Yorkton and Area Doukhobor Historical Tour

For Immediate Release – June 30, 2010

On Sunday, June 27, 2008, the National Heritage Doukhobor Village hosted its fifth annual guided motor coach tour of Doukhobor historical sites and points of interest – this year in Yorkton, Saskatchewan and surrounding areas. Approximately sixty people took part in the excursion, which travelled through the Canora, Hamton, Ebenezer, Yorkton, Insinger and Sheho areas, visiting a number of heritage buildings and structures built by the Doukhobor Community as part of its trading, industrial and commercial activities in the areas in the early twentieth century.

Group photo of tour participants at Insinger, SK.  Photo courtesy Keith & Sonya Tarasoff.

“While the Doukhobor Community is largely remembered as an agricultural organization, few people today are aware of its achievements as a commercial enterprise, and the impact it had on the development of the surrounding area”, said Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, Doukhobor historian and tour co-organizer.

In the Teens and Twenties, the Doukhobor communal organization known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) was at the height of material achievement as a trading, industrial, agricultural and forestry enterprise in Saskatchewan. It had landholdings totaling over 30,000 acres in the province on which were built numerous communal villages, sawmills, flour mills, grain elevators, brickworks, trading stores, warehouses, roads, ferries and bridges, as well as cultivated crops and market gardens. The Community also hired itself out to perform large construction contracts. Underpinning the success of the organization was a membership of over fifteen hundred Doukhobor men who provided a large, readily-mobilized labour force guided by the slogan “Toil and Peaceful Life”.

The Fort Pelly Trail circa 1907.  The ox-cart trail ran in a south-westerly direction from Fort Pelly, through the Doukhobor village settlements and the Ebenezer district, to Yorkton.

The Yorkton & Area Doukhobor Historical Tour commenced at the Doukhobor Prayer Home in Canora at 9:00 a.m. with greetings and introductory remarks by Keith Tarasoff, chairman of the National Heritage Doukhobor Village and tour co-organizer.

The tour visited the site of the Doukhobor Block, a complex of buildings on 2nd Avenue East in Canora built, owned and operated by the Doukhobor Community. These included a large trading store (1910); annex (1912); storage warehouse (1916); workers residence (1913); and livery barn (1913). The trading store (known today as the Lunn Hotel) still stands and is the oldest and largest Doukhobor-built building still in use in Canada. The tour then stopped on Railway Avenue at the site of a 60,000-bushel grain elevator built for hire by the Doukhobor Community in 1912.

The Doukhobor Trading Store (now the Lunn Hotel) on 2nd Avenue East in Canora, SK.  Built by the CCUB in 1910, it is the oldest and largest Doukhobor building in Canada still in use. Photo courtesy Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The tour proceeded to Hamton and visited the site of the communal farm settlement known as Burtsevo, which from 1907 to 1918 served as a stopping point for Doukhobor wagon teams travelling between Veregin and Yorkton on the Fort Pelly Trail. Because it was a day trip each way by horse and wagon, the Doukhobor Community purchased this section farm along the trail so that they would have a place to stop and rest their horses. The original house, trading store and Doukhobor-made brick-lined wells on the property are still there to see.

The Burtsevo farmhouse, Hamton, SK.  Built by the CCUB in 1907, it was a stopping place for Doukhobor wagon teams travelling between Veregin and Yorkton on the Fort Pelly Trail. Photo courtesy Al and Bernice Makowsky.

Continuing south, the tour followed the route of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line, built for hire by the Doukhobor Community in 1910. The 30-mile branch line – still in use today – connected the towns of Canora and Yorkton and resulted in the creation of several new centres along the way, including the hamlets of Burgis, Gorlitz, Hamton and Ebenezer.

The tour stopped at Ebenezer, where the Doukhobor Community was hired to construct a 25,000-bushel grain elevator (1910); a two-story brick general store, adjoining brick business building and residence known as the ‘Border Block’ (1911); a two-story brick home and cinderblock barn (1911); and a two-story brick hotel, adjoining brick business building and residence known as the ‘Janzen Block’ (1920). The latter three buildings are still standing. The Doukhobor Community itself owned 20 lots in the hamlet (1910) and built a large barn on the outskirts of Ebenezer (1914) for use as a stopping point for Doukhobor wagon teams travelling on the Fort Pelly Trail.

The Janzen Block in Ebenezer, SK, built by the CCUB in 1920. Photo courtesy Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The tour proceeded to Yorkton and visited the site of the large brick factory on Dracup Avenue owned and operated by the Doukhobor Community from 1905-1925. The factory, which produced up to 50,000 bricks a day, supplied millions of bricks for building projects across Western Canada. The factory was dismantled in 1940; however, three original structures – dwelling houses for the factory workers – are still standing. The tour then passed a number of Yorkton buildings constructed of Doukhobor brick including: three two-story homes on Fifth Avenue North; the Blackstone Hotel (today known as the City Limits Inn), a large two-story brick structure on Betts Avenue built and owned by the Doukhobor Community (1935); and six dwelling houses on Myrtle Avenue – three of which are still standing – built and owned by the Doukhobor Community (1932). In 1990, one of these homes was purchased by the City of Yorkton for preservation as a heritage site to commemorate the history of the Doukhobors in Yorkton.

The Blackstone Hotel (now the City Limits Inn) on Betts Avenue in Yorkton, SK, built by the CCUB in 1935. 

Photo courtesy Jonthan J. Kalmakoff.

The tour stopped at Jaycee Beach Park where, following the Lord’s Prayer recited in Russian, the tour participants enjoyed a picnic lunch and rest stop.

One of six dwelling houses built by the CCUB on Myrtle Avenue in Yorkton, SK in 1932. Three remain today. Photo courtesy Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The tour then resumed and continued to Sheho, where it visited the site of the communal farm settlement known as Blagodatnoye. From 1907 to 1926, the farm supplied the Doukhobor Community with wood to fire the kilns at the Yorkton brick factory. As the heavily treed farm was cleared by Doukhobor work crews, the trees were cut into cordwood and shipped by rail to Yorkton and the cleared land was farmed. At Blagodatnoye, the Doukhobor Community built a large two-story brick dwelling house along with a large wooden barn and numerous outbuildings, none of which remain today. A small Doukhobor cemetery still exists at the site.

The large two-story brick communal home built by the CCUB in Sheho in 1907.  It was demolished in 1982. Photo courtesy Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The tour then proceeded to Insinger, where it visited the site of another communal farm settlement. From 1907 to 1928, this heavily treed farm also supplied the Doukhobor Community with firewood for its Yorkton brickworks. As the land was cleared, the trees were cut into cordwood and transported to Yorkton by rail, and the cleared land was farmed. Here also, the Doukhobor Community built a large two-story brick dwelling house which is still standing and is in the process of being renovated. It is the last structure of its kind left in Saskatchewan.

The large two-story brick communal home built by the CCUB in Insinger in 1907.  Currently under renovation, it is the last remaining structure of its kind in Saskatchewan.  Photo courtesy Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

On the return leg, the tour stopped in Theodore at the residence of Pauline Lapitsky. There, tour participants enjoyed Doukhobor song singing by the combined Saskatchewan choir members along with tour participants from Alberta and Manitoba, followed by lunch and refreshments. The tour concluded in Canora at 5:00 p.m.

Throughout the eight-hour excursion, Jonathan J. Kalmakoff served as tour guide, sharing his wealth of knowledge about the history of the places and people. Tour participants also shared a number of interesting stories and anecdotes.

“Many of the tour participants were amazed at what we were able to show them,” said Keith Tarasoff. “Few were aware of the scope of Doukhobor commercial activity in the area, and fewer yet knew about the legacy of buildings and structures they left”.

For additional information or inquiries about Doukhobor historic sites in Yorkton and the surrounding area, visit the Doukhobor Genealogy Website at www.doukhobor.org and the National Heritage Doukhobor Village website at www.ndhv.ca.

Heritage Architecture Excellence Award Bestowed to Doukhobor Prayer Home at Veregin, Saskatchewan

For Immediate Release – October 28, 2008

The Doukhobor Prayer Home at Veregin, Saskatchewan has been bestowed with the prestigious Heritage Architecture Award of Excellence. The Honourable Dr. Gordon Barnhart, Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, presented the award to the building owner, the National Doukhobor Heritage Village, at a special public ceremony at Government House in Regina today.

The unique building known as the Prayer Home was constructed in Veregin, Saskatchewan in 1917 by the Doukhobor Community. The second floor was the private residence of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin, while a communal prayer area was located on the main level. The vast open site surrounding the house accommodated large gatherings drawn from Doukhobor colonies throughout Saskatchewan, who assembled to hear the words of their leader as he addressed them from the second floor balcony.

Award presentation ceremony at Government House, Regina, Saskatchewan. [l-r] Dr. Gordon L. Barnhart, Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan; Charles Samuels, building contractor; Keith Tarasoff, Chairman, National Heritage Doukhobor Village; and Al Gill, President, Architectural Heritage Saskatchewan.

Serving for over ninety years as the social, cultural and spiritual centre of Doukhobor life in Saskatchewan, this building remains highly significant as one of the most architecturally significant structures in Saskatchewan. Its two-storey wrap around verandah is a unique design feature in this province, and the hand-cut metal fretwork arches display exceptional artistic talent and design.

Over the past quarter century, the Prayer Home has undergone several major restoration initiatives, including re-shingling with cedar shingles, repainting, foundation repairs, and most recently repair and restoration of the wrap-around verandah, following the original design. In addition, a fire suppression system was installed to protect both the interior and the exterior of this highly flammable wooden structure.

These preservation efforts are an excellent example of the devotion to authentic restoration that the owner, the National Doukhobor Heritage Village, has contributed to this National Historic Site. For this reason, the Doukhobor Prayer Home received the Heritage Architecture Award of Excellence for the category of ‘Exterior Restoration’.

Cover of Autumn 2008 issue of Heritage Quarterly Saskatchewan featuring the Doukhobor Prayer Home at Veregin, Saskatchewan.

The Heritage Architecture Awards of Excellence are the most prestigious honour bestowed by the Saskatchewan Architectural Heritage Society. The Lieutenant Governor is the Patron of the juried awards that have recognized 94 projects throughout the province since the Society launched the program in 1996.

Dedicated to promotion, protection and preservation of Saskatchewan’s built heritage for residents and visitors to our province, the Saskatchewan Architectural Heritage Society has a province-wide membership of almost 400 individuals and is a federally-registered charity.

There are now seven categories in the Heritage Architecture Excellence awards: Exterior Restoration; Interior Conservation; Rehabilitation; Adaptive Re-Use; Sympathetic New Construction; Landscape, Engineering and Agricultural Works; and Education, signage, Monuments & Interpretation.

“We are very pleased that the Doukhobor Prayer Home has been recognized in the Exterior Restoration category of the Heritage Architecture Excellence awards”, said Keith Tarasoff, chairman of the National Heritage Doukhobor Village. “We sincerely appreciate this acknowledgement of our ongoing efforts to preserve and promote our Doukhobor heritage.”

For additional information or inquiries about the Doukhobor Prayer Home 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.

Doukhobor Prayer Home at Veregin, Saskatchewan Featured in Edifice & Us Documentary Series

p>For Immediate Release – March 29, 2008

The Prayer Home at the National Doukhobor Heritage Village in Veregin, Saskatchewan will be featured in an upcoming episode of Edifice & Us, a television documentary that explores Saskatchewan through the architectural heritage of the province. The half-hour episode, entitled “Home of the Spirit Wrestlers”, premiers on the Saskatchewan Communication Network (SCN) on Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 8:30 p.m. and again Thursday, April 3, 2008 at midnight.

Located in the small farming community of Veregin in eastern Saskatchewan, the spectacular Prayer Home reflects the community’s importance to the Doukhobors as a religious and cultural centre, as well as the authority and the vision of the leader of the Doukhobors, Peter V. Verigin. Constructed in 1917 as the spiritual meeting place of the community and Verigin’s personal residence, this finely-crafted wooden building with its two-storey wrap-around veranda and elaborate metal work was inspired by 19th-century Doukhobor architectural traditions in Russia. The vast open site surrounding the house accommodated large gatherings drawn from Doukhobor colonies throughout Saskatchewan, who assembled to hear the words of their leader as he addressed them from the second floor balcony. It was the administrative headquarters of the Doukhobor communal organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) until 1931. Following the demise of the CCUB in 1937-1939, the building sat empty for decades until 1980, when it was restored as the National Doukhobor Heritage Village.  It was declared a Provincial Heritage Site in 1982.  In 2006, it was designated a National Historic Site. Serving for many years as the social, cultural and spiritual centre of Doukhobor life in Saskatchewan, the Prayer Home remains highly significant as a major architectural landmark and for its ongoing role as a prayer home and museum of Doukhobor history.

The Edifice & Us episode “Home of the Spirit Wrestlers” tells the unique story of the Doukhobor Prayer Home. The building acts as a lens to view the poignant human stories that are its life and times. The documentary uses this lens to bring the past alive and view the present life of the building in an entertaining and educational way. It gives viewers access to its unique construction and style, one of the few surviving examples of its builders’ art. It also offers viewers insight into the special role the building has played in the Doukhobor community.

Shot on location during the Heritage Day celebrations at the National Doukhobor Heritage Village in July 2007, “Home of the Spirit Wrestlers” explores the architecture, art and structure that define the Prayer Home’s physical space and its interaction with and impact on the natural environment. The episode tells the human stories of the building’s creators, those who use it and the people who experienced its past, are living its present and are influencing its future. In doing so, it features interview footage with a number of prominent local Doukhobors, including Laura Veregin of Benito, Alex and Mary Sherstabitoff of Veregin, Fred Strukoff of Kamsack, Keith and Sonia Tarasoff of Canora and Philip Perepelkin of Veregin, along with many others.

“By telling the compelling story of the Prayer Home and creating captivating portraits of the Doukhobor settlers who built it and the people who preserve it, “Home of the Spirit Wrestlers” will be of interest to a wide-ranging audience,” said Keith Tarasoff, chairman of the National Heritage Doukhobor Village. “The episode is an entertaining way to help viewers better understand our culture and preserve its history.”

“Home of the Spirit Wrestlers” also features extensive interview footage with Doukhobor writer and historian Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, who discusses the historic, spiritual and cultural significance of the ninety-one year old Doukhobor building. “The Prayer Home in many ways is a monument to the values of the Doukhobor people that built it,” said Kalmakoff. “It provides an enduring image that we use to visualize and remember the past. It shelters the stories of the builders and users of this heritage building.”

Edifice & Us is produced by Wolf Sun Productions and directed by Regina-based filmmaker, Steve Wolfson in partnership with Penny Ward and Richard Diener. The series explores Saskatchewan’s cultural heritage through its architecture, going beyond the bricks and mortar of the buildings to delve into the human stories too.

“Our buildings are shaped by who we are, how we live and creative vision,” said episode director Richard Diener.  “In turn, the structures we create contribute to enhancing our lives and evolving our communities. Our buildings are part art, part science and part the product of necessity. They express our lives and culture.”

For information or inquiries about the Edifice & Us television series or to obtain a DVD copy of the Doukhobor episode “Home of the Spirit Wrestlers”, visit the Edifice & Us website at: http://www.wolfsun.ca/index.html.

New (and past) episodes of Edifice & Us air regularly on the Saskatchewan Communication Network (SCN). For program schedule and information, visit the SCN website at: http://www.scn.ca/.

Russian Roots, An Odyssey

by Dr. Allan Markin

In July of 2004, Dr. Allan Markin and his wife Evelyn of Penticton, British Columbia embarked on a month-long odyssey in Russia, the land of their Doukhobor ancestors. In the following article, reproduced with permission from the Vancouver Sun (October 9, 2004), Allan recounts their experiences of Russian people and places and their exploration of ancestral roots. Mr. Markin observes that as Doukhobors, “part of our hearts will (always) remain in Russia”.

As the creaking Aeroflot jetliner lands at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport I am reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s words: “forgetting the past is like losing the sight of one eye.”  My wife Evelyn and I have convinced ourselves that we are merely tourists in Russia, but the truth is that our ancestors, some 7,500 Doukhobors, left Russia in 1898/99 to escape religious and political persecution.

Approximately 12,000 Doukhobors stayed behind. This historical heritage haunts many Canadian Doukhobors and compels them to search for their roots in Russia.

Starting in St. Petersburg, our month-long odyssey will culminate in a visit to a Doukhobor village south of Moscow, with many stops along the way.

In “St. Pete,” a tour through the Hermitage Museum leaves us breathless. It is said that the Hermitage contains a collection so vast (nearly 3 million exhibits) that if one were to spend just one minute at each exhibit it would take several years to see the entire collection. A private guide is highly recommended.

Near St. Petersburg, in the town of Pushkin, is the Catherine Palace. This stunning “summer place” presents architectural details and decorations ranging from classical elegance to baroque indulgence. Its “amber room” is a world treasure.

Plundered by Nazis during the Second World War, the “amber room” has been restored to its original grandeur. One stands in awe of its inlaid amber panels and designs, with Florentine mosaics and sculptures, and feasts on the fusion of exquisite art, craftsmanship, decadence, opulence, and aristocratic self-indulgence. It is here that I first begin to understand what motivated my ancestors to shun materialism in favor of a simple, agrarian lifestyle.

Later, at the Peterhof Palace, with its dozens of gilded cascades and fountains inspired by Peter the Great’s wish to build a palace that would rival France’s Palace of Versailles, my sense of ancestral roots begins to deepen in an oddly ironic way.

I am starting to understand why my ancestors moved to Canada, but cannot escape the wonders of St. Petersburg. The great Kirov Ballet at the Mariinskiy Theatre, the glorious architecture along St. Petersburg’s canals, the boisterous Nevskiy Prospect, that grand street of international shops, cafes, street markets, and night life that continues long into the “white nights” of St. Petersburg.

Aboard the cruise ship, Allan poses with a tour guide dressed as “Peter the Great”.

We leave all this behind when we board our river cruise ship, the MV Zosima Shashkov. It will be our floating hotel as we sail along the lakes, rivers, and canals that will bring us to Moscow.

There are many stops along the way. In Petrozavodsk we note that statues of Lenin remain standing, and streets named after famous communist leaders (except for Stalin) have kept their names. A public referendum determined that nothing would be gained by trying to re-write history, so these traces of the former Soviet Union endure.

On the island of Kizhi, a UNESCO  site, we experience the great wooden Church of the Transfiguration, with its twenty-two cupolas (domes). This is just one of many examples of the religious orthodoxy that the Doukhobors broke away from in Russia, which earned them the name “spirit wrestlers”, and resulted in the persecution that caused them to seek safe haven in Canada.

The Church of the Transfiguration at Kizhi.

In Russia one sees many churches and cathedrals. Their icons, frescoes, and elaborate decorations suggest religious self-indulgence. But one has to marvel at the great religious art and architecture in Russia, much of it now in the process of recovery and restoration.

Kizhi also boasts two original 17th Century peasant houses. One contains a ceiling-mounted cradle, a “loolkya” in which an infant would sleep within reach of a mother’s toe that would conveniently rock the cradle at night. This is a very special moment for me; I slept in such a cradle in infancy and early childhood. I’m amazed at how quickly an inanimate artifact can vivify pleasant memories of a distant past.

Allan sitting next to a ceiling-mounted cradle (loolkya) in a 17th century peasant house.

We meet more art when our little ship sails in to Mandrogi, a planned community where some of Russia’s top artists and craftspeople live in an environment devoted to the advancement of traditional arts and crafts. In several workshops I am reminded of Canadian Doukhobor women (my mother among them) who have been producing fine weaving, knitting, and embroidery for more than 100 years.

In Goritsy we are brought face-to-face with current problems plaguing many small Russian communities. Several town drunks meet us as we leave the ship after breakfast. We are moderately fluent in Russian so we walk into “town” and converse with the “locals.”

Old woman in Goritsy. Note the simplicity of her modest home.

An old woman invites us into her modest home and we enjoy a wonderful chat. She was hoping that we were doctors who could help her with her ailing throat. She lives alone, tends to her small garden and prays to the icon in the corner of her kitchen. We leave with a sad feeling; life for old people in Russia is pretty tough these days.

This is emphasized in another village along the Volga, where I am confronted by a limping old woman who declares that “Putin has reduced my pension to 1500 rubles a month, so now I have to beg. If I could do it, I’d put a bullet in his temple myself.” I address her in Russian. When she hears this, she starts to cry. I see my hard-working grandmother’s face, lined and creased by worry and the sun when we lived on subsistence farming in the Kootenays. I have to turn and walk away.

A lonely spire sticks out of the water along the Volga Canal.

Later we sail through the Volga Canal built during Stalin’s rule. The canal was constructed by forced labour and dug entirely by hand, with the loss of some 100 workers daily. Many communities were flooded in the bargain. We sail over some of them. There is little evidence of their existence, but we do pass by a spire that sticks out of the water, a silent reminder of the town that lies beneath.

The Russians have an expression that eloquently describes projects that were constructed at the cost of many human lives. “ Built on the bones,” they say. I am starting to feel grateful to my ancestors for having the foresight and wisdom to move out of harm’s way to Canada.

Allan and Evelyn leaving the cruise ship with Rashid.

This becomes poignantly clear after we arrive in Moscow. Our driver, a Tatar named Rashid, takes us to one of Stalin’s “killing fields” on the outskirts of the city. On a quiet evening, after a summer rain deep in a birch wood, we stand in silence at the site where as many as seventy thousand people were put to death and buried in mass graves.

Across the road is a horse stable that was converted into a prison. It is rumored that Beria, head of the NKVD under Stalin, was held here. Nearby stands an abandoned foundation for an office building. The work had to stop when the excavators began unearthing human remains.

Memorial garden at Stalin’s killing field.

Before us is a large rectangular plot edged with small yellow flowers. This is one of the burial ditches. It is difficult to speak. It is difficult to keep from weeping. I recall stories of my ancestors who were beaten in 1895 after they burned all their weapons to take a stand against war and violence. Some died. Others were banished to Siberia. These too are my roots.

Ironically, when we leave our ship in Moscow, we move to the Hotel Rossija (Hotel Russia), a 2900 room monolith across the street from the Kremlin.  I remember meeting with a regional governor from Siberia on a previous consulting assignment to Russia and hearing him proudly tell me that he and his colleagues stay at the Rossija when in town on “government” business. I recall the “killing fields” and Russian history of the past century; the hotel conveys a malevolent feeling, which is mitigated by the spectacular view of Red Square and the Kremlin from our room.

A view of the Kremlin from the hotel room in Moscow. board the cruise ship, Allan poses with a tour guide dressed as “Peter the Great”.

The wonderful city of Moscow provides more relief from grim thoughts of Russian history. With a daytime population of some 14 million people, Moscow’s squares, monuments, markets, theatres (we enjoyed three Russian plays in top national theatres), shopping complexes, restaurants, fast-food kiosks, museums, and massive traffic jams challenge all the senses.

Fortunately, Rashid negotiates the traffic with skill and daring. We conclude that Vancouver traffic would bore him.  Moscow has three times the number of motor vehicles than it had five years ago and traffic problems are worsening daily.

Still we get around quite well. We visit the Kremlin, the fabulous Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art, and the Borodino Panorama Museum with its spectacular depiction of the battle between Russian troops and Napoleon’s army. We dine at the great Boris Gudinov Restaurant.

Western-style consumerism is flourishing in Moscow. Top international fashions and finest automobiles are everywhere. A “stretched” Lincoln limousine seems to be the “wedding car” of choice. New construction is everywhere. Heritage buildings are being restored. Tour buses are packed from morning to night. There are casinos and nightclubs everywhere. Shoppers crowd the streets and markets.

We chat with many Muscovites. Some think that the “new economy” is just what Russia needs. Others have mixed feelings, and some are very skeptical about the future. I see the crumbling Khrushchev-era apartment blocks and conclude that the future for many Russians is still pretty grim.

At Tolstoy’s estate – Yasnaya Polyana.

It’s almost too much for the senses, so our departure for Yasnaya Polyana, Leo Tolstoy’s estate two and a half hours south of Moscow is a very pleasant change. My sense of “roots” becomes more pronounced knowing that Tolstoy played a major role in arranging the Doukhobors’ emigration to Canada and helping to finance the journey.

Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home

During our visit to Yasnaya Polyana we discovered an orphanage in desperate need of assistance. The Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home houses and educates 55 children of all ages. We have established a network of reliable contacts through whom we have been able to send money to help the orphanage purchase school supplies and personal items like toothbrushes for the children’s use. Readers who would like more information about how they could help should contact Allan Markin at 250-493-6150, or by email to: amarkin@shaw.ca.

At Yasnaya Polyana the rest of the trip fades in to the background. Dr. Galeena Alexeeva, a top Tolstoy scholar, takes us on a private tour. We view the house where Tolstoy lived and worked; we stroll the tree-lined walks until we reach his grave, a simple grass-covered mound of dirt on the edge of a ravine. There is a powerful serenity in this place.

Tolstoy’s grave at Yasnaya Polyana.

The dignity of the site, without a monument or grave marker at Tolstoy’s own request, is a poignant illustration of the simple, spiritual life that the great writer  found in his later years. Doukhobors owe much to Tolstoy. Standing at his grave I felt that, in a small way, I was repaying some of the debt.

In Yasnaya Polyana we are delighted to meet Elaine and Alfred Podovilnikoff from Grand Forks, BC. They, along with their children and grandchildren, are building a log home in the village.

“My soul is in Russia,” says Elaine with conviction. “This is something that I simply have to do, not just for me but for my children and grandchildren, so that they will be more fully aware of who they are and where their roots lie.”

 We marvel at Elaine’s and Alfred’s excitement, their ability to laugh at the seemingly insurmountable challenges, and their fervent commitment to their roots.

Elaine Podovinnikoff at log home.

Yasnaya Polyana is near Tula, a city of 700,000 that was the industrial heart of the former Soviet Union’s weapons manufacturing industry. Many of the factories are now closed, but Tula still enjoys its reputation as the home of Tula “praniki,” tasty little cakes that remind one of biscotti with filling. We stop at one of the many roadside stands where these delicacies are sold, later washing them down with generous shots of premium Russian vodka.

Also in Tula we stumble into a “state” store that stocks beautiful shiny black caviar, which is not easy to find in Russia these days. The price is great so we stock up for later feasting.

Our final stop on this “roots odyssey” is Archangelskaya Selo ninety minutes south of Tula. This village is home to several hundred Russian Doukhobors who were forced to flee hostilities in Georgia in the last century.

The village sits in the middle of the vast Russian steppe. Cows and goats roam the streets. A horse-drawn wagon rolls past. Life is agrarian, simple. Mostly older people live here now, although there is a new school and community hall.

The country surroundings remind me of life in rural BC sixty years ago. But the residents don’t seem to mind. They are hospitable to a fault.  Fred Plotnikoff and his Russian wife Paulina treat us to a grand luncheon.  Fred is formerly from the Kootenays and was a school chum of mine at Mt. Sentinel High School in South Slocan. He has taken up permanent residence in Russia and seems very happy with his decision to plant new roots in ancestral soil.

Russian Doukhobors – the Markins – treat their guests to some kvas and song.

I am happy to discover that my namesake lives in the village, but disappointed to learn that he is away. We pay a visit to his home anyway and his parents welcome us. They honor their Canadian guests with a drink of kvas (a fermented concoction whose main ingredient is bread) and a couple of “spirited” Russian folk songs. Singing, it has been said, connects people “heart to heart.” This ancestral Doukhobor link has endured.

All too soon we are back in Moscow and on a Boeing 767 headed for Seattle. We are laden with souvenirs, mementos, memories, and mixed feelings.

One thing is certain, however. Part of our hearts will remain in Russia. On the great Volga; at the Kremlin; on a canal embankment in St. Petersburg eating Russian ice cream. It will be impossible to forget the glorious singing by cantors at the Kostromo Monastery, or being invited to sing Russian folk songs and some old rock and roll with the resident band on the cruise ship.

Cantors singing at the Kostromo Monastery.

Another memory that will linger forever is having dinner with Rashid’s family in their state-issued apartment and feeling his blind teenage daughter’s gentle hands explore my Canadian face. Such experiences, and our exploration of ancestral roots, have added so much value to our Russian odyssey.

This Russian parting expression says it all: “dosvidanya”…until we meet again.

Religion and Tradition in the Cultural Landscapes of the Doukhobors in Saskatchewan

by Carl J. Tracie

Like other immigrant groups, the Doukhobors created cultural landscapes on the Prairies that reflected their traditions and values. However, they modified these traditional cultural landscapes according to differences in their loyalty to leadership and to variations in their understanding of communalism as the essential religious centre of Doukhoborism. The following case study by Carl J. Tracie examines the role of religion and tradition in the cultural landscapes of the Doukhobors in the North and South Colonies and in the Saskatchewan Colony.  Reproduced by permission from “Saskatchewan: Geographic Perspectives” by Bernard D. Thraves, Marilyn L. Lewry, Janis E. Dale, and Hansgeord Schlichtmann, editors (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 2007).

The Doukhobors, a Russian pacifist sect, arrived in Canada in 1899, persecuted and poverty-stricken (Woodcock and Avakumovic 1968; Tarasoff 1982). Special concessions by the Canadian government, in the form of homestead land in blocks for close settlement and exemption from military service, made it possible for nearly 7,500 of these hardy agriculturalists to settle in three colonies in western Canada (Figure 1). The earliest and poorest of the Doukhobors located in the North and South Colonies; the last and relatively more prosperous group settled in the Saskatchewan Colony. Like other immigrant groups, the Doukhobors created cultural landscapes on the prairies that reflected their traditions and values. The application of the Hamlet Clause that allowed the Doukhobors to fulfill their homestead residence duties in the familiar context of an agricultural village, rather than on individual quarter-sections, encouraged the development of a traditional cultural landscape. Despite these commonalities, they did modify traditional cultural landscapes according to differences in their loyalty to leadership and to variations in their understanding of communalism as the essential religious centre of Doukhoborism.

Figure 1. Doukhobor colonies in Saskatchewan.

The Doukhobors’ leader, Peter Verigin, was exiled in Siberia and did not join the colonists until 1902, but gave quite specific instructions as to the shape their life should take in their new settlements. Along with a renewed commitment to pacifism, starkly symbolized by the “Burning of the Arms” in 1895, they were to organize their settlements in Canada on a communal basis, following the example of the New Testament Christians who had all things in common. This communalism grounded and facilitated the concept of brotherhood: equality in persons, each of whom had the ‘divine spark,’ which gave equal access to divinity. The sole exception was their leader in whom the divine spark was magnified to the extent that he was regarded as an earthly Christ whose edicts had the force of divine directives. Most Orthodox Doukhobors viewed Verigin in this way and implemented a communal way of life. A minority, later known as Independents, rejected this elevated view of Verigin and followed more traditional ways, including an individualistic approach to settlement and activity. The following section illustrates the impact of tradition and religion on the distinctive cultural landscapes created in the Saskatchewan Colony and in the North and South Colonies.

Traditional Cultural Landscapes in the Saskatchewan Colony: The Russian Heritage

The Doukhobors who settled in the Saskatchewan (or Prince Albert) colony created the most traditional cultural landscape in the new land. They were relatively more prosperous, more independent-minded, and apparently less anxious to engage in communal sharing. They regarded Peter Verigin as no more than mortal, and his instructions as suggestions to be interpreted according to their own needs. Some of them made an early attempt at communalism, but it quickly faded as the disadvantages of sharing their relative prosperity with their poorer brethren became clear. Consequently, they rejected the communal way of life as an essential component of true Doukhoborism. The cultural landscape they created in the bend of the North Saskatchewan River therefore reproduced their traditional cultural landscape without the modifications introduced by the communal way of life evident in the North and South Colonies.

The village plan followed the traditional layout of the Russian mir: strassendorf or street village plan (Figure 2). Initially, some villagers did attempt communal sharing but they were outnumbered by those who pursued an independent or, at most, a co-operative approach to farming. Neither approach affected the traditional cultural landscape since the returns from agricultural activity were retained by the individual settler. These settlers reproduced the traditional house-bam combination as well, since each farmstead needed a barn and other outbuildings to house animals and store crops and implements. Some of these connected structures were more than 30 m long.

Figure 2. Plan of Pokrovka (W 1/2 4-39-9-W3), Saskatchewan Colony.  Saskatchewan Archives Board S-A36-17.

This traditional cultural landscape disappeared quickly as Independent Doukhobors moved out of their villages onto individual homesteads and the communally-minded answered Verigin’s call to join their brethren in the South Colony in 1905. Interestingly, many of these would-be communalists returned so disillusioned by the abusive treatment they received, that they determined to abandon even the appearance of the communal life by leaving the confines of village settlement as soon as possible.

Traditional Cultural Landscapes Modified by Religion: The North and South Colonies

The Doukhobors most loyal to their exiled leader, Peter Verigin, settled in the North and South Colonies. They believed Verigin embodied fully the spirit of Christ and thus they implemented his instructions regarding the communal organization of land and life that was to illustrate clearly their adherence to the model set by New Testament Christians. The compact form of the traditional mir admirably accommodated communal sharing. Since agricultural activity was to be communal as well, they modified the regular plan that characterized the Saskatchewan Colony by creating larger lots, usually in the centre of the village, for communal structures: barns, stables, shops and a meeting house (Figure 3). Communal agricultural activity meant that individual barns and other agricultural buildings were no longer needed. Consequently, these settlers modified the traditional house-barn by eliminating the connected barn or stable when they constructed their houses (Figure 4).

Figure 3. Plan of Petrovo (NW 1/4 22-26-32-W1), South Colony.  Saskatchewan Archives Board S-A36-23.

Contemporary accounts and photographs identify exceptions to these generalizations: house-bam combinations occurred in the North and South Colonies, and individual houses separated from barns or stables occurred in the Saskatchewan Colony. But, particularly in the former case, these records indicate that the exceptions were related to the factors of tradition and religion.

Carrying these associations a step further, the movement of the Verigin faithful to the ‘second community’ in British Columbia (BC) established a cultural landscape where the religious conviction of communalism dominated. There is no vestige of tradition, either in the courtyard ‘village’ plan, or in the almost-square, two-storey ‘double houses’ which comprised most villages. All aspects of land and life were now communal.

Figure 4. House at Osvobozhdenie (NE 1/4 6-34-1-W1) North Colony in 2006. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

While the move to BC removed the bulk of the community Doukhobors, a remnant remained in Saskatchewan to form villages on purchased land. These persisted until the collapse of the communal system in the late 1930s. Faint traces of both the earlier and later communal villages are still found in the present-day landscape, while the traditional cultural landscapes have been erased.

References

  • Tarasoff, K. 1982 Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors (Grand Forks, ND: Mir Publication Society).
  • Tracie, C.J. 1996 “Toil and Peaceful Life”: Doukhobor Village Settlement in Saskatchewan, 1899-1918 Canadian Plains Studies 34 (Regina, SK: Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina).
  • Woodcock, G. and Avakumovic, I. 1968 The Doukhobors (Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press).

This article is reproduced from “Saskatchewan: Geographic Perspectives”, Saskatchewan’s first comprehensive geography textbook. Its major sections cover these themes: Physical Geography, Historical and Cultural Geography, Population and Settlement, and Economic Geography. Eighteen chapters provide an excellent overview of the province from a variety of geographic perspectives, while twenty-nine focus studies explore specific topics in depth. Included are more than 150 figures, 70 tables, and over 60 full-colour plates. For more information, visit the Canadian Plains Research Center website at: http://www.cprc.uregina.ca/.

Ethnicity and the Prairie Environment: Patterns of Old Colony Mennonite and Doukhobor Settlement

by Carl J. Tracie

In the agricultural settlement of the Canadian west, two ethnic groups that merit special study are the Old Colony Mennonites and the Doukhobors. Both came in groups large enough to warrant the government allowing them to settle en bloc, and both molded the natural landscape into a truly distinctive cultural landscape. This paper examines the interaction between both of these groups and the environments in which they settled, considering on one hand, the impact of variations in the settlers’ customs, beliefs and values on their location in, and organization of space, and on the other hand, the physical and social environment which influenced settlement decision making. Reproduced by permission from “Man and Nature on the Prairies” by Richard Allen, editor, (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1976).

In view of the current increasing interest in the history and culture of a wide variety of ethnic and religious groups, geographers have an increased responsibility in providing information and analysis from the geographic perspective. For the rural settlement geographer these concerns revolve around the interaction between the settler and the environment, and the expression of this interaction in the process of settlement and in the patterns of settlement produced. One must consider on the one hand the impact of variations in the settlers’ customs, beliefs and values on their location in, and organization of, space, and on the other, the physical and social environment which influenced settlement decision-making. Much has been made of the action of man in molding a variety of “natural” landscapes into distinctive cultural landscapes. In the agricultural settlement of the Canadian west, however, of the many groups participating in creating a mosaic of ethnic communities, each distinct in varying ways, few created truly unique cultural landscapes. Of particular interest, then, are those groups whose size and desirability allowed them to extract certain concessions from the government which allowed them to give expressions to their beliefs and practices in the landscape they produced.

Two such groups were the Old Colony Mennonites and the Doukhobors. Both came in groups large enough to warrant the government allowing them to settle en bloc, and both began to mold the natural landscape into a distinctive cultural landscape. Their adjacent location in Russia and some similarity in belief also allow a comparison of the influence of these factors on the initiation, maintenance or decline of the unique aspects of their settlement.

It is the purpose of this paper to describe briefly the initiation and development of the distinctive settlements of these groups and to follow this with an analysis of the varying interactions between the groups and the new environment they encountered. The emphasis on the factors involved in the interaction between the group and the environment and on the nature of this interaction is seen to be valuable not only in understanding the process of Doukhobor and Mennonite settlement, but in providing stimulus and possible direction for the study of other ethnic or religious groups.

The Old Colony Mennonites

The fortuitous coincidence of a desire for emigration on the part of the Russian Mennonites, brought to a head by threatened compulsory military conscription and growing numbers of landless members, and the desire for large groups of settlers to occupy the empty lands of the Canadian west on the part of the Canadian government resulted in the movement to Manitoba of some 7,000 Mennonites between 1874 and 1881. They came under special conditions to special reserves set aside for their sole use, and under a special amendment to the Dominion Lands Act, were allowed to maintain their traditional form of settlement. Initially, one reserve was set aside for them in Manitoba (the East reserve) consisting of eight townships. Additional reserves were set aside in 1876 (the West Reserve) 1895 (the Rosthern reserve) and 1904 (the Swift Current reserve). (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Location of the Mennonite Reserves.

Under the special provisions of the Hamlet Clause of the Dominion Lands Act, the Mennonites were allowed to recreate the agricultural village type of settlement in this new environment. The major characteristics of this type of settlement were the street-village (Strassendorf) and the open-field system of farming. The village was composed of farmsteads on their 2-3 acre rectangular lots facing one another across a broad central street, creating a distinctive agglomerated but elongated settlement in the midst of the village land. The farm system consisted of a pooling of the individual quarters of land held by the village occupants, and the subdivision of these pooled lands or Flur into several large fields (Gewanne) of similar land quality, and the further subdivision of these fields into strips (Kagel), the number of strips in each field corresponding to the number of families or landholders in the village. This too created distinctive patterns in the landscape although the marks of this system are seen only faintly today in some of the best preserved sites. In the East reserve, the “model” form of the street-village was disrupted by the physical environment so that many of the villages were oriented at odd angles and many had only a single row of farmsteads facing the street. In the remainder of the reserves, however, most of the villages were cardinally oriented and consisted of the traditional double row of farmsteads (see Figure 2). Fifty-eight villages were established in the East reserve, 65 in the West reserve, 17 in the Rosthern reserve and 15 in the Swift Current reserve, although not all the villages were occupied at any one time.

Figure 2. Neuenlage Village Plan (1895), Rosthern Reserve.

Another distinctive feature of the Mennonite settlements were the connected house-barn combinations, here fabricated in wood rather than the more common brick or stone of Russia. These units consisted of the dwelling and barn either built under one roof, or attached with or without a connecting passageway in a variety of orientations (see Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Mennonite House-barn combination.  Letkemann brothers’ farmstead, Hochfeldt (Rosthern Reserve).

Figure 4. Mennonite House-barn combination. Southwest of Hague (Rosthern Reserve).

In the more recently-settled reserves of Saskatchewan the form and style of the village settlement has persisted to the present, although there are no evidences remaining of the open-field system in the landscape, and the distinctive house-barn combinations are being dismantled or detached rather rapidly (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Mennonite house-barn combination being dismantled, Neuhorst (Rosthern Reserve).

The Doukhobors

The Doukhobors were an immigrant group quite similar in many respects to the Mennonites. Before their removal to the Caucasus, they lived in the same area of south Russia as the Mennonites; they lived in similar settlements; and they were brought to a decision to emigrate by persecution arising from their refusal to bear arms. As the Canadian government was attempting to fill the still-empty lands west of Manitoba, concessions were again negotiated to attract this large group of proven agriculturalists to the west. The concessions granted to the Doukhobors were broadly similar to those granted to the Mennonites: reserved land, exemption from military duty and a re-application of the Hamlet Clause which allowed them to settle in villages. The agreement under which the Doukhobors came was not, unfortunately, spelled out in detail, and the vagueness of the conditions and misunderstandings on both sides, especially in the matter of land regulations, were to have significant ramifications for the success of the settlements they created.

Figure 6. Location of the Doukhobor Reserves.

Negotiations between the government and the Doukhobor representatives were completed in 1898, and in the first six months of 1899 approximately 7400 Doukhobors emigrated to Canada. Their final destination was three blocks of land which had been reserved for their sole use; the North or Thunder Hill Reserve, the South Reserve (with annex), and the Prince Albert or Saskatchewan Reserve (see Figure 6). Over the next decade, 63 villages were constructed by the Doukhobors in the three reserves, although, as with the Mennonites, not all were inhabited at any one time. The form of these villages was very similar to that of the Mennonites, based on the street-village that was a common heritage. There were more variations from the traditional model among the Doukhobors however, in the orientation of the villages, lot size, building placement on the lots, and in regularity of form. (See Figures 7-9.)

Figure 7. Doukhobor village of Bogdanovka (Prince Albert Reserve) (from the original village plan, Saskatchewan Archives Board.

The communal system of farming practiced by the Doukhobors with their large undivided fields produced a cultivated landscape differing from both the strip fields of the Mennonites and the isolated, small fields of the individual settler.

The structures erected by the Doukhobors were also distinctive in form and detail. The traditional pattern brought from Russia was modified initially by the availability of building materials but the permanent dwellings and larger structures exhibited considerable stylistic uniformity. (See Figures 10, 11.)

“In architecture, as in other instances, they [Doukhobors] are as yet absolutely insensible to Western influences. Their houses, built on either side of a wide street, are of unsawn timbers covered with clay, painted white and ornamented with yellow dados. The rooftops project and form verandahs ornamented with carved woodwork… They intend when they become more prosperous to replace these exotic-looking buildings with larger ones of stone.

The village – when I presently arrived at it – proved a surprising place, with strange, foreign-looking and picturesque houses having walls plastered with mud, but with a note of distinction in the disposition of the timbering, in the shaping of the windows, and in the gable ends of the heavy vegetating roofs. Moreover, the eye was grateful for variations of detail in the several structures, no two being exactly alike, though all were affected by common principles of structure and design – all, at least, save a central meeting-place in prim brickwork, which was a civilized eyesore in that setting of primitive architecture.”

Although the form of the village has been eradicated almost completely, a few remaining isolated structures give witness to the distinctive settlements created 75 years ago. (See Figure 12.)

Group-Environmental Interaction: The Group

Having briefly sketched the major elements of the cultural landscapes of these two groups I would like to consider some of the elements of the interaction between the group and their new environment in more detail. This discussion is designed to clarify the operation of several group and environmental factors in the initiation, development and decline of these distinctive cultural landscapes.

Those factors considered under the heading of the group revolve around the common beliefs, practices and values of an ethnic/religious group which have found expression in the form and pattern of their settlement. For example, the choice of the location for the reserves may be explained in terms of the varying perceptions of these groups as to what constituted desirable land and a desirable location. A common explanation for the varying perceptions of what is “desirable” land hinges on similarities in the landscape of the new land and the former homeland, that is, the settler or group will choose land that they perceive as similar to the land they have left. This explanation not only recognizes the impact of a psychological element in the decision-making process (i.e. familiarity, at-homeness) but also the hard economic fact that experience gained in a similar environment will allow the settler to “control” his new environment more effectively. It is tempting to explain the location of the first Mennonite reserves in the same way. Having become accustomed to the steppes of southern Russia, and knowing “how to strike living water from level ground, how to build comfortable huts and how to heat them, too, without a stick of wood” and “how to plant shelter belts for protection against the icy winds of the northern plains,” what more natural conclusion than that of the Mennonites seeking a similar environment in the Canadian west, thus choosing prairie lands in southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan?

Figure 8. Doukhobor village of Blagoveshcheniye (South Reserve) (from the original village plan, Saskatchewan Archives Board.

There are at least two problems with such explanations however. First, there is the possibility that the choice of similar land may have been made for entirely different reasons, or at least that these other reasons may have been dominant. Considering the traditional desire of the Mennonites to avoid contamination by the “world” it seems reasonable to suggest that the prairie lands of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan were chosen for their isolation as much as for their similarity to the homeland. The correspondence relating to the choice of land south of Swift Current appears to indicate that the Mennonites deliberately chose poor land so they would not be bothered by the pressure of expanding settlement into the area. The choice of land in the Rosthern reserve and in other areas (e.g. La Crete, Alberta) seem to lend weight to the proposal as in both areas the wooded environment was unlike the previous location yet both were isolated from the main body of settlement at the time they were chosen.

A second problem with the general application of this explanation is that there is evidence to suggest that some groups, rather than choosing lands with environmental problems with which they were familiar, decided to eliminate some of the problems by choosing lands that supplied some of the deficiencies of the homeland. In the case of the Doukhobors, the desire for land with a good water supply and timber to build with was accentuated by the fact that in their former location, timber was scarce. Far from seeking a similar environment, then, they deliberately sought one that was quite different.

The actual settlement form and pattern within the reserves most clearly indicate the impact of the group’s traditions, beliefs and practices however. Both groups demanded large contiguous tracts of land where they could settle in compact units free from the fragmentation of their holdings by outsiders. As noted above, the settlement unit was the farm village, the basic form of which was transferred to Canada from Russia. On the part of the Mennonites, the retention of this form in their new environment appears to have rested in their traditional resistance to change, and the desire to retain a form of settlement which would facilitate cooperation and administration. They had utilized this method of settlement successfully for almost 100 years in Russia; to maintain this form in the new environment was clearly desirable. The Doukhobors were much more strictly bound to a village type of settlement. Not only was the street-village traditional, but some form of compact settlement was essential in their adherence to the religious principle of communal life. Peter Verigin, their spiritual leader, established the framework for the new settlements by noting that they should be on a communal foundation and that the villages should be built “on the customary plan that you so well know.”

Whereas tradition and belief reinforced each other in the matter of settlement form, especially in the case of the Doukhobors, their influence on the individual elements of the settlements often took different directions. The connected house-barn was the traditional farmstead unit for both Mennonites and Doukhobors, yet the Mennonites recreated this form almost without exception in their villages, while only a few Doukhobor villages retained this form. Among the Mennonites there was no tension between tradition and belief; it had been their custom to erect structures of this sort and their beliefs and practices did not demand a change in this tradition in the new environment. With the Doukhobors however a recent change from an individualistic to a communistic way of life based on a spiritual directive from their leader demanded a change from the traditional form. According to the instructions given by Verigin, “the absolute necessities like cattle, plows, and other implements as well as granaries and storehouses, grist mills, oil presses, blacksmith shops and woodworking shops, all these in the first years must be built by communal effort.” Crops and livestock, being communal property, were to be stored and housed in communal buildings. Consequently those villages heeding this admonition had no need for individual barns, attached or otherwise; only large communal barns and storehouses were built. In the villages of the Prince Albert colony, where it appears that the people viewed Verigin as somewhat less than a “living Christ,” the traditional attached house-barn combinations were the norm as crops and livestock were owned individually. These differences in belief also affected the interior arrangement of the villages. Village plans show a form organized around the central position of several large communal buildings in the eastern villages, but the Prince Albert colony villages appear to be more regular in plan with buildings uniform in size and orientation (see Figures 7 and 8).

Figure 9. Doukhobor village of Utesheniye (Devil’s Lake Annex) (from the original village plan, Saskatchewan Archives Board.

The basic distinction between the individualism of the Mennonites and the communalism of the Doukhobors reinforced or weakened the influence of tradition in the built landscape. These differences also gave rise to distinctive cultivated landscapes. Both groups pooled their individual land allotments on a village basis to create a “super-farm” which was then divided according to the desires of the group. Being individualistic, the Mennonites allotted each family its fair share in each of the large fields created, thus giving rise to a distinctive strip pattern. The communal Doukhobors recognized no individual land ownership so the large fields remained undivided and were farmed as one unit. Again both systems reflected the religious beliefs of the group. Although the pooling of land was voluntary with the Mennonites and was designed primarily to foster social cohesion, Francis has pointed out that it would have been impossible to retain such a system in the absence of sanctions having a distinctly religious connotation.

These groups’ beliefs, particularly in the matter of land tenure, were to bring about inter-group conflicts, and with the Doukhobors, conflicts with the government. In both cases, these difficulties brought about modification and sometimes complete eradication of original settlement patterns. The Mennonites had no religious qualms about individual ownership of land, or about pledging allegiance to the Crown, so there was no problem in registering and obtaining patents for individual quarter sections of land. They were only concerned with retaining the village form of agricultural settlement, which they were able to do by voluntary means within the framework of existing land policy. This latter was no problem during the initial years of settlement in Manitoba, but it was not long before economic advantage outweighed religious considerations in the eyes of some Mennonites, particularly those who had title to excellent arable land. Since the land was legally held under individual title, those wishing to sacrifice group approval for individual gain were not hindered legally in claiming their own land. Only a few such cases in a village seriously disrupted the whole functioning unit and the conservatives were forced to look elsewhere for land if they wished to persist in this type of settlement. The village type of settlement was abandoned fairly rapidly, then, depleted by individualists taking up their own land, and by the removal of the most conservative members who were forced to move elsewhere to recreate a similar system. On the other hand, the conservatives who moved into Saskatchewan to form the Rosthern and Swift Current colonies were able by a very early abandonment of the open-field system to retain the village form of settlement which they viewed as essential to their way of life. As a result of this successful compromise, the Strassendorfer persist in the landscape to the present, and in a few cases at least, appear to remain a viable form of settlement.

The religious views of the Doukhobors regarding communal ownership of land brought them into immediate conflict with government land policy which was designed around individual ownership. The Doukhobors at first refused even to apply for entry to the land which they were occupying. However when Verigin came to Canada in late 1902, he modified his previous instructions, suggesting that registration itself was only a formality; what was important was that they operate communally. This tactic delayed confrontation with the government for a few years. Most Doukhobors registered for their land individually, but farmed the land communally. When expanding settlement forced the government to take a closer look at the cultivation duties performed by the Doukhobors a decision was made to require cultivation duties on each quarter section of land or the homestead entries would be cancelled. Under this increasing pressure from the government many moved from their village residences to take up residence on their own land. When it became apparent that obtaining title to their land individually not only was a necessity but involved pledging allegiance to the Crown (which also was against their religious convictions as they did not recognize any earthly authority), the communal Doukhobors faced the same decision as had the conservative Mennonites in Manitoba. They had to choose either to abandon their beliefs or move elsewhere to preserve them. They chose to move to purchased privately-owned land in British Columbia.

Figure 10. Doukhobor village near Veregin, Saskatchewan (early 1900’s).  Uniformity of style is apparent in the dwellings of this village. A departure is seen in the larger, communal structures near the center of the village. Glenbow Archives.

We see then the same elements at work in the deterioration of the village settlements among the Doukhobors as among the Manitoba Mennonites. The more liberal members moved onto their own land; the conservatives were forced to move to retain their religious integrity. The result was the very rapid disappearance of the Strassendorfer. That this eradication was so complete rests on the fact that there was no compromise available. The Independents had in the main moved onto their own land before the communal Doukhobors left. For their part, the communal Doukhobors, under the existing land regulations, had no choice but to move to a new area. Consequently, there was no residue left in most of the villages to maintain them and they were very quickly dismantled or left to deteriorate. A potential exception to this pattern could have been the Prince Albert colony. They were the most individualistic, and were cooperative rather than communal in their agricultural system. They established villages on the traditional plan, and there seems to have been no reason why they could not have continued this form of settlement while farming their land individually. A possible reason is suggested by one of the members of the present Blaine Lake community. Quite a number of the members of the Prince Albert colony were attracted to the communal way of life, or more particularly, to the person of Peter Verigin, when he came to Canada in 1902. These people left their villages and moved to the eastern colonies “to be with Petushka.” They were very poorly treated by the Doukhobors there, presumably since they were regarded as “bad brothers” who had initially abandoned Peter’s command regarding communal ownership of land. Many of these returned to the Prince Albert colony with such a distaste for anything smacking of the communal life, that they forthwith abandoned the village type of settlement since it reminded them of the constrictions of communal life.

Group-Environment Interaction: The Environment

The environment, both physical and social, which the Doukhobors confronted also had considerable influence on the development and decline of distinctive settlement patterns created by these groups. The role of the physical environment has been alluded to above. Certain aspects of the landscape – vegetation, drainage, etc. – comprised the elements which were perceived and assessed in various ways according to the background beliefs and desires of the group. The Mennonites appeared to be drawn to the grassland areas of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan either because they were regarded as familiar and manageable or because they were regarded as a surrogate for isolation. The Doukhobors, too, sought for certain physical elements in the land they were to occupy, e.g., timber, water, etc., although they seem to have been more concerned with the immediate advantages of such features. In both cases then, but apparently for different reasons, each group was drawn to a certain kind of “natural” landscape.

The impact of the physical environment is apparent more clearly on variations in the pattern of settlement. Both the pattern and form of Mennonite settlements of the East reserve were modified by variations in topography, vegetation and drainage. The villages tended to be less regular in form, as noted above, the site often allowing the development of only a single row of farmsteads along the street, rather than the more traditional double row. Many of the villages were oriented along streams or beach ridges as well. The field pattern was also fragmented; good and poor land were interspersed throughout the reserve, and fields tended to be fragmented by areas of unproductive land. This situation also resulted in a somewhat more irregular distribution of settlements within the reserve as great care had to be taken to choose a village site which was central to a sufficient amount of arable land to support the village population. Some villages were abandoned owing to an unwise choice of site with respect to the surrounding land. In the West reserve however, where land was more uniform both in quality and terrain, the villages were more uniformly distributed, more regular in the recreation of the traditional form, and most exhibiting a cardinal orientation.

The Doukhobor villages were affected by the physical environment in a similar way, particularly in the orientation of the villages to lakes and streams. It appears from the village plans that certain modifications in the form of some of the villages were made as a result of local site conditions, although a detailed study of the village sites with the plans in hand would be required to detail this observation.

Figure 11. House being erected by Doukhobors just outside their village near Canora, c. 1906. From what can be ascertained from contemporary evidence and surviving structures, this is the style employed by the Doukhobors of eastern Saskatchewan for their prayer homes, larger communal structures and many dwellings. Glenbow Archives.

A major component of the general environment to which these groups came was the social milieu; the attitudes of both public and government toward these newcomers. Society in general appears to have accepted the Mennonites at face value; different, but valuable as agriculturalists and settlers. There was not too much about them to raise resentment except possibly their pacifism and their desire to maintain their own educational system, but these did not assume importance until much later. The government had no cause for concern. The Mennonites were law abiding, responsible citizens and were positively regarded as successful and innovative farmers, models to be set up before intending settlers, in much the same way as they had been in Russia. In the main, then, the social environment seems to have had little impact on their initial settlements – they were left to pursue their own ends.

Doukhobor settlement, on the other hand, was influenced by public opinion and government policy from the outset. Although the influence of physical factors in the choice of reserve land has been noted above, the actual location of land having these components was directly related to the social climate of the time. Aylmer Maude, an Englishman who acted as an interpreter for the Doukhobor delegation, detailed the matter:

“The conditions of the problem were these: the Doukhobors wished to settle as a compact community, with lands as much as possible together… Other important considerations in selecting the land were: to secure a good water supply, and timber to build with, and not to be too far from a railway… The first locality we inspected was in the district near Edmonton… A most promising location not far from Beaver Lake was selected where we wished to take up twelve “townships” of thirty-six square miles each, and where the whole Doukhobor community might have settled contiguously. But, after our return to Ottawa, this arrangement was upset… The Liberal Government was making efforts to find immigrants to take up the unoccupied land of the North-West Territories; so the Conservative Opposition was ready and eager to note and exaggerate everything unfavourable about such immigrants and to use, as a weapon wherewith to attack the Government, any prejudice that could be aroused against them As a result, an opposition to the location of the Doukhobors in the Edmonton district sprang up; pressure was brought to bear on the Government, and, when we thought all had been favourably settled, we learnt that we could not have the land we had selected. The search had to be recommenced in other, less tempting, parts of the country.

Instead of this favourable location for the reserve being chosen, attention was directed to other areas where physical conditions were untested, and were therefore mainly unsettled. These locations were far enough from the main body of settlement not to arouse local dissatisfaction. Concern was also expressed in the Senate about the impact of the placement of the Doukhobors on subsequent settlement. The Honourable Mr. Boulton (Marquette) said, “… that we should go to enormous expense to bring foreigners in and place them on the soil, leaving the odd numbered sections of land between them, so that our own people cannot settle in among them or perhaps will not be made comfortable to settle among them … is a mistake.”

The public’s view as to what constituted an acceptable social distance between them and foreign immigrants appears to have been related to how “foreign” they were perceived to be. The Doukhobors, with their strange clothing and practices, were perceived to be very foreign indeed. The press labelled them as “Sifton’s pets” and one outspoken member of the Senate referred to them as “the refuse of Russia.” Society, already alarmed at the prospect of the West becoming dominated by “foreigners” at the “expense of the more desirable British, Canadian, and American settlers, wanted these strange people as far away from existing settlement as possible. Also, considerable pressure was created to have the government apply the letter of the law in matters of homestead regulations. This of course made it very difficult for the government to exercise much flexibility in their land dealings with the Doukhobors, and ultimately culminated in the abandonment of the village type of settlement.

Figure 12. Prayer Home, Spasskoye village (South Reserve) photographed by author in May 1975.

The role of the government as part of the new environment which the two groups encountered might be designated either as that of a villain, or that of a much-tried, would-be benefactor. The Mennonites were quite contented with the government. The concessions granted to them were honored and they reciprocated by abiding by the policies of the government, a course of action made easier by the fact that there was no direct conflict between government policy and their beliefs. They had always maintained good relations with the Russian government, and they were dedicated to cooperation with the Canadian government as much as possible. The Doukhobors had a quite different view of government in general and the Canadian government in particular. Earthly authority was seen to have no hold on the actions of the group, and, where it contradicted the religious principles of the group, it was to be vigorously resisted. It is quite likely that even with the generous terms offered by the Canadian government they were suspicious of it, and when the government began demanding commitments in matters of registration and land tenure, which they argued were contrary to the spirit of the negotiated terms, they began to view the government as a tyrannical oppressor. It appeared to some sympathetic observers that the government was at least acting in an ambivalent manner, seemingly encouraging or condoning communal settlement by certain concessions, then abruptly reverting to a strict observance and application of the land policy. On its part, the government was plagued by pilgrimages, nude demonstrations and arson by those it sought to help (although involving only a fraction of the total group) on the one hand, and on the other, was under considerable public pressure to make these foreigners conform to the law of the land without any special concessions.

The increasing pressure brought to bear by the government on the Doukhobors brought about two diverse reactions. For some this pressure resulted in yielding to government terms with subsequent movement from the villages to individual parcels of land. For others, the pressure hardened their resistance to the government and its policies, and made any compromise that might have been attempted impossible. The lines were clearly drawn; neither could compromise. Most of the communal Doukhobors abandoned their villages and moved to British Columbia. The pattern of settlement which had been slowly eroded by the movement of the Independents to their own land began a rather rapid eradication in Saskatchewan, and was completely modified in its transferal to the new environment of British Columbia.

Conclusion

In this paper an attempt has been made to draw out and analyze pertinent elements of the main environment interaction which have been influential in the initiation and development of the distinctive cultural landscapes of two ethnic/religious groups. Two major points stand out. First, in the examination of the interaction between these groups and the environment, it appears that group traditions and values are dominant. They structured the group’s perception of the physical elements of the new environment, dictated the basic form and pattern of the settlements they created, determined their attitudes toward the new social environment, and, to a large extent, determined or influenced public and government attitudes toward them. Second, and closely related to the first, is the degree to which group values (beliefs) outweighed all other considerations.

In both groups these values originally reinforced the traditional form of village settlement. The Mennonites were able to recreate these settlements without significant modification, while their belief in communal living forced modifications of some of the details of Doukhobor settlement. Further, the beliefs of the Mennonites allowed them to perpetuate the village settlement within the framework of government land policy, whereas the Doukhobors were forced by their beliefs to abandon their villages. In fact, the increased resolve to live communally which the confrontation in Saskatchewan seems to have produced, resulted in a completely changed form of settlement in British Columbia. It is by a consideration of these factors, then, that the initiation of a unique form of settlement, the persistence of this form in the Old Colony Mennonite settlements in Saskatchewan, and the nearly complete eradication of Old Colony Mennonite settlement in Manitoba and Doukhobor village settlement in Saskatchewan can be understood.

Dr. Carl J. Tracie has been an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan from 1970 to 1979 and thereafter, an Associate Professor of Geography at Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia. He has travelled widely and frequently through the original Doukhobor settlements in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.  Dr. Tracie has published numerous articles on Doukhobor historical geography. His book, “Toil and Peaceful Life”: Doukhobor Village Settlement in Saskatchewan, 1899–1918 (Regina, 1996) is a major work of historical geography that analyses the unique cultural landscape created by the Community Doukhobors in Saskatchewan. He is currently researching and writing a book on the Doukhobor “Second Community” in British Columbia.

Doukhobor Architecture: An Introduction

by F. Mark Mealing

When Russian Doukhobors emigrated to Canada, they brought ideological and folklife traditions that generated the distinctive character of their architecture.  The following article by F. Mark Mealing Ph.D., adapted and reproduced by permission from Canadian Ethnic Studies (XVI, 3, 84), describes and comments upon the five distinctive periods of architectural forms of which we have a record: Russian, Saskatchewan Community Village, British Columbia Communal Structures, Transition and Present.  The earlier forms are characterized by Plain ornamental style and communally-oriented function; the recent forms reflect, in their variety, the impact of social forces including internal division and external pressures of politics, economics and acculturation.

Introduction

The Doukhobors, a pacifist sect, arose in Russia, most likely during the Raskol or Orthodox Schism (1652). Their theology and resultant political views generated the most bitter opposition from Church and State, resulting in discrimination and often the harshest persecution through the late seventeenth, eighteenth, and portions of the nineteenth centuries. Tsar Alexander I granted a measure of peace with settlement land in the Milky Waters (Molochnye Vody) region of the Crimea in 1801; but after his death persecution was renewed and the Doukhobor communities were exiled to the Caucasus. Increased pressures, then religious revitalization, and in response punishments and abuses rationalized emigration as a tactic of social survival. This emigration was aided by Tolstoyans, Populists, and the London and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings of the Society of Friends, and brought the most devout Doukhobors to Canada, starting in 1899. The Doukhobors took up homestead land in Saskatchewan; but the majority, newly organized into a commune, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), lost the land between 1905 and 1907, probably as a joint result of misunderstanding, some intransigence on the part of the Doukhobors, and the ethically imperfect policies of the Secretary of the Interior’s Ministry of the period. The CCUB purchased land in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia and operated there for a generation; when to its unremarkable financial and administrative weaknesses were added the hostility of the provincial government and the upheaval of the 1929 Depression, the communal enterprise collapsed. For the next twenty years, its one-time members and the dissident Sons of Freedom sub-sect worked slowly and sometimes violently through a period of social and economic disaster. In the early 1960s, individuals began to repurchase the land on which they had been squatting; since this repurchase, a modest social flowering has occurred and the use by the Sons of Freedom of techniques of violent political action has been diminished.

Doukhobors have borne a great deal of pressure and dislocation over the life of their society so far; one impact of these forces has been the selection of plain functions for architecture. Consider the implications of these excerpts “From the General Principles of the CCUB,” dating from the 1890s in Russia:

9. The chief base of the life of man – thought, reason serves as (that). For material food this serves: air, water, fruits and vegetables.

10. It is held that the life of mankind is communal, upheld through the strength of moral law, for which (this) rule serves: “Whatever I do not want for myself, that I should not wish for others.”

Plain and communal living styles – analogous to Western experiments, including those of Anabaptist sectarians – are encapsulated here. The results for Architecture were a marked antipathy to the usual Russian peasant tradition of richly applied ornament, and a primarily communal function for buildings until the collapse of the CCUB and the hegemony of Western economic patterns. Applied ornament is replaced by a severe but evident concern with simple line, texture and colour; communal usage is evidenced in massive industrial installations and in multiple-family dwellings of replicated pattern.

Coincidences of leadership, technological change and history made the CCUB experiment in Canada perhaps the most highly developed and integrated experiment the Doukhobors have achieved to date. The dissident Sons of Freedom early adopted a very modest approach to housing, building small cabins, often of salvage materials (and, in the period 1930-1965, often burned by their owners or others); their zealous anti-materialist views were often visited upon other Doukhobors by some members. A third discrete grouping, the Independents, left the commune during the Homestead crisis in Saskatchewan, and rapidly integrated into Western lifestyle, adopting the architecture of their neighbours.

This brief survey of Doukhobor structures is limited by time and opportunity to five major phases: (1) Russian Villages; (2) CCUB Community Villages of Saskatchewan; (3) CCUB installations in British Columbia (which set the style for those developed also in Saskatchewan and Alberta); (4) buildings of the Collapse period; (5) Present styles.

Architectural Periods

a. Russia

Little data survive from the early period in Russia; most significant is the single illustration, from Baron von Haxthausen’s “Studien…” depicting Terpenie, the village of the leader Savely Kapustin, after 1818 [Fig. 1].

Figure 1. Sketch of Terpeniye village, Tavria province, Russia by Baron Von Haxthausen, 1843. Note the row of dwellings and outbuildings along wide central street. Note Sirotsky Dom (Orphans Home) in background.

The administrative site is enclosed in the background. The middle-distance four-roomed ‘Guesthouse’ and the second-story porch adorning the “Village House” (r. foreground) are elements that appear again in recent Canadian structures. No one has been able to explain adequately to me the Three Babas, the wooden pillars in the centre of the administrative section.

Figure 2. Sketch of Lukeria’s Besedka (Summer Pavilion) by H. F.B. Lynch.

A few photographs survive of buildings in the Caucasus region, including long, low homes and one rather ornate residence for the leader Lukeria Kalmikova [Fig. 2].

b. Saskatchewan Community Villages

The CCUB villages in Saskatchewan were laid out according to a standard plan. Forty homes, each with its own garden lot and dairy barn, were set astride a wide avenue and divided by a short street, terminated by community buildings (warehouses, bathhouse, etc.) at one end and a small park at the other. A settled village, Khristianovka [Fig. 3], shows growing saplings on the avenue, developed gardens (sunflowers grown for ornament and seed in yard at right), and a neighbourly grouping in the street.

Figure 3. Khristianovka Village, Saskatchewan, circa 1903. British Columbia Archives, Tarasoff Collection.

Figure 4. Women and children placing turf on Doukhobor house at Petrovka, Saskatchewan. British Columbia Archives E-09610.

At least three distinctive house types were employed. The single house in Petrovka [Fig. 4] with its perimeter porch and full loft, accommodates probably two brothers and their families. Construction is of mud-plaster, probably over small logs, with a thatched roof. A house in Veregin [Fig. 5] varies in its low, flat-ridged sod roof supported by purlins and supplemented by a side-length pent-roof; its garden is fenced by a hedge. Another house from Verigin [Fig. 6] appears essentially identical with the previous example, but a taller thatched roof is present, as is a small rack with “found” ornate tree limb uprights.

Figure 5. House, Veregin, Saskatchewan, circa 1911. Library and Archives Canada C-057053.

Figure 6. Houses, Veregin, Saskatchewan, circa 1903. Library and Archives Canada A-019333. 

After the bulk of the CCUB members moved to British Columbia in 1908-1912, most of the villages fell rapidly into disuse and dilapidation, and today only a few isolated ruins remain, although a handful of buildings are under restoration at Verigin, Sask. In their time, these villages represented the transplantation of a traditional plan that reflected certain Russian cultural traits: use of wood and mud-plaster in construction, the rectilinear organization of buildings across a central avenue (appropriate to a structured commune), and a general ideal of equality.

c. The CCUB in British Columbia

When the CCUB reestablished itself in the far West, in the isolated interior of British Columbia, its structures were more insular, more tightly organized, and innovative in physical design. The range of structures expanded, extending between small outbuildings to large industrial complexes. Families were accommodated in private dormitories, but ate, worked and worshipped together in standardized village groupings. Many persons, but not all, laboured in community enterprises, and at certain dates, all who could gathered for major festival celebrations. Thus there was a temporal and spatial flow between village and complex. Planning extended to the largest blocks of land, upon which villages were located on carefully related sites.

1. The Community Village

Between 1908 and 1912, some 5,550 souls were settled in perhaps 90 villages in nine major regional areas (Brilliant, Ootischenie, Champion Creek, Pass Creek, Shoreacres, Glade, Krestova, and three sections of Grand Forks). Their unique design has been ascribed to Peter V. Verigin, the spiritual leader of the period; it has been suggested elsewhere that the Big House design resembles Russian Mennonite examples, which may be true of facade but is in no way true of the interior plan. The typical village was composed of two “Big Houses’, their floor plans mirror-imaged, backed by a U-shaped Annex or “Apartment,” and the placement of these units produced a quiet, enfolding courtyard. Where transportation was direct, Big Houses were clad in community-manufactured brick, otherwise in unpainted clapboard siding. Behind the Annex was located a small Barn for horse and dairy cow and, further yet, a large laundry/banya (steam-bathhouse). Hotbeds, herbs, and potherbs were placed immediately south or west of each Village, which further sat upon about 100 acres of land and was responsible for agricultural production therefrom. The Big House included on the main floor an Assembly room in the front, used for worship; an L-shaped kitchen/refectory in the rear; and eight private family dormitories on the next floor, typically occupied by two single persons of the same sex or a young married couple. Elders and larger married families occupied the larger individual Annex rooms.

Figure 7. Community Village at Brilliant, British Columbia, 1973.  Courtyard view shows Annex L, Big House L.  British Columbia Archives  I-06198. 

Oral sources state that after an initial village was constructed above Brilliant, measurements were simply copied manually for all subsequent villages, those in Grand Forks tending to be only two to three inches larger overall. Deviance from the standard plan is extremely rare; the number of ornamental roof ventilation dormers varies from 0 to 4; one village in Shoreacres has the porch extended on two sides and a lean-to rear room added; a village at Brilliant possessed a sunken lower story used for storage, shoemaking and basketry; another in Grand Forks had a large fruit storage warehouse on site. Those few villages that survived the ideological troubles of the 1940s and early 1950s, intervening vandalism and neglect, and the acculturated demolition and construction of the past twenty years, are generally occupied by single families [Fig. 7.]. While the buildings are plain in design, an austere decoration and proportion saves them from aesthetic mediocrity. The most conspicuous decorative elements are the gross placement of the buildings in the landscape, typically on the rims of glacial benches facing adjacent rivers or creeks; and minor finish details, including nonfunctional curved archways, uniform interior paint schemes (colours of choice being chocolate brown, dark green, ochre red and middle blue on woodwork, and whitewash tinted with laundry blueing), and handcrafted furnishings.

2. Institutional Structures of the CCUB

Figure 8. Industrial Centre, Brilliant, British Columbia, 1924. British Columbia Archives  A-08913. 

The major industrial and administrative centre of the CCUB was the Jam Factory complex at Brilliant, on the Kettle Valley Line of the CPR. Here were located sawmills, the famous Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, a grain elevator, office and warehouse buildings, a residence and retreat for the leader, and several community villages [Fig. 8]. In several other parts of the West Kootenay, a number of remarkable buildings were erected, of which the jewel was perhaps the Glade Community Hall [Fig. 9], with its gambrel roof, second-story porch – all of elegant proportions. Also noteworthy was the duma’et (retreat) built for Peter V. Verigin near what is now the site of his tomb [Fig. 10]. Regrettably, none of these buildings now survive.

Figure 9. Community Hall, Glade, British Columbia, circa 1929. Library and Archives Canada  A-019841. 

Figure 10. Dumaet or retreat home of Peter V. Verigin on bluffs above Brilliant, British Columbia, circa 1915. British Columbia Archives, Tarasoff Collection.

Another large CCUB complex was located at Verigin, Sask., with administrative buildings, grain elevators, and warehouses, etc., of which one magnificent example, the Leader’s Office and Residence, survives and functions as a museum [Fig. 11].

Figure 11. Sirotsky Dom (Orphans Home), Veregin, Saskatchewan, circa 1918. The remarkable porch ornamentation, identical with that of Figure 9, was executed by Ivan Mahonin; the upper tracery is in cut tin. British Columbia Archives C-06513. 

While these sites were physically planned to support the economic life of the CCUB, they were occasionally used for major community assemblies. It is clear from this use, however, that Commune administrators and members held their material and ideological lives to be perfectly integrated – at least ideally, if not always in fact. In those cases in which the assembly was pointedly outside the complex, it was never far distant.

Transition

When the CCUB moved to British Columbia, it purchased land outright, but used a deficit loan system of mortgages to finance its development. To pay off these debts, most male Community members worked for a portion of the year off their land, which the women then maintained, and their salaries serviced the loans. The burden of the loan system, the alienation imposed by outside work, and the hostility of the western Canadian establishment combined in the Depression to crush the CCUB. The National Trust and Sun Life corporations purchased the mortgages and began foreclosure proceedings, but the CCUB contested financial distressal in the Provincial courts on the basis that it was composed of farm workers, and had paid off the bulk of its debts. The B.C. Supreme Court judged that the CCUB was a corporation and not an individual within the meaning of the Farmer’s Protection Act, and upheld the foreclosure; consequently, on an outstanding debt of about $260,000, the CCUB was foreclosed on approximately six million dollars of capital, plus improvements, goods on hand, stock and implements. The B.C. Provincial Cabinet immediately paid off this balance and acquired trusteeship, allowing Doukhobors to squat in their villages at nominal tax “rentals,” but the means of controlling their economy was lost or beyond control.

Figure 12. Big House, Grand Forks, British Columbia, now derelict.

The massive blow to the economic and social structures, the very spirit of the community, resulted in almost a generation of aimlessness, anomie and violence. Zealots and criminals fired villages and industrial buildings: dispirited occupants neglected and could not afford maintenance; villages were slowly abandoned, and littered about with lean-to’s, shoddily converted into one- or two-family dwellings [Fig. 12]. People now built small one-family houses in various styles, some preserving the old “Russian” second-level porch in the West Kootenay region.

The slow development of plain transitional housing is also evident in the materials, style and relative placement of houses in nearby Thrums. The Sons of Freedom occupied, then burned, the Villages of Krestova; here they periodically erected small houses laid out in traditional Russian village plan, which were periodically burned when their owners purged themselves of materialism, or when criminal elements bent on manipulation of community politics felt the need for terrorist action.

Figure 14. A banya (steam house) in Krestova, British Columbia.

Even under such pressures, some Doukhobors did not give up their plain but perceptive aesthetic. This is well illustrated by two examples: the little banya or steam-bathhouse in Krestova [Fig. 13], perfectly proportioned and located in an orchard, on a bank, before a row of alders; or the row of farm-house and outbuildings in Glade [Fig. 14], placed with a clear sense of spatial rhythm.

Figure 14. Glade, British Columbia, 1966. British Columbia Archives, Tarasoff Collection.

The Present

Several currents are presently to be observed: many Sons of Freedom maintain the small, Plain dwellings they developed during the 1930s, as in this recent view from Krestova’s Lower Village [Fig. 15]. Most Doukhobors now live in owner-constructed houses which, to meet CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) requirements, follow commercial designs which can be epitomized as Western Contractor-built style. Between these extremes occur a fair range of housing, from more-or-less restored Community Village homes to slowly enlarged and expanded single dwellings and the universal folk-housing of the latter twentieth century, mobile homes. Two not-quite-conflicting values are expressed in this society: a taste for the idealism of traditional plainness (illustrated in the last illustration by about a decade’s delay between completion of the hall and painting of the exterior), and a need to demonstrate success by the majority culture’s standards—which enjoin conformity to those standards.

Figure 15. Modern house, Krestova, British Columbia.

Contemporary community buildings include commercial buildings, entirely adaptive to Western standards and styles, and the Community hall. These are usually small halls with stages, commonly one-story high with a basement kitchen/refectory, of extreme plain style and finish. They still serve the dual functions of earlier times: religious and community meetings with their sacred and less-sacred characteristics; the hall at Pass Creek is typical. Exceptions include two large-scale halls in Grand Forks [Fig. 16] and Brilliant, contemporary structures of technically elaborate design.

Figure 16. Community Hall, Grand Forks, British Columbia.

Conclusion

The Doukhobors who arrived in Canada brought with them the resources of eastern European peasantry modified by the unique ideals of their sectarian faith. They established functional building styles displaying an aptness for technology and demonstrating an aesthetic ideal of plain style and the social and religious ideals of communal life. Early settlement in Saskatchewan was characterized by the recreation of the traditional Russian village. With the loss of their land and removal to British Columbia, a wholly novel material expression of the social ideal of communalism arose, drawing equally upon Russian and Northern American traditions, and upon the innovative community village complex. When the CCUB collapsed under internal and external pressures, the ethnic community suffered great distress. Architecture became individualized and expressed two needs: simple survival coupled with the plain tradition; and vindication through an achievement ethic dictated by the majority culture’s models.

Several lines of development for the future are apparent. The idealistic minority continues to build small, plain houses, and conventionally-styled homes also proliferate in the region. The “mobile home” has become excessively visible over the past ten years, but it is presently difficult to judge the varying impacts of human need, shoddy construction, community pressure, personal taste and the other intangibles that will determine this device’s prevalence. Community buildings tend to austere design and finish, although the most recently constructed are technically ambitious and highly adapted to the choral musical performance that is at the heart of Doukhobor tradition.

The Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan blends solidly into the multiethnic makeup of that province. British Columbia has had a much less tolerant history, and Doukhobors there are still recovering from a generation of experiencing inferior status, retreat from the visions and trials of the past and adaptation to the pressures of the present. A tiny handful of zealots among the Sons of Freedom agitate for repudiation of modern materialism, while the province’s economic and political climate challenges the real social achievements of the majority of Doukhobors. For many years the Doukhobors of the province have been in a constructive transition: now the rest of its population joins them in the hopes and fears that attend an uncompleted experiment.

My Memories of Grandmother and Grandfather Sookochoff

by Cyril Brown

The following is a collection of stories selected from the recently printed family history book (December, 2004) compiled and edited by Doukhobor descendant Cyril Brown. The book, entitled “Backward Glances”, is a collection of family histories, stories, memories, photos and genealogical information about his Sookochoff and Brown grandparents. As Mr. Brown states in his book, “only a very few can claim outstanding contributions to society but it is often the many uncelebrated individuals that really make a difference.” Indeed, the life stories of each of our ancestors is just as relevant a part of the historical record as the mainstream of history. Mr. Brown hopes that by sharing these stories, it will encourage others to preserve their Doukhobor family histories.

The Homestead

…The blind road which ran past the bottom of our garden near our farm home in an east/west direction was the shortest route to our grandparents the Sookochoff’s near Buchanan, Saskatchewan. Traveling two miles east from our farm on this road would lead directly into Grandma and Grandpa Sookochoff’s acreage. It was overgrown with trees whose branches stretched inward onto a wagon trail, telling the story of its infrequent use. This road was part of the original grid system laid out by the regional surveyors. Because it led you to a miniature lake or large slough, I’m not sure which, the road was abandoned. A new route half mile to the south was constructed in order to skirt this obstruction. This route however was to be taken only in a hurried state to get to our grandparents.

The blind road was impassable to most vehicles other than a horse drawn wagon in summer and a sleigh in winter. In spring a couple of meandering creeks crossed the road forcing the horses to wade knee deep through running water while dragging a sinking wagon through its soft bed. The branches of the trees would brush by the driver, who was almost always Dad, and snap back onto the next person in the line of fire. This always seemed to be at face level. The whipping action of these branches would sting severely and you soon learned to turn away and put your arms out for protection. The stinging of the branches in summer was only minor compared to the lashing you would receive on a cold 20 degree below day and your face was half frozen. This road was only passable in the early part of winter. Snow that fell on open fields would collect in the treed areas after a blizzard and would become too deep even for horses to traverse. 

The location of the original house.

Today five gnarled maple trees stand atop a slight hill as steadfast beacons marking the location where the original old two story lumber house of the grandparents once stood.  This was the house they built after settling on the homestead.  It served the Sookochoff’s well for many years and it was here my mother Mary (Masha) and two uncles, John (Ivan) and Nick (Nicholai) Jr. were born and raised. I must have visited this house in my early childhood yet my memories of it are vague at best. I do not recall any of the interior features.

In the late 1940’s Grandma and Grandpa were growing older and their youngest son Nick Jr. was the last remaining child living with them. Nick Jr. had taken over the agricultural operations and was doing the majority of work on the land.

It was during this time that I recall hearing the news of the fire that destroyed the old house. Following this disaster, there was some question as to whether they would remain on the farm or sell everything and move elsewhere. An auction sale was held and many of the items on the farm were sold. The move however failed to materialize and a decision to rebuild and remain on the land was decided.

Excitement filled the air as construction took place on the new living quarters. The new home was on a slightly different locale. A treed area two or three hundred yards to the south of the old location was cleared and became the spot for the foundation. The remaining trees on the peripheral of the new yard acted as a ready made shelter belt for the new abode.  The garden was strategically placed by a small creek that ran nearby.

The blueprint of the new house was very similar to the one a neighbor Pete Bagalow had built some years earlier. It was a design that was quite progressive and functional for its day.

The “new” house as it appears today.

I recall a spacious kitchen that had a new chrome table and chairs positioned by a sunny east window.  After a hearty Russian supper it was here that the men would linger to tell their stories. 

Grandpa’s favorite was the tale of the mysterious lights. I would listen intently even though I had heard it several times before. Grandpa was a good story teller and with each narration there would be the addition of some new details. With each revealing I found myself entrapped by the adventure he was spinning and once again I would join him as we traveling through the unfolding exploits of the account. I never knew with certainty if it was pure fiction or it wore the mask of reality. He would push his chair away slightly from the table, lean foreward and commence.

“I remember the time I was traveling home on a dark cloudy night,” he would begin. “In the distance I could see a faint light glowing and moving ahead of me near the road I was traveling on. I was sure it was someone lost and I was going to see if they needed help,” he added. “As I moved toward the light it left the road twisting and turning through the field, leading me this way and that. It finally stopped next to some trees.” He would lean into the group so only we would hear. “Well, as I came upon this certain spot, it just disappeared. All I could see were a few mounds of dirt in a grassy area. There was nothing there. No horses, cart or person, nothing,” he commented. There would be a pause and he would take out a cigarette from its case. “There was no trace of a lantern, fire or shiny object anywhere around.” Sulfur crowned matches were found, one of them lit by his fingernail and then brought to the tip of his cigarette. “Because I was so surprised by what took place, I did not mark the spot. When I did not see anyone or anything, I left. It was dark and it scared me. “This light was near the old village where I once lived as a young man and I am sure I now know what it was I had seen, “said Grandpa. He would stop, look around for and ashtray, not finding one, walk to the kitchen stove and tap the ashes from the end of his cigarette into the firebox. “It was rumored among the villagers that the leaders of the Russian emigration party before leaving Russia were given large amounts of gold coins by Queen Victoria to be used in the new settlement. They were put into pots and brought with them to America. No one would be suspicious of the pots during the voyage and they would be strong and easy to move. Once at the new land the pots were buried at a location only known to the leaders.” I listened intently waiting for Grandpa to disclose the location. “It is told that when conditions are right, gold will give off a dancing light where it is buried and then disappear when you are there,” he whispered. By this time I was convinced that we should be looking for a shovel. “If I would have been able to put two and two together right then and there, I would have been a very wealthy man today.” he said. “You can never tell, I may see it again and this time I will know what to do. It is also quite possible the leaders have returned and moved the gold to a new place and then we will never see the lights again. If they did, it will be easy to tell who they are. They will be the ones with beautiful new homes, all the best farm equipment and a new car every second year whether they grow a good crop or not,” he ended.

Grandpa leaned back in his chair an indication that he was finished and we all waited for someone else to bring forth another adventure. Both Dad and Uncle Nick were avid hunters and it wasn’t long before a hunting story was begun.

The wood/coal cooking stove was centrally located in the kitchen and supplied the needed heat for cooking and warming of the house. For additional warmth throughout the cold winter months, a downstairs coal burning furnace with ductwork leading to several registers upstairs helped warm the rooms. I marveled at the innovativeness of this heating system which evenly distributed heat to all parts of the house. Electricity and forced air were to come later.

Great-grandmother Anastasia

A formal dining area and sitting room were located just off the kitchen. The dining room contained a large ornate table and chairs with a buffet situated along a wall nearby. This room was used largely for special occasions or when many guests necessitated the need for a larger eating area.

The arched entrance between the living room and dining room gave me a slight feeling of Russian classical architectural elegance. The dining room extended into the living room and this was where the guests would congregate after the meal. It is in this room that a large white stuffed snowy owl with its sharp scaly talons stood clinging to a pedestal type base. And from here its yellow piercing eyes seemed to be scanning the room for a meal of its own.

On the wall hung a beautiful oval picture frame encircling a black and white photograph of a female figure proudly posing in her best attire.  The soft almost bluish tones of the picture suggested some very early photographic technology or hand painted sketches. I was never told who the individual was or the relationship to the family.

South of the living room and extending the full width of the house was the sun-room with its many windows. It appeared to be an inviting place to relax and enjoy after a hard days work. The hot summers and cold winters however made this room one that could be used only on a limited number of days. I’m afraid it became storage space for various items. In winter it was also a natural freezer for the prized deer carcass that was hunted that fall.

Today, with doors ajar, window openings void of glass and surrounded by numerous poplar trees which seem determined to crowd it out of existence, the bathhouse still stands. It is a fading reminder of the life lead by our grandparents and a link to our Doukhobor heritage. Light filters through the log structure that now has lost much of its plaster to the elements revealing a two room building slowly losing its battle to the forces of nature.

The banya, a forerunner of the modern day steam room stood near the old house and on the outer fringe of the garden and small creek. A wooden floor, low cedar lined ceiling and walls of mud plaster throughout the interior brought you into the change room and dry off area of the bathhouse. A cast iron door on the dividing wall to the adjacent room opened to feed a wood burning stove. It is in this room clothes were shed and towels were placed prior to entering the steam room. 

The bathhouse as it appears today.

Once inside the banya wide wooden benches lined the outer wall welcoming you to a place of rest and cleansing. A metal heater surrounded by bricks at the base and topped with rocks stood along the inner partition. They would absorb and hold the heat needed to create the steam. A wooden door and a small window were the only remaining features of this room. It was here at age eight years I had my one and only experience in a Russian bathhouse.

Occasionally my sister Lois and I had the opportunity to stay over at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s and it was on one of these occasions that I was told I would be joining the men in the steamroom. The firing of the stove to heat the rocks was previously done by Uncle Nick and we were told all was ready. Before we departed there was a brief explanation by Grandpa as to what I was going to experience. So with towels in hand we trotted off to cleanse our soles and any other part of our body that happen to be soiled that day.  After undressing and closing the door behind us we seated ourselves on the benches. A large dipper was dunked into a bucket of water and the liquid tossed on the superheated rocks. Instantly there was a hissing and steam erupted everywhere. I could barely see the doorway. The stove not only superheated the stones and made the room warm but it made the room into a suffocating steam boiler when the water was added. I wasn’t sure what the survival rate was but I was determined to tough it out. Just when I was able to see my toes, Uncle Nick would toss on another ladle of water and once again everything would disappear. After several minutes of this, the body became acclimated to the temperature and the experience became very pleasant. Everyone turned pink and I was told this was a healthy thing to experience. Soap was generously applied and then a splashing of water on our bodies to remove the residue was next.

The remains of the bathhouse heater.

During the bath it was customary to use a bunch of birch leaves on twigs in the form of a broom for whipping the backs of the bathers. Since birch trees were not native to this area, tiny hazelnut or willow twigs were used to gently beat the extremities, thereby enhancing the circulation process of the body. Thoughts of my waywardness quickly darted through my mind. Could this be someone’s opportunity to get even? The absence of twigs in the steam room made me feel reasonably comfortable the tanning of my tender little hide was not in the cards that day.

Visiting Our Grandparents

Our extended stay at Grandmas and Grandpas arose from a medical problem Mom was encountering. Occasionally I would be awakened at night to hear Mom in severe pain talking to Dad. This pain seemed to last from a few minutes to several hours and in an ever increasing frequency as the months passed. Some of these pain filled bouts were less severe than others. From the tone of their voices and from the conversation I overheard, it was something that mom would have to deal with shortly.

In the morning after a severe pain filled night, we were on our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s.  We stayed at their farm while Uncle Nick drove Mom and Dad to the Yorkton hospital. At this time we did not have the luxury of owning a car and we depended on the relatives for any long distance travel. Upon their return my sister and I as much as possible were kept from the details.  We were being spared the worry and fright of the diagnosis.

Pelagea and Nicholai Sookochoff with grandchildren Cyril and Lois Brown.

Later, Mom took us aside and informed us that she had to be away for a couple of weeks and we would be staying at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s farm.  She assured us that everything was going to be fine and we need not worry. Normally going there for a stay or overnight was a jovial one. This was generally a time that we could attack Grandpa, knock him over and claim victory or otherwise fool around until somebody got hurt. Grandpa, as we all knew, loved getting mauled by us but pretended not to. This time however things did not seem to have that note of joy.

In a couple of weeks we were packing our bags for a stay with the Sookochoff’s.  From the bits and pieces of conversation that were floating about I was able to piece together the fact that Mom was probably scheduled for an operation. We were aware of the fact that any operation had its dangers. Even though there was a note of grave concern, just to be free of the pain filled sleepless nights was encouragement enough for Mom to go forward with it.

We arrived at the farm and were left to put our things away in a smaller bedroom while Mom and Dad gave us a hug good bye and continued on to Yorkton.

 Grandma and Grandpa grew up in a Russian environment so English was a second language to them. Grandpa could converse in English well enough to make his intentions known. Grandmother, on the other hand, knew very little of the local dialect and if I was to have a conversation with her it would mean a crash course in Russian. To learn the language involved spending more time with my grandparents or taking more of an interest in the language at home. Mom was fluent in Russian, English and Ukrainian and she would have been pleased to help if I asked.  Since English was the predominant language spoken around our household, Russian was laid aside. I had previously absorbed some of it however, through listening. I knew enough Russian in this situation to keep me from starving or dying of thirst (I did much better with the obscenities).  After a week with my grandparents, I thought I was doing quite well with the Russian Immersion program.

We managed to help slightly around the house and with the chores. I don’t recall breaking anything or doing things that would have put our lives in jeopardy during our stay.

The nights were the greatest. Grandma dug out the feather bed. This was a comforter and mattress cover filled with duck down. It was the softest, fluffiest warmest thing imaginable. It was like sleeping in a cloud. Once you wiggled your way inside, it swallowed you up and kept you toasty warm all night.

I saw very little of Dad for he was at home taking care of the chores and only stopped by when a trip to the hospital was scheduled. I was missing Mom a lot although we were treated royally by Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle Nick. We were told that she was recovering nicely from the operation for a condition called piles and it would be several more days before her return. I waited patiently for the days we would be together again.

Upon her arrival home we all offered our assistance and we catered to her needs as best we could. A pillow to sit on was used everywhere by Mom during the recovery period.  The operation by Dr. Novak proved successful resolving the condition Mom had experienced and things steadily returning to normal.

Life amongst the relatives was not without its carefree sugary moments. It had become tradition in the family that John, Mary and Nick with their families would join Grandma and Grandpa and all congregate at the Yorkton Exhibition each year. This event was a time of fun for everyone, starting at the gate. Lois recalls the time when the younger generation were required to sit on the car floor while their heads were covered with blankets, skirts and jackets. Being absolutely still and quiet was a must, she remembers. This was almost an insurmountable task for youngsters in close proximity. Someone always had a comment, giggle or sneeze. This is where we remained until the car passed the ticket booth and was parked. After disembarking, we were ordered not to stray or get lost as we roamed from attraction to attraction. As the adrenaline slowly diminished we willingly squeezed into the car for the uneventful journey homeward.  The purring of the car motor and the whine of the tires on the road were sedatives to me as I faded off into a deep slumber.

Contact with other children in our age group was occasional and brief. Christmas holidays however, brought with it the good fortune and opportunity to join with our cousins in a stay at the grandparents. It was a stay that usually lasted a week. We patiently waited for the invitation as the holiday drew near.  Our first cousins at this time were those in Uncle John and Aunt Lillian Sookochoff’s family and we hoped they would be invited and joining us. The more the merrier it seemed. Kathleen, their oldest daughter was two years senior to my sister and their younger daughter Lucille was slightly younger than me. Donald their youngest was only a tot and too small to become involved.

During this time Kathleen would frequently arrive for a stay with our grandparents but I do not remember gracing Lucille’s company. We played games of cards, built card houses and the girls whispered secrets. During the day the adults involved themselves with work that required their daily consideration leaving us ample opportunity to interact with each other.  Once the flour came out we would be at grandma’s side watching and trying to assist with the bean or cottage cheese filled pirogi (Russian pies) she was baking that day. Effortlessly Grandma would roll out round balls of pastry then weave closed the filling into oblong pies for the evening meal. We each tried one of our own. It was all worth the effort once the aroma from the baking permeated the kitchen. How soft was the dough and tasty the filling after a light covering with butter.

As the sun deepened in the horizon and before the frost bit deeply into the outdoors, the empty wood box needed its last filling. Grandpa imparted the virtues of physical activity to me. If I participated, I would become big and strong. Rather than a chore of drudgery it was one of teamwork, assistance and a partnership. With an offer like this I usually consented. I would help fill a noosed rope he specially created for this task and when full, he would sling the load onto his back. After grabbing an armful of sticks, back I would trudge losing pieces of wood all along the way. I tried to get as near the house as possible before letting the load escape thereby save myself a long journey back to pick up the pieces.

As the night sky rolled out its carpet of the moon and stars, Russian prayers were said in preparation for bedtime. It started as a “repeat after me” process and as they became more familiar and further ingrained in our memories we joined in unison. With the guidance of Uncle Nick, Grandma or occasionally Grandpa, they were practiced nightly bringing us in contact with the customary Doukhobor prayers. Not knowing the language thoroughly made it somewhat more difficult for me and interpretation was required if it was going to be meaningful.

Getting to sleep in a new environment was difficult and it was occasionally preceded by playing trampoline on the bed until Grandma came into the room.

Grandfather Sookochoff

 Grandpa Sookochoff stood slightly shorter than average and was a stalwart built individual. His well tanned face, rough hand and lean muscular body were evidence of the hard work needed to run the farm. Living off the land was their means of survival and hard work was a part of that equation. Nor was work something Grandpa shied away from. The harder the task the more stubborn and persistent he became. He was very strong minded and not easily swayed from his convictions, sometimes to the frustration of his wife and children.

Nicholai Sookochoff

In their initial days of farming the Sookochoff’s as many, experienced much hardship. It meant more than just doing without money and included the real possibility of starvation as well. In my discussions with Mom, she occasionally spoke of the hunger they had endured and the many hardships they encountered while growing up with her parents in her youthful years. The most difficult times were those encountered after the move to the farm in approximately 1906 followed by the depression of the1930’s. Pride or the threat of losing everything brought their refusal to accept social assistance during these hard times. The need to subsist with nothing but than their land and labor left them with a fear never to be forgotten even in the more prosperous times. To survive and succeed meant that everyone in the family would assist with the work load.  And those years of hardship had worn lines of wisdom into Grandpa’s stern strong face.

To thrive meant being physically and emotionally strong, qualities of grave importance to Grandpa. Apart from battling the wind, rain, dust and snow this was also a time when brute force was needed to clear land, pick roots, prepare hay for livestock and thresh the grain. I remember him saying to me, “You have to be strong to make it”.

As with many Russian homes it was not uncommon to witness the men indulging in alcoholic beverages. The presence of company or an event that required a celebration often invoked the need for several drinks of vodka or home made whiskey. These were poured into shot glasses and downed in one gulp or swigs were taken directly from a bottle which then was passed around. This was followed by a frowning and puckering of ones face as testimony to the strength and harshness of the potent. The frequency of shots was monitored by grandma who whisked away and hid the bottle when the celebrities in her opinion seemed to be indulging a little too much. When Grandpa’s drinking occurred outside the home and there was no one to monitor the amounts he drank, the picture was quite different. It usually ended late at night by him loosely tying the reins of his trusted steeds to the box, starting them on their way homeward and letting them find their residence. Usually his absence was a source of great worry to grandma and many words of disapproval were uttered upon his return. Grandpa would be up early next morning and after a few strong cups of coffee he would still manage a strenuous day’s work. These celebrations usually occurred at more idle times during the farm year and he curbed his drinking when there was work to be done.

Grandpa didn’t come through life unscathed. From my earliest memories he had a stub of an arm. The loss resulted from a farm tractor accident, as Mom recalls. The earliest models of tractors didn’t have rubber tires but steel wheels with large metal lugs used for traction on the rear. It is this type of tractor that was being used by Grandpa that traumatic day. A new tractor with a foot clutch rather than the more familiar hand clutch of the previous model was in his operation. While attempting to back up and latch onto an implement, he lost his grip, slipped off and fell under the tractor. His arm dropped into the lane of the still moving uncontrolled machine and was over-run by the rear wheel. Still others nearest to grandpa report a slightly different version of the accident. It was told that the arm was over-run as well as a portion of the stomach region which was torn open and exposed by the tractor wheel. This necessitated the need for wrapping a flour sack around his waist to keep the entrails from further damage and contamination .The tractor eventually threw him out and away from its oncoming path. Its progress became impeded by the implement and the rear wheels were slowly digging holes in the soil at the time of Uncle Nick’s arrival on the scene. He was hastily placed in the car and sped to the hospital.  The arm was crushed beyond repair and necessitated the removal of the damaged portion. Recovery and adjustment must have been painful and difficult.

With the circulation impaired, it left the arm feeling cold and achy. On many occasions we would witness grandpa sitting with his partial arm tucked into a slightly ajar oven door to bring warmth and comfort to his injury. This handicap however, never seemed to restrict his daily life and I do not ever recall him complaining about its loss.

A frosted lens hid the hollowed socket of a missing eye. The scars on his forehead directly above the eyebrow told of another accident that must have brought him dangerously close to losing his life. This again was not an event I can recall but I did ask about its happening. It was not a subject that anyone cared to discuss in any detail and I can understand why.

An airplane was giving rides to those citizens in the area that cared for the experience. Mom being young and adventuresome wished to try this phenomenon and convinced grandpa to join her on a ride. They were scheduled for the next flight and waited excitedly in line for the plane to land.  As it taxied to the loading area grandpa moved foreword to board the plane.   Not paying attention or a miscalculation of the distance from the prop brought him dangerously close and then into its path. Mom indicated that grandpa had indulged in a few drinks prior to the flight and this may have also hampered his judgment as well. The impact left the skull broken and the brain exposed.

Upon being taken to Canora after the accident, Dr. Anhauser attended to his injuries. It was felt that a wound of this nature and magnitude needed special facilities and personnel who could better deal with a brain and skull reconstruction. He was flown to Winnipeg and was accompanied by Mom. She would act as an interpreter, supporter and decision maker for a time until Uncle Nick was free to relieve her as Grandpa’s care-giver.

 After hours on the operating table and weeks of convalescence, grandpa gradually started to show signs of recovery.  Mom accounts how he lived largely on a diet of buttermilk and watermelon until he started to regain his health. These were the foods he craved. This hardly seemed like a diet that could sustain life and help with the healing process. After recovery, Mom was convinced they had some undiscovered miraculous healing properties.  Amazingly enough, apart from the slight scar and indentation to his forehead, he showed no outward signs of physical disability or permanent memory loss from the injury.

His eyelid took on a puckered appearance from the absence of the eyeball and earned him the Russian nickname “kosoi” or squint-eyed from some of his peers.

At the apex of his farming career, Grandpa had acquired and operated three quarters of land most of which surrounded the homestead. Cattle were always a part of the landscape although grain was their central focus as a source of income. In his latter years of farming I remember seeing a team of horses grazing lazily on a pasture nearby. And when a source of power or transportation was needed they were used only as a last recourse. In summer chickens could be seen dusting themselves around the barnyard while others scratched vigorously with their feet looking for bits of food in the straw covered surroundings. This seemed like such a useless action to me. One that took grain from a pile easily accessible for their pecking to one of seeds scattered everywhere. It reminded me of people digging for bargains at a sale counter. The garden was always an attraction to the chickens and the fence always allowed and entry somewhere. Chickens half running and half flying scurried back to the barnyard in great haste while Grandpa or Grandma with broom in hand could be seen shooing them away.

A few shared moments with Grandpa in 1956 give rise to a gentle smile. By 1950 Uncle Nick had married Laura Holoboff and two years later an expectant mother gave birth to their first born child Lorne. Shortly thereafter Laura fell ill to polio leaving her left side partially disabled and a difficult time for the family resulted. However, in 1956 a second pregnancy brought with it another joyous occasion. The newborn and mother were healthy and in good spirits. It wasn’t long thereafter that many members of the immediate family congregated at the Canora hospital to see the newest relative and now help with his delivery home. After the arrival at the hospital, we stopped in the doorway to Laura’s room. It became apparent that not everyone was going to be permitted into the room at once. It was decided that Grandpa and I would wait in the entranceway until some of the others dispersed. I peeked in from the hallway and can recall sensing an excitement in Aunt Laura voice and seeing a glowing face. How pleased she seemed with their newest addition to the family. Comments of loveliness were being made and resemblances were being picked out as we left the group. Grandpa and I reluctantly worked our way to the public area.

As I waited, I remember sitting on a wooden oak bench next to Grandpa swinging my dangling legs as I watched events within the hospital unfold about me. It wasn’t long before a doctor in his white hospital coat hurriedly passed by. I envisioned doctors as those miracle workers who could fix every malady known to mankind.

An elderly lady in her housecoat nearby spotted him and in a shuffling manner approached him saying in a Ukrainian accent, “Dr. Danyalchuck, Dr. Danyalchuck, I have pains here, my back is sore and my leg hurts when I walk.”

I could not discern what the doctor’s reply was to her. But on his trip back from whence he came, he passed in front of Grandpa and me.

Grandpa hailed the doctor by saying, “Dr. Danyalchuck, why don’t you at least give the lady some pills or medicine to make her feel better?”

“Nickolai,” the doctor responded, “when a threshing machine is all worn out there is nothing we can do,” and then walked away. I’m sure my eyes were as big as saucers and my mouth was agape from the shock of hearing this comment. Maybe it was the doctor’s strategy to make my grandfather smile.

Grandpa and I in due time were permitted to see the new fragile infant. The visitation was a short one as I recollect. I was pleased to make Mile’s acquaintance even though I knew the young lad’s immediate goals were mainly eating and sleeping. As we departed Aunt Laura’s hand squeeze seemed to say she was glad I came. Their attention quickly turned to preparing themselves for the discharge from the hospital and the beginning of Mile’s trek through life.

Grandmother Sookochoff

Grandma’s eyes, so expressive of her mood, were the windows to her soul. Without a word spoken, a note of joy, sadness, anger or fear could easily be told by a quick glance into Grandma’s gaze.

I remember grandma being of average height and heavier set. Her dark hair then streaked with grey was parted in the center, was void of any curl and hung to the nape of her neck. A shawl was added to her head if she was scheduled to go outdoors. An apron over her housedress was most frequently worn as she went about her day to day housework. Apart from different prints on her dresses she did not stray far from the traditional Doukhobor styles.

Pelagea Sookochoff

If she wasn’t tending to the household chores of cooking and cleaning, she would sit with some knitting needles in hand and a ball of yarn tucked into her pocket or bag making some mitts, socks or sweater. So adept was she at this skill, a pair of mitts would be waiting to warm someone’s cold hands by days end. Never once did I see a pattern being followed. Yet these items always turned out a perfect fit.

Occasionally, Grandma would be found seated behind her spinning wheel and was quickly but skillfully feeding even strands of carded wool into the machine. On the spindle, tightly twisted yarn gathered ready for knitting. Grandma always encouraged us to try these skills. What seemed like such a simple procedure for Grandma turned out to be a lumpy uneven mess for me when I was at the wheel. While concentrating on pedaling the mechanism, I would unevenly distribute the wool that was being fed into the spinning wheel. This would produce skinny then thick strands of yarn, hence the lumps. I think she concluded that all men were hopeless creatures in this field and it best be left to the capable hands of the ladies. Her loving arms were always there for a hug and encouragement when the task became too difficult or frustrating.

Once she had your attention and interest, out came the knitting needles and a ball of yarn. I believe my first effort was a pair of socks since they were straight forward and quickest to complete. If the test of your job is in the wearing, I learned the term “half-life of an object” at an early age. Several holes appeared half a day after wearing the socks I made and this lead me to another of Grandma’s valuable lessons, darning. Her eyes always shone with approval at a job well done or a good effort put forth. A gentle pat on the head told you she was proud of your labors. I am sure some bragging was done thereafter.

Her hands were never idle. She could be actively taking part in a group discussion and at the same time knitting, darning, preparing supper or a whole host of other tasks. The work ethic demonstrated by this family could not leave one unaffected.

Grandma always grew an extensive garden that had bountiful fruits and vegetables of many kinds. The tomato plants of unknown variety, although never very tall, yielded massive amounts of fruit that lasted until the arrival of frost in the fall. On her travels through the garden she would hold the lower ends of her apron in one hand while with the other pick and deposit peas into the pocket she had just created. Once in the kitchen, we gladly volunteered our help with shelling the peas, knowing full well we would get to sample every second or third pod. After the tasting was done, the job become a bit more onerous but we carried on until finished or we got tired of picking up peas that shot themselves all over the kitchen. In the event of a dire situation, the warm gentle nature she possessed would often bring her to tears.

 “Oye yoy yoy,” she would utter as she shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes with the end of her apron or a handkerchief drawn from her pocket. Usually the situation would be resolved and grandma would slowly return to her former self.

Grandma’s agility and flexibility were nothing short of being remarkable even at an older age.  As evidence of this, Aunt Laura Sookochoff remembers a time when someone put a five dollar bill on the floor and challenged Grandma to pick it up with her teeth, hands held behind her back and her legs straight. Grandma widened her stance and with ease bent over, bit into the bill and then tucked it in her purse.

The Golden Years

In the early 1950’s Grandma and Grandpa Sookochoff qualified for their well deserved old age security pensions. And to receive a regular stable income after the risks associated with farming was something new and welcomed by them. Uncle Nick now married was totally managing the farm operation. The new family would need some extra room to grow and operate without imposing upon the elders. They could now spend some relaxing free time in their golden years. The decision for the grandparents to leave the farm and relocate into the town of Buchanan was made. This concept sounded like an excellent idea.

Partaking in a more leisurely way of life sounded ideal however it was a source of concern to those nearest the Grandparents. They had worked from dusk to dawn for countless years and to abruptly stop could prove disconcerting. To them working was like eating and sleeping, it had to be done daily. It was customary to live with the children who would give them the security and care in their maturing years.  It was feared that leaving the old familiar surroundings for a new establishment may prove to be too much of an adjustment for the aging Grandparents.

By coincidence, Ralph Brown my uncle the butcher and meat market owner of many years in the town, was finding refrigerators and locker plants popping up in great numbers. The need for a butcher shop was diminishing. He was at the retirement age himself and retire he did.  He and his wife Verna had planned on joining their daughter Ruth and husband Ivan Reid in Moose Jaw after giving up work. As a result, it left a square cottage styled house across the road from the United Church available for some new owners. It stood on the corner lot of Second Street one block east of Central Avenue. It had a “widow’s walk” or belvedere situated on the roof suggesting a blueprint originating near the sea. Traditionally, wives of the fishing captains stood on the “widow’s walk” to watch for signs of flags on the incoming banking schooners.  I had many opportunities to visit this home when the Browns resided there.

The retirement home of Pelagea and Nicholai Sookochoff in Buchanan, SK.

Leaving the hollow sounding wooden village sidewalk and turning onto the footpath that approached the backdoor, you were greeted by two enormous evergreens that competed for the walking space. After brushing by these trees you were confronted by a large veranda. On the veranda sat two weather beaten arm chairs overlooking the back yard while patiently waiting for someone to sit and enjoy the relaxing outdoors. At the far end of the back yard near the alleyway a small unpainted garage or large shed stood accompanied by an old model “T” Ford truck.

The front yard was surrounded by caraganas that had been trimmed to shoulder height. The lawn looked cut but dry, thin and pale. Since those were the days before water sprinklers and fertilizer, Mother Nature determined the lushness of growth.

The entrance to the front door led abruptly into the living room and did not appear to be used by anyone with any frequency. Above the door a panel of stained glass windows brought a feeling of elegance and warmth to the room. It is this house that Grandma and Grandpa Sookochoff purchased as their retirement location.

Saturdays on the farm were a day of shopping and meeting with friends and relatives. The trip to town by buggy or wagon was slow, dusty and rough. After the groceries were purchased, the mail collected and the cream can recovered from the railroad station there was time to visit with Grandma and Grandpa. On one trip, Grandpa who did not read English fluently made the mistake of asking us if the movie at the theater was any good. A question he knew would get our attention. Although we never passed by the theater or read the poster that day, we told him it was the greatest. After strongly promoting the movie we turned to saying please, please, please.  Grandpa was enjoying the attention and fuss we were making over him. I had never been to a movie and didn’t really know what to expect but I heard it was enjoyable. Grandpa finally consented.

With permission granted from our parents, off to the theater we trotted with grandpa in hand. This was a treat of treats. I knew that Mom and Dad would not have the necessary funds left over from the cream cheque to be able to join us, so they stayed behind to shop and visit. Anyway this was Grandpa’s time with us.

Although it was only mid afternoon, lights were needed at the theater due to an absence of windows. Upon entering I had to squint to see where we were going. An usher with flashlight in hand escorted us to our seats after the admissions were paid. Twenty five cents for adults and fifteen for children was the amount needed to gain entry.  Old plush seats mounted on an inclined floor made it easy to watch the movie without others obstructing the view. What a great idea I thought. As my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I spotted the ceiling fans slowly rotating overhead. They were belt driven, each ganged together by flat long strips of leather. Although they turned very slowly a hint of air movement could be felt. At the front of the theater long pleated curtains hung motionless. I was amazed by everything I saw. The lights dimmed and there came a clattering noise from the balcony overhead. A beam of light broke through the darkness and the drapes were slowly drawn back. The screen and room was flooded with colour, movement and sound.

Cartoons appeared on the screen first. My only previous experience with cartoons was those found in the Free Press or comic books at home. These had movement. How did they bring them to life? At the time I thought they were the funniest things I had ever seen. I sat there spellbound and consumed right to THE END as it flashed on the screen. Suddenly a lion’s head appeared on the screen and a roar ensued. I did not quite understand its significance at the time but it quickly faded and the title of the main feature Ma and Pa Kettle on the Farm appeared. I waited in anticipation to see what would happen. As the story unfolded it didn’t take long to realize there was a thread of truth about the exaggerated Kettle’s farm experiences to some of our day to day activities. Suddenly the movie stopped and the interior lights came on. This seemed like an abrupt ending. I looked around to see if anyone was leaving. No one moved, so I waited. There was a bustling going on in the balcony room behind us and soon the movie again continued. I was to eventually learn that movies came on two large reels and this was the threading of the second reel. It only seemed like seconds and it was all over. This time people were getting up and filing out of the theater. We rallied around Grandpa and walked the block and a half to his house. In route I asked Grandpa what he thought of the movie. He would feign a spit and say, “This is the worst movie I have ever seen.” Regardless of what he said I had the time of my life. I was convinced that this would be the last movie experience we were to have with him. The movie kept on replaying itself in my head as we slowly plodded our way homeward. For several weeks thereafter Mom and Dad had every scene told and retold to them on numerous occasions.

Another view of the Sookochoff retirement home.

The opportunity to visit Grandma and Grandpa on Saturday did not avail of itself for many months to follow and when it did I was astonished to hear Grandpa Say, “Is there a good movie at the theatre this week?” We jumped at the chance and off we went once more. Again the evaluation of the movie by Grandpa was the same. He would feign a spit and say, “This is the worst movie I have ever seen.” I concluded that this evaluation of the movie meant we would have to keep trying to find that ultimate production but today I realize it was his way of returning to the theatre with us indefinitely. In this manner I was able to see Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Marilyn Monroe and several more very memorable movies and movie stars.

 It wasn’t long thereafter the attendance at the theatre was insufficient to make it a viable operation and it closed its doors indefinitely. Although the final pages were written on the history of this establishment, grandpa had found a way to open the door to my heart and leave some ever-lasting memories within it.

The day to day activities and a large garden kept them considerably occupied. The back lawn virtually disappeared and was replaced by some very rich looking topsoil. The garden would supply them with the fresh fruits and vegetables they needed and still give them the opportunity to exercise their agricultural roots. They had adjusted to a new environment before and once more they would adapt to these new surroundings. They had each other. And here they would deal with their everyday needs as they walked through life together.

Reflections

As the years passed and I entered my teens, more responsibilities on the farm and school began to consume more of my time. I saw less and less of my grandparents. The language was a barrier whenever I wished to express my thoughts in more depth. I often regretted not putting forth the effort to become more fluent in the dialect. We would still visit them occasionally but there were fewer and fewer things that we would participate in together. Grandma and Grandpa seldom came to the farm and I felt myself drifting out of their lives. It was always with good intentions I planned on bringing them closer once more. Time waits for no one and too soon they were gone.

With pails of water loaded on a small wagon on a clear warm summer’s day Grandpa and five year old grandson Lorne Sookochoff slowly worked their way homeward. Two blocks south of the house a town dugout filled their buckets with the needed moisture for the dry garden. The afternoon was slowly descending and this would give them a chance to revive the wilted vegetables from the day’s heat.  Tired and sweaty upon his return, a dish of canned peaches was requested by Grandpa as he entered the house. After finishing a bowlful of the desired fruit he must have sensed something was wrong. He addressed Grandma with the remark that, “I will be leaving now and will see you”. He found his way to the bedroom and probably feeling uncomfortably warm, removed a pillow from the bed and lay on the floor. And it is here on July of 1961 a massive heart attack ended Grandpa’s journey with us forever.

Upon entering the Doukhobor prayer hall in Buchanan there was the stop at the casket to say my last goodbyes to Grandpa then a seat was found with the mourners. The walls were void of any decorative religious material and the room was furnished with a plain wooden table, chairs and benches. The traditional bread, salt and water on a platter graced a small stand near the wall. Another room contained a stove, cooking utensil and lunch making facilities.

The men congregated at one end of the table after bowing to the members present while the women gathered at the other. A request for a starter came to the floor and a hymn by the individual was started. After a few bars were sung by the starter the group joined in. An angelic harmony filled the room with a full rich sound unique onto itself. At the end of each verse the group would cease singing and allow the leader to continue in solo a few more bars before once again joining in. No musical instrumentation was ever used and in this true Doukhobor manner grandpa was laid to rest.

Grandma continued to live alone in Buchanan for another ten years after Grandpa’s death. A stoke resulted thereafter leaving the left side of her body paralyzed and made living unaided impossible. She rejoined Uncle Nick and Aunt Laura at the farm once more. Walking was difficult and this lead to a fall which broke her hip. At Yorkton hospital it was set then pinned and all seemed to be on the mend. Nevertheless, before her release from hospital she contacted pneumonia and it was in the summer of 1973 when she too soon was also called away.

It was in silence Mom and I drove the fifteen miles to the farm after the funeral. The event left her deeply shaken and the sorrow she was experiencing showed clearly on her somber face. Following the arrival we walked slowly throughout the garden together and it was there I voiced the comment that Grandma’s suffering had ended. This remark brought a look which told me she did not wish to see her gone under any circumstances. The deep love which existed between mother and daughter was never to end. Eventually she nodded in agreement and it was only then I saw a gradual acceptance of the parting.

Quite unknowingly perhaps, their interaction with us brought with it many wonderful things. Their quiet determination, the sense of family, the freedom to allow you to become your own self and experience things, support when you needed it, were all memories that linger in my mind. In addition to the coins that helped fill our piggy banks and the occasional push to do our best, they gave us the greatest gifts of all, their love and attention.

Grandparents Nicholas and Pelagea Sookochoff

To be a strong member of the community and a valued asset to society in the eyes of their peers is everyone’s goal, especially the Doukhobors. I believe Grandma and Grandpa can proudly say their efforts were dubbed a success.

They were brave determined individuals striking out on a dangerous voyage to a strange far off land. Grandma and Grandpa had their dreams, dreams of greater things and hopes of giving their children opportunities for a better life. Fulfilling all of ones lifetime goals can only be gauged by the person who sets them. Grandma and Grandpa had accomplished many. Operating a successful grain and cattle farm and rearing three loyal, hardworking, children was a full time task. The farm always kept pace with modern equipment and facilities to aid in the process.

 Who of us can justly say we have no regrets? A few drinks too many with errors made by relaxed inhibitions, comments made by idle chatter that injured feelings, or harsh words from the flair of ones temper, all too often escape.  Grandpa and Grandma made a few I am sure but to grandchildren they are soon forgiven if not forgotten.  In the lives of this couple, the troubles they endured were a much smaller component than the joys they shared, for the vows of their marriage remained until death did them part.

I acknowledge them for their hard work on the farm and the strides they made to improve their lot. Only a very few can claim outstanding contributions to society but it is often the many uncelebrated individuals that really make a difference.

How Deep are the Doukhobor Roots?

It almost seems commonplace that our culture motivates us to bring forth the past and find ways to preserve and continue our heritage. Its scope and breadth is dependant on the individual and what they have at their disposal during their lifetime. Some share photographs, stories, family trees and written documents while others say prayers, sing hymns and speak the language. The preparation of Doukhobor dishes often graces the tables for others to share in the taste of this culture. Handcrafted objects, tools and antiques from the bygone days created by the craftsman show the inventiveness and creativeness of the group as they fought to conquer the new land. Many still have the traditional dresses worn by their ancestors as reminders of the past. Also and not so outwardly visible but deep within us are the values and attitudes that governed these peoples lives. And it is these building blocks of the past that brings us into the present.

Change is inevitable and necessary for our survival and so it was with our ancestors as they moved throughout their history.  Undeniably some areas of Doukhoborism more and more are melting into the mainstream culture. Whether this naturally occurring process will bring the end to the old or still have deep rooted undercurrents is yet to be determined. But as we slide from generation to generation it appears as though less and less of the elements of the culture are being passed on intact. It is the fault of no one but circumstance itself. The elements of the old culture do not survive unaltered if the next generation experiences them differently.  This is a tendency that seems to be also happening to the remaining Doukhobors within Russia today.

To lose the Russian language in this country is to lose a rich unique way of expression. We have only to read a translated Doukhobor story to notice the vivid arrangement of words creating a new exciting different representation of a situation in our minds. Those who have the mastery of this language are the richer for it. No one in our immediate household or locale speaks the language or requires its use. The children do not see a need for this life skill nor have I made an effort to push it upon them.  Career-wise it almost seems to their advantage to learn French. Interdenominational marriages use the common denominator dialect, English, for the communication within the family unit and the Russian language has faded.  There are very few in the vicinity that are left to converse with and refresh the memory. Distance had also taken away the close contact needed with the grandparents that forced you back into the language. For these reasons the Russian language has gone by the wayside in our immediate family. The language nevertheless will remain abroad for centuries to come and can be reclaimed by those individuals who require it or when the need arises.

The Doukhobors religious principles which originally brought the group together are the reasons that made them so unique. These principles were not preached or shared with the general public and remained closed and unfamiliar to most inhabitants in our society. This closed nature of the group and their beliefs brought with it a loss of numbers to the Doukhobors following. Throughout the years as the elderly departed and the young married outside the Doukhobor following its numbers diminished. It also brought some suspicions from many of the citizens in the country. Often mentioning the word ‘Doukhobor’ seemed to bring a negative connotation and a look of uncertainty by people with different racial origins. This is a natural occurring reaction by those who did not fully understand the underlying beliefs. By clinging to their religious principles the Doukhobors proved to be good neighbors and strong members of society and eventually gained the acceptance in their communities as they showed their worth.  As man travels through time, the Doukhobors basic religious philosophy of God within man, the love of others and the reluctance to kill may once again surface, flourish and come to the forefront as the guiding principle to live by.  There certainly is a need to find some way to heal terrorism, war and suffering. Could this be answered by a bit of pacifism, tolerance and working together?

As individuals we can do many things to keep and perpetuate the culture and traditions of our nationality. This article in itself is my effort to keep alive as much of our family history as possible. It is something that can be passed forward through the years and hopefully brings my children and grandchildren a little closer to understanding their ancestry. We are responsible for passing on our roots to our children and each of us will do it in different ways. It has become tradition in our household to celebrate our Doukhobor roots each year before Christmas by engaging in the making of Russian tarts. It is a delicious recipe passed down from my mother some years ago. They are raspberry filled pastries smothered with cream and eaten fresh from the oven. The soft tender crust accented by the rich berries flavor leaves one begging for more. The aroma guides and holds everyone into the kitchen in anticipation of the first serving. Their considerable demand makes their existence but a few days. Friends, relatives and neighbors reappear each Christmas with a request for more of these tasty morsels. To my great delight, the daughter and son have now become involved in their creation and hopefully they will carry on the tradition. In their making we seem to honour the grandparents and great grandparents by accepting the cultural customs that has been handed down to us. For it is said to honour ourselves is to honour the past.

If we look deeply within ourselves I believe we will get a glimpse of our grandparents and more so our parents. My mother brought with her the Doukhobor language, work ethic, skills, religious beliefs, attitudes, goals and ideals only to mention a few. The view that children are to be held in the highest esteem and were of the greatest importance is only one example of the above. The tone of her voice, the strength of her conviction, her body language and comments are all representative of her true nature. These mixed with her life experiences directly or indirectly found their way to me.

From the interaction I had with my Doukhobor grandparents as a child, I could see the same loving nature of Grandma and the strong determination to succeed from Grandpa within my Mom. I believe we accept many of these same characteristic and thus our heritage lives on.

I was raised within two different cultural groups of grandparents, the Doukhobors on the one side and the English on the other. The influences of the English grandparents will be dealt with in a subsequent chapter.

I am proud of my Doukhobor heritage and proud of my grandparents. I say this because of what I have witnessed and experienced while in their association. It is this pride that gets passed on to our children.

Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875

by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde

Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde were Russian-German naturalists and explorers who toured the Caucasus and Armenian highlands in 1875. During their expedition, they visited the Doukhobor villages of Orlovka and Gorelovka in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province. They kept a journal and recorded their impressions of this encounter, which they published as “Vorläufiger Bericht über die im Jahre 1875 ausgeführten Reisen in Kaukasien und dem Armenischen Hochlande von Dr. G. Radde und Dr. G. Sievers” in “Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen” Vol. 22 (H. Haack, 1876). Available in English for the first time ever, this translation provides the reader with an extraordinary first-hand account of the Doukhobors during this little-known period of their history. Translated by Gunter Schaarschmidt exclusively for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Foreword

Gustav Ivanovich Sievers (1843-1898) was a Baltic-German naturalist and explorer. After working at the universities of St. Petersburg, Heidelberg and Würzburg, he obtained a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. From 1869 onward, he was librarian of the Tiflis Public Library and taught at the Tiflis Gymnasium. At the same time, he pursued the study of entomology, in particular, rare beetle species. From 1869 to 1875, he undertook a number of expeditions through the Trans-Caspian and Caucasus regions with Gustav Radde and published scientific articles about their travels.

Gustav Ferdinand Richard (“Ivanovich”) Radde (1831-1903) was a Prussian-born geographer and naturalist. He formally studied medicine and pharmacy at the university there. At the same time, he privately studied botony and zoology, which became his chief interests. In 1852, he emigrated to Russia and undertook explorations in the Crimea from 1852 to 1855 and in Siberia from 1855 to 1860. In 1860, he was appointed Conservator of the Zoological Museum of the Imperial Acadamy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. Following expeditions to South Russia in 1860 and 1862, in 1863, Radde was appointed Assistant Director of the Tiflis Physical Observatory. In 1864, he received a commision from the Chief Viceroy of the Caucasus to conduct an extensive expedition of the Caucasus, of which he published numerous scientific papers. In 1868, Radde became the Director of the Tiflis Public Library.

Gustav Ivanovich Radde (1831-1903).

In the spring of 1875, Sievers and Radde organized an expedition of the Caucasus and Armenian highlands with Dr. Oskar Schneider of Saxony for the purposes of geographical and natural historical study. While en route from Tiflis to Alexandropol, they visited the Doukhobor villages of Orlovka and Gorelovka. What follows are their detailed observations about the Doukhobors they encountered and their way of life.

As long as the road was relatively good, we moved forward rapidly and gradually ascended in the Akhalkalaki Plain up to the high-altitude source of the Kirkh-bulak that allows this creek (brook) to flow down towards the north. Lake Khanchali-göl is situated towards the southeast and is shallow and already partly overgrown at its edges. After arriving at the Kirkh-bulak source we turned quickly in a southeasterly direction and, not far from the edge of the lake near the Turkish border, continued straight on. Here the traveller finds himself at the lowest altitude of the road, yet still at an altitude of 6,000 feet above sea-level. The soil resembles the heaviest black steppe loam of the Black Sea lowlands. Due to the frequent rainfalls the soil was softened to such an extent that the carriage moved very slowly and we reached the Doukhobor village Orlovka only in the afternoon.

The sect of the Doukhobors that had been settled in these high and rough regions since the middle of the 1840s has transformed these areas that were originally used only as pasture lands by Tatar nomads into fine cultivated areas. That was accomplished in spite of the various natural obstacles including the nuisances caused by the vicinity of the Turkish border. To be sure, agriculture in this region is possible only in the limitations of a rough Nordic environment. There is no guarantee in any given year that wheat will ripen while crops like barley and rye thrive very well. Because of the abundance of haymaking and the inexhaustible summer pastures cattle-breeding enjoys excellent existential conditions.

The traveller enters this land of the Doukhobors with great joy: here he finds villages in the Russian architectural style with pointed gable houses and with carefully tilled fields over a very wide area giving testimony to the diligence of the inhabitants. The stork’s nests in the villages remind the traveller of home. In addition, he will find in the Doukhobors’ homes not only an exemplary order and cleanliness including in the solicitously tended beds but also all sorts of pleasant signs of affluence and even floriculture on the window sills. By nightfall we covered the route to the large village of Gorelovka and stayed there overnight.

In this village resides Lukeria Vasil’evna Tolmashova [sic. Kalmykova], a widow in her thirtees who enjoys the special esteem of all Doukhobors who, as it were, consider her to be the decisive adviser in all interior affairs of the sect. She had just returned from a journey to Elisavetpol and was festively received by the younger Doukhobor males and greeted with songs and gun salutes. All of us paid her a visit towards evening. On the outside her estate resembles a rich farmhouse in Northern Germany and is marked by an unusual tidiness and cleanliness. At the entrance of the house we were received by a giant of a man – he was the executor of our hostess’s orders. The rooms again were marked by an exemplary cleanliness and a comforting degree of a certain luxuriousness that, to be sure, does not at all result in sumptuousness but nonetheless guarantees a very pleasant existence to the inhabitants and goes beyond the mere satisfaction of everyday needs. Very soon there appeared our hostess, a strong, tall woman whose facial features pointed to an erstwhile beauty and whose figure just barely stayed within the limits of the permissible corpulence.

The road to Orlovka village in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, much the same today as when Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde visited it in 1875. A Panoramio photo by Dimit. 

The Doukhobors (literally: Spirit Wrestlers, or without thinking of Gutzkow’s novel, Die Ritter vom Geiste [“The Knights of the Spirit]) started out as a sect of the Greek-Catholic [i.e. Orthodox] Church in the middle of the last century. It is rumoured that as early as in the year 1740 a retired soldier in Kharkov Province is reported to have spread a doctrine that does not recognize any symbols of the Greek Church and wishes to worship only in the spirit. In the year 1750 we find the beginnings of this doctrine in Ekaterinoslav Province but not until 1768 there followed a public announcement in Tambov directed at the government by a sect that did not want to recognize either a church built by the human hand or icons or any external cult [i.e. ritual] but wished to worship only an invisible spirit, living Christ. Already during the rule of Empress Catherine the government was required to use force against part of the sect that did not only aim at an apostasy from the Church but gave reason to fear that they could incite serious and general unrest. At the same time the government was tolerant towards the peaceful adherents of the sect. However, eventually the tension of the orthodox congregations in connection with the apostates must have increased to such an extent that Tsar Alexander I gave permission for the resettlements of the Doukhobors to Tavria Province, not far from the Sea of Azov in the area of the Molochnaya River. Under the benevolent government of Alexander I the Doukhobors at the Sea of Azov had become well-to-do and, especially after the ukaz [“decree”] of December 8, 1816, had remained unmolested. This ukaz stipulated that the planned renewed resettlement of the sectarians be canceled; that the persecutions carried out against them (particularly until 1801) had turned out to be devoid of success and purpose; that the judgments of the concerned governors in whose regions the Doukhobors resided had all been laudatory; and that there should therefore be no thought of renewed persecution but, on the contrary, every effort should be made to spare them any unnecessary limitations and denigration. Only in the year 1830, under the reign of Tsar Nicholas, it was ordered that the Doukhobors be resettled into Transcaucasian lands. The main resettlement process took place in the years 1841 to 1845 and resulted in the eight settlements in the above mentioned region near the Turkish border that carries the name of Dukhoboria.

These Doukhobors thus have no churches, no saints, no priests, no written tradition, and no oral daily prayers, nor do they make the sign of the cross. They do chant a number of doctrines named psalms that from generation to generation have become part of the oral tradition. They maintain, however, that their belief is very ancient, that it is the only correct one of all the belief systems on earth, and that it ranks 78th among all such belief systems. The Doukhobors conduct their joint services in some room of a private home, greet one another in the name of God, sit down with the women separated from the men, and, after an elder has started, the psalms either individually or in chorus. Later they join hands and, by bowing to one another, they believe to have shown reverence to the holy God whose image they represent. They then kiss one another.

In the copious work that I envisage I will return to the Doukhobors, Molokans, Subbotniki (Russian Judaists), Pryguny (Jumpers, Leapers) in more detail; I want to mention here only that the settlements existing especially in Doukhoboria are far better off than those in the Caspian Lowland, not far from Lenkoran. The main reason for this is that the natural conditions in Doukhoboria quite closely resemble those in Central Russia and that therefore the new settlers were able to continue living in their long familiar ways. By contrast, the lush lowlands at the border of the hot Mugan Steppe differed in every respect from those in the homeland of the exiled peoples so that the climate decimated them and they are now complaining about the lack of descendents and keep on wishing that they could leave the area again – as I have learnt about all of this via my own eyewitness perception.


View Doukhobor Villages in Georgia, 1841-Present in a larger map  

Afterword

While en route from Tiflis to Alexandropol, Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde visited two Doukhobor villages in the Akhalkalaki district. On the afternoon of June 22, 1875, they traveled from Lake Khanchali to the village of Orlovka, where they briefly stopped. From there they continued east, reaching the large village of Gorelovka in the evening. They stayed overnight there and departed the next day. During their stay, they conversed with their Doukhobor hosts and observed their way of life.

The naturalist-explorers observed that the mountain highlands of Dukhoboria – the “land of the Doukhobors” – were inhospitable, “high” and “rough” at an altitude of 6,000 feet above sea-level. Subject to frequent rainfall, where spring came late and winter early, there was no guarantee that wheat crops would ripen. Despite this, they noted that the Doukhobors had transformed the region into “fine cultivated areas” of barley and rye, which thrived there. They had also developed extensive cattle breeding to take advantage of the abundance of haymaking and summer pastures.

Sievers and Radde wrote approvingly of the Doukhobors, who through “diligence” and hard work had adjusted to the adverse conditions and whose villages presented an “unusual order and cleanliness” and even “affluence” that gave the traveler “great joy”. They were particularly impressed with the Sirotsky Dom, the Doukhobors’ main spiritual and administrative centre, where they were billeted for the night, which was marked by “exemplary cleanliness” and a “comforting degree of a certain luxuriousness” that made for a pleasant experience. They had an audience with Doukhobor leader Lukeria Vasil’evna Kalmykova, whom they described as a “tall, strong woman”, an “erstwhile beauty” and a “decisive advisor”; interestingly, they witnessed the festivities that followed Kalmykova’s return from a visit to the Elizavetpol Doukhobors.

The Russian-German scholars reiterated the ‘official’ history of the Doukhobors, noting their origins in 18th century South Russia, their resettlement to Tavria in the early 19th century, and their exile to the Caucasus mid-century. They outlined the Doukhobor belief system, including the absence of churches, saints, priests, liturgy and sacraments. They also described a Doukhobor religious service held in a private village dwelling, in which the men site separately from the women, psalms were sung, followed by bowing to one another, which they may have witnessed during their stay.

Sievers and Radde’s writing are among the few, rare sources of published information about Doukhobor settlement in the Caucasus in the mid- to late-19th century.  As such, their work is a useful contribution to our overall understanding of this period of Doukhobor history.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of Gustav Sievers and Gustav Radde’s work, “Vorläufiger Bericht über die im Jahre 1875 ausgeführten Reisen in Kaukasien und dem Armenischen Hochlande von Dr. G. Radde und Dr. G. Sievers”in Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen, Vol. 22 (H. Haack, 1876), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Brilliant History – Fading Into Obscurity

by William M. Rozinkin

Today, few travelling on Highway 3A from Brilliant to Ootischenia across the Kootenay River notice the concrete foundation on the rocky bluff overlooking the river. Fewer still know or recall its history. In the following article, reproduced by permission from the Nelson Daily News (March 2 & 6, 1995), long-time Kootenay resident and historian William M. Rozinkin (1923-2007) documents the history of the “Besedushka”, the stately “retreat house” built for Peter “Lordly” Verigin by his followers in 1922. In the quiet atmosphere of its location, the Doukhobor leader spent time writing and meditating. However as Rozinkin recounts, the destruction of the building by arson in 1924 heralded decades of strife and factionalism within the British Columbia Doukhobor community.

For many years motorists travelling on Highway 3A from Castlegar through Ootishenia and across the Kootenay River bridge at Brilliant saw the old Doukhobor bridge upstream to their right, while to their left are settlements of Brilliant. Slightly to their left but straight ahead, they also could see Verigin’s Tomb and a cement foundation directly below it. Today motorists can also see a newly constructed Brilliant Intersection road as it sweeps below the tomb and the cement foundation.

This new road, costing almost $4 million, now joins the new bridge across the Columbia River leading to the city of Castlegar and the Celgar Pulp Mill giving an alternative route to motorists who otherwise would have to travel through Ootishenia. This new road and bridge were opened to the public late last year at a cost of about $28 million.

Today no evidence remains to suggest or remind motorists that Brilliant was the headquarters of the Canadian Doukhobor communities of The Christian Community Of Universal Brotherhood that had about 90 communal villages in British Columbia and settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan. There is no doubt that with the passing years interesting Brilliant history is also fading into obscurity.

Nonetheless, Brilliant’s past includes Verigin’s Tomb and the old bridge whose histories are briefly recorded while the cement foundation remains forgotten. It, indeed, also has a unique place in the pages of this region’s history.

View from near the “Besedushka” overlooking Brilliant and Ootischenia across the Kootenay River, 1924.  British Columbia Archives A-08737.

After the Doukhobors moved to the Kootenay and Columbia regions from Saskatchewan in 1908, their determination to succeed with hard work brought forth almost amazing results.

By living and working communally under the leadership of Peter Lordly Verigin, in less than a decade they transformed the forested wilderness into village settlements with orchards and gardens around them. They also built a wooden pipe plant to manufacture water pipes for domestic needs and irrigation along with sawmills, planer mills, flour mills, linseed oil plants and a jam factory to serve the villagers of Brilliant, Ootishenia, Pass Creek, Glade, Shoreacres, Slocan, and Grand Forks.

In Grand Forks where purchased lands included some cleared with small orchards, they built a brick factory to produce quality bricks for all their needs along with occasional shipments to the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company in Trail, B.C.

The main administrative office was in Brilliant. It was also here that the famous Kootenay-Columbia Jam Factory was located along with a towering grain elevator, fruit-packing shed, a retail store, Mr. Verigin’s residence and other buildings.

In late 1920 Mr. Verigin asked his nephew Vasily Lukianovich Verigin and his family to move to Brilliant from Shoreacres to help in maintaining his residence there. Their family consisted of Vasily, his wife Margaret, three daughters, Fanny, Lucy, and Margaret, when they moved into a house on the hillside overlooking Brilliant. Also living with them were their grandchildren, Andrew, Peter, and Johnny Semenoff whose mother Nastia (their first daughter) had passed away earlier in Shoreacres, and their father, Andrew, was away occasionally for extended periods of time to work on community projects.

Vasily and Margaret’s second oldest daughter, Mary, was married to John Fedorovich Masloff and resided across the river from them in Ootishenia.

With flourishing communities organized and growing in development, its members decided in 1921 to express their appreciation to their leader — president Peter Lordly Verigin for his administrative and religious guidance.

The following year, in 1922, this was done with construction of a small, ornamentally designed house on a solid, almost flat-surfaced rock overlooking the settlements and lush orchards of Brilliant and Ootishenia along with a grand view of the sparkling waters of the Kootenay River as it races to join the rushing currents of the Columbia River near Castlegar, about a mile downstream.

The house was specially designed to accommodate the space on the rock. It was about 23 feet long and almost 17 feet wide and with a veranda on cement pillars around it, the house appeared much larger. Construction of the building was neatly finished and painted white with blue trim and the veranda elegantly decorated with an interlaced ornamental fret work as it embraced the beautiful house. It was the pride of the community craftsmen.

Approaches to the house followed a well arranged walkway with flower beds on either side that led to concrete steps leading down to the main entrance below, while around the house, rock walls were built to form benches filled with earth in which beautiful flowers and lawns adorned the immediate surroundings.

The house had a full basement that was divided into two rooms and its solid rock floor also served as a base for the brick chimney. It had a separate outside entrance and a window on the west side.

Peter “Lordly” Verigin’s retreat house in Brilliant, British Columbia. ISKRA.

With Mr. Verigin’s main residence near the business section of Brilliant proper below, this new house on the hillside above was used by him as a place where he met special visitors and friends and a place to rest and relax. Some of his writings were done there in the quiet atmosphere of its location, at times late into the night.

The house was located almost on the same level of the hillside and a short distance from the home of Vasily Lukianovich and his family who looked after the new building with its colorful gardens. The family also maintained an apiary of no less than 60 beehives for the communities.

More than ever, during that period in the 1920’s life in the communities honoured with pride Peter Lordly Verigin’s slogan, “Toil and Peaceful Life”. Under his administration, not only did they show exceptional accomplishments needed for their daily lives, they also were on the threshold of retiring all their financial debts.

Among occasional problems that occurred in the villages, most were resolved with tolerant appeals for common sense and understanding. There were also occasions Lordly Verigin was asked to help with advice.

At times a disrupting threat to the villagers came from a small group of people who broke away from The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood a few years after the Doukhobors arrived from Russia in 1899 to settle in Saskatchewan. Among the Doukhobors this group was commonly called “nudes”. Later they became more known as Freedomites.

These people, whose closest residence to Brilliant was three miles away in Thrums, often harassed the villagers by disrupting their meetings with heckling and stripping nude. Many times Mr. Verigin would help his members to manually escort these nudes from their meetings after they forced their way inside.

A small Freedomite settlement in Thrums was alongside several farmers among whom were some (Independents) who left the communities through disagreements. Although some farmers befriended the Freedomites, they were shocked to see three Freedomite women that lived nearby, quickly disrobe and standing stark naked to watch an airplane fly by in 1919.

It was Sunday, April 20, 1924, after attending a morning prayer meeting Vasily Lukianovich and his wife were enjoying their usual Sunday rest with their children when suddenly they heard a loud female voice singing by Mr. Verigin’s house. They all ran to the vacant house to search for the intruder and found a nude Freedomite woman, who they recognized, hiding behind a linen drape hanging on the veranda.

They pleaded with her to leave in peace and return home to Thrums, but she refused to leave. With fears she would damage the house, they sent word to the villages for help. Their neighbours arrived with a team of horses harnessed to a wagon, loaded the female intruder on it and took her home in Thrums.

When Vasily Lukianovich and his family went to bed that same Sunday night after a very disturbing day that appeared to have ended peacefully, they did not expect a loud hammering on their door after midnight and hear a loud voice yelling that Mr. Verigin’s house was on fire. It was a guard from Brilliant, Nikolai Lebedoff, who saw the flames spreading through the house and rushed there to try help save it. They ran to the burning building and with garden hoses poured water on the blaze while more people from nearby villages came running to help, without success.

With the frightful fire so close to their house, the children were terrified. And as the light from the nearby flames shone through their windows and flickered brightly on the walls and floor in their house the terrified children began to fear their own house would also be attacked by arsonists. Their fears rose to helpless panic, and in desperation to at least save some family valuables, 12 year old Lucy, their second youngest daughter, grabbed her father’s special box that contained valuable correspondence and writings they all treasured and with it she ran to hillside bushes to protect and hide it.

The flames from the burning house on the hillside were visible for miles around when suddenly it was discovered that the Brilliant school and two Ootishenia schools were also in flames.

The following day it was noted that the three schools and the house were set on fire at about the same time, indicating that several terrorists had done it.

The three schools were valued at $1,500 each while the value of Mr. Verigin’s house was estimated at $2,500. Not included in the house value was fine furniture and irreplaceable books, correspondence, writings and other personal items. Heirloom rugs alone were valued at more than $600 in 1924.

The night before this happened in Brilliant a school in Grand Forks was set a fire but was saved before fire spread.

While these unfortunate events were happening, CCUB president Peter Lordly Verigin was away on business on the prairies. Following the fires he was notified and immediately he returned to Brilliant.

Another view of the “Besedushka” in Brilliant, British Columbia prior to its destruction by arson, 1924.  British Columbia Archives, Koozma Tarasoff Collection.

While community Doukhobors with emotion condemned the Freedomite terrorists and vowed not to let them enter their settlements for any reason whatsoever, Mr. Verigin studied the situation, and four days after these attacks, he sent an appeal to the Premier of British Columbia John Oliver for assistance to stop Freedomite attacks on schools and community property.

In his letter dated April 25, 1924 he wrote the premier: “Last Sunday night towards Monday morning, April 21, a lot of buildings were burned in the Doukhobor Colony at Brilliant, namely three schools and a small house of mine which was built on a rock about two years ago with beautiful architecture.”

In his lengthy letter Mr. Verigin explained that since the arrival of the Doukhobors to Canada in 1899 “different opinions were formed in the Doukhobor Society result of which three parties came out.” Almost in detail he addressed many differences of these parties. Describing the parties he said the first party was under his control and carries the name of The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. “. . . This party is upkeeping the principle, religion, and customs which the Doukhobors I have had in Russia.”

The Second Party he pointed out are “the people who left the Doukhobor Society (to become independent farmers) and have accepted the homesteads in the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta and became British subjects.”

Describing the Third Party that became more known later as Freedomites, he said: “The Third Party, although very small in number that left the Doukhobor Society under the name “Nudes” are absolutely anarchists acknowledging no moral laws, desire to work nothing, hatefully looking on all the cultured progressive arrangements …”

Such party is under suspicion are the ones who is setting fire amongst Doukhobor Colonies in British Columbia.” “… I have decided to bring to your notice and respectfully ask you to remove this party from nearby community settlements otherwise these people are threatening to start burning the good arrangements as possessed by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. I am very much surprised that the setting a fire to schools had been started sometime ago and the government does not take any steps whatever in order to punish the guilty ones …”

Further in his letter he pointed out that, “There will be about 20 or not more than 30 of such people who are living around the Community Colonies.”

Mr. Verigin concluded his letter with these words: “If the government will appoint an Inspectorate to pick out the “Nudes” or in other words anarchists, I will give exact list of names and surnames of such people. I beg to remain with the hope that you will take quick action on my report. Respectfully yours,
(Signed) Peter Verigin, President”

Upon receiving Mr. Verigin’s letter desperately asking for protection against the Nudes’ (Freedomites’) violent attacks on schools and buildings in the Doukhobor communities, it is not known how the 67 year old B.C. Premier John Oliver planned to respond although he apparently viewed the trouble with Freedomites as “incomprehensible”.

What is known is he and his Liberal party were heavily involved in preparations for an approaching provincial election less than two months away. That election on June 20, 1924 saw all campaigning political party leaders defeated including John Oliver although his Liberal party won enough seats to form a minority government.

To return as head of the B.C. Liberal Party and Premier of the province, Mr. Oliver ran in a by-election in Nelson where he defeated a local candidate. Harry Houston, and triumphantly returned home to Victoria to remain as provincial premier until he died on August 17, 1927 from incurable cancer.

Today it appears the only historical evidence of that fateful day of April 21, 1924 is found in Mr. Peter Lordly Verigin’s letter in the provincial government archives and the surviving concrete foundation just below Verigin’s Tomb and above the newly constructed road of the Brilliant Interchange as seen daily by motorists travelling north across the Kootenay River bridge between Ootishenia and Brilliant.

Writer’s Note: A lot of information for this story came from my wife’s (Lucy) grandparents Vasily and Margaret Verigin’s family members.