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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.


The 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 The map was an attachment to his unpublished 1931 report to the University of British Columbia, on the state of agricultural affairs in the BC Doukhobor settlements.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), Snesarev 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 his map, though it is seemingly somewhat lacking for a report of this stature, it has nonetheless been useful to other researchers, and as it turns out, even for this very web page itself.

Snesarev's map is essentially an annotated copy of a 1926 Rossland topographic sheet, on which he outlined the perimeters of the specific District Lots or Sub-Lots he determined to be Doukhobor lands in the West Kootenay-Boundary region in 1931. The West Kootenay portion of his map which is of particular relevance here, was subsequently carefully traced by the hand of a former Nelson school teacher and historian, 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 is visually less cluttered and more focused on her subject matter, but although it also defines settlement outer perimeters, it does not depict lower level District Lots or numbers. Both maps include settlement place names in Russian handscript, while the Cottingham map also includes transliterated English equivalents.

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Other former CCUB Doukhobor settlement maps

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. But rather than placing the settlement place names on the map directly, it handily identifies them by number, making use of a numbered reference key.

SOILS OF THE DOUKHOBOR (FORMER CCUB) LANDS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
by ALBERT L. VAN RYSWYK

 

The  following map 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 settlements on this map are enlarged sufficiently to enable the numbering of individual District Lots. And the relevant properties are rendered gray by means of dotted or linear textures, to differentiate them from non-Doukhobor lots. This map offers historical researchers a rare view of former CCUB Doukhobor settlements prior to the massive BC Settlement Board surveys of the later 1950s, which carved up the large District Lots into smaller Sub-Lots. It should be noted that the Doukhobors were not the original Crown Land grantees of these lands, which would have been required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown. CCUB Doukhobors purchased these District Lots from previous pre-emptors, ranchers or speculators who then subdivided and sold the individual parcels.

BC DEPARTMENT OF LANDS AND FORESTS
Report of the Lands Branch, Surveys and Mapping Branch, and Water Rights Branch
1952, VICTORIA, BC.

 

The following modern map was rendered with computer assistance, adapting content from the previous maps. The Doukhobor settlement parcels and boundaries were carefully traced, however, from contemporary topographical maps, to more precisely depict their shapes, relative sizes and proportional dimensions. Base map terrain, rivers and roads were imported as raster and vector GIS layers from online public databases. The map is shown here to illustrate the location, configuration and extent of the Ootischenia CCUB Doukhobor lands, relative to the complete holdings of the CCUB in the West Kootenay. Ootischenia, which will be the focus of this web page, appears at the bottom of the map.

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CCUB Bankruptcy, the BC Land Settlement Board and the 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 facing bankruptcy by 1938. The reasons for this turn of events are varied and not particularly well publically articulated, 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., which were owed $360,580.64, initiated foreclosure procedures, appointed a receiver and began gradually selling off CCUB assets to cover the debt. By early 1939, they were about to issue eviction notices to thousands of British Columbia Doukhobor residents, at which point, in what remains a controversial maneuver, the B.C. Government finally intervened. But rather than offering the Doukhbors an interim loan to pay off their debt, it negotiated an agreement with the creditors by which it acquired all the Doukhobor lands and buildings in the West Kootenays and Grand Forks for a meagre $296,500. The government thereby assumed the ownership and administration 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.

Most current Doukhobors now acknowledge that the former CCUB communitarian way of life in Ootischenia and elsewhere in British Columbia, could not likely have been sustained indefinitely in the modern world, in any case, although they also recognize the resentment many of their predecessors felt toward the B.C. Government at that time. In the words of historians, George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovich: "Had the $296,500 been offered to the Community as a loan before the foreclosures, it might have saved it from disaster; by waiting until the Community had been dispossessed, the government made sure that there would be no resurrection of a communitarian enterprise that was resented by politically powerful local interests. If the government did not kill the Community, it deliberately neglected to keep it alive."

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 local 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 for preview, offering members of former settlements an opportunity to repurchase their formerly dispossessed lands as private individuals, rather than as a community. A copy 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.

There was initially some reluctance on the part of many Doukhobors to proceed with these land purchases, partly arising from historic concerns regarding private ownership of land, reaching as far back as their relationship with Leo Tolstoy, their benefactor, who was himself inspired by the writings of American social theorist and economist, Henry George. Although this perspective may have only been aspirational for many Doukhobors, it was perversely misappropriated by certain over-zealous extremist elements of the Sons of Freedom, who intimidated community Doukhobors with potential property burnings, should they proceed with land purchases.


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 former community members, seeing no better option, did so in the early 1960s, chosing land parcels near their pre-existing village locations.

Each such purchase was meticulously documented by Land Settlement Board administrators. Record details were manually entered into a special Registry book, and later scanned and undoubtedly digitally transcribed into an archive database, each record including the Certificate Title No., the Legal Property Description, related Acreage, Date of Sale, the Purchase prices, the File or Deed Number and the name or names of the Purchasers themselves. The historic 485 page Registry file is now publically accessible, and is a useful resource for family or personal research. A page sample is shown below, which includes a family purchase record as well as a general public land use record.


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. In 2004, the Provincial Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), likely prompted by residents, which were by then of mixed cultures and backgrounds, and eager to subdivide their lands, initiated a review of these properties, and all of Ootischenia was "deemed" unsuitable for agriculture. The lands were removed from the Agricultural Reserve in 2005, and their jurisdiction was placed in the hands of the local Regional District. In consultation with local residents, these properties were subsequently rezoned 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 is now 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 Dom 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, remnants of the old CCUB Doukhobor irrigation system are still encountered, as backhoes and excavators, digging new basement foundations, become entangled in the coiled spring wire of the abandoned stave-pipe waterlines

 

Former B.C. CCUB Doukhobor Lands reserved for wider general public benefit ...

Apart from the envisioned Doukhobor purchase and resettlement of former CCUB lands in British Columbia, large portions were also set aside by the BC Land Settlement Board for general public benefit. Land reserves or allocations were ear-marked for potential highway and bridge right of ways, public utilities and parks, the Castlegar airport, Selkirk College, other public schools, and development of other civil infrastructure.

West Kootenay Regional Airport

According to local historian Greg Nesteroff, 128 acres of Ootischenia land were reserved for an airport yet prior to World War II, initially inspired by an alliance of local West Kootenay municipality Boards of Trade. (Link). BC Government aerial photographs reveal that the clearing of orchards and preparation of these lands for the anticipated airport had already begun by 1939.

Upper image: This 1939 aerial photograph reveals the location of eleven historic CCUB Doukhobor village sites in the vicinity of the modern Castlegar airport. Also visible at bottom left, is the Ootischenia community Beliy Dom or "White House", and barely visible, a small irrigation reservoir beside the Pereversoff village. One village, near the current location of the Discovery Centre, had been burned prior to 1939, although its remains are still visible. The West Kootenay power line also appears at bottom, as does the location of the current airport runway, shown here for reference purposes.

Lower image:
The upper image village sites and annotations have been precisely superimposed over a current Google Earth view of Ootischenia. The villages are shown as uniform map symbols, their orientation determined from close inspection of the aerial photograph. We can observe current highways and the current airport infrastructure, including concrete and ashphalt pavement, which now overlays several former village foundations.


Airport development itself would have likely begun "in earnest" shortly after 1939. However its initial construction, and a later extension of the runway in 1948, unfortunately displaced several of the Doukhobor villages depicted in the aerial photograph, causing distress and continued resentment on the part of evicted inhabitants for many years afterward. By that time, however, community Doukhobors in general accepted the reality of their circumstances, and agreed to fully co-operate with the airport development. And the West Kootenay Regional Airport is now seen as a most worthy, essential component of modern West Kootenay infrastructure, serving the general community and Doukhobors alike.


Demolition: the two upper images appear to depict the dismantling of a Doukhobor village Dom, presumably in the vicinity of the Castlegar airport. Its brick-faced twin appears in another view, not posted here. - photos in public domain, photographer unknown

Beliy Dom: The lower image depicts the historic Ootischenia community hall, called the Beliy Dom or "White Hall". William Blakemore was ferried here (Link) over the Columbia River to interview the Doukhobors at the Beliy Dom in 1912, not long after its construction. This unique structure subsequently served the community as a meeting or prayer hall and a school house for more than 35 years later. The Ootischenia Kanigan family occupied the upstairs, as its last caretakers until its demolition in 1948. It is shown here in 1947, hosting a concert during the first annual USCC Doukhobor Youth Festival. Its precise original location in recent times has been elusive, despite the recollections of existing elder residents, who claim that it was "just somewhere near the southern end of the airport". Careful analysis of the 1939 BC151 - 021 aerial photo has now made a more precise determination possible. The Beliy Dom photograph was taken by one of two professional photographers, Paul or John Strelaeff.  Photo Courtesy of Birches Publishing.

A modern view of North Ootischenia and the West Kootenay Regional Airport

The Selkirk College Campus

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 Sub Lots, 1957 Ootischenia Dirt Roads as surveyed in 1957, and the locations of old Doukhobor Villages. The map at right depicts several additional layers of current Regional District (RDCK) content, including current property boundaries, and paved roads and highways. Various layers could be switched on or off on these maps, depending on the purpose at hand.

Pinning down historic 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 would first need to be identified. And there are only a few remaining original local residents with that specific knowledge, never mind a comprehensive understanding of the overall village interconnections.

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 former 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. Looking at the following closeup of the map, illustrating the southern end of the Castlegar airport runway, we can see evidence of this in the case of village 37 and 39. Villages 24, 27 and 29, are however clearly aligned along an old dirt road near the current Doukhobor Discovery Centre, and on the eastern side of Highway 3A. Villages 31 and 38, as well as the Beliy Dom (33), and a small concrete water reservoir (36) were dismantled to make way for the runway pavement, and their associated dirt road connections were thereby severed by 1957. Their map locations here are therefore only estimates.



There are already a number of existing useful Ootischenia maps with approximated village locations, including place names, but the discovery of the dirt road survey map offers researchers a renewed opportunity to increase the value of such maps by connecting village markers with surveyed parcels or other observable features of the cultural landscape. A fuller version of this map is posted here online, which includes currently estimated village locations as well as their family place names. The map will be updated as more accurate information becomes available. (Link to dirt roads pdf) (Link to paved roads pdf)

 

The final 1939 Aerial Photo layer

Another map layer has been addded to the vectorized version of the 1957 Ootischenia "dirt roads map", incorporating six high resolution 1939 BC Government aerial photographs, compiled to create a detailed photo-map of Brilliant and Ootischenia at that time. All six photographs were taken from the same aircraft on July 26, 1939, as it travelled a flight path from the southern BC border near Trail BC, northward along the Columbia River. It shifted slightly westward near the Columbia-Kootenay River confluence, and then continued north beyond Brilliant. Each photo captured a region several kilometers wide, allowing for a 60% overlap between individual photos, to accommodate later stereoscopic viewing and analysis. The individual photos have been severely cropped for this map, then overlappped with Photoshop transparency, and slightly shifted ... to account for the shift in flight path, and to match the pre-existing terrain and dirt roads layers. The lower margins of each photo are purposely shown here on this preview to demonstrate the extent of the overlap. The 1957 pre-existing dirt road layer has been superimposed (made visible) without further adjustment, while a few Doukhobor village sites have been slightly adjusted near the Castlegar Airport with reference to the 1939 aerial photo layer below. It should be noted that the 1939 photos are significant in a number of ways, perhaps more so for what cannot be observed, rather than what actually is, such as the current Highways 3 and 3A, and their associated river bridges. These landmarks, and obviously the Castlegar airport and Selkirk College would not appear until the later 1950s and 1960s. A subsequent webpage is in progress to examine federal and provincial aerial photography in general, and a number of other acquired specific vintage photographs related to the local history of Brilliant and Ootischenia.


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.

 

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