Rebuilding Halifax

A History of the Halifax Relief Commission

Reviewed by Sydney Lockhart

Posted March 17, 2022

Rebuilding Halifax examines the Halifax Relief Commission that was formed after the December 1917 Halifax explosion. The catastrophic event occurred when a French cargo ship carrying explosives collided with a Norwegian vessel in the Narrows, the constricted entrance to the city’s harbour. The explosion killed almost two thousand people and injured thousands more.

Author and independent historian Barry Cahill writes that “The banner headline in Halifax’s Evening Mail of 27 May 1920 screamed, ‘Halifax is Down for Thirty Million Dollars in Canada’s Claim Against Germany for Reparation for War Losses.’” Nonetheless, Halifax’s restoration process moved slowly, and the commission remained in operation for almost sixty years after the explosion.

Cahill specializes in the legal history of Atlantic Canada, and his book offers insight into how different levels of government in Canada tried to pass responsibility off to one another. As governments tried to decide who was responsible for aid and reconstruction, the process of getting Halifax back on its feet was delayed.

Rebuilding Halifax focuses on the politics and logistics of the explosion’s aftermath, rather than the individual stories of people affected by the event. Cahill uses quotations from newspaper articles as well as statements made by politicians to round out the story.

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This article originally appeared in the April-May 2022 of Canada’s History.

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