1 March 1967
In the mid-1960s, one of the most promising, up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll groups was The Animals. The British group, formed in 1963 with the gravel-voiced, bluesy Eric Burdon as lead vocalist, followed The Beatles across the Atlantic and helped to spearhead the “British Invasion” of North America. By Canada’s centennial year, the band already had a number of hit singles in the United States and Canada. It’s rendition of The House of the Rising Sun (Click here), which had topped the British singles’ charts in the summer of 1964, became number one in the United States that October. Another song, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Click here) recorded in 1965, took the number two spot in Canada. The song became the unofficial anthem of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Other big hits of the time included See See Rider and Don’t Bring Me Down, both released in 1966. The group appeared a phenomenal six times on the Ed Sullivan Show, one of the most avidly watched television shows of the era, once in 1964, three times in 1965 and twice in 1966.
Imagine the excitement for Ottawa rock fans when it was announced that Eric Burdon and the Animals were to play on 1 March 1967 in the Coliseum at Lansdowne Park. This wasn’t the same group that recorded the band’s initial hits. That early group consisted of Erik Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (keyboard), John Steel (drums), Hilton Valentine (guitar) and Byron “Chas” Chandler (bass). But by late 1966, the group had disintegrated owing to a combination of drugs, alcohol, egos, and bad management. Frayed tempers due to long days of performing and touring didn’t help either. In late 1966, Eric Burdon put together a new group called Eric Burdon and the Animals, consisting of Erik Burdon (vocals), Vic Braggs (guitar), Barry Jenkins (drums), Danny McCulloch (bass), and John Weider (guitar). The addition of John Weider, who also played classical violin, gave a different dimension to the band. It was this version of the Animals, playing many of the old Animals tunes, that toured North America in early1967, starting at Hunter College in New York in February 1967. (Click here for their rendition of See See Rider.) They came to Canada in late February with stops in Hamilton and then Ottawa before returning to New York to continue their U.S. tour.
The Ottawa concert was organized by Peter Charrier through an agency, assisted by James McConnell, a dance promoter, who helped with advertising and the distribution of tickets. Tickets were $2.50 or $3.00, equivalent to roughly $18-$22 today. The venue for the event was the Coliseum on Bank Street at Lansdowne Park. The Coliseum, constructed in 1926, was the venue for innumerable Ottawa political, social and athletic events. Before it was demolished in 2010 to make way for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, it was the home of the Ottawa 67s Junior A hockey team’s ticket office.
The warm-up band for the event was Ottawa’s own five-piece The Eyes of Dawn. Formed in 1966, the group came to local prominence after winning a music contest in Hull. It subsequently became the house band for La Petite Souris coffee shop. In January 1967, it released its debut single Time To Be Going, (Click here) a cover of a song by The Fortunes, under the Sir John A. label. Being asked to be the warm-up band to Eric Burdon and the Animals represented the peak of the group’s short career.
The concert, which attracted more than 2,500 excited teenagers to the Coliseum, began without incident. But when The Eyes of Dawn had finished warming up the crowd and had left the stage, Eric Burdon and the Animals failed to show. For an hour and a half, an increasingly irritated and annoyed audience was left waiting without any announcements. Chants of “We want the Animals” changed to shouts of “Refund” and “We want our money.” Behind the scenes, the concert promoter was engaged in frantic negotiations with the band. While accounts vary, it seems there was a contract dispute. Apparently, the group was contracted to play two 40-minute sessions for $3,500. However, the Animals wanted to give one 50-minute performance. Charrier was agreeable as long as there was a pay cut. He claimed that he had already paid $1,750 up front, and was willing to give another $500, but the group wanted $1,000. Another report suggested that Charrier had offered the group only $300 in advance of the concert. Eric Burdon is quoted as saying “I am a product. I deliver my product and it’s over. Therefore the agency requires I be paid before I deliver.” Regardless, Charrier walked out of the negotiations expecting that the band would be forced to play. Burdon called his bluff and the Animals left the Coliseum without playing a single song. Later, Dan McCullough, the group’s bass guitarist, said that this was the first time that they had run into money troubles. While he said they were sorry, they had no choice but to refuse to play.
Inside, tempers were rising. When somebody turned the Coliseum’s lights out, the fans went wild. A sit-in to get ticket refunds turned violent as hundreds of annoyed teenagers vented their anger on their surroundings. The stage was destroyed, chairs thrown, and equipment damaged. Even floorboards were ripped up. A small fire was also reportedly set in a washroom. Damage and clean-up costs were later placed at $7,917. It took more than fifty police and security guards ninety minutes to restore order. At one point, the police threatened to turn fire hoses onto the demonstrators. From time to time, the crowd shouted “police brutality.” Twenty-five teenagers were arrested, though most were subsequently released without charge. A measure of peace was restored when police officers organized a return of ticket stubs to the audience so that spectators could receive a refund. Concert goers had handed in their entire ticket when they entered the Coliseum, rather than retain a ticket stub. Charrier claimed that is was a requirement of the Canada Central Exhibition Association, the Coliseum’s management, to facilitate the operation of automatic ticket-counting machines.
Two days after the riot, five teenagers arrested in the affray pled guilty in magistrates’ court for causing a disturbance, and received a suspended sentence and six-month probation. The magistrate, L.A. Sherwood, stressed that he was being lenient since many more teenagers had been involved in the riot but had not been caught. He also noted that while he had considerable sympathy for the offenders, there was no excuse for what they did. A charge against another teenager for destroying property owned by the Canada Central Exhibition Association was subsequently dropped on a technicality; the CCEA didn’t own the destroyed property. Another charge of underage drinking against the same individual was also dropped as police couldn’t prove that the young man had been imbibing from the half-empty flask of vodka found in his back pocket.
The Ottawa Journal ran an editorial entitled “Youth Running Wild.” It opined that the crowd had “every right to be angry,” but was shocked by “the wanton destruction and contempt for authority.” The newspaper placed the blame on the glorification of civil disobedience. “Teenagers have precedent aplenty for defying the police and taking matters into their own hands.” It thought that “crooked thinking” needed “some straightening out,” and that “discipline in home and school should be tightened up, police must be rapid and thorough…and courts should be clear that the price of lawlessness is intimidating.”
The following day, a remorseful crowd of 50 to 75 young men and women marched from the Ottawa police station to City Hall to apologize for their actions. Their initial intention was to confront the police and seek an explanation for police actions during the riot. However, the youths decided instead to march to City Hall. Acting Mayor Ken Fogarty met the teenagers on the front steps. Group spokesman, Tom Boyle, age 17, said “We have come to make a public apology.” He mentioned that when the Animals didn’t appear, a sit-down had been planned, but things got out of hand. Fogarty replied that the riot had blackened the name of Ottawa and that the city’s youth had been branded as irresponsible. He added, however, that the promoter had been at fault for not explaining the situation. He reminded the group that when somebody owes you something, you have a financial claim; “you don’t knock their block off.” The Acting Mayor thought their apology would go a long way towards correcting the image of the city’s teenagers.
It took some time for the police to track down Peter Charrier, the principal organizer of the concert, as Charrier had initially disappeared, unwilling to be interviewed until he sought legal counsel. He later said that rumours that he had bunked off to Jamaica were untrue. He promised that all money would be refunded to all concert spectators even those who did not receive a ticket stub from the police. Subsequently, advertisements appeared in local newspapers indicating that concert goers were entitled to “refunds or part thereof” if they applied to certain Treble Clef stores and sign an affidavit indicating that they had purchased a ticket. The operative words were “part thereof.” The organizer later indicated that ticket holders would only get half refunds as they had enjoyed half a concert. In the event, the record is unclear how many concert goers actually received a refund. By the end of May, the Ottawa Journal had been unable to find anybody who had received a refund.
As for the musicians, Eric Burdon and the Animals left the Coliseum immediately for New York. Over coming years, the Animals continued to morph and change as band members came and went. Two days after the riot, The Eyes of Dawn went on to play a gig at The Oak Door, a teen nightclub at 485 Bank Street. The group put out a second single in late 1967 called Kaleidoscope, (Click here) and folded the next year.
After much discussion, the City of Ottawa on a 16-7 Council vote agreed to cover the cost of damages to the Coliseum. With a $5,000 deductible, insurance covered the remaining $2,917. The Coliseum never again held a rock ‘n’ roll concert.
Eric Burdon returned to Ottawa in 2013 for Bluesfest. At age 76 (as of 2017), he continues to perform, bringing the old Animals tunes as well as new ones to appreciative audiences.
Bunch, Adam, 2017. “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Riot in Ottawa,” Canadian Music Hall of Fame (The), http://canadianmusichalloffame.ca/tag/the-eyes-of-dawn/.
Canadian Music Blog, 2017. Top Hits of 1967, https://musiccanada.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/top-100-singles-of-1967-in-canada/.
Canadian Pop Encyclopedia, 2015. The Eyes of Dawn, http://jam.canoe.com/Music/Pop_Encyclopedia/E/Eyes_Of_Dawn.html.
Canuckistan Music, 2017. The Eyes Of Dawn, http://www.canuckistanmusic.com/index.php?maid=194.
Classic Pop Icons, 2010. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, http://www.classicpopicons.com/song-of-the-week-26-we-gotta-get-out-of-this-place/.
Hannan, Ross & Arnold, Cory, 2010. Eric Burdon and The Animals, http://www.chickenonaunicycle.com/Eric%20Burdon.htm.
Globe and Mail (The), 1967. “5 Youths On Probation For Ottawa Riot Roles,” 3 March.
————————–, 1967. “Animals’ Fans Win A Refund,” 4 March.
Official Ed Sullivan Site (The), 2010. The Animals, http://www.edsullivan.com/artists/the-animals.
Ottawa Journal (The), 1967. “Animals: Wouldn’t Appear, 2,500 Teens Riot, Coliseum Wrecked. 2 March.
————————–, 1967. “five Admit Charges,” 2 March.
————————–, 1967. “Yourth Running Wild,” 3 March.
————————–, 1967. “Promoter Hopes to Refund Money,” 3 March.
————————–, 1967. “Apology – Protest For A Riot,” 4 March.
————————–, 1967. “Youth Charges Dismissed,” 25 March.
————————–, 1967. “Below the Hill,” 27 May.
————————–, 1967. “City Balks At Paying Riot Costs,” 1 June.
————————–, 1967. “City to Pay Coliseum Riot Damages,” 17 October.
Ottawa Tonite, 2013. “Eric Burdon at Bluesfest, 2013,” http://www.ottawatonite.com/2013/07/eric-burdon-at-ottawa-bluesfest-2013/.
Rolling Stones, 1991(?), “Eric Burdon – The Animals and Beyond,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPUcvLMs36E.