Yellow Ford Truck store 1969
Jimmy Wilson was the unofficial spokesman for the McCaul Street commune. He spoke with reporters in words that were “radical” and “revolutionary” and very much tongue-in-cheek. Like much of the hippie movement, much of what he said and did amounted to street theater. He drew his inspiration from “Peter Pan” and “Wind in the Willows” as much as from “New Left Notes” and the “Little Red Book”. The political leadership of the hippie movement (of which Jimmy was typical) advocated an organization that was more akin to a band of vagabond American Indians than a party of vanguard workers. That is, their political beliefs were more anarchist than Leninist.
The aspect of the “movement” that the “political” hippies liked the most was its emphasis on community. Jimmy often talked about “tribes” as the ideal democratic organization. “Community” was not only a survival technique; it was an end in itself. Most hippie endeavors were designed to create a community of like-minded individuals. Characteristics like long hair, beards and the wearing of old military uniforms may have reflected the influence of Civil War heroes, Indian braves and Che Guevera but their primary purpose was as a marker, a way to distinguish the “hippie” from the “straight”. Jimmy invented details and made things up when talking to reporters but, other than that, he faithfully expressed the viewpoint of Baldwin Street hippies.
The Yellow Ford Truck 1969 newspaper article #1
What follows was transcribed from a newspaper article in the Toronto Globe and Mail, April 21, 1969 by reporter Loren Lind that is titled “Draft-dodgers open Metro Shop”. Permission to reproduce the article is pending.
“In memory of the 1966 Econoline van that brought them across the border last June, a little group of U.S. exiles calls its new store on Baldwin Street the Yellow Ford Truck.
Jim Wilson, a 24-year-old refugee from North Carolina, sits inside it behind an inverted crate with a feather in his hair and yellow shades on his nose.
He sells all things hip and homemade, from strobe candles with human faces to hooka pipes fashioned from wine bottles. He puts the proceeds into a hand-wrought metal cabinet inside the wooden crate and dreams about the time when there will be enough money to buy a farm. Meanwhile, there is the commune to feed.
The commune consists of 11 U.S. draft-dodgers, their families and a few friends, 19 in all. They live in three houses along McCaul Street, sharing their kitchen tables, stoves and hydro bills. They believe so fervently that the revolution is coming that they can’t wait.
“Some of the philosophy behind the store is that society is so corrupt and falling apart at the seams that it can’t be depended on,” said Mr. Wilson.
“So the only way to survive is to start your own systems- your own stores, and later on you own support system, your electricians, plumbers and carpenters. We’ve got an alternative life style here and it’s based on communal economics.”
He calls it the politics of dropout. His philosophy, he said, comes from sources as divergent as Peter Pan, who refused to grow up, and Timothy Leary, a high priest of LSD who preached the slogan, “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Mr. Wilson buys Dr. Leary’s politics but shun his mystification of drugs.
“It’s just as necessary,” he said, “to build up a Utopian system as it is to tear the old system down, which is necessary too. I believe the old system should be torn down, but this is the way we’re doing it.
“We’re just as political doing this as going to a million demonstrations. I tell the Trots (Trotskyites), ‘If you really want the revolution, why aren’t you living it?’”
Mr. Wilson and his wife Lorraine earned $15,000 a year in New York City as caseworkers before he fled to avoid the draft. He has an anthropology degree from the University of North Carolina, but was told he needed a master’s degree in social work to get a similar job in Toronto.
If he would get a haircut, he might find a job somewhere as a clerk, the Canada Manpower officer told him. That was asking too much. Mr. Wilson began supporting the eight charter members of the commune by hauling merchandise in his van.
Early this month the commune opened the Yellow Ford Truck in new quarters at 25 Baldwin Street, after short stays in a house on McCaul Street and another storefront at 11 Baldwin.
The store began when import merchants started paying Mr. Wilson in kind instead of cash. His wife and friends began making clothes, candles, hookas and necklaces to sell and trade along with the imported ponchos. Their initial investment was $75.
“We’re the trading post for the people in this neighborhood,” he said. He estimates that more than half of his goods are bought by neighbors for sale on consignment, and regrets having to buy his import goods from ordinary “capitalist” sources. “Some day I hope we’ll have our own clothing manufacturers.”
He advertises his store as the South Village, but he has nothing but contempt for Yorkvillle which he says has been prostituted by cultural imperialism. “It’s dead and they’ve destroyed it- and we don’t want to recreate it. If we ever get on the level of Yorkville, we’ll just move somewhere else.” This section of town has so many draft-dodging immigrants it is known by some as a ghetto of Americans. Mr. Wilson admits its proportion of U.S. immigrants is high, but he believe it is more of a “head ghetto” than a U.S. ghetto. The advertisements tacked to hydro poles in the area do nothing to discourage acidheads from frequenting his store.
“Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” they say. “The South Village’s Only Dream Merchants. Ecstatic Clothing. Mind Grocercies. Media. A Liberation Tribal Store.”
Last week Randy Rauton, a 16-year-old immigrant from Atlanta, Ga., opened another Liberation Tribal Store at 11 Baldwin. With an initial investment of $175, he and three other persons in the commune hope to profit in leathercraft. They call their shop the Ragnarokr Cordwanery.
Still another group rented an old warehouse which it hopes to convert into an art gallery.
Projects that make money support those that don’t. If the cast is low when the comes due, the commune can always fall back on the Liberation Tribal Window Washers directed by Gregory Sperry, a draft-evader from Kansas City.
Mr. Wilson said, with a touch of disdain, that he doesn’t know how much the store earns a month.
“I haven’t even thought of that. Whenever the rent’s due, we take it out, and when we need food, we take it out. The rest stays in. Sometimes it gets as high as $800, and other times as low as $250. Right now there’s about $500.”
Neighbors along Baldwin Street seem to accept the Yellow Ford Truck and its proprietors with amused indulgence. “No trouble with them, they’re quiet,” said Morris Kirsh, a used clothing jobber. “But I really can’t figure them out.”
“This used to be a Jewish neighborhood, but the Jews are moving out,” said Nickola Lukach, a Yugoslav grocer. “I don’t know who’s going to take over this part of town, the Chinese or the hippies.””
The Yellow Ford Truck 1969 newspaper article #2
The following article was copied from the November 1969 issue of a newspaper called the “Alternate Society”, 113 Queen Street, St. Catherines, Ontario, titled “Yellow Ford Truck- Part 1”. The article is accompanied by a drawing of the storefront at 25 Baldwin Street with the byline, “Yellow Ford Truck is a focal point of the alternate community movement in Toronto and throughout Ontario. Drop in and rap with them.”
“The only way to survive is to start your own system –your own stores, and later on, your own support system, your electricians, plumbers and carpenters. We’ve got an alternative life style here and its based on communal economics.”- Jim Wilson, Yellow Ford Truck. A little over a year ago, a 1966 Yellow Ford Econoline van carried a small cadre of American draft dodgers into Canada. Today, this same group has a store in Toronto and supports an urban commune of some twenty people. Three receive movement wages.
Mr. Brains behind the operation is Jim Wilson, a 24-year-old refugee from North Carolina. Jim and his wife Lorraine earned $15,000 a year as social caseworkers before fleeing the draft. He has an anthropology degree from the University of North Carolina, but was told he needed a master’s degree in social work to get a similar job in Canada. When a Canada Manpower official told him that, with a haircut, he might get a job as a clerk, Jim decided another way must be found.
“At that point, we started supporting the commune (there were eight of us at that time) by hauling loads in the van. Eventually we grew to where we’re at now.” Yellow Ford Truck moved into its present location at 25 Baldwin St. in early May this year, after short stays in a house on McCaul Street and another storefront at 11 Baldwin.
The store began when import merchants started paying in kind instead of cash. Jim’s wife and friends began making clothing, candles, imported panchos and so forth to sell and trade. The initial investment was $75.
“We’re the trading post for the people in the neighborhood,” he said. He estimates that more than half his goods are bought by neighbours for sale on consignment and regrets that he still has to buy imports through normal channels. Someday, he hopes all goods will be produced by communes.
The same month that the Truck opened its present location, another “Liberation Tribal Store” was opened at 11 Baldwin, started with $175 investment by Randy Rauton, a 16-year-old draft dodger. He and his three colleagues hope to work mainly in leathercraft. Still another group rented an old warehouse which it hopes to convert into an art gallery.
Projects that make money support those that don’t. If the cash is low when the rent comes due, the commune can always fall back on the Liberation Tribal Window washers, directed by Kansas dodger Greg Sperry.
The next step for the commune, Jim feels, is to initiate a rural commune. Work is already being cone to find a place where a small area can be put under plough and craftsmen can produce their goods in peace.
In our next issue, we’ll examine some Toronto urban communes, where they are at, where they are going and how they relate to the movement as a whole.”
Use this link to return to the narrative, The Yellow Ford Truck, May 1968-April 1969