I first heard of Brother XII, né Edward Arthur Wilson, two years ago from Human History curator Dr. Lorne Hammond (see Sound Objects in this issue.) This was one year after moving to BC. I had spent 36 years in Ontario and do not recall ever hearing that name Back East. Lorne recalled this scandalous and juicy chapter of Canadian history and it unfolded for me like a Hollywood film – very comparable in some ways to the central character in the film The Master (2012) portrayed by the talented and tragic Philip Seymour Hoffman. Brother XII, Lorne told me, was the world traveller who becomes mystic, becomes utopian society planner, becomes sex cult leader, becomes “living deity”, becomes fugitive. Amazing!
While looking further into the mysterious Edward Wilson I was happy to find among the BC Archives holdings a recorded interview conducted by Imbert Orchard of one of the original Brother XII followers and colonists. The Imbert Orchard collection in the BC Archives is comprised of about 950 interviews recorded throughout the province in the 1960s, During this time Orchard (né Robert Henslow) had the opportunity to interview a few of the original followers of Brother XII, record them, and subsequently donate the complete documents to the BC Archives.
This oral history is the first hand account of a Brother XII follower before and after the colony’s collapse. Bert Jefferson paints for us a newly imagined and refined portrait of the zealot and a follower. His memory may not be precise but his authenticity is unquestionable.
Listen to Jefferson and he will effectively humanize the larger than life Brother XII who is commonly depicted as a devil, wizard or monster. Contrast and compare it to a portion of the B-movie docudrama produced in Nanaimo at around that time (Warning: some brief nudity.) The disparate interpretations of people and events between the two sources, human versus monster, hustler versus wizard, will just as effectively demonstrate the vital need of a trusted repository such as BC Archives in order to steward the truth when as a province we re-tell and re-interpret these amazing stories from BC History.