Marlene Costley washing clothes by hand in front of the tool shed they lived in during their first summer at Filbert Hill. (Lorne Costley photo)

Marlene Costley washing clothes by hand in front of the tool shed they lived in during their first summer at Filbert Hill. (Lorne Costley photo)

Column: Remote North Okanagan-Shuswap community for the common good

Shuswap Passion by Jim Cooperman

By Jim Cooperman

Contributor

Located 25 kilometres east of Enderby along the Shuswap River is Kingfisher, home to one of the most spirited communities in our region.

On the opposite side of the river from Mabel Lake Road, the homesteads are quite isolated because there are no bridges, and this is where two “back-to-the-land” groups set up in the 1970s.

In 1974, Brian Lussin was finishing his education degree while also teaching in Vancouver when he decided to join his friends, the Bemisters and Liftons, who had formed the “Common Good Co-op,” which had a goal to set up an intentional community focused on building log homes.

They found an abandoned homestead on the isolated side of Shuswap River, which they applied to the NDP government of the day, that was supportive of cooperatives, to lease the land. Rather than wait for the paperwork to be formalized, they began building their first log home on the property, which was extremely challenging given that all their supplies and equipment had to be ferried across the river.

In part through the group’s connection to the Coalition of Intentional Cooperative Communities, more young people joined them that summer. A mobile dimensional sawmill was purchased initially to cut lumber for the log homes, but when the group needed income it was set up at a large sawmill site along the road to cut timbers and railway ties. Members also worked at construction jobs and since the Co-op was a legal entity, it was used to hire members for a few weeks and then lay them off so they could collect unemployment insurance.

When the NDP lost the election, their dream of eventually owning the homestead was dashed, along with the provincial government’s support for the co-op movement. Their completed log home had to be dismantled and was moved to the north side of the river. Brian purchased a new sawmill that he ran until 1989 when he returned to teaching. He and his wife Sue became stalwart members of the Kingfisher community and continue to live there today.

Lorenzo’s Café was a long-time fixture in the local live music scene until it closed its doors in 2019. The café’s proprietor, Lorne Costley and his wife Marlene, first moved to the Shuswap in 1972 and initially stayed at the “Dirty Dirt Farm” near Falkland, but they were frustrated with the politics involved in living with seven other people who each had a different idea about how to utilize the property. They then found their ideal property at Kingfisher, an old homestead with decaying buildings and an overgrown filbert orchard that had been planted in the 1940s.

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Their first summer was spent living in the old tool shed that had a cedar bark roof with grass and moss growing on it. They named their property Filbert Hill and began building a cedar-shaked dome but, for their first winter, they rented a cabin on the north side of the river. In the following years, their friends the Koops and Brent Schindell joined them as property owners and their farm became a community, with each family building their own homes and growing their own gardens.

While the filbert nut harvest did provide some income, they depended on their tree-planting and logging jobs to pay the bills. Lorne remembers how they had “boundless energy, enthusiasm, optimism and ideas,” but what was key to their persistence in the face of so many challenges was their youthful “naiveté.” Despite the lack of electricity, phones and good access, they enjoyed their privacy and their many work parties, pot-luck dinners and music nights. They had an old work horse for hauling wood and supplies and used a 1952 army truck to cut their hay.

Slowly, Lorne’s partners drifted away to pursue their careers. Brent became a successful musician and won a Juno with the Gerry Doucette band, while Greg Koop formed a construction company. Finally, in 1979, Lorne moved to Enderby to start his Filbert Hill furniture manufacturing business. The farm became a summer get-away spot, even though the buildings decayed, and the dome collapsed, due in part to the triangles that were fastened with filbert twigs instead of bolts. In 1998 the property was sold, putting the final end to another intentional, back-to-the-land community dream in the Shuswap.

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The Filbert Hill mortgage burning party. (Lorne Costley photo)

The Filbert Hill mortgage burning party. (Lorne Costley photo)

Filbert Hill dome and outbuildings. (Lorne Costley photo)

Filbert Hill dome and outbuildings. (Lorne Costley photo)

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