Jimmy Wilson

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Jimmy and Pat Wilson arrived in Toronto from New York City in May 1968. They were both originally from North Carolina and moved to New York City after they graduated from university. They were employed as social workers in New York City. After their arrival in Toronto they moved into the John Street hostel. They arrived at the same time as Dave Woodward, Greg Sperry and only a few weeks after Bruce and Colleen Anderson. Philip Mullins moved out of the hostel just as the Wilson’s moved in but he visited the hostel frequently.

Philip, Dave Woodward and the Wilsons agreed amongst themselves to open a business of some kind. As a first step, in August Dave Woodward, Bruce and Colleen Anderson, Philip Mullins and Jim and Pat Wilson leased the house at 224 McCaul Street. The Yellow Ford Truck craft store opened for business in the living room of 224 McCaul Street a week or so later. A few weeks after the store opened a City of Toronto Inspector visited the house and informed Jimmy Wilson that 224 McCaul Street was zoned residential. The Yellow Ford Truck store would have to close. Jimmy went looking for a suitable location for the store and found the virtually empty commercial district of Baldwin Street only a half-block from the house.

Jim, Pat, Dave Woodward and Philip Mullins rented the storefront at 11 Baldwin Street and moved the store there. The task now was to build the store’s sales until it became self-sustaining. In the meantime each of the four partners contributed toward the monthly rent. By then Philip was working at Pax Design on Yorkville Avenue so he had a small income. He purchased silkscreen supplies and he and Mary Rauton began making burlap shopping bags bearing a crude rendition of the Yellow Ford Truck logo. The bags were sold through the Yellow Ford Truck store on Baldwin Street. He and Mary, who was also employed, both contributed $25 a month to buy stock for the Yellow Ford Truck. Jimmy ran the store. Dave found a job in a small metalworking shop. The Yellow Ford Truck commune quickly attracted new arrivals. By November there were twelve residents at 224 McCaul Street including Philip Mullins, Randy Rauton, Jim and Pat Wilson, Steve Blossom, Dave Woodward, Don Holman, Margaret Thurlow, Greg Sperry, Janice Spellerberg and Chuck Wall. These twelve formed the core of three “families” that, at least in Jimmy Wilson’s mind, formed the “Yellow Ford Truck tribe”. There are usually several people staying at the house temporarily as well. Randy Rauton was only sixteen when he immigrated to Toronto but he and his friend Steve Blossom begin selling leather goods at the Yellow Ford Truck.

By December 1968 The Yellow Ford Truck “liberation tribal commune” included two leather craftsmen, three dressmakers, a cape maker and two sand-cast candle makers. Philip continued to experiment with silk-screened tote bags with the store logo and large flags with the symbol of the British nuclear disarmament movement. The sales in the store gradually increased. Jimmy ran the store on a full-time basis with the others helping whenever and however they could. The original concept was that the store would be an outlet for a community-based craft industry. Some individuals were beginning to make and sell goods in the store. For example, Janice Spellerberg made clothing and Steve Blossom and Randy Rauton worked full-time in the basement of 224 McCaul making leather goods. Jimmy continually searched for merchandise he could buy and sell at a profit to pay the store’s rent. In February 1969, while on a buying trip to Montreal, Jimmy wrecked the Yellow Ford Econoline van that was the store’s namesake. The store actually had three names: the Yellow Ford Truck, a socioeconomic alternative (SEA) and a Liberation Tribal Store. Jimmy preferred to call the store a Liberation Tribal store because it fit into his scheme for the new society that would form “after the revolution”.

During the Christmas season, the leather goods that Randy and Steve Blossom made sold briskly and Philip began to share his job at Pax Designs with Lee Welch so he could learn how to do leather work from Randy. The Yellow Ford Truck commune began to look for a second storefront on Baldwin Street.

In February 1969 a landowner from Killaloe Station in Renfrew County, Ontario, met with about twenty people at 224 McCaul Street to discuss the hippie back-to-the-land movement. He offered his home, Doyle’s Mountain, as a jumping-off place. At the time only a few people were ready to make the move to the country but the idea soon caught on with many of the Yellow Ford Truck tribe. Eventually both Jimmy Wilson, the Ragnarokr family and two or three other Baldwin Street groups purchased property in the country. All except the leather shop chose land near Doyle’s Mountain.

On April 15 the Yellow Ford Truck moved to a storefront at 25 Baldwin and a leather shop was opened at the old location at 11 Baldwin Street. The leather shop became the Ragnarokr Cordwainery and quickly outgrew the Yellow Ford Truck. The Yellow Ford Truck advertised itself as a Liberation Tribal Store and the South Village’s Only Dream Merchants. About one half of its stock was consignment goods from neighborhood craftspeople and the other half was a mix of drug paraphernalia and American Indian crafts.

By June the situation at the house at 224 McCaul Street had become so chaotic that Pat Wilson moved to Beverly Street with Don Holman, who had recently married Judy, a Canadian woman. In July 1969 Jimmy Wilson overturned his newly purchased truck on the highway to Stratford, Ontario, where he had established a second store. By then the Yellow Ford Truck had evolved into a head shop. In 1970 Jimmy published a little booklet called the “Complete Guide to Growing Marijuana” by Dave Fleming. At the time marijuana cultivation was illegal and Jimmy was risking a police raid and possible arrest for printing and selling the book. The exile community on Baldwin Street was well aware of the danger and urged Jimmy to take the book off his shelves but he resolutely refused. The police used various pretexts to enter and search the premises and Jimmy was eventually ordered to stop selling the book.

By January 1970 the original Yellow Ford Truck crowd had moved out of the house at 224 McCaul Street and Sheila Street terminated the lease. Other exiles picked up the lease and the house continued to house American exiles for a number of years thereafter. By May 1970 Jimmy and Pat Wilson, the leather shop commune and Barbara Miller and Mike Siegel (the owners of a store at 37 Baldwin Street called the Sunshine Co-op) were ready to buy land in the country. Jimmy purchased property near Barry’s Bay.

When Kent Lawrence opened the Cosmic Egg Surplus store in the spring of October 1971 he took the storefront at #25 Baldwin Street and Jimmy moved the Yellow Ford Truck to #39. The Yellow Ford Truck Head Shop was still in business at #39 Baldwin Street in the summer of 1975. Jimmy hired the Coach House Press to print a booklet called the “Yellow Ford Truck: A Liberation Tribal Store Mail Order Catalogue” in an attempt to build a mail order and wholesale trade. Pat and Jimmy’s son, Ben, was born in March 1971. By then Pat had moved to 218 McCaul Street and Jimmy to a house on Beverly Street. Sometime after 1975 Jimmy closed the store and moved to his rural property in Renfrew County. Patty moved back to North Carolina with their son Ben sometime in the late 1970s although she kept in contact with her friends in Toronto. Jimmy remarried, became the step-father of Olga’s two children and had another child of his own. In the middle 1980s he manufactured “coon-skin caps” and sold them to gift and souvenir shops all over North America. In 2005 he was living in Sarnia, Ontario.

In January 1979 Jimmy was interviewed as part of the Ontario Multi-Cultural Historical Society American exile project and further information about his involvement with the Baldwin Street community is available in the Archives of that organization.

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