Concordia University student Desea Trujillo's current fight for reduced public transit fares for students over 25 echoes a campaign by young Montreal activists in the 1940s and 1950s .
In 1950, it cost 25 cents for three tramway tickets. College and university students wanted to pay 25 cents for seven tickets, the same rate paid by children.
Among the activists who met with legendary Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde in 1950 about the demand was Bernard Tonchin, then a Sir George Williams College student and a member of a committee made up of students from English and French colleges and universities.
They presented Houde a petition with 4,500 student signatures, Tonchin, 83, recalled this week.
"I was the last one out of his office and I saw him throw the petition into the waste-paper basket," Tonchin said. "I said to him, in an angry voice, 'The least you could do is look at it.'"
It's unclear if Houde did.
It took until 2002 for post-secondary students to get a student rate, and it still only applies to those 25 and younger.
Sixty-one years later, Tonchin still thinks all students should get a break on fares. Many students are struggling to get by and they are more likely to use transit at off-peak hours when many buses and métros have fewer passengers anyway, he noted.
After talking to Tonchin, I dug into Google News Archive and found some interesting newspaper articles from later in the 1950s (after Tonchin was no longer involved in student politics).
Turns out hockey wasn't the only thing Montrealers liked to riot about in those days
On Dec, 9, 1955, nine month after the Maurice Richard riot, a demonstration by 2,500 students protesting against tramway fare increases (to 12.5 cents, from 10 cents) turned ugly.
A mob damaged more than 100 streetcars and buses, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage and making headlines around North America, including in the New York Times, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Nashua (N.H.) Telegram.
Dozens were arrested.
The Michigan Daily ran an Associated Press story the next day about the court appearances: "Mostly youths and many wearing leather jackets, a garb that has become a symbol of youthful rowdyism here..." The story described the perpetrators as "inflamed hoodlums, a mixture of many types (who) threw stones and bottles and pulled down street signs. Street cars were the main objects of attack, some being set afire."
Click on the clippings below to read coverage in The Gazette, which devoted three pages to the riot, plus an editorial.
Police also broke up a student transit demo in 1949.
Six years earlier, in December 1949, 45 students who refused to pay streetcar fare were arrested at Peel and Ste. Catherine Sts. for disturbing the peace. They were temporary post office wokers and they wanted free transportation, the same as regular post office employees.