The Riot at Christie Pits

The Riot at Christie Pits

It happened in the fiery summer of 1933, in Toronto – now the world’s most multi-racial city. Using contemporary and historical footage, reenactments and eyewitness accounts, the film offers insight, compassion and humour-and a warning that hatred can lurk in the heart of any city.

In the Depression-era Toronto of 1933, 80% of the population are of British descent and the civic power of the Protestant Orange Order is supreme. Resentment towards ethnic minorities, especially Italians and Jews, is exacerbated by the economic hardships and by racist propaganda filtering in from Germany, where Hitler has just gained power. Toronto’s minorities become the scapegoat for the city’s woes.

At Christie Pits park on a hot August evening in 1933, the racial tensions finally snap. As an amateur softball game between a Jewish and a Gentile team ends, a huge swastika flag is unfurled to inflammatory shouts of “Heil Hitler!” A riot explodes. Police are slow to intervene, and reinforcements for both sides pour in from nearby neighbourhoods. A mob of over 10,000 rampages for eight hours and hundreds are injured. By early morning, both the swastika flag and the city’s reputation lie in tatters.

Vivid accounts from eyewitnesses form the heart of the film. Jocko Thomas spent the night of his 20th birthday covering the riot for The Toronto Star. Joe Black was only eight when he watched the riot rage outside his family grocery store. Media personality Johnny Lombardi was then a teenager who joined in, brandishing a chair. Other eye­witnesses include revered boxing champion Sammy Luftspring, social activist Toby Ryan and Irv Lasky, who was the Harbord team’s catcher that fateful night.

Based on an award-winning book, The Riot at Christie Pits is an historical story as gripping and urgent as the nightly news. It sheds light on the dark past of a city that remains a beacon of hope to immigrants from around the world.

Produced by Breakthrough Films &: Television Inc., in association with the CanWest Global System, with the participation of Telefilm Canada, Ontario Film Development Corporation, Multiculturalism Programs of Heritage Canada and the National Film Board of Canada © 1996 Breakthrough Films & Television Inc.

You may also like

Cry of the Ancestors
Small Inuit communities battle for survival against the harsh climate and the risk of famine.
Igor Gouzenko and the start of the Cold War in Canada
There have been few times in the History of the World when Canada has been Centre Stage. There were a few during the Great War, but the last time was certainly D-Day ... or was it?
Lost Battlefields
A supplemental documentary to the For King & Empire TV Series.
Manotick War Memorial
War Memorials are an integral part of our ability to connect to our history. They are central to our act of Remembrance.
Searching for Vimy's Lost Soldiers
Covers Norm Christie’s quest to find and recover forty-four Canadian burials in the lost Vimy cemetery, CA40.
Secret Liberators
The Episode deals with four Canadians, who as part of the Special Operations Executive, ran underground operations against the Nazi occupiers, and provided a spirit of resistance to the isolated French people.
Striking Back
Battlefields, cemeteries and memorials of the legacy and sacrifice of Canadians in the Dieppe Raid and Bomber Command.
The Collectors
The Collectors features Alex Caldwell, a young Canadian soldier who died of wounds during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, recounted through the remarkable commemorative collection of Gary Roncetti.
The Path Ahead
The Mohawks of Akwesasne in the Saint Lawrence Valley in Ontario and the Nlaka’pamux in the Stein Valley of British Columbia are featured in this 1991 exploration of the Native people’s response to pollution of their environment. With Graham Greene.
The Power of the Land
Using powerful testimonials and rare archival footage, the film conveys how colliding perspectives of the land and development must be reconciled in the years to come to ensure indigenous and global environmental survival.
The Trench
The Elgin’s 31 Combat Engineer Regiment build a trench based on construction plans originally used in World War 1, Belgium and France, 1914 - 1918
Toronto the Good
Eyewitnesses to the riot recall life in Toronto during the 1920s and 1930s.