Brands of the Doukhobor Stockmen of Alberta, 1904-2009

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff and the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation

Brands have been used to identify livestock ownership in Alberta for more than 125 years and are an essential part of its ranching heritage. The following database contains over 125 cancelled cattle and horse brands registered by Doukhobor stockmen in Alberta between 1904 and 2009. Compiled from the files of the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation, each entry includes the stockman’s name and town, brand registration date, brand description and reference information. Learn about the brands used by Alberta Doukhobor stockmen along with their history and significance. Last updated April 10, 2009.

Introduction

For almost a century, Doukhobors have played a significant role in the livestock industry of southern Alberta. As early as 1911, the Doukhobor Community supplied 100 oxen and 30 drivers to break land owned by the Canadian Wheatlands Company at Bowell and Carlstadt. From 1911 to 1920, Doukhobor work crews of 100 men and twice as many horse and oxen were hired by the Canadian Land and Irrigation Company to construct the McGregor Lake dam near Milo for the Bow River Irrigation Project. From 1915 to 1937, the Doukhobor “Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood” operated a vast communal farming and ranching enterprise in the Cowley and Lundbreck districts. Another smaller Doukhobor colony was established in the Arrowwood and Shouldice districts from 1926 to 1945. Following the demise of these communal ventures, many Doukhobors remained in the areas as individual farmers and stock growers. At the same time, throughout the Teens and Twenties, hundreds of Doukhobors settled independently on ranches and farms in the Pincher Creek, Mossleigh, Nanton, Crowfoot, Queenstown, Vulcan, Vauxhall, Skiff, Lethbridge, Rosebud and other districts. Many of their descendants continue to live and ranch in these districts today.

Doukhobor breaking prairie sod on Canadian Wheatlands project near Bowell, Alberta, c. 1912. Glenbow Archives NA-587-1.

Like other stockmen in Alberta, Doukhobor ranchers and farmers branded their livestock. The brand was a unique, highly visible, permanent mark applied to an animal for identification purposes. It was vital in determining ownership, returning strays or stolen livestock to their rightful owners, and serving as a deterrent to theft. It was a road map of an animal’s history and told a story of its owner. Sometimes, the brand became better known than the individual who used it. Under Alberta law, a brand had to be registered before it could be used, and a rigid set of specifications was followed when issuing a new brand. Only one brand of a particular design, configuration and location could be registered, to avoid potential conflicts in similar brands. The brand registration had to be kept in good standing and renewed on a regular basis. It was an offence to use an unregistered brand or to alter a registered brand.

Doukhobor Brands

The following database has been compiled from the cancelled brand files and Brand Books held by the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives. Arranged alphabetically by surname, each entry includes an image of the brand, the stockman’s name and town, brand registration, brand description and reference information.

Androsoff, William

Dates: Jun 20, 1936 – cancelled Dec 6, 1957
Brand Description: W A running bar – C. l. r
Town: Queenstown, Arrowwood
Box Number: 46
File Number: 70447

Androsoff, William S. & John

Dates: Apr 27, 1944 – cancelled Jan 22, 1981
Brand Description: B A over bar – C. r. h
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 139
File Number: 77541

Bartsoff, John

Dates: Nov 14, 1958 – last renewal date Nov 7, 1962
Brand Description: P B over quarter circle – C. r.r
Town: Raymond
Box Number: 80
File Number: 62669

Bartsoff, Peter Jr.

Dates: Nov 30, 1960 – cancelled Sep 3, 1968 (horse); June 4, 1956 – cancelled Aug 30, 1968 (cattle)
Brand Description: bar over B 7 – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Raymond, Legend
Box Number: 92
File Number: 72617

Bartsoff, Peter Sr.

Dates: Mar 13, 1962 – cancelled Dec 31, 1970
Brand Description: B P over half diamond – C. l. r
Town: Vauxhall, Raymond
Box Number: 102
File Number: 37939

Cabatoff, Peter W.

Dates: May 3, 1965 – expired Dec 31, 1969
Brand Description: P anchor over 1/4 circle – C. l. h
Town: Medicine Hat
Box Number: 100
File Number: 89387

Chernenkoff, Fred

Dates: June 29, 1950 – last renewal date Dec 28, 1954 (both)
Brand Description: (reversed) F C over bar – C. r. h – H. t. th
Town: Beaver Mines
Box Number: 53
File Number: 85929

Chernoff, Bill

Dates: Mar 19, 1941 – ? (both)
Brand Description: 1/4 circle over B C – C. r. sh – H. r.th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 17
File Number: 72933

Davidoff, John (1)

Dates: Jan 29, 1953 – transferred Dec 14, 1956 
Brand Description: 5 D (reversed) over bar – C. r. h
Town: Pincher Creek, Lundbreck
Box Number: 58
File Number: 74584

Davidoff, John (2)

Dates: ? – expired Dec 31, 1938
Brand Description: half diamond over M D – H. l. th
Town: Pincher Creek, Lundbreck
Box Number: 58
File Number: 74584

Davidoff, John (3)

Dates: Nov 24, 1952 – cancelled Oct 5, 1964
Brand Description: H 5 over half diamond – C. l. h
Town: Pincher Creek, Lundbreck
Box Number: 58
File Number: 74584

Davidoff, Mackifa

Dates: Jan 29, 1944 – cancelled Nov 13, 1948 (horse); Jan 28, 1944 – cancelled Oct 21, 1948 (cattle)
Brand Description: bar over D 1 – H. l. th – C. l. h
Town: Pincher Creek
Box Number: 21
File Number: 76878

Davidoff, Matvey N.

Dates: Jul 8, 1918 – expired Dec 31, 1933 (horse); Jul 8, 1918 – transferred Jan 29, 1953 (cattle)
Brand Description: 5 D (reversed) over bar – H. r. sh – C. r. h
Town: Cowley, Pincher Creek, Pincher Station
Box Number: 71
File Number: 66342

Davidoff, Nicholas N. (1)

Dates: Jul 30, 1951 – cancelled Dec 31, 1955
Brand Description: quarter circle over D F – C. r. h
Town: Pincher Creek, Pincher Station, Thrums
Box Number: 42
File Number: 87483

Davidoff, Nicholas N. (2)

Dates: Jan 3, 1929 – cancelled Sep 22, 1969 (cattle) Jan 3, 1929 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1953 (horse)
Brand Description: N 3 over half diamond – C. r. h – H. r. th
Town: Pincher Creek, Pincher Station, Thrums
Box Number: 42
File Number: 87483

Davidoff, Nick N.

Dates: Feb 19, 1920 – last renewal date Dec 7, 1944 (horse); Feb 19, 1920 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1948 (cattle)
Brand Description: bar over D lazy F – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Pincher Station
Box Number: 33
File Number: 56346

Davidoff, Vasilie Nikoleavitch & Bernice Dianna

Dates: Feb 1, 1968 – exp Dec 31, 1976
Brand Description: half diamond over V 7 – C. r. sh
Town: Pincher Creek
Box Number: 135
File Number: 72351

Deakoff, Mike

Dates: Mar 11, 1943 – Expired Dec 31, 1967 (cattle); Mar 11, 1943 – cancelled Sep 6, 1963 (horse)
Brand Description: M running bar D – C. l. r – H. l. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 87
File Number: 75760

Derhousoff (Hoover), Joe J.

Dates: Feb 23, 1956 – ?
Brand Description: J D over half diamond – C. l. h
Town: Throne, Coronation
Box Number: 57
File Number: 70804

Derhousoff (Hoover), Lawrence J.

Dates: Apr 6, 1956 – transferred 1956
Brand Description: half diamond over L D – C. l. h
Town: Throne
Box Number: 58
File Number: 70963

Doukhobor Fraternal Co. (c/o Peter Verigin)

Brand Book Dates: 1904-1910, 1915-1938
Brand Description: Stylized Cyrillic “D” symbol – C. r. r. – H. r. th.
Town: Yorkton, SK, Cowley

Ewashen, Alex J. Jr.

Dates: Mar 17, 1954 – cancelled Aug 19, 1974
Brand Description: A over E – C. l. sh
Town: Lundbreck, Creston, BC
Box Number: 126
File Number: 91108

Ewashen, Jacob

Dates: June 6, 1930 – transferred Nov 9, 1954 (cattle); Feb 28, 1934 – cancelled Dec 31, 1946 (horse)
Brand Description: bar over V S – C. r. h – H. r. sh
Town: Nanton, Cayley
Box Number: 65
File Number: 66530

Ewashen, Mike

Dates: Apr 9, 1943 – cancelled Nov 24, 1955
Brand Description: bar over M E – C. l. r
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 38
File Number: 75458

Ewashen, Nick J.

Dates: Feb 6, 1942 – cancelled Feb 8, 1967
Brand Description: bar over N E monogram – C. r. sh
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 81
File Number: 73783

Ewashen, Peter J.

Dates: Jun 1, 1945 – expired Dec 31, 1969
Brand Description: F running bar P – C. r.r
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 99
File Number: 79570

Ewashen, Walter James

Dates: Nov 22, 1954 – last renewal date Oct 6, 1958
Brand Description: bar over V S – C. r. h
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 65
File Number: 66530

Ewashin, George & John

Dates: May 27, 1944 – last renewal date Oct 27, 1952 (horse); May 27, 1944 – ? (cattle)
Brand Description: quarter circle over (reversed) G 3 – H. r. sh – C. r. sh
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 52
File Number: 77855

Faminoff, Joe

Dates: Nov 13, 1945 – ? (horse); Nov 27, 1945 – cancelled Oct 12, 1965 (cattle)
Brand Description: half diamond over (reversed) F 2 – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 77
File Number: 80172

Faminow, Bros & Sons (Sam, Mike, Steve)

Dates: Apr 29, 1938 – transferred Feb 10, 1943 (both)
Brand Description: F B over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 65
File Number: 71379

Faminow, Fred P.

Dates: Nov 21, 1941 – cancelled Dec 31, 1949 (cattle); Nov 21, 1941 – cancelled Nov 13, 1943 (horse)
Brand Description: cross F – C. r. h – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 17
File Number: 73666

Faminow, Sam & Sons

Dates: Dec 31, 1942 – expired Dec 31, 1962 (horse); Dec 31, 1942 – transferred Aug 6, 1959 (cattle)
Brand Description: F B over half diamond – H. l. th – C. l. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 65
File Number: 71379

Fofonoff, John

Dates: (a) Apr 23, 1945 – cancelled Dec 31, 1949; (b) Apr 23, 1945 – expired Dec 31, 1957; (c) May 5, 1934 – expired Dec 31, 1938
Brand Description: half diamond over J F monogram; (a) H. l. th; (b) C. l.; (c) C. l. neck
Town: Queenstown, Vauxhall
Box Number: 61
File Number: 68895

Fofonoff, Paul

Dates: Apr 10, 1942 – cancelled Dec 31, 1946 (both)
Brand Description: J B over bar – H. r. sh – C. l. r
Town: Queenstown
Box Number: 37
File Number: 74176

Hlookoff, Mike

Dates: Apr 28, 1942 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1946
Brand Description: M H over bar – C. r. sh
Town: Blackie
Box Number: 37
File Number: 74202

Hlookoff, Nick

Brand Book Dates: 1954-1974
Brand Description: bar over N H – C. r. sh
Town: Mossleigh

Hlookoff, Walter & Mary

Brand Book Dates: 1978-1990
Brand Description: bar over N H – C. r. sh
Town: Mossleigh

Hlookoff, Walter

Brand Book Dates: 1998-2009
Brand Description: bar over N H – C. r. sh
Town: Mossleigh

Holoboff, Darbra L.

Brand Book Dates: 1984-2009
Brand Description:  D running bar lazy H – C. l. r
Town: Arrowwood

Holoboff, Elli

Brand Book Dates: 1937-1974
Brand Description: N L inverted – C. l. sh – H. l. th
Town: Shouldice

Holoboff, Fred

Dates: May 19, 1942 – ?
Brand Description: F H over quarter circle – C. l. sh
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 15
File Number: 74474

Holoboff, George

Dates: Mar 4, 1959 – ?
Brand Description: F H over bar – C. l. h
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 68
File Number: 55024

Holoboff, Jody

Brand Book Dates: 1998-2009
Brand Description:  T running bar K – C. l. r
Town: Barnwell

Holoboff, Joseph E.

Brand Book Dates: 1978-2009
Brand Description:  N L inverted – C. l. sh
Town: Shouldice, Arrowwood

Holoboff, Joseph J.

Brand Book Dates: 1984-2009
Brand Description:  J J H – C. l. r
Town: Arrowwood

Holoboff, Mike

Dates: May 3, 1945 – cancelled Dec 31, 1973
Brand Description: M H running bar – C. l. r
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 119
File Number: 79356

Holoboff, Pete

Dates: May 16, 1929 – cancelled Feb 1, 1970 (cattle); May 16, 1929 – cancelled Dec 31, 1949 (horse)
Brand Description: P H over bar – C. r. h – H. r. sh
Town: Nanton, Cayley
Box Number: 98
File Number: 65919

Holoboff, Peter

Brand Book Dates: 1968-1982
Brand Description: quarter circle over O lazy S – C. r. h
Town: Vauxhall

Holoboff, Tom J.

Brand Book Dates: 1984-1994
Brand Description:  T running bar K – C. l. r
Town: Calgary, Blackie

Holoboff, William

Brand Book Dates: 1966-1986
Brand Description: reversed B H over bar – C. r. h
Town: Herronton, Blackie, Innisfail

Holoboff, William W.

Dates: Apr 7, 1936 – ?
Brand Description: bar over B L – H. r. sh
Town: Vulcan
Box Number: 26
File Number: 70241

Hoobenoff, John

Dates: Nov 25, 1954 – ?
Brand Description: H P over bar – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 51
File Number: 64582

Hoobenoff, N. S.

Dates: Jul 8, 1942 – ? (both)
Brand Description: W H monogram over bar – H. r. sh – C. r. r
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 16
File Number: 74718

Kabatoff, Bill (1)

Dates: Jun 6, 1939 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1963 (cattle)
Brand Description: bar over B K – C. r. r
Town: Lundbreck, Cowley, Castlegar, BC
Box Number: 87
File Number: 71933

Kabatoff, Bill (2)

Dates: Dec 31, 1939 – ? (horse)
Brand Description: half diamond over B K – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck, Cowley, Castlegar, BC
Box Number: 87
File Number: 71933

Kabatoff, Fred S.

Dates: Aug 20, 1943 – cancelled Nov 5, 1947 (both)
Brand Description: half diamond over F K – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 38
File Number: 76440

Kabatoff, Mike

Dates: Jul 12, 1934 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1942
Brand Description: quarter circle over M K – C. r. h
Town: Glenwood, Lundbreck
Box Number: 24
File Number: 69250

Kabatoff, Peter

Dates: May 13, 1943 – expired Dec 31, 1963
Brand Description: half diamond over P K – C. l. h
Town: Pincher Creek, Pincher Station, Lundbreck
Box Number: 69
File Number: 75832

Kalmakoff, Alex J. (1)

Dates: Apr 10, 1943 – cancelled Oct 16, 1946
Brand Description: A K monogram over quarter circle – C. r. h
Town: Gleichen, Kamloops, BC
Box Number: 38
File Number: 75589

Kalmakoff, Alex J. (2)

Dates: Oct 18, 1946 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1950
Brand Description: bar over A K monogram – C. r. r
Town: Gleichen, Kamloops, BC
Box Number: 38
File Number: 75589

Kalmakoff, Sam

Dates: Apr 29, 1942 – ? (both)
Brand Description: (reversed) K S over half diamond – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 7
File Number: 74207

Konkin, Alex

Dates: Jul 3, 1939 – ?
Brand Description: bar over A K – C. r. h
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 19
File Number: 71975

Konkin, Andrew

Dates: Nov 1, 1979 – cancelled Dec 31, 1983
Brand Description: lazy A over K – H. l. th
Town: Gibbons, Ardrossan
Box Number: 146
File Number: 11641

Konkin, Mabel

Dates: May 21, 1944 – ?
Brand Description: M K over half diamond – C. l. h
Town: Carseland
Box Number: 40
File Number: 82432

Konkin, William

Dates: May 28, 1943 – cancelled Feb 2, 1968
Brand Description: W K over half diamond – C. r. r
Town: Vauxhall
Box Number: 87
File Number: 76001

Kooznetsoff, Sam

Dates: Jul 20, 1950 – cancelled Feb 20, 1959
Brand Description: bar over S 2 – C. l. r
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 53
File Number: 85976

Kuftinoff, Nick

Dates: Mar 17, 1930 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1934 (both)
Brand Description: N K over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th
Town: Skiff
Box Number: 9a
File Number: 66315

Kuznetsoff, P.

Dates: Jul 26, 1955 – EXP Dec 31, 1959
Brand Description: running bar X S – C. l. r
Town: Bluffton
Box Number: 55
File Number: 69823

Maloff, Fred

Dates: Jan 14, 1952 – cancelled Oct 20, 1980
Brand Description: F V over half diamond – C. r.h
Town: Bearberry, Sundre
Box Number: 139
File Number: 87856

Maloff, George

Dates: Apr 12, 1943 – transferred Mar 14, 1945
Brand Description: (reversed) F M monogram over half diamond – C. l. h
Town: Crowfoot
Box Number: 15
File Number: 75478

Maloff, George & Son

Dates: Mar 18, 1940 – last renewal date Nov 2, 1944 (horse); Mar 18, 1940 – cancelled Dec 31, 1976 (cattle)
Brand Description: J M monogram over quarter circle – H. r. th – C. r. neck
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 134
File Number: 72268

Mushta, Anthony & Peter M. Saliken

Dates: Jun 29, 1942 – transferred Apr 12, 1947
Brand Description: N F monogram over bar – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 104
File Number: 74625

Oglaff, William

Dates: Jul 13, 1948 – ?
Brand Description: W O half diamond – C. r. r
Town: Arrowwood
Box Number: 41
File Number: 83824

Ozeroff, Paul

Dates: Dec 16, 1954 – cancelled Mar 28, 1974
Brand Description: bar over P O – C. l. sh
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 123
File Number: 65016

Parakin, John

Dates: Jul 3, 1964 – cancelled Sep 15, 1972
Brand Description: 7 P running bar – C. l. r
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 115
File Number: 93479

Parakin, Pete P.

Dates: Jun 4, 1943 – last renewal date Dec 16, 1954 (cattle); Jun 4, 1943 – expired Dec 31, 1951 (horse)
Brand Description: (reversed) P P over half diamond – C. r. sh – H. r. sh
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 52
File Number: 76048

Pereverziff, John

Dates: Apr 26, 1955 – expired Dec 31, 1959
Brand Description: running bar H P – C. r. r
Town: Lethbridge
Box Number: 55
File Number: 68418

Planidin, Mrs. Fanny

Brand Book Dates: 1937-1937
Brand Description: quarter circle over F P – H. l. sh. – C. l. r.
Town: Queenstown

Planidin, Paul P.

Brand Book Dates: 1966-1990
Brand Description: 3 P over half diamond – H. l. th. – C. l. r.
Town: Calgary

Planidin, S.D.

Brand Book Dates: 1947-1982
Brand Description: quarter circle over F P – H. l. sh. – C. l. r.
Town: Queenstown, Calgary

Podmaroff, Alex

Dates: May 21, 1945 – last renewal date Nov 5, 1964
Brand Description: A P over half diamond – C. l. r
Town: Calgary, Carstairs
Box Number: 94
File Number: 79416

Podmaroff, David

Brand Book Dates: 1990-2009
Brand Description: bar over W P – C. r. h.
Town: Calgary

Podmaroff, Marion I. (1)

Brand Book Dates: 1962-1994
Brand Description: bar over V Y – C. r. h
Town: Carseland, Calgary

Podmaroff, Marion I. (2)

Brand Book Dates: 1982-1996
Brand Description: bar over W P – C. r. h.
Town: Carseland, Calgary

Podmaroff, William

Brand Book Dates: 1947-1978
Brand Description: bar over W P – C. r. h.
Town: Carseland, Calgary

Podmoroff, Alec

Brand Book Dates: 1937-1937
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: Carseland

Podmoroff, Alec (Estate of)

Brand Book Dates: 1947-1978
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: High River, Mossleigh

Podmoroff, Alex

Brand Book Dates: 1954-1990
Brand Description: 7 A over bar – C. r. h.
Town: Hubalta, Calgary

Podmoroff, Danny

Brand Book Dates: 1982-1990
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: Olds

Podmoroff, Mike

Brand Book Dates: 1994-1994
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: Calgary

Podmoroff, Paul A.

Brand Book Dates: 1998-2009
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: Olds

Podmoroff, Terence

Brand Book Dates: 2003-2009
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. r. h – H. r. th.
Town: Exshaw

Ponomareff, Alexander

Dates: Apr 22, 1959 – ?
Brand Description: A S P – C. l. r
Town: Arrowwood
Box Number: 69
File Number: 71634

Potapoff, William P. (1)

Dates: May 11, 1933 – expired Dec 31, 1941
Brand Description: W P bar – C. l. r
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 20
File Number: 68273

Potapoff, William P. (2)

Dates: May 11, 1933 – expired Dec 31, 1941
Brand Description: bar over W P – H. l. sh
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 20
File Number: 68273

Salekin, Alex A.

Dates: Apr 2, 1942 – cancelled Oct 25, 1966 (cattle); Oct 10, 1944 – expired Dec 31, 1968 (horse)
Brand Description: quarter circle over S N – C. r. h – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 93
File Number: 74030

Saliken, Mike

Dates: Dec 31 1946 – last renewal date Oct 18, 1966 (horse); Dec 31, 1946 – transferred Dec 18, 1969 (cattle)
Brand Description: N F monogram over bar – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 104
File Number: 74625

Saliken, Peter M.

Dates: Dec 31 1946 – last renewal date Oct 18, 1966 (horse); Dec 31, 1946 – transferred Dec 18, 1969 (cattle)
Brand Description: N F monogram over bar – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 104
File Number: 74625

Samaroden, Mike

Brand Book Dates: 1962-1970
Brand Description:  S over S – C. l. h
Town: Mossleigh

Samaroden, Peter R.

Brand Book Dates: 1962-1982
Brand Description:  quarter circle over P 5 – C. r. r
Town: Mossleigh, Fort McMurray

Samaroden, Sam J.

Dates: Apr 15, 1939 – cancelled Nov 28, 1947 (horse); Apr 15, 1939 – transferred Jan 3, 1961 (cattle)
Brand Description: S over S – H. l. sh – C. l. h
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 108
File Number: 71809

Semenoff, Joe J.

Dates: Apr 14, 1938 – cancelled Dec 31, 1962 (cattle); Apr 14, 1938 – cancelled Dec 31, 1950 (horse)
Brand Description: J O over half diamond – C. r. h – H. l. sh
Town: Vulcan, Lundbreck
Box Number: 65
File Number: 71320

Semenoff, John

Dates: Jun 22, 1939 – ? (both)
Brand Description: half diamond over C inverted 7 – C. r. h – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 19
File Number: 71964

Semenoff, Pete

Dates: Feb 3, 1955 – cancelled Sep 11, 1959
Brand Description: D P over quarter circle – C. r. r
Town: Radisson, SK, Lundbreck  
Box Number: 54
File Number: 65538

Sherstabetoff, Nick

Dates: Nov 26, 1946 – last renewal date Oct 19, 1970
Brand Description: N S over quarter circle – C. l. h
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 124
File Number: 77591

Sherstabetoff, Peter (Estate of)

Brand Book Dates: 1954-2009
Brand Description:  half diamond over S H – C. r. r
Town: Mossleigh

Shkooratoff, Mike

Dates: Mar 14, 1940 – last renewal date Oct 27, 1952 (horse); Mar 14, 1940 – cancelled Dec 31, 1964 (cattle)
Brand Description: M S over bar – H. r. sh – C. r. sh
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 71
File Number: 72236

Shkooratoff, Paul

Dates: Oct 4, 1940 – expired Dec 31, 1952 (horse); Feb 24, 1947 – expired Dec 31, 1952 (cattle)
Brand Description: P S over quarter circle – H. l. th – C. l. h
Town: Fort Macleod
Box Number: 37
File Number: 72670

Shkuratoff, W.

Dates: Dec 20, 1948 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1952
Brand Description: S over W – C. r. h
Town: Milo
Box Number: 47
File Number: 84083

Shkurotoff, Nick

Dates: May 5, 1945 – ?
Brand Description: bar over H lazy E – C. l.r
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 22
File Number: 79486

Stoocknoff, Tom

Dates: May 27, 1935 – last renewal date Dec 30, 1939
Brand Description: T over lazy S – C. r.r
Town: Hesketh
Box Number: 26
File Number: 69800

Stoopnekoff, John

Dates: May 9, 1942 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1946
Brand Description: J S – C. r. neck
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 15
File Number: 74252

Sukeroff, Bill

Dates: Mar 24, 1950 – cancelled Sep 6, 1974
Brand Description: bar over (reversed) B S – C. l. r
Town: Vauxhall
Box Number: 126
File Number: 85383

Sukeroff, L.A.

Dates: May 8, 1952 – last renewal date Oct 17, 1956
Brand Description: half diamond over A L monogram – C. l. r
Town: Vauxhall
Box Number: 59
File Number: 88503

Sukovieff, Mike

Dates: Jun 15, 1959 – expired Dec 31, 1965
Brand Description: N B monogram over bar – H. l. th
Town: Conrich, Calgary
Box Number: 76
File Number: 78268

Tarasoff, Nick

Dates: Feb 27, 1945 – ?
Brand Description: N T over half diamond – C. l. sh
Town: Herronton
Box Number: 23
File Number: 78802

Tarasoff, Pete

Dates: Aug 4, 1953 – last renewal date Feb 1, 1963
Brand Description: bar over 7 X – C. l. h
Town: Herronton
Box Number: 89
File Number: 90570

Veregin, George J.

Dates: Jan 15, 1945 – transferred Jan 29, 1962
Brand Description: (reversed) G V over bar – C. l. r
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 76
File Number: 78602

Veregin, Peter

Dates: Jan 31, 1962 – cancelled Oct 7, 1965
Brand Description: (reversed) G V over bar – C. l. r
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 76
File Number: 78602

Veregin, William

Dates: Oct 19, 1939 – expired Dec 31, 1963 (both)
Brand Description: W V over bar – C. r. r – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 67
File Number: 46413

Vereschagin Bros.

Dates: Apr 24, 1945 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1953
Brand Description: half diamond over V B – C. l. h
Town: Michichi
Box Number: 49
File Number: 79246

Vishloff, John

Dates: Mar 26, 1942 – ?
Brand Description: J V over quarter circle – C. r. sh
Town: Burmis
Box Number: 15
File Number: 74017

Voykin, Bill

Dates: Sep 24, 1934 – expired Dec 31, 1950
Brand Description: half diamond over B V – C. r. h
Town: Cowley, Lundbreck
Box Number: 36
File Number: 69308

Voykin, Fred

Dates: May 23, 1947 – expired Dec 31, 1955
Brand Description: half diamond over F V – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck, Macleod
Box Number: 44
File Number: 82436

Zaytsoff, Bill

Dates: Jan 28, 1928 – last renewal date Nov 2, 1944 (horse); Jan 28, 1928 – expired Dec 31, 1932 (cattle)
Brand Description: B Z over bar – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Queenstown
Box Number: 12
File Number: 55135

Understanding Livestock Brands

Traditionally, branding involved capturing and securing an animal by roping it, laying it over on the ground, tying its legs together, and searing the animal’s flesh with a hot iron to produce a scar – the brand. Modern ranch practice has moved toward use of chutes where animals can be run into a confined area and safely secured while the brand is applied. Today branding is more often done with chemicals, tattooing, paint or tagging.

In Alberta, registered cattle brands could be used in one of six positions on an animal: the shoulder (sh), rib (r), or hip (h) on either the left or right side. Registered horse brands could be used in one of six positions on the animal: the jaw (j), shoulder (sh) or thigh (th) on either the left or right side.

Doukhobors using oxen to break land for Canadian Wheatlands near Bowell, Alberta, ca. 1911-1914. Glenbow Archives NA-587-2.

A brand may consist of a character (letter or numeral), symbol (such as a slash, circle, half circle, cross or bar) or any combination thereof. Characters may appear upright, reversed (called ‘crazy’) or turned 90 degrees (called ‘lazy’). Each character or symbol may be distinct from another or else connected (touching), combined (partially overlaid), or hanging (touching, but arranged top to bottom). The possible combinations are endless. Usually a brand signified something unique to its owner – for instance his or her initials.

Note a brand is usually read from left to right, from top to bottom, and finally, from outside to inside where it has a character that encloses another. For instance, the livestock brand “F-P” would be read and defined as “F running bar P”.

For More Information

For more information about Doukhobor stockmen in Alberta and their brands, visit the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives website. Established by the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation in 1980, the Library and Archives is located in Cochrane, Alberta and houses a vast collection of historical and business information relating to the livestock industry, cowboys and western culture.

The cancelled brand files held at the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives are the original files of brand requests from ranchers, farmers and businesses for a brand for horses, cattle, foxes, sheep and poultry from 1888 to 1980. This information is especially of interest to those tracing family history. Each file contains at least one sheet with information regarding the location of the owner’s grazing lands and the possible choices of brands. Many files will have lengthy correspondence relating to the brands.

The Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives also has the largest collection of Alberta Brand Books. Brand Books recorded all horse and cattle brands registered in the province for a specified period of years. A typical Brand Book will usually have an image of the brand, the location of the brand on the animal, and the type of animal that was branded, as well as the owner of the brand. The Brand Books contain both cancelled and currently active brands.

The Colony: Anastasia’s Village, Shouldice, Alberta

by William Anatooskin

After the death of Peter “Lordly” Verigin in 1924, his companion Anastasia F. Holuboff (1885-1965) was acknowledged by several hundred Doukhobors as his successor. The majority of Community Doukhobors, however, proclaimed Verigin’s son leader. Disappointed, Anastasia and her followers broke away from the Community and in 1926 moved to the Shouldice district of Alberta where they established a break-away communal settlement. The following article by former resident William Anatooskin recounts life in the Lordly Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, also known as “The Colony”.  Reproduced by permission from his upcoming book on the Anutooshkin Family History, it contains a detailed listing of the families who lived there, along with the relative location of each household.  

The Colony

Anastasia Holoboff moved from Brilliant, British Columbia in 1926 and purchased the following property, located two miles west of Shouldice and five miles east of Arrowwood, just south of the CPR railway. A large water tank stood beside the tracks. This was used to fill the steam engines that traveled the railway, hauling grain from various small towns. Grain elevators were built so that the farmers could bring their grain to be later transferred into the rail cars. The CPR ( Canadian Pacific Railway) built the rail line in 1928. The word “Anastasia” was painted on the tank because Anastasia Holoboff declared herself the leader of the Doukhobors in this village. Anastasia convinced more than 160 followers to move to the Colony.

Anastasia’s village, Shouldice district, Alberta, 1938.  Glenbow Archives PA-3563-3.

The village’s main occupation was grain-growing, and some income was earned by raising and selling garden produce. The first 3 years were followed by the poor crops of the 1930’s, when many men had to work outside the commune to supplement their incomes. Twenty Eight homes were built and its 160 inhabitants lived and worked here as part of the community to share in the earnings derived from the land. The village encompassed approximately 1,120 acres.

A wide dirt road was built from one end to the other, approximately 40 feet wide and 1/2 mile long to service both sides of the dwellings. There were 15 homes on the east side and 13 homes on the west side of the main road. Each home was allotted 1/2 an acre to build on and grow their personal gardens.

A large barn was built about 1/4 mile west and at the north end of the village to be used for milking the cows, a milk room and housed horses that were raised to pull equipment required to plow, seed and harvest the crops.  The upper level in the barn was used to store hay for feed through the winter months. In the middle of the community a blacksmith shop was built, fired by coal to make repairs to various equipment the community purchased.

A one room school was built on the north-east corner of the property that taught grades from 1 to 8 by one teacher, and the desks sat 2 persons, side by side, and there was no concern when a boy and girl sat together.

A cemetery was developed just to the north and some distance from the school and was maintained communally.

A large community prayer home was built at the south-east corner of the village in 1929, next door to Anastasia’s residence.

This large barn served the whole community at Anastasia’s village.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

East Side Families

The names of the families that occupied the homes, are listed, starting on the east side and from south to north of the village.

1. Anastasia Holoboff and Fedosia Verigin
Anastasia was the leader of the Doukhobor commune. Fedosia was her house keeper. Anastasia’s mother was a Verigin, cousin to Lukian & Fedosia. Fedosia was a sister to Lukian.

2. Marfa Konkin (lived together with Wasil Terichow). 

Marfa was originally married to a Vereschagin in Veregin, Sask. She later reverted back to her maiden name (Marfa Konkin).

3. Wasya and Mavroonia Verigin.
Margaret Anutooshkin’s parents. She married Peter J. Anutooshkin. Wasya was a son of Lukasha, brother to Lukian Verigin and nephew to Peter (Lordly) Verigin. Wasya was a cousin to Mary Faminow’s grandfather.

4. Ivan (John) and Nastia Verigin and Wasya Verigin

Wasya (Ivan’s father) was a brother to Peter W. (Lordly) Verigin. Ivan was a nephew to Peter W. (Lordly) Verigin and a cousin to Mary Faminow’s grandfather.

5. Andrei and Doonia Anutooshkin

Anutooshkins, the original residents, eventually passed away. Later, John Bonderoff & Annette (nee Tamelin) took over the home. Andrei was a twin to Peter – sons of Anuta & Gregori (George Semenoff).

6. Wasya and Nastia Samorodin
They had no children. Wasya was an uncle to Seoma (Sam).

7. Aleksei (Alex) and Anna Wishlow
Aleksei (Alex) was a brother to Lisoonia Konkin (below). Anna was the daughter of Lukian & Doonya Verigin, and a sister to Fred (below).

8. Michael and Hanya Deakoff

Also their son Michael and daughter Pearl (Paranya). Michael’s parents also lived with them. Michael’s mother was a relative of the Anutooshkin family.

9. Koozma and Nastia Konkin
Parents of Wasili (below) Nastia was a sister to Wasya Zibin, Aunt Polly Anutooshkin’s grandfather.

10. Peter and Polya Verigin
Peter was a brother to Ivan (above) and a nephew to Peter (Lordly) Verigin. His father was Wasya.

11. Wasya and Anuta Anutooshkin
Wasya was a brother to Vanya, Mary Faminow’s grandfather.

12. Fedya (Fred) and Polya Anutooshkin
Parents of Mary, Gaston Pozdinioff’s wife. Polya was originally married to a Planedin (deceased).

13. Joseph and Hanya Pereverzoff
Hanya was a daughter of Polya (above), from her first marriage; thus a half-sister to Mary Pozdnikoff.

14. Larion & Polya (Polly) Verigin
Larion was a brother to Peter and Ivan (above) and a nephew to Peter (Lordly) Verigin. His father was Wasya.

15. Ivan and Vasoonia (Vasilisa) Zarchukoff

Also, Vanya and Nastyoosha Anutooshkin, parents of Vasoonia. Vasoonia was a sister to Ivan John Anutooshkin), Mary Faminow’s father. Vanya and Nastyoosha were parents of Vasoonia and Mary Faminow’s grandparents.

Ruins of The Colony  today.  Much of the village structure is still visible.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

West Side Families

16. Feodor & Loosha Holoboff

Holoboffs were the original residents.  Later, Lukian & Doonya (deceased) Verigin; then Lukian re-married Marya Verigin. Lukian’s father, Lukasha was a nephew of Peter W. (Lordly) Verigin. Lukian was a cousin to Anastasia Holoboff’s mother. Lukian & Doonya Verigin moved into the home. They were parents of Anna Wishlow & Fred Verigin. Marya Verigin was a sister to Anastasia Holoboff & Varva (Vera) Verigin was Fred Verigin’s wife.

17. Seoma (Sam) & Hanya Samorodin

Samorodins were the original residents. Later, John J. & Avdotia Anutooshkin, parents of Peter, John, Mary & Michael, moved there. Avdotia was the daughter of Mike & Mary Osachoff.

18. Havroosha & Nastyoosha Sherbakoff
Havroosha’ sister was Hrunoosha Verigin (below). Their daughter Nastia, married a Holoboff.

19. Hrisha & Hrunoosha Verigin.
Hrisha was a brother to Peter (Lordly) Verigin and an uncle to Mary Faminow’s grandfather. Hrunoosha was a sister to Havroosha Sherbakoff.

20. Osachoff

Osachoffs were the original residents, moved away. Wasili & Marya Terichow took over this home. Marya was the daughter of Marfa Konkin.

21. Michael & Hanya Kinakin
Michael was a brother to Polya Sookochoff (below).

22. Lukeria Sookochoff

She was a Holoboff, mother to Peter Sookochoff and an aunt to Anastasia Holoboff (leader of the Doukhobors).

23. Peter & Polya Sookochoff

Sookochoffs were the original residents. Peter was the son of Lukeria (above). Feodor (Fred) & Varvara (Vera) Verigin moved in. Fred was the son of Lukian and Doonya Verigin and brother to Anna Wishlow. Varvara (Vera) Verigin is a sister to Anastasia Holoboff & Marya Verigin.

24. Wasili & Marya (Mary) Tamelin.
Wasya & Masha (Mary) Zibin also lived here in a small cottage beside the Tamelin’s. The Tamelin’s were parents of Aunt Polly & in-laws of Uncle John Anatooshkin (name change). Wasya and Marya Zibin were parents to Marya Tamelin. Wasya was a brother to Nastia Konkin (above).

25. Alyosha & Marfoonia Anutooshkin.
Alyosha was a brother to Mary Faminow’s grandfather, Vanya. Marfoonia was possibly a Zibin.

26. Gregori & Aksenia Bonderoff.
Gregory was possibly a Zibin.

27. Wasili & Lisoonia Konkin
Wasili was the son of Koozma & Nastia Konkin (above). Lisoonia is a sister to Aleksei (Alex) Wishlow (above).

28. Peter & Margaret Anutooshkin

Also William, Peter & Paul, (Lucy was born in Mission, B.C. at a later date). Peter was the son of John J. & Avdotia Anutooshkin. Margaret was the daughter of Wasya & Mavroonia Verigin and the niece of Lukian Verigin. Margaret’s grandfather Lukasha Verigin, was a brother of Peter (Lordly) Verigin.

The village prayer home.  The structure is still standing.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Exodus of Families from the Colony

The Depression and especially the exodus that followed – when many of its members took advantage of new opportunities for successful independent farming – severely affected the Community. By the mid 1940’s, the communal way of life among the Alberta Doukhobors had all but disappeared. In fact, even in the late 1920’s, independent Doukhobor families had begun moving into the area of British Columbia and Saskatchewan and it was not long before their numbers equaled those of the Community members.

By the late 1930’s, following land shortages and successive crop failures, Anastasia’s communal settlement dwindled, family by family, until the Colony was eventually abandoned in 1945.

In 1943, Peter J. Anutooshkin was transferred from Curry Barracks in Calgary (a large army base during the war), to the shipyards in Vancouver, British Columbia to work on building ships for the war effort. In 1944, he contacted his wife Margaret and told her to sell everything and prepare to move to B.C. During the Easter holidays in 1944, Margaret and sons, William, Peter and Paul took a train to Mission City, British Columbia.

Mike Anatooshkin went to work in Calgary during 1943 where he worked delivering milk and blocks of ice in a horse-drawn wagon to various families. Mike later followed his brother Peter and moved to New Westminster in 1943 where he went to work at the Boeings Aircraft manufacturing plant in Queensborough, South of New Westminster.

John Anatooshkin and his family, were the last to move to Mission City in 1946.

Their mother Avdotia went to live with her daughter in Lundbreck, Alberta for a short time and then later also moved to Mission City.

Anastasia’s original house (and attached bath house) today.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

History of the Anton S. and John A. Popoff Family

by John A. Popoff

Anton Savelyevich Popoff (1870-1936) was an Independent Doukhobor activist, freethinker and outspoken advocate of education. After his release from exile in Russia for refusing to bear arms, he and his family settled in the Doukhobor village of Moiseyevo in the Sturgis district of Saskatchewan in 1899, and later the village of Khristianovka in the Buchanan district in 1902. In 1907, after a failed homesteading attempt, Anton moved to Yorkton to provide his children with an opportunity to become educated. In 1913, he helped establish the short-lived “Freedom Colony” of Doukhobors near Peoria, Oregon. In 1918, he then tried farming in Cowley, Alberta, but soon returned to Yorkton to do some farming and carpentry. His son John A. Popoff (1901-1993) in 1924 became the first Doukhobor teacher in Canada. He was a Russian interpreter for Peter Chistiakov Verigin and was Secretary-Treasurer of the Named Doukhobors of Canada in the 1930’s. An Independent Doukhobor intellect, Slavophile and strict vegetarian, he was actively involved in a number of social, community and political organizations in the Yorkton area. The following is a detailed and candid autobiographical account of the Popoff family history, reproduced from “Abbreviated History of the Canadian Doukhobors and the Role in it of the Anton Popoff Family” (Saskatchewan Archives Board, John A. Popoff Collection, A562)

My Parental History

The Doukhobors in Russia originated some time in the l7th century, in various parts of the country, but mostly in the central region. That happened to be adjacent to the area occupied by the Mordvins, a Finnic people, who early in history adopted the Russian religion and language. My paternal grandfather seems to have been of Mordvin stock, since he remembered some of his native language. He used to entertain our family by counting from one to ten in the dialect of his people. I remember grandfather Savely quite well, since he lived with us both in our village near Buchanan, and here in Yorkton. Grandmother Popoff (his spouse) had been a sickly woman and died soon after arrival in Canada. My recollection of her is very hazy, since I was extremely young when she passed away, in the village mentioned above.

Savely Popoff spoke of his first home in Russia as being in the Doukhobor settlement on the river region known as Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”). That is a small river flowing into the Sea of Azov, which is the northern part of the Black Sea. The description “Milky” probably was due to the color of the water in it which may have carried clay silt.

The Doukhobors had gathered there from all comers of the country, in response to an edict of the Tsar of that period, who was of a liberal turn of mind, and sympathetic to religious believers. He had thought that the Doukhobors would be happier if they lived together in one place, removed from the influence of other faiths, and he suggested that they all settle in the one location.

Anton Savelyevich Popoff (1870-1936).

In view of their opposition to military service, the Tsar granted the Doukhobors military exemption. He even paid part of their moving expenses, and exempted them from the payment of taxes for several years.

The Doukhobors occupied the Milky Waters settlement some 40 years, and had become complacent in their privileged situation. Meanwhile a different Tsar had assumed the throne of Russia, and the country round about had filled in with new settlers of different conviction, who found fault with the Doukhobors.

The new Tsar also was not particularly sympathetic to the Doukhobors and decided to move them to less favorable territory in the distant Transcaucasion region, right on the border with Turkey. He figured that in such dangerous territory they would be obliged to defend themselves with the type of weapons as used for military purposes, and thereby overcome their objection to military service.

The Doukhobors moved as directed, and established a number of villages among the Tatars and Turks. But they made friends with them and did not require the weapons which the Tsar expected them to use. They prospered as before, and lived contentedly until still a new Tsar rescinded their military exemption, and required their youth to serve in the military forces, which involved also the oath of allegiance to the reigning Tsar.

My grandfather, Savely Popoff, had two sons of military age, and the younger one, Anton (subsequently my father), was called into service. The order had come unexpectedly, and the Doukhobors had no choice but to comply. The requirement at that time was 3 years active service, with subsequent release from duty on the condition of recall at any time.

That was the time when the Doukhobor woman leader, Lushechka, had died and her position had been assumed by Peter V. Verigin. He subsequently had been exiled to North Russia, from where he issued advice to his followers to refuse conscription, and to burn whatever arms they had. The military conscripts who still were in the army now refused to serve. Those, like my father, who had just completed their first term of service, refused to accept their recall cards. Such people were arrested and tried for insubordination. Some were exiled to Siberia, others to distant Tatar settlements where they had to exist as best they could among an ostensibly hostile people. Communication with home was forbidden.

All prisoners were obliged to travel on foot. Some of them died before leaving jail from the harsh treatment there, others en route to their place of exile, still others from diseases contracted at their destinations. Most of them were young people. Two of my mother’s sisters lost their husbands. One died in jail, the other on the way to Siberia. The latter was Nikolai Chernoff, father of the Fred Chernoff who now is in the Kamsack Nursing Home.

Meanwhile the authorities were penalizing also the Doukhobor villagers who destroyed their weapons by fire. Some villagers were ordered to vacate their homes and find shelter elsewhere. Others had troops posted on them who were allowed to abuse the people as they saw fit. The Doukhobor settlers were in desperate straits, and helpless. They begged the authorities to let them leave the country.

That was when Leo Tolstoy intervened in their behalf. The government finally granted permission for the emigration. The Doukhobors proceeded to seek suitable means for overseas travel. The exiled recruits were released but not allowed to go home. They were taken directly to the port of embarkation. My father and his companion in exile, Misha J. Kazakoff, travelled to Batum where they located their families.

My father’s clan at that time comprised his own two parents, an older brother, Aldosha, with his family, and three sisters with their families, in addition to his own immediate family (wife and two small daughters). My mother’s parental family was very large, and no doubt went separately, although on the same boat.

Doukhobor village along Canadian Northern Railway, 1902. Western Development Museum 5-A-21.

Two ships were used to transport the Doukhobors to Canada, the Lake Huron and the Lake Superior. Both originally were freighters, now converted by the passengers themselves for their modest requirements. The ships were very slow and took a whole month to reach their destination, and it took 4 shiploads to carry the 7,500 immigrants. The first ship (ours), Lake Huron, reached Halifax, Nova Scotia late in 1898, and the others at intervals in early 1899. A few Doukhobors, who had been exiled in Siberia, came considerably later, about 1905.

From shipboard the Doukhobors travelled by train to Winnipeg, where they were quartered during the winter season, until suitable accommodation could be prepared for them at their future village sites. The preparations were done by the more hardy and capable men who were sent ahead of the main body of immigrants.

At that time Yorkton was the very end of the CPR line going west. The Savely Popoff clan divided at Yorkton, the older brother, Aldosha, establishing there permanently. Anton’s family went north of the present site of Canora to a village named Moiseyevka (“Moses Village”). That was where I was born in the fall of that year, during potato harvest.

When Peter Verigin arrived from Russia in 1902 he saw that the village Moiseyevka would be too far removed from the railway line which was being constructed westward to Saskatoon. He advised its residents to abandon that location and resettle closer to the railway line. My family then moved to the village Khristianovka (“Christian Village”), located a couple of miles south-west of the present town of Buchanan.

That village housed most of my mother’s parental family. I recall the location of some of their homes and other buildings, such as the grist mill and the bakery.

At that time Yorkton was the closest source of supply of all their requirements. The people were so poor, the men themselves had to haul the wagon to Yorkton for provisions – a distance of some 40 miles one way. The more capable men hired out for railway work, or other labor, to earn the funds for purchase of the necessities of life, and they all pooled their wages. In some villages the women pulled the plough to till the soil for gardens and field crops.

In the beginning some arrangement with the Canadian authorities had been entered into for the use of land in the western region of Canada, which, as yet, was governed from Ottawa. And at first the general attitude to the new settlers was friendly and tolerant. But a change of government installed different officials who were not so favorable to the Doukhobors, and proceeded to impose on them new regulations, one of them being the demand for an oath of allegiance in order to hold their grants of land. That was exactly like one of the requirements in Russia which the Doukhobors had refused to countenance there, and which led to their emigration to Canada. Here they found it equally objectionable and refused to comply. A few Doukhobors accepted the condition and took homesteads apart from the main body of fellow immigrants. One of those was my own father, for which he was strongly condemned by Peter Verigin and other conscientious members of the greater Doukhobor community.

My father’s separate homestead was not far from the village Khristianovka. Father built on it a log house and chicken coop, but found it impossible to remain. His own father, then a widower, needed medical attention, obtainable only in Winnipeg, and his children educational facilities. But those were forbidden to community Doukhobors. Doukhobor ideology rejected “worldly” culture and government sponsored schools. They contravened a truly Christian form of life. But father had disavowed such ideology, yet he could not remain on the homestead. He moved to Yorkton to settle near his older brother, Aldosha.

Yorkton, Saskatchewan, 1903-1904. Western Development Museum 5-A-100.

There he needed a source of income, so he started up a livery barn business and provided sleeping quarters for outsiders who came in to town for whatever reason. His children were sent to school and he himself sought whatever work was available.

The larger Doukhobor Community, operating on a cooperative and communal basis, purchased in Yorkton several parcels of land, built on some of them living quarters for their members, and a brick factory for their own use, and for commercial purposes. The leaders of the Community were apprised of the advantage here of official incorporation of their society, so they named it the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. They established their headquarters in the small railway station of Veregin on the CNR railway and built there a grist mill and a second brick factory. However their main source of revenue was from the sale of grain which they successfully grew on their land and the seneca root which the women gathered.

In Yorkton at that time there was quite a large population of Doukhobors, including a third Popoff family, distantly related to my mother. She, incidentally, also was born Popoff, so that I inherited that name from both sides of my parental family.

The two Popoff brothers both educated their children, particularly the younger ones. The older daughters had to remain at home to help their mothers, whereas the younger ones continued school locally as far as possible. The younger daughter of each family later went to Business College in Brandon, Manitoba. My younger sister then obtained employment with the International Harvester Company. Uncle Aldosha started up a general store where he used the services of his business-trained younger daughter.

Despite the distrust and strong disapproval of “worldly culture”, the leadership of the Doukhobor Community recognized the need for knowledgeable people to manage the affairs of the Community, and such people had to be Doukhobors. So the Community leaders chose 5 promising young candidates to attend school in Yorkton, expecting them later to help in the work of the Community. They all were boys, mostly from the more prominent families of the Veregin area. They were quartered here in local Doukhobor residences, and attended school until they learned the language quite well. Later they returned home and generally engaged in business, oftentimes independently.

Some of those boys visited our home despite the fact that our family generally was not well considered due to its secession from the Doukhobor Community. But the girls were an attraction, and some of the boys courted the girls. Eventually my younger sister married one of the boys by the name of Michael F. Reibin, who at that time was a partner in a farm supply store in Veregin.

Another young fellow courted my older sister Lily, but for some reason father disapproved of him, perhaps because the young man still was a member in good standing of the Community. Anyhow, in his case father discouraged any possibility of marriage to his daughter. Many years later the same man asked me why, and I could not honestly answer. But that created an embarrassing situation in our family. Girls were supposed to marry according to priority of age – the older one first, and then the younger one. In our case, due to father’s intervention, the younger daughter married first, which seemed to disgrace the older one. She felt offended and obliged somehow to restore her reputation. She was desperate to marry, and no longer was too particular about the groom.

In those days Yorkton frequently was visited by wandering Russians of no particular religious persuasion or group affiliation. One such person showed up here who appeared to be a suitable match for Lily. She presented him to father as an eligible candidate for husband and insisted that he be accepted. The marriage was allowed, and Lily left for Winnipeg with her husband, who was employed in a railway repair shop.

But the marriage did not last. The couple were completely incompatible, and soon separated for good. Lily returned home pregnant. Here her condition now appeared even worse than before. After giving birth to her child she suffered mental breakdown, and had to be committed to a hospital in North Battleford. On the way there she contracted pneumonia and died. The child remained with his grandparents here.

Sister Jennie’s marriage apparently was better matched and more successful. She preserved it a much longer time and managed to raise a family of 2 sons and 2 daughters. After some time her husband’s business partnership in Veregin dissolved, and her family came to Yorkton to find something more suitable. He tried photography and insurance, but couldn’t make a success of either.

Doukhobor children at the “Freedom Colony”, Peoria, Oregon, 1915. (l-r) John Vereschagin, Jim Vanin, William Vereschagin and friend. 

When the Doukhobors first came to Canada they found conditions here considerably less favorable than they had anticipated. For one thing the climate was too severe, particularly in winter. Then the difficulty with the government over possession of land – the requirement of the oath of allegiance, which was so distasteful to the Doukhobors. The more concerned of them seriously considered leaving the country for some more hospitable location. But where could that be?

My father was one of those who sought a solution to that problem. He contacted other similar thinking people, and with them decided to seek a suitable place in the United States. That was about 1913. They organized a search party consisting of my father and his son-in-law, Michael F. Reibin, who went to various parts of Western United States, and eventually negotiated the purchase of land in Oregon. Several families were encouraged to settle there, including the family of the son-in-law, the family of one of father’s sisters (the Davidoffs) and a number of others. In other words, they established a Doukhobor colony (Freedom Colony) near Peoria, Oregon.

That colony existed for several years, until it was discovered that the purchase contract included an unusual clause to the effect that if any one of the several purchasers of that land failed to pay his share of the cost, all the others automatically forfeited their share as well. That utterly demoralized the colony, and members began to abandon it. In a while, almost all had left. The only one remaining was my deceased grandfather, Savely, who died before the collapse. But even his grave later could not be found, for it had not been marked.

Before leaving on the search expedition father had realized that, in view of the improved modes of transportation, there henceforth would be less use of the livery stable facilities, so he discontinued his own and proceeded to build store buildings on his property. That was about 1912. It was partly that involvement which later prevented him from joining the colony in Oregon. But other troubles also had befallen him, His oldest daughter’s marriage had failed, and she had returned home to her parental family pregnant and in a very disturbed state of mind. He tried his best to restore her to normalcy, but finally had to seek professional help outside of town, during which she died of pneumonia.

Father’s devotion to his convictions never abandoned him, and, when the colony in Oregon was on the verge of collapse, he decided to at least approach the Doukhobor Community which he earlier had abandoned. His son-in-law’s family already had returned from Oregon, and together they rented farm land near Cowley, Alberta, which was near a newly established colony of Community Doukhobors at Lundbreck, the station west of Cowley, on the CPR railway.

Both families, father’s and the son-in-law’s, operated that farm. That was in 1918. In the fall of that year word came from Oregon of the death of grandfather Savely, and a request for financial help for setting up a suitable marker at the grave. But father had no funds, and could not help, so the grave was left unmarked.

Meanwhile the property in Yorkton required father’s attention, so he discontinued the Alberta farm and returned there to complete the store building which he had commenced before the Alberta episode.

The store buildings needed all the space available on his business property (Betts Avenue), so he had to find living quarters elsewhere. He rented a farm adjacent to the west side of town and set up his family there. The son-in-law rented a farm near Theodore and operated it for a number of years.

In Alberta the family of my father’s sister, the Davidoffs, had returned from Oregon and started up farming near Pincher Station. They took over the farming equipment which father no longer needed there.

The failure of the Oregon colony did not deter father from other efforts to leave Canada for some better location. The overthrow of the Tsarist regime in Russia (1917) suggested to the Doukhobors the possibility of return to their former homeland. In 1923 a delegation was organized to go there and investigate such possibility. Father was appointed one of the delegates. He stayed in Russia that winter and returned only in the spring. The investigation showed the situation in Russia too unstable for a successful resettlement there of the Canadian Doukhobors, so the idea was shelved until some time in the future.

1916 Census of Northwest Provinces entry for the Popoff family at Yorkton, Saskatchewan.

Father discontinued his farming operation here and concentrated on the construction of a house in Yorkton. That was completed in 1924, but his family had begun to occupy the quarters even before the work was finished.

That year brought about a tragic and drastic development for the Doukhobors in Canada. Peter V. Verigin was killed in a railway explosion on the way to his headquarters in Grand Forks, B.C. The shock to the Doukhobors was overwhelming. All factions, regardless of their nature, were distressed by the tragedy, as Verigin was regarded the mainstay of all Doukhobor society, regardless of differences. The cause of the train explosion was never determined, but it was suspected to be the work of some agency which sought to eliminate Verigin himself. On the other hand, some people thought that perhaps Verigin’s difficulties may have so depressed him that he considered that as his only way out. In any case all Doukhobors now were in a quandary, since most of them felt lost without an effective leader.

Peter V. Verigin was supposed to have a son in Russia, and the Canadian Doukhobors now determined to have him come here and assume his father’s position. They proceeded to work to that end, and my own father became one of the principals in that activity, despite the fact that formerly he was known to be inimical to the policy of exclusive one-man leadership.

The second Verigin, also named Peter, had earned himself a bad reputation in Russia by misusing public funds for his own gambling proclivity. At that time he was in detention in Turkistan and would not be released until the losses he had incurred were restored. The Doukhobors in Canada opened a fund to cover those losses and to finance his fare here to his anxiously awaiting supplicants.

Peter P. Verigin arrived in Yorkton in 1927, together with an old friend of the Doukhobors who formerly had assisted Leo Tolstoy in arranging for the original migration of the Doukhobors to Canada. That was Pavel J. Birukoff, who then lived in Geneva, Switzerland. Birukoff was brought ostensibly for the purpose of inaugurating here an educational system which would meet the requirements of the present barely literate members of the Doukhobor society. However, Verigin devoted little effort to that venture and it never materialized. Birukoff was obliged to submit to numerous Verigin offenses which apparently brought about a paralytic stroke, following which he was returned home to end his days in Switzerland.

The economic depression of the 1930’s seriously affected father’s financial condition. He was unable to meet the tax payments on both the house he lived in and the store buildings which he owned, let alone his debt on the latter. To raise funds, he went into partnership with a local friend for the purchase and use of a hay bailer to do custom bailing. The bailer was bought and used a few times by the two men, but the friend realizing its poor earnings, withdrew from the partnership and left the entire responsibility for it to my father. That was in the dead of winter. Father had to handle the machine alone. He took sick and contracted a bad case of rheumatism. Another old friend recommended as a possible cure the sulfur baths at Banff, Alberta.

Father had enjoyed steam baths at home and readily followed the advice of his friend. But, unfortunately, he did not take into account his high blood pressure, with the result that his first visit to the sulfur baths killed him. His body was returned to Yorkton and he was buried (1936) in the same plot as his deceased daughter Lily [at Yorkton City Cemetery].

Mother lived on for another 21 years, and passed away in 1957. She too was buried in the same cemetery plot. She had been the last survivor of her parental family. All her brothers and sisters had predeceased her. She never saw where her parents were buried, nor any of her other family relatives. Such was one of the consequences of the strict Doukhobor injunctions to believers – the avoidance of any communication whatever even between close relatives, due to the differences of religious conviction.

My Life Experiences

The final installment of this historical account deals in the main with my own development and experiences. But the other younger members of our family also must be accounted for, so I include some mention of them as well.

As stated before, I was the only member of my parental family to have been born in Canada. That was in 1899 in the first year of our life in this country, and in the village Moiseyevka. I have no recollection whatever of that village, and know about it only from the account of my mother. She, too, spoke of it only in connection with my birth there, and not otherwise.

On the advice of Peter V. Verigin our family had moved from there to the village Khristianovka, which was located much closer to the Canadian National Railway, which then was being constructed westward towards Saskatoon (near the present site of Buchanan),

My first recollections are of life in that village. All our homes were arranged near each other, in street fashion, so that association with close relatives was no problem. An older female cousin, for some reason, took an interest in me, and looked after me more consistently than my own older sisters. The boys of my age enjoyed visiting the grist mill and the bakery which were nearby, but we never ventured outside the village environs.

When about 1905 the Canadian Government announced to our elders the requirement of individual applications for land together with an oath of allegiance to the British crown by each applicant, the Doukhobors realized that they were being maneuvered into a situation very similar to the one in Russia on account of which they were obliged to leave their homeland. They refused to comply, and were dispossessed of the land which they already had tilled, and the homes they had built.

Some seemingly less conscientious individuals did accept the requirement of the government, and applied for separate homesteads, but they were few in number and earned the strong disapproval of the great majority of their fellow sectarians. By resorting to such practice they in effect seceded from association with, and the authority of, the larger body of members which had negotiated their migration to Canada. The elders of that majority, then, regarded such people as defectors, and issued instructions for the termination of all relationship with them, even that between close relatives.

My father was one of those who applied and received his separate homestead. His quarter-section was not far from the village which he had left. I remember him building a log house on that land, and, during its construction, living in a tent. So far as I can recall, we occupied that house only one winter, and it was one which I never can forget.

It was then that father undertook to teach his daughters the Russian alphabet and the art of writing. He could not teach them more because he himself did not know it. I then was too small to participate, but still absorbed some of that instruction. Later on my desire to know more of the details of the language led to self-study, and the attainment in it of considerable competence. I seem to have some predilection for the study of languages, and learn them quite readily. As a result I know English perhaps better than some persons born to English-speaking families.

Doukhobor village along Canadian Northern Railway, Western Development Museum 3-A-17.

While living in that farmhouse I experienced an accidental injury which left its mark on me for life. Mother had been heating boiling water on the kitchen stove, and I somehow upset the pot on myself and terribly scalded my legs. My parents used some home-made remedy for application to the injury which took so long to heal, that I actually lost the ability to walk, and later had to learn it all over again. My legs stilt bear the scars of that injury.

That was about the year 1906 or 7, and when the village community nearby had to vacate the place, father must have realized that isolation on that farm would be most impractical. He had no separate means for breaking the land, or for harvesting whatever crop he might be able to raise on it. Moreover, he had in mind the welfare of his children who, in that location, would be unable to receive an adequate education. That to him was most important. He wanted his progeny to be knowledgeable people, capable of appreciating and using the information available to contemporary society.

One of his reasons for leaving the Community was his disagreement with the Doukhobor rejection of learning on the grounds of religious conviction. In his view, it seems, such learning did not contravene the purposes of “spiritual life”, but contributed to their attainment,” which actually was very desirable, and in concert with their ideals.

In any case, he then considered it expedient to abandon the homestead and move to Yorkton, where his older brother already was ensconced and enjoying what seemed to be a better mode of living. He started up a livery barn business for the accommodation of both the animals, and of the people who used them, for travel to Yorkton for whatever reason. The operation of that became the responsibility of his wife and older daughter, while he himself sought other employment outside. The younger children attended public school.

When the younger daughter, and her cousin of comparable age, completed their public schooling, they together went to Business College in Brandon, Manitoba. On graduation from there, they returned home and put to use here their newly acquired professional skills. My sister obtained employment with the International Harvester Company, while my uncle’s daughter became his accountant in the general store which he had commenced in the meantime.

The boys in each family (which of course included myself), after completion of the public school, graduated to the Yorkton Collegiate Institute, and there continued their education. That proceeded in regular course up to the time of our graduation.

In 1918 my father had operated a farm in Alberta, and after its harvest, had returned to Yorkton to finish the store buildings which he had commenced earlier. He also purchased his first automobile, a 1917 Ford. He could not operate it himself, and stored it in a stable until he could get someone to teach him. That at first was to be myself. But I too needed instruction, and for that purpose invited here a cousin of about my own age, who in Veregin had acquired such experience in the garage of an older brother. Those two were the sons of my mother’s sister, whose husband in Russia had died in prison of the punishment inflicted on him following the burning of firearms there in 1895. Their mother too had succumbed soon after arrival in Canada.

That same cousin later accompanied me to an electrical school in Chicago, after my graduation from the local Collegiate. I was hesitant about going alone and persuaded him to take the electrical course together with me. That was about 1921.

On graduation from the electrical school I obtained employment as draftsman in an electrical factory, and worked there until the fall of that year. Then my father sought my help on his farm, and I returned home to assist him with, the harvest work. The cousin, who had accompanied me, being then an orphan, preferred to remain in Chicago.

Yorkton, Saskatchewan as it appeared in the Teens and Twenties. City of Yorkton Archives.

At that time my father had rented still another farm located near the station Orcadia. While harvesting there we had used its vacant farm house for our meals and rest periods. Someone, who had been in it before us, had left a paperback book written by a well known American author, Upton Sinclair, who described the workings of the then current business world, and favored instead co-operative or socialist methods. His argument had profound influence on my subsequent thinking when some years later our town was visited by a man who advocated a more equitable economic order, as represented by the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.

That year also my father was chosen delegate for a fact-finding mission to the Soviet Union to determine if the time then was appropriate for the return of the Doukhobors to their former homeland. He was advised there that it yet was too early for such return, and that it should not be considered for quite some time. On his return home in 1924 he so reported to his brethren at a Peter’s Day celebration which that year was held at Devil’s Lake, south-west of Canora. That was June 29th, the day when in Russia in 1895 the Doukhobors destroyed their firearms in protest against conscription and militarism.

In the winter of 1923 I had taken a Normal School course in Yorkton, obtained a temporary teaching certificate, and in 1924 started to teach in a rural school, in the Wisnia School District, a predominantly Doukhobor farming area south-west of Veregin, Saskatchewan.

The orphan son of my older, deceased sister Lily, named Russell, had been adopted by my parents, and grew up in our family. My younger sister and her family also then resided in Yorkton. She had taken over one of my father’s store buildings to operate in it a grocery business. Her older children, and nephew Russell, attended public school in Yorkton. The husband of the younger sister could find here no suitable employment, and left for California, where a number of other Doukhobors had gone still earlier and established there a Russian Colony based on individual ownership and operation. Other members of his own paternal family were there already. And some years later my sister took her family to California to rejoin her husband.

In 1924 in British Columbia Peter V. Verigin had died in a train explosion, and the Community Doukhobors had proceeded to arrange for his replacement. In time my own father got involved in that also.

So far as I know, I then was the first person of Doukhobor origin to engage in the practice of teaching public school. That was a most unusual occupation for one of the people who traditionally had opposed formal education for what they regarded as “worldly learning”, hence sinful and unworthy.

That year also the Canadian Doukhobors had introduced for the first time the custom of celebrating each year the most important date in their calendar – the 29th of June – when in 1895 their forebears had made their renowned protest against conscription and militarism by burning all their death-dealing weapons. When I was apprised of it, I closed my school in respect of that memorable occasion.

The rural schools in those days operated all summer to take advantage of the favorable weather and the open roads, which in winter oftentimes were impassable due to the stormy weather. The urban schools, on the other hand, closed in the summer months. The result was that my two nephews, the sons of my two sisters, were able to visit with me at my country school, and there spend a few days. Then, also, I frequently went home to Yorkton for the weekends.

As I now recall, teaching certificates were graded according to the applicants’ scholastic standing at the time of graduation from school, and the amount of Normal School training acquired by the applicant. The Normal School in Yorkton supplied only a preliminary course and issued a temporary Third Class teaching certificate. After some experience in practical teaching, that temporary certificate was raised automatically to Permanent Third Class, and the teachers affected were so notified by the Department of Education.

One-room school in rural Saskatchewan much like those which John A. Popoff taught at in the Twenties. LAC C-027459.

Two colleagues, teaching in neighboring school districts, received their enhanced certificates long before I did. I wondered why mine had been delayed. We had attended the same Normal School class, and had commenced teaching at the same time, so had equal teaching experience. Yet I was not provided my permanent certificate. The reason for the delay, it seemed to me, could not have been the inspector’s report, for that was satisfactory and encouraging. The only difference between myself and my colleagues appeared to be that of origin. The other two teachers were of Anglo-Saxon and of Danish extraction, and I of Russian Doukhobor. To me it appeared to be a case of ethnic prejudice. I complained to the Department of Education, for even prior to my graduation from the Yorkton Collegiate Institute, the principal of that school, on his own initiative, had given me a written recommendation to take up the teaching profession due to a shortage of teachers in the province at that time. The Department of Education then, eventually and rather belatedly, supplied me the desired Third Class Permanent teaching certificate. I was offended and deeply resented the undeserved indignity which the delay had indicated.

Towards the end of the second year of teaching I decided to improve my professional standing still more, and proceeded to the Normal School in Saskatoon for further study. There, on the basis of my higher academic standing, I obtained a Permanent First Class teaching certificate, and returned to my first school for the completion there of my third year of teaching.

While employed at that school I had become acquainted there with various farmer girls of marriageable age, and decided to take for wife the daughter of the school district chairman. His family was of Doukhobor belief, so there was no problem respecting the marriage procedure. The daughter and I obtained the willing consent and blessing (and modest dowry) of the girl’s parents, and she moved into the teacherage with me. We completed the year there and for the following season, accepted an offer to teach in a neighboring school district, the Spring Valley.

The next year (1927) we moved to that school district, and I proceeded to teach there. Meanwhile the wife had become pregnant, and in August gave birth to a baby daughter. We named her Lillian May after my deceased older sister Lily, and my favorite Collegiate teacher, Anne May, who had taught her classes Latin and literature.

The pupils in the Spring Valley School also were mostly of Doukhobor origin. One of the boy students later became quite prominent in the Doukhobor Freedomite movement in British Columbia, and one of my girl pupils later became the teacher in my former first school. I taught there only one year, and then moved on to the third school, north of Verigin, the Tolstoy School District, where I stayed three years.

The Tolstoy School had been so named in honor of the great Russian humanitarian author who had helped the Doukhobors emigrate to Canada. At the end of our first year there, during the interval when the school was closed for the Christmas holiday, the school building burned down, and when after Christmas we returned to resume teaching, there was nowhere to conduct the school. The trustees then rented an abandoned farm house for temporary use as school until a new building could be erected. That was accomplished in due course, and I continued teaching in the new building.

There I was paid the highest salary which I had ever received, $117.50 per month, which was for both the teaching and caretaker service. But by that time (1930) an economic depression had overtaken the entire country, and the chairman of the school district informed me that the district no longer could afford to pay the same salary, and if I wished to remain there, I would have to accept a reduction of pay.

I refused that, and quit teaching altogether. I returned to Yorkton to assist my father in the operation of his business affairs, and at the same time applied most of my salary savings to the redemption from tax sale of the home we occupied.

Then also I started up at home a radio repair business, which formerly was not possible because of the general lack of radio receivers which eventually would require service.

In addition I began to participate in community service activity by joining a number of local organizations of such nature; at first the Yorkton Citizens Association, then the Yorkton Film Council, and later still the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.

In the case of the latter, I myself, with a few other similar idealists, had founded here its local branch following a promotional meeting addressed by George Williams, a veteran of the First World War, who then advocated an improved economic order which would render unnecessary military struggle for the solution of world problems. That closely approximated the principles referred to in the Upton Sinclair literature with which I had become acquainted previously, and so highly approved.

I was appointed Secretary-Treasurer of the local branch of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, and served in that capacity during its formative and most difficult period some 12 years, until after assuming political character, it won its first provincial election and took over the government of Saskatchewan.

In 1927 the successor to Peter V. Verigin, that is, his reputed son, also named Peter Verigin, arrived here to assume the leadership of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. On the way to America he had stopped at Geneva, Switzerland, to invite Tolstoy’s former collaborator, Pavel J. Birukoff, to come with him and establish among the Canadian Doukhobors an effective educational system for the instruction of both the youth and the adults. The man came, but found Verigin himself of small help in his declared purpose, which eventually failed to materialize, although mainly due to the inherent incapacity of the Doukhobors themselves to bring it to fruition. Birukoff was expected also to assist Verigin in his other endeavors, during which Verigin had become so abusive, that Birukoff suffered a paralytic stroke and had to be helped back to his home in Switzerland. On the way home, however, he stopped off in Yorkton; to bid farewell to his friends here, including my father, Anton S. Popoff.

A typical religious service at Brilliant, British Columbia. On platform is Peter Petrovich Verigin. Seated is Paul Ivanovich Biryukov, 1927. LAC C-005847.

A few years later, apparently for some reason of his own, Peter P. Verigin decided to reorganize the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. He proposed a Constitution, setting out the aims and principles for a new Doukhobor society, and named it the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ. He possibly envisaged it as including the other Doukhobor factions (perhaps even the Molokani of USA) under single leadership, no doubt his own. But the Independents, then known as the “Named Doukhobors”, failed to agree, although some of them readily catered to his drinking and gambling proclivities. The Freedomites also refrained from joining openly, always pretending to act on their own initiative, but secretly carrying out his instructions, yet at the same time refusing to implicate him. He undertook various lawsuits wherein he sought to gain his own ends, was accused of giving false evidence, and eventually imprisoned on that charge.

At the time of his incarceration I had been appointed Secretary-Treasurer of the Named Doukhobor faction, and soon was delegated to visit Verigin at the Prince Albert Penitentiary for whatever elucidation he might be able to offer regarding the general Doukhobor problem. I went, accompanied by a number of other members of our executive committee. At the prison I alone was permitted to speak to Verigin. He assured me that he understood quite well the purpose of our visit, and the aims of the organization which I then represented. He claimed that it was permeated with scoundrels and cheats, and was no proper place for me. In other words, he intimated that my integrity should be above such association. But I already had begun to suspect its solidarity and solvency, which inclined me to terminate my relations with it, and resign my office.

The authorities apparently had tired of dealing with Verigin’s eccentricities. They resolved to get rid of him by releasing him on a technicality, and whisking him off secretly to the coast with the intention of shipping him back to the USSR. But news of that action leaked out and reached Verigin’s legal advisers, who immediately took steps to stop such breach of legality by the authorities. Verigin was released forthwith, and soon returned to his old habits with the various Doukhobor elements.

However, his profligate mode of life (and possibly some consequence of his incarceration) had undermined his health to such degree that he had to seek medical help in a Saskatoon hospital. His condition, however, already was so far gone that he was beyond help, and he expired there in that hospital. That was in 1939.

The Doukhobors, particularly those of the new society, the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, again were thrown into turmoil. Who now would be their leader? Ordinarily, according to old Doukhobor custom, it ought to be Verigin’s natural son, who then was in the Soviet Union, and also in trouble with the authorities there. The Community then temporarily appointed Verigin’s young grandson, John J. Markov (Voykin), who had been given the surname “Verigin”. Later on word came that the natural son of Peter P. Verigin had died in prison, so the leadership officially was conferred on the Verigin grandson, now known as John J. Verigin. He refused to accept the title of leader, but was willing to act as “Honorary Head” of the organization, which office he holds to this day.

As for myself, I probably had the most colourful career of any member in our family, with the possible exception of my father. First of all, in High School, my predilection for foreign languages encouraged me during World War I to request the introduction of a course in German. That actually was tried, but it soon became clear that such additional study increased the work load beyond the capacity of its participants, and it had to be abandoned.

But that apparently had added to my prestige with the teaching faculty, since not long afterward the principal of the school, Mr. Finlay, even before my graduation, suggested to me that I seriously consider a teaching position, as the province at that time was experiencing a shortage of such help. And he handed me a written recommendation to that effect. At that time I did not follow his advice, but recalled it considerably later when I realized that the country as yet was not ready for my particular services in the field of electronics.

At about the same time a prominent citizen here suggested that I obtain employment with the Canadian Pacific Railway, as they needed people who had some knowledge of the Russian language. But I myself then felt that my Russian was far from adequate for such a position, and that I might not be able to fill it successfully. So I did not act on that suggestion either.

Then a prominent lawyer and member of the local Liberal Party, Bill Morrison, once accosted me on the street and suggested that I change my name to some other which in English would sound better, to facilitate obtaining suitable employment. I replied that my name in the Russian language was sufficiently dignified and respectable as to require no change. So I did not follow his advice either.

Then still later the same concerned individual unofficially offered me the position of Circuit Court Judge in this community, which also I had to turn down out of consideration for my Doukhobor principles.

During my political activities within the CCF organization, after it had assumed power in this province, I was appointed Returning Officer for the Yorkton Provincial Constituency, and in a number of subsequent provincial elections I directed its electoral procedure. I also helped effectively first the nomination, and then the successful election, of our first CCF federal member of parliament, George Hugh Castleden. He, in turn, later offered to help me obtain the position of Manager of the local Provincial Liquor Board Store. But that, unfortunately, also contradicted my Doukhobor conception of propriety, and I felt obliged to refuse it.

Laura Popoff, John Popoff, and Mrs. Tarasoff, Yorkton, 1980. Saskatchewan Archives Board R90-139.

In 1940, a delegation from the Rona School District, south of Verigin, visited me to request my help in conducting their school until they could locate a regular teacher. I did not care to resume teaching, and my certificate already had expired, but the Department of Education was quite willing that I conduct that school temporarily until a suitable replacement was engaged. Within that same period the Federal Government held its wartime National Registration of all residents in the country, and appointed me Registrar for that purpose in that area. Eventually a teacher for the school was found, and I returned to my own affairs in Yorkton.

That also was the period of my active participation in the Yorkton Film Council. I was a member of it for some 12 years, and half of that time served as its President. Shortly after joining it, the Film Council Executive decided to inaugurate its then famous International Documentary Film Festival, and to hold it biennially.

The international feature of the festival attracted participants from all over the world, including such exotic places as Israel, Czechoslovakia, India, China and the Soviet Union. Several of those countries sent official observers from their Canadian embassies. In 1958 and I960 I used my technical equipment to record on magnetic tape some of the highlights and adjudications of those festivals.

I conducted study classes in the process of motion picture projection and myself operated the projectors during the festivals.

Also, almost from its very beginning I had joined the Yorkton Credit Union when it first conducted its modest business in the office of the Yorkton Cooperative Association store at its original location on Front Street. And again, almost immediately I was appointed to its Supervisory Committee of which in a few years I became Chairman. I served on that Committee some 12 years, during which time the Credit Union grew rapidly, and eventually had to acquire larger quarters. It also had to operate closer to the centre of town, and moved several times, when finally it constructed its own large premises on the corner of Smith Street and Fourth Avenue.

Then, when the CCF provincial administration introduced its neo-socialist Medicare legislation, which at that time aroused a great deal of controversy, our local CCF membership started up a Yorkton Medicare Association: in support of that innovation. I was appointed Secretary-Treasurer of that Association and assisted in keeping it going until the Medicare legislation was accepted as a viable and necessary measure.

Such activity, together with my participation in the political arena, oftentimes subject to suspicion and innuendo, reacted adversely on my physical condition. I became ill, and needed help of some kind, but the local medical fraternity did not know what I required. I was sent to specialists in the Winnipeg Medical Centre, to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and even to Excelsior Springs in Missouri. But none of them could diagnose my trouble well enough to provide effective help. Finally I consulted an old medical practitioner in Winnipeg who successfully determined my problem, and prescribed medication which helped relieve my condition. But the effects still remain with me, and I still am obliged to resort to various tonics to keep myself going reasonably well.

Earlier, at home, the son of my older sister, Russell, on completion of his studies in the Yorkton Collegiate, went to the University in Saskatoon, but for lack of funds, did not continue there long. Instead he went east to Ontario to study the radio trade, and from there west to Vancouver, where he engaged in that occupation. In time he married there and moved again to settle in Calgary,

In California my younger sister’s husband succumbed to his own particular malady, leaving her alone with the responsibility of raising her family of four children. In time all of them married. She herself fell ill and also died. Her younger son, Philip, lost his life in an accident, leaving of the parental family the older son Fred, and two daughters, Graphie and Vera, who have their own families to occupy them.

In my own case, our only child, Lillian, completed her education in Yorkton, went on to the University at Saskatoon, obtained there a degree in Home Economics, and found employment in Alberta. During her entire youth and period of public school education we avoided all mention of our antecedent history, our religious or ethical convictions, or political goals, so as to avoid influencing in any degree her own development within the context of the environment in which she would have to make her living, and seek her happiness. That, no doubt, deprived her of certain familial guidance, whose consequences only now seem to emerge. But we hope that such results will not affect very seriously our close family relationship.

Our daughter has managed to select a worthy husband, and to raise a respectable family. The wife and I extend to all of them our heartfelt felicitation for whatever fortune each of them may achieve in their respective family careers.

I now am at the end of my abbreviated historical account. It is by no means complete. Many incidents have not been mentioned, which perhaps were no less significant than those discussed. To relate them all would require much more effort and time than I now can readily supply.

Presently I am the last surviving member of my parental family. After myself there will be no-one left to carry on the family name or tradition. Its history ends with me.

Arthur Postnikoff and John A. Popoff exchanging addresses at Peter’s Day celebrations, Verigin, June 1983. Saskatchewan Archives Board S-B7612.

Notes

For another short biography of John A. Popoff as well his abridged online translation of Pavel Biryukov’s “Life of Tolstoy”, see Koozma J. Tarasoff’s Spirit Wrestlers website.

A True Story About A Pioneer Doukhobor Babushka

by Eli A. Popoff

The following article by Doukhobor writer Eli A. Popoff tells a true story about his grandmother (Babushka) Semeneshcheva-Popova. This Doukhobor Babushka came to Canada along with a group of a hundred and fifty Siberian exiles in 1905 and was soon reunited with her extended families on the prairies. The forces of individual and communal farming were in full play as Babushka helped to bridge the difficult years of adaptation at the family level where this story is fully told. With ‘a smile and a sparkle in her eyes’, she showed her boundless stamina and dedication, and revealed her inner soul. Reproduced by permission, this article was previously published in “Spirit-Wrestlers’ Voices. Honouring Doukhobors on the Centenary of their migration to Canada in 1899” Koozma J. Tarasoff (ed). (Ottawa: Legas, 1998) and in “Transplanted Roots” by Albert J. Popoff (Kelowna: self-published, 2003).

A mere wisp of a woman. Barely over five feet tall. Slight of build, but wiry and tenacious as only a true peasant of the Russian steppes could be. This apparently ‘slight’ peasant woman embodied not only the strength and the fortitude of our glorified pioneers who settled and developed the ‘wild’ Canadian West, but time and again she manifested the deeper inherent traits of humankind which were eventually to make her a legend in her time.

This particular experience occurred in the years 1909-10; The Popov family, comprising father Aleksei Ivanovich, mother Ekaterina Timofeyevna (‘Katiusha’) and their four-year-old son Nikolai, were living in a small log cabin on their homestead near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. This was the smaller Doukhobor settlement, referred to as the Northern Prince Albert Colony, situated about 80 miles (130 km) west of Prince Albert. Out of the 7500 souls who had arrived in Canada on four shiploads from the port of Batum on the Black Sea, the larger part of the group had settled in the Yorkton-Thunder Hill area northeast of Regina.

As part of a predominantly younger group of Doukhobors who had been sentenced to an eighteen-year exile in the Yakutsk area of Siberia for refusing to do military service, Aleksei and Katiusha Popov did not arrive in Canada until 1905, the year they were granted early release by a Manifesto of Liberation issued by the reigning Tsar Nicholas II to celebrate the birth of a royal son. Thus, they emigrated directly from Siberia, sailing from the Latvian port of Libava (renamed Liepaja in 1917). After a brief stop in Liverpool, the British ship Southwark landed them at Quebec city on 9 September 1905.

Alexei J. and his wife Katiushka Popov, circa 1915, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan.

Katiusha Popova often talked of this momentous voyage. She had been given away in marriage by her mother when she was barely fifteen years old; exile did not afford young women much of a selection. Her father, Timofey Ivanovich was a religious exile from Perm Province; his wife Anna (‘Annushka’) had followed him to Yakutsk from their home base in Sverdlovsk, only to have him taken away once more. Re-arrested in Yakutsk and charged with the more serious crime of sedition against the church and the state, he was sent to the most distant northern reaches of Siberia, where his family was not permitted to follow. Annushka was left with five small children to support, with no family or friends to help. Forced to give up her youngest son Sasha for adoption, she began living with a Doukhobor bachelor, whom she eventually married, and soon afterward gave her eldest daughter Katiusha in marriage to her new husband’s chum, one Aleksei Ivanovich Popov – thereby keeping her three middle sons in her new, ‘blended’ family.

All this had taken place in 1905. Here was Katiusha Popova, a teenaged bride already pregnant, coming across the ocean to the promised new land, in the hot, not too comfortable second-class cabins of the Southwark. She always said in recalling the trip that it was ‘most remarkable’ that at five months pregnant she did not suffer from sea-sickness. Her most poignant memories were always of looking back to the homeland she left behind, her happy early childhood with her parents and grandparents in Russia, including the difficult but unifying times with her brothers and mother in Siberia. Above all, she had left behind her father whom she had loved so dearly – back there, somewhere, in that newly-developing harsh expanse of Siberia.

The arrival of the Popovs and some one hundred and fifty other Siberian exiles in the Canadian Doukhobor settlements was a heart-warming occasion. Families were reunited after being apart for a decade or so. Most exiles had relatives who had arrived six years earlier, and even those that didn’t were welcomed and integrated into the communes that had sprung up in the new land.

Aleksei Ivanovich and Katiusha were warmly accepted by the Popovs already in Canada: Aleksei’s parents Vania and Onia, a younger brother Ivan and sister Nastia (both still unmarried), and an elder brother Nikola, who was the acknowledged head of the family, with his wife Mavrunia.

In a very short time, Katiusha came to love her mother-in-law, her Starushka (Russian term for an older woman, bus used among the Doukhobors as an endearing term for an older female family member) Onia. A devout soul, she was always puttering around at something, never raising her voice at anyone. She was often occupied in pacifying Nikola’s two children. Her counsel to her children, especially her two youngest, her level tone of voice, her remarkable memory, her practical approach to things and her insight into the very finest points of Doukhobor faith, always had a profound effect. Katiusha especially marveled at how the mother handled her temperamental daughter Nastia (who was the same age as Katiusha), along with maintaining harmony in the entire household.

Babushka Semeneshcheva with her husband Ivan Semenovich Popov. The latter who was 6 feet 4 inches tall is sitting, while his wife at 5 feet is standing. Photo taken c. 1920 when Babushka was about 70 years old.

The first year of life in the Blaine Lake Village of Pozirayevka proved a real haven for Katiusha. Her Starushka, ever thoughtful of her, taught her to cook according to all the accepted Doukhobor standards, but did it so imperceptibly that Katiusha never felt she was being ‘instructed’. Instead, Onia constantly praised her daughter-in-law’s knowledge, style and abilities that she had learnt from her own mother. Katiusha’s expertise in this and other household tasks (throughout her life she was an outstanding cook, gardener, and housekeeper) thus became enriched by the blending of two distinct cultural backgrounds – from tow totally different environmental spheres within Russia’s vast tow-continent empire.

In December of that year, her Starushka helped bring into the world her first-born, Nikolai, and then proceeded to teach Katiusha how to care for the baby. Katiusha felt her mother-in-law did everything so capably and naturally, never reacting to any mishap and never fearing for the future, even though Katiusha herself sometimes doubted that they would manage to survive the winter on the meager supplies available. Onia would always declare:

“We must have faith that God will provide that which is essential for our well-being. We must only, always, be careful that we are not wasteful and over-indulgent ourselves…”

While Onia had never learnt to read or write, she never missed reciting – evenings, mornings, and at mealtimes – the many Doukhobor prayers (called psalms) and hymns she had learnt by heart as a child. She would teach these, along with their melodies, to her grandchildren, making sure any neighbour child who happened to be around had an opportunity to hear them too. For Katiusha, her Starushka was an angelic presence sent into her life to establish an equilibrium after her unsettled and emotionally unstable childhood.

However, this ‘haven’ of Katiusha’s was not to last. In the year following the Popov family decided that the Prince Albert Doukhobor colony at Blaine Lake was not evolving in line with their inner concepts of the true Doukhobor faith. About half of the two hundred or so Blaine Lake families were contemplating the decision to accede to the government’s demand of an oath of allegiance to the Crown and abandon the communal form of living in favour of individual homesteads. The Popovs, along with the majority of their fellow-villagers, decided to move to the southern colony at Yorkton, where the vast majority were determined to continue their communal way of life and refuse to take the oath.

As far as Katiusha was concerned, her Starushka’s word was not to be questioned. Onia had put it simply and straightforwardly:

“We refused allegiance to the Tsar of Russia because allegiance required military service which we could not and would not perform. How can we now swear allegiance to the Tsar in England, when this will require us to perform military service here? We were promised that we would be allowed our religious freedom here in Canada, and that is why we came here. We ought to toil peacefully on the land, and live our won way…There is no way that we will go back on our principles because we have made our Trust with God, that we will follow these principles – no matter what sacrifices this would require. God will punish us if we do not keep our Trust…”

The organizing and carrying out of the trek by covered wagon from Blaine Lake to the Yorkton/Thunder Hill area took a good part of the summer. The domestic animals were led and herded. Their belongings were transported on the wagons, along with the women and children while most of the men-folk made the 320-kilometre trek on foot. At their destination, the trekkers were welcomed with open arms by none other than the leader himself, Peter Vasilevich Verigin, along with other Community Doukhobors, and were subsequently absorbed into the Doukhobor villages surrounding the prairie railway station named Verigin.

Katiusha took to the communal way of living right from the start, which she later remembered with fondness as being the true Christian way of life. No doubt this impression was at least partly due to the example of her Starushka – who, according to Doukhobor custom, would now be called Babushka (Grandmother) by all the children of the village. (Specifically, she would be referred to as Babushka Semeneshcheva (family nickname/alternate surname) to distinguish her from the many others in the village bearing the Popov name.) Babushka Semeneshcheva helped shield her daughter-in-law from the rough edges encountered in merging into an already-functioning communal system, reminding her neighbours that Katiusha was not only an orphan but was only seventeen years old and a breast-feeding mother.

However, things were turning out quite differently for her husband, Aleksei Ivanovich. A full-fledged working man of thirty years of age, in excellent health, he had mastered his knowledge of grain-growing and cattle- and sheep-raising back in the Caucasus; his evolutionary experience of close cooperation with fellow-Doukhobors for survival in Siberia had made him (and the others) very frugal, self-dependent and more democratically inclined than the majority of the Yorkton colony whose lives had been less harsh.

As time went by, Aleksei Ivanovich was finding it more and more difficult to fit in with the existing Yorkton communal structure – he became dissatisfied with the many instances of the waste of labour, the lack of individual initiative for innovation, not to mention the continual bowing down to local village elders whose consciousness had not evolved, as had his, through harsh experiences. Eventually, he decided he could no longer accept what he saw as an overly restrictive status quo, and despite his family’s pleadings, decided to take his wife and son back to Blaine Lake, where he felt he had a better chance of working with the more independently-minded Doukhobors.

Thus, in the autumn of 1908, Aleksei Ivanovich Popov drove back to his former colony with a small team of two horses. Katiusha and Nikolai came later, traveling by train as far as Rosthern (some fifty kilometres from Blaine Lake) where Aleksei met them with the wagon.

His expectations were not disappointed. The three of them were able to stay with his second cousins, Fyodor and Aliosha Popov, near their old village of Pozirayevka. These cousins lived side by side with two more distant relatives, Nikola and Fedya Tikhonov, who had been childhood chums. Before winter set in, they were able to plant a vegetable garden, put up enough hay for the horses and a cow they had managed to purchase (along with chickens, which were eventually moved into the barn when it got too cold for them outside to lay eggs), and build a small log cabin and a log barn on a neighbouring homestead.

In spite of the cold weather and heavy snow, the winter turned out to be not a difficult one to endure. Their new log cabin was snug and warm. They had enough flour, their garden yielded enough cabbage, potatoes, beets, onions and cabbage, the cow and chickens supplied them with milk and eggs. They had frequent visits with their neighbours, the Tikhonovs and the Popovs. Katiusha rejoiced that Nikolai was an exceptionally strong and healthy child, and that her husband could spend most of the time at home, except for his occasional expeditions to an area some thirty kilometers north to fetch logs (both for firewood and for expansion of their cabin). These trips usually entailed a two- or three-day journey, and he would often stay overnight with local Indians and Metis, who were friendly to the Doukhobors. Their dwellings, however, were far more flimsy and less cold-resistant than his log cabin at home.

The spring and summer proved more challenging. Aleksei found the land-breaking work extremely strenuous both on himself and his two horses, in spite of generous help from the neighbours. Not being able to afford a team of oxen (which many Doukhobor farmers were still using), he came up with the idea of training the cow to pull alongside the horses – a strange sight Katiusha would describe to her children and grandchildren for many years to come.

Their labour proved fruitful, for the harvest was very good that year. But all the extra work of stoking both her own and the neighbours’ sheaves (partly in repayment for all the help they had received from them) took its toll on Katiusha’s health: she discovered she had developed a serious hernia in her abdomen.

Adding to her anxiety was anticipation of a long winter alone with young Nikolai. To acquire some urgently needed income, Aleksei had accepted a job at a sawmill in Prince Albert, which had been unexpectedly postponed from the autumn to the winter. Conscious of their desperate need, Katiusha played down the seriousness of her physical difficulty and urged him to take the work, saying she would be all right.

But that winter of 1909-10 proved to be less than ‘all right’ for Katiusha, obliged to spend long and dreary (sometimes stormy, always cold) winter nights alone with a son who was not yet five years old. A month after her husband’s departure, she realized she was pregnant again. Their only daily contact amid the white wasteland was with their farm animals. Aleksei had arranged for one of the Tikhonovs to look in on them every ten days or so, and each time Katiusha spotted Fedya or the eldest boy Simeon coming across the field, she felt a sense of rejuvenation at the thought that here were people coming to her place to show that she was still included in their sphere of life.

The Alexei J. and Katiushka Popov family taken about 1915 in the old homestead near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. (l-r) Nick, Annie, Leonard, and Babushka with Alex J. and Katherine Popoff.

In spite of her loneliness and occasional despondency, she was still satisfied that she had managed to keep her household (including the horses, cow, and chickens) going normally through the winter. Spring was approaching however, which meant she would have to be planting the garden again, and do extra work in the fields as her husband would not be returning from the sawmill until late spring.

She was also feeling the baby growing inside her, which she estimated would be due for delivery in late summer. Despite all her care about her diet and lifting heavy objects, her hernia seemed to be worsening. With all the spring chores ahead of her, how many times she thought of her Starushka, Babushka Semeneshcheva, and the ‘haven’ she had felt when they had lived together. How she longed to have her with her again, right here in her little log cabin! She had to remind herself that even if she wrote her to come, it could be months before the message reached her, and how would Onia ever get to her in the midst of winter storms, when even getting to one’s neighbours was such a challenge!

Still, as spring was beginning to break, Katiusha wept into her pillow every night, praying that by some miracle her Starushka would come to her in her hour of need.

Then one evening, in the latter part of April, Katiusha was preparing to go to bed after finishing her outside chores and tucking Nikolai in for the night. She was startled to hear a light knock on the door, as if the caller did not have the strength to knock briskly. She was somewhat taken aback, since Fedya had come to see her only a few days ago, and the Tikhonovs came more rarely now that spring was breaking. Opening the door cautiously, Katiusha was utterly amazed by what she saw: there stood Babushka Semeneshcheva, with a small packsack on her back. Even though she looked a bit haggard, she still had that sparkle in her eyes and that never-waning smile on her face.

Nikolai jumped out of bed at once and came running to the door. Amidst tears, hugs, and kisses, Katiusha kept asking her Starushka: “How did you know I needed you so much? How did you guess I was all alone, and terribly needed your help?”

At last Babushka took her daughter-in-law by the shoulders, and looking devoutly and wistfully into her eyes, exclaimed: “But my dear Katiusha, I heard you calling for me, and so I came as soon as I could!”

How this wisp of a woman, barely five fee tall, traversed more than three hundred kilometers of wilderness over obscure trails she had covered only once before in her life, in early spring weather that, to say the least, was not conducive to spending nights on the road, is a matter of conjecture. She declined to talk about it at any length, saying only: “I knew I had to go through with this journey. So I kept going, and kept going, and here I am!”

Perhaps it is not too far-fetched to suppose that here was a soul that, in addition to being intuitive enough to ‘hear’ a call for help across great distances, also had the ability to make use of those mythical ‘seven-league boots’ of Russian fairy tales to transport herself to the place she was needed. Given the distances and the difficult circumstances involved, it would be safe to assume that a logical, rational person would not have dared to attempt what Babushka Semeneshcheva accomplished so matter-of-factly and so humbly.

But there is more to this true story than simply a proof that boundless stamina is available to the human soul when dedication requires it. Its real lesson is the realization of the need to recognize, in honouring the fortitude and perseverance of our pioneer grandparents, along with their many worthy accomplishments, the significant evolution of their ‘inner soul’ to a level where it was able to conquer any frontier, including geographical distance. A soul capable, in times of dire stress, regardless of distance or circumstance, to ‘hear’ and ‘do’, and then to say as Babushka Semeneshcheva did, “But my dear Katiusha, I heard you calling, and so I came…”

Copies of the writings of Eli A. Popoff are available for purchase along with various other informative Doukhobor materials from: The Birches Publishing, Box 730, Grand Forks, British Columbia, V0H 1H0, Tel: (250) 442-5397, email: birchespublishing@shaw.ca

Boyhood Memories

by Russell W. Terichow

In his later years, Russell W. Terichow (1906-1982) wrote down his memoirs of life on the Canadian Prairies in the Teens and Twenties. In frank and simple style, he depicts the adventures and pleasures, hardships and tragedies, and everyday life of his boyhood at Buchanan, Saskatchewan. Readers will enjoy the rich details and vivid memories of those early years when Doukhobor pioneers settled the Prairies. This excerpt, taken from his memoirs, is reproduced by permission.

History & Roots

I wanted to write a long time ago, but kept putting it off.  So now I broke the ice.  Here goes.  Born in the now province of Saskatchewan – then in the Northwest Territories on the 4th day of April, in the year 1906, in the village of Troitskoye about 2 miles south of the village of Buchanan. This is one of the villages that our people settled in when they came to Canada from Russia in 1899.  As I understand there were over 60 such villages in the area of Buchanan, Canora, Veregin, Kamsack, Pelly and Arran, these two being near the Province of Manitoba.

The reason our people had to move away from Russia, which is the country of my parents and theirs, is very long to write it all, but I will try in short form to write what I know and what I was told.  Our religion was watched very closely during the years our people lived in Russia, from 1731 to 1898.  This is a close as I can make it.  In the early 1700s our religion broke away from the Greek Orthodox Church and from then till 1896 our people were moved from one place to another in Russia.  The Orthodox Church thought they could break this new religious philosophy, but this could not be done.  As time went on, things began to change.

Russell W. Terichow & brother Larry in the 1930’s

In 1896, our people decided that by the writing in the Bible, “Thou shalt not kill” that this Commandment, being one of the 10 Commandments, should be fulfilled, just like the rest should.  So, the people got together and on June 29th, my grandfather, Larion Fedorovich Terekhov, like a lot of other men that had guns, brought them out onto a field where there was a load of dry wood, they piled all their guns up and set fire to the wood and all the guns burned.  There they got into a very big encounter with the Cossacks. They were whipped till the blood ran down into their shoes.  Many were imprisoned -so was my grandfather.  It took time, but the courts sentenced them to life in Siberia.  About 70 men were sentenced and as spring started, all these men were chained together and marched from the Black Sea in southern Russia to Irkutsk in Siberia.  Some of them died on the march. Most of them made it.  That must have been some trip or march, as they were all vegetarians.  This made it hard to get the right food.  So, some of the men started to cook, after the government supplied the food.  Some time the meals were very, very watery.

After they got to Irkutsk, they were all placed in different places.  My Grandpa got a job in a flour mill where he worked until they were released from jail.  All of the men were sentenced for life, which meant life, no parole.  This worked very hard on some of them.  Where Grandpa lived, there happened to be a very good family and they had a daughter, a few years younger than Grandpa, and I guess they got to like each other. So, Grandpa wrote a letter home explaining everything and Grandma and the rest of the family, which was 2 girls and 2 boys, and I suppose some older folks close to the family, decided to write Grandpa and let him marry the girl and start a new life in the new country.  Not much use him wasting his life – and so he married her.

Now comes the big one – 1905.  The Royal Family of Russia had their first and only boy who was to be in line for the throne.  The Tsar of Russia that year released all religious and political prisoners.  So Grandpa and his new family of two boys and his new wife decided to move to Canada while the moving was good, and they did.  It must have been very hard for Grandpa to meet up with Grandma and his family in Canada, which he did.  As I understand, he got a job in Brandon, Manitoba with Canadian Pacific Railroad.  He worked there until 1913 when they both got homesick for Irkutsk and they decided to go back for a trip – which they did.  In 1914 war broke out, then the great revolution, and that finished Grandpa and Canada.  He was not able to come back to Canada.  He passed away in around 1928.  I remember my father and myself went to see them before they left for Russia.  I remember playing with the boys.  I often wonder where and what the boys are doing now.

Our Family

My father was William L. Terichow, and my mother was Mary Parfenkoff.  I cannot say that I can remember her. I was two and a half years old when she passed away, but it seems just like a dream that I remember her lying in bed being sick. That is all I can remember.

Our village was about 1/3 of a mile long with houses on both sides of the road.  The houses were built quite close to each other.  I remember the village.  We had a flour mill, which was run by water, at the south end of the village. There was also a big granary.  I remember once or twice a year the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman used to make his trip on horseback through what we called “our” country. When somebody would see him coming into our village, news traveled fast and all of us kids would hide under the big granary till he rode away.  Then we would come out — we were really scared of the police. Until today as I sit and think of what those men lived through – it was something to write about.  I had seen them come into our village in the middle of winter, the poor horse’s nose was covered with a sack to keep its nostrils from freezing solid.  Just think of the poor man sitting in the cold saddle all day at 40°, 50° or 60° below zero.  These were tough men and they had big territories to police.  A far cry from today’s motor car and motorcycle police.

My father was one of the first in the village to learn English and he got a job working in a hardware store in Buchanan for Mr. Moore.  I remember him coming home from town to our village on a bike and he used to put it away in a sheep shed for the night.  After my mother passed away my father took out a homestead – or maybe while my mother was still alive.  Anyway, I don’t know where he got a team of oxen and a plow. Well there we were breaking virgin soil.  That was some work.  The weather was hot and dry.  The flies and mosquitoes were very bad.  So bad, that many times the oxen would run into a slough with the plow and all to get away from them.  Then Dad would go into the water and get them out.  My job was to look after our lunch, which was bread and some cheese.  We had to get our drink from the slough.  You put a clean cloth on the water and drank sucking the water through the cloth.

Plowing with oxen.

The country was full of gophers and squirrels so I had to hold onto our lunch at all times or it would be gone in short order.  We had to do so much plowing and fencing and building before the government would give you your title for the 160 acres for $10.  I guess the work on the farm was getting pretty hard for Dad, so he got his job in the hardware store with Mr. Moore.  He decided to sell the farm and he sold it to Mr. Charles Barnes.  That was the end of our farming.  This seems to me about all I can remember about our farming.  I remember we had to get up at daybreak and stay in the field till nearly dark.  At dinner time Dad would unhook the oxen and hobble them.  “Hobble” means you tie their front feet together so they can’t run away, yet they can graze.  My job was to see that they didn’t go away too far as Dad ate his lunch and maybe took a little nap.  It was hard work.  Most of this work was done by two men.  One would lead the oxen and the other would hold the plow, but Dad had to do it alone.  He had to steer the oxen with lines, and that was some job.  When the flies got real bad, the lines didn’t help very much – the oxen just went for the water.  This is about all I can remember, as my next move was to my Auntie Bartsoff in Yorkton.

My Auntie took me into their home for a few years.  That was in Yorkton, Saskatchewan.  I lived with them till Dad married again.  Living with Auntie and her family was alright for me.  Their family was Russell, 2 years older than me; Alex, 1-1/2 years younger, and cousin Mary, 4 years younger.  So I kind of blended in quite well with them.  Uncle John Bartsoff was a very strict man.  Very exact.  We all had some bad days with him.  May he was too strict or maybe we were too rough. This I will not dispute.  I remember us three boys sitting across the table from him.  He used to have a yardstick with him, and we dared not talk or laugh at the table.  There is nothing wrong it as I see it now, but at that time I thought it was terrible. Good or bad, I owe them a lot, and I would have loved to repay some way, but I couldn’t because nobody told me when Uncle or Auntie passed away.  I will wrote more about Auntie later

In 1910 my father married again to a lady, my stepmother, Pearl.  At that time, we had already moved away from the village to live in Buchanan.  My father built a house in town.  This history I don’t remember very well; only when Pearl passed away from a heart attack.  Dad had been up north of Buchanan on a threshing outfit.  He was a fireman that year.  He had quit working in the store.  Pearl’s family lived about one and a half miles east of Buchanan and, as I understand, she and I went to her parent’s place on Saturday to the bath house as was the custom.  Anyway, we had our hot bath and she went to bed and that ended her life.  Sunday morning we found her dead.

This about ends his and my life with my first stepmother.  Again my Auntie Bartsoff took me in.  Again I went to live with them in Yorkton.  By the way, I will never forget a scare we boys got one day in the winter time at a little lake a few miles from town. Cousin Russell, Alex and myself and George, a friend of ours, decided to go to the lake to skate.  When we got there we found that there were men there cutting ice for somebody in town.  Anyway, they had cut out a square of about 50 to 60 feet and the ice there was very clear.  No snow on it at all.  We were told by the men working there not to go on the clear ice, but boys are boys, and we started to get closer and closer to the clear, clear ice.  And as one of us would skate or slide over it, you could see it bend.  Anyway, it came.  George just went too far and down he went, through the ice and under the water.  We could see him but couldn’t help him.  Anyway, he managed to work his way back to the hole and by that time one of the men that was cutting ice ran over with his ice cutting saw.  He pushed it toward George and this was the way George got out.  We took him to the shack where the ice cutters ate their meals and kept warm, dry clothes.  After an hour or so, we started for home, not knowing what would happen to us when we got home.  Well, we got a good talking and George’s mother decided that we were trying to drown him, which was not so.  Anyway, we didn’t go to that lake any more.

The two years passed by very fast between 1910 and 1912, when Dad got married again.  That was his third marriage – this time to Mabel Sookorokoff.  I remember when these people came from Russia in 1912.  I remember when they unloaded in Yorkton, at the Grand Trunk railway, and later on they moved to Canora where Dad met my new stepmother.  And so early in 1913 I moved back to Buchanan.

Life to me at that time meant very little as long as I was fed and had clothes to wear.  That I had.  The people in and around our little town of Buchanan were very good to me.  I remember very well when I started school, coming home from school, and after school some good-hearted lady would ask me into her house and giving me something to eat or drink.  That went over very nice with me.  But sometimes, it didn’t go over very good at home, as I wouldn’t be very hungry at suppertime and that wasn’t very good, as my new mother tried hard to feed us with good food, and she was good at that.  She was a very clean woman, and a very good cook.  She was also a very good hostess.

Winter Fun

I remember when winter would set in and people had no place to go, we used to have our house with company just about every night.  There were no picture shows in town for the younger folks, so we had to stay home and read or whatever.  Maybe just cut out pictures from Eaton’s catalogue.  This maybe sounds funny, but there is a lot of fun to cut out what you want and make up a house or a barnyard or whatever.  Then when the winter really closed in and the sloughs and lakes really froze, it was skating.  We had a slough in Mr. Buchanan’s field that was surrounded by a willow bush and after the slough froze and we had our heavy snow fall, the whole town would go out and clean off the snow making a figure-eight and then build a big fire in the middle of the slough and somebody would bring a gramophone and play some nice skating music.  The place would be full of people skating.  Just imagine – 25° to 35° below zero with no wind at all, a nice moonlight night, out on the ice with a hundred or more people skating.  These are the things to remember and to think how some young folks live in the big cities now.  They are missing a lot.  Sure they have the ice and ball fields but it is all there for them.  They don’t have to make it up for themselves.  That is as much fun doing as using it after it is done.

This is also how we made our hockey rink and curling rink.  You can see we didn’t have very many hockey players in the big timers, but we had a lot of fun.  We made our own curling rocks.  We froze water in pails to make a rock and used them for curling.  They didn’t last too long because if they would bump hard they would chip and pretty soon you didn’t have any rock left to curl with.

Our skis were home-made — a couple of 1x4s with a bit of tin bent up on the end and a piece of leather nailed on in the middle for your shoe and a couple of broken broom handles and warm clothes, and you were away.  We would go for miles and miles if the weather wasn’t too cold – maybe 15° to 25° below. Some­times if there was a little wind with the temperature, you would freeze your hands in your mitts and your nose and ears.  Then it took a good hard rub with snow to get the blood going again.  Sometimes we would watch for the farmers going home from town after shopping.  Then we would hook up to their sleigh and have a good ride for a mile or two and then walk back home.  That wasn’t too good.  Sometimes the farmers would get their horses to a good fast run just when we wanted to unhook.  Then we would be hooked up for maybe another 1/2 mile, and by the time we would get home we would be cold, tired and hungry.

So went our winter sports.  There is a lot more a person could write about, and of course, Halloween must not be forgotten.  We children would go in packs of 10 to 15 and tip over nearly every outhouse in town and if we had a little snow, we would get a sleigh, a big one, and have a bunch of toilets in the middle of the main street.  Then next morning, the people would be out looking for their outhouse.  We thought it was funny, but the people didn’t.  A lot of toilets were broken as they fell over on the frozen ground, so people got smart.  They moved the toilet a couple of feet ahead and when the boys came to tip it over, they fell into the hole.  It wasn’t that bad as everything was frozen, but its bad enough.  There were sometimes even people trapped in the toilet as it was tipped over that that wasn’t funny, as a person could freeze in there if he or she wasn’t heard when this was done.  Then somebody really got it.  Our folks always seemed to know what bunch were where.  We were not very glad to see Halloween over.  There was no trick or treating. 

Winter fun on the Canadian Prairies.

The only fun we had was what we made ourselves.  Living in the country as flat as your table for hundreds of miles anyway you looked.  The only place we had to slide was at our flour mill in Buchanan.  When the mill was being made, the company brought in a steam shovel and dug a hole about 20 ft deep by 50 or 60 feet long for water, as the mill was run by steam and water was needed there.  So when we got our first snowfall, we used to go there and slide down on cardboard cornflake boxes or any other large packing box we could get from the stores.  As you can imagine, when the shovel dug the deep trench the dirt was piled up on the banks and it made quite a hill.  After sliding down for a while, your rear-end felt kind of sore as you could feel every little bump as you went down.  So we had to stay away for a time until we got more snow.  That helped a lot.

Our next door neighbor, Mr. T. 0. Thompson, was quite a man.  He was the first one to have a car in town. He had a Buick and an Olds in about 1914 or 1915.  Anyway, he at one time made a snow mobile.  It was very crude by it worked.  It traveled about 3 or 4 miles per hour, but nothing would stop it, snow or otherwise.  He had a 3 or 4 horsepower 1 cylinder engine on it.  He had a wooden pulley about 20 inches in diameter with railroad spikes in it driven by a flat pulley, and a flat belt by this engine, with skis in front and rear.  We had a lot of fun on this machine.  It was water cooled, so when it got too hot, we would put more snow into the cooling system, and away we went again.

These were some of the ways we spent our time in the small towns in the Canadian prairies.  Of course there were concerts put on by churches and other groups.  The town hall would be packed full of people. No charge.  Everything was free.  We also had picture shows.  Maybe once or twice a year a man would come from Yorkton or Kamsack and put on a picture show.  I was lucky as I sold tickets and so I got in for free.  Some other kids didn’t have any money, so they couldn’t come in.  After the show started, I would go and play the old Victor phonograph when the film would be changed, or when the film happened to tear.

There was also the Christmas Concert.  That was something everybody looked forward to.  Our whole school put on some plays, as our school was from grade one to grade twelve, and every room put on a play.  There were only 4 rooms in the school.  So you see, there were 3 grades in each room, so there was a lot of talent to draw from.  Things like these are very hard to forget.  Once you lived through them, its funny a person don’t seem to mind the cold long winter.

I remember seeing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police come into our town every year between Christmas and New Years on horseback.  I know it was cold because the horse had the sack over his nose and I don’t know how the poor Mountie didn’t freeze sitting in that cold saddle with his legs in the open, even if they had Buffalo coats and chapps.  Their coats would be white with frost, but a job is a job and they did it.

A person really had to live in that country to see the beauty and harshness.  Storms were so bad you couldn’t see two feet in front of you, and then in the evenings the moon would shine on the white snow. And it was white, just mirror-like.  In the evening you could see the Northern Lights.  They would play up so clear you could hear the crackle as they made beautiful colors.  This is something people living in the south never see.  So you see, there is something beautiful in the north.  Sometimes we would see mirages. That was something.  You could see towns miles and miles away that you ordinarily would not see.  They would play up so nice you could nearly count the buildings.  This did not happen too often — its all in the weather.

Springtime and Summertime

Spring was something we all looked forward to as spring came and the snow started to melt.  That was really nice.  The people would go for walks for miles on the railroad tracks as they were dry to walk on. We used to go about two miles west of town to the water tank that supplied the steam engines on the railroad at that time.  The river would be overflowing, the fish would be going upstream to spawn and pretty soon after most of the snow would be gone up would come the crocus and the gophers and ground squirrels would come out.  That was a sure sign of spring. But before I forget as I have already, I must go back to the cold winter.

The winters were very cold. Our big lake was 12 miles south of town.  It used to freeze up to three feet deep; that is, the ice would be three feet thick and as it froze, its ice would raise in the middle of the lake like a nice hill, maybe twelve to fifteen feet high.  The pressure built up as it froze harder and then when the pressure built up to a point where it could stand no more, it would burst.  It was like a cannon shot.  It was heard all around the country, and then afterwards everybody would go to the lake and bring home the ice.  You see, the ice would be broken into small chunks and it was put away in special buildings and covered with sawdust that keeps the ice from melting.  It lasted all summer.  The town we lived in had no water to be able to use.  So we had to melt ice in the summer and snow in the winter for use in the house.  That is why all this ice was put up in the winter time, and of course, we had rains in the summer and people had large galvanized barrels to catch the rain water for washing.  Believe me, water was not wasted.  Every drop counted.

As spring came along, winter seemed to be forgotten.  Everything came to life.  The flowers, wild ones, came into blossom.  The leaves appeared on the trees.  All the wildlife reappeared.  Pretty soon the farmers started the work in the fields, plowing, discing and seeding.  Just a couple of weeks after seeding was done, the fields started to turn green with the crop coming up.  Most of the town people would be in their gardens, putting in their needs for the garden greens.  This may sound funny to you when you read this, but this is true.  You couldn’t buy any greens in the stores, summer or winter, such as cabbage, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, green onions, cauliflower, or any other vegetables.

The only vegetable there was for sale was onions.  The fruit was plentiful – oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and apples.  In those days, apples came from Eastern Canada in big barrels – about 200 lbs.  So a lot of people used to pair up and get maybe 3 or 4 barrels of different kinds and then divided them.  Boy, what a treat that was when you went to the cellar from those apples.  I can smell the apples now.

Now, back to the spring, summer and so on.  As the ground really warmed up, and everything started to grow, the birds started to come back.  As cold as it was, the sparrows were with us all winter, but in spring, the crows, meadow larks, hawks, robins, ducks, slough snips and other birds and water fowl came back and, of course, we then started to look for their eggs.  We would be gone all day on Saturday, come home tired and hungry, but we thought we had a good time.  Then as spring got older, summer came along and then summer holidays.  No school for two months.  Boy, what a treat.  Some of us would stay at home, some would go and visit their relatives, which I used to do every year.  I  will write more about my trip later.

We had what we used to call the “Hudson Bay Section” which was owned by that company and a “School Section” which was owned by the Government.  These two Sections were not broken or cleared for farming.  At that time they were in their natural state.  There were no big trees on them, but there were some small bushes around sloughs.  That is where we used to go and pick wild strawberries and wild raspberries and gooseberries. These berries were small compared to the berries we have in our gardens now.  The largest berry was about the size of a dime, and even smaller.  I remember we used to buy our jam in the stores in wooden pails.  At that time the pails were maybe 1-1/2 times the size of our peanut butter tins, which would be 4 to 5 lbs.  Our mothers would make us a sandwich for lunch and 5 or 6 of us boys would go picking berries.  You did not mix your berries.  First, it was strawberries only. And then, after a week or so, the raspberries were ready.  The berries would be so ripe you picked nearly all day to get your pail full, and of course, they were small, and by the time you had your pail full, it was over half juice.  But the smell!  You could smell the berries for a 1/2 mile away if the wind was right.  Of course, gooseberries were different.  They didn’t go to mush, but your hands would bleed and scratch from the thorns, but they made nice jam.

There was also the saskatoon berry.  It is something like the blueberry, but much smaller.  It is a very tasty berry when it is ripe.  It grows on a bush about 6 to 8 feet tall – it is easy to pick.  There was also the bush cranberry.  This grew near the rivers or lakes.  It seemed to like being close to water.  This berry was picked late in the year, close to frost time.  Then it was put in barrels and filled with water and froze and then in the winter time you could pick the berries and ice out of the barrel and thaw them out and then make pies or whatever. This was a real treat in the winter.

So when we didn’t go picking berries we would go to the lake for a swim, if you could call it that.  The lake or large slough was about 2 miles south of town and it was a nice run to get there.  There was 6 of us that used to go to this lake.  Its name is Patterson Lake.  The river flowed in and out in the spring runoff but not in summer time. I guess it was about 3 or 4 feet deep in the middle and it was 1/2 mile long and about 1/4 mile wide.  It wasn’t the best place on earth but we had lots of fun there and getting there, too.

There used to be a rancher’s barn along the road to the lake and the people that owned it tore the barn down and the old manure pile which had been rotting for years, they put it into a rhubarb patch, and boy what rhubarb!  Stocks as big as your arm and leaves like an umbrella.  Anyway, we used to start taking some of our clothes off just before we reached the rhubarb, as it was close to the lake.  Then as we came close to the patch we would leave our clothes on the side of the fence and we would go into the patch to pick some rhubarb.  One stick would be enough and more for all of us, but no, we had to go inside the patch breaking down much more than we needed.  We could have picked one stick near the fence and that would be good enough, but no, we had to go inside.  Anyway, one day, Mr. farmer thought he would put a stop to this, and he did.  He hid in the middle of the patch and when we got inside, he jumped us, and boy, we were like a bunch of rats.  We were gone.  He didn’t get any of us because he didn’t want to.  He wanted to scare us and that he did very well.  So, he picked up all of our clothes and put them in his buggy and took them to town.  He delivered them from house to house.  He knew us, all of us.  Well, we didn’t go into the patch any more with the scare we got from him, and a couple of good straps at home.  That old razor strap was very good medicine.  You never argued with that medicine!

Holiday Adventure

I used to go and visit my Aunty Bartsoff in Yorkton every summer.  My father would buy me a ticket and I would have $10.00 spending money.  That done me for 2 or 3 weeks and sometimes I brought back $5 or $6.  There was not much to spend money on.  I can still remember the first time I walked into the Woolworth’s store – it used to be called the “5 & 10” store.  I bought a pocket diary and a propelling pencil with a clip.  All this for 15 cents.

Getting ready to go to Yorkton to Aunt’s place was I something to look forward to.  To go by train all by yourself, with money in your pocket, and to be away from home and friends for a month or so was very big.  I remember every time the train would stop at some station, and there were 4 stops, I would get out and walk the platform and then get on as the train started to go, that was something.

We used to have a lot of fun at Auntie’s place.  After they moved from their home in town into the country they had a very nice farm.  It was there one day cousins Russell and Alex and myself went to the pasture to bring in the milk cows, and we saw a wolf go into her den.  So we rushed the cows home and got some shovels and back to the den.  We started to dig.  We must have dug 10 or 12 foot trench in length about 2 feet deep and pretty soon as we were resting for a few minutes the mother wolf came out of the den and the three little ones after her.  Well we let her go, but the little ones we got.  They were about the size of a grown house cat.  Well, we got them home and made a cage for them out of chicken wire.  We fed them every day but we run into a little bit of trouble.  Auntie had a few hens that hatched some chicks and they were running loose in the yard.  Some of the chicks would come to where the pups were.  They would put their head through the fence to catch a fly or whatever, and the young pups would catch them by their head and that was the end of the chick.  This went on for a couple of days, until Auntie caught onto the reason why the chick count was getting smaller, and so we had to get rid of the pups.  So, we had to walk to town with the pups.  We gave them to a doctor that had sort of a small park there.  His name was Doc Patrick.  I think he gave us $1 for each pup.  Kids do those things without thinking – sometimes it works out good, and sometimes it does not.

There is a lot more a person could write about, the first plane that I seen was in Yorkton.  My 2 cousins and I walked to town one Sunday to see this plane.  It was something to see. I couldn’t believe that it could fly until it took off.  So it was back home.  It got dark before we got home, but it was worth the whole day, even if we were hungry.  We had something to eat before we went to bed.

I used to like to go and visit my aunt every year.  Yet there is one thing I can’t understand.  I didn’t go and visit my uncle Mike Parfenkoff in Canora.  Why, I don’t know.  When I did go to Yorkton to Auntie’s I had to take the train from Buchanan to Canora, stay over night in Canora, then take the train next day to Yorkton.  That was the Grand Trunk Railway and Buchanan and Canora were on the Canadian National Railway.  I used to stay over night at Mr. and Mrs. John Popove.  Mrs. Popove was a sister to my step-mother, so that is why I stayed with them.  They insisted that I stay with them.  One time I stayed at a hotel and Mr. Popove met me on the street in the morning as I was going to the railroad station.  He asked me when I came to Canora, and where I was going and I told him.  He gave me a good talking to and said not to let it happen again.  By the way, Mrs. Popove is brother Larry and Mike’s Auntie who now lives in Chico, California.

Of course, there still was time for more summer holidays and we made good use of them.  One of my best friends was Bob Brown.  His father was a cattle dealer and he used to run 30 to 40 head of cattle on a section of land he had north of town.  The section was fenced and it had a small shack on it.  Bob and I used to go out there on Saturday morning and we would stay there till Sunday evening.  He used to ride a very nice saddle horse, a red roan color.  I had a black and white Shetland pony.  It was small but it was fast, both going ahead and to the side.  He dumped me off a good many times.  You never knew when he would stop and veer to the side and down you went.  We would take a loaf of bread and some cheese and Rogers syrup with us and that what we had to eat.  Sometimes we would catch a cow that had a calf and milk her so we had milk instead of water.

Just stop and think for a while what a summer holiday like that meant to me or any other boy or girl.  To be able to go out into the country for a couple of days, sort of ride the range, sleep in an old shack, with the wolves all around you howling.  Badgers and skunks, all you wanted to see, and more.  The songs of the birds used to wake us up in the morning and we would go to bed in the evening with the hooting of the owl, or we would sit at the door and watch the fireflies just like little bulbs in the air.  How beautiful it was.  I just sometimes think why these beautiful things have to change.  Why must a person change his way of life that was so easy and cheap and slow to live?  Money was about the last thing people talked about, they just lived.

Things like that a person does not forget.  How I wish a person could live these over again, with all the kicking around that I had I still would love to live my life over again just like it was.  A lot of people were good to me.

Harvest

Harvest time was also a lot of fun.  We were back in school by that time so the only time we had to ourselves was Saturday, after you sawed enough wood to keep the house going for the week.  The wood you had to saw was with a buck saw, and it wasn’t too bad when it was sharp, but when it was dull, it would be tough sawing.  The wood that was bought from the farmers was in long lengths, maybe up to 25 to 30 feet long and it was a year old and it would get as hard as flint, but it had to be cut.  No wood, no cooking.  That was first thing every Saturday.

Then, if you were in time, you would get a pail of water from the town well.  There was one well in town that the water was good enough to use.  Then if you were late, the town police would lock the top of the well and you had to wait till next day.  So if you used the water out of your big tank in the house where the ice was melting, and you were asked why you didn’t bring any water home, you had to have an answer. Sometime it worked and sometime it didn’t.

Fall was something to look forward to.  When the farms started their harvest, the fields of wheat, oats, barley, etc. would turn golden and it was just like the ocean when we had a little wind.  The field would be like the waves.  A picture that is remembered for life. And then out came the farmers with their binders. The men and women came out to stook the bundles the binders cut and tied.  After the stocks were up for a week or more the grain ripened just right and then came the threshing.  Some were gas tractors to thresh and others were steam.

Threshing time in Saskatchewan.

After all this was done we used to go out to where the threshing machine was threshing wheat or oats. There we used to play in the straw stacks.  Its funny, nobody tried to stop us as it was very dangerous.  You could get in trouble very easy.  You could slide down and get covered with straw coming out of the machine, but we were very lucky.  Nobody was hurt.  The only thing was bad was that our clothes were full of straw and dust and we scratched for a long time after that, but we went back for more.  It was really nice to sit on one side of the big steam engine and watch the fireman fire the engine with straw.  The smell of oil burning on the engine in places and watching the men pitching the sheaves or bundles into the separators and the grain coming out of one spout and the straw out of the blower.  While writing this part I stop and reflect on today’s harvest when a family can put up their crop themselves.  That is, a family of three or four instead of a threshing crew of 20 or more.  Men to do your harvest – threshing only. Then there was the cutting of the grain with binders and stooking to cure the crop, and then threshing.  Then you waited till the grain was ripe on the stem and then combine, and have the grain away to a elevator or store it in your granary.  After harvest was over, work involved getting ready for winter, putting your garden away, and then there was wood to haul.

Maybe this is repeating the story, but is the way it was done.  Some of the poor farmers that had to cut the trees in the spring so the trees would dry up so he could haul them into town to sell for $2.50 per load, close to a cord, and this was hauled up to 4 or 5 miles.  So you see how the pioneers had to live.  I even had a chance to haul wood in the winter time.  As young boys we thought it was a lot of fun and to make a dollar a day in the winter time (it was a lot!) and of course, when it came time to cut the long poles to stove lengths we worked at 25 cents an hour at the machine.  That was your spending money.

Sometimes it was only one load of wood a day, depending how far you had to haul.  We used to get 2 or 3 loads of wood in the fall, plus a couple of tons of coal.  That was supposed to do a house till spring.  The wood was brought in long lengths 20 to 30 feet, and after you had all your wood in your yard, an outfit would come in and saw the wood up.  Then there was to split it and pile it up, so when the blizzards came you could get your wood.  Some winters were very bad for heavy snowfall – up to 4 or 5 feet on the level ground.  So you can imagine what big drifts we could have.

I remember we used to have a bluff at the north end of town.  The trees were about 20 to 30 ft. high.  When we had a good blizzard from the North, this bluff would be full right to the very top.  It would be packed so hard, we used to tunnel through the bluff.  It was dangerous, when you come to think of it.  The tunnel could have caved in and that would have been the end of us.  We must have tunneled 1/2 mile of tunnel.  We packed all the snow out of the tunnel by toboggan and a box on the toboggan.  A person could stand up in the tunnel.

Hardship and Change

Now, back to the Fall.  The fall of 1918 was one that I will never forgot, but now as I remember some more history, I must go back to 1915-1916.  At that time, my father worked as a section foreman for Canadian National Railways.  So we were moved from Buchanan to Runneymede, Saskatchewan during the First World War.  The tracks had to be patrolled day and night.

My life at Runneymede wasn’t what a person could call very happy.  There was nobody to play with at all.  The closest neighbor was 1/2 mile away, so I didn’t do very much playing with the neighbors.  Our school was about one and a half miles from our place and of course, our large town was 3 grain elevators, a tool house – this is where the hand car and tools were kept for the railroad – one bunk house for the workmen and our house for the foreman.  There was no station if you wanted to stop the passenger train.  There was a red flag to flag the train down.

We had to go to school through the bush and one time one of the boys said they seen a bear there.  Well, you can imagine how we felt about his story.  There never was a bear there!  We had to go to the post office twice a week to get the mail even if there was any.  In short, life was not too exciting there.

We had a couple of bridges on our section, so it was day and night patrol.  There were a lot of troop trains going through from Vancouver to the East coast.  There were Chinese and Russian troop trains going through and boy did those trains move.  The Engineer had the old engine going all it could.  I remember one train with Russian troops stopped to let the passenger train go through.  A bunch of us kids went to see the troops.  The had a small brown bear with them.  They seemed to be very jolly.  Most of them were singing. There were 15 to 16 cars full of the young soldiers.

Russell W. Terichow & wife Mary (Verishchagin) c. 1930’s

We stayed at Runnymede for one and a half years.  I was 9, going on to 10 then.  I had one brother Johnny, that is, a half-brother at that time.  Of course more came later.  So we were moved back to Buchanan after our stay in Runnymede. 1918 was the year that a lot of people will long remember as the year of the Flu. That is the year my brother Larry was born in April and brother Johnny died in the fall with the flu.  That was a cold winter with very little snow, but a lot of rainfall.  The roads were cut up very bad with the farmers wagons hauling grain to town and when the ground froze it was really bad walking.

I remember I had to go about 1 mile from town for milk to a farm.  That was in the evening after the cows were milked and it was dark by the time I would get home.  Walking home on the badly cut up road with 2 cans of milk, sometime you would step into one of those ruts and spill some milk.  Lucky the tins had lids on them, not too tight.  I would come home with 2/3rds full of milk.  Then I had to deliver the milk to 4 or 5 homes as most of the people were sick with the flu.  My father and I were the only ones that did not get the flu.  I felt sick one evening but the next day I was okay.  After the milk was delivered, I would have to go and bring in wood, and coal, ice and what snow I could get, into 5 or 6 homes.  This all had to be done after 4 pm when school ended.  After the people got somewhat better they started to look after themselves. I will never forget one of our neighbors, Mr. Lunch, bought me a mackinaw coat and pants of the same material. Boy, did I ever sport around.

From 1919 until I left home in 1920 there wasn’t much more to write about.  That was the turning point for me.  After Johnny died with the flu, his mother was hurt very badly.  She in her way blamed me for his death.  As it happened, I was feeding him his dinner as she was in bed with the flu herself.  After feeding him, I dressed up and went outside to carry some wood into the house for the night.  As I was outside Johnny ran outside just as he was in the house – with very light clothes.  Well that was the end of him.  If that’s what brought this on, he got sick next day and in a few days he was gone. There wasn’t enough doctors in the countryside to help all that were down with the flu.  I do not blame her for feeling the way she did, although I couldn’t have helped in any way.  So every now and again this would be brought up, how and why Johnny died.  I was sorry about the whole thing, but there was nothing I or anybody else could have done about it.  It was very hard for my father when this was brought up.  He felt sorry for me and for his wife and Larry.

So when I came to my 14th birthday, it was the law of the land at that time that I could leave school.  And that is just what happened.  I just passed from 6 to 7 and on April 5, 1920, I left school.  I picked up all my books and came home.  My father asked me what I was doing.  I told him I quit school and I was leaving home.  I thought it would be best.  So he gave me $10.  I packed what few clothes I had and that very same day I bought my ticket to Canora, Saskatchewan.  That was the big move.  I don’t think my father for one minute thought of what was going on, I guess, until I left home.  So, I got to Canora and stayed over night in a hotel.  I didn’t want to go to the Popove’s, so that they would know what had happened.  I didn’t want to put the blame on my step mother as no doubt I wasn’t doing everything that I should have to keep peace and harmony in the home.

Uncle’s Place

Next morning, I phoned my uncle Parfenkoff on his farm and he came to Canora to pick me up.  This was supposed to be my summer holidays as I told them, not knowing how things were going to turn out. Cousins Polly and Nettie were going to school and they couldn’t understand why I had my holidays then. Anyway, spring led to summer and summer to fall.  I stayed with them after telling them that I left home. They were all very good to me.  I helped with all the work that I could do – carry water into the house and would help with feeding cattle and horses and sheep, chickens, etc.

Winter came in very cold with its snowfall.  After the first snow the farmers would haul into their yard loads and loads of straw from the straw stacks in the fields for feeding for the stock and feed.  Wheat straw for bedding and oat straw for feed for the stock.  They got hay and some grain through the day and oat straw for the night.  All the chores had to be done before dark.  The cattle and the rest of the stock had to be watered and that was done from a well, by hand pump.  So you can imagine pumping water for about 60 head – about 1/2 hour to water all of the stock.  When it was too cold they wouldn’t come out of the barn, we had to carry some snow into the barn and put it in their mangers.  We mixed it with straw and that kept them going until the next day, and then warm or cold, they would drink some.

I must go back a little.  I forgot to mention about my cousin Nick.  The first winter I was with them, we sort of worked together.  He was very good to me.  To shorten my story somewhat, that very same winter as I can remember now (and maybe I am wrong) but that was when he killed himself.  This is how it happened.  It was after Christmas after the rivers froze over.  The ice was quite thick – 6 to 8 inches, I would guess.  Anyway, one day, he says to me – lets go mink hunting on the Whitesand River.  This I had never done before or heard about it, so I thought it would be something to see.  So, we dressed up in our winter clothes and away we went to the river which was 2 miles away.  We kind of figured out that in so much time we could reach a certain place on the river and then for home as the river made a sort of half circle.  So as we walked on the river everything was okay.  No mink to be seen as they only come out of the water in the very shallow waters where the water runs fast, as it don’t freeze there.  In a few places we saw where the mink caught fish and ate them on the shore.  As we would come close to these rapids, I would get off the ice and walk on the shore, but Nick walked closer and closer to the open water and the ice got thinner and thinner.  This he did a couple of times, and when he thought it was getting dangerous, he would get off the ice and walk on the shore, but the last time he misjudged and went through the ice.  It wasn’t very deep, but he got wet right through to his skin, so it was hurry up to get home.  By the time we got home the clothes on him were just like tin and he was very cold.  After that he took sick and they took him to Yorkton to the hospital where he passed away.  That was the end of his and my mink hunting.

I stayed at my uncle’s place the following year.  I helped with spring plowing and harrowing as Uncle Mike did the seeding and then came the haying and summer fallowing, which I liked very much.  Summer flew by very fast.

This year and most of all the summer, will be with me as long as I live.  Not living with our people very much, I had a very, very good year or summer.  After working 6 days a week, on Sunday we used to go to where there were two Doukhobor villages that our people lived in when they came to Canada.  One was called “Blagoveshcheniye”, meaning “peaceful”.  The other one was “Novoye”, meaning “new” village.  This is where we all got together for the day.  There was about a 20 acre piece of land that was clear and very level and the river was right below this spot.  This is where we all met and played different games.  There would be maybe up to 50 boys and girls there.  It was 5 miles from where we lived to our gathering place.

So, by the time we got from our place to Novoye Village, there would be about 15 of us from the northeast part of that country and of course there were others from other parts of the country.  So we played all day and then its back home.  We had to be home about 7 or 8 pm and when we did get home, we had to go and get the horses and cattle home to feed them and milk the cows and then we had a cold supper and bed time. Boy, what a life.  I never thought it would end, but it did end.  But I have a lot to remember now.  That life was something to live through.  We had no money, but we had a real good life.  I am very thankful for that short but happy life I lived through…

Paths and Pathfinders

by Polly Vishloff

On October 2, 2004, Polly Vishloff (nee Verigin) was the keynote speaker at “Paths and Pathfinders”, a symposium honouring extraordinary women pioneers of Mission, British Columbia.  During her address, she gave an account of her life as a Doukhobor over the past eighty years.  Polly’s experience highlights the importance of hard work, strong family ties and community roots.  Readers will enjoy her many heartfelt memories and rich experiences.  Her address is reproduced below by permission.

…Thank you for this honour.  When I was asked to speak about my life I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but after I thought about it, I said to myself, “My life is different and I should share my experiences with others.”  So here I am.  It’s not going to be easy to put 80 years into a short talk but I’ll try.

Polly Vishloff speaking at “Paths & Pathfinders: Women Pioneers of Mission, BC” in 2004.

You all know that I am a Doukhobor, but what does that really mean?  So to begin, I have to give you a little bit of history: The name ‘Dukho-bortsi’ which means ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ was given to a group of dissident Russian peasants in 1785 by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Doukhobors adopted this name because they felt this meant they were struggling for a better life by using only the spiritual power of love, and not by using forms of violence or force.  This was a practical commonsense religion that could help people live a contented, happy life on earth.  But it was more than a religion; it was a way of life, or social movement.  In living together as a closely-knit group for several centuries, they developed many unique cultural customs and traditions.  The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that when Doukhobors were living up to the standard of their faith, they presented “one of the nearest approaches to the realization of the Christian ideal which has ever been attained.”

In Russia the Doukhobors had one leader who was a woman (Lukeria Kalmykova), she took over after her husband died.  She lived in a different village from where the Verigins lived.  She took, into her home, a young man named Peter Vasilyevich Verigin to train him for leadership.  She died 5 years later and he took over as the new leader.

Peter Verigin asked the Doukhobor people to start living cleaner lives.  First he asked them to share their wealth with those less fortunate.  The Verigin family was quite well off.  Then he asked them to quit smoking, drinking and eating meat.  My grandfather was a brother to this man.

Then he asked them to say “NO” to war.  This and other messages were sent by Verigin while in Siberian exile to his followers in the Caucasus through faithful messengers. The ones that were already in military service did just what their leader asked and were beaten.  Many died and the rest were sent to Siberia where the authorities felt they would parish from the extreme cold.  Doukhobor understanding says, ‘we are all God’s people and it is wrong to take a life.’  The faithful in the 3 separate Doukhobor settlements got all their guns together and at the same time on the same day, built huge fires and burned all their guns.  Cossacks and soldiers entered one village and beat those people as they stood around the fire singing.  The date was June 29, 1895.  Many of the faithful were driven away from their homes. 

My grandfather Vasily Verigin – Peter Verigin’s brother – was one of the messengers and knew his life was at stake, but he did it anyway.  When the authorities found out, they were going to shoot him but a follower of Leo Tolstoy heard this.  Leo Tolstoy was a famous Russian author and Doukhobor sympathizer.  This man intervened and my grandfather’s life was spared and he was sent to Siberia instead.  There was a lot of suffering going on due to these bold moves by the faithful.  Leo Tolstoy heard of this and started working to get the Doukhobors out of Russia.  Canada accepted them; Canada needed good workers and that’s what they were.

Doukhobor women feeding workers on farm in Saskatchewan. British Columbia Archives, C-01356.

With financial aid from Tolstoy and a group of Quakers who also supported their non-violent cause, they landed in Canada.  The Doukhobors were given virgin land in what is now northern Saskatchewan and part of the Northwest Territories.  My parents were about 6 years old when the move was made in 1899.  My grandmother on mother’s side was a widow with 5 daughters.  Their lives would have been very difficult had they not been in this community.

In Saskatchewan, the men had to go out and earn money so the resourceful women hitched themselves to a plow and broke up soil for gardens.  In 6 years, they had worked a lot of land and planted crops.  They had built homes, grew flax and made their own oil.  They had a brick plant, flour mill, and brick ovens in which they baked their bread.  At this point, the Government said they had to swear allegiance to the Crown in order to keep their land.  Some did and became know as Independent Doukhobors.  The rest said they serve “God only”.  They had to leave.

This group bought land in British Columbia around Castlegar, Brilliant, and Grand Forks.  Here they planted orchards, built new homes for themselves, built a flourmill and a brick factory.  My Dad was a beekeeper and looked after about 100 beehives.  Everywhere we lived after that, my Dad always had bees.  Later they built a jam factory.

Each settlement had 2 large brick houses (where about 25 people lived) and included a courtyard and a few smaller houses in the back for older people.  The women took turns cooking and everyone ate together.  Everyone shared the steam bath.  Once it was fired up, several men would go in at one time, then women and children would take their turns.

Polly in front of her mother Polly with aunts Dunya Anutooshkin (seated)t Nastya Verigin at Shouldice, Alberta, c. 1927.

Wheat for baking bread and other delicious foods was grown in Saskatchewan which was far away, so in 1915 land was purchased in the foothills of Alberta and several families moved there to grow wheat.  This is the area where my husband grew up.  I don’t know what year my parents got married.  They were living around Brilliant, British Columbia, and after several years, I came into the picture.  Sister Mary was 13, my brother Peter was 6 and then there was me.  I was born on June 25, 1923.  Mom said it was “at strawberry time”.

After the tragic death of Peter Verigin (who was the leader), my parents and about 25 families moved to Alberta under the leadership of Anastasia Holoboff.  I was 3 years old.

There are several other Doukhobor groups. Besides the Independents, some are called Canadian Doukhobors, and the largest group is the Spiritual Communities of Christ, and of course you’ve all heard of the Sons of Freedom.  They make up about 5% of the Doukhobor population.

Under Anastasia’s leadership, a colony was established two miles from Shouldice, Alberta.  There were several other Doukhobor families already farming in this area.  A prayer home was built and Doukhobors from around the area gathered for prayers on Sunday mornings.

In this colony, every family built their own individual homes.  My dad had to be different.  He put in a bay window and that’s where my mother kept her geraniums.  Everyone had a half-acre of land where they planted their own gardens.  There were 2 rows of houses with a street down the middle.  Families with older parents built a small house in back of the larger family home and all meals were eaten together in the main house.  Each backyard not only contained a garden but also a brick or clay oven for baking bread, a steam bath, and an outhouse further back.

There was a lovely spring at the top of the colony property and water was piped down, through the street, with taps placed along it after each 4th house.  Water was brought into the homes by pail and it kept us young people busy.  We had wood stoves, no electricity, and used coal oil lamps.  Young people had to bring in the wood and the coal.

At the very bottom of the street was a water tank and train tracks.  The train, which was both, a passenger and freight train, would stop here and replenished its water supply for the steam engine.  Once in a while, I would go for mail.  In those days girls didn’t wear slacks but I would dress up like a boy in my brother’s clothes and climb onto the train and stand behind the engine and get a ride into Shouldice, pick up the mail and then walk the two miles back home along the railway track.  The colony was three miles from Shouldice by road and sometimes I’d come back that way hoping for a ride but sometimes I’d have to walk the three miles back.

Polly on tractor at her sister Mary’s  farm, Nanton, Alberta, 1940.

Our colony was called “The Lord’s Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”.  There was a big barn, half for cows and half for horses.  Families took turns milking the cows.  There was a room in this barn where the milk was shared.  Just outside its door was a large metal triangle with a straight rod for striking it.  When the milk was ready for distribution, the triangle was struck and the sound carried throughout the village.  That meant it was time for me to grab a syrup or honey pail and run to get our milk.  The bigger the family, the more milk they got.  When it was time for your family to do the milking, the kids would go from house to house to gather the vegetable and fruit peelings to feed the cows.

At one end of the village was the school.  In summer we went to school barefoot and ran home for lunch.  Parents took turns doing janitor work here, which also included bringing firewood for the central stove.

There was one couple that had no children so they had us kids coming in the middle of the week to teach us songs.  Sunday morning was prayer time and singing at their place for us young kids (our very own Sunday School!).  I loved to sing.  That was at 6:00 in the morning.  Prayers were taught to us at home by parents or grandparents.  I had no living grandparents, so I loved to go to my friend’s place, the Tamilins.  Their grandparents lived in a small house in back and they all had meals together.  And it looked so nice seeing a big family at the table.  That’s when I decided I wanted to have a big family, like six children but I settled for four.

We all celebrated “Peter’s Day” on June 29th.  It was a big picnic by the river and everyone came from all around.  On this day we commemorated the burning of all firearms in Russia.

At school we played softball a lot.  I loved it.  I remember weeding with Mother in the garden and I felt like my back was breaking and it was just so hard for me to weed.  Then someone would come along and say they were organizing a softball game.  I’d ask my mother if I could go and she always said, “Yes” and all of a sudden, everything healed and I would run off to play.

Verigin family. Back L-R: Mary, Peter, and Polly. Front L-R: Peter W. and Polly Verigin, c. 1940.

During the Depression, my dad took a job on a farm to look after cattle.  He was paid $15.00 for that month.  Being vegetarian, we had great gardens and plenty of food.  We grew lots of sunflowers and sitting around and eating them was a great past-time.  Sometimes, we would take something from the garden, like a lettuce, and give it to the conductor on the train and he would let us ride in the coach.  One day while riding in the coach, there were two ladies sitting there looking out the window and saying, “Look at all the sunflowers.  They must have lots of chickens!”  It made me chuckle to myself, because we were the chickens.  Flour came in 98-pound cotton bags, so a lot of our clothing was made from flour sacks.  Nothing was wasted.  Everything was recycled.  We wove rugs from worn out clothing and Mom planted her geraniums in any used tin cans.  That’s where she started her bedding plants also.

After living together on this colony for about 14 years, a lot of people wanted to get out on their own.  That would be around 1940.  I would have been around 17 years old.  My uncle and aunt had a married daughter living in Whonnock and she wasn’t well.  They wanted to help her out and decided to leave the colony and move to that area.  I think they were the first to leave the colony.  My cousin Bill rode his bicycle around the area looking for property.  He happened to be on Dewdney Trunk Road when he saw a place for sale and they bought it.  This property had a house on it that had belonged to Mrs. King, sister to Cecil, Ted, and Jack Tunbridge.

Mother and I came out by train to visit our relatives.  Our tickets were to Vancouver but I told the conductor we were getting off in Mission City.  He called it Mission Junction.  We got off the train and there was no one there to meet us.  I asked the station agent if he knew where the Verigin’s lived and he hadn’t even heard of them.  I began to worry that maybe we’d gotten off at the wrong place.  We’d called it Mission City and here we’d gotten off at Mission Junction.

Then I spotted cousin Bill coming along on his bicycle.  He told us to leave everything at the station and come along with him.  He pushed the bike to Cedar Street with us walking along beside him.  He said, “Now you start thumbing a ride and someone will pick you up.”  He gave us directions on where to go and rode away.  Someone did stop and give us a ride and we arrived at his home before he got there.

Auntie and cousin Peter were in Sardis picking hops.  Within a day cousin Bill had arranged a ride for us and we got to Sardis and were hired on to pick hops too.  What a great opportunity to earn some money.  At home I’d have to go out and do housework and that was not my cup of tea.  Even though hop picking meant long hours of work, I loved it and we had a chance to visit with each other while we worked.

Polly Vishloff (nee Verigin) in Mission, British Columbia, c. 1943.

The following year Dad came to Mission by car and was able to earn some money by picking strawberries.  Now there were 3 other families from our colony living in Mission.  Dad found a piece of property owned by Jack Tunbridge that was not far from Uncle’s place.  It was all bush with a creek running through it and very swampy.  The higher ground was very rocky and there was a gravel pit at one end, close to the road.  The municipality had extracted gravel from this area but it wasn’t good enough and therefore abandoned it.  Dad bought the nine acres for $100.00.  The year was 1940.

Now we had to sell our own house to finance the move to Mission.  The next spring our house sold for $175.00.  We then moved to my sister Mary’s home in Nanton, Alberta.  They were renting a farm there and could use help at harvest time.  In the meantime, Mother and I wove rugs and sold them.  Dad found work on other farms.  At harvest time, Peter and I worked on binders.  That was the way wheat was cut.  The binder tied cut wheat into bundles, and then we lowered the bundles in rows.  We also watched to be sure the binders didn’t run out of twine.  These two binders were pulled by a tractor.

In the fall we were ready to move to our new place.  We came by car and I remember Mom’s spinning wheel tied to the back of the car.  We got a lot of attention along the road.  At that time there was no Hope-Princeton Highway so we came down the Fraser Canyon (which was an amazing experience for people born and raised in the prairies!).  We drove between 20 and 25 miles an hour.  Dad would be driving along this narrow windy trail of a road saying, “Look at the river down below, just look.”  We were all frightened and kept reminding him to watch the road.

And here we were in Mission City and at our Uncle’s and Auntie’s place.  This was November, 1941.  We arrived late in the evening.  Auntie had a beautiful bouquet of dahlias on her table.  I asked here where she got them and she said from her garden.  In Alberta, we had frost two months earlier that killed off all the flowers and I couldn’t believe that they could still be blooming.  Early the next morning, I had to go outside and see for myself and sure enough, they were there.  This was truly the land of opportunity; with berries to pick, canneries, just all kinds of nice ways to make a living.  We lived at our relatives until Dad and brother Peter had cleared some land and partly finished our new house, then we moved into it.  There was still a lot to do inside but by summer, we had moved in.  During this time I picked strawberries, then raspberries and then went to work at the Alymer cannery, which was located along the Fraser River at the Railway Bridge.  I really enjoyed my work there.  The following year Mrs. Lacroix promoted me to supervisor.

My uncle Larry came later with 2 sons and 2 daughters and they built and started the Cedar Valley Store, which still exists.  By now there were over 30 Doukhobor families living in Mission, most of them in the Cedar Valley area.  Later my Uncle Larry and his family moved to Creston.

A few years later, while enroute to Alberta to visit my sister and her family, I stopped in Creston to visit my cousins.  While visiting there, I met John Vishloff.  He had come from Nanton to visit his folks who had moved there from Alberta.  We seemed to have a lot in common and got along very well.  In March of 1947, he came to Mission and we were married in April.

Wedding in Canyon, British Columbia, 1947. (l-r) Agnes and Mary (nee Verigin) Ewashen, John, Polly and Alex Wishlow.

First we lived with his parents in Creston, then came to Mission and lived with mine were I worked for the cannery and John worked for the Coop where they made jam.  We went back to Creston at the end of the season and in April of 1948 our son Paul was born.  Although both my mother and John’s mother were both Midwives, I wanted to be modern and had a doctor and the baby was born in the hospital.

After the summer harvest was over, we decided to move to Mission for good.  There were more opportunities here for John to work.  My Dad said, “I have started building a garage and because John is a handyman, if he wants to finish it, you can live in it.”  Maybe they were tired of us living with them.  John finished building our one room house and we moved in.  We were very happy in this one room house.  At last we were on our own.  Our couch made into a bed at night and there was still room for the crib.  Mother baby-sat Paul while I worked at the cannery.  When Paul was a little over a year old, mom suffered a heart attack and died.  I felt quite guilty about her death because she had been looking after Paul for me while I worked.  I found her death very hard to bear.  But about a year later we were blessed with a beautiful daughter.  We named her Naida, which in Russian, means ‘hope’.  Now we had two cribs in our little one room house, that also had a kitchen and everything else.  I was able to use Mom’s washing machine and we all used their steam bath.

We bought half an acre of land and John built us a 2-bedroom house on it.  It had a kitchen, living room, a small storage room, a bathroom and 2 bedrooms.  John prepared the plans for the house.  I said to him, “We’ll have a bathroom in the house?  That’s just for rich people!”  I’m glad he didn’t listen to me.

Polly, John and son Paul, 1950.

For entertainment, we used to go to a drive-in theatre and the children still remember getting treats.  We always brought along a quart of milk.  Pop was expensive.

John also built a holiday trailer that we pulled with our car when we visited our relatives each summer.  We traveled to Creston and to visit my sister in Alberta.  My brother never married so my sister’s children were the only close relatives that I had and they meant a lot to me.  I still have a very close relationship with them.

Most of the time, John drove to Vancouver to work.  He worked hard because he had to work on our house after he came home from work.  People gathered in homes on Sunday for prayers and everyone sang together.  Even without the modern conveniences that we have now, they still had time to socialize.  Our old leader, Anastasia came over to visit one time and suggested that the Doukhobors buy up some cemetery plots.  That makes me feel good, knowing that my family is all there in one area.

In 1952, our son Lawrence was born and in 1957, Tom was born.  With 4 healthy children we felt so rich, but now the house was getting way too small.

My dad died in January 1959.  We inherited half of his property and now we could build a bigger home.  The municipality said that in order to subdivide, we had to build a road and that’s how Vishloff Street came about.  We built a bigger house and the children helped too.  Maybe that’s why they are such capable adults.  In those days, the building codes were different and we could move into our house long before ‘final inspection’, which we did.  Our window openings were covered with plastic but we had so much more room.  By winter we had installed real windows.

All our children went to Cedar Valley School and came home for lunch.  Both John and I grew up in Doukhobor communities and never felt discrimination.  We didn’t realize that our children could be discriminated against.  There were some tough times for them but they grew up and we’re very proud of them.

Family photo, 1960.  (l-r standing) Lawrence, Paul (l-r seated) Polly, Naida, John and Tom.

When Paul graduated from high school, he went to Abbotsford to get his grad picture taken.  He was walking with a friend and was hit by a car and died instantly.  The driver of the car said he was blinded by lights from an oncoming car.  My greatest consolation was that we had 3 other children.  Because Paul excelled in Chemistry, the school presented a trophy in his memory.  It was won by Glen Randal that year.  They gave this trophy for several more years.

Graduation time was always very painful for us and I was very relieved when all our other children graduated.  But life must go on.  The support we felt from the community was wonderful.  One of our neighbours, Glenys Szabo got me involved in curling.  I loved that sport but always felt a little guilty about the work I should be doing at home, while I was out curling.

I worked at Berryland Cannery in Haney and then started working for the Fraser Valley Record, one day a week.  The women I worked with were just great.  I worked with the paper for 20 years.

One day I told the girls I had some extra time and wanted to do some volunteer work to give something back to this great community.  Margery Skerry steered me to Heritage Park.  There I helped make blackberry jam and quilted.  The quilts were raffled and I made more good friends there.

The children grew up and got married. Naida and Marcel bought my brother’s house next door to us.  It was just wonderful watching the grand children grow up.  Lawrence was a little further away with his 2 boys.  Tom settled across the pond and we saw their children often.  The grand kids would come over and help me kneed bread and roll out dough for some specialty Russian foods we make.  One day Brittany came over to help.  She picked up the rolling pin and held it and I asked, ‘where’s my rolling pin?’ and she said, “I don’t know, I’ve got mine.”  When she was out of flour, she’d say, “I need more powder.”  They moved away later but I was glad I was there for them when they were small.  Peter would come from next-door carrying his blanket, early in the morning.  Most of the time I’d still be in bed.  He’d lay down beside me for a few minutes, then say, “Okay Baba, get up and make kasha.”  He’d have breakfast with us and then go home and have another breakfast.  I can still see in his blue pajamas, wearing his red boots, carrying his blue blanket, his ‘bunnies’.  I grew up without grandparents and I really missed not having them and I really relished my role as grandma, or Baba.

Grandchildren Brittany and Autumn baking with Baba. .

I forgot to mention our pond.  It used to be a swamp and John turned it into a beautiful pond by engineering and building a dam.  When our children were growing up, all the neighbourhood children came to swim in this pond.  It is now more like a wild bird sanctuary with water lilies, ducks, geese, and blue herons.

We suffered another tragedy 3 years ago, when our son-in-law from next door was killed in an accident.  We miss him very much.  Now the grandchildren from next door are all married and gone from here, but I feel a great bond with them all.  One grandson, David, visited recently from Saskatchewan.  He said, “I’ll never forget the Christmases we celebrated here at your place.”  On Christmas Eve, the whole family would come over for a vegetarian meal, sing Christmas carols, and exchange gifts.  At times even Santa would show up.

I am still puttering around keeping myself busy.  We still plant a garden every year, it just keeps getting smaller.  I make jams, borsch and bread.  I also spin, weave, knit and embroider.  I could go on for a long time, but I think I’ve shared enough.

In closing I’d like to say that Doukhobor beliefs about living clean healthy lives seemed radical 60 years ago – we didn’t smoke, drink or eat meat.  When I was a teenager, smoking was very popular, now everyone knows how harmful it is.  We all know excessive drinking leads to no good.  When I was young, vegetarians were unheard of.  Now there are many vegetarians.  There were very few pacifists in this country, then.  But when George Bush was talking about going to war with Iraq, people were protesting not only in the US and Canada, but all over the world.

Polly and John in front of their pond, 2004.

According to my Doukhobor teachings, violence cannot be overcome with more violence; it can only be overcome through understanding and love.  Where there is love, there is God.  Yes, I’m very proud to be a Doukhobor and proud to be living in Mission, where we’ve come in contact with so many wonderful people.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my life with you.  I would like to end my talk by reading this poem written by Ann Verigin of Grand Forks, British Columbia called ‘I am a Doukhobor’.  Then we will end this presentation by having my friend Vi Popove and my daughter, Naida Motut, sing a Russian folk song.

I am a Doukhobor
I cannot deny there is a higher power
That helps me face every moment and hour
Whose love flows through each man and each flower

I am a Doukhobor
I search for truth and strive for perfection
I believe that Christ showed the perfect direction
For a life of peace a life without question

I am a Doukhobor
In the spirit of love I search for the light
And try to live to the highest sense of right
That I can perceive through the day and the night

I am a Doukhobor
I am a Doukhobor I sincerely feel a love for my brother
And because we all have one heavenly father
It makes sense to me to love one another

I am a Doukhobor
I long for the day when all wars would just cease
When man could continue to toil while at peace
When the love in all people would greatly increase

I am a Doukhobor
I know love is right so I must take a stand
I’ll reach out to my brother, I’ll give him my hand
There is room for us all in the bountiful land

~words by Ann Verigin nee Wishlow ~

The Brothers Chernoff From Azerbaijan to Canada: The Canadian Experience, 1899-1938

by Fred J. Chernoff

In 1899, the widow Anyuta Semenovna Chernova and her six sons, Alyosha, Nikolai, John, Feodor, Mikhail and Andrey, departed from their village of Slavyanka in Elizavetpol province, Russia (present-day Azerbaijan), seeking religious freedom and new opportunity in an unknown land. Arriving on the Canadian Prairies, they helped establish the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), the main spiritual, social and economic organization of the Doukhobors in Canada. They first settled in the village of Sovetnoye, in the Veregin district of Saskatchewan, where they lived and farmed communally until 1912. They were then assigned to Khutor, a farm settlement in the Veregin district where they raised pure breed horses and cattle for communal purposes until the demise of the CCUB in 1938. Reproduced by permission from “The Brothers Chernoff From Azerbaijan to Canada” (Winnipeg: 1992), the following excerpt recounts, in frank, personal detail, the faith, courage and strength of the Chernoff family of Doukhobors during the early decades of their settlement in Canada.

Settling in the Veregin Area, 1899

The efforts of many individuals with Christian dedications cleared the many hurdles that had to be handled for the Chernoffs to have arrived in Canada. It must have been an exciting and frightening time for them and the other 7,500 [Doukhobor] immigrants to settle their new land where only the Indians had roamed previously. The making of Canada their new home had begun, and their search for religious expression had continued.

Anna Semenovna Chernova (1864-1934), matriarch of the Brothers Chernoff and their descendants. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

Along with Anyuta [Chernoff] and her six sons came her four sisters who were married later to Anton Popoff, a Podovinnekoff, a Verigin, a Sherstobitoff and one left in Russia. Her deceased husband’s relatives included brothers Mikisha, Danila and a sister married to a Samarodin.

The Chernoffs were more fortunate then most of the new immigrants settling the prairies at that time and who had to work on their own to establish their new home. They were part of the 7,500 [Doukhobors] who had arrived within four months and were divided to go into 57 villages in the Veregin, Buchanan, Canora and Swan River areas of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Here, they were instructed by their leader P.V. Verigin to settle Canada under a communal type of living with everything owned in common. Verigin was influenced by Tolstoy in starting the communal way of life. However, working together under a communal type of living, they shared the difficulties and by working together they were able to make satisfactory progress in building shelter and starting farming operations.

Upon arrival in [what would become] Veregin [district] in the spring of 1899, they were assigned to the village of Sovetnoye located six miles northwest of Veregin. Here the first project was to build shelter. Their first emergency housing consisted of holes in the ground with sod roofing. Ladders were used to gain entry. It was not too long before log houses replaced the sod structures and they were [thereafter] used for the cold storage of vegetables. It was a big change from their beloved Slavyanka [in Elizavetpol, Russia – now Azerbaijan] where they had prospered and many evenings must have been spent in these discussions. However, they were now in a new land and much remained to be done. The many skills that the people brought with them had to be applied in their new home. This was not the first time that the Chernoffs and other [Doukhobor]s were relocated and had to start anew.

Doukhobor woman drawing a pail of water from a well, c. 1899.  Library and Archives Canada PA-022227

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It was a time for everyone to contribute towards the common good of all. Women and the older men stayed in the villages to build houses and to break the land whereas the able bodied men went out to earn dollars by working on the building of railroads across the prairies. Any money that was earned had to be turned over to a central fund for allocation to the building of their communal way of life. Land required clearing and breaking. It was necessary to hitch 24 women to the plow in the North Colony [near Swan River] and break the land for the initial growing of crops for food. There were no oxen or horses. Everyone had to contribute and fortunately the practice of women pulling plows did not last for too long. As money became available, horses were purchased for land work. Prior to the arrival of their leader P.V. Verigin in 1902, they had developed their own administrative system.

During the first eight years, there was continual progress being made by the villages in the breaking of land. However, controversy with the government was developing regarding homestead rights and taking of the oath of allegiance. The Chernoffs, following their leader’s directions, claimed that it was their belief not to own land individually and not to take the oath of allegiance as their only allegiance was to God. The government pressed this issue and in March 1906, 258,880 acres of the land that was cleared was repossessed and sold by the government to other new immigrants. Land was then purchased in British Columbia by the central organization [the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood] under the leadership of Peter V. Verigin who was now in complete control of these new immigrants. Many of the 7,500 signed up to go to British Columbia and were relocated to start a new life in British Columbia under very adverse conditions. The Brothers Chernoffs remained in Saskatchewan.

Life at Khutor, 1912 – 1938

In accordance with a decision by their leader P.V. Verigin, [in 1912,] the Chernoffs were moved to a village called Khutor located 3 1/2 miles northeast of Veregin at Section 13, Township 30, Range 1. West of the 2nd Meridian in the Rural Municipality of Sliding Hills. It was a new village and was designated as a centre for raising pure breed horses and cattle for communal purposes. In Russian, khutor means “little village” [or “farmstead”]. It was an ideal location for Anyuta with her six sons and their families to make their home. It was a good choice to move the Chernoffs here as they possessed superior skills in the raising of farm animals. Certain members of the family were to remain at Khutor until the bankruptcy of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in 1938. This farm remains in the hands of Fred J., a grandson of one of the [original] Brothers, John.

The large, two-story multi-family dom (residence) at the Khutor farmstead, c. 1925. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

The Brothers Chernoff and their descendants from Khutor were [informally] known as “Khutorsky”. There were many Chernoffs who were not related to each other and were identified by certain names. The Brothers Chernoff were a natural for the type of work expected at Khutor. They were skilled in this type of work and it was an extension of the skills brought with them from [Elizavetpol, now] Azerbaijan as they had excellent stud farms there. Horses were badly needed for communal farming purposes and were raised here. Stallions and brood mares were kept for raising stock. The Brothers Chernoff took pride in the raising of pure breed horses and gained recognition in horse shows at Kamsack and Yorkton. As horses were an essential part of farming, the Brothers Chernoff became well-known. While Nikolai was the outstanding horseman, the other brothers took an active role in the administration of the duties in the running of Khutor affairs. Even the mother Anyuta, who was a mid-wife and practiced folk medicine, had her own medication to prescribe for sick animals. Wild broncos were brought in from Alberta and had to be broken by Nikolai. He excelled in this work and was suited in personality and physical strength to deal with wild horses. Khutor was a hub of activity.

Khutor became well know and their leader P.V. Verigin used it as a showpiece for Doukhobor progress to show outsiders. Many visitors were brought there and the Chernoffs looked after things with great care. It was indeed a place to show and [it] was common practice to whitewash the cow barn whenever Verigin visited. Cleanliness was important to the Chernoffs as well as in the maintenance of the Khutor facilities. During the peak of the Chernoff life here, there were 20 adults and 25 children living under one roof. The house itself was a stately looking building about 30′ X 100′. It had a veranda on three sides with 20 round white columns supporting and adorning it. There were two stories with 10 large bedrooms and a gigantic kitchen. It was heated by 2 brick stoves and a number of box heaters. Wood was used as fuel. One big bedroom was allocated to each brother’s family and all the family slept in that one room. The veranda was a great place for children to play and it was well used.

Within this building was a special room [gornitsa]. It was a separate bedroom, specially furnished and set aside for P.V. Verigin on his official visits to Khutor. The bedding was always aired, the room dusted and made ready at all times for his unexpected visits. Ladies were assigned to look after this room and to cook for him. A self contained red brick heating unit was built into the room. As children I can recall, we were always warned to keep away from this room. We were not allowed to step inside even during cleaning time when the door was open. It was a special place to be treated with respect and everyone knew it. P.V. Verigin was their spiritual leader and acted in the role of priest [i.e. spiritual leader] and czar [i.e. secular leader]. It was their [i.e. the Doukhobors’] custom to attribute Christ-like qualities to their leaders and few doubted his authority. He had the respect of his followers at Khutor and most feared to confront him with the exception of Nikolai. While being his follower, he stood up to him with the same courage and stamina he displayed with wild horses. P.V. Verigin thought twice in his dealings with Nikolai but was generally very good to the Chernoffs at Khutor. During the leadership of P.P. Verigin, son of Peter V. Verigin, after his arrival in 1927, it was seldom used but always ready.

The early years were time for all to contribute. Initially, they had to eat from one bowl which was placed in the centre of the table and had two spoons for eating purposes. Money was required for other purposes. However, times were getting better at Khutor and there were [eventually] individual bowls available. Always they came under the leadership of their leader P.V. Verigin; the Brothers Chernoff were devout followers and expected their families to do the same. Verigin’s orders were law and were followed to the letter by most. There were dissidents to Verigin’s edicts, but fear of being thrown out of the community and of the outside world kept many people in line. Life was getting better for the Chernoffs and they were all together.

Here at Khutor, the mother Anyuta and her six sons made their home and lived according to customs brought with them [from Russia]. They enjoyed their own way of life and were minimally effected by the ways of other cultures that were surrounding them. It was a time of progress for the community. Living in this manner gave them comfort and support from their own kind and a lifestyle seldom enjoyed by other immigrants at the time. They were part of a communal way of life, had a leader that they respected, and all property was owned by the [central] organization. They were living in their own kind of world and Russian was the working language.

It was up to the Brothers Chernoffs to manage the operations of this village in the running of the day to day affairs. Living under one roof with six families was no easy matter. Alyosha, the oldest brother was the one in charge, but it was the mother Anyuta who was the peace maker. It was to her the Brothers turned for solving problems and maintaining harmonious relationships. The situation was further complicated by the relationships between the wives and children. To deal with children’s problems, there was one rule – only parents were to discipline their children.

Labour was divided among the men and household duties among the women. The brothers that didn’t have sons had to assign their daughters to carry out activities such as plowing with horses and hauling hay which would normally be done by men. Men would be encouraged to find summer employment on the outside and turn this money over to the community central treasury. I can remember my own father recalling being under pressure from his father to turn over all his earnings over to the community fund. He wanted to retain a few dollars to buy his new bride a gift. He was not successful and carried out his father’s command. His brother Nick J. flatly refused to turn over all the money and retained five dollars to buy his new bride a gift. There was much pressure by certain Brothers Chernoffs to turn over all the money that was earned on the outside in accordance with Verigin’s instructions. There was much conflict.

Horse-drawn sleights in front of the Khutor residence, c. 1920. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

Eating arrangements were that men and women ate together. Children ate separately with the Grandmother usually at the head of the table. She also slept on the clay oven [peche] in the kitchen and looked after the children. A clay oven was constructed out of brick and clay. After being heated with wood, it maintained the heat and provided for a warm resting place. The meals were vegetarian. Singing of hymns was a common practice after meals. Their leader P.V. Verigin, while in exile in Siberia, proclaimed on Nov. 4, 1894 and ordered a ban on drinking, smoking and meat eating as a step towards the achievement of spiritual purity. The Chernoffs, being devout followers, abided by this ruling. Two women were assigned to cook for the whole family in one week shifts as well as to look after the kitchen. Bread was baked twice a week in the indoor clay oven located in the kitchen. It baked superior bread and is remembered by many. After the bread was removed from the oven, Grandmother would slice the crust and rub it with garlic. It would serve a dual purpose. Children would enjoy it just like candy and it would serve to prevent colds. Children would often run barefooted in the fall due to not having proper footwear available. Large root cellars were made to store the many barrels of soured vegetables and hundreds of cabbages and wagon loads of potatoes. Dried beans and peas were used with many sacks of dried fruit received from their communities in British Columbia. They never tired of potatoes and borshch.

Laundry was done by hand on washboards in large wooden troughs, in the bath house [banya] or outside. A water softener was made by mixing wood ash and water by letting it stand overnight. This mixture was then added to the wash water.

Recreation consisted of visitation, talking, eating and steam-baths or walking 3 1/2 miles to Veregin. Everyone would work till Saturday noon and then it would be time off. The steam-bath or banya was a busy place. The Chernoffs were well known for their strong singing voices and this would be a common pastime. Other than celebrating Peters Day [Petrov Den’] on June 29, the date when their people burned the arms in 1895, there were no other holidays [observed in Canada]. The break with the [Orthodox] Church meant there were no religious days to be observed. Everybody waited for Peters Day on June 29 and had fresh clothes. There was a feast on the grass and was a big holiday for the children. Everything closed and horses rested as no farm work was done. There was no Christmas and no other holidays. There was no electricity and no radios.

Sunday morning was a time for worship. Grandmother got everyone together with the exception of two women cooking and two that had to milk the cows. The rest of the adults would be in prayer service from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Everyone said their prayers as they knew them and were taught. Some would be short and some rather lengthy. Then, the singing would start for about an hour. Nothing was written down and everything done from memory. Everyone got along fairly well and didn’t hold grudges or resentments. The reason perhaps being was they didn’t have anything to resent or envy. Spirituality was an important component of their lives.

When greeting visitors, the following was used [by the Doukhobors of Khutor and elsewhere]:

– How are you?
– God be praised. How are you?
– Thanks. How are your people at home?
– Thank you.
– Our people send greetings.
– Thank you.

At each phase, the speaker removed his hat and bows with a bare head. It is said that in greeting one’s brother, the Christian must have a kind heart and gentle expression. All this is done sedately and without haste, no matter what urgent matter may exist.

Families of Fedya N., Nikolai N., Alexei N., and Mikhail N. Chernoff at Khutor, c. 1915. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

Flax was grown for making cloth and oil from it for cooking. Women and the children would rub the skins off the flax seed by hand and the seed taken to the other [Doukhobor] villages for pressing out the oil. This oil was used for cooking instead of butter. They also grew kanopi (hemp) and made from it oil for cooking. This was apparently better than flax oil and besides kanopi was a member of the marijuana family of plants. It was also used for baby soothers on occasion as it made them sleep especially when they cried. Flax straw was used for making cloth. This material was dyed and shirts, pants and suits were made at Khutor for the Brothers Chernoff by their women. For women, the winter months were a time for being behind the spinning wheel but it was seldom put away. Knitting socks from their own wool was a common practice in order to keep the feet warm in the severe cold winter months. They made their own dresses, underpants and jackets. While flax straw was commonly used for making cloth and was finer, the kanopi plant straw also provided for the making of material by the Chernoffs. This material came out a thickish, grayish product but after bleaching in the snow, would become white. They spun and coloured their own wool. Many beautiful rugs were made on the loom at Khutor by the children of the Brothers Chernoff. Four by six feet rugs were made from dyed wool and it was the custom to place these rugs under the bedding to provide for added comfort on the wooden beds. Mabel J. [Chernoff] provided much leadership in the making of these rugs and must have been trained by her mother. This art must have been learned from their Azerbaijan neighbours and the nearby Persian rug makers from Iran and Turkey. Rug making involved all members of the family and each had taken their turn at the loom. The rugs are now classified as collector’s items and the ones in good condition could be valued up to $6,000. The Chernoffs who are in possession of these rugs should be proud to have this heirloom and know that their ancestors had brought this skill to Canada. They should be handed down to family members who realize the value and the history of this prize possession. They made table clothes from linen, serviettes and runners for dressers which they sold commercially.

The Chernoffs were self sufficient in many areas and the skills of the people coming from Ukraine and [Elizavetpol] Azerbaijan contributed to their independence. Land was being broken, cultivated and grain grown. They farmed a total of six quarters of land. This grain was being hauled to their own community elevators that were built in the town of Veregin. Progress was being made.

The organizational centre for communal activities was in Veregin. Here the organization built their own offices, stores, garages, flour mill and grain elevators. Their leader’s residence and prayer home was located here. This was considered head office for business and spiritual affairs. It was the centre where all major decisions were made and business transacted. Veregin was a booming centre and a place of activity. From the store, Khutor received its allocation of supplies such as tea, salt, rice and other commodities that were made available to all community people. Of course, the individuals who broke away from the community were independent and provided for themselves as any other immigrant. It was here that the grain raised at Khutor was hauled and simply deposited at the community elevator and turned over to the organization. Veregin was the centre for Saskatchewan Doukhobor affairs,

Panoramic view of the Khutor farm site and surrounding landscape, c. 1925. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

Peter V. Verigin, being a strong leader, continued to influence the lives of the Chernoff Brothers. The Mother Anyuta and all the Brothers Chernoff were devout and loyal followers and believers in his directives and actions. They and others had attributed special powers to him and treated him with much respect. It is difficult for us now to reason why they behaved in this manner but such was their position at the time. For more detailed information on Verigin’s leadership styles and role much is available in other publications, but it would be safe to say that he took on the role of a benevolent dictator and provided the leadership in the running of their affairs. Some of Peter V. Verigin’s less popular directives that affected the Chernoffs at Khutor were:

1. For a time, he didn’t allow cows and chickens in the villages. This meant there was no butter, eggs and milk for the children. In 1914 he allowed one cow for 40 people. The Chernoffs started to raise chickens and he disallowed them.

2. Discouraged frills such as put on Mary F. [Chernoff] by her mother. While inspecting the children on one of his visits, he tore it off and remarked, “it wasn’t necessary to have frills on hats”. He discouraged pretty clothing and encouraged plain clothing made from linen.

3. No irons to be used or watches worn and to work only by the sun. Ironing of clothes was done by wrapping clothing on rolling pins and rolling a piece of board with ridges over the rolling pins.

4. Three binders were purchased at Khutor for cutting grain. Verigin disallowed them and instructed the people to cut grain with a scythe just like in Russia. The women would gather the grain, wrap it in straw strings and stand them up to dry. They would be harvested using sticks and made rollers to separate the kernels.

5. He discouraged education among the people. Education would lead them to military service and get them into trouble. It was necessary to listen to him for fear of being expelled from the community penniless. Those that were expelled were prevented from visiting their relatives and the relatives within the community were further punished if they received their visits. Those that were expelled, left in desperation and empty handed. They were often helped by Ukrainian or German immigrants.

6. Authorized and dissolved marriages according to his wishes.

7. No dancing or music was allowed and to sing only hymns authorized by him.

8. On one of his visits in 1914, he switched the names John N’s children John and Nick to Nick and John. The reason being that Nick looked like his father and should be named John, and the other, [who] was reddish and looked like his mother, should be named Nick. He then instructed the boys to respond only to their new names. As there was no registration of children, his word was law.

9. In the 1920s, Verigin instructed all the women living in the communities to cut their hair short like men. His reason was to be able to identify the women living in his communities at a glance as opposed to those that were independent and had broken away.

Such were the conditions that the early Chernoffs had to live under and abide by. But, they were used to this life for the past 100 years and placed much faith in their leaders. This type of life was consistent with their early lifestyles in Russia and later, only that, the leaders had different faces now. No doubt their Leader had to take drastic measures and probably for valid reasons in running the affairs of this group of people living under communal conditions. But generally, [he] had treated the Chernoffs at Khutor reasonably well.

Many adjustments had to be made as the family was increasing. As the Brothers had moved out, more room was made available for those remaining. It was customary to arrange marriages as practiced previously and for women to be a couple of years older especially when the family had no girls.

Pavel Biryukov (center) with the Chernoffs at Khutor. He was a former personal secretary to Tolstoy and was brought in by Peter P. Verigin to teach the children Russian and to educate them. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

During the summer, it was common practice to take the cattle to the Indian reserve for the summer months. This reserve was located a few miles east of Khutor. Tents would be pitched and ten year old children with adults would herd and milk the cows.

Schooling was a controversial subject and was rejected by the leader. In 1927, Pavel Biryukov came with Verigin from Paris at the age of 80 and was Tolstoy’s secretary. He joined [Peter Petrovich] Verigin on the promise that he would be allowed to set up an educational system among the Doukhobor children in Canada as long as it didn’t infringe on their beliefs. Biryukov had Gabriel Vereshchagin as his assistant, but was stifled by Verigin’s inconsistent allocation of funds. Finally Biryukov, discouraged, ill and broken, returned to Switzerland where soon afterwards he died. He is included with one of the pictures of the [Chernoff] family at Khutor. Linden Valley School was a distance of 1 1/2 miles from Khutor. It was in the Kamsack region and school attendance was more enforced here than at other villages close to Veregin. Many did not attend at first but the boys were encouraged more than the girls and attended twice a week. Girls were encouraged to be taught by parents to wash diapers, clothes and to cook. Children attending school were instructed by parents not to sing ‘O Canada’ or participate in physical exercises because it meant preparation for war services. There was about 80 students to 1 teacher. Khutor horses would take the children to school in the winter time and would be let loose to go home on their own as the barn would be full with other horses. During the severe winter months it was common to have other children stay overnight at Khutor but many would walk home and be exposed to the bitter cold. Warm footwear would depend on whether money was available. Clothes were sewn for children from home made woolen material.

Most of the independent [Doukhobor] farmers who left the community were sending their children freely to school but the followers of Verigin had different ideas. The children around the village of Verigin initially didn’t go to school as the trustees would not enforce their attendance and besides the fines were not paid. [Peter Vasil’evich] Verigin promoted his position against education and scared the people by saying that it would lead to military service. Some claim that he did this in order to retain his control over uneducated people. To this day there are many who deeply resent Verigin’s position and that of their parents on the matter of education as this position was most detrimental to the advancement of all the people. In due time, the government’s insistence on education was enforced and the resistance to schooling was history.

The Brothers Chernoff and their families remained at Khutor until one by one they started to move out to other locations as designated by Verigin. The family was growing and there was a shortage of room in the house. In 1920, Alyosha and his family moved to a nearby village with his family. Towards the end of the 1930’s, only the widow of Nikolai N. who died in 1932 along with her family of four daughters, and the family of John N. remained at Khutor.

The Brothers Chernoff and their wives at a family gathering at Khutor, 1942. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

In 1924, P. V. Verigin was unfortunately killed in a British Columbia train bombing. The administration of Community affairs was carried out from the office at Verigin, Sask. by individuals hired for this purpose. A process was then put in place to get a replacement Leader for the people. It was decided that his son Peter P. Verigin was to be the successor. Necessary negotiations with the Russian government were completed for his release because of some irregularities and in October, 1927 he arrived in Canada. From the time of his arrival in Canada and his taking over of complete leadership, things began to change in the management of Community affairs. His reign and leadership styles were very controversial. Much is recorded on this subject in various publications and passed down verbally. After turbulent times, he died in Saskatoon in February, 1939.

Leadership styles and practices have a great bearing on the success or failure of any organization. So it was with the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, and shortly after the passing of Peter P. Verigin, the Community was not destined to survive. Because of the unconventional behavior of it’s Leader and unsound investment practices, it was to lose control and ownership of all of it’s properties in Manitoba, Saskatchewan. Alberta and British Columbia. In 1938 the organization was broke and could not pay its debts. The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was foreclosed by the National Trust and other mortgage companies and bankruptcy proceeding were under way. From the collective contribution of thousands of people, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood had grown in financial and material success since it started in 1899 but in 1938 had ended in failure and had to declare bankruptcy. It was the largest communal enterprise attempt in North America and observers say that it was largely due to the influence of Lev Tolstoy on P.V.Verigin while he was in exile in Siberia prior to his coming to Canada. With this failure came the end for the communal living of the Brothers Chernoff and their first forty years in Canada. The dream for a spiritual communal life and their 40 year experiment was not destined to last and a new chapter was to begin for the Chernoffs.

It was an end to the Brothers Chernoff story at Khutor. They had to set themselves up as independent farmers and needed to purchase land individually which was seized by the mortgage companies. They had to start anew and in most cases in debt. But to start again in 1938 was nothing new to the Brothers Chernoffs. They had done this before in Russia in the 1700’s, in Ukraine in the early 1800’s, in [Elizavetpol] Azerbaijan in 1845, in Canada in 1899, and now again in 1938 in Canada. But, it was with a difference now. Each was starting on their own and would be responsible for their own operations and actions. Perhaps this was part of their destiny and the search for the expression of their personal beliefs. Some Chernoffs commenced farming operations while others moved to British Columbia and obtained jobs in various fields. Canada gave them the option of taking their rightful places in our society just like any other citizen that came to this country. By the way, as far as it is known, no sons of Anyuta were involved with the radical Freedomite movement. However, there are other stories as told by relatives about relatives that were not included for safety reasons and could be as dramatic. Sorry about that, the best stories are often left untold in print. John N. Chernoff purchased the [Khutor village] land in 1940 where Khutor is now located and lived there with his family till the early 1950’s.

The old house that was called Khutor still stood until the early 1980’s and was getting into a pretty desperate state of repair and stability. Every little wind blowing across the prairie would rock it but it managed to withstand the ravages of time. It had frequent visitors who wanted to revisit the place of their roots and walk inside this old house once again with nothing but memories filling every corner of the house and their hearts. It’s always a pleasure to visit places that are near and dear to our hearts as it enables us to make a contact with our past and gives us a sense of identity that is so elusive in this day and age. To relive the memories of the days gone by get more precious by the moment as the years fleet by. It was a place for many to visit but was becoming a safety concern for those entering this old house.

Google Map of Veregin, SK district settlements where the Brothers Chernoff lived and farmed, 1899-1938.

In 1988, as the house was getting into a hazardous condition and the safety of people visiting this location was a concern, it was demolished. Today, nothing remains but the land where Khutor stood on and the many memories of the Chernoffs who made their home here and people with whom they come in contact. Sources say that there are two persons buried on the little hill southeast of the house [site]. A twin who died at birth and a Chernoff who was befriended by the Brothers Chernoff and lived with them during his years in Canada.

I still like to go there and relive the many memories that fill my memory bank and my heart. I then leave the place feeling that somehow here, I have my roots and my identity that will be mine forever as the home of my childhood for the first six years of my life. It is also the Canadian home of my ancestors the “Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan” and that of their descendants whoever and wherever they might be.

This is the great story of our ancestors, a very ordinary people who came to settle this country. It will continue now and forever in Canada and many parts of the world through the descendants of a little woman named Anyuta and her six sons, the “Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan”.

Family Profiles

A brief profile of the Great Grandmother Anyuta and her six sons follows. There are many matters that deserve mention and have been omitted. For this we are extremely sorry, as this information was not available at the time. But this project can be continued on any Brother’s family and [we] would encourage someone from each family to do this. Record your own special history, add you family’s photos and bring up to date your own special information respecting your family. You too can make this up to date information available to grandchildren or your relatives. This may be the greatest gift you can leave them. Much of the early research had been done and the rest is easier to obtain.

Anna (Anyuta) Timofeyevna Chernova (1864-1934)

Her husband Nikolai was born without knuckles on one hand and died while on his route to exile in Siberia in 1895. They had six sons who lived and two sons and one daughter who died at an early age. All were born in [Elizavetpol, now] Azerbaijan.

Together with Alyosha she governed the affairs of the Brothers at Khutor and was strict in many ways. Her responsibilities included the care and concern for the grandchildren. She always sat with the children during the meals as the grandchildren always ate separately.

Grandmother Anyuta Chernoff and her grandchildren at Khutor. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

She provided much guidance to the Brothers and their families. Was the family mediator and everyone went to her for consultation. She didn’t read or write Russian but spoke fluently the Azeri and Tatar language. As a midwife, her role was that of providing medical assistance and advice to people who were having medical problems. Her recommendations were a big breakfast which included soup, porridge, fried potatoes, kasha and rice. Big dinners at noon included borshch, perohy, beets, fried cabbage and only a small supper with soup. She encouraged everyone to eat lightly and not overfill with anything heavy. No food was thrown out and meals were planned accordingly. No food was to be left on the plate. She advised and guided when to seed according to the moon. When the hills were dry, it was time to seed the radishes and advised them of the time to set hens on hatching eggs. One of the sons had brought home a new bride who did not get along with the other wives. After discussion with Verigin, the son was advised to take the new bride home to her village in order to keep peace and harmony within the family.

She was well respected in the community for her midwifery skills. All grandchildren were delivered by her. She developed special skills for handling breach babies and was called by Dr. Thran at Kamsack for assistance with the Mrs. Sheets baby. This was requested by Mr. Sheets as Dr. Thran advised him that nothing further can be done to his wife and she was at risk. She corrected the breach and the baby was delivered successfully. Providing certain medication went along with her services: she had turpentine for bruises, white liniment for cold and fevers, with which she rubbed the chest and back etc. She used certain herbs and plants for medicine.

There were people who were emotionally disturbed and came to her for assistance. They had worries, depression, sleepless nights, confusion and no direction in life. Cures such as whispering with prayer [stikhi], and bloodletting was used to alleviate certain illnesses. There was a case of an eight year old girl who had one eye shut and came to her for help. She took her three times in the morning to a field and washed her face with dew. The girl was instructed not to look back. This corrected her ailment and the eye opened up. Children who had been frightened or feared things would be brought to her for treatment. She would position a child by a tree, drill a hole in the tree at the same height as the child, clip some nails and hair from the child, mix this mixture with gum or bread, put this mixture into the drilled hole and cover it with the tree shavings drilled out previously. She would slowly say a prayer in a whisper and nobody knew the contents of the prayer. The person was instructed not to look back upon leaving the location. It resolved problems in many cases and would change people’s lives. It was said that she had acquired these special powers from her mother-in-law in the old country as she too was a midwife and practiced folk medicine. Her cure for children’s stomach pains was to sit them on the floor with the knees bent. Routine was to bend over and lick salt. In the process the pain subsided and the cure was effective. It is rumored that she used horse manure liquid for curing hangovers.

Grandmother Chernoff pitcher and glass – her only worldly possession. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

Throughout the years in Canada she had delivered many babies and on many occasions had to be at the farm home where the mothers was expecting for long periods of time. The only mode of transportation was by horse and sleigh, particularly in the winter. During her midwife career she didn’t lose one child. Fedya N. remembered her making medicine using butter and some other ingredients. Delivering babies was her only income source during her later years while living with Fedya.

Teena A. as a child had lived and slept with her, and stated that she was very kind to her and was even better than some mothers. Upon returning home from delivering a baby, she was asked by Teena where the baby came from? Her response was, that she pulled the baby from a pond and that it was in a bag.

She was a quite spoken woman who had many daughter-in-laws and was respected by her sons and their families. Her hobbies included knitting socks and spinning wool. She always had candy and liked to eat peppermints. She respected Verigin and was scared by him that her sons would be taken away for military service if they got educated and for this reason discouraged education for the sons. Her last years 1928-1934 were spent living with Fedya and his family. Prior to passing away, she asked to see Mike M. Chernoff. During this visit, she told him that she had 30 grandchildren and should she die that she didn’t have anything to leave them. However, she had a water pitcher and 3 glasses as her only possession and would like to leave it for one grandchild. She decided to leave it for him, and besides he was the only one that brought her peppermints which she liked very much. A picture of the pitcher and a glass is included with the photos. She passed away in 1934 without any earthly possessions with the exception of planting the Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan in Canada and perhaps stressing the importance of passing around a few peppermints along the way.

She is buried in a community cemetery north of Veregin and left a total of 275 descendants as counted in 1992.

Alyosha Nikolayevich Chernoff (1877-1967)

Alexeii N. Chernoff (1877-1967).

He was married in Azerbaijan at an early age in a marriage arranged by the parents. Was literate in Russian and spoke Azeri. Rejected a military call in 1895 and served in jail.

At Khutor he played a leadership [role] in the running of affairs. His duties included the allocation of work, finances, problem solving, decision-making and generally carrying out the orders of their leader. He took on a fatherly role and was easy going. Was well liked by the family, listened to by everyone and certainly had the assistance of Anyuta when required. He was a devout Christian and a loyal follower of the leader P.V. Verigin. His composed, peaceful manner had helped him maintain his fine facial features in his later years. He had aged gracefully and was at peace within himself. The later years were spent living with his son Wasyl and his family on a farm about 1/2 mile west of Khutor.

His family consisted of three sons: Nick – born in 1893, Peter – born in 1901, and Wasyl – born in 1909. At the age of 80 years he started to learn English and finally realized that education was important. His grandson Bill W. was the first Chernoff to have attained the highest academic standard to that date in obtaining his Doctorate in Mathematics.

A Message to Relatives” was written by him in 1964. It is the only recorded history of our family by a Chernoff from Azerbaijan. It is included proudly and appreciatively of his foresight in recording his story for the family to retain for future purposes.

His family moved from Khutor in 1920 and he is buried in the [Old] Veregin cemetery. He requested to be buried in the old cemetery if the roads were passable as Nikolai, Anyuta, Hanya, and Marisha were buried there.

Nikolai Nikolayevich Chernoff (1880-1932)

Married to Dunya Makaroff and had four daughters: Mabel – 1912, Annie – 1914, Dora – 1919 and Marge – 1923. He was a very strong willed individual and signed his name with a X. Had attractive features, more outgoing than the other brothers, strong willed, courageous and enjoyed his wine on occasions.

He was nicknamed “Czar” because of his exceptional qualities in character and his ability to handle horses. Verigin nicknamed him Czar “king of the horses” and recognized him for this and gave him a gift of a saddle and a gold watch. There are many stories about his role at Khutor and especially about him standing up to Verigin. He must have been envied by many people for his lack of fear against this man. Leadership qualities and determination were his traits and had carried out many business transactions for Khutor with merchants and Indians as necessary. He was a friend of the Indians and got along extremely well with them.

Nikolai N. Chernoff (1880-1932) with wife, Mabel and Annie. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

He was a top man with horses and probably one of the reasons the Brothers Chernoff were placed at Khutor. Was in charge of breaking, breeding, and preparing horses for community work purposes. He was gifted horse trainer of the highest quality and also in the supervision of other men. The story is told that when the Alberta wild broncos were received and brought to Khutor for breaking in, he would go into the corral with a whip. By cracking the whip and shouting them down, he would control the horses and proceed with making them useful for farming purposes. Because of his exceptional strength, it was said that if the horses would prove too stubborn and he met with resistance, that he would grab them by the neck and throw them to the ground.

During the digging of a well in January 1932, and in discussion of financial affairs regarding the turning over of money earned outside by the Chernoffs to the central treasury, he died of a heart attack.

The widow Dunya and her daughters continued to live a Khutor until about 1938. She had then married a widower John J. Mahonin and moved to a location a mile from Khutor.

John Nikolayevich Chernoff (1891-1957)

Shortly after his arrival in Canada, he was placed by Verigin in the village Novoye where there was a family that had only girls. During his time there, he married one of the Semenoff girls and made his home here till 1912. At this time all the Brothers Chernoff were assigned to Khutor.

John N. Chernoff family, 1924. (back l-r) Anyuta, John N., Hanya, Mabel, Nick, John. (front l-r) Pete, Harry, Sam. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

The family consisted of: Mabel – 1905, John – 1908, Nick – 1912, Peter – 1917, Sam – 1918 and Harry – 1921. He was an honest man and a devout follower of P.V. Verigin in accordance with his mother’s wishes. His skills included that of a carpenter, blacksmith and other skills so necessary to carry out all the operations at Khutor in the growing of crops and the breeding of animals. In 1935 his wife Hanya passed away at the age of 48 from pneumonia and he was left alone to take care of his boys. He was the longest living brother who had lived at Khutor. Married a Polly Barisoff [in] about 1942 and at that time Walter Barisoff came to live at Khutor with his mother. They moved to Veregin to retire and in 1953 with his health failing Mrs. Barisoff chose to leave and live with her children. He decided to move to British Columbia where he had three sons and daughter living. His last years were spent living with his son Harry, wife Elizabeth and children Wayne, Cary and Elizabeth at Appledale, British Columbia.

During his working career, he ran a steam engine and had a lifetime certificate from the government. He was a mechanic for threshing machines and steam engine fuses. Also worked at driving the stallion around during the breeding season from farm to farm. The charge was $2.00 at the initial visit and $2.00 when there was a colt born. Spring was the usual season for this work and lasted about a month. Khutor was a place to visit and I spent many happy days visiting Grandpa’s place.

He is buried in a cemetery at Passmore, British Columbia and his wife is buried in a cemetery directly north of Veregin.

Feodor Nikolayevich Chernoff (1888-1982)

Married Fanya Popoff in Veregin, who was born in Georgia. They had six children: Mary J. Chutskoff – 1912, Polly P. Kyba – 1915, Helen Selander – 1917, Laura P. Kabatoff – 1922, Tena Yurkowski – 1927 and Fred – 1932. Fred is married to Nayda Podovinnekoff.

When he first arrived in Canada he had worked on building the railway from Winnipeg to Dauphin. Here a certain foreman wanted to provide him with an education or training to take on supervisory responsibilities. His mother and brother Alyosha discouraged him to accept.

[He] lived at Khutor till 1928 and then moved one mile east to live with Alyosha’s family because they didn’t have any girls. The girls would help with chores as well as stooking. P.V. Verigin wanted 25 individuals in each section [at the time].

Members of the Feodor N. Chernoff family in front of their Model T Ford at Khutor, c. 1925. (Back row, l-r) Anyuta, son Feodor N. and wife Fanya. (Front l-r) Helen F., Laura F., Polly F. and Mary F. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

He was interested in horses and was a shoemaker. From leather he made shoes for men, women and children. This was a winter job and continued until enough money was available to purchase manufactured shoes. Made his own patterns and sizes to fit individual people. Was a generalist and did many things that required doing. Had a mild manner about him and was 5’8″ tall with blue eyes and blonde hair. Looked more on his mother’s side of the family. As Verigin discouraged education, he signed his name with a X. He discouraged his wife to read in Russian to the children. Because of Verigin’s policy on education, members of his family resented this position and blame Verigin to a large degree for their father’s actions regarding education. Spoke the Azeri and Tatar language with his mother and Aunt Dunya Popoff on her visits from Yorkton. This was especially useful when they didn’t want the children to know. He practiced folk medicine and must have received instructions from his mother on bloodletting which was a common practice for individuals with certain ailments. Removed warts by tying a silk thread around the wart and hung the thread on a door hinge. When the silk was worn out, the warts would disappear. This was done after the full moon and after the moon decreases, the warts would disappear. He mother taught him that if people believed, it would work and if they didn’t, then for them to go home.

The girls had to take on men’s work in contributing to Khutor operations and to carry their family load or share. Mary recalls that at the age of 10, she would put the harness on the 4 horses and sit on the plow all day. It was normal for the girls to haul hay and stock during harvest. They would cut hay on the Indian reserve and stacked it. Then, after bailing it by hand, it would be hauled to Kamsack and shipped away by railroad.

His wife Fanya passed away in 1955. He lived in Veregin alone until the last year of his life and looked after himself. It was common to see him walk 1 1/2 miles to his son’s Fred farm which he enjoyed doing. He never looked old for his 94 years and made numerous trips to British Colombia to visit with his family. Got along well with people and had a good sense of humor. He died at the Kamsack Nursing home after a brief illness and is buried in the Veregin cemetery.

Mikhail Nikolayevich Chernoff (1892-1966)

He was married to Helen Chernoff and raised 3 sons: Mike born in 1911, George born in 1914 and Paul in 1920. Helen was raised by her great uncle and aunt.

From the time of being placed at Khutor, he was in charge of providing transportation to P.V. Verigin from 1912 to 1924, at which time he was killed in a train bombing in British Columbia. Special carriages and horses were always at Verigin’s call whenever needed. They were stored at Khutor and one carriage carried 18 passengers.

Like the other brothers, he had an exceptional strong singing voice. This was supplemented by his wife Helen, who also excelled in singing. They made a remarkable singing pair and were recognized by their people for this quality. They both possessed a good memory for the songs and hymns as they were not written down at this time. He was a good dresser and took pride in his appearance. He too went out to work and brought money into the community. While in Toronto working on bridge construction, he fell and severely injured himself. Mr. Klutz a well known bone setter from Mikado, helped set his bones and assisted in his recovery.

Mike N. Chernoff and family, Khutor, SK c. 1935.

He left the community to farm on his own in 1938. The experiences at Khutor equipped him with many farming skills. He farmed until 1942, at which time he sold his farm and moved to Grand Forks, British Columbia. There, he purchased a sawing outfit and sawed cordwood for people.

His son Mike M. Chernoff, perhaps became one of the best known Chernoffs in the Community. In 1928, Mike started to work in the office of the Christian Community Universal Brotherhood at Veregin. By 1935, he rose to the rank of Secretary-Treasurer of this organization. Up to 1939 was a personal secretary to P.P. Verigin. He was intimately involved in the bankruptcy proceeding of the C.C.U.B., and the private affairs and activities of P.P. Verigin up until his death in 1939. He is the only surviving original Director and Shareholder of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. [as of] 1992. The pitcher and glasses given to him by Anyuta are in possession of his son in Vancouver.

His sons George and Paul lived close to him in Grand Forks. Paul had gained a considerable recognition for his outstanding singing voice in the area and certainly carried on the Chernoff traditional skills in singing. His singing career tragically ended with an unfortunate accident on July 13, 1955.

Both him, and his wife Helen who died at the age of 82, are buried in a cemetery at Grand Forks, British Columbia.

Andrey Nikolayevich Chernoff (1895-1975)

Was the youngest of the Chernoffs to arrive in Canada at the age of five. It must have been quite an experience for one so young to make the journey to Canada and the settling in to start a new beginning.

In his marriage to Polly Sherstobitoff, they had a son Andrew born in 1917 and a daughter Teena born in 1920. This marriage ended in separation and Andrew went to live with his mother and Teena with her father. He then married Nellie Kurenoff and they farmed north of Mikado. Was one of the first brothers to leave the community and start independent farming operations in 1928.

(l-r) Andrey N., John J. and John N. Chernoff at Khutor, 1915. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

He held the role of a veterinarian at Khutor and during his life on the farm. Had instruments for fixing teeth, performed castrations and pierced stomachs whenever the animals would over-eat grain. He performed this work for community people at no charge but charged outsiders. Was a self-made veterinarian and very interested in working with iron and enjoyed his blacksmithing chores. Left Khutor in 1928 and like the other brothers had a strong singing voice. While living in Mikado, it was common for him to travel by sleigh 23 miles to Kamsack in severe cold winter weather. Had an outgoing personality and made sure he got along with his neighbors. He helped neighbors in their blacksmithing requirements and in many cases at no charge. Did his own carpentering and had his own steam engine for threshing purposes. Was very good to Teena and wanted his daughter to be home before sunset. He never laid a finger on her and his looks were good enough and she respected him. Was very kind but was strict.

Kamsack was his retirement home. Together with Nellie, they spent many pleasant years together in their clean, comfortable home with many close relatives and friends. His wife Nellie is the only living survivor [as of] 1992 of the wives of the Brothers Chernoffs from Azerbaijan.

He is buried in a cemetery at Kamsack. Sask.

About the Author

Fred J. Chernoff was born at Kylemore, Saskatchewan in 1927 and for the first eight years lived at Khutor (Veregin), Saskatchewan where he experienced the historic community style of life. He entered the grain business in 1951 as a grain elevator manager, was promoted to a District Manager at Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan in 1968. Then transferred to Head Office in Winnipeg, Manitoba until retiring as an Administrator of Training / Development and Industrial Relations / Safety in 1989. Since retiring in Winnipeg in 1999, he was fully occupied with volunteering and serving on various community boards/projects. This also included four CESO volunteer assignments in 1993-2000 as a Volunteer Advisor in the former Soviet Union during their historic times. With his wife Natalie, they spent 170 days there and also shared a rare opportunity to learn more about the country of his ancestors. Fred’s interests included traveling, writing, dancing, performing magic, cottage life and visiting his family in Vancouver, British Columbia. During his early retirement, the books “The Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan to Canada” (1992) and “The Posnikoffs from Georgia to Canada“ (1998) were written. Currently, he is writing a new family book, “The Gift Of Ancestors“ which will be available mid 2011.

Uncle Ivan Remembered

by Charlie Chernoff

The following is an excerpt from the recently printed family history book compiled and edited by Charlie Chernoff.  The book, entitled “Chernoff Family History – Evstafy Branch”, is a collection of memoirs, family stories and genealogical information about his Chernoff Doukhobor ancestors.  Mr. Chernoff writes about his recollection and perception of memorable incidents, relationships and personalities while growing up in the Village of Veregin, Saskatchewan in the Thirties and Forties.  Here, Mr. Chernoff recalls “Uncle Ivan”, a larger-than-life individual whose personality, accomplishments, appearance and actions left a lasting impression on one young Doukhobor boy. 

Uncle Ivan was not a bloodline uncle, in fact he was not a bloodline relative at all. His wife Dunya was a distant relative to my mother but distance mattered little in Doukhobor family relationships. It seems that distant relatives were as warmly received as close relatives. And so it was then that I was introduced to Dunya as Kuzka (diminutive of Kuzma, my Russian name) and she was introduced to me as “auntie”. Her husband Ivan then became “uncle” Ivan and from that first meeting on I was expected to address him as uncle and if referring to him in family conversation refer to him as uncle Ivan.

Author’s mother in Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1918.

This was one of the wonderful traditions of the Doukhobor way of life; distant relatives were auntie and uncle to children. Since nearly every family in a village was related in some way or another to every other family in the same and nearby villages, children had dozens and dozens of aunts and uncles. I remember my children visiting a distant, distant relative who by tradition was aunt Mary and by tradition she received our children as warmly as if they were her own grandchildren. Whenever we visited her home she would greet the children with the warmest glee imaginable then scurry off to some hiding place to bring out some candy treats. What a wonderful tradition! The children in the community were looked after by all adults (since, it seemed, they were in some distant way related) which led to warmness, harmony and safety.

Now uncle Ivan was no ordinary individual. As a young Doukhobor he was home schooled to read and write formal Russian besides speaking “Doukhobor” Russian. I better explain that there was a peculiar tradition invoked when one conversed locally because one spoke Doukhobor Russian which had its own idioms, its own inflections and its own cadence. It was not heavy with the hard “G” and harsh “R”. Many words carried the soft “H” and softer “R” that is common in the Ukrainian spoken tongue. Doukhobor Russian was accompanied by obvious gesticulations and body language which often conveyed an important message while words spoken were few. A good example is the phrase “von mahnul i pashol“.  This meant that the individual waved his arm downwards from the elbow to the palm and left, meaning he disagreed and was not going to indulge in further conversation and went his way. 

Uncle Ivan was a voracious reader, so his Russian vocabulary was much richer than the regular Doukhobor. He also wrote fluent formal Russian. It is peculiar again, that although Doukhobors conversed in Doukhobor Russian they wrote in proper and fluent Russian even though their vocabulary might be limited. I remember how impressed many of the community people were because Uncle Ivan was one of the few persons they ever met who had read and studied the New Testament. My mother had a book of the New Testament in Russian but she read only parts of it and did not study it but simply enjoyed the metaphors.

Uncle Ivan enjoyed addressing sobranias, which were meetings or prayer assemblies. Since he had an extended vocabulary he was able to wow the crowd. He was not shy so he got a lot of practice at public speaking and since his speeches were non-controversial nor demeaning the crowd enjoyed his deliveries. Dad says that one day uncle Ivan was particularly wound up and reached for many uncommon, extraordinary Russian words and phrases to make his point. The crowd was entranced and gave him a standing ovation. Later Dad was talking to Victor, a Russian gentleman with a formal Russian education who had chosen to live near the Doukhobors. Victor remarked that uncle Ivan had delivered a rousing speech but that many of the bigger, flowery words were definitely the wrong words to use. No matter the crowd loved it.

Uncle Ivan was also an accomplished artisan. When the combined communal prayer home and Peter V. Verigin residence was being constructed in Veregin he was the individual who designed and fabricated the ornamental sheet metal scroll work that adorns the upper part of the balconies. A masterful job.

The Dom at Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1935.

Uncle Ivan was a mainstay in the CCUB (the early communal organization of the Canadian Doukhobors) during its formative years. He served this organization in several capacities but over time his confidence in the continued ability of the communal enterprise to survive as a productive, vibrant, commercially successful co-operative waned so when the Communal Doukhobors and Peter V. Verigin moved to BC uncle Ivan chose to become an Independent Doukhobor and stay behind as a farmer near Veregin.

Uncle Ivan had many great qualities but he had one weakness. He enjoyed too much the “bottled devil” and visited him too often. But even when he had too much of the wrong kind of spirit in him he remained calm and demure and loving. He would always refer to his wife as his Kosha, meaning “kitten”.

To this day I vividly remember one afternoon, in late fall after the harvest was in, when uncle Ivan came ambling towards our store, a bit awkwardly, from the direction of the beer parlor. He had enjoyed an afternoon of visiting the bottled devil and had taken leave not because his thirst was quenched but because he had run out of money. He turned into our store and since it was late and everyone else had left he begged my father to fill the grocery order that his Kosha had sent with him. To fill it now but to delay payment until some time when he came into some money. Since my Dad had suffered the self same affliction years earlier he recognized that a fellow squanderer needed to be assisted without argument. As Dad began to pack the few essentials into a bag he asked me to lock the store and pull the shades.

Author as a child in Veregin, 1937.

Having done this my chores at the store were completed for the day so I retreated to our living quarters that adjoined the store. I went to my room upstairs to work on my homework. It was a couple of hours later that I came downstairs to see if Mom had supper ready. She informed me that supper was indeed ready for the table and I was to see what was delaying Dad in the store. I opened the door from the living quarters into the store only to find both my Dad and uncle Ivan bawling their eyes out. My dad had spent those couple of hours convincing uncle Ivan that his drinking was only lowering his stature amongst the community residents, distancing his sons from him and that it was a totally selfish behavior and unfair to his Kosha.  I cleared my throat and spoke up announcing supper. This gave both of them the opportunity to dry their eyes and exchange hugs and then I let uncle Ivan out the store door with his groceries.

Uncle Ivan never drank again.

In fact one day Uncle Ivan whilst in one of his expansive moods declared “Ehhh! Nikolai if I had an enemy and he were antagonizing me I would be moved to place a curse on his soul and the nature of the curse would be that he become an alcoholic”. Dad agreed this would work, then added that if he had an enemy and was being antagonized he would wish the proprietorship of a small general store upon him.

At another time I asked Dad how long it took uncle Ivan to complete work on the forty ornamental sheet metal panels. Dad replied that he had no idea but that it must have been a long time since all the ornamental perforations were cut out with a hammer and cold chisel. After some cogitation I continued with the comment that it must have been awful boring. Dad replied that he did not think so because uncle Ivan kept his companion nearby.

When I inquired as to what he meant about his companion. Dad painted this scenario – uncle Ivan would carry his tools to the shade of some trees bordering the property then drag the sheet metal under a tree settle down comfortably and commence to chisel out the perforations. Periodically he would check the landscape to make sure that no women were about then reach for his companion and take a good long pull from the jar of homebrew. Apparently this kept him going all day long with nary a complaint.

Another day after uncle Ivan had visited with us at the store and left I remarked to Dad what a decent and friendly and wise individual he was. Dad said that uncle Ivan took great pride in being known as a caring, loving individual of unquestioned integrity. Then he commenced to tell me that there were widespread rumors amongst the Independent Doukhobors that some community fund raised monies had been siphoned off never to surface again. It seems that because of uncle Ivan’s undisputed integrity and power of persuasion he was often sent alone to collect money for some project or other. There were no receipts issued nor any lists made of the exact sum given by each individual so it would have been easy to “skim” the pot. Uncle Ivan had heard stories of collected funds being skimmed more then once so, as a counterclaim, he had proudly announced to Dad that he never stole a cent. Well, he took some for a jar of homebrew now and then but that he regarded to be an “operating expense”.

Railway station and elevators at Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1935.

I learned one of life’s grandest lessons from uncle Ivan. One cold day he was warming himself near the store stove when a young, recently married man came in for groceries. Spotting Ivan the “Elder Doukhobor” sitting near the stove he sauntered over and confided that he had a family problem and maybe Ivan would hear him out and give him some advice. Uncle Ivan was not in a habit of turning anybody down so he replied that he had time to hear him out to see if he could help. The young man told a story of a running conflict with his new in-laws, that they were meddling in his and his new wife’s affairs. He said that he did not want to distance himself from them nor offend his new wife but that he needed more breathing room. Uncle Ivan waited until the young man had calmed down some then he commenced to ask questions. I was listening in without appearing to be listening in. Uncle Ivan’s question’s seemed to have little to no thread to them. They were sort of a shotgun approach to the specific problem. The young man would answer every question with considerable elucidation. After quite a number of these, pointless to my mind, questions the young man suddenly cried out, “That is it! That is what I must do!”, and he began pumping uncle Ivan’s hand and thanking him for the great advice he had given him. Of course, uncle Ivan had not given any advice at all, he had only asked questions to help define the problem. Once the problem was well defined, the young man immediately saw how it ought to be solved. Uncle Ivan’s contribution had nothing to do with offering a solution but had everything to do with defining the problem. I guess it is a technique that was often used by the elders of the Doukhobor community.

Many years later after I had worked in industry for a number of years and had been appointed supervisor of a software programming group I would often be sought out by an employee who wanted advice on how to handle a personal problem. I would recall the serious interest uncle Ivan would show in a fellow’s problem so I would try to emulate the same serious interest and then begin to define the problem by asking the employee questions. Once the problem was well defined every employee I counseled suddenly said thank you for the advice that will certainly work. No specific advice was ever given!

The Chernoff family home near Veregin, Saskatchewan as it appears today.

Aunt Dunya, Ivan’s Kosha, was also a community activist. Dunya was a practicing mid-wife who participated in the delivery of many babies for Doukhobor families who asked for her services. The Doukhobor tradition was to have mid-wives trained in the art and science of delivering newborns because they were not comfortable with outside interference even doctors. Now this was not academic training but apprenticeship type training where ladies who showed interest in providing the service worked as assistants with experienced mid-wives. Through observation and discussion and hands on practice the helpers moved on to become trusted mid-wives. We have already alluded to community specialists such as artisans but in addition there were architects, carpenters, harness makers, dental technicians, bone setters and so on. But none was as important as a mid-wife. After all, mid-wives dealt with situations which could easily escalate into life and death situations. It was an awesome responsibility for a lady to take on a mid-wife role because she knew that the “expecting” family realized that they were entrusting the mother-to-be and the child-to-be into her hands. Any miscalculation or lapse of concentration could result in the death of mother or child or both. It took an individual of uncommon resolve and self confidence with nerves of steel yet displaying outward tenderness to successfully fulfill the mid-wife role. Dunya helped deliver babies into the 1940’s. My cousin Timofey was delivered by Dunya in the early ’40’s in the family bedroom with nothing more then helpers, hot water from the kitchen, plenty of clean towels and a boundless supply of tenderness and comfort.

Uncle Ivan and his beloved Kosha are gone now. I can only regret that I did not take the time to interview him about the early days of the CCUB. Why didn’t I plumb the depths of his philosophy of life or his understanding of the Doukhobor way of life? I am certain he would have had wise contributions to make on these and other subjects because he thought deep, he thought clearly and he thought often. Also I can imagine what interesting experiences I could have recorded that Dunya had encountered in her role as a community benefactor.

As my Dad would say. I would like to kick my own behind if only I could reach.

Peter G. Makaroff, QC, Canada’s First Doukhobor Lawyer

by William H. McConnell

Peter G. Makaroff (1895-1970) came to Canada as a young boy with the Doukhobor migration in 1899. At that time, he could speak no English, but in less than twenty years, he became the first Doukhobor ever to graduate from a post-secondary educational institution. He went on to become one of Canada’s outstanding lawyers as well as a noted peacemaker and humanitarian. Throughout his life, he cherished his ties with his Russian culture, Doukhobor heritage and pacifist roots. He was a model to many Doukhobors as an educated, courageous and intelligent professional who was willing to help the underdog locally, nationally and internationally. The following article by William H. McConnell, reproduced by permission from Saskatchewan History (44, 1992, No. 3), traces the life and career of this Doukhobor role model who was always at his best working uphill against apparently impossible odds.

Peter G. Makaroff, whose family came to Canada with the first wave of Doukhobor immigration in 1899, was a pioneer in more ways than one. Brought to Canada from Transcaucasia at age five, with six brothers and sisters, after graduation in law from the University of Saskatchewan in 1918, he became the world’s first Doukhobor lawyer. He was the first member of his religion to serve on the University’s Board of Governors and to preside over the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board. In addition to his distinguished record of public service, he was also the founding member of one of Saskatoon’s principal law firms.

Peter’s father, Gregory, found communal life in the Doukhobor colony, which was ruled so strictly by Peter V. Verigin, to be oppressive and left to become an independent farmer. The migration of such dissidents gained momentum with more than a thousand “Independents” residing in the Prince Albert district shortly after 1908. While they still adhered to the main tenets of their faith, and continued to be fervent pacifists, the Independents rejected the authoritarian governmental structure of their leaders and abandoned the communal way of life. In 1916 the Society of Independent Doukhobors was organized with Peter soon becoming secretary of the new group. “Without adopting any of the pretensions of the leaders,” a leading work declares of the younger Makaroff, “he became the intellectual guide to those Doukhobors who had chosen the path of opposition to Peter Verigin but were not prepared to abandon entirely their loyalties to the sect.”

Doukhobor children brought to Pennsylvania by the Quakers in 1902 for education. Peter Markaroff appears in the front centre (with cap). Swarthmore College Collection.

 
As an independent farmer in the Blaine Lake district of Saskatchewan, Gregory Makaroff sent his children to the German-English Academy (later Rosthern Junior College) at Rosthern, which was located about twenty-five miles distant from the farm. Peter’s early inspiration came from one of his teachers, Professor Michael Sherbinin, a Russian nobleman from St. Petersburg, fluent in several languages, from another teacher, Ella Martin, a Presbyterian, from George McCraney, Liberal MP for Rosthern, and from Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was both prime minister and a distinguished lawyer. The Quakers (a community of whom resided near Borden) provided financial assistance for the education of young Doukhobors, and Peter was sent to Philadelphia to continue his schooling among them, later enrolling in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan. By that time Peter Verigin had taken half of the original Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan to the Kootenay area of British Columbia where he had bought 15,000 acres of land.

But who were the Doukhobors of whom the Makaroffs were members? There was no formal ministry nor sacraments within the Doukhobor religion, which broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the early eighteenth century. Adherents held that God dwelt within all his children, and that formal communion, preaching or prayers were unnecessary. One writer has described their religion as follows:

The Doukhobors were a priestless religious group, whose faith centred on the belief that every man carried within him the Divine Spark of the Holy Spirit. The Doukhobors were pacifists who believed that each person was a temple of the Holy Spirit. The destruction of human life was therefore regarded as a grievous sin. Their belief in the presence of the Holy Spirit led to their reliance on expressions of the Spirit (prophecies, worshipful praise and song) rather than on the written word. By the 1800s, a heritage of psalms and prayers, called the Living Book, was passed on orally from generation to generation.

With women and men separated by a central aisle in their unadorned meeting houses, believers would make simple professions of faith, much as the Quakers did elsewhere, along with reciting psalms and singing hymns. When Peter Makaroffs family and others destroyed their firearms in 1895, refused to be conscripted into the Army and resolved never to go to war, they experienced ostracism and persecution. The pacifistic character of the religion, emphasizing non-violence and universal brotherhood, brought them into collision with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist bureaucracy. The demands of the faith presented a hard test to many Doukhobors and not all of them remained steadfast, with some relapsing into the Russian mainstream.

The elder Verigin, a man of impressive charm and presence, known to his flock as “Peter the Lordly,” succeeded his mentor, Lukeria V. Kalmykova, as leader of the Doukhobors on her death in 1886. The military conscription policy, which was so contrary to their principles, having been introduced more than a decade earlier in Russia proper, was unexpectedly extended to the Caucasus region in 1887. In the same year, Verigin was exiled to Shenkursk, Siberia, where he met with other refugees and was deeply influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s philosophical anarchism, which was infused with a vein of non-doctrinal Christian pacifism very similar to that of the Doukhobors. Verigin increasingly promoted Tolstoyan tenets among his followers, advocating “non-resistance to evil,” and enjoining them not to swear oaths, eat meat, drink, smoke, or submit to military conscription.

After further persecution, the Tsarist government finally gave the Doukhobors permission to emigrate to Canada, in which they were assisted by royalties from their benefactor, Leo Tolstoy, derived from the sale of his novel, Resurrection, published in 1898. The Russian authorities admonished them that they, alone, would be responsible for their travelling expenses, that those (including Peter Verigin) who had been exiled to Siberia, or who had been called up for military service should finish their terms before leaving, and warned them that if they returned they would be banished to Siberia. The Canadian government, which was then implementing the “Sifton immigration policy” to populate the West, was grateful to receive as immigrants such hardworking agricultural settlers and as a concession to their religious scruples passed an Order-in-Council and a consequential statutory provision exempting them from future military service.

Some 7,500 Doukhobors then congregated at the Georgian port of Batum, departing for Canada in four shiploads over a seven-month period, the first immigrants embarking on the S.S. Lake Huron in late December, 1898. The fare to Winnipeg was twenty-two dollars for each passenger. After the arduous transits to Halifax and Saint John, New Brunswick, the new arrivals went overland to colonies in the Yorkton area of Assiniboia and the Duck Lake area of Saskatchewan, to a reservation of homestead land having an aggregate total of 773,400 acres. Their leader, Peter V. Verigin, arrived in Canada only on 16 December 1902, after completing nearly sixteen years of Siberian exile.

Because of the young Makaroff’s command of Russian, he was frequently in demand as a translator in Saskatchewan courts, which served a polyglot community arriving in the province before the First World War. Once, when Judge J.A. McClean of the Battleford District Court refused to allow a Doukhobor to take an oath, allegedly because the sect was not Christian and did not believe in the Bible, Makaroff, who was present, jumped to his feet and, proclaiming himself to be a Doukhobor, asserted that his co-religionists were indeed Christians, and that although it was against their principles to swear oaths, the witness could make an affirmation if allowed to do so. McClean sternly admonished Makaroff to sit down, asking him to speak to him after the court adjourned. Afterwards the judge spoke very softly and kindly to the young man, admitting that he personally knew few Doukhobors and encouraging Peter to become a lawyer to promote better understanding. Makaroff did study law at the University of Saskatchewan, graduating in 1918. He helped to defray expenses by waiting on tables in the residences, and participated extensively in athletics. He also got to know well another law student and future prime minister, John Diefenbaker, who graduated one year later. The two remained friendly although their political philosophies diverged sharply as time wore on. Another acquaintance, Helen Marshall, a non-Doukhobor who graduated in arts and science in the same year that Makaroff graduated in law, two years later became his wife.

Peter Makaroff in University of Saskatchewan football uniform, 1916. Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-B6510.

Prior to his death, Judge McClean had given instructions that his extensive law library be sold to his young acquaintance, as a result of which Makaroff acquired a valuable reference library for five hundred dollars. He began his professional practice in the Canada Building in Saskatoon in July, 1918, and was soon taking cases to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. A year later he was joined by Arthur L. Bates, the firm practicing under the style of Makaroff and Bates until the Second World War period.

Because of the Doukhobors’ preference for a simple life close to nature and their aversion to “worldly” education and the learned professions, Makaroff’s admission to the Bar was unprecedented in his religious community and he was sometimes described as the first certified professional in the sect’s two hundred and fifty year history. Far from this estranging him from his fellow believers, he was admired by most Doukhobors for his educational qualifications and marked legal abilities, and they often turned to him for advice, especially during recurrent crises. Although his legal practice was a cosmopolitan one, he always sought to help his own community whenever he could and was only the first of many Doukhobors to attend the University of Saskatchewan.

In one of his earlier cases, Prescesky v. Can. Nor. Ry., decided in 1923, Makaroff’s talent for cross-examination was apparent. His client, a young farmer, had been run down by the defendant’s locomotive at a level railway crossing, with counsel for the railway arguing that the train had given the required signal for such crossings – two long and two short blasts of the whistle with continuous ringing of the bell for each crossing – before the accident took place. Makaroff’s client was non-suited at the first trial, but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial at which the sole point in contention was whether the requisite warning had been given. Railway counsel from Winnipeg sought to reinforce his already-strong evidence by calling the section foreman’s wife, who claimed that she could survey from her back porch railway track for a distance of four miles, including the site of the accident. Makaroff did not believe that she had actually seen the accident, and proceeded to cross-examine on that assumption. His strategy was risky, however, and could backfire, since if he were mistaken she might take the opportunity to further confirm her evidence. Makaroff decided to test her on the critical question:

Q. You say you actually stood there and heard the whistle blow four times, from the time it passed your cottage until it stopped at the accident?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Once for each crossing?

A. Sure, that’s just what I said.

Q. You mean you heard four blasts?

A. That is right.

Q. One blast for each of the four crossings?

A. Yes, that’s exactly what I said. That’s just what I heard.

The young counsel for the plaintiff then saw the jury smile and whisper to each other. His successful client later moved from Saskatoon to Vancouver, where he entered commercial life and acquired a substantial fortune.

In the early days of Makaroff’s legal career, public opinion in the province was often intolerant of immigrants of Central and East European origin, and in this respect the Law Society was no different from other organizations. On 30 June 1930, for example, Luseland barrister Frank E. Jaenicke wrote Makaroff referring to a recent entry in the Law Society Gazette stating, “efforts should be made to limit those entering the legal profession to persons of British extraction.” Mr. Jaenicke added that most of the names of those reprimanded or struck off the rolls for non-ethical conduct were of non-British origin, and he suspected that “most of the Benchers were Tories.” Makaroff replied that “at the Bar Convention here the same matter was brought up by [former Dean of Law Arthur] Moxon, seconded by [Stewart] McKercher, but before the motion was put, Mr. [H. E.] Sampson, who was the only Bencher present, got up on his feet, and tendered a very lame apology for the action of the Benchers. He gave the assurance that everything possible would be done… to correct the unfavourable impression.” A weakened motion was then passed by the Bar convention urging rectification of the matter as soon as possible.” Later in the same letter Makaroff added “… I do not give a penny for the attitude of the members of the profession towards me, but I do object to that spirit or sentiment being shared by the judiciary, which undoubtedly will be, unless something happens in the immediate future to check the tendency” In a further letter he mentioned the need for more “broad-minded and tolerant” Benchers, suggesting that more influence might be exerted by lawyers of like mind to elect such Benchers at the next Law Society election.

The Canadian authorities became increasingly critical of a small breakaway sect, the Sons of Freedom, which had formed soon after the Doukhobors arrived in Canada and the activities of which were not representative of a substantial majority of the members of the religion:

However exotic the more violent actions of the Sons of Freedom, the zealot wing of the Doukhobors, may appear to us, it is sobering to reflect that none of these extreme types of behaviour—nudism, arson, dynamiting—was part of the Doukhobor pattern of life before the sect reached Canada. Fire-raisers and nude paraders have never represented more than a small majority of an otherwise peaceful (indeed pacifist) community, anxious only to live according to its own beliefs.

In practice, however, nice logical distinctions between the mainstream Doukhobor movement and the Sons of Freedom were not always made. The peaceful majority were often confused by the public with their more zealous coreligionists, and suffered persecution along with the minority.

With the election of Conservative leader, Dr. J.T.M. Anderson, to the premiership in 1929, increasing strife developed between the Saskatchewan government and the local Doukhobor community. Between 1929 and 1931, twenty-five Saskatchewan schools were burned in Doukhobor areas around Kamsack and Canora, resulting in some arrests and imprisonments. Coincident with the arson and civil disobedience, plummeting world wheat prices adversely affected the communal economy, creating a mood of demoralization among Doukhobors which tended to increase the unrest.

In October 1924, the life of the elder Verigin had come to an untimely end when he and eight others were blown up in a railway carriage near Grand Forks, British Columbia. The mystery of his death has never been solved. Difficult adjustments were necessary after the arrival of Verigin’s son, Peter P. Verigin, from the USSR in 1927. The new leader was described by Makaroff as something of an enigma:

“…No one was sure whether he was a saint or devil or just a plain madman. He was very brilliant. He had a tremendous memory, but at the same time I think he was really a psychopath. From the day he arrived from Russia he became involved in one litigation after another. He was in and out of jail for assaults, for creating disturbances, for what not. He was quite an alcoholic and when under the influence of liquor he was absolutely beyond control. His headquarters were at Verigin near Yorkton. He became so rowdy when staying in one hotel after another that he would be chucked out of there and not allowed to come back, so he goes to work and builds his own hotel. He wasn’t there on more than one occasion before he was prohibited from going back into his own hotel.”

Dr. Anderson and Conservative Prime Minister, R.B. Bennett, were persuaded that Peter P. Verigin was the source of much of the trouble affecting the Doukhobors and decided to take action. In 1932 Verigin had been sentenced to eighteen months in the Prince Albert penitentiary for perjury and tampering with a witness in a disputed land sale agreement the previous year. They decided to spirit him out of Canada with the least publicity possible.

Neither Bennett nor Anderson had much sympathy for immigrants of non-British origin, particularly those who might be tinged with “radical sympathies” or were deemed to have engaged in political agitation against the state. Enacted by Borden’s Union Government during the Red Scare of 1919, section 98 of the Criminal Code visited with up to twenty years’ imprisonment members of vaguely-defined “unlawful associations,” one of whose purposes was to bring about political change by unlawful means. Pursuant to Bennett’s policy “of having ‘no truck nor trade’ with the Soviet Union, and placing an ‘iron heel’ on Socialism and Communism,” the notorious trial of the Toronto Communists (several of whom had Slavic names) was held in November 1931, with the above provision being described by McGill law professor, Frank R. Scott, as “unequalled in the history of Canada and probably any British country for centuries past,” for its permanent restriction of civil liberties. One of the first acts of the succeeding Mackenzie King administration, in fact, was to repeal the egregious section 98.

Among other illiberal acts, Prime Minister Bennett had also amended the Criminal Code to raise the penalty for parading while nude to three years’ imprisonment, a measure obviously aimed at the Doukhobors, and amended the Dominion Franchise Act in 1934 so as to deprive Doukhobors in British Columbia of the right to vote in federal elections. For his part, in 1929-1930, Premier Anderson advised the federal government that further Russian and Mennonite immigration into the province was not wanted, adding that he “doubted if these 5,000 people really were starving outside the gates of Moscow,” as claimed. His government also abolished the use of the French language in grade one of the public schools. It was in this era that the Ku Klux Klan was active in Saskatchewan, with the premier extolling the value of “British” immigration and institutions, a point which the Klan made in a less refined manner.

Thus, Bennett and Anderson being in accord in the final days of January, 1933, two plainclothes agents from Ottawa arrived in Prince Albert, showed the warden a document pardoning Verigin, and whisked the latter swiftly and silently away to Halifax. Anderson and Bennett obviously wished to speed the Doukhobor leader out of the country before his followers and legal counsel could intervene on his behalf.

This ploy almost succeeded. By chance, however, the Prince Albert correspondent of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix learned of the impending deportation and telephoned her city editor, who in turn telephoned a startled Makaroff; when the latter spoke to Verigin’s subordinates they were insistent that no effort or expense be spared to save their leader from deportation.

Neither Prime Minister Bennett nor the immigration authorities would accede to Makaroff’s request to hold Verigin in Winnipeg so that he could interview his client. With time elapsing quickly, the situation was becoming desperate. Makaroff then embarked on a bold chase. He took the train to Winnipeg and then travelled by air to Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and Boston. Finding that there were no flights between Boston and Halifax, he chartered a small private plane which took off at three o’clock in the morning of the day that Verigin was to be deported, flying over the Bay of Fundy without instruments. The pilot flew at a high altitude in order to avoid the treacherous downdrafts in the area and, fortunately, the flight proceeded without incident.

Russian postcard sent to John G. Bondoreff by S. Reibin and Peter Makaroff written in flight, 2 February 1933. “In view of the fact that Petyushka will be sent off the morning of 4 February and in order to see him before deportation, [we]…are flying at 130 miles per hour…” Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-A292.

Makaroff arrived in Halifax on Saturday morning shortly before the S.S. Montcalm was scheduled to depart with Verigin for Russia. He met with a frigid reception when he was brought to Verigin’s cell. Since Verigin had previously threatened to end his life, Makaroff approached the interview with some uneasiness. The Doukhobor chieftain did not appear surprised at seeing his former counsel with two other Doukhobors, but as Peter Makaroff described the encounter later to John G. Bondoreff, one of the leader’s aides: “The minute he saw the three of us as he entered the room, he immediately swung around and ran back to his cell. The officer in charge came back and said that he would not see the other two at all but wanted to speak to me.”

Because of Verigin’s death threat, Makaroff was surprised by his relatively cordial behavior towards him. He attributed Verigin’s “frequently offensive and insulting attitude” towards those around him to his hopelessness at remaining in the country, noting particularly his incivility towards Lionel Ryan, one of Makaroff’s Halifax agents.

At first Verigin advised Makaroff that he wanted no help at all, cursing all those responsible for the belated legal intervention. There was, moreover, little time to confer. It was already eleven o’clock and the Court House, where habeas corpus proceedings (ie. proceedings to determine whether a prisoner has been imprisoned lawfully) were to be instituted, was to close in two hours. In these difficult circumstances, Makaroff was able to have the hearing deferred until late February. There was at least a reprieve!

When his counsel asked Verigin whether, in lieu of deportation, he would prefer to go back to Prince Albert to finish the remainder of his jail sentence, he was met with “a long line of profanity to the effect that he had no fear of Canadian jails whatsoever. I interpreted that as instructions to do all I could to save him and told him I would do that. He pretended not to care, but his appearance contradicted his pretence.” Following this exchange, Makaroff related that Verigin “gave me every cooperation… to present his case before the Court,” adding, however, “… it would be impossible to describe in any detail his many insane tantrums… during our month’s stay there”

After these rather equivocal instructions to counsel, Makaroff applied for habeas corpus on his client’s behalf. Much of the argument before Mr. Justice Mellish centred around the instrument dated 20 January 1933, and signed by the Governor-General, Lord Bessborough, which read in part: “He is to be deported to Russia when released from custody… .” The relevant section of the Immigration Act, however, provided that an inmate could be deported only after his sentence or term of imprisonment “has expired,” and Mellish held that Verigin’s sentence had not “expired” within the meaning of that section. Roughly half of Verigin’s sentence had still to run and “he has the right if he chooses to take the limit of time allowed him before deportation…. If the prisoner is pardoned conditionally he has the right to refuse the pardon if he is unwilling to accept the conditions. If the prisoner has been pardoned (and I do not think he could be discharged from prison except in exercise of the power of pardon) he cannot in my opinion be deported.” Since Verigin had been unlawfully detained, Mellish ordered that his petition be granted and that he be released from custody.

Had the case been heard a few weeks later it is probable that the results would have been different. Verigin was a very fortunate man. One month after Mellish’s decision, the Supreme Court of Canada decided, contrary to the Nova Scotia judgment, that the prerogative of mercy could be exercised by the Crown to release a prisoner without his consent prior to the termination of his sentence. After such a pardon, moreover, his sentence could be considered to have “expired,” enabling the government to deport him under the statutory provision applying in Verigin’s case. Since the Supreme Court decision would bind all lower courts throughout Canada, had it been in effect during the Halifax proceedings, Mellish would have been constrained to decide the case against Verigin. Four months later, in Winnipeg, the federal authorities again attempted to deport Verigin, but they were frustrated this time because the local court found that, whatever statutory provisions might apply, there had not been a “fair hearing.” The government certainly seemed determined to get rid of the Doukhobor leader.

Because Makaroff was not a member of the Nova Scotia Bar, he had to engage two Halifax agents, J.J. Power, K.C., and Lionel Ryan, to present his client’s case in the local forum. He had dictated some of the affidavits over the telephone to them while en route to Halifax, and had planned much of the legal strategy. By agreement, Power was to have received a fee of five hundred dollars, but when the case was won he increased the amount, having Verigin arrested for debt under the archaic law of capias (used in England in Dickens’ time to send indigents to debtors’ prison) so that he would not abscond without settling accounts. Verigin perceived things differently. “God, through the instrumentality of Judge Mellish, released me from jail, only to be re-arrested and lodged back in jail by my own lawyer, Peter Makaroff. Send me $10,000 immediately in order to extricate me from the toils of the law again.” On learning that his ruse was detected, Verigin began railing once more. Makaroff then left town, catching up with Verigin in Winnipeg where the latter apologized to him.

Reflecting wryly about the case some years later, Makaroff recalled that he had received his appointment as King’s Counsel in 1932 from the Anderson government in part for his efforts at quelling some of the more rambunctious antics of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors. His victory in Halifax spoke well of the solicitude of the Canadian justice system for a member of an unpoular minority. Nevertheless, he sometimes wondered what Anderson and Bennett really thought about his return of Verigin to the province in 1933. He was able to see the comic as well as the more serious aspects of the transcontinental chase involving one of the world’s most colorful religious personalities. Because of the high drama of the incident, it attracted much interest in the international press.

Another series of trials of roughly the same vintage, in which Makaroff served as defence counsel, occurred after the Regina riot of 1 July 1935. The riot was the culminating episode of the On-to-Ottawa trek by a trainload of unemployed young men proceeding to the national capital to seek the help of the Conservative prime minister. When R.B. Bennett ordered the trek halted at Regina, the RCMP attempted to clear the trekkers out of Market Square, resulting in an ugly confrontation and a clash between the police and the militants with one death, much loss of property and many injuries.

In the climate of antagonism towards “political agitators” in mid-Depression times, public sympathy was clearly on the side of “law and order.” When the trekkers were put individually on trial, Makaroff was called in as defence counsel, later enlisting Emmett M. Hall, Q.C., of Saskatoon (a future Supreme Court of Canada judge) to assist with the defence. Makaroff’s assessment of the accuseds’ prospects was bleak: “The whole atmosphere was charged with hostility against the prisoners and there was slight hope of freeing any of them. Nevertheless, we fought every case all the way as they came up.” Hall later said that he and Makaroff “were pretty well isolated as far as the Regina Bar was concerned.”

Chaos during the Regina Riot, 1935. City of Regina Photograph Collection.

The legal combination of Democratic Socialist and Red Tory did all they could, however, for their beleaguered and unpopular clients. Makaroff was threatened with contempt-of-court on several occasions by the presiding judge, Mr. Justice J.F.L. Embury, when he compared the climactic assembly of trekkers in Market Square to discuss their survival with a meeting of bank directors. “Who do you think would be on trial today,” he typically asked the juries, “if the police violently and without any warning broke into a bank boardroom and clobbered the heads of the directors as they did the trekkers on trial before you?” This invocation of the spectre of class warfare and the solicitude of the police and courts for the property-owning elite, of course, was more likely to appeal to a Marxist seminar than to a right-wing judge and jurors apprehensive for their lives and property. Most of the trekkers received sentences in Prince Albert provincial jail, and many of them frankly welcomed the prospect of regular meals and accommodation, however meagre, over looking for non-existent jobs on the outside.

Coming from a Doukhobor background with its communal ethic of mutual help and sharing, especially in times of economic adversity, it is understandable that Makaroff would be attracted to the more radical wing of the Progressive party in the 1920s and to the Farmer-Labour, CCF and NDP parties in later decades. He did not agree with every policy of these left-leaning movements, however, and as a pacifist supported CCF leader, J.S. Woodsworth, in his opposition to Canada’s participation in war in 1939, a position that the mainstream CCF rejected. In one ofWoodsworth’s letters to Makaroff coinciding with the onset of the Second World War, the CCF leader enclosed a copy of the United College perodical, Vox, with an article by him containing a sentiment they would both share: “For me the teachings of Jesus are absolutely irreconcilable with the advocacy of war.” Peter disdained alike fascism and Communism, but manifested on the international plane a Tolstoyan stance of non-resistance to evil.

Peter’s first foray into politics was as a Farmer-Labour candidate in the Shellbrook constituency in the Saskatchewan provincial election of 1934. When such a staunch Conservative as North Battleford lawyer Ariel F. Sallows wrote to congratulate him on his nomination, adding that if he were beaten he hoped it would be by a Tory, Makaroff replied, “if my defeat is dependent on the realization of your hope, then I am as good as elected.” He was prescient in this case, since although he lost to a Liberal, he secured many more votes than his Conservative opponent. In this mid-Depression election he unavailingly trained his guns on the bankers and financial magnates who were impoverishing ordinary people by imposing extortionate interest rates and foreclosing mort­gages, declaring that there was no difference between the two older parties which always supported the economic establishment.

Makaroff’s only successful campaign for public office resulted in his single term on Saskatoon City Council in 1939-1940. Here, as always, he stressed the need for helping the less privileged sector of society. In a multilingual community having many immigrant families of Central and East European origin, he told Council that something should be done to amend the Old Age Pensions Act, which debarred those not speaking English or French from receiving pensions – thirteen such persons were on local relief rolls, he added. There was also an animated exchange between him and other aldermen when Council voted to abolish the Clothing Relief Bureau which supplied used clothing to those in need. One applicant, Makaroff said, was refused suitable clothing by the Bureau in which to bury his wife. He could wrap a scarf around her neck, he was told by the Bureau official, and in an enclosed coffin it was not necessary to have anything below that. “If that conversation took place it’s awful.” Alderman Caswell expostulated. “I don’t think it took place.” City Commissioner Andrew Leslie replied. “Well the woman was buried today,” said Makaroff, “and I can get an affidavit from the man any day I want it.”

Of overriding concern to Doukhobors, Mennonites, and pacifists generally was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s national plebiscite on 27 April 1942 in which he sought to be released from his pre-war pledge not to impose conscription on Canadians for compulsory overseas service. While Makaroff did not play a prominent part in the plebiscite debate, he used whatever influence he had on the “no” side. The plebiscite resulted in a lopsided 71.2 per cent majority in Quebec against releasing King from his undertaking, but in an over all Canadian majority of 63.7 per cent in favour of doing so. In Saskatoon, for example, where the pro-conscription vote was considerably higher than the national average, the “yes” majority amounted to 88.9 per cent of those voting. Accordingly, the ever-wary prime minister did nothing for two further years, and when his government finally did impose conscription for overseas service in 1944, it precipitated a national crisis. It is of some interest that in the Saskatoon region, where Makaroff s activities were centred, former University President Walter C. Murray was campaign chairman on the “yes” side, and Dean Fred Cronkite of the law school was a zone chairman.

An important wartime activity of Makaroff was advising Doukhobors on the intricacies of the National War Services Regulations, 1940 and similar laws and regulations. Since the Doukhobors had come to Canada originally under the Order-in-Council of 6 December 1898, exempting them from military service, they appeared prima facie not to be subject to the above Regulations. However, the matter was not entirely free from doubt. While section 18(1) of the Regulations exempted those professing “conscientious objections” for religious reasons, the onus fell on whomever claimed the benefit of the clause to provide their eligibility. Because Doukhobors were not expressly exempted from service in the Regulations, Makaroff had doubts about whether or not it applied, and told those asking, “… to be perfectly sure my advice is to comply with this provision of the act.” The Deputy Minister of National War Services, T.C. Davis, who conferred often with Makaroff, emphasized that to be eligible for exemption as a Doukhobor an applicant should be either a person referred to in the Order-in-Council of 1898, or the descendant of such a person; because of the Doukhobors’ objection to swearing oaths, however, an unsworn declaration in their case would be acceptable. A Doukhobor dentist from Canora was concerned about how his claim for exemption would be perceived: “If I register with the Doukhobors, as I know I should, will it not affect my professional position?” An engineer wondered about whether he was technically a British subject. Makaroff had many queries to answer.

A poignant sidelight is offered in a post-war letter that Makaroff addressed to conscientious objectors in the Rosthern federal by-election of 1948, when he ran as a CCF candidate:

“No doubt you still have a very clear memory of your unhappy days in the conscientious objector camp at Waskesiu during the last War. If so you will remember my son Robert who spent the winter and part of the summer there with you. Robert has since finished his medical course and is now a doctor at University Hospital in Edmonton, where he graduated about eighteen months ago.”

The letter emphasized the need for preventing another global war in the era of atomic weapons. Both Makaroff’s son, Robert, and daughter, Barbara, later developed flourishing medical practices.

In the wartime election of 26 March 1940, Makaroff was a CCF candidate in the federal riding of Rosthern, where there was a large Mennonite population, but he lost to Liberal Walter Tucker. Among speakers supporting him were University of Saskatchewan English professor and party activist, Carlyle King, and M.J. Coldwell, who in 1942 was to become leader of the CCF. Although Woodsworth was re-elected in Winnipeg North Centre in 1940, those who shared the pacifist sentiments of their ailing leader were rapidly losing ground and on 20 July 1940, Makaroff sent a letter to the provincial CCF convention in Regina resigning as the First Vice-President of the provincial party because he disagreed with the party’s endorsement of the war: “… By conviction I am a lifelong pacifist.” he said, “From childhood I have been steeped in the faith that it was against the will and example of the Prince of Peace for man to engage in the wholesale slaughter of his fellow man, including helpless innocent children, at the command of a superior officer.”

Doukhobor Conscientious Objectors’ camp at Montreal Lake, Saskatchewan, 1941. Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-B5475.

Although the rank-and-file of the party strongly endorsed the war effort, there was considerable understanding for Woodsworth’s and Makaroff’s pacifist position, and reconciliation when he again ran unsuccessfully in Rosthern in the 1948 by-election. He attributed his loss in the 1948 contest to Prince Albert merchant and farmer, W.A. Boucher, to “insufficient time and effort on my part;” other factors were poor organization and distribution of literature with the result that “at least six meetings were complete flops or had to be cancelled altogether.” He also charged that Liberals such as Jimmy Gardiner or Walter Tucker (who was vacating the Rosthern seat to become provincial Liberal leader) were intimidating voters by threatening to cut off family allowances and crop failure bonuses if Makaroff won. Overall, Makaroff’s record in the electoral arena was not good, but he often had to fight against the tide in difficult constituencies and he never seemed reluctant to undertake an uphill battle.

Makaroff was heartened in 1944 by the election of Tommy Douglas of the CCF as Premier of Saskatchewan and by the new government’s promotion of an array of social services including hospital insurance. Peter was an active proponent of publicly-funded medicine which he advocated in an article in the local newspaper: “It is obvious that individual or group insurance is not the answer for Saskatchewan to this urgent and perplexing problem, since nearly one-half of our people are penniless on attaining the age of sixty-five and the average family’s income is probably lower today than it was in 1936 when it was $577.” Makaroff strongly approved of Saskatchewan’s pioneering efforts in this area, including Canada’s first medicare plan as implemented by the governments of T.C. Douglas and Woodrow Lloyd in 1961-1962.

Peter’s appointment to the University’s Board of Governors after the War was strenuously opposed by the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, a resolution of which sharply criticized him as being “widely known throughout Saskatchewan for extreme pacifist views and for opposition to Canada’s active participation in the war.” The same resolution criticized his son Robert for seeking military exemption. Another of Makaroff’s appointments was as chairman of the Saskatch­ewan Labour Relations Board in which capacity he presided with ability over the Board for more than a decade, having served as counsel at first instance for employees claiming to have been wrongfully dismissed in the celebrated John East case, which established that the provincially-appointed Board was not usurping the functions of a superior court and was validly constituted.

In 1948 when the Judicial Committee in London was still Canada’s highest court, Makaroff represented Saskatchewan in an appeal in England challenging the CPR’s exemption from taxation within provincial boundaries. The provincial argument was, in part, that the constitutional incapacity to tax detracted from the postulated equality of the provinces, but Their Lordships decided against the province, finding that there was no paradigm of exact provincial equality in the Canadian Constitution. Was it purely fortuitous that the Canadian Parliament abolished overseas appeals in the following year?

Peter Makaroff addresses crowd at the dedication of Petrofka Ferry as a Saskatchewan Historic Site, 1959. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Throughout the 1950s Makaroff continued his extensive law practice as the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, particularly in British Columbia, carried on their protests against various government measures. At the climax of one series of demonstrations in 1962, Independent Liberal Senator Donald Cameron suggested that the B.C. Sons of Freedom be placed on a reservation on one of the Queen Charlotte Islands and provided with vocational and agricultural training “to rescue them from their maladjustment.” In replying to Senator Cameron, Makaroff objected to his description of the Sons of Freedom as Doukhobors—”they have nothing to do with the Doukhobor faith,” but showed otherwise keen interest in his proposal. “Your thought that with suitable help and encouragement they might be established somewhere as a self-supporting community to live decently and in peace on some island,” he wrote the legislator, “or say, in the Peace River Region, accords with my views and deserves, I feel, a most serious consideration by the authorities concerned.” Since the Senator’s appointment was from Alberta, there could have been some irony in Makaroff’s suggestion that the Sons of Freedom be settled in the Peace River district.

When Roger Carter was one of the younger partners in Makaroff’s firm he recalls an occasion during which the latter was arguing a difficult case before Mr. Justice C.S. Davis in Prince Albert, and was ordered by the judge to desist
from broaching a certain matter which Makaroff considered to be crucial. When he persisted, nevertheless, he was fined $500 for contempt-of-court by Davis, whereupon he reached for his wallet in his back pocket, asking the judge whether he wanted the amount “in cash or in kind” The incident occurred during Diefenbaker’s term of office as prime minister, and when his fellow law student of thirty-five years ago called at the prime minister’s railway carriage, Diefenbaker noticeably warmed to Peter when he learned of what had happened earlier in the day. Diefenbaker and Davis were old foes, once having had a roundhouse fight in the Prince Albert court house.

In the early 1960s the style of Peter’s firm was Makaroff, Carter, Surtees and Sherstobitoff, but his partners, while maintaining their highest regard for him, gradually left for other pursuits. Carter went on to a professorship at the law school in Saskatoon, taking graduate work at Michigan and serving as Dean of Law from 1968 to 1974. Carter was also a founder of the University’s Native Law Centre in 1973, receiving an honorary doctorate from Queen’s in recognition of this accomplishment. Another colleague, Leslie A. Surtees, left to become a magistrate in Swift Current. Nicholas Sherstobitoff remained with the firm longer, and after an extensive practice in labour and administrative law was appointed to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in the early 1980s, becoming the highest ranking Doukhobor on any Canadian court. Like Makaroff, he had also presided earlier over the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board.

Until his death in 1971, true to his Doukhobor principles, Makaroff sought to promote international peace and goodwill through his membership in organizations like the World Federalists. He strongly supported Bill Sherstobitoff (the father of the above judge) when he sent a telegram on 19 May 1963, on behalf of the Doukhobor Society of Saskatoon, urging the Canadian government and parliamentarians not to acquire nuclear weapons. The Pearson government had changed its position in this issue, and later in the year did accept Bomarc missiles at RCAF bases at North Bay, Ontario, and La Macaza, Quebec. To the end of his life Makaroff continued to be esteemed for his steadfast adherence to principle, sometimes at considerable personal cost, and had the respect of many persons of goodwill who did not share those principles.

Peter Makaroff (far right) attending the International Meeting for Peace at the Manitoba-North Dakota border, 1966. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

A person of strong idealism and great intellectual vigour, Peter Makaroff was a natural leader of the Independent Doukhobor movement. He achieved great distinction in his chosen profession. While he was strongly committed to traditional Doukhobor values of non-violence and brotherhood, he was not so much inclined, perhaps, to engage in Doukhobor religious services on a regular basis. For him the Doukhobor tradition was more something to be lived on a day-to-day basis, and its ideals of pacifism and sharing were also to be pursued m the political forum. He was admired by many of his fellow Doukhobors because of his valued professional counsel and activities, with one of his main services to his community being the rescue of Peter P. Verigin from deportation in 1933. He also reached out into the broader community and made friends in diverse sectors. The first Doukhobor graduate of the provincial university, he blazed a trail that many younger members of his religion followed later. It was very fitting that after his death in 1971 his ashes were strewn in the Petrovka area on the North Saskatchewan River where the Makaroffs had made their first Canadian home some seven decades earlier.

This article originally appeared in the pages of Saskatchewan History, an award-winning magazine dedicated to encouraging both readers and writers to explore the province’s history. Published by the Saskatchewan Archives since 1948, it is the pre-eminent source of information and narration about Saskatchewan’s unique heritage.  For more information, visit Saskatchewan History online at: http://www.saskarchives.com/web/history.html.

A History of the Perverseff Family

by Roger Phillips

Roger Phillips (1926-) was born in Tangleflags, Saskatchewan to Francis "Frank" Henry James Phillips, an English "remittance man", and Agatha J. Perverseff, a university-educated Doukhobor schoolteacher. At the age of nine, he moved with his mother to her parents home west of Blaine Lake. There, Roger enjoyed a typical Independent Doukhobor farmboy upbringing for the times, complete with hard work and responsibility. Nearly eighty years later, his Doukhobor heritage and upbringing has given Roger much to treasure and remember. His memoirs, reproduced here by permission from his book, “A History of the Phillips & Perverseff Families” provides an overview of his Perverseff family roots from their earliest origins through to their settlement on the Molochnaya, exile to the Caucasus and emigration to Canada – the ‘Promised Land’, as well as the family’s early pioneer years, and his own boyhood during the Depression.

Having introduced (my mother) Agatha into this narrative, the time is ripe to trace what is known of her early family history—one very different from (my father) Frank’s and sometimes quite turbulent. The Perverseffs (maternal line) belonged to a unique social entity. They were Doukhobors, a strongly pacifist social grouping driven by persecution in Mother Russia to migrate to Canada. I spent some time with my Perverseff grandparents as a little boy and young man and learned just enough Russian to grasp snatches of stories my Grandmother told. I refer to my grandparents now as John and Lucille, but in Russian they were Vanya and Lusha; to me they were Dyeda and Babushka. They and my Mother were my bridges to the past.

Family Origins

Scholarly sources state that the Russian surname Pereverzev (transcribed as Perverseff or Pereverseff in Canada) originates from the Russian verb pereverziti meaning “to muddle” or “to distort”. One may suppose that an early ancestor acquired this term as a nickname, which in turn was passed on to his forebears. The exact reason for such a nickname is unknown. It might be complimentary or insulting, or even ironic depending on circumstance and the individual concerned.

I recall that Russia’s Perm region, some 700 miles east of Moscow, was often alluded to by the family, for there my Pereverzev forebears purportedly dwelled and toiled until the 1700’s. Lusha had heard folk tales but the intercession of tumultuous events had insinuated themselves between her memory and that long-ago time so the connection was at best tenuous. Nevertheless, that is the first historical hint we have.

Were one to fall back on an imagination sprinkled with elusive wisps of hearsay to pierce the mists of centuries, he might conjure up images of his village-dwelling ancestors herding sheep and cattle on the steppes of Perm gubernia (province) or meeting in sobranya (a primarily religious gathering) to foster a burgeoning pacifist faith which by the 1700s was already balking against an increasingly stifling church orthodoxy and corrupt priesthood.

The Molochnaya and Caucasian Exile

If, indeed, Perm was an ancestral home, my antecedents had left it long before the migration made to the Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters) region of Tavria Province on the Crimean frontier just north of the Sea of Azov. Doukhobor researcher Jon Kalmakoff’s accessing of Russian archives reveals that the Pereverzev family in the later 1700s lived in Ekaterinoslav province, migrating about 1801 to land along or near the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province, Russia (present day Zaporozhye province, Ukraine) where they lived in Rodionovka village, farming adjoining land for some forty years. There were eight other Doukhobor villages scattered along the river and adjoining lake known as Molochnaya.

In 1845, a Pereverzev family and other Doukhobors were exiled to the forbidding Zakavkaz (Transcaucasian) region. Wild Asiatic tribes occupied this mountainous, inhospitable region and Tsar Nikolai I, hitherto unable to rehabilitate what he considered to be an incorrigible sect, opined that these mountain tribes would soon teach the Doukhobors a lesson or, better still, remove altogether this thorn from his side.

Kalmakoff, a Regina-based researcher, accessed long-forgotten Russian archives and found that the family patriarch, Vasily Mikhailovich Pereverzev, together with his wife Maria, was listed among the Doukhobors exiled to the Caucasus. His parents and siblings did not accompany him.

Seduced, one might posit, by a growing prosperity that looked askance at being driven into unpleasant exile, his parents and siblings demurred to Orthodoxy and pronounced allegiance to the Tsar. The parents were Mikhailo (b. 1802), and Maria (b. 1802); his siblings, Ilya Mikhailovich (b.1827), Pelegea Mikhailovna (b. 1828), Semyon Mikhailovich (b. 1830), Fedosia Mikhailovna (b. 1832), Irena Mikhailovna (b. 1834), Evdokia Mikhailovna (b. 1837), Evdokim Mikhailovich (b. 1839), Ivan Mikhailovich (b. 1841) and Anna Mikhailovna (b. 1843).

Ivan Vasilyevich Pereverzev (left) and unidentified Doukhobor relatives in Gorelovka village, Kars province, Russia, c. 1890.

So it was that as the middle of the Nineteenth Century approached, my maternal Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Vasily Mikhailovich Pereverzev had grown up and chosen to go into exile with his wife Maria and their two sons rather than bow to Orthodox Church and Tsarist pressure.

Their sons were Ivan Vasilyevich, to whom our branch of the Perverseffs traces our lineage, and Fyodor Vasilyevich, who founded the Fred, Andrew, and Alexander Perverseff lines. Their father, Vasily, was the only one of his line of Pereverzevs to accompany those Doukhobors who stood firm by their faith and were banished from their Molochnaya settlements between 1841 and 1845.

In the Caucasus, the Pereverzevs settled in Novo-Goreloye village in Elizavetpol province (in present-day Azerbaijan), one of four Doukhobor villages established in that province of Transcaucasian Russia.

Harsh Living Conditions

Ivan Vasilyevich, my Great-Great-Grandfather and son of the patriarch Vasily, married in the mid-1850s and his wife Aksinya bore him a son Vasily in 1859. In 1880 this son Vasily married Elizaveta Lapshinov and they had a son, my Grandfather Ivan Vasilyevich in 1883 and two daughters.

The Pereverzevs along with their fellow Doukhobors in Elizavetpol province found life harsh. Fleeting summers squeezed between frost-bitten springs and falls and deep winter snows contrasted sharply with the pleasing milder climate their elders had known in the Molochnaya region. Subsistence was based mainly on cattle and sheep raising, market gardening, and what little wheat could be grown. There was something else. An undercurrent of fear shadowed the Elizavetpol villages, with good reason.

Asiatic hill country tribesmen would occasionally swoop down on horseback on the Doukhobor villages, plundering livestock and poultry and, reputedly, even carrying off children. The hillsmen’s depredations were tempered somewhat by the retributive countering of armed Doukhobors riding out to punish the raiders. Circumstances soon offered many Elizavetpol Doukhobor families an opportunity to leave.

Aksinya Pereverzeva in Gorelovka village, Kars province, Russia, c. 1894. Her loyalty to Verigin’s Large Party resulted in a Pereverzev family schism in 1886.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, Doukhobor men were enlisted as teamsters for the Russian Army – a compromise from being actual combatants and a lucrative arrangement made by the then-Doukhobor leader Lukeria Kalmykova. The Doukhobor teamsters served faithfully and their efforts helped Russia emerge victorious from the conflict. As a reward, the Doukhobors in Elizavetpol and other areas were invited to settle in the more temperate and fertile province of Kars, newly-conquered from the Ottoman Empire. Many Doukhobors accepted, including the Pereverzevs.

The Pereverzevs’ migration to Kars in 1880 took them through Tiflis (later Tbilisi, Georgia), a city Grandmother Lusha sometimes mentioned when talking about life in Kars. Once in Kars, the Pereverzevs settled in the village of Gorelovka, named after their former home in Elizavetpol. It was one of six Doukhobor villages established in the province. There, they would live and prosper for the next nineteen years.

A Pereverzev family schism occurred in 1886 when the Doukhobor leader Lukeria (Lushechka) Vasilyevna Kalmykova died. Many Doukhobors decided to follow Petr Vasilyevich Verigin, who had been a protégé of hers, and formed what became known as the “Large Party”. Other Doukhobors maintained that Lushechka had not anointed Peter and instead sided with her officials who claimed Verigin usurped the leadership. Individuals of this persuasion established themselves as the “Small Party”. My Great-Great-Grandmother, Aksinya, was by all accounts a loyal Large Party adherent while her husband Ivan Vasilyevich sided with the Small Party. Sadly, the ill feelings this rift created forced the elderly couple to vacate the family home.

In his later years, Ivan Vasilyevich Pereverzev was a village starshina – a dignitary we would today call a mayor. His son Vasily Ivanovich became a trader as well as farmer, herdsman, and carpenter and, years later, related that on his trading expeditions he found Christian Armenian shopkeepers the most hospitable of the merchants he encountered in the Caucasus. Only after sharing a meal and an hour or two of pleasant conversation would they get down to mundane business.

Restrictions meant to better reflect their pacifism were imposed on the Large Party Doukhobors in the early 1890s, and the following obeyed Leader-in-Exile Petr Vasilyevich Verigin’s decree to forego smoking, drinking, sex, and eating meat. Late in 1894, Verigin wrote from banishment in Siberia that such denial would purify the body and bring into one fold all the animal kingdom in the Doukhobor pact of non-violence.

The Burning of Arms

A supreme test came in 1895 when Verigin ordered his followers to protest war and killing of any sort by burning their arms. This they did in dramatic fashion on the night of June 28-29. A bonfire near the villages of the Kars Doukhobors punctuated the darkness as guns and other killing instruments were put to the torch. As well, Doukhobors serving in the army laid down their rifles, refusing to kill for the state. Then it was that these folk felt the full fury of an enraged officialdom. The whippings and other means of persecution were brutal. Indeed, the “Burning of Arms”, as Doukhobor history records the event, became buried deep in the psyche of these people, a watershed act pointing them towards Canada and a new destiny.

Vasily Ivanovich (sitting) and his son Vanya (standing) Pereverzev pictured in typical Russian dress – a military style peaked cap, a coat tight at the waist and high boots. Gorelovka village, Kars province, Russia, c. 1894.

The Doukhobors wanted so little and yet so much. Above all they wished to peacefully pursue their faith, to be free to lead simple, non-violent, productive lives in a communal environment with “Toil and Peaceful Life” and “Thou Shalt Not Kill” their watchwords. Noble sentiments, indeed, but the Burning of Arms and Doukhobor soldiers rejecting the army were highly provocative acts inviting harsh reprisals by Tsarist officials. The persecution that followed seemed to leave no choice for many but to get out or perish.

Exodus to Canada

Their plight attracted worldwide attention. Journalists, writers and benefactors in several countries took up their cause. Not the least of these was the already famous Russian novelist and humanitarian Lev Tolstoy who, himself, embraced many Doukhobor ideals, becoming their staunchest ally. His financial contribution and towering talent as a writer did much to facilitate their move to Canada, an exodus that began December 21, 1898, when the first shipload left Russia. Their turn to depart set for some months later, the Pereverzevs and other villagers in Gorelovka, Kars Province, began selling off their possessions and preparing for their own departure. Overseeing preparations for our branch of the Pereverzevs was Vasily Ivanovich, now 40, who had helped shepherd the family through the harrowing times in Transcaucasia and the terrors following the Burning of Arms. He and his wife Elizaveta now had in their care a 16-year-old son, Ivan Vasilyevich, his wife Lusha, and two younger daughters, Dunya and Hanya. Ivan’s birth, on May 1, 1883, followed by two years that of Lusha (nee Negreeva). Under mutual arrangements and approving eyes Ivan and Lusha were married in 1898.

Cousin Mae Postnikoff tells Grandmother’s side of the story. Mae stayed with the Perverseff grandfolks in Blaine Lake while attending high school in the 1950s. Grandmother told her the marriage was arranged by the Pereverzev and Negreev families and confided that back in Russia she loved not Grandfather but another man her family wouldn’t condone her marrying. This “beloved” also migrated to Canada eventually moving on to British Columbia and Grandmother never saw him again. Love takes nurturing and while Lusha may not have loved Ivan at first, she did in time.

Vasily Ivanovich’s immediate and extended family was among that part of the Kars Doukhobor population scheduled to set sail for Canada May 12, 1899. At sea they lived on sukhari (dried bread) and water, reaching Canada June 6. After a lengthy quarantine they proceeded west by rail, reaching the Northwest Territories settlement of Duck Lake in early July. Detraining there, they temporarily occupied immigration sheds, regrouped, acquired settlement supplies, and underwent further documentation.

A cavalcade of Doukhobor immigrants on the move from debarkation at Duck Lake, Northwest Territories, to settle a prairie site in the summer of 1899.

Canadian unfamiliarity with the spelling and pronunciation of Russian family names resulted in their sometimes being anglicized. In our case, Pereverzev became Perverseff although family members eventually adopted Pereverseff. Today, more than a hundred years later, the Russian pronunciation of names has often given way to anglicized versions.

With August approaching and half the summer gone, Vasily and the other new arrivals to Canada were understandably restless. Having heard of the harshness of western prairie winters, they were anxious to reach their new lands, build shelters in time to get through the inevitable snows and cold, and get on with their new life. To this end they formed into groups based mainly on extended family relationships. One group of some 20 families including the Perverseffs set off with wagons and on foot for a site nearly 40 miles west of Duck Lake. With a few horse-and-oxen-drawn wagons heaped with necessities they were part of the procession that marched to Carlton Ferry, crossed the North Saskatchewan River and entered the “Prince Albert Colony”. To the newcomers this was indeed a Promised Land where they and their faith might flourish. Little did they realize then that inevitable acculturation would modify and eventually replace traditional thinking and ways with Canadian thinking and ways. Once across the river, the different groups set off to the designated areas each was to settle.

The Promised Land

Let us retrace this migration and subsequent settlement as seen through the eyes of Grandfather Vanya and his son Jack, with manuscript-typist and cousin Mae Postnikoff joining in. In a memoir, Grandfather related that the Gorelovka villagers began their journey on a fresh April morning. They spent Easter Week in the Russian Black Sea port of Batum awaiting the May 12 departure of the S.S. Lake Huron, the Canadian ship taking them to Canada. Of the 2,300 Kars Doukhobors who made the voyage by sea and ocean, 23 did not survive the rough waters and meager diet. Reaching Quebec City at the beginning of June, the new arrivals were immediately subjected to a thirty-day quarantine on Grosse Isle in the St. Lawrence River to obviate any communicable disease spread. Ten days aboard Canadian Pacific Railway “colonial” rail cars with wooden benches to sit and sleep on brought the migrants by later-July via the still largely tent city of Saskatoon to Duck Lake, the seat of a Metis uprising 14 years earlier. There, immigration sheds housed them before they departed for their settlement sites.

With a few oxen and horses and wagons and a few cows in tow the group that included Grandfather’s family wended its way westward to a point approximately a mile and a half northeast of where the town of Krydor now stands. In a ravine near a small lake they stopped. Squatters now, the migrants dug holes in the ravine walls into which they thrust poles and used sod to complete rude huts. These first “homes”, not unlike the domiciles characteristic of some of their Asiatic neighbors in Russia, provided rough shelter. Grandfather wrote that “we lived about three years” in this “wild and desolate place…isolated in a strange and unfamiliar land”.

Vanya, Lusha and their son Jack photographed in Canada c. 1903. 

A creek ran through the ravine meandering across rolling prairie situated in the SE 26-44-8-W3. Men who could be spared were away railroad building or working on construction or for established farmers earning money for settlement needs. It fell to the womenfolk to break ground for gardens, manage the livestock and keep the village going. Many years later, the late Bill Lapshinoff, a relative whose farm was nearby, showed a friend and me where village women had dug a channel to provide water flow to turn a grist mill wheel. The channel lay in a copse of brush and poplar preserved from the effects of wind and water erosion. There is no one left to tell us now, but the new settlers presumably called this first village Gorelovka after their former home village in Russia.

Grandfather further wrote that things changed when the Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin arrived in Canada from Siberian exile late in 1902. He soon convinced his Doukhobor brethren to start living communally. New villages built would hold and work land in common sharing resources equally. Grandfather noted that “we began communal life which we had not been living before”. Grandfather’s revelation indicates that it was at this time that our forebears abandoned their original dugout settlement in 1902 to build the village of Bolshaya (Large) Gorelovka a mile or so north and a bit west. The word “Large” was needed to distinguish it from the nearby village of Malaya (Small) Gorelovka established at the same time. Both derived from the original dugout settlement. Goreloye, a diminutive form of the village name, was what my grandfolks called Bolshaya Gorelovka. The word Bolshaya was not used unless one needed to distinguish the village from Malaya Gorelovka.

Bolshaya Gorelovka or Goreloye was well situated. High bordering hills tree-covered in places offered shelter from the prevailing northwest wind. A ravine with a free flowing natural spring intersected the northwest corner of the village which ran in an approximate north-south direction for about three quarters of a mile. A large slough lay near the south end and sod from its environs provided roofing. The Fort Carlton-Fort Pitt trail ran east and west just north of the village.

The spring flowed year round providing water for household and livestock use. It ran northeasterly as a creek forming a muskeg that bordered a row of gardens including the Perverseff’s. An open area, where a Russian ball game called hilki was played by youngsters in summer and on hard-packed snow in winter, divided the village into two parts. Toward the north end on the east side stood a large community barn just to the north of which a shallow well had been dug where the creek flowed. A large wooden watering trough lay beside this depression. Here, old country innovation came into play. A stout pole sunk into the ground had attached to it a smaller pole with an arm that could swivel. A pail filled at the well and hung over the arm by its handle would be swung to the watering trough and there emptied. This beat having to physically carry the pail back and forth.

Vasily, in a traditional Russian coat, with his son Vanya and daughters Dunya and Hanya photographed in Canada c. 1903. 

An indoor, closed-in brick oven was built into the wall of each village house. Oven tops covered with blankets or coats made good resting places and in winter, ideal retreats from invading cold. Soon banyas (bath houses) that had been an Old Country fixture began to appear, one of the first built by William John Perverseff, as Vasily Ivanovich Pereverzev came to be known in Canada.

The land description on which Bolshaya Gorelovka or Goreloye village stood was the SW 35-44-8-W3, North-West Territories (Saskatchewan came into being three years later). While hilly benchland rimmed the west and north, the country east and south was flat or gently rolling prairie carpeted with fescue, spear and wheat grass knee high in places, and pocked with numerous sloughs and potholes. There were poplar groves and to the north, spruce was available. The soil was mainly good black loam. To the Perverseffs and their fellow settlers, this land truly held promise.

Cousin Mae picks up the narrative: "Grandfather Vanya was an admirer of education and he was the prime mover in establishing the first Canadian public school in their midst. He did attend school in Petrofka in winter months… around 1907. The teacher was Herman Fast who was… responsible for the English spelling of our surname… It was in this school that our grandfather… learned the rudiments of the English language… [and] to read the English newspapers and get the gist of the meaning."

Grandpa really did not have a good command of the English language, but he insisted on corresponding with the Department of Education through Uncle Jack after Uncle Jack started attending school in 1911. Before that, all business was transacted through a Ukrainian intellectual immigrant with old country higher education. His name was Joseph Megas…an organizer and field representative of the Department of Education….It was he who misnamed our school to Havrilowka, which later was corrected to "Haralowka"S, but still a far cry from Gorelovka or Goreloye.

By the fall of 1902, Bolshaya Gorelovka or Goreloye had taken shape, with the new pioneers sharing the tasks of village building and taming the wild land. Although many of the men-folk were away earning money, the work of building still got done with women pitching in to fill the manpower shortage. A belief that women were hitched to ploughs to till the fields is not true. Men using oxen ploughed the fields. However women, in pairs twenty strong, did pull a small one-furrow plough to break up garden ground.

Perverseff women and children grouped in front of the Gorelovka village family home in 1904. Vasily’s wife Elizaveta (Lisunya) stands at left, Lusha holds Agatha while Jack stands beside her, with sister-in-law Hanya at right.

Unlike other blocks of Doukhobor land elsewhere, the Prince Albert Colony allotment was in alternate sections. Canadian authorities were aware that the Kars Doukhobors were more individualistic than their brethren from other areas. These so-called “Independents” had been reluctant to go along with Verigin’s 1893 edict asking all Doukhobors not only to live communally but also to share all resource ownership in what amounted to Christian Communism. Alternate sections of land amidst other nationalities imbued with the spirit of individual enterprise fostered independent farmstead development instead of living in a central communal village – a notion the Doukhobors from Kars found attractive. But for the first dozen or so years communal living did prevail.

Village buildings were simple yet sturdy. Logs trimmed to form four-sided timbers made up the main framework. Clay, grass and other ingredients were mixed with water and treaded into a paste that was plastered on both the outside and inside of the timbered walls. Poles laid lengthwise on inverted v-shaped frames supported the roofing sod cut from the marshy margins of nearby sloughs. Grey/white calcimine covered the walls inside and helped waterproof them outside.

William’s home (starting from the street and working back) had a living room that also served as a bedroom, a kitchen, a verandah, a main bedroom, then a storage room, and a brick oven. Sod cut from the environs of a nearby slough covered the roof. Out back was the inevitable outhouse. Before long, William built a bath house patterned after those popular in Russia, and eventually a small blacksmith shop was erected. Since self sufficiency was an ingrained Doukhobor trait, the Perverseffs – like their neighbors – cultivated a large garden.

The Perverseffs and fellow immigrants soon added to their initial inventory of eight horses, five cows, four oxen, four wagons and three ploughs. Horses pulled the wagons; oxen, the ploughs.

Pioneering was at first extremely labour intensive. Grain was sown by hand broadcasting; mature crops were cut with scythes and sickles; grain was threshed by men and women wielding flails. William, good with his hands and mechanically inclined, made shovels and other needed tools and implements in his blacksmith shop. When Elizabeth (as Elizaveta came to be called) wanted a spinning wheel or Lucille (as Lusha was called in Canada) needed a garden hoe, William made them. Because money was needed to buy livestock and farm machinery, William’s son John joined other young men and walked to St. Lazare, Manitoba to work on the Grand Trunk Railway (see How the Doukhobors Build Railways). A picture taken in 1907 shows him with 18 other Doukhobor men in a work party.

When time permitted, Lucille and the other women earned money, too, gathering seneca root, considered to have medicinal benefits, and selling their fine needlework or trading it for things they needed.

John and Lucille began their Canadian family in 1901 when John Ivan “Jack” was born. Agatha (my mother) followed in 1904; Nicholas “Nick” in 1907, Nita in 1911, and Mary “Marion” in 1919. John and Lucille’s first-born daughter was lost in childbirth during the sea voyage to Canada. What became known as Haralowka School opened in 1911 three quarters of a mile southeast of the village and all five children went there, with Marion also attending a new, larger brick school erected a half mile north which opened in 1930.

This image of a Haralowka home was found among the Perverseff collection or pictures and may have been the family home. It is typical of those at the time–squared log construction, a plaster covering painted with calcimine and with a sod roof. A buggy or what was often called a “democrat” is parked beside the home.

Both Bolshaya and Malaya Gorelovka were reminiscent of old country mirs (communal villages in Russia), but they were short-lived, the villagers having abandoned them by 1920 to become individual landowners. However, the name continued in the form of Haralowka school district.

Independence

William and John were among the first villagers to file for their own land, the first in 1909 being 320 acres of scrip land that had been assigned to a Boer War veteran named Thomas J. Stamp. Its legal description was NW & NE 22-45-8-W3. Located some six miles to the northwest of the village, it was used primarily for grazing. In 1912, the SW 25-44-8-W3 was acquired and buildings were erected that served as a temporary base of operations. Other land subsequently added to the family holdings included the NW 25-44-8-W3, SE 31-44-8-W3 and NE 25-44-8-W3. An old land registry map shows the Perverseff home place on the NW 30-44-8-W3. Because Haralowka district Doukhobor settlers became sole land owners, they were referred to in Russian as farmli (individual farmers) and were no favorites of the Doukhobor leader, Peter Verigin. Lucille’s parents, on the other hand, joined more communally-minded Doukhobors migrating to British Columbia.

In 1909 William journeyed to Russia to bring back his newly-widowed mother Aksinya. According to Jon Kalmakoff’s research, they returned to Canada aboard the SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, sailing from Hamburg, Germany on November 4, 1909, arriving at New York, USA on November 13, 1909. Aksinya lived in the village for three years before passing away and was laid to rest in the tiny burial ground near the top of a hill just west of the village. “Bill” Lapshinoff, the owner of the village land in the 1990s, regretted that this original cemetery had eventually been ploughed over instead of being retained historically.

The Perverseffs on their homestead. Jack and Agatha at back, Nick beside seated Vanya, Lusha and Nita. Blaine Lake district, SK, c. 1914.

For their home place William and John chose a site at the northeast corner of the quarter with the erecting of farm buildings starting immediately. The main farmyard sloped on all sides near the southeast corner to a low point at which the base of the main garden started and where spring runoff advantageously settled. A fence divided the house, great grandfolk’s cottage, summer kitchen, a small grassed field, orchard and garden from the farm utility buildings. Open to the east, this spacious area of perhaps ten acres was bounded on the south, west, and north by a three row-spruce tree shelterbelt. A caragana-lined sidewalk led from the farmyard gate to the house.

The home Vanya and Lusha moved into in 1914 was modest, probably no more than 30 by 40 feet. The front porch, entered from the south, had two inner doors, one opening into the kitchen beyond which was the one bedroom; the other, into the large living room. A bookcase and writing desk constituted John’s study and there was a large table where meals were served. A couch in one corner doubled as my bed when I stayed as a child with my grandparents. A radio was turned on mainly for the news, although I recall listening Wednesday evenings to Herb Paul, the yodeling cowboy, his program originating from Winnipeg.

The impressive barn on the Perverseff family homestead near Blaine Lake, SK, c. 1921.

A cottage built just a few steps east of the main house was a comfortable haven for William and Elizabeth. They ate their meals with the rest of the family in the main house and during the warmer months of the year, in the summer kitchen.

While the house was modest, the barn started in 1921 was anything but. The largest in the district, it was a red-painted, hip-roof type boasting cement and plank flooring, plank stalls, a harness tack room with harness repair equipment, water cistern, large hayloft area, and an ample chop bin. The north side was extended to include a cow-barn/milking area, a box stall for small calves, and a cream separating room. The barn was completed in 1922 and if ever there was a status symbol in the Haralowka district, this was it.

Down a bit from the west entrance to the barn was a windmill-powered well beside which stood a big corrugated metal watering trough. The garden and orchard extended south and west. Just north of the garden and behind the well was a Russian style bath-house and just north of it was the blacksmith shop, complete with forge and foot-pedal-driven wood lathe, a marvel that William designed and built. A few yards further north was the root cellar, while a granary and chicken coop with fenced-in yard stood south of the barn.

Implement and storage sheds were northeast of the summer kitchen. A three-car brick garage built in 1927 housed sleeping quarters for hired men and a McLaughlin-Buick car. A tree-lined lane ran a hundred yards or so north to an east-west road. The natural lawn lying west of the house and extending north and south served as an outdoor recreational area. Slough willow and poplar sheltered the south side of the garden and orchard. John, with an eye for symmetry and order, could be justifiably proud of the impressive yard.

A Good Life

Hard work and good planning combined with good wheat prices during World War I brought prosperity. The meager assets with which the Perverseffs started out had multiplied many-fold. John emerged the master planner; William, the implementer. By 1930, with the Great Depression still around the corner, they presided over a successful farming operation, with a complete line of farm machinery. They had a section of land under cultivation; three hired men during the busiest times and a hired girl when Lucille needed extra help. Cree Indian men from the nearby Muskeg Reserve signed on during fall threshing to haul sheaves and field pitch.

On the farm at any one time would be up to ten milking cows, at least eight draft horses, and a fast team of matched sorrels kept for buggy and cutter use. Selling cream and eggs provided extra income that helped tide the family over during the cash-strapped Depression years of the 1930s.

Grandfather Vanya was inordinately proud of the family’s white stallion, Safron, seen here pulling a buggy, c. 1908.

In the rhythm of farm life, seeding and harvesting took precedence over all else. Social activities followed the then-current rural pattern: visiting with relatives and friends, attending marriages and funerals, and going regularly to sobranya, first in a rural dom, a hall built for gatherings a half mile east of the farmstead; later in the town of Blaine Lake, ten miles east. Cream and eggs were delivered to Tallman, a hamlet three miles southeast, where mail was picked up and cream cans retrieved.

The main event of the year was Peter’s Day, held every June 29. It was essentially a commemoration of the trials and tribulations the Doukhobors had endured in Russia. There were prayers and the air swelled harmoniously with the a cappella singing of psalms and resonated with voices raised in discourse on the Doukhobor faith. A huge tent holding more than a hundred people was set up on grounds just southeast of Blaine Lake and a carnival atmosphere prevailed especially for the younger children who would absent themselves from the tent to play. A noon meal, served picnic style, consisted of such fare as pie-like cheese and fruit peroshki, crepe-like bliny, boiled eggs, fresh bread and fruit, especially arbus (watermelon), a universal Doukhobor favorite, if available. Life was good!

The Perverseffs did not smoke, drink alcohol, or eat meat but a diet rich in garden-grown vegetables and their own dairy products made for healthy eating. Vegetable borsch (a heavy soup), bread and cheese were staples, eaten pretty well daily.

About 1935, William and John acquired land near Blaine Lake for John’s son Nick to farm. I was present when John negotiated with the owner, Senator Byron Horner. A handshake sealed the deal – unlike today no lawyers were needed then to oversee an agreement between men whose word was their bond.

Perverseff family portrait, 1919. At back Agatha and Jack; in front, Vanya, Nita, Lusha (holding Marion) and Nick.

In 1935 William’s wife Elizabeth died. Casting further gloom was the Great Depression, the so-called Dirty Thirties, now firmly entrenched. The bottom had dropped out of wheat prices. Grasshopper and army worm infestations plagued the farmland. Only “empties” going by, a wry allusion to rainless dark clouds, conspired with wicked winds to rearrange quarter sections and penetrate homes, layering windowsills and floors with fine dust. Planted fields baked dry had to be ploughed over. Talk about good times and bad – these were really bad!

Tangleflags

Back in Tangleflags, Saskatchewan – where I lived with my parents in the late 1920’s and early 1930s – folks didn’t find the Depression quite so severe. There was more moisture – less than everyone would have liked – but enough to produce some grain, and livestock pastured better. I didn’t think anything was really out of the ordinary before we left the area in October of 1935. My friend Vernon Dubay would come over to play. I poled my raft on the lake. I walked to school or rode double on horseback with Dad or Mother or sometimes a visiting aunt. Grace Harbin, a spinster, taught at Tangleflags School, and I once penciled a rather good likeness of her attractive niece, Betty, who sat in front of me.

Born on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1926, I won a prize in the fall as “baby of the year” in a weekly newspaper contest and still wonder how such a chubby, round-faced little cherub could have been selected. Francis “Frank” Henry James Philips, an English immigrant farmer, and Agatha (nee Perverseff) had married in Lashburn at friends Bob and Dorie Sanderson’s place on December 26, 1924 and I was their first child.

I’ve speculated about why Agatha married Frank. Having attended university (Education) she was at that time considered well educated (especially for a Doukhobor). Frank wasn’t. She had mastered two languages. He knew only one. She had a quick mind. His was more plodding and his prospects didn’t really reach beyond farming. So! Was it pity for the underdog? Did she feel sorry for him because of his physical handicap (he was missing one arm)? Did his cheerfully and successfully forging ahead in the face of odds win her heart. Did his fine baritone singing voice move her? Why is something I really cannot answer.

This most glamorous image of Agatha is thought to have been taken just after she graduated from what was then called “Normal School” in April of 1924. She was immediately hired to teach for the remainder of the school year in rural Tangleflags, SK.

As the schoolteacher at Tangleflags, Agatha gained quick entree into the community. Her pupils brought her in touch with their parents and community functions with eligible bachelors usually in attendance. Just shy of eight months from the time she met Frank, they married and his little bungalow was their first home. In January, 1925 she started teaching at North Gully, close to 15 miles southwest from our place shortcutting across country. She rode Satin, a fine saddle pony, to a farmstead near North Gully School where she boarded during the week.

On one occasion, as she would later recall, Satin, likely feeling bored, decided to jump Cook’s gate [a quarter mile from our place and the beginning of the cross country shortcut]. “Bob Oswell was rounding up his horses nearby and saw me fall. He galloped over to render assistance but I was back on Satin before he reached me.” Falling off horses happened frequently in those days and it’s a wonder more people weren’t badly hurt. Satin’s faithful companion and Mother’s was Bob, a dog of mixed heritage but good character. Whenever she tethered Satin, Bob always stayed close by until they were off again.

Frank concentrated on building a proper house, and proper it truly was, the first in Tangleflags to have hardwood floors, occasioning some neighbor women to consider Mother “spoiled”. Agatha quit teaching in December and she and Frank moved into the new home the beginning of January, 1926, with me arriving a month and a half later. Agatha’s sisters Nita and Marion Perverseff came to visit in the ensuing years, and Mother chummed with a Miss Thom and Phoebe Mudge from Paradise Hill. By 1930, we had a piano in the house and a tennis court outside.

One was practically born in the saddle in those days and I was quite at home riding horseback by the time I was six. The only problem was getting on; but a fence or corral pole or anything a couple of feet high answered well enough. By the time I could ride, Frank had sold Satin and acquired Phyllis, a mare in foal who soon gave us Star, a black colt named for the white patch on his forehead. In the warm months I’d ride Phyllis to herd our cattle on Crown grassland a half mile northeast of our place. Influenced no doubt by tales of the Old West, I trained Phyllis to dig in her front feet and “stop on a dime”. If we were moving quickly and I yelled whoa, I’d have to brace myself or go for a tumble. Once, I did. I chased a gopher taking a zigzag course over the prairie. When it disappeared down a hole, I excitedly yelled whoa, and forgetting to brace myself, flew over Phyllis’ head as she stopped abruptly. I was seven at the time; my young bones were pliant, and thankfully the prairie wasn’t too hard; my feelings were the most damaged.

Frank, Agatha and “Old Bob” standing in front of the new farmhouse the couple moved into in January of 1926 at Tangleflags, SK.

Once summoned, other childhood memories flood back, jostling for attention.

Bob Oswell, whose folks farmed up in the hills southwest of us, was my idea of a cowboy. Bob always wore a beat-up old ten-gallon hat and had trained a white pony named Smokey to rear up on its hind legs when he mounted it. Watching Smokey rear up and then gallop away, Bob firmly in the saddle with a rifle in a scabbard strapped to it, convinced me to become a cowboy. But once in a long while an airplane would fly over and I’d change my mind. I figured piloting a plane was even better than being a cowboy. I even went so far as to build what vaguely resembled a plane with boards and logs in back of the old bungalow. Then I’d walk up a nearby hill to watch it get smaller, the way planes did in the sky.

Once, Frank let me plough a furrow right across a field by myself. Actually, the horses were so conditioned to this work that they needed no guidance. Still, I held the reins and kicked the foot rod that raised the ploughshares up and that released them when we’d turned around. I was pretty proud of myself and thought maybe I’d be a farmer.

I changed my mind when I fell off a straw stack. Frank was loading straw onto a hayrack and I, not paying proper attention, missed my footing and tumbled off the stack crashing down on my back. That hurt! Farming was proving to be dangerous.

Another incident altered my thinking about being a cowboy. On one occasion Aunt Marion Perverseff rode Phyllis to fetch me from school and for some reason Phyllis didn’t take kindly to riding double that day. She bucked and I fell off, much, I imagine, to the amusement of the other children.

I was fortunate to have a sister, if only for a short while. Her given names were Lorna Ruth and Agatha always remembered her as “my golden-haired girl”. Though she was more than two years younger than me, we were pretty good companions. She was my chum and we played together, happily most of the time but not without the odd sibling tiff.

Frank, Agatha, Roger and newly-born Lorna pose for a family portrait in 1928 at Tangleflags, SK.

Lorna fell dreadfully ill in the dead of winter. The last day or two before the end of January, 1933, a doctor snow-planed out from Lloydminster and took her back with him. Her death from peritonitis February 2 broke Mother’s heart and fanned the spark of a hitherto embryonic paranoia that gradually grew more troublesome and consumed her last years. I stayed with Cook’s, our closest neighbors, while Frank and Agatha were at Lorna’s hospital bedside and when they got home and told me Lorna was now with God and that I wouldn’t see her again, a terrible weight settled on me. I’ve since experienced many deaths amongst family and friends, but none that hurt more.

I wasn’t crazy about school, but I liked recess. One of our main amusements was a maypole-like swing with several chains having rungs to cling to that dangled from a rotating disk at the top of the steel pole. One person who was “it” would take his or her chain in a circle around all the other chains to which children clung. Then the youngsters would race around the pole with whoever was “it” flying high in the air. It was great fun and my turn could never come soon enough. But one day when it did, disaster struck. I was flung out and around so furiously that my hands slipped off the chain rung and my now uncharted flight path brought me into contact with a nearby woodpile. Somehow a nail gashed my skull which bled so profusely that some of the kids figured I was “sure a goner”. I survived, bloody and somewhat bowed.

In the 1930s for a few years a troop of Boy Scouts summer camped across the lake in front of Cook’s. The boys were from Lloydminster and possibly Lashburn and Marshall. Island Lake was likely chosen for this outing because it was so buoyant that drowning was practically impossible. In the evenings, if the wind was right, we could hear the boys singing around a campfire and see flames leaping into the air. I thought being a Boy Scout was alright and maybe I’d try it when I got old enough.

On the farm we grew or raised part of what we ate. We had a large garden which mostly gave us potatoes. Occasionally we’d slaughter a pig or a beef. I usually wasn’t around when that happened but the year before we left the farm, I was. I knew we were going to kill a pig and wanted no part of it. When a man Dad hired to help arrived, I headed down to the lake. Suddenly there was an awful squeal and I knew the pig was dying.

Agatha with Lorna and Roger in front of the Tangleflags house in 1932.

Grassland was needed for grazing when I was little, and there was more of it then than now. More grass meant more prairie fires and there was a bad one when I was about five. It burned to within a couple hundred yards of our place and I remember men with faces and hands smeared black from fighting it dropping in for coffee and sandwiches or heading for the dipper in the water pail. The lake probably saved us, both in cutting off the direct line of the blaze and being so handy a source for water to wet gunny sacking used to beat the flames. I was too young to comprehend what a close call we had. Instead, I childishly found the rush of activity exciting.

One tends to remember certain people. As a councilman for Britania Rural Municipality No. 502 our neighbor Joe Cook was out and about a lot in the district. He’d come riding by in his buggy, whip in one hand, reins in the other. His big walrus moustache made him quite imposing, even a bit fearsome. I rather fancied his good-looking daughter Joan, maybe because she always beat me when we raced on horseback. But she was older and paid me no mind.

British accents attested to the strong English influence in the community where the men smoked pipes and played cricket. There were garden parties, and you watched how you held your little finger when you sipped your tea. Since the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons, I, like Dad, smoked a pipe when I grew up. Eventually, though, I gave up pipe smoking as a bad habit.

I always paid heed when Bob Oswell’s dad passed in his wagon going to Bob’s place. He was built stocky, “strong as a bull”, my father said, and it seemed to me that he always scowled. And his Tyne-sider’s accent was so strong and his voice so raspy that I never understood a word he said. He was a good enough neighbor but his gruff manner told me to steer clear of him.

Nip and Tuck were a pair of greys that Dad treasured. They were big horses, Clydesdales probably, and powerful. I would watch them strain and see their muscles ripple as they pulled a wagonload of wheat up the steep hill a half mile south of our place. It was a treat to accompany Frank to Hillmond for these trips usually promised hard candy in Arthur Rutherford’s general store. I remember coyote skins hanging on a store wall – each had brought someone a $25.00 bounty. Coyotes chased bad little boys, I’d been told, but they didn’t seem so scary now.

On one Hillmond trip Bob spooked a deer with a good rack of antlers. He chased it across the road right in front of us and got a futile but good workout. This was near the Allen’s and I’d always watch hard when we passed their place. They were reputedly a “rough bunch” but I never saw anything untoward. One of the Allen girls later became a policewoman in Edmonton so I guess they weren’t so bad.

Frank, Agatha, Roger and cousin Joan Perverseff photographed in Saskatoon in 1935.

We used to have dances in Tangleflags School. I don’t recall that much about them. I’d sit on Mother’s knee. I remember once that she wore a black dress. There was other entertainment -singing, mostly. Frank was a regular in this department and always got a lot of applause when he sang old favorites like Climb Upon My Knee Sonny Boy and My Wild Irish Rose. Mother didn’t like it when some woman would go up and congratulate him.

That was one thing about Agatha. She was possessive. If Frank even looked at another woman, it upset her and she’d let him know about it. When I look back now, it seems she carried her distrust of other women to extremes. I’m convinced she’d only have been happy if Frank were actually rude to them. She was strong willed to the point of being dictatorial sometimes no doubt thinking her education (allowedly good for a woman of her time) had prepared – nay entitled – her to tell others what to do. In our realm she decided the course of events, exerting her will in everything except farm finance. Frank made it clear when they married that he would “wear the pants in the family” when it came to money matters, and he did.

Living on a farm we may have lacked some city life niceties but there were still refinements. Agatha had a piano to play and was middling good on our tennis court even sometimes beating Jack Hickman who was no slouch. The one thing Mother seemed to enjoy most in life was talking philosophy. Having Alfred Abraham, a student minister stay with us one summer, gave her unlimited opportunities. The poor young cleric must have grown weary of fending off her intellectual parries.

That was something else about Agatha – her intelligence. She had a fine memory and a mind able to manipulate and exploit what she had learned. She may not have been a genius, but I think she came closer to that than most of us. One has to wonder if there isn’t a grain of truth in the old straw that genius stands next to madness; if not Mother’s quick mind had become a nursery where paranoia took root and grew.

Lorna’s death broke Mother, who became convinced that the Tangleflags farm was cursed. There was nothing for it but to move to Haralowka where her folks would help us make a new start. This running away from a situation of growing torment became a pattern as Agatha’s paranoia worsened. A new setting initially worked wonders but in time her nerves would start bothering her and the cycle would repeat itself. Frank resisted the idea of selling out and moving but Agatha’s will prevailed. The farm auction went well enough but we had to rent our land which didn’t sell. It was now the beginning of October, 1935, and with our house empty, we slept the night at Dubay’s. The next day our Model T Ford car carried us into a new life chapter.

A young Roger launches a flying model airplane he built.

Leaving the West Saskatchewan farm he had built up out of the wilderness and the people he had come to know so well was a wrenching experience for Father. Even though the Perverseffs welcomed us with open arms and open hearts and even though they would have helped us make a fresh start with land and equipment, Frank was sorely troubled. Nurturing a growing independence and self-reliance, he’d become a successful pioneer farmer in Tangleflags—made it on his own; was what the English so prided, a self-made man. And now the thought of accepting charity (for that’s how he saw it) was too much.

Then there was Mother’s affliction. Temporarily at bay in the first weeks in Haralowka, the paranoia that tormented her would return. Frank may not have known then the precise medical term for what she had but he knew the toll it took—how miserable it made life for Agatha and those around her.

There was more. Word came from England that his Mother was dying and his Father was seriously ill. Everything, it seemed, was conspiring against him. Separation resulted with Frank going to England and Mother’s restless spirit soon taking her to California.

Haralowka

Now nine years old, I entered what I call my Russian phase, experiencing Doukhobor/Russian culture in Haralowka as an unuk (grandson in Russian). Meanwhile, Mother sampled work life in California, first as a day nurse to a Mrs. Strictland, next as governess to a Hollywood movie director’s daughter, then as personal assistant to Madam Boday, a Los Angeles dowager. In turn she became a confidant to Julia Edmunds, a leader in the Oxford Group movement, then a teacher at Harding Military Academy where a fellow teacher was nominally a prince of the long since deposed Bourbon family. Prince Bruce de Bourbon de Conde was then simply a commissioned U.S. Army officer. Like Agatha, Captain Conde had an adventurous spirit and after World War II service in Europe, ended up as an administrator in the Arab Emirates where intrigue brought him to an untimely end.

A nine-year-old learns quickly and I was soon able to speak Russian with Grandmother at an elementary level – things like, “I’m hungry”, “I wish to have water”, “shall I fetch the eggs”, “where are we going?”, “When do you want me to get the cows”, “give me”, “here”, “I want to sleep”, and (I remember ruefully now) “please give me money”. I later became friends with a second cousin named Sam “Sammy” Perverseff. His family lived a quarter mile east of us and in the winter time I would ride to school with him on his horse-drawn stone-boat. Sammy introduced me to a lot more Russian, mostly words and phrases embracing life’s seamier side. A few years older than me, taller, and good-looking, Sammy was something of a Don Juan.

My Aunt Marion was still at home when we arrived in Haralowka, but her days there were numbered, for an Edward Postnikoff was courting her and they soon married. Edward was a likely young man but poor as a church mouse. Courting wasn’t all that easy then. He had to peddle the twenty-some miles from Petrofka on a bicycle to see Marion. But he had the right stuff and with a little help from Grandfather, became a successful farmer in the district.

Roger playing baseball at Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto in 1941.

Great Grandfather William and Great Grandmother Elizabeth had lived contentedly together in their little cottage. Since Elizabeth passed away soon after we arrived, I barely got to know her. Agatha, who looked after her the last while, said she was a very wise and practical woman. To the extent that the goodness of parents can have a bearing on the way their children turn out, William and Elizabeth were truly good people and John, their son and my Grandfather, bore excellent witness to that.

William suffered through his loss and carried on. Friends came initially to commiserate and later to visit. Grandfather Samirodin with his bristling, Russian Cossack-like moustache was one who came regularly. Well into his eighties, he would walk the three miles across snow-laden fields to our place and he and William would greet each another with kisses on each cheek and traditional words praising God. His advanced age walking prowess bore testimony to the health benefits of a lifetime diet of borshch and other Doukhobor staples and the rigors of good, hard work in the outdoors.

In 1937 I stayed a short while with my Uncle Jack (Dr. J.I. Perverseff), Aunt Anne, and their daughters Joan and Dorothy at their Avenue V South home. For the brief time I was in Saskatoon I attended Pleasant Hill School. It was a short walk from Uncle Jack’s and one day as I passed the Hamms (Uncle Jack’s neighbors) their German Shepherd grabbed my lunch and trotted off with it. Mrs. Hamm saw this and brought me a couple of sandwiches in a big basin. The Hamms may have been poor folk with rough edges, but I’ll always remember Mrs. Hamm as a good-hearted woman.

The Principal at Pleasant Hill School was Sam Trerice. It happened that the Trerices were friends of Mother’s and had spent a summer holiday with us in Tangleflags. Fortunate that was for me, because I soon got into a school fight that Sam, himself, broke up. The other poor fellow was grabbed by the ear and hauled off for rough justice while I went scot free. The lesson I learned from this experience was that in life it wasn’t so much what you knew (or did) but who you knew that counted.

We didn’t have television back in the “Thirties”. About the only time one listened to the radio was to hear the news. I was too young to be interested. We did have fun, though. In winter kids would get together to play street hockey or “shinnie”; in summer, cowboys and Indians. This latter activity was eminently fair and politically correct. Some days more Indians got killed; other days, more cowboys.

Roger and his Haralowka buddy Sammy Perverseff, a second cousin.

I was soon back with my Grandparents and attending Haralowka School. Muriel Borisinkoff, Sammy’s cousin, taught there and it wasn’t long before I discovered how good she was with the strap. Big Paul Greva and I were having a dustup about midway between the school and the barn when Bill Samirodin, a school trustee, drove up to fetch his daughter. Paul and I ceased hostilities and stood like innocents watching as Bill drove by. But it was too late. He had seen us fighting and amusingly commented to Muriel about her unruly pupils. That really stung a hard taskmaster who prided herself on her discipline. Summoned to the school, Paul was strategically in tears and I tried to feign innocence as we entered the side door. The situation was bleak. With tears streaming down Paul’s cheeks, Muriel took out the wrath she would have devoted to him on me – along with my share. In time the strap was outlawed in Saskatchewan schools, but I can attest to having intimately known its application before that happened.

If kindness was a Perverseff trait, then I was blessed. William and Lucille treated me like a favorite son. They fed me well and clothed me warmly. On Saturdays I would get the huge sum of 25 cents to spend in Blaine Lake where folks from the country gathered to buy groceries, attend to other matters, or just visit. I would go to town with John and Lucille or with Sammy and his folks. Later, a Tallman elevator man put a bare bicycle together for me – bare because it lacked handlebar grips, fenders and a chain guard, but it was transportation. Grandfather paid seven dollars for it and I surely got his money’s worth.

Life wasn’t all fun. I had to fetch the cows, help milk, turn the cream separator, and churn the butter. I’d also gather the eggs, carry wood to the house, help clean the barn and do other sundry chores. Sometimes when I was out in the yard around sundown, I would hear Grandmother whistle in an odd way. It was to keep the vadema (bad spirits) away, she said. I don’t know if it worked but I never saw the need for it myself.