Doukhobor Berry Pickers at Hatzic, BC, 1918

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In the summer of 1918, 150 Doukhobor young women from Brilliant disembarked at Hatzic, 350 miles away in the Lower Mainland of BC, to pick fruit. Their arrival sparked some controversy among local growers and pickers, wary of these ‘foreigners’ and unfamiliar with their customs, dress and speech. The following article recounts their story and how they overcame local prejudice through their toil and industry to become regarded as the best pickers in the district.

Background

In April 1911, the Doukhobor Society purchased the vacant Kootenay Jam Co. factory in Nelson, BC and commenced a large-scale jam-making and canning enterprise as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, producing the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jams.[i] Using locally-grown fruit, the 6-ton-per-day facility ran 4 years and was then replaced by a new, larger 12-ton-per-day plant built at Brilliant in May 1914.[ii]

Doukhobor jam factory at Brilliant, c. 1918. BC Archives No. D-06930.

From the outset, the jam factory was capable of processing a substantially larger quantity of fruit than the Doukhobor Society orchards could supply; particularly before they came into full bearing. It thus became necessary to supplement the supply by purchasing fruit and berries from other West Kootenay growers on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, at Creston and the Arrow Lakes.[iii]

The jam-making enterprise frequently purchased standing crops of fruit and berries and supplied its own pickers (primarily Doukhobor young women), paying the same or higher price than local growers could secure if they hired their own labour for picking.[iv] This was a significant benefit to growers, who often confronted labour shortages during the brief picking season.

Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works ad seeking fruit from growers to fill very large contract. Nelson Daily News, May 4, 1918.

In March 1918, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works received a very large contract for jams and jellies for the upcoming season and purchased all the available berries grown in the West Kootenay.[v] The local volume proved insufficient, and the Doukhobor Society approached fruit growers considerably further afield at Hatzic on the BC Lower Mainland.[vi]  

The Hatzic Growers

Located on the CPR line 45 miles east of Vancouver, Hatzic (pop. 500) was a thriving fruit-growing and ranching district at the time. In 1918, it was the largest express fruit shipping point in Canada, and the greatest small fruit district in BC, with a quarter of a million dollars in output.[vii]

Hatzic, BC c. 1918. BC Archives No. 07895.

The Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works initially contacted Thomas Catherwood, secretary of the Hatzic Fruit Growers’ Association, who solicited its members to sell to them, resulting in 40 acres of raspberries, or 30 percent of the district acreage (100 tons) signed for at 6 cents per lb. standing.[viii] The total sale value was $13,500.00 or $240,000.00 in today’s dollars.

However, the deal ran afoul of the YWCA National Service Bureau, which was mobilizing 2,000 English-Canadian women from the coast to pick fruit that season, and which decried their displacement by Doukhobor pickers.[ix] Following a meeting with YWCA representatives, the Association abruptly refused to have the sale go through it, fearing it “might become involved in difficulties arising out of the contract to sell to these strangers.”[x]

Despite this setback, 7 Hatzic growers, accounting for some 20 acres or 15 percent of the district acreage (50 tons), sold their entire raspberry crop directly to the Doukhobors.[xi] These were H.B. Walton, J.G. Michie, H. Hall, D. McGilvery, G. Doane, W. MacDonald and H.W Noble. Reportedly, their going outside the Fruit Growers’ Association to dispose of their crop was not met with the heartiest approval of other growers.[xii]

Headline of Hatzic growers’ sale of raspberries to Doukhobors, Vancouver Daily World, July 2, 1918.

The Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works purchased the 7 Hatzic growers’ standing crops for 7 cents per lb. – the equivalent of 11 cents per lb. paid by local canneries when picking costs (3 cents per lb.) and freight costs (1 cent per lb.) to the Brilliant jam factory were taken into account.[xiii] The total sale value was $7,850.00, or $140,000.00 in today’s dollars.

Arrival of the Doukhobor Pickers

On July 2, 1918, a Doukhobor agent for the jam factory arrived in Hatzic to complete all arrangements for the accommodations of the pickers and handling of the product generally.[xiv] Within the week, 150 Doukhobor girls from Brilliant, accompanied by 7 Doukhobor male overseers (one per ranch), arrived by CPR train at Hatzic.[xv] They quickly erected tent camps and cook houses on each ranch and set to work picking raspberries.

Almost immediately, the Doukhobor girls encountered prejudice from the English-Canadian girls already picking in the fields who refused to work with them or “to be associated with a lot of ignorant foreigners” who were, in their belief, “decidedly the reverse of cleanly about their homes and persons.”[xvi]

It is worth noting that none of the English Canadian pickers had previously met or seen a Doukhobor and their beliefs were not based on reason nor actual experience. Fortunately, their preconceptions were quickly dispelled.  

Hatzic fruit farms, c. 1918. SFU No. MSC130-0443-01.

The Vancouver Daily World dispatched a correspondent to visit the Doukhobor pickers at Hatzic. They reported that “everywhere the same air of cleanliness prevailed. The camps and the cook houses were shining, the beds neatly made, while the girls, in their straight, coarse gowns, with white shawls pinned on their heads, were as neat and clean-looking as could be desired.” “The Doukhobor girls”, they concluded, “need to concede nothing to their Anglo-Saxon sisters in the way of cleanliness and neatness.”[xvii]

As soon as the English Canadians became personally familiar with their Doukhobor workmates, they readily resumed picking alongside them, and adopted a friendly and even respectful tone towards them.

The newspaper also reported on the interest taken by the Doukhobor girls in the Canadian girls’ apparel. They were very much struck by the neatness and convenience of the ‘overall outfits’ of the Canadian girls, and vowed that if they returned to the berry fields the next year, they would “all be wearing the khakhi or blue derry trousers”.[xviii] They were also quite taken by the varied head coverings worn by the Canadian girls, and some of them finally summoned up sufficient courage, using broken English and hand gestures, to ask to be permitted to try them on, to the merriment of all gathered.[xix]

In the Fields

The Doukhobor girls were evidently very happy in their work. The Vancouver Daily World reported that, “throughout the whole day laughter and song can be heard rising from the fields in which they are engaged. They sing very well, too, and when in groups almost eagerly respond to a request for a song. Their voices are all apparently low, and they sing in a fashion that might be characterized as ‘drony’ but which is nevertheless quite musical, three parts being clearly distinguishable.”[xx]

Headline of Hatzic growers’ satisfaction with Doukhobor pickers, Vancouver Daily World, July 20, 1918.

As for the fruit growers, they were reportedly most pleased with the Doukhobors girls.  “Their work in the fields,” stated the Vancouver Daily World, “is more than satisfactory. They are painstaking and industrious; take care of the bushes, pick clean, and keep well up with their work.”[xxi]

Indeed, one grower, Captain H.B. Walton, was quoted as follows: “We were a little doubtful about the experiment with these pickers, but we are entirely satisfied. We have never had pickers who needed less looking after, or who did any better work.”[xxii]

Reportedly, the only ‘issue’ Captain Walton encountered with the Doukhobor girls related to their initial objection to working on Sundays. “Our Lord do not like us to work on Sunday”, they said. But Walton asked them “if they thought their Lord would like to see good berries go to waste. That settled it. After a little consideration they decided to go to work.”[xxiii]

The admiration shown towards the Doukhobor pickers for their cleanliness, enthusiasm and work ethic by the English Canadian growers and pickers at Hatzic stood in sharp contrast with the mounting anti-Doukhobor sentiment throughout the West Kootenay and Boundary on account of their pacifist stance during the Great War.   

For his part, H.B. Walton was indignant at the criticism levelled at him and the other 7 growers for disposing of their crops directly to the Doukhobors. “There is no good reason”, he stated, “why we seven should be criticized for selling outside the Association. Other growers in this district are doing the same thing, and are not being criticized. “As a matter of fact”, warmly concluded the doughty captain, “the growers ought to be very thankful that 150 good pickers extra have been brought into this district this year. They would have been put to it very badly for help to harvest their crop if we had not sold where we have. No one has been hurt by our action, but on the contrary, a serious shortage of pickers has been averted.”[xxiv]

“K.C. Brand” raspberry jam manufactured by the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. Photo courtesy Greg Nesteroff.

The Doukhobor girls completed their picking over the course of about three weeks, during which approximately 50 tons of raspberries were shipped fresh by railcar to Brilliant as they were picked and boxed. They then demobilized their camps and cook houses and accompanied the last CPR train laden with raspberries back to their homes in Brilliant, where the berries were unloaded and processed at the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works into the famous “K.C. Brand” jam.

Group Photograph

A day or two before they departed, a proposal was made to take some ‘snaps’ of the Doukhobor girls. Only one of these photographs has survived to the present, and is housed in Koozma J. Tarasoff’s Doukhobor History Photo Collection at the British Columbia Archives.[xxv]  

The photograph shows 26 Doukhobor fruit pickers at one of the Hatzic ranches in July 1918. Note three of the girls at the left end of the front row are wearing borrowed ‘English’ hats. Behind them can be seen raspberry bushes, and further behind, their tent camp and cook house. Rising in the background is Dewdney Peak.

Doukhobor young women picking raspberries at Hatzic BC, 1918. BC Archives No. E-02695.

Fortunately, the names of these Doukhobor young women were recorded on the back of the photograph for posterity. They are:

Back row (L-R): Anastasia Samorodin; Varvara Vlasoff; Tatyana L. Gritchin; Anastasia Popoff (wife of Peter K. Fofonoff); Elizabeth N. Perepelkin (wife of Larry Fofonoff); the next two are owners of the orchard, possibly H.B. Walton and wife; Anna Samsonoff (nee Subbotin); Semyon Salikin; Pelageya Fateevna Tomilin (wife of Michael I. Zubkoff); Anastasia Pictin (wife of Peter Planidin); Irina Fed. Masloff (wife of Wasili M Maloff); and Maria Postnikoff (wife of F.M. Evdokimoff).

Centre row (L-R): Pelageya M. Sotnikoff (wife of Andrew Chernoff) Tatyana V. Argatoff (wife of V.V. Kootnikoff); Agafiya Gr. Malakhoff wife of Michael P. Chernoff); Anna E. Planidin (wife of I.V. Soloveoff ; Nastia Makortoff (wife of Andrew Bloodoff); and Varvara N. Popoff (wife of A.N. Voykin).

First row (L-R): Agafiya Wasilenkoff (wife of Ignat Antefaev); Pelegaya Chernenkoff (wife of Michael Koftinoff); Anna Dm. Shlahoff (wife of Steven Zhivotkoff); Anastasia T. Savenkoff (wife of Ivan I. Novokshonoff); unidentified; Varvara S. Obedkoff (wife of Ivan Strelioff) and Agafiya M. Sotnikoff (wife of Gr. Ivin).


After Word

A slightly abridged version of this article was published in the Mission City Record, October 20, 2023.


End Notes

[i] For a comprehensive history of the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, see Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Jam-Making Enterprise” in West Kootenay Advertiser, April 23-30 and May 7, 14, 21 2020: https://tinyurl.com/7938yz47; https://tinyurl.com/4h7ka3kk; https://tinyurl.com/43axfdjk; https://tinyurl.com/pr8f6yc5; https://tinyurl.com/vjj9pcuj. See also Greg Nesteroff, The Doukhobor Jam Factory in Nelson: https://tinyurl.com/tywvxh.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid. See also Jonathan J. Kalmakoff & Greg Nesteroff, Doukhobors at Proctor and Sunshine Bay: https://tinyurl.com/ykktzhmb.

[iv] The Doukhobor pickers were not paid for their labour, but received all basic necessities – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – as members of the Community. This directly reduced the financial outlay paid by the Doukhobor Society to fruit growers by up to 35-40% of the total cost. 

[v] Nelson Daily News, May 4, 1918.

[vi] Vancouver Sun, March 28, 1918; Vancouver Daily World, March 28, 1918.It was reported that the Doukhobor Society had entered fruit contracts with growers at Mission, near Hatzic, the previous season in 1917.

[vii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1918 at 213.

[viii] The contract entered into through the Hatzic Fruit Growers’ Association accounted for 40 acres, or roughly 30 percent of the acreage in the district, for which it was planned to send 300 Doukhobors to pick the crop:  Abbotsford Post, March 22, 1918; Vancouver Daily World, July 20, 1918.

[ix] Vancouver Sun, March 28, 1918; Abbotsford Post, April 5, 1918.

[x] Following a March 27, 1918 meeting between the Vancouver WYCA and the Hatzic Fruit Growers Association (during which, it seems, the Association was induced to back out of the agreement with the Doukhobors), the YWCA glibly reported that rumours of Doukhobor pickers at Hatzic were “mere nonsense”, a “tempest in a tea-pot” and that it was unaware of any contracts having been signed for Doukhobor pickers: Vancouver Daily World, March 28, 1918; Abbotsford Post, April 5, 1918; Vancouver Daily World, July 20, 1918.

[xi] Vancouver Daily World, July 2, 1918; Abbotsford Post, July 5, 1918; Princeton Daily Star, July 26, 1918.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Vancouver Daily World, July 2, 1918.

[xv] Ibid; Greenwood Ledge, July 11, 1918; Princeton Daily Star, July 19, 1918.

[xvi] Vancouver Daily World, July 20, 1918.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] British Columbia Archives, Item No. E-02695.

Doukhobors at Procter and Sunshine Bay, BC

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

Recently, Judy Brown of Calgary made an interesting discovery while exploring the Vancouver Public Library’s digitized collection of BC civic directories. While looking for something unrelated, she ended up studying the listings for Procter, where she grew up. The 1918 and 1919 editions of Wrigley’s BC Directory, she discovered, included the curious entry: “Doukhobor Colony bee-keeping.” [1]

The entry is intriguing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is there is no memory of a Doukhobor colony at that place.

The entry does not identify who the Doukhobors were. No Doukhobor individuals or organization are specifically named. This stands in contrast with other West Kootenay towns listed in the same directories, where Doukhobors appear by corporate name (e.g. “Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood” in Brilliant or “Abrossimoff Bros & Co general store” at Thrums) or by personal name (e.g. “Arakoff, Sam, logging foreman, Salmon Valley Lumber & Pole Co” at Porto Rico or “Samarodin, Nick, planerman, Slocan Valley Lumber & Pole Co” at Koch Siding).

Also, the term “colony” is deceptively non-specific. Most Doukhobor colonies in the West Kootenay numbered from 250 to 2,500 persons. However, the term did not necessarily entail any sort of large-scale presence. As newspapers of the period demonstrate, English-speaking locals seemed to use the term any time two or more families of “foreigners” settled in their midst, especially when they were unfamiliar with their language and customs.

Moreover, it is not clear where the colony was actually located. While the entry appears in the directories under “Procter,” the listings extend well beyond the town itself to the surrounding Procter postal district and include rural farms and ranches as well as the settlement of Sunshine Bay but not Harrop, which was listed separately.

As well, the colony appears to have been short-lived. It is only listed in the civic directories in 1918 and 1919. By 1921, there were no Doukhobors enumerated in the Canada census listings for Procter, Sunshine Bay, Harrop or surrounding West Arm settlements.

Finally, while the colony evidently engaged in beekeeping it is not obvious why it did so at Procter, some 30 miles (48 km) east of the main Doukhobor settlements located along the mid to lower reaches of the Slocan and Kootenay River valleys. There is no record of Doukhobors owning land there at the time.

So who were the Doukhobor colonists at Procter?

1918 listings for Procter (misspelled Proctor) in the Wrigley’s BC Directory.

Community Doukhobors on the West Arm

In April 1911, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) purchased the former Kootenay Jam Company factory in Nelson and renamed it the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. [2] As the factory was capable of processing a substantially larger quantity of produce than the CCUB could initially supply, it purchased fruit and berries from other fruit ranchers throughout the West Kootenay. [3]

Within days of its formation, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works announced it was making contracts for fruit with the ranchers on the West Arm, which contained many mature, bearing orchards. [4] The contracts were typically three to five years long, with the Doukhobors often purchasing the fruit on the tree, putting their own pickers in the fields to gather them.

This was a welcome economic stimulus for West Arm fruit-growers, who were often unable to find a market for their excess produce at any price. Indeed, the guaranteed income from these contracts became a selling feature for many improved ranches on the West Arm subsequently placed for sale. [5] The Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works continued to contract fruit from ranchers throughout the surrounding district through 1918-19.

Two of several ads for the sale of West Arm ranches with fruit contracts with the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. Nelson Daily News, May 12, 1912.

The supply of Doukhobor communal pickers under these contracts was also a significant benefit to West Arm fruit-growers, who often confronted labour shortages at the height of the picking season. [6] Many growers, impressed with the Doukhobors’ strong work ethic and industry, began hiring them to tend their orchards and market gardens throughout the growing season. By 1912-1913, numerous Doukhobors worked outside their villages on fruit ranches throughout the surrounding district. [7]

Typically, an entire Doukhobor family, and sometimes several, were hired by a fruit-grower in March or early April to live and work on his ranch for the season. They were often provided a rough dwelling or outbuilding for quarters, although some slept in tents. There, they undertook general orchard management, including planting fruit tree saplings, small fruit and vegetables, as well as pruning, spraying, thinning, cultivating, weeding and watering the existing orchard.

They might also clear new land for orchard planting the next year. The entire family participated. By mid-July, they picked and packed fruit and by mid-September, harvested vegetables. By October, they returned to their communal village and turned in their earnings to the central treasury. This working out among the Angliki (English) became an important source of revenue for the CCUB.

Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works ad seeking fruit from Nelson district growers, Nelson Daily News, May 4, 1918.

By 1916, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, now relocated to Brilliant, was purchasing honey as well as fruit from ranchers on the West Arm and elsewhere throughout the district. In February 1918, the Creston Review reported that the Doukhobor enterprise had purchased the “entire output” of beekeepers from as far afield as Creston “at very attractive prices” for the past two years. [8]

It was not stated whether these purchases were intended for the Doukhobors’ own domestic use or for commercial processing and sale. However, considering there is no record of the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works having sold honey, [9] they likely supplemented the CCUB’s own domestic honey production

Piecing together the Procter colony

In light of the Doukhobor Community’s ongoing purchase of fruit, berries and honey and hiring out of orchard workers and pickers on the West Arm, a picture begins to emerge of the bee-keeping colony at Procter.

The “colony” was surely located on the ranch of an English Canadian fruit-grower at or near Procter; one who contracted his fruit to the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in Brilliant. The contract was probably of three years’ duration, commencing in 1917 and ending in 1919. This would explain why the “colony” was already present when the Wrigley’s Directory was compiled in early 1918 but no longer appeared by the 1920 edition. [10]

The “colonists” were almost certainly two to three or more CCUB families; enough to constitute a colony in the eyes of locals. They would have been hired to manage the orchard throughout the growing season, then pick, pack and ship the fruit to the Doukhobor jam factory at Brilliant. They may have even wintered at the ranch.

As for why the Doukhobors were listed in the directory as a colony and not merely as fruit ranch employees, it was undoubtedly because they also engaged in their own beekeeping operation there. The Doukhobors had been avid beekeepers for generations and maintained sizeable apiaries throughout their Kootenay settlements, from the largest to the very smallest. [11] Most often this was not a main vocation but a sideline activity to their agricultural operations.

Apiary run by a single Doukhobor family at the CCUB stopping house in Nelson, 1921. (Courtesy Paul Strelive).

As the Doukhobors well knew, beekeeping and orchard-keeping were highly complementary pursuits, since the fruit tree blossoms provided bees with nectar and pollen as a food source for the hive, while the production of fruit was highly dependent on pollination by bees. Moreover, the fruit-growing season from March through August closely coincided with the bee-foraging, honey production and honey harvest season.

Evidently, the CCUB families hired by the Procter-area rancher brought several beehives from their communal village along with them while they lived and worked at his orchard over several growing seasons. As a single Doukhobor family was capable of keeping 15 to 20 hives as a sideline, [12] the several colony families probably tended as many as 45 to 60 hives and possibly more. This would have made quite an impression upon local residents.

Ultimately, the bees benefited the rancher and neighbours by promoting greater fruit production (and thus profits) through fruit sales to the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. For their part, the Doukhobor families gained sizeable honey cash crops of their own while also earning wages for managing the orchard. This helped offset the CCUB’s then-current honey production deficit, [13] reducing the volume of honey it needed to privately purchase for its members.

What is more, the identity of one of the colony families was revealed in a 1952 memoir by former CCUB secretary-treasurer Simeon F. Reibin as well as a very unfortunate circumstance that made local headlines.

As Reibin described it, Alesh (Alex) Stoochnoff (or Stoshnoff) was an old man who lived with his wife and two sons and worked an orchard at Harrop, near Sunshine Bay. Although “very industrious” and “honest,” his character was “dismally peculiar.” Hot-tempered and unable to get along with others, he was exiled with his family from the CCUB settlement at Shoreacres by leader Peter V. Verigin. [14]

Stoochnoff’s sons won Verigin’s approval for their hard work and expertise in tree pruning. Both, however, died prematurely, one from natural causes and the other after falling down a rocky hillside while working at Sunshine Bay. [15] Alex and his “very kind hearted wife” Mavra were left “lonesome and discouraged.” [16]

There was even more grief to endure. Although Reibin did not mention it, the Stoochnoffs also had a daughter, Malicia. [17] In August 1918, the Nelson Daily News reported that Malicia, a “Sunshine Bay Doukhobor,” appeared in provincial police court after neighbours laid an information alleging she “took fits and threw rocks and rushed about,” “attacked” them, and tried “to commit suicide by drowning.” [18]

She was clearly suffering from mental illness, which at the time carried a great deal of fear and stigma. Sadly, the judge found her “insane and dangerous to be at large” and committed her to the New Westminster asylum “for medical examination.” [19]

Nelson Daily News headline, Aug. 7, 1918.

At the time of her committal in 1918, Malicia was reported as “living at” Sunshine Bay and had dwelt there long enough to be deemed a “resident” of that place. [20] Malicia languished in the asylum for three years, dying there in November 1921 at age 36. [21] By that time, her family was back living at Shoreacres, having been removed from their Kootenay Lake orchard after a further falling out with Verigin. [22]

That the Stoochnoffs were members of the “Doukhobor colony” listed in the 1918 and 1919 Procter directories, there can be little doubt. Their tenure at Sunshine Bay, from sometime prior to August 1918 until sometime prior to June 1921 corresponds to the same period the colony was known to exist. Moreover, Sunshine Bay and its residents were listed under Procter in the directory. Finally, they are the only newspaper references to Doukhobors in the Procter district during this period.

Furthermore, a careful study of Malicia’s complainants enables us to pinpoint where the Stoshnoffs were living, and by extension, where the Doukhobor colony was located, in 1918.

The 1918 information laid against Malicia was lodged by Sunshine Bay rancher Robert S. Francis. [23] His allegations were corroborated in provincial police court by the witness testimony of ranchers Oscar B. Appleton and Percival Coles, also of Sunshine Bay. [24] All three men appear in the same directory as the Doukhobor colony under Procter in 1918 and 1919. [25] And as it turns out, they all lived a stone’s throw away from each other.

According to Kootenay Outlet Reflections, the Francis, Appleton and Coles ranches were all situated along Ferguson Road and its intersection with Harrop-Procter Road at the west end of Sunshine Bay. [26] As all three men — and only these three — witnessed episodes of Malicia’s erratic behavior, it is safe to presume that the Stoochnoffs resided in the immediate vicinity within eyeshot of the ranchmen.

Probable location of the Doukhobor bee-keeping colony at Sunshine Bay.

It follows that the location of the Doukhobor colony recorded in the 1918 and 1919 directory can be reasonably narrowed down to an area of about a quarter-mile (500 m) radius around the intersection of Ferguson and Harrop-Procter Roads at Sunshine Bay. Based on these deductions, we may even hazard to guess the identity of the fruit rancher who hosted the Doukhobor colony.

In comparing the 1918 and 1919 Wrigley’s Directory listings for Procter with the Kootenay Outlet Reflections map and legend of early Sunshine Bay ranches, it turns out that the only other ranches in the vicinity at the time were those of Fred Rucks and Joseph Dosenberger, both located on Harrop-Procter Road, immediately east of the Appletons. Either of their ranches could very well be where the Doukhobor colony once stood, although we will likely never know for sure.

In any event, while the “colony” ceased to exist after 1919, it did not spell the end of the Doukhobor presence at Sunshine Bay, Procter and surrounding district.

CCUB member families continued to seasonally work and live on area ranches, picking fruit, managing orchards and growing market gardens through the 1920s and ’30s. For instance, between 1932 and 1939, the Muirhead family of Procter usually hired “four girls from a Doukhobor settlement … They lived in a cabin built for them. They did their own cooking and looked after themselves.” [27]

And by this period, CCUB members were not the only Doukhobors in the area.

Independent Doukhobors at Sunshine Bay & Procter

As early as 1910, Independent Doukhobors settled at Thrums and Tarrys, where they farmed and worked as sawmill labourers and ranch hands. By 1921, census listings and civic directories indicate they had spread out to many small towns and camps in the Trail, Castlegar, Nelson and Grand Forks districts.

By 1922-23, other Independent Doukhobor families settled at Harrop, Procter, and Sunshine Bay to farm or to work in logging and on the railway. Many were already familiar with the area and its opportunities, having worked there as fruit pickers while members of the CCUB. Their presence remained in the area at least into the early 1970s.

In the early 1920s, John and Anna Shlakoff moved to Sunshine Bay from Ootischenia and rented a converted chicken coop on Len Appleton’s property. [28] With them came daughter Polly, son Eli, daughter-in-law Florence, and grandchildren Nellie, Mary, and John. Another grandchild, Florence, was born in 1924. Soon after, the family leased a house in Harrop. They moved to Ymir four years later. [29]

In 1923, Sam and Helen Podmeroff arrived in Procter from Castlegar and settled on the Johnson property. Helen was likely related to the Shlakoffs who were already in the area, as that was her maiden name. The Podmeroffs later moved to Harrop and then to Sunshine Bay, where they built a log home in 1932 and raised four children (including Eli, who was born at Procter).

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

Sam worked as an engineer aboard the tugboat Valhalla. His son, Sam Jr., followed his footsteps into the CPR lake service and became a deckhand, then mate, and finally captain of the SS Moyie on Kootenay Lake. He later worked on several other BC lakes. The Podmeroffs also raised a grandson, Serge Plotnikoff, who became well known as a musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer in the Kootenays. In 1971, the Podmeroffs moved to Pitt Meadows. [30]

Peter and Marfa Repin (or Rapin) moved to Sunshine Bay from Brilliant in 1924 with daughters Mary, Daria, and Ahafia to work on farms picking fruit and digging potatoes. Peter and Marfa later relocated to Winlaw, but daughter Mary stayed in Procter with husband Harry Stoochnoff, who worked for the CPR. [31]

The 1925 civic directory for Procter listed a gardener named S. Zarikoff, who may have been the same man as John S. Zarikoff, who married Lucy W. Rilkoff at Procter in 1932. They later moved to Blewett. [32]

In 1934, Alex and Vera Voykin and their children Annie and Alex Jr. moved to the Clift-Donaldson farm about halfway between Procter and Sunshine Bay. Another daughter, Helen, was born there in 1937, delivered by an army doctor who lived next door. In addition to working on the farm, Alex was a night watchman for the CPR. The family moved to Procter around 1940 and built a house there. A final child, Grace, was born in 1943. The Voykins moved to Nelson in 1948. [33]

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

Peter and Annie Gretchen came to Procter in the 1930s, where Peter worked as a logger and railway section hand. They lived there until their deaths in the late 1960s. [34]

Peter Gretchen’s sister Molly and her husband Bill Malahoff later moved to the area as well. Bill was a section foreman for the CPR at Tye, on the south arm of Kootenay Lake. Their son Walt boarded with the Gretchens while attending school in Procter in 1936. He would take the train from Tye to Procter on Monday mornings and return on Fridays around midnight. In the late 1930s, Bill and Molly bought the Heighton dairy farm at Procter. Walt and his brother Mike helped out there during the summer, but found jobs away from home during the winter. In 1952, Bill and Molly traded their farm for a home in Kamloops. [35]

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

Another Malahoff brother, Steve, bought the Procter general store and post office with his wife Tillie and ran it for a few years before moving to Rossland. [36] Tillie served as acting postmaster from 1943-45. [37]

CPR employee Bill Laktin was transferred from South Slocan to Procter in 1953. He brought his wife Mary and their children Billy, Johnny, Sarah, Nadia, and Elizabeth. They initially lived at Sunshine Bay before moving to Procter. However, they left the area within two years. [38]

To sum up, from 1911 to 1938, the CCUB contracted with ranchers at Sunshine Bay, Procter and elsewhere on the West Arm for the supply of fruit for its jam factory, often supplying Doukhobor pickers and also hiring out Doukhobor families to manage their orchards and market gardens throughout the growing season. The presence of these workers was significant enough in 1918-19 to be listed as a “Doukhobor colony.”

From at least 1922-23 on, they were joined by Independent Doukhobors who settled permanently in the area as farmers, loggers and railwaymen through to the 1970s. They made an important, albeit somewhat unchronicled, contribution to the growth and development of the area.


After Word

This article was originally published on Greg Nesteroff’s Kutne Reader blog site on August 4, 2021; updated on October 4, 2021.


End Notes

[1] “Proctor” [sic] in Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory 1918, p. 377: https://tinyurl.com/6p7u9v6w; and Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory 1919, p. 529: https://tinyurl.com/7z7xpvnx.

[2] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Jam-Making Enterprise” in West Kootenay Advertiser, April 23-30 and May 7, 14, 21 2020: https://tinyurl.com/7938yz47; https://tinyurl.com/4h7ka3kk; https://tinyurl.com/43axfdjk; https://tinyurl.com/pr8f6yc5; https://tinyurl.com/vjj9pcuj.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid; The Daily News (Nelson), April 26,1911. See also The Daily News (Nelson), July 22, 1912,Aug. 1, 1912, June 16,1914 and June 29, 1915

[5] The Daily News (Nelson), May 12, 1912 at 4 and 8.

[6] Supra, note 2.

[7] See for example, The Daily News (Nelson)Sept. 21, 1912; May 22, 1913; June 20, 1913.

[8] Creston Review, Feb. 1, 1918

[9] Supra, note 2.

[10] From February to May 1918, Wrigley Directories Limited compiled a new directory for BC, printing it in June: British Columbia Record, Feb. 25, 1918; Nanaimo Daily News, May 9, 1918; Vancouver Daily World, June 11, 1918.

[11] For instance, at Brilliant, the CCUB maintained an apiary of no less than 60 beehives in 1919: William M. Rozinkin, Brilliant History, Fading in to Obscurity: https://tinyurl.com/9dwm7d9j. Even single-family outposts, such as the CCUB stopping house at Nelson had an apiary of 16 hives in 1921: Greg Nesteroff, Little known Nelson-heritage buildings: 120 Vernon St: https://tinyurl.com/54k47bym.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Supra, note 8.

[14] Toil and Peaceful Life: History of Doukhobors Unmasked, Simeon F. Reibin, 1952, p. 128 and BC Mental Hospital, New Westminster, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/sk8y5cxh

[15] Ibid. The dates of their deaths are unknown as neither was registered, nor do they appear to have been reported in any newspaper.

[16] Ibid.

[17] The death registration for Malicia Stoshnoff [sic], BC Archives Reg. 1921-09-284399, Microfilm B13119 identifies her parents as Alex and Mavra.

[18] “Alleged insane woman taken to coast,” The Daily News (Nelson), Aug. 7, 1918

[19] Ibid; “Insane woman is committed,” The Daily News (Nelson), Aug. 13, 1918

[20] Supra, notes 18 and 19

[21] BC Mental Hospital, New Westminster, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/sk8y5cxh; Doukhobor settlement at Shoreacres, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/2aa7exed; Malicia Stoshnoff death registration

[22] Ibid. and Toil and Peaceful Life, supra, p. 128-29

[23] Supra, note 18.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Supra, note 1.

[26] Kootenay Outlet Reflections, Procter-Harrop Historical Book Committee, 1988, p. 297-299, based on information provided by Isa Cameron.

[27] Ibid, p. 237, based on information provided by May Muirhead.

[28] Ibid, p. 312-13, based on information provided by Florence Shlakoff Hodgins.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid, p. 311, based on information provided by Vi Plotnikoff.

[31] Ibid, p. 266, based on information provided by Mary Rapin Stoochnoff; Harry Stoochnoff death registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1959-09-13371: https://tinyurl.com/46juks74; 1921 Canada census: https://tinyurl.com/fy8j2dyw.

[32] Wrigley Henderson Amalgamated British Columbia Directory 1925, p. 292: https://tinyurl.com/3typf3mj; John S. Zarikoff and Lucy W. Rilkoff marriage registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1932-09-900969; John Zarikoff death registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1981-09002800: https://tinyurl.com/cufcyxu3.

[33] Supra, note 26, p. 266-67, based on information provided by Grace Voykin Kolle.

[34] Peter John Gretchen death registration, BC Archives 1967-09-004768: https://tinyurl.com/2mwvzjff; Annie Gretchen death registration, BC Archives 1968-09-005330: https://tinyurl.com/2mwvzjff.

[35] Supra, note 26, p. 233-34, based on information provided by Walt Malahoff. Curiously, of all the families enumerated in this book, the Malahoff entry is the only one that actually uses the word “Doukhobor.”

[36] Ibid.

[37] Library and Archives Canada, Post Offices and Postmasters Database, Procter postmasters list, viewed at https://tinyurl.com/3wtdthjc.

[38] Supra, note 26, p. 229, based on information provided by Sarah Laktin Popoff.

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 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.