When retired lance-corporal Thomas Falls died in solitary confinement at Montreal’s Bordeaux jail in 1948, 10 days after being severely crushed by police, there was no public outcry and little newspaper protection. His household and members of the Black neighborhood had been outraged, however there was little they may do about it.

Seventy-two years later, as persons are talking out loudly in opposition to racism and police brutality, Thomas Falls’s great-grandson, Gabriel Falls, says the household wish to use this second to clear his great-grandfather’s title. 

“Undoubtedly, his story must be heard as a result of we’re in a time proper now when persons are listening,” mentioned Gabriel, 29. “Sadly, in his time, when he was killed, folks did not care as a lot or did not give it consideration in any respect.”

Thomas Falls was 32 in September 1948, a strapping ex-soldier working as a railway labourer, a typical job for Black males in Montreal at the moment. He had simply taken the examination for admission to the CNR Porters’ Affiliation, which might have been a step up the wage ladder.

His spouse, Rose, was present process remedy for what at present we might name postpartum melancholy. She’d been taking good care of their 4 kids, all underneath the age of six, alone for a lot of the battle. Her husband, a lance-corporal within the Royal 22nd Regiment, generally known as the Van Doos, had been stationed as a navy police officer in England from 1939 to 1945.

Falls, who labored as a navy police officer throughout the Second World Struggle, was arrested in Montreal in 1948 after a bar brawl and crushed up by police. Ten days later, he was discovered useless in Bordeaux jail. (Submitted by the Falls household)

One night time in early September, Rose was in hospital, and their 4 kids had been staying with family. Falls was alone, and he agreed to go together with a pal to a bar in east-end Montreal. A witness informed the household he drank an excessive amount of and acquired into an altercation over a track taking part in on the jukebox.

“There was a scuffle,” his son, Thomas Falls Jr., remembers being informed, and two cops arrived to arrest his father.

When the 2 approached, Falls refused to go together with them.

“My father was a giant man,” mentioned Thomas Jr. “He’d been a boxer within the military, so these two guys acquired scared and known as for assist. The paddywagon got here, and so they labored him over within the van. And it was historical past after that.”

Falls was taken to Station 25 in downtown Montreal. When he appeared in courtroom just a few hours later, his household says it was clear he had been crushed up.

“His face appeared like uncooked roast beef,” his son, Thomas, Jr., was informed.

The infamous Bordeaux jail

Falls was then taken to Bordeaux jail.

Just a few years later, Peter Gzowski, writing in Maclean’s journal, described the provincial detention centre this fashion: “The Montreal jail at Bordeaux, extra generally known as Bordeaux Jail, is a hulking four-storey gray constructing formed like a six-pointed asterisk on the west facet of Montreal Island.”

He went on to say that “the ugliest reality about this ugly establishment is {that a} man could also be imprisoned in it with out committing a criminal offense, and with out being tried by a courtroom.”

That was the final the household of Thomas Falls ever noticed of him. Nobody was allowed to go to. Twelve days later, they had been knowledgeable that he had died within the jail.

There was an inquest. On Nov. 4, 1948, the coroner, Richard Louis Duckett, launched a one-page report. He concluded Thomas Falls had died of “congestive pulmonary oedema, acute maniac agitation and possible encephalitis.” There was no point out of the bruises on his face or his two lacking tooth, no point out of the straitjacket Falls had been confined in, probably for days, in response to what the household has realized.

The coroner additionally takes care to state, the demise “was not as a consequence of a criminal offense and never because of the negligence of any individual.” In the long run, it was dominated a pure demise.

A Montreal coroner concluded Thomas Falls had died of pure causes, ruling nobody was accountable. (Submitted by the Falls household)

“It was very hush-hush,” Thomas Jr. mentioned. “In these days, we had Premier [Maurice] Duplessis, and there was plenty of prejudice.”

All these years later, he calls the remedy of his father police brutality — and he’s sure his father was killed due to the color of his pores and skin.

“The racism is there.”

Insidious racism

Historians seek advice from the Duplessis period as La Grande Noirceur, or The Nice Darkness. In these days, loads was hushed up, and there was little or no oversight of public establishments. There was additionally blatant racism.

“The racism was insidious,” in response to Concordia College historical past Prof. Steven Excessive. Regardless of the place Thomas Falls went, “he would have been confronted with the query of whether or not he can be served or not,” mentioned Excessive.

Within the Montreal of 1948, a landlord or an employer was legally entitled to refuse to lease to somebody or provide them a job due to their pores and skin color — discrimination that was upheld by the Supreme Courtroom of Canada in 1939, when it dominated {that a} Black man, Fred Christie, didn’t have a proper to be served in a Montreal restaurant.

“Ninety per cent of Black folks labored for the railways,” till the 1950s, mentioned Excessive. Though there have been loads of factories in Little Burgundy, the place a lot of Black folks lived, few had been employed there.

The choices for Thomas Falls would have been restricted in each means. Even so, Excessive says, Falls in all probability got here to Montreal looking for alternative, since prospects for Black folks in Nova Scotia would have been even worse.

Thomas ‘Tommy’ Falls was posted in England all through the Second World Struggle. In 1940 and 1941, he was the Canadian Military’s heavyweight boxing champion. (Submitted by the Falls household)

Thomas Falls had been a well-liked man. A former Canadian Military and British navy boxing champion, he was well-known and revered within the Black neighborhood, each in his dwelling province of Nova Scotia and in Montreal, the place he and his younger household moved after the battle.

The battle veteran had taught many boys boxing and regaled them with tales of his profession. He favored to inform folks he knew Joe Louis and had boxed with the U.S. champion.

The Advance, a now-defunct Nova Scotia newspaper, described how a neighborhood lawyer, whose sons Thomas Falls had educated to field, travelled to Montreal to attempt to assist the household after the retired soldier’s demise.

Why had been there marks of violence on the physique of Thomas Falls simply six hours after his arrest? J. Ross Byrne demanded to know. Why was he remoted in jail? Why did he not obtain medical remedy? And easy methods to clarify the sudden demise of a 32-year-old man who had been examined by a physician only a few days earlier than his arrest and had been “discovered to be sturdy in thoughts and physique”?

Relations at present say neither Byrne nor the household ever acquired any solutions.

A household torn aside

With the demise of Thomas Falls, his household fell into disaster. The 4 kids had been all positioned within the little one welfare system. The eldest, Thomas Jr., spent the following yr with Daisy Peterson, the sister of famed jazz artist Oscar Peterson, whose father, Daniel, labored as a porter on the CPR.

Thomas Jr. ultimately ended up in a boys’ dwelling. The opposite kids had been despatched to reside with pals and family. They weren’t reunited underneath one roof as a household for the following eight years.

Thomas Jr. is philosophical concerning the affect on the household of his father’s demise in police custody.

“I used to be principally at the hours of darkness,” he mentioned. As a result of he was so younger — simply six years previous on the time of his father’s demise — he didn’t even go to the funeral.

There have been no repercussions for the cops who had been concerned, he mentioned, and his father’s story was by no means actually informed. All these years later, he wish to see his father’s title cleared.

Thomas Falls Jr., left, together with his son Derek, center, and his brother Randolph, who was simply 4 months previous when his father died. Thomas Jr. and Randolph spent years within the little one welfare system after their father’s demise. (Submitted by the Falls household)

Systemic racism, intergenerational trauma

Regardless of the childhood trauma, Thomas Falls Jr. turned a stationary engineer within the 1970s and says he managed to get on together with his life.

However he says his household nonetheless lives with the racism that killed his father. It has affected his personal kids’s lives.

“They simply do not like police,” he mentioned. “They get stopped of their vehicles for this and that. It preys on them.”

He says the one time he acquired in a combat was when he was very younger and strolling alongside Montreal’s Ste-Catherine Avenue: somebody used a racial slur in opposition to him, there was a avenue combat, and identical to his father earlier than him, he was taken to Station 25.

Years later, his son, Derek Falls, additionally ended up in Station 25. Derek says it was simply one in every of not less than a dozen occasions he is been racially profiled and stopped by police. He says every time brings again the stress of his grandfather’s demise. He says it has been onerous on his kids.

“They know their great-grandfather was murdered. And it is a scar that may by no means depart.”

Derek’s son, Gabriel, says the household desires to reclaim its historical past. They need justice for his great-grandfather, Thomas Falls. He believes, with the relevance of Black Lives Matter, now’s the proper time.

Racism ‘was regular’

“I requested my grandfather about his experiences rising up as a Black man in Montreal throughout his time, the 1940s, till now,” Gabriel Falls mentioned. “He informed me that nothing occurred to him. I mentioned, ‘Are you certain, nobody ever known as you names?'”

His grandfather’s reply shocked him.

“Oh yeah, many occasions I might be strolling round and folks would name out n–ger and degrading issues like that,” he mentioned. However, he informed his grandson, “That was regular.”

Gabriel Falls says racism can by no means be thought-about regular.

“For folks like my grandfather and great-grandfather, these are simply tales of a bigger downside. That is what must be handled.”

How might anybody ever thrive, he asks, “once they’re handled like this, being known as names every day? This isn’t wholesome.”

The Montreal police service didn’t present any remark or data for this story.


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