An isolated settlement, a charismatic cult leader, and a dominatrix...


I've spent my weekend immersed in 1928 Nanaimo. Brother XII, the infamous "Devil of Decourcy Island" has been the subject of my most recent obsession. For CBC's The Doc Project, I created a 20-minute audio story called "Searching for Brother XII" that attempted to separate myth from truth in regard to this charismatic cult leader who represents one of the oddest chapters in British Columbian history. The outcome... I found it to be largely impossible. So many stories have grown up around this fascinating character that it is difficult to say who he really was. What we do know is that at one time, he had over 8,000 followers worldwide. He backed an American presidential candidate, and started a commune on Vancouver Island, near Nanaimo. He is reputed to have mistreated his followers, and taken up with a dominatrix. When his corruption eventually became known to his followers, he stole all the gold he had amassed, and made a dramatic escape to Switzerland.

The story made me think about the complex relationship between truth & fiction. This is a story so strange -- if you made it up nobody would believe you. Even when you try to tell it straight -- no embellishments -- it is fairly jaw dropping. But if you believe the rumours, if you read between the lines of the historical record, it's even more exciting. My own storytelling approach has been to try & paint an audio picture. I managed to dig up some great archival interviews about him, and was lucky to come across this song, written by Nanaimo musician John Gogo.

Phase II of my Brother XII obsession involves a 50-minute audio doc for CBC's IDEAS program, looking at the relationship between the BC landscape, and Utopian dreamers like Brother XII. Wish me luck!


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