Illustrating hateful history

Upcoming graphic novel Christie Pits tackles 1933 Toronto race riot

The graphic novel Christie Pits is a historic fictional retelling of the race riots in Toronto in 1933 that spurred legislation on hate speech. It has about two weeks left to meet its funding goal of $7,500 through Kickstarter.

Before Dec. 15, local graphic novel author Jamie Michaels hope to raise $2,500 to publish a graphic novel called Christie Pits that tells the story of a race riot in Toronto in 1933. The story is currently in the illustration phase, and will be ready to print come March 2018 if Michaels meets his funding goal.

The true story of the 10,000-person Toronto race riot inspired Michaels to write the novel. The riot started at a baseball field when an anti-Semitic group unfurled a flag with a swastika painted on it after the final inning of the game. The match was between a predominately Jewish team and a predominately Protestant church team. When people rushed the stands to destroy the flag, supporters from both sides, plus members of an adjacent Italian neighbourhood, rioted for six hours in Christie Pits Park.

“It’s an amazing story, and as a Jew who is born in Canada but is the son of a father who immigrated, it’s a little personal” Said Michaels.

Michaels has written a previous graphic novel, Canoe Boys, that was published in 2016. He wrote the story for Christie Pits, and illustrator Doug Fedrau will bring it to life.

“It’s a fascinating story, and Jamie and I both agreed we’re surprised it’s not a more commonly known story. It kind of started the conversation about hate crime legislation in Canada,” Fedrau said.

Michaels wrote the novel before events earlier this year that have focused public attention on racism and hate speech, such as the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally that resulted in one death and nineteen injuries. He said that he revisited his writing after that event to add nuance to his characters.

“I re-wrote 24 pages after the Charlottesville events because I thought, ‘Look at how prominent this is and look at how visceral this hatred is.’ Everything in history is nuanced, some things are less nuanced than others,” Michaels said.

“I had to look again at how I was doing nuance in this book and say some of these characters will have nuances, some of these people are from areas that are impoverished in the states, rust belts, they maybe don’t have the educational backing most of us are fortunate to receive, and differing factors maybe brought them out that day,” he said.

Part of Michaels’ motivation in writing this novel came from seeing the similarities in treatment that immigrants receive in Canada, now and in the past.

“I think though in that general spirit of how immigrants are treated and how immigrants are treated now, maybe we’re not that far from 1933, and that’s why that story is pertinent today,” Michaels said.

“I’m thinking in North America in general, but also in Canada in particular, in terms of some of the reactions experienced by Syrian refugees. I think that we have a long way to go still as a nation in the way we theorize and represent immigration.”

The novel will follow a different character in each chapter, and Michaels says that as their stories intertwine, readers will get the sense of a whole neighbourhood of characters that were effected by ther riot.

Fedrau says he hopes the novel and its historic story can reach a broader audience because it’s a graphic novel, a medium he said is easier to digest.

“Its an important story that people aren’t really aware of, and it helps maybe engage the conversation with the different generations because it’s a medium that speaks to younger generations, and it could just help to encourage dialogue with them,” he said.


Christie Pits is expected to print in March 2018, provided that the Kickstarter campaign reaches its goal of $7,500 by Dec. 15.