Even after Victory in Europe May 8, 1945, Halifax continued to play an important role as a wartime port. Ammunition from ships being retrofitted for service in the Pacific was temporarily stored at the Bedford Magazine on the shores of the Bedford Basin, north of Dartmouth. On the evening of July 18, 1945 a fire at the magazine's jetty set off a series of explosions through the night and into the next morning. Recalling the devastation of the 1917 Halifax Explosion, thousands of residents of Dartmouth and north Halifax evacuated their homes, fleeing the city or choosing to spend the night outdoors in parks rather than the many emergency shelters that opened. One patrolman was killed, and many others injured, but the quick action of fire crews helped avoid greater devastation.
Halifax Municipal Archives presents these digitized primary sources to commemorate the Bedford Magazine Explosion. If you or your family have any related photos or documents, please consider donating them to the Municipal Archives.
Firefighters are diligent, both in their work and in keeping historical record of their activities. The Municipal Archives has many scrapbooks and historical information files created by the Halifax Fire Department, consisting of news clippings and photographs of local fires and fire fighting activities.
Allen Benjamin's Souvenir Photographs No. 3: Bedford Magazine Explosion
Dartmouth photographer A. Allen Benjamin was one of the first on the scene, as he describes in this news clipping from July 19, 1945. Some of his photographs were published in local papers, and he later put together this souvenir booklet of images.
The images in Benjamin's souvenir booklet are not identified. Please contact the Municipal Archives if you can help identify any of the people or places in the images.
Dartmouth and Halifax Councils react
Dartmouth suffered considerable damage from the magazine explosion. At its next meeting on August 8, 1945--its first following the event--Town Council considered a detailed report by the Town Solicitor outlining how the federal government intended to pay for damages.
Council unanimously passed a resolution objecting to the federal Finance Minister's proposed plan for property damages to be paid under the War Risk Insurance Act, with other small claims to be paid from other government funds should they qualify. Council felt this was unjust and would result in many property owners bearing the costs themselves, and instead requested that National Defence pay all damages in full. Council also requested that the federal government relocate the magazine far from Dartmouth. By the spring of 1946, however, the Town continued to be dissatisfied with federal payments to repair damage to the Town Hall, the Fire Station and Jail, and Park School.
A citizens' meeting about the explosion was held at Halifax City Hall on July 23, 1945, where a resolution was drafted requesting that the City be represented at the enquiry, that the munitions depot be moved, and that full compensation for damages be paid by the Dominion Government. Aldermen passed the resolution and agreed to send representatives to a protest meeting about explosion compensation on August 7, 1945.
City Council decided not to take up Dartmouth's resolution to petition federal authorities, preferring to wait until the Naval Enquiry was completed.
Read the minutes of Halifax City Council (102-1A).
Halifax Mayor's correspondence
In the days following the explosion, Halifax Mayor A.M. Butler received pleas from citizens and organizations like the Halifax Board of Trade to request the removal of munition stores near the city, and to ask about how compensation for damages would be made. His telegram requests to the Minister of Defence and Naval Affairs to involve the City in the enquiry were rebuffed. The Mayor continued to appeal to federal MPs for compensation well into 1946.
Help offered from near and far
The day after the explosion, Halifax Mayor Butler received telegrams offering assistance to feed and house the affected population, and to re-build damaged areas -- a businessman from New York and former "Dalhousiean" even sent an offer to pay for any glass repair needed.
The Mayor wrote to his counterparts in the Towns of Windsor and Bridgewater to thank them for so quickly making up and sending sandwiches and coffee that was distributed to residents evacuated from their homes. Mayor Butler also gratefully declined the offers of help from the Towns of Pictou, Sydney and New Glasgow, and the Cities of Fredericton and Saint John.
Read the correspondence received and sent by Mayor Butler (102-3B.190 - names and addresses redacted for privacy until 2045).
Photographs from Cole Harbour Rural Heritage Farm Museum and Dartmouth Heritage Museum
The Cole Harbour Rural Heritage Farm (CHRFM) has shared with us 5 photographs of the damage caused by the magazine explosion, taken from their Gerald Eisener Collection.
The Dartmouth Heritage Museum (DHM) has shared with us 6 photographs from their collection showing scenes from the explosion, evacuees gathered outside, and damage caused to Dartmouth buildings.
Our thanks to both institutions for sharing their collections with us.
Other historical sources
Materials related to the Bedford Magazine explosion held by other institutions include:
- Library and Archives Canada: Dept. of National Defence and Royal Canadian Navy files, reports and photographs
- Nova Scotia Archives: search for "Bedford Magazine Explosion" in An East Coast Port. Also George E. Zinck fonds
- Dartmouth Heritage Museum has more photographs as well as munitions shell fragments from the explosion.
The Other Halifax Explosion: Bedford Magazine July 18-20, 1945 by H. Millard Wright, 2001