Born in Birmingham, England as Edward Arthur Wilson, the man known as Brother XII was an English mystic, cult leader, and possibly murderer in Nanaimo in the late 1920s. He formed a colony that he called Cedar-by-the-Sea, and his substantial donations from wealthy followers even allowed him to acquire land on nearby islands.
Brother XII’s spiritual teachings were based on the idea that he was one of twelve spiritual beings called the “chela,” and that, as the twelfth “brother,” he was the only one to inhabit the earthly realm. On his settlement on De Courcy Island, the skull of a woman in her twenties, wrapped in a sack, was found inside a house in which he claimed to commune with the other “chela.”
Wilson grew up in a religious family and said that during his childhood he was visited by angels. He travelled the world, arriving in Canada in 1905 and worked for a time as an express clerk in Victoria before becoming a cult leader.
After a vision in 1924, Wilson started a colony near Nanaimo around 1926 and established the Aquarian Foundation in 1927. Within only a year, he had eight thousand donors from across North America. His devotees were often affluent and included many wealthy widows and retired businessmen. Their generous contributions allowed Wilson, now “Brother XII,” to create a colony near Nanaimo, which he called Cedar-by-the-Sea.
Brother XII told his followers that they were the “chosen” people who would alone survive when the planet Aquarius collided with earth, killing all others. Aiming to create a community that was entirely self-sufficient, he convinced people to turn over their life savings.
Trouble eventually began to brew within the colony, however. Some members balked when he claimed he was the reincarnation of the Egyptian god Osiris. He later claimed he had meant this as a metaphor, but other problems arose: some of the members disliked his extramarital affair, and they also criticized his misuse of foundation money.
The colony was legally dissolved in 1929, but Brother XII’s cause prevailed: he still had a number of loyal followers and he continued to recruit new members. The unrest had, however, made him increasingly paranoid, and his leadership became ever more authoritarian. Along with his mistress, Mabel Skottowe––also known as Madame Z––Wilson went to drastic measures to “test” members’ readiness to spiritually advance. One of these members, after escaping imprisonment in a cellar on Valdes Island, rowed to Nanaimo where he reported Brother XII to the local authorities. Police investigations went nowhere initially until a larger group within the colony revolted and filed legal actions.
In response, Brother XII destroyed the colony and absconded along with Madame Z and about half a million dollars of member donations (mostly in pint jars filled with gold) to Europe by private tugboat.
Wilson seems to have died on November 7th, 1934, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland as Julian Skottowe, naming Madame Z––Mabel Skottowe––executor of his Nanaimo estate. His death, however, was possibly a fabrication, as there is some evidence that he met with his lawyer in San Francisco after that date.
The site of the cult’s first settlement, Cedar-by-the-Sea, can still be visited just outside Nanaimo.