Walking along Danforth Avenue and watching Canadians of all stripes patiently line up for their souvlakia, I couldn't help wondering who there -- Greeks or non-Greeks, old or young -- had any concept of the grim (and timely!) history of Greeks in Toronto, who originally lived around Yonge Street.
101 years ago, Greek-Canadians were the victims of a race riot which lasted 4 days (August 2-5, 1918). It was the worst riot in Toronto history, with thousands of Canadians furiously beating up on Greeks and destroying their property.
World War I veterans had been in town to voice their many concerns. Canadians were misinformed about Greece's role in the war, thinking that Greece -- which remained neutral until 1916 -- was not on the side of the Allies. Moreover, Greeks in 1918 were simply not thought of as being "white." * So when an alcohol-impaired vet was removed from a Greek restaurant, the incident was blown way out of proportion...Greeks, who were already perceived as not doing enough to help Canada, had allegedly mistreated a vet!
To make a long story short: Greek-Canadians ultimately rebuilt and became a vibrant, productive and beloved part of modern-day Toronto -- a town that now prides itself in being multi-cultural.
But first they relocated to Danforth Avenue.
*In the USA, Greek-Americans -- just like other immigrant minorities -- were targets of the Ku Klux Klan, leading to the establishment in 1922 of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA).
**For the whole story: "A century later, a vicious anti-Greek riot in Toronto offers lessons for today" by Toula Drimonis (Maclean's Magazine, 8/1/18)
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