Five noteworthy books and videos about the Christie Pits Riot on its 88th anniversary

Christie Pits plaque overlooking the baseball diamond (Credit: Project Bookmark Canada)

On Aug. 16, 1933, Toronto’s Christie Pits park erupted after a group of men unfurled a homemade swastika flag following a baseball game involving a mostly Jewish team. The incident followed several anti-Jewish protests by Swastika Clubs.

As news of the incident spread, about 10,000 people became involved in a riot that would take hours for police to get under control.

One of the worst examples of ethnic conflict in Canadian history has also inspired a generation of authors and illustrators.

The Good Fight by Ted Staunton and Josh Rosen (2021)

A graphic novel published in June features three fictional preteens and their families navigating through the climate of rising antisemitism in 1933 Toronto. It was nominated for the Toronto Book Awards.

“It’s only much later that we start to realize how important of an event this was, in the way that people were standing up for themselves,” says Ted Staunton. “How shocking and striking that should have been.”

The Good Fight is a collaboration between Staunton, a young adult and children’s author, and Jewish illustrator Josh Rosen.

Staunton is the grandson of William Stewart, who was Toronto’s mayor during the riot. Stewart implemented Canada’s first anti-hate speech laws, banning public use of the swastika.

Despite the subject matter, Rosen says he hopes The Good Fight is a fun and inspiring story that depicts “a model for a Canadian Judaism that is tied to an immigrant tradition, a social justice tradition and a workers’ rights tradition.”

Christie Pits by Jamie Michaels and Doug Fedrau (2019)

This graphic novel offers a grittier depiction of the riot featuring fictional characters, but also real individuals.

Some faces in the crowd are borrowed from real-life attendees of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally that occurred in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017. One person was killed and 35 others were injured when a supporter rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors.

“I wanted to edit some sections to include illustrations of these white supremacists in the graphic novel drawn as members of the Swastika Club, because I feel that if you know you’re openly going to embrace Nazi values you should be publicly identified as such,” says Michaels. “This is kind of a subtle nod to immortalizing these groups of truly despicable people in black and white, and also kind of nodding at the correlation between the emotions that bring these people into these movements.”

The author hopes to visit more classrooms to talk about Christie Pits. He says the subject matter of the graphic novel remains topical and hopes it can be used to teach tolerance. 

Michaels is the author of the Canadian Encyclopedia article on the Christie Pits Riot, as well as the new Historica Canada video on the subject.

Christie Pits sold out following the Historica Canada video, prompting a second release which is now in the pre-order stage.

Currently in development is an animated version of the project, with the title North of Harbord.

“The worst anti-Semitic riot in Canada” (2021)

As part of a campaign to further multicultural education, Historica Canada released this educational video on June 4. The script was written by Jamie Michaels, the author of Christie Pits, along with its illustrations from Doug Fedrau.

“We’re looking for stories that showed some agency on the part of the communities in question,” says Historica Canada program manager Eli Yarhi. “We like to identify these stories in which those who were oppressed at the time are demonstrating some level of protection for their community in impactful ways.”

The video was one of the most successful non-Heritage Moments videos released by Historica Canada and received largely positive reviews. But a large number of negative and “unsettling” comments resulted in the decision to turn off comments on YouTube.

A secondary launch of the video coincided with the anniversary of the riot.

The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky by Aren X. Tulchinsky (2003)

The Christie Pits Riot is a major plot point in this novel about a Jewish family. Aren X. Tulchinsky (formerly Karen X. Tulchinsky) based the novel on stories told to him by his grandfather.

Project Bookmark Canada erected a plaque overlooking the Christie Pits baseball diamond in 2019, which also dras from The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky. The project used locations mentioned in books to form a “literary trail.”

This marker was the second commemorating the riot. The first plaque was unveiled by Heritage Canada upon the riot’s 75th anniversary in 2008.

The Riot at Christie Pits by Cyril Levitt and William Shaffir (1987)

This nonfiction book is based on newspaper accounts and testimonies from those who were present at the riot, while explaining the overall context and preceding events.

Fifty-four years after the riot, it marked the first substantial publication on the subject since the original newspaper coverage in 1933, with Levitt and Shaffir noting that secondary sources were almost nonexistent.

A documentary of the same name was released in 1996, which utilized historical footage, re-enactments and first-hand accounts from witnesses.

The revised edition was published in 2018 University of Toronto Press.

HEAR MORE: Canada’s worst race riot was 88 years ago today