by Richard de Candole
In 1947, Sons of Freedom leader Michael “the Archangel” Verigin and 70 of his followers established a 320 acre colony at Hilliers, British Columbia. While it lasted, the colonists practiced community of goods, peacefully tended their gardens and awaited the second coming of Christ. At the same time, the leadership faced accusations of incendiary attacks on Doukhobor properties in the Kootenays. The following article by Richard de Condole briefly examines the history of the controversial Hilliers Doukhobor colony to the present. Reproduced by permission from the Qualicum Time (August/September 2007).
For a short time in the 1940s and ‘50s the farm at the end of Slaney Road in Hilliers now owned by my family was the centre of considerable controversy in British Columbia.
At the time it was owned by a colony of about 70 Sons of Freedom Doukhobors under the leadership of Michael “the Archangel” Verigin who had moved there in 1947 from the Kootenays to escape persecution by fellow Doukhobors.
A rooftop view of the homesite as it is today. Photo by Richard de Candole.
More than 7,000 Doukhobors, or Spirit Wrestlers, had immigrated to Canada in 1905 from Russia. They settled first in Saskatchewan then later the Kootenays. Because they rejected the practices and authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, were pacifists and lived communally they had been subjected persecution for over 100 years.
In Canada they proved to be equally troublesome for the authorities, refusing to swear an oath of allegiance, refusing to send their children to school, and, among the Sons of Freedom, staging nude public protests, among a number of things. The latter’s anti-materialistic views were so strongly held that they believed they were called by God to burn the possessions of fellow members who had become too materialistic.
Michael “the Archangel” Verigin (1883-1951)
During the first few years of the Hilliers colony there was a series of suspicious fires in the Kootenays which were eventually linked to Michael Verigin and co-leader Joe Podovinikoff. (During this same period the Hilliers school and community hall were burned and they were believed to have been acts of retaliation.) In the spring of 1950 they were found guilty of inciting others to commit arson and sentenced to two years in jail.
By a twist of fate Michael suffered a stroke a month after sentencing and on July 27, 1951 died of pneumonia at the age of 69. His funeral attracted a large gathering of Doukhobor and non-Doukhobor dignitaries and he was buried in a small graveyard on the property, now a registered cemetery, where the ashes of my father Corry de Candole are also buried.
The Hilliers colony, however, never recovered from the loss of their leader and by the mid-1950s most of the residents had either moved back to the Kootenays or left the Doukhobor community altogether.
In addition to the burnings and their strong views on public education, the colony also adhered to an unorthodox sexual code. As an article in Time magazine on Sept. 26, 1949 described, all property was shared including husbands and wives.
Initially there was a ban on all sexual relations until the colony was deemed to be economically self-sufficient. In late 1948 the elders lifted the ban and nine months later the first child was born. After being christened Gabriel Archangelovich First the boy was surrendered by the mother to the joint parenthood of the community.
The property had been vacant for over five years when my parents Corry and Nancy de Candole discovered it in 1963, almost by accident. They had been looking for retirement property in the area and were about to return to Alberta without finding anything that appealed to them.
E.G. Thwaites, a Qualicum Beach pioneer and father of their realtor, happened to be in the office and when he heard they had found nothing gave some advice they felt they couldn’t ignore: ‘Don’t leave the Island without looking at the old Doukhobor place.’ At the time the property wasn’t even listed. On their way to the ferry they once more drove out to Hilliers. ”As soon as we drove in the driveway Corry was immediately taken by what he saw,” remembered my mother Nancy. “The place was so peaceful and private. It was at the end of the road and totally surrounded by forest. He couldn’t wait to get back into town to make an offer.”
A view of the Doukhobor bath house interior. Photo by Richard de Candole.
They barely even noticed that the homesite was a collection of weather-beaten sheds and buildings, none of which were suitable for a house. Their offer of $9,500 for the 75 acres was accepted and that winter they hired Don Beaton and Qualicum Construction to build a 1,400 sq. ft. house my father designed in the shape of a U.
The author’s mother, Nancy de Candole in front of a Doukhobor dwelling. Photo by Richard de Candole.
My father spent the next 20 years tearing down sheds, restoring other buildings, building a log house, and putting back into production a field that had been used by the Doukhobors to grow corn, cabbages and potatoes. He also served on the Coombs Fair board for most of that time.
My mother immersed herself in teaching piano and supporting church and environmental projects. Last year, at age 94, she moved to Qualicum Manor while my wife Wendy and I continue to live on the property.