John Anderson

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In 1969 John Anderson and friends organized the Whole Earth commune in a large rented house on Howard Street near the Don Valley and Bloor Street. John and Michael Ormsby met at a meeting of the Union of American Exiles and Michael and his wife Linda joined the commune. In May John posted a note on the community bulletin board at the Ragnarokr leather shop announcing that the Whole Earth commune was recruiting new members. Dave Humphries, a young Canadian chef, saw the posting, replied and was invited to move in. By July The Whole Earth commune had grown to include John Anderson, Dave Humphries, Michael and Linda Ormsby, Bud McClain, Jonathan Borah and Amy.

Dave, John and Jonathan each contributed $300 and the commune used the money to rent the storefront at 160 McCaul and start a health food store called Whole Earth Foods. At the time there were no other natural food stores in Toronto and they found a ready market for their line of natural food products such as whole grains and organic produce. In March 1970 The Whole Earth commune rented a larger house on 10-acres of land at Steeles and Kennedy Avenues in Scarborough. Preparation and packaging was done at the house and the members of the commune took turns running the storefront at 160 McCaul Street. Everyone was guaranteed room and board but there was rarely any cash money left over for distribution to the commune’s members. Linda Ormsby was the bookkeeper.

In May 1970 a group headed by John Anderson leased an old meeting hall at 15 Huron Street. The group, consisting of people from the Red, White and Black exile organization, the Baldwin Street Gallery of Photography and the Whole Earth commune, named the building “The Hall” and hoped to use it as a community center. John Anderson owned an old panel truck that the Whole Earth commune used to carry merchandise to and from their food store. He began patrolling the streets on the evenings before the city garbage crews collected the trash and furnished the building with cast-off items he found piled on the curb.

In August 1970 The Toronto American Deserter’s Committee and the Red, White and Black merged to form the Committee to Aid Refugees from Militarism (CARM). The Committee to Aid Refugees from Militarism moved into the Hall in October and expanded the existing switchboard message service. Films were screened weekly at the Hall with admission by donation. The donations rarely met the cost of film rental. The films were produced by Newsreel or were classic pro-labor films. In December The Hall prepared Christmas dinner for those in the American exile community who had nowhere else to go. The Hall continued to screen films on Monday and Thursday nights for quite a while. Following the arrival of Yogi Bhajan in Toronto in 1968 several religious groups based on Sikh ideas formed in Toronto and attracted a number of American exiles. After Ted Steiner became interested in Sikh Dharma he began offering classes in Kundalini Yoga at the Hall.

In September 1971 John Anderson was voted out of the Whole Earth commune and given several thousand dollars for his share of the Whole Earth Natural Food Store. He used the money to purchase clothing in Mexico. Initially he sold the clothing on the street and at Rochdale College on Bloor Street but later, with the help of his father, opened the Osshke Noodin clothing store at 31 Baldwin Street. John hired Skip O’Dell to renovate the interior of the storefront using unfinished wooden boards taken from old barns in a style very similar to that of the Ragnarokr leather shop next door. While born of poverty, the “barn-wood” interior finish became quite popular in retail stores in the early 1970s. Skip O’Dell later purchased the old panel truck from John and took it to the Frostpocket where it remains.

John and his brother David expanded the clothing business until it became one of Canada’s largest clothing importers. Originally the clothing came from Mexico. Ruth Ruston was hired to purchase and ship the clothing to Toronto. After a year or two the name of the store was changed to Morningstar Trading Company and clothing was purchased in India. The company eventually designed its own line of clothing under brand names like Southern Comforts and Daiquiri and had the clothing made by contractors in India. John and David took turns running the Indian and Canadian branches of the business.

In May 1973 John Anderson married his business partner and clothing designer Joan Levy in a ceremony officiated by Ted Steiner. The ceremony took place outdoors at the old church spire just south of Grange Park. Morningstar added locations until it had the Baldwin Street store, a store on St. Joseph Street near Yonge Street in Toronto and other stores in Vancouver, Denver and three or four other cities. When John and Joan divorced she received the stores in the US as her share of the business.

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