by Ted Doyle

Following HMCS Iroquois’ return to Halifax in June, 1945, the ship was to be re-fitted for service in the South Pacific.  Preparatory work entailed “de-commissioning” the ship.  This entailed removing everything that was not physically part of the ship's structure, such as life boats, Carley floats, guns (even the twin 4.7 inch main batteries) etc.  The boilers were shut down and, as we were alongside the Halifax Dockyard jetty, the ship was connected to shore power. Those of us who had not gone on leave were engaged in the “de-commissioning” work throughout July and into August.

 On July 18, about 18:30,  those of who were aboard were watching a movie in the aft mess deck when suddenly there was a terrific explosion.  It sounded like a couple of shore batteries firing across our foc’sle.  The explosion was severe enough to violently rock the ship and resulted in the movie projector crashing to the deck.  We raced out to the upper deck to see what had happened.  It was obvious, when looking across the harbour, that the explosion had taken place at the Canadian Naval Ammunition Storage Depot at Bedford Basin, two or three miles up the harbour.  A huge mushroom cloud hung over the whole area and flames from exploding munitions lit up the sky.  Immediately adjacent to us, in the dockyard, all of the windows in the dockyard buildings were blown out.

 In no time at all, there was a mad scramble of ships heading out to sea with whistles, sirens and horns blowing furiously.  The Iroquois was going nowhere as our boilers were not operational.  But we did have a front row seat for the action across the harbour.  Eventually, the novelty of watching the fireworks wore off and we turned in, but about midnight another huge blast went off and we cleared out of our hammocks just as if there had been a call for “Action Stations”.  The ammunition dump smoked for another couple of days but there was no further damage.

 In the meantime, remembering only too well the 1917 explosion when 1600 people were killed, the populations of both Halifax and Dartmouth frantically evacuated their homes and businesses.  On July 19, the Toronto Star reported that 15,000 people in Halifax and another 10,000 in Dartmouth spent the night in parks well away from the effects of the explosions.

 Captain Harry DeWolf, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff, stated the fire first broke out on the naval jetty, which was totally destroyed.  Later explosions occurred when the fire reached some of the magazines.  There were no casualties and very few injured. Reportedly, 50,000 depth charges were saved from the fire.

 It is interesting to note that it was not until 1995 that Canadian Forces divers began detonating the tons of live ammunition which had been blown or fell into the harbour during the 1945 explosion.

This photo of the mushroom cloud over Dartmouth was taken by Ted Doyle within minutes of the initial explosion.  First, the crew had to see what smashed the movie projector, then Ted  got his trusty camera to record the event.  Since the Iroquois wasn't going anywhere as a result of boiler maintenance, the picture was taken from the upper deck of the Iroquois which
was alongside the naval docks just below HMCS Stadacona Barracks. 

20 days after the Halifax explosion, another mushroom cloud would be seen over Hiroshima  Japan, then Nagasaki three days later. This time the source would be nuclear energy and not high explosives. Until Hiroshima, the Halifax explosion of 1917 was the the largest man-made explosion the world has seen. 

50 years after the Halifax explosion, there was still some final cleanup work to do. This CP photo of the event was published in the April 8, 1995 edition of The Toronto Star newspaper.  (Submitted by Ted Doyle)

For anyone wishing to read an account of the Halifax explosion and its impact on Albro Lake NRS, please refer to:

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