Posts Tagged ‘sons of freedom doukhobors’

“Mountain Prison, known as "Buchenwald” to the Sons of Freedom Sect, is situated five miles northwest of Agassiz, B.C. in the Fraser Valley on a prison reserve of one hundred and fifty-eight acres. The prison itself is situated at the foot of Burnside Mountain overlooking fertile farm land and just north of a section of the Fraser Valley which suffered considerable flood damage in 1948.

Construction of this $300,000 maximum security prison commenced in May 1962 and the prison was in operation by July of the same year. All buildings, and their furnishings are metal on cement slabs. The male and female sections are separated by an eight foot barbed wire fence and the two sections are encircled by an eight-foot mesh fence.

The female section is comprised of a combination washroom and hospital, combination kitchen and mess, and one dormitory; is built to accommodate fifty inmates, and has a population of 13. This section is staffed by 9 matrons and supervised by the male administration.

The male compound consists of four dormitories, combination hospital and washroom, and a combination kitchen and dining area. This section is built to accommodate two hundred inmates, has a population of 86 and a total staff of 22.

All administration buildings, including male and female staff quarters, workshop, two-stall garage, stores, visiting room and officer, are constructed outside the perimeter mesh fence overlooking the prison compound.

Immediately after the prison was opened in July 1962, the staff was confronted with a display of stripping and nude parading followed by a fourteen-day fasting which the rebellious inmates would not even pick up their own bedding. All buildings in both compounds are equipped with old fashioned, pot-bellied, wood-fired stoves. The inmates are expected to cut the wood which is hauled in four foot lengths from the nearby Experimental Farm to be used for heating, cooking, etc. This is resented by the inmates who do not believe they should be doing any work. As a result of their attitude, it has been impossible to introduce a proper inmate training programs and, consequently, the inmates are not provided with newspapers, books, radios, tobacco or sports equipment.

The Freedomites prepare and cook their own meals which consist mainly of vegetables, eggs, cheese, etc., and contain no meat or meat products. The majority of them eat more than is required and consequently are over-weight and flabby. 

They are a communal sect and during visits between the two sections which are limited to one half-hour visit each month, their general topic of conversation pertains to discussions on the welfare of their relations.  These unpredictable people refuse to think as individuals and all requests and demands made upon the administration are made as a group. 

Almost  one  year to the day after Mountain Prison  commenced operations, and after many meetings and a prayer service  by  the  inmates, they requested to see the Superintendent.  The officer in charge  realized the precariousness  of the tense situation and contacted the Superintendent immediately, who returned to the prison from Victoria.  Upon his arrival all  the  inmates gathered around him and their declaration of a ‘fast unto death’ was read by one member. This was received in writing and was later to become  a  legal document.

The subsequent fast which began on July 21, 1963, and lasted one hundred and two days hospitalized ten inmates and resulted in the death of one Freedomite. On the advice of the attending physician, the staff  was forced to feed one hundred inmates for approximately two  and a  half months. Because of the limited staff force and acts of violence by some inmates, it was necessary to call upon  the parent  institution, a medical team, and a number of prevailing
rate employees for assistance.

A crucial time during the fast period came with the arrival of approximately seven hundred trekking Doukhobors from Vancouver  and the  interior of B.C. They arrived in cars, trucks, and  buses,  and set up camp at the east entrance to the prison, less than one-quarter of a mile  from  the prison compound. Visits and corresponding privileges with the inmates are not allowed and the trekkers, therefore, resorted to climbing the nearby mountains from where the shout and signal greetings to the inmates. 

Now with winter approaching, activity in the tent town has been brisk. Approximately one hundred and ninety of their crude shelters are being covered with wooden frames, cardboard  and  plastic,  or any  other material that can be gathered from the countryside and from the nearby garbage dump. They are gathering wood for heating and cooking on the makeshift stoves with pipes from old one-quart fruit  juice and oil cans.

Weekends find the road to Mountain Prison and "tent town" jammed with Canadian  and United States tourists seeking a glimpse of these poor confused renegades who have defied all the laws of our land. 

What happens next to this radical  sect is unknown.  The forthcoming winter, with its rainfall and winds which could reach a velocity of sixty miles an hour will, no doubt, test the will of the trekkers to remain at the gates of Mountain Prison.

One thing appears certain, unfortunately. The leaders of the Sons of  Freedom Doukhobor Sect will continue more vigorously than ever to rule the rest of the sect by terror, threat  and  indoctrination. They will continue to despise man-made laws, destroy property,  and  seek public sympathy. All for a cause which we — or  they themselves — cannot understand.”

– Superintendent Raymond Wilson, Mountain Institution, “Mountain Prison’s Fanatical Sons,” Federal Corrections. Volume 2A – No. 4. September-October-November 1963.

Photograph shows two elders of the Sons of Freedom

‘trekkers’ outside of Mountain Prison, in the Agassiz camp, protesting the death of an inmate on fast. Source is

Doukhobor Genealogy Website. From the private collection of the George Henry (“Timothy”) Eaton family, West Vancouver, British Columbia.

Read Full Post »

“Mountain Prison Near Agassiz, B.C. –
New Maximum Security, Fireproof Institution
Designed For Freedomite Doukhobor Inmates,” Federal Corrections.  Volume 2 — No. 3. June-July, 1962.

A new prison, especially designed to hold Sons
of Freedom Doukhobors sentenced to penitentiary
terms is now in operation. It is located approximately
five miles north of Agassiz, British Columbia.

Because of the fact that most of the convicted
Freedomites constitute a potential fire hazard, design
and construction of the new maximum security prison
has been made as fireproof as possible. 

Fireproof even to the paint, the new prison —
which has been officially named Mountain Prison —
has highly restrictive security features. 

To virtually eliminate any chance of fire or other
property damage, the dormitory buildings have been
constructed of metal, with concrete floors. Light fixtures
are high in the ceilings and are covered with
wire mesh. Windows are also grilled with heavy wire. 

In the dormitories, beds are double-decker steel
bunks, and stools are also of steel. Mattresses and
bedding are made of flameproof material. And, to
provide additional protection, oversize fire hydrants
are located at strategic points around the prison area
— outside the fences, so that inmates will not be able
to tamper with the water supply in any emergency.

In addition to these special security measures,

the prisoners will be under maximum security control.
As a maximum security establishment, the prison has
towers staffed with armed guards. Inmates will be
allowed only minimum privileges — a half-hour visit
once a month from members of their immediate families,
and permission to write only one letter a month.

Explaining the highly restrictive nature of the
$300,000 Mountain Prison, Allen J. MacLeod, Q.C.,
Federal Commissioner of Penitentiaries, said that it
was due to the nature of the Freedomite acts of

“In other institutions, we emphasize a work program
for inmates”, Mr. MacLeod said. “Remembering
past experiences, no such program has been planned

He pointed out that inmates who work are granted
such privileges as watching television, listening to
radio. playing carde. writing letters, playing baseball
and other sports. reading, and attending shows. Since
past experience has shown that the Freedomites refuse
to do any work while in prison they will receive only
minimum privileges. 

However. Mr. MacLeod said, if individuals or
the group as a whole ask to be allowed to participate
in a work program. and show a genuine willingness
to co-operate, consideration will be given to individual
transfers to the B.C. Penitentiary, or to establishment
of a work program at Mountain Prison itself.

Mountain Prison is on a 168-acre site, and has
accommodation for 250 men and 150 women, with a
fence separating male and female compounds. In
cases where a husband and wife are both inmates,
they will have their half-hour monthly visit in the
public visiting area. 

The Freedomites will sleep 40 to a dormitory.
They will cut their own firewood for their heating and
cooking needs, and will do their own cooking. They
will also maintain their own living quarters and do
their own laundry.

First inmates of Mountain Prison will be 49 convicted
Freedomites to be transferred from the British
Columbia federal penitentiary at New Westminster.
These will be followed by another 46 to be moved in
from other institutions in the province. 

Mountain Prison comes under the jurisdiction of
Warden T. H. Hall of B.C. Penitentiary. In charge
at the new prison itself will be Superintendent Raymond
A. Wilson. who has been with the Penitentiary
Service for 23 years, mostly in Saskatchewan. Under
him will be a staff of 22 men and 11 women.

Photos are from a latter date, late 1970s to early 80s, but showcase much of the still existing dormitory buildings and fence line – the workshop was a newer addition once the Doukhobors were mostly released by 1965.

Read Full Post »

“Fire fighting at Mountain Prison,” Discussion, Vol. 2, No. 4, 1974. 

Taking a fire prevention course at Mountain Prison B.C. is
restricted — arsonists don’t get a chance. That’s what C. M. Foster, supervisor of training, half jokingly pronounced when
describing the new program started last year. Staff and inmates
were invited to take part, 14 inmates volunteered. 

Fires were set and put out, all part of the course, and Ron
Tupper, works officer coordinated the event. “Inmates who
clean the dormitories and huts benefited from the training.
They’re inside most of the time and would be the first to take
action on a fire. 

"Although the buildings are metal, with painted wood
partitioning inside, it wouldn’t take long to gut a building,”
Tupper pointed out. 

Mountain Prison was opened in 1962 to house Sons of
Freedom Doukhobor’s convicted of arson, hence the all-metal

According to Tupper, “There’s usually only a skeleton staff
on duty in the evening, and not many during the day. Were
there a big fire inmates would be called out to help. A good
reason for fire fighting training. 

Inmates might also be called to fight brush and forest fires in
the surrounding bush, said Tupper. We try to meet all contingencies.
One-time guard, Vic Friesen of the Provincial
Fire Marshall’s Office set up the program, using equipment
available at Mountain. Instruction was a daily three-hour
session, with films, first aid, and practical training. 

Foster explained the program could assist inmates in finding
a job after release. A certificate, showing the course has
been taken, plus other tests, is required.”

Read Full Post »