The Halifax Explosion of 1917: the oculist experience

Can J Ophthalmol. 2008 Feb;43(1):27-32. doi: 10.3129/i07-218.


Background: Despite its prominence in Canadian history, there are few publications about the Halifax Explosion of 1917 that deal with the care of victims with eye injuries.

Methods: Archived documents relating to the nature and treatment of eye injuries sustained during the Halifax Explosion were reviewed at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. A review of current literature was performed.

Results: Detailed accounts regarding the personal and surgical experience of 2 ophthalmologists, G.H. Cox and F.T. Tooke, were found. Several unpublished government and personal documents on eye injuries sustained during the Halifax Explosion are filed at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Twelve ophthalmologists treated 592 people with eye injuries and performed 249 enucleations. Sixteen people had double enucleations. Most of the eye injuries were caused by shards of shattered glass. Sympathetic ophthalmia was the feared complication for penetrating eye injuries and a common indication for enucleation in 1917. A Blind Relief Fund was established to help treat, rehabilitate, and compensate the visually impaired.

Interpretation: Many of the eye injuries sustained during the Halifax Explosion were due to flying shards of glass. Details of their treatment provide insight into a unique and devastating event in Canadian medical history and demonstrate how eye injuries were managed in 1917.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Blast Injuries / history*
  • Explosions / history*
  • Eye Injuries / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Nova Scotia
  • Ophthalmology / history
  • Relief Work
  • World War I