History of the Doukhobor Grain Elevator at Brilliant

Grain was hauled from the Prairies to fill the elevator each year.

Grain elevator at Brilliant, c. 1922. Photo: BC Archives

Grain elevator at Brilliant, c. 1922. Photo: BC Archives

Submitted by Jonathan Kalmakoff

Brilliant, British Columbia is known for many things, including its historic orchard lands, its spectacular scenic views of the Kootenay and Columbia River valleys and its picturesque mountain backdrops. One thing it is not known for, however, is grain growing. And yet, for a quarter-century, a tall grain elevator towered over the community; albeit one that functioned differently than most other elevators in Western Canada.

Background

Beginning in 1908, thousands of members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) led by Peter V. Verigin arrived in the West Kootenay from Saskatchewan, where they purchased vast tracts of heavily forested land.

Over the next decade, 2,800 Doukhobors settled on 5,350 acres at Brilliant and Dolina Utesheniya (Ootischenia) at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. There, they cleared the land and established 30 communal villages. On the non-arable land, they established various industries including sawmills, a planer mill, shingle mill, stave mill, box-making factory, linseed oil processing plant, fruit spray manufacturing facility, pumping plant and electrical works, two large irrigation reservoirs, a harness shop and a large jam factory.

On the arable land, they planted 1,435 acres of orchard (apple, pear, plum and cherry trees) and another 2,706 acres of berries (strawberries, raspberries and currents), potatoes, fiber crops (flax, hemp), forage crops (clover and hay) and feed crops (oats and millet).

The burgeoning settlement was self-sufficient in virtually every respect, save for one. While the Doukhobors there grew small plots of wheat, including 55 acres at the north end of Ootischenia and 15 acres on the third bench at Brilliant, they did not produce remotely enough wheat to satisfy their domestic needs. As flour was a staple food item among Doukhobors, this posed a serious problem.

Prairie Wheat

To address this, Peter V. Verigin arranged for surplus wheat grown by the CCUB on the Prairies, where it had thousands of acres of grain land, to be milled into flour and shipped to Brilliant and Ootischenia from 1909 on. At first, it was a one-way exchange. However, as the settlement grew and developed, it traded its locally-produced fruit, jam and timber for Prairie wheat and flour.

To further facilitate this exchange, in September 1912, the Doukhobor leader proposed building a local grain elevator to store the wheat shipped in from the Prairies and a grist mill to manufacture flour from it. The mill was constructed at the northeast end of Ootischenia, which was called Kamennoye, by December 1914. However, it was several more years before the elevator was built.

The Elevator

Between October 1917 and August 1918, CCUB work crews erected a large grain elevator on the south side of the Canadian Pacific Railway Rossland Branch right-of-way, immediately west of the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam factory on the main bench of Brilliant.

The Doukhobors were proficient elevator builders at the time, having constructed nine grain elevators owned and operated by the CCUB at Verigin, Arran, Ebenezer, Canora and Kylemore, Sask. and at Cowley and Lundbreck, Alta. as well as numerous others built for hire for private grain companies.

The one at Brilliant was a standard plan elevator of wood crib construction clad in tin on a concrete foundation, about 35 by 35 feet wide by 70 feet high, with a gable cupola facing north-south. It had a storage capacity of 30,000 bushels of grain. Originally painted white, it was repainted dark brown in 1923. Emblazoned on its east and west sides were the words, “The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd.”

Attached on the south side of the elevator was a wooden ramp, receiving shed and office. On its west side was an attached engine shed containing a stationary gasoline engine which provided the motive power to operate the elevator. Attached on the east side was a large flour warehouse that stored bagged flour received from the Prairies.

Operations

The Brilliant grain elevator operated continuously from 1918 until 1938. Throughout this time, it followed a more or less regular seasonal routine.

Each September through October, after the grain harvest was completed, railroad boxcars loaded with bulk wheat were shipped from CCUB Prairie elevators to Brilliant. Each boxcar held between 1,200 and 1,500 bushels and up to 20 boxcars were dispatched each year. Once they arrived at Brilliant, the boxcars were parked on the railway siding beside the elevator for unloading.

To unload a boxcar, the exterior door was slid open and the wooden boards nailed across the interior opening were removed, one at a time, starting from the top. This allowed the wheat to flow out the door into the horse-drawn grain wagon parked beside it. Each wagon held 100 bushels and 12-15 wagons were required to unload a single boxcar. Once the wooden boards were removed and wheat ceased to flow out the boxcar door, the remaining wheat was shoveled out by hand.

Each loaded wagon was then driven by a teamster into the elevator receiving shed where it was unhitched from its team, weighed on the scale and then lifted using hand-operated crank hoists to dump the grain into the receiving pit below. Once empty, the wagon was lowered and reweighed. The difference between weights determined the volume of wheat received. The wheat was then carried from the pit to the top or “head” of the elevator by means of a “leg”, a continuous belt with carrying cups. From the head, the grain was dumped into one of several bins where it was stored. Over several weeks, up to 300 wagon loads of grain were received by the elevator until it reached its storage capacity.

When wheat stored in the elevator was needed for milling, it was emptied by gravity flow from the bin into a hopper and back down into the pit, where it was then carried back up the leg to an unloading spout that emptied in the receiving shed into a horse-drawn grain wagon parked there. The loaded wagon was then driven across the suspension bridge to the grist mill at Kamennoye to be ground into flour.

As the grist mill had a limited capacity of 100 bushels a day, only one wagon load of wheat was discharged from the grain elevator each day. It took some 300 days to fully empty the elevator, by which time, new boxcars of wheat would arrive from the latest Prairie harvest. And so the cycle repeated itself.

When flour milled on the Prairies was shipped to Brilliant, the bags of flour were unloaded from the boxcar by hand and carried to the elevator flour warehouse where they were stacked and stored.

Management

Initially, the CCUB Brilliant branch manager was responsible for the operation of the grain elevator. From 1918 to 1923, this was Michael M. Koftinoff, and from 1924 to 1927, it was Larion W. Verigin. After 1928, the elevator had its own manager, which in that year was John J. Zoobkoff, while from 1929 to 1932 it was Michael W. Soukeroff. Several labourers assisted the manager with grain handling.

Licensing Status

The Brilliant elevator operated quite differently than most elevators in Western Canada. It did not receive grain from members of the public. And while it received grain privately owned by the CCUB, it did not receive any that was locally produced. Indeed, it did not deal directly with producers at all. Also, it did not handle uninspected grain, since the grain it received was already inspected at Prairie elevators. Nor did it purchase, handle, store or sell any grain for commerce. Finally, it did not ship out any grain by rail.

Because of its unique mode of operation, the grain storage facility did not fit the definition of a “public elevator”, “country elevator”, “primary grain dealer” nor “private elevator” so as to require a license under The Canada Grain Act. Consequently, it was never licensed while in operation.

The Demise of the CCUB

For twenty-five years, the grain elevator served as an essential component of the CCUB food supply chain, helping keep bread on the tables of the Doukhobors of Brilliant and Ootischenia.

However, by mid-1937, the CCUB was bankrupt. Its collapse was the combination of various factors, including low prices for its agricultural and industrial products during the Great Depression; oppressive interest rates on its mortgaged properties; a declining membership base; placing the debt load on disproportionately less members; non-payers of annual allotments among its members; the enormous losses to its capital assets suffered from incendiarism; as well as financial mismanagement.

In May 1938, the Brilliant grain elevator and other CCUB properties were foreclosed upon by the receiver for the National Trust Company Limited, having been pledged as collateral to secure the bankrupt organization’s debt. For the next five years, it sat empty and unused except as casual storage. Then in October 1942, it was transferred to the Government of British Columbia. However, the government’s tenure over the elevator proved to be short-lived.

Destruction of the Elevator

In November 1942, the vacant elevator was completely destroyed in a suspicious fire. The property damage was valued at $4,000 for the structure and $2,500 for its contents. Provincial police investigated possible incendiary origin of the fire, suspecting the radical Sons of Freedom. However, no charges were ever laid.

Conclusion

Today there are no physical traces of the grain elevator at Brilliant. The site where it stood at 1839 Brilliant Road is now occupied by a landscaping company. However, the story of this iconic structure serves to remind us of the ingenuity, determination and productivity of the once-flourishing Doukhobor communal organization it was a part of.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Doukhobor communal enterprise at Brilliant, c. 1918. Photo: BC Archives

Doukhobor communal enterprise at Brilliant, c. 1918. Photo: BC Archives

Just Posted

A B.C. Supreme Court Judge ordered a Grand Forks couple to remove their trailer from its last known whereabouts at a Granby Road beach. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks couple leave Bare Ass Beach after court injunction

The pair had been in a long and contentious dispute with city hall since last Spring

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 65 new cases of COVID-19

Province-wide, there are 887 new cases of the virus

FortisBC’s restored power to thousands of customers in the green areas shown on this map. Photo: FortisBC website
Disruption at electrical substation caused Grand Forks’ power outage: FortisBC

The energy supplier is investigating the specifics of what caused the outage

Conservation Officers in Grand Forks have been in contact with city police and fire officials regarding illegal fires at 9175 Granby Rd., like this one on Wednesday, Nov. 4. Photo courtesy of Grand Forks/Fire Rescue
Conservation office reviewing multiple fire complaints at rural Grand Forks properties

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue was called out to four fires at one of the properties in early November

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read