Celebrating 50 years of back to the land

On the evening of March 30 a Fiftieth Birthday Party was celebrated at the Killaloe Lions Hall; however, this party was not to celebrate a person nor any single group. It was to celebrate all the Back to the Land immigrants to this area and the people who welcomed them. In 1969 Robbie Anderman and Mike Nickerson purchased a plot of land in the rolling green hills between Wilno and Killaloe. One of their guests painted “Morninglory Farm” on the new mailbox while their backs were turned and the name has remained. He and his wife of 38 years, Christina, have opened up their property over the years to friends who wished to live off grid and away from the distractions of an urban life, and consciously in community. Over the years, at least ten babies have been born on the farm and two adults have died natural deaths there. Robbie and Christina have raised their three sons on the farm and many other families have done so as well.

The Birthday Party on Saturday evening brought together many of these folks to remember through stories and songs the good times and adventures they shared in the mutual endeavour of learning to farm and grow food in the back hills. While local young people in the 1960s and 1970s were happy to go to the cities and leave behind the rigors of farming, it seems a large number of eager young people were more than happy to trade places with them. They came to live on the land, to literally dig into the rich earth, to plant seeds for vegetables, and to raise their youngsters and their chickens.

The event titled “Story and Song: A Celebration of the Back to the Land Movement” was well attended by 160 party-goers, even though the snowy weather presented travel challenges. The atmosphere in the Lion’s Hall was warmly welcoming. It was decorated beautifully with some of the lovely tie dyes from RriJoyce Tie Dye and there was a wall of paper that people could write on to express their good wishes. Garth and Naomi of Garth’s Kitchen served up lots of great food and Lions Volunteers staffed the open bar. Shannon Kennedy coordinated the various elements of the event.

Before the evening’s entertainment Aimee Bailey from Pikwàkanagàn read an opening prayer to thank the Creator for our many blessings of the land, water, trees and rocks. Debbie Peplinskie, Councillor for Killaloe-Hagarty-Richards read a letter of congratulations from Mayor Janice Visneskie on the longevity  and contributions to the community from Morninglory people. She also said that the original farm land that Anderman purchased which became Morninglory had belonged to her Aunt Agnes and Uncle Paul Beanish.


Robbie Anderman   Photo: Patricia Thurston

Anderman, who acted as emcee of the evening, read an amusing story by Shirley Mask Connolly, curator of the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum in Wilno, about witnessing firsthand as a young girl the arrival of so many young urban immigrants to this area in the late 60s and early 70s. She told of their efforts to adapt to the local conditions.

Kathy Eisner shared that there were three alternative schools organized and run by the parents of the Back to the Land people:

  • The Community School
  • The Living School
  • The Killaloe Alternative School.

The last one ran for thirteen years. Overall, about 150 children attending those schools over a 23 year span. One of the teachers in The Living School, Mary McDade, went on to set up the first Day Care Centre in the Killaloe Public School building, while the main teacher of the Killaloe Alternative School, Kathy Eisner, went on to teach in the Killaloe Public School for many years.

Among the musical entertainers at the Celebration was Reverend Ken, as well as Lynn Davis, and Anderman himself who played music on a dulcimer he built almost 50 years ago. A local author, Audrey Breton, who has lived at Morninglory for 30 years was present to sign copies of her newly-published book, The Emerald Star, and Blair Richards-Koeslag read a chapter from the book to the audience. Two books by Anderman were also available for purchase: The Healing Trees, The Shell Game 



Audrey Breton   Photo: Patricia Thurston

A photographic slide show from the past 50 years of life at the farm was an ongoing delight. It revived many old memories, even back to the very early days when a dedicated group of carpenters erected a huge dome building that was lived in for many years. There were also large walls of photos on display and photo albums available for folks to enjoy and meander down memory lane. The entire evening felt more like a happy family reunion than anything else.

Anderman said this celebration of the Back to the Land Movement was an opportunity to note some of the introductions and contributions to the area from the Back to the Land folks:

The Madawaska Valley Arts Council and South of 60 Art Gallery, the Upper Madawaska Theatre Group (which evolved into the Stone Fence Theatre), the Madawaska Valley Studio Tour, CHCR community radio, Rainbow Valley Community Health Care Centre, the Killaloe Public Library, the Killaloe Community Resource Centre (and Women Initiating Responsible Change), environmental groups, Black Water outdoor gear, Beaver Tails (pastry), Cool Hemp (non-dairy ice cream), Stephano’s Natural Food Bakery, natural food stores, food co-ops, restaurants, craft galleries, greenhouses, retreat centres, alternative healing arts (such as: yoga, acupuncture, massage, Bach flowers, energy work of many kinds), doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, herbalists, teachers, blacksmiths, movie makers, artists, musicians, song and book writers, magazine and newspaper writers, actors, dancers, singers, directors, researchers, politicians, landscapers, horticulturists, computer technicians, log builders, luthiers, alternative housing specialists, refrigerant and electrical technicians, green building, building contractors, alternative power specialists, efficient wood stove consultants, realtors, annual craft shows, many music concerts and dances, and lots more. Anderman said,

What has evolved is a respectful relationship of the original local and alternative communities living and working together.

Anderman later told The Current that Morninglory Farm Community hosted Story and Song mostly with the intention to celebrate the shared history of the Back to the Land people and and also as a fundraiser towards building infrastructure to host outdoor summer musical, dance and educational events on the farm. After expenses, they raised around $1200. He said they were keeping a video and audio record of all the stories and songs for future heritage purposes, perhaps for a book. He said,

We are very grateful for the amazing support of the community for remembering our shared area history at this significant 50 year mark.

About the author: Patricia Thurston calls herself an ‘urban immigrant’ from the rush and bustle of Toronto. She makes her home in Killaloe where she moved with her family in 1978. Her loves are her three grandchildren, gardening,  textile art, writing her novel, and exploring the back roads and ghost towns of Renfrew County.

Featured image at top: Emma Manchester

One Comment

  1. Thank you for the excellent coverage of our Story & Song event, Pat and Mad Valley Current. If I may, I would like to clarify a couple minor point in the article: Actually, Mike and I decided within the first month of landing here in ’69 that we would open the land, in the spirit of our alma mater, Rochdale College, to other people who would like to learn along with us, how to live on the land here. …… In 1979, Mike sold his half share of the farm to a group of farm residents including me, who then created a Land Trust, which removed the land from being any person’s “Private Property”. There are now 7 trustees of the Land Trust holding the land. All the residents gather weekly to make decisions, for the group and the land, by consensus, and generally according to Non-Violent Communication (NVC) principles. We’re certainly blessed and very grateful to be able to live here on the land and amidst this wonderful community of Valley people.
    As a footnote: we donated $150 of the funds raised at Story & Song to the Killaloe Lions Hall, to help them continue keeping the Hall available for Community events. Thank you Lions’ people!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *