The Doukhobor Jam Factory in Nelson, British Columbia
by Greg Nesteroff
The Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works Jam Factory in Brilliant, British Columbia is perhaps one of the best known communal enterprises of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB). However, few are aware that the Doukhobor jam enterprise got its start in Nelson, and fewer realize that the original factory building – built in 1909 – is still standing there today. The following article by Kootenay resident Greg Nesteroff examines the origins and history of the building now known as the Front Street Emporium at 601 Front Street in Nelson. Originally published as "The Building With Jam" in The Nelson Daily News (June 29, 2009). Reproduced by permission.
It’s a year of centennials for Nelson heritage
buildings: the courthouse and Central School recently celebrated their 100th
birthdays in style, and the United Church will do so soon. Meanwhile, an
open house last week marked another anniversary that almost went unnoticed.
It’s no secret that the Front St. Emporium was built in 1909, but until
recently, few remembered or realized the building’s original purpose.
On June 23, 1909, Premier Richard McBride
presided over the grand opening of the Kootenay Jam Company’s new factory in
front of a large crowd. Before turning on the steam under the first boiling
vat, he delivered a speech that “dealt with the progress of the fruit
industry in the Kootenays and spoke of the astonishment with which the idea
of the jam factory supplied by local growers would have been regarded a few
years ago. No better fruit could be grown anywhere in the province and he
felt sure that the undertaking would prove a success.”
The operation was founded the previous year by
two English brothers, George and Howard Fox
(nicknamed Red Fox and Black Fox on account of their hair), who established
a modest cannery across from Harrop. Having outgrown their original
premises, they incorporated a new company with $50,000 in capital, and
announced plans to build a factory in Nelson.
Around late October 1908, they bought Lots 1 and
2 of Block 71 from the CPR at 601 Front St., next to the warehouse of J.Y.
Griffin & Co. (today’s Reo’s Videos). This spot required extensive
excavation and levelling and was sometimes referred to as the foot of
Josephine St., which was then a through-road to the waterfront.
Construction began in mid-April 1909, with
contractor John Burns working briskly from the plans of local architect Alex
Carrie, and within three weeks the unpretentious frame building was
pronounced “practically completed” and ready for jammaking equipment. It
measured 100 by 50 feet with a second story of 50 by 50, later expanded.
(The actual cost of the building is unknown, but in 1910 it had an assessed
value of $1,300 for the property and $3,000 for improvements.)
Following the premier’s
optimistic prediction, the factory began accepting fruit shipments and
cranking out thousands of pounds of jam and preserves per day. However, for
all the chest-puffery, and despite a further endorsement from
Governor-General Earl Gray (who admired the company’s exhibit at the Nelson
fruit fair and ordered a case of their product, leading to an official
decree on their labels: “By appointment to H.E. the Governor General.”), the
operation was not a great success.
In the spring of 1911, the Kootenay Jam Co.
moved to Mission, citing an insufficient local fruit supply. They sold 601
Front St. to the Doukhobors (CCUB), who renamed it the Kootenay Columbia
Preserving Works, and kept on a few managers, but otherwise utilized their
own workforce. Judging by the jump in the building’s tax assessment the
following year, it received a major upgrade, presumably including the brick
facade and arched windows it retains today.
In the first year under new owners, factory output was 70 tons, which
increased to 92 the following year, and 177 the next.
In February 1913, the Doukhobors sold the
building again to an unnamed local man and announced plans to move their
operation to Brilliant, but evidently the deal fell through. Construction of
a much larger factory at Brilliant would wait until 1915, after which 601
Front St. was leased (by the CCUB) to a series of wholesalers, including
Nelson Jobbers, Western Grocers, and most notably the National Fruit Co.,
which operated there from at least 1935-62 and apparently owned it following
foreclosure on the Doukhobor communal enterprise.
Louis Maglio, with his brother and another partner, then bought the building and in the 1960s rented it to McGavin Bakery, West Transfer, West Arm Trucks, and Maclean Sales Appliances. Ron Allen became the next owner in the 1970s and ran an electrical wholesaling and carpet business, while his mother-in-law had a second-hand shop.
New owners Gord and Dorothy Kaytor acquired the
building this year, just in time for its centennial: “We spent a few months
searching for a commercial investment in the area,” Gord says. “We were
drawn to 601 Front St. because it is a well-kept heritage building with
affordable office space for our long term tenants and for first time small
business owners. We are excited about celebrating its 100th anniversary.”
1909 was obviously a banner year for Nelson, and thanks to the preservation of its heritage buildings, 2009 is turning out to be one as well.
For More Information
For more information on the Doukhobors' Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam enterprise in Nelson and Brilliant, British Columbia, see the article, Brilliant Jam Factory was Thriving Industry by William M. Rozinkin.