Intolerance and the Riots of Christie Pits

It was August 16, 1933, the Great Depression was roaring through North America and Adolf Hitler had just come to power in Germany.  The riot happened at a baseball game in Toronto, Canada at Christie Pits, then called Willowvale Park. Jews were already targets of prejudice, even though many were second generation Canadian citizens. Toronto Canada was made up of 2/3 Anglo Saxon people. Either British by birth or at least by heritage. The Jewish community was very small and like most immigrants they were barely tolerated, seen as ‘foreigners’ in Toronto, and unwelcomed.

Most of the Jewish people in Toronto were poor or working class families. They were already discriminated against and kept out of most clubs. During this summer they were relegated to public beaches for swimming and recreation.  Even some of the beaches tried to keep Jewish people out by putting the Swastika on public clubhouses so they would not swim there.

.    The Toronto papers, including the 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. (1)

During a heat wave in August, there was a quarter final baseball game between two local teams.  Harbord Playground, a mostly Jewish team with some Italians, played against St. Peter’s baseball team sponsored by a Catholic church at Bathurst and Bloor. It was the second game between the two teams… (2) A Few nights earlier a game between the same two teams saw tensions rise when some gentiles brought and prominently displayed the Swastika during the game.

During this game the Jewish community was cheering for the Harbord team and the gentiles were cheering for the St. Peter’s team. The game got more exciting and towards the end some of the gentiles took out a blanket with a Swastika drawn on it…They laid it down on the rise behind the diamond.  Then started yelling “Heil Hitler”.  The Jewish men rushed the gentiles and a violent riot broke out between the communities.

It was not just Jewish people targeted by the mostly British Canadians, but many poor immigrants, Italians, Poles, Ukrainians and Chinese were isolated and treated like ‘outsiders’. “Gentiles Only” signs were displayed in business windows signifying the distrust and fear of the any other group. There was literally a feeling of ‘us against them’ in the area.   The instigators of the riot stated they wanted the Jews out of the baseball park. (3)

The riot occurred because of an accumulation of tension brought on by first the Great Depression that occurred after the stock market crashed in October of 1929. In 1933 Canada’s unemployment was at an all-time high at 30%.  The Jews were seen as one cause of the depression and became a convenient scapegoat.  Hitler’s rise to power and his hate filled propaganda about the Jewish people fueled the intolerance and hatred. Hitler painted the Jews as ugly, untrustworthy and inferior.

The Canadian Jewish people became more infuriated over discrimination and oppression that they did not deserve. As second generation they believed they earned the right to be seen as equal Canadian citizens.  The Nazi’s hate filled rhetoric fed racists groups and helped create Swastika clubs that prevented the admission of Jews. So that baseball game on August 16 was really a tinder box, and the Swastika drawn blanket laid on the rise behind the baseball diamond, the match that lit the fire of rage between the groups.

One Jewish youth named Joe Goldstein received a head wound and was taken to hospital. The Jewish youth went down to their neighborhood crying, “help, help they are beating Jews.” They also said that Joe Goldstein had been killed.  They not only received help from their communities but the other communities ostracized by the British Canadians.

As the news spread about the riot, more came in trucks to join the groups with clubs, bats and iron bars, really anything they could find to use as a weapon. The rioting went on for 6 hours and became one of the most violent riots in Canadian history. The police came in towards the end and tried to disperse the crowd with little success.  Though he did not die, Joe Goldstein helped pull together the immigrant communities, enabling them to stand up against oppression and help create the multicultural city of Toronto today. On a final note, not one person was killed that night.

 

 

 

 

  1. “Cyril H. Levitt and William Shaffir, The Riot at Christie Pits, Toronto: Lester & Orpen Denys, 1987”
  2. DiManno, Rosie (10 Aug 2013).“Remembering the Christie Pits riot: DiManno”. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  3. Giles Hodge History Happens Here- The Riot at Christie Pits, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X29rUSbjIqc, 2010
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