Written by: Jane Ernszt
On the 16th of August 1933 Christie Pits playground (which at the time was known as Willowvale Park) was host to a six-hour riot. St. Peter’s baseball team was winning against Harbord Playground (team name?), a predominantly Jewish team, in the junior baseball league’s semi-final. At the end of the game (which the Peter’s won) a group of trouble makers who went by the name of the “Pit Gang” went to the southwest entrance of the park and pulled out a white sheet with a with a big, black swastika.
The riot took place during the Great Depression and six months after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. The Toronto papers reported on how Jewish people were being dismissed from their jobs and were victims of acts of violence in Germany. So already the swastika was a symbol of degradation and physical violence toward the Jewish people. At the time being Jewish in Toronto in 1933 meant you were subject to discrimination. “You’d hear ‘dirty Jew’ all the time,” said Joe Black, an 88-year-old Toronto native who was seven at the time and a witness of the riot for an article with the Globe and Mail.
Two nights earlier, at the first game between the two teams a swastika was displayed and the police were warned that there might be trouble at the second game but the police ignored the warnings. So when the game had ended and the white sheet with the black sign was pulled out most of the Harbord team and a number of Jewish boys and young men ran over to destroy the sign. Supporters of both sides came from all over the area surrounding the park to fight. Joe Black remembers a Nazi sympathizer coming into his fathers shop on the corner of Bloor and Montrose, to use the payphone to call for backup. Mr. Blacks father grabbed the young mans arm and held it behind his back when he passed out from the pain and his father had to drag him out to the street.
It was estimated that there were 10,000 people involved in the riot, no deaths only many, many injuries. In an article in the Toronto Sun, Joe Black said that he remembered there being “a lot of blood spilled that day, I’ll tell you that, I can remember seeing the park the next day”. A few days after the riot Mayor Stewart banned the Swastika from being displayed in public.
In August 2008, on the 75th anniversary of the riot, a heritage Toronto plaque was presented to commemorate, and remember the horrible acts of discrimination towards the Jewish people in Toronto.