The rowdy April Wine fans who rocked the Dartmouth ferry

Furious at being left in the rain after a Halifax concert, they wrecked their ride home and caused $20,000 in damage.

Fans caused $20,000 damage to ferry in 10 minutes

Extensive damage to the Dartmouth ferry

44 years ago
Duration 2:02
April Wine fans on their way home from a Halifax concert in 1980 were furious about being forced to wait in the rain.

The rock fans were furious, and they took it out on the Dartmouth ferry. 

"The ceiling of the ferry was ripped out, life jackets and even a 20-man life raft tossed overboard as the Dartmouth III ferried about 400 rock fans across the harbour," began a report from CBC Halifax the next day. 

Curiously, correspondent Stan Johnson didn't mention that the rock fans had been at a concert given by hometown heroes April Wine.

The band was touring in support of its 1979 platinum-selling album Harder … Faster at the time, according to a 2012 retrospective of the riot in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

Rowdy fans

Ticket stub
A ticket stub marred by a shoe print was among the detritus left behind by fans. (Newsday/CBC Archives)

The newspaper's Bruce Mcnab wrote a detailed reconstruction of the destruction of April 22, 1980.

The rowdiness had begun hours earlier as fans made their way to the concert and carried on during the show, where the air became hazy with the after-effects of smuggled smoke bombs, bottle rockets and hash oil.

"As fans hit the exits, the houselights revealed a floor strewn with liquor bottles and blood," Mcnab wrote 32 years later.

But that was just the beginning.

Not wanted in the terminal

Young man in glasses being interviewed
"They treated us pretty rotten," said a fan who was waiting with others at the ferry terminal. (Newsday/CBC Archives)

"Apparently it all started when the young people were forced to stand outside in the rain on the Halifax side rather than be allowed inside the terminal," said Johnson.

According to the 2012 newspaper report, the terminal was still under construction. Some people managed to get inside to wait, but more were left outside while the rain was "pouring buckets."

"Everyone was running. The terminal was packed, there was no ferry waiting. We had to stand around and wait," recalled Mike Mader, a Dartmouth man who was there.

Two young men interviewed by Johnson were critical of the decision to make passengers wait outside the terminal.

"I think they figured they were just kids and they could do anything they wanted," said a teen in a jean jacket. 

Another said there was no alternative to the ferry that night.

"You just can't walk to places like Shearwater on days like this from Halifax," he said.

But according to Mcnab, many ended up doing just that. Police dispersed those remaining at the terminal when they got word there would not be another ferry, "forcing them to walk across the bridge in the rain or call for rides from pay phones." 

'A lot of pushing'

Discarded life jacket
A life jacket and pieces of the ceiling are seen on the ferry as workers cleaned up the damage that night. (Newsday/CBC Archives)

Police had been on the ferry that did go across but were "unable to do anything," said Johnson. One arrest had been made. 

Johnson asked a witness what it had been like to be on the ferry. 

"A lot of people pushing around ... people ripping down the rafters," said the man, who was wearing an open ski jacket. "Pushing, a lot of pushing."

A CBC camera captured the ferry damage that night after it was all over. 

Debris was strewn across the rows of seating, empty liquor bottles littered the floor, and dislodged light fixtures dangled from the ceiling.

According to Mcnab, "the 10-minute rebellion wreaked $20,000 in damage." 

'Some trouble' was expected

Man in hat and glasses
A ferry spokesman said he was "really surprised" by how much damage the rock fans had caused. (Newsday/CBC Archives)

"We thought we were better prepared," said a spokesman for the ferry. "We had police board the boat and asked the Halifax police to keep an eye on the terminal, expecting that there might be some trouble.

"I'm really surprised that this much damage was done to one of the boats."

As workers were seen cleaning up the debris, the spokesman said it was his impression that the rampage was the work of "a few."

And he wasn't sure if the ferry's insurance would cover it.

"We do have the ferry boats covered for marine accidents," he said. "But I don't think you could call this a marine accident."

Ferry seen through terminal
The Dartmouth III is seen from inside the ferry terminal. (Newsday/CBC Archives)

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