Baldwin Community, May 1969-July 1975

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Community events: Demonstrations

Beginning in 1969 the American exile community in Toronto formed a large contingent at any public demonstration sponsored by the Canadian Left. The exiles also participated in demonstrations sponsored by community groups opposed to the proposed Spadina Expressway and those of groups that opposed urban renewal projects in downtown Toronto. Because of the size of the urban renewal project at St. Jamestown, demonstrations were often held in front of the Greenspoon Company’s construction offices on Beeker Street. American exiles were also involved in the community’s fight to block the demolition of the homes in the Hydro Block.

By 1968 the American exiles had built their own organizations and began to sponsor public events, many of them involving picketing of the US Consulate on University Avenue. These were high profile protests that attracted wide media coverage and editorials in the Toronto newspapers. Most of the demonstrations were scheduled to coincide with similar demonstrations in the US. During 1969 and 1970 there was a demonstration at the Consulate every two or three months. The exiles tried to avoid arrest but were not always sucessful. A protester could be arrested for merely touching one of the horses used by the mounted police. Dave Woodward was arrested at a demonstration in October 1968. In May 1970, 91 people were arrested during a demonstration to protest the US invasion of Cambodia and the killing of students at Kent State University in Ohio. Compared to anti-War demonstrations in the US during the same period, the Toronto demonstrations were civil and, one could say, polite. Ralations between the protesters and the police were usually cordial. Only on rare occasions were arrests made. The anti-war demonstrations did not taper off until two years after the US military withdrew from Vietnam in 1973.

In 1969 the Union of American Exiles organized pickets at two large grocery stores as part of the United Farmworker’s Union ‘Delano Grape Boycott’ and a number of Americans campaigned for the New Democratic Party in the Federal elections of 1968 and 1972. In general, American expatriates were overrepresented in labor and Marxist groups in Toronto. In September 1969 a booth at the Canadian National Exhibition sold English-language copies of the ‘Little Red Book’ that contained excerpts from speeches of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao. These proved to be popular on Baldwin Street, as was Mao himself. The Yellow Ford Truck sold the “Little Red Book” and many communes had at least one copy of the book in the house.

Like all exile communities, the American exile community in Toronto was very critical of the government that had forced them into exile. It was difficult to find an exile in any of the many exile communities in Toronto who would defend the policies of the national governments of their home country. Most American exiles on Baldwin Street supported the various ‘national liberation movements’ that the US Government was trying to crush. However only a few of the exiles were communists and even fewer joined one of the four or five communist parties in Toronto. A greater number were socialists, anarchists or hippies. Other tendencies also emerged. A sizeable group of exiles were attracted to the Hindu-Islam fusion known as Sikh Dharma. As early as December 1970 Ted Steiner was teaching Kundalini Yoga at the Hall. He became the American exile community’s most widely recognized spiritual leader. No one individual emerged as the community's political leader or spokesman.

In October 1970 a renegade cell of the Quebec Liberation Front in Quebec City kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner. During the police crackdown that followed, a failure of communication within the Quebec Liberation Front resulted in the murder a member of the Government of Quebec by a second cell. In response, the Government of Canada imposed the War Measures Act and gave the police extraordinary powers. The police raided the American exile organization in Montreal. The American exile community in Toronto fully expected the same. Most households disposed of whatever contraband material they had on hand and made preparations for the expected police raid.

The police raids never happened. Relations between the American exiles and the Toronto and federal police (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP) were usually quite cordial, although not friendly. Canadian authorities, unlike their American counterparts, never attempted to physically eliminate the New Left in Canada and were never zealous about enforcing laws against marijuana. Police harassment of hippies or American expatriates was not routine. The American community was active in civic affairs in Toronto, included a number of prominent persons and was large enough to host a diverse social life. The Baldwin Street community originated a number of community events of a social nature.

Community events: Pig Roasts and Parties

In May 1969 Chuck Wall organized a Pig Roast at Scarborough Bluffs to celebrate International Worker's Day or May Day. The residents of three housing communes (224 McCaul, 218 McCaul and 418 Dundas Streets) were invited. Each commune contributed breads, pies and wine. Food was prepared in the houses the day before and Chuck and a small crew of cooks sent the night camped out on the Bluffs slow-cooking a pig over coals. The following August the Baldwin Street hippie community held another big barbecue at Scarborough Bluffs with lots of good food, nude swimming in Lake Ontario and “a great feeling of sharing in a common event”.

The Pig Roasts continued for several years. In May 1973 Chuck Wall oversaw another wild May Day Pig Roast, the Pig Gig, in a barn outside Toronto. The party featured a pig cooked over bedsprings using Don Holman’s Kansas City barbecue sauce. The Downchild Blues Band performed as well. A number of the Baldwin Street crowd attended along with people from the Open Studio, Mary Ellen, Kevin and Judy. The 1975 May Day Pig Roast was held in Greg Sperry’s backyard near Baldwin Street.

The hippie merchants on Baldwin Street sponsored a street fair on at least two occasions. Jimmy Wilson organized the first street fair in June 1969. He called the party the ‘Festival of the Little Big Horn’ to celebrate a defeat of the US Army at the hands of the Montana Sioux Indians eighty-two years earlier. Ed and Sheila Street, Chuck Wall and others provide the music for the street festival. Baldwin Street between McCaul and Henry was blocked off and people danced in the roadway. Dave Bush of the Harbinger newspaper put together another street festival in May 1974. The street was shut to traffic for a street dance and a stage erected at the intersection of Baldwin and Henry Streets. Each store sponsored some activity for children. The leather shop sponsored a nail-driving contest. The shop purchased a supply of 10-penny nails, a few hammers and a large block of wood and encouraged adults and children to drive the nails home. Members of the Young Communist Party (with headquarters at #24 Baldwin Street) provided security for the street party. They stationed lookouts on the surrounding rooftops to keep an eye on the Toronto police who manned the roadblock at the corner of McCaul and Baldwin Streets.

The American exile community had an active social life. Birthdays, weddings and holidays were the occasion for a gathering to which most of the exile community was invited. During the early 1970s, the inhabitants of Baldwin Street were, in approximately equal proportions, Chinese, hippies and European. Almost all were immigrants. The three communities lived side-by-side and did not interfere with each other. The result was that, although the area was densely populated, the hippie community living in and around Baldwin Street was actually quite small. Most residents knew each other. Although some were married and most had a companion with whom they shared their lives, there were only a few children.

The community’s first baby, Seth Anderson, was born in April 1969. Two other children, Joshua Starbuck and Alice Burdick, were born a little over a year later. In January 1971 Jessica Zimmerman and Shantih Lawrence were born to American expatriate families living on Baldwin Street and Jimmy and Patty Wilson’s child, Ben, was born in March. In February of the following year Emily Spring was born. Her birth did not mark the end of the Baldwin Street hippie community’s baby boom. Enough children were born into the community to lead Karen Lawrence, Laura Jones and others to organize a ‘parent-child center’ called Snowflake. According to the author John Hagan, Snowflake operated for fifteen years before closing, making it perhaps the longest surviving American exile institution in Toronto. (Hagan, 94)

The narrative continues at Healing the wounds of war, 1969-1980

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