by William H. McConnell
Peter G. Makaroff (1895-1970) came to Canada as a young boy with the Doukhobor migration in 1899. At that time, he could speak no English, but in less than twenty years, he became the first Doukhobor ever to graduate from a post-secondary educational institution. He went on to become one of Canada’s outstanding lawyers as well as a noted peacemaker and humanitarian. Throughout his life, he cherished his ties with his Russian culture, Doukhobor heritage and pacifist roots. He was a model to many Doukhobors as an educated, courageous and intelligent professional who was willing to help the underdog locally, nationally and internationally. The following article by William H. McConnell, reproduced by permission from Saskatchewan History (44, 1992, No. 3), traces the life and career of this Doukhobor role model who was always at his best working uphill against apparently impossible odds.
Peter G. Makaroff, whose family came to Canada with the first wave of Doukhobor immigration in 1899, was a pioneer in more ways than one. Brought to Canada from Transcaucasia at age five, with six brothers and sisters, after graduation in law from the University of Saskatchewan in 1918, he became the world’s first Doukhobor lawyer. He was the first member of his religion to serve on the University’s Board of Governors and to preside over the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board. In addition to his distinguished record of public service, he was also the founding member of one of Saskatoon’s principal law firms.
Peter’s father, Gregory, found communal life in the Doukhobor colony, which was ruled so strictly by Peter V. Verigin, to be oppressive and left to become an independent farmer. The migration of such dissidents gained momentum with more than a thousand “Independents” residing in the Prince Albert district shortly after 1908. While they still adhered to the main tenets of their faith, and continued to be fervent pacifists, the Independents rejected the authoritarian governmental structure of their leaders and abandoned the communal way of life. In 1916 the Society of Independent Doukhobors was organized with Peter soon becoming secretary of the new group. “Without adopting any of the pretensions of the leaders,” a leading work declares of the younger Makaroff, “he became the intellectual guide to those Doukhobors who had chosen the path of opposition to Peter Verigin but were not prepared to abandon entirely their loyalties to the sect.”
Doukhobor children brought to Pennsylvania by the Quakers in 1902 for education. Peter Markaroff appears in the front centre (with cap). Swarthmore College Collection.
As an independent farmer in the Blaine Lake district of Saskatchewan, Gregory Makaroff sent his children to the German-English Academy (later Rosthern Junior College) at Rosthern, which was located about twenty-five miles distant from the farm. Peter’s early inspiration came from one of his teachers, Professor Michael Sherbinin, a Russian nobleman from St. Petersburg, fluent in several languages, from another teacher, Ella Martin, a Presbyterian, from George McCraney, Liberal MP for Rosthern, and from Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was both prime minister and a distinguished lawyer. The Quakers (a community of whom resided near Borden) provided financial assistance for the education of young Doukhobors, and Peter was sent to Philadelphia to continue his schooling among them, later enrolling in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan. By that time Peter Verigin had taken half of the original Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan to the Kootenay area of British Columbia where he had bought 15,000 acres of land.
But who were the Doukhobors of whom the Makaroffs were members? There was no formal ministry nor sacraments within the Doukhobor religion, which broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the early eighteenth century. Adherents held that God dwelt within all his children, and that formal communion, preaching or prayers were unnecessary. One writer has described their religion as follows:
The Doukhobors were a priestless religious group, whose faith centred on the belief that every man carried within him the Divine Spark of the Holy Spirit. The Doukhobors were pacifists who believed that each person was a temple of the Holy Spirit. The destruction of human life was therefore regarded as a grievous sin. Their belief in the presence of the Holy Spirit led to their reliance on expressions of the Spirit (prophecies, worshipful praise and song) rather than on the written word. By the 1800s, a heritage of psalms and prayers, called the Living Book, was passed on orally from generation to generation.
With women and men separated by a central aisle in their unadorned meeting houses, believers would make simple professions of faith, much as the Quakers did elsewhere, along with reciting psalms and singing hymns. When Peter Makaroffs family and others destroyed their firearms in 1895, refused to be conscripted into the Army and resolved never to go to war, they experienced ostracism and persecution. The pacifistic character of the religion, emphasizing non-violence and universal brotherhood, brought them into collision with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist bureaucracy. The demands of the faith presented a hard test to many Doukhobors and not all of them remained steadfast, with some relapsing into the Russian mainstream.
The elder Verigin, a man of impressive charm and presence, known to his flock as “Peter the Lordly,” succeeded his mentor, Lukeria V. Kalmykova, as leader of the Doukhobors on her death in 1886. The military conscription policy, which was so contrary to their principles, having been introduced more than a decade earlier in Russia proper, was unexpectedly extended to the Caucasus region in 1887. In the same year, Verigin was exiled to Shenkursk, Siberia, where he met with other refugees and was deeply influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s philosophical anarchism, which was infused with a vein of non-doctrinal Christian pacifism very similar to that of the Doukhobors. Verigin increasingly promoted Tolstoyan tenets among his followers, advocating “non-resistance to evil,” and enjoining them not to swear oaths, eat meat, drink, smoke, or submit to military conscription.
After further persecution, the Tsarist government finally gave the Doukhobors permission to emigrate to Canada, in which they were assisted by royalties from their benefactor, Leo Tolstoy, derived from the sale of his novel, Resurrection, published in 1898. The Russian authorities admonished them that they, alone, would be responsible for their travelling expenses, that those (including Peter Verigin) who had been exiled to Siberia, or who had been called up for military service should finish their terms before leaving, and warned them that if they returned they would be banished to Siberia. The Canadian government, which was then implementing the “Sifton immigration policy” to populate the West, was grateful to receive as immigrants such hardworking agricultural settlers and as a concession to their religious scruples passed an Order-in-Council and a consequential statutory provision exempting them from future military service.
Some 7,500 Doukhobors then congregated at the Georgian port of Batum, departing for Canada in four shiploads over a seven-month period, the first immigrants embarking on the S.S. Lake Huron in late December, 1898. The fare to Winnipeg was twenty-two dollars for each passenger. After the arduous transits to Halifax and Saint John, New Brunswick, the new arrivals went overland to colonies in the Yorkton area of Assiniboia and the Duck Lake area of Saskatchewan, to a reservation of homestead land having an aggregate total of 773,400 acres. Their leader, Peter V. Verigin, arrived in Canada only on 16 December 1902, after completing nearly sixteen years of Siberian exile.
Because of the young Makaroff’s command of Russian, he was frequently in demand as a translator in Saskatchewan courts, which served a polyglot community arriving in the province before the First World War. Once, when Judge J.A. McClean of the Battleford District Court refused to allow a Doukhobor to take an oath, allegedly because the sect was not Christian and did not believe in the Bible, Makaroff, who was present, jumped to his feet and, proclaiming himself to be a Doukhobor, asserted that his co-religionists were indeed Christians, and that although it was against their principles to swear oaths, the witness could make an affirmation if allowed to do so. McClean sternly admonished Makaroff to sit down, asking him to speak to him after the court adjourned. Afterwards the judge spoke very softly and kindly to the young man, admitting that he personally knew few Doukhobors and encouraging Peter to become a lawyer to promote better understanding. Makaroff did study law at the University of Saskatchewan, graduating in 1918. He helped to defray expenses by waiting on tables in the residences, and participated extensively in athletics. He also got to know well another law student and future prime minister, John Diefenbaker, who graduated one year later. The two remained friendly although their political philosophies diverged sharply as time wore on. Another acquaintance, Helen Marshall, a non-Doukhobor who graduated in arts and science in the same year that Makaroff graduated in law, two years later became his wife.
Peter Makaroff in University of Saskatchewan football uniform, 1916. Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-B6510.
Prior to his death, Judge McClean had given instructions that his extensive law library be sold to his young acquaintance, as a result of which Makaroff acquired a valuable reference library for five hundred dollars. He began his professional practice in the Canada Building in Saskatoon in July, 1918, and was soon taking cases to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. A year later he was joined by Arthur L. Bates, the firm practicing under the style of Makaroff and Bates until the Second World War period.
Because of the Doukhobors’ preference for a simple life close to nature and their aversion to “worldly” education and the learned professions, Makaroff’s admission to the Bar was unprecedented in his religious community and he was sometimes described as the first certified professional in the sect’s two hundred and fifty year history. Far from this estranging him from his fellow believers, he was admired by most Doukhobors for his educational qualifications and marked legal abilities, and they often turned to him for advice, especially during recurrent crises. Although his legal practice was a cosmopolitan one, he always sought to help his own community whenever he could and was only the first of many Doukhobors to attend the University of Saskatchewan.
In one of his earlier cases, Prescesky v. Can. Nor. Ry., decided in 1923, Makaroff’s talent for cross-examination was apparent. His client, a young farmer, had been run down by the defendant’s locomotive at a level railway crossing, with counsel for the railway arguing that the train had given the required signal for such crossings – two long and two short blasts of the whistle with continuous ringing of the bell for each crossing – before the accident took place. Makaroff’s client was non-suited at the first trial, but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial at which the sole point in contention was whether the requisite warning had been given. Railway counsel from Winnipeg sought to reinforce his already-strong evidence by calling the section foreman’s wife, who claimed that she could survey from her back porch railway track for a distance of four miles, including the site of the accident. Makaroff did not believe that she had actually seen the accident, and proceeded to cross-examine on that assumption. His strategy was risky, however, and could backfire, since if he were mistaken she might take the opportunity to further confirm her evidence. Makaroff decided to test her on the critical question:
Q. You say you actually stood there and heard the whistle blow four times, from the time it passed your cottage until it stopped at the accident?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Once for each crossing?
A. Sure, that’s just what I said.
Q. You mean you heard four blasts?
A. That is right.
Q. One blast for each of the four crossings?
A. Yes, that’s exactly what I said. That’s just what I heard.
The young counsel for the plaintiff then saw the jury smile and whisper to each other. His successful client later moved from Saskatoon to Vancouver, where he entered commercial life and acquired a substantial fortune.
In the early days of Makaroff’s legal career, public opinion in the province was often intolerant of immigrants of Central and East European origin, and in this respect the Law Society was no different from other organizations. On 30 June 1930, for example, Luseland barrister Frank E. Jaenicke wrote Makaroff referring to a recent entry in the Law Society Gazette stating, “efforts should be made to limit those entering the legal profession to persons of British extraction.” Mr. Jaenicke added that most of the names of those reprimanded or struck off the rolls for non-ethical conduct were of non-British origin, and he suspected that “most of the Benchers were Tories.” Makaroff replied that “at the Bar Convention here the same matter was brought up by [former Dean of Law Arthur] Moxon, seconded by [Stewart] McKercher, but before the motion was put, Mr. [H. E.] Sampson, who was the only Bencher present, got up on his feet, and tendered a very lame apology for the action of the Benchers. He gave the assurance that everything possible would be done… to correct the unfavourable impression.” A weakened motion was then passed by the Bar convention urging rectification of the matter as soon as possible.” Later in the same letter Makaroff added “… I do not give a penny for the attitude of the members of the profession towards me, but I do object to that spirit or sentiment being shared by the judiciary, which undoubtedly will be, unless something happens in the immediate future to check the tendency” In a further letter he mentioned the need for more “broad-minded and tolerant” Benchers, suggesting that more influence might be exerted by lawyers of like mind to elect such Benchers at the next Law Society election.
The Canadian authorities became increasingly critical of a small breakaway sect, the Sons of Freedom, which had formed soon after the Doukhobors arrived in Canada and the activities of which were not representative of a substantial majority of the members of the religion:
However exotic the more violent actions of the Sons of Freedom, the zealot wing of the Doukhobors, may appear to us, it is sobering to reflect that none of these extreme types of behaviour—nudism, arson, dynamiting—was part of the Doukhobor pattern of life before the sect reached Canada. Fire-raisers and nude paraders have never represented more than a small majority of an otherwise peaceful (indeed pacifist) community, anxious only to live according to its own beliefs.
In practice, however, nice logical distinctions between the mainstream Doukhobor movement and the Sons of Freedom were not always made. The peaceful majority were often confused by the public with their more zealous coreligionists, and suffered persecution along with the minority.
With the election of Conservative leader, Dr. J.T.M. Anderson, to the premiership in 1929, increasing strife developed between the Saskatchewan government and the local Doukhobor community. Between 1929 and 1931, twenty-five Saskatchewan schools were burned in Doukhobor areas around Kamsack and Canora, resulting in some arrests and imprisonments. Coincident with the arson and civil disobedience, plummeting world wheat prices adversely affected the communal economy, creating a mood of demoralization among Doukhobors which tended to increase the unrest.
In October 1924, the life of the elder Verigin had come to an untimely end when he and eight others were blown up in a railway carriage near Grand Forks, British Columbia. The mystery of his death has never been solved. Difficult adjustments were necessary after the arrival of Verigin’s son, Peter P. Verigin, from the USSR in 1927. The new leader was described by Makaroff as something of an enigma:
“…No one was sure whether he was a saint or devil or just a plain madman. He was very brilliant. He had a tremendous memory, but at the same time I think he was really a psychopath. From the day he arrived from Russia he became involved in one litigation after another. He was in and out of jail for assaults, for creating disturbances, for what not. He was quite an alcoholic and when under the influence of liquor he was absolutely beyond control. His headquarters were at Verigin near Yorkton. He became so rowdy when staying in one hotel after another that he would be chucked out of there and not allowed to come back, so he goes to work and builds his own hotel. He wasn’t there on more than one occasion before he was prohibited from going back into his own hotel.”
Dr. Anderson and Conservative Prime Minister, R.B. Bennett, were persuaded that Peter P. Verigin was the source of much of the trouble affecting the Doukhobors and decided to take action. In 1932 Verigin had been sentenced to eighteen months in the Prince Albert penitentiary for perjury and tampering with a witness in a disputed land sale agreement the previous year. They decided to spirit him out of Canada with the least publicity possible.
Neither Bennett nor Anderson had much sympathy for immigrants of non-British origin, particularly those who might be tinged with “radical sympathies” or were deemed to have engaged in political agitation against the state. Enacted by Borden’s Union Government during the Red Scare of 1919, section 98 of the Criminal Code visited with up to twenty years’ imprisonment members of vaguely-defined “unlawful associations,” one of whose purposes was to bring about political change by unlawful means. Pursuant to Bennett’s policy “of having ‘no truck nor trade’ with the Soviet Union, and placing an ‘iron heel’ on Socialism and Communism,” the notorious trial of the Toronto Communists (several of whom had Slavic names) was held in November 1931, with the above provision being described by McGill law professor, Frank R. Scott, as “unequalled in the history of Canada and probably any British country for centuries past,” for its permanent restriction of civil liberties. One of the first acts of the succeeding Mackenzie King administration, in fact, was to repeal the egregious section 98.
Among other illiberal acts, Prime Minister Bennett had also amended the Criminal Code to raise the penalty for parading while nude to three years’ imprisonment, a measure obviously aimed at the Doukhobors, and amended the Dominion Franchise Act in 1934 so as to deprive Doukhobors in British Columbia of the right to vote in federal elections. For his part, in 1929-1930, Premier Anderson advised the federal government that further Russian and Mennonite immigration into the province was not wanted, adding that he “doubted if these 5,000 people really were starving outside the gates of Moscow,” as claimed. His government also abolished the use of the French language in grade one of the public schools. It was in this era that the Ku Klux Klan was active in Saskatchewan, with the premier extolling the value of “British” immigration and institutions, a point which the Klan made in a less refined manner.
Thus, Bennett and Anderson being in accord in the final days of January, 1933, two plainclothes agents from Ottawa arrived in Prince Albert, showed the warden a document pardoning Verigin, and whisked the latter swiftly and silently away to Halifax. Anderson and Bennett obviously wished to speed the Doukhobor leader out of the country before his followers and legal counsel could intervene on his behalf.
This ploy almost succeeded. By chance, however, the Prince Albert correspondent of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix learned of the impending deportation and telephoned her city editor, who in turn telephoned a startled Makaroff; when the latter spoke to Verigin’s subordinates they were insistent that no effort or expense be spared to save their leader from deportation.
Neither Prime Minister Bennett nor the immigration authorities would accede to Makaroff’s request to hold Verigin in Winnipeg so that he could interview his client. With time elapsing quickly, the situation was becoming desperate. Makaroff then embarked on a bold chase. He took the train to Winnipeg and then travelled by air to Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and Boston. Finding that there were no flights between Boston and Halifax, he chartered a small private plane which took off at three o’clock in the morning of the day that Verigin was to be deported, flying over the Bay of Fundy without instruments. The pilot flew at a high altitude in order to avoid the treacherous downdrafts in the area and, fortunately, the flight proceeded without incident.
Russian postcard sent to John G. Bondoreff by S. Reibin and Peter Makaroff written in flight, 2 February 1933. “In view of the fact that Petyushka will be sent off the morning of 4 February and in order to see him before deportation, [we]…are flying at 130 miles per hour…” Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-A292.
Makaroff arrived in Halifax on Saturday morning shortly before the S.S. Montcalm was scheduled to depart with Verigin for Russia. He met with a frigid reception when he was brought to Verigin’s cell. Since Verigin had previously threatened to end his life, Makaroff approached the interview with some uneasiness. The Doukhobor chieftain did not appear surprised at seeing his former counsel with two other Doukhobors, but as Peter Makaroff described the encounter later to John G. Bondoreff, one of the leader’s aides: “The minute he saw the three of us as he entered the room, he immediately swung around and ran back to his cell. The officer in charge came back and said that he would not see the other two at all but wanted to speak to me.”
Because of Verigin’s death threat, Makaroff was surprised by his relatively cordial behavior towards him. He attributed Verigin’s “frequently offensive and insulting attitude” towards those around him to his hopelessness at remaining in the country, noting particularly his incivility towards Lionel Ryan, one of Makaroff’s Halifax agents.
At first Verigin advised Makaroff that he wanted no help at all, cursing all those responsible for the belated legal intervention. There was, moreover, little time to confer. It was already eleven o’clock and the Court House, where habeas corpus proceedings (ie. proceedings to determine whether a prisoner has been imprisoned lawfully) were to be instituted, was to close in two hours. In these difficult circumstances, Makaroff was able to have the hearing deferred until late February. There was at least a reprieve!
When his counsel asked Verigin whether, in lieu of deportation, he would prefer to go back to Prince Albert to finish the remainder of his jail sentence, he was met with “a long line of profanity to the effect that he had no fear of Canadian jails whatsoever. I interpreted that as instructions to do all I could to save him and told him I would do that. He pretended not to care, but his appearance contradicted his pretence.” Following this exchange, Makaroff related that Verigin “gave me every cooperation… to present his case before the Court,” adding, however, “… it would be impossible to describe in any detail his many insane tantrums… during our month’s stay there”
After these rather equivocal instructions to counsel, Makaroff applied for habeas corpus on his client’s behalf. Much of the argument before Mr. Justice Mellish centred around the instrument dated 20 January 1933, and signed by the Governor-General, Lord Bessborough, which read in part: “He is to be deported to Russia when released from custody… .” The relevant section of the Immigration Act, however, provided that an inmate could be deported only after his sentence or term of imprisonment “has expired,” and Mellish held that Verigin’s sentence had not “expired” within the meaning of that section. Roughly half of Verigin’s sentence had still to run and “he has the right if he chooses to take the limit of time allowed him before deportation…. If the prisoner is pardoned conditionally he has the right to refuse the pardon if he is unwilling to accept the conditions. If the prisoner has been pardoned (and I do not think he could be discharged from prison except in exercise of the power of pardon) he cannot in my opinion be deported.” Since Verigin had been unlawfully detained, Mellish ordered that his petition be granted and that he be released from custody.
Had the case been heard a few weeks later it is probable that the results would have been different. Verigin was a very fortunate man. One month after Mellish’s decision, the Supreme Court of Canada decided, contrary to the Nova Scotia judgment, that the prerogative of mercy could be exercised by the Crown to release a prisoner without his consent prior to the termination of his sentence. After such a pardon, moreover, his sentence could be considered to have “expired,” enabling the government to deport him under the statutory provision applying in Verigin’s case. Since the Supreme Court decision would bind all lower courts throughout Canada, had it been in effect during the Halifax proceedings, Mellish would have been constrained to decide the case against Verigin. Four months later, in Winnipeg, the federal authorities again attempted to deport Verigin, but they were frustrated this time because the local court found that, whatever statutory provisions might apply, there had not been a “fair hearing.” The government certainly seemed determined to get rid of the Doukhobor leader.
Because Makaroff was not a member of the Nova Scotia Bar, he had to engage two Halifax agents, J.J. Power, K.C., and Lionel Ryan, to present his client’s case in the local forum. He had dictated some of the affidavits over the telephone to them while en route to Halifax, and had planned much of the legal strategy. By agreement, Power was to have received a fee of five hundred dollars, but when the case was won he increased the amount, having Verigin arrested for debt under the archaic law of capias (used in England in Dickens’ time to send indigents to debtors’ prison) so that he would not abscond without settling accounts. Verigin perceived things differently. “God, through the instrumentality of Judge Mellish, released me from jail, only to be re-arrested and lodged back in jail by my own lawyer, Peter Makaroff. Send me $10,000 immediately in order to extricate me from the toils of the law again.” On learning that his ruse was detected, Verigin began railing once more. Makaroff then left town, catching up with Verigin in Winnipeg where the latter apologized to him.
Reflecting wryly about the case some years later, Makaroff recalled that he had received his appointment as King’s Counsel in 1932 from the Anderson government in part for his efforts at quelling some of the more rambunctious antics of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors. His victory in Halifax spoke well of the solicitude of the Canadian justice system for a member of an unpoular minority. Nevertheless, he sometimes wondered what Anderson and Bennett really thought about his return of Verigin to the province in 1933. He was able to see the comic as well as the more serious aspects of the transcontinental chase involving one of the world’s most colorful religious personalities. Because of the high drama of the incident, it attracted much interest in the international press.
Another series of trials of roughly the same vintage, in which Makaroff served as defence counsel, occurred after the Regina riot of 1 July 1935. The riot was the culminating episode of the On-to-Ottawa trek by a trainload of unemployed young men proceeding to the national capital to seek the help of the Conservative prime minister. When R.B. Bennett ordered the trek halted at Regina, the RCMP attempted to clear the trekkers out of Market Square, resulting in an ugly confrontation and a clash between the police and the militants with one death, much loss of property and many injuries.
In the climate of antagonism towards “political agitators” in mid-Depression times, public sympathy was clearly on the side of “law and order.” When the trekkers were put individually on trial, Makaroff was called in as defence counsel, later enlisting Emmett M. Hall, Q.C., of Saskatoon (a future Supreme Court of Canada judge) to assist with the defence. Makaroff’s assessment of the accuseds’ prospects was bleak: “The whole atmosphere was charged with hostility against the prisoners and there was slight hope of freeing any of them. Nevertheless, we fought every case all the way as they came up.” Hall later said that he and Makaroff “were pretty well isolated as far as the Regina Bar was concerned.”
Chaos during the Regina Riot, 1935. City of Regina Photograph Collection.
The legal combination of Democratic Socialist and Red Tory did all they could, however, for their beleaguered and unpopular clients. Makaroff was threatened with contempt-of-court on several occasions by the presiding judge, Mr. Justice J.F.L. Embury, when he compared the climactic assembly of trekkers in Market Square to discuss their survival with a meeting of bank directors. “Who do you think would be on trial today,” he typically asked the juries, “if the police violently and without any warning broke into a bank boardroom and clobbered the heads of the directors as they did the trekkers on trial before you?” This invocation of the spectre of class warfare and the solicitude of the police and courts for the property-owning elite, of course, was more likely to appeal to a Marxist seminar than to a right-wing judge and jurors apprehensive for their lives and property. Most of the trekkers received sentences in Prince Albert provincial jail, and many of them frankly welcomed the prospect of regular meals and accommodation, however meagre, over looking for non-existent jobs on the outside.
Coming from a Doukhobor background with its communal ethic of mutual help and sharing, especially in times of economic adversity, it is understandable that Makaroff would be attracted to the more radical wing of the Progressive party in the 1920s and to the Farmer-Labour, CCF and NDP parties in later decades. He did not agree with every policy of these left-leaning movements, however, and as a pacifist supported CCF leader, J.S. Woodsworth, in his opposition to Canada’s participation in war in 1939, a position that the mainstream CCF rejected. In one ofWoodsworth’s letters to Makaroff coinciding with the onset of the Second World War, the CCF leader enclosed a copy of the United College perodical, Vox, with an article by him containing a sentiment they would both share: “For me the teachings of Jesus are absolutely irreconcilable with the advocacy of war.” Peter disdained alike fascism and Communism, but manifested on the international plane a Tolstoyan stance of non-resistance to evil.
Peter’s first foray into politics was as a Farmer-Labour candidate in the Shellbrook constituency in the Saskatchewan provincial election of 1934. When such a staunch Conservative as North Battleford lawyer Ariel F. Sallows wrote to congratulate him on his nomination, adding that if he were beaten he hoped it would be by a Tory, Makaroff replied, “if my defeat is dependent on the realization of your hope, then I am as good as elected.” He was prescient in this case, since although he lost to a Liberal, he secured many more votes than his Conservative opponent. In this mid-Depression election he unavailingly trained his guns on the bankers and financial magnates who were impoverishing ordinary people by imposing extortionate interest rates and foreclosing mortgages, declaring that there was no difference between the two older parties which always supported the economic establishment.
Makaroff’s only successful campaign for public office resulted in his single term on Saskatoon City Council in 1939-1940. Here, as always, he stressed the need for helping the less privileged sector of society. In a multilingual community having many immigrant families of Central and East European origin, he told Council that something should be done to amend the Old Age Pensions Act, which debarred those not speaking English or French from receiving pensions – thirteen such persons were on local relief rolls, he added. There was also an animated exchange between him and other aldermen when Council voted to abolish the Clothing Relief Bureau which supplied used clothing to those in need. One applicant, Makaroff said, was refused suitable clothing by the Bureau in which to bury his wife. He could wrap a scarf around her neck, he was told by the Bureau official, and in an enclosed coffin it was not necessary to have anything below that. “If that conversation took place it’s awful.” Alderman Caswell expostulated. “I don’t think it took place.” City Commissioner Andrew Leslie replied. “Well the woman was buried today,” said Makaroff, “and I can get an affidavit from the man any day I want it.”
Of overriding concern to Doukhobors, Mennonites, and pacifists generally was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s national plebiscite on 27 April 1942 in which he sought to be released from his pre-war pledge not to impose conscription on Canadians for compulsory overseas service. While Makaroff did not play a prominent part in the plebiscite debate, he used whatever influence he had on the “no” side. The plebiscite resulted in a lopsided 71.2 per cent majority in Quebec against releasing King from his undertaking, but in an over all Canadian majority of 63.7 per cent in favour of doing so. In Saskatoon, for example, where the pro-conscription vote was considerably higher than the national average, the “yes” majority amounted to 88.9 per cent of those voting. Accordingly, the ever-wary prime minister did nothing for two further years, and when his government finally did impose conscription for overseas service in 1944, it precipitated a national crisis. It is of some interest that in the Saskatoon region, where Makaroff s activities were centred, former University President Walter C. Murray was campaign chairman on the “yes” side, and Dean Fred Cronkite of the law school was a zone chairman.
An important wartime activity of Makaroff was advising Doukhobors on the intricacies of the National War Services Regulations, 1940 and similar laws and regulations. Since the Doukhobors had come to Canada originally under the Order-in-Council of 6 December 1898, exempting them from military service, they appeared prima facie not to be subject to the above Regulations. However, the matter was not entirely free from doubt. While section 18(1) of the Regulations exempted those professing “conscientious objections” for religious reasons, the onus fell on whomever claimed the benefit of the clause to provide their eligibility. Because Doukhobors were not expressly exempted from service in the Regulations, Makaroff had doubts about whether or not it applied, and told those asking, “… to be perfectly sure my advice is to comply with this provision of the act.” The Deputy Minister of National War Services, T.C. Davis, who conferred often with Makaroff, emphasized that to be eligible for exemption as a Doukhobor an applicant should be either a person referred to in the Order-in-Council of 1898, or the descendant of such a person; because of the Doukhobors’ objection to swearing oaths, however, an unsworn declaration in their case would be acceptable. A Doukhobor dentist from Canora was concerned about how his claim for exemption would be perceived: “If I register with the Doukhobors, as I know I should, will it not affect my professional position?” An engineer wondered about whether he was technically a British subject. Makaroff had many queries to answer.
A poignant sidelight is offered in a post-war letter that Makaroff addressed to conscientious objectors in the Rosthern federal by-election of 1948, when he ran as a CCF candidate:
“No doubt you still have a very clear memory of your unhappy days in the conscientious objector camp at Waskesiu during the last War. If so you will remember my son Robert who spent the winter and part of the summer there with you. Robert has since finished his medical course and is now a doctor at University Hospital in Edmonton, where he graduated about eighteen months ago.”
The letter emphasized the need for preventing another global war in the era of atomic weapons. Both Makaroff’s son, Robert, and daughter, Barbara, later developed flourishing medical practices.
In the wartime election of 26 March 1940, Makaroff was a CCF candidate in the federal riding of Rosthern, where there was a large Mennonite population, but he lost to Liberal Walter Tucker. Among speakers supporting him were University of Saskatchewan English professor and party activist, Carlyle King, and M.J. Coldwell, who in 1942 was to become leader of the CCF. Although Woodsworth was re-elected in Winnipeg North Centre in 1940, those who shared the pacifist sentiments of their ailing leader were rapidly losing ground and on 20 July 1940, Makaroff sent a letter to the provincial CCF convention in Regina resigning as the First Vice-President of the provincial party because he disagreed with the party’s endorsement of the war: “… By conviction I am a lifelong pacifist.” he said, “From childhood I have been steeped in the faith that it was against the will and example of the Prince of Peace for man to engage in the wholesale slaughter of his fellow man, including helpless innocent children, at the command of a superior officer.”
Doukhobor Conscientious Objectors’ camp at Montreal Lake, Saskatchewan, 1941. Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-B5475.
Although the rank-and-file of the party strongly endorsed the war effort, there was considerable understanding for Woodsworth’s and Makaroff’s pacifist position, and reconciliation when he again ran unsuccessfully in Rosthern in the 1948 by-election. He attributed his loss in the 1948 contest to Prince Albert merchant and farmer, W.A. Boucher, to “insufficient time and effort on my part;” other factors were poor organization and distribution of literature with the result that “at least six meetings were complete flops or had to be cancelled altogether.” He also charged that Liberals such as Jimmy Gardiner or Walter Tucker (who was vacating the Rosthern seat to become provincial Liberal leader) were intimidating voters by threatening to cut off family allowances and crop failure bonuses if Makaroff won. Overall, Makaroff’s record in the electoral arena was not good, but he often had to fight against the tide in difficult constituencies and he never seemed reluctant to undertake an uphill battle.
Makaroff was heartened in 1944 by the election of Tommy Douglas of the CCF as Premier of Saskatchewan and by the new government’s promotion of an array of social services including hospital insurance. Peter was an active proponent of publicly-funded medicine which he advocated in an article in the local newspaper: “It is obvious that individual or group insurance is not the answer for Saskatchewan to this urgent and perplexing problem, since nearly one-half of our people are penniless on attaining the age of sixty-five and the average family’s income is probably lower today than it was in 1936 when it was $577.” Makaroff strongly approved of Saskatchewan’s pioneering efforts in this area, including Canada’s first medicare plan as implemented by the governments of T.C. Douglas and Woodrow Lloyd in 1961-1962.
Peter’s appointment to the University’s Board of Governors after the War was strenuously opposed by the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, a resolution of which sharply criticized him as being “widely known throughout Saskatchewan for extreme pacifist views and for opposition to Canada’s active participation in the war.” The same resolution criticized his son Robert for seeking military exemption. Another of Makaroff’s appointments was as chairman of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board in which capacity he presided with ability over the Board for more than a decade, having served as counsel at first instance for employees claiming to have been wrongfully dismissed in the celebrated John East case, which established that the provincially-appointed Board was not usurping the functions of a superior court and was validly constituted.
In 1948 when the Judicial Committee in London was still Canada’s highest court, Makaroff represented Saskatchewan in an appeal in England challenging the CPR’s exemption from taxation within provincial boundaries. The provincial argument was, in part, that the constitutional incapacity to tax detracted from the postulated equality of the provinces, but Their Lordships decided against the province, finding that there was no paradigm of exact provincial equality in the Canadian Constitution. Was it purely fortuitous that the Canadian Parliament abolished overseas appeals in the following year?
Peter Makaroff addresses crowd at the dedication of Petrofka Ferry as a Saskatchewan Historic Site, 1959. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.
Throughout the 1950s Makaroff continued his extensive law practice as the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, particularly in British Columbia, carried on their protests against various government measures. At the climax of one series of demonstrations in 1962, Independent Liberal Senator Donald Cameron suggested that the B.C. Sons of Freedom be placed on a reservation on one of the Queen Charlotte Islands and provided with vocational and agricultural training “to rescue them from their maladjustment.” In replying to Senator Cameron, Makaroff objected to his description of the Sons of Freedom as Doukhobors—”they have nothing to do with the Doukhobor faith,” but showed otherwise keen interest in his proposal. “Your thought that with suitable help and encouragement they might be established somewhere as a self-supporting community to live decently and in peace on some island,” he wrote the legislator, “or say, in the Peace River Region, accords with my views and deserves, I feel, a most serious consideration by the authorities concerned.” Since the Senator’s appointment was from Alberta, there could have been some irony in Makaroff’s suggestion that the Sons of Freedom be settled in the Peace River district.
When Roger Carter was one of the younger partners in Makaroff’s firm he recalls an occasion during which the latter was arguing a difficult case before Mr. Justice C.S. Davis in Prince Albert, and was ordered by the judge to desist
from broaching a certain matter which Makaroff considered to be crucial. When he persisted, nevertheless, he was fined $500 for contempt-of-court by Davis, whereupon he reached for his wallet in his back pocket, asking the judge whether he wanted the amount “in cash or in kind” The incident occurred during Diefenbaker’s term of office as prime minister, and when his fellow law student of thirty-five years ago called at the prime minister’s railway carriage, Diefenbaker noticeably warmed to Peter when he learned of what had happened earlier in the day. Diefenbaker and Davis were old foes, once having had a roundhouse fight in the Prince Albert court house.
In the early 1960s the style of Peter’s firm was Makaroff, Carter, Surtees and Sherstobitoff, but his partners, while maintaining their highest regard for him, gradually left for other pursuits. Carter went on to a professorship at the law school in Saskatoon, taking graduate work at Michigan and serving as Dean of Law from 1968 to 1974. Carter was also a founder of the University’s Native Law Centre in 1973, receiving an honorary doctorate from Queen’s in recognition of this accomplishment. Another colleague, Leslie A. Surtees, left to become a magistrate in Swift Current. Nicholas Sherstobitoff remained with the firm longer, and after an extensive practice in labour and administrative law was appointed to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in the early 1980s, becoming the highest ranking Doukhobor on any Canadian court. Like Makaroff, he had also presided earlier over the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board.
Until his death in 1971, true to his Doukhobor principles, Makaroff sought to promote international peace and goodwill through his membership in organizations like the World Federalists. He strongly supported Bill Sherstobitoff (the father of the above judge) when he sent a telegram on 19 May 1963, on behalf of the Doukhobor Society of Saskatoon, urging the Canadian government and parliamentarians not to acquire nuclear weapons. The Pearson government had changed its position in this issue, and later in the year did accept Bomarc missiles at RCAF bases at North Bay, Ontario, and La Macaza, Quebec. To the end of his life Makaroff continued to be esteemed for his steadfast adherence to principle, sometimes at considerable personal cost, and had the respect of many persons of goodwill who did not share those principles.
Peter Makaroff (far right) attending the International Meeting for Peace at the Manitoba-North Dakota border, 1966. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.
A person of strong idealism and great intellectual vigour, Peter Makaroff was a natural leader of the Independent Doukhobor movement. He achieved great distinction in his chosen profession. While he was strongly committed to traditional Doukhobor values of non-violence and brotherhood, he was not so much inclined, perhaps, to engage in Doukhobor religious services on a regular basis. For him the Doukhobor tradition was more something to be lived on a day-to-day basis, and its ideals of pacifism and sharing were also to be pursued m the political forum. He was admired by many of his fellow Doukhobors because of his valued professional counsel and activities, with one of his main services to his community being the rescue of Peter P. Verigin from deportation in 1933. He also reached out into the broader community and made friends in diverse sectors. The first Doukhobor graduate of the provincial university, he blazed a trail that many younger members of his religion followed later. It was very fitting that after his death in 1971 his ashes were strewn in the Petrovka area on the North Saskatchewan River where the Makaroffs had made their first Canadian home some seven decades earlier.
This article originally appeared in the pages of Saskatchewan History, an award-winning magazine dedicated to encouraging both readers and writers to explore the province’s history. Published by the Saskatchewan Archives since 1948, it is the pre-eminent source of information and narration about Saskatchewan’s unique heritage. For more information, visit Saskatchewan History online at: http://www.saskarchives.com/web/history.html.