Halifax Municipal Archives: Halifax Explosion Sources

Written by guest blogger, Elena Cremonese, Halifax Municipal Archives, opens a new window, Archives Assistant

In recognition of the anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, staff at the Halifax Municipal Archives wanted to take the time to go over some of the Explosion-related records that are available at the Archives. While Nova Scotia Archives and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic are the local centres for research on the Explosion, the material from the Municipal Archives is an important complement to those records, and it is all available online at our Halifax Explosion Source Guide., opens a new window

Archival records from the Halifax Explosion are a great example of how research draws together small details from many different sources. Understanding the response to the tragedy requires piecing together community, municipal, provincial, federal and international sources from many different repositories. Doing this type of deep dive into primary source material can be time consuming, occasionally repetitive, and at times quite frustrating. It’s easier when you can find one thick folder of material that tells you everything you need to know! That being said, there is something rewarding about being able to piece together information for yourself, to see how Halifax and Dartmouth responded, how decisions were made, and how governments worked to coordinate an impressive relief effort after an unprecedented tragedy.

Council minutes

In almost every Municipal Archives source guide, we mention Council minutes. While they may sound dry and boring, Council minutes provide important documentation not only of what Council decided, but also how. The page shown below is from the first meeting after the Explosion, with the Lieutenant Governor and a provincial judge present, held in the only room in City Hall not covered in glass—and they still took the minutes.

A complete list of Halifax City Council minutes, as well as corresponding submissions to Council, can be found here, opens a new window. A summary of Dartmouth Council minutes can be found here, opens a new window.

City of Halifax Advisory Board to the Halifax Relief Commission

The Halifax Relief Advisory Board was formed on May 6, 1918, to aid the Halifax Relief Commission, the body in charge of reconstruction efforts. The records of the Halifax Relief Commission are held at Nova Scotia Archives, opens a new window. The Relief Advisory Committee often met with the Chairman of the Halifax Relief Commission, and the summaries of the meetings, opens a new window show the interactions between the two jurisdictions as they debated the best way to aid Halifax and its residents.

Special Committee Investigating Liquor Theft at City Hall

To add to the confusion in the period after the Explosion, in January 1918, newspapers accused City officials of stealing confiscated liquor from provincial Liquor Inspector Tracey’s office in City Hall following the Explosion. The front page of the Herald showed a sketch of City Hall and the following caption:

"The Great 'Burglary Mystery' at City Hall: The above sketch shows the interior of the City Hall and Inspector Tracey’s office, which has been “burglarized” several times within the past few weeks, and quantities of 'booze' taken away. The daring 'burglars' got in their work notwithstanding the fact that police officers were on GUARD in different sections of the building and were stationed within sight and smell of Inspector Tracey’s office--which is located on the Council Chamber floor, between the Council Chamber and the Public Library. Will the Forty Detectives and Sleuth Hounds be able to Unravel this great 'Mystery?' The star, shown in the sketch, indicates the entrance door to the inspector’s office." 

A special committee was formed to investigate the accusations. You can see a summary of those meeting minutes here, opens a new window.

Maps and plans

As the City of Halifax worked with the Halifax Relief Commission to provide emergency shelter and then plan and re-develop the devastated areas, many maps, architectural plans, and technical drawings were created by the Engineering and Works Department. See a list of relevant plans here, opens a new window.

Other municipal records

Many municipal records give insight into the different ways the Explosion affected the people and area. Clues from the Police Department records, property assessment and building permits, City Home registers, Town Planning Board records, Board of School Commissioners, and the Committee on Public Parks, Gardens, and Commons give a myriad of evidence.

Here are a few examples:

Memorials and commemoration

Over the years, there have been many memorials and acts of commemoration for those who died in the Halifax Explosion, and a great deal of writing on the tragedy and its aftermath.

From this program of a funeral service held shortly after the Explosion, to a program of a 1977 Memorial Evening, records the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bells Committee, 1981-84, the records of the Halifax Explosion Commemoration Committee who planned the 75th Anniversary ceremonies in 1992, there are many records of how the City of Halifax has remembered the Explosion for the past century.

A complete list of sources available at the Halifax Municipal Archives, as well as at other local repositories, can be found on our Halifax Explosion Source Guide, opens a new window.