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The Promise of Paradise: Utopian Communities in B.C.

Chris Blank

written by award-winning journalist Andrew Scott, The Promise of Paradise is a concise book (210 pgs) dealing with a great deal of British Columbia history. Although this is Scott's first book, one would not know it. This is probably due to the fact that, as his bio states, "Scott has published more than 600 non-fiction articles on a wide range of topics." It shows.

promise of paradise book cover Broken down into small chapters, the book reads much like a series of large essays on various attempts at utopian communities or intentional communities. Scott examines William Duncan and Metlakatla, the Finnish Colony of Sointula, the Doukhobors, and more. With each of these groups he examines their roots, history, and looks at where they are today if they actually still exist.

Along the way we become acutely aware that most utopian societies are based around a common set of beliefs amongst its members. Unfortunately in many circumstances this leads to a single charismatic leader which takes control of the minds and hearts of its members. Time and time again struggling communities are destroyed by internal conflict and upheaval due to the actions or death of the "leader."

What is striking throughout though is the extreme optimism of people who strive together towards a common goal. In the early chapters of this book Scott looks specifically at Norwegian and Finnish settlers in B.C. and their unbeatable spirit. The grim determination of these people is astounding and inspiring and amazing to read.

Later in the book Scott moves towards more contemporary approaches, looking at several examples in the Cariboo region. From there he then moves to looking at current arrangements being sought out by many on the coast. Singles, couples, and families of all types seek out intentional communities of sorts within cities such as Vancouver and Victoria. Many of these people live in "pods", share some communal space, and make decisions by consensus. It is a far cry from early utopian experiments, but is a practical and economic approach to living. As well, it provides an excellent extended family for everyone, especially for children.

Although this is a short book it does a good job of pointing the reader to appropriate texts to expand their knowledge on specified topics with. For instance, in the Doukhobor section Scott recommends The Doukhobors by George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic. As well, he recommends John Oliphant's Brother Twelve: The Incredible Story of Canada's False Prophet for a more extensive biographical look at Brother XII and the Aquarian Foundation.

The Promise of Paradise concedes that it is not trying to be all inclusive, and looks at only some of the many attempts at utopian living in B.C.. As well, the book does not examine Native communities and their form of community living to any great extent (to which the text also concedes), but does end with a glimpse of the Nisga'a.

It is incredible that B.C. has such a colourful and intricate history and these stories are wonderful facets. Without a doubt The Promise of Paradise will either have you scoping out the public library for more texts on this fascinating topic, or on the look-out for an intentional community to join and experience for yourself.

published by whitecap books
ISBN 1-55110-622-1

Chris Blank is a Vancouver based writer

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