By Myler Wilkinson
In 1979, future Selkirk College English Professor Myler Wilkinson (1953-2020), then a young reporter at the Grand Forks Gazette, interviewed retired sawmill worker Nick D. Arishenkoff (1901-1982) about his experience as a young man working at the brick factory of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood west of the city. In the following article, reproduced from the Grand Forks Gazette May 2, 1979, Arishenkoff recalls the operations of the once-thriving communal industrial enterprise. Accompanying the article are incredible photos of the brick factory site as it stood in October 1974, taken by former Grand Forks resident, Walt Astofooroff, and reproduced here by permission.
While some aspects of Doukhobor life here in the Kootenay-Boundary area continues to make front page headlines, others fade quietly, further and further into the past, remembered only by a declining number of the older generation.
In a vacant field not far from Caron Corners, near the old Fruitova school, there are some serious reminders of that past: the rotting wood scaffolding of an old building, a steam engine tractor of the type used at the turn of the century, the remains of an open pit the size of three football fields, and strewn everywhere, pieces of red brick.
If a person had come upon the scene prior to 1938 he would have seen a brick factory which turned out some 22,000 bricks each day throughout the spring and summer. Close by would have been a blacksmith’s building and a woodworking shop. No evidence of these buildings remains today.
Nick Arishenkoff who now lives just across the road remembers working in the brick plant as a young man soon after he came to Grand Forks in 1911.
From his front steps he points to the clay pit where four men at a time once shoveled hard-pan clay and sand into a dumper car which was then hauled by two work horses to the mixing plant. The wood scaffolding, the steam engine and some broken machinery in the middle of the field are the remains of that plant, he says.
He remembers how the horses pulled the car up a ramp to the top of the platform which still remains and then dumped the mixture down a chute to be mixed. At that time the huge gears of a 22-horsepower steam engine powered the mixer and the cable ramp, which moved the bricks through the stages of drying.
After the clay, sand and water mixture was pressed into molds, six at a time, the wet bricks were placed on the platform of the moving cable and transported to the first drying area.
Here thousands of bricks each day were placed on racks in the open sheds which extended a few hundred yards on either side of the moving cable.
It was Arishenkoff’s job to turn the bricks on their sides to make sure they were dry all the way through.
The final stage of brick-making was the fire kiln drying process. As many as 300,000 bricks might be stacked in a pile 14 feet high by 12 feet wide, Arishenkoff says. Small corridors were left at the base of the pile where wood fires were maintained to give the final hardening to the bricks. Gradually the fires were made hotter until approximately five days later the process was finished.
You knew the bricks were ready, Arishenkoff says, when they were red into the very middle of the pile.
The single major purchaser of the bricks was the Trail Smelter but many of them also went to help build the towns of Nelson, Castlegar, Trail and Grand Forks, he says.
In the early years Arishenkoff says there were no real wages paid to the men. A budget was made in the spring, he says, with so much set aside to pay the companies which held the mortgages on the operations and the land. At the end of the year a sum of money was allotted to each person ($150-$450) according to their needs and the work they did. At the same time necessary provisions, shelter and clothing were provided by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, the forerunner of the present USCC.
The CCUB was the nominal owner of all communal operations with first Peter P. Verigin at its head and then in 1927 his son Peter V. Verigin.
Although the mid-1920’s and 1930’s brought some change to this social organization it was the year 1938 which dealt an irrevocable blow to the communal organization of the Doukhobors.
It is a year Arishenkoff still remembers with some emotion.
After several depression years the National Trust Company and Sun Life decided to foreclose the mortgages owed by the Doukhobor community totaling approximately $300,000.
The CCUB Doukhobor operations and holdings went into receivership. The B.C. government of the time purchased all communal holdings for amounts far below their estimated worth and then paid all amounts due on outstanding mortgages. A surplus of $142,000 was realized on CCUB holdings which at their peak had an estimated value of $6 million.
The brick plant was closed down in that year and never re-opened. One half-million bricks were on hand at the time of foreclosure.
All movable equipment and materials were sold for scrap, Arishenkoff says. “Only the heavy things that could not be taken were left,” he says.
Forty-one years later anyone who is interested can see what remains of this equipment as it rusts and rots away in the middle of a field surrounded by bricks, at the junction of Canning and Reservoir Roads.
Special thanks to Sue Adrain, Archivist, Boundary Community Archives, for submitting this article.