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Deputy Chief James Johnston Speech Re: Doukhobor Problem, circa 1955

[ The 1902 mass trek of Doukhobors in Saskatchewan, Thomas V. Simpson, UBC Special Collections 25-6 ]

[As read by Mr. Eggett at the Kootenay Committee on Intergroup Relations, April 17, 1985]

You will recollect that Peter's wife and son, Peter, visited Canada in 1905. Peter wanted his son to go to work but Peter the Second had other ideas. All he wanted to do was drink, gamble and Carouse. Peter the elder finally became fed-up with the situation and ordered his wife and son to return to Russia which they did but harboring a deep resentment against Peter. The younger Peter was smart enough to realize what a fine business his father directed and being possessed of great ambition, he looked forward to the day when he would succeed to his father's power. This opportunity presented itself following Peter's death at 1:00 a.m., October 29th, 1924, at Farron, B.C. This Company's Train # 11 (the Kettle Valley Express) had just pulled away from Farron Station — 23 miles west of Castlegar — when a very loud explosion occurred in day coach 1586. The blast was centered about the middle of the couch on the South side and was of such force as to hurl the roof of the car 100 feet away. There were 23 passengers in the coach, of whom 4 were instantly killed and 5 others died on the way to hospitals at Grand Forks and Nelson. The blast occurred immediately behind the seat occupied by Peter Verigin and Mary Strelaeff. In addition to those killed, 11 others were injured.

Fire broke out in Coach 1586 right after the explosion but prompt action by the train crew, who cut off the sleeper behind the coach, pulled ahead about 350 feet, then cut off the burning day coach by itself, saved the remainder of the train. The first police officer at the scene was Constable E. J. House of the C.P.R. Investigation Department Nelson. House was no Sherlock Holmes but he conducted a painstaking search of the entire area and succeeded in finding, about 50 feet up the hillside to the north of the tracks, part of a dry cell battery with an extremely unusual terminal, in that a piece of tin was soldered on to the zinc wall. House also found the works of an alarm clock which had a piece of copper wire attached to the wheel that regulates the hour hand. The condition of both these indicated pieces of evidence they had been through fire and explosion. Two inquests were held early in November, 1924. one at Nelson and one at Grand Forks. The verdicts in each instance were almost identical — 'The above named persons came to their deaths at about 1:00 a.m., on the 29th of October, 1924, one mile West of Farron, as a result of the discharge of a high explosive placed within Passenger coach 1586 on the Canadian Pacific Railway, by some person or persons unknown. We strongly urge the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Provincial authorities to continue their efforts to definitely place responsibility for the disaster.' These verdicts are of the utmost importance to us because immediately following Peter's death, rumours were circulating amongst the Doukhobors that the Government, with the connivance of the CPR had murdered Peter. These unfounded rumours persist to this day in the Kootenays. Only last year a painted canvas banner. depicting the Farron blast, was carried at the head of a Doukhobor nude parade in Grand Forks.

You can well imagine that an extremely intensive investigation was carried out in connection with the Farron disaster and much interesting information was compiled but never enough evidence upon which to base a prosecution. I think I can safely tell you now — 30 years after the event — that we are almost sure we know who made the time bomb used in that explosion. He was an itinerant watch repairer of several aliases, who arrived in Canada on a Soviet passport from Japan about 1923. He traveled amongst the Doukhobor community's in the Kootenays and the day before the Farron blast, he was in Brilliant where Peter had boarded Train 11. This travelling tradesman returned to Russia via Japan in 1930 and has not been heard of since. There is a large group of well informed persons who lean strongly to the opinion that Peter's death was plotted in Russia with a view to replacing him as leader of the Doukhobors by his ne'er-do-well son, Peter Petrovich Verigin. In any case, Peter the Second, with his mother, arrived in Canada in the fall of 1927 and he at once took over his father's mantle of leadership.[...]

Source: James R. Johnston, Speech by James R. Johnston Regarding the "Doukhobor Problem",, March 1, 1956.

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