Written by Aaron, staff member, Halifax Central Library
Victory for allied forces in Europe was announced in Halifax on Monday, May 7, 1945. Celebrations were planned to follow this announcement, but several years of tensions between military personnel and civilians resulted in rioting that saw most of downtown Halifax covered in broken glass, and stolen booze.
A wartime city
During the Second World War, Halifax was a port of extremely high activity. Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel surged into the city, increasing its population by around 60 percent (according to the Canadian Encyclopedia). There was only limited room in the military barracks, so many soldiers found boarding around the city.
Most landlords charged fairly, but many more were known to inflate their rates at the sight of a possible tenant in uniform. For the civilians in the city, vandalism caused by drunken members of the military after payday had frustratingly become all-too common. These were a few issues (among several others), which combined with bureaucratic confusion and questionable decisions, made by city and military officials, led to the Halifax V.E. Day Riots.
The whole story
The riots would take place over the evening of May 7 and through most of May 8. At times, there were thousands of people crowded into downtown Halifax.
Liquor and department stores were looted (as well as the Keith’s Brewery), tramcars were heavily damaged and set ablaze (a police wagon would also fall victim to the mob, eventually being pushed into the harbor), and by the end three people would be dead. A report following the riots laid most of the blame at the feet of Royal Canadian Navy Rear Admiral, Leonard Murray, who had issued the order of “Open Gangway.” This order allowed naval personnel to come and go as they pleased over the two days. Some would argue that the blame should have lain more with city officials and civilians.
Below, you will find a list of resources both in physical and digital form that will allow you to see this unfortunate moment in Halifax’s history from multiple angles so that you can form your own opinion.
Sailors, Slackers and Blind Pigs
This book opens with a note on its sources. The author mentions that this book is not intended to be an academic history, but has been thoroughly researched. It provides a view of Halifax during wartime from the people who lived it.
Presented in this book is the author’s personal experience of the V.E. Day riot, as well as a report on the inquiry which took place afterwards.
Fantastic black and white images of the city and its people are presented. The final chapter of the book features many pictures taken during the riots. The author also wrote “Halifax at War: Searchlights, Squadrons and Submarines, 1939-1945” where more background information is provided to accompany the images seen in the photo book.