Kathleen Flanagan Photography
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Vince Coleman and the Halifax Explosion in 1917

The death toll of the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917 would have been higher if not for the efforts of a dispatcher with the Intercolonial Railway.  On the day of the explosion, the 45-year-old Vince Coleman was one of two railway dispatchers working in the Richmond train station, where they were responsible for controlling train traffic on the main line into Halifax.  The train-line ran along the western shore of Bedford Basin from Rockingham Station, past the Richmond Station, to the city's passenger terminal at the North Street Station at Barrington and North Streets.  The Richmond station was only a few hundred feet from the Mont-Blanc, the French cargo ship which had caught fire and drifted towards shore after a collision with the Imo, a Belgian relief ship. 

Coleman and his co-worker learned of the imminent danger from sailors sent ashore to warn people that the Mont-Blanc was full of explosives. Coleman returned to the station’s telegraph office to send urgent telegraph messages to stop trains inbound for Halifax.  Coleman's message, sent in Morse Code, was "Stop trains. Munitions ship on fire.  Approaching Pier 6. Goodbye."

The trains were stopped all along the line. The closest train to Halifax, an overnight passenger train from Saint John, New Brunswick carrying approximately 300 passengers, is said to have stopped at the Rockingham Station, just 6 kilometres from the downtown terminal.  The train was later used to carry injured and homeless survivors to Truro, Nova Scotia.

Coleman's message passed word of the disaster to the rest of Canada. The railway quickly mobilized aid, sending a dozen relief trains from towns in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on the day of the disaster, followed two days later by help from other parts of Canada as well as the United States, most notably Boston.


Vince Coleman, train dispatcher and the father of four young children, was killed on December 6, 1917, at age 45, when the Halifax Explosion, which devastated much of the city, crushed and buried his worksite at the Richmond Station.  His gravestone is located in Mount Olivet Cemetery, near the intersection of Mumford Road and Joseph Howe Drive.