Brilliant Jam Factory was Thriving Industry

by William M. Rozinkin

Among the many communal enterprises of the Doukhobor Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), the most remembered is their Kootenay-Columbia (K-C) Preserving Works Jam Factory in Brilliant, British Columbia. Purchased in Nelson in 1911 and relocated to Brilliant in 1915, it was an important industrial asset of the CCUB, processing the berries and fruit grown in its vast communal orchards. At its peak in 1934, the factory had a jam pack of 35,000 cases. Following the demise of the CCUB in 1937-1938, the jam factory was taken over by the British Columbia government. In 1943, it was destroyed by arson. The following article by Kootenay resident and historian William M. Rozinkin (1923-2007) recalls the thriving industry of the Brilliant jam factory. Reproduced by permission from the Nelson Daily News (June 9, 1967).

When the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood purchased 15,320 acres of land in B.C. interior in 1907, it launched a development program that spread throughout the Kootenay-Boundary regions. Besides some cultivated areas in Grand Forks all the rest were heavily forested and many inaccessible.

The Doukhobors, headed by Peter Lordly Verigin, faced hard pioneer work. By 1911, the communities pushed back the forests and planted 51,000 fruit trees and were building residential villages, roads, ferries and sawmills. By 1914, over 3,000 acres were under orchards and hundreds of acres planted with strawberries, raspberries and other berries. Fields of vegetables and grain were also producing abundant crops as irrigation systems began operating. More land was acquired.

With the expanding supply of fruit and berries, the CCUB purchased the Kootenay Jam Co. factory in Nelson in 1911, whose label proudly stated, “By Special Appointment, Perveyors to H.E. the Governor-General.” The factory was located on Front Street in the building later occupied by National Fruit Co.

Sorting apples at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01535.

Following the purchase, the factory became known as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, producers of the KC Brand products. It operated on the location for five years with six jam making kettles.

In a letter dated March 4, 1915, Mr. Verigin informed the Nelson Board of Trade that the CCUB had decided to relocate the factory from Nelson to Brilliant to be near the large plantations that supplied the factory. Besides freight costs, shipping time was also delaying the processing of berries when they were at their best, he said.

At that time the prairies were purchasing 50 per cent of their fruit from the U.S.A., 35 per cent from Ontario, and only 15 per cent from B.C.

When the KC operations began in 1911, the factory’s business amounted to $25,000, with the manufacture of 70 tons. Ninety two tons were produced in 1912 and the following year, 177 tons.

Immediately after the factory went into production at Brilliant in 1915, Mr. Verigin’s progressive policy promoted the construction of a plant for the manufacture of tin cans needed for jam distribution. In the first operating season of 1916, 150,000 cans were made.

The new jam factory now had 12 special jam-making copper kettles that operated to full capacity processing berries the same day they were received. The strict grading of incoming berries and fruit, together with supervised cleanliness, had far-reaching effects. Nothing else was used besides pure cane sugar and berries in the old English recipe introduced to the K-C operation by Harry Beach in 1911. All jam found a ready market.

With the construction of extensive irrigation systems and with an additional 1000 acres of fruit trees added by 1919, the agricultural development leaped forward, and the $100,000 factory worked at full capacity.

The K-C Preserving Works was the pride of the communities,” recalled William J. Soukoreff of Thrums. “The reputable quality of its products was known in Canada and in the U.S.A.”

Mr. Soukoreff worked from 1915 to 1928 in the offices of the CCUB and its other business holdings, the K-C Fuel Supply in Trail, Salmo Valley Lumber and Pole Col, Slocan Valley Lumber CO., and at the K-C offices in Brilliant. The CCUB also maintained businesses in Nelson and others in Brand Forks, and on the prairies. He went to work in the sales division of the factory in 1928, and recalled his successful business relations with western wholesalers and chain store establishments. Every major city in western Canada was a customer for K-C Brand jam.

The community also maintained two tomato canning plants, one in Brilliant and the other in Grand Forks. While a lot of canned tomatoes were used at home, up to 14 freight car loads were also shipped annually from Brilliant, where tomato canning facilities were located in the jam factory.

In August 1934, Mr. Soukoreff returned home from a sales trip east with orders for 18 car loads of jam from that single trip! “Favorable prairie crop conditions had a direct effect on fruit sales,” he said. Although times were hard, the 18 cars were sold at highest prices.

Doukhobor Jam Factory at Brilliant, BC, circa 1930. British Columbia Archives D-06930.

The same year the factory had a jam pack of 35,000 cases. This included 10,000 cases of strawberry jam that led in popularity, followed by plum and raspberry. Each case consisted of 12 four-pound cans of jam.

During the depression years, the combination of strawberry-apple jam appealed to the bargain-hunting housewife. It was during those years that unemployed persons picked huckleberries and made better than average wages selling them to the factory. About 2,000 cases of huckleberry jam were made in one season, and it was K-C who first introduced this jam to the prairies. Its demand was great.

Mr. Soukoreff recalled that the largest jam pack was the year after Peter Chistiakov Verigin arrived to head the community and doubled the production facilities of the K-C factory. With 24 jam-making kettles in operation, thousands of cases were loaded into 70 freight cars for eastern markets. “The largest obstacle to our sales on the prairies were the freight rates that favored the eastern producers,” he said.

Many old-timers still recall the hundreds of wagons loaded with berries and fruit that streamed to the packing sheds and factory during the summer and fall. They came from Ootischenia, Brilliant, Shoreacres, Robson, Pass Creek, Glade, and Slocan Valley. Grand Forks made heavy rail shipments.

Not only the Doukhobor communities supplied the factory. Farmers from Slocan Valley and others living along Kootenay Lake as far as Creston brought their berries by truck, while others shipped by railway.

Visitors were common at the factory, as they came to view the making of the “best jam they ever tasted”. When the Gyro Club District No. 8 held their convention in Nelson in August, 1935, they toured and had a banquet in the K-C factory. Making the trip were 170 Gyros and Gyrettes, in 42 cars. E.A. Mann, former Nelson club president, recalled the occasion. “It was a big hit with the Gyros,” he said. “The Doukhobor hospitality and cleanliness was most impressive. And their jam was good too!” The club was guided through the factory by John J. Sherbinin, business manager; Peter P. Zibin, jam maker and supervisor, and Joseph P. Shukin, executive director. For a gift each lady was given a four-pound can of jam.

The visitors saw the kettles in operation, activated by steam heat and looked after by an attendant. After the jam was cooked it was poured into smaller copper pots that were placed on wheeled “turtles” and taken to the cooler. Here the temperature was reduced and the jam received final skimming. It was then taken to the tables where it was ladled out into the sterilized cans. The protective special covering was placed on the cold contents and the can sealed with the lid. These cans were moved to the lower floor on the elevator, where labels were affixed on each can designating the contents. They were then placed in cases for shipment.

Most visitors were fascinated by the cherry-pitter and other machinery in the operation that was capable of producing up to 1,055 cans of jam per hour and produced up to 43,000 cases annually.

Among those who worked many years at the factory was Peter P. Zibin, under whose watchful supervision jam was made from 1915 to 1935. William J. Makaeff succeeded him. At peak season the factory employed up to 60 persons.

Office and staff of the Doukhobor Jam Factory at Brilliant, BC, circa 1925. British Columbia Archives C-01593.

In operating the K-C factory and other enterprises the Doukhobor communities tried to establish economic wellbeing for all its members, and where the aged, the orphaned, the widowed and the crippled also had food, clothing and shelter. During those years there was no welfare assistance to the needy, and this practice was a continuation of Doukhobor tradition.

Under the guidance of Lordly Verigin (head and organizer), all capital was turned into development of field and factory that formed the material foundation for this society that had a penniless beginning. When funds were needed for large projects, the executive office borrowed.

The rapid growth and strict religion of the Doukhobor community at times brought considerable suspicion, misunderstanding and disfavour.

In 1924, the year Mr. Verigin was killed in an unsolved train bombing, the CCUB holdings were valued at $6 ½ million, with $1 million owing.

A packing plant’s executive member also escaped death four years later when a speeding auto fired five shots at him near Castlegar. There were no arrests.

Peter Chistiakov Verigin arrived in 1927 and continued in his father’s post. In 10 years under his administration, the CCUB repaid $1 ½ million on loans and expanded manufacturing plants, built new ones, added acreages, settlements, etc. amounting to $1 million. Despite the depression of the 30’s, that caused membership to drop 43 per cent, and the attacking terrorism (total terrorist losses amounted to $1 ½ million), he reduced the debt to $319,276. In 1939 this amounted to 4 per cent of the value of community property. But it led to bankruptcy, foreclosure and ruin of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood enterprises.

Four years after Peter Chistiakov Verigin died in 1939 the Brilliant factory was destroyed by terrorists. Its replacement value was $300,000. Besides valuable equipment and large stocks of tin cans, this “largest industrial building of its kind in the interior” also had its own electric lighting plant. It had been taken over by the B.C. government following finance companies’ mortgage foreclosure. It was insured.

Another jam factory was constructed in Grand Forks in 1935. It was also destroyed by terrorists in the same year, bringing a loss of $75,000.

The CCUB has been replaced by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ as the major Doukhobor organization. It was organized by Peter Chistiakov Verigin in 1938.


For More Information

For more information on the Doukhobors’ Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam enterprise in Nelson, British Columbia, see the article, The Doukhobor Jam Factory in Nelson, British Columbia by Greg Nesteroff.