Yorkville Village 1967
Map of Yorkville Village and area
Before Rochdale College there was Yorkville Village. It was located a few blocks to the east of Rochdale and its days of glory were ending just as Rochdale was starting up. Both places were basically for bohemians, but they had differences. Yorkville was a live entertainment district where very few people lived, and Rochdale was a planned project – a place to live with educational pretensions. One of the common misconceptions about Rochdale is that most of the Yorkville Village hippies moved into Rochdale in 1969. No. In 1968 and 1969 Rochdale College was empty, sterile, antiseptic and plastic. It was extremely disappointing for me because I was used to groovy Yorkville. Rochdale was a pathetic boring institution compared to Yorkville and had zero appeal to hippies. At the time Rochdale was trying to be educational on the U of T campus, and hippies had an aversion to it. Yorkville certainly had a big influence on Rochdale College, but Rochdale was completely irrelevant to Yorkville Village.
Although some sleazy crashers and speed freaks moved into Rochdale from Yorkville, hippies did not. In fact, by 1969 there were very few authentic hippies in Yorkville to move anywhere. As Judy Merril said, "Every long-haired kid who hit Toronto at the outskirts would wait until he saw another long-haired person, and he'd say, 'Where can I crash?' And that person would say 'Rochdale'." In any case, crashers in Rochdale from Yorkville would have spent most of their time in Yorkville. I lived in Rochdale in 1969 and 1970 and never met or noticed anyone there who was from Yorkville Village. In fact, in all the years I lived in Rochdale College I only noticed one authentic hippie: Skye. Many others looked superficially like stereotypical hippies, but they were less convincing than undercover cops. They were neo-hippies and phonies. It wasn't a move from Yorkville to Rochdale for me either, because I grew up on nearby Bernard Ave. When I was a kid, hundreds of times I rode in a streetcar past the pharmacy that once stood where Rochdale was constructed.
Some Rochdalians such as Dennis Lee and Billy Littler hung out in bohemian Yorkville, but they were not hippies. In the late 1960's hippies, speed freaks, and crashers were everywhere, not just isolated in Yorkville Village — which was mostly a place to hang out, not a place to live. Yorkville was the "in" gathering location for the youth of Toronto to "make the scene". I saw Rochdale being built, first heard about it in Yorkville, and the word was it was empty and it sucked. If Rochdale keys were sold in Yorkville, it was rare. Nonetheless, in 1969 it was easier to buy drugs in Rochdale than in Yorkville. Most of the hippies, speed freaks, and crashers who moved into Rochdale did not come from Yorkville. They may have learned about it in Yorkville, because until Rochdale became front page news as a hippie drug store it was known only by word of mouth. It's fair to say that the bohemian scene in Toorotten shifted to Rochdale College when Yorkville Village was basically dead. Billy Littler, for example, visited Rochdale but did not move in until the fall of 1970.
To better understand Yorkville Village requires an awareness of its predecessor, the Gerrard Street Village located about a mile south of Yorkville. It was Toronto's artist and bohemian enclave from about 1920. The Village was mostly row houses built between 1820 and 1850 in and around Gerrard St. W., between Elizabeth and Bay Streets, later stretching toward Yonge St. Most of the Village was on both sides of Walton Street and the south side of Gerrard between Bay and Yonge Streets. The Village continued on both sides of both streets for the one block further west to Elizabeth St. There was also some Village in the short part of Hayter St. between Bay St. and Laplante Ave.
It was like a smaller version of NYC's Greenwich Village and by the 1950's was a beatnik or Beat haven and community of artists, eccentrics, musicians, poets, jewelry makers, writers, actors, a tea-leaf reader, intellectuals, and booksellers. The Village was so cut off from downtown Toorotten that residents would drop in on a neighbour and say, "I'm going to town, do you want anything?" Every May the villagers would paint large daisies on the sidewalks to welcome "Maytime in the Village", a festival in the early 1960's with strolling minstrels, outdoor art lessons and a street dance. Artist and actor Bob Cullen, who founded the Bohemian Embassy said, "It wasn't very big by today's standards of artsy fartsy districts, you know. It was only a couple of blocks long, and not everything revolved around painting and writing and music. There was The Coffee House, and it was kind of an interesting place. It was relatively small, but it wasn't unusual for someone to stand up and read some poems or recite something, or for somebody to be playing a guitar or whatever."
There was also Mary John's restaurant, the social centre, which dated back to the 1930's and was famous for its lacquered travel posters by Cassandre and 75¢ meals. Sixty cents bought a lunch of soup and meat loaf, and a chicken pot pie cost a dollar. Avrom Isaacs ran a framing shop that became the Isaacs Gallery in 1959. Jack Pollock opened his gallery on Elizabeth St. in 1960, where he sold the work of artists like Ken Danby and Robert Bateman. The Village Art Gallery was at 69-73 Hayter Street. Marilyn and John Brooks ran the Unicorn, one of Toorotten's first boutiques. Their yellow store was filled with things like decorated tissue boxes, crepe flowers from Mexico, coffee mugs and Hawaiian dresses.
Other shops included The Artisans, The Fiddlers Three, Prince of Serendip Antiques, as well as the Gerrard Street Coffee House, the Limelight restaurant, Jack & Jill restaurant at 67 Hayter St., and Old Angelo's on nearby Chestnut St. for Italian food. A couple of blocks north was the Grenville Street Restaurant and Malloney's, an art gallery that was also a private club to get around outdated liquor laws. It was one of the few places in Toorotten where one could drink alcohol without ordering a meal. Book stores included the Village Book Store and French and Nordic. David Mason, of David Mason Books, rented an office above the Village Bookstore in 1969 for a year then moved to the storefront at 75 Gerrard St. until 1972. "Everybody knew we were on our way out," he said. "Progress in those days was ripping everything down."
Some of Gerrard St. Village, where Ernest Hemingway & Lawren Harris lived in the 1920's.
Demolition of the buildings above
Gerrard St. West & LaPlante Ave. 1940's The same buildings below 20 years later.
The remains of Gerrrard Street Village in 1966. The white building is the back door to Mary John's restaurant.
The Bohemian Embassy at 7 St. Nicholas Street
Inside the Bohemian Embassy 1963
When the Bohemian Embassy coffee house opened at 7 St. Nicholas St. on June 1, 1960 it became the hub of the Gerrard Street Village, although it was located a few blocks north of the Village. It was on the third floor in a hall converted from the hayloft of a former livery stable for Toorotten's mounted police force. There were a pair of barn doors at the street end of the hall and a large wooden beam above where a pulley once brought hay up for storage. In "Isis In Darkness" Margaret Atwood described something like it: "The coffee-house was on a little cobbled side-street up on the second floor of a disused warehouse. It was reached by a treacherous flight of wooden stairs with no banister; inside, it was dimly lit, smoke-filled, and closed down at intervals by the fire department. The walls had been painted black, and there were small tables with checked cloths and dripping candles." The coffee house's washroom was a cubicle that opened directly onto the hall. It had no lock, and patrons had to hold onto the door handle while using the toilet or risk exposing themselves to the audience. The Bohemian Embassy featured appearances by: Margaret Atwood, Irving Layton, Dennis Lee, Lorne Michaels, The Paupers, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Ian and Sylvia, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Bill Cosby.
It was open six nights a week until the early morning and featured an eclectic mix of folk, chamber and jazz music, poetry readings, comedy, plays and revues, art exhibits, happenings and film screenings. The Bohemian Embassy premiered more than 30 stage productions. Membership ("Citizenship" cards) cost 25¢ and admission was $1. When their telephone was listed under "Consulates" in the yellow pages, this was news in major newspapers and magazines across North America. Toorotten police were very suspicious of the Bohemian Embassy and had a campaign of harassment to close it that resulted in four court trials. At one the Judge was Robert Dneiper and he said, "I think it only fair to inform the prosecuting attorney that I consider myself a personal friend of these two guys. I am a member of their club and attend it quite regularly." The Crown felt there was a conflict of interest and asked for a different Magistrate. Dneiper asked, "What's the matter? Don't you trust me?" The next week Dneiper showed up at the trial with his arm around the new Judge as they had a friendly chat. When the trial began the Judge said, "Case dismissed."
Unfortunately, the Gerrard Street Village was finished by the early 1960's. Bob Cullen explained: "Yorkville was a poor area in downtown Toronto which gradually changed from 1960 to 1964. The Half Beat coffee house, The Penny Farthing, The Mouse Hole, the 71 and ultimately the Riverboat turned the district into the place to be. The subculture of youth creativity was turning from folk music to rock and roll. The Beatles did it. Their musicality and superior lyrics could not be denied. The Flower Children were upon us and the Beat Generation dressed in blacks, grays and navy blues looked oddly drab and old fashioned. Girls suddenly found new femininity in Laura Ashley dresses. Colours abounded. Love-ins and Be-ins replaced Bohemian style hideaways. The subculture was going public."
"The Bohemian Embassy was affected because in addition to the committed folkies, jazz people, poets and theatre buffs, the curious represented a sizeable portion of our clientele. By 1964 they were becoming the street crowd in Yorkville. We survived the winter of 1966 but the approaching good weather looked great for Yorkville and bad for the Bohemian Embassy. Six years to the day I closed the Bohemian Embassy coffee house."
In the early 1960's Gerrard Street Village was demolished to make way for much needed parking lots. Torontonians hate bohemians and evictions began in 1963. Only the Bohemian Embassy and five painted brick houses on the NW corner of Gerrard and Bay survived. "It's just another part of town," said Martin Ahvenus who ran the Village Bookstore. "Nothing there that I know or am familiar with." Most Beats migrated up to Yorkville Ave. and started a Beat cultural centre there. The Victorian brick buildings, constructed in the 1880's and 1890's, were of a higher quality than those in the Gerrard Street Village and renting a shop cost three times more.
Yorkville was incorporated as a village in 1853 and by the 1950's many of the houses were converted to commercial buildings. The village included nearby areas not on Yorkville Ave. In the 1950's the House of Hambourg on Cumberland St., a 14 room house one block south of Yorkville, billed itself as "Three floors of Jazz" and performers included Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong. It was owned by Clement Hambourg and continued when the Beats moved into Yorkville, but usually with less famous jazz musicians. It was a late night jazz joint that lasted from the mid 1940's until 1963. In 1960 and 1961 the Purple Onion, Club 71 and the Half Beat coffee houses opened in Yorkville. The Village Corner on Avenue Rd., the First Floor Club, and the basement Clef Club were also early arrivals.
During the Beat period in Yorkville music in coffee houses was folk and sometimes jazz. The clothing was dark and everything tended to be dark. By 1966 Beats faded away and Yorkville became Toorotten's hippie cultural centre. It was a gradual transition beginning in 1965, and some Beats became hippies. For both the Beats and hippies Yorkville Ave. was rarely a place to live, although many lived in the adjacent Annex area. Probably a couple hundred people lived in the village core of Yorkville Ave., Cumberland St., and Hazelton Ave. These "Villagers" felt superior, but their small numbers and 9 to 5 jobs made them almost irrelevant. The Chetwynd Apartments were on the south side of Yorkville Ave. near Avenue Rd. and south of them were the Hampton Court Apartments and the Cotswold Court Apartments. But the coffee houses and shops defined Yorkville Village. Liquor licensing laws were draconian in Toorotten at that time, so none of the venues served liquor. This meant teenagers could stay all night in the clubs. "Making the scene" in Yorkville was the "in" thing to do, standing about to see and be seen, and it turned the hippie community into the gathering place for the youth of Toorotten.
The village became a place to hang out, not a place to live. Most of the kids avoided the relatively expensive clubs, bought things from the Grab Bag convenience store, and eventually just hung around the street on the north side of Yorkville Ave. from Avenue Rd. to almost Bay St. It was loitering, so police were constantly walking by telling all the kids, "Move along. Move along." By Fall 1967, police patrolling the streets enforced a 10:00 p.m. curfew for people under eighteen and a paddy wagon was parked every weekend at the corner of Hazelton and Yorkville. The street crowd was mostly sucky high school students, and most of them were not hippies in any way. They were not Villagers, just ordinary kids who lived with their parents in the suburbs. Most were phonies, and some were thieves and assholes. However, even those who frequented the coffee houses were also part of the unique street crowd, because it was the most important social scene in Yorkville. In fact, for many people only the street crowd scene was Yorkville and when the street crowd finally disappeared Yorkville Village was dead.
Jacques's Place switched from folk to Rock music in the Spring of 1965, and when the hippies took over Rock bands were in most coffee houses. Everything was bright psychedelic colours. In 1967 strobe lights quickly became very annoying and then disappeared. For a while everything was "a go-go". Country Joe MacDonald claimed that smoking dried banana peels gave a high, and this inspired Donovan to write the hit song "Mellow Yellow". Everybody tried smoking banana peels in 1967 to no avail, but didn't know that "electrical banana" referred to a woman's dildo vibrator. Capes for women were very popular in 1967, and bell bottom blue jeans became de rigueur after 1968. Tie-dye shirts, granny glasses, granny dresses, mini skirts, love beads, peace symbols, buttons, head bands, fringed vests and jackets, Nehru jackets, paisley shirts, go go boots, Beatle boots, sandals, bare feet, and unusual costumes were fashionable.
In 1967 I wore a black pea jacket, which was common. Then I switched to an expensive black Edwardian coat made of wide wale corduroy. Usually I wore blue jeans, or sometimes something like my purple wide wale corduroy bell bottoms I bought in Greenwich Village. My two main memories of the street are the police constantly saying, "Move along. Move along" and occasionally feeling compelled to sing "Skip Softly (my Moonbeams)" by Procul Harum as I walked along the street.
There were many coffee houses, restaurants, outdoor patios, boutiques, stores, Gandalf's head shop on Scollard St., Hugh Petrie's Cosmic Visitor at 122 Yorkville Ave., and a poster gallery store named Blow Up at 118 Yorkville Ave. Photographer Arne Torneck owned Blow Up, and much of his business was selling large wall posters. I bought a few, including one of Marlon Brando from the "Wild One" movie sitting on his motorcycle. Almost all buildings were converted from old brick houses, usually with a retail outlet on the ground floor and apartments above. To some extent Yorkville was like swinging London's Carnaby Street, which was mostly colourful shops and fashion boutiques with some underground music venues such as the Marquee Club where the Rolling Stones began. In Yorkville there were fashion boutiques for wealthy women, such as Helmar of London, Pot Pourri, and Recamier Boutique. For Carnaby Street and Yorkville there was a small quandary because both were shopping areas, but most people were not shopping.
In February 1963 there was a meeting of village property owners attended by 180 people, including observers from the Toronto Planning Board. The issue was the purpose of Yorkville. Was it for the original residents, bohemians, property developers, or the boutique shop owners? After the meeting businesses and residents formed the Village of Yorkville Association as protection against any possible rezoning and development of their community. Their main concerns were keeping parking lots and wrecking balls out of the area, stopping the invasion of cars, and preserving the Victorian character of the buildings. The Toronto Buildings and Development Committee sided with the Village of Yorkville Association, not big business. After this the Association was more concerned with internal battles and its direction changed. Its new goal was to increase the sophistication of Yorkville and get rid of the bohemians.
Every night there was a constant traffic jam of bumper-to-bumper cars of suburban tourists driving through Yorkville Ave. to stare at the hippies. Ironically, most of these "week-end hippies" were the neighbours of the curious tourists. As more and more people were drawn to Yorkville, cars sometimes couldn’t even get through one of Toorotten's most famous attractions. A parade of tour buses rolled through Yorkville throughout the day beginning in about 1966. I walked in the area, but otherwise traveled around on my two motorcycles: a Triumph and a Ducati. In Yorkville I always walked. Whenever I took a cab in the area, the driver always went out of his way to drive through Yorkville to enjoy the drive-by spectacle.
I lived in the area on Bernard Ave. and visited people who lived in the area, including on Yorkville Ave. Most people didn't live in the area and didn't know anyone who lived in Yorkville. However, until 1967 I was a high school honors student and didn't get too involved with the Yorkville scene. There were still many Beats in the Annex and they appealed to me most because they were serious and intellectual. The first time I smoked pot was at a wild party at my girlfriend's place above The Monyo Art Gallery at 84 Yorkville Ave. After too many tokes I suddenly became completely stoned, depersonalized, and went into Candy Gillespie's bedroom and lay on her bed. I watched psychedelic cartoons with my eyes closed while I heard swishing sounds from John Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows" song that was playing clearly in my mind. In my imagination I thought each swish sound effect was the death of more brain cells. I went back into the crowded living room and Craig Black, a Mod in a rock band, smiled and put his arm around me. This freaked me out and I went outside for a long walk.
Eventually I ended up on Davenport Road. It was 3 a.m. so the street was vacant and I felt paranoid about being stoned. To prove I was sober I walked along the center line in the middle of the road. After a few minutes I realized my behavior was abnormal, so I returned to Candy's place and fell asleep. I smoked grass a few more times eventually, but stopped because it was boring and made me feel tired, depersonalized, and paranoid. One of my Yorkville friends was Dave from Montreal. He told me about a wild party he was at in the mid 1960's. When he awoke in the morning he was flaked out on the living room floor with people who included Neil Young, Rick James, and Joni Mitchell.
Candy Gillespie's father was head of Security for Maple Leaf Gardens, and this enabled her to meet the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other top bands that performed in Toronto. She actually talked with them, and the Beatles gave her a large group photo of themselves autographed by all four. Candy gave this photo to me because she was always giving me stuff. I didn't like the Beatles much and I didn't like the old photo with them in their Pierre Cardin inspired collarless jackets. So a few days later I gave the Beatles photo to a teeny bopper who lived next door, and she promptly fell in love with me. The basic mistake Candy and I made was not knowing that the photo would be worth at least $6000 today.
There were well over 40 clubs, coffee houses, and galleries in Yorkville that featured live music in the mid to late 1960's. However, there was a high turnover rate, and most lasted less than two years. It peaked at 22 coffee houses in 1965 and shrank to 14 by the end of 1966. This drop was largely becauseToorotten City Hall tried to stop the growth of Yorkville in the spring of 1965 by banning new licenses for coffee houses in the area. At first they were quiet retreats for chess, poetry readings, refreshments and free live and recorded music. By 1964 they were mostly dependent on live entertainment with a cover charge. Coffee Houses included Chez Monique at 88 Yorkville Ave. where "Sparrow", which later evolved into "Steppenwolf", regularly played as the house band. Tom & Ian and the Soul Set became the house band in the late sixties. Danny Marks' first band The Whisky Sours rehearsed at Chez Monique. Next door, at 90 Yorkville Ave. the Flick featured groups like the Stitch in Tyme and the Lords of London.
Other venues included: The Purple Onion, The Mynah Bird, Boris's, The Gaslight, The New Gate of Cleve, Café El Patio, Patti Fiedler's The Mousehole, El Matador, The Avenue Road Club, Sammy's, The Upper Crust, Café Anglais, The Flick, Werner Graeber's Club 71, Peter Ellis' Clef Club on Scollard St., Howard Mathews' The First Floor Club on Asquith St., The Unicorn, Jim Heineman's Strawberry Patch, The Cellar, The Village Corner, John McHugh's Half Beat, Charlie Brown's Place and The Night Owl.
On the street The Mynah Bird was most impressive with a glass booth on the second floor with beautiful go-go dancers gyrating to Rock music. The place was named after owner Colin Kerr's pet bird Rajah that resided near the entrance. Rajah appeared on the Johnny Carson TV show. Kerr only started the club to promote Rajah because he really believed his talking bird was going to make him a millionaire. He taught Rajah to say "Hello, Ed Sullivan" because his goal was to get his bird on The Ed Sullivan Show. Kerr claimed that he acquired Rajah on a trip to India in 1956, where he was participating in a golf tournament. Rajah supposedly had magical good luck powers that could be used on others for the next 40 years, which sometimes manifested themselves through droppings left on celebrities. When 29-year old Kerr returned to Toronto, he opened a shop on Bloor Street dedicated to selling Mynah birds. Then he launched his coffee house in 1964 that was named after Rajah. It included the Jungle Room, a second floor lounge carpeted in grass where he screened silent British nudie movies starting in Spring 1968.
Colin Kerr also liked to get attention and publicity with gimmicks such as nude body painting, topless go-go dancers, a topless folk singer, pie-throwing in 1966, X-rated film screenings, and he employed a nude male chef for a while. Except for a legally required chef’s hat, the cook served sandwiches and drinks in the buff. Kerr’s increasing obsession with nudity led Mynah Birds bassist Bruce Palmer to call him "the Larry Flynt of Yorkville". The Mynah Birds were the R & B house band with singer Rick James and Neil Young on guitar. Kerr insisted that they dress like Mynah birds and wear yellow shoes and yellow caps, black with yellow or orange accents. They wore black Beatle boots with Cuban heels dyed yellow, black pants and yellow vests. Palmer said, "He'd organize these screaming teenage girls to chase us from our rented limousine through Eaton's department store on Queen Street. It was crazy. This was his idea for getting media coverage. It was bad enough that he had us wearing yellow Beatle boots, but we drew the line when he asked us to shave our heads to look even more like Mynah birds. That's when we decided he was out of his mind." Kerr's brother Ben wrote songs such as "The Mynah Birds Song". Jo Anne Marshall, drummer Rick Cameron's girlfriend, said, "I didn't get the impression that any of the guys had too much faith in Colin Kerr and his Mynah bird tactics. Some of the antics which involved me and other friends and girlfriends were over the wall. Really crazy things done to attract media attention." Kerr sold the building and closed the Mynah Bird in February 1973.
Neil Young said: "You know all those dirty long-haired kids with no direction in Yorkville? Well, I was one of them. There are tapes of me and The Mynah Birds also. After I arrived in Toronto I tried to keep my band going and then tried to work with several others. But it just never worked out for me there. Ricky was great. He was a little bit touchy, dominating – but a good guy. Had a lot of talent. Really wanted to make it bad. Runnin' from the draft. I wasn't a driving force behind the Mynah Birds – I was the lead guitar player, Ricky was the front man. He's out there doin' all that shit and I was back there playin' a little rhythm, a little lead, groovin' along with my bro Bruce. We were havin' a good time."
Rick James said, "Actually, I cringe when I hear some of those songs. I mean, we did a song called "The Minah Bird Hop" (laughs). We had a manager who owned a Minah bird shop, and his brother wrote these Minah bird songs. I used to sing to this blind Minah bird that would shit on me onstage. It was a kind of a sick situation."
Next door at 112 Yorkville Ave. was the Penny Farthing, more respectable than the Mynah Bird, owned by John and Marilyn McHugh. Ian Tyson shared an apartment with John McHugh for a while because of their mutual taste in jazz and comedy. Ex-RAF pilot John McHugh opened the Penny Farthing in the Spring of 1963. It began as the Half Beat on Avenue Road, had an outdoor patio in front and a semi-public swimming pool in the back yard. The swimming pool was originally for John and his wife, but was eventually advertised as a way of attracting more people. They were eccentrics and lived upstairs. As a promotional stunt John would ride around Yorkville on his own penny farthing bicycle, and there was one affixed to the barnwood on the front of the building.
John McHugh booked jazz whenever possible, and hired jazz and blues artist Lonnie Johnson, who became a regular. Then Johnson opened his own club, Home of the Blues on Yorkville Ave. in 1966. Johnson was the only 1920's classic blues musician to have a successful career after WWII. On the main floor of the Penny Farthing was jazz, with folk music in the basement and then folk and blues on the main floor once it started to become more popular. Their basement stage was for beginners and non-union artists such as Joni Mitchell used the basement stage. When she had enough money Joni joined the musician's union. The venue eventually featured Rock bands. I saw the Sparrow at the Penny Farthing and they did a great cover version of Jeff Beck's "The Nazz are Blue". It was performed so perfectly that it was like listening to the Yardbird's recording.
The Riverboat at 134 Yorkville Ave. was by far the most famous of the coffee houses. It featured live performances by the biggest stars in folk music. The venue was owned and managed by former coffee salesman Bernie Fiedler from Berlin who emigrated to Canada in 1957. He and his girlfriend Patti Tanlock married and opened the Mousehole in October 1963, but it could only seat 60 people so they opened the Riverboat in December 1964 and it lasted until June 25, 1978. Patti Fiedler continued managing the Mousehole. Neil Young performed at the Riverboat and in his song "Ambulance Blues", he sings "back in those old folkie days, the Riverboat was rockin' in the rain." Many artists wrote songs in the club's tiny rehearsal room, with its graffiti-lined walls. Gordon Lightfoot wrote "Steel Rail Blues" there. Phil Ochs wrote "Changes" on the back steps of the Riverboat between sets. The patrons were there for the performers, and most had little interest in Yorkville or the Riverboat. Bob Dylan was in the audience one night, and Eric Clapton went there to see Tom Rush. Clapton was not especially interested in Yorkville or the Riverboat, he just wanted to see Tom Rush. However, Jack Nicholson snuck in the Riverboat's back door to hear some music, so some celebrities were attracted to the famous coffee house.
Bernie Fiedler supported the career of Gordon Lightfoot and said, "Gordon started with me at The Riverboat – and I’ve been producing his concerts ever since, including as many as 10 consecutive concerts at Massey Hall in Toronto. Gordon is one of the most loyal people I have ever met." Lightfoot said, "When I got to the Riverboat, I felt compelled to introduce a lot more of my own stuff. Ultimately, I worked harder at the Riverboat than I ever did at Steele's because I was suddenly working to a very attentive audience. So the Riverboat really pushed me. For me, the Riverboat was my first taste of the big time. It was very dark and had a wonderful ambience. And, it really did give you the idea you were on some kind of boat."
Another Riverboat regular was Joni Mitchell who wrote "Night in the City", her tribute to the bright lights of Yorkville there. When she first inquired about work at the Riverboat, Fiedler offered her a job in the kitchen. He said, "Joni you can wash dishes in my club but you can't sing here until you've done something." She declined and first performed at the Riverboat in November 1966. Fiedler said to her, "So, Miss Anderson, I see you're going for the Baez sound." She said: "I said to my mother I'm going to Toronto to become a folk singer. And I fulfilled her prophesy. I went out and I struggled for a while. I always kept my goals very short, like I would like to play in a coffee house, so I did. Back then, I didn't have a big organization around me. I was just a kid with a guitar, traveling around."
The Riverboat was in the basement and decorated like a riverboat with pine walls, brass portholes, and red booths. It was a long narrow room, cozy, intimate and could seat 120 patrons. No seat was farther than fifty feet from the stage. There was always a lineup, and on busy nights Fiedler would turn over the crowd several times. The first show would be at 7 p.m., the second at 8:30 p.m., and the last at 10 p.m. He could squeeze in as many as five shows a night. When Gordon Lightfoot played there could be as many as 900 cusotomers in one night. In 1966 I saw the Staple Singers there and was only a few feet away from the stage. They were an American gospel, soul, and R&B singing group featuring "Pop" Staples and his children Cleotha, Pervis, Yvonne, and Mavis. The Staple Singers are best known for their 1970's hits "I'll Take You There", "Respect Yourself", and "Let's Do It Again". They put on a great show and it was very moving. Their frequent peculiar hand clapping technique was unforgettable. They used their fingers to slap the palms of their hands, creating a unique and very rhythmic sound to highlight their wonderful singing of heartfelt songs.
On the south side of the street was Café El Patio at 119 Yorkville, where band manager Bernie Finkelstein once swept the floors and sold espressos. The Dimensions were the house band that changed its name to A Passing Fancy in January 1966, and Manna played every Friday night. Other performers included the Paupers, Lighthouse, David Clayton Thomas, The Hammer, The Last Words, Lords of London, The 5 Rising Sons, Stitch in Tyme, and Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band. The tiny Charlie Brown's Place was on Cumberland Ave. and The Ugly Ducklings became the very popular house band in the summer of 1966. The Ugly Ducklings were formed in Yorkville in 1965 by singer Dave Bingham, rhythm guitarist Glynn Bell, lead guitarist Rodger Mayne, bass player John Read, and drummer Robin Boers. Their first hit was "Nothin'", which Dave Bingham said "Like all of our songs, it evolved out of Roger or Glynn working up some riff on the guitar and me just singing along to it. In those days I'd make up the lyrics in like fifteen minutes. It was all pretty spontaneous stuff." They had more hits with "Just In Case You Wonder" and "Gaslight", then fell apart in mid 1967.
Inn on the Parking Lot was also on Cumberland Avenue, and it was popular in the early to mid 1960's. Jay Walker and the Pedestrians, an 8-piece Rhythm & Blues band played there and had difficulty fitting on the small ten foot square stage. Werner Graeber owned the Inn on the Parking Lot and was sued by the hotel called The Inn on the Park for stealing its name. Journalists defended Graeber and the lawsuit was withdrawn. In July 1961, 30-year-old Graeber and his wife Eva were arrested for holding a "drinking party" at their private house at 71 Yorkville Ave. Twenty two other people were arrested at the party by the Morality Squad and were charged as "found-ins", and taken to the Don Jail for interrogation, physical abuse and a night in jail. Pierre Berton wrote, "They bundled the lot up and sent them to the Don Jail where each was stripped, showered, deloused and given an intimate physical examination." Graeber then turned his house into the Club 71 and two months later it was raided by the Morality Squad again. The Toronto Star revealed that four marijuana joints were found hidden around the club. Later in court all charges, which were based on insufficient evidence, were thrown out and Graeber was acquitted in April 1962.
Around the corner on Avenue Rd., just north of Yorkville Ave. were a number of coffee houses such as The Purple Onion, Boris's and The New Gate of Cleve owned by Joe Lewis. The original Gate of Cleve was at 151 Dupont St. Lewis had a successful career doing promotion for the National Ballet and other notable arts institutions. Therefore, The New Gate of Cleve tended to have very high quality acts that were not necessarily well known or "hip". For example, he booked the Belafonte Singers, the Phoenix Singers, and Mississippi John Hurt. The club also featured folk stars such as Eric Andersen and Zal Yanovsky, who went on to fame with the Lovin' Spoonful. Yanovsky had been in Yorkville for some time, working in the kitchen of the Purple Onion. He lived in the laundromat next door to the the Gate of Cleve when it was on Dupont St. Zanovsky slept in the dryers. Joe Lewis claims Phil Ochs wrote "Changes" at his venue, not at the Riverboat. Perhaps Ochs did both. Lewis had a folk music show on CJRT-FM radio for about twenty years and the folk music community came to rely on his show as the folk coffee houses faded away. He also wrote a folk music column in the Toronto Telegram.
On the corner at 35 Avenue Rd. was Steve Witkin's The Purple Onion, which was originally at the SW corner of St. George Street and Davenport Rd. It was the first coffee house to let performers play for free, although most musicians in Yorkville were paid. At first it had folk artists, then switched to Rock. Three years after The Purple Onion opened, over 30,000 membership cards had been purchased. Boris's with its Red Gas Room at 45 Avenue Rd. was "another bastion of rhythm and blues". Rock acts included Lighthouse, the Paupers, Influence, The Rabble, Kensington Market and The Tripp. Luke & The Apostles were the house band at Boris's from July 26, 1966 until the summer of 1967. Rick Stewart was the disc jockey. There was a Go-Go dancer in the window and Gerald Chopik and Joe McLeod managed the door. The Avenue Road Club at 53 Avenue Rd. was different from the others because it appealed to an older and wealthier crowd, especially people from England. It was in a large 3 storey brick building painted white with a black gambrel roof, set back more than most places, with The Devil's Den Club in the basement. The club billed itself as "the home of the Toronto Sound," and featured bands such as the Mandala, WhiteWail, Luke & the Apostles, and Jon & Lee and the Checkmates.
Next was El Matador coffee house, a country music club with a warm and woody western decor including large wooden barrels and wagon wheels. It eventually became the home of the Vagabonds motorcycle club and they greatly outnumbered all other patrons. North of it was Sammy's, The Avenue Road Club, and the Mont Blanc café. Then there was Record World, a fairly large record chain store. Inside it looked like it belonged in a suburban shopping mall, but it stocked exactly the kind of music that was in demand. Donnie Walsh, guitarist for the Downchild Blues Band, worked as a clerk in Record World in the late sixties and said, "They had some serious blues records." Once I bought a Jimi Hendrix album at Record World, but a Frank Sinatra record was inside. Sinatra owned the Reprise record label, which partly explains the mix up, and I was given a refund.
A couple of blocks north on the periphery of the Village was the popular Webster's Restaurant at 131 Avenue Rd., where Billy Littler first met Lionel Douglas. It was an ordinary conventional restaurant with a long lunch counter and interesting patrons. My memory is that it was plain with no frills or decorations, not especially comfortable, and it was off white and grey. The wallbox and tableside jukeboxes had obscure songs to choose from, such as Bob Dylan's "Gates of Eden". Webster's had an unmistakable hippie vibe or mystique about it, and ordinary people usually were not there. I went to Webster's quite often because it was sort of across the street from where I lived and inexpensive, although the restaurant made me feel self consciously hip. It had a front entrance on Avenue Road and a side door on the north side of Webster Avenue.
Like most restaurants Webster's was normally safe and peaceful, but in the early hours of September 22, 1968 a fight broke out between Bobby Latus and a black man named Edward Payne, who staggered out with blood all over his face. Shortly afterwards on Avenue Road, Baltiman Arthurs who was driving Payne to the hospital, struck Latus with his car and knocked him five feet into the air. Arthurs was convicted of causing bodily harm to Latus. Bobby Latus was a huge Vagabond Biker who eventually hung out in Rochdale College, although he never lived there. After Webster's closed the Hari Krishnas opened a restaurant in the same place.
Just south of Webster's on the opposite corner was the basement Drop-In Centre at Saint Paul's Avenue Road United Church that operated for eight years as "a beacon of mercy to lost kids". The church called it a Youth Centre and claimed attendance was as high as 700 visitors per night. It was an outreach program that appealed mostly to street kids and messed up misfits. Probably most of the "crashers" and speed freaks who invaded Rochdale College came from the Drop-In Centre, not Yorkville. The Centre was quite sleazy because of its Christian "charity" and the deadbeats who frequented it. In the basement hall the centre was divided into a number of areas: a slot-car race track, exercise area, a music nook, a chapel, art room, and the largest area was for crafts, round-table discussions, and other activities.
This is in Stuart Henderson's book about Yorkville: "For the next three years the Church Drop-In Centre would be known to many as a central, and among the most significant, sites for hip activity. It became, in the words of David DePoe, 'like our community centre'." NO! I lived across the street from that sleazy shit hole for the entire eight years of its existence. It was the fucking antithesis of "hip". The Drop-In Centre was a destructive blight on Yorkville and nobody "hip" went there. It did not help those already in Yorkville – it attracted thousands of deadbeats to Yorkville who would not have otherwise come to the area. The only time I visited the Centre I went in the basement and there was a tough looking young girl waiting outside the entrance. She asked me if I wanted to buy prescription barbiturates or amphetamines. I turned around and walked out.
South of the Centre on a vacant lot was the street clinic "Trailer", the sad medical facet of Yorkville. It began on May 27, 1968 in a 40 foot mobile home called a "Mobile Counseling Unit" as a three month study to help street kids. The Jewish Family and Child Service of Metro Toronto ran the project but it was not religious or judgmental. The clinic flyer read: "Just got into town? Got no bread? Got busted? Kicked out of your room? Pregnant? Need Welfare? Freaking? Need legal advice? On a bummer? Hassled by the man? Need a job? Got a dose?". Dr. Anne Keyl was supervisor of Trailer, and she was the one who started the fraudulent "hepatitis epidemic" in the summer of 1968. She misinterpretted a few hepatitis cases as a possible epidemic, and the fascists at Toorotten City Hall used her mistake to create a phoney epidemic that was deliberately calculated to destroy Yorkville Village. Trailer closed in mid July 1970 because its staff considered it irrelevant. It was destructive exactly like the Drop-In Centre, attracting undesirables to the area and giving Yorkville a visible bad image. Why was there a fucking sleazy welfare "clinic" in Yorkville? Did the patronizing do-gooders think the Villagers were too stupid to walk to the several nearby world class hospitals?
The Chistian Missionary Alliance (CMA) ran the Fish Net coffee house starting in late January 1966. It was located in a basement below a fashion boutique on Yorkville Ave. and semi-leased from Anna Marie Heit, who owned many buildings on Yorkvile Ave. The Fish Net had a casual atmosphere with free coffee and biscuits, and tried to proselytize Christianity while offering a free place for crowds of kids to hang out six nights a week from 8:30 p.m. until midnight. It was shut down by the landlord later in 1966 due to complaints from the upscale stores nearby.
In early 1967 the Free Store opened next to the Grab Bag. It was a storefront for the Diggers to help homeless kids who needed shelter, food and counselling. Diggers dispensed free food and clothing to the kids who flocked to Yorkville and also supplied volunteers to Trailer. The organizers were David Depoe, Brian "Blues" Chapman, Ron Riggan, Hans Wetzel, journalist and social activist June Callwood, and U of T law student Clayton Ruby, who with Paul Goodman had started the Village Bar, a Legal Aid service. Callwood empathized with Yorkville hippies because her son lived in a room above the Grab Bag. Their goal was to create a shelter called Digger House. This made them leaders and organizers at the top of a hierarchy in Yorkville, which was contrary to hippie ideology. However, they mostly regarded themselves as spokesmen and contact people with the media. Former cab driver Depoe had orders not to be a leader, but a facilitator and middleman, and he had good media connections because of his journalist father.
David DePoe first discoverd Yorkville in the winter of 1964. He lived at 41 Hazelton Ave. starting in the fall of 1966. His rent was $40 a month for a bedroom with a shared washroom. It had a little kitchen, a wall of windows and a working fireplace, but he had to walk along a little hallway from the kitchen to the bedroom. The Company of Young Canandians paid him $125 a month, and he enjoyed the people, the sense of community and the live music in Yorkville.
What undermined Depoe's credibility was he was a paid representative of the Company of Young Canadians, a political youth organization Prime Minister Pearson had set up in 1966. Although the CYC was inspired by the U.S. Peace Corps, it really sucked that an unelected and unwanted "leader" in Yorkville was on the government's payroll. The Diggers were an anarchist humanitarian collective like the Diggers in Haight-Ashbury and Greenwich Village, but not officially affiliated with them. Their organization helped the growing number of transient and alienated youth to be healthy and safe in Yorkville Village. But their "Sit-In" was destructive and the traffic problem should have been handled differently. The "Starve-In, "Sleep-In" and "Talk-In" were irrelevant to most Villagers. Why didn't they have a "Fuck-In" in the middle of Yorkville Ave. and get it over with? At least they organized the Love-In at Queen's Park and created Digger House.
The Digger House was initially rented from the City of Toronto by June Callwood for $600 per month. It was on Spadina Rd., quite a distance from Yorkville, and had eight bedrooms. Money was donated by two churches and two synagogues. The house was a dump, but volunteers painted it red outside and various colours inside, and it looked much better. It was a shelter with 20 beds run by Villagers for Villagers and often called "Hippie Haven". There were constant funding problems for the house and also food. A social worker was the live-in administrator with two other live-in staff. Residents were young from poor working class backgrounds, and most had come from abusive homes.
On the west side of Avenue Rd. there were coffee houses such as the Village Corner Club and The Night Owl. I saw a lot of good bands at the Night Owl, but can't remember any of their names except the Yeomen who were basically the house band. They were very good and all band members played tom toms to start off the opening set. It was a polished commercial type of Pop Rock that got some radio play.
Across from the Drop-in Centre at 129 Avenue Rd. was the storefront operation of the Church of Scientology, invented by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard. It was at 126 Avenue Rd. They gave free consultations, which were always good for a laugh. Their "personality" questionaires were heavily promoted and I'm sure every Villager tried it once. It was a lot of stupid questions to determine if you should be "audited" and have your mind and money ripped off in the name of science and the church. At the Rockpile on May 24, 1969 Frank Zappa said, "Scientology, how about that? You hold on to the tin cans and then this guy asks you a bunch of questions, and if you pay enough money you get to join the master race. How's that for a religion?" One evening I attended their party with entertainment by the band Edward Bear, featuring singer Larry Evoy who appeared in ads endorsing Scientology. Edward Bear played a couple of sets and were quite good. But they were too relaxed and lacking in excitement to be a Rock band. It was more like Pop or soft Rock. Guitarist Danny Marks said, "We somehow bridged the gap between blues and Pop." Huh? I don't think so. There is no gap to bridge because they are completely incompatible.
Avenue Road was lined with various apartment buildings and houses, and had many stores, restaurants, laundromats, dry cleaners, furriers, bakeries, and so on. Most of them were not for hippies, but for residents of the Annex. Two of my high school teachers lived in the apartment buildings. One night I passed one of my teachers in the laundromat, which was also used as a short cut to a laneway, and he did a double take. The next day in class he asked me what I was doing in the laundromat in Yorkville. I replied, "I live around the corner from it, and it was after school hours in case you didn't notice." He glared at me, so I quickly added "Sir" with a contemptuous tone. Everybody laughed. The teacher was an asshole but bright enough not to fuck with an honors student. If only he knew that Mary Ann Routley, my gorgeous blonde classmate he danced with at the Prom, worked as a waitress in Yorkville Village.
My favorite restaurant was just north of Davenport Road on the west side of Avenue Road. It was a family restaurant, more comfortable and with better food than Webster's. The Cellar coffee house featuring mostly live jazz was also at Davenport and Avenue Rd. A block north at 174 Avenue Rd. was The Village Corner, a quaint two storey house with a candle in a Chianti bottle in the window. It was an L shaped early folk music coffee house owned by John Morely where Ian and Sylvia launched their career. They first met in the club. It was a smokey room with dark blue walls and a large mural of black slaves being unshackled. The stage was quite small. As a member of the "Two Tones" with Terry Whelan, Gordon Lightfoot recorded his first album at the Village Corner in January 1962. The Rockpile was nearby at the NW corner of Yonge and Davenport. It was a Fillmore-type concert hall that lasted for a little over a year from 1968 to 1969, and featured performances by Procol Harum, Jeff Beck, Country Joe and the Fish, Buddy Guy, Spirit, Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and local favorites such as McKenna-Mendelson Mainline. It had a capacity for 1,200 people, and was completely white inside, with a balcony and a white cloth draped from the ceiling for lightshows by Catharsis Lights.
On the west side of Avenue Rd. north of Bernard Ave. on the corner was a medium sized Dominion food store. Next to it was an Electrolux appliance store and then a dry cleaners named Spick and Span. Beside it was Jong Young Market food store and then the Woman's Bakery. Sometimes when I shopped at the bakery a woman told me I looked "dubious" as I examined the cakes and pies. Next was the Avenue Road Cigar Store that had a tiny antique "Post Office". Beside it was a fairly large Loblaws grocery store with a creaky and sagging ancient wooden floor. Then there was Atlas Helio, a blueprinting and photostat business. Finally on the corner of Davenport Rd. was the Tamblyn Drug Store.
Eventually the Scientology storefront moved to the Bates and Maddock funeral home at the SW corner of Bernard Ave. When I was about 14 years old the funeral home inspired me to write the poem "Seal Tite Burial Vaults". South of this was a Chinese restaurant that served delicious pet cats that were captured in the neighbourhood. My cousin Diane lived with my family and she spent much time at an antique store further south on Avenue Road. She didn't care much for antiques, but was a good friend of the elderly lady who owned the store. At the time I never considered any of this area to be Yorkville. To me Yorkville was Yorkville Ave. and nothing else. All my neighbours felt the same way. For example, my teeny bopper neighbour was not allowed on Yorkville Ave. But her parents let her shop at Record World, because they did not consider it to be Yorkville. I didn't either. The Night Owl, the sleazy Drop In Centre, and Webster's Restaurant were not Yorkville. Perhaps they were the equivalent of "Off Broadway".
The China Panda was a large oriental store at the SW corner of Yorkville and Bay where I bought boxes of incense cones, but I did not consider that store to be part of Yorkville either. It was the same for the St. Raphael's Nursing Home at 100 Yorkville Ave. The large white fenced-off building was an old folks' home and it didn't matter that it was in the center of Yorkville or how many hippies leaned against its fence – it was not part of Yorkville Village. Yorkville Restaurant on the corner of Bay and Yorkville served things like chips and gravy and was popular with villagers.
There were writers and artists in Yorkville. Art Galleries included: The Sobot Gallery (128 Cumberland St.), Tysegen Gallery (Scollard St.), Gallery Pascal (104 Yorkville Ave.), Gallery Moos (138 Yorkville Ave.), The Monyo Art Gallery (84 Yorkville Ave.), and the nearby Isaacs Gallery (Yonge St.). One of my girlfriends rented an apartment above the Monyo Art Gallery at 84 Yorkville Ave. A man who called himself "Prince" Monyo Mihailescu-Nasturel Herescu from Romania owned the building and he drove a Rolls Royce. There is no evidence he was ever a prince, and he was far too ostentatious to be an aristocrat. Real princes are not pretentious, overly arrogant and vulgar. His studio store had only his paintings for sale, and he was often in the front window of his store painting a large canvas. This appealed to the street crowd, but he didn't want riffraff in his studio so he charged 25¢ to visit his store. Monyo painted in various styles, including in three dimensions, and also sculpted. He had no formal art education. His plush apartment was filled with his own erotic art and was featured in a Playboy magazine spread and the movie "Business Is My Pleasure". Eventually he was arrested for the first exhibition of erotic sculpture in Canacaca, a move that led to a change in law allowing artists freedom of expression.
At 38 and 48 Yorkville Avenue in two Victorian houses were the sound recording studio complexes of Eastern Sound Studios, the first studio in Canada to upgrade from an 8-track recording facility to 24-track Ampex recorders. It was first owned by Canadian Manoir Industries, then in the mid 1970's by Standard Broadcasting. Between 1965 and 1980 Eastern Sound recorded many Canadian and international stars, including Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLaughlin, Lighthouse, Elton John, Cat Stevens, Isaac Hayes and Dionne Warwick.
Nimbus 9 Soundstage Recording Studio was at 45a Hazelton Avenue, and began as a multi-media company. In March 1968 Toronto producer Jack Richardson opened the studios with Allan Macmillan, Ben McPeek and Peter Clayton. Their first artist was The Guess Who. Other clients included The Association, Alice Cooper, Badfinger, Dr. John, Peter Gabriel, Kiss and Bob Seger. In 1970 fifth partner Bob Ezrin joined the operation and produced some of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" there. They had two record labels: Nimbus 9 and Umbrella Records. Everybody hired by the company was taught things such as recording engineering by the senior members and put through their paces. David Greene was the chief engineer. The studio had a custom-made Neil Muncey mixing console and an Ampex AG-440 8 track recorder. Later they used an Audiotronics console and a 24 track recorder. Nimbus 9 Studio was sold in 1980 along with its mastering facility.
There was an underground newspaper in Yorkville called the "Yorkville Yawn", which changed its name to "Satyrday" in late 1966. It was published by editors Andrew Mikolasch and Ron Thody (aka the Thud) with the goal to "knock and satirize the establishment, attempt to promote new Canadian sounds and culture on all levels and carry on the fight for personal freedoms. We seek to unfetter the individual from all restrictions imposed on him and his freedom, whether by government, police, or corporation. However, we draw the line at the point where personal liberty would create harm or injustice to a fellow human being." The publishers claimed that their paper was not aimed at Villagers and tourists, but everyone. It was published sporadically, sometimes with no issues for several months. Content included reports on cofee houses, folk singers and Rock bands, the persecution of Yorkville by the conservative establishment, art and poetry, interviews, and events. Issues were usually about 25 pages long. Basically the paper existed because Villagers did not trust the mainsteam media which generally "reported" biased sensational and negative fantasies about Yorkville.
Through Yorkville's entire history, poet Eric Layman was usually hawking his poems in the Yorkville area to make ends meet. He was a tall, intelligent, and affable eccentric with thick eyeglasses and often a beret or a squashed hat and scarf. The first time I met him he was standing on the corner of Yorkville and Avenue Rd. and asked me, "Would you like to buy one of my poems?" I walked up to him and Eric peered down at me with a strange toothy grin. "Why are you selling one poem this way and not a book in stores?" I asked. Eric replied, "They are in book stores, but I like to sell my work this way as well. Would you like to buy one of my poems?"
Another regular around 1967 was "Pops", a sixty-seven year old eccentric known as Yorkville's oldest hippie. He often wore a vertically thick striped suit and matching hat. He sometimes carried a mannequin's leg over his shoulder and looked bizarre, but too old for Yorkville. Pops often allowed young girls to “crash” at his place. There was a guy with a mohawk hairstyle and he didn't fit in, but it was nice to see some variety. One night I saw three white chicks overdressed in gaudy psychedelic outfits and they all had enormous afro hairstlyes. They had teased their hair like early 1960's bouffant beehives, but they were shaped like gigantic balls. It got them a lot of astonished attention for looking like freaky circus clowns, and they probably imagined they were fashionable. Most in the village were in the same young age group and wore similar trendy clothes. Long hair was common for both men and women. It tended to be a status symbol if it was long enough. Facial hair was common on men, and the Zapata moustache became popular when the Beatles released their "Sgt. Pepper" album in 1967.
Sometimes Greasers ventured into Yorkville. They were a 1950's type of working-class young men who were named after their short greasy hair. Greasers looked like they had stepped out of an Elvis movie looking for a fight and were out of place and unwelcome in Yorkville, especially because of their macho and violent tendencies. Occasionally there were confrontations. One Saturday night in May 1966 a group of 25 Greasers with scissors went through Yorkville to cut off the long hair of their enemies, as they had successfully done the night before. About 600 Greasers and hippies confronted each other on Avenue Road and by early Sunday morning over 2000 people were rioting. They were brawling, throwing bottles, and chanting "Kill the cops" at the two policemen on the scene. Another 20 cops arrived and restored order.
Bikers also wanted to be in Yorkville where the action was. They were motorcycle aficionados who usually belonged to clubs such as Satan's Choice, ParaDice Riders and the Vagabonds. Bikers were outlaws, modern day cowboys, and in the wrong place when they entered Yorkville, home of the peaceful love generation. The Vagabonds had houses on Hazelton Ave. and in the Annex and they hung out at El Matador in 1966 and 1967. Some considered them beneficial arbitrators and security officers in the community, but many others hated their violence, intimidation, and lifestyle. Authenticity was important to hippies, and Bikers were at least considered authentic. David DePoe and some other prominent Villagers hung out with them and unfortunately helped include them in the community.
In the summer of 1967 Murray McLauchlan married Patti Sockwell and moved into a communal house on Hazelton Ave. One of his communards was Moses, the intellectual secretary-treasurer of the Vagabonds motorcycle club. McLauchlan said, "People in the village attached a certain kind of glamour to bikers in those days. They knew there was money to be made in Yorkville, with a healthy market in grass and speed. Make no mistake about it, your average motorcycle gang is a criminal organization."
By the time the "Woodstock" movie was released in 1970, there was pressure on all youth to be hippies, but in 1967 most youth were not attracted to hippyism. However, they were completely tolerant of it, unlike the older generation who hated it. Some young people disliked hippies, including individuals such as director John Waters and small subcultures like the Greasers and Bikers. Unlike hippies, Greasers and Bikers loved alcohol.
Over a dozen Mods were in Yorkville, some were Scottish and most played in Rock bands. The Mods were a subculture of working class dandies who evolved from the bohemian scene in London, England in the late 1950's. They wore very fashionable flashy clothes, their long hair was styled, and they used amphetamines to dance all night at clubs. In England Mods typically used motorscooters for transportation, treating the vehicle like a fashion accessory. Mods fitted well in Yorkville, influenced hippie fashion, but they were aloof and seemed to have a "hipper than thou" rock star attitude. The Who and Rod Stewart's Small Faces started out as Mods, but the subculture peaked in the mid 1960's and was absorbed by the hippie movement in North America by the late 1960's.
Many teeny boppers hung out in Yorkville. They were a subculture of teenagers who were infatuated with the superficial aspects of hippies, such as pop music, fashion, and sometimes drugs. Teeny boppers were identical cookie-cutter wannabe bohemians off the same assembly line. Presumably they expected to grow up to be hippies, but that never happened. Once a teeny bopper, always a teeny bopper. They really didn't get it. For example, in 1967 mostly females wore fashionable capes, rarely men – but male teeny boppers loved wearing capes. I could usually spot an aging teeny bopper in Rochdale College. They tried to be the hippest of hippies, but their shallow empty-headed teeny bopper personalities always gave them away. In Rochdale Dave Lawrence, Marcia Whitford, Ruth King, Dawn Golden, Jojo and many others were teeny boppers, not quite neo-hippies. It was all about age in the 1960's. Hippies were 18 to 25, teeny boppers were well under 18, and people over 30 could not be trusted.
There were many Beats and an enormous number of hippies because of a generation gap and a post WWII baby boom. By 1965 half of the population of North America was under 25 years old. For the first time in history there were huge differences in cultural values between many teenagers and their parents. With rapid advances in social and technological progress, the two generations differed in musical tastes, fashion, culture and politics. It was magnified by the unprecedented size of the "baby boomer" generation during the 1960's, which gave it power and a willingness to rebel against society.
Beats and hippies were quite similar with some differences. The Beats evolved from the "Beat Generation" literary movement and relied on writers, poets and folk songwriters to guide their movement. Hippies came directly from the Beats, whose culture included experimentation with drugs and sex, creativity, nonviolence, honesty, spontaneity, joy, a rejection of materialism, an interest in Eastern religion, and a need for freedom. The ideology of hippies relied entirely on Rock stars, the leaders of the youth revolution. In the late 1960's all the major Rock bands were comprised of hippies. John Lennon said he took LSD over 1000 times. Jimi Hendrix was similar, and in his entire three years of superstardom never had a home. Rock music lyrics not only brainwashed the hippies, it was also a hippie indoctrination course for all youth. Bohemians require artists to guide them, and without psychedelic Rock there would have been no hippie movement. After 1970 Rock stars abandoned hippyism for various reasons and the movement died. For starters, consider that the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison were all gone.
Hippies inherited Beat values and sensibilities, but they were motivated by the Vietnam War, the draft, the civil rights movement, a severe generational gap, and Rock music lyrics. Many Beats were homosexual or bisexual, but hippies tended to be homophobic. Hippies believed gays could be "cured" with LSD. There were no gay hippies because it's a contradiction in terms. In the late 1950's and early 1960's the Mousetrap coffee house in La Coterie on Avenue Rd. was a small back room cafe for gays to hang out. The room was rustic with barn wood covered walls, benches all around the walls, little tables, with a few small stools. It had its own rear entrance and a porch overlooking a tiny parking lot. There were "Tea Dances" on Sunday afternoons and evenings for people of all ages. It closed by 1963. Gays are a much persecuted subculture, but most are not bohemians and they did not belong in Yorkville. There would have been a clash of subcultures if the gays had shared the village with the anti-gay hippies.
Psychedelic drugs such as marijuana and LSD were used by hippies, whereas the Beats also used alcohol, benzedrine and morphine. Beats listened to mostly folk and jazz music and were intellectual, but hippies preferred Rock and were more hedonistic. A popular hippie saying was, "If it feels good, do it." Superficially Beats looked serious and wore dark clothing, and hippies had longer hair, wore bright psychedelic clothes and appeared to be happy and carefree. This meant Beats tended to blend into society, but hippies usually stuck out like a sore thumb. Hippies were naive, optimistic, and friendly, whereas Beats tended to be pessimistic and realistic. By the early 1970's much hippie culture was integrated into mainsteam society, yet that never happened with the Beats because there were fewer of them and they were always "underground". They remained historical bohemian caricatures, stereotypical beatniks with berets and bongos.
Much of the hippie subculture was focused on the Vietnam war in the USA. However, this was not as important in Canada and was almost irrelevant in England. Nonetheless hippies everywhere were obsessed with peace. Out of this came the widespread use of the Peace symbol, originally designed for the British nuclear disarmament movement by Gerald Holtom in 1958. This symbol is a complicated combination of the letters "N" and "D", standing for "nuclear disarmament". Superimposing these two letters creates the peace symbol. The "peace sign" hand gesture was equally popular. It was a V sign with palm outwards, with the index and middle fingers open and all others closed. The hand signal was used during WWII as a sign of victory, in anti-war protests, and was adopted by hippies and the counterculture as a sign of peace. I never liked it. After I saw Sly and the Family Stone use it like a Nazi Youth salute at the Toronto Pop Festival at Varsity Stadium on June 21, 1969, a few blocks from Yorkville, I hated it.
One major problem with North American society, not just in Yorkville, was the feminist phenomenon of the Women's Liberation Movement. It was a political crusade to finally give women equal rights after thousands of years of oppression. Of course this was a long overdue and wonderful change for half of humanity. However, it did not happen overnight and there was a confusing and awkward period in the late 1960's before women's liberation was a reality. During this period women were supposedly the equals of men, but the women still expected men to open doors, give them flowers, and pay for their meals on dates. In other words, women were in the strange situation of having the best of both worlds in a superior position to men. The men were often puzzled when trying to cope with the new "battle of the sexes" and sometimes were called "chauvinist pigs" by women for their efforts. Bohemians were liberated in many ways, and they accepted Women's Liberation with open arms and fewer problems than most people.
The word bohemian is derived from the French for Gypsy, and means a nonconformist with an unconventional lifestyle, artistic or intellectual tendencies, who is marginalized and usually poor. However, the large number of 1960's bohemians differed from their predecessors in their nonconformity. They did not conform to their parents' expectations, but they were conformists among themselves. Beats and especially hippies were conformists to their mass bohemian movements. All hippies were more or less the same, whereas previous generations of bohemians tended to be unique individuals.
It is important to know that the Beats did not call themselves beatniks, which was a pejorative used by others. The word was created by journalist Herb Caen in 1958, who added the Russian suffix “nik” to the established “Beat”. Jack Kerouac, who had coined the phrase “Beat Generation” told him, “You're putting us down and making us sound like jerks. I hate it. Stop using it.” Like all subcultures, the Beats had their own language, which tended to be self-referential. Beat slang included: hipster, hip, square, pig, cool, cat, chick, pad, bread, juice, Squatchel, shake it, haul ass, beat the gravel, Daddy-o, wigged out, blast, kicks, and dig.
The hippies called themselves diggers, heads, villagers, or freaks, if anything. They never called themselves hippies, which was a media pejorative they hated. Hippies were given their name in 1965 by the Beats who noticed mass-produced young imitators who were obsessed with being "hip" and considered them "hip wannabes". The word had rarely been used before this, and did not become widespread until early 1967, when journalist Herb Caen popularized it in his writing. By 1967 hippies didn't even think of Beats, and admired them as irrelevant historical relics. Hippie trendy slang was different from the Beat variety, and did not include "hip", "cool" or "reefer", and "groovy" was passe by 1968. "Straight" was used and meant conventional, almost the same as "square". Hippies were unaware it was also gay slang meaning heterosexual. "Cut in" meant to return to a bourgeois lifestyle. "Cut out" translated as to leave, "jam" or "split". Other popular words included: bag (preference), the Man (police), score (obtain), drag (boring), and crash (go to bed).
Although slang defines a subculture and usually is understood only by the initiated, most Beat and hippie slang could be understood by ordinary people because it was used in movies and TV by bohemian stereotypes. Conversely, in the 1930's there was little interaction between the black jazz scene and mainstream society, so "hepcat" slang grew out of this and it was like a foreign language, deliberately and effectively indecipherable by outsiders. Singer and bandleader Cab Calloway wrote his "Hepster's Dictionary: Language of Jive" in 1940. Until his book was published nobody but the initiated knew that "kicking the gong around" meant smoking opium.
Much Beat and hippie slang was derived from 1930's black jazz slang. The word "hep" became "hip" and there are over a dozen possibilities for the origin of "hip". Most likely it comes from the African Wolof "hepicat" and means "one who has his eyes open". Another theory is it comes from 19th century opium smokers who lay on their sides, or on the hip.
The difference between a subculture and a counterculture is that "sub" means under and "counter" means against. Both are different from mainstream society, but a subculture usually comfortably exists within it, whereas a counterculture is actively working against it to cause changes in society. Subcultures often share the ideological commitments of society, but countercultures are perceived as dangerous threats or harmless curiosities. Hippies were a subculture and their movement died in 1970. Some of them wanted to "change the world" by passively setting an example, and the enormous number of hippies made them somewhat of a counterculture. But their slogan was, "Turn on, tune in, and drop out", and they had dropped out of society. Radical American anti-war activists of the sixties did not drop out and they were an actively political counterculture that ended around 1973, and some of them were also hippies. My definition of bohemian is an artist without art. I define "hip" as a silly feeling of great social superiority based on a secret knowledge of what artists were doing two years ago. Never have I been a bohemian, a Rochdalian, a hippie, or "hip". I am an artist.
A few blocks south of Yorkville was Queen's Park and during the "Summer of Love" there was a "Love-In" there on Monday, May 22, 1967 for over 4,000 people. It was Canada's only Love-In, and it was a sunny summer-like Victoria Day with a relaxed and very friendly picnic atmosphere. Some people at the Love-In played bongos, bells, flutes and sitars. Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Rabble and Toronto's The Isabella Blues Band performed great music for free. Buffy Sainte-Marie and Leonard Cohen flew in from NYC. Several other singers and a few poets such as Eric Layman and Earl Birney also performed. Leonard Cohen, dressed in a brown suede jacket and turtleneck sweater, said he loved everybody and "Spring called me here" before singing "Suzanne", "So Long, Marianne", and other songs with flowers behind his ear. He also recited some of his poetry. Buffy Sainte-Marie was better received and her songs included "Universal Soldier", a tune she had written in 1964 a few blocks away. She said, "I wrote 'Universal Soldier' in the basement of The Purple Onion coffee house. It's about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all." When she sang "Until It's Time for You to Go" she said, "This song popped into my head while I was falling in love with someone I knew couldn't stay with me. The words are about honesty and freedom inside the heart."
The Rabble were a psychedelic band from Montreal fronted by singer John Pimm with leader Mike Harris on guitar. They were witty, eccentric, and sarcastic like the Fugs and the Mothers of Invention. The songs they performed included "Golden Girl", "Black Potato", "The Crushing Hand of Mother", "Can I Squeeze", and "I'm Alaboundy Bam". It was quite a contrast with the Love-In that was broken up by mounted police in Montreal two weeks earlier. They actually charged into the crowd on horseback. At Queen's Park a collection was taken to cover the $41 cost of the event. Organizer Hans Wetzel had obtained the necessary permits from the city and said, "We want to create better relations between us and outsiders. I think we showed that we don't go for violence. We just want to be happy, love and be loved." Robin Spry captured the last half of the Love-In on film for the NFB documentary "Flowers on a One Way Street", and I am in the film.
This documentary also shows the Yorkville "Sit-In" of August 20, 1967, when hippies tried to close Yorkville to traffic and turn the area into a pedestrian mall. Hippies sat on the road and chanted, "No more cars. No more cars." Over 200 took part in the Sit-In, while 2,500 stood and watched. Toorotten police, some in plain clothes, broke up the protest by dragging them, some by the hair, into paddy waggons while others were clubbed and kicked. Some girls were struck in the face. Fifty-two people were arrested. The Sit-Ins went on for three nights before they were called off. This was probably the only political activism in Yorkville, and the issue was the heavy traffic of tourists in cars invading and destroying the small residential street of Yorkville Ave. It was very unpleasant to have a noisy endless funeral procession of conservative suburbanites driving slowly through Yorkville spewing toxic exhaust fumes and gawking at everything for their amusement.
Yorkville Love-In In at Queen's Park May 22, 1967
Yorkville Sit-In August 20, 1967
Yorkville Village: The Mynah Bird coffee house at 114 Yorkville Ave. in 1965. Neil Young and Rick James played there regularly in a band called "The Mynah Birds" (1964 - 1967). Other members were Bruce Palmer who was a founder of "Buffalo Springfield" and Nick St. Nicholas & Goldy McJohn who joined "Steppenwolf".
The Mynah Birds at the Mynah Bird coffee House 1965
Wyche, "the world's first topless folk singer". The Mynah Bird coffee house at 114 Yorkville Ave. on December 19, 1967.
Body Painting at The Penny Farthing on April 26, 1967
Yorkville Village 1967
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee in 1968 at the Riverboat coffee house at 134 Yorkville Ave. Riverboat performers included: Howlin' Wolf, Simon & Garfunkel, Tim Buckley, Richie Havens, Junior Wells, John Prine, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, Kris Kristofferson, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Doc Watson, Eric Andersen, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Tim Hardin, Jerry Jeff Walker, Harry Chapin, Jose Feliciano, Staple Singers, Janis Ian, Steve Goodman, John Hammond, Odetta, Seals & Crofts, James Taylor, Phil Ochs, John D. Loudermilk, Tom Rush, Bonnie Raitt, Leon Redbone, Dave Van Ronk, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jesse Winchester, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Paxton, Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian Tyson, Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLauchlan and Dan Hill.
Joni Mitchell at the Riverboat April 17, 1968
Murray McLauchlan at the Riverboat 1968
Kris Kristofferson at the Riverboat
Dan Hill outside the Riverboat with owner Bernie Fiedler
Gordon Lightfoot at the Riverboat January 4, 1967
Gordon Lightfoot outside the Riverboat January 4, 1967
Gordon Lightfoot & Harry Belafonte at the Riverboat
Harry Belafonte at the Riverboat
The Dirty Shames at the Riverboat December 1, 1965: Amos Garret, Jim McCarthy, Carol Robinson, and Chick Roberts
The Sparrow at Chez Monique
The Allen-Ward Trio outside Penny Farthing: Robin Ward, Carol Robinson, Amos Garrett, Pam Fernie, Craig Allen, Lynn Ward, Russ Kronick
Penny Farthing swimming pool
Ian & Sylvia at the Penny Farthing November 16, 1964
The Devil's Den in basement of Avenue Road Club 53 Avenue Rd.
Yorkville Village summer 1968. The Grab Bag store reacts to the phoney "Hepatitis Epidemic" scare campaign by city officials that included harassment of the shops and coffee houses.
"Toronto the Good" was a straight-laced ultra-conservative shit hole that was Victorian, smug, self-righteous, morally superior and very uptight. Toorotten City Hall tried to stop the growth of Yorkville in the spring of 1965 by banning new licenses for coffee houses in the area. It didn't work very well, so the fascists sent in many police and finally resorted to a campaign of lies by inventing a non-existent "Hepatitis Epidemic" in the summer of 1968. Yorkville was a "cancer area" according to one Toronto alderman and a provincial MPP called it a "festering sore in the middle of the city". There was no epidemic, only a three week panic over a very minor outbreak confined to intravenous drug users. But the fraud worked, the Village emptied, and the Province of Rottentario asked the public to "Stay out of Yorkville." On August 12, the suburban fascists on York Council voted to ask the province to close Yorkville to the public, declare a quarantine, and order all restaurants and coffee houses in the area to close down. The Globe and Mail referred to the disease as "a little known variety that has come to be known as hippie hepatitis." On August 7 The Toronto Star announced on its front page, "In theory, any visitor to Yorkville who ate in a café, bought any object or contacted any person, may have been exposed to the disease, a liver infection which can eventually lead to death."
Medical officials for the municipality and the province investigated and concluded that the number of hepatitis cases in Yorkvile in 1968 was "less than half the number reported in July 1966". The Rottentario Department of Health final report found only 32 cases of hepatitis: 29 cases were classified as "probable" and 3 as "possible". Yet the Toronto Star had suggested there were up to 500 cases.
Eventually the hoax blew over and the Village returned to normal. I was in Greenwich Village in NYC during the imaginary "Hepatitis Epidemic", and when I returned everything was the same. And that was one of the main problems with Yorkville Village. It was the same. After years of living in the area I was bored with the same and I'm sure many others were as well. All changes were negative, such as the suburban phonies, "plastic hippies" and teeny boppers who were the new street crowd. This once important part of Yorkville was now something to avoid. Who wants to hang out with sucky high school students, teeny bopper kids, and phonies? There were very few real hippies and Yorkville was phoney. The times were changing as well. Rock songs continued with hippie propaganda lyrics, but they were often derivative and phoney, just a calculated product that would sell. Hard drugs became available, Vagabond Bikers invaded Yorkville, and although there was no end in sight for the hippie movement, by 1969 its optimistic idealism had faded for many and Yorkville Village was becoming a drag. For me Yorkville Ave. was a complete drag after 1967. It was something I had done to death and it was finished. When I walked down Yorkville Ave. it was like deja vu sleepwalking. Boring. However, I never took Yorkville for granted because I knew it was the very best place in Toronto.
When the sixties were over, the hippie movement died in 1970 and the phenomenon of coffee houses as live music venues passed because operation costs were no longer viable and audience tastes had changed. Hippies got older, grew up, and switched from marijuana to booze. The most interesting thing about the hippie movement was how quickly it evolved. In less than a decade after its birth, it flowered then decayed and died. By the late 1960's city planners, politicians and the public were concerned that Yorkville had gotten out of hand. In 1969, after assembing entire blocks of Yorkville real estate, a commercial consortium announced plans to redevelop Yorkville into a hotel, parking garage and high-rise residential complex.
Despite opposition from the Villagers, the plans were quickly approved by the city and by 1970 Yorkville was over. It was typical urban gentrification. Artists and bohemians transformed a rundown neighbourhood and were then displaced by real estate investors and their respectable bourgeois clients. Richard Wookey bought seventy houses in the area to change Yorkville into an upscale place for the rich. Bernie Fiedler said, "When I first went into Yorkville, you could've bought any of those beautiful Victorian houses for $30,000. By the time I left in the 1970's, the same house were worth half a million dollars. My landlord, Harry Jordans, had bought the entire row from Hazelton right down to the Riverboat. Then all the boutique people moved in."
Yorkville Village 1970
Yorkville Village May 17, 1971
Rochdale College, on the other hand, was a planned project and was mostly a place to live with arcane educational pretensions that nobody could comprehend. It quickly became a large hippie drug store, whereas Yorkville had many attractions but drug dealing was not really one of them. "Nickel bags" ($5) and "dime bags" ($10) of grass were available from friends and other connections, but it was not easy because of the lack of profit and danger. Billy Littler, who did security work for various coffee houses, was busted for selling $65 of cannabis and sentenced to 4 years in prison. In the 1960's drugs were mostly a topic of conversation. There was some "experimentation" with recreational drugs, but it was not an everyday habit for most people in the village. One night a long haired guy came out of the Grab Bag store in a panic and looked around the ground. He bent down and picked up a small brown bag, smiled, and said to me, "I found my hash!"
Hippies in Yorkville did not drink alcohol, which they regarded as the drug of the despised older generation. In fact there was nowhere to buy alcohol in Yorkville, famous for its many coffee houses. Alcohol was contrary to hippie ideology. They thought it was unhealthy, harmful, and would lead to violence. LSD Guru Timothy Leary asked, "Who's brainwashed you to think that alcohol, the dangerous, narcotic, addictive intoxicant, is something that should be consumed?" But in Rochdale alcohol was probably the most popular drug. The hippies in Yorkville would never have considered Rochdalians to be hippies because they were not. Yorkville was populated by authentic hippies in the mid 1960's, whereas there were never any genuine hippies in Rochdale. There were no leaders or an elite in Yorkville because it was contrary to hippie ideology, but Rochdale was controlled by a bourgeois elite of mostly suburban bossy assholes. Too many of them were Americans, who were relatively rare in Yorkville. They were in a small village for the draft dodger community on Baldwin St. but were mostly in Rochdale, which became the American enclave in Toronto. It was Yankee Imperialism in the form of an army of draft dodgers, a significant, influential and powerful segment of the Rochdale population. Many were "ugly American" tourists who had ignorance and contempt for Canacaca. They really didn't want to be there, and they certainly were not hippies. The majority were pampered arrogant cowards who did not want to fight in the Vietnam war, but they loved their motherfucking Stars and Stripes flag.
Rochdale was extremely sleazy, but Yorkville never was. They called themselves Rochdalians, and were a unique type of neo-hippie. Their phoney college had phoney hippies, phoney education, phoney diplomas, phoney egalitarianism, and it had nothing to offer but drugs for sale. Yorkville was real. Rochdale was bullshit. In its heyday Yorkville was very fashionable, but Rochdale was never “hip” or fashionable. It had a reputation as a high rise hippie drug store. Period. Yorkville was famous and Rochdale was notorious. As Rochdale became increasingly an anachronism in the 1970's “Me” decade, it was no longer tolerated. The hippie movement died in 1970, and by 1974 hippies were regarded as sociopathological druggies. Around this time the political world took a sharp turn to the right, and has not yet changed that course.
Yorkville Village was strictly a bohemian subculture that wanted to be left alone and had no ambition to change society. Rochdale was much the same, although there were counterculture armchair revolutionaries in the building who did nothing. The ultra-conservative politicians barely tolerated Yorkville and Rochdale influencing youth, but they would not allow Rochdale to change society by making illicit drugs easily and conveniently available in downtown Toronto.
Haight-Ashbury Love-In 1967
Janis Joplin at home November, 1967 at 122 Lyon Street in Haight-Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury in California was similar to Yorkville but bigger and more famous. The original hippie organizers in both communities called themselves "Diggers", both places peaked in 1967 and then fizzled out after 1970. However, Toorotten was a grey and cold conservative shit hole that hated bohemians, whereas San Francisco is one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world and welcomes bohemians. There was more housing in Haight-Ashbury, the equivalent number of shops, but fewer live entertainment venues than Yorkville. Because of the superior environment, the Haight-Ashbury hippies were friendlier and more hospitable and authentic than their Toorotten counterparts. Yorkville Village had the underground newspaper "Yorkville Yawn", which was renamed "Satyrday" in late 1966. They were published sporadically with the intent to "knock and satirize the Establishment, attempt to promote new Canadian sounds and culture on all levels and carry on the fight for personal freedoms." The San Francisco hippies had a large selection of underground papers: Haight Ashbury Tribune, Haight Ashbury Free Press, Haight Ashbury Love Street, San Francisco Oracle, and Haight Ashbury Maverick.
Yorkville Yawn May 16, 1965
Central Park NYC Be-In 10,000 people March 26, 1967
Greenwich Village 1967 Cafe Wha? in the basement of 115 MacDougal St. in the heart of Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village is the bohemian capital of the world located on the west side of Lower Manhattan in NYC. It is an integral and beloved part of NYC, the birthplace of the Beat movement, for many generations the centre of movements that challenged American culture, as well as being a largely residential area for upper middle class families. It was similar to Yorkville in the 1960's with "Diggers" and its many coffee houses such as Cafe Cinno, San Remo Café, Limelight coffee house, La MaMa, and the famous Cafe Wha? that featured live performances by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor. There was also Bill Graham's Fillmore East rock palace at 2nd Ave. and 6th St. in the East Village. In the nearby Chelsea neighbourhood was the famous 12-story Chelsea Hotel, whose long-term residents included Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Arthur C. Clarke, the Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsberg, Gore Vidal, and Tennesse Williams. Dylan Thomas died of alcohol poisoning there and Jack Kerouac wrote "On the Road" at the Chelsea. If only Rochdale College had been like the Chelsea Hotel.
In England Portobello Road became the centre of hippie culture in the late 1960's. It is a street in the Notting Hill district of the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in west London. The district is home to one of London's notable street markets, known for its second-hand clothes and antiques. I squatted in Portobello Road in 1971 and again in 1977. It was the only area in all of London where I felt comfortable. In the 1960's it was the equivalent of Yorkville for musicans, artists and bohemians. More famous was Carnaby Street, a pedestrian shopping street in swinging London in the Soho district, near Oxford Street and Regent Street. In the 1960's Carnaby Street was popular with both the Mods and hippies. Many shops and boutiques were located there as well as various live music venues such as the Roaring Twenties and the legendary Marquee Club that featured live performances by the Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin.
Portobello Road 1966
Hyde Park Love-In July 25, 1967
Carnaby Street 1967 Mods in swinging London
Jimi Hendrix at the Marquee Club
March 2, 1967
Personally, I thought the Gerrard Street Village was a vibrant and charming slum when I visited it as a child. When it was being demolished, I broke into each and every building and explored everything. Therefore, I am surely the only living person on Earth who has seen every room in the historical Gerrard Street Village. I saw how the Beats lived and was impressed by their creativity. Fortunately I grew up in the Yorkville area and I loved Yorkville Village. But after 1967 it was a complete drag for me because it was stale, the original hippies were gone, and it was filled with phonies, teeny boppers and tourists. What did I learn in Yorkville? Nothing whatsoever. Rochdale College always disappointed me in every way and always had a negative effect on me. It was too sleazy and phoney. I hated most of the assholes in Rochdale. There was too much crime induced by the illegal drug dealing. What did I learn in Rochdale? To hate sleaze, to hate phonies, to hate elitists, and to hate bullshit. I learned not to mention Rochdale to anyone outside the building because I was always persecuted for it. There was no point defending it because everybody believed the media bullshit. It was a great mistake for me to get involved with that Americanized pathological anachronism.
However, not everybody had the good fortune to experience Yorkville and Haight-Ashbury as I did. In all fairness, Rochdale College was quite different but was their equal. Dirty Dan McCue and some other Rochdalians were more interesting than anyone in Yorkville. The "Unknown Student" sculpture and Laurie Peters' lobby murals put Yorkville to shame. Except for the drug dealing, Rochdale was not commercial – it was not a collection of shops and live entertainment venues like Yorkville. Rochdale was a very close-knit community of elitists, phonies, drug dealers, druggies, alcoholics, draft dodgers, hicks, criminals, artists, bobos, and neo-hippies. Basically the neo-hippies were mostly deadbeats, not bohemians. But everybody seemed to be happy. You just have to look at the old photos of Rochdalians to see how happy they were.
The connection between the Gerrard Street Village, Yorkville Village and Rochdale College is they were a sequence of bohemian cultural centres in Toorotten and they were all deliberately destroyed by the fascists at city hall and the corrupt media. Toorotten hates bohemians. A phoney "hepatitis epidemic" fabricated by city hall and the media destroyed Yorkville. Ultra-conservative politicians decided the only interesting area in Toorotten was a "cancer" and their goal was to "eradicate the festering sore in the middle of the city". They used the same tactics to destroy Rochdale they had used for Yorkville and the Gerrard Street Village. Another similarity between Yorkville and Rochdale is that media exposure attracted crowds of phonies to both places, and eventually both places were dominated by phonies. The phonies didn't have a clue what a hippie was and they were unaware that the hippie movement had died in 1970. As Mark Kennedy wrote, "What we have in Rochdale is a collection of pseudo-Bohemians who play at art, because they are like the rest of the pseudo-radicals of today, they toy with education, revolution, and mumble the appropriate peace slogans at each other and the outside world, without any real conception of what peace and co-operation are all about." Ultimately it was the phonies who destroyed Yorkville Village and Rochdale College.
© 2012 Wolf Sullivan