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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Conscription Riots, Spring 1918, Quebec City

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Québec, Printemps 1918 marks the place of one of the demonstrations in Quebec City protesting the Canadian government’s 1917 decision to conscript men into the army. The creation of sculptor Aline Martineau, it was unveiled on 4 September 1998 at the intersection of Saint-Vallier, Saint-Joseph and Bagot in Quebec City.

A translation of the sign describing the monument:

In spring 1918, tragic events mark the history of Quebec City. Starting on 28 March and for five consecutive days, citizens express their opposition to mandatory mobilization and actions taken by federal authorities to put down the conscripts.

On 1 April, things go awry when military authorities give the order to 1200 soldiers brought expressly from Ontario and Western Canada to disperse the people gathered in the downtown. The cavalry charges the crowd. The crowd gathered at the intersection of Saint-Vallier, Saint-Joseph and Bagot reacts by throwing stones at the soldiers. After reading the dispersal order in English, the soldiers fire into the crowd, killing four people and wounding 70 others.

Eighty years later, a flower with human petals rises at the top of a monumental sculpture in this place. It symbolizes life that finds power in the spontaneous movement of a people who stand up to defend their convictions and that is also so fragile when death comes in a violent way, as it was that spring for four Quebecers:

  • Honoré Bergeron, 49, carpenter
  • Alexandre Bussières, 25, mechanic
  • Georges Demeule, 15, shoemaker and machinist
  • Joseph-Édouard Tremblay, 20, technical school student

This flower is testimony to the respect that the memory of those who left their lives here inspires in those who live.

A pillar on the lower left side of the sculpture bears bronze symbols of the occupations of the dead: a hammer, pliers, a shoe, a book. Stone row houses form benches at the base.

Many Quebecers opposed Canada’s participation in a foreign war. The Military Service Act exempted certain religions from conscription, but not other conscientious objectors. Henri Bourassa, editor of Le Devoir, wrote against conscription in an article translated for an English-speaking audience:

If the religious scruples of these new-comers are taken into account, by what right should the government disregard the time-honoured traditions of the oldest, the most thoroughly national element of the whole Canadian population? Let there be no mistake: the conviction of the French Canadian that he is only bound to take up arms to defend the soil of Canada is as true and as deeply anchored in his heart as the hatred of militarism is in the mind of the Quaker or Mennonite.*

*Henri Bourassa, Conscription (Montreal: Le Devoir, 1917), 6, cited in Amy J. Shaw, Crisis of Conscience, (UBC Press), 2009, 62-63.


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