Baldwin Village, 1972-1973

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Baldwin Village: New storefronts

Three months after John Anderson was voted out of the Whole Earth commune in September 1971 he had opened the Osshke Noodin clothing store at 31 Baldwin Street. With this addition, in December 1971 the Baldwin Village include the following businesses: Letki Designs (run by Michael and Paula Letki from England), Whole Earth Natural Foods (run by the Whole Earth commune), Red Morning communist organization, Cosmic Egg Surplus Store (run by American expatriates Kent and Karen Lawrence), the Yellow Ford Truck (run by Jim and Pat Wilson), Ragnarokr leather shop, Ooshke Noodin imported clothing (run by John Anderson), Any Day Now (a clothing store) and the Baldwin Street Gallery of Photography (run by John and Laura Phillips). In August 1973 Jonathan Borah also left the Whole Earth commune and, with Allen Gold, opened a clothing store at 24 Baldwin Street named Magus. Its specialty was garments previously worn by officials in Afghanistan. Magus stayed open for about two years. Jonathan and Allen Gold also opened a store called Forbidden Fruit that sold Laura Ashley products.

The May 1973 edition of the publication “Survive” listed the following storefronts in the Baldwin Street Village. Imperial Pig, 41 Baldwin St.; Yellow Ford Truck head shop, 39 Baldwin St.; Survive House, 37 Baldwin St.; Ragnarokr leather shop, 33 Baldwin St.; Morningstar Trading imported clothing store, 31 Baldwin St.; Cosmic Egg surplus, 27 Baldwin St.; Letki Designs silver shop, 26 Baldwin St.; Baldwin Natural Food grocery, 20 Baldwin St.; and Around Again used records, 18 Baldwin St.

Baldwin Village: the Hydro Block

During the 1960s downtown Toronto was extensively redeveloped. That is to say, older and smaller buildings were replaced with newer, larger high-rise buildings. Most the redevelopment was done far from Baldwin Street, to the east of Yonge Street at Trefann Court, Moss Park and St. Jamestown or in the suburbs. However by 1970 developers had purchased several city blocks at the southeastern corner of McCaul and Dundas Streets just two blocks from Baldwin Street. The old two-story residences were demolished and a high-rise apartment complex called ‘the Village by the Grange’ was erected in their place.

At the same time, the government-owned electric utility, Ontario Hydro, was quietly purchasing houses in the block bounded by Beverly, Baldwin, Henry and Cecil Streets. Ontario Hydro intended to build a transformer station to service the growing electrical needs of downtown Toronto. By a process called “block-busting” Ontario Hydro acquired most of the block before the community became aware of what was happening. By the summer of 1970 a number of the houses were already vacant and boarded-up. The East European immigrant owners willingly sold their properties and moved to the suburbs but the hippie and Chinese residents objected to the scheme. A bilingual/bicultural community group organized to stop construction of the transformer station. In July 1970 a demonstration on Baldwin Street to protest the so-called Hydro Block led to several arrests when a group of Americans attempted to occupy two of the empty houses. By then a community-based struggle to preserve the City’s older neighborhoods from redevelopment had grown into a major political force.

Redevelopment created tensions between the existing residents and the developers because the residents had to be relocated to make room for the new developments. The struggle reached Toronto City Hall in the elections of 1969 and 1972. Beginning in 1968 an anti-development group began a direct-action campaign to stop the construction of a major highway, called the Spadina Expressway, that would have destroyed almost 1,000 existing homes north and west of the University of Toronto. Whether or not to build the Spadina Expressway became the paramount issue in the municipal elections of 1969. In June 1971, after four years of demonstrations by anti-development groups, the Ontario Government announced its opposition to the Expressway. This stopped the Spadina Expressway but did not halt redevelopment in the city. When Allan Grossman of the Ontario government met with residents of the area around the Hydro Block to discuss the Government’s plan to build the transformer station in September 1971, Ontario Hydro was still purchasing houses in the Hydro Block.

However by 1971 the downtown redevelopment spurred by a City Planning model called “Modernism” reached its peak. Demonstrations at St. Jamestown continued throughout 1972. December 1972 municipal elections gave control of City Hall to a group of anti-development reformers. At the same time, the Planning Council of the City of Toronto recognized the Baldwin Street Village as a distinct neighborhood in its South East Spadina, Part II study.

After the political defeat of the redevelopment advocates, the Ontario Housing Corporation took control of the Hydro Block. The smaller, run-down cottages facing Henry Street were demolished and replaced with low-rise apartments. Local residents were given priority to rent the apartments and the Ragnarokr leather shop was offered the renovated storefront at the corner of Henry and Baldwin Streets as well as an apartment in the new complex. The leather shop refused the offer and chose to remain at the rented building at 33 Baldwin Street.

The struggle against the Hydro Block united the Chinese and hippies on Baldwin Street. It also resulted in the designation of the Baldwin Street Village as a commercial center whose distinctive architecture and use is protected for future generations.

The narrative continues at Baldwin Community, May 1969-July 1975

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