Week 1: June 1st - 7th
For the month of June I will be participating in an artist residency in a town called Sointula, on Malcolm Island, off northern Vancouver Island - close to Port McNeill and Port Hardy. The residency consists of a cottage and an art studio hosted by Kerri Reid and Tyler Brett. For more information about the residency, visit their website.
From the Sointula: Malcolm Island pamphlet: "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… 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… The first residents of Malcolm Island formed the Sointula Co-operative Store Associate in 1909 making it British Columbia's oldest running cooperative."
Eventually Kurikka left after his leadership "proved more idealistic than practical." His replacement was Austin Makela, who only lasted 4 years after a string of hardships. Upon his departure, he sold the assets to the bank and returned the island to the Government of British Columbia. Those who stayed on purchased land and made their living with commercial fishing and hand logging.
Apparently, although Malcolm Island was used as a hunting ground by the local First Nations people in the area, it was never settled. Nearby Cormorant Island (home to Alert Bay) is the traditional grounds for the 'Namigis First Nation. It intrigues me that Malcolm Island was not inhabited before the Finns settled it, and I'm hoping to find out why at the Sointula museum.
Travel to Sointula from Vancouver is an all day journey that includes two ferry rides. The landscape driving up Vancouver Island past Campbell River was incredible: lush, green and wet. The mountains are very different from the mainland as they rise directly up from sea level and are covered in clinging mist and clouds.
Arriving on Malcolm Island I was struck by the cedar shingled buildings and the East Coast vibe I miss so much from when I lived in Nova Scotia. The residency cottage is more than I could have hoped for. It reminds me of all the Northern Ontario cottages I've spent time in. It has everything I need and the perfect amount of bric-a-brac.
The first thing I did was set-up my studio and get a walking tour of the village, which has a population of approximately 500-800. There's a bakery, café, and burger barn, a co-op for groceries and hardware, a post office, clinic, and resource centre. There is also a library, museum and thrift shop. Surrounding the town is a stone beach with lots of public access. Both the cottage and the studio look out over the lovely backyard of my hosts, Kerri, Tyler & Teddy, and then beyond to the ocean and mountains of Vancouver Island.