American Expatriates and the Building of Alternative Social Space in Toronto, 1965-1977

By Churchill, David S. | Urban History Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview
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American Expatriates and the Building of Alternative Social Space in Toronto, 1965-1977


Churchill, David S., Urban History Review


This article explores the history of U.S. expatriates and draft resisters in alternative political and cultural communities within Toronto during the late 1960s and early 1970s. As such these expatriates were important players in shaping and creating new social spaces, activist politics, and alternative forms of expression generated within the city's counterculture communities and New Left movements. Aided by their class and racial privilege, many of these expatriates were able to participate in and engage the public culture of the city as few other migrants could. This ability to become part of the Toronto's alternative neighbourhoods, scenes, and intentional communities was nonetheless facilitated by the transnational connections and objectives that linked local actions with global aspirations and collaborators.

Cet article explore l'histoire des expatries et insoumis americains dans les communautes politiques et culturelles alternatives de Toronto a la fin des annees 60 et au debut des annees 70. Comme tels, ces expatries ont ete des acteurs importants dans l'elaboration et la creation de nonveaux espaces sociaux, de la politique militante et d'autres formes d'expression issues du sein des communautes contre culturelles et des movements de la Nouvelle gauche. Aides par la classe et le privilege racial, bon nombre de ces expatries ont ete en mesure de participer a la culture puplique de la ville et de l'engager comme per d'autres migrants. Cette capacite a integrer les quartiers alternatifs de Toronto, ses scenes et ses communautes intentionnelles a neanmoins ete facilitee par les connexions transnationales et les objectifs liant actions locales avec aspirations et collaborateurs mondiaux.

Ethel Starbird's 1975 National Geographic profile of Toronto utilizes tropes of urban modernization juxtaposed to the supposedly more traditional and local culture of the inner city and core neighbourhoods. Starbird's article reads part travel log, part popular urban sociology. Toronto is thus simultaneously a site of dynamic immigrant cultures, stodgy Anglo-Canadian heritage, and international-style corporate architecture. Key elements in the author's developmental narrative are the place of ethnic and immigrant communities--a supposedly recent addition to the metropole--simultaneously new, traditional, global, and locally situated. Here the construction of the CN Tower and "colorful Kensington Market" are presented as evidence of a vibrant and emerging city that welcomes and accommodates diversity and difference. Eschewing the melting pot versus the mosaic, Starbird compares the "one big stew" of New York City to Toronto's more nourishing nouvelle cuisine of "mixed salad, where each minority retains its own distinctive flavor." (1) American expatriates, particularly draft resisters from the U.S. war in Vietnam, are a key component in this salad, and had by the time the article was published been migrating to Canada for nearly a decade. (2)

By the mid-1970s American expatriates had gone from being a small, though much remarked upon, group to being an important element within the symbolic life of Toronto. A visible expatriate presence was proof that Toronto was, in the words of geographer James Lemon, the place to realize "liberal dreams." (3) Draft resisters and American academics were signs of the new Toronto, a more politically progressive and cosmopolitan place than it had been in the immediate postwar decades. Starbird spotlights Toronto's U.S. expatriate community through a profile of draft resisters Charles and Maryanne Campbell, who came to Canada in 1969 from Philadelphia. Pictured with their young Canadianborn son, the couple are the very image of a young, countercultural family. Posed in an armchair surrounded by bookshelves, the bearded and bespectacled Charles is seated above Maryanne and their infant son, who sit at Charles's feet. This comfortable and reassuringly paternalistic family tableau is countered by Starbird's text, which mentions the economic downturn in Canada resulting "in limited job opportunities" for Charles, despite his professional qualifications.

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