They weren't attending a straight university
June 12, 2012 9:01 PM   Subscribe

From 1968 to 1975, Rochdale College existed as co-op housing and as an experimental college, affiliated with the University of Toronto. Before it closed, it was the largest free university in North America.

Rochdale was an 18-story building, near Yorkville, built in a combination of regular apartments and communal living spaces known as ashrams. The ashrams were groups of apartments with shared dining facilities and washrooms, collectively responsible for rent and upkeep. Decision-making was through consensus and multiple models were tried, in an attempt to maintain the project's ideals while cutting down on how many meetings went until the small hours of the morning.

Education at Rochdale was built around a freeform model. The college ran its own radio station and had several studios, but anyone could start a discussion seminar and anyone could participate. It also served as a haven for American draft dodgers and as a major centre for anti-Vietnam War organisation.

By the early 70s, though, Rochdale was well-known as a major hub of drug distribution in Toronto. While the stated intent of people like Rosie Rowbotham was to perform a public service, making sure that people could get drugs safely and easily, the college became increasingly tied to biker gangs, especially the Vagabonds, who offered security services while using several floors of the building to sell drugs.

In 1975, the last of the residents were removed, and the doors welded shut.

A University of Toronto media project, interviewing former residents: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Pictures of Rochdale, from the York University archives
posted by frimble (13 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
For a longer version of the story of Rochdale College, and the argument between idealism and practicality, the book Dream Tower is excellent. I would have included it in the post itself, were there more about it online than a reference in Google Books.
posted by frimble at 9:18 PM on June 12, 2012

Rochdale was before my time, but I knew some people at Campus Co-op in the 80s who had been part of the college. One of them swore to me that the Pizza Pizza closest to them had some of the most eclectic toppings available during the heyday of the college. Forget pineapple: they had to stock a lot of tangerines and cherries. I was working at Pizza Pizza when I was told that story, but I could never find anyone in-house who could confirm that claim.

This is a pretty idiosyncratic listing of various Rochdalians by someone with Strong Opinions. I did not know that this was one of Reg Hartt's early venues.
He was a projectionist who showed Hollywood entertainment in the 2nd floor lounge for 5 years beginning in 1970. He doesn't belong here because he did not live in Rochdale, and he announced at a GovCon meeting that he is gay. These 2 items disqualify him from being a Rochdalian. Reg was an eccentric short haired capitalist entrepreneur who used the pretentious title "Director of Cinema Studies". There were no studies, it was just a place for him to earn a living showing old movies on a small screen to a captive audience who paid overpriced admissions to sit on a dirty floor. Mr. Hartt often gave rambling monologues before the films. He never talked about films. A typical monologue was about his reverse swastika ring and the reaction it got from Jews. He seemed to be a nice guy, but bullshitted far too much--and seemed to believe his own bullshit. Before screenings he kicked people out of their lounge who would not pay up. Joel Scott of Toad Lane Tenants Association and others hated him for this. Alex MacDonald of GovCon charged him with "Gross capitalism". When hard core porn became somewhat legal in the USA, Reg showed four porn films: "Deep Throat", "Behind the Green Door", "Bijou", and "Boys in the Sand". The last two were gay, although Rochdale was extremely homophobic. Reg also showed films elsewhere, such as the U of T and the "Hall", an unheated barn-like old building a mile south of Rochdale. His other claim to fame is that Reg has plastered more ad posters on Toronto lampposts than anyone else in the entire history of Toronto. These illegal posters are self-promotional, and he would be completely unknown without them.
An excerpt from Hartt's The Night They Raided Rochdale College (that doesn't actually describe the raid). He does perform the full piece from time to time: we just missed the last one.
posted by maudlin at 9:35 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for posting this!! I am excited to watch the interviews.

What a slice of Canada's student movement history!!
posted by chapps at 11:05 PM on June 12, 2012

Thanks, I knew that building was infamous for drugs I the seventies but didn't know the back story - let alone that we could blame Reg Hartt on it.
posted by saucysault at 11:42 PM on June 12, 2012

Bizarre. And odd that they would be homophobic of all things.
posted by delmoi at 2:30 AM on June 13, 2012

I don't know if the people at Rochdale were any more homophobic than any comparable group back then. The blogger I linked to may not be the world's most reliable source. He has several other blogs that are at least as intense and individual as the one about Rochdalalians. I'd compare his accounts with other sources whenever possible.
posted by maudlin at 3:53 AM on June 13, 2012

There's a Ron Mann documentary about it, also called Dream Tower. It's viewable at NFB mediathèques.
posted by scruss at 4:33 AM on June 13, 2012

I grew up about a block away from Rochdale, and my parents were very much involved in that scene when it first began to migrate over from Yorkville. Of course, by the time I was around, it had pretty much collapsed. I do recall that the park just down Huron street was known for a while as dogshit park, because that's where all the dealers walked the big dogs they kept, but that, too, has been cleaned up.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:33 AM on June 13, 2012

I don't have a good citation because I am posting from work, but I understand that Coach House Books was created by Rochdalians to serve their publishing needs.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:03 AM on June 13, 2012

odd that they would be homophobic of all things

My mother's main complaint about Rochdale life -- She lived there briefly with her husband after helping him flee the draft -- was that too many residents assumed that the cooking and cleaning all just magically got done, and were more or less blind to the idea of "women's work".
posted by frimble at 8:25 AM on June 13, 2012

I remember my Dad being . . . sceptical about Rochdale because of the bikers and serious drugs. He didn't live too far away though--over around Huron where they painted all the houses grey to try to depress the hippies out.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of this being a different era, though, is that my parents ran a successful daycare business and only left it because the workforce was begging for them. Begging. The daycare still exists, and I feel bad that they left it.
posted by mobunited at 11:52 AM on June 13, 2012

There's a picture of my supposedly straightlaced dad (RIP) getting busted in that York archive. <3
posted by avocet at 4:32 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Stuart Spore - former Radio Rochdale dj - runs the Rochdale College Museum.
posted by scruss at 7:46 PM on June 25, 2012

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