Political and economic turmoil motivated many people of Europe to immigrate to North America at the end of the nineteenth century. They spread across the country looking for freedom, social justice and economic opportunity. Tired of being oppressed in Vancouver Island’s coal mines, a group of Finns sent for charismatic utopian socialist and journalist, Matti Kurikka to lead them. They named their community, Sointula, meaning “place of harmony”. Their aim was to create a society where property was communal; everyone shared; everyone participated and everyone was equal, including women – a revolutionary concept in those times.
The energetic community developed a foundry, a brickyard, a sawmill and blacksmith shop. They published AIKA “Times”, the first Finnish newspaper in Canada, using it to encourage immigrants to come to Sointula.
They believed in “sound body, sound mind,” so there were regular exercise sessions, gymnastic programs, music instruction, concerts and drama productions. Unfortunately Kurikka’s leadership proved more idealistic than practical and he left the community after making one too many bad decisions.
Steady and consistent Austin Makela took the reins in an attempt to salvage what remained. To this day he is known as “the one who stayed”. But after four years of hardships and disappointment which included a devastating fire, fickle markets, hostile creditors, bad planning and bad luck, the members of the Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company sold the assets to the bank and returned the island to the Government of British Columbia.
However the “sisu” (spirit) of Sointula was not to be underestimated. The people who remained purchased the land and turned to commercial fishing and hand logging.
They dug their roots deeply into the island and built their community with their own vision. The first residents of Malcolm Island formed the Sointula Co-operative Store Association in 1909 making it British Columbia’s oldest running cooperative. Initially they started to supply products and supplies to local farmers and fisherman, as well as providing an outlet for local goods. Over the years the Co-Op has supplied groceries and professional services. Today it also features a hardware store and a gas station.
Over one hundred years after it first opened its doors the Co-op remains the centre of commerce and the social hub of Malcolm Island.
Independent, individualistic entrepreneurs were and still are attracted to Sointula. Descendents of the original pioneers and newer arrivals continue to be inspired by the dreams of freedom and cooperation.
Sointula’s heritage can be seen in the last names filling the local phone book and oldtimers can still be heard speaking the language.
Today Sointula offers a unique blend of history, fishing & nature. For a taste of Utopia wander the streets to connect the past with the present.