Steve Spring

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Steven Bennett Spring was an Art student at Florida Presbyterian College when he decided that he would not serve in the US military in Vietnam. In January 1969 Philip Mullins’ father worked as a caretaker at the Warrington Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. A neighbor of Steve’s mother was the organist at the church. When Steve told his mother that he was thinking about going to Canada the neighbor passed Philip’s address in Toronto to Steve. Steve wrote Philip and was encouraged by the response. At that time the US government was advising draft-age men that they would not be admitted to Canada. Steve learned from Philip that this was not true. Steve Spring arrived in Toronto in March 1969 and was invited to live at 218 McCaul Street with Mary Rauton, Colleen Anderson, Frank Tettermer, Steve Blossom and Steve Bush. By May he was learning leatherwork under the tutelage of Steve Blossom and in July moved into 11 Baldwin Street as a member of the Ragnarokr commune. Steve developed his own style that was more decorative and finished than that of most of the commune.

In December Steve moved to the old hotel on Stoney Lake near Lakefield where Philip, Mary and a number of other Ragnarokr craftsmen had been living since August. By then the leather shop had split into two factions over the commune’s back-to-the-land project. The dispute pitted the majority who were in favor of purchasing rural property against a minority who opposed the idea. The dispute seemed to pit the majority of utopian, non-violent hippies against the minority of urban, terrorist hippies. The entire Baldwin Street community was divided along similar lines. Steve, Philip and Mary formulated a proposal for a rural crafts community that they hoped to found.

Upon their return to Toronto after Christmas, Mary, Philip and Steve hosted weekly community meetings at 11 Baldwin Street to discuss the craft school proposal. In January 1970 Steve traveled to Renfrew County to visit with Barry and Sue Woolaver and become acquainted with the growing hippie community near the little town of Killalo Station. He and the remaining members of Ragnarokr strongly supported a move to the country. Steve was one of the original six partners in the 100-acre lot called the Frostpocket and continues to hold a share in the property. In April 1974 Skip O’Dell offered to sell his cabin at the commune’s rural property to Steve but Steve refused the offer and Bie Engelen subsequently purchased Skip’s cabin and his share of the land. Steve never exercised his option to build a home at the Frostpocket. In August 1970, when the leather shop moved to 33 Baldwin, Steve moved to an apartment on Spadina Avenue. In January 1971 he met Simone Bulger, his future wife, at Ragnarokr where they both worked and in December he and Simone were married. After his marriage Steve stopped working at the leather shop on Baldwin Street. He set up his own shop and did business as “Leather Arts by Spring”.

In 1974 he began to sell leather goods on consignment at Ragnarokr. Steve returned to work full-time at Ragnarokr in 1979 but continued to sell his leather goods on consignment under his own company name. In September 1984 when Mary returned from New York City, he proposed merging his business with that of Ragnarokr. In June 1986 his proposal was finally accepted and he managed the leather shop until it closed in December 1996. Steve brought order and stability to the shop and increased its sales considerably.

For almost fifteen years battery belts used to power portable cameras were a stable and profitable production item for the Ragnarokr leather shop. By 1990 the demand for battery belts had declined as camera technology changed. This put increased financial pressure on the shop. The economics of the leather trade and Ragnarokr had changed considerably since 1969. By 1994 Steve, Mary, Randy, Bie and Steve’s daughter, Amy, were the only crafts persons working at the leather shop. The cost of materials, supplies and overhead had increased while cheaper imports had pushed retail prices down. By 1994 Mary was receiving a retirement check from the US Social Security Administration and worked the customer-service counter at the shop mainly to pay the rent on her room behind the leather shop. Bie Engelen had moved to Toronto Island and only worked in the leather shop part-time making and selling sheepskin gloves, jackets and vests. Randy was involved in classes at the University of Toronto and also worked part-time. Steve’s younger daughter Amy made hats and bags. She worked full-time only during the sandal season. Steve and an employee did most of the production work. All work was done on consignment. Steve saw that the shop’s sales were beginning to decline and he knew of no way to stop the downward trend. He began to think about closing the shop. By then he was the only full-time worker at the leather shop and was responsible for the shop’s management. He wanted to stop working with skins and he felt that the others in the co-operative could survive without the leather shop. He and the other made the decision to close the shop at the end of 1996. All store stock was placed on sale for the Christmas 1996 selling season and much of the equipment was put up for sale. The ancient harness-stitching machine was sold to a shop that actually made harness, Bie took the sewing machines she had been using and Amy took some of the others. Steve kept only the few tools necessary to finish the custom-orders he had in hand and sold the rest of his outfit. He had no concrete idea for what he would do next.

In 1995 Steve’s wife, Simone, began working for a non-profit called the Visiting Homemakers Association and Steve was volunteering at the Zen Center. After the leather shop closed in December 1996 he volunteered at the Meeting Place and St. Christopher’s House where he managed an art program and craft sales. About 18 months after the leather shop closed, he was offered a job at the Zen Center and in 1998 became its office manager. He continues to work at the Zen Center in Toronto.

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