Heritage Moments #2: Halifax Explosion

Welcome back to our weekly series featuring Canadian Heritage Moments, which were commercials that ran on Canadian television in the 1990’s.

A Heroic Self-Sacrifice.

This one is actually quite sad and I’m glad that they created this commercial, as it highlights and important moment in Canadian history that most people in Canada weren’t aware of.

For those who don’t know, the Halifax Explosion was the largest explosion in the world until the atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
halifax explosion
Essentially what happened was a large French cargo vessel carrying high explosives (the S.S. Mont-Blanc) collided with a Norweigan vessel, the SS IMO. The explosion killed 2,000 people and injured many more.

But what this commercial highlights is how an act of self-sacrifice kept this body count from being much higher. Initially thinking it was just a fire on a boat, people were watching the fire…completely unaware that the ship was carrying high explosives. Everyone who could see this boat was in imminent danger.

Train dispatcher Vince Coleman, once he realizes what’s happening, tries to send out a message to an incoming train with hundreds of people aboard. Instead of evacuating like everyone else, he stays behind to ensure that the train acknowledges his message and avoids the danger.

And to think: all that story in just 30 seconds! The complacent Halifax citizenry, the realization that they are in danger, then realizing that more people will die on an incoming train if they don’t do anything. Then a frantic effort to send a message, and the tense waiting period as they wait for acknowledgment. This heritage moment might be my favourite. It’s a storytelling master class!