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File:Christie Pits
The only known photograph of the Christie Pits riot
The Christie Pits riot occurred on 16 August 1933 at the Christie Pits playground in Toronto, Canada. It was a race riot which pitted the "Anglo-Canadian Pit Gang" (predominantly "Anglo" - English-descended, anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi, affiliated with the Swastika Clubs) against the "Spadina Avenue Gang" (Jewish and Italian). The riot, which lasted six hours, broke out after a baseball game at Christie Pits Park between two local clubs, Harbord Playground, predominantly Jewish, and St. Peter's, predominantly Anglo from the "East End".

The riot occurred the year after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany and in the midst of the Great Depression.

At that time, the Jewish community in Toronto was predominantly poor and working class. They were also the subject of discrimination and were excluded from summer resorts outside of the city. Jewish families and youths in particular would therefore cool off during the hot summer months by staying in town and going to the predominantly Anglo Beaches area in order to swim. This resulted in complaints and resentment from some local residents. Some of the locals formed "Swastika Clubs", which openly displayed the Nazi symbol to express their displeasure and make Jews feel unwanted.[1]

The night of the riot was the second game between Harbord and St. Peter's. Two nights earlier, at the first game of the series, a swastika had been displayed. Police were warned that there could be trouble at the second game, but those warnings were ignored. After the final out of the second game, Pit Gang members displayed a blanket with a large swastika painted on it. Spadina Avenue Gang members responded to the display, and a riot ensued.

The Toronto Daily Star described the event the next day:

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.

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".[2]

The riot revealed the xenophobic attitudes toward Jews and other non-Anglo immigrants among Anglo Canadians. Jews represented the largest minority in Toronto in 1933 and were thus a target of xenophobic residents.

In August 2008, a Heritage Toronto plaque was presented to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the riot.

References

  1. ^ "The Christie Pits Riot and the birth of multicultural Toronto", National Post, August 15, 2008
  2. ^ Toronto Daily Star, August 17, 1933.

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