Only months after a dying man was told a park would be named after him for his work with Toronto's East End youth, that honor is about to be withdrawn.
The reason? City councilors learned the man was a member of the notorious Swastika Club that sparked Toronto's Christie Pits riots in the 1930s.
Two weeks before Joe McNulty died July 6 of liver cancer, he was honored for his efforts teaching youngsters how to paddle a canoe and 40 years of volunteering as a football coach at his former high school, Malvern Collegiate.
At the time, Tom Jakobek, one of the children he taught to handle a canoe, told the dying man that a small park near the spot where he taught canoeing would be named in his honor.
But soon after Toronto's Council approved naming the park for him, a nasty part of McNulty's past emerged -- his membership in the Swastika Club, a notoriously anti-Semitic group that wanted to "clean" Toronto of its Jewish residents.
Just weeks ago, "people were crying and hugging (McNulty)," Jakobek said, and now "we find out the guy was an anti-Semite."
McNulty's past was brought to light by William Shaffir and Cyril Levitt, two McMaster University sociology professors who wrote the book, "The Riots at Christie Pits." Levitt, a Jew whose uncle was a captain in the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II, revealed a taped interview he made with McNulty in 1985. In that interview, McNulty said Jewish Canadians would not fight for their country in the war.
"It was so distasteful what he was saying because it was the same charge the Nazis and others leveled at the Jews in Germany," Levitt said. "I was just shocked. It's an old canard, and I was really surprised."
Levitt and Shaffir told city councilors they could not see how the city could honor a man who "harbored the same negative feelings about Jews all his life."
The Christie Pits riots of 1933 broke out six months after Hitler took power in Germany. At the time, a group of young men in Toronto formed the Swastika Club to honor the German dictator, raising the Nazi emblem at baseball games in downtown Jewish neighborhoods and vowing to "clean" all the "undesirable elements" from Toronto's East End beaches.
On Aug. 14, 1933, after members of the anti-Semitic gang painted a swastika on the Christie Pits clubhouse, several hundred Jewish men turned up to watch a local baseball game and to take down any swastika banners raised by the Swastika Club or its allies in the Pit Gang.
When the Nazi banner was raised, fights broke out all over the 30-acre park, eventually spilling out onto the streets and lasting until the early hours of the morning. In the end, only five arrests were made, and only one stuck -- against a member of the Pit Gang for carrying a lead pipe.
Councilor Howard Moscoe, a member of the Canadian Jewish Congress' community relations committee whose father fought in the Christie Pits riots, said Jakobek was wrong to present McNulty's name without investigating his past.
But Jakobek said even a city-sponsored investigation might not have turned up McNulty's past association with the club because it was a well-kept secret.
"I have questioned people who were very, very close to him, and they told me, 'Tom, honest to God, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody,' " Jakobek said.