Civil Unrest in 1932

During the winter of 1931-1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, the city of St. John's experienced high levels of unemployment and poverty. Many people were cold and hungry, living on small amounts of relief ("dole"), usually paid in kind. Financial cutbacks by the government only made matters worse.

The legislature convened on 4 February, and a political crisis erupted against this background of public distress. The Minister of Finance, Major Peter Cashin, had resigned a few days previously. In the House of Assembly, he accused one cabinet member of tax evasion and another of forgery. His most sensational charge was leveled at the Prime Minister, Sir Richard Squires. Cashin accused him of falsifying the minutes of the executive council (cabinet) to cover up a substantial amount of money he had paid himself out of public funds, or diverted to political accounts which he controlled.

The Opposition demanded a proper enquiry into Cashin's charges, which Squires and his allies persistently evaded. Public indignation and excitement mounted.

On April 4, there was a public meeting at the Majestic Theatre, where the crisis was discussed. It was decided that there would be a march to the Colonial Building the next day, where a petition demanding a full investigation into the charges would be presented.

The demonstration began in an orderly fashion, but turned into a riot once the marchers arrived at the legislature.

The documents which follow provide an insight into the events of April 4th and 5th:

1. Reports of the Citizens' meeting at the Majestic Theatre from (a) The Daily News, April 5, 1932, and (b) The Evening Telegram, April 5, 1932.

2. Proceedings of the April 5, 1932 session of the House of Assembly taken from The Daily News, April 6, 1932.

3. Reports of the April 5, 1932 riot from (a) The Daily News, April 6, 1932, and (b) The Evening Telegram, April 6, 1932.

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