Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Halifax Race Riot. It DID Happen. I Know. I Was There.


I have been informed that the events which led up to the riot actually started at Bogarts.  THEN it went on to Rosa's.

I was out with co-workers for dinner at The Keg last week. 

If you like steak, and you’re in Halifax, go to The Keg.  ‘nuff said.

From there, the group of us went to something called a ‘Captured Room’ for a ‘team play’ experience.  It was fun, but that’s not what this post is about. 

And we didn’t make it out of the room in the allotted time.  Damnit.

In fact, I’m writing this post from somewhere in the ‘1943 Halifax’ room.  I’m now a prop.

Over dinner, those of us at our particular table started discussing Halifax’s bar scene, ‘back in the day’.

Apparently, I was the oldest at the table, since the others had no idea about the majority of bars I brought up. 

Back in MY day, it was Bogarts, Scoundrals, JJ’s, Peddlers and Rosa’s that were the spots to go (among others like The Graduate, Split Crow, Your Father’s Mustache etc.).

None of these bars are here anymore, except the Mustache and Split Crow. Those two are still kicking around. 

Others have taken their place, but the ‘good old bars’, as I remember them, are now gone.

The local bar scene at that time wasn’t necessarily the ‘good old days’ for everyone, though.  The bar scene in the early 90’s in Halifax was racially charged and you could feel the tension on any weekend night, in any downtown bar. 

And so in the same conversation I asked, ‘Do you (looking at the one Haligonian at the table) remember the race riot back in the early 90’s?  It started at Rosa’s.’

Nobody, including the Haligonian, knew what I was talking about.

I haven’t heard many people talk about that riot over the years.

Keep in mind, social media wasn’t even a thought back then, so it wouldn’t have been blasted all over the internet. 

But although it wasn’t as huge as the LA riots, it was a big deal here, at the time.

It was a riot.  Crowds of angry people were swarming down Gottingen Street breaking windows.  Police in riot gear were everywhere. 

How do I know?

I was there.  Right in the middle of it all.

As our group left The Keg and was walking down to the Captured Room location on Barrington, we happened to walk by The Carleton Bar and Grill and I said to the others, “THIS was Rosa’s.  THIS is where the riot started!’

 Image taken from HERE 

I wasn't in/at the bar when it started, but I heard the commotion when they got to Gottingen St. because my boyfriend at the time (now ex-husband) lived only one block away, on Creighton, and we were at his apartment. 

We heard the screaming.  We heard the breaking glass.  We heard the sirens.

So, of course, being 20somethings with no fear … we decided to check it out.

Now, my memory from 26yrs ago is a little foggy at the best of times, but what I specifically remember from that night, aside from all the chaos, was running between the buildings to get down to the street, rounding the corner and coming face to face with a wall of police officers, in full riot gear.

I also remember very clearly what the one officer closest to us screamed at us… 

‘Get the Fuck out of here … NOW!’ 

Apparently he didn’t think two white kids should be running headfirst into a race riot.

Once I saw what was actually happening on the street, the destruction and chaos, I can’t say I disagreed with him. 

We ran.  In the opposite direction from all the craziness in the street.

Back in the safety of the apartment, we listened to all the commotion a block away.

It was the one and only real ‘riot’ I’ve ever been in, if only for a few minutes, but it was an experience, even with my shitty memory, that I never forgot. 

I’ve never really understood the racial tension that envelopes the city I’ve lived in since I was 18.

They, whoever 'they' are, say that ‘race relations have improved’, over the years.  But have they, really?

I’m a white kid from small town New Brunswick.  I grew up in a town that had literally only a handful of African Canadian families. 

To me, those few African Canadian kids were just other kids in school.  No different than the rest of us.  No hate. No racial tension.  None that I was aware of, anyway.

I guess that’s why I find it so hard to understand the racial profiling and racism that still runs rampant in Halifax today. 

People say its better.  They say there is no racism here, but … I suspect if you ask an African Canadian living here in Nova Scotia, they might have a different perspective.

I wasn't able to find much online about the night of the riot.  Like I said, it seems like people have either forgotten, didn't hear about it, or just don't discuss it.  At least the people *I'VE* asked.

I did find a couple of things...

Twenty years ago, racial tension in the city reached its tipping point.

A Halifax bouncer turned away several young black men from Rosa’s Cantina for reasons they felt had more to do with the colour of their skin than the fact they had been involved in an earlier scuffle on Argyle Street.

The white men involved in that same fight were already inside. The fallout would come the following night..." 

You can read the rest of the full article here:

I also found this video of 'How Things Have Changed Since ...' 

The Halifax Race Riot.

People may not remember, or may not talk about it, but it DID happen.

I know it did.  I was there. 



Sue Lutes said...

There is a lot of racial tension in Hali and Dartmouth even today. It's everywhere... and let's not forget how the blacks in Africville were treated. It wasn't taught to us in school when I attended but thank goodness it is being taught today. I believe that's how the Gottigen area sprung up in the location it is today was because of the Africville. Such a sad history for those people and even sadder that they still have to fight a racial battle today.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you what happened at Rosa's. A small group of family and friends were hanging out at Rosa's. A gentleman came around to our tables chatting. He was a member of our navy and his ship was leaving the next day headed for unrest overseas. He was not happy about it. The conversation deteriorated as his agitation grew. He was upset that we (our group) were not going to fight for Canada's interests overseas and he was. I explained that my chosen profession was a civilian job, as were my companions, by choice, whereas he chose to join the Canadian military. Being a military person, being deployed is often part of the job. He was upset because we were born Canadians and he was an immigrant..fighting for "our" country. It was a bad scene, he was very upset, very agitated, and went from table to table over a period of a couple hours, and his agitation grew, he became more vocal, more angry, more intoxicated. He did not want to leave port the next morning! he was warmed by bar staff to settle down.. he did not and was removed from Rosa's. His agitation continued and his brewing for a fight continued outside the bar.

He was at the center of the scene outside. Next thing I hear on the news is there is a race riot outside Rosas. Did I mention this man was black... I didn't... because it was irrelevant to how this brawl got started. It was a guy not wanting to be deployed the next day!! Whatever else happened, whether black guys or white guys joined in, because they read colour into the equation, or the media at the time, was fuelling racial divide..I don't know. I cant speak to how it escalated once dude was kicked out.. I know that buddy that spent the night trying to instigate a fight with us and others inside Rosas was in the back of the cop car when we left...

That's what I know about that night..

People are people..that did not start out as a race issue.. I didn't see a black guy picking a fight with whites.. I saw it for it was. I guy who joined the navy for a paycheck who was afraid to deploy..

However, I was talking to a white friend yesterday who dated a black woman for a while, who spoke of his experience of being stared at, sensing tension in some environments that he was not exposed to as a white guy. Eye opener.. for us both.
Not everyone sees people as individuals the way we do...