One hundred forty-second in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
The Castlegar suburb of Ootischenia has one of two Doukhobor place names that remain widely used in West Kootenay (Krestova is the other).
The original form of the name, reportedly chosen by Peter (Lordly) Verigin was Dolina Uteshenaya, meaning “Valley of Consolation.” It was adopted soon after the Doukhobor migration to BC.
“Having forfeited their lands in Saskatchewan, this spacious and beautiful valley was to become their new place of refuge,” Jon Kalmakoff writes in his Doukhobor Gazetteer. “The valley, however, proved to be arid and unsuitable for agriculture without extensive irrigation, leading some to refer to it as Dolina Opustosheniye or the ‘valley of desolation.’”
The earliest known reference is in a letter in Russian held by Simon Fraser University, dated Jan. 15, 1909, which reads: “A letter from Dolina Uteshenaya from Peter Verigin to all the brothers and sisters of Christian Community. This is to inform you, brothers and sisters, that we have safely arrived in Dolina Uteshenaya …”
The earliest English transliteration yet discovered is in the Nelson Daily News of April 22, 1924: “Almost at the same time the two school houses in the Ootshenia colony became flaming masses.” Another spelling appeared in the same newspaper on Sept. 10, 1925: “Miss Mary Larsen is the teacher for the school actually at Brilliant and Miss A.B. Mackenzie the one at Ootchenia.”
Yet another variation appeared on Nov. 10 of the latter year: “These schools include five buildings, one each at Brilliant, Atischenia …”
In March 1932, newspapers reported on an explosion “in the Doukhobor settlement at Oteshenie.”
Other transliterations have included Ootisheniye and Ootischeniya. The BC Geographical Names office adopted Ootishenia on Dec. 6, 1951 but changed it to Ootischenia on March 5, 1959. That’s the spelling used today by the road, fire department, and landfill.
In the May 30, 1990 edition of Iskra, historian Bill Rozinkin suggested Ooteshenia as a more accurate transliteration.
“Today, instead of the original Ooteshenia, we have directories, telephone books, post office addresses and highway signs calling it Ootischenia,” he wrote.
“This is not correct. The name of the district or plateau is Ooteshenia, a Russian word meaning a place of consolation or solacement. The newly created word or name, Ootischenia, has no meaning, neither is it a word in the Russian or English vocabulary.
“The change in the name of Ooteshenia to Ootischenia first appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s during Freedomite terrorist attacks on Ooteshenia Doukhobor community settlements. These attacks attracted many news reporters from across Canada and the US. In their stories, some reporters spelt Ooteshenia correctly while others incorrectly called it Ootechenia and Ootischenia. Why the latter replaced the originally officially is hard to understand.”
While Rozinkin seemed to be correct about the source of the English spelling, he was off on the date. Ootischenia appeared as early as the Nelson Daily News of April 5, 1937: “Three guards were placed at other district schools — Crescent Valley, Tarrys, and Ootischenia, the last the scene of the lone bombing Sunday …” Additional examples of that spelling exist from 1939.
Ootischenia is also a 2006 song by The Be Good Tanyas — singer Frazey Ford grew up there. (Despite the title, the name doesn’t actually appear in the lyrics.)
For much more on Doukhobor place names around the world, visit doukhobor.org/gazetteer-intro.html.
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