Peter (Lordly) Verigin’s lost prayer site

Updated: Jul 3

In July 2000, I visited Verigin’s Tomb (later renamed Verigin Memorial Park) at Brilliant, the burial site of Doukhobor leader Peter (Lordly) Verigin, his son Peter P. Verigin, their wives Evdokia Grigoryevna and Anna Fyodorovna, and Peter’s daughter Anna Markova. (Markova’s son John J. Verigin has since been buried there.)

I can’t remember whether I spotted a sign that said “Historical site” and asked the attendant about it, or if the attendant told me to look for the sign, but in either case, I was made aware that not far away was a spot where Peter (Lordly) Verigin used to go to pray or meditate.

I was instructed to follow a path down to the spot and did so, walking down a set of stairs constructed from railway ties. I eventually came around a corner to discover a sort of rock bench and smoothed, rounded rock perched atop another to create a table. A salt shaker, one of the Doukhobor symbols of the staff of life (along with bread and water) stood on top of it.

Fascinating, I thought.

Nine years later, I went back to look for it again. I found the path easily enough, but it seemed to come to a dead end. I couldn’t find the prayer site and left puzzled.

Twice more I returned in the ensuing years, as the area became more and more overgrown. Now just locating the start of the path was becoming a challenge. The sign that said “Historical site” was still there, but was now covered in graffiti and actually pointed in the wrong direction.

I was starting to think I must have dreamed it all until I had some old photos transferred from archaic Syquest discs onto CD. Lo and behold, there were two photos of the site! Here’s what it looked like:

The sign, which I also photographed, read:

This historical site was built in the early 1920s and restored by members of the Brilliant choir in 1983. Doukhobor leader Peter W. [sic] Verigin Lordly came here to meditate and pray.

(If the date is correct, he would not have used it for very long before his untimely death.) Buoyed by the photos, I returned to Verigin Memorial Park in July 2018 and showed them to the attendant, who had never seen or heard of such a place.

I spent quite a bit of time bushwhacking around the area, getting my legs and arms nicely scratched up. The railway-tie steps opened up into a clearing. Pushing through some brush, I came to a second clearing. But then nothing.

It left me baffled. Was the site somehow destroyed? Or was it completely covered in brush? Neither of those things made sense. More likely I was just looking in the wrong place. But how did I find it so easily the first time?

Sign at the top of the path, July 2018.

The prayer site was somewhere in this jungle. July 2018

I contacted the USCC, which maintains the park. The Brilliant choir is long defunct, but they put me in touch with Mike Kanigan, the park’s volunteer caretaker. He knew what I was talking about, although he said it had been a long time since he had been there. He confirmed the choir cleared a path and made the railway tie steps.

No one is still alive with any firsthand memory of the site’s use, but Kanigan said it wasn’t surprising that Verigin liked the spot. Back in the 1920s, “you could see the two rivers, the jam factory, the orchards. There was no airport at that time. It was a place to spend quiet time away from people and think of what should or shouldn’t be done.”

He suggested I speak with John Tarasoff, 93, of Thrums. Tarasoff was also aware of the site, but wasn’t sure exactly where it was. Mike also told me to call George Anutooshkin, who recalled the construction of the steps and path, but thought that it happened in the early 1990s.

He also thought the USCC had an easement to access the property, but wasn’t sure. He hadn’t been to the site in years.

Stairs rapidly being reclaimed by the bush. July 2018

I further asked Jon Kalmakoff of the Doukhobor Genealogy Website about it. He told me he didn’t think the spot had a name, or was even a prayer site per se, but rather it was “a tranquil place of spiritual contemplation … A place specific and individual to Peter Lordly and others maintained their distance when he was there in respect of his privacy.”

Last Saturday, I decided to try looking again. This time my eagle-eyed wife joined me. She was confident we could find it. I wasn’t so sure. Before we started out, she said a little prayer to Lordly: “Please show us the way.”

We fumbled to find the trailhead, then slowly began descending. Once again, we got as far as the second clearing before becoming stumped. We pressed on, fighting through the bush until it got too dense to continue. I backed up and combed an area closer to the hillside without luck. When I turned around, my wife had vanished. I called to her.

She replied: “I found the path again. Follow my voice.”

Straight ahead was a faint clearing I neglected to spot on previous visits. I pushed through and caught up with her. We could see the railway ties again.

“Oh, this looks promising,” I said.

As we continued down, we spotted an old wooden pumphouse, which I didn’t remember seeing in 2000, although it must have been there.

But now we realized we were walking through a spring, hidden in tall grass. I didn’t remember this part either. The spring had carved itself into the ground and as we continued, our shoes got soaked and caked with mud. I tried to move off to the side to avoid it, but just got tangled in more brush.

I retreated back the way I came, and we continued on gingerly down the hill, realizing there was no way to avoid getting wet. But within moments, I spotted the back of the sign.

“I found it!” I cried. I waited for my wife to catch up and we sat down in this magical little spot. It hardly looked any different than the photo I took 19 years earlier. Had anyone been here since? The sign was somewhat deteriorated, but still readable. The only thing missing was the salt shaker.

June 16, 2019

What surprised me was how it’s virtually in someone’s backyard (or maybe it is their backyard). After trudging down from the top of the hill, we realized it would have taken about 30 seconds to walk up from the neighbouring property.

I don’t know who lives there, but they obviously know about the prayer site. (And if it’s actually on your land, I apologize for trespassing. It wasn’t obvious where the property lines are.)

In that sense, it was never really lost, although few people seem to know of its existence. If you have any more information about it, please let me know.

View from the prayer site.

UPDATE: Irene Malloff kindly provided me with videos that her husband Steve took of the site, probably around the time it was restored in 1983. You can view them below. The first video has just a brief snippet of the site. The rest shows the choir at the grave of Anna Markova, other shots of and taken from Verigin’s Tomb, and a solo performance by Bill Dutoff of Toil and Peaceful Life. It concludes with another choir performance at an unknown location and date.

The second video features the Brilliant choir performing two songs at the prayer site followed by a solo by Nick Konkin. Note how it has been well cleared of foliage, which has since grown back. The choir is then seen performing in front of the Brilliant Cultural Centre. It concludes with a performance by a Grand Forks choir of unknown date.

Updated on July 3, 2021 to add the YouTube videos.

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