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Why this web page ...

Viewers of this web page will likely recognize many of the historical Doukhobor photographs to be examined below, as most of them have already appeared in newspapers, scholarly books, and even various social media platforms. But many may not be aware that these photographs are in fact constituents of a larger important historic collection, and the "tie that binds" them, so to speak, was the William Blakemore Royal Commission of 1912. They were taken by a professional photographer who accompanied the Commissioner, to document the state of affairs in the numerous early Doukhobor settlements in the West Kootenay-Boundary. This web page will examine only ten photographs, but there were many others in the collection, many of which may have been distributed individually or as complete photo albums, along with the final Report of the Commission to Doukhobor and Government officials at that time. The Report was a "voluminous" one, and the tape would need rewinding a century or so to fully understand its significance, but aside from a few introductory paragraphs for historical context, this web page will primarily focus on the photographs themselves.


1912 Report of the Royal Commission on BC Doukhobor Matters ...

Canadian Prairie Doukhobor Settlements

The terms of the 1898 immigration agreement between the first Doukhobors to Canada and the Canadian Government were arranged on their behalf by English-speaking, non-Doukhobor sympathizers, who negotiated the arrangements with Clifford Sifton, the Canadian Minister of the Interior. The timing was just right, as the Minister was actively seeking immigrants with a proven record of agricultural accomplishment to populate the prairie grasslands. The Liberal Government, at his direction, granted the Doukhobors large blocks of land under conditions similar to those previously granted to the Mennonites in 1873 and 1876, which included exemption from military service and, under a special Hamlet Clause of the Dominion Lands Act, permitted their settlement in villages rather than on individual plots. These conditions, and particularly the issue of naturalization (with the required swearing of an Oath of Allegiance to the British Monarch) as a prerequisite to the final granting of patents to crown land, proved to be insufficiently clearly articulated at the time, and this lack of clarity helped to facilitate the subsequent re-interpretation of these arrangements by government officials.

By 1905, when larger numbers of English-speaking immigrants from Great Britain, Ontario and the United States were finally beginning to express an interest in the Canadian prairies, there was already an apparent looming shortage of available free public land. This fact fed into a growing public discontent with the proliferation of non-British immigrants on the prairies, particularly those resisting assimilation, sentiments shared by the conservative-minded new Minister of the Interior, Frank Oliver, who replaced Sifton at this time. Rather than making an effort to resolve lingering homestead issues with the Doukhobors, Oliver dubiously reinterpreted the Hamlet clause, and used the naturalization requirement as a convenient opportunity to cancel their homestead applications altogether. He thereby essentially reneged on the 1898 arrangements and evicted thousands of Doukhobors in 1907 from over 350,000 acres of their newly cultivated homesteads and returned them to the Crown for open public entry to others, including many speculators. (Read Tony Hollihan on Frank Oliver)

B.C. Doukhobor Settlements

Absorbing this monumental injustice as best they could, the Doukhobors subsequently purchased new lands in British Columbia in 1909 and over 5000 men women and children emigrated to the West Kootenay-Boundary region by 1912, at their own expense.

Here the Doukhobors cleared virgin forests, cultivated land, planted orchards, built new residences and villages, and began to invest in all of the infrastructure, industrial plant and machinery, necessary to sustain their communal lifestyle, and allow them to maintain their cultural heritage and Christian pacifist way of life.


Although they were originally quite gleefully welcomed in British Columbia by local real-estate agents, local farmers and other industries in need of workers, their overall welcome as it turned out, was rather short lived. Within only three years of their arrival in the province, a new wave of suspicion and mistrust of these foreign immigrants had materialized, similar to that experienced on the Canadian prairies. Again, local residents were concerned about the unfamiliar customs and values of the new Doukhobor settlers, the erratic behavior of some, and their seeming lack of interest in assimilating into the British-based traditions of Canadian society.

Much of the furor was in regard to the perceived detrimental effects of their self-sufficient communal enterprises on the local economy. It was felt that their wholesale trading activities and their use of "free" labour were hurting retail merchants, fruit orchardists, sawmill operators, and other private businesses, with a further resultant negative impact on the tax-base. Their rapid accumulation of valuable agricultural land in the West Kootenay-Boundary was also seen as a potential threat to real-estate values, these lands to be soon over-populated with questionable settlers. But the overt reluctance of the Doukhobors to comply with regulations regarding the registration of births, deaths and marriages, appeared to them to be most troublesome, and was considered to be a blatant act of disobedience and abuse of provincial law. When four men were arrested for failing to register a death in Grand Forks, the Doukhobors reacted by withdrawing children from public schools in protest, a violation of the Schools Act in itself, which only served to further exacerbate an already uncomfortable situation.

On their part, the Doukhobors were not opposed to practical education and their children initially attended public schools, on their own communal settlements. But as pacifists, exempted from military service, they were also understandably concerned about the potential of public schools to undermine their family values and religious principles by adversely influencing the minds of their children. It is unknown whether Doukhobors were aware that a compulsory program of physical education, including military drill, rifle shooting and cadet training, formulated and funded by the eastern Canadian Strathcona Trust, had just then been introduced into the BC provincial curriculum. Had they been aware of its implementation, such a program would have undoubtedly confirmed their worst suspicions about these militaristic aspects of public education.

By 1912, certain conservative-minded citizens of the general public were commonly expressing their frustration with Doukhobors in local newspapers, and conveying their objections to various levels of government. And their voices were deemed sufficiently loud enough to warrant government intervention. What happened next is perhaps best summarized by George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic in their book, The Doukhobors.

"Bombarded with official reports of Doukhobor civil disobedience and with complaints from the citizens of Grand Forks and Nelson, the (BC) Conservative government of Sir Richard McBride finally decided to institute the first of a long series of Commissions inquiring into Doukhobor affairs. They chose a man who seemed politically reliable, an English mining engineer named William Blakemore. A local pillar of the Conservative party, he had for the past seven years been editing a newspaper in Nelson called The Week. In August 1912 Blakemore became a one·man investigating team, travelling and staying for almost four months among the Doukhobors in British Columbia and the prairies,visiting all the settlements, holding long public hearings, and in the end producing a report that, quite apart from its recommendations, is an invaluable document on the Doukhobor Community during its first years in British Columbia."

The Blakemore Commission Report and the photographs

The complete Blakemore Report can be viewed here (Link).

The details of the Commission's public hearings were also covered extensively in real time by William Blakemore's own newspaper, The Week, for a number of weeks. (Link) According to accounts in this paper, the substance of the final Report was described as being "voluminous", consisting of five bound volumes. The first, the report proper, consisting of 183 pages of typewritten material, aggregated over 50,000 words. Volumes 2, 3 and 4 contained a verbatim report of all the evidence, occupying upwards of 1000 pages. Volume 5 contained photographs of leading members of the Doukhobor Community and views of the various settlements, intended to illustrate the report.

The photographs in question were "taken by the official photographer of the Commission to illustrate the various stages of cultivation and clearing. That of Grand Forks shows orchards from fifteen to twenty years old and in full bearing, and others five years old and just beginning to bear.

The photograph of the Brilliant Settlement (meaning Ootischenia) shows the work of barely four years, for practically the whole of this Settlement was then forest. It is now cleared, planted with apple-trees, and the ingenious manager has left a few tall pines, which he has stripped of their branches, to show what the condition was when the land was taken possession of (more on these tall pines here on this web page to follow).

A long panoramic view of the Glade Settlement is, perhaps, the most interesting of all, as it shows every stage of clearing and cultivation, from the hewing-down of the trees and the burning of brush to the clearing-away of all stones and stumps, and ploughing and harrowing, ready for the seed."

And it is these references in the Report, and in particular, the "tall pines in the Brilliant Settlement" and the "panoramic view of Glade", that will confirm the authenticity of the photographs we are about to examine.


A Blakemore TV video and BC Archive photo album

A brief 3 minute preliminary look at a recent February 2020 Chek TV news story and online video will demonstrate what this web page is all about. (Video Link)

Viewers can also access a complete Blakemore Commission Photo Album here online on the BC Archives website. (Album Link). Below are two images from this album depicting Peter V. Verigin touring the Grand Forks settlement orchards with the Commissioner. The photos are visibly sepia toned in appearance, unlike the grayscale images to be later examined on this page.


The Ootischenia photographs ...

The following five photographs of the early settlement in Ootischenia in 1912, include two wide field views (Blakemore 01 and Blakemore 05) and three closer views of the former Waterloo settlement buildings (Blakemore 02 to 04). Rather than cutlines, a few comments will precede each photograph.

Blakemore 01, the Waterloo Panoramic view ...

In this view we can see two of the three Ootischenia flat riverbank terraces, unique geological landforms created by the erosive action of the Columbia River over some 11,000 years after the last ice age. These table lands, though initially heavily forested, proved to be suitable for human settlement near the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers, once cleared by the hand and toil of the Doukhobors. This first Blakemore photograph may be of wider general historical interest than others, as it may be the only such photograph to offer local researchers a distant view of the original pre-Doukhobor Waterloo Landing mining camp and townsite, just a few years after its abandonment in 1895. Readers interested in learning more about Waterloo Landing can find more on this web page. (Link) But our interest in this photograph, aside from being the source of the "tall pine trees" previously referenced in the Commission Report, is its usefulness in identifying the locations of common cultural landmarks and other places of interest within the view, such as the relative location of the first Doukhobor public school in British Columbia (shown here below) and a Doukhobor hospital we examine later on this webpage. A closeup of the full photograph has been labelled for this purpose and is posted here, the full photo itself later below. Annotated Waterloo photograph

The full image of the photograph (Blakemore 01) is a southern view of the lowest of the three river terraces in particular, which is now referred to as "Lower Ootischenia". The Columbia and Western Railway was originally granted this large parcel of land in 1901, including these terraces and others along the river, between the Kootenay River and Trail B.C., downriver some 15 miles. (Link) The CPR former crown land was subsequently resold in smaller sublots to early pioneer settlers, including Hiram Landis on the Waterloo Landing eastern bank, and Marc Dumont on the western or West Waterloo side.

According to John Charters, who researched the Dumont family in the 1980s for a story in the Castlegar News, Marc Dumont purchased a 200 acre parcel from the CPR on the upper bench of that (western) side in 1904, between the railway tracks and the Columbia River on the lower bench, where he built a home and small ranch at the northern end of what is now 1st Avenue. He built an access wagon road down to the river at that time, from where man-powered river boats were initially used to cross the Columbia River.

Although the river bench-lands around Waterloo Landing, on the eastern or opposite side of the river, were initially heavily forested, a Winnipeg based real-estate fruit lands development company, Fisher-Hamilton, nonetheless acquired an interest in them in 1907, purchasing 6000 acres from Laing-Stocks & Bjerkness. They prepared promotional drawings of these properties and distributed various brochures, (Link) one which seemingly attracted the attention of Peter V. Verigin, who was anticipating the purchase of such large tracts of suitable fruit lands in B.C. for the settlement of 5000 displaced prairie Doukhobor homesteaders.

Peter Verigin purchased 3,649 acres of these lands in 1909, from Fisher-Hamilton associates in Nelson, as well as suitable properties later, in Grand Forks, Glade, Pass Creek, Shoreacres, the Slocan and elsewhere. In Ootischenia, a special drift-ferry was constructed, and two cable towers were erected on opposite sides of the river, the western tower just north of the Dumont ranch. The Doukhobors were assisted by Marc Dumont himself, to transport workers, horses and equipment across the river to begin their settlement there that same year. It appears that even Commissioner William Blakemore, made use of this ferry three years later to reach the Doukhobor settlements in 1912.  John Charters interviewed Joe Killough, a neighbouring pioneer, about this ferry.

"It was a wooden two-pontoon structure, he said, with a decking on the top, and unlike the barge drift ferry above Arrowhead, the water impacted against the two pontoon surfaces, giving it an acceleration equal to the present power-driven Robson ferry. Its construction was a co-operative endeavor between the government and Peter "Lordly" Verigin to service the village of Ootischenia. It had two pulleys running on an overhead cable, a tiller and a windlass for changing the angle of attack of the river against the pontoons. It carried one team and wagon and was operated by a single ferryman."

Coils of the heavy cable can still be found below the Ootischenia cemetery, seen below being investigated by Joe Killough himself in a newspaper clipping from the 1980s.


Blakemore 02, the Waterloo townsite view ...

The following three photographs reveal a closer "street level' view of buildings within the Waterloo townsite in Lower Ootischenia. The first of these, Blakemore 02, offers us a northward facing view of the main road through this settlement, where we can see evidence of original Waterloo mining camp log house construction. The building at left, is however, distinctly different, possibly of stick-frame construction, faced with sawn clapboard. As shown below, three buildings in Blakemore 02 to 04, share the same siding and millwork around the windows and doors, topped with a unique diamond-patterned decorative element in the moulding. It is known that the Doukhobors almost immediately set up sawmills and planer mills in these Ootischenia settlements, for the anticipated "housing boom", and aside from dimension lumber, made their own wooden mouldings, window sash and doors. These three buildings were undoubtedly constructed by Doukhobors themselves.

A Doukhobor lady dressed in traditional attire, is seen emerging from the building at left, which has been identified elsewhere as a post office, as well as an office of J.W. Sherbinin, the business manager of the West Kootenay settlements. He was seen with the Commissioner in a previous photograph on this web page. The office was reported to have been "well equipped with two typewriters, both Russian and English, letter files, ledgers and account books and a certificate (to authenticate) that this is one of his majesty's post offices."

Blakemore 03, the Ootischenia Hospital ...

The most attractive building of the three, the Ootischenia hospital building, was undoubtedly designed to be distinctive, clearly inspired by the form of pre-existing prairie village communal homes, as illustrated below.

Although sharing similar characteristics with the post office building in Waterloo, the Ootischenia hospital featured a frontal veranda with a covered overhead balcony, and carved handrail balusters, much like its prairie counterparts, albeit with a single veranda. An exquisite ornamental insert appears at the arch of the gable end, and a small sculptural carving is set above the peak. These were known to occasionally take the form of stylized doves placed on rooftops of special Doukhobor buildings in the Russian Caucasus, from whence they came.

The hospital itself included eight rooms, an equipped dispensary, and living quarters at the back for medical personnel. According to Commission testimony, "A Russian "quack" was first mistakenly hired instead of a properly qualified medical man, and his vagaries were so obvious and displeasing to the Community that he was discharged in short order, and they then became so disgusted with the whole proposition that they abandoned the
project altogether." The Doukhobors were said to rarely seek medical attention in any case, and the hospital ultimately became a family residence, was destroyed by fire in the 1930s, and was replaced by a new family dwelling over its former foundation, with its remains visible to this day. The recently constructed two story public school building is vaguely visible on the upper river terrace at mid-left behind the hospital. It was previously identified from a different viewpoint in the annotated version of Blakemore Photograph 01.


Blakemore 04, the Ootischenia Beliy Dom (White House) or Community Hall ...

A two story structure, this building was constructed between 1909 and 1912 on the clearing of the second Ootischenia terrace, occasionally called "Kleverskoye" or "Clover Patch". Simply called "Beliy Dom" or "White House" because of its pale whitewashed siding, it was used as a meeting, assembly and prayer hall, and a school for decades until at least 1948. Expecting the arrival of William Blakemore, the Commissioner, in 1912, a large crowd of Doukhobors assembled to greet him there, later inviting him, and presumably the photographer, as a guest to a traditional Doukhobor luncheon.

The Beliy Dom was situated at the south end of the proposed new Castlegar Airport and was demolished shortly after the following photograph was taken in 1949 to make room for the runway.


Blakemore 05, the Kamennoye region in northern Ootischenia ...

If you are a Russian-speaking viewer and you observe the following Blakemore photograph of Kamennoye (Blakemore 05), taken in 1912, you will immediately recognize the source of its rather obvious place-name. Its easiest English translation would simply be "the Rocky Place". This photograph is possibly the first detailed view of the early developments at Kamennoye. It was taken from a vantage point at Brilliant, from the railway tracks of the CPR Columbia & Kootenay Railway which had been in place there since the 1890s. In this photograph we see evidence of a pre-existing electrical powerline, in transit from the Kootenay River Bonnington dam, and across the Ootischenia tablelands toward Trail Creek and the smelter. And here we also see a second ferry to Ootischenia, at the Kootenay River's edge, this version powered by horse-driven windlass connected by cable to the Brilliant side.

A Nelson reporter from the The Daily News, stepped off a train here at Brilliant at the new CPR station, just then under construction on June 1, 1912, and joined a group of Doukhobor workers on this ferry, struggling with heavy equipment, enroute to Kamennoye. Rather than connecting to the aforementioned pre-existing West Kootenay powerline, he was told they were installing the infrastructure for a steam power plant to generate electricity for their own Doukhobor electrical system, for lighting as well as powering electrical water pumps to irrigate their young orchards. We see evidence here of the buildings to house these seemingly over-ambitious projects, and at right, we also see early evidence of a saw milling operation, to fabricate lumber and wooden stave pipe for the planned irrigation system. Construction of a new suspension bridge will begin precisely here at left, in 1913, to span the Kootenay River and connect Brilliant with Ootischenia, eliminating the need for both ferries.

Two Doukhobor villages can be seen in the distance, with plumes of smoke emanating from their chimneys, suggesting that they were now fully functional, accommodating at least a few of these immigrants, who had emigrated from the Caucasus to the prairies in 1899, and now here, as permanent residents of British Columbia.

The Glade Panoramic Photographs ...

The local acquisition of the Glade panoramic photographs was quite unexpected, and a story in itself. Four original old sepia toned prints of Glade were discovered in the former Saskatchewan home of Michael William Cazakoff, who was the Vice President of the Doukhobor Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) until the late 1930s. The images were given to a nearby descendent in 2016, who brought them in turn to the attention of a Castlegar relative, who turned out to be a member of the Doukhobor Cultural Interpretive Society. They were offered to this talented and committed group of ladies who accepted them graciously, and took their volunteer work seriously. They promptly arranged to have the photographs individually scanned to preserve their integrity. They then employed a local professional to stitch them together digitally into a seamless panorama, later approaching the Doukhobor Discovery Centre to help market framed reproductions as a fund raiser for their society. A large grayscale print was sold to the museum at that time where it remains to this day, while the four individual sepia photographs remain on display at the CIS Interpretive Centre at Brilliant, in Castlegar.


View a closeup of this panorama and an updated "post-processed" version created for this web page. (Link) Looking closely at the "closeup" at left, we can see evidence of the Glade drift ferry and its cable tower, as well as a group of temporary tents, to accommodate early construction workers and their families.


Aside from the story of the aforementioned acquisition, it is not clear whether museum staff or the ladies themselves understood the real significance or provenance of the photographs, nor the identity of the photographer. Oddly, the museum actually already owned the 2nd of these four images in its collection, its true provenance similarly not likely understood. The photograph appears above as Blakemore 06.

We have now confirmed that these Glade panoramic images do indeed appear to be the same photographs previously referenced in the Report of the Royal Commission. And of further related interest, four additional Blakemore Glade photographs in the same 8x10 inch format were also to be found, depicting these same clearing and burning activities at Glade at that same moment in time, but from a vantage point on the opposite side of the Kootenay River, at the site of the settlement itself. These remarkably sharp photographs appear without cutlines below, their subject matter speaking for itself.

Before leaving this segment of the web page, we will recount a couple of seemingly ironic twists to this story. The following image is a closeup from a Glade Blakemore Photograph to follow (Blakemore 07). The two buildings observed at right, as seen here, newly constructed in 1912, were to become a standard form of communal residential housing in all B.C. Doukhobor settlements over the next half century. (Link)

Although they were initially clad with wooden siding, most were eventually faced with brick, and built in pairs, each pair representing a single self-contained residential village unit. There were 11 such village pairs in Glade. One of these buildings was carefully measured in 1971 by a local Doukhobor engineer and contractor, and a virtual copy of it was reconstructed as a museum in Ootischenia by the newly formed Kootenay Doukhobor Historical Society. The original museum was later renamed the "Doukhobor Discovery Centre", which now ironically, houses many of these same historic Blakemore photographs. The reconstructed village appears below, in a contemporary two-part panoramic composite photograph, not unlike the Glade panorama of 1912. The photos were taken by this writer and seamlessly composited several years ago, and this resulting image ultimately found a place in the current official logo of the D.D.C. museum.

A statue in the foreground of Doukhobor benefactor, Leo Tolstoy, by sculptor Yuri Chernov, overlooks the courtyard of the two museum buildings, seemingly monitoring the steadfastness of modern Doukhobors to their ongoing commitment to pacifism. The statue was presented to the Kootenay Doukhobor Historical Society in Castlegar, BC on July 25-26, 1987 by the Association of Canadians of Russian Descent, compliments of Rodina Society for Cultural Relations, Moscow, former USSR.



The William Blakemore Glade Photographs ...

There is evidence in the following three photographs (Blakemore 07, 08 and 09) of tree stumps and tangled debris, the only visible remains of the once virgin forests of the Glade eastern Kootenay River benchlands. It appears that the bulk of the clearing and burning taking place here, is being undertaken by the workers and the families of the settlers themselves, assisted only by horse-power. There is no sign of mechanical equipment of any sort. There appears to be some evidence of preliminary cultivation or preparedness for it, in the Blakemore 08 photograph, although it's important to note, that there are not as yet any fruit trees to be found here in Glade in 1912. The evidence of young orchards in the previous set of Ootischenia photographs, taken at the same time, will demonstrate that developments at Glade were possibly three or four years behind. We can identify one figure in these images that appears consistently in at least three, wearing a sheepskin jacket and a straw hat. We can speculate that this may have been Peter V. Verigin himself, serving as a Blakemore Commission tour guide, as the Commissioner travelled throughout these settlements.

The conclusion and aftermath of the Blakemore Report ...

The Commissioner's Report was well-intentioned and conciliatory, calling for patience on the part of the government in dealing with the Doukhobors, who he thought would in time become good citizens.

Listening to the testimony, accusations and objections of local businesses, the Commissioner found most to be insubstantial. On the other hand, he praised the Doukhobors for their remarkable communal accomplishments, and many of their personal and collective attributes:

"When one comes to deal with the personal character, with the habits, the customs, and the practices of the Doukhobors, one has nothing but a pleasant task. Whether in Russia, Saskatchewan, or in British Columbia, they have at all times impressed those who have come into contact with them as being the very essence of kindliness, courtesy, and hospitality."

Nevertheless, he did find the Doukhobor defiance of provincial laws unacceptable, even thought it was justified in their own minds on religious grounds. Woodcock and Avakumovic summarize his conclusions thus:

"Blakemore ended his report with an extraordinary mixture of recommendations. He suggested that no drastic immediate steps should be taken to force compliance with the education and registration laws, that the government be patient with the people and put pressure only on the leaders, and that, when action had to be taken, fines rather than imprisonment should be imposed. He suggested the appointment of a Doukhobor sub-registrar and of Russian teachers, and a simplification of the curriculum to arouse Doukhobor confidence.

All these were, in the circumstances, excellent recommendations, but Blakemore was moved by his Conservative background to end with a suggestion that, once it was made public, undid all the good his patience and sympathy might otherwise have achieved.

Giving no reasons at all, he expressed the view 'That it is in the best interests of the country that the Order in Council granting exemption from military service should be cancelled.'

As soon as the literate Doukhobors read these words, it seemed to them and all their brethren that their suspicions that the Canadian authorities intended to break their word on this vital question had been justified. More strongly than ever, conscription seemed to them the likely consequence of conformity, and their obstinacy hardened."

The Doukhobors understandably rejected the Commission Report, and government authorities seemingly doubled down and resumed their effort to reign in the "recalcitrant" Doukhobors. The Blakemore photographs were scattered across Canada in various collections over the years, and their source and true significance was essentially forgotten.


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