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A Menace to the District

Opinion of Witnesses Regarding Doukhobors Before Commissioner

The Doukhobor commissioner, William Blakemore, held public sittings in Grand Forks on Tuesday and Wednesday. He was accompanied by G.H. Payle of Nelson, secretary, while Barrister Johnson of Nelson represented the Doukhobors.

Thirty-five witnesses gave evidence, most of whom expressed the strong feeling of citizens that the presence of Doukhobors in the district is a serious detriment.

I.A. Dinsmore, chief constable of the district, stated that there had been several prosecutions and convictions of Doukhobors for neglect to register burials, but that outside of the registration laws and the law requiring school attendence of children between certain ages, which were not observed by them, the people were in other respects law abiding, and of good moral charactor so far as he had been able to learn.

Robert Gaw, mayor of Grand Forks testified to the prevalence of feeling in the city among the business community adverse to the Doukhobors, and would view with disfavor the prospect of any increase in their numbers, as if the land were occupied by English speaking settlers it would be far more benefical to the city's business.

J.D. Honsberger said his land adjoined the Doukhobors' land and, having had opportunity to observe them, he believed them to be thrifty, clean, industrious and law-abiding. At first they made a practice of helping themselves to fruit from his trees without permission, but they had gradually overcome this feature, which he did not attribute to any dishonest intent, but rather to inability to realize the distinction between their property and the property of others, owing probably to being so accustomed to the socialistic scheme of things. In other respects he had no complaint to make against the neighbors and settlers, except on the score of their communism, which affected his business as a fruit grower in the same way that trusts and combines affected the indepenent manufacturer in other lines of business. His chief reason for fear was on account of the fact that in cost of production no one who had to pay for labor could compete with them, which gave them an enormous advantage, which would enable them to control markets and prices.[...]

[...]Arthur R. Mann, druggist, said that the Doukhobors purchased goods in quite large amounts in his store; they brought in prescriptions from the local doctors, which were dispensed by him, and charged to the community. In all his dealings he found them good pay, and in respect to their personal habits and morals he believed they were unobjectional.

William A. Cooper farms 115 acres of land south of the town, and has been there 21 years. He said that the coming of the Doukhobors was coincident with an outbreak of petty thieving, which had been an unknown thing before. Of his personal knowledge he was only able to prove the taking of one article, a small dog-cart from his premises, which was traced to a Doukhobor, and was returned when he was taxed with the removal of it; but other neighbors had reported similar occurances to him. He was not prepared to say positively that the Doukhobors were responsible for other thiefs, but he contended that it was fair to infer that they were in view of such a thing never being experienced prior to their arrival.[...]

[...]B. Jewell, also a nieghbor of the Doukhobors having observed them since their first coming to the locaility, considered the Doukhobors satisfactory settlers on the whole so long as their observance of the school laws was enforced. They had been in the habit of helping themselves to fruit from his place now and again, but not to any great extent. However, he believed that if the same land were settled by people of our own race, all lands in the valley would bring higher prices. Mr. Jewell is also one of the trustees of the Carson school, and reported that this term the Doukhobor children were not attending.

At the beginning of the present term some of the parents and adult members of the community came to the school with the children, asked the teacher a lot of questions about the Bible and other things, then announced that they would not let the children come "because you teach them to kill, and the children is mad because you send their fathers to jail."

J.H. Reid was teacher of the Carson school and had about 14 Doukhobor children attending. In intelligence he found them about equal to the average child, and a few of the boys were exceptionally smart. In some cases they were untruthful, but as the time passed he believed he had been successful in correcting these faults.

William Velasoff was one of those who in Saskatchewan some years ago, went on the march and indulged in the peculiar practices that made it necessary for the government to interfere, those characterized by Peter Verigin as the fanatics. Mr. Velasoff gave as his reason for this outbreak, that they wanted to be more free and to serve one master only. He had no complaints to make about conditions in the community. After the government fetched them back he lived in the community for a while, then left it, and became a naturalized British subject, and later came to British Columbia. In seven years he had accumulated $3000 by his labor, and now owns 10 acres of land and together with his brother-in-law, rents another 30 acres, and prefers to remain seperate from the community because he feels more free.

Sam Negroff is another Doukhobor who has left the community and maintains himself and wife by working for wages with his team. He left the community since they came to British Columbia alleging the immediate cause to be that the local head of the colony refused to pay for medical attendance for his wife at child-birth, saying that the customary help of the midwives was sufficient.[...]

[...] John Topp, rancher, disapproved of their communism and disliked them as neighbors. he shared the opinion that their pressence in the district retarded its prosperity and discouraged settlement.[...]

[...]W.B. Cochrane, barrister and police magistrate, spoke of widespread and far-reaching notority attaching to the Doukhobors by reason of the outbreak of fansticism in Saskatchewan in earlier times, which made their pressence damaging to the district because people were afraid they might break out again, therefore people avoided their neighborhood, resulting in depreciated values for lands, which otherwise were among the very choicest in the province.

Source: "A Menace to the District," Grand Forks Gazette, September 14, 1912. Notes: Page 4

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