Baldwin Street exile community, March-August 1969

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The war resisters who settled in Toronto and established businesses on Baldwin Street were, like most draft dodgers, well-educated, white Anglo-Saxon middle class people (Levine, 432) and, like many other draft resisters, they arrived in Toronto in 1968. It was estimated that between 20% and 30% of the American refugee population were attracted to the counterculture movement called “the hippies” (Kasinky, 149). The majority of the American exiles who lived on Baldwin Street embraced hippie ideas and the hippie lifestyle and dress that included long hair for both sexes and beards for men. They organized themselves into “communes” or “families” and contributed many homesteaders to the rural hippie enclaves such as that at Killaloe Station in eastern Ontario. It was long assumed that only 20% of American immigrants to Canada during this period were women (Levine, 432) but a careful study of census data found that half of the American war resisters who came to Canada were women (Hagan, 185). Certainly the Baldwin Street community consisted of as many women as men. The community was strongly influenced by the New Left, feminist ideas, socialism and the worldwide struggle for “peace and freedom”. Like the majority of American refugees, many of the prominent personalities of the Baldwin Street community had been involved in the Civil Rights movement and in anti-war activities in the United States before coming to Canada. Some had been leaders in New Left student organizations. A sizeable minority of the hippies who lived on Baldwin Street had immigrated from the southern states of the United States and they were fully aware of their ethnic identity as White Southerners.

In March 1968 Philip Mullins arrived in Toronto from Florida where he had been a student activist and an organizer for the Southern Student Organizing Committee. He moved into the John Street Hostel that was located in the industrial heart of downtown Toronto. In April Dave Woodward (from Virginia via Winnepeg), Greg Sperry (from Missouri) and Bruce and Colleen Anderson (from California) arrived at the hostel. In May Jim and Pat Wilson (from North Carolina via New York City) moved into the John Street hostel as well. While living at the hostel they became friends. This group originated the Baldwin Street exile community.

In June a group of Americans from the John Street hostel rented a house on St. Paul Street in Cabbagetown. The group included Colleen and Bruce Anderson and Greg Sperry. They were joined by Don Holman, Chuck Wall and Lisa Steele. All but Colleen and Bruce had immigrated from Kansas City, Missouri. In December these “Kansas City people” moved to a house at 418 Dundas Street where they were joined by Dave Woodward and Myra Kaplan.

The Kansas City people played an important role in the Baldwin Street community. Some of them became minor celebrities in their own right. The community’s hometown band, Downchild Blues Band, formed at 418 Dundas Street with Chuck Wall and later David Woodward playing piano, drums and saxophone. Downchild became Toronto’s most famous blues band. Chuck Wall and Lisa Steele briefly opened an artist’s cooperative called the Slum Goddess in 1969 and Don Holman helped found an artist’s cooperative called the Open Studio a few years later. Lisa Steele became an important Toronto filmmaker in the video format and Dave Woodward is recognized as one of Canada’s premier saxophonists.

In August Bruce and Colleen Anderson joined a different group from the John Street hostel (Jim and Pat Wilson, Dave Woodward and Philip Mullins) to rent the two-story house at 224 McCaul Street. By February 1969 the house at 224 McCaul Street was overcrowded and several people from 224 McCaul leased the house at 218 McCaul. The communes at 224 and 218 McCaul Street became incubators for some of the most famous American exile institutions in Toronto including the Yellow Ford Truck store, Ragnarokr leather shop, THOG and the Baldwin Village. A US Marine deserter named Herb Lane and a housewife named Mary Rauton and her son Randy soon joined the original group of American draft dodgers at 224 McCaul.

The narrative continues at The Yellow Ford Truck, May 1968-April 1969

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