Ragnarokr branches out, 1972-1974

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Ragnarokr branches out: Montreal and Gananoque

In 1972 and 1973 craftsmen who had trained at the Ragnarokr leather shop left the shop to open their own businesses or to teach. Tom Bonanno and Ginny Turcotte opened a leather shop in Montreal, Chris Risk opened a seasonal business at the resort town of Gananoque and Philip and Mary were hired as contract instructors for a Canada Manpower training program north of Lake Superior.

In June 1972 Madelyn Averitte left the leather shop to visit friends in Yonkers, New York. When she returned to Toronto in August she agreed to help Tom Bonanno open a leather shop in Montreal. In September she, Tom and Ginny Turcotte rented a storefront on Crescent Street in Montreal and opened ‘Pickle Lake Leatherworks’. Ginny is a Canadian and her high-school French became invaluable in dealing with the shop's customers from the French-speaking suburbs of Montreal. In December 1972 Madelyn returned to the leather shop in Toronto, leaving Tom and Ginny to run the leather shop in Montreal. Tom and Ginny stayed through the summer of 1973 but in August they closed the leather shop in Montreal and moved to St. Thomas, Ontario where Tom found a temporary job with the City Parks Department cleaning the City’s parks.

Meanwhile Chris Risk had met and fallen in love with Steve Spring’s sister, Caroline, when she came to visit her brother the year earlier. Caroline lived in Gulf Breeze, Florida with her mother. In February 1973 Chris traveled with George, Colleen and the baby Seth to Florida and Louisiana and paid a brief visit to Caroline in Gulf Breeze. In April Chris Risk made another trip to Florida, by bus, to court Caroline. The following month Caroline came to Toronto and stayed with her brother while she learned to do leather shop at the Ragnarokr leather shop. In June Chris and Caroline moved to a resort at Gananoque, Ontario where they opened a craft shop with a grant from the Government of Ontario. The resort closed in September and Chris and Caroline moved back to Chris’ home at the Frostpocket. After their return from Gananoque, Chris and Carline made leather goods at his home at the settlement at Frostpocket and sold them through the leather shop in Toronto. Caroline returned to Florida in the fall of 1974.

Ragnarokr branches out: Heron Bay

Frank Tettemer was an US Army deserter in February 1969 when he moved into the house at 218 McCaul with Mary Rauton and Colleen Anderson. A few months later Marita DeGive arrived from Atlanta, Georgia to visit Mary Rauton. During this visit, Marita and Frank met and fell in love. They were both working in the leather shop by June. Marita’s mother, member of a distinguished Atlanta family, came to Toronto in August to visit Mary, her daughter Marita and her daughter’s young man, Frank. Shortly afterward Frank and Marita married and Frank left Ragnarokr and took a job as a carpenter. The next month both Frank and Marita enrolled in the Sheridan School of Design.

After graduating in June 1972 Frank and Marita Tettemer moved to near Thunder Bay, Ontario, where Frank was under contract with the Government of Canada to teach native Canadians how to make and market contemporary leatherwork. In October the contract ran out and Frank and Marita moved back to southern Ontario and into the farmhouse at Doyle’s Mountain in Renfrew County. Frank wrote a letter to Philip and Mary about a request from an Indian band near Thunder Bay asking for help with a training project. The band intended to create a producer’s co-operative on the Pic 50 Heron Bay Reserve. Frank had presented a few workshops on the reserve and now the band was interested in pursuing the project further. Marita had not responded favorable to the conditions in northern Ontario and Frank felt that he could not accept the job.

As it so happened the owners of Pax Designs, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks (where Philip had worked several years earlier) were the prime contractors for the project. The man and wife team owned the store and its attached design studio, J & J Brooks. They also knew Mary Rauton through their involvement with the Ontario Craft Foundation Board of Directors. Philip began immediately to work with Mr. and Mrs. Brooks and several Government agencies to write a proposal to fund the request from the Heron Bay Band. In February 1973 Philip and Mary were still working to finalize funding from three government agencies for the project for the Heron Bay Band. Ultimately one government agency agreed to purchase the tools and materials, another agreed to pay for the trainee’s wages and a third provided a stipend for the instructors. The hope of the Government was that the hippies and the indigenous people would work well together since they seemed to share many characteristics and interests in addition to long hair and a fondness for isolated rural settings.

In March Philip and Mary left in the shop’s Dodge van for the Heron Bay Reserve located near Marathon, Ontario. The remaining members of the Ragnarokr co-operative took turns running the leather shop in Toronto and working on the buildings at Frostpocket. In June, Philip and Mary sent $500 to George for the purchase of welding equipment for the Frostpocket. In 17 weeks in Heron Bay, Philip Mullins earned $3,373.48. This sum was triple his usual per annum earnings at the leather shop. He and Mary used part of their earning to improve the settlement at Frostpocket. When Philip and Mary returned from Heron Bay in August, Mary returned to the leather shop in Toronto while Philip worked on the buildings at Frostpocket until November.

Ragnarokr branches out: Yonge Street

Toronto’s premier shopping district along Yonge Street is only six blocks east of Baldwin Street. The crowds of shoppers soon caught the attention of the aspiring merchants of the American exile community. In the fall of 1969 the leather shop cooperated with a number of other independent craftsmen to run a retail store at the Market on Yonge Street. In return for a small amount of shelf space in the market stall, someone from Ragnarokr ran the stall one evening a week. In the summer of 1971 Larry Langner (from New York via Israel) set up a workshop in the basement of 33 Baldwin Street and began to sell his leather products from a pushcart on Yonge Street.

In August 1972 Janice Spellerberg returned to Canada from Europe with Pat Ruoff (from Germany). They both learned how to do leatherwork at the Ragnarokr leather shop and then began selling their products on Yonge Street during the Christmas shopping season. Pat Ruoff was an excellent salesman and they continued to sell crafts on the street for several months. In May 1973 they rented a space at the Yonge Street Mall. On a trip to New York City in the summer of 1973 Pat saw street venders selling jewelry made from antique West African glass beads. The glass beads were trade beads that had been used by the Portuguese to purchase slaves in the 15th century. For centuries the beads were used as currency in the Ivory Coast. Now they had lost their use as money and were being sold in the public market at Abidjan. In November Pat and Janice traveled overland from Spain and purchased a large quantity of these Murano-style beads and shipped them back to Toronto. For the next two years they made and sold beaded jewelry on Yonge Street using the beads they had purchased in Africa. In the summer of 1974 Janice Spellerberg was still selling leather goods in the Yonge Street Mall under the name of “White Bird Handicrafts.” After their supply of beads was exhausted, Pat moved into the business of selling silver jewelry and eventually opened the Ruoff Jewelry store just south of Bloor Street in Toronto.

Another business that began on Baldwin Street also later had a presence on Yonge Street. John Anderson of the Whole Earth commune opened a small clothing store next door to the Ragnarokr leather shop at 31 Baldwin Street in 1971. After a few years he shifted his purchasing operation from Mexico to India and began designing his own line of cotton clothing. By the middle 1970s he had six locations across Canada and was said to be the largest Canadian importer of clothing at the time. One of his stores was just off Yonge Street on St. Joseph Street. Skip O’Dell helped decorate the interior of the stores on Baldwin and St. Joseph Streets. Colleen Mullins and Bie Engelen of the Ragnarokr leather shop shared a job at the St. Joseph Street location of Morning Star Trading Company in 1979.

The narrative continues at Baldwin Village, 1972-1973

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