The colony band in Sointula.

Sointula – A place of harmony

Malcolm Island has been utilized as a seasonal harvesting location by the Kwakwaka’wakw

Malcolm Island has been utilized as a seasonal harvesting location by the Kwakwaka’wakw for thousands of years, but in more recent history it was settled by non-indigenous colonists in the late 1800s.

In 1895, the Christian Temperance Society, under the leadership of Joseph Spencer, made an attempt to settle at Rough Bay, however within a year they had given up and the Island reverted to a timber lease for forestry.

Around the same time a group of Finnish miners at Nanaimo were growing frustrated with their working conditions, and formed a temperance society which was a socio-political group that allowed them the freedom to discuss their frustrations and aspirations in Canada.

The miners decided that they aspired to a better life, with more freedom and equality, and toward that end they wrote to Matti Kurikka, a political philosopher, playwright, writer, and organizer, asking him to come to Vancouver Island.  Kurikka had been in Australia trying to establish a utopian community, but agreed to come.

Kurikka arrived and the Finns established the Kalevan Kansan Colonization Company. Kaleva is a reference to the Finnish mythological hero which plays a significant role in the early Finnish literature epic the “Kalevala.”

The company started a newspaper highlighting their efforts to start a communal colony founded on the virtues of respect and equality.  They sold shares, while recruiting other Finns from all over the world to join their movement, and negotiating with the government for a land grant.

On Nov. 1, 1901 the company signed an agreement. They would be granted the rights to Malcolm Island in seven years if they could settle 350 people, make improvements including developing farms, roads, and wharves, and educate their children in English.

The word was sent out to prospective colonists and the first advance group left to begin the task of constructing a settlement.  From the beginning the effort seemed cursed.  A gun accidentally discharged in the boat while the group was transiting Seymour Narrows, striking a man in the arm.

By December 1901 the group had arrived at Rough Bay, and by March 1902 there were 14 settlers.

In June the steamer Capilano brought in a load of settlers and materials.

The group voted to name their village Sointula, or “place of harmony.”

Although the colonists built a number of communal dwellings, they were not able to construct adequate housing for all of the new arrivals, and many had to stay in tents as the winter storms set in.

Some colonists arrived with farm implements and cattle, which they had to sell when they realized that there would be no pasture or crops for some time.

On Jan. 23, 1903 at 8 p.m., as many women and children were sleeping in one of the wooden buildings, and a meeting was taking place on the third floor, a fire broke out when one of the flues overheated.  Eleven people perished in the fire, eight children and two adults. Some people, devastated and heartbroken, blamed the company and Kurikka.

By the spring of 1903 the population of the colony was 238.

The men of the colony tried their hand at logging and fishing, but they had a difficult time bringing in money sufficient to pay back their loans.

After a series of bad business decisions, including a low bid by the colony to build a bridge over the Capilano River in Vancouver, the banks seized some of the colony’s assets.

The company, now bankrupt, was dissolved.  In May 1905 the colony was forced to give up their land grant to pay their debts.

Many of the original settlers decided to stay and retained their values of communal work.

Sointula fishermen were instrumental in forming many of the powerful fishing unions on the coast, and many business initiatives on the island have been operated as cooperatives.

(Brenda McCorquodale is a Port Hardy resident and North Island history enthusiast. If you have any stories or local lore you’d like to share, email her at storeysbeach@gmail.com. A collection of her past articles is available on her blog at undiscoveredcoast.blogspot.ca/.)

 

Just Posted

Tree falls inches away from Port Hardy home

The tree narrowly missed the residence on Wolleson Street

Port Hardy firefighters to earn money for calls

Council has approved a Fire Department Remuneration policy

A memorial mural will be painted in Port Hardy

The mural will honour lives lost to substance abuse and mental health

VIDEO: North Island Local Hero Awards 2018

On the North Island, we are blessed with many different kinds of heroes.

Port Alice Health Centre receives special appreciation

Society makes luncheon to recognize healthcare staff

Black Press Media to launch Pipeline Full of Controversy series

Series covers Trans Mountain’s history, science, Indigenous reaction, politics and economics

Kervin’s Corner: There’s more than one solution to aquaculture, fish farms

“We don’t need to coop up farmed fish to land-based, closed containment farming.”

B.C. RCMP swoop in to save injured eagle

An eagle with a broken wing now in a recovery facility after RCMP rescue near Bella Coola

Catalyst Paper to sell U.S. mills to Chinese company

Sale will allow company to focus on B.C. interests, says president Ned Dwyer

Bug spray 101: Health Canada wants you to stay bite free

Health Canada is reminding Canadians to use bug spray and other insect repellents safely

Unions reject CP Rail contract offers

Both meeting Friday to determine next steps; 72 hours notice required before strike action.

B.C. jewellers warn public about fake gold scam

‘They are playing on people’s sympathy and their greed’

Former B.C. premier says pot industry about to enter Wild West

Mike Harcourt says Canada is about to enter a new gold rush with many dreaming of striking it rich

Hunt continues for two suspects in Ontario restaurant explosion

The explosion left 15 people injured, but all victims have now been released from hospital

Most Read