90th commemoration

The Belfast of Canada

The Toronto of today is known as a multicultural and diverse city, but in the 1930s the city was a very different place.

In the early 1900s, many new immigrants began arriving in Toronto, including Jews and Italians. These immigrants were drawn here because of new work opportunities in manufacturing, mining, and lumber. Many were also fleeing political upheaval and persecution in their home countries. Despite their arrival, by the 1930s, over half the city population was still of British descent. For this reason, Toronto was given the nickname the “Belfast of Canada.” The nickname reflected the city’s religious makeup, but also reflected the political dominance of the Orange Order. The Orange Order was a Protestant group in Canada that was founded in Ireland in 1795 and made its way to British North America in the early 1800s.  The Orange Order was very influential within Toronto politics: until the early 1950s, just about every mayor was a member. As a result, the city’s politics reflected the order’s beliefs, which were often anti-Catholic and antisemitic.

Image of a crowd on the south west corner of Yonge Street and Queen Street West. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 55.
Image of the celebrations of the Orange parade, led by Orange Order member and the mayor of Toronto at the time of the riot, William James Stewart, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 266.
Mayor William James Stewart sitting at a desk in his first month as mayor of Toronto, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 22905.
Alderman election card for Nathan Phillips in Ward 4, ca. 1938. Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 1978-3-1.

Nathan Phillips first ran for alderman in Toronto's Ward 4, (which included the Jewish community of Kensington Market) in 1924. He won the position and was re-elected each year until 1951. He went on to serve as Toronto’s first Jewish mayor from 1955 to 1962. He was the first non-Protestant and non-member of the Orange Order to be elected mayor of Toronto. The card, written in Yiddish, encourages voters to consider Phillips for alderman as a "fearless fighter for the peoples' interests".