Georges Demeule

Four people were killed and at least 35 wounded. Fourteen-year-old Georges Demeule was one of the dead.

Georges Demeule,(baptized Joseph-Elzéar-Georges), shoemaking machine operator; b. 3 June 1903 in Saint-Sauveur ward at Quebec, son of Léandre Demeule and Lumina Bérubé; d. there 1 April 1918.

Little is known about Georges Demeule’s childhood, except that he was the son of a working man and lived in Saint-Saveur ward in Quebec. He learned to operate a shoemaking machine at the age of ten and immediately found a job in one of the many footwear factories located in Saint-Sauveur and Saint-Roch wards.

In May 1917, when Demeule was only 13 and Canada was at war, Prime Minister Sir Robert Laird Borden returned from London, where he had attended the Imperial Conference, and announced to the House of Commons that he would soon bring forward a bill enacting conscription. On 24 July the Military Service Bill passed third reading by a vote of 102 to 44. Any Canadian male aged from 18 to 60 could now be called up.

Quebec seethed with discontent. Even late in 1916 Borden had been promising not to resort to compulsory military service because of the enormous risks it posed to Canadian unity. Demonstration after demonstration was held in the province of Quebec [see Henri Bourassa; Armand La Vergne]. In October Borden announced the formation of a union government composed of conscriptionists from both political parties, and called a general election for 17 December. The results of the balloting split Canada in two. The coalition headed by Borden obtained a country-wide majority of 71 seats, but managed to elect only three supporters in Quebec.

Enforcement of the law created still more resentment. Special courts were set up to rule on the validity of various requests for exemption. The rigid interpretation given the exemptions by some judges aroused anger in Quebec among those who considered themselves unfit for military service. They began hiding out in barns or fleeing into the woods. The federal government hired special police officers – agents of the Dominion police – to arrest the deserters.

It was rumoured at Quebec that these agents, commonly known as “spotters,” received a ten-dollar bounty for each deserter they found. On Maundy Thursday, 28 March 1918, violence broke out in Saint-Roch ward when three agents arrested a young man who could not produce his exemption certificate. A crowd estimated at some 2,000 people marched shouting through the streets and ransacked a police station, the registrar’s office where conscripts’ files were kept, and the post office which served as the army commander’s headquarters. The disturbance went on for four evenings.

On 31 March and 1 April 2,000 soldiers from Ontario and Manitoba arrived by train, as did Major-General François-Louis Lessard, who had been sent by the military authorities in Ottawa to put a stop to the demonstrations. During the evening of 1 April, Easter Monday, cavalry, machine-gunners, and infantry set out to confront the demonstrators, who had gathered at the outskirts of Saint-Roch and Saint-Saveur wards. Facing volleys of ice, bricks, and stones, the soldiers opened fire. Four people were killed and at least 35 wounded. Fourteen-year-old Georges Demeule was one of the dead. The others were Honoré Bergeron, 49, a joiner; Alexandre Bussières, 25, a mechanic; and Édouard Tremblay, 23, a student.

At the coroner’s inquest, held from 8 to 13 April, the expert in forensic medicine declared that young Demeule, who had been wearing “a cloth coat, a black serge smock, and short tweed trousers,” had died of a bullet wound to the heart. His mother, a 36-year-old widow, said he worked 12 hours a day and had planned to go that evening to the Garde Champlain hall in Saint-Roch to play euchre. “He had just bought a deck of cards for that evening.” The seven members of the jury assisting the coroner in his investigation gave their verdict on 13 April. They declared the dead victims to be “innocent of participating in the said riot, which owed its origin to the inept and crude way in which the federal police responsible for enforcement of the conscription legislation against those who failed to report for service carried out their duties.” They further advised the federal government to “indemnify fairly the families of the victims who have been found innocent and unarmed at the time of their death.” In 1921 Georges Parent*, the Liberal mp for Quebec West, moved in the House of Commons that compensation be paid to the victims’ families. His resolution was defeated when it came to a vote, and the families were never compensated.

—Text by Jean Provencher, “DEMEULE, GEORGES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 3, 2015. For this article's bibliography and other related information, visit Dictionary of Canadian Biography online.