The Largest Grain Elevator in Saskatchewan: The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. at Kylemore

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

On Highway 5 east of Wadena lies the tiny hamlet of Kylemore, SK. Few today would guess it was once home to a thriving agricultural colony of Doukhobor pacifists. Fewer still would guess that they once built and operated the largest grain elevator in the province there. The following is a brief account of its unique history.

Background

In 1918, the Doukhobor organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Ltd. (CCUB), under the stimulus of rising grain prices, sought out suitable farmland for a new colony in a district where land values were cheaper than at Veregin, SK.[1]

To this end, it purchased an 11,362-acre block of wooded, undeveloped land along the Canadian Northern Railway at Kylemore, SK.[2]  Some 250 Doukhobor men, women and children from the Veregin district and BC Kootenays were settled on the tract, which they named Bozhiye Blagosloveniye in Russian, meaning ‘God’s Blessing’.[3]

Working communally, the Doukhobors began clearing the dense trees and scrub, constructing villages, and cultivating the land into crop. The logs were sawn into cordwood and shipped by railcar back to Veregin, where they were used to fire the boilers of the large CCUB brick factory and roller flour mill plant there.

As it was cleared, the virgin soil at Kylemore proved remarkably rich and fertile – so much so, that in 1919, the Doukhobors harvested 13,610 bushels of wheat, 9,150 bushels of barley and 33,600 bushels of oats from little more than 1,000 acres of breaking – an average yield of almost 60 bushels per acre.[4]

The large 1919 harvest was sold through the sole elevator at Kylemore operated by the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Co. However, as the Doukhobors desired self-sufficiency and wished to avoid the grain handling and marketing costs charged by private grain companies, they initiated plans to build an elevator of their own.[5]    

The Doukhobors were no strangers to elevator-building, having already built and operated 9 grain elevators of their own at Veregin, Arran, Canora and Ebenezer, SK, Cowley and Lundbreck, AB and Brilliant, BC, with a cumulative storage capacity of 440,000 bushels, over the previous decade.[6] They also built for hire numerous elevators for private grain companies.

Doukhobor communal work crew constructing the CCUB elevator at Kylemore, 1919. Photo courtesy Peter and Agnes Malekoff.

The Elevator

In late 1919, a crew of some 25 Doukhobor workmen, under the supervision of CCUB elevator builder Wasyl A. Shishkin of Canora, began erecting the new elevator on the south side of the Canadian Northern Railway right-of-way. Construction continued until freeze-up, then recommenced the following spring of 1920, with the elevator completed and operational in time for the harvest.

Besides using unpaid communal labour, the Doukhobors manufactured most of their own building materials. In this regard, some 750,000 board-feet of 2 by 8 inch fir lumber milled at the CCUB sawmills in the Kootenays was shipped to Kylemore on 10-15 railcars and used in the construction. The total cost of the elevator was approximately $13,500.00.[7] Their main external cost was the mechanical leg, scales, heads and other specialty manufactured equipment.

The resulting elevator was a ‘standard plan’ tall elevator of wood-crib construction (boards laid horizontally and nailed together) with a tin-clad exterior. It stood approximately 70 by 35 feet wide and 70 feet high on a concrete foundation with a pyramidal roof and dormered gable cupola. Its unloading spouts were attached to the sidewall on the north side facing the rail line. A driveway and receiving shed, along with a semi-detached office and engine shed with a stationary gasoline engine was constructed on the south side. Emblazoned on its east and west sides were the words, “The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd.”

It had a licensed storage capacity of 100,000 bushels with 20,000 bushels of auxiliary capacity, making it the largest free-standing wood-crib elevator in Saskatchewan at the time.[8] This was impressive, given the average storage capacity of the 2,184 elevators operating in the province in 1920 was only 30,000 bushels.[9] It was also built with a double leg, which meant that it had two weigh scales so that two grain wagons could unload at the same time. It also meant it could load two rail cars at the same time.

The CCUB elevator at Kylemore, c. 1930. Photo courtesy The Wadena News.

Operations

Under the rules of the colony, all grain grown by members was required to be delivered to the CCUB elevator, and members were not permitted to deliver grain to anyone but CCUB grain agents.[10]

Initially, no member had an individual right to the grain they grew, nor was paid for its delivery, for no member was allowed individual holdings.[11] Rather, the grain belonged to the central organization, which marketed and shipped the grain and retained all proceeds. In return for their labour, the CCUB supplied its members with food, shelter, clothing and supplies, along with land, farm implements and machinery and livestock for their use.[12] Members held an equitable undivided interest in the corporation.  

This moneyless system continued until 1928, when the CCUB was reorganized on a cash basis.[13] Thereafter, the CCUB elevator continued to maintain a buying monopoly over all grain grown in the colony, but now purchased the grain delivered by its members, which they grew on land rented from the CCUB using their own implements and machinery.

The CCUB elevator also purchased grain from outside farmers, which at Kylemore were primarily English, Scandinavian and Ukrainian settlers. The CCUB charged them substantially less elevating and marketing fees than its competing grain buyer, the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Co., thereby increasing their farm profits.[14] The storage capacity available for outside farmers, however, was dependent upon the volume of grain grown by the Doukhobors themselves, which over time, increased with additional land clearing.    

Cross-section of a grain elevator. UGG News, August 1974, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Courtesy Glenn Dickson).

When grain was received at the elevator from colony members or outside farmers, the intake process was the same. Each loaded wagon was driven into the receiving shed where it was unhitched from its team, weighed on the scale, then lifted using hand-operated crank hoists to dump the grain into the receiving pit below. Once empty, the wagon was lowered and reweighed. The difference between weights determined the volume of grain received. The grain was then carried from the pit up to the ‘head’ of the elevator (housed in the cupola at the top) by the ‘leg’, a continuous belt with carrying cups. From the head, the grain was distributed, via the ‘gerber’ distribution spout and gravity chutes, into one of several bins designated according to grain type and grade. This process could be carried out in tandem with the double leg and head. 

From 1920 through 1933, the CCUB elevator was annually licensed and inspected as a ‘country elevator’ through the Winnipeg Grain Commission.[15] This was required under The Canada Grain Act in order to receive, purchase, store, ship or sell grain for commerce. After 1933, it was licensed as a ‘private elevator’ and had ceased buying grain from outside farmers, as the Doukhobors were using its full capacity for themselves.[16]

Grain was stored in the elevator bins until it was ready to be shipped, which might be weeks or months. At such time, it was dumped from a bin into the hopper scale, where it was weighed. It was then dumped into the pit, from which it was carried up by the ‘leg’ to the ‘head’ in the cupola. From the head, the grain was then dumped, via the ‘gerber’, into the gravity-fed loading spout, through which it exited the elevator and unloaded into a boxcar ‘spotted’ (parked) on the rail siding north adjacent the elevator. Again, this process could be carried out in tandem, via the double leg and head.

All grain shipments and sales from the Kylemore elevator were centrally managed through the CCUB head office in Veregin, which instructed the local elevator manager via telephone and telegraph dispatch.

When instructed, the CCUB elevator manager shipped a requisite number of railcars of wheat (for flour milling) and oats (for livestock feed) to the CCUB colony at Brilliant, whose mountain valley land was almost exclusively dedicated to fruit-growing and not grain-growing. In exchange, the Kylemore colony received fresh fruit, the famous ‘KC Brand’ Doukhobor jam and lumber produced in the Kootenays. The balance of grain was shipped and sold to domestic and foreign markets through the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and the Fort William and Port Arthur Grain Exchange.

CCUB structures adjacent to CNR at Kylemore, SK, c. 1922. (L-R) grain elevator, community warehouse, and two large communal homes. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

The elevator was managed by the CCUB Kylemore Branch Manager, which was Peter S. Chernoff in 1920, John J. Planidin in 1924, Dmitry I. Malakoff in 1925, and Nikolai I. Cazakoff from 1926-1928. They were assisted by various colony members who handled the grain at the elevator.

Interestingly, in 1927, incoming CCUB President Peter P. Verigin announced plans to install an electrical generating plant to power the Kylemore elevator and replace the existing stationary gasoline engine.[17] At the same time, he expressed the possibility of the elevator joining the wheat pool elevator and marketing co-operative movement.[18] However, neither would come to pass.

Sale of Elevator

By 1931, the colony numbered 400 members and had an aggregate assessed value of $454,834.00 in land, buildings, livestock and implements. [19] The CCUB elevator was valued at $25,000.00. [20]

Yet despite the colony’s wealth, the central organization itself was ailing financially. When the Great Depression struck in the Thirties, the financial situation of the CCUB deteriorated rapidly because all of the communal property was pledged under a blanket mortgage (taken for debts acrued off-colony) and no further loans could be negotiated due to lack of collateral.[21] With no credit, and with membership and cash income falling rapidly, company officials looked to selling off corporate assets to raise the capital necessary to service its massive debt.

To this end, the CCUB elevator at Kylemore was sold in April 1936 to the Winnipeg, MB-based Pioneer Grain Company Ltd.[22] The sale proved to be too little, too late. By July of that year, the CCUB could not service its debts and declared bankruptcy. In 1937-1938 the company was placed under receivership by its creditors who, the following year in 1939, foreclosed upon the CCUB lands at Kylemore, leading to the break-up of the colony. Thereafter the CCUB ceased to exist as a corporate entity.[23]

Another view of the CCUB elevator at Kylemore, c. 1930. Photo: British Columbia Archives, Item No. C-01709.

Pioneer Grain Co. Ltd.

The Pioneer Grain Company Limited took over the Doukhobor-built elevator and continued to serve Kylemore district farmers, including former colony members, for the next fifty-four years.

No major structural modifications were made to the elevator during Pioneer’s tenure. However, in the 1950s, much of the original equipment was upgraded: the original gasoline engine was replaced with electrical equipment; the truck-dumping mechanism was improved; larger scales and larger and longer movable loading spouts to facilitate the loading of freight cars were installed; wooden legs were replaced with metal ones; and driveways extended to accommodate larger trucks.

In terms of storage capacity, Pioneer licensed the elevator at 100,000 bushels’ capacity from 1936 to 1949; 110,000 bushels from 1949 to 1960; 96,000 bushels from 1960 to 1978; and 2,690 tons from 1978 to 1990.[24] The company never constructed annexes to increase the storage capacity.   

By 1990, the 70-year-old elevator was wearing out and in need of costly repairs. At the same time, farming practices had changed and many small farms were replaced by a few large ones, which incented the grain company to have fewer, more centralized grain storage facilities. This was supported by the railway company, which no longer wished to stop every 7-10 miles to spot rail cars.

Consequently, Pioneer closed its Kylemore elevator in the spring of 1990 while adding additional storage capacity to its elevator in Wadena, a larger commercial centre 6.5 miles to the west. After its closure, the elevator stood empty for several years and was then demolished.

Conclusion

Today, all that remains of the elevator are its concrete foundations, one of the few reminders of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood at Kylemore, and of the pioneering efforts of the Doukhobors in the field of grain growing and storage. More enduring still is their example of what can be accomplished when people work together for community.      

Loading grain cars at the Doukhobor-built Pioneer Grain Company Ltd. elevator in Kylemore, c. 1985. Photo courtesy Wayne CF.
The Pioneer Grain Company Ltd. elevator at Kylemore, shortly before its demolition, c. 1991. Photo courtesy Wayne CF.

Afterword

This article originally appeared in the following journals and periodicals:

  • ISKRA (Grand Forks, Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ) No. 2186 (May 2023);
  • Foam Lake Review, November 6, 2023.

End Notes

[1] C.A. Dawson, Group Settlement: Ethnic Communities in Western Canada (Toronto: MacMillan, 1936) at 40. The undeveloped Kylemore land was purchased at $25.00 an acre: Regina Leader Post, June 3, 1918; whereas developed land in Veregin was valued at $100.00 an acre: see for example Certificate of Title No. QR20 dated July 24, 1917 issued to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited re: Section 1-30-1-W2.

[2] For a comprehensive history of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood at Kylemore, see: J. Kalmakoff, “The Kylemore Doukhobor Colony” in Saskatchewan History, Spring/Summer 2011, Vol. 63, No. 1.

[3] Record of harvest at Kylemore, 1919, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. M-.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The desire for self-sufficiency and avoidance of elevating and marketing fees charged by private grain companies was a main motivator in the Doukhobors erecting their own grain elevators: W. Blakemore, Report of Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria BC: King’s Printer, 1913) at 57-58.

[6] See for example: J. Kalmakoff, “History of Doukhobor Elevators in the Veregin District” in Canora Courier, August 31, 2022, September 7, 2022, September 22, 2022; J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Grain Elevator at Brilliant, BC” in West Kootenay Advertiser, November 4, 2020; J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora” in Canora Courier, February 25, 2018, March 7, 2018, March 14, 2018, March 21, 2018, March 28, 2018; J. Kalmakoff, “Doukhobor Elevator Building: The Alberta Farmers’ Cooperative Grain Elevator at Sedgewick AB” in Flagstaff Community Press, March 19, 2022.

[7] Based on the 1920 BC Interior lumber price of $25.00/1000 board feet: G.H. Hak, On the Fringes: Capital and Labour in the Forest Economies of the Port Alberni and Prince George Districts, British Columbia, 1910-1939 (Ph.D. Thesis) (Simon Fraser University, 1986) at 27-30.

[8] Canada Department of Trade and Commerce, List of Licensed Elevators and Warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division, License Year 1920-1921. (Ottawa: Department of Trade and Commerce, 1921) at 72. Note: in 1920, Quaker Oats Company in Saskatoon and Robin Hood Mills Ltd. were licensed at 380,000 and 385,000 bushels respectively; however, these structures were concrete inland terminals and not wood-crib elevators. Also, the Alberta Pacific Grain Co. Ltd. in Gravelbourg, R.B. McClean Grain Co. Ltd. in Harris and Conger & Co. Ltd. in Roleau were licensed at 120,000, 110,000 and 100,00 bushels respectively; however these were not single free-standing structures; the licensed bushels included both wood-crib elevators and adjacent annex structures.   

[9] Ibid.

[10] Saskatoon Star Phoenix, December 5, 1923; Regina Leader Post, December 7, 1923; Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer, June 2, 1926.

[11] CCUB grain ownership was put to legal test in 1923, when brothers Alex, Wasyl and Simeon A. Horkoff, CCUB members at Veregin, SK, sold the grain grown on the farm upon which they resided and kept the money themselves in place of turning it into the central treasury. The CCUB charged them with theft of property. At preliminary hearing, the magistrate dismissed the charges, holding it was a civil not criminal matter. The Horkoffs filed a civil suit in the Court of King’s Bench, claiming the land on which the grain was grown was rightfully theirs, the CCUB having secured title to it by means of fraud. The matter was settled out of court. See: Saskatoon Star Phoenix, December 5 and 7, 1923, January 5, May 12, 1924; Saskatoon Daily Star, December 17, 1923, January 5 and 22, May 12 & 16, 1924; Regina Leader Post, December 6 and 7, 2023, May 14, 15 & 16, 1924.

[12] Dawson, supra, note 1; Snesarev, Vladimir N. (Harry W. Trevor), The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia Publication, Department of Agriculture, 1931).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Blakemore, supra, note 5.

[15] List of Licensed Elevators, supra, note 8, License Years, 1920-1936.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Regina Leader Post, December 30, 1927.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Snesarev, supra, note 11, List of Property Owned by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Limited as at January 1, 1931 – District of Kylemore, Saskatchewan.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Kalmakoff, supra, note 2.

[22] “More Rumours of Doukhobor Migrations from Saskatchewan Heard at Yorkton” in Saskatoon Star Phoenix, April 24, 1936.

[23] K.J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava (Mir Publication Society: Grand Forks, 1982) at 153-154; S. Jamieson, “Economic and Social Life” in H.B. Hawthorn (Ed.), The Doukhobors of British Columbia (University of British Columbia, 1955) at 52-56.

[24] List of Licensed Elevators, supra, note 8, License Years, 1936-1953; Grain Elevators in Canada. Winnipeg: Board of Grain Commissioners for Canada, 1954-1990.

Paska – A Traditional Doukhobor Easter Recipe

By Jonathan Kalmakoff

Paska (Cyrillic: Паска) (pronounced: PAH-skah) is a round, egg-enriched sweet bread, traditionally made by Doukhobors in Russia and the Caucasus at Easter for centuries. It is customarily served on Easter Sunday, following the morning prayer meeting, to family and friends.

The following Doukhobor recipe for Paska was shared with the writer by Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now living in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.

Ingredients

flour (2 kg initially; more as needed)sugar (600 grams)
warm milk (1 litre)salt (1 teaspoon)
eggs (10)yeast (30 grams dry/100 grams fresh)
melted butter (600 grams)raisins (200 grams)
icing sugar (10 table spoons)vanillin (4 grams)

Instructions

  1. Sift flour so that it is well saturated with air.
  2. In a bowl, add 8 tablespoons of flour. Add in the yeast and 4 teaspoons of sugar, along with a little warm milk.  Mix yeast mixture well, cover bowl with a tea towel and put in a warm place for 15 minutes.
  3. In another bowl, pour in the egg. (If making icing under Step 11, pour in egg yolks only, and separate egg whites into a different bowl and put in fridge to chill.). To the eggs, add the salt and start beating, gradually adding the sugar to get a lush, creamy texture that leaves a light pattern behind.
  4. In another bowl, combine the rest of the milk and flour.  Slowly beat in the egg yolk/sugar mix. Add in the yeast mixture (once it has sat for 15 minutes), then the melted butter.
  5. Begin kneading the dough mixture, adding in the vanillin. While kneading, add up to 100-200 grams of additional flour, if necessary, to ensure a soft, smooth elastic texture (however, do not add too much!). Continue to knead the dough thoroughly for up to 40 minutes.
  6. Once kneaded, cover the bowl of dough with a tea towel and put in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ hours. The dough will be yellowish in colour because of the volume of eggs used.
  7. In the meantime, while the dough is rising:
    • Rinse the raisins with water, drain, then place on a tea towel to dry. Once dry, dust the raisins with two tablespoons of flour; and
    • Grease 10 large coffee tins (or other cylindrical baking tins) with butter.
  8. Once the dough has risen, stretch it out on a countertop (dusted with flour), add in the raisins and knead/roll until the raisins are evenly distributed.
Raw paska dough in tin forms. Image: Vasily Stroyev.
  1. Divide the dough into roughly 10 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball and place into a coffee tin; each ball should fill approximately half of the tin. Cover the cans loosely with a towel and leave for 20 minutes until the dough slightly rises out of the tins.
  2. Put tins in oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 35 minutes. Then take out tins and place on countertop on their sides, turning them from time to time, as they cool over 15 minutes. They should then be easily removed from tins.
Baked paska, removed from tins, cooling on tray. Image: Vasily Stroyev.
  1. This next step is optional, as Doukhobor paska did not traditionally have icing. Beat the chilled egg whites together, then add icing sugar and whip well until it is a thick, frothy consistency. Optional: add a dash of lemon or orange juice to taste. Then, using a spatula, add icing mixture generously to the top of each of the completely cooled loafs. Optional: add sprinkles to the top of the icing mixture before it hardens. Allow the icing to dry well before serving.  
Doukhobor paska with decorative icing added. Image: Vasily Stroyev.

Notes

History

The making of Paska at Easter is a millennium-old Orthodox tradition practiced throughout the former Russian Empire. When the Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox church in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox customs and traditions. However, they continued to bake Paska at Easter, modifying and imbuing the practice with their own religious meaning and significance. Learn more about the historical, religious and cultural aspects of Easter Among Doukhobors.

In the Doukhobor South Russian dialect, the bread is called Paska (Паска), which is also its name in Ukrainian. In modern Russian it is called Paskha (Пасха).

Unlike Orthodox Russians and Ukrainians, who braid the loaves or imprint them with crosses and other religious symbols, Doukhobor loaves are left plain and unadorned. This is a very important religious and cultural distinction that reflects Doukhobor iconoclast beliefs.

When the Doukhobors first arrived in Canada in 1899, they initially continued to bake Paska at Easter. However, at an All-Doukhobor Congress at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, and to focus on its wholly spiritual aspects, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Easter, including Paska baking. Thereafter, the recipe eventually fell into disuse and was forgotten by many – but by no means all – Canadian Doukhobors. The Doukhobors who remained in Russia and the Caucasus continue to bake Paska to this day.

Additional Baking Tips

Some Canadian Doukhobor users of this traditional recipe have suggested the following tips and tricks:

  • Combining Ingredients: It may be less cumbersome to follow a common bread recipe method of ‘proofing’ the yeast mixture separately, but combining and mixing the rest of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, vanillin, raisins) together at once.
  • Tins: Coffee tins or cylindrical baking tins must be very well greased or else lined with parchment paper to avoid sticking. Cylindrical spring-form pans with detachable bottoms and openable sides may work best.
  • Fill the tins between 1/3 and no more than 1/2 with dough balls to avoid significant overflow.
  • Recipe Size: This is a large recipe that makes the equivalent of about 5 dozen buns. Consider halving the recipe ingredients for a smaller amount.
  • Cooking Time and Temp: Although the loaves may be browned on top, they may not be thoroughly baked inside. Consider baking instead at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-50 minutes.

Let us revive this centuries-old, traditional Doukhobor recipe!

Categories
General

“The Best Railway Builders in this Country”: Doukhobors in Western Canada

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The construction of transcontinental railways across Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries required an enormous labour force, most of whom were immigrants. Between 1899 and 1912, thousands of Doukhobor labourers were hired by railway companies to build many hundreds of miles of track through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and into Alberta. While much scholarly attention has been paid to the significant contribution made by other immigrant groups, particularly Chinese workers in the late 19th century, little is known about the Doukhobors’ contribution to railway construction in Western Canada.[1] This article is an opportunity to examine Doukhobor railway building, its importance as an early source of communal income, and its overall contribution to the settlement and development of the Prairie region.   

Background

The Doukhobors were a religious movement founded in 18th century Russia. They rejected the rites and dogma of the Orthodox Church and denied the authority of the Tsarist State, refusing to acknowledge any law but God’s.[2] Their pacifist, egalitarian and anti-authoritarian teachings were based on the belief that the spirit of God resides in the soul of every person.[3] They were frequently persecuted for their faith and exiled to the frontiers of the Empire.[4] Following widespread arrests and exiles in 1895 for their refusal to serve in the Russian Imperial Army,[5] many sought refuge by immigrating en masse to Canada. 

In 1899, some 7,500 Doukhobors[6] arrived in the Saskatchewan and Assiniboine districts of the North-West Territories (after 1905, Saskatchewan), settling on 702,720 acres of homestead land reserved for them along the Whitesand, Assiniboine and Swan River watersheds and elsewhere where they established over seventy Old World villages.[7] At the time, the area was sparsely settled and mostly prairie parkland wilderness, save for a handful of isolated ranches and homesteads.[8] It was unsurveyed and there were no roads except for deeply-rutted wagon trails. The closest railways were 30 to 80 miles away.   

Upon arriving at their new home, the Doukhobors established a communal way of life, organized as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (the ‘Community’).[9] All livestock, equipment and tools were held in common, all land was cleared and cultivated together, and all grain and agricultural products distributed equally amongst the settlers. Working collectively, they were able to achieve substantially more, over a much shorter time, than they could have as solitary homesteaders.

Doukhobors Building Railway Grade, circa 1904. Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection, MSC121-DP-050-01.

Railroad Labourers

In the early years of settlement, most of the men left their families and villages each spring, walking up to several hundred miles into Manitoba to find work ‘na doroge’ (‘on the railroad’) to earn much-needed income for their villages.[10] Being agriculturalists, it was not their preferred form of labour;[11] however, it was vitally necessary as they were destitute.  With villages bereft of men during the growing season (particularly during the 1899-1902 period), it fell upon the women and elderly to clear and plow the fields and erect village structures; tasks traditionally done by the men.[12] The men were hired as navvies (railroad labourers) by contractors building the railways extending across the Prairies.    

The Doukhobors were no strangers to this type of work. In Russia, hundreds laboured on the construction of the Transcaucasus Railway, including the Borjomi–Bakuriani line where they loaded gravel for track ballast and built grade through heavy timber in 1897,[13] and the Kars-Aleksandropol line where they built grade through hilly terrain in 1897-1898.[14] The work was characterized by extremely long working days, very low wages and many casualties due to lack of safety measures.[15] They would now bring that experience to bear in the opening of the Canadian West.

The main job of navvies[16] on the Prairies was to clear and remove trees, foliage and rocks and drain swamps along the surveyed right-of-way, and to make cuttings through hills and slopes and fills over hollows and lowlands, using tons of excavated earth to build a raised embankment. They also hauled tons of ballast, ties and steel rails to lay down tracks over the grade for the trains. This was done manually, using picks, shovels, sledgehammers, wheelbarrows, scrapers, wagons and horses. Labouring from sunrise to sunset through the summer heat and humidity, amid swarms of blackflies and mosquitoes, away from their homes in isolated, lice-ridden camps with few amenities, it was lonely, extremely difficult work requiring both physical and emotional stamina. It was also very dangerous work.[17]      

During the summer of 1899, 350 Doukhobor men were hired to build the Winnipeg Great Northern Railway Cowan-Swan River line while 150 worked on the Manitoba and Northwestern Railway Hamiota-Miniota line and another 116 on the Manitoba and Southeastern Railway Marchand-Sprague line.[18] Some villages even sent women to the grade that year.[19] They were supplied tools and equipment and received board in the construction camps, although special arrangements had to be made to feed them as they were vegetarians. They worked wherever ordered by the railway engineers, which were often the heaviest, most difficult sections, while English Canadian workers were often assigned the easiest stretches.[20] At the same time, they were paid a dollar a day while English Canadians received up to four dollars a day for the same work.[21] These discrepancies, exacerbated by prejudice against foreigners,[22] language barriers and misunderstandings, initially led to labour disputes and work stoppages; however, once the Doukhobors were treated fairly, the railways found them to be “excellent workers”.[23] Upon returning to their villages that fall, they pooled their earnings to buy much-needed provisions – draft horses, wagons, plows, harness, clothing and especially flour.[24]       

The Doukhobor men on the railway grade from 1899 on challenged prevailing white Anglo assumptions concerning masculinity in several respects: that men should not consider their wives as equals; that they should not depend on their wives to carry out field work at home while they pursued lucrative employment elsewhere;[25] that men should not bring women into construction camps, an exclusively male domain, as domestics much less labourers; that they could not be vegetarians and expect to carry out the physically demanding work of navvies; that men should labour independently rather than cooperatively; and that they should not hand over their hard-earned wages to others to run their affairs.       

Over the next several years, hundreds of Doukhobors were hired to clear right-of-ways, build grade and lay track on the Canadian Northern Railway Swan River-Erwood line in 1900,[26] Carmen-Gladstone line in 1901,[27] Gladstone-Grandview line in 1902,[28] Regina-Stoughton line in 1903,[29] Erwood-Melfort line in 1904[30] and Saskatoon-Langham line in 1905; the Manitoba and Southeastern Railway Sprague-Rainy River line in 1900;[31] the Ontario and Rainy River Railway Baudette-Rainy River bridge in 1901;[32] and the Canadian Pacific Railway Pipestone-Antler line in 1900-1901[33] and Yorkton-Sheho line in 1903-1904[34]. Several hundred even worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad Coast Line in California in 1900.[35] Over a thousand laboured each year on the Canadian Northern Railway line from Gladstone to Kamsack in 1903,[36] from Kamsack to Canora in 1904,[37] and from Canora to Humboldt in 1905[38] as it passed their settlements.

As steel was laid along these lines, railway engineers surveyed townsites and built stations and sidings every 6-10 miles, around which scores of new communities formed. One of the many was Canora, named after the CAnadian NOrthern RAilway, in August 1904.[39] Situated between Doukhobor homestead reserves to the east and west, the hamlet expanded to become a shipping point and trading centre for the flood of settlers of various nationalities who arrived homesteaded within the area served by the line, being a 10 to 12 mile radius. Four years later, in October 1908, it was declared a village.[40] Canora would also figure prominently in later Doukhobor railway building.   

Doukhobors making a cut on the Canadian Northern Railway grade, Koozma J. Tarasoff Doukhobor History Photo Collection.

While many Doukhobors initially faced discrimination and mistreatment at the construction camps, they persisted and soon earned a solid reputation as railroad labourers. As early as 1902, Neil Keith, a well-known contractor in charge of Canadian Northern Railway construction, proclaimed them “excellent” workers – “reliable and industrious”, “well adapted to meet the exigencies of the work”, whose “economy and thrift were noteworthy”.[41] Their kindness towards their work horses was also noted. Four years later, J.J. Kenny, Director of the Winnipeg-based McDonald–McMillan Company, declared them “the most desirable laborers” for railway construction.[42] Such recognition challenged the dominant white Anglo view of foreign workers, particularly Slavs, as lazy, slow, irresponsible and careless on the job.[43]

By 1902, the Doukhobor navvies organized themselves in order to secure better pay and conditions. They refused as a body to work on railway projects unless they were allowed to furnish their own tools, board themselves and work by the piece (by the cubic yard rather than day) having learned from experience that when their supplies were provided by the contractors at exorbitant premiums, along with their board bill, doctor’s bill, etc., there was little left coming to them.[44] As Doukhobor Aleksei N. Jmieff recounted, “There was work on the railroad, a dollar twenty-five a day and your own food, ten hour days. Worked on the ‘extra gang’ at a dollar seventy-five, but with their food, so seventy-five cents went for food and you were paid one dollar.”[45] 

As well, Doukhobors were soon able to demand higher rates for rail construction than were offered, aided by the leader of the Community, Peter V. Verigin, widely regarded by many English-Canadians as “one of the shrewdest businessmen in the mighty west” and “a veritable captain of industry”.[46] According to one anecdote,[47] when a Winnipeg contractor offered him 25.5 cents a cubic yard for grading in late 1902, Verigin insisted on 27.5 cents. The contractor told him that was the price the railway paid him, so he couldn’t make a profit. “No company will profit by our work,” Verigin replied. “I have known all along that you were getting 27.5 cents from the railway. Now you can take it or leave it.” Good workers were hard to find. The contractor took it.

By 1903 to 1905, half the able-bodied Doukhobor males living north of Yorkton – over a thousand men – were working on railway building each summer,[48] while the remainder farmed at their villages. The money they received from this work was substantial. In 1903, they earned $100.00 per man and $111,679.00 in total from railroad construction;[49] a comparable sum in 1904;[50] and $114,136.60 in 1905.[51] Their earnings were carefully hoarded and brought back to their villages each fall, where they were deposited into a common treasury for the benefit of all Community members.[52] 

The pooling of outside earnings from railway construction not only lifted the Community out of poverty, but within several years, enabled it to become self-sufficient and even prosperous. By 1903, it accounted for 66.9% of Community income and covered 52.4% of its expenditures, and by 1905, it accounted for 60.1% of total income and covered all of its expenditures.[53] The Community was thus able to improve existing village dwellings and build new structures, expand its landholdings, draft horse herd and farm machinery, and to develop new enterprises including flour mills, linseed oil presses, sawmills, tanning mills, lime kilns, blacksmiths, grain elevators, brickyards, concrete block plants, trading stores and warehouses.   

By 1906, Doukhobors dominated the railway labour market in Western Canada, with each railway vying to secure them for its operations. Indeed, that July, the Canadian Pacific Railway complained of labour shortages and wage inflation largely due to the Canadian Northern Railway and Grand Trunk Pacific “having pretty well cleaned up” the Doukhobor labour supply, and expressed concern that it would have to suspend its prairie construction work by harvest.[54] The latter companies had over 1,600 Doukhobors working at the time.[55]

Undoubtedly, the strong social cohesion, cultural homogeneity and religious devotion within the Community, together with its centralized communal structure, exceptional leadership and adroit business management allowed the Doukhobors to excel at railway construction to a greater degree than other immigrant groups working as disparate collections of individuals.

Railway Subcontractor

After six years, the experience it gained from railway construction enabled the Doukhobor Community to assume the role of a subcontractor – one degree removed from the railway company – on large projects. Few if any other immigrant groups had achieved this level of autonomy while labouring on Canadian railways.[56] As a subcontractor, the Community could manage its own work, choose the sections of line it worked on and retain greater earnings than it could by hiring out men individually; however, it also assumed a greater degree of risk and responsibility for the work. Undaunted, the Community bid on difficult jobs that other railway builders would not accept or take hold of at any price.[57]

Doukhobor Track-Laying Crew, circa 1904. Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection,  MSC121-DP-046-01.

The first subcontract the Community received was in September 1905 from the McDonald-McMillan Company,[58] with company president Malcolm McMillan announcing that “the Doukhobors had done most excellent work in the past in the matter of railway construction and that he anticipated that in the future their leaders might develop into construction men of exceptional ability. There was no doubt of their ability to carry out the contract.”[59] The work entailed moving a million cubic feet of earth to complete 17 miles of grade on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway St. Lazare-Spy Hill line through the Assiniboine and Qu’Appelle River valleys, over some of the roughest, most demanding terrain on the line, for which the Community would receive $200,000.00; twice the annual revenue received over the past three years.[60]

In March of the following spring, the Community mobilized a thousand men at St. Lazare, together with 300 teams of heavy working horses, large quantities of equipment purchased for the work, as well as food and clothing supplies.[61] They set up several camps along the line, each with a cookhouse, store, stable and blacksmith, accompanied by a group of women who washed and mended the workmen’s clothes and milked the cows.[62] The orderliness and cleanliness of the encampments was remarked upon by the press and government officials, as was the splendid condition of the horses, with The Winnipeg Tribune noting, “it is easy to see how well they are thought of by their owners.”[63]  

The Doukhobors carried out the grade work under the supervision of Community managers Vasily A. Potapoff and Nikolai S. Zeboroff.[64] Their workmanship was lauded by the press, with The Winnipeg Free Press writing, “to say that these uneducated Russians are good road-builders is putting it mild – they are simply experts. Large cuts and big grades are all built with the same accuracy, and are as level and straight as the sight. There is no carelessness or recklessness among these men, none whatsoever.”[65]At harvest, 500 of the men returned to their villages while the remainder completed the subcontract in October 1906.[66] The subcontract cemented the Doukhobors’ reputation, with Malcolm McMillan of the McDonald-McMillan Company proclaiming them “the best railway builders in this country”.[67]

This success did not go unnoticed by Grand Trunk Pacific Railway officials. While touring the new line in August 1906, company vice-president Frank W. Morse was struck by the efficiency of the Doukhobor workmen, declaring, “The service rendered by them is in every way satisfactory, and I only wish we had more Doukhobors available.”[68] By October, Morse and company president Charles Melville Hays relayed requests through the Russian Consul in Montreal, Nikolai Struve, to Peter V. Verigin to bring 10,000 more Doukhobors from Russia to help complete their transcontinental line over the next two years.[69] The importation of foreign labour for railway construction was controversial but not new; the Canadian Pacific Railway imported 17,000 Chinese workers to complete its British Columbia section in 1880-1885.[70] Verigin travelled to Russia from October 1906 to February 1907, ostensibly to make the necessary arrangements; however, the deal purportedly fell through when Tsarist authorities refused to cooperate and the railway declined to sign a contract on the terms Verigin proposed.[71]  

Over the next three years, the Community continued to secure small subcontracts using up to several hundred men, notably on the Canadian Pacific Railway Sheho-Lanigan line in 1907-1908,[72] the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Melville-Saskatoon line in 1907-1908[73] and Yonker-Butz line in 1909,[74] and the Canadian Northern Railway Melfort-Prince Albert line in 1906,[75] Swan River-Benito line in 1908, Benito-Pelly line in 1909,[76] Rossburn-Russell line in 1907-1908[77] and Russell-Canora line in 1909. Smaller groups worked on projects as distant as the Canadian Pacific Railway Buda Tunnel in Northern Ontario in 1907[78] and the Great Northern Railway Cloverdale-Huntington line in British Columbia in 1908.[79] The majority of the men, however, remained at their villages, devoting their efforts to improving their farmland.[80]

Subcontracts were signed by Peter V. Verigin on behalf of the Community, since the Community, being unincorporated at the time, did not have the capacity to enter into contracts on its own. Consequently, all subcontract payments were made directly to Verigin. From the Community perspective, this obviated the need to collect wages from individual workmen, as well as the risk that all or some of those wages might be arbitrarily withheld or errantly misspent. Payments received on subcontracts were deposited by Verigin in the Community central office at Veregin and used for various expenditures.        

Evidently, the Community was also paid in land and lots along the railway route.[81] Between 1906 and 1909, it acquired a section of land at Insinger, another section at Sheho and four lots in the Point Douglas industrial neighborhood of Winnipeg from the Canadian Pacific Railway for subcontract work.[82] In the same period, it received 11 lots in the town of Transcona from the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.[83] The properties were held in the name of Peter V. Verigin in trust for the Community until its federal incorporation in 1917.     

Railway General Contractor

Between 1905 and 1909, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway completed the Prairie section of its transcontinental railroad from Winnipeg to Edmonton. By January 1909, the company announced its plans to construct a network of branch lines throughout central Saskatchewan.[84] One such branch was a 30-mile line from Yorkton north to Canora, which it committed to extend to Hudson Bay at a later date.[85]     

The country through which the branch line would pass was predominantly low, nearly level, wet prairie grassland dotted with bluffs of small popular and clumps of willow, with numerous sloughs and marshes, much of which was alkaline, and broken land associated with the Whitesand River and its tributaries, the Little Whitesand River (Yorkton Creek) and Boggy Creek (Wallace Creek) over which it crossed. It was by then well-settled with English-Canadian, German, Polish and Ukrainian farmers cultivating adjacent lands.     

Doukhobors Building the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway grade between Yorkton and Canora, SK, 1910. British Columbia Archives, Doukhobor History Photo Collection, A-01223.

By December 23, 1909, Grand Trunk Pacific Railway surveyors located the right-of-way for the line,[86] and following its approval by the Board of Railway Commissioners on February 28, 1910,[87] the company issued calls for tenders for clearing, grading, track-laying, bridge-building, fencing and telegraph construction along the line route. Two weeks later, on March 17, 1910, a contract was awarded to Peter V. Verigin, on behalf of the Community, for clearing and grading the line.[88]  

                The Contract

The contract award made headlines across the country, marking the first time the Doukhobors – or indeed, any immigrant group – would achieve the status of a general contractor vis-à-vis a Canadian railway company on a grade construction project, culminating from eleven years of extensive experience. Indeed, the Community was well-positioned to execute the work, having a fully-equipped, skilled and experienced workforce of 1,500 men, 400 teams of draft horses, 500 yokes of oxen, and necessary logistical support situated within a day’s journey of the line.[89]

The contract value was substantial, with the Community to be paid $70,000.00. However, the contract had an aggressive deadline, with railway officials expecting it to be completed by the fall of 1910.[90] The Community had to carefully coordinate the work around its farming operations. In this regard, on March 8, 1910, Peter V. Verigin wrote his followers to advise, “the plan is made as follows: we must sow together at home, after sowing from May 15th or June 1st go to the railroad work, and definitely return home for grain harvesting.”[91]

Significantly, while prior railway work helped the Community establish itself in Saskatchewan, the income from this contract was earmarked at the outset for the purchase of new lands in British Columbia, with Verigin noting in his letter, “This railway work will be of great help to us in settling in ‘Kolumbia’.”[92] The resettlement of Community members to British Columbia had been underway since 1908,[93] and this news was no doubt met with support by members still in Saskatchewan. 

                The Camps

On May 18, 1910, after completing spring seeding, a thousand Doukhobor workmen left their villages in the Buchanan, Canora, Veregin, Kamsack and Pelly districts and converged on Yorkton to begin construction of the line.[94] Accompanied by a group of women, they brought all their own tools and equipment along with 400 teams of horses, milking cows, temporary shelters, food and feed.

Following the model used on past railway subcontracts,[95] the Doukhobors organized themselves into 4 camps of 250 or so men each, set up at roughly 7-8 mile intervals along the route. Each camp had up to 25 ten-man tents for the men to sleep in, several for the women, a store tent for supplies, another for the cook house and mess hall, one for a blacksmith along with makeshift stables for 100 or so teams of horses. Dr. T.A. Patrick of Yorkton and Dr. E.M. Vesey of Canora were retained to provide medical assistance as necessary.

Within each camp, duties were well-ordered and systematically carried out. In the cookhouse, the cook built two ovens using local clay and stone – one for baking bread, and another on which was laid a large, heavy sheet of iron for a stove top for cooking borsch (soup); the ovens were fired all day as he prepared food. One man cut, split and stacked cordwood for the ovens. Another built tables for the mess tent. In the smithy, the blacksmith built a forge by excavating a large hole in the ground and lining it with stone, in which poplar logs were burned to make charcoal; wrought iron was then put in the forge and shaped with a hammer and anvil into necessary pieces. The women washed and mended clothing for the men and milked cows. At the stable, which had no sides and only tent cloth for roof, one got an idea of the care given to the horses; all were in fine shape, the dapples showing plainly on their glossy hides. One man prepared feed for the horses by chopping and soaking bailed hay, then mixing it with oats. Several men traversed the country, buying up all available feed oats for 10 miles on either side of the line. Others hauled drinking water from nearby creeks and wells in horse-drawn tank carts to the camp and grade.                  

The Grade

At each section of grade, Doukhobors were organized into work gangs responsible for clearing, making cuttings and fills or building embankments. Tasks were carried out in an organized and disciplined manner so that the scene, according to one journalist, “closely resembled a hive of bees”.[96]  

Doukhobor Railway Camp on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Yorkton-Canora branch near the outskirts of Canora, SK, 1910. British Columbia Archives, Doukhobor History Photo Collection,  C-06515.

Clearing was done almost entirely by hand.  Following the surveyed route, an advance crew cleared a 100-foot right-of-way. Clumps of bush and bluffs of trees, particularly heavy in the broken land of the Whitesand valley and ravines, were cut away and chopped down using hatchets, axes and saws, while the stumps were grubbed out with pick-axes and spades.  Logs suitable for cordwood were cut into lengths and stacked, while non-salvageable material, such as brush, roots and limbs, were piled and burned or buried. Rocks were grubbed out and moved by hand or with horses and chains into piles while larger, heavier ones were blasted with dynamite. Low alkaline wetlands, common throughout the route, were drained by digging trenches and then filled with rocks and soil.        

Making a cutting was heavy work. Where a hill or bluff blocked passage of the line, it was cut away. On the face of the hill through which the cutting was to pass, a gang of scraper outfits was assembled. Each scraper had a blade running along the bottom of a C-shaped bucket mounted on runners and was pulled by a team of horses. As the teamster drove the team up to the face of the hill, a second man lifted the handle allowing the blade to cut into the ground and fill the bucket, then pulled the handle down so it would stop digging and slide along the ground to a designated spot where the handle was lifted and the soil dumped. The soil was then moved in horse-drawn dump carts to low areas for fill or to build up the grade. After successive passes by the scrapers, the hill was laid open and a gullet excavated through it.                  

As there was not enough soil available from hill cuttings, the route being mostly level, the Doukhobors took earth from a side cutting to build up the grade. Gangs of scraper outfits and wheelbarrow men with spades excavated a cutting on either side of the grade, the soil from which was then used to bank up the earthwork in between. The cuts had to be kept level and straight, so that the end result consisted of a raised grade with a ditch running on either side.      

Building the embankment was particularly demanding. It had to be solid and permanent, requiring little maintenance or upgrading; straight and level, to allow the trains to run at full speed at all times; and raised to allow for adequate drainage. To this end, the Doukhobors built a four-foot grade along the level parts of the route, while through low areas and valleys it was as high as 15 or 20 feet. It was 8 feet broad at the top to carry a standard-gauge rail track (4 ft 8 ½ in) and three times that breadth at the base. A Doukhobor foreman continually patrolled the section to ensure that it precisely met these requirements.               

At the embankment, horse-drawn scrapers and dump carts loaded with earth were drawn along its top to ‘the dump’. At the dump, the man in charge directed the teamster as to where to dump the soil and in what amounts. The horses were then carefully made to stop and turn at exactly the right instant; the horses and teamster went aside but the scraper or dump cart went on and at the right place was checked and tipped with its tons of material. Gangs of wheelbarrow men laboured alongside, with one man shoveling soil from the side cutting into a wheelbarrow, then another man pulling the loaded wheelbarrow up the plank walks built up the side of the embankment to the dump; in this way, the wheelbarrows moved upward and back in a continuous stream.

                Completion of the Line

Labouring 15 hours a day, the Doukhobors built the grade up and forward, advancing steadily north. By late June, they reached the banks of the Whitesand. And by July 26, 1910, the grade was completed to Canora.[97] Upon reaching the terminus, most workmen returned to their villages for haying and harvest. Incredibly, the Doukhobors cleared and constructed 30 miles of grade, moving over five million cubic feet of earth, consuming 72,263 man-hours of labour,[98] over a 69-day period. This equated to 73,000 cubic feet of earth moved per day, or 5,000 cubic feet of earth moved per worker, all done manually.   

After the grade was built, an ‘extra’ gang of a hundred men laid the track. Doukhobor Aleksei I. Makortoff recounted how this was done. “The ties are laid down the width of the railroad. Then some sand is dumped and you walk along with shovels, one from that side, one from this side. In this way the sand is packed under the ties. And it will be tamped in full. And so you walk down the line. And coming behind they would be laying the rails down on these ties. All the way along. As soon as the rails are laid down, then on each tie two spikes are placed. Particularly, for young boys, this was an easy job. So you walk along, drop two spikes on this end and two on the other end. And then next they come with hammers and drive in these spikes beside the rails as they should be. There was that work. And then comes yet another group, jack. It would happen that a tie is too high or too low and so they line them up so they’d be even. You pump the jack and it lifts it, whatever amount. And the foreman, as if, follows and lays on the rail and looks with one eye to make sure they’re even. Or he’ll shout: ‘Raise it’, or lower it in some places.”[99] A steam engine with cars loaded with sand ballast, ties and rails followed behind.[100]

By August 1910, additional crews followed to install cattle and snow fencing and telegraph lines along the line, raise a trestle bridge across the Whitesand River, and construct a GTP station at Canora.[101] By October 1910, the first freight came over the line to Canora by steam engine, and by June 1911, twice-daily freight and passenger service was established on the Canora-Yorkton branch.[102]    

The arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was a tremendous boon to Canora, transforming the village from a local rail point into a major regional rail junction. It now had direct rail access to southern points which, until then, were only accessible via Winnipeg on the Canadian Northern Railway.[103] A building and settlement boom followed, with Canora declared a town by August 1910.[104] 

New communities also came into existence, with railway engineers surveying townsites and sidings along the line. Thus Young’s Siding, Mehan, Pollock’s Spur, the village of Ebenezer, the hamlet of Gorlitz and Burgis became important new grain-handling points for local farmers.      

As part of the ensuing development, the Community erected a 30,000-bushel grain elevator at Ebenezer in 1910 to receive, store and ship local grain and also received 20 lots in the townsite from the railway.[105] At Canora, it built another 30,000-bushel grain elevator on the Canadian Northern Railway and a large commercial block and annex warehouse that summer.[106] 

As for the contract payment, Peter V. Verigin drew $70,000.00 from the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Winnipeg on September 20, 1910 and left with it to British Columbia,[107] where he completed the purchase of the 1,200-acre Vaughn Ranch[108] and 480-acre Macey Ranch[109] at Grand Forks, acquired earlier that spring for Community settlement and fruit-growing.

Map of Western Canadian Railways Built by Doukhobor Labourers, 1899-1912.  Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.  Note this map does not include the 105-mile Doukhobor-constructed Marchand, MB to Rainy River, ON line.

Railway Building after 1910

The Yorkton-Canora line in 1910 would be the pinnacle of Doukhobor railway construction on the Prairies. While several hundred Doukhobors worked on subsequent rail projects, notably the Canadian Northern Railway Prince Albert-Blaine Lake line in 1909-1910, Hudson Bay-The Pas line in 1911,[110] Pelly-Preeceville line in 1911,[111] and Canora-Sturgis line in 1912[112] and the Canadian Pacific Railway Coronation-Consort line in 1911,[113] the Community no longer bid on sectional contracts or subcontracts nor did substantial numbers of Doukhobors engage in railway work thereafter. There were several reasons for this decline. 

First, almost all of the railroad building undertaken by Doukhobors between 1899 and 1912 fell within a 200-250 mile radius of their settlements north of Yorkton. This represented the practical limit of the Community’s ability to deploy its manpower and resources to carry out railway work afield while still maintaining its farmland at home. By 1912, however, most of the lines were completed within this scope of reach. There was little left to build.       

Second, with the resettlement of over 5,700 Doukhobors from Saskatchewan to British Columbia by 1912, the Community no longer had the manpower on the Prairies to carry out extensive railway construction.[114] By this time, only 1,200 Community members remained in Saskatchewan,[115] of which no more than 250 were able-bodied men. The Community’s resources were further depleted by the defection of over 2,000 members who became Independent Doukhobors over the 1906-1912 period.[116]    

Third, when the Doukhobors first arrived on the Prairies in 1899, they sought railway work as a necessary means of survival, and later as a means of achieving communal self-sufficiency. Ultimately, however, they came to Canada to farm and not to build railways. Once they achieved a measure of prosperity through agricultural and related income, it was no longer essential for most to supplement it with such work.    

Track Maintenance Work

While most Doukhobor railway labourers were engaged in construction work, at least some carried out track maintenance. As early as 1901, a group of Doukhobors worked as trackmen on the Canadian Pacific Railway Calgary division, where they participated in a nationwide strike from June to August 1901.[117] Other groups laboured at the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway yard in Saskatoon in 1908[118] and at the Canadian Northern Railway yard in Saskatoon in 1911.[119] Still others worked on Canadian Northern Railway ballast crews at Langham in 1908[120] and between Portage la Prairie and Humboldt in 1912.[121] In 1913, a large contingent of Doukhobors ballasted the Great Northern Railway Fruitvale-Columbia Gardens line, repaired washouts on its Waneta-Columbia Gardens line, and built spurs and repaired washouts on its Salmo-Ymir lines.[122] As late as 1916, a group of Doukhobors repaired washouts on the Canadian Pacific Railway Kaslo-Nakusp line,[123] a crew worked on right-of-of way clearing for the Copper Mountain Railway at Princeton in 1918,[124] while another dismantled the Great Northern Railway Phoenix-Grand Forks line in 1919.[124]

Permanent Railroad Employment

For most Doukhobors immigrants who arrived in 1899, railway construction and maintenance constituted seasonal, secondary work while agriculture remained their primary vocation. However, for the over 900 Doukhobors[125] who arrived later, between 1909 and 1914, free homestead land was no longer readily available on the Prairies, forcing many to seek wage labour in towns and cities. A substantial number found permanent employment as railroad brakeman, section men and linemen, particularly on the Canadian Northern Railway which passed through the Doukhobor districts north of Yorkton.[126]  Many first, second and third-generation Canadian Doukhobors would also hold such employment.

Conclusion

Between 1899 and 1912, thousands of Doukhobor men left their families and villages each summer to seek employment clearing right-of-ways, building grade and laying track on the railways extending across Western Canada. This form of hired labour, however undesirable, was necessary in order to ensure their early survival, and thereafter, to lift themselves out of poverty to become agriculturally self-sufficient, even prosperous, as a Community. Indeed, the pooling of revenue from this work formed their primary income for much of their first decade in Canada.  

Defying prevailing stereotypes about foreign workers, the Doukhobors quickly earned an outstanding reputation for honesty, reliability and workmanship, making them highly sought after by railway companies for construction work. Owing to their work ethic, group cohesion and solid leadership, the Doukhobors not only found ways to organize and advocate for their economic needs, but to progress from a collection of navvies to subcontractors and finally to general contractor – a feat unmatched by other immigrant railway labourers.   

The centrality of Doukhobor labour to the building of the railway in Manitoba and Saskatchewan into Alberta made settlement and development, both rural and urban, possible. Within this region, railway construction crews comprised in part or in whole of Doukhobors built over 1,666 miles (2,681 kilometers) of line, serving an area of over 39,984 square miles (103,558 square kilometers), within which over 268 communities came into existence.  

The railway was essential to Canada’s growth and development as a country. The Doukhobor contribution to this province-building and nation-building process deserves to be recognized and acknowledged.

Appendix A – Prairie Railway Lines Built with Doukhobor Labour

RailwayLine TypeSectionRailway MileageTotal MileageStations and StopsTotal StopsYear
WGNR (CNR)Dauphin – Hudson BayCowan-Swan River, MB261.5 – 292.330.8Cowan-Renwer-Minitonas-Sevick-Thunderhill Junction-Swan River61899
M&NWR (CPR)Varcoe – MiniotaHamiota-Miniota, MB56.9 – 77.120.2Hamiota-Crandall-Arrow River-Miniota41899
M&SER (CNR)Rainy River – WinnipegMarchand-Sprague, MB342.5 – 390.848.3Marchand-Bedford-Sandilands-Woodridge-Carrick-Badger-Moodie-Vassar-South Junction-Sprague101899-1900
M&SER (CNR)Rainy River – WinnipegSprague, MB-Rainy River, ON284.9 – 342.557.6Sprague-Middlebro-Gravel Pit Spur-Longworth-International Boundary-Warroad-Swift-Roosevelt-Williams-Cedar Spur-Graceton-Pitt-Baudette-Rainy River141900
CNRDauphin – Hudson BaySwan River, MB-Erwood, SK292.3 – 385.893.5Swan River-Bowsman-Birch River-Novra-Bellsite-Mafeking-Whitmore-Baden-Powell-Barrows-National Mills-Westgate-Armit-Roscoe-Smoking Tent-Erwood131900
CPRWinnipeg – SinclairPipestone, MB-Antler, SK184.2 – 207.323.1Pipestone-Reston-Sinclair-Antler41900-1901
O&RRR (CNR)Rainy River – WinnipegBaudette, MN-Rainy River, ON284.9 – 286.51.6Baudette-Rainy River Bridge21901
CNRWinnipeg – Portage La Prairie; Portage La Prairie – MakaroffCarman-Gladstone, MB8.8 – 55.3; 55.3 – 91.983.1Carman Junction-St. Charles-Diamond-Calrin-White Plains-Dacotah-Gravel Pit-Elie-Benard-Willow Range-Oakville-Newton-Curtis-Portage La Prairie-Delta Junction-Hobson-Rignold-Youill-Beaver-Muir-Golden Stream-Gladstone191901
CNRPortage La Prairie – MakaroffGladstone-Grandview, MB91.9 – 206.7114.8Gladstone-Gladstone Junction-Ogilvie-Plumas-Colby-Tenby-Glenella-Glencairn-Reeve-Neepawa Junction-McCreary-Laurier-Makinak-Ochre River-Paulson-Dauphin-North Junction-Ashville-Gilbert Plains-Grandview201902
CNRReston – ReginaRegina-Stoughton279.6 – 368.188.5Regina-Richardson-Kronau-Lajord-Sedley-Francis-Tyvan-Osage-Fillmore-Creelman-Heward-Stoughton111903
CPRMarchwell-MacklinYorkton-Sheho, SK278.8 – 320.741.9Yorkton-Orcadia-Springside-Theodore-Insinger-Sheho61903-1904
CNRDauphin – Hudson Bay; Hudson Bay-DenholmErwood-Melfort, SK385.8 – 493.0107.2Erwood-Hudson Bay-Veillardville-Greenbush-Silas-Prairie River-Bannock-Mistatim-Lumber Spur-Peesane-Crooked River-Murphy’s-Eldersley-Tisdale-Valparaiso-Star City-Naisberry-Melfort171904
CNRWarman – LloydminsterWarman-Elbow, SK531.4 – 555.924.5Warman-Dalmeny-Langham-Elbow (Ceepee)41905
CNRPortage La Prairie – Makaroff; Makaroff – WarmanGrandview, MB-Kamsack, SK206.7 – 278.171.4Grandview-Meharry-Timberton-Shortdale-Bield-Shevlin-Roblin-Deepdale-Makaroff-Togo-Runnymede-Cote-Kamsack121903
CNRMakaroff-WarmanKamsack-Canora, SK278.1 – 302.124Kamsack-Veregin-Mikado-Ross Junction-Canora41904
CNRMakaroff-WarmanCanora-Invermay, SK302.1 – 335.233.1Canora-Tiny-Buchanan-Dernic-Rama-Invermay51905
GTPRTranscontinentalSt. Lazare, MB-Spy Hill, SK1556.2 – 1579.022.8Wattsview-St Lazare-Victor-Welby-Spy Hill41906
CNRHudson Bay – DenholmMelfort, SK-Prince Albert, SK493.0 – 555.462.4Melfort-Beatty-Kinistino-Weldon-Brancepeth-Birch Hills-Fenton-Senator-Davis-Cudworth Junction-Prince Albert101906
CPRMarchwell – MacklinSheho-Lanigan, SK320.7 – 404.383.6Sheho-Goudie-Tuffnell-Foam Lake-Leslie-Elfros-Mozart-Wynyard-Kandahar-Dafoe-Jansen-Esk-Lanigan121907-1908
GTPRTranscontinentalMelville-Saskatoon, SK1637.8 – 1833.0195.2Melville-Birmingham-Fenwood-Goodeve-Hubbard-Ituna-Jasmin-Kelliher-Leross-Lestock-Touchwood-Punichy-Quinton-Raymore-Semans-Tate-Nokomis-Undora-Venn-Watrous-Xena-Young-Zelma-Allan-Bradwell-Clavet-Duro-Saskatoon271907-1908
CNRSturgis – Swan River (Thunderhill)Swan River-Benito, MB221.2 – 241.920.7Swan River-Thunderhill Junction-Kenville-Durban-Benito51908
CNRSturgis – Swan River (Thunderhill)Benito, MB-Pelly, SK221.2 – 204.516.7Benito-Arran-Pelly21909
CNRRossburn Junction – MacnutRossburn-Russell, MB198.8 – 224.425.6Rossburn-Birdtail-Angusville-Silverton-Russell51907-1908
CNRRossburn Junction – Macnut; Macnut – Parkerview; Wroxton – CanoraRussell, MB-Canora, SK224.4 – 257.2; 257.3 – 272.9; 41.7 – 090.1Russell-Endcliffe-Shellmouth-Dropmore-Macnut-Calder-Wroxton-Stornoway-Rhein-Hamton-Donwell-Ross Junction-Canora101909
CNRHudson Bay – DenholmPrince Albert-Blaine Lake SK555.4 – 619.864.4Prince-Albert-Buckland-Crutwell-Holbein-Shellbrook-Parkside-Kilwinning-Leask-Marcelin-Blaine Lake91909-1910
GTPRTranscontinentalYonker-Butz, SK1977.1 – 1995.918.8Yonker-Zumbro-Artland-Butz41909
GTPRRegina – Hudson BayYorkton-Canora, SK122.5 – 152.530Yorkton-Young’s Siding-Mehan-Pollock’s Spur-Ebenezer-Gorlitz-Burgis-Canora61910
CNRHudson Bay – Flin FlonHudson Bay, SK-The Pas, MB0 – 88.188.1Hudson Bay-Wachee-Nepas-Ceba-Chemong-Otosquen-Cantyre-Turnberry-Whithorn-Westray-Freshford-The Pas111911
CNRSturgis – Swan River (Thunderhill)Pelly-Preeceville, SK204.5 – 174.829.7Pelly-Norquay-Hyas-Stenen-Sturgis41911
CPRKerrobert – LacombCoronation-Consort, AB84.4 – 116.532.1Coronation-Throne-Veteran-Loyalist-Consort51911
CNRRegina – Hudson BayCanora-Sturgis, SK152.5 – 174.822.3Canora-Amsterdam-Tadmore-Hassan-Sturgis31912
TOTAL1666.1268

After Word

Special thanks to Robert Coutts (Editor, Prairie History) for his editorial advice, encouragement and patience. Also, my sincere thanks to Doukhobor writers and historians Dr. Ashleigh Androsoff (University of Saskatchewan), Jim (D.E.) Popoff and Koozma J. Tarasoff who reviewed this article in its draft form and who sought to improve its quality and sharpen its focus with their comments.

This article originally appeared in the following journals and periodicals:

  • Prairie History. The Journal of the West. No. 5, Summer 2021.
  • ISKRA (Grand Forks, Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ) Nos. 2167 & 2168 (2021).

End Notes

[1] Most studies of Doukhobor settlements on the Prairies largely pass over the annual migration to the railway grade, for which few primary sources exist, leaving only fragmentary newspaper accounts, local histories and personal memoirs from which to piece together the story.

[2] G. Woodcock & I. Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1977) at 17-34; K.J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors (Mir Publication Society, 1982) at 1-3; S.A. Inikova, “Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History” in A. Donskov, J. Woodsworth & C. Gaffield (eds), The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada, A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on their Unity and Diversity (Ottawa: Slavic Research Group and Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa, 2000) at 1-21.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 31-32, 58-61; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 3, 10-11; J.R. Staples, Cross-Cultural Encounters on the Ukrainian Steppe, Settling the Molochna Basin, 1783-1861 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 2003) at 37-38, 93-106; N.B. Breyfogle, Heretics and Colonizers: Religious Dissent and Russian Colonization of Transcaucasia, 1830 – 1890 (PhD dissertation in history) (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 1998) at 17-58.

[5] Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 84-106; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 20-28.

[6] Sergei Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: A Journey to Canada, Diary and Correspondence (Ed. A. Donskov). (Ottawa: Ottawa University Press, 1998) at 1, 183, 237-270; L.A. Sulerzhitsky, To America with the Doukhobors (M. Kalmakoff, Trans.) (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1982) at 38; S. Lapshinoff & J.J. Kalmakoff, Doukhobor Ship Passenger Lists, 1898-1928 (Crescent Valley, 2001); J.J. Kalmakoff, Index to Doukhobor Ship Passenger Lists, September 27, 2000: https://www.doukhobor.org/Shiplists.html.

[7] Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 136; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 35-36; C.J. Tracie, ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’ Doukhobor Village Settlement in Saskatchewan 1899-1918 (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1996) at 1-94; and K.R.M. Szalasznyj, The Doukhobor homestead crisis 1898–1907 (M.A. thesis) (University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan: 1977) at 65-71.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Note this organization had its beginning in Russia in 1893-1894: Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 152-181; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 49-66.

[10] W. Blakemore, Report of Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria: Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 1913) at 20; Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 160-161; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 54, 56, 58-59.

[11] For generations in Russia, Doukhobors were religiously and culturally predisposed toward agricultural labour, which they viewed as ‘fulfilling the will of God’ while hired labour was considered ‘unfitting for proper Christians’: Sulerzhitsky, supra, note 6 at 170 and 193; Bonch-Bruevich, V., ed., V.O. Buyniak, trans. The Book of Life of the Doukhobors (Doukhobor Societies of Saskatchewan, 1978 at XL); Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 160-161.

[12] A. Androsoff, “The Trouble with Teamwork: Doukhobor Women’s Plow Pulling in Western Canada, 1899” in Canadian Historical Review (Vol. 100, No. 4, December 2019) at 540-563; A. Androsoff, “…With A Stout Wife” Doukhobor Women’s Challenge to the Canadian (Agri)Cultural Ideal”, (Rural History Conference, Bern, Switzerland, August 2013).

[13] Simeon F. Reibin, “Toil and Peaceful Life, History of Doukhobor’s Unmasked (Sacramento, CA, 1955) at 34.

[14] S. Mirzoyan & C. Badem, The Construction of the Tiflis-Aleksandropol-Kars Railway (1895-1899) (Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, 2013) at 27-28.

[15] Ibid at 64; Reibin, supra, note 13.

[16] See: C. Toews, The life of a navvy: a study of the relationship between ethnicity and status within railway work camps on the Kettle Valley line, 1910 to 1914 (M.A. Thesis) (University of British Columbia, 2019); F.A. Talbot, The Making of a Great Canadian Railway (Toronto: Musson Book Co., 1912); F. Leonard, A Thousand Blunders: The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and Northern British Columbia. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1996); J. Selby, “One Step Forward: Alberta Workers 1885-1914” in A. Finkel et al, Working People in Alberta, A History (Creative Commons, 2012).

[17] Several Doukhobors were killed on the railroad soon after arriving in Canada: J Elkinton, The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada (Ferris & Leach, 1903) at 64; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-07-10.

[18] Sulerzhitsky, supra, note 6 at 164-204, V. O. Buyniak, “The 1899 Manitoba and Northern Railway Dispute with the Doukhobors” in Saskatchewan History (40, 1987, No. 1).

[19] Sulerzhitsky,ibid at 192.

[20] Buyniak, supra, note 18; Sulerzhitsky, ibid; Swan River Star, 1900-11-08; Leader Post, 1901-04-18.

[21] Ibid.

[22] E.W. Bradwin, The Bunkhouse Man: A Study of Work and Pay in the Camps of Canada, 1903-1914 (University of Toronto Press, 1972) at Chapter 6.

[23] Sulerzhitsky, supra, note 6 at 164-204; Buyniak, supra, note 18; Leader Post, 1901-04-18.

[24] Sulerzhitsky ibid, at 186, 191-192; Swan River Star, 1900-01-11.

[25] Androsoff, supra, note 12.

[26] Reibin, supra, note 13 at 42; Jack Twilley, Between the Hills: Life in the Swan River Valley, 1787-1958 (1958) at 68; Swan River Star, 1900-02-22.

[27] Manitoba Free Press, 1901-05-04; Swan River Star, 1901-06-21, 1901-07-5, 1901-10-11.

[28] Manitoba Free Press, 1902-05-02; Elkinton, supra, note 17 at 46; George Henry Hambley, The Golden Thread or The Last of the Pioneers: A Story of the Districts of Basswood and Minnedosa, Manitoba, From Community Beginning to Our Present Day, 1874 to 1970 (Altona, 1971) at 170; Kelwood Bridges the Years 1890-1967 (Kelwood Centennial Committee, 1967) at 273.

[29] M. C. Kinney, Tyvan: As it Was in the Beginning (Regina, 1987) at 36.

[30] Manitoba Free Press, 1904-08-12; Star City: Pioneer Days to Jubilee Year (Jubilee Editorial Committee, 1955) at 170.

[31] Swan River Star, 1900-01-11; Leader Post, 1901-04-18; Manitoba Free Press, 1901-04-13; Birtle Eyewitness, 1901-09-03.

[32] The Hands of Time, Village of Buchanan 1907-1987, R.M. of Buchanan 1913-1988 and District (Buchanan History Book Committee, 1988) at 572; Medicine Hat News, 1901-09-05.

[33] Sanderson, R. M. and W. J. Sanderson. The Souris Story (Souris: Sanderson Printing, 1979) at 113-114.

[34] Hands of Time, supra, note 32at 390.

[35] R. J. Orsi, Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West, 1850-1930 (University of California Press, 2007) at 114; Hands of Time, supra, note 32 at 390 and 793-794; San Francisco Examiner, 1900-03-10; Oakland Tribune, 1900-01-15; San Francisco Chronicle, 1900-01-11; San Francisco Call, 1900-05-26; Sacramento Bee, 1900-01-15.

[36] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-04-11; Swan River Star, 1903-04-29; Manitoba Free Press, 1904-05-18; Windsor Star, 1904-06-30.

[37] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-10-03, 1903-05-18,1904-07-29; Swan River Star, 1904-06-22; Calgary Herald, 1904-06-11.

[38] Hands of Time, supra, note 32 at 768; Parkland Trails: Histories of R.M. of Invermay and villages of Invermay and Rama (Invermay, Rama History Book Committee, 1986) at 282, 649 and 658. 

[39] J.F.P. Barschel, A History of Canora and District (Canora Golden Jubilee Committee, 1960) at 36.

[40] Ibid, at 38.

[41] Elkinton, supra, note 17at 232; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-06-16; Vancouver Daily World, 1910-04-08.

[42] Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-06-16.

[43] Bradwin, supra, note 22.

[44] Manitoba Free Press, 1902-05-22.

[45] M. Malloff and P. Ogloff, Toil and Peaceful Life, Portraits of Doukhobors. Sound Heritage, Volume VI, Number 4 (Provincial Archives of British Columbia, 1977) at 25.

[46] Vancouver Daily World, 1906-05-10; Ottawa Citizen, 1910-04-01.

[47] J. P. Zubek and P.A. Solbert, Doukhobors at War (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1952) at 70; Pierre Berton, The Promised Land: Settling the West 1896-1914 (Doubleday Canada, 2011).

[48] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-04-11, 1903-10-03, 1904-05-18.

[49] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-04-11; Yorkton Enterprise, 1904-04.21; Vancouver Daily World, 1904-05-30.

[50] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-10-03, 1904-05-18.

[51] Manitoba Free Press, 1906-04-25.

[52] Blakemore, supra, note 10; Manitoba Free Press, 1904-05-18; Calgary Herald, 1906-11-03.

[53] Ibid.

[54] The Gazette, 1906-07-05.  

[55] Windsor Star, 1906-08-25; The Province, 1906-10-13.

[56] P.E. Roy, A White Man’s Province: British Columbia Politicians and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants, 1858-1914 (UBC Press, 1990) at 50-61; A.J.W. James, Class, race and ethnicity: Chinese Canadian entrepreneurs in Vancouver (M.A. Thesis) (University of Manitoba, 1996; P. Wegars, “Who’s Been Workin’ on the Railroad?” in Historical Archaeology, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1991 at 37-65; V. Kukushkin, From Peasants to Labourers: Ukrainian and Belarusian Immigration from the Russian Empire to Canada (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2007) at 98-102.

[57] J. Hawkes, The Story of Saskatchewan and its People, (Volume 2), (Chicago, S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1924) at 682.

[58] Manitoba Free Press, 1905-09-28, 1906-06-30; Winnipeg Tribune, 1905-09-28,1906-06-16, 1907-03-27; Calgary Herald, 1905-09-20, 1906-11-3; The Gazette, 1905-09-29; Ottawa Journal, 1906-03-12; Edmonton Bulletin, 1906-08-08; “Report of T.F. Chamberlain, M.D., Edmonton, July 25, 1906” in Report of the Minister of Agriculture, 1906-7 (7-8 Edward VII, Sessional Paper No. 15, 1908) at 31, 34; Wandering in Wattsview: Wattsview History, 1879-1967 (Wattsview Centennial Club, 1967) at 94; Ellice, 1883-1983 (RM of Ellice Centennial Book Committee, 1983) at 144, 234, 289, 298.

[59] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-03-12.

[60] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-08-23.

[61] The Labour Gazette: The Journal of the Department of Labour (Ottawa, Queen’s Printer) Volume 6 (July 1905-June 1906) at 1112; Supra, note 51; Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-03-12, 1906-04-24, 1906-06-30; Ottawa Journal, 1906-03-12; Richmond Hill Liberal, 1906-03-15; Russel Banner, 1906-03-29, 1906-04-26; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-04-24; Swan River Star, 1906-05-09; Reibin, supra, note 13 at 57.

[62] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-06-30.

[63] Ibid; “Report of T.F. Chamberlain, M.D., Edmonton, July 25, 1906” in Report of the Minister of Agriculture, 1906-7 (7-8 Edward VII, Sessional Paper No. 15, 1908) at 31, 34; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-04-24.

[64] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-11-17; The Province, 1906-11-17.

[65] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-06-30.

[66] Manitoba Free Press, 1906-09-29; The Gazette, 1906-12-05.

[67] Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-06-16; Ottawa Journal, 1906-06-18; Windsor Star, 1906-08-25.

[68] Ottawa Journal, 1906-08-14; Hawkes, supra, note 57; The Gazette, 1911-08-22.

[69] The GTPR authorized Verigin to offer free transportation to Canada and repatriation after two years to 10,000 Doukhobor workmen, who would be lodged by the railway and paid forty rubles monthly: The Gazette, 1906-10-22, 1907-02-21; Ottawa Citizen, 1906-12-10; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-12-08, 1906-12-10, 1907-03-26; Ottawa Journal, 1906-10-23, 1907-03-08; Agassiz Record, 1906-12-10; Reibin, supra, note 13 at 55-77; J. Woodsworth, Russian Archival Documents on Canada, The Doukhobors: 1895-1943 (Catalogue No. 2) (Carleton University, August 1996), Document Nos. 1906-11-10b-d, 1906-12-09a-g; D. Davies, “The Pre-1917 Roots of Canada-Soviet Relations” in Canadian Historical Review 70, 2 (June 1989): 191-92.

[70] Railway companies continued to lobby the Canadian government to relax labour immigration requirements for years thereafter: Roy, supra, note 56.

[71] Supra, note 69.

[72] Manitoba Free Press, 1907-09-28; Leader-Post, 1908-01-13.

[73] Star-Phoenix, 1908-09-05.

[74] Hills of Hope (Spruce Grove: Hills of Hope Historical Committee, 1976) at 366.

[75] Hawkes, supra, note 57; The Gazette, 1911-08-22.

[76] Manitoba Free Press, 1907-07-18, Winnipeg Tribune, 1907-09-14; The Gazette, 1907-02-12.

[77] Oakburn Extension, Engineer’s notebook, 1907-11-23, Grigory Soukorukoff private collection.

[78] Manitoba Free Press, 1907-05-25.

[79] Hamiota Echo, 1908-02-27; Grandview Exponent, 1908-02-28.

[80] Winnipeg Tribune, 1907-03-27; Daily Phoenix, 1907-01-31.

[81] Canadian railways sometimes paid contractors and lobbyists in land for their service: R. Haycock, Sam Hughes: The Public Career of a Controversial Canadian, 1885-1916 (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1986) at 108; “Laidlaw, George” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 11, (University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003).

[82] Sections 7-29-8-W2, W ½ 9 & W ½ 3-30-9-W2: 1920 Cummins Rural Map of Saskatchewan, Map 150; Lots 10, 11, 12 and part of 17, Plan 109, Winnipeg, MB: V.A. Snesarev,  The Doukhobors in British Columbia (M.A. Thesis (UBC, 1931) Appendix 1.

[83] Lots 13, 14, 15 and 16, Block 15; Lots 7, 8, 21, 22 and 23, Block 20; Lots 13 and 14, Block 30; all in Plan 1505, Transcona, MB: Snesarev, ibid.

[84] Leader-Post, 1909-01-19; J. A. Lower, The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and British Columbia (M.A. Thesis) (University of British Columbia, April 1939) at 80 and 83. 

[85] The Gazette, 1910-03-17; Winnipeg Tribune, 1910-03-26.

[86] Canora Advertiser, 1909-12-23; Winnipeg Tribune, 1910-01-06.

[87] The Railway and Marine World, April 1910, at 277.

[88] The Gazette, 1910-03-17; Winnipeg Tribune, 1910-03-25, 1910-03-26; Ottawa Citizen, 1910-04-01; National Post, 1910-04-02; Vancouver Daily World, 1910-04-08; Edmonton Journal, 1910-04-11; The Province, 1910-04-16; Lethbridge Daily Herald, 1910-04-18; The Hosmer Times, 1910-04-28; Canadian Engineer (Monetary Times Print Company, 1910) Volume 18 at 284; The Railway and Engineering Review (April 23, 1910), Volume 50 at 407; Report of the Minister of Agriculture for Canada, 1911 (Queen’s Printer, 1911) at 105; The Railway and Marine World, April 1910 at 289 and May 1910 at 379; Yorkton Enterprise, 1910-03-31; Hawkes, supra, note 57; Barschel, supra, note 39 at 48.

[89] Manitoba Free Press, 1910-03-01.

[90] The Gazette, April 15, 1910; The Railway and Marine World, May 1910, at 391 and June 1910 at 487.

[91] Letter from Peter V. Verigin to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Verigin Station, March 8, 1910, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-021-005.

[92] Ibid.

[93] From 1908 to 1912, over 5,700 Community Doukhobors resettled to British Columbia to develop lands for fruit-growing: Blakemore, supra, note 10 at 36; Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 225-250; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 99-116. While the Community did not build railway grade in British Columbia per se, it did become a major supplier of railway ties from its land-clearing and logging operations, see: Nelson Daily News, 1910-09-21; Victoria Daily Times, 1910-09-28; The Province, 1911-03-17; Winnipeg Free Press, 1911-04-25.  

[94] Kamsack Times, 1910-05-20; Nelson Daily News, 1910-05-18; The Province, 1910-05-18; The Gazette, 1910-05-18; The Victoria Daily Times, 1910-05-18, 1910-05-25; Winnipeg Tribune, 1910-05-19; The Watchman-Warder, 1910-05-19; The Argus, 1910-05-25.

[95] ”Appendix No. 15, Report of A.E. Clendenan, M.D., Edmonton, Alberta, March 31, 1911” in Report of the Minister of Agriculture for the Dominion of Canada For the year Ended March 31, 1911 (2 George V, Sessional Paper No. 15, 1912) at 105; Manitoba Free Press, 1906-06-30.

[96] Manitoba Free Press, ibid.

[97] Manitoba Free Press, 1910-07-26; Yorkton Enterprise, 1910-07-28; The Leader Post, 1910-08-16, 1910-11-19; The Gazette, 1910-11-19; Star Phoenix, 1910-11-19; Vancouver Daily World, 1910-11-19; The Railway and Marine World, September 1910 at 741.

[98] Report of Road Work Between Yorkton and Canora with the Designation of Days and the Amount of Earnings in 1910,  October 6, 1910, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-074-005.

[99] Malloff & Ogloff, supra, note 45 at 64.

[100] Sulerzhitsky, supra, note 6at 198.

[101] Barschel, supra, note 39at 48; The Gazette, 1910-11-22; The Windsor Star, 1910-11-30; The Railway and Marine World, December 1910 at 1011.

[102] Barschel, ibid at 50-51; Canora Advertiser, 1911-06-22.

[103] The Leader Post, 1910-08-16.

[104] The Leader Post, 1910-08-16; Barschel, supra, note 39 at 46.

[105] J.J. Kalmakoff, “Doukhobor Development in the Ebenezer District” in Ebenezer Book of Memories, Centennial 1905-2005 (Ebenezer Centennial Committee, 2005).

[106] J.J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora” in The Canora Courier, 2018-02-25, 2018-03-14, 2018-03-21, 2018-03-28.

[107] Vancouver Daily World, 1910-09-20; The Victoria Daily Times, 1910-09-21.

[108] The Province, 1910-03-22; Edmonton Journal, 1910-05-02.

[109] The Province, 1910-04-29; The Victoria Daily Times, 1910-05-02.

[110] 1911 Canada Census, Dist. 212, Sub. 31 (Prince Albert), p 21.

[111] Ottawa Citizen, 1911-06-26; Contract Record, Volume 25 (H.C. MacLean, 1911) at 56; The Railway and Marine World (1911) at 1147.

[112] Engineering and Contracting, Volume 37 (Myron C. Clark Publishing Company, 1912) at 40; Pan American Magazine, Volume 16 (1913) at 170.

[113] Where the Prairie Meets the Hills: Veteran, Loyalist and Hemaruka districts (Veteran, 1977) at 423.

[114] Supra, note 93.

[115] Calgary Herald, 1914-03-28.

[116] Tracie, supra, note 7 at 160.

[117] The Leader Post, 1901-08-08.

[118] Star-Phoenix, 1908-09-05.

[119] 1911 Canada Census, Dist., Sub. 33 (Saskatoon), pp 34-36.

[120] Winnipeg Free Press, 1908-09-30.

[121] Letter from Peter V. Verigin to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Verigin Station, June 18, 1912, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-086-003.

[122] Nelson Daily News, 5 May 1913, 2 Jun3 1913, 5 June 1913, 16, June 1913.

[123] Vancouver Daily World, 1916-06-20; Kelowna Record, 1916-07-20.

[124]Vernon News, 9 May 1918.

[125] Grand Forks Sun, 1919.11.07, 1919.11.07, 1919.12.26; Greenwood Ledge, 1920.01.08; Creston Review, 1920.01.16.

[126] Kalmakoff, supra, note 6.

[127] 1911 Canada Census, Dist. 15, Sub. 49 (Brandon), p 16; Dist. 16, Sub. 66 (Benito) p 10; Dist. 210, Sub. 14 (Kamsack) pp 9-11; Dist. 210, Sub. 29 (Yorkton), pp 45-46. 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces, Dist. 21, Sub. 10 (Kamsack), pp 18, 21, 24; Dist. 21, Sub.19 (Verigin), pp 15, 17; Dist. 21, Sub. 25 (Canora) pp 6, 8, 13, 16; Dist. 21, Sub. 29 (Buchanan), pp 2-3; Dist. 29, Sub. 14 (Langham), p 21.

Christmas Among the Doukhobors

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

For over three centuries, Doukhobors have celebrated Christmas, a festival commemorated annually by Christians across the globe. As we once again make ready to do so, it is essential to remind ourselves how this holiday is understood in Doukhobor religious philosophy, how it differs in key aspects from that of other Christian denominations, as well as the Doukhobor cultural and folk traditions associated with Christmas.

Orthodox Christmas

Since the introduction of Christianity to Russia in 988 AD, Rozhdestvo Khristovo or ‘the Nativity of Christ’ (Christmas) was celebrated by the Orthodox Church to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. It was traditionally observed under the Julian (Old) Calendar, which ran thirteen days behind the Gregorian (New) Calendar, putting it on January 7th rather than December 25th when it is now commonly observed.

To the Orthodox, Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God incarnate, born to the Virgin Mary by immaculate conception through the Holy Spirit. That is, he was considered the literal, supernatural embodiment of God on earth, having taken on human body and human nature, who performed miracles, cured the sick and raised the dead.

The Orthodox celebration of Rozhdestvo Khristovo was preceded by a forty-day fast, during which meat, dairy products and eggs were not eaten, and parishioners engaged in prayer and charity. When the festival finally arrived, church attendance was compulsory by law.[i] On the evening of Christmas Eve, parishioners attended the church liturgy service, whereafter they went home and ate a meal of twelve meatless dishes. That night, they returned to church for an all-night vigil to observe Jesus’ birth. After hours of standing (the Orthodox church had no seats) and praying, the priest led a procession out of the church, with the parishioners carrying icons and candles led by the priest burning incense in a censer. They circled the building until midnight, after which they returned home. On Christmas morning they once again returned to the church to attend the nativity liturgy service after which they went home for feasting and merriment.

Winter Doukhobor village scene. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Doukhobor Repudiation of Orthodox Christmas

During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they outwardly continued to celebrate Rozhdestvo Khristovo in the obligatory manner. Some went to church for appearances’ sake; while others made excuses to not attend at all. At home, they observed the festival with simple moleniye (‘prayer meetings’) followed by visits among fellow believers.

However, by this time, Rozhdestvo Khristovo had already acquired an inner, spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors that differed substantially from that of their Orthodox neighbours, and which was founded on dramatically different ideas concerning God and Christ.

They ceased to believe that the Christmas fast offered any spiritual advantage to the soul; for true fasting was not in abstaining from food but from vice and gluttony. Attending the church at Christmas was not essential to salvation, for they believed the ‘true’ church was not built by human hands – it was spiritual, invisible and within us. The priest’s conduct of Christmas mass was unnecessary, for they understood the Spirit of God resided in the soul of every person and could be directly understood and interpreted – without need of an intermediary – by listening to the voice within.  

Indeed, Doukhobors came to view the Orthodox observance of Christmas – with its complex and elaborate ritual, Slavonic chanting, burning of incense, lighting of candles, bowing and crossing, as well as the resplendent robes of the priest and the richly adorned church with stained glass windows, gold candelabras and crucifixes, icons, sacred relics and ornately decorated domes – to be a contrived, outward sensory and material experience that served only to distract from a true, inner spiritual understanding of the holiday.

What is more, they believed that the Orthodox depiction of Christ’s birth and existence as something ‘mystical’, ‘superhuman’, ‘supernatural’ and ‘otherworldly’ was an artificial embellishment introduced by the church in order to mystify and confound its followers as to his true nature.

Doukhobor household in winter. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Christ and Christmas as Understood by Doukhobors

According to Doukhobor belief, Jesus was neither immaculately conceived nor born of a virgin, nor was he the literal Son of God incarnate in human flesh. Rather, he was an ordinary mortal man, born to an ordinary woman named Mary. In the physical sense, Jesus was no different from other men. In the spiritual sense, however, God chose Jesus as his anointed one by endowing him with divinely-inspired, extraordinary spiritual intelligence in his soul, lucid and enlightened beyond that of his fellow man.[ii]  Because of this, Jesus was able to attain the highest, purest, most perfect understanding of God’s Law, and was therefore the Son of God, a man, but not God himself.

Doukhobors believed that Jesus’s enlightened teachings and life revealed mankind’s true meaning and purpose, which was to fulfill God’s Law – to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. God’s Law was manifested in Jesus through his loving attitude toward other people.[iii] The role of his followers, Doukhobors believed, was to emulate Christ by living, as he did, according to God’s Law, to strive to follow his example, and thus be saved through their own works.[iv]

For Doukhobors, then, Christmas marks the day when the world was given a child to lead the world through God’s Law to peace on earth – good will among men. Doukhobors celebrate it as a sign of honour and glory for Jesus Christ.[v] We observe this occasion during all the days of our life as we endeavor to emulate him in our own actions.[vi]  

Doukhobor Christmas Customs in Russia

Once Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and its teachings in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they discarded many Orthodox feast days as being unnecessary and superfluous. However, they continued to celebrate Rozhdestvo Khristovo as an important holiday in accordance with their own beliefs and interpretations. In doing so, they adapted some of the Christmas holiday rituals and customs from the Orthodox, imbuing them with new meaning and significance.

Both during their settlement along the Molochnaya River near the Sea of Azov (Molochnye Vody) from 1801-1845 and in the Caucasus (Zakavkaz) from 1841-1899, Doukhobors are recorded as having celebrated Christmas over a three day period commencing January 6th, being Christmas Eve under the Old (Julian) Calendar.[vii]

On Christmas Eve, the men performed their daily agricultural chores while the women cleaned the house and baked, cooked and prepared food for the upcoming Christmas feast.[viii] At dinner, Doukhobor families ate twelve meatless dishes, a tradition retained from Orthodoxy, which might include any of the following dishes: borshch (cabbage-based soup), vareniki (boiled dumplings with savory fillings), lapshevniki (‘baked noodles’), pyure iz fasoli (‘mashed beans’), rybnyi kholodets (pickled fish), kvashenye ogurtsy (pickled cucumbers), kartoshniki (‘mashed potatoes’), pyrohi (‘baked savory pies’) and pyroshki (‘baked sweet tarts’), bliny (‘pancakes’), holubtsy (‘cabbage rolls’), kvashenaya kapusta (‘sauerkraut’), vinaigrette (‘salad’), kasha (‘rice porridge’), uzvar (homemade fruit juice), and always, kutya (a boiled wheat dish sweetened with honey).[ix] In the evening, grandmothers recited psalms while the family gathered to listen.[x] 

At midnight on Christmas Eve, Doukhobor villagers assembled at a common dwelling or prayer home to hold a moleniye (‘prayer meeting’).[xi] The Christmas moleniye traditionally began with the Doukhobor psalm, Narodilsya nam Spasitel (‘Our Savior was Born’)[xii] which reads as follows:

“Our Savior is born, an Enlightener to the whole world. Sing praises to Him. All the world glorifies Him eternally. Rejoice ye, prophets who have the power of prophesizing, those who are with their oath! The Savior is coming at the last moment. Sing praise to Him, in joyous sweet songs, sing and play to Him. A star is travelling from the East to the place of the new-born prophet. The angles are singing in unison, expressing their love with the sound of their voices. Animals announce with their voices to the shepherds that a miracle has happened. There are clear signs announcing the birth of Christ. Three Wise Men bring Him the most precious gifts; gold frankincense and myrrh. The Father of the future ages offers you rich gifts. He came here to redeem the poor mankind. Eternal God was born and has taken human flesh. Glory be to our God.”[xiii]

Early Christmas morning, Doukhobor villagers again gathered for moleniye to worship, then returned home.[xiv]  The adults would not eat breakfast and would carry out their morning chores.[xv]  Children were given nuts or fruit as a special treat.  Throughout the afternoon, Doukhobors would stroll through the village streets, singing psalms and greeting friends and neighbours,[xvi] with the following customary greeting: Na zdorov’ye! (‘To Health!’), to which the customary reply was Slava Bohu! (‘Thank God!’).[xvii] 

Later, the entire family would sit down to enjoy Christmas dinner, which typically consisted of the same dishes enjoyed the night before; however, meat dishes such as roast goose, chicken or pork were also included.[xviii] In the evening, the adults would visit or host relatives and friends while the young people enjoyed themselves at vecherushki (‘parties’).[xix]  Often, the young people would dress up and masquerade about the village, an ancient Russian folk custom.[xx]

The third and final day of the Christmas celebration (today, Boxing Day) was spent in much in the same manner – with merry visiting, singing and feasting throughout the village.

Winter open-air Doukhobor prayer meeting. J. Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Doukhobor Christmas Commemoration in Canada

These Christmas traditions continued to be practiced, without change, through the 20th century to the present day by the Doukhobors of Gorelovka, Georgia and surrounding villages. However, among the Doukhobor followers of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, several significant changes were made to the Christmas celebration after 1887. 

First, in November 1894, those Doukhobors stopped eating meat in accordance with the teachings of Verigin, then in exile in the Russian Far North, brought back by his messengers to his followers in the Caucasus.[xxi]  Thereafter, no meat (including fish) was consumed as part of the Christmas feasting.

Second, following their migration to Canada in 1899, the Doukhobors initially continued to celebrate Christmas as they had in Russia, over a three-day period according to the Julian (Old) Calendar. In January 1901, the Swan River Star reported, “The Doukhobors appear to know how to celebrate Christmas. Their feast lasted three days and commenced on Jan. 6. They still use the old style of counting time.”[xxii] However, by 1903, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that “they have disregarded the Russian and adopted the Canadian calendar and are beginning to observe Canadian holidays and festivals.”[xxiii] Thereafter, the Doukhobors celebrated Christmas twelve days earlier in accordance with the Gregorian (Old) calendar, on December 24-26.  

Third, at an all-village congress of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood held in Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to modernize and simplify their worship, discarded many of the traditional rituals, psalms and feasts observed by the Doukhobors.[xxiv] Thereafter, Christmas continued to be observed within the Community, however, the celebration was paired down from three days to a day and a half, with worship services still held on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, but with the feasting and revelry reduced to a more modest scale befitting that of Christ’s followers.[xxv] Some of these changes were also adopted by Independent Doukhobors who left Verigin’s Community, to greater or lesser degrees.

In the years that followed, new psalms and hymns were added to the existing repertoire of those traditionally sung during Doukhobor Christmas moleniye [xxvi] while the foodstuffs enjoyed at their Christmas feast varied according to local availability and economic conditions.[xxvii] However, the essence of the traditional Doukhobor Christmas celebration, as it evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries continued to be observed by many Canadian Doukhobors well into the 1950s, and indeed, to the present.

Doukhobor villagers assembled outdoors in winter. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Conclusion

Although there was none of the ubiquitous commercialism associated with Christmas today, including notions of gift-giving, Santa Clause, Christmas trees and outdoor light displays, Christmas as traditionally understood and celebrated by Doukhobors was and is a most meaningful and anticipated event.


After Word

Publication

A previous version of this article was originally published in:

Doukhobor Christmas Prayer Service

To experience and participate in a traditional Doukhobor Christmas prayer meeting, contact your nearest Doukhobor society or organization to find in-person dates and times or whether online streaming of services are available.

Traditional Doukhobor Kut’ya Recipe

To prepare traditional Doukhobor Kut’ya like that mentioned above, see the following Doukhobor Kut’ya Recipe. This recipe was adapted from that shared by Doukhobor Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now residing in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.


End Notes

[i] In Imperial Russia, receiving the Orthodox sacraments and attending church on Sundays and feast days was compulsory by law: see for example, M. Raeff, Imperial Russia, 1682-1825 (Michigan, University of Michigan, 1971); D. Longley, Longman Companion to Imperial Russia, 1689-1917 (New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2000).

[ii] Regarding the Doukhobor belief in Jesus, born a man, see: Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir Dmitr’evich, Zhivotnaya Kniga Dukhobortsev (St. Petersburg: V.M. Volf, Sib. Nevskiy Pr., 1909), Psalms 1 (Q/A 3), 7 (Q/A 10), 12 (Q/A 6 and 8, 64, 71, 73, 85, 88, 94 and 375.

[iii] Regarding the Doukhobor understanding of Jesus as a keeper of God’s Law, see: Zhivotnaya Kniga, ibid, Psalms 2 (Q/A 14, 15 and 16), 4 (Q/A 7), 5 (Q/A 17), 7 (Q/A 11 and 12), 8 (Q/A 24, 25, and 26), 9 (Q/A 24), 47 (Q/A 1) 59 (Q/A 4), 185, 373 and 374.

[iv] Regarding the Doukhobor understanding of salvation through emulating Christ, see: Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii, Psalms 1 (Q/A 1), 2 (Q/A 31, 71), 3 (Q/A 79), 5 (Q/A 44), 9 (Q/A 45), 11 (Q/A 56), 14 (Q/A 5), 65, 67, 69, 74, 96, 137, 157, 170, 176, 192, 210, 217, 227, 229, 237, 277, 300, 311, 316, 319, 320, 333, 375, 384, 385 and 415.

[v] Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii, Psalm 383.

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Novitsky, Orest Markovich. Dukhobortsy: Ikh Istoriia i verouchenie (Kiev, 1882) at 254-255.

[viii] Stroev, Vasily (Tula, Russia), correspondence with the writer, November 25, 2020.

[ix] Stroev, ibid; Svetlana Inikova., Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Genealogy Website); Linda Osachoff (Canora, SK), correspondence with the writer, December 18, 2020.

[x] Stroev, supra, note v.

[xi] Stroev, ibid; Inikova, supra, note vi; Goncharova, Lyubov. Malaya Sibir’ – Duhoboriya. (Bryansk, 2012 at 278); Lyubov Goncharova (Moscow, Russia), correspondence with the writer, December 20, 2020.

[xii] Народился нам Спаситель, Goncharova, ibid.

[xiii] Vladimir Dmitr’evich Bonch-Breuvich, Book of Life of Doukhobors (Translated Version by Victor O. Buyniak) (Saskatoon, Doukhobor Societies of Saskatchewan, 1978), Psalm 340.

[xiv] Stroev, supra, note v; Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xv] Inikova, ibid.

[xvi] Novitsky, supra, note iv; Stroev, supra, note v; Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xvii] Stroev, ibid.

[xviii] Stroev, supra, note v.

[xix] Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xx] Inikova, ibid.

[xxi] Grigory Verigin, Ne v Sile Bog, a v Pravde. (Paris, Dreyfus, 1935), chapter 10.

[xxii] Swan River Star, January 9, 1901.

[xxiii] Winnipeg Free Press, April 6, 1903.

[xxiv] Minutes of Community meeting, 1908 December 15, Nadezhda village. (SFU Item No. MSC121-DB-025-002); Letter from Peter Vasil’evich Verigin to Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy dated February 2, 1909 in Gromova-Opulskaya, Lidia, Andrew Donskov, and John Woodsworth, eds. Leo Tolstoy–Peter Verigin Correspondence (Ottawa, Legas: 1995) at 87-88; Letter from Ivan Evseyevich Konkin to Vladimir Dmitr’evich Bonch-Breuvich dated February 12, 1909 in Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii.

[xxv] Wendy Voykin (Castlegar, BC), correspondence with the writer, December 18, 2020.

[xxvi] For example, some of the Doukhobor psalms and hymn traditionally sung at Christmas moleniye in Brilliant, British Columbia include: Psalms: Chistaya Deva Mariya; Rechyot Khristos Uchenikam Svoim; Vysoko Zvezda Voskhodila. Hymns: Kto v ubogikh yaslyakh spit; Nyne vse vernye v mire likuyut; Dnes’ my likuem v kupe vospevaem; Vot Spasitel’ s nebes k nam soshyol; Vnov’ Khristos narodilsya; Vspomnim te slova Khrista; Tikhaya noch’, divnaya noch’; Khristos v Tebe dusha nashla ( New Year’s to the tune of Auld Lang Syne).  Very special thanks to Mike and Mary Kanigan of Ootischenia, BC for sharing this list with the writer, via Wendy Voykin.

[xxvii] For instance, it is doubtful whether the Doukhobors had the luxury of enjoying all the foodstuffs mentioned for their Christmas feast during the hardships of their early settlement in Saskatchewan after 1899 and in British Columbia after 1908.


Doukhobors Made Jam, Not War

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

During the First World War (1914-1919), the overwhelming majority of Doukhobors in Canada opposed the conflict, based on strongly-held pacifist tenets. Relying upon the exemption from military service granted to them under Order-in-Council No. 1898-2747 by the Dominion government upon their arrival in Canada, they not only refused enlistment and conscription, but actively resisted any direct, partisan support for the war effort.

Notwithstanding their staunch anti-war position, many Doukhobors felt great compassion for those suffering from the conflict. This prompted them to seek opportunities to provide humanitarian aid in ways that did not run counter to their pacifist principles. One most notable example was their donations of jam.

Since 1911, the Doukhobor Society had been communally producing hundreds of tons of the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ of jams, jellies and preserved fruit each year at its jam factory and canning facilities in Nelson and later Brilliant, BC under its business enterprise, the ‘Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works.’[1] And when the Nelson Daily News reported in late 1916 that soldiers were asking for jam, this stirred the Society into action.

The Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works as seen at Brilliant, BC, sometime between 1919 and 1923. British Columbia Archives, D-06930-141.

On Sunday, December 10, 1916, a mass meeting of members of the Doukhobor Society was held at Brilliant, where their leader Peter V. Verigin told them of the sufferings of the men at the front, and of the recent losses at the Somme and on the Ancre.[2] The reaction of those gathered was one of shock and compassion.

Living apart from the world, and being mainly illiterate, the rank-and-file members of the Society had been largely unaware of the monumental scale of human devastation occurring on the European continent, and when told this, the Doukhobor women wept.[3] Once informed, however, they set to act.

The women at the meeting resolved to gift a railcar load of jam, made by fruit grown by them in their own orchards and gardens, and manufactured at their jam factory in Brilliant, to the convalescent and sick soldiers in hospitals across Western Canada, their wives and children.[4]

Jam was rationed within the Society, and those at the meeting realized that in sending the carload to the soldiers, they would have to go without it themselves.[5] Nonetheless, they were willing to do so as an expression of their sympathy and desire to help those who were suffering.

The carload comprised 5,000 five-pound tins totaling 24,000 pounds (12 tons) of jam from the last season’s pack.[6] It was valued at $5,000.00 at the time and was composed chiefly of strawberry jam, the Doukhobors understanding “that the soldiers like strawberry better than plum and apple and jams of that kind.”[7]

Labelling Room at the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in Brilliant, BC. c. 1916. University of British Columbia, Rare & Special Books Collection and University Archives.

The gift was formally conveyed by the Doukhobor women to British Columbia Premier Harlan C. Brewster in Victoria on December 15, 1916 via William Blakemore, newspaper editor of The Week and former commissioner of the 1912 Royal Commission on Doukhobors.[8] It was expressed on behalf of the women that, “You know we do not believe in fighting; we are anxious to see the war end, but we will do what we can to assist those who are suffering through the war.”[9]

Premier Brewster publicly conveyed the thanks of the province and the soldiers “to the women whose kindness of heart ha(d) prompted this generous gift”.[10] He also arranged through government and private channels for the distribution of the jam in “in such manner that the wishes of the donors for its full usefulness shall be fulfilled.”

Headline from the Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916.

The jam consignment had originally been given to the Province of British Columbia; however, by mid-January 1917, provincial authorities in charge of the distribution found that the “quantity was so large that it would be well to share it with outside institutions.”[11] The Doukhobors readily consented to the other provinces sharing in the gift. Premier Brewster subsequently notified the Doukhobors through William Blakemore that “Communication has been made with representatives of the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta with the result that the offer has been gratefully accepted.”[12]

Accordingly, 14,000 pounds of the consignment was kept in BC, and was turned over to Major J.S. Harvey, commandant of the Military Convalescent hospital at Esquimalt, for use in the convalescent hospitals and homes in that province.[13] The remaining 10,000 pounds was distributed through the Mewburn wholesale supply house as follows: 2,000 pounds to the St. Chad’s Military Convalescent Hospital in Regina, SK; 2,000 pounds to the Returned Solders’ Association in each of Calgary and Edmonton, AB; and 4,000 pounds to the Returned Solders’ Association in Winnipeg, MB.[14]

In addition to being distributed through military hospitals to convalescing soldiers, a free jam gift was made through local women’s patriotic clubs and veterans’ committees to every soldier’s household in those cities.[15] 

The donation elicited many public expressions of appreciation of the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Doukhobors. For instance, Miss Violet M. Ryley, the General Organizing Dietician for Military Hospitals in Canada wrote, “Jam is the most universally popular delicacy on the soldier’s menu, whether he is sick or well, and no gift could be more welcome.”[16]

It was also widely applauded across the Canadian press, with the Vancouver Province calling it a “magnificent gift”[17], while the Edmonton Journal wrote, “the Doukhobors have conscientious scruples against fighting. But they are at any rate helping to win the war with good honest jam.”[18]

Headline from the Edmonton Journal, February 22, 1917.

The outpouring of public appreciation for the jam donation came at a time when Doukhobors across Western Canada encountered widespread discrimination and censure because of their refusal to actively participate in the war effort. These sentiments can be seen in the backhanded reporting by some newspapers such as the Edmonton Journal, which wrote that “their donation of fruit jams to convalescent soldiers… went a long way to atone for their pacifist attitude”.[19]

Inspired by the overall response, the Doukhobor Society redoubled its assistance. One month later, in January of 1917, Peter V. Verigin declared that the Society would make a donation of two more carloads (48,000 pounds or 24 tons) of Doukhobor jam worth $10,000.00; this time for shipment overseas to the soldiers at the front.[20]

Yet again, in January of 1918, the Doukhobor Society (now incorporated as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood) donated another carload (20,000 pounds or 10 tons) of jam worth $5,000.00 from its jam factory in Brilliant to the Canadian Military Hospitals Commission for distribution to convalescing soldiers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.[21]

This latest (and what would be the last) consignment comprised 7,500 pounds of strawberry jam, 7,500 pounds of raspberry jam, and 5,000 pounds of various other kinds, including peach and plum.[22] The Community members, in making their gift, reiterated “their abhorrence of war and that it is against the tenets of their faith to go into battle” but that they were quite prepared to assist those who suffered as a result of it.

The public response was once again overwhelmingly positive, with the Regina Leader-Post writing, for example, that the “universally popular” jam consignment gifted by the Doukhobors “is recommended as being just like mother used to make.”[23]

In total, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood gifted 92,000 pounds (46 tons) of jam worth $20,000.00 ($375,000.00 in today’s dollars) to convalescing soldiers and their dependent families across Western Canada between 1916 and 1918. This was by no means the only humanitarian aid provided by Doukhobors in the First World War; however, it was undoubtedly the most popular and well-known example.

In making these donations, the Doukhobors navigated between two of their fundamental religious values: demonstrating compassion and brotherly love for those in distress because of war, while fulfilling the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

Headline from Calgary Herald, February 2, 1918.

After Word

An earlier version of this article was originally published in:

4 pound tin of Doukhobor ‘K.C. Brand’ strawberry jam. Courtesy Greg Nesteroff.

End Notes

[1] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Jam-Making Enterprise” in West Kootenay Advertiser, 23-30 April and 7, 14, 21 May 2020: https://tinyurl.com/7938yz47; https://tinyurl.com/4h7ka3kk; https://tinyurl.com/43axfdjk; https://tinyurl.com/pr8f6yc5; https://tinyurl.com/vjj9pcuj; Greg Nesteroff, The Doukhobor Jam Factory in Nelson, B.C.: https://tinyurl.com/tywvxh.

[2] Nelson Daily News, December 28, 1916.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid; Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916; Grand Forks Sun, December 22, 1916; Kelowna Record, December 28, 1916; Vernon News, December 28, 1916; The Montreal Star, January 3, 1917; Greenwood Ledge, January 4, 1917; Similkameen Star, January 5, 1917; Creston Review, January 5, 1917; The Montreal Gazette, January 11, 1917; Brantford Daily Expositor, January 27, 1917; Macleod News, February 1, 1917; Munson Mail, February 17, 1917; Courtney Review, February 22, 1917; Hedley Gazette, March 15, 1917.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916.

[9] Nelson Daily News, December 28, 1916.

[10] Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916.

[11] Nelson Daily News, January 11, 1917; The Province, January 8, 1917.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid; Edmonton Journal, February 22, 1917.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Calgary News Telegram, January 7, 1918.

[17] Vancouver Province, January 8, 1917.

[18] Edmonton Journal, February 22, 1917.

[19] Edmonton Journal, June 16, 1917.

[20] Edmonton Journal, February 22 and December 31, 1917.

[21] The Leader Post, January 3, 1918; Montreal Daily Star, January 5, 1918; Brantford Daily Expositor, January 7, 1918; Calgary News Telegram, January 7, 1918; Kingston Whig-Standard, January 8, 1918; Edmonton Bulletin, January 17, 1918; Calgary Herald, February 2 and 4, 1918; Macleod News, February 7, 1918; Alderson News, February 7, 1918; Irma Times, February 7, 1918; Bow Island Review, February 8, 1918; Kamloops Telegram, February 14, 1918; Munson Mail, February 14, 1918; Bassano Mail, February 14, 1918; Claresholm Review-Advertiser, February 15, 1918; Drumheller Review, February 22, 1918; The Ledge, March 14, 1918; Lethbridge Telegram, April 2, 1918.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Regina Leader Post, January 3, 1918.

West Kootenay Boundary’s First Doukhobors

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

Between 1908 and 1912, about 8,000 Doukhobors migrated to British Columbia from Saskatchewan to maintain their communal lifestyle. But for several years prior, small groups of Doukhobors had been travelling to BC to seek employment — and coincidentally or not, to the very region where their brethren would one day move en masse.

During their early period of settlement on the Canadian Prairies, able-bodied Doukhobor men left their villages in Saskatchewan each spring to find work as farm labourers and railway navvies to earn much-needed money for the community, as most settlers were almost destitute.

Most journeyed by foot and obtained employment within a 100 to 150-mile radius of their villages. Less frequently, some small groups and individuals travelled even further afoot. For instance, 200 travelled to California to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad Coast line in 1900, and in 1901, a smaller group worked on the Ontario & Rainy River Railway line between Baudette, Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario. That same year, dozens made their way across the border to Pembina, North Dakota to assist with the fall harvest.

Doukhobor workers on construction of the railroad from Yorkton to Canora, Saskatchewan, ca. 1910. Image C-06515 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

The first sign of a Doukhobor presence in BC was in the Midway Advance of May 7, 1900: “Mr. A.J. Flett has returned safely from Grand Forks where he has been gathering information about a party of Doukhobors that are said to have arrived in that district.”

There was considerable industrial activity in and around Grand Forks in 1900 and the Doukhobors may have been hired as labourers at the newly-operational Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Co. smelter, the 10-stamp mill construction for the Yankee Girl and Yankee Boy mines on Hardy Mountain, at the Franklin Camp mine, the Charles Simpson or Ed Spraggett sawmills on the North Fork of the Kettle River, or building the CPR Eholt-to-Phoenix extension.

But no other references to this group can be found (the Grand Forks newspapers for this period are missing), so it’s hard to know whether they were seasonal labourers or just passing through. Flett’s role, if anything more than just curious onlooker, is unclear; his name otherwise only showed up in local newspapers in relation to mining claims. Was he sizing up the Doukhobors as potential workers for those claims?

We know slightly more about the next group of Doukhobors in BC. In October 1901, 16 Doukhobor men in Calgary had a chance encounter with former Rossland police chief John Ingram, who had been recruited to find replacement workers for the Le Roi mine during a miners’ strike.

These men were likely the same Doukhobors employed as track maintenance on the CPR Calgary division who took part in a nationwide strike from June to late August 1901 and who would not have knowingly taken jobs as replacement workers out of solidarity with the striking miners.

According to the Nelson Tribune, “Ingram positively assured them that the labour troubles [in Rossland] were all settled; that 300 union men had returned to work and that 150 union men had applied to the Le Roi company for work but the company did not want them.” However, he apparently misrepresented the situation.

The 16 Doukhobors were among 67 men who left Calgary with Ingram. When they arrived at West Robson to switch trains for Rossland, they discovered the true state of affairs and 10 of them refused to continue. Another 23 men reached the boarding house of the War Eagle mine in Rossland — including the Doukhobors, who spoke little or no English. The cooks and waiters there refused to serve them and they were finally sent off to a cabin to do their own cooking. A union miner visited the party and left some literature explaining the dispute.

Few if any Doukhobor recruits would have had mining experience; the Evening World suggested it would take about two years for them to learn to be muckers, which seems to have been a thinly-veiled insult, as mucking involved shoveling broken rock into tram cars.

The rival Rossland Miner didn’t identify the men as Doukhobors, but it would not have been in their interest to do so as a pro-management paper.

Instead the Miner described them as “as fine a looking party of Canadians as ever came into the Golden City … The men who came into the city last night were a lot of sturdy Canadians who value free speech and action above the fetich of agitation. They will be first-class mine workers in a comparatively short period.”

However, there were no further mentions of the Doukhobor workers after that. They probably departed once they understood the dispute they were in the middle of.

A third early foray into BC by Doukhobors was reported in The Chronicles of Camille, a memoir by longtime Trail merchant Camille Lauriente, published in 1953.

Lauriente recalled working as a CPR section foreman at Murphy Creek, just north of Trail, in July or August 1902. A roadmaster assigned four Doukhobors to work with him, none of whom had any railway experience. (Therefore they probably weren’t the same men who arrived in Rossland from Calgary the previous year.)

One man was fired after Lauriente accused him of laziness; he then went to work at the Trail smelter. The other three were also fired once Lauriente found more experienced track men.

Another early mention of Doukhobors in BC was in the Grand Forks Sun of April 12, 1904: “Messrs. Harry Itter, Geo. H. Hull, Lee and Lawson went down to Cascade last Sunday to take snap shots of the Doukhobor colony at that place.” (None of those photos are known to survive.)

The report is so brief and casual that it seems to assume readers were familiar with the subject. Yet no other mention of Doukhobors in the area appeared in the Grand Forks Sun or Grand Forks Gazette that month.

The word “colony” is probably a misnomer, as it was very doubtful to have been a permanent settlement and more likely an encampment of seasonal labourers. But if this report is accurate, what were they doing at Cascade? Working at one of the mines or sawmills in the area? At the Cascade Water Power & Light dam on the Kettle River? Or for the CPR as railway labourers? And were these the same Doukhobors that A.J. Flett went to see at Grand Forks three years earlier?

Furthermore, was it just coincidence that in each case the men came to the region that would later be home to thousands of Doukhobors? Or did these early sojourns plant some small seed for that subsequent migration? Did any Doukhobors who came to BC prior to 1908 later return permanently?

We’ll probably never know the answers with any certainty. Unfortunately, we don’t know the names of any of the individuals either; no Doukhobors have been discovered in BC on the 1901 census.


With thanks to Ron Verzuh, who found the story of Doukhobors hired to work in the Rossland mines.

This story first appeared in:

Doukhobors at Procter and Sunshine Bay, BC

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

Recently, Judy Brown of Calgary made an interesting discovery while exploring the Vancouver Public Library’s digitized collection of BC civic directories. While looking for something unrelated, she ended up studying the listings for Procter, where she grew up. The 1918 and 1919 editions of Wrigley’s BC Directory, she discovered, included the curious entry: “Doukhobor Colony bee-keeping.” [1]

The entry is intriguing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is there is no memory of a Doukhobor colony at that place.

The entry does not identify who the Doukhobors were. No Doukhobor individuals or organization are specifically named. This stands in contrast with other West Kootenay towns listed in the same directories, where Doukhobors appear by corporate name (e.g. “Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood” in Brilliant or “Abrossimoff Bros & Co general store” at Thrums) or by personal name (e.g. “Arakoff, Sam, logging foreman, Salmon Valley Lumber & Pole Co” at Porto Rico or “Samarodin, Nick, planerman, Slocan Valley Lumber & Pole Co” at Koch Siding).

Also, the term “colony” is deceptively non-specific. Most Doukhobor colonies in the West Kootenay numbered from 250 to 2,500 persons. However, the term did not necessarily entail any sort of large-scale presence. As newspapers of the period demonstrate, English-speaking locals seemed to use the term any time two or more families of “foreigners” settled in their midst, especially when they were unfamiliar with their language and customs.

Moreover, it is not clear where the colony was actually located. While the entry appears in the directories under “Procter,” the listings extend well beyond the town itself to the surrounding Procter postal district and include rural farms and ranches as well as the settlement of Sunshine Bay but not Harrop, which was listed separately.

As well, the colony appears to have been short-lived. It is only listed in the civic directories in 1918 and 1919. By 1921, there were no Doukhobors enumerated in the Canada census listings for Procter, Sunshine Bay, Harrop or surrounding West Arm settlements.

Finally, while the colony evidently engaged in beekeeping it is not obvious why it did so at Procter, some 30 miles (48 km) east of the main Doukhobor settlements located along the mid to lower reaches of the Slocan and Kootenay River valleys. There is no record of Doukhobors owning land there at the time.

So who were the Doukhobor colonists at Procter?

1918 listings for Procter (misspelled Proctor) in the Wrigley’s BC Directory.

Community Doukhobors on the West Arm

In April 1911, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) purchased the former Kootenay Jam Company factory in Nelson and renamed it the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. [2] As the factory was capable of processing a substantially larger quantity of produce than the CCUB could initially supply, it purchased fruit and berries from other fruit ranchers throughout the West Kootenay. [3]

Within days of its formation, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works announced it was making contracts for fruit with the ranchers on the West Arm, which contained many mature, bearing orchards. [4] The contracts were typically three to five years long, with the Doukhobors often purchasing the fruit on the tree, putting their own pickers in the fields to gather them.

This was a welcome economic stimulus for West Arm fruit-growers, who were often unable to find a market for their excess produce at any price. Indeed, the guaranteed income from these contracts became a selling feature for many improved ranches on the West Arm subsequently placed for sale. [5] The Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works continued to contract fruit from ranchers throughout the surrounding district through 1918-19.

Two of several ads for the sale of West Arm ranches with fruit contracts with the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. Nelson Daily News, May 12, 1912.

The supply of Doukhobor communal pickers under these contracts was also a significant benefit to West Arm fruit-growers, who often confronted labour shortages at the height of the picking season. [6] Many growers, impressed with the Doukhobors’ strong work ethic and industry, began hiring them to tend their orchards and market gardens throughout the growing season. By 1912-1913, numerous Doukhobors worked outside their villages on fruit ranches throughout the surrounding district. [7]

Typically, an entire Doukhobor family, and sometimes several, were hired by a fruit-grower in March or early April to live and work on his ranch for the season. They were often provided a rough dwelling or outbuilding for quarters, although some slept in tents. There, they undertook general orchard management, including planting fruit tree saplings, small fruit and vegetables, as well as pruning, spraying, thinning, cultivating, weeding and watering the existing orchard.

They might also clear new land for orchard planting the next year. The entire family participated. By mid-July, they picked and packed fruit and by mid-September, harvested vegetables. By October, they returned to their communal village and turned in their earnings to the central treasury. This working out among the Angliki (English) became an important source of revenue for the CCUB.

Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works ad seeking fruit from Nelson district growers, Nelson Daily News, May 4, 1918.

By 1916, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, now relocated to Brilliant, was purchasing honey as well as fruit from ranchers on the West Arm and elsewhere throughout the district. In February 1918, the Creston Review reported that the Doukhobor enterprise had purchased the “entire output” of beekeepers from as far afield as Creston “at very attractive prices” for the past two years. [8]

It was not stated whether these purchases were intended for the Doukhobors’ own domestic use or for commercial processing and sale. However, considering there is no record of the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works having sold honey, [9] they likely supplemented the CCUB’s own domestic honey production

Piecing together the Procter colony

In light of the Doukhobor Community’s ongoing purchase of fruit, berries and honey and hiring out of orchard workers and pickers on the West Arm, a picture begins to emerge of the bee-keeping colony at Procter.

The “colony” was surely located on the ranch of an English Canadian fruit-grower at or near Procter; one who contracted his fruit to the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in Brilliant. The contract was probably of three years’ duration, commencing in 1917 and ending in 1919. This would explain why the “colony” was already present when the Wrigley’s Directory was compiled in early 1918 but no longer appeared by the 1920 edition. [10]

The “colonists” were almost certainly two to three or more CCUB families; enough to constitute a colony in the eyes of locals. They would have been hired to manage the orchard throughout the growing season, then pick, pack and ship the fruit to the Doukhobor jam factory at Brilliant. They may have even wintered at the ranch.

As for why the Doukhobors were listed in the directory as a colony and not merely as fruit ranch employees, it was undoubtedly because they also engaged in their own beekeeping operation there. The Doukhobors had been avid beekeepers for generations and maintained sizeable apiaries throughout their Kootenay settlements, from the largest to the very smallest. [11] Most often this was not a main vocation but a sideline activity to their agricultural operations.

Apiary run by a single Doukhobor family at the CCUB stopping house in Nelson, 1921. (Courtesy Paul Strelive).

As the Doukhobors well knew, beekeeping and orchard-keeping were highly complementary pursuits, since the fruit tree blossoms provided bees with nectar and pollen as a food source for the hive, while the production of fruit was highly dependent on pollination by bees. Moreover, the fruit-growing season from March through August closely coincided with the bee-foraging, honey production and honey harvest season.

Evidently, the CCUB families hired by the Procter-area rancher brought several beehives from their communal village along with them while they lived and worked at his orchard over several growing seasons. As a single Doukhobor family was capable of keeping 15 to 20 hives as a sideline, [12] the several colony families probably tended as many as 45 to 60 hives and possibly more. This would have made quite an impression upon local residents.

Ultimately, the bees benefited the rancher and neighbours by promoting greater fruit production (and thus profits) through fruit sales to the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. For their part, the Doukhobor families gained sizeable honey cash crops of their own while also earning wages for managing the orchard. This helped offset the CCUB’s then-current honey production deficit, [13] reducing the volume of honey it needed to privately purchase for its members.

What is more, the identity of one of the colony families was revealed in a 1952 memoir by former CCUB secretary-treasurer Simeon F. Reibin as well as a very unfortunate circumstance that made local headlines.

As Reibin described it, Alesh (Alex) Stoochnoff (or Stoshnoff) was an old man who lived with his wife and two sons and worked an orchard at Harrop, near Sunshine Bay. Although “very industrious” and “honest,” his character was “dismally peculiar.” Hot-tempered and unable to get along with others, he was exiled with his family from the CCUB settlement at Shoreacres by leader Peter V. Verigin. [14]

Stoochnoff’s sons won Verigin’s approval for their hard work and expertise in tree pruning. Both, however, died prematurely, one from natural causes and the other after falling down a rocky hillside while working at Sunshine Bay. [15] Alex and his “very kind hearted wife” Mavra were left “lonesome and discouraged.” [16]

There was even more grief to endure. Although Reibin did not mention it, the Stoochnoffs also had a daughter, Malicia. [17] In August 1918, the Nelson Daily News reported that Malicia, a “Sunshine Bay Doukhobor,” appeared in provincial police court after neighbours laid an information alleging she “took fits and threw rocks and rushed about,” “attacked” them, and tried “to commit suicide by drowning.” [18]

She was clearly suffering from mental illness, which at the time carried a great deal of fear and stigma. Sadly, the judge found her “insane and dangerous to be at large” and committed her to the New Westminster asylum “for medical examination.” [19]

Nelson Daily News headline, Aug. 7, 1918.

At the time of her committal in 1918, Malicia was reported as “living at” Sunshine Bay and had dwelt there long enough to be deemed a “resident” of that place. [20] Malicia languished in the asylum for three years, dying there in November 1921 at age 36. [21] By that time, her family was back living at Shoreacres, having been removed from their Kootenay Lake orchard after a further falling out with Verigin. [22]

That the Stoochnoffs were members of the “Doukhobor colony” listed in the 1918 and 1919 Procter directories, there can be little doubt. Their tenure at Sunshine Bay, from sometime prior to August 1918 until sometime prior to June 1921 corresponds to the same period the colony was known to exist. Moreover, Sunshine Bay and its residents were listed under Procter in the directory. Finally, they are the only newspaper references to Doukhobors in the Procter district during this period.

Furthermore, a careful study of Malicia’s complainants enables us to pinpoint where the Stoshnoffs were living, and by extension, where the Doukhobor colony was located, in 1918.

The 1918 information laid against Malicia was lodged by Sunshine Bay rancher Robert S. Francis. [23] His allegations were corroborated in provincial police court by the witness testimony of ranchers Oscar B. Appleton and Percival Coles, also of Sunshine Bay. [24] All three men appear in the same directory as the Doukhobor colony under Procter in 1918 and 1919. [25] And as it turns out, they all lived a stone’s throw away from each other.

According to Kootenay Outlet Reflections, the Francis, Appleton and Coles ranches were all situated along Ferguson Road and its intersection with Harrop-Procter Road at the west end of Sunshine Bay. [26] As all three men — and only these three — witnessed episodes of Malicia’s erratic behavior, it is safe to presume that the Stoochnoffs resided in the immediate vicinity within eyeshot of the ranchmen.

Probable location of the Doukhobor bee-keeping colony at Sunshine Bay.

It follows that the location of the Doukhobor colony recorded in the 1918 and 1919 directory can be reasonably narrowed down to an area of about a quarter-mile (500 m) radius around the intersection of Ferguson and Harrop-Procter Roads at Sunshine Bay. Based on these deductions, we may even hazard to guess the identity of the fruit rancher who hosted the Doukhobor colony.

In comparing the 1918 and 1919 Wrigley’s Directory listings for Procter with the Kootenay Outlet Reflections map and legend of early Sunshine Bay ranches, it turns out that the only other ranches in the vicinity at the time were those of Fred Rucks and Joseph Dosenberger, both located on Harrop-Procter Road, immediately east of the Appletons. Either of their ranches could very well be where the Doukhobor colony once stood, although we will likely never know for sure.

In any event, while the “colony” ceased to exist after 1919, it did not spell the end of the Doukhobor presence at Sunshine Bay, Procter and surrounding district.

CCUB member families continued to seasonally work and live on area ranches, picking fruit, managing orchards and growing market gardens through the 1920s and ’30s. For instance, between 1932 and 1939, the Muirhead family of Procter usually hired “four girls from a Doukhobor settlement … They lived in a cabin built for them. They did their own cooking and looked after themselves.” [27]

And by this period, CCUB members were not the only Doukhobors in the area.

Independent Doukhobors at Sunshine Bay & Procter

As early as 1910, Independent Doukhobors settled at Thrums and Tarrys, where they farmed and worked as sawmill labourers and ranch hands. By 1921, census listings and civic directories indicate they had spread out to many small towns and camps in the Trail, Castlegar, Nelson and Grand Forks districts.

By 1922-23, other Independent Doukhobor families settled at Harrop, Procter, and Sunshine Bay to farm or to work in logging and on the railway. Many were already familiar with the area and its opportunities, having worked there as fruit pickers while members of the CCUB. Their presence remained in the area at least into the early 1970s.

In the early 1920s, John and Anna Shlakoff moved to Sunshine Bay from Ootischenia and rented a converted chicken coop on Len Appleton’s property. [28] With them came daughter Polly, son Eli, daughter-in-law Florence, and grandchildren Nellie, Mary, and John. Another grandchild, Florence, was born in 1924. Soon after, the family leased a house in Harrop. They moved to Ymir four years later. [29]

In 1923, Sam and Helen Podmeroff arrived in Procter from Castlegar and settled on the Johnson property. Helen was likely related to the Shlakoffs who were already in the area, as that was her maiden name. The Podmeroffs later moved to Harrop and then to Sunshine Bay, where they built a log home in 1932 and raised four children (including Eli, who was born at Procter).

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

Sam worked as an engineer aboard the tugboat Valhalla. His son, Sam Jr., followed his footsteps into the CPR lake service and became a deckhand, then mate, and finally captain of the SS Moyie on Kootenay Lake. He later worked on several other BC lakes. The Podmeroffs also raised a grandson, Serge Plotnikoff, who became well known as a musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer in the Kootenays. In 1971, the Podmeroffs moved to Pitt Meadows. [30]

Peter and Marfa Repin (or Rapin) moved to Sunshine Bay from Brilliant in 1924 with daughters Mary, Daria, and Ahafia to work on farms picking fruit and digging potatoes. Peter and Marfa later relocated to Winlaw, but daughter Mary stayed in Procter with husband Harry Stoochnoff, who worked for the CPR. [31]

The 1925 civic directory for Procter listed a gardener named S. Zarikoff, who may have been the same man as John S. Zarikoff, who married Lucy W. Rilkoff at Procter in 1932. They later moved to Blewett. [32]

In 1934, Alex and Vera Voykin and their children Annie and Alex Jr. moved to the Clift-Donaldson farm about halfway between Procter and Sunshine Bay. Another daughter, Helen, was born there in 1937, delivered by an army doctor who lived next door. In addition to working on the farm, Alex was a night watchman for the CPR. The family moved to Procter around 1940 and built a house there. A final child, Grace, was born in 1943. The Voykins moved to Nelson in 1948. [33]

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

Peter and Annie Gretchen came to Procter in the 1930s, where Peter worked as a logger and railway section hand. They lived there until their deaths in the late 1960s. [34]

Peter Gretchen’s sister Molly and her husband Bill Malahoff later moved to the area as well. Bill was a section foreman for the CPR at Tye, on the south arm of Kootenay Lake. Their son Walt boarded with the Gretchens while attending school in Procter in 1936. He would take the train from Tye to Procter on Monday mornings and return on Fridays around midnight. In the late 1930s, Bill and Molly bought the Heighton dairy farm at Procter. Walt and his brother Mike helped out there during the summer, but found jobs away from home during the winter. In 1952, Bill and Molly traded their farm for a home in Kamloops. [35]

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

Another Malahoff brother, Steve, bought the Procter general store and post office with his wife Tillie and ran it for a few years before moving to Rossland. [36] Tillie served as acting postmaster from 1943-45. [37]

CPR employee Bill Laktin was transferred from South Slocan to Procter in 1953. He brought his wife Mary and their children Billy, Johnny, Sarah, Nadia, and Elizabeth. They initially lived at Sunshine Bay before moving to Procter. However, they left the area within two years. [38]

To sum up, from 1911 to 1938, the CCUB contracted with ranchers at Sunshine Bay, Procter and elsewhere on the West Arm for the supply of fruit for its jam factory, often supplying Doukhobor pickers and also hiring out Doukhobor families to manage their orchards and market gardens throughout the growing season. The presence of these workers was significant enough in 1918-19 to be listed as a “Doukhobor colony.”

From at least 1922-23 on, they were joined by Independent Doukhobors who settled permanently in the area as farmers, loggers and railwaymen through to the 1970s. They made an important, albeit somewhat unchronicled, contribution to the growth and development of the area.


After Word

This article was originally published on Greg Nesteroff’s Kutne Reader blog site on August 4, 2021; updated on October 4, 2021.


End Notes

[1] “Proctor” [sic] in Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory 1918, p. 377: https://tinyurl.com/6p7u9v6w; and Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory 1919, p. 529: https://tinyurl.com/7z7xpvnx.

[2] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Jam-Making Enterprise” in West Kootenay Advertiser, April 23-30 and May 7, 14, 21 2020: https://tinyurl.com/7938yz47; https://tinyurl.com/4h7ka3kk; https://tinyurl.com/43axfdjk; https://tinyurl.com/pr8f6yc5; https://tinyurl.com/vjj9pcuj.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid; The Daily News (Nelson), April 26,1911. See also The Daily News (Nelson), July 22, 1912,Aug. 1, 1912, June 16,1914 and June 29, 1915

[5] The Daily News (Nelson), May 12, 1912 at 4 and 8.

[6] Supra, note 2.

[7] See for example, The Daily News (Nelson)Sept. 21, 1912; May 22, 1913; June 20, 1913.

[8] Creston Review, Feb. 1, 1918

[9] Supra, note 2.

[10] From February to May 1918, Wrigley Directories Limited compiled a new directory for BC, printing it in June: British Columbia Record, Feb. 25, 1918; Nanaimo Daily News, May 9, 1918; Vancouver Daily World, June 11, 1918.

[11] For instance, at Brilliant, the CCUB maintained an apiary of no less than 60 beehives in 1919: William M. Rozinkin, Brilliant History, Fading in to Obscurity: https://tinyurl.com/9dwm7d9j. Even single-family outposts, such as the CCUB stopping house at Nelson had an apiary of 16 hives in 1921: Greg Nesteroff, Little known Nelson-heritage buildings: 120 Vernon St: https://tinyurl.com/54k47bym.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Supra, note 8.

[14] Toil and Peaceful Life: History of Doukhobors Unmasked, Simeon F. Reibin, 1952, p. 128 and BC Mental Hospital, New Westminster, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/sk8y5cxh

[15] Ibid. The dates of their deaths are unknown as neither was registered, nor do they appear to have been reported in any newspaper.

[16] Ibid.

[17] The death registration for Malicia Stoshnoff [sic], BC Archives Reg. 1921-09-284399, Microfilm B13119 identifies her parents as Alex and Mavra.

[18] “Alleged insane woman taken to coast,” The Daily News (Nelson), Aug. 7, 1918

[19] Ibid; “Insane woman is committed,” The Daily News (Nelson), Aug. 13, 1918

[20] Supra, notes 18 and 19

[21] BC Mental Hospital, New Westminster, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/sk8y5cxh; Doukhobor settlement at Shoreacres, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/2aa7exed; Malicia Stoshnoff death registration

[22] Ibid. and Toil and Peaceful Life, supra, p. 128-29

[23] Supra, note 18.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Supra, note 1.

[26] Kootenay Outlet Reflections, Procter-Harrop Historical Book Committee, 1988, p. 297-299, based on information provided by Isa Cameron.

[27] Ibid, p. 237, based on information provided by May Muirhead.

[28] Ibid, p. 312-13, based on information provided by Florence Shlakoff Hodgins.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid, p. 311, based on information provided by Vi Plotnikoff.

[31] Ibid, p. 266, based on information provided by Mary Rapin Stoochnoff; Harry Stoochnoff death registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1959-09-13371: https://tinyurl.com/46juks74; 1921 Canada census: https://tinyurl.com/fy8j2dyw.

[32] Wrigley Henderson Amalgamated British Columbia Directory 1925, p. 292: https://tinyurl.com/3typf3mj; John S. Zarikoff and Lucy W. Rilkoff marriage registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1932-09-900969; John Zarikoff death registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1981-09002800: https://tinyurl.com/cufcyxu3.

[33] Supra, note 26, p. 266-67, based on information provided by Grace Voykin Kolle.

[34] Peter John Gretchen death registration, BC Archives 1967-09-004768: https://tinyurl.com/2mwvzjff; Annie Gretchen death registration, BC Archives 1968-09-005330: https://tinyurl.com/2mwvzjff.

[35] Supra, note 26, p. 233-34, based on information provided by Walt Malahoff. Curiously, of all the families enumerated in this book, the Malahoff entry is the only one that actually uses the word “Doukhobor.”

[36] Ibid.

[37] Library and Archives Canada, Post Offices and Postmasters Database, Procter postmasters list, viewed at https://tinyurl.com/3wtdthjc.

[38] Supra, note 26, p. 229, based on information provided by Sarah Laktin Popoff.

The Doukhobors of Canada – A Community of Siberian Exiles Which is Being Brought to Great Financial Prosperity by a Russian Captain of Industry

By Katherine Louise Smith

Katherine Louise Smith was a prominent Minneapolis, Minnesota-based journalist, author, women’s rights advocate and suffragette active between 1897 and 1932. Based on published newspaper accounts and from her own visit to Saskatchewan in 1906, Smith wrote from an outsider’s perspective about the Doukhobors’ remarkable progress under the guidance of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin. She observed how, in the space of a few brief years, the charismatic leader transformed the Doukhobors from restlessness to resolve, fanaticism to reconciliation, tradition to progressivism, poverty to prosperity, and from disorganization to the largest experiment in pure communism ever attempted. At the same time, she presaged the difficulties they would face in remaining a people ‘set apart’, and how the disparity between their faith and the laws and customs of their new land would lead to discord with the state. Text and illustrations reproduced from ‘The Craftsman’ (Vol. XII, No. 1, April 1907 at 64-79). After Word by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The Doukhobors in Canada, or Universal Community of Christian Brotherhood – as their leader, Peter Verigin, while still in Siberia, suggested that they be called — have now forty-four separate villages, with one to two hundred people in a village, and represent a prosperous form of community life. When they came to America they had nothing. Today, they have land, horses, food laid up for emergencies, twenty threshing outfits, six flour mills and five lumber mills. They also have a blacksmith and carpenter shop in every village, and run a large brick yard. Fifteen steam plows break up the land quickly. The possession of these labor-saving devices is said by those who know Peter Verigin, to be an example of his adroitness. One of the tenets of the Doukhobors is to care for animals, and when they suggested it was wrong to work horses in this way, their leader instantly improved the opportunity by advising the use of steam plows. These people are natural tillers of the soil. They like village life, have been for centuries accustomed to agricultural pursuits, and are indefatigable workers. Their only holidays are the Sabbath and Christmas. Easter Day is not observed, “for Christ is ever resurrected in every man’s heart.”

The old women among the Doukhobors spin the yarn for their own looms.

The growth of the Canadian Doukhobors is amazing to anyone who has known their history from the start. Five years ago six thousand of these people came to this country with nothing but strong hearts and willing hands. They were poor, not one in five hundred could speak English; they knew nothing of Canadian customs, and for two centuries had been oppressed; their property had been repeatedly confiscated, their women ill-treated and their leaders condemned to Siberian mines. Today they are one of the most interesting communities existing in the world. They do business on modern and approved methods, they issue financial statements, have cooperative stores, buy necessities at wholesale, and are rapidly taking advantage of those usages and customs of civilization which do not conflict with their religious belief.

Without doubt this change of attitude is largely due to Verigin, who is a veritable captain of industry, well calculated to be a leader, and tactful in persuading his people to adopt new labor saving devices and progressive measures. No one can see Verigin without being impressed by the man’s capabilities and the conviction that he is a remarkable character. He is an active manager, a worker as well as director, and though it is impossible outside the sect to discover his tribal or hereditary right to lead, or to understand their belief in his divine origin — which many of his followers affirm — everyone who sees Verigin is convinced of his power and his influence among the Doukhobors.

Looking down a peaceful Doukhobor village street.

Whatever his life may have been in youth, or however he obtained his present position as head of this sect, today he is physically and mentally well-equipped to be a leader of men. He is fully six feet in height, broad shouldered, deep chested, well built. He has a swarthy complexion, a strong but kind face, wears a moustache and his hair is growing thin. His personal appearance is pleasing, but it is his mentality and ability to guide the ignorant Doukhobors that arouses admiration. He came to Canada when they were in the midst of confusion, with their new life hardly started, their settlements scarcely formed, and disintegration imminent. With triumphant bugle call he rallied his army and led it to victory. Verigin reveals in his conversation a bright, keen, active mind, fully competent to deal with the problems of his people. Though he talks frankly, one is conscious that he speaks with discretion, and keeps in reserve what he may think it unwise to impart. He is well-read, masterful without being arrogant, and, most important of all, tactful. After meeting him one does not wonder at his power and influence, nor at its lasting through the years that he was in captivity.

Sifting grain in the old-fashioned way: women, the workers.

In fact, many of the Doukhobor doctrines are the result of the influence of this young man, who managed to keep in touch with his people while in Siberia. Possessing some education when he was banished, he met followers of Tolstoi early in his prison life, and from them, from reading the philosopher’s works, and from direct communication with the Russian sage, he became imbued with Tolstoi’s ideas and the doctrine of non-resistance. As a result he sent messages by Doukhobors who managed to keep in communication with him, and advised his followers not to carry arms, to give up meat, not to use intoxicants or tobacco, and to live a community life. As most of these precepts were in accord with the former teachings of the sect, his suggestions were readily accepted by his devoted people.

Verigin reached Canada, after his release from Siberia, at a critical time. It was just after “The Pilgrimage” when the Doukhobors had left home, stock, and all belongings behind and started toward Winnipeg. The results of this, to others, crazy movement are well known. The Canadian government was obliged to interfere, the mounted police saved the horses and cattle from starvation, and by persuasion and force the deluded people were sent back to their villages. At the time, they accounted for the hegira [exodus or migration] by saying they took the Bible literally, and “did not Christ say to take no thought for the morrow and that material things were of no account?” Whatever the cause of this peculiar psychic-religious mania, whether it was sincere, or, as some affirm, an effort to meet Verigin, who they had heard would reach them about that time, the fact remains that since the advent of their leader these Russian peasants have made only one similar attempt at a pilgrimage, and that was promptly stopped by Verigin.

Doukhobors weaving is done on a hand loom of most primative construction.

On reaching Canada, Verigin organized the disrupted communities, put them on a paying basis, acting with promptness and decision. The Doukhobors, perhaps from long persecution, are a silent people and reluctant to tell how they are governed; but it is well known that Verigin has an immense power over them, that they expect to do as he suggests, and that they recognize that it is to their interest to follow his advice. There is no doubt but his task in Canada has been a hard one, and it is fortunate that he has approached it tactfully. Canadian lands are rich, well adapted to agriculture, and the Doukhobors own fine tracts. Since their leader has succeeded in centralizing their labor and holding the men together, their lands have become some of the most productive in the Northwest. That he is capable of handling the six thousand peasants, many of whom do not read or write, is shown by the fact that, in spite of the confusion and waste that greeted him on his arrival in the face of discouragements, such as neglected cattle and the destruction of food and clothing, in one year after assuming the helm he was able to present a report far from discouraging, and systematic in every detail.

In harvest time the women gleaners take their noonday meal in a friendly group in the fields.

When Verigin reached his fanatical countrymen, he persuaded them to choose capable men for a community council, to continue their self-government, and to select a certain number of men besides himself to be head of affairs. In this way he obtained the advice of those familiar with conditions, and was able to appoint a competent corps of assistants. Each man does his share toward the property getting, and even the children earn money by digging roots and herbs, and turn it into the exchequer. Verigin is custodian of the public trust, and by his practical methods, high ideals and understanding of his people’s peculiarities, has so far proven himself more than worthy. As there are so many Doukhobors, it is evident they can provide largely for themselves without outside help. They buy at wholesale, grind their own flour, and in every possible way conduct business so that financial returns will come back to them instead of to other parties. In this way, and with a committee attending to the community funds, they have developed the largest experiment in pure communism that has ever been attempted.

Nothing can be more convincing of the present success of this community life than a glance at one of the reports handed in at the general meeting. Two men and one woman delegate are always sent from each village, as well as the men who hold offices in the settlement. The meeting is opened with the Lord’s Prayer, and ends with the singing of psalms, but the business questions are discussed thoroughly, and all items of expenditure, from small incidentals up, are accounted for. The reports of these meetings, which are in quaint, archaic English, would make a modern bookkeeper wonder at their accuracy. For instance, at the last meeting, held in February, 1906, at the village of Nadeshda, the account shows that the Doukhobors purchased over six hundred thousand dollars’ worth of goods, but by buying at wholesale effected a saving of two hundred thousand dollars. The report then goes on to state that sauce pans that retailed for one dollar were obtained for sixty cents, twelve cent prints were bought for eight cents, etc. The cash account is interesting as showing a satisfactory statement, for the income of the community for the past year amounted to one hundred and ninety thousand dollars, and their expenditures to half a million. The sundries account shows modern up-to-date methods, and among other things, the repayment of a loan by the Bank of British North America, amounting to fifty thousand dollars.

A Doukhobor garden, with their favorite thatched gateway.

The meeting ended with an appeal to the women present to tell the women in the villages, “to be imbued with the sentiment of high duties as mothers of manhood; to commence in future to ennoble man, as by nature itself women in character are much softer than men. They, men, in daily life are moving amid rougher surroundings, doing hard work, hauling timber, and suffering from winter cold, and there is no wonder that the character of men is much ruder than that of women. It is very desirable that when men will return from their outdoor work, women should give them solace and good comfort in their homes.” This, after the meaning of community life had been expressed as first, “spiritual fellowship and meekness between men, in which people are understanding great gentleness,” and second, “material profit.”

Truly an odd business meeting in the year of grace, 1906. And held by a body of people who only a few years ago conducted a “nudity parade,” and abandoned all they possessed in a fit of religious frenzy. Nothing shows more plainly the power Verigin has over them. The working day of the Doukhobors is from five in the morning until eight in the evening, but this is divided into three shifts of five hours each. One set of men and horses go to work at five, stopping at ten for five hours rest, while another shift continues the work. At three in the afternoon the first shift resumes work and continues until eight in the evening. This makes one shift do ten hours’ work, while the other does five hours, but the heavy and light shares are taken alternatively every other day.

The men plough and sow.

Many Doukhobors are employed in building railroads, and the recent impetus in railroad construction throughout Canada has afforded favorable opportunities. Every summer they take large railroad contracts and the executive committee provides scrapers, wheelbarrows, shovels, and other equipment for the purpose. In working on railroads the men live in camps, and are accompanied by enough women to do the sewing and washing. The camps are pitched in a convenient spot and are well equipped with sleeping tents, store tents, kitchens, blacksmith shops and stables. All cooking is done by men in primitive brick ovens after the fire has been removed. Coke is largely used and is made by burning Balm of Gilead poles in holes dug in the ground.

As a matter of fact, the Doukhobor’s domestic methods are crude, but they serve the purpose as well as more modern appliances. Their method of community life makes work on the railroads comparatively easy. This was especially true when they first arrived in Canada. They were without means, and it was necessary that the men should leave their land and earn enough money to purchase the necessities of life. It was difficult for one man to go any distance and leave an unprotected family in an unsettled country. In a large community, a division could be made whereby a thousand men or so could be away on railroad construction and as large a number stay at home to work the land, put in the crops, and build houses. Those who were away earned money for communal supplies and eatables, and the work and profits were thus about equally divided.

But the women reap.

The Doukhobors built their own mud or log houses, and the communal stables, of which there are one or more in each village for the horses, cattle, and hens. Early in their Canadian life, they were joined by the wives and children of two hundred men who had been exiled in Siberia. These were taken care of by the community until the men were liberated, when they at once came to Canada. If individualism had been practiced, it is difficult to say what might have become of these fugitives. So far, this religious sect has not made much advance in education. Verigin gives as a reason that “the first duty of the Doukhobors when they arrived was not to teach their children to read, but to get food for them.” Money has been offered them to assist in this work, and the Quakers of Pennsylvania, who have been attracted toward them by many similarities in their beliefs, have several times suggested sending teachers. Such proffers have been refused on the ground that, “It is against our principles to accept charity, and we do not wish to accept a sum for the purpose of building schools without seeing our way clear to repay it.” Quaker nurses have been among these people for some time, and recently Verigin has announced that he thought they were in a financial condition where it would be best to start buildings which could be used either for school or church, and to engage teachers.

Beating flax by hand at the harvest season.

Growing out of the religious tenet that they must not eat flesh, is the desire to care well for animals. The horses used in connection with railroad construction are kept in the best of condition. Their coats are glossy, and one man is constantly employed to chop and prepare their food. One of the topics discussed at a recent business meeting was the care of animals, and it was unanimously decided that as they did not kill animals for food, they should treat them as well as possible. Cows should have light, dry quarters; work horses should not draw heavy loads, and should not be taken out of the stables in winter if it was colder than thirteen degrees Fahrenheit.

Altogether, these Doukhobors are a strange people; a sect dating from the early part of the eighteenth century, and holding religious views which at one time set them in a frenzy, and at another tend to set them apart and to make them appear as the most Christ-like people in the world. It is difficult for an outsider to define their religious belief, for they are illiterate peasants, have no creed or writings, and their unwritten belief is handed down much like the Sagas. Orest Novitsky, who made a careful study of their religion, divides it into twelve essential tenets, the purport of which is that they are “led by the Spirit,” and “that the kingdom of God is within you.” It can be said that without priests they have a religion, with no police they have little crime, without lawyers they settle disputes, and without “frenzied financiers” they have thriven as regards this world’s goods.

Breakfast time in a Doukhobor home. The Russian costume lends a picturesque note.

As the Doukhobors wait until the spirit moves them before they speak in church, the service is usually long, and frequently lasts from four A. M. to eight A. M. The ceremony is very interesting to strangers, and consists largely of recitations given by the men, who are prompted by the women. Before they close, the men bow to the women, kiss each other, and then turn around and bow to the women again. Then the women do the same to each other and bow to the men.

It seems an interminable process, this round of kissing and bowing, but that they look upon a kiss as a bond of amity is shown by their kissing each other before meals instead of saying grace. The opinion of the old men in the community is much valued, and after church it is their custom to congregate to discuss affairs and to read aloud letters from relatives who are exiled in Siberia. The life of the Doukhobors is of the simplest. When they work on the railroad they have no “boss” or section man, and they work so incessantly that they resemble a hive of bees. They show great capacity for road building, bridge making, and handling large cuts and grades so that their railroad work is accurate and lasting. This, with the wonderful fertility of Canadian soil, has enabled them to pay off loans and to get a good start. Some of the sect are separated from the main colony and are living in Prince Albert district, but Verigin hopes to obtain land so that all the Doukhobors in Canada will be in one section.

They work always – these peasant women, even when village gossip lures them.

One thing is obvious, and that is that they look to a leader, and according to whether that leader is capable or incapable, good or bad, they will flourish. They are fortunate in possessing a head who has so far been able to cope with the problems presented by these erratic people in a strange land. There are those who assert that the Doukhobors are clannish, that years of persecution have made them deceitful, and that they frequently do what they affirm they will not do. Whether this is so or not, it will be interesting to watch the changes that years in a new country will make. Verigin, during the time he spent in Siberia, where he was thrown in with men of liberal views and education, developed remarkably; yet it is apparent that many of his Tolstoi views have proved impracticable since he has taken the reins of the community. Again, he shows an inclination to like and accept modern ideas, many of which would conflict with the preconceived notions of his people; but it is an open question if he will allow any changes which will affect his position as leader, and whether he will not insist that they shall always be a people apart. In a recent interview he stated that though a Doukhobor might marry an outsider, he would, in doing so, be virtually giving up his religion, for, according to fundamental principles of the sect, a Doukhobor might not destroy life, and no true Doukhobor could live in a home where meat was cooked or tobacco used.

belief, worship, customs, dress, persecution, migration, settlement, agriculture, leaders, Saskatchewan
These exiled Russian peasants do beautiful embroidery. It is a recreation to them after a morning at work in the fields.

There is no question but that Verigin has a hard task before him, for in many ways the community religion does not conform to the law’s and customs of a country. Take, for instance, the question of marriage and divorce. There is almost no prostitution among them, yet they feel reluctant about registering marriages. When they first came to Canada, they objected to making entry for their homesteads, in accordance with Canadian laws, and protested against registering births and deaths. They are sincere, but ignorant. They have faced complex problems, and are liable to come in contact with others, from their peculiar views and attempt at community life.


After Word

Many of the facts and details of Katherine Louise Smith’s article were drawn from previously published newspaper accounts. For example, her inventory of the Doukhobors’ agricultural equipment and community assets, physical description of Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin, and treatment of Doukhobor schooling is taken from the Winnipeg Free Press, March 7, 1906. Her reference to the report of the Doukhobors’ general meeting and of Verigin as a “veritable captain of industry” is drawn from the Vancouver Daily World, May 10, 1906. Her account of Verigin’s organization of the Doukhobors, their daily working house, and of their community being “the largest experiment in pure communism which has ever been attempted” is borrowed from the Winnipeg Free Press, May 25, 1904. And her description of Doukhobor railway construction camps is derived from the Winnipeg Free Press, June 30, 1906.

Similarly, at least several of the photographs accompanying Smith’s article can be reliably attributed to previously published sources. For instance, the photograph of Doukhobor women beating flax by hand is accredited by the British Columbia Archives to Canadian newspaper woman Agnes Deans Cameron, who wrote about Doukhobors during the same period. Similarly, the photographs of the Doukhobor haymakers at dinner, and of the Doukhobor women embroidering appeared in Aylmer Maude’s 1904 article, “An Experiment in Communism: The Doukhobor Commentary on Communism” in The World Today, A Monthly Record of Human Progress, Vol. 7, No. 6, November 1904.

At the same time, it can be confirmed that Smith’s article is based in part from her own personal observations of the Doukhobors, having visited their Saskatchewan settlements the previous year. In June 1906, Smith attended the Canadian Women’s Press Association convention in Winnipeg, MB. Thereafter, she made an extensive tour of the Canadian North-West via the Canadian Pacific Railway, stopping, among other places, at Yorkton, SK. She would go on to state in the Vancouver Daily News Advertiser (June 28, 1906) that “I was much impressed with those queer people the Doukhobors… where we spent a few hours.” At the time, Doukhobors were often described in the press as ‘queer’ in the sense of differing from what is usual or normal.

Katherine Louise Smith’s favorable treatment of the Doukhobor received wide readership in The Craftsman, one of the most popular and successful home journals in the United States and Canada at the time. It helped counter popular opinion about the Doukhobors, who were widely portrayed in the press at the time as a ‘crazed’ and ‘radical’ movement following the ‘Pilgrimages’ of November 1902, May 1903, July 1904, August 1905 and July 1906 by the early forerunners of the Sons of Freedom.

At the same time, Smith’s observation that the Doukhobors’ “community religion does not conform with the laws and customers of a country” presaged their conflict with the Canadian state. Indeed, only months after the publication of her article, 400,000 acres of Doukhobor homestead entries were cancelled in June 1907 as a result of their refusal to comply with the Dominion Lands Act.

Categories
Historical

Erecting the Suspension Bridge at Brilliant, B.C.

By A.M. Truesdell

In 1913, a 331-foot suspension bridge was built across the Kootenay River at Brilliant, B.C. by Doukhobor laborers – members of the Doukhobor Society – under the direction of a construction engineer, A. M. Truesdell. The Doukhobor laborers were unaccustomed to work of this character and, with few exceptions, were unfamiliar with the English language. On account of these conditions, Truesdell remained at site throughout the course of construction to help them through the process, most of his instructions being by means of interpreter. Six years later, Truesdell wrote about the erection of the bridge in the journal, ‘Engineering News-Record’, Vol. 83, No. 5, July 31, 1919 from construction engineering perspective and included several rare, albeit grainy, photographs of the construction.

Sir – The article by William G. Grove in Engineering News-Record of July 3, 1919, p. 4. describing a 540-ft suspension bridge, recalls a somewhat similar but smaller structure built at Brilliant, B.C. in 1913. This was for the Doukhobor society, composed of Russian peasants of a religious sect, living under a system of community ownership, so that the organization customary on construction work did not exist. Very few of them could speak any English, and I knew nothing of their language till I learned it on the job.

Suspension bridge over Kootenay River from south bank. A.M. Truesdell, 1913.

The bridge has a span of 331 feet between centers of towers, with a 16-foot roadway. The trusses are of steel, 9 feet deep; the floor-beams are pairs of channels with hanger rods between and a knee-brace at each end. The towers are 50 feet high above the piers and are of reinforced concrete. Each cable consists of four plow-steel wire ropes 2 inches in diameter, with about 37-foot sag, this arrangement being adopted in order to use cables which the Doukhobors had bought before engaging engineers.

Each rope socket is attached to two 2 ¼-inch rods which pass through a steel anchor bedded in concrete in the solid granite. At the towers, the cables rest on saddles, under which are rollers. The cables are cradled in planes with a batter of 1 to 12 and there are 1 3/8-inch guy cables on either side, attached to floor-beams.

As the men were not accustomed to working high in the air, considerable difficulty was experienced in getting them to try some of the operations. On the north side of the river a 95-foot tower was needed for hoisting concrete. Only three men were willing to build it, and even they would not take it down afterward, so it was pulled over and smashed on the rocks.

The cables were pulled across the river supported on a trolley cable, and after being swung free were adjusted to length. For placing clamps and hanger rods, a trolley cable was used on each side of the road; on these were hung boxes in which the men worked. For entering the lower ends of hanger rods through the floor-beams, suspended chairs were used.

All of the men working on steel erection wore safety belts, such as are used by telephone linemen. On one side of the river the steel was lifted by a small single-drum engine; on the other side hand tackle was used.

Placing a three-panel section of suspension bridge. A.M. Truesdell, 1913.

After the clamps were on the cables the method used was as follows: Hanger rods were put up for three panels; then three floor beams with knee-braces attached were hung, after which the trusses in the three panel sections were put on. A couple of holes in the top chord splice were then caught, the bottom chords pulled together, and the diagonal put in. Then after the laterals were put in place the deck was extended. Bolts were used for field connections.

The bridge was built by the Doukhobor society, assisted financially by the provincial government of British Columbia. It was designed by John R. Grant, of Cartwright, Matheson & Co., of Vancouver, B.C.; the writer was in charge of construction for the same firm.

A.M. Truesdell,

American Bridge Co.

Gary, Ind.

Doukhobors in the Kootenay, 1909

In June 1909, an unidentified correspondent with the Rossland Miner newspaper visited the new 2,700-acre Doukhobor colony at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers in British Columbia. Only a year after its establishment, the colony already boasted 675 members, recent arrivals from the Prairies, who had cleared 350 acres of heavy forest and planted 10,700 fruit trees along with large vegetable gardens. They set up two sawmills, which were busy cutting lumber for the houses of the different villages to be located on the land, and a preliminary irrigation system was established. Greatly impressed with their untiring industry and deep optimism of further development, the correspondent writes about their history, religious beliefs, communal society, vegetarianism, gender equality, dress and overall generosity and courtesy. Reproduced from the Daily News Advertiser (Vancouver BC), June 23, 1909

Last week a representative of the Rossland “Miner” visited the new colony of Doukhobors at Waterloo, B.C., and writes his impressions as follows.

Imagine a community of nearly 700 men, women and children, without a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a druggist, store, saloon, butcher shop, gaol or police officer, pauper or courtesan, where all of the population are vegetarians and teetotalers, so far as alcoholic beverages are concerned, and who neither chew nor smoke tobacco, and you will have an idea of the Doukhobor settlement at Brilliant, formerly Waterloo, on the Columbia River, about 25 miles from this city.

The inhabitants are Socialists, pure and simple, as everything is held in common. The men and the women work for the community, and all property is owned by the community, and all moneys derived from the sale of the products of the soil go into a common fund. They constitute one big family. The children, until they are able to work, are allowed to play or attend school, where a rudimentary education is given them. As soon as they are strong enough to toil they join the ranks of the workers and become part of the producers.

There are no drones in this human hives. When old age comes on and the limbs become unfit for arduous toil, the superannuated Doukhobors are treated just the same as when they were useful to the community. One of the Doukhobors explained this to the “Miner” representative, about as follows: “Old men and old women, when breakfast comes, eat breakfast; when dinner comes, have dinner; when supper comes, have supper. Rest of time they sit in house if weather is bad, but if weather fine they go in the sun and enjoy themselves. When they want shoes, hat, coat, vest, they go to the shop and get them.”

The former Waterloo mining and lumber camp (est. 1896) where the Doukhobors first settled in 1908. The two-story building at the left was used as the Brilliant Post Office and branch office of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, with the John W. Sherbinin family living upstairs. The two-story whitewashed log building to the right was used as a communal kitchen and cafeteria. The two-story building to its right served as the community store-house for the receipt and distribution of goods and supplies. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

Elementary School

Questioned as to the school, the Doukhobors stated that as the schools were provided for the children, where they learned to read, write and figure; in other words, they are given a primary education. The desire is not to over educate them. They do not want them to become doctors, lawyers, school masters, or scholars, but tillers of the soil, like their fathers and mothers.

Another feature of the Doukhobors is that they are opposed to war and will take no hand, act or part in it. In Russia, where they come from, they were knouted for refusing to serve in the army, but preferred death under the cruel knout to taking part in slaying their fellow men. One of the cardinal parts of their creed is that they are opposed to the shedding of the blood of anything that lives, and hence they are vegetarians, drawing the line even at fish. They have been called by some “Russian Quakers.”

Doukhobor Religion

As to their religion, it was explained to the “Miner” representative as follows:

They follow as closely as possible the teachings of Christ in doing only that which is good to their fellow man, and of not resenting violence when it is offered against their persons or property. When one cheek is smitten they turn the other to the smiter. They lead clean, honest lives, wronging neither man nor dumb creates and make their living by the sweat of their brow, directly from the soil.

Should a member of the community desire at any time to leave, he gives notice of his wish and his or her share is apportioned and he or she is given it in the form of money. Should he or she afterwards regret their action and desire to return they can repurchase their interest and again become members of the community.

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin’s older brothers Prokofy and Vasily and family at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) in c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Women with the Hoe

The women work in the fields the same as the men, doing the light tasks, such as hoeing and planting. It was an interesting sight to see groups of them coming in from the fields at noon and in the evening. Each had a hoe on his shoulder and they laughed and chatted with each other as they made their way to the public dining room, where they dined with their children.

They are usually attired in dark skirts with waists of varied material, generally calico and of different colors, according to the taste of the wearers. Each wears a large apron. The headdress consists of a large handkerchief covering the hair and the sides of the face and tied in a knot at the throat. A portion of the handkerchief falls for a considerable distance down the shoulders. Their feet are covered with rough shoes, and not a few of them were without stockings. Apparently there is not a corset in the community.

A few are comely, others have the “fatal gift of beauty,” while not a few are homely. They are deep chested, wide-hipped, clear eyed and have the red badge of health in their cheeks in most instances. A few of the older ones show the effects of hard toil in stooped shoulders and deeply-marked lines in their faces. They seemed to be cheerful and contented, while their children were veritable pictures of health, vitality and strength, lively and full of pranks. The children were generally barefooted.

One feature that struck the visitor was their universal politeness and kindliness. The men respectfully salute their fellows, whether men or women, whenever they meet, by raising their caps with cheerful words of salutation. The stranger visiting the place is shown the same sort of courtesy, the children being particularly polite.

Strong, Hardy Men

The men nearly all wear a peaked cap and in most instances black coats, all of which are of the same cloth and pattern; dark trousers and heavy shoes. They are manufactured by them at home in most instances. The men are large, strong, athletic and active looking. They are nearly all light complexioned, with blue and gray eyes, although there are a few of the pronounced brunette type with flashing black eyes.

It was noticed that they all were able to read, as when they came to the Post Office they looked over the letters and selected whatever was directed to them.

Peter Verigin is the head man of the colony. He is a fine looking, large man, of commanding appearance. Although he has been in Canada for several years he has not yet learned to speak English. John Sherbinin is his interpreter and is a young man of ability, who speaks English fluently, and from him the following particulars concerning the community were learned:

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin working in his vegetable garden at the Waterloo camp, Dolina Utesheniya, c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Last year the community, after a thorough inspection of the various portions of the Province, on the part of their agent, purchased through Willoughby & Mauer, of Winnipeg, 2,700 acres of land near Waterloo. This included 67 acres belonging to H.B. Landers [sic Landis] and 14 acres owned by James Hartner.

This land extends along the Columbia River’s east bank for a distance of two miles and along the south bank of the Kootenay river for a mile and a half. The land extends from the river front to the foot of the mountains, which rise almost perpendicular at the eastern boundary of the land. The land is beautifully located on three benches. The first bench is 100 feet above the level of the river and a quarter of a mile wide. The second bench is 200 feet above the river and about a mile wide. The third bench is 350 feet above the river and about a quarter of a mile in width. The three benches represent former beds of the Columbia River and the soil is a rich alluvial, being ideal fruit and vegetable land. The valley of the Columbia is wide at this point and the sun has ample opportunity of warming the oil and making “things grow.”

The First Arrivals

On May 12, 1908, the first installment of Doukhobors arrived from the prairies, consisting of 80 men, three women and two children.

Last year a little over 200 acres were cleared and a considerable quantity of vegetables raised, such as potatoes, cucumbers, water melons, citron melons, turnips, radishes, etc., and about 700 fruit trees were planted.

This year, so far, 150 acres have been cleared and 10,700 trees planted, including plums, cherries, prunes, apricots, nectarines, walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. Besides there have been 6,000 grape vines planted on the sunny slopes of the benches. Then there are 18,000 seedling apple, pear and quince trees purchased in Iowa, which will be set out later, they being at present in beds. A very large number of gooseberries, currants and blackberries have been set out, which will produce considerable fruit this year. This season there have been a good sized acreage devoted to potatoes, onions, beets, buckwheat, water melons and other vegetables.

The community has had in operation for a considerable time a portable sawmill that cuts about 5,000 feet of lumber a day. Another and a larger mill has been purchased and is at present at Castlegar on board the cars. This will soon be placed in position and will cut from 30,000 to 40,000 feet a day. It will be used to cut lumber for the houses of the different villages that are to be located on the land of the community. It will not only be used at Waterloo but at Pass Creek, where the community has purchased 2,000 acres of land.

A ferry has been put in at Waterloo, which will carry thirty tons, and a second ferry has been placed in position in the Kootenay River, which is only a little smaller than the one at Waterloo.

Returning to the additions to the colony, Mr. Sherbinin stated that fifteen came in July last from the prairies, consisting of two men, three children and ten women. April of the present year 190 men arrived from the prairies. Within the past few days, 500 arrived at Waterloo, a considerable portion of whom were women. About 150 have gone to near Grand Forks, where the community owns 1,000 acres of land, and some are working for others clearing land. The present population of the Waterloo community is about 675.

Group of early Doukhobor settlers to Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), c. 1909. BC Archives A-02072.

Asked as to the future plans of the community, Mr. Sherbinin stated that the intention was to continue the work of clearing, till 2,700 acres at Waterloo was cleared and set out in fruit, thus making it the largest orchard in the Province. A road is being built to Pass Creek, from Waterloo, which with all its winding will be about ten miles in length. If the Province constructed this road it would cost at least $12,000, but the Doukhobors are doing it themselves without asking for a cent from the public coffers. The 2,000 acres that the community owns at Pass Creek will be cleared and part of it used for growing vegetables and the remainder for hay and pasturage.

Asked where the Doukhobors came from, Mr. Sherbinin said that they were from the Caucasian Provinces that lie in Southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas, and principally from Tiflis and Kars. They are from the cradle of the Aryan race. The Doukhobor society is three or four hundred years old. They came to Canada first in 1898, because dissatisfied with the adverse conditions in Russia, and particularly the compulsory service required of them in the army, preferring death at the hands of the Cossacks to service in the army. There are about 7,000 of them in Canada at present. In Saskatchewan there are 40 villages each containing from 75 to 350 people. It is the intention to transfer all of these to the Province inside of the next five years.

Asked the reason for the change of residence place the reply was that as the Doukhobors are vegetarians and used to a fairly warm climate, it was too cold for them on the prairies, while the weather here was free from intense cold. On the prairies they cannot raise fruits, vegetables and nuts, which form so large a portion of their diet, but here they can be easily grown, and hence their preference for this section of the country.

First crop of tomatoes grown by Doukhobors at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), 1908. SFU MSC121-DP-152-01.

Vegetarian Menus

The “Miner” representative dined twice with the Doukhobors during his visit, having luncheon and dinner. At luncheon he had a vegetable soup, made of potatoes and fragrant herbs, thickened with milk and butter and seasoned with salt. It was very good. Black bread made of whole wheat, evidently mixed with rye. It was sweet and wholesome. Two fresh eggs; then there was raspberry jam, raisins and plums stewed together, butter and cheese, and water instead of tea. For dinner the menu was as follows: noodle soup, flavored with parsley and seasoned with salt. A slab of cheese; black bread, raspberry jam, two eggs, and water instead of coffee.

From the standpoint of a vegetarian the meals were satisfying, and the “Miner” representative enjoyed them very much. They were given with such kindness and such heartfelt hospitality that added zest to them.

What most impressed the “Miner” representative during his visit was the untiring industry of the members of the community. In a very short time they have cleared, ploughed and made a veritable garden a tract of 350 acres that was last year virgin forest. Not only the stumps and roots have been removed but every stone. The soil has been pulverized to as fine a point as it can be.

Water has been piped to the cultivated land so that trees and vegetables can be irrigated. It is the intention to flume in larger supplies of water from McPhee Creek, so that every acre of the 2,700 can be irrigated.

When the entire tract has been planted it promises to make the largest orchard in the Province. It is understood that most of the fruit raised will be canned or dried for shipment to the larger centres of the Dominion. The task already accomplished is an immense one, but what lies before them in improving the two tracts at Waterloo and Pass Creeks and the one at Grand Forks is much larger. Besides they intend to acquire other areas of raw land which they will improve. What they have done already is an object lesson of great value, as it shows what the soil of the Columbia River Valley is capable of yielding to property directed and energetic effort.

Doukhobor land-clearing on the First Bench immediately north of the Waterloo camp, 1912. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

To the Socialist of this section a visit to Waterloo will give him a view of Socialism at short range, as his doctrines are fully carried out by the Doukhobors.

The vegetarian will find much to commend when he looks into the diet of the Doukhobors. He will see men and women doing hard work on a vegetable diet.

The temperance advocate should also be interested in what he can see in this community and can study the effects of total abstinence in a community of several hundred.

The lover of peace cannot help but admire the courage which the Doukhobors have displayed in sticking to their anti-war doctrine.

Those who are interested in humanity and how man is working his way to a higher destiny, can find food and reflection in this simple, plain and God-fearing community.


After Word

It should be noted that all references to ‘Brilliant’ in this 1909 article refer exclusively to the Doukhobor settlemens in the Valley of Consolation (Dolina Utesheniya) on the southeast side of the Kootenay-Columbia confluence. The lands known as ‘Brilliant’ today on the northeast side of the confluence were only purchased by the Doukhobor Society three years later in 1912.