In June 1909, an unidentified correspondent with the Rossland Miner newspaper visited the new 2,700-acre Doukhobor colony at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers in British Columbia. Only a year after its establishment, the colony already boasted 675 members, recent arrivals from the Prairies, who had cleared 350 acres of heavy forest and planted 10,700 fruit trees along with large vegetable gardens. They set up two sawmills, which were busy cutting lumber for the houses of the different villages to be located on the land, and a preliminary irrigation system was established. Greatly impressed with their untiring industry and deep optimism of further development, the correspondent writes about their history, religious beliefs, communal society, vegetarianism, gender equality, dress and overall generosity and courtesy. Reproduced from the Daily News Advertiser (Vancouver BC), June 23, 1909
Last week a representative of the Rossland “Miner” visited the new colony of Doukhobors at Waterloo, B.C., and writes his impressions as follows.
Imagine a community of nearly 700 men, women and children, without a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a druggist, store, saloon, butcher shop, gaol or police officer, pauper or courtesan, where all of the population are vegetarians and teetotalers, so far as alcoholic beverages are concerned, and who neither chew nor smoke tobacco, and you will have an idea of the Doukhobor settlement at Brilliant, formerly Waterloo, on the Columbia River, about 25 miles from this city.
The inhabitants are Socialists, pure and simple, as everything is held in common. The men and the women work for the community, and all property is owned by the community, and all moneys derived from the sale of the products of the soil go into a common fund. They constitute one big family. The children, until they are able to work, are allowed to play or attend school, where a rudimentary education is given them. As soon as they are strong enough to toil they join the ranks of the workers and become part of the producers.
There are no drones in this human hives. When old age comes on and the limbs become unfit for arduous toil, the superannuated Doukhobors are treated just the same as when they were useful to the community. One of the Doukhobors explained this to the “Miner” representative, about as follows: “Old men and old women, when breakfast comes, eat breakfast; when dinner comes, have dinner; when supper comes, have supper. Rest of time they sit in house if weather is bad, but if weather fine they go in the sun and enjoy themselves. When they want shoes, hat, coat, vest, they go to the shop and get them.”
Questioned as to the school, the Doukhobors stated that as the schools were provided for the children, where they learned to read, write and figure; in other words, they are given a primary education. The desire is not to over educate them. They do not want them to become doctors, lawyers, school masters, or scholars, but tillers of the soil, like their fathers and mothers.
Another feature of the Doukhobors is that they are opposed to war and will take no hand, act or part in it. In Russia, where they come from, they were knouted for refusing to serve in the army, but preferred death under the cruel knout to taking part in slaying their fellow men. One of the cardinal parts of their creed is that they are opposed to the shedding of the blood of anything that lives, and hence they are vegetarians, drawing the line even at fish. They have been called by some “Russian Quakers.”
As to their religion, it was explained to the “Miner” representative as follows:
They follow as closely as possible the teachings of Christ in doing only that which is good to their fellow man, and of not resenting violence when it is offered against their persons or property. When one cheek is smitten they turn the other to the smiter. They lead clean, honest lives, wronging neither man nor dumb creates and make their living by the sweat of their brow, directly from the soil.
Should a member of the community desire at any time to leave, he gives notice of his wish and his or her share is apportioned and he or she is given it in the form of money. Should he or she afterwards regret their action and desire to return they can repurchase their interest and again become members of the community.
Women with the Hoe
The women work in the fields the same as the men, doing the light tasks, such as hoeing and planting. It was an interesting sight to see groups of them coming in from the fields at noon and in the evening. Each had a hoe on his shoulder and they laughed and chatted with each other as they made their way to the public dining room, where they dined with their children.
They are usually attired in dark skirts with waists of varied material, generally calico and of different colors, according to the taste of the wearers. Each wears a large apron. The headdress consists of a large handkerchief covering the hair and the sides of the face and tied in a knot at the throat. A portion of the handkerchief falls for a considerable distance down the shoulders. Their feet are covered with rough shoes, and not a few of them were without stockings. Apparently there is not a corset in the community.
A few are comely, others have the “fatal gift of beauty,” while not a few are homely. They are deep chested, wide-hipped, clear eyed and have the red badge of health in their cheeks in most instances. A few of the older ones show the effects of hard toil in stooped shoulders and deeply-marked lines in their faces. They seemed to be cheerful and contented, while their children were veritable pictures of health, vitality and strength, lively and full of pranks. The children were generally barefooted.
One feature that struck the visitor was their universal politeness and kindliness. The men respectfully salute their fellows, whether men or women, whenever they meet, by raising their caps with cheerful words of salutation. The stranger visiting the place is shown the same sort of courtesy, the children being particularly polite.
Strong, Hardy Men
The men nearly all wear a peaked cap and in most instances black coats, all of which are of the same cloth and pattern; dark trousers and heavy shoes. They are manufactured by them at home in most instances. The men are large, strong, athletic and active looking. They are nearly all light complexioned, with blue and gray eyes, although there are a few of the pronounced brunette type with flashing black eyes.
It was noticed that they all were able to read, as when they came to the Post Office they looked over the letters and selected whatever was directed to them.
Peter Verigin is the head man of the colony. He is a fine looking, large man, of commanding appearance. Although he has been in Canada for several years he has not yet learned to speak English. John Sherbinin is his interpreter and is a young man of ability, who speaks English fluently, and from him the following particulars concerning the community were learned:
Last year the community, after a thorough inspection of the various portions of the Province, on the part of their agent, purchased through Willoughby & Mauer, of Winnipeg, 2,700 acres of land near Waterloo. This included 67 acres belonging to H.B. Landers [sic Landis] and 14 acres owned by James Hartner.
This land extends along the Columbia River’s east bank for a distance of two miles and along the south bank of the Kootenay river for a mile and a half. The land extends from the river front to the foot of the mountains, which rise almost perpendicular at the eastern boundary of the land. The land is beautifully located on three benches. The first bench is 100 feet above the level of the river and a quarter of a mile wide. The second bench is 200 feet above the river and about a mile wide. The third bench is 350 feet above the river and about a quarter of a mile in width. The three benches represent former beds of the Columbia River and the soil is a rich alluvial, being ideal fruit and vegetable land. The valley of the Columbia is wide at this point and the sun has ample opportunity of warming the oil and making “things grow.”
The First Arrivals
On May 12, 1908, the first installment of Doukhobors arrived from the prairies, consisting of 80 men, three women and two children.
Last year a little over 200 acres were cleared and a considerable quantity of vegetables raised, such as potatoes, cucumbers, water melons, citron melons, turnips, radishes, etc., and about 700 fruit trees were planted.
This year, so far, 150 acres have been cleared and 10,700 trees planted, including plums, cherries, prunes, apricots, nectarines, walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. Besides there have been 6,000 grape vines planted on the sunny slopes of the benches. Then there are 18,000 seedling apple, pear and quince trees purchased in Iowa, which will be set out later, they being at present in beds. A very large number of gooseberries, currants and blackberries have been set out, which will produce considerable fruit this year. This season there have been a good sized acreage devoted to potatoes, onions, beets, buckwheat, water melons and other vegetables.
The community has had in operation for a considerable time a portable sawmill that cuts about 5,000 feet of lumber a day. Another and a larger mill has been purchased and is at present at Castlegar on board the cars. This will soon be placed in position and will cut from 30,000 to 40,000 feet a day. It will be used to cut lumber for the houses of the different villages that are to be located on the land of the community. It will not only be used at Waterloo but at Pass Creek, where the community has purchased 2,000 acres of land.
A ferry has been put in at Waterloo, which will carry thirty tons, and a second ferry has been placed in position in the Kootenay River, which is only a little smaller than the one at Waterloo.
Returning to the additions to the colony, Mr. Sherbinin stated that fifteen came in July last from the prairies, consisting of two men, three children and ten women. April of the present year 190 men arrived from the prairies. Within the past few days, 500 arrived at Waterloo, a considerable portion of whom were women. About 150 have gone to near Grand Forks, where the community owns 1,000 acres of land, and some are working for others clearing land. The present population of the Waterloo community is about 675.
Asked as to the future plans of the community, Mr. Sherbinin stated that the intention was to continue the work of clearing, till 2,700 acres at Waterloo was cleared and set out in fruit, thus making it the largest orchard in the Province. A road is being built to Pass Creek, from Waterloo, which with all its winding will be about ten miles in length. If the Province constructed this road it would cost at least $12,000, but the Doukhobors are doing it themselves without asking for a cent from the public coffers. The 2,000 acres that the community owns at Pass Creek will be cleared and part of it used for growing vegetables and the remainder for hay and pasturage.
Asked where the Doukhobors came from, Mr. Sherbinin said that they were from the Caucasian Provinces that lie in Southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas, and principally from Tiflis and Kars. They are from the cradle of the Aryan race. The Doukhobor society is three or four hundred years old. They came to Canada first in 1898, because dissatisfied with the adverse conditions in Russia, and particularly the compulsory service required of them in the army, preferring death at the hands of the Cossacks to service in the army. There are about 7,000 of them in Canada at present. In Saskatchewan there are 40 villages each containing from 75 to 350 people. It is the intention to transfer all of these to the Province inside of the next five years.
Asked the reason for the change of residence place the reply was that as the Doukhobors are vegetarians and used to a fairly warm climate, it was too cold for them on the prairies, while the weather here was free from intense cold. On the prairies they cannot raise fruits, vegetables and nuts, which form so large a portion of their diet, but here they can be easily grown, and hence their preference for this section of the country.
The “Miner” representative dined twice with the Doukhobors during his visit, having luncheon and dinner. At luncheon he had a vegetable soup, made of potatoes and fragrant herbs, thickened with milk and butter and seasoned with salt. It was very good. Black bread made of whole wheat, evidently mixed with rye. It was sweet and wholesome. Two fresh eggs; then there was raspberry jam, raisins and plums stewed together, butter and cheese, and water instead of tea. For dinner the menu was as follows: noodle soup, flavored with parsley and seasoned with salt. A slab of cheese; black bread, raspberry jam, two eggs, and water instead of coffee.
From the standpoint of a vegetarian the meals were satisfying, and the “Miner” representative enjoyed them very much. They were given with such kindness and such heartfelt hospitality that added zest to them.
What most impressed the “Miner” representative during his visit was the untiring industry of the members of the community. In a very short time they have cleared, ploughed and made a veritable garden a tract of 350 acres that was last year virgin forest. Not only the stumps and roots have been removed but every stone. The soil has been pulverized to as fine a point as it can be.
Water has been piped to the cultivated land so that trees and vegetables can be irrigated. It is the intention to flume in larger supplies of water from McPhee Creek, so that every acre of the 2,700 can be irrigated.
When the entire tract has been planted it promises to make the largest orchard in the Province. It is understood that most of the fruit raised will be canned or dried for shipment to the larger centres of the Dominion. The task already accomplished is an immense one, but what lies before them in improving the two tracts at Waterloo and Pass Creeks and the one at Grand Forks is much larger. Besides they intend to acquire other areas of raw land which they will improve. What they have done already is an object lesson of great value, as it shows what the soil of the Columbia River Valley is capable of yielding to property directed and energetic effort.
To the Socialist of this section a visit to Waterloo will give him a view of Socialism at short range, as his doctrines are fully carried out by the Doukhobors.
The vegetarian will find much to commend when he looks into the diet of the Doukhobors. He will see men and women doing hard work on a vegetable diet.
The temperance advocate should also be interested in what he can see in this community and can study the effects of total abstinence in a community of several hundred.
The lover of peace cannot help but admire the courage which the Doukhobors have displayed in sticking to their anti-war doctrine.
Those who are interested in humanity and how man is working his way to a higher destiny, can find food and reflection in this simple, plain and God-fearing community.
It is a familiar and cherished story – one retold by generations of Doukhobor Canadians for well over a century.
It was midnight on June 29th 1895 – the feast-day of Saint Peter – when over seven thousand Doukhobors in the Caucasus region of Russia – followers of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin – gathered all the firearms in their possession, heaped them onto a pile of kindling, doused it with kerosene and lit it aflame. As these weapons of death and destruction twisted and melted in the bonfire, the Doukhobors gathered round and sang hymns of non-violence and universal brotherhood. It was a peaceful mass demonstration against militarism and violence. But it was met by violent reprisals and brutal retaliations by the Tsarist government. Hundreds of Doukhobors were summarily arrested and imprisoned, while thousands were exiled from their homes to distant lands for their so-called act of ‘rebellion’. The ‘Burning of Arms’, as this event became known, would become a seminal moment in Doukhobor history.
Students of Doukhoborism are generally aware that the Burning of Arms did not happen in a single place. Rather, it was coordinated simultaneously in three different regions of the Caucasus where the Doukhobors had settled: in Akhalkalaki district, Tiflis province in what is now Ninotsminda region, Georgia; in Elisavetpol district and province in present-day Gadabay region, Azerbaijan; and in Kars region in modern Turkey.
However, while the precise location of the Georgian Burning of Arms site has remained widely known and frequently visited by touring Canadian Doukhobors to the present day, the corresponding locations of the Azerbaijani and Turkish sites had long since passed out of living memory among modern descendants. They are not identified in any modern history or text.
Thus, when I had the opportunity to visit the Doukhobor villages in Azerbaijan in July of 2015, I couldn’t resist the challenge of trying to locate the site of this momentous historic event in that region!
Prior to departing on my trip, I carefully surveyed the published literature and found several important clues that would prove critical to identifying the location of the site.
First, in his 1964 memoir, Ispoved’ starika dukhobortsa: vospominaniya o pereseleniy dukhobortsev v Kanady (‘Confessions of a Doukhobor Elder: Memories of the Resettlement of Doukhobors to Canada’), Vasily Vasil’evich Zybin recounted the following details about the Burning of Arms in the district of Elisavetpol (translated from Russian):
"Ivan E. Konkin passed on to all the Doukhobors [Verigin's] directions that to be a Doukhobor meant not to be a soldier; and not to be a murderer not only of human beings, but even of animals. Whoever has weapons at home, anything concerned with killing, be it swords, daggers, pistols, rifles – all were to be placed on a pile in one place and burned, secretly, so that our non-believing Doukhobors would not cause us harm. Everything was collected at a spot three versts from the village of Slavyanka. There are mineral waters there, and water is always bubbling out of the ground; it is sour, as pleasant as lemonade. Near that spring a small fruit tree orchard had been planted, and in the middle of the orchard a summer house, raised about three feet from the ground, had been erected. This was according to the instruction of our former leader, Peter Larionovich Kalmykov, who lived in Tiflis Province.”
Second, friend and fellow Doukhobor writer D.E. (Jim) Popoff reminded me that another passage about the Burning of Arms in Elisavetpol could be found in Grigori Vasil’evich Verigin’s 1935 memoir, Ne v sile Bog, a v pravde (‘God is not in Might, but in Truth’), in which he wrote (translated from Russian):
“In Slavyanka, the place for the burning of the weapons was selected about two miles away from the village. There was a grove there with some fruit trees planted a long time ago. This grove was well fenced and kept in good order by the Doukhobors. All the Doukhobors went there often in the summertime, performed the Divine Liturgy and had lunches, so that the grove was kind of a sacred place. The bonfire was placed in the proximity of that grove, over a thousand feet aside from it. This was all done quietly and neatly, despite the fact that there were guards there who were supposed to report to the government if anything happened.”
These two accounts, each written by a first-hand witness to the Burning of Arms in Elisavetpol, were remarkably consistent. Both identified that it took place: near Slavyanka, the largest of four Doukhobor villages in the district; at a spot three versts (an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 2 miles or 3.2 kilometers) from the village; near a grove of fruit trees. Zybin also mentioned a mineral spring with slightly sour water nearby, while Verigin referred to it as a ‘sacred’ place of worship.
Taken together, these clues provided me with the distance from the village to the site, two geographic features in its immediate vicinity; and that it was a place of religious significance to local Doukhobors. I now felt I was equipped and ready to try to locate the actual site, once I got to Slavyanka!
Before long, I was on my way, accompanied by eight other Canadian Doukhobors. Over the course of three weeks, we visited former and present Doukhobor sites throughout the Caucasus. As the ‘resident historian’ of the group, I shared my knowledge about many of the sites we visited. For their part, the other tour participants shared my enthusiasm and excitement about visiting these sites, steeped in such history and significance! In particular, Andrei Conovaloff, a Molokan from Arizona with a keen interest in Doukhoborism, actively assisted me in photographing and filming many of these places.
After spending two weeks travelling in Turkey and Georgia, experiencing many adventures along the way, we finally made our way into Azerbaijan. We arrived in Slavyanka, once the largest Doukhobor village in the Caucasus, now home to over three thousand Azeris, with less than a hundred Doukhobors remaining. It was a lush, green oasis amid the dry grassy hills, with handsome houses all tidy and in good repair and an air of general prosperity. After settling into our hotel, a clean, newly-constructed building overlooking the town, we piled into our tour bus and set out to explore Slavyanka. No sooner did we reach the town centre, then we came across Grisha Zaitsev, a tall, lanky, friendly Doukhobor in his fifties who was genuinely excited to meet us.
After mutual introductions and much spirited discussion between Grisha and our group, I asked him if he knew where the Doukhobors had burned their guns, over a century ago. “I do not know what you mean,” he replied. I went on, with other tour participants assisting, to explain the events of the Burning of Arms to him. It quickly became apparent that he was not aware of the event. This surprised me at first, given its tremendous significance to Canadian Doukhobors. However, I quickly realized that Grisha and the other Doukhobors who remained in Slavyanka were descendants of the Small Party, whose members had never participated in the Burning of Arms. Simply put, it was not a part of their own history; thus the memory of this event was not kept among them.
Undeterred, I changed my line of questioning from the ‘event’ itself to the ‘site’ where it took place. I began by asking Grisha if there was a fruit grove – a very old one – on the outskirts of the town. “There are many groves in Slavyanka,” he affirmed, “Which one do you mean?”. I recognized I needed to be more specific. I then asked him if any of the orchards were located near a mineral spring. “Oh yes,” Grisha responded matter-of-factly, “we have two such springs – the Nizhnyi Narzan (‘lower mineral spring’) and the Verkhnyi Narzan (‘upper mineral spring’). “Aha!” I thought to myself, now I was getting somewhere! But which of these springs was ‘the’ site I was specifically looking for? I asked Grisha if the Slavyanka Doukhobors held moleniye (‘prayer meetings’) at one of the springs. “I do not know about that,” he replied. “You need to ask Masha”, he said, “she will know the answer.” Hot on the trail of a new lead, our group piled into our tour bus, together with Grisha, who directed us to the house of the eldest remaining Doukhobor in Slavyanka.
Several minutes later, we arrived at a typical ‘Doukhobor’ dwelling with sharp-pitched roof, verandah with decorative wooden beams, whitewashed walls and sky-blue trim along the eaves, verandah, door and window frames. Maria (‘Masha’) Strelyaeva, the matron, was outside tending her flower garden. She was a stern-looking diminutive woman in her late seventies. However, her eyes lit up as soon as Grisha introduced our group and explained who we were. After several minutes of friendly conversation, I explained, with others assisting, that we were looking for the site where our ancestors had burned their guns, over a century ago. Like Grisha, Maria had no specific knowledge of this event. I explained to her that it had taken place near a fruit grove and mineral spring, a short distance from the town, at a sacred place for local Doukhobors. Maria paused to contemplate what I had told her. I pressed on, asking her if the Slavyanka Doukhobors had gathered for moleniye at one of the two springs on the outskirts of the town. This immediately struck a chord with her. “Of course,” she answered without hesitation, “our people used to gather at the Verkhnyi Narzan to celebrate Troitsa (‘Trinity Sunday’). I can take you there, if you wish.” Once more, we piled back into our tour bus, this time accompanied by both Grisha and Maria.
Maria directed our bus towards the southwestern outskirts of Slavyanka. Our road followed a rocky and nearly-dry river bed. “Kizilchak”, said Maria, pointing to the river, “that is what our people call it”. I would learn that it was a Doukhoborization of the original Azeri name, Gyzyl Chai, meaning ‘Golden River’. Pointing upriver, she went on, “Even before the Revolution, our Doukhobors followed the Kizilchak to Verkhnyi Narzan. There we celebrated Troitsa, with prayers, singing and meals.” This holiday was observed by Doukhobors on the seventh Sunday after Easter. She went on to explain that Slavyanka Doukhobors continued to celebrate it during the Soviet era, in secret, until the Fifties or early Sixties. I asked Maria whether the Slavyanka Doukhobors also celebrated Petrov Den’ there. “No, we did not” she replied. I would learn that after the Burning of Arms, the Small Party in Slavyanka ceased commemorating Petrov Den’ because of its association with that event, and celebrated Troitsa as their major holiday instead.
Within minutes, our tour bus came to a jarring halt at our destination. On one side of the road, to our right, sprawled lush, park-like grounds with well-kept groves of trees and carefully-tended gardens. It was a veritable oasis paradise! Maria explained that it was a resort hotel and spa complex, developed several years earlier by an Azeri businessman. “But many of the trees here are much older than that,” she observed, “They were planted by our Doukhobors over a hundred years ago.” I asked her if there were fruit trees here, and she nodded in affirmation. If the trees here were indeed that old, I thought excitedly, then this could very well be the ‘grove’ described by Zybin and Verigin! Such a place of great natural beauty would have been a prominent landmark amidst the surrounding expanse of treeless grassy hills then, as it still was today.
To our left, between the road and the Kizilchak, was the mineral spring – Verkhnyi Narzan. It was surrounded by a small group of Azeri men and boys busily filling plastic containers with water. Evidently, it was a popular and well-used drinking source. As we disembarked from our tour bus, Grisha and Maria gestured and encouraged us to take a drink from the spring, which we did. The water that bubbled out of the ground was incredibly cool, refreshing and invigorating! It was carbonated, with a slightly sour taste. As if on cue, Maria explained, “In the old days, our people called this spring Kvasok, because its water tastes sour like kvas” (a fermented drink popular in Russia). I recalled in that moment that Zybin had described the spring water in similar terms, as being “sour, as pleasant as lemonade”. Was this not the spring he had described?
I hiked up a hill overlooking the spring and grove and surveyed the surrounding landscape. It was indeed a breathtaking view! The flat-bottomed valley of the Kizilchak abounded with fields of wheat, cabbage, potatoes and corn, along with herds of sheep grazing on the surrounding hillsides. Gazing down at the small crowd of locals and tourists below, it was easy to imagine several thousand Doukhobors assembled there, over a century earlier, praying and singing as they destroyed their weapons, while their Tatar and Armenian neighbours observed from a distance in wonder.
It was an exhilarating moment. This sacred, beautiful place seemed to match Zybin and Verigin’s description in every respect. Here stood an ancient grove of trees, alive since the time of the Burning of Arms. And here issued a mineral spring with sour but pleasant waters. Here, also, Doukhobors historically gathered to pray and celebrate religious holidays.
I paused to consider the distance from this site to Slavyanka. Using satellite mapping, I calculated a distance of one and a half kilometers to the town outskirts. This alarmed me at first, as it fell markedly short of the three kilometers stated by Zybin and Verigin. However, it occurred to me that Slavyanka had significantly expanded over the past century. Its present outskirts were not the same as they had been in 1895. With this in mind, I recalculated the distance from the site to the oldest section of Slavyanka, at its centre. Remarkably, it was a little over three kilometers, just as Zybin and Verigin had recorded!
Surely, I thought, this was the very place where the Elizavetpol Doukhobors had destroyed their weapons!
However, before I could definitively say so, I had to rule out the possibility that the other spring – the Nizhnyi Narzan – was the Burning of Arms site. Based on the descriptions by Zybin and Verigin, it had to be either one or the other!
After thoroughly enjoying the serenity and spiritual ambience of the Verkhnyi Narzan and adjacent grove and gardens, we eventually boarded the bus and made our way back to Slavyanka. After saying our farewells to Maria and Grisha, we went for dinner and made plans to visit the other spring the next day.
Back at my hotel room that night, I was unable to sleep. My mind raced with excitement at the prospect of having rediscovered a ‘lost’ site of enormous importance to our Doukhobor heritage. As I lay in bed, gazing at the hills of Slavyanka out my window, the morrow could not come soon enough!
The following morning our group gathered for breakfast and then visited two Doukhobor cemeteries in Slavyanka, one established in the early 20th century and a much older one established in the 19th century. At the latter site, we found a memorial stone engraved by the first Doukhobor settlers in Slavyanka in 1844 with the following psalm (translated from Russian):
"Eternal memory of our righteous forefathers named Doukhobors. We bow to them, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For they saved our souls, and continue to do so, in their meekness and humility. For the sake of truth it pleased God and our sovereign to gather us to the Promised Land in Tavria guberniya in 1805. But in 1844, we were resettled to Transcaucasia, Tiflis guberniya, the village of Slavyanka. And whoever else remains alive and hears of this story, should not desist from continuing these deeds to the end."
From the cemeteries, we made our way to the spring known as Nizhnyi Narzan.
This second spring was located in the northeastern outskirts of Slavyanka. Beside it stood a row of one hundred large walnut trees which, local Doukhobors advised us, were the remnants of a much larger grove planted by Doukhobors in the mid-19th century, but which several years ago had been cleared by Azeri businessmen to build a restaurant and hotel.
This potentially complicated my task of identifying the Burning of Arms site, since both springs in Slavyanka were situated beside ancient groves! However, while the grove at Verkhnyi Narzan was comprised of fruit trees, (which accorded with Zybin and Verigin’s accounts), this grove contained only nut trees.
From the walnut grove, we walked down a steep ravine to the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. I learned that several years earlier, an Azeri-owned commercial bottling facility was established here, which produced the now-famous ‘Slavyanka 1’ bottled mineral water, sold throughout Azerbaijan.
We drank from the spring waters. It was carbonated, refreshing and… distinctly sweet. There was no hint of sourness, like that we had tasted at Verkhnyi Narzan, and as Zybin had recorded.
I also recalled, from my conversation with Maria Strelyaeva the day before, that there was no tradition of Doukhobors gathering at this spring to hold moleniye or celebrations, unlike the Verkhnyi Narzan. Indeed, the undulating terrain of the site would have made a mass gathering difficult.
Finally, using satellite mapping, I calculated the distance from Nizhnyi Narzan to the oldest section of Slavyanka. It was only 600 meters from the town centre; nowhere close to the three kilometers recorded by Zybin and Verigin.
I was now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Burning of Arms site described by Zybin and Verigin could not be the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. It could only be Verkhnyi Narzan spring we visited the previous day!
We went for lunch at the nearby hotel resort and then departed from Slavyanka. As our tour bus made its way to the Azerbaijani-Georgian border, I reflected on the significance of the discovery (or more aptly, rediscovery) I had made.
The lush, serene grove and Verkhnyi Narzan mineral spring was the site of a truly momentous event in Doukhobor history – the Burning of Arms by the Doukhobors of that region on June 29, 1895. Forgotten for a hundred and twenty years, it would once again be known among their descendants.
Upon returning to Canada, I would share my discovery through historical articles, gazetteers and interactive maps in the hopes that other Doukhobor Canadians might one day too visit this sacred, beautiful and historic place for themselves.
This article was originally published in the following periodical:
ISKRA Nos. 2141, August 2019 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).
As we make ready to celebrate Petrov Den’, a quintessential Doukhobor holiday, it is important to remind ourselves of the many rich layers of spiritual, cultural and historical meaning that have come to be associated with it over the past three centuries. I would like to briefly share some of the various traditions connected to this day.
Commemoration of Apostles Peter and Paul
While the holiday is commonly known among Doukhobors today by its shortened Russian name – Petrov Den’ (Петров День) or ‘Peter’s Day’ – its actual formal, full name is Den’ Petra i Pavla (День Петра и Павла) or ‘the Day of Peter and Paul’ (Zhivotnaya Kniga, Psalm 383).
It commemorates the apostles Peter and Paul, leaders of the first generation of Christians, founders of the Christian church, and widely considered the two most important people (after Jesus) in the history of Christianity. According to ancient church tradition, the apostles were executed and martyred by Roman authorities on the same day – June 29th according to the (Old) Julian calendar – July 12th according to the (New) Gregorian calendar.
According to this tradition, the apostle Peter came to preach in Rome in 64 A.D., where he was arrested and crucified head down. The apostle Paul was also executed in Rome in A.D. 65, but since he was a Roman citizen, he could not be executed on the cross, and was beheaded instead.
Ancient Orthodox Festival
The holiday was not created or conceived by the Doukhobors. Rather, it owes its origins to a much older tradition inherited from the Orthodox Church.
For over a millennium since the introduction of Christianity in Russia in 988 A.D., the day of Peter and Paul has been one of the great festivals of the Orthodox Church. It was considered a day of mandatory church attendance, where Russian peasants attended an all-night vigil on the eve, and a liturgy service on the morning of the feast-day. The Orthodox priest offered prayers to the apostles, who were venerated by the church as saints. Afterwards, the people held feasts, while young people assembled to play games, sing and enjoy themselves in the villages.
During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they also outwardly celebrated Peter and Paul’s Day in the traditional manner. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances sake; others avoided going altogether, having already rejected the physical church in favour of the ‘inner church’ within themselves; nonetheless at home they celebrated with prayer meetings, followed by visits to family and friends.
However, by this time, the Day of Peter and Paul had acquired its own distinctive spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors.
A Remembrance of Sufferingfor Faith
After Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and were permitted to settle together at Molochnye Vody (‘Milky Waters’) near the Crimea in the early 1800s, they ceased to celebrate most Orthodox feast days, as they neither venerated saints nor invoked them in prayers, but simply respected them for their good works. Nonetheless, they continued to commemorate the Day of Peter and Paul in their own way, as they held these apostles in particular respect.
The Doukhobors’ admiration for Peter and Paul is reflected in the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’), where the apostles are mentioned in several psalmy (Psalms 6, 144, 302) and stishki (“verses”) as ‘martyrs’ who ‘hold the keys’ that ‘unlock the souls’ of the righteous and which ‘open the gates’ to God’s heavenly kingdom.
It was the apostles’ martyrdom for their faith and their victory of spirit over flesh which the Doukhobors considered worthy of emulation, and which evoked memories of their own suffering at the hands of Orthodox and Tsarist authorities in the late 18th century, when they were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and mutilated, had their property and children confiscated, and were banished to the furthest reaches of the Empire. Thus the holiday became a day of memoriam of those Doukhobor martyrs who, like the apostles Peter and Paul, had endured suffering and hardship for their beliefs.
An Orthodox tradition which some Doukhobor families retained after breaking away from the church was the practice of naming a child after the saint on whose feast day he or she was born; at least those saints whom the Doukhobors continued to commemorate. Hence, in many cases, when a male Doukhobor child in Russia was born on or around the Day of Peter and Paul, he received one or the other name.
Seasonal Changes in Nature
In addition to its religious significance, the Day of Peter and Paul was associated in pre-Christian Russian folk tradition with the occurrence of seasonal changes in nature. In particular, it marked the beginning of summer haying among the agrarian peasantry. In Russia, the Doukhobors traditionally began haymaking the day after the festival. Mowing the hay with scythes was primarily the men’s responsibility, but women also helped. The hay was then gathered into stacks or stored in haylofts until it was needed in the winter. It was a very important activity for the Doukhobors, being agriculturalists, as they needed sufficient hay to feed their livestock during the long winters. Hence, this gave the festival additional significance among them.
Sacred Places of Celebration
In the early 19th century on the Molochnaya, the Day of Peter and Paul was typically celebrated in the village of Terpeniye. Doukhobors from surrounding villages gathered there the morning of the festival to hold a large mass moleniye (‘prayer meeting’). The moleniye was held either inside the Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) or, if weather permitted, outside in the courtyard in front of this building. After, they held an outdoor banquet in the scenic park-like grounds of the Sirotsky Dom, with its well-tended orchards, beautiful springs and fountains.
During the late 19th century in the Caucasus, the Doukhobors chose a central location in each of the districts they settled, where people from the surrounding villages would congregate to commemorate the festival. These were often places of tremendous natural beauty, which over time, came to be viewed as sacred or holy places in their own right.
in Tiflis guberniya (‘province’) in what is now Georgia, they met on the flat, rocky plateau above the cave-like grotto known as Peshcherochki near the village of Orlovka. It was a favorite place of Doukhobor leader Luker’ya (‘Lushechka’) Kalmykova to spend time in quiet reflection.
in Elisavetpol guberniya in present-day Azerbaijan, they gathered at a sacred grove (svyashchennaya roshcha) on the outskirts of Slavyanka village, which had a well-ordered and carefully-tended orchard, a summer pavilion where visiting Doukhobor leaders stayed, and a mineral spring with carbonated, slightly sour water that tasted refreshingly like kvas.
in Kars oblast (‘region’) in modern Turkey, they met on a high, wide plateau that overlooked the surrounding plains and villages. Known as Krasnaya Gora (the ‘Red Hill’) it was situated next to a valley with a myriad of small springs that nurtured a grove of trees that, according to Doukhobor tradition, were planted by Christ and the apostles.
In each of these sacred places, the Doukhobors of the Caucasus assembled and held moleniye. Afterwards, they would spread about their blankets and have an outdoor picnic.
Association with Leaders
During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Day of Peter and Paul came to be closely associated with two much-revered Doukhobor leaders, as it was the name day of both.
Peter Ilarionovich Kalmykov, born on June 29, 1836, led the Doukhobors of the Caucasus from 1856 to 1864. Despite his short rule, he was much-beloved and renowned for his dynamic personality, force of character and feats of bravery, for which he was nicknamed Khrabryy, meaning the “Brave”.
The second Doukhobor leader by this name was, of course, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, born on June 29, 1859. After 1886, Verigin became leader of the ‘Large Party’ of Doukhobors in the Caucasus. In 1887, Verigin was exiled to Shenkursk in Arkhangel’sk guberniya in the Russian Far North, then in 1890 he was transferred even further north to Kola on the Barents Sea. Later, in 1894, he was transferred to Obdorsk in northwestern Siberia. Throughout his exile, Verigin emphasized a return to traditional Doukhobor pacifist beliefs and issued secret teachings and counsel to his followers in the Caucasus, through trusted messengers.
Burning of Arms
It was through one such communique that, in 1895, Verigin bade his followers to collect all the weapons that were in their possession and on June 29th, burn them in a large bonfire doused with kerosene in a mass renunciation of violence and militarism. This dramatic demonstration was carefully and deliberately timed to correspond with the Day of Peter and Paul because of its deep religious symbolism among the Doukhobors.
His instructions were carried out simultaneously in each of the three regions of the Caucasus where his followers traditionally assembled to celebrate the festival. As their guns burned and melted, the Doukhobors gathered around the bonfire, prayed and recited psalms and sang hymns of universal brotherhood.
In the regions of Elisavetpol (Azerbaijan) and Kars (Turkey), the Doukhobor ‘Burning of Arms’ occurred with minimal government intervention. However, in the region of Tiflis (Georgia), local Tsarist officials viewed the burning as an act of civil insurrection and rebellion, and the fiercest punishments were at once applied.
Two squadrons of mounted Cossacks were dispatched, posthaste, to the Peshcherochki to pacify the protestors and quell the civil disorder. Once they arrived, the Cossacks charged the praying crowd of men, women and children, slashing through them with whips. Many were brutally beaten and some severely injured when they were trampled by horses. The dazed and bloodied Doukhobors were then forcibly herded to Bogdanovka for questioning.
In the days that followed, Cossack troops were billeted in the Tiflis Doukhobor villages, where they ravaged the homes of the Large Party, taking food, smashing furnishings, beating males and raping females without check or rebuke. Four thousand, five hundred of them were then banished, without supplies, to poor Georgian villages in oppressively hot and unhealthy climates, left to scrape by as best they could, or survive on whatever charity the local Georgians and Tatars dared give them under threat of arrest. Many perished in exile.
The Burning of Arms was a seminal event in the history of the Doukhobor movement; one that has become indelibly and permanently connected with the celebration of Petrov Den’ to this day.
After the Large Party of Doukhobors immigrated to Canada in 1899, those Doukhobors who remained in the Caucasus became split on their observance of Petrov Den’. Members of the Middle Party (who recognized Verigin as their spiritual leader but declined to accept his more radical teachings) continued to observe the holiday as before. However, members of the Small Party (who refused to accept Verigin’s leadership) abandoned the holiday altogether, given its association with Verigin, and thereafter celebrated Troitsa (‘Trinity Day’) as their major summer festival.
Upon immigrating to and settling in Canada, Doukhobors continued to observe Petrov Den’ in much the same manner as they had in Russia. From 1899 to 1938, both those belonging to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood and those who lived and farmed as Independents commemorated the event with a moleniye, often followed by a social gathering and picnic.
The locations where they congregated to celebrate Peter’s Day often varied depending on the facilities available, the needs and circumstances of the particular group, and of course, the state of the weather.
At Devil’s Lake SK, Independent Doukhobors gathered at a lug (‘clearing’) on the north shore of the lake. After 1916, members of the Buchanan Doukhobor Society also gathered at their meeting hall in the nearby village of Buchanan, SK.
At Veregin SK, CCUB members met at the ornate prayer home in the village, afterward picnicking in the tree grove beside the building to the west.
In Pelly SK, Independents assembled on the south shore of the Swan River, 4 miles northeast of the village beside the Doukhobor-built steel truss bridge. After 1936, members of the Pelly Doukhobor Society also met at their meeting hall half a mile east of the village.
In Kylemore SK, Community Doukhobors met at a lug (‘meadow’) on the northwest shore of Fishing Lake near the Arishenkoff village. After 1954, members of the Kylemore Doukhobor Society also met at their prayer home in the village of Kylemore.
At Blaine Lake SK, Independent Doukhobors erected a large tent at a lug (‘meadow’) near Pozirayevka cemetery, a mile and a half east of the town. After 1931, members of the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society also met at their brick meeting hall in the town.
At Lundbreck, AB, CCUB members met atop the hill known as Safatova Gora beside Bogatyi Rodnik village. After 1953, members of the United Doukhobors of Alberta were also held in the prayer home built in the village of Lundbreck.
In Grand Forks BC, gatherings occurred at the Sirotskoye meeting hall. On at least one occasion in the 1930s, an open-air mass moleniye was held at Saddle Lake, where Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin gave an address from a boat on the lake to his followers gathered on the shore.
In Brilliant BC, Community Doukhobors often gathered at the trading store/warehouse; although in some years after 1927, an open-air mass moleniye was held at Verigin’s Tomb, from which Chistyakov addressed his followers gathered below.
In Ootischenia BC, such Community gatherings were typically held at either the Belyi Dom meeting hall, or else the lug (‘meadow’) on the banks of the Kootenay River.
In Thrums BC, Independent Doukhobors gathered at the brick meeting hall built there.
This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Upon its formation in 1938, the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ in British Columbia ceased to actively celebrate Peter’s Day in favour of Declaration Day, a new event celebrated annually by members of that organization in August.
However, other local Doukhobor societies from across Western Canada (including the Benito Doukhobor Society, Pelly Doukhobor Society, Kamsack Doukhobor Society, Veregin Doukhobor Society, Canora Doukhobor Society, Buchanan Doukhobor Society, Watson Doukhobor Society, Langham Doukhobor Society, Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society, Saskatoon Doukhobor Society, United Doukhobors of Alberta, Canadian Doukhobor Society and others) continued to commemorate Petrov Den’ throughout the 20th century and 21st century to present.
It is perhaps because of its many rich layers of meaning and significance that Peter’s Day, in contrast to other traditional festivals, remains one of the popular and enduring celebrations among Canadian Doukhobors to this day.
And as we commemorate this day through fellowship, prayer, food and song, let us also reflect on the achievements and impacts of the Doukhobor people in the name of peace and faith.
This address was originally presented by the author at the following Petrov Den’ commemorations:
National Doukhobor Heritage Village, Veregin, Saskatchewan. June 29, 2018; and
Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, June 30, 2019.
Bonch-Breuvich, V.D., Psalms6, 144, 302, 383 in Zhivotnaia Kniga Dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954);
Inikova, Svetlana A. Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Heritage);
Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief. (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1989); and
Popoff, Eli A., Stories from Doukhobor History (Grand. Forks, B.C.: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, 1992).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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]
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]
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]
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
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]
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]
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.
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.
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]
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.”
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
The history of the Trail branch of the company will be chronicled in a separate article by the writer.
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.
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]
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.
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]
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]
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]
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
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]
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]
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.
Special thanks toGreg 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).
An abridged version of this article was published in the following newspaper:
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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).
[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.
[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.
[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).
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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).
[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.
[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).
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
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.
The property covers the river flats on the left (south) bank of the Kootenay River at what was once called the Narrows, 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, 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. In the early 20th century, many First Nations artifacts were recovered along the flats.
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. 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. 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.
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 RecluseMine 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. A brickyard also reportedly existed in the vicinity, but it’s not clear who operated it.
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. 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.
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. 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.
In addition to farming, Bunker was active in the Kootenay Fruit Growers’ Association as vice-president. He was involved in a proposal to assume the assets of the Nelson streetcar service. He bought and sold lots, cottages, and mining claims. And he ran unsuccessfully for Nelson city council in 1912.
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. Hulbert renamed the property the Durban Ranch, after the South African city where Rose was born and the couple married in 1902. 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.
However, Hulbert soon ran into financial difficulty and by March 1908 advertised the ranch for sale through Regina realtors McCallum Hill & Co. 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.
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.
Under pressure from creditors, Hulbert sold the Durban ranch to McCallum Hill & Co. in August 1908, staying on as ranch manager until 1911. In the interim, the realtors satisfied many of Hulbert’s local debts, although he lost his theatre to foreclosure in February 1910.
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. 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.
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 Newswhich 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.
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. 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.
Popoff immediately put some men to work pruning the 2,200 fruit trees on the ranch in preparation for the season’s operations. 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.
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. 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.”
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.
Second, the CCUB had just purchased the jam factory at Nelson and formed the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works to operate it. 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” 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. 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.
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.
Verigin forthwith “arranged to put a large staff of men at work on the ranch” 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.
The Doukhobors named the ranch Skalistoye (Скалистое),meaning “rocky” or “craggy” in Russian. 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. 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. In January 1920, after paying the balance owing to Wetmore, the CCUB received legal title to the Skalistoye property.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. The family tended the ranch for two years before leaving the CCUB and resettling in Thrums as Independent Doukhobors in 1931.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Evin was a founding member of the board of directors of the CCUB following its federal incorporation in April 1917. By 1921, he relocated from Brilliant to the CCUB colony at Cowley, Alta. where he remained until at least 1926. However, by 1930, he left the CCUB to live and farm as an Independent Doukhobor at Blaine Lake, Sask.
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.
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. The Commission green-lit the project in December 1938.
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. 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.
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.
However the land wasn’t actually vacant. At some point prior to 1939, Evin rented out his Skalistoye ranch to William George Hadikinwho 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.
The reserve was cancelled but the property transfer wasn’t completed until 12 Jul 1947. William Hadikin died at his home on 10 Nov 1948 at age 73 and his wife Mary followed a year later. The property passed to their son Bill W. Hadikin in 1948, who in turn, sold it to Louis H. Skapple in 1952.
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. By 1961, they also purchased the east half of Lot 5180 from Louis Skapple.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
 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.
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 …”
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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Certificate of Title 7275-I dated 17 April 1920.
 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.
 Cecil Fominoff, interview with Greg Nesteroff, 26 Mar 2020.
 Sharon Hoodicoff, interview with Jonathan Kalmakoff, 3 Apr 2021.
Towards the end of his life, William J. Perepelkin (1922-2012) of Castlegar, British Columbia wrote a short memoir about his parents, Ivan N. and Nastya (nee Planidin) Perepelkin and grandparents Nikolai N. and Mary I. (Evdokimoff) Perepelkin during their life in the Doukhobor Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood between 1899 and 1939. On account of Nikolai’s skills in farming, livestock raising and brick-making, and on the advice of the leaders, the family frequently moved between Doukhobor settlements within and between the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Perepelkin describes their various journeys and experiences as members of the communal organization, along with the hardship and dislocation that followed the demise of the Community and its foreclosure by creditors. He wrote these memories down in the form of a letter to his nephew Fred Samorodin, who years later, transcribed it into the following article. Foreword by Frederick T. Samorodin. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.
Hazel Samorodin (1929-2015), my mother, daughter of Ivan Perepelkin and Nastya Perepelkin nee Planedin, was the third of their six children. “Uncle Bill”, William J. Perepelkin (1922-2012) was Hazel’s oldest brother and the second-born sibling. Folded inside one of my adult diaries, its details almost forgotten, I have found and transcribed the “Brief Memories of the Perepelkin Family” written by my uncle, William Perepelkin and addressed to me from a time I do not recall, initially, having seen the memoir! It adds to details on my family tree and to help tie in some earlier childhood recollections of mine on scattered details of my mother’s own childhood memories.
Fred Samorodin October 6, 2020
On August 19, 1898, Grandfather Nicklai (Nikolai Nikolaevich Perepelkin 1875-1965) with his family in a group of 1,126 (Doukhobor) persons from two villages in the Caucasus – Rodionovka and Efremovka, immigrated temporarily to Cyprus. On April 18, 1899 they sailed (from Larnaca) on the S.S. Lake Superior and landed in Montreal with 1,036 other Doukhobors on May 9, 1899. Then their journey west started (un)till they reached Saskatchewan (then known as the ‘North West Territories’). They established themselves in the village of Kamenka, near Kamsack. They lived there until Peter ‘The Lordly’ Verigin came from his exile in Russia to Canada in 1902.
As soon as he came, Verigin started to reorganize the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (Doukhobors). During this time the Canadian Government was confiscating parts of the Doukhobor lands. Peter Verigin bought land around the town of Verigin and also a brick factory in Yorkton. By his advice our family moved to Yorkton to work in the brick factory. Since then, the long and endless – so to speak -journey started for our family.
For short periods, under the advice of P.V., they moved to a farm, also near Yorkton, which our people called – “Burtseva Farma”. It was bought by the Community to raise cattle and some grain crops, I guess! I can’t recall the farmer’s name that they bought the farm from. He was of German descent, I think.
After a short time, our family was moved to British Columbia, to Kirpichnoye (‘Claybrick’) in the Slocan Valley. We have family pictures of that period. From there, also under the advice of P.V., they were moved to Plodorodnoye (Glade), where they lived until 1924.
Then, on the advice given again, in the spring of that year (1924), the family was moved to Verigin, Saskatchewan and settled on Section 1 of the CCUB lands. That year, in the fall (October 29, 1924) Peter Verigin got killed in the train explosion near Farron, BC. Grandfather Nicolai was very close to both Verigins – Peter V. as well as his son, Peter P., and felt the tragedy deeply. On Section 1 we lived with two other families—Bloodoffs and Faminoffs, until the arrival from Russia of Peter P. Verigin (‘Chistiakov’) in 1927.
In the year 1929, Chistiakov advised our family to move to Section 3, known as ‘Khutor’ (‘ranch’ or ‘farmstead’), which we did, to live with two families of Chernoffs: Nicolai Chernoff with his four daughters and Ivan Chernoff, with his family of five sons. The CCUB was already gradually falling apart, so the land that was jointly cultivated before, was split up, favouring those who had more power or seniority. And, the Chernoffs, having lived there longer than us, took over the two northern quarter sections, which were a full 160 acres each, with no swaps that were left to us on the southern 1.5 quarters—which has a slough across the length (of the property), leaving us only about 105 usable acres. The other quarter and Community buildings and also a huge slough in the middle! So, between these two southern quarters we had only about a total of 205 acres. Then, the Community allotted us the northern part of Section 1, which was across the C.N. Railway line from the farm buildings. This part was not quite cleared of poplar and other brush, which we eventually cleared. This gave us another strip which we could farm!
In the years, 1936-37, Chistiakov went around the province of Saskatchewan to all Doukhobor Communities, advising them to move to BC. This he, Chistiakov, advised, not only to Community (CCUB) Doukhobors, but to Independents as well, saying: “Переселяйтесь в Колумбию! Землю не купите! Переселятесь как в Батум! Переживайте где у брата – где у свата!!” [Move to [British] Columbia! Don’t buy property! Move as you (once did) moved to Batum, Georgia (when preparing to emigrate to Cyprus/Canada). Settle in with a brother or a father-in-law!]
We (the Perepelkins) already had accumulated a lot of property: had 16 work horses and four young yearling colts, several cows, all the farm equipment needed to farm the land: a binder, McCormick-Deering for harvesting grain crops; a brand new Case mower for cutting – the first of its kind in Verigin (the first to have gears in an oil bath); a disc harrow, 5 sections of a toothed harrow; a Massey-Harris cultivator. In other words, we were all set to farm! The price of wheat went up to $1.05 a bushel and the yield was fair as compared to the early Thirties, when we barely got our seed back, and the price of feed wheat was 10 cents a bushel.
In 1937, Grandfather Nicolai took Peter Chistiakov’s advice to heart and started to disperse what we could. After the Depression, everyone was poor, so most goods, cows and horses went almost for nothing: $10.00 a head! Grandfather and Dad met with Joe Shukin, who was manager of the CCUB at the time, to deal with property being left behind, such as summer-fallow (which is land that had over 100 plus acres ready for seeding).
If I remember rightly, we then moved to ‘Vesyoloye’ (Lebahdo-Winlaw) in BC which was also CCUB property at the time – we would not have to pay rent to the CCUB for three years. In the meantime, the CCUB would sell our field under summer fallow, to whomever, at whatever price they could get.
So we started to prepare for the move! Uncle Pete (Peter N. Perepelkinl) and Dad went to Winnipeg and bought a 1934 Chev pickup. This was in 1937. In the spring of 1938 the folks rented a boxcar from the CNR and loaded a team of horses, two cows and other household goods, potatoes, etc. And on April 10th, 1938, Dad with two nice dogs we had, Gyp and Jack, took off for BC in the boxcar with the livestock. I don’t remember how long it took them to get to Lebahdo – about three days, I believe. There were some buildings on the property, although they were in very poor shape, but a shelter, anyway! There were some things that were taken to Auntie Elizabeth Fominoff, who lived at Claybrick, not far away.
On June 10, 1938, after three days of travel, we, the whole Perepelkin family arrived at ‘Vesyoloye’ on the pickup, dragging behind a trailer with the mower I mentioned earlier. I remember, the fastest we drove, even on paved roads was 45 miles per hour. Much of the road was not paved then!!
So we started to settle down, to fix up buildings. We got permission from the CCUB to wreck a bunkhouse, which was not being used anymore from way up Cougar Creek on the Little Slocan River. It took a few days hauling by horse and wagon to bring the salvaged lumber down. We slept up there a couple of nights while stripping the boards off the sides of the building. So finally we settled down – in a way! Some people would never believe what it was like! Looking back, I could not believe how much work was done in such a short period of time!
Then, in the spring of 1939, William Soukeroff (CCUB official) and a man named Wilson (R.N. Wilson, Sun Life loan manager) – I believe, came to our place and declared, that the Sun Life Assurance Company was foreclosing on the CCUB mortgage, and our agreement with the CCUB was no longer valid! The land now belonged to the Company, and we had to buy the property! I don’t remember if a written notice was given! The agreement would amount to half a crop payment on anything we produced! Seeing that, Grandfather said that: “We have no money, and under the circumstances, we will not buy the land!”
So we went on living: planted our gardens, etc. On June 7th, 1939, Dad and I were cultivating potatoes of which we had a big field. The cultivator was drawn by a horse, which I led. Suddenly, we heard a lot of screaming; and looking from where the noise came, we saw a truck and a number of men around the buildings (on the property) and an RCMP car standing on the highway. So we stopped our work and went to see what was happening. Upon coming closer, we saw the men were taking anything they could get their hands on and loading the truck, and then driving to the (gravel) highway and unloading everything between the barbed wire fence and the highway! That is a very wet area! There was no more than 10 feet of space. When we moved to “Vesyoloye”, there was only a passible road for horse and wagon. The main road to the Slocan Valley was across the Slocan River. They started to build the main highway that same year, and it was finished in early 1939. It was gravel, of course, and as the traffic went by, the rocks flew up against our tents. And, of course, my brothers, Frederick and George were just – I didn’t know what to say or do! I remembered when we had Bible study in school (We had a very religious teacher). The quote was: “And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also!” (Matthew 5:40).
Somehow all fear left me! I took off my clothes and threw them at the Deputy Sheriff. Then the other family members took off their clothes! I don’t remember who all did, because the Deputy Sheriff and another man led me to the highway. I remember, I called the Deputy “Adolf Hitler”, for which he whacked me across my face! I was actually very angry at this time and a bit bigger than the Deputy. I was going to return the favour. However, a few neighbours gathered around, and a good lady by the name of Polly Rilkoff came up and stopped me from doing so!
Our family gradually settled down by bringing tents, which they made from used material they got from CM&S (Consolidated Mining and Smelting) (now Cominco) in Trail, BC. So after a while they (the Sheriff’s gang) brought everything (took) that we had: (they) let our cows and horses loose on the road, which our neighbours, the Munch brothers impounded! But a good neighbour named Frank Bailey contacted the Government at the time and freed the livestock at no cost to us! So we got two tents, and finally more—covered most of our (remaining) belongings, and settled down for the rest of the summer along the highway, in the bog—a very wet area. But, having a fairly dry summer, we fared as best as we could!
We stayed in the bog by the highway until October 22, 1939, when Dad decided to move us out of the coming cold weather. And it was getting cold!! Seeing as we had no money, he arranged with a woman named Mary Markin, in Slocan Park for accommodation. Our rent would be paid by labour; clearing brush and pulling stumps, with our horses.
Meantime, Grandfather and Grandmother decided to stay put! So the neighbour I mentioned before, Frank Bailey, came and asked Granddad what he intended to do, seeing as it was getting cold with winter approaching! He asked grandfather if he had any money! Grandfather answered: “Have no money and gonna die here!” Mr. Bailey told him to move back into the houses and he will take care of the rest. So he wrote to the right people and got Grandfather and Grandmother their pensions, as they were of pensionable age. So they moved back!
We lived out our terms of rent by work, and Mary Markin told us, that if we can’t pay rent, we would have to move out! Then Dad went to Glade, where he found some Community buildings that were half empty. Where we decided to move. This was in the spring and summer of 1941. That is how we landed once more in Glade (Plodorodnoye).
Dear Fred: This is an afterthought. As you know, it is hard to remember everything! After we were evicted, a lady reporter (seems to me, her name was Terry) from the Vancouver Sun came to interview us! You could probably get information from the ‘Sun’.
Sorry about my writing! When thoughts come, I have to hurry and put them down before I forget them! If there is something you don’t understand, or is not clear, don’t be afraid to write and ask! Writing something like this, at my age, is kind of hard. When a thought comes, one had to hurry and write it down before losing it!
Best Wishes from your
Uncle Bill Perepelkin
P.S. Further recollections by your mother: Before our final move to BC, Father or Grandfather brought our Great-Grandmother (Grandfather’s mother) to BC. (I can’t even recall her name! – We just called her ‘Babushka’ [Anna Ilinichna (nee Muzhelskaya) Perepelkin, b. 1848]. She was left temporarily with relatives, who lived at a place known as ‘Fort Pila’ near Shoreacres. She was in her late 90’s and blind. She later was moved to live out her final days with our Grandparents (at Lebahdo Flats). But at the time of our eviction she was temporarily given shelter by a neighbour in a small shack with a dirt floor, where she stayed for four months before she moved back in with our Grandparents. During the eviction, your Aunt Una Voykin (4th sibling) and I were away at Perry’s Siding, picking strawberries, and missed all the excitement!
The following is a summary of the many places where the Perepelkin family lived as members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood during the 44-year period between 1895 and 1939. This rather unsettled existence, described by the writer William J. Perepelkin as a “long and endless journey”, together with the trauma associated with the break-up of the Community and their eviction from Community lands by foreclosing creditors in 1939, may have contributed to some family members subsequently becoming associated with the radical Sons of Freedom in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.
Place of Residence
Rodionovka village, Akhalkalaki district, Tiflis province, Russia
Prior to 1895
Nizhne-Machkhaani section, Signakhi district, Tiflis province, Russia (exile)
Island of Cyprus
Kamenka village, Kamsack district, SK
Novo-Kamenka village, Arran district, SK
CCUB brick factory, Yorkton, SK
Burtsevo settlement, Hamton district, SK
Kirpichnoye village, Winlaw district, BC
Plodorodnoye settlement, Glade district, BC
Section 1-30-1-W2 village, Veregin district, SK
Khutor village, Veregin district, SK
Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC
Road allowance (evicted), Lebahdo district, BC
Slocan Park & Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC
Jean McKishnie Blewett (1862-1934) was a turn-of-the-last-century Canadian journalist, author, poet and women’s rights advocate. In September 1909, she visited the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan during a two-month automobile tour of Western Canada to study the social conditions of new pioneer settlements, particularly the circumstances of women. In the following article (written as a fictitious letter from ‘Betty Blue’ to her friend ‘Joan’), Blewett examines the Doukhobors’ communal way of life. She describes in detail the uniform housing and manner of dress of her Doukhobor women hosts, the exceptional cleanliness and orderliness with which they kept their village, and their assigned community roles; a self-sufficient, egalitarian society where no member was greater than another, everything was held in common and everyone shared a common purpose – no ‘mine’ or ‘thine’ – only ‘ours’. Article and photographs reproduced from Canada Monthly magazine, Volume VII, No. 6, April 1910 (London: Western Canadian Immigration Association, 410-416).
DEAR JOAN: – These protégés of Count Tolstoi are just as human as other folk – when you get into the family circle. It must seem good to them to have as much as they desire of God’s out-of-doors all to themselves after the way old Russia behaved to them. You know how she was always making grass-widows of the women by rushing the men off to Siberia – between ourselves the male member of the family seems a stranger at his own hearth to this day. But I must tell you of the entertainment while it is fresh in my mind.
From the garden party of a real live lieutenant governor with flags flying, and the band playing so madly you can’t keep your feet still, with furbelows, flower and finery, with the usual crowd of pretty women talking the usual amount of nothings, and the marquee under the trees offering the usual salads, sweets, ices – from this to the tea-party of a Doukhobor community is a long step, but out here distance does not count. You put on seven league boots to make your strides, social and other, and only touch the high places – or you get left so far behind the only thing is to pretend you never made a start. Yes I know that verse about the battle not being to the strong or the race to the swift – but it was written before this big West came into notice.
Comparisons are odious – we learned that in Miss M’s school, when we wore pinafores and pigtails – and I’ll not disgrace my early training by drawing one now, but, let me whisper it, the Doukhobor “At Home” knocks the ordinary into a cocked hat.
No hour is set, no need that it should be. As our rig follows the winding country road through the valley, up the hill, around the bends of the river and then straight across the level prairie, we can see the white village of Veregin a good six miles before we reach it – and Veregin can see us for at least half that distance. It is the atmosphere, smokeless, dustless and so clear, you know Mother Nature strains it through a silver sieve every morning before the world wakes up.
This being a pretty thought I pass it on to Propriety (her name is Ann, but I call her Propriety for short) who has taken a bottle of witch hazel from her bag and is busily applying it to certain angry spots on neck and forehead. But Propriety merely remarks that she wishes Mother Nature would use a sieve fine enough to take out mosquitoes. Propriety being in charge of me, as it were, has the feeling that she must hold me down to earth with a big prosaic pin. Shell have her own time, bless her!
Yesterday it stormed. Joan, you think you know what lightning means, but you don’t. Instead of the real essence you get a diluted article. A little west of here the storm king does his brewing and compounding. These he tries on this big new land – having, I presume, formed the habit before folks came here to live – and if they wreck a landscape or two, he knows they are all right, and, gathering up what is left of them after they have done their worst, he makes of the fragments the kind of storms you have been used to.
But yesterday the boldest held his breath for a time. It is a habit they have up here, this holding the breath during a storm. I’m catching it. No, it is not the wind, it is the fear, the dread lest the hail come and cut down the grain – grain which is high as my head, and golden as a sunset sky. Wheat, – wheat so heavy with its ripening weight it no longer skips and dances in the breeze, but moves softly, softly in the warmth and glow.
I can picture you the grain fields, but not the wonder of them, the promise of them. Before your eyes:
“Stretches a widening sea of gold, Every ripple upon its breast, Sings peace and plenty and wealth untold.”
Before me then at four o’clock of the afternoon, holding my breath with the others as the grey cloud, black-centred, creeps nearer, drops lower, spreads and spreads until the last vestige of the blue disappears. The homesteader and his good little wife fall silent, so do I, so does the room, the whole house. I go out on the porch. The same grey silence which shrouds the house shrouds the landscape, the copse, the vine in the yard, the scarlet runners on the gate post, even the baby poplars hiding behind the fence. How still the world is! How tempestuously still.
The warmth has gone out of the air, the chill and greyness have everywhere their own way.
There are no preliminary flashes or mutterings, just the terrible quiet of an ambush, something sinister stealing on one; something that cannot be warded off or gotten away from.
All at once a streak of flame hisses across the sky as though hunting a short cut to the warm old earth hugging her gardens and grain to her bosom, and with it – not behind it – comes a rendering, explosive crash, which dares you not to be afraid. It is no air-clearing, beneficent thing, this, but a destructive force. The lightning flames to strike, each detonation of these terrific peals is a threat. The wood stands very still, the vines and poplars cower, the thing they fear most is not yet on them.
It is coming, though. You hear it a long way off, the wind of the prairie storm. Of a sudden the stillness goes: the vines shake, the poplars whimper and sob, the wood moans in pure panic.
If you know nothing of lightning you certainly know nothing of wind. The kind we have at home makes a lot of noise, but does very little damage. It blusters, and threatens in a mad game of show off. “Booh,” it bellows, “I’ll catch you! I’ll catch you! Boo! B-o-o-h!” and that’s the end of it. True, it sometimes snaps off a telegraph pole, uproots a stray tree, or unroofs a building, but only as a rough bit of fun, a playing at fierceness.
Listen, Joan, this wind is a devil, it’s pit the black eddying centre of the cloud, and when it flings itself from thence, with flame and fury for company, I fall into such terror of it, I can’t go into the house, or even shut my eyes. I watch it writhe itself about the haystacks and scatter them; tear the trees; twist the vines; maim and hurt for the very joy of it. Then, as if flurry has created a thirst, it lowers its terrible maw over Mallard pond – “O!” I cry, “O!” for before my very eyes it sucks up the little singing lake of blue, with sickening greediness, sucks it up with choking and gurgling, and passing on to the low lying valley spits the draught in the face of the cornfields, flooding their greenness out of sight like the evil thing it is. “O!” I cry again, and this time with such hysterical force that someone hears me and draws me into the shelter of the house.
The lightning grows less vivid, the wind passes with muttered threatenings but you know by the greyness and chill getting deeper every moment that the storm is only begun. It comes with the sharp fusillade, the clamor and tempest of hail, cutting a highway through the fields, threshing out the grain, shredding the straw, beating the beautiful gold back into the yielding earth.
Joan, you in the heart of the city, cannot realize what it means to plough and sow, watch the growth and ripening – and then have no harvest. If you were here where the grain is all they have you would understand why, when later I try to follow the storm’s path, I can’t do it, so full are my eyes of tears.
All this was yesterday.
Today the little white clouds are one and all turned loose to chase each other across the blue – just as after some really grand affair in the home the children are left to play where they please till such time as things are straightened up: Such clouds as Lampman saw when he wrote:
“They call you sheep, The sky you sward, A field without a reaper; They call the shining sun Your lord, The shepherd wind your keeper.”
And yonder is Veregin – and Doukhobor hospitality.
At that other tea the gowns might be described as “creations” and the wearers as “dreams,” and very likely when the account appeared in the social columns there was a little envy here and there, a little bitterness over the relative superiority of lingerie dresses and embroidered lace, and silks, but at this one I give you my word not a woman of the lot makes the least effort to outdress her neighbor.
Each wears the same sort of costume, a full petticoat of blue stuff, a fuller skirt of blue print trimmed with a wide band of cerise sateen, made about an inch shorter than the petticoat, a print sacque belted in with an apron as clean as soapsuds can make it. On the heads of old and young alike is the never-failing square of cotton folded once and tied under the chin.
They are a trifled hampered in the matter of conversation – we all are – but they manage to tell us we are very welcome, and we – well, we do our best. They know the meaning of “good” and “no good” so to things we all like we nod and say “good” and the things we don’t like we shake our heads and say “no good” – which is not so new after all.
Talking of nods, I find myself unable to keep my eyes off Propriety. You never saw anybody’s head bob so hard and fast as hers does while she listens to the Doukhobor damsel who has charge of the children. It reminds me of Pip in “Great Expectations” when he tips the Aged Parent the prodigious nods to show his friendliness. I only hope her hair won’t loosen and come down.
Propriety has lovely hair, but in these days of fluffy fashions she cuts it out with a curl or two, and I have the feeling that these women wouldn’t understand a head being adorned with anything but its own particular home grown hair. I signal her a warning, but she is so deep in the nodding business she never heeds. On her head – or off her head – so be it.
It is the cleanest place you ever saw. The spotter of spotless town would never be able to spot a spot, certainly not on the butcher’s gown. There is not – has never been – a butcher here, but if there were his gown would be just as spotless as everything else.
The windows are a joy in themselves, each identical pane shine as though it were the only thing in Veregin to reflect God’s blessed sunlight. You understand at a glance why a Doukhobor doesn’t paint his woodwork, it would be defrauding his better half of the joy of scouring the same. The floors are white enough to eat from, the tables and benches are fairly bleached with soap suds.
Each house contains a kitchen and living room; the first boasts the big brick oven, the second the table and benches. There are no bedrooms. Each morning the bedding is taken from the benches within, and spread in the sunshine without, and each evening it is brought in and put upon the wide benches flanking the wall. A hard bed, but a wholesome one.
Cleanliness is not second to godliness here, it is part and parcel of it. If I were to start firing the catechism at this stalwart sisterhood, they would answer that the chief end of man, woman, or child was work – work – work! They glory in it. They have followed the plow and sown the grain, and taken their place in the harvest-field; they have size and muscle and a comeliness of their own. The thing they despise is physical weakness, men and women of them have an undue appreciation of strength. It is said that the only thing a Doukhobor man will take as just cause for deserting his mate is her failure to keep in good health.
Moral – if you want to keep the man of your choice, never say die; deny headache, backache, any and all of the thousand ills that common folk are heir to – practice Christian science with might and main. Sympathy is not a strong factor in the make-up of these wonderful workers who came over from Russia, and are making the desert bloom as the rose here in the Canadian West.
Communistic life is a thing that grows on you. Down in yonder house with the blue smoke curling from the chimney, the baking for the village is done. In another is done the washing, in another the spinning, in another the weaving of rugs and cloth. The bake woman is not proud, though her apron is a good half yard wider than that worn by her sisters. There is no emulation, no fault-finding, each goes on with the task given into her hands without let or hindrance.
It is a matter of training, I suppose. Now with us if one woman undertook the baking we would all be clamoring for her to use our recipes; if one made our dresses we would choose the pattern or know why; and we would all be so busy helping the spinner, weaver, etc., we’d never get our own share done.
Imagine one woman taking care of all the babies! Not a word about “my nurse said” this or that – the Doukhobor woman has no nurse; not a word about the doctor’s opinion on the merits of hot or cold milk – the Doukhobor woman has no doctor. She has just her own common sense and training which tell her the other woman knows as much as she does. She lets it go at that.
Not that she isn’t allowed to think. The fine looking man who is head of spotless town, breaks it to us gently. Not only do the women vote, but they have a place in the council chamber. “One hundred men, and fifty women in the council,” he says, with a smile, “one woman talks as much as two men, eh?”
Propriety is joyous over this, and I haven’t a doubt will tell the suffrage society all about it on her return. But really with so much going on in the domestic line, one can’t feel especially interested in things merely municipal.
Things in common! You hear it everywhere, see it everywhere. They sweat their humors out in a common steam bath arranged on modern lines in the last house of the row; the women gabble together of their common wrongs and common wrights; the little folk run and play, laugh and cry, live and grow in a common playground with a common woman mothering the lot. There is no mine or thine; “ours” is the word. Life in a community sounds alluring.
Propriety and the girls grow quite friendly as the afternoon progresses.
They eat no meat these sturdy folk, nor flesh of fowl or fish. It is against their religion to do so. But they can cook vegetables the best ever. Oh, yes, we have vegetables at this “At Home” – we have a feast.
The cloth is white as snow and (think of it!) there are serviettes beside the plates. No drinking a cup of tea standing, no eating an ice with the chills running up and down your spine – due not to the ice, but to the fear of someone upsetting his or her refreshments on your best frock.
We sit down on a bench, and eat off a table. Now, Joan, you’ll be full of curiosity as to what we have to eat, so I am going to tell you. There are new potatoes cut in squares and fried brown in butter, there are carrots in a dressing of cream that removes them from the list of common things, food for the gods these are. There is an omelet light and frothy, there is a loaf of brown bread as wide as the woman who made it. It is freshly baked and the butter melts and runs into it, and there is a crowning delicacy, a deep dish of wild strawberry preserve. Of this the Doukhobor women do not partake.
“Is it that you do not like sweets?” Propriety, who has had a second helping, inquires of her neighbour. “no need,” comes the cheerful answer. “We eat to make strong – milk, meal, potato.” “Why trouble to make preserves, if you do not care for them?” persists Propriety. “Some day we have child sick, maybe, or,” with a laugh, “what you call company for tea. We like for others, not for ourselves, see?”
Tea over we go out onto the court or dooryard, where the women exhibit their children and their handicraft. The Doukhobor damsels bring out their embroidery frames; the weaver brings out her rugs; the sun-flower lady taking her biggest blossom in hand, shells out the seeds. Putting these through a sieve winnows the hulls from them.
An especially fine woman of the village brings out a wheel, the old fashioned kind as seen in the city drawing-room, seats herself, puts her foot on the running gear, and a long roll of white wool to the spindle. There is a breezy, wheezy, chirrupy sound and you see the roll of wool grow to yarn, and wind itself about the spindle. It is a beautiful art this spinning – though the lady at the wheel does not call it art – work is a good enough name for her.
We are at a disadvantage, my dear, in being born so late. Take a really pretty girl in a white frock, set her at a little low singing wheel with a bundle of wool beside her, a thread of soft yarn in her fingers, and what chance would a bachelor have? Not a bit. He would realize that after all Solomon was wise, truly wise, and never more so than when he said once a time when this world was centuries younger than it is today, “her price is above rubies.”
Homeward bound in the glow of sunset, with the road following the curves of the river, and the great spaces stretching away before, behind, on either side. The sky comes down to the edge of the prairie and fastens itself there with a sash of something blue like smoke, and soft as the heart of a cloud. It seems good that earth and sky are near enough to neighbor with each other.
I say as much to Propriety.
“I wish the folk were,” she returns, “I’m thirsty as can be and not a pump to be seen.”
There is no poetry in Propriety.
Your far away but faithful,
P.S. – Joan, dear, I ought to tell you of the Doukhobor leader Veregin; a wonderful man (talk of matinee idol! Why, the whole community bows down to Peter), the Doukhobor bargain sale, Doukhobor matchmaking, and other equally interesting things, but there is no space. Beside, I only set out to tell you of the tea-party – the rest will keep. – B.B.
Several authors have attributed Jean Blewett’s visit to the Doukhobors to the year 1910: Laura Dale, Walking in Two Worlds (Friesen Press, 2019 at 6); Ella Thompson, “The Doukhobor Settlers of the Swan River Valley” in Manitoba History (Number 72, Spring-Summer 2013). However, an analysis of period newspaper stories confirms that the visit in fact took place in 1909.
Engaged by a magazine syndicate that year to write a series of articles about the social life of Canada, Blewett embarked on a much-publicized tour of Western Canada. On June 29, 1909, she departed Toronto by train, arriving in Winnipeg on July 19. Two days later, she departed by automobile westward across the Prairies, reaching Calgary on July 26, Edmonton July 28, Peace River August 5, Vancouver August 14 and Victoria on August 20. Blewett then returned eastward from Vancouver on August 25, reaching Edmonton August 31, Red Deer September 17 and Winnipeg on September 22. It can be deduced that she visited the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan on the final leg of her tour, between September 18 and 22, as she writes about the Doukhobors harvesting at the time.
For other articles written by Jean Blewett regarding her September 1909 visit to the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan, please see:
In the rugged remote foothills of the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Alberta stands a hill which, at first sight, might seem indistinguishable from any of the countless other hills and buttes that blanket the landscape. But for the Doukhobors who once called this area home, it was a place of unique natural beauty imbued with deep religious and cultural significance and was revered as a sacred site. For them, it had a special name – Safatova Gora – meaning ‘Jehoshaphat’s Hill’ in Russian. This article traces the history and folklore of the hill as told through the oral tradition of the Doukhobor people.
Beginning in 1915, the Doukhobor enterprise known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood purchased land near Cowley and Lundbreck, Alberta on the southern line of the Canadian Pacific Railway for a new agricultural colony. Within two years, it acquired 14,400 acres formerly belonging to the Eddy ranch, Terrill place, Godsal ranch, Sedgewick place, Fir Grove ranch, Simister place, Irelade ranch, Riley place and Backus ranch, comprising some of the finest grazing and grain-growing lands in the foothills.
Over 300 Doukhobors from British Columbia settled in the new colony, where they established 13 compact farming villages. To bring the land to peak production, they practiced irrigation and worked it with heavy machinery, owning and operating six steam-powered traction engines. To store the grain they grew, they built a 35,000-bushel grain elevator at Lundbreck in 1915 and another at Cowley in 1916. In 1922, they purchased the Pincher Creek Mill and Elevator Company’s flour mill and moved it to Lundbreck to mill their wheat. They built large warehouses at both rail sidings for the storage and distribution of colony supplies. They also bought the A.H. Knight store in Cowley as a central office and hall.
The Doukhobors maintained a communal way of life. All land, buildings, machinery, implements and livestock were jointly owned by the Community; all cultivating, sowing, harvesting, threshing, haying and animal husbandry was performed collectively by the colonists; and all income was deposited in a common central treasury. Everything was shared. They did not receive wages for their labour, but were provided with food, clothing, lodging and basic necessities by the Community. Sober, industrious and hard-working, they embodied their motto, ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’.
The Doukhobor colony quickly became one of the largest, most successful farming and ranching operations in the foothills. It was not only self-sufficient, but shipped substantial quantities of hay, grain, flour, draft working horses, milking cows, butter and wool by rail to the Community settlements in British Columbia. In return, they received railcars of lumber, fresh fruit and produce and the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jam produced by the Community in British Columbia for their own use and for sale at the trading store they operated in Blairmore.
A Leader’s Visit
Not long after the Alberta colony was established, probably in 1915 or 1916,[i] Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, the spiritual leader of the Community, travelled there by rail from British Columbia to visit and inspect its progress. Such visits by Petushka, as he was affectionately known,[ii] were momentous occasions, accompanied by mass gatherings and meetings, worship services and special celebrations.
After disembarking from the train at the C.P.R. siding in Lundbreck, the charismatic Doukhobor leader rode by horse and buggy to the colony’s first and largest village, a picturesque settlement at the edge of the foothills along Cow Creek, eight miles to the north. Originally known as the Terrill Ranch, the Doukhobors renamed it Bogatyi Rodnik, meaning ‘Rich Spring’ in Russian because of its abundance of fresh, clear water from the myriad springs that fed into the creek.
Upon his arrival there, following the customary exchange of greetings, Petushka strolled through the settlement, accompanied by village elder Semyon I. Verigin, to survey the improvements made since its purchase. The original two-story, ornate yellow farmhouse, mail-ordered from the T. Eaton Co. Ltd. catalogue by the Terrills years earlier was now a multi-family communal dwelling for 35 villagers. A large sitting room and bedroom on the main floor was reserved as a gornitsa or ‘special quarters’ for the leader’s use when he visited. A number of new structures had also been built, including a large new, one-story blue dom (‘dwelling’) for another 15 villagers, a banya (‘steam bath house’), kuznitsa (‘blacksmith shop’), granary and a large red sarai (‘barn’) for the purebred Percheron draft horses they had begun breeding and raising under the Doukhobor ‘Д’ brand. As well, large gardens were planted to supply the villagers with vegetables, as they were strict vegetarians. The village was teeming with activity. Much pleased with their progress, Petushka commended the villagers on their accomplishments.
A View from a Hill
Beside the village to the north towered a large, steep, grassy hill – one of the most easterly outlying foothills overlooking the valley where the Doukhobors of Bogatyi Rodnik lived and farmed. Eager to view their land from its vantage point, Petushka beckoned his host familiarly, “Syoma, let us climb the hill, for surely it offers a sight to behold!” The humble, good-natured elder obliged and the two men began their ascent. After a brisk, twenty minute climb, led by the sure-footed and indefatigable leader, with Syoma, somewhat winded and labouring to keep up, they reached the summit.
Sure enough, the hilltop commanded an extraordinary panoramic view of the countryside for miles in every direction. To the west was the vast expanse of foothills running north to south across the horizon, and further west, the Livingstone Range of the Rockies with the Crowsnest Pass distinctly visible. Immediately below, at the southeast foot of the hill, the village appeared tiny and distant as the creek wound past it and bent south. To the east, the wide, flat-bottomed valley spread out before them. It was there, on six square miles of the valley floor, where the villagers grew oats for feed and wheat for milling, cut hay in the meadows for winter feed, and grazed cattle alongside sheep in their summer pastures. Further east, along the far edge of the valley, the narrow, rugged gorge of the Oldman River carved its way north to south. Further east still sprawled the Porcupine Hills, and to the southeast, the Cowley Ridge. To the far south, the Community elevators at Lundbreck and Cowley appeared as faint specks on the horizon.
The two men reclined atop the hill under the sunny, blue sky amidst the grass, wildflowers and rocky outcroppings, a cool, steady breeze at their back, for what seemed like hours, admiring the view so reminiscent of their homeland in the Caucasus. It evoked a sense of tranquility and contentment within them, and indeed, inspired a communion with nature and the divine. They gazed upon the fields and flocks below, each lost in silent contemplation and deep reflection.
So long were they caught up in their reverie that they did not notice the cairn at the far end of the summit until much later. Upon catching sight of it, the Doukhobors leapt up and strode closer to take a look. It was a large mound of rough stones piled one upon the other, some three feet high by six feet in diameter. Thick with heavy moss and lichen, it was old – very old – placed there by ancient hands to mark some forgotten past.[iii]
“Who set these rocks here?” wondered Syoma aloud, “And for what purpose?” Petushka stared thoughtfully at the cairn for several moments before answering. Turning to his companion, he declared, “It is a grave”. A hushed silence fell over the elder as he pondered his leader’s words. “A saint was buried here long ago,” continued Petushka somberly, “a holy man like Iosafat (‘Jehoshaphat’) of old… if not Safat himself! The thought that they were standing on sacred ground, hallowed by the ancient patriarch who lay at rest here, impressed Syoma with the gravest solemnity.
“Let us pray at his grave,” bade Petushka. The two Doukhobors stood over the mound, and with bowed heads, earnestly recited prayers and psalms and sang hymns in memory of the long-departed saint. Following the impromptu service, the men slowly descended the hill back to the village, deep in thought about all they had seen and experienced.
The following day, the Doukhobor leader departed Bogatyi Rodnik to visit the other villages of the colony before continuing onward to the Community settlements in Saskatchewan.
A Sacred Place
News of the cairn on the hill quickly spread throughout the village and the rest of the colony. That it was the grave of a holy man, as Petushka proclaimed, the Doukhobor colonists accepted without question, for they believed his word to be divinely inspired.
Many sought meaning in its seeming association with Iosafat of the Bible. “Was it not written that Safat abolished idolatry and followed God’s commands and God thus looked favorably upon him?” some reflected, “So too, we Doukhobors reject icons and follow God’s Law to remain righteous in His eyes!” “And did Safat not lead his people to vanquish their oppressors, not with swords, but with songs and prayers?” pondered others, “So also, our Doukhobors lay down our arms and refuse to kill!” In the figure of Iosofat, the Doukhobors saw a kindred spirit, an ancient archetype of their own teachings and beliefs.[iv]
The Doukhobors of the colony came to view the hill as a sacred place, one they considered holy and worthy of reverence and awe because of its connection to the Biblical patriarch. To them, it was a liminal space between the natural and the spiritual, the human and the divine, the hallowed and the profane. A prominent landmark visible throughout much of the colony, it became part of their living landscape, interwoven between their spiritual lives and daily existence. They gave it a special name, Safatova Gora (‘Safat’s Hill’). It was also known variously as Safatina Gora, Safatushkina Gora, Safatova or simply Safat.
The hill became a place of sanctuary for Doukhobors seeking personal solitude, consolation and serenity away from the rest of the world. It was also a gathering place for religious worship, cultural celebration and social interaction. In summertime, Doukhobors throughout the colony gathered at the foot of the hill, removed their footwear, and climbed barefoot to the top. This custom arose out of their veneration for the hill. Once at the top, the Doukhobors held moleniye (‘prayer services’) while standing on their platochiki (‘handkerchiefs’) so as not to touch the sacred ground. When their prayers concluded, they spread about blankets on the hilltop and had picnics and social gatherings.
Some of the more zealously devout colonists even began to associate the valley below the hill with the Biblical ‘Valley of Iosofat’ and came to believe that it would be there, on their own land, where the events of Judgement Day would take place and God would judge the nations of the earth. Among them, they called the vale Safatova Dolina (‘Safat’s Valley’).
Miracle of the Drought
In the late Teens and early Twenties, a severe and prolonged drought struck the Alberta foothills. Abnormally low rainfall combined with elevated temperatures and drying winds devastated the ranches and farms of the Cowley and Lundbreck district, resulting in crop failures, feed shortages, starving cattle and dust storms as topsoil was blown off cultivated fields.
The hardships of dryland farming, combined with low post-war wheat and cattle prices and high feed prices, drove many settlers to abandon their farms and leave the district. Those who stayed purchased straw for their livestock from the Doukhobor colony, as there was no hay. The drought continued to worsen, and by 1920, the Doukhobors had to bring in 75 rail carloads of straw from the Community settlements in Saskatchewan to sustain their own herds.
In these dire circumstances, the local Blackfoot Piikani Nation performed a rain dance ceremony, consisting of fasting, drumming, singing, dancing and feasting, to invoke the Creator to bless the Earth with much-needed rain. When their efforts led to no avail, the Piikani people approached their neighbours, the Doukhobors, whom they held in high regard, and implored them to pray to God for rain.
Moved by their request, the Doukhobors convened a mass sobraniya (‘assembly’) at their Community central office in Cowley, attended by all the members of the colony. After some deliberation and discussion, they resolved to trek to Safatova Gora, where they would pray for relief from the widespread drought.
Thus, several hundred Doukhobors set off on the 12-mile journey by foot from Cowley, through Lundbreck, to the sacred hill. At the outset, there was not a single cloud in the sky. As they trekked, they prayed and recited psalms seeking God’s intercession.
The long procession made an indelible impression upon the English Canadian ranchers of the district as it passed by. One settler, John Ross, could still recall, many decades later, the Doukhobors, young and old, walking barefoot past his ranch 5 miles north of Lundbreck on their way to the hill to pray.
After six long, arduous hours, when the trekkers reached Safatova, clouds began to appear on the western horizon. Heartened by this sign, they ascended the hill to the holy grave, where they prayed, earnestly and humbly, entreating God for rain. As they did so, clouds gathered and darkened, piling higher and higher above them. But after several hours of prayer and supplication, there was still no rain. Weary and dejected, the Doukhobors made ready to depart.
No sooner did they begin their descent, however, than the sky opened up, pelting them with thick, heavy rain drops. The rain quickly became a deluge as the Doukhobors, relieved and overjoyed, slipped and slid down the muddy hill. By the time they reached the bottom, it was raining so hard that the ground, saturated with water, became a thick, sticky gumbo, almost impossible to cross. Many had difficulty pulling their feet out of the mud and some became quite stuck.
It rained without stop for the next six to nine hours. Not since 1915 had there been a downpour so heavy and extending over so wide a stretch of territory as that day. Almost the whole province was covered, ending the drought, filling the rivers and reservoirs and reinvigorating the land with valuable moisture. That day, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin wired the Calgary Herald from his office to advise that the heavy rain in the Cowley and Lundbreck district “practically assured the crops”. The date of this event was June 29, 1922.[v] Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also Petrov Den (‘Peter’s Day’), one of the most important Doukhobor religious holidays.
Many called it a miracle – others called it an answer to their prayers – and it seemed that it was both. For the Doukhobors, something spectacular happened up on the hill; something so extraordinary that it hardly seemed true. After years of drought, God heard their prayers from the hilltop and sent the rain!
For twenty-two years, the Doukhobor colony at Cowley and Lundbreck operated as a successful and profitable farming enterprise, adding substantial value and revenue to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood and serving as an important supply source of agricultural products for the Community settlements in British Columbia.
Yet despite the success of the colony, by 1936, the Community was bankrupt due to crippling debt and interest coupled with declining revenue during the Great Depression. Although the Alberta lands were paid in full, they were pledged as collateral to secure the debts of the Community accrued elsewhere. Consequently, they were foreclosed upon by the National Trust Company in 1937.
Following the liquidation of colony assets, a third of the Doukhobors moved to British Columbia to be a part of the larger group living there, while another third left the area seeking employment elsewhere in the province. Those who remained took possession of the former colony lands they were already residing on and bought them back on a crop share basis as individual farmers. Thus, in 1938, brothers-in-law Peter M. Salekin and Anton W. Mushta purchased the land comprising Bogatyi Rodnik and Safatova Gora.
Over the following decades, the Salekins, Mushtas and other Doukhobors in the Cowley and Lundbreck area continued to uphold their faith and culture, forming the United Doukhobors of Alberta and building a prayer home in Lundbreck. They still gathered at Safatova for worship, although less frequently than in years past. One of the main events held there was Petrov Den, which they commemorated each year with prayer services and picnics. In 1954, the Union of Doukhobors of Canada, comprising Doukhobors from across the country, met on the hill for a meeting and picnic.[vi] And on particularly dry years, some older Doukhobor farmers still climbed the hill to pray for rain.
By the Seventies, however, most of the older Doukhobors in the district had retired, while many younger Doukhobors moved to larger urban centres to pursue higher education and professional careers. In 1971, the farm where Bogatyi Rodnik and Safatova Gora stood was sold to brothers Mike and Harry M. Salekin, who continued to farm for three more years. Then in 1974, the farm was sold after almost sixty years of Doukhobor ownership.
At the time of sale, Harry Salekin explained the history of the village, buildings and hill to the buyer and took him up to the hilltop to show him where the Doukhobors prayed. Many years passed, and on one occasion, he called in to the farm and the owner shared an interesting experience with him. He said that the spring had been particularly dry and there was no sign of rain. Remembering the explanation about Safatova, he climbed the hill and prayed there. Sure enough, the rain began to fall…
Today, there are few reminders of the Doukhobor presence in southwestern Alberta. Their prayer home in Lundbreck is now designated a Provincial Heritage Resource. Many of the original Doukhobor settlers lay at rest in a country cemetery near the hamlet. In Cowley, a road sign tells the story of their once-thriving colony. A Doukhobor barn stands on display at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek while another can be found at Heritage Acres Farm Museum nearby. And a handful of other structures are scattered across the countryside.
As for their once-sacred hill, its Russian name is almost completely forgotten, as is the Doukhobor history and folklore associated with it. But it can still be seen today overlooking the Cowboy Trail as it crosses Cow Creek. The stone cairn stands atop it pristine and undisturbed, much the same as it has for centuries, a silent sentinel to the faith and beliefs of those who once lived there.
This story was told to the writer in July 2008 by the late Michael M. Verigin (1929-2016) of Cowley, AB who heard it, in turn, from his grandfather, Semyon I. Verigin, a first-hand eyewitness to the events described. Additional information was received from Larry and Margaret Salekin of Airdrie, AB and Larry Ewashen of Creston, BC, descendants of the original Doukhobor colonists, as well as from Fred Makortoff of South Slocan, BC whose father-in-law William Bojey participated in the mass procession and prayer service for rain. The writer’s great-great-great grandmother, Maria Kirilovna Ivin was also a resident of Bogatyi Rodnik who participated in these events.
This article was originally published in the following newspapers and periodicals:
Pincher Creek Echo, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020;
Pembroke Observer, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020; and
ISKRA No. 2154, September 2020 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).
[i] Verigin made at least three visits to the Alberta colony during this time, in October 1915 (Bellevue Times, October 22, 1915), June 1916 (1916 Census of Northwest Provinces, MacLeod district, Alberta sub-district 39, page 2) and September 1916 (Blairmore Enterprise, September 1, 1916).
[ii] Doukhobors traditionally used diminutive forms of Russian names to express familiarity and endearment, such as Petushka for Petr, Syoma for Semyon or Safat for Iosafat, as referenced in this story.
[iii] The cairn was almost certainly built hundreds of years earlier by the Piikani Blackfoot as a burial, cache, lookout, route marker or ceremonial site. That it acquired new meaning and significance to the Doukhobors in later times does not detract from its importance as an indigenous site.
[iv] Many Doukhobors fervently believed that the grave was, quite literally, that of Iosafat of the Old Testament. Others reasoned that if it was not Safat himself buried atop the hill, it was nonetheless a person of exceptional holiness and spiritual enlightenment who, in their life, exemplified many of the same qualities as the Biblical patriarch.
Jean McKishnie Blewett (1862-1934) was a turn-of-the-last-century Canadian journalist, author, poet and women’s rights advocate. In September 1909, she visited the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan during a two-month automobile tour of Western Canada to study the social conditions of the new pioneer settlements, particularly the circumstances of women. In the following account, Blewett’ offers an overall positive and sympathetic interpretation of the Doukhobor woman, paying particular attention to her unrelenting work ethic; her adoption of non-traditional man’s farm work in addition to her traditional domestic role; her unprecedented equality within Doukhobor society; and her unwavering commitment to Community life. At the same time, Blewett subjects the Doukhobor woman’s body to Victorian Anglo ideals of form and behaviour, seemingly concluding that the Doukhobor woman who performs undue physical labour loses her picturesqueness, comeliness, and contours, in direct contrast to the ideal life of an Anglo woman settler. Recent scholars have argued that by publishing descriptions of the Doukhobor woman engaged in hard farm labour in addition to doing ‘woman’s work’ Canadian media accounts such as this significantly shaped ‘public knowledge’ about the Doukhobors by focusing on the peculiarity of Doukhobor women’s bodies.Originally printed in Collier’s Weekly (n.d., n.p.) and reproduced in Frank Carrel, “Canada’s West and Farther West” (Toronto: Musson Book Company, 1911) at 227-235.
The Doukhobor woman is no Venus. A long while ago she acquired the habit of working, and, theorists to the contrary, hard, incessant work does not tend toward beauty of face or form. TEST
Taking her place at the plow when the first furrow is turned in the spring, planting, hoeing, making hay, harvesting the grain, threshing and grinding the same, doing the whole year round a man’s work, has given her the figure of a man. She has muscles instead of curves; there is no roundness or softness visible. The sun has burned her face brown and her eyelashes white. Her hands and arms are the hands and arms of a working man. But her life in the open has done this for her, it has given her a dignity of carriage and a strength and wholesomeness more pleasing than mere beauty.
The Community Life
Her dress is peculiar—she is a peculiar person. She wears an exceedingly full skirt. Indeed, when you first see her you wonder why Peter Veregin, with his rigid ideas of economy, does not order a style of garment which will not call for a double quantity of material. With this goes a jacket tied in at the waist with an apron, which, like everything else about the Doukhobor woman, is of generous proportions. On her feet are heavy shoes, and on her head the unfailing white covering, which is nothing more or less than a square of cotton folded once and tied under the chin.
The houses open on to a common court or dooryard, and in this the children are put to play and the bedding to air. Here in the evening the women gather with their embroidery frames to catch the last glimpse of sunlight for their work – pretty work it is and beginning to find a ready market. The hands holding the needle are coarse and hard from labor, but the flower and leaf which they bring out on the linen are dainty and exquisite as any lady of the land could do.
What the hearth is to the family circle the court is to the community circle, a common meeting-place for those who will sit silent and those who will talk. You notice this, it is the old who do the gossiping, the young who do the laughing. The middle-aged Doukhobor, to quote the little Galician girl at the post, “is of a sour face and still tongue.”
At the upper end of the court is the store, with its varied stock of merchandise; at the lower end the bath-house, which is at once the village sanitarium and its pride. Here go the Doukhobors for a general cleaning up each Saturday evening. The fire on this altar of cleanliness never goes out. If a man falls ill, instead of having a doctor he has a bath. If a child is taken with croup, measles, whooping-cough, or any of these ailments, that child is rushed to the bath. Let a woman show the first symptoms of headache, backache, or nerves, and she is given a course, short but efficacious, in the ‘health-house.’
The place boasts a brick stove out of all proportion to its size, a stone bath, and a sweating-room. A great place for the curing of fevers contracted while working on the railway or in the woods, the rheumatism of the ditches, bronchial affections, any and all the diseases which show themselves.
The houses, which run down each side of the street, are cleanly, comfortless places, as free from decoration as the women who preside over them. A place to eat in and sleep in, this is what the Doukhobor house is, and all it is. The fireplace, with its big oven, fills one end; the table the other, and along the wall runs a wide bench.
The Luxury of Scrubbing
It is to be wondered at that these hard working folk do not have some comforts in the home. A wise and sympathetic man who has done a great deal for them, and who has their confidence, said as much to them of late. They answered with a superior air that life was not made for comforts and ease-taking, but for work, much work. The bed is made upon the bench by the wall, and in the morning the housewife carries the mattress, quilts, and coverlets out of doors and spreads them on a structure built for the purpose. Thus is a double purpose served; the bedding is aired in hygienic fashion, and the house is left free to the spinning of carded wool or the weaving of gorgeous rugs, or some of the other industries, which go on with unflagging zeal. After being with her, I know the Doukhobor woman’s idea of heaven—a place where she will have a long stretch of golden street to scrub to her heart’s content. It is her one luxury, scrubbing, and she never stints herself.
She does not bother her head with cookbook or recipe. Her meals are like herself, substantial and wholesome. No flesh of fowl or beast, though prairie hens rear their broods on the outskirts of the village street, and, as for the wild ducks, no sooner is the song of the gun heard in the land than instinct prompts them to seek the ponds and creeks of the Doukhobor. Here, literally, none dare molest or make afraid – as more than one sportsman finds to his cost. The waters, black with teal, mallard, blue bill, and red-head, offer a great temptation. He steals a shot, maybe two, but before he has time to gather up the spoil, the avenger is upon him. If he is discreet he stands not on the order of his going.
They are no respecter of persons. The story goes that a certain man, who was poobah of the place in the hollow of his hand, went forth one fair September morning to shoot in the Doukhobor grounds. Suddenly there came bearing down upon him a couple of stalwart women. The Doukhobor women did not care who or what he was. He had broken one of their laws, violated a tenet of their faith. They took his ducks away, they threw him and his gun in the pond. When he had choked and spluttered till purple in the face, they pulled him out, put him in his rig, gave him the lines, and started the horse off on a gallop.
‘Why didn’t you put up a fight?’ a friend asked him later. ‘I wouldn’t have taken that from any two women under the sun.’ ‘Women’, sighed the poobah, his pride all gone; ‘they weren’t women – amazons, amazons, that’s what they were.’
The Doukhobor woman’s house is homemade, so is her furniture. She puts her heavy plates on the bare board, and beside them wooden spoons carved by the lads of the village. She serves porridge made of wheat grown on their own land, ground in their own mill, and a big blue pitcher of milk from their own cows. There is a basin of potatoes, a platter of eggs, another of bread cut from the immense brown loaves which only the Doukhobor women know the secret of: and for a luxury there is tea – but only as a luxury.
‘We eat not to pleasure in food, but to make strong,’ says the Doukhobor woman. ‘Meat is strengthening,’ you tell her. ‘Maybe, maybe,’ she makes answer, with that slow, superior smile of hers; ‘but we keep from tire long time. People who eat the flesh of bulls and heifers they tire more soon than Doukhobor. Yes, yes, the boss man who build railroad track he tell you so, too. It is not meat that makes one keep the strong arm and young face; it is the wind and sun and being among ground new plowed. Yes, yes, I think.’
The Austerity of Romance
The Doukhobor woman is eligible to membership in the council, which is a parliament of the people for the people. … This council is the beginning and the ending of all that pertains to law and order in the community. It determines questions, judges cases, settles disputes, adjusts wrongs. Its findings are final.
It was Peter Veregin who assigned to woman a place in this important body. ‘Our women work as hard for the community as we do, are equally interested in its welfare and prosperity. Why should they not have a voice in the council?’
There is no romance in the life of a Doukhobor woman. From a sturdy child with drab colored braids and a solemn face, she grows into a woman. The braids, still drab, are done round her head, and she is no whit less solemn. One day young Joseph, finding himself in need of a helpmate – which means a willing worker – takes her to his house. She is his woman. He does not bind himself to cherish and protect, she makes no contract to love and obey. In fact, there is no ceremony in connection with the mating. They know nothing about affinity, and, as for marriages being made in heaven, the self-sufficient Doukhobor would think it a reflection on his judgment and the woman an infringement on her rights, so to speak.
If you were to ask them if they loved each other they would answer vaguely that to love all people was good. That state of mind or emotions which we call ‘falling in love,’ with the acute joys and jealousies which accompany it, is to them apparently an unknown quantity. There may be a faint partiality in some direction, but it is a case of ‘Love me little, love me long,’ if it is love at all. They are willing to become partners, but as for the glow and gladness, the melting glance and the wild heartbeat, these form no part or parcel of a Doukhobor mating.
Her Maternal Patriotism
Faithfulness, which means much in any union, means more perhaps in this one consummated without the sanction of the law of the land. There is this to be said, cases of desertion are exceedingly rare.
If he has not enough of sentiment, temperament, call it what you will, to love his own woman to distraction, he is not apt to fall into the snare of loving some other woman. And so with his helpmate. She keeps the even tenor of her way, cooks his meals, nurses the children which come to the home, works late and early. Happy? Oh, well, happiness is a thing of comparison. If it were not Joseph it would be some other, since to mate with a man and bear children is a part of her duty to the community.
Rome in her mightiest days did not mean more to the Roman matron than the community means to the faithful, if unlettered Doukhobor woman
Several authors have attributed Jean Blewett’s visit to the Doukhobors to the year 1910: Laura Dale, Walking in Two Worlds (Friesen Press, 2019 at 6); Ella Thompson, “The Doukhobor Settlers of the Swan River Valley” in Manitoba History (Number 72, Spring-Summer 2013). However, an analysis of period newspaper stories confirms that the visit in fact took place in 1909. TEST
Engaged by a magazine syndicate that year to write a series of articles about the social life of Canada, Blewett embarked on a much-publicized tour of Western Canada. On June 29, 1909, she departed Toronto by train, arriving in Winnipeg on July 19. Two days later, she departed by automobile westward across the Prairies, reaching Calgary on July 26, Edmonton July 28, Peace River August 5, Vancouver August 14 and Victoria on August 20. Blewett then returned eastward from Vancouver on August 25, reaching Edmonton August 31, Red Deer September 17 and Winnipeg on September 22. It can be deduced that she visited the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan on the final leg of her tour, between September 18 and 22, as she writes about the Doukhobors harvesting at the time.
For other articles written by Jean Blewett regarding her July 1909 visit to the Doukhobors of Veregin, Saskatchewan, please see:
In July 1904, future Canadian historian, librarian and editor W. Stewart Wallace (then a University of Toronto student) accepted a journalism assignment by The Westminster, an illustrated monthly religious magazine for the home. His task: to secure an interview with Peter Vasil’evich Verigin of the village of Otradnoye, Saskatchewan. In the brief 18 months since his arrival in Canada from Siberian exile, the charismatic Doukhobor leader had (to the widespread amazement of many Canadians) united the independent, communalist and radical Doukhobors under his leadership, soothed the disquiet amongst them, resolved the immediate problem of homestead entries, convinced all but a tiny minority of his followers to accept a communal form of organization and to cooperate with the Canadian government, and raised the Doukhobors’ well-being from poverty towards self-sufficiency. Wallace’s illustrated interview offers a rare and intimate glimpse of Verigin between the early establishment of his Utopian community, and the land crisis and resulting schism that would erupt only 18 months later. Reproduced from The Westminster, New Series, Vol. V, No. 5, November 1904 (Toronto: The Westminster Co., Limited).All editorial comments in square brackets are by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.
Agreeably to instructions from the Editor of The Westminster, I drove out from Yorkton to obtain an interview with Peter Verigin, the “leader of the Doukhobors.”
When my Doukhobor guide and I lit in at Otradnoe, Mr. Verigin’s village, we found Mr. Verigin away at Swan River, fifty miles farther north, endeavoring (as I afterward learnt) to dissuade the [radical] Thunder Hill Doukhobors from going off on the pilgrimage of July 12-15, 1904. He was at his familiar task of moderating the excesses of his own people.
Two days later Mr. Verigin drove into Otradnoe, and I saw him for the first time. I had expected to see a bearded, buirdly Russian peasant, with an inexplicable genius for organization – a kind of peasant king, like [Scotch poet] Robbie Burns, but what I saw was quite different. The man who met my eye that evening in Otradnoe was a well-groomed gentlemen of heroic proportions, who drove a luxurious democrat and splendid blacks [buggy and team], and was followed by an interpreter [almost certainly Semion F. Reibin] who carried his umbrella and shawl. He wore a Panama hat and white neglige shirt, and carried gloves and a lace handkerchief. In appearance, he was handsome and of a fine presence. His face was charming and sunny, but inscrutable as the deep, deep sea. There is no more charming or sunny or courteous man in two hemispheres than Mr. Verigin; his courtesy is so unfailing it is like a mask, and no man can see behind it.
It is not yet two years since Mr. Verigin came to Canada from the prisons of Siberia; but in that time he has wrought wonders among the Doukhobors. Two years ago the Doukhobors lived in low cabins of logs and mud; to-day (thanks to Mr. Verigin) they have a brickyard and are building houses of brick. Two years ago they hitched their women to the plows; now they are using 25-horse-power, double-cylinder Reeves engines that plow 25 acres a day. Two years ago they ground their flour by windmill; now they are running four grist-mills and four saw-mills. Three years ago they did not have one threshing machine outfit to bless themselves with; to-day they have four portable engines and three traction engines, all run by Doukhobor engineers. Two years ago they were a disorganized and fanatical rabble, dwellers in the Cave of Adullam [Biblical cave where David hid from Saul], restless and malcontent; now they are perhaps the most hopeful and ambitious people in America.
These are some of the things that must be laid at the door of Mr. Verigin. But perhaps the most notable and impressive of his achievements has been his organization of the Doukhobors on the communistic system, which works without a hitch. It is not too much to say that he has in two years evolved out of virtual anarchy a system of political economy that may be described as strictly ideal: behind every feature of it lies a living principle, a Biblical truth; for there are no men who are such faithful and relentless “doers of the word” as the Doukhobors.
Mr. Verigin welcomed me in the ceremonious Russian (for he cannot speak the English), and then there was a silence in the sunlight while the interpreter hurried up.
I explained my business with Mr. Verigin; and Mr. Verigin said, in reply, that it was very pleasing to him to have visitors from so far. At the same time he spoke very feelingly about the falsehoods that had been printed by the newspaper men of Canada regarding the Doukhobors.
I explained that, for my part, I was not a newspaper man, but was merely a humble student at the university; and that explanation proved the open sesame to Mr. Verigin’s heart. He said that since I was a student he would be very pleased to talk with me, and he hoped he would have something worth hearing.
We went into the garden, and Mr. Verigin was soon on his knees beside a magnificent cucumber bed. With genuine Doukhobor pride he pointed out its beauties and enquired if I had seen the like of that in my travels. He was in a happy mood, happy in being home once more, and soon the honest perspiration stood out on his forehead as he helped remove the frame of logs around the bed.
He asked about the [Russo-Japanese] war with great apparent interest. What was the latest news? Had Port Arthur fallen? S.W. – No, not yet; but its fall is daily expected. Do you take a great interest in the war? Mr. V. – Very great. S.W. – Would you like the Japanese beaten? Mr. V. (epigrammatically) – I should like to see both sides beaten. S.W. – I see you are a disciple of Leo Tolstoy’s. Mr. V. – Yes, Count Tolstoy is a very dear friend of mine. He also is a Doukhobor, and he has written to me that he intends to come out here to Canada before he dies.
The Interpreter – You see, Mr. Verigin stayed at Count Tolstoy’s house when he came out of Siberia. The Russian Government would not let him see his wife, but gave him two days to leave Russia, and he stayed over night at Count Tolstoy’s. He had been in Siberia for sixteen years, in three hundred prisons; and he has five brothers there now, two dead and three living. The Russian Government regarded them all as dangerous because they loved and obeyed Christos.
From the interpreter I learnt also a fact that shed considerable light on the social status of Mr. Verigin, namely, that Mr. Verigin’s father was a rich and notable man, and that his sons had all been educated by a family tutor. From this, I think, the deduction may safely be made that the Verigins are what we should call radical aristocrats, like Manlius Capitolinus [4th century BC Roman populistleader] or Lord Rosebery [19th centuryBritish liberalPrime Minister]. They are patricians who have gone over to the side of the plebs.
Mr. Verigin has a monumental wit, and it cropped out everywhere in his conversation. Speaking of Prince Oukhtomsky, editor of The Viedemosti of St. Petersburg, who was up at the settlements lately [in May 1904], he told how he had brought offers of help to the Doukhobors from the Russian Government (a fact that did not appear in the daily papers), and added that the Doukhobors, when they heard he was a newspaper man, had “nearly hanged him.” To anyone familiar with the Doukhobor horror of killing of any kind, the idea of Prince Oukhtomsky being hanged by Doukhobor hands from a Doukhobor roof-tree, was full of the wildest humor. Mr. Verigin made it quite clear that Prince Oukhtomsky was not welcome at the Doukhobor settlements with offers of help from Russia; but the last thing that could have happened to him was hanging.
When I spoke of the Doukhobor as Socialists Mr. Verigin objected on the score that [Russian radical] Socialists killed people, and the Doukhobors did not. “Here,” he said, “there are no kings and queens, there are only prairie chickens, and we cannot kill them.”
Asked where and when he was born, he smiled and said his memory did not extend back that far, adding severely that he did not see any good purpose to be pursuing such inquiries.
At breakfast we were Mr. Verigin’s guests, and Mr. Verigin went out of his way to apologize to us for the wooden spoons that were set beside our plates. He said (parodying the hopeful, ambitious language employed by himself and the rest of the Doukhobors) that he had intended to get gold spoons; but that, according to the old Russian proverb, gold spoons lead men to steal, and so he had stuck to the wooden spoons.
On the afternoon of the second day, I drove with Mr. Verigin to see the new steam plow start, and in charge of it we found an angry American engineer, who was “sick to death of this gol-darn country, and wanted to git out of it.” Mr. Verigin promised him that he would get back somehow; he said that the horses were all breaking [being broken, trained], but that, failing other things, the engineer could ride back to Yorkton (fifty miles) in his own steam plow. This in light of the fact that the engine was not very satisfactory) was a good example of Mr. Verigin’s colossal wit.
I asked Mr. Verigin when he first became a vegetarian and forswore meat.
Mr. V. – It was about twenty years ago. One day I was out shooting, and when I had shot a young bird, the mother bird came right to my feet and settled there. This made me stop and think, and I inquired of myself if it was a Christlike action to kill the animals; and after much thought I came to the conclusion that it was not. Since that day I have not touched meat.
S.W. – Do you not eat fish? Mr. V. – No. S.W. – Then what do you make of the fact that Christ, we are told, bade the fishermen to let their nets down on the other side of the ship, so that they caught more than the nets could hold? Mr. V. – Well, in those days some men ate each other; it would have been foolish for Christ to teach them not to eat fish. But now we have learnt to love one another; and we should learn to love the fish also. In those days men were not prepared for the extreme truth and Christ was satisfied to teach them a half-way doctrine, to break the truth down to them; but we, who are more enlightened, should live up to the spirit of Christ, beyond the letter.
S.W. (after a profound pause) – And do you not kill mosquitoes? Mr. V. (laughing) – Oh, no.
I asked Mr. Verigin how long he thought the community system would last, if he did not think the younger Doukhobors would break away; but could not get no satisfactory answer. Mr. Verigin did say the Doukhobors intend to break up their villages in five years; but that was only one of his monstrous jokes. He seemed to think the community system had kept the Doukhobors from becoming the dirt under the feet of the railway men, and had given them a start; but about the future he would not speak. “One cannot provide for to-morrow,” he said.
Speaking of the seven [radical Doukhobor] men at Swan River who were preaching a new pilgrimage, he said, “You should pay no attention to them.”
Asked if he were glad to see the younger Doukhobors learn English, he replied, “Oh, of course, very glad.”
With reference to schools, he said there were already two [Quaker] schools among the Doukhobors where English was taught, but that they were not Government schools. As soon as they had good homes, then the Doukhobors would see to the schools.
Asked when he first conceived the idea of getting a steam plow, he said he could not remember when the idea came to his head. He had long intended to try which was cheaper, horses or engines. He made it quite clear it was not solicitude for the horses that had prompted him.
Speaking of the Canadian Government, he said they had been all kindness to the Doukhobors. But when he was pressed for an answer to the question, Did the Doukhobors consider themselves Canadian? He confessed the Doukhobors were neither Russian nor Canadian, but were Christians, and acknowledged no king but King Jesus. This was his definition of the political position of the Doukhobors.
He said he was very glad to see English settlers come in among the Doukhobors.
In the evening Mr. Verigin did a very beautiful thing. He gathered about him the boys and girls of Otradnoe, and walked out with them two miles to a certain field. The boys and girls – the boys with their Dutch-like “carosses” and voluminous blue trousers, and the girls with their white “plattoks” (head-kerchiefs) – went before with locked arms, singing their quaint spring songs; and Mr. Verigin followed with some grown-ups, flicking the mosquitoes with his lace handkerchief. When they came to the objective field, the children stopped and formed in a half-circle, and Mr. Verigin briefly thanked them for weeding out that field. Then they turned and walked back, with locked arms, singing as before.
Now it is instructive to notice in what capacity Mr. Verigin performed this small and pleasing ceremony, for it is eloquent of his whole position among the Doukhobors. It was not as “leader of the Doukhobors” for that term, as applied to Mr. Verigin, is a misnomer. Among the Doukhobors all men are equal. It was merely as one of the four commissioners elected for the current year to transact the business of the Doukhobor Trading Co., for this is the only official position occupied by Mr. Verigin. If Mr. Verigin were not re-elected next year he would give up his lace handkerchief and go back to the plow. Only, there is small danger of his not being re-elected. Technically, he is only the equal of the stable-boy; actually he is looked up to by all as the man best fitted to manage affairs. It is Pericles [5th century BC Greek politician and general] and the Athenian Democracy all over again; extreme democracy culminating in one-man rule. A remarkable coincidence is the fact that Mr. Verigin always adheres in the assembly to Pericles’ policy of speaking last. In this, in his Olympian imperturbability, in his inscrutable mind, he is a second Pericles; and he rules the minds of the Doukhobors as Pericles ruled those of the Athenians.