The “counterculture” or hippie movement of the 1960s was perhaps a contemporary example of the restlessness young people experience during periods of social instability. Similar movements seem to occur periodically and are perhaps correlated in some way to other “long cycles” such as those observed in the financial markets. These periods of restlessness correlate to wars and social turmoil as well. The particulars of the rise and decline of the “hippies” and their influence on North American culture are beyond the scope of this story. However the Baldwin Street exile community had a high percentage of individuals who participated in the hippie “back-to-the-land” movement. For this reason some background, as it applies to those individuals, is provided here.
The hippie movement began in New York City and San Francisco and soon spread to cities and towns all over North America. At some point, for reasons unknown to me, many groups of hippies moved out of the cities. Instead of moving to the suburbs or small towns, they moved to rural areas. Hippies were, almost by definition, young middle-class city kids. Few of them had been raised on farms or in rural areas. Once located in some rural area, they struggled to survive. Many lived in conditions of abject poverty. Indeed, they seemed to embrace poverty. Some even refused to use modern appliances and labor-saving devices. This often meant that they lived in houses without electricity. Some farmed without tractors. Most refused to use chemical fertilizers. Some adopted extreme diets. Some rejected state institutions such as public schools and many tried to organize their affairs so as to operate outside of the money economy.
The hippies often thought of themselves, and were sometimes viewed by “straight” society, as a distinct group similar to an ethnic group. The Baldwin Street exile community was widely known and described as a community of hippies. Other hippie communities were scattered throughout Ontario. The largest and most famous of the hippie communities in Ontario was near the town of Killaloe Station in Renfrew County.
The author has little information about the Killahoe hippie community except that a half-dozen or so individuals from Baldwin Street moved there. Most returned to Toronto after a few months. The following information is about one family that moved to Renfrew County. This information is from a letter titled “One-Family Revolution” that was printed in the September 1979 issue of the Catholic Worker newspaper. The content of the letter is paraphrased.
In September 1969 Barney and Pat McCaffrey moved to a farm near Wilno in Renfrew County. They had previously lived at the New York Catholic Worker. Before moving to Wilno they had traveled around the US on a “Pilgrimage on Wheels” and then had gone to Peru where they worked with the poor. They purchased a farm and devoted themselves to being self-sufficient on their farm, developing an alternative school for their and their neighbor’s children and community action. They ran the farm without electricity or running water or a tractor.
In 1970 they helped start the Community School of Killaloe. In 1979 the school had eleven children in attendance from five families. The parents were the teachers. The school building was the families’ homes. A group of neighbors, including the McCaffreys, formed a community group in 1970 that undertook several projects. They restored a marsh, renovated a historic church building and spawned an anti-nuclear association. They sponsored discussion clubs that dwelt with topics such as “Development and Peace”. By 1979 the McCaffrey family was growing the major portion of their food. They had fenced the farm and were beginning to restore their sandy, gravelly loam to fertility. They continued to live on very little money and were close to their goal of self-sufficiency.
Other groups and families, sosme from Toronto, moved to the Killahoe area during the same period. Two of the Yellow Ford Truck commune (Jimmy Wilson and his brother Tony Wilson) purchased an abandoned farm there. At least three other groups from Baldwin Street also moved to the same area at about the same time. Barbara Miller and Mike Siegel of the Baldwin Street Sunshine Co-op purchased a small lot near Doyle’s Mountain. In 1972 Ruth Lyons and her boyfriend Peter Judd built a yurt on the property and lived there over the winter. Chris Risk and Myra Kaplan lived near Doyle’s Mountain for three or four months prior to 1971.
When the Ragnarokr Leather Shop commune decided to purchase land in a rural area it was understood that it would be somehow connected to the colony near Killaloe. However, and despite the strong bonds between the Ragnarokr Leather Shop and the hippie community at Killahoe, the leather shop commune did not purchase land in Renfrew County. Instead they located on the other side of Algonquin Park, about 150 miles to the west. As a result the author lost contact with the hippies around Killahoe and really knows very little about how the community there developed. Someone else will have to tell that story.
Use this link to return to the narrative, The Leather Shop’s open door, August 1969-February 1970