The settlement is abandoned, 1980

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The decision to build a manufacturing facility at the Frostpocket was part of an effort to ensure the survival of the community’s business. By 1973 it was obvious that Baldwin Street was undergoing a change and it seemed prudent to prepare for the loss of the rented storefront at 33 Baldwin Street.

Ever since Chris Risk and Caroline Spring had arrived back at the Frostpocket from Ganonoque in September, they had earned their livelihood making leather goods at home and then consigning them to Ragnarokr. In December Chris sold most of his leather supplies to Ragnarokr and agreed to work as a member of the co-operative. The intention was to expand the wholesale business. By April 1974 the intention of the group was to move the manufacturing business from Toronto to the Frostpocket. The name of the wholesale business was changed from Fourth World (which was focused on imports) to Uplands Manufacturing with addresses in both South River and Toronto.

In April 1974 the Machar Township Council offered the Ragnarokr co-operative two small lots upon which to build a workshop or a retail outlet. One parcel was the gravel pit at the corner of the 4th Concession Road (Eagle Lake Road) and the 5th Side road about a mile west of the village of South River. The second parcel was on a township road about a quarter of a mile east of Highway 11 and a mile south of the village. This parcel was near the CN Railroad tracks. After careful consideration the group decided that neither location was financially viable. A location on the village’s main street would have been more attractive. Nevertheless, the primary difficulty was staffing the South River location and the very seasonal retail market. The consensus of the group was to build a facility on our own property from which the products could be sent to Toronto and which would be in operation only when there was work to be done and someone available to do the work. This decision was completely in harmony with the group’s hippie work ethic and their attachment to the City of Toronto. Nevertheless it complicated the effort to move the manufacturing operation out of Toronto. Even after the workshop was built, without a fixed schedule and without orders in hand, only Colleen and Mary were sufficiently motivated to spend much time doing leatherwork there. For the other craftspeople there were too many distractions that kept them busy elsewhere.

While the Ragnarokr co-op struggled to move their manufacturing operation to the Frostpocket, the leather trades declined. For many years the price of leather was stable at under $30 a hide in 1982 dollars. Between 1971 and 1972 its price doubled. Many small, specialty tanneries folded and this decreased the variety of leather available for purchase. By 1978 the price of leather was three times what it had been in 1969 when the Ragnarokr leather shop opened. Meanwhile, the core business of the leather trades, the manufacture and repair of shoes, was undergoing a slow decline as shoe styles changed from leather to synthetic materials. This too affected the availability of both findings and leather. Fashion tastes within the hippie community changed as well. While in 1969 leather clothing and accessories were “de rigueur” for the well-dressed hippy, by 1977 many trend-sitters would no longer wear either fur or leather. By the mid-1970s Ragnarokr’s customers were no long hippies. Most of the shop’s customers were professionals who worked at Queen’s Park or in the hospitals and office along University Avenue. The hippy community became more and more vegetarian, either from necessity or because they were Hindu, Buddhist, microbiotic or, in the case of the residents of Woodland Park, Seventh Day Adventist. The irony of being a vegetarian and working with leather was not lost on the Ragnarokr craftsmen.

By the summer of 1977 Philip became convinced that, left as it was, the shop would eventually be forced to close. That year the labour share of the retail sale price (which effectively set the craftsman’s hourly wage) had been reduced yet again to a new low of 35% (to begin in January 1978) because of a chronic operating deficit at the leather shop. This would reduce the already miserable pay even further. The dollar value of the shop’s sales was stagnant. George in the meantime had made great strides in making the Frostpocket self-sufficient. The sugar bush and the market garden already had revenues in the thousands of dollar per year and showed the promise of greater income in the future. Some years he earned as much selling maple syrup and vegetables as he did working at the leather shop. Some of the craftsmen began to talk about closing the leather shop. The Ragnarokr family could have opened a different business in Toronto but it made sense to George and Philip to build on what they had at the Frostpocket.

In the fall of 1977 Philip wrote a proposal that outlined a plan to move Ragnarokr’s operations from Toronto to Frostpocket. He titled the proposal “Machar Township Energetics” and circulated it to the Ragnarokr craftsmen. He proposed expanding the existing operations at Frostpocket and opening a new business that would involve wood-burning appliances. The plan would require the construction of new facilities, retraining of Ragnarokr’s workforce and the eventual closure of the leather shop in Toronto. (insert a link to “Energetics”, file 4.16)

Only George and Colleen actively supported the proposal. Mary was vaguely supportive at first but her opposition grew as the plan unfolded. Randy and Bie left for Europe in February 1978 and did not return to Toronto until June 1979. Neither of them expressed opposition to the plan. Chris Risk was gradually withdrawing from the group and committing more and more of his time to the Seventh Day Adventist settlement at Woodland Park.

The plan required Philip to get an Ontario license to install heating appliances. Accordingly he enrolled in George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology in the fall of 1978 in a two-year course. The Province gave Philip a student loan and he and Mary spent the winter in Toronto working in the leather shop while he attended school. After school was out in June they moved to the Frostpocket and George and Colleen took over the management of the leather shop.

During the summer Philip and Mary failed to reach agreement on where they and the Ragnarokr community were headed. In the fall Mary left Toronto and went to live at the Catholic Worker house in New York City. Philip had an affair with a friend and then distanced himself from the leather shop while continuing to attend school at George Brown College. When he graduated in June 1980 he left to find work in Texas where he hoped to be able to save enough money in a few years to launch the new business.

The proposed business plan called for the fabrication and manufacture of metal appliances. Accordingly, George enrolled in George Brown College in the fall of 1979 to become a certified welder. He finished the program in May 1980 whereupon he, Colleen and the three children moved back to their house at the Frostpocket. George had hoped to find work in Ontario but the economy was in a slump and he received no job offers after he finished school and received his certification. He and Colleen ultimately decided to join Philip in Texas.

During the summer of 1980 George and Colleen were in the Frostpocket by themselves. Chris Risk and the other settlers had left. George entered some handicrafts in the South River Agricultural Fair and began repairing the wrecked Dodge van for their trip to Texas. In September George, Colleen, the three children and their cat left for Texas, leaving the settlement abandoned.

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