The purchase of Frostpocket, 1970
During the Vietnam Era a large number of Americans immigrated to Canada, especially to the City of Toronto, and by the late 1960s the US draft dodger/deserter/expatriate community in Toronto numbered in the thousands. Beginning in 1967, the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme (a descendent of the Student Union for Peace Action) funded hostels where single men and families could stay until they found other accommodation. Most expatriates found new friends while living in the hostels and many groups banded together to share the cost of rental housing. Some the groups sharing accommodations also pooled their resources to start businesses. Between 1968 and 1970 three such businesses (the Whole Earth Food store, the Yellow Ford Truck head shop and the Ragnarokr leather shop) were started in this way. All three businesses were located at the eastern end of Baldwin Street in the area now known as the Baldwin Street Village. By 1971 two other hippie groups had storefronts on Baldwin Street and the January 1971 issue of the Harbinger newspaper listed twelve such communal businesses in Toronto.
A minority of the American immigrants adopted the “alternative” or “counter-culture” lifestyle of the “hippies”. American hippies were initially attracted to large cities such as New York or San Francisco. As the hippies grew in number and organization, many left the cities and moved to rural areas to find cheaper places to live and to escape the increasingly violent inner-cities. Some of the larger hippie settlements became almost self-sufficient villages. The hippies referred to this exodus from the cities as the “back-to-the-land movement”.
The “back-to-the-land movement” intended to recreate communal structures that mainstream society had long since abandoned. While the New Left attempted to change mainstream North American economic and social institutions, the hippies simply “dropped out” and organized their own institutions. Both the New Left and the hippies hoped to create a “movement” that would transform the society they lived in. Even though Toronto was safe and there was no repression of the expatriate or hippie communities, many hippies hoped to participate in the “back-to-the-land movement”. In February 1969 Jimmy Wilson hosted a meeting at 224 McCaul Street at which a landowner from Refrew County offered his property, Doyle’s Mountain, as a stopping place for hippies moving to the country. Within a few months, several hippies from Toronto and elsewhere took up his offer. Over the next few years, the small community on Doyle’s Mountain grew and, as the hippies purchased properties nearby, became an important part of Ontario’s largest rural hippie community.
The Ragnarokr Leather Shop found that its living quarters overcrowded only a few months after the business was organized in April 1969. In July the leather shop was offered the rental of an old 14-room hotel in the tiny community of Nephton some 100 kilometers from Toronto. The group rented the hotel to relieve overcrowding at the shop in Toronto and to began their experiment with country living. They installed a workshop in one room of the hotel and four or five people took turns living there. By December 1969 all of the founding members of the commune had either left the shop or were living in Nephton. A number of new members ran the leather shop in Toronto and controlled the commune’s bank account. Some of the newer members opposed the move to the country and refused to provide funds or supplies to the group in Nephton. The conflict led to a split in the commune.
The split within Ragnarokr reflected a broader split between those hippies who wanted to leave the cities and those who wanted to remain. It was a split between revolutionary communists and revolutionary communalists. The founders of Ragnarokr had decided to try both approaches simultaneously. They wanted to keep one foot firmly in the city by continuing to run the industrial facility on Baldwin Street while building an extension of the Ragnarokr community in a rural location. It was a bold plan that was attempted by many hippie communities throughout North America.
In December 1969 the two factions met at the hotel on Stoney Lake and agreed to work toward their own goals without interfering with those of the other. Philip Mullins, Mary Rauton, Steve Spring and Carol Huebner began to develop a proposal for a rural craft school for delinquent youth with the hope of getting a grant of land from the Government of Ontario. The other faction worked to start a cooperative grocery store on Baldwin Street. By February financial problems forced the Ragnarokr group to drop the lease on the hotel in Nepthon and return to Toronto.
The conflict within Ragnarokr lessened with the failure of the cooperative grocery store but the founding members realized the business could not survive unless it was restructured. The changes that were made resulted in the expulsion of all but the founding members of the leather shop. The remaining four members of the Ragnarokr leather shop were each committed to building a rural community. During January the leather shop hosted a series of meetings to discuss the craft school idea with the Baldwin Street hippie community. After several meetings it became apparent that Ragnarokr could not rely on the cooperation of the community and the Ragnorokr hippies realized that they would have to purchase the land using their own funds.
In September 1969 George Mullins had been accepted to graduate school at the University of Oregon in Eugene. In November he and Madelyn Averitte moved to a communal farm called the “Mud Farm” and began selling bread, soap and finally tie-dyed clothing through a natural foods store in Corvallis. When the Ragnarokr group decided to purchase land they invited George and Madelyn to join them and in August 1970 George and Madelyn drove from Oregon and joined the Ragnarokr cooperative in Toronto.
In September George Sr. and Hazel Mullins arrive from Louisiana for their third annual visit to Canada. As was their custom they wanted to camp out for a week somewhere. The two Mullins boys, George and Philip, their companions Madelyn and Mary and the boy’s parents left Toronto to visit a friend of the leather shop who lived near Clarendon in Frontenac County. The Graff’s had a house on a 100-acre lot and Mrs. Graff had invited the Ragnarokr community to share the property with them. After a week camped out on the Graff’s place looking at house sites, the two groups decided that they were not compatible and the idea of sharing the property was dropped.
Following this trip the Ragnarokr group began to look for rural property to buy. By then several friends of Ragnarokr were already living near Killaloe Station in Renfrew County. In October 1969 Barry and Sue Woolaver, two members of the Ragnarokr commune, had inherited $3,000 and had purchased a cabin near Golden Lake. In November Philip and Mary visited Barry and Sue and in January 1970 Steve Spring spent several weeks with them. In March 1970 Philip and Mary visited the Catholic retreat house and the Sacagawea communal farm near Combermer. At Sacagawea they were welcomed by the small community of hippies that occupied in an old farmhouse that had neither electricity nor running water. Despite the presence of many friends in the area, the Ragnarokr commune decided not to look for property in Renfrew County. (insert link to “Killahoe”, file 2.2)
Instead in October George and Madelyn began to search for land north of Toronto along Highway 11. By then the group had a little over $3,000 in the bank. Over a period of several weeks the two searched further and further north for something in that price range. In late October they found a 100-acre lot a few miles west of the little town of South River, about 250 miles from Toronto. The lot had never been farmed so there were no buildings or cleared land but it fronted an abandoned but serviceable township road and was only three miles from the town. The price was only $36 an acre. In November the six members of the Ragnarokr cooperative (George and Philip Mullins, Mary and Randy Rauton, Madelyn Averitte and Steve Spring) purchased the land with George and Philip listed on the deed as trustees for the others.
The narrative contines at The Community House, 1971