Doukhobors in the Kootenay, 1909

In June 1909, an unidentified correspondent with the Rossland Miner newspaper visited the new 2,700-acre Doukhobor colony at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers in British Columbia. Only a year after its establishment, the colony already boasted 675 members, recent arrivals from the Prairies, who had cleared 350 acres of heavy forest and planted 10,700 fruit trees along with large vegetable gardens. They set up two sawmills, which were busy cutting lumber for the houses of the different villages to be located on the land, and a preliminary irrigation system was established. Greatly impressed with their untiring industry and deep optimism of further development, the correspondent writes about their history, religious beliefs, communal society, vegetarianism, gender equality, dress and overall generosity and courtesy. Reproduced from the Daily News Advertiser (Vancouver BC), June 23, 1909

Last week a representative of the Rossland “Miner” visited the new colony of Doukhobors at Waterloo, B.C., and writes his impressions as follows.

Imagine a community of nearly 700 men, women and children, without a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a druggist, store, saloon, butcher shop, gaol or police officer, pauper or courtesan, where all of the population are vegetarians and teetotalers, so far as alcoholic beverages are concerned, and who neither chew nor smoke tobacco, and you will have an idea of the Doukhobor settlement at Brilliant, formerly Waterloo, on the Columbia River, about 25 miles from this city.

The inhabitants are Socialists, pure and simple, as everything is held in common. The men and the women work for the community, and all property is owned by the community, and all moneys derived from the sale of the products of the soil go into a common fund. They constitute one big family. The children, until they are able to work, are allowed to play or attend school, where a rudimentary education is given them. As soon as they are strong enough to toil they join the ranks of the workers and become part of the producers.

There are no drones in this human hives. When old age comes on and the limbs become unfit for arduous toil, the superannuated Doukhobors are treated just the same as when they were useful to the community. One of the Doukhobors explained this to the “Miner” representative, about as follows: “Old men and old women, when breakfast comes, eat breakfast; when dinner comes, have dinner; when supper comes, have supper. Rest of time they sit in house if weather is bad, but if weather fine they go in the sun and enjoy themselves. When they want shoes, hat, coat, vest, they go to the shop and get them.”

The former Waterloo mining and lumber camp (est. 1896) where the Doukhobors first settled in 1908. The two-story building at the left was used as the Brilliant Post Office and branch office of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, with the John W. Sherbinin family living upstairs. The two-story whitewashed log building to the right was used as a communal kitchen and cafeteria. The two-story building to its right served as the community store-house for the receipt and distribution of goods and supplies. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

Elementary School

Questioned as to the school, the Doukhobors stated that as the schools were provided for the children, where they learned to read, write and figure; in other words, they are given a primary education. The desire is not to over educate them. They do not want them to become doctors, lawyers, school masters, or scholars, but tillers of the soil, like their fathers and mothers.

Another feature of the Doukhobors is that they are opposed to war and will take no hand, act or part in it. In Russia, where they come from, they were knouted for refusing to serve in the army, but preferred death under the cruel knout to taking part in slaying their fellow men. One of the cardinal parts of their creed is that they are opposed to the shedding of the blood of anything that lives, and hence they are vegetarians, drawing the line even at fish. They have been called by some “Russian Quakers.”

Doukhobor Religion

As to their religion, it was explained to the “Miner” representative as follows:

They follow as closely as possible the teachings of Christ in doing only that which is good to their fellow man, and of not resenting violence when it is offered against their persons or property. When one cheek is smitten they turn the other to the smiter. They lead clean, honest lives, wronging neither man nor dumb creates and make their living by the sweat of their brow, directly from the soil.

Should a member of the community desire at any time to leave, he gives notice of his wish and his or her share is apportioned and he or she is given it in the form of money. Should he or she afterwards regret their action and desire to return they can repurchase their interest and again become members of the community.

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin’s older brothers Prokofy and Vasily and family at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) in c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Women with the Hoe

The women work in the fields the same as the men, doing the light tasks, such as hoeing and planting. It was an interesting sight to see groups of them coming in from the fields at noon and in the evening. Each had a hoe on his shoulder and they laughed and chatted with each other as they made their way to the public dining room, where they dined with their children.

They are usually attired in dark skirts with waists of varied material, generally calico and of different colors, according to the taste of the wearers. Each wears a large apron. The headdress consists of a large handkerchief covering the hair and the sides of the face and tied in a knot at the throat. A portion of the handkerchief falls for a considerable distance down the shoulders. Their feet are covered with rough shoes, and not a few of them were without stockings. Apparently there is not a corset in the community.

A few are comely, others have the “fatal gift of beauty,” while not a few are homely. They are deep chested, wide-hipped, clear eyed and have the red badge of health in their cheeks in most instances. A few of the older ones show the effects of hard toil in stooped shoulders and deeply-marked lines in their faces. They seemed to be cheerful and contented, while their children were veritable pictures of health, vitality and strength, lively and full of pranks. The children were generally barefooted.

One feature that struck the visitor was their universal politeness and kindliness. The men respectfully salute their fellows, whether men or women, whenever they meet, by raising their caps with cheerful words of salutation. The stranger visiting the place is shown the same sort of courtesy, the children being particularly polite.

Strong, Hardy Men

The men nearly all wear a peaked cap and in most instances black coats, all of which are of the same cloth and pattern; dark trousers and heavy shoes. They are manufactured by them at home in most instances. The men are large, strong, athletic and active looking. They are nearly all light complexioned, with blue and gray eyes, although there are a few of the pronounced brunette type with flashing black eyes.

It was noticed that they all were able to read, as when they came to the Post Office they looked over the letters and selected whatever was directed to them.

Peter Verigin is the head man of the colony. He is a fine looking, large man, of commanding appearance. Although he has been in Canada for several years he has not yet learned to speak English. John Sherbinin is his interpreter and is a young man of ability, who speaks English fluently, and from him the following particulars concerning the community were learned:

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin working in his vegetable garden at the Waterloo camp, Dolina Utesheniya, c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Last year the community, after a thorough inspection of the various portions of the Province, on the part of their agent, purchased through Willoughby & Mauer, of Winnipeg, 2,700 acres of land near Waterloo. This included 67 acres belonging to H.B. Landers [sic Landis] and 14 acres owned by James Hartner.

This land extends along the Columbia River’s east bank for a distance of two miles and along the south bank of the Kootenay river for a mile and a half. The land extends from the river front to the foot of the mountains, which rise almost perpendicular at the eastern boundary of the land. The land is beautifully located on three benches. The first bench is 100 feet above the level of the river and a quarter of a mile wide. The second bench is 200 feet above the river and about a mile wide. The third bench is 350 feet above the river and about a quarter of a mile in width. The three benches represent former beds of the Columbia River and the soil is a rich alluvial, being ideal fruit and vegetable land. The valley of the Columbia is wide at this point and the sun has ample opportunity of warming the oil and making “things grow.”

The First Arrivals

On May 12, 1908, the first installment of Doukhobors arrived from the prairies, consisting of 80 men, three women and two children.

Last year a little over 200 acres were cleared and a considerable quantity of vegetables raised, such as potatoes, cucumbers, water melons, citron melons, turnips, radishes, etc., and about 700 fruit trees were planted.

This year, so far, 150 acres have been cleared and 10,700 trees planted, including plums, cherries, prunes, apricots, nectarines, walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. Besides there have been 6,000 grape vines planted on the sunny slopes of the benches. Then there are 18,000 seedling apple, pear and quince trees purchased in Iowa, which will be set out later, they being at present in beds. A very large number of gooseberries, currants and blackberries have been set out, which will produce considerable fruit this year. This season there have been a good sized acreage devoted to potatoes, onions, beets, buckwheat, water melons and other vegetables.

The community has had in operation for a considerable time a portable sawmill that cuts about 5,000 feet of lumber a day. Another and a larger mill has been purchased and is at present at Castlegar on board the cars. This will soon be placed in position and will cut from 30,000 to 40,000 feet a day. It will be used to cut lumber for the houses of the different villages that are to be located on the land of the community. It will not only be used at Waterloo but at Pass Creek, where the community has purchased 2,000 acres of land.

A ferry has been put in at Waterloo, which will carry thirty tons, and a second ferry has been placed in position in the Kootenay River, which is only a little smaller than the one at Waterloo.

Returning to the additions to the colony, Mr. Sherbinin stated that fifteen came in July last from the prairies, consisting of two men, three children and ten women. April of the present year 190 men arrived from the prairies. Within the past few days, 500 arrived at Waterloo, a considerable portion of whom were women. About 150 have gone to near Grand Forks, where the community owns 1,000 acres of land, and some are working for others clearing land. The present population of the Waterloo community is about 675.

Group of early Doukhobor settlers to Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), c. 1909. BC Archives A-02072.

Asked as to the future plans of the community, Mr. Sherbinin stated that the intention was to continue the work of clearing, till 2,700 acres at Waterloo was cleared and set out in fruit, thus making it the largest orchard in the Province. A road is being built to Pass Creek, from Waterloo, which with all its winding will be about ten miles in length. If the Province constructed this road it would cost at least $12,000, but the Doukhobors are doing it themselves without asking for a cent from the public coffers. The 2,000 acres that the community owns at Pass Creek will be cleared and part of it used for growing vegetables and the remainder for hay and pasturage.

Asked where the Doukhobors came from, Mr. Sherbinin said that they were from the Caucasian Provinces that lie in Southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas, and principally from Tiflis and Kars. They are from the cradle of the Aryan race. The Doukhobor society is three or four hundred years old. They came to Canada first in 1898, because dissatisfied with the adverse conditions in Russia, and particularly the compulsory service required of them in the army, preferring death at the hands of the Cossacks to service in the army. There are about 7,000 of them in Canada at present. In Saskatchewan there are 40 villages each containing from 75 to 350 people. It is the intention to transfer all of these to the Province inside of the next five years.

Asked the reason for the change of residence place the reply was that as the Doukhobors are vegetarians and used to a fairly warm climate, it was too cold for them on the prairies, while the weather here was free from intense cold. On the prairies they cannot raise fruits, vegetables and nuts, which form so large a portion of their diet, but here they can be easily grown, and hence their preference for this section of the country.

First crop of tomatoes grown by Doukhobors at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), 1908. SFU MSC121-DP-152-01.

Vegetarian Menus

The “Miner” representative dined twice with the Doukhobors during his visit, having luncheon and dinner. At luncheon he had a vegetable soup, made of potatoes and fragrant herbs, thickened with milk and butter and seasoned with salt. It was very good. Black bread made of whole wheat, evidently mixed with rye. It was sweet and wholesome. Two fresh eggs; then there was raspberry jam, raisins and plums stewed together, butter and cheese, and water instead of tea. For dinner the menu was as follows: noodle soup, flavored with parsley and seasoned with salt. A slab of cheese; black bread, raspberry jam, two eggs, and water instead of coffee.

From the standpoint of a vegetarian the meals were satisfying, and the “Miner” representative enjoyed them very much. They were given with such kindness and such heartfelt hospitality that added zest to them.

What most impressed the “Miner” representative during his visit was the untiring industry of the members of the community. In a very short time they have cleared, ploughed and made a veritable garden a tract of 350 acres that was last year virgin forest. Not only the stumps and roots have been removed but every stone. The soil has been pulverized to as fine a point as it can be.

Water has been piped to the cultivated land so that trees and vegetables can be irrigated. It is the intention to flume in larger supplies of water from McPhee Creek, so that every acre of the 2,700 can be irrigated.

When the entire tract has been planted it promises to make the largest orchard in the Province. It is understood that most of the fruit raised will be canned or dried for shipment to the larger centres of the Dominion. The task already accomplished is an immense one, but what lies before them in improving the two tracts at Waterloo and Pass Creeks and the one at Grand Forks is much larger. Besides they intend to acquire other areas of raw land which they will improve. What they have done already is an object lesson of great value, as it shows what the soil of the Columbia River Valley is capable of yielding to property directed and energetic effort.

Doukhobor land-clearing on the First Bench immediately north of the Waterloo camp, 1912. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

To the Socialist of this section a visit to Waterloo will give him a view of Socialism at short range, as his doctrines are fully carried out by the Doukhobors.

The vegetarian will find much to commend when he looks into the diet of the Doukhobors. He will see men and women doing hard work on a vegetable diet.

The temperance advocate should also be interested in what he can see in this community and can study the effects of total abstinence in a community of several hundred.

The lover of peace cannot help but admire the courage which the Doukhobors have displayed in sticking to their anti-war doctrine.

Those who are interested in humanity and how man is working his way to a higher destiny, can find food and reflection in this simple, plain and God-fearing community.

The Story of Safatova Gora

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In the rugged remote foothills of the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Alberta stands a hill which, at first sight, might seem indistinguishable from any of the countless other hills and buttes that blanket the landscape. But for the Doukhobors who once called this area home, it was a place of unique natural beauty imbued with deep religious and cultural significance and was revered as a sacred site. For them, it had a special name – Safatova Gora – meaning ‘Jehoshaphat’s Hill’ in Russian. This article traces the history and folklore of the hill as told through the oral tradition of the Doukhobor people.   

Background

Beginning in 1915, the Doukhobor enterprise known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood purchased land near Cowley and Lundbreck, Alberta on the southern line of the Canadian Pacific Railway for a new agricultural colony. Within two years, it acquired 14,400 acres formerly belonging to the Eddy ranch, Terrill place, Godsal ranch, Sedgewick place, Fir Grove ranch, Simister place, Irelade ranch, Riley place and Backus ranch, comprising some of the finest grazing and grain-growing lands in the foothills. 

Doukhobors communally harvesting north of Lundbreck, AB. Copyright John Kalmakov.

Over 300 Doukhobors from British Columbia settled in the new colony, where they established 13 compact farming villages. To bring the land to peak production, they practiced irrigation and worked it with heavy machinery, owning and operating six steam-powered traction engines. To store the grain they grew, they built a 35,000-bushel grain elevator at Lundbreck in 1915 and another at Cowley in 1916. In 1922, they purchased the Pincher Creek Mill and Elevator Company’s flour mill and moved it to Lundbreck to mill their wheat. They built large warehouses at both rail sidings for the storage and distribution of colony supplies. They also bought the A.H. Knight store in Cowley as a central office and hall.  

The Doukhobors maintained a communal way of life. All land, buildings, machinery, implements and livestock were jointly owned by the Community; all cultivating, sowing, harvesting, threshing, haying and animal husbandry was performed collectively by the colonists; and all income was deposited in a common central treasury.  Everything was shared. They did not receive wages for their labour, but were provided with food, clothing, lodging and basic necessities by the Community. Sober, industrious and hard-working, they embodied their motto, ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’.      

Letterhead of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited, c. 1920. Courtesy University of Alberta Archives.

The Doukhobor colony quickly became one of the largest, most successful farming and ranching operations in the foothills. It was not only self-sufficient, but shipped substantial quantities of hay, grain, flour, draft working horses, milking cows, butter and wool by rail to the Community settlements in British Columbia. In return, they received railcars of lumber, fresh fruit and produce and the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jam produced by the Community in British Columbia for their own use and for sale at the trading store they operated in Blairmore.

A Leader’s Visit

Not long after the Alberta colony was established, probably in 1915 or 1916,[i] Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, the spiritual leader of the Community, travelled there by rail from British Columbia to visit and inspect its progress. Such visits by Petushka, as he was affectionately known,[ii] were momentous occasions, accompanied by mass gatherings and meetings, worship services and special celebrations.

After disembarking from the train at the C.P.R. siding in Lundbreck, the charismatic Doukhobor leader rode by horse and buggy to the colony’s first and largest village, a picturesque settlement at the edge of the foothills along Cow Creek, eight miles to the north. Originally known as the Terrill Ranch, the Doukhobors renamed it Bogatyi Rodnik, meaning ‘Rich Spring’ in Russian because of its abundance of fresh, clear water from the myriad springs that fed into the creek. 

Doukhobors at Bogatyi Rodnik near Lundbreck AB, 1916. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Upon his arrival there, following the customary exchange of greetings, Petushka strolled through the settlement, accompanied by village elder Semyon I. Verigin, to survey the improvements made since its purchase. The original two-story, ornate yellow farmhouse, mail-ordered from the T. Eaton Co. Ltd. catalogue by the Terrills years earlier was now a multi-family communal dwelling for 35 villagers. A large sitting room and bedroom on the main floor was reserved as a gornitsa or ‘special quarters’ for the leader’s use when he visited. A number of new structures had also been built, including a large new, one-story blue dom (‘dwelling’) for another 15 villagers, a banya (‘steam bath house’), kuznitsa (‘blacksmith shop’), granary and a large red sarai (‘barn’) for the purebred Percheron draft horses they had begun breeding and raising under the Doukhobor ‘Д’ brand. As well, large gardens were planted to supply the villagers with vegetables, as they were strict vegetarians. The village was teeming with activity. Much pleased with their progress, Petushka commended the villagers on their accomplishments.  

Doukhobor-built barn at Bogatyi Rodnik village site north of Lundbreck AB, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

A View from a Hill

Beside the village to the north towered a large, steep, grassy hill – one of the most easterly outlying foothills overlooking the valley where the Doukhobors of Bogatyi Rodnik lived and farmed. Eager to view their land from its vantage point, Petushka beckoned his host familiarly, “Syoma, let us climb the hill, for surely it offers a sight to behold!”  The humble, good-natured elder obliged and the two men began their ascent.  After a brisk, twenty minute climb, led by the sure-footed and indefatigable leader, with Syoma, somewhat winded and labouring to keep up, they reached the summit.

Sure enough, the hilltop commanded an extraordinary panoramic view of the countryside for miles in every direction. To the west was the vast expanse of foothills running north to south across the horizon, and further west, the Livingstone Range of the Rockies with the Crowsnest Pass distinctly visible.  Immediately below, at the southeast foot of the hill, the village appeared tiny and distant as the creek wound past it and bent south. To the east, the wide, flat-bottomed valley spread out before them.  It was there, on six square miles of the valley floor, where the villagers grew oats for feed and wheat for milling, cut hay in the meadows for winter feed, and grazed cattle alongside sheep in their summer pastures. Further east, along the far edge of the valley, the narrow, rugged gorge of the Oldman River carved its way north to south. Further east still sprawled the Porcupine Hills, and to the southeast, the Cowley Ridge. To the far south, the Community elevators at Lundbreck and Cowley appeared as faint specks on the horizon.  

View of the valley from Safatova Gora facing southwest, with Bogatyi Rodnik village site in background, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The two men reclined atop the hill under the sunny, blue sky amidst the grass, wildflowers and rocky outcroppings, a cool, steady breeze at their back, for what seemed like hours, admiring the view so reminiscent of their homeland in the Caucasus. It evoked a sense of tranquility and contentment within them, and indeed, inspired a communion with nature and the divine. They gazed upon the fields and flocks below, each lost in silent contemplation and deep reflection.  

So long were they caught up in their reverie that they did not notice the cairn at the far end of the summit until much later. Upon catching sight of it, the Doukhobors leapt up and strode closer to take a look. It was a large mound of rough stones piled one upon the other, some three feet high by six feet in diameter. Thick with heavy moss and lichen, it was old – very old – placed there by ancient hands to mark some forgotten past.[iii]     

“Who set these rocks here?” wondered Syoma aloud, “And for what purpose?” Petushka stared thoughtfully at the cairn for several moments before answering. Turning to his companion, he declared, “It is a grave”. A hushed silence fell over the elder as he pondered his leader’s words. “A saint was buried here long ago,” continued Petushka somberly, “a holy man like Iosafat (‘Jehoshaphat’) of old… if not Safat himself! The thought that they were standing on sacred ground, hallowed by the ancient patriarch who lay at rest here, impressed Syoma with the gravest solemnity. 

The cairn atop Safatova Gora, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“Let us pray at his grave,” bade Petushka. The two Doukhobors stood over the mound, and with bowed heads, earnestly recited prayers and psalms and sang hymns in memory of the long-departed saint. Following the impromptu service, the men slowly descended the hill back to the village, deep in thought about all they had seen and experienced. 

The following day, the Doukhobor leader departed Bogatyi Rodnik to visit the other villages of the colony before continuing onward to the Community settlements in Saskatchewan.

A Sacred Place

News of the cairn on the hill quickly spread throughout the village and the rest of the colony. That it was the grave of a holy man, as Petushka proclaimed, the Doukhobor colonists accepted without question, for they believed his word to be divinely inspired. 

Many sought meaning in its seeming association with Iosafat of the Bible. “Was it not written that Safat abolished idolatry and followed God’s commands and God thus looked favorably upon him?” some reflected, “So too, we Doukhobors reject icons and follow God’s Law to remain righteous in His eyes!”  “And did Safat not lead his people to vanquish their oppressors, not with swords, but with songs and prayers?” pondered others, “So also, our Doukhobors lay down our arms and refuse to kill!” In the figure of Iosofat, the Doukhobors saw a kindred spirit, an ancient archetype of their own teachings and beliefs.[iv] 

View of the cairn atop Safatova Gora facing northwest, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The Doukhobors of the colony came to view the hill as a sacred place, one they considered holy and worthy of reverence and awe because of its connection to the Biblical patriarch. To them, it was a liminal space between the natural and the spiritual, the human and the divine, the hallowed and the profane. A prominent landmark visible throughout much of the colony, it became part of their living landscape, interwoven between their spiritual lives and daily existence. They gave it a special name, Safatova Gora (‘Safat’s Hill’).  It was also known variously as Safatina Gora, Safatushkina Gora, Safatova or simply Safat. 

The hill became a place of sanctuary for Doukhobors seeking personal solitude, consolation and serenity away from the rest of the world. It was also a gathering place for religious worship, cultural celebration and social interaction. In summertime, Doukhobors throughout the colony gathered at the foot of the hill, removed their footwear, and climbed barefoot to the top. This custom arose out of their veneration for the hill. Once at the top, the Doukhobors held moleniye (‘prayer services’) while standing on their platochiki (‘handkerchiefs’) so as not to touch the sacred ground. When their prayers concluded, they spread about blankets on the hilltop and had picnics and social gatherings.   

Doukhobor workmen in front of Community flour mill, Lundbreck AB, 1922. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Some of the more zealously devout colonists even began to associate the valley below the hill with the Biblical ‘Valley of Iosofat’ and came to believe that it would be there, on their own land, where the events of Judgement Day would take place and God would judge the nations of the earth. Among them, they called the vale Safatova Dolina (‘Safat’s Valley’). 

Miracle of the Drought

In the late Teens and early Twenties, a severe and prolonged drought struck the Alberta foothills. Abnormally low rainfall combined with elevated temperatures and drying winds devastated the ranches and farms of the Cowley and Lundbreck district, resulting in crop failures, feed shortages, starving cattle and dust storms as topsoil was blown off cultivated fields. 

The hardships of dryland farming, combined with low post-war wheat and cattle prices and high feed prices, drove many settlers to abandon their farms and leave the district. Those who stayed purchased straw for their livestock from the Doukhobor colony, as there was no hay. The drought continued to worsen, and by 1920, the Doukhobors had to bring in 75 rail carloads of straw from the Community settlements in Saskatchewan to sustain their own herds. 

Doukhobors in front of Community dwelling and elevator, Lundbreck AB, c. 1922. Courtesy Royal Alberta Museum.

In these dire circumstances, the local Blackfoot Piikani Nation performed a rain dance ceremony, consisting of fasting, drumming, singing, dancing and feasting, to invoke the Creator to bless the Earth with much-needed rain. When their efforts led to no avail, the Piikani people approached their neighbours, the Doukhobors, whom they held in high regard, and implored them to pray to God for rain. 

Moved by their request, the Doukhobors convened a mass sobraniya (‘assembly’) at their Community central office in Cowley, attended by all the members of the colony. After some deliberation and discussion, they resolved to trek to Safatova Gora, where they would pray for relief from the widespread drought.          

Thus, several hundred Doukhobors set off on the 12-mile journey by foot from Cowley, through Lundbreck, to the sacred hill. At the outset, there was not a single cloud in the sky.  As they trekked, they prayed and recited psalms seeking God’s intercession.

The long procession made an indelible impression upon the English Canadian ranchers of the district as it passed by. One settler, John Ross, could still recall, many decades later, the Doukhobors, young and old, walking barefoot past his ranch 5 miles north of Lundbreck on their way to the hill to pray.    

After six long, arduous hours, when the trekkers reached Safatova, clouds began to appear on the western horizon. Heartened by this sign, they ascended the hill to the holy grave, where they prayed, earnestly and humbly, entreating God for rain. As they did so, clouds gathered and darkened, piling higher and higher above them. But after several hours of prayer and supplication, there was still no rain. Weary and dejected, the Doukhobors made ready to depart.  

Safatova Gora rising in the distance to the west from the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) north of Lundbreck AB where it crosses Cow Creek, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

No sooner did they begin their descent, however, than the sky opened up, pelting them with thick, heavy rain drops. The rain quickly became a deluge as the Doukhobors, relieved and overjoyed, slipped and slid down the muddy hill. By the time they reached the bottom, it was raining so hard that the ground, saturated with water, became a thick, sticky gumbo, almost impossible to cross. Many had difficulty pulling their feet out of the mud and some became quite stuck.

“Heaviest Rainfall of the Year” headlines the front page of the Calgary Daily Herald, June 29, 1922. Other headlines include, “‘Crop Practically Assured’ Peter Veregin, Head of the Doukhobors in Canada, Writes the Herald from Cowley.”

It rained without stop for the next six to nine hours. Not since 1915 had there been a downpour so heavy and extending over so wide a stretch of territory as that day. Almost the whole province was covered, ending the drought, filling the rivers and reservoirs and reinvigorating the land with valuable moisture.  That day, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin wired the Calgary Herald from his office to advise that the heavy rain in the Cowley and Lundbreck district “practically assured the crops”. The date of this event was June 29, 1922.[v] Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also Petrov Den (‘Peter’s Day’), one of the most important Doukhobor religious holidays. 

Many called it a miracle – others called it an answer to their prayers – and it seemed that it was both. For the Doukhobors, something spectacular happened up on the hill; something so extraordinary that it hardly seemed true. After years of drought, God heard their prayers from the hilltop and sent the rain! 

Later Years

For twenty-two years, the Doukhobor colony at Cowley and Lundbreck operated as a successful and profitable farming enterprise, adding substantial value and revenue to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood and serving as an important supply source of agricultural products for the Community settlements in British Columbia. 

Doukhobor steam traction engines, Cowley AB c. 1920. Glenbow Archives.

Yet despite the success of the colony, by 1936, the Community was bankrupt due to crippling debt and interest coupled with declining revenue during the Great Depression. Although the Alberta lands were paid in full, they were pledged as collateral to secure the debts of the Community accrued elsewhere. Consequently, they were foreclosed upon by the National Trust Company in 1937.

Following the liquidation of colony assets, a third of the Doukhobors moved to British Columbia to be a part of the larger group living there, while another third left the area seeking employment elsewhere in the province. Those who remained took possession of the former colony lands they were already residing on and bought them back on a crop share basis as individual farmers. Thus, in 1938, brothers-in-law Peter M. Salekin and Anton W. Mushta purchased the land comprising Bogatyi Rodnik and Safatova Gora.  

Aerial photograph of the Bogatyi Rodnik farm site north of Lundbreck AB, 1960. Courtesy Larry and Margaret Salekin.

Over the following decades, the Salekins, Mushtas and other Doukhobors in the Cowley and Lundbreck area continued to uphold their faith and culture, forming the United Doukhobors of Alberta and building a prayer home in Lundbreck. They still gathered at Safatova for worship, although less frequently than in years past. One of the main events held there was Petrov Den, which they commemorated each year with prayer services and picnics. In 1954, the Union of Doukhobors of Canada, comprising Doukhobors from across the country, met on the hill for a meeting and picnic.[vi] And on particularly dry years, some older Doukhobor farmers still climbed the hill to pray for rain.

By the Seventies, however, most of the older Doukhobors in the district had retired, while many younger Doukhobors moved to larger urban centres to pursue higher education and professional careers. In 1971, the farm where Bogatyi Rodnik and Safatova Gora stood was sold to brothers Mike and Harry M. Salekin, who continued to farm for three more years. Then in 1974, the farm was sold after almost sixty years of Doukhobor ownership.   

Original T. Eaton’s Co. mail-order house at Bogatyi Rodnik village site near Lundbreck AB, 2008. It has since been demolished. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

At the time of sale, Harry Salekin explained the history of the village, buildings and hill to the buyer and took him up to the hilltop to show him where the Doukhobors prayed. Many years passed, and on one occasion, he called in to the farm and the owner shared an interesting experience with him.  He said that the spring had been particularly dry and there was no sign of rain. Remembering the explanation about Safatova, he climbed the hill and prayed there.  Sure enough, the rain began to fall…

Conclusion

Today, there are few reminders of the Doukhobor presence in southwestern Alberta. Their prayer home in Lundbreck is now designated a Provincial Heritage Resource. Many of the original Doukhobor settlers lay at rest in a country cemetery near the hamlet. In Cowley, a road sign tells the story of their once-thriving colony. A Doukhobor barn stands on display at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek while another can be found at Heritage Acres Farm Museum nearby. And a handful of other structures are scattered across the countryside. 

As for their once-sacred hill, its Russian name is almost completely forgotten, as is the Doukhobor history and folklore associated with it. But it can still be seen today overlooking the Cowboy Trail as it crosses Cow Creek. The stone cairn stands atop it pristine and undisturbed, much the same as it has for centuries, a silent sentinel to the faith and beliefs of those who once lived there. 

Abandoned Doukhobor barn near Lundbreck AB, 2008. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After Word

This story was told to the writer in July 2008 by the late Michael M. Verigin (1929-2016) of Cowley, AB who heard it, in turn, from his grandfather, Semyon I. Verigin, a first-hand eyewitness to the events described. Additional information was received from Larry and Margaret Salekin of Airdrie, AB and Larry Ewashen of Creston, BC, descendants of the original Doukhobor colonists, as well as from Fred Makortoff of South Slocan, BC whose father-in-law William Bojey participated in the mass procession and prayer service for rain. The writer’s great-great-great grandmother, Maria Kirilovna Ivin was also a resident of Bogatyi Rodnik who participated in these events.

The writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff atop Safatova Gora, 2008. Copyright.

This article was originally published in the following newspapers and periodicals:

  • Pincher Creek Echo, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020;
  • Crowsnest Pass Herald, July 22 and 29, 2020;
  • Vulcan Advocate, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020;
  • Sudbury Star, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020;
  • Pembroke Observer, July 17, 27, August 2 and 7, 2020; and
  • ISKRA No. 2154, September 2020 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

End Notes

[i] Verigin made at least three visits to the Alberta colony during this time, in October 1915 (Bellevue Times, October 22, 1915), June 1916 (1916 Census of Northwest Provinces, MacLeod district, Alberta sub-district 39, page 2) and September 1916 (Blairmore Enterprise, September 1, 1916).   

[ii] Doukhobors traditionally used diminutive forms of Russian names to express familiarity and endearment, such as Petushka for Petr, Syoma for Semyon or Safat for Iosafat, as referenced in this story.  

[iii] The cairn was almost certainly built hundreds of years earlier by the Piikani Blackfoot as a burial, cache, lookout, route marker or ceremonial site. That it acquired new meaning and significance to the Doukhobors in later times does not detract from its importance as an indigenous site.

[iv] Many Doukhobors fervently believed that the grave was, quite literally, that of Iosafat of the Old Testament. Others reasoned that if it was not Safat himself buried atop the hill, it was nonetheless a person of exceptional holiness and spiritual enlightenment who, in their life, exemplified many of the same qualities as the Biblical patriarch.

[v] Calgary Herald, June 29, 1922.

[vi] The Inquirer, Vol. 1, No. 6 – July 1954 (Saskatoon: Union of Doukhobor Youth).

Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus

by Svetlana A. Inikova

Traditionally, the life events, family and culture of Doukhobors were all shaped by the holidays contained in the Doukhobor calendar. Many were borrowed and adapted from the Orthodox Church. Others were deeply rooted in Russian folk belief. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Russian ethnographer and archivist Svetlana A. Inikova explores the holiday rituals and customs of the Doukhobors in the Caucasus, based on her ethnographic expeditions and field research among the Doukhobors of the Republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Translated from the original Russian by Koozma J. Tarasoff. Edited by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. Published by permission.

Introduction

Holidays had already been celebrated for a long time when Christianity was introduced to Russia. They provided people with an opportunity for rest, merrymaking and at least a brief respite from burdensome daily tasks. Holidays were also very important in that they coincided with the occurrence of annual changes in nature, such as the succession of seasons or the sun’s changing position in the sky. They served as reference points that clearly identified the beginning of particularly important events, such as turning cattle out to pasture, sowing time for specific crops, haymaking and harvesting. During the winter and early spring holidays, ancient Russians performed divinations hoping to accelerate the awakening of nature. During the spring and summer they prayed to their gods to grant them a bountiful harvest, whereas in the autumn they took stock of the field work that had been accomplished and thanked the spirits of the fields for their generosity.

When Christianity was introduced in 988 AD, the Church strove for the longest time to have certain folk holidays and rituals, such as Maslenitsa (“Butter Week”), abolished. Holidays that coincided with Christian celebrations were accepted by the Church, but vested with a meaning that served its purpose. Semik (“Festival of the Birch”) for instance, was a pre-Christian holiday in honour of vegetation which almost coincided with the Christian festival of Troitsa (“Trinity Sunday”). Rituals associated with the two holidays intertwined so closely that it has become impossible to distinguish between them, even though in some areas of Russia the holiday has retained its ancient name, Semik. Paskha (“Easter”) is another example. It was instituted by the Christian Church as a holiday in remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Yet Easter is also closely associated with the widespread tradition of dying eggs and, in Russia, rolling them on the ground, along grooves, and even playing with them. The egg has been a symbol of rebirth since ancient times and by rolling eggs on the ground, people hoped to increase the fertility of the soil. Many rituals and traditions have lost their profound meaning and have become simple games or pastimes. Hence, for example, most people do not realize that by eating a pancake during Maslenitsa they are actually consuming the symbol of the sun.

In this article I would like to describe the holidays celebrated by the Doukhobors and their associated rituals, some of which are still practiced today.

Doukhobor Holidays in the Early Nineteenth Century

Before settling in Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”), the Doukhobors lived among Orthodox Russians and celebrated the same traditional folk festivals. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances only, others avoided going altogether; nonetheless at home they celebrated Orthodox holidays with prayer meetings that were usually followed by visits to family and friends, while young people assembled to play games, sing and enjoy themselves in the village.

After they had settled in Molochnye Vody, the Doukhobors continued to celebrate the festivals of the Orthodox Church that were common to all Christians throughout Russia, i.e. Rozhdestvo hristovo (“Christmas”), Khreshchenie (“Epiphany”), Paskha and Troitsa, although each village also observed a patron holiday of its own which usually lasted for three days filled with festive merrymaking.

Thus, the villagers of Goreloye in Molochnye Vody chose Frol and Lavr as their patron saints, celebrating their feast day, Frolov Den’, on August 18. The Doukhobors of Bogdanovka, on the other hand, preferred Vasily the Great as their patron saint, celebrating his feast day, Vasil’ev Den’, on January 1. Also, the inhabitants of Efremovka observed November 8, the day of the Archangel Mikhail, Mikhailov Den’, as their patron holiday. The Doukhobors continued celebrating these holidays even after they had settled in the Caucasus, with the sole exception of the village of Rodionovka, which had no holiday of its own, neither in Molochnye Vody nor in the Caucasus.

While living in Molochnye Vody, the villagers of Troitskoye celebrated Troitsa in a particularly big way, whereas after establishing themselves in the Caucasus, they chose Nikolai the Wonderworker as their patron saint, honouring him on December 6. After relocating to the Caucasus, the villagers of Tambovka revered the Kazanskaya (“Our Lady of Kazan”), commemorating her feast day, Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri (“Day of our Lady of Kazan”) on October 22, instead of that of Nikolai the Wonderworker, who had been their patron saint in Molochnye Vody.

Kirilovka was a village in Molochnye Vody that celebrated its holiday, Pokrov (“Intercession and Protection of the Holy Virgin”) on October 1. In settling in the Caucasus, the villagers of Kirilovka merged with the villagers of Spasskoye from Molochnye Vody to form a single village which chose Pokrov as its joint holiday. In this case, the villagers of Spasskoye forsook their own holiday, which was Rozhdestvo Khristovo, for Pokrov.

The village of Terpeniye, the Doukhobor capital in Molochnye Vody, was renamed Orlovka when its inhabitants moved to the Caucasus, although they continued to observe Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri until the 1920’s, at which time they chose to observe Zheny Mironositsy (“Sunday of the Myrrhbearers”) or Zheny for short, as their patron holiday.

As they settled in the Caucasus, the Doukhobors founded new villages. Doukhobor elders recall that Lukeria Kalmykova, their beloved leader, “bestowed” certain holidays upon them.

Doukhobor Holidays in the Caucasus

We shall now give a systematic description of the holidays celebrated by the Doukhobors of the Caucasus throughout the calendar year.

The cycle of winter holidays or Sviatki (“Holy Days”) as it was called by Orthodox Russians, began with Rozhdestvo Khristovo, which used to be celebrated on December 25 according to the old-style calendar, and has been celebrated on January 7 after the new-style calendar was introduced following the Russian Revolution. The new-style calendar differs from the old one by 13 days.

On Christmas Eve, Doukhobors ate the traditional kut’ya (a dish prepared with boiled wheat kernels sweetened with honey); then around midnight they would assemble for worship. On Christmas Day adults would not eat breakfast and would perform their daily chores so that the entire family could sit down to enjoy Christmas dinner. It was a holiday when adults would visit family and friends while young people would enjoy themselves at vecharushki (parties of Doukhobor youth). In Rodionovka, young people would dress up and masquerade about the village. In fact, masquerading during the winter holidays was an ancient custom practiced in old Russia. The Christmas festivities lasted only one day. Christmas is still celebrated by Doukhobors in the Caucasus, although at the present time only elders attend worship on Christmas Eve, whereas for the young people it has become an occasion to get together and enjoy themselves.

All Doukhobor villages celebrate Novyi God (“New Year’s Day”). The village of Bogdanovka originally worshipped its patron saint day, Vasil’ev Den, on January 1. Eventually, however, this holiday merged with Novyi God and, unlike other villages, New Year’s festivities in Bogdanovka lasted not one but three days, during which friends and family from surrounding villages would come to visit.

In most villages on New Year’s Eve, children would go from house to house “sowing” seeds around the rooms, trying hard to throw some onto the bed as this was thought to bring prosperity to the household. The house was not to be swept until the next morning, so as not to sweep out the prosperity. Villagers welcomed the “sowers” warmly, offering them kalachi (a type of sweet bun) and pirogi (a type of pie). The children, in turn, would chant as they “sowed”:

We wish you a Happy New Year,
As we sow, sow. sow.
Loosen up your purse strings,
Spare us a few coins.

Sometimes they would add:

Lord, do produce for the Traveller,
For the Passer-by
and for the Greedy Soul.

Adults would get together and make cheese vareniki (dumplings), which was the traditional dish for Novyi God festivities. At nightfall, the villages would glitter with a thousand sparkles: it was children walking down the village streets carrying homemade torches they called “candles” or “lanterns”, which in fact were long sticks with rags tied to one end that had been dipped into paraffin oil and lit up.

The following day, on January 1, the young people would masquerade as gypsies and, while going from house to house, repeat quite a different refrain that was both humorous and foreboding:

Lady Bounty – spare a dumpling.
If you can’t spare a dumpling,

give me some pie.
Won’t give me pie,

I’ll grab your bull by the horns,
Your mare by the forelock,

take them to the fair,
And sell them for a few kopecks.

They were also treated to cakes and vodka. The festivities would then brim over into the street: people in holiday dress would stroll about the village, and children and young people would go sleigh-riding in horse-drawn sledges which the Doukhobors were reputed for. The sledges were brightly painted and each sledge owner would display his most colorful harness.

Like thousands of young girls throughout Russia, Doukhobor maidens performed divination rituals on New Year’s Eve and on all the following evenings until Khreshcheniye. They sought to divine their fate and, more specifically, get a glimpse of their future husbands. There was an array of divination rites they could chose from. For instance, a young girl might take a pail of water, hang a lock on the handle and put the key under her pillow so as to conjure up in her dreams a vision of her future husband who would come for a drink of water; or else she might bake an overly salty bun and eat it at bedtime so that her fiancé might bring her some water to quench her thirst. Young Doukhobor girls would also get together in a barn and chase sheep. Should a girl catch a ewe, it was thought that she would marry a young man; should she catch a ram, it was thought that she would marry a widower. One of the most popular divination rites was throwing a shoe over the yard gate: the direction the shoe toe pointed in as it fell was the direction the maiden would take to find her husband.

No one “sows seeds” anymore, nor do the young people dress up as gypsies. However, on New Year’s Eve in the streets of Gorelovka, children still light “candles” and adults still gather to enjoy the traditional vareniki prepared by the women.

When the new-style calendar was introduced in Russia in 1918, Doukhobors started celebrating the New Year twice: on January 1, according to the new style, as well as on January 14, according to the old style.

The Doukhobors have always celebrated Khreshcheniye and still do at the present time, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Son of man, the day divine grace was bestowed onto Jesus Christ in his human incarnation. On the eve of January 6, the Doukhobors would assemble for prayer, then on the way home, each person would try to draw some water from a well, river or spring; as this water was considered blessed, therefore endowed with purifying powers, it was sprinkled around the house, the barn and the stable; it was used in washing up and was also given to drink to the sick.

The next holiday was Maslenitsa, or Maslena, as the Doukhobors called it. It was preceded by Nedelya Sviatykh Praotsev (“Forefathers’ Week”), a time to commemorate ancestors and make traditional blini (pancakes). According to Doukhobor custom, the first pancake went to the household dog because it was believed that “man was eating the dog’s share”, a saying that stems from an old Russian legend. According to the legend, long ago, wheat plants had grain filled spires descending all the way to the ground. However, people did not treat bread with the respect it deserved. When God saw how people squandered bread, he decided to punish them by taking it away. Having grasped an ear of wheat with his hands, he began shelling it. Suddenly, when there were just a few grains left on the very top of the ear, a dog howled plaintively. God took pity on him and left him a few kernels. The Doukhobors have always had a very respectful attitude towards bread. It was considered a sin to throw out a piece of bread or to brush off bread crumbs onto the floor.

For the Doukhobors, Maslena began on Saturday and lasted for three days. Neighbors would go visiting, wishing each other a “Happy Maslena”. In certain villages it was customary to masquerade during this holiday. Mothers would sew special pockets onto their children’s belts so they could fill them with tasty kalachi given to them by housewives as they went from door to door, offering greetings.

On Sunday, young people would organize horse-drawn sleigh ride parties. Sunday evening was Proshchenoe Voskresen’e (“Sunday of Forgiveness”) when Doukhobors in groups of five to ten people would go to the homes of elders and bowing low three times beg for the forgiveness of their sins. Or they could say: “Forgive us our sins on this Sunday of Forgiveness”. And the elders would answer: “The Good Lord will forgive your sins”, then all would embrace as evidence of forgiveness. The hosts would either set the table or give the visitors some treats to take along and the group would then go to the next home.

Chistyi Ponedel’nik (“Pure Monday”) marked the beginning of Lent for Orthodox Russians. Although the Doukhobors did not observe Lent in the religious sense, they retained the name of this holiday for the last day of Maslena. In Rodionovka, Chistyi Ponedel’nik was a time to “grieve”: the villagers were sorry to see Maslena come to an end; they would eat and drink the leftovers from the holiday festivities. In the village of Spasovka, it was customary “to rinse one’s mouth” on Chistyi Ponedel’nik, whereas in Troitskoye, the first guest to enter a home was made to sit on a coat turned fur-side-out and forced to eat, as it was believed that if the guest ate well, it would be a good year for the hosts with respect to their cattle. In Novo-Gorelovka in the province of Elizavetpol, the villagers would pitch in and fry eggs together.

Nowadays, people still get together for Maslena to enjoy themselves and eat the traditional blini, although the festivities are much more modest than in the past.

There existed in Russia the age-old tradition of “ushering in the spring” on March 9. In order to hasten the arrival of warm weather, children would fling up into the air soroki (sweet buns baked in the shape of magpies). According to the Orthodox calendar, March 9 was the Day of the Forty Martyrs or Soroki as it was popularly called (soroki means both “magpies” and “forty”). In all the villages, Doukhobor women made soroki buns. They placed buttons, kopecks and other small objects into the dough, each time making a wish related to the well-being of their cattle. Later, as they ate the “little magpies”, the villagers had fun guessing what the future held for their cattle and poultry. For instance, it was believed that if a kopeck stood for a cow, the cow of the person eating the bun with the kopeck would give him plenty of milk; someone else might be lucky with his chickens, sheep or other animals. Soroki was not considered an important holiday and therefore it was a workday as usual. Today the younger generation of Doukhobors have no idea what the “little magpies” were.

March 25 was Blagoveshcheniye (“Annunciation”), a very important holiday when no one worked in all of Russia. It commemorates the announcement made to the Virgin Mary by the archangel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Son of God. It was considered a sin for anyone to work on Blagoveshcheniye, even though many people, including the Doukhobors, made a point of not celebrating the holiday in the religious sense. There was a saying that on that day “birds do not nest, maidens do not braid their hair”. On that day, Doukhobors usually assembled for worship. Women and young girls would dress up in new clothes that they would have made especially for the occasion.

Verbnoye Voskresen’e (“Palm Sunday”), the Sunday preceding Easter, was not celebrated in the religious sense, although it was a tradition for young people to call on their neighbors very early in the morning; if they found anyone of their peers still in bed, they would “whip” him or her with a pussy willow rod while reciting the whole time:

Pussy willow rod,
Whip him till he weeps.
The pussy willow’s whipping,
Not me.

Mothers would pretend to whip their young children with pussy willow rods while reciting this verse. The very same rods were later used for turning cattle out to pasture for the first time after the winter.

Doukhobors usually tried to send their cattle to pasture for the first time in the spring on the feast day of St. Egorii on April 23, Egorov Den’. However, because of the rigorous climatic conditions that prevailed where they lived in Georgia, that event was generally postponed until May. In Russia, St. Egorii was the patron saint of horses. Therefore, on Egorov Den’, all Russian peasants, including the Doukhobors, would let their horses rest, brush them down, pamper them and feed them well. This tradition has long since been consigned to oblivion.

Easter has always been one of the most important Christian holidays in Russia. During Strastnaya Nedelya (“Holy Week”), or Strashnaya as it was called, which precedes Paskha (“Easter Sunday”), Orthodox Russians were particularly devout in their observance of Lent which commenced on Chistyi Ponedel’nik and lasted for seven weeks. The Doukhobors did not fast as such during Lent; however, they were very scrupulous in their attempts to refrain from sinning both verbally and in deed during Strashnaya.

On Velikaya Pyatnitsa (“Good Friday”), women dyed eggs with onion peels and baked Easter cakes. During the night that preceded Paskha, Doukhobors would assemble for prayer, then wish each other a Happy Easter by kissing three times and exchanging eggs. In the village of Gorelovka, women would take Easter cakes to the Sirotsky Dom (“Orphan’s Home”) and hand them out to the old people after prayer. On Paskha, everyone went to the cemetery to put eggs on the graves of relatives and visit the graves of deceased Doukhobor leaders, to pray for them and to revive their memory. These rituals are still very much alive today and Easter prayer meetings are the most attended of all.

Another Doukhobor tradition was to put a few dyed eggs into the barn for the khozya (“master”) as some of them called the fairytale household spirit; others referred to it as domovoi. Children would play with the eggs, rolling them along grooves during the three days of Easter festivities.

A week after Easter Caucasian Doukhobors celebrated Krasnaya Gorka (“Glorious Hill”), a very old Russian folk festivity that originated in pre-Christian times. Villagers treated each other to eggs left over from Easter or else they dyed the eggs. At the beginning of the 20th century, this festival lost its original meaning and became a holiday for Doukhobor children and young people. Parties were thrown for children where they played with eggs and ate fried eggs. Young people would get together; girls would pitch in and make fried eggs, while the young men took care of beverages. It has been several decades now that the holiday has not been celebrated.

The second Sunday after Easter was Zheny Mironositsy, or Zheny, and was considered a holiday for women. People of all ages would get together and make the traditional fried eggs. In the 1920’s, Zheny became the holiday of the village of Orlovka instead of the festival of Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri. This occurred after the departure of some Doukhobors from Orlovka to Canada and later, Rostov, after which many Doukhobors from Gorelovka settled in Orlovka but refused to commemorate the Kazanskaya. The village then opted for Zheny as its holiday, even though some people continued to worship the Kazanskaya. In the past, Zheny celebrations lasted three days, whereas now the holiday is observed very modestly, if at all.

Seven weeks after Easter, all Doukhobor villages celebrated Troitsa, a festival that lasted for three days in honour of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Doukhobors used to say. “Trinity is when God descends onto the ranks of the righteous who are his Apostles. The first day, Jesus Christ appeared to the Apostles; he spent the second day consolidating his Throne, bestowing wisdom onto his Apostles and the power to resurrect the dead and give sight to the blind; the third day, they prayed and then went to preach in the name of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

After worship, on Troitsa, Doukhobors usually went to the cemetery to pray on the graves of their deceased leaders. During the first two days of the Troitsa holiday, they greeted each other with the words “Happy Trinity”, whereas on the third day, which was the last, they would say “Farewell”, bidding farewell to the holiday. Doukhobors still celebrate Troitsa, the elders assemble for prayer, while the young assemble to enjoy themselves. To mark spring and summer festivals, and particularly the Troitsa holiday, young people usually got together somewhere on a hillock, in a clearing or a hollow to sing and dance, keeping out of sight of the stern elders. There were also places where young people from several villages would meet so that young men could court the girls.

The next major holiday observed by Doukhobors was Petrov Den’ celebrated on June 29 in commemoration of the saints Peter and Paul. It was celebrated throughout Russia and held particular significance for Doukhobors, as it was the name day of two outstanding Doukhobor leaders: Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov who died in 1864 and Petr Vasilyevich Verigin who became leader of the “Large Party” of Doukhobors after the 1887 schism. It was for this reason that in 1895 the followers of Petr Verigin chose to burn their arms on Petrov Den’ to protest against war and violence. Thus this day soon became a holiday in memory of those who had been persecuted, having endured extreme trials and tribulations on account of their faith.

After 1895, Petrov Den’ was celebrated only by Doukhobors belonging to the “Large Party”, comprised of Doukhobors from all villages except for Gorelovka. They would assemble under the cliff where the arms burning had taken place, pray by the piously revered peshcherochki (“little cave”), a place that was particularly cherished by Lukeria Kalmykova, their beloved leader who passed away in 1886. Then they would spread about blankets and have a picnic. At present, Petrov Den’ is celebrated on July 12 according to the new-style calendar. Very few people, for the most part elderly women from the neighboring villages of Orlovka and Spasovka, still gather around the peshcherochki.

Frolov Den’, the feast day of St. Frol and Lavr, or simply Khrol as the Doukhobors call it, was the patron holiday of the village of Gorelovka, which used to be celebrated for three days. An important prayer meeting took place at the Sirotsky Dom on August 18, which marked the first day of the holiday. Later that day, Doukhobors would go visiting or welcome visitors from neighboring villages. Khrol was considered to be the holiday of matchmaking and launched the season when young men could send in matchmakers. In other villages, however, matchmaking began on the holiday of Pokrov.

Pokrov, celebrated on October 1, was the holiday adopted by the Doukhobors of Spasovka and those of Novo-Pokrovka in Kars, province. Doukhobor elders explain that this holiday was instituted in honour of the Holy Virgin who bestowed her protection upon people by covering them with her Holy Mantle.

As matchmaking rituals traditionally took place during the holiday of Pokrov, marriages began to be celebrated on Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri on October 22, after all field work had been completed. This was a holiday instituted by the Orthodox Church in honour of the Kazanskaya, the icon of Our Lady of Kazan. For Doukhobors, however, it acquired a different meaning: it was a day of remembrance for the warriors who had fallen during the siege of Kazan. Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri was the patron holiday of Tambovka as well as the villages of Orlovka, Novo-Spasovka, in Elizavetpol province, and in Novo-Troitskoye, in Kars province until the 1920’s.

The villagers of Rodionovka, which is located in the vicinity of Tambovka on Lake Paravani, did not have a holiday of their own. They too adopted Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri as their patron holiday.

For three days, beginning on November 8, Mikhailov Den’, the village of Efremovka honoured its patron saint, the archangel Mikhail. A month later, on December 6, the village of Troitskoye celebrated Nikolin Den (“St. Nikolai’s Day”) in honour of its patron saint, Nikolai the Wonderworker, or Mikola as he was called. According to the ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, the Doukhobors of Troitskoye stopped commemorating Nikolin Den’ after the Burning of Arms and in protest of the subsequent persecutions of Doukhobors, because Nikolai or Mikola also happened to be the first name of the tsar, Nicolas I. Troitskoye, however, reinstated its holiday when the Doukhobors belonging to the Large Party left for Canada.

Conclusion

It was predominantly during the autumn and winter, when field work was completed, that Doukhobor holidays were celebrated with festivities as social gatherings, parties, merrymaking in the streets and sleigh rides. It was then that people had time to enjoy themselves. Moreover, the new harvest and freshly prepared food supplies enabled Doukhobors to set a lavish table for their guests. People unfamiliar with the customs and rituals of Doukhobors of the Caucasus often had the erroneous impression that they were generally austere villagers, opposed to all forms of merriment. In actuality, the Doukhobors did enjoy festivities, although elders say that when they were young, the old people would chide them and forbid them to play musical instruments and dance; then in the same breath and with the greatest pleasure they reminisce of times they would get together and, in spite of everything, humming a dance tune, they would dance in a hollow or in someone’s house. It can be said that the Doukhobors always worked hard and enjoyed themselves just as intensely.

Editorial Note

To Ms. Inikova’s detailed and scholarly work must be added several holidays, celebrated by Doukhobors in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Caucasus, but evidently no longer observed or remembered at the time that she conducted her field research. These have been documented by the editor Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from Doukhobor oral tradition, toponymy and from ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s collection of Doukhobor psalms, songs, hymns and prayers.

Vosneseniye (the “Ascension”) was an important Christian holiday in Russia. Observed on the Thursday after the fifth Sunday after Easter, it commemorates Christ’s bodily ascent to Heaven in the presence of his disciples, following his resurrection. It was a holiday celebrated by the village of Efremovka. When Doukhobors from this village left for Canada, they named one of their new villages Vosneseniye in remembrance of this holiday.

In July, during haying time, the Doukhobors of Rodionovka village celebrated Lushechkin Pokos (“Lushechka’s Mowing”) or Kalmykov Pokos (“Kalmykov’s Mowing”) as it was also called. It was a thanksgiving festival associated with Doukhobor leader Lukeria Kalmykova, who visited the village annually at this time. People came from near and far to join the festivities. Everyone pitched in to help prepare the feast, which consisted of shishliki (a Caucasian dish prepared with marinated lamb), vareniki and slivnyi halushki (dumplings made with prunes, eaten with melted butter). Large cast iron pots and kettles were assembled to cook the food. Also, as the village was located on Lake Paravani, large quantities of fish were caught using barkasi (large fishing barges), then prepared by boiling them, allowing them to cool and then gel in large wooden tubs. After much eating, singing and thanksgiving, it was the custom for the men of the village to take their wives or girlfriends and dunk them in the lake.

On July 20 according to the old style, the Doukhobors of Slavyanka village in Elizavetpol province celebrated Ilyin Den’  in memory of St. Ilya (Elijah), the 9th century BC Hebrew prophet who proclaimed God’s judgment and retribution. In Russian folk belief, thunder, fire and lightening were believed to be the special provenance of Elijah, and people expected thunderstorms and rain each year on his feast day.

Uspenie (the “Assumption”) was a holiday celebrated by Christians throughout Russia on August 15 according to the old style. It commemorates the Virgin Mary’s passage into Heaven following her death. It was a holiday celebrated by the village of Troitskoye as well as the village of Terpeniye in Kars province. When Doukhobors from these villages left for Canada, and later Rostov, they named several of their new villages after this holiday.

Finally, it should be noted that in Canada in the early 1900’s, the celebration of traditional holidays was abolished by Doukhobor leader Petr Vasilyevich Verigin, who considered them to be unnecessary and superfluous to the spiritual development of his followers. The exception was Petrov Den’, which continued to be celebrated by Doukhobors who left Verigin’s communal organization in Canada to become independent farmers. 

For a comprehensive calendar of the Doukhobor holidays and festivals discussed in this work, click here.

About the Author

Dr. Svetlana A. Inikova is a senior researcher at the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.  Considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Doukhobors, Svetlana has conducted extensive archival research and has participated in several major ethnographic expeditions, including field research among the Doukhobors of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and a North American ethnographic expedition on the Doukhobors in 1990.  She has published numerous articles on the Doukhobors in Russian and English and is the author of History of the Doukhobors in V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s Archives (1886-1950s): An Annotated Bibliography (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999) and Doukhobor Incantations Through the Centuries (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999).

For more online articles about the Doukhobors by Svetlana A. Inikova, see Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History as well as Leo Tolstoy’s Teachings and the Sons of Freedom in Canada.

Breaking Ground in Spasovka and Uspenie

by Deanna Konkin

Deanna Konkin (1946-) is an elementary school teacher and organic gardener in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her parents and sister reside on the family farm located near the original site of Spasovka Doukhobor Village. On occasions she returns to the farm, gazes across the fields and wonders what life was like in the village many years ago. She is a collector of Doukhobor memorabilia and books and is very interested in singing. The highlight of her singing career was in 1995 when she participated in the Voices for Peace Choir. Deanna enjoys and is skilled in the crafts of her ancestry, in needlepoint, embroidery, crocheting and knitting. Her ambition is to learn the art of linen-making, draw-work, weaving, embroidering, fringing of Doukhobor shawls, as well as other native crafts before they are forgotten. In the following article, reproduced by permission from Koozma Tarasoff’s “Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living” (Ottawa: Legas Publishing, 2002), she writes about the early days on the Saskatchewan prairies and the stories of her grandparents.

The Doukhobors from the Kars area in Russia settled in Spasovka Doukhobor Village. It was located in the block of land known as the Prince Albert Colony or the Duck Lake settlement, across the North Saskatchewan River and southwest of Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. The village was 14 miles southwest, on Section 14, Township 45, Range 5, West 3rd M. Of the Colony, it was the largest village with 47 households and a population of 217. The town of Blaine Lake was 14 miles [22.5 km] southwest. All that remains today is the unmarked graveyard on a hill with a lone tree growing on it.

The people who lived there went by such names as Stupnikoff, Konkin, Podovelnikoff, Demoskoff, Pepin, Perepelkin, Kabatoff, Shukin, Holuboff, Rebalkin, Maloff, Savinkoff, Tarasoff, Berikoff, Popoff, Babakaiff, Osachoff, Chernoff, and Hoodekoff.

Many villagers would go to Prince Albert via Duck Lake to find work and earn their daily bread. The men worked on construction such as building brick office buildings and dwellings, while the women washed clothes. My grandfather, Andrei Vasilyevich Konkin and his brother Ivan sought work in Prince Albert. Once they caught a ride in a boxcar filled with lumber at the time when the train derailed and they were pinned underneath. Luckily a conductor saw them and came to their rescue, saving them from serious injuries.

Some members of Spasovka village near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. These include Andrew Konkin (back row, second from the left) and his brother John (5th from the left) as well as respected elder Vasily Konkin (2nd row, 10th person from the left holding baby), 1906.

My grandfather Vasil Konkin who lived in this village was a spiritual and religious man. It was not uncommon for him to go on foot to the Uspenie Doukhobor Village some 20 miles [32 km] away. He would disrobe under the trees, walk out onto the street and preach to the villagers about Doukhobor beliefs, brotherhood, love, and the evils of materialism. All was witnessed by my grandmother Nastia Salikin (later Boulanoff). As young 10-year-olds, she and her two friends, Masha Selivanova (Kalesnikoff, later Mrs Alex Cheveldayoff) and Polya Katelnikova (later Mrs Pete A. Rebin), witnessed the disrobing, saying to themselves: ‘Vot Konkin svobodnik pribil’ (“the Konkin Son of Freedom has arrived”).

My great, great grandfather Nicholai Stupnikoff also lived in Spasovka. He was a psychic who could on numerous occasions foretell the future. One interesting episode took place back in Russia. A distraught man came to him and told him that the Tatars had stolen his mare. Nicholai replied: ‘Be patient, soon two horses will come to your home’. This man did as he was told. Sure enough, before long his mare returned home followed by a beautiful, frisky colt.

Fedia Salikin, circa 1900

My great grandfather Fedia Salikin lived in Uspenie Village. As the first pioneers in the area, he and his family lived in avuls (dugouts) on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River.

Fedia was a devout Doukhobor who suffered greatly for his beliefs in Russia. He and Aleksei Rebin were shackled together following the mass arms burning protest. As they walked to prison, the shackles kept unbuckling and falling off. The Tatars who were escorting them saw what happened and hollered Allah! Allah! Superstitiously they believed this was some kind of incantation at work, especially when this happened three times. Finally, the commander of the troop said: ‘If you give your word that you won’t run away, you can carry your shackles’. And so they did.

In prison, Fedia and two of his friends were ordered to put on army uniforms. They refused and took their clothes off and remained this way for three days. This was in the middle of winter. A soldier came and told them that they would be shot outside by a firing squad if they did not obey. A general arrived just in time to prevent the bloodshed. The three men were led back to prison and given winter clothing. They were told they had to be sentenced first, but they never were sentenced and eventually were set free with the others.

From Uspenie, Fedia and his family moved to Verigin, Saskatchewan where he was appointed as a miller, milling wheat into flour for the Doukhobor Community (the CCUB or the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood).

When the Doukhobors began the move to British Columbia in 1908, Peter V. Verigin asked Fedia to stay and make flour and send it to the Community in BC. Instead, because of his strong faith in the leader, Fedia joined his brethren in the move west. He did not want to stay behind because he believed that he would never hear from his Doukhobor friends and relatives again. He told the leader, ‘Peter, I want to toil more’. So he and his wife Avdotia (Dunia) packed up and moved to Blagodatnoe [Blueberry Creek] BC. There he, along with others, cut heavy timbers, extracted stumps and rock in order to make way for an abundant orchard and fertile farming land.

Fedias oldest daughter Nastia (my grandmother) and her husband (my grandfather), Fyodor Andreivich Boulanoff, later moved back to Saskatchewan. The damp mountain climate and the lack of food did not agree with my grandfather’s health. First they settled in the village of Pokrovka in the Langham area. When the people in the village began to farm independently, Fyodor and Nastia and their family settled on a rented farm. They heard about good land being for sale in the Blaine Lake district and moved there. Here they felled trees, gathered roots, and prepared the soil for tilling.

My grandmother worked alongside my grandfather. She was a fully liberated woman in her time. Besides helping with the fieldwork and barnyard chores, she also was a skilled seamstress, having done the sewing for the Doukhobor Community in BC as well as for her family. An avid gardener, she grew beautiful, bountiful gardens, the excess of which she sold to neighboring towns and cities. She passed her gardening skills and love of gardening to her family and their families. She was skilled in many crafts. One of these was growing her own flax, processing it, and spinning it into yarn to be later knitted or crocheted into doilies. She also spun wool into yarn, dyed it, and knitted it into warm mittens, socks, scarves and sweaters. In addition to her excellent homemaking abilities, she managed to keep up her melodious singing, teaching her children and anyone interested to sing psalms and hymns. One could hear her golden voice carrying high above the rest when she sang at sobranias and funerals. Peter V. Verigin once remarked to her, ‘Budet truba vo ves svet, i budesh tipet’ vo ves svet’ [There will be a pipe that will carry its sound throughout all the world and you will sing to all the world]. Many years later this prophecy was fulfilled. Grandmother and her family sang at local amateur shows on radio in the 1940s. Many people listened and enjoyed their delightful a cappella sounds.

My grandfather, Fyodor, was a devoted farmer. He was one of the first to grow hull-less oats in the Blaine Lake area. He also grew wheat, barley and rye. When he lived in the Langham area, Doukhobor parents asked him to teach their youth to read and write in Russian. Years later, many of his former students approached him and thanked him for teaching them so well. He also was a captivating storyteller. He had a great talent for remembering stories he had read and was able to retell them as everyone sat around and listened in awe.

At this time I wish to extend a tribute to all my ancestors for their beliefs, struggles, and sacrifices. May they have eternal rest and peace in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.

Childhood Memories

by Alexey Ivanovich Popov

Alexey Ivanovich Popov was born February 8, 1876 in the province of Elizavetpol, Russia, in the village of Novo-Troitskoye. At the age of two, he and his family, together with a sizeable group of Doukhobors immigrated to the territory known as Kars near the Turkish border. There, they founded the village of Spasovka, where Alexey remained until manhood. Many years later, he recounted his Doukhobor childhood in his memoirs, written in 1953 but published posthumously. The following excerpt, reproduced by permission from Chapter One of “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” (Trans. Eli A. Popoff. Kelowna: 2006), chronicles the first fourteen years of Alexey’s life and provides a wealth of insight into Doukhobor life, events and beliefs, especially with respect to the upbringing and education of Doukhobor children in the Caucasus, Russia the 1880’s.

I, Alexey Ivanovich Popov, was a son of religious parents. They were a poor, peasant family of Doukhobor faith. I was born on February 25, 1877 in the Doukhobor village of Troitskoye in the Russian Gubernia of Elizavetpol, which is situated on the southern side of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia. My father was Ivan Semyonovich Popov and my mother was Anna Semyonovna Popov (Androsov). They were humble, poor peasants who made their living as tillers of the soil. They were staunch in their Doukhobor faith and devout believers in their spiritual Doukhobor leaders. As true followers of their faith my parents migrated to Canada in 1899 with the Doukhobor mass migration of that time. Here in Canada, all the days of their lives they belonged to the Doukhobor group known as the Sons of Freedom. Both of them spent considerable periods of time in Canadian prisons and endured various forms of beatings and other persecution, but they did not change their beliefs to the very end of their lives. They passed away at different times; both are buried at the same cemetery in British Columbia. In their family they had seven children – three sons and four daughters. I was their third child.

Alexei Ivanovich Popov as an adult, c. 1915.

Recollections of what my mother told me:

When my mother gave birth to me, she had a very hard time and remained ill and in bed for months after my birth. It was my father who looked after all the farm chores as well as most of the household duties. Mother told me that I was a very quiet child. Very seldom did anyone hear me cry. During her illness my mother did not have any milk in her breasts to feed me. She was also not able to get out of bed and prepare any baby food for me. As was a common practice at that time among the Doukhobors, all the mothers who were breastfeeding their children in the immediate neighbourhood took turns and came to our house to feed me. Each came at their allotted time to feed me. At the same time when they came to feed me, each of the mothers would do some of the housework and look after some of my mother’s needs. This went on up to the time that I reached two years of age.

After two years of age:

Some of the following that I write about, it seems to me that I remember it myself, but it is possible that some of it may have been told to me by my mother, when I was still a child of eight or nine years of age. I remember that I was a healthy child and remember how I walked with steady feet all over the yard, but the events that went on in the family household at that time I do not seem to recall.

The first thing I remember is that on the south, sunny side of our house, right against the wall, the ashes from our Russian bake oven were always placed in a pile. In the summer this pile got very dry. I loved to play on it and sometimes would even fall asleep, half covered in the ashes. Sometimes I would sleep here till I woke up, and sometimes someone would carry me inside the house while I was still asleep. When I was two and a half years old, I was strong enough to roam around the whole yard and even outside the yard. At one time after it was past the noon hour of twelve o’clock, my mother decided to pay a visit to the nearby shallow river where the village women placed their flax straw to soak in preparation for the next stage to be made into fiber for spinning and weaving. This was a yearly practice that was done in the fall of every year. I was allowed to go with my mother for this visit. Shortly after we had already passed the outskirts of the village, I had my first sight of a large prairie jackrabbit. He had been lying in the grass, till we came quite close to him. Suddenly he raised himself and turning towards the nearby mountain, he ran with a brisk jump towards this mountain. The mountain was a landmark in the area that was called “Troitskiy Shpeel” (shpeel means a peak or spire).

After a short while we arrived at the river. The spot chosen here was a curve in the river with a very slow flowing current. The bottom was covered with a coarse gravel with scattered round and flat rocks. The depth of the water was from 6 to 18 inches. Between the scattered rocks it was excellent to place the flax or hemp straw for soaking. These bundles of straw would then have the river rocks placed on top of them. This was done so that the current would not carry away the straw and so that the direct sun would not shine upon it. When we came to this spot my mother took off her shoes and waded into the water. She reached into the water and took out a handful of straw. She rubbed it between her hands for a while and then put it back. Apparently it was not yet ready to take out. At this same spot, a little further up river, we saw that there was another Doukhobor woman who had come to examine her material. She was also finished with her examination, so we started going back to our village together – this lady and my mother, and me following them. On our way home we did not see any other wild life. Arriving at the outskirts of our village I noticed that the sun was now setting over that same mountain, “Troitskiy Shpeel”, towards which the jackrabbit had scampered.

When we came home, mother went to milk the cows, but as for me, I felt so tired from the walk of about four miles that I immediately climbed up onto the space above the Russian bake oven where it was always warm. Feeling warm all over, I fell asleep almost at once. And it was here that I slept throughout the whole evening and night and right through the early morning. It was never the practice of my mother to wake a child to feed him the evening meal, or to move him once he was comfortably asleep. She always said – once a child is comfortably sleeping in the evening, let him be. Missing the meal won’t hurt him as much as disturbing his peaceful sleep.

In the morning I got up from my place of sleep before my other siblings got out of bed and at once told my mother that I was hungry. Mother immediately poured some milk into the earthenware dish, along with some small chunks of leftover wheat bread. I took out of the cupboard one of the hand-carved wooden spoons and heartily ate what my mother had set before me.

Being only two and a half years old, none of the household or yard chores had yet been allocated to me, and so my daily life went on as with all other children in the quiet peaceful life of our agrarian village. At this age I was already quite articulate in my speaking. Although I did not have too broad a vocabulary, this was being added to from day to day.

As usual, I was always interested in what my father did as his village work routine. It was about three weeks after the visit to the river with my mother that my father brought home on a hayrack wagon the flax and hemp straw that had been soaking in the river. He carefully placed it under a roof to dry. After a period of drying, mother would go to the shed and take small bundles of the straw and with wooden tools she would work days on end beating the straw till it would separate into fibrous strands. The straw would be thrown aside for use in making fuel bricks, and the semi-clean fiber would be taken into the house. During the long winter evenings, in a special corner of the house both mother and father would keep on tramping this semi-clean fiber with their bare feet. Every once in a while they would take this mass outside to shake out the straw from it. When this mass was reasonably clean, mother would then card it piece by piece with special hand carders. Now this fluffy mass was ready handful by handful to be spun into yarn on the home made spinning wheel. In the evening mother would spin while father would be tramping the semi-cleaned flax fiber in the corner. During the daytime mother would work with the wooden tools outside, doing the first stage of the straw separation. In the evenings my father would continue the cleaning process of tramping by foot in the corner of the house that what mother had prepared outside, while mother would be carding or spinning in another corner of the living room. This kind of work continued up until about the month of February. At this time all of the cleaning, carding and spinning should be completed. Now the spun yarn had to be made into linen and hemp cloth in a process that was very fascinating to me as a child. As I grew older the process became clearer to me, but it is still quite hard to explain step by step how the yarn eventually became a very durable linen, hemp or wool material used for sewing the clothes that were worn by all the Doukhobors. All this was done in the living rooms of almost every Doukhobor family in the village.

The spun yarn was rolled into large balls. The place for preparing the yarn for its required width of usually about two feet was chosen along the longest wall of the living room. After a rotating walk around the set up pegs on a raised bench, the resulting unrolling of the large balls of yarn into a long pattern was ready to go into the set up loom for weaving. The loom itself was an intricate homemade wooden construction that a woman had to sit at. Working with her hands to put a cross thread through the two-foot wide yarn on the rollers, and using her feet to move the thing along was an art exclusive mostly to Doukhobor women. The work of weaving on the loom to make these two-foot wide and of various lengths materials or rugs went on into the months of March, April and even May. When it became warm enough in the spring to do this, then the women would take these rugs, which were still quite coarse, to the river again. There they are again soaked in the water and then spread out on the green grass to dry in the sun. As soon as they are dry, they are again soaked and again spread out in the sun. This process softens them, and also makes them become whiter. From this material the women then sew what the family requires. From the purer and softer white material they sew women’s clothes. Some of the coarser material is coloured, usually blue, and men’s pants are sewn from it, and also some women’s work clothing. The women do all their sewing by hand, and use their own, finer linen thread. A lot of clothing material was made from sheep’s wool. The process of preparing wool into yarn for spinning and weaving was a bit different and a lot of wool yarn was used for knitting.

All of this work with flax and hemp straw and sheep’s wool was done in the wintertime, and most of it was done by the Doukhobor women residing at this time in the Doukhobor villages of the Caucasus area in southern Russia. In the summer, during haying season, these same women worked side by side with the men. The men with hand scythes would be cutting the hay, while the women, with hand rakes made of wood, would be raking the hay into little piles, which they referred to as “miniature stacks”. At harvest time the women together with the men, using hand scythes would harvest the grain, tying the grain stalks into sheaves that they would later thresh together. Threshing of the grain was also done by hand by both men and women.

Besides helping the men in the fields, Doukhobor women also planted large vegetable gardens, which they looked after from spring till fall using hand tools. Every Doukhobor family had cows, which the women milked by hand. They also looked after the sheep and it was the women’s job to shear the wool from them every spring. Every family raised chickens, ducks and geese and the women looked after these as well. Of course it was the women’s duty to cook, to sew, to wash clothes, clean house and do all other family chores including the bringing up of children. Among all of these responsibilities the women still found time to go and pick the abundant wild flowers of the Caucasus area. They also picked herbs for their own medicinal use, as well as for sale.

One other very important responsibility of Doukhobor women was that they had to pass on the Doukhobor life-concept to the children by teaching them to know from memory Doukhobor psalms, wherein was contained the aspects of the Doukhobor faith. When a child was still quite young, the mother taught them the psalms only for reciting purposes. As the child grew older, the mother was required to see that the child would start learning the melody of each psalm. This was in order that the child could participate in mass prayer meetings, which were based on the reading and singing of psalms. The melody for Doukhobor psalms was very intricate and not easy to learn, even if you were growing up as a Doukhobor. For most outsiders the melody of Doukhobor psalms is very hard to understand and almost impossible to sing in the same soul stirring way.

When I was two years and eight months old my mother taught me one short psalm, which was specially composed for children. It was easy to read and I learned to read it quite fluently. It started with: “Lord, give us your blessing.” “Thou art my God and I am your slave. You will not desert me, and I will not ever leave you” and ended with “Honour and Praise to our God”. This psalm I learned to read from memory while we still lived in the house where I was born in the village of Troitskoye (Elizavetpol Gubernia).

In the spring of the year 1880 a sizable group of Doukhobors including our villagers and also from the neighbouring village of Spasovka of our Gubernia of Elizavetpol, decided to move to the Kars area of the Gubernia of Tiflis. The distance to cover was about two hundred and fifty plus Russian “Versti” (about 150 miles). My parents decided to make this move with the group. Being merely three years old at this time, I was not too aware of the hardships of this trip. I only remember the convoy of covered wagons following one another and slowly making their way along wagon trail roads, which were often muddy and soft. The wagons were heavily loaded and sometimes got bogged down in the mud so that the team hitched to the wagon would not be able to pull the wagon out. I remember cases where all the wagons would stop and they would hitch teams from other wagons at the head of those stuck. After pulling out the stuck wagon, the whole convoy would then proceed. On the third day of our journey our convoy had to cross a river. Its depth was from one to three and a half feet. Its width was about three hundred feet and it was quite fast flowing. My father was driving a four-horse team hitched to our wagon and it appears that he had moved a bit to one side of the regular track where it was safe to cross. There was a huge unseen rock in the water that stopped the wagon and the horses could not move it. Many men from the other wagons immediately came to the rescue. They waded into the water, and finding out what the problem was, they placed themselves at the wheels and at the back of the wagon and helped to get the wagon over the rock and safely to the other side.

A sample page from Alexey’s handwritten memoirs of 1953, painstakingly translated by his son Eli A. Popoff in 2006.

At the other side of the river, all of the convoy stopped for a meal, to rest and to feed the horses. Feed for the horses was not being hauled because the wagons were overly full with all the household and other belongings that were being transported to the new place of abode. So the horses were fed merely with the local grass that they grazed and any fresh hay that could be cut on the way. The early spring green grass was not very nutritious for the horses. They weakened day by day, and so the journey was longer than it should have been. What added to the hardships was that there was much rain during this trip –making the roads wet and soggy. The wagon wheels kept sinking up to four inches – making ruts as they proceeded. Because of all this the convoy used to make as little as fifteen versti, and at the most 30 versti of travel per day (a “versta” is approximately one kilometre. – Ten kilometres is approximately 6 miles). It was fortunate for the whole convoy that the climate of this Caucasus area was reasonable during the spring. While there were times of very heavy rainfall making puddles three or four inches deep on the roads, within the same hour the sun would come out and in a short time the water would all disappear. The rain did not bother the people or their belongings because all of the wagons were well covered with good frames covered with durable canvass. The food brought along for the trip was very simple. Basically everyone had sacks full of “sookhari” or twice baked bread chunks, made from whole wheat. They had a supply of potatoes, millet grain and salted chunks of sheep’s fat. The road from Elizavetpol to the Kars area was very hilly and rocky and there was a considerable amount of forest growth all around. The territory that was being crossed was all Crown Land and therefore it was permissible to let the horses graze at every stop that was made. We children always rode in the comfort of the covered wagons, where we also slept every night. All of the men usually walked behind or beside the wagons. They did not have to drive the horses most of the time as the Caucasus horses were better trained to keep to the trails, than the Canadian horses that we have had to use. It was only once in a while when a steep hill would appear ahead that the drivers would sit down on the driver’s seat to urge and steer the horses.

In the evenings when the convoy was camping for the night, the men would gather in groups and join in light hearted discussions and usually sang joyous hymns and songs. The women would be cooking the evening meal and tending to the children’s needs. In general this migration from one area to another had its hardships, but there were also joyful times. Throughout the whole trip there was not a single occasion of misfortune or trauma to any family in the whole convoy.

In the latter part of April, our convoy reached its destination. My parents chose to settle in the village named “Spasovka” in the District of Arganov about 40 “Versti” east of the City of Kars in what was referred to as “Karsskaya Oblast” or the region of Kars in the Gubernia (or province) of Tiflis. The village of Spasovka was situated in a unique location. From the west side there was a huge long mountain. On the north, east and south sides, the river “Karsina” made a huge bend. Along the south west side and along the mountain there flowed a smaller unnamed river, which always had warm water in it. On frosty days of the winter months there was always a vapor of steam above it. At the southeast end of our village location these two rivers joined together and they flowed out of our valley in a southeasterly direction between two tall mountains of rock, which formed a gorge at this point.

Both these rivers had an abundance of fish. However these fish were of a small common variety and could not be compared to the special fish that we came to know in far eastern parts of Russia, in Siberia, province of Yakutsk.

In this, our new village of Spasovka, my parents did not have to build their new home to live in. This was because there were two parties of Doukhobors that had already moved here from our province. With one of these parties, my grandfather Semyon Leontievich Popov came here before us. These parties that had come here before us, by mutual agreement, had already allocated exactly how the village would be built. They had measured out equal lots in a long line with homes to be built facing each other. One side of the line would have the houses with the rear facing eastward, and the other side would have their rear facing westward. In the centre was a wide street running from north to south. The total length of this street was about one and one quarter “versti” (about ¾ of a mile). After all the lots were marked out and numbered – each family drew lots for the one that would be theirs.

Part of these lots covered a territory that once had the remains of a small Turkish village. This territory still had the skeletons of five Turkish dwelling homes that were not totally deteriorated. These dwellings all had the same shape and style. The structure was all under one roof and quite low to the ground level. The roof was made from turf. Each had two doors on the long side of the structure. One door led into the structures most spacious division, which had four separate divisions and was used to house the farm animals and the poultry. The other door, at the other end, led into the division where the family was to live. One of these structures still remained on the lot that grandfather drew as his allocated lot. When my parents arrived at this newly pioneered village, my grandfather greeted us at the front of this building, and this is where we settled in to live.

The first essential chore that had to be done here was to go to the place and dig the special clay, from which bricks could be made. After drying and processing the bricks, these would then be laid in proper formation to make the brick oven for baking and cooking. I remember my father and grandfather at work making the bricks, while mother was busy washing up all the clothes from the trip and doing other cleaning. From these very first days I remember my older brother and sister and myself climbing the low roofed dwelling of ours and walking all over the long roof.

Because grandfather had come here earlier, he had done some essential work that every homeowner had to do here at this time. He had tilled some of our allotted soil and sowed some barley. He did complain that the Turkish people who lived here had apparently used the soil continually for many years and he feared that the crop would be very poor. We did not have any choice at this time, so in the latter days of the month of April, we, as all others – planted our gardens, each on the allotted lots, which were also very much worked over before us.

At this time I was just three years and two months old and so all of the responsibilities of this first pioneering year did not affect me. All the responsibilities rested on the shoulders of our parents. As for us, children, free of worldly responsibilities, as soon as summer warmth came around, we headed in groups to the shallow warm river that was really right in our back yard.

There for days at a time we sat in the warm waters of the river taking hourly outings to stretch out on the warm sand of the beach. Because there were no schools in this new area where we settled, the children that came to the river ranged from two to nine years. The parents felt safe to allow the children to come here, because the river was shallow and slow flowing. The shore was not deep set, but just about even with the land’s surface and the river bottom was firm and solid. This was why all the children of our village spent all the sunny days at this river shore. In the evenings the parents always insisted that all children spend a certain amount of time learning from memory the prayers of the Doukhobors, which were called psalms. When I was four years old I learned my second psalm, which read as follows:

Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing

Let us all tearfully reflect on all the daily workings of our lives. Verily speaks to us our Lord with entreaty: “You my male servants and maid servants, devout Christians, do not forget to be faithful to God, and He will not forget you in the end time to come. In our present day, the times are very trying. We are being judged and persecuted. There has been born an evil anti-Christ. He has sent forth his evil oppressors out into the whole world. There is no place to hide for my faithful followers, neither in the mountains, nor in the caves, nor in the distant barren places. My faithful followers have to live in exile and suffer persecution for keeping to the word of God and for manifesting the teachings of Jesus Christ. But you my faithful followers rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.

Our God be praised.

Because my age group of children was not yet allocated any responsibilities, we continued to spend all our time at our favorite spot by the river. We would go there day after day. The only time we were not there was when we would see a dark cloud coming over the horizon and rumbling of thunder would be heard. At such times we would race to where the nearest covered wagons were parked and hide under their cover. For the first season, families continued to live in their covered wagons while the houses were being built. The last parties were all still living in their covered wagons. My parents were very fortunate to have the frames of the five Turkish huts that were on their allotted plot. We were sheltered in them during the first trying years. All the other families next to us were all hurrying to get their houses built. The construction of houses in this area was very simple. The walls were built from the slabs of unhewn gray rock that was freely available at the nearby foothills of the mountains. In between went layers of mixed clay mortar, which was also readily available at various spots of the valley. There was no visible forest anywhere nearby so wood was only used for window frames and doorjambs. For the roof some round poles were used sparsely, on which were laid split flat slabs of stone. On this base, plain soil was heaped, and this method was used for every roof of every building in the village. All the buildings had similar rock walls. Our village of Spasovka had 86 family residences. Each and every residence was similarly built and there was not a single wooden roofed building in the whole village.

With this form of construction, not counting the labor the cost of the buildings was very minimal. For a residence to house a family of ten with livestock from 25 to 30 head, the cost of constructing a residence would be from five to ten rubles. This expense goes specifically for the cost of glass and any ironware that was required for the buildings. It also covered anything that was needed for the large Russian oven assembled out of hand-made bricks. This oven served for all the kitchen cooking, bread baking, as well as supplying heat in the winter months. The construction of these buildings was the prime occupation of each and every family in these first years of settlement. All of the needed materials for this type of construction was readily available nearby. The forms of rock and stone slabs were all around you to the fullest of your hearts desire. There were mountains of clay for your mortar and brick baking. Water was abundant from the two rivers in the valley. The biggest detriment was the lack of forest nearby. The closest place for cutting any timber was 50 Versti away. Although there was one good thing about the timber, and that was, that for all our new settlers the state allowed a given amount for free. However to transport this timber was very difficult. In the first place there was still a shortage of horses in the first years and there was no supply of any kind of grain to feed the horses in this long and arduous journey. Even though throughout the Kavkaz Mountains there were always patches of good grass, this was not good enough to give strength for the horses to pull these heavy loads of timber for such long distances. Besides all this, horsepower was needed at home for hauling the rocks and for tilling the soil. The roads that were used to get to the timber belt were not kept up by anyone. Although the trails were somewhat packed down, the continuous summer rains would make them muddy and difficult for any kind of transportation. It was because of all of this that lumber was of the highest value in all of our villages.

There never was any talk of a sawmill to be constructed because the logs brought here were few and far between. For the absolutely essential boards the logs were cut by hand with long crosscut saws. Those families that did not have two grown men got together in pairs with other families. Since this was not an occupation that was practiced often, some of the boards that were cut were very uneven. These were the tasks that were performed by all the grown ups of the village throughout the spring, summer and fall. In the fall the gathering in of the crops took precedence over all. The first crops were very poor as these were sewn on lands that the Turkish people had been farming for many years and new land had not yet been prepared. Our children’s summer occupation that we loved best of all was our time spent by the river. Nevertheless there were times when we would go to the spots where the families were mixing the clay for mortar for the buildings. Here we would roll our own little balls of clay for our own kind of play. Sometimes we would dry them, but sometimes we would throw them at each other while they were still raw and wet. The object was to dodge them, as they hurt quite considerably. Sometimes one of the clay balls would hit a grown up person, at which time we would all be chased away. A chase from one place did not usually stop us. We would just go to another place further away where the same clay mixing was going on. Our group eventually earned the name of “mischief makers.”

When it was time for harvest all of our barefooted gang was broken up. Each went to their own family group in readiness to be taken to the fields together with the elders. Only those children stayed at home where there was an elder staying behind to allocate to them the home chores that had to be done.

Harvesting the grain at that time was very simple. The men cut down the standing grain with hand scythes, and the women raked it into small neat piles called “Kopitsi”. Then the men using special thin poles about 10 feet long, and sticking them under the pile from two sides, they would lift and carry this pile to a central place where a neat small stack would be made. This stack would be left that way till all the cutting down of the grain would be finished.

The children’s responsibility was to see that not a blade with a head of kernels in it would be left lying in the field. We would gather these individually and tie them into little sheaves with the spare straw stems. Every child would place his little sheaves separately into neat piles. These sheaves would then be taken home in the evening, where we would give them into caretaking of the parents and receive their praise according to how diligently they had worked and how many sheaves were made up. The parents kept these little sheaves separately and allowed them to be threshed separately. With the grain that resulted, the children were allowed to trade it with the local traveling merchants for goodies like apples, plums or grapes, either fresh or dried.

After the harvesting of the grain in the fields is completed, the families individually, if large families, and sometimes together with others, if small – prepare a special spot for threshing. A sizable smooth surfaced place is chosen. First it is wetted down with water and tall grass or straw is scattered loosely on it. A horse is then hitched to a special wooden roller with pegs in it, and with a rider horseback on the horse, drives back and forth on this patch until the straw is tramped in and the whole base is quite firm and solid. After this has dried, the excess straw is swept off and the reaped grain is then spread on this firm base which is called a “Katok” and the same wooden roller is hauled across, over and over until the kernels are all freed from the heads. When the men feel that all the kernels are free from the straw, they gather the straw with forks and take it away, piling it into stacks for feed. The grain is shoveled to the centre of the “Katok” and more unthreshed wheat or whatever grain is being threshed is spread around. Then the roller and the horse again commence their threshing process. After the men feel that there is about 50 or 60 “poodi” of grain (one “pood” is 40 pounds) in the centre of the “Katok”, the threshing process is halted. Now they take shovels and throw the grain into the air against the wind – thus separating the chaff from the kernels, as it is light and the wind blows it away. If there are any pieces of solid matter like dried mud chunks or small rocks – these are later removed by hand made screens.

All this harvesting work was carried out by the elders. In the meantime we children see how the elders are throwing the wheat and chaff into the wind, develop our own form of make believe. We gather in the street where there is loose dirt and make piles of it in the centre. Then cupping our hands we throw it into the air, just to see which way it blows. Because there are up to ten of us in a group, we create a regular dust storm in which you can hardly see our bodies. In the morning when we get together, all have different colored clothes. In the evening all our clothes are a dark gray. All around our eyes, nose and mouth there is a layer of black dust. We no longer look like children but like knights in black armor. In the event that we have a rainfall and the streets have puddles, we begin by racing through them, and then wrestling and before you know it we begin to go our separate and march home like fishermen coming home, wet and soggy.

It wasn’t always that we children got away with our naughty frolicking. Often either an elder man or an older woman would catch us doing something naughty and they would get after us with a willow switch, and without paying attention as to who belonged to which family, would give each one of us a good wallop on the back and chase us to our individual homes. Most of the time we were on the watch for any approaching elder, and when catching sight of one, we would immediately scatter and hide. There never was any thought of standing up to any older person of your own or any other village. If ever any child would answer harshly to any older person, he would be severely punished by his own parents at home. This meant that no child could do any mischief in any part of the village without immediately answering to any elder around. Even if he got away from the elder on the spot, he knew what he would get at home, when his mischief and disrespect of elders would be reported to his parents. This kind of upbringing allowed the Doukhobors to live in peace and harmony in their large extended families, and in their tightly knit villages. Every parent trusted their neighbouring parents to do the right thing when dealing with children’s pranks. Parents always trusted the elders’ assessment of an irresponsible occurrence, rather than the version given by a guilty teen-ager. There were no schools in our village and at most the literacy rate of the whole village was no more than 5 percent. Yet the whole village kept strictly to the above disciplinary guidelines without any exceptions.

With the oncoming colder weather, after all the fall work was done, our children’s group gallivanting came to an end. Because of general lack of warm winter clothing, most of us children now became confined to their homes. Staying at home, all we could do was think about all of the things we had done this past summer, and plan for the coming spring and summers escapades and the new things we might come up with.

During the fall and winter time of short days and long nights, because the children had no place to play and no responsibilities to fulfill and were having time on their hands, it became the duty of every parent and grandparent to teach them the prayers and psalms that contained the life-concept of the Doukhobors. These were passed on from generation to generation and were learned from memory. Families that had four or five children above four years of age, had them, every day, lined up in a row and made to recite from memory the psalms they already knew, and then separately, each one would be taught additional psalms. Up to a given age these psalms would be taught only for recitation. Later the melody of these psalms would be taught as well. In this particular winter I learned from memory my third psalm, whose contents was as follows:

“Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing”

“From the beginning of time and till now, the Lord God calleth to His faithful children: “Come to me my dear children, come to me my most dear ones. I have prepared for you the Kingdom of Heaven. Do not fear to forsake your father, your mother nor all of your race and lineage in the physical sense, but give reverence to me your heavenly Father in spirit. And the faithful children turn to Him in prayer – Oh Lord, our dear Lord it is so difficult for us to enter into your heavenly kingdom. All the pathways have gates of steel, and at the gates there stand fierce and unjust guards. And the Lord speaketh to them and sayeth: “Do not be fearful my children, do not be fearful my dear ones. I am the powerful wrestler that shall go forward before you. I shall break down all their gates of steel and I shall disperse their fierce guards. And then I shall lead you into my kingdom of heaven, where all shall reign with me as witnessed to by the God of Jacob.”

“Our God be praised”

During the winters male children under the age of 12 years had no responsibilities, so their day-to-day routine was always the same and the winters felt long. In regard to the girls it was a bit different. Beginning from the age of seven, the mothers began teaching them how to knit from the woolen yarn and even simple patching. Those families that had smaller babies, the girls were trained to take care of them. The girls were also taught to clean the floors as well as help their mothers with the washing of dishes. After the girls reach 12 years of age the mothers began to train them how to spin simple, thicker yarn for mitts and working stockings. All the spinning in our area of Kars province was done from sheep’s wool. Some sheep had been brought from our Elizavetpol province because there, most villagers had large herds of sheep. Some long horned cattle were also brought here from Elizavetpol, and these were used for milk from the very beginning of our new settlement.

When the frosts came in late fall, all work on construction was stopped. This was because in order to lay the stone walls it required mortar from the brown clay mixture. This mixture had to be handled with bare hands, and of course later this would get frozen and without a proper drying process this mortar would fall apart in the warm summer weather. Thus ,for the men folk there was less to do. All they had to do was look after cattle, horses and sheep, and in the homes they would patch the leather harness gear, repair worn boots or sew new ones. At times they would tan woolen sheepskins and sew them for wearing as short fur coats. Wood working shops did not exist here because wood was so hard to get. It was not even possible to haul logs from the forest in the wintertime. The roads were not passable. A blacksmith shop was very rare, as only a few essentials for household use or construction were ever made in the village blacksmith. There was nowhere in this area where men could go and do work for others, so in the year there were five months where the men, also, were tied to doing household and barnyard chores, the barn being part of the residence.

All the men’s main work of working the land, sowing, harvesting, and construction work could only be done in the spring and summer, so during the long winter evenings, the men – like the children spent a lot of time learning the Doukhobor psalms. This was done not only in their own homes. They also gathered in groups in neighbour’s homes. They not only read the psalms, but also in groups, sang them. On Sundays there were large gatherings for prayer meetings. At these prayer meetings everyone participated by each reading a psalm. The Doukhobors never had any special person for leading prayer services. Each and everyone participated with the reading and with the singing. That is why the children were taught from a very young age. It was always expected that each person would read a different psalm. And so if a group of one hundred gathered, the elders would be obliged to know just about that many psalms. The Doukhobors read their psalms, their prayers to God, not with the intent of absolving themselves from sin, but they read them for their own enlightenment as to how they should lead their lives. Each and every psalm had some explanation about the living spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is why the Doukhobors referred to their collection of psalms as the “Living Book”.

When a person has within his memory many Doukhobor psalms, no matter where he is, or what his circumstances are, he always has with him the instructional words contained in the psalms. No one can take them away from him, and having them always within the innermost sanctions of his being for his guidance, no one can sidetrack him, or change his deep seated and deeply rooted faith. This then, was one of the main reasons that the Doukhobors were not so concerned about grammar schools or other forms of academic learning. Their first concern was to instruct their children with the “Living Book”, their religious and moral, ethical, instructional psalms. In addition to all this the Doukhobors believed that their spiritual psalms were their own unique and bona fide life-concepts that no outsider had tampered with. Keeping firmly to the concepts contained in their psalms, the Doukhobors could safely withstand any foreign or alien influences. Their feelings were that any outside grammar teaching could still contain influences that were alien to Doukhobor thought and would infringe on or tend to obscure pure and untainted Doukhobor teachings.

During this first winter, with its short days and long nights was spent with even greater emphasis placed on spiritual aspects and the learning of psalms by both children and elders. I remember this first winter starting to turn towards spring because in February 25th of the year 1881 I became 4 years old. I really was not too aware of how good a crop we had this past year, or what other hardships my parents went through, because at my age this was not within my realm of comprehension. I do remember that the house (Saklya) that we lived in was warm and comfortable. The walls were about four feet thick. The rock walls were double layered. The rocks were laid in clay mortar in two columns, and in between the space was filled with common soil. The roof had round rafters – pine logs twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, on which were placed flat slabs of rock, a few inches in thickness. On these slabs straw was placed and then about twelve to fourteen inches of soil. There were only two windows and one door. The doorway entrance was a corridor with walls about 10 feet thick, and having a door at each end of the corridor. With only the two windows and a doored corridor entrance, the inside of the house was cozy and warm. I do not remember ever feeling cold or uncomfortable throughout the whole winter. It was only later in my life that I began experiencing a longing for the warm sunny days of summer.

Spring did come, and at the end of March the snow began to melt. It was wonderful. For just as soon as a bare spot of earth showed up, there immediately green tufts of grass started to show. By about April 10th the snow was all gone and a vaporous fog started to rise from the soil. Soon the soil warmed up and everywhere green grass appeared. Right after this, the earliest white flowers of the “maslyonka” plant, a variety of buttercups began to dot the green prairie land. These buttercups in their roots had a large kernel, the size of a peanut, which was edible. There we were in groups, armed with a special wooden rod sharpened at the end like a little shovel scampering all over the prairie meadow digging these peanuts to eat right there and to bring some home. This daily occupation of ours lasted till about the 5th of May. After this the white flowers would wither and fly away. Then there was no way you could spot the buttercup plant in the lush green grass, and besides that the peanut seed itself would get to be coarse and hard and not edible anymore. And so, for a time our children’s groups would be left without too much to do except wait for the warm sunny days to come, when we again could go to our favorite river beach to swim and bask in the warm sun. The last year’s pastime was to be repeated again this year, until such time as our parents would begin the harvest season and again get us to pick up all the loosely fallen grain.

This was the routine for all of us children, and this is what occupied my time when I was five and six years old. When I became seven years of age, that winter my parents taught me several more lengthy psalms. I remember that spring when the snow melted more rapidly and the streets were full of puddles and little creeks. Here was something new – to build little dikes and canals and float little hand made boats and make imaginary turning mills on the flowing rivulets. After this came the season of digging the buttercup roots and when that finished a new phase of my childhood development came about. My older brother Nikolay made a fish hook out of an old needle. He attached a length of string to the homemade hook and gave me my first instructions on how to catch the little fish that abounded in the same river that we loved to swim in. He showed me where to dig for the long, red earthworms, how to store them in an empty can with some earth in it, and how to attach them in short pieces for baiting the hook. He showed me how to lower the hook into the water and then patiently wait till a fish starts jerking on the line. This shallow river that we swam in seemed to have millions of these little fish. They were the size of Canadian perch and resembled them in appearance. And so, along with all other boys that were seven and eight years old this became another pastime with which we were occupied.

The little fish were very plentiful in the river, and if a boy struck a good spot he could catch from 50 to 75 of them in one day’s outing. The caught fish would be kept in a screened cage in the water. When these were brought home, the mothers would merely clean the innards and then fry them whole. When the fish was fried for some time they are smothered in a mixture of dough that is made quite thin, and then the whole mass is baked in the oven. This kind of fish in pastry, served as a very special delicacy for all of us children. It also substantially added to our dietary supplies, as in our first years in this new settlement food was not too plentiful. In our particular family this was even more so.

Alexey’s parents, Anna and Ivan Popov, c. 1915. Ivan was a very large man whereas Anna was diminutive. In this photo, Ivan is sitting while Anna is standing.

When our family was coming from our village in the province of Elizavetpol we had brought with us 4 cows. In the fall of 1882 three of these cows were stolen. On one night that fall a group of thieves came and from the far side of the barn they took apart a part of the stone wall and led the three cows away. Even with the help of the whole village, we were never able to track down the culprits or to find out where three of our best cows disappeared. From that time on, our dairy products were far more limited than in other families. Our daily food was bread made from whole-wheat flour with soup, which was made basically of potatoes and coarsely ground wheat. Borshch had potatoes and cabbage plus a large tablespoon of thick cream. Into both soup and borshch, for our family of six people, one small tablespoon of butter was added.

Therefore, the small perch that I caught with the homemade fishing tackle was a very welcome addition to our meager food supply. It was a change, it was very tasty and it cost nothing. Up to seven years of age, no outside family responsibilities were designated to me. I was still allowed to go and dig the buttercup peanuts. But when their season came to an end I was given a more serious responsibility. Most families had flocks of geese. This particular spring my mother was able to successfully hatch 48 goslings, in addition to the five older geese that we owned – making 53 in all. As soon as they grew up a bit and got trained to keep to their own flock, because of shortage of home feed, the flock had to be herded out to pasture in the meadow and also to the same river where we went swimming. The river was shallow and quiet flowing and posed no danger for the geese. In places along its banks there was a lot of lush green grass which both the older geese and the young goslings loved to feed on. Besides this, when they would plunge into the river there were all kinds of bugs that lived in the quiet eddies, and the geese young and old feasted on them. With this range free feeding, the young geese developed in leaps and bounds. My job was to keep them together, both on the range and in the water from 7 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock in the evening. After 9 o’clock I would herd the geese home where they had special housing under a solid roof with solid locking doors. It was not possible to leave the geese free overnight because there had been occasions when the large gray wolves which roamed the mountainside would sometimes come down into the village at night and kill some geese and drag them away for eating later.

In the daytimes there had not been any occasion that the wolves would come to the riverside. There were a few occasions when stray dogs would come there but they could be frightened away. On rare occasions there were serious hailstorms and some of the little goslings would be seriously hurt or even killed. Apart from these rare times of worry, we young children that looked after the geese felt free and happy. We often had time to swim in the river ourselves and lie on the shore. Sometimes we even did some fishing. The flocks of geese also enjoyed these free-range outings. At times when they would have a good feeding quickly, they would also stretch out on the sand and lie sleeping. Other times they would swim in the deeper water and then lazily stay in the shallow eddies snapping at the bugs that swam there. There were odd times when one flock of geese would get mixed up with another flock and coming home we would have different counts. To avoid disputes every family had their own markings on the feet of the geese. Some cut slits in the goose toe webs. Others cut one nail off, either, the left or right foot. All were different. And so checking the markings each family claimed their separated goslings. I do not remember that there were ever any serious disputes.

This work of pasturing geese continues from the first of June until the fifth of September when the harvest season commences. At this time the geese are not pastured at the river anymore, but they are brought out into the harvest fields where they methodically go through the harvested field and pick up every head of grain that fell aside from the main stacks. Some families who had the proper utensils brought out water for the geese into the fields and so the geese remain in the field from dawn to dark. Feeding on grain, the geese accumulated a considerable amount of fat. Thus, at home they are grain fed for no more than 2 weeks and then they are sold. The summer’s pasturing of the geese was not a troublesome one for the children. It was rather enjoyable, because the hours of work were not too exact. Morning or evening the timing could be one hour earlier or one hour later. There was however one hardship. Being bare legged all the time proved to have its disadvantages. Wetting your feet about every hour, and then being in the hot sand and sun eventually made all the skin rough, which later would have cracks appear and even open sores. The sores would bleed and be very painful. There was no medicine for this. The only thing that helped was to cover all your legs with black Caucasian oil. The oil seemed to protect the skin and going in and out of the water did not affect the skin as much.

Pasturing the geese at harvest time was more arduous. This was because the grain fields were sometimes one, two or three “Versti” from the home residence. During some hot days in the fall it would not be possible to herd the geese for such distances. This then required the young lad to get up before sunrise, and while the dew was still on the grass to get the geese into the fields and have them already fed before herding them to the river for water. In the evening it was the same problem. While the sun was still high it was too hot for the geese to trek from the river to the fields. They would get hot, open their mouths and lie down without going any farther. You could only start them from the river when the sun was already quite low. By the time they would get themselves fed it would already be getting dark. This created considerable hardships for a boy only seven years of age. Also the weather in the fall was not always calm. Sometimes it rained heavily. Other times a wind storm would come up and you would have to be fighting dust and wind against which even the geese did not want to go. There were times when the older people in the village felt that they had to come and help the young boys to bring the geese home on one or another turbulent evening. They would holler into the night and children would answer in the high-spirited children’s voices. The one saving grace for us children was that we never went in separate groups. Most of the time we had four or five groups of boys following each other, especially after dark. Each was looking after his own herd of geese. Being in a group gave us some comfort. At times, however, it used to get so dark that each of us seemed to be totally alone. All of us were quite well aware of the fact that the huge gray wolves were always not too far away from the grain fields. Thoughts of the wolves always brought a cold shudder down one’s spine.

In my eight and ninth year I did not get any additional responsibilities. There still were no schools in the village. So in the summers I herded geese and in the winters I added to my knowledge of psalms.

When I became 10 years of age I was given another responsibility. Now I had to begin herding sheep. Looking after sheep had its own season. This was from the middle of March till the tenth of June. At this time the sheep were having their lambs and the lambs had to be trained near to and around home, to stay with the herd.

After the 10th of June all the sheep in the village are brought together into one or two large herds. Specially trained Tartar herdsmen are hired, who take the sheep into the hills and graze them on especially rented crown land. They keep them here till about the fifteenth of October, and sometimes even till November 10th. They then bring the herds back to the village and every owner starts taking care of his own little group. They are pastured in and around the village till the time of the first big snowfall. Those owners who have over a hundred sheep pasture them individually. Those that have 20 to 45 usually group together and either hire a person as herdsman or take turns in herding.

All sheep have their own kind of markings. Their markings are on their ears with either one or two cuts or piercing. Herding sheep was one of my favorite responsibilities. There were many groups of boys. During dry weather and no wind, the sheep grazed quietly and the boys would organize some games. In this way, the days would go by quickly. The games could be different each time. One of the games played the oftenest was called “Na v shapki” or beat the cap. This was done by each one throwing his herding stick as far as he could. Whichever stick landed the closest, the owner would have to take off his cap and throw it in the same direction. All the boys were then permitted to run and beat this cap with their sticks a certain amount of times and then again throw their sticks. This could go on all day, and it did happen that some of the less lucky boys would have their caps beaten into shreds and come home bareheaded. To hide his shame this boy would keep his herd out till it was completely dark and then bring them home.

Sketch of merino sheep kept by the Doukhobors by Russian painter, Vasily Vereshchagin during his visit to Elizavetpol in 1863.

There was only one particular drawback in herding sheep, and that was the rainy weather. There were times when it would rain several days in a row. When it was this wet the sheep would not graze quietly but kept running around uncomfortably. For these rainy days we boys had a special garment, which was called a “Bashlik.” It was a kind of large vest that had no sleeves but did have a special parka that pulled over your head from the back. These vests were made from sheep’s wool, tightly knit and well pounded. These vests did not let the rainwater through to your body, but if it rained all day these would become so soaked and heavy that your shoulders felt like you were carrying unwieldy weights of steel that seemed to get heavier every step you took. Carrying this amount of weight from morning until evening was quite a trauma for an eight or nine year old. It was that much harder to carry this weight because the soil beneath your feet was all muddy and sticky. Some evenings it was real torture to drag one foot after another on the last stretch home and when you finally got to bed your legs would continue to feel the pain.

There was another hardship herding sheep in the spring and that was their giving birth to lambs right in the distant field where you had led them. If this were one or two lambs, you would be obliged to carry them home. If it there were more than two new born lambs, you would go to the nearest hilltop and holler at the top of your voice until someone in or near the village would hear and they would come to help.

The most frequent trauma in herding sheep in the summer was this matter of getting soaking wet, which was sometimes followed by a cold wind. There were times when one remained shuddering throughout the whole day. One other fear that always seemed to hover over you when you came closer to the mountains with your herd was the fact that you knew that the mountains abounded with large gray wolves. During my time there was never an occurrence of a pack of wolves attacking a herd of sheep. In the two years that I herded sheep there was only one occurrence of my actually seeing a large gray wolf lurking nearby. There were other older boys that let out loud shouts and the wolf disappeared into the mountains. As for myself I stood petrified and motionless for about half an hour. I was not able to move my feet. It seemed that my whole bloodstream was frozen.

There was one other occurrence that happened to me with one of my older and rather feeble sheep. This happened at the beginning of the month of December when the first snow covered most of our low-level pasture ground. About one quarter of a “versta” from our home there was a gorge through which flowed a larger river named “Karsina Reka”. This gorge stretched for about eight “versti” and three of these “versti” was in the territory of land that was allocated to our village. This gorge had banks of different elevations. Some places the height was about three times the height of prairie grain elevators, other places this elevation was lower. Most places the distance from one side to the other was about 160 feet. The river was not too wide, and it ran through the centre. At one side of the river there was the general road that ran through along the gorge, and at the other side the distance between the river and its mountainous bank varied. In places it came right to the river’s edge and in other places there were ledges of various heights, which contained luscious green grass. From the warmth of the river water there was no snow on these ledges. At places these ledges led to level pieces of land, and at other places they led directly into steep and very rocky mountainous territory. On some of these ledges even horses or cattle could graze. On others only the sheep, being more agile, could safely graze. And so in the first part of the winter, I took my sheep to these ledges. I directed my sheep to a lower ledge, which had very luscious grass on it, but the descent to it was quite steep. Going down, the sheep managed very well, but having smoothed the path going down, when I was ready to chase them back up they found it very slippery and difficult. I had to help practically every sheep to scamper up and onto more level territory. It came to the last one, a heavy older sheep that wasn’t very agile anymore. She just could not make it to the upper ledge, and with all the strength that I could muster I just couldn’t get her out of this lower ledge. It was getting dark and I had to make a quick decision. If I left her loose, she could conceivably scamper out of here later and wander into the mountains where the wolves would most certainly get her. Each of us boys had our slings for throwing stones and so I decided to use that string. I tied all four feet of the sheep as firmly as I could and left her there lying at the foot of the ledge. In the morning we would come with my father and rescue her.

I came home with the rest of the herd later than usual. When my parents asked why I was so late, I explained what happened with that one old sheep. Sheep at that time were valued from two and a half to four dollars each. To me that seemed not such a great deal. However, my parents were so upset with this possible loss that they hardly slept all night. They prayed and grieved and mother even went out into the night to carry out some kind of an ancient witchcraft ritual. She took an axe and plunged it into the ground in the middle of the road, and if everyone went around it without knocking it down, this would denote that the sheep would be safe.

In the very early morning, before dawn, my father and I went to the place where I had left the sheep. The spot was empty but there were signs of struggling. Looking further around and below, we found the dead sheep in a clump of brush. She had kept beating and turning until she fell and rolled among rocks. The whole carcass was so beat up; we could not even salvage the sheep’s skin. The loss of this sheep was a subject of grief to my parents for a long time to come. When spring came my parents did not fail to mention to me – you see that sheep would now have brought us two lambs. It was so hard for me to understand why it was that my parents were so overly concerned with this loss of one old sheep. Was it just grief for a material loss, or was it fear of loss of self-sufficiency, and possible want in the future? It was probably the latter, because we scarcely ever had anything in abundance. However in my childhood immaturity I thought that how could it be that my parents seemed to value the sheep more than they cared about me and my anguish. They continually mentioned that the sheep would have brought two lambs, and that she always fed them so well, and that her wool was of the finest quality. It was long and soft and it produced the finest of yarn. All these rebukes about my fault for this loss kept on for a whole year. For a nine-year-old child these parental rebukes about the loss of a mere older sheep gave me severe mental depression. I kept being sore at heart. At the same time it was a very indelible lesson to me to always be more careful in the future.

When I was in a more self-pitying mood I would think to myself – of course my action in getting the sheep to this luscious green ledge was not done for any kind of self-gratification. I had done this out of pity and love for the sheep. I well knew that they would be half hungry treading over grounds that were already eaten bare, but here I was directing them to a ledge of luscious green grass where not a single foot had trod, – a place you just didn’t want to leave from. And then I would reason again – true enough the thoughts came to me that if I did not take advantage of this ledge today – others would discover it tomorrow! And then of course our elders were always praising the boys that were more alert than others, and I did have the thoughts that when the elders found out that I had discovered and used this ledge for my herd before anyone else – they would say, aha, that Popov youngster finds ledges that even older herders failed to discover! And so really – this was the thought that made me venture to that steep but luscious ledge. Instead of receiving this kind of praise, it turned out that in the end I received an unforgettable lesson to be more careful rather than being more daring. Had I brought home the sheep that evening even half hungry, their suffering would have been minimal. No one would have been able to assess exactly how much was in their stomachs. My parents would have been at peace, and there would have been no rebukes to me in the future. With those thoughts of getting praise and commendations, I probably would have become unnecessarily proud and to think too much of myself. This event of the loss of a sheep brought out in me deeper thoughts of the wisdom of being careful in all matters. Not the least of this was that it is wise to be careful in material matters insofar as one’s welfare sometimes depended on saving every hair that was needed to keep the family self-sustainable.

Traumatic events be they as they were, time did not stand still. On the 25th of February 1887 I became ten years old. In this winter, after the loss of the sheep, I was more studious than before and learned a lot of new psalms. As usual there were no other particular responsibilities for young boys in these winter months. There were only the few times of warmer sunny weather when the parents would allow me to take the sheep for a drink at the river, the same river where we always swam. With the spring break we still went digging for the buttercup peanuts, but even before their season was over there was an additional responsibility given to boys our age with the beginning of the spring planting of grain.

The sowing of grain was done by hand. We did not know any other way, except using a special sack with two straps over the shoulder. The sack was open in the front and from here the sower would take the seed into his hand and scatter it fan wise. About 65 to 80 pounds of seed is placed into the sack. The opening of the sack appears under the left arm and with the right arm the sower takes fistful of seed. He scatters the seed from left to right measured by his steps. When he puts his left foot forward he fills his fist with seed. When he steps forward with his right foot he scatters the seed. This is done by the elders in the family. This job was done by my father. He scattered the seed onto the ploughed land. After this it was essential to pull harrows over the land so that the scattered seed would be covered by soil in order that the birds would not pick it up and in order for the seed to properly germinate and sprout. This part of harrowing was done quite uniquely and probably different from other places in the world. The harrows themselves were constructed right at home. The spikes that were driven into the frame of the harrow were made of dried, firm wood. Each separate frame was made for one horse to be hitched to it and drag it. Each horse would have a young boy driver. If the family did not have a boy, girls also could be seated horseback on the horse. One track of the harrow was not enough to properly cover the seed, and so it was most usual to have four horses hitched to four separate frames that would follow one after the other. Only the front horse had to have a driver. The other horses were just tied to the back end of the harrow. And so in my eleventh year I was entrusted with being the driver of the front horse. The other three followed my trail one after the other. This job was not one that required any amount of physical labour, but it did have its own peculiar difficulties. The driver of the lead horse had the responsibility of traversing the field in a straight line. Keeping this line straight was important, because on the return trip the boy had to make sure that he wasn’t going over the same trail twice, as well as he had to be sure that he was leaving no spaces uncovered.

It was always the same problem. The horses usually walked slowly and carefully. At this time of the spring the sun was usually quite warm, and so the gentle swaying of the horse, and the warm sun never failed to make the young driver start dozing. In this half asleep mood it was usually quite hard to keep your line straight. This brought about the fact that you either wandered over territory that was already covered, or also you left some uncovered spaces. What would happen was that when an elder came to check on the work, he would have a double job of getting the line straight and also having no spaces left uncovered. This slowed down the whole process of completing the harrowing of a given field that was already sowed.

In all our villages the land was divided into long narrow plots seeded on a three-year rotation basis. All the families usually worked their allotted plots at the same time. At times there were up to 50 families in the fields at the same time. When the elders would complete the sowing of a given field they would gather together in group discussions awaiting the completion of harrowing. When they felt that the young boys should by now have completed the harrowing, they would go out to the fields to check matters out. Quite often there would be poorly harrowed plots, and the elder who found such a state, would have to then take over the lead horse and correct the poor job. Sometimes, just about the whole field would have to be done over. Where the job had been ably looked after by the young driver – his elders would already start moving to another plot, and the one who had dozed on his horse and made a mess would then get serious lectures from his elders. Some very irresponsible youngsters were sometimes even punished. Thus it would happen, when horses are unhitched for noon feeding, those boys who had everything in order would be jolly and would get together and have fun amongst themselves. The unfortunate ones whose fields were poorly done would get lectures from their elders, and all of the other boys would be ribbing them about how sloppy their work turned out. Not only would the boys receive lectures from their immediate elders, other elders would also pipe in. This sometimes happened to me. Other elders would have their say – admonishing me: “How come Alyoshka, you worked so sloppily that your father had to spend so much time correcting all your errors? At this rate, if you keep up such irresponsibility – no one will ever want you for a husband, and you will never get married”

At our age this seemed to be such a dire prediction. To add to this, if one received the elders’ lectures several times throughout the spring season, you would never hear the end of this from all of your peers and friends for the whole summer. Of course the age we were, and the warm spring sun and the swaying horse were all part of the natural make-up of things. It was really not such a major sin to doze – but it was really hard to take all the consequences of this dozing. And so this simple responsibility of driving the lead horse in harrowing the fields proved to be its own kind of a painful chore.

Seeding operations are completed by about April 20th. Land is not worked again until June 10th. This gives the working animals a rest of about one month and twenty days. During this rest time I had to lead the horses out for grazing in the pasture. In the free pasture land, the horses had to be hobbled on their front feet. If a horse was exceedingly frisky he would have to be hobbled on a third back leg as well. When the horses would be all hobbled they would be allowed to graze on their own. This was the job that every boy of the village was occupied with. The pasture was common to all the villagers and so all of us boys would get together for games throughout the whole day – as the horses could not wander away too far while they were hobbled. Some of the boys who weren’t too enthusiastic to play –would catch up on their sleep that they lost in the spring. The games we played were simple. One was called “V Tsoorki” and another was called “V Doochki”. Rarely did we play ball, and sometimes the younger boys played riding horses near the river and then we would go swimming. Some of us would take this opportunity to catch fish. Pasturing horses during the rainy season was not as troublesome as with pasturing sheep. Horses did not really get upset with the rain. They either continued grazing – or would just stand quietly in one place. As for us children, we would also stay upright quietly or rest on some jutting stone outcrop, which were plentiful in our area. The only problem with horse pasturing during rainy weather was the form of hobble that was used. If the hobble was made of leather, the rain did not affect it, but if the hobble was made of rope – it would tighten when wet, and it was very difficult to get it undone when the horses would have to be herded home. Sometimes a boy would have to take his horses home all the long way from the pasture while they remained hobbled. This was a slow process and such a boy would come home a lot later.

Picture of Alexey as a young man with unidentified woman in exile in Siberia, c. 1903.

Some of the times the horses would not be herded home every night. At such times all of the horses would be brought together in a large herd where designated elders would watch over them all of the night. The elders of 15 to 30 men, who would divide into groups of four taking several shifts through each night. There were also times when the younger children would take designated horses to the village homes for work that was needed to be done in the gardens or other work within the village structure. When all of the village work would be finished, then all the horses would be divided into two or three large herds watched over by two men to each herd in the daytime and by one additional man coming in from the villages for night time watching. This general overall system continued up to June 10th.

At this time the horses would all be brought back to each individual household for preparing the land that was left as summer fallow land, that is, the land that is left for resting for one year. The plowing of these fields had its own particular routine. To each plow there were hitched from six to eight pairs of horses. The front pair had a boy rider in the ages of from ten to thirteen. Every other pair also had a rider. It was the work of these riders to guide his own pair of horses, and also see that the pair ahead of you was pulling its share. Each boy thus had to look after four horses. This meant that in the morning he would have to put on the harness onto the horses, bring them and hitch them into their proper places and then keep them moving in their proper direction following the furrow that was made. At the proper noontime, the horses would have to be unhitched, unharnessed and allowed to graze in a special field of grass left nearby. They would also have to be taken down to the river for their drink of water. All this would have to be repeated in the evening. The land that was being plowed had been already grazed and well trampled by the village cattle. The plots where the horses had to be allowed to graze were nearby. None of the stock were allowed to graze here since the year before and therefore the grass was lush and plentiful for the working teams of horses.

As I became a ten-year-old boy, it was my job to look after 4 horses. Keep them harnessed when needed, unharnessed and fed at given times, and led to water as designated. Getting the horses to water was a chore in itself, as the fields for plowing were sometimes two to three “Versti” from the river. This entire fallow plowing time proved to be exceedingly hard and trying for me as a ten year old. This was especially hard during the night routine. At 8 o’clock in the evening you had to bring the horses to the place where they were to graze, hobble them and then lie down to get some much-needed sleep. The total of your clothing for the night would be one additional light, longer length semi-raincoat. At 12 o’clock midnight you had to get up and unhobble the horses and take them for their drink at the river. You had to bring them back, hobble them again, and then again lie down to sleep. At 5o’clock in the morning you had to get up, bring in the horses, unhobble them and lead them to the workplace. During the times when it remained dry, this job, although quite hard, was still bearable. However, when the rain kept coming all night it became a real nightmare. At times you would wake up and find yourself lying in a puddle of water – as in the night it was not always easy to spot a higher piece of ground for taking your nap. This torturous spring responsibility continued each year for a period of from 28 to 34 days.

The length of time depended on whether there was more or less fallow land, and also on whether there was more or less of a rainy spell. In some years the weather was cool, and not too much rain. In other years you had spells of intense heat and also many days of wet weather. Of course when it became obvious that conditions were too extreme and hard for the young boys – there was always the fact that there was one elder, the plowman for every group of three or four boys. It was his responsibility to see that the boys were reasonably looked after. This elder was always free to catch up on his sleep during the noon break, which lasted for three hours. But during the nighttime he also took four horses and went with the young boys when they took the horses for their grazing period. He always had the boys sleeping near him and would wake them when they had to take the horses for their drink at the river, and also when they had to take them in the morning to the field which was being plowed. In the nighttime he would help the boys get on their horses to ride to the river, and on the way there would often holler to the boys by name – in case one or another of them would begin to doze while riding and perhaps allow the horse to veer away from the others and head for home instead of the river.

During the time of fallow plowing all the boys remained under the rule and instructions of the one elder designated for their group. He was the one that told them how to look after all the harness gear, how to handle the horses, when to take the breaks and so on. This elder was given the authority to discipline any boy in his group. If need be, he had the right to even use the same whip, that was used on the horses, for punishing a disobedient or irresponsible boy. There was one time that I, when I was 12 years old received a snap of the whip for being too lippy. Our elder was a distant relative by the name of Jacob Voykin. He gave me a sharp snap, that made my pants wet. The wet was not from blood! This Jacob Voykin was the elder in our group, which was made up from several families. Because you needed 12 to 16 horses for each plow, and some families did not have that many horses, it was the custom to get several families together who then shared one plow. The plows were of heavy wood construction. The only steel on the plow was the share and the cutting disc that went ahead of it. There was only one share to the plow and it threw a furrow of about 14 inches. The soil was quite heavy and it required from 12 to 16 horses to pull it fast enough to throw a proper furrow. It was with this one plow that all the land had to be tilled to supply several families with a living. Sometimes the total of these families would be twenty or more souls. All the sustenance of these 20 souls would have to be derived from the produce of their allotted plot of land. Where there were this many souls to their allotted plot, most of the time they barely had enough produce to keep themselves and their stock for the ensuing year. Others, whose families had not grown since the past allotment was made, but who had the horsepower, were fortunate enough to have some produce for sale. Some of these more fortunate families were able to rent land from the nearby peasant Tartars and always had some produce for sale. Renting land was very favorable here as after three years of giving shares to the owner – the lessee could claim ownership of the land.

I spent four years of my life doing the routines that I explained, from the age of 10 to 14 years of age, to help the family till the land for their sustenance. Despite the fact that these years remain in my memory as very trying and hard times during this growing period up of my life, I do not remember getting sick at any time in spite of the many times of being wet, cold and tired. My physical health remained at a good level and I have no bad memories of this particular period of my life.

Afterword

   Cover of Alexey Ivanovich Popov’s “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile”.

Alexey Ivanovich Popov lived with his parents in Spasovka, Kars until the age of 21, when he received his call-up for conscript service in the Russian army. He refused to perform military training, as the taking of human life ran contrary to his Doukhobor faith and beliefs. For this, in 1898, he, together with other young Doukhobor conscripts, was exiled to Yakutsk Siberia for a term of 18 years. In 1905 a Manifesto of Amnesty was issued by Russian Emperor Nikolai II, thus granting the Doukhobor exiles in Siberia their freedom. Soon thereafter, Alexey and his new bride Katerina immigrated to Canada to join their Doukhobor brethren who had arrived some six years earlier. Alexey lived for a time in the Doukhobor Community, but soon became an Independent Doukhobor, taking out a homestead at Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, where he lived and farmed until his death on August 14, 1955.

To order copies of Alexey’s fascinating life story, “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” along with various other informative Doukhobor publications written by his son, Eli A. Popoff, contact: The Birches Publishing, Box 730, Grand Forks, British Columbia, V0H 1H0, Tel: (250) 442-5397, email: birchespublishing@shaw.ca.

My Beautiful Sons – Why Did You Have to Die?

My Beautiful Sons – Why Did You Have to Die?

by Akim A. Fominov

In the 1890’s, hundreds of young Doukhobor men endured persecution and suffering as a result of their refusal to perform military service. The following is a true, first person account of Doukhobor Akimushka A. Fominov’s visits to where his two sons were exiled for denouncing military service and surrendering their army tickets. Reproduced by permission from the pages of ISKRA Nos. 1915-1916 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., 2001) it features the struggles and tragedies that occurred during that time. Recorded by William A. Faminow. Translated by Vera Kanigan

I

After surrendering their army tickets and denouncing military service because of their newly declared pacifist beliefs, Vanya (Ivan) Fominov and Grisha (Grigory) Gorkov were first arrested and then placed in prison in the Kars Region. Soon thereafter, they were led on foot to Tiflis where they were exiled to the Tartar villages close to a place called Agdash.

On the way to Agdash, the military horsemen herded them 40 kilometers on foot, attempting to cover this distance in one day. The young men were humble and obedient, walking diligently. It was very hot, and they got extremely sunburned and thirsty. Coming upon a creek by the road, they drank with great zeal – they were unaware that the water was not suitable for drinking. When they had arrived at the designated place of the wealthy Becka (officer who looked after exiled people) it would not have been too bad, as he gave them adequate quarters; however, shortly after, they both turned very ill. They wrote to the Fominov family and explained their situation. I, Akimushka Fominov (Ivan’s father), decided to secretly go to visit them.

When I arrived, I tried to make them as comfortable as possible and looked after their needs before returning home. After some time, they wrote once again, telling me that their illnesses had continued, and indeed, gotten worse. This time I invited my daughter-in-law Masha (Ivan’s wife) to accompany me.

When we got off at the last train station, we were supposed to walk another 40 verst (kilometers) on foot. Here I asked my daughter-in-law to dress in a man’s attire, as the road was very remote, frightening and open to all kinds of occurrences. This precaution of ours was very wise as two Tartars happened to catch up to us on horseback, and with suspicion, asked us many questions.

By the time we arrived at the young men’s living quarters, the sun had already set. Grisha Gorkov sat beside the house leaning against the wall, apparently feeling very sick and not even noticing us until we came up very close. As we walked closer, the thought went through our heads, “God, why are you young people suffering here, as you have not done any evil to anyone in the world?”

My son Vanya was in the house and he looked a bit more cheerful. We did not waste much time in pleasantries but immediately tended to the tasks at hand. I went to see the Becka and took from him a kettle and started to heat water for a bath as they had been eaten up by lice. First of all we bathed Grisha and then Vanya and then we boiled their clothes to get rid of the lice.

In the morning Grisha looked more cheerful and asked me if I could arrange to move him to another village – Kietkeshen. This village was eight or nine kilometers from Agdash and they had good water and a more tolerable climate. In that village were two more exiled young Doukhobors – Feodor Ivanovich and Nikolai Vasilievich Tikhonov. I went to address this request to the Becka. He agreed and sent a Tartar on a bullock-cart to transfer Grisha and his belongings. I went with Grisha and helped him settle in with the Tikhonovs and then returned to my son and daughter-in-law. We discussed with my son that we needed to return home, so we proceeded to arrange our return trip. But Vanya’s health had not improved, and he asked us not to leave him alone. His wife, Masha, decided to stay with him for the winter while I returned home. I agreed to come for her in the early spring. 

Burning of Arms, June 29, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean.

When I came back to the village on February 25th, I spent some time with Vanya and Masha and then walked to visit Grisha Gorkov. Grisha appeared a bit more cheerful this time, but both Grisha and our son Vanya’s health was not very encouraging. When March came, we decided to travel home to the Kars Region. Vanya became very despondent but said: “Once you have decided, do not delay your plans: I will accompany you to Agdash.”

I then went and asked the Becka if he would allow for such a plan. The Becka agreed and even gave us a horse for Vanya to ride on. When we woke up in the morning, preparing for our return trip, Vanya appeared very ill. He hardly ate anything for breakfast, drinking only half a cup of tea. We started to talk about postponing our trip, but Vanya would not agree to this, and we proceeded on our journey.

Vanya rode horseback, and we walked on foot. By the time we arrived at Agdash, our young man turned worse, swaying on the horse, and when we helped him off the horse, he lay down and was unable to walk on his own. We were unable to leave him alone, so I decided to find temporary living quarters. I was unable to find anything. The only place where there was vacancy was in a small hut where a single woman, a Kazonian Tartar, resided. She agreed to allow us to lay Vanya on her porch providing that Vanya’s wife would look after him, as to leave a single man with her would be viewed questionably by the surrounding residents. She made a living by doing laundry in the region, and if people would hold her in suspicion, her source of income could cease. 

We were glad even with this porch, laid Vanya there, and then I proceeded to find the village doctors. They prescribed medicine that did not help at all, so we decided to transport Vanya back to the Tartar village of Agdash. To our good fortune at this time, a Tartar from his village was here on a bullock cart. For three rubles, he agreed to take Vanya, cautioning us that he would travel very slowly, as that is how his buffalo are accustomed, and he did not want to ruin them. 

After travelling all night, we arrived in the morning. My ill son had turned worse and passed away on the second evening. I went to tell the Becka about what had happened. He sympathized and asked, “What are your plans now?” I replied that we want to bury him according to our own tradition, and therefore, needed to make a coffin.  He gave us some boards and sent a Tartar somewhere for the tools. He also sent another rider to Kietkeshen to get the Tikhonov cousins to come and help with the burial.  The rider returned quickly and said that half way to the village he met up with a messenger from Kietkeshen, sent to inform us that Grisha Gorkov had died as well – he was on his way to tell us that we should go there to help with that burial! 

We buried my son on our own. Even though the tools were not adequate, somehow we were able to cut the boards and nail the coffin together. The Tartars dug out a grave at the place where we requested. The police officer came, offered his sympathy, wished him to enter God’s Heavenly Kingdom, and left. With the help of the Tartars, we lowered the coffin into the grave and covered the body with dirt, while I said a prayer for my dear son: “Please accept his innocent soul into Your Everlasting Abode, as this sacrifice was offered for the adherence to the great commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill…” 

Upon returning to our quarters, I asked my daughter-in-law to assemble the clothes and belongings in order so that I could go to Kietkeshen to see if they buried Grisha Gorkov. When I had arrived and asked the Tikhonovs about Grisha, I was told that Grisha had died the same morning; and unbeknownst to me at the time, at the same hour and at the same minute as our son Vanya. I stayed a while at the Tikhonovs, then gathered Grisha’s belongings and returned to my flat.

When we got ready for our return trip home, we realized that we had too many items for us to carry and went to the district police officer to request permission to give us a ride. He did not allow us to take Grisha’s clothes, as according to the law, they were required to be returned by mail. When I objected, he said: “Aren’t you satisfied with all that I have allowed already?” My orders from my superiors were not to permit you to even make contact, but you were here and even lived here. If the authorities learn this, I will be fired from my position! I need to feed myself!”

I did not pursue my request any further, but thanked him for all of his concessions and left. Without Grisha’s belongings, we were able to proceed on foot. On the way, we stopped at the Becka’s quarters. His Matushka almost cried at Masha’s leaving because she had been a big help to her while looking after her husband Ivan.

When we arrived at Agdash, we realized that we didn’t have enough money to go by train. To our good fortune, however, Molokan carriers were travelling to Alexandropol and they agreed to take us along. On the way, they stopped in their village, Voskresenovka right on Sunday. We all attended moleniye (prayer service) together. These were the steadfast Molokans. They were not jumpers. Their Father Superior read the psalm: “Listen, King of Everlasting Glory.”

When we arrived with the Molokan at the town where we were supposed to get off, and we started to give them the promised 1 1/2 rubles, he took into consideration our hardship and did not accept any payment. We thanked him sincerely from the bottom of our hearts and bade him farewell.

From the town we traveled home with our neighbour. Our relatives gathered to meet us but all we brought with us was unbearable pain. Everyone who came cried and expressed their sorrow for Vanya. Only his very own mother, and my wife, did not shed a single tear, but paced around the house, whispering and praying to God…

II

My son, Fedya, for refusal to serve in the army along with others, was sent to the disciplinary battalion at the Ekaterinogradskiy prison. We received a letter from him that they were badly beaten for the second time; that is, they were whipped with birch rods. Military officers were trying to change their minds about serving in the army, and we heard that they decided to obey by using some of the firearms.

For that reason, I decided to travel and find out for myself how they were and what was being done to them, as many elders, both men and women, begged me to go there as soon as possible. They said that I had a son there and I would be allowed to speak to him. I decided not to put this off, gathered my belongings, bade farewell to my family and went on my journey. I travelled with my neighbour as far as the town of Aleksandropol and immediately came to the post office and asked the postmaster when the mail would be leaving. He told me that in a 1/2 hour it will leave to Delezan and that I can go with the driver in the wagon. I was happy with this arrangement.

I sat down and we left on our way. When we arrived at the train station, I got on board and traveled to the city of Tiflis. There, I had a chance to see many brethren (Kholodenskiye). They were dispersed among the Georgian villages. I had an opportunity to speak to several of them, and I learned that with the majority of them, their situation was very dismal.

I continued my trek further, from here to Dushet, travelling by train. From Dushet I traveled on the letter-carrying horses, over the Kazbetskiye mountains to Vladikavkaz, then by train to Prakhladnoe. From there, I went by horseback to Ekateringradskoye station, where the prison was located and where my son Fedya was being held in the disciplinary battalion. In the station there lived mainly Leninskiye Cossacks. I entered my former quarters where I had once previously stayed.

Group of Russian Prisoners with Heads Half-Shaven, circa 1890’s Photo by John Foster Fraser.

The proprietors welcomed me pleasantly and said: ” So, Starichok (“Elder”), have you come to visit your lads?” I replied that, yes, I want to see them. They said: “This is the situation, old man, that we need to tell you. Please do something about your lads. Ask them to serve in the army like everyone else, or ask the authorities not to punish them so harshly, or approach the Tsar himself so that he could arrange some sort of lenience or pardon. Just a short while ago they were so harshly beaten and tortured that they screamed and cried with inhumane sounds. It is getting to the point where it is impossible for us to stay here, as their cries break our hearts. At this station reside five hundred families, and the last time nearly all of us moved three kilometers away just so that we couldn’t hear their heartbreaking screams…” I replied that I’ve come here for that very reason, to speak to the lads and the authorities. At this time I went to the fortress.

From a distance, I noticed that six people sat on the roof of a new building, which was part of the prison stronghold. They were covering the roof. I walked up closer to the gate of the fortress and saw a soldier walking away, carrying a garbage pail. Behind him was a corporal. I walked up closer and started to greet them loudly. “Good day, countryman! Are any of our Doukhobors here?” The sentry man answered: “Certainly not!”

Apparently, those who were on the roof heard me and when I looked up, I noticed that there were only five of them, as one of them had already left. He ran and climbed along the wall of the fortress and started to greet me. It was Lukyan Fedorovich Novokshonov. He immediately started to say: “Akimushka, I beg you, please leave from here immediately. Do not even show yourself to the officials. They are extremely angry right now. The other day they tortured us almost to the point of death. We barely survived. They told us that if any of your hometown people come here for a visit, we will also rip a strip out of them and will deport them home like convicts. ” I gave him some money and said that it is to share with those in need. He jumped off the wall and ran away from me. I looked up and there he was, once again, sitting on the roof in his own place. Obviously, he was afraid of being noticed.

He frightened me so much that I stood still for a long time, contemplating my next step. What should I do now? Should I listen to Lukyan and return home? But everyone would gather and ask me: “How are the lads, what is with them?” I would have to tell them that someone warned me not to show myself to the officials for they would tear me apart, and therefore, I was too afraid to stay. What will my people say then? The lads are so young and are enduring such extreme torture -“for whom and for what? For our common cause, and you, old man, are running away?” I thought to myself, “let them flog and cut me up in small pieces, but I must speak with them in person.”

It was Friday evening. I went back to my quarters and almost all night thought about my situation. How could I arrange it so that the officials would not suspect me and catch me?

On Saturday morning I woke up, washed myself, prayed to God and then went to the fortress, thinking that I may see one of the lads. I stayed quite a while, not too far from the gate of the fortress and not seeing anyone walk out. I checked around from another wall, thinking that someone may be there. In one place were a group of soldiers. I walked closer to them and noticed that they were digging dirt. I didn’t know for what purpose. Two officials walked up to me, very quickly, and immediately started to say: “Did you know Mikhail Shcherbinin?” I answered that although I did not know him personally, my son had written me about him, stating that he was ill. They replied, pointing: “Do you see those black gates, that is a cemetery. Remember, he will be there soon! Do you know Fominov and Malakhov? We will build them coffins as well for they are very stubborn. But in this group, (pointing to someone), one of your Doukhobors, since he came to this battalion, has not received even one whipping.”

He stood there smiling and I thought to myself, “Fominov is my own son, and you are such hypocrites, you want to take one to the cemetery, and for the others, you wish to build coffins, and the other one is laughing.” Then I spoke up: “Aren’t you afraid to punish innocent people? You should fear God,” They replied: “Here no one speaks of God, they only say hit and whip… We simply obey our commands.”

I did not continue this conversation and went back to my place. As I was walking, I thought to myself -”as if no one speaks about God?” Here, in this fortress, stands a church, one that is called “Orthodox”. Our lads were forcefully driven there, that is, as if they had strayed from God’s path. Where should there be more conversations about God than in this church? At that point, a thought came to me to enter this church and there, hopefully, see my lads, but I couldn’t figure out the way to get inside.

I approached the store to buy some bread. It was possible to buy some good bread there, as well as watermelons. Several area villagers were also in the store. I started to ask them whether they attend the prison church. They answered yes, some of them do attend. I said that I wanted to attend the church but had no idea as to the procedure. They suggested that tomorrow was Sunday and when others start to assemble, that I could join them and walk inside. I went back to my room and didn’t go anywhere else. I lay down to sleep early, but couldn’t sleep as I kept thinking about how to attend the church and how I could see my son. I woke up way before dawn, washed up and went to the fortress. There I stopped and stood and waited for the people to arrive.

It seemed to me that I stood and waited there the whole night. Finally, the church bell tolled and I thought that now people would assemble. I waited and waited but no one came…

Then the bell tolled a second time and still no one came. When daylight arrived, the third bell tolled and I saw one family corning. I walked up to them, thinking that I could walk in with them, but when we walked to the gate, there stood the sentry soldier. He opened the gate, let them in and yelled at me: “You! Stand there! Where are you going?” I answered that I wanted to attend the church service. He said that he could not let me through until he consults the sergeant major. He went to confer with the sergeant as I stood thinking: here I wanted to walk through so that I wouldn’t be noticed, but the sentry went straight to the major, who would order the soldiers to put me in jail. But, so be it, if it is God’s will. I will not run away!

During the time I was waiting, more people assembled. At last the sentry came, opened the door, allowed others through and also told me to enter. I walked with the other residents, thinking, wherever they stand in church, I will stand with them. We entered. The plain folk stood on the left and the soldiers stood on the right. Everyone looked at the priest who waved the censer and read something. When he would say “Amen”, the soldiers knelt on their knees and our boys remained standing. Doing so, I was able to see the boys, and my son Fedya, but they kept looking straight ahead, not even glancing to the side. I thought to myself, you poor soldiers, you are under strict discipline, even in church. I started to think of a way to move closer to the front, so that the lads could notice me for the moleniye would end soon. They would be taken to the back and they wouldn’t even know that I was here. I started to slowly and inconspicuously move forward.

I hardly moved a half-meter when an officer on duty called out from the back: “Leave the church at once! You came here not to view the church, but to see your lads.” I begged his forgiveness and said that I simply was not aware of their procedures, that when we have visitors at our moleniye, we do not restrict their movement, nor do we tell people where to look or not to look. He once again sternly warned me that in their church, they have their own rules and that I should follow their procedures. I promised to do so, and he left me alone. As a result of this argument, our lads clearly recognized me, and when the church service concluded, and the soldiers left, our boys came over to me, walked by, greeted me, and said, “Thank God, we are still alive!” My son rushed up to me, said that he was okay, and continued walking after the others, not stopping for a moment. I went outside and looked sadly upon them and thought – “I sure have heard lots about God, and was almost beaten on the neck! I didn’t even have a chance to get a good look at my son because they were driven away. What sort of a place is this Russian Orthodox Church?”

I stood and glanced around. I noticed that I was not too far away from a large house where a man in an overcoat was pacing on the balcony. At that moment the sergeant major came up to me, and simultaneously, I heard a loud voice blare out from somewhere near the balcony: “Well, old man, do you want to see your son now or after dinner?” I realized then that I had not remained unnoticed. I thought to myself, “Let whatever happens, happen. I am already in their hands!” and replied, “If possible, right now.” The sergeant major said: “Okay, I will relay this to the colonel.” 

The colonel turned out to be the fellow pacing on the balcony, and I overheard him say that a Doukhobor from the Kars region had come and wanted to meet with his son Fedya Fominov. I noticed the colonel waving to me to join him. I came forward, removed my hat, bowed, and said, “The best of health, Gospodin Colonel,” and then placed my hat back on and stood still. At first, he harshly reproached me: “You come here for a visit and then simply confuse your children! Not too long ago an old grey-haired elder like you came from the Kazbetski mountains and do you know what happened? The boys had just started to settle down here and had begun to finally serve, but the old man knocked them off the path of reason, confused them, and they, once again, refused to take up arms! We whipped and ripped strips out of them that they will never forget! Do you know that this is a correctional prison, that not only your lads, but if an angel from heaven were here we would have to make him serve. And you, old man, refuse to submit to authority and the Tsar. You and all your people have been dispersed over all of the Kazbetski Mountains!” 

Russian Prison Warden and Guard, c. 1890. >Photo by John Foster Fraser.

I turned to him and said “Gospodin Colonel, we are not against obeying the will of God, but we are against that which contradicts His will.” Here the colonel started pacing even faster on the balcony, almost running. He walked over to me and hollered: “Tell me, what here is against the will of God?” I noticed that he was very angry, so I decided not to answer, thinking that in this case, silence was the best answer. For quite a while he continued to pace the balcony, cursing and calling me all kinds of names, then he ceased and became calmer. He stopped pacing, turned towards us and addressed the sergeant major: “Go with him and let him meet his son for one hour.” We hadn’t walked more than five steps when he yelled for us to come back. I felt shivers down my spine, thinking that he had changed his mind and would now put me in jail. As we got closer to him he turned to the sergeant major and said: “Let him visit for two hours, one hour is too little. After all, the old man traveled a long distance and the trip cost him money.”

We went to the area where visitors were allowed. The sergeant major told me to wait there while he went to bring my son. Soon after, my son arrived, accompanied by three soldiers. They took us to another room and set us side by side on a bench. One soldier sat beside me and the other sat beside Fedya. The third soldier stood across from us, glancing quite often at his clock. They were instructed to listen to our conversation. In fact, we couldn’t talk about anything confidential. My son simply asked a few questions about news from home and I answered. As soon as the two hours were up, the soldiers got up and led my son away, and I stood for a long time with tears in my eyes, watching as they left. I felt so sorry for the poor lad. All of our boys looked very beaten, and with inadequate nutrition, they had become mere shadows of men.

The thought occurred to me to go to the colonel and ask him where I could purchase a few things to treat our lads. I walked up to his home. The sentry informed him of my coming and he walked outside. I thanked him for allowing me a visit with my son, and then I asked him: “Gospodin Colonel, allow me please to buy some bread and watermelon to treat all of the lads.”

“Absolutely not. I have everything here – bread, borshch, meat, and kasha, and if your lads do not wish to eat these things, that is not my business,” he replied. With this, he concluded his conversation with me, and I walked away from the jail with great sorrow and grief. I thought – “What authorities, they are whipping and beating our sons and won’t even allow us to treat them with bread!”

I went to my quarters, had breakfast and lunch at the same time and then sat down, thinking about what I should do next. Since it was impossible during my visit to discuss the most important issue, I decided to try get a secret meeting with my son. During the last two times I had been within the prison, I noticed that one sergeant major by the name of Zaitsev often left the jail for one reason or another. I decided to go, watch him more closely, and hopefully, talk to him. I walked up to the prison wall, and to my good fortune, he soon came out. Immediately, I went and started to speak to him directly. “Gospodin Zaitsev, could you please arrange a secret meeting for me with my son Fedya A. Fominov?” “If you will give me a ruble, then I will,” he answered. I agreed and we arranged to meet in a large new building in the early morning.

That night I hardly slept, praying that our meeting would pass safely. When I arrived that morning, the non-commissioned officer was already waiting for me with new plans, for the colonel had ordered the new building to be plastered, and therefore, it would not be possible to have the meeting there. He took me to a far corner of the prison grounds where tall weeds grew. He told me to pick some and make a wall so that I would not be seen and then went to go get my son. I made the wall and sat down waiting. Some cattle were grazing nearby and some of the cows came up towards me. At this point I started to worry, thinking that the soldiers would come for the cattle and see me. Here, I would get caught! They would whip and exile me. And that was almost exactly what happened…

A soldier came for the cattle, but because he was deep in thought, he did not pay any attention to me, took the cattle and chased them away, shouting at them to leave. Soon, the non-commissioned officer came, bringing Fedya and Kuzma Pugachev. We exchanged greetings as necessary and then I started to talk. “Before I left home. I met with Vasya Obetkov and he said that if I had a chance to meet with you, that I should advise you if I can. Since it is very difficult to bear the torture of this disciplinary battalion. You lads should concede. When everyone is returned to their own regions, then again they could refuse military service. There in their own regions they will not be subjected to such torture.” 

The lads answered that this plan would not work, as no one is released until they have served their entire sentence in the disciplinary battalion. Then I answered them: “If so, then stick to your convictions, as you are the first detachment (the vanguard) of our people. If you change your direction, the rest of us will surely be shipped through this battalion.” They answered that in spite of the hardships, they would endure suffering as long as they would have the strength.

I further started to tell the lads that when I was getting ready to come here many of the elders wanted details as to the reason why many of our young men were backing down and serving. Somewhere they had heard that one Russian man had been flogged to death, but that he never conceded to them; but none of our lads had, as of yet, died from the flogging. 

When I told our boys about this, both in unison started crying like small children. “We could endure almost everything from the flogging. The pain is unbearable at first, but afterwards, the body becomes wooden and a person loses all feeling. At this point the doctors’ assistants pay closer attention as to how much you can endure. When they see that a person is close to death, they cease the flogging. They rip the meat off your back, then put your clothes back on. They drag you to the punishment cell, pushing you there like an unfortunate animal. In this cell there is no bed and no bench. The floor is cold cement, and one can only lie on the stomach. The clothing freezes, turning to wood. For food, they bring a piece of bread and water. When the wounds heal a bit, the commanders come and tell you to now accept military service, and if you don’t, tomorrow you will be flogged twice as hard. At this point, one, not having any more strength, agrees, telling them, I will pick up a rifle, but we pretend it is just a stick when we agree to serve, and under no circumstances will we kill anything or anyone.

They continued, stating that even if angels from heaven were to come here, they would not be able to endure the punishment and would submit to military service. They told me that if I were to arrive home safely, I should ask the elders to take the brushwood which they use to light a fire and imagine themselves being whipped, as the lads are here. I asked them about those who had totally agreed to serve in the same way as the soldiers. They answered that even though their situation was already unbearable, that this has made it even more difficult. At this point the non-commissioned officer rushed in and told the lads to hurry, it was necessary to go to the colonel. They left with him, and I left the fortress. When I came to my living quarters, I had breakfast, packed my belongings, bade farewell to the proprietors and left on my return home.

I arrived home safely, passed on regards to my family and shared all about my visit in detail. When all the rest of our people assembled, I explained what the lads had told me and passed on regards to their families. Soon after my trip, Nikola Chevildeev went to the disciplinary battalion as well. His son Kiryusha was there. During his time there, a new agreement was made in regards to the imprisoned Doukhobors. A decision was reached that would have all the Doukhobors who were refusing to serve in the military, sent to the Yakutsk Oblast for eighteen years. Therefore, Nikolasha Chevildeev accompanied the lads to Vladikavkaz. The boys were driven further, but Nikolasha returned home.

On the trip to Siberia, our son Fedya had mailed a very sad letter home. “My dear parents, father Akimushka and mother Polyusha, sister-in-law Masha and your son Petya, my dear wife, Anyuta, as well as my children Mavrunya and Malasha, brother Vasya and your wife Tanya, and also my sisters, Hanya and Marfunya, all of our dear Fominov family combined.” 

Siberian Prisoners Starting Up-Country, circa 1890’s. Photo by John Foster Fraser.

“At this time I wish to tell you about myself and about our present life here. My health is very poor. From day to day I feel as if I am drying up like the cut grass in a meadow.”

“What stands before us is a very long walk. Some people say it is more than a thousand verst. We must walk 35-40 verst a day, and when we arrive at the station, they send us to a convicts’ building which is infested by many different insects, especially bed bugs. We must sleep right on the floor, but the bed bugs eat at us all night, not giving us any peace. We have to get up early in the morning and proceed on the trip once again. When I get up and start to dress, my feet are so swollen that I am barely able to pull on my boots, but we must walk another 40 verst.”

“When I lag behind the group the soldiers walk up to me and start to nudge me with the nose of their rifles. They aren’t the ones to blame though. Those to blame are the higher authorities that do not give us more transport carts. The carts are only given to the convicts who are shackled. But even amongst the shackled convicts, there are kind people. When I start to get weak, almost falling down on the road, someone from the group of prisoners gets down off the cart, walks up to me and says, “well brother, I see that you are exhausted. Go to the cart and sit in my place, rest, and I will walk in your place.” Such people support me, and if it weren’t for them, I would long ago have been left alone on the road.”

“My dear family, I beg you, don’t worry about me and don’t feel sorry for me. Even though this trip is extremely difficult, I do not complain, nor am I sorry. Yes, I cannot com plain, for I chose this path myself. After all, our Lord Jesus Christ took the cross and carried it on His back to Golgotha: “He who wants to follow Me, take My cross and follow Me.” On this cross He was crucified. We must also continue without complaining, and with God’s help, we will reach our destination. If something should happen to me on this trip, then this will be the will of our Lord in Heaven. With this I will end my letter. I send you all my love, warm kisses and hugs. Your son, husband, father and brother. Feodor A. Fominov.

III

Following after Fedya’s letter were several other accounts about our ill son and his friend.

Misha V. Arishchenkov’s Account

“When we were brought to the town of Yakutsk we bought ourselves some warm clothes, especially good, warm valenki (boots made out of felt). From Yakutsk we had to go further north to the place where we were to serve our 18 year sentence. We arrived at our destination and occupied an abandoned yurta (nomad’s hut). It was very cold, and the windows were all iced up. There were approximately thirty of us. We installed some glass windows, and with difficulty, built a Russian kiln for baking bread in the middle of the hut. Beside the kiln, we set up a bed for our sick friend, Fedya Fominov, and for the rest of us we set up nari (plank beds). In order to sleep, we would lay down with our heads towards the center of the hut and our feet towards the wall. We always slept in our valenki. The weather was fiercely cold and the nomad’s hut was so poor, that by morning, our valenki were frozen to the wall…”

Grisha Sukharev’s Account

“My responsibility was to look after our ill friend. Near him, I tied a belt to the crossbar of the hut. This was done so that when I went elsewhere, and Feodor needed to sit up or turn on his other side, he took hold of the belt, and although with great difficulty, he slowly turned himself over. After the winter was over, Fedya spoke gravely to us: “Brothers, tovarishchi (comrades) I want to ask you to please take me back to the town of Yakutsk, to the hospital. Even though I feel that I will not survive, I wish to at least free your hands as there is enough for you to take care of in order to survive. You must go and earn your daily bread without having to also care for me. There, in the hospital, it may be easier for me…”

Narrative of Seoma S. Usachev

“I chose to go with our sick tovarishch to Yakutsk and take him to the hospital. With difficulty we brought Fedya to the river and set up a tent. I stayed to look after him: We waited for the ship to arrive. On this particular river, the steamboat comes only once throughout the whole summer. Apparently, the boat was in Nelkan picking up winter tea brought from China on the backs of deer. We had to wait a long time. At one point Fedya said: “Seoma, tovarishch, are you here?” I replied that I was. He called me forward and said: “Please look at my side, there is something soft. ” I opened his shirt and saw a lump as huge as my fist. I got scared and explained that the situation was not very good. He turned and said: “if you have a knife, try and cut it off.” I started to carefully cut it off, ask- ing him if ithurt. He said that he didn’t feel any pain. When I finished I carefully cleaned the area and bandaged it up. It was a chunk of old, black blood. Fedya had been unmercifully beaten in the disciplinary battalion. His sergeant-major was strong, almost the same size as Fedya, and was an extremely angry man. He would often beat Fedya with his fists, on his cheeks, on his head, on his side. He also beat him with a stump of wood or with the butt of his rifle. His last beating was the most injurious, when he was beaten with an ammunition belt filled with shells on the back of his head, and both of his ears were severely scarred. They were always pussing. Almost all of his skin hung from his bones.”

Group of Doukhobor Exiles in Yakutsk, Siberia, circa 1904

“I wanted to look after Fedya until his bodily existence came to an end. However, to my regret, before the arrival of our ship, a man from our work party walked up to us and told us that he was also ill, and was going to Yakutsk and could take Fedya with him. I did not argue with him.”

“When they arrived in Yakutsk, he placed Fedya in the hospital, but he did not consider it necessary to constantly visit him and Fedya was left alone. Soon afterwards, a few middle-aged Doukhobors, exiled from Elizavetpol (including several brothers of Peter “Lordly” Verigin) arrived in Yakutsk. Petrunya Dimovsky, a middle-aged man, exiled for incitement, was also placed in the hospital because of his illness. He was not altogether bedridden, and at times, looked in on Fedya Fominov. When Fedya became even more tired and exhausted, Petrunya asked him: “What is with you, brother Fedya, how do you feel?”

“I feel that I will soon die and return to my Heavenly Father…”, replied Fedya. “What should be done about your clothing – should it be returned to your family?” asked Petrunya. “No, my family has everything, give it away here amongst the poor,” further stated Fedya. And so, on the 20th of August, 1897, in the Yakutsk hospital, one of our Doukhobor martyr’s earthly existence came to an end.”

IV

When we received a letter and learned about our son’s death, all of us grieved and mourned for him. Only his own mother did not shed a single tear, but prayed to God, so that the Lord would receive her son in his everlasting abode. She considered crying a sin, and said that her sons went to share the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, after the sorrowful news, she stayed in bed for a whole week -“and how could she not lie in bed, when two of her sons died at the height of their youth, both in the same year?”

Our eldest son, Vanya, passed away in the Georgian villages in March at the age of twenty-six, and our middle son, Fedya, passed away in the Yakutsk Region in August at the age of twenty-four. Their families never saw them again. Their mother (and my wife) lived very well with her daughters-in-law. They looked upon her like their own mother, and she considered them like her own daughters. When they remarried and took her grandchildren with them, only then did our mother cry out loud, repeating, “Only now do I see that my devout family is torn apart!” She had three daughters-in-law. For many years they lived together and never spoke a harsh word to each other. They always tried to live a happy, Christian life.

My Trip to Shenkursk and My Communal Life There

by Grigory Vasilyevich Verigin

In September 1888, Grigory Vasilyevich Verigin journeyed from the Caucasus to the town of Shenkursk in the far northern province of Arkhangelsk to visit his brother – Peter Vasilyevich Verigin.  The Doukhobor leader had been exiled there, together with several Doukhobor elders, during the previous year by Tsarist authorities. At the time of Grigory’s visit, the exiles were living communally, giving charity to the poor and practicing vegetarianism according to the teachings of Peter Vasilyevich.  Grigory recorded his experience of life among the exiles in Shenkursk in his memoirs, published in 1935 as “Ne v Sile Bog, a v Pravde” (Paris, Dreyfus & Charpentier).  The following is an English translation of Chapter 8 of Verigin’s book by Galina Alexeyeva and Larry A. Ewashen.  Besides its historical value, this chapter provides important insights into the Doukhobor leader’s spiritual and philosophical teachings which were adopted by the Doukhobors of the Caucasus in the years leading up to the “Burning of Arms”.

The elders living in Shenkursk, along with Peter Vasilyevich, advised him to invite a (Doukhobor) lady from the Caucasus, one who would be able to look after the elders and housekeeping. The lot fell to the wife of Dmitry Vasilyevich Lezhebokov. His wife was Irina Vasilyevna, middle aged, energetic, wise and industrious; and well versed in housekeeping and related duties. Such a lady was needed there. Such a hazardous journey was not suitable for a lady travelling alone.

General map of Arkhangelsk province, Russia where Peter Verigin was exiled from 1887-1890 and 1892-1894. The town of Shenkursk is located in the boxed area.

Peter Vasilyevich wrote to our parents, and asked them, if possible, to allow me to travel with her, as a guide, and visit like true brothers. Our parents gladly agreed, and on September 12 we said our good-bys and began our journey. We travelled by railroad to Tiflis. From Tiflis to Vladikavkaz by baggage van. From Vladikavkaz, we purchased railway tickets to Moscow. In Moscow there was a transfer and new tickets to Vologda. From Vologda there was no longer a railroad and we travelled by the postal system on horses for 300 versts. We travelled by carriage and found the trip extremely arduous, especially Irina Vasilyevna, as a lady would. We were surrounded by swamps, nearly all of the road was bogged down, covered with logs, and the travel was shaky and difficult. One hundred versts from our destination, snow fell and we continued by sleigh. Before Shenkursk was a large river, the Vaga, over which we travelled by ferry. A severe squall with sludge ice began which made it dangerous to proceed. This was on the 29th of September. We had our belongings with us, and we crossed safely and were left on the shore, awaiting further transport. Others crossing with us lived in Shenkursk, and learned from our conversation that we were travelling to see Peter Vasilyevich, they assured us that as soon as we disembarked, they would let him know.

After some time, a conveyance arrived, in which was seated Dmitry Vasilyevich, someone I did not know; he was from the Akhalkalaki area. His wife also did not recognize him. He did not introduce himself, and it was only after some talk that his wife recognized her own husband! After that, we embraced him, loaded our luggage unto the sleigh, and left for our quarters.  There, Peter Vasilyevich and the elders greeted us with heartfelt enthusiasm and were extremely gratified for such a meeting. First they enquired as to our route, how we managed it safely, then as to the life of our parents and relatives, and all of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. We explained everything in detail. He, along with the elders, was very pleased to hear the news; all were healthy and well and had begun living the Christian life. And this is how we continued living there, spending the time happily. They all seemed to live well.

Large (detailed) map of Arkhangelsk province, Russia. The town of Shenkursk is located in the lower right hand corner along the Vaga River.

They lived in two homes about seventy feet apart, one from the other. The elders lived in one house.  Their household consisted of the Makhortovs which included his elderly wife who had come from home, Rybin, Tsibulkin; also living with them was Nikolai Ivanovich Voronin, with his wife. His wife was a dear old lady, Ekaterina Vasilyevna, many years his senior. Voronin was of middle age, a full, handsome man of Russian background, with good humour; he had little, and the elders asked him to live in their house without payment; he ate separately. He was banished administratively and belonged to the political exiles. Peter Vasilyevich, along with Lezhebokov, lived in the other house. There was a kitchen and a dining room, and they ate together with the elders.  There was a hired cook, and two girls, orphaned, of whom I have written earlier; there were two youngsters about sixteen years of age, one cared for the horses, the other the cows, of which there were four of the Kholmogor breed.

There were also about 20 geese which Dedushka Makhortov minded. He liked them extremely well, and this duty of caring for them was therapeutic for him. He tended them with kindly care. He had a bell with which he called them for feeding. As soon as he rang, they would surround him. He gave them their feed, and if they began to nip at each other, he would reprimand them, “such behavior is not necessary”; they would listen to him, stop their strife, and stretch their necks towards him, and indicate to him that they would no longer fight. The geese were well bred, large and very gentle. I often watched and admired how he handled them. One time I said to him: “Dedushka, could we butcher that one that is lagging behind? What a tasty noodle soup that would be!” He replied; “Enough, enough!  Let them live and rejoice under God’s grace! We can do without that!” By this time, Grandfather was a complete vegetarian.

In the winter time, the nights were long, there was little to do, it was not good for the elders to stay in the house all of the time; because of this, every morning we went for a walk for an hour and a half, or even two; this was good for our health, especially for the elders. After such a walk we had a good breakfast, then retired to our quarters for rest.

In the evening after dinner, when the cooks cleared the tables and all was in order, Peter Vasilyevich, and all of us, except for Lezhebokov, went to the elders, and there we studied the New Testament. This was for everyone, and especially the elders, for they had suffered for truth. It gave them some comfort in their difficult circumstances when they heard how Christ had said; “They persecuted me and they will persecute you, fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; My yoke is tolerable, I carry my cross with ease; Learn from me and you will no longer live in darkness”, etc.

Voronin attended these meetings without fail and Ivan Semenovich Tikhomirov of the political exiles was also with us. He was a moral, good hearted person and had left his former beliefs and joined the Christian teachings. After the reading, there was much discussion. If some text of Christ’s teachings was not understood, all was examined and dissected from different directions, until we all agreed on one conclusion; this went on until 11:00 o’clock. After that, after good-nights were expressed, we departed to our respective quarters. There was also there Vasily Obetkov. He was always near Peter Vasilyevich, like a brother and a true and faithful servant.

Grigory Vasilyevich Verigin, taken after his escape from Siberian exile in 1902. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

On Sundays, not always but often, we would hitch up the horses for a sleigh ride. The horses were hitched singly. Such a trip included the entire family; the family consisted of all at home: the cook, the girls and youngsters. We did not look at them as outsiders but as members of our own family. If anyone was left at home and did not go on the ride, it was Lezhebokov; he looked after the homes. This was our entire assembly: the three sleighs, horses which were racers and pretty as a picture; two horses were from the Caucasus, one was from our parents, the other was from Ivan Ivanovich Ponomarev. He wished to give the stud racehorse as a gift to Peter Vasilyevich, the third was from there. Such rides were looked upon with envy by the administrators, overseers and police and others; they did not even see such horses, let alone ride with them. Occasionally this disturbed them – how was it that the banished, inferior to them, enjoyed such rides? 

I will give you another instance; People here live poorly, children from around Shenkursk come to beg in the name of Christ. Peter Vasilyevich suggested to the elders that twice a week they would prepare a hot meal for them. Some forty or more began to show up. This developed into a whole new story.  This was stirred up by the priests. They came to the Chief of Police and said that our Orthodox children are going to the sectarians for dinner, and that through this dinner they are being seduced into becoming sectarians.  He summoned Peter Vasilyevich and warned him that, he must not let the children gather around him, and he must not prepare any more meals. Peter Vasilyevich replied: “How can I deny those children who ask in the name of Christ, you are exhorting me to break the command of Christ, which you believe in yourself; those who ask must be given to. Such a request from you is unseemly – if you have the authority, you may place a sentry at my gates to prevent the children from entering, once they are in my yard, and ask for food in the name of Christ, you must forgive me, in this matter I must listen to Christ rather than listen to you.” – At this, the commander raised his voice: “I will write the minister.” Peter Vasilyevich replied; “That is your affair,” and walked away. Whether or not the Captain did write the minister, we do not know, but the dinners continued. A senior administrator came to see the children at dinner, praying before and giving thanks after the dinner.  The children, though young, were accustomed to icon worship, and at first, did not want to pray and give thanks. Then the cook, who had been an Orthodox believer, and who now understood through Peter Vasilyevich’s teachings that one could pray to God in spirit and truth without icons, told them: “It is possible to pray without icons, let one of you look at salt and bread, the others recite silently.” This they began. The observer could not find anything to object to, that the children prayed without icons; he came with nothing and left with nothing. In this matter, this was one stupid attempt to find some fault on the part of the priests and the chief.  Children that are begging in the name of Christ are hungry, and are asking for their daily bread, and such children aren’t interested in preaching, they only need bread. With grown ups he truly often discussed the teachings of Christ whenever possible, and pointed out the errors of the priests and their own gains for an easy life, as they ruined the populace and misrepresented the teachings of Christ. They are fooling the people and the people are falling for it.

Some agreed with Peter Vasilyevich, and four families stopped going to church; and they were subjected to secret surveillance, of course, they suspected that Peter Vasilyevich was responsible.  One family was called Krasnikov; it consisted of a man, wife, and eighteen year old daughter, which I had seen as guests at Peter Vasilyevich’s.

Many agreed with him in words only, as they were afraid to take action. Why? – because of exile and suffering. Until people stop emphasizing worldly life, they will not make a decision in such a matter. But when people understand the importance that life includes the spiritual life, one that flows without beginning or end into our sensate being, they will not fear to suffer for the truth. Our temporal life is secondary in terms of time; today we’re here, tomorrow we’re gone, I am telling you of the flesh. Spirit is without beginning, it has no end, and when people understand that, they will no longer be afraid of fear or suffering. The example of this is illustrated by the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Life in Shenkursk in the home Peter Vasilyevich and the elders continued joyfully. There was one thing that bothered me; Peter Vasilyevich and the elders were already fully vegetarian and because of that, no meat was prepared, as for themselves, so for the guests. Even if someone wanted meat, it was not allowed. For me this was not right and unsettling; at home I ate meat. Although the food was very good and nutritious, there was enough butter, milk also, every morning there was always coffee with cream and leavened bread, often they prepared piroshki with cheese and potatoes, there was tasty borsch, good soup with various grains, they served pasta, you couldn’t ask for better. But my heart was not at ease, I wanted to eat meat. Peter Vasilyevich saw this and noticed it. One day he asked me: “How do you like our food? Can you live without meat?” I answered, “The food is very good, but I can’t live without meat.”

Peter “Lordly” Verigin (1859-1924) taken at the time of his exile in Arkhangelsk. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

He laughed; I was a little embarrassed, and he, wanting to ease me out of my embarrassment, said “I noticed that your body is weakening.” I answered: “I live as a guest, and do not work; I noticed that I feel weaker.” I did feel weaker, but it was not the result of the food, but plainly because my heart was not at ease because I did not have the understanding of living creatures. Peter Vasilyevich sympathized with me but there was nothing to do but get used to it. He said: “We got used to it, it occurs to me that at our table there is surplus food; enough to get fat on, not just to get weak on; in my understanding we could cut back a little at our table but it would be difficult for the elders and they might start weakening; this depends on your understanding. For example, I now hold this belief, all things created are created here for life, and this includes human beings, a person is a higher form of life, imbued with a reasoning power, this person will be recognized as such from the other forms of life only when he acts like a human being. For example, man is not a carnivore. This is illustrated in his body and his organisms. Don’t give him a knife or a weapon and turn him out with a steer or a ram. What will he do with them? nothing; but let the steer in with a lion or tiger, or the ram with a wolf, and quicker than the eye can see, all will be over. Mankind has strayed from his natural food, and with his violent ways, is bringing himself down to the level of animals; is this a good or reasonable direction for mankind, one who is made in the image of God? – if one has anything of God within him, he must look at all creation with love and compassion, and for all this bounty, he must give praise and thanks to God, In this way, as an intelligent being, he will be different from the rest of the living creatures, in such bloodthirsty behavior such as the eating of meat, mankind does not distinguish himself from the fierce animal, and to satisfy his Mamon-like craving, decides to destroy what God has created.

I will repeat again; everything is created for life, not for death; if for death, then people should be fattened as a person fattens oxen, cattle or rams, especially older ones that are no longer fit for physical labour. They say, I don’t know how true this is, human-flesh is the best and the tastiest of all meats, and we could use this for ourselves, and for sale. I suppose people would cry out and protest in every which way that this is not good, and even sinful that how could we do this with people, this is how animals behave, this is frightening, he would be finding all sorts of excuses to be saving his own life. And if through this reasoning, we would be saving our own lives, why shouldn’t we think seriously about all other life? – perhaps they are thinking and saying; it is not right and it is even sinful to end their lives, they want to live as people do, but we don’t understand their language; we get strong ropes ready for them and continue to sharpen knives. In such circumstances where we do not understand each other’s language, we must speak with the language of the heart and soul, especially because the heart of mankind should understand and communicate with the swiftness of a telephone, which can transmit his own sound for several tens or a hundred versts. This invention is made by a human being, but a person, who has the spark of love or God within them, such a thing is present, but he is not conscious of it. Sometimes when they tie down the oxen for slaughter, he feels he is going to die and there are tears in his eyes, nothing helps, the man nevertheless continues. He should understand this with his heart, but where is such a heart, when all is in strife, and mankind has only begun to be regarded as evolving as a human being, the spark of Godliness is hidden and buried, the man with this spark is not seen.”

He said a lot more about this subject, this made me think about my desire for meat, and after that I began to have doubts and began to have a new understanding about vegetarianism; after some time my weakness disappeared. In such a manner, Peter Vasilyevich brought me to a new understanding. In essence, where there’s a non-credible weakness, you need a serious strengthening.

A complete English translation of Grigory Verigin’s 1935 Russian publication, “Ne v Sile Bog, a v Pravde” is currently being prepared by Doukhobor Village Museum Curator Larry A. Ewashen. For more information on this project, please email: larryewashen@telus.net.

Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin, His Life and Role in Doukhobor History

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The following is a brief biographical sketch of Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), Russian statesman, philosopher, writer, educator and philanthropist. A sympathizer and benefactor of the Doukhobor, Lopukhin intervened with Tsarist authorities on their behalf, helped ease their sufferings in the face of persecution, and masterminded their resettlement to the Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) region in Tavria. Compiled from various Russian and English language sources (See Notes).

Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin was born 24 February 1756 in the village of Voskresenskoye, Orel province into a wealthy landowning family of the upper nobility. Plagued by a sickly childhood, he received much of his education at home. In 1775, at the age of nineteen, Lopukhin entered military service with the Preobrazhensky Regiment, but retired seven years later with the rank of polkovnik (colonel) for reasons of health.

A keen student of law, Lopukhin was appointed sovetnik (counselor) of the Moscow Criminal Court in 1782, and later he became Court President. In judicial affairs, Lopukhin was interested chiefly in reformatory aspects of the law. He once wrote that it would be better to acquit many criminals than to convict one innocent individual. However, his progressive stance resulted in a dispute with the conservative Governor-General of Moscow, J.A. Bruce, which led to Lopukhin’s forced resignation in 1785.

Thereafter, Lopukhin assumed an active role in the literary and philanthropic activities of prominent Masonic writer N.I. Novikov (1744-1818). In 1789, Lopukhin underwent a religious conversion upon recovery from a lengthy period of illness and embraced Masonry as a new, spiritual and idealistic world-view. He became Grandmaster of a Masonic lodge in Moscow, translated works of Western mystics and Freemasons, and wrote several treatises of his own. In 1790, he published ‘Nravouchitelnyi Katezhizis Istinnykh Franmasonov’, a defense of Russian Masonry that called for love of God and one’s fellow man and for constant inner, personal improvement.

In 1792, Novikov was arrested as part of Catherine the Great’s campaign to rid Russia of “the notorious new schism” of Masonry. Lopukhin was searched and interrogated for his Masonic activities. The Empress initially ordered Lopukhin into exile, but he was permitted to remain in Moscow “for the sake of his aged father.” From 1792 to 1796, Lopukhin lived and wrote in Moscow, publishing numerous literary and dramatic works.

Lopukhin’s career in the Russian civil service resumed in 1796 when Tsar Paul, recognizing his talents and abilities, summoned him to St. Petersburg and appointed him State Secretary. The following year, in 1797, Lopukhin returned to Moscow as a Senator.

In 1800, Lopukhin and Senator Spiridonov completed a three-year senatorial inspection of the provinces of Kazan, Viatka and Orenburg, in which they identified various abuses of power by the local administrations. In his report to the Tsar, Lopukhin displayed particular consideration for the peasantry.

The following year, in 1801, Tsar Alexander I ordered Lopukhin and Senator Neledinskiy-Meletskiy to undertake a senatorial inspection of the provinces of south Russia to study the status of sectarian religion in the region, and in particular, to investigate a series of complaints by Doukhobors, who had returned there from exile, about their living conditions.

Arriving in Kharkov in November 1801, Lopukhin met with the Governor and requested records relating to the history of the Doukhobors in the province. Lopukhin learned that during Catherine the Great’s reign, “several” local Doukhobors were summarily imprisoned and “not returned”. Under Tsar Paul, entire Doukhobor households were exiled into penal servitude. In August 1801, however, the exiled sectarians were returned to their former homes in Kharkov province following Tsar Alexander’s edict of release.

Portrait of Ivan V. Lopukhin (1756-1816) by Dmitry G. Levitzky.

Lopukhin was alarmed by the haste with which local authorities began “admonishing” the returning Doukhobors. He bluntly told the Governor that rebellion would surely ensue; the sectarians “did not have time to rest quietly” before they were accosted by civil and ecclesiastical officials. Lopukhin ordered the Governor to recall the “teams” sent to the districts to “counsel” the Doukhobors.

The next day, however, the Governor, “pale, with papers in hand,” rushed to Lopukhin’s lodgings with news that a bunt (rebellion) had already broken out among the Doukhobors of Izium district “where an admonition was performed.” The worried Governor informed Lopukhin that the sectarians, several of whom had already been arrested, renounced recognition of the Tsar and Jesus Christ and vowed never to pay taxes nor fulfill state obligations. The Izium land court was investigating the incident.

Lopukhin calmed the Governor by assuring him that the “rebellion” would be subdued and others prevented. The problem, as Lopukhin saw it, was that the interrogations of the Doukhobors were “needless” and “unskilled”; they served only to embitter them. The Senator defended the sectarians, remonstrating that they were “full of reverence” toward Jesus Christ and the Tsar and ready to “obey all laws” and “fulfill all land obligations”. To alleviate the situation, Lopukhin ordered the Governor to release the arrested Doukhobors and suspend the inquiry. The Governor agreed.

Lopukhin wrote a report of his investigation to the Tsar dated November 12, 1801. The Tsar was informed that the Kharkov authorities did not understand the “direct essence” of his edicts concerning the Doukhobors, that the “rebellion” was not the fault of the sectarians themselves, who displayed “faith and reverence” and “particular gratitude” towards the monarch. The Senator outlined the remedial measures he had ordered the Kharkov Governor to adopt.

During the course of his investigation, Lopukhin met for a period of several days with a sizeable group of Doukhobors. This was done in secrecy so as not to arouse “unnecessary inquisitiveness” among the Orthodox. He was impressed by the sectarians’ faith and “very fundamental and correct concepts of Christianity” and sympathized with their plight. For their part, the Doukhobors “took a liking” to Lopukhin, and they conversed openly with him about the tenets of their faith. On the last day of their meetings, the Doukhobors presented a petition to Lopukhin requesting to be established “in a separate colony” and expressing their “loyalty and real zeal toward the sovereign”.

Lopukhin wrote a second report to the Tsar, skillfully rendering the Doukhobors request. It began with a hearty defense of the sectarians in the face of unfavourable reports issued by Kharkov officials. The Senator then offered a short explanation of the Doukhobor “manner of faith”. Finally, Lopukhin relayed their request for a separate colony, using language that consciously echoed Alexander’s emphasis on legal treatment for non-conformists and his desire to lead them back to Orthodoxy. First, Lopukhin argued that the formation of a separate colony would quiet Doukhobor unrest by removing them from the harassment and animosity of local officials. Second, isolation would all but eliminate the sectarians’ ability to spread their beliefs. Finally, concentrated settlements would help well-educated, moral and patient priests bring the Doukhobors back to Orthodoxy.

The Tsar agreed wholeheartedly with Lopukhin’s proposal and immediately set in motion the consolidation of a separate Doukhobor colony in the recently incorporated lands of Novorossiya. In his January 1802 edict, the Tsar granted permission for any Doukhobor in the Novorossiya provinces to settle together in the Molochnye Vody region of Melitopol district, Tavria province, which was then a sparsely populated part of the empire. Alexander wrote to the Governor of Novorossiya that the concentration of Doukhobors, separate from other Russians, would prevent their further ruin and mistreatment, and that he considered their separation to be “a most reliable means for the extinguishing of their heresay and for the suppression of their influence on others.”  In the years that followed, the Tsar extended the edict to allow Doukhobors from across the Russian Empire to resettle in Tavria.

Lopukhin’s involvement in the “Doukhobor Affair” would determine the fate of the sect throughout Russia for the next forty years. For the first time, the Doukhobors had in Lopukhin a sympathetic high official who spoke up for the sectarians and stressed their virtues as well as their faults.  He acted as a conduit between the Doukhobors and the highest circles of Russian society, transmitting their beliefs using the language and metaphors of the Imperial Court, and in doing so, helped lay the basis for Tsar Alexander’s policy on the Doukhobors.  But for his intervention, the Doukhobors of Sloboda-Ukraine and elsewhere would have remained isolated, dispersed, voiceless and oppressed.  It is through his efforts that the Doukhobors owed a great measure of release from persecution, and also an opportunity to exist and develop as a self-contained community. 

Lopukhin left Kharkov in December of 1801 to resume his senatorial duties.  Between 1802 and 1805, he served as President of a commission “to deal with the dispute of estates in the Crimea”, travelling to the Crimea to the Crimea to settle land disputes between Tatars and Russian landlords.  In 1806, he observed the formation of national armed forces in Vladimir, Kaluga, Ryazan and Tula provinces.  In 1807, he served in the Eight Department of the Senate, a branch of the Senate which was located in Moscow. 

In 1808-1809, the “Zapiska Niekotorykh Obstoiatel’stv Zhizni i Sluzhby Dieistvitel’nago Tainago Sovietnika, Senatora I. V. Lopukhina” [“A note on some circumstances in the life and career of Acting Privy Councillor, Senator I. V. Lopukhin”] was written under Lopukhin’s dictation.  The tract contained Lopukhin’s detailed reminisces on the “Doukhobor Affair”.

In 1812, during the Napoleonic War, Lopukhin fled Moscow to escape the advancing French armies, resettling to his estate of Saviiskoye in the Baltic. In 1813, Lopukhin took a leave of absence from the Senate for health reasons, which was repeatedly prolonged.  He moved back to his family estate at Voskresenskoye and married the daughter of Moscow merchant M.E. Nikitin.  From 1814 until the end of his life, Lopukhin was a member of the Russian Bible Society, a non-denominational organization devoted to translating and distributing the Bible in Russia. 

Throughout his later career and until his death, Lopukhin was censured by Orthodox clergy, local and provincial officials, and by conservative elements within the Russian aristocracy for his efforts on behalf of the Doukhobors.  The Senator ignored the criticism until the Holy Synod (council of Orthodox bishops of the Russian Empire) reproached him for the “harmful multiplication” of Doukhobors. In response to his critics, Lopukhin composed the essay “Glas Iskrennosti” [“Voice of Sincerity”], explaining the Doukhobors’ “errors of faith”, outlining their history of persecution, and defending his activities in connection with the sect. The essay was circulated privately in 1806, but was only published posthumously in 1817.

In addition to ‘Glas Iskrennosti’, there are several historical tracts on the Doukhobors attributed to Lopukhin. The first of these, “Zapiska, Rodannaya Dukhobortsami Ekaterinoslavskoy Gubernii v 1791 g. Gubernatoru Kakhovskomu” [“Note of 1791 submitted by the Doukhobors of Ekaterinoslav Province to Governor Kakhovsky”] contains one of the earliest expositions of Dukhobor beliefs. The Note is known only in copies; the original has never been discovered.  However, scholars have ascertained that the first copy was made from a document belonging to Lopukhin.  The second tract is an 1805 note entitled “Nekotorye Cherty ob Obshchestve Dukhobortsev” [“Several Characteristics of Doukhobor Society“].While the authorship of these tracts has not been positively identified, scholars such as Svetlana Inikova have identified Masonic influences in both, and have justifiably attributed them to either an unidentified Mason or directly to Lopukhin himself. 

A prominent theme in Lopukhin’s many writings was the idea of a spiritual “inner church”, the foes of which were the secular learning and self-indulgence which kept man from following Christ and gaining “true wisdom”. Lopukhin’s ideal man, the “spiritual knight”, defended the “inner church” with the spiritual weapons of silent suffering and freely given love.  In “Glas Iskrennosti”, Lopukhin characterized the Doukhobors as the “hidden saints” of his new church.  Interestingly, perhaps the most famous convert to his idea of a new inner church was Leo Tolstoy, who became an archetype of Lopukhin’s “spiritual knight” with his “conversion” to a new non-doctrinal Christianity that abjured violence and taught that “the kingdom of God is within you”.  Tolstoy, like Lopukhin before him, would view the Doukhobors as living examples of his philosophical ideals. 

Lopukhin died at his family estate on 22 June 1816.  Among his contemporaries, he enjoyed great popularity as the epitome of the fair and disinterested judge, the philanthropist, the man who put the welfare of his Motherland before his own, the trusted advisor to the Tsars.  At the same time, his mystic writings and philosophy earned him many denigrators who accused him of hypocrisy and personal defects.  Sadly, his role and influence in the history of the Doukhobors, perhaps second only to Tolstoy amongst “outsiders” to the sect, remains largely unappreciated and forgotten.

Note

For more about Lopukhin’s legacy as a writer and thinker see: Lipski, Alexander. “A Russian Mystic Faces the Age of Rationalism and Revolution: Thought and Activity of Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin” in Church History (Vol. 36, No. 2 (Jun., 1967), pp. 170-188; and Billington, James H. “The Icon and the Axe, An Interpretive History of Russian Culture” (New York: Random House, 1966.

For more about Lopukhin’s investigation of the Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors and the formation of the Milky Waters colony see: Fry, Gary Dean. “The Doukhobors, 1801-1855: Origins of a Successful Dissident Sect” (Ph.D thesis, American University, 1976); and Savva, Vladimir Ivanovich, “K Istorii Dukhobortsev Khar’kovskoi Gubernii” (Kharkov, Kharkov Historical-Philological Society, 1893); republished in P.N. Malov, “Dukhobortsi, ikh Istoria, Zhizn’ i Bor’ba”translated as More about the History of the Dukhobortsy of Kharkov Province on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. 

For more about Lopukhin’s role in the historiography of the Doukhobors see:Inikova, Svetlana A. Spiritual Origins and Beginnings of Doukhobor History in A. Donskov, J. Woodsworth & C. Gaffield (eds.), The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada, A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on their Unity and Diversity. (Ottawa: Slavic Research Group and Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa, 2000); reproduced on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.

This article was reproduced by permission in ISKRA No. 2020 (U.S.S.C., Castlegar, BC, July 3, 2009)

Visit to the Doukhobors

Manitoba Morning Free Press

The year 1902 was a turbulent one for the Doukhobors in Canada. Disputes with government over homestead entry, internal dissension and zealot activity turned the tide of public opinion against them, prompting many wildly outrageous and grossly exaggerated reports. Despite this, some fair-minded Canadians continued to stand up unreservedly for the Doukhobors. One such citizen, E.H. Blow of Fort Pelly, Assiniboia, wrote a detailed and sympathetic account of the Doukhobors of the North Colony, extolling their prosperity and progress, social customs, skills, industry, work ethic, and charity, homes, buildings and yards, and other positive characteristics. Published in the Manitoba Morning Free Press on October 1, 1902, his message was simple and direct: Leave the Doukhobors alone. Give them a chance, and let them become Canadians on their own terms.

The peaceful, inoffensive, industrious Doukhobor has been the subject of much talk of late. This talk has been caused by the foolish utterances of idle and irresponsible people, and by the malicious statements of mischief makers. All the reports that have been spread abroad are either willfully false or grossly exaggerated. With the exception of his disinclination to observe three simple governmental regulations on account of his religious beliefs, there is no reason for complaint against him. He is a hard-working, uncovetous, and exceedingly charitable to all but when he has to rub shoulders with government, he becomes obstinate and fortifies himself with the instilled faith that God alone is supreme, and his laws only are to be observed. As the human Laws of all Christian nations today are based on God’s law, the Doukhobor cannot be regarded as other than an admirable character.

His present obstinate refusal to enter for his homestead, to register his vital statistics and to pay his road tax is no doubt annoying, but as some one has remarked “obstinacy is not to be commended but fidelity to what one deems to be right and proper is ever to be commended and recognized.” Leave the Doukhobor alone and he will soon became a citizen of Canada whose example in matters of industry and religious zeal will be worthy of emulation. The minds of the young men are turning in the right direction and victory will be with them.

It has just been my privilege to visit the thirteen Doukhobor villages in the Swan River valley, extending from Thunder Hill, eighteen miles along the Swan River, in Eastern Assiniboia, and the impressions that I formed from my personal contact with the Doukhobors and from my observations of their habits and customs is extremely favorable in their behalf. In the thirteen villages there are 2,500 souls, the population of the villages ranging from 100 to 250. These villages comprise what is known as the north colony.

Store Houses Filled to Overflowing

It is a little over three years since they settled on the land set apart for them by the Dominion government. They had no cattle, horses or implements to start with, but the good Quakers of the United States came to their aid and furnished them with means to purchase these necessary articles in a limited way. With primitive methods they went to work with characteristic energy and abounding patience and faith and today they have under cultivation an aggregate of 5,540 acres of which they have reaped this year a rich harvest of wheat, barley, oats, flax and vegetables, so that their store houses are filled to over-flowing, sufficient to place them, beyond all possibility of need for the next five years, supposing they did not wish to produce any more during that period. But they do intend to produce more, because they are now busy at work plowing the stubble fields and breaking new land. They had the wheat cut and stacked two weeks earlier than the English speaking settlers in the district and have a good part of their threshing done, not withstanding the fact that they have no modern machinery and do practically all their work by hand labor.

Village of Vosnesenya, North Colony, c. 1904.  Library and Archives Canada C-000683.

The Doukhobor Homes

The Doukhobor villages and the Doukhobor home life are picturesque. It is like a bit of the old world transplanted into the newest. The cottages are ranged on either side of an open street and are tastefully constructed, presenting an attractive appearance. The material used in the construction of the houses is un-sawn spruce timber. Both the exterior and interior are plastered over with a clay mixture and then painted with a wash made of white painted clay, the prevailing white being relieved by dadoes around walls and posts made from a wash of yellow clay. The roof logs project over the walls and form verandahs which are neatly ornamented with woodwork, in some instances carved and scrolled. Beneath the verandahs on the sides of the houses mostly used are plank, stone or earthen platforms. Erected over the gates are ornamental arches such as are common in Northern Europe and eastern countries. The home yards are kept as neat as a palace walk by means of sand spread on the ground and watered and swept every morning, and once or twice during the day. The interior of the houses, with scarcity an exception are spotless. The walls and ceilings are immaculately white, while the tables, benches, and chairs all made of lumber fairly shine with the constant scrubbing and polishing of the good housewives. Generally speaking the houses each have a living and sleeping room, kitchen, and work and store room. In some cases where families live together under the same roof, the living and sleeping rooms are duplicated, both families using the kitchen in common. Where two or more families live together, they are usually relatives, the parents and their sons’ wives and children. The son always takes his wife to his father’s home and there they live until the young folks build for themselves, or if the husband has to go away to work, his wife and children are under the care and protection of his parents.

The Sleeping Apartments

A number of the members of a family may and do sleep in the same room. Because of this fact, some people are disposed to harshly criticize the Doukhobors, but it must be remembered that this habit is customary among the peasant folk of other European nationalities and thee are many pioneers in this country who can recall the time when Canadian settlers in their first homestead shacks were compelled to live in a similar way. Some of these settlers today are living in houses that cost from six to ten thousand dollars, and they will tell you not with a blush, but with feelings or pride, of the inconveniences they had to put up with in the early days, and how they overcame them. The Doukhobor is a God-fearing good-living moral man. No one can deny that. He who says to the contrary speaks with a false or foolish tongue. While to those who know naught to the contrary it may appear that there is no privacy in the Doukhobor home; there is privacy and above all there is sanctity. The Doukhobor believes with Canon Farrer: “It may not be ours to utter convincing arguments, but it may be ours to live holy lives; it may be ours to be noble, and sweet, and pure,” and so he lives by day and by night.

Clean Barns and Stable Yard

As neatness and cleanliness is the conspicuous feature of the Doukhobor home, so is with all about the homestead. There is a place for everything and everything is kept in its place. The horse and cattle stables are warm and clean. The manure is not thrown out of the stable and left there to contaminate the air or to pollute the earth. It is hauled away to the fields or otherwise disposed of. When the cattle come home at night, they are corralled some distance from the house and the feed is not thrown to them on the ground, but placed in racks, so that there may be no waste and no litter. Everything is neat and tidy and thrifty-like. Some settlers could get many useful sanitary and economic pointers by a visit to the Doukhobor villages.

Evidence of Taste and Skills

The large oven found in every house is an interest object. In its capacious interior all the baking and cooking is done, while sufficient heat is radiated from its ample surfaces to warm the entire house. On top the little children and old women have their sleeping place. The oven is kept scrupulously clean, the same as every other part of the house. Stoves are now coming into use in most of the villages. In every house visited there were plants in the windows, curtain draperies and little ornamental knickknacks of silk and woodwork, giving evidence of skill and taste on the part of both men and women.

Will Build Better Homes

The Doukhobor house is of a character that no pioneer in a new country need be ashamed of, but the Doukhobors are not satisfied. They have already expressed their intention of erecting larger and more substantial homes as soon as they get more land under cultivation. Their new homes will be chiefly of stone and each man will build on his own farm. Many of the men are skilled in the art of stone masonry, and as the shallow river beds in the region where they live abound in boulder stone, it is natural that they should decide to build their permanent homes of this excellent material.

The Women Spin and Weave

The ancient spinning wheel is found in every home and with it the women make yarn from the wool of their sheep and also spin flax thread, from which they weave coarse, serviceable cloth and also make twine, etc. The Doukhobors appear to understand the manufacture of hemp, and the industry among them should be encouraged. With improved machinery they could manufacture a number of merchantable articles, such as binder twine, rope and linen. What they are doing in this line now is on a small and crude scale. The women are skillful with the needle, their lace and silk work being very artistically designed and splendidly executed. The women also excel in basket making, the fancy straw baskets made by them being equal to anything ever imported into Winnipeg from abroad. This work they do, it would seem, for amusement, and generally to present to friends as souvenirs, though they turn it to profitable account sometimes. Some of the men carve animals and birds, and all are handy with carpenters’ and smithing tools. They are able to make anything they want out of the most unlikely material. The Doukhobor is by no means the stupid being hat some people think. Necessity has made him a genius. It has sharpened his wits and inspired his hand, and as soon as he feels that he is an absolutely free man he will become a model citizen. He has no vices; his wants are simple, and he follows the Bible precept that it is more blessed to give than to receive. He gives away one-tenth of what he produces, here again showing his strict observance of Biblical teaching.

Doukhobor women baking bread in outdoor ovens. British Columbia Archives E-07248.

Everybody Works

I have seen the people in their homes, in the fields, in the towns and on the trail. They are always at work, and everybody from the youngest to the oldest, finds something to do. Many hands lighten the burden, and their work seems to be a pleasure. The household duties of the women are light, owing to the assistance they receive from the young girls, consequently they accompany the men to the fields and help with what work there may be there to do. The outdoor work done by the women is voluntary. They go with the men more as a matter of comradeship and as the men are kind to the women, the latter are anxious to help all they can in sewing, caring for and reaping the crops. Many of the women who go to the fields do not join in the farm work, but take their sewing and knitting, with them. I have seen several groups of women of the various villages sitting around the stacks while the sheaves were being hauled in, or at the winnowing grounds, busily employed with their fancy work, while the children played about or occupied themselves with light employment. These scenes were very pretty and reminded one more of a happy family picnic party than anything else. Yet the work of the harvest was going on unceasingly and it was wonderful what a few men could accomplish in a day. Three stone flour mills are being put up in the north and south colonies, and the rivers are being utilized for motive power.

How the Doukhobor Threshes

The Doukhobor threshes his grain in the fields either with flails or by horses attached to corrugated rollers, the tramping of the animals and the pounding of the rollers separating the wheat from the straw. The threshed grain is finally cleaned by throwing it into the air so that the chaff and light foreign seeds may be blown out by the wind. The grain is then passed through home-made sieves and is then ready for mill or market. The process is slow but with the number of winnowing grounds in a field a lot of grain can be harvested in a day. I saw in one field a party of fifty men and women standing in a circle threshing with flails. It was a pretty picture of industry, the effect being heightened by the quaint multi-colored garb of the women. They sang as they worked, and were apparently as happy as school children.

Social Customs

The community system prevails among the Doukhobors. All moneys earned by the members of a village are pooled and each village has a common storehouse in which provisions and supplies are kept. Individuals may contract debts, but the village to which they belong becomes responsible for payment. All debts are promptly met, so that no business man hesitates to give the Doukhobors credit for any amount. Those who have commercial dealings with these people hold them in high esteem for their unfailing probity.

The marriage ceremony of the Doukhobors is simple. It is merely a declaration made before elders, but it is to them just as solemnly binding as any rite, ritual, or sacrament of the great church denominations. The story that a Doukhobor may divorce his wife at pleasure is untrue. The Doukhobor who does not treat his wife kindly, who fails to provide for her properly or deserts her is excommunicated, as it were and becomes a social outcast. To the Doukhobor, so firm in his simple Christ-like faith, this is a severe penalty as is rarely if ever incurred.

Cleanliness of person is one of the cardinal principles of the Doukhobor doctrine. The first house built in a village is a Russian bath-house which is used daily and in addition to this, men, women and children are frequently to be seen bathing in the rivers in nature’s attire. For the benefit of those who think this a depraved or questionable custom, the well-known motto of the British royal coat of arms may be cited. However, as the district becomes settled up and the Doukhobors become familiar with the customs of the country they will, no doubt, perform their outdoor ablutions in a more conventional manner. They would not wittingly give offense to any person.

The Doukhobor is Sociable

To the casual observer the Doukhobor might appear sullen and distrustful. But such is not his nature. He is merely respectful among strangers and training refrains him from being familiar. When approached, however, in a friendly spirit, he warms up and becomes sociable. He is full of good humor and wholesome fun. He bubbles over with a happy spirit. Children and adults are the same. The youngsters romp and frolic in the villages and have their play things, always homemade, the same as other children.

The warmth of the welcome that a stranger receives to the Doukhobor home is marked. There is no doubt about the genuineness of the hospitality. Gate and door are flung wide open and food for man and beast in abundance is instantly forthcoming if wanted. To offer payment for the entertainment is to offer insult. They will give but not receive.

Deeds of Charity

To illustrate the great Christian charitableness with which these people are imbued, it may be mentioned that they have frequently made gifts of animals and provisions to poor English speaking settlers whom they had accidentally learned were in needy circumstances. It is not long since that some of the villagers in the South or Yorkton colony, hearing that the house of an English speaking settler had been destroyed by fire, went to the forest, cut logs, hauled them to the unfortunate man’s farm and built him a new house and offered other material aid. One village also gave to Mr. Harley, Dominion land agent and Post master at Swan River six cows, with the request that they be given to any poor settlers that might be in his district. Many similar instances of exceeding generosity and kindness are on record. Charity is one of the virtues that the Doukhobor believes in exercising freely, and his charity is dispensed unostentatiously. When he sees opportunity to do good he does it as a solemn duty and without expectation of worldly favor or reward.

The North Colony Reserve

The north colony reserve is eighteen miles long and twelve wide, comprising six townships of 188,240 acres. The soil is uniformly good, being a rich loan. The land generally is what is known as highland prairie, much of the tract being open, but there are belts of excellent timber along the Swan River and in the hills. The typography of the country is attractive, being a succession of gently rolling hills, scored with ravines, which run back from the valley of the Swan River and furnish natural drainage. The Swan Valley west and north of Thunder Hill, is very beautiful. The banks in some places rise to a height of 300 feet above the meandering serpentine stream, and with treeless buttes and wooded dales present as lovely a picture of nature in its wild state as one could wish to gaze upon. The villages extend along the river southward from Thunder Hill, and are nearly all situated on the river banks, some on the north and some on the south side. Numerous spring creeks rise in the hills and furnish the purest of water. Some of these creeks run all winter and have never been known to freeze.

What can be said of the Doukhobor reserve may be said of the entire Swan River valley, so that the Doukhobors have no monopoly of the good things. There are thousands of acres of the very best agricultural lands west of the Duck Mountains, extending north from Shell River to the Swan valley, and westward from there indefinitely to the Saskatchewan country. This vast territory will soon be open for homesteading. Some of it already is, so that the Doukhobor reserve is but a speck on the map. The land between Swan River town and the first Doukhobor village just outside the province is a splendid district, and the Canadian and other settlers who have located there consider themselves very fortunate. The Doukhobors are well satisfied with their land, their only regret being that they cannot grow fruit as they did in Russia; but they have decided that it is more profitable and less trouble to grow wheat and buy apples. The country is overrun with small wild fruits. The Doukhobors are good farmers. They are careful and study the nature of the soil. When they acquire machinery, as they assuredly will as they grow richer, they will be big exporters of all kinds of cereals.

Doukhobor pilgrims leaving Yorkton to evangelize the world, 1902.  Library and Archives Canada C014077.

Religious Zeal

The Doukhobors are intensely religious. Their zeal in this respect has recently created a nine days’ wonder for such it will prove to be. Some of the old men fearing that their sudden change from poverty to plenty might make them worldly, or that prosperity might cause the younger members of the community to relax in their faith, agitated for a thank offering to God, and advised that this offering should take the form of liberating their horses, oxen and cows. They also advised the renewal of vows not to kill or destroy life or use the product of any beast, bird or being that had been killed. The influence of the elders is strong. Obedience to the will of the elders is instilled into the Doukhobors from childhood, so it is little wonder that the strange propaganda had its effect. However, all the people were not carried away by the “craze.”, more than half of them refusing to give up their live stock or to follow any lead that made for retrogression. Less than 500 animals – horses, cows and sheep – were turned away from the two colonies of 4,500 people. A few sold their animals and bought implements. Those who declined to give up their live stock are among the most intelligent of the people, who recognize the advantages of having horses and work cattle for the carrying on of their agricultural pursuits. This faction will continue to add to their live stock and implements whenever they can afford it, and in fact were among the buyers at the sale of the Doukhobor cattle at Fort Pelly last Wednesday.

Will Result in Good

This wave of religious zeal will do good. It will probably result in the solution of the little difficulties that have been encountered with respect to the observance of the governmental regulations already referred to. There are already signs that this will be the effect. The factions are now at outs with each other, and the progressive spirits will break way from the prevailing communistic ideas and will strike out for themselves. When the others see how well these succeed they will fall into line. They are thinking and debating, and discussing and all will end right, because the young men who are breaking away are now just as stubborn as the elders, though it causes them many a heart pang and brings down upon them a species of petty persecution that under the circumstances requires a strong will and much moral courage to withstand. The two factions are known among themselves as the “bad Doukhobors” and the “crazy Doukhobors.”

The Passing of the Craze

When the Doukhobors became affected with the craze, they discarded their boots, woolen stockings and every article of clothing made wholly or partly of leather or wool. They bought rubber boots and made shoes of planed binder twine with wooden soles. They took the leather peaks and bands from their caps and replaced them with cloth, and took the place of the horses and oxen at the wagons and plows. They are getting tired of this practice now as it evidenced by the remarks that the “bad Doukhobors” let fall occasionally among their English speaking friends; and I saw myself people from one of the villages who had turned loose their sheep, hauling sacks of wool home from Swan River. This is indicative of a recantation which all who are in touch with the situation, believe will soon become general. They probably realize that their extreme self-abnegation before God involves altogether too much punishment of the flesh without corresponding benefits to the soul. No one minds if they do make cart horses of themselves. That is their own business.

Some may think it cruel to have the women helping to pull the wagons, but the women do this of their own accord and against the wishes of the men, and the loads are so light, compared to the number of men and women who do the hauling, that the individual work load is light. As they march along the road they sing joyful songs and laugh and joke one with the other. The women do not hitch themselves to the wagons in all cases. They accompany the men to town to make purchases and to prepare the meals at the roadside camps, and may frequently be seen on the trial, walking ahead while the mean pull the wagons and carts. No argument can convince the Doukhobor that he is wrong in giving up his horses and cattle. When cornered by a Bible quotation, he repudiates the Old Testament, falls back on the New, and finally tells you that he gets his teachings and inspirations from the Book of Life. The Doukhobors are not the only people who are carried away by religious fads. Only a few months ago in Winnipeg then were men and women who gave up all their money and land to join some Bible school that was conduced by a Yankee on Broadway and there are several other sects in the city whose religious practices are so emotional that they partake of the nature of mania.

Objections to Government

The Doukhobor does not believe in government. He recognizes but one ruler and that is God. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” and therefore, he must not lay proprietary claim to anything in the earth, under the earth, or in the sky. Hence his objections to the making entry for his homestead, to pay road tax, and to the registration of vital statistics. He will build roads, but he wants no government supervisions; he is willing that the homesteads be entered for in the name of the village, but will not agree to individual ownership. He would also report the births, deaths and marriages, but fears that that means taxes and taxes mean government. He is afraid that compliance with these simple but important regulations would be the inserting of the thin end of the wedge and the end would be tyranny. He does not understand, but soon will. The government will find means to convince him that he has nothing to fear and the example of those of his brethren who have homesteaded, will have a salutary effect, though it may be slow. It took the children of Israel a whole generation to realize and appreciate the benefits of their release from thralldom, and so it takes time with all people who have been subjected for centuries to the falling yoke of despotism, and have learned to hate their oppressors with a bitterness that knows no bounds to get rid of their prejudices, their fears, and their doubts. It is safe to predict that before next spring the number of Doukhobors to take up their homesteads will largely swell the present list.

Doukhobors plowing, North Colony, 1905.  Library and Archives Canada A021179.

The Doukhobors Developing

The Doukhobors are developing. Those who saw them arriving in Winnipeg a little over three years ago would scarcely know them now. Many of them have laid aside their national peasant garbs and adopted Canadian attire. They young people want to get on: it is the elders who cling tenaciously to their old habits, customs and beliefs, just the same as the old men of those excellent people the Mennonites cling to theirs and urge the young people to do the same. But with the progressive influences surrounding them, neither the young Doukhobor nor the young Mennonite can be checked. The Mennonites have been in Manitoba nearly 30 years, but yet their advance towards that goal which Canadians desire to see them attain is only beginning to be noticeable. It will take another generation to evolve the real thing.

Not a few of the Doukhobors can now speak English, especially the young lads. Several boys have been employed as store clerks in Swan River town, and a couple are engaged there now. The merchants speak highly of their ability as salesmen, and of their energy and faithfulness to duty. They are bright and quick to learn, mastering all the details of counter work in a few weeks. These lads are well dressed and if they were placed with a group of Canadians, any one who did not know them, would not be able to identify them. I have watched the immigration of foreign peoples since the arrival of the Mennonites, and in my opinion the Doukhobors are equal as agriculturists to the very best Europeans of the peasant class that have come to this country and much better than a good deal of it. They are self reliant, good providers, and will never cost the country one cent. Some of those who stubbornly cling to their belief may perhaps endeavor to seek an asylum where they will be allowed to follow their peculiar ideas regarding government without interference, but there will be few.

Not Illiterate

It is frequently asserted that the Doukhobors are illiterate. This is not a fact. The majority of them can read and write in their own language, even the young boys can read and I have frequently seen them reading letters and the tracts received from a Russian committee that has headquarters in London, England. They Doukhobors do not favor the establishment of English schools, but teach their children at home. Every father is the teacher at his own house, and also the preacher. The children are taught the unit system of reckoning by the use of the abacus, such as the Chinese use for calculating. The Bible is the only book seen in their homes, but they receive papers and tracts from abroad.

How the Doukhobors Came

An impression has gained ground that the Doukhobors were brought to the Northwest at an enormous expense to the Dominion government. This is erroneous, as most of the reports about these people are. The Doukhobors were sent to Canada by money provided by the Society of Friends in England, and the Quakers of the United States furnished money to buy them seed grain, live stock, and implements. In two or three trifling cases the government did advance money for implements, but on making inquiry I ascertained that the amount has been repaid. The per capita bonus paid to European steamship companies for promoting emigration, was given to the Doukhobors as the steamship agents had not worked among them and waived their claim. Part of this money was used in purchasing food supplies under the direction of a committee of local gentlemen. Considering the expenditure for advertising, agents, etc., the average British immigrant costs per head vastly more than the Doukhobors did. I am informed that all inducements given to the Doukhobors are open to any large bodies of desirable settlers from any other part of the world.

As to the character of the Doukhobor, his industry, his morals, his charity, I am glad to state that the opinion I have formed in respect thereto is shared by the business men of the towns where they trade and by those who have had occasion to come in contact with them in matters of business or otherwise. One business man said: “If they will only leave the Doukhobors alone until they get to understand things here. They will make a veritable garden out of this country.”

Not All Alike

The people in each village have their own little fads about dress and edibles, and sometimes the people of the same village hold diverse views about these things. Now, regarding the turning away of their live stock, only a certain percentage in each village have done this. Out of thirteen villages that I have visited there were only two that had no horses, oxen or cattle. In the others more than half of the live stock has been retained, and as I have said more will be purchased by the independent men as soon as they can get the money. In every field passed, I saw more men at work with oxen and horses. I saw no women pulling plows or wagons on the farms. Some won’t eat butter; others will, and I saw the women making excellent butter. Meat in all forms is tabooed, but fish has a place on the bill-of-fare in some homes. However, a straight vegetarian diet is the prevailing rule, and it seems to agree with these people, for they are stalwart, healthy and strong. The children are the picture of health. They would make fine illustrations for health food advertisements. Disease is rarely known among them. Both men, women and children are comfortably clad, and in all the colonies there is every appearance of comfort, happiness and prosperity. Leave the Doukhobor alone. Give him a chance and he will soon evolve into a sturdy, worthy Western Canadian citizen.

E.A. Blow

Fort Pelly, Assiniboia
September 26, 1902.

Special thanks to Corinne Postnikoff of Castlegar, British Columbia for her assistance with the data input of this article.

The Origin of the Freedomite Movement

by William A. Soukeroff

The Freedomite (Svobodniki or Sons of Freedom) Doukhobors began as a small, radical movement to reinvigorate the faith, restore traditional Doukhobor values and protest the sale of land, education, citizenship and registration of vital statistics. They would achieve infamy through civil disobedience, nude marches and burnings. Reproduced from Vestnik (April 8, 11 and 15, 1959), the following article by William A. Soukeroff examines the history and influences of the Freedomite movement. It was written as an attempt to educate the Canadian public about the Freedomites at a time characterized by sensationalistic, one-sided and misrepresentative news coverage of the movement. Translated by Steve Lapshinoff.

I

The problem of the Freedomites of British Columbia is an important link with the forceful abduction of their children and their plans of migration to the “Motherland”. It has attracted the attention of the Canadian public. Many sincerely sympathize with their plight, would like to understand them and help them, and to lessen the burden of their bitter fate. But to the many who are unfamiliar with the history of the Doukhobor movement and the conception of the Freedomites amongst them, the problem does not seem to fall into any sort of logic.

It appears to me that no logical solution to this problem can be found, not knowing how the Freedomite movement was conceived among the Doukhobors, from whence came their views on life, misled if you will. This question cannot be resolved superficially.

The religious Doukhobor sect has been in existence for over 200 years. It had periods of calm and of revivals. When they were not bothered by the authorities, the Doukhobors lived quietly and peacefully, but the moment that the authorities began to press them, there would be spurts of uprising amongst them. This is the way it was in the Transcaucasia. The refusal of military service by the Doukhobors and later the persecution of them by the government brought out the uprisings.

Religious movements often go to the extremes and fall under the absolute influence of the strongest individual in its’ midst. These extremes often surface through ideas and aspirations to adhere steadfastly to given goals, not withstanding any agreements, laws or rights of other people. With these beliefs, the Doukhobors migrated to Canada.

There was a split among the Doukhobors within the very first years in Canada. It seems that a community proclaiming universal Brotherhood would be the more united but life and ideas, like words and deeds often do not go hand in hand.

Part of the Doukhobors became attracted to private ownership in Canada and immediately began to obtain separate lots of land and to live individually. The larger part (of Doukhobors) strived to live in accordance with their religious beliefs – communally. Doukhobors always had leaders. They listened to their teachings and were guided by their advice. Peter Vasilyevich Verigin was in exile in Siberia and was unable to migrate to Canada with the Doukhobors. After a few years in Canada without a leader, many became “Free thinkers” and introduced new ideas into the Doukhobor midst.

In the material sense, during the first years in Canada, the Doukhobors encountered severe hardships as a natural occurrence. An insignificant number of respected elders did not want to accept this reality, insisting that Doukhobors pay more attention to their spiritual rather than material, i.e. strive toward spiritual attainment rather than worry about material comfort.

In 1901 Doukhobors received a book “Letters of the Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin”, released under the editorship of Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, his introductory article and with a forward by V. and A. Tchertkov.

These “Letters”, gave the Doukhobors the opportunity to get more acquainted with the philosophies and outlook of their leader. While in exile Peter V. held wide communications with many friends and sympathizers of the Doukhobors, and most importantly with people closely associated with Lev Nickolaevich Tolstoy. In these letters, Peter V. often emphasized that his expressed views appear as “Fantasies” or “Theories”. It could be said with confidence that he did not in any way think that these “Theories” and “Fantasies” would be accepted by the Doukhobors as precepts in their life. As in one of his letters of this collection (letter # 17) dated November 41h, 1896, from the village of Obdorsk to Nickolai Trofimovich Ezumchenko, he wrote the following:

I would like to see education as well as any written communication of course, dropped altogether as a trial period for a couple of years. This is, as yet only a thought, a product of fantasy. For example, our society’s old age views of education are reprehensible, and we have very few educated people amongst us. The few, if any, are self-taught. We maintain that education destroys the inclination to greet people, also, schools corrupt the morals of children, and thirdly all things through which education is actualized are obtained through great hardships, therefore, to participate in the subjugation of people in any form must be avoided.

In spite of the fact that this was not written to the Doukhobors but to an outsider, the opinion of his “theory” later manifested in the Freedomite way of life. From this is seen, that many views of the Freedomites have direct connection to these same philosophies.

In the same letter Peter Vasilyevich continues:

In my theory or understanding, in essence the order of composition should be: to drop physical labour one by one and go out to teach peace and charity which coincides with temperance. Bread is already plentiful; all that is necessary is to be less greedy. The soil, already depleted by man, would rest and replenish itself. I do not even foresee human suffering should they subject to such a theory, because by eating in moderation there would be enough (food) for a hundred years. Humanity is omnivorous, and unfortunately eats for pleasure rather than need. In a hundred years the earth would have enough time to completely recover and go back to its’ original state. And humanity would attain spiritual growth along with a natural earthly paradise, (which Adam and Eye had lost).

Further in this letter he directly states:

If people want to become Christians they should gradually cease physical labour and preach the Gospel (that is Christ).

In this letter Peter Vasilyevich brings forth arguments, which the Freedomites later attempted to fully apply to their way of life:

… That the Apostles and Christ wore clothing and ate bread is natural because both were plentiful and it should be said that Christ and Apostles could not suddenly go naked. I speak of their achievements. I propose that people would gradually get used to physical nakedness – spiritual nakedness is much more sad. Having worn out his clothing and having eaten up one’s bread, mankind would come to the condition of which I spoke earlier. I am told that all people cannot live as Christ and the Apostles did, bit I will say that this must not sway us, for I believe that all can.

These very deliberations which Peter Vasilyevich himself called “products of fantasy” became the foundation for a small group of the elderly, who sought to make manifest this fantasy into reality, and who came to the point of asceticism.

From there “theories” it can be supposed emanates the relentless struggle of the Freedomites against education, with their preaching of the New Testament and their “experiments” in practicing nudity which evoked extreme feelings of prejudice against them from the Canadian public.

The largest trek of the Freedomites (up to 3,000 people), to spread the Gospel, took place in 1902 in Saskatchewan under the slogan of “we are in search of Christ the bridegroom”. In this manner, almost immediately, from the very first years of the settlement of the Doukhobors in Canada, the Freedomites attracted attention of all the Canadian public and the government. The trek was stopped by the police in 1902. The participants were returned home and spared desertion and freezing. In November of 1902 Peter Vasilyevich Verigin arrived in Canada from Siberia. He placated the disturbed Doukhobors and advised them to begin rebuilding their lives.

The trek of 1902.

The community began to get involved with livestock and all other community inventory and life was restored to order. But in several villages the older people began to doubt and to deliberate “Petushka” (this is what they called their leader) is totally violating Christian teachings. After all he himself professed that animals are our lesser brethren, and one cannot oppress them. We preach full freedom to all life, but what sort of freedom is it for horses when they are harnessed? This is not a Christian act.” etc….

Yet the believers in the leader will always find justification for his act saying, “Petushka is only fooling the Englishmen with his doings and is only avoiding harassment from the government but he is not a betrayer of Christianity. We will not worry about this.  Let him do his job and we will do ours. This is only a test from God.”

The whole Freedomite movement, right up to the death of Peter Vasilyevich numbered not more than 200, striving to live the simplest life and subjecting themselves to self-denial and testing their endurance for the accomplishment of the goal of self perfection.

The community with Verigin at its’ head always rejected the Freedomites, and as a result they lived out of the community most of the time. At the time, their eccentricities did not bother the surrounding communities and they had little conflict with the authorities.

In 1921 and 1922, suddenly school buildings burst into flames. Eleven schools were burned. The Doukhobor community was against schools for a long time, but later accepted them on the condition that children will attend schools only to the age of 12. From that time the situation between the Doukhobors and the authorities intensified. The orthodox blamed the Freedomites for the burning of schools, although there were no individuals directly accused. The authorities were unable to find the guilty. In 1924 Peter Vasilyevich was killed by an explosion in a railway coach, by which he was travelling. The Doukhobors are deeply convinced that he was murdered by a bomb by outside evildoers, but this crime was never solved.

The Doukhobors ceased to allow their children to school in protest of this act. The authorities used repressive measures against the Doukhobors for this step, confiscating their belongings, etc. At this time a delegation from the community traveled to Russia to invite Peter Petrovich Verigin, the son of Peter Vasilyevich to come to Canada to head the Doukhobors.

II

With great impatience the Doukhobors awaited the arrival of a leader. In the end, in the year of 1927, P. P. Verigin arrived in Canada.  Immediately in the Doukhobor midst there was a feeling of rejuvenation.

Upon his arrival, the Freedomite movement broadened in character. (In his first speech, P. P. Verigin appealed to the Doukhobors to unite and ordered the Freedomites to drop their fanaticism.) In his second speech, concerning the movement of the three groups, the Orthodox, the farmers Independents, and the Freedomites. He named the Freedomites, “the Named Doukhobors”.  “Freedomites, he said, are called good for nothing, insane, etc. etc., but that is harsh and not true. For Christ, they are none other than the ringing of a bell awakening us. The Freedomites are our Doukhobor scouts; these are the true servants of Christ. Amidst the Freedomites, there are certain individuals, (just as in other groups) who, with their unreasonable actions, strive to blacken these glorious workers, who are on God’s path. I am appealing to them and asking these liars who work with the spirit of Satan, to leave the ranks of these pure Freedomites.” He finished his speech with the following: “The Named Doukhobors, consisting of three indivisible but different levels of growth and emanation: firstly – Freedomites “Scouts”, secondly -center Community, and third – the rear, these are the so-called Independents.”

The bringing forth of the Freedomites to the first place by P. P. Verigin, gave a start to an even bigger growth of the Freedomite movement. However, the 1930’s economic crisis also contributed to the growth of this movement. The crisis had a hard impact on the community. Many of the community members had to go outside the community in order to find work to pay the debt for the community lands. During the crisis year’s jobs could not be found. The Canadian workers traveled from one end of the country to another on freight cars, but could not find jobs anywhere. Under these circumstances the community could not function for very long.  The directors of the community started court proceedings against their own non-paying members. Some members were removed from the community for not paying dues. In the end, the (court) authorities refused to forcefully remove the community members from their land. Many community members proclaimed the slogan of “Land is God’s gift. It should not be an object of trade,” and declared themselves the Sons of Freedom. Yet in the early 1930’s there appeared placards on the community lands, with a similar slogan.  The Freedomites went from village to village and proclaimed, “(We will) forget the taxes and interests. We will put schools out of our minds.”

In the end, after long discussions with the authorities, an agreement was reached that the community would allot a separate region of land where all the non-payers (Freedomites) must settle. This was done. The Freedomites were allotted an area, now known to all as “Krestova”. Many former orthodox made their way to this Krestova, considered as the Freedomite center yet then, and looked upon by all as a leper colony.

Krestova became a haven to many independents as well, from Saskatchewan and Alberta, ruined by the depression.

In 1932, the community began to forcefully oust some 200 members, orthodox – almost half the population of the village of Glade.  Being evicted, instead of going to Krestova, they left all their belongings along the side of the road and marched to Brilliant, the center of the Christian Communities. Other Freedomites began to join their trek, as well as Doukhobors having nothing in common with Freedomites except the wish to help the protest of the ousted members from their homes, which they had built themselves. The protesters never reached Brilliant. The police blocked the road and requested that they return home. But they had been forcibly evicted from their homes and did not want to go to Krestova. In protest, taking an example from the Freedomites, they disrobed.

Freedomite camp near Nelson, British Columbia, 1929.

Thrums, where the marchers were stopped, became the center of public attention. The police arrested the nude and took them to the Nelson jail. But sympathizers of the evicted, arriving in Thrums and seeing the police also disrobed. They were then loaded onto police buses. Near Nelson appeared an encampment of tents, where the protesters were temporarily kept.

Among several hundred Doukhobor protests grew spontaneously against accumulated grievances, deprivations and disagreements of existing order.

In the end the B.C. Government allotted Piers Island, located in the Pacific Ocean near Vancouver, where close to 900 people were sentenced to 3 years for nudism.

At this time Peter P. Verigin was sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment in Saskatchewan and newspaper harassment began against all Doukhobors demanding Verigin’s deportation from Canada. While these two circumstances had nothing in common, the arrest of Verigin had an impact on the Doukhobors in Piers Island: through their imprisonment they tried to share the fate of their leader. The Freedomite children were forcibly taken away from their parents and placed in foster homes around the Vancouver area. Several infants died of neglect. Then a Special Commission of people sympathetic with the Doukhobors was formed, who decided to take the children from the foster homes and place them with Doukhobor families. In our settlement, families including ours took several children to our homes. The children were frightened and didn’t know where their parents were or why they were forced to live among strangers. This had a psychological effect on them.

On completion of 3 years imprisonment, on Piers Island, they returned to their homes (if they had any) – but the majority settled in Krestova. On this manner, people of different outlooks and beliefs were gathered in Krestova. Not surprising then, that media, sociologists and other learned people can’t find one goal or one philosophy among the Freedomites. Many do not understand why the Freedomites reject English Schools, as they see many adequately educated amongst them. By their rejection, they reveal their struggles and protests not only against schools but also against all wrongs in accordance with their beliefs of contemporary living.

As I indicated above, the Economic crisis of the 1930’s had a ponderous effect on the community. At that time, on top of the economic crisis, the community also suffered a loss as a result of the burning of community property. Orthodox, as well as surrounding communities blamed the Freedomites for the burnings, and as a result, there developed extremely acute antagonism. The community was right to defend their interests as they felt that their possessions were threatened. This led to a growth in numbers of “Non-payers” of community dues, who joined the Freedomites. As a result, in 1936-38, the community lost all their properties because of non-payment of dues. With their land lost, their community possessions sold by the courts for next to nothing, brought out not only the dissatisfaction amongst the remaining Orthodox, but was also the reason for the expansion among the ranks of the Freedomites. Many of the Orthodox realized that the Freedomites were correct in their struggle against the laws of private ownership of land, decided to join their ranks.

The Second World War also brought out turmoil among the Freedomites. Notwithstanding the fact that the Doukhobors were legally exempt from military service, the military authorities distributed call-up papers to the young Doukhobors for medical examinations. During talks with Doukhobor representatives, the military authorities indicated that these call-ups were a mere formality, and that no Doukhobor would be forced to serve in the army. Different groups settled this matter with the authorities in their own way. In British Columbia this matter was left without consequences, but in Saskatchewan several young Doukhobors took substitute labour.

Then in connection with the war, the country put into effect the registration of the populace of Canada. Many Doukhobors, not only the Freedomites refused to register considering this to be subject to military laws of the country. Almost all the Freedomites refused to register and were again imprisoned. Therefore, Freedomites according to religious convictions, always protested against all government measures contrary to their beliefs.

III

Analysing the question of the Freedomite movement, one cannot refute the fact that the disturbance in their midst, their protests and strife, their disagreements with the set order of present day living comes from deep, even through distracted convictions of inherent Russian sectarianism.

Sectarianism in my opinion, portrays the condition of a person newly awakened from a long spiritual sleep and not yet fully alert to his surroundings. Consequently, sectarianism often had the appearance of deformity.

Although I do not share Freedomite views upon the persistent struggle against education and assimilation, I do however believe that the movement of the Freedomites cannot be judged superficially and cannot be resolved in a forceful manner. The Canadian government cannot understand the persistence of the Freedomites. To the government, every person living in Canada must firstly be a good citizen and it looks upon him as its’ subject. Concerning the convictions and beliefs of the citizen, for this there are known existing laws and all beliefs and convictions of the people, must fit into this category on the same level of convictions of all the citizens.

The government cannot seem to take into consideration this spirit that was instilled into the Doukhobors over several generations. This open, free, fleetingly turbulent spirit that does not bow to anyone and with which all great warriors and reformers of humanity distinguished themselves.

The Canadian government and the Doukhobors are two opposite poles. For the Freedomites the Canadian government represents all Kings, Princes, Kaisers, Pharaohs, Emperors, Roman Popes, Archbishops, Patriarchs, wars and military generals. Among the Freedomites you will find Diagnoses and Pythagoras’s, Jan Husses, Luthers and other reformers and philosophers, also among them are Razins and Pugachevs.

From this kind of element, a separate group was formed called the Sons of Freedom and it was not without reason they were called “radicals”. Because many Doukhobors, upon migration to Canada, began to disagree under the influence of Canadian “freedom”, the group gathered in strength. The struggle against evil is a thorny path. In the Transcaucasus, the Doukhobors overcame great trials and tribulations and upon migration to Canada, many decided to “rest”. This “rest”, was the cause of dissension. Many, not only “rested”, but also were enticed by a more luxurious way of life. They accepted Canadian citizenship, accepted and purchased individual lots of land separate from the community. They bought automobiles, luxury furniture and began to accumulate money. But among the Doukhobors, there were people who did not succumb to this enticement, fought against it and became objects of persecution even from their own brethren. These are the kind of people the Freedomites were.

No matter how we judge them or disagree on methods of battle or their understandings, we all must acknowledge that the Freedomites did not sell out to the dollar system, nor succumb to the temptations of private ownership and did not stray from their beliefs.

Many Doukhobors would call Freedomites rebels, do not know what they want themselves. Let this be so. But Doukhobors who renounced the Orthodox Church and consequently military service were also rebels. There was also a division among the Doukhobors, yet in the Transcaucasus with their struggle against military service, some of the Doukhobors were also called “rebels”, and “traitors”. If the Freedomites did not practice nudism, one would not be able to distinguish them from Doukhobors of past generations who fought against churches and militarism. It is true that in the past, Doukhobor struggle had a specific and clear goal that which was shared by many elders of that time. The Freedomites now protest against the Canadian system in general and continue in their struggle against government schools and against assimilation with this system and to many this struggle seems foreign and incomprehensible.

What astonishes many is this persistence to follow their convictions and under no circumstances stray from them.

The government is at fault in that it tries with any means including the application of force to convert these people into its citizens.

Many people, wanting to decipher the Freedomite problem, attribute their persistence to fantasy or political propaganda and do not want to acknowledge the fact that the Freedomites can think for themselves, that these simple people are capable of having some sort of ideas or principals.

Freedomite house burning, 1950s.

The Commission on Doukhobor affairs, attempting to settle the conflict between the Freedomites and the government, invited a representative of the American, Quakers, Emmett Gulley, to Canada. Confident that this representative of an influential, religious organization related in spirit to the Doukhobors will influence them. But the outlook and methods of this representative appeared unacceptable to the Freedomites and he was unable to reconcile them with Canadian realities.

Many propose that the Freedomites need a strong spiritual leader, one who can influence them and persuade them to a different way of thinking. But this leader will have to share their views; otherwise they will not acknowledge him. Aside from this, it seems to me that the Freedomites are gradually beginning to drift away from leadership. Their independent decision to begin planning a move to the Soviet Union is witness to this. In the Freedomite midst, there have been discussions of migration to the motherland for quite some time. One of their leaders, a certain Displaced Person, Stephan Sorokin attempted to dissuade them from migrating, and even went as far as slandering against the Soviet Union. In the end, he too was convinced that the idea of returning to the Motherland, among the Freedomites was not simply by chance, not a fleeting vision, but a totally normal and even unavoidable inclination of people, torn from their own people, tradition, and from their birth place, and finally, he gave his agreement.

Speaking of Freedomite intentions to migrate to the motherland raises the question of how they will accept Soviet authority. In the condition of being unable to answer this question authoritatively, I can however only say that the Freedomites are faced with a choice: either to renounce their conviction here in Canada and to change to a superficial, formal way of performing their rituals, and to reconcile with that against which they struggle, as was done by the majority of Doukhobors; or reconcile and rebuild their lives in a new place, the Soviet Russia. Verification to this is the fact that the Freedomites cannot find an empire anywhere that would allow complete freedom; such as they understand it for man. After all, they could have found it possible to assimilate with the Russian people and to build a decent way of life, depicting their world outlook. The Freedomite delegation, having visited the Soviet Union in connection with the business of migrating there, could find nothing contradictory to their ideology, in Soviet culture or way of life. The basis of their ideology fully coincides with the ideas of Socialism and more important is abolition of private property in the Soviet Union. Their slogan of “Land should not be an object of trade” is protected by law and fully practised in life, in the Soviet Union. Let the Freedomites form their convictions about private ownership through Christian teaching. The fact remains, that in the Soviet Union they can live in agreement with this conviction, and not break the law of taught socialism, which exists in their former motherland.

To the Canadian authorities, the migration of the Freedomites comes as a convenience to rid themselves of these obstinate and restless people, who will not succumb to assimilation.

On the basis of all the above said, the reader may form the impression that I am defending the Freedomites and their method of fighting. This is definitely not the issue. It is possible for one not share these or other convictions, but one should attempt to understand them. If the Freedomites refuse to act against their conscience, against their convictions, if they renounce being a Doukhobor through word, but defend the right to live in harmony through their beliefs, for this they will answer themselves. I consider it unjust to judge people on the surface and say that the Freedomites are willful because of some whim or that they want to spite the Canadian government. It is doubtful that such people exist who would, on a whim, or from a desire to spite, would agree to suffer such hardships that the Freedomites suffer, to the extent of losing their children. Some attribute the Freedomites to excessive fanaticism. It could be said that no religion is free from fanaticism. Religious fanatics are not only those who profess the New Testament in word only. But if all churchgoers and in general all religious people professing Christianity began to do that which the New Testament teaches, they would all be considered fanatics.