An e-mail interview with Jenifer McVaugh
Dear members: Clare Pepper did a school sociology project on "hippy communes in Renfrew County" some five or more years ago, and she asked me for an 'interview' about my experiences. She sent a list of questions and I responded. I thought you might like to see what my idiosyncratic answers were and how they relate to yours.
1. Can you give some background on the commune (i.e. location, approx number of people, time, philosophy behind it)?
Our farm is on the 5 mile road south of the Algonquin first nation in South Algona. We had 360 acres (we've lost 10 - that's another story). One guy's mother said we were in the middle of nowhere and he corrected her - we were 6 miles south of the middle of nowhere. There was a boom in Renfrew County in the 70's amongst back to the landers as being beautiful, economical and tolerant of individualism. The boom was centred around Killaloe largely because a guy called Dalton McCarthy (who was from Killaloe) went to Rochdale in Toronto and invited lots of people up. Rochdale is another story, a 18 floor highrise that was at one point the campus of a democratic college (Rochdale College) of the U of T. Everybody who was there has a different story of what Rochdale was, for me it was the first place I ever felt safe. One of the assets of Rochdale College was this 360 acre farm which had been bought as the 'Golden Lake Campus.' Anybody from Rochdale College (or anybody else) could go there to live and 'experiment in alternate energy.' I did this in 1972. In 1973, because Rochdale (in TO) was going broke they sold their assets, they sold the farm (Rochdale farm) to those of us who were living there - about 15 of us. We formed a non-profit corporation to buy the farm (for $16,000) and were all directors. We each had a named heir to our 'seat'. We have made a provision that the farm can't be sold without enormous hassle, with the intention that it would be our home place for a long time and never make anybody any money.
Our philosophy derived from the philosophy we felt we had inherited from Rochdale: Anything that is not specifically forbidden should be respectfully tolerated. We specifically forbad shooting guns, dealing drugs and disturbing another member at his own site (we all wanted to build one day, and we each had sites that were 'ours' and we chose our sites so as not to interfere with each other.) We agreed not to set up our individual trips in common grounds - the farm house and the immediate farm yard. Forgive my use of archaic words like 'trip,' it is hard to talk about the times without using the jargon. Our members were a married couple with child, an unmarried couple with child, three single moms with one child each, (one of whom married and had 4 more children so that's now a family of 7) a single father with child, a couple with no children, three single women, five single men. Or so. There were also people who lived there for a long time who weren't members and members who never lived there. Most of us, as I say, were old Rochdaleans from Toronto.
A lot of us were argumentative, disagreeable people, and still are. We were and are united by an idea of respect for the diversity of reality as the foundation of morality and by a love for the rocks and swamp and scrubby trees of our farm.
2. Did any traditional family units exist (i.e. couples, children, etc.)? If so, how did this form of living seem to affect their relationships?
We had a variety of family units, although no elders and no gays (not by design, just none of us were. We now have at least 4 grandparents and at least one gay.) Our 'members' ranged in age from 20 to 45 and our 'heirs' were from .001 to 7 years old when we started up. Each mother had her own hearth, the singles (esp the single men) tended to live in the farmhouse. One couple courted and got married in church. One woman and one man who each had his/her own ex got together and had another child and - in terms of farm life - became a family of 5. In the 'hayday' of us living on the farm, lots of kids were born. Most of the children were around the same age, two were born just weeks apart. The children had their community - like a band of cousins. Toys and clothes were passed around. Mothering tasks were shared. (In some cases men mothered, but women tended to be more interested in mothering than men). This 'mothering community' or 'moms 'n' tots community' had ties also beyond our farm. This community was and is like an extended family. It was not difficult to be a single parent because there were so many people around and if one of them wouldn't help another would. Perhaps it weakened the nuclear family by strengthening each individual member, and making them less dependent on the nuclear family, so issues didn't have to be worked out so intensely.
3. What were the best parts of this way of living?
beauty of nature. the farm was the best part. we didn't have to live in pokey flats (we had all come from pokey flats) we could 'afford' a lifestyle together that we could none of us have had separately. We had lots of leisure and stimulating companionship. I felt supported but not stifled by the community. But I am mostly a solitary person and there was a lot of room to be solitary on the farm but with people there when you needed them. We didn't feel the pressure to live up to the expectations of society. This is why I felt safe, and for me this was a biiiiiiiig issue.
The worst parts?
(At the time) having to go through the same misunderstanding/reconciliation process again and again over the same petty issues.
(In retrospect) didn't accomplish anything.
(on the other hand) The very best thing about the farm for me was that it felt like a perfect place to raise/enjoy/grow up with my children. I felt that my strong mothering urges were respected and well used and that my inadequacies as a mother were filled in by others. Raising/enjoying/growing with our children was the purpose of our living together and it was fun and felt very important, we all consider/ed it our most important work in life. Back to philosophy: I realize that beside 'no laying on of trips' the other fundamental rule of our farm was 'think first of the children.'
PS: the farm is still alive and well. We now have one family (2 parents 2 kids) and one single man living on the farm. Those of us who live nearby go there whenever we feel like 'going out to the farm' Others come once or twice a year - the queen's birthday and thanksgiving weekends - or other times in between. The beaver ponds get bigger every year, and each year our meetings get a little less acrimonious and a little shorter.