Sointula -- Island Utopia.
Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour Publishing, 1995. 223pp, cloth, $28.95.
ISBN: 1-55017-128-3. CIP.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Joan Payzant.
After three days and nights of celebrating, exploring and bonfires
on the beach, the settlers gathered to name the site of their utopia.
"Sointula" (Harmony) was chosen over Makela's previous suggestion of
"Kodiksi." Beckman proposed a colony flag featuring a white outline of
Malcolm Island on a blue background. On the island would appear a golden
"kantele," a small harp that holds a prominent place in the "Kalevala"
and is a symbol of Finnish culture.
Inspired by the idea of Sointula, all who had come north on the
Coquitlam spontaneously decided to remain. Since the two cabins
were already full, tents were ordered to house the overflow. As the
island had no post office, Makela agreed to return to Nanaimo where he
would run the "Aika" (a newspaper) and process membership
applications. The future seemed bright for the colonists; there was wood
to build with, berries to eat and song birds everywhere. Halminen wrote
later, "Everyone worked so hard, with this group it truly seemed
possible that we could build a utopia."
This book is a history of the Finnish community of Sointula on Malcolm
Island, which is situated in Queen Charlotte Strait between the mainland
of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Matti Kurikka, a Finnish
Socialist and charismatic leader was appointed president of the Kalevan
Kansa Colonisation Company Limited. Authorities in British Columbia, on
behalf of the Crown, granted land on Malcolm Island to the Finnish
company in November 1901.
Shortly before this, the group of Finns who had brought Kurikka to
British Columbia had arranged for the establishment of a newspaper, the
"Aika" (Time), which Kurikka operated. Through the paper, and in
lecture tours, Kurikka spread the word to his readers of the plan for a
commune on Malcolm Island. In spite of difficulties arranging for paid
employment for prospective settlers, the colony eventually started. What
follows is an intriguing story -- the initial enthusiasm of the settlers,
the difficulties that they encountered, Kurikka's visionary schemes, and
the accumulation of overwhelming debt. Kurikka solicited help from a
friend in Finland, Austin Makela, a Marxist. He joined the Kalevan Kansa
company, and later took over as President when Kurikka resigned after the colonists became disenchanted with him.
Sointula residents joined the Socialist Party of Canada in 1907, but
split with the British leaders in 1911 because of differing aims. In 1912
the Finnish Socialist Organization of Canada (FSOC) formed. During the
First World War, "Socialist" was dropped from the name because of
governmental pressure, with the new name shortened to Finnish
Organization of Canada. This, in turn allied with the Worker's Party of
Canada, which was also renamed to form the Communist Party of Canada.
A large hall, the Finnish Organization Hall, served the community
for political meetings, debates, and concerts. In spite of a fire in
which eleven members of the community died, and constantly difficult
finances, Sointula was a happy place by 1937. Its people were like one
large family; no doors were ever locked, and recreational activities had
been organized -- a band, drill teams for both women and men, a library,
and dances every Saturday night. A Co-op store was also a social centre,
a gathering place to exchange daily news.
Life on the island changed dramatically after World War II. Cars,
radios, telephones, and alcohol brought the outside world to Sointula.
Finnish was no longer the only language, though it was not until one
teacher banned the use of Finnish inside the school that children learned
English formally, according to government regulations.
The next change came when young Americans, draft dodgers from the
Vietnam War, arrived on Malcolm Island. Their desire to "get back to the
land" caused an upheaval in the lives of the Sointulans. It took
adjustment on both sides for a new pattern of living to evolve, but today
both the original Finns and newcomers respect each other. Although life
will never be the same in Sointula, its residents still considered it a
The author, Paula Wild, has done an excellent job of collecting
material from many sources to write this history. It is generously
illustrated with photos, has three appendices, a good bibliography of
sources, and a comprehensive index.
Sointula will be especially useful in British Columbia
libraries, but will interest anyone who is fascinated by utopian ideals,
Canadian politics, Finnish immigration, or biographies of
unusual leaders. This last category is well illustrated by Matti Kurikka
and his Finnish contemporary Austin Makela.
Joan Payzant is a retired teacher/librarian living in Dartmouth,
To comment on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
The Manitoba Library Association
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