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Heidelberg College, Tiffin, Ohio
Quests for Utopia are not new in North America. Experiments designed to create a new and better social order have appeared repeatedly and hurried through a life-cycle of inspiring birth, promising adolescence, and untimely death. Such were the familiar Icaria of Étienne Cabet, New Harmony of Robert Owen, Ceresco of Warren Chase, and Brook Farm of the New England Transeendentalists. The story of Matti Kurikka's Harmony Island, a Finnish venture in utopianism in British Columbia during the years 1901-05, is not as well known.1
Between 1880 and 1900 a considerable number of Finnish immigrants was attracted to the western shores of British Columbia by the prospcet of employment in the mining communities of Nanaimo, Extension, North Wellington, and Ladysmith.2 It was not long, however, before coal-mining became disagreeable to many of them, including the future leaders of Harmony Island. Their complaints were numerous: mining was extremely hazardous, accidents frequent; the work was heavy, wages inadequate; living accommodation in the towns was repugnant; all attempts of the miners individually or collectively to improve working conditions and raise wages were resisted by the employers.
These grievances seemed only more intolerable when the immigrants, with growing nostalgia and diminishing objectivity, recalled the more attractive aspects of conditions in the Old Country: the simple life on the farms, the bright Northern sunshine and clear atmosphere, bracing winds and swaying evergreens; their proximity to and love for the soil. It was not strange, therefore, that many Finns, particularly those touched by prevailing Utopian socialist currents, yearned to "free themselves from tortuous toil in the deep bowels of the earth"3, and to build a new communal home apart from the capitalist world, where man would not exploit man, all would labour for the common good, and life would be co-operative, just, and harmonious.
By 1900 a score of the more enterprising, Finns were ready for action.4 Their first task was to find a forceful and gifted leader: a critic to denounce the shortcomings of bourgeois society; an apostle to preach the new tenets of socialism and co-operation; a prophet to paint in glowing colours the picture of the world they planned to build. Only one man appeared equal to the mission: Matti Kurikka, a political refugee, then in Australia. On April 8, 1900, a letter was sent to Kurikka, requesting him to lead his Canadian brethren into the promised land.
Matti Kurikka had been born in Ingria, Russia, in 1862, of fairly well-to-do Finnish parents.5 After receiving a smattering of formal education, which included a sojourn at Helsinki University, Kurikka became intensely interested in socialism. By 1897, when he became editor of the Finnish labour paper Työmies [The Worker], he had become the recognized leader of the working-class movement. It prospered under his able guidance, taking a strong nationalistic bias, and Kurikka soon incurred the displeasure of the authorities. During these same years he had become popular as a dramatist, but his radical play, The Tower of Babel, which his friends did their utmost to dissuade him from producing, lost him the support of the Finnish upper classes. He was also assailed by the Marxian wing of the Finnish socialist movement, whose leaders coveted his position and influenee. In 1900 he deemed it wise to leave Finland, and went to Australia, where he planned to start an Utopian colony among the Finns there.
The summons from Canada came as a godsend to Kurikka, for his schemes had not thrived in Australia. It was impossible, he complained, to "build an utopian colony for the few Finns here are either too busy struggling against great poverty and want or do not understand its importanee . . . for that reason I am ready to leave Australia".6 There was, to be sure, an obstacle: "How can I get there since I am as poor as a church mouse . . . if you could send me the necessary funds . . . I want to be with you sowing the seed from which will grow a bountiful harvest for the joy of mankind and the glory of Finland." Upon receiving the requested funds, Kurikka in buoyant spirits set sail for the New World, arriving in Nanaimo late in August, 1900.
More difficult was the problem of finding a site for the venture which would be inexpensive, isolated from the inquisitive yet not completely cut off from markets, and which would permit the practice of agriculture and related occupations. Maps were studied, public lands reconnoitred. By the spring of 1901 Kurikka and his followers had singled out Malcolm Island, in the southeasterly extremity of Queen Charlotte Sound, as best fitted for the experiment. Negotiations were immediately entered into with the Government of British Columbia, but it was not until November 27 that an agreement was consummated. By its terms the Government agreed to cede the 20,000 acre island to the Finnish immigrants, incorporated as the Kalevan Kansan Colonization Company,7 under the following conditions:
During the fifteen months which elapsed between Kurikka's arrival and the securing of a site, matters had progressed none too smoothly. For one thing, Kurikka, always restless and impatient, threatened early in 1901 to desert Canada in order tö become editor of a paper printed in Oregon. He was persuaded to remain only after the Finns agreed to start a newspaper in British Columbia. Aika-lehti [Time], as the new organ was called, commenced publication on May 17, 1901, with Kurikka as its imperious editor and publisher.9 For over three years (until late 1904, when it ceased publication) it thundered out Kurikka's doctrines and protestations unrestrained by any such censorship as had stifled his earlier journalistic career in the Old Country.
Others likewise felt the effects of delay and red tape, with the result that incipient enthusiasm dampened into despondency and pessimism. Moreover, the results of a financial drive for the requisite sinews of war had been disappointing. The organizers had hoped to get $200 in cash from every member. Not very many of them, despite Kurikka's appeals and exhortations, appeared willing to part with their hard-earned funds. They preferred to work off their membership fees, or at least to wait until the colony was a going concern. The inevitable outcome was indebtedness. Indeed, the first annual report showed a deficit of $1,300 for building materials, tools, food, and clothing,10 and this total mounted rapidly. Many years later A. B. Mäkelä, Kurikka's associate, recalled: "Proudly though we turned our backs to the capitalistic world, we were nonetheless dependent upon it in every way. The first boat-load of goods brought to the island was bought on credit. We were always in the same predicament: purchases had to be made first, payments dragged ever farther and farther behind."11
The first group of five settlers reached Malcolm Island on December 15, 1901. They named the spot at which they chose to settle Sointula - "The place of harmony". A second band followed in January, 1902, and by late winter there were fourteen men and women on the island. The figure rose to 127 with the advent of summer.
The economic problems faced by the pioneers were these: to clear the land for agriculture; construct dwellings adequate for the needs of the rapidly growing population; produce commodities which, in the absence of money, might be exchanged in the outside world for tools, materials, and provisions. From the first these problems were made immeasurably more difficult of solution by two deficiencies. The community lacked sufficient money to cover initial expenses, and as a consequence was forced to go heavily into debt, as we have seen, at the very start. Secondly, it lacked workers who were skilled and experienced in the lumbering and fishing industries.
The clearing of the fields proceeded very slowly, for heavy timber had to be felled before the land could be made ready for crops. For most of its life the community, far from attaining self-sufficiency, was an importer of foodstuffs. Rough houses, including one or two larger structures, appeared here and there, but they were ugly, inadequate, and quite repellent to those accustomed to urban quarters.
At first glance there appeared to be several articles available for interchange in the capitalist marts: logs, finished lumber, and fish. The settlers began optimistically with logging. A few trees were felled and laboriously dragged to water. Before long the unskilled woodsmen realized that such logging would never pay. The prices paid for logs were low, the distance to markets great, the demand slight, and logs superior in quality to those found on Harmony Island were available nearer at hand. Moreover, it soon became evident that logging by ex-poets, scholars, grocers, machinists, watchmakers, silversmiths, tailors, miners, and dirt farmers resulted in gross inefficieney, waste, and prohibitive labour costs.12
Fishing likewise appeared unprofitable, although salmon abounded in the swirling waters around Harmony Island. The current quotations for fish seemed ridiculously low and markets were miles away. The immigrants, in addition, were inexperienced in deep-sea fishing. The building of a cannery, which might have prospered, was out of the question in view of the colony's impoverished state. Although salmon frequently graced the communal board, fishing for export purposes was not attempted.13
Marketing finished lumber appeared more feasible, and early in 1902 a wheezing sawmill, thrown together from second-hand machinery and operated by awkward hands, began lazily to turn out its products. A small tug, the Winetta, was secured to assist in marketing logs and lumber and to transport equipment and supplies from Vancouver, 180 miles away.
The first month of 1903 was marred by a disastrous fire, which swept through the largest building on the island, with the loss of eleven lives. Nevertheless, it was in 1903 that the community saw its most promising days, and the following abridgment of the annual report of the company for that year reveals its character at the height of its activity:14
The last year has been the most difficult in our history. Even as early as January 29th, a terrible fire had destroyed much of what had resulted from the great efforts of the preceeding year. In addition to our very limited productive means, financial affairs were in a bad way. This coupled with the fire in which 11 people lost their lives and many were left without clothes and shelter, had indeed put us into a serious plight. The loss incurred by the fire amounted to about $10,000, which is no small sum in a struggling young community like ours. The fire would have made the continuance of the community impossible had it not been for the aid of our own people abroad and of the government of British Columbia. In addition the books of the company were destroyed in the fire but from private note books and from memory most of the lost information has been collected again.
From the company's inventory we see some of the things which have been accomplished during the year.
In 1902 we were still living at the head of the inlet in log cabins but by January 1903 we were almost entirely moved to our new quarters at the entrance of the inlet. Since the disastrous fire a score of dwellings have risen on the new town site.
A pier has been built so that we no longer have to go to Alert Bay for mail and freight. Into the old saw mill we have installed a lath machine, a planer and a lathe. New barns and ware houses have been built as well as a new foundry and a blacksmith shop.
In November we established the printing press into its new quarters so that our publication, "The Time", has again begun to appear, in magazine form this time, after an absence of a year and a half. By the end of the year 1,500 copies were printed fortnightly.
By the end of the year a new meeting house has been built and also the foundation for a new saw mill has been laid.
The only profitable industry has been logging. The work itself has gone on very smoothly but the price of logs has fallen. With the increase of logging operations a new donkey engine was purchased £or $2,800, of which only a small amount remains yet to be paid. Very little lumber has been sold as the larger part of our saw mill output has been used for our own needs.
Agriculture has not advanced very far as yet. Potatoes are the only vegetable grown so far. Work on two future fields is, however, in progress.
Stock raising owing to the lack of pasture land has been carried on under difficulties. Lack of shelter also caused the death of many head of cattle during the Winter. As the feeding of stock on purchased feed last winter became very costly we have undertaken to make hay in the heads of nearby inlets.
Suceess in fishing has been prevented by lack of nets and experience. During the summer and autumn we had, however, plenty of fresh fish and have been able to salt a large amount for the winter. Dog fish have been used for the production of oil for machinery and for lighting.
During the deer season, hunting has kept us in fresh meat. The hunters have also brought in waterfowl. Bears and wolves have been slain on the island making our live stock safer. The wild salal berry has also been extensively used.
The cobbler's and tailor's shops have been busy, but the lack of materials has caused some shortage in wearing apparel.
The manufacture of bricks has also been inaugurated.
Our future is dependent upon the new saw mill which is at present under construction. We hope to make lumber production our chief industry. We intend to cease the sale of logs as soon as possible.
We intend in the near future to set up a new general dining room and kitchen, a hospital, a children's home and a school. In spite of renewed applications the government has as yet not set to work to get us a school house and teacher of the English language.
By the end of 1903 the community comprised 100 men (47 married, 53 unmarried) 50 women (43 married, 7 unmarried) 88 children (53 boys, 35 girls). of this number 117 were in the community for their first year, 108 for their second year and 3 for the third year. Ten children have already been born on the island.
The preceding figures do not exactly illustrate the nurnber of settlers in Sointula. In 1902, 37 persons had left here after a short stay. In 1903, 85 persons had gone after a short stay.15 Only 2 members were forced to leave the island.
Cultural pursuits have also been followed as far as our economic conditions have permitted. On Sunday evenings discussions have been held, plays have been presented and a band and a choir have been inaugurated. Our library is still small and we sorely need a larger reading room. Classes in the English language, mechanics and other subjects are also under way.
Austin McKela, K. K. C. Co., Sec'y, Feb. 15, 1904.
With production on the up-grade confidence and hope revived. Kurikka, indeed, was dazzled by the apparent progress, and in 1904 bid for and was awarded a North Vancouver bridge contract. By its terms the Finns undertook to build for $3,000 two wooden bridges across the Seymour and Capilano Rivers, each being more than 180 feet long, not including approaches, and requiring strong trusses and supports. Kurikka admitted that his bid was too low, but urged its acceptance and performance for three reasons: (1) a deposit of $150 had accompanied the bid, as evidenee of good faith; (2) the colonists produced their own lumber; and (3) "if we perform this task satisfactorily, we may get other contracts worth tens of thousands of dollars from the town". Despite serious opposition, the harassed leader gained his point by explaining that "our financial condition is so critical that unless we accept the contract we will be unable to get either food or supplies".16 For the next four months every one in the settlement toiled assiduously in hewing trees, sawing logs, transporting materials to the construction sites, building the bridges and approaches. Soon the worst fears became reality; Kurikka's bid had truly been "too low". When the nightmare was over the colonists painfully counted their loss: eight to nine thousand hours of uncompensated labour for North Vancouver. Indeed, the $3,000 awarded by the contract did not suffice to pay for the tools and equipment which had been purchased. Unutterable was the anger and disillusionment that followed this tragic fiasco in bridge-building.
The internal disaffection wrought by this calamity was not the first manifestation of discord on Harmony Island. From the very moment of its birth the experiment had been shaken and battered by storms. Truly it had, as A. B. Mäkelä later recalled, "been born a-dying".17
This disharmony had many causes. The membership, to begin with, was heterogeneous, "united in scarcely anything but language".18 Coming from all walks of life, predominantly urban in occupational background, they were, for the most part, unfitted for the formidable task of breaking a wilderness. Not many, moreover, were really converted to the cause of co-operation, or motivated by a genuine desire to work and sacrifice their personal interests for the good of the new commonwealth. The colony became a loadstone which drew to its uneasy bosom all kinds of cranks, pseudo-philosophers, spiritualists, theosophists, advocates of perpetual motion, and free love - "windbags and fanatics aggressive enough in spouting the principles of utopian socialism but who preferred to leave the task of their realization to others".19 The original intention of the venture's organizers, to be sure, had been to select the membership very carefully. But to enforce the selective procedure was no easy matter. "Without waiting for a summons, often without warning, people treamed into the colony - single men, families with children. They came from hundreds, thousands of miles, from the shores of the Atlantic, many directly from Finland. What could one do except bid them welcome, accept them as members, accommodations or no accommodation."20
Some had come to Harmony Island expecting to discover an Utopia in full flower. The shock of finding instead an untamed wilderness caused them either to depart unceremoniously or to linger on with constant criticism on their lips. Much there was, of course, to be censured. The few rough dwellings on the island vere not adequate for the needs of the entire population, and many were forced to face the angry blasts of winter and summer squalls in tents. There was a deplorable shortage of foodstuffs, fresh vegetables, and milk, which, in view of the very limited domestic production, had to be imported from the outside world. It was a hard, unpleasant life demanding stamina, courage, patience, and sacrifice. Not many, especially those accustomed to urban comforts, desired to make it their permanent mode of living.
The personality of Matti Kurikka aggravated rather than mitigated the situation. It is true that he was a gifted leader, possessing remarkable powers of persuasion, and a keen intellect. But overbalancing these attributes were serious shortcomings. Kurikka was obstinate and headstrong, impatient and restless. He loved to write, speculate, and argue, but he was sadly lacking in practical ability to translate his ideas into action. He was inept and clumsy as an organizer and administrator. It was easy for Kurikka to make enemies, difficult for him to hold friends. Irreconcilable differences of opinion over questions of policy, the constitution of the colony, the status of private property, the position of women, the education of children, and other questions divided the leader from many in his flock.
The schism was widened by the tragic fire of January, 1903, in which three adults and eight children lost their lives. The blaze apparently had started in a defective ehimney at one end of the building and spread rapidly through the wooden structure, trapping its victims in a second-story hall where they were attending a meeting. Ugly rumours began immediately to spread through the horror-stricken colony insinuating that Kurikka had known that the building was a fire-trap, yet had done nothing about it. The books of the company had been burned, and it was said that Kurikka had set the blaze in order to destroy the documentary evidence of his alleged mismanagement of the venture's affairs. These rumours refused to die, although a number of the worst gossips were forced out of the colony by the threat of legal action for slander.21
The bitter opposition of the outside world likewise shattered the morale of the islanders. Finnish religious groups, on the one hand, denounced Harmony Island as the home of paganism and free love, and branded Kurikka as the devil's vicar on earth. On the other side, the organized Marxian socialist movement damned the venture as a hopeless experiment in utopianism, and called upon its members to rally around the true banner of class conflict. Repercussions of this external hostility were felt on Harmony Island; eager listeners and willing saboteurs appeared within the colony.
The financial morass in which the company found itself tended to make these internal wranglings more irritating and disruptive. The experiment had been launched on credit. Throughout its life it never attained the stature and dignity of financial independence. Food, clothing, and shelter were procured on credit; borrowed funds purchased the sawmill, planer, boats, and other equipment. Overshadowing every thought and deed of the settlers was the fear that the sources of credit might run dry, the mortgages he called in, and the venture pushed into insolvency.22
Shism became inevitable after the unfortunate bridge episode. On October 10, 1904, Kurikka resigned as leader of Harmony Island, and soon left for Vancouver, accompanied by at least half of the colonists. In the following year the secessionists attempted a new Utopia, by name Sammon Takojat, which proved to be short-lived. Kurikka then returned to Finland, where he played a valiant part in the successful struggle of the Finns to retain their national integrity, then threatened by Russia. In 1909 he returned to the United States, and found peace and comfort in the editorial chair of the New York Uutiset, from which vantage-point he dreamed, wrote, and perhaps reflected occasionally on the rise and fall of his Utopia. He died in 1915.
The group of Finns remaining on Malcolm Island elected A. B. Mäkelä as their new leader and tried to salvage something out of the ruins, but their efforts were in vain. The death knell of the colony was sounded when a load of lumber, their last hope, was attached by creditors in Vancouver and sold for a fraction of its value. The thirty-six remaining members sadly dissolved their organization on May 27, 1905. Many, completely disillusioned, abandoned the island and British Columbia; others preferred to remain amid the shattered dreams of a just and harmonious social order.23 They faced the future dependent for their security upon their own hands, but reassured perhaps by the old Finnish saying, "a cat always finds its claws when it is time to climb a tree".
 The best account is Matti Halminen, Sointula,
Kalevan Kansan ja Kanadan Suomalaisten Historiaa (Helsinki, 1936). The files of Aika-lehti,
a newspaper published by the group and edited by Matti Kurikka, are valuable; incomplete
files can he found in the Cleveland, Ohio, Public Library. The best account in English is
Kalervo Oberg, Sointula, a Communistic Settlement in British Columbia (graduating
essay, University of British Columbia, 1928; MS.), which devotes special attention to the
philosophy and social principles of Kurikka. See also the following general works
and articles by Finnish immigrants, many of whom were associated with the venture: S.
Ilmonen, Amerikan Suomalaisten Historia (1919-26), and Amerikan Suomalaisten
Sivistyshistoria (1931-32); Akseli Järnefelt, Suomalaiset Amerikassa (1899);
F. J. Syrjälä, Historia-aiheita Amerikan Suomalaisesta Työväen Liikkeestä
(1934); Väinö Voionmaa, Sosialidemokratian Vuosisata (1909); Martin Hendrickson,
"Vuoden 1899 Työmies", Lehtipaja (1928), pp. 107-10; Matti Kurikka,
"Tervehdys A. S. Työmiehelle", Työmies Kymmenvuotias (1913), pp.
150-53; Lauri Luoto, "Tuutarin ,Hollitupa", Työläisen ja Talonpojan
Kalenteri (1929), pp. 86-91; A. B. Mäkelä, "Muutama Muistosana Kalevan Kansan
Vainajasta", Lehtipaja (1928), pp. 147-56; Kauko Vaara, "Erään Suomeen
Palaneen Toverin Muistelmia", Työmies Kymmenvuotias (1913), pp. 112-17; Matti
Wick, "Kappale Amerikan Suomalaisen Työväen Liikkeen Historia", Lehtipaja
(1928), pp. 159-68.
 The migration of the Finns to British Columbia is traced with some precision in Halminen, Sointula, pp. 5-16. See also the following general studies on the Finns in Canada: Sakari Pälsi, Suuri, Kaunis ja Ruma Maa, Kuvia ja Kuvauksia Kanadan Matkalta (1927), and Akseli Järnefelt, Kanadan Kirje (n.d.).
 Syrjälä, Historia-aiheita, p. 45. See also Halminen, Sointula, pp. 18-19; Voionmaa, Vuosisata, II., pp. 496-98.
 Among the organizers of Harmony Island were M. Halminen, A. Oberg, H. Kilpeläinen, J. Kangas, J. Pelto, P. Hakulin, G. Hermanson, V. Mattson, H. Tanttari, K. Henrickson, V. Rossi, J. Klemola, J. Parkkoomäki, H. Baund, V. Saarikoski, M. Kytömaa, M. Löfbackka, and M. Kurikka. See Halminen, Sointula, p. 70.
 Matti Kurikka, "Tervehdys A. S. Työmiehelle", Työmies Kymmenvuotias, pp. 150-53; Ilmonen, Sivistyshistoria, I., pp. 171-72; Voionmaa, Vuosisata, II., pp. 539-45; Lauri Luoto, "Tuutarin Hollitupa", Työläisen ja Talonpojan Kalenteri (1929), pp. 86-91. Additional information about Kurikka's background was given to the writer by Matti Halminen.
 Kurikka's letter of acceptance, dated June 7, 1900, is published in full in Halminen, Sointula, pp. 16-18. Shortly after his arrival in British Columbia, he persuaded his friend and co-worker A. B. Mäkelä to join him in guiding the affairs of the colony. See Mäkelä, "Muistosana", loc. cit., pp. 147-56.
 "'Kalevan Kansa' is an archaic name for the Finnish people, as the Hellenes is the name of the ancient Greeks." Oberg, op. cit., p. 2. The company was organized under the British Columbia Companies Act, of 1897. The Memorandum and Articles of Association are given in full in English by Oberg, pp. 37-44.
 Neither the charter of the Kalevan Kansan Colonization Company nor the terms of the agreement signed with the Government suggests the Utopian socialist character of the venture. This was, however, clearly manifested in a later agreement between the colony and its members. The latter agreed not to bring the colony's affairs before Canadian Courts because "our outlook is very alien to the legal system of British Columbia and it is very difficult to explain our new principles to outsiders". Halminen, Sointula, p. 112.
 The old plant of the Nanaimo Review was purchased to produce the Aika-lehti, "one or two letters belonging to the Finnish having been added to the fonts". Vancouver Province, April 9, 1901.
 Halminen, Sointula, p. 73.
 Mäkelä, "Muistosana", loc. cit., p. 152.
 Mäkelä complained that "there congregated here for pioneering work persons experienced in urban occupations whose talents could have been utilized only much later. The skilled workers who were badly needed - those experieneed in logging and lumbering - did not stray here in any numbers although there were hundreds of them in the near vicinity". See "Muistosana", loc. cit., pp. 147-56. Kurikka was more critical of the occupational backgrounds of the colonists; see "Tervehdys", loc. cit., pp. 150-53 and Aika-lehti, November 1, 1903.
 Halminen, Sointula, p. 104.
 Translated and abridged by Kalervo Oberg. Quoted from Oberg, op. cit., pp. 22-24.
 As these figures indicate, colonists came and went in considerable numbers. In all, probably more than 3,000 persons participated, for varying periods of time; the average membership was in the neighbourhood of 200. See Aika-lehti, February 15, 1904.
 See Halminen, Sointula, pp. 117-120. In 1903, the income of the colony had amounted to $20,794.78 and expenses to $20,762.40; but its indebtedness at the end of the year amounted to no less than $60,960.39. Oberg, op. cit., p. 25.
 Mäkelä, "Muistosana", p. 151.
 Ibid., p. 153. See also Aika-lehti, November 1, 1903.
 Mäkelä, "Muistosana", p. 153. Halminen, Sointula, pp. 93-99.
 Mäkelä, Muistosana", p. 152.
 Kurikka's version of the conflagration is in Aika-lehti, November 1, 1903.
 Matters were complicated by the fact that the colony owed money to many of its members. At one time these debts totalled almost $22,000. See Oberg, op. cit., p. 30.
 Over a period of years a substantial number of the colonists seem to have purchased or pre-empted land on Malcolm Island. Thus in 1914 the population consisted of "about 250 people, chiefly members of the original Finnish colony". F. E. Leach to the Surveyor-General, November 16, 1914; in Report of the Minister of Lands... 1914, Victoria, 1915, p. D 168.
Published by British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Volume V, No. 2, 1941.
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