Halifax Explosion & health care: Treating eye injuries

Halifax Explosion newspaper clip
The Evening Mail, Saturday, Jan. 5, 1918. The Halifax Blind Relief Committee encourages Halifax residents with eye injuries from explosion to provide information.

When the Mont Blanc and Imo collided and the Mont Blanc – a munitions ship – caught fire, many residents went to their windows to watch the action unfold. As a result, “nearly 600 survivors sustained eye injuries in the ensuing blast – many lost one eye, 16 lost two eyes. Nearly 40 were totally blinded.”1

Dr. George H. Cox, an oculist from New Glasgow, arrived in Halifax on Dec. 6 to lend his support to the disaster response. While he began by providing general care, he quickly realized his specialized expertise was most needed. He wrote of the experience:

For the rest of the night I was busy every minute either on cases I picked out of the heaps [of people] on the floors or being called on by my medical friends to operate on cases they had found. To make a long story shorter for the whole of that night and for all of the next 5 days and part of the nights I did nothing but patch up eyes. During that time I have now no record to show the number of cases treated, but I know that some days my table averaged one chloroform case every 15 minutes, while I was often able to sandwich in a cocaine case while my next patient was going under.”2

Four other Ear Eye Nose and Throat (EENT) specialists also responded immediately to the need: EA Kirkpatrick, EA Mathers, AE Doull and AR Cunningham.3


1 Flemming, David B. Explosion in Halifax Harbour: The Illustrated Account of a Disaster that Shook the World, pp. 62, 64, 67. Halifax: Formac Publishing Company, 2004.

2 Marble, Allan. A Day in the Life of Dr. George H. Cox: One physician, 1,500 victims of the Halifax Explosion: http://www.doctorsns.com/en/home/benefits-and-services/doctorsNS-magazine/currentissue/a-day-in-the-life-of-Dr-George-H-Cox.aspx

3 McAlister, Chryssa N., Murray, Jock T., Maxner, Charles E. The Halifax Explosion of 1917: the oculist experience, pp. 27 - 32. Ottawa, Ont.: Canadian Opthalmological Society, 2008.