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Yorkville, Toronto: The Neighborhood That First Inspired David Crighton

by David Crighton August 22, 2018 10 Comments

Yorkville, Toronto: The Neighborhood That First Inspired David Crighton

This is the story before the story. The prequel.

The drawing that I consider to be the one that "started it all" is of a building in Yorkville. What I didn't know then, was that York had a rich and controversial history. I know now that it was the Canadian neighbourhood of its time. 

It was legendary. A bohemian underground culture was ignited in the 60s and for Canada it centred in Yorkvilled. Emerging artists such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young started playing in coffeehouses such as the Riverboat... they were cool, they were hip...rad...outasight. Legends such as Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot  were bumping elbows with writers and free thinkers of the era. 

It was groovy. It was THE scene. Everyone wanted to catch the vibe. The Village had established itself as the counter culture hangout, anti-war politics were discussed, free thinking defined youths as individuals with a voice. Anti-establishment discussions were spoken between live performances and strong cups of coffee. "The Man" was everything that was wrong with the world.

For the first time in history you were defined by your choices in music, poetry and art. This was a cultural revolution. At this time, Andy Warhol was creating experimental films and defining Pop Art. It may have started with the HIppie Movement but by the 70s it had become a 24 hour a day happening.  

The prolific drug culture made it far-out and psychedelic. McLuhan emerged. LCD was touted as mind expanding by cultural prophets such as Timothy Leary. It was only in 1962 that hallucinogenic drugs were made illegal in Canada. cannabis was controversial...and everywhere. Needless to say, some pretty trippy times took place. 

Yorkville 70s Toronto
Hippies traveled with nothing more than a duffle bag of clothes and a guitar on their backs. Those who didn't play had a handful of LPs under their arm. You were set if you had enough "bread" to eat at the nearest greasy spoon.
Yorkville 70s Toronto
Crashing at someone's pad was expected. Just hangin' was the preferred answer to everything.
Penny Farthing Yorkville Toronto 70s
The Penny Farthing not only boasted Joni Mitchel's first performances of original songs but a swimming pool and a deck inside the coffeehouse. You could take a dip at the Penny while making the scene. 
Yorkville 70s Toroonto
There were folk singers and there were early rock stars like David Clayton Thomas. Leonard Cohen was reading poetry. CHUM was the station exposing new talent.
Joni Mitchel Yorkville Toronto
Folk rock bands were fluid with band names and members meshing to reinvest new sounds. Who can fill in the blanks on the Flying Circus?
Yorkville 70s Toroonto
It's fair to mention too the advent of Rochdale on nearby Bloor Street. University of Toronto opened Rochdale as an "experiment in counter culture education" in 1968. Whatever the plan, it became the largest and most talked about hub of drug sharing for out generation. Understand that even having long hair, was considered rebellious. Many families raged living room-war over haircuts, ripped jeans and loud music. A far sight from today, Yorkville or the “Village” had no swanky hotels, no franchises, no jewellery stores, unless you count a bead shop with a peace sign on the window.  It did, however, have some glorious architecture.  One of my most memorable days took place on Yorkville Avenue in 1972.  Tune in for that and more stories to come...

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David Crighton
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10 Responses

Doug Roberts
Doug Roberts

January 26, 2018

I used to visit Toronto (from London, ON) occasionally from 1966 to 1968. Then, at the end of 1969, I moved there and found a place to live at Rochdale College. That was only a few short blocks from Yorkville and a few of us used to frequent the area in the early ’70’s. We also spent time at the Bohemian Embassy and at the live music venues on Yonge St. in the areas from College St. down to Queen. It was an interesting time and a very interesting place. I didn’t find it to be magical or mystical. but I did appreciate all the live music that was available and just the vibe and the texture of the city, especially coming from conservative London, ON.

Linda Anne Cable
Linda Anne Cable

February 15, 2016

While I missed the action after 1962 (I was a dancer and moved to NYC in Nov 62) I went to the Village in the late 50’s.Played chess with Lenny Breau, and listened to him play, not in a formal sense, he just played.Also, as a dancer on CBC Variety shows from 56 to 62, I met a young dancer in the Green Room at Sumach St rehearsal studio. He was on another show’ Country Hoedown ’ his name was Gordon Lightfoot. I remember the Penny Farthing, and later on visits home Riverboat.But luckily I was not around for the drug scene.
I also remember going with my parents to a lovely restaurant on Yorkville, that I think had originally been the first Mount Sinai Hospital. It was a large white building, which I believe was still there until perhaps 12yrs ago? The restaurant was ‘Mary Milichants’ Fine dining.

Another hangout of mine, while studying at the Royal Conservatory (where the Hydro Building is now) was another Artist’s Colony, and I had many meals at Mary John’s on Gerrard just east of University.Very cheap which appealed to us students.

I am hoping to be able to buy a few more of your works in the future. The ones I have bought were for wedding presents for my nephews and nieces. My turn now!!!

Linda Anne Cable
Linda Anne Cable

February 15, 2016

While I missed the action after 1962 (I was a dancer and moved to NYC in Nov 62) I went to the Village in the late 50’s.Played chess with Lenny Breau, and listened to him play, not in a formal sense, he just played.Also, as a dancer on CBC Variety shows from 56 to 62, I met a young dancer in the Green Room at Sumach St rehearsal studio. He was on another show’ Country Hoedown ’ his name was Gordon Lightfoot. I remember the Penny Farthing, and later on visits home Riverboat.But luckily I was not around for the drug scene.
I also remember going with my parents to a lovely restaurant on Yorkville, that I think had originally been the first Mount Sinai Hospital. It was a large white building, which I believe was still there until perhaps 12yrs ago? The restaurant was ‘Mary Milichants’ Fine dining.

Another hangout of mine, while studying at the Royal Conservatory (where the Hydro Building is now) was another Artist’s Colony, and I had many meals at Mary John’s on Gerrard just east of University.Very cheap which appealed to us students.

I am hoping to be able to buy a few more of your works in the future. The ones I have bought were for wedding presents for my nephews and nieces. My turn now!!!

Phyllis Sugarman Lunsky
Phyllis Sugarman Lunsky

January 28, 2016

Hi David,

I would be very interested to discuss with you info about the
el Mocambo. My dad Joe Brown started it in 1946 as a restaurant and it later became a tavern when he got his liquor license in 1948. Please contact me.
Thanks

HENRY
HENRY

January 27, 2016

MY TORONTO— ALSO- NOW LIVE IN VANCOUVER BC

Cheryl MacDonald
Cheryl MacDonald

January 27, 2016

I grew up in Toronto from age 6 – 25. I’ve lived in Ottawa area since then. I so remember that time. My friends & I would go downtown to see all the happenings in the ‘Village’. It was mystical to us at that age/time in our lives! It was so much fun to see the ‘hippies’!! My best friend & her family moved to the Ottawa area several yrs. after we did. We both went to the same hairdresser in Yorkville & continued to go to her for several yrs. after moving here. Now that we colour our grey . . .we haven’t been able to make it every 4 wks. Just got too hard! Returning for the odd wkend., we have our dinners in the ‘Village’!!

Ellen Nightingale
Ellen Nightingale

January 19, 2016

I can remember driving on Yorkville St. with my mum and dad in the family sedan, kids in the back, watching the “hippies” hangin out, while my parents warned us we’d turn out to be like them if we didn’t do what they told us. Good times.

Jeff Freeman
Jeff Freeman

January 17, 2016

I was there in 1967 fun time same week as Conservative convention that ousted Dief the Chief.
John Walton
John Walton

January 13, 2016

Further… not only did Joni sing her first songs at the penny… she served tables there… according to the story told by the owner… “she’d pestered me to sing after her shift… and he’d oblige her.”LOL

Another Toronto name that served tables at the Penny??? Ex-Mayor, Barbara Hall.

Sheryl Davies
Sheryl Davies

January 11, 2016

I arrived in Toronto in 1971…. looking forward to following your stories.

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