How can anyone fail to love a place where little girls can set up a lemonade stand in the middle of ‘town’, unaccompanied by adult supervision, whiling away their summer days and maybe making a little bit of pocket money? How can anyone fail to admire a settlement that still honours the pioneers that founded it more than a century ago? And really, is it possible to not appreciate the sweeping beaches, mountain views, gorgeous trails, the history, in that place? Those are only a few of the things that entranced us during a visit to Malcolm Island and Sointula, the tiny, isolated 600-soul village that is its heart.
Sointula was founded as a socialist Utopian community in 1901 by Finnish immigrants fleeing the brutal and dangerous life of coal miners on Vancouver Island. The Finns settled on Malcolm Island with nothing in the way of job prospects – there was absolutely no industry there – but with the vision of developing a creative and harmonious life.
Ultimately the dream died but many of the Finns, noted for their perseverance and work ethic, remained in Sointula (which in Finnish means ‘place of harmony’). They carved out lives in the fishing and logging industries, raised families, built homes and farms.
One of the most endearing things about Sointula is that it continues to honour that heritage. Finnish is still spoken periodically in the community, some signage and publicity literature includes Finnish translation as well, and there is an excellent museum that illuminates the legacy and hardships of the past.
Although the Utopian ideal didn’t survive there is still a lovely sense of community on Malcolm Island. And for those who think that remote communities may be lacking in things to do, think again.
In addition to visiting the museum – which is staffed almost entirely by volunteers – there are some charming galleries and restaurants to enjoy in Sointula. The Upper Crust Bakery became our favourite spot for a light lunch and delectable goodies, and the Burger Barn proved to be purveyors of some of the best burgers we have ever consumed.
Bere Point Regional Park is a lovely stretch of forest and waterfront. If you are lucky, you might see orca whales rubbing on the beaches in that area. We spent a couple of hours hiking the Beautiful Bay Trail that skirts the shoreline – not what anyone would call a groomed trail but most certainly manageable for anyone who is reasonably fit and wearing a good pair of walking shoes. There are other well-documented trails on the island as well – unfortunately time limitations prevented us from exploring all of them. That’s fine with us though – it gives us an excuse to return some day.
It’s also worth taking the time to explore the beautifully-located cemetery, which is a history lesson in itself. Many of the original pioneers are buried there, overlooking the ocean. It is rather poignant in many ways – there are headstones marking the deaths of everything from hardy pioneers to a mother and four children who died in a disastrous fire that swept through the communal sleeping quarters of the original settlement.
There are sailing charters available out of Sointula, regular organized public events and, of course, there is the delicious opportunity to simply kick back, relax and revel in the spectacular scenery and the peace and quiet of the place.
The Sointula Resource Centre is the ‘go to’ organization for information on the community and on Malcolm Island in general. Their website can be accessed at:
Malcolm Island is located a 25-minute ferry ride across from Port McNeill.
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 50.62716178796512 Long. -127.01726400000001
N 50 37.630 W 127 01.036