Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s
University of Toronto Press - 2011
The two major works to thus far chronicle the history of Toronto's once-hip Yorkville neighbourhood, Stuart Henderson's Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s and Nicholas Jennings' long-out-of-print Before the Gold Rush, couldn't be more different from each other. For starters, Jennings was part of that scene during its heyday in the 1960s, whereas the much younger Henderson admittedly wishes he had been. What's more, Jennings' book is the product of a rock journalist, chock full of juicy insider tidbits on those usual suspects: the bands, their managers and the promoters who employed them. Henderson, instead, is a cultural historian who dissects the sociological vicissitudes of the neighbourhood in minute, though equally fascinating, detail.
For Henderson, Yorkville was not so much the haven of peace, flowers and free love populated by groovy hippies and psychedelia but rather a perpetually contested space rife with conflict, pitting those who saw Yorkville as a potential Fifth Avenue of tony shops and chi-chi cafes against those whose vision was more of a mini Haight-Ashbury (and any trip to Yorkville today will leave no doubt as to who won that battle). The rich as always had special access to the press, city hall and the police, so although the zone was relatively crime-free by today's standards, there seems to have been an inordinate amount of time and resources spent trying to stop teenagers from gathering peacefully and basically just staying out of trouble.
Other overlooked issues were those of class, ethnicity and gender. The less-fashionable working class youth - often the children of mistrusted immigrants, and derisively dubbed "greasers" - struggled for acceptance, while women, no matter how liberated, often ended up as little more than sexual accessories for the alpha hippies. And though free love did flow to a certain degree, some of those hook-ups would probably be classified as date rape by today's laws.
From Yorkville's genesis, when the demolition of parts of Gerrard Street West in the
late fifties sent a thriving beatnick community several blocks north, through its
mid-sixties heyday to its ultimate descent into hard drugs, violence and, tellingly, the
wrecking ball of developers, the thorough, erudite, and for the most part surprisingly
readable Making the Scene... sheds much-needed light on Toronto's own version of
that turbulent decade.
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