Accidental Eden

THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: Life on Lasqueti Island

New book about the Island and its people will be officially launched on Saturday

Not much is known about Lasqueti.

Which is what makes the Island — one of the least developed of the Gulf Islands — incredibly intriguing. It’s less than an hour ferry ride (walk-on only) from French Creek, but some call it a completely different world.

According to Stats Canada, there are 426 people who live on Lasqueti.

And it’s literally off the grid — the Island isn’t connected to BC Hydro’s electrical power grid, meaning kerosene lamps and wood stoves are rampant.

Today, many perceive it as an enclave of Canadian counter-culture thriving with bucolic peacefulness, untouched nature and a blissful sense of isolation. Others, however, may see the Island as unfettered by niceties or the rule of law.

But two Lasquetians are setting the record straight.

Darlene Olesko and Doug Hamilton have co-written Accidental Eden, a collection of short stories about life on Lasqueti Island.

Olesko said writing the book has been “a labour of at least 10 years.”

Hamilton explains both authors started out writing separate stories about their experiences on Lasqueti Island, mostly set in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“We decided it would be interesting to make a book out of it,” he said. “I didn’t think it would actually happen but it turned out there was a lot of interest in it and to my amazement (a publishing company) picked it up.”

With a masters degree in history from the University of California, Hamilton’s stories are “more academic,” focusing on the political and historical accomplishments of Lasqueti, such as the Islanders’ efforts to convince BC Hydro to re-route the Cheekye-Dunsmuir power line around — rather than over — the Island, changing the way BC Hydro managed its power delivery into rural areas.

Olesko, on the other hand, said she was “more interested in the funny people and the lighthearted lifestyle of the people in the 1970s … I wrote stories and accounts of the activities and the back to the land merit the people who came to Lasqueti shared.”

Olesko said she most enjoyed writing about the eclectic people on Lasqueti as the Island attracted “a flood of counter culture seekers — communards, hippies, utopians, revolutionaries and other exotic characters looking for an alternative lifestyle.”

According to Hamilton, back in the early 1970s when he arrived the Island was “pretty much deserted, full of empty houses and opportunities to negotiate with absentee landowners and make a homestead.”

Hamilton said there were only about 100 people on the Island when he arrived. He said he was “a bit culture shocked.”

“I was working on my masters in the States and there was not much happening by way of jobs. I had to do alternative service for my Vietnam obligations, and I decided I wanted to try something new,” he explains, of how he ended up on Lasqueti. “The whole hippy thing was happening and I was coming to the realization the academic world wasn’t for me so I came here (to Lasqueti) in the fall on 1971 and just loved the place.”

Olesko, who was born in Oregon, said she came to the Island by way of a suggestion from a woman she met in passing.

“I was hanging out in Kitsilano. It was at the time of the Vietnam War, men were being hounded by the draft and we (my friends and I) met a woman — this party girl — who told us about Lasqueti Island,” explains Olesko. “So we came over and paid it a visit and  found a jewel of an Island.”

And since their arrival, the pair haven’t looked back.

Instead, they’ve embraced Lasquetian life, unknowingly collecting an array of stories along the way that would eventually become the foundation for Accidental Eden.

“(Some) people would think we’re a group of people who live in primitive conditions,” said Olesko. “We are pretty close to the earth here — you have to deal with the weather, making your own electricity and moving everything by hand … it’s sort of a different lifestyle … some people think we’re a little bit whacky but we’ve been doing this since our early 20s.”

Since the 1970’s, Lasqueti’s population has quadrupled, but Olesko can still name most of the Island businesses off the top of her head.

“There’s a gift shop, a bar, a school, a fabulous market and a few bed and breakfasts,” she said, noting it’s not really a “tourist destination.”

She said most people who come to the Island are visiting friends or relatives. While it’s a pristine and untouched area, the lack of taxi service has hindered mainstream tourism. However, Olesko notes many people interested in an alternative lifestyle bring their own means of transportation such as bicycles or kayaks.

Asked if they ever get bored, both authors simultaneously said no.

“That’s one thing you learn here — how to pursue your interests,” said Hamilton, who plays in two different bands. “I think there’s such a tight, affectionate loving community here.”

So, why do only 426 people live on the Island?

“I think the biggest obstacle is that you can’t walk into the house and turn on the heat — you have to carry fire wood and if you didn’t cut that wood last year you’re going to be very cold,” said Olesko. “It’s a very physically demanding place to live and you have to have a reasonable fitness level no matter how old you are… if you can’t lug boxes of groceries off the ferry, forget it.”

But despite the unique demands of Lasqueti life, like making your own electricity, both writers take immense pride in their Island.

“It’s full of exotic characters,” said Olesko. “And there’s still something really nice about meeting people who are very different.”

The launch of Accidental Eden is Saturday, Nov. 1 from 1-3.30 p.m. at the Teapot House, Lasqueti Island. It is available at Mulberry Bush bookstore in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

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