A joyful end to one of the Alternate Community’s evening healing circles, circa 1977, with Richard Vignola, Dianne Wells and Sue Vignola in the centre. (Dianne Wells photo)

A joyful end to one of the Alternate Community’s evening healing circles, circa 1977, with Richard Vignola, Dianne Wells and Sue Vignola in the centre. (Dianne Wells photo)

Column: Shuswap intentional communities in the 1970s

Shuswap Passion by Jim Cooperman

By Jim Cooperman

Contributor

Thousands of young people in North America moved to the country in the late 1960s and the 1970s, with some setting up intentional, cooperative communities, including me.

By the mid-1970s, there were dozens of these communities throughout British Columbia and an organization was formed called the Coalition of Intentional Cooperative Communities (CICC) to share knowledge and build up the movement. Conferences were held quarterly, and a newsletter was distributed after each one.

A contact list in the April 1977 CICC newsletter lists approximately 230 individuals, communities, organizations and businesses throughout the province. There were 14 listed in the Shuswap region, including one in the Salmon River valley, one in Falkland, a few in Grindrod and Enderby and the majority located in the Lumby/Cherryville area.

While in the process of doing the research for this column, it was a delight to discover that I know some of the people that were part of these communities.

One of the best examples of a local intentional community was the Alternate Community near Lumby on Bessette Creek that began when Robin and Ken LeDrew moved to 14 acres and brought some of their artist friends with them from the Vancouver art collective they had been part of in the late 1960s. Robin explains how their community, which was to be based on experimental architecture, went through a number of phases that began with an early dis-organized, anarchistic-like scene with full-moon parties and people living roughly with many hardships.

After spending a year away that included time at a well-organized commune in Florida, they returned with intentions to revamp their community by focusing on more productive and progressive ideals, yet they found their land in disarray, with collapsed domes and the taxes unpaid. The next phase began when Ken returned from Vancouver after taking a course in intentional communities and with him were 30 people eager to begin communal living at the property.

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The group became a well-organized cooperative, with 2-3 meetings per week, at which decisions were made by consensus. All income was pooled, and they shared three vehicles. A huge garden fed everyone, and businesses were started, including a health food store in Vernon, a publishing company and a tree-planting and cone-picking company. With success came the inevitable problem of land ownership and, when the plan to put the land into a trust with everyone owning shares fell through, people left to become established elsewhere on property they owned or rented.

Some people stayed and others came to experience the next phase based on New Age philosophies that included Gestalt Therapy, dream circles and other alternative lifestyles. Today the property is just another family farm, with only a few of the originals left. In addition to her work as an artist, Robin had a successful career in social work and continues to contribute to the wider Lumby community as the president of the local arts council.

Robin remembers hosting one of the CICC conferences at their farm in 1977 and dealing with the logistics of feeding and housing 50 or more people from around the province for a weekend. She reminisced, “We talked endlessly about progressive ideals and how to change the world, but in the end, the world changed us and change happened anyway.” She also noted the irony of how they had to cope with living in what was then a conservative community, while now cannabis is legal and living close to the land has become more mainstream. However, Robin wished that more young people could have similar opportunities today, as living off the land with others builds character and teaches the values of cooperation.

There are many stories from those idealistic times, with more to come in subsequent columns. Perhaps what is most interesting is how history repeats itself. Many of the early settlers that left the cities in Europe to homestead here over 100 years ago for some of the same reasons that inspired us to move onto the land in the late sixties and seventies. Now there are young people who are once again moving to the land to grow food and share the work and the joy of country living.

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The Alternate Community garden, circa 1977. Notice the perfectly formed beds in the back made by a visiting helper from Germany who is the photo. (Dianne Wells photo)
The Alternate Community garden, circa 1977. Notice the perfectly formed beds in the back made by a visiting helper from Germany who is the photo. (Dianne Wells photo)

The Alternate Community garden, circa 1977. Notice the perfectly formed beds in the back made by a visiting helper from Germany who is the photo. (Dianne Wells photo) The Alternate Community garden, circa 1977. Notice the perfectly formed beds in the back made by a visiting helper from Germany who is the photo. (Dianne Wells photo)

Sue Vignola and Robin LeDrew with their red cabbage harvest, circa 1977. (Dianne Wells photo)

Sue Vignola and Robin LeDrew with their red cabbage harvest, circa 1977. (Dianne Wells photo)

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