Sointula’s History

Photo: Sointula waterfront, 1930. Sointula Museum Collection, photo #501.


While often associated with Finnish immigrants, the island’s history reaches back to times before European settlement, as acknowledged in its Kwak’wala heritage, where the island is called “T’lat’lask̓udis” – “Seaweed Opposite Beaches” – in the unceded Kwakwaka’wakw -territories of the ‘Namgis, KwakiutlŁ, and Mamalilikala First Nations.

Visitors are encouraged to recognize the rich historic Indigenous presence on the island by exploring the museum’s exhibition of human presence on the island or by visiting the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, to delve deeper into the heritage of the Kwakwaka’wakw Tribes.

Place of Harmony

“Every attempt to create a different kind of society requires the imagination to visualize a life that does not yet exist, and the courage to try and turn it into reality.”
The Story of Malcolm Island’s Socialist Collective, 1901–1905, A Translation of Matti Halminen’s Sointula.

Sointula means place of harmony in Finnish, and its origin reflects a chapter of hard work and utopian dreams. Initiated by Finnish immigrants yearning for self-sufficiency, the community sought leadership from Matti Kurikka, a Finnish newspaper man and utopian idealist. The Kalevan Kansa Colonization Company was established to guide the colony, a Finnish newspaper was started to spread the word, and negotiations with the government secured land on Malcolm Island (28,000 acres). The first settlers arrived on Malcolm Island in December 1901. They came from Nanaimo by sailboat, rowing when there was no wind.

Founding principles of the small but growing community included the equality of women, equal wages, an 8 hour work day, the importance of education, arts and culture and volunteerism. All community decisions were to be made by the citizens, not a government. Sointula still does not have a mayor or council.

Photo: The Young Pioneers of Sointula, a youth group engaged in political activism during their time. Politics played a significant role in the community’s early years, with children introduced to it from a young age. Notice the hammer and sickle flag and the message on the sign demanding better conditions for workers’ children. Leading the group is Aini Daavettila holding the flag, followed by Ted Anderson and Helen Fredrickson. Doris Potts Collection, photo #148.

Possibly the largest tragedy in Sointula history 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 had deteriorated. Kurikka’s departure, accompanied by approximately half the settlers marked a turning point leading to bankruptcy in 1905. Yet, a resilient group, driven by sisu (Trans. Finnish. determination), remained to shape the foundation of today’s Sointula, where the spirit of harmony and hard work still prevails.

Still Here

Over the decades Sointula has welcomed diverse waves of inhabitants. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the counterculture movement brought hippies attracted to the island’s available land, natural beauty and communal spirit. At the same time, the island became a sanctuary for American draft dodgers seeking refuge from military service.

These new residents brought new employment opportunities. Sointula became a hub for tree planters, taking advantage of the thriving logging and forestry industry. Later, a group of Vietnamese settled and started a salal picking group, shipping salal to flower markets in several countries.

Until the 1980s, the majority of Sointula’s population engaged in fishing, boat-building and logging. The island now supports small commercial and home-based businesses and a growing number of those catering to ecotourists. Sointula has always been home to artists, contributing to the vibrant local culture.

Sointula proudly boasts Western Canada’s longest continually operating Co-op store and a museum, along with historical buildings like the Finnish Organization Hall (1911), the Athletic Hall (1931), and a school. Although many descendants of the initial settlers remain, the once predominantly Finnish-speaking community has transitioned to primarily English.

Today the Island is home to around 600 permanent residents with a wide variety of skills and interests, such as painters, carvers, sculptors, dancers, musicians, exercise buffs, gardeners, forestry workers, fishers and busy retirees. These varied influences have contributed to the community’s dynamic and inclusive character, reflecting its ability to embrace and adapt to different waves of residents over the years.


plan your visit

Every journey to Sointula begins and ends with a boat trip – it’s part of the adventure!