Oospenia Spring Commemorates Doukhobor Pioneers

For Immediate Release – August 23, 2006

A spring near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan has been officially named to commemorate the Doukhobor settlers of the area. Oospenia Spring, the name proposed by Doukhobor researcher and writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, was recently approved by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.

Oospenia Spring is located on the NW 1/4 of 31-43-5-W3 on the scenic west bank of the North Saskatchewan River, eighteen kilometres south-east of Blaine Lake. It issues from the top of the river bank to form a small, crystal clear pool. The pool overflows down the bank to the flats, and from the flats, into the river. Flowing year-round, it is an excellent source of clean, cool, fresh and abundant water.

“Place names define our landscape and help record our history,“ said Kalmakoff, a leading authority on Doukhobor geographic names. “In this regard, the naming of the spring provides official recognition of the Doukhobors of Oospenia who made a significant contribution to the history and development of the area in which it is located.”

View of Oospenia Spring. Photo courtesy Donna Choppe.

The village of Oospenia was established near the spring in 1899 by Doukhobors from Kars, Russia who fled to Canada to escape persecution for their pacifist beliefs. For five years, the Russian-speaking settlers lived in dug-outs on the river bank before constructing a log village on level ground nearby. Following the motto of ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’, they lived, prayed and worked together, transforming the prairie wilderness into productive farmland. By 1913, Oospenia was abandoned as villagers relocated to individual homesteads or to communal settlements in British Columbia.

“The Doukhobors of Oospenia had a direct and meaningful association with the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “Indeed, the spring was the primary reason they chose the location for their village site. Throughout the history of their settlement, the Oospenia Doukhobors utilized the spring as a drinking water source and as a water source for their livestock and farming operations. In many ways, it helped define the village settlement.”

The official name comes after two and a half years of consultations by Kalmakoff to gather feedback on the suitability and acceptance of the name from persons familiar with the area. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The owner of the land on which the spring is located, Brenda Cheveldayoff, submitted a letter of support. The Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society also endorsed the naming project. As well, the Rural Municipality of Blaine Lake No. 434 passed a resolution in favour of the name.

The consultations were followed by a formal proposal to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, the Provincial body responsible for place names. The Board reviewed and investigated the name proposal in consultation with government departments and agencies. In determining the suitability of the name, the Board was guided by the Geographic Naming Policies, a stringent set of principles governing the naming of geographic features. Its decision – which was firmly in favour of the name Oospenia Spring – was then recommended to the Minister Responsible for the Board, the Hon. Eric Cline, Q.C. who approved the decision.

Now that the name is official, the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board will supply the information to government ministries and agencies, cartographers, publishers and other persons engaged in the preparation of maps and publications intended for official and public use.

For Kalmakoff, the naming of Oospenia Spring was a personal project. His great-great-grandparents, Grigory and Maria Ivin, were among the original group of Doukhobors who founded the village of Oospenia and used the spring in their daily life.

“Oospenia Spring is not just a name on a map or sign,” said Kalmakoff. “It signifies that the contribution of the Doukhobors of Oospenia was substantial to the area and will assure the continued remembrance of them and their deeds by generations that follow.”

For additional information about Oospenia Spring, see the article Doukhobor Dugout House Unveils Monument Commemorating Oospenia Spring by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Good Spirit Lake Annex – Historical Tour

On Saturday, June 20, 2007, the National Heritage Doukhobor Village hosted a guided motor coach tour of Doukhobor historical sites, landmarks and points of interest in the Good Spirit Lake and Buchanan areas of Saskatchewan.

Approximately sixty people took part in the excursion, which travelled through the heart of “Good Spirit Country”, visiting some of the original Doukhobor village and related sites, exploring surviving buildings and structures, and learning about the Doukhobors who inhabited them, their surroundings, and the events that took place within them.

“One of the primary objectives of the tour was to emphasize the historical significance of the Doukhobor contribution to the development and growth of the area”, said Keith Tarasoff, tour organizer and chairman of the National Heritage Doukhobor Village.

Tour participants exploring the Krukoff Homestead near Good Spirit Lake.

In 1899, over 1,000 Doukhobors from Elizavetpol and Kars, Russia settled in the area on 168,930 acres of homestead land reserved by the Dominion Government for their use. The reserve was known as the “Good Spirit Lake Annex”. There, they cleared the forest, broke the virgin prairie, planted grain fields, kept livestock herds and established eight communal villages as well as gristmills, blacksmith shops, granaries and barns. Living, praying and working under the motto of “Toil and Peaceful Life”, they transformed the prairie wilderness into productive farmland. By 1918, the Annex reserve was closed as Doukhobors relocated to communal settlements in British Columbia or to individual homesteads in the area. Those who remained established successful independent farming operations and thriving businesses.

Original 1899-era barn from Blagosklonnoe Village at the Krukoff Homestead.

The tour of the Good Spirit Lake Annex departed from the Doukhobor Prayer Home in Canora at 1:00 p.m. and commenced with a visit to the Krukoff Homestead, established on the site of Blagosklonnoye Village and containing an original village barn as well as a house constructed from bricks from the original village prayer home. The tour then passed the Blagosklonnoye Cemetery site, along with the Staro-Goreloye Village and Cemetery sites, before visiting at the Hancheroff House, an original village home relocated from Staro-Goreloye to its present site in the early 1900’s. A brief stop was made at Devil’s Lake School, a main Doukhobor school in the area during the first half of the twentieth century. The tour then passed through the Kalmakovka Village and Cemetery sites, the Utesheniye Village and Cemetery sites, and the Sukovaeff House, an original village home relocated from Utesheniye to its present site in the early 1900’s. A group moleniye service and commemoration was held at Novo Troitskoye Cemetery, where a major effort is underway to restore the site and preserve the cemetery for the future. The tour then passed through the vicinity of the Novo-Troitskoye Village site and the Moiseyevo Cemetery and Village sites, where at the latter, several original village structures remain.

Tour participants conduct a moleniye service at Novo-Troitskoe Cemetery near Buchanan.

The excursion proceeded to the Village of Buchanan, the main commercial centre in the area and a significant hub of Doukhobor activity throughout much of the twentieth century. A stop was made at Lois Hole Memorial Park, which commemorates the late Lois (nee Verigin) Hole, a former Buchanan resident of Doukhobor ancestry who became a successful market gardener, prominent book publisher and Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta. Afterwards, the tour stopped at the Buchanan Community Hall where participants were treated to refreshments courtesy the Village Council and to an extensive historic photo display courtesy Lorne J. Plaxin.  The tour then resumed, passing the Plaxin & Verigin General Store site and the Buchanan Doukhobor Prayer Home, built in 1916 to serve the needs of the Doukhobors in the surrounding area. A stop was made at the foundations of the Independent Doukhobor Flour Mill and Elevator, which was built in 1916 and operated until the Forties, as well as the foundations of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Store and Warehouse which operated in the Twenties and Thirties.

The tour continued west of Buchanan, where it passed the Novo-Goreloye Village and Cemetery sites, the Village of Buchanan Cemetery, the Kirilovka Village and Cemetery sites, and the site of Dernic Siding and Hamlet. On the return leg, the tour visited the Buchanan Historic Monument, located east of Buchanan along Highway No. 5. Constructed of millstones from the villages of Novo-Troitskoye and Utesheniye, it stands as a memorial to the Doukhobor pioneer settlers of the Buchanan area. As a concluding highlight, a group photo was taken in front of the monument. The tour then returned to the point of departure at 6:30 p.m.

Tour group photo at the Buchanan Historic Monument on Highway No. 5 east of Buchanan.

Throughout the five and a half-hour excursion, expert tour guides Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, a Regina-based researcher and writer and Lorne J. Plaxin, a Preeceville-based local historian, provided an informative and entertaining historical narration.  Both have family roots in the Good Spirit Lake Annex area. Tour participants also shared interesting stories and anecdotes about the people and places. These included Fred Krukoff, who spoke about the Blagosklonnoye village site while Margaret Hancheroff described the Hancheroff House from Staro-Goreloye village.  

“A lot of the people who accompanied the tour were amazed at what we were able to show them,” said Jonathan Kalmakoff. “Many presumed that there was nothing left to see, when in fact, there are plenty of existing historic sites, buildings and landmarks that people pass every day without knowing or appreciating their history or purpose. Through the tour, they were able to have an enjoyable visit, and most importantly, learn a little more about their Doukhobor heritage and culture.”

Highway map of Buchanan and Good Spirit Lake, Saskatchewan.

“It was a privilege to take part in the Good Spirit Lake Annex tour,” said Lorne Plaxin. “A profound feeling of belonging was very evident as the tour bus passed each village or cemetery site. Indeed, the recollections and anecdotes shared by many of the tour participants reminded us all of our rich heritage. We can indeed be proud of our ancestors’ accomplishments and legacy.”

For additional information or inquiries about the tour of the Good Spirit Lake Annex and other Doukhobor historic sites in Saskatchewan, contact the National Heritage Doukhobor Village at Box 99, Veregin, Saskatchewan, S0A 4H0. Phone number (306) 542-4441.

Blahoslovenie Creek Commemorates Kylemore Doukhobors

A creek near Kylemore, Saskatchewan has been officially named to commemorate the Doukhobor settlers of the area. Blahoslovenie Creek, the name proposed by Doukhobor researcher and writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, was recently approved by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.

Blahoslovenie Creek is a small, seasonal stream which originates one kilometre west of Kylemore and winds south-eastward along an eight kilometre course before draining into Fishing Lake. Several marshes, wetlands and smaller streams feed the creek. Rain, snowmelt and groundwater contribute to its flow. Eighteen square kilometres of farmland – approximately eighteen hundred hectares – drain into the creek.

The name Blahoslovenie is the Russian term for ‘blessing’. “The name reflects the fertility and abundance of the land surrounding the creek,” said Kalmakoff, a leading authority on Doukhobor geographic names. “It also embodies the spiritual and cultural heritage of the Doukhobor pioneers who settled and developed the creek’s watershed.”

View of Blahoslovenie Creek from Highway No. 5 west of Kylemore.

In 1917-1918, Doukhobors belonging to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) purchased over four thousand five hundred hectares of land in the Kylemore area. There, under the motto of ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’, they cleared the forest, broke the land and established fourteen communal villages as well as a central store, warehouse, elevator, prayer home, blacksmith shop, granaries and barns. The communal farming enterprise at Kylemore lasted approximately twenty years. Following the collapse of the CCUB in 1937-1939, the land was sold and many of the Doukhobors relocated to British Columbia. Those who remained in the area – approximately ten families – became independent farmers. Many of their descendants still farm the original CCUB landholdings.

“The Doukhobors at Kylemore had a close association with the creek,” said Kalmakoff. “The creek flowed through the heart of the communal settlement. The Doukhobors lived and farmed along its banks and used its waters for domestic and agricultural purposes as well as recreational activities. Many of the Doukhobor pioneers were buried, fittingly, near the source of the creek.”

The official name comes after three years of consultations by Kalmakoff to gather feedback on the suitability and acceptance of the name from persons familiar with the area. The positive response was tremendous. Local Doukhobor residents supported the naming project. The Rural Municipality of Sasman No. 336 passed a resolution in favour of the name. As well, the Fishing Lake First Nation No. 89 passed a resolution endorsing the name.

The consultations were followed by a formal proposal to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, the Provincial body responsible for place names. The Board reviewed and investigated the name proposal in consultation with government departments and agencies. In its deliberations, the Board was guided by the Geographic Naming Policies, a rigorous set of principles governing the naming of geographic features. Its decision – which was solidly in favour of the name Blahoslovenie Creek – was then recommended to the Minister Responsible for the Board, the Hon. Eric Cline, Q.C. who approved the decision.

Now that the name is official, the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board will supply the information to government ministries and agencies, cartographers, publishers and other persons engaged in the preparation of maps and publications intended for official and public use.

“The naming of Blahoslovenie Creek signifies that the Doukhobor contribution to the history and development of the Kylemore area was substantial ,” said Kalmakoff. “It will be an important historic reference for Doukhobors and their future generations.”

For additional information or inquiries about Blahoslovenie Creek, email Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

New Designation Recognizes the National Historic Significance of the Doukhobors at Veregin, Saskatchewan

For Immediate Release – December 10, 2006

The Doukhobors at Veregin, Saskatchewan have been recognized for their national historic significance to Canada. The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for Parks Canada, has announced their addition to Canada’s family of national historic sites, people and events.

Set amidst rolling farmland in eastern Saskatchewan, the community of Veregin was established in 1904 and retained its central role in Doukhobor society until 1931 when spiritual and administrative headquarters were relocated to British Columbia. Its subsequent decline marked the end of the first phase of Doukhobor settlement. The original Veregin settlement – of which the prayer home, machine shed, grain elevator and foundations of the old store survive – was the administrative, distribution and spiritual centre for the region during the first period of Doukhobor settlement in Canada.

Prayer home and residence of Peter V. Verigin.  Photograph by Lorraine Brecht. 

The group of four original buildings designated as national historic sites embody the founding and establishment of Veregin. The spectacular prayer home reflects the settlement’s importance to the Doukhobors as a religious and cultural centre, as well as the authority and the vision of the leader of the Doukhobors, Peter V. Verigin. Constructed in 1917 as the spiritual meeting place of the community and Verigin’s personal residence, this finely-crafted wooden building with its two-storey wrap-around veranda and elaborate metal work was inspired by 19th-century Doukhobor architectural traditions in Russia. The vast open site surrounding the house accommodated large gatherings drawn from Doukhobor colonies throughout Saskatchewan, who assembled to hear the words of their leader as he addressed them from the second floor balcony. Serving for many years as the social, cultural and spiritual centre of Doukhobor life in Saskatchewan, this building remains highly significant as a major architectural landmark and for its ongoing role as a prayer home and museum of Doukhobor history. Two other original buildings, the machine shed and the grain elevator, are fundamental to understanding the history of the Veregin Doukhobor community. The foundations of the old store offer further insights into the settlement’s early role as an important distribution centre and into the communal economy of the Doukhobors.

The ongoing significance of Veregin to the Doukhobor people is indicated by the fact that it was chosen as the site to celebrate the 60th, 75th and 100th anniversaries of their arrival in Canada. The Doukhobor experience in Canada yields insight into Christian communitarian spirit on the western frontier, and represents a remarkable episode in Canadian immigration history. Nowhere is this experience better revealed than at Veregin.

The designations were made by Minister Ambrose on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC). Parks Canada and the HSMBC will work with the community and the National Heritage Doukhobor Village to plan the future placement of commemorative plaques at locations linked to the important contributions made by the designated places.

“These national historic sites are places of profound importance to Canadians.” said Minister Ambrose in a Parks Canada media release. “They bear witness to this nation’s defining moments and illustrate its human creativity and cultural traditions. Each national historic site tells a chapter of Canada’s history and helps us understand Canada as a whole. It is why I am proud to welcome these new places of historic significance to Canada into the Parks Canada family.”

With the designation of these sites, Canada’s system of national historic sites now includes 925 national historic sites, 598 national historic persons and 375 national historic events. The majority of national historic sites are owned and operated by private individuals, not-for-profit groups and corporations. Parks Canada protects and presents 154 of these special places on behalf of Canadians.

For additional information or inquiries about the designation of the Doukhobor buildings at Veregin, Saskatchewan as national historic sites, contact Parks Canada – National Historic Sites of Canada.

Doukhobor Dugout House Unveils Monument Commemorating Oospenia Spring

For Immediate Release – July 11, 2007

In 1899, a group of Doukhobor immigrants from Russia reached the North Saskatchewan River in what was to become the Blaine Lake district of Saskatchewan. Weary from their thousand miles’ journey, they stopped alongside a cool, abundant spring on the west bank of the river. Finding it an ideal location for settlement, they established a dugout village there which they named Oospenia. In the years that followed, the spring was the lifeblood of the Doukhobor settlement.

Now, one hundred and eight years later, long after the abandonment of the village, the spring is the centrepiece of the Doukhobor Dugout House site, a provincial heritage site with historic buildings, cultural artefacts, live exhibits and guided tours depicting the history of the Oospenia Doukhobors.

Stone monument commemorating Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

On July 11, 2007, at its season opening ceremony, the Doukhobor Dugout House unveiled a stone monument commemorating the spring. The monument, made of 30’ x 18’ x 6’ native fieldstone, is engraved with the official name of the spring, “Oospenia Spring”, recently designated by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.  It will be positioned alongside the spring. 

The Honourable Eric Cline Q.C. (left) and Jonathan J. Kalmakoff (right) unveil the stone monument commemorating Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

The ceremony, presided over by keynote and motivational speaker Norm Rebin, was attended by over three hundred people. It opened with the Lord’s Prayer recited in Russian by Jeanette Stringer and in English by Brenda Cheveldayoff. On hand to present greetings were a number of dignitaries, including Dr. Margaret Kennedy, Heritage Foundation; Joe Chad, Tourism Saskatchewan; John Reban, Reeve, RM of Blaine Lake No. 434; Don Atchison, Mayor of Saskatoon; Denis Allchurch, MLA Rosthern-Shellbrook; the Honourable Eric Cline Q.C., Minister of Industry and Resources; Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, Doukhobor writer and historian; and the Honourable Lorne Calvert, Premier of Saskatchewan.

The monument was officially unveiled by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, who originally recommended the name “Oospenia Spring” to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, together with the Honourable Eric Cline, Q.C., who approved the name last year as Minister responsible for the Board.

Jonathan J. Kalmakoff addresses the crowd attending the Oospenia Spring monument unveiling. Photo by Donna Choppe. 

Kalmakoff paid tribute to the essential role of the spring in the early settlement history of the Doukhobors. “The Doukhobors of Oospenia had a direct and meaningful association with the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “Indeed, the spring was the primary reason they chose this location for their village. The spring nourished them, providing the settlers with a source of good, clean drinking water and a water source for their livestock and farming operations.”

Minister Cline commended the Doukhobor Dugout House for its preservation of Doukhobor heritage. “The story of the Doukhobors is an important chapter in the history of the Province,” said Minister Cline. “We are making sure that this part of our collective history is not forgotten. I am honoured to help inaugurate the monument commemorating Oospenia Spring and the Doukhobors who lived here.”

Members of the public enjoy a walkabout tour of the site following the ceremony. Photo by Donna Choppe.

The ceremony concluded with a keynote address by Norm Rebin about the “Value of Collective Memory”.  In his speech, Rebin celebrated changing societal attitudes towards the Doukhobors, their historic contribution to the settlement of Canada, and their place in the multicultural mosaic. “Our ancestors would weep,” said Rebin, “if they could see us gathered here today, in the spirit of good will and brotherhood.”  “This is a revelatory place. It shows how far the Doukhobors have come,” said Rebin, referring to the fact that Doukhobors once looked upon the government as oppressors but are now working hand in hand with them to restore the site.

A walkabout tour of the Doukhobor Dugout House site with costumed guides followed, along with a historic plough pulling re-enactment by twelve Doukhobor women belonging to the Saskatoon Doukhobor Society.  Refreshments, including Doukhobor bread and other traditional dishes, were also served.

Lorne Calvert, Premier of Saskatchewan (left) tours the Doukhobor Dugout House

site with Norm Rebin, Master of Ceremonies. Photo by Donna Choppe. 

Premier Calvert, who arrived just after the pulling of the plough, took a walkabout tour of the site before giving a short speech for those in attendance. He spoke of the hard work that goes into preserving a heritage site such as the Dugout House and the importance of such projects. “Without the good people that are doing this, this place would be lost,” said Premier Calvert.

The stone monument placed in the Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

For information or inquiries about Oospenia Spring and other on-site attractions, including group tours, special events, and hours of operation, contact the Doukhobor Dugout House web site at: http:/www.doukhobordugouthouse.com.

Russian Roots, An Odyssey

by Dr. Allan Markin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church of the Transfiguration at Kizhi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allan and Evelyn leaving the cruise ship with Rashid.

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

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

Memorial garden at Stalin’s killing field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Tolstoy’s estate – Yasnaya Polyana.

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

Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home

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

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

Tolstoy’s grave at Yasnaya Polyana.

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

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

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

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

Elaine Podovinnikoff at log home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cantors singing at the Kostromo Monastery.

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

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

Sion Cemtery Map 10

Map of USCC (Sion) Cemetery
Grand Forks, British Columbia

Rows 91 – 100


100 99 98 97 96 95 94 93 92 91
Nastia Pepin
Marie Popoff Mary S. Parakin
Mabel Ogloff Mary Verigin John Plotnikoff Mabel F. Dergousoff Mike Stooshnoff Mary M. Demoskoff Pete P. Novokshonoff Mabel P. Chivildave Polly P. Derhousoff Peter G. Reibin
Fred N. Resansoff Mike Faminow William N. Kazakoff Nick Podovinikoff Nick Elasoff Mabel Negraeff William W. & Doris Semenoff Nellie Makortoff Peter P. Chursinoff John P. Makortoff
Pete S. Semenoff Mary Barisenkoff William Verigin John F. Markin Bill W. Planedin Vera Padmoroff Helen A. Zibin Millie
Kinakin & Nancy Kinakin Popoff
Peter A. Bawoolin Polly Popoff
Bill M. Novokshonoff Fred Medvedoff William Jmieff Patrick Marcus Ryan Horkoff Peter N. Hoodikoff William P. Stooshnoff Mike M. Novokshonoff Walter Rezansoff Irene Lawrenow Peter P. Sofonow
William Esakin Polly Chernoff Fanny Danshin Dorothy Reibin Hazel Verigin Pete S. Sherstobitoff William M. Lebedoff Frank G. Rezansoff Mary Koochin John T. Semenoff
Pete Konkin Gonia Kalmikoff Florence Varabioff John K. Horkoff James D. Legebokow Molly & Peter Zebroff & Bobby Waselenkoff Mike S. Arishenkoff Bill Makasaeff Doris M. Ozeroff Tihon Czynownkow
Mary Dovedoff Pete Shiloff Aliccey Kolmikoff George E. Kastrukoff George J. Abrosimoff John S. Gritchen Helen Verigin Elizabeth Rilkoff Nellie Skrepnekoff Nellie J. Pepin
Tina & John Sbitnoff Tena Hlookoff & P. Hlookoff Pete J. Demoskoff Alex J. Demoskoff Lawrence A. MacDonald Alex Ogloff Mike M. Negreiff Polly M. Hremakin Annie Horkoff Nick W. Popoff
Dora Negraeff Sam
Helen Murphy William F. Vereschagin Annie Strukoff Peter P. Dergousoff George G. Reibin Fannie W. Ostoforoff Nora A. & Phillip P. Markin
Paul W. Davidoff Cindy Musaev Fred F. Easkin Pete C. Podovinnikoff Christina Plotnikoff Lucy Sherstobitoff Tina Rezansoff Kathleen Arishenkoff John N. Konkin Peter Makeiff
William A. Malloff Pete P. Horkoff William E. Jmaiff James D. Fofonoff Peter Faminoff Anne Kohler Joe
Mary Hlookoff William P. Padmoroff Polly E. Davidoff
Fred Gretchen Bill Vatkin John P. Verigin John P. Stoochnoff Alex Lazeroff Dora P. Jmaeff Peter M. Novokshonoff Sam
A. Horkoff
Margaret Makaeiff Gertie Zaitsoff
Nick M. Novokshonoff Florence Hlookoff Fred D. Posnikoff George G. Semenoff Mary Plotnikoff John J. Wishlow William Babakaiff Anastasia Parfeniuk Dimitry J. Postnikoff William M. Demoskoff
Florence Tomlin Polly Laktin Anna P. Verigin Mary Dubosoff Mike J. Potapoff Mary Semenoff Molly F. Reibin Molly Pereversoff Fanny Stoochnoff Steve A. Makortoff
Olga Dergousoff John Soloveoff Mike P. Skripnikoff Paul A. Lazeroff Molly Relkoff Harry Popoff Thelma Festerling Peter M. Saliken Florence A. Popoff Annie Rezansoff
Mike Astofooroff Mike W. Semenoff Lucy G. Lapshinoff Fred F. Makaeff Tony Seminoff Edward A. Lawrenow Dasha Strukoff Eunice Soukeroff John A. Derhousoff Helen Potopoff
Helen Konkin William J. Planedin Mary Doubinin Helen Salekin Mary P. Voykin Helen J. Zoobkoff Alex N. Chernoff William S. Konkin Andrew G. Makortoff Louis Chernenkoff
John Pereverzoff Nick A. Zibin Peter Kazakoff Nick Makeiff William Arishenkoff John Perepolkin Florence Koochin William P. Planedin William A. Novokshonoff Lorretta Wirischagin
George Pereverzoff William S. Zibin Walter Walasoff Polly P. Popoff Mike K. Markin Peter W. Makortoff Jack L. Popoff
Sophie Dutoff Samuel J. Legebokow Mike J. Novoksonoff Florence Siminoff Mabel Chernoff Mary A. Kolesnikoff
Helen Popoff Helen Semenoff Larry Soloveoff John J. Semenoff Pete Danshin


Lucy Horkoff Polly Kazakoff Nick J. Persoff Alex E. Chivildave


Sion Cemetery Map 9

Map of
USCC (Sion) Cemetery
Grand Forks, British Columbia

Rows 81 – 90


90 89 88 87 86 85 84 83 82 81
John I. Parakin Mary Chivildave Tammy Wright Cecil W. Koochin Mike F. Chernoff Tina Kalugin Annie M. Abrosimoff Lana Kurnoff Fanny Kholodenen William Derhousoff
Helen P. Planedin Paul M. Negreiff Peter C. Esouloff Prokofy L. Verigin Anastasia N. Zeberoff Doris Trafimenkoff Alice Babakaiff Nick N. Pepin Nastia Danshin Helen Cheveldaeff
William T. Arishenkoff Fred Sheloff Polly Pereversoff Clara R. Strukoff William M. Jmaeff Marion & Trina Moojalski Andrew P. Markin Mary F. Zibin Polly F. Arishenkoff John E. Verigin
William L. Strukoff Timothy J. Relkoff Mary Podovinnikoff Pearl H. Stushnoff Polly Davidoff Alex J. Makortoff Alex A. Semenoff Mary Lebadoff John D. Markin Mary G. Stooshnoff
Nicholas Barisenkoff Polly Jmieff Fred F. Plotnikoff Nora Hawreluk Ann
William W. Ogloff Mabel Soloveoff Annie Easkin Helen A. Semenoff Jenny Hlookoff
Polly Sheloff Oxinia Rezansoff Peter A. Verigin Ann
Fred J. Arishenkoff Nellie W. Postnikoff John P. Negraeff Paranna Plotnikoff William Argotoff Vera Borisenkoff
John Jmieff William J. Chiveldave Nick D. Arishenkoff Mike W. Rezansoff Anastasia Perepalkin Nellie Makaoff Joseph Makortoff Helen & George Hutchinson Florence, Larisa & Keith Perepolkin Pearl Demosky
Alex Hoolaeff Anna Makortoff William B. Padmoroff John S. Makortoff Andrew Doobinin John J. Faminoff William E. Savitskoff Alex Easkin Helen Seminoff Ruth Markin
Paul Metin Mickey A. Horkoff Bernice Faminoff Walter L. Strukoff Tina Chiveldaew Mabel Vatkin Peter W. Evdokimoff Mabel Antifaeff Nellie S. Semenoff Fred M. Novokshonoff
Vera J. Popoff John A. Davidoff William W. Dootoff Mike P. Faminoff Fedosia Perehudoff William F. Negraeff William P. Evdokimoff Tina Stupnikoff Polly P. Savitskoff Alex Arishenkoff
Nick N. Reibin John A. Makortoff Winnie J. Wlasoff Fred Antifaeff Anne P. Easkin Mary Soukoroff Helen Ogloff George W. Demoskoff John A. Tomlin Helen Sysoev
Lucy Kangian Tillie Kinakin John J. Kurnoff Pauline N. Seminoff George W. Popoff Mike F. Strelioff Anne Demoskoff Mike M. Gritchen
William B. Ozeroff Mike J. Negraeff Alex J. Gritchen Steve J. Gevatkoff Pauline A. Malloff
Nellie A. Pozdnikoff John J. Stooshnoff Florence A. Makortoff Ann
Mike G. Plotnikoff Thomas N. Hadikin
Annie N. Zebroff Lucile Legebokow


Sion Cemetery Map 8

Map of USCC (Sion) Cemetery
Grand Forks, British Columbia

Rows 71 – 80


80 79 78 77 76 75 74 73 72 71
Cecil W. Zibin Philip E. Podovinikoff William Dowedoff Mike A. Gritchen Alex W. Seminoff Mary Konkin Paul Medvedoff Molly Popoff George Soobotin Wasyl A. Chiveldeff
Andrew J. Postnikoff Annie Kurnoff Dora Padmeroff Alex S. Demosky Alex W. Koochin Polly A. Reibin Helen Chernoff Polly S. Astafooroff William P. Zibin Ivan J. Davidoff
Helen Soukoroff Polagea Novokshonoff Fred Pereversoff Peter S. Demoksy Mabel Bawoolin Nick B. Strelaeff William P. Reibin Diane Shersobetoff Mike C. Swetlishnoff Mike P. Bloudoff
Helen G. Morozoff Pete A, Negreoff Charles J. Esouloff Pete Semenoff Anastasia A. Gritchen Lucy Popoff John J. Negreiff William F. Verigin Peter Demenoff Lucy J. Markin
Alex P. Padmoroff Pete W. Planedin Polly D. Strukoff Polly Argotoff Tina N. Strukoff Koozma Novokshonoff Sam Demosky Mavrunia W. Novokshonoff Anne Sherland Helen Metin
John J. Cheveldave Laura Potapoff John M. Derhousoff Anastasia A. Stoushnoff Ivan P. Dergousoff Nick A. Relkov William Rezansoff Annie Semenoff Taras M. Arishenkoff Bill M. Gretchin
Nick N. Hremakin Polly Holoboff Mavruna Popoff Martha Osachoff Lucy A. Arishenkoff Fedosia Chursinoff Peter Barisenkoff Peter Ozeroff Fred F. Zibin Dora Zibin
William J. Chernoff Peter W. Verigin Bill B. Ozeroff Fred F. Wright Peter L. Plotnikoff Mary J. Markin Alex Horkoff John D. Kolesnikoff Anastasia Popoff Polly M. Doobinin
Eileen Perehudoff Nellie Hadikin Vera Makortoff Nick Danshin Polly P. Danshin Helen N. Rezansoff Leonard A. Lagore Joseph M. Strukoff Mabel Arishenkoff Vera Voykin
Alex N. Laktin Harry A. Seminoff Mary J. Popoff John J. Hlookoff Peter W. Koftinoff William G. Horkoff Florence N. Markin Andrew Gritchen Andrew Podovilnikoff Tania Strulow
Mary J. Peregoodoff James Popow George M. Malloff Fred F. Makortoff Peter N. Vanjoff Nick A. Chernoff John N. Lactin Mooly F. Postnikoff John Stupnikoff Tania P. Konkin
Emil Festerling Catherine Vanjoff William E. Koftinoff Mike E. Gritchen Peter A. Nahornoff Annie Lactin Jesse P. Barisoff Debbora Katasonoff Helen L. Novoskhonoff


Sion Cemetery Map 7

Map of USCC (Sion) Cemetery
Grand Forks, British Columbia

Rows 61 – 70


70 69 68 67 66 65 64 63 62 61
Molly G
Joseph J. Negraeff Anna A. Makortoff Martha W. Chernoff Mary T. Gritchen William P. Skripnikoff George Gemieff Mary Prokopetz
Mary Chernoff Gladis O. Wright Grace F. Gritchen Mary N. Novokshonoff John G. Malloff Annie Kalesnikoff Anna M. Parakin Mary A. Jmaiff
Martha Katasonoff Nastia N. Areshenkoff Mable Wishlow Ann


Peter J. Barisoff Helen Hennessey Larry M. Strilaeff Peter P. Strukoff
Harry Novokshonoff Wasyl W. Remezoff Harry P. Fedosoff Nasta N. Cheveldaeff John J. Verigin William W. Pepin Nastia


Paul P. Ozeroff Helen F. Koftinoff Helen Verischagin Nastia G. Gritchen William F. Makortoff Polly Astofooroff Mary W. Savitskoff
Stephen P. Chursinoff Annie P. Borisenkoff Peter L. Strukoff Ed Rezansoff Nick F.


Vera Seafoot
John Metin Dasha K. Plotnikoff Afanace Padmerow John N. Popoff John M. Lebedoff
Philip S. Markin Nick W. Sofonoff Peter M. Popoff Pauline Chernoff Marisha Ogloff Alex Ogloff
Mary W. Ozeroff Lillian W. Taylor (Malloff) Annie W. Reibin John S. Zibin John Davidoff Infant
John A. Chernoff Helen A. Hlookoff Pete J. Faminoff Mary J. Zibin Andrew W. Semenoff Vera Kabatoff
Lucy S. Horkoff Mike M. Grycak Tina Gritchen Nick W. Abetkoff
Dorthy Pepin Polly K. Postnikoff Toddy P. Chursinoff
Anna W. Vatkin
M. N. Vatkin