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The Farron monument

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

I previously wrote about some strange circumstances surrounding the death of Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin in a train explosion near Farron on Oct. 29, 1924.

The site where Verigin died has always been marked in some way, and therein lies a story itself. The following appeared in the Grand Forks Gazette on Dec. 19, 1924 (something almost identical was published two days earlier in the Nelson Daily News):

Up at Farron, 40 miles east, the Doukhobors have erected a cairn of stones to mark the spot on which the body of the late Peter Verigin was found, following the explosion in a CPR day coach on the early morning of Oct. 29. They plan to put up a permanent shrine, probably in the early spring. Pilgrimages have been made to the spot by a number of prairie Doukhobors, who occasionally during the last few days might be seen making deep obeisance in the snow at Farron.

I don’t know exactly what form the monument took but in 2008, Peter Voykin of Castlegar told me how the seeds of the present monument were planted.

Verigin’s granddaughter, Anna Markova, asked Voykin to come with her to Farron so she could explain what she wanted done. Voykin was a cement finisher who then lived at Pass Creek. (Voykin thought this happened in 1963, as he believed it was the same year that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but for reasons detailed below, I think it was actually 1974.)

They were joined on a railway speeder by Peter Plotnikoff, who ran a building supply store in Grand Forks and provided shovels and equipment to do the work, and Fred Davidoff, also of Grand Forks, who worked for the CPR on that line.

Davidoff drove the speeder, which was loaded with gravel and cement, and a stone wheat sheaf from Verigin’s Tomb at Brilliant — one of two that flanked the original marble tomb before it was repeatedly blown up. This would become the new marker.

“Anna Markova knew exactly where and how she wanted it,” Voykin recalled. Until then there had been a stone marker of some sort.

“Fred knew that spot, exactly where [Verigin] laid, from working on the railway. He always viewed that site and cleaned up that area to make it look presentable.” He recalled the CPR was very co-operative.

“Fred started the speeder and I said Госпади благослови. ‘Lord bless us.’ Mrs. Markova touched me gently on the shoulder: ‘When the speeder starts going forward, then we will say Госпади благослови.’”

They took the speeder from Christina Lake to Farron, about 24 km.

“We had to establish a base, then mix the cement by hand, fairly heavy, not too thin, because we didn’t want it to settle into the cement,” Voykin recalls. “By the time everything was packed down, it was four hours at least.”

He recalls it was a beautiful day, though. He thinks the first pilgrimage to the new site occurred only a few days later. “When the congregation went, all of us walked and sang,” Voykin said.

A pilgrimage to Farron became an annual event, taking place on or near the anniversary of the train explosion. It proceeded along the railway track by foot, since the line was still in service — a 4.4 km journey from Paulson. The earliest sign I can find of this observance, or the monument itself, is Oct. 18, 1974, 11 days shy of the 50th anniversary of the disaster.

Nelson Daily News, Oct. 18, 1974

Recently rediscovered photos of a Farron pilgrimage in the 1970s, probably the same one pictured in the newspaper clipping, that included Anna Markova, seen bottom row left. Top row, far right: Laura Verigin, Anna Markova, Nina Verigin, John J. Verigin. The photos showing vehicles were presumably taken at Paulson, at the beginning of the trek.

A CBC documentary on the Doukhobors released in 1977 included some footage from one of the treks. Larry Ewashen has digitized it and you can watch it below.

All of the images seen here may well have been from the same 1974 memorial service. It would have made sense if the monument, and the attendant media coverage, were all related to the 50th anniversary. The Grand Forks Gazette of Oct. 23, 1974 noted:

The 50th anniversary of the death of Doukhobor leader Peter Lordly Verigin will be observed in services … on Sunday … Last week a number of Doukhobor school children from the Kootenays walked to the site of the explosion, which is now marked for its historic interest, and members of the USC [sic] conducted services.

Farron is not easy to get to today, but it was much harder in the 1970s. Nevertheless, this did not make the monument immune to vandalism.

On Oct. 17, 1976, the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ youth council organized a trek to the monument. According to an account by Dottie Demosky published five days later in Iskra, the USCC journal, before they began the hike, they “received the bad news that damage had been done to the memorial site.” (She didn’t indicate who relayed the news.)

“As we approached the site a scene of vandalism met our eyes. The marker — in a form of a sheaf, was broken to pieces, red paint was smeared over it and the nearby rocks.”

Despite this, they went ahead with a brief service. Prayers were recited in honour of Verigin, and a personal account of the train explosion and events that followed written by Sam Makortoff was read. Harry Voykin spoke on behalf of the USCC executive, and “expressed his appreciation to the youth for coming out for this occasion and also said that we should not be intimidated or discouraged by the act of violence; that such occurrences do not weaken us but will strengthen us. Cyril Ozeroff also conveyed his feelings of hurt and said that we as youth will not be daunted and will overcome those descriptive deeds of evil doers.”

The service ended with the hymn Спите Орлы боевые (Sleep Fighting Eagles).

Judging from the photos in Iskra, the marker was destroyed.

The caption says “The monument at Farron …”

“… and the work of dark forces.”

In the following days, the USCC took out this ad in the Grand Forks Gazette, Castlegar News, and Nelson Daily News:

Oddly, the newspapers did not seem interested. The Gazette was the only one of the three papers to treat it as a news story — and their squib was just a condensed version of the ad. I could find no follow ups, and presume no one was caught.

The youth council published a statement in the Nov. 5, 1976 edition of Iskra that re-iterated how the monument

was shattered and smeared with red paint. In addition, the ground and some rocks were also painted red and various plaques were erected at the scene. These plaques accused the USCC of being “community agents of the USRR [sic] and included other false accusations.”
The basic reaction of the youth that saw this was one of shock. In addition, we found that many rocks along the highway near the vicinity of Paulsen [sic] Bridge and between Grand Forks and Castlegar were defaced by paint, also falsely accusing us of being communist agents and the Brilliant Cultural Centre as being the base of KGB … We appeal to the general public to help us in uncovering those responsible for these acts …

How the site was restored and by whom is not clear, although I presume another sheaf from the tomb was procured. In 1977, I could find no mention of a pilgrimage. However, there was one in 1978. An account in the Nov. 3 issue of Iskra did not mention the vandalism of two years prior, but did note that “We arrived at Farron at 12 o’clock and gathered by the marker which is a sheaf of wheat made of granite rock.” So somehow it had been replaced or recreated.

The 1976 incident may not have been the only one of its type.

This plaque, seen in 2002, went missing.

Mark Rickerby, who worked for the CPR as a trainman out of Nelson from 1978-85, recalls that on two occasions — once westward and once eastward — he noticed from his passing train that the memorial was “mostly covered in what appeared to be red paint. On the westward occasion, on return eastward over the line the following day, the memorial had been thoroughly cleaned, with no trace of the red colour evident.”

He says other trainmen recall this temporary desecration as well.

An appendix to Gregory Cran’s book, Negotiating Buck Naked; Doukhobors, Public Policy, and Conflict Resolution, also says that on Oct. 27, 1981, “Two unexploded bombs [were] found on railway tracks near Farron.”

Cran’s source was a survey of Nelson RCMP files in 1983. The Grand Forks Gazette ran a single paragraph about the incident in its Nov. 4, 1981 edition, which did not specifically mention Farron:

RCMP are investigating the discoveries of three explosive devices on Canadian Pacific Railway track. All have been found on track in the West Kootenay area with the most recent device discovered this week about 18 miles east of Christina Lake.

In 1992, Rickerby, in his capacity as a CPR manager, was often on business in this part of the region. The railway had been abandoned and the rails, ties, and ballast were being removed.

“One could easily transit the abandoned line by vehicle, and, during frequent trips to the area in 1993, we took note of the original granite memorial and thought how easily it might come to be removed, stolen or vandalized,” he says.

He spoke to the CPR’s manager of public affairs in Vancouver and they agreed that on behalf of the CPR (which owned the right-of-way the memorial sat on), Rickerby’s family would suggest to the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ that the company relocate the original granite memorial and pay for a replica at the site.

Rickerby’s mother-in-law, Yoko Nishi, who worked at the Grand Forks Gazette, contacted the USCC but for whatever reason the proposal was not acted upon and they let the matter pass.

However, Rickerby says during the late spring of 1994, they noticed the memorial had been badly damaged.

The monument seen in the winter of 1993.

“It had been forcefully struck, slightly lower than at its highest point, and a piece of granite approximately 20 cm x 25 cm x 3 cm had been sheared away from the main stonework. Yoko initiated additional communication with the USCC regarding the vandalism.”

The memorial disappeared altogether several months later — although it’s unclear whether it was stolen or removed in preparation for replacement.

“The original memorial [pictured at right] had nothing other than the wheat sheaf marker and its granite base; there was no brass plaque, etc.,” Rickerby recalls.

A few years passed between the desecration of the original and the installation of a new one. Rickerby says the latter was “made from concrete or similar material, and not carved from stone. I believe it is also smaller — perhaps two-thirds the size of the original.”

At some point a plaque was added next to the monument listing the names of the victims of the explosion, although it didn’t provide any other context or background. It was stolen between 2002 and 2004.

A new plaque was added and interpretive signage created in 2011 by the Columbia and Western Rail Trail Society. Steven Rigby and Harry Killough spearheaded the project and John Kalmakov and Kootenay Biznet Signs did the sign work. The new plaque reads as follows:

This simple sheaf of wheat marks the place where in the early morning twilight of Oct. 29, 1924, the leader of the Doukhobors, Peter Vasilievitch Verigin, fondly called “Lordly” by his followers was killed in a powerful explosion aboard Car 1586 of Train 11 of CPR’s Kettle River Line.
Unsolved to this day, this act of terror also took the lives of Verigin’s companion Mary Strelaeff and W.J. Armstrong, Henry [sic] J. Bishop, Peter J. Campbell, H.K. Fawcett, MLA John McKie, Neil Murray and Haskum [sic] Singh.
May their souls rest in peace in God’s Heavenly Kingdom and may Gold Almighty have mercy on those responsible for this tragedy.

The pictures below were all taken in October 2021.

Updated on July 27, 2018 to include further details on the 1976 vandalism and on Feb. 5, 2019 to add additional photos from the 1970s. Updated on Sept. 20, 2020 to add the link to the documentary footage. Updated on Oct. 4, 2021 to add current pictures and the text of current plaque.

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