90th commemoration

Swastika Clubs

Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 with his goal of establishing a new racial order in Europe provided a roadmap for those with similar aims in Canada.

In the summer of 1933, the Jewish people of Toronto, much like the rest of the city, were visiting the beaches to stay cool during the hot days. At Kew Beach, groups inspired by Hitler and national socialism in Germany at the time, had joined together to create a “Swastika Club.” 

The Toronto swastika clubs were created to intimidate and threaten those who were not of British descent. Members of these swastika clubs claimed to be “cleaning up” the beaches by attempting to remove the Jewish presence. Groups of both teenagers and adults wearing swastika badges would patrol the beaches and regularly harass Jewish people.

On August 7, 1933, this tension escalated into a confrontation at Kew Gardens. The constant harassment of Jewish bathers by the Swastika Club led to an altercation that almost resulted in a physical clash. The situation was de-escalated by police who were present at the time, however the same could not be said a week later at Christie Pits. 

This dangerous increase of open antisemitism and clear support for Nazism in Toronto created a climate of fear for Jewish people in the city.

Benjamin Brown and Ben Hillman on the beach, Toronto, [ca.1912]. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 49, item 2.
Bathing at Kew Beach, Toronto, 1914. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 52, Item 373.
Newspaper account of the altercation in the Beaches, Toronto, 8 Aug. 1933. The Toronto Daily Star, page 17.
Swastika Badge Urged Removed By Police Officer, 8 Aug. 1933. The Globe, page 1.
Newspaper account detailing a meeting between representatives of the Jewish community and the Swastika Clubs at Toronto City Council chambers on 9 Aug, 1933. Courtesy of the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives.

The meeting, which took place one week before the Christie Pits Riot, was called by Mayor Stewart in an effort to cool the rising tensions. Representing the Jewish community were: Rabbi Samuel Sachs, president of the League of the Defense of Jewish Rights; Meyer F. Steinglass, editor of the Jewish Standard; Shmuel Meir Shapiro, editor of the Yiddisher Zhurnal (Daily Hebrew Journal); and Archie B. Bennett, community leader and journalist. Both the Swastika Club and the Balmy Beach Canoe Club were represented at the meeting.