by Debra Pinkerton
Canora resident Fay Negraeff recently delved into the history of a brickyard operated by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in Yorkton, Saskatchewan from 1905-1939. Reproduced from the pages of The Canora Courier newspaper (Canora, Saskatchewan: February 18, 2004), this article by Debra Pinkerton recounts the story of the Doukhobor brickyard and its impact on the Yorkton area.
Fay Negraeff of Canora had a personal interest in the yard as it was registered under the name of Anna Morosoff, her maternal great-aunt. Many residents of Doukhobor ancestry knew of her family connection to the brickyard. She was often asked about the business’s location, but information about the actual location had been lost since the company ceased operations.
Fay Negraeff of Canora poses with brick from the Doukhobor Brickyard in Yorkton.
Negraeff had checked with Philip Perepelkin of the Veregin Doukhobor Heritage Museum as to whether the museum knew the location of the brickyard. The museum has several bricks from the yard on display, stamped with the name “Morosof(f)”. The location of the brickyard was unknown.
Negraeff contacted Therese Lefebvre-Prince, heritage researcher of the City of Yorkton, who supplied her with a newspaper article, copies of the relevant sections of Yorkton’s city plans dated July 1923, and a photocopy of the City of Yorkton records pertaining to the Doukhobor endeavours in the area.
The city records state that the property was not registered in the name of the (Doukhobor) Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood because they were in debt. It was instead registered in Morosoff’s name, who was a member of the community. This was a departure from the communal tradition of the community.
An article in the Yorkton Enterprise dated June 7, 1905 proclaimed the purchase of the land from J.J. Smith by Peter Verigin on behalf of the Doukhobor community. The site, identified as “part of Block 17, comprising a cement block works, sand pit and lands adjoining” was sold for $2,500.
“It is the intention of the Doukhobor colony, of which Peter Verigin is the head,” the article said, “to install an up-to-date plant for the manufacture of cement blocks and clay bricks on this property. Work has already commenced and another thriving industry has been added to Yorkton.”
The Doukhobor Brickyard was built on 10 acres of land bounded by 7th Avenue North and Dracup Avenue, between Darlington and part-way to Henderson, with Dunlop dead-ending in the yard. The factory cost between $30,000 and $50,000, a huge sum of money in those days, the records show.
Brickyard site as shown in 1923 survey of the City of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Source; City of Yorkton Archives.
Power was supplied by a 50-horsepower steam engine, operated by six men and two boys. The brickyard employed 28 men, 20 boys and three women, under the supervision of M.W. Cazakoff. In true Doukhobor tradition, proceeds from sales of bricks went to the treasury of the community, which supported the workers, and no wages were paid.
Family Connection. The Doukhobor Brickyard in Yorkton was registered in the name of Mrs. Anna Morosoff, great-aunt of Fay Negraeff of Canora. In the early 1940’s, Morosoff, seated, visited her relatives, Negraeff’s mother and sisters, on their farm west of Canora.
Bricks were made from a mixture of sand and clay. The yard was able to produce 50,000 bricks per day, but rarely ran at full capacity.
The city records state that a large number of Doukhobors immigrated to the Yorkton area in 1899. The Government of Canada, hoping to encourage large groups of settlers to thwart American settlement of the Canadian West, welcomed the Doukhobors with 45 townships in Manitoba and the then Assinniboia Territory, in what is now Saskatchewan. They were granted immunity from military service and received land in blocks to settle communally.
Within a few years of their arrival, there were 47 Doukhobor villages in the Yorkton vicinity, with 10 miles of graded road and 20,000 acres under cultivation. They owned several saw and grist mills, two brickyards, and 370 head of cattle, the records show. Peter Verigin was released from exile in 1902, and joined his followers in Veregin. He renamed the community the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB).
In 1905, the homestead requirements changed. Each quarter section had to be registered and farmed individually. Communal villages were no longer possible. More than 2,000 of the original 6,000 settlers filed individual homesteads, with the rest losing their lands. More than 250,000 acres of land was seized at a loss to the Doukhobor people of more than $11 million, the records state.
Within five years, Veregin had resettled the largest portion of the community in British Columbia. The community became the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ in 1938.
In 1927, the new Doukhobor leader, Peter Petrovich Verigin, decided to either sell or develop the remaining property owned by the community in Yorkton. With building permits registered under the name of Anna Morosoff, construction started on six houses in 1932. Veregin brought in a contractor and 25 men from BC to join 50 Doukhobor men from the area on the project. The men worked 12 hour days, six days a week for 10 cents a day.
Close-up of the brickyard site as shown in 1923 survey of the City of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Source; City of Yorkton Archives.
During the Depression, construction was unusual, and six houses going up on the same block was unheard of. Using bricks from the Doukhobor Brickyard Society, the houses were built on the east block of Myrtle Avenue between Smith Street and the CPR line, which was owned by the society and had stood empty for many years.
Remaining Doukhobor Houses: Three of the original six houses built by the Doukhobor Brickyard Society in 1932 stand on Myrtle Avenue in Yorkton. Details of the houses include the front view at 33 Myrtle Avenue and garage at 29 Myrtle Avenue.
The houses were built completely by hand. The holes for the foundations were dug with a scraper pulled by horses. The walls were three bricks thick, and the lumber was brought in from BC. The houses were surrounded by brick and wood fences five feet high. Behind each house, a garage was built for the size of the Model T automobile popular at the time. The structure of the homes resembled the thatch-peaked homes the Doukhobors had built in their communities.
Former Junior High School: The former C.J. Houston Junior High School in Yorkton was built with bricks from the Doukhobor Brickyard in Yorkton. Other buildings in the city built with the bricks include the old Macleods building and the City Limits Inn.
Three of the original six houses still stand. As well, many other buildings in Yorkton such as the City Limits Inn, C.J. Houston Junior High School, and houses at 85, 92 and 98 Fifth Avenue North are built of bricks produced by the Doukhobor brickyard.
In 1990, the City of Yorkton purchased the home at 29 Myrtle Avenue for preservation as a heritage site, to commemorate the history of the Doukhobors in Yorkton.
Built with Doukhobor Bricks: These houses at 85 (top) and 92 (bottom) Fifth Avenue in Yorkton were built with bricks from the Doukhobor Brickyard in Yorkton. The bricks were stamped with the name “Morosof(f)” after Anna Morosoff in whose name the brickyard was registered. She was the great-aunt of Fay Negraeff of Canora.
Many Doukhobors in the community have bricks stamped with the Morosof(f) name as souvenirs. Negraeff said she thought the last letter was left off the bricks for lack of room. Negraeff felt a great deal of personal satisfaction in unearthing the history of the Doukhobor brickyard in Yorkton. She hopes others who had family involved would appreciate knowing more about the brickyard and its impact on the area.
The CCUB ceased to operate the brickyard in c. 1925. It remained inoperative for several years until 1930, when brother-in-laws Nick N. Morosoff and Mike N. Maloff took over operation of the brickyard. As the brickyard property was in Nick’s mother (Mike’s mother-in-law) Anna’s name, they paid off the back taxes and debts owing against the property and assumed ownership. As part of the arrangement, the new owners agreed to build the six houses on Myrtle Avenue referenced above. During the partnership, the bricks were stamped “Yorkton”. In 1934, Maloff left the partnership. Thereafter, Morosoff continued to operated the brickyard until 1938. The bricks were stamped “Morosof(f)” during this period. In 1938, the brickyard was leased to Mr. George Waters who operated it for one year. It was then re-leased, with an option to purchase, to Mr. Paul Sawchenko. Sawchenko operated it for one year and, losing money, closed down the plant and demolished the buildings – JJK.