A New Beginning…

by Annie B. Barnes

The following vignette offers a glimpse of the inner voices of Doukhobor women who until now have not had a chance to reveal their societal worth as homemakers and career people. Reproduced with permission from Annie B. Barnes, “Doukhobor Women in the Twentieth Century” in Tarasoff, Koozma J. (compiler and editor). Spirit Wrestlers Voices. Honouring Doukhobors on the Centenary of their migration to Canada in 1899 (Ottawa: Legas, 1998).

The S.S. Lake Huron steams towards Grosse Isle, the “Quarentine Island” in Quebec on 21 June 1899. The girl’s hands grip the ship’s rail tightly. Twenty-seven days earlier she left the port of Batum on the Black Sea. Her home in the village of Terpeniye in Kars province is a world behind her. A strange land lies ahead. 

What promise does it hold for this thirteen-year old Doukhobor girl? The immediate future will mean an additional twenty-seven days in quarantine becaue of a smallpox outbreak during the voyage. She looks for reassurance from her mother beside her: are they really in Canada?

Doukhobor Immigrant family, 1899

The future will be living with a Mennonite family in Manitoba where her father and older brothers find work. It will be some time before they can proceed to the village of Nadezhda in the South Colony of the North-West Territories (now the province of Saskatchewan). While living with the Mennonites, Annie will spend only one glorious day at school with her brothers. Despite her tearful pleas to remain, despite the urging of her Mennonite teacher, she will stay at home. She is needed to gather wheat kernels in the field and to knit woolen stockings for her father and brothers for the winter. Her father says girls do not need to go to school. The future holds no opportunity to learn to read or write.

The future will be marraige at eighteen years of age, formalized only by receiving the blessing of both sets of parents. She will give birth to five children at home and strive to allow each one of them some formal education. There will be many years of hard work on the farm, the death of a son and a husband within a four-year period, and finally a peaceful ending to her life on 17 April 1964.

The girl at the ship’s rail was Annie (Hlookoff) Zarchikoff. The Hlookoffs and their six children were on the last of the four ships that brought approximately 7,500 Doukhobors to Canada, of which only a fifth were male. Over 12,000 remained in Tsarist Russia.

In 1990 Annie’s great-great-granddaughter, Hannah Barnes, was born in a modern hospital in Edmonton, Alberta. Vaccination programmes had eliminated the scourge of smallpox. She lives with her parents and brother in a condominium and has a library of picture-books and videos. She attends school and ballet classes and education is certain. She travels by car and jet airplane. Doukhobor history is a pleasant folk-tale related by her Baba. Her future seems secure. But her parents worry about the escalating violence in city schools, the immorality and the growing crime element. They plan to eventually flee the pressure and pollution of the big city. They, like the Hlookoffs nearly a hundred years ago, want a better future for their children.

Every Doukhobor woman today has an ancestor who felt the biting lead tip of the Cossack whip and who had the courage to leave a homeland of persecution. The ancestors believed that freedom from having to bear arms against a fellow human being and right to worship in their own way would be worth the unknown hardships they would have to endure.