Thursday, June 3, 2010

Montreal is Modern Riot Capital of North America

No, this headline isn't about the riot last month, downtown after the Montreal Canadiens seventh game victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was actually published 157 years ago in the THE NEW YORK TIMES on June 29, 1853 and described events in downtown Montreal where troops fired on a mob of rioters (killing five) who were protesting a speech by Alessandro Gavazzi.

Montreal's tradition of rioting goes back a long, long way. In fact just four years earlier in 1849, a Montreal mob burned down Canada's Parliament which was then located in what is now Place D'Youville.

If watching the  news reports about the looting of several downtown stores had you shaking your head and asking yourself what this world is coming to, you should know that this type of behaviour is nothing new. In fact looters can trace their roots all the way back to 1875 where a mob of workers demanding jobs or bread, started the fine tradition of taking what they want by force.

The "Bread Riot" of 1879 was the first reported instance of rioters stealing. They relieved a bread wagon of its contents and then attacked a beer wagon, chugging down its contents.
" a number were intoxicated ...many simply wanted to plunder..." NEW YORK TIMES-1879
Sound Familiar?

Although Montreal is the modern riot capital of North America it owns a long tradition of rioting, too numerous to mention.

Here is a rundown of some of the more interesting riots over the sixty odd years. The list is by no means comprehensive.

Not surprisingly, hockey more specifically has been the center of four of Montreal's major riots.
The Rocket Richard Riot(1955) 
One of the most famous riots in Canadian sports history occurred when the president of the league ill-advisedly showed up to a game played in the Montreal Forum, four days after suspending the Canadiens star Maurice Rocket Richard. Fans pelted him with debris and a riot spilled out into the street after someone threw a smoke bomb into the building.The crowd smashed windows, threw bricks and set fires. The riot lasted for seven hours. 

1969 Sir George Williams University Computer Riot
Over 400 students occupied the university's computer lab which was sparked by the university's alleged mishandling of a racism allegation against a professor. Black students occupied the university computer lab and destroyed computer equipment. Eventually riot police were called in to quell the uprising.

The Murray-Hill riot in 1969 was the culmination of 16 hours of unrest during a Montreal police strike. The riot was triggered by taxi drivers who had lost their exclusive right to pick up passengers at the airport. Quebec provincial police were brought in to replacing striking police which led to a confrontation with Montreal police. Rioters took advantage of the lack of policing and looted and pillaged the downtown core for sixteen hours in what has become known as Montreal's night of terror

Stanley Cup Riots (1986)  and (1993)
In 1986, 5,000 people stormed  through downtown Montreal after the team's victory over the  Calgary Flames. The police were ill-prepared to deal with the crowd and failed miserably to stem the destruction. Seven years later the police were better prepared to face the unruly crowd after the  Canadiens won another Cup. close to 1,000 police officers, battled the crowd but it wasn't  enough. Crowds invaded downtown and set fires, vandalized cars, and looted stores. The toll was heavy as many buses and police cars were destroyed. Over 200 were injured.
Hmmm.. can we really afford to win the Stanley Cup again?

The Boston Bruins Riot (2008) After defeating the Boston Bruins in a seventh game first round series, rioting erupted in the downtown core. People smashed store windows and looted ten stores.16 police cars were damaged, with at least five set on fire. Over one million dollars in damage was accrued.

The Montreal North riot  in the summer of 2008 remains the freshest and perhaps most disturbing case of civil disobedience in modern Montreal history. The riot was ostensibly caused by a Montreal police officer's shooting of a street gang member, resulting in one death, but it may have just been an excuse by disaffected youth to get it on with the police.

Montreal's latest riot occurred after the Canadiens unexpectedly eliminated a superior  Pittsburgh Penguin team. Fans had been watching the game which took place in Pittsburgh on the giant screens at the Bell Centre. After the game mayhem broke out and looting occurred along Ste. Catherine Street. Police largely handled the situation and for the first time video shot by the public was used to arrest looters.



  1. Interesting. The first one you mentioned killed five people, the same number as the Boston massacre. But I bet hundreds of people have heard of the latter for every one who was aware of the former.

    The Toronto guy.

  2. Maybe you should re-write your articles and put Toronto:

  3. It sounds terrible for Anglophones but in general they don't question systems,unlike the French who are educated with another set of values and religion. The French were under the thumb of the first Anglophones- slave runners-, where no jobs were availale AT HOME FOR THEM.
    REVOLUTION: you did it ! Someone by the name of Max Weber a German sociologist and philosophist explained well the difference in the ethics you are referring to in this article.
    In Ontario nobody complains, nobody says anything despite higher taxes, and incompetence etc.. so if the French are different, GOOD!

  4. Hmm. Interesting. In the Vancouver Province, someone from Quebec - in defense of the student rioters - made a dig at the riot in Vancouver. Seems that there are some very short memories among the students.....or perhaps they changed their own history? LA

    1. I make digs at that 'riot' all the time, because compared to a montreal riot that was the equivalent of a lazy Sunday afternoon spent with the family, not a riot.

  5. Very sad that most of these riots apparently had no political or higher motive, just greed and amoral violence.