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The Montreal and Verdun Zoot-Suit disturbances of June 1944

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The Montreal and Verdun Zoot-Suit disturbances of June 1944 – Page 1


Serge Marc Durflinger
Historical Research and Exhibit Development
Canadian War Museum

Originally published in : Serge Bernier, ed. L’Impact de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale sur les sociétés canadienne et québécoise, Université du Québec à Montréal et la Direction Histoire et patrimoine de la Défense nationale, Ottawa, 1998. Reproduced with permission.

In late May and early June 1944 the Montreal area was rocked by a series of large-scale brawls pitting servicemen, especially sailors, against civilians, many of them “zoot-suit”-wearing youths. What was the cause of the fighting? Was it the result of youth alienation, wartime social stress or the playing out of national political and linguistic differences over conscription? Who was to blame for the violence? Could local naval authorities have prevented the disturbances?

This paper will describe the events of June 1944 and situate them within the context of civil-military relations in Montreal. These relations influenced the manner in which the events were viewed by naval and civil authorities. The official report of the naval inquiry into the “zoot-suit” riots is of particular interest and can be interpreted as an attempt by Montreal-based naval authorities to avoid responsibility for the disturbances.

It will be shown that, notwithstanding common contemporary perceptions, the youthful “zoot-suiters” were drawn from varied ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and were not overwhelmingly French speaking. The narrative which follows seeks to shed new light on an incident in Canadian social-military history long ignored by scholars. The “zoot suit” was a memorable fashion fad among some young men in the 1940s. In general, a zoot suit consisted of a long, loose coat with wide, padded shoulders, ballooning pants worn very high above the waist, an oversized bow-tie, a wide-brimmed hat and a long, hanging watchchain. These flamboyant outfits were meant to attract attention and those wearing them were commonly referred to as “zoot-suiters” or “zooters”. This fad was most common in North America and, to a lesser extent, in Britain. 1

Most observers have concluded that the zoot suit was a symbol of youthful defiance and non-conformity. Justifiably or not, the general public often linked zoot-suiters to anti-social behaviour such as fighting, drinking and loitering. Given the tense wartime atmosphere in Canada, combined with Ottawa’s exhortations for social cohesion, the actions and appearances of the zooters took on ‘unpatriotic’ overtones in the eyes of many Canadians, especially those in uniform. By 1942 zoot suits were technically illegal; they contravened Wartime Prices and Trade Board (W.P.T.B.) guidelines regarding the rationing of fabrics and textiles. The zooters’ social values thereby clashed with accepted wartime moral standards. Considerable antipathy towards zoot-suiters developed among servicemen stationed in or near large urban areas, where concentrations of zooters were to be found.2 These two groups of young men, aggressive and each wearing their own ‘uniforms’, were on a wartime collision course.

Minor clashes in Montreal between Canadian military personnel and zoot-suiters were reported as early as the fall of 1943 with intermittent incidents occurring throughout the winter of 1944. Major fighting between zoot suiters and servicemen took place during the night of May 27, 1944 in St. Lambert, just across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. Highlighting the perceived importance of the linguistic dimension to zooter fighting, La Presse noted that the zooters were mainly of Italian origin, though there were also French Canadians among them. The soldiers and some local youths who opposed them were mostly English Canadian. On May 31 more altercations took place in St. Lambert and the fighting quickly spread to the south shore landing of the Jacques Cartier Bridge. There, a group of about 60 mainly French-Canadian soldiers stationed in nearby Longueuil were attacked by a mixed-language band of some 200 zooters, 53 of whom were detained by the army Provost Corps. 3 By this time, isolated fights were occurring daily in the Montreal area. In one particularly distasteful incident a sailor and his wife were beaten by zooters on Dorchester Street just after midnight on June 2. This attack so upset other sailors stationed in Montreal that they immediately plotted their revenge against the hated zoot-suiters.4

At approximately 9 p.m. on Saturday June 3, a naval shore patrolman telephoned Lieutenant Bruce C. Whittaker, R.C.N.V.R., the Staff Officer, Shore Patrol, Montreal, and informed him that a large group of unruly sailors was congregating in Philip’s Square on Ste. Catherine Street in downtown Montreal. Lieutenant Whittaker immediately informed Captain J.E.W. Oland, R.C.N., D.S.C., the Naval-Officer-in-Charge (N.O.I.C.), H.M.C.S. “Hochelaga”, Montreal, of these developments. Captain Oland, alarmed, ordered all available shore patrols to Philip’s Square to break up the mob and prevent it from causing any serious disturbances. Simultaneously, however, a second large group of sailors further west along Ste. Catherine Street was reported to be on the move down Atwater Avenue. Their objective was the City of Verdun, about three kilometres to the southwest. It was clear to Whittaker and Oland that these naval mobs were the principal source of whatever trouble might befall the city that night.5

The nearly 400 sailors gathering at Philip’s Square were drawn from every shore establishment in the Montreal area, including H.M.C.S. “Donnacona”, Montreal’s main naval reserve division, H.M.C.S. “Hochelaga”, the command of N.O.I.C. Montreal, H.M.C.S. “St. Hyacinthe”, the nearby fleet signalling school and the naval manning depot in Longueuil, which was under command of N.O.I.C. Other sailors were crewmen aboard naval and merchant ships in port. Whittaker concentrated his paltry force of 16 shore patrolmen downtown and mobilized over 100 auxiliary patrolmen from ratings posted to “Donnacona” and “Hochelaga”. These men, some issued with sidearms, were despatched to the scenes of the disturbances downtown and in Verdun and ordered to break up fights and restore order.6 It was something of a gamble to send into the fray as auxiliary patrolmen ratings whose sympathies almost certainly were with their fellow servicemen; indeed, there were reports from Verdun that some auxiliary patrolmen battled zoot suiters there. But hard-pressed naval authorities had little choice in the matter.

The well-organized sailors quickly divided into several groups of 75 to 100 men and began to hunt their zoot-suiter quarry. The riotous sailors, joined by smaller groups of soldiers and airmen, descended on nightclubs, bars, restaurants, dance halls, pool rooms and anywhere else zooters were likely to congregate. As soon as zoot-suiters were found, the frenzied naval mobs beat them and stripped them of their outfits which were promptly torn to shreds. The battered zooters were left in their underwear until rescued by the police. Some of Montreal’s most famous nightclubs were the targets of the sailors’ wrath: the Palais d’Or, Val d’Or Club and the Chez Maurice Danceland. Ironically, the downtown headquarters of the Shore Patrol was located in offices above the Chez Maurice Danceland. All of these establishments and many others suffered superficial damage. Serious fighting broke out along Ste. Catherine Street, especially at the intersection of Bleury and a few blocks further east. Violence also occurred on Ontario Street, in Lafontaine Park and at other scattered locations. 7

At the same time, over 100 angry sailors made their way by foot and in taxis to the Verdun Dance Pavilion, located along that city’s riverfront. There, they confronted approximately 60 youths, not all of whom were zooters. Many other patrons at the Pavilion, wearing pre-war, pre-W.P.T.B.-regulated suits, were mistaken for zooters and set upon by the mob. Bottles and clubs were used as weapons by both sides. Dozens of naval shore patrolmen, army provosts and Verdun police arrived on the scene to break up the mêlée. The Verdun Messager recorded the following scene:

The zoot-suiters barricaded themselves within the Dance Hall while the young sailors tore up concrete park benches which they used as battering rams to clear a way into the building…They ordered all girls off the premises, with the exception of two who were wearing the feminine equivalent of a zoot suit, and they also expelled all young men who were not zoot-suiters. They then proceeded to tear off the clothes of the luckless zoot-suiters, including the two young women who were caught in the naval net. Some [zoot-suiters] climbed to the rafters of the building but were soon pulled from their perches…and many were bruised and exhibited black eyes.8

The brawling lasted more than an hour and was over by about 11 p.m. The Montreal Star referred to the fighting in Verdun as “vicious” while La Presse noted that “les bagarres ont pris des proportions graves à Verdun”.9

By 2:30 a.m. on Sunday the fighting in Montreal had ended and control of the city streets reverted to the shore patrolmen and the police. Dozens of zooters, sailors, bystanders and Montreal and Verdun policemen had been injured and over 40 people arrested, 37 of them sailors. Fighting between zooters and sailors, airmen and soldiers continued sporadically until June 7, although by this date zoot suits had become a rare sight on the streets of Montreal. The Montreal Star described the violence as the “servicemen’s private war on zoot-suiters”.10 The Gazette concurred, calling the disturbances an “island-wide armed forces campaign against zoot-suiters”. The “Zoot-suit Riots” were front page news in the English-language press until June 6, when they were superseded by news of more serious fighting in Normandy. But explanations, recriminations and blame for the fighting were just beginning.

On Sunday June 4, Oland, attempting to defuse the volatile situation, announced that all naval leave was being cancelled for Montreal-based sailors as well as for those serving aboard ships in harbour. All ratings under the jurisdiction of N.O.I.C. were confined to barracks. A 9 p.m. naval curfew was imposed in Montreal and the Verdun Dance Pavilion was placed out of bounds to naval personnel. These measures seemed to imply at least some naval culpability for the disturbances. Furthermore, Oland ordered a Board of Inquiry to be held at “Hochelaga” on June 5 to examine the navy’s role in the disturbances and to ascertain responsibility for the violence. 11

The Board of Inquiry was presided over by Commander F.H. Davis, R.C.N., Naval Controller for Montreal, and included three other officers serving in Montreal: Lieutenant J.H.E. Colby, R.C.N.V.R., Lieutenant D.S. Howard, R.C.N.V.R. and Lieutenant W.G. Duggan, R.C.N.R. Significantly, all these officers were English Canadians, as were the vast majority of Canadian naval officers. 12

The naval inquiry sat for one day and heard testimony from officers, ratings, shore patrolmen, zooters, civilian onlookers, and the owner of the Verdun Dance Pavilion. The testimony and three-page official report of the inquiry were very revealing. Defensive and antagonistic in tone, the report laid bare the strained civil-military relations in Montreal.

The Board of Inquiry seized the opportunity presented it to vent naval frustrations with the Montreal police and to bring matters to the attention of higher authority. In its opening line, the report absolved the rampaging sailors from any wrongdoing: “[T]he disturbance [was] due entirely to the fact that for the last few weeks several Service Men have been assaulted by so-called Zoot Suiters in various parts of the city”. The inquiry also blamed the Montreal police force for its past failures in preventing these incidents and accused it of harassing naval personnel. Since zooter attacks on servicemen had increased in the days prior to June 3 “without any intervention on the part of the Police, with the exception of the arrests of Naval Personnel, who were in most cases innocent bystanders, or victims of assaults”, naval ratings decided that “if their members were to be safe on the streets, then they would have to take their own action…which they eventually did.” Not only did the Board members sympathize with the ratings’ frustrations, they also claimed that without their retaliation, “no action would ever have been taken by the Civic Authorities…[and] the public would never have been aware of the misdemeanours of…Zoot Suiters.” 13In essence, the report shamelessly opined that the sailors’ vigilante tactics were a public service.

The report’s findings were questionable (to say the least) given the testimony and evidence provided by witnesses, the majority of whom, quite properly, were naval personnel. “The evidence is conclusive”, exaggerated the commissioners, “that these Zoot-Suiters are a definite sect or clan of a subversive nature who aim at sabotaging the war effort by unwarranted attacks on service personnel.” This self-serving and fantastic conspiracy theory was based on the flimsy testimony of a single not disinterested naval rating, Ordinary Seaman Douglas Codner. The report insisted that the zooters formed “a junior edition of the Black Shirt Fascist Organization which was formerly headed by Adrien Arcand.” It further claimed that since many zooters were of Italian ancestry, their unpatriotic and violent ways were an attempt “to force by illegal means the hand of the Government to release their fathers and relatives from internment”. The Board members seemed unaware that by June 1944 most Italian internees already had been released; moreover, Italy technically had been an Ally since September 1943.

Perhaps a contributing factor which induced the inquiry to absolve the sailors (and their officers, thereby) was that this was the week of the Normandy invasion. With Canadian servicemen winning great accolades in the press, surely there was a little glory to spare for naval officers and ratings fighting their own war for democracy in an inland Canadian port. In addition to their apparent “Fascist” bent, the zooters were also commonly viewed as draft dodgers by servicemen and in ‘patriotic’ civilian circles. This added wartime moral authority to the sailors’ orchestrated violence. In September 1944 a Verdun serviceman wrote a letter to the mayor of Verdun in which he stated:

… at the present time Jerry is on the run and the boys arn’t (sic) giving him any time to rest…[B]ut if our loyal friends the zoot-suiters don’t want to fight for their country, we will have to do it alone…If you need any reinforcements in Montreal to fight the Draft Dodgers, apply for them [in] France, you will get more than you need. 14

The Montreal sailors, then, were also in the front lines, battling the enemies of Canada.

The Board’s final recommendation was astonishing and indicated a lack of co-operation between N.O.I.C. and the local police force. Since there had been more fighting between June 3 and the issuing of the report on June 8, and since relatively few sailors had been allowed on the streets of Montreal during this period, the Board members believed that “the police will not or cannot stop the rioting”. Therefore, since it would be unfair to continue to confine sailors to barracks when they apparently were not the cause of the disturbances, and since “Service men will never be safe on the streets of this City until this organization is broken up”, the only viable solution apparent to the Board members was the “Declaration of Martial Law…for the City and District of Montreal”. This recommendation, and the entire report, seemed exceedingly far removed from contemporary political reality.

The Montreal and Verdun Zoot-Suit disturbances of June 1944 – Page 2


Perhaps the very timing of the riots helps explain why this might have been the case. The disturbances could hardly have come at a worst time for Captain Oland and the officers of “Hochelaga” and “Donnacona”. The Minister for Naval Services, Angus L. Macdonald, and the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral G.C. Jones, were scheduled to arrive in Montreal on June 9 for the opening of “Donnacona”‘s new facilities on Drummond Street. With the impending arrival of their political and service masters, it is not inconceivable that the officers making up the Board of Inquiry sought to magnify subversive dangers lurking in Montreal and portray the sailors under their command as combatting the opponents of the war effort.

In arriving at their conclusions, the Board members might have taken their cue from Oland, who was exonerated and even praised in their report. The June 1944 War Diary of “Hochelaga”, prepared by Oland and sent to Rear-Admiral Leonard W. Murray, C.B.E., R.C.N., Commander-in-Chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic (C-in-C, C.N.W.A.), Halifax, referred to the “smouldering” tension between servicemen and “hoodlums” in Montreal. Oland offered an apologia for his men by claiming that after so many provocations, “Naval Ratings no longer were able to control themselves”. With the exception of this cryptic reference, however, the N.O.I.C.’s war diary gave the subject of civil-military relations in Montreal a wide berth. 15

Oland provided Macdonald and Vice-Admiral Jones with copies of the Board of Inquiry’s report which had been submitted to him, perhaps hastily, the day before by Commander Davis. 16There is no evidence to suggest Oland disagreed with anything in the report. The opinions of the minister and the chief of the naval staff do not appear to have been recorded, though they could hardly have been pleased with the draconian recommendation to impose martial law in Montreal. Despite its exaggerations, the report amply demonstrates Montreal naval authorities’ frustrations with the local police forces and youths not on active service.

On June 10 copies of the Board of Inquiry’s report were sent to C-in-C, C.N.W.A. and to Paymaster Commander Joseph Jeffrey, R.C.N.V.R., Secretary, Naval Board, Ottawa. Rear-Admiral Murray and those among his staff to whom the report was circulated were neither impressed nor condemnatory of it. While no one in Halifax accepted martial law as an appropriate course of action, sympathy existed with the Montreal ratings over the treatment they had received from the police and civilians. 17 After all, were not similar sailors’ complaints being voiced in Halifax? The ill-will which afflicted relations between sailors and Haligonians during the war has been noted elsewhere, as has the navy’s poor handling of incidents implicating sailors and civilians. There was a tendency among servicemen simply to blame civil-military tensions on the hostility of the local citizenry or the inefficiency of the civil power. 18

After reading the testimony heard at the Montreal inquiry, Paymaster Commander Jeffrey could not accept the report’s views. He was outraged by the Board’s slipshod procedures and the report’s antagonistic tone. “The Finding is not in accordance with the evidence adduced, but rather represents a biased attitude on behalf of Naval personnel”, he wrote in a memorandum drafted in response to the report. A copy of Jeffrey’s memorandum was sent to Rear-Admiral Murray. The Secretary, Naval Board was unimpressed with the Montreal officers’ attempts to blame virtually anyone but naval personnel for the rioting. “The evidence discloses a lack of discipline in the Montreal Command”, Jeffrey wrote, “which is aggravated by the officers concerned taking an attitude which is not in keeping with their status and responsibility”. He identified a “lack of cooperation between officers and men” as a reason for the naval authorities’ inability to implement “preventive precautions” before the sailors assembled for their rampage. Jeffrey was shocked that no attempt was made to locate and prosecute the naval “ringleaders” of the June 3 incidents. He agreed with the Board members that relations between the Montreal police and naval authorities were “far from cordial”, but he was not so sure who was to blame. 19

Montreal civic authorities were under no illusions as to where the blame lay. The view from City Hall was that sailors had planned and directed the violence and that during the height of the fighting, from June 3 to June 5, naval shore patrols had overstepped the boundaries of their authority and acted in a provocative manner. Over 150 shore patrolmen and special auxiliaries were on the streets responding to reports of zooter-sailor violence on the night of June 6 and several minor scuffles broke out after their arrival onto the scene. In one June 5 incident on Ste. Catherine Street, the police firmly requested the shore patrol to leave the area. There seemed to be little civilian confidence in the impartiality of these sailor-policemen. 20

J. Omer Asselin, chairman of Montreal’s Executive Committee, felt the shore patrols were “taking the law into their own hands”. On June 7 The Gazette reported that Asselin had made a “courteous but firm” declaration advising, but not formally demanding, all service police forces to cease patrolling Montreal streets. It was time, he thought, for the Montreal and service police (which did not trust each other) to reach an “amicable agreement” on the issue of who should respond to disturbances in which service personnel were involved. Since sailors were still confined to barracks and subject to curfew at this time, the naval authorities agreed to withdraw the shore patrols. The patrolmen’s presence might have been missed, however, since on the night of June 7 more violence erupted between zooters and soldiers and airmen, resulting in a score of injuries and arrests. Moreover, without a naval police response on the night of June 3, the rioting and mayhem in Montreal surely would have been much worse.

Language might have been an escalating factor in some of these disturbances. Linguistic differences in Montreal over conscription were magnified when numbers of English-speaking servicepeople mixed with their French-speaking civilian counterparts. As zooters were detested as “draft dodgers” they became easy targets for frustrated servicemen, a situation possibly worsened by the perception that zoot-suiters were mostly French speaking. 21 But it was simplistic to assume that most zooters were French Canadians and all the sailors English Canadians.

Testimony taken at the Board of Inquiry indicated that the zooters whom the mainly English-speaking sailors attacked in Montreal and Verdun were drawn from various ethnic backgrounds. Five out of eight witnesses who were specifically questioned on the matter of the zooters’ language or ethnicity insisted they were predominantly of Italian ancestry; two claimed the zooters were mainly French speaking while another believed that they were of all backgrounds. Several witnesses also mentioned that some zooters were “Jewish” or “Syrian” and most agreed that there were many English speakers among them. 22 Despite contemporary notions and enduring popular perceptions, Montreal’s and Verdun’s zoot-suit disturbances did not neatly divide French speakers from English speakers. The belief that they did has tainted perceptions of what the fighting represented in terms of wartime social relations.

Only once in the period June 5 to June 8 did either the Montreal Star or The Gazette mention language as a possible instigating factor in the disturbances. The Gazette of June 8 quoted a psychiatrist as suggesting an “English-French racial problem” could develop unless matters were brought under control. La Presse and Le Devoir were also restrained on the issue, neither having allotted the rioting front-page coverage. However, both newspapers displayed an anti-navy bias, with Le Devoir on June 5 sarcastically noting how the sailors brought before the Montreal Recorder’s Court that morning pleaded “not guilty” to the charge of disturbing the peace. La Presse published interviews with some French-speaking victims of the sailor’s brutality whose testimony obviously had an anti-military tone. The fact that most of the sailors were English speaking was also duly noted.23 But overall, press accounts in both languages hardly treated the fighting as a clear example of linguistic discord.

Newspaper coverage of the rioting was far more vitriolic in Verdun. The servicemen’s vigilante actions against the zoot-suiters were looked upon approvingly by Verdun’s English-language weekly, The Guardian, which implied that linguistic tensions had played a role in the violence. Verdun’s bilingual weekly, Le Messager, was far more sympathetic to the assailed zoot-suiters, the majority of whom were assumed to be French speakers. In an English-language article, Le Messager attacked the ill-disciplined sailors involved in the fracas, stating they “seemed quite willing to descend to Gestapo methods to enforce their own particular ‘way of life’ upon fellow citizens.” 24 It is unlikely Canadian sailors would have been compared to the Gestapo in the English-language press. Referring to the zoot-suiters as “clown-like”, The Guardian insisted that the suits were the “symbol of insolence and army evasion, frivolity in time of war”.25 In Verdun, at least, language seemed to divide opinions on the causes and meaning of the military-zooter conflict.

Some Verdunites were outraged at the brawling in their municipality. Reverend Ernest S. Reed, rector of Verdun’s St. John the Divine Anglican Church, referred to zoot-suiters as “hoodlums”, “hooligans” and “chisellers of the lowest kind”. In calling for “sterner measures” against these youths, he declared:

If there are those who object to military service, let them be honest…But young people who are making good wages in war industries and who spend their leisure time sniping at those in the armed services fall into a very different category [than conscientious objectors]…There may be even more sinister influences behind these disturbances. If any groups are using “zoot-suiters” to nefarious ends, let these groups be exposed. Those who, by their teaching or practice, set creed against creed, raceagainst race or group against group are the most despicable kind of fifth columnists. 26

Clearly, Reed perceived a language dimension to the zoot-suit disturbances. He blamed the zooters and, by extension, seemingly unpatriotic French-Canadian “influences” for the fighting. In this respect, his conspiracy theory echoed the findings of the naval Board of Inquiry.

Yet, the owner of the Verdun Dance Pavilion, Rolland David, disputed such views. He implied in his testimony before the Board of Inquiry that the animosity existing between the sailors and the zooters had more to do with social and civil-military differences than with linguistic conflicts. He insisted both sides contained English and French speakers. His views must be carefully considered. David was a dance hall owner accustomed to dealing with youth; he understood the social backgrounds and motivations of much of his clientèle. He was on the scene in Verdun during the fighting and stressed in his testimony that the language issue was exaggerated as an explanation for the brawl.27

There very likely were other than linguistic motives for the fighting. In a response to a question in the House of Commons on June 8, the Minister of Justice, Louis St. Laurent, noted that the R.C.M.P. and Montreal police believed the fighting had no “racial” underpinnings and was not political in nature. He termed the violence as “spasmodic” and without “sinister significance”. St. Laurent did fear, however, that certain elements in the population might attempt to portray the incidents as political and linguistic in origin. Rather, explained the justice minister, the fighting seemed motivated in part by the rivalry existing between young men in and out of uniform for the affections of Montreal women. William Weintraub has recently made the same point. 28 Perhaps one need look no further to explain the behaviour of groups of young men, conspicuously wearing different ‘uniforms’, who, over a period of several months, opposed one another with violence.

The Montreal rioting was symbolic of the dichotomy inherent to Canada’s war. Taken for what they were, and for what people might have thought they represented, the zoot-suit disturbances constituted evidence that not all was well in the Montreal area between local naval headquarters and municipal authorities, between servicemen and civilians, between French and English speakers and between youth and the wartime society created by their elders.

There is no single explanation for the Montreal zoot-suit riots of June 1944. Perhaps the disturbances had a linguistic and political component, but they were about many things: youth, the war, civil-military relations, a lack of discipline at “Hochelaga” and a lackadaisical approach to gang violence on the part of the Montreal police. A closer examination of these events place s them into their proper wartime context. The first week of June 1944 was very hot and humid in Montreal and many young men were frustrated with each other. There was a war on, and war begets violence. And boys will be boys.

The Montreal and Verdun Zoot-Suit disturbances of June 1944 – Page 3


  1. Mauricio Mazon, The Zoot-Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation, (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1984), pp. 6-7.

  2. Mazon, The Zoot-Suit Riots, pp. 6-8, claims that most zoot-suiters in the United States were more likely rejecting adult ways than government policy. They were more a social than a political grouping.

  3. La Presse, May 29, 1944; The Montreal Daily Star, June 1, 1944. The Montreal-area disturbances were not the first in North America to pit uniformed servicemen against zooters. In June 1943 serious outbreaks of violence occurred in Detroit, Philadelphia and especially around Los Angeles.

  4. During the Second World War there was a strong naval presence in the Montreal area, and in June 1944 there were several thousand sailors posted within 50 kilometres of the city. As one naval officer from that period recalled, “naval dress was quite commonplace on the downtown streets of Montreal, especially on weekends.” Keith Glashan, Montreal’s Navy, (Montreal: Privately produced mimeograph, no date, 1986?), p. 56. Glashan does not mention the zoot-suit disturbances.

  5. Report, Board of Inquiry, “Disturbances in Montreal”, H.M.C.S. “Hochelaga”, June 8, 1944, NAC, RG 24, Volume 11,110, file 55-2-1/423, Whittaker Testimony.

  6. Report, Board of Inquiry, “Disturbances in Montreal”, H.M.C.S. “Hochelaga”, June 8, 1944, NAC, RG 24, Volume 11,110, file 55-2-1/423, Whittaker Testimony.

  7. The Montreal Daily Star, June 5, 1944; La Presse, June 5, 1944.

  8. The Messenger, June 8, 1944.

  9. The Montreal Daily Star, June 5, 1944; La Presse, June 5, 1944. Montreal’s zoot-suit disturbances are mentioned in William Weintraub, City Unique, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1996), pp. 50-52.

  10. The Montreal Daily Star, June 5, 1944; The Gazette (Montreal), June 5, 1944.

  11. The Montreal Daily Star, June 5, 1944; La Presse, June 5, 1944. Naval leave was resumed on June 13.

  12. The Royal Canadian Navy had earned a well-founded reputation among French-speaking Canadians as an overwhelmingly English-speaking institution. While conditions for French speakers in the R.C.N. had improved by the summer of 1944, it is reasonable to suggest that that service was not especially hospitable to French speakers and that the navy and the French-speaking population of Montreal were not well acquainted with each other. For more on this subject refer to Jean-Yves Gravel, ed., Le Québec et la guerre, (Montreal: Boréal Express, 1974), pp. 93-95. See also Glashan, Montreal’s Navy, p. 66, for a more positive account of conditions for French speakers on naval service.

  13. Report, Board of Inquiry, “Disturbances in Montreal”, H.M.C.S. “Hochelaga”, June 8, 1944, NAC, RG 24, Volume 11, 110, file 55-2-1/423.

  14. Gunner R.I. Rowe to the City of Verdun, September 14, 1944, Box A-348, City of Verdun Archives.

  15. War Diary, June 1944, N.O.I.C. Montreal to Commander-in-Chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic, July 10, 1944, NAC, RG 24 Volume 11,690, file M-12 “Returns and Reports”.

  16. Report, Board of Inquiry, “Disturbances in Montreal”, H.M.C.S. “Hochelaga”, June 8, 1944, NAC, RG 24, Volume 11,110, file 55-2-1/423.

  17. C.-in-C. Staff Minute Sheets, June 14, 1944 and July 23, 1944, NAC, RG 24, Volume 11,110, file 55-2-1/423.

  18. As early as 1942, for example, Halifax naval authorities virtually ceased enforcing the discipline of men on shore leave. See James F.E. Whyte, “The Ajax Affair: Citizens and Sailors in Wartime Halifax, 1939-1945”, M.A. Thesis, Dalhousie University, 1984, passim., but especially pp. 95-101.

  19. Memorandum, Jeffrey to N.O.I.C. Montreal, undated (possibly July 19, 1944), NAC, RG 24, Volume 11,110, file 55-2-1/423.

  20. The Gazette, June 7, 1944; La Presse, June 6, 1944. Verdun’s municipal administration, too, was perturbed by the violence on its territory and petitioned Ottawa and the naval authorities in Montreal to prevent men under their command from using Verdun as a battleground in their private war against zooters. The mayor of Verdun, Edward Wilson, upset with the navy, met with Commander Davis, who promised the mayor that measures would be taken to prevent similar incidents from arising in the future.

  21. In 1943 one Grade 11 student at Verdun High School wrote a short fictionalized conversation (mostly in French-accented phonetic English) based on the zoot-suit craze. The piece clearly suggested that the typical zooter was French speaking. Ruth Wolstein, “L’habit zoot“, in Verdun High School Annual, 1943, p. 33.

  22. Report, Board of Inquiry, “Disturbances in Montreal”, H.M.C.S. “Hochelaga”, June 8, 1944, NAC, RG 24, Volume 11,110, file 55-2-1/423.

  23. According to the family names of the 32 sailors listed in La Presse as having appeared before the Recorder on June 5, 29 are likely to have been English speaking (at least four of whom were not of British ancestry) and three French speaking. La Presse, June 5 and June 8, 1944; Le Devoir, June 5, 1944.

  24. The Guardian (Verdun), June 8, 1944; Le Messager (Verdun), June 8, 1944.

  25. The Guardian, June 8, 1944.

  26. The Guardian, June 15, 1944.

  27. Report, Board of Inquiry, “Disturbances in Montreal”, H.M.C.S. “Hochelaga”, Montreal, June 8, 1944, NAC, RG 24, Volume 11,110, file 55-2-1/423, David Testimony.

  28. House of Commons, Debates, June 8, 1944, Volume IV, pp. 3617-3618; Weintraub, p. 51.