Over its long history, Nanaimo has seen the arrival and settlement of countless groups of people from both far and wide. But none caused more controversy than that of a small group of Doukhobors who moved to the area in 1946.
The Doukhobors were a religious group that immigrated to Canada after facing persecution for their beliefs in their homeland of Russia. In 1899, more than 7,500 Doukhobors travelled to Canada, originally settling in Saskatchewan, and after in the Kootenays where they established self-contained communities built on farming and a communal way of living. Although for the most part a peaceful society, a small radical group of Doukhobors revolted against Canadian authorities during the 1920s. Using violent protests, they burned schools and other public buildings, giving the entire Doukhobor population a bad reputation throughout the province.
So in 1946, when some 200 Doukhobor colonists arrived on the island to set up a new community near Qualicum Beach, it set off a storm of controversy and made many Islanders nervous. Rumours of a possible migration of thousands more Doukhobors to the area created panic and even caused real estate values in the area to drop.
In reality though, during the course of its existence, the Hilliers colony was peaceful and mild-mannered. They worked hard clearing, planting and building on their large piece of land, eventually building a sawmill, homes, a dining hall and school. They also planted hundreds of fruit trees and cultivated thousands of strawberry plants and raspberry bushes along with large vegetable gardens. In 1951, the group’s leader died and shortly after the Hillier colony became a ghost town, with the last of members disappearing almost as mysteriously as they arrived.