Interview with Paul Hodgkins with Geraldine Snowden and Robert McKay December 2019   Part 1

Interview with Paul Hodgkins with Geraldine Snowden and Robert McKay December 2019   Part 1


Paul Hodgkins (Photo: Richard Chomko

Paul Hodgkins was born in the Midlands in England on January 31, 1947. He immigrated to Canada in the mid-1960’s. He married twice, once in 1971 and a second time in 1990 to his wife Susan Richard. He has five children (Philip, born September 26, 1979; Will born August 12, 1984; Evelyn born August 3, 1984; Charlotte born April 7, 1992 and Beatrice born on July 20, 1995). After several different occupations, he began teaching in a Waldorf School in 1985 and later focused on anthroposophical adult education. Paul was the Program Director of the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto’s Foundation Studies Encounter Course for many years, stepping back in the 2019/20 year due to his current illness. The following interview was conducted at Paul’s home in Toronto.

GS:       Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your biography?

PH:      Well…I was born at a very early age but I can’t remember a thing about that…General biography stuff? Where I grew up and stuff like that?


GS:       (laughing and nodding)

PH:      I grew up in a working class family in England. I was kind of a dreamy kid. I was raised as a Catholic and went to Catholic schools but I didn’t do too well with that. In my adolescence I had a quarrel with the church. I didn’t like what was coming in the religion lessons. I didn’t like the prejudices. I didn’t like the—I don’t know how to put it—the lack of friendship I felt from the teachers. Not that I wanted to be friends so much but there was no attempt get the teachers and students together. It was just a job for them.

So I left school not having done very well. To get myself out of that situation, I had to eventually write an exam to join the British civil service which I did. I became a clerk where everything was written with a fountain pen. I had to leave home for that. I left at about age 17.

It was during that time that one of my friends told me about a man who owned a fish and chips shop. This man had gotten the money to buy his shop through working in a gold mine in Canada. My friend and I met with him and he convinced us to go to Canada to make our fortune. So at 19 we set off to Canada to make our fortune. We worked in a gold mine in Red Lake, northwest Ontario, for about two years. We did make a lot of money but we spent it all. It took us less time to spend it than it took to make it.

Is this interesting?

GS:       (laughing) Yes, please go on.

PH:      Really? Okay. Well, at that point we decided to go to B.C. to work on fishing boats because we had heard we could make more money on fishing boats. We left Red Lake and came down through Toronto, intending to head west.

In Toronto, as luck would have it, my friend fell in love with a girl. Then I too met a girl and fell in love. My girlfriend was much more cultured than I was. She began to bring me out of my working class background and educated me culturally. She wasn’t stuck up or anything but she appreciated life’s finer things.

While I was dating her I joined IBM. I also had to write an exam to get into IBM. It was like an intelligence test and was about three hours long. At that time, IBM wasn’t really interested in qualifications. They were interested in intelligence quotient and that sort of thing. I started as an operator in the IBM test centre helping IBM customers to work out their program needs before they actually purchased their computer. In those days – in the late 1960’s – a computer was between one and three million dollars. You only bought one and it would fill a room. This was a third generation computer; we all felt we were working at the cutting edge of technology.

I then moved into the education department of IBM and found that I had knack for teaching. Still, I found the work soul destroying – something about computers – I did that for about four years and then I quit. I did not have another job to go to, I just quit.  I didn’t know what I was going to do. I don’t know if I would have put it in those terms back then: “I am quitting because this is soul destroying”. I knew it made me miserable.

By this time I was in my mid-twenties. I knew I could always earn money. I took on a job cleaning: mopping floors, cleaning windows, and things like that. It was just something interim but I quite liked that work. It was easy and I was cleaning a trio of bookstores in Toronto which gave me the chance to take up some serious reading. I had started reading at IBM. Someone had put me on to Plato’s dialogues. I read some philosophy in a kind of haphazard way and I didn’t find it entirely satisfying. I asked myself, “If philosophy is so great, why does it change from one generation to the next? Is there any permanency in this?” It might not have been the right question, but that was my question. I was an atheist and moved on to mathematics and science, reading at about a high school level. Then someone told me there are Eastern philosophies that can raise your consciousness. In reading this material, I had to get over the spiritual connotations. I was looking for things that were evidential or materially sound but I kept reading and investigated Daoism, Yoga, and Buddhism. I became particularly interested in Zen Buddhism which seemed to me the best of both worlds. It was very straightforward and only to do with one’s own consciousness.

By the time I was in my late 20s, I was far removed from IBM or the need to make money. I had come into the alternative world. By now I had lost all interest in money or a career. I read a book about vegetarianism, met a vegetarian, and became a vegetarian. I began to shop at my local health food store and the guy that owned the store offered me a job. That store eventually became the biggest natural food store in Toronto with 300 bulk bins. This was long before the Big Carrot. It is long since closed down. During the next few years, I tried all sorts of diets: macrobiotics, veganism, dairy free, juice fasting, water fasting, brown rice fasting and so on. When customers came in to the store I was able to speak their language regardless of which group they were in. So I became something of a go-to person in the store. Not that I really knew anything but I knew which book to point them to. I could say, “Here, read this book!”

Then I had an experience – a kind of wake up – that art was to play a role in my life; that this had always been intended. The experience was caused by a television program about Alex Colville. So, I took myself off to university in Montreal to study art. When I got to university, I found that stripes were the “in thing”. Molinari was painting vertical strips, Yves Gaucher was painting horizontal strips, and Claude Tousignant was painting concentric circles and there was a lady painting wavy strips, wavy lines…Gaucher took it to its inevitable conclusion and painted a canvas just one colour—as big as that wall there—red. Nevertheless, I had some intense and interesting experiences. These were intelligent men and woman.

I left when my first child was born. I went back to work in the health food store for a while. Now that I had a child, I started thinking about school and I didn’t want him to have my school experience. I just assumed all schools were like what I had. Actually, the Canadian schools are much nicer but I didn’t know that. I was untrusting. So that was a question I was carrying.

There was another question that I had started to carry at that time as well. I don’t know if I should share this. I really haven’t shared it with anybody. My father had rheumatoid arthritis and as it became clear that he was approach death, I thought about Eastern gurus who took on the pains or illnesses of their students out of compassion. I was walking down the street wishing I could help my father. I thought about taking on his suffering. To my surprise, I found that I didn’t have the compassion. I didn’t really want to take on his pain—his physical suffering—on myself. I was horrified to admit this to myself. In that moment, there was this spiritual figure present, who I had known of all my life who took on the suffering of the world, and that was the Christ. It was as though the sky was filled with Christ…Christ wearing a crown of thorns and then it was as though I heard…well I didn’t actually hear a voice…but what came to me was, “Stop seeking in any direction but this one.”

I didn’t rush off and become a ‘born again’ but I put my Buddhism to the side and started to look for a meaningful understanding of the Christ. So now I was looking for a good education for my son and I was looking for Christ. Because my experience at university had been unsatisfactory, I was also carrying a third question, trying to find something that made art meaningful. So these were my three questions. As it happens, at this time, I went into a book store – one of those New Age bookstores – and found three books, one about education, one about the Christ and one about colour, all by the same author—Rudolf Steiner—but none of which I could understand.

On the back of each of these books was the notice that if reader had not read the “five basic books”, he cannot form a judgement on this material. So, I thought, “Well if I am going to understand these books, I will have to read these five basic books.”  I began to study these. I couldn’t understand the Philosophy of Freedom at all at first but I got along better with the other ones. Then I found out there was an Anthroposophical Society in Canada that had a centre on Lawton Boulevard. I began to get books from the library there, and going to any presentations that were given.

Then, Shirley Routledge invited me to participate in the first Waldorf teacher training program, which was only 12 weeks long. Through that, I met Coenraad van Houten and a student teacher named Paul. That summer he went to Ottawa to take up a class in the Waldorf school and by then Philip our son was ready for school.  We couldn’t possibly afford to put him in the Toronto Waldorf School, so I spoke to my friend Paul about the Ottawa Waldorf school. We ended up in Ottawa.

That decision really came about as a result of a kind of lucid dream. I was wondering intensely what are we going to do? Where are we going to send him to school? I had this dream that he was sitting on my shoulders on a bridge overlooking a regatta and behind us marching up the road came this band dressed in red and black uniforms and wearing bearskin hats. Then the men in uniform were standing outside of buildings that looked like Houses of Parliament. So I went the next day to a bookstore and got a book about Canada, thinking that the dream might be indicating London, Ontario. I said to myself, “Surely I am not meant to go back to England! Maybe it is symbolic of London in Ontario.” I looked up London Ontario in the book and there was nothing that looked like that and then I came to a page on Ottawa and there was the very scene I had experienced in the dream. In Ottawa on Canada Day, there is a regatta under the bridge and there is march—a trooping of the colours—and I said, “Okay, we are going to Ottawa!”  And sure enough that was the place to be.

I had a funny meeting with the founding teacher in Ottawa. Philip was his name. He was an older man, a melancholic. Paul introduced me to him and explained to him I was wondering which class my son should go into because his birthday was on the borderline. Philip said that it doesn’t depend on the birthday but depends on the conception date. Those conceived before Christmas are in a group that have a relationship with Christ and those conceived after Christmas are in another group that has a different relationship with Christ. I later did a survey in the school of children with borderline birthdays and it was amazing how it confirmed what Philip said.  But can you imagine someone now speaking like this to a prospective parent? Philip seemed to have no social awareness about making such a statement. He just told you straight out what he believed. Of course, I thought, “He’s for me! This is a guy who is going to tell it like it is!”

To be continued in the May edition

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