- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

One of the largest man-made disasters occurred on Dec. 6, 1917, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, killing more than 1,500 and injuring more than 9,000 people.

The collision between the French vessel Mont-Blanc loaded with a highly flammable and explosive cargo and the Belgian relief ship Imo in Halifax Harbor marked a moment in time when arrogance, miscommunication and bad luck led to the complete leveling of a city and its inhabitants.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s CBC-TV revisited the events through a dramatic televised miniseries “Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion” and subsequent “City of Ruins” documentary in 2003.

An interactive Web site debuted around that same time and acts as an extension to the pair of presentations to further offer a historical examination of the tragedy and its impact on the world today.

Halifax Explosion

Site address: www.cbc.ca/halifaxexplosion/index.html

Creator: Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Canada’s public broadcaster, developed the site through its CBC.ca Special Projects Unit, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Creator quotable: “We created this site with broad objectives. We wanted a site that had depth and research behind it but that used some of the more advanced Internet tools we had available to tell the story,” says Jere Brooks, special projects coordinator of the CBC.ca Special Projects Unit and creative lead for the Halifax Explosion site.

“This was an event that had wide-ranging impact on everything from emergency medical procedures to art. The Web was the logical place to bring together all of these facts and create a lasting resource. And, the Web allowed us to present factual information while taking advantage of non-TV/radio technologies to allow the visitors of the site to engage in the topic of the explosion, whether they saw the TV programming or not.”

Word from the Webwise: An immersive interactive experience greets visitors through the sections City of Promise, City of Ruins, City in Shock, Aftermath and Recovery, and Connection as they read, listen and view archival material from an assortment of primary and secondary sources.

Each page of the section features image and media galleries, Did You Know fact boxes, involvement from local experts, museum archivists and explosion survivors along with detailed text briefings that reminded me of a high school history book.

Multimedia moments from the 20 or so pages include 360-degree manipulable views of the ships involved, a slide show juxtaposing photos of the 1917 devastation against images of the same areas in 1987 and the ability to translate messages into Morse Code.

Personal experiences include an audio snippet from the brother-in-law of train dispatcher Vince Coleman, who lost his life alerting incoming trains to stay away, and a video interview with survivor Mary Weaver, now 92 years old.

Ease of use: This site requires computers using browser versions of Netscape 4.7 and higher and Internet Explorer 5 and higher along with Adobe Acrobat, Macromedia’s Flash, Apple Quicktime and Real Media player plug-ins.

Don’t miss: Visitors will find a trio of online comic books illustrated by Owen McCarron that explore the role of the Halifax Fire Department in survivor rescue, an overview of the Halifax Explosion and a look at the investigation trying to determine who was to blame for the crash.

Family activity: A jam-packed For Teachers section gives educators of sixth- through 12-graders detailed instruction on how their students can participate in exercises such as:

nWriting a letter in the role as a survivor of the explosion.

nDeveloping a three-minute news broadcast from the scene of the explosion.

nExpressing the meaning of heroism through the artistic medium of their choice.

nWriting an investigative report about the leading cause of the Halifax explosion.

Those even looking for a gaming activity will find a downloadable maze that pits two players against one another as they try and navigate through the crowded harbor.

Cybersitter synopsis: Throughout the easy-to-understand presentations, middle-school students and older will comprehend the mistakes, consequences and heroism surrounding the Halifax disaster.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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