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Opened in 1968, Rochdale College was an experiment in student-run alternative education and co-operative living in Toronto, Canada.

Co-operative housing experiment Edit

Rochdale was the largest co-op residence in North America. Rochdale occupied an 18-story student residence at Bloor St. and Huron St. in downtown Toronto. It was situated on the edges of the University of Toronto campus, near to Yorkville, Canada's hippie haven in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The college took its name from Rochdale, a town in north-west England, where the early cooperative society was established in the 1800s and where the co-operative principles were developed.

The college's modern architecture was uniquely designed for communal living. Some areas were divided into independently-operated communal units of about a dozen bedrooms (called ashrams), each with its own collective washroom, kitchen and dining room. Each unit was responsible for collecting rent and maintaining its own housekeeping. Other areas consisted of bachelor, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments. On the first and second floor were common areas used for socialization, education, and commercial purposes. The roof was accessible from the 18th floor and was used for sunbathing. Clothing was optional.

Founding Edit

Rochdale began as a response to a growing need for student housing at the University of Toronto, and a nineteen-year-old entrepreneur, Howard Adelman, was hired by Campus Co-operative to meet the housing demand in 1958.[1] With Adelman's advice, Campus Co-op began to acquire more properties, and formed Co-operative College Residences Inc., a non-profit off-shoot of Campus Co-op. After obtaining federal mortgages at well below the market rate, Campus Co-op incorporated Rochdale college in 1964.[2]

It was by accident rather than design that Rochdale became the imposing building that it did. Campus Co-op preferred to have the building be built to two times coverage, which would have resulted in a relatively easily managed building whose floor area would be only twice the size of the lot.[3] However, Due to Rochdale's location on a busy arterial road, the site was zoned at seven times coverage.[4] This meant an unanticipated jump to 840 residents, a fact that was originally greeted with great enthusiasm, due to the expansionist attitudes of the times.[5] Zoning regulations also stipulated that the site was to be an apartment-hotel, which meant that only half the floor space could be used for apartments with self-contained kitchens.[6] This was another disadvantage that was not fully grasped due to a faith in a communal system, in which residents would be expected to effectively share the space available to them.

Campus Co-op, the parent corporation of Rochdale College, was uncomfortable with education taking a central role at Rochdale, a position held strongly by Rochdale's intellectual leaders such as Dennis Lee.[7] The decision was made to separate from Campus Co-op. Further emphasis on education was placed because Howard Adelman noted that the college's $175,000 property tax could be avoided if they had a functioning educational program.[8] In Adelman's words, if “we run an education program for $75,000, we'll come out $100,000 ahead.”[9]

Despite the fact that many Rochdale founders viewed its education program as a form of tax avoidance, those who were dedicated to Rochdale as an educational institution did not let that deter them from pursuing what they saw was a more noble purpose. Dennis Lee notes of plans like the tax evasion scheme that they were, "primarily in the thinking of people like Howard who were involved in the planning, they did a good job of keeping their cards fairly close to their chest. It was not something that was being passed around generally, [...] it would have made other people completely furious to hear it at the time." [10]

Even before its construction, there was a tension in Rochdale between fiscal responsibility and idealism. Mietkiewicz writes, “[p]erhaps because of their idealistic preoccupations, few of Rochdale's academic leaders were fully aware that much of Campus Co-op's enthusiasm for education had stemmed from its vision of the program as a sort of tax dodge.”[11]

Transition Edit

The originally intended tenants for Rochdale were screened.[12] Screenings were handled by residents of the Rochdale Houses, a precursor “dry-run” to Rochdale conducted at Campus Co-op owned houses, and they chose people who were by and large going to be associated with the University of Toronto.[13]. However, a construction strike in 1967 that would delay the opening of Rochdale by half a year changed Rochdale's population from what was supposed to be a carefully selected one to a completely random one.[14] The screened applicants, most of whom had commitments to the university, could not wait for Rochdale to be completed and many found new accommodations.[15] When the college was slowly completed floor by floor, the decision was made to make the building available to “people who walked in right off the street.”[16] As the small group of founders later realized: “[w]e were sealing the fate of the Rochdale that most of us had wanted to experiment with. And since there were very few rules about how the place would be run, we were in effect handing the building over to people very unlike ourselves.”[17]

Educational ideals Edit

In the late sixties, universities were centres of political idealism and experimentation. Rochdale College was established as an alternative to what were considered traditional paternalistic and non-democratic governing bodies within university education. Conversely, Rochdale's government policy was decided at open meetings in which all members of the co-operative could attend, participate in debate, and vote.

It was the largest of more than 300 tuition-free universities in North America, and offered no structured courses, curriculum, exams, degrees, or traditional teaching faculty. It became a hot bed of free thought and radical idealism, in many ways resembling a tribal communityTemplate:Fact.

Traditional professors were replaced by "Resource People" of various academic and non-academic backgrounds, who would lead informal discussion groups on a wide variety of subjects, as opposed to structured classes. Resource person of note included author Dennis Lee and Futurian Judith Merril, who founded Rochdale's library.

Rochdale students were involved with various cultural institutions in Toronto such as Coach House Press, Theatre Passe Muraille, The Toronto Free Dance Theatre, the Spaced-out Library (now the Merril Collection of the Toronto Public Library) and House of Anansi Press.

Students had complete freedom to develop their own learning process, much of which emerged from the shared community experience. The college included theatres for drama and film, and a ceramics studio. Students decided school policy and made their own evaluations.

It was typical of the free universities not to award degrees and the University of Toronto did not offer degrees through Rochdale College, but anyone could purchase a B.A. by donating $25 to the college and answering a simple skill-testing question. An M.A. cost $50, with the applicant choosing the question. A Ph.D. cost $100, no questions asked.[18]

The Rochdale application also described its "non-degree": "We are also offering Non-Degrees at comparable rates. A Non-B.A. is $25.00. Course duration is your choice; requirements are simple, we ask that you say something. A Non-M.A. is $50.00 for which we require you to say something logical. A Non-Ph.D. is $100.00; you will be required to say something useful."

Rochdale ran its own radio station called CRUD, with an unusual assortment of music, talk, and static. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission tried to shut the station down a number of times, but the dedication of its staff kept it on the air.

The Rochdale community was very tolerant, so it was not unusual for residents to wander nude or openly use soft drugs within its rooms and corridorsTemplate:Fact.

Drug culture Edit

Rochdale was originally a refuge for the nation's idealistic in 1968. As nearby Yorkville became gentrified during the late 1960s, however, much of Toronto's counterculture ended up at Rochdale. This included homeless squatters and bikers who dealt hard drugs. It also became a haven for American draft dodgersTemplate:Fact.

According to the CBC archives, by 1971 Rochdale had become known as "'North America's largest drug distribution warehouse.' Hash, pot, and LSD are in large supply. The Rochdale security force includes members of biker gangs".[1][2]

The CBC archives also describe how "[d]ue to problems with cops and bikers, the governing council set up a paid security force to be on 24-hour alert. Ironically, some of these security people were bikers themselves. As had happened in Yorkville, an unofficial alliance with the Vagabonds motorcycle club developed."

Rochdale's educational focus and student population declined as the drug business increased.

With the increase in clashes with police, political pressure forced Rochdale to close in 1975. A number of residents refused to leave. On May 30 the last residents were carried from the building by police. The doors to the college had to be welded shut.

The building Edit

File:Unknown Student sculpture.JPG

The 18-storey tower that once housed Rochdale at 341 Bloor Street is now known as the Senator David A. Croll Apartments. Completed in 1968, it is the sister building to the Tartu student residence a short distance west across Bloor street. Designed by the architects Elmar Tampõld and John Wells (who had earlier constructed the Charles Street Apartments at Bay Street and Bloor Street).

As homage to its Rochdale days, the tower features the large and intriguing Unknown Student sculpture out front.

"Love it or loathe it, Rochdale College is hard to dismiss even 20 years after its closing." (University of Toronto Magazine, Spring, 1995, p.38.)

See alsoEdit

External links Edit

Resources Edit

  1. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 7.
  2. Henry Mietkiewicz and Bob Mackowycz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 9.
  3. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 10.
  4. Henry Mietkiewicz and Bob Mackowycz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 12.
  5. Henry Mietkiewicz and Bob Mackowycz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 10.
  6. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 10.
  7. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 17.
  8. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 20.
  9. Henry Mietkiewicz and Bob Mackowycz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 20.
  10. Henry Mietkiewicz and Bob Mackowycz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 20.
  11. Henry Mietkiewicz and Bob Mackowycz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.), 20.
  12. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.),21.
  13. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.),21.
  14. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.),22.
  15. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.),22.
  16. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.),22.
  17. Henry Mietkiewicz, Dream Tower: The Life and Legacy of Rochdale College (Scarborough: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1988.),29.
  18. Rochdale College: Organized anarchy, "Did you know" section, CBC Archives, accessed March 8, 2008

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