By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff
While the Doukhobor connection to B.C. places like Grand Forks and Castlegar are well known, few today would associate them with Cranbrook. Yet for a brief period in 1925-1926, Cranbrook was the easternmost commercial outpost of the Doukhobor communal organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), in that province.
In the fall of 1925, after an impressive apple harvest, the Grand Forks Branch of the CCUB looked eastward to potential distribution points in the East Kootenay and Crowsnest Pass region to market and sell its apples. A Doukhobor trading store in Blairmore, AB was established in 1924 to this end, but ceased operation in early 1925 amidst a legal dispute.
After unsuccessful negotiations with fruit sellers in Cranbrook to handle their apples, the Grand Forks Doukhobors decided to establish a wholesale branch of their own in that city by October 1925.
Strategically located near the western outlet of the Crowsnest Pass, Cranbrook was an important Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) junction for shipping goods east through the Rockies to the Prairies, northwest to the Kimberly mines, north via Fort Steele up the Kootenay and Columbia River valleys to Golden, or south via Kingsgate to the United States on the Spokane International Railroad.
To this end, in early November 1925, the Doukhobors leased the former Cranbrook Cooperative Stores Ltd. (CCS) building at 124 Norbury Avenue (now 24 10th Avenue) next to the Canadian Hotel and across from the Star Theatre in Cranbrook. Built in 1910, it was a large 48 x 70 foot, two-story wood-frame warehouse with storefront façade, freight elevator, full concrete basement and tin gambrel roof. It was conveniently located three blocks east of the CPR depot.
Within days, the CCUB shipped “several” railcars of apples from its Grand Forks packing houses to Cranbrook. To give some idea of the volume, each CPR railcar held between 500 and 800 40-lb boxes of apples; and if 3 or more railcars were shipped, then between 30 to 100 tons or more of Doukhobor-grown apples arrived in Cranbrook from their Grand Forks orchards.
In Cranbrook, a Doukhobor work crew (stationed there from Grand Forks) unloaded the apples from the railcars at the CPR depot and transported them by horse and wagon teams to the CCS building, where they were put into cold storage. From there, the Doukhobors sold and delivered wagon-loads of apples throughout the city and surrounding area. Stock was also shipped via railroad to outlying towns, villages and camps. The distribution outlet was managed by Joseph P. Shukin, the BC Vice-President of the CCUB.
By conducting their own wholesale distribution, the Doukhobors were able to sell their produce to East Kootenay retailers and retail customers at prevailing market prices while earning a larger profit margin than their competitors, since the apples were grown, picked, packed and handled by unpaid communal labour, and were sold without the intervention of middlemen or commission agents. In this regard, the Doukhobor ‘tree to consumer’ approach was an early precursor to the ‘farm gate’ model of agricultural product marketing.
The CCUB at Cranbrook launched a major advertising campaign (somewhat uncharacteristically of Doukhobors) in the local newspaper, the Cranbrook Herald, between November 1925 and February 1926 to publicly market and produce its produce.
A listing of its advertised apple varieties demonstrates the biodiversity of the CCUB fruit-growing operation in Grand Forks: Northern Spy, Wagner, Spitzenberg Greenings, Ben Davis, Alexander, Newton, Baxter, Ontario, Rome Beauty, Snows, Jonathan and Delicious. Several of these varieties can no longer be found today. Prices ranged from $1.50 to $2.00 per 40-lb box. Free wagon delivery was offered to any part of the city.
Interestingly, the CCUB Cranbrook outlet also offered chicken feed for sale at $2.30 per 100-lb bag. This consisted of weed seeds, cracked and broken grains, bran and other screenings – milling waste generated from the CCUB flour milling operation in Grand Forks. In this way, the Doukhobors generated an additional revenue stream from an otherwise waste byproduct.
By February 1926, the CCUB at Cranbrook ceased newspaper advertising, and within the next several weeks, successfully sold out its apple stock from the Fall 1925 harvest. It is estimated that the Doukhobors grossed between $2,900.00 and $7,700.00 ($45,800.00 to $121,600.00 in today’s dollars) or more in revenue from their three-plus month stay in the city. The CCUB subsequently gave up its lease on the Norbury Avenue warehouse and the Doukhobors departed back to their communal settlements in Grand Forks.
The CCUB never re-established a commercial presence in Cranbrook after 1926, opting for other marketing and distribution strategies instead. However, their brief tenure in that city demonstrated the nimbleness and practicality with which the Doukhobors approached their business dealings. As for their one-time fruit warehouse, it still stands today and remains in use as a business premises.
Special thanks to David Humphrey of the Cranbrook History Centre Archives for his assistance in tracing the history of the warehouse building.
An earlier version of this article was originally published in the Cranbrook Townsman February 17, 2022 edition as “How the Doukhobors Brought their Applies to Cranbrook.” It has subsequently appeared in the March 3, 2022 edition of the Trail News.
 Cranbrook Herald, November 12, 1925.
 The building was constructed in March 1910 by G.H. Gilpin of the East Kootenay Produce and Provision Co., which operated there until December 1911. In January 1912, the business was reorganized as East Kootenay Mercantile Co., occupying the premises until July 1913. In January 1914, a half-interest in the building was sold to W.B. McFarlane, who ran his Cranbrook Cooperative Stores Ltd. there until June 1917. The building was then leased to various short-term tenants, including Western Grocers from October to November 1924: Cranbrook Herald, 1910.03.24 to 1924.11.07; Cranbrook Courier, 1924.10.24.
 Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory (1926) at 95.
 Cranbrook Herald, November 19, 1925 to January 28, 1926.
 By July 1926, the building was re-occupied by the East Kootenay Lumber Co. In February 1927, it was purchased by Hanson Garage, which added a 50-foot addition to the rear of the building. By 1946, it was taken over by Cranbrook Auto Wreckers, and in 1947, by East Kootenay Equipment Co. which operated there until 1968. In 1968, it housed Schmaltz International Ltd. for two years before it was re-occupied by B.C. Hydro in 1970. In the 2000s, it was occupied by Uniglobe Travel, and most currently, by The Paw Shop and MJ’s Floral Boutique. Cranbrook Herald, 1927.02.24, 1932.05.26, 1946.10.03, 1947.06.05; Cranbrook Courier, 1932.05.26; 1962.11.28; Lethbridge Herald, 1968.08.23, 1970.07.23; Cranbrook & East Kootenay Directory, 1946, 1953-1954.