Scapegoat, the extraordinary legal proceedings following the 1917 Halifax Explosion
Scapegoat, was the overall winner on May 17th in Charlottetown.for non-fiction in the Atlantic Book Awards, The author and title were al;so awarded the prestigious Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award for non-fiction for 2014. In June, 2015 Scapegoat won a Bronze medal in New York for non-fiction in Eastern Canada at the prestigious 2015 International Independent Publisher Awards.
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Scapegoat by Joel Zemel is the definitive historical work related to the legal context, trials and appeals that followed the massive explosion the leveled the Halifax waterfront and north-end in 1917, killing 2000 and injuring 9000 more. Surely someone was to blame for this disaster? A through study in 496 pages, with primary source references that captures the mood, as well as the details of the inquiries, trials, and appeals of those who would be scapegoated to satisfy the public and governmental appetite for blame - someone had to be held responsible for this catastrophe! Three were charged, but why not one hundred? Perhaps because many had died, saving them from further pain and humiliation, but perhaps simply because Le Medoc, Wyatt and Mackey had survived and were more closely connected with this disaster than some others. Complete with 150 photographs and diagrams and enough primary document references and notes that tell many more stories in themselves.
Scapegoat Summary: On the morning of 6 December 1917, a French munitions ship, SS Mont Blanc, carrying a full cargo of highly volatile explosives, and a Belgian Relief vessel under Norwegian registry, SS Imo, collided in Halifax Harbour. Twenty minutes later, a catastrophic explosion destroyed the district of Richmond in the North End of the city, causing the loss of over 2,000 lives, countless injuries and millions of dollars in property damage. At first, German spies and saboteurs were assumed to have been the culprits. However, within a few days, Captain Aimée Le Médec and Pilot Francis Mackey of Mont Blanc were under intense scrutiny in the court of public opinion.
The federal government launched an immediate inquiry to investigate the causes of the accident which led to the disaster. However, Ottawa's underlying goal was to assume control over the port and its pilotage system. During the latter part of the proceedings, fingers pointed towards the Royal Canadian Navy for alleged mismanagement of the port. By that time, the drive to find those responsible for the unthinkable had reached a fever pitch. As a result of the inquiry decision, the captain and pilot, along with RCN chief examining officer, Commander F. Evan Wyatt, were singled out for blame. They were arrested and subsequently charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence.
Within the framework of the inquiry transcripts and through the incorporation of additional legal records, official naval documentation, photographs and archived resources, this volume details the circumstances leading up to the day of the collision, fire and explosion. The courtroom then becomes the setting for a close examination of the inquiry itself and the numerous legal proceedings which followed. Ultimately, the evolution of the concerted efforts to indict a scapegoat in the wake of this unprecedented marine and civil disaster is revealed.
A fabulous read for anyone interested in all things related to the Halifax Explosion. You will not get though this publication in single reading as the notes and subtext tell so many additional underlying stories in and of themselves. Once you read the main text you will find yourself returning time and again to search in the details and endnotes. Add meticulous attention to a detailed reconstruction of many photographs, some never seen before in any publication on the Halifax Explosion, and you have a book you'll want to keep on your bookshelf always ... as a reference or to amaze your friends with what you "know". All Halifax "junkies" or Haligonians should always be within easy access of a copy of this publication.
Every library, large or small, will also want a copy in their collection, as will universities and law schools.