by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff
While Doukhobor brickmaking in Grand Forks is historically well known, few today would associate this enterprise with Ootischenia. Yet for a fleeting period, the Doukhobor Society established a communal brickyard at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. This article pieces together the little-known and largely-forgotten story of the Doukhobor brickyard at Ootischenia.
A promising site
In 1910 or early 1911, while communally clearing the heavily-forested north end of Dolina Utesheniya (Ootischenia) along the Kootenay River for orchard-planting, members of the Doukhobor Society laid bare what was reported in the March 30, 1912 Vancouver Sun to be an “extensive” clay deposit.
According to oral tradition, the clay pit was located some several hundred yards southwest of where the Doukhobors planned to build their suspension bridge across the river in 1912-13. Evidently, it was a promising site for the development of a brickyard similar to those established by the Doukhobor Society elsewhere at Thunderhill, Man. in 1903, at Veregin, Sask. in 1904, at Yorkton, Sask. in 1907, and at Grand Forks in 1909.
First, it appeared to have had a sufficient quantity of clay, easily accessible with horse and scraper, to last many years. Second, it was located close to a fuel source for running the machinery and firing the bricks; namely, wood from the main and upper benches of Dolina Utesheniya. Third, for distribution purposes, it was located a short distance from the CPR Slocan-Robson line; albeit across the river. This would be mitigated by the planned suspension bridge.
The main stated objective of the Doukhobor Society in developing the clay pit, as reported in The Province in March 16, 1912, was to produce brick for veneering their doms (homes) in Dolina Utesheniya and neighbouring settlements. In addition to brick manufacture, the Society intended, according to the March 30, 1912 Vancouver Sun, to develop a large plant for the production of clay drain and tile for drainage and plumbing systems.
Interestingly, the Doukhobors had already developed several other communal enterprises along that river shore which they called Kamennoye (Stoney Place). These included a sawmill in 1911, planer mill in 1912 and an irrigation pumping plant in 1912. Other planned enterprises included a grist mill and linseed oil plant (established 1914) and a wood-stave pipe factory (established 1915).
Development of brickyard
According to 1912 Doukhobor Society financial records, in the fall of 1911, the Society purchased a brick-making machine and had it shipped to Brilliant at a cost of $1,283. It was almost certainly a Martin model brick machine, manufactured by the Henry Martin Brick Machine Manufacturing Company at Lancaster, Penn. Powered by steam and having a production capacity of 50,000 bricks a day, this was the same machine used by the Doukhobors at all their other brickyards.
Accordingly, over the next six months, from the fall of 1911 to spring of 1912, the Doukhobors at Dolina Utesheniya developed a brickyard adjacent to the clay pit. This would have included: an engine house in which a steam engine provided motive power for the machinery; a brick plant housing the brick-making machine; a large, open-sided drying shed; and a conveyor system between the brick plant and drying shed.
On March 16, 1912, The Province reported the brickyard to be “recently started” and either producing, or ready to produce, brick.
Brick manufacture at Dolina Utesheniya would have followed substantially the same process as at other Doukhobor brickyards.
Using horses and scrapers, Doukhobor workmen excavated clay from the pit, then transferred it into dumpcarts. The loaded dumpcarts were then drawn by horses up an elevated ramp and the clay dumped into a large hopper bin. Proportionate loads of sand were also dumped in the hopper. In the hopper, the clay-sand mixture was automatically mixed up, an automatic sprinkler supplying the water. The slurry mixture was then pressed by the Martin brick-making machine into moulds, six bricks at a time.
The wet bricks were then placed on palettes and these were placed on a wire cable conveyor and carried into the large drying shed, where men were stationed at different points to lift them onto wheelbarrows, and wheel them to racks where they were placed to dry for up to ten days.
When the bricks became sufficiently dry, the men removed them from the drying racks and placed them again upon the cable conveyor, where they were taken out through the end of the shed. There, they were stacked into scove kilns, consisting of up to 200,000 bricks each, with wood ovens built into the stacks, and fired steadily for ten days. After firing, the bricks were ready for use.
It would seem, however, that the Doukhobors never fired more than their first or second kiln of bricks at their new yard.
According to oral tradition, for reasons no longer remembered, the brickyard at Dolina Utesheniya abruptly closed soon after opening. Indeed, no mention of it is made in any newspaper or book subsequent to March 1912. Even William Blakemore’s Report of Royal Commission on Doukhobors, where a thorough report of the Doukhobor Society’s industrial enterprises (as of September 1912) at Dolina Utesheniya is presented, is silent about any brickyard save for that at Grand Forks.
In all probability, the reason was that the clay proved unsuitable for brick-making. This might have been because it had a low plasticity (malleability), it contained other rock types (siltstone, sandstone) or impurities (gypsum, carbon), or it did not vitrify (fuse into hard, non-permeable material) at a low temperature. The end result, in any case, was that the brick cracked or bloated when fired in the kilns, making them unusable. This deficiency would have been evident to the Doukhobors upon their first firings.
Consequently, despite much effort and promise, the brickyard at Dolina Utesheniya appears to have been abandoned shortly after March 1912, almost as soon as it began.
Redeployment of machinery
So what became of the Martin machine and other specialized brick-making equipment after the brickyard was abandoned? It was almost certainly redeployed rather than salvaged or sold. What is more, we have a very good idea where it likely went.
In the summer of 1912, the Doukhobor Society purchased the 150-acre Blaney Ranch in the Slocan Valley near Winlaw. The ranch contained a clay quarry, and by September 1913, the Society was developing it as another brickyard. Over the next several years, brick was manufactured there by the Doukhobors, using a Martin brick-making machine.
Evidently, within months of the abandonment of the brickyard at Dolina Utesheniya, the brick-making equipment was shipped by rail up the Slocan Valley to the new brickyard where it was redeployed and reused.
While short-lived, the brickyard at Dolina Utesheniya underscored the Doukhobors’ communal and enterprising spirit and their determination to utilize their landholdings to its greatest potential. The Doukhobor Society (after 1917, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood) continued to manufacture brick for domestic use and commercial sale at several locations until the mid-1930s.
Author’s note: Special thanks to Ellie and Michael Davidoff, Marion Demosky, Tim Harshenin, Sam Wishloff, Ev and Lawrence Voykin.