Image: Christie Pits (1933), City of Toronto Archives
It’s easy to imagine Toronto as removed from the violence of anti-semitism and the rise of Adolf Hitler, but on an August evening in 1933, the animosity that troubled the streets of Berlin emerged in Toronto during a baseball game at Christie Pits. Earlier in 1933, Adolf Hitler emerged as the winner of the German election with a populist platform that promised the return of good fortune and pride to Germany after a decade and a half of economic misery. The riot that ensued in Toronto was a reflection of the global spread of Hitler’s white supremacist views.
During a neighbourhood baseball game between the Harbord Playground team and another represented by St.Peter’s church a couple of days before the brawl, someone pulled out a white flag containing a swastika. The action mobilized supporters and opponents of the Nazi Party. Up to 10,000 people converged upon the park as the game suddenly became a platform for racial politics, and soon enough, young men brawled for over five hours in what the Toronto Daily Star called “one of the worst free-for-alls ever seen in the city.”
Stabbings and beatings forced several young men on both sides to go to Toronto Western Hospital, many of whom were simply bystanders drawn by the crowd. The Daily Star claimed that the violence was due in part to many in the crowd chanting “Heil, Hitler”, the common Nazi German salute, towards those the Germans had already begun victimizing.
That very year, Adolf Hitler kickstarted twelve years of persecution, violence and genocide against Jews, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and political dissidents, though even his supporters could not have predicted the horrific extent of the Third Reich.
Even after using horses, billie clubs, and even exhaust smoke from motorcycles, the crowds at Christie Pits failed to disperse in an orderly manner. Only at 2am did the fighting begin to dissipate.
According to the Toronto Daily Star, “[h]eads were opened, eyes blacked and bodies thumped and battered as literally dozens of persons, young and 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.”
Recently, author Jamie Michael and illustrator Doug Fedrau published a graphic novel called Christie Pits, about the riots. The book examines both the events as well as the social climate of Toronto and Nazi Germany at the time.
Learn more about the Christie Pits riot through The Canadian Encyclopedia.