Memories of Orchards and Raspberries at Raspberry Village, British Columbia

by William M. Rozinkin

In 1932, Community Doukhobors established a village settlement across the Columbia River from Castlegar, British Columbia. Situated near a large communal raspberry plantation, they named it Malinvoye, meaning “raspberry” in Russian. It was considered a “model” village in layout and construction. The following article by Kootenay resident and historian William M. Rozinkin (1923-2007) recalls memories of orchards and raspberries in the community known today as Raspberry, British Columbia. Reproduced by permission from ISKRA No. 1844 (December 17, 1997). Photos by Greg Nesteroff.

It was soon after Peter Chistiakov Verigin arrived in Canada from Russia to accept the leadership post of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in 1927 that the Doukhobor community acquired a forested area near the Robson ferry landing for a new village settlement. The new brick village was to be known as the Raspberry Village. It would stand looking across the Columbia River at Castlegar.

Before village construction began, land clearing was well under way and in 1929, men and teen-aged boys started planting fruit-tree saplings on the newly cleared land. Gradually, the trees of the forest were replaced with fruit trees that would, in time, mature to bear apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, and sour cherries, along with several varieties of berries for the community.

Raspberry Village as it looks today.  It is one of the few survivors whose history can be linked with memories of the early years of Castlegar, Robson, Brilliant and the Robson-Castlegar ferry. Photo by Greg Nesteroff.

After the trees were planted, they were watered by dozens of teenaged girls who came from Brilliant and Ootischenia to help. For several days they carried countless pails of water from the Columbia River to give each newly planted young tree a full pail.

Nastia Ivanovna Masloff of Ootischenia, who was one of the teenagers at that time, still remembers how she worked with her many friends, carrying water for the young trees. Mr. Verigin was in charge of the whole operation, while Gaston Pozdnikoff supervised their work in the new orchard, she said. It was after days of labour that the project of planting and watering came to an end.

On the final day, Mr. Verigin invited all the working girls to come to Brilliant and all of them together — the girls, Mr. Verigin, and Mr. Pozdnikoff, walked from the place of their work close to the Robson ferry landing, to the courtyard of his residence where Brilliant villagers had prepared a nice supper for all of them. It was served outdoors on two long tables specially set for the occasion.

After the meal was finished, Mr. Verigin gave an inspiring speech that stressed the importance of the need for cooperation among people to work together. When people work in harmony, together they can accomplish great things in life, just as you have done during the last several days, he said, and thanked them for their dedicated hard work.

Mr. Verigin, who was the president of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, also explained the important need to enlarge the community orchards and showed his gratitude for their help as he walked around the tables and gave each girl a five dollar bill. Mrs. Masloff recently recalled the planted orchard, the supper, and the five dollar bill he gave her and her friends. “He suggested that we could buy nice clothing for ourselves with the money, which we accepted with sincere gratitude. It was during the Canadian Depression years and five dollars was a lot of money,” she said.

Following the construction of the village in 1932, that was named after the raspberry plantation nearby, several families with their children, from Brilliant, came to live in it and take care of the orchards, gardens and berry bearing bushes and plants. They were: Peter Relkoff family, Fred Relkoff family, William Makortoff family, Peter Makortoff family, William Sherstobitoff family, and Mike Sherstobitoff family. William Evdokimoff family also came to stay for a short period of time.

The new village also had a new water system that used wooden pipes made in the community’s wooden pipe factory located in the industrial complex of Kamennoye in Ootischenia, along the shores of the Kootenay River. Those pipes served the village for many years and irrigated the orchards that the teen-aged girls first watered by carrying pails of water from the Columbia River.

Close-up of the right (east) Raspberry Village dom. Photo by Greg Nesteroff.

In 1967 I visited 88-year-old John J. Popoff, who had worked in the wooden pipe factory and 78-year-old William A. Makortoff, who was living in the Raspberry Village at that time, along with Peter A. Reibin (79), who worked on many community projects, and they all agreed that the water pipes used for the water supply line from the Pass Creek intake for the village were indeed the last ones made at the factory at the beginning of the 1930’s. This factory began its operations in 1915, just 11 years after the first wooden pipe factory was built in Canada. It ceased operations in Kamennoye after all community water works were completed to about 90 villages.

With its good water supply the village provided agricultural work for its residents, who not only grew farm produce for themselves but also took wagonloads of fruit to the Brilliant fruit packing house, along with cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, raspberries, strawberries and other berries to the Kootenay-Columbia Jam Factory, also in Brilliant, where jam-making facilities were doubled from twelve jam-making kettles to twenty-four kettles under Mr. Verigin’s administration.

But those were the hard years of the ’30s marked with great unemployment that gripped Canada and became known as the times of the great Canadian Depression that also affected the CC of UB income which fell drastically. Adding to this hardship were the Freedomite attacks on community property which increased at this time. Among these attacks, under the darkness of night, was the bombing of the Brilliant water-line in 1932, the year families with children were moving into the new village. Many other depredations included their destruction of the Grand Forks CC of UB Jam Factory in 1935, and later, a sawmill and planer-mill in Glade, both of which were important revenue producing operations.

It appears all this contributed in its own way to the collapse of needed financial support for the survival of the Doukhobor communities of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in 1938-39. Events that followed subsequently led to the B.C. Government Land Settlement Board offering all former CC of UB property and lands for sale back to interested community residents, after it was subdivided into lots and parcels.

The years that followed saw the Raspberry Village with its orchards, buildings, and lands being acquired for private individual ownership, just like the rest of the community lands and buildings in other regions and districts. Construction of homes in the Raspberry subdivision started in 1962 when Alex A. Pereverzoff and his wife Nancy were first attracted to that area and started to build their home for their family of four children. Shortly after, Sam and Pauline Kalesnikoff followed them and purchased land for their family home.  Other homes followed and each one was connected to the original village water-line. As needs and problems grew, it was necessary to replace the old water system. To meet their needs, homeowners in the subdivision organized themselves, and had another pipeline built to bring water from another source. Today more than one hundred homeowners identify their homes as being in the Raspberry Village subdivision.

Close-up of the left (west) Raspberry Village dom. Note modified front entrance. Photo by Greg Nesteroff.

The brick village itself also saw changes when it was bought by private individuals and remodelled to accommodate living and care facilities for the aged and infirm. It served those who were in need of this care for several years before closing its doors.  George W. Rilkoff is one of many who lives in that area and remembers the orchards, raspberries and gardens that used to grace those many acres. After living there for more than 30 years, he saw many changes, including fruit trees removed to make room for new homes, and said that today only a few fruit trees survive from the original orchard.

Recently I visited Alex Petrovich and Nellie Petrovna Verigin whose home is near the village. When Nellie was eight years old, she came with her parents, Peter and Martha Relkoff, to live in the newly constructed village in 1932. There were four children in that family, Helen, Peter, Laura and her. Today she remembers life in that village, the orchards, the fertile land above the village with its plantations of raspberries, strawberries, and rows of black currants, along with large vegetable and watermelon gardens.

Everybody, including children, worked hard, especially when berries ripened in the summer. Often, within hours of picking the fresh-ripened berries, special wooden pails were filled with them and delivered by horse and wagon to the Brilliant Jam Factory, because berry and fruit freshness contributed greatly to the exceptional quality of the jam, she said. She also added with a smile, that it was not uncommon for them to sing folk songs and happy hymns while working, for it added a bit of fun to the work.

The village also had a small fruit-packing shed. When fruit ripened it was packed into crates and taken with other farm produce on a remodelled light delivery truck to be sold door-to-door in Trail. Andrew Abetkoff and Mike Sherstobitoff usually took care of this work. While most of the fruit was taken by wagon to the CC of UB packing house in Brilliant for shipments to prairie markets, this small venture brought additional revenue for the Doukhobor community that was striving to meet its mortgage and tax payments during those years of unemployment.

Nellie Petrovna Verigin also recalled her school days that saw all her school-aged friends walking a mile on the gravel highway to the new Brilliant brick school on the corner where the Pass Creek road meets the highway.

With Peter Chistiakov Verigin being a strong supporter of education, construction of this school by the CC of UB began immediately after the Raspberry Village was finished. It had two classrooms and, between them, private living quarters for the two teachers. When the school opened its doors in 1934, the two teachers, Margaret MacDonald and Eileen Horswill, were there when pupils from Brilliant and Raspberry Village filled the two classrooms to study in grades that ranged from one to eight.

On the way to school, village children had to walk past rows of raspberries, also grown for the jam factory. These rows stretched from the highway bridge that was across the Pass Creek to the Pass Creek road junction, just below the school. This plantation was looked after by Brilliant community residents. Today, the only reminder of those raspberries that grew there is a sign that indicates the first exit from the highway to the residential homes that are just below the school. It reads, Raspberry Road.

It was 21 years after the village was built that its residents had a special celebration. The happy occasion was the wedding of John Ivanovich Verigin and Laura Petrovna Relkoff, on June 27, 1953. The wedding ceremony began at the bride’s family residence in the village and continued at the groom’s home in Brilliant, where hundreds of well-wishers and guests celebrated the happy occasion. (The ceremony was duplicated at the official Sirotskoye residence in Grand Forks on the next day, Sunday, June 28, 1953.)

For their close friends the wedding was a result of a budding and binding love that blossomed and saw the bride, who grew up in the Raspberry Village, marry the groom who was the grandson of Peter Chistiakov Verigin, under whose guidance that village was built. Both of them had attended classes in the Brilliant School that has since become more well-known as the Raspberry School.

Rear view of the original Raspberry Village doms facing south towards Castlegar. Photo by Greg Nesteroff.