All Things in Common

A Canadian Family and Its Island Utopia

Reviewd by Nancy Payne

Posted July 10, 2022

What does a historian do when she retires? In the case of Ruth Compton Brouwer, professor emerita of history at Western University, she turns her gaze to the fascinating story of her own ancestors’ efforts to sustain a communitarian settlement in Prince Edward Island in the early twentieth century.

Using lively writing and solid research, Brouwer weaves B. Compton Limited, as it was officially known, into a larger tapestry of utopianism, millenarian Christianity, and United Empire Loyalist migration. Between its establishment in 1909 and its dissolution in 1947, the family and faith-based community ran a lobstering business, sawmill, and farming operations.

Members earned no wages but received everything they needed for a reasonably comfortable life. Although the group’s leaders referred to the book’s titular verse from the Biblical book of Acts — “And all that believed were together, and had all things incommon” — inevitable inequities and the increasing ease of mobility ultimately doomed the effort.

Brouwer doesn’t shy away from discussing tangled sexual and marital relations — the family tree is at times more of a dense thicket — or the abuse of alcohol, but neither does she sensationalize. Black and white photos and a map help readers relate to the people and their unique time and place. 

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This article originally appeared in the August-September 2022 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

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