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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The impact of alternative ideology on landscape : the back-to-the-land movement in the Slocan Valley Gower, John Gordon


Like many North American resource-based rural communities, the Slocan Valley in southeastern British Columbia experienced a decline in its population and economy during the first half of this century. However, in the late 1960s, mainly young, well-educated and often idealistic members of the back-to-the-land movement began to re-settle the area. The influx reached its peak in the mid 1970s, and at a diminished level, continues. Currently this group of recent settlers comprises approximately one-quarter of the valley's population of 5000. Drawing on data from participant observation in the area and personal interviews with members of this influx, this thesis first examines why and how these people came to settle in the Slocan. It finds that they moved for many different reasons: repelled by the "rat-race" and pollution of the cities, and the violent politics of the 1960's; or attracted by the prospects of a personally-meaningful and satisfying existence in the country-side. Whether driven by an individualistic or visionary quest, all subscribed to some extent to a back-to-the-land ideology which advocated a low-consumption, but highly diverse, lifestyle - close to nature and in touch with the land, independent politically and economically from the larger society, and in a community of like-minded rural neighbours. Secondly, the thesis traces the evolution of personal lifeways and the development of community life in the twenty years since the resettlement began. As the newcomers encountered difficulties living in the Slocan they made compromises. As a result, their lifestyles are no longer as clearly "alternative" and most have reentered the "system" to some degree. Increasingly though, their values have found expression in specific causes, issues or projects which have altered the course of evolution of the Slocan, and left a lasting legacy of concrete accomplishments and changed attitudes within the larger geographic community. The settlers’ impact has been particularly noticeable in issues regarding land and resource use, the diversification of the regional economy, and attempts to attain local political autonomy. Finally, the thesis attempts to assess the significance of the back-to-the-land movement to the Slocan, and then to society as a whole. The Slocan in the 1990s is at a bifurcation point, and must choose its destiny from a range of divergent, and often conflicting, alternatives. Whether the area pursues a sustainable path, in which the viability of the local community and integrity of the environment are protected and enhanced, depends largely on which of the two competing ideologies (industrial versus post-industrial) currently represented in the Slocan prevails. In this regard, the Valley is a microcosm of the broader society: the experiences there show where both the opportunities and impediments lie in our search for a truly sustainable society.

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