Yesterday we drove from Trail to Grand Forks, stopping in Castlegar so John could read at Selkirk College in their beautiful library overlooking the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers.
We’ve been to Grand Forks before, in the fall of 2009, when I went in search of my grandfather whose name had shown up on 1911 census material from Phoenix, B.C., a search detailed in my new book, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees. On that trip, we walked around Grand Forks and bought a few books. On the drive back to Osoyoos where we were staying, I’d been very moved by the old Doukhobor village sites. Though very derelict, they spoke of their origins, the tall houses of brick and wood, the u-shaped annex buildings forming a courtyard, and barns and bathhouses behind. Remnants of productive orchards and gardens told of self-sufficiency, that toil and peaceful life.
After settling into our motel here in Grand Forks, we drove up the Hardy Mountain road to look at the village there.
This had been run for many years as the Mountain View Doukhobor Museum and was acquired by the Land Conservancy in 2004. We’d hoped to tour the site but it’s currently under restoration, though that process seems to be stalled. I think the Land Conservancy is a stellar organization and I applaud the work they do in preserving historical and environmental values and I hope that somehow the funding can be found to maintain this beautiful place. I see that one of the partners is Heritage B.C. If the spirit moves you, write to them in support of this extraordinary site. When we lose our history, we don’t get it back.
We stopped at the Boundary Museum in the old Fructova School. The building was constructed by the Doukhobors in 1929, using brick from the local brick factory. On a windowsill, a mold of worn wood held a couple of bricks, gritty with age, one of those moments when you realize what a process is involved in building a community, a culture. Displays provide windows into Doukhobor history in this beautiful valley as well as CPR and mining history and information about the city of Phoenix (where my grandfather lived and worked as a miner in 1911). There’s a schoolroom and a general store recreated in the Museum and many photographs to take the visitor back in time, including one of a large group of kids gathered outside this very building. I almost heard their voices as we walked back to the car.
We ate our dinner at the Grand Forks Hotel. Russian food seemed appropriate and we weren’t disappointed. There were a variety of combination plates available and we eagerly chose one each. The waitress gently advised us to share a platter, saying, It’s a lot of food. So we had a bowl of borscht, the Doukhobor kind, creamy and dense with vegetables, and then we shared voreniki (like a large perogy, stuffed with potato, cheese, and onion), a huge cabbage roll called a galooptsi (which echoed the holopcha my grandmother made), pyrahi, or baked pastry stuffed with beets, and a nalesniki, or crepe filled with cottage cheese and topped with sour cream and strawberry preserve. Every mouthful was delicious.