Overlooking the baseball diamond at Christie Pits park, a new permanent plaque commemorates Vancouver-based author Aren X. Tulchinsky’s novel, The Five Books Of Moses Lapinsky, a rich family saga set against the backdrop of the 1933 Christie Pits riot.
The monument is a part of Project Bookmark Canada, an initiative that installs plaques in the physical locations of where seminal Canadian books take place. The first plaque, unveiled in 2009, honours Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin Of A Lion and is located at the Bloor Street Viaduct.
Tulchinsky, who was formerly known as Karen X. Tulchinsky, was in Toronto last week to celebrate the plaque at Christie Pits. Due to a postage issue, the plaque had not yet arrived in time for the unveiling ceremony, which took place on August 16, the same day as the riot in 1933.The plaque contains a passage from the novel that describes the beginning of the riot, which erupted after the anti-Semitic Pit Gang displayed a banner of a swastika during a baseball game featuring many Jewish players. More than 10,000 people were involved in the fight, which lasted six hours.
“Myself and Project Bookmark chose this passage because it’s a turning point in the novel and also a pivotal moment in the history of Toronto,” says Tulchinsky.
Although now based in Vancouver, Tulchinsky was and born and raised in Toronto. While researching this book, which was published in 2010, he came to Toronto to research the riot at the Toronto Reference Library and walk the streets of the once predominantly Jewish neighbourhood around College and Spadina in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky explores the life one Jewish immigrant family through the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism. It’s a theme that Tulchinsky acknowledges feels even more resonant today. “Unfortunately, I think this book is more relevant than it was a couple years ago pre-Trump. The rise of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and transphobia is frightening to most of us,” says Tulchinsky.
Tulchinsky’s plaque is the 25th Bookmark. Other Bookmarks in Toronto include Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces at Manning and College, and Ken Babstock’s Essentialist, at St. George and Bloor, across from St. George Station.
“I feel so honoured to have received a Bookmark,” says Tulchinsky. “This program is amazing. Its goal is to get Canadians to read more Canadian books. Now anyone who walks by Christie Pits will see this plaque and think ‘Oh cool, there’s a book set in my neighbourhood.’”