My Father, A Doukhobor?

by Terry Terichow

For many years, Terry Terichow was unaware of his ancestral roots. Growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Edmonton, Alberta in the 1950s and 1960s, he was taught that he was Irish and Norwegian – his mother’s nationality – and that his father was a Turk. Yet he always suspected there was something his father had not told him. Then, on a fateful trip to British Columbia in 1970 to visit distant relatives, he discovered his father’s hidden secret. His father was a Doukhobor! The news hit like a bombshell. Since that time, however, Terry has endeavored to find out more about his father’s heritage, make contact with his Terichow relatives, and reconcile why his father left his faith and culture. He relates his story in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive.

It was the summer of 1970. My wife, Gladys, and I packed up our car with a tent, sleeping bags, a Coleman stove and our two year old daughter to go on our first camping trip. We planned a circle tour starting from Calgary, south through Montana, Idaho and Washington, north to Vancouver, B.C. and head back home through Banff. Two weeks.

I thought we might go and visit my Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary in Surrey and my Uncle Russell and Aunt Mary in Langley. I was apprehensive. After all I didn’t really know them. Growing up in Winnipeg we lived miles apart and my only knowledge of them was through old photographs and the occasional story. I didn’t know my cousins either.

I armed myself with their addresses and telephone numbers but I was very unsure if we would actually go and see them. I remember my father asking me why we would want to go and see them. I really wasn’t sure myself but my wife is Mennonite and it was important to her to meet my relatives.

Gladys and Terry Terichow, taken in Kiev, Ukraine, 2006.

Heading north from Seattle, through White Rock, we worked our way into Surrey. We found the right street sooner than expected and out of curiosity we decided to look for their house. Before we knew it we turned onto their driveway unannounced. My Uncle Mike was standing on the driveway almost as though he was expecting us. If he had not been standing on the driveway we would not have stopped in that day – we would have phoned first to make arrangements.

I recognized him easily from old photographs and he seemed to recognize me as well. My Aunt Mary rushed curiously out the house. We were immediately welcomed into the house. What a rush. I met my cousins Joe and Lorne for the first time. My cousin Jim, the only one I had ever met, when I was maybe 10 years old, was away.

My cousin Lorne naively asked if we were going to the meeting. “What meeting are you talking about” I asked.

Lorne said, “the Doukhobors are meeting in Grand Forks”. I had no idea what he was talking about and I asked why would I want to go there. I soon learned my father was raised a Doukhobor.

I had heard of the Doukhobors, mainly through the newspaper and television but that is all I knew. I first learned my father was Russian when I was about 12 years old. Whenever I was asked at school about my nationality, I was supposed to say Irish and Norwegian, which were my mother’s ancestral roots. I didn’t really understand why I was to hide the truth, although I seem to remember he might have said something about World War II. I do remember asking him one day, after watching the television news about some Doukhobor skirmish in British Columbia, if that was his heritage. He denied it and often said he was a “Turk”.

We had a great visit with my uncle and aunt, too much to eat and we even stayed the night in the spare bedroom. As it turned out my Uncle Russell and Aunt Mary were at the Grand Forks meeting, so we missed seeing them. I also got to meet my Great Uncle Mike, my grandfathers brother, and Great Aunt Annie. I had heard stories of them but I had no idea they were still alive. To meet them was a great pleasure.

The Terichow family, Calgary, Alberta, 1971. (l-r) Terry, his father Larry, mother Helen, and maternal grand- mother Francis Troy. Sitting on Terry’s lap is his daughter Leanne and his son Steven is on his father’s lap.

I was quite furious to learn of my father’s hidden secret. I telephoned my father as soon as we got back home to Calgary and I told him how upset I was and I had to wonder what else they were hiding. I carried on my rant the following Christmas when we went home to Winnipeg but I never got a straight answer.

I always seemed to know or sense that there were more than just miles that separated my father from his family. My grandfather, Wasyl (I always knew him as William) who apparently had a lifetime pass on the railway, would occasionally come to visit us in Winnipeg. To me he seemed so different from anyone I knew. He looked different, and he dressed different. I knew he loved his garden, he was a vegetarian, didn’t like beer, cigarettes or television and that he liked to visit some old friends on Main Street in Winnipeg.

My grandfather died in August 1967, one month after our wedding and our move to Calgary. He came to visit Gladys and myself in Calgary. He just unexpectedly showed up one afternoon as we got home from work. He had been in Winnipeg and my father gave him our address. He had a short layover in Calgary and came for a very short visit, an hour or so.

We learned from my Uncle Russell and Aunt Mary, on our next visit to Vancouver, that my grandfather died at their kitchen table. He had just returned home from that very train trip he visited us. After their usual Doukhobor greeting, he proceeded to talk about the trip and then he mentioned his visit with us in Calgary. My aunt and uncle asked what Gladys was like and as he said she is a “wee little woman” he had a heart attack. My Uncle Russell said he meant that Gladys wasn’t a Doukhobor woman.

The Terichow family of Doukhobors, Buchanan, Saskatchewan c. 1922. (l-r) Terry’s father Larion, grandfather Wasyl, grandmother Mabel, great-uncle Mike, uncle Mike, great-aunt Anna and an unknown girl.

I remember my father, Larion (Larry) often saying he was the black sheep of the family. I learned he was raised strickly as a Doukhobor, first in Buchanan, Saskatchewan, and later in Arrowwood, Alberta. He often talked about going to church three times every Sunday. As a youth he liked school and all sports but he also liked the barn dances, card games, pool tables and movies. He married my mother, Helen Troy, (a wee little woman) of Irish and Norwegian descent and he left his Doukhobor faith. As I was growing up my father would never go to church but he listened to Ernest Manning every Sunday morning. I’d always known him as a serious and strict father and a dedicated employee at Northern Electric but I also knew him as one who loved his beer and cigarettes. These addictions took a heavy toll on his life and he died at the age of 54 in 1972, ten months after my mother’s death.

Over the years I have maintained contact with my Terichow family and I have tried to learn more about my father’s heritage. As I am learning about the Doukhobor history, spiritual beliefs and general attitudes about life there is no doubt in my mind he maintained many of these views until his death. I can remember his saying that we make our heaven or hell right here on earth. I remember his saying we all need the Ten Commandments. I can remember he worked hard for his employer.

In his last days, when he could no longer recognized me, he asked me to tell his son Terry that he was a Russian Doukhobor and that he shouldn’t be ashamed. It was his way of telling me that he regretted his decision not to tell me about his ancestral roots.