Ethnicity and the Prairie Environment: Patterns of Old Colony Mennonite and Doukhobor Settlement

by Carl J. Tracie

In the agricultural settlement of the Canadian west, two ethnic groups that merit special study are the Old Colony Mennonites and the Doukhobors. Both came in groups large enough to warrant the government allowing them to settle en bloc, and both molded the natural landscape into a truly distinctive cultural landscape. This paper examines the interaction between both of these groups and the environments in which they settled, considering on one hand, the impact of variations in the settlers’ customs, beliefs and values on their location in, and organization of space, and on the other hand, the physical and social environment which influenced settlement decision making. Reproduced by permission from “Man and Nature on the Prairies” by Richard Allen, editor, (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1976).

In view of the current increasing interest in the history and culture of a wide variety of ethnic and religious groups, geographers have an increased responsibility in providing information and analysis from the geographic perspective. For the rural settlement geographer these concerns revolve around the interaction between the settler and the environment, and the expression of this interaction in the process of settlement and in the patterns of settlement produced. One must consider on the one hand the impact of variations in the settlers’ customs, beliefs and values on their location in, and organization of, space, and on the other, the physical and social environment which influenced settlement decision-making. Much has been made of the action of man in molding a variety of “natural” landscapes into distinctive cultural landscapes. In the agricultural settlement of the Canadian west, however, of the many groups participating in creating a mosaic of ethnic communities, each distinct in varying ways, few created truly unique cultural landscapes. Of particular interest, then, are those groups whose size and desirability allowed them to extract certain concessions from the government which allowed them to give expressions to their beliefs and practices in the landscape they produced.

Two such groups were the Old Colony Mennonites and the Doukhobors. Both came in groups large enough to warrant the government allowing them to settle en bloc, and both began to mold the natural landscape into a distinctive cultural landscape. Their adjacent location in Russia and some similarity in belief also allow a comparison of the influence of these factors on the initiation, maintenance or decline of the unique aspects of their settlement.

It is the purpose of this paper to describe briefly the initiation and development of the distinctive settlements of these groups and to follow this with an analysis of the varying interactions between the groups and the new environment they encountered. The emphasis on the factors involved in the interaction between the group and the environment and on the nature of this interaction is seen to be valuable not only in understanding the process of Doukhobor and Mennonite settlement, but in providing stimulus and possible direction for the study of other ethnic or religious groups.

The Old Colony Mennonites

The fortuitous coincidence of a desire for emigration on the part of the Russian Mennonites, brought to a head by threatened compulsory military conscription and growing numbers of landless members, and the desire for large groups of settlers to occupy the empty lands of the Canadian west on the part of the Canadian government resulted in the movement to Manitoba of some 7,000 Mennonites between 1874 and 1881. They came under special conditions to special reserves set aside for their sole use, and under a special amendment to the Dominion Lands Act, were allowed to maintain their traditional form of settlement. Initially, one reserve was set aside for them in Manitoba (the East reserve) consisting of eight townships. Additional reserves were set aside in 1876 (the West Reserve) 1895 (the Rosthern reserve) and 1904 (the Swift Current reserve). (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Location of the Mennonite Reserves.

Under the special provisions of the Hamlet Clause of the Dominion Lands Act, the Mennonites were allowed to recreate the agricultural village type of settlement in this new environment. The major characteristics of this type of settlement were the street-village (Strassendorf) and the open-field system of farming. The village was composed of farmsteads on their 2-3 acre rectangular lots facing one another across a broad central street, creating a distinctive agglomerated but elongated settlement in the midst of the village land. The farm system consisted of a pooling of the individual quarters of land held by the village occupants, and the subdivision of these pooled lands or Flur into several large fields (Gewanne) of similar land quality, and the further subdivision of these fields into strips (Kagel), the number of strips in each field corresponding to the number of families or landholders in the village. This too created distinctive patterns in the landscape although the marks of this system are seen only faintly today in some of the best preserved sites. In the East reserve, the “model” form of the street-village was disrupted by the physical environment so that many of the villages were oriented at odd angles and many had only a single row of farmsteads facing the street. In the remainder of the reserves, however, most of the villages were cardinally oriented and consisted of the traditional double row of farmsteads (see Figure 2). Fifty-eight villages were established in the East reserve, 65 in the West reserve, 17 in the Rosthern reserve and 15 in the Swift Current reserve, although not all the villages were occupied at any one time.

Figure 2. Neuenlage Village Plan (1895), Rosthern Reserve.

Another distinctive feature of the Mennonite settlements were the connected house-barn combinations, here fabricated in wood rather than the more common brick or stone of Russia. These units consisted of the dwelling and barn either built under one roof, or attached with or without a connecting passageway in a variety of orientations (see Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Mennonite House-barn combination.  Letkemann brothers’ farmstead, Hochfeldt (Rosthern Reserve).

Figure 4. Mennonite House-barn combination. Southwest of Hague (Rosthern Reserve).

In the more recently-settled reserves of Saskatchewan the form and style of the village settlement has persisted to the present, although there are no evidences remaining of the open-field system in the landscape, and the distinctive house-barn combinations are being dismantled or detached rather rapidly (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Mennonite house-barn combination being dismantled, Neuhorst (Rosthern Reserve).

The Doukhobors

The Doukhobors were an immigrant group quite similar in many respects to the Mennonites. Before their removal to the Caucasus, they lived in the same area of south Russia as the Mennonites; they lived in similar settlements; and they were brought to a decision to emigrate by persecution arising from their refusal to bear arms. As the Canadian government was attempting to fill the still-empty lands west of Manitoba, concessions were again negotiated to attract this large group of proven agriculturalists to the west. The concessions granted to the Doukhobors were broadly similar to those granted to the Mennonites: reserved land, exemption from military duty and a re-application of the Hamlet Clause which allowed them to settle in villages. The agreement under which the Doukhobors came was not, unfortunately, spelled out in detail, and the vagueness of the conditions and misunderstandings on both sides, especially in the matter of land regulations, were to have significant ramifications for the success of the settlements they created.

Figure 6. Location of the Doukhobor Reserves.

Negotiations between the government and the Doukhobor representatives were completed in 1898, and in the first six months of 1899 approximately 7400 Doukhobors emigrated to Canada. Their final destination was three blocks of land which had been reserved for their sole use; the North or Thunder Hill Reserve, the South Reserve (with annex), and the Prince Albert or Saskatchewan Reserve (see Figure 6). Over the next decade, 63 villages were constructed by the Doukhobors in the three reserves, although, as with the Mennonites, not all were inhabited at any one time. The form of these villages was very similar to that of the Mennonites, based on the street-village that was a common heritage. There were more variations from the traditional model among the Doukhobors however, in the orientation of the villages, lot size, building placement on the lots, and in regularity of form. (See Figures 7-9.)

Figure 7. Doukhobor village of Bogdanovka (Prince Albert Reserve) (from the original village plan, Saskatchewan Archives Board.

The communal system of farming practiced by the Doukhobors with their large undivided fields produced a cultivated landscape differing from both the strip fields of the Mennonites and the isolated, small fields of the individual settler.

The structures erected by the Doukhobors were also distinctive in form and detail. The traditional pattern brought from Russia was modified initially by the availability of building materials but the permanent dwellings and larger structures exhibited considerable stylistic uniformity. (See Figures 10, 11.)

“In architecture, as in other instances, they [Doukhobors] are as yet absolutely insensible to Western influences. Their houses, built on either side of a wide street, are of unsawn timbers covered with clay, painted white and ornamented with yellow dados. The rooftops project and form verandahs ornamented with carved woodwork… They intend when they become more prosperous to replace these exotic-looking buildings with larger ones of stone.

The village – when I presently arrived at it – proved a surprising place, with strange, foreign-looking and picturesque houses having walls plastered with mud, but with a note of distinction in the disposition of the timbering, in the shaping of the windows, and in the gable ends of the heavy vegetating roofs. Moreover, the eye was grateful for variations of detail in the several structures, no two being exactly alike, though all were affected by common principles of structure and design – all, at least, save a central meeting-place in prim brickwork, which was a civilized eyesore in that setting of primitive architecture.”

Although the form of the village has been eradicated almost completely, a few remaining isolated structures give witness to the distinctive settlements created 75 years ago. (See Figure 12.)

Group-Environmental Interaction: The Group

Having briefly sketched the major elements of the cultural landscapes of these two groups I would like to consider some of the elements of the interaction between the group and their new environment in more detail. This discussion is designed to clarify the operation of several group and environmental factors in the initiation, development and decline of these distinctive cultural landscapes.

Those factors considered under the heading of the group revolve around the common beliefs, practices and values of an ethnic/religious group which have found expression in the form and pattern of their settlement. For example, the choice of the location for the reserves may be explained in terms of the varying perceptions of these groups as to what constituted desirable land and a desirable location. A common explanation for the varying perceptions of what is “desirable” land hinges on similarities in the landscape of the new land and the former homeland, that is, the settler or group will choose land that they perceive as similar to the land they have left. This explanation not only recognizes the impact of a psychological element in the decision-making process (i.e. familiarity, at-homeness) but also the hard economic fact that experience gained in a similar environment will allow the settler to “control” his new environment more effectively. It is tempting to explain the location of the first Mennonite reserves in the same way. Having become accustomed to the steppes of southern Russia, and knowing “how to strike living water from level ground, how to build comfortable huts and how to heat them, too, without a stick of wood” and “how to plant shelter belts for protection against the icy winds of the northern plains,” what more natural conclusion than that of the Mennonites seeking a similar environment in the Canadian west, thus choosing prairie lands in southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan?

Figure 8. Doukhobor village of Blagoveshcheniye (South Reserve) (from the original village plan, Saskatchewan Archives Board.

There are at least two problems with such explanations however. First, there is the possibility that the choice of similar land may have been made for entirely different reasons, or at least that these other reasons may have been dominant. Considering the traditional desire of the Mennonites to avoid contamination by the “world” it seems reasonable to suggest that the prairie lands of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan were chosen for their isolation as much as for their similarity to the homeland. The correspondence relating to the choice of land south of Swift Current appears to indicate that the Mennonites deliberately chose poor land so they would not be bothered by the pressure of expanding settlement into the area. The choice of land in the Rosthern reserve and in other areas (e.g. La Crete, Alberta) seem to lend weight to the proposal as in both areas the wooded environment was unlike the previous location yet both were isolated from the main body of settlement at the time they were chosen.

A second problem with the general application of this explanation is that there is evidence to suggest that some groups, rather than choosing lands with environmental problems with which they were familiar, decided to eliminate some of the problems by choosing lands that supplied some of the deficiencies of the homeland. In the case of the Doukhobors, the desire for land with a good water supply and timber to build with was accentuated by the fact that in their former location, timber was scarce. Far from seeking a similar environment, then, they deliberately sought one that was quite different.

The actual settlement form and pattern within the reserves most clearly indicate the impact of the group’s traditions, beliefs and practices however. Both groups demanded large contiguous tracts of land where they could settle in compact units free from the fragmentation of their holdings by outsiders. As noted above, the settlement unit was the farm village, the basic form of which was transferred to Canada from Russia. On the part of the Mennonites, the retention of this form in their new environment appears to have rested in their traditional resistance to change, and the desire to retain a form of settlement which would facilitate cooperation and administration. They had utilized this method of settlement successfully for almost 100 years in Russia; to maintain this form in the new environment was clearly desirable. The Doukhobors were much more strictly bound to a village type of settlement. Not only was the street-village traditional, but some form of compact settlement was essential in their adherence to the religious principle of communal life. Peter Verigin, their spiritual leader, established the framework for the new settlements by noting that they should be on a communal foundation and that the villages should be built “on the customary plan that you so well know.”

Whereas tradition and belief reinforced each other in the matter of settlement form, especially in the case of the Doukhobors, their influence on the individual elements of the settlements often took different directions. The connected house-barn was the traditional farmstead unit for both Mennonites and Doukhobors, yet the Mennonites recreated this form almost without exception in their villages, while only a few Doukhobor villages retained this form. Among the Mennonites there was no tension between tradition and belief; it had been their custom to erect structures of this sort and their beliefs and practices did not demand a change in this tradition in the new environment. With the Doukhobors however a recent change from an individualistic to a communistic way of life based on a spiritual directive from their leader demanded a change from the traditional form. According to the instructions given by Verigin, “the absolute necessities like cattle, plows, and other implements as well as granaries and storehouses, grist mills, oil presses, blacksmith shops and woodworking shops, all these in the first years must be built by communal effort.” Crops and livestock, being communal property, were to be stored and housed in communal buildings. Consequently those villages heeding this admonition had no need for individual barns, attached or otherwise; only large communal barns and storehouses were built. In the villages of the Prince Albert colony, where it appears that the people viewed Verigin as somewhat less than a “living Christ,” the traditional attached house-barn combinations were the norm as crops and livestock were owned individually. These differences in belief also affected the interior arrangement of the villages. Village plans show a form organized around the central position of several large communal buildings in the eastern villages, but the Prince Albert colony villages appear to be more regular in plan with buildings uniform in size and orientation (see Figures 7 and 8).

Figure 9. Doukhobor village of Utesheniye (Devil’s Lake Annex) (from the original village plan, Saskatchewan Archives Board.

The basic distinction between the individualism of the Mennonites and the communalism of the Doukhobors reinforced or weakened the influence of tradition in the built landscape. These differences also gave rise to distinctive cultivated landscapes. Both groups pooled their individual land allotments on a village basis to create a “super-farm” which was then divided according to the desires of the group. Being individualistic, the Mennonites allotted each family its fair share in each of the large fields created, thus giving rise to a distinctive strip pattern. The communal Doukhobors recognized no individual land ownership so the large fields remained undivided and were farmed as one unit. Again both systems reflected the religious beliefs of the group. Although the pooling of land was voluntary with the Mennonites and was designed primarily to foster social cohesion, Francis has pointed out that it would have been impossible to retain such a system in the absence of sanctions having a distinctly religious connotation.

These groups’ beliefs, particularly in the matter of land tenure, were to bring about inter-group conflicts, and with the Doukhobors, conflicts with the government. In both cases, these difficulties brought about modification and sometimes complete eradication of original settlement patterns. The Mennonites had no religious qualms about individual ownership of land, or about pledging allegiance to the Crown, so there was no problem in registering and obtaining patents for individual quarter sections of land. They were only concerned with retaining the village form of agricultural settlement, which they were able to do by voluntary means within the framework of existing land policy. This latter was no problem during the initial years of settlement in Manitoba, but it was not long before economic advantage outweighed religious considerations in the eyes of some Mennonites, particularly those who had title to excellent arable land. Since the land was legally held under individual title, those wishing to sacrifice group approval for individual gain were not hindered legally in claiming their own land. Only a few such cases in a village seriously disrupted the whole functioning unit and the conservatives were forced to look elsewhere for land if they wished to persist in this type of settlement. The village type of settlement was abandoned fairly rapidly, then, depleted by individualists taking up their own land, and by the removal of the most conservative members who were forced to move elsewhere to recreate a similar system. On the other hand, the conservatives who moved into Saskatchewan to form the Rosthern and Swift Current colonies were able by a very early abandonment of the open-field system to retain the village form of settlement which they viewed as essential to their way of life. As a result of this successful compromise, the Strassendorfer persist in the landscape to the present, and in a few cases at least, appear to remain a viable form of settlement.

The religious views of the Doukhobors regarding communal ownership of land brought them into immediate conflict with government land policy which was designed around individual ownership. The Doukhobors at first refused even to apply for entry to the land which they were occupying. However when Verigin came to Canada in late 1902, he modified his previous instructions, suggesting that registration itself was only a formality; what was important was that they operate communally. This tactic delayed confrontation with the government for a few years. Most Doukhobors registered for their land individually, but farmed the land communally. When expanding settlement forced the government to take a closer look at the cultivation duties performed by the Doukhobors a decision was made to require cultivation duties on each quarter section of land or the homestead entries would be cancelled. Under this increasing pressure from the government many moved from their village residences to take up residence on their own land. When it became apparent that obtaining title to their land individually not only was a necessity but involved pledging allegiance to the Crown (which also was against their religious convictions as they did not recognize any earthly authority), the communal Doukhobors faced the same decision as had the conservative Mennonites in Manitoba. They had to choose either to abandon their beliefs or move elsewhere to preserve them. They chose to move to purchased privately-owned land in British Columbia.

Figure 10. Doukhobor village near Veregin, Saskatchewan (early 1900’s).  Uniformity of style is apparent in the dwellings of this village. A departure is seen in the larger, communal structures near the center of the village. Glenbow Archives.

We see then the same elements at work in the deterioration of the village settlements among the Doukhobors as among the Manitoba Mennonites. The more liberal members moved onto their own land; the conservatives were forced to move to retain their religious integrity. The result was the very rapid disappearance of the Strassendorfer. That this eradication was so complete rests on the fact that there was no compromise available. The Independents had in the main moved onto their own land before the communal Doukhobors left. For their part, the communal Doukhobors, under the existing land regulations, had no choice but to move to a new area. Consequently, there was no residue left in most of the villages to maintain them and they were very quickly dismantled or left to deteriorate. A potential exception to this pattern could have been the Prince Albert colony. They were the most individualistic, and were cooperative rather than communal in their agricultural system. They established villages on the traditional plan, and there seems to have been no reason why they could not have continued this form of settlement while farming their land individually. A possible reason is suggested by one of the members of the present Blaine Lake community. Quite a number of the members of the Prince Albert colony were attracted to the communal way of life, or more particularly, to the person of Peter Verigin, when he came to Canada in 1902. These people left their villages and moved to the eastern colonies “to be with Petushka.” They were very poorly treated by the Doukhobors there, presumably since they were regarded as “bad brothers” who had initially abandoned Peter’s command regarding communal ownership of land. Many of these returned to the Prince Albert colony with such a distaste for anything smacking of the communal life, that they forthwith abandoned the village type of settlement since it reminded them of the constrictions of communal life.

Group-Environment Interaction: The Environment

The environment, both physical and social, which the Doukhobors confronted also had considerable influence on the development and decline of distinctive settlement patterns created by these groups. The role of the physical environment has been alluded to above. Certain aspects of the landscape – vegetation, drainage, etc. – comprised the elements which were perceived and assessed in various ways according to the background beliefs and desires of the group. The Mennonites appeared to be drawn to the grassland areas of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan either because they were regarded as familiar and manageable or because they were regarded as a surrogate for isolation. The Doukhobors, too, sought for certain physical elements in the land they were to occupy, e.g., timber, water, etc., although they seem to have been more concerned with the immediate advantages of such features. In both cases then, but apparently for different reasons, each group was drawn to a certain kind of “natural” landscape.

The impact of the physical environment is apparent more clearly on variations in the pattern of settlement. Both the pattern and form of Mennonite settlements of the East reserve were modified by variations in topography, vegetation and drainage. The villages tended to be less regular in form, as noted above, the site often allowing the development of only a single row of farmsteads along the street, rather than the more traditional double row. Many of the villages were oriented along streams or beach ridges as well. The field pattern was also fragmented; good and poor land were interspersed throughout the reserve, and fields tended to be fragmented by areas of unproductive land. This situation also resulted in a somewhat more irregular distribution of settlements within the reserve as great care had to be taken to choose a village site which was central to a sufficient amount of arable land to support the village population. Some villages were abandoned owing to an unwise choice of site with respect to the surrounding land. In the West reserve however, where land was more uniform both in quality and terrain, the villages were more uniformly distributed, more regular in the recreation of the traditional form, and most exhibiting a cardinal orientation.

The Doukhobor villages were affected by the physical environment in a similar way, particularly in the orientation of the villages to lakes and streams. It appears from the village plans that certain modifications in the form of some of the villages were made as a result of local site conditions, although a detailed study of the village sites with the plans in hand would be required to detail this observation.

Figure 11. House being erected by Doukhobors just outside their village near Canora, c. 1906. From what can be ascertained from contemporary evidence and surviving structures, this is the style employed by the Doukhobors of eastern Saskatchewan for their prayer homes, larger communal structures and many dwellings. Glenbow Archives.

A major component of the general environment to which these groups came was the social milieu; the attitudes of both public and government toward these newcomers. Society in general appears to have accepted the Mennonites at face value; different, but valuable as agriculturalists and settlers. There was not too much about them to raise resentment except possibly their pacifism and their desire to maintain their own educational system, but these did not assume importance until much later. The government had no cause for concern. The Mennonites were law abiding, responsible citizens and were positively regarded as successful and innovative farmers, models to be set up before intending settlers, in much the same way as they had been in Russia. In the main, then, the social environment seems to have had little impact on their initial settlements – they were left to pursue their own ends.

Doukhobor settlement, on the other hand, was influenced by public opinion and government policy from the outset. Although the influence of physical factors in the choice of reserve land has been noted above, the actual location of land having these components was directly related to the social climate of the time. Aylmer Maude, an Englishman who acted as an interpreter for the Doukhobor delegation, detailed the matter:

“The conditions of the problem were these: the Doukhobors wished to settle as a compact community, with lands as much as possible together… Other important considerations in selecting the land were: to secure a good water supply, and timber to build with, and not to be too far from a railway… The first locality we inspected was in the district near Edmonton… A most promising location not far from Beaver Lake was selected where we wished to take up twelve “townships” of thirty-six square miles each, and where the whole Doukhobor community might have settled contiguously. But, after our return to Ottawa, this arrangement was upset… The Liberal Government was making efforts to find immigrants to take up the unoccupied land of the North-West Territories; so the Conservative Opposition was ready and eager to note and exaggerate everything unfavourable about such immigrants and to use, as a weapon wherewith to attack the Government, any prejudice that could be aroused against them As a result, an opposition to the location of the Doukhobors in the Edmonton district sprang up; pressure was brought to bear on the Government, and, when we thought all had been favourably settled, we learnt that we could not have the land we had selected. The search had to be recommenced in other, less tempting, parts of the country.

Instead of this favourable location for the reserve being chosen, attention was directed to other areas where physical conditions were untested, and were therefore mainly unsettled. These locations were far enough from the main body of settlement not to arouse local dissatisfaction. Concern was also expressed in the Senate about the impact of the placement of the Doukhobors on subsequent settlement. The Honourable Mr. Boulton (Marquette) said, “… that we should go to enormous expense to bring foreigners in and place them on the soil, leaving the odd numbered sections of land between them, so that our own people cannot settle in among them or perhaps will not be made comfortable to settle among them … is a mistake.”

The public’s view as to what constituted an acceptable social distance between them and foreign immigrants appears to have been related to how “foreign” they were perceived to be. The Doukhobors, with their strange clothing and practices, were perceived to be very foreign indeed. The press labelled them as “Sifton’s pets” and one outspoken member of the Senate referred to them as “the refuse of Russia.” Society, already alarmed at the prospect of the West becoming dominated by “foreigners” at the “expense of the more desirable British, Canadian, and American settlers, wanted these strange people as far away from existing settlement as possible. Also, considerable pressure was created to have the government apply the letter of the law in matters of homestead regulations. This of course made it very difficult for the government to exercise much flexibility in their land dealings with the Doukhobors, and ultimately culminated in the abandonment of the village type of settlement.

Figure 12. Prayer Home, Spasskoye village (South Reserve) photographed by author in May 1975.

The role of the government as part of the new environment which the two groups encountered might be designated either as that of a villain, or that of a much-tried, would-be benefactor. The Mennonites were quite contented with the government. The concessions granted to them were honored and they reciprocated by abiding by the policies of the government, a course of action made easier by the fact that there was no direct conflict between government policy and their beliefs. They had always maintained good relations with the Russian government, and they were dedicated to cooperation with the Canadian government as much as possible. The Doukhobors had a quite different view of government in general and the Canadian government in particular. Earthly authority was seen to have no hold on the actions of the group, and, where it contradicted the religious principles of the group, it was to be vigorously resisted. It is quite likely that even with the generous terms offered by the Canadian government they were suspicious of it, and when the government began demanding commitments in matters of registration and land tenure, which they argued were contrary to the spirit of the negotiated terms, they began to view the government as a tyrannical oppressor. It appeared to some sympathetic observers that the government was at least acting in an ambivalent manner, seemingly encouraging or condoning communal settlement by certain concessions, then abruptly reverting to a strict observance and application of the land policy. On its part, the government was plagued by pilgrimages, nude demonstrations and arson by those it sought to help (although involving only a fraction of the total group) on the one hand, and on the other, was under considerable public pressure to make these foreigners conform to the law of the land without any special concessions.

The increasing pressure brought to bear by the government on the Doukhobors brought about two diverse reactions. For some this pressure resulted in yielding to government terms with subsequent movement from the villages to individual parcels of land. For others, the pressure hardened their resistance to the government and its policies, and made any compromise that might have been attempted impossible. The lines were clearly drawn; neither could compromise. Most of the communal Doukhobors abandoned their villages and moved to British Columbia. The pattern of settlement which had been slowly eroded by the movement of the Independents to their own land began a rather rapid eradication in Saskatchewan, and was completely modified in its transferal to the new environment of British Columbia.


In this paper an attempt has been made to draw out and analyze pertinent elements of the main environment interaction which have been influential in the initiation and development of the distinctive cultural landscapes of two ethnic/religious groups. Two major points stand out. First, in the examination of the interaction between these groups and the environment, it appears that group traditions and values are dominant. They structured the group’s perception of the physical elements of the new environment, dictated the basic form and pattern of the settlements they created, determined their attitudes toward the new social environment, and, to a large extent, determined or influenced public and government attitudes toward them. Second, and closely related to the first, is the degree to which group values (beliefs) outweighed all other considerations.

In both groups these values originally reinforced the traditional form of village settlement. The Mennonites were able to recreate these settlements without significant modification, while their belief in communal living forced modifications of some of the details of Doukhobor settlement. Further, the beliefs of the Mennonites allowed them to perpetuate the village settlement within the framework of government land policy, whereas the Doukhobors were forced by their beliefs to abandon their villages. In fact, the increased resolve to live communally which the confrontation in Saskatchewan seems to have produced, resulted in a completely changed form of settlement in British Columbia. It is by a consideration of these factors, then, that the initiation of a unique form of settlement, the persistence of this form in the Old Colony Mennonite settlements in Saskatchewan, and the nearly complete eradication of Old Colony Mennonite settlement in Manitoba and Doukhobor village settlement in Saskatchewan can be understood.

Dr. Carl J. Tracie has been an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan from 1970 to 1979 and thereafter, an Associate Professor of Geography at Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia. He has travelled widely and frequently through the original Doukhobor settlements in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.  Dr. Tracie has published numerous articles on Doukhobor historical geography. His book, “Toil and Peaceful Life”: Doukhobor Village Settlement in Saskatchewan, 1899–1918 (Regina, 1996) is a major work of historical geography that analyses the unique cultural landscape created by the Community Doukhobors in Saskatchewan. He is currently researching and writing a book on the Doukhobor “Second Community” in British Columbia.