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