The building boom of 1972

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The Frostpocket building boom of 1972: Baldwin Street Village

In 1972 the residential neighborhoods around the University of Toronto were densely populated with American draft dodgers and deserters. The men and their wives and girlfriends lived in boarding houses and in dozens of housing co-operatives south and west of the University. Community organizations such as the Hall, THOG theater, Artisan’s and Craftsman’s Co-operative, Toronto Anti-Draft Programme, Red, White and Black exile organization, AMEX magazine, Harbinger newspaper, Downchild’s Blues band, American Deserter’s Committee and the Red Morning communist party unified and gave a voice to the exile community.

Periodic anti-war demonstrations at the US Consulate on University Avenue, picketing of grocery stores in support of the United Farm Worker’s Union grape boycott and sit downs and protests aimed at stopping the demolition of downtown Toronto neighborhoods, all increased the visibility of the American exiles and their allies. The exiles were deeply involved in the New Democratic Party which steadily gained strength in Ontario. They were instrumental in organizing a number of small socialist groups such as the Marxist Institute and several Maoist and Trotskyite political parties and they enrolled in the University of Toronto and the Ontario College of Art is large numbers.

The commercial heart of the community on Baldwin Street continued to expand as well. In early 1972 businesses with storefronts on Baldwin Street included Yellow Ford Truck head shop, Ragnarokr leather shop, Whole Earth Natural Foods store, Cosmic Egg surplus store, Ooshke Noodin imported clothing, Letki Designs silver jewelry, Baldwin Street Gallery of Photography, Sunshine Co-op craft store, Any Day Now gift store, Red Morning communist organization and the Kid’s Store children’s clothing. By December 1972 the street had been designated the Baldwin Street Village by the City of Toronto Planning Council. This ensured that the block could not be demolished for “redevelopment”.

The Ragnarokr leather shop continued to grow in fame and fortune. The quality of the leather goods improved and the sales increased after the purchase of new equipment and better findings. Larry Langner, an Israeli craftsman, introduced a new style of sandal to the already extensive Ragnarokr line of custom-made footwear. Ragnarokr emerged with the most sales of the twenty or so craftsmen represented by the Ontario Craft Foundation wholesale marketing program at the Toronto Fall and Spring Gift Shows. As the shop brand became better known Ragnarokr began to receive invitations to sell leather goods at a number of events including crafts sales sponsored by the Sheridan School of Design, the Oakville United Church, the Toronto Northwest General Hospital and the Toronto Women’s ORT. Mary Rauton became increasingly involved with the Ontario Craft Foundation as a consultant and presenter and was eventually given a seat on the OCF Board of Directors. Tom Bonanno, Mary, Randy and Philip were hired to teach leatherwork as part of the Artisan’s and Craftsman’s Co-operative Local Incentive Program community outreach. Members and friends of the Ragnarokr co-operative began to leave the co-operative and to go into business for themselves. Steve Spring had already left the shop and had his own workshop. Larry and Sarah Langner returned from a vacation in Guatemala in Maya Indian dress and began to sell their leather goods from a pushcart at Bloor and Yonge Streets. Janice Spellerberg and Pat Ruoff set up their tables at a market on Yonge Street to sell leather goods of their own manufacture. In August, Madelyn, Tom Bonnanno and Ginny Turcotte opened a leather shop in Montreal using Ragnarokr designs. Frank and Marita Tettermer, both former members of the commune, spent 1972 north of Lake Superior teaching native people how to make and market contemporary leatherwork.

The Frostpocket building boom of 1972: Building continues at the Frostpocket

During 1972, the majority of the men of the Ragnarokr co-operative divided their time between working in the leather shop in Toronto and building homes at the Frostpocket. Randy, Mary and most of the women stayed in Toronto while the others, now including Chris Risk, Skip and Judy O’Dell, shuttled back and forth between the Frostpocket and the city. George and Colleen rented a flat on St. Patrick Street and Colleen worked at a publishing house while George alternated between the Frostpocket and the leather shop. He spent about ten days working on his house and then ten days doing leather work in Toronto. Myra Kaplan, Chris Risk’s girlfriend, likewise lived and worked in Toronto. Each craftsman was given blocks of time during which they were responsible for running the shop while Mary and Randy provided the necessary continuity. In August Skip and Judy ran the shop while everyone else left for the farm.

In January a decision had been made that Mary, Randy and Philip would continue to work on the half-finished shell of the community house while the others built houses suitable for their own families. George had already selected a site for a house on a hill on the middle moraine about a quarter of a mile from the clearing. Skip picked a house site on the southern exposure of the rocky outcropping just south of the middle moraine about a hundred yards from George’s house. Chris Risk chose a site on the sand outwash a few hundred feet south of the clearing along the logging road. His house site was located in a stand of birch trees on the edge of one of the gullies that cut across the flats.

The men worked together when it was convenient to do so but each man was responsible for his own building. While each of the buildings were different in design they all made extensive use of the abundant fir and spruce trees growing on the property. Lists of the necessary materials were made and trees fitting the need were found and marked. George and Skip used their chainsaws to cut the trees which were then hauled to each work site by the Ford tractor. The men then worked together to peel the bark from the logs before they began to dry. The debarking had to be done within days after the tree was cut. The peeled logs were used as posts, beams and joists and, in the case of Skip’s log cabin, for the walls as well. The bark was removed for aesthetic reasons but more importantly because bark beetles laid their eggs in dead bark. The beetles excavated tunnels under the bark. Their chewing activity was amazingly noisy and left piles of sawdust at the entry hole. The men also worked in teams to lift the heavy timbers in place and to frame the walls.

In June Jeff Mullins hitchhiked from Florida to help with the construction. He stayed until October when he returned to Florida and joined the US Merchant Marine. Jeff, George, Philip and Chris stayed in the community house while Judy and Skip lived in a teepee set up in the clearing. In September George Junior and Hazel came from Louisiana for their fifth visit to their sons in Canada. They camped out in the clearing and helped with the building construction and road building activities.

One of the first jobs was to improve the logging road that led to the new houses. Culverts were installed where small streams crossed the road and a bridge was built just north of the middle moraine. Rocks from the edge of the township roads were picked up whenever they were encountered and thrown into the deeper ruts in the road. The roadway was straightened and widened. Nevertheless it was not until June 1973 that the road to George’s house was passable by anything other than the Ford tractor. In the fall of 1971 the community house had been wrapped in roofing felt. In May 1972 roll roofing was laid over the felt. Philip built scaffolding to reach the eaves which were 14 to 18 feet from the ground. During this roofing job, Chris fell from the roof and broke his rib. Philip spent much of the summer working on the exterior and working on an addition to the building. Since the existing building was only half of the structure as originally envisioned, all three floors were open on the west end. The basement lacked a west wall and the French doors on the ground floor opened into the outdoors. Philip dug and poured footings for a twelve foot addition on the west side of the house. In October he and Jeff began to lay blocks for the addition and by December they had the floor joists in place. They covered the floor joists with used metal roofing salvaged from the charcoal plant until the project could begin again in the fall of 1973. A small wood burning stove was installed on the main floor and the walls and ceilings were insulated. The interior and exterior walls remained unfinished although a few lines of cedar shakes were nailed to the exterior.

The Frostpocket building boom of 1972: Three new houses

Skip built a small one-room cabin with 472 square feet of living area. The cabin measured 18 by 26 feet and had a conventional gable roof. Skip dug a root cellar into the hillside beneath the cabin which was accessed by a trap door in the kitchen floor. The cabin was built on a slope and in later years an enclosed basement was added under one end. He built a large wood shed on the north side of the cabin and a hexagonal log outhouse that he used as a sweat lodge. (insert link to “Floor plan, log cabin”, file 6.10)

Chris built an A-frame structure with 432 square feet of living space on the main floor. There was a sleeping loft above the main floor in the peak of the A-frame. The building was set on poles above a crawlspace and had no basement. Chris later added an adjoining shed which was partly underground. Still later he roofed over the shed and attached the roof to the peak of the A-frame. This made a tall and imposing structure that was never finished and has since collapsed into the half basement.

George built the most ambitious structure. He built a single story building that was elevated four to eight feet above the ground and measured 38 by 36 feet. It had 988 square feet of living space on a single floor that was initially divided into two large areas. As his family grew he added more rooms by partitioning the huge living room into smaller bed and bath rooms. The house had a shed roof that was eight feet above the floor at the north wall of the house and sloped uniformly to eleven feet above the floor at the south side wall. The roof rested on twenty round tree trunks set in the ground. Eight beams, each 26 feet long, spanned the columns to form the roof frame. Two by four joists were laid across the beams and a plank roof deck placed on the joists. In 1977 insulation and a metal roof was installed on top of the existing roll roofing. The floor was similarly built but with shorter spans. The interior and exterior walls were not load bearing and huge windows were installed on the south and west walls. The house had 130 square feet of glass on the main floor. The next year a 300 square foot deck was added on the south side of the building. In later years the crawl space under the house was excavated and enclosed with concrete block walls and converted into a basement that was divided into seven rooms. (insert link to “Floor plan, George’s house, upstairs”, file 6.11) (insert link to “Floor plan George’s house, basement”, file 6.12)

The Frostpocket building boom of 1972: The Declaration of Trust

The three new houses were all weather tight by early fall. Skip and Judy moved into their log cabin and remained on the property for the next two years. In October George, Colleen and the baby Seth moved into their unfinished house at the Frostpocket. Only three of the walls were finished and there was no plumbing, electricity or insulation. By then Chris was already living in his A-frame.

In October Chris and Skip bought Madelyn Averitte’s share of the property. They each paid Madelyn $300 for her share. Since the title to the property was in George and Philip’s names, a Declaration of Trust was drawn up setting out the conditions of ownership. This declaration was signed by everyone involved and continues in force today. (insert link to “Land Documents”, file 6.16)

In September George Junior and Hazel arrived for their annual visit and stayed until early October. In late October Morley Yan and Mary’s twin teenagers, Bill and Mary, came for a brief and disruptive visit. Jeff, who had stayed after his parent’s departure to help with the construction, walked to South River and took a bus back to Toronto. Mary and Philip closed the community house and returned to the leather shop to prepare for the Christmas season.

That Christmas Ragnarokr consisted of Mary and Randy Rauton, Philip and George Mullins, Colleen Anderson, Chris Risk, Skip O’Dell, Madelyn Averitte and Steve Burdick. In February Chris, George, Colleen and Seth left Toronto for a month- long trip to Florida and Louisiana. When they returned in March, Mary and Philip left for the Heron Bay Indian Reserve near Marathon, Ontario, where they remained until August. The remaining members of the Ragnarokr co-operative took turns running the leather shop in Toronto and working at the Frostpocket. The whole group met quarterly and semi-annually to set goals, decide policy and draw up schedules for manning the shop. Steve Burdick worked a few hours every week to keep three sets of books and to pay the bills. George, Colleen, Skip, Judy and Chris spent most of their time at the Frostpocket while Philip, Randy and Mary were more involved in activities in the city. Although the scheduling of shop responsibilities changed as the shop personnel changed and as the children grew older, the business continued to be run this way until 1978.

The narrative continues at The workshop, the sugar bush and the garden

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