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Toronto’s Christie Pits Riot

Lawrence Bush
August 15, 2017

A championship softball series between a predominantly Jewish (and Italian) baseball team, the Harbord Playground, and St. Peter’s, a team sponsored by a Catholic Church, led to a five-hour riot on this date in 1933 after supporters of St. Peter’s’ victory displayed a large swastika for the second time in two nights. The Toronto Daily Star reported: “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.” According to Daniel Bitonti in the Globe and Mail, “To be a Jew in Toronto in 1933 was to be a second-class citizen . . . Less than a year before the riot, Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany. In the predominantly Protestant city of Toronto, his message resonated. ‘Everything that happened for Jews in Toronto happened in the backdrop of antisemitism . . . whether it happened to do with housing, whether it had to do with employment or whether it happened to do with education. Jews were restricted,’ said William Shaffir, a McMaster University sociology professor who co-authored the book about the riot . . . In the summer of 1933, antisemitism was beginning to take on a much more confrontational and visual nature. In the Beaches neighbourhood, there were stories of young men walking down the boardwalk wearing swastika symbols on their bathing suits and shirts, patrolling for what they called ‘undesirables,’ part of new groups called swastika clubs.”

“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.” --Toronto Daily Star

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.