The Commons: Reflecting on Cooperative Living Settlements

What were Maple Ridge’s two cooperative settlements?


  • 1896c – “Canadian Co-operative Society” enters four acres of Twigg land at confluence of Stave and Fraser Rivers.Settlement named “Ruskin” after discussion group run by Charles Whetham, local interested in social reform
  • 1897 – school is erected beside co-operative sawmill, store, garden
  • 1898 – school moved to NE corner of Whetham property and post office opens
  • 1898 – co-operative fails after low water on the Stave robs them of supply logs
  • 1899 – Heaps Co. of Vancouver possesses the machinery and equipment of the Ruskin cooperative

Webster’s Corners

  • 1900c: Kurrika and other Finnish socialists arrive on Malcolm Island.  Sointula: “Haven of Harmony”·1904: distintegration of the Sointula group after indebtedness cannot be cured, dissatisfaction with the land’s productivity, fire in one of the communal dwellings kills eleven.
  • 1905 “January 1” – first settlers from Malcolm Island arrive with Matti Kurrika, pursuing a shingle bolt contract
  • Association formed: the “Sammon Takojat” (meaning forgers of the place of the Sampo). Begin shingle bolt cutting, opportunistic fishing season.
  • Raise capital to purchase 159 acres around Webster’s Corners school. Price $2,700. Name compound “Sampola”: haven of the Sampo.
  • 1913: Sampola commune disbands – Sammon Takojat dissolved. Property subdivided among participants.
The Sampola commune. At left is the farmhouse which already stood on the property in 1905. [P01580]

What distinguishes cooperative settlement from typical settlement patterns of the era?

Cooperative settlement is based on the idea of the supremacy of “the commons”. What this means is that the community interest is considered more important than the will and interest of an individual within that community. The labour and resources of each member of the settlement may be shared in a variety of ways. In a true cooperative, the surplus or debt of the community resulting from its activities is shared by all members. Cooperative settlements come in degrees: in some, fully communal settlements, all members live and work together, while in others each family may live separately and keep private possessions. The crucial element distinguishing cooperative settlement from settlement under the provincial and federal land acts is that members of a cooperative association agree to pool most or all of the benefits of their labour for community purposes. Both examples of cooperative settlement in Maple Ridge evoked aspects of “utopian socialism”: a philosophical movement influenced by progressive Christianity in northern Europe from the 16th century on.

Who chose to settle cooperatively?

Maple Ridge hosted two cooperative settlements around the turn of the twentieth century. These settlements were located in Ruskin (circa 1896—1899) and Webster’s Corners (1905—1913).  At Ruskin, the settlers were English-speaking members of a limited company formed to run a saw mill on the Stave River.  At Webster’s Corners, Finnish-speaking immigrants set up a cooperative society, the Sammon Takojat, to work a quarter-section farm, the Sampola. The name “Sammon Takojat” loosely translates as “forgers of the place of the Sampo”, while Sampola means “haven of the Sampo”. The Sampo is a vessel of good fortune in Finnish mythology, which in the epic poem Kalevala is presented as a mill that could produce grain, salt, and gold magically.

Mini (L) and Urho Teppo, with their children at Webster’s Corners. Urho was president of the Sammon Takojat at the time of its dissolution. [P04719]

How did the cooperative settlement end? What caused the end?

Cooperative settlements were short-lived in Maple Ridge. The Canadian Cooperative Society at Ruskin was disbanded in 1899, only three years after its formation. The cause was reportedly a bad timber season on the Stave, which made the society default on its payments for the logging machinery. The mill site and equipment were possessed by the Heaps Logging Company of Vancouver, which reopened, expanded, and operated them in conjunction with a logging railway extending throughout the Ruskin and Whonnock areas. The Heaps enterprise had also failed by 1914.

The Sammon Takojat, founded 1905, was disbanded voluntarily in 1913 when the population of Sampola had grown to the point the effort could no longer be self-sustaining. The access of the commune to resources like timber which supported their effort also diminished as settlement accelerated in the Webster’s Corners area and more land was occupied. The members of Sampola were each granted a portion of the commune to be disposed of as they wished. Many stayed in Webster’s Corners and continued to support Finnish cultural life and pro-labour politics there. The resilience of the community and its commitment to certain core ideals was demonstrated by the fundraising and construction of the Sampo Hall 1915-1916. The Finns of Webster’s Corners were also instrumental in setting up a communal waterworks to service the cluster of farms near the Kanaka and, starting in 1923, a consumers’ co-op which allowed them to buy and sell farm goods at wholesale prices. During the Depression, some Finnish emigres left Maple Ridge to pursue a utopian society being set up in Karelia, a northeastern province of Finland that was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1940.

Are there lessons for us in this experimental way of living?

The idea of cooperative settlement is at once easy and difficult to grasp. As a society we have deeply-held ideas about the implications of socialism and about the individualism and strength we imagine our ancestors demonstrated. It is important to remember that not all efforts to enter the land in Maple Ridge followed this rigid idea of “pioneer” independence. Nor did those private families believe or act as if they were totally alone on the landscape. The romance of independence and self-sufficiency was imaginary throughout Maple Ridge, which was mainly settled so that its natural resources could be developed and their products sold elsewhere.  Cooperative effort, whether announced or implicit, was required to do this. In Webster’s Corners, cooperative ideas about society continued to hold and be expressed by the community that outlasted the commune. The people of cooperative settlements all expressed dissatisfaction with the ways and means of industrial society, and sought to correct what they saw as the harms inherent in it by vesting the benefits of economic activity in the community at large. In their dedication to community and promotion of work ethic, their values were not particularly different from our own.

Matthew Shields