Miracle at Whatshan Lake

WHATSHAN LAKE RETREAT a story by Elmer Verigin

A) The beginning

It was in the spring of 1980 that a legal advertisement appeared in the Trail Times under Lawyer Dahlstrom, that an estate sale of lands located at Whatshan Lake was taking place. As was my usual routine, I read the legal ad because I was always looking for construction projects to tender in my responsibility as General Manager of Verigin Industries Limited. My perusal resulted in putting the paper aside as purchasing land for our cash strapped construction company, was not my priority at this time.

Within two months after the first series of ads, I saw the ad again and this time I wanted to know whose estate was involved. The name advertised was McAlister and I knew a visually challenged Engineer in Rossland by the name of Robert (Bob) McAllister. “Did he die?” was my first thought. So I dialed the number in the phone book, not sure whether I would get an answer. I was not interested in responding to the legal ad.

“Hello”, was the response after a few rings, “Can I help you?”

Since I knew Bob, having met him at several local Branch meetings of the Professional Engineers of British Columbia and a few social functions where his hobby of Ham Radio was the subject of some meetings and his professional expertise as an Astronomer, it was an easy response, “Do you know this McAlister that is having an Estate Sale?”

‘”Yes that is me”, he responded. “It was my late father’s estate lands at Whatshan Lake”.

“Is it possible to get drawings and an information package?”I asked.

“Of course, Elmer, come on up,” was his enthusiastic response.

That was how I first became familiar with the Whatshan property.

Bob explained how his father had been employed with West Kootenay Power & Light Co. Ltd., and had explored Whatshan Lake while fishing. The parcel of land at the South end of Whatshan Lake was ideally suited for a power project as the “Head” from the Whatshan Lake level down to the Arrow Lakes on the Columbia River, had the potential for a large hydro-electric project. As an enterprising individual he purchased this land and began his quest for development of a power project.

The firm prior to BC Hydro was also on the watch for potential power sources and this site was already on their “screen”. They approached the elder McAllister but he was convinced that this was something he needed to do himself and so the meetings did not go well. The power giant exercised its legal power and expropriated a large portion of the land surrounding the lake on the South end of Whatshan Lake. They further expropriated gravel that was needed for construction from the West end of the property. McAllister sued and continued to dispute the settlement offers even after construction started on the Whatshan Dam and the corresponding tunnel that would conduct the water directly to a power house situated on the Arrow Lake (Columbia River) to the East. As Bob further informed me, the elder McAllister was offered a meager financial amount and died fighting the Power Giant.

“As you can see, Elmer, I am blind with no means of employment so I have no recourse but to sell the remaining lands for whatever I can get for them,” he sadly advised. “The property is pristine and I know my father would be saddened with my decision but I have no choice”.

The story touched my heart and I became interested to at least inspect this site. I called my friend Jim Laktin and asked if he would want to go with me. He agreed and later suggested we take his brother Peter along.

We had to use maps to find the 203 acre property and once on site, realized that there was a considerable amount of marketable timber, a river, a small waterfall and a large pool on the river. It was well suited for development.

The second five (5) acre parcel was situated further downstream on Whatshan River after Barnes Creek combined its waters to recreate a flowing stream as the Whatshan Dam essentially had stopped all water from Whatshan Lake from flowing into the original river. Accessibility to this site was difficult as we were not aware that a former water line right of way and resulting trail was available from the Needles Cemetery. The surprise here was to find a water fall of approximately 20 meter drop and some 5 meter width at the top. Water cascaded into a pool with a spray that attracted rainbows in the sunlight.

We were mesmerized by the sight! It was like if we were at a movie or in some wonderland experience.

So we explored the large parcel a bit more, the dam, the lake and then drove north along the West side of the lake and noted the limited development as well as the public beach some three (3) km from the dam. That is where we noted the intake structure for the Whatshan Power House on the East side.

We had a beer and a light lunch that our ladies had packed us and philosophized as to what was the potential of this site. As I recall we listed the following:

  • An offer could easily be made with consideration of payment from the marketable timber cut 400 mm on the butt and larger, leaving a surplus for a profit
  • The land could then be marketed to a purchaser considering a vacation spot. This would not be a “rush sale” as the residue funds would carry maintenance until a reasonable offer could be accepted
  • The smaller property could be marketed separately and had the potential for a private retreat location that did not require a building

With all these thoughts drifting through our minds, we started counting the money that could be generated because we had young families that needed to be provided for. Just as we passed Hills, on the return journey, these thoughts came to my mind:

  • Why would we want to “rape and pillage” such a pristine property?
  • Was there some way that development could take place where perhaps under-privileged children could visit from various parts of the world and especially from the “concrete jungle”?
  • The prevailing thought was “there are children in downtown Vancouver that never have seen a creek, growing timber or to have been able to fish or take a hike in nature,”
  • Would I feel comfortable with myself after development for profit, knowing that I sacrificed an opportunity to provide the greater society with a safe haven, a paradise in nature and somewhere to enjoy what God had created for all before it all disappeared with development?

It was with these lingering thoughts that I spoke to Jim and his brother Peter and related the above list, point by point. There was silence for at least ten (10) minutes which was eventually broken by Jim.

“You know Elmer, I thought it would be too good to be true that I would end up making money with you,” he thoughtfully looked straight ahead at Highway 6. “It all makes sense what you say, but how would we achieve all that?”

I thought about that for a few minutes and I formulated my response as follows, “There are many ways, I am sure, but if we are truly going to make this a project for the people then we would need to convince people to sponsor it.”

As we continued on our journey home we developed this plan of action:

  1. We were members of the Doukobor Cultural Association (DCA) so why not ask them to sponsor this project?
  2. Would it not be better if an organization undertook this project?
  3. We could ask Water Demoskoff, a professional Logger in the DCA to survey the logging potential
  4. We would then decide what is our maximum offer to the McAllister estate
  5. Those members who felt comfortable with this would need to provide personal statement to a financial institution to see if they would be prepared to provide the funds should our offer be accepted
  6. The three of us agreed that we would be the initial members that would start this process
  7. The “selling point” to the DCA members would be that the lands would be destined for “society” in a fashion that the DCA would need to decide.

To the best of my recollection, that is how the Whatshan Story began.

B) Land Purchase Process

At the next meeting of the DCA the idea was presented and discussed thoroughly with many members expressing doubts as to the purpose and liability of such a venture.

This resulted in a volunteer committee being selected to have a look at this property. Walter Demoskoff (our member professional Logger) was one of those who went and conducted a survey of marketable timber. At a DCA Meeting held November 15, 1981 Walter gave his report. It was his report that swayed acceptance of a proposal to purchase by thirteen family members as follows:

  1. Fred / Ann Chursinoff
  2. Walter / Ann Demoskoff (both deceased)
  3. Larry / Edna Sapriken
  4. Elmer / Marilyn Verigin
  5. Jim / Katie Laktin
  6. Lorne (deceased) / Irene Tamelin
  7. Fred (deceased) / Nina Voykin
  8. Paul / Nina (deceased) Koodrin
  9. Bill / Betty Zarikoff
  10. Bill / Natalie Voykin
  11. Joe / Shirley Podovinkoff
  12. Lawrence / Mable (deceased) Verigin
  13. Peter / Olga Switlishoff (agreed later)
  14. Lawrence / Kathy Popoff (were not at the meeting)

They all agreed to purchasing the property. An offer of $140,000 for the two properties was submitted and accepted as reported at the November 29, 1981 meeting

Fred Voykin and Elmer Verigin negotiated and signed an interim agreement with Kootenay Savings Credit Union (KSCU) after the Bank of Montreal declined to fund the offer.. Personal financial statements were to be submitted by December 17, 1981.

Bob McAllister called me before accepting the offer and asked as to what would be the ultimate purpose for these lands should the offer be accepted. I reiterated the following main points:

  • Preservation  of wilderness for future generations
  • Accessibility for all people regardless of income
  • Creation of a camp or retreat for children and adults
  • Other

“My father would be very pleased,” he commented. “The land is yours!”

A Guarantee Bond and Postponement of Claim documents were executed with the KSCU on February 26, 1982 and the land became the property of the DCA in this process:

  1. The DCA was not registered as a Society at this time so the land was registered in the names of Fred Voykin and Elmer Verigin who held the land in trust for the DCA
  2. The DCA registered their Society in April 24, 1984
  3. The property became registered to DCA after that

Walter Demoskoff volunteered to log the poles for his cost of expenses and in the summer of 1982, $32,998 revenues were received. Major logging was delayed while prices remained low until the winter of 1983. Walter, then supervised the logging by the Barabanoff Brothers and marketed the timber to a sawmill in Lumby. On March 06, 1983 Walter reported that $110,000 was the yield to date which would be applied against the loan.

DHRS #1999 How Whatshan Lands were financed

Ultimately some 70% of the available timbers stand of 200 mm “on the butt” and larger was marketed to retire the KSCU loan.

C) Initiation Process to Build the Retreat

There were many discussions amongst the DCA members as to what should be done with the property that included the following:

  • Build a Retreat as was the original concept and intent
  • The Retreat idea was challenged by some in that the property did not front onto Whatshan Lake and so had limited recreational value
  • It was too far from Castlegar and who would travel that far?
  • Others felt that the financial liability of a development was not within their scope and plans in the initial concept
  • Market the property as a fund-raiser for other needed projects
  • This resulted in a search by the enthusiastic others to find a method by which development could take place

It is within this climate that I had discussions with some of the DCA members that were relocated on the B.C. Coast and the suggestion was “why not organize a separate society to build a retreat?” That way many more interested people could become involved and it would be open to the public at large.

This idea was pursued by advertising a public meeting in Castlegar in January 27, 1996. It was at this meeting, and a few ensuing ones, where a constitution was drafted and named as the Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society. A broader participation from all the major Doukhobor organizations was encouraged resulting in some of the following meetings:

  • A dinner meeting in Grand Forks at the home of Mike / Frances Kanigan with John J. Verigin Sr, (deceased) / Laura Verigin, Bill / Liz Pepin, welcoming Elmer / Marilyn Verigin from Tsswwassen
  • A meeting with Alex Ewashen and Alex Wishlow of the Doukhobor Society of Canada, Bill Makoroff and Steve Lapshinoff from the Krestova Doukhobors and JJ Verigin Jr. of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ met at the Doukhobor Village in Castlegar with Elmer Verigin
  • A dinner meeting of Peter / Gloria Fominoff, Peter / Elsie Rezansoff and Elmer / Marilyn Verigin met in White Rock, B.C.
  • Many other meetings

The overwhelming consensus was that Whatshan Lake Retreat, as the name became used, would be open to all Doukhobor organizations and people. The idea was to build a facility where everyone could come and be accepted without any reservation or prejudice.

A Board of Directors was formed from a broad spectrum of members paying a $10 fee. A constitution was registered (need date) and meetings began to find a common consensus as to a plan of action. Some of the directors were DCA members. but others came from many other groups and some from no established organization.

Discussions as to where to build the facility included these topics:

  • A Retreat should be best located adjacent to a lake. The current DCA site was about 300 meters distant with a section of BC  Hydro land in between
  • Another site may be available in the vicinity and perhaps a feasibility study needed to be undertaken to locate a better site

A committee was struck with Lawrence Popoff and Lorne Tamelin who then searched out B.C. Ministry of Lands locations for possible sites to build a Retreat. Of all the sites, a location at the South end of the largest Lake in the Whatshan chain was selected by this Committee, as the recommended site for review. An outing was arranged for as many DHRS members as possible. All travelled to this site some 16 km along the Forestry Road located on the North side of the Whatshan lake chain to a clearing about 1 km South of the site.

All viewed the site and agreed that it was a beautiful location with a glorious view of the lake. An application was made to the B.C. Ministry of Lands and after their review, the response was negative in that “the Doukhobors already had a large tract of land on the South end of the lake and that is where they should build.”

Disappointed, but undaunted, the DHRS began a search of a suitable site on the DCA lands. The current site was selected; a conceptual plan was created by Peter Rezansoff. The DCA was approached with the idea of leasing a tract of land for a Retreat. A renewable lease of $1.00 per year was negotiated for twenty acres and the documentation was prepared by Peter Fominoff, a member and a Lawyer in White Rock.

D) Building Permit Application Process

The process to obtain a building permit from the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) was in itself a separate saga of what almost appeared to be a deliberate process to discourage construction. Some of the events leading up to an application for a Building Permit included:

  1. Firstly a legal ad required posting as part of the process for a septic tank permit
  2. A neighbor some 300 meters away complained that a Retreat construction would compromise the water quality in Whatshan Lake
  3. A total development plan needed to be developed and approved by the District Planner

This was followed by a prequalification before a formal Permit application and a horrific list of prequalification needed to be processed:

  1. Proof that fire-fighting resources were available which included a water tower allegedly required by the Building Code
    1. After review of the BCBC, no such requirement was necessary
    2. Contact with the Fire Marshall’s Offices in Cranbrook, determined that no such requirement was necessary
  2. Proof that Elmer Verigin P.Eng., was actually registered with the B.C. Association of Professional Engineers  (APEBC)
    1. Although, Elmer Verigin sealed the drawings, the Building Inspector still made contact with APEBC to check
  3. Access approval by Ministry of Highways
    1. This was relatively a routine application
  4. Permission from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)
    1. Although ALR had already approved a request from Elmer Verigin, the RDCK would not accept that and made a separate application to the ALR
    2. A ALR committee inspected the site and reported that the land could not sustain agriculture

It was during this time in 1994, that the DHRS felt it should establish a local (Edgewood, B.C.) understanding of the Whatshan Lake Retreat Project. In this endeavor, a local supporter(s) of the project, Bill and Penny Penner arranged an information session with three local families. After explanation of the project objectives, these families arranged a public information meeting at the Legion Hall in Edgewood, B.C., to which representatives of the DHRS were invited.

Bill / Natalie Voykin, Larry Ewashen, Elmer / Marilyn Verigin were pleasantly impressed with the large attendance of over eighty (80) people in the small Legion Hall.  The organizer(s) immediately advised us as “guests” that “the meeting was ours to chair and conduct” and that I was to chair the meeting. Once I explained the objectives of the Whatshan Lake Retreat project, our positive excitement soon changed to grave concern as the Attendants had all been told that the project objectives by the Proponents (the DHRS) was to gather young troubled youth from the urban communities and bring them to Whatshan where they would be potentially capable of becoming a local liability to do public mischief and conduct damage to their properties.

The room was “charged” with a negative atmosphere that could be best described as one in the “wild west days” where the scene was a “boiling pot of tar, with a pile of feathers standing beside a puffing locomotive on a railway track. The intent of the group was to tar and feather the group and run them out of town.”

It took us some one-half hour of patience and my entire test of chairing difficult meetings to achieve order amongst the “cat-calls” and snide remarks when I outlined the project objectives to provide a place in nature for the public to enjoy. The response was a negative “give me a break” to “who are you trying to kid” comments. Soon some in attendance stood up and asked the question of the rest “how many of you have ever been to a Summer Camp?” After some fifteen (15) hands were gingerly raised, the next question was “so was the intent of the camp to run around the area, breaking in to properties?” Many heads shook negatively. “So is this what will happen here?”

The crowd went suddenly silent while another elder lady stood and asked the question, “I have lived here all my life and I have been the victim of property damage. Unfortunately, the damage was by local kids. So I cannot see a danger with this project?” Soon the crowd settled in to a less suspicious mood, the questions ceased to be critical and insinuating and eventually they all became silent and attentive. The meeting was soon over and we went home.

That was our first experience in this neighborhood with a promise from the meeting organizer, “Elmer, I will continue to oppose your project up until you complete it. Upon completion, I will be the first to come over and share a cup of coffee with you”. True to his statement that is exactly what took place on official opening in July 1999. We have been great neighbors since.

A small group met on site in the summer of 1995 to select an actual site for the Retreat Building. This consisted of:

  • Bill / Natalie Voykin
  • Fred / Ann Chursinoff
  • Lawrence / Kathy Popoff
  • Elmer / Marilyn Verigin

We walked into the woods and formed a circle in the spot where we all felt most comfortable and sat down. A psalm was recited by Natalie as we held hands. We marked the center of our prayer circle with a stake. Today, it is in this spot that the center post is located that supports the roof trusses for the Retreat.

DHRS #1999 We blessed this site of the Whatshan Centre

The Building Inspector eventually advised that an application could be made for a Building Permit. The sum of $1,400 was required and there was no money in the treasury. It is important to note that the following members gathered donated $200 each as follows:

  1. L. Popoffs
  2. L. Tamelins
  3. F. Chursinoffs
  4. R. Verigins
  5. E. Verigins
  6. L. Saprikens
  7. (Elmer needs to confirm the missing other families)

E) Construction Process of Whatshan Retreat Building

The Building Permit was issued in the spring of 1995 but there was no funding available, nor grants to start construction. The terms of the Permit approval were that construction must begin within six (6) months of issue. So a desperation action plan was concocted to install footings in November 1995 as follows:

  1. The Ferraro Bros. from Korpack (Trail donated) fifty (50) sacks of cement
  2. The Chernoffs of Trowelex (Castlegar) donated a concrete mixer
  3. Kalesnikoff Lumber (Tarrys) donated the form material
  4. Marbella (Delta) donated wheelbarrows and miscellaneous tools
  5. A backhoe was hired from a local logging contractor
  6. A weekend was chosen in early November and we gathered there

A brief religious blessing took place within the excavation and the footings were formed and concrete placed in one weekend. The Building Permit could not be revoked.

These old guys did could not afford Redi-mix. The water had to be hauled by barrels from Whatshan Lake by Elmer’s Silver Cloud pickup. Walter filled the pails in the lake, Joe passed the pails up to Elmer, Elmer dumped the water into the three (3) barrels. Elmer drove carefully not to spill the water but the hill was a bit of a challenge as the water slopped and was ready to spill. Elmer paid attention to barrels and not enough on his driving as the truck choked just 1 meter short of the top of the hill. Elmer hit the barkes, the barrels hit the end gate, crashing through and rolling down the hill back to the lake where Walter groaned with an “Oh Nooooo!”.

So we filled the barrels again while Walter and Joe admonished Elmer on his lack of teamster skills. Joe said “Back up, Elmer” but Elmer knew what he had to do this time and stubbornly forged ahead, giving the Silver Cloud a bit more speed. The water splashing on the truck deck distracted Elmer to look back again and just 600 mm short of the brow of the hill, a repeat of the first time took place.

A mournful cry came from Walter as the barrels arrived in front of him. He was suffered from  and case of liquid indigestion from last night and this experience was not on his agenda at all.

This time Elmer backed up the hill and heeded the gruff instructions from the combined crew. We arrived at the mixer to a welcome of “What took you guys so long!”

DHRS #1999 Old Guys mixing concrete the old way

It was the winter of 1996 that some serious planning took place as to how some funds could be raised so construction could begin. Walter Demoskoff suggested that a portable sawmill could be brought in, logs on site would be used to prepare the lumber for the Retreat.

 The plan unfolded as follows:

  1. Hire a portable sawmill for an estimate cost of $6,000 to saw all the lumber for the building
  2. Walter volunteered to provide these funds prior to selling three (3) truckloads of logs which would repay this loan
  3. It was necessary to design the trusses from lumber that would be available log sizes on site and estimate the framing lumber in advance so that sawmill operator could prepare the correct materials
DHRS #1999 Lumber for the Whatshan Centre from timber on site 001
  • The DCA was approached and they agreed to supply logs for the lumber and the required market logsMarket logs were to be cut from the reserve stand not previously harvested on the West side
  • When the access road to the West side of the property was actually surveyed, it was found that seven (7) truckloads of marketable timber could be harvested
  • This was all harvested, including the three (3) DCA donated loads by Walter Demoskoff and Fred Chursinoff as a volunteer donation using Walter’s track machine
  • Shake bolts were available on site to be split for cedar shakes
  • Bryans Transfer (Trail) provided a flat bed to move equipment and materials to Whatshan
  • Peter Rezansoff (Vancouver) negotiated with Ocean Cement that they would supply a truckload of bagged cement to the site where concrete was mixed by hand
  • Cominco Ltd (Trail) was approached for the supply of 1,350 bolts, washers and nuts for construction of the roof trusses. These bolts were sold as salvage for $50.
  • West Kootenay Mechanical (WKM) (Trail) supplied the Journeyman Plumber, as required by Code, to install all the plumbing Rough-In.
  • WKM fabricated the steel gusset plates for the trusses and all the flashings
  • Martech Electric (Castlegar) supplied the Electrical Permit and encouraged Westco, Gullevin and Gescan Electrical Wholesalers to supply all the Electrical materials
  • Hank Tarasoff donated much of the plumbing supplies
  • Gerry Evin brought his backhoe and dug out all the stumps
  • Mickey Podovinikoff brought his Caterpillar / Loader and provided all the backfill and site grading. He was there when Nakusp Redi-Mix brought out two trucks to mix the concrete on site for the major concrete floor pour. Mickey’s loader was used to place gravel into the mixer (supplied by Nakusp Redi-mix) and lift the cement bags for easier placement.
  • Brian Verigin supplied and fabricated the steel post in the center of the building and with the assistance of Joe Podovinikoff this design. It is Mickey Podovinkoff machine that erected this post with the professional “Riggers” Larry Sapriken directing the post over the bolts and Bill Penner holding it in line. Of course, as in any project, there is the Foreman, General Foreman, Superintendent and Safety  Officer on hand.
DHRS #1999 Brian Verigin's main support post is erected
  • Windows were salvaged from the renovations to Stanley Humphries High School in Castlegar, B.C.
  • Thorman Well Drilling (Nelson) drilled, tested and commissioned a water well
  • The Novakshonoff family, Mainstream Mechanical, (Grand Forks) provided the Mechanical expertise to install the pump into the well, pressure tanks, septic pump and connecting water lines along with the commissioning expertise to pressure the water system to the Retreat Building
  • Doors and panic hardware were salvaged from a seniors project renovation on the Coast
  • Inter-Tech Construction supplied all the drywall, insulation, ceramic tile, handrail and fireplace doors
  • Korpack supplied all the masonry and flue liners for the fireplace
  • 100 chairs were donated by Alex Ewashen
  • Investors Group donated $1,000
  • Toilet partitions were supplied by Shanahans when they double-shipped Marbella Pacific on a project and then denied that they had duplicated an order. We just stopped arguing.
  • The toilets and sinks were salvaged from the Terra Nova Hotel renovations in Trail, B.C.
  • Lawrence Popoff used his Mechanical training to overcome the Building Inspector challenges with the Hood over the kitchen range
  • There was much more that came from various places and it is not the intent of the writer to disregard these donations. It is just that they were so numerous that all cannot be included in this writing

So the Retreat Building construction was started with the above base and a multitude of volunteers started coming over the next three (3) years until completion in June of 1999. To mention a few names would be an injustice to those who may be missed. I tried keeping a list of names and the time spent at Whatshan and this list exists. It is much too detailed and too long for the purpose of this story. The idea of “service above self” became a motto. There are also many stories of laughter and the joys of working together.

John J. Verigin Senior travelled from Grand Forks with Pete Oglow to confirm that all the volunteers were working. Their kind words of encouragement spirited the multitude of Lower Mainland volunteers who Peter Rezansoff “sweet-talked into coming to a “paradise in the hinterland”. So how long is Lawrence Popoff’s nose?

DHRS #1999 John J. Verigin Sr. and Pete Oglow and volunteers

A temporary kitchen was erected and a wood stove / oven provided most of the cooking and warming of food. The ladies donated food as well as participated in the work along with the men. Whatshan became known for its big meals as sometimes the crew exceeded thirty (30) volunteers. Meals had to be set for banquets on primitive tables, benches, etc. Everyone either had a tent trailer or camper for sleeping wherever there was a level spot.

Here at some of the “foxy ladies” whose talents also included Shake-splitting, cooking, advising on construction as well as singing.

DHRS #1999 Foxy Whatshan Ladies and their kitchen

Their kitchen was primitive but the food was awesome.

Some of the following humorous stories unfolded as on any construction site.

One night a skunk decided to check out what may be a good meal as he was not invited to the banquet. He must have tipped something over as Joe Podovinikoff’s German Shepherd heard or smelled him and charged out of the pickup truck with Joe following. The skunk headed for cover under Popoff’’s Camper-Truck just as Lawrence was preparing to come to see what all the commotion was all about. Everyone was shouting for Lawrence to stay back while Joe was being dragged by his dog who was determined to get that skunk. Larry Sapriken was anxious to get out of his tent-trailer to see what was happening but could not open his door in time as his sock got caught in the lip of the door. He fell flat on his face, spraining his toe in the process. I wish that a movie camera was there that night as the moonlit scene was hilarious.

Larry Sapriken was located across an access road from the Verigins when at 2:00 A.M., a heart rendering animal shriek was heard as this cougar sauntered by. Larry shouted “what the f—k was that?’ Elmer replied with “go have a look!’ Then came a clear response from Larry: “f—k you!”

After a hard day’s work and a large evening meal, a campfire was always lit so that the progress of the day could be reviewed and philosophies exchanged. I wish that I was able to record some of these discussions but after a bit of wine everyone mellowed and singing started as there was at most times at least one guitar or accordion to get things going. One such evening a debate ensued as to whether the North Star was stationary or moving. This debate became a bit out of control when Russel Verigin decided to nail a 1 x 2 to a tree and aim it at the North Star. Every hour or so, there would be the non-believers that would check what was taking place. On one such evening, this stick was torn off the tree as it was more important to stoke the campfire at that time.

“You stupid idiot,” Larry admonished Fred Chursinoff, “that was our proof as to what was happening to the North Star”, and proceeded to replace the 1 x 2 in its original location. It was dark and Larry didn’t notice that the alignment process meant that the soot on the end of the 1 x 2 became part of his eye shadow. We could all see in the light of the campfire what Larry could not and laughter became rampant as was Larry’s curiosity for the reason.

The Whatshan Centre grew consistently over the next few years as evidenced in this construction photo. When I look at this I find it amazing that the volunteers that were able to achieve such a sophisticated construction design.

DHRS #1999 Whatshan Centre Construction

We also realized why the native word “Whatshan” was used by the Okanagan and Kootenay bands to name this area, as Whatshan is where they met to do trading. There is definitely an aura about the entire area that is very peaceful. That feeling permeates a person as they approach Whatshan and stays with them while being there. People who use the site now, comment on this feeling.

Here, a group enjoys what Whatshan is all about.

DHRS #1999 Whatshan Centre in operation

F) Achieve Charitable Status

Application were made to the CRA for a charitable tax number for the Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society. The CRA refused the application citing that the Retreat use was not definitive and there were clauses within the constitution that did not clearly define that the facility could be used by the public at large. It appears that there are four specific uses that will permit a charitable status and those are:

  1. Sports
  2. Religion
  3. Education
  4. Health

The society was adamant that the use would be for any organization including the Retreat Society, itself, that could utilize the premises. This became too broad a definition for CRA as they were becoming more selective in their approval process with recent abuse.

Definition of specific uses and  change of society name and constitution was recently filed under Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society #1999 (registered June 28, 1997) was presented to CRA. Later that spring of 1999, approved the amended application.

G) Property Tax Exemption

With the approval of the charitable tax exemption, attention was directed at removing the property tax status over the properties. An appeal was launched to the BC Assessment Authority and a meeting set in the Legion Hall at Nakusp.

The Appeals Board heard a submission made by Paul Moroso CGA, on belhalf of the DHRS #1999. In attendance were Larry Sapriken and Elmer Verigin. The presentation was excellent and the reasons for exemption were well stated.

The Board made the recommendation to exempt the Property Taxes which remains to this day.

H)  Major Philanthropist

Progress on the building was with limited funds and smaller donations but every donation was much appreciated. A particular donation came as a complete surprise. My Mother’s sister, Florence Markin kept asking me to explain where it was that Marilyn and I kept travelling to and occupying our weekends. She asked for a society constitution and had already heard about the struggles for funding, volunteers, etc. I heard nothing more until in the spring of 1999, when the Kootenay Mens Choir received an invitation from the Calgary Doukhobors to attend a celebration to commemorate one hundred (100) year since Doukhobors migrated to Canada. Since Marilyn and I were staying at Andrew and Florence Markin’s house at Christie Park in Calgary, Aunty warned me that I had better bring my best suit as I was to have a meeting with her oldest son, Allan, my first cousin.

I really did not know Allan as the opportunity to socialize over the years was hampered by distance as well as that Allan was a Petroleum Engineer whose initial job took him to the Southern United States for many years. I assumed that Allan would meet us at Aunty’s house but I soon learned I was to meet him at the Calgary Golf & Country Club for lunch. So off I went, not knowing what to expect.

I sat in the lobby of the Golf Club wondering what Allan would look like when this well dressed man confidently walked through the door. “Are you Elmer?” his hand outstretched. “Well then you must be Allan” I replied quickly.

“Well let’s go up and have lunch”, Allan started for the stairs to the Lounge.

The Lounge was absent of customers since this was preseason for golf in Calgary. We ordered and there was little chit-chat when Allan asked me to tell him about the project. I really did not know how much of the material I had given to Aunty, that had been digested by him so I obviously became a bit long-winded in my explanations. His next direct question(s) were:

“Is this for religious attendance only?” with my quick answer “No!’

“Is Douhobor a religion?” his questions became quick. I was to the point, “yes, but better explained as a Way of life”.

“Can you provide me more information on Doukhobors,” he kept on. I responded by “I have a Book of Life that explains it all.”

“Could you get me a copy?’ followed by my response “of course”.

We were only fifteen minutes into this meeting and lunch had just been served when he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out what I recognized as two cheques. I thought to myself “if I was to get $2,000 or even $5,000 that would be great!” I was not prepared for what happened next.

“If I gave you $30,000 would that retire your debt at the Credit Union and provide enough to complete the remaining work?” he looked at me. I thought about the current $15,000 society debt and responded with “of course” while trying not to show my obvious surprise.

“Okay then,” and he began filling out the cheque.

“So you are planning an Investment Fund to use interest only to fund overheads”, as he started filling out another cheque. “I will provide $100,000 towards this fund. Do you have your charitable tax status yet?” he looked at me enquiringly.

“The application is in to CRA and I have verbal approval but I do not have the final paperwork at this time,” I answered.

“That’s fine then hold this cheque for awhile until you can determine if it will take place,” he paused, “let me know if it does not take place and we can do something else,” as he passed over the cheque to my surprisingly steady hands. “I will provide $100,000 each year until I have funded a total of $1 million dollars,” he added.

I was surprised at my composure when I asked, “What type of documentation do you require for this arrangement?”

“Are you going to perform as you have outlined?” he looked at me. I responded with “of course!”

“Then I do not need any paperwork”, as he looked at his watch and got up to go.

He followed me out after dealing with the tab and I found my 1980 LTD and started out to 17th Avenue when I noted his shiny sports car behind me. He was on his cell phone already and waved into my rear view mirror as he turned right on his way to his office. I carried on to 17th Avenue and turned left on my way back to Christie Park when suddenly I had the urge to confirm whether I was in a dream. I pulled the cheques out of my shirt pocket and yes, they were real. I then bit my finger and yes, there was pain. “It actually happened,” I shouted into the traffic.

As I entered the house, I was greeted by three (3) anxious people searching my face for signs of what may have happened. I just blurted out, “where is that Scotch that you said was in the bar” and I proceeded to the lower floor. “Your son just donated $1,030,000 to Whatshan!”

There was crying of joy and I poured myself TWO FINGERS of Scotch into a glass as I too was into the shock of recovery.

This funding was utilized as follows:

  1. The $30,000 did cover the society indebtedness with the balance to complete outstanding items in the Retreat Building
  2. $100,000 was invested in the Okanagan Foundation as Allan Markin Foundation
  3. $200,000 was invested in the Vancouver Foundation, also as Allan Markin  Foundation
  4. Both funds continue to invest part of the interest earned with the rest used for Overhead items
  5. The balance of the funds were used in the construction programs of 2003, 2004 and 2005, together with application for grants being facilitated by this base funding to construct:
DHRS #1999 Allan Markin in a Pensive Pose
  1. Infrastructure of water and power
  2. Eight 20’ x 24’ cabins
  3. A 30’ x 40’ Concession, washroom, showers and covered patio
  4. The Cabins and Concession Building were supervised by Russel Verigin and Alex Markin, retired Carpenters and Superintendents who donated their fees.
  5. An Acoustic outdoor Stage was constructed by the 2004 apprentice carpenters from J’Loyd Crowe High School in Trail, supervised by Aby __?__  and drywall, stucco and swinging acoustic panels professionally fabricated by Larry Sapriken with under the direction of Anton Neidersteiner
DHRS #1999 Anton's Acoustic Masterpiece
  1. An Office and Manager Residence
  2. 72 serviced RV Campsites
  3. 84 unserviced RV Campsite

I) Whatshan Lake Retreat Opening

Invitations went out inviting all to an Official Opening, July 25, 1999, at Whatshan, of the Whatshan Lake Retreat, to celebrate one hundred (100) years since Doukhobors migrated to Canada from religious persecution in Russia. Two days were selected for this occasion. Tents, trailers, campers started to arrive. Many performers of all kinds were encouraged and a fantastic program resulted. John J. Verigin Jr. was travelling with the Youth Choir in Russia but broke away, specially, for this event as it was he who had suggested that the revised constitution be registered under the name Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society #1999, noting the 100 years since migration in 1899.

After a Doukhobor Prayer service  at this event that JJ Verigin Jr., dedicated the Whatshan Project to the “people of Canada” as a thank you from the Doukhobors who were able to find sanctity and freedom of religion in Canada. From this day forward that the project officially became non-denominational with membership open to the public for its use and enjoyment.

Many other speakers spoke at this event including the noted Writer Koozma Tarsaoff who lauded the efforts of so many volunteers and donors.

A historic moment was also achieved when the Krestova Mens Choir walked onto the stage with the Kootenay Mens Choir to meld into a Doukhobor Choir ending almost eighty (80) years of disagreement as to the definition of a Doukhobor. This choir continues to this day and demonstrates forgiveness through love.

Following this success, a few years passed and it became clear that accommodation and more services would need to be built to generate an economic use of the Whatshan Lake Retreat. The DHRS #1999 began the process of finding the funds and resources to complete the rest of the plan. A method had to be found where the reliance on volunteers and donations was not the only avenue to development.

J) Phase II Construction

The work progressed over several years and included the following:

  1. In 2003 the first five (5) cabins and the Whispering Pines (Campground services building, Concession and Outdoor patio), electrical , water, power and roads infrastructure
  2. In 2004 the next three (3) cabins, the Stage framing, completion of campsites and Whispering Pines building
  3. In 2005 completion of the Stage and the Office / Manger’s Residence, additional two (2) wells, pump house and water distribution

Some additional funding was obtained through grants:

  1. Columbia Basin Trust
    1. $50,000 in 2004 for the first part of the Stage
    2. $40,000 in 2005 for the balance
  2. Vancouver Foundation $20,000 in 2003
  3. Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ
  4. BC Hydro $5,000 in 2003
  5. Carpenters Union $5,000
  6. Federal Government Human Resources for workers whose UIC had expired
    1. In 2003 $50,000 (need to check amount)
    2. In 2004 $30,000 (need to check amount)

Other sources of assistance came from a variety of sources:

  1. Kalesnikoff Lumber (Tarrys) donated all the sawn timber for the Whispering Pines Building
  2. Emco Engineering donated all the Electrical infrastructure designs and the upgrade to a 600 amp service
  3. Anton Neidersteiner (Kamloops) provided professional consulting on the Acoustic / Electronic Stage
  4. E. Verigin Consulting provided all the drawings, structural designs, water system and sewage system infrastructure designs
  5. Celgar (Castlegar) agreed to sell all the underground electrical cable for a extreme salvage price of $2,500 (value 10 x that)
  6. School District 20 negotiated a $1,000 salvage price for a van load of doors, windows, cabinets and many other units
  7. Joe Podovinikoff continued providing welding services for all kinds of miscellaneous metal as required
  8. Russel Verigin and Alex Markin (retired from the Carpenters Union), both Journeymen Carpenters and retired Superintendents became Mentors for the first group of Carpenter Apprentices in 2003 for a period of two (2) months. They were paid $4,000 per month but donated the entire amount to the DHRS #1999
  9. Bill Penner was the first Manager at Whatshan. Although a relatively small amount was paid to Bill for the additional workload in administrating the construction in 2003 to 2005, Bill donated most of his services to Whatshan
  10. Larry Sapriken (retired from the Carpenters Union) supervised the drywall, insulation, and stucco work. He was paid a relatively small amount for accommodation as he spent most of the summers from 2003 through 2006 at Whatshan providing his expert trades advice to the Apprentices and then to the volunteers while working in the trade as well
  11. An agreement with School District 20 to attract Carpentry Apprentices in Grade 12 curriculum in 2003. This led to the training at Whatshan of:
    1. 15 students in 2003
    2. 10 students in 2004
    3. This was not a saving but provided some exposure to the Whatshan project
  12. Independent Contractors and Businesses of British Columbia (ICBA) for indenturing the SD 20 apprentices
  13. Mainstream Mechanical donated overhead and profit to supply materials and labor
  14. Intertech Constriction / Ocean Cement supplied another truckload of cement to Nakusp Redimix who supplied the concrete on these buildings
  15. Christine Faminoff was a Curator at the Doukhobor Village in Castlegar and became very interested and supportive of Whatshan Lake Retreat although to the writer’s knowledge she had never been able to visit the site. Christine lost her battle with cancer and the Administrators of her estate dedicated a perpetual fund of $37,000 to the DHRS #1999 through an investment in the Vancouver Foundation named the Christine Fominoff Foundation.
  16. Some other Donors
    1. Thorman Well Drilling $3,344
    2. DCA $500
    3. Bill Soukoroff

                                                              i.      First donation $2,500 while alive

                                                            ii.      Second donation of $3,500 posthumously

  1. Allan Morozoff $2,000
  2. Ron Ross P.Eng., donated at least $5,000 worth of Electrical Engineering

Construction took place with purchased building materials from Building Suppliers and subcontractors for this phase of the project although there still existed a great deal of donations of volunteer labor, materials and equipment.

I need to mention the “Name-Calling Committee” which was chaired by Violet Plotnikoff (deceased) who so ably created names for all the buildings rooms and streets. A bit of humor though, Whispering Pines may have been an oversight as there are no Pines near the building.

Management at the Whatshan Lake Retreat changed from Bill and Penny Penner to Evelyn Collins then in 2010 the current Managers, Lawrence and Colleen Marshall  began to manage the facility. The Society is very thankful for the dedication of all three (3) Managers and looks forward to a continuing relationship with the Marshalls.

J) Freedom Quest

Freedom Quest Regional Youth Services is has been created as an idea, by workers working in the field of Youth Drug and Alcohol Treatment, to provide assistance to Youth struggling with addictions. See more on their website www.freedomquestonline.ca

In 2005, Freedom Quest (FQ) approached the society for sponsorship of the Youth Drug & Alcohol Program in the Kootenays. This resulted in a DHRS #1999 contract #WKBMH 07_130 dated April 01, 2006, with Interior Health Authority (IHA) and staff offices in Nelson, Kaslo, Nakusp, Grand Forks, Trail, and Fruitvale with a Head Office in Castlegar. Part of this program includes taking selected groups to Whatshan where a “Low Level Ropes Course” has been created in a wilderness section of the property. This course trains people leadership skills as well as confidence and trust in “Team Building”. The course was built with direct funding from Allan Markin. This is now in the development stage as one of the attractions at Whatshan Lake Retreat to an extended public. Renovation of the Head Offices in Castlegar has also been funded by Allan Markin.

The DHRS #1999 is very pleased with being able to assist Freedom Quest in all its endeavours

(Please note that the FQ Program is a confidential arrangement between participant and FQ. This confidentiality is strictly maintained throughout the eight week routine. As a result of this program no other function can be operated at Whatshan when the premises are being used by FQ). Those of you who may feel interested to contact them directly at (250) 304 2676 or visit them at the Head Office at 349 Columbia Avenue, Castlegar, B.C. V1N 1G6

K) Current Programming at Whatshan Lake Retreat

The current level of programs projected for 2013 are as follows:

  1. Continuing DHRS #1999 programs through FQ
  2. DHRS #199 sponsorship of Wellness Clinics funded by Allan Marking in the S’ynergy Foundation
  3. Two weddings
  4. Christadelphians Bible Camps
  5. Russian Church Bible Camp
  6. Adoptive Family Camps
  7. German Russian Church Bible Camp
  8. Institute of Higher Learning Seminar
  9. Music Festival
  10. Quilters seminars
  11. IHA Seminar

Other programs are in the formulative stage of planning. Operating the “Low Level Ropes Course” is part of the objective plans. It is interesting to note that none of the above programs involve the Doukhobor community and perhaps the dedication ceremony in 1999 where the project was a “gift” from the Doukhobor community was prophetic?

The Ministry of Children and Families augment the FQ funding by IHA for specific programs within their scope. The FQ homeless program has had substantial yearly contributions from Allan Markin.

L) Phase III Development

Development plans are underway in 2013 with partial funding of $500,000 from Allan Markin to complete development of infrastructure and services by construction of:

  1. Telephone land line
  2. Reconstruction of the existing wood deck on the Retreat Building to an extended patio
  3. Replacement of single glazed windows on the Retreat Building with factory sealed windows
  4. Construction of an accommodation / office building for FQ
  5. Installation of another water well
  6. Provision of a fire pump and fire reservoir
  7. Provision of a propane emergency generator
  8. Fire hydrants and a fire suppression system
  9. Related other improvements
  10. Playground Equipment donation of $17,000 from Florence Markin
  11. Park Benches and Tables donation of $4,000 by the DCA

M) The DCA Donation

Perhaps the largest single donation occurred in January 23,  2013. The DCA donated the entire two (2) parcels of land to the DHRS #1999 for the nominal sum of $1.00. It is an unbelievable gift which exemplifies the DCA commitment to “service above self”. The aging members of the DCA felt that this gift would be the best tribute to their 45 years of continuous association.

N) Other Major Donations

There was need for contingency funding for the General Expenses for a new Management Plan initiated in 2010. Funding was received from:

  1. Allan Markin $25,000
  2. Florence Markin $20,000
  3. Peter Rezansoff $10,000
  4. Ed and Myrtle Remple $200
  5. Ehard and Irene Dallman $500

O) Writer’s Comments

In writing this story, I need to advise that neither organization nor individual asked me to do this task. I just felt that such an achievement by such a small group(s) as the DCA and later by DHRS #1999 deserved being recorded somewhere as  a testament to their genuine commitment to serve and make this world a better place as a result. That mission was conducted not that someone would praise them. The smiling faces of the Users were enough testaments for the Founders of the Whatshan Lake Retreat in the end analysis.

If I have missed acknowledging any person or firm for their assistance with this project, please accept my apology because it was difficult to record all this and most of this came from the Writer’s memory. Neither office staff nor established office was available in the beginning.

Should you have any additional information that will enhance this story, feel free to comment on my blog and I am sure the readers will appreciate same along with the original Writer. I feel very privileged to have worked alongside with so many great people and accepted the financial and material contributions from so many more.

The majority of these contributions were recorded on charitable tax receipts once the Doukhobor Heritage Retreat Society #1999 received its charitable tax status in 1999. Prior to that the names had been recorded and are within the files in the records office at Whatshan Retreat Offices. Thank you all!

Come see us for a dip in the Hippy Hole where many people dived from the cliff edge including Allan Markin.

DHRS #1999 Hippy Hole Whatshan Attraction 001

Should anyone reading this blog feel motivated to make a donation to a particular function, Freedom Quest or a Foundation in your name, you may send in your intent to my address at #145 – 4200 Grandview Drive, Castlegar, B.C. V1N 4X  or contact me by phone at (250) 304 26801 or by email at EMVerigin@shaw.ca. You may also contact the Treasurer, Lawrence Popoff, directly by mail at 714 – 10th Street, Castlegar, B.C. V1N 2H8, by phone at (250) 365 7729 or by email at lkpopoff@telus.net

Elmer Verigin

++++++++++++++++++++++++++END ++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 

Writing started February 03, 2013 as recollected by Elmer VeriginMost recent revision February 15, 2013

More information on the Whatshan Project may accessed at www.whatshan.com.

Permission to include donors names received from

  1. Allan Markin
  2. Florence Markin
  3. Peter Rezansoff

References were taken from:

  1. DCA Minute Book
  2. DCA Constitution
  3. DHRS #1999 Constitution
  4. DHRS #1999 extensive records at Whatshan Offices
  5. Lawrence and Kathy Popoff extensive files on Whatshan and their continuing contribution to content
  6. Marilyn Verigin in support and editing
  7. Lori Woodhouse in support and editing
  8. Ed Dergousoff in corrections