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Curse of The Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917

3.97  ·  Rating Details  ·  636 Ratings  ·  98 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
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published October 1st 2005 by Walker Books (first published 2005)
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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
Jan 03, 2016 Jan C rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disaster, wwi
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
Gabriele Wills
Mar 27, 2009 Gabriele Wills rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, ww1
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.
Holly the Infinite Book Dragon
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.

Most of us growing up in Canada around my age demographic, will remember the Canadian Heritage Minutes. They are such a beloved, no
Jun 09, 2015 Carrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
I had never heard of the Halifax disaster before, and even going into this book, I had no sense of the unparalleled destruction it caused. The explosion was massive, bigger than any explosion before it. The description of the damage it caused is now permanently etched into my mind. The physics of the explosion alone are mind-boggling - huge volumes of ocean water vaporizing, people being thrown a mile away from the air pressure, window shattering, buildings collapsing, etc.

This book gives you p
Aug 19, 2014 Alicea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 17, 2011 Blyden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 16, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww1, canada
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
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
This isn't a true three-star rating, but I feel like two stars is too harsh. If anything, the amount of research deserves to be recognized!

I'm a huge fan of narrative nonfiction, but this book didn't always work for me. The topic itself is fascinating, but the book was oddly paced and somewhat difficult to follow. The climax of the book, the ship collision and explosion, happens approximately 40 pages into the work, and the book itself is nearly 300 pages long. That's a lot of post-incident info
Mar 15, 2011 Emma rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 08, 2007 Alexis rated it liked it
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
Feb 19, 2016 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an extensive look a the December 6, 1917 Halifax explosion when a munitions ship blew up in the Harbor. Sixteen hundred people were killed, over 6,000 were wounded, and 9,000 people we rendered homeless. The town was virtually destroyed.

For those of us who like disaster stories (and who doesn't), the various ways in which the events transpired is always interested. If only ships had been in a different location, nothing would have happened. In much the same way, people were wounded or ki
3.5 stars. I thought the book was really well written, but I don't think I particularly enjoy this Type of book. I found myself bored by some of the information, and wanting to linger on other topics.

It's an important part of history that I didn't learn about in school and that's why I think this books are so essential, however, still- it didn't quite do it for me. First half was definitely better (for me) than the second.
Les Gehman
May 04, 2016 Les Gehman rated it it was amazing
On the morning of December 6, 1917, after exchanging a number of warning whistles, the Imo collided with the Mont Blanc in the narrows of the Halifax, Nova Scotia harbor. Unfortunately for the residents of Halifax, the Mont Blanc was fully loaded with munitions destined for the war in Europe. The Mont Blanc caught fire after the collision and when the crew determined that the fire was not controllable, they abandoned ship and rowed to the shore opposite from Halifax. Unmanned, the Mont Blanc ran ...more
Wow! Next time you think you're overwhelmed, read this and instantly feel better. It's a blow-by-blow chronicle of the day a munitions ship blew up in a Canadian harbor, reducing Halifax to smithereens, and killing or blinding thousands of people who had been watching the ship burn through their windows at the moment of the blast. Next came the blizzard that made it almost impossible for relief to arrive and froze most of the injured trapped in the wreckage. I have to say, this edition stinks -- ...more
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
Jan 16, 2016 Trenchologist rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deft and concise prose outline and contextualize an event I had heretofore known nothing about, much less been aware of. The read is brisk, fascinating and horrifying, underlain all with a true sense of the 'indelible human spirit' that is called upon during such times in the hopes it actually will show and prove its mettle. Follows people and their stories during and after the event as well as detailing the catastrophe itself; sometimes is confusing to separate and remember distinctly each pers ...more
Michael Flanagan
Curse of the Narrows relives the horror of the 1917 Halifax maritime disaster that nearly wipe the port and its inhabitants of the map. I am ashamed I had never heard of this piece of history the devastation, loss of life and suffering caused by it is truly of biblical proportions.

The events are told by the those who lived through the horror by the stitching together of numerous first hand accounts, as well as some poetic license. The author also does a good job of putting the disaster in the co
Mar 25, 2008 Mick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gripping account of an event I never knew occured until I visited Halifax this past Oct. Well written but a bit drawn out.
Jun 22, 2015 Pete rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Curse of the Narrows tells the story of WWI ammunition ship which exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia due to a collision with another ship. It was the largest explosion on the planet until Hiroshima, and it devastated the surrounding town. And then a blizzard hit right after. The tragedy of lives lost and entire families destroyed was heart wrenching, but that is balanced with the stories of the survivors and there perseverance in the face of tremendous adversity. The author did a great job interwe ...more
Jul 09, 2015 Dianne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At first I thought the amount of details in this book would get tedious, but those details pull you deeply into the story of this tragic event in Halifax history. I came across this book when my husband and I were preparing to travel to Halifax and I was looking for local histories or fiction, something I like to do before visiting a new place. There was precious little available for Halifax besides this book. After reading it, however, I felt like I knew Halifax in a way I never would have othe ...more
Oct 06, 2014 Josh rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 20, 2015 Anna added it
Shelves: abandoned
It is nice to read about helpers in a time of disaster. I realize that said helping happened almost a century ago and it was prompted by an incredibly disastrous accident, not today's events of terrorism, but in a catastrophic month like this one has been, that is a comforting element.

With that out of the way, this unfortunately didn't do much for me past the description of the disaster, which lasts all of the first quarter of the book. I feel like I could have switched the chapters up in a rand
Jul 25, 2015 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookends, 2015
This book had a lot of potential, but it fell short for me. I skimmed the last 75ish pages just to get it finished. The author packed in a lot of information, but it was not necessarily the information I wanted to read about, if that makes sense. Even the title of the book, 'Curse of the Narrows'. She mentions the curse at the beginning and that was the only time we heard about it. A friend pointed out the significance the telegrapher's action... by staying behind and sending the message, Vince ...more
Jun 03, 2015 Gary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was researching a trip to Nova Scotia a few years ago, all the guidebooks mentioned Halifax as the place where the remains of those on the Titanic were buried. I can't recall much mention being made of the disaster that happened in Halifax harbor in December, 1917, when an ship loaded with high explosives blew up, leveling the city and killing thousands--obviously, a much greater catastrophe, but not (I guess) carrying the "romance" of the Titanic.

This book is about that other catastrophe
Day O'Dea
Jul 23, 2015 Day O'Dea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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
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
Feb 03, 2014 Helen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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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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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