Good Spirit Lake Annex – Historical Tour

On Saturday, June 20, 2007, the National Heritage Doukhobor Village hosted a guided motor coach tour of Doukhobor historical sites, landmarks and points of interest in the Good Spirit Lake and Buchanan areas of Saskatchewan.

Approximately sixty people took part in the excursion, which travelled through the heart of “Good Spirit Country”, visiting some of the original Doukhobor village and related sites, exploring surviving buildings and structures, and learning about the Doukhobors who inhabited them, their surroundings, and the events that took place within them.

“One of the primary objectives of the tour was to emphasize the historical significance of the Doukhobor contribution to the development and growth of the area”, said Keith Tarasoff, tour organizer and chairman of the National Heritage Doukhobor Village.

Tour participants exploring the Krukoff Homestead near Good Spirit Lake.

In 1899, over 1,000 Doukhobors from Elizavetpol and Kars, Russia settled in the area on 168,930 acres of homestead land reserved by the Dominion Government for their use. The reserve was known as the “Good Spirit Lake Annex”. There, they cleared the forest, broke the virgin prairie, planted grain fields, kept livestock herds and established eight communal villages as well as gristmills, blacksmith shops, granaries and barns. Living, praying and working under the motto of “Toil and Peaceful Life”, they transformed the prairie wilderness into productive farmland. By 1918, the Annex reserve was closed as Doukhobors relocated to communal settlements in British Columbia or to individual homesteads in the area. Those who remained established successful independent farming operations and thriving businesses.

Original 1899-era barn from Blagosklonnoe Village at the Krukoff Homestead.

The tour of the Good Spirit Lake Annex departed from the Doukhobor Prayer Home in Canora at 1:00 p.m. and commenced with a visit to the Krukoff Homestead, established on the site of Blagosklonnoye Village and containing an original village barn as well as a house constructed from bricks from the original village prayer home. The tour then passed the Blagosklonnoye Cemetery site, along with the Staro-Goreloye Village and Cemetery sites, before visiting at the Hancheroff House, an original village home relocated from Staro-Goreloye to its present site in the early 1900’s. A brief stop was made at Devil’s Lake School, a main Doukhobor school in the area during the first half of the twentieth century. The tour then passed through the Kalmakovka Village and Cemetery sites, the Utesheniye Village and Cemetery sites, and the Sukovaeff House, an original village home relocated from Utesheniye to its present site in the early 1900’s. A group moleniye service and commemoration was held at Novo Troitskoye Cemetery, where a major effort is underway to restore the site and preserve the cemetery for the future. The tour then passed through the vicinity of the Novo-Troitskoye Village site and the Moiseyevo Cemetery and Village sites, where at the latter, several original village structures remain.

Tour participants conduct a moleniye service at Novo-Troitskoe Cemetery near Buchanan.

The excursion proceeded to the Village of Buchanan, the main commercial centre in the area and a significant hub of Doukhobor activity throughout much of the twentieth century. A stop was made at Lois Hole Memorial Park, which commemorates the late Lois (nee Verigin) Hole, a former Buchanan resident of Doukhobor ancestry who became a successful market gardener, prominent book publisher and Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta. Afterwards, the tour stopped at the Buchanan Community Hall where participants were treated to refreshments courtesy the Village Council and to an extensive historic photo display courtesy Lorne J. Plaxin.  The tour then resumed, passing the Plaxin & Verigin General Store site and the Buchanan Doukhobor Prayer Home, built in 1916 to serve the needs of the Doukhobors in the surrounding area. A stop was made at the foundations of the Independent Doukhobor Flour Mill and Elevator, which was built in 1916 and operated until the Forties, as well as the foundations of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Store and Warehouse which operated in the Twenties and Thirties.

The tour continued west of Buchanan, where it passed the Novo-Goreloye Village and Cemetery sites, the Village of Buchanan Cemetery, the Kirilovka Village and Cemetery sites, and the site of Dernic Siding and Hamlet. On the return leg, the tour visited the Buchanan Historic Monument, located east of Buchanan along Highway No. 5. Constructed of millstones from the villages of Novo-Troitskoye and Utesheniye, it stands as a memorial to the Doukhobor pioneer settlers of the Buchanan area. As a concluding highlight, a group photo was taken in front of the monument. The tour then returned to the point of departure at 6:30 p.m.

Tour group photo at the Buchanan Historic Monument on Highway No. 5 east of Buchanan.

Throughout the five and a half-hour excursion, expert tour guides Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, a Regina-based researcher and writer and Lorne J. Plaxin, a Preeceville-based local historian, provided an informative and entertaining historical narration.  Both have family roots in the Good Spirit Lake Annex area. Tour participants also shared interesting stories and anecdotes about the people and places. These included Fred Krukoff, who spoke about the Blagosklonnoye village site while Margaret Hancheroff described the Hancheroff House from Staro-Goreloye village.  

“A lot of the people who accompanied the tour were amazed at what we were able to show them,” said Jonathan Kalmakoff. “Many presumed that there was nothing left to see, when in fact, there are plenty of existing historic sites, buildings and landmarks that people pass every day without knowing or appreciating their history or purpose. Through the tour, they were able to have an enjoyable visit, and most importantly, learn a little more about their Doukhobor heritage and culture.”

Highway map of Buchanan and Good Spirit Lake, Saskatchewan.

“It was a privilege to take part in the Good Spirit Lake Annex tour,” said Lorne Plaxin. “A profound feeling of belonging was very evident as the tour bus passed each village or cemetery site. Indeed, the recollections and anecdotes shared by many of the tour participants reminded us all of our rich heritage. We can indeed be proud of our ancestors’ accomplishments and legacy.”

For additional information or inquiries about the tour of the Good Spirit Lake Annex and other Doukhobor historic sites in Saskatchewan, contact the National Heritage Doukhobor Village at Box 99, Veregin, Saskatchewan, S0A 4H0. Phone number (306) 542-4441.