These weren't the kind of clowns you want to mess with. They were, by all accounts, a pretty rough crew. They were in town for just a couple of days — part of a touring show from the U.S. called S.B. Howes' Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus. Along with the clowns, there were acrobats and equestrian trick riders and a bunch of exotic animals: big cats, elephants, even a giraffe. The circus had already performed a few sold out shows that day — it was a rare big draw in a city that was just starting to come into its own.
|S.B. Howes' Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus|
They say word reached the police before violence broke out. But of course the Chief of Police, Samuel Sherwood, was an Orangeman. That's how he got to be Chief of Police. In fact, years earlier he'd helped to organize a conservative Tory attack on a liberal Reform Party parade. One of the Reformers had been shot and killed. So when Chief Sherwood heard about the trouble down at the Fair Green, he dragged his feet for as long as he could. And then, eventually, he sent a few men to check it out.
By the time they got there, it had started. People were throwing stones. And while the circus performers and the carnies were apparently able to hold the mob off for a while, it couldn't last. Eventually, the crowd overwhelmed them. And when the Hook & Ladders arrived, all hell broke loose. They stormed the circus with pikes and axes, overturned wagons, pulled down the tents and the Big Top and set them on fire. They beat clowns to a pulp. Circus folk ran for their lives. Some dove into the lake for safety. It was mayhem.
|Council's inquest into the Circus Riot|
That, as far as most people were concerned, was bullshit. And it would keep on coming. A few months later, there was another Protestant vs. Catholic riot — and Chief Sherwood's memory was again suspiciously fuzzy as far as Orangemen were concerned. A few months after that, he was under fire again after freeing a suspect who had been accused of robbing a bank.
But by then, there had been another mayoral election. And for the first time in more than 20 years — since William Lyon Mackenzie's rebellion — a liberal Reform Party candidate had won. City council called for deep reforms to the way Toronto's police force was run. The government of Canada West (essentially what they called Ontario back then) agreed. An inquest was launched, and in the end, the whole old system was overthrown. Every single police officer in the city was fired and a new force was created from scratch. Half of the old constables would end up being re-hired and it took nearly 100 years before the Orange stranglehold on power in Toronto was finally broken. But the foundations of our current, modern police force had finally been laid.