The initial disturbances: Tuesday, February 18, 1919
On the first night, a returned soldier dining at the Crown Café on Gottingen Street refused to pay his bill “and abused the Chinese proprietor” (The Evening Mail, February 19, 1919). 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 café. Later that night the ousted group returned to the café “and proceeded to clean up the place” (The Daily Echo, February 19, 1919). These men were joined by others and the mob went on an anger-fueled café crawl primarily targeting Chinese restaurants. In addition to the Crown Café, the Busy Bee Café, the Nova Café, the Victory Café, and the Allies Café, 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 Café. The mob caused an estimated $10,000 worth of damaged 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 Café. The Daily Echo reported that a total of $375 was stolen from the cafés, including $300 from the Allies Café 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 (sub-series 102-16A-75). One of the few extant police sources for this time period, the Charge Books do show an active night for February 18, 1919. Samuel Lesser was arrested and charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm after assaulting Fang Wong, a Chinese-Canadian laundry owner, on Agricola Street.