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A Brilliant place
Nineteenth in an approximately alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
Brilliant, at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers, was named in 1908 after Doukhobor leader Peter (Lordly) Verigin bought 2,700 acres of land there.
According to A.M. Evalenko in his 1913 Message of the Doukhobors, “The first [tract of land] we give the name of the Valley of Consolation, village of Brilliant, from a brilliant diamond of first water, on account of the great river Columbia flowing through the land ...”
Although near the Columbia, Brilliant is actually on the Kootenay, and Cominco Magazine in April 1963 suggested it was the “bright racing waters” of the latter river that suggested the name to local land owner Hiram B. Landis.
Harold Webber in People and Places (1973) wrote that Peter Verigin thought of naming the area Kavkaz, after the place in Russia where most Doukhobors had lived. Landis, however, “felt this would be wrong and advised against it. Verigin agreed and suggested Brilliant, from the brilliant, sparkling waters of the Kootenay River.”
A history of the Castlegar school district added: “Landis felt the foreign sounding name would always be mispronounced and would most likely carry a stigma to it.”
Jon Kalmakoff’s online Doukhobor Gazetteer says Verigin initially named the settlement Brilliant Chistoy Vody, before it was shortened to Brilliant. Retired UBC librarian Jack McIntosh says a literal, grammatically correct translation would be “Diamond of Clear Water.” “Historically, the phrase has been commonly used as a description of diamond quality, equivalent to Diamond of the First Water in English,” he says.
The Brilliant post office opened on November 1, 1908. The earliest newspaper reference came in the Trail News 20 days later: “The Doukhobor Society at Waterloo have their sawmill now in operation and houses are being erected … There is a post office there, the name being Brilliant.”
The paper consistently referred to the area as Waterloo, despite the fact the mining ghost town was actually several kilometers downstream. Today it’s considered part of lower Ootischenia. George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, in their book The Doukhobors, suggest that by choosing the name Brilliant, the pacifist group wanted to erase Waterloo’s military associations.
Brilliant was previously known by two other names: kp’itl’els was the Sinixt village located there. Its translation is unknown, but Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy write in Lakes Indian Ethnography (1985) that their contemporary informants believed it was related to “end of a mountain range” or “come to an end.”
Kp’itl’els was soon displaced by the Doukhobor settlement, although in 2009 a stone monument was dedicated on the flats to the last Sinixt family to live there (pictured at right).
In 1883, Osoyoos judge and land and cattle baron John Carmichael Haynes (1831-88) applied to buy the land at what’s now Brilliant and had a townsite surveyed called Haynesville, but nothing came of it. The plan was cancelled in 1913.
The Brilliant post office closed on September 8, 1970. Once the capital of Doukhobor industry, home to the Kootenay Columbia Preserving Works, Brilliant is today primarily a residential community, but also boasts the Brilliant dam, Brilliant Cultural Centre, Verigin Memorial Park, and Brilliant suspension bridge.
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the translation of Brilliant Chistoy Vody as Brilliant Shining Waters.)
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