VE Day Riot Source Guide

 

When Victory in Europe was announced on Monday May 7, 1945, the streets of Halifax erupted into celebration that turned to violence and looting. Civilians joined the thousands of servicemen in the mayhem that neither city police nor military command were able to quell for over 24 hours, leaving hundreds of downtown Halifax businesses destroyed and hundreds of people arrested. A Royal Commission blamed naval authorities for not controlling its personnel, though others suggested it was mounting tension between Haligonians and servicemen during the war which had caused the celebrations to turn ugly.

This source guide provides access to original sources at Halifax Municipal Archives which offer a glimpse into the City's preparations for victory celebrations and how it dealt with the aftermath of the riots.

City Council minutes 

(click on date to read original minutes)

  • April 30, 1945 - Council hears Major Crowell's V-Day Committee's plans for a program of entertainment and containment with a focus on thanksgiving: churches planning for 11am services, street dances, concerts on Citadel Hill and fireworks in the evening. They also hear the Police Chief's preparations and communication with the Armed Services, and determined the day would be a "holiday."

  • May 9, 1945 - 5pm - Emergency meeting to deal with the riots: "the most terrible thing that had ever taken place in Halifax." Aldermen move a resolution calling for an investigation to establish responsibility and for compensation from the Federal Government, and read a telegram sent by Mayor Allan Butler to acting Prime Minister J.L. Ilsley. The deputy mayor and solicitor report on actions taken to bring order to the streets, and on their interactions with military leaders Admiral Murray and Brigadier White.

  • May 17, 1945 - Council formally approves May 9 Resolution, commends the Mayor's handling of the situation, and recommend that people attend the hearings to be held where the Chief of Police would give an account of his force's involvement.

  • July 26, 1945 - City's claim for $4,523.03 in damages and a resolution to borrow money to cover those expenses are passed.

  • October 11, 1945 - Board of School Commissioners granted permission to pay for repairs of damage from the riots and the Bedford Magazine explosion ahead of receiving federal compensation.

  • May 13, 1948 - Council approves payment of legal services in connection with the Royal Commission to investigate the VE Day Riots.

Black and white photograph of couple carrying merchandise

This photo was part of the police investigation file. HMA. 102-16T-16.2

Halifax Police Department investigation files

In the days following the Riot, Halifax police officers investigated the many thefts and vandalism to gather evidence for prosecutions, and to return stolen items to their owners. Much information was gathered from anonymous letters from "an honest citizen" who responded to the plea for information the Police had put in the newspapers. These two police files include fascinating testimony from the accused, witnesses, and police and give a streets-eye-view of the Riots (all personal information removed): 

 

Director of Civil Defence files

Director of Civil Defence, Major Osborne Crowell led the civil preparations for the war's anticipated end through a VE Day subcommittee of representatives of Armed Services, religious organizations, business organizations, media, and police. Their preparations are detailed in the files below, as well as their account of what occurred on May 7 and 8.

Black and white photograph of celebrating sailors holding a mannequin outside a Zeller's store

Ransacking revelry outside Zeller's on Barrington St. HMA 102-16N-0015.7

Newsclippings and Ephemera

  • News coverage of VE Day and Riots, May 8-11, 1945 from the Halifax Mail, Daily Star, Halifax Chronicle (CR13.3)
  • Newsclippings about Riots from Halifax Fire Department scrapbooks, May 8-23, 1945 (102-111-3)
  • Battle of Halifax - a poem about the VE Day Riot written by an anonymous serviceman-sympathizer was donated by Nola Stoddart along with other WWII material (CR56)
  • News coverage of 60th Anniversary of VE Day, 2005 (VFE-069-V)

 

5oth anniversary celebrations of VE Day

In 1995, the City of Halifax marked 50 years since the end of WWII with events commemorating the City's contribution to the war effort and the close ties with the military.

  • Mayor's Office file on the 5oth anniversary of VE Day (102-3-5-015)

  • V.E. Day 50th Anniversary Thank you letters from Mayor (102-3-4-017 - digital copy has personal addresses redacted)

 

Colour copy of videocassette cover showing WWII posters, the City of Halifax crest, video title and  its tag " A Look Into the Past With an Eye to the Future"

Click on cover of commemorative video to view a clip. HMA. 971.6225 H 1995

Commemorative video: Halifax Remembers - VE Day 50th anniversary celebration, 1995

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII, the City of Halifax created a video of its commemorative events. A short clip is available, in which Mayor Walter Fitzgerald recognizes Halifax's part in WWII and downplays the VE Day Riots.

The 50th anniversary events shown in the rest of the video include a Victory Ball in the VIA Rail Station; the granting of Freedom of the City to #12 Wing Shearwater; a Victory parade along Barrington; a reception at a Legion organized by Dutch Haligonians; the Stadacona band at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic; a display of wartime art at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia; Sailors' Monument Gathering in Point Pleasant Park; an inter-faith church service at All Saints Cathedral; an event called a "Celebration of Peace" at the Grand Parade war memorial; a reception at City Hall, with speeches from Mayor Fitzgerald and Premier John Savage. (Entire video available through the Archives - see 971.6225 H 1995).

Black and white photograph of 3 young women and a soldier drinking and smoking sitting on the grass .

Everyone was celebrating. HMA. 102-16N-0015.12

Primary Sources at Other Institutions

Halifax Public Library: Newsclipping file on the VE Day riots and local newspaper collection

Nova Scotia Archives virtual exhibit: Halifax in Wartime: The End of It All: photos and moving images from the riots

CBC Archives: Photos and videos of news coverage of the riots

Library and Archives Canada:

  • Report on the Halifax disorders: May 7th - 8th, 1945 Justice Roy Kellock Royal Commission records (digital copy of report provide by LAC)

  • Board of Enquiry held in HMCS Stadacona 15-21 May 1945 to investigate the circumstances leading up to Naval Participation in the Recent Disorders in Halifax and the extent and nature of any breaches of discipline by Naval Personnel, 21 May 1945, RG24 vol. 11208
Black and white photographs of two men in uniform holding parts of a mannequin and with their pockets stuffed with stolen merchandise

Looting as a lark. HMA. 102-16N-0015.3

Secondary Sources

  • Open gangway: An account of the Halifax riots, 1945Stanley R. Redman. 1981. (971.6225 R)
  • Behind open gangway: The Halifax riots, 1945. Stanley R. Redman. 1999 (971.6225 R)

  • Sailors, Slackers and Blind Pigs: Halifax at War. Stephen Kimber, 2002 (971.6225 K)

  • Wartime Halifax: Photo History of a Canadian City at War, 1939-1945. William D. Naftel, 2009 (971.6225 N146)

  • Halifax at war: Searchlights, squadrons and submarines 1939-1945. William D. Naftel. 2008 (971.6225 .N1)

Do you have material from Halifax in wartime?

Halifax Municipal Archives is always looking to add to our holdings. Please contact the archives if you have photographs, documents, film or ephemera of historical interest.