19. The Montreal Anti-Vaxxer Riot of 1885
By September 2nd, 1885, Montreal’s Board of Health believed that there were 2,000 smallpox cases in the city, and within a few weeks, the numbers had doubled to more than 4,000. That was when the authorities began to take sterner measures to combat the illness. They included the forcible removal of people from housing conditions – mostly in poor neighborhoods, such as predominately French Canadian ones in the city’s east side – that made isolation impossible. On September 28th, vaccination was made mandatory. The response was “a howling mob“, primed for weeks and whipped into a frenzy by publications such as Dr. Ross’ The Anti-Vaccinator. They surrounded the Board of Health’s East End Branch Office, and destroyed it.
Police were called in, but they were routed and chased away by the mob. The anti-vaxxers then rampaged through the city, smashed the windows of pharmacies that sold the smallpox vaccine, and vandalized the homes of health officials. The Central Police Station’s windows were all broken, and the chief of police was stabbed and pelted with stones. Rioters fired at police, who armed themselves with rifles and bayonets, and fired above the antivaxxers’ heads. The cops finally clubbed the mob until it dispersed into small groups, that continued the violent assaults and destruction of property around Montreal. The following day, 1,400 soldiers were called in to patrol the city and prevent a recurrence, and health workers were issued revolvers.