Janice Spellerberg

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Janice Spellerberg grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, where her father was a home-builder. In April 1968, with tanks in the street outside her apartment and National Guard troops keeping a curfew in the city following the assassination of Martin Luther King and the ensuing riots, she followed her long-time boyfriend Greg Sperry to Toronto. He had left in March, the day after President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run for another term, to avoid service in the US military. Don Holman, co-member of the Kansas City group of six who shared a warehouse living space, had joined Greg at the house on St. Paul Street in the Cabbagetown neighborhood and they had each formally applied for and received immigrant status. Janice soon received immigrant status as well and found a clerical job at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). In September she went to California for several weeks. Upon her return to Toronto in November she moved into 224 McCaul Street, near the University of Toronto, with her Kansas City friends and eleven other Americans. The next month she and six of the residents from 224 McCaul Street rented a house at 418 Dundas Street.

Janice and Greg Sperry were married there on Christmas Day. Her friends from the Yellow Ford Truck commune attended the ceremony and brought a wedding gift of a large handmade candle from the Yellow Ford Truck store. (insert link to “Greg’s Wedding”, file 7.8) The residents at 418 Dundas Street and the two houses on McCaul Street visited back and forth and shared an active social life. Janice worked part-time as a model for drawing and painting classes at the Ontario College of Art (OCA) and other schools. She and Greg soon separated, and in April 1969 she and fellow Kansas City native Margaret Thurlow moved to rooms at 64 Beverly Street. That summer Janice spent several weeks in Missouri and Mexico. She watched the moon landing with a Mexican family in Acapulco. She returned to Toronto in August 1969 and moved back into 224 McCaul Street with the Burdicks until November, when she found a small apartment behind Pasquale’s Barber Shop at 158 McCaul Street. She made and sold clothing through the Yellow Ford Truck store and worked at the University of Toronto. She attended a fledgling women’s consciousness-raising group at the University of Toronto.

The next spring she, Greg Sperry and Ray Edge traveled to England together. She did clerical work through P.D. Bureau and waited tables at a French restaurant after her work permit expired. She shared a flat with three other young women in the village of Hampstead in northwest London. She enjoyed getting to know London and English culture. She and hundreds of thousands of other young people were on the Isle of Wright for Jimi Hendrix’s last performance in August 1970. In December she was laid off at the restaurant and returned home to Toronto. She started working for the Canadian Whole Earth Almanac and living in Rochdale College in January 1971.

She went to Germany in the spring of 1972 where she got a temporary job in a snack bar on a US Army base. While in Germany she met Pat Ruoff, a German national. She and Pat traveled through Germany and Spain before returning to Canada together in August. Once in Toronto Janice introduced Pat to the leather craftsmen at the Ragnarokr leather shop. They both learned how to do leatherwork at the leather shop and soon began selling their products on Yonge Street. In May 1973 Janice and Pat rented a booth at the Yonge Street Mall.

In the fall of 1973 Janice enrolled in the University of Toronto. While on a trip to New York City, Pat Ruoff saw street venders selling chokers and bracelets made from glass beads from West Africa strung on leather lacing. Pat learned that the beads came from the city market in Abidjan on the Ivory Coast of Africa. He called Janice and she dropped out of UT and joined Pat in Spain. From Spain they traveled overland to West Africa and purchased enough beads to fill a crate. They put the crate containing the beads on a freighter and returned to Toronto by air. When the beads arrived Janice and Pat began making and selling jewelry on the street. In the summer of 1974 Janice sold leather goods in the Yonge Street Mall under the name of “White Bird Handicrafts.” Pat Ruoff made and sold the beaded jewelry until his supply of beads was exhausted. He then began to sell silver Navaho-style jewelry before finally opening a store selling gold jewelry off Bloor Street. Janice and Pat remained friends for many years. Pat married a Brazilian goldsmith and moved to Brazil in the 1990s.

Janice held several temporary jobs with the Government of Ontario before being hired as a typist by the Ontario Hansard, the official journal of the Ontario Provincial Parliament. She worked for the Hansard, with a few breaks in service, until she retired after 2006. She maintained contact with her old friends and was a frequent visitor to Baldwin Street. She and Steve Burdick initiated a series of Friday night presentations for the Baldwin Street community in the fall of 1978 that involved a discussion of a topic of interest followed by a meal. That fall and winter she and Mary Rauton taped interviews with a number of men and women of the American exile community for the Ontario Multi-Cultural Historical Society.

Janice traveled to Miami, Florida in February 1979, sharing the drive as far as the Gulf coast with Greg Sperry, who was going to visit his father. She continued on to Miami, where she shared a cottage in the Coconut Grove district with a young woman from Maine, practised yoga at a 3HO ashram and took temp jobs for two months. She returned to Toronto in the spring. That fall she had a brief affair with Philip Mullins and became pregnant at the age of 32. On April 20, 1980 her son, Martin Coleman, was born seven and a half weeks prematurely at Mount Sinai Hospital, weighing 3 pounds 12 ounces. After spending five weeks in an incubator in the neonatal unit the baby weighed a healthy 5 pounds and was able to go home. That October Janice's brother came with a van and helped her and the baby move to Kansas City, Missouri to be near her large family. In the meantime, Philip had moved to Texas and was sending regular support payments of about $100 a month.

In July 1981 she and the baby traveled to Beaumont, Texas to live with Philip Mullins on a trial basis. She returned to Kansas City at the end of August and lived there until September 1982. She studied for and passed the Missouri court reporter’s exam but was unable to find a position in the area. She inquired about returning to her old job at Ontario Hansard and immediately accepted when invited back. She and Marty visited Philip in Beaumont for a week and then moved back to Toronto. Philip continued to send regular monthly payments for Marty’s expenses until 1983. Janice set the money aside to fund Marty’s education. Philip visited Toronto for extended periods in the summers of 1983 and 1984 and lived in Toronto from January 1985 to July 1987. When Marty was 10 years old he began making regular visits to his father and his family in Pensacola, Florida and later in Austin, Texas. Janice and Marty lived at the Alexandra Housing Co-operative on Carr Street until she purchased a Victorian row house near Dufferin and Dundas streets in the Portuguese area of Toronto. Marty graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 2000 and, as of July 2010, works as Web Developer for the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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