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.

Rediscovering the Lost Burning of Arms site in Azerbaijan

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

It is a familiar and cherished story – one retold by generations of Doukhobor Canadians for well over a century.

It was midnight on June 29th 1895 – the feast-day of Saint Peter – when over seven thousand Doukhobors in the Caucasus region of Russia – followers of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin – gathered all the firearms in their possession, heaped them onto a pile of kindling, doused it with kerosene and lit it aflame.  As these weapons of death and destruction twisted and melted in the bonfire, the Doukhobors gathered round and sang hymns of non-violence and universal brotherhood.  It was a peaceful mass demonstration against militarism and violence.  But it was met by violent reprisals and brutal retaliations by the Tsarist government.  Hundreds of Doukhobors were summarily arrested and imprisoned, while thousands were exiled from their homes to distant lands for their so-called act of ‘rebellion’.  The ‘Burning of Arms’, as this event became known, would become a seminal moment in Doukhobor history.

The Burning of Arms, a painting by Michael M. Voykin, Castlegar, BC (1974).

Students of Doukhoborism are generally aware that the Burning of Arms did not happen in a single place.  Rather, it was coordinated simultaneously in three different regions of the Caucasus where the Doukhobors had settled: in Akhalkalaki district, Tiflis province in what is now Ninotsminda region, Georgia; in Elisavetpol district and province in present-day Gadabay region, Azerbaijan; and in Kars region in modern Turkey.

However, while the precise location of the Georgian Burning of Arms site has remained widely known and frequently visited by touring Canadian Doukhobors to the present day, the corresponding locations of the Azerbaijani and Turkish sites had long since passed out of living memory among modern descendants. They are not identified in any modern history or text.

Thus, when I had the opportunity to visit the Doukhobor villages in Azerbaijan in July of 2015, I couldn’t resist the challenge of trying to locate the site of this momentous historic event in that region! 

Prior to departing on my trip, I carefully surveyed the published literature and found several important clues that would prove critical to identifying the location of the site. 

Countryside on the northwest outskirts of Slavyanka. The hill in the background is known among local Doukhobors as Orlov Bugor or the ‘Eagle Mound’. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

First, in his 1964 memoir, Ispoved’ starika dukhobortsa: vospominaniya o pereseleniy dukhobortsev v Kanady (‘Confessions of a Doukhobor Elder: Memories of the Resettlement of Doukhobors to Canada’), Vasily Vasil’evich Zybin recounted the following details about the Burning of Arms in the district of Elisavetpol (translated from Russian):

"Ivan E. Konkin passed on to all the Doukhobors [Verigin's] directions that to be a Doukhobor meant not to be a soldier; and not to be a murderer not only of human beings, but even of animals. Whoever has weapons at home, anything concerned with killing, be it swords, daggers, pistols, rifles – all were to be placed on a pile in one place and burned, secretly, so that our non-believing Doukhobors would not cause us harm. Everything was collected at a spot three versts from the village of Slavyanka. There are mineral waters there, and water is always bubbling out of the ground; it is sour, as pleasant as lemonade. Near that spring a small fruit tree orchard had been planted, and in the middle of the orchard a summer house, raised about three feet from the ground, had been erected. This was according to the instruction of our former leader, Peter Larionovich Kalmykov, who lived in Tiflis Province.”

Second, friend and fellow Doukhobor writer D.E. (Jim) Popoff reminded me that another passage about the Burning of Arms in Elisavetpol could be found in Grigori Vasil’evich Verigin’s 1935 memoir, Ne v sile Bog, a v pravde (‘God is not in Might, but in Truth’), in which he wrote (translated from Russian): 

“In Slavyanka, the place for the burning of the weapons was selected about two miles away from the village. There was a grove there with some fruit trees planted a long time ago. This grove was well fenced and kept in good order by the Doukhobors. All the Doukhobors went there often in the summertime, performed the Divine Liturgy and had lunches, so that the grove was kind of a sacred place. The bonfire was placed in the proximity of that grove, over a thousand feet aside from it.  This was all done quietly and neatly, despite the fact that there were guards there who were supposed to report to the government if anything happened.”
Highway at the northwest outskirts of Slavyanka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

These two accounts, each written by a first-hand witness to the Burning of Arms in Elisavetpol, were remarkably consistent.  Both identified that it took place: near Slavyanka, the largest of four Doukhobor villages in the district; at a spot three versts (an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 2 miles or 3.2 kilometers) from the village; near a grove of fruit trees.  Zybin also mentioned a mineral spring with slightly sour water nearby, while Verigin referred to it as a ‘sacred’ place of worship.

Taken together, these clues provided me with the distance from the village to the site, two geographic features in its immediate vicinity; and that it was a place of religious significance to local Doukhobors.  I now felt I was equipped and ready to try to locate the actual site, once I got to Slavyanka!

Before long, I was on my way, accompanied by eight other Canadian Doukhobors.  Over the course of three weeks, we visited former and present Doukhobor sites throughout the Caucasus.  As the ‘resident historian’ of the group, I shared my knowledge about many of the sites we visited.   For their part, the other tour participants shared my enthusiasm and excitement about visiting these sites, steeped in such history and significance!  In particular, Andrei Conovaloff, a Molokan from Arizona with a keen interest in Doukhoborism, actively assisted me in photographing and filming many of these places.  

View of Slavyanka from the main highway. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After spending two weeks travelling in Turkey and Georgia, experiencing many adventures along the way, we finally made our way into Azerbaijan.  We arrived in Slavyanka, once the largest Doukhobor village in the Caucasus, now home to over three thousand Azeris, with less than a hundred Doukhobors remaining.  It was a lush, green oasis amid the dry grassy hills, with handsome houses all tidy and in good repair and an air of general prosperity.  After settling into our hotel, a clean, newly-constructed building overlooking the town, we piled into our tour bus and set out to explore Slavyanka.  No sooner did we reach the town centre, then we came across Grisha Zaitsev, a tall, lanky, friendly Doukhobor in his fifties who was genuinely excited to meet us.

View of Slavyanka from the main highway. The hill in the background is known by local Doukhobors as Kosavyi Bugor or the ‘Slanted Mound’. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After mutual introductions and much spirited discussion between Grisha and our group, I asked him if he knew where the Doukhobors had burned their guns, over a century ago.  “I do not know what you mean,” he replied.  I went on, with other tour participants assisting, to explain the events of the Burning of Arms to him.  It quickly became apparent that he was not aware of the event.  This surprised me at first, given its tremendous significance to Canadian Doukhobors.  However, I quickly realized that Grisha and the other Doukhobors who remained in Slavyanka were descendants of the Small Party, whose members had never participated in the Burning of Arms.  Simply put, it was not a part of their own history; thus the memory of this event was not kept among them.

The writer beside a local Azeri (left) and Grisha Zaitsev (right). © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Undeterred, I changed my line of questioning from the ‘event’ itself to the ‘site’ where it took place.  I began by asking Grisha if there was a fruit grove – a very old one – on the outskirts of the town.  “There are many groves in Slavyanka,” he affirmed, “Which one do you mean?”.  I recognized I needed to be more specific.  I then asked him if any of the orchards were located near a mineral spring.  “Oh yes,” Grisha responded matter-of-factly, “we have two such springs – the Nizhnyi Narzan (‘lower mineral spring’) and the Verkhnyi Narzan (‘upper mineral spring’).  “Aha!” I thought to myself, now I was getting somewhere!  But which of these springs was ‘the’ site I was specifically looking for?  I asked Grisha if the Slavyanka Doukhobors held moleniye (‘prayer meetings’) at one of the springs.  “I do not know about that,” he replied.  “You need to ask Masha”, he said, “she will know the answer.”  Hot on the trail of a new lead, our group piled into our tour bus, together with Grisha, who directed us to the house of the eldest remaining Doukhobor in Slavyanka.

View of Maria Strelyaeva’s house in Slavyanka, whitewashed with light blue trim in the traditional Doukhobor fashion. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Several minutes later, we arrived at a typical ‘Doukhobor’ dwelling with sharp-pitched roof, verandah with decorative wooden beams, whitewashed walls and sky-blue trim along the eaves, verandah, door and window frames.  Maria (‘Masha’) Strelyaeva, the matron, was outside tending her flower garden.  She was a stern-looking diminutive woman in her late seventies.  However, her eyes lit up as soon as Grisha introduced our group and explained who we were.  After several minutes of friendly conversation, I explained, with others assisting, that we were looking for the site where our ancestors had burned their guns, over a century ago.  Like Grisha, Maria had no specific knowledge of this event.  I explained to her that it had taken place near a fruit grove and mineral spring, a short distance from the town, at a sacred place for local Doukhobors.  Maria paused to contemplate what I had told her.  I pressed on, asking her if the Slavyanka Doukhobors had gathered for moleniye at one of the two springs on the outskirts of the town.  This immediately struck a chord with her.  “Of course,” she answered without hesitation, “our people used to gather at the Verkhnyi Narzan to celebrate Troitsa (‘Trinity Sunday’).  I can take you there, if you wish.”  Once more, we piled back into our tour bus, this time accompanied by both Grisha and Maria. 

Canadian visitors and local neighbours at Maria Strelyaev’s home. (L-R): Brian Ewashen, Jarred Arishenkoff, Lisa Siminoff, Andrei Conovaloff, Alex Ewashen, the writer, Lyuba Konkina, another girl of mixed Azeri-Doukhobor parentage, Maria Strelyaeva, Verna Postnikoff, Linda Arishenkoff, Grisha Zaitsev. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Maria directed our bus towards the southwestern outskirts of Slavyanka.  Our road followed a rocky and nearly-dry river bed.  “Kizilchak”, said Maria, pointing to the river, “that is what our people call it”.  I would learn that it was a Doukhoborization of the original Azeri name, Gyzyl Chai, meaning ‘Golden River’.  Pointing upriver, she went on, “Even before the Revolution, our Doukhobors followed the Kizilchak to Verkhnyi Narzan.  There we celebrated Troitsa, with prayers, singing and meals.”  This holiday was observed by Doukhobors on the seventh Sunday after Easter.  She went on to explain that Slavyanka Doukhobors continued to celebrate it during the Soviet era, in secret, until the Fifties or early Sixties.  I asked Maria whether the Slavyanka Doukhobors also celebrated Petrov Den’ there.  “No, we did not” she replied.  I would learn that after the Burning of Arms, the Small Party in Slavyanka ceased commemorating Petrov Den’ because of its association with that event, and celebrated Troitsa as their major holiday instead.

Kizilchak – the river valley leading southwest from Slavyanka to the ancient grove and mineral spring where Elisavetpol Doukhobors traditionally gathered to celebrate their festivals. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Within minutes, our tour bus came to a jarring halt at our destination.  On one side of the road, to our right, sprawled lush, park-like grounds with well-kept groves of trees and carefully-tended gardens.  It was a veritable oasis paradise!  Maria explained that it was a resort hotel and spa complex, developed several years earlier by an Azeri businessman.  “But many of the trees here are much older than that,” she observed, “They were planted by our Doukhobors over a hundred years ago.”  I asked her if there were fruit trees here, and she nodded in affirmation.  If the trees here were indeed that old, I thought excitedly, then this could very well be the ‘grove’ described by Zybin and Verigin!  Such a place of great natural beauty would have been a prominent landmark amidst the surrounding expanse of treeless grassy hills then, as it still was today.

Part of the ancient grove beside the Verkhnyi Narzan spring. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

To our left, between the road and the Kizilchak, was the mineral spring – Verkhnyi Narzan.  It was surrounded by a small group of Azeri men and boys busily filling plastic containers with water.  Evidently, it was a popular and well-used drinking source.  As we disembarked from our tour bus, Grisha and Maria gestured and encouraged us to take a drink from the spring, which we did.  The water that bubbled out of the ground was incredibly cool, refreshing and invigorating!  It was carbonated, with a slightly sour taste.  As if on cue, Maria explained, “In the old days, our people called this spring Kvasok, because its water tastes sour like kvas” (a fermented drink popular in Russia).  I recalled in that moment that Zybin had described the spring water in similar terms, as being “sour, as pleasant as lemonade”.  Was this not the spring he had described?

The mineral spring traditionally known by Doukhobors as Kvasok, today known as Verkhnyi Narzan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I hiked up a hill overlooking the spring and grove and surveyed the surrounding landscape.  It was indeed a breathtaking view! The flat-bottomed valley of the Kizilchak abounded with fields of wheat, cabbage, potatoes and corn, along with herds of sheep grazing on the surrounding hillsides.  Gazing down at the small crowd of locals and tourists below, it was easy to imagine several thousand Doukhobors assembled there, over a century earlier, praying and singing as they destroyed their weapons, while their Tatar and Armenian neighbours observed from a distance in wonder. 

The writer atop the hill overlooking the ancient grove and Verkhnyi Narzan spring (not visible, left). To the left lies the Kizilchak. To the right, the ravine known by local Doukhobors as Kinzhal’naya Balka (‘Dagger Gulley’), and behind it, Kosavyi Bugor. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

It was an exhilarating moment.  This sacred, beautiful place seemed to match Zybin and Verigin’s description in every respect.  Here stood an ancient grove of trees, alive since the time of the Burning of Arms.  And here issued a mineral spring with sour but pleasant waters.  Here, also, Doukhobors historically gathered to pray and celebrate religious holidays. 

View of the ancient grove and Verkhnyi Narzan spring from atop the hill. Behind them lies Sukhorukova Balka (‘Sukhorukov Ravine’) named for a local Doukhobor family. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I paused to consider the distance from this site to Slavyanka.  Using satellite mapping, I calculated a distance of one and a half kilometers to the town outskirts.  This alarmed me at first, as it fell markedly short of the three kilometers stated by Zybin and Verigin.  However, it occurred to me that Slavyanka had significantly expanded over the past century.  Its present outskirts were not the same as they had been in 1895.  With this in mind, I recalculated the distance from the site to the oldest section of Slavyanka, at its centre.  Remarkably, it was a little over three kilometers, just as Zybin and Verigin had recorded!   

Satellite image showing Verkhnyi Narzan lying 3 km from the centre of Slavyanka. ZoomEarth.

Surely, I thought, this was the very place where the Elizavetpol Doukhobors had destroyed their weapons!

However, before I could definitively say so, I had to rule out the possibility that the other spring – the Nizhnyi Narzan – was the Burning of Arms site.  Based on the descriptions by Zybin and Verigin, it had to be either one or the other! 

After thoroughly enjoying the serenity and spiritual ambience of the Verkhnyi Narzan and adjacent grove and gardens, we eventually boarded the bus and made our way back to Slavyanka.  After saying our farewells to Maria and Grisha, we went for dinner and made plans to visit the other spring the next day. 

View of the Slavyanka hills at dusk from our hotel. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Back at my hotel room that night, I was unable to sleep.  My mind raced with excitement at the prospect of having rediscovered a ‘lost’ site of enormous importance to our Doukhobor heritage.  As I lay in bed, gazing at the hills of Slavyanka out my window, the morrow could not come soon enough! 

The following morning our group gathered for breakfast and then visited two Doukhobor cemeteries in Slavyanka, one established in the early 20th century and a much older one established in the 19th century. At the latter site, we found a memorial stone engraved by the first Doukhobor settlers in Slavyanka in 1844 with the following psalm (translated from Russian):

"Eternal memory of our righteous forefathers named Doukhobors. We bow to them, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For they saved our souls, and continue to do so, in their meekness and humility. For the sake of truth it pleased God and our sovereign to gather us to the Promised Land in Tavria guberniya in 1805. But in 1844, we were resettled to Transcaucasia, Tiflis guberniya, the village of Slavyanka. And whoever else remains alive and hears of this story, should not desist from continuing these deeds to the end."
Memorial stone at the old cemetery, engraved by the first Doukhobor settlers in Slavyanka in 1844. The age-worn engraving was replaced with a sheet metal inscription in 1967. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

From the cemeteries, we made our way to the spring known as Nizhnyi Narzan

This second spring was located in the northeastern outskirts of Slavyanka.  Beside it stood a row of one hundred large walnut trees which, local Doukhobors advised us, were the remnants of a much larger grove planted by Doukhobors in the mid-19th century, but which several years ago had been cleared by Azeri businessmen to build a restaurant and hotel. 

This potentially complicated my task of identifying the Burning of Arms site, since both springs in Slavyanka were situated beside ancient groves!  However, while the grove at Verkhnyi Narzan was comprised of fruit trees, (which accorded with Zybin and Verigin’s accounts), this grove contained only nut trees.  

A row of one hundred walnut trees planted a century and a half ago by Slavyanka Doukhobors near the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

From the walnut grove, we walked down a steep ravine to the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. I learned that several years earlier, an Azeri-owned commercial bottling facility was established here, which produced the now-famous ‘Slavyanka 1’ bottled mineral water, sold throughout Azerbaijan. 

We drank from the spring waters.  It was carbonated, refreshing and… distinctly sweet.  There was no hint of sourness, like that we had tasted at Verkhnyi Narzan, and as Zybin had recorded.

View of the Nizhnyi Narzan spring on the northeast outskirts of Slavyanka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I also recalled, from my conversation with Maria Strelyaeva the day before, that there was no tradition of Doukhobors gathering at this spring to hold moleniye or celebrations, unlike the Verkhnyi Narzan. Indeed, the undulating terrain of the site would have made a mass gathering difficult.

Finally, using satellite mapping, I calculated the distance from Nizhnyi Narzan to the oldest section of Slavyanka.  It was only 600 meters from the town centre; nowhere close to the three kilometers recorded by Zybin and Verigin.

Satellite view showing Nizhnyi Narzan lying 600 m from the centre of Slavyanka. Zoomearth.

I was now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Burning of Arms site described by Zybin and Verigin could not be the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. It could only be Verkhnyi Narzan spring we visited the previous day!

We went for lunch at the nearby hotel resort and then departed from Slavyanka. As our tour bus made its way to the Azerbaijani-Georgian border, I reflected on the significance of the discovery (or more aptly, rediscovery) I had made.

The lush, serene grove and Verkhnyi Narzan mineral spring was the site of a truly momentous event in Doukhobor history – the Burning of Arms by the Doukhobors of that region on June 29, 1895. Forgotten for a hundred and twenty years, it would once again be known among their descendants.

Upon returning to Canada, I would share my discovery through historical articles, gazetteers and interactive maps in the hopes that other Doukhobor Canadians might one day too visit this sacred, beautiful and historic place for themselves.

The writer at Slavyanka road sign at town outskirts. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After Word

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA Nos. 2141, August 2019 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).
The popular ‘Slavyanka’ premium bottled mineral water from the Nizhnyi Narzan spring, sold throughout Azerbaijan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Petrov Den’ (Peter’s Day)

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

As we make ready to celebrate Petrov Den’, a quintessential Doukhobor holiday, it is important to remind ourselves of the many rich layers of spiritual, cultural and historical meaning that have come to be associated with it over the past three centuries. I would like to briefly share some of the various traditions connected to this day.     

Commemoration of Apostles Peter and Paul

While the holiday is commonly known among Doukhobors today by its shortened Russian name – Petrov Den’ (Петров День) or ‘Peter’s Day’ – its actual formal, full name is Den’ Petra i Pavla (День Петра и Павла) or ‘the Day of Peter and Paul’ (Zhivotnaya Kniga, Psalm 383). 

It commemorates the apostles Peter and Paul, leaders of the first generation of Christians, founders of the Christian church, and widely considered the two most important people (after Jesus) in the history of Christianity.  According to ancient church tradition, the apostles were executed and martyred by Roman authorities on the same day – June 29th according to the (Old) Julian calendar – July 12th according to the (New) Gregorian calendar.

According to this tradition, the apostle Peter came to preach in Rome in 64 A.D., where he was arrested and crucified head down. The apostle Paul was also executed in Rome in A.D. 65, but since he was a Roman citizen, he could not be executed on the cross, and was beheaded instead.

Ancient Orthodox Festival

The holiday was not created or conceived by the Doukhobors.  Rather, it owes its origins to a much older tradition inherited from the Orthodox Church.    

For over a millennium since the introduction of Christianity in Russia in 988 A.D., the day of Peter and Paul has been one of the great festivals of the Orthodox Church. It was considered a day of mandatory church attendance, where Russian peasants attended an all-night vigil on the eve, and a liturgy service on the morning of the feast-day.  The Orthodox priest offered prayers to the apostles, who were venerated by the church as saints.  Afterwards, the people held feasts, while young people assembled to play games, sing and enjoy themselves in the villages.    

Russian Orthodox icon depicting the apostles Peter (left) and Paul (right).

During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they also outwardly celebrated Peter and Paul’s Day in the traditional manner. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances sake; others avoided going altogether, having already rejected the physical church in favour of the ‘inner church’ within themselves; nonetheless at home they celebrated with prayer meetings, followed by visits to family and friends.

However, by this time, the Day of Peter and Paul had acquired its own distinctive spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors.

A Remembrance of Suffering for Faith

After Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and were permitted to settle together at Molochnye Vody (‘Milky Waters’) near the Crimea in the early 1800s, they ceased to celebrate most Orthodox feast days, as they neither venerated saints nor invoked them in prayers, but simply respected them for their good works.  Nonetheless, they continued to commemorate the Day of Peter and Paul in their own way, as they held these apostles in particular respect.

The Doukhobors’ admiration for Peter and Paul is reflected in the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’), where the apostles are mentioned in several psalmy (Psalms 6, 144, 302) and stishki (“verses”) as ‘martyrs’ who ‘hold the keys’ that ‘unlock the souls’ of the righteous and which ‘open the gates’ to God’s heavenly kingdom. 

It was the apostles’ martyrdom for their faith and their victory of spirit over flesh which the Doukhobors considered worthy of emulation, and which evoked memories of their own suffering at the hands of Orthodox and Tsarist authorities in the late 18th century, when they were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and mutilated, had their property and children confiscated, and were banished to the furthest reaches of the Empire.  Thus the holiday became a day of memoriam of those Doukhobor martyrs who, like the apostles Peter and Paul, had endured suffering and hardship for their beliefs.    

Name Days

An Orthodox tradition which some Doukhobor families retained after breaking away from the church was the practice of naming a child after the saint on whose feast day he or she was born; at least those saints whom the Doukhobors continued to commemorate.  Hence, in many cases, when a male Doukhobor child in Russia was born on or around the Day of Peter and Paul, he received one or the other name.   

Seasonal Changes in Nature

In addition to its religious significance, the Day of Peter and Paul was associated in pre-Christian Russian folk tradition with the occurrence of seasonal changes in nature.  In particular, it marked the beginning of summer haying among the agrarian peasantry.  In Russia, the Doukhobors traditionally began haymaking the day after the festival.  Mowing the hay with scythes was primarily the men’s responsibility, but women also helped.  The hay was then gathered into stacks or stored in haylofts until it was needed in the winter.  It was a very important activity for the Doukhobors, being agriculturalists, as they needed sufficient hay to feed their livestock during the long winters.  Hence, this gave the festival additional significance among them.      

Doukhobors cutting hay on the Canadian prairies, in the same manner as they had in 19th century Russia. BC Archives C-01388.

Sacred Places of Celebration

In the early 19th century on the Molochnaya, the Day of Peter and Paul was typically celebrated in the village of Terpeniye.  Doukhobors from surrounding villages gathered there the morning of the festival to hold a large mass moleniye (‘prayer meeting’).  The moleniye was held either inside the Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) or, if weather permitted, outside in the courtyard in front of this building.  After, they held an outdoor banquet in the scenic park-like grounds of the Sirotsky Dom, with its well-tended orchards, beautiful springs and fountains.

The sacred grove on the outskirts of Slavyanka village, Azerbaijan where Doukhobors of that region traditionally gathered to celebrate Petrov Den’ and where they burned their firearms in 1895. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

During the late 19th century in the Caucasus, the Doukhobors chose a central location in each of the districts they settled, where people from the surrounding villages would congregate to commemorate the festival.  These were often places of tremendous natural beauty, which over time, came to be viewed as sacred or holy places in their own right. 

  • in Tiflis guberniya (‘province’) in what is now Georgia, they met on the flat, rocky plateau above the cave-like grotto known as Peshcherochki near the village of Orlovka. It was a favorite place of Doukhobor leader Luker’ya (‘Lushechka’) Kalmykova to spend time in quiet reflection.
  • in Elisavetpol guberniya in present-day Azerbaijan, they gathered at a sacred grove (svyashchennaya roshcha) on the outskirts of Slavyanka village, which had a well-ordered and carefully-tended orchard, a summer pavilion where visiting Doukhobor leaders stayed, and a mineral spring with carbonated, slightly sour water that tasted refreshingly like kvas.
  • in Kars oblast (‘region’) in modern Turkey, they met on a high, wide plateau that overlooked the surrounding plains and villages. Known as Krasnaya Gora (the ‘Red Hill’) it was situated next to a valley with a myriad of small springs that nurtured a grove of trees that, according to Doukhobor tradition, were planted by Christ and the apostles.
The high, wide plateau near Terpeniye village in Turkey were Doukhobors of that region traditionally celebrated Petrov Den’ and where they burned their firearms in 1895. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In each of these sacred places, the Doukhobors of the Caucasus assembled and held moleniye.  Afterwards, they would spread about their blankets and have an outdoor picnic.

Association with Leaders

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Day of Peter and Paul came to be closely associated with two much-revered Doukhobor leaders, as it was the name day of both.   

Peter Ilarionovich Kalmykov, born on June 29, 1836, led the Doukhobors of the Caucasus from 1856 to 1864.  Despite his short rule, he was much-beloved and renowned for his dynamic personality, force of character and feats of bravery, for which he was nicknamed Khrabryy, meaning the “Brave”. 

19th century Doukhobor leader Peter Ilarionovich Kalmykov. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

The second Doukhobor leader by this name was, of course, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, born on June 29, 1859. After 1886, Verigin became leader of the ‘Large Party’ of Doukhobors in the Caucasus.  In 1887, Verigin was exiled to Shenkursk in Arkhangel’sk guberniya in the Russian Far North, then in 1890 he was transferred even further north to Kola on the Barents Sea.  Later, in 1894, he was transferred to Obdorsk in northwestern Siberia.  Throughout his exile, Verigin emphasized a return to traditional Doukhobor pacifist beliefs and issued secret teachings and counsel to his followers in the Caucasus, through trusted messengers. 

Doukhobor leader Peter Vasil’evich Verigin (1859-1924) whose name day coincided with Petrov Den’. BC Archives C-01443.

Burning of Arms

It was through one such communique that, in 1895, Verigin bade his followers to collect all the weapons that were in their possession and on June 29th, burn them in a large bonfire doused with kerosene in a mass renunciation of violence and militarism. This dramatic demonstration was carefully and deliberately timed to correspond with the Day of Peter and Paul because of its deep religious symbolism among the Doukhobors.

His instructions were carried out simultaneously in each of the three regions of the Caucasus where his followers traditionally assembled to celebrate the festival. As their guns burned and melted, the Doukhobors gathered around the bonfire, prayed and recited psalms and sang hymns of universal brotherhood.

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The rocky plateau above the Peshcherochki near Orlovka village, Georgia, where Doukhobors of that region traditionally celebrated Petrov Den’ and where they burned their firearms in 1895. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In the regions of Elisavetpol (Azerbaijan) and Kars (Turkey), the Doukhobor ‘Burning of Arms’ occurred with minimal government intervention.  However, in the region of Tiflis (Georgia), local Tsarist officials viewed the burning as an act of civil insurrection and rebellion, and the fiercest punishments were at once applied. 

Two squadrons of mounted Cossacks were dispatched, posthaste, to the Peshcherochki to pacify the protestors and quell the civil disorder.  Once they arrived, the Cossacks charged the praying crowd of men, women and children, slashing through them with whips.  Many were brutally beaten and some severely injured when they were trampled by horses.  The dazed and bloodied Doukhobors were then forcibly herded to Bogdanovka for questioning.

In the days that followed, Cossack troops were billeted in the Tiflis Doukhobor villages, where they ravaged the homes of the Large Party, taking food, smashing furnishings, beating males and raping females without check or rebuke. Four thousand, five hundred of them were then banished, without supplies, to poor Georgian villages in oppressively hot and unhealthy climates, left to scrape by as best they could, or survive on whatever charity the local Georgians and Tatars dared give them under threat of arrest. Many perished in exile.

The Burning of Arms was a seminal event in the history of the Doukhobor movement; one that has become indelibly and permanently connected with the celebration of Petrov Den’ to this day.

Sketch by William Perehudoff published in Koozma J. Tarasoff, Pictorial History of the Doukhobors (Modern Press, Saskatoon: 1969) at p. 48-49.

After the Large Party of Doukhobors immigrated to Canada in 1899, those Doukhobors who remained in the Caucasus became split on their observance of Petrov Den’. Members of the Middle Party (who recognized Verigin as their spiritual leader but declined to accept his more radical teachings) continued to observe the holiday as before. However, members of the Small Party (who refused to accept Verigin’s leadership) abandoned the holiday altogether, given its association with Verigin, and thereafter celebrated Troitsa (‘Trinity Day’) as their major summer festival.

In Canada

Upon immigrating to and settling in Canada, Doukhobors continued to observe Petrov Den’ in much the same manner as they had in Russia.  From 1899 to 1938, both those belonging to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood and those who lived and farmed as Independents commemorated the event with a moleniye, often followed by a social gathering and picnic.

The locations where they congregated to celebrate Peter’s Day often varied depending on the facilities available, the needs and circumstances of the particular group, and of course, the state of the weather.

Petrov Den’ gathering of Independent Doukhobors at Devils Lake, June 29, 1928. BC Arc
Arhives C-01364.
  • At Devil’s Lake SK, Independent Doukhobors gathered at a lug (‘clearing’) on the north shore of the lake. After 1916, members of the Buchanan Doukhobor Society also gathered at their meeting hall in the nearby village of Buchanan, SK.
  • At Veregin SK, CCUB members met at the ornate prayer home in the village, afterward picnicking in the tree grove beside the building to the west.
  • In Pelly SK, Independents assembled on the south shore of the Swan River, 4 miles northeast of the village beside the Doukhobor-built steel truss bridge. After 1936, members of the Pelly Doukhobor Society also met at their meeting hall half a mile east of the village.
  • In Kylemore SK, Community Doukhobors met at a lug (‘meadow’) on the northwest shore of Fishing Lake near the Arishenkoff village.  After 1954, members of the Kylemore Doukhobor Society also met at their prayer home in the village of Kylemore. 
  • At Blaine Lake SK, Independent Doukhobors erected a large tent at a lug (‘meadow’) near Pozirayevka cemetery, a mile and a half east of the town. After 1931, members of the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society also met at their brick meeting hall in the town.
  • At Lundbreck, AB, CCUB members met atop the hill known as Safatova Gora beside Bogatyi Rodnik village. After 1953, members of the United Doukhobors of Alberta were also held in the prayer home built in the village of Lundbreck.
  • In Grand Forks BC, gatherings occurred at the Sirotskoye meeting hall. On at least one occasion in the 1930s, an open-air mass moleniye was held at Saddle Lake, where Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin gave an address from a boat on the lake to his followers gathered on the shore.
  • In Brilliant BC, Community Doukhobors often gathered at the trading store/warehouse; although in some years after 1927, an open-air mass moleniye was held at Verigin’s Tomb, from which Chistyakov addressed his followers gathered below.
  • In Ootischenia BC, such Community gatherings were typically held at either the Belyi Dom meeting hall, or else the lug (‘meadow’) on the banks of the Kootenay River.   
  • In Thrums BC, Independent Doukhobors gathered at the brick meeting hall built there.
  • This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin addresses followers from Verigin’s Tomb at the annual Petrov Den’ commemoration at Brilliant, British Columbia, June 29, 1931. BC Archives C-01924.

Upon its formation in 1938, the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ in British Columbia ceased to actively celebrate Peter’s Day in favour of Declaration Day, a new event celebrated annually by members of that organization in August.

However, other local Doukhobor societies from across Western Canada (including the Benito Doukhobor Society, Pelly Doukhobor Society, Kamsack Doukhobor Society, Veregin Doukhobor Society, Canora Doukhobor Society, Buchanan Doukhobor Society, Watson Doukhobor Society, Langham Doukhobor Society, Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society, Saskatoon Doukhobor Society, United Doukhobors of Alberta, Canadian Doukhobor Society and others) continued to commemorate Petrov Den’ throughout the 20th century and 21st century to present.

Closing

It is perhaps because of its many rich layers of meaning and significance that Peter’s Day, in contrast to other traditional festivals, remains one of the popular and enduring celebrations among Canadian Doukhobors to this day.

And as we commemorate this day through fellowship, prayer, food and song, let us also reflect on the achievements and impacts of the Doukhobor people in the name of peace and faith.   

Petrov Den’ celebrations among Independent Doukhobors at their meeting hall in Thrums, British Columbia, June 29, 1934. BC Archives C-01413.

Celebration of Petrov Den’ by members of the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society at their prayer home in the town of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, c. 1952. Courtesy Albert Popoff.

After Word

This address was originally presented by the author at the following Petrov Den’ commemorations:

  • National Doukhobor Heritage Village, Veregin, Saskatchewan. June 29, 2018; and
  • Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, June 30, 2019.
Peter’s Day picnic held in Veregin, Saskatchewan in the tree grove north beside the prayer home, following the singing of psalms and other religious observances, June 29, 1964.

Bibliographic References

  • Bonch-Breuvich, V.D., Psalms 6, 144, 302, 383 in Zhivotnaia Kniga Dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954);
  • Inikova, Svetlana A. Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Heritage);
  • Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief. (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1989); and
  • Popoff, Eli A., Stories from Doukhobor History (Grand. Forks, B.C.: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, 1992).

The Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Company at Nelson, BC

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In the era of coal and wood, residents and businesses of Nelson relied on transfer companies[i] to sell and deliver these fuels by horse-drawn wagon to their premises for heating, cooking and power. One such transfer was the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co, communally owned and operated by the Doukhobors between 1913 and 1926. This article examines the history of this long-forgotten local enterprise.

Background

In the early 20th century, the main source of fuel for Nelsonites was wood and coal,[ii] which was burned for heating in fireplaces and pot belly stoves or for cooking in cast iron kitchen stoves. By the 1910s, newer homes and commercial buildings were equipped with radiators connected by pipes to a basement boiler that burnt coal or wood to produce steam heat. Buildings of the era had little insulation, were drafty and required constant heating outside of summer. Local industries such as Hall Smelter, Nelson Iron Works and Kootenay Engineering Works also burnt large volumes of coal and wood to power their operations.

Wood burning stove in British Columbia, early 20th century. BC Archives, F-05038.

At the start of 1913, there were two main transfer companies supplying retail wood and coal in the city –the Kootenay Ice & Fuel Co. and West Transfer Co.[iii] However, another competitor was poised to enter the market.

Doukhobor Sawmills & Wood-Waste

Between 1908 and 1913, the Doukhobor Society purchased 10,611 acres of heavily forested land in West Kootenay.[iv] As the Doukhobors communally cleared each tract for fruit-growing, they established a mill to saw the logs into lumber to build villages.[v] By the start of 1913, the Society had 7 mills running at Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek, Glade, Crescent Valley and Champion Creek, collectively sawing several million feet of lumber a year.[vi]

These logging and milling operations, like others of the time, generated wood waste[vii] such as slabs (the first piece sawn off the face of a log, sawn on one side, rounded on the other), board ends (ends of boards cut off by the sawmill trimmer to cut boards to standard length) and cordwood (logs too small to saw into lumber) as well as tree bark, wood shavings, sawdust, low-grade or rejected cuts, etc.

Group of Doukhobor men at Community sawmill near Nelson, c. 1913. BC Archives, E-00719.

The Doukhobors utilized much of this waste wood as heating fuel in their communal homes and industries. And by 1910, they were selling the surplus for profit. Cordwood was rafted down the Columbia River to Trail and sold to the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Co. to fuel its blast furnaces, while wood slabs were sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) for snow fences.[viii] Recognizing the revenue potential from this otherwise waste byproduct, the Doukhobor Society began seeking opportunities to expand its market.

That opportunity came with the Nelson general strike of 1913.

Business Acquisition

On April 1, 1913, the unionized tradesmen of Nelson (machinists, electricians, bricklayers, painters, pipe-layers, quarrymen, carpenters, teamsters, etc.) went on a city wide strike, demanding higher wages and the institution of an eight-hour workday.[ix] For the next 14 days, Nelson ground to a halt, leading, among other things, to a serious fuel situation as citizens were practically without heat for days.[x] 

One of the many affected businesses was the Kootenay Ice & Fuel Co., whose teamsters were among the strikers. Unable to pay the wages asked for, the company was forced out of business on account of the labour disturbance. Consequently, on April 7, 1913, at the height of the strike, the company sold its wood and coal business for cash to Peter V. Verigin, acting for the Doukhobor Society.[xi]

The Doukhobor fuel business purchase made front page headlines in the Nelson Daily News, April 7, 1913.

The Doukhobors purchased the company assets, including: 6 teams of horses, wagons, sleds, harness and tools; .80 acre coal and wood yard in the CPR Flats (now 29 Government Rd) with buildings and bunkers;[xii] leased wood-stacking sites across the city; office lease and fixtures in the Allan Building at Ward and Baker St; the goodwill of the business, including its different industrial clients and a very large number of residential patrons.[xiii] Coal supply contracts with mines and the lucrative Galt coal agency were also included.[xiv] The deal was put through by Nelson realtors Konstantine Popoff and Henry H. Crofts.

The Doukhobor Society took immediate possession of the business. The next morning on April 8, 1913, a large number of Doukhobors from Brilliant arrived in the city to commence wood and coal deliveries, thus alleviating the fuel situation to the great relief of Nelsonites.[xv] Despite delivering many loads, by midday, their office was flooded with orders to the point that deliveries could not be guaranteed for up to 3 days.[xvi]

Company Formation, 1913

In the days that followed, the new business was organized as the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co.,[xvii] an unincorporated subsidiary of the Doukhobor Society (after 1917, Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Ltd. or CCUB). While wholly-owned and controlled by its parent company, the subsidiary maintained its own business identity, with head office, officers, staff and employees, books and records, letterhead, cheques, invoices and advertisements. Its assets, however, were registered in the name of Peter V. Verigin until 1917, and thereafter, under the federally-incorporated parent company.

Letterhead of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., c. 1917. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

Peter V. Verigin was named president and John W. Sherbinin business manager of the new company.[xviii] Henry H. Crofts[xix] was engaged as secretary-treasurer and office manager.[xx] Some 10 or so Doukhobors were seasonally stationed at Nelson as teamsters.[xxi] Within a month of its formation, the company moved offices to the more commodious McCulloch Block at 371-77 Baker St.[xxii]

McCulloch Block (two-story stone structure, right) on Baker Street, Nelson, c. 1930. From May 1913 to May 1914, it housed the business office of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. Touchstones Nelson, 92.95.084.

This was not the Doukhobors’ first commercial business venture in Nelson. In April 1911, the Society purchased the Kootenay Jam Co. factory at 601 Front St. and commenced a large-scale canning and preserving enterprise as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, producing the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jams.[xxiii]

Products

From the outset, the company offered a variety of fuel products. Wood from Doukhobor Society sawmills included fir, tamarack, cedar and birch cordwood in 4-foot, 16-inch and 12-inch lengths; 4-foot or 16-inch slabs; and board ends.[xxiv] Bituminous and anthracite coal from the Galt Coal Co. and Chinook Coal Co. Ltd. mines at Lethbridge and Canada West Coal Co. mine at Taber, AB came in nut, stove and lump sizes.[xxv]

As well, it sold fence posts from the Doukhobor sawmills[xxvi] and feed oats and hay grown at outlying Doukhobor settlements.[xxvii] It offered general cartage service, transporting goods for hire (typically from the CPR and GNR freight depots to their final destination) within the city.[xxviii] Building contracting was also carried out.[xxix]

Earliest advertisement for the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., Nelson Daily News, August 30, 1913.

Coal was sold by weight (imperial ton) and wood by measure (cord or rick) as was customary. The company sold these at prevailing local prices.[xxx] However, its costs were markedly lower than its competitors, since its wood cost only the freight charges, its coal was purchased bulk wholesale directly from the mines, and its communal labour force did not receive wages. It thus enjoyed a wider profit margin. 

Operations

Coal was shipped in by railcar from Alberta on the CPR Crow’s Nest line. Each car held 30-50 tons.[xxxi] On arriving at the CPR Flats in Nelson, the cars were spotted (parked) on the rail siding that ran behind the coal bunkers in the company yard. Using steel shovels and wheelbarrows, Doukhobor workmen unloaded the coal from the cars into the bunkers, which held 1,000 tons or 20-30 carloads of coal.

Similarly, wood from the Doukhobor sawmills arrived by railcar on the CPR Nelson & Slocan Branch.[xxxii] Each car carried 15-18 cords of wood.[xxxiii] Once spotted on the siding, the cars were unloaded and the wood stacked in the company yard or conveyed to its wood-stacking sites throughout the city. Cordwood arrived in 4-foot lengths and a saw was used in the yard to cut it into 12 and 16-inch lengths for delivery.[xxxiv]

Bulk hay and feed oats from outlying Doukhobor settlements were also brought in by rail in this manner.

View of the CPR Flats, Nelson, 1915. At centre right is the CPR station and freight sheds. Behind the sheds is the rail siding running beside the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. yard (circled white). A long wood stack can be seen in the yard, to the right of which are the coal bunkers (extreme right, partially visible). Additional wood stacks are on either side of the bunkers. Behind the stacks is the foreman’s dwelling house. The large brick warehouse is not yet constructed. The small building to the left of the rail siding is the city scales. Greg Nesteroff Collection.

As the stockpiles were continually drawn down by customer deliveries, the yard foreman requisitioned new shipments to replenish them. During peak heating season, the coal bunkers could be completely emptied within 24 days, with railcars of new coal being unloaded on an almost daily basis.[xxxv] 

Customer fuel orders were placed with Henry H. Crofts at the business office, who also handled cash transactions. Residential orders were made year-round, with the highest volume in September-October before winter. An average family of 6 Nelsonites burned 8-24 cords of wood or 5-16 tons of coal annually.[xxxvi] Industrial orders were continuous, with large industrial clients consuming up to 1-4 tons of coal daily.[xxxvii]

The orders were relayed to the CPR Flats yard, where a teamster was dispatched by wagon in summer, or sleigh in winter, to make each delivery. The teamster drew up his conveyance and either shoveled a ton of coal from the bunkers, or stacked a half-cord or 2-3 ricks of wood from the stacks, to load it to capacity.[xxxviii] Coal loads were weighed at the adjacent city scales to confirm tonnage. The loaded team was then driven to the customer premises.  

Konstantine P. Verigin, foreman of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. yard in the CPR Flats, with sons Kay and Peter, on a wagon used to deliver coal and wood. These horses were named ‘Prince’ and ‘Albert’. Photo taken in early 1920s beside the large brick warehouse at the yard. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

Most residential customers had their own wood or coal bins. The former was typically in the backyard while the latter was in the basement, accessible by a cast-iron door at the house backyard wall. The Doukhobor teamster drew up his wagon/sleigh and either unloaded and stacked the wood in the bin, or dumped the coal through the coal door using a chute attached to the wagon/sleigh box.     

A loaded wagon/sleigh team travelled an average speed of 4 miles per hour, and each team had a daily capacity of 7-14 loads of coal or wood over a one-mile distance (the length of the city).[xxxix] The company fleet of 6 teams, therefore, was capable of delivering up to 42-84 loads of coal or wood a day.[xl] Throughout the day, the teams of horses had to be regularly fed, watered and rested.

When not in use, wagons and sleighs were kept in the implement shed and the horses in the barn (sarai) at the CPR Flats yard. An open portion of the yard was used for walking and exercising the horses. An ample supply of hay and feed oats for the horses was stored in the barn. The blacksmith shop (kuznya) was used to keep the horses shoed and the wagons, sleighs and harnesses in good repair.

The Doukhobor teamsters initially stayed in a tiny house in the CPR Flats (now 79 Government Rd), a few lots west of the coal and wood yard, purchased in April 1911 for Doukhobor jam factory workers in Nelson.[xli] The house could not accommodate them all and a number of men slept in a tent.[xlii]  

Once-common cast-iron coal door on the outside wall of a building leading to the basement coal bins. B.S. Malley.

Business manager John W. Sherbinin played a pivotal role in the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. As he was also manager of the Doukhobor Society sawmills, he coordinated the supply of waste wood generated by the mills with the demand for firewood sales by the company.

President Peter V. Verigin made routine trips from Brilliant to Nelson to oversee the fuel company.[xliii] During his stays, the Doukhobor leader counseled the office manager and yard foreman on day-to-day matters, examined the ledger and account books, and provided overall business direction.

Business Agency

In March 1914, Henry H. Crofts left the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. amid the dissolution of his Popoff & Crofts real estate partnership.[xliv] The timing of his departure was problematic, as a new competitor, MacDonald Cartage & Fuel Co., had just entered the Nelson market.[xlv] Fortunately, he was quickly replaced by another Nelson realtor, Charles F. McHardy, on April 1, 1914.[xlvi]

Realtor, insurance agent and Mayor of Nelson in 1921-1922, Charles F. McHardy served as business agent of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. from May 1914 to July 1919. Touchstones Nelson SM1999-001-003.

McHardy was no stranger to the Doukhobors, having sold them his 1,270-acre ranch in Crescent Valley in October 1911.[xlvii] He was instrumental in the Doukhobor Society joining the Kootenay Fruit Growers Union in April 1912[xlviii] and testified on their behalf at the Doukhobor Royal Commission hearings in Nelson in September 1912.[xlix] Active and popular in the city, he was well-suited to represent their fuel business.

McHardy moved the company office to his real estate office in the Green Block at 512-14 Ward St.[l] Engaged on an agency commission basis, he was motivated to work hard and grow the company. He launched a major advertising campaign, placing over 100 ads a year in the Daily News[li] that succeeded in not only retaining the patronage of old customers, but in securing many new ones. His bookkeeper Gilbert Arneson also regularly assisted with the fuel business.[lii]     

Green Block on Ward Street, Nelson, 1955. From May 1914 until July 1919, it housed the office of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. run by business agent C.F. McHardy. Touchstones Nelson, SM Stevens.

Wartime Boom

The outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 saw the price of wood, coal and other commodities in Nelson skyrocket. As the world’s demand for coal and wood rose in wartime, so did its price in the local market, with wood soaring from $5.00 to $7.00 a cord and coal from $8.00 to $10.00 a ton – an increase of 40 percent.[liii] Wartime also resulted in higher wages and lower unemployment, with Nelsonites having more money to spend on these commodities than usual as the local standard of living increased.

Increased wartime demand and high prices led to a boom in sales for the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., enabling it to reap bonanza profits. This spurred a substantial expansion of the company between fall 1914 and spring 1917 through a series of building projects and land purchases.

Company advertisement after the outbreak of the First World War, Nelson Daily News, December 21, 1914.
  • Downtown

To accommodate Peter V. Verigin’s frequent business visits to Nelson in connection with the company, a large two-story residence was purchased at 509 Falls St in November-December 1914 to serve as his stopping house.[liv] Anton F. and Polya Strelaeff of Glade were selected to serve as its caretakers and as the Doukhobor leader’s personal attendants during his visits. The house was conveniently located a five-minute buggy ride away from the coal and wood yard in the CPR Flats.

View of house at 509 Falls St (upper circle) relative to the CPR Flats yard (partially visible lower circle), c. 1913. Greg Nesteroff Collection.

A comprehensive history of this house has been published by Greg Nesteroff as Little-known Nelson heritage buildings: 120 Vernon St.

  • CPR Flats

In December 1914, Peter V. Verigin selected Konstantine P. Verigin, his step-father Michael A. Bawoolin and their family to resettle from Glade to Nelson to communally operate the CPR Flats yard, with Konstantine serving as yard foreman.[lv]

To house the family, a one-story dwelling (dom) was constructed at the CPR Flats yard in early 1915.[lvi] It had 3 bedrooms, a living room and special room (gornitsa) reserved for Peter V. Verigin when he visited.[lvii] The cellar housed a bakery kitchen (pekarnya) with wood stove and large brick oven for the family’s private use when there were no other guests at the yard, which was rare.[lviii]

View of coal and wood yard in the CPR Flats, c. 1920. At center, the large brick warehouse; the small white building to the left of the warehouse is the office; the long low building at left (behind wood piles) is the coal bunkers; in front of the bunkers (extreme left, partially visible) is the barn; between the barn and bunkers is the blacksmith shop (not visible); to the right in the center foreground is the communal kitchen and workers’ quarters; further right from the kitchen is the steam bathhouse; between the bathhouse and foreman’s dwelling (extreme right, partially visible) is the apiary. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

Across from the house, a steam bathhouse (banya) was built for the family and visitors.[lix] It consisted of two parts: in one room all the clothing and linens were washed by hand by Konstantine’s wife Dasha and mother Hanyusha, and in the other was the steam bath.[lx] During his stays in Nelson, Peter V. Verigin often came to visit the family and enjoy the cleansing, relaxing and rejuvenating vapors of the bathhouse.[lxi]

A large two-story wood structure was erected between 1915-1917.[lxii] On the ground floor was a communal kitchen (obshchinnaya kukhnya) with cooking and dining area, and on the upper floor were sleeping quarters (khvateri).[lxiii] It housed labourers from outlying Doukhobor settlements who worked at the yard during peak heating season, such as Konstantine’s brother-in-law Eli D. Poznikoff of Ootischenia[lxiv], Andrei S. Fofonoff of Shoreacres, and many others. Doukhobor travellers who came to Nelson on business matters or to see a doctor also stayed there.[lxv] Dasha Verigin and Hanyusha Bawoolin cooked on its wood-burning stove and hosted the guests.[lxvi]

Peter V. Verigin, as company president and batyushka (caring ‘father’ figure) of the Community, was not adverse to involving himself with the minutiae of his members’ lives. In the case of those seeking medical treatment in Nelson, he had no issue with paying their costs and providing accommodations at the yard during their stay, but he ensured they were not a drain on the Community by requiring them to work off the costs of their stay and treatment with their labour. For example, in a letter to yard foreman Konstantine P. Verigin dated November 18, 1915, the Doukhobor leader wrote, “My dear friend Kostya, The bearer of this letter, Andrei Fofanoff, wishes to treat (heal) his teeth. Let Anton (Strelaeff) take him to the doctor (dentist). But you are to give him work for as long as he requires to treat his teeth. During this time he will be employed. Wishing you all the blessings of the Lord. P.V.”

November 18, 1915 correspondence from Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin to CPR Flats yard foreman Konstantine P. Verigin advising that Andrei Fofanoff of Shoreacres would stay at the yard during his dental treatment and be employed there to cover the costs. Translated from the original Russian by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff with the generous assistance of Wendy Voykin. Courtesy Lucille Ostrikoff.

Between 1915-1917, a large two-story 40’ x 75’ brick warehouse (sklad) with full concrete basement, high ceilings and a sheet iron roof was built in the yard.[lxvii] The bricks used to construct it were made at the Doukhobor Society brickworks in Grand Forks and shipped by rail to Nelson.[lxviii] It was mainly used for storing feed oats and hay for use by the company and for resale.[lxix] After October 1917, it was also used as a fruit depot managed by Anton F. Strelaeff for the Doukhobor jam factory.[lxx]

A large communal vegetable garden and 16-hive apiary was also established at the coal and wood yard to help feed the Verigin and Bawoolin families and their many guests.[lxxi]  

Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. cheque dated January 20, 1916 signed by manager J.W. Sherbinin for the sum of $50.00 made to Kost (Konstantine) Verigin, yard foreman, CPR Flats. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

Finally, in June 1915, Peter V. Verigin bought the adjoining half-acre lot (now 45 Government Rd) west of the yard from Konstantine Popoff.[lxxii] Verigin had earlier purchased a portion of the lot from Popoff to build a wooden warehouse for the Doukhobor jam factory in April 1911.[lxxiii] However, by March 1915, the jam factory relocated to Brilliant[lxxiv] and the fuel company took over the warehouse to store livestock feed. The remainder of the lot was used for wood-stacking, eliminating the need for leased stacking sites elsewhere.   

  • Mountain Station

Steep increases in bulk wholesale prices and aggravating shortages of Alberta coal during wartime drove the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. to diversify its supply sources.

Peter V. Verigin shrewdly realized that lignite coal could be purchased from Wyoming and brought in on the Great Northern Railway (GNR) Marcus-Nelson line for 75¢ to $1.00 a ton cheaper, in spite of duty and freight charges.[lxxv] The GNR freight depot at Mountain Station, however, was located at the opposite end of Nelson from the company yard in the CPR Flats.  

The Great Northern Railway ‘Mountain Station’ overlooking Nelson, c. 1915. Touchstones Nelson, SM1987_145_007.

To this end, Verigin purchased a 1.75 acre lot (bounded by Hall, Hendryx, Gore and Innes St) on the GNR right-of-way south of Mountain Station from Charles F. McHardy in January 1915.[lxxvi] Over the next 2 years, a second coal and wood yard was developed at this location. The Wasyl F. Kootnikoff family of Brilliant was selected to operate the yard, with Wasyl as foreman and sons William and Nick driving horses.

A one-and-a-half-story dwelling (dom) was constructed at the yard (now 710 Gore St) to house the family.[lxxvii] It had 3 bedrooms, a living room and a special room (gornitsa) where Peter V. Verigin stayed when he visited. Additional sleeping quarters (khvateri) were located in the attic for seasonal workers. A steam bathhouse (banya) was built near the house for the family and workers.[lxxviii]

South of the house, a large two-story 40’ x 30’ wooden warehouse (sklad) was constructed with 500-ton coal bunkers, stables for the horse teams and hay loft for feed.[lxxix] Nearby an implement shed was erected to house wagons and sleighs transferred there from the CPR Flats yard.[lxxx] A large portion of the yard to the south of the buildings was used for wood-stacking.

Communal vegetable gardens were grown on the remaining vacant lots by Wasyl’s wife Tanya and daughter-in-law Tanya, as well as by Dasha Verigin, Hanyusha Bawoolin and Polya Strelaeff, who would catch the street car from the Hudson Bay Co. store on Baker St to go and work in these gardens.[lxxxi]

With the establishment of the second company yard, customer orders placed with Charles F. McHardy at the business office in the Green Block were dispatched to either the CPR Flats yard or Mountain Station yard, depending on the product requested and the customer location.

Fire insurance map of the Mountain Station coal and wood yard, August 1923. At the top is the yard foreman dwelling and wagon shed at 710 Gore St. The patch added below the dwelling in May 1932 covers the the coal warehouse and stables destroyed in August 1930. British Columbia Fire Underwriters Association.

Commencing in the winter of 1916-1917, coal from the Wyoming Coal Co. mine at Monarch and Carney Coal Co. mine at Carneyville, Wyoming arrived by railcar to Mountain Station, where the cars were spotted on a side track,[lxxxii] unloaded and carted to the warehouse in the yard.[lxxxiii] Despite its lower heating value, the company sold the cheaper American coal at prevailing local prices with a significant profit margin.  

From spring 1917 onwards, the Mountain Station yard also began receiving railcars of wood from the Doukhobor Society’s new sawmill operations on the GNR Salmo-Nelson line.

Company advertisement for Wyoming and other coal varieties, Nelson Daily News, October 31, 1917.

The one drawback of the yard was that the city scales were located in the CPR Flats. This significantly increased the distance and travel time for each delivery of coal from the yard, since it first had to be driven across town to be weighed. Charles F. McHardy thus began lobbying the City of Nelson on behalf of the company to have it install a second set of scales at that point.[lxxxiv]

  • City of Trail

Building on its commercial success at Nelson, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. opened another branch in the City of Trail. In November 1914, Peter V. Verigin purchased 4 lots on the corner of Bay Ave and Eldorado St where the company erected a large brick warehouse, coal and wood bunkers, and store the following year.[lxxxv] Managed by Sam A. and Wasyl W. Lazareff, it sold coal and wood, hay and feed oats, lumber and building supplies and carried out building contracting.[lxxxvi]

Coal and wood yard on Bay Avenue, Trail, BC, 1920. Prairie Towns.

The history of the Trail branch of the company will be chronicled in a separate article by the writer.

  • Wood Supply

At the outbreak of the Great War, the Doukhobor Society still had five sawmills in operation at Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek, Glade and Crescent Valley supplying waste wood to its fuel subsidiary in Nelson. These were small to mid-sized operations at the time, with 10,000-35,000 board foot-per-day capacity.

However, in response to soaring wartime lumber prices, the Doukhobor Society launched several new commercial sawmill operations at Koch Siding in January 1916,[lxxxvii] Porto Rico Siding in January 1917[lxxxviii] and Hall Siding in May 1917.[lxxxix] These were large-scale operations with 30,000-60,000 board foot-per-day capacity, vastly increasing the volume of wood available to the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. to sell. 

Doukhobor Timber Tract Purchase at Porto Rico, reported in the Nelson Daily Times, January 24, 1917.

Now having multiple supply points, each company yard received wood from the mills in closest proximity so as to minimize rail transport distances and rates. The Mountain Station yard was supplied by the Porto Rico Siding and Hall Siding mills, the CPR Flats yard by the Koch Siding mill, and the Trail yard by the remainder.

Peak of Success

For a three year period between fall 1914 and summer 1917, the wartime boom and high profits propelled the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. to become the largest, most successful fuel business in Nelson. Indeed, by summer 1917, its three wood and coal yards, including stock, buildings, vehicles, equipment and livestock, were valued at $30,000.00 (over half a million dollars today).[xc]

There are no available records of company revenues at this time. However, taking into accounts its daily delivery capacity and local prices, the Nelson branch may have earned as much as $8,820.00 in coal or $3,087.00 in wood gross revenue per month in the 1916-1917 heating season.[xci] As its profit relative to cost was small for coal but very high for wood, the company’s profit from this same gross revenue may have been in the neighbourhood of $882.00 for coal or $2,778.30 for wood per month ($15,500.00 or $49,000.00 a month, respectively, today).[xcii]   

The success of the Doukhobor fuel company was a remarkable feat in itself. Even moreso that it was a spin-off subsidiary, generating a significant secondary revenue stream from the wood waste produced by the core CCUB sawmilling and lumber operations, which were also experiencing a boom.

However, this success was not to last. Social factors outside of the company’s control would lead to challenging times ahead.

Rising Wartime Anti-Doukhobor Sentiment

From the onset of the Great War, Doukhobors in Nelson encountered discrimination because of their refusal to actively participate in the war effort.[xciii] Yet it was the enactment of conscription in Canada in September 1917 that drew particularly intense backlash against them.[xciv] The idea of pacifists prospering during the war, owing to high wartime prices and their large military-exempt pool of men, aroused popular resentment at a time when hundreds of Nelsonites were being drafted to fight overseas.[xcv]

In December 1915, the Nelson Board of Trade passed a resolution to tax Doukhobor ‘aliens’ declaring it an “outrage that a large body of men should be living in our midst and enjoying every privilege and protection of the country without contributing once cent to the cause.” Daily News, 1915.10.12.

The recent (and in hindsight, ill-timed) expansion of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. only heightened this resentment among Nelsonites. It now seemed to matter little in the court of public opinion that the Doukhobor fuel business was playing a critical role in heating and powering the local home front.

Despite its reputation for honest, reliable and prompt service, by the winter of 1917-1918, the company began to lose customers who, caught up in the jingoistic fervor, sought wood and coal from other more ‘patriotic’ and ‘Canadian’ companies. At the same time, new competitors sprang up to challenge the besieged company such as Irwin’s Transfer & Storage and D.A. McFarland.[xcvi]

It was probably no coincidence that around this time, Nelson City Council voted against installing another set of weigh scales up the hill at Mountain Station for the Doukhobor fuel company, despite the civic revenue it stood to gain by doing so.[xcvii] This effectively ended the long-term prospects of the Mountain Station yard as a coal depot, which ceased to bring in American coal after the 1917-1918 heating season.[xcviii]

To make matters yet worse, the company lost its prized Galt coal franchise to business rival West Transfer Co. in late 1917, forfeiting its most popular and highest-selling coal brand.[xcix] The reason for the agency cancellation is not known; it may have been in retaliation for the company’s importation of cheaper American coal, or it might perhaps have been fueled by anti-Doukhobor sentiment.

By late 1917, business agent C.F. McHardy ceased using the company name on fuel advertising amidst rising anti-Doukhobor sentiment and patriotic fervor. Nelson Daily News, November 14, 1917.

Against this backlash, Charles F. McHardy remained on good terms with the Doukhobors, selling the CCUB his 20-acre ranch at Shoreacres in September 1917.[c] He continued to serve as agent of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. However, he would find it increasingly difficult to navigate between that role and the rest of his business and civic career.

In November 1917, McHardy joined the Nelson Victory Bonds Committee to sell bonds to finance Canada’s war effort.[ci] Within days, he publicly distanced himself from the pacifist Doukhobor company by dropping its name from his fuel advertising.[cii] Over the next 20 months, he continued to advertise and sell company wood and coal under his own name.[ciii] Finally, in July 1919, after having been elected city alderman at the height of wartime anti-Doukhobor sentiment in Nelson, McHardy left the company.[civ]

Post-War Operations

After the Great War, the Nelson economy struggled in a global post-war recession, as prices for lumber, ore and other commodities plummeted. Despite this, local prices for heating coal and wood remained buoyant and even increased. In 1921, coal sold for $10.00-13.00 a ton and wood for $6.00-9.50 a cord,[cv] while in 1923 coal sold for $10.50-13.00 a ton and wood for $7.50-10.00 a cord.[cvi]

With high post-war prices, new companies flooded the Nelson wood and coal market. These included Minnis Transfer & Fuel Co., Olynyk Fuel & Transfer Co., Fairview Fuel & Teaming Co., Haggart & Son, A. Balcom, Fred Williams Transfer and Nelson Transfer Co. Ltd.[cvii] that vied with Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., West Transfer Co., MacDonald Cartage & Fuel Co. and D.A. McFarland for business.

For its part, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. emerged from the war battered but not broken. It lost a sizeable portion of the Nelson market, its business reputation was unfairly tarnished, and it no longer had a downtown office presence. Nevertheless, it retained enough customers to remain viable on a reduced scale. From thereon, it was one of a number of mid-sized transfer companies in the city.

After July 1919, the company no longer retained an outside business agent and managed its own customer orders and books instead. John F. Masloff of Ootischenia was appointed secretary-treasurer and bookkeeper for this purpose.[cviii] A small office was constructed at the CPR Flats yard where orders were placed, delivery records kept, and cash stored in a strong box.[cix] Company advertising ceased altogether.  

The company’s clientele was now comprised mainly of residential rather than commercial or industrial customers. With lower volumes of deliveries and less stock turnover, fewer workers were required to run the operation. The company’s fleet of wagons and sleighs was reduced to two at each of the CPR Flats and Mountain Station yards.[cx]   

Fuel yard land sale headline, Nelson Daily News, 1920.04.16.

The company further downsized by selling or leasing land and buildings no longer used. In April 1920, the westerly .80 acres of the CPR Flats yard with the smaller warehouse was sold to the Imperial Oil Co. leaving a half-acre yard remaining.[cxi] Then in August 1922, the larger warehouse in the CPR Flats yard was leased to the Okanagan United Growers Ltd. as a fruit packing house until its liquidation in June 1923.[cxii]  

Coal was shipped to the CPR Flats yard from the Pacific Coal Co. mine at Bankhead and Canada West Coal Co. mine at Taber, AB,[cxiii] which also continued to receive wood from the Koch Siding mill. Now exclusively a wood depot, the Mountain Station yard continued to receive shipments from sawmills on the GNR Salmo-Nelson line, which after July 1921, included two large new mills at Porcupine Creek.[cxiv]

The Verigin family continued to occupy the CPR Flats yard. When the Canada Census was taken in June 1921, Konstantine (26) and Dasha (26) Verigin were enumerated there with daughter Mary (7) and sons Peter (4) and Konstantine (1) and step-father Michael (65) and mother Hanyusha Bawoolin (58).[cxv]

Verigin family, Nelson, c. 1920. Standing (l-r): Dasha P. Verigin, (her husband) Konstantine P. Verigin, Grigory Sherbinin, (his wife) Masha P. Sherbinin (sister to Konstantine). Sitting (l-r): Michael A. Bawoolin, Kostei (Kay) K. Verigin, Hanya Bawoolin (Konstantine’s mother), Peter K. Verigin and Mary K. Verigin. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

During this period, Konstantine also broke and trained wild horses for communal use. According to an account by his granddaughter Mary Shukin, this was carried out as follows:

“Occasionally, wild horses were unloaded from the train into the CPR stock yard. A horse would be chosen and lassoed by grandfather and a helper. A harness would be thrown on while the animal bucked and fought. They would then hitch the untamed horse with an older horse, and for several days have them pull a heavy sleigh on the ground, until the wild horse was ‘broken in’.[cxvi]

The new horses were then either kept at the yards to haul coal and wood or else sent to the different outlying Doukhobor settlements, wherever they were needed.

The Kootnikoffs also remained at the Mountain Station yard. At the taking of the 1921 Canada Census, Wasyl (47) and Tanya (45) Kootnikoff, son William (21), daughter-in-law Tanya (19), granddaughter Vera (5 months), son Nick (17) and daughter Mary (8) were enumerated there.[cxvii]

Wasyl F. Kootnikoff and daughter Mary in Nelson, 1915. Büter Family Collection.

Beginning in 1921, the youngest Kootnikoff child, Mary, attended Central School in Nelson. In 1923, she was joined by all three Verigin children. On enrollment, the Doukhobor children spoke only Russian, but rapidly acquired English. Within a year of their enrolment, the Verigin children were promoted from Grade 1 to 3.[cxviii] The children of both families regularly made the honour rolls for academic achievement.[cxix]

In terms of spiritual life, the Verigin and Kootnikoff families each held prayer service (moleniye) on Sunday morning at their own homes.[cxx] Later that day, dressed in their best attire, they exchanged visits with other Doukhobor families living in or near Nelson, where they would all take part and enjoy the singing of hymns and psalms.[cxxi] From time to time, they were joined by Peter V. Verigin and a special choir of 20 Doukhobor singers from Brilliant and Glade who often accompanied him on his trips.[cxxii]

Decline & Dissolution

The Nelson branch of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. might have continued to operate into the foreseeable future. However, between January 1923 and January 1926 it suffered a series of devastating setbacks from which it was unable to recover.

First, with the post-war collapse in lumber prices, the CCUB opted not to renew its lease of the Koch Siding sawmill when it expired in January 1923.[cxxiii] Three months later, in May 1923, the Hall Siding mill caught fire and was destroyed.[cxxiv] It was not rebuilt given the lumber crash. Finally, the two sawmills at Porcupine Creek were destroyed in a July 1924 forest fire along with their timber stands.[cxxv]  

Consequently, the Nelson branch of the company lost most of its wood supply, which was its primary revenue source, and indeed, its raison d’etre. The Mountain Station yard continued to receive some wood from the Porto Rico Siding sawmill, although its output after 1924 was relatively small. The CPR Flats yard received comparatively little, as the Slocan and Kootenay River sawmills continued to primarily supply the Trail branch with their output.

Company president Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, 1859-1924. BC Archives, C01813.

Then, in October 1924, Peter V. Verigin was killed in a mysterious train explosion at Farron. His death was a devastating blow to his followers, including those at Nelson, who revered him as their spiritual guide and secular leader. From a business standpoint, Verigin was the directing mind and force behind the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. and upon his death, the subsidiary was left largely rudderless.  

In December 1924, the CCUB Board of Directors appointed Andrew P. Verigin of Crescent Valley as business manager and Timofey A. Stoochnoff of Ootischenia as secretary-treasurer of the Nelson branch of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co.[cxxvi] Over the next year, the pair managed the branch as best they could, but with little wood to sell and little revenue coming in, it continued to flounder.  

Amid this turmoil, a newsworthy event occurred in February 1925, when Peter V. Verigin’s choir of special singers arrived in Nelson to perform in memory of the departed leader.[cxxvii] The Daily News reported that they led an 8:00 a.m. prayer service at the Verigin-Bawoolin house in the CPR Flats, then sang at the Strelaeff stopping house at 9:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., singing for about an hour each time. In the evening they sang at the Trinity Methodist Church before departing by train to their settlements.

Notice of tax sale of the CCUB property in Nelson. Creston Review, November 27, 1925.

By November 1925, the Nelson branch of the company was having difficulty paying property taxes and several lots were listed for sale by public auction for arrears.[cxxviii] The taxes were ultimately redeemed by the CCUB; however, its Board of Directors concluded that the branch was no longer viable.

Two months later, at the annual CCUB Board of Directors meeting at Brilliant in January 1926, it was resolved that the Nelson branch of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. be dissolved and its associated properties put up for sale.[cxxix] A telegram to this effect was summarily issued to the Verigin and Kootnikoff families in Nelson, reassigning them at once to Ootischenia and Brilliant, respectively.[cxxx]  

And so, with a show of hands in the Brilliant central office, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. ceased branch operations in Nelson on January 12, 1926 after 14 years of business.

Aftermath

Having grown accustomed to a less rigidly communal life while running the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. in Nelson, neither the Kootnikoff nor Verigin family remained long at their reassigned places. By May 1927, Wasyl F. Kootnikoff resettled to Rossland, where he and his sons worked as carpenters.[cxxxi] In December 1931, Konstantine P. Verigin resettled to Blewett, where he bought a 40-acre farm.[cxxxii]

The Anton F. Strelaeff family initially remained in Nelson at 509 Falls St,[cxxxiii] their caretaking role expanded to include the now-vacant coal and wood yards. In February 1926, Anton started a fuel business of his own, the Doukhobor Transfer Co.[cxxxiv] Using wagons and remaining stock from the yards, with his house as his office, he offered coal, wood and transfer services.

Receipt from Anton F. Strelaeff’s short-lived Doukhobor Transfer Co, 1926. Greg Nesteroff Photo, Paul Strelive Collection.

Anton’s fuel enterprise would be short-lived. MacDonald Cartage & Fuel Co. had already taken over the customers of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co.,[cxxxv] leaving him to advertise for new ones amid stiff competition.[cxxxvi] Months later, he lost his voice due to illness, making continuation of the business impossible.[cxxxvii] In 1928, he was reassigned to the Doukhobor settlement of Dorogotsennoye at Taghum.[cxxxviii]

By late 1928, the Strelaeffs were replaced by Eli N. and Malanya Chernoff of Ootischenia, who took up residence at 509 Falls St.[cxxxix] They were joined by Malanya’s parents Philip P. and Nastya Lazareff, and for several months, by Russian Tolstoyan Pavel I. Birukoff and his daughter Olga.[cxl] A carpenter by trade, Eli worked for building contractor T.H. Waters & Co. Ltd. while caretaking the Doukhobor yards.

Two years later, in November 1930, the house at 509 Falls St was sold to Bud Sevens,[cxli] whereupon the Chernoffs relocated to the house at the CPR Flats yard.[cxlii] There, they discovered that the road running past the front was built six feet over the CCUB property, while the CPR rail spur running past the back was also encroaching, resulting in a lawsuit by the CCUB against the City of Nelson and CPR for trespass.[cxliii]

Eli N. Chernoff, c. 1930. Wendy Chernoff Collection.

Meanwhile, in July 1930, Eli bought the vacant yard at Mountain Station from the CCUB.[cxliv] The large warehouse there was destroyed by fire shortly after.[cxlv] In early 1931, he resold the yard to none other than Wasyl F. Kootnikoff, who returned with his family from Rossland to reside at 710 Gore St.[cxlvi]

Wasyl died within months of his return. His widow Tanya remained at 710 Gore St. with daughter Mary until her death in 1949,[cxlvii] followed by Mary and husband William J. Shukin until 1959.[cxlviii] By 1937, son William W. Kootnikoff and wife Tanya (Emma) built a home at 724 Gore St for themselves, and in 1950, a home at 723 Innes St. for their son Michael. In 1962, the Kootnikoffs and Shukins subdivided and sold the remaining Innes St. lots.[cxlix] The Kootnikoffs joined the Shukins at the coast in 1965.[cl]

Eli N. Chernoff lived at the CCUB yard in the CPR Flats until September 1931 when the property was leased out, then resettled to Taghum. The lessees, Harry and son Gordon K. Burns, established a fuel distributorship there as Burns Coal & Cartage Company,[cli] which offered coal and wood as well as moving, storage and distributing services. The business operated at the lease site for nine years.

In February 1939, the Burns purchased the property from the receiver of the now-bankrupt CCUB and established a new business, Burns Lumber & Coal Co., selling building materials and supplies, fuel, transfer and storage services over the next 39 years.[clii] By September 1948, the original Doukhobor dwelling house and workers kitchen were dismantled,[cliii] while the coal bunker, blacksmith shop, barn and implement shed continued to be used for storage until at least May 1959.[cliv]

In September 1978, the lumber yard was purchased by Louis Maglio,[clv] whose sons Tony and Dominic operated it as Maglio Building Centre. By this time, the Doukhobor brick warehouse was the only original structure still standing and in use. In February 2019, the business was purchased by Fraser Valley Building Supplies, which continues to operate as Rona Maglio Building Centre today.[clvi]

Fire insurance map of the former coal and wood yard in the CPR Flats, now Burns Lumber Coal & Lumber Co, August 1938 (as revised August 1940, September 1948). The patches added in August 1940 cover the Doukhobor dwelling house and workers kichen that no longer existed at that time. The coal bunkers, implement shed, blacksmith and barn were repurposed as lumber sheds. The brick warehouse remained in active use. British Columbia Fire Underwriters Association.

Today

Nearly a century after the demise of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., evidence of the Doukhobor fuel business can still be found throughout the City of Nelson.

The Allan Building at Ward and Baker, McCulloch Block on Baker St and Green Block at Ward St, which housed the company’s business office over its first six years, are going concerns. The foreman’s dwelling house at 710 Gore St still stands in its original condition. The stopping house of Peter Verigin is also in pristine form, although it no longer stands at 509 Falls St, having been moved to 120 Vernon St in May 1931.[clvii] The two-story brick warehouse remains a mainstay of the RONA Maglio Building Centre at 29 Government Rd, its exterior wall now an interior wall of the store building.

A more pervasive reminder might be the cast-iron coal doors that adorn the exterior of hundreds of Nelson heritage buildings; many if not most of which were served by the Doukhobor fuel business in the Teens and Twenties.

The 107-year old Doukhobor brick warehouse at the former CPR Flats coal and wood yard continues to form an integral part of the RONA Maglio Building Centre at Nelson, BC today. Courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff.

After Note

Special thanks to Greg Nesteroff, Lucille Ostrikoff, Mike & Lorraine Malakoff, Klaas, Lorrie and James Büter, Jean-Philippe Stienne and Judy Deon (Touchstones Nelson), Barry and Stephanie Verigin (ISKRA) for sharing their information and images.

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA Nos. 2172 (March 2022), 2173 (April 2022) and 2174 (May 2022). (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).
The 107-year old Doukhobor dwelling house at the former Mountain Station coal and wood yard still stands today in its original condition at 710 Gore Street, Nelson, BC. Courtesy Greg Nesteroff.

End Notes

[i] From the 1880s through 1920s, a ‘transfer’ was a transportation company that used a fleet of horse-drawn wagons and sleighs to deliver coal, wood, livestock feed, ice and other bulk goods short distances within a community.

[ii] Most stoves, boilers and furnaces burned either fuel or could be converted to do so. Frequently, the choice came down to price and practicality. Wood was considerably cheaper than coal, while coal burned much longer and hotter than wood but was also much dirtier to handle.

[iii]W.A. Jeffries Nelson City Directory (1913) (Nelson, BC: W.A. Jeffries, 1913) at 117; Nelson Daily News, 1913.01.06.

[iv] 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 31. Based on the West Kootenay average of 5,000 feet of saw timber per acre, the Doukhobor lands may have held as much as 53,055,000 feet of saw timber based on their West Kootenay landholdings as of 1913: Canadian Pacific Railway, British Columbia, Canada’s Pacific Province: Its Natural Resources, Advantages and Climate (Victoria: The Colonist Presses, 1910) at 63.

[v] Doukhobor sawmilling in the 1908-1913 period manufactured lumber primarily for their own communal building purposes. However, there was some commercial sale of surplus lumber; most notably the sale of 100,000 railway ties from Glade and another 100,000 ties from Brilliant to the CPR in 1910-1911: Nelson Daily News, 1910-09-21; Victoria Daily Times, 1910-09-28; The Province, 1911-03-17; Winnipeg Free Press, 1911-04-25.  

[vi] Supra, note 3at 33; Manitoba Free Press, April 25, 1911.

[vii] Based on the standards of the day, wastage was upwards of 45 percent of every foot of saw timber: J.H. Jenkins, “Wood-Waste Utilization in British Columbia” in The Forestry Chronicle (Vol. 15, No. 4, December 1939) at 192.

[viii] Manitoba Free Press, April 25, 1911.

[ix] Nelson Daily News, 1913.04.01.

[x] Nelson Daily News, 1913.04.01. to 1913.04.14.

[xi] Nelson Daily News, 1913.04.07; New Westminster News, 1913.04.08; Winnipeg Free Press, 1913.04.12. The Kootenay Ice & Fuel Co. (renamed Kootenay Ice Co. in April 1923) continued selling ice (only) from its Mirror Lake plant in Nelson and district until 1931.

[xii] The easterly 208 feet of Lot 1, of subdivision of part of Lot 95 and Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District, Map 904 was sold for $6,000.00 under Agreement for Sale dated April 7, 1913 by William P. Tierney (railroad contractor and Kootenay Ice & Fuel Co. principal) to Peter Verigin. Upon payment in full, title was transferred from Tierney to Verigin under Indenture No. 18505a dated November 10, 1913. Verigin filed for title on November 22, 1913, registered as Certificate of Title AFB 30/234 dated November 26, 1913. The property was subsequently transferred to the CCUB by Deed of Land No. 4927 dated October 20, 1917 and new Certificate of Title No. 4927i dated October 26, 1917 was issued.

[xiii] Ibid; Nelson Daily News, 1913.01.06.

[xiv] Mined in Lethbridge by the Galt Coal Company, this fuel burned more cleanly than most coals generally available and enjoyed a high reputation across Western Canada. It was a lucrative contract for the Doukhobor Society as it gave it control of the Nelson market for the best and most practical source of heat in the often bitter winters. See: McCord Museum: https://tinyurl.com/mjbdztjv; Toole Peet 1897 – 1997: https://tinyurl.com/yvub6924.

[xv] Nelson Daily News, 1913.04.08; New Westminster News, April 8, 1913.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] The company name was a reference to the Doukhobor Society’s headquarters at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. It also leveraged the name-recognition of the Society’s existing and well-known subsidiary in Nelson, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works (est. 1911). Variations of the name sometimes used: Kootenay Columbia Fuel Company, Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Co., Kootenay Columbia Fuel Co., Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Company, Kootenay Columbia Fuel Supply, Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., Kootenay Columbia Fuel & Supply Co., Kootenay Columbia Fuel & Supply Co. Ltd.       

[xviii] W.A. Jeffries Nelson and District Directory (1914) (Nelson, BC: W.A. Jeffries, 1914) at 78.

[xix] Henry Howard (H.H.) Crofts (1877-1952), a confectioner from Warwick, Eng., immigrated to Canada in June 1903, settling in Winnipeg, MB. From September 1907 to July 1911, he served as Deputy-Sherriff of the Winnipeg Judicial District, then relocated to Nelson, BC to engage in real estate. In September 1911, he formed a realty partnership with Russian émigré realtor Konstantine Popoff as ‘Popoff & Crofts’. Over the next 15 months, he “sold quite a bit of land” to the Doukhobors in Nelson, at Brilliant and on the Slocan: Transcript of Proceedings, Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia (1912), Volume 2 at 567 (BC Archives Item No. GR-0793.2).

[xx] Supra, note 18.

[xxi] Based on the labour force employed by the Kootenay Ice & Fuel Company five months earlier: Nelson Daily News, 1913.01.06.

[xxii] Nelson Daily News, 1913.05.07 to 1913.05.09, 1913.05.12.

[xxiii] 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.

[xxiv] See for example: Nelson Daily News, 1914.09.29 to 1914.10.02, 1914-10-17 to 1914.10.21, 1915.01.28 to 1915.03.04.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Nelson Daily News, 1914.04.27 to 1914.05.02.

[xxvii] Mary Shukin, “The Kootenay Columbia Fuel Supply” in ISKRA No. 1708, April 11, 1990 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

[xxviii] While there are no Nelson Daily New adverts, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. almost certainly offered general transfer services through its fleet of wagon and sleigh teams when not in active use delivering coal or wood. Its wagon teams may also have been used for fruit hauling by sister subsidiary Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in the summer fruit season.

[xxix] Nelson Daily News: 1917.09.24; Stan Sherstobitoff photograph collection: Doukhobors construction work, Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in foreground, Nelson, c. 1912: tiny.cc/zwkmuz; Doukhobor scaffolding, Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in foreground, Nelson, c. 1912: tiny.cc/7xkmuz.

[xxx] A common complaint by Nelson merchants was that the Doukhobors’ large pool of unpaid labour enabled them to undercut the local market by selling goods for less than local merchants could afford to: Nelson Daily News: 1912:09.17. However, Nelson Daily News advertisements from 1913-1915 confirm that the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co sold fuel at prevailing local rates. For example, in October 1914, it sold Galt Coal for $8.00 per ton, the same price advertised by West Transfer Co.; while it sold wood from $4.75 to $5.50 a cord while Taylor Milling Co. sold it at $5:00 per cord: Nelson Daily News, 1914.10.02. Indeed, by 1917, all Nelson transfer companies were selling wood and coal under a common rate sheet: Nelson Daily News, 1917.09.28.

[xxxi] V.N.L. Van Vleck, “Delivering Coal by Road and Rail in Britain” in The Journal of Economic History Vol. 57, No. 1 (Mar 1997) at 140 quoting Thorstein Veblen, Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution (New York and London: Macmillan, 1915); Nelson Daily News, 1917.07.31.

[xxxii] See for example Nelson Daily News, 1914.03.05 which reported, “The Doukhobor colony shipped another car of wood to Nelson on Saturday.”

[xxxiii] The Use of Wood for Fuel (Bulletin No. 753) (Washington D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, March 10 1919) at 16. Note a ‘cord’ was a stack of wood four feet high, four feet wide and 8 feet long.

[xxxiv] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[xxxv] See Note 40.

[xxxvi] Christopher F. Jones, “Fraud, Failure, and Frustration: This Is the Story of America’s First Energy Transition” in The Atlantic, April 15, 2014. Based on this estimate, Nelson’s population of 5,000 or so residents in 1913 consumed from 6,700 to 20,000 cords of wood or 4,200 to 13,300 tons of coal annually.

[xxxvii] For example, the Nelson Iron Works operated a 80-horsepower boiler that consumed approximately 4.5 lbs. of coal per horsepower-hour: Mining and Engineering World, Vol. 43, November 27, 1915 (Chicago: Mining World Company) at 876; Alessandro Nuvolari, “The theory and practice of steam engineering in Britain and France, 1800-1850 in Documents pour l’histoire des techniques, No. 19, December 1, 2010 at 194. Note wood was not generally preferred by most industries because of its lower heating value.

[xxxviii] The Use of Wood for Fuel, supra, note 33 at 15; The Black Diamond (Vol. 53, No. 12) (National Coal Exchange, September 19, 1914) at 225.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Interestingly, if the company fleet of 6 wagon teams delivered a minimum of 42 loads of coal (42 tons) or wood (21 cords) per day, then the company 1,000-ton coal and wood bunkers would have required replenishment at least once every 24 days.

[xli] Royal Commission Into All Matters Pertaining to the Doukhobor Sect in British Columbia, BC Archives Series GR-0793 (1912), Vol. 1 at 10 and 121 (B56).

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] For instance, the Nelson Daily News reported on July 11, 1913 that “Peter Veregin, the leader of the Doukhobors, was in town on Wednesday looking over the local Doukhobor property.”

[xliv] Nelson Daily News advertsfor Popoff & Crofts dwindled over the winter of 1913-1914 and ceased altogether on May 6, 1914. By June 8, 1914, Crofts and family left Nelson and returned to Winnipeg, MB. On August 8, 1914, Popoff published formal notice of dissolution of partnership, and on October 10, 1914, obtained a court order seizing Crofts’ Nelson property for absconding from the partnership debts. Back in Winnipeg, Crofts served as a government registrar until his retirement in the 30s.

[xlv] Nelson Daily News, 1914.10.03 and 1914.12.05.

[xlvi] Nelson Daily News, 1914.04.1. Charles Forbes McHardy was born in Lucknow Township, Bruce County, ON in August 1875. In late 1900, he resettled to Nelson, BC where he clerked at Nelson Hardware Co. until July 1903. He then partnered with Edward B. McDermid to purchase the real estate and insurance business of Harry H. Ward, operating as McDermid & McHardy. Between September 1906 and August 1908, McHardy and McDermid obtained Crown Grants over 1,270 acres of land at the Slocan River and Goose Creek confluence (named Crescent Valley by McHardy). McHardy then bought out McDermid’s interest in the land and their partnership dissolved in July 1909 as McHardy developed his ranch. In October 1911, McHardy sold the ranch to the Doukhobor Society. In October 1912, he became the first man to ride a horse from Nelson to Vancouver. That November 1912 bought out McDermid’s insurance and rental business while also starting a real estate business. His extensive civic involvement throughout this time included the Nelson Board of Trade, Nelson Improvement Association, Kootenay Fruit-growers Union, Nelson Conservative Association and others.

[xlvii] Nelson Daily News, 1911.10.05.

[xlviii] Nelson Daily News, 1912.04.04.

[xlix] Royal Commission, supra, note 41, Vol. 2 at 341-348.

[l] Nelson Daily News, 1914.04.1; 1914-04-03 to 1914.04.14.

[li] Between April 1914 and October 1917, McHardy placed an incredible 388 advertisements in the Nelson Daily News: 1914.04.01; 1914.04.03 to 1914.04.14; 1914.04.27 to 1914.05.02; 1914.07.08 to 1914.07.14; 1914.08.14; 1914.08.15; 1914.08.26; 1914.09.02 to 1914.09.08; 1914.09.29 to 1914.10.02; 1914.10.17 to 1914.10.21; 1914.11.10 to 1914.11.18; 1914.11.30 to 1914.12.08; 1914.12.21 to 1914.12.24; 1915.01.28 to 1915.03.04; 1915.04.22 to 1915.05.08; 1915.06.24 to 1915.07.15; 1915.09.13 to 1915.10.02; 1915.10.06 to 1915.10.28; 1915.11.09 to 1915.11.27; 1916.01.10 to 1916.03.20; 1916.06.16 to 1916.07.03; 1916.08.28 to 1916.09.11; 1916.10.15 to 1916.10.24; 1917.02.15 to 1917.03.28; 1917.04.16 to 1917.04.21; 1917.09.28; 1917.09.29; 1917.10.13 to 1917.11.13. 

[lii] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[liii] Nelson Daily News advertisements from 1915-1917 show the Nelson transfer companies sold heating fuel at 25% above previous local rates. For instance, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. sold coal at $9.25 to $10.50 a ton and wood at $7.00 a cord: Nelson Daily News, 1916.10.15, 1917.03.09, 1917.10.13. See Note 30 for 1913-1915 prices.

[liv] The two-story dwelling house at 509 Falls St. stood on Sub-Lots 1-3 of Block 92 of Lot 95, Kootenay District. It was purchased by Peter Verigin on behalf of the Doukhobor Society in late 1914: Nelson Daily News, 1914.12.08. For an excellent historical study of this property, see Greg Nesteroff, “Little-Known Nelson Heritage Buildings: 120 Vernon St.”: https://tinyurl.com/54k47bym.

[lv] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lvi] Tax rolls for 1915 indicate that the building was part of $2,000 of improvements carried out that year: Shawn Lamb Archives, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (courtesy Greg Nesteroff); “List of Property Owned by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited, as at January 1st, 1931” in Snesarev, V.N., The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia, Department of Agriculture, 1931).

[lvii] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lviii] Ibid.

[lix] Shawn Lamb Archives and Snesarev, supra, note 56.

[lx] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Shawn Lamb Archives and Snesarev, supra, note 56.

[lxiii] Ibid; Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxiv] Shukin, ibid.

[lxv] Ibid.

[lxvi] Ibid.

[lxvii] Tax rolls indicate that the warehouse was part of $2,000 worth of improvements carried out between 1915 and 1917: Shawn Lamb Archives, supra, note 56; Snesarev, supra, note 56.

[lxviii] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Nelson Daily News, 1917.10.08 and 1917.10.09.

[lxxi] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxxii] The westerly 138 (130) feet of Lot 1, of subdivision of part of Lot 95 and Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District, Map 904 was transferred from Konstantine Popoff to Peter Verigin by Indenture dated June 29, 1915 and registered June 30, 1915 as No. 20403a.

[lxxiii] Part of the westerly 138 (130) feet of Lot 1, of subdivision of part of Lot 95 and Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District, Map 904 was transferred from Konstantine Popoff to Peter Veregin by Agreement for Sale dated April 19, 1911 and registered as 6470D in Charge Book Volume 18, Folio 159. 

[lxxiv] Nelson Daily News, 1915.03.12.

[lxxv] The Doukhobor leader may have been aware that since 1913, cheap American lignite and sub-bituminous coal had flooded the B.C. Coast market, where it sold for the same price as Canadian bituminous coal, despite the latter’s superior heating value. See for example The Vancouver Sun, 1913.01.30; “Diether Coal” in Vancouver Daily World, 1915.11.18; “Mackay & Gillespie, Ltd” in Victoria Daily Times, 1914.09.01; Alberta’s Coal Industry 1919 (Bercuson, D.J. Ed.) (Alberta Records Publication Board: Historical Society of Alberta, 1978).

[lxxvi] On March 11, 1913, C.F. McHardy purchased Sub-Lot 33(A) of District Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District as shown on Map 766 from Nelson grocer John Alexander Irving, registered as new Certificate of Title AFB 30/9 No. 17465a. On January 16, 1915, McHardy advertised the lot for sale for $2,100.00 in the Nelson Daily News. Evidently, Peter Verigin subsequently entered an Agreement for Sale with McHardy for the lot, as it was reported owned by the Doukhobor Society in 1917: Vancouver Daily World, 1918.09.28. Once all payments were made under the Agreement for Sale, title was transferred from McHardy to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood under Indenture No. 6620i dated December 3, 1919.

[lxxvii] Fire Insurance Plan of Nelson, BC Surveyed August 1923, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (courtesy Greg Nesteroff).

[lxxviii] Ibid.

[lxxix] 1923 Nelson Fire Insurance Plan, supra, note 77; Nelson Daily News, 1930.08.05 and 1930.08.06.

[lxxx] Ibid.

[lxxxi] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxxxii] Although the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. did not have a spur track of its own running into its Mountain Station yard, the GNR had a passing and house track running parallel between the city and it main line on which cars were parked for unloading, and which conveniently ran to within 400 feet of the coal and wood yard: Great Northern Railway Historical Society, Mountain Station Blueprint, dated April 23, 1913.

[lxxxiii] Nelson Daily News, 1917.02.15 to 1917.03.08, 1917.09.28-1917.09.29, 1917.10.13-1917.09.30.

[lxxxiv] Nelson Daily News, 1930.08.06.

[lxxxv] Creston Review, 1914.11.20; Nelson Daily News, 1915.01.14, 1915.11.13, 1915.12.06; Greenwood Ledge, 1915.02.02.

[lxxxvi] Minutes of Meeting of CCUB Directors, September 8, 1917, Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor.

[lxxxvii] Western Lumberman, March 1916 at 29.

[lxxxviii] Nelson Daily News, 1917.01.24; Canada Lumberman and Woodworker, Volume 37, 1917 at 160; The Timberman, February 1917 at 81; Western Lumberman, April 1917 at 25.

[lxxxix] Western Lumberman, May 1917 at 32; October 1918 at 77.

[xc] Vancouver Daily World, 1918.09.28.

[xci] Presuming the company made 42 deliveries per day (6 wagon teams x 7 trips each), then it would have delivered 882 tons of coal (1 ton/load x 42 loads x 21 workdays) at an average price of $10.00 per ton, earning gross revenue of $8,820.00 a month; whereas it would have delivered 441 cords of wood (½ cord/load x 42 loads x 21 workdays) at an average price of $7.00 per cord, earning a gross revenue of $3,087.00 a month.

[xcii] It is estimated that the Doukhobors’ profit per ton of coal was 10-15%: The Vancouver Sun, 1917.07.05, 1917.09.13; The Retail Coalman, c. 31, v. 31, July 1917 at 96. However, as their only cost associated with wood was freight, the Doukhobors’ profit per cord of wood may have been as high as 85-90%.

[xciii] As early as December 1914, the Nelson Board of Trade advocated a special tax be levied on Doukhobors who “would not either fight for, or subscribe to, the protection which is afforded under the British flag: Nelson Daily News, 1914.12.11. In December of 1915 and January of 1916, it passed resolutions asking the government to adopt such a tax, declaring “it is an outrage that a large body of men should be living in our midst and enjoying every privilege and the protection of the country without contributing one cent directly to the cause of the country.”: Nelson Daily News, 1915.12.10 and 1916.01.28. The Board also called for a boycott of Doukhobor products in July of 1915, arguing that they were an “alien race” who “could not be called upon in time of war to come to the assistance of the country in which they made their living: Nelson Daily News, 1915.07.09.

[xciv] By 1917-1919, anti-Doukhobor rhetoric intensified in Nelson, with the Nelson Branch of the Canadian Patriotic Fund publicly demanding a $75,000.00 subscription in arrears from the Doukhobor Community: Nelson Daily News, 1919.11.17; the Nelson victory bond campaign demanding $50,000.00 subscription from the Doukhobor Community: Vancouver Daily World, 1919.11.14; local citizens’ meetings in Nelson passing resolutions demanding the purchase of Doukhobor lands and local reconstruction committees formed for the purpose of securing the land for returned soldiers: Calgary Herald, 1919.04.21 and Vancouver Daily World, 1919.04.24; the Nelson Branch of the Great War Veterans Association passing a resolution that the Dominion Government deport all Doukhobors presently in the country: The Gazette, 1919.03.20 and Calgary Herald, 1919.04.07; and the Nelson Board of Trade resolved that the Dominion Government “make the Doukhobors live as Canadian citizens or deport them.”: Calgary Herald, 1919.05.02.

[xcv] George Woodcock & Ivan Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1968) at 253. This sentiment is captured in the September 17, 1917 letter to the editor of the Nelson Daily News from rancher J. Marsden of Taghum: Nelson Daily News: 1917.09.24.

[xcvi] Nelson Daily News, 1916.01.21 to 1923.11.30; Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1916-1919.

[xcvii] Nelson Daily News, 1930.08.06. Unfortunately, the specific date the Nelson City Council voted against installing weigh scales at Mountain Station is not known, as the council minutes for this period are lost and missing: Shawn Lamb Archives, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History.

[xcviii] The last company advertisements for Wyoming coal appears in the Nelson Daily News on November 17, 1917.

[xcix] The last advertisement for Galt coal by the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. appears in the Nelson Daily News on September 28, 1917. By April 1918, Galt coal was being advertised in the newspaper by West Transfer Co.

[c] Nelson Daily News, 1917.09.27.

[ci] Nelson Daily News, 1917.11.10.

[cii] On November 13, 1917, three days after C.F. McHardy’s appointment to the Nelson Victory Bonds Committee, his hitherto-prolific advertising for the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. in the Nelson Daily News abruptly ceased. Thereafter, from November 14, 1917 to July 5, 1919, McHardy advertised in the newspaper as “Charles F. McHardy, Insurance, Fuel, Real Estate.”  

[ciii] Despite the absence of newspaper advertising for the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., C.F. McHardy continued to be listed as agent for the company in the 1918 and 1919 editions of Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory.

[civ] There are no further references to C.F. McHardy as a fuel dealer after the July 5, 1919 edition of the Nelson Daily News. McHardy went on to serve two terms as alderman between January 1919 and January 1921, unsuccessfully running for mayor in 1920. He was elected mayor for two terms between January 1921 and January 1923. In May-June 1924, he was a conservative candidate for the BC Legislature. For many years McHardy headed the Nelson Conservative Association and was also one-time president of the Board of Trade, a life member of the Kootenay Lake General Hospital Society and for six years was president of its board of directors. He was also a charter member of the Nelson Rotary Club, and early president of the Nelson Fair Board, early member of Clan Johnstone, later Clan McLeary, a member of St. Saviour’s Anglican Church Parish, on the board of B.C. Fire Underwriters, and vice-president of the Notary Public’s provincial organization.

[cv] Nelson Daily News, 1921.10.14.

[cvi] Nelson Daily News, 1923.12.25.

[cvii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1919-1924; Nelson Daily News, 1919.12.01 to 1925.12.01.

[cviii] At the taking of the 1921 Canada Census, John F. Masloff was living in Ootischenia but his occupation was listed as “Bookkeeper, Fuel Supply”: British Columbia, District 18, Sub-district 10A, page 3. By 1922, Masloff had left the fuel subsidiary to manage the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in Brilliant.

[cix] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cx] Ibid.

[cxi] Nelson Daily News, 1920.04.16. The westerly 110 feet of Lot 1, of subdivision of part of Lot 95 and Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District, Map 904 was transferred from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. to Imperial Oil Ltd. for $8,000.00 under Indenture No. 7260i dated April 9, 1920.

[cxii] On August 1, 1922, the Nelson Daily News reported that the Okanagan United Growers had taken over fruit marketing in Nelson from the Kootenay Fruit Growers’ Union and would erect a warehouse at once in the CPR Flats for assembling that season’s crop. Evidently, it opted to lease the large warehouse at the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. yard instead. On October 6, 1922, the Nelson Daily News reported that the packing house of the Okanagan United Growers situated in the Doukhobor building on the CPR Flats was a busy centre with fruit coming into the house from all the ranches in and around the city. On June 13, 1923, the Okanagan United Growers had gone into bankruptcy and liquidation.

[cxiii] Nelson Daily News, 1917.11.17.

[cxiv] Western Lumberman, April 1922 at 40; Nelson Daily News, 1923.05.04.

[cxv] 1921 Canada Census, British Columbia, District 18, Sub-district 10A, page 53.

[cxvi] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cxvii] 1921 Canada Census, British Columbia, District 18, Sub-district 10A, page 53.

[cxviii] Ibid.

[cxix] Nelson Daily News, 1922.05.03; 1922.06.28; 1922.07.03; 1926.04.03; 1926.06.26; 1927.05.06; 1927.06.27.

[cxx] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cxxi] Ibid.

[cxxii] Nelson Daily News, 1925.02.17.

[cxxiii] Canadian Forest Industries (January-June 1923) at 1106. The sawmill property was later purchased by the CCUB from W.C.B. Koch in November 1927.

[cxxiv] Vancouver Daily World, 1923.05.26; The Province, 1923.05.26; Victoria Daily Times, 1923.05.26; Western Lumberman, June 1923; Vancouver Sun, 1923.05.03.

[cxxv] Lethbridge Daily Herald, 1924.07.15; Circleville Daily Union Herald, 1924.07.15; Nevada State Journal, 1924.07.16; Findlay Morning Republican, 1924.07.16; Winnipeg Free Press, 1924.07.16; Calgary Herald, 1924.07.19; Vancouver Sun, 1924.07.18.

[cxxvi] Nelson Daily News, 1924.12.18.

[cxxvii] Nelson Daily News, 1925.02.17; The Province, 1925.02.22.

[cxxviii] Nelson Daily News, 1924.11.18.

[cxxix] The two-day CCUB shareholders and Board of Directors meeting held January 11-12, 1926 appointed 14 Directors and 24 Officers of the various CCUB local branches and subsidiaries, including the Trail branch of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co.; the Nelson branch of the fuel subsidiary was conspicuously omitted: Nelson Daily News, 1926.01.13. The letter sent to Konstantine P. Verigin pursuant to that meeting stated that the CCUB properties at Nelson, Hall Siding, Skalistoye and Dorogotsennoye were all to be put up for sale: Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cxxx] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cxxxi] Nelson Daily News, 1927.05.02; Border Crossing Manifest dated August 30, 1927 of William W. Kootnikoff, carpenter, of Rossland.

[cxxxii] Lucille Ostrikoff, Nelson, BC, interview by author, 2021.12.30. Note Konstantine P. Verigin’s name lives on today in the form of Verigin Road and Kays (Konstantine’s) Road in Blewett, BC.

[cxxxiii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1926-1928.

[cxxxiv] Nelson Daily News, 1926.02.27 to 1926.03.05.

[cxxxv] Lucille Ostrikoff, Nelson, BC, interview by author, 2021.12.30.

[cxxxvi] Supra, note 134.

[cxxxvii] Nelson Daily News, 1929.09.02.

[cxxxviii] Nesteroff, 120 Vernon St., supra, note 54.

[cxxxix] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1929-1930.

[cxl] Ibid. Friend, follower and biographer of Lev N. Tolstoy, Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov (1860-1931) investigated the Doukhobor movement in the Caucasus in 1895 and was exiled in 1897 to Courland for publishing an appear on behalf of their plight. A year later he was permitted to go abroad, where he stayed until 1907. Later, he spent considerable time in Russia, Switzerland and the UK. In September 1927 he accompanied Doukhobor leader Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin to Canada to help establish Russian schools and a newspaper among the Doukhobors. Within a year, however, he suffered a debilitating stroke. Thereafter, the ailing Tolstoyan was cared for by the Chernoffs at 509 Falls St in Nelson until his daughter Olga left art school in Paris and came to Canada in October 1928. The Biryukovs remained in Nelson until April 1929, whereafter they returned to Geneva where Biryukov died in October 1931.

[cxli] Nelson Daily News, 1930.11.22.

[cxlii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory for the year 1931, which was compiled prior to November 1930 when the 509 Falls St property was sold, lists the Chernoff family still living there; however the 1932 directory lists the family living at Granite Road where the former coal and wood yard of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co was located.

[cxliii] Nelson Daily News, 1930.11.12.

[cxliv] Lot 33A of District Lot 304, Group 1, Map 766 was transferred by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. to Eli N. Chernoff by Indenture No. 30611i dated July 25, 1930.

[cxlv] Nelson Daily News, 1930.08.05 and 1930.08.06.

[cxlvi] British Columbia Death Registration No. 39244 dated June 19, 1931.

[cxlvii] British Columbia Death Registration No. 49-09-001741 dated January 28, 1949.

[cxlviii] Nelson Directory, 1955; British Columbia Death Registration No. 63-09-004738. In 1959, the house at 710 Gore St. was sold to Tony and Gladys Semeniuk: Urban Preliminary List of Electors, Electoral District of Kootenay West, City of Nelson, Urban Polling Division No. 128, September 27, 1965.

[cxlix] Subdivision Plan No. 4558 dated January 8, 1962 of Lot 4, Block 33, Plan 349 of Lot 150 and part of Block 33A, Plan 766 of Lot 304. Interestingly, the house at 723 Innes was purchased by Kay Verigin, who grew up at the CPR Flats yard 40 years earlier when his father Konstantine ran the coal and wood yard there: 1965 City of Nelson Voters’ List, ibid.

[cl] British Columbia Death Registration No. 1965-09-002145.

[cli] Nelson Daily News, 1931.09.11.

[clii] Agreement for Sale from the Receiver for the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Ltd. to Harry and Gordon K. Burns dated February 1, 1939. Five years later, in 1944 when the property was paid in full, title was transferred to Harry and Gordon K. Burns under Certificate of Title No. 58607i.

[cliii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1931-1939; Fire Insurance Plan of Nelson, BC Surveyed August 1938 (Revised August 1940 and September 1948), Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (courtesy Greg Nesteroff).

[cliv] Fire Insurance Plan of Nelson, BC Surveyed May 1959, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (courtesy Greg Nesteroff).

[clv] In 1978, the property was transferred to Louis Maglio under Certificate of Title No. M7771. In 1986, the property was transferred to Louis Maglio Enterprises, under Certificate of Title No. V17188.

[clvi] ”’Business as usual’ in Trail after sale of Maglio Building Centre” in Trail Times, 2019.02.26.

[clvii] Nesteroff, 120 Vernon St., supra, note 54.

A Place called Skalistoye (and other Names)

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

Although Grohman Narrows Provincial Park west of Nelson, British Columbia is a well-known destination for local outdoor recreation and nature appreciation, its storied past has largely slipped from collective memory. The following article examines the property’s many different owners, occupiers, names and uses over its 150-plus years of recorded history.

Prehistory

The property covers the river flats on the left (south) bank of the Kootenay River at what was once called the Narrows,[1] a natural constriction of the river at the downstream end of the West Arm formed by beds of uneroded hard rock. During periods of high inflow into Kootenay Lake, the constriction raised water levels upriver, causing flooding. The rich alluvial material deposited over millennia enriched the lower portions of the flats, yielding fertile soil, while the higher, unflooded portions remained largely exposed rock.

For centuries before white settlers capitalized upon its agricultural potential, First Nations encamped on the flats,[2] as the Narrows created an ideal location for trapping fish. Its importance as fishing grounds also made it highly sought after, and it is thought to have been the site of a 19th century battle between the Sinixt and Ktunaxa over its control.[3] In the early 20th century, many First Nations artifacts were recovered along the flats.[4]

Baillie-Grohman’s 1886 map (The Kootenay valleys in Kootenay district, British Columbia. London: Witherby, 1886) showing the flats and narrows, here described as “rapids to be widened and deepened.” Note the railway at that point was surveyed on the north bank but was actually built on the south bank of the river five years later.

W.A. Baillie-Grohman

In October 1886, 50 acres of the flats were conceded to the Kootenay Lake Syndicate led by Anglo-Austrian author and hunter William Adolph Baillie-Grohman as part of a plan to blast out the Narrows, thereby lowering the lake level in order to drain and reclaim Creston Valley and Kootenay Flats for colonization and agriculture.[5] In 1889, Grohman’s engineer Leslie Hall and his crew set up camp on the flats, detonating tons of dynamite against the obstructing rock at the Narrows, but the rock did not yield.[6] By 1894, the scheme was a bust and the land reverted to the Crown. More enduring were the names left behind in the form of Grohman Narrows and Grohman Creek, opposite the property.

W.A. Baillie-Grohman (1851-1921), writer, big game sportsman and pioneer of the Kootenay region, 1885. Wikipedia Commons.

Early Miners & Ranchers

In 1891, the CPR’s Columbia and Kootenay Railway line was built through the north edge of the property, close to the river, opening it up for mining and later agricultural development.

By November 1898, Dr. E.C. Arthur of Nelson staked the Recluse Mine claim on the property, receiving certificates of work in November 1903 and a grant of mineral rights in February 1905 as Lot 4228; Dr. Arthur still owned the claim as of October 1908, but it was sold for unpaid taxes soon thereafter.[7] A brickyard also reportedly existed in the vicinity, but it’s not clear who operated it.[8]

The original 125-acre Crown grant for Lot 5180 including the Recluse mine.

Meanwhile, in July 1901, New Brunswick native Alfred Bunker (1855-1937) received a Crown grant for the 50.6-hectare (125-acre) property (Lot 5180), subject to the mining claim, for $125.[9] It thereafter became known as the Bunker Ranch. By April 1902, Bunker had cleared some 10-12 acres and planted about 1,000 fruit trees on the ranch, including cherry and pear, and cultivated a large piece for strawberries and other small fruits, making it the acknowledged oldest fruit farm in the Nelson district.[10]

The ranch was accessible by various means. The CPR built Quarry Siding on the property in May 1902 to serve its quarry on the adjacent east lot, which Bunker also used for loading cars with fruit and agricultural products.[11] The ranch was also accessible by boat or via a road at its southern boundary that connected to a wagon road (soon to be known as Granite Road) that led to the City of Nelson power plant on the Kootenay River.[12]

In addition to farming, Bunker was active in the Kootenay Fruit Growers’ Association as vice-president.[13] He was involved in a proposal to assume the assets of the Nelson streetcar service.[14] He bought and sold lots, cottages, and mining claims.[15] And he ran unsuccessfully for Nelson city council in 1912.[16]

In June 1907, Bunker sold his ranch to Robert W. Hulbert, former editor of the North Battleford News, who registered it under his wife Rose Elizabeth Hulbert.[17] Hulbert renamed the property the Durban Ranch, after the South African city where Rose was born and the couple married in 1902.[18] Besides ranching, he served as a delegate of the Kootenay Fruit Growers’ Association, proprietor of the Empire Moving Picture Theatre in Nelson, a founding director of the Nelson branch of the YMCA and compiler of the 1909 Nelson telephone directory.[19]

However, Hulbert soon ran into financial difficulty and by March 1908 advertised the ranch for sale through Regina realtors McCallum Hill & Co.[20] By this time, 25 acres of the property had been cleared and planted into apples, cherries, plums, peaches, pears and other small fruits, with 1,000 trees in bearing, 1,200 more soon to bear, and 500 in nursery. 

Nelson Daily News, March 29, 1908 ad for the sale of the ranch then owned by R.W. Hulbert.

Despite the advert running in over 105 issues of the Nelson Daily News, the ranch failed to sell. Undoubtedly, a significant deterrent was the fact that half of the ranch was rocky outcropping, of little use for anything except quarrying.[21]

Under pressure from creditors, Hulbert sold the Durban ranch to McCallum Hill & Co. in August 1908, staying on as ranch manager until 1911.[22] In the interim, the realtors satisfied many of Hulbert’s local debts, although he lost his theatre to foreclosure in February 1910.[23]   

As McCallum Hill & Co. purchased the ranch under an agreement for sale, title did not transfer until all outstanding payments were made in January 1910. At that time, it was registered in the names of company principals Ernest A. McCallum, Walter H.A. Hill and Edgar D. McCallum.[24] The realtors never lived at the property, having bought it purely on speculation. For three years they collected revenues from ranch fruit sales before placing it back on the market in 1911.

Nelson Daily News, April 5-6, 1911 half-page ad for the sale of the ranch then owned by McCallum Hill & Co.

This time, they used a more creative marketing strategy. On 5 and 6 April 1911, they took out an eye-catching, half-page advertisement in the Nelson Daily News[25]which painted the ranch in colourful, hyperbolic terms, emphasizing its overall acreage, fertile soil, number and type of fruit trees along with its development potential, accessibility and nearness to Nelson, while downplaying the limited cleared acreage and rocky portions. Indeed, the rock was euphemistically described as “extremely picturesque,” “suitable for quarrying,” with the granite “being considered the finest in the district.” To create a sense of urgency, the ad stressed a “price for quick sale,” “at great sacrifice” and imposed a five-day deadline for offers. The two-day listing worked and the following day, on 7 April 1911, the Durban ranch sold for the $10,000 asking price.[26]   

The Doukhobors, 1911-61

The purchaser under agreement for sale was Russian revolutionary-turned-Nelson real estate agent Konstantine Popoff via the local firm of McQuarrie and Robertson.[27] Only four days earlier, Popoff had sold his 30-acre ranch two miles downriver at Taghum to Peter V. Verigin on behalf of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) for $15,000. Evidently Popoff used the sale proceeds to finance the purchase of the Bunker/Durban Ranch.

Russian revolutionary turned Nelson realtor, Konstantine Popoff, c. 1911. Slocan Valley Historical Society.

Popoff immediately put some men to work pruning the 2,200 fruit trees on the ranch in preparation for the season’s operations.[28] However, he had no intention of keeping the property for long. Four days later, Popoff resold it to a second buyer, none other than Peter V. Verigin, again via McQuarrie and Robertson.[29]

Doukhobor leader Peter, V. Verigin, Nelson BC, 1912. BCA B-03946.

Verigin assumed Popoff’s interest under the agreement for sale with McCallum Hill & Co., whereby the Durban Ranch would be paid for in $1,000 annual installments over a 10-year period.[30] In addition, Verigin paid Popoff a $3,000 ‘commission’ for his troubles, with the Daily News aptly reporting that, Popoff had “made a substantial profit over the price he paid for the ranch.”[31]

Verigin’s reasons for purchasing the ranch seem to be have been two-fold. First, he had already bought up all the available large blocks in the Kootenay, Columbia and Slocan valleys, such as those at Brilliant and Ootischenia, Champion Creek, Pass Creek and Crescent Valley. Going forward, he was limited to purchasing small ranches and farms on the upper reaches of the Kootenay and Slocan Rivers on which to settle his people.

Assignment of agreement for sale of Durban Ranch from Kanstantan (sic) Popoff to Peter V. Verigin, 1911.

Second, the CCUB had just purchased the jam factory at Nelson and formed the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works to operate it.[32] As the Doukhobors’ earliest planted orchards were only beginning to bear and would not be fully bearing for several years, they required mature, producing orchards to supply their jam factory with fruit and the Bunker Ranch was “one of, if not the most highly developed, fruit ranches in the Kootenays”[33] at the time.

At the time of the Doukhobor purchase, the ranch had 25 acres set out in 2,200 fruit trees, 1,500 of which were apple, including 360 that were already bearing; 60 pear, of which 25 were bearing; 100 plum in bearing, 500 cherry, of which 125 were bearing, and 40 peach, with eight bearing.[34] About 13 acres was under cultivation for small fruits and vegetables, including one acre of strawberries and raspberries, and half an acre of gooseberries and currants.[35]  

Buildings on the property consisted of two small houses (one of two stories, measuring 12 by 23 feet and another of a single story, 10 by 23 feet). There was also a small packing shed, stable, large hay barn, pig and chicken house and root cellar. The buildings were collectively valued at about $1,500.[36]

Rare photo of the two-storey ranch house and outbuildings lent by Nelson realtor M.R. McQuarrie to J.T. Bealby for publication in his book, Fruit Ranching in British Columbia. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1909). The original caption read “A successful orchard amongst the stones, near Nelson.”

Verigin forthwith “arranged to put a large staff of men at work on the ranch”[37] to manage the orchard and develop the remaining arable land. By 1913, the Daily News reported the Doukhobors had made “extensive improvements” in clearing and planting the property into orchard and small fruit.[38]

The Doukhobors named the ranch Skalistoye (Скалистое),meaning “rocky” or “craggy” in Russian.[39] The name reflected the fact that despite its rich, fruit-growing soil in places, a large portion of the ranch was barren and unusable for agricultural purposes.

In November 1917, Peter V. Verigin transferred his interest under the agreement for sale to the newly-incorporated CCUB with $3,000 owing.[40] In September that same year, McCallum and Hill assigned their respective interests to John Allen Wetmore, former accountant of the Imperial Bank at Nelson, now Imperial Bank manager at Regina, in September 1917.[41] In January 1920, after paying the balance owing to Wetmore, the CCUB received legal title to the Skalistoye property.[42]   

Transfer of the Skalistoye ranch from Peter V. Verigin to the CCUB, 1917.

Typically, one or two Doukhobor families was stationed at Skalistoye at a time; often for a period of three or four years before they were rotated back to larger Doukhobor settlements and another family was brought in to take their place.

When the census was taken in June 1911, no Doukhobor families were yet permanently living on the ranch.

By the taking of the 1921 census (which referred to the property as “Quory” after its railway siding), the Famenoff (or Fominoff) family of 13, originally from Ootischenia, were living there. John and his wife Ahaphia, both 55, were listed along with their four sons and their families, namely Larion, 34, and wife Oprosia, 33, with sons Brilliant, 12, and Fred, 3; Wasil, 29, and wife Fedosia, 34, with daughters Mary, 10, and Polly 3; John, 25, and his son John, 5; and Savely, 16.[43]

Savely married Florence (Fenya) Chigmaroff in Krestova in 1923. Their son, Cecil Fominoff of Winlaw, says the Chigmaroffs briefly joined the Fominoffs at Skalistoye before the families later moved to Porcupine, near Salmo, then to Claybrick, near Winlaw, where Cecil was born.[44]

Savely and Fenya Fominoffs wedding photo, taken during their time at Skalistoye (1923). (Courtesy Valentina Loukianoff and Galena Hadikin)
Savely and Fenya Fominoff with son Tim, taken a few years after their stay at Skalistoye. (Courtesy Valentina Loukianoff and Galena Hadikin)

In 1924, the family of George J. (32) and Polly (30) Rozinkin, along with their son Peter (7) and daughter Lucy (4), were re-stationed from Brilliant to Skalistoye.[45]  They remained on the ranch for five years until 1929. 

In August that year, the couple were swept up in a peace protest of several hundred former CCUB members from Thrums who marched past Skalistoye. George and Polly joined them, leaving their children at the ranch house while they trekked to Nelson.[46] Their granddaughter Sharon Hoodicoff recalls that her mother Lucy and brother Peter had no idea if their parents would return and, out of a sense of survival, began planting potatoes, although it was the wrong season.[47] Their aunt soon came and took them to their parents. Sadly, the family never returned to the ranch, being subsequently confined with 530 other protestors at Porto Rico, an abandoned CCUB lumber camp, until July 1930.[48]  

Polly, Lucy, George and Peter Rozinkin with unknown man in front, taken at Skalistoye in 1924. (Courtesy Sharon Hoodicoff)

By late 1929, another family was place at Skalistoye, that of Fred A. (23) and Poly W. (20) Konkin and their son Phillip (1), formerly of Brilliant.[49] The family tended the ranch for two years before leaving the CCUB and resettling in Thrums as Independent Doukhobors in 1931.[50]  

Life at Skalistoye was communal and revolved around the agricultural seasons. In spring, the men pruned the orchard fruit trees, while on the cultivated land, the women planted annual vegetables and small fruit where perennial berries were not already established. Throughout the summer, the men laboured to clear and break additional land on the property. By late summer, the entire family picked the fruit and berries grown at the ranch. These were shipped from the siding, initially to Nelson and after 1915 to Brilliant for processing in the CCUB jam factories. A portion of the vegetables grown were retained by the ranch families for their own use, with the bulk redistributed among other Doukhobor settlements as needed or else sold at the Doukhobor market in Nelson. Over late fall and winter, the men worked at the CCUB sawmills or else sought employment from local ranchers.    

The farm also served as an important stopping place for Doukhobor wagon teamsters travelling from outlying settlements. Steve Hoodicoff says that his grandmother Mary S. Hoodicoff often mentioned how her parents Stepan and Marfa Samorodin of Koch Siding, near Slocan Park, and other Doukhobors would regularly stop at Skalistoye to rest, water and feed their horse teams before heading out to Nelson.[51]  

Looking west toward Grohman Narrows, 1928. The Skalistoye ranch buildings are faintly visible within the white circle. National Archives and Records Administration.

By January 1931, after 20 years of communal ownership and operation, the Doukhobors had more than doubled the amount of cleared land, with 30 acres in orchard at Skalistoye and another 30 acres under cultivation, with the remaining 65 acres of rocky outcropping used for pasture.[52]

For all its rocks, the ranch generated significant produce and income for the CCUB during this period from the produce grown there, with the orchard yielding approximately 240 to 450 tons of fruit per year, and the cultivated land yielding about 2,000 cases of berries and 180 tons of potatoes and other vegetables per year.[53]

As for the property itself, the Doukhobors do not appear to have made any substantial improvements or additions to the buildings over this period, their value depreciating from $1,500 in 1911 to $800 in 1931. An inventory conducted in the latter year listed “Two dwelling houses, one barn and other small buildings,” valued at $800.[54] And despite significant improvements made to the land in terms of clearing, the property value increased only modestly after 20 years from $10,000 in 1911 to $15,450 in 1931.[55]

However, by this time, Skalistoye no longer held the strategic and locational value to the CCUB it once had, with the organization owning over 3,500 acres of bearing orchard and another 10,000 acres of small fruit and vegetables at larger, more centralized tracts elsewhere in the Kootenay and Boundary. Accordingly, then-president Peter P. (Chistyakov) Verigin arranged to sell the isolated and remote ranch to Doukhobor John George Evin in March 1931.[56]

Evin was a founding member of the board of directors of the CCUB following its federal incorporation in April 1917.[57] By 1921, he relocated from Brilliant to the CCUB colony at Cowley, Alta. where he remained until at least 1926.[58] However, by 1930, he left the CCUB to live and farm as an Independent Doukhobor at Blaine Lake, Sask.[59]

John G. Evin, photographed in Cowley, Alta., circa 1926. (Jonathan J. Kalmakoff collection)

Evin subsequently returned to the Kootenay with his family of five. However, if they lived at Skalistoye, it was exceedingly brief, as from 1933 on they were living at Slocan Park although they continued to own the property.[60]      

The East Half

What is known is that by September 1938, the West Kootenay Power and Light Company had its corporate eye on Evin’s property. At that time, it applied to the International Joint Commission to make certain river improvements upstream from its Corra Linn dam; namely dredging the Kootenay River at Grohman Narrows and excavating rock on the south side of the narrows at Evin’s property to improve river flow for flood control and hydroelectric power generation.[61] The Commission green-lit the project in December 1938.[62]

Within weeks, the West Kootenay Power and Light Company acquired the east half of Evin’s Lot 5180 consisting of 24.3 hectares (60 acres); however, it is unclear whether it did so by purchase or expropriation.[63] Presumably, Evin would have been a willing seller, since the east half contained the rockiest portions of his ranch.

Between April and October 1939, the utility excavated some 500,000 cubic feet of rock, boulders and gravel from the shore of the east half of Lot 5180, along with nine million cubic feet dredged on either side of Narrows Island, thus successfully deepening and widening the narrows where Baillie-Grohman had failed 50 years earlier.[64]

Dredging and excavation work adjacent to Lot 5180, April 1939. (Fred Fransen photo, courtesy Thor Fransen)

Once the river improvement project was completed, the east half of Lot 5180 apparently reverted to the Crown. Four years later, a reserve was placed over it on 9 Dec 1943, as part of an order-in-council securing all vacant Crown land in the province.[65]  

However the land wasn’t actually vacant. At some point prior to 1939, Evin rented out his Skalistoye ranch to William George Hadikin who occupied it with his family. Owing to some mix-up, Hadikin continued to pay rent for the entire Lot 5180 after the east half was transferred to the West Kootenay Power and Light Company. This only became apparent in May 1946 after Evin died.

In order to validate his occupancy of the land and protect the improvements he had made, Hadikin applied to purchase the east half of Lot 5180, now subject to the Crown reserve. The government approved his purchase request on 8 May 1946 by order-in-council at a price of $5.50 per acre for a total of $330.[66]

The reserve was cancelled but the property transfer wasn’t completed until 12 Jul 1947.[67] William Hadikin died at his home on 10 Nov 1948 at age 73 and his wife Mary followed a year later.[68] The property passed to their son Bill W. Hadikin in 1948,[69] who in turn, sold it to Louis H. Skapple in 1952.[70]

The Andersons & Creation of Grohman Narrows Provincial Park

In 1950, Donna and Wilbert Anderson bought the west half of Lot 5180 from the Evin estate and began farming, although the property was not actually transferred into their name until August 1954.[71] By 1961, they also purchased the east half of Lot 5180 from Louis Skapple.[72]

In 1966, the Department of Highways bought 19 acres of the Anderson Ranch as part of a project to reroute Highway 3A through the middle of the property. The purchase saved the government the trouble of building an underpass and fence for the Andersons’ cattle.

However, the Andersons only agreed to the sale on the condition that the northerly portion of the land, now cut off by the highway, be developed as a park. The government paid for the property but for some reason it was never properly conveyed. Officials tried to rectify this oversight in 1971, minus the conditions of the 1966 agreement. The Andersons refused.[73]

Incidentally, one of the workers rerouting Highway 3A through the ranch in 1967 was John N. Derhousoff, who, according to his daughter Joyce Tucker, recalled that it was a former Doukhobor orchard.[74] John approached Wilbert Anderson about picking the fruit from the orchard trees, now gone to wild. Anderson agreed, and for the next 15 years, the Derhousoff family went to Skalistoye, as they still called it, to pick fruit each fall.[75] 

Meanwhile, in 1971, the Department of Highways let the City of Nelson build a road through the north part of the property to access its new sewage treatment plant, built on adjoining Crown land. This violated the agreement with the Andersons, who still held title to the property.[76]  The access road was constructed directly through the original two-storey ranch house and outbuildings, resulting in their demolition.  

In 1978, the City of Nelson asked the Andersons to let them use part of the property for an incinerator. They declined. The provincial government then tried to clear the way for the incinerator by establishing the entire 19 acres as a highway and obtaining title. But it became a moot point when Nelson residents defeated the proposed incinerator in a referendum.[77]

The BC Ombudsman’s office investigated the matter, concluding the actions of the highways ministry were “unjust and improper.” The Ombudsman also helped find a solution that gave the City of Nelson continued access to their sewage treatment plant while converting the remaining property to a park.[78]

District Lot 5180, showing original ranch building locations and Grohman Narrows Provincial Park boundaries.

Grohman Narrows Provincial Park was finally established on 21 May 1981 containing 13.23 hectares (33 acres), but a few months later, it was reduced to 10.23 hectares (25 acres). It may have simply been the correction of a typo, but the order-in-council didn’t provide a reason. The park consists of the northerly Lot 1 of District Lot 5180 and an adjacent unsurveyed mid-channel island, known as Narrows Island.[79]

The park wasn’t formally dedicated until a year after its creation. The BC Ombudsman, Karl Friedmann, was present at the opening with other officials and the Andersons.[80] Friedmann previously noted in his annual report: “Although the Parks Branch has decided to give the park a rather dry name for historical reasons, to me it will always be the Anderson Provincial Park.”[81]

A monument in the park recognizes the Andersons, but otherwise it’s devoid of interpretive signage. No acknowledgement was made during the park process that Lot 5180 was a Doukhobor farm for over 40 years, although Donna Anderson briefly mentioned this fact in a family history she contributed to Granite Road Memories, a local history book published in 1985 and reprinted in 2020.

BC Ombudsman Karl Friedmann poses with Donna and Wilbert Anderson at the opening of Grohman Narrows Provincial Park in 1982, as seen in the Nelson Daily News. The plaque is also seen below in 2020.

The Andersons retained the southerly portion of the property, Lot A of District Lot 5180, containing 46.3 hectares (114.41 acres) for several more decades. Today, it is the site of a mini-storage facility and surplus store development, which stand across the highway from the park.

Over the course of the past half-century, subdivision, highway construction and new development have made it difficult to imagine what the Skalistoye ranch originally looked like in full bloom. However, vestiges are still visible today to those who look for it.  The foundations of the one-storey ranch house lie just south of the head of the loop trail at the parking lot. The barn foundations can be found on the lakeside of the trail, half-way between the parking lot and the road to the sewage treatment plant. A row of fruit trees stand along the sewage treatment plant access road itself, while others can be found near the mini-storage facility. These, and the memories held by descendants of the ranch families, all bear witness to its communal fruit-growing past.

Foundations of the one-storey ranch house near the head of the trail loop at the parking lot. (Courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff)
Foundations of the large barn on the lake side of the trail loop, halfway between the parking lot and waste treatment plant access road. (Courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff)
Orchard trees along the road between Grohman Narrows Park and the City of Nelson sewage treatment plant, 2021.

After Word

Special thanks to Stan Sherstobitoff, Sharon Hoodicoff, Valentina Loukianoff, Galena Hadikin, Steve Hoodicoff, Cecil Fominoff, Bill W. Evin, Vera Maloff, Sierra Dante and Steve Cleary for sharing their information and photographs.

This article was originally published on Greg Nesteroff’s Kutne Reader blog site on April 1, 2021; updated on May 17, 2021.

It was subsequently republished as a five-part series in the West Kootenay Advertiser as follows:

Place Names Associated With D.L. 5180Dates
The Narrows1882-86
Recluse Mine1898-1908
Quarry Siding1902-at least 1911
Bunker Ranch1901-07
Durban Ranch1907-11
Skalistoye1911-54/61
Anderson Ranch1950/54-66
Grohman Narrows Provincial Park1981-present

End Notes

[1] Mabel E. Jordon, “The Kootenay Reclamation and Colonization Scheme and William Adolph Baillie-Grohman” in British Columbia Historical Quarterly, (Vol XX, Nos. 3 and 4, July-October 1956) at 187-220.

[2] The Daily News (Nelson), 28 Jul 1910 reported that Granite rancher Frank Phillips “brought in a number of Indian curious … He found them in an Indian mound which is supposed to have been an old Indian battle ground …”

[3] First Nations’ Ethnography and Ethnohistory in British Columbia’s Lower Kootenay/Columbia Hydropower Region, Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy (Castlegar: Columbia Power Corporation, 2000) at 229-30.

[4] Supra, note 2.

[5] The property was legally described as “50 acres on the left bank at the Narrows”: Jordon, supra, note 1; “Lease: Kootenay Reclamation and Colonization,” British Columbia Sessional Papers, 1887, at 315-32.  See also International Kootenay Lake Board of Control, 2005 Annual Report to the International Joint Commission (Vancouver, 2005) at 6.

[6] Jordon, ibid.

[7] The Miner (Nelson), 19 Nov 1898; The Daily News (Nelson), 12 Nov 1903 and 15 Oct 1908; Crown Grant No. 1212 dated 27 Feb 1905.

[8] David Norcross writing in Granite Road Memories (Granite Road Women’s Institute, 1985) at 12.

[9] Crown Grant No. 1458 dated 3 July 1901, viewed at: http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/gator/crowngrantdetail.do?grantId=014785.

[10] The Daily News (Nelson), 25 Apr 1902, 10 Oct 1902, 29 Mar 1908 to 02 Aug 1908.

[11] The Daily News (Nelson), 24 Apr 1902, 27 Jul 1907.

[12] The Daily News (Nelson), 5-6 April 1911.

[13] The Daily News (Nelson), 20 Jan 1904.

[14] The Daily News (Nelson), 15 Dec 1908.

[15] The Daily News (Nelson), 15 Jun 1905, 26 Aug 1906, 7 Nov 1908, 17 Jun 1909, 12 Feb 1910, 12 Apr 1910, 11 Apr 1911. 

[16] The Daily News (Nelson), 8 Jan 1912.

[17] The Daily News (Nelson), 14 Jun 1907; AFB 24/387 No. 7288a registered 26 Jul 1907.

[18] The Daily News (Nelson), 10 Aug 1907, and 10 Apr 1911. See also: Robert William Hulbert Family Tree by Dave May on Ancestry.ca. Hulbert moved to the Lower Mainland and founded the Coquitlam Star.

[19] The Mail Herald (Revelstoke) 2 Aug 1908; The Daily News (Nelson), 11 and 15 Dec 1908 and 1 Jun 1910; Creston Review 10 Jun 1909.

[20] The Daily News (Nelson), 29 Mar 1908 to 2 Aug 1908.

[21] The Daily News (Nelson), 5 April 1911.

[22] The Daily News (Nelson), 2 Aug 1908, 6 Jan 1909, 16 Mar 1910.

[23] The Daily News (Nelson), 2 Aug 1908, 6 Jan 1909, 16 Mar 1910.

[24] AFB 27/256 No. 11954a registered 5 Jan 1910.

[25] The Daily News (Nelson), 5-6 April 1911.

[26] Agreement for Sale dated 7 April 1911 between Ernest A. McCallum, Walter H.A. Hill and Edgar D. McCallum and Kanstantan (sic) Popoff appended to Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920; The Daily News (Nelson), 10 Apr 1911. The realtors went on to become two of the most successful businessmen and real estate developers in Regina’s history: https://tinyurl.com/fwjbv4a9.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Assignment of Agreement for Sale dated 15 April 1911 between Kanstantan (sic) Popoff and Peter Verigin appended to Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920; “Quick profits in Bunker ranch,” The Daily News (Nelson), 17 Apr 1911. 

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] 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.

[33] The Daily News (Nelson), 5 April 1911.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] The Daily News (Nelson), 6 Jan 1913.

[39] William Rozinkin, correspondence to Jonathan J. Kalmakoff dated 3 Jun 2003; Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “Doukhobor Place Names” in ISKRA No. 1951-1965 (USCC, 2002).

[40] Indenture dated 1 Nov 1917 between Peter Verigin and the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited appended to Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920.

[41] AFB 33/2 No. 22290a registered 18 Sept 1917.

[42] Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920.

[43] 1921 Canada census, viewed at https://tinyurl.com/yxrv28hf and https://tinyurl.com/y6997qcv. Note Brilliant Fominoff was reportedly the first Doukhobor child born in BC. When leader Peter V. Verigin heard of his birth, he visited, offered a blessing, and asked to name the newborn Brilliant. In his late teens, Brilliant contracted tuberculosis and at Verigin’s recommendation, he went to Arizona for treatment, dying there in 1928 age 19: ISKRA, 3 Mar 2008.

[44] Cecil Fominoff, interview with Greg Nesteroff, 26 Mar 2020.

[45] Sharon Hoodicoff, interview with Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr 2021.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] List of Doukhobors Camped at Porto Rico, November 24, 1929 (GR 1725 – Attorney General Correspondence – [B-7621] – File P291-17 – 1929-1930 – pp. 109 to 111); https://tinyurl.com/zauddbmp.  

[49] Ann Malahoff, interview with Sharon Hoodicoff for Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr. 2021.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Steve Hoodicoff, interview with Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr 2021.

[52] The Doukhobors in British Columbia, Vladimir N. Snesarev (Harry W. Trevor), 1931, Appendix 1, List 3 at 9.

[53] For average fruit yields at Nelson and elsewhere in the Kootenay at the time, see Bealby, supra, note 38.

[54] Snesarev, supra, note 48.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Certificate of Title 32075-I dated 30 March 1931.

[57] Minutes of the first meeting of The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood dated 8 Sept 1917, Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor, viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/583dz2ut.

[58] 1921 Canada Census viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/ddv7hs6b; 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/7rw425jf.

[59] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, The Society of Named Doukhobors, 1930 Saskatchewan Membership List (Regina: 2004) viewed at https://tinyurl.com/eeasmpk7.

[60] John W. Evin, interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, 16 Mar 2021, Red Deer, Ab.

[61] International Joint Commission, Kootenay Lake Order, dated in New York on 11 Nov 1938 viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/6uycftrb.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Supra, note 48.

[64] BC Hydro, Grohman Narrows Channel Improvement Project, September 12, 2013 viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/vsnj8n9.

[65] British Columbia Order-in-Council 1653, 9 Dec 1943, viewed at: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/oic/arc_oic/1653_1943.

[66] British Columbia Order-in-Council 963, 8 May 1946, viewed at: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/oic/arc_oic/0963_1946.

[67] Crown Grant No. 2240 dated 12 July 1947 viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/y4mn6gm7.

[68] The Province (Vancouver), 19 Nov 1948.

[69] Certificate of Title 74252-I dated 1948.

[70] Certificate of Title 91205-I dated 1952.

[71] Donna Anderson writing in Granite Road Memories (Granite Road Women’s Institute, 1985) at 59; Certificate of Title 99407-I dated 6 Aug 1954.

[72] Certificate of Title 125191-I dated 1961.

[73] 1980 Annual Report of the Ombudsman to the Legislature of British Columbia, supra at 55-56.

[74] Joyce Tucker, interview with Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr 2021.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid, p. 56.

[77] Ibid; “Couple win a 15-year wrangle,” Nelson Daily News, Rita Moir, 5 Jun 1981.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Grohman Narrows Park in BC Geographic Names, viewed at

http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/37697.html; and British Columbia Order-in-Council 1220, 21 Jul 1981, viewed at https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/oic/arc_oic/1220_1981.

[80] “Local park area is dedicated,” Nelson Daily News, 25 May 1982.

[81] 1980 Annual Report of the Ombudsman to the Legislature of British Columbia (Victoria: Queen’s Printer for British Columbia, 1979) at 57.

The Doukhobor Trading Store in Blairmore, Alberta

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Although the historical Doukhobor connection to Cowley and Lundbreck, Alberta is well known, few would associate them with the Crowsnest Pass.  Yet for decades in the Teens, Twenties and Thirties, the Pass was an important market for Doukhobor communally-grown field and garden products. And for a brief time, they even established a commercial retail outlet there. This article traces the forgotten history of the Doukhobor trading store in Blairmore.

Background

Beginning in 1915, the Doukhobor enterprise known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (‘CCUB’) purchased land near Cowley and Lundbreck for a new agricultural colony.[1] Within several years, it acquired over 14,000 acres of some of the best grain-growing and grazing land in the foothills, on which over 250 Doukhobors established a dozen settlements.

The Russian-speaking settlers lived communally. All goods and property were held in common, all fieldwork and animal husbandry was done jointly and all income was deposited in a central treasury. They did not receive wages for their labour, but were provided with all basic necessities by the organization. Sober-minded, industrious and simple-living, they embodied their motto of ‘Toil and Peaceful Life.’

A Doukhobor communal home north of Lundbreck, AB, c. 1920. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

To bring their land to peak production, the Doukhobors practiced irrigation and worked it with heavy machinery, running six steam engines. To store their grain, they built a 35,000-bushel grain elevator at Lundbreck in 1915[2] and a 70,000-bushel elevator at Cowley in 1916,[3] along with large warehouses at each point for their supplies. And in 1922, they moved the Pincher Creek flour mill to Lundbreck to commercially mill wheat.[4] 

In addition to grain-growing, the CCUB raised several hundred head each of draft working horses, shorthorn dairy cattle and wool-bearing sheep.[5] Being strict vegetarians, they did not raise animals for meat. For livestock feed, they produced large quantities of hay and forage crops. And they grew huge truck gardens of assorted vegetables.  

The Doukhobors kept some farm products for their own consumption and shipped railcar loads to CCUB settlements in B.C. in exchange for fresh fruit, jams and other goods produced there. Surplus grain was marketed by rail. Surplus feed, flour and vegetables were sold locally or else conveyed by wagon-load up the Crowsnest Pass, where they found a ready market at high prices.[6]

Indeed, the Pass trade proved lucrative enough that in 1924, the Doukhobors endeavored to establish a permanent commercial presence there.    

From at least 1917 to 1937, Doukhobors from Cowley and Lundbreck, AB traded communally-grown farm and field products up the Crowsnest Pass, where they found a ready market. Mundy’s Map of the Province of Alberta, 1912.

Store Purchase

In February 1924, the CCUB purchased the former Poggiali store premises in Blairmore from realtor and insurance agent Chrystom J. Tompkins and CPR agent James J. Murray of Frank.[7] The $4,000.00 purchase was made under an agreement for sale whereby payment was made in three yearly installments, with title transferring to the purchasers upon payment in full.[8]

Notice of Blairmore store acquisition by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Blairmore Enterprise, February 7, 1924.

The premises (Lots 10, 11 and Pt A of Block 2) was located at the east end of Blairmore on Victoria Street (now 20th Avenue), the town’s main thoroughfare, near the corner of 13th Avenue (now 135th Street) at the present site of 13601 and 13609 20th Avenue.

The store (Lot 10) was of a typical boomtown design – a two-story, rectangular 35 x 45 foot wood-frame structure with whitewashed clapboard exterior and a rectilinear false façade attached to a gable roof to given an impression of a larger size from the street.[9] The façade had large display windows and a bracketed cornice. The main floor housed the store and upper floor contained office/living quarters.  

It was built in 1910 or early 1911 by Italian immigrants Antonio and Angelina Poggiali who ran a grocery and dry goods store there (as part of a chain of three stores in Blairmore, Bellevue and Frank) in conjunction with their next door residence/rooming house until May 1922, when they sold out to Tompkins and Murray and moved to the Bronx, New York.[10]

Fire insurance map of the Doukhobor store property (marked in red) at Blairmore, AB. This September 1931 patch covers the original October 1925 map, which had the words ‘Flour and Feed’ superimposed over the buildings. Western Canada Fire Underwriters Association.

A 20 x 20 foot post-frame barn with hip roof (Lot 11) and a 20 x 25 foot log stable with hip roof (Lot A) at the rear of the property housed up to four horses used to pull the store drays (low, flat delivery wagons without sides used to haul freight).[11]

Retail Operations

The CCUB assigned Nicholas J. Verigin (1866-1950) to manage the new store, assisted by his son-in-law Alex M. Salekin (1885-1957). A nephew of Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin, Nicholas was regarded for his integrity and knowledge of basic business principles. Alex, a kucher (‘coachman’) for the Doukhobor leader when he visited the locality,[12] shared these qualities and also possessed basic fluency in English. Relocating from Lundbreck, they took up residence above the store with their combined family of eight.

Reporting to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta (the CCUB’s Alberta subsidiary) branch office in Cowley, the men were responsible for all aspects of store inventory management and sales.  

When a freight load of Doukhobor products arrived at the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Blairmore from Cowley and Lundbreck, the men drove the store drays and teams down Victoria Street to the depot, where they transferred sacks, boxes, bales and pallets from the standing railcar to the station platform, and from the platform to the dray. It sometimes took several wagon-loads to haul away the entire shipment.

Blairmore, east main street, about 1925. Doukhobor store marked in red. Crowsnest And Its People.

The stock was then hauled back to the store, unloaded and stored until needed. In this regard, Verigin and Salekin erected a one-story 52 x 45 foot wood-frame warehouse on a concrete slab foundation with flat slanted roof (Lot 11) adjoining the east side of the store in mid-1924[13] using lumber shipped from the CCUB’s Kootenay sawmills. Samples of merchandise were prominently displayed in the store windows.

The store primarily sold local communally-produced flour (100 lb sacks), livestock feed (baled grass, alfalfa and clover and 100 lb sacks of oats) and chicken feed (100 lb sacks of cracked/broken grains, bran and other mill screenings). It also offered bagged wool as well as fresh eggs, butter, cheese and cream by the pound, and a wide array of seasonal fresh vegetables including potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, carrots and cucumbers.

In addition to field and garden products produced by the CCUB at Cowley and Lundbreck, the store brought in seasonal fresh fruit (apples, pears, plums, peaches and cherries) grown in the CCUB orchards in the Kootenays along with the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jams produced at the CCUB jam factory in Brilliant. Communally-milled lumber, poles, shingles and fence posts from the Kootenays were likely sold on order.

The Doukhobors sold goods at prevailing local prices.[14] However, its costs were markedly lower than other retailers since the CCUB produced all its own goods and used unpaid communal labour at all stages of the supply chain without the intervention of middlemen or commission agents. Its only external cost was for rail freight, which all local merchants bore. The store thus earned a higher profit margin than its local competitors.  

Doukhobor market produce was immensely popular in the Pass. Blairmore Enterprise, May 5, 1927.

The Doukhobors did not advertise in the local Blairmore Enterprise newspaper, relying instead on established word of mouth, particularly among Ukrainian, Polish, Czech and other immigrant coal miners and laborers. Based out of the store, Verigin and Salekin sold and delivered dray loads of goods throughout Blairmore and surrounding towns within a 3-5 mile radius, such as Sentinel, Coleman, Lille, Hillcrest, Frank, Bellevue and Maple Leaf.

In addition to selling farm products, the Doukhobors offered cartage services, hauling freight by wagon for hire. For instance, Veregin and Salekin were engaged to haul rock, cement and supplies by local Italian contractor H.J. Pozzi for the cribbing of Lyon (now Blairmore) Creek near 9th Avenue (now 131st Street) between March 1924 and February 1925, earning $450.00.[15]   

Paul N. Potapoff (1885-1958), branch manager of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta in Cowley, made periodic visits to Blairmore to oversee and inspect the store operation, examine the ledger and account books and collect the cash revenue held in the office strong box.[16]

Letterhead of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited, the CCUB’s Alberta subsidiary. University of Alberta Archives.

Family Life

The Verigin and Salekin family lived the same simple life as other members of the CCUB. They were issued clothes (shoes, boots, etc.), foodstuffs (flour, salt, grain etc.) and provisions in exchange for living and working at the store. Their days were spent in communal labour with few opportunities for leisure.

Nikolai’s wife Anastasia and their daughter, Alex’s wife Mary, performed all domestic tasks including cooking, baking, housecleaning, washing, sewing and mending clothes and child-rearing. They milked the milk cow allotted to the family and grew a vegetable garden behind the store for their own use.

Upon their arrival in town, the youngest Verigin child Anastasia attended the Blairmore Public School. The Salekin children followed upon reaching school age. On enrollment, the Doukhobor children spoke only Russian, but over the course of the year, readily acquired English and excelled at their studies.

Alex M. Salekin, his wife Mary (nee Verigin) and sons Peter (left) and Wasyl (right), Blairmore, AB, c. 1924. Courtesy Margaret Salekin.

In terms of spiritual life, the family held prayer meetings (moleniye) on Sunday mornings in their living quarters, conducted in the Russian language. The afternoon was spent in group singing of hymns and folk songs or visiting Doukhobor friends and family in from Cowley and Lundbreck, followed by Sunday dinner.

Community Upheaval

After a successful first year, the Doukhobor store in Blairmore seemed poised to continue business operations into the foreseeable future, had it not been for a series of events that left the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood devastated and divided.

Following the death of Peter V. Verigin in a mysterious train explosion at Farron, B.C. in October 1924, the CCUB was plunged into grief over the loss of their leader. Members withdrew children from public schools for a four-month period of mourning.[17] By December, a split arose over succession. The minority ‘Leaders’ group comprised of CCUB officials and Veregin’s family members backed his niece Anastasia Holuboff and the status quo; while the majority rank and file ‘Working Brothers’ chose his son Peter in Russia and called to replace the managerial elite with their own candidates, or at least someone different from those in charge.[18]

In the upheaval following Peter V. Verigin’s death, Doukhobor ‘Workers’ organized to gain a greater voice in the affairs of the CCUB and to oust the existing managerial elite. Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925.

Amidst this upheaval, Nicholas J. Verigin found himself at odds with the CCUB majority on several fronts. He had continued to let his children attend public school in Blairmore. As a Verigin family member, he was presumed by default to support Holuboff as successor. And as a member of the ‘Leaders’ group who held a good job in the CCUB, he was now viewed as a privileged apparatchik (‘functionary’) and nepotee living on the shoulders of the working Doukhobors.   

Eviction from Community

Consequently, within weeks of the election of a ‘Working Brother’ to the Cowley branch directors in January 1925,[19] the Verigin and Salekin family in Blairmore ceased receiving supplies and rations from the CCUB, their milking cow sent to winter in Cowley was not returned to them, they were relieved of their posts at the store, and were allegedly advised they were no longer members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood.[20] 

Notice of disavowal of debts of Nicholas J. Verigin and Alex M. Salekin by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Blairmore Enterprise, February 19, 1925.

In February 1925, Community officials printed a notice of disavowal of debt in the Blairmore Enterprise and Lethbridge Herald: “The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited, wish to state that they will not be responsible for any debts incurred by Aleck Seliken and Nick Veregin, who were running our store in Blairmore.  All business may be transacted care of head office, Cowley. Dated at Cowley, Alberta, this 16th day of February, 1925.”[21]

What was expected to happen next was that the Verigin and Salekin family would vacate the store to be replaced by another Doukhobor family who would carry on the business on behalf of the CCUB. However, Nicholas stood his ground and refused to leave, claiming he was entitled to the property as his share of the communal organization.[22] A stalemate ensued for the rest of 1925.  

In the interim, the CCUB at Cowley and Lundbreck continued to sell field and garden products throughout the Pass by the wagonload.[23] At the same time, the CCUB Grand Forks branch opened a Doukhobor fruit store in Cranbook on the other side of the Pass in 1925-1926.

By 1926, local CCUB officials decided on a new tack. Upon obtaining legal title to the store property in February,[24] they purported to sell it to land surveyor John D. Anderson of Trail, B.C. by agreement for sale in April.[25] Anderson subsequently initiated eviction proceedings against the Doukhobor ‘squatters’.

The Verigin-Salekin-Glookoff household residing in the CCUB store property at Blairmore, Alberta, 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces.

By then, Nicholas had more family living on the property. At the taking of the Census of Prairie Provinces in June 1926, the occupants were: Nicholas, 60, wife Mabel (Anastasia), 52, and daughter Mabel (Anastasia), 15; their daughter Mary, 25, husband Alex Salekin, 26, and sons Pete, 5, Wasyl, 4, and Alexander, 5 months; and their other daughter Helen (Hanya), 35, husband Kuzma W. Glookoff, 36, and daughter Mabel (Anastasia), 16. Listed on the same lot in a different building was their niece Vera, husband Jack J. Smoroden, both 34, and children John, 15, Jack, 6, and Vera, 4.[26] 

Faced with eviction, Nicholas doubled down on his ownership claim, producing a 1924 letter from his uncle, the late Peter V. Verigin, purportedly deeding him the premises.[27] This unexpected move frustrated not only the eviction action but Anderson’s purchase, with title reverting to the CCUB in October 1926.[28]        

Nicholas then went on the offensive.

Lawsuit

In January 1927, Nicholas launched a suit in the Supreme Court of Alberta against the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood alleging that he was unlawfully expelled from it because he educated his children according to the laws of Canada and claiming $21,466.00 as recompense for 26 years of labour performed for the organization, $5,000.00 damages and an order establishing his right to the Blairmore property.[29]

Nicholas J. Verigin’s lawsuit against the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood for recompense of communal labour and his share of communal assets made national headlines. Calgary Herald, January 25, 1927.

The suit was an important test case, for if successful, it would set a major precedent and make it possible for other members to secede from the CCUB with significant financial ramifications to the organization. However, on cross-examination, CCUB officials rebutted the claims by contending they had always counseled that the children be sent to public schools when possible; that Verigin was mistaken in his belief that he was expelled; that he was still a member with full rights; and that he would be given a comfortable living for the rest of his life.[30] After a 3-day trial in June 1927, the case was dismissed on the basis that Verigin failed to prove he was in fact expelled.

Nicholas remained undeterred. In mid-September 1927, he filed a formal appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal alleging that, irrespective of whether he was evicted, the CCUB, by organizing itself in such a way that individual member shareholders were debarred from obtaining their share of the organization’s assets, and by removing its children from public education, was contrary to public policy.[31]

If Verigin’s initial lawsuit threatened to pave the way for member succession from the CCUB, his appeal threatened the communal organization’s very existence, since for the first time in the history of Canadian courts, it was alleged that the formation of community along the lines of the Doukhobors’ was illegal.

Settlement & Transfer to Nicholas Verigin

Only days before the appeal was to be heard, Nicholas’ first cousin, Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin, arrived in Calgary, Alberta from Russia to assume leadership of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in Canada.[32] Recognizing the tremendous risk to the organization posed by the appeal, the new leader promptly and quietly settled the matter out of court in October 1927 by agreeing to transfer the Blairmore property to Nicholas in exchange for a withdrawal of the appeal.[33]

Transfer of the Blairmore store property from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Ltd. to Nicholas J. Verigin for $1.00, January 9, 1930. Alberta Land Titles South.

Following these somewhat dramatic events, Nicholas J. Verigin lived at the property with his family for another 4 years. By September 1931, Nicholas, now widowed,[34] sold the property by agreement for sale and moved to Pincher Creek with son-in-law Alex M. Salekin and family, where they farmed as Independent Doukhobors.

Thus ended the brief but unique and eventful Doukhobor communal tenure in Blairmore.

Epilogue: Subsequent Owners

Between September 1931 and March 1936, the premises was an auto-wrecking business owned by Silva Sicotte.[35] From December 1937 to August 1953, it operated as ‘East End Service Garage’ run by J.L. ‘Pat’ McLeod.[36] On or around August 1953, the buildings, now in rough condition, were demolished, leaving only the warehouse concrete foundation remaining until at least 1973.[37]  

From 1937 to 1953, the former Doukhobor store at Blairmore was operated as the ‘East End Service Garage’. Crowsnest Museum and Archives, CM-BL-06-54.

After Word

Special thanks to Ian McKenzie, Crowsnest Heritage Initiative, for his kind support and assistance throughout the development of this article.

An abridged version of this article was originally published in:

Today, the site of the Doukhobor store is occupied by the residence at 13601 20th Ave and Soo Blairmore (formerly Royal Canadian Legion) at 13609 20th Ave in Blairmore, AB.

End Notes

[1] For general information about Doukhobor settlement in Alberta, see: John W. Friesen and Michael M. Verigin, The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1996) at 47-48, 106-109; Barry Potyondi, Where the Rivers Meet, A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939 (Lethbridge: Robins Southern Printing, 1990) at 163-166, 208-209; Margaret Salekin, “Doukhobor History of the Lundbreck-Cowley Area of Alberta” in ISKRA Nos. 2034-2036 (2010) and Doukhobor Heritage: https://tinyurl.com/yc6226an; Koozma J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors (Mir Publication Society, 1982) at 113.

[2] List of licensed elevators and warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division (Ottawa: Dept. of Trade and Commerce, 1915/1916); F.W. Godsal, ‘The Mail Bag’, The Grain Growers’ Guide, May 17, 1916.

[3] List of licensed elevators and warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division (Ottawa: Dept. of Trade and Commerce, 1916/1917); Grain and Farm Service Centers. c. 1, v. 37, Jul-Dec 1916; Blairmore Enterprise, September 29, 1916; Bellevue Times, September 29, 1916; Calgary Herald, October 2, 1916.

[4] Lethbridge Herald, April 22, 1922 and May 11, 1922; Blairmore Enterprise, September 13, 1923, October 25, 1923 and May 22, 1924; Irma Times, May 4, 1923; Redcliff Review, May 10, 1923; American Miller and Processor, Volume 28, 1923.

[5] For CCUB Alberta livestock statistics, see: Blairmore Enterprise, April 28, 1921; Lethbridge Herald, March 23 and 27, 1922, November 5, 1926 and September 4, 1928; Snesarev, V.N., The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia, Department of Agriculture, 1931), Appendix 1; Liuba Verigin, “The Alberta Doukhobors”, an unpublished paper prepared for the Institute of Doukhobor Studies, Castlegar, B.C., April 21, 1976.

[6] Lethbridge Telegram, March 1, 1917; Calgary Herald, February 10, 1920; Lethbridge Herald, November 5, 1926 and May 12, 1932; Blairmore Enterprise, May 5, 1927; Potyondi, supra, note 1 at 165.

[7] Blairmore Enterprise, February 7, 1924; Transfer of Title dated February 3, 1926 from Chrystostom J. Tompkins and James Johnston Murray to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Limited re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 4860 DI on February 13, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 34E dated February 13, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party. 

[8] Ibid. According to the newspaper account, the Community leased the property from Tomkins and Murray in February 1924. However, the transfer documents show that when the Community obtained title in February 1926, it paid $1,500.00 against the property, then valued at $4,000.00. This indicates an ‘agreement for sale’ arrangement, whereby the purchaser takes immediate possession of a property, which is paid for by installments, while the seller retains title as security until payment in full is received. Agreements for sale were a very common means of purchasing property in Western Canada in the Teens and Twenties.

[9] Blairmore, Alberta Fire Insurance Map (Winnipeg: Western Canadian Fire Underwriter’s Association; October 1925, Revised September 1931). Note the 1931 version of the map has a patch glued over Lots 10-11 of Block 2; however, an analysis of the map sheet under light confirmed that all buildings shown on the 1931 patch appeared in the original 1925 sheet; the only difference being that the words “Auto Wrecking” superimposed on the buildings in 1931 originally read “Flour and Feed” in 1925: Peter Peller, Spatial and Numeric Data Services, University of Calgary Archives, correspondence with the writer, October 27, 2020. 

[10] In 1906, Italian immigrants Antonio and Angelina Poggiali and family resettled from New York City to Blairmore, Alberta. In September 1909, they purchased Lots 8-11 of Block 2 at the east end of town: C. of T. No. KM-218, September 7, 1909. By mid-1911, they built two near-identical rectangular two-storey wood-frame structures: the family residence (main floor) and 9-room rooming house (upper floor) on Lot 8; and a grocery store (main floor) with residential space (upper floor) on Lot 10: 1911 Canada Census, District 3, Dub-District 5, p. 32; Henderson’s Alberta Gazetteer and Directory for 1911, p. 89. In October 1913, Antonio expanded the A. Poggiali & Co. retail grocery business, hiring contractor H.J. Pozzi to build 2 new brick stores at Bellevue and Coleman: Blairmore Enterprise, October 17, 1913. However, the expansion soon led to financial difficulty. By April 1914, he held a big cash sale at all three stores, evidently to pay off creditors: Bellevue Times, April 17, 1914. In May 1914, the Canadian Credit Men’s Trust Association seized $6,700 of stock at the 3 stores and sold it by tender: Bellevue Times, May 1, 8, 15, 1914. The same month, Antonio made an assignment of the rest of his estate to creditors: Bellevue Times, May 15 and October 16, 1914. Evidently, Antonio lost the Coleman and Bellevue stores; however, the store in Blairmore (in Angelina’s name) continued to operate: Henderson’s Alberta Gazetteer and Directory for 1914, p. 197: 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces, District 39, Sub-District 10, p. 8. In fall 1915, the Lot 8 residence was stripped and remodeled, removing the rooming quarters and façade: Blairmore Enterprise, July 2, October 1, November 5, 1915. Antonio was operating the Lot 10 store and living at the Lot 8 residence in June 1921: 1921 Canada Census, District 8, Sub-District 28, p. 15. In May 1922, the Poggialis sold the property to Tompkins and Murray and moved to New York: C. of T. No. 27-O-157, May 4, 1922.

[11] Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map, supra, note 9.

[12] Margaret Salekin, correspondence with the writer, May 16, 2022.

[13] In Transfer of Title dated January 9, 1930 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Ltd to Nicholas J. Verigin re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 3097EE on January 15, 1920, February 13, 1926, Veregin attested to building the warehouse. As the warehouse appears in the October 1925 version of the Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map, supra, note 9 superimposed with the words “Flour and Feed” over it, it was most likely constructed in 1924 during the operation of the trading store.

[14] A common complaint by English Canadian merchants in Western Canadian towns were Doukhobors sold retail goods was that the Doukhobors’ large pool of unpaid labour enabled them to undercut the local market by selling goods for less than local merchants could afford to; however, research by the writer indicates that the Doukhobors routinely sold goods at prevailing rates, relying instead upon their greater profit margins for the same prices.

[15] Blairmore Enterprise, May 27, 1926; see also the March 6, 13 and 20, April 17, June 26, July 10, December 4, 1924 and January 1, February 19, 1925 editions.

[16] See for example Blairmore Enterprise, January 1, 1925.

[17] Doukhobors belonging to the Community had long been hesitant of public education, fearing it would lead their children away from communal life and their pacifist religious ideals. In the two years prior to Peter V. Verigin’s death, fanatics within the Community burned 8 schools to the ground in British Columbia: The Province, June 1 and 4, 1923; Vancouver Sun, August 12, 1923, April 1, 1924; Vancouver Daily World, June 30, 1923; Grand Forks Gazette, November 23, 1923. Upon his death, Community members withdrew their children from public schools altogether, ostensibly for a period of mourning, until May 1925: Grand Forks Gazette, March 6, 1925; The Province, April 8, 1925; Regina Leader-Post, June 23, 1927. For a comprehensive treatment of Doukhobor schooling see: William Janzen, Limits on Liberty, The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukhobor Communities in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990).

[18] Winnipeg Tribune, December 4, 1924; Nelson Daily News, December 8, 1924, March 4, 14 and 19, 1925; Winnipeg Free Press, December 11, 1924; Victoria Daily Times, December 17, 1924; Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925; The Province, March 18, 1925; Blairmore Enterprise, April 2, 1925; Times Colonist, March 28, 1925.

[19] On January 3, 1925, the appeal of the Doukhobor workers of the Cowley branch of the Community was met by the placing of one of their members, John P. Bojey, on the board of directors: Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925.

[20] Lethbridge Herald, February 18, 1927. Nicholas J. Verigin’s sacking from the Community was by no means an isolated case. In the same period, other Community managers belonging to the ‘Leader’ group were relieved of their positions, including Nicholas’s brother Peter J. Verigin in Veregin, Saskatchewan, his cousin Larion W. Verigin (another nephew of the late leader) in Brilliant, and Wasyl W. Lazareff in Trail, British Columbia: The Province, March 14, 1925; The Leader-Post, June 23, 1927.   

[21] Blairmore Enterprise, February 19, 1925; Lethbridge Herald, February 14, 1925.

[22] Lethbridge Herald, January 25, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, 1927.

[23] Supra, note 6. There is no evidence that the Blairmore store continued to sell CCUB products after February 1925.

[24] Supra, note 7.

[25] John Drummond Anderson was no stranger to the Doukhobor Community. In 1909, he was hired by the government to survey the road built by the Doukhobors connecting Pass Creek to Brilliant; between 1909-1911, he hired several community members to clear land on his ranch, 7 miles north of Trail on the Columbia River at Sullivan and Murphy Creek; during the same period he sold the Doukhobor Community fruit from his orchard ranch for their jam factory: Royal Commission Into All Matters Pertaining to the Doukhobor Sect in British Columbia, Transcription of Proceedings, Trail, B.C. Sept 3, 1912 at 148-150; BC Archives GR-0793. Transfer of Title dated March 31, 1926 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited to John Drummond Anderson re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 4781 on April 13, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 34D dated April 13, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party.

[26] 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces, Alberta, Division 49, Sub-Division 11, p. 17.

[27] Lethbridge Herald, January 25 and April 19, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, 1927.

[28] Transfer of Title dated October 1, 1926 from John Drummond Anderson to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 6757 on December 27, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 35F dated December 27, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party.

[29] Calgary Herald, January 25, 1927; Calgary Albertan, January 25, 1927; Winnipeg Tribune, January 26, 1927; Lethbridge Herald, January 25 and 27, February 18 and April 19, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, February 3 and 17 and April 21, 1927.

[30] The Province, June 22 and 23, 1927; Regina Leader-Post, June 22, 23 and 27, 1927; Montreal Gazette, June 22 and 23, 1927; Edmonton Journal, June 22, 23 and 24, 1927; The Montreal Daily Star, June 22, 1927; Calgary Albertan, June 23, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, June 23, 1927.

[31] Edmonton Journal, September 14, 1927; Calgary Herald, September 14, 1927; Regina Leader-Post, September 14, 1927; Montreal Gazette, September 14, 1927; Grand Forks Gazette, September 14, 1927.

[32] Upon arriving in Calgary from Moscow, Peter P. Verigin met with a number of Doukhobor delegates from the Community as well as ex-community members, his first cousins Peter J. Verigin and Larion W. Verigin: Calgary Herald, October 6 and 12, 1927; Calgary Alberta, October 7, 1927; Edmonton Journal, October 7 and 10, 1927;

[33] Calgary Herald, October 13, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, October 20, 1927. Although Nicholas J. Verigin’s appeal was settled in October 1927 and he continued to reside at the Blairmore store in the interim, it was two years before the property was legally transferred into his name:  Transfer of Title dated January 9, 1930 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Limited to Nicholas J. Verigin re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 3097 on January 15, 1930, with new Certificate of Title No. 42C dated January 15, 1930 issued in the name of the latter party.

[34] Nicholas J. Verigin’s wife Mabel (Anastasia) died in Blairmore in October 1930 after a short illness: Blairmore Enterprise, October 16, 1930.

[35] Legal title to the property passed from Nicholas J. Verigin to Silva Sicotte by Transfer dated November 23, 1932 and registered as No. 2969 on November 29, 1932, with new Certificate of Title No. 47E dated November 29, 1932 issued to the latter. Evidently, the purchase was made under a prior agreement for sale as the words “Auto Wrecking” were already superimposed on the buildings in the September 1931 Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map: supra, note 9. As only $1,000.00 of the property value of $3,300.00 was paid on transfer, the agreement for sale presumably commenced around September 1931.

[36] From December 1937 to August 1953, the property was held by a succession of legal owners: Certificate of Title No. 52H dated December 13, 1937 issued to Charles Robert Luchia; Certificate of Title No. 61A dated April 2, 1943 issued to Arctic Oil Sales Limited; Certificate of Title No. 68H dated October 2, 1945 issued to Gas & Oil Products Limited; and Certificate of Title 94Z dated August 29, 1953 issued to Anglo American Exploration Ltd. However, the premises was continuously operated during this period as ‘East End Services’ by proprietor J.L. ‘Pat’ McLeod, presumably under lease: Blairmore Enterprise, December 19, 1941, December 18, 1942, June1 and 15, 1945; Lethbridge Herald, August 22, 1938, June 15, 1940, August 9, 1950 and February 22, 1952.

[37] According to Keith Sprlak, a lifetime resident of Blairmore who assumed ownership of the property in June 1973, there were no structures on the property (other than a concrete pad where the warehouse once stood) since the mid-1950s. Given that the last newspaper reference to East End Services dates to February 1952, it is reasonable to presume that the buildings were demolished either immediately prior or after the property changed hands in August 1953: Keith Sprlak, Blairmore, AB, interview with the writer, April 21, 2022.  

A Pilgrimage to the Peshcherochki

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In a hidden river gorge in the remote and rugged highlands of Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Georgia lies a grotto where, for nearly two centuries, Doukhobors have gone to seek solitude, consolation and serenity.  It is also the site of one of the most momentous and tumultuous events in their history – the Burning of Arms.

The Peshcherochki (Пещерочки) is a place of extraordinary natural beauty and is imbued with immense historical, cultural and spiritual importance to the Doukhobor people.  Indeed, it is considered one of the most sacred sites in Doukhoborism.

The Peshcherochki. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

So when the opportunity arose to visit the Caucasus in July of 2015, I jumped at the chance to see and experience this holy and historic place for myself!   

I accompanied a group of eight other Canadian Doukhobors on a three-week tour of Doukhobor settlements throughout the Caucasus.  It was an exceptionally thrilling experience, visiting places steeped in heritage and tradition that I had only read about in books.  Throughout our trip, I shared my knowledge of the historical significance of the sites with the other participants.  Treading in the footsteps of our ancestors, it was a profoundly moving and meaningful journey.   

After spending our first week travelling throughout northeast Turkey, we made our way into Georgia.  We arrived at the village of Gorelovka, the largest of eight Doukhobor settlements on the Javakheti Plateau, a large, high-altitude grassland surrounded by the Javakheti Range or Mokryi Gori (‘Wet Mountains’).  It was once the capitol of Dukhobor’ye, the popular 19th century name given to these uplands by Russian travellers and officials, owing to its predominantly Doukhobor population.  The Doukhobors themselves called the plateau Kholodnoye, or the ‘cold place’ on account of its high elevation and cool climate. Today, however, the village and surrounding plateau is home to thousands of Armenian migrants, with only a hundred and fifty or so Doukhobors remaining. 

Gorelovka village, facing southwest towards the Svyataya Gora. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Situated at the forks of two small rivers, Gorelovka comprised three long parallel streets, with houses aligned on both sides of each street.  While many dwellings were occupied by newcomers, they still retained distinctive Doukhobor stylings, with sharp-pitched roofs, verandahs with decoratively-carved beams, whitewashed walls, and sky-blue trim on eaves, door and window frames.  Some were clad in metal roofing, while others still had thatch.  The Doukhobor yards were neat and orderly, with well-kept gardens and outbuildings; those of the Armenians were less tidy, with livestock kept penned and piled manure drying for use as heating fuel.  The once-spotless streets were rutted and covered in cow dung as the newcomers drove their cattle over them to the hills and back daily.  Above us, storks nested on the tops of power poles; a natural phenomenon unique to this village.    

Home of Nikolai (Kolya) Sukhorukov in Gorelovka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In Gorelovka, we met Nikolai Kondrat’evich Sukhorukov, Tat’yana Vladimirovna Markina and Yuri Vladimirovich Strukov.  Nikolai, or Kolya, was a tall man in his sixties with inquisitive blue eyes and a long white beard.  Having moved to Simferopol in the Crimea in the 1990s for work, he returned several years ago, desiring a simpler, more wholesome life.  Tat’yana was a young woman in her late twenties with dark brown hair, warm brown eyes and a kind smile.  Raised here, she left to attend university in Tyumen in Siberia, where she now worked as a geologist.  However, she came back each summer to live in her family home.  Yuri, in his late thirties, had a stocky build with blond hair and cheery blue eyes.  Having lived for years in the Georgian resort town of Borjomi, he returned here because he felt it was a better place to raise his young family.  They would be our constant hosts and guides during our stay, showing us tremendous hospitality and generosity.

Attending moleniye at the Sirotsky Dom in Gorelovka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We spent our first day with our hosts attending a moleniye (‘prayer service’) at the historic Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) in Gorelovka, followed by a hike through the scenic countryside along Lake Madatapa, then an open-air moleniye and picnic beside the ruins of the 19th century khutor (‘farmstead’) of the Kalmykov dynasty of Doukhobor leaders.  Of these remarkably memorable events, I will write separately.

On the morning of our second day, our hosts organized a convoy of vehicles from among local Doukhobors to take our group to the much-awaited Peshcherochki.  Our driver was Sergei Mikhailovich Yashchenkov, an affable retired kolkhoz (‘collective farm’) tractor driver.  Kolya also accompanied us on our drive.  

As we drove west from Gorelovka along a pothole-laden paved road, the land was flat and divided into fields of oats, barley and rye.  A kilometer to our north stood a large wooded hill.  “The Spasovsky Kurgan,” said Kolya, pointing to it.  This kurgan (‘mound’), I learned, took its name from the village of Spasovka, which lay on its opposite side.  “There is much wildlife on the hill,” added Sergei, eagerly. “There, in its woods, one can find deer, wolves, fox and wild boar”.  Sergei, it turned out, was an avid outdoorsman.  

The Spasovsky Kurgan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Within minutes, we arrived at Orlovka and turned south off the highway through the village.  It was noticeably smaller and poorer than Gorelovka, with several houses standing empty and derelict along its single street.  “My family once lived here” Sergei wistfully remarked. “But now, only two Doukhobor households remain.”  Many homes, I found out, were taken up by Armenians after most Doukhobors relocated to Russia in the 1990s.  The dilapidated state of the village left me feeling melancholy… 

From Orlovka, we continued south along a heavily-rutted dirt road.  The flat, cultivated fields soon gave way to rolling grassland.  Herds of grazing cattle and sheep dotted the treeless landscape.  To our west loomed a massive hill, if not a small mountain.  “The Svyataya Gora,” observed Kolya solemnly.  “It is sacred to our people”, he added. “Atop it lies the grave of a saint, a holy man.”  Each summer, I learned, Doukhobors gathered to pray on this ‘holy mountain’ that marked the western boundary of Dukhobor’ye.  Its imposing presence and enormity left a powerful impression on me.       

The Svyataya Gora towers over the horizon above the plateau. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After three or so kilometers, we turned off the road and drove cross-country to the east.  Within a kilometer, we came to a stop on a broad, grassy plateau with rocky outcroppings.  We exited the vehicle and surveyed our surroundings.  Behind us, the Svyataya Gora dominated the horizon.  In front of us, the ground dropped away precipitously, and we found ourselves standing at the edge of a deep gorge, staring down its steep, rocky walls.  A small river ran along its bottom.  “The Zagranichnaya,” explained Kolya, pointing to it.  The Zagranichnaya or ‘transboundary’ river was so named because when the Doukhobors arrived on the plateau in the 1840s, its source lay across the Turkish border. It was here on the banks of this river where the Peshcherochki stood.

I was brimming with anticipation… We were nearing our destination!

On the plateau overlooking the Zagranichnaya River gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Within minutes, we were joined by the rest of the convoy and soon our entire group was anxiously assembled on the plateau.  Kolya then led us to the head of a trail, obscured by undergrowth, which gradually descended into the gorge.  We slowly and cautiously made our way downward, single-file, along the narrow, rock-strewn path.  As we did, the faint sound of trickling water grew louder as it tumbled over rocks and echoed off the gorge walls. 

Dar’ya Strukova descends along the narrow rocky path into the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Once we reached the bottom of the gorge, I instinctively looked around and uttered an involuntary “wow”!  The scene that greeted us was truly breathtaking.  The dark, sheer sandstone walls of the gorge, 10 to 15 meters high, towered above us on one side.  The Zagranichnaya babbled and rippled past us on the other.  The floor of the gorge teemed with tall waving grass, patches of brush and scattered boulders, bathed in the rays of the midday sun.  The far side of the gorge, 30 to 40 meters distant, sloped gently up to the horizon.  It felt as though we had entered a different world from that above.   

The flat grassy bottom of the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The place where we stood was a sharp outside bend of the Zagranichnaya which, over millennia, had cut into the surrounding rock to form the vertical cliff or cut bank overlooking us.  The lower rock stratum, being comprised of softer, more porous rock, had been further eroded by the meandering river to form a shallow cave-like opening or rock shelter at the base of the cliff.  Lying on a north-south axis, the cavity was a meter or so deep, two to three meters high, and over 80 meters long.  It was entirely open to the outside along its length. 

This was the Peshcherochki of lore and legend!    

Near the opening of the grotto at the bottom of the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I paused to consider the Doukhobor name of this feature.  It was derived from the Russian term peshchera, commonly translated as ‘cave’.  This puzzled me somewhat, since it was not technically a cave, as its opening was wider than it was deep.  However, I then recalled that the term also referred to a ‘grotto’ or ‘hollow’ which described the feature perfectly.  It also occurred to me that though it formed a single chamber, Doukhobors always referred to the feature in the plural (Peshchery), and always in diminutive, affectionate terms (Peshcherki or Peshcherochki).  Such was the uniqueness of the Doukhobor dialect!    

Within the grotto, there was a deep stillness in the air that made the slightest sound – the buzz of an insect’s wing, the cracking of a twig, or the rustle of grass – distinctive and pronounced.  Just beyond us, the hum of the river formed a soundscape of natural white noise that had a strangely soothing, relaxing and centering effect.  And the mottled light and shadow that played upon the rock face evoked a sense of serenity and contentment.  As I took in the sights and sounds of this place, my senses awakened and I felt a deep sense of peace.

The Zagranichnaya River. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Our group fanned out and began to explore the Peshcherochki.  As we did, we learned from our hosts about the legends and traditions associated with it.

Alcove in grotto wall containing hand inprint and floral emblems. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

At the south end of the grotto, Yuri beckoned us toward a small, rocky alcove where an imprint in the shape of a hand could be seen.  “Doukhobors believe it is the hand print of Christ,” he declared, “who hid here from his persecutors.”  “At one time,” he added solemnly, “the impression was so clear that you could make out the fingerprints.  But it became faded and worn over time by so many people placing their palms over it.”  Accordingly, he asked us not to touch it, only to kiss it, which we did in reverence.

A few paces further, Tat’yana pointed out to us the word “Dukhobor” faintly inscribed in Cyrillic on the grotto wall.  In another spot, three faded floral symbols appeared etched and painted on the rock.  “Our people believe that these images have always been here,” she explained, “and that they appeared naturally and divinely and not by the hands of man.”  We kissed them out of veneration and respect.   

A faded floral symbol etched on the rock face of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We then gathered around Kolya, who had halted along the grotto.  “There is a legend,” he proclaimed, “that the Golubinaya Kniga is buried somewhere near the Peshcherochki.”  The ‘Book of the Dove’, I discovered, was a mythical book in Slavic folklore said to contain all knowledge – the entire assembled wisdom of God.  “Doukhobors,” he continued, “no matter how few remain, must carry out our mission to preserve this holy place and book, otherwise triple as much will be asked from us on Judgement Day.” 

Khatochka at the far end of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We slowly made our way to the far north end of the grotto, which was enclosed by a man-made facade so as to form a small khatochka (‘little hut’).  The rock face naturally formed two adjacent walls, one running lengthwise and another spanning the width, along with most of the ceiling.  Another two masonry walls were built along the opposite length (with a window enclosure) and width (with a doorway) with a masonry tile roof.  The outward-facing exterior walls were whitewashed while the window sill, door frame and door were painted sky-blue.  A rising sun symbol was inscribed over the entrance.  Built by Doukhobors in the 19th century, it served as a place of prayer and repose. 

Khatochka interior. The natural rock face is enclosed by a man-made facade to form a small chamber lined with stone benches. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We entered the khatochka and found ourselves in a small, dimly-lit chamber, 4 meters wide by 5 meters long, lined with low stone benches.  The interior masonry walls were etched with floral symbols, while lush ferns grew out of the damp rock face.  We lingered therefor a long while, lost in our own thoughts and prayers.

Natural rock wall forming the Khatochka ceiling with ferns growing on rock face. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“According to tradition,” said Kolya quietly and reverently, “this was a favorite place of Doukhobor leader Luker’ya Vasil’evna Kalmykova (1841-1886), who loved to spend time here in summer in deep spiritual reflection.”  Indeed, Doukhobors have long associated the Peshcherochki with the memory of ‘Lushechka’, as the much-beloved leader was affectionately known.

Doukhobor leader Luker’ya (Lushechka) Vasil’evna Kalmykova (1841-1886). BC Archives C-01444.

During the last five years of her life, I knew, Lushechka often withdrew here with her protégé, Petr Vasil’evich Verigin, whom she counselled on the teachings and traditions of the sect and imbued with the understanding and aspiration to fulfill his future role as leader.  It was a matter of significance to Canadian Doukhobors, as descendants of the Large Party who followed him after her passing.  Understandably, it was not mentioned by our hosts, being descendants of the Small Party who rejected his leadership.    

Floral symbols etched in the khatochka interior. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

It was no wonder why Lushechka was drawn to this place.  There was something spiritual, powerful and beautiful about the grotto… something that inspired contemplation and communion with God and nature among all who came here.  It gave rise to a sense of shelter and safety from the outside world, and brought about a feeling of comfort and solace from suffering.

These sentiments were echoed in the 19th century Doukhobor psalm engraved in the rock face above us as we exited the khatochka.  It read (translated from Russian[1]) as follows:

Be happy, o grotto, rejoice, o wilderness! For, herein is a refuge of the Lord our God, a true shelter and a comforting, protective covering - victory over my enemies and banishment to adversaries, weaponry against the unbelievers and hope to true believers. O, Thou Holy Mother of God, ever-present helper – in our misfortunes Thou hast been our devoted defender.”
19th century Doukhobor psalm inscribed on the wall of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

According to tradition, Lushechka had these words inscribed on the wall of the Peshcherochki to consecrate it as a haven of peace and comfort, a place of sanctuary and sanctity for believers.  It was unknown whether she composed them herself or whether they already existed in the repertoire of psalms forming the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’).  Whatever their origin, they stood as a constant guide and enjoinder to all Doukhobors to gather here in fellowship, and to be happy and rejoice.

Doukhobor psalm inscription and commemorative plaque above the khatochka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

And rejoice here they had, over the ages.

“Doukhobors have long been coming here,” Yuri told us.  “Since their arrival in the Caucasus in the 1840s, our people have met at the Peshcherochki every summer to pray, sing and eat together.”  Indeed, among Doukhobors, the grotto was not only a sacred place of worship but also an important site of cultural celebration and social interaction.

I knew that in the 19th century, Doukhobors gathered here annually to celebrate Petrov Den’ – the feast of St. Peter celebrated on June 29th.  This holiday held particular significance to them, as it was the name day of their leader, Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov, late husband of Lushechka, who died in 1864.  They would assemble in the grotto to pray, then spread about blankets on the plateau above and have a picnic.  The young people gathered in a nearby hollow, out of sight of the stern elders, to sing and dance.    

Historic celebration of Petrov Den’ at the grotto in 1917. Anna Petrovna Markova and her brother Petr Petrovich (‘Istrebov’) Verigin are seated at the back, with their mother Anna Fedorovna Verigina and friend Maria Fedorovna Perepelkina in front. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

I asked Kolya whether Doukhobors still held Petrov Den’ at the Peshcherochki.  “Some do,” he thoughtfully replied. “Those from Spasovka, Orlovka and other villages still meet here on that day.”  Evidently, they were descendants of the Middle Party who recognized Verigin as leader but remained in the Caucasus.  “But our Gorelovka people,” he clarified, “meet here on the first Sunday following Troitsa.”  After Lushechka’s death, the Small Party and their descendants observed Troitsa (‘Trinity’) here instead. 

This year, the Gorelovka people had postponed their annual Troitsa commemoration at the Peshcherochki by several weeks to coincide with our visit; a testament to their genuine goodwill and sense of brotherhood towards us.

Wild flowers growing in the bottom of the gorge near the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Nowadays, I found out, it was not only Doukhobors who came to the Peshcherochki.  It was also visited by Armenians, who set burning candles on the rocky ledges while praying to God here, as evidenced by the wax remnants we found throughout the grotto.

At this point, we left the grotto and Kolya led us to the banks of the Zagranichnaya where several lush, large berezy (‘birch’) and verby (‘willow’) trees were growing.  “If you carefully break off the young branches,” he eagerly explained, “they will take root when planted.  Let us do so, now, to commemorate our visit!”  Following his lead, we each took turns planting saplings in the soft, marshy riverbank – a fitting, living testament to our journey here. 

The writer planting a birch sapling on the banks of the Zagranichnaya. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Thereafter, we slowly ascended back up the trail to the plateau above.  It was here, on this windswept grassy plain, on a rocky outcropping some fifty meters from the edge of the gorge, that one of the most important events in the history of the Doukhobors took place 120 years earlier – the Burning of Arms.

Rocky outcropping on the plateau above the Peshcherochki where the Burning of Arms took place, facing west. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

On Petrov Den’ in 1895, Doukhobors gathered at the Peshcherochki as was customary.  This time, though, members of the Large Party brought with them all the weapons in their possession, piled them together on the plateau above, then surrounded the pile with wood, poured on kerosene and set them on fire.  As the weapons twisted and melted in the flames, the Doukhobors gathered around, prayed and sang psalms of universal brotherhood.  It was a peaceful mass demonstration against militarism and violence. 

This dramatic act of defiance had been carefully timed to correspond to the name day of Petr Vasil’evich Verigin, who became leader of the Large Party in 1887, while the site was deliberately chosen because of its deep religious symbolism.  Indeed, it was aspired to evoke the words of the psalm inscribed in the grotto, years earlier at Lushechka’s behest, and solidify their importance.

The Burning of Arms, a painting by Michael M. Voykin (1974).

For their part, Tsarist authorities viewed it as an act of rebellion.  Two squadrons of mounted Cossacks were dispatched, posthaste, to the Peshcherochki to pacify the protestors and quell the civil disorder.  Once they arrived, the Cossacks charged the praying crowd of men, women and children, slashing through them with whips.  Many were brutally beaten and some severely injured when they were trampled by horses.  The dazed and bloodied Doukhobors were then forcibly herded to Bogdanovka for questioning.

In the days that followed, Cossack troops were billeted in the Doukhobor villages, where they ravaged the homes of the Large Party, taking food, smashing furnishings, beating males and raping females without check or rebuke.  Thousands were then banished, without supplies, to poor Georgian villages in oppressively hot and unhealthy climates, left to scrape by as best they could, or survive on whatever charity the local Georgians and Tatars dared give them under threat of arrest.  Many perished in exile.

The Burning of Arms site facing west. The Svyataya Gora towers in the distance. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I felt a mixture of emotions as I reflected on these momentous events.  It filled me with sadness that such a place of natural beauty and peace could have witnessed such needless cruelty and suffering.  At the same time, I felt immensely proud and moved by the unwavering courage and steadfast faith that those Doukhobors demonstrated in the face of such adversity.  And I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the legacy of faith, tradition and community they had imparted to us through their actions.

It was thus indeed fitting that the Burning of Arms was commemorated by a bronze plaque mounted on the walls of the Peshcherochki, which read (translated from Russian[2]) as follows:

Here on the 29th of June, 1895, the Doukhobors made their stand for the ideal of peace, and against war and killing. Upon this spot they symbolically burned their firearms. For this great deed they suffer persecution and torture from Tsarist authorities of that time. These peace makers are our own ancestors. In memory of their heroism and steadfastness in the cause of peace and brotherhood throughout the whole world, we, the Canadian Doukhobors, during our visit place this memorial plaque, in witness of our gratitude.  On behalf of the Doukhobors of Canada, J. J. Verigin August 1966. ‘Peshcheri’, Village of Orlovka, Akhalkalak District, Georgian SSR.” 
Bronze plaque commemorating the Burning of Arms presented by Canadian Doukhobors and mounted on the grotto wall in 1966. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Once our entire group had reassembled on the plateau, our hosts spread blankets about on the grass, and after reciting the Otche Nash (‘Lord’s Prayer’), treated us to a picnic.  It was a sumptuous feast – with cheese, bread, honey, roast chicken, sausage, tomatoes, pyrohi, green onions, watermelon, apricots and plums – all homemade and home grown by the Gorelovka Doukhobors. 

Picnicking on the plateau above the Peshcherochki. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

As we broke bread together, Kolya relayed the ongoing efforts of Georgian Doukhobors to preserve and protect the Peshcherochki.  “There are few of us left here,” he lamented, “but no matter how hard it is for us, we will live near this sacred place and care for it.”  Several years earlier, we learned, the President of Georgia announced that it would be granted zapovednik (‘reserve’) status, thus entitling it to funding and legal status as a historic site.  To date, however, the presidential decree had not come into force.

Group photo at the Burning of Arms site above the Peshcherochki. (Back l-r) Sergei Yashchenkov, Jared Arishenkoff, myself, Lisa Seminoff, Tat’yana Markina, Dar’ya Strukova, Yuri Strukov, Andrei Conovaloff. (Front l-r) Verna Postnikoff, Linda Arishenkoff, Hannah Hadikin, Alex Ewashen, Brian Ewashen, Mila Kabatova, Kolya Sukhorukov, unidentified Doukhobor lady. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We assembled for a final group photograph at the rocky outcropping where the Burning of Arms took place and then departed for Gorelovka. 

As we made our way back through the Javakheti countryside, I recalled that among her many prophecies, Lushechka had also made one specifically about this location, in which she spoke about Doukhobors returning to the Peshcherochki.  This prophecy was published in William A. Soukoreff, Istoriya Dukhobortsev (North Kildonan: J. Regehr, 1944 at 64-65) in which it was written (translated from Russian[3]):    

“The Doukhobors will be destined to leave our homeland and to stay in distant lands, to test their faith and to glorify the Lord, but I tell you, wherever Doukhobors may come to be, wherever they may end up going, they shall return to this place. It is their ‘Promised Land’, and when the Doukhobors return, they will find peace and comfort.”

Lushechka foresaw that the Doukhobors would wander far from this location, both physically (from the Peshcherochki) and spiritually (from the true understanding represented by the psalm inscribed there), but would inevitably return to both, thus ensuring the fulfillment of their sacred mission.

Indeed, our Doukhobor ancestors had left their homeland for distant Canadian shores, where their faith was sorely tested, many times.  Most never returned.  Yet more than a century later, we, their descendants, had journeyed to the Peshcherochki, gathered with our brethren who remained here, and together, found tranquility and solace in this sacred place. 

Perhaps, in a way, Lushechka’s prediction had come true after all…


After Word

Special thanks to Barry Verigin and D.E. (Jim) Popoff for proofreading this article, providing valuable feedback, and offering translation assistance.

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA Nos. 2143, October 2019 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

End Notes

[1]English translation of the psalm courtesy D.E. (Jim) Popoff.

[2] English translation courtesy ISKRA No. 1091 (July 8, 1966).

[3] English translation of prophesy (as published in W.A. Soukoreff) courtesy D.E. (Jim) Popoff.

Easter Among Doukhobors

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

This weekend we celebrate Easter, a festival commemorated by Christians across the world. As we do so, it is important to remind ourselves how this holiday is understood in Doukhobor religious thought and teaching, and how it differs in significant respects from that of other Christian denominations; the Doukhobor folk customs and traditions connected to Easter; and the significant historic events associated with its celebration.

Orthodox Easter

Since the introduction of Christianity in Russia in 988 AD, Paskha (Пасха) or ‘Easter’ was celebrated by the Orthodox Church as a holiday in remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. It was traditionally held (on the first Sunday after the spring equinox and full moon with dates varying year-to-year) according to the Julian (Old) Calendar then used in Russia, which fell one or five weeks later than the Gregorian (New) Calendar.

Among the Orthodox, Jesus Christ was considered the incarnation of God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. That is, the Orthodox considered Christ the literal supernatural embodiment of God on earth, having taken on a human body and human nature. His suffering and death on the Cross, the Orthodox believed, was followed by his actual, physical, bodily resurrection. This concept of events formed the foundation of the Orthodox faith, and its belief that Christ’s death and resurrection were part of God’s plan for man’s salvation and redemption through Christ’s atonement for man’s sin.

The Orthodox celebration of Paskha was preceded by twelve weeks of Lent, during which the faithful fasted and practiced repentance, forgiveness and prayer. When the festival finally arrived, it was considered a day of mandatory church attendance, where believers attended a midnight service on the eve which abounded in ornate ritual and ceremony. It began with a procession out of the church building, with the faithful carrying icons and candles led by the priest burning incense in a censer. The procession circled the building and returned to the closed front doors, where the priest read from the Gospel. The faithful then re-entered the church and continued the service of Easter matins, which were entirely sung. This was followed by a divine liturgy, with singing and readings by the priest, and concluded with the sacraments of the holy communion.

Following the church service, Orthodox Russians celebrated Paskha with feasts and merriment along with the exchange of colored eggs, traditionally dyed red with onion skins. Among the Orthodox, Easter eggs traditionally symbolized resurrection and new life, while the red colouring symbolized the blood of Christ on the cross.

Easter among Doukhobors

During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they also outwardly celebrated Paskha in the traditional manner. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances sake; others avoided going altogether, having already rejected the physical church in favour of the ‘inner church’ within themselves; nonetheless at home they celebrated with prayer meetings, followed by visits to family and friends.

However, by this time, Paskha had acquired an inner, spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors that differed substantially from that of the Orthodox, and which was founded on dramatically different ideas concerning the nature of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection, and the basis of man’s salvation.

Jesus Christ

In order to understand the Doukhobor concept of Jesus Christ, it is first necessary to discuss the Doukhobor notion of the Trinity.

Doukhobors rejected the Orthodox dogmatic concept of the Holy Trinity (i.e. one God coexisting in three separate persons) as being incomprehensible and counter to any rational understanding. Instead, they likened the Trinity in metaphorical terms to God the Father represented by our ‘Memory’, God the Son represented in our ‘Reasoning Conscience’ (𝘴𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘴𝘵’) and the Holy Spirit represented by our ‘Will’. Doukhobors believed these qualities to be God-given and thus divine. The Doukhobor concept of the Trinity is described in the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’) in Psalms 1 (Q/A 5), 3 (Q/A 89), 5 (Q/A 42 and 49), 6 (Q/A 12), 11 (Q/A 68), 64 and 65.

Regarding Christ, Doukhobors rejected the concept of the immaculate conception and that God the Son was literally and supernaturally embodied in human form in Mary’s womb. They considered this to be an artificial embellishment introduced by the established church in order to mystify and confound believers as to Christ’s true nature. Doukhobors instead believed that Mary was simply a woman, who like any other woman, gave birth to an ordinary mortal man, in this case, Jesus of Nazareth. The Doukhobor belief in Jesus, born a man, is found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 1 (Q/A 3), 7 (Q/A 10), 12 (Q/A 6 and 8, 64, 71, 73, 85, 88, 94 and 375.

Doukhobors believed that God chose Jesus as his anointed one by endowing him with the divine quality of ‘Reasoning Conscience’ of the highest degree. Possessing extraordinary spiritual intelligence in his soul, lucid and enlightened beyond that of his fellow men, Jesus was able to attain the highest possible understanding of God’s Law. Since Jesus attained the highest, purest and most perfect form of ‘Reasoning Conscience’ possible for a man, and ‘Reasoning Conscience’ was ‘God the Son’ in the Doukhobor metaphorical sense of the Trinity, thus, Jesus was a Son of God.

According to Doukhobor belief, Jesus’s enlightened teachings and life revealed mankind’s true meaning and purpose, which was to fulfill God’s Law – i.e. 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. The Doukhobor understanding of Jesus as a keeper of God’s Law can be found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in 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.

The Resurrection

Like the Orthodox, Doukhobors believed that Jesus was crucified by his oppressors and that he suffered and died on the cross. The Doukhobor account of Jesus’s death by crucifixion is relayed in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 1 (Q/A 14), 8 (Q/A 15, 29), 71, 89, 114, 141, 204, 208, 212, 253, 349, 350, 357, 359, 361, 362, 363, 366, 367, 372, 391, 400, 404, 410 and 415.

Also like the Orthodox, Doukhobors believed that on the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected. However, they rejected the idea that his resurrection was literal and physical (bodily), as this defied logic and common sense. Instead, Doukhobors believed that Jesus’ resurrection was metaphorical: he rose again spiritually in the hearts of righteous people and continues to be resurrected to this day in those who follow his teachings. This Doukhobor understanding of the Resurrection is reflected in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 8 (Q/A 11), 14 (Q/A 6), 80, 112, 132, 189, 217, 312, 339, 349, 352, 361, 362, 367, 383 and 410.

Salvation

While the Orthodox believed that Jesus died to atone for our sins and in so doing, earned our salvation, Doukhobors reject this notion entirely. For Doukhobors, the idea that his death served as some kind of ‘divine bargain’ for the salvation of others was contrary to the very essence of his teachings. Rather, Doukhobors understood salvation as being attained through the emulation of Jesus, by living, as he did, according to God’s Law and thus earning our redemption through our own good works. That is, for Doukhobors, the essence of Christ (i.e. Reasoning Conscience) exists in the soul of every person awaiting only recognition; and those who respond to the Christ within and strive to follow his example will be saved. This Doukhobor concept of salvation is found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in 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.

The Meaning and Significance of Easter for Doukhobors

In light of the Doukhobor concepts of Christ, the Resurrection and Salvation, what is the significance of Easter among them?

Doukhobors understand Jesus to have been born, to have lived, and died in the flesh. His soul, the perfect embodiment of divine Reasoning Conscience, is eternal. He arose in spirit and continues to arise in those who follow his teachings (i.e. true Christians), not in word but in deed. Paskha (‘Easter’) for Doukhobors is thus the celebration of Jesus Christ’s spiritual resurrection within each of us. The Doukhobor celebration of this ‘New Easter’ is described in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 6 (Q/A 66), 14 (Q/A 14), 86 and 383.

Doukhobor Easter Customs in Russia

Once Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and its teachings in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox feast days as being unnecessary and superfluous. However, they continued to celebrate Paskha as an important holiday in accordance with their own beliefs and interpretations. In doing so, they adapted some of the Easter holiday rituals and customs from the Orthodox, imbuing them with new meaning and significance.

Strashnaya

Unlike the Orthodox, the Doukhobors did not fast during Lent except in a spiritual sense. However, they were very scrupulous in their attempts to refrain from sinning, both verbally and in deed, during Strastnaya Nedelya (‘Holy Week’), or Strashnaya as it was called among Doukhobors, which preceded Paskha.

Velikaya Pyatnitsa

On Velikaya Pyatnitsa (‘Good Friday’), the women of each Doukhobor village dyed eggs with onion peels and baked Easter cakes. The folk custom of coloring Easter eggs was borrowed from the Orthodox, but its symbolic meaning was reinterpreted by Doukhobors as a way to “celebrate the joyful resurrection of Christ and to glorify the name of God”: Zhivotnaya Kniga, Psalm 14 (Q/A 6). There is historical evidence of this practice among the Doukhobors of Tavria guberniya (‘province’) in what is now Ukraine in the early 19th century, as well as in the Caucasus in the late 19th century.

Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye

During the night that preceded Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye (‘Easter Sunday’), Doukhobors would assemble for a moleniye (‘prayer meeting’).

In the early 19th century, Doukhobors in Tavria guberniya gathered in the village of Terpeniye to hold the Paskha prayers. The moleniye was held either inside the Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) or, if weather permitted, outside in the courtyard in front of this building.

In the latter 19th century, after being exiled to the Caucasus, the Doukhobors chose a central location in each of the three districts in which they settled, where people from the surrounding villages would congregate to commemorate Paskha.

  • in Tiflis guberniya in what is now Georgia, they met on the flat, rocky plateau above the sacred cave-like grotto known as Peshcherochki near the village of Orlovka.
  • in Elisavetpol guberniya in present-day Azerbaijan, they gathered at a sacred grove (svyashchennaya roshcha) on the outskirts of Slavyanka village, which had a well-ordered and carefully-tended orchard, a summer pavilion where visiting Doukhobor leaders stayed, and a refreshing mineral spring.
  • in Kars oblast’ (‘region’) in modern Turkey, they met on a high, wide plateau that overlooked the surrounding plains and villages. Referred to as Vozle Verbochek (‘beside the pussy willows’) it was situated next to a grove of trees planted, according to Doukhobor tradition, by Christ and the apostles.

When greeting one another at Easter, 19th century Doukhobors would proclaim: “Khristos voskres!” (“Christ has Risen!”), a phrase borrowed from Orthodox tradition. Among Orthodox believers, the customary response was: “Vo istinu Khristos voskres!” (“Truly, Christ has Risen!”). However, Doukhobors subtly adapted this response to say instead: “Vo istinnykh Khristos voskres!” (“In the righteous, Christ has Risen!”) meaning that Christ has risen among his true believers (in the spiritual sense).

At the end of the prayer meeting, it was customary for Doukhobors to then wish each other a Happy Easter by kissing three times and exchanging colored eggs.

In some villages, such as Gorelovka, it was also customary for Doukhobor women to take Easter cakes known as paskha (a round-shaped sweet cake made with raisins) to the Sirotsky Dom and hand them out to the old people after prayers.

After the Easter moleniye, it was also customary for Doukhobors to visit their local cemeteries and visit the graves of deceased relatives, putting colored eggs on the graves, to pray for them and to revive their memory.

Yet another Doukhobor tradition, dating back to pre-Christian Russian tradition, was to put a few dyed eggs into the barn for the khozya (‘master’), as some called the fairy tale spirit said to inhabit it; others referred to it as domovoy.

Doukhobor children in each village would play with the colored eggs they received, rolling them along grooves during the Easter festivities.

Doukhobor Easter Commemoration in Canada

Doukhobors continued to observe these traditional Easter festivities after their arrival in Canada in 1899, at least initially. The major difference was that after 1903, the Doukhobors moved their observance of New Year’s from the Old (Julian) Calendar to the New (Grigorian) Calendar.

At a 1908 all-village congress held by the Doukhobor Community in Nadezhda village near Veregin, Saskatchewan, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Easter. Strashnaya and Velikaya Pyatnitsa were no longer actively celebrated as part of the Easter celebration. However, a special moleniye continued to be held on the Sunday of Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye to commemorate Easter.

Also, a new Easter salutation evolved into use in Canada at the moleniye on Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye:

  • Greeting: “Slava Hospodu (“Glory to God). Response by those gathered: “Slavim, blahodarim Hospadu za Yevo Milost’ (“We glorify and thankfully gift Him with blessings for His grace.)
  • This new greeting was followed by the traditional Doukhobor Easter greeting described above.

Two other greetings were developed by Doukhobors in Canada that reference Christ’s spiritual resurrection; however, they are not associated exclusively with Easter. At every moleniye, the following greetings are given in the form of an exchange between the two sides (men and women) gathered. These are as follows:

  • Greeting: “Slaven Bog proslavilsya!” (“Our praiseworthy God has been given His due recognition!”).  Response: “Velikoye imya Gospodnee i slava Evo po vsey zemle!” (“Great is the name of the Lord (God), and His honor is felt throughout the world!”).
  • Additional Greeting: “S prazdnikom vas, s svetlym Khristovym Voskreseniem!” (“Greetings to you this day, commemorating the day of Christ’s resurrection, which gave light to the world!”)

Significant Historic Events

No discussion of Easter would be complete without mentioning the seminal historical event associated with this holiday: the Doukhobor repudiation of military service.

On Easter day in 1895, Doukhobor conscripts then in active duty in the Russian Imperial Army carried out a series of protest actions in accordance with the careful instructions of their exiled leader, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, as communicated through his loyal messengers.

When the commander of the company arrived and congratulated his soldiers on the Easter holiday, saying: ‘Christ has Risen’, each Doukhobor soldier answered: ‘In the righteous, Christ has risen’ rather than the customary Orthodox response of ‘Truly, Christ has risen’. Following this, each Doukhobor soldier advised his commander that he believed in Christ in deed, and would be serving Christ by denying and rejecting all violent regimes. He then handed the officer his rifle, saying ‘this is why I ask you to accept this rifle from me because all this is unnecessary for me and contradicts my consciousness and the spiritual feeling of my soul.’

It was the Doukhobor conscript Matvei Vasil’evich Lebedev who carried out this action first, and his brave endeavor became known to the whole regiment and everyone questioned: What happened to him? Some soldiers assumed he went insane, while others whispered, quietly and cautiously, that he was correct in his actions. For taking this courageous stand, Lebedev was tortured, beaten and put into a punishment cell, where he was not given food except for bread and water.

Others, empowered by Lebedev’s example, followed and soon almost 60 Doukhobor conscripts in active service (at the time) in the Caucasus returned their arms and equipment. They were all arrested, beaten, tortured and put into isolation away from the other soldiers. A number died from this cruel and inhumane treatment. Finally, they were sent to the disciplinary battalion at Ekaterinograd Fortress where they underwent additional punishment and inhuman cruelties. In the years that immediately followed, over 180 Doukhobor conscripts took this action. They were all exiled for a term of 18 years to the isolated and remote Yakutsk region in Eastern Siberia.

The actions of the Doukhobor army conscripts during Easter of 1895 set off a much wider protest within Doukhobor society against violence, killing and militarism, which would culminate with the Burning of Arms, later that same year.

Conclusion

As we once again commemorate Easter, celebrating Christ’s spiritual resurrection within us, today and every day, let us once more proclaim in our hearts and to each other: Khristos voskres! … Vo istinnykh Khristos voskres!


This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA No. 2161, April 2021 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

Bibliographic Sources 

  • Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir D., Zhivotnaia kniga dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954);
  • Inikova, Svetlana A., Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Heritage: www.doukhobor.org).
  • Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1989);
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Doukhobors Will be Canadians”, April 6, 1903;
  • Novitsky, Orest M., Dukhobortsy. Ikh istoria I verouchenie (Kiev: 1882);
  • Poznikoff, Liza, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 1, 2021;
  • Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, “About Our Faith” (U.S.C.C. website: uscc-doukhobor.org);
  • Veregin, Barry, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 12, 2021; and
  • Voykin, Wendy, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 1, 2021.

Photo Credit: Olga Nagorna, Olga in the Kitchen.

‘The Long and Endless Journey’, Brief Memories of the Perepelkin Family

By William J. Perepelkin

Towards the end of his life, William J. Perepelkin (1922-2012) of Castlegar, British Columbia wrote a short memoir about his parents, Ivan N. and Nastya (nee Planidin) Perepelkin and grandparents Nikolai N. and Mary I. (Evdokimoff) Perepelkin during their life in the Doukhobor Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood between 1899 and 1939. On account of Nikolai’s skills in farming, livestock raising and brick-making, and on the advice of the leaders, the family frequently moved between Doukhobor settlements within and between the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Perepelkin describes their various journeys and experiences as members of the communal organization, along with the hardship and dislocation that followed the demise of the Community and its foreclosure by creditors. He wrote these memories down in the form of a letter to his nephew Fred Samorodin, who years later, transcribed it into the following article. Foreword by Frederick T. Samorodin. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Foreword

Hazel Samorodin (1929-2015), my mother, daughter of Ivan Perepelkin and Nastya Perepelkin nee Planedin, was the third of their six children. “Uncle Bill”, William J. Perepelkin (1922-2012) was Hazel’s oldest brother and the second-born sibling. Folded inside one of my adult diaries, its details almost forgotten, I have found and transcribed the “Brief Memories of the Perepelkin Family” written by my uncle, William Perepelkin and addressed to me from a time I do not recall, initially, having seen the memoir! It adds to details on my family tree and to help tie in some earlier childhood recollections of mine on scattered details of my mother’s own childhood memories.

Fred Samorodin October 6, 2020


On August 19, 1898, Grandfather Nicklai (Nikolai Nikolaevich Perepelkin 1875-1965) with his family in a group of 1,126 (Doukhobor) persons from two villages in the Caucasus – Rodionovka and Efremovka, immigrated temporarily to Cyprus. On April 18, 1899 they sailed (from Larnaca) on the S.S. Lake Superior and landed in Montreal with 1,036 other Doukhobors on May 9, 1899. Then their journey west started (un)till they reached Saskatchewan (then known as the ‘North West Territories’). They established themselves in the village of Kamenka, near Kamsack. They lived there until Peter ‘The Lordly’ Verigin came from his exile in Russia to Canada in 1902.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated in Kamenoye village, SK in the 1906 Census of Northwest Provinces.

As soon as he came, Verigin started to reorganize the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (Doukhobors). During this time the Canadian Government was confiscating parts of the Doukhobor lands. Peter Verigin bought land around the town of Verigin and also a brick factory in Yorkton. By his advice our family moved to Yorkton to work in the brick factory. Since then, the long and endless – so to speak -journey started for our family.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin, brickmaster, and family enumerated in Yorkton, SK in the 1911 Canada Census.

For short periods, under the advice of P.V., they moved to a farm, also near Yorkton, which our people called – “Burtseva Farma”. It was bought by the Community to raise cattle and some grain crops, I guess! I can’t recall the farmer’s name that they bought the farm from. He was of German descent, I think.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated in Plorodnoye (Glade), BC in the 1921 Canada Census.

After a short time, our family was moved to British Columbia, to Kirpichnoye (‘Claybrick’) in the Slocan Valley. We have family pictures of that period. From there, also under the advice of P.V., they were moved to Plodorodnoye (Glade), where they lived until 1924.

(l-r) Ivan (John), Nikolai, Peter, Mary and Elizabeth Perepelkin at Kirpichnoye in the Slocan Valley, c. 1915.

Then, on the advice given again, in the spring of that year (1924), the family was moved to Verigin, Saskatchewan and settled on Section 1 of the CCUB lands. That year, in the fall (October 29, 1924) Peter Verigin got killed in the train explosion near Farron, BC. Grandfather Nicolai was very close to both Verigins – Peter V. as well as his son, Peter P., and felt the tragedy deeply. On Section 1 we lived with two other families—Bloodoffs and Faminoffs, until the arrival from Russia of Peter P. Verigin (‘Chistiakov’) in 1927.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated on Section 1, Veregin district, SK in the 1926 Census of Western Provinces.

In the year 1929, Chistiakov advised our family to move to Section 3, known as ‘Khutor’ (‘ranch’ or ‘farmstead’), which we did, to live with two families of Chernoffs: Nicolai Chernoff with his four daughters and Ivan Chernoff, with his family of five sons. The CCUB was already gradually falling apart, so the land that was jointly cultivated before, was split up, favouring those who had more power or seniority. And, the Chernoffs, having lived there longer than us, took over the two northern quarter sections, which were a full 160 acres each, with no swaps that were left to us on the southern 1.5 quarters—which has a slough across the length (of the property), leaving us only about 105 usable acres. The other quarter and Community buildings and also a huge slough in the middle! So, between these two southern quarters we had only about a total of 205 acres. Then, the Community allotted us the northern part of Section 1, which was across the C.N. Railway line from the farm buildings. This part was not quite cleared of poplar and other brush, which we eventually cleared. This gave us another strip which we could farm!

Anastasia (nee Planidin) (right), wife of Ivan N. Perpelkin near Veregin, SK, c. 1926.

In the years, 1936-37, Chistiakov went around the province of Saskatchewan to all Doukhobor Communities, advising them to move to BC. This he, Chistiakov, advised, not only to Community (CCUB) Doukhobors, but to Independents as well, saying: “Переселяйтесь в Колумбию! Землю не купите! Переселятесь как в Батум! Переживайте где у брата – где у свата!!” [Move to [British] Columbia! Don’t buy property! Move as you (once did) moved to Batum, Georgia (when preparing to emigrate to Cyprus/Canada). Settle in with a brother or a father-in-law!]

Mary Perepelkin holding granddaughter Hazel while very ill at one year of age, Veregin SK, 1929.

We (the Perepelkins) already had accumulated a lot of property: had 16 work horses and four young yearling colts, several cows, all the farm equipment needed to farm the land: a binder, McCormick-Deering for harvesting grain crops; a brand new Case mower for cutting – the first of its kind in Verigin (the first to have gears in an oil bath); a disc harrow, 5 sections of a toothed harrow; a Massey-Harris cultivator. In other words, we were all set to farm! The price of wheat went up to $1.05 a bushel and the yield was fair as compared to the early Thirties, when we barely got our seed back, and the price of feed wheat was 10 cents a bushel.

In 1937, Grandfather Nicolai took Peter Chistiakov’s advice to heart and started to disperse what we could. After the Depression, everyone was poor, so most goods, cows and horses went almost for nothing: $10.00 a head! Grandfather and Dad met with Joe Shukin, who was manager of the CCUB at the time, to deal with property being left behind, such as summer-fallow (which is land that had over 100 plus acres ready for seeding).

Advertisement for a McCormick-Deering binder, similar to the one Nikolai N. Perepelkin acquired while farming near Veregin, SK in the 1930s.

If I remember rightly, we then moved to ‘Vesyoloye’ (Lebahdo-Winlaw) in BC which was also CCUB property at the time – we would not have to pay rent to the CCUB for three years. In the meantime, the CCUB would sell our field under summer fallow, to whomever, at whatever price they could get.

So we started to prepare for the move! Uncle Pete (Peter N. Perepelkinl) and Dad went to Winnipeg and bought a 1934 Chev pickup. This was in 1937. In the spring of 1938 the folks rented a boxcar from the CNR and loaded a team of horses, two cows and other household goods, potatoes, etc. And on April 10th, 1938, Dad with two nice dogs we had, Gyp and Jack, took off for BC in the boxcar with the livestock. I don’t remember how long it took them to get to Lebahdo – about three days, I believe. There were some buildings on the property, although they were in very poor shape, but a shelter, anyway! There were some things that were taken to Auntie Elizabeth Fominoff, who lived at Claybrick, not far away.

Perepelkin siblings (l-r): Hazel ( Samorodin), William holding Frederick, Elma (Hadikin), Una (Voykin). Veregin SK, 1936.

On June 10, 1938, after three days of travel, we, the whole Perepelkin family arrived at ‘Vesyoloye’ on the pickup, dragging behind a trailer with the mower I mentioned earlier. I remember, the fastest we drove, even on paved roads was 45 miles per hour. Much of the road was not paved then!!

So we started to settle down, to fix up buildings. We got permission from the CCUB to wreck a bunkhouse, which was not being used anymore from way up Cougar Creek on the Little Slocan River. It took a few days hauling by horse and wagon to bring the salvaged lumber down. We slept up there a couple of nights while stripping the boards off the sides of the building. So finally we settled down – in a way! Some people would never believe what it was like! Looking back, I could not believe how much work was done in such a short period of time!

Then, in the spring of 1939, William Soukeroff (CCUB official) and a man named Wilson (R.N. Wilson, Sun Life loan manager) – I believe, came to our place and declared, that the Sun Life Assurance Company was foreclosing on the CCUB mortgage, and our agreement with the CCUB was no longer valid! The land now belonged to the Company, and we had to buy the property! I don’t remember if a written notice was given! The agreement would amount to half a crop payment on anything we produced! Seeing that, Grandfather said that: “We have no money, and under the circumstances, we will not buy the land!”

Perepelkin family interviewed about their eviction from Community farm at Winlaw, BC. Vancouver Sun, July 10, 1939.

So we went on living: planted our gardens, etc. On June 7th, 1939, Dad and I were cultivating potatoes of which we had a big field. The cultivator was drawn by a horse, which I led. Suddenly, we heard a lot of screaming; and looking from where the noise came, we saw a truck and a number of men around the buildings (on the property) and an RCMP car standing on the highway. So we stopped our work and went to see what was happening. Upon coming closer, we saw the men were taking anything they could get their hands on and loading the truck, and then driving to the (gravel) highway and unloading everything between the barbed wire fence and the highway! That is a very wet area! There was no more than 10 feet of space. When we moved to “Vesyoloye”, there was only a passible road for horse and wagon. The main road to the Slocan Valley was across the Slocan River. They started to build the main highway that same year, and it was finished in early 1939. It was gravel, of course, and as the traffic went by, the rocks flew up against our tents. And, of course, my brothers, Frederick and George were just – I didn’t know what to say or do! I remembered when we had Bible study in school (We had a very religious teacher). The quote was: “And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also!” (Matthew 5:40).

Somehow all fear left me! I took off my clothes and threw them at the Deputy Sheriff. Then the other family members took off their clothes! I don’t remember who all did, because the Deputy Sheriff and another man led me to the highway. I remember, I called the Deputy “Adolf Hitler”, for which he whacked me across my face! I was actually very angry at this time and a bit bigger than the Deputy. I was going to return the favour. However, a few neighbours gathered around, and a good lady by the name of Polly Rilkoff came up and stopped me from doing so!

Our family gradually settled down by bringing tents, which they made from used material they got from CM&S (Consolidated Mining and Smelting) (now Cominco) in Trail, BC. So after a while they (the Sheriff’s gang) brought everything (took) that we had: (they) let our cows and horses loose on the road, which our neighbours, the Munch brothers impounded! But a good neighbour named Frank Bailey contacted the Government at the time and freed the livestock at no cost to us! So we got two tents, and finally more—covered most of our (remaining) belongings, and settled down for the rest of the summer along the highway, in the bog—a very wet area. But, having a fairly dry summer, we fared as best as we could!

Nikolai and Mary Perpelkin, Lebahdo Flats, BC, 1948.

We stayed in the bog by the highway until October 22, 1939, when Dad decided to move us out of the coming cold weather. And it was getting cold!! Seeing as we had no money, he arranged with a woman named Mary Markin, in Slocan Park for accommodation. Our rent would be paid by labour; clearing brush and pulling stumps, with our horses.

Meantime, Grandfather and Grandmother decided to stay put! So the neighbour I mentioned before, Frank Bailey, came and asked Granddad what he intended to do, seeing as it was getting cold with winter approaching! He asked grandfather if he had any money! Grandfather answered: “Have no money and gonna die here!” Mr. Bailey told him to move back into the houses and he will take care of the rest. So he wrote to the right people and got Grandfather and Grandmother their pensions, as they were of pensionable age. So they moved back!

We lived out our terms of rent by work, and Mary Markin told us, that if we can’t pay rent, we would have to move out! Then Dad went to Glade, where he found some Community buildings that were half empty. Where we decided to move. This was in the spring and summer of 1941. That is how we landed once more in Glade (Plodorodnoye).

Dear Fred: This is an afterthought. As you know, it is hard to remember everything! After we were evicted, a lady reporter (seems to me, her name was Terry) from the Vancouver Sun came to interview us! You could probably get information from the ‘Sun’.

Sorry about my writing! When thoughts come, I have to hurry and put them down before I forget them! If there is something you don’t understand, or is not clear, don’t be afraid to write and ask! Writing something like this, at my age, is kind of hard. When a thought comes, one had to hurry and write it down before losing it!

Best Wishes from your

Uncle Bill Perepelkin

(l-r) Son-in-law Timothy N. Samorodin, a young Freddy Samorodin and grandfather Nikolai N. Perepelkin, Lebahdo Flats, BC, 1953.

P.S. Further recollections by your mother: Before our final move to BC, Father or Grandfather brought our Great-Grandmother (Grandfather’s mother) to BC. (I can’t even recall her name! – We just called her ‘Babushka’ [Anna Ilinichna (nee Muzhelskaya) Perepelkin, b. 1848]. She was left temporarily with relatives, who lived at a place known as ‘Fort Pila’ near Shoreacres. She was in her late 90’s and blind. She later was moved to live out her final days with our Grandparents (at Lebahdo Flats). But at the time of our eviction she was temporarily given shelter by a neighbour in a small shack with a dirt floor, where she stayed for four months before she moved back in with our Grandparents. During the eviction, your Aunt Una Voykin (4th sibling) and I were away at Perry’s Siding, picking strawberries, and missed all the excitement!


Afterword

The following is a summary of the many places where the Perepelkin family lived as members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood during the 44-year period between 1895 and 1939. This rather unsettled existence, described by the writer William J. Perepelkin as a “long and endless journey”, together with the trauma associated with the break-up of the Community and their eviction from Community lands by foreclosing creditors in 1939, may have contributed to some family members subsequently becoming associated with the radical Sons of Freedom in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.

Place of ResidenceYears
Rodionovka village, Akhalkalaki district, Tiflis province, RussiaPrior to 1895
Nizhne-Machkhaani section, Signakhi district, Tiflis province, Russia (exile)1895-1898
Island of Cyprus1898-1899
Kamenka village, Kamsack district, SK1899-1905
Novo-Kamenka village, Arran district, SK1905-1907
CCUB brick factory, Yorkton, SK1907-c.1913
Burtsevo settlement, Hamton district, SKc.1913-c.1915
Kirpichnoye village, Winlaw district, BCc.1915-c.1918
Plodorodnoye settlement, Glade district, BCc.1918-1924
Section 1-30-1-W2 village, Veregin district, SK1924-1929
Khutor village, Veregin district, SK1929-1938
Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1938-1939
Road allowance (evicted), Lebahdo district, BC1939-1939
Slocan Park & Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1939-1941
Glade & Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1941-

Communal Brick Factory Recalled

By Myler Wilkinson

In 1979, future Selkirk College English Professor Myler Wilkinson (1953-2020), then a young reporter at the Grand Forks Gazette, interviewed retired sawmill worker Nick D. Arishenkoff (1901-1982) about his experience as a young man working at the brick factory of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood west of the city. In the following article, reproduced from the Grand Forks Gazette May 2, 1979, Arishenkoff recalls the operations of the once-thriving communal industrial enterprise. Accompanying the article are incredible photos of the brick factory site as it stood in October 1974, taken by former Grand Forks resident, Walt Astofooroff, and reproduced here by permission.

While some aspects of Doukhobor life here in the Kootenay-Boundary area continues to make front page headlines, others fade quietly, further and further into the past, remembered only by a declining number of the older generation.

The CCUB brick factory site as it appeared in 1974. In the foreground is the clay mixer. Behind it, the steam engine, brick-making machine and building. Further behind is the former CCUB blacksmith shop and in the far background, Fruitova School and Gretchin Village.

In a vacant field not far from Caron Corners, near the old Fruitova school, there are some serious reminders of that past: the rotting wood scaffolding of an old building, a steam engine tractor of the type used at the turn of the century, the remains of an open pit the size of three football fields, and strewn everywhere, pieces of red brick.

If a person had come upon the scene prior to 1938 he would have seen a brick factory which turned out some 22,000 bricks each day throughout the spring and summer. Close by would have been a blacksmith’s building and a woodworking shop. No evidence of these buildings remains today.

Remains of the Henry Martin Brick Machine used at the CCUB brick factory, 1974.

Nick Arishenkoff who now lives just across the road remembers working in the brick plant as a young man soon after he came to Grand Forks in 1911.

From his front steps he points to the clay pit where four men at a time once shoveled hard-pan clay and sand into a dumper car which was then hauled by two work horses to the mixing plant. The wood scaffolding, the steam engine and some broken machinery in the middle of the field are the remains of that plant, he says.

Piles of broken red brick stand in the clay quarry pits south of the factory site.

Steam Engine

He remembers how the horses pulled the car up a ramp to the top of the platform which still remains and then dumped the mixture down a chute to be mixed. At that time the huge gears of a 22-horsepower steam engine powered the mixer and the cable ramp, which moved the bricks through the stages of drying.

After the clay, sand and water mixture was pressed into molds, six at a time, the wet bricks were placed on the platform of the moving cable and transported to the first drying area.

This steam traction engine once provided the motive power for the brick factory, 1974.

Here thousands of bricks each day were placed on racks in the open sheds which extended a few hundred yards on either side of the moving cable.

It was Arishenkoff’s job to turn the bricks on their sides to make sure they were dry all the way through.

The final stage of brick-making was the fire kiln drying process. As many as 300,000 bricks might be stacked in a pile 14 feet high by 12 feet wide, Arishenkoff says. Small corridors were left at the base of the pile where wood fires were maintained to give the final hardening to the bricks. Gradually the fires were made hotter until approximately five days later the process was finished.

Steam engine boiler door. Inside, coal was combusted to convert water into steam, which in turn, was converted into mechanical energy, turning the flywheel which (via long belts) powered the brick factory equipment.

You knew the bricks were ready, Arishenkoff says, when they were red into the very middle of the pile.

The single major purchaser of the bricks was the Trail Smelter but many of them also went to help build the towns of Nelson, Castlegar, Trail and Grand Forks, he says.

In the early years Arishenkoff says there were no real wages paid to the men. A budget was made in the spring, he says, with so much set aside to pay the companies which held the mortgages on the operations and the land. At the end of the year a sum of money was allotted to each person ($150-$450) according to their needs and the work they did. At the same time necessary provisions, shelter and clothing were provided by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, the forerunner of the present USCC.

Although unconfirmed, the steam engine was very likely a 1909 Case 20 HP steam traction engine.

The CCUB was the nominal owner of all communal operations with first Peter P. Verigin at its head and then in 1927 his son Peter V. Verigin.

Foreclosure

Although the mid-1920’s and 1930’s brought some change to this social organization it was the year 1938 which dealt an irrevocable blow to the communal organization of the Doukhobors.

It is a year Arishenkoff still remembers with some emotion.

After several depression years the National Trust Company and Sun Life decided to foreclose the mortgages owed by the Doukhobor community totaling approximately $300,000.

Massive gear mechanisms that once moved with ease, now frozen in time, 1974.

The CCUB Doukhobor operations and holdings went into receivership. The B.C. government of the time purchased all communal holdings for amounts far below their estimated worth and then paid all amounts due on outstanding mortgages. A surplus of $142,000 was realized on CCUB holdings which at their peak had an estimated value of $6 million.

The brick plant was closed down in that year and never re-opened. One half-million bricks were on hand at the time of foreclosure.

All movable equipment and materials were sold for scrap, Arishenkoff says. “Only the heavy things that could not be taken were left,” he says.

Forty-one years later anyone who is interested can see what remains of this equipment as it rusts and rots away in the middle of a field surrounded by bricks, at the junction of Canning and Reservoir Roads.

Special thanks to Sue Adrain, Archivist, Boundary Community Archives, for submitting this article.