I have been reading The Riot at Christie Pits by Cyril H. Levitt and William Shaffir and it has cleared up much of the mystery surrounding the Christie Pits riot and indeed the nature of our city. The authors, both Jews, come to the startling conclusion that the hatred of Jews in Toronto was not inspired by the events in Nazi Germany but rather by a pervasive colonial and provincial xenophobia because whatever else these foreigners were, they were most definitely not British.
The well known tendency of colonials or ethnics living away from the Heimat (native country) to distort certain aspects of nationality or ethnicity leads to an unintentional caricature of the manners of the mother country. In the case of Toronto, along with this hyper Britishness went a suspicion of foreigners, hostility to groups conceived to be potentially subversive of British ideals (e.g., Communists, socialists, anarchists, etc.), conservatism in politics, public celebration of the Protestant religion, and an attempt (largely successful in spite of the fact they couldn't stop the streetcars from running on Sunday) to constrict the social life of the city by means of blue laws and social pressure. p. 28
|Kew Beach 1934|
Open letter to all members of the Balmy Beach Canoe ClubRecently, as you no doubt know conditions have become unbearable, and Beach people are gradually being forced to go elsewhere to avoid the presence of undesirables. Local No. 5 of the Swastika Clubs has been formed in Kew Beach, and now has a membership of forty. Commencing Monday, July 31st, our members will appear on the beaches, boardwalk, and in Kew Gardens and adjacent parks wearing a nickel plated badge with a swastika thereon. They will simply wear the emblem. There will be no parades or demonstrations. No speeches will be made. We feel the emblem will have the desired effect. This is quite legal, and no interference can take place. p. 85
While the full horror of the final solution had yet to be realized, Toronto residents were quite aware of the systematic persecution of Jews in Germany and indeed the Toronto Star of April 24, 1933 carried a review of Mein Kampf. They knew the swastika would be offensive and why. Within a fairly short time the swastika would appear again in Christie Pits after a baseball game. On August 16, 1933 members of the Anglo-Canadian Pit Gang, feeling that the Jews were moving in on their turf, retaliated by displaying a swastika after a baseball game.
There were arrested last night on charges of unlawful assembly, arising out of Wednesday night's rioting at Willowvale Park. They are:CHARLES BOUSTEAD, 18 years old, of Sydenham StreetJACK PIPPY, 17, of Crawford StreetEARL PERRIN, 21, of Sterling RoadThey are all alleged to be the ones who flaunted the white quilt, on which a black swastika was emblazoned, from a knoll in the park -- the act which precipitated the disturbances and fanned into flame the spark of racial feeling...Daily Mail and Empire, August 19, 1933 (p. 179)
The difference between the events in the Beach and the Christie Pits riot was the fact that Willowvale Park was on the border of a heavily Jewish and Italian area. While their parents had been accustomed to take such insults in stride in czarist Russia or eastern Europe, their children had been educated in Canada and they had an entirely different set of expectations. The Jews fought back. The Italians who were living side by side with the Jews fought on the side of their neighbors.
Before we all congratulate ourselves on how far we have progressed since 1933 perhaps we should take a look at current events. While we are hailed as a multicultural city with our endless festivals and political photo-ops we are still deeply suspicious of anyone who is different. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Toronto Police Service's treatment of the mentally ill and marginalized in our society. We shoot the mentally ill and look with disdain at the sight of panhandlers and people sleeping on subway grates. How far have we really come since 1933?
Cyril H. Levitt and William Shaffir, The Riot at Christie Pits, 1987, Lester & Orpen Dennys, Toronto
Toronto Public Library 971.3541 LEV