Remembering the 1918 Anti-Greek Riot: August 2-5: Snapshots in History
On August 2 and beyond, take a step back into Toronto’s history to remember the anti-Greek riot that beset Toronto from August 2-5, 1918 and played a role in shaping the city’s future. The riot stemmed from an incident in an eating establishment and some inaccurate information circulating about Greece and Greek people living in Canada.
Even before the First World War ended, some Canadian war veterans (including some injured and/or disabled by the war) were feeling displaced from society and resentful towards people perceived to be “slackers” who were not contributing to Canada’s war effort. Regrettably, some immigrants were targeted with the slacker label, including Greeks living in Canada. Greece had started out the First World War as a neutral country, albeit friendly to the Alliance of Great Britain and its Empire (including Canada), France, and Russia, but did join with the Allies in 1916. Unfortunately, during the period that Greece was neutral in the war, Canada did not permit Greek immigrants to enroll in the armed forces to fight for the Alliance. This led to a nasty juxtaposition as some people in Canada felt that Greek people in Canada were going about their business and not contributing to Canada’s war effort.
At a time when the emotions of some people were a powder keg just waiting to be ignited, let us visit the moment from which the course of events stemmed. The date was August 1, 1918. The location was the White City Café at 433 Yonge Street. A disabled soldier, Private Claude Cludernay [or Albert Cludray according to some sources], was having dinner in the Greek-owned restaurant. Normally a friendly person, on this instance, Mr. Cludernay was drunk, bellicose, and hit a waiter, who in turn ejected Mr. Cludernay from the restaurant and called the police. However, the ramifications from this seemingly insignificant event accelerated and some soldiers believed that a fellow soldier had been mistreated by immigrants who were not pulling their weight to help Canada. Add to this incident the presence of the Great War Veterans Association whose congress was due to meet in Toronto on August 2, 1918. This event brought even more disgruntled war veterans into the mix of what was to occur beginning on Friday, August 2, 1918.
The August 3, 1918 issue of The Globe newspaper offered the reader an article on page 1 entitled “RETURNED SOLDIERS RAID MANY GREEK RESTAURANTS: 200 Men and 1,000 Sympathizers Wreck Eating Houses, Causing Thousands of Dollars of Damage – Stores Also Attacked”. Here is an excerpt from that article:
“Smashing restaurants the length of Yonge street between Bloor and Queen, and on Queen over to McCaul, a crowd of a thousand soldiers and sympathizers broke loose last night. From six o’clock in the evening until after two o’clock this morning they were absolute masters of all authority, defied the police and the military, and utterly tore to pieces the interiors of a dozen restaurants and stores, leaving wreckage in their path…The riot is said to have brewed as the result of an alleged assault made upon Albert Cludray, a returned man of Davisville Hospital. The soldiers charge that Claudray was badly beaten in the White City Cafe, 433 Yonge street, Thursday night by a Greek, and that it was in revenge that they had taken the law into their own hands…The riot is said to have been arranged yesterday afternoon quietly amongst the men. The congregated at Yonge and College street at 6 o’clock last evening and marched to the White City Cafe…”
The August 6, 1918 issue of the Toronto Daily Star newspaper offered the reader an article on page 4 entitled “PITCHED BATTLES ON TORONTO STREETS: Soldiers, Civilians, and Police Clash Repeatedly During Saturday Night: INNOCENT SUFFER: Police Alleged to have Wielded Batons Indiscriminately: Investigation Promised”. Here is an excerpt from that article:
“As a sequel to Friday night’s disturbances, several pitched battles were fought between the police and some returned men, and in other cases the police and civilians, between the hours of 7 o’clock Saturday night and 2 o’clock Sunday morning on the downtown streets. The result was some five hundred people were injured, 34 badly, and 10 arrested. In the general melee that followed each attack, women and children in many cases, were badly beaten with clubs in the hands of the police, who were battling the crowd indiscriminately, it is stated, in their efforts to break up formations. No property damage was done…”
Local historian Joanne Doucette, writing on Leslieville.com in an article entitled “A Coxwell Avenue Secret” (published on February 20, 2017) also made reference to the riot under the section “Finding Places for the Returning Heroes”:
“…The East End was not immune. Rioters assaulted a policeman who tried to stop the sacking and burning of a Greek restaurant at Broadview and Gerrard…”
Following those few days of rioting, Greek community leaders in Toronto published a statement outlining their support for the Allied war effort, and pointed out that more than 2,000 Greek-Canadians were serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) with 5 and 10 Greek-Canadians killed and incapacitated respectively. Additionally, some Greek-Canadians had returned to Greece to join its army in the fight against the Central Powers (i.e. Germany, Austria-Hungary etc.).
In a timely article commemorating the centenary of these riots, Toula Drimonis, writing an informative article entitled “A century later, a vicious anti-Greek riot in Toronto offers lessons for today…” in Maclean’s magazine on August 1, 2018, outlined what had happened to lead to the riots, and imprinted upon the reader the following telling sentence:
“…The riots would also permanently alter the face of the city, driving the Greek community out of the neighbourhood they had carved out near Yonge and, eventually, into an eastern corridor named Danforth Avenue…” (Source: Maclean’s, August 1, 2018)
Consider the following item for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:
The Toronto Reference Library also has the following title on this subject for in-library use only:
The 1918 anti-Greek riot in Toronto / Thomas W. Gallant, George Treheles, and Michael Vitopoulos / Toronto : Thessalonikeans Society of Metro Toronto : Canadian Hellenic Historical Society, 2005.