Anti-Chinese Riots in Halifax, 1919
On the evening of Tuesday, February 18, 1919, a returned soldier dining at the Crown Cafe on Gottingen Street refused to pay his bill. According to the February 19 issue of The Evening Mail, the soldier then "abused the Chinese proprietor." When he was asked to leave, he attempted to steal a package of cigarettes, then turned off the lights, grabbed the cash register, allegedly stealing $75, and threw it through the window, calling for help. The police arrived and asked the soldier and several of his friends to leave the cafe. Later that night the ousted group returned to the cafe, as The Daily Echo reported, and "proceeded to clean up the place." These men were joined by others and the mob went on an anger-fueled cafe crawl primarily targeting Chinese restaurants. In addition to the Crown Cafe, the Busy Bee Cafe, the Nova Cafe, the Victory Cafe, and the Allies Cafe, all located along Gottingen, Brunswick, and Barrington Streets, were stormed by the men.
According to the Daily Echo, the mob destroyed "everything that could be smashed, throwing chairs, cash registers, and stoves through the windows into the street, pulling curtains down and breaking the counters." Police eventually quelled the men at Sackville and Grafton Streets, just as they approached the Frisco Cafe. The mob caused an estimated $10,000 worth of damage in the span of a few short hours. Austen Beer of Pictou and John Currie (or John Kerrin/Kerwin, according to the Daily Echo and the Evening Mail) were arrested for unlawfully stealing a quantity of laundry and cups and spoons from the Busy Bee Cafe. The Daily Echo reported that a total of $375 was stolen from the cafes, including $300 from the Allies Cafe alone, along with a typewriter, tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes.
Newspapers report that alleged ringleader, Thomas Andrews, a returned soldier from Halifax, was arrested by police, although his name does not appear in the Halifax Police Department Charge Books. The detainment of Andrews did not stop violence from erupting again the following evening, Wednesday, February 19, 1919. According to the February 20 issue of The Daily Echo, "several thousand" soldiers and civilians destroyed ten shops along Gottingen, Buckingham, and Barrington streets. The riot began at 10 pm and lasted several hours. The Crown Cafe was targeted again and the windows, which had just been repaired, were once again wrecked. The Daily Echo reported that the mob "turned and came southwards along Gottingen, raiding businesses whose proprietors were believed to be aliens."
The rioters clashed with police at Buckingham and Barrington Streets (where Scotia Square currently stands). The police, wielding clubs, stormed toward the men, showering them with beatings. The crowd dispersed and police followed and "many a club and skull met" again which resulted in many dozens of men being sent to various hospitals around the City. The mob had broadened their scope, moving from Chinese restaurants to other businesses. By the end of the night, stores along Brunswick, Grafton, Jacob, Buckingham, and Argyle streets were damaged.
Front-page coverage in The Daily Echo, the Halifax Herald, and The Evening Mail indicates that the riots were racially motivated and specifically targeted businesses owned by Chinese proprietors. The February 20 issue of The Evening Mail reported that "every decent citizen is indignant over the disgraceful riots." Citizens called on City officials to act following the riots. Newspaper headlines included "Prompt and Fearless Action Must Be Taken Today - it's up to the Civic Officials" (The Evening Mail) and "Well, Gentlemen, What Are You Going to Do?" (The Halifax Herald). Haligonians wanted to ensure that more rioting did not occur, calling for action from the military, the police, and council members.
The City of Halifax received letters from many business owners seeking reimbursement for losses associated with the riots. By April 10, 1919, the total damage claims amounted to $12,012.78, with over $8,500 from the Chinese restaurants. The Halifax Board of Control discussed the riots at meetings but concluded that the City was not liable for any of the damage sustained during the two riots. Despite objections from business owners, all claims for reimbursement were responded to by letters from the Solicitor declining liability.