Log in
  • Home
  • News
  • Glimpses of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in BC

Glimpses of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in BC

18 Mar 2024 3:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

An excerpt from the Spring 2024 issue of British Columbia History, which is devoted to Doukhobor history.

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Peter Vasil’evich “Lordly” Verigin

Born in 1859 in Russia, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin assumed leadership of Doukhobors in the Caucasus in 1886. Exiled to North Russia and Siberia for 16 years, he rejoined his followers in Canada in 1902. After a substantial loss of homestead lands in Saskatchewan in 1907, he led 5,000 of his followers to the West Kootenay and Boundary regions of British Columbia from 19081913, where they established his utopian vision of the Doukhobor community as the “Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood” (CCUB) on purchased lands. He died in a mysterious train explosion near Farron, BC, in 1924.

Formal portrait of Peter Verigin, undated. (BC Archives, Item No. D-06462)

British Columbia Wilderness

Between 1908 and 1913, the CCUB purchased 10,600 acres of heavily forested land in the Kootenay region, with many trees three to five feet in diameter and over 100 feet high. Another 4,700 acres of land purchased in the Boundary region was mostly open, virgin ranchland with light under- brush and timber stands, although it also contained several hundred acres of the roughest and wildest unbroken land. Within five years, they transformed this wilderness land into a veritable garden.

Doukhobor arrival in the Kootenays, 1908. (BC Archives, Item No. A-02072)

 Communal Land Clearing

Upon arriving in British Columbia, the Doukhobors set about developing the land for fruit-growing. Hundreds of Doukhobor workmen laboured communally toward this effort. The underbrush was cleared manually using grub hoes, axes, saws, and shovels. Trees were cut by two men using cross-cut saws and then hauled to local Doukhobor sawmills to be milled into lumber for housing construction. Stumps and stones were pulled out with horses and a rotary drum and ratchet puller or blasted with dynamite.

Clearing land, Doukhobor settlement at Glade, 1912. (BC Archives, Item No. GR-0793.5, Accession No. 197904-015)

Communal Homes

As the land was progressively developed, the Doukhobors divided it into 100-acre plots and built houses (“doms”) on each plot from lumber milled on site. Architecturally unique and wholly communal in concept, each dom followed a uniform model and was 32 by 40 feet, two storeys high with an attic, and a half-basement for storage. The wooden buildings were never painted, although many were faced with brick. Each had nine bedrooms and housed between 35 and 50 persons. Usually two doms were built side by side, 60 feet apart, and joined by one-storey buildings in a U-shape that housed additional bedrooms. The image shows one such two-dom village at Brilliant in 1942.

Communal home and orchard at Brilliant, at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers. Note the potato patch planted between the apple trees, 1930s. (Trail Historical Society Photo 13138)

Communal Orchards

The majority of arable land cleared by the Doukhobors was planted into fruit trees—apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, and others. By 1912, the Doukhobor Community was the largest fruit-grower in the Kootenay and Boundary, with 80,000 trees planted on 1,100 acres. By 1921, their orchards had doubled, and by 1931, they had 12,757 acres of fruit trees. All members of the Community were engaged in the growing effort. The image shows Doukhobor women and children picking apples in Ootischenia in 1930. Most of the fruit picked was shipped fresh to Prairie markets, while the rest was processed in the Community jam factory at Brilliant.

Doukhobor families working at Ootischenia. (Slocan Valley Historical Society Photograph Collection, Item No. 2013_01_3014)

Vegetable Growing

In addition to orchard growing, the Doukhobors communally cultivated vast tracts of vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, etc.), small fruit (strawerries, raspberries) and, to a lesser extent, grains (flax, oats, and wheat). By 1931, the Community had 9,775 acres dedicated to produce. Most of the produce was grown for domestic consumption within the Community, with the surplus sold fresh in local markets or else processed and canned for commercial sale. 

Women weeding garden on community lands, Ootischenia. (BC Archives, Item No. C-01926)

Jam Factory

Beginning in 1911, the Doukhobor Community commenced a large-scale jam-making and canning enterprise as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, utilizing the fruits and berries the Community grew as well as the fruit crops of other growers to produce the famous “K.C. Brand” of jams enjoyed throughout North America. Initially, a 6-ton-per-day factory was operated in Nelson for four years, which was replaced by a new, larger 12-ton-per-day plant built at Brilliant in 1914. The Brilliant plant was continually expanded, with a plant for the manufacture of tin cans (1915), a fruit evaporating plant (1915), a tomato cannery (1923), and a doubling of capacity to become a 24-ton-per-day facility (1928). The Community built a second 12-ton-per-day plant in Grand Forks in 1935; however, it was destroyed by arson the same year.

Community fruit jam factory, Brilliant. (BC Archives, Item No. C-01769)

Doukhobor Brick-Making

Besides fruit-growing, the Doukhobor Community established brick-making works at Grand Forks (1909) and near Winlaw (1913) that produced high-quality bricks. The Doukhobors used the brick to build various industrial, commercial, and school buildings of their own, as well as to face their communal homes. The brick also found a ready market for commercial sale in the surrounding centres of Nelson, Castlegar, Trail, and Grand Forks.

Slocan Doukhobor brick factory, 1914. (BC Archives, Item No. E-00716)

Doukhobor Sawmilling

Doukhobors entered the logging and sawmilling industry in British Columbia between 1908 and 1912 during their large-scale land clearing for fruit-growing. Small mills were used, with most of the lumber used in the construction of their communal homes and buildings. By 19161924, the Community had expanded into large-scale commercial lumbering, with large mills established at Ootischenia, Krestova, Pass Creek, Grand Forks, Koch Siding, Hall Siding, Porto Rico, and Porcupine Creek, each of which was producing between one million and three million board-feet of lumber annually.

Doukhobor men at a community sawmill near Nelson, circa 1935 (BC Archives, Item No. E-00718)

Prayer Meetings

A mainstay of the Doukhobor faith is the moleniye or “prayer meeting,” a religious assembly for communal prayer, meditation, the recitation of psalms, and the singing of hymns. These were (and are) held weekly on Sundays, as well as during weddings, funerals, memorials for the dead, festivals, and other communal gatherings. Typically these were held in large community halls and other buildings; however, when the weather permitted, they were held in the open air.

Peter V. Verigin at open air mass moleniye at Ootischenia, circa 1922. (Simon Fraser University, Item No. MSC121-DP-019

Peter Petrovich “Chistyakov” Verigin

Born in Russia in 1881, Peter Petrovich “Chistyakov” Verigin arrived in Canada in 1927 to assume leadership of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood following his father’s death. Chistyakov reorganized the organization, decentralizing it and making it less rigidly communal. He made significant efforts toward freeing the Community from its burdensome debt, embracing public education among its members, and uniting the various factions of Doukhobors in Canada. Following the bankruptcy and foreclosure of the Community in 19361938, Chistyakov established a successor organization in British Columbia, the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, in 1939, just prior to his death.

Peter Petrovich “Chistyakov“ Verigin, circa 1930. (Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. 001-023-001-001)

Doukhobor Singing

Acapella singing has been a mainstay of Doukhobor culture for generations and is uniquely complex in its high degree of harmonic sophistication. Performed without musically trained performers, written arrangements, or musical instruments, the acapella singing expresses various feelings—at times joyful and at times mournful, which is reflective of the Doukhobor historical experience and beliefs as expressed in song. The image is of a touring British Columbia Doukhobor choir performing in 1952.

BC Doukhobor choir on tour in Saskatoon. (BC Archives, Item No. C-01636)

British Columbia Historical Federation
PO Box 448, Fort Langley, BC, Canada, V1M 2R7


The Secretariat of the BCHF is located on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish speaking Peoples. 

Follow us on Facebook.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software