Swastika Triggers Race Riot at Christie Pits

July 16, 1933

Christie Pits

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At a softball game on 16 August 1933, Jewish youth collectively responded to years of open harassment and discrimination in an overwhelmingly Protestant Toronto.

Christie Pits riot, 1933, Courtesy City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 30791.

That evening, just months after Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, 10,000 fans flocked to Willowvale Park (popularly called Christie Pits) to watch the semifinal match between Harbord Playground, a mostly Jewish team, and St. Peter’s, a church-sponsored squad. Tensions had been mounting for weeks and minor skirmishes between Jewish fans and the so-called “Pits Gang” took place throughout the game. As the game ended, a St. Peter’s supporter unfurled a large swastika flag as others chanted “Heil Hitler!” Infuriated, Jewish youth rushed at the flag bearer. A violent five-hour brawl broke out with each side wielding any weapon they could find, including bats, lead pipes, and bottles. A false rumour that a Jewish boy had been killed quickly spread into Jewish neighbourhoods and truckloads of Jewish toughs, accompanied by their Italian friends, raced to join the fight.

Though no one was killed, Torontonians were shocked by the violence. Mayor Stewart questioned the inadequate response of the Chief of Police to warnings of impending violence, and stated that anyone displaying the swastika emblem would be liable to prosecution.

By Melissa Caza

Christie Pits riot, 1933, Courtesy City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 30791. View the image gallery