CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 30. . . .April 6, 2018
With a busy port full of warships, ship captains and sailors were well aware of the volume of explosives in the vicinity, but, with heighted attention and careful coordination, ships were making their way in and out of the tight neck of Halifax Harbour without incident. Everything changed when, at 9:05 AM on December 6th, 1917, Halifax, Nova Scotia experienced the second largest man made explosion in history. The Norwegian SS Imo collided with the explosive laden French SS Mont Blanc in Halifax Harbour, with the resulting explosion killing 1,900 people and leaving 9,000 injured, and flattening a wide swath of the city along the shore and causing damage for miles.
Embedded in the history of the Halifax Explosion is 14 year old Barbara Orr’s personal story and experiences leading up to and after the explosion. Barbara’s home was in one of the hardest hit areas of the city, and she was heading to school for the first time after being quarantined for 10 days because her younger brother had whooping cough, standard practice in 1917. Barbara was badly injured in the explosion but was lucky to survive. Her home was gone, and, in the chaos after the explosion, it took days to confirm Barbara was the only member of her family who survived the Halifax Explosion. Moving between the Halifax Explosion and Barbara Orr’s story, Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion gives the history of one of the most notable events in the history of Halifax and the impact it had on individuals as well as Halifax as a whole.
Allison Lawlor paints a very vivid picture of Halifax leading up to and following the Halifax Explosion. Photographs of Halifax before and after the explosion complement the text, and, along with vignettes highlighting the stories of other survivors and additional historical facts, they help break up the historical background which could have been dry on its own.
The title is a bit misleading: Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion gives the impression Barbara Orr will be the focus of the book; unfortunately, Barbara’s story gets lost in the details of the Halifax Explosion. Readers who pick up the book expecting to read the story of an orphan may be disappointed; however, readers with a passion for history will love Broken Pieces: An Orphan of the Halifax Explosion.
A MEd (Literacy) and MLIS graduate, Crystal Sutherland is the librarian at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women and lives in Halifax, NS.