Peter “Lordly” Verigin – Doukhobor Leader Arrives

Manitoba Morning Free Press

On December 15, 1902, Peter "Lordly" Verigin arrived in Canada to assume leadership of the Doukhobors after spending nearly 16 years in exile in Siberia. The following article, reproduced from the Manitoba Morning Free Press (Tuesday, December 23, 1902), details his arrival in Winnipeg, Manitoba en route to the Doukhobor colonies near Yorkton, Saskatchewan.

Peter Verigin, Whose Personality Sways His People, En route to Join Them From Siberian Exile – Is Noncommittal – Russian Brutality

Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin

For three hours before the train from the east pulled in yesterday afternoon, a number of people patiently promenaded the platform awaiting its arrival. One of them, a woman, has been there since early morning. She was awaiting her brother, whom she had not seen for fifteen years. She knew nothing of the congestion of traffic along the C.P.R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) and so kept steadfast watch lest the train might get in before its advertised time, determined, no matter when it arrived, that her brother should find someone there to meet him.

When at a little before 3 o’clock the train drew in, there alighted from one of the front coaches a tall, quiet looking man, carrying a black leather valise studded with nickel bosses arranged in curious design. A dark blue gaberdine reached half way to the knees, over his trousers were fastened close fitting, dark grey leggings, piped at the edges with black cloth. His headgear was a black fedora. Around his neck he wore a long cord fastened to which was a heavy silver watch and a richly chased gold pencil. Alongside the watch pocket was a fountain pen, secured by loops of the cloth. 

The traveller was Peter Verigin, newly come to Canada after fifteen years of Siberian exile. The woman awaiting him was his sister.

In the crush of Christmas travel it was some time before those looking for the new arrival could find the object of their search. Accompanied by Interpreter Harvey, who had gone east to meet Verigin, and by Ivan Ivin, Paul Planidin and Semeon Rieben, three Doukhobors who had been deputized by the communities to extend the Doukhobor leader a welcome on his arrival. Verigin walked eastward along the platform.

A Happy Reunion

His sister saw him, standing half a head taller than the average, and ran towards him, followed by the other waiting Doukhobors, with joyful cries. Verigin dropped his valise, took off his had, opened his arms and cried “Anna!” He kissed his sister and the others and quietly walked on toward the immigration buildings, being introduced on the way to Mr. H.P. Archer, Crerar, of Yorkton – both of whom of Swan River Immigration Agent have been for days in the city awaiting his coming – to Mrs. Almanopsky, who acted s interpreter, and the Free Press representative.

On the party’s arriving at the immigration buildings, Verigin was shown the room set apart for his use. Here he spent a little more time chatting with his sister and friends, enquiring after his mother, who is 86 years of age and who lives at Poterpevshie village with his sister, whose full name is Anna Vasilievna Verigina. Then, after the baggage had been packed away and the foregoing domestic enquiries made, the party moved downstairs to Acting (Immigration) Commission Moffatt’s office.

Mr. Moffatt greeted Verigin warmly, welcoming him to the west in the name of the Dominion authorities. In answer to his enquiries as to his voyage, Verigin said it was a long journey, good but rough. He had sailed from Liverpool after crossing Europe from Moscow to Warsaw, and thence to England.

“You’ll be glad to be in a country,” said Mr. Moffatt, “where there is religious and individual freedom”. “I haven’t looked around yet,” answered Verigin through an interpreter, “so I cannot yet tell whether this is a free country or not”. “You know, however,” said Mr. Moffatt, “that in Canada we do not put people in prison because of their political or religious views”. “Oh yes,” answered Verigin, “I know that”. “People have been looking for your coming for a long time,” said Agent Crerar. “There are 300 Doukhobors at Yorkton station, watching every train for you. And there is one person very anxious to see you – your mother”.

Wants to See His Mother

Verigin had up till that time been quietly courteous and dignified: but his manner underwent a change, becoming alertly interested. “Did you see my mother; yes?” he asked. “When did you see her? Was she well?” Mr. Crerar satisfied him on these points, and then Verigin asked him when the train could take him there. “I am in a hurry to see my mother,” he said. “There is no train till tomorrow, yes?” “I would go today if I could; yes!” Then he realized that perhaps he might be taking up too much of the commissioner’s time. “Shall I see you again, yes,” he asked, “You are perhaps now too occupied?”

Anastasia Verigin, mother of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin

Being answered on this point, Mr. Moffatt asked him concerning his visit to Ottawa. “I couldn’t talk much business,” he said, “for I had not seen the Doukhobors. Of myself I knew nothing of their troubles; only of what I heard. They told me the people would not take up their homestead lands”. “Did you hear about the pilgrimage?” asked Mr. Crerar, “and of the action taken by the government to prevent the pilgrims from being frozen to death?” “I had not heard any particulars,” answered Verigin. “it was in print in Russian papers. They said that 200 people were frozen to death.

Mr. Crerar told him that this was entirely false. Pointing to the Free Press representative, who was the only newspaper man present at the interview, Mr. Crerar told Verigin that he had accompanied the pilgrims throughout their wanderings, and personally knew of all the facts in connection therewith. “Is that so, yes?” said Verigin. “I shall have much to ask him”.

Verigin’s Personality

Throughout the interview Verigin said little, only speaking in reply to questions, and allowing the others to do the talking. His manner was marked with a natural courtesy and simple dignity that would single him out for notice anywhere. His voice is low, and of singular sweetness. Physically, Verigin is a splendid type of his race. Tall and strongly built, and of erect and graceful carriage, he would attract attention among hundreds of good looking men. His features are regular and his skin of an olive pallor. His hair and beard, which is luxuriant, are black as jet. His eyes are dark and thoughtful, and his whole expression that of a man who has suffered much, and has triumphed over everything through the force of kingly courage and constancy.

It was evident that he would make no statement as to his future actions or the counsel he would give the Doukhobors, who for months have been anxiously awaiting his coming, till he had personally familiarized himself with every phase of the situation. Mr. Moffatt, indeed, and wisely, did not attempt to draw from Verigin any statement. “You will know all about the troubles the government has had with the Doukhobors,” he said, “when you get among them. We all hope your coming may have a very good effect. We will do anything possible to help you. You must be tired after your long journey. And you must be hungry. So now I’ll say goodbye to you, and wish you a safe journey to your mother tomorrow.”

Verigin listened gravely, and when this was translated, rose and shook hands with the commissioner. “I thank you very much,” said he, “I hope my coming may be good. I hope so indeed,” and so went upstairs to his room.

May Not Stay in Canada

In a few minutes a message was sent down to the Free Press man, asking him to join Verigin in the latter’s room. The reporter found Planidin, Rieben and Verigin’s sister busy in preparing a meal for the traveller. Verigin sat in an armchair, and, after welcoming the newspaper man, resumed his conversation with Mrs. Almanopsky, asking many questions as to the location of the different Doukhobor lands and communities. Before he had concluded, Agent Crerar came up to ascertain if Verigin would stay long in Yorkton. Representative Doukhobors from every village in the Yorkton and Swan River colonies were there, and the government desired to have a list compiled of all the Doukhobors eligible for homesteads, the number of those willing to take up land, the number of those who had already made entry and the reasons for not making entry on the part of those who refused. Verigin said he did not want to delay to hold any such conference at the present time; he wanted to get to the village where his mother was. “I may not stay in Canada,” he said, “I may go back to Russia.”

“Could all these people see me tomorrow night?” he asked. But it was explained that the train did not arrive till late. “Then let it be in two or three weeks,” he said.

The conversation drifted to Russian topics. Mr. Crerar said that he had heard the Tsar proposed releasing all Siberian exiles at the New Year. Verigin laughed heartily. “You must have read that in a newspaper,” said he, “what is said in newspapers is not always true. It is only the students that are going to be released.”

His Exiledom

The Free Press man asked Verigin to say something concerning his life in exile. “That would be a long story,” he said. “If I could talk English I should much like to tell you. But you cannot always trust interpreters. But I was sent to exile from the Caucasus for five years; when that was passed I was sentenced for another five years, and when that, too, had gone, I was given yet another five years. When I was allowed to go free I wanted to go to the Caucasus to see my wife and son, but the government would not allow me, nor would they allow them to come to see me. They might have come to Canada with the Doukhobors four years ago, but they would not because it would take them further from me, and I do not know whether the government will give them passports to come to Canada, and perhaps I shall never see them.”

As Verigin talked of his wife his voice broke several times. He sprang up from his chair and paced up and down the room while speaking of them, and it was some minutes before he regained his composure. 

“What did you do while in exile?” next asked the reporter. Verigin responded, “I toiled, ate and slept, of course. I used an axe and carpentered and built stores. We had all to earn our own living, for the Russian government allow nothing for the sustenance of its exiles. Many times I asked for a trial, but it was always refused. I was never condemned by a judge, or by due process of law, but by an “administrative order” of the government, which enables them to detain any person objective to it”. 

“Are the reports of cruelty and ill usage of the exiles, of which we sometimes hear, true?”

Russian Brutality

“In what way you mean, ill use?” answered Verigin, “the exiles are sent to a village. They have to walk all the way. If they are tired and fall behind, they are beaten. If they try to run away they are shot. If they go outside the village boundaries they are punished; maybe sent down the mines. In Irkutsk there were some student exiles. They said they wanted the limits of their walks extended, that it was ridiculous to confine them in such a small space. Soon after they were told to march into a building. Expecting to hear a reply to their request they went. The building was surrounded by soldiers. They fired a volley, wounding many of the students and killing two. 

At Moscow, Verigin saw Count Tolstoy, who was rejoiced at his release. “I wonder if the government hasn’t made a mistake,” he said, “you’d better get to Canada soon for they may change their minds and give you another five years.”

By this time Verigin’s sister and the others had completed their preparations for the meal. The kettle was set on the white table cloth – woven by the Doukhobor women – (it was spotlessly clean and did not soil it in the least) to use as a samovar. Bread with Cross & Blackwell’s jam were the staples. Loaf sugar was poured out on a plate and eaten as a relish. Verigin cut a lemon in thin slices and poured tea, inviting the Free Press representative to join him at his meal. During the progress of the repast, Verigin chatted with perfect ease on general topics. He said he wanted to take a walk around the city (of Winnipeg) that evening as his Doukhobor friends had often written to him of its marvels. He looked with some surprise at the electric light, when it was turned on, but merely remarked, “I am seeing new things all the time.”