Imagine letting 1,000 rock fans stampede onto a boat that only holds 395 passengers.
Not exactly Crowd Control 101, but this is what happened after an April Wine concert in Halifax 40 years ago. I can remember this ferry ride like it was yesterday. And so can many of my old friends.
Trouble was in the offing as we headed downtown on April 22, 1980. Bus windows were smashed and trash cans were tossed overboard from the ferry.
April Wine opened the show with their new single I Like to Rock. Within the first few bars of the tune the packed Metro Centre erupted into what one reporter labeled “bouts of fisticuffs.”
April Wine’s final encore was shrouded by a haze from the evening’s supply of smuggled smoke bombs, bottle rockets and hash oil. As we hit the exits, the houselights revealed a floor strewn with liquor bottles and blood.
Dartmouth fans raced for the new Halifax ferry terminal, which was still under construction. Dartmouth electrician Mike Mader recalls the scene: “It was pouring buckets, everyone was running. The terminal was packed.”
Incredibly, we were locked out in the rain for over half an hour. In retaliation, a kid cracked open the temporary panel and briefly killed power to the terminal.
When the doors finally opened, the jean-jacketed mob surged forward, overpowering the ferry staff. The unstoppable mass, largely decked out in Greb Kodiaks, rumbled down the ramp and stormed the Dartmouth III.
About 100 passengers were forced off the overloaded ferry by the crew and two Dartmouth cops. The ferry, still treacherously crammed with soaked teenagers, started its crossing with many standing on the chairs, clutching the steel ceiling for support.
Mike Mader was downstairs and described what he saw: “There was no room for your feet. They were standing on seats and everywhere. The ferry kind of lurched. A guy was off balance and the ceiling came down with him. Someone else saw him and did the same thing on purpose. Once he tore down a piece, it went nuts. There was no stopping it once it started.”
David Dumaresq and I had found refuge in the center stairwell. “I was worried we were going to sink,” recalls Dumaresq.
He then described what happened when the ceiling came down. “I remember the pieces going from downstairs to upstairs to the outside deck. It was like a firemen’s line. We had no choice, it was coming at us.”
Meanwhile, the youths up on deck tried to escape the rain. “Everybody tried to jam into downstairs,” said Mader. But the kids on the packed stairs fought back when the crush began.
And then all hell broke loose.
Ninety orange life-jackets stored under the seats flew over the gunwales. Next, a large lifeboat was inflated and heaved into the harbour.
With no policemen in sight, some passengers trapped below began demolishing the interior of the new ferry by ripping down fixtures and more ceiling panels.
Girls screamed and some passengers vomited.
By the time the ferry docked in Dartmouth, the ten-minute rebellion had wreaked $20,000 in damages.
After midnight, a thousand or more fans still waiting in Halifax got word the ferry wouldn’t be coming back for them. The Halifax cops forced the Dartmouth teens out into the rain to walk home across the bridge.
My old school friend Dave Marsh, who now plays drums for Joel Plaskett Emergency, was sitting on the floor of the Halifax terminal when a policeman kicked his foot to get him moving. “I made the mistake of kicking him back,” laughs Marsh. “Next thing, three or four of them were hauling me out past Fisherman’s Market and into a paddy wagon!”
The next day, officials scrambled to explain what went wrong. Dartmouth police inspector Phil Malcolm admitted the police were unprepared. “We didn’t anticipate that much of a crowd. There must have been twice as many coming back as went over.”
When asked about the police aboard the ferry, Dartmouth city administrator Clifford Moir simply replied, “There obviously weren’t enough.”
The following year April Wine returned to Halifax.
This time, guitarist Myles Goodwyn sent the fans home with an order that bounced off the Metro Centre roof and echoed all the way down to where an army of policemen waited at the foot of George Street: “Don’t wreck the ferries!”