Boundary Doukhobors built agro-industrial complex amid orchards

Community lands and orchards along Spencer hill, c. 1918. Photo: SubmittedCommunity lands and orchards along Spencer hill, c. 1918. Photo: Submitted
Large group at Doukhobor prayer meeting at Grand Forks. Photo: SubmittedLarge group at Doukhobor prayer meeting at Grand Forks. Photo: Submitted
Doukhobors cherry-picking west of Grand Forks. Photo: SubmittedDoukhobors cherry-picking west of Grand Forks. Photo: Submitted
Community Brick Factory with Spencer Hill and Hardy Mountain in background, c. 1922. Photo: SubmittedCommunity Brick Factory with Spencer Hill and Hardy Mountain in background, c. 1922. Photo: Submitted

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff



The Doukhobor Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood at Grand Forks is probably best historically known for its religious pacifism, large brick communal homes, and once-vast fruit orchards.

Less recognized, but also important, are the many agricultural and industrial enterprises it established. The following article examines the Doukhobor agro-industrial complex created west of the city from 1909 to 1939, and its contribution to the growth and development of the Kettle Valley.

Land Acquisition

Between 1909 and 1912, Peter V. Verigin on behalf of the Community purchased 4,182 acres of land west of Grand Forks. These acquisitions included the historic Coryell Ranch in February, 1909; Newby Ranch in March, 1909; Vaughan Ranch in November, 1909; Spencer/Macey Ranch in May, 1910; Collins Orchard in July, 1910; Hoffman Ranch in April, 1911; Capsey Ranch in April, 1912; and Pettijohn/Bell Ranch in December, 1912; among others.

By 1931, the Community’s holdings expanded to 5,104 acres to include the historic Ashfield/Dinsmore Ranch acquired in June, 1913; Hardy Bros Ranch in July, 1919; Ward/Perkins Ranch in March, 1921; Averill Estate between March, 1924 and June, 1928; and Hammer/Dewdney Ranch in May, 1930.

These landholdings were grouped by the Community into three somewhat distinct geo-administrative areas and given rich, evocative Russian names as follows:

· Descriptively named Dolina Fruktovaya (the Valley of Fruit) or simply Fruktovoye by Peter V. Verigin, this tract was bounded by Spencer Hill to the north and west, Saddle Mountain to the north and east, the Kettle River to the south and east and the Covert Ranch to the south. In 1932, it was renamed Sion (Zion) by Verigin’s son and successor, Peter P. (Chistyakov) Verigin;

· Christened Dolina Khristovaya (the Valley of Christ) or simply Khristovoye by Peter V. Verigin, this tract was bounded by Eagle Mountain and Saddle Mountain to the south, Hardy Mountain to the west, Observation Mountain to the east and Smelter Lake to the north; and

· Ubezhishche, a name given by Peter P. Verigin meaning (place of) refuge or hideway, was bounded by Spencer Hill and Hardy Mountain to the east, the U.S. border to the south, July Creek and its tributaries to the west and Skeff Creek to the north.

Communal Settlement

Between 1909 and 1912, 713 Doukhobor men, women and children from Saskatchewan were resettled at the new Grand Forks colony. By 1921, their number had increased to 928 persons; and by 1931, to 1,000 persons.

They were primarily housed in large, two-storey brick communal homes, each with a capacity of 30-40 persons. Some 25 such communal homes were built, each with a large barn, several single-family frame dwellings and numerous outbuildings. Each communal home was situated on approximately 100 acres of arable land which it was allotted to manage.

Two to three communal homes were each administered as a village unit. Numbering 11 in total, these villages originally received numbers rather than names (e.g. Village No. 6). However, over time, many of them came to be descriptively known by predominant family grouping that resided in them (e.g. Popoff Village, Novokshonoff Village, etc.) while others acquired nicknames (e.g. London, Sleepy Hollow, Paris, etc.) and even more colourful Russian epithets.

Agricultural Development

The Grand Forks colony was acquired by the Doukhobors, first and foremost, for large-scale fruit-growing.

While a small acreage was already under mature orchard when they purchased it, most was virgin ranchland, open or lightly wooded. There were also some 100 acres of rough, forested land. Working together under the motto Toil and Peaceful Life, the Doukhobors rapidly cleared and cultivated it.

By 1912, the Doukhobors set out 50,000 apple, plum, pear, prune and cherry trees on 593 acres, making them (by far) the largest fruit grower in the Boundary. By 1921, the colony had established 1,000 acres under orchard coming into full bearing; 2,000 acres cultivated in small fruit (strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries) as well as vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers), grain (wheat, oats), and forage (alfalfa, clover, timothy), with the remainder in pasture and timber.

To support their orchard development, beginning in 1911, the Doukhobors established an extensive gravity-flow irrigation system, using over 30,000 feet of flume, ditch and self-manufactured wood stave pipeline to convey water from July Creek and tributaries, Ward Lake, Hardy Creek, and the Kettle River to their fruit trees. In May 1911, they had 100 acres under irrigation; the following year, 230 acres; and by 1923, over 758 acres irrigated. They also completed a large concrete and earthen irrigation reservoir (later known as Saddle Lake) in the draw near Hardy Mountain by 1919.

Undoubtedly, what contributed to the early and rapid success of the Doukhobors as fruit growers was their large pool of communal labour. All of the men, women and children of the colony were engaged in the growing effort on an unpaid basis.

In return for their labour, the Doukhobor Society supplied its members with food, clothing, shelter and other necessities. This arrangement gave them a competitive advantage vis-à-vis other orchardists as their cost of fruit production at all stages was significantly less.

Agro-Industrial Enterprises

From the outset, the Doukhobor Community saw opportunities to expand their operations beyond merely growing fruit and other agricultural produce, and began to engage in the secondary manufacture of agricultural byproducts as well as other commercial industrial commodities.

Between 1909 and 1919, an agro-industrial complex was established for the mass production of agricultural and industrial goods, both for the Doukhobors’ own domestic use and for commercial sale. Most of these enterprise coalesced at the rough geographic centre of the colony, in Fruktovoye, between what is today Spencer and Canning Roads and also along Mill Road.

We’ll look at each of these agro-industrial enterprises.

Brick Factory

Upon acquiring the Coryell Ranch in February 1909, the Community inherited Frank Coryell’s small-scale brickworks, which comprised a horse-powered clay mixer, a small hand-operated brick molding and large, promising clay pit.

By March, they substantially updated the brickworks by adding a steam plant, a “Martin” brick-making machine and other modern equipment and turned out a million first-class bricks by the end of the summer. The refurbished brick plant had a capacity of 24,000 bricks daily.

The Doukhobor brick-making process can be described as follows: clay was manually excavated from the adjacent pits and loaded into carts, which were then drawn by horse to a hopper chute, then dumped into the side mixer and combined with dried sand and water. The mixture was then filled into brick molds and compressed by the brick-making machine into raw “wet” bricks.

The raw bricks were placed on a 300-foot conveyor leading to a series of drying sheds, where they were stored for one to two weeks. Once air-dried, the bricks were stacked to form up to 10 kilns, which were fired for up to a week, using cordwood and sawmill slabs and ends, to produce the final bricks.

The manufactured bricks were used by the Doukhobors themselves to face the two-storey communal homes in the Grand Forks colony as well as many in their colonies at Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek, Shoreacres and elsewhere. They were also used in various communal endeavors, such as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam factory at Brilliant and other endeavors.

Many bricks manufactured at the Community brick factory were also sold commercially to builders throughout the Boundary. Some of the best-known structures built with the brick include the Davis Block, Bower and Pribilsky Block, Royal Bank Building and Kerman Block on Market Avenue, the Perley School Annex and old courthouse on Central Avenue, and the old post office on 4th Avenue. Hundreds of thousands of bricks were also shipped to the Trail smelter, with 325,000 shipped in April 1917 alone.

In 1927, the Community brickworks were substantially enlarged under Doukhobor leader Peter P. Verigin, with manufacturing capacity increased from one million to five million bricks annually.

The brickyard was eventually dismantled after the demise of the Community in 1937-38; although the depressions of the clay pits can still be seen today near the corner of Spencer and Reservoir Roads.

AgricultureGrand ForksKootenay Boundary Regional DistrictKootenaysLocal History