Christie Pits riot
The Christie Pits riot occurred on 16 August 1933 at the Christie Pits (Willowvale Park) playground in Toronto, Ontario. The riot can be understood in the context of the Great Depression, anti-semitism, "Swastika Clubs" and parades and resentment of "foreigners" in Toronto, and the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Germany in 1933.
The riot occurred in the midst of the Great Depression and six months after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. The Toronto papers, including the Toronto Telegram and the Toronto Star, as well as the Yiddish journal, Der Yiddisher Zhurnal, reported on how Jews were being dismissed as lawyers, professors, teachers, etc. in Germany, as well as incidents of violence against them. Thus to Jews, the swastika represented degradation and physical violence against Jews, and was inflammatory.
At that time, the Jewish community in Toronto was predominantly poor and working-class. Jewish families and youths in particular would therefore cool off during the hot summer months by staying in town and going to the predominantly Anglo Beaches area in order to swim. This resulted in complaints and resentment from some local residents. Some of the locals formed "Swastika Club", which openly displayed the Nazi symbol to express their displeasure and make Jews feel unwanted. On August 1, 1933 the "Swastika Club" became the subject of editorial in Toronto's Jewish Standard, which prompted multiple protest from local Jewish residents . On August 2, 1933, mass protests of young Jewish Canadians occurred at The Beaches, that were met by counter-protests from the members of Swastika Club. The leaders of the Swastika Club initially insisted that the swastika had nothing to do with Hitler. They said they merely wanted to keep the Beach clean. This resulted in a tug of war between city officials and Jewish leaders, who tried to have the Swastika Club disband voluntarily, and the Swastika Club leadership, which pushed for the legal action. By August 14, the situation reached a stalemate, with the leadership of Toronto Swastika Club participating in Kitchener Swastika Club meeting, where openly anti-Semitic agenda was pursued .
The riot, which lasted six hours, broke out after a quarter-final baseball game at Christie Pits between two local clubs: Harbord Playground, consisting predominantly of Jewish and Italian players, and St. Peter's, a baseball team sponsored by St. Peter's Church, a Catholic church at Bathurst and Bloor.
The night of the riot was the second game between Harbord and St. Peter's. Two nights earlier, at the first game of the series, a swastika had been displayed. Police were warned in writing that there could be trouble at the second game, but those warnings were ignored. After the final out of the second game, Pit Gang members displayed a blanket with a large swastika painted on it. A number of Jewish boys and young men who had heard about the previous Swastika incident rushed the Swastika sign to destroy it, supporters of both sides (including Italians who supported the Jews) from the surrounding area joined in, and a fight started.
The Toronto Daily Star described the event the next day:
While groups of Jewish and Gentile youths wielded fists and clubs in a series of violent scraps for possession of a white flag bearing a swastika symbol at Willowvale Park last night, a crowd of more than 10,000 citizens, excited by cries of ‘Heil Hitler’ became suddenly a disorderly mob and surged wildly about the park and surrounding streets, trying to gain a view of the actual combatants, which soon developed in violence and intensity of racial feeling into one of the worst free-for-alls ever seen in the city.
Scores were injured, many requiring medical and hospital attention... Heads were opened, eyes blackened and bodies thumped and battered as literally dozens of persons, young or old, many of them non-combatant spectators, were injured more or less seriously by a variety of ugly weapons in the hands of wild-eyed and irresponsible young hoodlums, both Jewish and Gentile.
No one was killed in the riot. There was criticism of the police for not being ready to intervene, as they had been during previous potential problems in the Beach area. After the riot, Mayor Stewart warned against displaying the swastika and there were no further riots.
The riot revealed the xenophobic attitudes toward Jews and other non-Anglo immigrants (such as Italian immigrants) among some Anglo Canadians. Jews represented the largest minority in Toronto in 1933 and were thus a target of xenophobic residents. The event had some parallels to the 1875 Jubilee riots, an outbreak of Protestant-Catholic sectarian violence in Toronto and Anti-Greek Riots which previously occurred in the city in 1918.
Some sources have interpreted The Tragically Hip's 1999 single "Bobcaygeon" as alluding to the riots, as the song's lyrics contain the words "riot" and "Aryan". This has been disputed, as the song is set in a contemporary context rather than the 1930s, and the words do not appear in close conjunction; however, "Aryan" is an allusion to The Men They Couldn't Hang's single "Ghosts of Cable Street", which is about the anti-fascist Battle of Cable Street riot in London in 1936.
In August 2008, a Heritage Toronto plaque was presented to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the riot.
- Cyril H. Levitt and William Shaffir, The Riot at Christie Pits, Toronto: Lester & Orpen Denys, 1987
- The Riot at Christie Pitts, p.67, p.145
- "The Christie Pits Riot and the birth of multicultural Toronto", National Post, August 15, 2008
- "Swastika Club" Arouses Ire of Jewish Writer in Toronto", 'Windsor Star', August 1, 1933, page 1
- "Toronto Swastika Club Brings Jewish Protest", 'The Province', August 2, 1933, page 1
- The Riot at Christie Pitts, p.141
- "Anti-Semitic Rally Called", 'Windsor Star', August 14, 1933, page 1
- The Riot at Christie Pitts, p.153
- DiManno, Rosie (10 Aug 2013). "Remembering the Christie Pits riot: DiManno". Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Levitt, Cyril; William Shaffir (Spring–Summer 1985). "Baseball and Ethnic Violence in Toronto: the Case of the Christie Pits Riot, August 16, 1933". Polyphony. 7 (1): 67. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- The Riot at Christie Pitts, p.160-165
- Toronto Daily Star, August 17, 1933.
- The Riot at Christie Pitts, p.166, 176-177
- The Riot at Christie Pitts, p.178
- "That Night in Toronto: Shalom to the Tragically Hip". Canadian Jewish News, October 7, 2016.
- "Looking for a place to happen". CBC News.