history

By Adam Corrigan-Holowitz 

Rochdale College

Rochdale College began in 1968 as an experiment in cooperative living and a free university. Rochdale was housed in the 18 story tower at 341 Bloor St. W. The building could accommodate 840 residents. Today the building is the Senator David A. Croll Apartments, a property of Toronto Community Housing. The most notable remnant of Rochdale College is The Unknown Student sculpture which sits outside the building. The sculpture was made by Rochdale’s sculpting workshop, led by sculptor Ed Apt. In its heyday, Rochdale was home to a wide variety of members of the counter culture who went on to become prominent cultural figures in Canada, including Canadian poet Dennis Lee, Theatre Passe Muraille founder Jim Garrard, actor Bob Nasmith and science fiction writer Judith Merril. 

By 1975 a CBC report described Rochdale as “‘North America’s largest drug distribution warehouse”. Most of the intellectuals and hippies had moved out. The building now was full of drug dealers, and members of the Vagabonds Motorcycle Club. In May 1975, the remaining residents of Rochdale College were evicted by Toronto Police, due to the building’s mortgage not being paid and complaints from neighbours that the building had become a drug haven.  

Rochdale College took its name from Rochdale England, which in 1844 was home to the founding of Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, one of the world’s first consumer co-operatives. 

Rochdale Throwbacks

Did you know?! The most notable remnant of Rochdale College is “The Unknown Student” sculpture, which sits outside the building, facing the street. It was created by Rochdale’s sculpting workshop, led by sculptor Ed Apt, and unveiled in 1969.

Did you know?!! Judith Merril was a science fiction author who taught as a resource person (the Rochdale term for profs) and founded the Rochdale library. In 1970 she donated her collection of 5,000 items to the Toronto Public Library! 

Did you know?! Tucked behind Rochdale College lies Coach House Books! A publishing house founded in 1965 by Stan Bevington, who briefly considered becoming Rochdale’s printer. Now, over 50 years later, Coach House Books continues to publish some of Canada’s most celebrated authors such as: bpNichol, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, George Bowering, Ann-Marie MacDonald, and many more!

Did you know?! Rochdale College was named after an old English town in Manchester, where the world’s first co-operative society was established in 1844 by the “Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society.”

Did you know?!! In the spirit of the informal discussions held at Rochdale College, day 2 of the SummerWorks Exchange events will feature a bus ride from 3:00-5:00pm along Queen St. West, called “Moving Publics!” On Aug. 12th, join our wonderful facilitators, Taien Ng-Chan, Devon Healey, Rodney Diverlus, and Sunita Nigam, for a part dialogue, part site-specific installation wherein we will discuss key issues related to accessibility, mobility, and the politics of choreography of assembly! Not to worry though, we won’t be using this North York 1960s bus! For more info on this event click here.

Did you know?!! Rochdale College gave out “non-degrees!” The requirements for a non-degree were as follows:

BA-$25.00 + answer a skill testing question

MA-$50.00 + answer a skill testing question invented by the student aiming to get an MA

PhD-$100.00 (No questions asked!).

Photo by Henry Chan, #summerworksTO

Other Historical Figures & Events

Black Power Salute: The Black Power salute was introduced by US Olympic track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos. At the 1968 Olympics Smith while on the medal stand, Smith and Carlos raised their hands above their head for the duration of the national anthem. In his autobiography, Silent Gesture, Smith stated that the gesture was not a “Black Power” salute but rather a “human rights salute”. 

Campus Co-op: Campus Co-op is a self-funded, student led housing co-operative located, which serves the students of University of Toronto, Ryerson University, OCAD, and George Brown College. The organization provides housing in a cooperative model for students. Campus Co-op oversaw the founding of Rochdale College, along with several other cooperative buildings in the late 1960s. 

Chairman Mao: Mao Zedong was a Chinese communist revolutionary and became the founder of the People’s Republic of China, which he ruled as the Chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. 

CMHC: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is a crown cooperation who held the mortgage for Rochdale College. 

Crashers: Throughout its entire history Rochdale College had a problem with crashers. These were people who were not official residents, who walked into the building and claimed a room. 

DNR: Department of Natural Resources, which in the 1960s was offering rebates for using Canadian building materials. 

Hare Krishna: The religion properly known as The International Society for Krishna Consciousness was founded in New York in 1966. In the 1960s it became a popular practice in the Hippy movement and among celebrities. It was practised by George Harrison of The Beatles, while John Lennon mentions Hare Krishna in Give Peace a Chance

The appearance of the movement and its culture comes from the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which has had followers in India since the late 15th century and American and European converts since the early 1900s in North America, and in England since the 1930s. 

Hell’s Angels: Hell’s Angels is a motorcycle gang. In the 1960s The Hell’s Angels were seen by some members of the counter culture as potential allies. This was partly because bikers had a similar taste in rock music. The Rolling Stones hired the Hell’s Angels as security, this culminated in a high amount of violence and a death at The Rolling Stones’ Altamont Free Concert. 

Howl: The first words you will hear spoken in rochdale is Howl by Allen Ginsberg. The poem was written in 1954 – 55 and published in 1956. This iconic poem of the Beat Movement, spoke to the counter culture generation in 1960s. The Beat Poets included along with Ginsberg, William S. Boroughs and Jack Kerouac. The Beat Poets rejected narrative structure and materialism. Their work largely explored explicit portrayals of the human conditions, drug culture and spiritual explorations. The Beats were known for the bohemian life style and drug use. 

Huey Newton: Co-founder of The Black Panther Party. Newton faced a number of criminal charges over the years and at one point fled to Cuba before returning to the U.S. and earning his doctorate. Newton was killed in 1989 in Oakland. 

Humphrey: Hubert Humphrey was the 1968 Democratic Party candidate for President of the United States. Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon. Humphrey was a strong advocate for Civil Rights. 

Innis College: Innis College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Toronto. It is one of the University of Toronto’s smallest colleges in terms of size and the second smallest college in terms of population. 6 

Jimi Hendrix: Hendrix is widely considered one of the most influential rock guitarists ever. Hendrix third and final studio album Electric Ladyland was a landmark album for psychedelic rock. His professional career spanned only four years and was cut tragically short due to a drug overdose. Hendrix died on Sept 17 1970, at the age of 27. 

Judith Merril: Judith Merril was a Canadian/American Science fiction author, who wrote for the World of Tomorrow, Galaxy Magazine and Dynamic Science Fiction. Merril left the USA in protest of the Vietnam War. She settled into Rochdale College with her adult daughter, Ann Pohl. Merril taught at Rochdale as a resource person (the Rochdale term for professors) in exchange for a room. Merril became known as Rochdale’s resource person in publishing and writing. She founded the Rochdale library, which later was renamed the Spaced Out Library, a collection of science fiction works. The Spaced Out Library collection remains in the care Toronto Public Library to this day. 

Malcom X: Malcom X was a Black Muslim minister. He urged followers to defend themselves against white aggression “by any means necessary.” He challenged the non-violent protest of Martin Luther King. Malcom X was assassinated on February 19, 1965. 

Moon Landing: The moon landing occurred on July 20 1969 at 20:17 universal time. The mission was maned by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The moon landing fulfilled John F. Kennedy’s promise in 1961 that the US “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”. 

Nixon: Richard Nixon was President of the United States from January 20 1969 – August 9 1974. He slowly began the withdrawal of US troops in Vietnam, which continued until 1975. However Nixon’s military tactics escalated the Vietnam War. He increased funding to the South Vietnamese Army. In Vietnam and Cambodia Nixon ordered aerial carpet bombings, causing high civilian casualties. Nixon wanted these attacks to push the Viet Cong guerrilla fighters out of hiding. 

The Black Panther Party: In 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the left-wing Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, California. The organization was central to the Black Power movement, making headlines with its controversial rhetoric and militaristic style. The Black Panther Party believed violence was justifiable if it was in self-defence in order to further the civil rights movement. This was in contrast the non-violent protest championed by Dr. Martin Luther King. 

The Goof: The Goof, officially known as the Garden Gate Restaurant, is a well-known restaurant in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. Founded in 1952 the restaurant serves Canadian Chinese cuisine as well as diner fare such as breakfast and hamburgers. Its nickname comes from the restaurant’s neon sign. The word “good” is vertical on the sign and “food” is horizontal, so when at some point in its history the “d” in “good” burnt out, it read “Goo F”. The restaurant today is near universally referred to as The Goof by media and locals, while the official name remains Garden Gate. 

Vagabond Bikers: Vagabonds were an active biker gang in 1960s Toronto, they have since been absorbed into the Hell’s Angels. Vagabonds had an unofficial alliance with Rochdale in its later years (after the time period of the play). The Vagabonds provided security for Rochdale, as a result the amount of high level drug dealing in the building escalated. 

Viet Cong: Also known as National Liberation Front, was a political organization and army recruited from South Vietnamese citizens who fought for the North Vietnamese Communists interests. The Viet Cong engaged in guerrilla warfare, which the US Military was largely unprepared for. 7 

Walden Pond: The writer, transcendentalist, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau lived on the northern shore of the pond for two years starting in the summer of 1845. His account of the experience was recorded in his book Walden; or, Life in the Woods, and made the pond famous. The land was owned by Thoreau’s friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who let Thoreau use it for his experiment. Thoreau is credited with being one of the founders of the environmentalist movement. Walden Pond has become a symbol of retreat and respite from the world.