Yellow Ford Truck, May 1968-April 1969
Philip Mullins and a group of friends called the Southern Contingent were working with the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme to create an organization of some kind that would be run by American expatriates and would help locate employment for draft dodgers. Given the difficult employment situation in Toronto at the time, they also hoped to start businesses staffed by American exiles. The owner of an established coffee importing business offered the use of his equipment to the Company of Young Canadians (CYC) and there was some talk of placing the equipment in the hands of a group of draft dodgers. The donor proved unwilling to do that and nothing came of the offer but Philip began looking for perspective business partners anyway.
Philip moved out of the John Street hostel in May but he regularly visited the John Street hostel to meet and greet new arrivals. During one of those visits he, Jimmy and Pat Wilson and Dave Woodward agreed to work together. Their plans were vague but their goal was to be self-employed. The first step in the plan was to move out of the hostel and open a "commune". In August Dave Woodward, Bruce and Colleen Anderson, Philip Mullins and Jim and Pat Wilson leased the large two-story house at 224 McCaul Street about a half-mile north of the John Street hostel and just a block south of the University of Toronto.
Although the group knew they wanted to open a business, their plans were extremely vague. Only Jimmy Wilson had a specific product in mind. He said, “I know how to make Indian headdresses”. He suggested that the store to be called “A Liberation Tribal Store”. Dave Woodward suggested “A Socio-Economic Alternative (SEA)” and Philip suggested “The Yellow Ford Truck”. In the end all three names were used. Jimmy Wilson had great plans for the store, not as a business but as a social movement. He envisioned the Yellow Ford Truck as the nucleus of an organization with revolutionary potential (Kasinky, 183) (Lind, The Globe and Mail, April 21, 1969).
The Yellow Ford Truck craft store opened for business in the living room of 224 McCaul Street in August 1968 with a small stock of homemade clothing. In September a City of Toronto Inspector informed the residents that 224 McCaul Street was zoned residential and that the store would have to close. Rather than close the store, Jimmy found a storefront on Baldwin Street just a half-block south of the house. Jim, Pat, Dave and Philip pooled their resources once again, paid the first month’s rent on the storefront at 11 Baldwin Street and moved the store there.
Known as the “old” Kensington market, the eastern end of Baldwin Street had most recently been the commercial center of the large Toronto Jewish community. Before World War One it had housed Irish immigrants. In 1968 the eastern end of Baldwin Street was in decline as the Jewish community moved north and west to the suburbs. Many of the storefronts were vacant and others had been converted to residential use. The other end of the street, the ‘new’ Kensington Market about a half-mile west, thrived as a European-style open-air market although it was increasingly dominated by newly arrived Portuguese-speaking immigrants. The eastern end of Baldwin Street was in transition and relatively deserted. Rent was cheap and the area was zoned for mixed residential and commercial use.
Draft dodgers and deserters continued to arrive in Toronto in large numbers, reaching a peak in 1970 (Hagan, 241). Some of them arrived at the door of the Yellow Ford Truck commune in the house at 224 McCaul Street. Changes were made to the house at 224 McCaul Street to accommodate more residents. A new exterior door to the kitchen freed the summer kitchen at the rear of the house for use as another bedroom and the doors between the living room and the dining room were sealed to create yet another bedroom. The house was usually full with new exiles staying briefly. The cooking and shopping is done entirely by the women residents who were just beginning to discuss Women’s Liberation and the sharing of responsibility with the men. The evening meal was eaten together every night around a large table. Jimmy Wilson assumed the management of the store and the others found jobs as laborers, drivers, secretaries and part-time workers. Visitors were welcomed and those in need of a place to "crash" were invited to spend the night on the living-room floor.
In September Mary Rauton traveled to Toronto by bus to visit Brenda Matthias, an employee at the National Ballet School and a long-time friend from Atlanta. Mary had not arrived in Toronto by chance. She had come to see if she could be of service to the American exile community. She told Brenda she wanted to talk to American draft dodgers and was referred by a chance acquaintance to 224 McCaul Street where she met the residents. In 1968 Mary was in her late-thirties and the mother of six children. She seemed unfazed by the chaotic conditions at the house and she made a favorable impression on the residents at the McCaul Street commune. The following month she returned and moved into the house with her sixteen-year-old son Randy. In October Mary and Randy were joined by a young hippie leather worker from New England named Steve Blossom. Steve Blossom had lived in Mary’s house in Atlanta before being evicted by Mary’s husband a few months earlier. When he was told that Mary was in Toronto, Steve Blossom flew from Boston to find her. Steve arrived in Toronto with only a vague idea where he could find Mary but while in a cab from the airport he saw Randy walking along the street. Steve Blossom was welcomed into the house on McCaul Street and Mary moved into a room on Henry Street. In November the twelve residents of 224 McCaul Street included Philip Mullins, young Randy Rauton, Jim and Pat Wilson, Steve Blossom, Dave Woodward and the large group of friends from Kansas City consisting of Don Holman, Margaret Thurlow, Greg Sperry, Janice Spellerberg and Chuck Wall. There are usually several people staying in the house temporarily as well. Randy Rauton took a part-time job shelving books in the public library at Gerrard and Parliament Streets and he and Steve Blossom began to make leather goods to sell at the Yellow Ford Truck. By December Jimmy Wilson reported to the news media that “the Yellow Ford Truck liberation tribal commune” included two leather craftsmen, three dressmakers, a cape maker and two sand-cast candle makers. Philip purchased silk-screening equipment and began making burlap tote bags bearing the Yellow Ford Truck logo. He also made large flags bearing the symbol of the British nuclear disarmament movement that was by then universally known as the “peace symbol”. The flags were on sale at the store on Baldwin Street but most of them were taken to anti-war demonstrations and never returned. By January 1969 Steve Blossom and Randy Rauton had built a small leather workshop in the basement of 224 McCaul Street to accommodate their rapidly growing sales at the Yellow Ford Truck.
In February 1969 Mary Rauton and Colleen Anderson, along with Frank Tettemer (from Pennsylvania) and Steve Blossom, rented the house at 218 McCaul Street to relieve chronic overcrowding at 224 McCaul. Another expatriate from Atlanta, Steven Bush soon joined them. He wrote, “In early February, I arrived in Toronto on a bright, chilly afternoon. Mary Rauton and others welcomed me most graciously at 218 McCaul Street. In late February, I was invited to stay, rather than simply crash. I accepted enthusiastically and Frank Tettemer generously set to work putting up walls to make an actual room in the basement of the house”.
While on a buying trip to Montreal, Jimmy Wilson crashed and wrecked the yellow Ford Econoline van that was the store’s namesake. He destroyed a $300 lamppost and the yellow Ford van at the same time. The store’s business continued to grow. Janice Spellerberg began sewing clothing to sell at the store and Steve Blossom and Randy Rauton worked full-time in the basement of 224 McCaul making leather goods. Philip shared his job at Pax Designs on Yorkville Avenue with Lee Welch while Philip learned how to do leather work from Randy and Steve Blossom. The Yellow Ford Truck commune began to look for a second storefront on Baldwin Street. In March 1969 Steve Spring (from Florida) arrived in Toronto and was invited to live at 218 McCaul Street. Colleen Anderson quit her job at the Mirror newspaper where she had worked for ten months because her baby, Seth, was due in three weeks.
The narrative continues at Baldwin Street Village, September 1968-July 1969