This play teaches kids about the Toronto race riot right where it happened

On a sunny day this week, a group of Toronto teenagers sitting on the sidelines of a baseball diamond saw a vivid lesson in a Canadian story that remains unknown to many.

The venue performance transported them to Depression-era Toronto, when anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment erupted in the city paralleled the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany; the history of the country.

Watching performers portray the era when swastika-wielding provocateurs and rising racial tensions sparked a brawl involving more than 10,000 people in a downtown park really brought history to life for 8th grader Hana Ise.

“It’s much more effective because it’s easier to understand when you see it right in front of you,” the 14-year-old said.

Display more “influential” locally

New production, Christie Pits Riot, coincides with the 90th anniversary of the riot. This was a personal effort for Sam Rosenthal, who co-wrote, co-produced and directed the show, which was created by his Hogtown Collective partner Drew Carnwath.

During a riot that broke out at a baseball game where one of the teams was mostly Jewish, Rosenthal’s grandfather thought about his store down the street. His father grew up a few blocks from the park.

WATCH |: The Christie Pits Riot provides students with an on-site history lesson.

this play teaches kids about the Toronto race riot right where it happened

The new play explores the rise of anti-Semitism in 1930s Toronto

Christie Pits Riot delves into the rise of anti-Semitism and the struggle between immigrant communities and swastika-wearing racists in 1930s Toronto.

“This is my family’s story,” he said. “My father and grandfather, this is their neighborhood, so it touches me deeply.”

For others, Carnwath says the immersive, site-specific approach helps the story resonate on a more personal and emotional level.

“It’s one thing to sit in a dark room and watch a play as if you were watching a movie, but when the actors are as close to the audience as I am to you right now, you can literally stand side by side. shoulders and feel what they’re feeling,” Carnwath said.

“It’s just more compelling.” The couple hopes to get the general public involved in the show and perhaps tour it.

Watching the production made a strong impression on 13-year-old student Chloe Douglas.

“I didn’t know any of those things happened in Toronto. “I honestly thought it was in Germany,” he said.

Three smiling teenagers stand against a wire fence around an outdoor baseball diamond in a city park.
From left, Chloe Douglas, Hana Ise and Ron Sanchez were among the Toronto students who participated in the show. (Nazima Valji/CBC)

“2023 is very appropriate.

Whether learning about it from a play, graphic novel, podcasts, film or any other medium, Jamie Michaels believes the 1933 riot is not just Toronto history, but something everyone should learn.

The English literature doctoral student didn’t hear about the Christie Pits Riot until after her undergraduate degree, but the tale both shocked her and inspired her to create a graphic novel about it.

“I am a young Jewish Canadian. I have had similar experiences in a similar sporting context and this, I felt, was shocking. How can this be a new story for me?” said Michaels, who is a faculty member and PhD candidate at the University of Calgary.

He recalled growing up in Winnipeg and, as an eighth-grader, attending a baseball tournament where, at one point, students from an opposing school began hurling anti-Semitic slurs. It eventually sparked a fight in the crowd.

With his graphic novel Christy PittsMichaels urges Canadians to “see this hatred as part of a continuum that we’re still fighting against… It’s definitely a book that addresses the events of 1933, but it’s a book that’s very important for 2023,” he said. : .

A man in a blue turtleneck stands next to a smiling man in a black turtleneck in a park.
Sam Rosenthal, right, and Drew Carnwath co-created the play Christie Pits Riot. Their Toronto troupe will be performing for more students throughout May and June. (Nazima Valji/CBC)

The riot erupted “in a Canada that had intolerance as a core value, and I think sharing that history and understanding that history allows us to learn from it, and allows us to fight the same rise in intolerance that we see today.”

Hate ‘can cascade us all’

Students who watched Christie Pits Riot some outstanding adults joined this week.

“We need to learn from our history so we’re not doomed to repeat it,” said Ontario Education Minister Stephen Leche, whose government is making Holocaust education mandatory in the sixth-grade curriculum and has invested in community groups to create educational resources. to fight against anti-Semitism.

“We must be very vigilant in the fight against hatred. And yes, it’s not just against the Jewish community. We see hatred being displayed against many faiths and religious communities and others, including the LGBTQ community,” he said.

“When it starts with one group, as we know throughout history, it can cascade down to all of us.”

Retired senator Linda Frum said Canadians should not “let go of difficult chapters in our history … Hate and intolerance is something that happens here as it happens elsewhere.”

Two actors wearing newsboy caps, button-down shirts, and belted baggy pants talk while performing outside in a city park.
‘It’s one thing to sit in a dark room and watch a play,’ said Carnwath. But with the immersive show, “you can literally stand shoulder to shoulder and feel what they’re feeling.” (Nazima Valji/CBC)

However, Frum, who chairs the United Jewish Caucus of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism and Hate Committee, also pointed to another important part of Christy Pitts’ story: was opposed to Jewish baseball players.

“There’s a broader lesson there about solidarity between communities and standing up for other communities,” he said.

A man in glasses and a dark button-down shirt leans over a drafting table to make notes in the margin.
Jamie Michaels was shocked to learn about the riot and was inspired to create a graphic novel about it. (Presented by Jamie Michaels)

That point was not lost on Ron Sanchez, 14, who said he learned “valuable lessons” about tolerance, kindness and allyship from the Hogtown Collective performance.

“The Italians and the Jewish people stood up for each other throughout racism, even though they knew it might offend them. I think it should be more often,” said the 8th grade student.

“People who care about each other and also don’t [judging] people from their religion or the things they believe in.”

Toronto students can see Christie Pits Riot during May and June.

A pair of graphic novel panels show the Toronto Star on the left with
Michaels says his graphic novel “sets the events of 1933, but it’s a book that’s very relevant to 2023.” (Presented by Jamie Michaels)

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