Background

This project was started by Jeanne M. Wolfe. Its continuation is a tribute to her. For over 30 years, Jeanne visited and read about utopian settlements in Canada and elsewhere. They fascinated her from several angles, partly because of her professional work as an urban planner and professor of planning at McGill University. But, based on many conversations with her, I think she especially┬áliked utopias because they show spunkiness — their creators don’t unhappily stay put and simply “dig the same hole deeper,” in Edward de Bono’s words. They reject whining as a solution to misfortune or to being at odds with society.

Because very little had been written about the built utopian phenomenon in Canada, Jeanne set out to fill that gap. Sadly, she died in 2009 and left her ideas and stacks of files, pamphlets, maps, books, photos, and so on in the early stage of order. Her family approached Brian Osborne, professor of geography at Queen’s University, Kingston, and me, a long-time friend and former student of hers and a professor of urban planning at Ryerson University, Toronto. We were asked if we thought something could be done with all the material Jeanne had collected, and if so would we attempt to bring it to the public. Our reply was yes. However, we necessarily had to squeeze this project in among our existing commitments. In addition, neither of us had more than a general background in utopian thought and practice. Therefore, a great deal of reading and reflection was needed to find a way to understand utopias in Canada, and to contextualize them within the country’s development. Needless to add, this journey has taken far, far longer than either of us anticipated.

Click here to read Jeanne in her own words.

Some of Jeanne’s, Brian’s and my friends, colleagues, and former students volunteered to go off utopia-hunting, whether or not they had ever known Jeanne. We owe much to the enthusiasm of these “Friends of Jeanne Wolfe” who made this partly a group effort. Participants are named in the Acknowledgements, and their contributions are also identified elsewhere on the site. The hunt turned Jeanne’s initial 50 or so settlements into several hundred.

Eventually Brian and I realized we were conceptualizing this legacy project from quite different angles. He decided to prepare a report on this project. For my part, this website reflects what I have made of Jeanne’s original idea, embellished by my own investigation into what in the world utopia, that strange, often provocative concept means in a Canadian context.