Christie Pits Park, originally Willowvale Park, is a Toronto public recreational area located at 750 Bloor Street West at Christie Street, just west from the TTC Christie subway station. The surrounding area has a significant Korean and Latin American community.
The park has an area of 21.9 acres (8.9 ha), about half of which is grassed picnic areas, the rest being various sports fields. Sports facilities on the site include three baseball diamonds (one full-sized and fenced), basketball courts, a soccer/rugby/football field, ice rink, splash pad andpool. The sides of the pits are highly sloped, and are used in winter for tobogganing and related activities. Garrison Creek runs under "the pits", and can be clearly seen in winter. It is home to the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team, which plays in the Intercounty Baseball League.
The park was named after the Christie Sand Pits which were on the location until the early 1900s. The sand pits had been named after Christie Street, which was named after William Mellis Christie, co-founder of the Christie & Brown Cookie Company, now known simply as Mr. Christie.
On August 16, 1933, Christie Pits was the scene of a six-hour riot, mostly between the Anglo-Canadian Pit Gang (also called the Swastika-Club) and the predominantly Jewish Spadina Avenue Gang which also included many Italian members. One of the baseball diamonds was being used for a series of softball games between two local amateur teams, one of which predominantly consisted of Jewish players. Two nights earlier, at the first game of the series, there had been a display of a swastika and police were warned that there could be trouble at the second game. Those warnings were ignored, and after the second game, a blanket with a large swastika painted on it was displayed by members of the Pit Gang. The Spadina Avenue Gang at the game responded to the display, and a riot ensued. The Toronto Daily Star captured the event the next day,
"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".
A Heritage Toronto plaque was presented to commemorate the 75th anniversary in August 2008. The riot underscored the xenophobic attitudes toward Jews and other non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants. Jews represented the largest minority in Toronto in 1933 and were thus a target of xenophobic, non-Jewish residents. The riot at Christie Pits occurred during the rise of Hitler and the swastika symbol in Germany. The riot also coincided with a growing presence of the Swastika Club on Toronto's beaches and ethnic resistance in the Spadina-College district. News headlines and articles describing the brutalities against Jews in Germany were described in Toronto's newspapers. Locally, the rise of the Swastika Club and their media attention in Toronto's newspapers had weakened racial tolerance by popularizing the debate over the swastika. Finally, the riot at Christie Pits underlined the long-term ethnic tension that had been festering in Toronto for many years.
Friends of Christie Pits Park
In August of 2007 a Friends of Christie Pits Park group was formed. It is currently active in organizing events and advocating on behalf of the Park.
The smaller baseball diamond is located next to the washroom facilities. There are three baseball fields at the Pits. The large and main venue is in the northeast corner of the park. The field has limited seating capacity with bench seats along the first and third bases with most spectators sitting along the grass hills. A wood broadcast booth is located at the top of the northeast corner. There are no change rooms at this field, players change in the washrooms near the concession stand beyond centre field. The park hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs of Intercounty Baseball, U of T's Varsity Blues, and local high school games.
2009 city workers strike
At 12:15am on 21 June, inside and outside workers, including garbage collectors, went on strike after negotiations between the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the city failed to produce an agreement. It was later announced that the park would be used as a temporary dumpsite for refuse. The decision to use the park to store garbage prompted protests from area residents. On 2 July, some residents filed a complaint with the Ministry of the Environment about the dumpsite.