Day 44: Sointula, Malcolm Island

Day 44: Sointula, Malcolm Island

Saturday, July 27

We borrowed the bikes again today and rode into town to go to the Farmers/Craft/Flea Market and to visit the museum and to shop for groceries at the co-op store. The market turned out to be one guy selling all his boating books, one Finnish woman selling her cardamom bread, one woman selling her hand knitted socks (didn’t need any of those!) and one guy with a bunch of garage sale type stuff. Unfortunately, a customer had just loaded up a box of the boating books so we missed all the good ones. I bought a loaf of bread, though, and it was very good in a sweet, white flour kind of way.

The museum was interesting and worth a visit to get a better sense of the history of Sointula. The community was established in the early 1900s when a group of Finnish immigrants, disgruntled by the oppressive working conditions in the coal mines of Nanaimo, asked Matti Kurrika, a charismatic utopian socialist to come and lead them in the establishment of a new, egalitarian community. Everything was to be owned and shared equally and everyone would participate in the building of the new society. Equality of men and women was a revolutionary concept at that time.

Under the auspices of the Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company, land on Malcolm Island was secured, and a foundry, brickyard, sawmill and blacksmith shop were established. The Finnish word “Sointula” meaning “place of harmony” was chosen as the name of the community.

Kurrika’s leadership didn’t last long and a second man, Austin Makela, took over the leadership role when Kurrika left. A series of misfortunes followed and just four years later the company was disbanded and the land returned to the government of B.C. The people didn’t give up though — they purchased land individually and turned to fishing and hand logging so they could remain on Malcolm Island. The sense of independence and self reliance is still evident in Sointula today, and Finnish names are still in the phone book. There is a quiet, unhurried lifestyle here, reminiscent of the way Gabriola used to be. Malcolm Island is governed by a regional district and services are mininimal (no RCMP office, for instance), but there is concern about how to keep the community viable with the downturn in the fishing and logging industries.

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