While leafing through anonymous vintage photographic prints at the (then-new) Steven Bulger Gallery in Toronto many years ago, I encountered an image that made an indelible impression. The picture showed a large, lightly built and evidently temporary triumphal arch—spanning a street lined with buildings liberally festooned with bunting, it was presumably intended for a large parade or procession. The scene appeared to date from the early twentieth century, and displayed an atmosphere of ceremonious jubilation that is now quite absent from public events. At this point, I don’t remember the features of the arch itself, but they were not particularly notable, nor to the point. What I recall so vividly is an inscription across the top of the arch that proclaimed, “Millions of Free Homes” and, below that, like the punch line of a joke, “In Canada.”
A glance was sufficient to surmise that the arch had been built in Great Britain; later, I learned that the temporary monument was called “The Wheat Arch” and that it had been erected in 1902 in the Whitehall district of London as Canada’s contribution to the celebration of King Edward VII’s coronation. Shortly after the coronation, the arch was re-purposed to promote emigration simply by inscribing it with the alluring offer of “free homes.” As it happens, my recollection of the inscription was not entirely accurate. Looking at the photograph again, I see that the arch was actually inscribed with “Canada” in large capital letters at the top, followed by “Free Homes for Millions” below, and underneath that, the conventional salutation, “God Bless the Royal Family.” My memory had not retained the correct order of the words, but it did preserve the monument’s essential message: for the working masses—the millions—freedom took the form of a home, and it could be gained only by emigrating. By means at once strident and subtle, the monument declared home and homeland to be utterly incompatible; one, it proclaimed, had to be sacrificed to win the other. The masses could have home or homeland, but not both. Never both.
For me, this photograph epitomizes the powerful forces that drove Anglo-Canadian colonization in the early twentieth century. Even before studying the topic, I knew enough about the English system of land tenure to realize that, in this context, “free” did not mean without cost; rather, it had the more specific, limited meaning of a home that was unencumbered by a lease, which is to say, freehold, as opposed to leasehold. For contemporary Canadians accustomed to a simple property system, this distinction may require historical explanation, especially if its importance for the formation of Canada is to be appreciated. Indeed, the English system of land tenure is so arcane that it’s tempting to regard it as something curious, trivial, or even quaint, like separate taps for hot and cold water, tea trolleys, or croquet. To do so would, however, be quite incorrect; the English land-holding system drove a global project of colonization and thus had consequences that can only be described as world-historical in scope.
The best and briefest way to explain this system is to quote the concise account of it written by the German architect Hermann Muthesius, who served as the cultural attaché at the German Embassy in London at the turn of the twentieth century. Returning to Germany in 1904, not long after the coronation celebrated by the arch, Muthesius published a three-volume book titled Das englische haus. No ordinary architectural history, the book was written as an official report to the Prussian government on the English way of life, which was presumed to hold the key to Britain’s success in industry and empire. In order to describe English dwelling as comprehensively as possible, Muthesius elaborated its foundations in property, which led him directly to history. Indeed, he introduced the section “Laws of land-tenure” with the bold claim that, “If anything will bring home to the English every hour of every day the fact that their history has continued without a break for close on a thousand years, it must be the present conditions of land-tenure.” He described William the Conqueror’s confiscation of the common land of England, which he then granted to his barons in fief. The barons, in turn, sought to make their land “not only hereditary, but inalienable from their descendants, thus securing the prestige of their families by preserving its real basis.” This enterprise was so successful that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Muthesius could write: “By and large, land is still as inalienable as it ever was. A good two-thirds of the land in the United Kingdom is still entailed. This means that half of England is owned by 150 landlords, half of Scotland is owned by seventy-five and half of Ireland by thirty-five.”
Muthesius proceeded to explain that the condition of inalienability put the property system at odds with the process of industrialization—i.e., the forces of capitalism, the industrial revolution, the emergence of the working class, and the growth of the modern metropolis, all of which initially appeared and took their most advanced form in England. Leasing land, which permitted development without threatening the landlord’s possession, was the solution to this problem. Land leases made home ownership more accessible by reducing the initial investment needed to build a home, but the terms invariably favoured the owners of property, often to an extraordinary degree. The most consequential condition required that, at the termination of the lease period (which was commonly 99 years), any and all leasehold improvements were to be returned to the owner of the land in good, habitable order. This meant that a house built on leased land had to be fully repaired, and in many cases substantially rebuilt, at the end of the lease in order to return it as if no time had passed. A house thus became progressively less attractive as the termination date of the land lease neared, and increasingly likely to be rented by those who most ardently aspired to have a home—often those least able to bear the cost of its repairs. Many families were ruined in this way. Likewise, considerable hardship faced tenants who wished to remain in a house that, in some cases, had been their home for decades, since renewal of a lease was usually at exorbitant rates designed both to compensate for the undervaluation of the land in the preceding years and to anticipate the inflation of its value during the nearly century-long period of the next lease.
The cruelty and injustice of this exploitive system beggars the imagination; suffice it to say that it was so onerous, and so thoroughly entrenched, that, for those unable to reconcile themselves to it, emigration appeared to be the only alternative. Free land was a powerful incentive; Britain’s overseas colonies in nominally “unoccupied” lands such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, offered millions of aspiring, working-class people the opportunity to gain freehold title to a home on a small plot of land and to rid themselves of the inevitability of its reversion to an entrenched class of landlords. The colonies offered land without leases, land that could be held and enjoyed in perpetuity, just as it was by the happy few in England.
To obtain a home with this status—a free home—was the typical motive of the overwhelming majority of British immigrants to Canada, especially during the time of rapid growth in the late nineteenth century, which ended with the First World War. This historical phenomenon has been somewhat obscured by the much more diverse immigration that has prevailed since the liberalization of Canadian immigration law in 1965, but it is important to recall that, in 1901, four out of five immigrants to Canada came from Great Britain. From the vantage point of a century after Muthesius, it is possible to recognize the significant role that the middle- and working-class quest for freehold home ownership played in Britain’s colonization of the globe. Emigration to the colonies functioned like a relief valve, reducing political and social pressure to reform the British property system. The option to migrate to a free land—one that maintained all the other social and cultural norms of the homeland—was the ready answer to dissent, and it effectively dissipated the energies of the movement for property reform that had waxed and waned since the failure of the English Revolution in the seventeenth century.
Canada and Great Britain were accomplices in this scheme, which seems to mirror perfectly the sort of genteel, Fabian socialism that it was devised to forestall. As Muthesius put it, “The present state of affairs is the result of two specifically English national characteristics: the tendency to cling to tradition and the disinclination of the public at large to think of the long term or even to protect their interests.” While Canada became a sovereign nation in 1867, its sovereignty was predicated on its conforming to the will and interests of the motherland. For many decades after Confederation, Canada’s actual political condition was closer to suzerainty than independence as such. The inscription on the arch said as much without explicitly saying so. Whose voice was it that promised “Free homes for Millions”—Canada’s or Great Britain’s? A nation does not usually exhort millions of its citizens to leave, nor does it usually accept another nation actively advertising its own benefits. Yet, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Great Britain and Canada were active collaborators in a colonial scheme that benefited both parties. In addition to all that colonization provided England, it was also a remarkably efficient and effective counter-revolutionary measure. For Canada, it propagated a cultural fixation on the freehold home that was the negative imprint of the failure to revolutionize British property relations. The dream of a free home led Canada to have one of the highest rates of private home ownership of any nation in the world, but it also produced unplanned suburbs crowded with shoddy, owner-built homes inhabited by desperate new immigrants who chose to endure the hardships of displacement rather than overturn the patently inequitable system of their homeland.
At the time of my encounter with the photograph of the triumphal arch, I was living in a large house on Bellevue Avenue in Toronto’s Kensington Market—a house nominally shared by three people but dominated by the outsized personality of the lease-holder, Ida Carnevali. The house was shabby and infested with termites, but its plan was elegant. It was a rare example of a type of home designed for a merchant, with a shop facing the street, and it retained the original, tall, draughty display windows and a recessed central door with an enamelled tin sign. The shop space served as the office of Ida’s theatre company, and its windows were inhabited by giant papier-mâché puppet heads that she used annually in her production of a winter solstice procession through the market. The shop entrance aligned with the door to the living room, which aligned with the arch leading into the kitchen beyond, and that aligned with the door of a large scullery, which aligned with the rear door, forming a perfect enfilade. The ground floor was precisely level with the yard, so when the doors stood open on fine fall days, leaves would blow straight through the house.
Ida had worked as a journalist, a performer and a theatre producer and she had a history of radical, marginal, and communal lifestyles. An Italian Jew born near Mantua, she combined an Italian sensibility for the quality of everyday life with the hippie generation’s instincts for the residual value in good architecture. In London in 1963, she married Tom Burrows and the next year, they moved to Vancouver when Burrows returned to the University of British Columbia (UBC) to study art history. The couple shared a house with Gloria and Toni Onley for two years before returning to London, where Burrows undertook graduate studies in fine arts. Offered a job managing the UBC art gallery, Burrows returned to Vancouver in late May of 1969.Inspired by the anarchist spirit of 1968 in Paris and motivated by a shortage of available housing, he resolved to build a house for his family in the coastal tradition of squatter settlement, which was then nearing its final phase. Working on weekends and during long summer evenings, he began to build a house on the Maplewood Mudflats alongside the home of a friend he had frequently visited during his student days. He claimed a wooden platform on piles in the intertidal zone near the treeline at the mouth of a creek and, using salvaged materials, enclosed and completed an existing, partly built dwelling space. Water came by hose from a pump in a fresh water spring that his friend agreed to share, but there was no electricity and the only light was provided by candles and gas lanterns.
Ida arrived in Vancouver at the end of the summer with the couple’s infant son, Elisha. She was dismayed by the tiny, primitive home that greeted her, and shocked by her first encounter with North American hippies and their countercultural style. She was also daunted by the prospect of raising a baby under conditions that made demanding tasks of daily chores. Burrows admits that, “The person who really knows the experience of the Mudflats is Ida, dealing with diapers with no hot water. She bore the brunt of living on the Flats.” With access to university facilities, Burrows often stayed overnight nearby to avoid the long commute home, so Ida also experienced considerable isolation. She describes Linda Spong as her only true friend on the mudflats. Ida’s time was occupied by caring for her child, and she was consoled by the natural rhythm of the tide passing under the house and the ever-changing objects the water left behind.
Even as Burrows undertook to consolidate and expand a home for his young family—he soon raised the roof to make a loft-like bedroom—the mudflats were under assault by the forces of modernization and suburban bureaucracy. Vancouver’s long-standing tradition, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, of informal shacks and shanties on the tidal flats that fall between the land and the sea initially accommodated communities of sailors and fishermen. These dwellings proliferated during the desperate years of the Great Depression, when the West Coast attracted displaced workers seeking easier climes, and they provided refuge again during World War II and its immediate aftermath, when returning veterans failed to find jobs and establish homes in the emerging suburbs. The informal communities around Burrard Inlet also attracted a coterie of writers seeking refuge from urban life. The expatriate British writer Malcolm Lowry was the most famous inhabitant of the small community that developed at Roche Point, a few kilometres down the Dollarton Highway from Maplewood.
By the early 1950s, the bureaucrats of the suburban District of North Vancouver viewed such informal dwellings with growing disapproval.After the Lions Gate sewage treatment plant opened in 1961, criticism intensified and all residences in the North Shore suburbs were required to connect to new sewers. Lowry’s home at Roche Point was demolished in 1954 and the remaining houses were cleared by 1957, so the re-appearance of squatters’ shacks a decade later at nearby Maplewood was undoubtedly regarded as a return to bad old ways.
The struggle escalated when Mayor Ron Andrews announced plans for a large commercial development on the waterfront land at Maplewood. Meanwhile, conditions were rapidly changing within the Mudflats community. Burrows learned that the platform he had claimed had been constructed by a World War I veteran with fantasies of constructing a shipyard; at that time, the man had been institutionalized and he died shortly thereafter. Burrows interpreted his passing as signalling a fundamental change in the type of community that had occupied the mudflats. He denounced staged events such as the Dollarton Pleasure Faire, a hippie gathering held on the mudflats in August 1971 and again the following year, as evidence of a rapidly devolving atmosphere of “late hippie baroque floridity.” Nevertheless, he fought to retain his home, taking his case to the British Columbia Supreme Court. He lost the case, and city officials took action before he could launch an appeal. Despite Burrows’ last-ditch effort to relocate the house, shifting it ninety feet onto a patch of alluvial silt that did not appear on any maps, the house, along with a number of others around it, was burned to the ground on December 17th, 1971.
Ida and Tom separated in the early 1970s. Tom had begun to build another home and studio on Hornby Island in 1972, and moving there in 1974, he embarked upon a long-term project to document the international squatters’ movement. His artistic practice was varied, but in 1989, he returned to making monochrome translucent resin panels similar to those he first made as a student in England. Ida pursued various forms of theatre, including a stint as a circus performer. The artist Ingrid Baxter, who lived nearby on Riverside Drive, recalls that, “Ida was a great spirit! I was happy when she split off into her clowning career.” With a theatre troupe that bred Clydesdale horses, she lived for some time on a communal farm in the Okanagan Valley; the horses were used to transport the performers across the country in a wooden cart. At the end of the summer season, the horses would be sold to livestock collectors in order to fund the enterprise and the troupe would retire to the farm for the winter.
Ida’s enthusiasm for theatre contrasted sharply with Burrows’s disdain for the events staged on the mudflats; she seems to have been inspired by the idealistic aspects of the events she witnessed, and to have interpreted them more generously as a continuation of European traditions of street performance and variety theatre—which tended to be itinerant, integrated with agrarian festivals, and overtly political—that she recognized from her youth in Italy. Where Tom saw spectacle, Ida saw carnival, and she took up her surname as a vocation. Her seasonal and nomadic, implicitly feminist approach to theatre culminated in the values of the solstice festival that she produced in Toronto in the 1990s: communal, processional, participatory, informal, and poly-cultural, with strongly neo-pagan and pantheistic overtones. Her unique, highly personal fusion of the local and global suited Kensington Market perfectly, and she pursued it with an assurance born of the belief that it was available to all for the taking. It’s no surprise that the festival continues today—her legacy to Toronto.
I moved out of the house on Bellevue in 1994. By that time, Ida had already begun to express a desire to return to her ancestral home in Campagnolo, a village south of the Lago di Garda. Her eventual departure was hastened by the landlord’s resolve to demolish the dilapidated house. Ida resisted this plan for a few years, and during my occasional visits, she would enlist me to research ways and means to preserve the house—programmes for termite remediation or the pursuit of heritage designation, which the house undoubtedly merited. Ultimately, she lacked the conviction for another long battle. After she departed, the landlord boarded up the windows, fenced off the front yard, and let the house sit vacant. Untended, the house quickly became covered in graffiti and its decay accelerated. An abandoned house was an odd, melancholy and even surprising sight in Toronto at that time; property values were just beginning to escalate, teardowns were as yet unheard-of, and homes, no matter how ramshackle, were preserved and inhabited. A few years later, the house was demolished, and the lot remains vacant. All that is left of 45 Bellevue is the pair of magnificent chestnut trees in the front yard.
Ida’s experience of dwelling in Canada began and ended with the strife of eviction, but it deserves to be remembered as a radical pursuit of freedom. The last, Toronto, phase of her domestic struggle left barely a trace, but the house in which Carnevali and Burrows lived on the Maplewood Mudflats has attained historical significance through the current revival of interest in the radical alternatives of the (now not-so-) recent past. A retrospective of Burrows’ career, held in 2015 at the very gallery he managed at UBC, has renewed interest in the house he built, even inspiring a one-day symposium called Spatial Politics and the City. The house and the struggle over the mudflats is also featured in a comprehensive documentation of the era in the website Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties. In 2014, Presentation House Gallery exhibited a selection of the more than seven hundred photographs that Bruce Stewart made of the Dollarton Pleasure Faires in 1971 and 1972. Most of his pictures had not been seen since they were first exhibited at Erol Baykal’s Gallery of Photography in December 1973, but they have now been published in an exhibition catalogue titled West of Eden. Ida and Tom appear in one notable sun-dappled image from 1971: they are seated on a flowered carpet that is spread on the ground and draped over a log that they rest against like a bolster; in a gesture of casual intimacy, Ida reaches over to brush Tom’s face.
As the hippie era recedes into the past, it has gained the attention of those in Vancouver who have been excluded from the city’s housing market by its wildly inflated housing costs. In fact, the powerful economic forces in Vancouver’s housing market have given the house in which Ida lived on the mudflats a strange afterlife in a work by Ken Lum. In 2010, an exclusive, sixty-storey condominium building called Living Shangri-la offered the Art Gallery of Vancouver the use of a site at the tower’s base. The gallery commissioned Lum to create an installation, and he chose to reconstruct three informal dwellings from Vancouver’s history—homes that had belonged to Margarie Bonner and Malcolm Lowry, Ida Carnevali and Tom Burrows, and Linda and Dr. Paul Spong—at three-quarters of their original scale. Lum brought his characteristically acerbic wit to the idea of reconstruction; by mimicking the role of set designer and employing scenic techniques characteristic of the film industry, he not only implicated the film industry as an antagonist in the city’s housing crisis, but also recalled its origins in the hippie carpenters and salvage ethos of Maplewood. The work’s title, from shangri-la to shangri-la, underscores the ease with which an Orientalist sobriquet once applied to the Maplewood Mudflats has been recuperated by a luxury condominium. There is no small irony in the fact that it was another mayor of the District of North Vancouver, Richard Walton, who was instrumental in having Lum’s sculpture permanently installed in the conservation area at Maplewood, very close to the site of the original houses.
It is uncanny to see the demolished houses in Lum’s diminished scale on their original site, but if any particular work has entrenched the Maplewood Mudflats in the memory of Vancouver artists, it is the hand-tinted photographic triptych from 1973 by Ian Wallace titled La Mélancolie de la rue. Wallace had been a student with Burrows in London, and on his return to Vancouver, he documented the sculptures that his friend made from flotsam and jetsam on the mudflats. He also made a number of photographs of the houses on the mudflats, and he incorporated one of these images in the picture that is sometimes regarded as the foundation of the Vancouver school of photo-conceptual art. This work features, from left to right, an image of people assembled in front of a newly completed Brutalist-style art gallery; a conventional suburban house on a hillside; and a pair of houses, isolated against the sky and the water, out on the mudflats.
The two homes depicted in the work present a stark contrast. Despite the fact that the house in the centre image was probably built sometime in the late 1960s or even in the early 1970s, it has white painted wooden siding, a two-storey pediment with double columns, and a Sheraton-style handrail on the flat roof of the prominent two-car garage. It is detached from other houses and from the landscape, which has been completely cleared in order to facilitate construction. Every feature of the house asserts an anachronistic, colonial neo-Palladianism apparently designed to reinforce the Britishness of British Columbia. The house in the picture on the right is, in fact, two houses; the one on the left was occupied by Burrows’ friend Peter C., and was later purchased by Dr. Paul Spong and his wife Linda; the house on the right belonged to the mudflats activist Helen Simpson. Both of these houses were built largely of salvaged materials in response to the views, sunshine and winds of their highly exposed intertidal location. The dwellings privilege tenure over title, and, in fact, they are opposed to property as such, claiming no solid ground. Fluctuating between abjection and a heroic isolation, they are adamantly free homes, unbound by property, propriety or convention.
“Free homes” was, and might still be, Canada’s greatest promise, but the parameters and ultimate meaning of this freedom have shifted over time and will continue to do so. Ian Wallace’s picture confronts two iconic alternatives—the sort of small, freehold, suburban, counter-revolutionary house on which Canada was built, and a wilder vision of freedom that, in the late 1960s, briefly presented radical, intransigent, militant, and even revolutionary alternatives for dwelling.
 Hermann Muthesius, The English House, ed. Dennis Sharp, trans. Janet Seligman (New York: Rizzoli, 1979), p. 71.
 Richard Harris, Unplanned Suburbs: Toronto’s American Tragedy, 1900 to 1950 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).
 Muthesius, The English House, p. 74.
 For an illuminating account of this situation, see Harris, Unplanned Suburbs.
 Burrows’ autobiographical timeline is available online. Accessed Jan. 11, 2018.
 Additional biographical details appear in a forthcoming text by Scott Watson titled, “Tom Burrows: Windows,” to be published by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in 2018. My thanks to Scott Watson for sharing the draft of his text.
 The following accounts paraphrase comments recorded by Elisha Burrows in interviews with his parents, published as “Life on the Mudflats: Ida Carnevali and Tom Burrows,” in West of Eden, by Bruce Stewart (Vancouver, BC: Presentation House Gallery, 2014), pp. 30-37.
 Ibid., p. 35.
 Richard Walton, “Nature and Culture at Dollarton’s Mudflats,” in West of Eden, pp. 9-13.
 Elisha Burrows, “Life on the Mudflats: Ida Carnevali and Tom Burrows,” in West of Eden, p. 36.
 Ingrid Baxter, “In the Wilds of the Art World: Riverside Drive,” The Capilano Review 3.8 (2009): 185.
 For a brief account of the theatre movement that led to events such as the Dollarton Faire, see Bill Jeffries, “West of Eden: The End of Days at Dollarton,” in West of Eden, pp. 41-45.
 The work is similar in conception to Liz Magor’s public sculpture Lightshed (2006), which is a half-scale maquette of an old industrial shed raised on thick wooden piles, all cast in aluminum.
 In 1971, the director Robert Altman hired carpenters and salvage artists from the Mudflats to build sets and provide décor for his revisionist Western film McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
 Richard Walton, “Nature and Culture at Dollarton’s Mudflats,” in West of Eden, p. 12. The permanent installation was inaugurated July 23rd, 2012.
 For a selection of these photographs, see “Ian Wallace, Maplewood Mudflats Documents,” The Capilano Review 3.8 (2009): 60-65. The image on pp.64-65 is an alternative view to the one in La Mélancolie de la rue.
 Scott Watson makes this claim in the essay, “Urban Renewal: Ghost Traps, Collage, Condos and Squats,” available at http://vancouverartinthesixties.com/essays/urban-renewal. Accessed Jan. 11, 2018. Note that Watson mistakenly identifies the house in Ian Wallace’s work as Tom Burrows’s.
 The contrast is heightened by the omission of any middle ground, which could have been represented by the regional modernism of post-and-beam architecture. Several visual artists of the 1950s and 1960s in British Columbia lived in architect-designed homes in suburban North Vancouver. See Robert Kleyn, “Proving Ground for Modernity,” The Capilano Review 3.8 (2009): 152-165.