The Dream of Brother XII

Sun-dappled paradise in summer, sodden purgatory in winter, the ruggedly beautiful British Columbia coast has long attracted utopian visionaries. Case in point: Edward Wilson, better known as the infamous religious cult leader Brother XII, a wayward 1920s theosophist at the centre of one of the most bizarre interludes in Canadian history. Jen Moss explores what happens when lofty ideals crash against B.C's rocky shores.
The dormitory and grounds of Brother XII's old farmstead on De Courcy Island, BC. (John Gogo)
Listen to the full episode53:58
Sun-dappled paradise in summer, sodden purgatory in winter, the ruggedly beautiful British Columbia coast has long attracted utopian visionaries. Case in point: Edward Wilson, better known as the infamous religious cult leader Brother XII, a wayward 1920s theosophist at the centre of one of the most bizarre interludes in Canadian history. Jen Moss explores what happens when lofty ideals crash against BC's rocky shores. **This episode originally aired March 22, 2016.

Brother XII biographer John Oliphant describes his popularity at his peak 0:52

 

For hundreds of years British Columbia has attracted all manner of utopian idealists: each set on building their own version of a better society. Needless to say, most of them changed their minds when they encountered the harsh reality of the BC coast.

From obscure Christian cults and arcane theosophists to determined back-to-the-landers and intentional communities of all kinds, BC probably has a greater percentage of failed utopias than any other province in Canada. Why so many? And why do so many of them go so wrong? Is it merely the environment itself? Or is it something deeper that causes these carefully constructed dreams to collapse?


"The problem is that utopian communities are implicitly a critique of those outside the community. So they make enemies quickly. Unfortunately they are often dependent on the people around them to sustain them." 
-- Justine Brown


"Brother XII changed. Originally he was a humble man, and many people were impressed by him and his message. But gradually he became corrupted and you could say it was money, sex, and power that corrupted him. That's a simplistic version that's so typical of cult leaders." -- John Oliphant


Edward Wilson -- Brother XII -- became the de-facto king of his Aquarian Foundation colony in the woods near Nanaimo, the first outpost of which he dubbed "Cedar by the Sea." At his peak, he had over 8,000 followers in Europe, Canada, and The United States. Swamped with donations from wealthy fans eager to fund this worthy social experiment, he hired crews of local builders, and expanded the colony onto nearby De Courcy & Valdes Islands. 
 


Participants in the episode:

The documentary also features the voice of Bert Jefferson, a former member of Brother XII's Aquarian Foundation. He was recorded by Imbert Orchard in the 1960s, and the interview is now part of the archives of theRoyal BC Museum. Used by permission.  


Books cited: 


Audio/Visual Resources Used & Links about Brother XII:



Photographs of BXII's old farm on DeCourcy Island, by John Gogo 

Arriving at the dock on DeCourcy Island. (John Gogo)


Old tool shed at BXII’ s farmstead on DeCourcy Island (John Gogo)


View from a window at the old residence on BXII’s farmstead (John Gogo)


Vancouver Island musician & amateur historian John Gogo (Jen Moss)



 

**This episode was produced by Dave Redel.

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