De Courcy Island farm of notorious cult leader up for sale

A farm on De Courcy Island that was once home to a bizarre cult and possibly still hides a buried treasure is back on the market.

The 100-acre property on the tiny Gulf Island about 16 kilometres southeast of ­Nanaimo is the former headquarters of ­notorious swindler Brother XII, an Englishman whose attempt at a utopian society in the late 1920s descended into a series of scandals involving black magic rituals, slave labour, reports of torture and attempted murder, sex with ­married ­followers and missing gold coins.

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Edward Arthur Wilson, also known as Julian Churton Skottowe and Amiel de Valdes, claimed he was the reincarnation of Egyptian god Osiris.

He told followers — a few hundred at a colony in Cedar and the farm on De Courcy and up to 8,000 worldwide, many of them wealthy socialites in England and the U.S. — that he was part of a select group of brothers that included Confucius, Buddha and Jesus Christ.

The Aquarian Foundation fortified its properties with rifles and explosives and sustained themselves through farming while awaiting the end of days.

The Canadian Press reported in 1956 that a human skull was discovered in a sack in the attic of the commune’s “House of Mystery,” where Brother Twelve was said to have communicated with his fellow brothers.

The skull had been carved into a bowl and was believed to belong to a women in her 20s who died in the early 1930s, according to a medical report at the time.

Brother Twelve fled Vancouver Island in April 1933 to avoid criminal prosecution and after a lawsuit led to a court order to repay the money he swindled from followers.

He is said to have amassed a fortune of $500,000, a great sum at the time, that was converted to gold coins, stored in pint preserving jars, and either smuggled out of the country or buried at secret sites on the farm.

B.C. press baron David Black acquired the property in 2016 and put the property up for sale this year, listing it for $2,795,000.

Mark Lester of Colliers in Vancouver said the unique history of the property is part of its allure.

“There’s been great activity and I’m getting lots of calls,” Lester said. “It’s an increasingly buoyant market right now and it’s a property that has distinctively unique attributes.”

Lester said the farm, which encompasses about a quarter of De Courcy Island, remains unchanged since the early part of the last century as the home of Brother XII. It has pastoral meadows, fruit orchards, forest, wetlands and 850 feet of waterfront.

The zoning allows for multiple dwellings and would be suitable as a family compound with several good building sites, said Lester.

The farm retains the old Brother XII dormitory and barn, now used as a workshop and storage shed.

De Courcy is, however, without power. Residents, who number about 30 year round, rely on solar and battery banks. Water comes from wells and ponds.

Still, Lester said enquiries are brisk, particularly after a year of the pandemic, with many people discovering they can work remotely.

“A lot of people are realizing [they] don’t need to live in a beehive apartment in the city,” said Lester.

“This is a family-compound style of property.”

As for Brother XII, he slipped away to Europe and was believed to have died in the mid-1930s, in Switzerland.

According to Times Colonist archives, the small, bearded Brother XII — often seen in a yellow Buddhist robe — was accompanied in his escape by his sadistic “priestess” and ­mistress Madame Zee, who treated ­members of the sect like slaves.

“She carried a vicious-looking horsewhip and punctuated her beatings with some of the foulest language ever heard on Vancouver Island,” according to a 1983 Times Colonist story.

The farm was run by a brother and sister from Switzerland during the 1940s and 1950s. It changed hands and was subdivided in the mid-1960s and was purchased a decade later by a group of B.C. owners, who sold it in 2016.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

— With files from Carla Wilson

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