Rochdale College 1968-1975: A Revolutionary Education

July 20, 2022 | lfeesey

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Rick registrar
Rochdale College registrar Rick Waern in front of 18-storey building for Rochdale College at Bloor and Huron Streets, 1968. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.

 

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.  

Courtyard
Rochdale's front courtyard, 1969. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.

 

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.

Student
Rochdale College, 1972. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.

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.

Eating
Restaurant area of Rochdale College. 1973. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.
Shop
Rochdale College,  1972. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.

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.

Yogi
Teenage yoga teacher Maharaj Ji along with the Divine Light Mission from Rochdale College at Massey Hall 1971. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.
Festival
Science Fiction writer Judith Merrill started a festival thing at Rochdale College that included Joachim Foikis, 1969. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.

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

Baby
Members of a Rochdale commune. 1970. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.

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. 

Infirmery
Original Toronto Star caption: "Paki Djervad; seen here in foreground; has worked with young people on drugs for six years; four of them in Denmark. In March the Rochdale clinic dealt with 46 drug cases. Most of the patients - 781 - were treated for minor illnesses; 110 had VD." From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.

 

Eventual eviction

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.

Legal fight
Information office Michael Randell. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.
The devoted Rochdale residents including Michael Randell studied the law books to make their case to stay.  They appealed the eviction notices and the foreclosure. They forestalled their eviction for over three years from the time the writ of foreclosure was dropped.  
Security
Original Toronto Star caption: "Security guards moved into Rochdale College yesterday; the first day the 18-storey residence was placed under the management of an interim receiver appointed by Ontario Supreme Court. The college is more than $4 million behind in payments on mortgages and taxes. Some residents warn that their own security force may clash with the uniformed guards - That's the first place where something may go wrong; said one of them yesterday." 1972. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.
Evicted
Original Toronto Star caption: "Friendly persuasion wasn't enough to get tenant Jane Barnett out of Rochdale College yesterday; so Metro police had to carry her. It took four policemen to subdue the struggling woman; who was among 60 persons turfed out of Bloor St. residence with the aid of eviction notices and sledgehammers." 1975. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.
Graffiti
Original Toronto Star caption: "Rochdale residents had varying levels of what one called tolerance to dirt. Halls; elevators and rooms were littered with animal excrement; ground-in dirt; papers; old clothes; orange peels and paper bags. Chief security officer Don McPhail looks at some of the graffiti on hallway walls. Police drug raids were commonplace there." 1975. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.
Eviction
Rochdale College following eviction, 1975. From our Toronto Star Photograph Archive. View on Digital Archive.

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.

Book on rochdale

Rochdale: The Runaway College by David Sharpe

 

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