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Making Place on the Canadian Periphery: Back-to-the-Land on the Gulf Islands and Cape Breton

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Title: Making Place on the Canadian Periphery: Back-to-the-Land on the Gulf Islands and Cape Breton
Author: Weaver, Sharon Ann
Department: Department of History
Program: History
Advisor: McCalla, DouglasWilson, Catharine
Abstract: This thesis investigates the motivations, strategies and experiences of a movement that saw thousands of young and youngish people permanently relocate to the Canadian countryside during the 1970s. It focuses on two contrasting coasts, Denman, Hornby and Lasqueti Islands in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, and three small communities near Baddeck, Cape Breton. This is a work of oral history, based on interviews with over ninety people, all of whom had lived in their communities for more than thirty years. It asks what induced so many young people to abandon their expected life course and take on a completely new rural way of life at a time when large numbers were leaving the countryside in search of work in the cities. It then explores how location and the communities already established affected the initial process of settlement. Although almost all back-to-the-landers were critical of the modern urban and industrial project; they discovered that they could not escape modern capitalist society. However, they were determined to control their relationship to the modern economic system with strategies for building with found materials, adopting older ways and technologies for their homes and working off-property as little as possible. Living in a resource based economy, building a homestead, and cutting firewood favoured masculine strength. The thesis addresses the gendered implications of this way of life, particularly for women. At one extreme, they embraced and came to terms with the traditional roles expected of them; at the other they insisted on conquering both the masculine and feminine roles. Through the study of a newsletter for Denman Island and eye-witness accounts for Cape Breton, we get a glimpse of the fierce commitment back-to-the-landers felt for their new communities and of their willingness to defend their collective rights to clean air, water and soil. The study concludes that geography, demography and culture were instrumental in shaping the eventual integration of the immigrant and pre-existing communities. Everywhere this influx of young and enthusiastic migrants enriched their communities and provided a deeply satisfying way of life for those who succeeded in their newly adopted rural landscape.
Date: 2013-07
Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada

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