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Yorkville: Hippie haven

Flowers and free love. Antiwar marches and acid tests. In the mid to late 1960s, youth across North America and Europe began to "turn on, tune in and drop out." Fed up with the establishment — parents, schools, police — they went looking for a new way of life. To Toronto's Yorkville and Vancouver's Kitsilano district they came, preaching peace, love and non-conformity.

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If Haight-Ashbury is the centre of the American hippie world, then Yorkville is Canada's hippie heartland. Full of coffeehouses, boutiques, longhairs, draft dodgers, and freaks, Yorkville is a tourist attraction - one where the tourists prefer to watch the excitement from the safety of their cars. A 19-year-old draft dodger named William Gibson conducts CBC Television on a tour of the village, where Beatle-haired kids, drugs and free love are rampant.

But the Yorkville hippies aren't all love and marijuana. As seen towards the end of this CBC Television clip, they hold a major sit-in protest in 1967 to protect their street from cops, tourists and fume-belching cars. They want to preserve their island of co-operation and love from the violence erupting in cities across the United States. But the Yorkville uprising story doesn't begin with a sit-in; it begins with a chair-in.
• On Aug. 17, the hippies visited Toronto City Council to discuss their grievances. They'd been invited to speak by their number one enemy - Controller Alan "Lampy" Lamport. Fifty-eight hippies turned up, led by 23-year-old David Depoe, a member of the controversial, government-sponsored Company of Young Canadians. But city council proved unsympathetic, and the hippies left disappointed, feeling duped and frustrated.

• Then, on Aug. 20, the hippies decided to conduct a sit-in on a Yorkville street. Their goal? They wanted the city to close Yorkville to traffic and turn the area into a pedestrian mall. Two hundred took part in the sit-in; 2,500 stood and watched, creating an even greater traffic disruption. The police decided to break up the protest, and fifty-two people were arrested when they refused to budge.

• The remaining hippies fled to Queen's Park to discuss their next move. Upon the release of David Depoe and the other jailed hippies the next day, a spontaneous love-in broke out in the park. On August 23, more than 150 hippies conducted a sleep-in before City Hall, hoping to greet Mayor William Dennison on his way in to work. A riot squad was held on alert in the basement. In the end, city hall refused to budge. The street was never closed to vehicular traffic.

• This show's featured hippie, Bill Gibson, is none other than the author of the classic 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, and the man who coined the term "cyberspace."

• The hippies used methods of passive resistance, a philosophy of protest championed by Mahatma Gandhi. Methods included non-violent sit-ins, making human chains, going limp when grabbed by police, and other techniques still used by globalization protesters today.

• The motorcycle club members present at the Yorkville sit-in were the Vagabonds. They had a constant presence in the village, since the hippies distrusted police and preferred to use the Vagabonds for security and protection against "greasers" - young men looking to pick fights with longhairs. The Vagabonds, in their turn, made money from the hippies by selling them drugs.

• Many claimed that Yorkville hippies were a shoddy version of the American original. Yorkville, they claimed, was full of "weekend hippies" and "summer help" - suburban and college kids who weren't serious about the hippie way of life. They were there for the trendy scene and the sex. They rebelled but lacked idealism. In part, this was because Canadian hippies were removed from the problems - the Vietnam War, racial inequalities - that galvanized American hippies.

• According to the Toronto Daily Star, Lamport asked the hippie delegation to city council: "Why don't you people take baths? How do you go unwashed and have dignity?" He recommended that all hippies be required to serve six months to two years in military service to "build up their bodies and teach them discipline."

• One high-school hippie had this to say about Lamport: "He's hundreds of years out of date. You might say he's almost a caveman."

• Albert Hofmann developed LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in 1938 in Switzerland as part of a research program investigating potential therapeutic uses of ergot, a fungal parasite which grows on rye.

• LSD arrived in the United States in 1949. In the 1950s, LSD began being tested as an aid to psychotherapy. Much of the early work in Canada was conducted on alcoholics by Dr. Abram Hoffer at the University of Saskatchewan.

• In 1957, Dr. H. Osmond of the Saskatchewan Hospital created the term "psychedelic," meaning "mind-manifesting" to describe LSD.

• In February 1965 the first acid was sold on the streets of San Francisco for the cost of $2 a hit.

• California criminalized LSD in 1966. The rest of the United States did so in 1968. In Canada, LSD possession became illegal in 1969.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: Sept. 4, 1967
Guest(s): William Gibson, Gustav Oki, William Pilkington
Host: Knowlton Nash
Duration: 14:01

Last updated: November 27, 2014

Page consulted on November 27, 2014

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