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Doukhobors at Procter and Sunshine Bay

Updated: May 7, 2023

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

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Recently, Judy Brown of Calgary made an interesting discovery while exploring the Vancouver Public Library’s digitized collection of BC civic directories. While looking for something unrelated, she ended up studying the listings for Procter, where she grew up. The 1918 and 1919 editions of Wrigley’s BC Directory, she discovered, included the curious entry: “Doukhobor Colony bee-keeping.” [1]


The entry is intriguing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is there is no memory of a Doukhobor colony at that place.


The entry does not identify who the Doukhobors were. No Doukhobor individuals or organization are specifically named. This stands in contrast with other West Kootenay towns listed in the same directories, where Doukhobors appear by corporate name (e.g. “Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood” in Brilliant or “Abrossimoff Bros & Co general store” at Thrums) or by personal name (e.g. “Arakoff, Sam, logging foreman, Salmon Valley Lumber & Pole Co” at Porto Rico or “Samarodin, Nick, planerman, Slocan Valley Lumber & Pole Co” at Koch Siding).


Also, the term “colony” is deceptively non-specific. Most Doukhobor colonies in the West Kootenay numbered from 250 to 2,500 persons. However, the term did not necessarily entail any sort of large-scale presence. As newspapers of the period demonstrate, English-speaking locals seemed to use the term any time two or more families of “foreigners” settled in their midst, especially when they were unfamiliar with their language and customs.


Moreover, it is not clear where the colony was actually located. While the entry appears in the directories under “Procter,” the listings extend well beyond the town itself to the surrounding Procter postal district and include rural farms and ranches as well as the settlement of Sunshine Bay but not Harrop, which was listed separately.


As well, the colony appears to have been short-lived. It is only listed in the civic directories in 1918 and 1919. By 1921, there were no Doukhobors enumerated in the Canada census listings for Procter, Sunshine Bay, Harrop or surrounding West Arm settlements.


Finally, while the colony evidently engaged in beekeeping it is not obvious why it did so at Procter, some 30 miles (48 km) east of the main Doukhobor settlements located along the mid to lower reaches of the Slocan and Kootenay River valleys. There is no record of Doukhobors owning land there at the time.


So who were the Doukhobor colonists at Procter?

1918 listings for Procter (misspelled Proctor) in the Wrigley’s BC Directory


Community Doukhobors on the West Arm


In April 1911, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) purchased the former Kootenay Jam Company factory in Nelson and renamed it the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. [2] As the factory was capable of processing a substantially larger quantity of produce than the CCUB could initially supply, it purchased fruit and berries from other fruit ranchers throughout the West Kootenay. [3]


Within days of its formation, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works announced it was making contracts for fruit with the ranchers on the West Arm, which contained many mature, bearing orchards. [4] The contracts were typically three to five years long, with the Doukhobors often purchasing the fruit on the tree, putting their own pickers in the fields to gather them.


This was a welcome economic stimulus for West Arm fruit-growers, who were often unable to find a market for their excess produce at any price. Indeed, the guaranteed income from these contracts became a selling feature for many improved ranches on the West Arm subsequently placed for sale. [5] The Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works continued to contract fruit from ranchers throughout the surrounding district through 1918-19.

Two of several ads for the sale of West Arm ranches with fruit contracts with the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works. Nelson Daily News, May 12, 1912


The supply of Doukhobor communal pickers under these contracts was also a significant benefit to West Arm fruit-growers, who often confronted labour shortages at the height of the picking season. [6] Many growers, impressed with the Doukhobors’ strong work ethic and industry, began hiring them to tend their orchards and market gardens throughout the growing season. By 1912-1913, numerous Doukhobors worked outside their villages on fruit ranches throughout the surrounding district. [7]


Typically, an entire Doukhobor family, and sometimes several, were hired by a fruit-grower in March or early April to live and work on his ranch for the season. They were often provided a rough dwelling or outbuilding for quarters, although some slept in tents. There, they undertook general orchard management, including planting fruit tree saplings, small fruit and vegetables, as well as pruning, spraying, thinning, cultivating, weeding and watering the existing orchard.


They might also clear new land for orchard planting the next year. The entire family participated. By mid-July, they picked and packed fruit and by mid-September, harvested vegetables. By October, they returned to their communal village and turned in their earnings to the central treasury. This working out among the Angliki (English) became an important source of revenue for the CCUB.

Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works ad seeking fruit from Nelson district growers, Nelson Daily News, May 4, 1918


By 1916, the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, now relocated to Brilliant, was purchasing honey as well as fruit from ranchers on the West Arm and elsewhere throughout the district. In February 1918, the Creston Review reported that the Doukhobor enterprise had purchased the “entire output” of beekeepers from as far afield as Creston “at very attractive prices” for the past two years. [8]


It was not stated whether these purchases were intended for the Doukhobors’ own domestic use or for commercial processing and sale. However, considering there is no record of the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works having sold honey, [9] they likely supplemented the CCUB’s own domestic honey production


Piecing together the Procter colony


In light of the Doukhobor Community’s ongoing purchase of fruit, berries and honey and hiring out of orchard workers and pickers on the West Arm, a picture begins to emerge of the bee-keeping colony at Procter.


The “colony” was surely located on the ranch of an English Canadian fruit-grower at or near Procter; one who contracted his fruit to the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in Brilliant. The contract was probably of three years’ duration, commencing in 1917 and ending in 1919. This would explain why the “colony” was already present when the Wrigley’s Directory was compiled in early 1918 but no longer appeared by the 1920 edition. [10]


The “colonists” were almost certainly two to three or more CCUB families; enough to constitute a colony in the eyes of locals. They would have been hired to manage the orchard throughout the growing season, then pick, pack and ship the fruit to the Doukhobor jam factory at Brilliant. They may have even wintered at the ranch.


As for why the Doukhobors were listed in the directory as a colony and not merely as fruit ranch employees, it was undoubtedly because they also engaged in their own beekeeping operation there. The Doukhobors had been avid beekeepers for generations and maintained sizeable apiaries throughout their Kootenay settlements, from the largest to the very smallest. [11] Most often this was not a main vocation but a sideline activity to their agricultural operations.

Apiary run by a single Doukhobor family at the CCUB stopping house in Nelson, 1921. (Courtesy Paul Strelive)


As the Doukhobors well knew, beekeeping and orchard-keeping were highly complementary pursuits, since the fruit tree blossoms provided bees with nectar and pollen as a food source for the hive, while the production of fruit was highly dependent on pollination by bees. Moreover, the fruit-growing season from March through August closely coincided with the bee-foraging, honey production and honey harvest season.


Evidently, the CCUB families hired by the Procter-area rancher brought several beehives from their communal village along with them while they lived and worked at his orchard over several growing seasons. As a single Doukhobor family was capable of keeping 15 to 20 hives as a sideline, [12] the several colony families probably tended as many as 45 to 60 hives and possibly more. This would have made quite an impression upon local residents.


Ultimately, the bees benefited the rancher and neighbours by promoting greater fruit production (and thus profits) through fruit sales to the Kootenay-Columbia Presreving Works. For their part, the Doukhobor families gained sizeable honey cash crops of their own while also earning wages for managing the orchard. This helped offset the CCUB’s then-current honey production deficit, [13] reducing the volume of honey it needed to privately purchase for its members.


What is more, the identity of one of the colony families was revealed in a 1952 memoir by former CCUB secretary-treasurer Simeon F. Reibin as well as a very unfortunate circumstance that made local headlines.


As Reibin described it, Alesh (Alex) Stoochnoff (or Stoshnoff) was an old man who lived with his wife and two sons and worked an orchard at Harrop, near Sunshine Bay. Although “very industrious” and “honest,” his character was “dismally peculiar.” Hot-tempered and unable to get along with others, he was exiled with his family from the CCUB settlement at Shoreacres by leader Peter V. Verigin. [14]


Stoochnoff’s sons won Verigin’s approval for their hard work and expertise in tree pruning. Both, however, died prematurely, one from natural causes and the other after falling down a rocky hillside while working at Sunshine Bay. [15] Alex and his “very kind hearted wife” Mavra were left “lonesome and discouraged.” [16]


There was even more grief to endure. Although Reibin did not mention it, the Stoochnoffs also had a daughter, Malicia. [17] In August 1918, the Nelson Daily News reported that Malicia, a “Sunshine Bay Doukhobor,” appeared in provincial police court after neighbours laid an information alleging she “took fits and threw rocks and rushed about,” “attacked” them, and tried “to commit suicide by drowning.” [18]


She was clearly suffering from mental illness, which at the time carried a great deal of fear and stigma. Sadly, the judge found her “insane and dangerous to be at large” and committed her to the New Westminster asylum “for medical examination.” [19]

Nelson Daily News headline, Aug. 7, 1918


At the time of her committal in 1918, Malicia was reported as “living at” Sunshine Bay and had dwelt there long enough to be deemed a “resident” of that place. [20] Malicia languished in the asylum for three years, dying there in November 1921 at age 36. [21] By that time, her family was back living at Shoreacres, having been removed from their Kootenay Lake orchard after a further falling out with Verigin. [22]


That the Stoochnoffs were members of the “Doukhobor colony” listed in the 1918 and 1919 Procter directories, there can be little doubt. Their tenure at Sunshine Bay, from sometime prior to August 1918 until sometime prior to June 1921 corresponds to the same period the colony was known to exist. Moreover, Sunshine Bay and its residents were listed under Procter in the directory. Finally, they are the only newspaper references to Doukhobors in the Procter district during this period.


Furthermore, a careful study of Malicia’s complainants enables us to pinpoint where the Stoshnoffs were living, and by extension, where the Doukhobor colony was located, in 1918.


The 1918 information laid against Malicia was lodged by Sunshine Bay rancher Robert S. Francis. [23] His allegations were corroborated in provincial police court by the witness testimony of ranchers Oscar B. Appleton and Percival Coles, also of Sunshine Bay. [24] All three men appear in the same directory as the Doukhobor colony under Procter in 1918 and 1919. [25] And as it turns out, they all lived a stone’s throw away from each other.


According to Kootenay Outlet Reflections, the Francis, Appleton and Coles ranches were all situated along Ferguson Road and its intersection with Harrop-Procter Road at the west end of Sunshine Bay. [26] As all three men — and only these three — witnessed episodes of Malicia’s erratic behavior, it is safe to presume that the Stoochnoffs resided in the immediate vicinity within eyeshot of the ranchmen.

Probable location of the Doukhobor bee-keeping colony at Sunshine Bay.


It follows that the location of the Doukhobor colony recorded in the 1918 and 1919 directory can be reasonably narrowed down to an area of about a quarter-mile (500 m) radius around the intersection of Ferguson and Harrop-Procter Roads at Sunshine Bay. Based on these deductions, we may even hazard to guess the identity of the fruit rancher who hosted the Doukhobor colony.


In comparing the 1918 and 1919 Wrigley’s Directory listings for Procter with the Kootenay Outlet Reflections map and legend of early Sunshine Bay ranches, it turns out that the only other ranches in the vicinity at the time were those of Fred Rucks and Joseph Dosenberger, both located on Harrop-Procter Road, immediately east of the Appletons. Either of their ranches could very well be where the Doukhobor colony once stood, although we will likely never know for sure.


In any event, while the “colony” ceased to exist after 1919, it did not spell the end of the Doukhobor presence at Sunshine Bay, Procter and surrounding district.


CCUB member families continued to seasonally work and live on area ranches, picking fruit, managing orchards and growing market gardens through the 1920s and ’30s. For instance, between 1932 and 1939, the Muirhead family of Procter usually hired “four girls from a Doukhobor settlement … They lived in a cabin built for them. They did their own cooking and looked after themselves.” [27]


And by this period, CCUB members were not the only Doukhobors in the area.


Independent Doukhobors at Sunshine Bay & Procter


As early as 1910, Independent Doukhobors settled at Thrums and Tarrys, where they farmed and worked as sawmill labourers and ranch hands. By 1921, census listings and civic directories indicate they had spread out to many small towns and camps in the Trail, Castlegar, Nelson and Grand Forks districts.


By 1922-23, other Independent Doukhobor families settled at Harrop, Procter, and Sunshine Bay to farm or to work in logging and on the railway. Many were already familiar with the area and its opportunities, having worked there as fruit pickers while members of the CCUB. Their presence remained in the area at least into the early 1970s.


In the early 1920s, John and Anna Shlakoff moved to Sunshine Bay from Ootischenia and rented a converted chicken coop on Len Appleton’s property. [28] With them came daughter Polly, son Eli, daughter-in-law Florence, and grandchildren Nellie, Mary, and John. Another grandchild, Florence, was born in 1924. Soon after, the family leased a house in Harrop. They moved to Ymir four years later. [29]


In 1923, Sam and Helen Podmeroff arrived in Procter from Castlegar and settled on the Johnson property. Helen was likely related to the Shlakoffs who were already in the area, as that was her maiden name. The Podmeroffs later moved to Harrop and then to Sunshine Bay, where they built a log home in 1932 and raised four children (including Eli, who was born at Procter).

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections


Sam worked as an engineer aboard the tugboat Valhalla. His son, Sam Jr., followed his footsteps into the CPR lake service and became a deckhand, then mate, and finally captain of the SS Moyie on Kootenay Lake. He later worked on several other BC lakes. The Podmeroffs also raised a grandson, Serge Plotnikoff, who became well known as a musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer in the Kootenays. In 1971, the Podmeroffs moved to Pitt Meadows. [30]

Peter and Marfa Repin (or Rapin) moved to Sunshine Bay from Brilliant in 1924 with daughters Mary, Daria, and Ahafia to work on farms picking fruit and digging potatoes. Peter and Marfa later relocated to Winlaw, but daughter Mary stayed in Procter with husband Harry Stoochnoff, who worked for the CPR. [31]


The 1925 civic directory for Procter listed a gardener named S. Zarikoff, who may have been the same man as John S. Zarikoff, who married Lucy W. Rilkoff at Procter in 1932. They later moved to Blewett. [32]


In 1934, Alex and Vera Voykin and their children Annie and Alex Jr. moved to the Clift-Donaldson farm about halfway between Procter and Sunshine Bay. Another daughter, Helen, was born there in 1937, delivered by an army doctor who lived next door. In addition to working on the farm, Alex was a night watchman for the CPR. The family moved to Procter around 1940 and built a house there. A final child, Grace, was born in 1943. The Voykins moved to Nelson in 1948. [33]

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections


Peter and Annie Gretchen came to Procter in the 1930s, where Peter worked as a logger and railway section hand. They lived there until their deaths in the late 1960s. [34]


Peter Gretchen’s sister Molly and her husband Bill Malahoff later moved to the area as well. Bill was a section foreman for the CPR at Tye, on the south arm of Kootenay Lake. Their son Walt boarded with the Gretchens while attending school in Procter in 1936. He would take the train from Tye to Procter on Monday mornings and return on Fridays around midnight. In the late 1930s, Bill and Molly bought the Heighton dairy farm at Procter. Walt and his brother Mike helped out there during the summer, but found jobs away from home during the winter. In 1952, Bill and Molly traded their farm for a home in Kamloops. [35]

From Kootenay Outlet Reflections


Another Malahoff brother, Steve, bought the Procter general store and post office with his wife Tillie and ran it for a few years before moving to Rossland. [36] Tillie served as acting postmaster from 1943-45. [37]


CPR employee Bill Laktin was transferred from South Slocan to Procter in 1953. He brought his wife Mary and their children Billy, Johnny, Sarah, Nadia, and Elizabeth. They initially lived at Sunshine Bay before moving to Procter. However, they left the area within two years. [38]


To sum up, from 1911 to 1938, the CCUB contracted with ranchers at Sunshine Bay, Procter and elsewhere on the West Arm for the supply of fruit for its jam factory, often supplying Doukhobor pickers and also hiring out Doukhobor families to manage their orchards and market gardens throughout the growing season. The presence of these workers was significant enough in 1918-19 to be listed as a “Doukhobor colony.”


From at least 1922-23 on, they were joined by Independent Doukhobors who settled permanently in the area as farmers, loggers and railwaymen through to the 1970s. They made an important, albeit somewhat unchronicled, contribution to the growth and development of the area.


This story also appears at https://doukhobor.org/doukhobors-at-procter-and-sunshine-bay-bc. Updated on Sept. 29, 2021 to add details from Toil and Peaceful Life: History of Doukhobors Unmasked.


Notes [1] “Proctor” [sic] in Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory 1918, p. 377: https://tinyurl.com/6p7u9v6w; and Wrigley’s British Columbia Directory 1919, p. 529: https://tinyurl.com/7z7xpvnx.

[2] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Jam-Making Enterprise” in West Kootenay Advertiser, April 23-30 and May 7, 14, 21 2020: https://tinyurl.com/7938yz47; https://tinyurl.com/4h7ka3kk; https://tinyurl.com/43axfdjk; https://tinyurl.com/pr8f6yc5; https://tinyurl.com/vjj9pcuj.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid; The Daily News (Nelson), April 26, 1911. See also The Daily News (Nelson), July 22, 1912, Aug. 1, 1912, June 16, 1914 and June 29, 1915

[5] The Daily News (Nelson), May 12, 1912 at 4 and 8.

[6] Supra, note 2.

[7] See for example, The Daily News (Nelson) Sept. 21, 1912; May 22, 1913; June 20, 1913.

[8] Creston Review, Feb. 1, 1918

[9] Supra, note 2.

[10] From February to May 1918, Wrigley Directories Limited compiled a new directory for BC, printing it in June: British Columbia Record, Feb. 25, 1918; Nanaimo Daily News, May 9, 1918; Vancouver Daily World, June 11, 1918.

[11] For instance, at Brilliant, the CCUB maintained an apiary of no less than 60 beehives in 1919: William M. Rozinkin, Brilliant History, Fading in to Obscurity: https://tinyurl.com/9dwm7d9j. Even single-family outposts, such as the CCUB stopping house at Nelson had an apiary of 16 hives in 1921: Greg Nesteroff, Little known Nelson-heritage buildings: 120 Vernon St: https://tinyurl.com/54k47bym.


[12] Ibid.

[13] Supra, note 8.


[14] Toil and Peaceful Life: History of Doukhobors Unmasked, Simeon F. Reibin, 1952, p. 128 and BC Mental Hospital, New Westminster, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/sk8y5cxh


[15] Ibid. The dates of their deaths are unknown as neither was registered, nor do they appear to have been reported in any newspaper.


[16] Ibid.


[17] The death registration for Malicia Stoshnoff [sic], BC Archives Reg. 1921-09-284399, Microfilm B13119 identifies her parents as Alex and Mavra.


[18] “Alleged insane woman taken to coast,” The Daily News (Nelson), Aug. 7, 1918


[19] Ibid; “Insane woman is committed,” The Daily News (Nelson), Aug. 13, 1918


[20] Supra, notes 18 and 19


[21] BC Mental Hospital, New Westminster, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/sk8y5cxh; Doukhobor settlement at Shoreacres, 1921 Canada Census: https://tinyurl.com/2aa7exed; Malicia Stoshnoff death registration


[22] Ibid. and Toil and Peaceful Life, supra, p. 128-29

[23] Supra, note 18.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Supra, note 1.

[26] Kootenay Outlet Reflections, Procter-Harrop Historical Book Committee, 1988, p. 297-299, based on information provided by Isa Cameron.

[27] Ibid, p. 237, based on information provided by May Muirhead.

[28] Ibid, p. 312-13, based on information provided by Florence Shlakoff Hodgins.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid, p. 311, based on information provided by Vi Plotnikoff.

[31] Ibid, p. 266, based on information provided by Mary Rapin Stoochnoff; Harry Stoochnoff death registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1959-09-13371: https://tinyurl.com/46juks74; 1921 Canada census: https://tinyurl.com/fy8j2dyw.

[32] Wrigley Henderson Amalgamated British Columbia Directory 1925, p. 292: https://tinyurl.com/3typf3mj; John S. Zarikoff and Lucy W. Rilkoff marriage registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1932-09-900969; John Zarikoff death registration, BC Archives Reg. No. 1981-09002800: https://tinyurl.com/cufcyxu3.

[33] Supra, note 26, p. 266-67, based on information provided by Grace Voykin Kolle.

[34] Peter John Gretchen death registration, BC Archives 1967-09-004768: https://tinyurl.com/2mwvzjff; Annie Gretchen death registration, BC Archives 1968-09-005330: https://tinyurl.com/2mwvzjff.

[35] Supra, note 26, p. 233-34, based on information provided by Walt Malahoff. Curiously, of all the families enumerated in this book, the Malahoff entry is the only one that actually uses the word “Doukhobor.”


[36] Ibid.

[37] Library and Archives Canada, Post Offices and Postmasters Database, Procter postmasters list, viewed at https://tinyurl.com/3wtdthjc.

[38] Supra, note 26, p. 229, based on information provided by Sarah Laktin Popoff.

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afoxyking
afoxyking
05 de ago. de 2021

Thanks Greg very interesting I remember when the Doukhobor Women use to come door to door selling Veg and fruits. My Mother would always buy something from them. In those days you never locked your door my Grandparents lived next door to us this one morning we were over at my grandparents house my Mother was showing grandma how to cook something. At that time we had a Terrier Dog and we heard it barking and barking we went over to see what was going on and this women that was selling her items in our kitchen my Terrier had her corned and she was scared. Not sure why she came in but I would think …

Curtir

rverzuh
rverzuh
05 de ago. de 2021

Another excellent discovery piece. Thanks to both. Ron V.

Curtir
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