84 years ago this week, in August of 1933 members of Toronto’s Italian and other non-Protestant communities joined Jewish Torontonians in an uprising that drove white fascists from Toronto’s public spaces and would later lead to the banning of the swastika in Toronto. What would come to be known as “The Christie Pits Riot” was named for the park at the epicenter of the uprising.
In the 1930’s, Toronto was still deeply linked to British Colonial authority. The many Immigrant communities who, allowed to come to Toronto as “cheap Labor”, were treated with derision that often turned into outright hostility and violence.
Even before the rise of Fascism around the world had led to the ascendance of Nazism in Germany, ethnic nationalism and racial violence were not foreign to Southern Ontario. Prior to the 1930’s, there were several active Ku Klux Klan chapters in Ontario. After Hitler’s rise to power, Toronto’s white nationalists and ethno-chauvinists became increasingly bold and violent towards anyone not of British, white and Protestant descent, and in particular the Jewish Community.
As Toronto’s largest minority, Jews were often targets of Anti-Semitism, with many establishments banning Jews completely and posting “gentiles only” or “No Dogs or Jews allowed” signs. The economic hardship of the global depression spurred increasing resentment and “scapegoating” of all nonwhite-protestant citizens of Toronto. As reported by the CBC on august 16 2013, Wayne Reeves, chief curator for City of Toronto Museums told the Associated Press.
“Catholics were attacked, Jews were hated, blacks were hated, Chinese were hated… and in 1933 the notion was (that) non-gentiles are not welcome in some of Toronto’s key public spaces”.
On August 14th Toronto’s racial tensions boiled over after Nazi sympathizers, members of the Balmy Beach Swastika club and supporters of the St. Peter’s baseball team unfurled a large (newly popularized) Swastika banner during a game against the predominantly Jewish Harbord Playground team – The Jewish team won, but the next morning there was a Giant Swastika and Heil Hitler painted on the Baseball clubhouse.
On August 16th during the next game in the series, The white supremacists once again raised a Nazi banner, and when Jews in the crowd went to relieve them of their banner and the erroneous notion that Jews would not defend themselves…. The uprising began.
When news of the fighting spread Protestant whites joined the Nazi sympathizers. When a Jewish boy was sent to the hospital (rumoured to have died) Jews, Italians and other allies from the downtown core joined the fighting. The battle lasted through the night and at its height is thought to have involved 10,000 people.
The Christie Pits “Riot” was a triumph of solidarity over an attempt to advance white supremacy in Toronto. With allies putting their safety on the line to join in the defense of the Jewish Community when it was under attack.
The Christie Pits uprising should be a lesson on the power of organizing and action in deep solidarity. A lesson that can and should inform our struggle to push back against rising Fascism, white supremacy and even resurgent Nazism in 2017….. In 1933 Jews, as the largest minority in the city, were the predominant target, today we are among a proud and diverse community of peoples under attack.
If we connect our struggles we can push back on the threat and we can all win, but if we continue to silo our organizing, issues, and activist cultures, we do so at our own peril by clearing a path to victory for our age old and true enemies: Hate & white supremacy.