Christie Pits anniversary conjures comparisons to Charlottesville violence

Wed, Aug 16: As the world continues to monitor the fallout from Charlottesville, it has been 84 years since an anti-Semitism-fuelled riot in Toronto. Shallima Maharaj shows us what happened at Christie Pits.

More than eight decades have come and gone since violence erupted at Christie Pits.

For six hours, it was war in west Toronto. Speaking to Global News in 2013, Joe Black recalled that day. He was a little boy back then.

“The whole thing that really did it was when they raised the swastika flag on the knoll,” he said. “Everything really broke out at that point, and it carried on right through until two, three in the morning.”

READ MORE: Toronto remembers the Christie Pits Riot

It was August 16, 1933 and there was rising anti-Semitism overseas and at home.

“It was a very, very hot summer. It was the height of the Great Depression. People were feeling the struggles of unemployment, of poverty, of hunger and they were looking for someone to blame,” said Kaitlin Wainwright, director of programming, Heritage Toronto.

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Towards the end of a ball game between the predominantly Jewish Harbord Playground team and the mainly Protestant boys from St. Peter’s, tensions that had been building boiled over.

“There were these clubs forming known as ‘swastika clubs’ that went out and tried to push Jewish communities out of public spaces,” Wainwright said.

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They showed up at Christie Pits, unfurling a banner with a swastika on it, chanting and wielding clubs and iron bars.

A commemorative plaque was installed in the southeast corner of the park in 2008.
A commemorative plaque was installed in the southeast corner of the park in 2008. Shallima Maharaj, Global News

In 2008, a commemorative plaque was placed in the southeast corner of the park to mark the 75th anniversary of the riot.

While comparisons have been made to recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) says there are some notable differences.

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“The big difference between Christie Pits and Charlottesville is that Christie Pits took place in 1933, before the Holocaust, before the Second World War, when the Nazi party was just rising to power in Germany and we didn’t yet know the full extent of the Nazi agenda,” said Steven McDonald, deputy director of communications and public affairs for the organization.

Following the riot, Toronto’s mayor banned the display of the swastika, vowing to prosecute anyone who displayed it.

“In our own community, we look back at Christie Pits as a momentous time, as something of a milestone in our own collective journey, in overcoming discrimination.”

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Aligning themselves with the Jewish community, members of both the Italian and Ukrainian communities fought against the white supremacists.

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