From the outside, the development of the Terre de la Reunion, located in the Laurentians, Quebec, Canada, seem magical. In 2010, my friend Serge Bolduc and I managed, with only $15,000 in our pockets, to create an ecovillage comprising 60 acres of shared mountain forest, 12 housing lots (with 8 houses built or under construction), and a common pavilion to be built. It took a lot of magic, because all this has raised its share of questions, reassessments and repositioning throughout the journey. The challenges were certainly significant, but the gifts were even greater.
At the time we started the project, I was not aware of the statistics showing that only 1 in 10 ecovillage projects were actually being implemented. If I had known this information at the beginning, I think I would have been discouraged by the obstacles encountered, but instead, each step was accepted as an invitation to maintain even more firmly the focus on the goal. For us, there was only one possible objective, and that was the material realization of the project. And when the other dreamers joined us, we were all able to work together to give the ecovillage its true momentum.
Today, our project is taking off internationally with the inclusion of the Terre de la Reunion in the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). To introduce us, I thought I would present our journey, the one that led us from dream to reality. I am writing on my own behalf, because the story I am about to tell you is the one of Serge and my very early days. It is the story of the path we took to go from our initial dream of the project to the first construction. Subsequently, the group’s vision took over.
Each project is different and unique, so we do not claim to have THE recipe for starting an ecovillage successfully. But if our history can inspire others, it will have served its purpose.
The Initial Vision
It all started with a dream, a vision that I had in mind. It is to live in a Smurf village on a human scale, with friends. I imagined myself living in a hamlet of dwellings located in the forest, where each house is connected with the others by unpaved roads. I perceived a community living environment, in harmony with nature, that respects both the need for everyone’s privacy (the model of the communes of the 1970s demonstrated its limits) and the desire to come together. It seemed to me to be a way of life perfectly adapted to my ideal of a New World where humans (re)learn to live with each other, in close proximity with their friends (nowadays or in the future).
The Joint Creation
A principle, shared by quantum physics, suggests that an observer has the power to influence his external reality. For example, if a researcher does not believe that it is possible to achieve outcome X, it has been demonstrated that their conclusions may be influenced by their preconceived ideas. According to this principle, for a reality to take tangible form, it must first exist within a being who accepts the possibility of its existence.
With this vision in mind, in October 2010 I asked five friends to work with me to create the fundamentals of an ecovillage project that I wanted to set up. I asked them to pause every night, each on their own and at the same time (if possible), for five consecutive days, to “see and feel inside of them” a housing project with friends on a shared land. I had defined four criteria to include in the vision. There had to be a forest, a lake nearby, houses connected by small paths and a common area to bring the whole group together.
For my part, my personal life journey has led me to conceive matter as part of a vast and infinite world that includes both visible and invisible aspects. My years of daily meditation have led me to perceive the links between the inside and the outside, the visible and the invisible. In this context, I knew that if my friends added their energy to my original vision, it would gain more strength and power. Together, we increased our chances of manifesting the project, and I was not mistaken.
The Physical Research
A week after the proposed visualization exercise, I received in my dream a vision telling me that “a place, which had been greatly cherished, was waiting for us”. I was told that it was located 1.6 kilometres north-northwest of where I lived. A few days later, I went looking for the place with a friend, without really knowing if it was real or just the result of my imagination.
We walked around the identified area, looking for a water basin, as this was part of the initial vision. The place was rather marshy and inhospitable, so we decided to climb the adjacent small mountain in order, I thought at the time, to access a higher view of the region. We wanted to be able to better observe the surrounding areas. And it was at the top of the mountain, which includes a beautiful flat peak, that my heart opened.
It was an old maple grove that had already been in production in the past. There was even a small sugar shack at the bottom of the trail. It was autumn in Quebec at that time and the leaves of the trees were multicoloured. I mention these details because in the initial message, I was told “a place that was greatly cherished”. I understood that the vision in my dream was about this forest that had already been cultivated in order to optimize the production of maple water in the spring. And when I discovered it in the fall, the mountain appeared in its magnificence, making the place even more magical.
The next day, I returned to the site with friends (some of whom had participated in the initial group visualization) to show them this newly discovered magical place. The opinions were unanimous, everyone fell in love with the mountains. While going down the hill, Serge met the owner of the place, and learned that the mountain was for sale. This is when the acquisition process began.
From the beginning, it was clear to us that we had to limit the number of people involved with the seller to
simplify the buying process. We had agreed on a price of $160,000, but we only had $15,000 available at the time. And since we had to take steps with the city to ensure the feasibility of our project before buying the land, we agreed with the seller to sign an offer to buy, payable in 6 months, conditional on the project’s acceptance. The $15,000 was therefore used as a deposit to formalize our offer and demonstrate our seriousness. But at that time, we didn’t know how we would find the missing $145,000. We had a few possible solutions in mind, but nothing concrete.
Six Months of Creation
After the offer to purchase was made, Serge and I took the appropriate steps with the city, and soon learned that the project would be accepted. We therefore spent all the time we had left before signing with the notary to define the specific basis of the project, step by step. We thought that during this time, “life” would certainly present us with a solution that would allow us to obtain the missing $145,000.
During this period, we were put in touch with people who would have had the money to help us buy the land, but each time we did not feel the impulse to partner with them. We did not want their financial support to be exchanged for a veto or any form of privilege over other future participants. At that point, it became clear to us that if we wanted the project to work, each member had to be equal to the others, including Serge and me.
I must admit personally that it was difficult for me to move from concept to reality at first, because I was afraid of “losing” a specific location that attracted me a lot. I agreed with the principle, but once it became reality, I was afraid that I would not be considered in the equation if I applied the proposed notion of equity. I too had to learn to trust, because I had to agree to give up all forms of privilege if I wanted to be consistent with the vision we were proposing to others.
So, during the six months preceding the purchase, we located the shared common areas and the places where to install the residences. In order for each house to harmonize with its immediate environment, we defined the optimal number of homes that could be built without denaturing the mountain. In addition, we also positioned the road and estimated the cost of infrastructure. To this evaluation, we had to add the price to bring the electricity to the houses, as well as all the survey fees.
From the beginning, we knew that a common pavilion would be needed to nurture the ecovillage’s community life. In line with the vision of equity presented above, we have kept the most beautiful location on the land to build the future common pavilion. And we have added the estimated cost of its construction to the amount of all the infrastructure necessary to implement the overall project.
When all costs were added together, we divided the total amount by 12, the number of land parcels available, to determine the purchase price for each of the lots offered. This amount includes ownership of a one-twelfth share of a 60-acre shared mountain, infrastructure and a future common pavilion (already paid for), as well as an individual lot for the construction of a house [for cost details, see the website listed at the end of this article].
Three Weeks Before Signing
When the whole project was clarified and the main lines were defined, we still did not have the money to buy the mountain. Three weeks before the signing, we organized two events to present our project to our family and friends, imagining a participative financing scenario. These meetings brought together about 75 people.
At the end of each presentation, we invited people who could (and wanted) to make a personal loan to us, up to the cost of acquiring a lot. The aim was that their support would eventually turn into a land purchase, once all the documents of the co-ownership had been formalized and agreed between the members. Serge and I then undertook to sign documents confirming the debts, and to place all the money received in a joint account requiring a double signature. Even if people knew us and trusted us, we wanted to convince them of the seriousness of our approach.
By April 2011 Serge and I had been able to raise all the money we needed to buy the mountain. And one month after signing before a notary, we had the funds to finance the 1-kilometre road, which began construction in the fall of the same year and was completed in the spring of 2012. It was in the fall of 2013 that the project became a divided co-ownership and members were able to transform their loan into the purchase of a lot.
I would like to point out here that some of the people who were initially present left the project along the way. They either changed their minds, or simply wanted to help us get started, without necessarily considering living on the land. In the original loan agreement, it was stipulated that we would repay those who wished to be reimbursed as soon as new people joined the project. I would like to highlight this detail because this clause has greatly facilitated the deployment of the Terre de la Reunion by avoiding the need to draw on the working capital to reimburse people who wanted to leave.
My partner Serge, who is a builder of healthy and ecological houses, started the construction of the first residence on the Terre de la Reunion in the fall of 2013. Today, six years later, eight houses are being built or under construction, and there will soon be 14 permanent residents. And as soon as it is possible for us to do so, we will build the common pavilion. In addition, the group also includes four “active members” (non-owners) who assume responsibilities and take part in various activities (community meals, happy chores, movie nights, hikes on the trails, festivities, etc.), as well as four children. And we are constantly expanding.
Instead of the houses being grouped in clusters, as in the original vision, the Smurfs village has rather been spread out in length so that each residence benefits from optimal sunlight (all the houses are built on the southern slope of the mountain). There is indeed a lake near the land, but we overlook it from above, instead of being situated next to it.
As with all ecovillage projects, experience has taught us the importance of cohesion among the group. Today, our goal is to bring together people who share common affinities and ideals with us, not to force less natural alliances. As a result, we have put in place a step-by-step welcoming and inclusion process that allows us to better integrate newcomers. This ensures our overall cohesion and allows us to form a solid core of members who feel like family and who share common ideals.
The original dream evolved along the way to include the individual contribution of each new member so that everyone feels they are an integral part of the project. The two founders have gradually abandoned their role of initiators, to stimulate everyone to find their own place in the group. I must admit that this transition was not always easy for Serge and I, because if our leadership skills were necessary in the early years, we had to learn to delegate (and sometimes to fade away) so that the participants felt more involved. But it has been a wonderful learning experience for both of us and today I am delighted to see that each member of the Terre de la Reunion shines in his or her respective ever-changing role.
I consider the human being to be fundamentally a community person, a being whose deep and true nature is to seek to unite with the life around them. This is a natural impulse. But when they feel judged, unwelcome or forced to adapt in order to be loved, they then develop a closure to others, a social pressure that leads them to want to distrust, separate and withdraw. On the other hand, when they feel welcomed and loved, they gradually cease to compare themselves, or to be in competition with others, and develop the desire to grow among people who correspond to them, people with whom they feel affinities. This is a natural instinct that is present in everyone.
At the same time, I think that people who choose to live as hermits, withdrawn from the world, do not do so by choice, but by reaction and fear. Fences, borders and walls were invented by humans who fear what they do not understand, what they do not control. Physical ramparts have become symbols to justify the mistrust that some humans have of each other. They highlight a model of life accepted by many, where the quest for natural quietness present in everyone (our need for privacy) has been transformed into a search for protection and separation, in order not to manage our fear of the unknown.
In this context, an ecovillage offers a magnificent way of life that makes it possible to realize people’s desire to live with each other, in harmony with the environment. It is a path of exploration, for the moment avant-garde, which allows us to put into practice what we have already learned about living together. But it is not a model for people who want to learn to open up to others, because the level of proximity and interaction is too high. In other words, to be happy in an ecovillage, residents must already have a community spirit, a fairly solid base rooted in them, because otherwise, the clashes may be too great.
If they want to live in peace and balance, members of an ecovillage must give more importance to the quest for harmony among all than to the issues of power and the individual needs to be right. I am not saying that personal opinions have no place, on the contrary. But once expressed, it is sometimes necessary to let go of certain elements that seem important to us, in order to promote the harmony and unity of the group. This ideal must be shared by each member, because otherwise there will be no cohesion. This is fundamental for an ecovillage project to work.
This understanding of “living together” has evolved along the way. Everything was not so clear to us at first, but the basis was there. And it is with this vision shared by the two initial dreamers that the village of Smurfs on a human scale was born. It demonstrated, through a material and real example, that it is possible to “live differently” in community.
Since the very beginning of the Terre de la Reunion, life has magically dotted our path of common creation. It is as if our project were supported by an invisible “Big Hand” – as I like to call it – that facilitates each step of our journey. The most beautiful anecdote on the subject I can tell you is the one related to our high-speed Internet connection. When we began the process of obtaining it, the first estimates evaluated the connection costs at $140,000. It was very expensive. There were other alternatives such as satellite connection, but the speed is low and unstable.
One day, Serge had the impetus to check with a different company that offered the service in other regions. He then learned that a special budget for “new residential projects” had just been approved. So, we applied for service and were accepted. Three months later, we obtained an Internet connection by fiber optic to the Terre de la Reunion. It is the fastest residential Internet that currently exists on the market. And our project is located in the middle of the forest.
In addition, not only did we not have to pay for Internet connection, but we received $10,000 from the company so that they could use the poles that connected the houses to the power grid to install their wiring. Since these poles belonged to the land, the check was sent to us.
Instead of having to pay $140,000 to get a high-speed Internet connection, we received $10,000 to get even faster fiber optic, even though we are located in the forest. In fact, we may be the only forest ecovillage in the world currently served by fiber optic. And as you can imagine, this considerably improves the quality of life of the members of the Terre de la Reunion.
Believing in our dreams is certainly a major factor in making them come true. But experience has personally shown me that, in addition to believing in them, we must feel them, live them internally as if they were already manifested. At some point, the inner world becomes so alive that the outside can only become its natural extension, the reflection in the matter. Obviously, this process requires a let go, because the when and how belong to the Great Unknown, but the more we hold on to the goal, to the dream we feel, the greater our chances of achieving it. At least this is what Serge and I experienced in the process that led us to create the Terre de la Reunion ecovillage.
I sincerely hope that our story will inspire other dreamers and visionaries who, like us, want to set up projects around the world in the coming years (ecovillage or other). I leave you with this wonderful quote that represents us well: “They did not know it was impossible, so they did it” (Mark Twain, American writer, 1835-1910).
By Simon Leclerc
Marketing and Communication Specialist
Co-Founder with Serge Bolduc of the Terre de la Reunion ecovillage, Quebec, Canada
Written in October 2019
To contact the author: [email protected]
Note: The Terre de la Reunion ecovillage is located in Quebec, in a province of Canada where French is the majority language. Although this document is written in English, daily life at the ecovillage is conducted in French. The website is currently in French only, but an English version will be available shortly.