header image

Back to Home Page


About this web page ...

This web page was inspired by the discovery of two old maps of Ootischenia from the 1950s, one of the Ostrov-Kamennoye area, now Selkirk College, District Lot 10, the other of Ootischenia proper, depicting several Sub-Lots of District Lot 4598. As these maps were unfolded, they were found to be extremely fragile, in poor condition, yet their content appeared worthy enough for closer examination. This web page will briefly describe their history, the somewhat unusual circumstance of their discovery, the process of their restoration, and their potential usefulness in further local historical research.

Old maps and their historical context ...

The Vladimir Snesarev Map

The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. (CCUB), a Doukhobor community and enterprise, was incorporated in 1917, and was by 1931, considered to be the largest communal experiment of its kind in North America. Its BC land holdings were largely acquired in 1908 and 1909 in Grand Forks and the West-Kootenay region, where the settlements were widely distributed along the Slocan, Kootenay and Columbia River Valleys. Much has been written about these communities since that time, and many fine photographs have preserved a visual record of their various activities and enterprises, but there are few historic maps that adequately depict the entirety of these settlements in British Columbia.

It was therefore a surprise to view such a map by Vladimir Snesarev (Harry Trevor) in the Minto Room of the Selkirk College library in Castlegar. The map was an attachment to his unpublished 1931 report to the University of British Columbia, on the state of agricultural affairs in the BC Doukhobor settlements. Having previously completed a university thesis on experimental farms and stations in British Columbia (Link), he felt qualified to point out numerous examples of inefficiency, mismanagement, and outright incompetence, observed in the maintenance of Doukhobor orchards, fields and gardens, ignoring the very sort of modern agricultural practices he cared so much about.

But in reality, the Snesarev map itself was not actually a product of his own creation. It was an annotated copy of an existing 1926 Rossland topographic sheet, on which he simply outlined the outer boundaries of all known former CCUB Doukhobor settlements located throughout the whole West Kootenay-Boundary region, in 1931. But the map furthermore, conveniently reveals all the District Lots associated with each settlement, each Lot having thus been pre-labelled on the underlying sheet by number. It may be important to note here, that although the District Lots are identified here as a settlement group, they would not necessarily have been purchased that way. The lots were also frequently purchased individually by the Doukhobors, typically sold by real-estate agents for the original owners, who may have initially pre-empted them as Crown Land, or purchased them from other previous settlers.

The Mollie Cottingham Map

The West Kootenay Doukhobor settlements on the Snesarev map were subsequently carefully traced by the hand of a former Nelson school teacher, Mollie Cottingham, for use in her own excellent 1947 UBC thesis (Link), which included a detailed analysis of these Doukhobor communities.

Both of the maps are illustrated in the composite image below. Mollie Cottingham's hand drawn-map focuses directly on the Doukhobor settlements, but although it also defines settlement perimeters, the lower level District Lots are not shown or numbered. Both maps however do include settlement place names in Russian handscript, while the Cottingham map also includes transliterated English equivalents.

header image


The Albert L. Van Ryswyk 1955 Thesis map ...

The following map, reproduced from a 1955 UBC Master's Thesis by Albert L. Van Ryswyk, from the 1950s, also defines property boundaries of former CCUB Doukhobor lands within the West Kootenay and Grand Forks region. Like the Cottingham map, it depicts the settlements as rectilinear shapes, encompassing the whole group of District Lots within a particular settlement, although they are not individually identified. Rather than placing the settlement place names on the map directly, it handily identifies them by number, making use of a numbered reference key.



The 1952 BC Lands and Forests Irrigation map ...

The map below is reproduced from a 1952 BC Department of Lands and Forests Report, showing West Kootenay Doukhobor settlements only, situated between Champion Creek in the south, and the confluence of the Slocan and Kootenay River in the north. The map offers us a closer view of the Doukhobor settlements as a whole (this case in gray), while also identifying their individual parts, the District Lots, by number. In that sense, this map demonstrates what may have been the best possible method to illustrate the configuration and distribution of former Doukhobor lands. Yet surprisingly, such maps were not apparently included with the BC Government Land Settlement Board Report itself of the late 1950s, at which time the large CCUB Doukhobor District Lots were being surveyed and carved up into smaller Sub-Lot units for redistribution to Doukhobors. This topic will be examined further on this web page below.

Report of the Lands Branch, Surveys and Mapping Branch, and Water Rights Branch


A more contemporary version of these maps ...

Much like the Cottingham map, the following modern map illustrates only the former West Kootenay CCUB Doukhobor settlements. This map was however rendered with computer assistance, stacking multiple layers of geographical content to depict the settlement layout. The settlement perimeter boundaries were traced from readily available BC Government GIS parcel maps, to more precisely depict their shapes, relative sizes and proportional dimensions. The base map terrain, rivers and roads were also imported as raster and vector GIS layers from online public databases. This map is shown here to illustrate the location, configuration and extent of the Ootischenia CCUB Doukhobor lands, the actual focus of this web page, relative to the wider West Kootenay region.

header image


CCUB Bankruptcy, the BC Land Settlement Board and subdivision of Doukhobor lands ...

Despite the historic success of the CCUB to maintain a unique communal way of life for three decades, it was unable to sustain mortgage payments on its land holdings and capital investments, and the community was ultimately forced into bankruptcy in 1938. The reasons for this turn of events are varied and not particularly well understood, although the whole Canadian economy was suffering an economic depression in the 1930s, and the community itself, by that time, had overextended its own resources to manage the daily function of its enterprises and the continued payment of interest on its loans. The two major creditors, National Trust and Sun Life Assurance Co., initiated foreclosure procedures and were about to issue eviction notices to thousands of British Columbia Doukhobor residents in early 1939. At that point, in what remains a controversial maneuver, the B.C. Government paid off the debt to National Trust and Sun Life, and assumed the ownership and jurisdiction of some 88,000 acres of these CCUB lands, under the authority of the Doukhobor Lands Acquisition Act. The lands were placed in the hands of the B.C. Land Settlement Board until some agreement could be reached regarding their final destiny, while the Doukhobors were in the meantime, permitted to remain as tenants of the government on their former lands.

Once a government strategy for the re-distribution of these former CCUB lands was determined, a professional survey of 875 parcels was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of Commissioner Justice Arthur E. Lord, under the Doukhobor Lands Allotment Inquiry Act. The survey was completed in 1958 or 1959 by a Vancouver team of Surveyor-Engineers, McElhanney, McRae, Smith and Nash. Soon after that time, various maps, including the two we are about to examine, were distributed to the Doukhobor Land Committee, the Government Agents' Offices in Nelson and Grand Forks, the Credit Union in Brilliant and the Iskra Office in Grand Forks. Maps of these specific regions were made available there for preview, offering members of former settlements an opportunity to repurchase their formerly dispossessed lands as private individuals, rather than a community.

There was initially some reluctance on the part of many Doukhobors to proceed with these land purchases, arising from historic concerns regarding private ownership of land, reaching as far back as their relationship with Leo Tolstoy, their benefactor. Many Doukhobors also considered this a Rubicon moment, from which they could not turn back, perhaps understandably being suspicious of a government only too eager to assimilate them into Anglo-Canadian society by fracturing their collective identity. Nonetheless, the process continued and the Doukhobors were given first option to choose and purchase these lands directly from the government as individuals, and many, seeing no other better option, did so in the early 1960s. A copy of a component of Commissioner Justice Arthur E. Lord's report can be viewed here (Link), listing a detailed inventory of these parcels and their legal descriptions. Without having access to the associated parcel maps themselves, it is unfortunately not of general usefulness in itself.

In keeping with the agricultural heritage of the expansive Ootischenia benchlands, many properties were surveyed and retained as large parcels, several acres in size, and for a period of time all of Ootischenia was wishfully maintained as an agricultural land reserve. These properties were subsequently rezoned by the local regional district in the late 1990s, and are now open to further subdivision into smaller parcel sizes no less than a half acre in size, by former Doukhobors and non-Doukhobors alike. In the first two decades of this century, Ootischenia has been experiencing an unprecedented residential boom, and its cultural landscape is effectively being rapidly transformed into a satellite bedroom community of Castlegar.

Only one original old Doukhobor communal home remains standing today, and a few heritage apple trees can still be found scattered around these benchlands, having outlived the villages themselves. And on occasion, evidence of the old Doukhobor irrigation system is still encountered, as backhoes and excavators, digging new basement foundations, become entangled in the coiled spring wire of the abandoned stave-pipe waterlines.

The Castlegar Airport and Selkirk College Campus ...

But large portions of former Ootischenia Doukhobor lands had also been previously purchased from the Land Settlement Board for general public benefit.

According to local historian Greg Nesteroff, the Board was advised to reserve Ootischenia land for an airport yet prior to World War II, and 123 acres were purchased there in 1948 for this purpose, initially inspired by an alliance of local municipalities (Link). Airport development began "in earnest" shortly thereafter. Its construction unfortunately displaced several Doukhobor villages, causing great distress and continued resentment on the part of evicted inhabitants for many years afterward.

136 acres were also apportioned and reserved for the Selkirk College Campus in the "Ostrov" (Island) district of Ootischenia in the mid 1960s, at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. Two Doukhobor villages were also embedded in this purchase, although their existing residents were permitted to occupy their homes until their end of life. Embracing the pacifist legacy of the local Doukhobor community, one village was preserved and renovated as the Selkirk College Mir Centre for Peace, and the college even now offers a two year interdisciplinary program in Peace and Justice Studies.


The old government survey maps and their unexpected source ...

The Government Building Complex in Nelson, at the cormer of Vernon and Ward Streets, included a Court House, a Provincial Government Agency and a separate Land Registry Office building, which served as a repository for local property records and maps until at least the 1970s.

During this time a process was also underway to transfer this office, and all of its resources and assets to Kamloops. An observant local resident, Nick Sherstobitoff, who was visiting the Nelson office regarding land titles at that time, spotted a boxful of papers on a tabletop at the entrance door, in readiness for the dumpster. Inquiring of the desk clerk whether he might be able to rummage through the discards, he was encouraged to do so. As one of hundreds of West Kootenay Doukhobors affected by the redistribution of their lands, he recognized two maps of interest, and despite their questionable condition, considered them valuable historical records, not normally made available to individuals. He brought them home to Thrums, some 15 miles south of Nelson, where they remained largely untouched in his basement, until he remembered them in conversation with this writer. Lola Sherstobitoff, his talented wife, a recognized local photographer, and former collaborator with this writer in the design of the Cultural Interpretive Society website, took a series of digital photographs to demonstrate the challenges of a possible restoration.

The digital restoration workflow ...

Setting up a scanning procedure

Once unfolded, the most striking aspect of these maps was found to be their large size. The District Lot 10 map measured approximately 36 inches square, the DL4598 map, 36 inches by 72 inches. The other concern was their fragile condition.

The smaller map was scanned in sections on an available tabloid-sized flatbed scanner without much difficulty or damage. But the larger map, being more fragile, would not withstand repeated unfolding and refolding to fit under the lid of the flatbed, and a makeshift workflow would need to be devised to address this concern. And fortunately, with a bit of investigation, it was found that the lid of the scanner was removable.

The map was carefully unfolded on a large sheet of foam core board 36 inches wide, carefully flattened and slightly stretched to minimize folds, and the outer perimeter was clamped to hold it in place with small spring-loaded plastic clamps. A portable table was set up in front of the scanner to match the height of the flatbed, providing a smooth continuous surface on which the foam core board and map could then be carefully fed as a unit onto the scanner (upside down of course). The map was advanced at premeasured intervals, calibrated to allow a one inch overlap of each scan, while keeping it tightly aligned against a number of straight-edge strips clamped to the table, to ensure the longitudinal alignment of the map. Other than the repositioning of the odd paper clamp to enable its placement on the scanner, the full map was easily scanned in this manner into 14 individual sections, each at 300 dots per inch.

Layering in Photoshop

The aforementioned workflow, and the following stitching process, though time consuming, was rather straightforward, thanks to the built in tools and capabilities of Adobe Photoshop. Each section scan was automatically directed to its own layer within the Photoshop workspace, and all layered images were then individually copied and pasted onto a separate enlarged canvas, in this case measuring 36 inches by 72 inches. Each layered image, of course required repositioning or rotation, but careful alignment was made easier by matching overlaps as transparencies, and the AI capability of Photoshop to recognize matching elements within pairs of layers, made it especially so. Each layer was then adjusted for lightness and contrast if needed, to eliminate fold marks. And all layers were then finally flattened to produce a single Photoshop image. The maps were in this way prepared as actual-sized digital reproductions that could be printed on large format printers, or viewed on computer monitors.

Presumably better copies of all such Land Settlement Board maps, including these two, are stored in BC Government archives, and possibly in other private collections, but because of their size, they would not likely have all yet been digitized. These two reproductions may in the meantime, serve as examples of what other such Doukhobor BC Land Settlement maps may have possibly looked like.


The two restored maps and their significance ...

Although it may be somewhat difficult to discern on the following screen previews below, the two maps have a number of features in common. The map place-names and notes are bilingual, in both English and their Russian equivalents. Both maps share the same legends and notes, primarily addressing District Lot symbols, map terminology and details regarding the application process for those Doukhobors wishing to purchase particular parcels.

But the maps are otherwise quite different in their intended purpose and content. The first of these maps of the Selkirk College region, shown immediately below, defines all small surveyed lots within District Lot 10, with associated acreages and their prices, at market value and at slightly discounted rates for Doukhobors. It also defines projected roads, at full width, implying they would ultimately become paved roads, which they are today. This map was prepared to assist eligible Doukhobors to select specific parcels, according to specified qualifications and guidelines.


The second map is rather unusual, and perhaps unique among all other such Land Settlement Board maps. It defines only major District Lots without subdivisions, but strangely shows pre-existing dirt roads instead. To their credit, the surveyors felt it worthwhile to preserve the layout of the land and its network of original roads in 1957, for potential reference in years to come. But sadly, for some reason, the surveyors chose not to mark specific locations of Doukhobor villages, even though some villages surely did exist at that time.


Vectorizing the bitmapped Ootischenia road map

The equipment and software

To add more research value to the Ootischenia map, the roads on the survey map were digitally traced to convert them into vector paths, enabling them to be copied and manipulated as objects on other maps. Two industry standard object-oriented computer drawing applications are especially able to assist with this task, one being a component of the Adobe Design Suite, called Adobe Illustrator, the other, a popular Canadian equivalent called Corel Draw, which has been used in this particular instance. With the software installed on a 4K convertible laptop equipped with an active touch screen, a matching active stylus was used to manually trace the dirt roads of the survey map, which was previously imported as a bitmapped image into its own lower layer. The roads were then manipulated to duplicate the style of the original map, as white lines with black outlines (or two thin parallel black lines), and the resulting map was then saved for later use.

Additional map layers

Corel Draw, like Photoshop, enables the stacking of digital content in independent layers which can be configured to alter their characteristics, including their visibility, transparency and ordering. The following image demonstrates the possibilities of such a mult-layered approach. The map at left reveals three layers of historical content, Ootischenia District Lot 4598 and labelled Sub Lots, 1957 Ootischenia Dirt Roads, and the locations of old Doukhobor Villages. The map at right depicts several additional layers of current Regional District (RDCK) content, including property boundaries, paved roads and highways. Various layers could be switched on or off on these maps, depending on the purpose at hand.

The placement of the Ootischenia Doukhbor Village markers shown above, and their relationship to the newly discovered dirt road survey, is currently being explored by a number of local residents (2020-2021), and their involvement in this "casual research" is appreciated and is to be acknowledged once the map is finalized. In the meantime, while the marker dots are being shifted about, current copies of the above map can be viewed in two formats here: (Link to jpg) (Link to pdf)

Dirt Roads and Doukhobor Village locations

The precise locations of old CCUB Ootischenia villages are difficult to verify, and although GPS devices could of course be helpful to record spatial co-ordinates, the former village locations first need to be identified.

But assuming the dirt roads on the Settlement Board map were accurately surveyed and depicted in 1957, we can use the roads as another means to fine tune possible village locations. We can presume that at least some of the many short and truncated branches of the dirt roads visible on the map would have likely terminated at these villages. This is particularly helpful in the case of village sites in the vicinity of the Castlegar Airport, where the villages were demolished in 1948 or 1949 and there are no longer any visible remains. This can be observed in the following image, which is a closeup of the second map shown above, depicting the south end of the airport runway, and the Highway 3 and Highway 3A interchange. The green dots on this map represent estimated village locations, the yellow dots, other places of interest. The village markers have been slightly adjusted on this map to accomodate the matching truncated dirt roads in several locations, and can be further shifted to take into account the known properties revealed in the RDCK map layer beneath them.

Village maps by previous Ootischenia residents

Looking back to 1957, it's important to realize that the modern highways and the two bridges across the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers to Ootischenia did not exist. The only overland route to access the river benchlands was across the Brilliant Suspension Bridge. At that time this land could only be traversed by a network of dirt roads connecting over forty or so existing Doukhobor dwellings and villages.

A well known Castlegar businessman and former resident of Ootischenia, Mike W. Popoff, in his retirement, became interested in recording the location and family composition of CCUB villages throughout the West Kootenay-Boundary. Focusing on Ootischenia where he lived and personally also operated a small store in his younger years, he compiled a sketch map of these Ootischenia villages and estimated their relative interconnection by a general network of dirt roads. The map was more like a conceptual drawing rather than a work of cartographic precision, but along with a related article he penned on this topic for the bilingual ISKRA magazine in 1999, it seemingly inspired wider public interest in his research. His work was later updated and republished in ISKRA, in 2001, in collaboration with Doukhobor historian, Jonathan Kalmakoff, along with a more refined and accurate version of his map of Ootischenia. Mike Popoff's original sketchmap, which appears below, was left with this writer during an informal interview many years ago.


A somewhat more detailed and accurate map of Ootischenia which included a network of dirt roads, was also created many years ago by another Ootischenia resident, John Kootnekoff Sr. The map is large in size and appears to be painted on a plywood substrate, which is now mounted on an interior wall of the current Ootischenia Hall, near Highway 3 and Columbia Road in Ootischenia. The map was photographed and digitally traced to recreate his version of the dirt road network and the locations of numerous associated villages. Village names are also identified on the original wall map, but have not been included in this screen preview. Nonetheless the historical value of this map is significant. For the sake of comparison, the 1957 survey map is shown immediately below it.


Back to Home Page