First World War conscription triggers riots and attempted murder

First World War

As First World War military conscription became law on August 29, 1917, protesting rioters in Montreal smashed store windows. Arrests soon followed, including a group charged with attempting to murder Montreal Star publisher Hugh Graham, a strong conscription advocate, and his family, by dynamiting their summer home. The dynamiters also allegedly planned to blow up the Parliament buildings and assassinate Prime Minister Robert Borden.

On the evening after the law was passed, 50 policemen broke up a Montreal parade of protestors, Canadian Press reported. Some protesters were pushed through the windows of a furniture store. Elsewhere in Montreal, conscription opponents inflamed a reported crowd of 5,000 with thinly veiled threats of violence. “Revolver shots were the up-to-date method of applause,” said Canadian Press.

The next evening, the crowd at Sir George Etiene Cartier Square was larger—a reported 6,000 to 7,000—the rhetoric was more inflammatory, and the threatened violence broke out.

“This morning St. Catherine Street… looked as if it had been struck by a cyclone,” said Canadian Press. “The windows of over a dozen big stores have been willfully smashed,” four policemen were injured, and “a score or more received cuts and bruises.” Women fled from stranded streetcars, frightened by the shouts and occasional pistol shots of rioters, just before a few of the streetcar windows were smashed.

A number of rioters were arrested. So were 10 alleged dynamiters. An 11th alleged dynamiter committed suicide while being hunted by the police. The 10 were charged with theft of dynamite, dynamiting the Graham summer house near Cartierville, and attempted murder of Graham, his wife, his son, his chauffeur, and a private detective.

The attempted murders had occurred on August 8. At about four in the morning, dynamite exploded under the sleeping quarters of the Graham house, ripping off a balcony, filling lower rooms with debris, and gouging a four-foot hole in the lawn. Lives were likely spared because the dynamite was placed incorrectly so that the main force of the explosion was directed outward, digging that big hole in the lawn instead of demolishing much of the house.

The trial dragged on into 1918, but in the end no one was convicted of the dynamiting or attempted murders.

Unfamiliar Canadian History Stories 113

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