In the Kootenay Boundary region of South Central BC, you will often hear reference to the Doukhobors and borscht. Who are they, what is it and why are they so important to the region? Here is a very brief history of how they came here and the integral part they played in the development of the communities they live in.
Arriving here in 1899 after being forced from their homelands of Russia, Ukraine and Georgia following two centuries of persecution, the first of the Doukhobors came to Canada with the help of famed author Leo Tolstoy. Originally settling in the Province of Saskatchewan, issues revolving around communal living and land registration disallowed them to exist in their accustomed way. This split the group into those willing to comply with the government regulation and those who would not.
After years of government conflict, Peter “Lordly” Verigin began to purchase large tracts of land in Southeastern BC, and some 8,000 individuals relocated to the verdant growing regions of the Kootenay Boundary region between 1908 and 1912. Orchards were planted and packing houses were built to process the jam and fruit preserves sold at local markets while large gardens were grown to sustain their vegetarian lifestyle.
The Doukhobors are an incredibly important and interesting part of the history in this region, both during and after the settlement of the area. Active pacifists, the Doukhobor people have faced many challenges and heartbreak over the past century, from children being removed from their homes for compulsory education in government schools to the still unsolved murder of leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin on October 29th, 1924. The CPR train he was a passenger on exploded near Farron, between Castlegar and Grand Forks. It is still unknown who is responsible for the act of violence. Proud Canadian citizens, the group is actively involved in global peace initiatives and continues to strive in preserving their traditional values, Russian language and customs.
Part of the culture is the delicious traditional food still prevalent in the region. Borscht, a Russian soup, which includes cabbage, potato, grated carrots, dill and much more is something everyone coming to the region should sample. It’s hearty and delicious and goes great with a thick piece of bread to dip and wipe the bowl. Many other traditional dishes are offered and you are encouraged to sample as much as you can! For more information about the Doukhobors, their customs and traditions, visit the Boundary Museum and Interpretive Centre at Grand Forks or the Doukhobor Discovery Centre at Castlegar.