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History of Doukhobor elevators in the Veregin District

Avoiding grain handling and marketing costs became the main motivation behind the Doukhobors building their own elevators.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of three parts of a history of Doukhobor elevators in the Veregin district that was researched, compiled and presented at the National Doukhobor Heritage Village in Veregin on July 16 by Jonathan Kalmakoff, who provided the accompanying photographs.)

Communal operation

VEREGIN - The grain elevators communally built by the Doukhobors at Veregin were also communally operated for over 30 years, unlike other private capital grain businesses.

When the Doukhobors first began marketing surplus grain, from 1904-1908, each village took care of its grain sales individually, hauling to the nearest rail point and retaining the sale proceeds. However, they were charged 10 to 12 cents a bushel for elevator storage and marketing by the grain companies. At the time when oats was being marketed at 29 to 30 cents a bushel, this meant that the Doukhobors and other farmers only received 18 cents.

Avoiding these grain handling and marketing costs became the main motivation behind the Doukhobors building their own elevators. Thus from 1908 on, surplus grain was stored at the Community elevators and marketed and shipped through the central office in Veregin.

Following each harvest, each village was permitted to hold back six bushels of wheat for the personal consumption of each villager, a prescribed amount of oats for each village horse, and seed grain based on the village’s cultivated acreage. All surplus Community grain was hauled to Community elevators and turned over to the central organization.

The Community also stored and marketed the grain of its neighbours. In the Veregin area, these were primarily Independent Doukhobors who broke away from the Community to farm individually, and Ukrainian settlers. To these customers, the Community charged only one-and-a-half cents a bushel for elevating and marketing, unlike the 10 to 12 cents charged by other grain companies, so they raised the price to their neighbours from 18 to 28 cents.

This practice quickly caught the eye of the Grain Growers Association of Winnipeg. There is evidence that the Community elevator manager was approached by Association representatives and subjected to severe criticism and other efforts were made to induce him to come into line with the association, but these efforts were ignored.

When grain was received at the elevators from Community members or their neighbours, the process was the same. Each loaded wagon was driven into the 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 grain received. The grain was then carried from the pit to the top or “head” of the elevator by the “leg,” a continuous belt with carrying cups. From the head, the grain was dumped into one of several bins where it was stored. 

It was not uncommon in the teens and twenties to see upwards of 60 teams of wagons waiting at each elevator to unload grain in the fall.

Each Community elevator was annually licensed and inspected through the Winnipeg Grain Commission. This was legally required in order to receive, purchase, store, ship or sell grain for commerce.

Once grain was received, the Community elevator manager allocated volumes as follows: a certain volume of wheat was processed into flour at the Community’s large roller mill, both for the consumption of members, and for commercial sales locally and abroad. Peter V. Verigin shrewdly understood that it was more profitable to grind surplus wheat into flour and sell it in that form than it was to sell the wheat itself. Thus by 1911, the Veregin mill was producing eight grades of flour and three grades of oatmeal, which were sold as far as Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal, and even Great Britain.

Beginning in 1909, railcars of grain were shipped to Brilliant, B.C. to support the colonies being established there. As virtually all arable land in the mountain valleys was dedicated to fruit growing, they did not have sufficient land to grow grain. Once the B.C. colonies became established, it became a two-way trade, with grain from the Prairies shipped west, and fresh fruit, the famous KC Brand Doukhobor jam and lumber from B.C. shipped east. 

Finally, the balance of grain was sold through the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and shipped to markets domestic and abroad. All proceeds were deposited in the central treasury to finance the Community operation.

For 30 years, from 1908 to 1938, the Community grain elevators at Veregin were managed by Michael W. Cazakoff. He was assisted by various Community members who handled the grain at the elevators, and by clerks in the central office who assisted him in marketing and sales, as well as ordering rail cars for shipping.

Grain elevator-building elsewhere

It should be noted that while the Doukhobor Community built its first elevators in Veregin, it did not end there. It built, owned and operated elevators in a number of other districts where it had communal land and settlements.

These included: at Ebenezer, a 30,000-bushel elevator built in 1910, but after operating it for one season, it was sold to the Atlas Elevator Co. in 1911; at Arran, a 32,000-bushel elevator built in 1911, which was operated for three seasons, then sold to the Pioneer Elevator Co. in 1913; at Canora, a 32,000-bushel elevator built in 1911, which was operated for eight seasons then sold to the N. Bawlf Grain Co. Ltd. in 1918; at Kylemore, a 100,000-bushel elevator with a double leg built in 1920, which was the largest grain elevator in Saskatchewan at the time, and was operated for 16 seasons then sold to Pioneer Grain Co. Ltd. in 1936; at Cowley, Alta., a 70,000-bushel elevator built with a double-leg built in 1916 and was operated for nine seasons then traded with Alberta Pacific Grain Co. Ltd. in 1924 for a smaller, 30,000-bushel elevator which was operated until 1939; at Lundbreck, Alta., a 35,000-bushel elevator built in 1915, operated for 15 seasons then expanded to 60,000-bushels capacity in 1930, operated for another five seasons then destroyed by fire in 1935; and at Brilliant, B.C., a 35,000-bushel elevator built in 1918 that exclusively received grain shipped by rail from the Doukhobor Community on the prairies, and operated for 20 seasons until 1938.

Besides building grain elevators of its own, the Community used its expertise to construct elevators for other grain companies on a contract-for-hire basis. While there is no comprehensive list, the following are known to have been built: at Canora, a 30,000-bushel elevator built in 1910 for the Northern Elevator Co; at Mikado, a 35,000-bushel elevator in 1910-1912 period, later operated by the Wheat Pool; in 1915, nine 35,000-bushel elevators for the Alberta Farmers Co-operative Elevator Co. at Lavoy, Vermilion, Morrin, Huxley, New Norway, Traverse, Enchant, Lomand, Sedgewick, Alta.; and in 1922, an elevator at Fort William (Thunder Bay), Ont. Undoubtedly there were others, the records for which are no longer available.


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