Shining Waters: Doukhobors in the Castlegar Area
Located in the Kootenay region at
the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers, Castlegar is the home of
many of British Columbia's Doukhobors. The following article by Vi Plotnikoff
tells the story of Doukhobor culture and lifestyle as it evolved in the
Castlegar area between 1908 and 1938. Their unique communal way of life,
sharing of resources, agrarian development, industry, schools and education, and
politics and leadership are brought to life in text and photographs. Reproduced by permission from “Castlegar, a
Confluence” (Karen W. Farrer (ed), Castlegar: Castlegar & District Heritage
From 1908 to 1913, the Doukhobors purchased vast tracts of land in the West
Kootenay, but it was at Waterloo that they first settled in BC. Peter V.
Verigin renamed the place Dolina Ootischenia meaning "Valley of
Consolation". He also named the community of Brilliant for its sparkling
Upon arrival in British Columbia, the Doukhobors began constructing
temporary houses. These were individual homes, small in size and constructed
of logs. As lumber became more readily available, temporary houses were
built as long, single-story structures.
In 1911, Peter Verigin divided the land into 100 acre plots and built
houses, or doms, which were unique to the area and Tolstoyan in concept
because of their uniformity. Eventually, as brick factories were built, the
doms were constructed out of brick. Each dom was 32 feet by 40 feet, and was
two stories high with an attic, and a half-basement for storage. The wooden
buildings in the village were never painted.
Brilliant, BC, circa
1920. British Columbia Archives A-08737.
There were usually two large houses or doms in each village. They were built
side by side, approximately 60 feet apart, and joined by one-story buildings
in a U-shape. Often families with very young children lived in these
buildings, ensuring privacy. They also served as storage areas and summer
kitchens. Each large dom had a meeting room with a long table and benches,
sometimes used as additional sleeping space. The enormous kitchen was the
heart of each dom. It was furnished with a long dining table and benches, a
large cook-stove, cupboards to store cooking utensils and dishes, and a huge
petch, or Russian-style oven. By 1912, all the kitchens had piped-in water.
The head man in each village and his family usually had two bedrooms on the
first level. Upstairs, several small bedrooms opened off a long central
hall. People slept on long, wooden beds resembling benches, lying feet to
feet. Thus a family of four often occupied a small bedroom.. An attic made
up the third floor. Each village usually had a room which was used as a
maternity room or an infirmary. A courtyard was located in the middle of the
square and used for activities, such as drying fruit, vegetables and grains.
Barns and outbuildings were built behind the doms. Each village had a banya
(steambath), which everyone in the village took turns using. The banya also
housed a laundry.
Every village contained about seventy to one hundred persons, or ten to
fifteen families, and was known as a "BC One Hundred". The people in the
villages were not necessarily related to one another, but were chosen for
their skills and assigned to various villages that needed these skills.
Orchards and gardens were planted and the people produced nearly all of
their food. Each garden had an abundance of sunflower plants as sunflower
seeds were a favourite snack among the Doukhobors. Fruit and vegetables were
dried in the sun or in drying sheds and stored for winter use. Vegetables
and grains were exchanged among the villages, and wheat was shipped from the
Saskatchewan Community villages, while the British Columbia Doukhobors
shipped fruit to the prairies.
The economic structure of the Doukhobor community in British Columbia was
based on the mir of Russian peasants. The central committee included Peter
Verigin and a head man from each village, also the manager from each of the
Each individual's needs were supplied from the community fund. If a person
worked outside the community, he handed over his wage to the community,
where it went into a common fund from which all purchases were made. Each
region had a purchasing agent and if an individual required clothing, food
or supplies, he only had to ask. If he had to visit a neighbouring town for
medical or business purposes, he simply asked for the funds to cover his
trip. Thus, people contributed their labour to the community, and the
community looked after their needs.
In 1917, under a Dominion charter, the Doukhobor community was incorporated
as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB). All commune
members received flour, potatoes, salt and shelter and every member received
a sum of money, which varied from year to year. Widows, the elderly and the
men received different amounts, depending upon their needs. Each male member
was assessed an annual sum, depending on his earnings. The settlements were
functioning as a single unit, with crops and produce being shared by all as
Daily life among the Community Doukhobors was fairly structured, with the
men either working outside the community, or in various community
industries. Women's work was laid out formally, with a strict rotation of
duties. One week, a woman might be cooking and serving the meals, while the
following week, she would be weeding the gardens or milking the cows and
separating the milk.
This system allowed each woman to work and participate in all aspects of
village life. Although the women sewed most of the clothing for their
families, the exception was the denim work clothes sewed for the men. These
were produced in a community factory. Many of the older women spent much of
their time spinning wool and knitting stockings and mittens. Shoes were sewn
in a cobbler's shop and harnesses for the horses were produced in a harness
shop or chebatarna.
Children spent much of their time weeding the gardens and working in the
orchards. They also helped the elderly pick nuts and wild berries. Girls
learned to knit, sew and cook at an early age, and boys helped with the
cattle and learned carpentery or blacksmith work. Both boys and girls up to
the age of twelve wore a dress-like garment and went barefoot all summer.
workers at mealtime - Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01490.
Meals were prepared and eaten in the large kitchens with everyone in the dom
sitting down to eat together. The Lord's Prayer was recited prior to each
meal. Borshch and piroghi were usually prepared for weekends. Large pots of
soup were served daily, and vegetables, fruits or traditional pastries such
as vareniki rounded out the meals. Cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt
were also part of the diet. Tea or atvar (fruit juice) were the favourite
beverages. Bread-baking was done often and in large quantities. The loaves
were huge and usually round. They were baked in the petch which stood in a
corner of the kitchen.
Living in a village was a social experience, for one was seldom alone.
People of all ages gathered on the porches of the doms or in the courtyards
in the summertime, working at drying fruits and vegetables, mending or
spinning. Evening singsongs were commonplace and most winter evenings were
spent in the kitchens near the petch, perhaps eating sunflower seeds. The
babas (grandmothers) and children often lay on top of the warm petch and the
children learned to recite psalomchiki, or listen to stories about Russia.
The young people socialized, at the sobranye which the youth from other
villages attended. Sunday afternoons, group singing was popular, especially
in the summer. Young people would often meet outdoors and dance to
harmonicas. In the winter, boys played hockey on the sloughs, and evening
gatherings took place indoors. The girls spent their winters working on
needlework for their sunduk (hope chest).
On Saturdays, work stopped at noon. This was the time for visiting the banya
and preparing for Sunday, when everyone attended the molenye (prayer
service), and the sobranye, where business would be discussed and hymns
sung. In the summertime, large sobranye were held on the meadows near the
Kootenay River in Ootischenia where hundreds might attend, especially if the
leader were present.
By 1922, there were fifty-seven sets of double houses, and several single
ones built in the West Kootenay, and twenty-four in the Fruktova area. The
largest settlement was still at Ootischenia with twenty-four villages.
Throughout their history, Doukhobors were agrarians, and upon their arrival
in British Columbia, they immediately began clearing land for agricultural
purposes. The first area to be cleared was Brilliant, and the second area
was the lowest terrace at Ootischenia. Krestova had also been partially
cleared by 1909. Soon afterwards, in 1912, the Brilliant bench, nearly all
of the second terrace at Ootischenia, 160 acres in Pass Creek, several
hundred acres in Krestova and nearly all of Glade was ready for planting.
The Fruktova (Grand Forks) area was easier to clear because it was mostly
open land, with little underbrush and a light stand of timber.
Many of the trees were more than three feet in diameter and over one hundred
feet high. The timber was cut by two men using cross-cut saws, and hauled to
community sawmills by sled in the winter. Smaller trees were cut and used
for producing railway ties for sale and for poles, posts and small buildings
on community property. Cordwood was also cut, both for sale and for use by
the Doukhobors. The underbrush was cleared, using grubbing hoes, axes, saws
and shovels and the brush was used as fuel for the community steam engines.
A rotary drum and ratchet puller, and horses were used to clear stumps.
Boulders were also removed using this method. Stubborn stumps and rocks were
sometimes removed by dynamite.
Sorting apples at
Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01535.
As land was cleared, a five acre plot was assigned each village and the
people immediately began planting. It was expected that food would be
produced within forty-five days to feed a village and make it self-reliant.
Crops included vegetables and berries. Wild nuts and berries supplemented
the diet. Fruit trees were planted for commercial purposes, along with a
large variety of berries. Grains and hay were sown in other areas. Soil at
Krestova proved too sandy for successful crops; however, Brilliant,
Ootischenia, Pass Creek and Shoreacres had thriving orchards within a short
time. The Doukhobor communities in British Columbia used what they could,
then shipped fruit to the prairies or sold it at local markets. Each village
assigned about twenty men to work in the orchards and even more during peak
The Community Doukhobors practiced double-cropping, which entailed planting
strawberries and vegetables between the young fruit trees. As the trees
matured and spread, this method ceased because of the lack of sun.
Ootischenia had the majority of orchards, producing apples, pears and
cherries, mostly located on the second terrace. Grains, strawberries and
potatoes were also grown there. Flax for linen clothing was grown in
Ootischenia, the Slocan Valley and Fruktova areas. Woolen clothing was also
Linseed oil pressed from flax seed was used in cooking to a great extent,
and the honey industry was flourishing. Flour mills were established in
Fruktova, Ootischenia, Champion Creek and in the Slocan Valley, and flour
was produced from grains grown on CCUB lands. Grains were grown in several
places with the largest area being the northern part of the second terrace
at Ootischenia. These ( crops included oats, wheat and millet. The
broadcasting method was used to sow the grains, and harvesting was done by
hand scythes. Various threshing methods were used, depending upon the amount
of grain being threshed. If it were a small amount, large farm animals would
be led over the grains, loosening hulls. Beans and peas were also threshed
in this manner. If the harvest was a large one, either a horse-harnessed
sled or a cog-roller was dragged over the grain. The sled was constructed
out of wood, three feet by eight feet, with sharp pieces of small rocks
studding the underside. This method was used by Doukhobors in the Kars
province of Russia, who learned it from the Turks in Caucasia. The
cog-roller consisted of a tree trunk with wooden blocks nailed into it.
Since all produce went into the central community, there was no need to
separate the crops, and no need for fences. Crops were not fertilized by
mineral fertilizers and there was not enough 'natural' fertilizer from farm
animals to make much of a difference. This was cited as one of the reasons
communities like Krestova did not succeed as agrarian areas.
The development of irrigation systems in the Doukhobor communities were of
prime concern, and by 1912, two irrigation systems were in place in
Ootischenia. A concrete tank measuring 75 feet by 125 feet and 14 feet deep
was built. It held 1,000,000 gallons when full and was supplied by mountain
streams. Located on the second terrace, it operated by gravity, providing
water for several villages. A steam-driven, four-cylinder pump was located
on the Kootenay River, supplying water to the reservoir through a
fourteen-inch wooden pipe. A mill to manufacture staves for the wooden pipes
was constructed in Ootischenia. The irrigation system was over seven miles
Doukhobor Reservoir at
Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives D-01927.
Several sawmills were constructed on community lands, with eight mills
operating by 1912. Other enterprises soon followed, including a brickyard in
Fruktova, blacksmith and woodwork shops, flour mill, and harness-making and
cobbler shops. A large honey industry was developed at Brilliant.
Soon after the Doukhobors arrived, they began building their own roads,
ferries and bridges. In 1913, they completed the Brilliant Suspension
Bridge. The bridge was part of the public highway system until the 1960s.
The inscription on the bridge stated 'Strictly Prohibited Smoking and
Trespassing with Fire Arms over this Bridge'. Roads were built, connecting
the Doukhobor settlements. The Doukhobors also operated ferries at Brilliant
By 1911, more than 50,000 fruit trees had been planted, and the Community
Doukhobors purchased the Kootenay Jam Company, which was located on Front
Street in Nelson, BC. In 1914, they donated jam to the Red Cross for the
families of soldiers.
Although Ootischenia had the largest population of all the Doukhobor
settlements in British Columbia, it was in Brilliant where the biggest
commercial enterprise was located. At the heart of this enterprise was the
jam factory, which was relocated to Brilliant in 1915. It was called the
Kootenay Columbia Preserving Works, but was better known as the Brilliant
Jam Factory. The complex included a packing house, grain elevator storing
prairie wheat, community store, gas pumps, offices, library, a dormitory
with sleeping quarters and a dining hall for workers, also the dom of the
Doukhobor leader, who also had a home in Veregin, Saskatchewan. Across the
road from the complex was the CPR railway station with living quarters
attached, and the Brilliant Post Office.
With the relocation of the factory to Brilliant, the production of jam was
brought near the heart of the community fields and the output of jam
increased. Twelve steam heated copper kettles were in use and the berries
were picked and processed the same day. The factory also began manufacturing
tin cans and lids for the jam. The community fields of Ootischenia,
Shoreacres, Glade, Slocan Valley, Brilliant and Pass Creek provided the
berries for the jam. Fruit from the Grand Forks community was shipped by
rail. Harry Beach, jam-maker, introduced an old English recipe. It contained
only fresh berries or fruit, pure cane sugar and water.
The irrigation system was further developed, with water from Pass Creek
being brought in by wooden pipes to the Brilliant area. It was distributed
by gravity flow. Two small systems located on
the banks of the Columbia River brought water to the lower bench in
Ootischenia in six inch
wooden pipes to provide irrigation for the orchards. Staves for the pipes
were supplied by mills in
Champion Creek and Ootischenia.
By 1916, more land was acquired by the Doukhobors including two thousand
acres of timber south of Nelson. In Ootischenia, one thousand acres were
added to the lands there, extending toward McPhee and Little McPhee Creeks,
and bringing in much-needed water supplies from the creeks. The rich soil of
the Raspberry area was added to the Doukhobor community, and holdings in
Pass Creek were extended by over 3,000 acres. Other land purchases included
360 acres in the Slocan Valley, and 240 acres across the Kootenay River from
There was great demand for wood during World War I and the CCUB cleared vast
tracts of land in Ootischenia, with the second terrace and the side hills
between the benches cleared of underbrush and logged by 1921. By 1922, sixty
acres on the upper bench were also cleared. The purchase of a steam donkey
engine greatly aided stump pulling, but on the upper bench, the large trees
were felled by hand, and the holes filled with dirt, thus large rocks below
the surface would remain undisturbed, making the soil easier to till.
The eight mills in the CCUB provided adequate lumber for the Doukhobors, and
up to three carloads daily besides. Some of the lumber was shipped to
Saskatchewan for the CCUB communities, and the surplus was sold. By 1922 the
sawmills dwindled to four as the lumber was exhausted.
A second brickyard was constructed in the Slocan Valley to supplement the
yard in Fruktova. Bricks began to be used for the construction of the doms,
and in the early 1920s, each village had at least one dom constructed out of
brick, as fire protection. Other wooden doms were veneered with brick.
As the CCUB developed its industries and villages, fewer labourers were
required, resulting in more men working outside of the community and
contributing to the income of the CCUB. Some were skilled tradesmen, but
most worked as labourers.
Doukhobor Jam Factory at
Brilliant, BC, circa 1930. British Columbia Archives D-06930.
Despite the Depression, the Brilliant Jam Factory continued to flourish.
Upon Peter P. Verigin's arrival in Canada, the factory was enlarged and 24
jam kettles were in operation. The community could not keep up with the
demand for fruit, so the farmers from Creston, Slocan Valley and Kootenay
Lake areas began selling their produce to the jam factory.
During the Depression, household jam consisting of strawberries and apples
proved the most popular because it was both economical and delicious.
Commercial huckleberry jam was sold for the first time in Canada, but was
not economically viable as the berries were not readily available. Other
jams included plum, cherry, gooseberry, currant, apricot and peach. Large
fields of raspberries were planted on fertile slopes and supplied to the
factory. The Doukhobors named this area 'Raspberry'. But it was the famous
strawberry jam which was the most popular.
At peak times, sixty people could produce 1,050 cans of jam per hour, with
shipments of 43,000 cases annually. Each case of jam contained 12 four pound
cans. During one record-breaking trip in eastern Canada, salesman William J.
Soukeroff sold 18 railway freight cars of jam.
From 1915 to 1935, Peter P. Zibin supervised the factory, followed by Mike
J.Makeiff. The irrigation system in Brilliant-Pass Creek was very efficient,
so it was decided to expand it by replacing the 15 inch pipe with a 24 inch
pipe which was also made out of wood staves. The new pipe crossed the
Kootenay River on the bridge at Brilliant. However, the wooden pipe could
not withstand the pressure of water and attempts to pump it into the
reservoir failed. Several Ootischenia villages obtained their domestic water
from this system. The system feeding Ootischenia from McPhee and Little
McPhee Creeks supplied water until 1953. A forest fire in 1933 destroyed the
wooden pipes, trestles, and small pipes leading to the reservoir and damaged
the watershed. This greatly reduced the output of the streams in the
mountains east of Ootischenia. The water projects, which cost $438,000 to
install, could not meet the needs of the Doukhobor community.
At this time, sawmills were abandoned, leaving only one sawmill and planing
mill in the Slocan Valley and another planing mill at Champion Creek. They
were destroyed by fire before 1938.
Schools and Education
The immigration of Doukhobors to British Columbia from Saskatchewan brought
about new challenges to public education. First, there were at least 700
children of school age who had never seen a school and who knew little
English. Second, there were the pacifist beliefs of the Doukhobors. Third,
there was mistrust of governments by these new immigrants.
The Blakemore Royal Commission of 1912 recommended that "in order to give
the Doukhobors confidence and secure their sympathy, some working
arrangement might be made under which Russian teachers could be employed in
conjunction with Canadian teachers and the curriculum modified so as to
include only elementary subjects".
In 1910, Peter V. Verigin constructed the first Doukhobor school in
Brilliant, with eleven small schools being built in Doukhobor areas by 1920.
It wasn't until 1919 that Doukhobor girls were allowed to attend school, and
even after that time boys largely outnumbered the girls.
In the next two decades many schools were built to accommodate the Doukhobor
children. By 1923, school boards were held responsible for enforcing the
attendance law, with compulsory age limit being fifteen years. By 1929,
thirteen schools had been destroyed, mostly by arson. These activities were
blamed on the extreme zealot group, who opposed the compulsory attendance
The name of 'Brilliant' was given to each of the schools within a five
mile's radius. They were identified as 'Brilliant No. 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5'.
Brilliant No. I began as a small school, with the teacher being principal
for all of the five Brilliant schools. Eventually, overcrowding caused the
school to close and a large brick school to be built. It was located at the
junction of Pass Creek Road, Brilliant and Raspberry.
Group of Doukhobor
schoolchildren at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives D-01929.
In 1930 the school located in the south end of Ootischenia was burned as a
cover-up to a theft, so classes were relocated to the old chebatarnia. The
drafty old building housed forty students, so another classroom was hastily
prepared in the front section of the building. These were Brilliant No. 4 &
5 Schools. The teachers lived in a nearby communal home and walked the four
miles to the Brilliant Railway Station for supplies and mail. In the ensuing
years, students from this school began attending either Pleasant or Cay
In 1933 a brick school was constructed in Glade, resembling the Raspberry
(Brilliant) and Fructova Schools. The school included a classroom at each
end and a four-room teacherage in the centre. Although modern by the
standards of the day, water had to be hauled from the nearby river and
toilets were outside. The teachers found that one of the hardships of living
in an isolated community was the drift ferry. If one wished to cross, one
would call out "Parome!" (ferry) and it would be brought to your side of the
In 1935, Alexander Zuckerberg was invited by Peter P. Verigin to teach
Doukhobor children in Russian. Classes were conducted in various Doukhobor
prayer doms. Zuckerberg taught until 1961.
The first Ootischenia School was opened in 1942, consisting of three
classrooms and teacherage. The building was not insulated, and the washrooms
were outdoors. Wood stoves heated each room. The school was in operation for
twenty years, until a modern facility was built. It was also named
Ootischenia School and opened in 1963. Despite major additions, enrollment
decreased and the school closed in 1986. Both buildings remain today, with
the old school being utilized as a Doukhobor community hall.
Possibly the most isolated area in which the Doukhobors settled was Champion
Creek. Situated eight miles south of Castlegar on the east side of the
Columbia River, it was accessible by walking from Castlegar, then rowing a
boat across the river from Blueberry Creek, or horseback riding from
Ootischenia. In later years, you could risk your life by driving a vehicle,
because the banks were sandy and there was the possibility of landing in the
Champion Creek had a thriving population of five hundred people among its
five Doukhobor villages. Because of isolation, the men came home only on
weekends and holidays. Most worked for the CPR, in lumber camps or mines.
The women did the bulk of the farming on the slopes high above the Columbia,
growing fruits, vegetables, berries and hay.
The teacherage was located in one of the large doms, and sparsely furnished.
Classes were also held in a meeting room of a dom, which was furnished with
long desks and benches. Again, there were usually twice as many boys as
girls. Wages were $100 per month, while other rural schools paid $79.
John Landis, who later became Mayor of Castlegar, recalled his years at
Champion Creek School in the book "School District No. 9".
"I was assigned to Champion Creek School in 1956. The single room had ample
space for its eight pupils from Grades 1 to 6. The teacherage consisted of
a kitchen and a bedroom. Washrooms were two outdoor facilities past the
woodshed. I soon settled into my first teaching assignment. The isolated
area was far removed from a library or teaching tools. My copying machine
was a jelly pad, and chalk and black on boards my sole visual aid tools.
The parents supplied me with fresh produce, and I in turn, wrote
letters on their behalf, and when I bought my 1938 Chevy, they received
transportation to Castlegar.
"1956-57 was a cold winter, and the stove was kept cherry-red. During spring
breakup, I left my Chevy past Blueberry, and then called for the boys to row
me across the Columbia.
"P.E. activities were held outdoors except for curling. I used paper rolled
out on the floor for a rink, and ink bottle caps for rocks. Curling became
the children's favourite winter pastime."
Isolation had caught up with Champion Creek, and in the mid 1950s, all that
remained were three rundown sparsely populated villages. The school closed
in 1958. Children began to be bused in 1956. Electricity arrived in 1960,
the road was paved, and phone and cable services were installed.
Gibson Creek's first school was built in 1924. It was small, dark and bare.
A wood stove heated the one room and the toilets were outside. Water was
hauled from a neighbouring home. Living quarters for the teacher were
attached to the school. By 1947, the old Gibson Creek School was deemed
inadequate, and a new school was built. It consisted of a stucco building
with a large classroom and teacher's apartment, and modern amenities such as
washrooms, furnace room and lots of endows. By 1960 there were electric
lights. The school was situated in a remote area. To reach it, one had to
branch off of Pass Creek Road and take a scenic winding mountain road. During
spring, Gibson Creek overflowed its banks and washed out the road, making it
inaccessible. Heavy snowfalls hampered students as they climbed the hill. In
1963, parents withdrew their children from school because of poor road
conditions. After that, the road was deemed public and has been maintained by
the Highways Department. Gibson Creek School was closed in 1966 and its pupils
bused to Pass Creek.
In 1948, a new school was built in Tarrys, just down the road from Thrums.
To celebrate the opening, an open house was held. But before a single class
could be conducted, it was levelled by fire - the work of an arsonist.
Subsequently, the old school was moved to the burned site. It was known as
Tarrys School. In 1954, a new school was built next to the old one, and the
building of 1910 vintage was finally demolished. In the ensuing years, the
school population expanded, and so did the school. Today, students from
Tarrys, Thrums, Glade and Shoreacres attend this modern school.
Among Doukhobor students, various activities meant an absence from school.
For example, the school register during the 1940s recorded the following
reasons for absenteeism: Mrs. Verigin's funeral, Peter's Day, pilgrimage
to Verigin's Tomb, and celebration in honour of the elder Mrs. Verigin.
In 1945, when the Cameron Report on School Finance was given, it made no
specific provision regarding Doukhobor schools other than that they should
be treated no differently than others. "Every effort should be made to get
them into the ordinary scheme of things."
In the 1950s, the BC Government made an all-out effort to enforce school
attendance among children in Krestova and Gilpin. Forty children were seized
in one pre-dawn raid on Krestova and taken to an old sanatorium in New
Denver, a nearby village located on Slocan Lake. The raids on the children
continued for the next six years. The children were housed and schooled but
not allowed to have contact with their families, except for every other
Sunday. On that day, families would travel from Krestova and from Gilpin,
the latter necessitating a two day trip in winter. An eight foot high wire
fence divided the children and families. A molenye was held, and favourite
foods passed to the young inmates. Farewells were said through the 'chicken
wire' fence. The children were held in New Denver until fifteen years of
age. The school closed in 1959.
It could be said that the early twenties were the golden years for the CCUB.
The Brilliant Jam Factory was producing high yields of jams, utilizing fruit
from community orchards. The sawmills, flourmills and brickyards were busy,
and there was plenty of work outside of the community. Most important of
all, there was a noticeable spirit of togetherness among the people.
The Death of Peter "Lordly" Verigin
But on October 29, 1924, tragedy struck the Doukhobor community. Peter
"Lordly" Verigin was killed in a mysterious train explosion in Farron, BC.
Dynamite had been placed near his seat. Although eight others died, it was
believed that Verigin was the target. John Mackie, MLA, was one of the
victims, as was Harry Bishop, a hockey player with a Nelson hockey team.
Others included a rancher from Grand Forks, two businessmen, labourers and a
young Doukhobor woman. Although extensive inquiries were conducted, the
murders remain unsolved.
Verigin's funeral drew an estimated seven thousand people from across
western Canada, many non-Doukhobor. After a lengthy and emotional funeral,
during which hymns and psalms were sung and eulogies delivered, the leader
was buried on November 2, 1924. His resting place was a rocky bluff high
above the Kootenay River, Brilliant and Ootischenia, overlooking the vast
enterprise he had developed. An elaborate tomb with intricate carvings had
been erected, but it was blown up by dynamite several years later and
replaced by a plain edifice.
|Some seven thousand
people attended the funeral of Peter "Lordly" Verigin on a hillside overlooking
Brilliant, BC. Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection.
Peter Lordly Verigin was the ideal leader for the times. He had led the
Doukhobors throughout the most turbulent period in their history, when they
were at the mercy of various governments. He had counseled them to reject
militarism from his exile in Siberia, which precipitated their move to
Canada. After the loss of community lands on the prairies he had brought his
people to British Columbia and established a large communal enterprise,
which was at the height of its prosperity when he died a martyr's death. It
is no wonder that he is still revered today. "Toil and Peaceful Life" was
the slogan he left his people.
Six weeks after the death of Verigin, a memorial service was held at his
graveside. Four thousand people attended. They decided that the successor to
Peter V. Verigin should be his son, Peter P. Verigin, who was living in
Russia. He did not arrive in Canada until 1927. In his absence, the CCUB
Board of Directors continued to function. When Peter P. Verigin "Chistiakov'
(Cleanser) arrived, he was greeted by enormous crowds and songs composed in
The CCUB under Peter Verigin Chistiakov
Verigin immediately implemented economic and cultural initiatives and
organizational restructuring. He began by giving commune status to each
village, with the CCUB providing leadership to these communes. Building on
the structures already in place, he established villages or 'Families' in
units of 100 persons, while on the prairie, 25 persons were allotted to a
'Family'. A total of eighty communes or 'Families' were established, with an
appointed headman from each village collecting earnings from his workers,
making purchases, and paying levies and rent assessments to the CCUB for the
entire village. Business between individual communes was done on a cash
During the 1930s, CCUB membership was declining. This was attributed to a
number of factors including the Depression. Furthermore, many Doukhobors
were leaving the CCUB community and moving to towns or farms. There were
also a growing number of zealots who didn't pay assessments and who were
sent to live in isolated settlements.
In the early 1930s, as a response to nude parades, several hundred zealots
were sent to Piers Island on the west coast of BC. Their children were
dispersed among mostly non-Doukhobor families for approximately one year.
They returned to the communities of Krestova and to Gilpin near Grand Forks,
earning their living by selling garden produce and obtaining outside
CCUB losses by depredation were enormous, with flour mills, sawmills and
houses, including the leader's home being destroyed. By 1937, estimated
losses totalled $400,000. These depredations, combined with the Depression,
unemployment and declining membership, were major contributing factors
leading to the bankruptcy in 1937 of the CCUB operations.
|Doukhobors meet at Brilliant, BC with
their new leader, Peter "Chistiakov" Verigin. Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection.
In ten years, Peter P. Verigin had significantly lowered the debt of the
CCUB, however it was refused protection under the Farmers' Creditors Arrangement Act passed by the federal government during the early
years of the Depression. In 1938, Sun Life and National Trust Mortgage
Companies instituted foreclosure proceedings on a debt of $350,000,
dismantling a communal enterprise valued at over $6 million. On the verge of
foreclosure by mortgage companies, the BC government became landlords by
negotiating a $296,500 knockdown price on the amount owing. Those living on
the land became tenants. The Doukhobors were allowed to rent their former
homes at nominal fees.
Upon the dissolution of the CCUB, the centerpiece of the community, the
Brilliant Jam Factory stood dark and empty. This once-bustling enterprise
was a sad reminder of the thriving, golden years of the Doukhobor community.
The Doukhobors continued to tend the former community orchards and much of
the produce was sold at Farmer's Markets. Non-Doukhobor fruit-processing
plants bought the surplus. Many people moved from the villages, seeking
employment. They either became Independent Doukhobors or remained 'Orthodox'
Following the dissolution of the CCUB, Peter P. Verigin established the
Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC) in 1938. Under his guidance,
a constitution was developed, and a 'Declaration' stating basic principals.
Peter P. Verigin became ill and died in a Saskatoon hospital in February
1939. His funeral was attended by thousands. He was buried in Verigin's Tomb
alongside his father. During the leadership of Peter P. Verigin, more than a
dozen schools were built, including Raspberry (Brilliant) and Fruktova
Schools. Besides organizing the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ,
he also established a strong USCC Youth organization. He left his people the
following two slogans, "Sons of Freedom Cannot be Slaves of Corruption" and
"The Welfare of the World is Not Worth the Life of One Child". In 1940, at
age 18, John J. Verigin, grandson of Peter P. Verigin, was appointed
Secretary of the USCC, taking over many of his grandfather's
Doukhobor lands were re-surveyed, subdivided, appraised and put up for sale.
By 1963, all former community lands, except Krestova, were in Doukhobor
hands by virtue of sales.
Persecutions in Russia, the arduous journeys to Canada and British Columbia,
breaking new ground, building new communities - the lives of the early
Doukhobors were fraught with political unrest and heavy with toil. They were
yearning for a peaceful life.
About the Author
Vi Plotnikoff (1937-2006)
was a well
known Doukhobor writer who wrote about her Doukhobor heritage for
many years. She published a short story collection, Head Cook at Weddings
and Funerals and other stories of Doukhobor Life (Polestar Press) and was a
popular lecturer and teacher at Kootenay schools, including the Kootenay School
of the Arts and Selkirk College. Prior to her passing, in a return to the roots of her oral
tradition, she had begun storytelling. She also released a story CD, The
Mysterious Death of a Doukhobor Leader.