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  • My Toronto – My Story Part One
  • David Crighton
  • 60s cutlure70s culture70s illustrationartworkGordon LightfootHippiesJoni Mitchelretro illustrationtorontoYorkville Village

My Toronto – My Story Part One

My Toronto – My Story Part One

 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.
Yorkville 70s Toronto
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!
Penny Farthing Yorkville Toronto 70s
Yorkville 70s ToroontoJoni Mitchel Yorkville Toronto
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.

Yorkville 70s Toronto
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  • David Crighton
  • 60s cutlure70s culture70s illustrationartworkGordon LightfootHippiesJoni Mitchelretro illustrationtorontoYorkville Village

Comments on this post (9)

  • Feb 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

  • Feb 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

  • Jan 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

    — Phyllis Sugarman Lunsky

  • Jan 27, 2016

    MY TORONTO— ALSO- NOW LIVE IN VANCOUVER BC

    — HENRY

  • Jan 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’!!

    — Cheryl MacDonald

  • Jan 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.

    — Ellen Nightingale

  • Jan 17, 2016
    I was there in 1967 fun time same week as Conservative convention that ousted Dief the Chief.

    — Jeff Freeman

  • Jan 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.

    — John Walton

  • Jan 11, 2016

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

    — Sheryl Davies

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