Documentary Lens Lesson Plan for “Just One Big Mess”: The Halifax Explosion, 1917

Canadian Social Studies Themes in “Just One Big Mess”: The Halifax Explosion, 1917

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Canadian Social Studies Themes in
“Just One Big Mess”: The Halifax Explosion, 1917

Theme/Strand/ Key Concept

Connection to “Just One Big Mess”
–Applications and Discussion Points


  • How did the community of Halifax show citizenship in “Just One Big Mess”?

  • What agencies helped them after the 1917 explosion? What agencies might help Halifax if a disaster happened today?

  • How do media connect us in a global network to help others?


  • How do you think the explosion changed the way of life of the people of Halifax?

  • How do the survivors in this film serve as role models for others who are experiencing crisis? What did you learn about dealing with a crisis and about survival from this film?

  • How do you think the explosion and its aftermath might have shaped the identity of the people of Halifax? What changes and challenges have shaped your identity?

Multiple Perspectives

  • Why is a documentary such a powerful form of media for showing many points of view? How has Cheryl Lean used this genre effectively to tell the story of the Halifax explosion from multiple perspectives?

  • How can films and other art forms help us understand the life experience of other people?

Time, Continuity and Change

  • How do Canadian history and the stories of the people of Canada contribute to our sense of identity?

  • Why do you think people decided to build Halifax on the coast rather than inland?

  • What was the historical context of this event? Why was a boat from France carrying explosives in the Halifax harbour?

The Land: Places and People

  • What are the major geographic regions, landforms and bodies of water in Nova Scotia?

  • How do landforms, bodies of water and natural resources affect people’s quality of life?

  • Why do people live close to the ocean? How does living along a coast shape people's identity?

  • How does the Atlantic coast shape people's lives? In what ways did natural resources and the physical geography of the region determine the establishment of the community of Halifax?

  • What are differences and similarities between the location for this film and the location where you live?

Power, Authority and Decision-Making

  • How did the municipal government of Halifax show support for the survivors of the explosion?

  • How did decisions made by governments contribute to the Halifax explosion?

Deliberative Inquiry

  • How do you think the children in this film would have dealt with their shock during and after the Halifax explosion? What questions do you have about the people and their responses?

  • What challenges have you or people in your community experienced?

  • How can we deal effectively with shocks and post-traumatic shock? Who can help us deal with a crisis and the aftermath?

  • How does Lean's movie help you to understand challenge in your own community or in the global community?

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