Doukhobors in the Kootenay, 1909

In June 1909, an unidentified correspondent with the Rossland Miner newspaper visited the new 2,700-acre Doukhobor colony at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers in British Columbia. Only a year after its establishment, the colony already boasted 675 members, recent arrivals from the Prairies, who had cleared 350 acres of heavy forest and planted 10,700 fruit trees along with large vegetable gardens. They set up two sawmills, which were busy cutting lumber for the houses of the different villages to be located on the land, and a preliminary irrigation system was established. Greatly impressed with their untiring industry and deep optimism of further development, the correspondent writes about their history, religious beliefs, communal society, vegetarianism, gender equality, dress and overall generosity and courtesy. Reproduced from the Daily News Advertiser (Vancouver BC), June 23, 1909

Last week a representative of the Rossland “Miner” visited the new colony of Doukhobors at Waterloo, B.C., and writes his impressions as follows.

Imagine a community of nearly 700 men, women and children, without a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a druggist, store, saloon, butcher shop, gaol or police officer, pauper or courtesan, where all of the population are vegetarians and teetotalers, so far as alcoholic beverages are concerned, and who neither chew nor smoke tobacco, and you will have an idea of the Doukhobor settlement at Brilliant, formerly Waterloo, on the Columbia River, about 25 miles from this city.

The inhabitants are Socialists, pure and simple, as everything is held in common. The men and the women work for the community, and all property is owned by the community, and all moneys derived from the sale of the products of the soil go into a common fund. They constitute one big family. The children, until they are able to work, are allowed to play or attend school, where a rudimentary education is given them. As soon as they are strong enough to toil they join the ranks of the workers and become part of the producers.

There are no drones in this human hives. When old age comes on and the limbs become unfit for arduous toil, the superannuated Doukhobors are treated just the same as when they were useful to the community. One of the Doukhobors explained this to the “Miner” representative, about as follows: “Old men and old women, when breakfast comes, eat breakfast; when dinner comes, have dinner; when supper comes, have supper. Rest of time they sit in house if weather is bad, but if weather fine they go in the sun and enjoy themselves. When they want shoes, hat, coat, vest, they go to the shop and get them.”

The former Waterloo mining and lumber camp (est. 1896) where the Doukhobors first settled in 1908. The two-story building at the left was used as the Brilliant Post Office and branch office of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, with the John W. Sherbinin family living upstairs. The two-story whitewashed log building to the right was used as a communal kitchen and cafeteria. The two-story building to its right served as the community store-house for the receipt and distribution of goods and supplies. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

Elementary School

Questioned as to the school, the Doukhobors stated that as the schools were provided for the children, where they learned to read, write and figure; in other words, they are given a primary education. The desire is not to over educate them. They do not want them to become doctors, lawyers, school masters, or scholars, but tillers of the soil, like their fathers and mothers.

Another feature of the Doukhobors is that they are opposed to war and will take no hand, act or part in it. In Russia, where they come from, they were knouted for refusing to serve in the army, but preferred death under the cruel knout to taking part in slaying their fellow men. One of the cardinal parts of their creed is that they are opposed to the shedding of the blood of anything that lives, and hence they are vegetarians, drawing the line even at fish. They have been called by some “Russian Quakers.”

Doukhobor Religion

As to their religion, it was explained to the “Miner” representative as follows:

They follow as closely as possible the teachings of Christ in doing only that which is good to their fellow man, and of not resenting violence when it is offered against their persons or property. When one cheek is smitten they turn the other to the smiter. They lead clean, honest lives, wronging neither man nor dumb creates and make their living by the sweat of their brow, directly from the soil.

Should a member of the community desire at any time to leave, he gives notice of his wish and his or her share is apportioned and he or she is given it in the form of money. Should he or she afterwards regret their action and desire to return they can repurchase their interest and again become members of the community.

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin’s older brothers Prokofy and Vasily and family at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) in c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Women with the Hoe

The women work in the fields the same as the men, doing the light tasks, such as hoeing and planting. It was an interesting sight to see groups of them coming in from the fields at noon and in the evening. Each had a hoe on his shoulder and they laughed and chatted with each other as they made their way to the public dining room, where they dined with their children.

They are usually attired in dark skirts with waists of varied material, generally calico and of different colors, according to the taste of the wearers. Each wears a large apron. The headdress consists of a large handkerchief covering the hair and the sides of the face and tied in a knot at the throat. A portion of the handkerchief falls for a considerable distance down the shoulders. Their feet are covered with rough shoes, and not a few of them were without stockings. Apparently there is not a corset in the community.

A few are comely, others have the “fatal gift of beauty,” while not a few are homely. They are deep chested, wide-hipped, clear eyed and have the red badge of health in their cheeks in most instances. A few of the older ones show the effects of hard toil in stooped shoulders and deeply-marked lines in their faces. They seemed to be cheerful and contented, while their children were veritable pictures of health, vitality and strength, lively and full of pranks. The children were generally barefooted.

One feature that struck the visitor was their universal politeness and kindliness. The men respectfully salute their fellows, whether men or women, whenever they meet, by raising their caps with cheerful words of salutation. The stranger visiting the place is shown the same sort of courtesy, the children being particularly polite.

Strong, Hardy Men

The men nearly all wear a peaked cap and in most instances black coats, all of which are of the same cloth and pattern; dark trousers and heavy shoes. They are manufactured by them at home in most instances. The men are large, strong, athletic and active looking. They are nearly all light complexioned, with blue and gray eyes, although there are a few of the pronounced brunette type with flashing black eyes.

It was noticed that they all were able to read, as when they came to the Post Office they looked over the letters and selected whatever was directed to them.

Peter Verigin is the head man of the colony. He is a fine looking, large man, of commanding appearance. Although he has been in Canada for several years he has not yet learned to speak English. John Sherbinin is his interpreter and is a young man of ability, who speaks English fluently, and from him the following particulars concerning the community were learned:

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin working in his vegetable garden at the Waterloo camp, Dolina Utesheniya, c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Last year the community, after a thorough inspection of the various portions of the Province, on the part of their agent, purchased through Willoughby & Mauer, of Winnipeg, 2,700 acres of land near Waterloo. This included 67 acres belonging to H.B. Landers [sic Landis] and 14 acres owned by James Hartner.

This land extends along the Columbia River’s east bank for a distance of two miles and along the south bank of the Kootenay river for a mile and a half. The land extends from the river front to the foot of the mountains, which rise almost perpendicular at the eastern boundary of the land. The land is beautifully located on three benches. The first bench is 100 feet above the level of the river and a quarter of a mile wide. The second bench is 200 feet above the river and about a mile wide. The third bench is 350 feet above the river and about a quarter of a mile in width. The three benches represent former beds of the Columbia River and the soil is a rich alluvial, being ideal fruit and vegetable land. The valley of the Columbia is wide at this point and the sun has ample opportunity of warming the oil and making “things grow.”

The First Arrivals

On May 12, 1908, the first installment of Doukhobors arrived from the prairies, consisting of 80 men, three women and two children.

Last year a little over 200 acres were cleared and a considerable quantity of vegetables raised, such as potatoes, cucumbers, water melons, citron melons, turnips, radishes, etc., and about 700 fruit trees were planted.

This year, so far, 150 acres have been cleared and 10,700 trees planted, including plums, cherries, prunes, apricots, nectarines, walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. Besides there have been 6,000 grape vines planted on the sunny slopes of the benches. Then there are 18,000 seedling apple, pear and quince trees purchased in Iowa, which will be set out later, they being at present in beds. A very large number of gooseberries, currants and blackberries have been set out, which will produce considerable fruit this year. This season there have been a good sized acreage devoted to potatoes, onions, beets, buckwheat, water melons and other vegetables.

The community has had in operation for a considerable time a portable sawmill that cuts about 5,000 feet of lumber a day. Another and a larger mill has been purchased and is at present at Castlegar on board the cars. This will soon be placed in position and will cut from 30,000 to 40,000 feet a day. It will be used to cut lumber for the houses of the different villages that are to be located on the land of the community. It will not only be used at Waterloo but at Pass Creek, where the community has purchased 2,000 acres of land.

A ferry has been put in at Waterloo, which will carry thirty tons, and a second ferry has been placed in position in the Kootenay River, which is only a little smaller than the one at Waterloo.

Returning to the additions to the colony, Mr. Sherbinin stated that fifteen came in July last from the prairies, consisting of two men, three children and ten women. April of the present year 190 men arrived from the prairies. Within the past few days, 500 arrived at Waterloo, a considerable portion of whom were women. About 150 have gone to near Grand Forks, where the community owns 1,000 acres of land, and some are working for others clearing land. The present population of the Waterloo community is about 675.

Group of early Doukhobor settlers to Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), c. 1909. BC Archives A-02072.

Asked as to the future plans of the community, Mr. Sherbinin stated that the intention was to continue the work of clearing, till 2,700 acres at Waterloo was cleared and set out in fruit, thus making it the largest orchard in the Province. A road is being built to Pass Creek, from Waterloo, which with all its winding will be about ten miles in length. If the Province constructed this road it would cost at least $12,000, but the Doukhobors are doing it themselves without asking for a cent from the public coffers. The 2,000 acres that the community owns at Pass Creek will be cleared and part of it used for growing vegetables and the remainder for hay and pasturage.

Asked where the Doukhobors came from, Mr. Sherbinin said that they were from the Caucasian Provinces that lie in Southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas, and principally from Tiflis and Kars. They are from the cradle of the Aryan race. The Doukhobor society is three or four hundred years old. They came to Canada first in 1898, because dissatisfied with the adverse conditions in Russia, and particularly the compulsory service required of them in the army, preferring death at the hands of the Cossacks to service in the army. There are about 7,000 of them in Canada at present. In Saskatchewan there are 40 villages each containing from 75 to 350 people. It is the intention to transfer all of these to the Province inside of the next five years.

Asked the reason for the change of residence place the reply was that as the Doukhobors are vegetarians and used to a fairly warm climate, it was too cold for them on the prairies, while the weather here was free from intense cold. On the prairies they cannot raise fruits, vegetables and nuts, which form so large a portion of their diet, but here they can be easily grown, and hence their preference for this section of the country.

First crop of tomatoes grown by Doukhobors at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), 1908. SFU MSC121-DP-152-01.

Vegetarian Menus

The “Miner” representative dined twice with the Doukhobors during his visit, having luncheon and dinner. At luncheon he had a vegetable soup, made of potatoes and fragrant herbs, thickened with milk and butter and seasoned with salt. It was very good. Black bread made of whole wheat, evidently mixed with rye. It was sweet and wholesome. Two fresh eggs; then there was raspberry jam, raisins and plums stewed together, butter and cheese, and water instead of tea. For dinner the menu was as follows: noodle soup, flavored with parsley and seasoned with salt. A slab of cheese; black bread, raspberry jam, two eggs, and water instead of coffee.

From the standpoint of a vegetarian the meals were satisfying, and the “Miner” representative enjoyed them very much. They were given with such kindness and such heartfelt hospitality that added zest to them.

What most impressed the “Miner” representative during his visit was the untiring industry of the members of the community. In a very short time they have cleared, ploughed and made a veritable garden a tract of 350 acres that was last year virgin forest. Not only the stumps and roots have been removed but every stone. The soil has been pulverized to as fine a point as it can be.

Water has been piped to the cultivated land so that trees and vegetables can be irrigated. It is the intention to flume in larger supplies of water from McPhee Creek, so that every acre of the 2,700 can be irrigated.

When the entire tract has been planted it promises to make the largest orchard in the Province. It is understood that most of the fruit raised will be canned or dried for shipment to the larger centres of the Dominion. The task already accomplished is an immense one, but what lies before them in improving the two tracts at Waterloo and Pass Creeks and the one at Grand Forks is much larger. Besides they intend to acquire other areas of raw land which they will improve. What they have done already is an object lesson of great value, as it shows what the soil of the Columbia River Valley is capable of yielding to property directed and energetic effort.

Doukhobor land-clearing on the First Bench immediately north of the Waterloo camp, 1912. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

To the Socialist of this section a visit to Waterloo will give him a view of Socialism at short range, as his doctrines are fully carried out by the Doukhobors.

The vegetarian will find much to commend when he looks into the diet of the Doukhobors. He will see men and women doing hard work on a vegetable diet.

The temperance advocate should also be interested in what he can see in this community and can study the effects of total abstinence in a community of several hundred.

The lover of peace cannot help but admire the courage which the Doukhobors have displayed in sticking to their anti-war doctrine.

Those who are interested in humanity and how man is working his way to a higher destiny, can find food and reflection in this simple, plain and God-fearing community.

A Place called Skalistoye (and other Names)

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

Although Grohman Narrows Provincial Park west of Nelson, British Columbia is a well-known destination for local outdoor recreation and nature appreciation, its storied past has largely slipped from collective memory. The following article examines the property’s many different owners, occupiers, names and uses over its 150-plus years of recorded history.

Prehistory

The property covers the river flats on the left (south) bank of the Kootenay River at what was once called the Narrows,[1] a natural constriction of the river at the downstream end of the West Arm formed by beds of uneroded hard rock. During periods of high inflow into Kootenay Lake, the constriction raised water levels upriver, causing flooding. The rich alluvial material deposited over millennia enriched the lower portions of the flats, yielding fertile soil, while the higher, unflooded portions remained largely exposed rock.

For centuries before white settlers capitalized upon its agricultural potential, First Nations encamped on the flats,[2] as the Narrows created an ideal location for trapping fish. Its importance as fishing grounds also made it highly sought after, and it is thought to have been the site of a 19th century battle between the Sinixt and Ktunaxa over its control.[3] In the early 20th century, many First Nations artifacts were recovered along the flats.[4]

Baillie-Grohman’s 1886 map (The Kootenay valleys in Kootenay district, British Columbia. London: Witherby, 1886) showing the flats and narrows, here described as “rapids to be widened and deepened.” Note the railway at that point was surveyed on the north bank but was actually built on the south bank of the river five years later.

W.A. Baillie-Grohman

In October 1886, 50 acres of the flats were conceded to the Kootenay Lake Syndicate led by Anglo-Austrian author and hunter William Adolph Baillie-Grohman as part of a plan to blast out the Narrows, thereby lowering the lake level in order to drain and reclaim Creston Valley and Kootenay Flats for colonization and agriculture.[5] In 1889, Grohman’s engineer Leslie Hall and his crew set up camp on the flats, detonating tons of dynamite against the obstructing rock at the Narrows, but the rock did not yield.[6] By 1894, the scheme was a bust and the land reverted to the Crown. More enduring were the names left behind in the form of Grohman Narrows and Grohman Creek, opposite the property.

W.A. Baillie-Grohman (1851-1921), writer, big game sportsman and pioneer of the Kootenay region, 1885. Wikipedia Commons.

Early Miners & Ranchers

In 1891, the CPR’s Columbia and Kootenay Railway line was built through the north edge of the property, close to the river, opening it up for mining and later agricultural development.

By November 1898, Dr. E.C. Arthur of Nelson staked the Recluse Mine claim on the property, receiving certificates of work in November 1903 and a grant of mineral rights in February 1905 as Lot 4228; Dr. Arthur still owned the claim as of October 1908, but it was sold for unpaid taxes soon thereafter.[7] A brickyard also reportedly existed in the vicinity, but it’s not clear who operated it.[8]

The original 125-acre Crown grant for Lot 5180 including the Recluse mine.

Meanwhile, in July 1901, New Brunswick native Alfred Bunker (1855-1937) received a Crown grant for the 50.6-hectare (125-acre) property (Lot 5180), subject to the mining claim, for $125.[9] It thereafter became known as the Bunker Ranch. By April 1902, Bunker had cleared some 10-12 acres and planted about 1,000 fruit trees on the ranch, including cherry and pear, and cultivated a large piece for strawberries and other small fruits, making it the acknowledged oldest fruit farm in the Nelson district.[10]

The ranch was accessible by various means. The CPR built Quarry Siding on the property in May 1902 to serve its quarry on the adjacent east lot, which Bunker also used for loading cars with fruit and agricultural products.[11] The ranch was also accessible by boat or via a road at its southern boundary that connected to a wagon road (soon to be known as Granite Road) that led to the City of Nelson power plant on the Kootenay River.[12]

In addition to farming, Bunker was active in the Kootenay Fruit Growers’ Association as vice-president.[13] He was involved in a proposal to assume the assets of the Nelson streetcar service.[14] He bought and sold lots, cottages, and mining claims.[15] And he ran unsuccessfully for Nelson city council in 1912.[16]

In June 1907, Bunker sold his ranch to Robert W. Hulbert, former editor of the North Battleford News, who registered it under his wife Rose Elizabeth Hulbert.[17] Hulbert renamed the property the Durban Ranch, after the South African city where Rose was born and the couple married in 1902.[18] Besides ranching, he served as a delegate of the Kootenay Fruit Growers’ Association, proprietor of the Empire Moving Picture Theatre in Nelson, a founding director of the Nelson branch of the YMCA and compiler of the 1909 Nelson telephone directory.[19]

However, Hulbert soon ran into financial difficulty and by March 1908 advertised the ranch for sale through Regina realtors McCallum Hill & Co.[20] By this time, 25 acres of the property had been cleared and planted into apples, cherries, plums, peaches, pears and other small fruits, with 1,000 trees in bearing, 1,200 more soon to bear, and 500 in nursery. 

Nelson Daily News, March 29, 1908 ad for the sale of the ranch then owned by R.W. Hulbert.

Despite the advert running in over 105 issues of the Nelson Daily News, the ranch failed to sell. Undoubtedly, a significant deterrent was the fact that half of the ranch was rocky outcropping, of little use for anything except quarrying.[21]

Under pressure from creditors, Hulbert sold the Durban ranch to McCallum Hill & Co. in August 1908, staying on as ranch manager until 1911.[22] In the interim, the realtors satisfied many of Hulbert’s local debts, although he lost his theatre to foreclosure in February 1910.[23]   

As McCallum Hill & Co. purchased the ranch under an agreement for sale, title did not transfer until all outstanding payments were made in January 1910. At that time, it was registered in the names of company principals Ernest A. McCallum, Walter H.A. Hill and Edgar D. McCallum.[24] The realtors never lived at the property, having bought it purely on speculation. For three years they collected revenues from ranch fruit sales before placing it back on the market in 1911.

Nelson Daily News, April 5-6, 1911 half-page ad for the sale of the ranch then owned by McCallum Hill & Co.

This time, they used a more creative marketing strategy. On 5 and 6 April 1911, they took out an eye-catching, half-page advertisement in the Nelson Daily News[25]which painted the ranch in colourful, hyperbolic terms, emphasizing its overall acreage, fertile soil, number and type of fruit trees along with its development potential, accessibility and nearness to Nelson, while downplaying the limited cleared acreage and rocky portions. Indeed, the rock was euphemistically described as “extremely picturesque,” “suitable for quarrying,” with the granite “being considered the finest in the district.” To create a sense of urgency, the ad stressed a “price for quick sale,” “at great sacrifice” and imposed a five-day deadline for offers. The two-day listing worked and the following day, on 7 April 1911, the Durban ranch sold for the $10,000 asking price.[26]   

The Doukhobors, 1911-61

The purchaser under agreement for sale was Russian revolutionary-turned-Nelson real estate agent Konstantine Popoff via the local firm of McQuarrie and Robertson.[27] Only four days earlier, Popoff had sold his 30-acre ranch two miles downriver at Taghum to Peter V. Verigin on behalf of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) for $15,000. Evidently Popoff used the sale proceeds to finance the purchase of the Bunker/Durban Ranch.

Russian revolutionary turned Nelson realtor, Konstantine Popoff, c. 1911. Slocan Valley Historical Society.

Popoff immediately put some men to work pruning the 2,200 fruit trees on the ranch in preparation for the season’s operations.[28] However, he had no intention of keeping the property for long. Four days later, Popoff resold it to a second buyer, none other than Peter V. Verigin, again via McQuarrie and Robertson.[29]

Doukhobor leader Peter, V. Verigin, Nelson BC, 1912. BCA B-03946.

Verigin assumed Popoff’s interest under the agreement for sale with McCallum Hill & Co., whereby the Durban Ranch would be paid for in $1,000 annual installments over a 10-year period.[30] In addition, Verigin paid Popoff a $3,000 ‘commission’ for his troubles, with the Daily News aptly reporting that, Popoff had “made a substantial profit over the price he paid for the ranch.”[31]

Verigin’s reasons for purchasing the ranch seem to be have been two-fold. First, he had already bought up all the available large blocks in the Kootenay, Columbia and Slocan valleys, such as those at Brilliant and Ootischenia, Champion Creek, Pass Creek and Crescent Valley. Going forward, he was limited to purchasing small ranches and farms on the upper reaches of the Kootenay and Slocan Rivers on which to settle his people.

Assignment of agreement for sale of Durban Ranch from Kanstantan (sic) Popoff to Peter V. Verigin, 1911.

Second, the CCUB had just purchased the jam factory at Nelson and formed the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works to operate it.[32] As the Doukhobors’ earliest planted orchards were only beginning to bear and would not be fully bearing for several years, they required mature, producing orchards to supply their jam factory with fruit and the Bunker Ranch was “one of, if not the most highly developed, fruit ranches in the Kootenays”[33] at the time.

At the time of the Doukhobor purchase, the ranch had 25 acres set out in 2,200 fruit trees, 1,500 of which were apple, including 360 that were already bearing; 60 pear, of which 25 were bearing; 100 plum in bearing, 500 cherry, of which 125 were bearing, and 40 peach, with eight bearing.[34] About 13 acres was under cultivation for small fruits and vegetables, including one acre of strawberries and raspberries, and half an acre of gooseberries and currants.[35]  

Buildings on the property consisted of two small houses (one of two stories, measuring 12 by 23 feet and another of a single story, 10 by 23 feet). There was also a small packing shed, stable, large hay barn, pig and chicken house and root cellar. The buildings were collectively valued at about $1,500.[36]

Rare photo of the two-storey ranch house and outbuildings lent by Nelson realtor M.R. McQuarrie to J.T. Bealby for publication in his book, Fruit Ranching in British Columbia. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1909). The original caption read “A successful orchard amongst the stones, near Nelson.”

Verigin forthwith “arranged to put a large staff of men at work on the ranch”[37] to manage the orchard and develop the remaining arable land. By 1913, the Daily News reported the Doukhobors had made “extensive improvements” in clearing and planting the property into orchard and small fruit.[38]

The Doukhobors named the ranch Skalistoye (Скалистое),meaning “rocky” or “craggy” in Russian.[39] The name reflected the fact that despite its rich, fruit-growing soil in places, a large portion of the ranch was barren and unusable for agricultural purposes.

In November 1917, Peter V. Verigin transferred his interest under the agreement for sale to the newly-incorporated CCUB with $3,000 owing.[40] In September that same year, McCallum and Hill assigned their respective interests to John Allen Wetmore, former accountant of the Imperial Bank at Nelson, now Imperial Bank manager at Regina, in September 1917.[41] In January 1920, after paying the balance owing to Wetmore, the CCUB received legal title to the Skalistoye property.[42]   

Transfer of the Skalistoye ranch from Peter V. Verigin to the CCUB, 1917.

Typically, one or two Doukhobor families was stationed at Skalistoye at a time; often for a period of three or four years before they were rotated back to larger Doukhobor settlements and another family was brought in to take their place.

When the census was taken in June 1911, no Doukhobor families were yet permanently living on the ranch.

By the taking of the 1921 census (which referred to the property as “Quory” after its railway siding), the Famenoff (or Fominoff) family of 13, originally from Ootischenia, were living there. John and his wife Ahaphia, both 55, were listed along with their four sons and their families, namely Larion, 34, and wife Oprosia, 33, with sons Brilliant, 12, and Fred, 3; Wasil, 29, and wife Fedosia, 34, with daughters Mary, 10, and Polly 3; John, 25, and his son John, 5; and Savely, 16.[43]

Savely married Florence (Fenya) Chigmaroff in Krestova in 1923. Their son, Cecil Fominoff of Winlaw, says the Chigmaroffs briefly joined the Fominoffs at Skalistoye before the families later moved to Porcupine, near Salmo, then to Claybrick, near Winlaw, where Cecil was born.[44]

Savely and Fenya Fominoffs wedding photo, taken during their time at Skalistoye (1923). (Courtesy Valentina Loukianoff and Galena Hadikin)
Savely and Fenya Fominoff with son Tim, taken a few years after their stay at Skalistoye. (Courtesy Valentina Loukianoff and Galena Hadikin)

In 1924, the family of George J. (32) and Polly (30) Rozinkin, along with their son Peter (7) and daughter Lucy (4), were re-stationed from Brilliant to Skalistoye.[45]  They remained on the ranch for five years until 1929. 

In August that year, the couple were swept up in a peace protest of several hundred former CCUB members from Thrums who marched past Skalistoye. George and Polly joined them, leaving their children at the ranch house while they trekked to Nelson.[46] Their granddaughter Sharon Hoodicoff recalls that her mother Lucy and brother Peter had no idea if their parents would return and, out of a sense of survival, began planting potatoes, although it was the wrong season.[47] Their aunt soon came and took them to their parents. Sadly, the family never returned to the ranch, being subsequently confined with 530 other protestors at Porto Rico, an abandoned CCUB lumber camp, until July 1930.[48]  

Polly, Lucy, George and Peter Rozinkin with unknown man in front, taken at Skalistoye in 1924. (Courtesy Sharon Hoodicoff)

By late 1929, another family was place at Skalistoye, that of Fred A. (23) and Poly W. (20) Konkin and their son Phillip (1), formerly of Brilliant.[49] The family tended the ranch for two years before leaving the CCUB and resettling in Thrums as Independent Doukhobors in 1931.[50]  

Life at Skalistoye was communal and revolved around the agricultural seasons. In spring, the men pruned the orchard fruit trees, while on the cultivated land, the women planted annual vegetables and small fruit where perennial berries were not already established. Throughout the summer, the men laboured to clear and break additional land on the property. By late summer, the entire family picked the fruit and berries grown at the ranch. These were shipped from the siding, initially to Nelson and after 1915 to Brilliant for processing in the CCUB jam factories. A portion of the vegetables grown were retained by the ranch families for their own use, with the bulk redistributed among other Doukhobor settlements as needed or else sold at the Doukhobor market in Nelson. Over late fall and winter, the men worked at the CCUB sawmills or else sought employment from local ranchers.    

The farm also served as an important stopping place for Doukhobor wagon teamsters travelling from outlying settlements. Steve Hoodicoff says that his grandmother Mary S. Hoodicoff often mentioned how her parents Stepan and Marfa Samorodin of Koch Siding, near Slocan Park, and other Doukhobors would regularly stop at Skalistoye to rest, water and feed their horse teams before heading out to Nelson.[51]  

Looking west toward Grohman Narrows, 1928. The Skalistoye ranch buildings are faintly visible within the white circle. National Archives and Records Administration.

By January 1931, after 20 years of communal ownership and operation, the Doukhobors had more than doubled the amount of cleared land, with 30 acres in orchard at Skalistoye and another 30 acres under cultivation, with the remaining 65 acres of rocky outcropping used for pasture.[52]

For all its rocks, the ranch generated significant produce and income for the CCUB during this period from the produce grown there, with the orchard yielding approximately 240 to 450 tons of fruit per year, and the cultivated land yielding about 2,000 cases of berries and 180 tons of potatoes and other vegetables per year.[53]

As for the property itself, the Doukhobors do not appear to have made any substantial improvements or additions to the buildings over this period, their value depreciating from $1,500 in 1911 to $800 in 1931. An inventory conducted in the latter year listed “Two dwelling houses, one barn and other small buildings,” valued at $800.[54] And despite significant improvements made to the land in terms of clearing, the property value increased only modestly after 20 years from $10,000 in 1911 to $15,450 in 1931.[55]

However, by this time, Skalistoye no longer held the strategic and locational value to the CCUB it once had, with the organization owning over 3,500 acres of bearing orchard and another 10,000 acres of small fruit and vegetables at larger, more centralized tracts elsewhere in the Kootenay and Boundary. Accordingly, then-president Peter P. (Chistyakov) Verigin arranged to sell the isolated and remote ranch to Doukhobor John George Evin in March 1931.[56]

Evin was a founding member of the board of directors of the CCUB following its federal incorporation in April 1917.[57] By 1921, he relocated from Brilliant to the CCUB colony at Cowley, Alta. where he remained until at least 1926.[58] However, by 1930, he left the CCUB to live and farm as an Independent Doukhobor at Blaine Lake, Sask.[59]

John G. Evin, photographed in Cowley, Alta., circa 1926. (Jonathan J. Kalmakoff collection)

Evin subsequently returned to the Kootenay with his family of five. However, if they lived at Skalistoye, it was exceedingly brief, as from 1933 on they were living at Slocan Park although they continued to own the property.[60]      

The East Half

What is known is that by September 1938, the West Kootenay Power and Light Company had its corporate eye on Evin’s property. At that time, it applied to the International Joint Commission to make certain river improvements upstream from its Corra Linn dam; namely dredging the Kootenay River at Grohman Narrows and excavating rock on the south side of the narrows at Evin’s property to improve river flow for flood control and hydroelectric power generation.[61] The Commission green-lit the project in December 1938.[62]

Within weeks, the West Kootenay Power and Light Company acquired the east half of Evin’s Lot 5180 consisting of 24.3 hectares (60 acres); however, it is unclear whether it did so by purchase or expropriation.[63] Presumably, Evin would have been a willing seller, since the east half contained the rockiest portions of his ranch.

Between April and October 1939, the utility excavated some 500,000 cubic feet of rock, boulders and gravel from the shore of the east half of Lot 5180, along with nine million cubic feet dredged on either side of Narrows Island, thus successfully deepening and widening the narrows where Baillie-Grohman had failed 50 years earlier.[64]

Dredging and excavation work adjacent to Lot 5180, April 1939. (Fred Fransen photo, courtesy Thor Fransen)

Once the river improvement project was completed, the east half of Lot 5180 apparently reverted to the Crown. Four years later, a reserve was placed over it on 9 Dec 1943, as part of an order-in-council securing all vacant Crown land in the province.[65]  

However the land wasn’t actually vacant. At some point prior to 1939, Evin rented out his Skalistoye ranch to William George Hadikin who occupied it with his family. Owing to some mix-up, Hadikin continued to pay rent for the entire Lot 5180 after the east half was transferred to the West Kootenay Power and Light Company. This only became apparent in May 1946 after Evin died.

In order to validate his occupancy of the land and protect the improvements he had made, Hadikin applied to purchase the east half of Lot 5180, now subject to the Crown reserve. The government approved his purchase request on 8 May 1946 by order-in-council at a price of $5.50 per acre for a total of $330.[66]

The reserve was cancelled but the property transfer wasn’t completed until 12 Jul 1947.[67] William Hadikin died at his home on 10 Nov 1948 at age 73 and his wife Mary followed a year later.[68] The property passed to their son Bill W. Hadikin in 1948,[69] who in turn, sold it to Louis H. Skapple in 1952.[70]

The Andersons & Creation of Grohman Narrows Provincial Park

In 1950, Donna and Wilbert Anderson bought the west half of Lot 5180 from the Evin estate and began farming, although the property was not actually transferred into their name until August 1954.[71] By 1961, they also purchased the east half of Lot 5180 from Louis Skapple.[72]

In 1966, the Department of Highways bought 19 acres of the Anderson Ranch as part of a project to reroute Highway 3A through the middle of the property. The purchase saved the government the trouble of building an underpass and fence for the Andersons’ cattle.

However, the Andersons only agreed to the sale on the condition that the northerly portion of the land, now cut off by the highway, be developed as a park. The government paid for the property but for some reason it was never properly conveyed. Officials tried to rectify this oversight in 1971, minus the conditions of the 1966 agreement. The Andersons refused.[73]

Incidentally, one of the workers rerouting Highway 3A through the ranch in 1967 was John N. Derhousoff, who, according to his daughter Joyce Tucker, recalled that it was a former Doukhobor orchard.[74] John approached Wilbert Anderson about picking the fruit from the orchard trees, now gone to wild. Anderson agreed, and for the next 15 years, the Derhousoff family went to Skalistoye, as they still called it, to pick fruit each fall.[75] 

Meanwhile, in 1971, the Department of Highways let the City of Nelson build a road through the north part of the property to access its new sewage treatment plant, built on adjoining Crown land. This violated the agreement with the Andersons, who still held title to the property.[76]  The access road was constructed directly through the original two-storey ranch house and outbuildings, resulting in their demolition.  

In 1978, the City of Nelson asked the Andersons to let them use part of the property for an incinerator. They declined. The provincial government then tried to clear the way for the incinerator by establishing the entire 19 acres as a highway and obtaining title. But it became a moot point when Nelson residents defeated the proposed incinerator in a referendum.[77]

The BC Ombudsman’s office investigated the matter, concluding the actions of the highways ministry were “unjust and improper.” The Ombudsman also helped find a solution that gave the City of Nelson continued access to their sewage treatment plant while converting the remaining property to a park.[78]

District Lot 5180, showing original ranch building locations and Grohman Narrows Provincial Park boundaries.

Grohman Narrows Provincial Park was finally established on 21 May 1981 containing 13.23 hectares (33 acres), but a few months later, it was reduced to 10.23 hectares (25 acres). It may have simply been the correction of a typo, but the order-in-council didn’t provide a reason. The park consists of the northerly Lot 1 of District Lot 5180 and an adjacent unsurveyed mid-channel island, known as Narrows Island.[79]

The park wasn’t formally dedicated until a year after its creation. The BC Ombudsman, Karl Friedmann, was present at the opening with other officials and the Andersons.[80] Friedmann previously noted in his annual report: “Although the Parks Branch has decided to give the park a rather dry name for historical reasons, to me it will always be the Anderson Provincial Park.”[81]

A monument in the park recognizes the Andersons, but otherwise it’s devoid of interpretive signage. No acknowledgement was made during the park process that Lot 5180 was a Doukhobor farm for over 40 years, although Donna Anderson briefly mentioned this fact in a family history she contributed to Granite Road Memories, a local history book published in 1985 and reprinted in 2020.

BC Ombudsman Karl Friedmann poses with Donna and Wilbert Anderson at the opening of Grohman Narrows Provincial Park in 1982, as seen in the Nelson Daily News. The plaque is also seen below in 2020.

The Andersons retained the southerly portion of the property, Lot A of District Lot 5180, containing 46.3 hectares (114.41 acres) for several more decades. Today, it is the site of a mini-storage facility and surplus store development, which stand across the highway from the park.

Over the course of the past half-century, subdivision, highway construction and new development have made it difficult to imagine what the Skalistoye ranch originally looked like in full bloom. However, vestiges are still visible today to those who look for it.  The foundations of the one-storey ranch house lie just south of the head of the loop trail at the parking lot. The barn foundations can be found on the lakeside of the trail, half-way between the parking lot and the road to the sewage treatment plant. A row of fruit trees stand along the sewage treatment plant access road itself, while others can be found near the mini-storage facility. These, and the memories held by descendants of the ranch families, all bear witness to its communal fruit-growing past.

Foundations of the one-storey ranch house near the head of the trail loop at the parking lot. (Courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff)
Foundations of the large barn on the lake side of the trail loop, halfway between the parking lot and waste treatment plant access road. (Courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff)
Orchard trees along the road between Grohman Narrows Park and the City of Nelson sewage treatment plant, 2021.

After Word

Special thanks to Stan Sherstobitoff, Sharon Hoodicoff, Valentina Loukianoff, Galena Hadikin, Steve Hoodicoff, Cecil Fominoff, Bill W. Evin, Vera Maloff, Sierra Dante and Steve Cleary for sharing their information and photographs.

This article was originally published on Greg Nesteroff’s Kutne Reader blog site on April 1, 2021; updated on May 17, 2021.

It was subsequently republished as a five-part series in the West Kootenay Advertiser as follows:

Place Names Associated With D.L. 5180Dates
The Narrows1882-86
Recluse Mine1898-1908
Quarry Siding1902-at least 1911
Bunker Ranch1901-07
Durban Ranch1907-11
Skalistoye1911-54/61
Anderson Ranch1950/54-66
Grohman Narrows Provincial Park1981-present

End Notes

[1] Mabel E. Jordon, “The Kootenay Reclamation and Colonization Scheme and William Adolph Baillie-Grohman” in British Columbia Historical Quarterly, (Vol XX, Nos. 3 and 4, July-October 1956) at 187-220.

[2] The Daily News (Nelson), 28 Jul 1910 reported that Granite rancher Frank Phillips “brought in a number of Indian curious … He found them in an Indian mound which is supposed to have been an old Indian battle ground …”

[3] First Nations’ Ethnography and Ethnohistory in British Columbia’s Lower Kootenay/Columbia Hydropower Region, Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy (Castlegar: Columbia Power Corporation, 2000) at 229-30.

[4] Supra, note 2.

[5] The property was legally described as “50 acres on the left bank at the Narrows”: Jordon, supra, note 1; “Lease: Kootenay Reclamation and Colonization,” British Columbia Sessional Papers, 1887, at 315-32.  See also International Kootenay Lake Board of Control, 2005 Annual Report to the International Joint Commission (Vancouver, 2005) at 6.

[6] Jordon, ibid.

[7] The Miner (Nelson), 19 Nov 1898; The Daily News (Nelson), 12 Nov 1903 and 15 Oct 1908; Crown Grant No. 1212 dated 27 Feb 1905.

[8] David Norcross writing in Granite Road Memories (Granite Road Women’s Institute, 1985) at 12.

[9] Crown Grant No. 1458 dated 3 July 1901, viewed at: http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/gator/crowngrantdetail.do?grantId=014785.

[10] The Daily News (Nelson), 25 Apr 1902, 10 Oct 1902, 29 Mar 1908 to 02 Aug 1908.

[11] The Daily News (Nelson), 24 Apr 1902, 27 Jul 1907.

[12] The Daily News (Nelson), 5-6 April 1911.

[13] The Daily News (Nelson), 20 Jan 1904.

[14] The Daily News (Nelson), 15 Dec 1908.

[15] The Daily News (Nelson), 15 Jun 1905, 26 Aug 1906, 7 Nov 1908, 17 Jun 1909, 12 Feb 1910, 12 Apr 1910, 11 Apr 1911. 

[16] The Daily News (Nelson), 8 Jan 1912.

[17] The Daily News (Nelson), 14 Jun 1907; AFB 24/387 No. 7288a registered 26 Jul 1907.

[18] The Daily News (Nelson), 10 Aug 1907, and 10 Apr 1911. See also: Robert William Hulbert Family Tree by Dave May on Ancestry.ca. Hulbert moved to the Lower Mainland and founded the Coquitlam Star.

[19] The Mail Herald (Revelstoke) 2 Aug 1908; The Daily News (Nelson), 11 and 15 Dec 1908 and 1 Jun 1910; Creston Review 10 Jun 1909.

[20] The Daily News (Nelson), 29 Mar 1908 to 2 Aug 1908.

[21] The Daily News (Nelson), 5 April 1911.

[22] The Daily News (Nelson), 2 Aug 1908, 6 Jan 1909, 16 Mar 1910.

[23] The Daily News (Nelson), 2 Aug 1908, 6 Jan 1909, 16 Mar 1910.

[24] AFB 27/256 No. 11954a registered 5 Jan 1910.

[25] The Daily News (Nelson), 5-6 April 1911.

[26] Agreement for Sale dated 7 April 1911 between Ernest A. McCallum, Walter H.A. Hill and Edgar D. McCallum and Kanstantan (sic) Popoff appended to Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920; The Daily News (Nelson), 10 Apr 1911. The realtors went on to become two of the most successful businessmen and real estate developers in Regina’s history: https://tinyurl.com/fwjbv4a9.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Assignment of Agreement for Sale dated 15 April 1911 between Kanstantan (sic) Popoff and Peter Verigin appended to Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920; “Quick profits in Bunker ranch,” The Daily News (Nelson), 17 Apr 1911. 

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] 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.

[33] The Daily News (Nelson), 5 April 1911.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] The Daily News (Nelson), 6 Jan 1913.

[39] William Rozinkin, correspondence to Jonathan J. Kalmakoff dated 3 Jun 2003; Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “Doukhobor Place Names” in ISKRA No. 1951-1965 (USCC, 2002).

[40] Indenture dated 1 Nov 1917 between Peter Verigin and the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited appended to Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920.

[41] AFB 33/2 No. 22290a registered 18 Sept 1917.

[42] Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920.

[43] 1921 Canada census, viewed at https://tinyurl.com/yxrv28hf and https://tinyurl.com/y6997qcv. Note Brilliant Fominoff was reportedly the first Doukhobor child born in BC. When leader Peter V. Verigin heard of his birth, he visited, offered a blessing, and asked to name the newborn Brilliant. In his late teens, Brilliant contracted tuberculosis and at Verigin’s recommendation, he went to Arizona for treatment, dying there in 1928 age 19: ISKRA, 3 Mar 2008.

[44] Cecil Fominoff, interview with Greg Nesteroff, 26 Mar 2020.

[45] Sharon Hoodicoff, interview with Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr 2021.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] List of Doukhobors Camped at Porto Rico, November 24, 1929 (GR 1725 – Attorney General Correspondence – [B-7621] – File P291-17 – 1929-1930 – pp. 109 to 111); https://tinyurl.com/zauddbmp.  

[49] Ann Malahoff, interview with Sharon Hoodicoff for Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr. 2021.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Steve Hoodicoff, interview with Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr 2021.

[52] The Doukhobors in British Columbia, Vladimir N. Snesarev (Harry W. Trevor), 1931, Appendix 1, List 3 at 9.

[53] For average fruit yields at Nelson and elsewhere in the Kootenay at the time, see Bealby, supra, note 38.

[54] Snesarev, supra, note 48.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Certificate of Title 32075-I dated 30 March 1931.

[57] Minutes of the first meeting of The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood dated 8 Sept 1917, Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor, viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/583dz2ut.

[58] 1921 Canada Census viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/ddv7hs6b; 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/7rw425jf.

[59] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, The Society of Named Doukhobors, 1930 Saskatchewan Membership List (Regina: 2004) viewed at https://tinyurl.com/eeasmpk7.

[60] John W. Evin, interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, 16 Mar 2021, Red Deer, Ab.

[61] International Joint Commission, Kootenay Lake Order, dated in New York on 11 Nov 1938 viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/6uycftrb.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Supra, note 48.

[64] BC Hydro, Grohman Narrows Channel Improvement Project, September 12, 2013 viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/vsnj8n9.

[65] British Columbia Order-in-Council 1653, 9 Dec 1943, viewed at: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/oic/arc_oic/1653_1943.

[66] British Columbia Order-in-Council 963, 8 May 1946, viewed at: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/oic/arc_oic/0963_1946.

[67] Crown Grant No. 2240 dated 12 July 1947 viewed at: https://tinyurl.com/y4mn6gm7.

[68] The Province (Vancouver), 19 Nov 1948.

[69] Certificate of Title 74252-I dated 1948.

[70] Certificate of Title 91205-I dated 1952.

[71] Donna Anderson writing in Granite Road Memories (Granite Road Women’s Institute, 1985) at 59; Certificate of Title 99407-I dated 6 Aug 1954.

[72] Certificate of Title 125191-I dated 1961.

[73] 1980 Annual Report of the Ombudsman to the Legislature of British Columbia, supra at 55-56.

[74] Joyce Tucker, interview with Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr 2021.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid, p. 56.

[77] Ibid; “Couple win a 15-year wrangle,” Nelson Daily News, Rita Moir, 5 Jun 1981.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Grohman Narrows Park in BC Geographic Names, viewed at

http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/37697.html; and British Columbia Order-in-Council 1220, 21 Jul 1981, viewed at https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/oic/arc_oic/1220_1981.

[80] “Local park area is dedicated,” Nelson Daily News, 25 May 1982.

[81] 1980 Annual Report of the Ombudsman to the Legislature of British Columbia (Victoria: Queen’s Printer for British Columbia, 1979) at 57.

The Doukhobor Trading Store in Blairmore, Alberta

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Although the historical Doukhobor connection to Cowley and Lundbreck, Alberta is well known, few would associate them with the Crowsnest Pass.  Yet for decades in the Teens, Twenties and Thirties, the Pass was an important market for Doukhobor communally-grown field and garden products. And for a brief time, they even established a commercial retail outlet there. This article traces the forgotten history of the Doukhobor trading store in Blairmore.

Background

Beginning in 1915, the Doukhobor enterprise known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (‘CCUB’) purchased land near Cowley and Lundbreck for a new agricultural colony.[1] Within several years, it acquired over 14,000 acres of some of the best grain-growing and grazing land in the foothills, on which over 250 Doukhobors established a dozen settlements.

The Russian-speaking settlers lived communally. All goods and property were held in common, all fieldwork and animal husbandry was done jointly and all income was deposited in a central treasury. They did not receive wages for their labour, but were provided with all basic necessities by the organization. Sober-minded, industrious and simple-living, they embodied their motto of ‘Toil and Peaceful Life.’

A Doukhobor communal home north of Lundbreck, AB, c. 1920. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

To bring their land to peak production, the Doukhobors practiced irrigation and worked it with heavy machinery, running six steam engines. To store their grain, they built a 35,000-bushel grain elevator at Lundbreck in 1915[2] and a 70,000-bushel elevator at Cowley in 1916,[3] along with large warehouses at each point for their supplies. And in 1922, they moved the Pincher Creek flour mill to Lundbreck to commercially mill wheat.[4] 

In addition to grain-growing, the CCUB raised several hundred head each of draft working horses, shorthorn dairy cattle and wool-bearing sheep.[5] Being strict vegetarians, they did not raise animals for meat. For livestock feed, they produced large quantities of hay and forage crops. And they grew huge truck gardens of assorted vegetables.  

The Doukhobors kept some farm products for their own consumption and shipped railcar loads to CCUB settlements in B.C. in exchange for fresh fruit, jams and other goods produced there. Surplus grain was marketed by rail. Surplus feed, flour and vegetables were sold locally or else conveyed by wagon-load up the Crowsnest Pass, where they found a ready market at high prices.[6]

Indeed, the Pass trade proved lucrative enough that in 1924, the Doukhobors endeavored to establish a permanent commercial presence there.    

From at least 1917 to 1937, Doukhobors from Cowley and Lundbreck, AB traded communally-grown farm and field products up the Crowsnest Pass, where they found a ready market. Mundy’s Map of the Province of Alberta, 1912.

Store Purchase

In February 1924, the CCUB purchased the former Poggiali store premises in Blairmore from realtor and insurance agent Chrystom J. Tompkins and CPR agent James J. Murray of Frank.[7] The $4,000.00 purchase was made under an agreement for sale whereby payment was made in three yearly installments, with title transferring to the purchasers upon payment in full.[8]

Notice of Blairmore store acquisition by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Blairmore Enterprise, February 7, 1924.

The premises (Lots 10, 11 and Pt A of Block 2) was located at the east end of Blairmore on Victoria Street (now 20th Avenue), the town’s main thoroughfare, near the corner of 13th Avenue (now 135th Street) at the present site of 13601 and 13609 20th Avenue.

The store (Lot 10) was of a typical boomtown design – a two-story, rectangular 35 x 45 foot wood-frame structure with whitewashed clapboard exterior and a rectilinear false façade attached to a gable roof to given an impression of a larger size from the street.[9] The façade had large display windows and a bracketed cornice. The main floor housed the store and upper floor contained office/living quarters.  

It was built in 1910 or early 1911 by Italian immigrants Antonio and Angelina Poggiali who ran a grocery and dry goods store there (as part of a chain of three stores in Blairmore, Bellevue and Frank) in conjunction with their next door residence/rooming house until May 1922, when they sold out to Tompkins and Murray and moved to the Bronx, New York.[10]

Fire insurance map of the Doukhobor store property (marked in red) at Blairmore, AB. This September 1931 patch covers the original October 1925 map, which had the words ‘Flour and Feed’ superimposed over the buildings. Western Canada Fire Underwriters Association.

A 20 x 20 foot post-frame barn with hip roof (Lot 11) and a 20 x 25 foot log stable with hip roof (Lot A) at the rear of the property housed up to four horses used to pull the store drays (low, flat delivery wagons without sides used to haul freight).[11]

Retail Operations

The CCUB assigned Nicholas J. Verigin (1866-1950) to manage the new store, assisted by his son-in-law Alex M. Salekin (1885-1957). A nephew of Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin, Nicholas was regarded for his integrity and knowledge of basic business principles. Alex, a kucher (‘coachman’) for the Doukhobor leader when he visited the locality,[12] shared these qualities and also possessed basic fluency in English. Relocating from Lundbreck, they took up residence above the store with their combined family of eight.

Reporting to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta (the CCUB’s Alberta subsidiary) branch office in Cowley, the men were responsible for all aspects of store inventory management and sales.  

When a freight load of Doukhobor products arrived at the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Blairmore from Cowley and Lundbreck, the men drove the store drays and teams down Victoria Street to the depot, where they transferred sacks, boxes, bales and pallets from the standing railcar to the station platform, and from the platform to the dray. It sometimes took several wagon-loads to haul away the entire shipment.

Blairmore, east main street, about 1925. Doukhobor store marked in red. Crowsnest And Its People.

The stock was then hauled back to the store, unloaded and stored until needed. In this regard, Verigin and Salekin erected a one-story 52 x 45 foot wood-frame warehouse on a concrete slab foundation with flat slanted roof (Lot 11) adjoining the east side of the store in mid-1924[13] using lumber shipped from the CCUB’s Kootenay sawmills. Samples of merchandise were prominently displayed in the store windows.

The store primarily sold local communally-produced flour (100 lb sacks), livestock feed (baled grass, alfalfa and clover and 100 lb sacks of oats) and chicken feed (100 lb sacks of cracked/broken grains, bran and other mill screenings). It also offered bagged wool as well as fresh eggs, butter, cheese and cream by the pound, and a wide array of seasonal fresh vegetables including potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, carrots and cucumbers.

In addition to field and garden products produced by the CCUB at Cowley and Lundbreck, the store brought in seasonal fresh fruit (apples, pears, plums, peaches and cherries) grown in the CCUB orchards in the Kootenays along with the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jams produced at the CCUB jam factory in Brilliant. Communally-milled lumber, poles, shingles and fence posts from the Kootenays were likely sold on order.

The Doukhobors sold goods at prevailing local prices.[14] However, its costs were markedly lower than other retailers since the CCUB produced all its own goods and used unpaid communal labour at all stages of the supply chain without the intervention of middlemen or commission agents. Its only external cost was for rail freight, which all local merchants bore. The store thus earned a higher profit margin than its local competitors.  

Doukhobor market produce was immensely popular in the Pass. Blairmore Enterprise, May 5, 1927.

The Doukhobors did not advertise in the local Blairmore Enterprise newspaper, relying instead on established word of mouth, particularly among Ukrainian, Polish, Czech and other immigrant coal miners and laborers. Based out of the store, Verigin and Salekin sold and delivered dray loads of goods throughout Blairmore and surrounding towns within a 3-5 mile radius, such as Sentinel, Coleman, Lille, Hillcrest, Frank, Bellevue and Maple Leaf.

In addition to selling farm products, the Doukhobors offered cartage services, hauling freight by wagon for hire. For instance, Veregin and Salekin were engaged to haul rock, cement and supplies by local Italian contractor H.J. Pozzi for the cribbing of Lyon (now Blairmore) Creek near 9th Avenue (now 131st Street) between March 1924 and February 1925, earning $450.00.[15]   

Paul N. Potapoff (1885-1958), branch manager of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta in Cowley, made periodic visits to Blairmore to oversee and inspect the store operation, examine the ledger and account books and collect the cash revenue held in the office strong box.[16]

Letterhead of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited, the CCUB’s Alberta subsidiary. University of Alberta Archives.

Family Life

The Verigin and Salekin family lived the same simple life as other members of the CCUB. They were issued clothes (shoes, boots, etc.), foodstuffs (flour, salt, grain etc.) and provisions in exchange for living and working at the store. Their days were spent in communal labour with few opportunities for leisure.

Nikolai’s wife Anastasia and their daughter, Alex’s wife Mary, performed all domestic tasks including cooking, baking, housecleaning, washing, sewing and mending clothes and child-rearing. They milked the milk cow allotted to the family and grew a vegetable garden behind the store for their own use.

Upon their arrival in town, the youngest Verigin child Anastasia attended the Blairmore Public School. The Salekin children followed upon reaching school age. On enrollment, the Doukhobor children spoke only Russian, but over the course of the year, readily acquired English and excelled at their studies.

Alex M. Salekin, his wife Mary (nee Verigin) and sons Peter (left) and Wasyl (right), Blairmore, AB, c. 1924. Courtesy Margaret Salekin.

In terms of spiritual life, the family held prayer meetings (moleniye) on Sunday mornings in their living quarters, conducted in the Russian language. The afternoon was spent in group singing of hymns and folk songs or visiting Doukhobor friends and family in from Cowley and Lundbreck, followed by Sunday dinner.

Community Upheaval

After a successful first year, the Doukhobor store in Blairmore seemed poised to continue business operations into the foreseeable future, had it not been for a series of events that left the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood devastated and divided.

Following the death of Peter V. Verigin in a mysterious train explosion at Farron, B.C. in October 1924, the CCUB was plunged into grief over the loss of their leader. Members withdrew children from public schools for a four-month period of mourning.[17] By December, a split arose over succession. The minority ‘Leaders’ group comprised of CCUB officials and Veregin’s family members backed his niece Anastasia Holuboff and the status quo; while the majority rank and file ‘Working Brothers’ chose his son Peter in Russia and called to replace the managerial elite with their own candidates, or at least someone different from those in charge.[18]

In the upheaval following Peter V. Verigin’s death, Doukhobor ‘Workers’ organized to gain a greater voice in the affairs of the CCUB and to oust the existing managerial elite. Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925.

Amidst this upheaval, Nicholas J. Verigin found himself at odds with the CCUB majority on several fronts. He had continued to let his children attend public school in Blairmore. As a Verigin family member, he was presumed by default to support Holuboff as successor. And as a member of the ‘Leaders’ group who held a good job in the CCUB, he was now viewed as a privileged apparatchik (‘functionary’) and nepotee living on the shoulders of the working Doukhobors.   

Eviction from Community

Consequently, within weeks of the election of a ‘Working Brother’ to the Cowley branch directors in January 1925,[19] the Verigin and Salekin family in Blairmore ceased receiving supplies and rations from the CCUB, their milking cow sent to winter in Cowley was not returned to them, they were relieved of their posts at the store, and were allegedly advised they were no longer members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood.[20] 

Notice of disavowal of debts of Nicholas J. Verigin and Alex M. Salekin by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Blairmore Enterprise, February 19, 1925.

In February 1925, Community officials printed a notice of disavowal of debt in the Blairmore Enterprise and Lethbridge Herald: “The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited, wish to state that they will not be responsible for any debts incurred by Aleck Seliken and Nick Veregin, who were running our store in Blairmore.  All business may be transacted care of head office, Cowley. Dated at Cowley, Alberta, this 16th day of February, 1925.”[21]

What was expected to happen next was that the Verigin and Salekin family would vacate the store to be replaced by another Doukhobor family who would carry on the business on behalf of the CCUB. However, Nicholas stood his ground and refused to leave, claiming he was entitled to the property as his share of the communal organization.[22] A stalemate ensued for the rest of 1925.  

In the interim, the CCUB at Cowley and Lundbreck continued to sell field and garden products throughout the Pass by the wagonload.[23] At the same time, the CCUB Grand Forks branch opened a Doukhobor fruit store in Cranbook on the other side of the Pass in 1925-1926.

By 1926, local CCUB officials decided on a new tack. Upon obtaining legal title to the store property in February,[24] they purported to sell it to land surveyor John D. Anderson of Trail, B.C. by agreement for sale in April.[25] Anderson subsequently initiated eviction proceedings against the Doukhobor ‘squatters’.

The Verigin-Salekin-Glookoff household residing in the CCUB store property at Blairmore, Alberta, 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces.

By then, Nicholas had more family living on the property. At the taking of the Census of Prairie Provinces in June 1926, the occupants were: Nicholas, 60, wife Mabel (Anastasia), 52, and daughter Mabel (Anastasia), 15; their daughter Mary, 25, husband Alex Salekin, 26, and sons Pete, 5, Wasyl, 4, and Alexander, 5 months; and their other daughter Helen (Hanya), 35, husband Kuzma W. Glookoff, 36, and daughter Mabel (Anastasia), 16. Listed on the same lot in a different building was their niece Vera, husband Jack J. Smoroden, both 34, and children John, 15, Jack, 6, and Vera, 4.[26] 

Faced with eviction, Nicholas doubled down on his ownership claim, producing a 1924 letter from his uncle, the late Peter V. Verigin, purportedly deeding him the premises.[27] This unexpected move frustrated not only the eviction action but Anderson’s purchase, with title reverting to the CCUB in October 1926.[28]        

Nicholas then went on the offensive.

Lawsuit

In January 1927, Nicholas launched a suit in the Supreme Court of Alberta against the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood alleging that he was unlawfully expelled from it because he educated his children according to the laws of Canada and claiming $21,466.00 as recompense for 26 years of labour performed for the organization, $5,000.00 damages and an order establishing his right to the Blairmore property.[29]

Nicholas J. Verigin’s lawsuit against the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood for recompense of communal labour and his share of communal assets made national headlines. Calgary Herald, January 25, 1927.

The suit was an important test case, for if successful, it would set a major precedent and make it possible for other members to secede from the CCUB with significant financial ramifications to the organization. However, on cross-examination, CCUB officials rebutted the claims by contending they had always counseled that the children be sent to public schools when possible; that Verigin was mistaken in his belief that he was expelled; that he was still a member with full rights; and that he would be given a comfortable living for the rest of his life.[30] After a 3-day trial in June 1927, the case was dismissed on the basis that Verigin failed to prove he was in fact expelled.

Nicholas remained undeterred. In mid-September 1927, he filed a formal appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal alleging that, irrespective of whether he was evicted, the CCUB, by organizing itself in such a way that individual member shareholders were debarred from obtaining their share of the organization’s assets, and by removing its children from public education, was contrary to public policy.[31]

If Verigin’s initial lawsuit threatened to pave the way for member succession from the CCUB, his appeal threatened the communal organization’s very existence, since for the first time in the history of Canadian courts, it was alleged that the formation of community along the lines of the Doukhobors’ was illegal.

Settlement & Transfer to Nicholas Verigin

Only days before the appeal was to be heard, Nicholas’ first cousin, Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin, arrived in Calgary, Alberta from Russia to assume leadership of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in Canada.[32] Recognizing the tremendous risk to the organization posed by the appeal, the new leader promptly and quietly settled the matter out of court in October 1927 by agreeing to transfer the Blairmore property to Nicholas in exchange for a withdrawal of the appeal.[33]

Transfer of the Blairmore store property from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Ltd. to Nicholas J. Verigin for $1.00, January 9, 1930. Alberta Land Titles South.

Following these somewhat dramatic events, Nicholas J. Verigin lived at the property with his family for another 4 years. By September 1931, Nicholas, now widowed,[34] sold the property by agreement for sale and moved to Pincher Creek with son-in-law Alex M. Salekin and family, where they farmed as Independent Doukhobors.

Thus ended the brief but unique and eventful Doukhobor communal tenure in Blairmore.

Epilogue: Subsequent Owners

Between September 1931 and March 1936, the premises was an auto-wrecking business owned by Silva Sicotte.[35] From December 1937 to August 1953, it operated as ‘East End Service Garage’ run by J.L. ‘Pat’ McLeod.[36] On or around August 1953, the buildings, now in rough condition, were demolished, leaving only the warehouse concrete foundation remaining until at least 1973.[37]  

From 1937 to 1953, the former Doukhobor store at Blairmore was operated as the ‘East End Service Garage’. Crowsnest Museum and Archives, CM-BL-06-54.

After Word

Special thanks to Ian McKenzie, Crowsnest Heritage Initiative, for his kind support and assistance throughout the development of this article.

An abridged version of this article was originally published in:

Today, the site of the Doukhobor store is occupied by the residence at 13601 20th Ave and Soo Blairmore (formerly Royal Canadian Legion) at 13609 20th Ave in Blairmore, AB.

End Notes

[1] For general information about Doukhobor settlement in Alberta, see: John W. Friesen and Michael M. Verigin, The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1996) at 47-48, 106-109; Barry Potyondi, Where the Rivers Meet, A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939 (Lethbridge: Robins Southern Printing, 1990) at 163-166, 208-209; Margaret Salekin, “Doukhobor History of the Lundbreck-Cowley Area of Alberta” in ISKRA Nos. 2034-2036 (2010) and Doukhobor Heritage: https://tinyurl.com/yc6226an; Koozma J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors (Mir Publication Society, 1982) at 113.

[2] List of licensed elevators and warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division (Ottawa: Dept. of Trade and Commerce, 1915/1916); F.W. Godsal, ‘The Mail Bag’, The Grain Growers’ Guide, May 17, 1916.

[3] List of licensed elevators and warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division (Ottawa: Dept. of Trade and Commerce, 1916/1917); Grain and Farm Service Centers. c. 1, v. 37, Jul-Dec 1916; Blairmore Enterprise, September 29, 1916; Bellevue Times, September 29, 1916; Calgary Herald, October 2, 1916.

[4] Lethbridge Herald, April 22, 1922 and May 11, 1922; Blairmore Enterprise, September 13, 1923, October 25, 1923 and May 22, 1924; Irma Times, May 4, 1923; Redcliff Review, May 10, 1923; American Miller and Processor, Volume 28, 1923.

[5] For CCUB Alberta livestock statistics, see: Blairmore Enterprise, April 28, 1921; Lethbridge Herald, March 23 and 27, 1922, November 5, 1926 and September 4, 1928; Snesarev, V.N., The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia, Department of Agriculture, 1931), Appendix 1; Liuba Verigin, “The Alberta Doukhobors”, an unpublished paper prepared for the Institute of Doukhobor Studies, Castlegar, B.C., April 21, 1976.

[6] Lethbridge Telegram, March 1, 1917; Calgary Herald, February 10, 1920; Lethbridge Herald, November 5, 1926 and May 12, 1932; Blairmore Enterprise, May 5, 1927; Potyondi, supra, note 1 at 165.

[7] Blairmore Enterprise, February 7, 1924; Transfer of Title dated February 3, 1926 from Chrystostom J. Tompkins and James Johnston Murray to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Limited re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 4860 DI on February 13, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 34E dated February 13, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party. 

[8] Ibid. According to the newspaper account, the Community leased the property from Tomkins and Murray in February 1924. However, the transfer documents show that when the Community obtained title in February 1926, it paid $1,500.00 against the property, then valued at $4,000.00. This indicates an ‘agreement for sale’ arrangement, whereby the purchaser takes immediate possession of a property, which is paid for by installments, while the seller retains title as security until payment in full is received. Agreements for sale were a very common means of purchasing property in Western Canada in the Teens and Twenties.

[9] Blairmore, Alberta Fire Insurance Map (Winnipeg: Western Canadian Fire Underwriter’s Association; October 1925, Revised September 1931). Note the 1931 version of the map has a patch glued over Lots 10-11 of Block 2; however, an analysis of the map sheet under light confirmed that all buildings shown on the 1931 patch appeared in the original 1925 sheet; the only difference being that the words “Auto Wrecking” superimposed on the buildings in 1931 originally read “Flour and Feed” in 1925: Peter Peller, Spatial and Numeric Data Services, University of Calgary Archives, correspondence with the writer, October 27, 2020. 

[10] In 1906, Italian immigrants Antonio and Angelina Poggiali and family resettled from New York City to Blairmore, Alberta. In September 1909, they purchased Lots 8-11 of Block 2 at the east end of town: C. of T. No. KM-218, September 7, 1909. By mid-1911, they built two near-identical rectangular two-storey wood-frame structures: the family residence (main floor) and 9-room rooming house (upper floor) on Lot 8; and a grocery store (main floor) with residential space (upper floor) on Lot 10: 1911 Canada Census, District 3, Dub-District 5, p. 32; Henderson’s Alberta Gazetteer and Directory for 1911, p. 89. In October 1913, Antonio expanded the A. Poggiali & Co. retail grocery business, hiring contractor H.J. Pozzi to build 2 new brick stores at Bellevue and Coleman: Blairmore Enterprise, October 17, 1913. However, the expansion soon led to financial difficulty. By April 1914, he held a big cash sale at all three stores, evidently to pay off creditors: Bellevue Times, April 17, 1914. In May 1914, the Canadian Credit Men’s Trust Association seized $6,700 of stock at the 3 stores and sold it by tender: Bellevue Times, May 1, 8, 15, 1914. The same month, Antonio made an assignment of the rest of his estate to creditors: Bellevue Times, May 15 and October 16, 1914. Evidently, Antonio lost the Coleman and Bellevue stores; however, the store in Blairmore (in Angelina’s name) continued to operate: Henderson’s Alberta Gazetteer and Directory for 1914, p. 197: 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces, District 39, Sub-District 10, p. 8. In fall 1915, the Lot 8 residence was stripped and remodeled, removing the rooming quarters and façade: Blairmore Enterprise, July 2, October 1, November 5, 1915. Antonio was operating the Lot 10 store and living at the Lot 8 residence in June 1921: 1921 Canada Census, District 8, Sub-District 28, p. 15. In May 1922, the Poggialis sold the property to Tompkins and Murray and moved to New York: C. of T. No. 27-O-157, May 4, 1922.

[11] Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map, supra, note 9.

[12] Margaret Salekin, correspondence with the writer, May 16, 2022.

[13] In Transfer of Title dated January 9, 1930 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Ltd to Nicholas J. Verigin re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 3097EE on January 15, 1920, February 13, 1926, Veregin attested to building the warehouse. As the warehouse appears in the October 1925 version of the Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map, supra, note 9 superimposed with the words “Flour and Feed” over it, it was most likely constructed in 1924 during the operation of the trading store.

[14] A common complaint by English Canadian merchants in Western Canadian towns were Doukhobors sold retail goods was that the Doukhobors’ large pool of unpaid labour enabled them to undercut the local market by selling goods for less than local merchants could afford to; however, research by the writer indicates that the Doukhobors routinely sold goods at prevailing rates, relying instead upon their greater profit margins for the same prices.

[15] Blairmore Enterprise, May 27, 1926; see also the March 6, 13 and 20, April 17, June 26, July 10, December 4, 1924 and January 1, February 19, 1925 editions.

[16] See for example Blairmore Enterprise, January 1, 1925.

[17] Doukhobors belonging to the Community had long been hesitant of public education, fearing it would lead their children away from communal life and their pacifist religious ideals. In the two years prior to Peter V. Verigin’s death, fanatics within the Community burned 8 schools to the ground in British Columbia: The Province, June 1 and 4, 1923; Vancouver Sun, August 12, 1923, April 1, 1924; Vancouver Daily World, June 30, 1923; Grand Forks Gazette, November 23, 1923. Upon his death, Community members withdrew their children from public schools altogether, ostensibly for a period of mourning, until May 1925: Grand Forks Gazette, March 6, 1925; The Province, April 8, 1925; Regina Leader-Post, June 23, 1927. For a comprehensive treatment of Doukhobor schooling see: William Janzen, Limits on Liberty, The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukhobor Communities in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990).

[18] Winnipeg Tribune, December 4, 1924; Nelson Daily News, December 8, 1924, March 4, 14 and 19, 1925; Winnipeg Free Press, December 11, 1924; Victoria Daily Times, December 17, 1924; Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925; The Province, March 18, 1925; Blairmore Enterprise, April 2, 1925; Times Colonist, March 28, 1925.

[19] On January 3, 1925, the appeal of the Doukhobor workers of the Cowley branch of the Community was met by the placing of one of their members, John P. Bojey, on the board of directors: Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925.

[20] Lethbridge Herald, February 18, 1927. Nicholas J. Verigin’s sacking from the Community was by no means an isolated case. In the same period, other Community managers belonging to the ‘Leader’ group were relieved of their positions, including Nicholas’s brother Peter J. Verigin in Veregin, Saskatchewan, his cousin Larion W. Verigin (another nephew of the late leader) in Brilliant, and Wasyl W. Lazareff in Trail, British Columbia: The Province, March 14, 1925; The Leader-Post, June 23, 1927.   

[21] Blairmore Enterprise, February 19, 1925; Lethbridge Herald, February 14, 1925.

[22] Lethbridge Herald, January 25, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, 1927.

[23] Supra, note 6. There is no evidence that the Blairmore store continued to sell CCUB products after February 1925.

[24] Supra, note 7.

[25] John Drummond Anderson was no stranger to the Doukhobor Community. In 1909, he was hired by the government to survey the road built by the Doukhobors connecting Pass Creek to Brilliant; between 1909-1911, he hired several community members to clear land on his ranch, 7 miles north of Trail on the Columbia River at Sullivan and Murphy Creek; during the same period he sold the Doukhobor Community fruit from his orchard ranch for their jam factory: Royal Commission Into All Matters Pertaining to the Doukhobor Sect in British Columbia, Transcription of Proceedings, Trail, B.C. Sept 3, 1912 at 148-150; BC Archives GR-0793. Transfer of Title dated March 31, 1926 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited to John Drummond Anderson re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 4781 on April 13, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 34D dated April 13, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party.

[26] 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces, Alberta, Division 49, Sub-Division 11, p. 17.

[27] Lethbridge Herald, January 25 and April 19, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, 1927.

[28] Transfer of Title dated October 1, 1926 from John Drummond Anderson to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 6757 on December 27, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 35F dated December 27, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party.

[29] Calgary Herald, January 25, 1927; Calgary Albertan, January 25, 1927; Winnipeg Tribune, January 26, 1927; Lethbridge Herald, January 25 and 27, February 18 and April 19, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, February 3 and 17 and April 21, 1927.

[30] The Province, June 22 and 23, 1927; Regina Leader-Post, June 22, 23 and 27, 1927; Montreal Gazette, June 22 and 23, 1927; Edmonton Journal, June 22, 23 and 24, 1927; The Montreal Daily Star, June 22, 1927; Calgary Albertan, June 23, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, June 23, 1927.

[31] Edmonton Journal, September 14, 1927; Calgary Herald, September 14, 1927; Regina Leader-Post, September 14, 1927; Montreal Gazette, September 14, 1927; Grand Forks Gazette, September 14, 1927.

[32] Upon arriving in Calgary from Moscow, Peter P. Verigin met with a number of Doukhobor delegates from the Community as well as ex-community members, his first cousins Peter J. Verigin and Larion W. Verigin: Calgary Herald, October 6 and 12, 1927; Calgary Alberta, October 7, 1927; Edmonton Journal, October 7 and 10, 1927;

[33] Calgary Herald, October 13, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, October 20, 1927. Although Nicholas J. Verigin’s appeal was settled in October 1927 and he continued to reside at the Blairmore store in the interim, it was two years before the property was legally transferred into his name:  Transfer of Title dated January 9, 1930 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Limited to Nicholas J. Verigin re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 3097 on January 15, 1930, with new Certificate of Title No. 42C dated January 15, 1930 issued in the name of the latter party.

[34] Nicholas J. Verigin’s wife Mabel (Anastasia) died in Blairmore in October 1930 after a short illness: Blairmore Enterprise, October 16, 1930.

[35] Legal title to the property passed from Nicholas J. Verigin to Silva Sicotte by Transfer dated November 23, 1932 and registered as No. 2969 on November 29, 1932, with new Certificate of Title No. 47E dated November 29, 1932 issued to the latter. Evidently, the purchase was made under a prior agreement for sale as the words “Auto Wrecking” were already superimposed on the buildings in the September 1931 Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map: supra, note 9. As only $1,000.00 of the property value of $3,300.00 was paid on transfer, the agreement for sale presumably commenced around September 1931.

[36] From December 1937 to August 1953, the property was held by a succession of legal owners: Certificate of Title No. 52H dated December 13, 1937 issued to Charles Robert Luchia; Certificate of Title No. 61A dated April 2, 1943 issued to Arctic Oil Sales Limited; Certificate of Title No. 68H dated October 2, 1945 issued to Gas & Oil Products Limited; and Certificate of Title 94Z dated August 29, 1953 issued to Anglo American Exploration Ltd. However, the premises was continuously operated during this period as ‘East End Services’ by proprietor J.L. ‘Pat’ McLeod, presumably under lease: Blairmore Enterprise, December 19, 1941, December 18, 1942, June1 and 15, 1945; Lethbridge Herald, August 22, 1938, June 15, 1940, August 9, 1950 and February 22, 1952.

[37] According to Keith Sprlak, a lifetime resident of Blairmore who assumed ownership of the property in June 1973, there were no structures on the property (other than a concrete pad where the warehouse once stood) since the mid-1950s. Given that the last newspaper reference to East End Services dates to February 1952, it is reasonable to presume that the buildings were demolished either immediately prior or after the property changed hands in August 1953: Keith Sprlak, Blairmore, AB, interview with the writer, April 21, 2022.  

‘The Long and Endless Journey’, Brief Memories of the Perepelkin Family

By William J. Perepelkin

Towards the end of his life, William J. Perepelkin (1922-2012) of Castlegar, British Columbia wrote a short memoir about his parents, Ivan N. and Nastya (nee Planidin) Perepelkin and grandparents Nikolai N. and Mary I. (Evdokimoff) Perepelkin during their life in the Doukhobor Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood between 1899 and 1939. On account of Nikolai’s skills in farming, livestock raising and brick-making, and on the advice of the leaders, the family frequently moved between Doukhobor settlements within and between the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Perepelkin describes their various journeys and experiences as members of the communal organization, along with the hardship and dislocation that followed the demise of the Community and its foreclosure by creditors. He wrote these memories down in the form of a letter to his nephew Fred Samorodin, who years later, transcribed it into the following article. Foreword by Frederick T. Samorodin. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Foreword

Hazel Samorodin (1929-2015), my mother, daughter of Ivan Perepelkin and Nastya Perepelkin nee Planedin, was the third of their six children. “Uncle Bill”, William J. Perepelkin (1922-2012) was Hazel’s oldest brother and the second-born sibling. Folded inside one of my adult diaries, its details almost forgotten, I have found and transcribed the “Brief Memories of the Perepelkin Family” written by my uncle, William Perepelkin and addressed to me from a time I do not recall, initially, having seen the memoir! It adds to details on my family tree and to help tie in some earlier childhood recollections of mine on scattered details of my mother’s own childhood memories.

Fred Samorodin October 6, 2020


On August 19, 1898, Grandfather Nicklai (Nikolai Nikolaevich Perepelkin 1875-1965) with his family in a group of 1,126 (Doukhobor) persons from two villages in the Caucasus – Rodionovka and Efremovka, immigrated temporarily to Cyprus. On April 18, 1899 they sailed (from Larnaca) on the S.S. Lake Superior and landed in Montreal with 1,036 other Doukhobors on May 9, 1899. Then their journey west started (un)till they reached Saskatchewan (then known as the ‘North West Territories’). They established themselves in the village of Kamenka, near Kamsack. They lived there until Peter ‘The Lordly’ Verigin came from his exile in Russia to Canada in 1902.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated in Kamenoye village, SK in the 1906 Census of Northwest Provinces.

As soon as he came, Verigin started to reorganize the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (Doukhobors). During this time the Canadian Government was confiscating parts of the Doukhobor lands. Peter Verigin bought land around the town of Verigin and also a brick factory in Yorkton. By his advice our family moved to Yorkton to work in the brick factory. Since then, the long and endless – so to speak -journey started for our family.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin, brickmaster, and family enumerated in Yorkton, SK in the 1911 Canada Census.

For short periods, under the advice of P.V., they moved to a farm, also near Yorkton, which our people called – “Burtseva Farma”. It was bought by the Community to raise cattle and some grain crops, I guess! I can’t recall the farmer’s name that they bought the farm from. He was of German descent, I think.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated in Plorodnoye (Glade), BC in the 1921 Canada Census.

After a short time, our family was moved to British Columbia, to Kirpichnoye (‘Claybrick’) in the Slocan Valley. We have family pictures of that period. From there, also under the advice of P.V., they were moved to Plodorodnoye (Glade), where they lived until 1924.

(l-r) Ivan (John), Nikolai, Peter, Mary and Elizabeth Perepelkin at Kirpichnoye in the Slocan Valley, c. 1915.

Then, on the advice given again, in the spring of that year (1924), the family was moved to Verigin, Saskatchewan and settled on Section 1 of the CCUB lands. That year, in the fall (October 29, 1924) Peter Verigin got killed in the train explosion near Farron, BC. Grandfather Nicolai was very close to both Verigins – Peter V. as well as his son, Peter P., and felt the tragedy deeply. On Section 1 we lived with two other families—Bloodoffs and Faminoffs, until the arrival from Russia of Peter P. Verigin (‘Chistiakov’) in 1927.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated on Section 1, Veregin district, SK in the 1926 Census of Western Provinces.

In the year 1929, Chistiakov advised our family to move to Section 3, known as ‘Khutor’ (‘ranch’ or ‘farmstead’), which we did, to live with two families of Chernoffs: Nicolai Chernoff with his four daughters and Ivan Chernoff, with his family of five sons. The CCUB was already gradually falling apart, so the land that was jointly cultivated before, was split up, favouring those who had more power or seniority. And, the Chernoffs, having lived there longer than us, took over the two northern quarter sections, which were a full 160 acres each, with no swaps that were left to us on the southern 1.5 quarters—which has a slough across the length (of the property), leaving us only about 105 usable acres. The other quarter and Community buildings and also a huge slough in the middle! So, between these two southern quarters we had only about a total of 205 acres. Then, the Community allotted us the northern part of Section 1, which was across the C.N. Railway line from the farm buildings. This part was not quite cleared of poplar and other brush, which we eventually cleared. This gave us another strip which we could farm!

Anastasia (nee Planidin) (right), wife of Ivan N. Perpelkin near Veregin, SK, c. 1926.

In the years, 1936-37, Chistiakov went around the province of Saskatchewan to all Doukhobor Communities, advising them to move to BC. This he, Chistiakov, advised, not only to Community (CCUB) Doukhobors, but to Independents as well, saying: “Переселяйтесь в Колумбию! Землю не купите! Переселятесь как в Батум! Переживайте где у брата – где у свата!!” [Move to [British] Columbia! Don’t buy property! Move as you (once did) moved to Batum, Georgia (when preparing to emigrate to Cyprus/Canada). Settle in with a brother or a father-in-law!]

Mary Perepelkin holding granddaughter Hazel while very ill at one year of age, Veregin SK, 1929.

We (the Perepelkins) already had accumulated a lot of property: had 16 work horses and four young yearling colts, several cows, all the farm equipment needed to farm the land: a binder, McCormick-Deering for harvesting grain crops; a brand new Case mower for cutting – the first of its kind in Verigin (the first to have gears in an oil bath); a disc harrow, 5 sections of a toothed harrow; a Massey-Harris cultivator. In other words, we were all set to farm! The price of wheat went up to $1.05 a bushel and the yield was fair as compared to the early Thirties, when we barely got our seed back, and the price of feed wheat was 10 cents a bushel.

In 1937, Grandfather Nicolai took Peter Chistiakov’s advice to heart and started to disperse what we could. After the Depression, everyone was poor, so most goods, cows and horses went almost for nothing: $10.00 a head! Grandfather and Dad met with Joe Shukin, who was manager of the CCUB at the time, to deal with property being left behind, such as summer-fallow (which is land that had over 100 plus acres ready for seeding).

Advertisement for a McCormick-Deering binder, similar to the one Nikolai N. Perepelkin acquired while farming near Veregin, SK in the 1930s.

If I remember rightly, we then moved to ‘Vesyoloye’ (Lebahdo-Winlaw) in BC which was also CCUB property at the time – we would not have to pay rent to the CCUB for three years. In the meantime, the CCUB would sell our field under summer fallow, to whomever, at whatever price they could get.

So we started to prepare for the move! Uncle Pete (Peter N. Perepelkinl) and Dad went to Winnipeg and bought a 1934 Chev pickup. This was in 1937. In the spring of 1938 the folks rented a boxcar from the CNR and loaded a team of horses, two cows and other household goods, potatoes, etc. And on April 10th, 1938, Dad with two nice dogs we had, Gyp and Jack, took off for BC in the boxcar with the livestock. I don’t remember how long it took them to get to Lebahdo – about three days, I believe. There were some buildings on the property, although they were in very poor shape, but a shelter, anyway! There were some things that were taken to Auntie Elizabeth Fominoff, who lived at Claybrick, not far away.

Perepelkin siblings (l-r): Hazel ( Samorodin), William holding Frederick, Elma (Hadikin), Una (Voykin). Veregin SK, 1936.

On June 10, 1938, after three days of travel, we, the whole Perepelkin family arrived at ‘Vesyoloye’ on the pickup, dragging behind a trailer with the mower I mentioned earlier. I remember, the fastest we drove, even on paved roads was 45 miles per hour. Much of the road was not paved then!!

So we started to settle down, to fix up buildings. We got permission from the CCUB to wreck a bunkhouse, which was not being used anymore from way up Cougar Creek on the Little Slocan River. It took a few days hauling by horse and wagon to bring the salvaged lumber down. We slept up there a couple of nights while stripping the boards off the sides of the building. So finally we settled down – in a way! Some people would never believe what it was like! Looking back, I could not believe how much work was done in such a short period of time!

Then, in the spring of 1939, William Soukeroff (CCUB official) and a man named Wilson (R.N. Wilson, Sun Life loan manager) – I believe, came to our place and declared, that the Sun Life Assurance Company was foreclosing on the CCUB mortgage, and our agreement with the CCUB was no longer valid! The land now belonged to the Company, and we had to buy the property! I don’t remember if a written notice was given! The agreement would amount to half a crop payment on anything we produced! Seeing that, Grandfather said that: “We have no money, and under the circumstances, we will not buy the land!”

Perepelkin family interviewed about their eviction from Community farm at Winlaw, BC. Vancouver Sun, July 10, 1939.

So we went on living: planted our gardens, etc. On June 7th, 1939, Dad and I were cultivating potatoes of which we had a big field. The cultivator was drawn by a horse, which I led. Suddenly, we heard a lot of screaming; and looking from where the noise came, we saw a truck and a number of men around the buildings (on the property) and an RCMP car standing on the highway. So we stopped our work and went to see what was happening. Upon coming closer, we saw the men were taking anything they could get their hands on and loading the truck, and then driving to the (gravel) highway and unloading everything between the barbed wire fence and the highway! That is a very wet area! There was no more than 10 feet of space. When we moved to “Vesyoloye”, there was only a passible road for horse and wagon. The main road to the Slocan Valley was across the Slocan River. They started to build the main highway that same year, and it was finished in early 1939. It was gravel, of course, and as the traffic went by, the rocks flew up against our tents. And, of course, my brothers, Frederick and George were just – I didn’t know what to say or do! I remembered when we had Bible study in school (We had a very religious teacher). The quote was: “And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also!” (Matthew 5:40).

Somehow all fear left me! I took off my clothes and threw them at the Deputy Sheriff. Then the other family members took off their clothes! I don’t remember who all did, because the Deputy Sheriff and another man led me to the highway. I remember, I called the Deputy “Adolf Hitler”, for which he whacked me across my face! I was actually very angry at this time and a bit bigger than the Deputy. I was going to return the favour. However, a few neighbours gathered around, and a good lady by the name of Polly Rilkoff came up and stopped me from doing so!

Our family gradually settled down by bringing tents, which they made from used material they got from CM&S (Consolidated Mining and Smelting) (now Cominco) in Trail, BC. So after a while they (the Sheriff’s gang) brought everything (took) that we had: (they) let our cows and horses loose on the road, which our neighbours, the Munch brothers impounded! But a good neighbour named Frank Bailey contacted the Government at the time and freed the livestock at no cost to us! So we got two tents, and finally more—covered most of our (remaining) belongings, and settled down for the rest of the summer along the highway, in the bog—a very wet area. But, having a fairly dry summer, we fared as best as we could!

Nikolai and Mary Perpelkin, Lebahdo Flats, BC, 1948.

We stayed in the bog by the highway until October 22, 1939, when Dad decided to move us out of the coming cold weather. And it was getting cold!! Seeing as we had no money, he arranged with a woman named Mary Markin, in Slocan Park for accommodation. Our rent would be paid by labour; clearing brush and pulling stumps, with our horses.

Meantime, Grandfather and Grandmother decided to stay put! So the neighbour I mentioned before, Frank Bailey, came and asked Granddad what he intended to do, seeing as it was getting cold with winter approaching! He asked grandfather if he had any money! Grandfather answered: “Have no money and gonna die here!” Mr. Bailey told him to move back into the houses and he will take care of the rest. So he wrote to the right people and got Grandfather and Grandmother their pensions, as they were of pensionable age. So they moved back!

We lived out our terms of rent by work, and Mary Markin told us, that if we can’t pay rent, we would have to move out! Then Dad went to Glade, where he found some Community buildings that were half empty. Where we decided to move. This was in the spring and summer of 1941. That is how we landed once more in Glade (Plodorodnoye).

Dear Fred: This is an afterthought. As you know, it is hard to remember everything! After we were evicted, a lady reporter (seems to me, her name was Terry) from the Vancouver Sun came to interview us! You could probably get information from the ‘Sun’.

Sorry about my writing! When thoughts come, I have to hurry and put them down before I forget them! If there is something you don’t understand, or is not clear, don’t be afraid to write and ask! Writing something like this, at my age, is kind of hard. When a thought comes, one had to hurry and write it down before losing it!

Best Wishes from your

Uncle Bill Perepelkin

(l-r) Son-in-law Timothy N. Samorodin, a young Freddy Samorodin and grandfather Nikolai N. Perepelkin, Lebahdo Flats, BC, 1953.

P.S. Further recollections by your mother: Before our final move to BC, Father or Grandfather brought our Great-Grandmother (Grandfather’s mother) to BC. (I can’t even recall her name! – We just called her ‘Babushka’ [Anna Ilinichna (nee Muzhelskaya) Perepelkin, b. 1848]. She was left temporarily with relatives, who lived at a place known as ‘Fort Pila’ near Shoreacres. She was in her late 90’s and blind. She later was moved to live out her final days with our Grandparents (at Lebahdo Flats). But at the time of our eviction she was temporarily given shelter by a neighbour in a small shack with a dirt floor, where she stayed for four months before she moved back in with our Grandparents. During the eviction, your Aunt Una Voykin (4th sibling) and I were away at Perry’s Siding, picking strawberries, and missed all the excitement!


Afterword

The following is a summary of the many places where the Perepelkin family lived as members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood during the 44-year period between 1895 and 1939. This rather unsettled existence, described by the writer William J. Perepelkin as a “long and endless journey”, together with the trauma associated with the break-up of the Community and their eviction from Community lands by foreclosing creditors in 1939, may have contributed to some family members subsequently becoming associated with the radical Sons of Freedom in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.

Place of ResidenceYears
Rodionovka village, Akhalkalaki district, Tiflis province, RussiaPrior to 1895
Nizhne-Machkhaani section, Signakhi district, Tiflis province, Russia (exile)1895-1898
Island of Cyprus1898-1899
Kamenka village, Kamsack district, SK1899-1905
Novo-Kamenka village, Arran district, SK1905-1907
CCUB brick factory, Yorkton, SK1907-c.1913
Burtsevo settlement, Hamton district, SKc.1913-c.1915
Kirpichnoye village, Winlaw district, BCc.1915-c.1918
Plodorodnoye settlement, Glade district, BCc.1918-1924
Section 1-30-1-W2 village, Veregin district, SK1924-1929
Khutor village, Veregin district, SK1929-1938
Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1938-1939
Road allowance (evicted), Lebahdo district, BC1939-1939
Slocan Park & Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1939-1941
Glade & Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1941-

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.”

The Doukhobor Grain Elevator at Brilliant , BC

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Brilliant, British Columbia is known for many things, including its historic orchard lands, its spectacular scenic views of the Kootenay and Columbia River valleys and its picturesque mountain backdrops.  One thing it is not known for, however, is grain growing.  And yet, for a quarter-century, a tall grain elevator towered over the community; albeit one that functioned differently than most other elevators in Western Canada.  This article examines the unique history of the Doukhobor grain elevator at Brilliant.

Background

Beginning in 1908, thousands of members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) led by Peter V. Verigin arrived in the West Kootenay from Saskatchewan, where they purchased vast tracts of heavily forested land. 

Doukhobor Communal Enterprise at Brilliant, 1924. BC Archives No. C-01386-141.

Over the next decade, 2,800 Doukhobors[i] settled on 5,350 acres[ii] at Brilliant and Dolina Utesheniya (Ootischenia) at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers.  There, they cleared the land and established 30 communal villages.[iii]  On the non-arable land, they established various industries including sawmills, a planer mill, shingle mill, stave mill, box-making factory, linseed oil processing plant, fruit spray manufacturing facility, pumping plant and electrical works, two large irrigation reservoirs, a harness shop and large jam factory.  On the arable land, they planted 1,435 acres of orchard (apple, pear, plum and cherry trees)[iv] and another 2,706 acres of berries (strawberries, raspberries and currents), potatoes, fiber crops (flax, hemp), forage crops (clover and hay) and feed crops (oats and millet).[v]     

The burgeoning settlement was self-sufficient in virtually every respect, save for one.  While the Doukhobors there grew small plots of wheat, including 55 acres at the north end of Ootischenia and 15 acres on the third bench at Brilliant, they did not produce remotely enough wheat to satisfy their domestic needs.  As flour was a staple food item among Doukhobors, this posed a serious problem.   

Prairie Wheat

To address this, Peter V. Verigin arranged for surplus wheat grown by the CCUB on the Prairies, where it had thousands of acres of grain land, to be milled into flour and shipped to Brilliant and Ootischenia from 1909 on.[vi]  At first, it was a one-way exchange.  However, as the settlement grew and developed, especially after its orchards came into bearing between 1912 and 1918, it traded its locally-produced fruit, jam and timber for Prairie wheat and flour.   

CCUB Grain Elevator at Brilliant, BC, c. 1922. BC Archives No. C-01790.

To further facilitate this exchange, in September 1912, the Doukhobor leader first proposed building a local grain elevator to store the wheat shipped in from the Prairies and a grist mill to manufacture flour from it.[vii]  The mill was constructed at the northeast end of Ootischenia, which was called Kamennoye, by December 1914.[viii]  However, it was several more years before the elevator was built.    

The Elevator

Between October 1917 and August 1918,[ix] CCUB work crews erected a large grain elevator on the south side of the Canadian Pacific Railway Rossland Branch right-of-way, immediately west of the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam factory on the main bench of Brilliant. 

The Doukhobors were proficient elevator builders at the time, having constructed nine grain elevators owned and operated by the CCUB at Verigin, Arran, Ebenezer, Canora and Kylemore, SK and at Cowley and Lundbreck, AB as well as numerous others built for hire for private grain companies.

The one at Brilliant was a ‘standard plan’ elevator of wood crib construction clad in tin on a concrete foundation, about 35 x 35 feet wide x 70 feet high, with a gable cupola facing north-south.  It had a storage capacity of 30,000 bushels of grain.  Originally painted white, it was repainted dark brown between 1925 and 1927.  Emblazoned on its east and west sides were the words, “The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd.”    

Attached on the south side of the elevator was a wooden ramp, receiving shed and office.  On its west side was an attached engine shed containing a stationary gasoline engine which provided the motive power to operate the elevator.  Attached on the east side was a large flour warehouse that stored bagged flour received from the Prairies.        

Operations

The Brilliant grain elevator operated continuously from 1918 until 1938.  Throughout this time, it followed a more or less regular seasonal routine.

Each September through October, after the CCUB Prairie grain harvest was completed, railroad boxcars loaded with bulk wheat were shipped from CCUB Prairie elevators to Brilliant.  Each boxcar held between 1,200 and 1,500 bushels and up to 20 boxcars were dispatched each year.  Once they arrived at Brilliant, the boxcars were spotted (parked) on the railway siding beside the elevator for unloading. 

To unload a boxcar, the exterior door was slid open and the wooden boards nailed across the interior opening were removed, one at a time, starting from the top.  This allowed the wheat to flow out the door into the horse-drawn grain wagon parked beside it.  Each wagon held 100 bushels and 12-15 wagons were required to unload a single boxcar.[x]  Once the wooden boards were removed and wheat ceased to flow out the boxcar door, the remaining wheat was shoveled out by hand.       

Inside a Grain Elevator. Courtesy Commonwealth Journal.

Each loaded wagon was then driven by a Doukhobor teamster into the elevator receiving shed where it was unhitched from its team, weighed on the scale and then lifted using hand-operated crank hoists to dump the grain into the receiving pit below.  Once empty, the wagon was lowered and reweighed.  The difference between weights determined the volume of wheat received.  The wheat was then carried from the pit to the top or ‘head’ of the elevator by means of a ‘leg’, a continuous belt with carrying cups.  From the head, the grain was dumped into one of several bins where it was stored.  Over several weeks, up to 300 wagon-loads of grain were received by the elevator until it reached its storage capacity. 

When wheat stored in the elevator was needed for milling, it was emptied by gravity flow from the bin into a hopper and back down into the pit, where it was then carried back up the ‘leg’ to an unloading spout that emptied in the receiving shed into a horse-drawn grain wagon parked there.  The loaded wagon was then driven across the suspension bridge to the grist mill at Kamennoye to be ground into flour. 

As the grist mill had a relatively limited capacity of 100 bushels a day, only one wagon-load of wheat was typically discharged from the grain elevator each day.  It therefore took some 300 days to fully empty the elevator, by which time, new boxcars of wheat would arrive from the latest Prairie harvest.  And so the cycle repeated itself.    

When flour milled by the CCUB on the Prairies was shipped to Brilliant, the bags of flour were unloaded from the boxcar by hand and carried to the elevator flour warehouse where they were stacked and stored. 

Management

Initially, the CCUB Brilliant Branch Manager was responsible for the operation of the grain elevator.  From 1918 to 1923, this was Michael M. Koftinoff, and from 1924 to 1926, it was Larion W. Verigin.  By 1928, the elevator had its own Manager, which in that year was John J. Zoobkoff, while from 1929 to 1932 it was Michael W. Soukeroff.[xi]  Several labourers assisted the Manager with grain handling.    

Licensing Status

The Brilliant elevator operated quite differently than most elevators in Western Canada.  It did not receive grain from members of the public.  And while it received grain privately owned by the CCUB, it did not receive any that was locally produced.  Indeed, it did not deal directly with producers at all.  Also, it did not handle un-inspected grain, since the grain it received was already inspected at the CCUB Prairie elevators.  Nor did it purchase, handle, store or sell any grain for commerce.  Finally, it did not ship out any grain by rail.       

Doukhobor Grain Elevator at Brilliant, 1927. Courtesy Doukhobor Discovery Centre/John Kalmakov.

Because of its unique mode of operation, the grain storage facility did not legally fit the definition of a “public elevator”, “country elevator”, “primary grain dealer” nor “private elevator” so as to require a license under The Canada Grain Act.  Consequently, with one exception, it was never licensed while in operation.[xii] 

The Demise of the CCUB

For two decades, the grain elevator served as an essential component of the CCUB food supply chain, helping keep bread on the tables of the Doukhobors of Brilliant and Ootischenia. 

However, by mid-1936, the CCUB was bankrupt.  Its collapse was the combination of various factors, including low prices for its agricultural and industrial products during the Great Depression; oppressive interest rates on its mortgaged properties; a declining membership base, placing the debt load on disproportionately less members; non-payers of annual allotments among its members; the enormous losses to its capital assets suffered from incendiarism; as well as financial mismanagement.[xiii]

In May 1938, the Brilliant grain elevator and other CCUB properties were foreclosed upon by the receiver for the National Trust Company Limited, having been pledged as collateral to secure the bankrupt organization’s debt.[xiv]  For the next five years, it sat empty and unused except as casual storage.  Then in October 1942, it was transferred to the Government of British Columbia.[xv]  However, the Government’s tenure over the elevator proved to be short-lived. 

Destruction of the Elevator

In November 1942, the vacant elevator was completely destroyed in a suspicious fire.[xvi]  The property damage was valued at $4,000.00 for the structure and $2,500.00 for its contents.[xvii]  Provincial police investigated possible incendiary origin of the fire, suspecting radical Sons of Freedom;[xviii] however, no charges were ever laid. 

News report of elevator fire, The Province, November 12, 1942.

Conclusion

Today there are no physical traces of the grain elevator at Brilliant.  The site where it stood at 1839 Brilliant Road is now occupied by a landscaping company.  However, the story of this iconic structure serves to remind us of the ingenuity, determination and productivity of the once-flourishing Doukhobor communal organization it was a part of.   

After Word

An earlier version of this article was originally published in the Trail Times, November 3, 2020 edition and the Castlegar News and Nelson Star November 4, 2020 editions.

End Notes


[i] In October 1912, there were 2,203 Doukhobors at Brilliant and Dolina Utesheniya: W. Blakemore, Report of Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria: Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 1913) at 35. By March 1914, there were 2,800 Doukhobors living there: Joseph, P. Shoukin, Calgary Daily Herald, March 28, 1914.  And in June 1921 there were 2,492 Doukhobors residing in these areas: 1921 Canada Census, District No. 18 Kootenay West, Sub-District No. 10 Trail, pages 1-30 and Sub-District No. 10A Trail, pages 1-23.

[ii] Snesarev, V.N., The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia, Department of Agriculture, 1931).

[iii] V. Plotnikoff, “Shining Waters, Doukhobors in the Castlegar Area” in Castlegar, A Confluence (Castlegar & District Heritage Society, 2000).

[iv] Snesarev, supra, note 2.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] See for example, “Letter to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood from Petr Verigin, 24 September 1909” in A. Donskov, Leo Tolstoy and the Canadian Doukhobors: A Study in Historic Relationships. Expanded and Revised Edition. (University of Ottawa Press, Nov. 19 2019); SFU Item No. MSC121-DC-029-001, Letter to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood from Peter Verigin, September 5, 1911; SFU Item No. MSC121-DB-052-001, Account of Income and Expenditures for Relocation to British Columbia for the year 1911 up to August 10, 1912; “Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held in Otradnoye Village, October 13, 1912” in Winnipeg Free Press, December 5, 1912.

[vii] Blakemore, supra, note 1 at 47.

[viii] The Province, December 21, 1914.

[ix] Detailed photographic and textual depictions of Brilliant in 1917 do not include the grain elevator: Vancouver Standard, April 7, 1917; Vancouver Daily Sun, October 14, 1917. However, several 1918 and 1919 accounts make reference to the ‘recently erected’ grain elevator: Record of Christian Work, Vol. 37, No. 8, August, 1918 at 449; Letter dated April 24, 1919 from Nicholas J. Chernenkoff, CCUB to B.E. Paterson, Chairman, Committee of Enquiry & Research, Soldier Settlement Board; British Columbia Farmer, May 1, 1919; Saskatoon Daily Star, July 12, 1919.

[x] A lesser number might have been used, provided they first unloaded their wheat in the elevator and then returned to the boxcar for another load.

[xi] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1928-1932.

[xii] Throughout its twenty years of operation from 1918 to 1938, the CCUB elevator Brilliant was only licensed once in 1930-1931: List of Licensed Elevators and Warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division (Ottawa: Department of Trade and Commerce, 1930-1931) at 8. This appears to have been due to a misinterpretation of the revised Canada Grain Act, 1930 (Can.), c. 5) which came into force on September 1, 1930.

[xiii] S. Jamieson, “Economic and Social Life” in H.B. Hawthorn (Ed.), The Doukhobors of British Columbia (University of British Columbia, 1955) at 52-56.

[xiv] National Trust Company v. The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. (SCC) [1941] SCR 601, [1941] 3 DLR 529; 23 CBR 1; Medicine Hat News, June 29, 1939 at 1.

[xv] The Doukhobor Lands Acquisition Act (Chapter 12, Statutes of British Columbia, 1939); British Columbia Order-in-Council No. 1429 of October 21, 1942.

[xvi] Vancouver Sun, November 12, 1942; The Province, November 12, 1942.

[xvii] Steve Lapshinoff, Depredations in Western Canada Attributed to the Sons of Freedom, 1923 to 1993 (Krestova: self-published, 1994) at 11.

[xviii] Supra, note 16.

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.