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Canada's Doukhobor Heartland

At the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers is a broad fertile valley surrounded by the towering peaks of the Kootenay Mountains. The rivers were a highway for Indigenous peoples for millennia, and when Europeans arrived in the late 1800s they built steamers to navigate the winding rivers. Abundant mineral deposits attracted mining and industry to the region in the early 20th Century, but that's not what attracted the Doukhobors to the region. The Doukhobors are a pacifist Christian sect who came to Canada around the turn of the last century, fleeing persecution in Tsarist Russia. They wanted to be left alone by the state, to farm peacefully and live peaceful communal lifestyles. They were led to the Castlegar area by Peter 'Lordly' Verigin, where they established dozens of small farming settlements, called doms, especially on the east side of the Columbia River, an area they named Ootischenia. They planted fruit orchards and set up a jam factory at Brilliant, which is the subject of our walking tour. Though few Doukhobors continue to live communally in the doms around Castlegar, they've left a lasting legacy on the region, and their stories are preserved today by the Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Ootischenia.

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Then and Now Photos

Sproat's Landing

Sproat's Landing Sproat's Landing

On This Spot

1890 & Now

Sproat's Landing was one of the transshipment points for steamers ferrying goods up and down the Columbia River. You can see the dramatic Lion's Head rock formation in the background.

Robson Landing

Robson Landing Robson Landing

BC Archives A-01624 On This Spot

ca. 1890s & Now

Several paddlewheelers are moored at Robson Landing, an important transshipment point for getting goods from the railhead across the Columbia River. These steamers would be relied upon for getting goods and people across the river until the CPR bridge was built to Castlegar in 1902.

Clearing Ice

Clearing Ice Clearing Ice

BC Archives A-00632 On This Spot

1900s & Now

Two paddlewheelers, the Illecillewaet (foreground), and the Lytton (distance) are puffing away on an ice-choked Columbia River. The The Illecillewaet is working as an icebreaker, while the Lytton is pushing a barge across the river.

Crowd at the Station

Crowd at the Station Crowd at the Station

On This Spot

ca. 1920s & Now

A crowd of people have gathered at Brilliant's train station, perhaps to welcome a notable guest.

View of the Jam Factory

View of the Jam Factory View of the Jam Factory

BC Archives D-06930 On This Spot

1920s & Now

A photo taken from a bridge over the Kootenay River, showing Brilliant. The large building at centre is the jam factory, and behind it the grain elevator. To the right you can see the train station with the word BRILLIANT emblazoned on the side.

View of Brilliant

View of Brilliant View of Brilliant

BC Archives F-04206 On This Spot

1920s & Now

A wisp of smoke curls up from a smokestack at Brilliant's jam factory, in this photograph that sets the community in the picturesque valley, amidst mountains and orchards.

A View of Brilliant

A View of Brilliant A View of Brilliant

On This Spot

1923 & Now

A view of the prosperous community of Brilliant showing the jam factory (far right), the train station (bottom right corner) orchards, and the sawmill (at far left on the opposite side of the river).

Mourning Peter Verigin

Mourning Peter Verigin Mourning Peter Verigin

BC Archives C-07806 On This Spot

1924 & Now

Thousands of Doukhobors from across Canada have gathered at Brilliant for the funeral of Peter Verigin, after his mysterious death in a train explosion. People are lining the route of the funeral procession that began by the jam factory and wound up the road to his final resting place.

Procession to the Tomb

Procession to the Tomb Procession to the Tomb

Patsy Popoff On This Spot

1924 & Now

A huge funeral procession of Doukhobors carrying banners, walk up the road to Peter Verigin's tomb to lay the great figure to rest.

The Community Elevator

The Community Elevator The Community Elevator

BC Archives C-01790 On This Spot

1930 & Now

The community-owned grain elevator at Brilliant, where the Doukhobors would store grain before export.

Doukhobor Workers

Doukhobor Workers Doukhobor Workers

Nick Ozeroff On This Spot

1932 & Now

A Doukhobor work crew, including men, women, and children, take a rest from farming on Brilliant's meadow.

Castlegar Theatre

Castlegar Theatre Castlegar Theatre

Trail City Archives On This Spot

1948 & Now

Castlegar's Theatre, which opened in 1947.

Columbia Avenue

Columbia Avenue Columbia Avenue

Trail City Archives On This Spot

1948 & Now

A woman pushes a stroller across Columbia Avenue, in this view of Castlegar's main street shortly after the Second World War. The building at left has survived, albeit in a heavily renovated fashion.

A Car on the Bridge

A Car on the Bridge A Car on the Bridge

On This Spot

1956 & Now

A car drives on to the Brilliant Suspension Bridge. Built in 1913 by the Doukhobor community, it was designated a National Historic Site in 1995.