This history of the American exile community in Toronto does not focus on events external to the exile community that may have motivated the actions of either individuals or the group as a whole. Instead it describes the internal dynamics of several small groups that constituted a small minority of the larger American exile community in Canada. The main body of the text mentions only peripherally events that dominated the news of the day and makes no attempt to explain why the individuals involved made the decisions that led them to leave the United States and join hippie communes in and around Baldwin Street in Toronto.
John Hagan, in his book “Northern Passage”, has done an excellent job explaining why individual American draft-dodgers choose exile in Canada and what led them to Baldwin Street. I wasn’t in Toronto when Professor Hagan did his research, having moved “temporarily” to the United States in search of a job. Since I missed that opportunity to explain my own motivations for my role in the American exile community in Toronto, I am taking this opportunity to give not one, but three, different accounts of what led me to Toronto in 1968. The three essays that follow are editorial in nature, are subject to revision and represent only the opinions of the author.
A broad perspective: A warm wind blows
Every two or three generations Western societies are sweep by an energy that, like a warm wind in spring, ignites ordinarily dormant passions in its citizens. Such a current aroused an entire generation of young people on every continent during the 1960s. Almost as a body and at the same time, they became aware that the societies into which they had been born and raised were marred by injustices and practices they judged to be unacceptable and, most interesting, they aroused themselves to put an end to what were to them blemishes on society.
Many young people, as always, sought to throw off only those customs and obligations that inhibited their own freedom of action. These young people gave the generation its reputation for crime, drugs, sex and “rock and roll”. Others embraced existing religious, cultural, political or business institutions with a fervor that surprised their parents and dismayed their generational peers. Some of the most ambitious of these young people matured into the current leaders of corporate business and its governments.
A much smaller number of young people were concerned for the condition of the “Other”, the poor, the foreigners, the Colored. These young people gave the generation its reputation as advocates for democracy, international peace, racial equality and justice for all. These people now fill the ranks of the organizations and institutions that constitute civil society. Still others realized that corporate capitalism, although it has the capacity to generate great wealth and is vastly more efficient in that regard than either socialism or indigenous cultures, contains in itself the seeds of its own demise. They realized that corporate capitalism is unsustainable and that its single-minded focus on monetary profit leads it to destroy individuals, communities, nations and the environment. These individuals created organizations that struggle to defend the environment and native peoples from further destruction.
An even smaller portion of young people banded together into unsanctioned and often illegal groups and actively tried to force change upon the societies in which they lived. The New Left in the United States, the Marxist guerrillas of Latin America and youthful communists of Europe were people of this ilk. Other people, the counter culture, simple adopted a new lifestyle that embodied the changes they wished to make. These were the hippies. This story is about one such group that formed in the City of Toronto, Ontario in Canada during 1968 and 1969.
A narrow perspective: Popular resistance to corporate power in the US South
Damage caused by the Civil War, failed attempts to ‘reconstruct’ the South, poor weather and the rise of corporate capitalism drove the farmers of the South and the Mid-west to organize the Populist Party in 1891. But the importance of the agrarian economy was in decline relative to industry and the farmers and their labor allies found that democratic, bottoms-up people’s power was no match for well-organized corporations and their allies that were already entrenched in State and Federal Governments. The coalition of black and white farmers and industrial workers fragmented and by 1908 the biracial phase of the populist farmer’s movement was over. The newly freed Negroes of the South entered an era of "race hate", segregation and Jim Crow laws that lasted for two generations as the agricultural economy of the US slowly collapsed. Labor unions fared better than the Grangers and socialists and communists continued to advance the populist agenda whenever they could.
The Negroes never completely abandoned their struggle for equality. Groups like the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) continued the struggle “by all legal means”. By the 1920s labor organizations in the northern US were sending organizers and lawyers to the South to encourage Negro resistance to Jim Crow institutions. The Southern Conference, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, CORE and the NAACP worked for seemingly fruitless years until the struggle blossomed into the Negro Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
The struggle for Negro civil rights in the South raised the awareness of American young people to the inequities and lack of real democracy in the United States just as the Cold War exposed the corruption and hypocrisy of the corporations that dominated the American economy and the US Government. The result was a generation of young people willing to question authority and to reject many elements of the status quo. Like their counterparts in the American Revolutionary, Jacksonian Democratic, Populist and Socialist movements they hoped and believed that American society was about to undergo a transformational change. Many believed that another American Revolution was imminent.
Following the example of the black Civil Rights movement, middle-class white university student activists inspired by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) sought to organize minority communities to demand incremental, pro-democratic changes, beginning in their own neighborhoods. Many school-age activists were involved in the Civil Rights movement and were inspired by the teachings and example of Mohandas Gandhi and his disciple, Dr. Martin Luther King, to embrace non-violent confrontation, coupled with appeals to conscience, as their preferred tactic. Like the comrades of the vanguard communist parties, they looked to the marginalized and poor of society for inspiration. Like the Catholic Worker movement, they embraced poverty as an anecdote to the middle-class cult of consumerism into which they had been raised. Unlike the “old left” these students were often not involved with organized labor and were not necessarily Marxists. They were the descendants of the Populists of the nineteenth century. They came to be called the “New Left”.
The popular culture of young Americans in the 1960s was a fusion of many elements including “drugs, sex and Rock and Roll”. Thousands of young people from middle-class homes sought to imitate the beatniks of a previous generation. These “little hipsters” or “hippies” congregated in New York City and San Francisco. They adopted the use of marijuana from the Negro under-class and wore outlandish clothing as their identifying marker. They broke with the sexual morality of their parents, proclaimed the virtues of “free love” and lived in communal groups they called “communes”. As the tensions between the youth of America and the US Government increased as a result of the Vietnam War, the hippies were drawn into an alliance with the New Left as partners in the 1960s Anti-War Movement. They combined anarchism, socialism, People’s Power and theater to oppose the war with “flower power”.
The response of government to the New Left and the hippies was repression. The “open hand” of co-optation, of buying cooperation, was offered first. The informal and rapidly changing organizations of the New Left and anti-war movement could not be bought off. The “gloved fist” of coercing cooperation with arrests and draft deferments followed soon after. But the students escalated their demands, became more “militant” and ignored or mimicked government agents. Black activists organized paramilitary groups and announced self-styled governments of their own. Demonstrations became larger and more violent. The “mailed fist” and the destruction of the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Socialist Worker’s Party and the hunt for the Weathermen and the Red Army Faction of the SDS soon followed. Nevertheless, as the decade of the 1960s came to an end, the resistance broadened and united. The Students for a Democratic Society and community groups formed the Movement for a Democratic Society to continue the struggle on the neighborhood level. Two front-line Civil Rights groups, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), joined the anti-war protests and Dr. Martin Luther King became a leader in the movement. New Left students, hippies, Civil Rights activists and progressive labor merged into a huge and powerful anti-war movement that involved a high percentage of American young people.
Since the war in Vietnam required the participation of young men as soldiers, young men were called upon to refuse service in the military as a way to stop the war and the march to a world-wide US empire. The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors encouraged legal resistance to the war by individuals claiming exemption from military service. The SDS organized anti-draft unions to help men resist induction into the military and a Serviceman’s Union to organize resistance to the war from within the army. The Resistance and the War Resister’s League urged young men not to cooperate with the draft system at all and urged men to burn or return their card cards to their local boards. The Red Army Faction coordinated the destruction of the files housed in local draft boards and the Canadian Student Union for Peace Action formed the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme (TADP) to encourage young men to go into exile rather than serve in Vietnam.
Many young Americans, men and women, chose exile for purely personal reasons. A few went into exile with the hope of joining an organized resistance. Once in Canada some avoided other American expatriates and blended into Canadian society. Others, for many different reasons, sought out other Americans. Some helped create exile organizations like the Union of American Exiles, AMEX and the many American immigrant-aid organizations. A few of the Americans hoped to foment the American Revolution that they felt was long overdue. Some formed ultra-left communist organizations and disappeared into the Canadian labor movement. Others hoped to create a new society based on the mix of New Left and hippie ideals based on “participatory democracy”. This was called “the counterculture”. This story is about one such group that formed in the City of Toronto, Ontario in Canada during 1968 and 1969.
An even narrower perspective: Resistance to the war in Vietnam.
The US military involvement in Vietnam began in 1959 and ended in 1973. The first phase of the war (1959 to 1965) roughly paralleled the rise of the modern Civil Rights movement that began with the Birmingham Bus Boycott of 1956 and culminated with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the mid-1960s, while the US was becoming entangled in the military conflict in Vietnam, increasingly large numbers of Americans were being drawn into the civil rights and related pro-democracy movements as they gained both momentum and legitimacy.
In 1965 US President Lyndon Johnson committed US ground troops to Vietnam after an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin involving two US destroyers. The military’s draft call increased from 100,000 in 1964 to 400,000 in 1966 as the attention and resources of the US government turned away from the War on Poverty and toward the War in Vietnam. 1,700,000 draftees were among the 9,087,000 men and women who served in the active duty US military during the Vietnam War (August, 1964 through May, 1975). A generation of civil rights and pro-democracy activists who had been trained in non-violent resistance as a way to change society was being forced into military service even as their opposition to the War grew stronger.
In April 4, 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed the thoughts of many of these young people when he said, in a speech to a gathering of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam at the Riverside Church in New York, “Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.”
The US government responded to this speech with a secret plan to discredit Dr. King. In August 1967 the US Federal Bureau of Investigation began a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) to disrupt and “neutralize” “militant black nationalist organizations” such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) (Dr. King’s group) and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). A year after delivering his speech at the Riverside Church in New York, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. By then the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was also targeting white civil rights activists who, like Dr. King, began to denounce the war in Vietnam.
Local Selective Service Boards were called upon to draft more men even as the number of men claiming to be conscientious objectors to war or seeking deferments from the draft increased. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) urged draft-age students and active duty military to form anti-draft or servicemen’s unions to resist the war. The Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) came to the attention of the FBI when it organized a tour of speakers who traveled the South urging students to resist the military draft.
Because the Selective Service System refused to recognize most alternative service, most draft resisters assumed they had only two alternatives: service in the military (hopefully as a non-combatant) or going to jail. American war resisters had been immigrating to Canada since 1964 but it was not until early 1968 (when Mark Satin, a counselor for the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme, wrote the “Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada”) that this third option became widely known in the US. Over 65,000 copies of the TADP booklet in ten editions were sold and distributed to anti-war groups in the US. Over the next six or seven years perhaps 100,000 men and women took advantage of this third option and immigrated to Canada.
This story is about a small group of American draft resisters who immigrated to Toronto in 1968 and 1969 and started a small business called the Ragnarokr Cordwainery.