Christie Pits is one of the most multicultural neighbourhoods in Toronto. Long a popular destination for recent immigrants to the city looking for a first home, the area has become, in recent years, a more permanent destination for many. Nestling alongside the upscale neighbourhoods of The Annex, Seaton Village and Bloorcourt Village, Christie Pits has become steadily more desirable, while maintaining its enchanting mix of European, Korean, South Asian, Caribbean and South and Central American flavours.
One of the major reasons the neighbourhood has become so popular, of course, is the presence of Christie Pits itself, making the area ideal for families or those with a yen for the active life. Perhaps the most famous park in the city, Christie Pits, as a recreational area, dates back to the turn of the 20th century, although its existence as an industrial quarry dates back much further. The Pits also was the site of one of the more infamous events in Toronto history, the 1933 riots between a group of racists displaying swastikas and the predominantly Jewish fans of a local baseball team. The riots helped to crystalize opposition in Toronto to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.
Today, bordered by Dupont Street on the north, Ossington Avenue on the west, Bloor Street on the south and Christie Street on the east, Christie Pits has become a much sought-after neighbourhood, with its proximity to the culture, varied restaurants and shopping of Bloor Street. Many of the homes in the area are detached or semi-detached and date to the early 1900s. As the area has become more upscale, many of the houses have been newly renovated, and new lofts, condos and apartment buildings have arrived on the scene.
History and Social Profile
The neighbourhood of Christie Pits, and especially Christie Street, is named after William Mellis Christie, who, in 1861, founded the Christie and Brown Cookie company, now famed for the slogan “Mr. Christie, you make good cookies.” In turn, Christie Pits itself is named after the street that borders it.
The Sand Pits operated from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, excavating much of the gravel, sand and clay used in the local roadways and buildings of the time. By 1909, the pits had been worked out, and the city took over the area, converting it into what was known as Willowvale Park, although the name of Christie Pits has been more popularly applied ever since.
In 1933, the area was the site of what’s been labelled the “Christie Pits riots.” Commemorated by a plaque in the park, the riots marked a clash between a group of racists displaying swastikas and the predominantly Jewish fans of the Harbord Playground team. At the time in Toronto, racism towards non-Anglo Saxon immigrants and residents was still rampant in the city. On August 14, of the so-called “Pit Gang,” also known as the “Swastika Club,” had unfurled as swastika during a baseball game. Two nights later, they did it again. This time, Jewish spectators, with allies from the Italian community fought back. The resulting five-hour brawl, involving iron bars and baseball bats, ended up on the streets, as well as on the front pages of every newspaper in the country.
A story in the Toronto Daily Star reported: “While groups of Jewish and Gentile youths wielded fists and clubs in a series of violent scraps for possession of a white flag bearing a swastika symbol at Willowvale Park last night, a crowd of more than 10,000 citizens, excited by cries of ‘Heil Hitler’ became suddenly a disorderly mob and surged wildly about the park and surrounding streets, trying to gain a view of the actual combatants, which soon developed in violence and intensity of racial feeling into one of the worst free-for-alls ever seen in the city. Scores were injured, many requiring medical and hospital attention…. Heads were opened, eyes blackened and bodies thumped and battered as literally dozens of persons, young or old, many of them non-combatant spectators, were injured more or less seriously by a variety of ugly weapons in the hands of wild-eyed and irresponsible young hoodlums, both Jewish and Gentile.”
Many in Toronto criticized the lack of police response to the racist provocation, and the mayor of Toronto at the time stated that anybody displaying the swastika in the city could face prosecution.
A plaque commemorating the riots was installed in 2008.
Today, the park offers three baseball diamonds. The largest is called Dominico Field, named for the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League, who play their home games on the field, as do the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and various local high school teams.
The park also offers a swimming pool, an outdoor ice rink, a football and soccer field, basketball courts and a playground, and ample green space for concerts, festivals and picnics. And in winter, Christie Pits is one of the most popular areas in the city for winter sports, especially tobogganing, due to the sharply sloping sides of the park from its use as a quarry.
- AFC Ajuker Canada
- Tofu Village
- Bristol Yard
- Banjara Indian Cuisine
- Hogtown Vegan
- La Bella Managua
- Universal Grill
- Mexitaco Taqueria
- Hub Coffee House and Locavorium
- Christie Station
- Ossington Station
Buses run along Dupont Street, Christie Street and Ossington Avenue, and along Bloor Street after the subway closes.
- Essex Junior and Senior Public School, 50 Essex Street, 416-393-0717
- Montrose Junior Public School, 301 Montrose Avenue, 416-393-9770
- Dewson Street Junior Public School, 65 Concord Avenue, 416-393-9120
- Harbord Collegiate Institute, 286 Harbord Street, 416-393-1650