Portrait of a Doukhobor Conscientious Objector: An Interview with Mike S. Nadane

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Mike S. Nadane (1918-) is the son of Russian Doukhobor immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1899 and settled in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan. Raised on the family farm, he received his early education at the Bonnybank one-room rural school before moving to the Town of Kamsack to attend high school. Upon completing his grade twelve, Mike worked at the Rexall Drugs store in Kamsack for three years and then established Nadanes Ltd., a general store with his brother Alex. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Mike refused to perform military service when he received his call-up papers. As a conscientious objector, he chose to perform alternative service instead. He was initially sent to Fort William, Ontario where he worked in a military aircraft factory. He was then sent to Montreal Lake in northern Saskatchewan, where along with 70 other Doukhobor men, he worked in a road construction camp, building Highway No. 2 between Prince Albert and Lac la Ronge. After completing his alternative service, Mike returned to Kamsack, where he raised a family and ran the store with his brother until his retirement in 1983. In the following interview, conducted by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff on September 23, 2011, Mike discusses his experiences of 70 years ago as a Doukhobor conscientious objector. 

Mike S. Nadane, Kamsack, Saskatchewan, September 23, 2011.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


What is your full name?

Mike S. Nadane.

What is your present address?

Eaglestone Lodge, Kamsack, SK.

What is your date of birth?

February 3, 1918.

Where were you born?

On the farm, six miles south, three miles west of Kamsack in the Bonnybank school district.

What were your parent’s names and occupations?

Sam and Tatyana (Evdokimoff) Nadane. They were farmers.

Describe your upbringing as a Canadian Doukhobor. How did it influence you growing up?

Well, my dad – we never lived in the Community. Our dad went Independent and he got his naturalization papers – from Canada – and of course with that he was allowed to buy a quarter-section of [homestead] land for ten dollars – which they were giving away – which he did.

So we lived on a farm at the time I was born. The house I was born in became a chicken coop later!  [laughter]  It was a small house; dad after several years built a house that was, you know, like a house.

Dad – he farmed. When he started farming he didn’t have enough money to buy seed wheat so he bought oats. He broke on this quarter section of land that he bought about sixty acres that were prairie – he seeded it in oats. When he finished harvesting, he had six thousand bushels of grain – a hundred bushels an acre. At fifty cents a bushel, that was three thousand dollars. That was money. So he got friendly with a Jewish chap by the name of David Shwartzman in Kamsack – who ran a store – and he went in partnership with him; sold the farm for two thousand dollars, and had this other money, and he went in partnership. Well, he stayed in the partnership for a year, and it wasn’t his cup of tea. So he bought his farm back with his two thousand dollars, and he went farming again. [laughter] Got himself a line of machinery and went back farming. That’s where he spent the rest of his life – farming. He had cows, chickens, geese, ducks – everything.

We all ate meat – we were Doukhobors, but we ate meat. Dad – he was a small boy yet – back wherever he was, it was close to the Turkish border – in Tiflis. He was eleven or so years old; he went with this farmer and he was herding pigs and cows in the bushes. This farmer – he made him come to work sunup to sunset – he’d work for him all day and then go back home at night. While he was with him, they started eating meat then. When he was just a little fella. He said, “boy, it sure smelled good”.  [laughter]  So the rest of the villagers – they went blind after sunset – that’s the way it was. He was the only who could see. And his step-father – his father didn’t go with the Doukhobors, he stayed in Russia, and his mother, she married a Dubasoff. So, he says, we’ll eat meat. So that’s the way it was. And of course when they came to Canada, they didn’t stop eating meat. His step-father – he got his citizenship papers too, and they lived on the farm also. So dad worked with him.

When I was growing up, we had neighbours close by. We were on the northwest quarter; there was a neighbour across the road and a neighbour going west. These people – they were Ukrainians – the others were Doukhobors – they had a boy. I got to know him – think I was maybe four or five – he was my age, and a boy my younger brother’s age – Sam. So we played together – we all grew up till I started going to school. Then dad moved us into town.

Although I started school in Bonnybank. My two sisters and my older brother Alex – they had a previous education and they passed their grade eight school, so they had to go to high-school, and Kamsack was the place. And dad still had this little house, so he moved us into there. I started school in Kamsack in 1924-25. I went to high school and passed my grade twelve. During the summer holidays, I went back to the farm. Worked with four horses; six foot disc; two-share plow!  [laughter] And five sections of harrows. Did a lot of walking in those days. Of course the disc and plow I rode. Helped dad all the time I was going to school – every summer. When I finished Grade Twelve, dad, of course, he had bought another quarter-section of land closer to town – two or three miles out of town. And so he had that quarter-section and he kept the other farm too. So in the summer time, we moved over to the one closer to Kamsack, cause the farm that we were on didn’t have enough pasture for the cows; we had lots of pasture with this one. So we lived in both places.

Mom – we had chickens and cows and everything. So we were never short of food, anyway. A lot of people during the Thirties, they went on relief. Dad didn’t go on relief. Or anybody who worked for him, for five dollars a month.

And that’s the way I was brought up.

When I passed Grade 12, I got a job in the drug store – after 1936-1937 I was through high school. I worked for Jack Lipsett at the Rexall Drugs store for about three years. Then my brother, he opened up a store. He was working for this David Shwartzman after he finished his Grade Eight. Dad sort of set him up on the business – it was a grocery business and dry goods too. I worked for him till the war started; then I had to go.

First I was sent to Fort William – I worked in an aircraft factory for the United States Navy. We were building Curtiss Helldivers. The deal was, of course, I got the regular wages that everyone else got, but I had to pay $25 a month to the government for being a Doukhobor. That cut my living down!  [laughter]  I was there until the war ended. After that, I came back to Kamsack and I worked for my brother, for the rest of the time, until we closed the store in 1983.

Outbreak of World War Two

Where were you living when war broke out in 1939?

In Kamsack.

What was your occupation at the time?

I was working for my brother at that time. He had his business set up at that time.

What was your marital and family status at the time?

I was married. I had my first child, Karen.

What was your personal reaction to the outbreak of war? What do you recall thinking and feeling when you first heard the news?

At first – we were friends with people and this one friend of ours, Louie Eckford, he was a chiropractor. We were together friends. He had joined the navy, and I was ready to join the navy too. But then, my folks stepped in and said “no, you can’t join the navy”. And so I didn’t join the navy. I worked for brother until I had to go to camp. First was I had to go to Fort William.

What was the general reaction of your Doukhobor friends and family to the war?

Everybody – they used to have meetings about this and that with the government when they decided we had to go to camp – they were negotiating about what they were going to do with the young people that were of call-up age. The government said that you have to go to camp – they would send us wherever we had to go, which was mostly building roads. I forget what the government wanted to pay us, but the guys who negotiated for us said, “well no, they’re going to work for fifty cents a day”. That’s what we got paid – fifty cents a day!  [laughter]

What was the general reaction of your non-Doukhobor friends and neighbours to the war? Did it differ from the Doukhobors?

They were sort of belligerent about that – friends, you know. “Oh yeah”, they said, “that’s not right”. But they couldn’t do nothing about it.

Did you belong to a Doukhobor organization during the war? If so, what organization?

My dad was what they called an Independent Doukhobor. They weren’t in the Community, you see. We had services at the Kamsack Doukhobor Society. They belonged to that organization.

A national registration was carried out in 1940. The Doukhobors were permitted to register their own people. Do you recall that event?

No. I went and registered with the government [myself]. I’ve still got my registration card.

Compulsory military training in Canada was announced in 1940. Did this change your views about the war?

No – that really didn’t change my view. What was happening was happening.

How and when did you receive your call-up to perform compulsory military training?

I forget the date.

Opposition to Military Service

Did you object to military service when you received your call-up?

Yes. I was a conscientious objector.

Why did you object to military service? What religious and philosophical beliefs led you to this decision?

Well, mostly because of my parents. Their wishes were that I don’t go to war. So I listened to father and mother.

Mike S. Nadane (centre with guitar) with two tent mates, alternative service work camp, Montreal Lake, SK, 1941.  He was 21 years of age at the time.

Alternative Service

In 1941, Conscientious Objectors were allowed to perform alternative service, or jail, instead of military service. What was “alternative service” and what did this involve?

It was explained to us what it was – I understood what it was.

Given your objection to military service, why did you choose alternate service?

I didn’t want to go to jail – and be a jailbird.

Did you have to report and register with the authorities for alternative service? What did this process involve?

Not really. When the call-up came up for us to go to camp, we got letters, and we were transported. They provided transportation for us.

Where were you designated to perform alternative service? Did you know where you would be going and what you would be doing?

Yes. They explained where we were going.

How long did you have to perform alternative service? When did it begin and end?

I think it was thirty days. I wasn’t there for four months – maybe two at the most.

The Work Camp

How did you get to the work camp?

They transported us by train to Prince Albert. And then we were put on a bus after that, going further north on Number 2 Highway past Clear Lake. We went to Clear Lake – there was a camp at Clear Lake – another work camp. We stopped there for lunch. And then they kept us going to Montreal Lake.

Did you travel alone or with others?

There were others that went with me. From Kamsack – there was Al Malakoe, Alec Kalmakoff, John Cazakoff, John Vanin from Pelly was with us. There were quite a few of us from Kamsack together.

Describe the work camp you stayed at. Where was it located?

It was at Montreal Lake.

What was the physical layout? What kind of structures?

It was all tents. Maybe 10 in a tent. I shared a tent with Al Malakoe, and Bill Malekoff – on the farm we were neighbours, half a mile apart. I forget who else we had.
The cook shack was a tent; the dining room was a tent. There were about 40 or 50 of us eating at one time, so they had a big long table there for us to have dinners, breakfasts, lunch.

They had a first aid van there for us. Outside of that, it was pretty much all tents. Everything was all temporary.

Did you know of other CO work camps in the area?

There was another camp at Clear Lake. There were 16 Doukhobors there.

Did you know many of the Doukhobors at the camp when you arrived there?

Well, the ones that were in Kamsack. And of course, a few from Veregin that I knew. Demofski and Mahonin and guys like that. John Vanin from Pelly. Yes, I knew quite a few of them.

Did you make many friends with Doukhobors from other communities?

Oh yes, we were all together. We would sing songs. Al Malakoe – he had a guitar, and we’d sing Russian songs like you wouldn’t believe!

Who were the non-Doukhobors who stayed at the camp? What were their names and what jobs did they perform? What do you recall about them?

The foreman for the roadwork. And the cook. They were good company. Nothing was said about anything. We just had one happy gang. Everybody got along.

What were your assigned tasks and duties at the camp?

I was what they called a “bull cook”. I helped the cook peel potatoes, stuff like that, and we served the tables. That took all of our time – we were steady on that. We were up early in the morning for breakfast – to get all the dishes on the tables. The cook, of course, had everything prepared, because we helped him peel potatoes and whatever was needed for him. He did the cooking, and it was ready to cook, ready to serve. There were six of us altogether [helping the cook].

Of the other Doukhobors?

The rest of the men worked on road construction – most of them. What they did, I couldn’t even tell you. Where they were working was about five or six miles north of us. So they went in the morning and they went out there in a gang and came back at night. They had their lunch out there. They had trucks – it is possible they rode out there.

Describe the construction work itself. What type of work was involved? Was it manual labour or did you operate equipment?

Most of it was manual labour.

Would you say that the work was difficult?

No, not really. Nobody strained themselves.  [laughter]

Were there chores at the camp besides the construction work?

There were fellows who cleaned the tent – swept it out, things like that. Latrines, things like that. They were assigned from among the Doukhobors.

Were there any special dietary needs in camp? Were there any vegetarians?

Yes – one especially, I’ll never forget!  [laughter]  Alex – he was from Pelly. He claimed he didn’t eat meat. But you put baloney on the table, and he lapped ‘er up like you wouldn’t believe!  [laughter]

Did the kitchen staff make traditional Doukhobor food?

I don’t remember [any Doukhobor food]. It was English food – soup, meat and potatoes.

Were there any opportunities for recreation and relaxation at the camp, when you weren’t working? What did this involve?

Everyone was pretty well on their own. Nobody really had anything really going. The boys in our tent – we would sing – and guys from other tents, they’d come in to join us. Singsongs happened often – pretty much every night.

I don’t remember playing any sports.

Possibly there were opportunities to go swimming and fishing – if you were interested enough to go some place. But I never went swimming or fishing – although the lake [Montreal Lake] was close enough.

What reading materials did you have in camp?

I don’t remember reading a lot; although we’d catch a newspaper every once in a while. But outside of that, I didn’t have any books, myself, to read. I don’t know if the other boys read or not.

Did you listen to the radio?

Gosh, you know, I don’t remember.

Were Doukhobor spiritual sobranies and choir practices held at the camp?

No prayer meetings. No choir practices [that I recall].

What main language did you speak in camp?

Mostly English – even among ourselves.

Did you interact much with the local Cree Indian residents?

No – none that I remember.

What visitors do you recall coming to the camp?

Yes – we had, the odd time, visitors. That’s so long ago, I forget what really happened. We didn’t have too many [friends and family]. Didn’t have too many visitors that way.

Were you allowed to take leave from the work camp?

No – I was there for the whole time.

Do you recall any disciplinary problems at the camp?

Not really, no.

Were you paid for your work at the camp? If so, how much?

We got paid fifty cents a day.

All and all, did you enjoy camp life?

I enjoyed it – I think everybody there enjoyed it.

When your alternative service ended, how did you travel back home?

Same way we came. In groups – some went to Blaine Lake, others [elsewhere]. Prince Albert was sort of the centre – they dispersed from Prince Albert. We took the train from Prince Albert – I did anyway, and the boys from Kamsack did.

What’s your fondest memory of the camp?

The companionship, you know. We were all together – having a good time, so to speak. We were all there for the same reason. There were no big differences of opinion among the group.

When you arrived back home, how was the attitude of your family and local people towards you as one who chose not to go to war?

Nothing very serious about anything. It happened – it happened. You went and you came back. The local Doukhobor people were supportive. The local people who weren’t Doukhobors – maybe they made comments, but it wasn’t a big deal.

What did you do once you left the camp?

I went back to work in the store. That’s where I worked until my retirement.

Did you continue to keep in touch with the other Doukhobor men you met at the camp?

Once in a while, yeah. I remember John Bondoreff – he was asking me about something one time. Every once in a while, we’d get in touch – most of the time by phone.

And the men from Kamsack who were at the camp with you – did you often talk about that experience, later in life?

Well, yeah, we always got together, and said what a good time we used to have.  [laughter]

In Retrospect

Looking back, seventy years later, how did alternative service impact your life?

I can’t really say. I did it – and that was it.

Do you still feel as strongly today, as you did then, about your objection to war?

Oh yeah. I see no reason for it.

Based on your experience in the Second World War, what message would you give Doukhobors today, or in the future, about war and military service?

Well, I’d say that war is not the answer to the questions that have to be settled. They should be settled peaceably, across the table.

There is a proposal to name the highway you helped build the “Highway of Peace”. What do you think of this proposal?

Well, I guess that’s a good idea. That’s good… I support that.

Thank you, Mike, for agreeing to participate in this interview.

Group photo of 54 Doukhobor conscientious objectors – alternative service work camp, Montreal Lake, SK, August 25, 1941.  Mike S. Nadane is standing in the third row (circled).

For More Information

For more information on Doukhobor conscientious objectors during the Second World War, see the following links: