At the village of Vasnisennie, a few miles west of Benito, a flour mill was constructed in 1904, to serve the seventeen villages of what is known as the Thunderhill or North Colony of the Doukhobors. Another was built at the village of Pavlova on NW 3-35-31.
The mill atVasnissenie was a two storied building set in the side of a hill which made it possible to deliver the grain for milling to the second floor.
Power was supplied by a large steam tractor, burning wood. Water was trenched from a small lake some distance away, to a well near the mill, from which it was pumped to the steam unit as required.
A schedule was arranged with the many Doukhobor villages, whereby each was alloted a certain time to deliver wheat for milling. Each village was also responsible for supplying the wood to be burned in the steamer. There was a saw combined with the mill used for cutting this wood into suitable lengths.
Three permanent workers were employed at the mill but people having milling done were required to assist handling the grain from the wagons and then again in bagging the flour, bran and other products. These permanent people were the engineer, fireman and miller. Bunk houses were built nearby to accommodate these workers and on occasion, customers getting milling done. Bad weather, too great a distance to make the return journey or the job not completed could have been reasons for an overnight stay.
Grain was delivered by the villagers in cotton bags holding about two and a half bushels. Each village had hand operated mills to clean the grain of weed seeds, chaff, etc., beforehand. Some washed and dried the grain by spreading it on large cloth sheets before it was bagged. The washing removed smut and other impurities in addition to improving the milling qualities by loosening the bran on the kernel. The wheat started through the mill from a hopper on the second floor. Bags were filled on the lower level with flour, bran, and other products of the milling process.
The grinding stones were made of a composition of stone fragments held together with a type of cement or glue, unlike most which were of one piece of natural stone. Their origin is uncertain but they may have been obtained through the Quakers, a religious group, that assisted the Doukhobors when they first came to Canada. (See, The Doukhobors- Separating Fact From Fancy). These stones were about forty inches in diameter and eight or ten inches thick. The lower was in a fixed horizontal position, while the upper stone rotated as the grain was ground. A six inch hole in the centre of the upper one, allowed the grain to enter the space between the two. Power was directed to the upper stone by a shaft which went through the lower stone and turned the top one. This shaft was driven by a cross shaft and gear system from below. Space between the stones were adjustable by a hand crank and used when milling barley and oats into coarser feed for livestock. From time to time the mill stones were removed and the grooves in them rechiseled to improve the grinding abilities of the mill.
Though the mill was the property of the whole Colony, a small charge was levied each village to defray costs of upkeep and provide a small wage for the permanent workers. Naturally, a larger amount was charged non-Doukhobor customers for milling.
The mill operated for five or six years successfully. The break up of the communal system and subsequent movement of two thirds of the Doukhobors to British Columbia brought about its eventual closing. At times people took their steam tractors for a short period to do a supply of flour, after which the mill would shut down again. By 1915 no more use was made of it.
In the South Colony, three miles south of the village of Verigin, at Blagodadmier, another interesting mill was constructed in 1902.
This was a hexagon shaped, wind powered mill, built of logs. A two storied structure, it had a base diameter of eighteen feet and was equipped with a four bladed fan. The arms of this fan were approximately fourteen feet across. The building had a solid timber floor which incorporated a most unusual feature. Six small wheels were spaced around to run in an iron ring on this solid platform, similar to a small railway track. The fan was not designed to tum in the wind but was fastened rigidly to the structure. When the wind changed, the complete mill was turned by five or six men pushing on poles placed in sockets at the base of the building for this specific purpose. Equipped with a brake the mill speed could be controlled in extremely windy weather. Most of the machinery of the mill was built of wood. Cogs, gears, shafts and other moving parts were made of hard wood.
This mill was not in operation very long when the railroad reached the town of Verigin. A large commercial type mill was built there and at Yorkton to serve the many people of the South Colony. Verigin had become the centre of the Doukhobor community complete with elevator, stores, and of course was the headquarters of Peter Verigin, the Spiritual Leader of this group of enterprising and hardy people.