toujours coincés dans des maisons en flammes. Certains étaient à genoux dans les rues et imploraient Dieu pour qu’il les aide. C’était une vision d’horreur. »
Annie Chapman, survivante

See Marker

What We Lost • Ce que nous avons perdu

“In the midst of life we are in death.”

The Archbishop of Nova Scotia, Book of Common Prayer 
1917

« Au cœur de la vie, la mort nous entoure. »

Archevêque de Nouvelle-Écosse, Livre de la prière commune 1917

See Marker

Banding Together • Faire cause commune

“Smoke was already rising from many places and the fire was spreading. It was a novel and dreamlike experience—death, destruction, and fire all around. As the ferry docked, we saw men and women pressed against the ferry gates intently watching for the return of their children and menfolk.”
Ian Forsyth, Student

« De la fumée s’élevait déjà à plusieurs endroits alors que l’incendie se propageait. Ce fut une expérience inédite et onirique que d’être entouré de mort, de destruction et de feu. Alors que le traversier accostait, nous apercevions des hommes et des femmes, collés contre les barrières du traversier surveillant avec attention le retour de leurs enfants et de leurs hommes ».
Ian Forsyth, étudiant

See Marker

Bandaging Chaos • Pansage chaotique

“Notwithstanding the crowding together of the wounded they gave little evidence of the suffering they endured. . . . There were pale faces enough but their eyes were dry. There were no tears. Tears were not yet brewed. The suddenness and horror of the disaster were too great to find expression in that way; the shock to the nerve centres induced a form of anaesthesia, a certain callousness which I believe to be a common enough condition when a human organism is acted upon by the grimmest of all the stern realities of life.”

G.H. Murphy, Doctor
 1917

« En dépit du fait qu’ils étaient entassés les uns sur les autres, les blessés n’affichaient que très peu de signes de la souffrance qu’ils avaient endurée. Il y avait beaucoup de visages blêmes, mais dont les yeux n’étaient pas humides. Il n’y avait pas de larmes. Les larmes n’avaient pas encore pu s’exprimer. La soudaineté et l’horreur du désastre ont été trop grandes pour que l’on puisse s’exprimer au moyen de larmes; le choc infligé aux centres nerveux a provoqué une forme d’anesthésie, une certaine insensibilité qui, à mon avis, est un état assez courant lorsque l’organisme humain est confronté aux plus sombres de toutes les cruelles réalités de la vie. »

G.H. Murphy, médecin
 1917

See Marker

No Time to Waste • Pas de temps à perdre

“I have lain among the dying in Flanders, I have gone over the top, crossed No-Man’s Land, treading underfoot my own comrades still trembling with their death wounds and I have witnessed the agony of the aftermath of a bootless counterattack, but I have seen nothing worse than this.”

Unknown Soldier, 1917

« J’ai rampé parmi les mourants en Flandre, je suis monté à l’assaut, j’ai traversé des no man’s land en piétinant mes propres compagnons d’armes blessés à mort et grelottants, et j’ai été témoin de l’agonie engendrée par une contre-attaque infructueuse, mais je n’ai jamais vu pire spectacle que celui-ci. »

Soldat inconnu, 1917

See Marker

Heeding the Call • Répondre à l’appel

“Tonight it is a city of death, of nameless graves, ghostly phantoms, but from the blackness of the shadows there emerges something bright and holy, the faith and the heroism and the human brotherhood of man.”

Grattan O’Leary, Journalist
 1917

« Ce soir, la ville en est une de mort, de tombes sans nom, de sinistres fantômes, mais de la noirceur des pénombres jaillit quelque chose de lumineux et de sacré : la foi, l’héroïsme et la fraternité humaine. »

Grattan O’Leary, journaliste
 1917

See Marker

Bearing Witness • Témoignage

“But we must live in hopes of a brighter future. Somewhere the sun is shining. The dark cloud will eventually break, revealing its silvery lining. We can only add, ‘Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou us on.’”

Joseph Sheldon, Journalist 
1917

« Mais nous devons vivre dans l’espoir d’un avenir meilleur. Quelque part le soleil brille. Éventuellement, une percée dans le nuage noir laissera passer une lueur d’espoir. Nous ne pouvons qu’ajouter ceci : Guide-nous, bienveillante lumière, parmi l’obscurité qui nous entoure, puisses-tu nous guider. »

Joseph Sheldon, journaliste 
1917

See Marker

The Will to Rebuild • La volonté de reconstruire

“Stand on a vantage point and view the north end of Halifax now. Men say the day of miracles is passed; but there is a vision of regeneration here that fringes the miraculous. As though over night, the North End has shaken off its incubus of holocaust. Ruin and desolation have given place to the new order. A new city has risen out of the ashes of the old. We rub our eyes and look again—but the vision does not fade. The new city remains—and grows, building by building, street by street, amid the tumultuous music of a thousand hammers, the wholesome discord of a thousand saws.”

North End Redevelopment Poster, 1919

« Observez le quartier North End d’Halifax depuis un point d’observation maintenant. « Les hommes disent que les jours de miracles sont terminés; mais il y a ici une régénération manifeste qui tient du miracle. Il semble que, du jour au lendemain, le quartier North End se soit débarrassé de l’incube de l’holocauste. Ruines et désolation ont fait place à un nouvel ordre. Une nouvelle ville est née des cendres du passé. Nous nous frottons les yeux et regardons à nouveau, mais la vision ne s’évanouit pas.  La nouvelle ville demeure et se développe bâtiment par bâtiment, rue par rue, parmi le concert frénétique de mille marteaux, la saine dissonance de mille scies. »

Affiche du réaménagement du quartier North End, 1919

See Marker

Toward the Future • Vers l’avenir

“At the risk of being melodramatic, one can imagine the reflections of the sun in the early morning mist, the grey days and in the high noon. The tower will be an emblazoned symbol of hope with its striking appearance growing from Fort Needham, with its bells ringing out across the city tolling for the first time visibly and audibly to its residents below and in Dartmouth, a reminder of the paths we have travelled since that awful day, and how we have got to where we are now.”
 Keith Graham, Architect
1984

« Au risque de donner dans le mélodrame, on peut imaginer les reflets du soleil dans le brouillard matinal lors de jours gris et à midi. Avec sa silhouette imposante dépassant celle du Fort Needham et ses cloches retentissant dans toute la ville, sonnant pour la première fois de façon visible et audible pour les résidents ici et à Dartmouth, la tour sera un symbole empreint d’espoir et un rappel du chemin que nous avons parcouru depuis cet affreux jour, et des mis en œuvre pour arriver là où nous sommes aujourd’hui. »
Keith Graham, architecte 
1984

See Marker

Markers

Installed in select locations throughout the city in 2018, a series of iconic sculptural markers will commemorate the events of the Halifax Explosion. Designed by RHA+D, these bent perforated vertical forms reference the landscape of exploded trees that remained standing in the devastated area after the blast. A conversation between two forms, the markers represent a traumatic past and our reflective present, the interplay of two ships in their fateful approach toward one another, and the tension of the harbour Narrows in-between.

Marker sites have been established in Halifax’s Fort Needham Memorial Park and in special locations on both sides of the harbour where strong connections to the Explosion remain imprinted on the landscape.

View Markers

Into the Debris Field

Marking the 100-Year Legacy of the Halifax Explosion

The Debris Field identifies the neighbourhoods and settlements devastated in the 1917 Halifax Explosion- communities like Richmond, north Dartmouth, and Turtle Grove- as seen through the lens of memory. This web project documents two complementary expressions of those memories: a commemorative marker program and Drifts, an interactive mobile app.

Together, this multifaceted centenary project illustrates the powerful dynamics of historical and personal reflection, and active research and public engagement. Visit the markers and interact with the app to experience how this human-made disaster continues to echo across time and space through extraordinary community-based connections. Here, you can reflect on your own ties to the events and stories of the Explosion, and to this city and its people.

DRIFTS

Narratives in Space + Time Society (NiS+TS) invites you to join us on one of the many ‘drifts’ (walks) we have developed in the debris field of the Halifax Explosion. Created with the help of over 80 collaborators and hundreds of participants, these choreographed interactive walks offer up reflections, images, videos, and other ephemeral traces that we see, hear, smell, taste and feel around us in our urban environment. Many of these urban spaces are overlooked, taken for granted, or disregarded; walking in the debris field makes us more aware of how we shape the urban space around us, and how it shapes us. Drifts demonstrate how the past and present haunt the future. All the routes on the app are simply suggestions, so feel free to wander and explore within a single drift, or from one drift to another. Walk your own path. Stay safe in the debris field.

See Drifts