By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff
During the First World War (1914-1919), the overwhelming majority of Doukhobors in Canada opposed the conflict, based on strongly-held pacifist tenets. Relying upon the exemption from military service granted to them under Order-in-Council No. 1898-2747 by the Dominion government upon their arrival in Canada, they not only refused enlistment and conscription, but actively resisted any direct, partisan support for the war effort.
Notwithstanding their staunch anti-war position, many Doukhobors felt great compassion for those suffering from the conflict. This prompted them to seek opportunities to provide humanitarian aid in ways that did not run counter to their pacifist principles. One most notable example was their donations of jam.
Since 1911, the Doukhobor Society had been communally producing hundreds of tons of the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ of jams, jellies and preserved fruit each year at its jam factory and canning facilities in Nelson and later Brilliant, BC under its business enterprise, the ‘Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works.’ And when the Nelson Daily News reported in late 1916 that soldiers were asking for jam, this stirred the Society into action.
On Sunday, December 10, 1916, a mass meeting of members of the Doukhobor Society was held at Brilliant, where their leader Peter V. Verigin told them of the sufferings of the men at the front, and of the recent losses at the Somme and on the Ancre. The reaction of those gathered was one of shock and compassion.
Living apart from the world, and being mainly illiterate, the rank-and-file members of the Society had been largely unaware of the monumental scale of human devastation occurring on the European continent, and when told this, the Doukhobor women wept. Once informed, however, they set to act.
The women at the meeting resolved to gift a railcar load of jam, made by fruit grown by them in their own orchards and gardens, and manufactured at their jam factory in Brilliant, to the convalescent and sick soldiers in hospitals across Western Canada, their wives and children.
Jam was rationed within the Society, and those at the meeting realized that in sending the carload to the soldiers, they would have to go without it themselves. Nonetheless, they were willing to do so as an expression of their sympathy and desire to help those who were suffering.
The carload comprised 5,000 five-pound tins totaling 24,000 pounds (12 tons) of jam from the last season’s pack. It was valued at $5,000.00 at the time and was composed chiefly of strawberry jam, the Doukhobors understanding “that the soldiers like strawberry better than plum and apple and jams of that kind.”
The gift was formally conveyed by the Doukhobor women to British Columbia Premier Harlan C. Brewster in Victoria on December 15, 1916 via William Blakemore, newspaper editor of The Week and former commissioner of the 1912 Royal Commission on Doukhobors. It was expressed on behalf of the women that, “You know we do not believe in fighting; we are anxious to see the war end, but we will do what we can to assist those who are suffering through the war.”
Premier Brewster publicly conveyed the thanks of the province and the soldiers “to the women whose kindness of heart ha(d) prompted this generous gift”. He also arranged through government and private channels for the distribution of the jam in “in such manner that the wishes of the donors for its full usefulness shall be fulfilled.”
The jam consignment had originally been given to the Province of British Columbia; however, by mid-January 1917, provincial authorities in charge of the distribution found that the “quantity was so large that it would be well to share it with outside institutions.” The Doukhobors readily consented to the other provinces sharing in the gift. Premier Brewster subsequently notified the Doukhobors through William Blakemore that “Communication has been made with representatives of the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta with the result that the offer has been gratefully accepted.”
Accordingly, 14,000 pounds of the consignment was kept in BC, and was turned over to Major J.S. Harvey, commandant of the Military Convalescent hospital at Esquimalt, for use in the convalescent hospitals and homes in that province. The remaining 10,000 pounds was distributed through the Mewburn wholesale supply house as follows: 2,000 pounds to the St. Chad’s Military Convalescent Hospital in Regina, SK; 2,000 pounds to the Returned Solders’ Association in each of Calgary and Edmonton, AB; and 4,000 pounds to the Returned Solders’ Association in Winnipeg, MB.
In addition to being distributed through military hospitals to convalescing soldiers, a free jam gift was made through local women’s patriotic clubs and veterans’ committees to every soldier’s household in those cities.
The donation elicited many public expressions of appreciation of the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Doukhobors. For instance, Miss Violet M. Ryley, the General Organizing Dietician for Military Hospitals in Canada wrote, “Jam is the most universally popular delicacy on the soldier’s menu, whether he is sick or well, and no gift could be more welcome.”
It was also widely applauded across the Canadian press, with the Vancouver Province calling it a “magnificent gift”, while the Edmonton Journal wrote, “the Doukhobors have conscientious scruples against fighting. But they are at any rate helping to win the war with good honest jam.”
The outpouring of public appreciation for the jam donation came at a time when Doukhobors across Western Canada encountered widespread discrimination and censure because of their refusal to actively participate in the war effort. These sentiments can be seen in the backhanded reporting by some newspapers such as the Edmonton Journal, which wrote that “their donation of fruit jams to convalescent soldiers… went a long way to atone for their pacifist attitude”.
Inspired by the overall response, the Doukhobor Society redoubled its assistance. One month later, in January of 1917, Peter V. Verigin declared that the Society would make a donation of two more carloads (48,000 pounds or 24 tons) of Doukhobor jam worth $10,000.00; this time for shipment overseas to the soldiers at the front.
Yet again, in January of 1918, the Doukhobor Society (now incorporated as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood) donated another carload (20,000 pounds or 10 tons) of jam worth $5,000.00 from its jam factory in Brilliant to the Canadian Military Hospitals Commission for distribution to convalescing soldiers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
This latest (and what would be the last) consignment comprised 7,500 pounds of strawberry jam, 7,500 pounds of raspberry jam, and 5,000 pounds of various other kinds, including peach and plum. The Community members, in making their gift, reiterated “their abhorrence of war and that it is against the tenets of their faith to go into battle” but that they were quite prepared to assist those who suffered as a result of it.
The public response was once again overwhelmingly positive, with the Regina Leader-Post writing, for example, that the “universally popular” jam consignment gifted by the Doukhobors “is recommended as being just like mother used to make.”
In total, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood gifted 92,000 pounds (46 tons) of jam worth $20,000.00 ($375,000.00 in today’s dollars) to convalescing soldiers and their dependent families across Western Canada between 1916 and 1918. This was by no means the only humanitarian aid provided by Doukhobors in the First World War; however, it was undoubtedly the most popular and well-known example.
In making these donations, the Doukhobors navigated between two of their fundamental religious values: demonstrating compassion and brotherly love for those in distress because of war, while fulfilling the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”
An earlier version of this article was originally published in:
- West Kootenay Advertiser, November 17, 2022.
 Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Jam-Making Enterprise” in West Kootenay Advertiser, 23-30 April and 7, 14, 21 May 2020: https://tinyurl.com/7938yz47; https://tinyurl.com/4h7ka3kk; https://tinyurl.com/43axfdjk; https://tinyurl.com/pr8f6yc5; https://tinyurl.com/vjj9pcuj; Greg Nesteroff, The Doukhobor Jam Factory in Nelson, B.C.: https://tinyurl.com/tywvxh.
 Nelson Daily News, December 28, 1916.
 Ibid; Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916; Grand Forks Sun, December 22, 1916; Kelowna Record, December 28, 1916; Vernon News, December 28, 1916; The Montreal Star, January 3, 1917; Greenwood Ledge, January 4, 1917; Similkameen Star, January 5, 1917; Creston Review, January 5, 1917; The Montreal Gazette, January 11, 1917; Brantford Daily Expositor, January 27, 1917; Macleod News, February 1, 1917; Munson Mail, February 17, 1917; Courtney Review, February 22, 1917; Hedley Gazette, March 15, 1917.
 Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916.
 Nelson Daily News, December 28, 1916.
 Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916.
 Nelson Daily News, January 11, 1917; The Province, January 8, 1917.
 Ibid; Edmonton Journal, February 22, 1917.
 Calgary News Telegram, January 7, 1918.
 Vancouver Province, January 8, 1917.
 Edmonton Journal, February 22, 1917.
 Edmonton Journal, June 16, 1917.
 Edmonton Journal, February 22 and December 31, 1917.
 The Leader Post, January 3, 1918; Montreal Daily Star, January 5, 1918; Brantford Daily Expositor, January 7, 1918; Calgary News Telegram, January 7, 1918; Kingston Whig-Standard, January 8, 1918; Edmonton Bulletin, January 17, 1918; Calgary Herald, February 2 and 4, 1918; Macleod News, February 7, 1918; Alderson News, February 7, 1918; Irma Times, February 7, 1918; Bow Island Review, February 8, 1918; Kamloops Telegram, February 14, 1918; Munson Mail, February 14, 1918; Bassano Mail, February 14, 1918; Claresholm Review-Advertiser, February 15, 1918; Drumheller Review, February 22, 1918; The Ledge, March 14, 1918; Lethbridge Telegram, April 2, 1918.
 Regina Leader Post, January 3, 1918.