From: Montreal Witness, March 21st, 1878, page 8 . (Montreal Witness was a English Protestant newspaper published from 1845 to 1938).
Two Men Brutally Beaten
Several rows occurred in Griffintown, on the 17th…That locality seems to be in a general ferment of excitement, caused by the bitter party feeling which exists. About four o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. Jacob Hamilton , laborer, of 231 1/2 Murray street, was on his way to his son’s residence in Shannon street, and when at the corner of Ottawa and Shannon, observed a crowd of youngmen on the opposite side of the street. One of them cried out, “Go for him, the old Orange—“, upon which four of them made a rush at him, but were kept at bay by Mr. Hamilton. Then the rest of the crowd, numbering a dozen or more, furiously set upon him, threw him down, and kicked him about the face and head in a murderous manner. Mr James Hill, laborer, of Murray street, was also that evening the object of a brutal attack by three young men, at the entrance to his own gateway.
Attack on the police
While patrolling St. Antoine street, soon after 8 o’clock on the evening of the 17th sub-Constables Kilfoyle and Laramée observed a crowd of eight or ten fellows at the corner of St. Antoine and St. Margaret streets, and as they approached one of the crowd raised a revolver and fired at them. The ball whizzed past Kilfoyle’s ear, starting him considerably. The crowd immediately ran off down St. Margaret street, pursued by the policemen, and escaped after a lively chase. The police claim that in the present state of affairs they ought to be furnished with firearms. In a case like this, two men would require an unusual degree of bravery to stand up with simply their batons and to defend themselves with, in the face of eight or ten persons armed with revolvers, and arrest them.
Whether for sport, for foolish bravado or with evil intent, the practise of firing off revolvers has become quite common throughout the city, so much so that peaceably disposed and inoffensive citizens begin to fell that there is great danger in appearing on the streets after night-fall.
The Police Committe have empowered the Chief of Police to take summary action under the Blake Act, against persons carrying firearms; and a cavalry squad of six policemen is being formed.
The 1870s in Canada was a period of recession. Conditions in Griffintown and other poor areas of Montreal were deplorable (open sewage in streets, high unemployment and bad housing conditions). This combined with friction between English speaking Protestants and Catholics in Montreal led to the Orange Day riots in Montreal in July 1877. As a reaction to the Orange Day riots and gun violence in urban areas in Canadian cities, the then federal justice minister (Edward Blake) proposed “An Act for the Better Prevention of Crimes of Violence in Certain Parts of Canada, until the end of the next Session of Parliament” 41 Victoria, Chapter 17, aka “The Blake Act”.
The legislation was a gun control bill that made it “an offense in designated areas to carry a gun without cause and pointing it at another person” (Binnie, 1995). In spite of the bill being difficult to enforce, it was renewed annually until 1884. It was put into force in Montreal and the County of Hochelaga from 1878 until 1884, the city of Quebec in 1879 and Winnipeg in 1882.
Source consulted: Binnie, Susan. “The Blake Act of 1878: A Legislative Solution to Urban Violence in Post-Confederation Canada.” In Law, Society and State: Essays in Modern Legal History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.