News / Halifax

'The Deaf Experience' during Halifax Explosion explored in new doc

Film examines why everyone at the Halifax School for the Deaf survived despite damage and weather that followed the disaster.

A postcard from the early 1900's of the Halifax School for the Deaf on Gottingen Street.


A postcard from the early 1900's of the Halifax School for the Deaf on Gottingen Street.

The 1917 Halifax Explosion has been the subject of numerous movies and books.

But the disaster as experienced by the deaf community has been relatively unknown.

That’s why Linda Campbell and Jim McDermott, who are both deaf, decided to co-produce a documentary film to highlight that story.

‘Halifax Explosion: The Deaf Experience’ should be ready for viewing in time for the 100-year commemoration of the event on Dec. 6, 2017.

“Nova Scotia actually has a long history of inclusiveness when it comes to the deaf community and our allies,” explained Linda Campbell.

“Upon learning that the deaf community's experiences during the Halifax Explosion is so poorly documented despite a wealth of books, movies and published stories about this important event, we felt it was necessary to preserve some of those stories for sharing.”

Alan Williams narrates a scene from the movie.


Alan Williams narrates a scene from the movie.

Campbell and McDermott agreed to an interview, but it had to be conducted via email as they both communicate using American Sign Language.

When collecting information for the film, Campbell said they were surprised to learn everyone in the Halifax School for the Deaf survived the explosion, despite how badly damaged the school was.

“It was so close to the zone of maximum damage that every single window shattered, plaster ceilings collapsed and doors flew off their hinges. Many people got badly cut by the flying glass,” Campbell explained.

“Yet only two boys were hurt badly enough to go to the hospital. Not only that, there was a bad blizzard with freezing temperatures right after the explosion occurred, and many people across Halifax died from exposure. Even so, no one in the (school), student or staff, died from the cold."

She said the film examines why everyone survived despite the damage, the shock, and the weather.

It will also introduce people to Maritimes Sign Language.

“Many people in Nova Scotia do not know we have our own distinctive sign language, Maritimes Sign Language (MSL) which is syntactically and grammatically distinct from American Sign Language (ASL),” Campbell explained. 

“Unfortunately, MSL as a language is fading out, although you can still see old MSL signs being used during ASL conversations every day here. Our film will include examples of MSL signs and dialogue as a part of our storytelling process.”

McDermott said the documentary will include a mix of historical photographs, narration, and interviews with older members of the deaf community who attended the Halifax School for the Deaf.

Despite funding from municipal and provincial grants, the project requires additional funding. At press time they were just $100 shy of their initial crowdfunding goal on their IndieGoGo page.

“While we are nearing our stated goal, we do hope to raise at least $5,000 to cover post-production costs,” McDermott said.

People interested in supporting the project can do so via IndieGoGo or by sending an email to

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