Violent August» Violent August: The 1918 Anti-Greek Riots in Toronto – Documentary Film The 1918 Anti-Greek Riots in Toronto Thu, 02 Aug 2012 19:47:59 +0000 en hourly 1 Documentary Review Thu, 02 Aug 2012 18:27:58 +0000 John Burry Written by John Dash / Published on July 28th, 2012
4.5 out of 5

The wrenching scenario of leaving ones homeland to make a better life for the next generation is a seminal image that continues to play out around the world.  Today, the large and vibrant Toronto Greek community has woven itself into the business, social and political fabrics of this great city of ours with an endless out pouring of civic pride.  But life wasn’t always this gentle for the community. Violent August is masterfully narrated by Professor Thomas W. Gallant with unflinching detail on how the Toronto Greek community, through no fault of their own, became public enemy number one due to the unconscionable politics of World War I (“WWI”) and the insular mindset of the ruling class towards immigrants.

With the start of WWI in 1914, political divisions within Greece’s started between King Constantine’s push for neutrality up against Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos fervent demand to enter the war in support of Britain eventually rendered Greece neutral in the eyes of the world. And it was this neutral position that became the spark that lit the fuse which manifested into riots against the Toronto Greek community in the late summer of 1918.  Immigrants to Canada from countries officially at war with Canada were labeled Resident Aliens and summarily sent to internment camps such  as the Japanese in British Columbia during WWII. Greece’s neutrality meant the freedom to live and work in Canada but this posed a further problem politically for the Canadian government. The fact that Greece’s neutral position could change at any moment forced the Canadian government to defer enlistment of able bodied Greek men.

Further muddying the political situation was the reluctance of Greek men to fill out papers when conscription became law which only infuriated returning veterans who were willing to give their lives for their country.  With 1 in 7 vets returning from the war to a Toronto that was over crowded, busy, dirty and far from accommodating to the majority of crippled and demoralized veterans made the now smoldering situation incendiary.  In 1918, the successful Greek merchants owned 35% of the city cafes, restaurants and grocery stores which became the ultimate insult and the last straw as destitute vets struggle to survive while immigrants reap the spoils of business. This disenfranchisement couple with the laisse faire attitudes of the Canadian government and a misinformation campaign on Greek merchants by the veterans culminated in four days of rioting as 50,000 Torontonians, mostly Anglo-Saxon, rampaged through the streets of downtown targeting every Greek establishment. The ensuing melee became the worst anti-Greek riot in the world.

Producer, Writer, Director, John Burry has skillfully chronicled this little known but troubling chapter in Toronto’s historical legacy. With masterful used of newsreel footage, period stills, poignant Greek experiences and the creative use of interactive maps, the Visual Archives Research of Lynne Thorogood-Burry allows viewers to, not only move through the streets of Toronto but experience the overt racism the Greek community faced during those four days in August. It wasn’t enough that Greeks enlisted over 2,000 men to fight for their new country and show their allegiance to Canada . . . but they did.  It wasn’t enough that Greeks endured a litany of racist taunts in the face of an aloof and malcontent police force . . . but they did.  It wasn’t even enough for naturalized Greeks with Anglicised names to finally escape persecution  . . . because they couldn’t.  Violent August  reveals  in the most unvarnished way the inability of a city, and by default, a government  to fight for the plight of a community as they became fodder for all the ills of a city and a society in flux.

4.5 out of 5
4.5 out of 5

Violent August is a triumph in its revelation of the Toronto Greek experience.  Teachable moments on the politics of war and the effects of anti-immigrant racism makes this documentary required viewing for all who truly want to understand the other side of the Canadian experience. You can buy the DVD here.

Review by John Dash / Published on July 28th, 2012 [source]

]]> 0
The G20 Riots Were Hardly “Unprecedented” Fri, 13 Aug 2010 19:54:11 +0000 John Burry The recent G20 riots in Toronto have prompted many journalists to overstate the size and ferocity of the violence.  This isn’t really surprising – journalists often exaggerate the facts to add ‘drama’ to their reports.   But calling the recent violence “unprecedented” is really stretching the truth – as anyone who’s seen Violent August can attest.

During the two days of major rioting in August, 1918, Toronto Mayor Tommy Church stated that some 50,000 rioters took to the streets.  And while the Mayor, too, was probably exaggerating the facts to justify his draconian response to the rioting (locking down the city and threatening martial law) – it’s pretty clear that the crowds were at least 20,000 – 30,000 strong.  And if you remember that Toronto’s population at the time was only around 500,000, that means roughly 6% of Toronto’s good citizens were rioting.  To match those numbers, (conservatively putting Toronto’s population at two million), that would mean approximately 120,000 rioters would have been on the streets to truly make the G20 riot “unprecedented”.

]]> 0
Our Eternal Companion Thu, 12 Aug 2010 19:51:11 +0000 John Burry What many people find most shocking about Violent August is its depiction of Toronto.  It’s a Toronto whose racist behavior seems so at odds with the city we know – a city that promotes multiculturalism and celebrates its reputation for tolerance. As the film makes clear, however, this civic self-image is a very recent construct.

What Torontonians should find even more shocking is how openly racist the city, in fact the whole country, was as recently as 70 years ago.  Here’s what our beloved humorist and McGill professor Stephen Leacock wrote in 1930 about “foreign” (non-British) immigrants:

“A little dose of them may even, by variation, do good, like a minute dose of poison in a medicine…I am not saying that we should absolutely shut out and debar the European foreigner, as we should and do shut out the Oriental.  But we should in no way facilitate his coming.  Not for him the free ocean transit, nor the free coffee of the immigrant shed, nor the free land, nor the found job, nor the guaranteed anything. He is lucky if he is let in ‘on his own’.” (“Economic Prosperity in the British Empire”)

This is just a mild sample of attitudes that were very openly expressed in books, newspapers, and public discourse of the period.  As military historian J.L. Granatstein makes clear in the documentary, it was a very different Toronto than the one we know today.  The population was largely Anglo-Saxon and “foreigners” included anyone who wasn’t.  In fact, as Demetri Bazos and Jim Letros make clear when describing their experiences, racial slurs were pretty common in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s too.

And, if we’re being honest, who of us hasn’t recently heard a racist comment made by a friend or acquaintance. Toronto has certainly made major strides in publically condemning racist attitudes and comments, but let’s never delude ourselves that these attitudes will ever completely disappear. As long as we fear change, resist compromise and forget the lessons of history, racism will always be with us.

]]> 1
Share Violent August on YouTube Tue, 04 May 2010 21:27:13 +0000 John Burry ]]> 0 Share Violent August on Vimeo Tue, 04 May 2010 21:25:43 +0000 John Burry ]]> 1