Many communes have come and gone. Fiddlehead Farm on Powell Lake, the Finnish socialist utopia of Sointula, the hippie co-op in the rural community of Headquarters, to name a few.
Founded on idealism and a desire to live differently, they attract people of similar views and often others who can’t live in the conventional world. Eventually, the passion that drove the community burns out, and differences in opinion and vision can put the nail in the coffin.
One of the strangest was Poole’s Land, along McKenzie Beach Road near Tofino.
In 1988, Ontario-born Michael Poole bought 17.5 acres of rainforest for $50,000. He spent every penny he had. Poole allegedly told people he saw this land in a dream.
It was a crazy time. The War in the Woods over old-growth logging in Clayoquot Sound was about to ignite. Poole was 36 years old.
Poole wanted to use his land as an anarchist experiment. He lived in a trailer. People started showing up. University grads, people from broken homes, and others who simply wanted to drop acid and drop out of society. Poole offered them a place to live in exchange for helping to build boardwalks, composting toilets, and grow gardens of marijuana.
Over three decades, more than 20,000 people visited and stayed at Poole’s Land. It was the subject of bylaw complaints, documentary films, and the attention of people who wanted to party in the rain forest.
There were rules, like no hard drugs, no violence, respect all beings, and recycle what you use. But still, Poole’s land would open its door to people with addictions. New residents were celebrated by smoking a peace pipe.
It also became a haven for victims of the escalating affordability crisis. Poole provided shelter for people who couldn’t afford anywhere else as Tofino’s housing prices and rents spiralled upwards. Poole’s Land became home for many workers in Tofino, particularly for seasonal workers working over the summer months.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make it in Tofino if I didn’t have Poole’s Land to land in,” Rachel Leghissa, a sales coordinator with Best Western Hotels & Resorts, told The Capital Daily. “I went out to Tofino for two weeks, thinking I could just kind of park anywhere and live, and then learned quickly when I got woken up by the bylaw… So I started asking everyone that I met where I could park.”
She ended up living for a month at Poole’s Land where she met her future husband, Aaron.
For years Poole’s Land evaded fines. The District of Tofino overlooked the illegal dwellings. But in 2019, Poole got three $1,000 fines for zoning violations. Poole’s Land was becoming a destination itself, a place where you could live for free and be paid in drugs, according to a Vice documentary and blog article.
Poole was getting burned out. He had begun to consider selling or leasing the land. But he never got around to it.
In 2020, Poole died of prostate cancer, leaving the land to his kids Lily and Clay. The dream died with him. Poole’s Land closed in March, 2020.
“He lifted a lot of young people up. He gave a lot of people a home,” Cameron Dennison, radio host and friend of Poole’s, told The Capital Daily.