The Doukhobor Brickyard at Ootischenia, BC

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

While Doukhobor brickmaking in Grand Forks is historically well known, few today would associate this enterprise with Ootischenia, BC. Yet for a fleeting period, the Doukhobor Society established a communal brickyard at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. This article pieces together the little-known and largely-forgotten story of the Doukhobor brickyard at Ootischenia.

A Promising Site

In 1910 or early 1911, while communally clearing the heavily-forested north end of Dolina Utesheniya (Ootischenia) along the Kootenay River for orchard-planting, members of the Doukhobor Society laid bare what was reported in the March 30, 1912 Vancouver Sun to be an “extensive” clay deposit.[1]

According to oral tradition, the clay pit was located some several hundred yards southwest of where the Doukhobors planned to build their suspension bridge across the river in 1912-13.[2] Evidently, it was a promising site for the development of a brickyard similar to those established by the Doukhobor Society elsewhere at Thunderhill in 1903, at Veregin in 1904, at Yorkton, SK in 1907, and at Grand Forks in 1909.

The north end of Ootischenia on the Kootenay River, September 1912. Known in Russian as Kamennoye (‘stoney place’), it was the site of numerous Doukhobor communal enterprises. The brickyard was located several hundred yards southwest (right) of this image. BC Archives, GR-0793.5.

First, it appeared to have had a sufficient quantity of clay, easily accessible with horse and scraper, to last many years. Second, it was located close to a fuel source for running the machinery and firing the bricks; namely, wood from the main and upper benches of Dolina Utesheniya. Third, for distribution purposes, it was located a short distance from the CPR Slocan-Robson branch; albeit across the river. This would be mitigated by the planned suspension bridge.

The main stated objective of the Doukhobor Society in developing the clay pit, as reported in The Province in March 16, 1912, was to produce brick for veneering their doms (‘homes’) in Dolina Utesheniya and neighbouring settlements.[3] In addition to brick manufacture, the Society intended, according to the March 30, 1912 Vancouver Sun, to develop a large plant for the production of clay drain and tile for drainage and plumbing systems.[4]

Interestingly, the Doukhobors had already developed several other communal enterprises along that river shore which they called Kamennoye (‘Stoney Place’). These included a sawmill in 1911, planer mill in 1912 and an irrigation pumping plant in 1912. Other planned enterprises included a grist mill and linseed oil plant (established 1914) and a wood-stave pipe factory (established 1915).

Development of Brickyard

According to 1912 Doukhobor Society financial records, in the fall of 1911, the Society purchased a brick-making machine and had it shipped to Brilliant at a cost of $1,283.00.[5] It was almost certainly a ‘Martin’ model brick machine, manufactured by the Henry Martin Brick Machine Manufacturing Company at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Powered by steam and having a production capacity of 50,000 bricks a day, this was the same machine used by the Doukhobors at all their other brickyards.

Advertisement for the Style “A” Martin Brick Machine used by the Doukhobor Community. The Clay-Worker, Vol. 51, No. 3, March 1909.

Accordingly, over the next six months, from the fall of 1911 to spring of 1912, the Doukhobors at Dolina Utesheniya developed a brickyard adjacent to the clay pit. This would have included: an engine house in which a steam engine provided motive power for the machinery; a brick plant housing the brick-making machine; a large, open-sided drying shed; and a conveyor system between the brick plant and drying shed.

On March 16, 1912, The Province reported the brickyard to be “recently started” and either producing, or ready to produce, brick.[6]

Brick-Making Process

Brick manufacture at Dolina Utesheniya would have followed substantially the same process as at other Doukhobor brickyards.

Using horses and scrapers, Doukhobor workmen excavated clay from the pit, then transferred it into dumpcarts. The loaded dumpcarts were then drawn by horses up an elevated ramp and the clay dumped into a large hopper bin. Proportionate loads of sand were also dumped in the hopper. In the hopper, the clay-sand mixture was automatically mixed up, an automatic sprinkler supplying the water. The slurry mixture was then pressed by the Martin brick-making machine into moulds, six bricks at a time.

The ‘wet’ bricks were then placed on palettes and these were placed on a wire cable conveyor and carried into the large drying shed, where men were stationed at different points to lift them onto wheelbarrows, and wheel them to racks where they were placed to dry for up to ten days.

When the bricks became sufficiently dry, the men removed them from the drying racks and placed them again upon the cable conveyor, where they were taken out through the end of the shed. There, they were stacked into scove kilns, consisting of up to 200,000 bricks each, with wood ovens built into the stacks, and fired steadily for ten days. After firing, the bricks were ready for use.

It would seem, however, that the Doukhobors never fired more than their first or second kiln of bricks at their new yard.


According to oral tradition, for reasons no longer remembered, the brickyard at Dolina Utesheniya abruptly closed soon after opening.[7] Indeed, no mention of it is made in any newspaper or book subsequent to March 1912. Even William Blakemore’s Report of Royal Commission on Doukhobors, where a thorough report of the Doukhobor Society’s industrial enterprises (as of September 1912) at Dolina Utesheniya is presented, is silent about any brickyard save for that at Grand Forks.[8]

In all probability, the reason was that the clay proved unsuitable for brick-making. This might have been because it had a low plasticity (malleability), it contained other rock types (siltstone, sandstone) or impurities (gypsum, carbon), or it did not vitrify (fuse into hard, non-permeable material) at a low temperature. The end result, in any case, was that the brick cracked or bloated when fired in the kilns, making them unusable. This deficiency would have been evident to the Doukhobors upon their first firings.

Consequently, despite much effort and promise, the brickyard at Dolina Utesheniya appears to have been abandoned shortly after March 1912, almost as soon as it began.

Redeployment of Machinery

So what became of the Martin machine and other specialized brick-making equipment after the brickyard was abandoned? It was almost certainly redeployed rather than salvaged or sold. What is more, we have a very good idea where it likely went.

In the summer of 1912, the Doukhobor Society purchased the 150-acre Blaney Ranch in the Slocan Valley near Winlaw.[9] The ranch contained a clay quarry, and by September 1913, the Society was developing it as another brickyard.[10] Over the next several years, brick was manufactured there by the Doukhobors, using a Martin brick-making machine.

Doukhobors pose in front of a Martin Brick Machine at their Slocan Valley brickyard, 1914. BC Archives Item E-00716.

Evidently, within months of the abandonment of the brickyard at Dolina Utesheniya, the brick-making equipment was shipped by rail up the Slocan Valley to the new brickyard where it redeployed and reused.


While short-lived, the brickyard at Dolina Utesheniya underscored the Doukhobors’ communal and enterprising spirit and their determination to utilize their landholdings to its greatest potential. The Doukhobor Society (after 1917, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood) continued to manufacture brick for domestic use and commercial sale at several locations until the mid-1930s.

After Word

Special thanks to Ellie and Michael Davidoff, Marion Demosky, Tim Harshenin, Sam Wishloff, Bill Maloff, Ev and Lawrence Voykin, Frances and Mike Kanigan, Wendy Voykin, Mike Semenoff, Elsie Nevakshonoff.

This article was originally published in the following newspapers and periodicals:

  • ISKRA No. 2193, December 2023 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ); and
  • Castlegar News, January 29, 2024.

End Notes

[1] Vancouver Sun, March 30, 1912. The newspaper refers to the clay deposit as being in “Brilliant”. At this time, Dolina Utesheniya was considered part of “Brilliant” and the Brilliant Flats were not yet purchased by the Doukhobor Society.

[2] According to oral tradition, the brickyard was located at Kamennoye, an area at the north end of Ootischenia along the Kootenay River, directly across from Brilliant: Ellie and Michael Davidoff, interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, November 15, 2023; Marion Demosky, interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, November 16, 2023; Ev and Lawrence Voykin, interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, November 17, 2023; Frances and Mike Kanigan, interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, November 20, 2023. Elsie Nevakshonoff, interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, November 25, 2023.

[3] The Province, March 16, 1912. The newspaper also refers to the brickworks as being in “Brilliant”. See comments under Note 1.

[4] Vancouver Sun, March 30, 1912.

[5] Report about incomes and expenditures for relocation to Columbia and payment in part for lands for 1911 year and for the period from the beginning of 1912 up to August 10, 1912, Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-052-006. Note that the Doukhobor Society had already previously shipped a brick-making machine to Fruktovoye in Grand Forks in 1909: Grand Forks Gazette, March 18, 1909.

[6] The Province, March 16, 1912.

[7] Supra, note 2.

[8] 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 62.

[9] Nelson Daily News, June 22, 1912, May 6, 1953.

[10] By September 1913, the Doukhobor Society successfully applied to the CPR to extend a rail spur from its Slocan Lake Branch onto the Blaney Ranch, which the Doukhobors renamed Kirpichnoye (of ‘brick’): The Canadian Engineer, September 18, 1913.

Voskreseniye Village, SK

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The following article provides a brief history of Voskreseniye, one of 55 communal villages established by the Doukhobors upon their arrival in the Northwest Territories (Saskatchewan) in 1899.

In May 1899, 120 Doukhobor immigrant settlers established a village on a bend of the Assiniboine River, 4 miles south of present-day Kamsack, SK. Sick, weary and destitute after a failed settlement on the Island of Cyprus, all they were able to construct for shelters were 16 sod dugouts.[1]

They named their village Voskreseniye (Воскресение) or Voskresenovka (Воскресеновка), meaning ‘Resurrection’ in Russian – a reference to the Doukhobor belief that Christ is resurrected spiritually in the hearts of his righteous followers.[2]

Initially the villagers possessed little material wealth, having only 50 sacks of flour, 30 bushels of potatoes, 2 horses, 2 oxen, 1 cow and 1 wagon to share between them during their first year.

Postcard (colourized) of Voskreseniye village, postmarked 1908. The village consisted of two rows of ten houses facing each other across a wide central street. The brick meeting house, with a higher-pitched roof than the other structures, is seen midway along the north (right) row of homes. Photo courtesy Prairie Towns.

However, despite severe hardship and deprivation, the settlers persevered, and through the adoption of a communal way of life, pooling all land, livestock, grain and outside earnings, attained agricultural self-sufficiency within a few short years.

In 1902, the village was relocated one mile to the Northwest Quarter of Section 12, Township 29, Range 32, West of the First Meridian, on a level flat beside Dead Horse (Kamsack) Creek, where they constructed twenty 14 by 25-foot mud-plastered log homes with thatched roofs.[3]

By 1905, Voskreseniye had a population of 175 Doukhobors, and the village layout had expanded to include three large 14 by 30-foot communal stables, as well as granaries, a blacksmith shop, bakery, carpenter’s shop and a 22 by 56-foot brick meeting house used to conduct moleniye (prayer meetings) and sobraniya (social gatherings).[4]

By this time, the villagers had acquired 16 horses, 53 cattle and 36 sheep.[5] Using 6 horse-drawn ploughs, they were cultivating 472 acres out of the 58 quarter-sections of land reserved for the village into grain and forage crops.[6] Their cultivated acreage continued to increase in the years that followed, even as their total reserved acreage was significantly reduced by the federal Department of Interior in 1907.

Department of Interior map of Voskreseniye village, August 1, 1907. Colour legend: homesteads reserved for Voskreseniye village coloured orange; homesteads taken by Independent Doukhobors coloured blue; Doukhobor reserved homesteads opened up to general public in 1907 coloured grey; homesteads still untaken coloured yellow.

The surnames of the Voskreseniye Doukhobors were: Cheveldayoff, Dubasoff, Hancheroff, Kazakoff, Kinakin, Konkin, Makasayoff, Medvedoff, Nechvolodoff, Novokshonoff, Parakin, Popoff, Rezansoff, Shekinoff, Stuchnoff, Tikonoff, Varabioff and Wishloff.

The villagers were renowned singers, and according to oral tradition, their acapella singing of Doukhobor hymns was often heard for miles up and down the Assiniboine valley.[7]

Postcard (colourized) of Doukhobor family in front of their log dwelling in the village of Voskreseniye, postmarked 1908. Courtesy Prairie Towns.

The Voskreseniye Doukhobors remained staunch supporters of their leader Peter Vasil’evich Verigin and the communal way of life he espoused. Indeed, despite being a village of moderate wealth, Voskreseniye annually remitted earnings to the central treasury of the Doukhobor Society in excess of those sent by much richer villages.  For example, in 1905, the village sent $3,082.85 in earnings to Verigin when the average remittance of 44 villages was $2,568.21.[8]

Between 1908 and 1913, 120 persons relocated from the village to communal settlements in British Columbia (primarily Ootischenia and Glade), leaving a remaining population of 52 persons by the fall of 1913.[9] This rump population remained consistent over the next five years.[10]

Voskreseniye Village Population and Homestead Reserve, 1899-1917

Year Communalists Independents Wanderers Total Village Reserve (Acres)
1899 119 119
1905 174 174 3840
1907 160 160 2400
1909 127 2 1 130 2400
1910 106 2 108 2080
1911 103 9 112 2080
1912 103 9 112 2080
1913 52 52 1280
1915 52 52 1120
1917 52 52 1118

In 1918, the village and its 1,118-acre homestead reserve was disbanded by the federal Department of Interior and the remaining population either relocated to communal settlements elsewhere, or else settled on adjacent homesteads as Independent Doukhobors.[11] The village structures were dismantled and the logs and lumber were salvaged as building material used on individual homesteads.

By 1920, only the brick meeting house of the village remained, which was used by the Kamsack branch of the Society of Independent Doukhobors for prayer meetings and gatherings over the next three decades.[12] The meeting house continued to stand beside Highway 8, a silent marker to the once-thriving village, until its eventual collapse in a 2019 storm.

Voskreseniye brick meeting house, as it appeared in September 2008. Note the brick veneer was largely removed by this time. Photo copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In October 2021, the Kamsack Doukhobor Society received funding through the C.C.U.B. Trust Fund to erect a cairn and steel sign at the village site.[13] Completed in 2023, the 7-foot-high iron sign will have a mounted 24 by 32-inch plaque commemorating the Doukhobors of Voskreseniye village.[14] It will be installed at the village site in the spring of 2024.

Proof of the Voskreseniye village commemorative plaque commissioned in 2023. Plaque text provided by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. Plaque design by Tannis and Patti Negrave. It will be installed in spring 2024. Courtesy Tannis Negrave.
Proof of seven-foot-high iron sign, commissioned in 2023, to be installed at the Voskreseniye village site in spring 2024. Courtesy Tannis Negrave.

End Notes

[1] Doukhobor village statistics, compiled by William B. Harvey, Quaker, in November 1899. Library and Archives Canada, Immigration Branch Records, Record Group 76, Vol. 184, File 65101, Part 6.

[2] Doukhobors believe that Christ suffered and died on the cross, and that on the third day after his crucifixion, he was resurrected. However, unlike other Christian groups, Doukhobors reject the idea that his resurrection was literal and physical, believing instead that Christ’s resurrection was wholly spiritual: that rose again spiritually in the hearts of righteous people and continues to be resurrected to this day in those who follow his teachings: V. Bonch-Bruevich, Zhivotnaya Kniga Dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Regehr’s Printing, 1954): Psalms 8 (Q/A 11), 14 (Q/A 6), 80, 112, 132, 189, 217, 312, 339, 349, 352, 361, 362, 367, 383 and 410.

[3] Library and Archives Canada, Voskreseniye Village File, Record Group 15, Vol. 1167, File 5412469; C.J. Tracie, “Toil and Peaceful Life, Doukhobor Village Settlement in Saskatchewan, 1899-1918 (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, University of Regina, 1996) at 117.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] John Moriarty, interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, September 24, 2005.

[8] “Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held in Nadezhda Village, February 15, 1906” in Manitoba Morning Free Press, April 25, 1906.

[9] Library and Archives Canada, Doukhobor Village Reserves Register, Record Group 15, Vol. 0, File 1113.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Voskreseniye Village File, supra, note 3; Tracie, supra, note 3 at 205.

[13] The Doukhobors of Canada CCUB Trust Fund Annual Report, 2021-2022 (Veregin: CCUB Trust Fund Board, 2022) at 11.

[14] Tannis Negrave, correspondence with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, December 6, 2023.

Doukhobors Make Garden in Forest at Brilliant, 1912

By James Lightbody

In May 1912, Nelson Daily News reporter James Lightbody visited the community of Brillant (then centred in Dolina Utesheniya) at the junction of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. There, he found 1,300 Russian-speaking Doukhobors living in a ‘Socialist Utopia’ who, after four short years, had transformed 2,900 acres of forest into a veritable garden paradise with 600 acres planted into trees. Lightbody wrote an article about his experience and observations, including the Doukhobors’ history in Russia, their settlement at Brilliant, their learning of English, communal system and management, their land-clearing, industrial development and financial system. It was first published in The Nelson Daily News on June 1, 1912. It was subsequently republished in The Daily Province on June 8, 1912 and the Victoria Daily Times on June 25, 1912. Editorial comments [in square brackets] and After Word by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

An hour’s ride from Nelson, British Columbia, there exists a foreign country, 2,900 acres in extent, where nearly 1,300 people live without a knowledge of English, without money in circulation and without an elective government, and yet contented and prosperous. It is the Doukhobor community at Brilliant, at the junction of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers, where fruit farming upon a strip of land encircled by steep mountains is conducted on a scale not attempted in any other part of British Columbia. These exiles from their unhappy land in Russia are part of a band of 7,500 in Canada and beyond a few hundred in British Columbia and their kindred living in far away Canora in the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan, these people live out of touch with all races and creeds in Canada.

Russian Tyranny

Twelve years ago they began to come to Canada to escape the tyranny to which they were subject under the bureaucratic government of the Czar’s dominions, and under the liberty allowed them under British rule, they have proved themselves to be so industrious that they have carried out agricultural operations on a scale almost impossible to the English speaking citizen of the country. They have cleared hundreds of acres of their land of the dense timber that covered it four years ago and have planted it with fruit trees and bushes. They have received not a cent in return for their fruit but are still living upon what their countrymen in Canora [district, Saskatchewan] can send them and from what they have raised from selling timber and potatoes and other minor products of their land.

Nor are they concerned mainly about getting an immediate recompense for their labor. Rather they are building up for the future with a foresight which will surely be repaid. There is mapped out and in part operation an irrigation system covering the whole of their territory, and already a domestic water system fed by springs in the mountains connects every one of the thirty or more dwellings upon the plateau.

That is only one part of the story of industry and thrift that a visitor to Brilliant sees. Their quant customs; their odd form of government with its freedom from complications, yet efficient in its simplicity, their adaptability to new conditions and new surroundings; all these things tell a story seldom met with in the rush of the present-day life.

Settlement at Brilliant

To the person who alights from the train at the new station at Brilliant just being built by the Canadian Pacific railway, there opens a panorama which is puzzling to one who has no hint of what the settlement is. After journeying through a gully hemmed in by steep mountains, a wide level stretch of land takes their place and here and there upon it are dotted houses, peculiarly set in pairs of with acres and acres of trim gardens round them. In places a rugged stump-dotted patch, not yet cleared, shows what the neat, trim gardens were in their rough state. Close at hand there is a busy scene along the water’s edge, as if some gigantic industry was being established there. And so there is. As one descends the bank one encounters a gang of men loading heavy masses of machinery upon a ferry strung across the swirling Kootenay.

Ferry landing, sawmill and pumphouse at the north end of Dolina Utesheniya (Ootischenia), 1912 which Lightbody first saw upon arriving. Photo: BC Archives, Doukhobor Commision Photographs, No. GR-0793.5 (colorized).

You journey across with the gang, few of them can speak a word of English, and on closer view find a water pump being placed in position, and boilers being set together with noisy activity. You ask what it all means and are informed that it is the pumping plant for irrigating the fruit fields that you are yet to see. Pressing on, guided by one of the obliging settlers, you pass sawmill, stables, several  houses, and rise to the top of a bank to come upon an immense tableland whose houses you have seen from the station upon the railway track. For some distance you walk along until you come upon a wide expanse of cultivated land both under crop and ready for planting. On each side of the road there are large houses; always in pairs, always of the same plan, bare of exterior but eminently practical.

In your walk, if school be not in session, you will be passed by picturesque children, the girls in bright colors and the boys – well, as growing mischief-loving boys always dress. But all have an inquiring, inquisitive look, for strangers are not seen every day. Yet disrespect is totally absent and they call to you “Hello,” their first word of English probably, and the boys raise their hats and the girls nod their heads.

Learning English

There is a schoolhouse there, just put in commission by the provincial government, with an English-speaking school ma-am in it, and the children, so they say, flock to the school with such eagerness that playing truant is an unheard of offence. In fact, they come round from school and clamor to be taught before their teacher rises in the morning, and she is an early riser.

A peep into the houses discloses the tidiness that characterizes everything. Paint has not been found absolutely necessary everywhere but cleanliness cannot be sacrificed at any cost. Around the house are gardens both for flowers and for vegetables, with walks neatly bordered with stones among them. Not a fence can be seen, for the land belongs to no one and to everyone.

Then you visit the post office [at Waterloo], where John Sherbinin, the purchasing agent and financial manager, holds forth, and you find to your astonishment everything for a well-appointed office already there. There are typewriters, one in English and the other to master the vagaries of the Russian alphabet; letter files and account books and also a certificate that this is one of his majesty’s post offices.

The former ‘Waterloo’ camp at Dolina Utesheniya (Ootischenia), 1912. The one-storey log building, second from left, served as the original post office and business office. When Lightbody visited the settlement, a new two-storey frame building, far left, was built for this purpose. Photo: BC Archives, Doukhobor Commision Photographs, No. GR-0793.5 (colorized).

How They Came

To see the state of improvement the settlement has reached it is hard to believe it has all been done in four years. Yet that is the time which has elapsed since the first band migrated from Canora, near Saskatoon. In the early winter of that year, Peter Verigin, acknowledged head of the whole Doukhobor sect, came to British Columbia and found what he thought would be an advantageous site for a colony. He bought the land, piece by piece, and a month or so later, in April, 1908, ninety men came down from the Saskatchewan community, and began the work of making the stubborn bush yield to the coming of the fruit rancher.

The hardships the Doukhobor sect have passed through since it was founded in the middle of the eighteenth century are no doubt responsible for the sterling qualities of the men and women at the present time.

Primarily the ill-treatment followed their severance from the Orthodox Russian church and the methods of conscription employed by the Russian government in the nineteenth century forced them to flee the country. At the age of 21, every young man becomes liable to be called upon to bring the standing army up to a certain mark. Each year army officers come round to the Doukhobors and took away their sons to fight, and they would, it is said, take the same man year after year, seemingly to do their worst towards the nonconformists.

Many resisted this and were put in prison and Peter Verigin, who rose as a champion of his race, was seized and sent to Siberia for 16 years. At other times as a reminder of the czar’s rule, Cossacks would be sent down to their villages with horse whips to beat the communists into subjection.

Resolved to stand the tyranny no longer, the Doukhobors decided to emigrate, and in 1898 many moved to the Island of Cyprus, which is under British protection, in the Mediterranean Sea, being assisted by Count Tolstoi. Not satisfied with this and hearing of the opportunities that Canada offered, they moved to Canada in 1899 and 1900 in large numbers, settling at once near Saskatoon. In all 7,500 persons of the Doukhobor sect have come to this country. Each man of 18 years of age or more took out 160 acres of land for farming purposes. Put together, the thousand odd quarter sections made an immense tract, and true to their customs they established a community such as may be seen at Brilliant.

But they made a fatal mistake, which they blame upon the Canadian government as not having brought to their notice. The regulations say that the settlers must cultivate at least 15 acres of his quarter section by the end of three years when a patent will be granted. Instead of doing this the Doukhobors cultivated one large piece in the centre, equal to 15 acres for every homestead in the settlement, thinking it was in compliance with the requirements. When they came to ask for title they did so for the whole piece and not individually, it appears, which the government would not grant. They now say the government would not grant them a patent because they had not cultivated a piece as required by the regulations.

The Belyi Dom (‘White House’) at Dolina Utesheniya (Ootischenia) in 1912. The building served as a schoolhouse when Lightbody visited the Brilliant colony and also functioned as a community meeting house. Photo: BC Archives, Doukhobor Commision Photographs, No. GR-0793.5 (colorized).

The area they retained after their homesteads had been forfeited was hardly sufficient to support the whole of their 7,500 people. The winters, too, were hard on them, used as they were to the comparative warmth of Southern Russia. Finally Peter Verigin set out to find a new country to which his people without a home might go. How his wanderings brought him to British Columbia has already been shown.

When the 90 men, like [Biblical] spies into Canaan, came to Brilliant, they found an unpromising piece of land on which to start their settlement. Before their arrival it had barely been scratched as a fruit raising district, but some of the timber had been cut and floated down the river [to Trail], leaving the stumps standing. Hundreds of acres on the other hand were in their virgin state, while still more had been burned off ready to be grubbed of their dense underbrush and second growth trees.

They set to work, however, and cleared a piece of land more than a hundred acres in extent ready for planting the following spring. In April, 1909, another party of 180 men were brought out to the new settlement from Saskatchewan and joined the pioneers in putting the land in crop. That year they planted many acres with fruit trees brought from nurseries in Canada and the United States. But to obviate purchasing from an outside source, which is against their policy, they have started a nursery of their own, where thousands of young bushes may be seen approaching the stage when they may be transplanted.

While gangs of men were treating the soil others were erecting houses, and in June of the same year the wives and families and aged men were brought out from Saskatchewan and joined the able bodies in working towards getting a crop. In 1910 another batch of 200 men came out, some going to neighbouring settlements, of which there are Pass Creek, Crescent Valley, Glade and Grand Forks. In the spring of the present year a party of 346 passed through on their way to Glade and Slocan Valley. At Brilliant there are now 1,285 people, while at Grand Forks there are an additional 500 living in like communistic manner.

Since their first coming to Kootenay, the Doukhobors have not received a cent from their fruit plantations. Their expenses are small, for where possible food is grown and articles of wear are made. There is a strong aversion to being dependent upon outsiders, hence the Brilliant community subsists upon flour made at the Doukhobor mill at Canora, Saskatchewan.

Ivan Vasil’evich Sherbinin, business manager and purchasing agent for the Brilliant Doukhobor colony from 1908 to 1919. Photo: BC Archives, Doukhobor Commision Photographs, No. GR-0793.5 (colorized).

Harmony and Contentment

The harmony and contentment which pervade Brilliant impress the visitor at first sight, and a glance into the economic system in vogue there reveals the reason for this. It is a Socialist Utopia, the realization of equality which is being advocated for the rest of the world to-day.

At Brilliant, unlike the modern city, there are no cares as to where the next day’s meals will come from. There is no stinting to provide sustenance when one’s strength has ebbed in declining years. There is no division between “mine” and thine”; no man richer than his fellow; no jealousies or envies as to the possessions of another.

Cares as to money are totally absent, for there is no money in circulation. Neither is there any need for money, for food and clothing are doled out as needed from the department in charge of these matters. All men are equal and have a voice in the government, and more than this, women are recognized as being competent to judge upon the affairs of their community.

Their houses are large, and for economy are made to accommodate from 30 to 36 people. At the rear of each pair, there is a long low building which puzzles the stranger. It contains the baths, made of wood and looking like punts. A boiler in the centre of the room heats the water for the numerous baths round about.

The food for all the months is handed out at the general store, to which the head of the household repairs on certain days. To the storekeeper he intimates the number he must feed, and gets doled out to him food in proportion. The bread is baked in each house, and vegetables are raised in gardens surrounding them, it being part of the women’s work to look after them.

How Community is Run

The executive of the community is in the hands of several heads of departments. There are two men who manage the fruit-growing and the general affairs of the colony. One man does the purchasing for them, another oversees the building of the houses and the carpenter work, another superintends the sawmills, another the waterworks, and so on. These men are responsible for the part of the work they look after.

They form the executive, but the government is in the hands of the people, effectively and simply, although with no machinery of government whatever. Once a week all persons both men and women who have reached years of mature understanding, crowd into the school house [to hold a sobranya or ‘meeting’] and discuss the affairs of the community. At these meetings, according to the popular sentiment, the managers of each department are given their instructions.

Should one of the managers ever be guilty of doing something wrongly he is required to make an explanation and allowed to clear himself if he is able. But if not, one of the electors, if you can call them such, may propose another man, and the case is disposed of on its merits. No definite time is specified at the appointment of an officer, but he holds office as long as he does his work well. This is the initiative, referendum and recall system without the cumbersome machinery in use at the present day.

There is no police force at Brilliant, and none is needed. Every man is so loyal to this community that misdemeanors are practically unknown. As no one possesses anything to the exclusion of others, there is no stealing. If anyone should do wrong, however, he is dealt with by the society.

Land Worked in One Piece

In tilling the land it is all done in one piece. There are no divisions of the whole 2,900 acres as far as that is concerned. Men are put to work on whatever task they are best suited for and may be changed to another more congenial to them if it means greater efficiency. Thus some are at work in the fields, others in the sawmills and others at carpenter work. Should any man display a lazy disposition he is put to work tidying up the garden round the house, and if he does not keep it spic and span he will suffer derision at the hands of his comrades. But such a penalty is seldom necessary because of the intense interest taken by everyone in the welfare of the colony.

Land clearing at Dolina Utesheniya (Ootischenia) in 1912 when Lightbody visited the colony. Photo: BC Archives, Doukhobor Commision Photographs, No. GR-0793.5 (colorized).

Two Big Sawmills

Two big sawmills are kept busy all the time at Brilliant, and have seen busier day in the early life of the settlement. There, the logs that were taken from the land in preparation for the fruit trees coming, were sawn up into hundreds of thousands of railway ties and shipped all over the country. In connection with the sawmills, where, also, all lumber needed for the buildings is turned out, there is a planing mill. Finished lumber is made there, and mouldings, indistinguishable from the product of a big factory, are manufactured. There is also a joiner’s shop, and all tables, chairs and furniture used in the houses are made by Doukhobor labor there. More than this, window frames have been turned out, but for economy’s sake they are not bought.

In the high parts of the territory the guide will point to two immense reservoirs, big concrete tanks containing water. These, he will explain, are the nucleus of the irrigation system they are planning for the whole of their land. By and by when they have their pumping plant on the Kootenay in working order, the fields will be covered by a network of pipes giving water to the thirsty soil.

At the present time all is activity with the fruit trees, but when winter comes and work on the land ceases, electric light and power wires will be installed everywhere. In connection with the new pumping plant a generating station will be built to supply energy to the whole colony. You may ask the Doukhobor, on perceiving the high tension power wires of an electric company passing over the land, why he does not buy his power from the company. He will tell you that he prefers to be independent and generate it himself.

Overlooking nothing, a school-house of generous proportions has been built in the centre of the territory and was just opened during the present year. The settlement does not attempt to give education to all the children at once, but that will come in time. At present about one hundred young hopefuls are being taught in English and Russian, and show an avidity to learn often absent in English-speaking children. They look upon schooling as a privilege they must not abuse.

The Financial End

The material assets of the Doukhobors at Brilliant would do justice to many communities of larger size. The land was bought by Peter Verigin four years ago for $150,000 under an agreement for sale covering a number of years. There is yet a small balance left to be paid. The timber they sold gave them many thousands of dollars, part of which was used to pay for their land and part to bring others of their band from Canada and Russia. There are now 50 buildings of all kinds valued for the purpose of obtaining a loan at a conservative sum of $50,000. The two reservoirs and equipment are estimated for the same purpose to be worth $30,000. The largest sawmill is assessed at $15,000, and the new pumping and electric light plant is reckoned to need an outlay of $25,000. These figures were made by a bank valuator and are authentic.

To provide transportation across the Kootenay river a bridge is in the course of construction high up on the bank to allow vessels to pass under it. It will be of the suspension type. At present a ferry driven by a horses and windlass gives communication from bank to bank. There is also a ferry between the settlement and Kinnard on the Columbia river.

There are now 600 acres planted with fruit and the acreage is constantly increasing. The settlement has spread upon the banks of the Kootenay and down the Columbia river. In the course of time the whole of the Doukhobor sect in Canada and many more from Russia will have migrated to British Columbia, for it is the intention of those already there to assist their brethren to come out. With the warmer climate and the freedom they enjoy they are sure to prosper and help to develop the natural wealth of the province.

After Word

Born 1891 in Edinburgh, Scotland, James Lightbody emigrated to Canada in 1904. He started his newspaperman’s career in Winnipeg with the Tribune and Telegram. In 1911, he was briefly employed as a reporter with the Nelson Daily News. It was during this time that Lightbody visited Brilliant and wrote his article about the Doukhobor colony. It was perhaps as a result of the article’s successful syndication in several Vancouver and Victoria newspapers that he moved to Vancouver in 1913 to work as a reporter for the News Advertiser and Daily Province. In 1916, Lightbody began a 33-year career as publicity manager for the B.C. Electric Railway Company (later B.C. Electric), also serving on the executives of numerous civic and service organizations prior to his retirement in 1949. He died at age 96 in 1986.

James Lightbody.

It should be noted that at the time Lightbody visited ‘Brilliant’, the place name applied exclusively to the Doukhobor settlement in the Valley of Consolation (Dolina Utesheniya) on the southeast side of the Kootenay-Columbia confluence. The lands known as ‘Brilliant’ today on the northeast side of the confluence were only purchased by the Doukhobor Society in July 1912 – a month after Lightbody’s visit.

It is possible to trace the route of Lightbody’s visit to Brilliant in May 1912. After disembarking at the C.P.R. Brilliant Station, then the only building on the northeast side of the confluence, he walked a quarter mile southeast along the Doukhobor-built Pass Creek Road. After crossing the Kootenay River on the Doukhobor cable reaction ferry, he arrived at that part of the Valley of Consolation known as Kamennoye, where a sawmill and several large communal houses had been built and where a large irrigation pumping plant was under construction. He then traversed the length of the Valley of Consolation on the Doukhobor-built road which today forms parts of Ootischenia and Waterloo Roads. He passed by the Community meeting house known as the Belyi Dom (‘White House’) which at the time in 1912, briefly served as a public school. He then continued on to the former Waterloo mining camp which, at the time, served as the business and administrative centre of the Brilliant colony.

Lightbody’s article provides a fascinating snapshot of the state of agricultural and industrial development of Brilliant at the time. As of May 1912, there were 1,300 Doukhobors living on 2,900-acres in the Valley of Consolation. About half the acreage had been cleared, with 600 acres planted in fruit trees. The Doukhobors had not yet received any returns from the plantation, as the orchards would take another 7-10 years to reach full bearing. The Doukhobors had constructed two large concrete irrigation reservoirs on the second bench and a pumping station on the edge of the Kootenay River; this orchard irrigation system would be finally completed in 1926. However, in the meantime, a water pipeline for domestic purpose, sourced from mountain creeks, was already serving the Doukhobor communal homes throughout the colony. Two sawmills (the Bol’shaya Pil’nya or ‘Large Sawmill’ at the edge of the second and third benches and the Malaya Pil’nya or ‘Small Sawmill’ in Kamennoye) were in operation, with a planer mill located at the former.

Lightbody explains the Doukhobors’ early history in Russia and initial settlement on the Prairies, and provides a fairly detailed account of their initial settlement at Brilliant, only four years after it occurred. He also describes the colony in glowing terms as a ‘Socialist Utopia’ where cash and divisions of property were absent, and where the communal ownership system enabled all persons to have their basic needs met, to be equal and to have a voice in the government and management of the colony. Lightbody clearly attributes the Doukhobors’ social structure as the basis upon which they were able to transform Brilliant from a forest to a garden oasis in only four short years.

In terms of financial arrangements, Lightbody notes that the Doukhobor Society purchased the 2,900 acres at the Valley of Consolation for $150,000.00 under an agreement for sale, whereby payments were made under installments over five years. Now in its fourth year, there was only “a small balance left to be paid.” He does not provide an updated value for the improved land; however, its value must have increased manifold. Lightbody does note that the chattel improvements to the colony equaled $95,000.00; almost two-thirds of the original purchase price of the land in 1912.

Lightbody’s article was highly-complimentary of the Doukhobors, precisely at a time when anti-Doukhobor sentiment was reaching a fevered pitch in the Kootenay and Boundary regions. This was primarily on account of the Doukhobors’ reluctance to send their children to public school, their refusal to register vital statistics, as well as perceptions about their large, unpaid labour force undercutting local wages and commodity prices. These various public grievances – real and perceived – culminated in the formation of the Royal Commission on Doukhobor Affairs in late August 1912, only three months after Lightbody’s visit. As such, his article stands out for its objectivity and insightful, fact-based analysis, in contrast to most highly-critical, opinion-based accounts of the Doukhobors that appeared in local newspapers at the time.

Doukhobors Built Agro-Industrial Complex amid Orchards in Grand Forks

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The Doukhobor ‘Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood’ at Grand Forks is probably best historically known for its religious pacifism, large brick communal homes, and once-vast fruit orchards. Less recognized, but also important are the many local agricultural and industrial enterprises it established. The following article examines the Doukhobor agro-industrial complex created west of the city from 1909 to 1939, and its contribution to the growth and development of the Kettle Valley.    

Land Acquisition

Between 1909 and 1912, Peter V. Verigin on behalf of the Community purchased 4,182 acres of land west of Grand Forks.[i] These acquisitions included the historic Coryell Ranch in February 1909; Newby Ranch in March 1909; Vaughan Ranch in November 1909; Spencer/Macey Ranch in May 1910; Collins Orchard in July 1910; Hoffman Ranch in April 1911; Capsey Ranch in April 1912; and Pettijohn/Bell Ranch in December 1912; among others.

Community lands and orchards along Spencer Hill, c. 1918. BC Archives No. C-01718.

By 1931, the Community’s holdings expanded to 5,104 acres to include the historic Ashfield/Dinsmore Ranch acquired in June 1913; Hardy Bros Ranch in July 1919; Ward/Perkins Ranch in March 1921; Averill Estate between March 1924 and June 1928; and Hammer/Dewdney Ranch in May 1930.[ii]

These landholdings were grouped by the Community into three somewhat distinct geo-administrative areas and given rich, evocative Russian names as follows:

  • Descriptively named Dolina Fruktovaya (the ‘Valley of Fruit’) or simply Fruktovoye by Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin,[iii] this tract was bounded by Spencer Hill to the north and west, Saddle Mountain to the north and east, the Kettle River to the south and east and the Covert Ranch to the south. In 1932, it was renamed Sion (‘Zion’) by Verigin’s son and successor, Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin;
  • Christened Dolina Khristovaya (the ‘Valley of Christ’) or simply Khristovoye by Peter V. Verigin,[iv] the tract was bounded by Eagle Mountain and Saddle Mountain to the south, Hardy Mountain to the west, Observation Mountain to the east and Smelter Lake to the north; and
  • Ubezhishche, a name given by Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin meaning (place of) ‘refuge’ or ‘hideway’,[v] was bounded by Spencer Hill and Hardy Mountain to the east, the U.S. border to the south, July Creek and its tributaries to the west and Skeff Creek to the north.

Communal Settlement

Between 1909 and 1912, 713 Doukhobor men, women and children from Saskatchewan were resettled at the new Grand Forks colony.[vi] By 1921, their number had increased to 928 persons;[vii] and by 1931, to 1,000 persons.[viii]

They were primarily housed in large, two-storey brick communal homes, each with a capacity of 30-40 persons. Some 25 such communal homes were built, each with a large barn, several single-family frame dwellings and numerous outbuildings. Each communal home was situated on approximately 100 acres of arable land which it was allotted to manage and maintain. 

Large group at Doukhobor prayer meeting at Grand Forks. Boundary Museum and Archives, Item No. 1991_055_094.

Two to four communal homes were each administered as a village unit.[ix] Numbering 11 in total, these villages originally received numbers rather than names (e.g. Village No. 6). However, by the 1940s, many of them came to be descriptively known by the predominant family grouping that resided in them (e.g. Popoff Village, Novokshonoff Village, etc.) while others acquired quaint nicknames (e.g. London, Sleepy Hollow, Paris, etc.) and even more colourful Russian epithets.

Agricultural Development

The Grand Forks colony was acquired by the Doukhobors, first and foremost, for large-scale fruit-growing. While a small acreage was already under mature orchard when they purchased it,[x] most was virgin ranchland, open or lightly wooded. There were also some hundred acres of rough, forested land. Working together under the motto ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’, the Doukhobors rapidly cleared and cultivated it.

By 1912, the Doukhobors set out 50,000 apple, plum, pear, prune and cherry trees on 593 acres, making them (by far) the largest fruit grower in the Boundary.[xi] By 1921, the colony had some 85,000 fruit trees on 1,000 acres coming into full bearing; 2,000 acres cultivated in small fruit (strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries) as well as vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers), grain (wheat, oats), and forage (alfalfa, clover, timothy), with the remainder in pasture and timber.[xii]

Doukhobors cherry picking west of Grand Forks, c. 1915. BC Archives No. C-01716.

To support their orchard development, beginning in 1911, the Doukhobors established an extensive gravity-flow irrigation system, using over 30,000 feet of flume, ditch and self-manufactured wood stave pipeline to convey water from July Creek and tributaries, Ward Lake, Hardy Creek, and the Kettle River to their fruit trees.[xiii] In May 1911, they had 100 acres under irrigation; the following year, 230 acres; and by 1923, over 758 acres irrigated.[xiv] They also completed a large concrete and earthen irrigation reservoir (later known as Saddle Lake) in the draw near Hardy Mountain by 1919.[xv]

Undoubtedly, what contributed to the early and rapid success of the Doukhobors as fruit growers was their large pool of communal labour. All of the men, women and children of the colony were engaged in the growing effort on an unpaid basis. In return for their labour, the Community supplied its members with food, clothing, shelter and other necessities. This arrangement gave them a competitive advantage vis-à-vis other orchardists as their cost of fruit production at all stages was significantly less.

Agro-Industrial Enterprises

From the outset, the Doukhobor Community saw opportunities to expand their operations beyond merely growing fruit and other agricultural produce, and began to engage in the secondary manufacture of agricultural byproducts as well as other industrial commodities.

Between 1909 and 1939, an agro-industrial complex was established for the mass production of agricultural and industrial goods, both for the Doukhobors’ own domestic use and for commercial sale. Most of these enterprise coalesced at the rough geographic centre of the colony, in Fruktovoye, between what is today Spencer and Canning Roads and also along Mill Road.

Each of these agro-industrial enterprises is discussed below.

Brick Factory

Upon acquiring the Coryell Ranch in February 1909, the Community inherited Frank Coryell’s small-scale brickworks, which comprised a horse-powered clay mixer, a small hand-operated brick molding machine and large, promising clay pit.[xvi] By March, they substantially updated the brickworks by adding a steam power plant, a ‘Martin’ industrial brick-making machine and other modern equipment and turned out a million first-class bricks by the end of the summer.[xvii] The refurbished plant had a capacity of 24,000 bricks daily.

Community brick factory with Spencer Hill and Hardy Mountain in background, c. 1922. Simon Fraser University No. MSC130-3580.

The Doukhobor brick-making process can be described as follows: clay was manually excavated from the adjacent pits and loaded into carts, which were drawn by horse up to a hopper chute, then dumped into the side mixer and combined with specific quantities of dried sand and water. The mixture was then filled into brick molds and compressed by the brick-making machine into raw ‘wet’ bricks. The raw bricks were placed on a 300-foot conveyor leading to a series of drying sheds, where they were stored for 1-2 weeks. Once air-dried, the bricks were stacked to form up to 10 kilns, which were fired for up to a week, using cordwood and sawmill slabs and ends, to produce the final bricks.

The manufactured bricks were used by the Doukhobors themselves to face the two-storey communal homes in the Grand Forks colony as well as in many in their colonies at Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek, Shoreacres and elsewhere. They were also used in various Community undertakings, such as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam factory at Brilliant, warehouses, retail stores, Community schools and other endeavors.

Many of the bricks manufactured at the Community brick factory were also sold commercially to builders throughout the Boundary. Some of the best-known structures built with the brick include the Davis Block,[xviii] Bower & Pribilsky Block,[xix] Royal Bank Building[xx] and Kerman Block[xxi] on Market Avenue, the Perley School Annex[xxii] and old Court House[xxiii] on Central Avenue, the old Post office[xxiv] on 4th Avenue, as well as the Beran Residence[xxv] on Hardy Mountain Road and the Glaspell Residence on Highway 3.[xxvi] Hundreds of thousands of bricks were also shipped to the Trail Smelter, with 325,000 shipped in April 1917 alone.[xxvii]

In 1927-1928, the Community brickworks were substantially enlarged under Doukhobor leader Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin, with increased mechanization and manufacturing capacity expanded from 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 bricks annually.[xxviii]   

The brickyard ceased operation in 1932; however, many of the buildings and equipment remained until the 1940s through the 1970s. Today, the depressions of the clay pits can still be seen today near the corner of Spencer and Reservoir Roads.


In 1909, the Community erected a sawmill in Fruktovoye with which to manufacture rough lumber for building their homes and village structures.[xxix] Operated for the Doukhobors’ own use, it was a small portable sawmill with a capacity of 10,000 board-feet per day, powered by a self-propelled steam engine.  There was no planer.

It was originally located below Village No. 5 (Hremakin village) near Saddle Mountain along present-day York Road.[xxx] Logs cut along the north bank of the Kettle River and south foot of Saddle Mountain were brought to the mill on horse-drawn dollies or sleighs (in winter).

Community sawmill near brick factory, c. 1924. Touchstones Museum of Art and History.

When the supply of logs was exhausted in one place, the sawmill was moved to another location. By about 1918, it was relocated north adjacent the Community brickworks.[xxxi] There, it milled logs cut from the west and north foot of Saddle Mountain, east foot of Eagle and Hardy Mountains, and south foot of Spencer Hill. 

During this time, the Grand Forks Community also maintained commercial logging, pole-cutting and sawmill camps on leased Crown timber limits at Cedar Creek on the North Fork (1923-1925),[xxxii] Myers Creek near Midway (1924-1927),[xxxiii] and elsewhere.

In 1927, the Community sawmill operation was relocated to Ubezhishche along July Creek at Village No. 10 (Horkoff village) near present-day Gibbs Creek Road and greatly expanded.[xxxiv] It operated as a 35,000 board-per-day facility and manufactured lumber for commercial sale from the Community’s extensive timber lots there. Much of the output was shipped south to the United States. It produced upwards of 2 million board-feet of lumber and 3,000 poles annually and had an adjacent planing mill, pole-making operation and box factory.[xxxv]

After 12 years of operation at this location, having survived an arson attempt in August 1931[xxxvi] and the July Creek Forest Fire of August 1934,[xxxvii] it was destroyed by incendiarism in October 1939 at a loss of $30,000.00.[xxxviii]

Flour Mill

In 1910, the Community established a stone grist mill to grind their wheat into flour in Fruktovoye.[xxxix] Operated for their own use, it had a capacity of 100 bushels of flour per day. Beside it stood a 10,000-bushel granary for storing wheat prior to milling. It was located beside Village No. 5 (Kootnikoff village).

The Doukhobor flour-milling process can be described as follows: a pair of large millstones was used as the grinding mechanism. The bottom or ‘bed’ stone was fixed into position, while the upper or ‘runner’ stone rotated above it. Motive power from a stationary steam engine was directed to the runner stone by a shaft which went through its middle and turned it. Wheat was fed from a chute above between the stones, where it was ground into flour collected in a hopper below. The distance between millstones could be adjusted to vary flour courseness.

The bread made of the mill’s wholegrain flour was dark but very healthy. Nothing from the manufacturing process was wasted: weed seeds, cracked and broken grains, bran and other mill screenings were sold commercially as chicken feed.[xl]

Community flour mill, c. 1920. BC Archives No. C-01722-14.

In 1917, the production of linseed oil was started at the flour mill.[xli] Flax or linseed was mechanically pressed to produce cooking oil. A seed-cleaning plant was also added during this period.

In 1930, the Community flour mill was shut down.[xlii] Six years later, in 1936, an arson attempt wiped out surrounding buildings, but the flour mill building itself survived because of its laminated wood.[xliii] Another arson attempt in May 1946 destroyed a barn and implement shed but the mill remained undamaged.[xliv]

Beginning in 1962, the flour mill was retrofitted as an electric hammer mill by the Doukhobor Milling Heritage Society and reopened in May 1964.[xlv] The new, modern process created a cleaner, more refined product and could handle a higher volume of wheat processing – up to 200 pounds an hour. It was sold throughout the Kootenay-Boundary as the famous ‘Pride of the Valley’ flour.

Today the flour mill still stands on Mill Road, named after it. It is jointly managed by the Doukhobor Milling Heritage Society and Boundary Museum Society and continues to mill grain on demand.

Fruit Packing Houses

In order to process fruit from their orchards as they came into bearing, the Community built a large packing house in 1912.[xlvi] Located in Khristovoye at Village No. 3 (Vanjoff village) along present-day Hardy Mountain Road, it was a two-storey, 100 by 30 foot wood-frame structure with concrete basement and gable roof. It had a fruit box-making plant on the second floor.

Large and small fruit grown in the colony arrived by wagonload to the packing house. There, it was received, unloaded, and weighed. It was then turned out on tables, graded and sorted, culling the bruised, spoilt or small fruit aside, and packed into boxes. The packed fruit was stored in the basement until shipment. It was shipped from the adjacent Great Northern VV&E Phoenix Branch at Copper Junction.

Community fruit packing house (left) at Village No. 3 (Vanjoff village), c. 1921. Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ.

The packing houses also processed Community-grown vegetables for outside markets, which were grown in massive quantities. In 1912 alone, the Community sold 8,000 100-lb. sacks of potatoes from Grand Forks.[xlvii]

By 1919, the Community’s orchards were coming into full bearing and a second fruit packing house was built.[xlviii] Located in Fruktovoye south of the Community brickworks at the corner of present-day Reservoir and Canning Roads, it was a two-storey, 100 by 60 foot wood-frame structure with elevator lifts, concrete basement and monitor-style roof. As there was no adjacent railway, fruit packs were hauled to the Community warehouses in Columbia Flats for shipping.[xlix]

By 1920, the Community packing houses were shipping 120-130 railcar-loads of fruit annually – apples, pears, plums and prunes as well as strawberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries – to outside markets.[l] This included 50 carloads of Italian prunes alone.[li]

Community fruit packing house, workers’ rooming house and granary near brickyard, c. 1928. BC Archives No. C-01376-14.

Tomato Cannery

In August 1912, the Doukhobors installed a small fruit and vegetable cannery at Grand Forks for their own use.[lii] Then in 1924, the Community erected a large, commercial-scale tomato canning plant beside their Community flour mill.[liii] It was the first cannery established at Grand Forks.

Operated as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, large volumes of tomatoes harvested from the Community fields were brought to the plant, where they were cleaned and blanched in large copper kettles filled with boiling water, then plunged into smaller copper pots filled with cold water, then finally poured into sterilized 28-oz. cans, topped with water and sealed. Sold under the ‘K.C. Brand’ label, they were marketed across Western Canada.  It operated until 1936, when it was destroyed by arson.[liv]

Label for K.C. Brand tomatoes canned at Grand Forks, c. 1924. UBC Rare Books and Special Collections.

Fruit Evaporator

In 1924, the Community erected a commercial-scale fruit evaporating plant beside their flour mill – the first permanent facility of its kind at Grand Forks.[lv] Small fruit and berries picked from the Community fields were brought to the plant. Once dehydrated, fruit was preserved at one-tenth of its original weight. In its first year of operation, some 12,000 lbs. of small fruit and berries was dehydrated into 1,200 lbs. of dried fruit.[lvi] The dried fruit could be stored for extended lengths of time without spoilage.

Most of the dehydrated fruit was sent to the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam factory in Brilliant. Once it arrived, it was soaked in water for several hours, after which it returned to practically its original state with all its colour and nutrients retained. It was then processed into jam. The plant operated until 1936, when it was destroyed by incendiarism.[lvii]

Jam Factory

As early as 1912 and again in 1923-1924 and 1927-1928, the Community proposed building a jam factory at Grand Forks to serve its orchards there.[lviii] However, each time, the Community elected instead to focus on developing and expanding its Brilliant jam factory. It was not until 1935 that the Doukhobors established a local jammery – the first ever in Grand Forks.

In spring 1935, the existing fruit packing house near the brick factory was retrofitted as a jam plant. A brick veneer was added to the building exterior.[lix] Twelve steam-activated jam-making kettles, ordered from England, were installed on the upper floor.[lx] Fruit and vegetable canning equipment was also ordered.[lxi] It had a production capacity of 12 tons of jam per day.

Community jam factory (former fruit packing house) at Grand Forks, 1935. BC Archives No. C-01592.

Adjacent to the north, a two-storey, brick 40 by 36 foot boiler house with concrete foundation and monitor-style roof was built to supply steam power to the jam plant.[lxii] A 30-foot high water tower was erected nearby to supply water to the boilers.[lxiii] An adjacent wood lot was stocked with cordwood, slabs and board ends from the Community sawmill to fire the boilers.

Over the first two weeks of August 1935, considerable quantities of strawberries, raspberries, cherries and other small fruit arrived at the new plant from the Community fields and from other Grand Forks fruit growers under contract.[lxiv] It was sorted and stored in the basement of the jam plant.

When production began, the fruit was brought to the main floor, where it was cleaned, peeled, de-cored/de-stoned, then cut into pieces and/or crushed. It was then taken to the second floor, where equal portions of fruit pulp and sugar were placed in each large copper kettle and cooked for 15 minutes while continually stirred. Once cooked, the kettles were emptied into smaller copper pots and wheeled over to long cooling trays filled with cold water, in which they were placed. As the jam cooled, it received a final skimming, and was then ladled by hand into sterilized cans and sealed.

The jammery operated roughly ten days, producing 194,250 lbs. of jam.[lxv] However, on August 17, 1935, the jam plant building burned to the ground in an incendiary blaze.[lxvi] It was a devastating blow to the Community with $100,000.00 in losses, including $40,000.00 of jam that was not shipped to market because of a delay in receiving jam tin labels from the printer.[lxvii] The arsonists were never brought to justice.

The jam factory boiler house still stands, having been converted, along with adjacent former Community buildings, into a family home in 1979.[lxviii] It is located on Canning Road, named after the jam factory.


Railway facilities played an important role in Community operations, both for receiving incoming goods and supplies purchased from Eastern Canadian manufacturers, and for shipping outgoing agricultural and industrial commodities (bricks, lumber products, fruit and preserves) to market. This required the establishment of Community warehouses for storing goods before their internal distribution or outside export, as the case was.

Plan of GNR Weston station yards showing Peter Verigin (Community) warehouse, c. 1918. Boundary Museum and Archives.

In circa 1912, the Community built a two-storey, 45 x 60 foot warehouse near the Great Northern Weston station in Columbia Flats, near present-day Northfork Franklin Road.[lxix] It was used for the shipping of produce to points on the Great Northern VV&E line. In about 1923, it was sold following the dismantling of the Weston station yards.

In 1912, the Community built a two-storey brick 75 x 50 foot warehouse with concrete basement and elevator lift near the Canadian Pacific west end station in Columbia Flats on present-day Donaldson Avenue.[lxx] The basement was used for fruit cold storage, the main floor for storing dry goods, while the upper floor was divided into living quarters and offices for the Community branch manager.

The Community store warehouse operated for 27 years. In 1940, it was purchased by Peter S. Polonicoff and run as Polonicoff’s Store until its closure in 1984.[lxxi] Today the building stands in good structural condition and has been converted into two heritage-style apartments.

Community warehouse and store near CPR west end station, c. 1935. Pam Faminoff.

Workers’ Cafeteria & Apartments

Another facility that supported the Community agro-industrial complex was a large, two-storey brick 40 x 30 foot rooming house. Built in 1918 in Fruktovoye adjacent to the fruit packing house, it housed a communal kitchen on the main floor for the Doukhobor workmen labouring at the various adjacent enterprises.[lxxii] Originally, the upper floor housed a Community shoemaker’s shop; after 1928, the shoemaker’s shop was relocated to the Community warehouse in Columbia Flats.[lxxiii] Thereafter, the upper floor was converted to workers’ sleeping quarters. In 1979, the structure was refurbished and is now a private residence.[lxxiv]

Former Community granary (left) and workers’ rooming house (right) near brickyard site, 1949. Simon Fraser University No. MCS130-5618-01-2.


In July 1936, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. declared bankruptcy during the height of the Great Depression.[lxxv]

Its collapse resulted from a combination of complex factors, including low prices assigned to agricultural and industrial products during the Great Depression; burdensome interest rates on its mortgaged properties; a declining membership base, increasing the debt load on fewer members; members who defaulted on annual allotments; the enormous losses to its capital assets suffered from incendiarism; as well as financial mismanagement.[lxxvi]

In June 1937 and May 1938 it was placed under receivership by creditors who foreclosed upon the company and its property valuated at $4,000,000.00 for a total debt of $360,580.64.[lxxvii] Thus ended the largest agro-industrial enterprise ever undertaken in the Boundary and the largest experiment in communal living ever attempted in North America.

Enduring to this day is the Doukhobor example of bringing forth the bounty of the land, with the help of fertile valley soil and a moderate climate, fueled by the desire to work together in community towards a common purpose. The Doukhobors’ contribution to the early agricultural and industrial growth and development of Grand Forks deserves to be recognized and acknowledged.

After Word

An earlier version of this article was originally published in:

  • ISKRA No. 2185, April 2023;
  • Grand Forks Gazette, May 24 and 31, 2023; and
  • Trail Times, May 30 and June 17, 2023.

End Notes

[i] W. Blakemore, Report of Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria BC: King’s Printer, 1913) at 31. See also Certificate of Title Nos. 1155D, 14260F, 52D & 49126F, 14274F, 14262F, 14141F, 42009F, 14269F, 15D & 42183F & 48428F & 42008F & Map 523, 14262F, Similkameen Land District.

[ii] Snesarev, Vladimir N. (Harry W. Trevor), The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia Publication, Department of Agriculture, 1931). See also Certificate of Title Nos. 14257F, 47277F, 49665F, 50579F, 49666F, 42104F, 55398F, Similkameen Land District.

[iii] The first known recorded use of the names Dolina Fruktovaya is found in a letter from Peter V. Verigin to his followers dated August 5, 1909: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. 016-004-001-001. The first known recorded use of Fruktovoye is found in a December 7, 1910 letter from Peter V. Verigin to followers: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-079-003. The name was still in use on January 1, 1931: Snesarev, ibid. The first known recorded use of the name Sion for the same area is found in a letter by Peter P. Verigin to his followers dated October 18, 1932: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-036-002. This tract comprised District Lot Nos. 453, 2651, E ½ 518, E ½ 1025, E ½ 1027, 365, 364, Blocks 10, 13-16 of Lot 497, Blocks 21-22 of Lot 517, and 1699.

[iv] The first known recorded use of the names Dolina Khristovaya is found in a Record of Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Income and Expenditure dated August 7, 1909: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-049-001. The first recorded use of Khristovoye is found in a December 7, 1910 letter from Peter V. Verigin to followers: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-079-003. This tract comprised District Lot Nos. 538, 334, 333, 332, 1494.

[v] The first known recorded use of the name Ubezhishche is found on January 1, 1931 in Snesarev, supra note 2. This tract comprised District Lot Nos. W ½ 1027, Sub-Lot 8 of Lot 2701, W ½ 1025, Sub-Lot 5 of Lot 2701, W ½ 518, 1737, 2681, 2657, Sub-Lot 4 of Lot 2701.

[vi] Blakemore, supra, note 1 at 35.

[vii] 1921 Canada Census, Yale District No. 25, Grand Forks Sub-District No. 52, pp. 1-25.

[viii] Snesarev, supra note 2.

[ix] These village units were not compact; rather the comprised 2-4 large communal homes in proximity to one another over 200-400 acres of land.

[x] The acreage acquired by the Doukhobors that was already in orchard was relatively small. It included 10 acres on the Vaughan Ranch (Grand Forks Gazette, May 24, 1902 and December 23, 1905); 30 acres on the Collins Ranch (Grand Forks Sun, 1910.07.09); 65 acres on the Newby Ranch (Nelson Daily News, March 20, 1908; Grand Forks Sun, June 2, 1911; Greenwood Ledge 1912.04.25; Grand Forks Gazette 1912.04.20); and 8 acres on the Hoffman Ranch (Grand Forks Sun, June 2, 1911). These 113 acres of orchard ranged from fifteen to twenty years old and in full bearing, to five years old and just beginning to bear by 1912.

[xi] Blakemore, supra, note 1 at 32. Indeed, by 1911 the CCUB was the largest fruit grower in the Boundary Region, and second only to the Coldstream Ranch at Vernon (with 650 acres planted) in the combined Okanagan-Boundary Region. The next-largest fruit grower in the Boundary was the Kettle Valley Irrigated Land Co. with 340 acres planted, while in Grand Forks in particular, the next largest fruit grower was W.H. Covert with 140 acres planted.

[xii] Grand Forks Gazette, May 13, 1921.

[xiii] Province of British Columbia, Department of Lands, Water Rights Branch, Water License Nos. 5393 dated January 20, 1888, renewed July 22, 1926; 5394 dated October 24, 1888, renewed July 22, 1926; 8502 dated November 9, 1926, renewed July 10, 1933; 710 dated February 2, 1914; 289 dated November 9, 1889, renewed July 22, 1926; 290 dated June 13, 1916; 5397 dated August 3, 1914, renewed July 22, 1926; 9557 dated May 8, 1914, renewed January 20, 1936; 2689 dated May 9, 1917, renewed May 10, 1926; 5391 dated August 8, 1911; 699 dated June 12, 1913; 8499 dated April 8, 1911, renewed July 10, 1933.

[xiv] In May 1911, the CCUB had the fourth-largest irrigation system in the Kettle Valley covering 100 acres: Grand Forks Sun, May 19, 1911. At the time, the three largest irrigation enterprises in the valley were that of the Covert Estate (280 acres), L.A. Campbell (220 acres), and Kerman and Kerby & Atwood (180 acres). By 1912, the Society increased its irrigated acreage to 230 acres; and by 1923, to over 758 acres.

[xv] Nelson Daily News, August 22, 1919; Vancouver Daily Sun, August 27, 1919. See also: Province of British Columbia, Grand Forks Water District, May 3039 dated February 1, 1983 re: Water License No. 58084.

[xvi] Vera Novokshonoff, Lucy Reibin & Marion Obedkoff, “Doukhobors in the Boundary” in Boundary History: Third Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 1964 and Boundary History: Fourth Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 1964; William Rozinkin, “Grand Forks Brick Plant Launched in 1909” in Nelson Daily News, May 26, 1967. See also: Grand Forks Sun, May 27, 1902, May 16, 1905, June 21, 1907.

[xvii] Grand Forks Sun, March 13, 1909, June 5, 12, 19 & 26, July 3, 1909; Grand Forks Gazette, March 18, 1909; Greenwood Ledge, June 10, 1909; Boundary Creek Times, November 5, 1909; Report about incomes and expenditures for relocation to Columbia and payment in part for lands for 1911 year and for the period from the beginning of 1912 up to August 10, 1912, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-052-006.

[xviii] Grand Forks Sun, March 13 & 20, June 5 & 19, 1909.

[xix] According to the Boundary Creek Times, November 5, 1909: all the bricks for the several new brick blocks (i.e. David Block, Bower & Pribilsky Block, Royal Bank Building, etc.) in Grand Forks are made by the colony of Doukhobors who bought the Coryell ranch and are buying the Vaughan ranch.” This is corroborated by a review of the bricks used in these buildings, carried out by Jan DeHaan, MFA – Ceramics, owner/operator of Kettle River Pottery on September 11, 2020 for the writer, which found that the colouring and quality (weathering degradation and lime popping) of the bricks in question were consistent with Doukhobor-manufactured brick from Grand Forks. Chemical isotope testing of the brick is required for absolute verification. 

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Robert Hobson, M.C.I.P. Survey Coordinator, Grand Forks District Heritage Survey, A Report to the Grand Forks District Heritage Advisory Committee (July 1986) at 94.

[xxiii] Ibid; William Blakemore, Report of the Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria: Government Printer, 1913) at 33.

[xxiv] Blakemore, ibid.

[xxv] Joe Beran, “A Bohemian Immigrant in Canada” in Boundary History: Fifteenth Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 2006 at 47-48; Boundary History: Sixteenth Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 2014) at 101.

[xxvi] Melvin Glaspell, “The Glaspells of Grand Forks” in Boundary History: Twelfth Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 1992 at 136; Grand Forks District Heritage Survey, supra, note 22.

[xxvii] Greenwood Ledge, April 12, 1917; Vancouver Sun, April 16, 1917; The Standard, April 21, 1917; Creston Review, April 24, 1917; Rozinkin, supra, note 16.

[xxviii] Grand Forks Gazette, November 25, 1927; Nelson Daily News, November 21, 1927; Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1928; Rozinkin, supra, note 16.

[xxix] By June 1909, the Doukhobor sawmill was producing lumber for the first two-storey brick communal home in Grand Forks, being Village No. 5 (Kootnekoff/Nevokshonoff Village) located on present-day Mill Road: Grand Forks Gazette, June 17, 1909. See also: Edmonton Journal, May 2, 1910; The Canada Gazette, May 12, 1910 at 179; Grand Forks Sun, July 2, 1910; Nelson Daily News, December 2, 1911; Blakemore, supra note 23 at 33.

[xxx] Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16; Florence Kalmakoff, Interview by Anne Verigin for the writer, March 25, 2021.

[xxxi] The Community sawmill was still in its original location in December 1914: The Daily Province, December 21, 1914; but had already relocated to the brickyard by May 1923: Grand Forks Gazette, May 18, 1923. Photographic evidence indicates it was relocated between 1918 and 1922: Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC130-3580.

[xxxii] In 1923-1924, the Community was awarded the tender for one or more Crown timber sales (X5285 and possibly X4773, X5440 and/or X6755) at Cedar Creek on the North Fork (Granby) River to cut several tens of thousands of lineal feet of railroad ties, poles, saw logs and cordwood over 2 years: Grand Forks Sun, February 9, July 13, August 31, 1923 and November 28, 1924. The Community established a camp near Stanwell Siding on the CPR Kettle Valley Railroad, which was used for shipping purposes. In May 1925, some 1900 ties, 21,000 lineal feet of poles, 5500 board-feet of saw logs, 2300 fence posts and other chattels belonging to the Community were seized by provincial police and sold by public auction at Stanwell Siding to satisfy fines levied against the colony for the failure to send its children to public school: Grand Forks Sun: May 1 & 8, 1925.

[xxxiii] In April 1924, the Community was awarded the tender for timber sale X5222 to cut 5,100,000 feet of saw logs and 96,000 ties over 3 years at Cedar and Marsh Creeks, west of Midway: Greenwood Ledge, February 14 to April 23, June 5 & 19, 1924; Journals, Legislative Assembly of BC 1924, Volume LIV, and December 9, 1924. The Community established a logging camp and sawmill at McArthur Siding on the GNR VV&E Railway, which was used for shipping purposes: Greenwood Ledge, May 15, October 10, December 4, 1924, February 19, 1925, April 8, 1926, November 17, 1927; Grand Forks Sun, May 16, 1924, April 16, 1926; Nelson Daily News, February 22, 1927.  

[xxxiv] The expanded sawmill was relocated from Myers Creek to Fourth of July Creek near Grand Forks in November 1927: Nelson Daily News, February 22, 1927; Greenwood Ledge, November 17, 1927; Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1928; Snesarev, supra, note 2.

[xxxv] Nelson Daily News, November 21, 1927; Snesarev, supra, note 2; Nick D. Arishenkoff and Cecil W. Koochin, “Life in the Doukhobor Commune” in MIR Vol. 2, No. 3-6, September 1974.

[xxxvi] Grand Forks Gazette, October 9, 1931.

[xxxvii] Nelson Daily News, July 31, 1934; Grand Forks Gazette, August 2, 1934.

[xxxviii] Grand Forks Gazette, October 19, 1939.

[xxxix] Edmonton Journal, May 2, 1910; Nelson Daily News, December 2, 1911; Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16.

[xl] Cranbrook Herald, November 12, 1925 to January 28, 1926; Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Fruit Store in Cranbrook, BC, 1925-1926” in the Cranbrook Townsmen, February 17, 2022.

[xli] Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16; Snesarev, supra, note 2; Sheila Gardezi, “The Essential Mill” in Route 3, Fall 2010 at 23.

[xlii] Grand Forks Gazette, May 14, 1964.

[xliii] Steve Lapshinoff, Depredations in Western Canada Attributed to the Sons of Freedom, 1923 to 1993 (Krestova: self-published, 1994) at 6; Gardezi, supra, note 41 at 23.

[xliv] Grand Forks Gazette, May 30, 1946.

[xlv] Grand Forks Gazette, May 14, 1964; Gardezi, supra, note 41 at 23.

[xlvi] W. Blakemore, Photographs, Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912, British Columbia Archives, Item No. GR-0793.5, Accession No. 197904-015; Mike Sookochoff, Grand Forks, interview by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, April 25, 2020.

[xlvii] T.R. Powers, Grand Forks: Royal Commission on Doukhobors (1912), Proceedings, Volume 1; BC Archives GR-0793.2.1.

[xlviii] Nelson Daily News, August 20, 1935; Vancouver Daily World, September 1, 1921; Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16.

[xlix] Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1928.

[l] Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16.

[li] Grand Forks Gazette, Sept 27, 1918.

[lii] Grand Forks Gazette, August 17, 1912.

[liii] The cannery erected in 1924 was a large-scale commercial plant intended primarily for tomatoes but which could also be used for other vegetables as well as fruit: Nelson Daily News, March 13, 1924; Snesarev, supra, note 2; Gardezi, supra, note 41 at 23. Interestingly, in April 1925, 1110 lbs. of canned fruit (10 lb. tins) and 10 cases of tomatoes (24 oz. tins) were confiscated from the new cannery by provincial police to satisfy fines levied against the colony for the failure to send its children to public school: Grand Forks Gazette, April 17, 1925.

[liv] The tomato cannery is believed to have been destroyed by arson in March 1936: Lapshinoff, supra, note 43; however, it is possible the building (by then inoperative) was destroyed by incendiarism in May 1946: Grand Forks Gazette, May 30, 1946.

[lv] As early as 1915, the Community installed an evaporator at its Brilliant jam factory: Nelson Daily News, February 21, 1913, December 2, 1914 and March 6, 1919. Once dehydrated, fruit was preserved without spoilage at 1/10 its original weight; when required, dried fruit was soaked in water and returned to practically its original state with all colour and nutrients retained. The evaporator erected at Grand Forks in 1924 served the same end: Snesarev, supra, note 2; Gardezi, supra, note 41 at 23.

[lvi] In April 1925, 1180 lbs. of dried fruit (equivalent to 11,800 lbs. of fresh fruit) were confiscated from the new evaporator by police to satisfy fines levied against the colony for failing to send its children to public school: Grand Forks Gazette, April 17, 1925

[lvii] The fruit evaporator is believed to have been destroyed by arson in March 1936: Lapshinoff, supra, note 43; however, it is possible the building (by then inoperative) was destroyed by incendiarism in May 1946: Grand Forks Gazette, May 30, 1946.

[lviii] Nelson Daily News, January 8, 1912; “Report of Consular Agent, W.S. Riblet, Nelson, BC.” in Daily Consular and Trade Reports, No. 76, March 30, 1912 at 1289; Blakemore, supra, note 1; Grand Forks Gazette, April 13, 1923, February 8 & 15, 1924, March 21, 1924; Vancouver Daily World, February 21, 1924; Nanaimo Daily News, March 19, 1924; Grand Forks Gazette, November 25, 1927, March 30, 1928.

[lix] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935. The bricks forming the factory building veneer were self-manufactured at the adjacent Community brickworks.

[lx] Grand Forks Gazette, November 25, 1927.

[lxi] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935.

[lxii] Alex Padmoroff, Grand Forks, interview by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, March 17, 2020.

[lxiii] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935.

[lxiv] Grand Forks Gazette, August 15, 1935.

[lxv] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935.

[lxvi] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935; Nelson Daily News, August 20, 1935.

[lxvii] Ibid.

[lxviii] Sheila Gardezi, “From Toil to Peaceful Life” in Route 3 (Spring 2010) at 15-17.

[lxix] Plan of Great Northern Railway, Grand Forks, B.C., Weston Yard, c. 1918 (Boundary Museum & Archives Society); Letter dated April 24, 1919 from Nicholas J. Chernenkoff, CCUB to B.E. Paterson, Chairman, Committee of Enquiry & Research, Soldier Settlement Board in James Mavor Doukhobor Collection, Simon Fraser University.

[lxx] Grand Forks Gazette, August 17, 1912, February 15, 1913; Grand Forks Sun, September 6, 1912.

[lxxi] Grand Forks Gazette, July 18, 1940; Elizabeth Faminoff, “Polonicoff’s Store – A Personalized Reflection of the Past” in ISKRA, April 26, 2000 and in Boundary History, 17th Report of the Boundary Historical Society at 115.

[lxxii] Padmoroff, supra, note 62.

[lxxiii] Ibid; Anne Verigin, Grand Forks, interview by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, March 19, 2023.

[lxxiv] Sheila Gardezi, “From Toil to Peaceful Life” in Route 3 (Spring 2010) at 15-17.

[lxxv] The Victoria Daily Times, July 14, 1936.

[lxxvi] K.J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava (Mir Publication Society: Grand Forks, 1982) at 153-154; S. Jamieson, “Economic and Social Life” in H.B. Hawthorn (Ed.), The Doukhobors of British Columbia (University of British Columbia, 1955) at 52-56.

[lxxvii] Ibid; Winnipeg Tribune, June 30, 1937 at 39; Medicine Hat News, June 29, 1939; National Trust Company v. The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. (SCC) [1941] SCR 601, [1941] 3 DLR 529; 23 CBR 1; Medicine Hat News, June 29, 1939.

The Largest Grain Elevator in Saskatchewan: The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. at Kylemore

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

On Highway 5 east of Wadena lies the tiny hamlet of Kylemore, SK. Few today would guess it was once home to a thriving agricultural colony of Doukhobor pacifists. Fewer still would guess that they once built and operated the largest grain elevator in the province there. The following is a brief account of its unique history.


In 1918, the Doukhobor organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Ltd. (CCUB), under the stimulus of rising grain prices, sought out suitable farmland for a new colony in a district where land values were cheaper than at Veregin, SK.[1]

To this end, it purchased an 11,362-acre block of wooded, undeveloped land along the Canadian Northern Railway at Kylemore, SK.[2]  Some 250 Doukhobor men, women and children from the Veregin district and BC Kootenays were settled on the tract, which they named Bozhiye Blagosloveniye in Russian, meaning ‘God’s Blessing’.[3]

Working communally, the Doukhobors began clearing the dense trees and scrub, constructing villages, and cultivating the land into crop. The logs were sawn into cordwood and shipped by railcar back to Veregin, where they were used to fire the boilers of the large CCUB brick factory and roller flour mill plant there.

As it was cleared, the virgin soil at Kylemore proved remarkably rich and fertile – so much so, that in 1919, the Doukhobors harvested 13,610 bushels of wheat, 9,150 bushels of barley and 33,600 bushels of oats from little more than 1,000 acres of breaking – an average yield of almost 60 bushels per acre.[4]

The large 1919 harvest was sold through the sole elevator at Kylemore operated by the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Co. However, as the Doukhobors desired self-sufficiency and wished to avoid the grain handling and marketing costs charged by private grain companies, they initiated plans to build an elevator of their own.[5]    

The Doukhobors were no strangers to elevator-building, having already built and operated 9 grain elevators of their own at Veregin, Arran, Canora and Ebenezer, SK, Cowley and Lundbreck, AB and Brilliant, BC, with a cumulative storage capacity of 440,000 bushels, over the previous decade.[6] They also built for hire numerous elevators for private grain companies.

Doukhobor communal work crew constructing the CCUB elevator at Kylemore, 1919. Photo courtesy Peter and Agnes Malekoff.

The Elevator

In late 1919, a crew of some 25 Doukhobor workmen, under the supervision of CCUB elevator builder Wasyl A. Shishkin of Canora, began erecting the new elevator on the south side of the Canadian Northern Railway right-of-way. Construction continued until freeze-up, then recommenced the following spring of 1920, with the elevator completed and operational in time for the harvest.

Besides using unpaid communal labour, the Doukhobors manufactured most of their own building materials. In this regard, some 750,000 board-feet of 2 by 8 inch fir lumber milled at the CCUB sawmills in the Kootenays was shipped to Kylemore on 10-15 railcars and used in the construction. The total cost of the elevator was approximately $13,500.00.[7] Their main external cost was the mechanical leg, scales, heads and other specialty manufactured equipment.

The resulting elevator was a ‘standard plan’ tall elevator of wood-crib construction (boards laid horizontally and nailed together) with a tin-clad exterior. It stood approximately 70 by 35 feet wide and 70 feet high on a concrete foundation with a pyramidal roof and dormered gable cupola. Its unloading spouts were attached to the sidewall on the north side facing the rail line. A driveway and receiving shed, along with a semi-detached office and engine shed with a stationary gasoline engine was constructed on the south side. Emblazoned on its east and west sides were the words, “The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd.”

It had a licensed storage capacity of 100,000 bushels with 20,000 bushels of auxiliary capacity, making it the largest free-standing wood-crib elevator in Saskatchewan at the time.[8] This was impressive, given the average storage capacity of the 2,184 elevators operating in the province in 1920 was only 30,000 bushels.[9] It was also built with a double leg, which meant that it had two weigh scales so that two grain wagons could unload at the same time. It also meant it could load two rail cars at the same time.

The CCUB elevator at Kylemore, c. 1930. Photo courtesy The Wadena News.


Under the rules of the colony, all grain grown by members was required to be delivered to the CCUB elevator, and members were not permitted to deliver grain to anyone but CCUB grain agents.[10]

Initially, no member had an individual right to the grain they grew, nor was paid for its delivery, for no member was allowed individual holdings.[11] Rather, the grain belonged to the central organization, which marketed and shipped the grain and retained all proceeds. In return for their labour, the CCUB supplied its members with food, shelter, clothing and supplies, along with land, farm implements and machinery and livestock for their use.[12] Members held an equitable undivided interest in the corporation.  

This moneyless system continued until 1928, when the CCUB was reorganized on a cash basis.[13] Thereafter, the CCUB elevator continued to maintain a buying monopoly over all grain grown in the colony, but now purchased the grain delivered by its members, which they grew on land rented from the CCUB using their own implements and machinery.

The CCUB elevator also purchased grain from outside farmers, which at Kylemore were primarily English, Scandinavian and Ukrainian settlers. The CCUB charged them substantially less elevating and marketing fees than its competing grain buyer, the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Co., thereby increasing their farm profits.[14] The storage capacity available for outside farmers, however, was dependent upon the volume of grain grown by the Doukhobors themselves, which over time, increased with additional land clearing.    

Cross-section of a grain elevator. UGG News, August 1974, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Courtesy Glenn Dickson).

When grain was received at the elevator from colony members or outside farmers, the intake process was the same. Each loaded wagon was driven into the receiving shed where it was unhitched from its team, weighed on the scale, then lifted using hand-operated crank hoists to dump the grain into the receiving pit below. Once empty, the wagon was lowered and reweighed. The difference between weights determined the volume of grain received. The grain was then carried from the pit up to the ‘head’ of the elevator (housed in the cupola at the top) by the ‘leg’, a continuous belt with carrying cups. From the head, the grain was distributed, via the ‘gerber’ distribution spout and gravity chutes, into one of several bins designated according to grain type and grade. This process could be carried out in tandem with the double leg and head. 

From 1920 through 1933, the CCUB elevator was annually licensed and inspected as a ‘country elevator’ through the Winnipeg Grain Commission.[15] This was required under The Canada Grain Act in order to receive, purchase, store, ship or sell grain for commerce. After 1933, it was licensed as a ‘private elevator’ and had ceased buying grain from outside farmers, as the Doukhobors were using its full capacity for themselves.[16]

Grain was stored in the elevator bins until it was ready to be shipped, which might be weeks or months. At such time, it was dumped from a bin into the hopper scale, where it was weighed. It was then dumped into the pit, from which it was carried up by the ‘leg’ to the ‘head’ in the cupola. From the head, the grain was then dumped, via the ‘gerber’, into the gravity-fed loading spout, through which it exited the elevator and unloaded into a boxcar ‘spotted’ (parked) on the rail siding north adjacent the elevator. Again, this process could be carried out in tandem, via the double leg and head.

All grain shipments and sales from the Kylemore elevator were centrally managed through the CCUB head office in Veregin, which instructed the local elevator manager via telephone and telegraph dispatch.

When instructed, the CCUB elevator manager shipped a requisite number of railcars of wheat (for flour milling) and oats (for livestock feed) to the CCUB colony at Brilliant, whose mountain valley land was almost exclusively dedicated to fruit-growing and not grain-growing. In exchange, the Kylemore colony received fresh fruit, the famous ‘KC Brand’ Doukhobor jam and lumber produced in the Kootenays. The balance of grain was shipped and sold to domestic and foreign markets through the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and the Fort William and Port Arthur Grain Exchange.

CCUB structures adjacent to CNR at Kylemore, SK, c. 1922. (L-R) grain elevator, community warehouse, and two large communal homes. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

The elevator was managed by the CCUB Kylemore Branch Manager, which was Peter S. Chernoff in 1920, John J. Planidin in 1924, Dmitry I. Malakoff in 1925, and Nikolai I. Cazakoff from 1926-1928. They were assisted by various colony members who handled the grain at the elevator.

Interestingly, in 1927, incoming CCUB President Peter P. Verigin announced plans to install an electrical generating plant to power the Kylemore elevator and replace the existing stationary gasoline engine.[17] At the same time, he expressed the possibility of the elevator joining the wheat pool elevator and marketing co-operative movement.[18] However, neither would come to pass.

Sale of Elevator

By 1931, the colony numbered 400 members and had an aggregate assessed value of $454,834.00 in land, buildings, livestock and implements. [19] The CCUB elevator was valued at $25,000.00. [20]

Yet despite the colony’s wealth, the central organization itself was ailing financially. When the Great Depression struck in the Thirties, the financial situation of the CCUB deteriorated rapidly because all of the communal property was pledged under a blanket mortgage (taken for debts acrued off-colony) and no further loans could be negotiated due to lack of collateral.[21] With no credit, and with membership and cash income falling rapidly, company officials looked to selling off corporate assets to raise the capital necessary to service its massive debt.

To this end, the CCUB elevator at Kylemore was sold in April 1936 to the Winnipeg, MB-based Pioneer Grain Company Ltd.[22] The sale proved to be too little, too late. By July of that year, the CCUB could not service its debts and declared bankruptcy. In 1937-1938 the company was placed under receivership by its creditors who, the following year in 1939, foreclosed upon the CCUB lands at Kylemore, leading to the break-up of the colony. Thereafter the CCUB ceased to exist as a corporate entity.[23]

Another view of the CCUB elevator at Kylemore, c. 1930. Photo: British Columbia Archives, Item No. C-01709.

Pioneer Grain Co. Ltd.

The Pioneer Grain Company Limited took over the Doukhobor-built elevator and continued to serve Kylemore district farmers, including former colony members, for the next fifty-four years.

No major structural modifications were made to the elevator during Pioneer’s tenure. However, in the 1950s, much of the original equipment was upgraded: the original gasoline engine was replaced with electrical equipment; the truck-dumping mechanism was improved; larger scales and larger and longer movable loading spouts to facilitate the loading of freight cars were installed; wooden legs were replaced with metal ones; and driveways extended to accommodate larger trucks.

In terms of storage capacity, Pioneer licensed the elevator at 100,000 bushels’ capacity from 1936 to 1949; 110,000 bushels from 1949 to 1960; 96,000 bushels from 1960 to 1978; and 2,690 tons from 1978 to 1990.[24] The company never constructed annexes to increase the storage capacity.   

By 1990, the 70-year-old elevator was wearing out and in need of costly repairs. At the same time, farming practices had changed and many small farms were replaced by a few large ones, which incented the grain company to have fewer, more centralized grain storage facilities. This was supported by the railway company, which no longer wished to stop every 7-10 miles to spot rail cars.

Consequently, Pioneer closed its Kylemore elevator in the spring of 1990 while adding additional storage capacity to its elevator in Wadena, a larger commercial centre 6.5 miles to the west. After its closure, the elevator stood empty for several years and was then demolished.


Today, all that remains of the elevator are its concrete foundations, one of the few reminders of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood at Kylemore, and of the pioneering efforts of the Doukhobors in the field of grain growing and storage. More enduring still is their example of what can be accomplished when people work together for community.      

Loading grain cars at the Doukhobor-built Pioneer Grain Company Ltd. elevator in Kylemore, c. 1985. Photo courtesy Wayne CF.
The Pioneer Grain Company Ltd. elevator at Kylemore, shortly before its demolition, c. 1991. Photo courtesy Wayne CF.


This article originally appeared in the following journals and periodicals:

  • ISKRA (Grand Forks, Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ) No. 2186 (May 2023);
  • Foam Lake Review, November 6, 2023.

End Notes

[1] C.A. Dawson, Group Settlement: Ethnic Communities in Western Canada (Toronto: MacMillan, 1936) at 40. The undeveloped Kylemore land was purchased at $25.00 an acre: Regina Leader Post, June 3, 1918; whereas developed land in Veregin was valued at $100.00 an acre: see for example Certificate of Title No. QR20 dated July 24, 1917 issued to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited re: Section 1-30-1-W2.

[2] For a comprehensive history of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood at Kylemore, see: J. Kalmakoff, “The Kylemore Doukhobor Colony” in Saskatchewan History, Spring/Summer 2011, Vol. 63, No. 1.

[3] Record of harvest at Kylemore, 1919, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. M-.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The desire for self-sufficiency and avoidance of elevating and marketing fees charged by private grain companies was a main motivator in the Doukhobors erecting their own grain elevators: W. Blakemore, Report of Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria BC: King’s Printer, 1913) at 57-58.

[6] See for example: J. Kalmakoff, “History of Doukhobor Elevators in the Veregin District” in Canora Courier, August 31, 2022, September 7, 2022, September 22, 2022; J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Grain Elevator at Brilliant, BC” in West Kootenay Advertiser, November 4, 2020; J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora” in Canora Courier, February 25, 2018, March 7, 2018, March 14, 2018, March 21, 2018, March 28, 2018; J. Kalmakoff, “Doukhobor Elevator Building: The Alberta Farmers’ Cooperative Grain Elevator at Sedgewick AB” in Flagstaff Community Press, March 19, 2022.

[7] Based on the 1920 BC Interior lumber price of $25.00/1000 board feet: G.H. Hak, On the Fringes: Capital and Labour in the Forest Economies of the Port Alberni and Prince George Districts, British Columbia, 1910-1939 (Ph.D. Thesis) (Simon Fraser University, 1986) at 27-30.

[8] Canada Department of Trade and Commerce, List of Licensed Elevators and Warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division, License Year 1920-1921. (Ottawa: Department of Trade and Commerce, 1921) at 72. Note: in 1920, Quaker Oats Company in Saskatoon and Robin Hood Mills Ltd. were licensed at 380,000 and 385,000 bushels respectively; however, these structures were concrete inland terminals and not wood-crib elevators. Also, the Alberta Pacific Grain Co. Ltd. in Gravelbourg, R.B. McClean Grain Co. Ltd. in Harris and Conger & Co. Ltd. in Roleau were licensed at 120,000, 110,000 and 100,00 bushels respectively; however these were not single free-standing structures; the licensed bushels included both wood-crib elevators and adjacent annex structures.   

[9] Ibid.

[10] Saskatoon Star Phoenix, December 5, 1923; Regina Leader Post, December 7, 1923; Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer, June 2, 1926.

[11] CCUB grain ownership was put to legal test in 1923, when brothers Alex, Wasyl and Simeon A. Horkoff, CCUB members at Veregin, SK, sold the grain grown on the farm upon which they resided and kept the money themselves in place of turning it into the central treasury. The CCUB charged them with theft of property. At preliminary hearing, the magistrate dismissed the charges, holding it was a civil not criminal matter. The Horkoffs filed a civil suit in the Court of King’s Bench, claiming the land on which the grain was grown was rightfully theirs, the CCUB having secured title to it by means of fraud. The matter was settled out of court. See: Saskatoon Star Phoenix, December 5 and 7, 1923, January 5, May 12, 1924; Saskatoon Daily Star, December 17, 1923, January 5 and 22, May 12 & 16, 1924; Regina Leader Post, December 6 and 7, 2023, May 14, 15 & 16, 1924.

[12] Dawson, supra, note 1; Snesarev, Vladimir N. (Harry W. Trevor), The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia Publication, Department of Agriculture, 1931).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Blakemore, supra, note 5.

[15] List of Licensed Elevators, supra, note 8, License Years, 1920-1936.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Regina Leader Post, December 30, 1927.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Snesarev, supra, note 11, List of Property Owned by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Limited as at January 1, 1931 – District of Kylemore, Saskatchewan.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Kalmakoff, supra, note 2.

[22] “More Rumours of Doukhobor Migrations from Saskatchewan Heard at Yorkton” in Saskatoon Star Phoenix, April 24, 1936.

[23] K.J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava (Mir Publication Society: Grand Forks, 1982) at 153-154; S. Jamieson, “Economic and Social Life” in H.B. Hawthorn (Ed.), The Doukhobors of British Columbia (University of British Columbia, 1955) at 52-56.

[24] List of Licensed Elevators, supra, note 8, License Years, 1936-1953; Grain Elevators in Canada. Winnipeg: Board of Grain Commissioners for Canada, 1954-1990.

“The Best Railway Builders in this Country”: Doukhobors in Western Canada

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The construction of transcontinental railways across Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries required an enormous labour force, most of whom were immigrants. Between 1899 and 1912, thousands of Doukhobor labourers were hired by railway companies to build many hundreds of miles of track through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and into Alberta. While much scholarly attention has been paid to the significant contribution made by other immigrant groups, particularly Chinese workers in the late 19th century, little is known about the Doukhobors’ contribution to railway construction in Western Canada.[1] This article is an opportunity to examine Doukhobor railway building, its importance as an early source of communal income, and its overall contribution to the settlement and development of the Prairie region.   


The Doukhobors were a religious movement founded in 18th century Russia. They rejected the rites and dogma of the Orthodox Church and denied the authority of the Tsarist State, refusing to acknowledge any law but God’s.[2] Their pacifist, egalitarian and anti-authoritarian teachings were based on the belief that the spirit of God resides in the soul of every person.[3] They were frequently persecuted for their faith and exiled to the frontiers of the Empire.[4] Following widespread arrests and exiles in 1895 for their refusal to serve in the Russian Imperial Army,[5] many sought refuge by immigrating en masse to Canada. 

In 1899, some 7,500 Doukhobors[6] arrived in the Saskatchewan and Assiniboine districts of the North-West Territories (after 1905, Saskatchewan), settling on 702,720 acres of homestead land reserved for them along the Whitesand, Assiniboine and Swan River watersheds and elsewhere where they established over seventy Old World villages.[7] At the time, the area was sparsely settled and mostly prairie parkland wilderness, save for a handful of isolated ranches and homesteads.[8] It was unsurveyed and there were no roads except for deeply-rutted wagon trails. The closest railways were 30 to 80 miles away.   

Upon arriving at their new home, the Doukhobors established a communal way of life, organized as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (the ‘Community’).[9] All livestock, equipment and tools were held in common, all land was cleared and cultivated together, and all grain and agricultural products distributed equally amongst the settlers. Working collectively, they were able to achieve substantially more, over a much shorter time, than they could have as solitary homesteaders.

Doukhobors Building Railway Grade, circa 1904. Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection, MSC121-DP-050-01.

Railroad Labourers

In the early years of settlement, most of the men left their families and villages each spring, walking up to several hundred miles into Manitoba to find work ‘na doroge’ (‘on the railroad’) to earn much-needed income for their villages.[10] Being agriculturalists, it was not their preferred form of labour;[11] however, it was vitally necessary as they were destitute.  With villages bereft of men during the growing season (particularly during the 1899-1902 period), it fell upon the women and elderly to clear and plow the fields and erect village structures; tasks traditionally done by the men.[12] The men were hired as navvies (railroad labourers) by contractors building the railways extending across the Prairies.    

The Doukhobors were no strangers to this type of work. In Russia, hundreds laboured on the construction of the Transcaucasus Railway, including the Borjomi–Bakuriani line where they loaded gravel for track ballast and built grade through heavy timber in 1897,[13] and the Kars-Aleksandropol line where they built grade through hilly terrain in 1897-1898.[14] The work was characterized by extremely long working days, very low wages and many casualties due to lack of safety measures.[15] They would now bring that experience to bear in the opening of the Canadian West.

The main job of navvies[16] on the Prairies was to clear and remove trees, foliage and rocks and drain swamps along the surveyed right-of-way, and to make cuttings through hills and slopes and fills over hollows and lowlands, using tons of excavated earth to build a raised embankment. They also hauled tons of ballast, ties and steel rails to lay down tracks over the grade for the trains. This was done manually, using picks, shovels, sledgehammers, wheelbarrows, scrapers, wagons and horses. Labouring from sunrise to sunset through the summer heat and humidity, amid swarms of blackflies and mosquitoes, away from their homes in isolated, lice-ridden camps with few amenities, it was lonely, extremely difficult work requiring both physical and emotional stamina. It was also very dangerous work.[17]      

During the summer of 1899, 350 Doukhobor men were hired to build the Winnipeg Great Northern Railway Cowan-Swan River line while 150 worked on the Manitoba and Northwestern Railway Hamiota-Miniota line and another 116 on the Manitoba and Southeastern Railway Marchand-Sprague line.[18] Some villages even sent women to the grade that year.[19] They were supplied tools and equipment and received board in the construction camps, although special arrangements had to be made to feed them as they were vegetarians. They worked wherever ordered by the railway engineers, which were often the heaviest, most difficult sections, while English Canadian workers were often assigned the easiest stretches.[20] At the same time, they were paid a dollar a day while English Canadians received up to four dollars a day for the same work.[21] These discrepancies, exacerbated by prejudice against foreigners,[22] language barriers and misunderstandings, initially led to labour disputes and work stoppages; however, once the Doukhobors were treated fairly, the railways found them to be “excellent workers”.[23] Upon returning to their villages that fall, they pooled their earnings to buy much-needed provisions – draft horses, wagons, plows, harness, clothing and especially flour.[24]       

The Doukhobor men on the railway grade from 1899 on challenged prevailing white Anglo assumptions concerning masculinity in several respects: that men should not consider their wives as equals; that they should not depend on their wives to carry out field work at home while they pursued lucrative employment elsewhere;[25] that men should not bring women into construction camps, an exclusively male domain, as domestics much less labourers; that they could not be vegetarians and expect to carry out the physically demanding work of navvies; that men should labour independently rather than cooperatively; and that they should not hand over their hard-earned wages to others to run their affairs.       

Over the next several years, hundreds of Doukhobors were hired to clear right-of-ways, build grade and lay track on the Canadian Northern Railway Swan River-Erwood line in 1900,[26] Carmen-Gladstone line in 1901,[27] Gladstone-Grandview line in 1902,[28] Regina-Stoughton line in 1903,[29] Erwood-Melfort line in 1904[30] and Saskatoon-Langham line in 1905; the Manitoba and Southeastern Railway Sprague-Rainy River line in 1900;[31] the Ontario and Rainy River Railway Baudette-Rainy River bridge in 1901;[32] and the Canadian Pacific Railway Pipestone-Antler line in 1900-1901[33] and Yorkton-Sheho line in 1903-1904[34]. Several hundred even worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad Coast Line in California in 1900.[35] Over a thousand laboured each year on the Canadian Northern Railway line from Gladstone to Kamsack in 1903,[36] from Kamsack to Canora in 1904,[37] and from Canora to Humboldt in 1905[38] as it passed their settlements.

As steel was laid along these lines, railway engineers surveyed townsites and built stations and sidings every 6-10 miles, around which scores of new communities formed. One of the many was Canora, named after the CAnadian NOrthern RAilway, in August 1904.[39] Situated between Doukhobor homestead reserves to the east and west, the hamlet expanded to become a shipping point and trading centre for the flood of settlers of various nationalities who arrived homesteaded within the area served by the line, being a 10 to 12 mile radius. Four years later, in October 1908, it was declared a village.[40] Canora would also figure prominently in later Doukhobor railway building.   

Doukhobors making a cut on the Canadian Northern Railway grade, Koozma J. Tarasoff Doukhobor History Photo Collection.

While many Doukhobors initially faced discrimination and mistreatment at the construction camps, they persisted and soon earned a solid reputation as railroad labourers. As early as 1902, Neil Keith, a well-known contractor in charge of Canadian Northern Railway construction, proclaimed them “excellent” workers – “reliable and industrious”, “well adapted to meet the exigencies of the work”, whose “economy and thrift were noteworthy”.[41] Their kindness towards their work horses was also noted. Four years later, J.J. Kenny, Director of the Winnipeg-based McDonald–McMillan Company, declared them “the most desirable laborers” for railway construction.[42] Such recognition challenged the dominant white Anglo view of foreign workers, particularly Slavs, as lazy, slow, irresponsible and careless on the job.[43]

By 1902, the Doukhobor navvies organized themselves in order to secure better pay and conditions. They refused as a body to work on railway projects unless they were allowed to furnish their own tools, board themselves and work by the piece (by the cubic yard rather than day) having learned from experience that when their supplies were provided by the contractors at exorbitant premiums, along with their board bill, doctor’s bill, etc., there was little left coming to them.[44] As Doukhobor Aleksei N. Jmieff recounted, “There was work on the railroad, a dollar twenty-five a day and your own food, ten hour days. Worked on the ‘extra gang’ at a dollar seventy-five, but with their food, so seventy-five cents went for food and you were paid one dollar.”[45] 

As well, Doukhobors were soon able to demand higher rates for rail construction than were offered, aided by the leader of the Community, Peter V. Verigin, widely regarded by many English-Canadians as “one of the shrewdest businessmen in the mighty west” and “a veritable captain of industry”.[46] According to one anecdote,[47] when a Winnipeg contractor offered him 25.5 cents a cubic yard for grading in late 1902, Verigin insisted on 27.5 cents. The contractor told him that was the price the railway paid him, so he couldn’t make a profit. “No company will profit by our work,” Verigin replied. “I have known all along that you were getting 27.5 cents from the railway. Now you can take it or leave it.” Good workers were hard to find. The contractor took it.

By 1903 to 1905, half the able-bodied Doukhobor males living north of Yorkton – over a thousand men – were working on railway building each summer,[48] while the remainder farmed at their villages. The money they received from this work was substantial. In 1903, they earned $100.00 per man and $111,679.00 in total from railroad construction;[49] a comparable sum in 1904;[50] and $114,136.60 in 1905.[51] Their earnings were carefully hoarded and brought back to their villages each fall, where they were deposited into a common treasury for the benefit of all Community members.[52] 

The pooling of outside earnings from railway construction not only lifted the Community out of poverty, but within several years, enabled it to become self-sufficient and even prosperous. By 1903, it accounted for 66.9% of Community income and covered 52.4% of its expenditures, and by 1905, it accounted for 60.1% of total income and covered all of its expenditures.[53] The Community was thus able to improve existing village dwellings and build new structures, expand its landholdings, draft horse herd and farm machinery, and to develop new enterprises including flour mills, linseed oil presses, sawmills, tanning mills, lime kilns, blacksmiths, grain elevators, brickyards, concrete block plants, trading stores and warehouses.   

By 1906, Doukhobors dominated the railway labour market in Western Canada, with each railway vying to secure them for its operations. Indeed, that July, the Canadian Pacific Railway complained of labour shortages and wage inflation largely due to the Canadian Northern Railway and Grand Trunk Pacific “having pretty well cleaned up” the Doukhobor labour supply, and expressed concern that it would have to suspend its prairie construction work by harvest.[54] The latter companies had over 1,600 Doukhobors working at the time.[55]

Undoubtedly, the strong social cohesion, cultural homogeneity and religious devotion within the Community, together with its centralized communal structure, exceptional leadership and adroit business management allowed the Doukhobors to excel at railway construction to a greater degree than other immigrant groups working as disparate collections of individuals.

Railway Subcontractor

After six years, the experience it gained from railway construction enabled the Doukhobor Community to assume the role of a subcontractor – one degree removed from the railway company – on large projects. Few if any other immigrant groups had achieved this level of autonomy while labouring on Canadian railways.[56] As a subcontractor, the Community could manage its own work, choose the sections of line it worked on and retain greater earnings than it could by hiring out men individually; however, it also assumed a greater degree of risk and responsibility for the work. Undaunted, the Community bid on difficult jobs that other railway builders would not accept or take hold of at any price.[57]

Doukhobor Track-Laying Crew, circa 1904. Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection,  MSC121-DP-046-01.

The first subcontract the Community received was in September 1905 from the McDonald-McMillan Company,[58] with company president Malcolm McMillan announcing that “the Doukhobors had done most excellent work in the past in the matter of railway construction and that he anticipated that in the future their leaders might develop into construction men of exceptional ability. There was no doubt of their ability to carry out the contract.”[59] The work entailed moving a million cubic feet of earth to complete 17 miles of grade on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway St. Lazare-Spy Hill line through the Assiniboine and Qu’Appelle River valleys, over some of the roughest, most demanding terrain on the line, for which the Community would receive $200,000.00; twice the annual revenue received over the past three years.[60]

In March of the following spring, the Community mobilized a thousand men at St. Lazare, together with 300 teams of heavy working horses, large quantities of equipment purchased for the work, as well as food and clothing supplies.[61] They set up several camps along the line, each with a cookhouse, store, stable and blacksmith, accompanied by a group of women who washed and mended the workmen’s clothes and milked the cows.[62] The orderliness and cleanliness of the encampments was remarked upon by the press and government officials, as was the splendid condition of the horses, with The Winnipeg Tribune noting, “it is easy to see how well they are thought of by their owners.”[63]  

The Doukhobors carried out the grade work under the supervision of Community managers Vasily A. Potapoff and Nikolai S. Zeboroff.[64] Their workmanship was lauded by the press, with The Winnipeg Free Press writing, “to say that these uneducated Russians are good road-builders is putting it mild – they are simply experts. Large cuts and big grades are all built with the same accuracy, and are as level and straight as the sight. There is no carelessness or recklessness among these men, none whatsoever.”[65]At harvest, 500 of the men returned to their villages while the remainder completed the subcontract in October 1906.[66] The subcontract cemented the Doukhobors’ reputation, with Malcolm McMillan of the McDonald-McMillan Company proclaiming them “the best railway builders in this country”.[67]

This success did not go unnoticed by Grand Trunk Pacific Railway officials. While touring the new line in August 1906, company vice-president Frank W. Morse was struck by the efficiency of the Doukhobor workmen, declaring, “The service rendered by them is in every way satisfactory, and I only wish we had more Doukhobors available.”[68] By October, Morse and company president Charles Melville Hays relayed requests through the Russian Consul in Montreal, Nikolai Struve, to Peter V. Verigin to bring 10,000 more Doukhobors from Russia to help complete their transcontinental line over the next two years.[69] The importation of foreign labour for railway construction was controversial but not new; the Canadian Pacific Railway imported 17,000 Chinese workers to complete its British Columbia section in 1880-1885.[70] Verigin travelled to Russia from October 1906 to February 1907, ostensibly to make the necessary arrangements; however, the deal purportedly fell through when Tsarist authorities refused to cooperate and the railway declined to sign a contract on the terms Verigin proposed.[71]  

Doukhobor ‘extra’ gang completing CNoR line between Arran and Pelly SK, 1909. Linda Arishenkoff private collection.

Over the next three years, the Community continued to secure small subcontracts using up to several hundred men, notably on the Canadian Pacific Railway Sheho-Lanigan line in 1907-1908,[72] the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Melville-Saskatoon line in 1907-1908[73] and Yonker-Butz line in 1909,[74] and the Canadian Northern Railway Melfort-Prince Albert line in 1906,[75] Swan River-Benito line in 1908, Benito-Pelly line in 1909,[76] Rossburn-Russell line in 1907-1908[77] and Russell-Canora line in 1909. Smaller groups worked on projects as distant as the Canadian Pacific Railway Buda Tunnel in Northern Ontario in 1907[78] and the Great Northern Railway Cloverdale-Huntington line in British Columbia in 1908.[79] The majority of the men, however, remained at their villages, devoting their efforts to improving their farmland.[80]

Subcontracts were signed by Peter V. Verigin on behalf of the Community, since the Community, being unincorporated at the time, did not have the capacity to enter into contracts on its own. Consequently, all subcontract payments were made directly to Verigin. From the Community perspective, this obviated the need to collect wages from individual workmen, as well as the risk that all or some of those wages might be arbitrarily withheld or errantly misspent. Payments received on subcontracts were deposited by Verigin in the Community central office at Veregin and used for various expenditures.        

Evidently, the Community was also paid in land and lots along the railway route.[81] Between 1906 and 1909, it acquired a section of land at Insinger, another section at Sheho and four lots in the Point Douglas industrial neighborhood of Winnipeg from the Canadian Pacific Railway for subcontract work.[82] In the same period, it received 11 lots in the town of Transcona from the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.[83] The properties were held in the name of Peter V. Verigin in trust for the Community until its federal incorporation in 1917.     

Railway General Contractor

Between 1905 and 1909, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway completed the Prairie section of its transcontinental railroad from Winnipeg to Edmonton. By January 1909, the company announced its plans to construct a network of branch lines throughout central Saskatchewan.[84] One such branch was a 30-mile line from Yorkton north to Canora, which it committed to extend to Hudson Bay at a later date.[85]     

The country through which the branch line would pass was predominantly low, nearly level, wet prairie grassland dotted with bluffs of small popular and clumps of willow, with numerous sloughs and marshes, much of which was alkaline, and broken land associated with the Whitesand River and its tributaries, the Little Whitesand River (Yorkton Creek) and Boggy Creek (Wallace Creek) over which it crossed. It was by then well-settled with English-Canadian, German, Polish and Ukrainian farmers cultivating adjacent lands.     

Doukhobors Building the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway grade between Yorkton and Canora, SK, 1910. British Columbia Archives, Doukhobor History Photo Collection, A-01223.

By December 23, 1909, Grand Trunk Pacific Railway surveyors located the right-of-way for the line,[86] and following its approval by the Board of Railway Commissioners on February 28, 1910,[87] the company issued calls for tenders for clearing, grading, track-laying, bridge-building, fencing and telegraph construction along the line route. Two weeks later, on March 17, 1910, a contract was awarded to Peter V. Verigin, on behalf of the Community, for clearing and grading the line.[88]  

                The Contract

The contract award made headlines across the country, marking the first time the Doukhobors – or indeed, any immigrant group – would achieve the status of a general contractor vis-à-vis a Canadian railway company on a grade construction project, culminating from eleven years of extensive experience. Indeed, the Community was well-positioned to execute the work, having a fully-equipped, skilled and experienced workforce of 1,500 men, 400 teams of draft horses, 500 yokes of oxen, and necessary logistical support situated within a day’s journey of the line.[89]

The contract value was substantial, with the Community to be paid $70,000.00. However, the contract had an aggressive deadline, with railway officials expecting it to be completed by the fall of 1910.[90] The Community had to carefully coordinate the work around its farming operations. In this regard, on March 8, 1910, Peter V. Verigin wrote his followers to advise, “the plan is made as follows: we must sow together at home, after sowing from May 15th or June 1st go to the railroad work, and definitely return home for grain harvesting.”[91]

Significantly, while prior railway work helped the Community establish itself in Saskatchewan, the income from this contract was earmarked at the outset for the purchase of new lands in British Columbia, with Verigin noting in his letter, “This railway work will be of great help to us in settling in ‘Kolumbia’.”[92] The resettlement of Community members to British Columbia had been underway since 1908,[93] and this news was no doubt met with support by members still in Saskatchewan. 

                The Camps

On May 18, 1910, after completing spring seeding, a thousand Doukhobor workmen left their villages in the Buchanan, Canora, Veregin, Kamsack and Pelly districts and converged on Yorkton to begin construction of the line.[94] Accompanied by a group of women, they brought all their own tools and equipment along with 400 teams of horses, milking cows, temporary shelters, food and feed.

Following the model used on past railway subcontracts,[95] the Doukhobors organized themselves into 4 camps of 250 or so men each, set up at roughly 7-8 mile intervals along the route. Each camp had up to 25 ten-man tents for the men to sleep in, several for the women, a store tent for supplies, another for the cook house and mess hall, one for a blacksmith along with makeshift stables for 100 or so teams of horses. Dr. T.A. Patrick of Yorkton and Dr. E.M. Vesey of Canora were retained to provide medical assistance as necessary.

Within each camp, duties were well-ordered and systematically carried out. In the cookhouse, the cook built two ovens using local clay and stone – one for baking bread, and another on which was laid a large, heavy sheet of iron for a stove top for cooking borsch (soup); the ovens were fired all day as he prepared food. One man cut, split and stacked cordwood for the ovens. Another built tables for the mess tent. In the smithy, the blacksmith built a forge by excavating a large hole in the ground and lining it with stone, in which poplar logs were burned to make charcoal; wrought iron was then put in the forge and shaped with a hammer and anvil into necessary pieces. The women washed and mended clothing for the men and milked cows. At the stable, which had no sides and only tent cloth for roof, one got an idea of the care given to the horses; all were in fine shape, the dapples showing plainly on their glossy hides. One man prepared feed for the horses by chopping and soaking bailed hay, then mixing it with oats. Several men traversed the country, buying up all available feed oats for 10 miles on either side of the line. Others hauled drinking water from nearby creeks and wells in horse-drawn tank carts to the camp and grade.                  

The Grade

At each section of grade, Doukhobors were organized into work gangs responsible for clearing, making cuttings and fills or building embankments. Tasks were carried out in an organized and disciplined manner so that the scene, according to one journalist, “closely resembled a hive of bees”.[96]  

Doukhobor Railway Camp on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Yorkton-Canora branch near the outskirts of Canora, SK, 1910. British Columbia Archives, Doukhobor History Photo Collection,  C-06515.

Clearing was done almost entirely by hand.  Following the surveyed route, an advance crew cleared a 100-foot right-of-way. Clumps of bush and bluffs of trees, particularly heavy in the broken land of the Whitesand valley and ravines, were cut away and chopped down using hatchets, axes and saws, while the stumps were grubbed out with pick-axes and spades.  Logs suitable for cordwood were cut into lengths and stacked, while non-salvageable material, such as brush, roots and limbs, were piled and burned or buried. Rocks were grubbed out and moved by hand or with horses and chains into piles while larger, heavier ones were blasted with dynamite. Low alkaline wetlands, common throughout the route, were drained by digging trenches and then filled with rocks and soil.        

Making a cutting was heavy work. Where a hill or bluff blocked passage of the line, it was cut away. On the face of the hill through which the cutting was to pass, a gang of scraper outfits was assembled. Each scraper had a blade running along the bottom of a C-shaped bucket mounted on runners and was pulled by a team of horses. As the teamster drove the team up to the face of the hill, a second man lifted the handle allowing the blade to cut into the ground and fill the bucket, then pulled the handle down so it would stop digging and slide along the ground to a designated spot where the handle was lifted and the soil dumped. The soil was then moved in horse-drawn dump carts to low areas for fill or to build up the grade. After successive passes by the scrapers, the hill was laid open and a gullet excavated through it.                  

As there was not enough soil available from hill cuttings, the route being mostly level, the Doukhobors took earth from a side cutting to build up the grade. Gangs of scraper outfits and wheelbarrow men with spades excavated a cutting on either side of the grade, the soil from which was then used to bank up the earthwork in between. The cuts had to be kept level and straight, so that the end result consisted of a raised grade with a ditch running on either side.      

Building the embankment was particularly demanding. It had to be solid and permanent, requiring little maintenance or upgrading; straight and level, to allow the trains to run at full speed at all times; and raised to allow for adequate drainage. To this end, the Doukhobors built a four-foot grade along the level parts of the route, while through low areas and valleys it was as high as 15 or 20 feet. It was 8 feet broad at the top to carry a standard-gauge rail track (4 ft 8 ½ in) and three times that breadth at the base. A Doukhobor foreman continually patrolled the section to ensure that it precisely met these requirements.               

At the embankment, horse-drawn scrapers and dump carts loaded with earth were drawn along its top to ‘the dump’. At the dump, the man in charge directed the teamster as to where to dump the soil and in what amounts. The horses were then carefully made to stop and turn at exactly the right instant; the horses and teamster went aside but the scraper or dump cart went on and at the right place was checked and tipped with its tons of material. Gangs of wheelbarrow men laboured alongside, with one man shoveling soil from the side cutting into a wheelbarrow, then another man pulling the loaded wheelbarrow up the plank walks built up the side of the embankment to the dump; in this way, the wheelbarrows moved upward and back in a continuous stream.

                Completion of the Line

Labouring 15 hours a day, the Doukhobors built the grade up and forward, advancing steadily north. By late June, they reached the banks of the Whitesand. And by July 26, 1910, the grade was completed to Canora.[97] Upon reaching the terminus, most workmen returned to their villages for haying and harvest. Incredibly, the Doukhobors cleared and constructed 30 miles of grade, moving over five million cubic feet of earth, consuming 72,263 man-hours of labour,[98] over a 69-day period. This equated to 73,000 cubic feet of earth moved per day, or 5,000 cubic feet of earth moved per worker, all done manually.   

After the grade was built, an ‘extra’ gang of a hundred men laid the track. Doukhobor Aleksei I. Makortoff recounted how this was done. “The ties are laid down the width of the railroad. Then some sand is dumped and you walk along with shovels, one from that side, one from this side. In this way the sand is packed under the ties. And it will be tamped in full. And so you walk down the line. And coming behind they would be laying the rails down on these ties. All the way along. As soon as the rails are laid down, then on each tie two spikes are placed. Particularly, for young boys, this was an easy job. So you walk along, drop two spikes on this end and two on the other end. And then next they come with hammers and drive in these spikes beside the rails as they should be. There was that work. And then comes yet another group, jack. It would happen that a tie is too high or too low and so they line them up so they’d be even. You pump the jack and it lifts it, whatever amount. And the foreman, as if, follows and lays on the rail and looks with one eye to make sure they’re even. Or he’ll shout: ‘Raise it’, or lower it in some places.”[99] A steam engine with cars loaded with sand ballast, ties and rails followed behind.[100]

By August 1910, additional crews followed to install cattle and snow fencing and telegraph lines along the line, raise a trestle bridge across the Whitesand River, and construct a GTP station at Canora.[101] By October 1910, the first freight came over the line to Canora by steam engine, and by June 1911, twice-daily freight and passenger service was established on the Canora-Yorkton branch.[102]    

The arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was a tremendous boon to Canora, transforming the village from a local rail point into a major regional rail junction. It now had direct rail access to southern points which, until then, were only accessible via Winnipeg on the Canadian Northern Railway.[103] A building and settlement boom followed, with Canora declared a town by August 1910.[104] 

New communities also came into existence, with railway engineers surveying townsites and sidings along the line. Thus Young’s Siding, Mehan, Pollock’s Spur, the village of Ebenezer, the hamlet of Gorlitz and Burgis became important new grain-handling points for local farmers.      

As part of the ensuing development, the Community erected a 30,000-bushel grain elevator at Ebenezer in 1910 to receive, store and ship local grain and also received 20 lots in the townsite from the railway.[105] At Canora, it built another 30,000-bushel grain elevator on the Canadian Northern Railway and a large commercial block and annex warehouse that summer.[106] 

As for the contract payment, Peter V. Verigin drew $70,000.00 from the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Winnipeg on September 20, 1910 and left with it to British Columbia,[107] where he completed the purchase of the 1,200-acre Vaughn Ranch[108] and 480-acre Macey Ranch[109] at Grand Forks, acquired earlier that spring for Community settlement and fruit-growing.

Map of Western Canadian Railways Built by Doukhobor Labourers, 1899-1912.  Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.  Note this map does not include the 105-mile Doukhobor-constructed Marchand, MB to Rainy River, ON line.

Railway Building after 1910

The Yorkton-Canora line in 1910 would be the pinnacle of Doukhobor railway construction on the Prairies. While several hundred Doukhobors worked on subsequent rail projects, notably the Canadian Northern Railway Prince Albert-Blaine Lake line in 1909-1910, Hudson Bay-The Pas line in 1911,[110] Pelly-Preeceville line in 1911,[111] and Canora-Sturgis line in 1912[112] and the Canadian Pacific Railway Coronation-Consort line in 1911,[113] the Community no longer bid on sectional contracts or subcontracts nor did substantial numbers of Doukhobors engage in railway work thereafter. There were several reasons for this decline. 

First, almost all of the railroad building undertaken by Doukhobors between 1899 and 1912 fell within a 200-250 mile radius of their settlements north of Yorkton. This represented the practical limit of the Community’s ability to deploy its manpower and resources to carry out railway work afield while still maintaining its farmland at home. By 1912, however, most of the lines were completed within this scope of reach. There was little left to build.       

Second, with the resettlement of over 5,700 Doukhobors from Saskatchewan to British Columbia by 1912, the Community no longer had the manpower on the Prairies to carry out extensive railway construction.[114] By this time, only 1,200 Community members remained in Saskatchewan,[115] of which no more than 250 were able-bodied men. The Community’s resources were further depleted by the defection of over 2,000 members who became Independent Doukhobors over the 1906-1912 period.[116]    

Third, when the Doukhobors first arrived on the Prairies in 1899, they sought railway work as a necessary means of survival, and later as a means of achieving communal self-sufficiency. Ultimately, however, they came to Canada to farm and not to build railways. Once they achieved a measure of prosperity through agricultural and related income, it was no longer essential for most to supplement it with such work.    

Track Maintenance Work

While most Doukhobor railway labourers were engaged in construction work, at least some carried out track maintenance. As early as 1901, a group of Doukhobors worked as trackmen on the Canadian Pacific Railway Calgary division, where they participated in a nationwide strike from June to August 1901.[117] Other groups laboured at the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway yard in Saskatoon in 1908[118] and at the Canadian Northern Railway yard in Saskatoon in 1911.[119] Still others worked on Canadian Northern Railway ballast crews at Langham in 1908[120] and between Portage la Prairie and Humboldt in 1912.[121] In 1913, a large contingent of Doukhobors ballasted the Great Northern Railway Fruitvale-Columbia Gardens line, repaired washouts on its Waneta-Columbia Gardens line, and built spurs and repaired washouts on its Salmo-Ymir lines.[122] As late as 1916, a group of Doukhobors repaired washouts on the Canadian Pacific Railway Kaslo-Nakusp line,[123] a crew worked on right-of-of way clearing for the Copper Mountain Railway at Princeton in 1918,[124] while another dismantled the Great Northern Railway Phoenix-Grand Forks line in 1919.[124]

Permanent Railroad Employment

For most Doukhobors immigrants who arrived in 1899, railway construction and maintenance constituted seasonal, secondary work while agriculture remained their primary vocation. However, for the over 900 Doukhobors[125] who arrived later, between 1909 and 1914, free homestead land was no longer readily available on the Prairies, forcing many to seek wage labour in towns and cities. A substantial number found permanent employment as railroad brakeman, section men and linemen, particularly on the Canadian Northern Railway which passed through the Doukhobor districts north of Yorkton.[126]  Many first, second and third-generation Canadian Doukhobors would also hold such employment.


Between 1899 and 1912, thousands of Doukhobor men left their families and villages each summer to seek employment clearing right-of-ways, building grade and laying track on the railways extending across Western Canada. This form of hired labour, however undesirable, was necessary in order to ensure their early survival, and thereafter, to lift themselves out of poverty to become agriculturally self-sufficient, even prosperous, as a Community. Indeed, the pooling of revenue from this work formed their primary income for much of their first decade in Canada.  

Defying prevailing stereotypes about foreign workers, the Doukhobors quickly earned an outstanding reputation for honesty, reliability and workmanship, making them highly sought after by railway companies for construction work. Owing to their work ethic, group cohesion and solid leadership, the Doukhobors not only found ways to organize and advocate for their economic needs, but to progress from a collection of navvies to subcontractors and finally to general contractor – a feat unmatched by other immigrant railway labourers.   

The centrality of Doukhobor labour to the building of the railway in Manitoba and Saskatchewan into Alberta made settlement and development, both rural and urban, possible. Within this region, railway construction crews comprised in part or in whole of Doukhobors built over 1,666 miles (2,681 kilometers) of line, serving an area of over 39,984 square miles (103,558 square kilometers), within which over 268 communities came into existence.  

The railway was essential to Canada’s growth and development as a country. The Doukhobor contribution to this province-building and nation-building process deserves to be recognized and acknowledged.

Appendix A – Prairie Railway Lines Built with Doukhobor Labour

RailwayLine TypeSectionRailway MileageTotal MileageStations and StopsTotal StopsYear
WGNR (CNR)Dauphin – Hudson BayCowan-Swan River, MB261.5 – 292.330.8Cowan-Renwer-Minitonas-Sevick-Thunderhill Junction-Swan River61899
M&NWR (CPR)Varcoe – MiniotaHamiota-Miniota, MB56.9 – 77.120.2Hamiota-Crandall-Arrow River-Miniota41899
M&SER (CNR)Rainy River – WinnipegMarchand-Sprague, MB342.5 – 390.848.3Marchand-Bedford-Sandilands-Woodridge-Carrick-Badger-Moodie-Vassar-South Junction-Sprague101899-1900
M&SER (CNR)Rainy River – WinnipegSprague, MB-Rainy River, ON284.9 – 342.557.6Sprague-Middlebro-Gravel Pit Spur-Longworth-International Boundary-Warroad-Swift-Roosevelt-Williams-Cedar Spur-Graceton-Pitt-Baudette-Rainy River141900
CNRDauphin – Hudson BaySwan River, MB-Erwood, SK292.3 – 385.893.5Swan River-Bowsman-Birch River-Novra-Bellsite-Mafeking-Whitmore-Baden-Powell-Barrows-National Mills-Westgate-Armit-Roscoe-Smoking Tent-Erwood131900
CPRWinnipeg – SinclairPipestone, MB-Antler, SK184.2 – 207.323.1Pipestone-Reston-Sinclair-Antler41900-1901
O&RRR (CNR)Rainy River – WinnipegBaudette, MN-Rainy River, ON284.9 – 286.51.6Baudette-Rainy River Bridge21901
CNRWinnipeg – Portage La Prairie; Portage La Prairie – MakaroffCarman-Gladstone, MB8.8 – 55.3; 55.3 – 91.983.1Carman Junction-St. Charles-Diamond-Calrin-White Plains-Dacotah-Gravel Pit-Elie-Benard-Willow Range-Oakville-Newton-Curtis-Portage La Prairie-Delta Junction-Hobson-Rignold-Youill-Beaver-Muir-Golden Stream-Gladstone191901
CNRPortage La Prairie – MakaroffGladstone-Grandview, MB91.9 – 206.7114.8Gladstone-Gladstone Junction-Ogilvie-Plumas-Colby-Tenby-Glenella-Glencairn-Reeve-Neepawa Junction-McCreary-Laurier-Makinak-Ochre River-Paulson-Dauphin-North Junction-Ashville-Gilbert Plains-Grandview201902
CNRReston – ReginaRegina-Stoughton279.6 – 368.188.5Regina-Richardson-Kronau-Lajord-Sedley-Francis-Tyvan-Osage-Fillmore-Creelman-Heward-Stoughton111903
CPRMarchwell-MacklinYorkton-Sheho, SK278.8 – 320.741.9Yorkton-Orcadia-Springside-Theodore-Insinger-Sheho61903-1904
CNRDauphin – Hudson Bay; Hudson Bay-DenholmErwood-Melfort, SK385.8 – 493.0107.2Erwood-Hudson Bay-Veillardville-Greenbush-Silas-Prairie River-Bannock-Mistatim-Lumber Spur-Peesane-Crooked River-Murphy’s-Eldersley-Tisdale-Valparaiso-Star City-Naisberry-Melfort171904
CNRWarman – LloydminsterWarman-Elbow, SK531.4 – 555.924.5Warman-Dalmeny-Langham-Elbow (Ceepee)41905
CNRPortage La Prairie – Makaroff; Makaroff – WarmanGrandview, MB-Kamsack, SK206.7 – 278.171.4Grandview-Meharry-Timberton-Shortdale-Bield-Shevlin-Roblin-Deepdale-Makaroff-Togo-Runnymede-Cote-Kamsack121903
CNRMakaroff-WarmanKamsack-Canora, SK278.1 – 302.124Kamsack-Veregin-Mikado-Ross Junction-Canora41904
CNRMakaroff-WarmanCanora-Invermay, SK302.1 – 335.233.1Canora-Tiny-Buchanan-Dernic-Rama-Invermay51905
GTPRTranscontinentalSt. Lazare, MB-Spy Hill, SK1556.2 – 1579.022.8Wattsview-St Lazare-Victor-Welby-Spy Hill41906
CNRHudson Bay – DenholmMelfort, SK-Prince Albert, SK493.0 – 555.462.4Melfort-Beatty-Kinistino-Weldon-Brancepeth-Birch Hills-Fenton-Senator-Davis-Cudworth Junction-Prince Albert101906
CPRMarchwell – MacklinSheho-Lanigan, SK320.7 – 404.383.6Sheho-Goudie-Tuffnell-Foam Lake-Leslie-Elfros-Mozart-Wynyard-Kandahar-Dafoe-Jansen-Esk-Lanigan121907-1908
GTPRTranscontinentalMelville-Saskatoon, SK1637.8 – 1833.0195.2Melville-Birmingham-Fenwood-Goodeve-Hubbard-Ituna-Jasmin-Kelliher-Leross-Lestock-Touchwood-Punichy-Quinton-Raymore-Semans-Tate-Nokomis-Undora-Venn-Watrous-Xena-Young-Zelma-Allan-Bradwell-Clavet-Duro-Saskatoon271907-1908
CNRSturgis – Swan River (Thunderhill)Swan River-Benito, MB221.2 – 241.920.7Swan River-Thunderhill Junction-Kenville-Durban-Benito51908
CNRSturgis – Swan River (Thunderhill)Benito, MB-Pelly, SK221.2 – 204.516.7Benito-Arran-Pelly21909
CNRRossburn Junction – MacnutRossburn-Russell, MB198.8 – 224.425.6Rossburn-Birdtail-Angusville-Silverton-Russell51907-1908
CNRRossburn Junction – Macnut; Macnut – Parkerview; Wroxton – CanoraRussell, MB-Canora, SK224.4 – 257.2; 257.3 – 272.9; 41.7 – 090.1Russell-Endcliffe-Shellmouth-Dropmore-Macnut-Calder-Wroxton-Stornoway-Rhein-Hamton-Donwell-Ross Junction-Canora101909
CNRHudson Bay – DenholmPrince Albert-Blaine Lake SK555.4 – 619.864.4Prince-Albert-Buckland-Crutwell-Holbein-Shellbrook-Parkside-Kilwinning-Leask-Marcelin-Blaine Lake91909-1910
GTPRTranscontinentalYonker-Butz, SK1977.1 – 1995.918.8Yonker-Zumbro-Artland-Butz41909
GTPRRegina – Hudson BayYorkton-Canora, SK122.5 – 152.530Yorkton-Young’s Siding-Mehan-Pollock’s Spur-Ebenezer-Gorlitz-Burgis-Canora61910
CNRHudson Bay – Flin FlonHudson Bay, SK-The Pas, MB0 – 88.188.1Hudson Bay-Wachee-Nepas-Ceba-Chemong-Otosquen-Cantyre-Turnberry-Whithorn-Westray-Freshford-The Pas111911
CNRSturgis – Swan River (Thunderhill)Pelly-Preeceville, SK204.5 – 174.829.7Pelly-Norquay-Hyas-Stenen-Sturgis41911
CPRKerrobert – LacombCoronation-Consort, AB84.4 – 116.532.1Coronation-Throne-Veteran-Loyalist-Consort51911
CNRRegina – Hudson BayCanora-Sturgis, SK152.5 – 174.822.3Canora-Amsterdam-Tadmore-Hassan-Sturgis31912

After Word

Special thanks to Robert Coutts (Editor, Prairie History) for his editorial advice, encouragement and patience. Also, my sincere thanks to Doukhobor writers and historians Dr. Ashleigh Androsoff (University of Saskatchewan), Jim (D.E.) Popoff and Koozma J. Tarasoff who reviewed this article in its draft form and who sought to improve its quality and sharpen its focus with their comments.

This article originally appeared in the following journals and periodicals:

  • Prairie History. The Journal of the West. No. 5, Summer 2021.
  • ISKRA (Grand Forks, Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ) Nos. 2167 & 2168 (2021).

End Notes

[1] Most studies of Doukhobor settlements on the Prairies largely pass over the annual migration to the railway grade, for which few primary sources exist, leaving only fragmentary newspaper accounts, local histories and personal memoirs from which to piece together the story.

[2] G. Woodcock & I. Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1977) at 17-34; K.J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors (Mir Publication Society, 1982) at 1-3; S.A. Inikova, “Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History” in A. Donskov, J. Woodsworth & C. Gaffield (eds), The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada, A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on their Unity and Diversity (Ottawa: Slavic Research Group and Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa, 2000) at 1-21.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 31-32, 58-61; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 3, 10-11; J.R. Staples, Cross-Cultural Encounters on the Ukrainian Steppe, Settling the Molochna Basin, 1783-1861 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 2003) at 37-38, 93-106; N.B. Breyfogle, Heretics and Colonizers: Religious Dissent and Russian Colonization of Transcaucasia, 1830 – 1890 (PhD dissertation in history) (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 1998) at 17-58.

[5] Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 84-106; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 20-28.

[6] Sergei Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: A Journey to Canada, Diary and Correspondence (Ed. A. Donskov). (Ottawa: Ottawa University Press, 1998) at 1, 183, 237-270; L.A. Sulerzhitsky, To America with the Doukhobors (M. Kalmakoff, Trans.) (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1982) at 38; S. Lapshinoff & J.J. Kalmakoff, Doukhobor Ship Passenger Lists, 1898-1928 (Crescent Valley, 2001); J.J. Kalmakoff, Index to Doukhobor Ship Passenger Lists, September 27, 2000:

[7] Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 136; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 35-36; C.J. Tracie, ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’ Doukhobor Village Settlement in Saskatchewan 1899-1918 (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1996) at 1-94; and K.R.M. Szalasznyj, The Doukhobor homestead crisis 1898–1907 (M.A. thesis) (University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan: 1977) at 65-71.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Note this organization had its beginning in Russia in 1893-1894: Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 152-181; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 49-66.

[10] 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 20; Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 160-161; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 54, 56, 58-59.

[11] For generations in Russia, Doukhobors were religiously and culturally predisposed toward agricultural labour, which they viewed as ‘fulfilling the will of God’ while hired labour was considered ‘unfitting for proper Christians’: Sulerzhitsky, supra, note 6 at 170 and 193; Bonch-Bruevich, V., ed., V.O. Buyniak, trans. The Book of Life of the Doukhobors (Doukhobor Societies of Saskatchewan, 1978 at XL); Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 160-161.

[12] A. Androsoff, “The Trouble with Teamwork: Doukhobor Women’s Plow Pulling in Western Canada, 1899” in Canadian Historical Review (Vol. 100, No. 4, December 2019) at 540-563; A. Androsoff, “…With A Stout Wife” Doukhobor Women’s Challenge to the Canadian (Agri)Cultural Ideal”, (Rural History Conference, Bern, Switzerland, August 2013).

[13] Simeon F. Reibin, “Toil and Peaceful Life, History of Doukhobor’s Unmasked (Sacramento, CA, 1955) at 34.

[14] S. Mirzoyan & C. Badem, The Construction of the Tiflis-Aleksandropol-Kars Railway (1895-1899) (Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, 2013) at 27-28.

[15] Ibid at 64; Reibin, supra, note 13.

[16] See: C. Toews, The life of a navvy: a study of the relationship between ethnicity and status within railway work camps on the Kettle Valley line, 1910 to 1914 (M.A. Thesis) (University of British Columbia, 2019); F.A. Talbot, The Making of a Great Canadian Railway (Toronto: Musson Book Co., 1912); F. Leonard, A Thousand Blunders: The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and Northern British Columbia. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1996); J. Selby, “One Step Forward: Alberta Workers 1885-1914” in A. Finkel et al, Working People in Alberta, A History (Creative Commons, 2012).

[17] Several Doukhobors were killed on the railroad soon after arriving in Canada: J Elkinton, The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada (Ferris & Leach, 1903) at 64; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-07-10.

[18] Sulerzhitsky, supra, note 6 at 164-204, V. O. Buyniak, “The 1899 Manitoba and Northern Railway Dispute with the Doukhobors” in Saskatchewan History (40, 1987, No. 1).

[19] Sulerzhitsky,ibid at 192.

[20] Buyniak, supra, note 18; Sulerzhitsky, ibid; Swan River Star, 1900-11-08; Leader Post, 1901-04-18.

[21] Ibid.

[22] E.W. Bradwin, The Bunkhouse Man: A Study of Work and Pay in the Camps of Canada, 1903-1914 (University of Toronto Press, 1972) at Chapter 6.

[23] Sulerzhitsky, supra, note 6 at 164-204; Buyniak, supra, note 18; Leader Post, 1901-04-18.

[24] Sulerzhitsky ibid, at 186, 191-192; Swan River Star, 1900-01-11.

[25] Androsoff, supra, note 12.

[26] Reibin, supra, note 13 at 42; Jack Twilley, Between the Hills: Life in the Swan River Valley, 1787-1958 (1958) at 68; Swan River Star, 1900-02-22.

[27] Manitoba Free Press, 1901-05-04; Swan River Star, 1901-06-21, 1901-07-5, 1901-10-11.

[28] Manitoba Free Press, 1902-05-02; Elkinton, supra, note 17 at 46; George Henry Hambley, The Golden Thread or The Last of the Pioneers: A Story of the Districts of Basswood and Minnedosa, Manitoba, From Community Beginning to Our Present Day, 1874 to 1970 (Altona, 1971) at 170; Kelwood Bridges the Years 1890-1967 (Kelwood Centennial Committee, 1967) at 273.

[29] M. C. Kinney, Tyvan: As it Was in the Beginning (Regina, 1987) at 36.

[30] Manitoba Free Press, 1904-08-12; Star City: Pioneer Days to Jubilee Year (Jubilee Editorial Committee, 1955) at 170.

[31] Swan River Star, 1900-01-11; Leader Post, 1901-04-18; Manitoba Free Press, 1901-04-13; Birtle Eyewitness, 1901-09-03.

[32] The Hands of Time, Village of Buchanan 1907-1987, R.M. of Buchanan 1913-1988 and District (Buchanan History Book Committee, 1988) at 572; Medicine Hat News, 1901-09-05.

[33] Sanderson, R. M. and W. J. Sanderson. The Souris Story (Souris: Sanderson Printing, 1979) at 113-114.

[34] Hands of Time, supra, note 32at 390.

[35] R. J. Orsi, Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West, 1850-1930 (University of California Press, 2007) at 114; Hands of Time, supra, note 32 at 390 and 793-794; San Francisco Examiner, 1900-03-10; Oakland Tribune, 1900-01-15; San Francisco Chronicle, 1900-01-11; San Francisco Call, 1900-05-26; Sacramento Bee, 1900-01-15.

[36] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-04-11; Swan River Star, 1903-04-29; Manitoba Free Press, 1904-05-18; Windsor Star, 1904-06-30.

[37] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-10-03, 1903-05-18,1904-07-29; Swan River Star, 1904-06-22; Calgary Herald, 1904-06-11.

[38] Hands of Time, supra, note 32 at 768; Parkland Trails: Histories of R.M. of Invermay and villages of Invermay and Rama (Invermay, Rama History Book Committee, 1986) at 282, 649 and 658. 

[39] J.F.P. Barschel, A History of Canora and District (Canora Golden Jubilee Committee, 1960) at 36.

[40] Ibid, at 38.

[41] Elkinton, supra, note 17at 232; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-06-16; Vancouver Daily World, 1910-04-08.

[42] Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-06-16.

[43] Bradwin, supra, note 22.

[44] Manitoba Free Press, 1902-05-22.

[45] M. Malloff and P. Ogloff, Toil and Peaceful Life, Portraits of Doukhobors. Sound Heritage, Volume VI, Number 4 (Provincial Archives of British Columbia, 1977) at 25.

[46] Vancouver Daily World, 1906-05-10; Ottawa Citizen, 1910-04-01.

[47] J. P. Zubek and P.A. Solbert, Doukhobors at War (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1952) at 70; Pierre Berton, The Promised Land: Settling the West 1896-1914 (Doubleday Canada, 2011).

[48] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-04-11, 1903-10-03, 1904-05-18.

[49] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-04-11; Yorkton Enterprise, 1904-04.21; Vancouver Daily World, 1904-05-30.

[50] Manitoba Free Press, 1903-10-03, 1904-05-18.

[51] Manitoba Free Press, 1906-04-25.

[52] Blakemore, supra, note 10; Manitoba Free Press, 1904-05-18; Calgary Herald, 1906-11-03.

[53] Ibid.

[54] The Gazette, 1906-07-05.  

[55] Windsor Star, 1906-08-25; The Province, 1906-10-13.

[56] P.E. Roy, A White Man’s Province: British Columbia Politicians and Chinese and Japanese Immigrants, 1858-1914 (UBC Press, 1990) at 50-61; A.J.W. James, Class, race and ethnicity: Chinese Canadian entrepreneurs in Vancouver (M.A. Thesis) (University of Manitoba, 1996; P. Wegars, “Who’s Been Workin’ on the Railroad?” in Historical Archaeology, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1991 at 37-65; V. Kukushkin, From Peasants to Labourers: Ukrainian and Belarusian Immigration from the Russian Empire to Canada (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2007) at 98-102.

[57] J. Hawkes, The Story of Saskatchewan and its People, (Volume 2), (Chicago, S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1924) at 682.

[58] Manitoba Free Press, 1905-09-28, 1906-06-30; Winnipeg Tribune, 1905-09-28,1906-06-16, 1907-03-27; Calgary Herald, 1905-09-20, 1906-11-3; The Gazette, 1905-09-29; Ottawa Journal, 1906-03-12; Edmonton Bulletin, 1906-08-08; “Report of T.F. Chamberlain, M.D., Edmonton, July 25, 1906” in Report of the Minister of Agriculture, 1906-7 (7-8 Edward VII, Sessional Paper No. 15, 1908) at 31, 34; Wandering in Wattsview: Wattsview History, 1879-1967 (Wattsview Centennial Club, 1967) at 94; Ellice, 1883-1983 (RM of Ellice Centennial Book Committee, 1983) at 144, 234, 289, 298.

[59] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-03-12.

[60] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-08-23.

[61] The Labour Gazette: The Journal of the Department of Labour (Ottawa, Queen’s Printer) Volume 6 (July 1905-June 1906) at 1112; Supra, note 51; Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-03-12, 1906-04-24, 1906-06-30; Ottawa Journal, 1906-03-12; Richmond Hill Liberal, 1906-03-15; Russel Banner, 1906-03-29, 1906-04-26; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-04-24; Swan River Star, 1906-05-09; Reibin, supra, note 13 at 57.

[62] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-06-30.

[63] Ibid; “Report of T.F. Chamberlain, M.D., Edmonton, July 25, 1906” in Report of the Minister of Agriculture, 1906-7 (7-8 Edward VII, Sessional Paper No. 15, 1908) at 31, 34; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-04-24.

[64] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-11-17; The Province, 1906-11-17.

[65] Winnipeg Free Press, 1906-06-30.

[66] Manitoba Free Press, 1906-09-29; The Gazette, 1906-12-05.

[67] Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-06-16; Ottawa Journal, 1906-06-18; Windsor Star, 1906-08-25.

[68] Ottawa Journal, 1906-08-14; Hawkes, supra, note 57; The Gazette, 1911-08-22.

[69] The GTPR authorized Verigin to offer free transportation to Canada and repatriation after two years to 10,000 Doukhobor workmen, who would be lodged by the railway and paid forty rubles monthly: The Gazette, 1906-10-22, 1907-02-21; Ottawa Citizen, 1906-12-10; Winnipeg Tribune, 1906-12-08, 1906-12-10, 1907-03-26; Ottawa Journal, 1906-10-23, 1907-03-08; Agassiz Record, 1906-12-10; Reibin, supra, note 13 at 55-77; J. Woodsworth, Russian Archival Documents on Canada, The Doukhobors: 1895-1943 (Catalogue No. 2) (Carleton University, August 1996), Document Nos. 1906-11-10b-d, 1906-12-09a-g; D. Davies, “The Pre-1917 Roots of Canada-Soviet Relations” in Canadian Historical Review 70, 2 (June 1989): 191-92.

[70] Railway companies continued to lobby the Canadian government to relax labour immigration requirements for years thereafter: Roy, supra, note 56.

[71] Supra, note 69.

[72] Manitoba Free Press, 1907-09-28; Leader-Post, 1908-01-13.

[73] Star-Phoenix, 1908-09-05.

[74] Hills of Hope (Spruce Grove: Hills of Hope Historical Committee, 1976) at 366.

[75] Hawkes, supra, note 57; The Gazette, 1911-08-22.

[76] Manitoba Free Press, 1907-07-18, Winnipeg Tribune, 1907-09-14; The Gazette, 1907-02-12.

[77] Oakburn Extension, Engineer’s notebook, 1907-11-23, Grigory Soukorukoff private collection.

[78] Manitoba Free Press, 1907-05-25.

[79] Hamiota Echo, 1908-02-27; Grandview Exponent, 1908-02-28.

[80] Winnipeg Tribune, 1907-03-27; Daily Phoenix, 1907-01-31.

[81] Canadian railways sometimes paid contractors and lobbyists in land for their service: R. Haycock, Sam Hughes: The Public Career of a Controversial Canadian, 1885-1916 (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1986) at 108; “Laidlaw, George” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 11, (University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003).

[82] Sections 7-29-8-W2, W ½ 9 & W ½ 3-30-9-W2: 1920 Cummins Rural Map of Saskatchewan, Map 150; Lots 10, 11, 12 and part of 17, Plan 109, Winnipeg, MB: V.A. Snesarev,  The Doukhobors in British Columbia (M.A. Thesis (UBC, 1931) Appendix 1.

[83] Lots 13, 14, 15 and 16, Block 15; Lots 7, 8, 21, 22 and 23, Block 20; Lots 13 and 14, Block 30; all in Plan 1505, Transcona, MB: Snesarev, ibid.

[84] Leader-Post, 1909-01-19; J. A. Lower, The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and British Columbia (M.A. Thesis) (University of British Columbia, April 1939) at 80 and 83. 

[85] The Gazette, 1910-03-17; Winnipeg Tribune, 1910-03-26.

[86] Canora Advertiser, 1909-12-23; Winnipeg Tribune, 1910-01-06.

[87] The Railway and Marine World, April 1910, at 277.

[88] The Gazette, 1910-03-17; Winnipeg Tribune, 1910-03-25, 1910-03-26; Ottawa Citizen, 1910-04-01; National Post, 1910-04-02; Vancouver Daily World, 1910-04-08; Edmonton Journal, 1910-04-11; The Province, 1910-04-16; Lethbridge Daily Herald, 1910-04-18; The Hosmer Times, 1910-04-28; Canadian Engineer (Monetary Times Print Company, 1910) Volume 18 at 284; The Railway and Engineering Review (April 23, 1910), Volume 50 at 407; Report of the Minister of Agriculture for Canada, 1911 (Queen’s Printer, 1911) at 105; The Railway and Marine World, April 1910 at 289 and May 1910 at 379; Yorkton Enterprise, 1910-03-31; Hawkes, supra, note 57; Barschel, supra, note 39 at 48.

[89] Manitoba Free Press, 1910-03-01.

[90] The Gazette, April 15, 1910; The Railway and Marine World, May 1910, at 391 and June 1910 at 487.

[91] Letter from Peter V. Verigin to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Verigin Station, March 8, 1910, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-021-005.

[92] Ibid.

[93] From 1908 to 1912, over 5,700 Community Doukhobors resettled to British Columbia to develop lands for fruit-growing: Blakemore, supra, note 10 at 36; Woodcock & Avakumovic, supra, note 2 at 225-250; Tarasoff, supra, note 2 at 99-116. While the Community did not build railway grade in British Columbia per se, it did become a major supplier of railway ties from its land-clearing and logging operations, see: Nelson Daily News, 1910-09-21; Victoria Daily Times, 1910-09-28; The Province, 1911-03-17; Winnipeg Free Press, 1911-04-25.  

[94] Kamsack Times, 1910-05-20; Nelson Daily News, 1910-05-18; The Province, 1910-05-18; The Gazette, 1910-05-18; The Victoria Daily Times, 1910-05-18, 1910-05-25; Winnipeg Tribune, 1910-05-19; The Watchman-Warder, 1910-05-19; The Argus, 1910-05-25.

[95] ”Appendix No. 15, Report of A.E. Clendenan, M.D., Edmonton, Alberta, March 31, 1911” in Report of the Minister of Agriculture for the Dominion of Canada For the year Ended March 31, 1911 (2 George V, Sessional Paper No. 15, 1912) at 105; Manitoba Free Press, 1906-06-30.

[96] Manitoba Free Press, ibid.

[97] Manitoba Free Press, 1910-07-26; Yorkton Enterprise, 1910-07-28; The Leader Post, 1910-08-16, 1910-11-19; The Gazette, 1910-11-19; Star Phoenix, 1910-11-19; Vancouver Daily World, 1910-11-19; The Railway and Marine World, September 1910 at 741.

[98] Report of Road Work Between Yorkton and Canora with the Designation of Days and the Amount of Earnings in 1910,  October 6, 1910, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-074-005.

[99] Malloff & Ogloff, supra, note 45 at 64.

[100] Sulerzhitsky, supra, note 6at 198.

[101] Barschel, supra, note 39at 48; The Gazette, 1910-11-22; The Windsor Star, 1910-11-30; The Railway and Marine World, December 1910 at 1011.

[102] Barschel, ibid at 50-51; Canora Advertiser, 1911-06-22.

[103] The Leader Post, 1910-08-16.

[104] The Leader Post, 1910-08-16; Barschel, supra, note 39 at 46.

[105] J.J. Kalmakoff, “Doukhobor Development in the Ebenezer District” in Ebenezer Book of Memories, Centennial 1905-2005 (Ebenezer Centennial Committee, 2005).

[106] J.J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora” in The Canora Courier, 2018-02-25, 2018-03-14, 2018-03-21, 2018-03-28.

[107] Vancouver Daily World, 1910-09-20; The Victoria Daily Times, 1910-09-21.

[108] The Province, 1910-03-22; Edmonton Journal, 1910-05-02.

[109] The Province, 1910-04-29; The Victoria Daily Times, 1910-05-02.

[110] 1911 Canada Census, Dist. 212, Sub. 31 (Prince Albert), p 21.

[111] Ottawa Citizen, 1911-06-26; Contract Record, Volume 25 (H.C. MacLean, 1911) at 56; The Railway and Marine World (1911) at 1147.

[112] Engineering and Contracting, Volume 37 (Myron C. Clark Publishing Company, 1912) at 40; Pan American Magazine, Volume 16 (1913) at 170.

[113] Where the Prairie Meets the Hills: Veteran, Loyalist and Hemaruka districts (Veteran, 1977) at 423.

[114] Supra, note 93.

[115] Calgary Herald, 1914-03-28.

[116] Tracie, supra, note 7 at 160.

[117] The Leader Post, 1901-08-08.

[118] Star-Phoenix, 1908-09-05.

[119] 1911 Canada Census, Dist., Sub. 33 (Saskatoon), pp 34-36.

[120] Winnipeg Free Press, 1908-09-30.

[121] Letter from Peter V. Verigin to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Verigin Station, June 18, 1912, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-086-003.

[122] Nelson Daily News, 5 May 1913, 2 Jun3 1913, 5 June 1913, 16, June 1913.

[123] Vancouver Daily World, 1916-06-20; Kelowna Record, 1916-07-20.

[124]Vernon News, 9 May 1918.

[125] Grand Forks Sun, 1919.11.07, 1919.11.07, 1919.12.26; Greenwood Ledge, 1920.01.08; Creston Review, 1920.01.16.

[126] Kalmakoff, supra, note 6.

[127] 1911 Canada Census, Dist. 15, Sub. 49 (Brandon), p 16; Dist. 16, Sub. 66 (Benito) p 10; Dist. 210, Sub. 14 (Kamsack) pp 9-11; Dist. 210, Sub. 29 (Yorkton), pp 45-46. 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces, Dist. 21, Sub. 10 (Kamsack), pp 18, 21, 24; Dist. 21, Sub.19 (Verigin), pp 15, 17; Dist. 21, Sub. 25 (Canora) pp 6, 8, 13, 16; Dist. 21, Sub. 29 (Buchanan), pp 2-3; Dist. 29, Sub. 14 (Langham), p 21.

West Kootenay Boundary’s First Doukhobors

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

Between 1908 and 1912, about 8,000 Doukhobors migrated to British Columbia from Saskatchewan to maintain their communal lifestyle. But for several years prior, small groups of Doukhobors had been travelling to BC to seek employment — and coincidentally or not, to the very region where their brethren would one day move en masse.

During their early period of settlement on the Canadian Prairies, able-bodied Doukhobor men left their villages in Saskatchewan each spring to find work as farm labourers and railway navvies to earn much-needed money for the community, as most settlers were almost destitute.

Most journeyed by foot and obtained employment within a 100 to 150-mile radius of their villages. Less frequently, some small groups and individuals travelled even further afoot. For instance, 200 travelled to California to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad Coast line in 1900, and in 1901, a smaller group worked on the Ontario & Rainy River Railway line between Baudette, Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario. That same year, dozens made their way across the border to Pembina, North Dakota to assist with the fall harvest.

Doukhobor workers on construction of the railroad from Yorkton to Canora, Saskatchewan, ca. 1910. Image C-06515 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

The first sign of a Doukhobor presence in BC was in the Midway Advance of May 7, 1900: “Mr. A.J. Flett has returned safely from Grand Forks where he has been gathering information about a party of Doukhobors that are said to have arrived in that district.”

There was considerable industrial activity in and around Grand Forks in 1900 and the Doukhobors may have been hired as labourers at the newly-operational Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Co. smelter, the 10-stamp mill construction for the Yankee Girl and Yankee Boy mines on Hardy Mountain, at the Franklin Camp mine, the Charles Simpson or Ed Spraggett sawmills on the North Fork of the Kettle River, or building the CPR Eholt-to-Phoenix extension.

But no other references to this group can be found (the Grand Forks newspapers for this period are missing), so it’s hard to know whether they were seasonal labourers or just passing through. Flett’s role, if anything more than just curious onlooker, is unclear; his name otherwise only showed up in local newspapers in relation to mining claims. Was he sizing up the Doukhobors as potential workers for those claims?

We know slightly more about the next group of Doukhobors in BC. In October 1901, 16 Doukhobor men in Calgary had a chance encounter with former Rossland police chief John Ingram, who had been recruited to find replacement workers for the Le Roi mine during a miners’ strike.

These men were likely the same Doukhobors employed as track maintenance on the CPR Calgary division who took part in a nationwide strike from June to late August 1901 and who would not have knowingly taken jobs as replacement workers out of solidarity with the striking miners.

According to the Nelson Tribune, “Ingram positively assured them that the labour troubles [in Rossland] were all settled; that 300 union men had returned to work and that 150 union men had applied to the Le Roi company for work but the company did not want them.” However, he apparently misrepresented the situation.

The 16 Doukhobors were among 67 men who left Calgary with Ingram. When they arrived at West Robson to switch trains for Rossland, they discovered the true state of affairs and 10 of them refused to continue. Another 23 men reached the boarding house of the War Eagle mine in Rossland — including the Doukhobors, who spoke little or no English. The cooks and waiters there refused to serve them and they were finally sent off to a cabin to do their own cooking. A union miner visited the party and left some literature explaining the dispute.

Few if any Doukhobor recruits would have had mining experience; the Evening World suggested it would take about two years for them to learn to be muckers, which seems to have been a thinly-veiled insult, as mucking involved shoveling broken rock into tram cars.

The rival Rossland Miner didn’t identify the men as Doukhobors, but it would not have been in their interest to do so as a pro-management paper.

Instead the Miner described them as “as fine a looking party of Canadians as ever came into the Golden City … The men who came into the city last night were a lot of sturdy Canadians who value free speech and action above the fetich of agitation. They will be first-class mine workers in a comparatively short period.”

However, there were no further mentions of the Doukhobor workers after that. They probably departed once they understood the dispute they were in the middle of.

A third early foray into BC by Doukhobors was reported in The Chronicles of Camille, a memoir by longtime Trail merchant Camille Lauriente, published in 1953.

Lauriente recalled working as a CPR section foreman at Murphy Creek, just north of Trail, in July or August 1902. A roadmaster assigned four Doukhobors to work with him, none of whom had any railway experience. (Therefore they probably weren’t the same men who arrived in Rossland from Calgary the previous year.)

One man was fired after Lauriente accused him of laziness; he then went to work at the Trail smelter. The other three were also fired once Lauriente found more experienced track men.

Another early mention of Doukhobors in BC was in the Grand Forks Sun of April 12, 1904: “Messrs. Harry Itter, Geo. H. Hull, Lee and Lawson went down to Cascade last Sunday to take snap shots of the Doukhobor colony at that place.” (None of those photos are known to survive.)

The report is so brief and casual that it seems to assume readers were familiar with the subject. Yet no other mention of Doukhobors in the area appeared in the Grand Forks Sun or Grand Forks Gazette that month.

The word “colony” is probably a misnomer, as it was very doubtful to have been a permanent settlement and more likely an encampment of seasonal labourers. But if this report is accurate, what were they doing at Cascade? Working at one of the mines or sawmills in the area? At the Cascade Water Power & Light dam on the Kettle River? Or for the CPR as railway labourers? And were these the same Doukhobors that A.J. Flett went to see at Grand Forks three years earlier?

Furthermore, was it just coincidence that in each case the men came to the region that would later be home to thousands of Doukhobors? Or did these early sojourns plant some small seed for that subsequent migration? Did any Doukhobors who came to BC prior to 1908 later return permanently?

We’ll probably never know the answers with any certainty. Unfortunately, we don’t know the names of any of the individuals either; no Doukhobors have been discovered in BC on the 1901 census.

With thanks to Ron Verzuh, who found the story of Doukhobors hired to work in the Rossland mines.

This story first appeared in:

Doukhobors at Procter and Sunshine Bay, BC

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who were the Doukhobor colonists at Procter?

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

Community Doukhobors on the West Arm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piecing together the Procter colony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson Daily News headline, Aug. 7, 1918.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independent Doukhobors at Sunshine Bay & Procter

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

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

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

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

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

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

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

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

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

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

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

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

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections.

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

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

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

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

After Word

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

End Notes

[1] “Proctor” [sic] in Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory 1918, p. 377:; and Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory 1919, p. 529:

[2] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Jam-Making Enterprise” in West Kootenay Advertiser, April 23-30 and May 7, 14, 21 2020:;;;;

[3] Ibid.

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

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

[6] Supra, note 2.

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

[8] Creston Review, Feb. 1, 1918

[9] Supra, note 2.

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

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

[12] Ibid.

[13] Supra, note 8.

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

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

[16] Ibid.

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

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

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

[20] Supra, notes 18 and 19

[21] BC Mental Hospital, New Westminster, 1921 Canada Census:; Doukhobor settlement at Shoreacres, 1921 Canada Census:; Malicia Stoshnoff death registration

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

[23] Supra, note 18.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Supra, note 1.

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

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

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

[29] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

[34] Peter John Gretchen death registration, BC Archives 1967-09-004768:; Annie Gretchen death registration, BC Archives 1968-09-005330:

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

[36] Ibid.

[37] Library and Archives Canada, Post Offices and Postmasters Database, Procter postmasters list, viewed at

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

Doukhobors in the Kootenay, 1909

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elementary School

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

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

Doukhobor Religion

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

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

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

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

Women with the Hoe

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

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

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

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

Strong, Hardy Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Arrivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vegetarian Menus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Word

It should be noted that all references to ‘Brilliant’ in this 1909 article refer exclusively to the Doukhobor settlemens in the Valley of Consolation (Dolina Utesheniya) on the southeast side of the Kootenay-Columbia confluence. The lands known as ‘Brilliant’ today on the northeast side of the confluence were only purchased by the Doukhobor Society three years later in 1912.

Rediscovering the Lost Burning of Arms site in Azerbaijan

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

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.

The Burning of Arms, a painting by Michael M. Voykin, Castlegar, BC (1974).

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. 

Countryside on the northwest outskirts of Slavyanka. The hill in the background is known among local Doukhobors as Orlov Bugor or the ‘Eagle Mound’. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.”
Highway at the northwest outskirts of Slavyanka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.  

View of Slavyanka from the main highway. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.

View of Slavyanka from the main highway. The hill in the background is known by local Doukhobors as Kosavyi Bugor or the ‘Slanted Mound’. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.

The writer beside a local Azeri (left) and Grisha Zaitsev (right). © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.

View of Maria Strelyaeva’s house in Slavyanka, whitewashed with light blue trim in the traditional Doukhobor fashion. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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. 

Canadian visitors and local neighbours at Maria Strelyaev’s home. (L-R): Brian Ewashen, Jarred Arishenkoff, Lisa Siminoff, Andrei Conovaloff, Alex Ewashen, the writer, Lyuba Konkina, another girl of mixed Azeri-Doukhobor parentage, Maria Strelyaeva, Verna Postnikoff, Linda Arishenkoff, Grisha Zaitsev. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.

Kizilchak – the river valley leading southwest from Slavyanka to the ancient grove and mineral spring where Elisavetpol Doukhobors traditionally gathered to celebrate their festivals. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.

Part of the ancient grove beside the Verkhnyi Narzan spring. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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?

The mineral spring traditionally known by Doukhobors as Kvasok, today known as Verkhnyi Narzan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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. 

The writer atop the hill overlooking the ancient grove and Verkhnyi Narzan spring (not visible, left). To the left lies the Kizilchak. To the right, the ravine known by local Doukhobors as Kinzhal’naya Balka (‘Dagger Gulley’), and behind it, Kosavyi Bugor. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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. 

View of the ancient grove and Verkhnyi Narzan spring from atop the hill. Behind them lies Sukhorukova Balka (‘Sukhorukov Ravine’) named for a local Doukhobor family. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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!   

Satellite image showing Verkhnyi Narzan lying 3 km from the centre of Slavyanka. ZoomEarth.

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. 

View of the Slavyanka hills at dusk from our hotel. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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."
Memorial stone at the old cemetery, engraved by the first Doukhobor settlers in Slavyanka in 1844. The age-worn engraving was replaced with a sheet metal inscription in 1967. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.  

A row of one hundred walnut trees planted a century and a half ago by Slavyanka Doukhobors near the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.

View of the Nizhnyi Narzan spring on the northeast outskirts of Slavyanka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

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.

Satellite view showing Nizhnyi Narzan lying 600 m from the centre of Slavyanka. Zoomearth.

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.

The writer at Slavyanka road sign at town outskirts. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After Word

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA Nos. 2141, August 2019 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).
The popular ‘Slavyanka’ premium bottled mineral water from the Nizhnyi Narzan spring, sold throughout Azerbaijan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.