Battle at the Ballpark

Graphic novel presents riot at a Toronto park ‘at 150 miles per hour, no seat belt.’

Written by Kaitlin Vitt

Posted April 17, 2019

On August 16, 1933, a Canadian youth baseball game made history — for all the wrong reasons.

The game took place at a time when Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany and Jews in Canada were seen as second-class citizens. Some country clubs and private associations even had a “no Jews allowed” policy.

The St. Peter’s team beat Harbord Playground — a team with many Jewish players — at Toronto’s Christie Pits, then officially called Willowvale Park. At the end of the game, a pro-Nazi youth gang held up a flag with a swastika on it, sparking a mass riot.

Thousands of people fought each other, some with baseball bats and iron bars, in the riot that lasted more than five hours. No one was killed, but many were injured, and the clash left its mark on Toronto’s immigrant communities.

Though it made headlines at the time, the riot is largely unknown to many Canadians, says one Winnipeg writer. But he hopes that’s about to change.

Thirty-year-old Jamie Michaels has released the 144-page graphic novel Christie Pits, illustrated by Doug Fedrau and published by Dirty Water Comics.

“The lessons from Christie Pits cannot solve a global crisis,” Michaels said. “They are, however, an unambiguous reminder that those we demarcate as different all too easily become those we perform violence upon.”

Though the graphic novel is a work of fiction, the characters and events in it are grounded in history. To research Toronto’s history and the Canadian-Jewish experience, Michaels looked at academic works, archives, and newspapers to “get inside the heads” of his characters.

“I became consumed by the history of the riots, as well as the lack of public information about them,” Michaels said. “Public knowledge of these events is drastically disproportionate to both the amount they speak to their time in history as well as the relevance of their lessons for today.”

Michaels, who founded Dirty Water Comics, said the story of the riot has a comic’s soul — it had to be told in the form of a graphic novel.

“It makes this largely unknown history accessible in a way that works at a much quicker speed than a turgid historical textbook,” Michaels said. “We provide Canadian history at 150 miles per hour, no seat belt.”

Buy a copy of Christie Pits from Dirty Water Comics

This article originally appeared in the June-July 2019 issue of Canada’s History.

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