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Review

Accidental Eden: Hippie Days on Lasqueti Island

By Douglas L. Hamilton and Darlene Olesko

January 9, 2015

Review By Howard Stewart

A friend said recently that he didn’t think much of the new generation of histories about British Columbia’s “back-to-the-landers” in the 1960s and seventies. Because if you weren’t there, then the stories just don’t mean that much to you. But not all these stories are equal. Susan Safyan recently wrote a pretty good one about the unique alternative community that grew up in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the province, at Wells, where counterculture lifestyles were supported by seasonal employment at nearby Barkerville Historic Town and Bowron Lake Provincial Park. And now Douglas Hamilton and Darlene Olesko have given us another great history, also published by Caitlin Press, about the exceptional collection of gifted, idealistic, stoic, and profoundly eccentric refugees, drifters, misfits, and outlaws who washed up in the middle of the Strait of Georgia, on Lasqueti Island, in these years.

I started out determined to high-grade this book, pigeon hole and dispose of it in a couple of hours. Then I got caught up in the stories. Before I did, it helped me understand better some of the findings in Sharon Weaver’s comparative study of back-to-the-landers on Lasqueti, Denman, Hornby, and Cape Breton Islands. Weaver found that old timers on Lasqueti had been more welcoming to the hippies than they had been on Denman or Hornby. Hamilton and Olesko explain that Lasqueti in these years was a rocky, logged over, and mostly abandoned backwater, down to about fifty residents with a starkly diminished range of options. Any new blood was welcome and this new wave was stimulating new blood indeed. The hippies brought exotic new life into a dying community. They did not care if Lasqueti had no car ferry — they didn’t want one. They didn’t want BC Hydro’s tainted electricity either.

The story of how this tiny, marginal, artsy, counter-culture population way out there in the middle of the Strait stood up to the arrogant BC Hydro giant, then turned Lasqueti into a laboratory for innovative new energy technologies, is worth a book on its own. But then so are the stories about the development of the island’s half dozen alternative neighbourhoods, of how the hippies learned the value of sanitation and electricity, of the budding pot industry (sorry), and of the dour commune founded by Ted Sideras, Lasqueti’s own quirky version of Brother XII.

It’s easy to overwork the adjective “quirky” even before you get to the last third of the book, devoted to some of the island’s most memorable characters in that era. This “people” section helped me understand why friends on Hornby Island in the 1970s, not exactly conformist suburbanites themselves, were awed and more than a little intimidated by the untamed energy of their Lasqueti neighbours. A cast like Countess Kolbassa, Roger Ramjet (Roger Rectum to his enemies), Boho Ron, Brother Richard, the perpetually drunken ferry captain Ian Cole, and all the others might have come together on some other island in the Strait, but I can’t imagine which one. They all thrived on Lasqueti, where some stayed, some died, some remain, and some disappeared never to be heard of again. It would take an exceptionally good novelist to capture the implausibly earthy and psychedelic collage of creative and idealistic humanity that Hamilton and Olesko have given us in their little history.

REFERENCES:

Safyan, Susan. 2012. All Roads Lead to Wells: Stories of the Hippie Days. Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin.

Weaver, Sharon. 2010. “First Encounters: 1970s Back-to-the-land Cape Breton, NS and Denman, Hornby and Lasqueti Islands, BC.” Oral History Forum d’histoire orale 30

Accidental Eden: Hippie Days on Lasqueti Island
Douglas L. Hamilton and Darlene Olesko
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2014. 253 pp. $24.95 paper