David G Sharpe


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Rochdale: The Runaway College

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Students became owners of a
six-million-dollar college
by walking through the door.

The college was the
largest free university
on the continent.

Students had
complete self-government
with their own police force,

They organized classes, communes, businesses.
Some of them organized drug-dealing.

Rochdale College became an eighteen-story
fortress in the middle of a city,
target of police invasions and mass evictions,
and symbol of a decade
and a generation.

It survived seven years.


A 1971 Govcon meeting in the second-floor lounge


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Rochdale: The Runaway College

a social history

by David Sharpe

Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1987
297 pages
ISBN 0-88784-155-4

eBook re-issue, 2013

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From page one

In the late-Sixties, young idealists and rebels, eight hundred at a time, were given full control of an eighteen-story highrise in the heart of English Canada's largest city. Rochdale College it was, an untested, bold idea on Bloor Street at the edge of the University of Toronto campus, a ten-minute walk from the Ontario Legislature. Rochdale College, a twin tower of raw concrete and straight lines in its second year of operation in 1970, the largest co-operative student residence in North America, the largest of the more than 300 free universities in North America, and soon to be known across the country as the largest drug supermarket in North America.


From the book cover

Toronto's Rochdale College began as an experiment in living and learning, and ended as a symbol of the flower-child Sixties, a financial and social controversy. David Sharpe now tells the fascinating story of the college's seven year rise and fall in this entertaining and well-researched book.

Sharpe examines the contradictions of the Age of Aquarius squeezed into one stark skyscraper on Bloor Street. He looks at the financing and the internal government of the college, as well as its creative achievements over the years and its contribution to the community. For the first time, Rochdale: The Runaway College provides us with a balanced, detailed picture of the day to day life of the college residents: the peace parties and joyful live-ins, as well as the police raids and the drug overdoses of the dark days.


From Chapter 5: The Changeling

If the new residents were a problem to the resource people, non-residents were a problem to everyone. As Rochdalians claimed floor by floor in the fall of 1968, transients discovered wide open areas on the upper floors and moved in – and out and in and out. As those areas became permanently occupied, the transients continued to wander and squat and wander again. Meanwhile, word of mouth, word of press, called out: A free college! A college so unlicensed that it offers, not freedom or license, but both. Freedom from parents, freedom from rent, freedom even from an address. Like a crowd to an accident, thousands of visitors and interim residents came from the roads and the suburbs.

Metro had a little school
Its name was black as sin
And day and night the Metro kids
Were screaming to get in.


From Chapter 14: Under the Rock

As Rochdale the Drug Store moved its merchandise, Rochdale the College stabilized into a school that a school marm would have difficulty recognizing. The first step was already well-advanced – the rejection of academic and disinterested learning. University of Toronto professor Elliot Rose styled education in Rochdale as “survival training in [an] up-from-anarchy situation,” while resident Jack Jones pointed to the advantages of Rochdale as “an educational junkyard, an un-learning situation.” The Daily Planet [the college newspaper] praised “the slow striptease of our concepts, it is even this which builds us.”


Part One:  The Rise

1.  The Seven-Year Itch

2.  An Ideal Beginning

3.  The Rock

4.  The Rochdalians

5.  The Changeling

Part Two: The Tyger Burning Bright

6.  Pass / Fail

7.  Govcon

8.  Dismanagement

9.  Independence

10. The Money Mess

11. Hipheaven

12. To Serve and Protect

Part Three: The 18-Story High

13. High Society

14. Under the Rock

15. Arts Daily

16. Business Unusual

17. A Symbol on Bloor

Part Four: The Rocking Cradle

18. The Fan

19. Danger Zone

20. To the Wall

21. Drug-Pros and Cons

22. The Great White Fathers

Part Five:  The Fall

23. Invasion

24. Sirens at the Rock

25. Eviction

26. Afterwords

"Army" of Rochdale Security, at the front desk

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