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.

The Letters of Betty Blue – Veregin, Saskatchewan

By Jean Blewett

Jean McKishnie Blewett (1862-1934) was a turn-of-the-last-century Canadian journalist, author, poet and women’s rights advocate. In September 1909, she visited the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan during a two-month automobile tour of Western Canada to study the social conditions of new pioneer settlements, particularly the circumstances of women. In the following article (written as a fictitious letter from ‘Betty Blue’ to her friend ‘Joan’), Blewett examines the Doukhobors’ communal way of life. She describes in detail the uniform housing and manner of dress of her Doukhobor women hosts, the exceptional cleanliness and orderliness with which they kept their village, and their assigned community roles; a self-sufficient, egalitarian society where no member was greater than another, everything was held in common and everyone shared a common purpose – no ‘mine’ or ‘thine’ – only ‘ours’. Article and photographs reproduced from Canada Monthly magazine, Volume VII, No. 6, April 1910 (London: Western Canadian Immigration Association, 410-416).

DEAR JOAN: – These protégés of Count Tolstoi are just as human as other folk – when you get into the family circle. It must seem good to them to have as much as they desire of God’s out-of-doors all to themselves after the way old Russia behaved to them. You know how she was always making grass-widows of the women by rushing the men off to Siberia – between ourselves the male member of the family seems a stranger at his own hearth to this day. But I must tell you of the entertainment while it is fresh in my mind.

“While we are yet miles away we see the white village stretched out on the green of the prairie.” (Jean Blewett).

From the garden party of a real live lieutenant governor with flags flying, and the band playing so madly you can’t keep your feet still, with furbelows, flower and finery, with the usual crowd of pretty women talking the usual amount of nothings, and the marquee under the trees offering the usual salads, sweets, ices – from this to the tea-party of a Doukhobor community is a long step, but out here distance does not count. You put on seven league boots to make your strides, social and other, and only touch the high places – or you get left so far behind the only thing is to pretend you never made a start. Yes I know that verse about the battle not being to the strong or the race to the swift – but it was written before this big West came into notice.

Comparisons are odious – we learned that in Miss M’s school, when we wore pinafores and pigtails – and I’ll not disgrace my early training by drawing one now, but, let me whisper it, the Doukhobor “At Home” knocks the ordinary into a cocked hat.

No hour is set, no need that it should be. As our rig follows the winding country road through the valley, up the hill, around the bends of the river and then straight across the level prairie, we can see the white village of Veregin a good six miles before we reach it – and Veregin can see us for at least half that distance. It is the atmosphere, smokeless, dustless and so clear, you know Mother Nature strains it through a silver sieve every morning before the world wakes up.

This being a pretty thought I pass it on to Propriety (her name is Ann, but I call her Propriety for short) who has taken a bottle of witch hazel from her bag and is busily applying it to certain angry spots on neck and forehead. But Propriety merely remarks that she wishes Mother Nature would use a sieve fine enough to take out mosquitoes. Propriety being in charge of me, as it were, has the feeling that she must hold me down to earth with a big prosaic pin. Shell have her own time, bless her!

Yesterday it stormed. Joan, you think you know what lightning means, but you don’t. Instead of the real essence you get a diluted article. A little west of here the storm king does his brewing and compounding. These he tries on this big new land – having, I presume, formed the habit before folks came here to live – and if they wreck a landscape or two, he knows they are all right, and, gathering up what is left of them after they have done their worst, he makes of the fragments the kind of storms you have been used to.

But yesterday the boldest held his breath for a time. It is a habit they have up here, this holding the breath during a storm. I’m catching it. No, it is not the wind, it is the fear, the dread lest the hail come and cut down the grain – grain which is high as my head, and golden as a sunset sky. Wheat, – wheat so heavy with its ripening weight it no longer skips and dances in the breeze, but moves softly, softly in the warmth and glow.

I can picture you the grain fields, but not the wonder of them, the promise of them. Before your eyes:

“Stretches a widening sea of gold, Every ripple upon its breast, Sings peace and plenty and wealth untold.”

Before me then at four o’clock of the afternoon, holding my breath with the others as the grey cloud, black-centred, creeps nearer, drops lower, spreads and spreads until the last vestige of the blue disappears. The homesteader and his good little wife fall silent, so do I, so does the room, the whole house. I go out on the porch. The same grey silence which shrouds the house shrouds the landscape, the copse, the vine in the yard, the scarlet runners on the gate post, even the baby poplars hiding behind the fence. How still the world is! How tempestuously still.

The warmth has gone out of the air, the chill and greyness have everywhere their own way.

There are no preliminary flashes or mutterings, just the terrible quiet of an ambush, something sinister stealing on one; something that cannot be warded off or gotten away from.

All at once a streak of flame hisses across the sky as though hunting a short cut to the warm old earth hugging her gardens and grain to her bosom, and with it – not behind it – comes a rendering, explosive crash, which dares you not to be afraid. It is no air-clearing, beneficent thing, this, but a destructive force. The lightning flames to strike, each detonation of these terrific peals is a threat. The wood stands very still, the vines and poplars cower, the thing they fear most is not yet on them.

It is coming, though. You hear it a long way off, the wind of the prairie storm. Of a sudden the stillness goes: the vines shake, the poplars whimper and sob, the wood moans in pure panic.

If you know nothing of lightning you certainly know nothing of wind. The kind we have at home makes a lot of noise, but does very little damage. It blusters, and threatens in a mad game of show off. “Booh,” it bellows, “I’ll catch you! I’ll catch you! Boo! B-o-o-h!” and that’s the end of it. True, it sometimes snaps off a telegraph pole, uproots a stray tree, or unroofs a building, but only as a rough bit of fun, a playing at fierceness.

“The Doukhobor houses open on a common court.” (Jean Blewett)

Listen, Joan, this wind is a devil, it’s pit the black eddying centre of the cloud, and when it flings itself from thence, with flame and fury for company, I fall into such terror of it, I can’t go into the house, or even shut my eyes. I watch it writhe itself about the haystacks and scatter them; tear the trees; twist the vines; maim and hurt for the very joy of it. Then, as if flurry has created a thirst, it lowers its terrible maw over Mallard pond – “O!” I cry, “O!” for before my very eyes it sucks up the little singing lake of blue, with sickening greediness, sucks it up with choking and gurgling, and passing on to the low lying valley spits the draught in the face of the cornfields, flooding their greenness out of sight like the evil thing it is. “O!” I cry again, and this time with such hysterical force that someone hears me and draws me into the shelter of the house.

The lightning grows less vivid, the wind passes with muttered threatenings but you know by the greyness and chill getting deeper every moment that the storm is only begun. It comes with the sharp fusillade, the clamor and tempest of hail, cutting a highway through the fields, threshing out the grain, shredding the straw, beating the beautiful gold back into the yielding earth.

Joan, you in the heart of the city, cannot realize what it means to plough and sow, watch the growth and ripening – and then have no harvest. If you were here where the grain is all they have you would understand why, when later I try to follow the storm’s path, I can’t do it, so full are my eyes of tears.

All this was yesterday.

Today the little white clouds are one and all turned loose to chase each other across the blue – just as after some really grand affair in the home the children are left to play where they please till such time as things are straightened up: Such clouds as Lampman saw when he wrote:

“They call you sheep, The sky you sward, A field without a reaper; They call the shining sun Your lord, The shepherd wind your keeper.”

And yonder is Veregin – and Doukhobor hospitality.

At that other tea the gowns might be described as “creations” and the wearers as “dreams,” and very likely when the account appeared in the social columns there was a little envy here and there, a little bitterness over the relative superiority of lingerie dresses and embroidered lace, and silks, but at this one I give you my word not a woman of the lot makes the least effort to outdress her neighbor.

Each wears the same sort of costume, a full petticoat of blue stuff, a fuller skirt of blue print trimmed with a wide band of cerise sateen, made about an inch shorter than the petticoat, a print sacque belted in with an apron as clean as soapsuds can make it. On the heads of old and young alike is the never-failing square of cotton folded once and tied under the chin.

They are a trifled hampered in the matter of conversation – we all are – but they manage to tell us we are very welcome, and we – well, we do our best. They know the meaning of “good” and “no good” so to things we all like we nod and say “good” and the things we don’t like we shake our heads and say “no good” – which is not so new after all.

Talking of nods, I find myself unable to keep my eyes off Propriety. You never saw anybody’s head bob so hard and fast as hers does while she listens to the Doukhobor damsel who has charge of the children. It reminds me of Pip in “Great Expectations” when he tips the Aged Parent the prodigious nods to show his friendliness. I only hope her hair won’t loosen and come down.

Propriety has lovely hair, but in these days of fluffy fashions she cuts it out with a curl or two, and I have the feeling that these women wouldn’t understand a head being adorned with anything but its own particular home grown hair. I signal her a warning, but she is so deep in the nodding business she never heeds. On her head – or off her head – so be it.

It is the cleanest place you ever saw. The spotter of spotless town would never be able to spot a spot, certainly not on the butcher’s gown. There is not – has never been – a butcher here, but if there were his gown would be just as spotless as everything else.

The windows are a joy in themselves, each identical pane shine as though it were the only thing in Veregin to reflect God’s blessed sunlight. You understand at a glance why a Doukhobor doesn’t paint his woodwork, it would be defrauding his better half of the joy of scouring the same. The floors are white enough to eat from, the tables and benches are fairly bleached with soap suds.

Each house contains a kitchen and living room; the first boasts the big brick oven, the second the table and benches. There are no bedrooms. Each morning the bedding is taken from the benches within, and spread in the sunshine without, and each evening it is brought in and put upon the wide benches flanking the wall. A hard bed, but a wholesome one.

Cleanliness is not second to godliness here, it is part and parcel of it. If I were to start firing the catechism at this stalwart sisterhood, they would answer that the chief end of man, woman, or child was work – work – work! They glory in it. They have followed the plow and sown the grain, and taken their place in the harvest-field; they have size and muscle and a comeliness of their own. The thing they despise is physical weakness, men and women of them have an undue appreciation of strength. It is said that the only thing a Doukhobor man will take as just cause for deserting his mate is her failure to keep in good health.

Moral – if you want to keep the man of your choice, never say die; deny headache, backache, any and all of the thousand ills that common folk are heir to – practice Christian science with might and main. Sympathy is not a strong factor in the make-up of these wonderful workers who came over from Russia, and are making the desert bloom as the rose here in the Canadian West.

Communistic life is a thing that grows on you. Down in yonder house with the blue smoke curling from the chimney, the baking for the village is done. In another is done the washing, in another the spinning, in another the weaving of rugs and cloth. The bake woman is not proud, though her apron is a good half yard wider than that worn by her sisters. There is no emulation, no fault-finding, each goes on with the task given into her hands without let or hindrance.

It is a matter of training, I suppose. Now with us if one woman undertook the baking we would all be clamoring for her to use our recipes; if one made our dresses we would choose the pattern or know why; and we would all be so busy helping the spinner, weaver, etc., we’d never get our own share done.

“Waiting to welcome us.” (Jean Blewett)

Imagine one woman taking care of all the babies! Not a word about “my nurse said” this or that – the Doukhobor woman has no nurse; not a word about the doctor’s opinion on the merits of hot or cold milk – the Doukhobor woman has no doctor. She has just her own common sense and training which tell her the other woman knows as much as she does. She lets it go at that.

Not that she isn’t allowed to think. The fine looking man who is head of spotless town, breaks it to us gently. Not only do the women vote, but they have a place in the council chamber. “One hundred men, and fifty women in the council,” he says, with a smile, “one woman talks as much as two men, eh?”

Propriety is joyous over this, and I haven’t a doubt will tell the suffrage society all about it on her return. But really with so much going on in the domestic line, one can’t feel especially interested in things merely municipal.

Things in common! You hear it everywhere, see it everywhere. They sweat their humors out in a common steam bath arranged on modern lines in the last house of the row; the women gabble together of their common wrongs and common wrights; the little folk run and play, laugh and cry, live and grow in a common playground with a common woman mothering the lot. There is no mine or thine; “ours” is the word. Life in a community sounds alluring.

Propriety and the girls grow quite friendly as the afternoon progresses.

They eat no meat these sturdy folk, nor flesh of fowl or fish. It is against their religion to do so. But they can cook vegetables the best ever. Oh, yes, we have vegetables at this “At Home” – we have a feast.

The cloth is white as snow and (think of it!) there are serviettes beside the plates. No drinking a cup of tea standing, no eating an ice with the chills running up and down your spine – due not to the ice, but to the fear of someone upsetting his or her refreshments on your best frock.

We sit down on a bench, and eat off a table. Now, Joan, you’ll be full of curiosity as to what we have to eat, so I am going to tell you. There are new potatoes cut in squares and fried brown in butter, there are carrots in a dressing of cream that removes them from the list of common things, food for the gods these are. There is an omelet light and frothy, there is a loaf of brown bread as wide as the woman who made it. It is freshly baked and the butter melts and runs into it, and there is a crowning delicacy, a deep dish of wild strawberry preserve. Of this the Doukhobor women do not partake.

“Is it that you do not like sweets?” Propriety, who has had a second helping, inquires of her neighbour. “no need,” comes the cheerful answer. “We eat to make strong – milk, meal, potato.” “Why trouble to make preserves, if you do not care for them?” persists Propriety. “Some day we have child sick, maybe, or,” with a laugh, “what you call company for tea. We like for others, not for ourselves, see?”

Tea over we go out onto the court or dooryard, where the women exhibit their children and their handicraft. The Doukhobor damsels bring out their embroidery frames; the weaver brings out her rugs; the sun-flower lady taking her biggest blossom in hand, shells out the seeds. Putting these through a sieve winnows the hulls from them.

An especially fine woman of the village brings out a wheel, the old fashioned kind as seen in the city drawing-room, seats herself, puts her foot on the running gear, and a long roll of white wool to the spindle. There is a breezy, wheezy, chirrupy sound and you see the roll of wool grow to yarn, and wind itself about the spindle. It is a beautiful art this spinning – though the lady at the wheel does not call it art – work is a good enough name for her.

We are at a disadvantage, my dear, in being born so late. Take a really pretty girl in a white frock, set her at a little low singing wheel with a bundle of wool beside her, a thread of soft yarn in her fingers, and what chance would a bachelor have? Not a bit. He would realize that after all Solomon was wise, truly wise, and never more so than when he said once a time when this world was centuries younger than it is today, “her price is above rubies.”

“Out for a walk.” (Jean Blewett)

Homeward bound in the glow of sunset, with the road following the curves of the river, and the great spaces stretching away before, behind, on either side. The sky comes down to the edge of the prairie and fastens itself there with a sash of something blue like smoke, and soft as the heart of a cloud. It seems good that earth and sky are near enough to neighbor with each other.

I say as much to Propriety.

“I wish the folk were,” she returns, “I’m thirsty as can be and not a pump to be seen.”

There is no poetry in Propriety.

Your far away but faithful,

Betty.

P.S. – Joan, dear, I ought to tell you of the Doukhobor leader Veregin; a wonderful man (talk of matinee idol! Why, the whole community bows down to Peter), the Doukhobor bargain sale, Doukhobor matchmaking, and other equally interesting things, but there is no space. Beside, I only set out to tell you of the tea-party – the rest will keep. – B.B.

After Word

Several authors have attributed Jean Blewett’s visit to the Doukhobors to the year 1910: Laura Dale, Walking in Two Worlds (Friesen Press, 2019 at 6); Ella Thompson, “The Doukhobor Settlers of the Swan River Valley” in Manitoba History (Number 72, Spring-Summer 2013). However, an analysis of period newspaper stories confirms that the visit in fact took place in 1909.

Engaged by a magazine syndicate that year to write a series of articles about the social life of Canada, Blewett embarked on a much-publicized tour of Western Canada. On June 29, 1909, she departed Toronto by train, arriving in Winnipeg on July 19. Two days later, she departed by automobile westward across the Prairies, reaching Calgary on July 26, Edmonton July 28, Peace River August 5, Vancouver August 14 and Victoria on August 20. Blewett then returned eastward from Vancouver on August 25, reaching Edmonton August 31, Red Deer September 17 and Winnipeg on September 22. It can be deduced that she visited the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan on the final leg of her tour, between September 18 and 22, as she writes about the Doukhobors harvesting at the time.

Publicity photograph of Jean Blewett, 1899.

For other articles written by Jean Blewett regarding her September 1909 visit to the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan, please see:


The Story of Safatova Gora

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In the rugged remote foothills of the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Alberta stands a hill which, at first sight, might seem indistinguishable from any of the countless other hills and buttes that blanket the landscape. But for the Doukhobors who once called this area home, it was a place of unique natural beauty imbued with deep religious and cultural significance and was revered as a sacred site. For them, it had a special name – Safatova Gora – meaning ‘Jehoshaphat’s Hill’ in Russian. This article traces the history and folklore of the hill as told through the oral tradition of the Doukhobor people.   

Background

Beginning in 1915, the Doukhobor enterprise known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood purchased land near Cowley and Lundbreck, Alberta on the southern line of the Canadian Pacific Railway for a new agricultural colony. Within two years, it acquired 14,400 acres formerly belonging to the Eddy ranch, Terrill place, Godsal ranch, Sedgewick place, Fir Grove ranch, Simister place, Irelade ranch, Riley place and Backus ranch, comprising some of the finest grazing and grain-growing lands in the foothills. 

Doukhobors communally harvesting north of Lundbreck, AB. Copyright John Kalmakov.

Over 300 Doukhobors from British Columbia settled in the new colony, where they established 13 compact farming villages. To bring the land to peak production, they practiced irrigation and worked it with heavy machinery, owning and operating six steam-powered traction engines. To store the grain they grew, they built a 35,000-bushel grain elevator at Lundbreck in 1915 and another at Cowley in 1916. In 1922, they purchased the Pincher Creek Mill and Elevator Company’s flour mill and moved it to Lundbreck to mill their wheat. They built large warehouses at both rail sidings for the storage and distribution of colony supplies. They also bought the A.H. Knight store in Cowley as a central office and hall.  

The Doukhobors maintained a communal way of life. All land, buildings, machinery, implements and livestock were jointly owned by the Community; all cultivating, sowing, harvesting, threshing, haying and animal husbandry was performed collectively by the colonists; and all income was deposited in a common central treasury.  Everything was shared. They did not receive wages for their labour, but were provided with food, clothing, lodging and basic necessities by the Community. Sober, industrious and hard-working, they embodied their motto, ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’.      

Letterhead of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited, c. 1920. Courtesy University of Alberta Archives.

The Doukhobor colony quickly became one of the largest, most successful farming and ranching operations in the foothills. It was not only self-sufficient, but shipped substantial quantities of hay, grain, flour, draft working horses, milking cows, butter and wool by rail to the Community settlements in British Columbia. In return, they received railcars of lumber, fresh fruit and produce and the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jam produced by the Community in British Columbia for their own use and for sale at the trading store they operated in Blairmore.

A Leader’s Visit

Not long after the Alberta colony was established, probably in 1915 or 1916,[i] Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, the spiritual leader of the Community, travelled there by rail from British Columbia to visit and inspect its progress. Such visits by Petushka, as he was affectionately known,[ii] were momentous occasions, accompanied by mass gatherings and meetings, worship services and special celebrations.

After disembarking from the train at the C.P.R. siding in Lundbreck, the charismatic Doukhobor leader rode by horse and buggy to the colony’s first and largest village, a picturesque settlement at the edge of the foothills along Cow Creek, eight miles to the north. Originally known as the Terrill Ranch, the Doukhobors renamed it Bogatyi Rodnik, meaning ‘Rich Spring’ in Russian because of its abundance of fresh, clear water from the myriad springs that fed into the creek. 

Doukhobors at Bogatyi Rodnik near Lundbreck AB, 1916. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Upon his arrival there, following the customary exchange of greetings, Petushka strolled through the settlement, accompanied by village elder Semyon I. Verigin, to survey the improvements made since its purchase. The original two-story, ornate yellow farmhouse, mail-ordered from the T. Eaton Co. Ltd. catalogue by the Terrills years earlier was now a multi-family communal dwelling for 35 villagers. A large sitting room and bedroom on the main floor was reserved as a gornitsa or ‘special quarters’ for the leader’s use when he visited. A number of new structures had also been built, including a large new, one-story blue dom (‘dwelling’) for another 15 villagers, a banya (‘steam bath house’), kuznitsa (‘blacksmith shop’), granary and a large red sarai (‘barn’) for the purebred Percheron draft horses they had begun breeding and raising under the Doukhobor ‘Д’ brand. As well, large gardens were planted to supply the villagers with vegetables, as they were strict vegetarians. The village was teeming with activity. Much pleased with their progress, Petushka commended the villagers on their accomplishments.  

Doukhobor-built barn at Bogatyi Rodnik village site north of Lundbreck AB, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

A View from a Hill

Beside the village to the north towered a large, steep, grassy hill – one of the most easterly outlying foothills overlooking the valley where the Doukhobors of Bogatyi Rodnik lived and farmed. Eager to view their land from its vantage point, Petushka beckoned his host familiarly, “Syoma, let us climb the hill, for surely it offers a sight to behold!”  The humble, good-natured elder obliged and the two men began their ascent.  After a brisk, twenty minute climb, led by the sure-footed and indefatigable leader, with Syoma, somewhat winded and labouring to keep up, they reached the summit.

Sure enough, the hilltop commanded an extraordinary panoramic view of the countryside for miles in every direction. To the west was the vast expanse of foothills running north to south across the horizon, and further west, the Livingstone Range of the Rockies with the Crowsnest Pass distinctly visible.  Immediately below, at the southeast foot of the hill, the village appeared tiny and distant as the creek wound past it and bent south. To the east, the wide, flat-bottomed valley spread out before them.  It was there, on six square miles of the valley floor, where the villagers grew oats for feed and wheat for milling, cut hay in the meadows for winter feed, and grazed cattle alongside sheep in their summer pastures. Further east, along the far edge of the valley, the narrow, rugged gorge of the Oldman River carved its way north to south. Further east still sprawled the Porcupine Hills, and to the southeast, the Cowley Ridge. To the far south, the Community elevators at Lundbreck and Cowley appeared as faint specks on the horizon.  

View of the valley from Safatova Gora facing southwest, with Bogatyi Rodnik village site in background, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The two men reclined atop the hill under the sunny, blue sky amidst the grass, wildflowers and rocky outcroppings, a cool, steady breeze at their back, for what seemed like hours, admiring the view so reminiscent of their homeland in the Caucasus. It evoked a sense of tranquility and contentment within them, and indeed, inspired a communion with nature and the divine. They gazed upon the fields and flocks below, each lost in silent contemplation and deep reflection.  

So long were they caught up in their reverie that they did not notice the cairn at the far end of the summit until much later. Upon catching sight of it, the Doukhobors leapt up and strode closer to take a look. It was a large mound of rough stones piled one upon the other, some three feet high by six feet in diameter. Thick with heavy moss and lichen, it was old – very old – placed there by ancient hands to mark some forgotten past.[iii]     

“Who set these rocks here?” wondered Syoma aloud, “And for what purpose?” Petushka stared thoughtfully at the cairn for several moments before answering. Turning to his companion, he declared, “It is a grave”. A hushed silence fell over the elder as he pondered his leader’s words. “A saint was buried here long ago,” continued Petushka somberly, “a holy man like Iosafat (‘Jehoshaphat’) of old… if not Safat himself! The thought that they were standing on sacred ground, hallowed by the ancient patriarch who lay at rest here, impressed Syoma with the gravest solemnity. 

The cairn atop Safatova Gora, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“Let us pray at his grave,” bade Petushka. The two Doukhobors stood over the mound, and with bowed heads, earnestly recited prayers and psalms and sang hymns in memory of the long-departed saint. Following the impromptu service, the men slowly descended the hill back to the village, deep in thought about all they had seen and experienced. 

The following day, the Doukhobor leader departed Bogatyi Rodnik to visit the other villages of the colony before continuing onward to the Community settlements in Saskatchewan.

A Sacred Place

News of the cairn on the hill quickly spread throughout the village and the rest of the colony. That it was the grave of a holy man, as Petushka proclaimed, the Doukhobor colonists accepted without question, for they believed his word to be divinely inspired. 

Many sought meaning in its seeming association with Iosafat of the Bible. “Was it not written that Safat abolished idolatry and followed God’s commands and God thus looked favorably upon him?” some reflected, “So too, we Doukhobors reject icons and follow God’s Law to remain righteous in His eyes!”  “And did Safat not lead his people to vanquish their oppressors, not with swords, but with songs and prayers?” pondered others, “So also, our Doukhobors lay down our arms and refuse to kill!” In the figure of Iosofat, the Doukhobors saw a kindred spirit, an ancient archetype of their own teachings and beliefs.[iv] 

View of the cairn atop Safatova Gora facing northwest, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The Doukhobors of the colony came to view the hill as a sacred place, one they considered holy and worthy of reverence and awe because of its connection to the Biblical patriarch. To them, it was a liminal space between the natural and the spiritual, the human and the divine, the hallowed and the profane. A prominent landmark visible throughout much of the colony, it became part of their living landscape, interwoven between their spiritual lives and daily existence. They gave it a special name, Safatova Gora (‘Safat’s Hill’).  It was also known variously as Safatina Gora, Safatushkina Gora, Safatova or simply Safat. 

The hill became a place of sanctuary for Doukhobors seeking personal solitude, consolation and serenity away from the rest of the world. It was also a gathering place for religious worship, cultural celebration and social interaction. In summertime, Doukhobors throughout the colony gathered at the foot of the hill, removed their footwear, and climbed barefoot to the top. This custom arose out of their veneration for the hill. Once at the top, the Doukhobors held moleniye (‘prayer services’) while standing on their platochiki (‘handkerchiefs’) so as not to touch the sacred ground. When their prayers concluded, they spread about blankets on the hilltop and had picnics and social gatherings.   

Doukhobor workmen in front of Community flour mill, Lundbreck AB, 1922. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Some of the more zealously devout colonists even began to associate the valley below the hill with the Biblical ‘Valley of Iosofat’ and came to believe that it would be there, on their own land, where the events of Judgement Day would take place and God would judge the nations of the earth. Among them, they called the vale Safatova Dolina (‘Safat’s Valley’). 

Miracle of the Drought

In the late Teens and early Twenties, a severe and prolonged drought struck the Alberta foothills. Abnormally low rainfall combined with elevated temperatures and drying winds devastated the ranches and farms of the Cowley and Lundbreck district, resulting in crop failures, feed shortages, starving cattle and dust storms as topsoil was blown off cultivated fields. 

The hardships of dryland farming, combined with low post-war wheat and cattle prices and high feed prices, drove many settlers to abandon their farms and leave the district. Those who stayed purchased straw for their livestock from the Doukhobor colony, as there was no hay. The drought continued to worsen, and by 1920, the Doukhobors had to bring in 75 rail carloads of straw from the Community settlements in Saskatchewan to sustain their own herds. 

Doukhobors in front of Community dwelling and elevator, Lundbreck AB, c. 1922. Courtesy Royal Alberta Museum.

In these dire circumstances, the local Blackfoot Piikani Nation performed a rain dance ceremony, consisting of fasting, drumming, singing, dancing and feasting, to invoke the Creator to bless the Earth with much-needed rain. When their efforts led to no avail, the Piikani people approached their neighbours, the Doukhobors, whom they held in high regard, and implored them to pray to God for rain. 

Moved by their request, the Doukhobors convened a mass sobraniya (‘assembly’) at their Community central office in Cowley, attended by all the members of the colony. After some deliberation and discussion, they resolved to trek to Safatova Gora, where they would pray for relief from the widespread drought.          

Thus, several hundred Doukhobors set off on the 12-mile journey by foot from Cowley, through Lundbreck, to the sacred hill. At the outset, there was not a single cloud in the sky.  As they trekked, they prayed and recited psalms seeking God’s intercession.

The long procession made an indelible impression upon the English Canadian ranchers of the district as it passed by. One settler, John Ross, could still recall, many decades later, the Doukhobors, young and old, walking barefoot past his ranch 5 miles north of Lundbreck on their way to the hill to pray.    

After six long, arduous hours, when the trekkers reached Safatova, clouds began to appear on the western horizon. Heartened by this sign, they ascended the hill to the holy grave, where they prayed, earnestly and humbly, entreating God for rain. As they did so, clouds gathered and darkened, piling higher and higher above them. But after several hours of prayer and supplication, there was still no rain. Weary and dejected, the Doukhobors made ready to depart.  

Safatova Gora rising in the distance to the west from the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) north of Lundbreck AB where it crosses Cow Creek, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

No sooner did they begin their descent, however, than the sky opened up, pelting them with thick, heavy rain drops. The rain quickly became a deluge as the Doukhobors, relieved and overjoyed, slipped and slid down the muddy hill. By the time they reached the bottom, it was raining so hard that the ground, saturated with water, became a thick, sticky gumbo, almost impossible to cross. Many had difficulty pulling their feet out of the mud and some became quite stuck.

“Heaviest Rainfall of the Year” headlines the front page of the Calgary Daily Herald, June 29, 1922. Other headlines include, “‘Crop Practically Assured’ Peter Veregin, Head of the Doukhobors in Canada, Writes the Herald from Cowley.”

It rained without stop for the next six to nine hours. Not since 1915 had there been a downpour so heavy and extending over so wide a stretch of territory as that day. Almost the whole province was covered, ending the drought, filling the rivers and reservoirs and reinvigorating the land with valuable moisture.  That day, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin wired the Calgary Herald from his office to advise that the heavy rain in the Cowley and Lundbreck district “practically assured the crops”. The date of this event was June 29, 1922.[v] Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also Petrov Den (‘Peter’s Day’), one of the most important Doukhobor religious holidays. 

Many called it a miracle – others called it an answer to their prayers – and it seemed that it was both. For the Doukhobors, something spectacular happened up on the hill; something so extraordinary that it hardly seemed true. After years of drought, God heard their prayers from the hilltop and sent the rain! 

Later Years

For twenty-two years, the Doukhobor colony at Cowley and Lundbreck operated as a successful and profitable farming enterprise, adding substantial value and revenue to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood and serving as an important supply source of agricultural products for the Community settlements in British Columbia. 

Doukhobor steam traction engines, Cowley AB c. 1920. Glenbow Archives.

Yet despite the success of the colony, by 1936, the Community was bankrupt due to crippling debt and interest coupled with declining revenue during the Great Depression. Although the Alberta lands were paid in full, they were pledged as collateral to secure the debts of the Community accrued elsewhere. Consequently, they were foreclosed upon by the National Trust Company in 1937.

Following the liquidation of colony assets, a third of the Doukhobors moved to British Columbia to be a part of the larger group living there, while another third left the area seeking employment elsewhere in the province. Those who remained took possession of the former colony lands they were already residing on and bought them back on a crop share basis as individual farmers. Thus, in 1938, brothers-in-law Peter M. Salekin and Anton W. Mushta purchased the land comprising Bogatyi Rodnik and Safatova Gora.  

Aerial photograph of the Bogatyi Rodnik farm site north of Lundbreck AB, 1960. Courtesy Larry and Margaret Salekin.

Over the following decades, the Salekins, Mushtas and other Doukhobors in the Cowley and Lundbreck area continued to uphold their faith and culture, forming the United Doukhobors of Alberta and building a prayer home in Lundbreck. They still gathered at Safatova for worship, although less frequently than in years past. One of the main events held there was Petrov Den, which they commemorated each year with prayer services and picnics. In 1954, the Union of Doukhobors of Canada, comprising Doukhobors from across the country, met on the hill for a meeting and picnic.[vi] And on particularly dry years, some older Doukhobor farmers still climbed the hill to pray for rain.

By the Seventies, however, most of the older Doukhobors in the district had retired, while many younger Doukhobors moved to larger urban centres to pursue higher education and professional careers. In 1971, the farm where Bogatyi Rodnik and Safatova Gora stood was sold to brothers Mike and Harry M. Salekin, who continued to farm for three more years. Then in 1974, the farm was sold after almost sixty years of Doukhobor ownership.   

Original T. Eaton’s Co. mail-order house at Bogatyi Rodnik village site near Lundbreck AB, 2008. It has since been demolished. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

At the time of sale, Harry Salekin explained the history of the village, buildings and hill to the buyer and took him up to the hilltop to show him where the Doukhobors prayed. Many years passed, and on one occasion, he called in to the farm and the owner shared an interesting experience with him.  He said that the spring had been particularly dry and there was no sign of rain. Remembering the explanation about Safatova, he climbed the hill and prayed there.  Sure enough, the rain began to fall…

Conclusion

Today, there are few reminders of the Doukhobor presence in southwestern Alberta. Their prayer home in Lundbreck is now designated a Provincial Heritage Resource. Many of the original Doukhobor settlers lay at rest in a country cemetery near the hamlet. In Cowley, a road sign tells the story of their once-thriving colony. A Doukhobor barn stands on display at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek while another can be found at Heritage Acres Farm Museum nearby. And a handful of other structures are scattered across the countryside. 

As for their once-sacred hill, its Russian name is almost completely forgotten, as is the Doukhobor history and folklore associated with it. But it can still be seen today overlooking the Cowboy Trail as it crosses Cow Creek. The stone cairn stands atop it pristine and undisturbed, much the same as it has for centuries, a silent sentinel to the faith and beliefs of those who once lived there. 

Abandoned Doukhobor barn near Lundbreck AB, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After Word

This story was told to the writer in July 2008 by the late Michael M. Verigin (1929-2016) of Cowley, AB who heard it, in turn, from his grandfather, Semyon I. Verigin, a first-hand eyewitness to the events described. Additional information was received from Larry and Margaret Salekin of Airdrie, AB and Larry Ewashen of Creston, BC, descendants of the original Doukhobor colonists, as well as from Fred Makortoff of South Slocan, BC whose father-in-law William Bojey participated in the mass procession and prayer service for rain. The writer’s great-great-great grandmother, Maria Kirilovna Ivin was also a resident of Bogatyi Rodnik who participated in these events.

The writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff atop Safatova Gora, 2008. Copyright.

This article was originally published in the following newspapers and periodicals:

  • Pincher Creek Echo, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020;
  • Crowsnest Pass Herald, July 22 and 29, 2020;
  • Vulcan Advocate, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020;
  • Sudbury Star, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020;
  • Pembroke Observer, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020; and
  • ISKRA No. 2154, September 2020 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

End Notes

[i] Verigin made at least three visits to the Alberta colony during this time, in October 1915 (Bellevue Times, October 22, 1915), June 1916 (1916 Census of Northwest Provinces, MacLeod district, Alberta sub-district 39, page 2) and September 1916 (Blairmore Enterprise, September 1, 1916).   

[ii] Doukhobors traditionally used diminutive forms of Russian names to express familiarity and endearment, such as Petushka for Petr, Syoma for Semyon or Safat for Iosafat, as referenced in this story.  

[iii] The cairn was almost certainly built hundreds of years earlier by the Piikani Blackfoot as a burial, cache, lookout, route marker or ceremonial site. That it acquired new meaning and significance to the Doukhobors in later times does not detract from its importance as an indigenous site.

[iv] Many Doukhobors fervently believed that the grave was, quite literally, that of Iosafat of the Old Testament. Others reasoned that if it was not Safat himself buried atop the hill, it was nonetheless a person of exceptional holiness and spiritual enlightenment who, in their life, exemplified many of the same qualities as the Biblical patriarch.

[v] Calgary Herald, June 29, 1922.

[vi] The Inquirer, Vol. 1, No. 6 – July 1954 (Saskatoon: Union of Doukhobor Youth).

The Doukhobor Woman

By Jean Blewett

Jean McKishnie Blewett (1862-1934) was a turn-of-the-last-century Canadian journalist, author, poet and women’s rights advocate. In September 1909, she visited the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan during a two-month automobile tour of Western Canada to study the social conditions of the new pioneer settlements, particularly the circumstances of women. In the following account, Blewett’ offers an overall positive and sympathetic interpretation of the Doukhobor woman, paying particular attention to her unrelenting work ethic; her adoption of non-traditional man’s farm work in addition to her traditional domestic role; her unprecedented equality within Doukhobor society; and her unwavering commitment to Community life. At the same time, Blewett subjects the Doukhobor woman’s body to Victorian Anglo ideals of form and behaviour, seemingly concluding that the Doukhobor woman who performs undue physical labour loses her picturesqueness, comeliness, and contours, in direct contrast to the ideal life of an Anglo woman settler. Recent scholars have argued that by publishing descriptions of the Doukhobor woman engaged in hard farm labour in addition to doing ‘woman’s work’ Canadian media accounts such as this significantly shaped ‘public knowledge’ about the Doukhobors by focusing on the peculiarity of Doukhobor women’s bodies. Originally printed in Collier’s Weekly (n.d., n.p.) and reproduced in Frank Carrel, “Canada’s West and Farther West” (Toronto: Musson Book Company, 1911) at 227-235.

The Doukhobor woman is no Venus. A long while ago she acquired the habit of working, and, theorists to the contrary, hard, incessant work does not tend toward beauty of face or form. TEST

Taking her place at the plow when the first furrow is turned in the spring, planting, hoeing, making hay, harvesting the grain, threshing and grinding the same, doing the whole year round a man’s work, has given her the figure of a man. She has muscles instead of curves; there is no roundness or softness visible. The sun has burned her face brown and her eyelashes white. Her hands and arms are the hands and arms of a working man. But her life in the open has done this for her, it has given her a dignity of carriage and a strength and wholesomeness more pleasing than mere beauty.

Doukhobor water carrier. Simon Fraser University, MSC121-DP-206-001.

The Community Life

Her dress is peculiar—she is a peculiar person. She wears an exceedingly full skirt. Indeed, when you first see her you wonder why Peter Veregin, with his rigid ideas of economy, does not order a style of garment which will not call for a double quantity of material. With this goes a jacket tied in at the waist with an apron, which, like everything else about the Doukhobor woman, is of generous proportions. On her feet are heavy shoes, and on her head the unfailing white covering, which is nothing more or less than a square of cotton folded once and tied under the chin.

The houses open on to a common court or dooryard, and in this the children are put to play and the bedding to air. Here in the evening the women gather with their embroidery frames to catch the last glimpse of sunlight for their work – pretty work it is and beginning to find a ready market. The hands holding the needle are coarse and hard from labor, but the flower and leaf which they bring out on the linen are dainty and exquisite as any lady of the land could do.

What the hearth is to the family circle the court is to the community circle, a common meeting-place for those who will sit silent and those who will talk. You notice this, it is the old who do the gossiping, the young who do the laughing. The middle-aged Doukhobor, to quote the little Galician girl at the post, “is of a sour face and still tongue.”

At the upper end of the court is the store, with its varied stock of merchandise; at the lower end the bath-house, which is at once the village sanitarium and its pride. Here go the Doukhobors for a general cleaning up each Saturday evening. The fire on this altar of cleanliness never goes out. If a man falls ill, instead of having a doctor he has a bath. If a child is taken with croup, measles, whooping-cough, or any of these ailments, that child is rushed to the bath. Let a woman show the first symptoms of headache, backache, or nerves, and she is given a course, short but efficacious, in the ‘health-house.’

The place boasts a brick stove out of all proportion to its size, a stone bath, and a sweating-room. A great place for the curing of fevers contracted while working on the railway or in the woods, the rheumatism of the ditches, bronchial affections, any and all the diseases which show themselves.

The houses, which run down each side of the street, are cleanly, comfortless places, as free from decoration as the women who preside over them. A place to eat in and sleep in, this is what the Doukhobor house is, and all it is. The fireplace, with its big oven, fills one end; the table the other, and along the wall runs a wide bench.

A Doukhobor woman and her two daughters. Simon Fraser University, MSC121-DP-150-01.

The Luxury of Scrubbing

It is to be wondered at that these hard working folk do not have some comforts in the home. A wise and sympathetic man who has done a great deal for them, and who has their confidence, said as much to them of late. They answered with a superior air that life was not made for comforts and ease-taking, but for work, much work. The bed is made upon the bench by the wall, and in the morning the housewife carries the mattress, quilts, and coverlets out of doors and spreads them on a structure built for the purpose. Thus is a double purpose served; the bedding is aired in hygienic fashion, and the house is left free to the spinning of carded wool or the weaving of gorgeous rugs, or some of the other industries, which go on with unflagging zeal. After being with her, I know the Doukhobor woman’s idea of heaven—a place where she will have a long stretch of golden street to scrub to her heart’s content. It is her one luxury, scrubbing, and she never stints herself.

She does not bother her head with cookbook or recipe. Her meals are like herself, substantial and wholesome. No flesh of fowl or beast, though prairie hens rear their broods on the outskirts of the village street, and, as for the wild ducks, no sooner is the song of the gun heard in the land than instinct prompts them to seek the ponds and creeks of the Doukhobor. Here, literally, none dare molest or make afraid – as more than one sportsman finds to his cost. The waters, black with teal, mallard, blue bill, and red-head, offer a great temptation. He steals a shot, maybe two, but before he has time to gather up the spoil, the avenger is upon him. If he is discreet he stands not on the order of his going.

Infuriated Amazons

They are no respecter of persons. The story goes that a certain man, who was poobah of the place in the hollow of his hand, went forth one fair September morning to shoot in the Doukhobor grounds. Suddenly there came bearing down upon him a couple of stalwart women. The Doukhobor women did not care who or what he was. He had broken one of their laws, violated a tenet of their faith. They took his ducks away, they threw him and his gun in the pond. When he had choked and spluttered till purple in the face, they pulled him out, put him in his rig, gave him the lines, and started the horse off on a gallop.

‘Why didn’t you put up a fight?’ a friend asked him later. ‘I wouldn’t have taken that from any two women under the sun.’ ‘Women’, sighed the poobah, his pride all gone; ‘they weren’t women – amazons, amazons, that’s what they were.’

The Doukhobor woman’s house is homemade, so is her furniture. She puts her heavy plates on the bare board, and beside them wooden spoons carved by the lads of the village. She serves porridge made of wheat grown on their own land, ground in their own mill, and a big blue pitcher of milk from their own cows. There is a basin of potatoes, a platter of eggs, another of bread cut from the immense brown loaves which only the Doukhobor women know the secret of: and for a luxury there is tea – but only as a luxury.

‘We eat not to pleasure in food, but to make strong,’ says the Doukhobor woman. ‘Meat is strengthening,’ you tell her. ‘Maybe, maybe,’ she makes answer, with that slow, superior smile of hers; ‘but we keep from tire long time. People who eat the flesh of bulls and heifers they tire more soon than Doukhobor. Yes, yes, the boss man who build railroad track he tell you so, too. It is not meat that makes one keep the strong arm and young face; it is the wind and sun and being among ground new plowed. Yes, yes, I think.’

A Doukhobor man and woman. Simon Fraser University, MSC121-DP-173-01.

The Austerity of Romance

The Doukhobor woman is eligible to membership in the council, which is a parliament of the people for the people. … This council is the beginning and the ending of all that pertains to law and order in the community. It determines questions, judges cases, settles disputes, adjusts wrongs. Its findings are final.

It was Peter Veregin who assigned to woman a place in this important body. ‘Our women work as hard for the community as we do, are equally interested in its welfare and prosperity. Why should they not have a voice in the council?’

There is no romance in the life of a Doukhobor woman. From a sturdy child with drab colored braids and a solemn face, she grows into a woman. The braids, still drab, are done round her head, and she is no whit less solemn. One day young Joseph, finding himself in need of a helpmate – which means a willing worker – takes her to his house. She is his woman. He does not bind himself to cherish and protect, she makes no contract to love and obey. In fact, there is no ceremony in connection with the mating. They know nothing about affinity, and, as for marriages being made in heaven, the self-sufficient Doukhobor would think it a reflection on his judgment and the woman an infringement on her rights, so to speak.

If you were to ask them if they loved each other they would answer vaguely that to love all people was good. That state of mind or emotions which we call ‘falling in love,’ with the acute joys and jealousies which accompany it, is to them apparently an unknown quantity. There may be a faint partiality in some direction, but it is a case of ‘Love me little, love me long,’ if it is love at all. They are willing to become partners, but as for the glow and gladness, the melting glance and the wild heartbeat, these form no part or parcel of a Doukhobor mating.

Her Maternal Patriotism

Faithfulness, which means much in any union, means more perhaps in this one consummated without the sanction of the law of the land. There is this to be said, cases of desertion are exceedingly rare.

If he has not enough of sentiment, temperament, call it what you will, to love his own woman to distraction, he is not apt to fall into the snare of loving some other woman. And so with his helpmate. She keeps the even tenor of her way, cooks his meals, nurses the children which come to the home, works late and early. Happy? Oh, well, happiness is a thing of comparison. If it were not Joseph it would be some other, since to mate with a man and bear children is a part of her duty to the community.

Rome in her mightiest days did not mean more to the Roman matron than the community means to the faithful, if unlettered Doukhobor woman

A Doukhobor woman and her daughter. Simon Fraser University, MSC121-DP-126-01.

After Word

Several authors have attributed Jean Blewett’s visit to the Doukhobors to the year 1910: Laura Dale, Walking in Two Worlds (Friesen Press, 2019 at 6); Ella Thompson, “The Doukhobor Settlers of the Swan River Valley” in Manitoba History (Number 72, Spring-Summer 2013). However, an analysis of period newspaper stories confirms that the visit in fact took place in 1909. TEST

Engaged by a magazine syndicate that year to write a series of articles about the social life of Canada, Blewett embarked on a much-publicized tour of Western Canada. On June 29, 1909, she departed Toronto by train, arriving in Winnipeg on July 19. Two days later, she departed by automobile westward across the Prairies, reaching Calgary on July 26, Edmonton July 28, Peace River August 5, Vancouver August 14 and Victoria on August 20. Blewett then returned eastward from Vancouver on August 25, reaching Edmonton August 31, Red Deer September 17 and Winnipeg on September 22. It can be deduced that she visited the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan on the final leg of her tour, between September 18 and 22, as she writes about the Doukhobors harvesting at the time.

Publicity photograph of Jean Blewett, 1899.

For other articles written by Jean Blewett regarding her July 1909 visit to the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan, please see:

The Fofonoff Plum

By Linda (Osachoff) Haltigan

In 1973, after decades of hobby fruit-growing and breeding, Doukhobor farmer Wasil C. Fofonoff of Buchanan, Saskatchewan bred the hardy and delicious plum variety that bears his name and which today is a staple variety in orchards and gardens throughout the Prairies. Reproduced by permission from The Canora Courier, April 13, 1983.

Agriculturally speaking, prairie pride has traditionally centred around the rolling fields of wheat, barley and oats which have made this province internationally known as the Breadbasket of the World. But for Wasil C. Fofonoff of the Buchanan district, distinction arrived about 20 years after his lifelong hobby of fruit growing resulted in the origin and development of a prairie plum which bears his name.

Fofonoff literally reaped the fruits of his labours in the 1960’s, when after years of experimentation with many varieties of fruit, he noticed and nurtured a small, chance seedling in his orchard. “I noticed the differences right away – its qualities were special in comparison to the range of plums we have available for growth in Saskatchewan,” he said.

The Fofonoff Plum is lime green with a red blush and think skin (4 cm diameter). It is freestone with light green very sweet flesh. A delicious plum for fresh eating right off the tree. Matures around the middle of August with fruit averaging in 4 cm in diameter. Selected by Wasil C. Fofonoff of Buchanan, SK in 1973. Photo: Prairie Hardy Nursery.

Traditionally, two strains of plums are grown successfully in this area; the Dandy and the Pembina, Fofonoff explained. Although the Dandy is fairly productive and hardy, if eaten off the tree, the flavour can best be described as “fair,” he said. And when processed, the flavour is “hardly that fair.” The Pembina, on the other hand, although of very high quality, is suitable for only the southerly zones of this province. Thus, for about 75 per cent of the growing area of Saskatchewan, it is unsuitable.

The Fofonoff plum has managed to overcome these problems. The fruit is very flavourful, Fofonoff said. “If a basket of the fruit is taken into a room and then removed later, an occupant of the room would continue to smell its perfumed fragrance. Also, the fruit is of very high quality eaten off the tree.”

He went on to describe the plum as very hardy for this area; an early ripener and of a fairly good quality when cooked.

Originated by Accident

As so often happens, the Fofonoff plum came about almost as an accident. Its originator compared it with the Macintosh apple, a strain of which has achieved world popularity and which also began as a chance seedling.

Chance seedlings, a freak of nature, cannot be duplicated, and thus it is vital that they be recognized very early in their development and nurtured. Even after the plum tree has grown, it took between five to seven years before it became commercially available, Fofonoff explained.

The plum had to undergo a series of intensive tests, which were supervised by the University of Saskatchewan, with whom Fofonoff has cooperated in many areas of experimentation of fruit growing. The plant was tested for its hardiness, its productivity, its ripening characteristics and most important, its quality. In determining its quality, researchers discovered that the plum was a good keeper, was of a firm flesh, a freestone and had very tender skin.

After testing, the plum was finally released to the Lakeshore Tree Farm Nurseries at Saskatoon, for propagation under the instruction of D.K. Robinson. Now available through the Brandon Nurseries, the plum is also propagated in several other nurseries in the west.

Appreciation for Fofonoff’s achievement, however, is purely in token form. Although he has been recognized with certificates and other honours, all his work with fruit growing has been purely on a volunteer basis. And even though the fruit he developed is now available for consumer use, Fofonoff will not see a penny of the profits.

“We tried to obtain a patent for royalties for the plum from Ottawa,” he said, “and were flatly refused. The release of a new plant is not subject to royalties for origination in this country, although in Europe, originators are reimbursed.”

Wasil C. Fofonoff (1915-1992) of Buchanan, SK. Originator of the Fofonoff Plum.

But, he’s quick to point out, he is “not in it for the money. There is a certain pride one takes in this sort of achievement. All a plant breeder can hope for is the acclaim and recognition from his fellow growers and the research staff involved. To see the goodness of the fruit available to the public is reward enough.”

Fofonoff is one of a handful of independent plant breeders who work in conjunction with the University of Saskatchewan. Most experimentation is done within test orchards on the grounds of the university, but in a few cases, the college of agriculture recruits the assistance of a person such as Fofonoff, and works closely on research with them. The University of Saskatchewan has been recognized as the western centre for this type of research and Fofonoff was pleased to co-operate with it when the partnership began in the 1960’s.

Started Growing Fruit as Hobby in 1939

He began growing fruit as a hobby when he started farming in 1939. The small-scale orchard, as it began, now includes a large range of pears, several varieties of crab apples and standard apples, “quite a range” of plums, cherry hybrids and related red sour cherries and his latest project, apricots.

His colleagues at the university have included Dr. Nelson and the late D.R. Robinson. “It is all scientific work,” he said. “The university staff regularly visit my orchard, check it under strict controls and make sure that the work is well recorded. However, scientific knowledge on its own is not enough. You have to have the green thumb, or it just won’t work,” he acknowledged.

When asked if his current work with apricots will reach the same acclaim as did his plum, Fofonoff replied that the chances were “one in a million”. “It (the chance seedling) all depends on nature. There’s very little a person can do, as the superior qualities are born in nature. The trick is not to ignore it – to quickly spot it and develop it.”

Studies Dormancy of Apricot Seed

Fofonoff has been working on breaking the dormancy of the apricot seed – an intricate and painstaking procedure. Dormancy must be broken so that the plants will germinate in the spring and the process is accomplished in the medium of sand, which is placed in a can that has holes bored in its bottom in order to let out excess moisture. The container is placed in a cool place, such as a basement and then time, the vital factor, plays its part. Fofonoff estimates that while plums take 150 days to break their dormancy, the period for apricots is 45 days.

During the 45 days, the plant has to take its shell and send out roots. After the dormancy has broken, probably in early May, some seedlings will be ready for planting.

As well as growing plants from seed, Fofonoff is experienced with other forms of propagation, such as grafting.

Grafting is a process which involves changing of the plant material of the under stock to the top work material, he explained. The advantage of grafting or budding comes when one wants to change the same species of fruit to a different type of the same strain.

“The success of grafting evolves on the atmospheric condition of each spring, the hardiness of the under stock and the variety of the top work,” he said. “What you are looking for is successful vegetative alterations.”

The Fofonoff Plum is a hardy Doukhobor-bred, Saskatchewan-bred plum. Photo: DNA Gardens.

Orchard Described as Compact

In describing his orchard, Fofonoff says it is as “compact as possible” and must be kept that way to ensure rabbits do not damage the plants. He says his soil is of average quality, but is built up with quantities of farmyard manure. In periods of drought, water is provided by means of a well on his farm.

Fofonoff said he will continue his research as long as he can and even though he may never again develop a strain of fruit to bear his name, he is satisfied with his work. “The reputation of the plum has grown,” he said. “In years of surplus, I sell the fruit and most of my customers say it is of higher or better quality than what is often available in stores.”

Illustrated Interview: Mr. Peter Verigin, the Doukhobor Leader, 1904

By W.S. Wallace

In July 1904, future Canadian historian, librarian and editor W. Stewart Wallace (then a University of Toronto student) accepted a journalism assignment by The Westminster, an illustrated monthly religious magazine for the home. His task: to secure an interview with Peter Vasil’evich Verigin of the village of Otradnoye, Saskatchewan. In the brief 18 months since his arrival in Canada from Siberian exile, the charismatic Doukhobor leader had (to the widespread amazement of many Canadians) united the independent, communalist and radical Doukhobors under his leadership, soothed the disquiet amongst them, resolved the immediate problem of homestead entries, convinced all but a tiny minority of his followers to accept a communal form of organization and to cooperate with the Canadian government, and raised the Doukhobors’ well-being from poverty towards self-sufficiency. Wallace’s illustrated interview offers a rare and intimate glimpse of Verigin between the early establishment of his Utopian community, and the land crisis and resulting schism that would erupt only 18 months later. Reproduced from The Westminster, New Series, Vol. V, No. 5, November 1904 (Toronto: The Westminster Co., Limited). All editorial comments in square brackets are by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Agreeably to instructions from the Editor of The Westminster, I drove out from Yorkton to obtain an interview with Peter Verigin, the “leader of the Doukhobors.”

When my Doukhobor guide and I lit in at Otradnoe, Mr. Verigin’s village, we found Mr. Verigin away at Swan River, fifty miles farther north, endeavoring (as I afterward learnt) to dissuade the [radical] Thunder Hill Doukhobors from going off on the pilgrimage of July 12-15, 1904. He was at his familiar task of moderating the excesses of his own people.

Two days later Mr. Verigin drove into Otradnoe, and I saw him for the first time. I had expected to see a bearded, buirdly Russian peasant, with an inexplicable genius for organization – a kind of peasant king, like [Scotch poet] Robbie Burns, but what I saw was quite different. The man who met my eye that evening in Otradnoe was a well-groomed gentlemen of heroic proportions, who drove a luxurious democrat and splendid blacks [buggy and team], and was followed by an interpreter [almost certainly Semion F. Reibin] who carried his umbrella and shawl. He wore a Panama hat and white neglige shirt, and carried gloves and a lace handkerchief. In appearance, he was handsome and of a fine presence. His face was charming and sunny, but inscrutable as the deep, deep sea. There is no more charming or sunny or courteous man in two hemispheres than Mr. Verigin; his courtesy is so unfailing it is like a mask, and no man can see behind it.

It is not yet two years since Mr. Verigin came to Canada from the prisons of Siberia; but in that time he has wrought wonders among the Doukhobors. Two years ago the Doukhobors lived in low cabins of logs and mud; to-day (thanks to Mr. Verigin) they have a brickyard and are building houses of brick. Two years ago they hitched their women to the plows; now they are using 25-horse-power, double-cylinder Reeves engines that plow 25 acres a day. Two years ago they ground their flour by windmill; now they are running four grist-mills and four saw-mills. Three years ago they did not have one threshing machine outfit to bless themselves with; to-day they have four portable engines and three traction engines, all run by Doukhobor engineers. Two years ago they were a disorganized and fanatical rabble, dwellers in the Cave of Adullam [Biblical cave where David hid from Saul], restless and malcontent; now they are perhaps the most hopeful and ambitious people in America.

These are some of the things that must be laid at the door of Mr. Verigin. But perhaps the most notable and impressive of his achievements has been his organization of the Doukhobors on the communistic system, which works without a hitch. It is not too much to say that he has in two years evolved out of virtual anarchy a system of political economy that may be described as strictly ideal: behind every feature of it lies a living principle, a Biblical truth; for there are no men who are such faithful and relentless “doers of the word” as the Doukhobors.

Mr. Verigin welcomed me in the ceremonious Russian (for he cannot speak the English), and then there was a silence in the sunlight while the interpreter hurried up.

I explained my business with Mr. Verigin; and Mr. Verigin said, in reply, that it was very pleasing to him to have visitors from so far. At the same time he spoke very feelingly about the falsehoods that had been printed by the newspaper men of Canada regarding the Doukhobors.

I explained that, for my part, I was not a newspaper man, but was merely a humble student at the university; and that explanation proved the open sesame to Mr. Verigin’s heart. He said that since I was a student he would be very pleased to talk with me, and he hoped he would have something worth hearing.

We went into the garden, and Mr. Verigin was soon on his knees beside a magnificent cucumber bed. With genuine Doukhobor pride he pointed out its beauties and enquired if I had seen the like of that in my travels. He was in a happy mood, happy in being home once more, and soon the honest perspiration stood out on his forehead as he helped remove the frame of logs around the bed.

He asked about the [Russo-Japanese] war with great apparent interest. What was the latest news? Had Port Arthur fallen? S.W. – No, not yet; but its fall is daily expected. Do you take a great interest in the war? Mr. V. – Very great. S.W. – Would you like the Japanese beaten? Mr. V. (epigrammatically) – I should like to see both sides beaten. S.W. – I see you are a disciple of Leo Tolstoy’s. Mr. V. – Yes, Count Tolstoy is a very dear friend of mine. He also is a Doukhobor, and he has written to me that he intends to come out here to Canada before he dies.

The Interpreter – You see, Mr. Verigin stayed at Count Tolstoy’s house when he came out of Siberia. The Russian Government would not let him see his wife, but gave him two days to leave Russia, and he stayed over night at Count Tolstoy’s. He had been in Siberia for sixteen years, in three hundred prisons; and he has five brothers there now, two dead and three living. The Russian Government regarded them all as dangerous because they loved and obeyed Christos.

From the interpreter I learnt also a fact that shed considerable light on the social status of Mr. Verigin, namely, that Mr. Verigin’s father was a rich and notable man, and that his sons had all been educated by a family tutor. From this, I think, the deduction may safely be made that the Verigins are what we should call radical aristocrats, like Manlius Capitolinus [4th century BC Roman populist leader] or Lord Rosebery [19th century British liberal Prime Minister]. They are patricians who have gone over to the side of the plebs.

Mr. Verigin has a monumental wit, and it cropped out everywhere in his conversation. Speaking of Prince Oukhtomsky, editor of The Viedemosti of St. Petersburg, who was up at the settlements lately [in May 1904], he told how he had brought offers of help to the Doukhobors from the Russian Government (a fact that did not appear in the daily papers), and added that the Doukhobors, when they heard he was a newspaper man, had “nearly hanged him.” To anyone familiar with the Doukhobor horror of killing of any kind, the idea of Prince Oukhtomsky being hanged by Doukhobor hands from a Doukhobor roof-tree, was full of the wildest humor. Mr. Verigin made it quite clear that Prince Oukhtomsky was not welcome at the Doukhobor settlements with offers of help from Russia; but the last thing that could have happened to him was hanging.

When I spoke of the Doukhobor as Socialists Mr. Verigin objected on the score that [Russian radical] Socialists killed people, and the Doukhobors did not. “Here,” he said, “there are no kings and queens, there are only prairie chickens, and we cannot kill them.”

Asked where and when he was born, he smiled and said his memory did not extend back that far, adding severely that he did not see any good purpose to be pursuing such inquiries.

At breakfast we were Mr. Verigin’s guests, and Mr. Verigin went out of his way to apologize to us for the wooden spoons that were set beside our plates. He said (parodying the hopeful, ambitious language employed by himself and the rest of the Doukhobors) that he had intended to get gold spoons; but that, according to the old Russian proverb, gold spoons lead men to steal, and so he had stuck to the wooden spoons.

On the afternoon of the second day, I drove with Mr. Verigin to see the new steam plow start, and in charge of it we found an angry American engineer, who was “sick to death of this gol-darn country, and wanted to git out of it.” Mr. Verigin promised him that he would get back somehow; he said that the horses were all breaking [being broken, trained], but that, failing other things, the engineer could ride back to Yorkton (fifty miles) in his own steam plow. This in light of the fact that the engine was not very satisfactory) was a good example of Mr. Verigin’s colossal wit.

I asked Mr. Verigin when he first became a vegetarian and forswore meat.

Mr. V. – It was about twenty years ago. One day I was out shooting, and when I had shot a young bird, the mother bird came right to my feet and settled there. This made me stop and think, and I inquired of myself if it was a Christlike action to kill the animals; and after much thought I came to the conclusion that it was not. Since that day I have not touched meat.

S.W. – Do you not eat fish? Mr. V. – No. S.W. – Then what do you make of the fact that Christ, we are told, bade the fishermen to let their nets down on the other side of the ship, so that they caught more than the nets could hold? Mr. V. – Well, in those days some men ate each other; it would have been foolish for Christ to teach them not to eat fish. But now we have learnt to love one another; and we should learn to love the fish also. In those days men were not prepared for the extreme truth and Christ was satisfied to teach them a half-way doctrine, to break the truth down to them; but we, who are more enlightened, should live up to the spirit of Christ, beyond the letter.

S.W. (after a profound pause) – And do you not kill mosquitoes? Mr. V. (laughing) – Oh, no.

I asked Mr. Verigin how long he thought the community system would last, if he did not think the younger Doukhobors would break away; but could not get no satisfactory answer. Mr. Verigin did say the Doukhobors intend to break up their villages in five years; but that was only one of his monstrous jokes. He seemed to think the community system had kept the Doukhobors from becoming the dirt under the feet of the railway men, and had given them a start; but about the future he would not speak. “One cannot provide for to-morrow,” he said.

Speaking of the seven [radical Doukhobor] men at Swan River who were preaching a new pilgrimage, he said, “You should pay no attention to them.”

Asked if he were glad to see the younger Doukhobors learn English, he replied, “Oh, of course, very glad.”

With reference to schools, he said there were already two [Quaker] schools among the Doukhobors where English was taught, but that they were not Government schools. As soon as they had good homes, then the Doukhobors would see to the schools.

Asked when he first conceived the idea of getting a steam plow, he said he could not remember when the idea came to his head. He had long intended to try which was cheaper, horses or engines. He made it quite clear it was not solicitude for the horses that had prompted him.

Speaking of the Canadian Government, he said they had been all kindness to the Doukhobors. But when he was pressed for an answer to the question, Did the Doukhobors consider themselves Canadian? He confessed the Doukhobors were neither Russian nor Canadian, but were Christians, and acknowledged no king but King Jesus. This was his definition of the political position of the Doukhobors.

He said he was very glad to see English settlers come in among the Doukhobors.

In the evening Mr. Verigin did a very beautiful thing. He gathered about him the boys and girls of Otradnoe, and walked out with them two miles to a certain field. The boys and girls – the boys with their Dutch-like “carosses” and voluminous blue trousers, and the girls with their white “plattoks” (head-kerchiefs) – went before with locked arms, singing their quaint spring songs; and Mr. Verigin followed with some grown-ups, flicking the mosquitoes with his lace handkerchief. When they came to the objective field, the children stopped and formed in a half-circle, and Mr. Verigin briefly thanked them for weeding out that field. Then they turned and walked back, with locked arms, singing as before.

Now it is instructive to notice in what capacity Mr. Verigin performed this small and pleasing ceremony, for it is eloquent of his whole position among the Doukhobors. It was not as “leader of the Doukhobors” for that term, as applied to Mr. Verigin, is a misnomer. Among the Doukhobors all men are equal. It was merely as one of the four commissioners elected for the current year to transact the business of the Doukhobor Trading Co., for this is the only official position occupied by Mr. Verigin. If Mr. Verigin were not re-elected next year he would give up his lace handkerchief and go back to the plow. Only, there is small danger of his not being re-elected. Technically, he is only the equal of the stable-boy; actually he is looked up to by all as the man best fitted to manage affairs. It is Pericles [5th century BC Greek politician and general] and the Athenian Democracy all over again; extreme democracy culminating in one-man rule. A remarkable coincidence is the fact that Mr. Verigin always adheres in the assembly to Pericles’ policy of speaking last. In this, in his Olympian imperturbability, in his inscrutable mind, he is a second Pericles; and he rules the minds of the Doukhobors as Pericles ruled those of the Athenians.  

The Doukhobor Fruit Store in Cranbrook, BC, 1925-1926

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

While the Doukhobor connection to B.C. places like Grand Forks and Castlegar are well known, few today would associate them with Cranbrook. Yet for a brief period in 1925-1926, Cranbrook was the easternmost commercial outpost of the Doukhobor communal organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), in that province.

In the fall of 1925, after an impressive apple harvest, the Grand Forks Branch of the CCUB looked eastward to potential distribution points in the East Kootenay and Crowsnest Pass region to market and sell its apples. A Doukhobor trading store in Blairmore, AB was established in 1924 to this end, but ceased operation in early 1925 amidst a legal dispute.

After unsuccessful negotiations with fruit sellers in Cranbrook to handle their apples, the Grand Forks Doukhobors decided to establish a wholesale branch of their own in that city by October 1925.[1]

Strategically located near the western outlet of the Crowsnest Pass, Cranbrook was an important Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) junction for shipping goods east through the Rockies to the Prairies, northwest to the Kimberly mines, north via Fort Steele up the Kootenay and Columbia River valleys to Golden, or south via Kingsgate to the United States on the Spokane International Railroad.  

View of the Doukhobor fruit warehouse at 124 Norbury Avenue (now 24 10th Avenue). The Star Theatre is located directly across, while the Canadian Hotel is located beside it to the right. Courtesy Prairie Towns.

To this end, in early November 1925, the Doukhobors leased the former Cranbrook Cooperative Stores Ltd. (CCS) building at 124 Norbury Avenue (now 24 10th Avenue) next to the Canadian Hotel and across from the Star Theatre in Cranbrook.[2] Built in 1910, it was a large 48 x 70 foot, two-story wood-frame warehouse with storefront façade, freight elevator, full concrete basement and tin gambrel roof.[3] It was conveniently located three blocks east of the CPR depot.

Within days, the CCUB shipped “several” railcars of apples from its Grand Forks packing houses to Cranbrook.[4] To give some idea of the volume, each CPR railcar held between 500 and 800 40-lb boxes of apples; and if 3 or more railcars were shipped, then between 30 to 100 tons or more of Doukhobor-grown apples arrived in Cranbrook from their Grand Forks orchards. 

In Cranbrook, a Doukhobor work crew (stationed there from Grand Forks) unloaded the apples from the railcars at the CPR depot and transported them by horse and wagon teams to the CCS building, where they were put into cold storage. From there, the Doukhobors sold and delivered wagon-loads of apples throughout the city and surrounding area. Stock was also shipped via railroad to outlying towns, villages and camps. The distribution outlet was managed by Joseph P. Shukin, the BC Vice-President of the CCUB.[5]

Directory listing for the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in Cranbrook. Wrigley’s B.C. Directory, 1926.

By conducting their own wholesale distribution, the Doukhobors were able to sell their produce to East Kootenay retailers and retail customers at prevailing market prices while earning a larger profit margin than their competitors, since the apples were grown, picked, packed and handled by unpaid communal labour, and were sold without the intervention of middlemen or commission agents. In this regard, the Doukhobor ‘tree to consumer’ approach was an early precursor to the ‘farm gate’ model of agricultural product marketing.

The CCUB at Cranbrook launched a major advertising campaign (somewhat uncharacteristically of Doukhobors) in the local newspaper, the Cranbrook Herald, between November 1925 and February 1926 to publicly market and produce its produce.

A listing of its advertised apple varieties demonstrates the biodiversity of the CCUB fruit-growing operation in Grand Forks: Northern Spy, Wagner, Spitzenberg Greenings, Ben Davis, Alexander, Newton, Baxter, Ontario, Rome Beauty, Snows, Jonathan and Delicious.[6] Several of these varieties can no longer be found today. Prices ranged from $1.50 to $2.00 per 40-lb box. Free wagon delivery was offered to any part of the city.

Doukhobor apple advertisement, Cranbrook Herald, November 12, 1925 to January 28, 1926.

Interestingly, the CCUB Cranbrook outlet also offered chicken feed for sale at $2.30 per 100-lb bag.[7] This consisted of weed seeds, cracked and broken grains, bran and other screenings – milling waste generated from the CCUB flour milling operation in Grand Forks. In this way, the Doukhobors generated an additional revenue stream from an otherwise waste byproduct. 

By February 1926, the CCUB at Cranbrook ceased newspaper advertising, and within the next several weeks, successfully sold out its apple stock from the Fall 1925 harvest. It is estimated that the Doukhobors grossed between $2,900.00 and $7,700.00 ($45,800.00 to $121,600.00 in today’s dollars) or more in revenue from their three-plus month stay in the city. The CCUB subsequently gave up its lease on the Norbury Avenue warehouse and the Doukhobors departed back to their communal settlements in Grand Forks.

The CCUB never re-established a commercial presence in Cranbrook after 1926, opting for other marketing and distribution strategies instead. However, their brief tenure in that city demonstrated the nimbleness and practicality with which the Doukhobors approached their business dealings. As for their one-time fruit warehouse, it still stands today and remains in use as a business premises.[8]  

After Word

Special thanks to David Humphrey of the Cranbrook History Centre Archives for his assistance in tracing the history of the warehouse building.

An earlier version of this article was originally published in the Cranbrook Townsman February 17, 2022 edition as “How the Doukhobors Brought their Applies to Cranbrook.” It has subsequently appeared in the March 3, 2022 edition of the Trail News.

End Notes


[1] Cranbrook Herald, November 12, 1925.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The building was constructed in March 1910 by G.H. Gilpin of the East Kootenay Produce and Provision Co., which operated there until December 1911. In January 1912, the business was reorganized as East Kootenay Mercantile Co., occupying the premises until July 1913. In January 1914, a half-interest in the building was sold to W.B. McFarlane, who ran his Cranbrook Cooperative Stores Ltd. there until June 1917. The building was then leased to various short-term tenants, including Western Grocers from October to November 1924: Cranbrook Herald, 1910.03.24 to 1924.11.07; Cranbrook Courier, 1924.10.24. 

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory (1926) at 95.

[6] Cranbrook Herald, November 19, 1925 to January 28, 1926.

[7] Ibid.

[8] By July 1926, the building was re-occupied by the East Kootenay Lumber Co. In February 1927, it was purchased by Hanson Garage, which added a 50-foot addition to the rear of the building. By 1946, it was taken over by Cranbrook Auto Wreckers, and in 1947, by East Kootenay Equipment Co. which operated there until 1968. In 1968, it housed Schmaltz International Ltd. for two years before it was re-occupied by B.C. Hydro in 1970. In the 2000s, it was occupied by Uniglobe Travel, and most currently, by The Paw Shop and MJ’s Floral Boutique. Cranbrook Herald, 1927.02.24, 1932.05.26, 1946.10.03, 1947.06.05; Cranbrook Courier, 1932.05.26; 1962.11.28; Lethbridge Herald, 1968.08.23, 1970.07.23; Cranbrook & East Kootenay Directory, 1946, 1953-1954.

Doukhobor Elevator-Building: The Alberta Farmers’ Cooperative Grain Elevator at Sedgewick AB

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

On a country road northeast of Sedgewick in central Alberta stands a grain elevator that has dominated the local landscape for over a century and was once an important mainstay of the town’s economic prosperity and agricultural industry. Few today would guess that it was communally built by Russian-speaking Doukhobors. The following is a brief account of its history.

The Doukhobor-built elevator as seen (3/4 miles west) from Highway 870, 5 miles north of Lougheed, AB.

In April 1915, fire consumed the original 40,000-bushel Alberta Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator Co. (AFCEC) grain elevator in the village of Sedgewick, burning it to the ground.[i] Built three years earlier in 1912 by the Farmers Elevator Co. of Sedgewick Ltd. at a cost of $8,000.00 and sold to the AFCEC in 1914,[ii]  its destruction was a devastating loss to the small farming community.

Undeterred by this setback, the next month, the AFCEC issued a tender for the supply of lumber and labour necessary to rebuild the village grain elevator, along with the construction of several others, before the next harvest.[iii] In June 1915, the contract was awarded to the Doukhobor communal organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) at Brilliant, British Columbia.[iv]

The Doukhobors were proficient elevator builders at the time, having constructed seven grain elevators in eastern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta as part of their own agricultural enterprise, along with several others built under contract for grain companies. Having a large unpaid communal labour force and manufacturing many of its own building materials, the CCUB had a significant competitive advantage over other building contractors.

In early August 1915, four rail cars of 2 x 8 inch fir lumber arrived at the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Sedgewick, shipped there via the Crow’s Nest Pass line from the CCUB sawmills on the Kootenay and Slocan Rivers in British Columbia.[v] This was followed by a passenger car of approximately 25 Doukhobor workmen from Brilliant, who promptly set up a tent camp and commenced construction work.

Doukhobor-built United Grain Growers elevator, Sedgewick, AB, 1920. John Brown, Canadian Copyright Collection, British Library, 38263.

The new elevator was built on the existing foundations of the original elevator, located at the west end of the rail siding south of the main Canadian Pacific Railway line, across from Tupper (now 49th) Street. Labouring 15 hours a day, the Doukhobors built the wood crib walls of the structure higher and higher, installing the leg, spouts, distributor and other equipment as they proceeded. Within a few weeks, their work was complete.

The new structure was a ‘standard plan’ tall elevator of wood crib construction clad in tin on a concrete foundation, about 40 x 40 feet wide and 70 feet high, with a cedar shake roof and gable cupola facing north-south. It had a storage capacity of 45,000 bushels of grain. An attached driveway and receiving shed was built on its south side, along with a detached office and engine shed. A large storage warehouse was built on its west side.

The grain elevator at Sedgewick was one of nine built under contract by the Doukhobors for the AFCEC in the summer of 1915. The others were located at Travers, Enchant and Lomand on the Canadian Pacific Railway line; Lavoy, Vermilion and Morrin on the Canadian Northern Railway (Canadian National Railway after 1923) line; and Huxley and New Norway on the Grand Truck Pacific Railway (Canadian National Railway after 1919) line for a total of 335,000 bushels of grain capacity.[vi]

In carrying out the contract, the CCUB used an estimated total 1,800,000-2,520,000 board feet of fir lumber (36 rail cars, each carrying 50,000-70,000 board feet) from their Kootenay sawmills for building material. An estimated total work force of 100-200 men (25-man crews completing 1-2 elevators each over 2-3 months) provided the labour. Upon completion in mid-fall 1915, the Doukhobors returned to their communal settlements at Brilliant. The CCUB was paid $60,300.00 under the contract, averaging $6,700.00 per elevator. This revenue was deposited into a common treasury for the benefit of all members of the communal agricultural and industrial enterprise.

By all accounts, the AFCEC was quite satisfied with the Doukhobors’ work. At its third annual convention held in Calgary in November 1915, the company president reported to 200 delegates in attendance that the elevators built under contract by the CCUB that season were “considered the best erected in the province both in workmanship and material.”[vii]

As for the Sedgewick elevator, the AFCEC operated it for three delivery seasons from 1915 to 1917.[viii] Then in November 1917, the company amalgamated with the Grain Growers’ Grain Co. to form the largest cooperative enterprise in the world, the United Grain Growers Ltd (UGG). [ix]

Sedgewick, AB elevators, c. 1940. The Doukhobor-built UGG elevator circled. Courtesy, MJR Postcards & Covers.

The UGG operated the Sedgewick elevator with little change for 37 years until 1954.[x] In that year, a 30,000-bushel rectangular wood crib annex with a gable roof was added on the west side, thereby expanding it storage capacity to 76,000 bushels.[xi]

It was around the same period that the original equipment was upgraded: the original gasoline engine was replaced with electrical equipment; the truck-dumping mechanism was improved; larger scales and larger and longer movable loading spouts to facilitate the loading of freight cars were installed; wooden legs were replaced with metal ones; and driveways extended to accommodate larger trucks.

The enlarged and upgraded UGG elevator operated for another 21 years before it was finally de-licensed and decommissioned by the grain company in early 1975.[xii] By this time, the grain elevator had operated for 60 years serving the Sedgewick farming community.

In 1975, the UGG elevator was purchased by local farmer Ronald Bergseth.[xiii] Bergseth previously bought the Alberta Pacific Grain Co. elevator in Sedgewick in 1974 to relocate to his farmstead; however, while it was being moved, it tipped over one mile east of the town and was destroyed.[xiv] He had better luck with the UGG elevator, which was successfully moved in three separate parts (elevator, receiving shed and annex) and set up on new foundations at his farm 5 miles northeast of the town (5 miles due north of Lougheed).

Doukhobor-built elevator on Bergseth farm northeast of Sedgewick (due north of Lougheed), AB. Photo taken in 2006 by Jim Pearson.

The elevator played an important role in the Bergseth family farming operation for 25 years. It provided high volume on-farm grain storage capable of holding several fields’ worth of grain that could be kept in separate interior storage bins according to seed variety and grade quality. Located in close proximity to their fields, it improved efficiency during harvest by limiting the time and distance required to haul freshly-harvest grain by truck from the combine and transfer it into storage. It also significantly reduced the loading time when stored grain was hauled by truck from the farm to the elevator in town for marketing. According to Ronald’s son Rick Bergseth, the elevator was eventually retired in 2000 in favor of large metal grain bin storage.[xv]

Today, the 107-year old structure still stands on the family farm, no longer storing grain but nonetheless fully operational and in remarkably solid shape. It remains a powerful visual symbol of Sedgewick agricultural history and an enduring testament to the workmanship and quality of its original Doukhobor builders.

Endnotes

[i] Wetaskiwin Times, April 15, 1915.

[ii] Ibid; List of licensed elevators and warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division (Ottawa: Dept. of Trade and Commerce), 1912-1915.

[iii] The Province, May 24-29, 1915; Calgary Herald, May 29, 1915.

[iv] Commerce Reports, Volume 3, No. 155, July 3, 1915 (United States, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce) at 42-43.

[v] Sedgewick Sentinel, August 12, 1915.

[vi] Commerce Reports, supra, note 4.

[vii] The Grain Growers’ Guide, November 24, 1915.

[viii] List of licensed elevators, supra, 1915-1917.

[ix] Calgary Herald, November 22, 1917.

[x] List of licensed elevators, supra, 1917-1954. The UGG licensed the elevator for 45,000 bushels of storage capacity from 1917 to 1934, and 41,000 bushels of capacity from 1934 to 1954.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] List of licensed elevators, supra, 1954-1975.The UGG licensed the elevator for 76,000 bushels of storage capacity from 1954 to 1960 and 70,000 bushels of capacity from 1960 to 1975.

[xiii] A History of Sedgewick and Surrounding District (Sedgewick Historical Society, 1982) at 622.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Rick Bergseth, telephone interview with writer, February 20, 2022.

New Book on 1873 Tax Register to be Released Fall 2012

For Revised Release

Doukhobor writer and historian Jonathan J. Kalmakoff is pleased to announce the upcoming release of his new book: 1873 Tax Register of Doukhobors in the Caucasus. The book is compiled from original nineteenth century Imperial Russian tax records housed at the Georgian State Archives in Tbilisi, Georgia and the National Archives of Azerbaijan in Baku, Azerbaijan.

This book contains detailed family information about the Doukhobors living in the Caucasus mountain region of Russia in the year 1873 and includes: the name and age of the males in each household, the family relationship to the head of the household, the number of males and females in each household, resettlement to and from other areas, and more. It also contains full bibliographic references and a comprehensive index.

Sample entry from original 1873 tax register.

The information contained in 1873 Tax Register of Doukhobors in the Caucasus, meticulously translated into English from the original Old Russian handwritten script, is made available to Doukhobor family historians for the first time. The book is a companion to Kalmakoff’s 2004 publication, 1853 Tax Register of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (click here for link).

“This book sheds new light on the demographic and settlement history of Doukhobors in the Caucasus,” says Kalmakoff. “It also contains a wealth of new genealogical information for those tracing their Doukhobor family back to Russia.  It provides a unique and fascinating view of our Doukhobor ancestors – who they were, where they lived and when.”

To the Spirit of God, I Pray and Bow

by Elena Kovshova

Today, relatively few Doukhobors remain in the Republic of Georgia, following mass emigrations to Russia over the past two decades. One of the largest remaining – but least documented – populations of Doukhobors is centered in the town of Dmanisi, formerly known as Bashkichet. In the following article, Russian journalist Elena Kovshova examines the Doukhobors of Dmanisi – the history, philosophy and culture of a disappearing people, rooted in goodness and renowned for their kindess and hospitality. Translated by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from the Russian journal “Argumenty i Fakty” (No. 4, January 27, 2010).

Dmanisi – the small Georgian town which, in recent times, has become world famous thanks to sensational archeological finds, stores many secrets within itself. Its name is connected not only to the history of early mankind, but also to the destinies of thousands of simple people who, in more recent centuries, appeared in this place.

The history of the Dmanisi Doukhobors is rooted in the depths of the history of the Russian empire, when, in the mid-seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon, with the support of the reigning [Tsar] Alexei Mikhailovich, introduced church ceremonial reforms intended to correct Russian prayer books to make them consistent with Greek practices, by replacing the two-fingered sign of the cross with the three-fingered sign, and a number of other changes. But the violent methods by which the patriarch implemented the reforms were met by hostile opposition. These actions resulted in the emergence of defenders of the “old belief” who believed that the church had departed from the old rites. Thus arose a religious social movement, whose supporters called themselves Starobryadtsy or “Old-Believers”. Later, they divided into the Popovtsy (“with priests”) and the Bezpopovtsy (the “priestless”) such as the Dukhobory or “spirit wrestlers”.

Elizaveta Bludova proudly displays her handiwork in this rushnik – a traditional Doukhobor handicraft among the Dmanisi Doukhobors.

The movement originated in the second half of the eighteenth century among the peasants of Voronezh, Tambov, Ekaterinoslav and Sloboda-Ukraine provinces. According to the Doukhobors, the world is in eternal struggle, the spirit against the flesh, and desiring brotherhood in the spirit of God’s truth, they renounced the established church dogmas and rites. It was the only way people could protest against the autocratic oppression and hypocrisy of the clergy, who were afraid of losing power, and therefore, followed in the wake of the state.

Naturally, such ideas disturbed the Tsarist government, which saw a direct threat to the state in such opinions. Therefore, an active resettlement policy was undertaken in relation to the Doukhobors. First, they were sent to Tavria province (in the Crimea) on the Molochnaya River (from which the name of the sectarians Molokane is [reputedly] derived), and then they were all expelled to the Caucasus.

Whole families of Doukhobors, with small children in their hands and shackles on their feet, made their way by foot to their places of exile. Some of them thus perished on the road while others arrived in Georgia in the district of Bashkichet, which in Turkish means “the main road”. Indeed, there was no inhabited settlement there, let alone a town; only impenetrable forest through which ran a trade route linking Georgia with Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Having arrived on this bare ground, the Doukhobors, thanks to astonishing diligence and faith, did not rail at their fate, but began life anew with nothing, hollowing out family dwellings in the ground with stone axes. They spent one year in such dugouts covered with straw, until they built houses in which many of the descendants of those first Doukhobors live to this day.

Each band of the rushnik symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the Doukhobor woman who makes it.

The house of the Bludovs is more than 150 years old. The rickety stairs, the cracked tree… The seniors cannot afford to repair the house. Nonetheless, the internal furnishing is striking: practically everything, from the wooden furniture and finishing, to all kinds of table-cloths, blankets, mats, bed-covers, is constructed, painted or woven by hand. Every corner of the house exudes exceptional hard work and perfect purity. The [traditional Orthodox] place for icons in the house is [instead] occupied by rushniki – long hand towels which are sacred to each Doukhobor.

Upon marrying, a [Doukhobor] woman should begin to sew such rushniki, although the word “sew” does not accurately reflect the volume of work involved. It is difficult to imagine that it is all done by a single mistress; sewn multi-colored satin ribbons, embroidered satin, cross-stitch, crochet, hand-drawn patterns covered with varnish, combining all the elements in a single composition. And each rushnik, or more accurately, its band, symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the needlewoman, reflecting her individual perception of the world, the successes and hardships experienced, emotions… Rushniki receive the newborn; they also cover the deceased before burial. Children are not baptized. They themselves perform the funeral service for the deceased, and at the commemoration, borshch (vegetable soup), lapsha (noodles), pastries and vodka are served.

The sunduk (hope chest) is also an indispensable feature for every “marriageable” girl. The father of the bride makes it by hand, and always without nails. On the surface a pattern is burned which is covered with lacquer, and in the corner the initials of the craftsman are put. With such a chest, and its contents, the young wife enters the family of the husband. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the woman begins to sew her “death clothes” as soon as she marries.

Doukhobors do not acknowledge church and traditional religious rites. For example, [the Orthodox custom of] drawing water for a baptism at midnight or taking it from a river, or directly from under a crane. To this day, elements of the Old Russian and Ukrainian languages have survived in the speech of these people, and as a memory of the distant past, the popular legend of the priest who did not actually hold the post, but taught others about the “true path”.

The bands of the rushnik – a Dmanisi Doukhobor handicraft – reflect the individual perceptions, experiences and emotions of its maker.

On Sundays at sunrise, Doukhobors gather in a prayer home. In sequence, one after another, they read psalms, which are transmitted from generation to generation, or else are composed directly during prayer.

God is Spirit / God is a Man, / To the Spirit of God, I pray and bow, / Thus I am a Doukhobor – so Elizaveta Fedorovna Bludova explains the essence of the psalms and teachings.

On a table at Elizaveta Fedorovna’s is an old, but good condition copy of Leo Tolstoy’s book, “Resurrection”. The novel, undoubtedly, has been read and reread many times. Her respect for Leo Tolstoy is particularly vibrant. And no wonder! His sermon on nonviolent resistance to evil, a message of love and forgiveness, liberation from crude ecclesiastical rituals coupled with a call for passive resistance to authority, and the individual spiritual component – is something for which the Doukhobors have suffered! The novel “Resurrection”, with its story of personal spiritual revival, and sharp criticism of the church embodied in the narrative, became one of the reasons for Tolstoy’s excommunication by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church. But here they honour and remember the great writer who, in the 1890’s, saved thousands of Doukhobors, assisting in their migration from sweltering Cyprus to Canada, whose climatic conditions were better suited for settlement by Russian people.

[Incidentally] few people know that the famous Russian artist Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin drew his painting “Doukhobors Praying” in Dmanisi.

Today, the Doukhobors in Dmanisi are relatively few. The first Georgian President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, proposed that the Doukhobors return to their historical homeland [of Russia]. On his orders, in 1993-1994, the [Georgian] state bought up Doukhobor houses for quite a good sum. It was then that the bulk of the [Doukhobor] youth went to Tula, Tambov, Lipetsk and Rostov regions. Others – assimilated and began to enter into mixed marriages.

Doukhobor folk patterns etched on a sunduk (hope chest) etched into the wood using pyrography, the art of decorating wood with burn marks from the controlled application of a heated tool.

Vasilisa Minakova, Chairman of the Center for Russian Culture “ISKRA”, represents the average generation of Doukhobors. She combines working as a teacher of Russian language and literature at the Dmanisi primary school with public service. At the center, English and Russian language courses are offered, and whenever possible, attention is paid to urgent problems of the elderly [Doukhobor] people.

Dmanisi has always been distinguished for its kindness and humanity – shares Vasilisa Minakova. “Three years ago, with the support of the head of regional administration Bakuri Mgeladze and the deputy from our area, the president of the pharmaceutical company “PSP”, Kahi Okreashvili, opened a dining-room in Dmanisi for needy pensioners. From 43 people, who make use of it, most of them comprise of single Doukhobors. What the dining-room means to them is self evident. In the name of all participants, I would like to thank not only the initiators, but also the directors of the dining-room Natalia Kavlelashvili, and also the whole collective for their good heart and skillful hands”. With only limited funds, without time-off on holidays, and in spite of frequent stoppage of gas and electricity, they always come out “on top”, they do not turn anyone away without a bowl of soup. There was a time when a total stranger came to the dining-room who had lost his documents; while he was replacing them, he relied largely on the goodness of the collective of this dining-room.

Surrounded by beautiful mountains, reminiscent of the Egyptian pyramids, the River Mashavera and the land, once the promised land of the Doukhobors, stretches the small town of Dmanisi. And in it live a very hospitable, very sweet, kind and hardworking people, those who consider Georgia as their homeland, who love this land, their old homes, small gardens…

These people do not seek attention to themselves: they are not inclined to stand out in front of cameras and give extensive interviews. But they do not decline to, either. So as not to offend. They do not transgress the law of love to one another. And [they desire] only that which is necessary – which is the peaceful sky above, good health, mutual assistance and care for others. From the point of view of the state or from humanitarian organizations, there is no difference – goodness is goodness.