Steve and Mary Burdick

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Steven Michael Burdick and Mary Paisley were friends of George Mullins at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. Mary was enrolled in the art department while Steve studied the Classics. They knew George’s brother, Philip, who was also a student at FSU and who had immigrated to Canada to avoid the draft. In the summer of 1968 Steve graduated from FSU and found that he too faced a hostile draft board in Miami, Florida. Steve had no interest is being a soldier and in August he and Mary immigrated to Toronto. Steve enrolled in graduate school at the University of Toronto and Mary found work as a model at the Ontario College of Art (OCA).

Both Steve and Mary Burdick worked off-and-on in the Ragnarokr leather shop for many years and participated in the affairs of the Baldwin Street community. They sat in on the discussions at the leather shop in January 1970 about Ragnarokr’s back-to-the-land project. At that time they were living at the housing commune at 224 McCaul Street. When Sheila Street terminated the lease on 224 McCaul Street, Steven and Mary Burdick moved to Robert Street. When the leather shop moved to 33 Baldwin Street in August 1970 Steve and Mary Burdick gave up their apartment and moved into the large upstairs front room at 33 Baldwin Street. In September their first child, Alice Burdick, was born at Wellesley Hospital. During 1971 and 1972 Mary worked occasionally in the leather shop and in February 1973 Steve began to work there a few hours each week to keep the shop’s three sets of books and make sure that the bills were paid on time. Steve continued to work part-time as the Ragnarokr bookkeeper until April 1978. Steve assumed that he had been indicted for draft evasion in Miami. In October 1974 the US Justice Department issued a list of 6,000 draft resisters who were still wanted for draft-related crimes. Philip Mullins and Steve Spring of the leather shop were both on the list but, to his surprise, Steve Burdick was not. Steve had no intention of returning to the US. During the 1970s Steve continued to work toward a Ph.D. in Germanic languages at the University of Toronto while Mary worked at secretarial jobs and raised their two children, Alice and Brendan.

In the fall of 1978 Janice Spellerberg and Steve Burdick began a series of Friday night educational events for the Baldwin community. Topics included ‘The Druids” by Steve Burdick at Janice Spellerberg’s apartment at Robert Street; “Atomic Energy” by Janice and Philip Mullins at the leather shop; “Art in Everyday Life” by Ken Hopper at the leather shop and “Art and Music and Parapsychology”. By then Steve and Mary had moved to 19 D’Arcy Street, just a block south of Baldwin Street. In the fall of 1979, during the turmoil caused by the meltdown of the leather shop, both Philip Mullins and Randy Rauton boarded with Steve and Mary at 19 D’Arcy Street.

Mary Paisley Burdick was an artist who worked primarily in watercolors. Some of her early work featured portraits of Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong who she endowed with Buddha-like features. Mary used a number of materials over the years. She exhibited her works on fabric and paper at the Lacemaker’s Gallery in Toronto in May 1984 and in December 1985 had a showing at Gallery 940 in Toronto that she titled “Hide & Seek”. The works on display concerned her experience as an unwed mother in the US South in 1965. When Mary was a teenager she was placed in a home for unwed mothers in Mobile, Alabama and her child was put up for adoption. Mary was always haunted by that experience. She committed suicide in the early 1990s.

While Steve was a student he worked in libraries classifying foreign language books. He worked for the City of Toronto Public Library for many years. In 2005 he was a librarian at Toronto’s Alpha Plus Centre. He served as the President of his union Local #1582-01 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. He was active in the Library Division of Local 416 of the Toronto Civic Employee’s Union and Chairman of the Ontario Library Worker’s Committee.

Steve was highly regarded in the Baldwin Street community for his knowledge of literature and European culture. His Ph.D. thesis concerned Norse languages. It was he who suggested the name of the Ragnarokr leather shop. When Steve was asked to sign a petition in 2000 regarding the Coach House Press in Toronto, he signed his name and added: “To the extent that the history of a country is the history of its awareness; and to the extent that awareness is expressed and created by its authors and artists; and given that even in these days of cyberspace local space is a basic reminder and need of these expressions and this awareness -- how then can we even consider allowing such a beacon as the Coach House Press to perish?”

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