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Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917

1 rating: 5.0
A book released November 14, 2006 by Laura M. Mac Donald

In this recounting of the December 6, 1917, explosion that leveled much of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mac Donald gives a minutely detailed if not particularly lively rendition of what legend holds to be the most powerful manmade detonation before the testing … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Laura M. Mac Donald
Publisher: Walker & Company
Date Published: November 14, 2006
1 review about Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster...

Tragic Event, Excellent Book

  • May 12, 2009
  • by
Do you live in Boston? Every Christmas, there is a 50 foot Christmas tree from the city of Halifax in your Commons. Do you know why? Did you know that it was a gift from Nova Scotia?

On December 6, 1917, an explosion rocked Halifax Harbour, flattening much of Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Scores were killed and many more injured. One of the first responders was the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Ever since then, Nova Scotia has sent a Christmas tree to Boston as thanks.

A Short History of Halifax
Chapter 1: Wednesday
Chapter 2: December 6, 1917: Winter Morning
Chapter 3: Black Smoke, White Smoke
Chapter 4: A Word on Explosions
Chapter 5: Minutes Later
Chapter 6: Far from the Harbor
Chapter 7: Scramble at City Hall
Chapter 8: The First Responders
Chapter 9: Duggan Walks Home
Chapter 10: Nightfall
Chapter 11: Friday Night and Folly Mountain
Chapter 12: Saturday: Reorganizing the Relief
Chapter 13: Duggans Reunited, If Briefly
Chapter 14: The End of Emergency Relief
Chapter 15: Cap Ratshesky Says Good-Bye
Chapter 16: Playing Solomon
Chapter 17: Proper Burials, Private Services
Chapter 18: Monday, December 17, 1917
Chapter 19: Rules of the Road versus the Law of the Land
Chapter 20: The Tree at Boston Common

Curse of the Narrows, by Laura M. Mac Donald, is an extremely well documented and researched account of what led up to the explosion, the explosion itself, and the aftermath. She begins the book with an explanation of the Narrows and the importance of the harbour in peacetime as well as at the outbreak of the First World War. Two ships collided in the harbour, one, the Mont Blanc, was loaded with high explosives. The Imo, a Relief ship, punched a hole in the deck of the Mont Blanc, causing some of the explosives to leak, leading to a fire that could not be controlled. The captain of the Mont Blanc gave the order to abandon ship. The ship ran aground near the city of Halifax. To give you an idea of how hot the fire on the ship was, the water under the ship actually evaporated as it came into contact with the hull. It wasn't long before 2,900 tons of high explosives went up. The effects were devastating. And then, water in the harbour, trying to reach equilibrium, created a tsunami. That made matters even worse. Finally, a blinding snowstorm hit the area. Mac Donald goes into very good detail on these events. The reader is left with no question as to the destruction of the area. Communication service disappeared in an instant. There was no word coming out from the area. Reports to other areas of Canada and United States were sketchy, but some information did make it out. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts responded with a trainload of relief workers from the Red Cross as well as doctors, nurses, and supplies.

While you can tell that this book was exceedingly well researched (and there are footnotes and direct quotes aplenty), it reads quickly and like a great work of fiction. But is definitely not the latter. Covering the events of that fateful day, and the aftermath, Mac Donald takes the explosion and the stories of some of the participants and weaves an excellent historical novel. You learn about Dr. George Cox, an ocularist from rural Canada. He practiced in the farmlands of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, mainly for two reasons: He loved nature, and eye problems in the rural areas meant much more hardship for a family. He worked extremely hard to save the sight of all of his patients. One of the First Responders, he operated around the clock on the majority of people with eye injuries in Halifax. While his nurses fainted from exhaustion, he toiled onward. That is just one of incredible personal stories in this book. Mac Donald allows the people to tell the story, and that makes this book much more powerful.

A very well researched and written novel. It also includes many photographs of the aftermath, which drives home the destruction. Do not skip the Appendices, there is a lot of good information in there.

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February 12, 2010
Wow! Thanks for this review. I am positive I would enjoy this book. It is always fascinating to see how people respond to this type of tragedy. I am adding this to my "must read" list right now!
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