Public gets chance to solve Doukhobor train explosion

Political or cultural motive? | Cause of the explosion that took the lives of the Doukhobor leader and eight community members has not been solved

Peter Verigin was 65 when he and eight others were killed in a train explosion on the Kettle Valley Railway near Farron, B.C., in 1924.

That much is known, but other questions remain about the incident, which took the life of the man who led thousands of Doukhobors out of Russia and into Western Canada in the early 1900s.

They settled first in Saskatchewan and later in British Columbia after a clash with the Canadian government threatened their communal lifestyle.

Cause of the explosion was never determined and no charges were laid.

Almost 90 years after his death, theories persist that Verigin was the victim of an assassination plot, that his position as leader of the pacifist, communally living Doukhobors, with their large orchard, saw mill and brick-making operations, could have made him a target from groups opposing his political and cultural beliefs. Everyone was a suspect from the Canadian government, other Doukhobor factions, the Klu Klux Klan or even his own son.

“This individual was instrumental in setting up what came to be one of the largest experiments in communal living undertaken in North American history,” said J.J. Verigin, Peter Verigin’s great-great grandson and executive director of the Doukhobors’ Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ.

“That was a thriving community and when the head of it met his demise in a mysterious incident that still has not fully been resolved, that caused a lot of concern amongst not only the Doukhobor community but amongst the wider community as well.”

Historians and Doukhobors have inquired, but the case remains unsolved.

“They’ve all run against the same brick wall,” Verigin said. Incomplete records of an inquest following the explosion, which were either lost or destroyed, haven’t helped quell curious minds, he said.

“The suspiciousness is rooted in the lack of answers.”

On July 7, tour attendees will have the chance to relive Peter Verigin’s trip and decide, “Who murdered Peter Verigin?”

Brenda Cheveldayoff’s family homestead is a 436 sq. foot dugout near Blaine Lake, Sask., built by Doukhobors who first settled the area. She has preserved the building, which has been labelled a provincial and national historic site, and invites groups for tours. Cheveldayoff will present the facts and the theories and challenge attendees to come to their own conclusion about his death.

“It’s all great and fun to talk about it amongst our own community, but I think it’s better to open it up to the public to come and see what their views might be,” she said.

J.J. Verigin said his great-great-grandfather remains a celebrated figure to the thousands of Canadians who still identify themselves as Doukhobors.

“As much as we would like to know the truth … at the same time we have to be here in the present and tend to things today as well and so by keeping our Doukhobor heritage alive by continuing to abide by our life concepts, members of our organization feel that we keep that individual’s spirit alive,” he said.

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