The Québec City Conscription Riots

March 1918

28 March – 1 April 1918 – The Quebec City Conscription Riots

On this day in 1918, anti-conscription riots break out in Quebec City on the eve of Good Friday. The initial disturbance occurred when Federal officers were assaulted by a crowd after arresting a young man for not possessing his certificate of exemption. Although the crowd was able to release the arrested man, rioting continued to escalate over the Easter weekend.

The 1917 election and controversial Military Service Act drove a rift between Canadians and arguably split the national psyche, most notably depicted in the Easter 1918 Conscription Riots in Quebec City.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-005076.

On 29 March, Good Friday, Quebec City’s Military Service Registry office was destroyed by fire, with all records lost. By Saturday, 30 March, the Commanding Officer of the District had requested reinforcements of 1000 troops, in addition to the 890 already on-hand. In the evening of 30 March and the following day, rioters broke into hardware stores, hoping to obtain firearms, and began to assault the troops, throwing snowballs and ice at those manning the picquets.

The riots reached their climax on the evening of 1 April. Now reinforced by 700 troops from Ontario, the military began moving through the city, breaking up gatherings of civilians. While doing so, rioters again bombarded the troops with ice, bricks and improvised missiles. Those who were armed also began shooting at the troops, wounding some. Under orders, the soldiers returned fire with rifles and machine guns, killing four and injuring many more. Despite the sudden escalation, order was restored by one o’clock in the morning. The Quebec Conscription Riots were over.

(See Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 347-348).

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