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This is a shot of Baldwin Street during a street festival in June 1969. Photo by Louise Peacock

My Toronto — Part 4

Baldwin Street, Etc

My crazy, tiny annex apartment on Huron Street (See My Toronto - Part 3) was minutes only from Baldwin Street. Several of my friends, who also lived in the College and Spadina area of Toronto, bought beads and sandals and headbands from one of the stores on Baldwin Street.

Baldwin Street had basically developed a life of its own at that point, having turned into a haven for draft dodgers and hippies.

Eventually, I became curious about this street, its various inhabitants and its assorted stores, and one day, decided to tag along with my friends on one of their frequent visits. Nothing really could have prepared me for what was Baldwin Street.

Geographically — Baldwin street was the next east-west street down from Cecil. Cecil was one of the streets that I used to get over to the previously mentioned Kensington Market.

See Google map below. I red circled my annex apartment location and also the area on Baldwin Street where the action was.

Baldwin Street was then the home of several hippy enterprises, and as previously mentioned, where a lot of U.S. draft dodgers hung out. Previously home to many Jewish businesses, as times changed it was becoming well known for its newest group of merchants, who were indeed hippys and some draft dodgers.

The street was nothing special to see, really. A few older houses. Many with storefronts. Some empty. A few Jewish merchants and some Chinese, and of course, the notable hippy stores.

The two best-known stores on Baldwin Street were the Yellow Ford Truck, which was operated by U.S citizens, Jimmy and Patty Wilson, and which sold a variety of clothes, beads, and stoner paraphernalia, and almost right beside them — a Leatherwork shop; the Ragnarokr (a Norse word meaning twilight of the gods) which was run by other young people from the U.S., including Steve Blossom, Mary, and Randy Rauton, who belonged to the commune called the Yellow Ford Truck. Check out this link for more about those enterprising young people. Yellow Ford Truck http://www.ragnarokr.org/index.php-title=Yellow_Ford_Truck,_May_1968-April_1969.html.

No matter when one visited the area, there were always assorted young people hanging about, some stoned, some wishing they were. There were often cops about too, hoping to nab someone openly breaking the law.

Cops were always about. Young people were also always about, often stoned. Photos by Louise Peacock

The Yellow Ford Truck

The Yellow Ford Truck always had a slight odor of Marijuana in it, which was masked (mostly) by incense, usually Jasmine because most people seemed to like that one a lot.

The clothing hung in racks around the small store. I was intrigued by those wild, striped bell-bottoms and after a lot of visits and thinking about it, bought a pair. I think I might also have bought some bead necklaces.

Here they are, those exact striped bellbottoms from the Yellow Ford Truck. Photo by Anne Hunt.
Stoner dude in flared jeans. computer sketch by Louise Peacock.

Aside from clothes, they carried some genuine Native Indian-made items. Mocasins, headbands, and I think maybe some dream-catchers.

Jimmy and Patty wanted to provide a hassle-free place where these items could be sold with all of the profit going back to the artisans. Some of these Native Indian artisans would be visiting from time to time, and seemed to be on excellent terms with Jimmy and Patty. Jimmy could frequently be seen with a feather stuck in a headband around his long, unruly hair. (Today, Jimmy would be under fire from the PC crowd for this attire, even though the native Indians loved him and had no problems with the feather, in fact, the feather was probably a gift to him from them.)

How I remember Jimmy Wilson., Computer sketch by Louise Peacock

To my mind, Jimmy Wilson of the Yellow Ford Truck was the most colourful and interesting individual on Baldwin Street.

With long, wavy hair, sometimes with a headband and a feather, he would stand and talk to a crowd of us, spouting a variety of reasons why the governments were all corrupt, how a simple life was a good life and how money should not be your sole reason for living. We didn’t know it then, but Jimmy was an expert in creating a Reality Distortion Field. Everything he said made perfect sense when he was there saying it, but later, it would make no sense at all.

To a “square” like me, the culture of this street was fascinating and at times scary.

The Ragnarokr Leatherwork store

I was very impressed with the leatherwork done by the folks in the Ragnarokr, and would spend time in the store watching them work. Their hands always amazed me — calloused and tough. They cut the leather and stitched the items, some with heavy-duty machines, some by hand.

I got them to make me a pair of specially designed by me, Roman-style laced sandals (which I had for years) and later a wild sort of garment made from several hides (also my design). It was like a long vest. At the time I was very proud of this item, now, when I look at it I cannot imagine why I thought this rather formless garment looked cool. They also made me a very nice matching leather bag/pouch for my camera gear.

Here I am wearing the shapeless leather garment the Ragnarokr folks made for me. Photo by Larry Taylor

Adding to the normal hubbub on the street, Jimmy Wilson hosted a street party on Baldwin, outside the Yellow Ford Truck in June of ’69, which he called The Festival of Little Big Horn. It was a huge hit, except when the band refused to turn down their speakers and annoyed some of the nearby non-hippy residents. I was there taking pictures. Unfortunately, the only photos to survive from that time were the ones I took using a fisheye lens that I had borrowed from another photographer.

Happy, hippy kids dancing to the rather loud band at the Little Big Horn Festival on Baldwin Street. Photos by Louise Peacok.

For some really great photos of that Baldwin area in 1970, by my friend Charles Dobie, visit this link.

The food table at the Festival of Little Bighorn. Photo by Louise Peacock
There’s a bunch of us doing a silly salute. That’s me in the striped dress. I’m not 100 percent certain, but I think the dark-haired youth between me and the pretty girl is my pal Don MacKinnon, The pretty girl would be his future bride. Larry Taylor, owner of the fisheye lens, took the photo.

I really wanted to “fit in” to this group, but my working-stiff roots made me stick out like a sore thumb, that and the fact that I did not smoke dope, and did not really follow the Marxist rhetoric. I was basically tolerated because I bought stuff and had “wheels”.

Speaking of wheels, while living there I was still driving the ancient Chevy which was showing signs of getting ready to die.

My ‘55 Chevy (behind my old pal, Ernie) gradually falling apart.

So I got a loan and bought a brand new Renault 8. (The least expensive car on the market at the time.)

The new car made me the instant choice for driving my stoner “friends” to various out-of-town events (for some strange reason, nobody had wanted to go anywhere in the old Chevy, go figure). Thanks to the folks on Baldwin Street, I met Richard Keelan and Cedric Smith of The Perth Country Conspiracy. Richard and Cedric also hung around on Baldwin street from time to time.

Cedric Smith and Richard Keelan playing a set at The Black Swan in Stratford. Photo by Louise Peacock

Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on them

Cedric Smith suggested that since tickets were free for journalists, I should visit Stratford to review plays for my employer, the Catholic Register, and for the local underground newspaper, The Harbinger. The folks at the Yellow Ford Truck encouraged me since they all wanted to go to visit Cedric and Richard.

I always had a full carload of stoned hippies for those trips. They would go and visit with various friends who were actors or worked in the theatre. After the play was over, I would meet up with them, and we always went to listen to Cedric and Richard at the Black Swan in Stratford. Occasionally, if it was a Saturday night, we would crash at Cedrics’ farm which was close by.

All good things must come to an end, and after one particularly nasty and terminal knife fight behind my place, I decided to move away from the area. My friends’ mother heard about this incident and was outraged and insisted that I should come and stay at her house in Willowdale until I could find a new apartment.

Thus ended my adventures in the colorful College and Spadina area of Toronto, but when I look back on that time I realize that it was part of my getting to know Toronto, and my new home, Canada. The Baldwin Street experience was a huge change for me coming from a very straight working-class background, but thanks to some of the people I met on that street, I had a lot of very interesting adventures.

Here is an excellent article about the area at Spadina and College. https://grangecommunity.ca/past-and-present/spadina-heritage/

The Last Stop Store, at Clinton and College circa 1992. Crayon sketch by my friend, the late Phillip di Gregorio,

The next episode will feature Willowdale and Don Mills areas of Toronto.

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Louise Peacock

Louise Peacock

Louise Peacock is a writer, garden designer, Reiki practitioner, singer-songwriter & animal activist. Favorite insult “Eat cake & choke” On Medium since 2016.