If 1967 was San Francisco's fabled Summer of Love, Manitoba's own version of hippie peace, love and music took place in 1970.
That summer, Manitoba's Centennial year, our fair province virtually hummed to the beat of numerous rock festivals and communal happenings.
It all began on the May 24 long weekend with the Niverville Pop Festival, staged in a farmer's field near the rural community 25 kilometres south of Winnipeg. The event was the brainchild of several local musicians with the goal of raising money to buy an oxygenator for teenager Lynn Derksen who had suffered a serious injury during a hayride. Tickets were $1, with more than a dozen local bands offering their services for free.
Organizers anticipated an attendance of 5,000; twice as many showed up. What began as a sun-filled, fun-filled day of music and hippie ambiance turned into a mud bath of epic proportions once the clouds opened up -- giving rise to a now-legendary experience.
Surprisingly, the rain failed to dampen the euphoria. "I remember everyone really having a lot of fun before the rain," recalls Ron Siwicki, "and even when everyone was sitting in their cars in the rain, they were still partying and having fun. It was pretty bizarre. It was like the spirit of Woodstock transported to Manitoba."
This was followed two weeks later by a Love-In at Assiniboine Park (our first love-in had convened the year before). Hippies gamboled on the grass, bobbing heads to various local entertainers, such as Wild Rice, Red Ryder and my band, Pig Iron. Police described the event as "quiet and orderly." Despite efforts to replicate the peace-and-love ambiance, the real thing was happening daily across town.
The epicentre of all things hippie was Memorial Park in downtown Winnipeg. Dedicated in September 1962 at Broadway and Osborne Street, Memorial Park quickly became a popular gathering place for young people. By the latter '60s, hippies and flower children, armed with guitars and bongo drums, had taken over. "Rick the Freak" Swanson, an American draft dodger, organized informal Sunday concerts in the park. "It was a 'happening' every day, with hundreds of kids sitting all over," recalls one frequent visitor. "Everyone was a little stoned and if you got too hot, you jumped into the fountain." Volunteers from CRYPT (Committee Representing Youth Problems Today) provided security and assistance with bad drug trips.
"Memorial Park was an oasis where we sought refuge from the stifling conventions of the time," muses Barb Allen. "You could meet like-minded souls from such exotic places as Toronto, Vancouver, even the North End!" Adds Jerry Dykman: "Most of the hippies hung out around Osborne Village just walking up and down doing their drug deals."
The most notable hippie to visit Memorial Park that summer was none other than the queen of the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene, Janis Joplin. In town for the July 1 Festival Express concert at the Blue Bombers' stadium, she famously waded into the fountain the day before, unnoticed by most of the hippies gathered there. "There's hippies in the fountain and nobody's bustin' them," marvelled Janis, festooned in feathers and sporting pink sunglasses, to a Winnipeg Free Press reporter. "There was an entire beautiful crew of people just lyin' around and playin' the guitar."
The Lake Riviera Pop Festival, organized by the Hungry I Agency's Frank Weiner and Youthbeat newspaper's Brian Gory, was held at the popular beach resort east of the city. Besides the Hungry I stable of bands, Burton Cummings made a surprise appearance, arriving on the back of a pickup truck (prompting Dianne Heatherington to alter the words of Ohio to "Tin soldiers and Burton's coming."). Some 20,000 paid $2 to bask in the music and sun.
Winnipeg hosted Get Together 70, a mega-arts and music festival over the weekend of July 10 through 12. The family-oriented downtown celebration, initially proposed to city hall by U of M architecture students, saw Portage Avenue blocked off for pedestrians between Donald Street and Memorial Boulevard and featured sidewalk sales, arts and crafts and several stages with rock bands performing as well as folk music inside the Caboose in front of the Bay. Mother Nature co-operated, making the three-day festival one of the biggest of the various summer Centennial events. The huge crowds prompted the Free Press to speculate, "There are half a million people in Metropolitan Winnipeg and if they weren't all there last night it looked that way." Apparently the only complaint was the lack of space to dance as a result of the crowds.
Similar events were held the following two years. Pop festivals were also held at the Ponderosa Beach resort July 19 and in Woodlands, north of Winnipeg, on Aug. 1. Beausejour hosted a two-day rock fest, Climax 70, in Colmers Park on the weekend of Aug. 15 and 16.
Manitoba's Summer of Love concluded on Aug. 29 with ManPop 70, a provincially funded rock festival headlined by Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly. This time, the rain returned with a vengeance. What began as an outdoor concert for some 14,000 at the football stadium finished up more than 15 hours later inside the old Arena. It was one of the most memorable shows ever to grace a Winnipeg venue, with Zeppelin taking the makeshift stage well past midnight.
"It was obvious they were really enjoying themselves and they played forever," recalled promoter Bruce Rathbone. "You could tell they were all loaded, but who wasn't?"
Join John Einarson for the Magical Musical History Tour of Winnipeg at heartlandtravel.ca