High times in Victoria: Remembering the Summer of Love

San Francisco was the hub of the youth movement of 1967, with rallies and protests uniting hordes of twentysomethings who wanted to turn on, tune in and drop out.

The free-love faction reached its apex in the summer of that year, now known as the Summer of Love. While San Francisco was the epicentre of anything and everything hippie, many other West Coast cities were also getting into the vibe: Vancouver was a key cog, especially where music was concerned, and Seattle produced none other than Jimi Hendrix, whose debut album, 1967’s Are You Experienced, “altered the syntax of music,” according to the Smithsonian Institution.

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Even buttoned-down Victoria got in on the hippie action that year, with a series of happenings at Beacon Hill Park, Bastion Square and Centennial Square. Those and other events will form the core of a Hallmark Heritage Society presentation set for Tuesday at the Alix Goolden Performance Hall.

The Summer of Love will be hosted by Glenn Parfitt, a local historian and music aficionado who believes Victoria played an under-acknowledged role in hippie history.

The movement’s first large-scale gathering in North America — the Human Be-In — was held at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 1967. Less than four months later, Victoria hosted its own happening at Beacon Hill Park. Thousands attended the impromptu, illegal April 30 event, which followed a similar Be-In in March in Vancouver.

“By the time they came to us, we had them re-named Love-Ins,” Parfitt said. “We were the first, and that name stuck from that point forward.”

Parfitt will give a 45-minute talk on these and other topics at the multi-media presentation, followed by a 1967-centric set of music from folk duo Fast Forward, complete with a liquid-projection light show.

Parfitt — who gave a sold-out talk at the Royal B.C. Museum in February on the golden age of rock and roll in Victoria — said The Summer of Love presentation was motivated by the same desire as his Royal City Music Project, a voluminous website centred around the Vancouver Island music scene of the 1960s and ’70s.

“A lot of these stories were bits and pieces, and not being told,” Parfitt said. “This stuff was headed to the trashcan until I said: ‘No, this has social value.’ This is what our city looked like, this is the fabric of who we were and what our generation was. If we keep chucking this stuff away, no one is going to see it.”

Parfitt, who was a Grade 7 student in 1967, doesn’t have first-hand recollections of the hippie era. He does, however, have plenty of stories to tell — such as the one about the genesis of Victoria’s Offbeat magazine, which started in March of 1967 and pre-dated Rolling Stone magazine and Vancouver weekly The Georgia Straight.

“It was the first newspaper for youth in this territory, and took off like a shot,” Parfitt said.

“Bands and managers were calling them, and stores in Toronto and Montreal had standing orders for 300 copies every time Offbeat came out.”

Jerry Kruz, a Vancouver rock promoter and “peacenik” who staged concerts by the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, and the Steve Miller Band in the 1960s, would often come to Victoria to hide out from authorities in Vancouver who were targeting hippies at the time. “The Island was a great sanctuary,” he said.

Once he dissevered the flourishing hippie scene, Kruz started sending bands from Vancouver to perform in Victoria. “The energy there was amazing. I never heard a band complain about playing a show in Victoria.”

Another highlight from the summer of 1967 was a Victoria concert by The Doors at Memorial Arena, around the time Light My Fire began its climb to the No. 1 spot on U.S. radio. Parfitt said there are many such stories.

“I got tired of hearing people say, ‘I remember when …’ and not having a way to back it up. Now there is with this presentation. It’s a historical entity filled with local lore.”

Beacon Hill Park features prominently in Victoria hippie history — more than many residents remember, in fact.

Local groups booked to perform at one of the park’s Love-Ins included Blues X Five, the most popular local act of the era. That brought out thousands of kids, and drew the ire of authorities. “No permits, no permission, no nothing” is how Parfitt explained the creation of the event, which made the front page of the Victoria Daily Times on May 1, 1967. It was reported in the paper that as many as 2,000 “pensioners, parents and hippies” attended..

The biggest complaint by authorities, according to the paper, was traffic congestion. “It all went well,” Parfitt said. “But come Monday morning, the park authorities were not impressed. They were livid that these guys had come in and did what they did without permission. Meanwhile, the public sentiment of all that had gone on was: ‘This was a great thing.’ Through a series of meetings with city council, it was determined that these were popular events and the city should take control of this and run it in organized fashion.”

A second event held at the same location on May 14 was subject to much regulation. It is now cited as the reason why public events at Beacon Hill Park either don’t take place or are highly regulated.

Lynn Curtis, now 75, was one of the hippies who organized the Beacon Hill Love-Ins, along with similar events at Bastion Square and Centennial Square. “The police would sometimes come to Bastion Square and arrest somebody, but our reaction to that — as young hippies — was to send flowers to the police chief every Monday morning. That was a good one, I thought. He didn’t like us too much.”

Victoria never saw the violent clashes between hippies and the establishment that San Francisco and even Vancouver did, but the relationship was no love-in. “The edges around the water fountain at Centennial Square were made rough because the police wanted to stop the hippies from smoking weed on there,” Parfitt said. “They put a surface on there that made it uncomfortable, so they wouldn’t hang around.”

Back then, Curtis was the news editor of the University of Victoria’s newspaper, The Martlet, and in 1966, co-founded the Victoria Youth Council. The organization was at the heart of the city’s “inter-generational conflict,” according to Curtis, and often drew fire from officials who misunderstood its intentions.

The council occupied a house at 1527 Amelia St., out of which the Victoria Cool Aid Society was born. The idea to support youth who had run away from “oppressive” parents came from the heart, Curtis said, and was a model for change in the city.

The Summer of Love came at a time of great change in Victoria, according to Curtis, who was active as a hippie, following his release from the military, from 1965 until 1967. “Those three years seemed like two decades to me, even at the time. So much was happening.”

Curtis, who now lives in Duncan, will be in attendance Tuesday, along with several of his fellow hippies who were united during the Summer of Love. Their presence is a big reason why Parfitt has put together his event. Soon, some of this living history will be lost.

“Anybody who was there will appreciate being able to step back one more time,” Parfitt said. “ It’s a reunion. A lot of these people are in their 70s, and may not see each other again. It’s an opportunity for them to get together and check in with everybody.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

 

What: The Hallmark Heritage Society Presents: The Summer of Love

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m. (doors at 6:30)

Where: Alix Goolden Performance Hall, 907 Pandora Ave.

Tickets: $20 at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and Ticketfly.com

 

Readers' memories


Tabs of acid were five bucks. The smell of weed was everywhere. What a ball we had. A Whiter Shade of Pale was playing all along the Avenue, along with Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, the Doors and, of course, the Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.

First acid trip, my friend and I decided to go for a subway ride. Bad idea: Hallucinating like crazy, we entered the car. Everyone had green faces with horns. Yikes. Off we got at the next stop and thought we would take the bus. As we approached, the bus it seemed to be swaying. The headlights and grille looked like a happy face. We then decided to walk home. LOL!

As the summer wore on, there were many more trips. From climbing the wall at Casa Loma Castle and roaming the grounds to the clubs, we thought we were in paradise. It wasn’t long before money started to run out. Oh oh. The thought of going back to the nine-to-five was unbearable. Hmmm, what to do?

It seems everyone was obsessed with long, straight hair. The straighter the better. No one wanted roller sets or perms in those days. So I went out and purchased several boxes of home perm kits. I thought if you can make hair curly, just use the solution without the rollers and make hair straight. OMG it worked! Got me through the summer. Moved to Vancouver that fall and never went back. I’ve lived in Victoria for 20 years now.

Joan Murray, Victoria

 

 

I have a piece of art that belongs in a hippie museum with a label: Canadian Vietnam War Protest. Looking at this suitcase, with its collage of glued-on, cut-up American flags, has one looking over their shoulder to see if there are any surveillance cameras.

To think the person who created this probably travelled around in public.

I bought the suitcase from a mother who told me her daughter used it to go to California around 1970. What’s really interesting is the artist used what I think are the American naval flags one often sees kids waving at parades, with a rope design and the word Liberty on them. In her collage, the word Liberty is never fully spelled out. Either the L or Y is cut away. This in-your-face protest next to the uniform stitching of the suitcase has polite Canadian written all over it.

I would love to hear the story from the daughter, who I was told lives in Vancouver. Want to help unite this art with its creator? .

Gilbert Zaversenuke, Victoria

 

I emigrated to Canada from England in April 1967 with two girlfriends, first going to Montreal visiting Expo and then on to an incredible journey across this country on the Canadian Pacific Railway to Vancouver.

Two days after arriving in Vancouver, we walked through Stanley Park, finding ourselves crossing a little bridge and hearing singing. We looked around and saw a bunch of hippies sitting on the grass in a circle.

There was an aroma of pot in the air. The girls were wearing daisy garlands in their long hair, someone was playing guitar and they were singing: “If you’re going to San Francisco/Wear a flower in your hair.” From that day on, this is always the main memory I have of that year, and I recall it whenever I hear that song.

Celina Milman

 

I have been living in Victoria for the past 42 years and involved with the music scene for even longer. In 1967, I was playing in the band the Royal Family and performing at Expo ’67 in Montreal at the Garden of Stars. I saw and heard Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa. Teddy Randazzo & Vickie Pike, producers of Little Anthony, were there and invited the band (Michael Richards, Ron Lukawitski, Larry Hall and Robert Edwards) to live with them and record in New York City. We met Larry Taylor of Canned Heat, attended Vanilla Fudge rehearsals, heard Cream in the Village and rode around New York in Teddy’s old white Rolls Royce. Larry Hall soon left and we became Troyka. What a year!

Robert Edwards, Victoria

 

100th birthday. Place: Freiburg, Germany, a campsite. Probably about 75 Royal Canadian Air Force families spent that day at this campsite. Some lived in 12- by-14-foot trailers, while others lived in tents.

We had been kicked out of Marville, France, by president Charles De Gaulle, but couldn’t get married quarters in Lahr, Canadian Forces’ new base in Germany, until the French army moved out.

On July 1, there was a torrential rainstorm. It pelted down, the kids were having a ball sloshing through it, but we mothers and fathers were frantically trying to keep the kids out of the water because it was dangerous.

The electrical cords hooking up the refrigerators were connected to outlets as far as 50 feet from our temporary abodes, and cords covered the ground everywhere.

A good way to celebrate our 100th birthday, while on that day De Gaulle was in Quebec City making his famous speech.

We stayed in that campsite until early September. The children had to walk past the lake to get to buses to take them to school. Only after angry protests did they finally allocate quarters and move us. Yes, 1967 was indeed memorable.

Veronica Arthur

 

 

I was eight years old. While I have lived in either Vancouver or Victoria since 1990, I was born and lived in Montreal.

I have vivid recollection of Expo ’67. My parents got us all season’s passes. They looked like passports, and they were passports to adventure. It was a thrilling time. What has remained with me most strongly is the feelings of hope and happiness for a brighter and better future for the world. At eight, I realized that I had the opportunity to be part of the future and I was excited.

I vividly recall riding the Expo ’67 monorail, which had sky sections, with the most thrilling being through the American pavilion, which was the geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. I remember the Northern Telecom pavilion, which showed communications of the future. Phones with TV screens so you could see who you were talking to, like on the Jetsons! The Canada pavilion, which was an inverted triangle and Habitat, which still exists today as an outstanding unique residential design. It looked like giant blocks that kids played with.

I recall with great pride the creation of the entire venue in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, and how people marvelled at all that had been created. Those people were from all over the world.

I ate all sorts of interesting things that I had never tried before. I remember my parents telling me to keep a journal because this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. While the journal has been long lost, the writing of it helped solidify my recollections.

Finally, there was one sobering reminder of the not-so-fortunate at Expo ’67: a large display of the suffering and famine in what was then Biafra. I remember crying for the starving children and my Mom reminding me how lucky we were to be born in Canada, because where you are born is just plain luck!

Hillerie Denning, Victoriai

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