The Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Company at Nelson, BC

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In the era of coal and wood, residents and businesses of Nelson relied on transfer companies[i] to sell and deliver these fuels by horse-drawn wagon to their premises for heating, cooking and power. One such transfer was the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co, communally owned and operated by the Doukhobors between 1913 and 1926. This article examines the history of this long-forgotten local enterprise.

Background

In the early 20th century, the main source of fuel for Nelsonites was wood and coal,[ii] which was burned for heating in fireplaces and pot belly stoves or for cooking in cast iron kitchen stoves. By the 1910s, newer homes and commercial buildings were equipped with radiators connected by pipes to a basement boiler that burnt coal or wood to produce steam heat. Buildings of the era had little insulation, were drafty and required constant heating outside of summer. Local industries such as Hall Smelter, Nelson Iron Works and Kootenay Engineering Works also burnt large volumes of coal and wood to power their operations.

Wood burning stove in British Columbia, early 20th century. BC Archives, F-05038.

At the start of 1913, there were two main transfer companies supplying retail wood and coal in the city –the Kootenay Ice & Fuel Co. and West Transfer Co.[iii] However, another competitor was poised to enter the market.

Doukhobor Sawmills & Wood-Waste

Between 1908 and 1913, the Doukhobor Society purchased 10,611 acres of heavily forested land in West Kootenay.[iv] As the Doukhobors communally cleared each tract for fruit-growing, they established a mill to saw the logs into lumber to build villages.[v] By the start of 1913, the Society had 7 mills running at Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek, Glade, Crescent Valley and Champion Creek, collectively sawing several million feet of lumber a year.[vi]

These logging and milling operations, like others of the time, generated wood waste[vii] such as slabs (the first piece sawn off the face of a log, sawn on one side, rounded on the other), board ends (ends of boards cut off by the sawmill trimmer to cut boards to standard length) and cordwood (logs too small to saw into lumber) as well as tree bark, wood shavings, sawdust, low-grade or rejected cuts, etc.

Group of Doukhobor men at Community sawmill near Nelson, c. 1913. BC Archives, E-00719.

The Doukhobors utilized much of this waste wood as heating fuel in their communal homes and industries. And by 1910, they were selling the surplus for profit. Cordwood was rafted down the Columbia River to Trail and sold to the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Co. to fuel its blast furnaces, while wood slabs were sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) for snow fences.[viii] Recognizing the revenue potential from this otherwise waste byproduct, the Doukhobor Society began seeking opportunities to expand its market.

That opportunity came with the Nelson general strike of 1913.

Business Acquisition

On April 1, 1913, the unionized tradesmen of Nelson (machinists, electricians, bricklayers, painters, pipe-layers, quarrymen, carpenters, teamsters, etc.) went on a city wide strike, demanding higher wages and the institution of an eight-hour workday.[ix] For the next 14 days, Nelson ground to a halt, leading, among other things, to a serious fuel situation as citizens were practically without heat for days.[x] 

One of the many affected businesses was the Kootenay Ice & Fuel Co., whose teamsters were among the strikers. Unable to pay the wages asked for, the company was forced out of business on account of the labour disturbance. Consequently, on April 7, 1913, at the height of the strike, the company sold its wood and coal business for cash to Peter V. Verigin, acting for the Doukhobor Society.[xi]

The Doukhobor fuel business purchase made front page headlines in the Nelson Daily News, April 7, 1913.

The Doukhobors purchased the company assets, including: 6 teams of horses, wagons, sleds, harness and tools; .80 acre coal and wood yard in the CPR Flats (now 29 Government Rd) with buildings and bunkers;[xii] leased wood-stacking sites across the city; office lease and fixtures in the Allan Building at Ward and Baker St; the goodwill of the business, including its different industrial clients and a very large number of residential patrons.[xiii] Coal supply contracts with mines and the lucrative Galt coal agency were also included.[xiv] The deal was put through by Nelson realtors Konstantine Popoff and Henry H. Crofts.

The Doukhobor Society took immediate possession of the business. The next morning on April 8, 1913, a large number of Doukhobors from Brilliant arrived in the city to commence wood and coal deliveries, thus alleviating the fuel situation to the great relief of Nelsonites.[xv] Despite delivering many loads, by midday, their office was flooded with orders to the point that deliveries could not be guaranteed for up to 3 days.[xvi]

Company Formation, 1913

In the days that followed, the new business was organized as the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co.,[xvii] an unincorporated subsidiary of the Doukhobor Society (after 1917, Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Ltd. or CCUB). While wholly-owned and controlled by its parent company, the subsidiary maintained its own business identity, with head office, officers, staff and employees, books and records, letterhead, cheques, invoices and advertisements. Its assets, however, were registered in the name of Peter V. Verigin until 1917, and thereafter, under the federally-incorporated parent company.

Letterhead of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., c. 1917. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

Peter V. Verigin was named president and John W. Sherbinin business manager of the new company.[xviii] Henry H. Crofts[xix] was engaged as secretary-treasurer and office manager.[xx] Some 10 or so Doukhobors were seasonally stationed at Nelson as labourers and drivers.[xxi] Within a month of its formation, the company moved offices to the more commodious McCulloch Block at 371-77 Baker St.[xxii]

McCulloch Block (two-story stone structure, right) on Baker Street, Nelson, c. 1930. From May 1913 to May 1914, it housed the business office of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. Touchstones Nelson, 92.95.084.

This was not the Doukhobors’ first commercial business venture in Nelson. In April 1911, the Society purchased the Kootenay Jam Co. factory at 601 Front St. and commenced a large-scale canning and preserving enterprise as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, producing the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jams.[xxiii]

Products

From the outset, the company offered a variety of fuel products. Wood from Doukhobor Society sawmills included fir, tamarack, cedar and birch cordwood in 4-foot, 16-inch and 12-inch lengths; 4-foot or 16-inch slabs; and board ends.[xxiv] Bituminous and anthracite coal from the Galt Coal Co. and Chinook Coal Co. Ltd. mines at Lethbridge and Canada West Coal Co. mine at Taber, AB came in nut, stove and lump sizes.[xxv]

As well, it sold fence posts from the Doukhobor sawmills[xxvi] and feed oats and hay grown at outlying Doukhobor settlements.[xxvii] It offered general cartage service, transporting goods for hire (typically from the CPR and GNR freight depots to their final destination) within the city.[xxviii] Building contracting was also carried out.[xxix]

Earliest advertisement for the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., Nelson Daily News, August 30, 1913.

Coal was sold by weight (imperial ton) and wood by measure (cord or rick) as was customary. The company sold these at prevailing local prices.[xxx] However, its costs were markedly lower than its competitors, since its wood cost only the freight charges, its coal was purchased bulk wholesale directly from the mines, and its communal labour force did not receive wages. It thus enjoyed a wider profit margin. 

Operations

Coal was shipped in by railcar from Alberta on the CPR Crow’s Nest line. Each car held 30-50 tons.[xxxi] On arriving at the CPR Flats in Nelson, the cars were spotted (parked) on the rail siding that ran behind the coal bunkers in the company yard. Using steel shovels and wheelbarrows, Doukhobor workmen unloaded the coal from the cars into the bunkers, which held 1,000 tons or 20-30 carloads of coal.

Similarly, wood from the Doukhobor sawmills arrived by railcar on the CPR Nelson & Slocan Branch.[xxxii] Each car carried 15-18 cords of wood.[xxxiii] Once spotted on the siding, the cars were unloaded and the wood stacked in the company yard or conveyed to its wood-stacking sites throughout the city. Cordwood arrived in 4-foot lengths and a saw was used in the yard to cut it into 12 and 16-inch lengths for delivery.[xxxiv]

Bulk hay and feed oats from outlying Doukhobor settlements were also brought in by rail in this manner.

View of the CPR Flats, Nelson, 1915. At centre right is the CPR station and freight sheds. Behind the sheds is the rail siding running beside the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. yard (circled white). A long wood stack can be seen in the yard, to the right of which are the coal bunkers (extreme right, partially visible). Additional wood stacks are on either side of the bunkers. Behind the stacks is the foreman’s dwelling house. The large brick warehouse is not yet constructed. The small building to the left of the rail siding is the city scales. Greg Nesteroff Collection.

As the stockpiles were continually drawn down by customer deliveries, the yard foreman requisitioned new shipments to replenish them. During peak heating season, the coal bunkers could be completely emptied within 24 days, with railcars of new coal being unloaded on an almost daily basis.[xxxv] 

Customer fuel orders were placed with Henry H. Crofts at the business office, who also handled cash transactions. Residential orders were made year-round, with the highest volume in September-October before winter. An average family of 6 Nelsonites burned 8-24 cords of wood or 5-16 tons of coal annually.[xxxvi] Industrial orders were continuous, with large industrial clients consuming up to 1-4 tons of coal daily.[xxxvii]

The orders were relayed to the CPR Flats yard, where a teamster was dispatched by wagon in summer, or sleigh in winter, to make each delivery. The teamster drew up his conveyance and either shoveled a ton of coal from the bunkers, or stacked a half-cord or 2-3 ricks of wood from the stacks, to load it to capacity.[xxxviii] Coal loads were weighed at the adjacent city scales to confirm tonnage. The loaded team was then driven to the customer premises.  

Konstantine P. Verigin, foreman of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. yard in the CPR Flats, with sons Kay and Peter, on a wagon used to deliver coal and wood. These horses were named ‘Prince’ and ‘Albert’. Photo taken in early 1920s beside the large brick warehouse at the yard. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

Most residential customers had their own wood or coal bins. The former was typically in the backyard while the latter was in the basement, accessible by a cast-iron door at the house backyard wall. The Doukhobor teamster drew up his wagon/sleigh and either unloaded and stacked the wood in the bin, or dumped the coal through the coal door using a chute attached to the wagon/sleigh box.     

A loaded wagon/sleigh team travelled an average speed of 4 miles per hour, and each team had a daily capacity of 7-14 loads of coal or wood over a one-mile distance (the length of the city).[xxxix] The company fleet of 6 teams, therefore, was capable of delivering up to 42-84 loads of coal or wood a day.[xl] Throughout the day, the teams of horses had to be regularly fed, watered and rested.

When not in use, wagons and sleighs were kept in the implement shed and the horses in the barn (sarai) at the CPR Flats yard. An open portion of the yard was used for walking and exercising the horses. An ample supply of hay and feed oats for the horses was stored in the barn. The blacksmith shop (kuznya) was used to keep the horses shoed and the wagons, sleighs and harnesses in good repair.

The Doukhobor teamsters initially stayed in a tiny house in the CPR Flats (now 79 Government Rd), a few lots west of the coal and wood yard, purchased in April 1911 for Doukhobor jam factory workers in Nelson.[xli] The house could not accommodate them all and a number of men slept in a tent.[xlii]  

Once-common cast-iron coal door on the outside wall of a building leading to the basement coal bins. B.S. Malley.

Business manager John W. Sherbinin played a pivotal role in the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. As he was also manager of the Doukhobor Society sawmills, he coordinated the supply of waste wood generated by the mills with the demand for firewood sales by the company.

President Peter V. Verigin made routine trips from Brilliant to Nelson to oversee the fuel company.[xliii] During his stays, the Doukhobor leader counseled the office manager and yard foreman on day-to-day matters, examined the ledger and account books, and provided overall business direction.

Business Agency

In March 1914, Henry H. Crofts left the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. amid the dissolution of his Popoff & Crofts real estate partnership.[xliv] The timing of his departure was problematic, as a new competitor, MacDonald Cartage & Fuel Co., had just entered the Nelson market.[xlv] Fortunately, he was quickly replaced by another Nelson realtor, Charles F. McHardy, on April 1, 1914.[xlvi]

Realtor, insurance agent and Mayor of Nelson in 1921-1922, Charles F. McHardy served as business agent of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. from May 1914 to July 1919. Touchstones Nelson SM1999-001-003.

McHardy was no stranger to the Doukhobors, having sold them his 1,270-acre ranch in Crescent Valley in October 1911.[xlvii] He was instrumental in the Doukhobor Society joining the Kootenay Fruit Growers Union in April 1912[xlviii] and testified on their behalf at the Doukhobor Royal Commission hearings in Nelson in September 1912.[xlix] Active and popular in the city, he was well-suited to represent their fuel business.

McHardy moved the company office to his real estate office in the Green Block at 512-14 Ward St.[l] Engaged on an agency commission basis, he was motivated to work hard and grow the company. He launched a major advertising campaign, placing over 100 ads a year in the Daily News[li] that succeeded in not only retaining the patronage of old customers, but in securing many new ones. His bookkeeper Gilbert Arneson also regularly assisted with the fuel business.[lii]     

Green Block on Ward Street, Nelson, 1955. From May 1914 until July 1919, it housed the office of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. run by business agent C.F. McHardy. Touchstones Nelson, SM Stevens.

Wartime Boom

The outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 saw the price of wood, coal and other commodities in Nelson skyrocket. As the world’s demand for coal and wood rose in wartime, so did its price in the local market, with wood soaring from $5.00 to $7.00 a cord and coal from $8.00 to $10.00 a ton – an increase of 40 percent.[liii] Wartime also resulted in higher wages and lower unemployment, with Nelsonites having more money to spend on these commodities than usual as the local standard of living increased.

Increased wartime demand and high prices led to a boom in sales for the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., enabling it to reap bonanza profits. This spurred a substantial expansion of the company between fall 1914 and spring 1917 through a series of building projects and land purchases.

Company advertisement after the outbreak of the First World War, Nelson Daily News, December 21, 1914.
  • Downtown

To accommodate Peter V. Verigin’s frequent business visits to Nelson in connection with the company, a large two-story residence was purchased at 509 Falls St in November-December 1914 to serve as his stopping house.[liv] Anton F. and Polya Strelaeff of Glade were selected to serve as its caretakers and as the Doukhobor leader’s personal attendants during his visits. The house was conveniently located a five-minute buggy ride away from the coal and wood yard in the CPR Flats.

View of house at 509 Falls St (upper circle) relative to the CPR Flats yard (partially visible lower circle), c. 1913. Greg Nesteroff Collection.

A comprehensive history of this house has been published by Greg Nesteroff as Little-known Nelson heritage buildings: 120 Vernon St.

  • CPR Flats

In December 1914, Peter V. Verigin selected Konstantine P. Verigin, his step-father Michael A. Bawoolin and their family to resettle from Glade to Nelson to communally operate the CPR Flats yard, with Konstantine serving as yard foreman.[lv]

To house the family, a one-story dwelling (dom) was constructed at the CPR Flats yard in early 1915.[lvi] It had 3 bedrooms, a living room and special room (gornitsa) reserved for Peter V. Verigin when he visited.[lvii] The cellar housed a bakery kitchen (pekarnya) with wood stove and large brick oven for the family’s private use when there were no other guests at the yard, which was rare.[lviii]

View of coal and wood yard in the CPR Flats, c. 1920. At center, the large brick warehouse; the small white building to the left of the warehouse is the office; the long low building at left (behind wood piles) is the coal bunkers; in front of the bunkers (extreme left, partially visible) is the barn; between the barn and bunkers is the blacksmith shop (not visible); to the right in the center foreground is the communal kitchen and workers’ quarters; further right from the kitchen is the steam bathhouse; between the bathhouse and foreman’s dwelling (extreme right, partially visible) is the apiary. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

Across from the house, a steam bathhouse (banya) was built for the family and visitors.[lix] It consisted of two parts: in one room all the clothing and linens were washed by hand by Konstantine’s wife Dasha and mother Hanyusha, and in the other was the steam bath.[lx] During his stays in Nelson, Peter V. Verigin often came to visit the family and enjoy the cleansing, relaxing and rejuvenating vapors of the bathhouse.[lxi]

A large two-story wood structure was erected between 1915-1917.[lxii] On the ground floor was a communal kitchen (obshchinnaya kukhnya) with cooking and dining area, and on the upper floor were sleeping quarters (khvateri).[lxiii] It housed labourers from outlying Doukhobor settlements who worked at the yard during peak heating season, such as Konstantine’s brother-in-law Eli D. Poznikoff of Ootischenia[lxiv], Andrei S. Fofonoff of Shoreacres, and many others. Doukhobor travellers who came to Nelson on business matters or to see a doctor also stayed there.[lxv] Dasha Verigin and Hanyusha Bawoolin cooked on its wood-burning stove and hosted the guests.[lxvi]

Peter V. Verigin, as company president and batyushka (caring ‘father’ figure) of the Community, was not adverse to involving himself with the minutiae of his members’ lives. In the case of those seeking medical treatment in Nelson, he had no issue with paying their costs and providing accommodations at the yard during their stay, but he ensured they were not a drain on the Community by requiring them to work off the costs of their stay and treatment with their labour. For example, in a letter to yard foreman Konstantine P. Verigin dated November 18, 1915, the Doukhobor leader wrote, “My dear friend Kostya, The bearer of this letter, Andrei Fofanoff, wishes to treat (heal) his teeth. Let Anton (Strelaeff) take him to the doctor (dentist). But you are to give him work for as long as he requires to treat his teeth. During this time he will be employed. Wishing you all the blessings of the Lord. P.V.”

November 18, 1915 correspondence from Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin to CPR Flats yard foreman Konstantine P. Verigin advising that Andrei Fofanoff of Shoreacres would stay at the yard during his dental treatment and be employed there to cover the costs. Translated from the original Russian by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff with the generous assistance of Wendy Voykin. Courtesy Lucille Ostrikoff.

Between 1915-1917, a large two-story 40’ x 75’ brick warehouse (sklad) with full concrete basement, high ceilings and a sheet iron roof was built in the yard.[lxvii] The bricks used to construct it were made at the Doukhobor Society brickworks in Grand Forks and shipped by rail to Nelson.[lxviii] It was mainly used for storing feed oats and hay for use by the company and for resale.[lxix] After October 1917, it was also used as a fruit depot managed by Anton F. Strelaeff for the Doukhobor jam factory.[lxx]

A large communal vegetable garden and 16-hive apiary was also established at the coal and wood yard to help feed the Verigin and Bawoolin families and their many guests.[lxxi]  

Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. cheque dated January 20, 1916 signed by manager J.W. Sherbinin for the sum of $50.00 made to Kost (Konstantine) Verigin, yard foreman, CPR Flats. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

Finally, in June 1915, Peter V. Verigin bought the adjoining half-acre lot (now 45 Government Rd) west of the yard from Konstantine Popoff.[lxxii] Verigin had earlier purchased a portion of the lot from Popoff to build a wooden warehouse for the Doukhobor jam factory in April 1911.[lxxiii] However, by March 1915, the jam factory relocated to Brilliant[lxxiv] and the fuel company took over the warehouse to store livestock feed. The remainder of the lot was used for wood-stacking, eliminating the need for leased stacking sites elsewhere.   

  • Mountain Station

Steep increases in bulk wholesale prices and aggravating shortages of Alberta coal during wartime drove the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. to diversify its supply sources.

Peter V. Verigin shrewdly realized that lignite coal could be purchased from Wyoming and brought in on the Great Northern Railway (GNR) Marcus-Nelson line for 75¢ to $1.00 a ton cheaper, in spite of duty and freight charges.[lxxv] The GNR freight depot at Mountain Station, however, was located at the opposite end of Nelson from the company yard in the CPR Flats.  

The Great Northern Railway ‘Mountain Station’ overlooking Nelson, c. 1915. Touchstones Nelson, SM1987_145_007.

To this end, Verigin purchased a 1.75 acre lot (bounded by Hall, Hendryx, Gore and Innes St) on the GNR right-of-way south of Mountain Station from Charles F. McHardy in January 1915.[lxxvi] Over the next 2 years, a second coal and wood yard was developed at this location. The Wasyl F. Kootnikoff family of Brilliant was selected to operate the yard, with Wasyl as foreman and sons William and Nick driving horses.

A one-and-a-half-story dwelling (dom) was constructed at the yard (now 710 Gore St) to house the family.[lxxvii] It had 3 bedrooms, a living room and a special room (gornitsa) where Peter V. Verigin stayed when he visited. Additional sleeping quarters (khvateri) were located in the attic for seasonal workers. A steam bathhouse (banya) was built near the house for the family and workers.[lxxviii]

South of the house, a large two-story 40’ x 30’ wooden warehouse (sklad) was constructed with 500-ton coal bunkers, stables for the horse teams and hay loft for feed.[lxxix] Nearby an implement shed was erected to house wagons and sleighs transferred there from the CPR Flats yard.[lxxx] A large portion of the yard to the south of the buildings was used for wood-stacking.

Communal vegetable gardens were grown on the remaining vacant lots by Wasyl’s wife Tanya and daughter-in-law Tanya, as well as by Dasha Verigin, Hanyusha Bawoolin and Polya Strelaeff, who would catch the street car from the Hudson Bay Co. store on Baker St to go and work in these gardens.[lxxxi]

With the establishment of the second company yard, customer orders placed with Charles F. McHardy at the business office in the Green Block were dispatched to either the CPR Flats yard or Mountain Station yard, depending on the product requested and the customer location.

Fire insurance map of the Mountain Station coal and wood yard, August 1923. At the top is the yard foreman dwelling and wagon shed at 710 Gore St. The patch added below the dwelling in May 1932 covers the the coal warehouse and stables destroyed in August 1930. British Columbia Fire Underwriters Association.

Commencing in the winter of 1916-1917, coal from the Wyoming Coal Co. mine at Monarch and Carney Coal Co. mine at Carneyville, Wyoming arrived by railcar to Mountain Station, where the cars were spotted on a side track,[lxxxii] unloaded and carted to the warehouse in the yard.[lxxxiii] Despite its lower heating value, the company sold the cheaper American coal at prevailing local prices with a significant profit margin.  

From spring 1917 onwards, the Mountain Station yard also began receiving railcars of wood from the Doukhobor Society’s new sawmill operations on the GNR Salmo-Nelson line.

Company advertisement for Wyoming and other coal varieties, Nelson Daily News, October 31, 1917.

The one drawback of the yard was that the city scales were located in the CPR Flats. This significantly increased the distance and travel time for each delivery of coal from the yard, since it first had to be driven across town to be weighed. Charles F. McHardy thus began lobbying the City of Nelson on behalf of the company to have it install a second set of scales at that point.[lxxxiv]

  • City of Trail

Building on its commercial success at Nelson, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. opened another branch in the City of Trail. In November 1914, Peter V. Verigin purchased 4 lots on the corner of Bay Ave and Eldorado St where the company erected a large brick warehouse, coal and wood bunkers, and store the following year.[lxxxv] Managed by Sam A. and Wasyl W. Lazareff, it sold coal and wood, hay and feed oats, lumber and building supplies and carried out building contracting.[lxxxvi]

Coal and wood yard on Bay Avenue, Trail, BC, 1920. Prairie Towns.

The history of the Trail branch of the company will be chronicled in a separate article by the writer.

  • Wood Supply

At the outbreak of the Great War, the Doukhobor Society still had five sawmills in operation at Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek, Glade and Crescent Valley supplying waste wood to its fuel subsidiary in Nelson. These were small to mid-sized operations at the time, with 10,000-35,000 board foot-per-day capacity.

However, in response to soaring wartime lumber prices, the Doukhobor Society launched several new commercial sawmill operations at Koch Siding in January 1916,[lxxxvii] Porto Rico Siding in January 1917[lxxxviii] and Hall Siding in May 1917.[lxxxix] These were large-scale operations with 30,000-60,000 board foot-per-day capacity, vastly increasing the volume of wood available to the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. to sell. 

Doukhobor Timber Tract Purchase at Porto Rico, reported in the Nelson Daily Times, January 24, 1917.

Now having multiple supply points, each company yard received wood from the mills in closest proximity so as to minimize rail transport distances and rates. The Mountain Station yard was supplied by the Porto Rico Siding and Hall Siding mills, the CPR Flats yard by the Koch Siding mill, and the Trail yard by the remainder.

Peak of Success

For a three year period between fall 1914 and summer 1917, the wartime boom and high profits propelled the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. to become the largest, most successful fuel business in Nelson. Indeed, by summer 1917, its three wood and coal yards, including stock, buildings, vehicles, equipment and livestock, were valued at $30,000.00 (over half a million dollars today).[xc]

There are no available records of company revenues at this time. However, taking into accounts its daily delivery capacity and local prices, the Nelson branch may have earned as much as $8,820.00 in coal or $3,087.00 in wood gross revenue per month in the 1916-1917 heating season.[xci] As its profit relative to cost was small for coal but very high for wood, the company’s profit from this same gross revenue may have been in the neighbourhood of $882.00 for coal or $2,778.30 for wood per month ($15,500.00 or $49,000.00 a month, respectively, today).[xcii]   

The success of the Doukhobor fuel company was a remarkable feat in itself. Even moreso that it was a spin-off subsidiary, generating a significant secondary revenue stream from the wood waste produced by the core CCUB sawmilling and lumber operations, which were also experiencing a boom.

However, this success was not to last. Social factors outside of the company’s control would lead to challenging times ahead.

Rising Wartime Anti-Doukhobor Sentiment

From the onset of the Great War, Doukhobors in Nelson encountered discrimination because of their refusal to actively participate in the war effort.[xciii] Yet it was the enactment of conscription in Canada in September 1917 that drew particularly intense backlash against them.[xciv] The idea of pacifists prospering during the war, owing to high wartime prices and their large military-exempt pool of men, aroused popular resentment at a time when hundreds of Nelsonites were being drafted to fight overseas.[xcv]

In December 1915, the Nelson Board of Trade passed a resolution to tax Doukhobor ‘aliens’ declaring it an “outrage that a large body of men should be living in our midst and enjoying every privilege and protection of the country without contributing once cent to the cause.” Daily News, 1915.10.12.

The recent (and in hindsight, ill-timed) expansion of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. only heightened this resentment among Nelsonites. It now seemed to matter little in the court of public opinion that the Doukhobor fuel business was playing a critical role in heating and powering the local home front.

Despite its reputation for honest, reliable and prompt service, by the winter of 1917-1918, the company began to lose customers who, caught up in the jingoistic fervor, sought wood and coal from other more ‘patriotic’ and ‘Canadian’ companies. At the same time, new competitors sprang up to challenge the besieged company such as Irwin’s Transfer & Storage and D.A. McFarland.[xcvi]

It was probably no coincidence that around this time, Nelson City Council voted against installing another set of weigh scales up the hill at Mountain Station for the Doukhobor fuel company, despite the civic revenue it stood to gain by doing so.[xcvii] This effectively ended the long-term prospects of the Mountain Station yard as a coal depot, which ceased to bring in American coal after the 1917-1918 heating season.[xcviii]

To make matters yet worse, the company lost its prized Galt coal franchise to business rival West Transfer Co. in late 1917, forfeiting its most popular and highest-selling coal brand.[xcix] The reason for the agency cancellation is not known; it may have been in retaliation for the company’s importation of cheaper American coal, or it might perhaps have been fueled by anti-Doukhobor sentiment.

By late 1917, business agent C.F. McHardy ceased using the company name on fuel advertising amidst rising anti-Doukhobor sentiment and patriotic fervor. Nelson Daily News, November 14, 1917.

Against this backlash, Charles F. McHardy remained on good terms with the Doukhobors, selling the CCUB his 20-acre ranch at Shoreacres in September 1917.[c] He continued to serve as agent of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. However, he would find it increasingly difficult to navigate between that role and the rest of his business and civic career.

In November 1917, McHardy joined the Nelson Victory Bonds Committee to sell bonds to finance Canada’s war effort.[ci] Within days, he publicly distanced himself from the pacifist Doukhobor company by dropping its name from his fuel advertising.[cii] Over the next 20 months, he continued to advertise and sell company wood and coal under his own name.[ciii] Finally, in July 1919, after having been elected city alderman at the height of wartime anti-Doukhobor sentiment in Nelson, McHardy left the company.[civ]

Post-War Operations

After the Great War, the Nelson economy struggled in a global post-war recession, as prices for lumber, ore and other commodities plummeted. Despite this, local prices for heating coal and wood remained buoyant and even increased. In 1921, coal sold for $10.00-13.00 a ton and wood for $6.00-9.50 a cord,[cv] while in 1923 coal sold for $10.50-13.00 a ton and wood for $7.50-10.00 a cord.[cvi]

With high post-war prices, new companies flooded the Nelson wood and coal market. These included Minnis Transfer & Fuel Co., Olynyk Fuel & Transfer Co., Fairview Fuel & Teaming Co., Haggart & Son, A. Balcom, Fred Williams Transfer and Nelson Transfer Co. Ltd.[cvii] that vied with Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., West Transfer Co., MacDonald Cartage & Fuel Co. and D.A. McFarland for business.

For its part, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. emerged from the war battered but not broken. It lost a sizeable portion of the Nelson market, its business reputation was unfairly tarnished, and it no longer had a downtown office presence. Nevertheless, it retained enough customers to remain viable on a reduced scale. From thereon, it was one of a number of mid-sized transfer companies in the city.

After July 1919, the company no longer retained an outside business agent and managed its own customer orders and books instead. John F. Masloff of Ootischenia was appointed secretary-treasurer and bookkeeper for this purpose.[cviii] A small office was constructed at the CPR Flats yard where orders were placed, delivery records kept, and cash stored in a strong box.[cix] Company advertising ceased altogether.  

The company’s clientele was now comprised mainly of residential rather than commercial or industrial customers. With lower volumes of deliveries and less stock turnover, fewer workers were required to run the operation. The company’s fleet of wagons and sleighs was reduced to two at each of the CPR Flats and Mountain Station yards.[cx]   

Fuel yard land sale headline, Nelson Daily News, 1920.04.16.

The company further downsized by selling or leasing land and buildings no longer used. In April 1920, the westerly .80 acres of the CPR Flats yard with the smaller warehouse was sold to the Imperial Oil Co. leaving a half-acre yard remaining.[cxi] Then in August 1922, the larger warehouse in the CPR Flats yard was leased to the Okanagan United Growers Ltd. as a fruit packing house until its liquidation in June 1923.[cxii]  

Coal was shipped to the CPR Flats yard from the Pacific Coal Co. mine at Bankhead and Canada West Coal Co. mine at Taber, AB,[cxiii] which also continued to receive wood from the Koch Siding mill. Now exclusively a wood depot, the Mountain Station yard continued to receive shipments from sawmills on the GNR Salmo-Nelson line, which after July 1921, included two large new mills at Porcupine Creek.[cxiv]

The Verigin family continued to occupy the CPR Flats yard. When the Canada Census was taken in June 1921, Konstantine (26) and Dasha (26) Verigin were enumerated there with daughter Mary (7) and sons Peter (4) and Konstantine (1) and step-father Michael (65) and mother Hanyusha Bawoolin (58).[cxv]

Verigin family, Nelson, c. 1920. Standing (l-r): Dasha P. Verigin, (her husband) Konstantine P. Verigin, Grigory Sherbinin, (his wife) Masha P. Sherbinin (sister to Konstantine). Sitting (l-r): Michael A. Bawoolin, Kostei (Kay) K. Verigin, Hanya Bawoolin (Konstantine’s mother), Peter K. Verigin and Mary K. Verigin. Mary Shukin/ISKRA Publications Collections.

During this period, Konstantine also broke and trained wild horses for communal use. According to an account by his granddaughter Mary Shukin, this was carried out as follows:

“Occasionally, wild horses were unloaded from the train into the CPR stock yard. A horse would be chosen and lassoed by grandfather and a helper. A harness would be thrown on while the animal bucked and fought. They would then hitch the untamed horse with an older horse, and for several days have them pull a heavy sleigh on the ground, until the wild horse was ‘broken in’.[cxvi]

The new horses were then either kept at the yards to haul coal and wood or else sent to the different outlying Doukhobor settlements, wherever they were needed.

The Kootnikoffs also remained at the Mountain Station yard. At the taking of the 1921 Canada Census, Wasyl (47) and Tanya (45) Kootnikoff, son William (21), daughter-in-law Tanya (19), granddaughter Vera (5 months), son Nick (17) and daughter Mary (8) were enumerated there.[cxvii]

Wasyl F. Kootnikoff and daughter Mary in Nelson, 1915. Büter Family Collection.

Beginning in 1921, the youngest Kootnikoff child, Mary, attended Central School in Nelson. In 1923, she was joined by all three Verigin children. On enrollment, the Doukhobor children spoke only Russian, but rapidly acquired English. Within a year of their enrolment, the Verigin children were promoted from Grade 1 to 3.[cxviii] The children of both families regularly made the honour rolls for academic achievement.[cxix]

In terms of spiritual life, the Verigin and Kootnikoff families each held prayer service (moleniye) on Sunday morning at their own homes.[cxx] Later that day, dressed in their best attire, they exchanged visits with other Doukhobor families living in or near Nelson, where they would all take part and enjoy the singing of hymns and psalms.[cxxi] From time to time, they were joined by Peter V. Verigin and a special choir of 20 Doukhobor singers from Brilliant and Glade who often accompanied him on his trips.[cxxii]

Decline & Dissolution

The Nelson branch of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. might have continued to operate into the foreseeable future. However, between January 1923 and January 1926 it suffered a series of devastating setbacks from which it was unable to recover.

First, with the post-war collapse in lumber prices, the CCUB opted not to renew its lease of the Koch Siding sawmill when it expired in January 1923.[cxxiii] Three months later, in May 1923, the Hall Siding mill caught fire and was destroyed.[cxxiv] It was not rebuilt given the lumber crash. Finally, the two sawmills at Porcupine Creek were destroyed in a July 1924 forest fire along with their timber stands.[cxxv]  

Consequently, the Nelson branch of the company lost most of its wood supply, which was its primary revenue source, and indeed, its raison d’etre. The Mountain Station yard continued to receive some wood from the Porto Rico Siding sawmill, although its output after 1924 was relatively small. The CPR Flats yard received comparatively little, as the Slocan and Kootenay River sawmills continued to primarily supply the Trail branch with their output.

Company president Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, 1859-1924. BC Archives, C01813.

Then, in October 1924, Peter V. Verigin was killed in a mysterious train explosion at Farron. His death was a devastating blow to his followers, including those at Nelson, who revered him as their spiritual guide and secular leader. From a business standpoint, Verigin was the directing mind and force behind the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. and upon his death, the subsidiary was left largely rudderless.  

In December 1924, the CCUB Board of Directors appointed Andrew P. Verigin of Crescent Valley as business manager and Timofey A. Stoochnoff of Ootischenia as secretary-treasurer of the Nelson branch of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co.[cxxvi] Over the next year, the pair managed the branch as best they could, but with little wood to sell and little revenue coming in, it continued to flounder.  

Amid this turmoil, a newsworthy event occurred in February 1925, when Peter V. Verigin’s choir of special singers arrived in Nelson to perform in memory of the departed leader.[cxxvii] The Daily News reported that they led an 8:00 a.m. prayer service at the Verigin-Bawoolin house in the CPR Flats, then sang at the Strelaeff stopping house at 9:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., singing for about an hour each time. In the evening they sang at the Trinity Methodist Church before departing by train to their settlements.

Notice of tax sale of the CCUB property in Nelson. Creston Review, November 27, 1925.

By November 1925, the Nelson branch of the company was having difficulty paying property taxes and several lots were listed for sale by public auction for arrears.[cxxviii] The taxes were ultimately redeemed by the CCUB; however, its Board of Directors concluded that the branch was no longer viable.

Two months later, at the annual CCUB Board of Directors meeting at Brilliant in January 1926, it was resolved that the Nelson branch of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. be dissolved and its associated properties put up for sale.[cxxix] A telegram to this effect was summarily issued to the Verigin and Kootnikoff families in Nelson, reassigning them at once to Ootischenia and Brilliant, respectively.[cxxx]  

And so, with a show of hands in the Brilliant central office, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. ceased branch operations in Nelson on January 12, 1926 after 14 years of business.

Aftermath

Having grown accustomed to a less rigidly communal life while running the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. in Nelson, neither the Kootnikoff nor Verigin family remained long at their reassigned places. By May 1927, Wasyl F. Kootnikoff resettled to Rossland, where he and his sons worked as carpenters.[cxxxi] In December 1931, Konstantine P. Verigin resettled to Blewett, where he bought a 40-acre farm.[cxxxii]

The Anton F. Strelaeff family initially remained in Nelson at 509 Falls St,[cxxxiii] their caretaking role expanded to include the now-vacant coal and wood yards. In February 1926, Anton started a fuel business of his own, the Doukhobor Transfer Co.[cxxxiv] Using wagons and remaining stock from the yards, with his house as his office, he offered coal, wood and transfer services.

Receipt from Anton F. Strelaeff’s short-lived Doukhobor Transfer Co, 1926. Greg Nesteroff Photo, Paul Strelive Collection.

Anton’s fuel enterprise would be short-lived. MacDonald Cartage & Fuel Co. had already taken over the customers of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co.,[cxxxv] leaving him to advertise for new ones amid stiff competition.[cxxxvi] Months later, he lost his voice due to illness, making continuation of the business impossible.[cxxxvii] In May 1928, he was reassigned to the Doukhobor settlement of Dorogotsennoye at Taghum.[cxxxviii]

Interestingly, it was only at this time that the CCUB advertised its various Nelson properties for sale. The two-year gap following the closure of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. may be explained by the Board of Directors’ reluctance to dispose of the properties until their new leader, Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin, arrived in Canada to guide them in September 1927.

May 18, 1928 Nelson Daily News advert listing various CCUB properties in Nelson for sale.

By late 1928, the Strelaeffs were replaced by Eli N. and Malanya Chernoff of Ootischenia, who took up residence at 509 Falls St.[cxxxix] They were joined by Malanya’s parents Philip P. and Nastya Lazareff, and for several months, by Russian Tolstoyan Pavel I. Birukoff and his daughter Olga.[cxl] A carpenter by trade, Eli worked for building contractor T.H. Waters & Co. Ltd. while caretaking the Doukhobor yards.

Two years later, in November 1930, the house at 509 Falls St was sold to Bud Sevens,[cxli] whereupon the Chernoffs relocated to the house at the CPR Flats yard.[cxlii] There, they discovered that the road running past the front was built six feet over the CCUB property, while the CPR rail spur running past the back was also encroaching, resulting in a lawsuit by the CCUB against the City of Nelson and CPR for trespass.[cxliii]

Eli N. Chernoff, c. 1930. Wendy Chernoff Collection.

Meanwhile, in July 1930, Eli bought the vacant yard at Mountain Station from the CCUB.[cxliv] The large warehouse there was destroyed by fire shortly after.[cxlv] In early 1931, he resold the yard to none other than Wasyl F. Kootnikoff, who returned with his family from Rossland to reside at 710 Gore St.[cxlvi]

Wasyl died within months of his return. His widow Tanya remained at 710 Gore St. with daughter Mary until her death in 1949,[cxlvii] followed by Mary and husband William J. Shukin until 1959.[cxlviii] By 1937, son William W. Kootnikoff and wife Tanya (Emma) built a home at 724 Gore St for themselves, and in 1950, a home at 723 Innes St. for their son Michael. In 1962, the Kootnikoffs and Shukins subdivided and sold the remaining Innes St. lots.[cxlix] The Kootnikoffs joined the Shukins at the coast in 1965.[cl]

Eli N. Chernoff lived at the CCUB yard in the CPR Flats until September 1931 when the property was leased out, then resettled to Taghum. The lessees, Harry and son Gordon K. Burns, established a fuel distributorship there as Burns Coal & Cartage Company,[cli] which offered coal and wood as well as moving, storage and distributing services. The business operated at the lease site for nine years. The Burnses used all the existing buildings for storage except for the dwelling house, which was rented out.

September 11, 1931 Nelson Daily News advert for Burns Coal & Cartage highlighting the Doukhobor-built brick warehouse for its storage services.
September 11, 1931 Nelson Daily News advertisement by Burns Coal & Cartage for the rent of the dwelling house at the CPR Flats yard.

In February 1939, the Burns purchased the property from the receiver of the now-bankrupt CCUB and established a new business, Burns Lumber & Coal Co., selling building materials and supplies, fuel, transfer and storage services over the next 39 years.[clii] By September 1948, the original Doukhobor dwelling house and workers kitchen were dismantled,[cliii] while the coal bunker, blacksmith shop, barn and implement shed continued to be used for storage until at least May 1959.[cliv]

Fire insurance map of the former coal and wood yard in the CPR Flats, now Burns Lumber Coal & Lumber Co, August 1938 (as revised August 1940, September 1948). The patches added in August 1940 cover the Doukhobor dwelling house and workers kichen that no longer existed at that time. The coal bunkers, implement shed, blacksmith and barn were repurposed as lumber sheds. The brick warehouse remained in active use. British Columbia Fire Underwriters Association.
The CPR freight yards in Nelson, with the former Doukhobor fuel yard – now Burns Lumber & Coal Co. circled in white, c. 1960. Ellis Anderson courtesy Lost Kootenays.

In September 1978, the lumber yard was purchased by Louis Maglio,[clv] whose sons Tony and Dominic operated it as Maglio Building Centre. By this time, the Doukhobor brick warehouse was the only original structure still standing and in use. In February 2019, the business was purchased by Fraser Valley Building Supplies, which continues to operate as Rona Maglio Building Centre today.[clvi]

Today

Nearly a century after the demise of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., evidence of the Doukhobor fuel business can still be found throughout the City of Nelson.

The McCulloch Block on Baker St and Green Block at Ward St, which housed the company’s business office over its first six years, are going concerns. The foreman’s dwelling house at 710 Gore St still stands in its original condition. The stopping house of Peter Verigin is also in pristine form, although it no longer stands at 509 Falls St, having been moved to 120 Vernon St in May 1931.[clvii] The two-story brick warehouse remains a hidden mainstay of the RONA Maglio Building Centre at 29 Government Rd, three of its exterior walls now interior walls of the store building.

Perhaps a more pervasive reminder is the cast-iron coal doors that still adorn the exterior of scores of Nelson heritage buildings; many if not most of which were served by the Doukhobor fuel business in the Teens and Twenties.

One of the exterior walls of the Doukhobor brick warehouse now forming an interior wall inside the RONA Maglio Building Centre store. Photo courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff.

The 107-year old Doukhobor brick warehouse at the former CPR Flats coal and wood yard continues to form an integral part of the RONA Maglio Building Centre at Nelson, BC today. Courtesy Stan Sherstobitoff.

After Note

Special thanks to Greg Nesteroff, Lucille Ostrikoff, Mike & Lorraine Malakoff, Klaas, Lorrie and James Büter, Jean-Philippe Stienne and Judy Deon (Touchstones Nelson), Barry and Stephanie Verigin (ISKRA) for sharing their information and images.

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA Nos. 2172 (March 2022), 2173 (April 2022) and 2174 (May 2022). (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).
The 107-year old Doukhobor dwelling house at the former Mountain Station coal and wood yard still stands today in its original condition at 710 Gore Street, Nelson, BC. Courtesy Greg Nesteroff.

An abridged version of this article was published in the following newspaper:


End Notes

[i] From the 1880s through 1920s, a ‘transfer’ was a transportation company that used a fleet of horse-drawn wagons and sleighs to deliver coal, wood, livestock feed, ice and other bulk goods short distances within a community.

[ii] Most stoves, boilers and furnaces burned either fuel or could be converted to do so. Frequently, the choice came down to price and practicality. Wood was considerably cheaper than coal, while coal burned much longer and hotter than wood but was also much dirtier to handle.

[iii]W.A. Jeffries Nelson City Directory (1913) (Nelson, BC: W.A. Jeffries, 1913) at 117; Nelson Daily News, 1913.01.06.

[iv] 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 31. Based on the West Kootenay average of 5,000 feet of saw timber per acre, the Doukhobor lands may have held as much as 53,055,000 feet of saw timber based on their West Kootenay landholdings as of 1913: Canadian Pacific Railway, British Columbia, Canada’s Pacific Province: Its Natural Resources, Advantages and Climate (Victoria: The Colonist Presses, 1910) at 63.

[v] Doukhobor sawmilling in the 1908-1913 period manufactured lumber primarily for their own communal building purposes. However, there was some commercial sale of surplus lumber; most notably the sale of 100,000 railway ties from Glade and another 100,000 ties from Brilliant to the CPR in 1910-1911: Nelson Daily News, 1910-09-21; Victoria Daily Times, 1910-09-28; The Province, 1911-03-17; Winnipeg Free Press, 1911-04-25.  

[vi] Supra, note 3at 33; Manitoba Free Press, April 25, 1911.

[vii] Based on the standards of the day, wastage was upwards of 45 percent of every foot of saw timber: J.H. Jenkins, “Wood-Waste Utilization in British Columbia” in The Forestry Chronicle (Vol. 15, No. 4, December 1939) at 192.

[viii] Manitoba Free Press, April 25, 1911.

[ix] Nelson Daily News, 1913.04.01.

[x] Nelson Daily News, 1913.04.01. to 1913.04.14.

[xi] Nelson Daily News, 1913.04.07; New Westminster News, 1913.04.08; Winnipeg Free Press, 1913.04.12. The Kootenay Ice & Fuel Co. (renamed Kootenay Ice Co. in April 1923) continued selling ice (only) from its Mirror Lake plant in Nelson and district until 1931.

[xii] The easterly 208 feet of Lot 1, of subdivision of part of Lot 95 and Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District, Map 904 was sold for $6,000.00 under Agreement for Sale dated April 7, 1913 by William P. Tierney (railroad contractor and Kootenay Ice & Fuel Co. principal) to Peter Verigin. Upon payment in full, title was transferred from Tierney to Verigin under Indenture No. 18505a dated November 10, 1913. Verigin filed for title on November 22, 1913, registered as Certificate of Title AFB 30/234 dated November 26, 1913. The property was subsequently transferred to the CCUB by Deed of Land No. 4927 dated October 20, 1917 and new Certificate of Title No. 4927i dated October 26, 1917 was issued.

[xiii] Ibid; Nelson Daily News, 1913.01.06.

[xiv] Mined in Lethbridge by the Galt Coal Company, this fuel burned more cleanly than most coals generally available and enjoyed a high reputation across Western Canada. It was a lucrative contract for the Doukhobor Society as it gave it control of the Nelson market for the best and most practical source of heat in the often bitter winters. See: McCord Museum: https://tinyurl.com/mjbdztjv; Toole Peet 1897 – 1997: https://tinyurl.com/yvub6924.

[xv] Nelson Daily News, 1913.04.08; New Westminster News, April 8, 1913.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] The company name was a reference to the Doukhobor Society’s headquarters at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. It also leveraged the name-recognition of the Society’s existing and well-known subsidiary in Nelson, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works (est. 1911). Variations of the name sometimes used: Kootenay Columbia Fuel Company, Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Co., Kootenay Columbia Fuel Co., Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Company, Kootenay Columbia Fuel Supply, Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., Kootenay Columbia Fuel & Supply Co., Kootenay Columbia Fuel & Supply Co. Ltd.       

[xviii] W.A. Jeffries Nelson and District Directory (1914) (Nelson, BC: W.A. Jeffries, 1914) at 78.

[xix] Henry Howard (H.H.) Crofts (1877-1952), a confectioner from Warwick, Eng., immigrated to Canada in June 1903, settling in Winnipeg, MB. From September 1907 to July 1911, he served as Deputy-Sherriff of the Winnipeg Judicial District, then relocated to Nelson, BC to engage in real estate. In September 1911, he formed a realty partnership with Russian émigré realtor Konstantine Popoff as ‘Popoff & Crofts’. Over the next 15 months, he “sold quite a bit of land” to the Doukhobors in Nelson, at Brilliant and on the Slocan: Transcript of Proceedings, Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia (1912), Volume 2 at 567 (BC Archives Item No. GR-0793.2).

[xx] Supra, note 18.

[xxi] Based on the labour force employed by the Kootenay Ice & Fuel Company five months earlier: Nelson Daily News, 1913.01.06.

[xxii] Nelson Daily News, 1913.05.07 to 1913.05.09, 1913.05.12.

[xxiii] 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; Greg Nesteroff, The Doukhobor Jam Factory in Nelson, B.C.: https://tinyurl.com/tywvxh.

[xxiv] See for example: Nelson Daily News, 1914.09.29 to 1914.10.02, 1914-10-17 to 1914.10.21, 1915.01.28 to 1915.03.04.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Nelson Daily News, 1914.04.27 to 1914.05.02.

[xxvii] Mary Shukin, “The Kootenay Columbia Fuel Supply” in ISKRA No. 1708, April 11, 1990 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

[xxviii] While there are no Nelson Daily New adverts, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. almost certainly offered general transfer services through its fleet of wagon and sleigh teams when not in active use delivering coal or wood. Its wagon teams may also have been used for fruit hauling by sister subsidiary Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in the summer fruit season.

[xxix] Nelson Daily News: 1917.09.24; Stan Sherstobitoff photograph collection: Doukhobors construction work, Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in foreground, Nelson, c. 1912: tiny.cc/zwkmuz; Doukhobor scaffolding, Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in foreground, Nelson, c. 1912: tiny.cc/7xkmuz.

[xxx] A common complaint by Nelson merchants 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: Nelson Daily News: 1912:09.17. However, Nelson Daily News advertisements from 1913-1915 confirm that the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co sold fuel at prevailing local rates. For example, in October 1914, it sold Galt Coal for $8.00 per ton, the same price advertised by West Transfer Co.; while it sold wood from $4.75 to $5.50 a cord while Taylor Milling Co. sold it at $5:00 per cord: Nelson Daily News, 1914.10.02. Indeed, by 1917, all Nelson transfer companies were selling wood and coal under a common rate sheet: Nelson Daily News, 1917.09.28.

[xxxi] V.N.L. Van Vleck, “Delivering Coal by Road and Rail in Britain” in The Journal of Economic History Vol. 57, No. 1 (Mar 1997) at 140 quoting Thorstein Veblen, Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution (New York and London: Macmillan, 1915); Nelson Daily News, 1917.07.31.

[xxxii] See for example Nelson Daily News, 1914.03.05 which reported, “The Doukhobor colony shipped another car of wood to Nelson on Saturday.”

[xxxiii] The Use of Wood for Fuel (Bulletin No. 753) (Washington D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, March 10 1919) at 16. Note a ‘cord’ was a stack of wood four feet high, four feet wide and 8 feet long.

[xxxiv] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[xxxv] See Note 40.

[xxxvi] Christopher F. Jones, “Fraud, Failure, and Frustration: This Is the Story of America’s First Energy Transition” in The Atlantic, April 15, 2014. Based on this estimate, Nelson’s population of 5,000 or so residents in 1913 consumed from 6,700 to 20,000 cords of wood or 4,200 to 13,300 tons of coal annually.

[xxxvii] For example, the Nelson Iron Works operated a 80-horsepower boiler that consumed approximately 4.5 lbs. of coal per horsepower-hour: Mining and Engineering World, Vol. 43, November 27, 1915 (Chicago: Mining World Company) at 876; Alessandro Nuvolari, “The theory and practice of steam engineering in Britain and France, 1800-1850 in Documents pour l’histoire des techniques, No. 19, December 1, 2010 at 194. Note wood was not generally preferred by most industries because of its lower heating value.

[xxxviii] The Use of Wood for Fuel, supra, note 33 at 15; The Black Diamond (Vol. 53, No. 12) (National Coal Exchange, September 19, 1914) at 225.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Interestingly, if the company fleet of 6 wagon teams delivered a minimum of 42 loads of coal (42 tons) or wood (21 cords) per day, then the company 1,000-ton coal and wood bunkers would have required replenishment at least once every 24 days.

[xli] Royal Commission Into All Matters Pertaining to the Doukhobor Sect in British Columbia, BC Archives Series GR-0793 (1912), Vol. 1 at 10 and 121 (B56).

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] For instance, the Nelson Daily News reported on July 11, 1913 that “Peter Veregin, the leader of the Doukhobors, was in town on Wednesday looking over the local Doukhobor property.”

[xliv] Nelson Daily News advertsfor Popoff & Crofts dwindled over the winter of 1913-1914 and ceased altogether on May 6, 1914. By June 8, 1914, Crofts and family left Nelson and returned to Winnipeg, MB. On August 8, 1914, Popoff published formal notice of dissolution of partnership, and on October 10, 1914, obtained a court order seizing Crofts’ Nelson property for absconding from the partnership debts. Back in Winnipeg, Crofts served as a government registrar until his retirement in the 30s.

[xlv] Nelson Daily News, 1914.10.03 and 1914.12.05.

[xlvi] Nelson Daily News, 1914.04.1. Charles Forbes McHardy was born in Lucknow Township, Bruce County, ON in August 1875. In late 1900, he resettled to Nelson, BC where he clerked at Nelson Hardware Co. until July 1903. He then partnered with Edward B. McDermid to purchase the real estate and insurance business of Harry H. Ward, operating as McDermid & McHardy. Between September 1906 and August 1908, McHardy and McDermid obtained Crown Grants over 1,270 acres of land at the Slocan River and Goose Creek confluence (named Crescent Valley by McHardy). McHardy then bought out McDermid’s interest in the land and their partnership dissolved in July 1909 as McHardy developed his ranch. In October 1911, McHardy sold the ranch to the Doukhobor Society. In October 1912, he became the first man to ride a horse from Nelson to Vancouver. That November 1912 bought out McDermid’s insurance and rental business while also starting a real estate business. His extensive civic involvement throughout this time included the Nelson Board of Trade, Nelson Improvement Association, Kootenay Fruit-growers Union, Nelson Conservative Association and others.

[xlvii] Nelson Daily News, 1911.10.05.

[xlviii] Nelson Daily News, 1912.04.04.

[xlix] Royal Commission, supra, note 41, Vol. 2 at 341-348.

[l] Nelson Daily News, 1914.04.1; 1914-04-03 to 1914.04.14.

[li] Between April 1914 and October 1917, McHardy placed an incredible 388 advertisements in the Nelson Daily News: 1914.04.01; 1914.04.03 to 1914.04.14; 1914.04.27 to 1914.05.02; 1914.07.08 to 1914.07.14; 1914.08.14; 1914.08.15; 1914.08.26; 1914.09.02 to 1914.09.08; 1914.09.29 to 1914.10.02; 1914.10.17 to 1914.10.21; 1914.11.10 to 1914.11.18; 1914.11.30 to 1914.12.08; 1914.12.21 to 1914.12.24; 1915.01.28 to 1915.03.04; 1915.04.22 to 1915.05.08; 1915.06.24 to 1915.07.15; 1915.09.13 to 1915.10.02; 1915.10.06 to 1915.10.28; 1915.11.09 to 1915.11.27; 1916.01.10 to 1916.03.20; 1916.06.16 to 1916.07.03; 1916.08.28 to 1916.09.11; 1916.10.15 to 1916.10.24; 1917.02.15 to 1917.03.28; 1917.04.16 to 1917.04.21; 1917.09.28; 1917.09.29; 1917.10.13 to 1917.11.13. 

[lii] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[liii] Nelson Daily News advertisements from 1915-1917 show the Nelson transfer companies sold heating fuel at 25% above previous local rates. For instance, the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. sold coal at $9.25 to $10.50 a ton and wood at $7.00 a cord: Nelson Daily News, 1916.10.15, 1917.03.09, 1917.10.13. See Note 30 for 1913-1915 prices.

[liv] The two-story dwelling house at 509 Falls St. stood on Sub-Lots 1-3 of Block 92 of Lot 95, Kootenay District. It was purchased by Peter Verigin on behalf of the Doukhobor Society in late 1914: Nelson Daily News, 1914.12.08. For an excellent historical study of this property, see Greg Nesteroff, “Little-Known Nelson Heritage Buildings: 120 Vernon St.”: https://tinyurl.com/54k47bym.

[lv] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lvi] Tax rolls for 1915 indicate that the building was part of $2,000 of improvements carried out that year: Shawn Lamb Archives, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (courtesy Greg Nesteroff); “List of Property Owned by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited, as at January 1st, 1931” in Snesarev, V.N., The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia, Department of Agriculture, 1931).

[lvii] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lviii] Ibid.

[lix] Shawn Lamb Archives and Snesarev, supra, note 56.

[lx] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Shawn Lamb Archives and Snesarev, supra, note 56.

[lxiii] Ibid; Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxiv] Shukin, ibid.

[lxv] Ibid.

[lxvi] Ibid.

[lxvii] Tax rolls indicate that the warehouse was part of $2,000 worth of improvements carried out between 1915 and 1917: Shawn Lamb Archives, supra, note 56; Snesarev, supra, note 56.

[lxviii] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Nelson Daily News, 1917.10.08 and 1917.10.09.

[lxxi] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxxii] The westerly 138 (130) feet of Lot 1, of subdivision of part of Lot 95 and Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District, Map 904 was transferred from Konstantine Popoff to Peter Verigin by Indenture dated June 29, 1915 and registered June 30, 1915 as No. 20403a.

[lxxiii] Part of the westerly 138 (130) feet of Lot 1, of subdivision of part of Lot 95 and Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District, Map 904 was transferred from Konstantine Popoff to Peter Veregin by Agreement for Sale dated April 19, 1911 and registered as 6470D in Charge Book Volume 18, Folio 159. 

[lxxiv] Nelson Daily News, 1915.03.12.

[lxxv] The Doukhobor leader may have been aware that since 1913, cheap American lignite and sub-bituminous coal had flooded the B.C. Coast market, where it sold for the same price as Canadian bituminous coal, despite the latter’s superior heating value. See for example The Vancouver Sun, 1913.01.30; “Diether Coal” in Vancouver Daily World, 1915.11.18; “Mackay & Gillespie, Ltd” in Victoria Daily Times, 1914.09.01; Alberta’s Coal Industry 1919 (Bercuson, D.J. Ed.) (Alberta Records Publication Board: Historical Society of Alberta, 1978).

[lxxvi] On March 11, 1913, C.F. McHardy purchased Sub-Lot 33(A) of District Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District as shown on Map 766 from Nelson grocer John Alexander Irving, registered as new Certificate of Title AFB 30/9 No. 17465a. On January 16, 1915, McHardy advertised the lot for sale for $2,100.00 in the Nelson Daily News. Evidently, Peter Verigin subsequently entered an Agreement for Sale with McHardy for the lot, as it was reported owned by the Doukhobor Society in 1917: Vancouver Daily World, 1918.09.28. Once all payments were made under the Agreement for Sale, title was transferred from McHardy to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood under Indenture No. 6620i dated December 3, 1919.

[lxxvii] Fire Insurance Plan of Nelson, BC Surveyed August 1923, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (courtesy Greg Nesteroff).

[lxxviii] Ibid.

[lxxix] 1923 Nelson Fire Insurance Plan, supra, note 77; Nelson Daily News, 1930.08.05 and 1930.08.06.

[lxxx] Ibid.

[lxxxi] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[lxxxii] Although the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. did not have a spur track of its own running into its Mountain Station yard, the GNR had a passing and house track running parallel between the city and it main line on which cars were parked for unloading, and which conveniently ran to within 400 feet of the coal and wood yard: Great Northern Railway Historical Society, Mountain Station Blueprint, dated April 23, 1913.

[lxxxiii] Nelson Daily News, 1917.02.15 to 1917.03.08, 1917.09.28-1917.09.29, 1917.10.13-1917.09.30.

[lxxxiv] Nelson Daily News, 1930.08.06.

[lxxxv] Creston Review, 1914.11.20; Nelson Daily News, 1915.01.14, 1915.11.13, 1915.12.06; Greenwood Ledge, 1915.02.02.

[lxxxvi] Minutes of Meeting of CCUB Directors, September 8, 1917, Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor.

[lxxxvii] Western Lumberman, March 1916 at 29.

[lxxxviii] Nelson Daily News, 1917.01.24; Canada Lumberman and Woodworker, Volume 37, 1917 at 160; The Timberman, February 1917 at 81; Western Lumberman, April 1917 at 25.

[lxxxix] Western Lumberman, May 1917 at 32; October 1918 at 77.

[xc] Vancouver Daily World, 1918.09.28.

[xci] Presuming the company made 42 deliveries per day (6 wagon teams x 7 trips each), then it would have delivered 882 tons of coal (1 ton/load x 42 loads x 21 workdays) at an average price of $10.00 per ton, earning gross revenue of $8,820.00 a month; whereas it would have delivered 441 cords of wood (½ cord/load x 42 loads x 21 workdays) at an average price of $7.00 per cord, earning a gross revenue of $3,087.00 a month.

[xcii] It is estimated that the Doukhobors’ profit per ton of coal was 10-15%: The Vancouver Sun, 1917.07.05, 1917.09.13; The Retail Coalman, c. 31, v. 31, July 1917 at 96. However, as their only cost associated with wood was freight, the Doukhobors’ profit per cord of wood may have been as high as 85-90%.

[xciii] As early as December 1914, the Nelson Board of Trade advocated a special tax be levied on Doukhobors who “would not either fight for, or subscribe to, the protection which is afforded under the British flag: Nelson Daily News, 1914.12.11. In December of 1915 and January of 1916, it passed resolutions asking the government to adopt such a tax, declaring “it is an outrage that a large body of men should be living in our midst and enjoying every privilege and the protection of the country without contributing one cent directly to the cause of the country.”: Nelson Daily News, 1915.12.10 and 1916.01.28. The Board also called for a boycott of Doukhobor products in July of 1915, arguing that they were an “alien race” who “could not be called upon in time of war to come to the assistance of the country in which they made their living: Nelson Daily News, 1915.07.09.

[xciv] By 1917-1919, anti-Doukhobor rhetoric intensified in Nelson, with the Nelson Branch of the Canadian Patriotic Fund publicly demanding a $75,000.00 subscription in arrears from the Doukhobor Community: Nelson Daily News, 1919.11.17; the Nelson victory bond campaign demanding $50,000.00 subscription from the Doukhobor Community: Vancouver Daily World, 1919.11.14; local citizens’ meetings in Nelson passing resolutions demanding the purchase of Doukhobor lands and local reconstruction committees formed for the purpose of securing the land for returned soldiers: Calgary Herald, 1919.04.21 and Vancouver Daily World, 1919.04.24; the Nelson Branch of the Great War Veterans Association passing a resolution that the Dominion Government deport all Doukhobors presently in the country: The Gazette, 1919.03.20 and Calgary Herald, 1919.04.07; and the Nelson Board of Trade resolved that the Dominion Government “make the Doukhobors live as Canadian citizens or deport them.”: Calgary Herald, 1919.05.02.

[xcv] George Woodcock & Ivan Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1968) at 253. This sentiment is captured in the September 17, 1917 letter to the editor of the Nelson Daily News from rancher J. Marsden of Taghum: Nelson Daily News: 1917.09.24.

[xcvi] Nelson Daily News, 1916.01.21 to 1923.11.30; Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1916-1919.

[xcvii] Nelson Daily News, 1930.08.06. Unfortunately, the specific date the Nelson City Council voted against installing weigh scales at Mountain Station is not known, as the council minutes for this period are lost and missing: Shawn Lamb Archives, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History.

[xcviii] The last company advertisements for Wyoming coal appears in the Nelson Daily News on November 17, 1917.

[xcix] The last advertisement for Galt coal by the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. appears in the Nelson Daily News on September 28, 1917. By April 1918, Galt coal was being advertised in the newspaper by West Transfer Co.

[c] Nelson Daily News, 1917.09.27.

[ci] Nelson Daily News, 1917.11.10.

[cii] On November 13, 1917, three days after C.F. McHardy’s appointment to the Nelson Victory Bonds Committee, his hitherto-prolific advertising for the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. in the Nelson Daily News abruptly ceased. Thereafter, from November 14, 1917 to July 5, 1919, McHardy advertised in the newspaper as “Charles F. McHardy, Insurance, Fuel, Real Estate.”  

[ciii] Despite the absence of newspaper advertising for the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co., C.F. McHardy continued to be listed as agent for the company in the 1918 and 1919 editions of Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory.

[civ] There are no further references to C.F. McHardy as a fuel dealer after the July 5, 1919 edition of the Nelson Daily News. McHardy went on to serve two terms as alderman between January 1919 and January 1921, unsuccessfully running for mayor in 1920. He was elected mayor for two terms between January 1921 and January 1923. In May-June 1924, he was a conservative candidate for the BC Legislature. For many years McHardy headed the Nelson Conservative Association and was also one-time president of the Board of Trade, a life member of the Kootenay Lake General Hospital Society and for six years was president of its board of directors. He was also a charter member of the Nelson Rotary Club, and early president of the Nelson Fair Board, early member of Clan Johnstone, later Clan McLeary, a member of St. Saviour’s Anglican Church Parish, on the board of B.C. Fire Underwriters, and vice-president of the Notary Public’s provincial organization.

[cv] Nelson Daily News, 1921.10.14.

[cvi] Nelson Daily News, 1923.12.25.

[cvii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1919-1924; Nelson Daily News, 1919.12.01 to 1925.12.01.

[cviii] At the taking of the 1921 Canada Census, John F. Masloff was living in Ootischenia but his occupation was listed as “Bookkeeper, Fuel Supply”: British Columbia, District 18, Sub-district 10A, page 3. By 1922, Masloff had left the fuel subsidiary to manage the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in Brilliant.

[cix] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cx] Ibid.

[cxi] Nelson Daily News, 1920.04.16. The westerly 110 feet of Lot 1, of subdivision of part of Lot 95 and Lot 304, Group 1, Kootenay District, Map 904 was transferred from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. to Imperial Oil Ltd. for $8,000.00 under Indenture No. 7260i dated April 9, 1920.

[cxii] On August 1, 1922, the Nelson Daily News reported that the Okanagan United Growers had taken over fruit marketing in Nelson from the Kootenay Fruit Growers’ Union and would erect a warehouse at once in the CPR Flats for assembling that season’s crop. Evidently, it opted to lease the large warehouse at the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co. yard instead. On October 6, 1922, the Nelson Daily News reported that the packing house of the Okanagan United Growers situated in the Doukhobor building on the CPR Flats was a busy centre with fruit coming into the house from all the ranches in and around the city. On June 13, 1923, the Okanagan United Growers had gone into bankruptcy and liquidation.

[cxiii] Nelson Daily News, 1917.11.17.

[cxiv] Western Lumberman, April 1922 at 40; Nelson Daily News, 1923.05.04.

[cxv] 1921 Canada Census, British Columbia, District 18, Sub-district 10A, page 53.

[cxvi] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cxvii] 1921 Canada Census, British Columbia, District 18, Sub-district 10A, page 53.

[cxviii] Ibid.

[cxix] Nelson Daily News, 1922.05.03; 1922.06.28; 1922.07.03; 1926.04.03; 1926.06.26; 1927.05.06; 1927.06.27.

[cxx] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cxxi] Ibid.

[cxxii] Nelson Daily News, 1925.02.17.

[cxxiii] Canadian Forest Industries (January-June 1923) at 1106. The sawmill property was later purchased by the CCUB from W.C.B. Koch in November 1927.

[cxxiv] Vancouver Daily World, 1923.05.26; The Province, 1923.05.26; Victoria Daily Times, 1923.05.26; Western Lumberman, June 1923; Vancouver Sun, 1923.05.03.

[cxxv] Lethbridge Daily Herald, 1924.07.15; Circleville Daily Union Herald, 1924.07.15; Nevada State Journal, 1924.07.16; Findlay Morning Republican, 1924.07.16; Winnipeg Free Press, 1924.07.16; Calgary Herald, 1924.07.19; Vancouver Sun, 1924.07.18.

[cxxvi] Nelson Daily News, 1924.12.18.

[cxxvii] Nelson Daily News, 1925.02.17; The Province, 1925.02.22.

[cxxviii] Nelson Daily News, 1924.11.18.

[cxxix] The two-day CCUB shareholders and Board of Directors meeting held January 11-12, 1926 appointed 14 Directors and 24 Officers of the various CCUB local branches and subsidiaries, including the Trail branch of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co.; the Nelson branch of the fuel subsidiary was conspicuously omitted: Nelson Daily News, 1926.01.13. The letter sent to Konstantine P. Verigin pursuant to that meeting stated that the CCUB properties at Nelson, Hall Siding, Skalistoye and Dorogotsennoye were all to be put up for sale: Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cxxx] Shukin, supra, note 27.

[cxxxi] Nelson Daily News, 1927.05.02; Border Crossing Manifest dated August 30, 1927 of William W. Kootnikoff, carpenter, of Rossland.

[cxxxii] Lucille Ostrikoff, Nelson, BC, interview by author, 2021.12.30. Note Konstantine P. Verigin’s name lives on today in the form of Verigin Road and Kays (Konstantine’s) Road in Blewett, BC.

[cxxxiii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1926-1928.

[cxxxiv] Nelson Daily News, 1926.02.27 to 1926.03.05.

[cxxxv] Lucille Ostrikoff, Nelson, BC, interview by author, 2021.12.30.

[cxxxvi] Supra, note 134.

[cxxxvii] Nelson Daily News, 1929.09.02.

[cxxxviii] Nesteroff, 120 Vernon St., supra, note 54.

[cxxxix] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1929-1930.

[cxl] Ibid. Friend, follower and biographer of Lev N. Tolstoy, Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov (1860-1931) investigated the Doukhobor movement in the Caucasus in 1895 and was exiled in 1897 to Courland for publishing an appear on behalf of their plight. A year later he was permitted to go abroad, where he stayed until 1907. Later, he spent considerable time in Russia, Switzerland and the UK. In September 1927 he accompanied Doukhobor leader Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin to Canada to help establish Russian schools and a newspaper among the Doukhobors. Within a year, however, he suffered a debilitating stroke. Thereafter, the ailing Tolstoyan was cared for by the Chernoffs at 509 Falls St in Nelson until his daughter Olga left art school in Paris and came to Canada in October 1928. The Biryukovs remained in Nelson until April 1929, whereafter they returned to Geneva where Biryukov died in October 1931.

[cxli] Nelson Daily News, 1930.11.22.

[cxlii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory for the year 1931, which was compiled prior to November 1930 when the 509 Falls St property was sold, lists the Chernoff family still living there; however the 1932 directory lists the family living at Granite Road where the former coal and wood yard of the Kootenay-Columbia Fuel Supply Co was located.

[cxliii] Nelson Daily News, 1930.11.12.

[cxliv] Lot 33A of District Lot 304, Group 1, Map 766 was transferred by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. to Eli N. Chernoff by Indenture No. 30611i dated July 25, 1930.

[cxlv] Nelson Daily News, 1930.08.05 and 1930.08.06.

[cxlvi] British Columbia Death Registration No. 39244 dated June 19, 1931.

[cxlvii] British Columbia Death Registration No. 49-09-001741 dated January 28, 1949.

[cxlviii] Nelson Directory, 1955; British Columbia Death Registration No. 63-09-004738. In 1959, the house at 710 Gore St. was sold to Tony and Gladys Semeniuk: Urban Preliminary List of Electors, Electoral District of Kootenay West, City of Nelson, Urban Polling Division No. 128, September 27, 1965.

[cxlix] Subdivision Plan No. 4558 dated January 8, 1962 of Lot 4, Block 33, Plan 349 of Lot 150 and part of Block 33A, Plan 766 of Lot 304. Interestingly, the house at 723 Innes was purchased by Kay Verigin, who grew up at the CPR Flats yard 40 years earlier when his father Konstantine ran the coal and wood yard there: 1965 City of Nelson Voters’ List, ibid.

[cl] British Columbia Death Registration No. 1965-09-002145.

[cli] Nelson Daily News, 1931.09.11.

[clii] Agreement for Sale from the Receiver for the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Ltd. to Harry and Gordon K. Burns dated February 1, 1939. Five years later, in 1944 when the property was paid in full, title was transferred to Harry and Gordon K. Burns under Certificate of Title No. 58607i.

[cliii] Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory, 1931-1939; Fire Insurance Plan of Nelson, BC Surveyed August 1938 (Revised August 1940 and September 1948), Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (courtesy Greg Nesteroff).

[cliv] Fire Insurance Plan of Nelson, BC Surveyed May 1959, Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (courtesy Greg Nesteroff).

[clv] In 1978, the property was transferred to Louis Maglio under Certificate of Title No. M7771. In 1986, the property was transferred to Louis Maglio Enterprises, under Certificate of Title No. V17188.

[clvi] ”’Business as usual’ in Trail after sale of Maglio Building Centre” in Trail Times, 2019.02.26.

[clvii] Nesteroff, 120 Vernon St., supra, note 54.

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; and 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. In 1915, Anderson sold the Doukhobor Society 525 acres of land south of Castlegar: Nelson Daily News, 1915.02.15. And in 1925, he surveyed the Veregin Subdivision in West Trail for the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood: ‘Plan of Subdivision of Part of Sawmill Block, Reserve, Part of Block 16, Map 465 & Map 465A. With respect to the Blairmore property, it was transferred to Anderson by 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 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.

Novo-Spasskoye – A Doukhobor Village

by Sonya Stepankin

The Doukhobor village of Novo-Spasskoye (later renamed Kalmakovo) was established in 1899 in the Good Spirit Lake district of Saskatchewan. For the next fourteen years, it was home to over thirty Doukhobor immigrant families. The following essay by Sonya Stepankin is reproduced from Essays on Pioneer Days in Saskatchewan (Regina: Women’s Canadian Club, 1927). Written from a Doukhobor women’s perspective, it portrays life in one Doukhobor village, from the early struggle for survival, through to the difficult, often painful, choices that led to its eventual abandonment.

From the southern slopes of the Caucasus they came – a band of exiles for conscience’ sake – seeking freedom to follow the tenets of their simple faith without fear of persecution. 

Their forefathers, imbued with an appreciation of that evasive something called “Spiritual Life” had become known as Doukhobors (signifying “Spirit Wrestlers”) and, staunch in their belief that an implicit obedience to the command, “Thou shalt not Kill” was demanded of them, had suffered exile, and torture, and death, and banishment to the living death of Siberia. They had been driven from their homes in a fertile region of the valley of the (Molochnaya) and had been herded into mountain villages already occupied by Tartar subjects of the Tsar.

These Tartars, by robbery and murder, had reduced life to one continuous fear, and to this, the Government added the tyranny of the Cossacks and the knout. Such were their miseries, and so wretched was their condition, that the sun soaked mountain valleys became to them, all that is conveyed in that dread name, Siberia. So much so, that they called the place of their exile “New Siberia”.

Generations of Doukhobors had endured this persecution for conscience sake, before their unhappy plight was discovered by an English Quaker named John Bellows. He laid the facts of their case before the Society of Friends (Quakers), whose hearts warmed with ready sympathy for their fellow Christians in distress. The Friends felt it incumbent to strive for some measure of relief for the Doukhobors, and by their efforts Count Tolstoy was interested. 

Being exceedingly sympathetic to the Doukhobors’ pacifist attitude towards war, the Count used his influence at court, and eventually through intercession with the Tsar, release, in the shape of permission to migrate en masse, was granted. 

The English Society of Friends raised the funds necessary for transportation to Canada, and early in 1898, (four) shiploads left Batum on the Black Sea for Halifax.

The first ship to set sail called at the island of Cyprus for the purpose of breaking the monotony of the long voyage, and giving he immigrants an opportunity to rest. These good intentions, however, proved a fatal mistake, for fever ravaged the company and many dead were left behind.

The other (three) ships sailed direct to Halifax, where approximately seven thousand Doukhobors disembarked, being met by representatives of the American Society of Friends, who accompanied them to their destination. The American Quakers had undertaken the expense of the land journey and they also presented to the older people, especially those in poor health, a sum of money averaging about five dollars each.

The land assigned them by the Canadian Government was in the Northwest Territories, the nearest railway point being Yorkton, where they arrived in May (1899). The blocks allotted to them lay on both sides of what is now the Canadian National railway track, between the present towns of Veregin and Buchanan, and from Yorkton the track began.

Doukhobor village, circa 1901.

Accustomed to living in village groups, going back and forth to their field work, the Doukhobors had no conception of homestead life, and expected to continue their village system, therefor the families formerly occupying the same village in the Caucasus formed themselves into groups to establish new villages.

Striking off to the north and west, following a trail for fifty miles, one group reached the head of Devil’s Lake, and the abundance of wood, water and fish prompted them to search for a clearing in which to locate their village. The site they chose was a stretch of trail a mile further north, and they named the spot Novo-Spasskoye after the village (Spasovka) they had left – home – in spite of all its distresses.

And now, the Land of Promise a reality, and the wearisome journey accomplished, they assembled to offer fervent thanks for mercies vouchsafed. But mingled with the praise was a prayer, an unquashed cry from wives and mothers for protection for the men whose hardest task was upon them. For upon the men and youths devolved the necessity of facing this new, strange world to provide the means of existence; living and working among people whose language was incomprehensible and whose food was revolting, for, manifestly, a scrupulous fulfilment of the Divine command, “Thou shalt not Kill” prohibited the eating of flesh.

Back to the train at Yorkton turned the men, and the desolate women watching them down the trail, cried aloud in their anguish. But the poignant note of terror, characteristic of the parting of other days, was lacking; for then, men had been trampled under Cossack hoofs, flogged by the knout or driven to the living death of Siberia. And the old people, pathetic in their homeless plight, drew comfort from the thought that such scenes could never be repeated upon their children’s children, to save whom they had uprooted themselves, leaving the graves of their dead, and braving the unknown in their old age.

However, tears were futile, work was pressing. Shelter was imperative; wells must be dug; ground broken; and the women, with the men too old for work among strangers, turned to their immediate problem. To a people with babies, the ailing, and the aged among their number, and lacking any vestige of shelter, the speediest means of protection from the elements was their natural choice, and they dug caves in the earth, supporting where necessary with logs; and branches, grass and soil provided roofing material.

Tools were scarce, and in the open space among the poplars, the women used every means necessity could devise to break the ground to receive the precious seed that represented their supply of vegetables for the year. Some woman’s foresight had prompted the bringing of seed of the stinging nettle, a weed whose rapid growth would supply early greens for vegetable soup, which formed their principal dish.

Both soil and tools had been provided by the Society of Friends, but inevitably there was some shortage when divided among seven thousand. In spite of the inadequacy of tools, shelters for approximately three hundred persons were achieved on the village site. This lay paralleled a stretch of trail connecting two ranch houses. To the ranchers, the advent of the settlers spelt loss of livelihood, but they (the Doukhobors), innocent of wrongdoing, strayed on the ranchers’ land cutting logs, and when ordered off, laboriously tried to explain that they had been given to understand it was a free country, therefor, the trees were God’s trees and they could claim a right to them. Despairing of making them realize his ownership, the rancher fired a charge of bird shot among them, and the pierced ear lobe of one of them always proved that fact to possible skeptics.

Ruined as their business was, the ranchers, be it said to their honour, befriended the settlers, who thankfully undertook the care of a cow and a calf in exchange for the milk, and were grateful for permission to strip the potato vines, and the rhubarb, of their leaves for use in soup.

Flour, bedding, clothing, was supplied by the unfailing Friends, whose interest, augmented by the Press publicity of the religious migration, aroused widespread sympathy, and considerably increased the relief fund organized by the Friends in aid of the seven thousand souls, inexperienced in the rigours of a northern winter. In addition, there was a safe supply of fish in the lake, and an abundance of wild fruit, so that in their eager return in the fall, the men found much cause for thankfulness. There were shelters; there was food, and several unexpected possessions from the barrels packed by the Friends.

Of all this the men knew nothing, reading and writing being a rare accomplishment among them. This lack of direct and easy communication made the separation a great ordeal, causing a total cessation of family life; consequently the homecoming was fraught with far deeper significance than the term commonly implies. Each side lived over again the days since the hour of parting. Nearly every day had brought some new experience, and tears alternated with laughter as they recounted in detail, failure and success, hardship and compensation, sorrow and joy.

Enchanting to the women was the men’s’ account of the people they had lived among; the strangeness of their language, their food, their clothing, and most of all, their homes, filled with superfluous furniture. How spendthrift these people seemed, needlessly piling up the expense of living, and careless of the life to come!

This period of family life was very precious; like a jewel set between the blank of separation behind, and the threat of it before them. it made the oncoming spring season of lamentation because once again, the “little death” was upon them. A thousand miles they (the men) went to work, tramping the trail to Yorkton on the first lap of their journey, via Winnipeg, to Medicine Hat. Here they worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway, striving to accumulate sufficient to make better provision for the next winter, in addition to supplying the immediate need for various equipment to improve the primitive living quarters of their families.

Doukhobor women pulling plow, circa 1901.

Appalled by the intensity of the cold they had for the first time experienced, the villagers applied themselves to the building and plastering of log houses that would defy the frost, and some semblance of a village rose on each side of the trail. Lumber floors were a luxury, few, if any, possessed, but the hard tramped earth served the purpose, and spared the lumber for furniture fashioned by the men. Work on the land speeded up, for they had been the happy possessors of a plough. The fact that oxen and horses were both a minus quantity did not daunt them, for the women roped themselves together and cheerfully supplied the power, singing their beloved folk songs as they turned the furrows.

Having rescued their fellow Christians from persecution, the Quakers had no intention of leaving them to work unaided, their own salvation. Besides material help, they were anxious to pass on the benefits of their own experience. To this end they built schools and sent teachers from England and Philadelphia. The Friends themselves had evolved a very clear idea of the value of education, but their magnificent offer was not generally appreciated among the Doukhobors, who looked upon “book learning” as entirely superfluous, preferring their children to help in the work at home. Consequently, through lack of support the Friends’ expensive project collapsed, and realizing the futility of further effort, they quietly withdrew.

At the time of the Doukhobor exodus from Russia, their leader, Peter Verigin, was a prisoner in Siberia. Later, freedom to join his people in Canada was granted, and he assumed control of the settlements in 1902. From that time the affairs of the village were conducted along community lines. The wages of the men were pooled to form a common fund and from the fund every family drew its quota of supplies according to its number. Such foodstuffs as they could not produce, material for clothing and for bedding, footwear, and household dishes, were all distributed from the common fund, and all kept strictly down to the minimum. Machinery, cattle, and all the needs of the village as a whole were supplied out of the common fund.

Their leader (Peter “Lordly” Verigin) made his home in the largest village, which was nearly forty miles from Novo-Spasskoye. In order to have a suitable place in which to transact business, and to hold meetings on the occasion of his periodic visits, he had a spacious building (dom) erected. It was of smooth red brick manufactured in the community brickyard. It was lighted by a dozen or more fine large windows. A veranda with much fancy woodwork ran the whole length and across the front, while an ornate balcony spanned the front gable, all tastefully painted in light colours. The interior was divided into one large room for public use, and smaller rooms as living quarters for the leader and his retinue. 

Standing fairly central to the village, the building dominated the humble log dwellings of the men who, year after year, endured months of separation from their families in order to maintain the common fund; and where many a woman, lamenting, worked with a pang in her heart for her absent man.

Besides their work in the field, the women contributed a large share to the handicrafts of the community. They grew flax, and steeped and dried and dressed it, spinning a strong linen thread and weaving a linen which gave almost interminable wear. The men made the bedsteads, and the women filled the ticks and pillows with feathers (from the moulting poultry) patiently stripped off the quill. The blankets they made of fleece stretched between two covers. The fleece was sheared from the sheep by the women, who carded and spun it, knitting for the whole family, and cleverly lining the mitts and socks of the outdoor workers with fleece, rendering them so snug and warm as to defy almost any cold.

Patiently they sewed by hand every garment worn by the whole community except those of the men who went away to work. Five widths went into the making of their own dark skirts, gathered into a waist-band, over their bright blouses which buttoned up to the throat, and at the wrists. Their head shawls were worn in and out of the house, over the hair in a braid tucked under the shawl. The dresses of the girls of all ages were merely a duplicate of their mothers; and the home made suits consisted of long trousers gathered into a waist belt, over which was worn the shirt, tunic-fashion. As a change from strenuous work, and by way of decoration, they did fine drawn thread work, achieving exquisite, lacy effects.

 

Varied as were their handicrafts, they lamented the fact that their independence was not complete; shoes, for instance, had to be bought, and regretfully, they remembered the slight protection needed in their native climate; and the old people told how big a dollar was, when almost their sole needs from the store were needles and matches. Longingly they thought of the wild figs whose sweetness rivaled the honey used instead of sugar, and of the wild grapes of the mountains; and they yearned for a breath of the scented, moisture laden air of the valleys of home. But human lives were more precious than this, and, singing their folk songs, they toiled to make a home in this country of freedom.

The men, travelling, working, were learning, observing, comparing, learning the language and the law, especially as it related to homestead rights; observing the comfortable living on the farms; comparing men’s pride of ownership with their own lot. By degree, heresy crept into their thoughts and into their conversation, and the subject of separation from the community became an absorbing topic among them. Estrangement from the community at large would be an inevitable result, with possible petty persecutions, but increasing faith in their own judgement forced the conviction upon them that the wiser investment of their labour – their only capital – would be the land, and the bolder, more enterprising spirits withdrew from the community to enter upon the obligatory (homestead) residence duties.

Their example encouraged others to follow their lead, and many whose better judgement urged them to independence were restrained by their womenfolk, who feared the hazards. In vain the men protested their ability to provide but the women pleaded for the security which only community life could guarantee, and their tears and prayers prevailed for the time being. Time and again, ambitious men returned to the argument, but the women stood firm for assured provision in sickness and old age. Besides, they were bred and born, and had their being in a village, and shrank from the isolation of the homestead.

Presently, other questions turned up. They had now been in Canada between eight and nine years and the Government began to insist on naturalization. Apprehensive of their position as private citizens, many Independents were welcomed back into the fold, together with such possessions as they had managed to accumulate. When the fear of military law was removed by exemption being granted, many returned to their homesteads, so that the community system was disrupted, and the leader began negotiations for a block of land in British Columbia.

On their withdrawal from the community, the Independents were allowed the property they had taken in on their re-entry, and ruefully they contemplated their possessions, consisting of a cow and a steer, or a cow and a horse, or some equally ill assorted team, or perhaps only one animal. With their meager household goods, and, in rare cases, a piece of farm machinery, this constituted all their worldly goods; representing the sum total of all their valuable capital after ten years of working out.

Narrowly were they watched by the men restrained by their womenfolk, and by the time their leader’s plans were nearing completion, many took matters into their own hands, determined to avail themselves of their homestead rights, and their decision crystallized into action the wavering attitude of others to swell the ranks of the Independents. Those who lacked the courage to venture and were yet reluctant to relinquish their homestead rights, decided to remain in the community until time should prove the success or failure of the Independents, and they, with the many faithful adherents, moved to British Columbia in 1911 to continue the community regime; the privilege to re-enter being extended to all who had withdrawn.

Doukhobor village house, circa 1901.

The village was deserted! The spot which had been the scene of such varied activities for thirteen years was silent with the mournful stillness of abandoned homes. Forlornly employ stood the little houses, with missing windows like hollow eye sockets, the doorways gaping into vacancy, and weeds in possession of the garden patches. 

The village was dead, but the surrounding country resounded with life. Scattered spots of light from lamp lit cottage windows broke the darkness of the bush, like beacons signalling a challenge to nature’s undisputed sway, and children’s’ voices swell and shrill, dispelled the age long silence. The sight and sound of labour was succeeded by blooming gardens and plots of ripening grain.

But there were tears! Behind many lighted window a woman sobbed out her loneliness, wearying of the monotony, longing for the humanity of the village, with its impact of spirit upon spirit, its neighbourliness, its bickering! Hearts were wrung by the severance of close family ties; mothers and daughters were in, or out, of the community according to the decision of their menfolk, and no letters could be exchanged to ease the heartache, nor written to unburden the mind; the mountains were between, and they lacked the ability to bridge them with the written word.

Work was their only respite, and side by side with the men they subdued the forest and brought the wild land to subjection. Early and late they toiled, sustained by the thought of ultimate ownership, stimulated by the fact that every hand’s turn was to their benefit. And between whiles, they reared their children and tended young stock and poultry. They grew tomatoes and cucumbers in quantities to supply their table the year round, in addition to the common vegetables, so that their borshch was plentiful and delicious. This vegetable soup, taking the place of meat, is made as follows: While potatoes are boiling, cabbage is shredded, onion chopped, and both fried in butter; tomatoes are added, or it is varied with different vegetables. The potatoes are taken from their water and crushed, or mashed; they are returned to the water, the fried vegetables with their generous amount of butter, are added, and the whole is sharpened with vinegar. The red tomato, green cabbage and golden butter present an appetizing appearance, and the sharp tang of the vinegar further whets the appetite. A bowl of borshch with a thick slice of bread forms a substantial meal.

They baked and churned, and washed and cleaned, and on Saturdays prepared the steam bath, so that the whole family should greet the Sabbath day with scrupulous personal cleanliness. They plastered the buildings and sheared the sheep and in winter, they spun, and knitted, and sewed, filling bed ticks and pillows with feathers, and comforters with fleece, while some of their menfolk turned to good account the troublesome bush, hauling stove wood and willow fence pickets to Yorkton, while others fished through the ice on the lake.

Their labours were rewarded, and the second ten years produced a very different statement of effects from that of the first ten. Almost without exception an additional quarter section, or more, had been bought adjoining the original homestead, whereon had been erected a frame house and good buildings, which always included a bath-house, and in most cases, a garage.

The telephone in every house made the women forget the meaning of loneliness, and the automobile had robbed the homestead of its isolation. The fine schoolhouse had rendered communication with distant relations a common occurrence, for the children wrote their parents’ letters in English, receiving answers from far-away cousins in the same tongue.

Of all the progress that ten years had brought, these schoolchildren were the most vital. Canadian in speech, dress and sentiment, they bound the older generations with bonds of blood to the country of their adoption, bringing customs into the homes, welding a chain of happy associations, creating an atmosphere of home where before had been only a refuge. The children “belong”. “I was born in Saskatchewan, and I hope to live here until I die,” vied the children of the schoolhouse.

The ten years had effaced the village. A black hole yawned, or grassy mound showed the remains of the banks around the little houses, long since demolished for their logs. Beside the trail that had formed the village street, various herbs proclaimed the dormant gardens, and scattered maples revealed the love of beauty in the hearts of the exiles. The red brick meeting house had become a farm-house surrounded by its wheat fields, and from the old trail the wheat fields stretched in the characteristic sunlit spaces of Saskatchewan.

Men who called the village home in the first hard years, motor through without a regret that nothing more than a momento remains to recall the attempt at paternal autocracy.

A Doukhobor Wedding Dress

by Leslee Newman

In 1867, a wedding dress was handmade and worn in a traditional Doukhobor wedding ceremony in the Caucasus, Russia.  Thereafter, it was carefully preserved and passed down through the generations.  Today, over one hundred and forty years later, this historic garment is part of the extensive collection of Doukhobor artifacts held at the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.  The following commentary, reproduced by permission from the Saskatoon Sun, April 25, 1999, outlines the story of the dress from its origins to present.

Within sight of Mount Ararat, which according to the Bible was the resting place of Noah’s ark, Onya Kabaroff and Fedyor Perehudoff pledged their union. The young Doukhobor couple began their life together in 1867. Half a world away in North America, four provinces joined to form a new country, Canada. Onya (Anna) and Fedyor (Fred) could not have known that they would someday leave their small village in the Russian province of Georgia to make this new country their home.

Anna’s mother began to prepare for her daughter’s wedding long before the special day. She spun flax into thread, wove the thread into cloth, sewed the cloth into a full length dress. The dress has long sleeves, with gathering so fine at the wrists and neck, and embroidery so delicate, that it challenges you to imagine producing such work by the light of a flickering flame. A hand-woven geometric-patterned band decorates the hemline.

The blue woollen apron also was made from hand-woven cloth. After washing and carding, the wool was spun, then woven into a fine cloth. The apron was gathered at the waist. The hem was decorated with a colourful woven band and hand-knit lace.

Dress worn by Onya Kabaroff on her wedding to Fedya Perehudoff in 1867 in Russia.

The short, padded vest was hand-sewn from cotton. Since cotton was not a cloth that could be produced at home, it was likely purchased on a rare trip to a large trading centre. All items must have been lovingly prepared by Anna’s mother for her daughter’s hope chest.

Thirty-two years after their marriage, Anna and Fred made the heart-wrenching choice to leave their home and travel with 7,500 others of Doukhobor faith to Canada. Leo Tolstoy, the well-known Russian writer, sponsored Doukhobor immigration to what is now Saskatchewan, financing the trip with proceeds from his book Resurrection. The Quakers, another pacifist group, also came to their aid.

Anna’s wedding dress was packed and made the long journey from Russia to the tiny village of Ospennia, 15 kilometres southeast of Blaine Lake in what was then, Canada’s North West Territories.

It is likely that Anna wore her dress on Sundays and special days like the annual June 29th commemoration of the Burning of Arms. On that day, a large tent was set up to house the people who gathered for prayers, songs and ceremony.

Firm in their belief in the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” Doukhobors rejected the call to serve in the Russian military. On June 29, 1895 they collected their weapons and burned them. Thousands were punished with death or exile. Doukhobors have commemorated June 29th faithfully since that time.

On Anna’s death in the 1930s, the dress was handed down to her daughter, Dasha (Dora) Postnikoff. When Dora died, Anna’s dress went to Dora’s daughter Agatha. It was donated to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum by Anna’s granddaughter, Agatha Stupnikoff, on behalf of the Postnikoff family.

“The people then tried very hard to accept the Canadian way of life, so they switched over to Canadian dress quite early. Anna’s dress came out only on special occasions,” recalled Agatha.

“Doukhobour people come from all walks of life. It isn’t a nationality, it’s a belief,” Agatha explained as she mused about the exodus from Russia her grandparents joined in 1899. They were not young people, both in their fifties when they came to Canada, with the strength of their belief sustaining them through hardship.

Agatha Stupnikoff’s sensitivity to her family’s story and Doukhobor history was shared by her husband Sam. Motivated by their desire to preserve these cherished garments, they consulted family members, then offered the wedding outfit to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.

Ruth Bitner, WDM Collections Curator, accepted the donation with gratitude, stating “Despite the fact that people from so many different cultures made Saskatchewan their homes, the WDM has few examples of traditional clothing. Costumes like this are a tangible reminder of personal journeys, leaving the familiar culture of the homeland for an unknown future in faraway Saskatchewan.”

For More Information

The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum (WDM) is the museum of social and economic history for the Province of Saskatchewan. It is a network of four exhibit branches in the cities of Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton. For more information about the WDM, its programs, events, exhibits, and the many Doukhobor artifacts in its holdings, visit the WDM web site at: www.wdm.ca.

Folk Furniture of Canada’s Doukhobors

by John Fleming and Michael Rowan

When the Doukhobors arrived in Western Canada in the late nineteenth century, the folk furniture they created reflected the traditional forms, construction methods and decorative motifs of Russia. A systematic comparison of their Canadian furniture to Russian pieces reveals the extent to which geography and Canadian society affected how the Doukhobors adopted and adapted these elements in their new environment, while at the same time retaining familiar forms and practices. The following article examines the issues of tradition, adaptation and innovation in the folk furniture of Canada’s Doukhobors. Reproduced by permission from The Magazine ANTIQUES (March 2007). Photos by James Chambers.

In recent years, an influx of folk furniture imported from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, northern Russia, in particular, has made it easier to compare the pieces made by Russian immigrants after their arrival in North American with examples that demonstrate the original context, in which the forms, construction methods, and decorative motifs were born. This comparative approach also addresses the perennial issues of tradition, adaptation and innovation in the transfer of these elements from the old world to the new.

Figure 1. Frame, Blewitt, British Columbia, early twentieth century. Spruce, overpaint removed to reveal original red, blue, yellow and green; height 20 1/4, width 16 inches.

This article is an attempt to systematically examine the furniture made by one group of Russian immigrants, the Doukhobors, who settled in the Canadian West and compare it to Russian pieces. But to understand and interpret the objects the Doukhobors made, and the context in which these people began as a nonconforming religious sect, we must first return to their origins in eighteenth century Russia and their arrival in Canada at the end of the nineteenth century.

Figure 2. Cupboard, North Colony near Chelan, Saskatchewan, early twentieth century. Pine, overpainted in light green, yellow and red, the latter probably original color; height 79, width 38 1/2, depth 21 1/2 inches. Canadian Museum of Civilization.

On January 20, 1899, the SS Lake Huron, thirty days out of Batum on the Black Sea arrived off Halifax, Nova Scotia, and its passengers disembarked the following day at Lawlor’s Island for quarantine inspection. The ship then proceeded onto Saint John, New Brunswick, where the settlers started their train trip west to Winnipeg in Manitoba and beyond. At Winnipeg, one group of men was sent ahead to begin preparations for the construction of houses and other necessary buildings. In the four months that followed, three other shiploads of immigrants arrived in Canada, bringing the total number of Doukhobors to about seventy-five hundred. James Mavor (1854-1925), a professor of economics at the University of Toronto and supporter of Doukhobor immigration to Canada, recorded on May 21, 1899: “At a station in the prairie last night, there was an American Indian in his native costume and with red paint or colour on his cheeks; also a crowd of Galicians who were coming in on the train, and a few Doukhobors: a very strange throng indeed.” This “strange throng” anticipated in microcosm the mix of ethnic identities that settled the Canadian prairies and British Columbia in the years that followed. The Europeans’ arrival was facilitated by the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1885. With the exception of a few individuals, and various Doukhobor internal exiles held in Russia, Doukhobor immigration to Canada ended in about 1905.

Figure 3. Storage box, Saskatchewan, early twentieth century. Pine with original painted decoration; height 13 1/2, length 20, depth 16 inches.

The origins and evolution of this religious reform movement in the eighteenth century were based on a sweeping double rejection of organized and dogmatic forms of religion and external secular authority. This radical stance brought the group into immediate conflict with the Russian Orthodox Church and of course with the Russian czarist government. In terms of spiritual belief and the ways in which that belief is practiced, the Doukhobors refused the external material manifestations and practices of the Orthodox Church, including the preeminence given to the Bible and the historical Christ. In 1785, Archbishop Ambrosius of Ekaterinoslav first used the term Dukho-borets (spirit wrestlers) to describe these outsiders who struggled against the spirit of Christ. The Doukhobors gave this pejorative designation a positive turn by declaring that it should mean those who wrestle with rather than against the spirit of Christ. The Doukhobors abandoned iconography, church buildings, artifacts, ritual and the priestly class in a radical return to what they saw as the principles of early Christianity. They proclaimed God to be indwelling – that is, present within each person – thus making both priests and churches irrelevant to the spiritual life of the community. Similarly, printed biblical texts were replaced in Doukhobor social and religious life by their own oral psalms and hymns. Recounting his experiences crossing the Atlantic twice with the Doukhobors bound for Canada in 1899, Leopold Antonovich Sulerzhitsky (1872-1916) wrote:

The majority of the Doukhobors are convinced, to this date, that their psalms represent something original, having nothing in common with printed gospel. It seems to them that the unperverted teaching of Jesus Christ can be learned only from their psalms…The Doukhobors never wrote down these psalms. They are passed on orally from generation to generation and are preserved only in the memory.

Figure 4. Storage chest, probably Russian, late nineteenth century, found in British Columbia. Pine, iron hardware, original paint; height 23 1/2, length 41 3/4, depth 27 1/4 inches. Canadian Museum of Civilization.

The formalism and the authority of the czarist empire were equally repugnant to the Doukhobors, who tried to avoid bureaucratic intervention in their lives by refusing to register births, deaths, marriages, and, in particular, by steadfastly opposing military service. The implicit egalitarianism inherent in this rejection of authority, the assertion of personal freedom, and the beliefs of the presence of God in every individual and that all men are brothers attacked the very bases upon which church and state were founded, and caused the Doukhobors more than two centuries of official persecution.

Figure 5. Cupboard, northern Russia, late nineteenth century. Pine and spruce with original faux-bois graining and commercial cast-metal pulls; height 68 1/4, width 50, depth 20 inches. The cornice is missing.

As repression of the Doukhobors became more and more severe, a number of outside people stepped in to find a solution. Among the most important and influential was Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), who found in Doukhobor belief many parallels with his own anarchistic and pacifistic views, as well as a living embodiment of early Christian communism. According to Sulerzhitsky, Tolstoy, “[m]aking an exception to his rule not to take royalties for his publications….sold his novel Resurrection for the benefit of the Doukhobors.”  In advocating the Doukhobors’ immigration to Canada as a solution to their repression at home, Mavor, in Toronto, wrote to James Allan Smart (b. 1858), deputy minister of the Interior, on October 19, 1898: “I should mention also that their idea that they may as well be frozen to death in Canada as flogged to death by the Cossacks, is natural enough.”

Figure 6. Cupboard, Vologda region, Russia, c. 1900. Pine and spruce with original red and polychrome painted decoration; height 75, width 53 1/2, depth 19 1/2 inches.

As so many immigrants to North America before the Doukhobors had discovered, the promise of a new land and a new life brought with it struggle and hardship and official persecution and support in unequal measures. The only possessions most new arrivals brought with them appear to have been trunks or chests containing clothing, domestic items, and tools – a fragile visual and material bridge between departure from home and arrival in North America, or, more specifically, in the case of the Doukhobors, from the Russian steppes to the Canadian prairies. The chests’ materials, construction, proportions, and profile, colors and finish, decorative motifs, and overall aesthetic constitute a framework for analyzing the ways in which geography and Canadian society affected how the Doukhobors adopted and adapted these elements in their new environment. At the same time, the reassuring presence of familiar forms and practices provided them with a stabilizing psychological underpinning.

Some elements require extensive considerations while others are simple and straight-forward. The woods used, for example, were similar and vary little in physical composition. Pine, spruce, and birch were all commonly used in Canada and Russia, but Russian pine and spruce have more well-defined graining and greater weight than their North American counter-parts, facts that are further accentuated in a constructed state by the thickness of the planks used in Russia.

Figure 7. Cupboard, Saskatchewan, early twentieth century. Pine with original blue and green paint; height 77 1/4, width 42, depth 21 inches.

Like the materials, construction techniques are, with some variations, closely related in the Russian and Canadian pieces. In accordance with centuries’ old traditions of good joinery, mortise-and-tenon techniques prevail in cupboards and tables, while dovetailed construction predominates in boxes of all sizes. Unlike the furniture made by the Doukhobors in the Canadian West, however, Russian pieces often use visible through- tenon joints and cupboards have vertical tongue-and groove joinery and horizontal backboards, while analogous North American forms employ blind tenons and vertically nailed backboards. With few exceptions, most nails used on Russian furniture have cross-hatched heads, while those used by the Doukhobors in Canada do not.

In contrast to the material similarity between traditional Russian folk pieces and those of the Canadian Doukhobors, the decoration on the two types, differs greatly. The range of colors employed was similarly broad in both places, but the decorative application and the motifs used are distinct and constitute defining characteristics. Our examination and analysis will be limited to three categories of furniture –cupboards, boxes, and tables– since few imported chairs, benches, beds, and small domestic pieces from Russia are available for comparative purposes at present.

Figure 8. Mirror, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, early twentieth century, once owned by the Popoff family. Pine with old brown paint over red stain and inner gesso frame with cream-color paint; height 20, width 12 inches.

Cupboards constituted a major item in the domestic interior and were therefore more subject to decorative elaboration. Generally of imposing size and proportion, cupboards in the Russian tradition are broad, deep, and relatively low in height, probably reflecting low ceilings and modest living spaces (See Fig. 5). Although often constructed in one piece, they appear as two-part storage units, of balanced proportions, usually with fielded rectilinear panels that convey a sense of solidity and stability and a certain heaviness. Russian cupboards were frequently fastened to the walls and further integrated with the architecture of a room by having painted and decorated surfaces that echoed that of the wainscoting, moldings, door and window frames.

Russian cupboards with multiple outlined panels, such as the one in Figure 6, seem to call for further decorative elements, perhaps a lingering reflection of traditional methods of icon production, in which several artisans were responsible for the decoration of a single object, a practice that encouraged a proliferation of visual effects. The roses, tulips, and other floral ornaments that embellish panels are treated in an iconic manner that emphasizes centrality and focus; another hand may well have applied the field colors and trompe-l’oeil graining that serve as background. The background color on most Russian cupboards ranges from shades of red-brown to orange, and is sometimes painted to imitate graining.

In contrast, the paint on Canadian Doukhobor cupboards is plain and simple. It invariably emphasizes the composition of the whole by making the component parts clear – cornice, top section, waist, lower doors, base and foot (See Figs. 2 and 7). Doukhobor cupboards have single color fields, often outlined by another color in such combinations as blue and green, yellow and green, pink and green, or orange and green, with the darker color applied to moldings, cornices, and other edges. While floors, walls, and interior trim were almost always white or neutral in color in Doukhobor houses in Canada, in rural interiors in some regions of Russia such as Vologda bright colors and often repeated motifs were used to create a blended effect between furniture, walls, and paneling.

Figure 9. Table, northern Russia, late nineteenth century. Pine with original paint; height 29, width 64 1/2, depth 30 inches.

Doukhobor cupboards, including hanging versions, occasionally have carved and shaped profiles. A few familiar animals such as horses and birds sometimes appear as silhouettes on cornices (See Fig. 2) but seldom appear elsewhere. In contrast, flowers and foliate imagery are common painted motifs on Russian cupboards and chests (See Fig. 4) along with symbolic animals : “lions, Bereginy (Slavic – Spirits of Nature) and other creatures….were often painted on cupboard doors, large storage chests, and even the floors.

The boxes the Doukhobors brought from Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, probably as dower chests, and ready-made traveling trunks, were frequently embellished with painted geometric motifs, particularly pinwheels and circles. As symbols, circle related motifs have long been associated with mythologies of the sun and predate the religious icons of Christianity as they are usually understood.

On Russian boxes, where they appeared often, these motifs are well-developed, opulent, and generally fill all the space available (see Fig. 14). On Doukhobor boxes made in Canada, however, decorative elements were less insistently used, and were more restrained; they contained fewer colors; and generally consist of fewer motifs, both floral and geometric, which are disposed singly or in simple symmetrical and bilateral arrangements against a single color colored ground (See Figs. 3 and 13). This is the geometry of the pagan mythologies of the natural world and the vocabulary world of folk, rather than the symbolic language of Christian iconography that prevailed in Russia at the time.

Figure 10. Table and chair, Buchanan, Saskatchewan, c. 1910. Pine; height 30 1/2, width 42 3/4, depth 28 3/4 inches. Chair: pine and birch with original painted decoration; height 35 1/2, width 14 1/2, depth 16 1/4 inches.

The physical properties and the structure of the boxes made in North America and Russia are analogous; both use similar woods, mortise and tenon construction, and dovetailed corners. As on cupboards, the structural components, such as the moldings, around the lid or at the foot function as both protective and decorative devices in both countries, but on Doukhobor boxes a dark color normally contrasts with the field color, adding a further decorative element to the field (See Fig. 3).

Gennadi Blinov, in a book about Russian folk style figurines, identifies red, red-orange, and variants as the essential field colors of the Russian decorative palette and describes their perpetual qualities in psychological terms: “Red is an extremely active colour, strongly affecting human emotions and endowed with highly decorative properties.”  By emphasizing the emotional content of color and its decorative force, Blinov unexpectedly touched on the essentials of most Doukhobor painted furniture, which bypasses the emblematic use of color.

The final form we wish to discuss are tables. As objects around which domestic and social interactions are repeated day after day, tables play a basic role in the aesthetics of everyday existence in both Russia and Canada during this period. Russian tables are solid and block-like (See Fig. 11). It is no accident that they are almost exclusively plain or painted simply with several colors, reflecting through color and the control of the planimetric structure an unconscious preference for a two-dimensional iconic focus and a disinterest in the decorative potential of edges, curvilinear profiles, and the three-dimensional irregularities of the natural world. Doukhobor tables, on the other hand, often have carved and cutout skirts that emphasize three-dimensional effects and their sculptural nature, with positive and negative spaces creating a dynamic tension (See Fig.12) Despite these differences, both Russian tables and Doukhobor ones have turned legs that suggest their common origin. Alexander and Barbara Pronin point out that the furniture made by carpenters in Russia mirrors architectural forms and observe that the rounded legs of the tables resemble in miniature the pillars on the porches of some dwellings.  The same can be said for the correspondence between Canadian Doukhobor table legs and some pillars on some Doukhobor houses in British Columbia.

The distinction between carved, and cut-out, as opposed to painted decoration is, we think, related to certain perceptual values and beliefs. The long and widespread tradition of icons in Russia depends essentially on painted decoration of a flat surface, and is thus an aesthetic based on symbolic representation. As iconoclasts, the Doukhobors, perhaps unconsciously, distanced themselves from this technique by translating the pictorial tradition into carved three-dimensional decoration and by transforming the widespread presence of icons in Russian culture into the sculpted vegetable forms of the natural world, coincident with their own beliefs and the vegetarianism that many of them practiced. In the representation of the animate world of humans, animals and vegetables, stylized forms predominate on Russian pieces, while in Canadian-made Doukhobor furniture, the three-dimensionality of carved decoration and of cutout profiles and pierced and cutaway surfaces creates patterns of depth and overlap in a dynamic, spatial exchange. The minimal use of geometric motifs and the emphasis on vegetable imagery in the North American context accounts, at least in part, for the evacuation of the symbolic meaning and religious implication that was inherent in the iconlike painted and framed flower forms and geometric shapes of traditional Doukhobor objects. In other words, the decoration of Russian pieces is associated with a strong pictorial tradition of iconographic and emblematic origin, while Canadian Doukhobor furniture associates ornamentation with structural elements – such as cutout, sculpted, or pierced aprons or the carved elements found on cupboard cornices – enhanced through patterns of contrasting color and a minimal use of motifs. Incidentally, the infrequent use of representational motifs by the Doukhobors may be related to their long exile in the Caucasus, where Islamic custom eschewed figural decoration.

Figure 13. Storage box, Yorkton area, Saskatchewan, late nineteenth century. Pine with original painted decoration; height 24 3/4, width 39 1/2, depth 26 3/4 inches.

In summary, the Doukhobor’ rejection in the eighteenth century of both the Russian state and the Orthodox Church marked the beginning of a search for a utopian ideal of simplicity, expressed by the term, “Toil and peaceful life, ” a motto that continues to circulate widely within the community. The symbolism attached to figures and other imagery from the Russian tradition gradually lost its relevance in the decoration of objects as a result of the Doukhobors’ minimization of religious ritual, rejection of iconography, and absence of a sacred book, along with the hardships of their daily lives during their early years in a new land. In Russia, however, the religious traditions of Orthodoxy continued to influence the decorative embellishments of domestic life.

Like most folk cultures transported to North America from earlier European sources, traditional forms persisted at the physical level of everyday existence and the production of domestic objects necessary to support daily activities. At the same time, the traditional forms and decorations of household objects, utensils and tools were usually simplified, motifs more sparingly used, often emptied of iconic and emblematic meaning. Some of this attenuated decorative expression was no doubt also due to the new conditions of life imposed by a strange environment and the influences of an unfamiliar social culture that exerted through commercial channels and differing physical preferences a growing pressure to adapt and conform to new visual models.

Figure 14. Storage box, northern Russia, late nineteenth century. Pine with original painted decoration; height 13, width 29, depth 19 3/4 inches.

For More Information

For more information on this subject, see Folk Furniture of Canada’s Doukhobors, Hutterites, Mennonites and Ukrainians (2004, University of Alberta Press) by John Fleming and Michael Rowan. With over 100 color photographs, this informative book offers a stunning visual record of the culture and values of these four ethno-cultural groups. Authors John Fleming and Michael Rowan take an interpretive approach to the importance of folk furniture and its intimate ties to people’s systems of values and beliefs. Photographer James Chambers beautifully captures both representative and exceptional artifacts, from large furniture items such as storage chests, benches, cradles, and tables, to small kitchen items including spoons, bread-boxes, and cookie cutters. The extensive text provides descriptive, analytical, and interpretive dimensions to these rare artifacts. The descriptions lead into further analysis and interpretation of the physical characteristics of the furniture—focusing on material, form, style, and colour—and the influences of each of the ethnic groups in these particular areas. To order copies of Folk Furniture of Canada’s Doukhobors, Hutterites, Mennonites, and Ukrainians (ISBN 0-88864-4183), contact the University of Alberta Press