Norbert Maertens, the ‘scrollen apostle,’ giving a talk in the early 1970s. (Norbert Maertens photo)

Norbert Maertens, the ‘scrollen apostle,’ giving a talk in the early 1970s. (Norbert Maertens photo)

Hidden North Okanagan-Shuswap valley home to a European intentional community

Community members helped resurrect Cherryville’s status as ‘Hammock capital of Canada.’

Shuswap Passion

By Jim Cooperman

In the early 1970s, Norbert Maertens, a computer engineer from Belgium, travelled the world for business and developed an interest in intentional, ecologically based communities.

He became an advocate and gave talks about environmental issues and eco-friendly lifestyles throughout Europe, using giant paper scrolls (left over from computer plotters) for a visual aid, and thus earned the nickname, “scrollen apostle.”

His message was based on the “back-to-the-land” vision of those times, that a change in lifestyle based on harmony with nature was needed in order for humanity to live sustainably on our planet.

As more people became inspired by the vision, a small collective formed known as the Genesis Community.

When their hobby farm in Belgium used as a gathering center became too small, some moved to the south of France, where they found the area’s rural traditions were incompatible with their New Age aspirations.

Consequently, they looked for a more progressive country and only the Canadian embassy responded in due time.

After receiving visa approval to set up in Canada, the next step was deciding where to settle.

Using the I-Ching as a medium for divination, the answers to their questions indicated they were to move to a western “city of fruit.”

A pendulum was used to find the exact point and it stopped over the small Shuswap community with the apropos name, Cherryville.

In 1978, Norbert along with an initial group of communards mostly from Belgium, arrived in Vernon where they camped at Kalamalka Lake.

While purchasing supplies at the local natural foods store, Sunseed, they met Robin LeDrew.

He invited the entire crew to live at the Alternate Community near Lumby, which had recently been vacated by the previous group of back-to-the-landers.

It did not take long for them to realize that for their sizable group, they needed their own large parcel of land.

A chance encounter with a farmer named Bud Lucas, who was fixing his truck in the parking lot of the Cherryville Community Centre, resulted in the group purchasing his 185-acres known as the Workshare Farm.

Coincidentally, Bud had been living in a U.S. commune that supported itself by making hammocks, which Norbert had visited during his tour of U.S. intentional communities.

During the time the Workshare Farm transitioned into the Genesis Community, Bud stayed on for several months and helped to resurrect their hammock industry to help the new community prosper, which for a time made Cherryville the “Hammock capital of Canada.”

To provide additional income, the group made barrel wood stoves and solar food dryers, grew alfalfa sprouts and greens for the local stores and made tofu and tempeh.

Read more: Column: Shuswap intentional communities in the 1970s

Read more: Column: The 1980s were the golden years for the Lee Creek Harvest Festival

As more community members came from Europe, the building restrictions on designated ALR land became an obstacle, and they searched to find a larger, more remote location.

Eventually, Bear Valley, a secluded property at the end of a public road between Lumby and Cherryville, surrounded by forested Crown land and away from it all, was purchased and renamed the “Hailos Community.”

The 640-acre valley, with large fields, fertile garden areas and a small lake offered the perfect place to live sustainably, in harmony with nature.

The remote location was a major challenge for the Europeans who lived there without hydro and phones while enduring long winters and language and cultural barriers.

Many faced emigration problems and had to return to their country of origin.

As more Canadians came on board, the community persisted and more buildings were constructed.

They included a geodesic dome and an octagonal log building to serve as a community center.

Despite their isolation, Hailos engaged in various outreach programs, offering classes and workshops in Bear Valley and organized the 1985-87 Spring Festivals of Awareness in Vernon.

After eight years, members began to lose interest in community living and drifted away, which resulted in lack of maintenance to the buildings.

Eventually the land was sold and today, Bear Valley is an artist retreat centre.

Norbert moved to Lavington, where he continues to live close to nature based on voluntary simplicity, while remaining active in various environmental organizations and movements.

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Shuswap Lake

 

The Solstice Celebration at the Hailos Community in 1987. (Norbert Maertens photo)

The Solstice Celebration at the Hailos Community in 1987. (Norbert Maertens photo)

The initial Genesis Community in 1978. (Norbert Maertens photo)

The initial Genesis Community in 1978. (Norbert Maertens photo)

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