Originally published as pages 105 to 118 of:
Eberelle, Donald Charles, “Conscription Policy, Citizenship and Religious Conscientious Objectors in the United States and Canada during World War One” (unpublished Bowling Green State University PhD Thesis, 2013)
Military planners had long been concerned about the frequent theft of dynamite and the widespread ownership of firearms throughout the province. In a June 1, 1917 memorandum on the “Sale of Firearms” G. E. Burns, District Intelligence Officer, Military District No. 4 wrote Major F. E. Davis, Assistant Director of Military Intelligence, that in the recent past there was “an indiscriminate sale of firearms in this District.” Amendment of the Criminal Code, 3 & 4 George 5th, CHAPTER 13, imposed new regulations, but did not significantly change the overall situation as Burns reported that “it is pretty safe to say, however, that a large proportion of French Canadians have in their possession firearms of some sort.” He downplayed the significance of this noting that “a large number of sporting good merchants carry a stock of sporting rifles, but the total quantity would be immaterial from a military standpoint.” He concluded by stating that
There has been a great deal of wild talk on this subject and possibly some of it has a foundation, but for the most part is grossly exaggerated or is absolutely baseless. People under excitement are apt to accept statements without question and repeat them to others, generally adding something thereto which grows like a rolling snowball in damp weather.
Seven weeks later on July 19, 1917 Burns sent another confidential memorandum titled “Anti-Conscriptionists” to Davis that reflected a keen awareness of a growing threat. It stated bluntly that “there is no use disguising the fact that there is a large section of the public who are bitterly opposed to conscription, and that the enforcement of the Act, when it goes through, if it be attempted, will stir up the sore heads, and there may be trouble.” Burns, however, also expressed confidence that the situation could be dealt with. He dismissed the Anti-Conscriptionists as “would-be politicians of a low type, labour leaders, Socialists, Anarchists, and the like” adding that “those attending the Meetings are mostly of the laboring class.” He reported that “as a rule the reporters of both the French and English newspapers exaggerate the number attending” and concluded by stating that “I am of the opinion that the mobs attending these Meetings so far can easily be handled by the Police, if they so desire.”
Sir Percy Sherwood, Chief Commissioner of Police of Canada, had a similar view of the situation in Quebec. In a letter written July 23, 1917, Sherwood informed Major-General Gwatkin, Chief of the General Staff, that he had “operatives working in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec.” He was confident that he had “someone in the membership of every organization which is at all likely to be disturbing.” He reported that “so far as my information goes to the present time, there has been nothing done which could be dignified as preparation for armed resistance.”
A memorandum titled “Montreal” written on July 20, 1917, reports that Sir Percy Sherwood, General F. L. Lessard and Maj. General E.W. Wilson, Commander of the Montreal Garrison are all “easy in their minds.” It noted that General Wilson had “two capable intelligence officers, one English speaking and the other French” [Lieutenant-colonel G. E. Burns and J.A. Duchantel de Montrouge] and every meeting is “covered.” The only concern, which the memo describes as a “novelty” is the “alleged disaffection of the Hebrews.”
As the summer went on the situation deteriorated, meetings of anti-conscriptionists became larger and more common, and the assessments of the intelligence community grew more dire. Wild rumors began to appear in both the English and French press, in both Canada and the United States. One of the most widely cited examples was a story on a meeting of anti-conscriptionists which appeared in the New York Times on July 23, 1917, reporting that “the audience consisting mainly of youths without votes, but liable to conscription without valid excuses for refusion to serve.” According to the New York Times, Elle Lalumière, “a young French-Canadian with a questionable political record,” boasted that he was “ready to form an army, and I have already 500 men who are drilling.” Lalumière made the even more sensational claim that this force was commanded by “Yvon Larose, a former office of the Unites States Army.” Lalumière elaborated that:
Catholic priests in the eastern townships, where the French population is intermingled with English-speaking farmers, have been busy for some time fomenting similar trouble, openly preaching resistance if a conscription act is passed, and talking about enlisting on the side of the disloyalist Papel Zouves, who fought for the Pope in the Italian Revolution.
The New York Times concluded by noting that “the authorities are taking further measures to cope with possible trouble, and in the event of the disloyal factions attempting violence in election week… there are some unpleasant surprises awaiting them.”
This particular article, due to the sensational allegations and the reputation and circulation of the New York Times, created a sensation. It also created a bit of a crisis within the Intelligence community. The first reaction, on the part of Burns, was to engage in some damage control. In a memo to the General Commanding Military District Four, dated July 26, 1917 Burns argued that “there seems to be a great tendency on the part of the public to exaggerate these rumors, and to attribute undue weight to the utterances of the speakers at the anti-conscription meetings, who, for the most part, are non-representative citizens.” General Wilson also dismissed the New York Times article. In a letter to Gwatkin, also dated July 26, he argued that “the statement about Lalumière having five hundred men drilling is absolutely without foundation.” Wilson was undoubtedly correct that this claim on the part of Lalumière was meritless, but ominous rumors were persistent and the intelligence community gradually began to give them greater credence. The rumors gained credence in the opinion of the intelligence community partly because of the lingering concern about the position of the Roman Catholic Church, in Quebec. At best the Church gave passive support to conscription, but to many conscriptionists the Catholic Church in Quebec seemed to be part of the problem.
The position of the Catholic Church in Quebec toward conscription was enormously complex. Officially the Church supported the war and conscription, but there was little enthusiasm for this position, and as was widely noted, many parish priests openly opposed conscription H. C. Griffith, wrote a memo on August 2, 1917 in which he reported that “[Archbishop] Bruchesi said he had written pastoral letters, but some of the clergy refused to read them to the people.” Griffith added that Bruchesi “did not care to take further action lest he lose his control.” Griffith concluded with his own personal observation that “I find every Frenchman so far, Liberal and Conservative alike, absolutely opposed to conscription.”
Burns became convinced that there was merit to the rather wild allegations concerning the Papal Zouves, and thus several Catholic Churches were placed under surveillance. On August 3, 1917 Burns wrote to Assistant Director of Military Intelligence Davis that “40 guns are hidden” in the basement under St. Clements Church. He added that “they are supposed to be 1000 guns distributed amongst the ‘Suaves and Zozique’ Regt. in Montreal.” Burns also reported that “guns and ammunition are hidden” in St. Peters Parish and St. Edwards Church. No guns or ammunition were ever found hidden in churches, but Burns remained convinced that these allegations were true. He insisted that “this information you can absolutely rely on Chief, as we got it from a suave and a Catholic woman on the promise we would keep it confidential.” However, a few days later, on August 6, 1917 Burns backed away from this claim, writing that “after personal interviews with the informants” he was “of the opinion that these reports are the result of, more or less, imagination.”
This opinion, however, was not universally accepted. Just two days later, on August 8, 1917 B. L. O’Hara, the Intelligence Officer for Military District No. 5, reported to the Chief Commissioner of Police in Ottawa, that French-Canadians “say that if they must die they will die on Canadian soil fighting conscription.” O’Hara added that “the Parish Priests are undoubtedly egging on the people against conscription.” He conceded however that “in most case they have not come out openly and preached from the pulpit resistance to the law” An undated, confidential memo, titled Unconfirmed Rumors, written about this time, reported that “a certain young Officer, is said to have made the statement, that the French Canadians had all the arms and ammunition they needed and that they were stored in the Churches and the moment the Priests said so, the people would rise.”
Elizabeth Armstrong writes that “nothing could better illustrate the attitude of the Church than a speech made early in June  by Archbishop Bruchesi, of Montreal.” Mgr. Bruchesi argued that the Church had done everything in its power to prove its loyalty. The Archbishop concluded “by telling the faithful that during the conscription debate they were free to express their opinions, but that they should beware of going too far and should remain within the bounds of reason in the discussion.” Armstrong argues that “it was obvious that French Canada was rapidly becoming a unit in opposition to the war policy of the Dominion government, when one of the acknowledged leaders of the Quebec hierarchy came so near to open disapproval.”
G. E. Burns reached a similar conclusion in an intelligence report dated August 10, 1917. Burns interviewed His Grace, Archbishop Bruchesi, who “expressed great indignation” that any of the “rumors that were going around in connection with drilling and the storing of arms in the various schools and churches” were “for one moment believed.” The Archbishop professed the “utmost loyalty for his church, but expresses himself as opposed to conscription.”
The Catholic Church was extremely influential in Quebec, and while Archbishop Bruchesi was certainly justified in his indignation over the willingness of the government and the press to believe some truly outlandish rumors, the indifferent attitude of many priests toward conscription was indeed a source of real concern. Equally serious however, were concerns about the reliability and even loyalty of Municipal police forces and French Canadian militia battalion’s. In a confidential memorandum to Major F. E. Davis dated July 19, 1917 Burns noted that 884 of the 1,075 members of the Montreal police force were French Canadian. He argued that “the majority of the French Canadian policeman are sympathizers with the anti-conscriptionists, but they have taken, as yet, no active interest.” Burns conceded “in justice to them,” that during the riots last month when the widows of the Conservative French Canadian newspaper La Patrie were broken “they clubbed the mob indiscriminately and dispersed it successfully. G.W. Wilson reported to Major-General W. Gwatkin on August 6, 1917 that he had “no confidence” in the “efficiency and trustworthiness” of the Montreal Police because of its lack of progress in “tracing the dynamite stolen from the quarries.
After interviewing Major General F. L. Lessard, H. C. Griffith expressed similar concerns about French Canadian soldiers. In an August 2, 1917 memo to Army Headquarters, Griffith reported that Lessard predicted that “the conditions will be serious if conscription passes.” Griffith added that Lessard could get “no satisfaction” from Quebec authorities on “what they propose to do to enforce the law.” Griffith predicted wide spread passive resistance and Lessard reported that he did not think “his French-Canadian soldiers will be willing to act against the “passive resisters”
As the protests grew in intensity, authorities began to have increased doubts about the loyalties of their own troops. A source informed Maj. General E.W. Wilson, Commander of the Montreal Garrison on August 9, 1917 that, “No reliance can be placed on the 258th.” He recommended that “the battalion ought not to remain in possession of arms, and that it should be taken away from Montreal.” Lessard eventually reached this same conclusion after “an attempt was to be made to capture the small arms in the Sherbrooke Armouries.” In a confidential August 17, 1917 report to Gwatkin, Lessard wrote that “I have come to the conclusion that we cannot rely upon the Composite Battalion here- in fact- some of the officers have admitted as much.” Lessard reported that if any action is to be taken “it must be done so that it will not rouse up the public.” Lessard reported that he was “having the Scotch Battalion from the Lower Provinces (the 236th) temporarily mount all guards at Levis and Quebec.” He reported that “this will be done very gradually and quietly.” He concluded by bluntly stating that “the news I now have to give you relating to conscription is very bad.” He predicted that “if they were made to act” he was sure it would “bring on bloodshed.” In case Gwatkin had missed the point, Lessard warned, “We are now at the brink of a precipice.”
Lessard, who was perhaps the best known French-Canadian officer in the pre-war militia and had been considered the most likely candidate for the command of the proposed French-Canadian brigade which never materialized, was in a position to judge both how the public would respond if conscription passed and how his French-Canadian soldiers would react. Lessard, along with the Hon. P. Blondin, who had resigned his cabinet office as Postmaster General to accept a commission, had participated in the last great recruitment drive in Quebec before the passage of the MSA. Together, Lessard and Blondin had held recruiting meetings throughout the province, where they encountered an indifferent and sometimes riotous public. During this recruitment drive in April and May 1917 troops passing through Quebec were pelted with rotten vegetables, rocks and ice. The net result of this province wide effort was a disappointing ninety-two volunteers.
One of the events that had lead Lessard to declare that the Province was on the brink of a precipice was the failed assassination attempt on Hugh Graham, 1st Baron Atholstan on August 9, 1917. Lord Atholstan, President of the Montreal Star Publishing Company which published several newspapers including the Montreal Herald and the Montreal Daily Star, was one of the most outspoken advocates for conscription in Quebec. Though the intelligence community had been aware of, and concerned about, the widespread availability of it, they had not been very successful in securing, or even accounting for, dynamite in the province. The Montreal Daily Star reported the attempt “followed the receipt of threatening letters by Lord Atholstan bearing American postmarks warning him that the adoption of the Conscription Bill would be followed within ten days by his death and the death of other prominent persons in Montreal and Ottawa.” In a related story The Montreal Daily Star reported that “Sir Robert Borden has had many letters and communications threatening death to him if the Conscription Bill goes into effect.”
The assassination attempt on Lord Atholstan failed, but that was due more to luck and incompetence on the part of the would-be assassins than by anything the authorities had done. The incident served as a clear warning that opposition to conscription in Quebec could quickly turn violent. The failure of the intelligence community to uncover the conspiracy was no surprise. A letter from Sir Percy Sherwood to Major General Gwatkin, on August 13, 1917 elaborated on the difficulty in obtaining reliable intelligence. Sherwood noted that “many secret agents were attending all meetings and trying hard to find out what was taking place but they were well known to all and were useless.”
Although military and government authorities publicly minimized the likelihood of violent resistance to conscription in Quebec, privately, the military was planning a very vigorous response to the very real possibility of a widespread, violent uprising. A secret memorandum Relating to the possibility of disturbances in Montreal began with the blunt assessment “there is likely to be trouble at Montreal when the Military Service Act becomes operative.” There was, however, no clear consensus on how to deal with this predicted trouble.
- L. O’Hara, Intelligence Officer, Military District No. 5 suggested to Major F. E. Davis, on June 8, 1917 that “in the event of an emergency arising, the simplest solution of the difficulty (in my opinion) would be to get a couple of cruisers up to Quebec and land a thousand men or so with their machine guns.” O’Hara predicted that “such a show of force at the first sign of any disorder would probably “nip it in the bud.” General Wilson, however, advised Gwatkin, against “bringing in any considerable force of outside troops to Montreal.” In a confidential report on July 20, 1917 he argued that “such action might tend to arouse the anger of a certain element of the population and aggravate the public.” Wilson acknowledged that “a certain number of people” felt differently, but he believed that “a show of force would have a detrimental influence upon those who might be disposed to riot.” As a precaution, he had already “removed all arms and ammunition, that would not be required in case of emergency, to a place of safety”
Wilson had a very good understanding of the public reaction to making any large show of force, particularly if it involved bringing in outside forces, and he seemed much more confident that any disturbance could be dealt with by the police, backed by French Canadian militia units if necessary. But Wilson was very much in favor of being properly prepared to deploy military force, should that become necessary. On August 6, 1917, a little more than two weeks after the previous letter, Wilson again wrote Gwatkin. He was highly skeptical of an idea, which was then circulating, of using “armed aeroplanes” to “terrify the mob” noting that “I doubt very much whether it would have any effect on a mob in the streets, and of course it would be almost impossible for them to use their machine guns on the streets.” Wilson did suggest, however, “that we receive authority to fix up three or four motor lorries, on which we could place machine guns in case of necessity.”
Regardless of whether the government chose to make a large show of force, or reply in a more restrained manner, there were considerable military assets nearby to deal with any eventuality. A July 20, 1917 report described “upwards of 10,000 troops of all sorts” under arms in Ontario and “upwards of 4,000” in the Province of Quebec. The author of the report noted that he feared, “the Socialists much more than any other group; they are not unlikely to give trouble; but we have adequate means for dealing with them.” A confidential letter to the Minister of Militia, Sir Edward Kemp dated August 5, 1917 contained a very accurate appraisal of the likelihood of violence, and Wilson’s attitude. The author wrote that “there is not likely to be serious trouble until the Military Service Act becomes operative; and General Wilson is satisfied that he can deal with any situation likely to arise.”
Although Lessard was well aware of the danger of rousing the public, any significant movement of troops in Quebec was bound to attract attention. One week after promising to replace the Composite Battalion “very gradually and quietly” and warning Gwatkin that “We are now at the brink of a precipice” the situation became even more dangerous as details of the troop movements and the military contingencies appeared in the press. Again, the paper that broke the story was The New York Times which ran a story on August 24, 1917 under the sensational headline “Preparing to Crush Canadian Sedition: Home Troops Held in Readiness for Enforcement of the Conscription Act: Sale of Arms is Checked: Quebec Street Orators to be Silenced as Soon as the Law is Proclaimed.” The New York Times article reported, inaccurately, that “Enforcement of the conscription bill is in the hands of the military authorities, a fact which few seem to realize. As the proclamation of the act will automatically make everybody within the prescribed age limits a soldier, the civil authorities had no concern with the bill in any form.” The New York Times also noted that:
It is significant in this connection that three Scottish regiments which came here on their way overseas have had their orders to sail canceled; and other regiments at Ottawa and Valcartier camps which were also slated to sail for Europe some days ago have been ordered to remain. Recent advices from England state that cruisers have been dispatched to these waters with considerable forces of marines, and it is indicated that in the event of any organized efforts to interfere with the execution of the conscription act, the Government will call upon outside forces to help if that necessity arises.
Ernest J. Chambers, Chief Press Censor of Canada, was only partly able to suppress these accounts. He sent telegrams on August 26th to editors of Canadian newspapers that “nothing should be published about sensational and dangerous report as to changes in Quebec garrison,” but by this time the information was already widely disseminated.
Anti-conscription meetings were held nearly every night in Montreal in July and August, 1917. Armstrong writes that these meetings “outdid anything that had previously been seen in French Canada in the course of the war.” These disturbances climaxed on the nights of August 29 and 30 when a crowd of some seven thousand persons was “urged to clean up their old guns” and a collection was taken for the purchase of new arms. Armstrong adds that “private soldiers, allegedly from the 22nd French Canadians told of the hardships at the front and urged the young men not to enlist.” When the police attempted to break up the meeting violence erupted and “one man was shot and four policemen were hurt.”
Despite a noticeable rise in violence, the government was very eager to portray a situation that was under control, and to challenge any public perception to the contrary. On August 30, 1917 Chambers, wrote to Edgar Sisson, Esq., Division of Vice, Committee on Public Information, Washington, D.C., to complain that some of the “penny-a-line correspondents of United States newspapers in Canada” were “exploiting what they are apparently finding to be a profitable field of enterprise” by “retailing for their papers all sorts of highly colored and grossly exaggerated stories” regarding the anti-Conscriptionist movement in Quebec. Chambers then went on to argue that if there was any violence in Quebec, it would be because “a few irresponsible hot heads” were “misled into over-estimating their importance by inciting statements appearing in the press and elsewhere.” Chambers continued by noting that there was a “very deeply grounded suspicion in the minds of many well able to judge, that enemy agency may be at the bottom of this very determined attempt to incite certain unsettled elements in this Country to acts of disorder.” He concluded by suggesting that Sisson would be doing a “good turn for our common cause” if he could “pass word around” that these stories were “most grossly exaggerated” and “suspected of being of enemy origin.”
 Memorandum: Sale of Firearms, G. E. Burns, District Intelligence Officer, Military District No. 4 to Major F. E. Davis, Assistant Director of Military Intelligence, Military Headquarters, Ottawa, June 1, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. National Archives of Canada (hereafter NAC.)
 Confidential Memorandum Anti-Conscriptionists, The District Intelligence Officer, M.D. No. 4 to Major F. E. Davis, Assistant Director of Military Intelligence, Ottawa July 19, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Chief Commissioner of Police, Canada to Major-General W. Gwatkin, Chief of the General Staff, July 23, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Montreal from [illegible] to Minister of Militia, Sir Edward Kemp, July 20, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.; This alleged disaffection was immediately investigated and on September 17, Ptv. E. Jacobs, G.M.P. reported to The Assistant Provost Marshal, M.D.4., that “I find that the majority of the Hebrew citizens are very much against conscription, but did not make any hostile remarks, also will not offer any resistance when the conscription act is enforced.” Copy of Report, Ptv. E. Jacobs, G.M.P. to The Assistant Provost Marshal, M.D.4., September 14, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 “Ready to Quell Sedition in Quebec,” New York Times, Montreal, July 23, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Memo: Anti-Conscriptionists, District Intelligence Officer, M.D. No. 4 to G.S.O., M.D. No. 4, July 26, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Maj. General E.W. Wilson, Commander of the Montreal Garrison to Major-General W. Gwatkin, Chief of General Staff, July 26, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Untitled Memorandum H. C. Griffith, August 2, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 District Intelligence Officer, Montreal, to Asst. Director of Military Intelligence, August 3, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Memorandum : Anti-Conscriptionists from District Intelligence Officer, August 6, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Secret Memo, B. L. O’Hara, Intelligence Officer, Military District No. 5, to the Chief Commissioner of Police, Ottawa, August 8, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Confidential. Unconfirmed Rumors. [undated] Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Armstrong, The Crisis of Quebec,181.
 Anti-Conscriptionists Memo from the District Intelligence Officer, Military District No. 4 to the General Officer Commanding, Military District No. 4, August 10, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 108 were Irish, 39 English, 14 Scotch and the remainder “miscellaneous”, Confidential Memorandum Anti-Conscriptionists, The District Intelligence Officer, M.D. No. 4 to Major F. E. Davis, Assistant Director of Military Intelligence, Ottawa July 19, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Maj. General E.W. Wilson, Commander of the Montreal Garrison to Major-General W. Gwatkin, Militia Headquarters, Ottawa August 6, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Memorandum, H. C. Griffith, August 2, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 W.S. to Maj. General E. W. Wilson, Commander of the Montreal Garrison, August 9, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Major General F. L. Lessard to Gwatkin, August 17, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Armstrong, The Crisis of Quebec,166-67.
 “Dynamite Outrage At Lord Atholstan’s Cartierville Home,” The Montreal Daily Star, August 9, 1917.
 Chief Commissioner of Police, Canada to Major General W. G. Gwatkin, Chief of the General Staff, August 13, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Secret Memorandum Relating to the possibility of disturbances in Montreal [undated] Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 B. L. O’Hara, D.I.O. 5th Military District, to The A.D.M.I, Ottawa June 8, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Confidential Report, Maj. General E.W. Wilson, Commander of the Montreal Garrison to Major General W.G. Gwatkin, July 20, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Maj. General E.W. Wilson, Commander of the Montreal Garrison to Major-General W. Gwatkin, Militia Headquarters, Ottawa August 6, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 [illegible] Montreal to Minister of Militia, Sir Edward Kemp, July 20, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC. The report details the deployment of these forces, At Montreal and at St. Jean P.Q. there are immediately available nearly 1000 men; another 1000 could be brought in at short notice from Valeartier, without endangering the safety of Quebec; another 1,000 could be brought from Bordon (General Logie has been warned): Ottawa, Kingston and London could contribute detachments; Colonel Leslie, at Petawawa, has 500 ready at short notice to entrain.
 Confidential Letter to Minister of Militia, Sir Edward Kemp, August 5, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 “Preparing to Crush Canadian Sedition” The New York Times, August 24, 1917.
 Ernest J. Chambers, Chief Press Censor to the Editor, Morning Chronicle, Quebec, August 26, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.
 Gazette, August 30, 31, 1917 cited in Armstrong, The Crisis of Quebec, 197.
 Confidential, Chambers, Chief Press Censor for Canada, to Edgar Sisson, Esq., Division of Vice, Committee on Public Information, Washington, D.C., August 30, 1917, Army Headquarters RG24-C-1-a. NAC.