Greeks among Toronto’s most successful ethnic groups

For a pre-Olympic feature on the Greek community in Toronto, the Toronto Star Aug. 13 extensively quoted Thomas Gallant, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in Modern Greek History. It was during the 1950s, with the mass influx of labourers from southern Europe, that the community took a significant place in Toronto, he said. “Greece underwent a civil war from 1945 to 1949 and after the civil war is when the community here really becomes the community we know today.” 

While many of the mid-century Greek immigrants came over as labourers, the community quickly developed a professional and merchant class that has made it one of the city’s most successful ethnic groups, he said. His own Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair at York was created with a $2.5 million endowment raised largely within the Greek business community. “One of the characteristics of the community is how well it has been able to move in Canadian society,” said Gallant, whose mother was from Greece. 

Toronto can also claim a connection with the upper echelons of Greek politics, said the Star. Former Greek prime minister Andreas Papandreou, late father of former Greek foreign minister George Papandreou, taught economics at York University from 1969 to 1974.

The integration of the earliest Greek immigrants into Toronto’s Anglo fabric was not always harmonious, however. Indeed, Gallant has recently been researching a particularly ugly, yet little-known, chapter in the community’s relations with established city residents in the early part of the last century. “In August of 1918, one of the largest, if not the largest, riot in Toronto history was an anti-Greek riot,” he said. “More than 40 Greek businesses were destroyed, the city was put under martial law, troops were brought in and it took days of street fighting to restore order.”

Alum hopes to compete on Beijing beach

York grad Richard Van Huizen is hoping to go to the Olympics – in Beijing, China, in 2008, reported the Langley, BC, AdvanceNews. The Langley beach volleyball player and his partner Conrad Leinemann finished their season as the 33rd ranked men’s team in the world. In the ultra-competitive world of beach volleyball, only the top 22 teams get to go to this month’s 2004 Athens Olympics. The 6’8″, 245-pound left-handed hitter started out playing the indoor game. After two years at Redeemer University College in Hamilton, where he was a two-time OUA All Star, Van Huizen attended York University from 1995 to 1998, where he was an All Canadian. (He graduated in 1998 with an honours BA in psychology and sociology.) His indoor skills earned him a living in Holland, where he played professionally in Apeldoorn for two years. A knee injury forced him off the hardwood and onto the soft sand. He joined forces with Leinemann in 2004. “We definitely expect to be in Beijing,” Van Huizen said. “We want to be among the top 10 teams in the world in two years.”

On air:

  • Richard Leblanc, contract faculty at York’s Schulich School of Business and an expert on corporate governance, talked about what makes for a good board of directors, on CBC Winnipeg’s “Information Radio,” broadcast throughout Manitoba Aug. 12.
  • CBC-TV’s flagship news show “The National” talked with York’s Alex Pomson, a specialist in Jewish teacher education who is moving with his family to Israel, for a story about Israeli immigration. Pomson is on leave as a professor in the Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Arts.