Public Domain text of the Halloween Riot poster from The Missing Plaque Project...
On October 31st, 1945, an enormous and raucous street party filled a section of Queen Street East in the Beaches. It was the first Halloween since the end of World War II. When police intervened, the massive crowd of teenagers became enraged. They attempted to storm the police station and a riot ensued.
Early in the evening scores of teenagers began to gather. Slowly the number grew and grew until the crowd became so big that one police officer numbered them at 7000. The youth became rowdy. Huge bonfires were started in the middle of the road blocking streetcars. Backyard fences were torn down and used to feed the blaze. “Flames were sweeping down the [streetcar] tracks”* as gasoline was poured in them. Obstacles were placed to block fire trucks from accessing the site.
Before long police on horseback descended and began clubbing the crowd. The revelry had turned to anger. Police arrested two youth and drove off with them. Someone shouted out “Let’s go free them!”. The idea took hold of the crowd. They marched north to the Main St. Police Station, chanting “RELEASE THEM! RELEASE THEM!” The Toronto Telegram reported “Hundreds of Halloween demonstrators paraded through east end streets hurling rocks at windows and turning on fire hydrants.”
As the crowd approached the police station, police and firemen turned fire-hoses upon them. This did prevent them from reaching the station, yet the teenagers retaliated by showering police and firemen with debris. A police captain said, “I never saw so many rocks and pieces of concrete fly through the air at one time”. Every available policeman from across the city rushed to the scene. Police then began clubbing and making arrests. “Spectators complained they were beaten for no reason,” wrote the Toronto Star. The crowd dispersed. The riot was over.
The teenage boys that took part in the Halloween Riot were not veterans returned from war, but rather a new underclass of youth. Compared to the special treatment that veterans were receiving, the future of these boys seemed grim. With the war over, their dreams of becoming war heroes were quashed. They now felt they had little to lose. This resulted not only in the Halloween riot but also in a slew of gangs that sprung up across the city, such as the Beanery Boys, the Tipps Gang, the Junction Gang and the Balmy Beach Gang. Robbed of a future they felt had been promised to them, many teenagers turned to a life of party and crime.
As a better image of the Beaches past has been promoted, the Halloween Riot has slipped into obscurity. This history should be remembered and learned from. Today, many youth still have bleak futures. What youth eruptions will our times see?
- ”7000 Join In East End Riot Cities Rowdiest”, by Toronto Star, Nov 1st 1945.
- “Rocks, Chunks Of Concrete Shower On Police, Firemen Mob 7000 Held At Bay”, by ['Toronto Telegram"], Nov 1st 1945.
- Interview with Donald May a participant in the riot.
- “GANG BUSTERS”, in ['NOW Magazine"], Mar 25 - 31, 2004, Vol. 23 No. 30, by Chris Malcolm.
- Quote from Police Inspector Greenwood reported in the Toronto Telegram Nov 1st 1945