Utopianism

In scholarly literature the word utopia refers to two distinct phenomena, which are often related: one of these is the intentional community—a group of persons who establish a community to enact some social purpose, for example to create a more religious or a more co-operative society; the other sense denotes a literary and cultural expression rather than a physical community. In Saskatchewan there have been many intentional communities, some with a clearly utopian flavour, and there have been various expressions of the idea of utopia in political history, books, and painting.

Before White settlement on the plains, the Aboriginal peoples are said to have lived in harmony with the natural world. When settlers began to arrive in the 1880s, many colonies were founded which could be considered intentional communities; in some cases the intention was to preserve an ethnic and/or religious identity, such as the German Catholic colony at St. Joseph’s near Regina or the Hungarian colony at Esterhazy. Many of the Hungarian colonists contributed accounts to a pamphlet which extolled the North-West as a beautiful land of opportunity in order to attract more of their compatriots to immigrate. British settlers founded the “aristocratopia” of Cannington Manor, while a number of young French aristocrats participated in a similar experiment at St. Hubert (Whitewood). Members of the Temperance Colonization Society travelled from Toronto to select the site of what was to become Saskatoon, a community dedicated to the idea of total abstinence from alcohol. A more secular experiment was the Harmony Industrial Association co-operative colony in the Qu’Appelle Valley near Tantallon. Jewish settlers established nine colonies in Saskatchewan, and at the turn of the century the Doukhobors arrived to settle in some sixty communal villages in the eastern parkland. Nearly 2,000 British settlers arrived in 1903 to found the Barr Colony around Lloydminster. A small number of settlers from Boston came in 1906 to establish Bostonia, near Glidden.

Since the settlement period there have been various kinds of intentional community. Undoubtedly the most prominent are the nearly sixty Hutterite colonies located primarily on the western side of the province. After World War II a number of co-operative farms were established, the best known being what is now the Matador Farming Pool, near Kyle. In addition there are part-time intentional communities such as the writers’ and artists’ summer colonies at St. Peter’s, Muenster, and at Emma Lake, and the naturist colony of Green Haven east of Regina. The most familiar form of utopianism is utopian literature. Both the Paynter brothers who established the Harmony Industrial Association went on to write utopian books. Agrarian activist E.A. Partridge’s War on Poverty of 1926 contained a lengthy description of the western Canadian republic of Coalsamao, a co-operative state with a military organization. Another imagined utopia was set out in the so-called Regina Manifesto of 1933, which marked the founding of the CCF Party in Regina. This party dedicated itself to the establishment of a co-operative commonwealth and laid down a framework for a social democratic state which the CCF began to put in place after it was elected in 1944. But utopian ideas can also be expressed in other arts: Saskatoon painter Betty Meyers suggests a co-operative utopia in her 1993 series of paintings called “People pulling Together”; there was a clear utopian theme in Thomas Mawson’s plan for Regina as a garden city; and the architecture of the “Tower of God” at Athol Murray College of Wilcox is meant to represent the ideal of religious tolerance. In some cases utopianism is no more than a name (the Utopia School District, or the town of Edenwold). Many of the intentional communities had aims of self-preservation and prosperity, which is a limited kind of utopianism. However, some looked beyond this to the possible transformation of society, and the most persistent utopian idea is that of co-operation: it inspired the constitution of the Harmony Industrial Association, and fifty years later the Regina Manifesto; it was the philosophy of the Barr Colony as expressed in Isaac Barr’s pamphlets; and it was also the basis of the Matador co-operative farm.

Alex MacDonald


Further Reading

Partridge, EA. 1926. A War on Poverty: The One War That Can End War. Winnipeg: Wallingford Press.