December 14th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 49
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Spirit Wrestlers and an Oxford Graduate - More about Cowley
Looking Back
Peter Lordly Verigin - Spiritual leader and visionary
Getting back to the Cowley story, I promised last week to revisit the area and expand on a couple of elements in the account that are very noteworthy. The first of these would be, chronologically, the background on that noted pioneer rancher of the Cowley area, Fredrick W. Godsal.

Godsal at one time ran one of the largest ranches in the area near Cowley, between the South and Middle Forks of the Oldman River. Probably some of the finest grazing lands one can find in the foothills. A true rancher’s paradise. He was a very community orientated individual and a powerful advocate of cattle interests like the Western Stock Grower’s Association. But it was his encouragement of the establishment of a federal park (public reserve) at Waterton that I most admire.

F.W. Godsal came from a well-to-do family in Isoyd Park, Shropshire, England and it is said he was educated in both Eaton and Oxford. As a young man he actually ran a coffee plantation in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) before coming to Canada in 1882 to stay with the then Governor-General who was known officially as the Marquis of Lorne. The Marquis’ actual name was (you ready for this?) John George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell. John Campbell’s wife, Princess Louise, was the daughter of Queen Victoria. You remember Vicky don’t you? Reigned for 63 1/2 years, married her first cousin and had nine children.

Queen Elizabeth ll surpassed that record in 2015 and is still going strong. This all sort of matters I guess because Lake Louise is named after Princess Louise and the Province of Alberta was almost called Louise when the Northwest Territories were subdivided into new districts (Athabasca, Assiniboine, Saskatchewan and Louise?). Fortunately she demurred and requested that her other name Alberta, given to her by her father Prince Albert, be used. Somehow coming from Louise, Canada just doesn’t sit right does it?
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But I digress. Well it seems the Marquis recognized the enormous ranching possibilities out this way and encouraged Godsal to come see this opportunity and try out ranching which he did with great success. The lands he acquired had easy access to water and it is said at one time included part of as many as 30 sections of land. During the 1890’s his herd of Shorthorns was rumoured to number as many as 3,500.

On the Waterton issue we find in Graham MacDonald’s book “Where the Mountains Meet the Prairies: A History of Waterton Country” the following comments on Godsal’s involvement in the Waterton reserve concept. “The importance of the nearby mountains as a source of headwaters, fish, and wildlife brought together apparently disparate individuals in a discussion of public reserves and their ideal nature. Along with F. W. Godsal, Kootenai Brown was one of those who participated in the conversation, gradually becoming an active proponent for the establishment of a public reserve at Waterton in the mid 1890’s.” It was Godsal’s prodding of William Pearce, who was then with the federal Department of the Interior, about the value of a park reserve that got the ball finally rolling. But that is another story.

Getting back to Godsal’s ranch. The arrival of the CPR in 1898 had some fairly negative impacts on his South Fork Ranch which included cutting through part of his lease, the introduction of noxious weeds to his pasturelands and of course the worry about grass fires caused by the trains which were considerable. By the first decade of this century F.W. was almost 60 and the landscape changes he had witnessed and his advancing age led him to seek retirement and sell the rest of his ranch some of which were purchased by the Doukhobor community. Godsal ranched for over 35 years near Cowley and left a remarkable ranching legacy before his passing in Victoria, B.C. in 1935 at the age of 82.
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So the other development legacy of the Cowley area has to do with a group of Russian pacifists, a spiritual Christian sect that had rejected the tyranny and oppression of the Czarist Russian government in the late 1800’s and the teachings of Russian Orthodox priests. For their beliefs and their resistance to mass conscription by Czar Nicholas these Doukhobors (Russian translation- spirit wrestlers) were mercilessly persecuted and their main leader Peter Vasilevich Verigin was imprisoned in Siberia. In 1897 their cause gained international attention and after much criticism of their treatment as a religious minority the Russian government agreed to let them leave the country. An offer was made by Canada for them to settle here and with the assistance of author Leo Tolstoy and Quaker sympathizers about 7,500 came in early 1899 to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They were granted conscientious objector status and exempted from military service.

What really worked for them here was the Dominion Lands Act that granted 160 acres of land for $10 to any male homesteader that could “establish a working farm within three years.” Within the Act was a further “Hamlet Clause” that allowed communitarian groups like the Mennonites and the Doukhobors to form villages within three miles of their land. The communal lifestyle opportunity like the Hutterites was thusly readily available to them.

6,000 of them eventually moved to BC in 1908 after a confrontation with the federal government about homestead requirements and allegiance to the crown. They literally abandoned their villages and a quarter million acres of their cultivated land. They settled in large parcels on privately purchased land in 80 communal villages in the Kootenay-Boundary to raise horses for logging and grow grain. In 1915 at the urging of Peter LordlyVeregin, who was released from prison in 1902, fourteen of the BC sect moved east to the Cowley/Lundbreck area. It was then that men with the names Verigin, Maloff, Sookochoff and Konkin (a horse trainer) arrived here. About 12,000 acres were bought in the area and thirteen villages were established then. Four in Lundbreck, five in Cowley and four others in the surrounding area. They had names like Bogatoi Rodnik, Gradovaya Dolina and Maloff Village.
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Steam engines, grain separators (threshing machines) and ploughs were purchased and oxen, cows and horses were acquired. These were very industrious people who promptly built a flour mill in Lundbreck and grain elevators in both Cowley and Lundbreck. Sect leader Lordly Verigin had his own house in Cowley where he stayed when he visited to check on their operations. This community eventually reached 360 people and was a very prosperous group dedicated to self sufficiency and a devout Christian lifestyle.

The comings and goings within their community is an extremely complicated story. There is a lot of information online that can take you deeper into it. In 1917 the Doukhobor communities were incorporated as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) and all lands including Verigins were transferred into it. On October 29, 1929 Peter Verigin along with seven others were killed by a bomb explosion while on a train near Farron, BC. There are more conspiracy theories about his death than there are about JFK and it may be that the truth will never be known about whom and why they did this. The loss of their spiritual leader greatly affected the community that began a rapid decline thereafter. Unwise investments, heavy debt, high interest rates, poor production, the depression and radical arsonists all contributed eventually to the CCUB bankruptcy in 1938.

Their lands were sold in the Cowley region and villages dismantled but a number of Doukhobor families chose to stay here and practice their faith and culture. There are many descendants of families like the Konkins still living in the district. According to the website “Many, living in Kelowna, Grand Forks, the Kootenays and here in Alberta, are members of the USCC, the organization that succeeded the CCUB. Unlike the financially structured CCUB, the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC) is a registered Canadian charitable society “dedicated to the sustainability and enrichment of our Doukhobor heritage.”

In March of 2010 the Doukhobor Prayer Home in Lundbreck was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and stands today as a reminder of this once thriving community that worked the lands in the Cowley/Lundbreck area.
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December 14th ~ Vol. 85 No. 49
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