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Kootenay sociologist explores ‘Resisterville’

Author explores Nelson's counterculture with new book about 1965-75 migration.
Kathleen Rodgers will present Welcome to Resisterville at the Nelson Public Library on Tuesday

Kathleen Rodgers grew up amidst the default defiance and rabid counterculture of the Kootenays, but it wasn’t until she moved away that it occurred to her that her upbringing might be unusual to other people.

As she worked her way through academia, ultimately taking a position as a sociology teacher at the University of Ottawa, she found herself consumed by the question of how exactly Nelson and the surrounding area had acquired its unique personality.

“I did grow up there, so for for me it was normal. It wasn’t until I left that I was able to realize ‘okay, not everybody has a knee-jerk reaction to everything’,” she said, referencing the area’s penchant for protesting even the most minor issues.

For instance, she wasn’t surprised to learn in 2012 that Nelson had its own Occupy encampment.

“I mean, how many small towns would’ve done that?” she asked.

Rodgers’ research and exploration has now culminated in her new book Welcome to Resisterville, which she will present at the Nelson Public Library on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The book explores the effects of the mass Kootenay migration that occurred between 1965 and 1975. And though many locals may feel they already know the history of Vietnam’s role in the influx, Rodgers asserts that there were many other factors at play.

“I started out with an idea that was wrong, because of who I knew. I thought the influence came largely from draft dodgers and I went with that, contacting people I know, various war resisters. And as I got into the story I realized the truth was much more complicated."

Essentially, she discovered that the migration was less of a coordinated, planned thing and more the result of a multitude of individual choices.

“Migration was about way more than war resisters. It was a large group of people, Canadian and American, who were not just trying to escape conscription but were trying to get away from the city, pollution, consumerism,” she said.

“They’d given up a lot. They’d left behind careers and families. Some of them were rejected by their families, lost inheritances. They were really committed to settling and they created farms and homesteads, they started families. A lot of the institutions we see today, like Kootenay Co-op, were created in that period.”

She said the defiance and counterculture of the time is now deeply ingrained in the area’s institutions, citing the creation of the Columbia Basin Trust as one great initiative.

“They basically said ‘we’ve worked this hard to create these institutions, we want people in the future to have the same opportunity’."

Though Resisterville originated as an academic thesis, Rodgers endeavoured to incorporate a strong narrative so the work would appeal to a broad audience. She said that was an element she had to fight for.

“I had to battle to have that narrative there. An academic book is usually buried in data and methodology. I wanted this book to be read by the people in it."

The book’s title was inspired by a 2004 New York Times article about Nelson. Headlined “Greetings from Resisterville”, the article told the story of the debacle surrounding attempts to erect a statue commemorating draft dodgers.

Rodgers is often teased for being “hippy at heart” by her Ontario friends, and still visits the Nelson area regularly to visit her parents.

She said she owes her academic interests to her Kootenay background.

“A lot of people I grew up with share a similar struggle where it’s hard to mesh your upbringing with where you live now, and you have to live these dual lives where you live and work somewhere but at the same time identify with the values of the Kootenays."

An example: Rodgers teaches almost exclusively about activism, addressing such topics as the animals rights movement, indigenous resistance, the women’s movement and environmentalism.

Rodgers’ Nelson Public Library talk will include a slideshow, and Otter Books will be there to sell copies of the book. She will be doing a second reading on Thursday, March 5 at New Denver’s Knox Hall.

For more information about the book visit

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong day and time of the Nelson library reading.)