A stone pile on De Courcy Island is one of few remnants of a strange spiritual movement, its mysterious leader, and one of the more bizarre chapters in B.C. history.
The stones are what’s left of a rifle pit where members of the Aquarian Foundation were trained to defend a Utopian society and its gold.
Edward Arthur Wilson was an English sailor and mystic who turned up in B.C. in the 1920s. Believing he was in touch with an ancient Egyptian spirit who named him Brother XII, he created the Aquarian Foundation and his writings on the occult drew followers from around the world.
“He could look into your soul, know what you were missing — what you wanted to see — and he could be that for you,” historian John Mitchell said of Brother XII. “He could give you that peace.”
At its peak, Brother XII’s followers were building a new society centred around a home south of Nanaimo and a compound on De Courcy Island that was meant to weather the apocalypse he warned was on the horizon.
The charismatic leader offered spiritual salvation in exchange for loyalty and money.
“He had over 40 cases of gold in quart jars,” Mitchell said. “His preference was US$20 gold pieces.”
Things eventually unravelled for Brother XII. His taste for non-celestial pursuits, like women and gold, led to a revolt among his followers.
“And at the end of three years the group didn’t like the fact he took a mistress,” Mitchell said.
Embroiled in legal troubles, Brother XII sank his prized sailboat, destroyed the De Courcy Island compound and took off for Europe.
While there’s a record that Wilson died in Switzerland, some think he faked his death and went on to enjoy the fortune he had amassed. The doctor who signed his death certificate was also one of his followers.
While some of the buildings from that time are still standing no one has ever been able to account Brother XII’s jars of gold.
Many treasure hunters have scoured De Courcy Island and places around Nanaimo in search of the missing fortune, and rumours abound to this day.
“Others say that he was seen in San Francisco,” Mitchell said. “But with that kind of money it’s easy to disappear and there’s been no other records of him after that point.”