Monday April 10, 2017
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 BC's rocky shores. **This episode originally aired March 22, 2016.
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:
- John Oliphant, author of Brother XII: The Strange Odyssey of a 20th Century Prophet
- Justine Brown, author of All Possible Worlds: Utopian Experiments in British Columbia
- Jack Hodgins, author of The Invention of the World
- Aimee Greenaway, Interpretation Curator at Nanaimo Museum
- Christine Muetzner, Community Archivist at Nanaimo Archives
- John Gogo, Vancouver Island musician and composer of The Infamous Devil of DeCourcy song about Brother XII
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 the Royal BC Museum. Used by permission.
- All Possible Worlds: Utopian Experiments in British Columbia by Justine Brown
- The Invention of the World by Jack Hodgins
- October Ferry to Gabriola by Malcom Lowry
- The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut
Audio/Visual Resources Used & Links about Brother XII:
- A website about Brother XII.
- An interactive timeline about Brother XII was created by Eric Espig, former Digital Manager at Royal BC Museum.
- "The Infamous Devil of DeCourcy" - by John Gogo, used with composer/performer's full knowledge & permission.
- A 1969 docudrama about Brother XII: Originally created by Gerry Hill (now deceased) at Yellow Point Lodge and found in Malaspina College Library. Watch a clip from the movie on YouTube.
- Some Royal BC Museum holdings about Brother XII.
Photographs of BXII's old farm on DeCourcy Island, by John Gogo
**This episode was produced by Dave Redel.