This was one time that Toronto’s Jewish community would not stand for the abuse, the Jew-baiting, which was quite prevalent in the city in those years just before World War II, when Adolf Hitler had just taken power in an economically flattened Germany and Nazism was ascendant.
This one time, Toronto’s Jews — the teen boys, at least — fought back, with help from Italian lads (the late Johnny Lombardi among them) who’d been equally resented and unwelcome as “foreigners’’ in what was an insular, xenophobic town sometimes called the Belfast of Canada because of its militantly Protestant character and the flamboyant annual Orange Parades.
The rumble erupted when a clot of boys from the self-styled Pit Gang, who’d been sitting on the “camel’s hump’’ — a knoll just south of the baseball diamond — unfurled a large white quilt featuring a black swastika.
DiManno's column comes at a particularly interesting moment for me. I have been talking to someone on the subject of the Christie Pits riot and his reminiscences passed down from his grandmother differ markedly from the account on the Christie Pits historical plaque, in the wikipedia article and in DiManno's column. According to all three of these sources the riot pitted an Anglo-Canadian group known as the Pit Gang against Jewish and Italian immigrants. The spark that touched off the riot was displaying the swastika by the Pit Gang.
Not so according to my friend's grandmother. This bit of oral history has the foreigners displaying the fascist symbol and Canadians defending their country against these pernicious foreign influences. I honestly cannot fathom why someone would hold to such a view unless it is misplaced loyalty to a grandmother who could not acknowledge that Toronto's history is filled with such bigotry.
For myself, such blatant display of prejudice brings back memories of racist comments from members of my own family. It brings back memories of being torn away from my friends and parochial school because my parents were afraid of those people. I do not like it one little bit. I may have been powerless when I was a nine year old child but I am no longer that child and I do not have to endure such bigotry and prejudice in silence.