Local history intersects with world history, resulting in entanglements. As a resident of our small town of Summerland, I was casually aware of the family surname Logie, as in Logie Road, which winds through an industrial area and some adjacent vineyards. But then I stumbled on to mention of one Jack Logie, and his highly alliterative “Summerland Social Issues Summer School” from the 1920’s. This School, apparently, taught a melange of mysticism, arts and crafts, trade-unionism, and socialism. Wow! Right here? In my bucolic, sleepy, politically conservative small town, which was a mere village in the 1920’s?
Of course I was hooked, and dove right in.
Ok, be patient as we virtually transport to southern Russia, 1831, as Helena Blavatsky is born. Blavatsky masters several languages, travels to India and England, writes prolifically and pioneers a new religious movement called Theosophy. This new Theosophical torch then gets handed off to an Englishwoman, Annie Besant (1847-1933), also a prolific writer, traveller to India, adoptive mother of Krishnamurti, supporter of women’s rights and of various independence movements. Besant gives a lecture in New York, triggering the formation of the American Theosophical movement. Shortly after that, a Canadian chapter is born.
Theosophy is very difficult to pin down, as it ranges from the rational to the occult, with many levels in between. The three Declared Objects of the Theosophical Society are:
- To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
- To encourage the comparative study of religion, philosophy, and science.
- To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity.
Theosophy was simultaneously able to juggle some very diverse ideas: karma, trade unionism, the Sixth Root Race, social activism, Shambala and the Astral Plane. Gee, and I thought we invented karma in the Sixties, and I was sure that Shambala was a suburb of the hippie community of Nelson!
Our story now moves back to Jack Logie, born in Manitoba in 1881, trains as a pharmacist, moves to Summerland and opens a pharmacy. Diminutive, with one bad leg as a result of a childhood illness, Logie dives into community affairs with amazing energy. A talented musician, he forms the Summerland Brass and Reed Band. He is a Noble Grand of the local Odd Fellows, he reads poetry, leads young people on hikes into the mountains, and studies local Indigenous culture.
As the Great Depression sets in, Logie becomes concerned about working people, and is influenced by the rising tide of socialist and Marxist thought. In response he starts a local handicraft group to create pottery, wood carvings and basketry for sale. He builds a log cabin adjacent to the main road, where the crafters can work and sell their wares. Theosophy is in the air at the time, and it is a natural for Logie. He signs up.
Now for an aside, where local events again intersect with national ones. As Logie embraces Theosophy, so do Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley and Lawren Harris, they of Group of Seven fame. In turn, Lawren Harris introduces British Columbia painter Emily Carr to Theosophy.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was chosen to become the Theosophist’s guru, but he eventually breaks away from all organized religions, becoming a powerful and thoughtful force on his own.
But back to Logie. In 1922, Jack starts his School at the log cabin, which runs for ten days each summer. Tents and cots are made available to out-of-towners, and speakers come from all over Canada. Topics range from arts, music and economics, to Marxism, poetry, theater and pottery. A prominent visiting speaker is Reverend. J.S. Woodsworth, the iconic Canadian social activist and founder of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) the progenitor of the NDP.
Meanwhile a group of Theosophists on Vancouver Island create an Aquarian Foundation and build a retreat near Nanaimo. The Foundation transforms into a toxic cult, led by the infamous Brother XII (Edward Wilson), who eventually absconds with a fortune donated by wealthy devotees.
Logie leaves Summerland in 1927. This may have been due to the local press and business leaders, who were of course not thrilled with Jack’s brand of politics, but he definitely left his mark. Jack Logie’s log cabin still stands. I pass it every time I drive from our home down to Okanagan Lake, and it reminds me synthesis is possible: arts and politics, philosophy and crafts can mix to mutual benefit.
Putting aside all the occultist Vedic/Astral/Sixth Race woo-woo bullshit, Theosophy does offer something to this lifelong but pining atheist: the notion of a Secular Divine. That God is actually humans and nature, together.
Theosophists do believe in a secular heaven. Coincidentally, it is called Summerland.