Monday, July 5, 2010

Review: Curse of the Narrows

Author:  Laura MacDonald
Format: hardback 346 pages
Subject: Explosion and destruction from ship explosion
Setting: Halifax Nova Scotia, December 1917
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Public Library
Challenge: Support Your Local Library

Another recommendation from my LT friends...a great one too.  This is the story of two ships in Halifax Harbor on December 6, 1917, the collision that occurred at 8:35 am, and the subsequent explosion at 9:04 that vaporized the Mont Blanc, a munitions ship carrying almost 3000 tons of explosives and corrosive chemicals.  Over 2000 people died, houses were leveled, trains derailed, telegraph lines downed, and those that survived had to suffer through incredible injuries and hardships.  Many of the injured had been standing in front of windows watching the activity in the harbor.  When the ship exploded, every piece of glass within miles was blown out, and many people were blinded by glass slivers. Children who were released from the damaged school and sent home could not find their now non-existent abodes.  A tsunami followed the explosion, pushing tons of debris onto the shores, and washing many bodies out to sea.

To add insult to injury, that night, a huge blizzard roared through the area, adding to the hardships of lack of food, water, shelter, communication, transportation, and medical care.  Laura MacDonald, herself a descendant of people living there when the explosion occurred, does a magnificent job of culling through historic records, interviewing survivors and eyewitnesses, and providing us with a story of stoicism, courage, heroic efforts, anguish, grief and monumental government ineptitude in allowing these two ships to be underway in a narrow passage at the same time.  She provides many original black and white photos, as well as several excellent maps of the area to help the reader understand the area affected.

The story tells also of the incredible generosity of the people of Massachusetts (who sent a trainload of supplies,and personnel), and the extreme efficiency of the  American Red Cross who set up an infrastructure allowing the local citizens to take control of their recovery in short order. The heroism of Canadian and American armed forces was also well portrayed.

I can't believe this one has never been made into a movie!  It has everything needed to be a great disaster flick.  It also has generosity, courage, love, and gratitude enough for four books.  A great read.  Go find it.


  1. This DOES sound interesting! Thanks for the great review.

  2. I bought a book about this disaster years ago when we were in Halifax. Just saw it in my mountain of TBRs the other day but cannot for the life of me find it now to see who wrote it. Halifax is such a great city, with a fascinating history.

  3. I have been to Halifax several times and it is so hard to imagine the distruction that hit that city, that beautiful harbor, with that explosion.

    I am not a huge non-fiction reader but this one sounds great.


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