The Hall, April 1970-August 1973

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In April 1970 a dispute between factions in the Union of American Exiles resulted in its demise after two years of existence. The faction calling itself ‘Red, White and Black’ moved into the old UAE offices at 44 St. George Street. AMEX magazine became a separate entity and the Red, White and Black published another newspaper called “The Alternative”. Red, White and Black and other UAE successor groups continued to hold regular demonstrations at the US Consulate in Toronto. In April the Rochdale Peace Center began Monday evening vigils at the US Consulate and in May 1970 fifteen American exiles were arrested in front of the US Consulate during a large demonstration to protest the US invasion of Cambodia and the killing of four students at Kent State University by the US military. See Community Events.

In May the Montreal American Deserters Committee hosted a major conference of exile groups and the Toronto American Deserters Committee opened a coffeehouse and a counseling service at 75 Huntley Street. The coffeehouse was modeled after anti-war coffeehouses that had sprung up near military bases in the US. A group that included John Anderson of the Whole Earth commune and John Phillips of the Baldwin Photo Gallery leased an old meeting hall at 15 Huron Street. The group, consisting of the Red, White and Black, the Baldwin Street Gallery and the Whole Earth commune, dubbed the building “the Hall” and planned to use it as a community center. John Phillips used his expertise to get a grant from the Ontario Council of Arts to fund the project (Kasinky, 189). The Group of Young American Women resumed the Sunday picnics and softball games at High Park to which American exiles were invited.

By July 1970 The Toronto American Deserters Committee was operating hostels on Wellesley and Dundas Streets for American deserters. In August the Toronto American Deserters Committee and the Red, White and Black merge to form the Committee to Aid Refugees from Militarism (CARM). An attempt to include the Toronto Anti-Draft Program in the merger was unsuccessful and the TADP continued to operate independently. By October 1970 the three American Deserters Committee hostels had become self-supporting housing co-operatives and the Committee to Aid Refugees from Militarism moved into the Hall and expanded its switchboard message service. In May 1971 The Hall Switchboard handled seat reservations and performance information for twenty-one free performances of THOG’s version of “Hamlet”. Films were screened weekly at the Hall with admission by donation. The donations rarely met the cost of film rental. In December The Hall provided Christmas dinner for the exile community and continued to screen films on Monday and Thursday nights. The Hall was a ‘free school’, a drop-in center, a ‘free store’ and a photo gallery as well as a 24-hour telephone information center (Kasinky, 189).

Several religious groups based on a fusion of Hindu and Sikh ideas formed in the exile community and the Hall began to offer classes in Kundalini Yoga. Ted Steiner, a leader of the Red, White and Black, was an early advocate and went on to establish a successful Yoga school and ashram in Toronto that is connected to 3HO (Happy, Healthy, Holy Organization). A theater project, called the King Lear Expedition (involving American expatriates Steve Bush, Anne Bannister, Bill Peden, Gary Stephens, George Taros and later Chris Hallgren, formerly of the Hall) enlisted Guertej Singh (formerly Ted Steiner) of 3HO as the group’s yoga teacher and spiritual advisor.

The focus of the American exile community gradually shifted away from the war in Vietnam to Canadian domestic issues but in 1971 explicitly anti-war activities were still abundantly evident. In January 1971 Harbinger newspaper published a “Toronto Community Directory” listing services and institutions important to the exile community. The following groups were listed: Ragnarokr leather shop at 33 Baldwin Street; Yellow Ford Truck head shop at 25 Baldwin Street; Baldwin Street Gallery of Photography at 23 Baldwin Street; Young Communist Party at 24 Baldwin Street; Whole Earth Foods at 160 McCaul Street; AMEX Magazine; Red, White and Black; Rising Up Angry; Toronto Anti-Draft Program; Union of American Exiles; Guerilla Newspaper; Harbinger Newspaper; Whole Earth Almanac and the Black Refugee Organization. Other groups not listed included May 4th Movement, New Feminists, Krishna Consciousness, Jesus Freaks, Rochdales’s 14th Floor Commune and the theater group THOG.

As the American expatriates became more involved in the Canadian New Democratic Party and in Toronto civic affairs (such as the demonstrations in St. Jamestown), they continued their own demonstrations at the US Consulate on a regular basis. In September 1971 a demonstration at the US Consulate on University Avenue protested the interment of US black power activist Angela Davis. (Angela Davis was a university professor in California who was arrested for helping a political prisoner escape from prison.) By 1971 most of the expatriates had made up their minds that they were content to spend the rest of their lives in Canada. When the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme and AMEX Magazine held a press conference to call for unconditional amnesty for draft dodgers and deserters in January 1972, the exile community expressed little interest.

The visit of US President Richard Nixon and his reception by the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in April 1972 resulted in large demonstrations at the US Consulate on University Avenue once again. By then the attitude of the exile community had become decidedly anti-American. In January 1973 a Cease-fire Agreement between North Vietnam and the US was signed in Paris, France and US troops continued to withdraw from South Vietnam. By March 1973 the last U.S. ground troops had left Vietnam and the U.S. armed forces become an all-volunteer force. Military conscription ceased. By then the U.S. had lost 359,886 killed and wounded; the South Vietnamese military 680,477; the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese military 937,562 and the civilian killed and wounded numbered 1,350,000. In August 1973 Canada Immigration began an “Adjustment of Status” or amnesty program for undocumented immigrants, including any American deserters and draft dodgers who were still without immigrant papers. For most draft dodgers and deserters in Canada the war in Vietnam, and their involvement in it, was over by 1973.

The narrative continues at The Leather Shop’s open door, August 1969-February 1970

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