Krystina Godzik-Wooley recounts the partying, hitchhiking, and rock stars of her past
Emory Claire Mitchell
The building once known as Rochdale College is situated close to the intersection of Bloor Street and St. George Street, just north of Robarts Library. Today, it has been converted into apartments, but in the 1960s, those halls contained the majority of Toronto’s hippie population.
Youth and students lived there, forming a communal living space in the heart of Toronto — and filling the halls with life, graffiti, and drug use. Krystina Godzik-Wooley lived there in its heyday, when it seemed the ideals of free love and experimental drugs were going to carry on forever.
Rochdale College was a building like no other. Eighteen storeys high, it opened in 1968 and contained everything people needed, from free education to communal living. People even gave birth there.
“I laugh at how innocent we all looked. How almost goofy we all appeared,” Godzik-Wooley admits while looking at the photos of her old compatriots. Despite her acknowledgment of their naïveté, she sees the impact her generation has had on today’s world. They “didn’t realize that [they] would be that important” and were “[the] generation [that] literally set about to break every rule out there.”
Godzik-Wooley has seen Toronto in all its forms. Her family immigrated here in 1954, settling in the neighbourhood known today as the Annex. She speaks of spending her days around Honest Ed’s and running up and down the hill to Casa Loma. Her growth seems to parallel that of Toronto itself; she says when she first arrived here, there was almost nothing, a “small-town attitude.”
But, like Toronto, Godzik-Wooley had greater aspirations than a small town. When she left home at 16, her mother gave her a copy of Anna Karenina, inscribed with the advice, “Life is a book of empty pages, just be careful how you fill them.” As she began to find herself in Toronto, those words were her inspiration — her reason for attempting to squeeze everything out of the city while it grew alongside her.
Godzik-Wooley began her independence in what was once the city’s hippie epicentre: Yorkville. She could be found “holding court” in the smoke-filled cafés lining the sidewalks, just below street level. Her confidence was unending as she felt like “the world was there for the picking.” Soon after, she moved into Rochdale College, joining the leagues of hippies trying to prove cooperative living was possible.
“It was party central! Nobody had doors; everyone had curtains over their front doors; everybody knew everybody; everybody smoked drugs,” she laughs. Her eyes are filled with mirth and trepidation as she speaks. The images of Rochdale that can be found in the Toronto Public Library’s database primarily depict two things: a building slowly falling into disrepair and people who look connected and dependent on one another.
Those images do not do the story as much justice as Godzik-Wooley does. With the kind of acceptance that only comes with seeing the true human experience, she declares, “Some lived, some died. Some made it out and some didn’t.”
Godzik-Wooley’s cavalier attitude conveys acceptance rather than resignation, as she details her experience helping US draft resisters, young mothers, and people with substance use disorder alike.
While helping others survive their story, Godzik-Wooley herself was trying to live a life worth writing about. She had a day job that she admits she often slept through. Her saving grace was her friend Moira, who would throw paper clips at her when the boss was approaching so that she could wake up in time. Her constant state of exhaustion derived from her late-nights of drinking and partying.
Godzik-Wooley laughs looking back, saying, “Moira and I [were] two rapscallions. We were young, we were beautiful… and we had no problems!” Not only did their apparent beauty preclude them from having problems, but it also led to more adventures.
One night, at the Masonic Temple in Toronto, Alice Cooper came to town. Godzik-Wooley was pulled backstage to hang out with the band. “The next thing you knew, my girlfriend and I were living on the farm in Detroit with the band,” she exclaimed. “Rock stars were approachable then. If you were cute, there was no way that you weren’t going to go backstage. I can list strings of [people who] are now famous rock stars that were part of the background party.”
Everything changed rapidly when Godzik-Wooley found herself among the glitz and glamour of proper rock stars. She lived on the farm with these soon-to-be stars until the band hit “the big time.” Telling the story, she suddenly became serious, saying, “I’m always amazed I came out alive. Because there was every conceivable drug. Everything was there.”
And yet, Godzik-Wooley always returned to Toronto, eventually finding stardom of her own. “I founded a theatre company. I worked in law. I worked in the non-profit sector. I worked in the insurance industry,” she says with a glimmer in her eyes. “I’ve done artistic endeavours; I’ve created businesses of my own. I just did whatever I wanted or wanted to try to do.”
It seems like if there was anything to be done, Godzik-Wooley wanted to do it. She had her hand in every big industry in Toronto. She even made a connection with some of the bigger names, citing regular lunches with Dr. Morton Shulman, the Toronto doctor famous for providing early abortions while their legality was in question during the ’70s. “I don’t know why, but he was always interested in what I had to say.”
She acknowledges compliments she has received over the years without seeming to see their reason. When speaking to how she became an actress and starlet, she simply responded with a shrug of her shoulders, “Once upon a time, a long long time ago, I was accused of being very beautiful.”
While Godzik-Wooley is proud of the life she has achieved, she does not feel the need to reside in her past. She wants to write her stories — the story of Toronto — but she concedes that “I was too busy living, and travelling, and getting into mischief to ever have the discipline.”
Today, Godzik-Wooley lives in Corso Italia, a neighbourhood northwest of the Annex. Periodically throughout the day, she can be seen standing just outside her front door, smoking a cigarette that has been present in her hand since her early youth.
Usually, someone will be entrenched in conversation with her: a young mother regaling her child’s inability to sleep, a costume designer talking with her about the global state of affairs, or a ‘youngin’ excitedly telling her about the soccer game they had just played. She is a staple in the area, a fixture that is alive with stories of adventure in the city we all adore.
Despite all this, she rarely shares her own stories. “Listening is something people don’t do,” she starts, “They love the sound of their own voice. And you really shortchange yourself in life when you don’t listen… You should always seek to know something about the other person. Always show interest in them, and it just enriches things.”
While Godzik-Wooley has spent her life trying to fill it with stories, she has not neglected to absorb those from others. And look at her now. She is a walking library filled with thousands of adventures and characters, all waiting to be opened on a sunny afternoon of conversation.
Cover visual: The ’60s were full of bright colours, experimental sound, and drugs — Toronto was no different. COURTESY OF KRYSTINA GODZIK-WOOLEY