Rioting in Halifax
A man with looted clothing.
Notice looters in the background smashing in storefronts
Some sailors with stolen booze.
Canadians Gone Wild — The Halifax VE Day Riots, May 7-8 1945,
When Germany surrendered on May 8th, 1945, thousands of people took to the streets in cities all over the world. The war was over, the Nazi empire had fallen, and Victory in Europe was declared. In large cities such as London, New York, Paris, and Moscow millions of people celebrated the hard won peace that had cost much bloodshed. However, in the small bustling port of Halifax people were not just celebrating, they were rioting.
Before World War II Halifax was a small port city with little importance until the declaration of war with Germany. Once Canada became an Allied Power, the city was transformed into one of the most important harbors on the east coast. During the war the population of the city doubled overnight, its facilities however did not expand with the growth. Rents skyrocketed, the price of common goods doubled, theaters and restaurants had huge lines. It was also not uncommon for merchants to charge more to uniformed persons than to locals, either because they looked to make a quick buck off of their guests or because store shelves were nearly empty with little left for the locals. For years there was talk among disgruntled Canadian service man that they would get back at the merchants and landlords who had cheated them as soon as the war was over.
On the night of May 7th, 1945 Rear Admiral Leonard M. Murray gave general leave to 12,000 sailors and other servicemen so they could celebrate the expected victory on May 8th. His officers, knowing very well what could happen, advised him not to. Meanwhile resident merchants, restaurateurs and business-people closed up their stores for fear that the rumored payback would occur. As a result 12,000 partygoers found themselves in a closed city with no food, booze, or any open place to relax. The frustrated crowd, with nothing else to do to celebrate VE Day, became a riotous mob. Rioters opened restaurants for themselves, smashing in windows and stealing food and booze. Looters cleared out stores of all their goods and merchandise. At one point a police paddy wagon was set on fire as well as a tramcar. The rioting lasted until early morning, when the celebrants, mostly tired and hungover, returned to their ships and bases. When Admiral Murray received word of the riots he dismissed them as over-exaggerated reports and assumed that newspapers were blaming the acts of civilians on the sailors. Admiral Murray ordered another 9,500 sailors to go ashore. Thus began round two of the rioting, with more looting and destruction that lasted until later in the day. Eventually Admiral Murray ordered all personnel to return to their homes and barracks while martial law was instituted.
As a result of the Halifax VE Day riots 3 men were dead, 363 had been arrested, 654 businesses had been damaged or looted, and 65,000 quarts of liquor, 8,000 cases of beer, and 1,500 cases of wine were stolen. Damages amounted to over $5 million, around $63 million today when adjusted for inflation.