Spencer Area or ‘Ubezhishche’, British Columbia

by Mike Zibin

In 1909, Community Doukhobors from Saskatchewan purchased 550 acres of land along July Creek in the Spencer district of British Columbia. They named the area Ubezhishche, from the Russian for “refuge” or “hideaway”. There, they cleared the forest, planted fruit orchards, vegetable gardens and grain fields and established seven communal villages as well as a sawmill and planer mill, blacksmith shop, granaries and barns. The following article written by Mike Zibin of Grand Forks, British Columbia describes some of his early memories of Ubezhishche in the Thirties and Forties. Reproduced from ISKRA No. 1889 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., March 29, 2000).

“Ubezhishche” (means “Refuge”), which was originally named in Russian and later became more commonly known as the “Spencer” area, is situated about 5 miles west of Grand Forks along Highway #3 in the Sunshine Valley. It stretches out from the area now known as “Sleepy Hollow”, starting from the USA border and continues up the Fourth of July Creek and ends with the area now known as the Danshin Village, some 3 km from the USA border.

The Doukhobor people came to Canada in 1899 following centuries of persecution in Russia. They first settled in Saskatchewan, living communally and establishing flourishing farms. In 1909, following the loss of their communal lands, they moved westward to BC, where they again built up their villages and thrived. In both the Castlegar and Grand Forks valleys they established industrial enterprises serving the needs of their communities as well as the needs of non-Doukhobor people.

Doukhobor farm near Grand Forks, BC, circa 1930. British Columbia Archives C-02659.

“Ubezhishche” was the western-most “colony” or “local” of the CC of UB — the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. and #1 of the 37 odd locals of that organization of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, which was formed by the late leader Peter P. Verigin — Chistiakov during the hungry thirties.

In the centre part of Ubezhishche was a steam-powered sawmill and planer situated on the site of today’s residence of Paul N. Horkoff’s family. The steam engine and its whistle could be heard the length and breadth of the whole area. Logs were supplied by horse drawn sleighs in winter and wagons in the summer. Logging, sawmilling, fruit, grain and vegetable growing were the main activities there. Community blacksmith shops, granaries and horse barns were also serving the area as well as a cemetery which was established in the Sleepy Hollow part of the local, west of the 2-storey brick home.

Close-up of Zibin Village dom at Sleepy Hollow as it appears today. Photo by Greg Nesteroff.

In the Sleepy Hollow west of July Creek in the brick 2-storey home and the adjoining wood residential building lived the Chiveldave, Verigin, Semenoff, Zibin and Kazakoff families. Kazakoffs moved here after the forest fire of 1934 destroyed their 2-storey brick community home 1/2 km further up July Creek. On the east side of the creek lived several families of Zibins, plus the two families of brothers William M. and Fred Dubassoff. Overlooking Sleepy Hollow, in the 2-storey brick house (still there) and the adjoining wood frame home lived the families of Hlookoffs, Bonderoffs, Kazakoffs, Siminoffs and Plotnikoffs.

Further west along Highway #3, past the site of Spencer School and the prune orchard upon turning left to the Ozeroff Village was a 2-storey wood frame house where resided the families of Horkoffs and Babakaiffs.

Map of historic Ubezhishche settlement area, west of Grand Forks, British Columbia. 

Across July Creek and past the sawmill site was the village these days referred to as the Ozeroff Village. Its main buildings consisted of two 2-storey brick homes with the complete U which are still there today. There lived the Ozeroffs, Demoskoffs, Faminoffs, Makortoffs and Negreiffs. 

During the hungry thirties, a large placer mining operation for gold was in full swing west of the Ozeroff Village. It was operated by several non-Doukhobor individuals, one being a Campbell comes to mind. It was powered by water pressure from a dam built further up on May Creek, another tributary of the Fourth of July Creek. Starting with a 16″ diameter pipe and ending up with 2″ diameter swing-type controlled water gun.

Ozeroff Village as it appears today. Photo by Lightweb.

Further up and west of July Creek in a smaller wood frame house lived the Kalmakoff and Negreiff families, also John D. Hlookoff and Lucy Davidoff (Woikin).

The western-most and last village comprising Ubezhishche, which nowadays is referred to as the Danshin Village, consisted of two 2-storey brick homes and the wood framed connector. Another smaller brick home lower along the old #3 Highway was also a part of this village. The families of Negreiffs, Astofooroffs, Popoffs, Plaksins, Sookerookoffs, Plotnikoffs and Zebroffs all lived there.

Note: in the original version of this article, the author used the term “Oozbezhishche”, an English spelling variant of the standard Russian name “Ubezhishche” as used here.