Riot at City Hall - May 25, 1918

On May 25, 1918 a riot broke out in the streets of downtown Halifax following the arrest of an unruly and drunken sailor. The damage included a besieged City Hall, overturned cars, and a police wagon and police motorcycle thrown into the harbour.

Colour copy of architectural plan showing layout of Police Department offices

City Hall basement - City Police offices were the focus of the rioters' rage. Plan #E-6-516, 1888

Newspapers stories described the damage:

Halifax had a sensational Saturday night. As a result of a riot following the arrest of a man o’ war sailor, soldiers and sailors, aided to some extent by those who wore ‘civies’, four men were injured and taken away to hospital, all of the windows of the police court room and most of the offices on the lower floors of the city hall were smashed, the police court door was battered in and the court room itself made a complete wreck. In addition to this the windows of the lower floor, facing Argyle street were all broken, the door smashed and a fire started at the entrance and also in the city engineer’s office; the blaze, however, was extinguished before any serious damage was done.” (Halifax Herald, May 27, 1918).

The rioters then continued their escapade by breaking into the police patrol house and taking the patrol wagon out on a rampage:

A number of soldiers broke into the patrol house and pulled out the patrol wagon. A few of the men climbed in while others started to give them a joy ride. ‘Let’s dump the blooming thing in the harbour!’ shouted one enthusiast and down George Street they turned and onto Market wharf where the patrol wagon was sent over into the harbour.” (Halifax Herald, May 27, 1918)

City Police, understaffed because of the war, were unable to control the crowds. The night ended with the arrested sailor being handed over to the Master-at-Arms of the H.M.C.S. Niobe and all soldiers arrested for rioting transferred to the custody of a military officer.

The sailor later appeared in court and pleaded guilty, and his case was disposed of. The rioters also appeared in court and were charged with taking part in an unlawful assembly and malicious damage to property. (Halifax City Council Minutes, July 4th, 1918)

After reading the colourful newspaper accounts of the riots, officials from the federal Department of Militia and Defence were concerned its men had been left to "mob law" and wrote to Frank Hanrahan, Chief of Police, for an account. The Police report on the Riot, as well as the correspondence with federal officials, is included in a Council submission (102-1B-1918#200).

Letterhead from the City of Halifax Office of Chief of Police

The Chief of Police's Annual Report for 1918-1919 included a description of the City Hall Riot, as well as of the Anti-Chinese riot that occurred in February 1919.

It is interesting that military-civilian frustrations erupted just 5 months after the disciplined and co-operative response to the Halifax Explosion. Wartime Halifax would generate another, much more destructive riot at the end of the Second World War as the VE Day Riots took over the streets of Halifax in May 1945.

Description and research by Adam Meyer, NSCC Library Technician student on work placement.