Categories: Testimonies

Testimony of Stan Yack, April 17, 2022

Good morning. 

My name is Stan Yack. I’ve been coming to Toronto First for 30 years. 

I grew up in a Jewish family, and I’m still a bit uncomfortable telling them that I attend church services. I went to Hebrew school and I had a Bar Mitzvah. I attended occasional High Holiday services, and all the culinary events, but I never really took to the religion. I remember sitting beside my snoring father at a Rosh Hashanah service while Rabbi Schild droned on.

I don’t remember encountering antisemitism, but I knew that prejudice existed. 

My father’s parents came to Canada before the 1st World War, from Stavisht, a shtetl near Kiev. I’m sure that they experienced antisemitism, but they left the old country before the Holocaust, as did my mother’s parents, who came from Warsaw.

Zayde Yack, actually Yakubovitch, told us that he served as a sharpshooter in the Russo-Japanese war. He was fluently unintelligible in multiple languages. 

Zayde had a fruit store in Kensington Market, half a century before that area became infested with pot shops. He used to ride the Bathurst bus north to Wilson to deliver us a basket of fresh peaches.


On August 16th, 1933, six months after the Enabling Act laid the foundation for the Nazification of Germany, violence erupted at Toronto’s Christie Pits between the Swastika Club and the mostly Jewish Harbord Playground baseball team who were playing their local rivals, St. Peter’s.

Provocateurs unaffiliated with either team took to the field waving an improvised swastika banner and returned that evening to paint a swastika alongside the words “Hail Hitler” on the roof of the clubhouse. They told the Toronto Star that they wanted to “get the Jews out of the park.”

My uncles Dave and Noomie both became professional boxers. Noomie, dubbed “Baby Yack” by a Toronto sports writer because he was younger and smaller than his brother, was for a time the Canadian amateur bantamweight champion. He and another Jewish boxer, Sammy Luftspring, were invited but refused to go to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The family called my uncle “Noomie”, from his Hebrew name “Binyamin”. In English he was “Norman”.

As my fellow high school horn player Harvey Starkman reported in his Hamilton Spectator article:

The Depression years offered struggling, street-tough working-class kids, often “outsiders,” the sons of Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants, a chance to fight for recognition, for respect, and for the prospect of making big dollars in the boxing ring.

My uncles weren’t at Christie Pits when the riot started, but they soon joined an army of Jews, Italians and others who rushed there to confront the Nazis. My uncles had ordered my father, the youngest at not quite 14 years old, to stay home. With his two older brothers professional boxers, my Dad never had to fight much. 

According to The Canadian Encyclopaedia

Jewish combatants eventually gained possession of the swastika banner and tore it to shreds. Despite this, the violence continued unabated in the surrounding streets. The handful of police on duty were initially overwhelmed by the scale of the riot. Uniformed reinforcements arrived on both horseback and motorcycle. By the early morning, the violence was quelled.

The riot was largely forgotten until 1987 with the publication of The Riot at Christie Pits by Cyril Levitt and William Shaffir. By then the riots had become something of a legend in the Toronto Jewish community. Many fathers and uncles remembered being there, including some born after the riots took place.


The Christie Pits riot was a sign that Canada had a serious problem with race relations in general, and antisemitism in particular. Due to the unprecedented level of violence, Toronto mayor William James Stewart promised to prosecute future displays of swastikas. That was one of Canada’s first policies prohibiting hate speech.

Other lessons from the riot would take longer to learn. Of countries that took in refugees during the Second World War, Canada accepted one of the fewest numbers of Jews fleeing Nazism. 

Due to a policy supported by Prime Minister Mackenzie King, in May 1939 Canada refused entry for 937 passengers aboard the MS St Louis, mostly Jews driven out of Germany by the violent persecutions of the Nazi state. 

A Canadian immigration agent was asked “How many Jews will be allowed into Canada after the war.” He replied: “None is too many”. 

Even today, prejudice against Jews, Muslims and other ethnic and faith groups remains shockingly common in Canada, where in 2020 hate crimes increased 37%.

May we all find a way to end that. 

Zichronam livracha

May their memory be a blessing.