Saturday, February 27, 2010

Regina Riot: Police infiltrators revealed

By Heather Polischuk, Leader-Post

On July 1, 1935, a public meeting in Regina's Market Square erupted in chaos.

In what came to be known as the Regina Riot, police fired bullets and tear gas into the crowd while the crowd responded with smashed windows and counterattacks on police. When the dust settled, Regina city police Det. Charles Millar lay dead while dozens more city and RCMP officers were injured.

Meanwhile, On-to-Ottawa Trekker Nick Schaack was taken to hospital with what would later prove to be a fatal head injury. Numerous Trekkers and even Regina residents who'd just come for the meeting were also injured.

University of Regina history professor Bill Brennan says while the event left no real long-term impact on the city, it was nonetheless a key moment in Regina's history. Brennan was scheduled to speak on Thursday about the On-to-Ottawa Trek and the riot during the RCMP Heritage Centre's Speakers' Series.

"It seems appropriate," he said of the talk's location during a Thursday morning interview. "The Mounted Police were involved in the events I'm going to talk about tonight, and here we are holding it in the museum that recognizes the history of the RCMP."

Although many have a basic knowledge of the Regina Riot, or at least have heard of it, Brennan said there are aspects of the event that are less well-known.

"All of what's been written about the On-to-Ottawa Trek and the Regina Riot have approached these events as part of the nation's history, and that's certainly true," he said. "At the same time though, these young men were here for (about) three weeks ... in the summer of 1935. So it's an important episode in Regina's history, too, and one that hasn't been written about nearly as much as the national story, and so I thought that would be an interesting approach to take in giving the talk."

Brennan gathered information from a number of sources, including a recently declassified RCMP file on the riot, which includes information on why police decided to disrupt the meeting when and how they did.

A possible answer emerged in those documents. Brennan said a private detective employed by the CPR had managed to infiltrate the Trekkers and found information the group was planning "a big event (in Regina) to draw attention to their plight" on July 2.

"We don't know what it might have been," Brennan said, although he added it might have mirrored actions they'd taken in other cities -- the occupying of businesses in a bid for relief. "Were they going to try to seize Hotel Saskatchewan, for example? ... We don't know, but certainly there's some indication from this (RCMP) file that there was a reason, in (the RCMP's) mind anyway, why it was important to move quickly before the Trekkers did something dramatic."


  1. I've heard stories from old-timers around Regina about the Riot, and there is one story that has always stuck with with me.

    This particular oldtimer was present for the riots and claims he saw "at least 35" dead bodies in the streets, and that they are buried in a rail car somewhere outside of Regina.

    I'm not sure what to say about his claim - the hospitals were full of injuries so maybe he saw injured-but-not-dead folks, but the tactics used by the police could have easily pushed the death toll quite a bit higher.

    If true, this changes the narrative, and importance of the Regina Riot quite a bit. Between Batoche, the Regina Riot, and the Estevan Coal Miner's strike it is hard to come up with an area in Canada that has seen as much government brutality as Saskatchewan. I'd like to see THAT topic discussed by amateur and professional historians more.

  2. Brennen said that there were many injuries but many didn't go to the hospital. Some were told they couldn't or were turned away. There were many more injuries than recorded but in All Hell Can't Stop Us, Bill Waiser tracked down only one death of a trekker from the riot.