North Island history never ceases to amaze

Brenda McCorquodale looks at the early history of Sointula.

One of the things that attracts me to the history of the North Island are the unbelievable stories.  Just when I think I’ve researched something fully, a new piece of information surprises me.

I have published a previous article on the early history of Sointula, but I was recently contacted by the group who is putting on a conference September 20-22: Culture Shock: Utopian Dreams, Hard Realities: (www.sointulan.ca/). The keynote speaker at the conference, Dr. Ed Dutton of Finland, will be outlining his theory that the modern sociological concept of culture-shock originated from the personal experiences of Dr. Kalervo Oberg, a pioneer in the study of anthropology who grew up in the utopian settlement of Sointula.

This conference looks like a very interesting opportunity for anyone interested in the history of the North Island to learn a little more about our unique area. It has also encouraged me to pull out my files find some other interesting historical tidbits about Malcolm Island.

Mink was the first inhabitant of the island. When he arrived, he thought the island was too flat, so he collected many rocks and built a mountain that rose to the clouds.  Then Mink collected plants and bushes, but when he tried to plant them on the mountain they kept rolling down the sides.  Mink eventually became frustrated, and he kicked and pulled apart the mountain until nothing remained. That is why Malcolm Island is so flat.

Some geologists postulate that Malcolm Island is actually a fluvial deposit from a once-great river, perhaps the Nimpkish. In pre-history times the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples used the island extensively for seasonal food gathering, including the harvest of clams, berries, and halibut. There are numerous petroglyphs on the island.

Sointula means “place of harmony” in Finnish.  Malcolm Island is named after Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm of the Royal Navy (1758-1838).

In the late 1800s the provincial government offered pre-emptions to settlers who would travel to the rural and remote parts of the BC coast and make improvements on the land.  Many travelled across Canada and the United States and boarded boats with all their worldly possessions to take on this challenge, never having seen the land or the coast where they would settle.

This was also the age of utopian communities in North America. Numerous groups (many ethnic Scandanavian who had struggled with their home countries’ deep divisions related to communist ideas), frustrated with the economic downturn in the 1890s, sought out these pre-emptions looking for a better way of life. On the North Island this included the Danish settlement at Cape Scott, the Norwegian colony at Quatsino, and the Finnish colony of Sointula.

 

The first utopian group to arrive on Malcolm Island was the Christian Temperance Commonwealth Society, which arrived in 1885. They had disbanded many years before a group of Finnish settlers, many of which had grown disillusioned working in the Nanaimo coal mines, decided to move to the island under the auspices of the Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company, the group that founded Sointula.