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Yorkville's Friday Faces Print-ready version

by Sheila Gormely
Toronto Telegram
May 13, 1965
Original article: PDF

Photo by Julian Hayashi

“It’s the best place in town to find girls. I was sitting out here watching and This guy stuck out his foot and tripped a girl And off they walked arm in arm.”

The cop was standing under the trees in front of Yorkville Lane talking with another cop and hundreds of kids were jammed together and moving down the street like a cockeyed centipede.

Suddenly the cop swooped down on the kids and came out with a live one. He was a timorous little beastie, a nicely-dressed collegian in a red nylon jacket and flannel trousers and he was maybe 17. The cop pulled a half-emptied bottle of beer from the kid and put it in the pocket of his jacket.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-one – uh – no, 22,” said the kid. And the cop sent the other cop for the wagon and the kid stood there shaking and he had his head down.

“You should know better than that,” said the cop who looked as if he had kids of his own. “I know,” said the kid. Then hopefully “It’s the last day of exams.”

“Ah,” said the cop. “That’s an excuse for everything.”

There was a nice round of applause for the paddy wagon when it pulled up and three officers hustled out and hustled the kid inside. There was laughter and more applause when the wagon shot off because the kids milling around get a perverse kick from this sort of thing.

Another Friday night in Yorkville where the kids have taken over and none of the regular Villagers, except the coffee house owners, come any more - except on week days.

Talk’s cheap down in the Village and everybody wants to put in a few hundred words on how times are changing.

The coffee house owners say it’s a bad scene.

Two summer back it was a quiet, interesting place where the regulars and the well-behaved, good-spenders could come for coffee and good conversation and folk singing. Everybody was a respectable age – 21 and up.

NOW! You got to come down to believe it.

Seems every kid who’s old enough to walk is there. (Continued next page) “The Village is an escape mechanism for suburbia” And walk is about all most of them do – up, and down Yorkville st., and around to Bloor. The older kids, the ones who are 17 or more, have a little money to spend and they spill into the coffee houses and the discotheques.

But they don’t cruise around as they did last summer. The police have put a pretty rigid control on traffic, letting in a few cars at a time, and when the street’s relatively clear they wave on a few more.

These kids have shook up the village in many ways.

It’s not just the noise or the so-called riots either because everybody, even the police, say they’ve been “blown up” by the newspapers.

Maybe it’s all those policemen on that one short street. There are anywhere up to six on a Friday or Saturday night, walking around, driving by on motorcycles and in cruisers.

Maybe it’s the total absence of adults on the street before midnight too. The kids think this is okay but the people who have to keep the business going don’t.

Last year’s big spenders are not going to shove their way through a wall of high-spirited kids to get inside a coffee house.

Friday night a nice, gray-haired lady wandered down Yorkville at the height of the jingle-jangle evening and stumbled off at the end of the street wondering what hit her. She wandered up to a policeman on the corner and asked him if it was all real. And she told him what the trouble was. “They can’t face reality. That’s what is wrong with them.” She said.

The proprietors in Yorkville are facing reality that’s for sure.

They’ve installed the biggest and saddest change of all. The coffee houses are going rock ‘n roll.

Down at the Penny Farthing Friday night the owner was holding a wake. It was the last week-end for folk and by a quirk, Doug Brown the folk singer who opened the Penny Farthing was closing it down – closing down what it used to be.

Come Tuesday, The Sparrows would be shaking it up and bring in, hopefully, all those youthful strollers. “This saddens me.” Brian Walker was saying. “I’m a jazz and folk lover but I’ll overcome that for a couple of bucks.”

“I don’t have any choice.” he said.

Sure, the change in entertainment policy might attract a “certain element”, he said but everybody’s going to have to pay membership and it will be a sort of club. “I’m not going to ask for collars and ties but I want a reasonable standard of dress,” he said “No leather jackets.”

Walker says the Village turns on and off with the seasons. “Summer – it’s a circus.” He said. “Fall – it settles down into a group of people who appreciate the Village. Winter – a lot of lonely people and people who love jazz and folk. Spring - you get friction between the winter and summer groups.”

A quick look in the Cafe el Patio where The Preachers are getting their message across and a big guy stands outside shaking a tambourine.

Over to The Riverboat where Bernie Fiedler is holding out against rock ‘n roll, “I don’t think we’ll change our policy,” he was saying. “If they’d realize what they’re doing to the Village by going rock…”

He trailed off and came back in a rush of words and what seemed – bitterness. “They’re going to destroy the whole area in one year. They think it’s only for the summer. Well, it’s going to bring in the real young kids and nobody else will come down.”

He said everything is sad – “rock ‘n roll and kids and cops.”

Ed Hailwood, the satirist and comedian, came into The Riverboat kitchen. “The true Village people are in a state of siege.” He told Fiedler and the dirty lemonade glasses.

What it is, he said, is “an escape mechanism for suburbia.”

Sam Gutmacher of the Purple Onion was taking the balmy night air on the stairs of the coffee house. He’s going rock ‘n roll too – just for the summer, he says.

“The transformation started two years ago.” He said. “It has gone from a sane coffee house area to a rock ‘n roll business.”

He says if you want to survive you have to adapt to the clientele.

The Village is a “festival” every week-end, he says. “It’s the best place in town to find girls. I was sitting out here watching and this guy stuck out his foot and tripped a girl and off they walked arm in arm.”

And what do the kids have to say?

A blonde, 17-year old hairdresser comes here all the time because the Village has “everything”. “Boys, dancing and excitement.” But she says the place is getting “A bad name.”

A bunch of boys and girls were squeezed together in a convertible on a parking lot. They were “discussing the world situation” – “nobody comes to the Village to neck.” One of the guys said he was there to “pick up girls.”

There’s no bickering down here,” he said. “You don’t have to explain yourself.”

About cops, the kids said “they’re a military state but they don’t give you a hard time if you keep the noise down.”

The kids say the police are okay and the police say the kids are okay – just a little noisy and they crowd the streets. But they’re not the rioting kind the way the newspapers say they are. One policeman said Yorkville is “a fun-type assignment.”

Then what’s all this talk about a “bad name?” “It’s the grease,” the kids say. “The guys with the long hair who ride their motorcycles.”

Well those kids are probably right, despite what one coffee house owner said, that parents should come down and see what their youngsters are up to.

What they’re up to is a lot of fun.

They don’t lurch at you and shout obscenities if you jostle among them.

They just come down to see their friends and make new ones.

They come down to hear the noise and add to it.

They come down to dig the coffee houses and the boom-boom boys.

They’re just down there getting exercise and shaking away all their cares and woes under two red lightbulbs in a darkened discotheque.

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