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Curse of The Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917

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3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  484 ratings  ·  75 reviews
The dramatic story of one of the greatest disasters in history

In 1917, the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was crowded with ships leaving for war-torn Europe. On December 6th, two of them—the Mont Blanc and the Imo—collided in the Narrows, a hard-to-navigate stretch of the harbor. Ablaze, and with explosions on her deck filling the sky, the Mont Blanc grounded against the ci
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Hardcover, 355 pages
Published October 1st 2005 by Walker & Company (first published 2005)
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Michael
I had never heard of the Halifax disaster. After reading this book I can't imagine why. This is an event of catastrophic consequence. To imagine the power of 2,925 tons of TNT exploding.... the results of which are unimaginable to anyone that was not there. But this author does a amazing job of putting you there!!! This book was incredible. The Halifax disaster is truly a tragic yet amazing event. No matter what you like to read.... this book should be good to anyone and everyone. Plus I noticed ...more
Jan C
Let's face it, I enjoy a good disaster book. And this was one disaster I had never heard of. I've never been to Halifax. But I guess I'm half-Canadian.

This was one of the best. Well researched, possibly a bit graphic. But this was like a perfect storm of chain reactions - a disaster in the harbor, causes a tsunami, causes a blizzard. The explosion in the harbor should have been enough. MacDonald goes in to vivid detail of how the explosion impacted the surrounding area. Then, those who survived
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Gabriele Wills
A gripping, well-written account of a tragic disaster that is too little known. How many of us Canadians grew up thinking that the First World War just happened in Europe? More Canadians died on the 'home front" in Halifax than during the 103 bombing raids on England.
Alicea
It's a little unsettling to me that prior to reading Curse of the Narrows I had never heard of the explosion that caused so much devastation in Halifax, Nova Scotia on December 6, 1917. When the munitions ship, Mont Blanc, collided with the Belgian Relief vessel, Imo, on that fateful day none of the inhabitants in Richmond could have predicted the loss that their town would incur. I have to admit that at the outset of this book I was struggling to comprehend what was occurring as much of the lan ...more
Blyden
This was a fascinating book. Each chapter focuses on some aspect of the Halifax Explosion of 1917, organized in loosely chronological orders. Starts with setting the political, economic and military context of Halifax leading up to and during WWI and the principal parties involved. The events of the fateful morning, reconstructed from eyewitness accounts and testimony, are detailed early in the book. The main part of the book is an account, weaving local history with many personal narratives of ...more
Jed Sorokin-Altmann
In 1917, there was an explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia's harbor. Two ships had collided, one of which was laden with munitions intended for use in World War I, and when it blew up, it was the largest man-made explosion in history until the Trinity atomic bomb tests. The explosion devastated Halifax and its neighboring communities. Laura MacDonald's book is a gripping read of the how the explosion occurred, what the effects were, and what the aftermath was.

This book may be of particular interest
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Louise
MacDonald describes how the tragedy occurred, and what different spectators saw around them as the Imo careened into the Mount Blanc. Today, the whole world watches tragedies like this from every angle (and aerial too) on TV. It took 90 years after the fact to have a definitive work on the Halifax explosion. In our media age, as Katrina occurred, millions of published words, photos, videos and accounts documented it.

While information has been revolutionized since then, human nature thankfully ha
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kingshearte
Each December the people of Boston gather to witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Some of them probably do not know why the people of Halifax send a tree every year or even that it is a gift from Nova Scotia. No one needs to know the story behind a tree to admire its beauty. But the people of Halifax know where it comes from and they remember the story.

The above is not actually the blurb for the book; it's just a quick introductory paragraph, but I found it somehow more affecting t
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Emma
There have only been a handful of times in my life that i've not finished a book I've started. What could be a great account of a truly horrible, tragic event reads like a gorefest slasher flick screenplay. There is an over abundance of detail in describing the injuries people suffered in this explosion that took place in the bay of Halifax - only atomic bombs have caused greater explosions. But do I need 4 straight pages describing the awful details of what happens when people get glass in thei ...more
Alexis
Seems like a good introduction to the event (which I was totally unaware of) although it deals pretty superficially with the cause of the explosion itself.

Covers some interesting details of such a catastrophe that you wouldn't have predicted. Like the problem of family pets eating human remains left in the rubble. Or that no churches except one held services for the first week because all the clergymen were too busy giving last rites or presiding over funerals.

Oh oh! Also, the recollections of
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Kaiti
The part that described the explosion itself was really interesting, and had a lot of stuff I didn't know (I'd been under the impression that the explosion happened as soon as the two ships hit each other, not half an hour later), and reading about all the little actions that had huge consequences was interesting.

But aside from that, it started off on a weirdly racist note ("let me talk about this ~scary native curse~ cast here that i was terrified of as a child!) and I found the whole account
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Mick
A gripping account of an event I never knew occured until I visited Halifax this past Oct. Well written but a bit drawn out.
Josh
I wanted to love this book way more than I did. Hell I even wanted to like it. The subject matter itself is so incredible that it should be easy to put together an engaging, page-turner of a book about it. Curse of the Narrows didn’t deliver for me. Aside from a decent opening to set up a backdrop for the story, the rest of the novel felt like reading a series of facts. There was little to no emotion. The story bounced around between so many different characters, sometimes from sentence to sente ...more
Day
This is a decent if uninspiring account of that particular disaster that is marred by a massive cast which is exceedingly difficult to follow from one chapter to the next. This book could’ve done with a guide to all the personages who make appearances here. It is certainly all-encompassing, and there was clearly an exhaustive amount of research put into it, but the prose is painfully pedestrian, managing to make what should be a page-turner into something more plodding.

Author Laura McDonald als
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CJ
I didn't really know much about the Halifax explosion at all before reading this book--all I knew was that every year, the people of Nova Scotia send the people of Boston a giant Christmas tree, which we put up on the Common to ooh and ahh over. This informative little piece of literature definitely will make me think next Christmas as I grumble about the traffic jam caused by the tree-lighting ceremony.

In 1917, Halifax NS was a hub of military activity. Many American and Canadian ships leaving
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Helen
I admit it, I like disaster books. They're my guilty pleasure, I like reading about how far the human body and consciousness can be pressed before it breaks. It makes me value the comfortable spot I have here in mid Michigan, away from hurricanes and tsunamis and wars. It makes me less likely to complain about things like the polar vortex and our seemingly endless winter.

So I guess you could say I'm a connoisseur of this type of nonfiction, and I have to say, Laura MacDonald's book on the Mont
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Zycroft
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Thomas Paul
On December 6, 1917, the most powerful human created non-nuclear explosion occurred in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia. The explosion occurred when a French munitions ship, the Mont Blanc, entering Halifax Harbor collided with a ship carrying relief supplies for Belgium, the Imo, which was sailing out of the harbor. The Mont Blanc was literally a floating bomb carrying TNT, gun cotton, and picric acid, all high explosives that were capable of simultaneous detonation. With the collision, benzol store ...more
Liz
I found this book to be endlessly interesting regarding all different facets of disaster recovery. Even though I didn't fully understand the accident and how it happened (perhaps part of the author's point), the aftermath - both the immediate emergency response and the recovery effort are described in such well researched detail (even to the pointing out of conflicting stories and the unlikeliness of agreed upon events) it was an amazing look at the process. Having worked a bit in various areas ...more
Margo
Absolutely fascinating, but I found I could only deal with it a chapter or two at a time -- it was just so hard to read about. What the people of Halifax went through in this disaster just boggles the mind.

I picked up a book on this disaster in a Canadian B&B's common room a number of years ago, and I wanted time to learn more. This was the way to do it: incredibly detailed narrative, obviously drawn with great skill from much research and many sources. Often heartwrenching, sometimes quite
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Jean
This is the amazing story of the destruction of a large portion of Halifax, NS in 1917 when two ships, one fully loaded with dangerous ammunition, collided in the narrow harbor. The resulting explosion killed over 2000 people and injured 6000 (many in guesome ways). Many houses were destroyed, and then they burned. The following day, a huge snow storm buried the city. Survivors often not only had no home, they had no clothes (clothing was ripped off by the blast) and they were unable to locate t ...more
Doug Haskin
Very interesting, if a little gruesome at times. I had never heard of this catastrophe, which was the largest man-made explosion before the atom bombs of WWII. A tragedy for the towns of Halifax and Dartmouth, but also a story of the birth of modern emergency relief and management.
Lindsay Doering
Dec 03, 2008 Lindsay Doering rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Recommended to Lindsay by: no one
Great story. I have been to Halifax a number of times because of a particular offshore sailing race that ends there. One year, at the end of the race crew member received gift bags. Each bag had,among other things, a decal from the local police. The decal was supposed to go on your boat and it had the rules of the road on it - a diagram showing what vessel has to give way to what vessel. It was the violation of this rule that led to the explosion described in the book. I have no idea if the poli ...more
Marilyn
Extremely well written historical account of the World War I disaster in Halifax. I don't know why I never heard of this in school considering the scope of destruction and suffering it caused. Definitely a must read.
Tracy St Claire
In Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1917 during WWI, munitions exploded in the harbor causing the largest man-made explosion on earth that would happen until the atomic bomb trials. Followed quickly by record blizzards, it was a horrible disaster with few routes to send food and medical supplies. This book outlines how the disaster happened and how Boston citizens stepped up (making them sister cities with Halifax until today), and the heroic tales on that day during the times after. I am surprised I nev ...more
Leslie
Curse of the Narrows is a well-researched history of a forgotten disaster that occurred in Halifax during World War I. Two ships collide in the Narrows portion of Halifax's harbor and the resulting explosion leveled the town and killed or injured over 2000 people. (One ship, the Mont Blanc, had been carrying high-grade explosives when she was struck by the Imo). The author goes on to describe the aftermath of the explosion and the massive relief effort staged by the Canadian government and the U ...more
Bob
A well researched book. The Halifax disaster of 1917 was from the collision of two boats, one of which was carrying high explosives for WW-I. The Halifax harbors, the geographical issues, and the events leading to the collision were all explained quite clearly.

The utter devastation was beyond belief: This was probably not exceeded, by man made causes, until Nagaski and Hiroshima.

Vast detail went into the victim's and survivors stories. Suffice it to say, the human cost was tragic and enormous.
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Catherine
This book is about a munitions ship in Halifax, Nova Scotia that collides with another ship and results in an extremely deadly explosion that destroyed much of the city on December 6, 1917. The explosion set off a tsunami that engulfed parts of the waterfront. Then, if that weren't enough, that same evening Halifax was buried with snow in a blizzard. The premise sounded fascinating. Unfortunately, the author got bogged down in too many digressions that took away from many of the people's stories ...more
Dorothyanne Brown
Fantastic, very detailed story of the Halifax Explosion. Living as I do in the Halifax area, I've always been curious about the big explosion - and this book is the go-to one for details and explanations and some pretty gruesome descriptions - but it is in the name of accuracy, not prurience.
Highly highly recommended to anyone curious about this event.
Flows like a novel, easy to read along. Easy to understand why Nova Scotia always sends that tree to Boston every year. And astonishing how quickl
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Kitty Werner
History needs more books telling the entire story. Without it, we are doomed to repeat disasters endlessly. Just watch the news to see it happen.
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I was born in Halifax. I've lived in Montreal, Toronto and New York. Consequently, I can no longer remember the preferred pronunciation and sometimes spelling of certain words such as process, route, pasta, cheque etc., but I do know that no one in Canada says aboot. It's more like a-boat.

Here is an explanation I stole from a Yahoo. "Non-CDNS will hear "house" as a 'funny' word, because the vowel
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“The Mont Blanc, with 2,925 tons of explosives in barrels and kegs, packed in hermetically sealed holds inside a super-heated hull, was now the most powerful bomb the war and the world had ever produced.” 0 likes
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