Foodie Town
Foodie Town Podcast
Podcast: Growing up in Canada's Little Russia

Podcast: Growing up in Canada's Little Russia

What I thought was a cult became a food & culture adventure that shaped the rest of my life...

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Transcript - Note, transcript may not be exact to recording.

Eating & Growing Up in Canada’s Little Russia

Welcome to the first episode of Foodie Town, I am your host and fellow foodie, Murissa.

A little bit about me. I am founder and writer of where my sister and I explore Canadian food scenes and write about our findings as well as our travels. We also have a YouTube channel where we are becoming known for our series called “24 Hours of eating in” exploring various cities like Richmond, Vernon and Vancouver. We’ve got a lot of fun upcoming episodes coming so if you’re subscribed to my substack, you’ll be notified of the articles and videos once they are released.

I live in the Okanagan wine region of British Columbia, Canada. I’ve always lived in BC having moved to 4 different cities. If you’re not familiar, BC is the West coast Canadian province the size of Washington, Oregon and California combined, yet BC only has a population similar to that of Los Angeles. I love it here. I love the mountains, the hiking, the wine regions of which there are 9 distinct regions.

  I’m a mom of two kids, one boy and girl. I work during the day in marketing and some sales for my family company that specializes with innovative and green friendly products in the flooring industry but by night I love to write, photograph and vlog. 

I can speak French, although not as fluently as I once did. I earned a double major in art history and creative writing at the university of British Columbia Okanagan campus.

This is actually my second podcast. If you’re interested in life in the Okanagan please find my sister and I at The Okanagan Food Show podcast on apple, Spotify as well as our instagram.

As for this podcast, I hope for it to be a dive into the food scenes we all know and love as well as discovering new places, culinary histories and interviews with authors who love food as much as I do. It will be filled with personal tales, discovery and always sharing what I consumed wherever I go.

For my first episode, this episode, it’s a culmination of my upbringing and my coping mechanism to find the good in any…well most situations. Much like a Quentin Tarantino movie, but without the extreme violence, the most difficult and interesting phases of my life have always had a dinner table present. One thing I appreciate about Tarantino movies are the scenes set around a dinner table and involvement of food to help build tension.

When I look back on the tenser times in my life, I would turn to food and not in an unhealthy way. I mean I would find joy in my life through food. I would escape through food.

When I was 13 I left the city of Prince George. If you’re not familiar, Prince George is kind of in the centre of British Columbia, specifically in the caribou region at the centre of BC. It’s a town where I spent 11 years of my childhood. It was my home. Prince George had a plethora of ethnic communities with incredible food. My mom had friends from Fiji, Jamaica, India, they met while working at a fantastic bakery called The Muffin Break which made the best chocolate chip muffins as well as a muffin topped with cream cheese and jam.

and so the food in my family’s kitchen was always good and at times a little spicy. Ouida, my mom’s friend we affectionately called aunty, would make dinner classics like sherpherd’s pie but use Jamaican flavours and my all time favourite dish, an incredible jerk chicken that simmered in gravy until fork tender. 

While visiting her friend Sneh in her home, my sister and I would play with her daughters until I would sneak away to the kitchen where my mom and her would be having coffee - I’d ask Sneh to make roti - almost a much thinner version of naan. She would whip it up quick with only a few ingredients then roll it out thin, lay it upon a warmed pan until it browned on either side. She’d put a pat of butter at the centre, roll it up and serve it to me warm. It’s one of my fondest food memories.

But in Prince George during the mid to late 90s I remember Canada Day being the best example of a food celebration where there would be rows of food stalls at Fort George Park. Lines of people ribboned between picnic blankets and tables. Greek, Italian, Indian, Jamaican, Chinese food, I don’t recall us ever getting a typical burger or hot dog as a kid on Canada day. It was always something foreign, something delicious. It was special to us.

I’m not sure if this kind of event still takes places in Prince George during Canada Day, let me know on our Substack comments or Instagram to which I will have a link in the description of this podcast.

But coming from this kind of inclusive environment to a much smaller town called Grand Forks was truly jarring to me as a then 13 year old leaving all my friends and the only home I knew. 

Grand Forks is located in southern British Columbia along the Washington border you can literally see where BC and Washington meet on the mountainside and river. It is beautiful set within a valley surrounded by mountains where two rivers intersect - the Granby and the Kettle River. And one of Canada’s warmest lakes, Christina Lake, is only a 15 minute drive away. Yes it was and still remains a beautiful area of British Columbia. But to my 13 year old self it was a dump purely because it was the unknown and new with a worrisome past…

The summer prior, or maybe it was the summer of my arrival, the High school had experienced attempted arson by a someone who identified as belonging to the Sons of Freedom, a radical faction of the otherwise peaceful  Doukhobor faith. Reducing it to what I knew as a teen, they believed in no possessions, no government run institutions particularly schools. Over the last 100 years they would be photographed and documented burning their belongings, their homes and be running naked with the flames surrounding them.

A bit of context, The Doukhobors are a small ethno-religious group from Russia that broke away from the Eastern Orthodox Church in the early 1700s. Leo Tolstoy was in full support of them and would write to the leader, Peter Verigin who commuted between the Canadian prairies to the Kootenay region of British Columbia where many Doukhobors still call home.

Fast forward to 2016, I would actually marry a desendant of the Doukhobors - we return to visit family who have a drawing of the Dourkhobors in full garb, working the land with Leo Tolstoy’s profile overseeing it all as if an omnipotent being. It’s still very surreal to see as we eat a creamy Russian Borscht with shaved slices of raw garlic swirling in the broth. The room where we sleep in the basement has a Doukhobor psalm called Be Devout framed hanging on the wall of my husband’s childhood bedroom. I always read as I dress in the morning or brush my teeth. I will read it to you now.

Be devout, trust in God. Love Him with all your heart. Be zealous towards His holy church. All His commandments sacredly revere and observe. Follow the path of virtue; shun all vice. Be prudent. Having in mind the end, always maintain the right perception of your means. Do not idly let go by an occasion for worthy deeds. Do not embark on any venture without careful deliberation, and in your reasoning, do not hurry. Be not tardy, except only under special circumstances and occasions. Do not believe everything you hear. Do not desire everything you see. Do not proceed to do everything you are able to. Do not proclaim everything you know, but only that which should be proclaimed. That which you do not know, do not affirm, nor deny; best of all - enquire; then wilt thou be discreet. Be temperate. Do not partake of food without hunger. Without thirst do not drink, and that only in small quantities when required. Avoid drunkenness as you would Hades. Intemperance begets sickness, sickness brings death. The abstemious live healthily and in continuous well being.

Be meek, not arrogant - keeping more to silence than to talkativeness. When someone is speaking - keep quiet. When someone is addressing you pay attention. When someone is relaying orders to you - fulfill them, and do not boast. Do not be obstinate, quarrelsome or vain. To all be affable, to none be a flatterer. Be thou, also, righteous. Do not desire anything belonging to others; do not steal, but in whatsoever you may have need seek it through your labour. In poverty ask for help; when it is given, accept it and be thankful. Whatsoever you may have borrowed - return; whatsoever you have promised - fulfill.

Be courageous, always willing to labour. Leave off all idleness and laziness. If you wish to start some project, mea­sure well your strength in advance, then proceed without letting up. In adversity, do not lose hope; in prosperity, do not morally deteriorate. Hold thriftiness in esteem. Keep careful observation of the different occurrences in life of inconstancy, misfortune and sorrow. Over that which the patient forbear, the fainthearted sigh, lament and wail. Be benevolent and gracious. Give to him that asketh of thee, if thou hast; help the poor, of thou canst. If anyone has hurt thee - forgive him; if thou hast hurt anyone - reconcile thyself with him. It is very commendable to refrain from holding grudges. Forgive the sinner; accede to the reconciler. If you yourself will love your fellow-man, you shall in turn be loved by all people. Be thou also obedient to elders, companionable to equals, and courteous to subordinates. Greet those whom you meet; return the greeting of those who greet you. To the enquirer, give answer; to the ignorant, give advice, to the sorrowing, give comfort. Do not envy anyone. Wish well to all.

Serve each and all, as much as you are able to. With your good deeds, you shall please all people. Your friends shall love you, and your enemies will not be able to hate you. Always speak the truth; never lie. Observe all this, and good fortune shall always be your lot.

Glory to God

Composed by Doukhobor leader Larion Pobirokin

Being a foodie who loves a good glass of wine I am a heathen under the lens of this psalm. Religion has always made me uncomfortable but reading this gives me a look into the past of where I grew up. Maybe a bit as to why it felt so foreign but then again that’s growing up.

There are varying degrees of Doukhobors as I would discover during my time there - some practicing the faith by just attending the church while others also taking it a step further with vegetarianism, pacifism, anti-war and some occupy a place called Gilpin where their land is not taxable and many Sons of Freedom lived. Depending on who you ask, those who are vegetarian and anti-war are more leaning towards the same values as the Sons of Freedom. Others may say, those are the values of a true Doukhobor. 

As I arrived all I knew was the fact that there were people who would burn their clothes and run around naked. My life was over. My new friends, if I were to be accepted at all, would be radical hippies who spoke Russian and didn’t eat burgers, Jamaican jerk patties or roti. This was true to a varying degree but little did I know these would be my people.

Now back to the food. Let me take you on a little food tour circa 2001 in Grand Forks.

There were only a handful of places to eat.

Stop 1: You could find what my family called sawdust burgers at the Tastie Treat, a fixture in the community since 1959. I should mention, when we would call them sawdust burgers in front of a local, you could tell it irked them. “Oh no, you don’t mean Sheila’s burgers?” My dad in particular meant that once you ate one you were still hungry immediately afterwards thus the burger was made with filler hence the sawdust reference.The Tastie Treat was sold shortly after the pandemic and so I am not sure the current state of affairs but as far as I know you can still eat there. My personal favourite were deep fried mushrooms that would burst in my mouth and burn until I sipped from my chocolate banana shake to cool it all down.

Stop 2: You could and still can find authentic Russian Doukhobor food at the Borscht Bowl. Pyrahi, Voreniki and of course, borscht are fixtures. Pyrahi are beautiful oval shaped tarts that are pinched at the centre then baked - the best ones leave a slight opening at the centre so you can take an educated guess as to what’s the filling inside. The best ones are made with dry cottage cheese but you can get beets, onion, baked beans, peas as well as sweet fillings. Pour melted butter over the top and you’ve got my favourite reason to be late for a class.

Vareniki is like a pierogi but the dough is thicker and now a days made with instant mashed potatoes. The fillings are also different and less potato oriented than the Ukrainian version. You’ll find cottage cheese, onion and cottage cheese, fruit filled, and so on. It is best served hot with melted butter and sour cream.

I mentioned a creamy borscht at my mother in laws. This is the typical borscht you’ll find in the Grand Forks area and some variation of it throughout the Kootenays. The Ukrainian version is without cream, the Doukhobor version with cream creating a orange rose colour with spots of orange oil that glistens the top. It is still a loose vegetable based soup - be sure to have fresh bread at your side.

Stop 3: Russian and classic diner fare at the Winnipeg Hotel - a spot that has since burned down due to arson - I don’t believe it was Sons of Freedom related as it was a popular drinking spot with a rough reputation.

Stop 4: Russian and diner fare at the Omega and Omega II located on opposite ends of town or a 2 minute drive from each other.

Stop 5: The Train Station Pub was a fixture for my parents. Our neighbourhood pub and restaurant. Classic pub fare, pull tabs and shuffle board and someone you didn’t want to see drunk awaited you in the bar. The restaurant offered booths and a quick hello to anyone you didn’t want to see before you sat down.

Stop 6: Baked goods, sandwiches and coffee at Robin’s Donuts, a once popular chain in BC that has since closed. My all time favourite were their ham and cheese buscuits or were they scones? Either way, so flaky and my go to quick lunch in grade 9.

Stop 7 or rather other chains: A Dairy Queen owned by a couple who despised the skate board culture in Grand Forks. No skateboarding in their parking lot!

A Panago Pizza that closed at 9 pm but the workers would stop answering the phones as early as 7 sometimes - this infuriated my dad. We were used to late night pizza at 11 pf if we chose to do so. As a kid, he and his brother owned a pizza shop in Regina that shall remain nameless. It was as you’d expect it to be with two kids under 27 making pizza and operating a business. But my dad to this day prides himself on a quality made pizza layered to perfection.

Stop 8: There was also The Shell gas station, now equipped with a Circle K, that served surprisingly good home made chocolate chip cookies and pepperoni sticks which was a foot long cheese bread with a pepperoni stick baked inside - a popular choice for the high school students located across the street.

Stop 9: Also across the street from the High school still stands a Chinese restaurant called Gilly’s where I experienced how dedicated my new Doukhobor friend was to her faith after she quickly regurgitated chicken chow mein she accidentally ingested from my to-go order.

Stop 10: Joga’s was and is a perfectly fine coffee shop where sandwiches were overflowing with veggies.

So coming from a city where various ethnicities were not only present in my every day life. but who’s food was represented to a place where the most ethnic food was a white washed Chinese food restaurant or Russian food. It was a shock.

It was an even bigger shock when I learned about the history of this valley and the violence. 

Once I started going to school it took some time to find my tribe. I was surprised to realize that I fit in better with the gals who identified as Doukhobor more so than the girls who didn’t. But I still didn’t quite fit in fully. Or at least I never thought so. Or maybe I never allowed myself to knowing as soon as I was capable I would leave this small town and never look back. Hard to do nowadays since I fell in love with a Doukhobor and return each year. Jokes on my younger self.

One final story of my coming of age in this strange small town.

One friend lived in the area of Gilpin, and if you recall, this is where many Sons of Freedom also lived. It’s a fair jaunt, about 13 kms, out of town following the base of a mountain, and the river crossing multiple train tracks and then suddenly a clearing. With a sign that said this is God’s Land (or something along those lines).

Some back story to Gilpin, it got its name from Ranulpf Robert Gilpin who was from Nova Scotia and created a ranch in the area in 1884. He later became a customs officer according to local historians. It wasn’t until In 1937, when the Sons of Freedom were released from the Piers Island Penitentiary which was an internment camp for convicted Sons of Freedom members who were becoming a nuisance to the Canadian government with their nude demonstrations and parades in the Kootenays. The Canadian Government and Doukhobors have a long standing tumultuous history where many of the faith, my high school friends included, believe it was the Canadian government who bombed Leo Tolstoy’s pen pal - Peter Verigin’s - train during a routine trip. To this day, the train explosion and his death just outside of Farron, BC in 1923. I found their conspiracy theories juicy and entertaining as an outsider.

Pictured above is the memorial, a stone depicting a shea off wheat, near where the explosion took place.

After being released the Sons of Freedom created a shanty village at Gilpin.

Visiting my friend at her home in Gilpin was an experience. I remember as we drove past the sign and into this compound, I was in the back seat with my friend, her grandmother  or baba as she referred to her, was in the front passenger seat. Her baba refused to speak English in front of me despite the fact that she could. She only spoke Russian. I was a pilgrim in an unholy land or perhaps to her a heretic in a Holy land? 

As we approached her home there was a man walking the dirt road and noticed me watching him. He flipped me the bird and stood there until I was out of sight on the long bumpy dirt road. Yup, I was definitely a heretic to these people.

Once we arrived I was astonished to find a home on the edge of the river bank built of wood and felt more like a cabin equipped with a dirt cellar they used to store canned foods and much of what I would put inside a fridge. The home had electricity as I recall even though it was so far from town and not technically on crown land.

The back yard looked like Eden. A mid-sized pond filled with fish, rose bushes and manicured flowers adorned the surrounding of the yard.

That night we would gossip while drinking home made fruit wines and I got sick in the bathroom. This would be my first and last visit to Gilpin. My dad picked me up, I’m not sure how he even found the place in the dark without street lights but thank goodness he did. I sat on my friend’s porch mortified, a dizzy drunk. As we drove home with my head hanging out the window taking in fresh cool night air, I swore off booze. Oh how wrong I would be. Yes, I made all the promises to myself as a teen and broke them all as an adult.

Sometimes, life works out better being unfaithful to yourself.

Today, Grand Forks is experiencing a great boom of local businesses. Many of my high school friends and acquaintances returned after graduation. You can find The Wooden Spoon across from the Borscht Bowl making incredible food. There’s also the Grand Forks Brewery and the Wing Man making poutines and wings.

My mother in lawn raves about Pascale’s bakery for her beautiful baked goods.

If you go I hope to hear about the best eats in Grand Forks! Tell us in the comments.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Foodie Town. 

You can find me on Instagram at @MurissaMauriceEats and on YouTube at Foodietownca or Lifeinwinecountry

*Much of this was written from memory which can be muddy.
Find historical articles and facts at the links in the description or the transcript on my substack

Important links:
Follow me on social media @MurissaMauriceEats

YouTube: Foodietownca and LifeinWineCountry

Important links:

Gilpin History:

Piers Island:

Death of Peter Verigin:

Be Devout Pslam:

CBC: New podcast spotlights rural B.C.'s Doukhobor community, legacy of sect's leader

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