The Promise of Paradise

Utopian Communities in British Columbia

Reviewed by Moriah Campbell

March 19, 2018

In The Promise of Paradise journalist and photographer Andrew Scott dives into the history of utopian British Columbia settlements, unpacking 150 years of alternative and experimental communities that have both flourished and failed on B.C. soil.

Scott outlines the philosophical, economic, and religious reasons why so many idealistic colonies found sanctuary on Canada’s West Coast.

One of these colonies was the vision of William Duncan, an English missionary who dreamed of using Christianity to “elevate” the First Nations people of Metlakatla (near Prince Rupert). “By our standards,” writes Scott, “Duncan was an autocrat — paternalist, manipulative, even cruel. But by the standards of the day, he was a success.”

Edward Arthur Wilson, more popularly known as Brother XII, is another religious leader who attracted hundreds of followers to the British Columbia islands of De Courcy and Valdes. In the 1920s, Wilson created a religious cult known as the Aquarian Foundation. Scott writes that it “eventually collapsed in a series of sensational lawsuits, amidst allegations of black magic, sexual misconduct, brutality, fraud, and theft.”

In these episodes and many others, Scott intertwines his personal journey of research and discovery with the histories of these communities. The stories are supplemented with photographs and hand-drawn maps that are helpful to readers who are not well versed in B.C. geography.

This expanded second edition of the book picks up where Scott left off in 1997 and looks at more recent co-housing complexes and eco-villages.

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