I’d already been yelled at once.
When I heard footsteps behind me, I thought, ‘oh great, here we go again.’
I wasn’t in trouble. The fellow seemed rather pleasant, so I asked, ‘oh dear, am I trespassing?’
Yep, I sure was. I apologized profusely and thought I should leave, but the fellow was in the mood for a chat.
And that was OK by me.
Poking around for ghosts
I’ve started taking a new route to Spokane. New for me anyway.
It takes me along Highway 33, past Big White Mountain and down to Boundary County. I wind through Rock Creek, Midway and Greenwood, all begging to be explored. I make mental notes to stop there, here and there on the next trip.
One site along the way struck my brain. South of Highway 3 just west of Grand Forks, I spied two dilapidated pink buildings. While in Spokane last weekend, I looked around Google and learned there was an abandoned Doukhobor Village.
I figured they were one and the same.
Once I got back into the area, I realized my coordinates were all jumbled. The directions to the village, now turned into a museum, were taking me north of the 3, not south.
Lo and behold, I found the museum.
Parked at the end of the lane, I was checking my lenses and settling Bella when a minivan pulled up.
“THE MUSEUM IS CLOSED,” an older woman barked at me over the engine.
I said, “OK, thanks,” and let her carry on her cheerful way, noticing she pulled into the driveway next door. I hopped over the (very low) chain blocking the lane and trudged up to the “museum.”
There isn’t much to see at the site and I would later learn why. Signs say The Land Conservancy is preserving the historic area, but it seems to be just an old house with barns falling down and some items which could be restored, such as potbelly stove, an old Singer sewing machine and a metal lunchbox like my dad used to carry.
There’s even a pair of old speed skates tossed into the pile.
Escape to freedom
I vaguely recall learning about the Doukhobors in junior high history. That’s the fun part of these ghost-town adventures: re-learning history, but this time enjoying it without the pressure of quizzes and exams.
The Doukhobors are a religious sect, dissenters of the Orthodox Church. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, they escaped Russian persecution by coming to Canada in 1899. Many of the 7,500-plus settled in what became Saskatchewan and 500 more joined them in 1902.
Peter Verigin, the adopted son of Doukhobors female leader Lukeriia Kalmikova (badass chick alert!), led many to southern British Columbia. Some stayed in a self-contained community of 6,000, while others split to establish their own farms.
The Doukhobors hold some cool beliefs:
- They reject church liturgy, believing God dwells in each human being and not in a church.
- They reject secular governments and practise pacifism.
- They replace the Bible with oral psalms and hymns, called the Living Book.
- They do not use religious symbols at community meetings, except for the display of bread, salt and water — the elements that sustain life.
The abandoned commune I find was built in 1912 on 16.2 acres adjacent to Hardy Mountain Road. I poked around a bit, hoping to find a ghost or two stirring, but not even the mannequin on the front porch could be aroused.
Further up the road, I spied a couple of buildings that seemed of similar construct. I pulled Our Great Escape into the lane and hopped out with my camera. (Bella isn’t ready to be trusted to wander on her own, so she waits in the truck.)
After firing off a couple of shots, I hear the footsteps.
From my new friend, I learn he’s a descendant of the Makortoffs, the founding family of this particular commune. His mother was born in the very house that drew me onto his property.
Each of the windows on the side wall represents a room where an entire family lived. One room, one family. Eight rooms in total.
Sadly, the building is in a state of disrepair and he’s unsure whether he’ll have it taken down or let it fall on its own.
He owns the property on which it sits, along with the banya, or steam sauna house. (Steam sauna house? Brilliant!)
He gets a lot of lookie-loos like me. The wind blew down his No Trespassing signs.
Yet he’s friendly and chatty, telling me the story of how the Makortoffs broke the land apart and sold it to individual families. He’s related to the older lady who snapped at me earlier down the road.
The land on which the main house stands is marked as a museum. It even has a page on the Heritage Canada website.
The Land Conservancy of BC website says Peter Gritchen bought the main property in 1971 and opened it as a museum the next year. It hosted “a huge and diverse collection of early Doukhobor artefacts and hand-crafted items used for daily living housed therein.”
That isn’t what I find when I visit. Gritchen died in 2000, and that’s when the Land Conservancy took over the land and museum operations. My new Markortoff friend told me the museum has been closed for a few years.
When the recession hit, the money to restore the property dried up.
Many of the artifacts, I learn, were salvaged and now sit at the Boundary Museum on Hardy Mountain Road.
Me? I’m always more interested in what’s left behind, not what’s been taken and restored.
That’s where the real character of history often awaits.