SOINTULA—Students in Finland studying the country’s history are taught the story of Matti Kurrika, who traveled to Canada and attempted to create a utopian community called Sointula — which means “Place of Harmony” in Finnish.
A play — Sointula — has even been written about the story. But actors from Finland’s Masala Theatre Group were shocked when they were invited by organizers of last week’s Culture Shock Conference on Malcolm Island to perform in the town of the same name.
“When we invited them to perform the play here, they went, ‘Wait a minute, there is an actual place named Sointula that exists?’” said Annemarie Koch, one of the organizers of the event.
“The history books tell them of these places, but they’d always been told the colony failed.”
The youth theatre troupe’s appearance provided the entertainment centerpiece to the conference, but the many educators and speakers who addressed the concept of utopian communities — and Sointula in particular — were the meat and potatoes of the conference.
“I found it a real identity-affirming experience,” said local resident Shane Field, managing editor of Malcolm Island’s online newspaper, the Sointula Ripple. “We’re not pioneers, but many of us are
cooperative and have, I would say, almost socialist leanings. The weekend kind of affirmed in many ways why we live there.
“We realize it’s no utopian community -— there’s no such thing. But it’s gratifying to learn you live in a place that strives toward that.”
Field, who works for North Island Employment, also serves as managing editor for Sointula’s fledgling, two-year old online newspaper, the Sointula Ripple. The Ripple has provided coverage leading up to and following the Culture Shock conference, often with the a sensibility only a long-time resident can bring.
After ferrying and driving to Port Hardy Airport to pick up Jussi Puhakka, who played the key role of Matti, Jim Rosgen described his return to Malcolm Island.
“Imagine our surprise when we drove off the ferry to the full cast of the play standing on the side, singing what, as it turned out, was the song from the play where the settlers greeted Kurikka as he arrived on the island! At first we thought the welcome was for us as, after all, we had been gone for over five hours. But after the initial adrenaline rush we realized that Jussi was the main attraction.”
The conference, ironically, turned out to be something of a history lesson, even for longtime residents.
Anne Curry, professor at the University of Alberta, shared information she had researched from many original sources, including what were known as “fist journals,” hand-written records that exist only in that form.
“She spoke of different forms of how information was chronicled, in Finnish, of people’s experiences and thoughts,” said Koch. “It was this amazing discussion.”
For more, check out the Ripple at sointularipple.ca.