1918 anti-Greek riot a dark episode in Toronto’s history

According to York history Professor Thomas Gallant, the 1918 anti-Greek riot is one of the darkest and most violent episodes in Toronto’s history, yet its story has never been told until now.

During a public lecture to take place in the council chamber of Toronto City Hall today, Gallant will reveal in vivid detail what led to this eruption of violence and public unrest.

Right: Thomas Gallant

He will answer such questions as: Why were war veterans at the forefront of the rioters? Why did so much of their anger and resentment focus on the city’s tiny Greek community? What were the domestic and international repercussions of the episode?

“While we celebrate Toronto’s diversity and multiculturalism, we need to appreciate that ethnic relations in the past were often far from amicable and that cultural acceptance of minorities into mainstream Canadian society came with a price,” said Gallant, who is also the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in modern Greek history at York. “In this year in which we have celebrated all things Greek – including the Summer Games in Athens, the World Cup championships – the episode reminds us of how far we have come.”

Left: Archival image of the police during the 1918 riots

Using a variety of archival sources, such as newspapers and court records, Gallant (along with York University professor Michael Vitopoulos and independent scholar George Treheles) has constructed a narrative of the riot, beginning with the event that began it all – the forcible expulsion of disabled veteran Private Claude Cludernay from the White City Café (433 Yonge Street) by Greek waiters.

“Over the course of three days and nights, August 2 to 5, 1918, mobs of up to 10,000 people, led by war veterans returned from Europe, marched through the city’s main streets waging pitched battles with law enforcement officers and destroying every Greek business they came across,” explained Gallant

Gallant said that before tranquility could be restored to the city, more than 20 Greek businesses, mainly restaurants and cafés along Yonge and Queen Streets, were destroyed and their contents looted. Sixteen law enforcement officers were injured, more than 150 rioting veterans and civilians were hurt (many requiring hospitalization), 25 rioters were arrested and over $100,000 (approximately $1.25-million in today’s dollars) worth of damage was done to Greek businesses and private property.

Gallant’s talk is part of the Dimitria – Toronto 2004 Annual Lecture, sponsored by the City of Toronto and the Thessalonikeans Society in co-operation with the Canadian Hellenic Historical Society.