102 years ago this week, nine months into the First World War, anti-German sentiment boiled over in the streets of Victoria, BC. The above video clip is silent film footage from the riots that took place on May 8-9, 1915, following the sinking of the British liner R.M.S. Lusitania off Ireland by the German submarine U-20. Soldiers training in Victoria were reacting to the deaths of Canadian citizens in the sinking, particularly that of a former comrade — Victoria resident Lieutenant James Dunsmuir of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles. Soldiers and civilians formed an angry mob that attacked businesses owned by German-Canadians, destroying property and looting goods.
The surviving footage is in three sections:
- 0:12-0:30 — Shots of milling crowds, damaged storefronts and broken windows.
- 0:31-0:52 — Uniformed soldiers can be seen throwing objects from the broken second-floor windows of the German Club, above the Dominion Express office on Government Street.
- 0:53-1:12 — The clip concludes with shots of the crowd outside the Blanshard Hotel (formerly the Kaiserhof Hotel), at the corner of Blanshard and Johnson Streets; broken windows are visible on the upper floors.
The newspaper accounts and notices excerpted below appeared in the Daily Colonist of Sunday and Tuesday, May 9th and 11th, 1915. The Mayor and the military called for calm; threatened businesses with German-sounding names emphasized their loyalty to the British Empire. But a great deal of damage had already been done.