On Aug. 16, 1933, one of the largest race riots in Canadian history broke out at Toronto’s Christie Pits park, when some youths unfurled a large swastika flag and shouted “Heil Hitler!” Around 15,000 people were involved in the ensuing four-hour brawl and hundreds were injured.
Exactly 86 years later, on Aug. 16, 2019, Project Bookmark Canada will unveil a plaque commemorating the novel The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky by Jewish-Canadian author Aren X. Tulchinsky, formerly known as Karen X. Tulchinsky. Tulchinsky’s novel, which is based on stories his grandfather told him, is about a Jewish family who lived in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood, and about how the events of the Christie Pits riot changed their lives.
Project Bookmark Canada is a small non-profit organization that’s dedicated to “building Canada’s literary trail.” The organization accomplishes this by placing a “bookmark plaque” containing passages or poems, in the exact locations where the author imagined them. The first bookmark plaque was installed at the Bloor Viaduct in Toronto and contains a passage from Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, which specifically mentions the location.
Tulchinsky appreciates the work Project Bookmark Canada does and is proud that his book was selected for a plaque.
“Their goal is to get people to read Canadian books. It is vital to celebrate our unique Canadian history. And sadly, our country is constantly in the shadow of the U.S., with American books filling our bookshelves,” he wrote in an email to The CJN. “As a Canadian and as a writer, I applaud the work Project Bookmark Canada is doing to bring Canadian stories to the forefront.”
The plaque commemorating Tulchinsky’s novel will be the organization’s 25th, and the eighth one in Toronto. The organization’s goal is to eventually place plaques in every province and territory, said Hughena Matheson, the president of Project Bookmark’s board of directors, and also to use the bookmarks to commemorate historic Canadian events. For example, there is a bookmark commemorating the 1917 Halifax Explosion and there will be one commemorating the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
“To me, this is an important story in Toronto’s history, and the event that happened is an important event,” said Matheson. “You have to remember the past not to repeat it.”
Tulchinsky agrees that it’s important for people to remember and learn from the darker moments in our country’s history. He hopes his book can help.
My novel is “about how hatred only leads to more hatred and violence. At the risk of sounding like the Vancouverite I am, I believe the only cure for hate is love. Sadly, history tends to repeat itself and today, in 2019, we are seeing a rise in hate crimes in Europe, the U.S. and here in Canada against Jews, Muslins, South American migrants and the LGBTQ community,” he said.
“We are witnessing the president of the United States taking children away from their asylum-seeking parents and imprisoning them in what can only be called concentration camps. The themes in my novel, sadly, are just as relevant today as ever. I hope people see the parallels in the fascism that swept the world in the 1930s, with what is happening today. I just keep hoping that humans will find a better way forward that does not repeat the mistakes of our past.”
Tulchinksy is not the first Jewish-Canadian author that Project Bookmark Canada has commemorated. Its sixth bookmark, at the intersection of College and Manning streets in Toronto, recognizes Anne Michael’s novel Fugitive Pieces. It’s about a Polish survivor whose family was killed in the Holocaust and who must learn to adapt to life in Toronto.
Everyone is invited to the unveiling of the plaque on Aug. 16, which will take place at 1 p.m. at the ballpark at Barton Avenue and Christie Street in Toronto. There will also be a fundraiser for Project Bookmark Canada the night before at Jazz Bistro. For more information, visit projectbookmarkcanada.ca.