A very special event happens every year in November in Sointula – a small community of about 500 souls located on Malcolm Island in British Columbia. Malcolm Islanders celebrate Sointula Winterfest, and like everything else on Malcolm Island, it began many, many years ago. This year in 2014, the 38th Winterfest was put on, and it was bigger and better than ever!
New this year was the three day format. Opening festivities began at 6pm on Friday, November 14 at the local pub – the Whales’ Rub, located in the Malcolm Island Inn. For a $10 cover charge, patrons were treated to smoked salmon set out on almost every table, as well as a chip mix.
Another treat was the wine and cider tasting, with host Blue Moon Winery from Courtenay, and the range to sample from was impressive. Blue Moon specializes in fruit wines, and they are clearly doing something right, because each one I sampled (and yes, I did sample them all!) was excellent. I especially like the pear, but the blackberry was truly outstanding – made from wild blackberries hand picked in the Cowichan Valley.
The evening’s entertainment included a book launch for Bruce Burrows new book – The Fourth Betrayal, which I plan to read very soon, and three musical acts. The first two duos were very good, and played upbeat folk music. The third band, an amazing trio from Victoria called ‘The Red Hot Swing Set’ had everybody bopping to their Django Reinhardt inspired repertoire.
It was clear to see that everyone was looking forward to the Arts and Crafts Fair
that opened at 10am the following day, because we planned to arrive at opening time, and several people were walking down the main street and already filling the parking lot when we arrived. Located in both the Finnish Organizational Hall (FO Hall) and the Athletic Hall, the fair offers an opportunity for local artisans to showcase their work. I was thrilled to find hand knitted wool socks, just the item I was shopping for, and my mother, who came along on the trip, was pleased to find honey from Port McNeill. We both partook in the hot lunch being offered downstairs in the FO Hall – for $10, homemade lasagna, salad and a tea biscuit, as well as a beverage. All were excellent!
We took the afternoon to shop in the Coop store, have tea in the busy Uppercrust bakery and visit the museum. Sointula has a very interesting history – it was settled by Finnish immigrants in 1900 and the meaning of its name is ‘Place of Harmony’. Initially, it was intended to be a sort of Utopia, called Kalevan Kansa, an idea that originated with the early leader of the community, Matti Kurrika. However, a number of his
ideas were unsuited to the conditions people found themselves in and the collective dissolved. Many of the original settlers persevered; staying on and building a community based on common language and
survival, that thrives today and continues to attract those looking for close community ties and natural beauty. We certainly enjoyed the unobstructed view from our lovely accommodation – the Sointula Beach House.
There was more to come that evening – a rousing show in the FO Hall that years earlier, had been built with a first class stage so that community members could provide their own entertainment. The room was filled to capacity for this much anticipated event put on by local talent, the Stagehogs. The MC was delightful and introduced each act; dancing, skits and singing presented in a varied order so that the audience could laugh and be attentive in equal measure. I hadn’t seen home grown entertainment like that in years and it was a true nostalgia trip back to growing up in a small town. The grande finale was the biggest surprise – you don’t know what to expect when four men come out on stage in their bathrobes… known as the Harmony Hot Pots – aptly named as when they opened their robes they were dressed in nothing but cooking pots over their nether regions, that had somehow been rigged up so that by bending their knees, they could swing up the baton and make a good loud ‘bang’. It must have taken a lot of practise!!
I was surprised to see Festival organizer Carmen Burrows in three different hilarious skits that I found out later she had written. What a busy lady – she also took part in the artisan’s fair, MC’d at the Pub the night before and arranged for all of the out of town participants.
I was actually one of those participants; I presented my talk on Yorke Island along with two other authors, Yvonne Maximchuck and Donald Gutstein. We had a small crowd, everyone no doubt worn out by the previous night’s dancing at the Pub, however, it went very well and I enjoyed listening to and meeting with the other writers.
Afterwards, lunch was again offered in the FO Hall and our same cook once more did a terrific job, and went out of her way to make sure we could take lunch with us while we waited in the car for the next ferry.
I am extremely glad that I decided to go to Sointula for the entire weekend – it was great fun. The link to the festival page is here: http://www.sointulawinterfestival.com/ but don’t hesitate to visit Malcolm Island at any time. There are many guest houses, but I know numerous people who love to camp on the east side of the island at Bere Point. Sointula is a place of unique character – a small piece of Finland in the wilderness, a delightful place to visit, filled with delightful people.
Sointula has ferry service from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island. Port McNeill is about a two and a half hour drive north from Campbell River – four hours from Nanaimo. Drivers coming from the BC mainland can get to Nanaimo from either Horseshoe Bay or Tswassen ferry terminals in Vancouver. The nearest airport is at Port Hardy, a half hour drive north of Port McNeill.