Doukhobor Dugout House Unveils Monument Commemorating Oospenia Spring

For Immediate Release – July 11, 2007

In 1899, a group of Doukhobor immigrants from Russia reached the North Saskatchewan River in what was to become the Blaine Lake district of Saskatchewan. Weary from their thousand miles’ journey, they stopped alongside a cool, abundant spring on the west bank of the river. Finding it an ideal location for settlement, they established a dugout village there which they named Oospenia. In the years that followed, the spring was the lifeblood of the Doukhobor settlement.

Now, one hundred and eight years later, long after the abandonment of the village, the spring is the centrepiece of the Doukhobor Dugout House site, a provincial heritage site with historic buildings, cultural artefacts, live exhibits and guided tours depicting the history of the Oospenia Doukhobors.

Stone monument commemorating Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

On July 11, 2007, at its season opening ceremony, the Doukhobor Dugout House unveiled a stone monument commemorating the spring. The monument, made of 30’ x 18’ x 6’ native fieldstone, is engraved with the official name of the spring, “Oospenia Spring”, recently designated by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.  It will be positioned alongside the spring. 

The Honourable Eric Cline Q.C. (left) and Jonathan J. Kalmakoff (right) unveil the stone monument commemorating Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

The ceremony, presided over by keynote and motivational speaker Norm Rebin, was attended by over three hundred people. It opened with the Lord’s Prayer recited in Russian by Jeanette Stringer and in English by Brenda Cheveldayoff. On hand to present greetings were a number of dignitaries, including Dr. Margaret Kennedy, Heritage Foundation; Joe Chad, Tourism Saskatchewan; John Reban, Reeve, RM of Blaine Lake No. 434; Don Atchison, Mayor of Saskatoon; Denis Allchurch, MLA Rosthern-Shellbrook; the Honourable Eric Cline Q.C., Minister of Industry and Resources; Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, Doukhobor writer and historian; and the Honourable Lorne Calvert, Premier of Saskatchewan.

The monument was officially unveiled by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, who originally recommended the name “Oospenia Spring” to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, together with the Honourable Eric Cline, Q.C., who approved the name last year as Minister responsible for the Board.

Jonathan J. Kalmakoff addresses the crowd attending the Oospenia Spring monument unveiling. Photo by Donna Choppe. 

Kalmakoff paid tribute to the essential role of the spring in the early settlement history of the Doukhobors. “The Doukhobors of Oospenia had a direct and meaningful association with the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “Indeed, the spring was the primary reason they chose this location for their village. The spring nourished them, providing the settlers with a source of good, clean drinking water and a water source for their livestock and farming operations.”

Minister Cline commended the Doukhobor Dugout House for its preservation of Doukhobor heritage. “The story of the Doukhobors is an important chapter in the history of the Province,” said Minister Cline. “We are making sure that this part of our collective history is not forgotten. I am honoured to help inaugurate the monument commemorating Oospenia Spring and the Doukhobors who lived here.”

Members of the public enjoy a walkabout tour of the site following the ceremony. Photo by Donna Choppe.

The ceremony concluded with a keynote address by Norm Rebin about the “Value of Collective Memory”.  In his speech, Rebin celebrated changing societal attitudes towards the Doukhobors, their historic contribution to the settlement of Canada, and their place in the multicultural mosaic. “Our ancestors would weep,” said Rebin, “if they could see us gathered here today, in the spirit of good will and brotherhood.”  “This is a revelatory place. It shows how far the Doukhobors have come,” said Rebin, referring to the fact that Doukhobors once looked upon the government as oppressors but are now working hand in hand with them to restore the site.

A walkabout tour of the Doukhobor Dugout House site with costumed guides followed, along with a historic plough pulling re-enactment by twelve Doukhobor women belonging to the Saskatoon Doukhobor Society.  Refreshments, including Doukhobor bread and other traditional dishes, were also served.

Lorne Calvert, Premier of Saskatchewan (left) tours the Doukhobor Dugout House

site with Norm Rebin, Master of Ceremonies. Photo by Donna Choppe. 

Premier Calvert, who arrived just after the pulling of the plough, took a walkabout tour of the site before giving a short speech for those in attendance. He spoke of the hard work that goes into preserving a heritage site such as the Dugout House and the importance of such projects. “Without the good people that are doing this, this place would be lost,” said Premier Calvert.

The stone monument placed in the Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

For information or inquiries about Oospenia Spring and other on-site attractions, including group tours, special events, and hours of operation, contact the Doukhobor Dugout House web site at: http:/www.doukhobordugouthouse.com.