The Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles, written by former Canora resident Jonathan Kalmakoff of Regina, relating to the building and business activities of the Doukhobor Trading Company - the commercial arm of the Doukhobor Community which between 1907 and 1918, undertook a substantial amount of building and business activity on Second Avenue North in Canora. The articles not only examine the original Doukhobor builders and owners of these properties, but also track the subsequent owners and businesses to the present day.)

The bust

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The ongoing success of the Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora rested upon two fundamental assumptions.

The first was the retention of sufficient community members in the district to sustain its distributive operation and (through their labour and production) support its retail, wholesale and commercial operations. 

The second was the maintenance of high prices for the community’s manufactured and trading goods to generate profits from their sale.  However, by late 1912, both of these assumptions came to an abrupt and unexpected end. 

In early October of 1912, Peter V. Verigin summarily directed members of the Doukhobor Community in the Canora district to assemble their possessions, wagons and families at the Canadian Northern Railway station for relocation to British Columbia. 

Consequently, these villages, which until then had retained their communal organization and had remained viable and flourishing, were systematically emptied over the ensuing months.  The rapid abandonment of these villages and the removal of their reserves was made all the more paradoxical by the substantial investment in new buildings and property in Canora, which seemingly suggested stability and permanence.   

At the same time, the price of wheat fell precipitously in the fall of 1912, triggering a serious economic depression in Western Canada. Low prices for agricultural products threatened local farmers who were deeply in debt, bankrupting many of them. 

Those who remained solvent had neither money nor credit available to purchase even the most basic necessities. Prices and demand for consumer goods plummeted, and many local businessmen were left ruined. The boom times that had buoyed Canora’s rapid progress and expansion were over. 

In the wake of these unexpected developments, the Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora was left with few retail and wholesale customers to sell products to, and even fewer community members to distribute goods to. 

Peter V. Verigin and his managers now faced a difficult choice. The company could cease operations and sell off its property in the town, as it had recently done in Benito, Man.  However, in the midst of a depression, it was unlikely to receive the full market value of its assets. Another option was to retain its property and weather the economic downturn until the market rebounded. At that point, the company could either resume a profitable retail and wholesale business, or alternatively, dispose of its property at a higher price. The company management opted for the latter approach.    

In mid-October of 1912, the Doukhobor Trading Company leased the upper flats of the Doukhobor Block and Annex to H. Hammer, a bank manager from Elfros.  The ground floor and basement of the buildings were leased to Peter McNichol, an implement dealer from Wadena. 

Through these arrangements, it would receive much-needed revenue from the rental of the space. Thereafter, the company pared back its operations to the original store, warehouse, dwelling house and livery barn.

Final years of operation, 1913-1918

In its final years of operation in Canora, the Doukhobor Trading Company progressively wound down its distributive activity. It experienced a resurgence of retail and wholesale activity in the war years, while assuming a property management role over its buildings sublet to others.

Emigration depot

In late 1912 and throughout 1913, the Doukhobor Trading Company premises in Canora became the depot for processing departing community families to British Columbia. 

Members arrived in large groups of several hundred at a time, together with all of their personal belongings, wagons and teams. They encamped in the livery yard while they awaited the train that would transport them to British Columbia. When it arrived at the station, their possessions were loaded first, together with the sick and elderly, followed by their wagon carts, and finally the people themselves. Their horses were left in the care of the store manager, who kept them at the livery barn until they were redistributed to other community villages.

Before they left, each group held an open-air moleniye (“prayer meeting”) in the courtyard between the dwelling house and trading store to commemorate their departure from the district. The plaintive singing of psalms at these services drew large crowds of onlookers from among the townspeople of Canora.    

Distributive operations

As members of the local Doukhobor Community moved to British Columbia and others became independent, the distribution network of the Doukhobor Trading Company in Canora became smaller and smaller. 

By May of 1913, there were 220 members left in three villages; and by November of 1913, only 165 members remained. However, the community never completely disappeared from the district. As late as 1917, there were still 118 members living in three villages. Throughout this time, the Doukhobor Trading Company continued to distribute supplies to them through its trading store and warehouse, although this activity was reduced to a fraction of what it had previously been.

Retail operations

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 saw the end of the depression that had gripped Western Canada, as wartime shortages brought extraordinary high prices for all kinds of agricultural products. 

As a result of this recovery, farmland and town property began advancing in price, as did consumer goods and services. Retail sales of the Doukhobor Trading Company store in Canora picked up and once again became profitable.

With this resurgence of retail activity, the company retrofitted its original trading store for electric light in 1914. A modern storefront with wide flanking windows was also added; probably in 1916.    

Wholesale operations

By 1916, high wartime prices induced the Doukhobor Trading Company to resume fruit wholesale activity in Canora. However, as the annex was already sublet to tenants, it undertook a substantial refurbishment of its original warehouse in Canora, retrofitting it with cold storage and steam heating for the storage of fruit from the community orchards in Brilliant, B. C.  That same year, the company purchased a site in the nearby town of Yorkton for the purpose of constructing another large fruit warehouse there.

Tenancies

Between late 1912 and 1918, the Doukhobor Block and annex buildings were occupied by a wide variety of tenants (sublet through Hammer and McNichol) representing a cross-section of the town’s most prominent businesses, public institutions, social organizations and residents.

Beginning in 1912, the offices of Doctor J.G. Warren, town physician and medical health officer, were located on the main level of the Doukhobor Block. Prominent in many local organizations and civic affairs, Dr. Warren practiced there until 1915, when he relocated his offices to Main Street. 

Between 1913 and 1915, the Canora Post Office was temporarily located on the east side of the main level of the Doukhobor Block while a new public building was constructed on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue. The post office was the social hub of the town, where townspeople met every day to catch up on the latest news and pick up their mail and supplies.  The postmaster at this time was Thomas H. Hamilton. 

In 1913, a 50-seat overflow school room was opened on the east side of the main floor of the Doukhobor Block on a temporary basis until the adjoining Canora Public School building was extended later that year. The school room, with Margaret Gray as teacher, was furnished with the latest and best in the way of seats, desks and other amenities.      

Between 1913 and 1915, the Canora Homemakers Club, a local women’s service organization, established a club room on the east side of the main level of the Doukhobor Block.  In addition to holding regular weekly meetings there, the Homemakers hosted a variety of community events in the club room, including clothing drives for the needy, guest lectures, sing-songs, talent nights, whist tournaments, as well as their annual May tea.  

The Town of Canora’s first public library was established on the east side of the main floor of the Doukhobor Block in 1914, when the Canora Homemakers opened a reading room and library. 

Books were received from the University of Saskatchewan, as well as a number of local citizens. It was well-supplied with current issues of the most popular magazines and periodicals.  The library was open weekdays and Saturdays and was free to citizens from town and country.

In 1914, the Canora “Clean Up” campaign, a voluntary citizen’s committee with the intent of introducing civic beautification, met on the west side of the main floor of the Doukhobor Block. The campaign sponsored a popular “flower gardens and backyards” competition among the townspeople.

In 1914, the Church of England maintained a vicarage and held weekly litanies, services and choir practices on the east side of the main floor of the Doukhobor Block.  Services were held there by Rev. H. Hinton East of Yorkton until a new church was built on the corner of First Street and Second Avenue in 1915.

In 1915, the Roman Catholic Church held its first mission to the Catholics of Canora and surrounding district on the east side of the main floor of the Doukhobor Block. Masses were held there every Sunday by Rev. John Kane, Superior of St. Geraldine Church, Yorkton, until 1916, when a permanent church building was erected on Fourth Avenue East.

Beginning in 1915, the Saskatchewan Produce Company (Peter Teplitsky, proprietor) operated a grocery business on the west side of the main level of the Doukhobor Block. The grocery specialized in fresh fruit and produce, some of which may have been supplied by the Doukhobor Trading Company. It carried on business there until 1918, when it relocated to the main floor of the adjoining annex. That year, it added a storefront to the annex on its Third Avenue side.

In 1916, the Canora Women’s Patriotic Society, a wartime women’s service organization, met regularly on the west side of the main floor of the Doukhobor Block, where it held a fund-raising bazaar and collected, sorted and packed parcels for dispatch to soldiers serving overseas.

 In 1916, the Canora Volunteer Platoon of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces was headquartered on the main floor of the annex, where it operated a recruitment office and held drilling exercises for local enlistments. 

In 1918, the Red Cross held a large bazaar on the west side of the main floor of the Doukhobor Block. Local citizens donated produce, fowl, plain sewing and fancy sewing.  All contributions went to support the International Committee of the Red Cross’s humanitarian assistance to victims of the First World War.

A number of prominent residents occupied the upper flats of the Doukhobor Block and annex at this time. These included: R.A. Jones, manager of the Canora Lumber Company and his wife Mildred; E.L. McLaren, barrister and solicitor with the law firm McLaren, Wedderspoon and Cumming; J.A. Ringer, plumber, tinsmith and Imperial Oil Co. agent; Francis Kerawill, telephone operator, his wife Helen and daughter Mildred; Gordon Caldwell, dentist; William Ingliss, dental assistant; Albert Gall, dry goods merchant; Svend Broby, butter-maker; Louis Feinstein, livestock dealer and his wife Bessie; A.L. Merrill, book publisher, postcard merchant and Canora School District inspector; Miss R.L. Jarman, telephone operator; and others.

Throughout the 1912-1918 period, the Doukhobor store manager served as property manager of the sublet Doukhobor Block and annex buildings, performing janitorial work, maintenance and repairs. Other services included housekeeping and laundry (for a fee) and rent collection.