Greg Sperry

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In 1968, the year when the “Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada” was published by the Toronto Anti-Draft Program (TADP), Greg Sperry was living in Kansas City, Missouri and part of a group of university students that included Don Holman, Chuck Wall, Janice Spellerberg and Lisa Steele. He was dating Janice Spellerberg. Greg opposed the War in Vietnam and was involved in the student anti-war movement. He supported the Vietcong in their war with the United States and his heroes were Che Guevara and similar Third-World revolutionaries. After the National Guard occupied Kansas City following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Greg immigrated to Toronto and moved into the John Street Hostel. While Greg lived at the hostel he met Jim and Pat Wilson, Dave Woodward, Colleen Anderson and a number of other exiles that later formed the core of the Baldwin Street exile community. After school let out in June Don Holman, Chuck Wall and Lisa Steele left Kansas City and joined Greg in Toronto. Together with Colleen and Bruce Anderson, Greg and his Kansas City friends moved out of the hostel and rented a house on St. Paul Street in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto. Within a few months two more women (Margaret Thurlow and Janice Spellerberg) arrived from Kansas City. Collectively this group of six friends came to be known as the “Kansas City people.”

The house on St. Paul Street proved to be too unsuitable and the Kansas City people moved in with the Yellow Ford Truck family in the house at 224 McCaul Street for a few months. In December they joined with Dave Woodward and Myra Kaplan to leased a large house at 418 Dundas Street. Greg Sperry and Janice Spellerberg were married at 418 Dundas Street on Christmas Day. After the ceremony, someone mentioned that Christmas Day was also the birthday of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and the wedding guests spontaneously began to sing “Happy Birthday” to Chairman Mao. This upset the Unitarian minister who performed the marriage ceremony and he left. An all-day feast and party followed with the entertainment provided by the guests themselves. Within a few months, Janice and Greg separated. Janice and Margaret Thurlow moved to 64 Beverly Street where Dave Zimmerman lived. (insert link to “Greg’s Wedding”, file 7.8)

That winter Janice Spellerberg, Lisa Steele, Margaret Thurlow, Patty Wilson and Mary Burdick all modeled part-time at the Ontario College of Art (OCA) on McCaul Street. Greg found work as a carpenter at the Rochdale College construction site briefly. He quit because the high-rise worksite was unsafe. During the summer of 1969 Greg worked with Chuck and others, including Philip Mullins and Ray Edge, washing windows under the name of the Liberation Tribal Window Washers. Greg and Chuck purchased ladders and squeegees, and using Greg’s old sedan for transportation, went door-to-door in the suburbs of Toronto washing windows in private homes. For a few months in the spring of 1969 Chuck Wall and Lisa Steele lived in a warehouse behind Baldwin Street that they called the “Slum Goddess”. Chuck Wall presided over a christening ceremony at the Slum Goddess for Colleen Anderson’s baby. A procession including Greg, Philip Mullins, Dave Woodward, Lisa Steel, Colleen and the baby marched down McCaul Street and to the warehouse where the ceremony took place. Colleen likely felt that the baby should be christened and Greg probably suggested that Chuck could do the job. Greg was irreverent and funny. He cultivated an air of mystery that he reinforced by smoking strong, unfiltered Gauloise cigarettes similar to those smoked by Humphrey Bogart in his movies. Greg helped Chuck organize the first community May Day Pig Roast at Scarborough Bluffs. Residents of the three allied households (224 McCaul, 218 McCaul and 418 Dundas Streets) hosted the event. Each commune contributed bread, pies and wine to the feast. Chuck and a few friends spent the night before the party camped out on the Bluffs roasting a pig on a spit made from old bedsprings. The Pig Roast became an annual event that continued until about 1975. Chuck was usually in charge of the pig roast but Greg failed to attend the party only when he was in Europe.

In June 1969 Greg went to Europe for six months with his friend Frieda. When he returned the following spring he, Don Holman and Philip Mullins partnered in a company called Fourth World Imports with the intention of importing merchandise from Europe. Greg was supposed to handle the European end of the business. Don and Philip would handle the Canadian end. In April 1970 Greg returned to England with Janice Spellerberg and Ray Edge. Janice and Ray found jobs in England while Greg traveled around Europe. He purchased an English-language book of Bob Dylan’s songs on his earlier visit that he hoped to buy in bulk and import to the book to Canada. After several weeks he located the publisher in Holland but was told that copyright laws would not allow the book to be imported to North America.

Greg was back in Toronto by the fall of 1970. One afternoon while walking through Grange Park he came across two young men in the park with their suitcases in hand. They were Pancho Ohem and Oton Ortez of Mexico City. Both were political activists at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and were fleeing Government death squads. Greg took them to the Ragnarokr leather shop. Since they had no place to stay they were invited to stay in the basement of the house at 33 Baldwin Street. Their stay at the leather shop began a long series of visits by young men and women from the southern Mexico.

The following year Greg and Madelyn Averette become friends. Madelyn needed someone to model for her and asked Greg if he would volunteer. Greg agreed and over the next few years Madelyn produced dozens of sketches of Greg in many different poses and settings. In January 1972 Philip invited Greg and five other people to participate in the leather shop’s back-to-the-land project at the Frostpocket. Greg declined the offer but two years later moved to the Frostpocket with his girlfriend. When Skip and Judy O’Dell left for British Columbia in the summer of 1974 Bie Engelen purchased their cabin at the Frostpocket. Greg and Bie Engelen moved into the cabin soon after the O’Dell family left. Bie was pregnant when she moved to the cabin. Their son Sam Sperry was born at the Burks Falls Red Cross Hospital in October. The next spring Greg’s neighbor George Mullins taught him how to make maple syrup. Greg helped make 25 gallons of maple syrup on an old flat pan in the sugarhouse downhill of the log cabin. Greg and Bie lived at the Frostpocket in the summer and fall of 1975. He helped with the community projects and occasionally worked with the other men on carpentry jobs or at Wilfred McLaren’s farm. Greg experimented making wine from applies and beer from maple syrup. Bie worked in the garden and made and sold leather goods in the Ragnarokr leather shop. By January 1976 Greg and Bie had split up and both returned to Toronto.

In December 1977 Greg was living in Toronto and dating Ann Weatherby. Greg lived in an apartment on Spadina Avenue and slept in a metal-lined wooden box that, according the theories of Wilhelm Reich, concentrated the Ozone Energy that permeated the universe. Greg believed that spending time in the box was beneficial to the human body. In February 1979 Greg learned that his father, Woody, was ill. He hitched a ride with Janice Spellerberg to Tampa, Florida where Woody was living. Greg’s son Sam lived with his mother with little support from Greg. Nicaragua’s President Anastosio Somoza was overthrown in July 1979 by leftist Sandinista rebels and Greg went to Nicaragua to see the Sandinista revolution first-hand. He was also on the lookout for something he could import to Canada. In October 1985, after a second visit to Nicaragua, he and Philip Mullins visited the Nicaraguan Trade Commissioner to Canada, Jorge Chamorro, to discuss the possibility of importing products from Nicaragua to Canada. The Trade Commissioner offered them free transportation to and from Nicaragua on cattle boats that regularly sailed between Vancouver and Nicaragua but, once again, nothing came of the idea. Bie Engelen worked part-time in the Ragnarokr leather shop until it closed in 1996. For this reason Greg kept in close contact with the Ragnarokr community. In October 1985 he was invited to Thanksgiving dinner at 33 Baldwin along with Randy and Kathleen Rauton, Mary Rauton, Philip Mullins, Bie Engelen, Sam Sperry, Steve and Simone Spring and their two children Amy and Emily, Pat Wilson and her son Ben, Janice Spellerberg and her son Marty and two neighbors named Robin and Vivian. In July 1986 Greg was living above the barbershop at 158 McCaul when his Costa Rican friend, Ligia, arrived in Toronto and stayed for two months.

Greg worked as a self-employed carpenter for most of the last fifteen years of his life. He tried several businesses and at one time owned a printing press that he installed at the Open Studio. He was constantly searching for a better way to make a living and for his role in making the world a better place in which to live. In 1995 Greg was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in 1996. In February 1997 Greg’s companion for the last ten years of his life, Maya, and his son, Sam Sperry hosted a memorial service for Greg at Maya’s cottage at Niagara on the Lake. Over forty persons, including Bie Engelen, Janice and Marty Spellerberg, Ruth Rustin and Mary Rauton attended the service. Maya continues to live in Niagara on the Lake where she makes her living giving tours and re-enacting historical personalities associated with the Niagara Frontier.

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