Sointula began as the desire of a group of Finnish immigrants working in the Nanaimo area coal mines at the beginning of the 1900’s for a self-sustaining place of their own. The group contacted Matti Kurikka, political philosopher and journalist, to provide leadership. He arrived in Nanaimo in 1900. The Finns founded the Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company, “Aika” newspaper and negotiated with the British Columbia government for land. Kurikka’s friend, A. B. Makela, arrived from Finland to help in the effort.
In 1901 formal arrangements were completed and the Kalevan Kansa was ready to take possession of Malcolm Island – all 28,000 acres of it. The first work party arrived on December 15, 1901 and began to clear the land. In June 1902 the growing commune was joined by a large group of families and individuals for a Juhannus Celebration. During those meetings, Sointula, Place of Harmony, was formally chosen as the name for this new utopia. The community continued to grow. Many of the newcomers were attracted by Kurikka’s ideas: communal ownership, decision making by consensus, equal pay for women and a separate children’s home. By 1903, they had succeeded in completing a large communal building.
Tragedy struck on January 29, 1903. The communal hall burned, killing eleven people and destroying most of the community’s supplies and records. But they refused to be beaten. Financial debt, always a problem, grew ominously. Then, in a poorly considered move, Kurikka bid on a bridge project in Vancouver. The ridiculously low bid was accepted. Most of the men of the commune spent weeks without pay completing the contract. Still, they refused to be beaten.
By late 1904, the relationship between the impractical Kurikka and much of the
colony deteriorated. Matti Kurikka left with about half of the colony. He was never to return. The remaining pioneers, now saddled with the full debt, carried on. The debt proved to be an impossible burden. The Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company declared bankruptcy in 1905.
Still, these Finns did not give up. Calling on their native character, “sisu”, a group remained. Although most of Malcolm Island was returned to the ownership of the British Columbia government, the remaining families could keep their individual plots and homes. It is from this courageous group that the Sointula of today has developed.