Work on the history of the Ragnarokr Cordwainery began in 1978. It began as a history of the Vietnam-era American exile community in Toronto and was intended to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of its beginning. The American exile community involved hundreds of people and dozens of institutions such as housing co-operatives, cultural, political and religious organizations, farms and businesses. Because no one person knew the full story, the people at the Ragnarokr leather shop compiled and circulated a bare-bones sketch of events that they thought were important to the community. The idea was provide a common frame-work which each individual could then use to write their own story of their involvement in the exile community. This sketch became known as the Chronology.
Each subsequent version of the Chronology was larger than the last. The first two versions were widely circulated among the community and a half-dozen people actually sent information to the compiler over a period of some eight years. After the second version was widely circulated, it was apparent that no further responses were forthcoming. The third version was never circulated and appears in this work as the Ragnarokr Chronology.
Each version had a cover letter that gave some details about the document. The cover letters are reproduced below.
The first version of the chronology was three pages long. It was written at 33 Baldwin Street by Philip Mullins and distributed in 1978.
The following is the cover letter for the first version of the Chronology.
“During the last year or so there has been a growing interest among the few surviving members of the American exile community in the Baldwin Street area to document in some form the story of the American ghetto in downtown Toronto.
As you recall this area of town was once the hub of a fairly large community of American war resisters, expatriates and hippies. Since the turbulent days of 1970 our community has steadily declined as has the Canadian hippie movement with which it was so closely allied. By the summer of 1978 only a few storefronts remained on Baldwin Street and only a couple of dozen families still lived in the neighborhood. The majority of the community has either returned to the US or moved to rural areas of Canada with the remnants of the hippies.
While we recognize that the decline of this community follows the same historical laws that govern the life and death of almost all urban immigrant communities, we regret its passing. The recent loss of several long-time neighbors has reminded us that the ultimate disappearance of the last vestiges of the community is only a matter of time. This has prompted our interest in recording the communities’ “memoirs” while that is still possible.
The purpose of this letter is to let you know what we are doing to record those “memoirs” and also to solicit your help. We hope to be mailing these letters on an occasional basis to whoever is willing to help us in this project by submitting materials, answering questions, correcting errors and offering encouragement. I will begin by telling you a little about what we have been doing.
The Archives of Ontario:
In the summer of 1978 the Multicultural Historical Society of Ontario asked us to gather material on the immigrant experiences of Americans who came to Ontario during the Vietnam-era. This material would be housed in the Ontario Archives for use by the public. During the last few months Mary Mullins and Janice Spellerberg have spent many hours interviewing and taping ten or twelve men and women for this purpose. In addition they are gathering letters, documents and pictures for the Archives.
The Printed Word:
At a series of back-yard picnics last summer we decided to undertake some kind of project to mark the 10th anniversary of our little community. While we still haven’t decided exactly what we’ll do, one of the stronger tendencies has been to print something. The movement toward the printed word became even stronger when we discovered that Laura Jones and John Phillips, who have an immense collection of photographs of the community, have been planning a book featuring some of the photos. We though this was an excellent opportunity to produce a commercial work featuring works by and about the community and illustrated with excellent photographs.
We have undertaken to distribute this newsletter as our contribution to the communities’ “memoirs”. Through the newsletter we hope to be able to keep everyone informed, to print your contributions and ultimately produce enough material to complement the Phillip’s photographs.
We Need Your Help!
Whether or not we continue to distribute this newsletter depends primarily upon your response to it. If we receive no submissions we will have nothing to distribute.
This newsletter will concentrate on items pertaining to the development and functioning of the American exile communities’ institutions such as co-op housing, craft workshops, retail stores, newspapers, community centers such as the Hall and Slum Goddess and political and self-help organizations. We will concentrate on the American ghetto and especially on Baldwin Street. Likely we will have some coverage of the rural communities and a few selections about individual’s experiences prior to and after immigration.
Literature, art, documents and papers are all needed. Please send us copies unless you want us to keep the originals. Remember that everything you send will become public information. Do not send us anything that you consider to be compromising.
I’m asking each of you to spend a few minutes going over the chronology that is included in this letter. Correct mistakes, rearrange the time sequence and, most importantly, write in the margins what you and your household were doing from month to month.
Before we can begin we need to know what happened when and to whom. Also we need to know what were the really important institutions and dominant personalities of our community. I hope that the chronology will help us by connecting all of our activities in time and also by giving us a moving picture of what happened from month to month. I’ve included a lot of trivia because that is how I remember things.
When you have finished, please mail it back to us. We will put the responses together and return it to you in another mailing.”
The letter’s authors listed 58 persons whom they though would be willing to help in the history project. 24 individuals received copies of the chronology. The 24 who received copies were: Randy Rauton and Bie Engelen, Jeff and Debbie Mullins, David Humphries, Frank Tettemer, Don Holman, Chuck Wall, Greg Sperry and Ann Weatherby, Margaret Thurlow, Janice Spellerberg, Lisa Steel, Mary and Steve Burdick, Laura Jones and John Phillips, Steve and Simone Spring, Kent Lawrence, George and Colleen Mullins, Paula and Michael Letki, Jimmy Wilson, Pat Wilson, Helen Gilbert, Dave Zimmerman, Dick Bennett, Tom Bonanno, Ginny Turcotte, Abraham Blank, John Anderson, Madelyn and Fletcher Starbuck.
The remaining 36 individuals did not receive a copy because their whereabouts or their addresses were unknown. Those who did not receive copies were: Carol Huebner, Dave Woodward, Barry Woolaver, Randy and Pat Rogers, Wayne Myers, Skip and Judy O’Dell, Dave Bush, Ray Edge, Gary Brick, Ed and Sheila Street, Steve Blossom, Debbie and Tony Wilson, Patrick Wilson, Ruth Ruston, Pat Ruoff, Jim and Linda Certais, Ish Thalheimer, Hans Wetzel, Alan Gay, Bill and Katherine Tessia, Sara Langer, Marita DeGive, Karen Lawrence, Caroline Spring, Sonya Kelley, Chris Risk, Michael Ormsby, Branda Matthias, Dr. Saul Levine, Pat and Steward Shirer.
The second version of the chronology was 22 pages long. It was written in Burkeville, Texas by Colleen Mullins and Philip Mullins and mailed in 1981. The following is the cover letter for the second version of the chronology.
As you may recall, three years ago we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our community of exiles in the back-yard of Ragnarokr. At that party an idea was developed to write a history of the community as we remember it.
Philip circulated a brief chronology. Four people (Steven Bush, Janice Spellerberg, Colleen Mullins and Mary Rauton) responded with their version of events, adding to and correcting the original. We have incorporated these memories into the original.
Please read this chronology carefully and on separate paper record month-by-month the events in your life that you consider important to you or which you feel affected the life of the community. Send your response back to us as soon as possible.
It is mine and Philip’s fervent hope that enough people will respond to develop a complete picture of what happened. We plan to add these submissions to the chronology and then sent it out again to those who responded. This might take two or three years.
Love, Colleen Route One, Box 43 Burkeville, Texas 75932
Copies were sent to: Colleen and George Mullins, Philip Mullins, Mary Rauton , Pat Wilson, Steven Bush, Janice Spellerberg, Steve and Simone Spring, Madelyn and Fletcher Starbuck, Brenda Matthias, Frank Tettemer, Jimmy Wilson, Greg Sperry, Laura Jones, Margaret Thurlow, David Zimmerman, Ann Weatherby, Lisa Steele, Randy Rauton, Don Holman, Dave Woodward, Steve and Mary Burdick, Chuck Wall, Linda and Jim Bearden, Tom Bonnanno, Skip O’Dell, John Phillips, Karen Lawrence, Michael Ormsby, Lillian Abrams, Chis Risk, Marty Bunyan, Carol Huebner, Michael and Paula Letki, Ruth Ruston.
The third version of the chronology was 58 pages long and was prepared by Philip Mullins after 2000 in Austin, Texas. It was never distributed. The entire third version of the Chronology is included as an appendix to the history of the Ragnarokr leather shop.
The following is the text of a letter that was to be included in the mailing of the third version of the chronology.
“In March 1968 I made a journey by train beginning in Florida and ending in Ontario. It was a journey into exile. The journey was about turning away from the increasingly violent confrontation with race haters, warmongers and Red baiters that characterized my life in Florida. The journey was a necessary first step in the creation a peaceful community of people who actually participate in making the important decisions that guide the conduct of their lives. I envisioned a community devoted to useful work, spiritual searching and fellowship. Making that journey and building that community was the only significant action I have ever taken. I began that journey fourteen years ago. It is not yet finished.
In1978 at a party in the back yard of the Ragnarokr leather shop someone decided to “document” the story of the American hippy-draft dodger-deserter community in Toronto. As my contribution I passed around a brief chronology listing month-by-month what I though were significant events in the life of the community. Over the next two years Steve Bush, Janice Spellerberg, Colleen Mullins and Mary Rauton all responded with their own versions of significant events, adding to and correcting the original.
In 1982 Colleen and I incorporated the responses into the original and we mailed copies of the 22-page Chronology to some 25 persons. Thus far I have received follow-up responses from Madelyn Averette Starbuck and Tom Bonanno.
This summer we intend to compile a third version of the Chronology. Won’t you help? We ask that, if you were involved with that community or were connected to it in any way please, jot down month-by-month and year-by-year the events in your own life that you feel impacted the life of the entire community during the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Send your chronology to me and I will see that you receive a copy of the final compilation.
This may be the only chance you will ever have to write history. Remember that if you don’t do it, someone else will. Who will that be? To what purpose shall the historian write? Would he look back on those years in Toronto and say that the community served no purpose, that the draft-dodgers and deserters of the Vietnam Era failed to play a role in shaping post-War society, that our communes and co-ops were merely small businesses, that our magazines, newspapers and demonstrations were off-the-mark and irrelevant, that our politics were those of the losing side, that our heroes were co-opted, our buildings fallen down and our cleared fields returned to forest? Have not our men shaved their beards and trimmed their long hair; have not our women taken again to bras, styled hair and face paint; our children to public schools and soda pop; our diets to alcohol, sugar, white flour and meat and ourselves to 9-to-5 jobs, television, mortgages and loans at interest? We made a lot of noise, threats and promises at the time. We owe history an accounting.
I have a few copies of the second version of the Chronology if you want to see it. I also need addresses for the following people: Steve Bush, Laura Jones, Ann Weatherby, Dave Woodward, Chuck Wall, Michael Ormsby, John Phillips and Karen Lawrence.”