Sointula – still a place of harmony – offers a warm welcome

Looking towards Sointula from Rough Bay

Looking towards Sointula from Rough Bay

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.

Quadra Queen ferry on the way to Sointula, British Columbia

The Quadra Queen services Sointula and Malcolm Island from Port McNeill

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 many beautiful sweeping beaches to be found on Malcolm Island

One of the many beautiful sweeping beaches to be found on Malcolm Island

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.

Lemonade stand at Sointula, Malcolm Island, British ColumbiaAlthough 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.

Gillnet rugs were designed by a Sointula resident in the 1950s and are still unique only to the community. This display can be found in the excellent museum

Gillnet rugs were designed by a Sointula resident in the 1950s and are still unique only to the community. This display can be found in the excellent museum

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.

The beautifully maintained cemetery is the final resting place for many of Malcolm Island's pioneers - a history lesson in itself

The beautifully maintained cemetery is the final resting place for many of Malcolm Island’s pioneers – a history lesson in itself

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.

Sunset at Mitchell Bay, Sointula, Malcolm Island, British Columbia

Sunset at Mitchell Bay, near Sointula on Malcolm Island

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.

Malcolm Island is progressive in a good kind of way

Malcolm Island is progressive in a good kind of way

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:

http://www.sointulainfo.ca/

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

 

Shirley

About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers. In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.
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One Response to Sointula – still a place of harmony – offers a warm welcome

  1. Vicki says:

    thank you for this post.. I have been thinking of visiting Sointula so your post is very timely. thank you for the link to the website.

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