Vietnam war resisters in Canada

More roots discussion - noticed via a visit to my site from someone in Toronto, searching for “yellow ford truck baldwin toronto”. I may have posted this before, or am living in a state of confusion....

Robert Fulford's column about Vietnam war resisters in Canada
...It was a vivid, eventful period, and Northern Passage captures it deftly. John Hagan, now 55 and attached to the University of Toronto law school, has written on subjects such as the lives of lawyers, relations between the law and the Chinese in Canada, sentencing procedures and homelessness. At the moment he's studying the procedures of the war-crimes tribunal at The Hague. Last week he and I had lunch at a window table at Cafe la Gaffe, one of the 22 restaurants that today fill Baldwin Street, the little block south of the University of Toronto where dodgers roosted in the early 1970s.

We surveyed the Indonesian and Chinese restaurants across the street and tried to figure out precisely where the dodgers' famous photography gallery (long dead) was located [north side of the street! should have asked me!]-- was it next to the crafts store (also long dead) [no], or farther along? This story has engaged Hagan for many years. He decided when he first arrived in Canada that he would someday tell it, and in the 1990s he conducted sociological interviews with the war resisters. He spent two arduous years in the editing process with Harvard University Press, because he wanted an account of these people (who are mostly forgotten in the U.S. as well as Canada) to have a place on the top rung of American academic publishing.

The Toronto dodgers found their geographical focus, by a process no one remembers, on a downtrodden street that was mostly abandoned by the old Jewish community and not yet taken up by the Chinese. Dozens of dodgers settled around Baldwin, then scores, then a few hundred. Many newcomers went there to find their feet and quickly moved on. Over five years, one house contained roughly 100 different dodgers for brief periods. Baldwin Street acquired co-operative craft stores (the Yellow Ford Truck and Ragnarokr), a cheap clothing store (the Cosmic Egg), the Whole Earth Natural Foods Store, and the Baldwin Street Gallery, a pioneering photography centre. One of the gallery's owners, John Phillips, turned out to be an especially enthusiastic new Canadian. Many years later he recalled the day he drove into Canada as a moment of ecstasy, one of the happiest times of his life.

Baldwin Street developed a communal atmosphere, what one deserter (originally from Vermont) later recalled as a small-town feeling. It was a place where people knew their neighbors and enjoyed the consolations of familiarity and acceptance. It was a community built around a political issue, however, and the issue was resolved when the Carter administration forgave the dodgers and invited them home. The Baldwin Street ghetto lost its reason for being, and before the 1970s were over it vanished. Some of the people who had needed it were by then back home, being Americans again, and many of the others had turned into Canadians.

Me? When I was young, I strongly identified as being Canadian, as being the outsider, the Exile, especially when living in East Texas (moved in 1980, soon after President Carter declared amnesty). Now, I don't bother mentioning my origins unless the conversation twists in that direction - an unusual occurrence. I've instructed D to say that I'm from Austin TX (which is nearly true) when the subject comes up. Of course, I still retain my Canadian citizenship papers - being a dual citizen is occasionally useful, especially psychologically. I still am a Stranger in the Land of Locusts, an Exile without rings, but I keep my own counsel.

Northern Passage : American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada (John Hagan)
“Northern Passage : American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada” (John Hagan)

As I've blathered previously, I purchased Hagan's book, but have only glanced at it so far.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on February 12, 2006 9:52 PM.

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