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Gavazzi Riots

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Subject: 1853 in Canada, Sectarian violence, History of Montreal, Fort Ville-Marie, Société Notre-Dame de Montréal
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Gavazzi Riots

Gavazzi Riots
Engraving, Troops firing on the crowd, Gavazzi Riots, Montreal, QC, 1853, John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
Location Quebec City, Montreal
Date June 6 and June 9, 1853 (EST)
Target Halls in which Alessandro Gavazzi was lecturing
Attack type
forcible entrance
Weapons stones, bludgeons
Deaths > 5
Non-fatal injuries
Victim Protestants
Defenders Charles Wilson

The Gavazzi Riots were disturbances created in Quebec and Montreal, in June 1853, by mobs which attacked halls in which Alessandro Gavazzi was lecturing.


During the spring of 1853 Alessandro Gavazzi, an Italian patriot, visited North America. His lectures at Quebec and Montreal were strongly anti-Roman Catholic; and at both places the soldiers had to be called out to restore order. The riots also caused political repercussions.[1]

Riot in Quebec City

On the evening of the June 6th, pursuant to previous announcement, Gavazzi proceeded to deliver a discourse in the Free Presbyterian Church, in St. Ursule Street, on the subject of the Inquisition. A large audience assembled to hear him. When he had been speaking for somewhat more than an hour he was interrupted by violent and abusive exclamations. The interruption was the signal for action on the part of other ruffians outside. A volley of stones came crashing through the windows of the church, and immediately afterwards a crowd of persons armed with bludgeons made a forcible entrance into the building.

The principal participants were Irish Catholics who reacted violently to Gavazzi's anti-Catholic sentiments. Gavazzi attributed the failure of the Italian national movement of 1848-49 to the defection of Pope Pius IX from the cause, and therefore rejected Catholicism. The Gavazzi Riot in Quebec was quelled by military forces.

In February 1854, on acquittal of a Quebec rioter, Gavazzi was burned in effigy.

Riot in Montreal

On June 9, a much more serious affray occurred at Montreal, in consequence of the delivery of a lecture there by Gavazzi. The place of delivery was Zion Church, Haymarket Square. A strong body of police were stationed opposite the church. While the lecture was in progress there was an attempt on the part of a band of Roman Catholic Irish to force their way into the church. A few minutes afterwards the latter returned to the assault, and were again driven back. Charles Wilson, the mayor of the city, ordered the troops to fire upon the crowd. The order was obeyed, and five men fell dead. The firing by the troops put an end to aggression on the part of the mob. It is impossible even to approximate the number of the wounded.

Investigation of the riot proceeds at Montreal on June 26.

Protestant journalists such as John Dougall of the Montreal Witness persisted in accusing the mayor for the riots.

The Montrealer painter James D. Duncan depicts the event in his work "Gavazzi riot" (1853).

External links

  • The Gavazzi Riots and their Consequences
  • Extensive resources on the Gavazzi riots


  1. ^ W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. III, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 396p., p. 13.
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