Rochdale College 1968-1975: A Revolutionary Education
Rochdale College was a cost-saving measure
The University of Toronto’s Campus Co-op, a self-funded student-led housing co-operative, incorporated Rochdale in 1964 as a residence to ease the lack of student housing. It was just designed to house students. Later, the Campus Co-op discovered that its yearly property tax of $175,000 would be waived if the building housed a functioning educational system. In this era of intellectual and social tumult, students were eager to try new liberating forms of education. So Rochdale became more than a residence, it became a residential college with a mandate to experiment.
A New Model Education
Rochdale College (1968-1975) was an anti-institution where idealism and hedonism converged. Born out of the 1960’s activism against the repressive tendencies of traditional top-down university administration, it sought a more authentic, anti-hierarchal mode of learning combined with cooperative living.
In September 1968, students moved into the not-quite-completed Rochdale College high-rise at Bloor and Huron streets. It offered free tuition and cheap rent to 840 residents. Meanwhile, in nearby Yorkville, a hepatitis epidemic and the impending chill of winter prompted many of its transient hippy populations to seek refuge in Rochdale. They brought with them: drugs, sex, bikers, and parties. The educational component struggled to compete, yet it remained the foundation of the college.
Rochdale College was an environment for being and sharing that fostered the excitement of intellectual discovery. Instead of lectures, resource people led informal discussion groups that encouraged free expression. One such group read books by Herman Hesse without recourse to secondary sources. Students learned from each other’s insights. Other groups studied drama, poetry, art therapy, indigenous wisdom and practices, filmmaking, ceramics, and publishing among other things. Information about these seminars appeared in a catalogue and on a daily board. Students were responsible for planning their courses, creating their evaluations, keeping their rooms clean, and making college policy. If necessary, students could buy a degree from the college.
Alumni Judith Merrill later donated this library to the Toronto Public Library. It was the founding collection of books in TPL's Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy
Rochdale resident Nicki Morrison was the first woman to give birth there. In the fall of 1971, she founded the Acorn Childcare Co-operative in room 626 to care for and educate Rochdale's preschool children; now operating as the Huron Playschool.
Rochdale became party central and criminal elements crept in. It developed a reputation as Canada’s largest illicit drug market. Despite this and other criminal activities, it was its financial situation that ended the experiment. Too many residents failed to pay their rent. The college was forced to close because it was losing money. Clearing out the dedicated tenants took years and required multiple police raids.
Rochdale's creative spirit lives on in initiatives and organizations that originated in the college but outlived its demise such as: This magazine; The Hassle Free Clinic; TPL’s Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy; Coach House Books; Theatre Passe Muraille; House of Anansi Press; and The Huron Playschool Cooperative. The Rochdale building was renamed the Senator David A. Croll Apartments and now houses people with disabilities and seniors.
The definitive book on Rochdale is available to borrow from Toronto Public Library.