History + Community

History that Reads like Greek Myth

The Danforth area is home to a diverse group of people, both old and new to the city. Greektown stands in the east end of the Danforth as a homage to just one of those cultures, and it has a rich and enduring history. Greeks have found a home in Greektown through a tale so mythical that it is not surprising to find parallels in their history to classic Greek mythology. Although presently the area known as Greektown also incorporates Torontonians of different backgrounds and cultures, it was not always so. The history of the mid-to-late 1900s immigration of many Greeks to this area in Toronto is a story that parallels two iconic battles in Greek mythology.

History tells us that the major influx and settling of Greek immigrants to the Danforth area occurred between the 1950s and 70s. We can find its parallels in both the Battle between the Old Titans and the New and the Battle of Titanomachy in Greek mythology. Both myths share the theme of a new generation of gods overthrowing the previous one, which allows them to create a new home for themselves. The Greeks who immigrated to the Danforth area also had to come into an area dominated by previous residents and fight until they had an area to call their home.

Both mythic battles share the source of each fight; the “father” of the younger generation has a growing anxiety about his political power/supremacy due to the growing influx of his children, all of whom show great potential for their own power. The myth of the Old Titans vs. the New Titans holds Ouranos in the father’s role, while the myth of the Battle of Titanomachy shows Ouranos’ son, Kronos, in that same role. Even if the two myths have more theatrics, hostility, and violence than the history which unfolded behind Greektown, the older generation of gods in both myths parallels the residents who had made the Danforth area their home before the immigration of Greeks, and likewise, the younger generation of gods parallels the Greeks moving into the Danforth area.

From Ouranos and Kronos’ fear of their childrens’ growing numbers and potential powers, the seed of doubt was planted and from it grew two ideas to suppress them; Ouranos locked his children, the Hekatonkheires and the Elder Cyclopes, back inside their mother Gaia’s womb and Kronos swallowed each of his children once they were born. Both myths show Gaia helping the “hero” son of the younger generation defeat their father and supplant the older generation of gods. For the Battle of the Old Titans vs. the New, Gaia gives a sickle to Kronos so that he may defeat his father and for the Battle of Titanomachy, she keeps Zeus from being swallowed and keeps him tucked away until he is able to defeat his father.

According to Torontoist, “in 1960, the Globe and Mail reported that close to 500,000 European immigrants had come to the Toronto area since the war, and that ‘the city of Toronto, stubbornly traditional, unquestionably British, unopposedly Protestant, shook itself after the chief force of the immigration wave was spent, [and] came to the startled realization that the newcomers make up almost one third of its total population.’” The “stubbornly traditional” Torontonians of the Danforth area mimic, to some degree, the apprehensive feelings and fearmongered actions of the first generation of gods. The influx of immigrants, a great number of them being of Greek heritage, take the place of the younger generation of gods, those who had to fight to remain free and move into a new, non-hostile, and stable place. Just as Ouranos and Kronos grew anxious at the thought of sharing the world with all their children, so too did the already existing residents of the Danforth felt apprehensive about a new population coming into their territory in the 60s.

The parallels continue throughout the historical and mythic stories in the reasons behind the immigration to the Danforth area. Torontoist reports that, “for Greece, the decades immediately following the war were marked by considerable political instability, and by 1950, Toronto’s Greek population was estimated at 5,000, rising to 12,500 in 1960.” Political unrest caused the Greek immigrants to seek refuge in Toronto and take up residence on the Danforth, so too was it the case for the New Titans and Olympians. It was only because there was anxiety and unrest in the hierarchy of the gods that the young gods had to rise up and take a spot for themselves so that they might be safe. The rising number of Greeks settling in to the Danforth area, which was dominantly British before, is much like the New Titans and the Olympians moving into the power their parents once held and creating their own homes: Mount Othrys for the New Titans and Mount Olympus for the Olympians. A home is a special place for both the gods and for mortals, and the Greek inhabitants of the Danforth area succeeded in making a distinct home for themselves that they fought for and won: Greektown.

This is still a time where story is the master of all and myth is the stuff of reality, the parallels might just be hidden. Instead of battles waged on a war field or in the clouds on a mountain top, it was a real-life battle to get to the Danforth for safety, a home, and for the benefit of the community. Let these mythic parallels stand to remind those of Greek descent, and every other culture present on the Danforth, that their stories can be just as legendary as those of the gods. That real lives can take on the same themes and plots as the myths which make up the world of classical Greece and are still prevalent in our world today.

Image from Flickr—no copyright infringement intended.

25-year-old graduate of the University of Windsor who believes that coffee is a daily must and that books should be considered an essential item in anyone’s life. Stefanie has recently moved to Toronto from a small ghost town near Leamington, Ontario and she cannot wait to have a hand in the editing and publishing industry after completing Centennial College’s publishing certificate program.

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