Historic home of notorious B.C. cult listed for $2.8M

The former homestead of one of Canada’s most notorious cults is up for sale. The historic island property is largely unchanged since the 1920s, when it served as the reputed "Ark of Refuge" for spiritual leader Brother XII and his Aquarian Foundation.

The farm encompasses just over 99 acres of De Courcy Island, its fruit orchards, forests and meadows making up the bulk of the small B.C. Gulf Island located southeast of Nanaimo.

It was here that Brother XII, born Edward Arthur Wilson in Birmingham, England, established a fortified colony where he and dozens of followers hoped to survive the coming apocalypse.

The island compound was an offshoot of the clan’s original commune in Cedar, on the outskirts of present-day Nanaimo, and eventually grew to include a portion of nearby Valdes Island as well.

The Aquarian colony was bankrolled by early members, many of them wealthy and well-connected socialites from the United States who were enthralled by Brother XII’s spiritual and political utopianism.

But the shine soon wore off the island idyll. The ethic of communalism devolved into backbreaking forced labour for even the colony’s most elderly inhabitants, while Brother XII struck up romantic relationships with the married women among the colony. 

Paranoia took hold and trust in the prophet eroded. Accusations of embezzlement, black magic, abuse and even attempted murder followed. Foundation members grew increasingly suspicious– and then litigious – as their spiritual leader converted their collective wealth into gold coins and buried them around the island.

"Brother XII’s treasure eventually amounted to 43 jars of gold coins, which he shuffled from island to island, hoping to outwit a possible thief," writes John Oliphant, author of the definitive book on Brother XII and his followers. "Many believe that he left his hoard buried somewhere in his island kingdom."

The Aquarian disciples revolted and Brother XII destroyed much of the compound before fleeing to Switzerland, where he either died or faked his death in 1934. His death certificate was signed by a doctor who was a former colony member, and the cult leader was reportedly spotted two years later in San Francisco.

As for the De Courcy Island property today, real estate agent Mark Lester says the listing is drawing interest from prospective buyers who are attracted to both the property’s dark history and its natural beauty.

"It comes down to the character of the island, the nature and character the property itself," Lester says. "Preserving the character of the farm is part of what it is. That’s part of the attraction of any buyer because it’s incredibly unique."

Canadian newspaper magnate David Black bought the property in 2017. According to Lester, the property has not been altered in any way since.

The listing agent says the next buyer is likely someone who "has an appreciation for and embraces its history," adding that any kind of substantial development of the property would be out of character with the island.

"Maybe a residence, a couple of residences, maybe a family compound" would be more appropriate, Lester says.

"What’s interesting is that when we look at the state of the market right now, there are a lot of people who are looking at alternative lifestyle opportunities," he says. "That includes a movement to more rural lifestyles and this is a property that has that in spades."

The De Courcy Island farm is listed for $2.795 million.