Free Spirits, Changing Times
Gabriola Hippies in the 1970s
Telling the story of Gabriola includes capturing accounts of the Coast Salish people, European explorers, and post-contact pioneers – as well as recent inhabitants.
Children of the post-war generation, disillusioned with the rigid, traditional life of their parents’ generation, sought freedom and alternative lifestyles. During the 1970s, these free spirits – “hippies” – arrived on Gabriola, impacting education, demographics, and the social structure of the island.
The Museum display tells their story. This page hopefully gives you some of the flavour of this exhibit, but to appreciate it fully, we encourage you to pay a visit in person. One visitor who lived through the era on Gabriola, Shila Zylbbergold, recounts how being present at the Museums exhibit’s opening brought back a flood of memories. You can read his account HERE.
If you browse through to the bottom of this page, you will be able to view the 12 minute video that captures many of the photos used in the exhibit.
Why the Hippies Came to Gabriola
The 1970s were a time of change and upheaval around the world. Children of the post-war era were challenging the rigid lifestyles and norms of their parents. Gabriola Island became a haven for many young people seeking freedom, an alternative lifestyle, and a safe place to experiment with new mind-altering drugs. Islanders and newcomers adapted to the many changes resulting from the arrival of the hippies.
In the early 1970s, about the time hippies arrived, there were eight new subdivisions. Gabriola was ripe for buying.
“Peter Grenier was so taken with the magic of Gabriola, that when the ferry he was arriving on docked, he took off his watch and threw it into the water and said ‘I don’t need this any more.’ “– Anna Leather
“There was a sign at the corner, where North and South Roads meet, that said$12 down; $12/month and $1200 full price for a lot.” Eric Boulton
“Gabriola was the place that I felt right, I knew that I fit here (with) open-minded people. Funky beads, hippie clothing was OK. Hippies brought new ideas, self-reliance, a cashless (economy) that fit with the same values islanders had, bartering or trading goods and skills, supporting and helping each other out.” –Susan Brown
“We believed that nothing happened by accident and so the stars must have been aligned to bring me to Gabriola (we really believed this but then we also smoked and ingested a lot of good drugs).” – Shilo Zylbergold
“More mushrooms (hallucinogenic) came off this farm than any other farm in Canada. Friends asked me why I let the hippies stay on the farm. I told them I’ve got a young family and a farm to manage. If I let the hippies alone, they’ll leave me alone. I remember looking out at the fields on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 and seeing 40 people picking mushrooms. They were from everywhere – Florida, New York, Alaska. They came by plane, rode motorcycles, hitchhiked.” – Eric Boulton
Locals React to Gabriola Hippies
“All of a sudden we had really odd people come; their garb was just unreal. Every one of them played a guitar, they’d have one strung around their neck and they’d come on the ferry there with beards and their long hair and funny hats and their clothes and you’d think, Oh Lord, what’s happening to our island?” Vera Waymen.
Rainbow Fair (now the Commons) “The first and last fair was held at the Rainbow Farm in 1970. There was a booth selling “Green Dreams” (Marijauna cookies), lots of music and nudity. It distressed some of the locals who had come to check it out.” – Sam McDonald
“Two weeks after we moved here we went to the Grande Hotel. Jared had long hair and a bear and we weren’t sure if we’d be served. But Gordie and Ken McDonald, local guys, were there and asked us to join them. Then they invited us back to their house for late night clam chowder made from clams they had dug that day.” – Jared and Lucille Hooper
“It was a time of partying, smoking pot, experimenting with LSD. It was like summer camp for adults. Although we did work, we mainly played. It was a mind-opening experience. There was an intensity of relationships between people, but it really was living a dream.” Paul Gellman
“There were lots of babies being born in 1972, ’73, ‘74. Some were home births and because there was no midwife around, hippies helped each other at the births. Mothers on Coho looked after each other’s kids a lot and also attended co-op daycare with kids from around the island.” –Tsiporah Grignon
Gabriola Hippies’ Lifestyles
“We didn’t follow regular patterns of growing and living. We had different ideas about war, greed, and more spiritually – more real life and not caught up with the money. We were more unstructured – we grew our own structure.” –Sylvia Van Straten –
“Jody Lazzaroto was running the commune at the Stump Farm. He was a man with many skills – he could butcher animals, raise chickens, garden, and he was an herbalist. For the hippies on Gabriola, creating a new way of life was super important. It was here that we could meet people with a different range of skills and experiences. Mickey McDonald was a local who was great at gardening. Gordie McDonald knew about fishing.” – Bobby Meyer
“A group of us rented the Stump Farm from Clyde Coats for $50.00 a month. There wasn’t running water except for a stream, and no electricity. One morning we woke up to find Sally Sunshine an about seven other people asleep on the living rooms floor – friends from Toronto.” – Sam McDonald
Gabriola Hippie Music
Taylor Bay Lodge (now the Haven). “The owner of the Taylor Bay Lodge (now the Haven), Eileen Watson, would cook up all you could eat lasagne and salad bar buffet on Saturday nights and all different ages and types could socialize together. People brought instruments and Kevin Dent played the piano. On more than one occasion, when Eileen got fed up with people, she would turn the breaker off so it was pitch black. Then everyone had the option of either going home or moving down to the beach.” – Darlene Mace
Supplementing the Hippie Barter Economy
“ A group of friends realized there were good jobs available planting trees in logged areas. It was good money, and good for the environment. In 1973 a caravan of trucks, vans and cars took off from Gabriola with planters, cooks, food for weeks, and tents to sleep in.” Anna Leather
In addition to the posters and interview excerpts above, this 12 minute video captures images of the Gabriola