From Vimy Ridge to Christie Pits
Vimy Ridge, April 1917, a dreadful battle where many brave men died. Of course, we should honor their memories. Unfortunately, Vimy Ridge continues to be presented in Canadian history as the battle that “made” Canada as “we” know it, a country “forged” in their sacrifice.
I’ve never been sure who the “we” are supposed to be. It’s hard to understand any of this when you are an immigrant from a country that suffered 1,000 years of British rule. I cannot imagine how perplexing this narrative must be for people from further afield.
Let’s examine what was going on at Vimy Ridge: Brave men died in a war about the power of empire, a clash between the British empire, the German empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Russian empire. Canadians were there along with our less fortunate colonial colleagues to defend the “motherland”. Canada was, after all, a Dominion so I guess we felt kind of special and we should die more.
Somehow, as Canadians, we are supposed to believe that Canada was “formed in the mud and blood at Vimy Ridge”. Every year this battle is trotted out with the same pomp and circumstance. Politicians actually use the words I put in quotes.
It may be more appropriate to see Vimy Ridge as the start of the end of an era in Canada — the era of white British settlement and expansion across native lands. But unfortunately, the somewhat kind and well-meaning white folks in Canada have fought a rearguard action ever since Vimy Ridge, from the Group of Seven, through cottages in Muskoka, to the true white man’s game — Hockey. A world of white privilege and a false narrative.
The Canada I know and love, and real start of Canada as most of us know, was a more modest and less publicized event that took place 16 years later in Toronto — the Riots at Christie Pits.
Nothing more elaborate than a baseball game, no clash of empires, no cannon fodder, no Lord Kitchener, no Kaiser, no Victoria crosses, no one killed in fact. Just a local, predominately Jewish, baseball team provoked with swastikas by local white thugs. And, unlike Vimy Ridge, this story had a happy ending.
The team called up their Italian friends, including all the members of the local boxing club and pounded the crap out of the local proto-Nazis. It was the beginning and end of Nazis in Toronto. Who does not like a good story where Nazis get a beating? That’s something to celebrate.
The next time you’re near Bloor and Christie in downtown Toronto, step into Christie Park, smell the history and think about those brave unsung Jewish and Italian amateur baseball players (and boxers) that created the real Canada, the real narrative.
6 August 1933 Christie Pits