About the Book
• Winner, 2003 John Lyman Book Award for Canadian Naval and Maritime History, the North American Society for Oceanic History
• Honourable Mention, 2003 Keith Matthews Prize, The Canadian Nautical Research Society
• Shortlisted, 2003 Dartmouth Book Award, Non-fiction
• Shortlisted, John and Mary Savage First Book Award, Atlantic Book Awards
The Halifax Explosion of 1917 is a defining event in the Canadian consciousness, yet it has never been the subject of a sustained analytical history. Astonishingly, until now no one has consulted the large federal government archives that contain first-hand accounts of the disaster and the response of national authorities.
Canada's recently established navy was at the epicentre of the crisis. Armstrong reveals the navy's compelling, and little-known, story by carefully retracing the events preceding the disaster and the role of the military in its aftermath. He catches the pulse of disaster response in official Ottawa and provides a compelling analysis of the legal manoeuvres, rhetoric, blunders, public controversy, and crisis management that ensued. His disturbing conclusion is that federal officials knew of potential dangers in the harbour before the explosion, took no corrective action, and kept the information from the public. As a result, a Halifax naval officer was made a scapegoat and the navy received lasting, and mostly undeserved, vilification.
This is a provocative read not only for military and naval devotees but for anyone who wants to understand one of the events that shaped Canada in the twentieth century.
Published in association with the Canadian War Museum.
About the Author(s)
John Griffith Armstrong is a retired career officer who taught history at the Royal Military College of Canada and was part of the team at the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of History that wrote volume 3 of The Official History of the RCAF.
Table of Contents
Foreword / J.L. Granatstein
Introduction: Through Sailors’ Eyes
1. The RCN in Halifax -- December 1917
2. Towards the Unthinkable
3. Halifax Tide
4. Through the Grim Day
5. Reaction and Recovery
6. Of Sailors, Lawyers, Goats, and Newspapers
7. Goats to the Slaughter
8. Covering the Tracks
Armstrong, a career officer who taught at the Royal Military College, covers the sad story of the event in great detail and with an expert's eye… I would highly recommend [this tome] for those reading about the proud, but young RCN.
-- Sea Waves Magazine
Armstrong's work represents an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to understand the events in Halifax.
-- Chris O'Shea, Department of History, University of Guelph, H-Canada, August 2003
Armstrong gives the tragic events of December 1917 an important new perspective, and for that reason his work deserves wide appeal.
-- Michael Whitby, The Beaver, April/May 03
Armstrong has done excellent work in examining this monumental moment in Canadian history…. The telling of the aftermath has the ring of a courtroom drama. Armstrong offers us several heroes and villains with whom the reader can identify or revile. In short, anyone interested in the history of the Canadian Navy or Halifax should read this book. It is entertaining, professional, and informative. Indeed, given the times in which we live, it is very timely.
-- Captain Hugh Culliton, Canadian Military Journal, Summer 2003
The Halifax Explosion of 1917 was one of the defining events in Canada's history, but it has also been the source of many myths concerning sabotage and incompetence. Conspiracy theories have a life of their own, but readers of this excellent book, which is lucidly written and well argued, will know better.
-- Peter Hore, Warships IFR, November 2002
Armstrong's adoption of the national perspective, and use of Ottawa-stored documents, has richly improved the understanding of many important aspects. He finds this is a case where -- as well as efficiently channelling relief -- federal officials and bureaucrats bent muscular efforts to do what administrators do best: 'spin' information into favourable interpretations, put reputation ahead of accuracy, and scapegoat.
-- Malcolm MacLeod, Books in Canada, November 2002
This detailed exposition is a fascinating tale, rivalling the best courtroom drama, with a denouement that confounds the reader and explains why the Canadian Navy is still at odds with Haligonians.
-- Charles Godfrey, Literary Review of Canada
A finely honed piece of investigative writing. Reveals a network of implications, accusations, innuendo, and suspicion, all turning a disastrous navigational accident -- with its sailors, bit players, victims, politicians, and media hacks -- into a graphic benchmark in the Canadian consciousness.
-- Michael L. Hadley, co-author of Tin Pots and Pirate Ships: Canadian Naval Forces and German Sea Raiders
An absorbing read. Armstrong very adeptly sketches out the characters and setting, and leaves us with a vivid picture of the city as naval authorities struggled to cope with the disaster. The prose is elegant, the research impressive, the arguments persuasive -- all in all, a fascinating book.
-- Jonathan F. Vance, author of Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War
While the disaster has been subject of several popular histories, until now, the event has not been given the detailed scholarly study required to sweep away myth and provide an accurate account of what took place. John Griffith Armstrong has undertaken the first such academic work, and it is a very good study indeed. Armstrong’s focus is the role of the Royal Canadian and Royal navies in the events leading up to the explosion, its aftermath, and the investigations that followed. By shifting the attention of the reader away from the calamity that befell the city, Armstrong has provided a remarkable fresh look into the explosion.
-- David Zimmermann, University of Victoria, International Journal, Summer 2005
Armstrong’s account and analysis adds considerably to our knowledge not only of the explosion, but also of the influence of the media, and the concerns of Ottawa. Having spent years in the latter as an official historian, the author has had first-hand knowledge of how covers-up work.
- Robin Highman, American Review of Canadian Studies, Winter 2005
History > Canada
History > Military
Other Ways To Order
In Canada, order your copy of The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy from UTP Distribution at:
5201 Dufferin Street
Phone orders: 1(800)565-9523 or (416)667-7791
Fax orders: 1(800)221-9985 or (416)667-7832
Ordering information for customers outside Canada