Housing Communes in Toronto, 1968-1972
School age students living away from home have often and in every age chosen to live with other students. The housing may take the form of a college, a fraternity, a dormitory or a non-profit housing co-operative. Off-campus housing often takes the form of informal housing co-operatives. In the 1960s these informal housing co-operatives were sometimes called “communes” after the close-knit extended-family living arrangements of the hippies. Often the idea was to create a “community” rather than simple sharing living quarters.
The housing co-operatives that called themselves ‘communes’ did so to identify themselves a part of the “counter-culture”. In Toronto in 1968-1972 communes were usually identified with the hippies, the New Left or, more commonly, both. In the Toronto American exile community a sharp distinction between the New Left communes and the hippie communes did not exist.
Some of the many housing communes in the City of Toronto in 1968-1971 are listed below. Following the list are three newspaper articles that examined housing communes that were in some way connected to Baldwin Street. A more in-depth look at Toronto communes of that era is found in Dr. Saul Levine’s study cited in the Bibliography and in the newspaper article reprinted below.
St. Paul Street in Cabbagetown:
Don Holman, Chuck Wall, Lisa Steele, Colleen and Bruce Anderson, Greg Sperry, Janice Spellerberg joined together to lease a small house on St. Paul Street in June 1968. The house proved to be in bad condition and was too small. In July 1968 Chuck Wall, Lisa Steele, Don Holman, Gregg Sperry, Janice Spellerberg left the house on St Paul Street and moved to an apartment on King Street near Parliament Street.
224 McCaul Street:
This house was leased by Dave Woodward, Bruce and Colleen Anderson, Philip Mullins, Jim and Patty Wilson in August 1968. They were immediately joined by Herb Lane, US Marine deserter. (Herb left for Israel in October). In September 1968 Mary and Randy Rauton arrived and stayed for the next year. The group became the Yellow Ford Truck commune.
Janice Spellerberg moved into 224 McCaul Street with the Burdicks in August 1969. In January 1970 Sheila Street terminated the lease on 224 McCaul Street after the original leaseholders had all moved out. She returned the deposit money and vacated the building. Steven and Mary Burdick moved to Robert Street and Sonya and Simone Bulger moved into the house at 224 McCaul Street.
11 Baldwin Street:
In September 1968 the storefront was leased by Yellow Ford Truck commune as a storefront. In April 1969 the Yellow Ford Truck store moved to 25 Baldwin and the Ragnarokr leather shop moved into the storefront. In June 1969 Ragnarokr leather shop rented the entire building with the leather shop in the storefront. David Woodward lived downstairs, Margaret Thurlow lived upstairs in front, Randy and Steve lived in the middle room upstairs and Phil and Mary lived in the old summer kitchen upstairs. The house residents changed monthly as the membership is the commune changed. The commune moved as a group to 33 Baldwin Street about a year later when 11 Baldwin Street was sold. This commune was mentioned in the newspaper article titled “Toronto’s communes: The best live by rules” that is reprinted below.
Don Holman leased the house for one year in December 1968 as a residence for the group of friends from Kansas City. He leased the house with the understanding that all of the people involved would stay for the entire year. However all of them moved out in only a few months. Dave, Myra, Chuck, Lisa, Greg and Janice all moved out before the end of the first year leaving Don holding with the lease. He continued living there and rented out the extra rooms to friends.
212 McCaul Street:
In December 1969 Dick Bennett, Simone Bulger and her friend Sonya Cunningham lived in the attic at 212 McCaul Street for less than a year.
218 McCaul Street:
This house was leased by Mary Rauton, Colleen Anderson, Frank Tettemer and Steve Blossom in February 1969 to relieve overcrowding at 224 McCaul Street. They were immediately joined by Steven Bush. In June 1969 the residents of 218 McCaul Street included Frank Tettemer, Marita DeGive, Steve Bush, Steve Spring, Steve Blossom, Colleen and Seth Anderson and Ed and Sheila Street.
In December 1970 the residents were Peggy Florin, Pat Wilson, Neil and Anne Walsh and Steven Bush. In January 1971 the occupants included Steven Bush, Jim Bearden and Linda Certais, Peggy Florin, Pat Wilson, Rick and Chris. A January 23, 1971 article in the Toronto Telegram dealing with this commune is reprinted below as “Commune on McCaul Street: The warm alternative”.
15 Huron Street:
The Hall was leased by John Anderson and others in May 1970 and used as a meeting hall. It is likely that at least a few people lived there as well.
64 Beverly Street:
In February 1969 Janice Spellerberg and Greg Sperry separated and she and Margaret Thurlow moved to 64 Beverly Street with Dave Zimmerman. Several of the houses on the east side of Beverly Street between Baldwin and College Streets were housing communes. In June 1969 Pat Wilson, Don and Judy Holman moved to Beverly Street.
198 Beverly Street:
In August 1971 Steve Bush and Peggy Florin left 218 McCaul Street and moved to 198 Beverly Street who several people connected to the Yellow Ford Truck store were already living.
Rochdale College was a residence for university students. In September 1968 Rochdale College opened a new high-rise residence at Bloor and Huron Streets. Rochdale College was intended to be a residence for students attending the University of Toronto but quickly attracted a large number of hippies and radicals including (January 1971) Rochdales’s 14th Floor Commune. The building became infamous as the residence of hippies and people of that ilk. The building fell behind in its mortgage payments, was repossessed by the Government and turned into an old-folks home.
The Whole Earth Commune:
John Anderson and some friends rented a house on Howard Street in downtown Toronto. The occupants called themselves the Whole Earth Commune. By July 1969 The Whole Earth commune grew to include John Anderson, Dave Humphries, Michael and Linda Ormsby, Bud McClain, Jonathan Borah and Amy. The commune opened and ran a food store on McCaul Street for a number of years.
In March 1970 The Whole Earth commune rented a larger house on 10 acres of land at Steeles and Kennedy in Scarborough. In April 1972 Dave Humphries left the Whole Earth commune after three years. The remaining members were Michael and Linda Ormsby, Bob and Pat Ormsby and Jonathan Borah.
American Deserters Committee:
In July 1970 The Toronto American Deserters Committee operated hostels on Wellesley and Dundas Streets for American deserters. By October 1970 the three American Deserters Committee hostels had become self-supporting housing co-operatives.
90 Bleeker Street:
In December 1971 Grace, Miriam and Walter Jarski opened a Catholic Worker house at 90 Bleeker Street in Toronto. This was probably a house of hospitality in the Catholic Worker tradition rather than a housing commune.
The November 1969 issue of a St. Catherines, Ontario, newspaper called “Alternate Society” listed the following as “American communes” in the City of Toronto:
- The Manse, 22 Victoria Park Ave., in the Beaches area of Queen Street East.
- The Phoenix, 179 Rushton Road, near Davenport and Bathurst Street.
- The Vatican, 628 Pape Avenue near Bloor Street.
- Liberation House, 396 Delaware Avenue near Ossington.
- Yellow Ford Truck, 25 Baldwin Street, is listed as a “trading post”.
- Liberation Tribal Store, 11 Baldwin Street, is listed as “leathercraft”.
An accompanying map showed the locations of the Union of American Exiles, Grossman’s Tavern, the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme, Rochdale College and High Park with the notation “Dodger-Deserter Softball in season”.
Rural commune near Allison, Ontario:
Those hippies who found a way of supporting themselves often moved to a rural location. In August 1969 Michael Meyer, Ruth Nichols and others rented a farmhouse and made candles somewhere near Allison, Ontario. They were friends of Steven Bush and he sent some time on the farm in 1969.
Rural commune near Killaloe, Ontario:
In June 1970 Ruth Lyons and her boyfriend Peter Judd moved to Doyle’s Mountain near Killaloe. They lived in a farmhouse without electricity or water and a mile from the road. There were many communes in Renfrew County where hippies formed a sizeable part of the population. Some of these communes lived in farmhouses without electricity and/or running water. The difficult living conditions were especially hard on the women, almost all of whom had been raised in a town or city. A recurring theme in the stories of the back-to-the-land hippies was the difficult time the women had adjusting to pioneer life. Other Toronto hippies who moved to Killaloe were Frank Tettemer and Linda Sorenson, Ish Talheimer, Jimmy Wilson and Barry and Sue Woolaver of the Ragnarokr Leather Shop. Chris Risk lived near Killaloe with Myra Kaplan before he joined the leather shop and built a home at Frostpocket.
A Toronto newspaper article dated January 23, 1971 referred to the following housing communes. All but the Perch County Conspiracy were located in Toronto. The article is reprinted below as “Pigpens? The lady was uninformed.”
- The Krishna Consciousness Society
- Jesus Freaks
- Rising Up Angry
- May 4th Movement
- New Feminists
- Guerilla newspaper’s house
- Yellow Ford Truck, 198 Beverly St.
- Ragnarokr, 33 Baldwin St.
- Rochdale’s 14th Floor
- The Whole Earth Family
- Perch County Conspiracy, Jim and Judy Cairns on a farm near Stratford, Ontario
- An Albany Avenue Toronto commune whose members include Alex Cramner, Timothy (a U of T student), Lynn, David and Donna.
- A Huron Street housing co-op whose members include Tanis Niemann and Jeannine.
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