Sir George Williams Affair – Computer Riots aftermath
While digitizing a rare copy of the Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) night students’ newspaper, The Paper, Archive Montreal decided to extract and enhance a series of small black and white photos of the aftermath of the infamous Sir George Williams Affair (Computer Riots) from the February 11, 1969 issue. It’s worth noting that far, far before the Instagram era, multiple student newspapers managed to put together and release special editions about the riot by that evening and the next day, manually at every step from developing, printing and transforming photos to setting the type and photographing the plates for the printer.
The Paper was considered to be on the University’s side in the affair, not particularly sympathetic to the protesters or critical of the faculty’s apparent systemic racism. This is pretty well apparent when comparing issues of The Paper with those of the main student newspaper The Georgian during the crisis (posted here on this site.) It even comes across in the text accompanying their special post-riot issue, however objective they try to appear:
“This special edition of the paper is being put out to provide, in depth, using pictures and stories taken off taped events and interviews recorded from 7.00 am to 3:30 pm on Tuesday, February 11 th.
The staff of the paper saw first handed (sic) every vital developement (sic) of the tragedy which was foisted upon an honarable (sic) if not perfect university. Rather than editorize (sic) and use The Paper to present our views, and we are sure those of the vast majority, we have presented the reader with an unbiased, chronological story of these events.”
One might suppose that the heat of the moment let the staff of The Paper get a little carried away in its casual disparagement of the Georgian in saying “Rather than… use The Paper to present our views”, and then going on with much hubris to claim “we are sure those of the vast majority” … By all accounts, the events were so dramatic amd fast-moving that despite the obvious taking of sides and belittling the protesters’ point of view, The Paper did manage to document the carnage for posterity. We present a slightly edited text of their “chronology” below a slideshow version of their photos (NOTE: all photos are either attributed to “Staff” or “21st Century”, with no further credits listed in the masthead of The Paper.)
Before 4:00 a.m., Feb. 11th
Cafeteria Upheaval – Police Called
The Black students on Feb. 9th had drawn up a document … outlining the five demands. The students said that as soon as O’Brien signed the document they would evacuate the 7th and 9th Floors.
O’Brien said he would sleep on it and give an answer by Feb. 10th at 1:00 p.m. …
On Feb. 10th at 5:00 p.m. the Black students learned that O’Brien was meeting with SGWAUT [the teacher’s union]. …
That was the last event which took place before 4:00 a.m. on February 11th.
At 7:30 a.m. Malcolm Stone SGWU Information Officer stated “the police were in charge of the situation because at around 4:00 a.m. students were tearing things up. Students were in a path of destruction and so the university had no option but to call the police. Police arrived at 4:00 a.m. approximately, and have seen fit to call in the riot squad.”
The lawyer for the Asst. to the Principal revealed that “the lawyers for the Black students produced a series of proposals that were submitted to the university. These proposals, because they would affect Professor Anderson, were submitted to the SGWAUT Council. They considered them last night but they were considered unacceptable from a faculty point of view, but there were still grounds for further negotiation. The Council was to meet again at 1:30 p.m. today, and conveyed this information to the Black students about midnight. That was the last event, until the crowd on the seventh floor broke loose.”
The upheaval started with an attack on the cafeteria whereupon chairs and tables from there were used to barricade the escalators and stairways. At that point, the students were pushed back to the 9th floor. Mr. Sheldon also stated that the calling of the police was an official administrative decision.
At 8:30 a.m. approximately 200-300 students began congregating on De Maisonneuve Blvd. Also, 50-60 students started chanting “justice, justice” while other students across the street were chanting “We want classes,” and “Go Cops Go”, in opposition.
In an interview with a police official at 12:15 p.m. it was revealed that two policemen had been injured this morning in an encounter with militants at 6:00 a.m. One constable received a cut on the palm of his hand requiring 7 stitches … The second officer was sent to hospital after having a broken beer bottle thrust in his face in the area of his left eye.
Demonstrators march outside
At approximately 11:30 a.m. students outside the university began congregating at the Bishop St. garage entrance.
A paddy wagon was set on fire and was quickly extinguished by the police. Upon the arrival of the riot squad vehicles, a few outside militants began throwing snowballs and other objects at them when they entered the garage. Sir George students shouted down a small handful of radicals (almost all from McGill) nearby who were shouting “solidarité” and “revolution” through a bull horn. Some Georgians assaulted these McGill individuals and ripped off their McGill scarves, sending them scurrying. Similar results occurred when self-styled Black Panthers tried their oratory skills. Police had to form a flying wedge to protect the Panthers and escort them to safety.
At approximately 9:00 a.m. a verbal confrontation took place between Professor Chet Davis and the students occupying the computer centre. He warned them that, “if there are any axes or anything in there you can be sued.” He also suggested to them that “… there is a possibility of someone being killed.” In a statement to the press later he said: “I do not want to see anybody get hurt, students or police.” However, when asked if the chances of negotiation were slim he stated that he saw no chance of getting the students to leave peacefully. Davis was then asked if the situation was now futile. He refused to comment upon the merits of the problem, on who was right or who was wrong, other than to say that “the situation is here.” …
Cafeteria Story from McPhie
… Mr. Donald Hathaway, Executive Director of the SGWU Alumni Association, stated that students from the 7th floor began taking over the cafeteria at around 5:30 a.m. When the police arrived, they found the students destroying articles in the cafeteria and working the fire hoses. They were driven back to the Computer Centre.
The administration was waiting for the arrival of the Riot Squad, whereupon a decision would be made as to further action. Mr. Don McPhie, Manager of Food Services, described the entrance of the students as follows: “They entered the cafeteria in twos and threes until they numbered about 30. They then threw out the tables and chairs into the stairwells and used two axes to open the food freezer. It seemed that they were trying to expand the occupation by blocking the entrances from the 7th floor on up.” They then used the firehoses to wet the stairwells down, but upon the entrance of the police, they retreated back to the Computer Centre.
At 8:00 a.m. this morning our Paper reporter surveyed damages on the 6th, 7th, and 9th floors. On the 6th floor, chairs and tables from the cafeteria were scattered around the lobby area and one escalator from the seventh floor was completely blocked by debris. The cafeteria had been totally cleaned out of tables and chairs.
There was evidence that money had been stolen in that torn coin wrappers were scattered across the floor. The Faculty Lounge and Secretarial Lounge was a complete shambles and furniture had been broken, as well, carpeting had been torn up and water was seeping through the halls. The stairway form the 7th to the 6th floor near the Faculty Lounge was at this time completely barricaded with furniture from the stairs to the ceiling. On the 9th floor, the area of the Computer Centre, between 30 and 40 uniformed policemen were stationed outside the entrance. Numerous broken beer bottles were lying on the floor as the fridge in the Cafeteria had been axed open to give the liberators some liquid refreshment. Pools of water lay on the floor.
As to exterior damage, a number of windows on the 9th floor had been smashed, and thousands of computer cards, tapes and computer paper as well as a few other pieces of technical equipment (i.e. typewriters) had been thrown onto Mackey Street. The garbage on Mackey Street was ankle deep.
Riot Squad prepared to enter
Inside, the riot squad formed up down the hall from the Computer Centre for nearly one hour. … Debris and water were cleaned away from the entrance of the Computer Centre. Police then roped off an area leading to the Computer Centre.
Of those arrested there were 28 Negroes, 33 Whites and 16 women according to one policeman. When Michel Cote, legal adviser to the Montreal Police Department, was asked whether or not some of the students had escaped he replied that “we are not concentrating on arrests as much as we are trying to save the lives of those inside.” When the riot squad was mobilized they were very much surprised when they saw black fumes emerging from under the debris. They rushed to the firehoses only to find that they had been turned off earlier because the students had played havoc with them on the 7th Floor.
The arrests were apparently made in three instalments. The first batch consisted of approximately seven people who surrendered voluntarily and were later brought down near H-116 for questioning. The second batch consisted of Frederick Kennedy and Kelvin Robinson who were promptly whisked away under the custody of four members of the Montreal Police. The third and last batch consisted of ladies, Negroes and radicals who were held on the 9th Floor with their arms above their shoulders.
“… everyone says give them a chance.The administration gave them a three weeks chance, and now we’re the fall guys.” — POLICEMAN
“There won’t be any brutality. They’ll get what they deserve.” POLICEMAN
“Anything can happen. The violence has already started… We don’t want this kind of thing but it has to happen. Eh, man?” (11:00 a.m.) – BLACK MILITANT IN COMPUTER CENTER
“I don’t know what to say. This is bloody profane. They (police) have got to take care of them now.” – FACULTY MEMBER
“I hope that they (police) have the tradition the Gurkhas used to have that when you draw your sword you have to draw blood. I hope they feel the same way about their clubs.” – ANGRY STUDENT
About 9:30 a.m. a Professor tried to force his way in past a constable of Station 15, and was apprehended:
“I hope he doesn’t get Judge Beaudet. Then he’s going to pay. If this had happened at night you’d feel sorry for him.” – ARRESTING OFFICER
“If they don’t like the university they don’t have to go to it. A handful shouldn’t destroy it for everybody else. If I had my way I’d ship ’em out… I’d line them up and say, “Get Out!” -TAXI DRIVER
Fire started by militants
The riot squad then approached the entrance way to the Computer Centre. After a period of about five minutes the police began to break down the barricades at the entrance way. Students attempted to escape from other doors but were blocked by police. At that moment, smoke was seen coming from one of the doors. Then panic ensued. The lights in the hallway went off and at that point police evacuated all people on the 9th Floor. Smoke began to spread down to the eighth and seventh floors. Within 15 minutes the fire department arrived and with the assistance of students carrying fire extinquishers, the fire became the primary object of concern.
Within half an hour the 9th floor was a shambles of twisted metal, absent of ceilings and walls. Water covered the floor and was dripping down as far as the Students’ Association offices. Damage on the 9th Floor is extensive with the verified fact that the entire computer system is destroyed (according to Clair Callaghan, Chairman of SGWAUT). Water damage was extensive on the 9th, 8th, 7th and 3rd floors. The occupying students were evacuated sometime during the confusion and were placed in detainment in two classrooms on the 9th Floor. There were approximately 50 arrests, and those detained were booked, fingerprinted and photographed on the premises.
Dean of Students, Magnus Flynn, stated that no one had been seriously injured and that the damage could be overcome. When asked about the future of the occupiers, his answer was, “What do you think? Don’t you think we should throw the book at them?”
The Damage Costs
There was no evidence of resistance on the part of occupying students according to police spokesmen. By 3:30 p.m. the fire was pretty well under control. The students were being held in custody. The university was seriously damaged (over $4,000,000). Two reporters were injured, three policemen were injured, three firemen and six policemen were overcome by smoke.
6:45 p.m.: Mop-up operations are underway. Classes have been cancelled in the Norris and Hall Buildings until further notice. The public is still present. The vast majority, if not all present, are very unfriendly in their attitude towards the militants. And so ends, temporarily, a story which will never be forgotten.