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The mysterious Metro Grishen

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

In a post about the 1924 train explosion that killed Doukhobor leader Peter (Lordly) Verigin and eight others, I wrote that investigators circulated a photograph of a man who was, if not the prime suspect, at least the key person of interest.

However, I added, the picture of Dmitry Grishin, aka Metro Grishen, had long since been lost. I am indebted to retired UBC librarian Jack McIntosh and historian-author Dr. Larry Hannant for setting me straight.

Several years ago, through a BC Archives Freedom of Information request, Hannant found Grishin’s patient record from Essondale, the mental health hospital in Coquitlam — including his photo, seen here.

Grishin was a European watch and clockmaker who lived on the fringes of Doukhobor society. He was immediately considered a suspect in the explosion, but surviving police and CPR correspondence does not explain why — other than that he was thought of as an oddball whose expertise might be useful for building a time bomb. (In 1932, however, Castlegar Hotel proprietor Peter Hardy identified Grishin as having been in the hotel the afternoon before the explosion.)

Grishin could not be located, but he was finally arrested in 1930 at Porto Rico during a period of Sons of Freedom unrest. He was interviewed — but not about the train explosion — and released. He then returned to the Soviet Union, where his ultimate fate is unknown.

In March 1925, Grishin — who had numerous aliases — was admitted to Essondale as Dan Grenon. However, the file Hannant uncovered is labelled Dmitry Grishin.

McIntosh notes: “From a strictly linguistic angle, he should probably be referred to as Dmitry Grishin, as Metro is really just a familiar short form or nickname and Russian names typically end in –in, not –en. However, thanks to previous press coverage, he will no doubt live on as Metro Grishen.”

(McIntosh notes that Noberesnt is possibly a distorted short form of Naberezhnye Chelny, Tatarstan.)

The file also includes a letter dated Dec. 28, 1926 and addressed to Paul Skripnikoff, Bozhaia Dolina, near West Grand Forks. The letter, as transcribed by McIntosh with editing for clarity, reads:

Dear Tsar Paul:

Peace unto you. First, my deep bow to Tsar Elijah (he is the prophet Elijah), as his father designated him. Also, my deep bow to the Tsar of Heaven (I forget his real name, but I hear he is in Vancouver). Write me his address, and Elijah’s correct address.
Pass my regards to Evdokia Verigin, leader of all the Doukhobors (I forget her correct address).
However, don’t say anything about “Tsars” to Verigin, as she herself is Tsarina of the community and Freedomite Doukhobors, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood.
Tell the Tsarina or Comrade Verigin that the writer of this letter is the same person who built the flour mill on the Assiniboia River near Smirenovka 23 years ago.
And so, happy new year to all for the 1st of January 1927. [In left margin]: Yours truly, friend sufferer.
I forgive all my enemies by the will of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. In the name of Christ I pray to God for my enemies, both personal enemies and those who oppose my Idea. But I pray also “let Thy will, and not mine, O God, be done.”
The righteous must not suffer any more; hear follow [fellow?] the place for sinners is everlasting fire – God has told me this in many different ways...
Скажите так всем [Tell this to all]
. I pray God for myself and everybody.
Yours truly: [and a few words in faded pencil: “but no pray more have no want (...?) to (?) the sin”]
D. Grenon (or Grishin Dimitriy) 28 d. 6
Salut to you and all

Next, a postcard mailed to staff at Essondale from the Soviet Union, dated July 7, 1932.

[In Russian at bottom]:
 From: grin, watch/clock repair shop, Kanash, Chuvash Republic, USSR
7 J 2 To Superintendent Russel, Coquitlam, BC, Canada
My good wishes to Doc. and lawyers and other fellows: 
Dr. Crease, Loralie [?]; and others, from d. grin (formerly gren or god)
I am feeling well as god, and wish the same for you all. Working on watch repairs in different places in the USSR as well, pretty hard to work on Russian watches or clocks because it’s more work [?], but did [___?] American watches today (6 Jul. 2) at Kanash in the Chuvash Republic, USSR, where I am working in a jewelry shop. People of the Chuvash nationality have given me hospitality: a middling salary and some food and a place to sleep – it’s as good as in all other places I have been. I have also received hospitality in Japan, on the ship from Vancouver, and as well with the Doukhobors and other places and towns of Englishmen or other nationalities where I have been travelling while doing watch repairs.
[In left margin]: I would like to write you another letter. Yours truly, god grin
Address: via Moscow, USSR. Mr. Grin, Kanash, Chuvash Republic, watch shop.

Finally, another postcard to Essondale dated Dec. 2, 1932:

[partly in Russian at top]:
 From: God grin, Chelny District, village of Afonasovo, Tatar Republic, USSR.
2 d 2.
 It is [?], everybody in the world, god and all gods.
I have sent you kind words, Dr. Russel, my friend.
 I sent you postcards, but received no answer.
 I am feeling pretty good, better than ever, thank you. I am living in the village, doing some work on a collective farm: a few hours or so a day repairing watches and clocks and other things.
I am very glad about the election of Roosevelt for president. He promised to fix up relations with Soviet Russia, which will also help Canada’s relations with Soviet. This will be good for all and for peaceful revolution.
It would be good for me to be able to get watch materials, etc. from Canada or the States.
 Wishing you and everyone success and happiness,
Your servant: god grin

McIntosh notes that in Tatarstan there are villages called Bolshoe Afonasova (Greater Afonasovo) and Nizhnee Afonasovo (Lower Afonasovo).

That’s the last anyone heard from Grishin. The train explosion was never solved. My thanks to Jack McIntosh for sending me the photo, letters, and other information and to Larry Hannant for allowing me to reproduce it here.

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