Part One - Yorkville
By 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 Yorkville 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 Yorkville. Emerging artists such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young started playing coffeehouses like 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 artist 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. (1968 in the US). Cannabis was controversial… and everywhere. Needless to say, some pretty trippy times took place.
Hippies traveled with nothing more than a duffle bag of clothes and a guitar on their back. Those who didn’t play had a handful LPs under their arm. You were set if you had enough “bread” to eat at the nearest greasy spoon.
Crashing at someone’s pad was expected. Just hangin’ was the preferred answer to everything.
The Penny Farthing not only boasted Joni Mitchel’s first performances of original songs but a swimming pool and deck inside the coffeehouse. You could take a dip at the Penny while making the scene… take note Starbucks!
There was folk singers and there were early rock stars like David Clayton Thomas. Leonard Cohen was reading poetry. CHUM was the station exposing new talent.
Folk rock bands were fluid with band names and members meshing to reinvent new sounds. Who can fill in the blanks on the Flying Circus?
Until 1973 draft dodgers were heading here for the promise of safe haven in Canada.
It’s fair to mention too the advent of Rochdale on nearby Bloor Street. University of Toronto opened Rochdale as an “experiment in counterculture education” in 1968. Whatever the plan, it became the largest and most talked about hub of drug sharing for our 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. Perhaps the most famous of my illustrations is the El Mocambo…and yes, there’s a good story there.