Arrival of the First Group of Doukhobors in Ootischenia, British Columbia, 1908
by William A. Fominoff
In 1908, the Doukhobor Community purchased vast tracts of land in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. They first settled at Waterloo, an abandoned mining camp on the Columbia River, which Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin renamed Dolina Ootischenia meaning “Valley of Consolation”. There, an advance party of 100 men and women arrived from Saskatchewan to prepare the area for future settlement. Among them was William A. Fominoff (1874-1967). The following is his account of their historic arrival. Reproduced by permission from “Castlegar, a Confluence” (Karen W. Farrer (ed), Castlegar: Castlegar & District Heritage Society, 2000).
On May 11, 1908, a party of 100 men and a few women arrived at the CPR whistle stop in Kinnaird. This was a vanguard to pave the way for their wives, children and other Doukhobor families who were compelled to move out from Saskatchewan. Their destination: Ootischenia. Amongst them was a husky young man, William A. Fomenoff, born in Russia September 1, 1874.
Kinnaird’s surrounding area was little more than
a wilderness at that time. “There were no accommodations as hotels or motel
units as we see them today, so we enjoyed our first night in B.C. under the
bright stars, grouped around the once-important whistle stop. Sleeping bags
were non-existent at that time, but we covered ourselves with what little
belongings we owned,” says Mr. Fomenoff.
“Early the next morning we trekked down to the
Columbia River close to the home of Mr. Landis who lived on the east side
which is now known as Ootischenia. By previous arrangements Mr. Landis was
expecting us. After a whistle and a shout Mr. Landis was up in a jiffy and
rowed his boat across the river to pick us up. This was the only means of
crossing both the Columbia and Kootenay rivers; there were no bridges nor
ferries at that time. The boat could only carry five to six persons at one
time including baggage,” says Mr. Fomenoff.
“Nick Zeboroff, the man in charge of the party
immediately guided us to a campsite left empty by previous logging
operations. The camp existed out of one cook house and a large outside
dining table which was hand-hewed out of one enormous tree in one solid
piece, large enough to seat all the new arrivals (100 men and a few women)
at one setting. The seats were made of short stumps for legs with long thin
logs rolled on top of them to serve as benches.
“After breakfast Nick Zeboroff prepared to
dispatch the new arrivals to clear the land of the majestic forest that one
adorned Ootischenia. He handed out cross-cut saws, grub hoes, shovels, and
other necessary tools and led the group to a designated spot approximately
where the future cut off begins to Salmo. Here we proceeded to clear land
of timber which was two arm spans in circumference."
“After clearing a sizeable patch of ground we
immediately cultivated it with our grub-hoes and began planting spuds and
other vegetables; amongst them watermelons which were noted to be a luxury
at the time. In the same months I also helped clear land at the spot where
I live now,” notes Mr. Fomenoff.
“Soon after several pairs of horses and less than a dozen head of milk cows arrived from the prairie provinces. This was a great boost to our simple farm life. I helped to transport them from Kinnaird to Ootischenia with a row boat. The first animal (which incidentally was a bull) we tried to lead into the boat and row him across. The attempt failed on the spot. The next thing we did was to try and pull him by the halter with the boat. We kept his head above water with a tow line and he swam across himself. Cows were herded across in the same manner, two at a time, two men holding them by the halters while four men were rowing the boat.
“Next followed the horses in the same fashion,
but they were not as easy to handle as the cattle were. Thanks to Mr.
Dumont, the original settler of Dumont’s subdivision, who permitted us to
use his property as a loading point. On his land we dismantled wagons,
ploughs and all the farm equipment that was bulky and rowed it across piece
by piece. With the help of horses the clearing of land had become more
“Soon after, a sawmill was constructed and
lumber had become an industry apart from farming. Boards were cut in all
dimensions and used to construct houses that are still in existence at
Ootischenia. George Kanigan and Walter Fofonoff were sawyers on the new
“To have a more practical way of crossing the
Columbia River from one side to the other, this same year we started to
build a ferry. Anchor cables were drug down deep into the ground. We hired
a skilled man to supervise the basic construction of this ferry. I believe
he was of French origin. He started to build it out of hand-hewed timber and
the same men who were clearing the land were also helping to build the
“Land to him most … made by Peter Lordly Verigin
his wisdom and admire that he made in development of the land. Peter Vergin
lived nearby at Landis’s house which was soon bought out and Landis moved
away. … more so. The logs were hewed with a broad axe used to ... railroad
ties and dragged down the ... to the river anchor cables could still be seen
which guided the ferry.
“A road was built to Dumont’s ... across to ... still used as a fishing
trail for fisherman.
“Before this and ... happened where the ... rope was tore off from the
“Before this Peter Lordly Verigin sent delegates to ... the ferry which apparently was in good condition. Families of the men arrived and the last of the families and children got across 23rd of June safe and sound. This same day the guide cable on the ferry broke ... sill and the cable ... on the ferry swing across the river to the west side. ... to its original spot and was repaired up again.”