Lesson Plan: The Halifax Explosion of 1917

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Lesson Phase




Explain to the students that today we will be exploring the events of the Halifax Explosion in 1917. We will be looking at a number of different aspects of the event including how it happened, who was involved and the effects it had on the people of Halifax and surrounding areas.



In this stage of the lesson the teacher needs to provide the students with a basic understanding of the background of the events in order to give the students context. The teacher needs to cover, in an appropriate amount of detail, the following.

  • An in depth account of the sequence of events on the morning of the explosion

  • The main participants of the explosion

  • The rules and regulations of the Halifax harbour at the time of the explosion

This background information is very important for students to understand before moving forward to the next part of the lesson. This basic knowledge will be vital in the next stages.



Explain to the class that you will be investigating the cause of the Halifax Explosion in the style of a court case. Select five volunteers to play the role of the jury and divide the rest of the class into three groups. Each of the three groups will be acting as attorneys acting on behalf of one of the three main participants: either the Mont Blanc, the Imo of CEO Wyatt. During this activity the student will use their basic understanding of the event that was presented in the previous part of the lesson, coupled with a folder of primary source resources provided by the teacher, in an attempt to exonerate the party they are representing. Students may use any resources at their disposal in addition to the ones provided to them. The aim of this activity is to have students pull material from the primary sources that prove the innocence of their ‘client’ and subsequently lay the blame on someone else. During this time the Jury group will also have an opportunity to look over the case files in order to gain a better understanding of the case.


Close Activity

In this stage each group will have a chance to pitch their findings to the jury. Once each group is heard they will be given one last chance at a rebuttal before the jury makes a final decision on the case of the Halifax Explosion.


Following the closure of the activity, take some time to explain the actual events of the Inquiry trial and how the courts ruled. This is a good opportunity to explore the different reasoning each group had and explain the difficulty but also importance of interpreting primary sources correctly. This time can also be used to look at the relief efforts that sprang up in the area in response to the explosion and the ones that were sent from outside of Canada. Aside from gaining a broader understanding of the Halifax Explosion, the main aims of the lesson such as the importance of primary source and the global interactions that took place before and after the explosion, can be reiterated.


This type of lesson requires a fair amount of research in order to gain a firm understanding of the events. For those students who are not as strong in research abilities a teacher could provide links and resources for the students to look through a few days prior to the lesson in order to give them extra time to digest the material. There are also a fair amount of educational videos that do a good job of explaining the events of the Halifax Explosion and could be used to supplement the research aspect for those students that are more visual learners.

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