By Crow Qu’appelle
(Originally published in Slingshot #123, Spring 2017)
A few years back at the Toronto Anarchist Book-fair, I was browsing tables and came to one full of herbs, salves, homemade patches, and the like. I struck up a conversation with the woman tending her wares, who is a herbalist. Within minutes, she had told me about an intentional community that she is a part of in New Brunswick and had essentially offered me a hectare of land if I wanted to move there… though I would have to live there for four seasons before building a house.
It’s not every day that you get an offer like that. I took her card and told her I would visit… when I got around to it. I hung onto the card for over two years, and now I’m here. I’m not planning to move here, but I am very interested in experiments in community organization. This is a good case study, and unlike most intentional communities that anarchists are a part of, this one is public. They have a website and they’re open to visitors. And did I mention that they’ll give you a free hectare of land?
So, what’s the deal? It’s called a Community Land Trust (CLT)
. It is a way for the land to be owned not by one individual, but by a community as a whole. A CLT is a non-profit corporation created to take land off the speculative marketplace, and place it into a system of trusteeship, thereby retaining the use-value of the land for the benefit of a community. In doing so, CLTs can provide secure and affordable access to land for housing, farming, small businesses, and civic projects.
Without getting too specific, individual residents typically lease the land they build their homes on. Residents make an annual lease payment which helps the CLT pay for property taxes and collectively owned improvements to the land (driveways, wells, etc). The lease may be for a plot large enough for just a house and a small yard, or more extensive, depending on how the CLT members decide to distribute it. The lease contract may last up to 99 years with opportunity for renewal; for all intents and purposes it is just like owning land, without having to shoulder the burden alone. If one wishes to leave the land trust, they may sell any improvements to the land, and transfer over their land title to the membership of the CLT.
It’s truly a beautiful community. It’s definitely not a commune. It’s more of a rural neighbourhood – members of the community have their own houses, gardens, family units, etc… They don’t necessarily interact on a daily basis. They help each other out on an as-needed basis and they come together for meetings, feasts, and socials.
Everything is walking distance, with the houses are clustered around one building. This central hub of the community is called the Knowlesvilles Art and Nature Centre, which is a school. It’s housed in a beautifully renovated old church-house, heated by wood. The classroom is one single room, and also serves as the place where meetings, feasts, and workshops are held. It seems like quite the idyllic locale to raise a family. And that’s what folks are doing.
What inspired me write this article was a zine I found while digging through my host’s impressive collection. It’s called “North East of Mainstream”. It talks about the Falls Brook Free School, which it describes as “a chance to come together and share skills, discussions and ideas” and “a free exchange of knowledge and good will”.
Earlier today, my first day in Knowlesville, I visited two of the founders, who invited me in for pancakes. They told me that the land trust grew out of the Falls Brooks Free School. This lit my mind up with inspiration. You see, what keeps me going is my belief that when people work together in a certain spirit, that spirit will gain a life of its own, and things that one group does today could lead to something ten years from now that never would have happened if they hadn’t been active. In this way I can motivate myself to believe that the things I do are meaningful, even when their results are not evident.
Case in point, Northeast of Mainstream directly states: “The Falls Brook Free School was inspired by the Tatamagouche Summer Free School, which has been bringing together open minds and revolutionizing education for years.” The lineage of inspiration is clear to see. And this community is growing. Kids are growing up here, learning a way of life that is connected to the land. Where will the legacy of the Tatamagouche Free School lead from here? It has a spirit and a life of its own now, which nothing can undo.
Another case in point is La Marche des Peuples Pour La Terre Mere. This 44-day-long walk took place a few years back, and was meant to harness the momentum generated by the anti-fracking movement in Quebec and direct towards anti-pipeline campaigns. The relationships formed over the course of this walk later led to the creation of a large eco-anarcha-feminist social centre in Trois-Pistoles, on the shores of the St. Lawrence river.
L’Auberge de la Greve, as it is known, is a magical place, celebrated in song as “a little paradise”. A few words will not suffice to convey what a beautiful incubator of freedom l’Auberge is, and how many people’s lives it has touched deeply over the past two years. And we can take it further still, for most of its founding members became comrades in the Quebec student strike of 2012, which itself was the culmination of innumerable people’s work over the course of decades… So as I trace the genealogy of the inspiration behind l’Auberge de la Greve, I see how the energy and passion of radicals from the past have been transferred to me, and this realization fills me with gratitude, for to what extent has my life been enriched because of their influence?
This leads me to something that I’ve often desired to convey. That we anarchists are a part of a spiritual lineage stretching back into the ancient wilderness from which we all emerged. We carry the blood memory of what it means to be free, and we have chosen to make our loyalty to that memory the primary focus of our lives. When I honour my ancestors, I honour not only my blood ancestors, but also all those radicals and revolutionaries who came before us, who fought not only for their freedom, but also for ours. As we tread deeper and deeper into the storm of storms, may we remember the courage of those who came before us, that to fight for freedom is to partake of a communion with some of the bravest, most beautiful and most brilliant souls that have ever graced the Earth… and that surely, through many darker days, our forebears maintained faith in the eventual triumph of human decency through sheer force of will.
Let’s honour them. Let’s keep that faith, and let’s keep it strong. If ever the world’s needed it, it needs it now. To indulge fantasies of doom, to wallow in despair, to submit to gloom – these responses are unworthy of us. No matter how hateful and wilfully ignorant some humans might choose to be, I maintain that humanity is fucking beautiful, so help me Goddess, tabernak.
But I digress. Back to Knowlesville. Look, if we’re going to live our values as eco-anarchists, we have to learn to live without fossil fuels. This needs we need access to land. Now you know that there is a place where you can go and begin to live the off-grid dream without having a save up a shit-ton of money first. What’s more, there is an entire community of people who want to help newcomers attain that dream. So what are you waiting for?
My belief is that most people need to experience something before it becomes real for them. Unless you venture out and seek out examples of existing intentional communities, they might seem like a naive fantasy. Once you visit a functional community, it just seems natural that people should live together in such a way. Once you have something to compare it to, it’s capitalism that appears insane. It makes sense for people to share land, resources, knowledge, to help each other out as needed. It’s normal to live together. It’s normal to share – it’s what millions of years of evolution prepared us to do.
So there you have it: an invitation to a new life. Maybe this article will inspire someone to visit Knowlesville, and maybe they’ll decide to put down roots there. Maybe they’ll raise their kids there, and the lives of those kids will be forever altered, along with those of everyone they influence over the course of their lives. Maybe this one article will have a big impact on the lives of many people. Maybe not. Whatever will be will be. What matters to me is that I am able to sustain the belief that my actions carry within them the power to alter destinies.
There’s no telling what the actions that you take today will lead to. If you hold onto your motivation, if you persevere, one day one of the things you do will create ripples beyond what you’d be imagine from your current vantage point. So keep plugging away at what you do in the spirit of total freedom. Surely good will come of it. Trust yourself, take courage, and hold faith in the strength of the vision that we have of the world beyond the wall.