Project 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 in Montréal. But partly, too, because she admired the spunkiness of their creators.

Click here to read Jeanne in her own words.

Very little has been written about the built utopian phenomenon in Canada. Jeanne wanted to address that. Unfortunately, when she died in 2009, her ideas and stacks of files, pamphlets, maps, books, photos, and draft essays were in a very early stage of order. Her family approached Brian Osborne, professor of geography at Queen’s University, Kingston, and me, a long-time friend and a professor of urban planning at Ryerson University, now Toronto Metropolitan University. We were asked if something could be done with all the material Jeanne had collected and, if so, could we work toward getting it out to the public. We started — but with other projects on the go, and much reading and reflection needed to grasp the state of utopian history and theory as it related to Canada — this journey is taking far, far longer than either of us anticipated.

Some of Jeanne’s, Brian’s, and my friends, colleagues, and former students volunteered to go off utopia-hunting. We owe much to the enthusiasm of these “Friends of Jeanne Wolfe” who made this a group effort of sorts in the early years. Participants are named in “Acknowledgements” and in some of the settlement profiles. The hunt turned Jeanne’s initial 50 or so settlements into over a hundred to be investigated. Lots remains to be done.

Eventually Brian and I realized we were conceptualizing this legacy project from quite different perspectives. He chose to write a report on the project. For my part, I visited sites across the country, wrote some entries, and spent a lot of time investigating what utopia — that strange, provocative concept — means in a Canadian context. For the project’s time period, which is the seventeenth to mid-twentieth century, the area that became Canada was dominated by competition between the English and French European states over land and resources. That is, our built utopias arose in a context of Christian imperialist states taking over Indigenous territories, with all that that implied. (Please refer to the “About Utopia” page on this site for more information.)