Anti-Jewish riots at Crystal Beach, Ont (1942)

Editor’s Introduction: Anyone who searches the phrase “Crystal beach racial disturbance” will come up with details of a brief race riot that occurred in the Ontario summer resort town in the summer of 1956. But news of an earlier “disturbance” — in the summer of 1942 — does not seem to come up at all.  

The story below was one I found quite by chance, by going through some old issues of the Daily Hebrew Journal on microfilm. The “anti-Jewish agitations” referred to have been almost complete forgotten; at least I had never heard of this episode previously. But probably far from unique in the annals of Jewish history of Canada’s small towns. A few other related news items are attached, below.

Is it wise to recall unpleasant incidents from yesteryear? Not always — some events are best left forgotten — and yet we also know that he who forgets his history is doomed to repeat it.

FYI, Crystal Beach is an Ontario town on Lake Erie near Buffalo and Fort Erie with a nice beach. In its heyday, it had an amusement park, sideshow attractions, hotels, and a large dock that welcomed boatloads of American tourists during the summer. Its usual population of about 700 swelled into the thousands each summer. Back in the 1960s, many of my friends’ families would drive from Toronto to Crystal Beach for a nice summer holiday.  

From Daily Hebrew Journal, August 5, 1942

CRYSTAL BEACH, Aug.4 — Outbreaks between Jews and anti-Semites in his popular summer resort have resulted in property damage and two arrests, Chief of Police Floyd Gerrard said tonight. He said that because he foresaw trouble some days ago he asked Provincial Police for assistance.

Inspector Christopher Airey has sent eight men from the Welland, Fort Erie and Ridgeway posts to preserve order.

The Provincial constables are still at Crystal Beach and Chief Gerrard says he considers that the situation is now under control.

Chief Gerrard said tonight that he had known there was trouble brewing as far back as last Wednesday, when he became aware that racial propaganda was being instigated by antisemitic factions.

At that time his own police force was considered sufficient to cope with the situation, the Chief said, and on Thursday evening, although at least 3,000 people were attempting to congregate at main intersections in the village, apparently anticipating some sort of action. Violence was avoided by keeping the crowds in motion, and refusing to allow the troublemakers to assemble.

A similar situation existed on Friday until about two o’clock on Saturday morning, when one man was arrested on a charge of resisting an officer.

This was later changed to a double charge of common assault and occasioning bodily harm, and he is still held for trial.

At this time Chief Gerrard decided to ask the Provincial Police Department for extra men. The request was followed immediately by Inspector Airey’s action.

The final episode occurred at about two a.m. Sunday. Apparently the outbreaks have been timed for that hour.

Plate glass windows of a Jewish-owned store and a hotel were kicked in and the place invaded by a mob of men and boys from the late ‘teens to around 30 and 35 years. Shelves were wrecked and demonstrators danced on the counters.

Jewish youths at the resort offered stout and considerable resistance to the hooligans, but were outnumbered.

One arrest was made.

There has beern no disturbance since the Sunday morning outbreak, Chief Gerrard said. ♦