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Paula Wild's Introduction

THROUGHOUT THE AGES, A DESIRE FOR A SENSE of self and a sense of place has motivated the human race to search for a better life. The sixteenth century writer and philosopher, Sir Thomas More, defined this yearning in his book Utopia. More chose the word "utopia" to signify a point midway between outopia (no place) and eutopia (the good place). Thus the word utopia refers not to a specific location, but to an ideal state where harmony exists between individuals as well as between society and nature.

More's concept of utopia was based on the belief that people were capable of creating their own destinies. He placed his utopia on an island shaped like a crescent moon.

Public lectures were held daily and intellectual pursuits, music and conversation were highly regarded. Fundamental principles included communal property, labour and dining. More believed that "Each meal taken together stands for the triumph of justice and represents the equality and communion of all citizens." Later utopian concepts often included celibacy or free love, and placed an emphasis on physical labour and exercise.

Utopias require physical and social boundaries. A conscious effort is made to separate from mainstream society and to establish a private place removed from outside influences. Utopians value their coherence as a group, and what takes place within the community is sharply differentiated from what happens outside of it. Utopia provides an escape from the past, and the promise of a future where meaningful lives are more important than material wealth.

Since More's time, utopias have appeared on a regular basis. They were particularly popular around the turn of the nineteenth century, when they were seen as a practical and adventuresome alternative to the upheaval caused by the industrial and urban revolutions in Europe. North America, with its vast lands and flexible social structures, seemed to present unlimited possibilities. As the most western province of Canada, British Columbia was a magnet for a variety of dreamers, idealists and utopians. Religious sects such as the Doukhobors and Mennonites settled in isolated pockets on the mainland, while small groups of Norwegians and Danes attempted to establish communities in the Bella Coola Valley and Cape Scott on north Vancouver Island.

Islands, with natural boundaries that favour refuge and retreat, have been favourite locations for utopian communities. Nestled between the mainland and the northern end of Vancouver Island, Malcolm Island has been the site of several utopian ventures. Since the late 1800s people of all ages, nationalities and occupations have moved to the island in search of a better life. An English religious group, socialist Finns, and disillusioned North Americans form the backbone of Malcolm Island's utopian heritage, but it is the Finns who have most clearly impressed their character on the island. Like many experimental communities, the Finns' official utopia failed. For most idealistic colonies, the end of the communal effort was the end of the dream. But the Finns were more persistent. A group of them remained on Malcolm Island to forge a viable community that still thrives today.

Unlike traditional west coast settlements, the people came to Malcolm Island first, before the industry. Arvo Tynjala, an early member of the Finnish utopian commune on the island, summed it up: "Most communities, whatever they are - little towns or villages - they're usually formed around some kind of industrial development, either a logging camp, a pulp-mill, or a sawmill. But in Sointula it was different. The people went there on their own and then started to build the community. It took some courage you know, to 90 into the wilderness and build a community without any help."