“They were clean, decent people… but they had no money”

April 2017

The people at the Colonial Building riot, they weren’t really a bad bunch – half of them were hungry, a lot were longshoremen or other people who were either out-of-work, or without enough work.

The riot happened in 1932, on April 5. I was almost nine years old. I went to school that day at St Pat’s – not St Patrick’s, the girls’ school on Patrick Street. The boys’ school was up by the Basilica. There were sixty-odd kids in my class. There was a big long desk you had to climb over in order to get in and out. Everybody in school knew what was happening that day; kids were talking about it. Before we left, Brother Fitzgerald, our teacher, told us not to dare go near the place, because there was a riot and people were going mad.

At the time I lived on Duckworth, where Caine’s convenience store is now. There were a hundred ways to get home that didn’t involve walking past the Colonial Building. We didn’t take any of them.

Three or four of us went down there after school. By that time the crowd was already a mob. Mrs Robertson was the caretaker of the Colonial building. I saw some kids that were in my class, a couple of troublemakers, throwing stuff at her apartment – but it wasn’t just them, it was lots of people.

They went in and looted her house until there was nothing inside. They broke all the windows and stripped pictures and everything off the walls, then took the piano out of her house and smashed it until not a bit of it was left. There were keys everywhere, they ripped the sides apart. The rioters didn’t care. They were throwing bricks at walls and windows, running around inside and out, raiding the building. Even the police on the horses were nervous. They couldn’t control it, and didn’t know what to do. One officer’s horse backed into a woman, so she beat him with her umbrella until he got knocked off.

Katie Vautour lives next door to 94-year-old Mr. Browne. He tells her stories, like this one, and she has started writing them down. She is awed by his fantastic memory. You can read the whole story in the Newfoundland Quarterly’s print edition. On sale in Broken Books, Johnny Ruth, Chapters, The Travel Bug, Afterwords, and other retailers across the province. Newfoundland Quarterly: Spring 2017.

Call for Submissions, Fall 2020


NQ and NQonline.ca are seeking creative non-fiction, personal essays, articles, fiction, poetry, and visual art and illustration. We are looking for work related to our working theme for the Winter issue, “mythical creatures” and also on general topics related to NL life, culture, and arts.