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Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Finnish/Canadian Community History


Sointula is a community of about 800 people on Malcolm Island, off the east coast of northern Vancouver Island. It is known locally, nationally and internationally as a community founded by Finnish Utopian socialists in the beginning of the 20th century, and as a fishing and logging community that established and continues to this day the oldest co-operative store in Western Canada.

The Sointula Museum Project was multi-dimensional with four outcomes:

  • An exhibition of photos and art representing the history of Sointula since its founding in 1901/02. This exhibit, entitled "100 Years in Photographs," was on display at the brand new museum extension at the Sointula Centennial Celebrations in May 2002 and was made available for local travel during 2003.
  • The development of a computerized museum database with entries for the museum's objects, documents, old publications and photographs.
  • A museum web site with images and curatorial data from the exhibition, along with more visual and narrative material from the museum database.
  • A publication on the history of the co-operative movement in Sointula, using new material from the museum archives.

On Sointula, Tom Roper worked with a group of volunteers who formed the 'Photogroup': Dave Siider, Lenny Pohto, Loretta Rhitamo, Kay Kennedy, Diane Carley, and Kelly Edwards. Community members of three generations approached friends, family and neighbours for photos of historical interest in their personal or family archives and stories that accompany them. Numerous photos were collected along with those in the museum collection, and were scanned for the museum database. Oral histories related to the people in the photographs have been collected and transcribed.

In Victoria, UVic researchers from the Dept. of History in Art looked at photographs as well as Sointula art and architecture in the context of the history of the founding and development of Malcolm Island. They contributed a small publication to accompany the museum exhibition.

Aika was a newspaper published by the Sointula commune from 1901 to 1905. It was the first Finnish language newspaper in Canada, and was important as the voice of the commune. Its primary editor and contributor was Matti Kurikka, socialist leader of the commune. However, Aika was never translated into English in any large part until just recently. Through the combined efforts of CURA and Finnish Ambassador Ristimaki, some 300 translated pages are now available at the Sointula Museum. They include major philosophical articles, Kurikka's controversial ideas, and day-to-day events.

The translations, as well as original issues of Aika , are available at the museum. In addition, arrangements can be made for a CD of the translations. To order copies of Aika or a CD, please contact the Sointula Museum at .

Researchers from the British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies (BCICS) at UVic explored the history of co-operatives and other civil society institutions and traditions in Sointula. They prepared accounts of the various co-operatives in Sointula's history, incorporating them into a book that re-evaluates some of the ideological dimensions of that history and explores how they link to current developments on Malcolm Island, including some of the recently formed co-operatives. This publication, Practical Dreamers: Communitarianism and Co-operatives on Malcolm Island , was written by graduate student Kevin Wilson and was published in the fall of 2005. It is available from the Sointula Museum or from BCICS at UVic.

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