West Kootenay Boundary’s First Doukhobors

By Jonathan Kalmakoff and Greg Nesteroff

Between 1908 and 1912, about 8,000 Doukhobors migrated to British Columbia from Saskatchewan to maintain their communal lifestyle. But for several years prior, small groups of Doukhobors had been travelling to BC to seek employment — and coincidentally or not, to the very region where their brethren would one day move en masse.

During their early period of settlement on the Canadian Prairies, able-bodied Doukhobor men left their villages in Saskatchewan each spring to find work as farm labourers and railway navvies to earn much-needed money for the community, as most settlers were almost destitute.

Most journeyed by foot and obtained employment within a 100 to 150-mile radius of their villages. Less frequently, some small groups and individuals travelled even further afoot. For instance, 200 travelled to California to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad Coast line in 1900, and in 1901, a smaller group worked on the Ontario & Rainy River Railway line between Baudette, Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario. That same year, dozens made their way across the border to Pembina, North Dakota to assist with the fall harvest.

Doukhobor workers on construction of the railroad from Yorkton to Canora, Saskatchewan, ca. 1910. Image C-06515 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.

The first sign of a Doukhobor presence in BC was in the Midway Advance of May 7, 1900: “Mr. A.J. Flett has returned safely from Grand Forks where he has been gathering information about a party of Doukhobors that are said to have arrived in that district.”

There was considerable industrial activity in and around Grand Forks in 1900 and the Doukhobors may have been hired as labourers at the newly-operational Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Co. smelter, the 10-stamp mill construction for the Yankee Girl and Yankee Boy mines on Hardy Mountain, at the Franklin Camp mine, the Charles Simpson or Ed Spraggett sawmills on the North Fork of the Kettle River, or building the CPR Eholt-to-Phoenix extension.

But no other references to this group can be found (the Grand Forks newspapers for this period are missing), so it’s hard to know whether they were seasonal labourers or just passing through. Flett’s role, if anything more than just curious onlooker, is unclear; his name otherwise only showed up in local newspapers in relation to mining claims. Was he sizing up the Doukhobors as potential workers for those claims?

We know slightly more about the next group of Doukhobors in BC. In October 1901, 16 Doukhobor men in Calgary had a chance encounter with former Rossland police chief John Ingram, who had been recruited to find replacement workers for the Le Roi mine during a miners’ strike.

These men were likely the same Doukhobors employed as track maintenance on the CPR Calgary division who took part in a nationwide strike from June to late August 1901 and who would not have knowingly taken jobs as replacement workers out of solidarity with the striking miners.

According to the Nelson Tribune, “Ingram positively assured them that the labour troubles [in Rossland] were all settled; that 300 union men had returned to work and that 150 union men had applied to the Le Roi company for work but the company did not want them.” However, he apparently misrepresented the situation.

The 16 Doukhobors were among 67 men who left Calgary with Ingram. When they arrived at West Robson to switch trains for Rossland, they discovered the true state of affairs and 10 of them refused to continue. Another 23 men reached the boarding house of the War Eagle mine in Rossland — including the Doukhobors, who spoke little or no English. The cooks and waiters there refused to serve them and they were finally sent off to a cabin to do their own cooking. A union miner visited the party and left some literature explaining the dispute.

Few if any Doukhobor recruits would have had mining experience; the Evening World suggested it would take about two years for them to learn to be muckers, which seems to have been a thinly-veiled insult, as mucking involved shoveling broken rock into tram cars.

The rival Rossland Miner didn’t identify the men as Doukhobors, but it would not have been in their interest to do so as a pro-management paper.

Instead the Miner described them as “as fine a looking party of Canadians as ever came into the Golden City … The men who came into the city last night were a lot of sturdy Canadians who value free speech and action above the fetich of agitation. They will be first-class mine workers in a comparatively short period.”

However, there were no further mentions of the Doukhobor workers after that. They probably departed once they understood the dispute they were in the middle of.

A third early foray into BC by Doukhobors was reported in The Chronicles of Camille, a memoir by longtime Trail merchant Camille Lauriente, published in 1953.

Lauriente recalled working as a CPR section foreman at Murphy Creek, just north of Trail, in July or August 1902. A roadmaster assigned four Doukhobors to work with him, none of whom had any railway experience. (Therefore they probably weren’t the same men who arrived in Rossland from Calgary the previous year.)

One man was fired after Lauriente accused him of laziness; he then went to work at the Trail smelter. The other three were also fired once Lauriente found more experienced track men.

Another early mention of Doukhobors in BC was in the Grand Forks Sun of April 12, 1904: “Messrs. Harry Itter, Geo. H. Hull, Lee and Lawson went down to Cascade last Sunday to take snap shots of the Doukhobor colony at that place.” (None of those photos are known to survive.)

The report is so brief and casual that it seems to assume readers were familiar with the subject. Yet no other mention of Doukhobors in the area appeared in the Grand Forks Sun or Grand Forks Gazette that month.

The word “colony” is probably a misnomer, as it was very doubtful to have been a permanent settlement and more likely an encampment of seasonal labourers. But if this report is accurate, what were they doing at Cascade? Working at one of the mines or sawmills in the area? At the Cascade Water Power & Light dam on the Kettle River? Or for the CPR as railway labourers? And were these the same Doukhobors that A.J. Flett went to see at Grand Forks three years earlier?

Furthermore, was it just coincidence that in each case the men came to the region that would later be home to thousands of Doukhobors? Or did these early sojourns plant some small seed for that subsequent migration? Did any Doukhobors who came to BC prior to 1908 later return permanently?

We’ll probably never know the answers with any certainty. Unfortunately, we don’t know the names of any of the individuals either; no Doukhobors have been discovered in BC on the 1901 census.

With thanks to Ron Verzuh, who found the story of Doukhobors hired to work in the Rossland mines.

This story first appeared in:

A Pilgrimage to the Peshcherochki

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In a hidden river gorge in the remote and rugged highlands of Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Georgia lies a grotto where, for nearly two centuries, Doukhobors have gone to seek solitude, consolation and serenity.  It is also the site of one of the most momentous and tumultuous events in their history – the Burning of Arms.

The Peshcherochki (Пещерочки) is a place of extraordinary natural beauty and is imbued with immense historical, cultural and spiritual importance to the Doukhobor people.  Indeed, it is considered one of the most sacred sites in Doukhoborism.

The Peshcherochki. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

So when the opportunity arose to visit the Caucasus in July of 2015, I jumped at the chance to see and experience this holy and historic place for myself!   

I accompanied a group of eight other Canadian Doukhobors on a three-week tour of Doukhobor settlements throughout the Caucasus.  It was an exceptionally thrilling experience, visiting places steeped in heritage and tradition that I had only read about in books.  Throughout our trip, I shared my knowledge of the historical significance of the sites with the other participants.  Treading in the footsteps of our ancestors, it was a profoundly moving and meaningful journey.   

After spending our first week travelling throughout northeast Turkey, we made our way into Georgia.  We arrived at the village of Gorelovka, the largest of eight Doukhobor settlements on the Javakheti Plateau, a large, high-altitude grassland surrounded by the Javakheti Range or Mokryi Gori (‘Wet Mountains’).  It was once the capitol of Dukhobor’ye, the popular 19th century name given to these uplands by Russian travellers and officials, owing to its predominantly Doukhobor population.  The Doukhobors themselves called the plateau Kholodnoye, or the ‘cold place’ on account of its high elevation and cool climate. Today, however, the village and surrounding plateau is home to thousands of Armenian migrants, with only a hundred and fifty or so Doukhobors remaining. 

Gorelovka village, facing southwest towards the Svyataya Gora. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Situated at the forks of two small rivers, Gorelovka comprised three long parallel streets, with houses aligned on both sides of each street.  While many dwellings were occupied by newcomers, they still retained distinctive Doukhobor stylings, with sharp-pitched roofs, verandahs with decoratively-carved beams, whitewashed walls, and sky-blue trim on eaves, door and window frames.  Some were clad in metal roofing, while others still had thatch.  The Doukhobor yards were neat and orderly, with well-kept gardens and outbuildings; those of the Armenians were less tidy, with livestock kept penned and piled manure drying for use as heating fuel.  The once-spotless streets were rutted and covered in cow dung as the newcomers drove their cattle over them to the hills and back daily.  Above us, storks nested on the tops of power poles; a natural phenomenon unique to this village.    

Home of Nikolai (Kolya) Sukhorukov in Gorelovka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In Gorelovka, we met Nikolai Kondrat’evich Sukhorukov, Tat’yana Vladimirovna Markina and Yuri Vladimirovich Strukov.  Nikolai, or Kolya, was a tall man in his sixties with inquisitive blue eyes and a long white beard.  Having moved to Simferopol in the Crimea in the 1990s for work, he returned several years ago, desiring a simpler, more wholesome life.  Tat’yana was a young woman in her late twenties with dark brown hair, warm brown eyes and a kind smile.  Raised here, she left to attend university in Tyumen in Siberia, where she now worked as a geologist.  However, she came back each summer to live in her family home.  Yuri, in his late thirties, had a stocky build with blond hair and cheery blue eyes.  Having lived for years in the Georgian resort town of Borjomi, he returned here because he felt it was a better place to raise his young family.  They would be our constant hosts and guides during our stay, showing us tremendous hospitality and generosity.

Attending moleniye at the Sirotsky Dom in Gorelovka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We spent our first day with our hosts attending a moleniye (‘prayer service’) at the historic Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) in Gorelovka, followed by a hike through the scenic countryside along Lake Madatapa, then an open-air moleniye and picnic beside the ruins of the 19th century khutor (‘farmstead’) of the Kalmykov dynasty of Doukhobor leaders.  Of these remarkably memorable events, I will write separately.

On the morning of our second day, our hosts organized a convoy of vehicles from among local Doukhobors to take our group to the much-awaited Peshcherochki.  Our driver was Sergei Mikhailovich Yashchenkov, an affable retired kolkhoz (‘collective farm’) tractor driver.  Kolya also accompanied us on our drive.  

As we drove west from Gorelovka along a pothole-laden paved road, the land was flat and divided into fields of oats, barley and rye.  A kilometer to our north stood a large wooded hill.  “The Spasovsky Kurgan,” said Kolya, pointing to it.  This kurgan (‘mound’), I learned, took its name from the village of Spasovka, which lay on its opposite side.  “There is much wildlife on the hill,” added Sergei, eagerly. “There, in its woods, one can find deer, wolves, fox and wild boar”.  Sergei, it turned out, was an avid outdoorsman.  

The Spasovsky Kurgan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Within minutes, we arrived at Orlovka and turned south off the highway through the village.  It was noticeably smaller and poorer than Gorelovka, with several houses standing empty and derelict along its single street.  “My family once lived here” Sergei wistfully remarked. “But now, only two Doukhobor households remain.”  Many homes, I found out, were taken up by Armenians after most Doukhobors relocated to Russia in the 1990s.  The dilapidated state of the village left me feeling melancholy… 

From Orlovka, we continued south along a heavily-rutted dirt road.  The flat, cultivated fields soon gave way to rolling grassland.  Herds of grazing cattle and sheep dotted the treeless landscape.  To our west loomed a massive hill, if not a small mountain.  “The Svyataya Gora,” observed Kolya solemnly.  “It is sacred to our people”, he added. “Atop it lies the grave of a saint, a holy man.”  Each summer, I learned, Doukhobors gathered to pray on this ‘holy mountain’ that marked the western boundary of Dukhobor’ye.  Its imposing presence and enormity left a powerful impression on me.       

The Svyataya Gora towers over the horizon above the plateau. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After three or so kilometers, we turned off the road and drove cross-country to the east.  Within a kilometer, we came to a stop on a broad, grassy plateau with rocky outcroppings.  We exited the vehicle and surveyed our surroundings.  Behind us, the Svyataya Gora dominated the horizon.  In front of us, the ground dropped away precipitously, and we found ourselves standing at the edge of a deep gorge, staring down its steep, rocky walls.  A small river ran along its bottom.  “The Zagranichnaya,” explained Kolya, pointing to it.  The Zagranichnaya or ‘transboundary’ river was so named because when the Doukhobors arrived on the plateau in the 1840s, its source lay across the Turkish border. It was here on the banks of this river where the Peshcherochki stood.

I was brimming with anticipation… We were nearing our destination!

On the plateau overlooking the Zagranichnaya River gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Within minutes, we were joined by the rest of the convoy and soon our entire group was anxiously assembled on the plateau.  Kolya then led us to the head of a trail, obscured by undergrowth, which gradually descended into the gorge.  We slowly and cautiously made our way downward, single-file, along the narrow, rock-strewn path.  As we did, the faint sound of trickling water grew louder as it tumbled over rocks and echoed off the gorge walls. 

Dar’ya Strukova descends along the narrow rocky path into the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Once we reached the bottom of the gorge, I instinctively looked around and uttered an involuntary “wow”!  The scene that greeted us was truly breathtaking.  The dark, sheer sandstone walls of the gorge, 10 to 15 meters high, towered above us on one side.  The Zagranichnaya babbled and rippled past us on the other.  The floor of the gorge teemed with tall waving grass, patches of brush and scattered boulders, bathed in the rays of the midday sun.  The far side of the gorge, 30 to 40 meters distant, sloped gently up to the horizon.  It felt as though we had entered a different world from that above.   

The flat grassy bottom of the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The place where we stood was a sharp outside bend of the Zagranichnaya which, over millennia, had cut into the surrounding rock to form the vertical cliff or cut bank overlooking us.  The lower rock stratum, being comprised of softer, more porous rock, had been further eroded by the meandering river to form a shallow cave-like opening or rock shelter at the base of the cliff.  Lying on a north-south axis, the cavity was a meter or so deep, two to three meters high, and over 80 meters long.  It was entirely open to the outside along its length. 

This was the Peshcherochki of lore and legend!    

Near the opening of the grotto at the bottom of the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I paused to consider the Doukhobor name of this feature.  It was derived from the Russian term peshchera, commonly translated as ‘cave’.  This puzzled me somewhat, since it was not technically a cave, as its opening was wider than it was deep.  However, I then recalled that the term also referred to a ‘grotto’ or ‘hollow’ which described the feature perfectly.  It also occurred to me that though it formed a single chamber, Doukhobors always referred to the feature in the plural (Peshchery), and always in diminutive, affectionate terms (Peshcherki or Peshcherochki).  Such was the uniqueness of the Doukhobor dialect!    

Within the grotto, there was a deep stillness in the air that made the slightest sound – the buzz of an insect’s wing, the cracking of a twig, or the rustle of grass – distinctive and pronounced.  Just beyond us, the hum of the river formed a soundscape of natural white noise that had a strangely soothing, relaxing and centering effect.  And the mottled light and shadow that played upon the rock face evoked a sense of serenity and contentment.  As I took in the sights and sounds of this place, my senses awakened and I felt a deep sense of peace.

The Zagranichnaya River. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Our group fanned out and began to explore the Peshcherochki.  As we did, we learned from our hosts about the legends and traditions associated with it.

Alcove in grotto wall containing hand inprint and floral emblems. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

At the south end of the grotto, Yuri beckoned us toward a small, rocky alcove where an imprint in the shape of a hand could be seen.  “Doukhobors believe it is the hand print of Christ,” he declared, “who hid here from his persecutors.”  “At one time,” he added solemnly, “the impression was so clear that you could make out the fingerprints.  But it became faded and worn over time by so many people placing their palms over it.”  Accordingly, he asked us not to touch it, only to kiss it, which we did in reverence.

A few paces further, Tat’yana pointed out to us the word “Dukhobor” faintly inscribed in Cyrillic on the grotto wall.  In another spot, three faded floral symbols appeared etched and painted on the rock.  “Our people believe that these images have always been here,” she explained, “and that they appeared naturally and divinely and not by the hands of man.”  We kissed them out of veneration and respect.   

A faded floral symbol etched on the rock face of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We then gathered around Kolya, who had halted along the grotto.  “There is a legend,” he proclaimed, “that the Golubinaya Kniga is buried somewhere near the Peshcherochki.”  The ‘Book of the Dove’, I discovered, was a mythical book in Slavic folklore said to contain all knowledge – the entire assembled wisdom of God.  “Doukhobors,” he continued, “no matter how few remain, must carry out our mission to preserve this holy place and book, otherwise triple as much will be asked from us on Judgement Day.” 

Khatochka at the far end of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We slowly made our way to the far north end of the grotto, which was enclosed by a man-made facade so as to form a small khatochka (‘little hut’).  The rock face naturally formed two adjacent walls, one running lengthwise and another spanning the width, along with most of the ceiling.  Another two masonry walls were built along the opposite length (with a window enclosure) and width (with a doorway) with a masonry tile roof.  The outward-facing exterior walls were whitewashed while the window sill, door frame and door were painted sky-blue.  A rising sun symbol was inscribed over the entrance.  Built by Doukhobors in the 19th century, it served as a place of prayer and repose. 

Khatochka interior. The natural rock face is enclosed by a man-made facade to form a small chamber lined with stone benches. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We entered the khatochka and found ourselves in a small, dimly-lit chamber, 4 meters wide by 5 meters long, lined with low stone benches.  The interior masonry walls were etched with floral symbols, while lush ferns grew out of the damp rock face.  We lingered therefor a long while, lost in our own thoughts and prayers.

Natural rock wall forming the Khatochka ceiling with ferns growing on rock face. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“According to tradition,” said Kolya quietly and reverently, “this was a favorite place of Doukhobor leader Luker’ya Vasil’evna Kalmykova (1841-1886), who loved to spend time here in summer in deep spiritual reflection.”  Indeed, Doukhobors have long associated the Peshcherochki with the memory of ‘Lushechka’, as the much-beloved leader was affectionately known.

Doukhobor leader Luker’ya (Lushechka) Vasil’evna Kalmykova (1841-1886). BC Archives C-01444.

During the last five years of her life, I knew, Lushechka often withdrew here with her protégé, Petr Vasil’evich Verigin, whom she counselled on the teachings and traditions of the sect and imbued with the understanding and aspiration to fulfill his future role as leader.  It was a matter of significance to Canadian Doukhobors, as descendants of the Large Party who followed him after her passing.  Understandably, it was not mentioned by our hosts, being descendants of the Small Party who rejected his leadership.    

Floral symbols etched in the khatochka interior. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

It was no wonder why Lushechka was drawn to this place.  There was something spiritual, powerful and beautiful about the grotto… something that inspired contemplation and communion with God and nature among all who came here.  It gave rise to a sense of shelter and safety from the outside world, and brought about a feeling of comfort and solace from suffering.

These sentiments were echoed in the 19th century Doukhobor psalm engraved in the rock face above us as we exited the khatochka.  It read (translated from Russian[1]) as follows:

Be happy, o grotto, rejoice, o wilderness! For, herein is a refuge of the Lord our God, a true shelter and a comforting, protective covering - victory over my enemies and banishment to adversaries, weaponry against the unbelievers and hope to true believers. O, Thou Holy Mother of God, ever-present helper – in our misfortunes Thou hast been our devoted defender.”
19th century Doukhobor psalm inscribed on the wall of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

According to tradition, Lushechka had these words inscribed on the wall of the Peshcherochki to consecrate it as a haven of peace and comfort, a place of sanctuary and sanctity for believers.  It was unknown whether she composed them herself or whether they already existed in the repertoire of psalms forming the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’).  Whatever their origin, they stood as a constant guide and enjoinder to all Doukhobors to gather here in fellowship, and to be happy and rejoice.

Doukhobor psalm inscription and commemorative plaque above the khatochka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

And rejoice here they had, over the ages.

“Doukhobors have long been coming here,” Yuri told us.  “Since their arrival in the Caucasus in the 1840s, our people have met at the Peshcherochki every summer to pray, sing and eat together.”  Indeed, among Doukhobors, the grotto was not only a sacred place of worship but also an important site of cultural celebration and social interaction.

I knew that in the 19th century, Doukhobors gathered here annually to celebrate Petrov Den’ – the feast of St. Peter celebrated on June 29th.  This holiday held particular significance to them, as it was the name day of their leader, Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov, late husband of Lushechka, who died in 1864.  They would assemble in the grotto to pray, then spread about blankets on the plateau above and have a picnic.  The young people gathered in a nearby hollow, out of sight of the stern elders, to sing and dance.    

Historic celebration of Petrov Den’ at the grotto in 1917. Anna Petrovna Markova and her brother Petr Petrovich (‘Istrebov’) Verigin are seated at the back, with their mother Anna Fedorovna Verigina and friend Maria Fedorovna Perepelkina in front. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

I asked Kolya whether Doukhobors still held Petrov Den’ at the Peshcherochki.  “Some do,” he thoughtfully replied. “Those from Spasovka, Orlovka and other villages still meet here on that day.”  Evidently, they were descendants of the Middle Party who recognized Verigin as leader but remained in the Caucasus.  “But our Gorelovka people,” he clarified, “meet here on the first Sunday following Troitsa.”  After Lushechka’s death, the Small Party and their descendants observed Troitsa (‘Trinity’) here instead. 

This year, the Gorelovka people had postponed their annual Troitsa commemoration at the Peshcherochki by several weeks to coincide with our visit; a testament to their genuine goodwill and sense of brotherhood towards us.

Wild flowers growing in the bottom of the gorge near the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Nowadays, I found out, it was not only Doukhobors who came to the Peshcherochki.  It was also visited by Armenians, who set burning candles on the rocky ledges while praying to God here, as evidenced by the wax remnants we found throughout the grotto.

At this point, we left the grotto and Kolya led us to the banks of the Zagranichnaya where several lush, large berezy (‘birch’) and verby (‘willow’) trees were growing.  “If you carefully break off the young branches,” he eagerly explained, “they will take root when planted.  Let us do so, now, to commemorate our visit!”  Following his lead, we each took turns planting saplings in the soft, marshy riverbank – a fitting, living testament to our journey here. 

The writer planting a birch sapling on the banks of the Zagranichnaya. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Thereafter, we slowly ascended back up the trail to the plateau above.  It was here, on this windswept grassy plain, on a rocky outcropping some fifty meters from the edge of the gorge, that one of the most important events in the history of the Doukhobors took place 120 years earlier – the Burning of Arms.

Rocky outcropping on the plateau above the Peshcherochki where the Burning of Arms took place, facing west. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

On Petrov Den’ in 1895, Doukhobors gathered at the Peshcherochki as was customary.  This time, though, members of the Large Party brought with them all the weapons in their possession, piled them together on the plateau above, then surrounded the pile with wood, poured on kerosene and set them on fire.  As the weapons twisted and melted in the flames, the Doukhobors gathered around, prayed and sang psalms of universal brotherhood.  It was a peaceful mass demonstration against militarism and violence. 

This dramatic act of defiance had been carefully timed to correspond to the name day of Petr Vasil’evich Verigin, who became leader of the Large Party in 1887, while the site was deliberately chosen because of its deep religious symbolism.  Indeed, it was aspired to evoke the words of the psalm inscribed in the grotto, years earlier at Lushechka’s behest, and solidify their importance.

The Burning of Arms, a painting by Michael M. Voykin (1974).

For their part, Tsarist authorities viewed it as an act of rebellion.  Two squadrons of mounted Cossacks were dispatched, posthaste, to the Peshcherochki to pacify the protestors and quell the civil disorder.  Once they arrived, the Cossacks charged the praying crowd of men, women and children, slashing through them with whips.  Many were brutally beaten and some severely injured when they were trampled by horses.  The dazed and bloodied Doukhobors were then forcibly herded to Bogdanovka for questioning.

In the days that followed, Cossack troops were billeted in the Doukhobor villages, where they ravaged the homes of the Large Party, taking food, smashing furnishings, beating males and raping females without check or rebuke.  Thousands were then banished, without supplies, to poor Georgian villages in oppressively hot and unhealthy climates, left to scrape by as best they could, or survive on whatever charity the local Georgians and Tatars dared give them under threat of arrest.  Many perished in exile.

The Burning of Arms site facing west. The Svyataya Gora towers in the distance. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I felt a mixture of emotions as I reflected on these momentous events.  It filled me with sadness that such a place of natural beauty and peace could have witnessed such needless cruelty and suffering.  At the same time, I felt immensely proud and moved by the unwavering courage and steadfast faith that those Doukhobors demonstrated in the face of such adversity.  And I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the legacy of faith, tradition and community they had imparted to us through their actions.

It was thus indeed fitting that the Burning of Arms was commemorated by a bronze plaque mounted on the walls of the Peshcherochki, which read (translated from Russian[2]) as follows:

Here on the 29th of June, 1895, the Doukhobors made their stand for the ideal of peace, and against war and killing. Upon this spot they symbolically burned their firearms. For this great deed they suffer persecution and torture from Tsarist authorities of that time. These peace makers are our own ancestors. In memory of their heroism and steadfastness in the cause of peace and brotherhood throughout the whole world, we, the Canadian Doukhobors, during our visit place this memorial plaque, in witness of our gratitude.  On behalf of the Doukhobors of Canada, J. J. Verigin August 1966. ‘Peshcheri’, Village of Orlovka, Akhalkalak District, Georgian SSR.” 
Bronze plaque commemorating the Burning of Arms presented by Canadian Doukhobors and mounted on the grotto wall in 1966. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Once our entire group had reassembled on the plateau, our hosts spread blankets about on the grass, and after reciting the Otche Nash (‘Lord’s Prayer’), treated us to a picnic.  It was a sumptuous feast – with cheese, bread, honey, roast chicken, sausage, tomatoes, pyrohi, green onions, watermelon, apricots and plums – all homemade and home grown by the Gorelovka Doukhobors. 

Picnicking on the plateau above the Peshcherochki. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

As we broke bread together, Kolya relayed the ongoing efforts of Georgian Doukhobors to preserve and protect the Peshcherochki.  “There are few of us left here,” he lamented, “but no matter how hard it is for us, we will live near this sacred place and care for it.”  Several years earlier, we learned, the President of Georgia announced that it would be granted zapovednik (‘reserve’) status, thus entitling it to funding and legal status as a historic site.  To date, however, the presidential decree had not come into force.

Group photo at the Burning of Arms site above the Peshcherochki. (Back l-r) Sergei Yashchenkov, Jared Arishenkoff, myself, Lisa Seminoff, Tat’yana Markina, Dar’ya Strukova, Yuri Strukov, Andrei Conovaloff. (Front l-r) Verna Postnikoff, Linda Arishenkoff, Hannah Hadikin, Alex Ewashen, Brian Ewashen, Mila Kabatova, Kolya Sukhorukov, unidentified Doukhobor lady. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We assembled for a final group photograph at the rocky outcropping where the Burning of Arms took place and then departed for Gorelovka. 

As we made our way back through the Javakheti countryside, I recalled that among her many prophecies, Lushechka had also made one specifically about this location, in which she spoke about Doukhobors returning to the Peshcherochki.  This prophecy was published in William A. Soukoreff, Istoriya Dukhobortsev (North Kildonan: J. Regehr, 1944 at 64-65) in which it was written (translated from Russian[3]):    

“The Doukhobors will be destined to leave our homeland and to stay in distant lands, to test their faith and to glorify the Lord, but I tell you, wherever Doukhobors may come to be, wherever they may end up going, they shall return to this place. It is their ‘Promised Land’, and when the Doukhobors return, they will find peace and comfort.”

Lushechka foresaw that the Doukhobors would wander far from this location, both physically (from the Peshcherochki) and spiritually (from the true understanding represented by the psalm inscribed there), but would inevitably return to both, thus ensuring the fulfillment of their sacred mission.

Indeed, our Doukhobor ancestors had left their homeland for distant Canadian shores, where their faith was sorely tested, many times.  Most never returned.  Yet more than a century later, we, their descendants, had journeyed to the Peshcherochki, gathered with our brethren who remained here, and together, found tranquility and solace in this sacred place. 

Perhaps, in a way, Lushechka’s prediction had come true after all…

After Word

Special thanks to Barry Verigin and D.E. (Jim) Popoff for proofreading this article, providing valuable feedback, and offering translation assistance.

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA Nos. 2143, October 2019 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

End Notes

[1]English translation of the psalm courtesy D.E. (Jim) Popoff.

[2] English translation courtesy ISKRA No. 1091 (July 8, 1966).

[3] English translation of prophesy (as published in W.A. Soukoreff) courtesy D.E. (Jim) Popoff.

The Manteca Russian Colony

by Rose M. Albano

In 1924, fourteen Doukhobor families from British Columbia and Saskatchewan resettled to Manteca, California seeking warmer climate and economic opportunity. There they purchased 140 acres of land and established a grape growing cooperative. The “Russian Colony”, as it came to be known, was considered one of the most successful in the United States. However, by 1941, the colony was abandoned as colonists relocated elsewhere to find employment. In the following article, descendants reminisce about growing up in the Russian Colony. The following article by Rose M. Albano is reproduced from the Manteca Bulletin (Manteca, California: May 11, 1997).

Yes…there was a Russian Colony here in Manteca. That there was such a place here comes as a complete surprise to many area residents. “About the only ones aware of the colony’s existence are those who have lived here since before the 1950s,” said Ken Hafer of the Manteca Historical Society. “Those who were here then knew that everyone who lived in the 140-acre area at the south end of Castle Road were Russians. That’s why they called it a Russian Colony,” Hafer explained. After a big influx of people to Manteca in the 1960s, everyone ceased referring to the area as the Russian Colony. “The church was gone by then, and the people didn’t refer to themselves as Russians,” Hafer said.

Residents at the Manteca Russian Colony gather to celebrate the end of apricot-picking season, circa 1930’s.

Plenty of Memories

But memories of the old Russian Colony are still fresh in the minds of a few descendants of the first settlers who continue to live in the area. Nellie Richetta (nee Reibin), whose parents came to live in the colony in the 1920s when she was two months old, remembers a very cohesive community where everyone was treated like family.

“Every adult in that community was your aunt, your uncle, your grandfather. We called aunt so and so – tyotka – or uncle so and so – dyadya,” Richetta said, phonetically spelling the Russian words she used as a child. “The elders were grandfather and grandmother. We were safe. We could be at anybody’s house. It was a very safe environment to grow up in,” she said.

The children at the colony all became fast friends. Those friendships were further cemented by the fact that they all walked to the same grammar school together. Then they all went to Manteca High School, which was the only high school in town then. “We had a lot of friends here; it was still one of the best areas in the world,” remembered septuagenarian Peter Gretchen who came to live at the colony when he was two years old. He and his wife still live on Castle Road, just across the street from his parent’s old house. “I grew up with all ethnic groups – Greeks, Mexicans, Portuguese, Italians. The Indelicatos were there. We all went to (Castle) school together. It was just a mile away.”

The school was built at the south end of Castle Road on land donated by the pioneer Castle family. It was the Castle family which sold the land to the group of 14 Russian families who came to Manteca via Saskatchewan. 

Phillip Bloudoff, who still lives next to the house where he grew up, likewise had plenty of happy memories to share about growing up in the countryside. “We had no problems growing up with the Italians, the Portuguese, the Greeks. No, no, no! We had no problems whatsoever.” Both he and Richetta are from Manteca High’s class of 1944. 

Manteca, California in the 1930’s and 1940’s was home to various immigrant labourer groups.

Russian Speaking Children

Like all children growing up in the colony, Richetta spoke only Russian until she started first grade at Castle School. “My parents usually spoke Russian to us, and we spoke to them in English,” she said with a laugh. “I wish I had kept up with my speaking and reading Russian,” she says now with regret. “But it wasn’t important then. We wanted to learn English.”

“There were also Italians and Portuguese who didn’t speak English when I went to school. But when we graduated from grammar school, we all spoke English. That’s why I don’t believe in bilingual education. And I still speak Russian,” said Bloudoff.

Immaculate Housekeepers

Like many of the few dozen families who eventually settled at the colony, Richetta’s family used horses to farm their small lands, and a cow kept them supplied with milk. “They also raised chickens, so we had our own eggs,” Richetta said. “And we worked our own fields with our horses.”

She described the women at the colony as “immaculate housekeepers.” She laughed as she described to what lengths the women went to preserve that image. “When they hung their clothes outside they had to be white, because somebody might see them. That was their claim to fame: who was the best homemaker, the best cook,” she said.


Richetta also remembered how everyone supported one another in every way. She said nobody had a need to get hired help when it came to building a house or raising a barn. “Everybody helped each other. If somebody was building the barn, everybody came to help,” she said. And that meant men women and children. “While some got busy working on the building, others fixed lunch,” she said.

The same thing happed when women met for quilting sessions. “They all helped each other make their quilts. They bought raw wool, washed it and carded it. They did everything by hand,” Richetta recalled. “Back then, too, people did not have much money to buy a lot of things,” she said.

Hard-Working People

Besides tending their small farms where they grew grapes, apricots and other fruit trees and crops year around, the men in the colony took whatever odd jobs they could get anywhere. Many of them, like Gretchen’s father, took seasonal jobs. “My dad, many times, worked for a dollar a day,” Gretchen recalled.

Peter Gretchen working behind his home at the old Russian Colony where he and his wife still live today. Photo courtesy: Rose M. Albano.

He remembered having to live and attend school for some time in Modesto, Locke, and Thorton because that’s where his father found work in the fields or in the ranches. When the jobs were done, they came back home to Manteca. “They were difficult times, but we always had food. We had a cow and chickens,” said Gretchen who was the youngest of three children. “Because the men were away working somewhere, the women often had to do all the heavy work at home in the colony,” said Richetta.

“The men went to work in factories or they worked as carpenters – whatever jobs they could get. So they hitched up the women and built the roads in some of the Russian communities. It was all manual labor. They didn’t have the money to buy the animals because they were penniless,” she said. “Everybody worked hard. Later we had tractors,” she said. 

Many of the men at the Manteca Russian Colony found employment at Spreckels Sugar. Richett’s father, who was born in Saskatchewan, found work as a mechanic at the old Manteca Canning which was then located near the rail road tracks on Yosemite Avenue. The women worked in the fields picking fruits, Richetta said. “My grandmother picked apricots, grapes, peaches. Later the women worked in the canneries.” 

Homes With Big Basements

The houses they built at the Russian Colony were simple one story homes with big basements where such staple foods as milk, sour cream, canned goods, maybe a hundred pounds or more of potatoes, sugar and flour were kept. In the summer when the valley simmered and baked in three-digit temperatures, residents retreated into their basements where “it was nice and cool,” Richetta said. The homes also were equipped with huge furnaces fed with coal. Some had water towers built behind the house complete with an extra room which was often used as a bedroom. Those who could afford it had steam rooms called banyas which also invariably included a shower room. 

A few of the old homes are still there, but the water towers are all but gone, replaced by huge satellite dishes and other comforts of modern technology.

The Russian Colony prayer home building today sits as an unoccupied residence. Built in the 1930s to facilitate religious gatherings and funerals, the building was sold in the 1960s and converted into a private home.

The community also had its own prayer home, which was a multi-purpose building where funerals, weddings and other social gatherings were held. The building is still there, but it has since been sold, remodeled and converted into a home. 

Return of the Native

The children and grandchildren of the first Russian settlers have gone on to bigger and better things in the world. 

Many of those in Richetta’s generation went into business in Manteca, Stockton, Sonora and Oakdale. Their children are now distinguished professionals in their fields. The Gretchen’s oldest son, for example, is managing director of a microelectronics company in Malta. Before that, he worked in the Philippines. His sister, Sylvia, owns a publishing company in Orinda and is president of the Tibetan Institute in Berkeley. Bloudoff’s daughter, who is married and living in Lindon, is a lawyer. 

Bloudoff said that growing up, he too never wanted to live in the country. “I wanted to be a city boy,” he laughed. But then he got married, and soon he and his wife Helene were swamped with the patter of tiny feet around their home in Stockton. Recalling his carefree days in the open country at the Russian Colony, Bloudoff began to realize that his kids did not really have enough room to play where they lived.

Fog shrouds of an old vineyard planted by Doukhobors. They marketed their grapes under the name Ruscol, for “Russian Colony”.

So he and his wife made a decision to move to Manteca. “I wanted to raise my kids in the country because I remember my own childhood,” he said. “We had lots of room to play, plenty of space and lots of things to do.  So I decided to build a house next to my folks’ where the kids could play out in the country.”  The Bloudoffs and the Gretchens say that to this day their children are grateful for being raised in the country. 

The Colony Today

The old Russian Colony still boasts a quiet, rustic and rural atmosphere.  Surrounding almond orchards and vineyards still keep it isolated from Manteca’s urban sprawl. The area, just south of French Camp Road, remains an unincorporated section of San Joaquin County. 

Some of the old homes are still there. Anna F. Reibin, whose husband was one of the three Reibin brothers who were among the first to come form Saskatchewan, continues to live in the same house her husband built more than half a century ago. Richetta’s childhood home and farm have since been sold. She and her husband now live on East Lathrop Road. But the house where she also grew up is still standing there on Castle Road with the steam bath and two-story tank house in the back.

The old Russian Colony today on Verigin Road.

The Bloudoffs and Gretchens now live in modern homes built next door to houses where they grew up. Phillip Bloudoff continues to work at Ted’s Meat Company in Stockton a company he has co-owned since 1935. The business now has two locations in Stockton. Peter Gretchen is now retired, but he and his wife continue to tend the family vineyard they bought form their parents. 

But while the area still exudes a pastoral calm, Bloudoff said “it’s a lot different now; it’s changed a lot.” Gretchen agreed. “It was a lot more country then,” he said. We never locked our doors. Now you don’t know who’s here. But before, you knew everybody. Before, you used to talk to people. Now you watch television. Life has changed completely.”

For More Information

For a listing of 73 Doukhobors living in the Russian Colony in 1930, including their names, ages, family relationships, years of immigration from Canada, and their occupations, see the 1930 United States Federal Census enumerations under Castoria Township, San Joaquin County, California.

Doukhobors: An Endangered Species

by Dr. John I. Postnikoff

The following is an excerpt from an address given by Dr. John I. Postnikoff at the Postnikoff Family Reunion held in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan in 1977. Now, decades later, more than ever, his speech forcefully captures the dilemma of assimilation and cultural change challenging Doukhobors today. Reproduced from the pages of MIR magazine, No. 16 (Grand Forks, BC: MIR Publication Society, May, 1978).

…At this point, I would like to share with you some observations on our role in present and future society, and mention some facts about minority groups in general. An outside observer in our midst would be hard pressed to detect any difference between us and a group of Anglo-Saxon Canadians. I recognize the fact there may be some here from other racial backgrounds.

1. We are absolutely fluent in the English language, in fact, much more so, than in Russian. Why am I speaking in English this morning? Well, it is a great deal easier, believe me.

2. Our dress is non distinctive, call it North American. The ladies are not wearing embroidered shawls, the men are not exposing their shirt tails, and not wearing sheep skin coats. 

It was not always so, however. Our dress, speech and mannerisms are a far cry from our forefathers, who disembarked on Canadian soil in 1899. They were immigrants from Russia, members of a sect which emerged into history around the middle of the 17th century. They called themselves “People of God” or “Spiritual Christians”, implying that adherents of other sects or churches were only false Christians. The name Doukhobor, like other names treasured afterwards, was first used in anger and derision by one of their opponents, the Archbishop Serebrenikov of Ekaterinoslav in 1785. It means Spirit Wrestlers, and was intended by the Orthodox Archbishop to suggest they were fighting “against” the Holy Ghost. Its followers changed the meaning, claiming they fought “with” the spirit of God which was within them.

Allow me to skip one hundred years of history, marked by good times and bad times, persecutions and migrations, and bring you to the year 1886. Following the death of Lukeria Kalmykova (affectionately known as “Lushechka”) a major struggle developed between Lukeria’s brother Mikhail Gubanov and her apparent successor Peter Verigin concerning leadership of the group and control of the Orphan Home assets valued at roughly one million rubles. The quarrel split the sect into two factions. Those acknowledging Verigin’s spiritual leadership became known as the “Large Party”.

Since the government officials were in sympathy with Gubanov, Verigin was exiled to Siberia. This strengthened his position and his followers now regarded him as a martyr. While in exile, he met disciples of Tolstoy and became acquainted with his literature. As subsequent events proved, this had a profound affect on his outlook. He began to indoctrinate his subjects in peasant communism, pacifism, and defiance of government.

Doukhobor Leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin.

One of his directives, delivered by loyal messengers, pertained to military service, which later resulted in their expulsion from Russia. All loyal followers were not to bear arms, and to show they meant business, destroy all their weapons, which were in ample supply. This directive was obeyed, all muskets were placed in one big pile, doused with kerosene, and put to the torch.

Such a display of defiance was not to pass unnoticed by Tsar Nicholas II and his officials. Punishment, suffering, and persecution followed, which made headlines in the Western World. Quakers in England and United States, Tolstoy in Russia, rallied to their aid, and it can safety be said that without their moral and financial support, migration to Canada would never have been a reality.

Canada was suggested as a safe haven by Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist living in England. Contacts were made with the Canadian Government, which appeared sympathetic. A group headed by Aylmer Maude, Prince Khilkov, and Doukhobor delegates Makhortoff and Ivin, were delegated to find a suitable locality for resettlement. They were directed to Edmonton, where twelve townships consisting of 572 square miles were available. The party agreed this would be an ideal site, returning to Ottawa to finalize the arrangements, An obstacle however was placed in their path by the Conservative opposition and the plan did not reach fruition.

I am going to ask you to stretch your powers of imagination and consider for a moment, what kind of Doukhobor society would have evolved if the chain of circumstances had been different than what actually took place:

1. Suppose there was no opposition to the block settlement near Edmonton, and all of the 7,000 plus immigrants were allowed to settle in this area and initiate an experiment in religious communism.

2. Verigin was allowed to leave Russia, accompany his subjects to Canada and be the first to step on Canadian soil. 

3. Land ownership was acquired without the controversial Oath of Allegiance.

How would this ethnic group, tightly knit by blood ties and cultural bonds, succeed in this experiment? Would a society have emerged like the Hutterites and Mennonites, agrarian in nature, committed to self sustenance and isolation from neighbours? Such an arrangement, of course, is an attempt to form a state within a state, a Dukhoboria. Would we have fared better under this arrangement? Conflict arises whenever a minority group is pitted against a dominant majority. Interaction between them, by its very nature, is competitive and is marked by hostility at many points. I have a feeling, no concrete evidence, just a feeling, that internal dissension coupled with external pressures would have been too much for many independent souls, like my grandfather. They would have “packed it in” and set up an Independent existence on available homesteads. The venture would have collapsed like it did in British Columbia years later. Back to reality however:

1. Peter Verigin did not arrive in Canada from his Siberian exile until 1902.

2. Land was not available in one block. Settlers were split into three groups, two in the Yorkton area and one in Prince Albert. Free from Verigin’s leadership, the Prince Albert group especially were already beginning to feel at home in their new surroundings. 

3. The Canadian Government insisted on registration of vital statistics and the Oath of Allegiance as a prerequisite for land ownership. This resulted in a mass migration to British Columbia under Verigin’s instigation. Many chose not to leave and remained in Saskatchewan, including most of the Prince Albert group. They accepted the Oath of Allegiance and became independent operators on their newly acquired homesteads.

Why did some stay behind rather than move to British Columbia? Perhaps they had second thoughts about collective ownership and all its ramifications. The offer of free land, even with strings attached, was a temptation hard to resist. They came from the land, they loved the soil. To them, it was a means of livelihood and economic independence. They began to clear the land and build log dwellings with sod roofs.

Tasting independence, a luxury long denied them, they came in contact with immigrants of Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Ukrainian and Polish origin. From this point, precisely, forces of assimilation, began to alter old patterns which had been in existence for decades.

Children were enrolled in public schools where they came in contact with students of different racial origin. In school they were exposed to a new language, different from the one spoken at home. For those not destined to take up farming as an occupation, it was a natural and easy step to High schools and Universities. In a short space of time, a community which knew only agrarian skills for hundreds of years had a new breed in its midst. This was a change of major proportions. Lawyers, engineers, school teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses, accountants etc., arrived on the scene, fluent in English, different only in name. Along with their agrarian cousins, they willingly accepted all that modern technology had to offer: cars, tractors, combines, television and radio. The Russian tongue was heard less frequently and in most homes English became the language of choice.

The basic dogma of our religion became a lively issue during the First and Second World Wars, more so in the Second. I can recall mother telling me when the late Peter Makaroff was conscripted in the First World War, how the Doukhobors rallied to his aid. They threatened not to harvest their grain if Peter was taken into the army, so the government did not press the issue. In the Second World War, some of our young men did alternative service under army supervision, but there was no persecution such as experienced in Tsarist Russia. Can it be Doukhobors perform best under pressure, and a crisis of major proportions might make us realize that out cultural identity is slipping away? In peace time, the issue tends to fade into the background as it does not affect our day to day activities. In other words, “the shoe is not pinching”.

After 80 years in Canada, what is the present state of affairs? We have to admit, we are in a retreating situation. I think we are all in agreement on this point. Our language has fallen into disuse; few remain who can speak it fluently. Our prayer homes are empty; many of the former worshippers are throwing in their lot with other faiths, Baptists, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah Witnesses, United Church. Our young people are exchanging their marriage vows in other faiths.

Granted, the Doukhobor Community in Saskatoon is expert in making large crusty loaves of bread in outdoor ovens during exhibition week. We still like our borshchpirogi and blintsi. Outside of this, little remains. What I am really saying is we are not a healthy ethnic group with our heritage at our fingertips.

The number of Doukhobors claiming membership in the sect is declining at an alarming rate especially in the last years. Let us look at some figures from Statistics Canada:

Year Quantity
1921 12,674
1931 14,978
1941 16,898
1951 13,175
1961 13,234
1971 9,170

A drop of 4000 in the last 10 years. Geographical distribution per 1971 census is as follows:

Province Quantity
Newfoundland 5
Nova Scotia 10
New Brunswick 20
Quebec 220
Ontario 175
Manitoba 130
Saskatchewan 1,675
Alberta 200
British Columbia 6,720
North West Territories 10

If we estimate the number in Canada from this stock around 20,000 plus, more than half have left. Another suitable topic for my talk could be: “Lost, 10,000 Doukhobors”. We are one of the few religious groups experiencing a decline. Some examples to substantiate this in round figures:

Denomination 1921 1971
Baptists 422,000 667,000
Mormons 19,000 66,000
Hutterites & Mennonites 58,000 168,000
Pentecostals 7,000 220,000
Jehovah Witnesses 6,500 174,000

I am going to ask you once again to stretch your imagination. Assume a hypothetical situation, a gifted individual with our ethnic background arrives on the scene. He or she possesses the organizing ability of Kolesnikov, and like Lushechka, has charisma and personality. Sincere and trustworthy, he makes enough of us realize, like the whooping crane, we are an endangered species on the verge of extinction, and if we are going to salvage anything from the wreckage, we had better do something about it. There is no time to lose. He draws our attention to George Woodcock’s statement in the May 1977 issue of MIR, “unless there is a change in your attitude towards the practical things of social existence, Doukhoborism will not survive as it has existed in historic times”.

His message gets through to enough interested sympathizers. They form a committee (it seems to get anything done, you need a committee). Their terms of reference: to survey in depth, the Doukhobor dilemma and formulate a plan of action that might have some hope of reviving our cultural heritage. You will agree they have their work cut out for them. It will require tact, diplomacy, the patience of Job, and the wisdom of Solomon. They are well aware their proposals must appeal not only to all age groups but also to those who have left the sect. Hopefully they may be enticed to return. As assimilation has progressed at a faster rate in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Vancouver than in Grand Forks and the Kootenays, the situation in these areas will have to be looked at more closely.

What are the factors which give authenticity to minority groups in general? Basically only three: language, religion, and folk arts. Take these away, a minority group could hardly perform the tasks necessary for survival or train the next generation in its way of life.

The importance of language is best expressed in the 1970 Report on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. I quote: “The significance of language retention in the over all question of cultural retention is one of the most important working assumptions of this study. Language is an essential expression of a culture. Although it is noted, some groups do retain distinctive cultural traits despite their disappearing native language, (as in the case of the Acadians in the Maritimes, and Canadian Jews) the commission felt in most cases the original cultural traits survive only partially after the adoption of the dominant language. They almost disappear after several generations. Thus culture and language cannot be dissociated”.

When our Committee surveyed the language situation, this is what they discovered. Very few people remain who are fluent in Russian. Those left who came from Russia and first generation Canadians have a good working knowledge; second and third generation Canadians will not get a good score. Why has the language fallen into disuse? Because there is no economic need for it. Nearly all of us earn our bread and butter with the use of English. It is the only language we use at work. Language is like a garden; a garden requires constant attention, watering, cultivating, spraying. Neglect it and weeds take over. Language is the same. Fluency is only maintained by constant use.

Russian – the traditional language.

A similar pattern runs through all minority groups. A survey on non official languages in Canada, came up with this finding: “Fluency decreases rapidly from generation to generation. It drops sharply in the second generation and is almost non-existent in the third and older generations”. In five Canadian cities, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver among the Ukrainians, it was found 63.6% were fluent in the first generation, 18.9% in the second, dropping to .7% in the third. That is, only 7 out of 1000 knew their ethnic tongue. We would not score any better. Needless to say, the survey ended on a discouraging note. However these recommendations were put forward by the Committee. First, it is mandatory all who have a knowledge of Russian speak it in the home and other appropriate places. I asked one of my cousins if he and his wife spoke Russian. His answer was “only when we have an argument”. It seems Russian uncomplimentary words pack a more forceful punch than their English counterparts. Secondly, school boards would be approached to include Russian in the curriculum with some subjects taught in that language. Thirdly, intermarried families pose a problem. I might be unpopular for suggesting the “other” partner be encouraged to learn Russian. My wife, Audrey, mastered fifty pages of grammar, but could not continue when her teacher failed to show up for classes.

The Committee found a divergence of opinion when it tackled the problem of divine worship. Furthermore, many suggestions were charged with emotion and prejudice. I must admit my knowledge of our worship service is meagre and I have to rely on my childhood recollections here in Blaine Lake and one year in British Columbia. One thing that stands out in my memory: no individual was designated to take charge of the service; the lot usually fell to the most able orator. If the situation has changed here and in British Columbia, I apologize for my remarks. It was not only an occasion for worship, but pertinent business matters were discussed. To my dear grandmother, it was also a social occasion, she never left for worship without her supply of roasted sun flower seeds in her home-made pouch, and she must have raised the blood pressure of many a speaker trying to deliver his message above the crackle of sunflower seeds.

The Committee were amazed at the number of problems that confronted them in devising a form of worship acceptable to meet the needs of modern Doukhobor Canadians. Who will assume responsibility for religious instruction? Will we delegate one individual on a full time or part time basis, and how will he or she be paid? What will be his or her official title? Priests are anathema. He or she will require credentials. He or she would be expected to possess a basic knowledge of theology in order to express religious truths to a fairly sophisticated congregation. Dwelling only on past exploits of our forefathers, noble as they are, would soon empty the church.

What about the Bible? Pobirokhin rejected the Bible, believing it to be a source of dissension among Christians. Silvan Kolesnikov used the New Testament. Can this be a reason why many have left our ranks, many who have come to regard the Bible as a source of inspiration and spiritual truths about our Master, do not see a Bible in our prayer homes?

What about music? We have not allowed musical instruments in our prayer homes; the only music has been choral rendition of psalms and hymns. Choral psalms would have to find a place in our liturgy; although they are complex and difficult to understand, they are unique and steeped in tradition. Prayer homes will be a place where our young people exchange their marriage vows. A modern bride will not be content unless she can walk down the aisle to the strains of Wagner’s Wedding March played on the organ.

What priority will be given to Christian education for children? There has not been an organized plan of instruction to teach Bible stories and religious precepts to our youth. This was done in the home. Regular church attendance in adulthood must be initiated in childhood.

It has been suggested a scholarship be made available to an enterprising student willing to specialize in that branch of anthropology dealing with preservation and perpetuation of folk arts. Perhaps he could arouse sufficient interest to initiate a cultural museum which could serve as a focal point for preserving our past heritage. The building would have an auditorium where family reunions such as this could meet and get acquainted with their “kith and kin”.

Participation in ethnic organizations has been regarded an important means by which language and culture are maintained. In fact, the Royal Commission research reported a positive correlation between a sense of ethnic identity and participation in ethnic organizations.

I have discussed some of the problems that face us if we are to restore and preserve our heritage. Are we equal to the task? Frankly, I am pessimistic. Too much water has gone under the bridge; we have probably passed the point of no return. I would like to be an optimist, but the hard facts militate against it. My reasons are: 

1. We are not sufficiently motivated. Motivation comes from a deep conviction that a certain goal must be achieved irrespective of cost. We are not that committed. It would take a great deal of energy and sacrifice to implement the proposals suggested. This would encroach on our lifestyle, and too many of us are set in our ways. We experience no job discrimination, or social isolation.

2. We are outnumbered, twenty-two million against ten thousand. Wherever we turn, culture of the dominant majority confronts us, which in fact, we have adopted. Quebec, with a population of four million, finds the French language is threatened by the dominance of English.

3. We are a house divided, splintered into groups. We do not present a united front. How could a Son of Freedom, an Orthodox and and Independent reach a consensus on their religious philosophy?

4. Our form of worship has not been updated to keep up with the times. Our principle precept, noble and virtuous, is not an urgent problem. Should there be a war, it is inconceivable that conventional weapons would be used, where we will be asked to bear arms. Heaven preserve us from another Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What about the future? I’m going to make a prediction, knowing full well prognostication is fraught with danger. Doukhoborism as a viable cultural entity, fifty years hence, will cease to exist in the three Prairie provinces. We are witnessing its demise. Only major surgery and blood transfusions will revive it. Canadians, with Russian surnames, will be here, but there will be no common bond to unite them. Heirlooms, family albums, and long playing Russian records will be treasured as antiques, but the culture which gave them birth has been laid to rest with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.

In British Columbia, specifically in Grand Forks and the Kootenays, total assimilation is meeting resistance. The younger generation are taking concrete steps to preserve their language and traditions. The new cultural centre in Brilliant is an asset in their favour. Still the tide is against them. Cultural identity in cities is difficult to preserve. Fred Samorodin in his article in MIR, March 1977, estimates there are 4,000 souls of Doukhobor background in Vancouver, only thirty-two claim membership in the Union of Young Doukhobors. 

The idea is expressed that migration back to Russia will save the group. Such a panacea is too fantastic to merit consideration. Can you see Communist Russia accepting a religious group on our terms? We would be strangers in the land where our forefathers trod. If the “be all and end all” of our life in Canada is the preservation of our heritage, then migration was a wrong move. Verigin rendered us a disservice. We should have fought it out with the Tsar. Our leader should have realized, once he brought his subjects to “Rome” they would “do as the Romans”.

Our problem is not unique, this is history of minority groups, repeating itself. Minority groups came into existence five thousand years ago with the development of a state or a nation. Only a state with the apparatus of government, can extend law and order over sub groups, who neither speak the same language, worship the same gods, nor strive for the same values. The Aztecs of Mexico, the Maya of Yucatan, the Inca of South America, once they became minority groups, disappeared with time, to become a name only.

What about the future? We should be filled with remorse in allowing a beautiful language, rich in poetry and prose to fall into disuse. We are not taking advantage of the opportunities in Russian studies presented by our higher institutions of learning. In this regard, we are the losers and great is our loss.

However as Christians, I believe Christ is calling us to be more wide awake than ever. Firstly, we must find peace within ourselves and brotherly love towards our neighbour. As Christians, we are called to make our Community a better place to live, and take action on such issues as: the preservation of our environment; violence on television; pornography; the plight of the underprivileged here and abroad; and discrimination in any form.

Above all, let us preserve the spirit which guided our forefathers in their exodus from tyranny to freedom. Observing the 6th Commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, they were loving their neighbour as themselves. Thank you.

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.


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.

My Memories of Grandmother and Grandfather Sookochoff

by Cyril Brown

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

The Homestead

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

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

The location of the original house.

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

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

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

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

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

The “new” house as it appears today.

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

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

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

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

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

Great-grandmother Anastasia

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bathhouse as it appears today.

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

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

The remains of the bathhouse heater.

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

Visiting Our Grandparents

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

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

Pelagea and Nicholai Sookochoff with grandchildren Cyril and Lois Brown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandfather Sookochoff

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

Nicholai Sookochoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmother Sookochoff

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

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

Pelagea Sookochoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Golden Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another view of the Sookochoff retirement home.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandparents Nicholas and Pelagea Sookochoff

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

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

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

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

How Deep are the Doukhobor Roots?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childhood Recollections

by Tanya Postnikoff

In her later years, Doukhobor Tanya (Makaroff) Postnikoff (1891-1982) wrote down her memories of growing up in Terpeniye village near Kars, Russia and in Petrofka village near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. The following excerpt, taken from her “Childhood Recollections”, is yet another rich and colourful example of Doukhobor oral tradition preserved in writing for future generations.

I remember very little of my Postnikov grandparents because we lived at opposite ends of our village, Terpeniye, in Russia. I can only recall two occasions when I visited them – once when grandmother was very ill, near death, and my mother, Paranya, was going on foot to visit her and I attached myself to her. I recollect that grandma, on that occasion, was already too ill to talk. I can’t remember anything of her looks or appearance, however, even then, I sensed the kindness in her heart and the deep love that she had for her children and grandchildren. 

As for grandfather, all I can recall is the occasion when mother and I visited them on a very warm day. We had heard that he was very ill, and when we arrived, we found him tottering about outside, heavily bundled in a heavy winter topcoat and obviously suffering from severe chills. Soon after this occasion grandfather took a turn for the worse and passed away. In appearance, I remember him to be a tall, slim man, taller than his son Nikolai (my father-in-law) yet with a strong similarity in their facial features. This is about all that I can remember.

It was a large family – five sons and three daughters – eight children in all. Nikolai (my future father-in-law) became a son-in-law of the Bondarevs and went to live with his bride’s parents and their family. The Patriarch or head of the Bondarev family was Lavrentii or Lavrusha for short. As a result, the family became known as the Lavrovs, and were always referred to by that nickname. At that time, their family consisted of five sons and two daughters.

Nikolai, my father-in-law to be, had at that time been working as a freighter on a wagon train. In an accident, he fell under a heavily laden freight wagon and both his legs were crushed between the heavy steel-rimmed wheels and the cobble-stoned military highway. The doctors refused to attempt to set the multiple fractures and decided to amputate. It was a common bone-setter (a Molokan with no schooling) who saved the situation. He did such a good job of bone-setting, that Nikolai retained full use of his legs for his entire lifetime. While convalescing, he would walk about supporting himself on two canes, and because of this was nicknamed Starichok (“oldster”) which stuck to him for life. His family, in turn, was alternately referred to as either Lavrovs or Starchikovs.

Wedding photo of Wasil & Tanya Postnikoff (left)

Nikolai’s convalescence lasted a long time, and while he was unable to work, their oldest son, Semeon, was gradually taking over the support of the family. One day Semeon with his mother, Nastya, decided to bring a wagonload of clay, which the villagers used to mix with fine hay or chaff in order to stucco all their stone-walled buildings. The excavation site was treacherous with overhanging walls and while working in it, Nastya was almost completely buried by a sudden collapse of an overhanging wall and the landslide that descended upon her. There were many other clay-diggers at the site at the time, and they managed to extricate Nastya from the mound of heavy clay and dirt. She must have suffered internal injuries, however, for soon thereafter she became ill and eventually passed away.

Nastya’s mother had been living with the family for several years prior to Nastya’s death. She was a kindly compassionate soul, beloved by all the children. Needless to say, she had her hands full in trying to discipline the large family of growing children. Sometime after Nastya’s death, Nikolai met and married his second wife, Mavrunya, who had also been widowed by the death of her husband, Nikolai Konkin. There were two daughters from that marriage, Elizaveta and Praskovia. Mavrunya was much younger than Nikolai and their marriage was more a union of convenience than anything else. She was a widow with two little girls who needed support, while he, in turn, needed her to manage his household with a large family of children. Thus, they faced the world together and managed not only to survive, but to bring up their families as well.

Nikolai had six sons and two daughters from his first marraige. With Mavrunya, they had six sons and one daughter. When their youngest son was born, Mavrunya’s father, who was noted for his wit, insisted that the baby be named Yosef (“Joseph”) after the Biblical story of Jacob, whose twelfth son carried that name. 

All in all it was a very large family group and yet Nikolai and Mavrunya not only managed to feed each hungry mouth, but were very hospitable and generous with outsiders. When they settled in Canada (Petrofka, Saskatchewan) there was a constant flow of immigrant settlers who were moving in to find their places in the newly opened country. Many of them, needy as they were, got stranded in Petrofka and were fed and sheltered, free of charge, for months at a time, in the Postnikoff mud-plastered, sod-roofed, humble household.

Going back in time, Nikolai himself had four brothers, the first of whom was Semeon, then Mikhailo, Dmitry and Ivan. He also had three sisters, Nastya, who married Vasily Vereshchagin, next Dasha, whose husband was Ivan Planidin, and the third one was Paranya, married to Gregory Makarov.

And now I will try to tell all that I can recollect about the Makarovs. I can remember grandpa and grandma Makarov quite well; they came to Canada with their family. Grandpa was injured on the train en route to their destination, Petrofka. His finger was crushed somehow by the car couplings of the train. It became infected (probably gangrene) and he died soon after. Grandma survived him by seven years and was totally blind when she passed away. They had only four children, three sons and one daughter. The sons’ names were Nikolai, Semeon and Gregory, my father. They all lived together in one family for a long time. The daughters’ name was Polya, an aunt whom I never saw because when in Russia, the family moved from Elizavetpol to Kars, while she and her husband remained behind. 

The Makarov family lived in one house. Nikolai had six children, Semeon had four while Gregory, my father, also had six. My aprents broke away from the rest a year or two before immigrating to Canada (1899) and farmed independently in that interim. The house we lived in was newly built, but very small and crowded for a family of eight, yet somehow there was always room even for guests (to think that nowadays people who own two, three or four houses sometimes complain that they are too crowded to entertain visitors!!).

My mother used to tell us that in the past, when they had been living in the Tavria province, in Milky Waters, the newly formed sect of Doukhobors decided to break away from the Russian Orthodox Church and denounced its hierarchy. They refused to register their children in Church records and defied the age-old custom of burial with a priest in attendance. On one occasion, some practical jokers allowed a priest to officiate by the grave-side, and when the ceremony was completed, seized the priest and announced that they would throw him into the grave as well, in accordance with the rule that the “dead should be buried with a priest”. Soon after this, the pressure from Church and government officials slackened off, and the Doukhobors were allowed to settle in the Elizavetpol province. Here they lived for a period of twenty years or so. Then, because land for farming was getting scarce, six villages decided to move to Kars (an area that has been under Turkey since 1918). Here, our village of Terpeniye was the largest and in it resided the leading Verigin family. In Kars, the Doukhobors resided for some twenty years. 

For some time, pressure had been increasing on the part of the Government to compel them to accept military service. The Doukhobors refused to comply, however, and soon were subjected to punitive persecution, such s exile to Siberia, violence, etc. These measures failed to shake the Doukhobor faith, however, and the Tsar’s Government then decided to solve the problem by exiling this steadfast group beyond the borders of Russia. Leo Tolstoy and the Quakers appealed to Queen Victoria of England to allow the Doukhobors to settle in Canada. Their plea was successful, and soon, several thousand immigrants assembled in the Black Sea port of Batum where for two weeks they waited while a coal freighter was being converted and readied to accommodate them as passengers.

The Trans-Atlantic journey took a whole month and was full of hardship. When they finally arrived in Quebec, the authorities promptly placed the entire group under quarantine because cases of smallpox had appeared among the passengers. After the quarantine was lifted, a fast-moving passenger vessel arrived; it was trim and neat and the children were delighted with its appearance. This boat took us to the city of Quebec where we went ashore to be met by a large group of men and women, some of whom may have been Quakers. The ladies in the group began tossing mint candy into the crowd of eager children and a wild scramble commenced. My brother Peter and myself were too young to join the general rush and felt quite left out, until a couple of ladies approached us and filled our pockets full of fragrant mints. After some time, the entire boatload of immigrants were taken aboard a train, the destination point being Selkirk, Manitoba. Here too, we stayed for a week or two prior to departure for our final ultimate settlement points.

At this point, I would like to go back and make a few remarks about my grandmother. Grandma loved me very much and tried hard to imbue me with a sense of piousness. She spent endless hours teaching me to recite psalms among which was one I still remember well. She also taught me a zagovorie (“incantation”) allegedly endowed with magical powers to stop a nosebleed or other small ailments – this too, I remember and can still recite. I can recall how hurt I was when my playmates refused to play with me, saying that my grandma was teaching me witchcraft. 

Prairie Doukhobor dwelling, circa 1901

The hardships and privations of the first few months of our pioneer life are unforgettable. We all lived in canvas tents which provided poor shelter against the cold, incessant rains. The tents dripped and leaked, so that everything inside was soggy and cold. It was next to impossible to build a fire or sustain it for long. To add to our torture, clouds of ravenous mosquitoes were constantly tormenting us – there was simply no refuge from them. Our diet was poor and inadequate, lacking in protein. All of this added up to a life of constant, almost intolerable suffering and misery. The nearest railway point was Rosthern, Saskatchewan, and that meant that to obtain flour and salt, the men would go some thirty miles afoot and return heavily laden with a hundred pounds of flour, ten pounds of salt, and whatever else each of them could afford and/or carry. It seemed incredible now that so many survived.

At this point, I would like to describe an occurance in which my two cousins Mavrutka (Fast) and Lisunya (Lastowsky) and myself were involved, and which nearly spelled disaster for us. We three were sent by our mothers to pick wild garlic for borshch. Our search finally brought us to the riverbank (North Saskatchewan) where we found a boat (the only one the village had), which we promptly untied from its mooring, climbed in, and were off! This was happening toward evening; the sun was low and we three were all about the same age – eight or nine years old. The main-stream current, by some quirk of fate, propelled us toward the shore where we climbed out, and tied the boat to a stump. 

It was getting late and with darkness came the fear of wolves! We remembered that somewhere nearby there was a homestead owned by Isaac Neufeldt, a Mennonite farmer, and for whom Nikolai Postnikoff was working at the time. I recall that the Neufeldt girls were painting the kitchen floor when we timidly knocked on their door. They spoke no Russian, didn’t know who we were, and soon summoned their father, who spoke Russian well. We told him that we three were daughters of Nikolai Postnikoff. The farmer did not want to wake Nikolai up (he had had a hard day and was already sleeping) so old Isaac ordered his daughters to put us up for the night. We slept in the hayloft that night. The wind had risen and whistled and moaned through cracks and knot-holes – it was a weird, sleepless night for me – an unforgettable night!

Early the next morning, old Isaac informed Nikolai that three little girls claiming to be his daughters had spent the night there. Nikolai was astonished. “Three little girls?”, “My daughters?” When he saw us, he was flabbergasted. “What are you doing here – how did you get here?” he yelled at us. We had, meanwhile, concocted a wild story about how Hrishka Konkin, a local mischievous brat, had enticed us into the boat, rowed us across the river, and abandoned us to our fate. Hrishka’s reputation was so notorious that Nikolai readily believed our story, which, of course, was a lie from “A” to “Z”. “Wait till I get ahold of that little devil!” he roared, “I’ll fix it so he won’t be able to sit down for a month!” 

The boat was still tied to the stump where we had left it last night, and as we were crossed, we three sang an old Russian song – something about Cossacks returning to their native villages. Our absence apparently had caused a great deal of alarm and fear about our safety, and as our boat approached the shore, the bank was lined with a large crowd of anxious people. Our mothers were hysterical with joy and relief at the sight of us – it was a highly emotional experience indeed! We soon learned that our boating adventure had not gone unnoticed. Someone had seen us board the boat and head downstream. The alarm was sounded and runners were dispatched to the village of Terpeniye, some miles downstream, where quickly, a boat was launched in the hope of intercepting us as we drifted in that direction. Their efforts and vigil were fruitless, of course, and lasted throughout the night.

At the time, I was terrified, expecting a severe beating from my father, who was always quick to punish his children mercilessly for any misdemeanor. My grandmother, seeing my terror and knowing what was in store for me, took me to bed with her, and when father entered, she intercepted him, saying that he had better not touch me, that I was blameless, and that it was my cousin Mavrutka who was the ringleader of our escapade. Fierce though he was by nature, my father broke into tears – which both astounded and, of course, delighted me.

Spanning the Years – The Vereschagin Family

by Ann J. Vereschagin

Throughout the early twentieth century, groups of Doukhobors left Canada for the United States seeking warmer climate, economic opportunity and personal freedom. One of the most prominent of these was the family of Alex W. (1878-1946) and Virginia (1879-1930) Vereschagin. After the family was released from exile in Yakutsk, Siberia, they came to Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan in 1905. In 1907, they resettled to Cucamonga and later Los Angeles, California where they worked as labourers on fruit farms. In 1909, they and several other Doukhobor families purchased land and established a short-lived colony near Shafter, California. Then in 1913, they joined a much larger “Freedom Colony” of Doukhobors near Peoria, Oregon. They returned to California in 1916, permanently settling in Orland, where they worked together for over 60 years as a cooperative family unit, becoming outstanding builders and innovators in the fruit growing and retail-wholesale industry. Their story is documented in a 1999 family autobiography, “Spanning the Years”, written by Alex and Virginia’s Molokan-born daughter-in-law Ann J. Vereschagin (1910-2005). The following excerpt from the book is reproduced here by permission.

Cucamonga, California

Father-in-law Alexei [Vereschagin] and family did not stay long in Blaine Lake. After two winters in Canada, father-in-law said that he had had enough ice and snow in Siberia. He decided to take his family to California. That spring (1907), the family moved to Cucamonga, a small town near Pasadena in Southern California. Why Cucamonga? Father-in-law Alexei had read about California while in Siberia. He read about it in a Russian newspaper printed in Los Angeles by a Russian immigrant named [Anton Petrovich] Scherbak. Scherbak lived in Cucamonga. The newspaper was named Tehia Akeyan (The Calm Ocean). I remember that my own father read the same newspaper. No doubt it was the only newspaper in America, at the time, that was written in Russian.

Alexei corresponded with Scherbak, inquiring about living conditions and the possibilities of finding work in California. He explained to Mr. Scherbak that he had a young family and that he wanted to live in a warm climate. Mr. Scherbak convinced Alexei that he should move to Cucamonga, and even offered a shack that was on his property for them to live in.

The American-Canadian border was pretty open at that time. Father-in-law Alexei and his family arrived at the border with the Peter Jericoff family. They were required to list all of their names in English. Imagine their frustration, knowing very few words in English. Mr. Jericoff probably knew the most. He translated mother-in-law’s name (Xenia) to Virginia, which is not a typical translation for a Russian name. The other names registered were: Alex (Alexei), William/Bill (Vasily), Martha (Malasha), and John (Ivan). Note: From now on, I will use the English names, and I will refer to father-in-law as Dad V.

(l-r) Alex W. (Dad) Vereschagin, William, John, Virginia (Mom) Vereschagin holding Jane, Alex and Martha, 1909.

The family lived in Cucamonga less than two years. Dad V. worked on a farm, digging irrigation ditches with a pick and shovel – 10 hours a day at $1.50 per day. The ditches were along an orange grove, with roots that were long and buried deep. Backbreaking work! William (8 years) and Martha (7 years) started school in Cucamonga. Jane (Nastia) was born there on her brother John’s birthday, August 1st in 1908. This date was recorded on Dad V.’s last page of his English-Russian dictionary. That dictionary shows a lot of wear, so I know that it was one of his favorite books.

Next they moved to Los Angeles where Dad V. was acquainted with some Molokan families. He wanted to live near others who spoke Russian. He knew some Molokans who were draymen. They made a deal with him to supply them with hay. Dad V. had a team of horses and a wagon. He would buy the hay from local farmers and load it onto boxcars which took it to Los Angeles. He then sold it to the Molokan draymen who used it for their horses. Bill and Alex would often help. They were too young to load the hay, but they stood by to hold the team of horses. Most any movement, such as a jackrabbit running by, would frighten and agitate the horses.

Shafter, California

By this time a few more Doukhobor families had emigrated to California (Rilcoffs, Chernoffs, Durtsoffs and Poznoffs, to name a few). A real estate agent took advantage of them. In the spring of 1909, he presumably sold the group some land in Shafter (Kern County). After building small livable shacks, buying a cow and some horses, another man came and told the group that the land had not been for sale; thus, it did not belong to them; it belonged to the Kern Land Company. Note: I do not know when they were informed of this, but I do know that the Vereschagins continued living in Shafter until 1913.

In September of 1910, William, Martha, and Alex started school in a one-room country school house about a mile from where they lived. Most of the time they walked to school. If the horse was not needed for work that day, they were sometimes allowed to hitch-up the horse to a two-wheeled cart and take it to school. William was ten years old and was considered old enough to be in charge. One day when they were coming home, a jack-rabbit jumped in front of the horse. The horse got scared and took off on its own with the children hanging on for dear life. William was pulling on the reins as hard as he could, trying to stop the horse. Martha was sitting in the back with her legs hanging out and screaming for William to stop the horse because she wanted to get off. Fortunately, the children got home safely.

Martha was old enough to help with the cooking and the chores, besides helping to watch over the two little ones, John and Jane. One time John asked his mother where he had been born. She told him that William, Martha, and Alex had been born in Siberia, and that he had been born in Canada. He thought a moment and then said, ‘If I was the only one born in Canada, it must have been very lonesome for me.”

Life in Shafter was not easy. William worked with his father during the summer months. One day when they were eating their lunch out in the field, William asked his dad if perhaps tomorrow they could have two eggs, instead of one, for lunch. Years later when my husband told me about their early life in Shafter, the part about the eggs always brought tears to his eyes.

Leo was born in Shafter on November 11, 1910. He was named for Leo Tolstoy. Peter was also born there on June 27,1913. He was named for Mom V.’s dad.

Peoria, Oregon

As soon as Peter was old enough to travel and Mom V. had her strength back, the family packed up and left for Peoria, Oregon. They were forced to vacate their land, so decided on Oregon because there was quite a colony [the Koloniya Svoboda or “Freedom Colony”] of Doukhobors already living there (Vanins, Jericoffs, Popoffs and Lapshinoffs, to name a few) and my in-laws wanted to again live among their own people (Doukhobors rather than Molokans). As a group, these families had purchased a section of land. Upon arrival, Dad V. leased 40 acres from them.

Times continued to be tough. The families were all poor but they cared for one another. They helped each other to build living quarters, barns, tool sheds, and whatever was necessary for protection from the cold and rain in Oregon. They shared their produce and livestock as one big family.

Shortly after their arrival in Peoria and just as they finished adding on and patching the three-room house on the farm, the Dobrinin family [a Molokan family] arrived from Los Angeles. Having no house to move into, Dad and Mom V. invited them to move in with them. Imagine two families living in a three-room house, with no running water and no sanitary provisions in the house. The eight children had to sleep on the floor. (I wonder if this is what is meant by “the good old days.”) The Dobrinins lived with them for one winter until they accumulated enough money to get a house of their own, close by. Members of the two families continued to be very close friends throughout their lives.

My husband told me that their father once bought them a bicycle at an auction for 75 cents. The bearing on the front wheel was “shot” and there was no tire on that front wheel. Older-brother Bill had the idea to tie a rope around the wheel. It worked! Away they would go, until eventually the rope wore off.

The children started school in Peoria. It was a typical rural school with one teacher teaching all eight grades; most of the students were Russian. The Vereschagin children had to walk about two miles to go to school. The roads were bad, especially in winter when they were flooded. Luckily, there were wooden fences along the road. When the roads were flooded, they would walk on the fences; however, they couldn’t help getting their feet wet. John, being the youngest, often got his pants wet, too.

(l-r) John Vereschagin, Jim Vanin, William Vereschagin and friend, Peoria, Oregon, 1915. 

Every morning during the winter, the family had a difficult time getting the fire started in the kitchen stove. The wood would be wet because it was stored outside, unprotected from the rain. The children had to take turns blowing on the flame to keep it going. Consequently, they often arrived at school late. The teacher would send notes home, complaining about their tardiness. The notes didn’t help because, as my husband said: “There was no way to make the wood understand the problem.”

Despite the poverty, John often went to the local grocery store during the school lunch hour and bought 5 cents worth of candy. The owner, Mr. Lamar, told Dad V. about it. Dad questioned John and asked him where he was getting the money. John told him that he didn’t need any money. He just told Mr. Lamar to write it down in the book. (In those days, when you bought groceries on credit, you merely wrote it down in a book.)

In addition to farming their 40 acres, the family had to go out to work for other farmers in and around the Willamette Valley. Dad V. bought an old horse-drawn baler and a couple of horses. He hired out to cut and bale hay. William often worked with his dad. The family also worked at picking hops around the Independence area.

On July 1, 1915, another blessed event! Walter, the last child, was born. Now there were eight children in the family. Unlike many families in those days, all eight children were blessed with good health.

During the winter of 1916, Dad and Mom V. decided to move back to California, where it was warmer and there were more opportunities to earn money. Dad got on a train to go to Shafter where his friends the Rilcoffs and Poznoffs were still living. On the train, he happened to meet a real estate agent named Harrigan. Dad told Mr. Harrigan, in limited English, that he was on his way to Kern County. He was looking for good land to farm, as he had six sons and a farm was the best place to raise a family. Mr. Harrigan told him that he should get off in Orland because there was a new irrigation project (completed in 1911) and prospects were good. Dad took his advice and got off the train in Orland.

In Orland he went to see George and Dan Sturm, who were in the real estate and insurance business. They showed Dad properties that were in the irrigation project. Dad liked what he saw, but still wanted to go to Shafter before making a decision. He told them that he would stop back in Orland on his return trip.

Orland, California

In a few days, Dad V. was back in Orland and made a deal to lease, with an option to buy, 27 acres (21 acres in the irrigation project). Six acres were already planted in alfalfa and about one acre had newly planted orange trees. Another six acre plot was along Stony Creek. It was very gravely, thus not suitable for fanning. There was a small old house and a barn on the place. The farm was three miles east of Orland on County Road 12. This turned out to be the final home for the entire family unit, and became known as “the home place.”

For their move from Oregon, they put all of their “worldly goods” in one freight train boxcar. In addition to miscellaneous household articles, they had a team of horses, one cow, a wagon and a hay baler – all in the boxcar. In order to take care of the animals, Dad V. and brother-in-law Bill were allowed to ride in the boxcar at no cost. The rest of the family came the next day on a passenger train, thus arriving in Orland after the arrival of all their possessions.

Orland was a small, but thriving town when the Vereschagins stepped off the trains in 1916. (Census of 1910 showed 836 town residents.) The dirt and gravel streets had many potholes and ruts. Horse-drawn carriages were still being used. There was a ditch that ran through town. A flour mill was situated along the ditch at Fourth and Colusa Streets (present site of the city library). Besides the train depot, Orland had the usual general merchandise stores, bakery, bank, barber shop, churches, saloons, livery stables, blacksmith and harness shops, etc. There was a theater, a hotel, a bathhouse, a Chinese restaurant, a large grain warehouse, a creamery, and a chicken hatchery. The Masonic Lodge was, and still is, Orland’s tallest building (three stories). There was also an Odd Fellows Hall and two bi-weekly newspapers. The Volunteer Fire Dept. had already been organized and the Glenn County Fair began that year. The Orland Opera House was on the corner of Fifth & Colusa Streets (demolished in 1920). There was an elementary and a high school. Note: Would you believe that in 1882, Orland College opened with about two dozen students? It changed to Orland Normal School in 1886, and closed in 1892.

When the Vereschagins arrived in Orland, they had about $26.00 in cash. This was hardly enough to start housekeeping and feed a family of ten. In order to earn money to help support the family, twelve-year old Alex got up enough courage to ask Mr. Lindstrom (he owned the neighboring farm where Erik Nielsen now lives) if he would give him a job irrigating his orange orchard. Mr. Lindstrom asked Alex is he could use a shovel and knew how to divert the water from one row to another. Alex told him he could handle the job. Not only was Alex hired, but Mom V. occasionally helped Mrs. Lindstrom with the housework. Martha got a job doing housework for another neighbor – the Root family.

As the alfalfa hay crop around Orland became ready to bale. Dad and Bill went to several farmers and contracted to bale their hay. That was the beginning of the Vereschagins’ first commercial enterprise in Orland and the start of many other business ventures that were to follow throughout many years to come.
It was not easy to bale hay in 1916. The process went something like this: A team of horses pulled the baler out to the hay field. The wheels on the baler were removed in order to keep the baler stationary while in action. The horses were then hitched to the drawbar so that they could go round and round, turning the plunger which went up and down, feeding the hay into the chamber where the bales were made.

Everyone and everything had to work in precision in order to produce even-sized bales. Leo, who was about six years old, had to sit on the drawbar and keep the horses moving, so that the plunger went at a steady pace. Riding on the turnstile was similar to being on a merry-go-round. Being so young, he would often fall asleep. His dad would waken him by shouting “hun-ee.” In Russian, this means “keep them moving.” Later, that word (hun-ee) became a joke among the farmers for whom they worked.

Mom V. and Bill would pitch the hay from a stack on the ground to Dad V. who stood on the baler and fed the hay into the plunger. Alex’s job was to tie the bales with three wires to each bale. Ordinarily, this was a two-man job: one man pokes the wire into the slot on one side of the bale, and the other man ties the wires on the other side. Alex would poke the three wires on one side of the bale, then jump over to the other side and tie the wires before the next bale was formed. John’s job was to pull the finished bale away from the baler, weigh it, and write down the weight. They were paid by the ton, and not by the number of bales, so each bale had to be weighed.

Fifteen-year old Martha had the job of cooking for the crew. Since they worked long hours, she would have to cook two or three meals a day. Once in a while, she came out to help move the bales or pitch hay into the plunger. Eight-year old Jane had the job of staying home and taking care of the house and the two young ones, Peter and Walter.

Hay baling season was always in the heat of the summer. It was a hot, dusty, and dirty job. Everyone was “dead tired” at night and there was no air-conditioning in those days to cool off the house at night. Were those really the “good old days?”

When there were no hay-baling contracts, the older children worked in the hop fields east of Orland (across the Sacramento River). They would camp on the bank of the river, close to the hop fields. They would go home once a week to pick up supplies and get clean clothes. There was one problem with camping along the river: John would occasionally walk in his sleep. How did they solve the problem? They tied one leg to the tent peg. Note: “Hops” grow on vines and are used for flavor in brewing beer.

In the fall, the children went to school. Sixteen-year old Bill was not required to go to school, so he stayed home and worked with his father. The rest of the children went to the Orland grammar school. At first, they rode in a horse-drawn, two-seater cart, just like so many of the other children who lived out in the country. They all graduated from grammar school, but only Jane, Leo, and Walter were able to go to high school. The older ones had to work. Note: Neither Jane nor Leo graduated from high school; perhaps Walter did, but I’m not sure.

Dad V. did value education; however, circumstances were such that the children had to work just to make ends meet. In the words of my husband: “Our father did have in mind for us to go to school as much as was possible so that we would be ready to face the world.” Dad V. had one summer of schooling while living in Russia. He taught himself to be fluent in the reading and writing of Russian. He was also self-taught in math and in the reading and writing of English.

Typical of all families, the children had their squabbles. I heard the following story from Jane, but John said that he couldn’t remember the incident. Anyway, according to Jane, the two children had a squabble. Jane ran into the house and slammed and locked the door in John’s face. The door happened to have a glass window. She was on the inside making faces at him. John couldn’t control himself so he punched her right on the face through the glass window. The window broke into pieces, but fortunately neither of them were badly cut. I never heard how they were punished, but I am sure that the parents were very unhappy with the unnecessary expense of replacing the window.

Dad and Mom Vereschagin, c. 1917.

The first autumn after their arrival in Orland, Dad V.’s oldest brother, Vasily, and his family (wife, Dunya, son Alex and his wife Masha, and their children William and Polly) came to visit from Blaine Lake, Canada. Alex and Masha stayed and bought a small farm. Undoubtedly, everyone was excited to have blood-relatives living close by. The next spring, Masha gave birth to another daughter, Elizabeth. The Doukhobor colony in Orland was increasing.

In 1917, the United States declared war against Germany…World War I. This war had been going on in Europe since the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914.

Alex and Masha decided to return to Canada for the duration of the war because they were concerned about Alex being drafted into the U.S. Army. (In Canada, the Doukhobors had a conscientious objectors status.) Also, Masha’s brother Nikita had lost most of his left hand in a threshing machine accident in Blaine Lake. Masha was eager to go back and help take care of him. There was also the possibility that the border between the U.S. and Canada might be closed, thus making it more difficult to later leave. The war ended on November 11, 1918, but Alex and his family never returned to California.

Shortly after the war, Dad V.’s sister Paranya and family (husband George W. Popoff, son Mike and daughter Hazel) came to visit from Blaine Lake. Paranya and George had recently lost a seven-year old daughter, Polly, due to a lightning accident. They thought that a change in environment would be good for them. Just like Alex and Masha, they also bought a small farm. Mike and brother-in-law Bill were the same age, as were Hazel and sister-in-law Martha. The cousins spent a lot of time together at work and at play. For some reason, they only stayed a year, returning to Blaine Lake in the spring of 1919.

That same year, the Vanin and Jericoff families came to Orland from Oregon. The Vanins rented a house on Walker Street. They planned to stay for only a short while and then go farther south in California. (They actually later returned to live in Canada.) The Jericoffs purchased a small farm a couple of miles north of Orland, across Stony Creek, in the Lake District. I do not know exactly how long they lived in Orland, but Mr. and Mrs. Jericoff are buried in the Orland Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Another Doukhobor family who followed the Vereschagins from Oregon to Orland were the Lapshinoffs. They also bought a small farm in the Lake District. They had a young teenage daughter named Irene. I often wondered if there was another motive for both the Vanins and the Lapshinoffs to come to Orland. The Vereschagins had sons, prospective mates for their daughters. In those days, parents had a lot to do with choosing their children’s mates. An ideal mate had to be of the same heritage: preferably a Doukhobor, or at least someone who spoke Russian.

In addition to farming the “home place,” baling hay, and picking hops, the older children found other seasonal work. As they got older, they packed apricots and peaches for the Anchorage Farm which was south of Orland. Alex learned how to nail boxes for shipping the fresh fruit. Martha packed the fruit into these boxes. Others in the family worked cutting peaches and apricots for drying. When the peach cannery opened for the season in Yuba City, the older siblings went to work there. Yuba City is about 80 miles southeast of Orland. The cannery provided housing for the workers who were unable to commute each day. They also worked in an asparagus factory in Rio Vista. One time, Alex broke his finger on the job, so he returned to Orland while Martha and Jane (nicknamed Jenny) remained at the cannery to work. During orange-picking season, Alex nailed boxes at the Orland Orange Growers Packing House. The nailers were paid so much per box. Alex figured out the most efficient way to assemble the boxes, with no wasted movements. He made more money being paid per box than if he had been paid the current hourly wage.

All of the money that the children earned for working went into one family account. Not one penny went to the individual who earned the money. As was the custom, Dad V. was the head of the household. He collected and dispersed the money as he saw fit. He bought the groceries, the clothes, and paid all the bills. There was no accounting as to what is “mine” or “yours”; it was all “ours.” No doubt they got an allowance when they got older, because they did have limited money to see a movie, buy a soda, etc.

Around 1918 or 1919, Mother V. had to make an emergency trip to British Columbia to see her sister who was very ill. Since Mom V. spoke very little English, she was apprehensive about traveling alone. She was also uneasy about crossing the Canadian border. It was decided that eight-year old Leo would go along as her interpreter. He could also help her to take care of Walter. Leo must have done a good job because they did return home without any major problems.

Sometime prior to this, Dad and Mom V. made a trip together to Brilliant, British Columbia to visit her ill mother. When they got there, they were informed by the leader of the commune that they could not visit her mother in the commune. She was too ill to leave her home, so Dad and Mom had to sneak into the house at night in order to see her. This caused them to have a lot of ill feeling and disappointment toward the Doukhobor leadership. The wound never healed during their lifetime.

There was a reason for the above incident. In 1912-13, when the Doukhobors, under the leadership of Peter Verigin, decided to move to British Columbia, some Doukhobors living on homesteads in Saskatchewan refused to give up their lands and freedom. As a consequence, they were ostracized from the sect by an edict proclaimed by Peter Verigin, who had been given the title of “Lordly.” He named these dissidents ‘Independents” and told them that they were no longer welcome in the brotherhood. Dad V. was not in sympathy with Mr. Verigin’s leadership or philosophy. He wrote letters and articles in the Russian newspaper, denouncing commune living. Dad said that he did not approve of communes in Russia and did not agree with commune living in Canada. He saw it as an exploitation of innocent people that would only end in disaster. He believed in personal freedom. So, when Mom and Dad arrived to visit her sick mother, Verigin said that they could not be given permission to see her in a commune house.

In 1921, brother-in-law Bill married Irene Lapshinoff. It was not a big wedding. They were married in the Willows Justice Court, with a family dinner following. A deal was made between the Lapshinoffs and Bill, that he could move right in with them. They were getting old and Irene was their only child. On September 24, 1922, a son was born to the newlyweds. They named him Harold (Gavril in Russian) after Dad V.’s grandfather. In time, Mr. and Mrs. Lapshinoff deeded the house and farm to Bill and Irene. The seniors lived with them for a few years, both passing away in the mid-1920’s.

Left of the gentleman with child: Alex A. Vereschagin, Mike G. Popoff, Jane and John Vereschagin, Hazel G. Popoff, William and Martha Vereschagin, 1922.

On or about 1923, the Vereschagins had their first crop of prunes to harvest. They had planted about 12 acres of prunes in 1918-19. With no previous experience in prune drying, Alex and Bill visited other prune farms in the area to learn what to do. They had to build a dipping shed and drying trays. In those days, the fruit was dried by the sun, not in a dehydrator. Space was needed to spread the fruit out for drying. They chose to build the shed at the lower end of the farm, close to the creek, where there were no trees to block out the sun.

The process for harvesting prunes went something like this: A roller went around the trees to break up the large clods of dirt, so that the fruit was less likely to be bruised when it fell. A large canvas was spread under the trees, and then the fruit was knocked off with a heavy wooden mallet. When needed, a long pole was used to get the “stubborn ones.” Since some fruit always missed the canvas, the younger members of the family followed and picked the fruit off the ground into buckets. The buckets were emptied into lug boxes and then taken to the dipping shed. There, the fresh fruit was dumped into a large tub of cold water, then put into a solution of hot lye water. This caused the skin to soften so that the fruit would dry faster in the sun. The lye would also repel bees and flies.

The prunes were then spread on the trays and laid out in the sun to dry. The drying time depended on the weather. Under ideal conditions, they would dry in about a week; however, if there was a threat of rain, the trays had to be stacked and covered with canvas, thus slowing down the drying time. When it was determined that the fruit was dry enough, it was then scraped from the trays and put into burlap sacks and kept in a storage barn until sold. Note: All the fresh fruit had to be dipped, spread on the trays, and set out to dry the same day as it was picked. There could be no leftovers. This made for very long days of hard work during prune harvest.

Rosenburg Brothers were the brokers for dried fruit at that time. I believe they were based in San Francisco. The prunes were shipped in boxcars to the Rosenburg plant. Shipping them in burlap sacks was often a mess. The syrup-like juice would run off the prunes onto the sacks, causing the sacks to stick together and even tear apart in handling. At the plant, the fruit would be packaged and then marketed throughout the United States and Canada. The price for dried prunes in 1923 was $ .01 per pound. In 1926, they got up to $ .07 per pound. (In 1996 the price averaged about $ .40 per pound.)

A tragedy befell the family in 1923. Brother Peter, age ten, was killed by a horse while he was feeding it. It happened during hay-baling season. At the end of a baling day, Peter and Leo had the job of feeding the team of horses. This one particular day, for some reason, one of the horses became frightened when Peter lifted up the pitchfork after feeding it some hay. It kicked him behind the ear on the left side of his head. Peter never regained consciousness and died a few hours later. Needless to say, everyone was shocked. The family remembered him as being a very sweet, cheerful boy. He loved to sing when he worked and played. My husband remembered that he sang very loudly when he milked the cows.

The next year there was a happy event. While working in San Francisco, Martha met Bill Boyko, a Russian from the Ukraine. After a short courtship, they were married in San Francisco on June 21, 1924. They lived in San Francisco for a short time; then they moved to Orland, buying a twenty-acre farm on Road MM, a mile or so southeast of Orland. They built a two-room house, then gradually added on rooms. Not only did Bill work on his own almond and olive orchard, but he also worked for other farmers in the area and for the Vereschagins. Whenever she could, Martha worked right along with her husband, picking olives and oranges, and working at the packing houses. A year later, on June 27, 1925, a son, George, was born.

Along with other farmers in Glenn County, for a short time the family experimented with cotton. They planted about ten acres. There was a cotton gin along the railroad tracks in Hamilton City. It turned out that growing cotton was not such a good idea for the area, so the cotton farms eventually disappeared.

About this time, there was no longer a need for work horses. The Vereschagins purchased their first tractor, a 3-wheel Samson. The hay baler was converted to engine power. The family even bought their first car, a 1918 Buick. Things were looking good. Bill and Alex convinced their dad that they should go to a mechanics school in San Francisco. They needed to learn more about motors and engines. They spent a couple of winter months in the city. In addition to going to school, they socialized with the local Molokans. Bill was married; however, Alex was single. Years later, he still liked to talk about his escapades during those two months.

During the summer of 1924, about five young families of Doukhobors from Canada stopped in Orland for rest and for information about relocating in California. They wanted to buy a piece of land large enough to start a small colony. They needed to be close enough to available jobs because they would all have to work until they got enough money to buy their own land. Orland didn’t have much to offer them, so they went farther south. They found work in the newly established vineyards around Manteca, Lodi, and Stockton.

They found a piece of undeveloped land not too far from Manteca and asked Dad V. for his advice as to the quality of the land and its possibilities for growing grapes. On his recommendation, they purchased one hundred sixty acres of good farming soil about three miles from the small rural town of Manteca. To prove to the new buyers that they were not making a mistake, Dad bought the first twenty acres. Each of the families bought their own twenty acres, and the Rebins even bought several twenty-acre pieces for their relatives still in Canada. That was the beginning of the Doukhobor colony in Manteca [i.e. the Russian Colony].

In 1924, when the Manteca colonists began developing their property, Dad, Alex, and John went to Manteca to develop their 20 acres; they leveled the land, prepared it for irrigation, and planted grape vines. Jane (16 years old) went to cook and do the other household chores. Alex (21 years old) designed and built a small house and a tank house. The house is standing and occupied to this day. Note: A water tank was placed over the domestic well and above the level of the farmhouse. Gravity would then force the water into the faucets in the house. Usually, a room was built under the water tank, hence the name “tank house.”

Since it was too far from Orland, the Vereschagins were not able to continue farming this Manteca farm. Instead, they rented it out to be farmed by others.

Uncle Gavril came to visit from Canada. Dad V. decided to take him to see the farm in Manteca, and visit other Doukhobors in the San Joaquin Valley. I’m not sure whether Dad had a driver’s license – probably not. He was not a mechanic; but he did know that a car needed gasoline and oil to run. While he and Gavril were on their trip, every time Dad gassed up he also put in a quart of oil. The engine was eventually so full of oil that it would not run. Alex took the train and brought the Buick home. I was told that the car was belching smoke like a freight train. Fortunately, the older boys were able to get it back in good running condition.

When Alex was building the house in Manteca, his good friend, Mike Shlahoff, got married. The wedding took place in San Francisco. While at the wedding, Alex met the bride’s younger sister, Jeanette Covolenko. Now it so happened that Jeanette came often to visit her sister who was living in Manteca. A romance developed. In 1927, Alex and Jeanette got married in her parents’ home in San Francisco. The newlyweds returned to Orland to live in the same house with Dad, Mom, John, Jane, Leo, and Walter.

The Covolenkos were not Doukhobors; they were Baptists. They and other Russian-Baptist immigrants (Dolgoffs, Commendants, Sclarenkos, and Bamuts) came to the United States through South America. They settled on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, where the Molokans had also settled. All were good friends with the Vereschagins.

In 1926, Bill and Irene had their second son, William. Unfortunately, when he was eighteen months old, he contacted meningitis and died. How sad!

Alex A. Vereschagin, 1927.

Whenever Jane was in Manteca, Walter Poznoff would come from Shafter to visit her. They were married in Orland on October 3, 1927. (Wonder if the two sets of parents had something to do with them getting together? After all, Dad V. and Walt’s father [Vasily Pozdnyakov] had remained very good friends since their days in Siberia.) Jane left her Orland home and family to live in Shafter with Walt’s parents and his one brother, Alexander.

That same year, Dad went to Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, to visit his brother Vasya and sister Parania. While there he visited with his good friend Fred Sokorokoff. Fred had a daughter, Tina. Dad thought Tina would make a good wife for his son John. When Dad got back to Orland, he told John to write to Tina. Being a dutiful son, John did.

Since the price of prunes was down, the Vereschagins decided to ship two boxcars of prunes, with some raisins and dried peaches, to Saskatchewan. One boxcar was to go to Yorkton and the other to Blaine Lake (two communities with many Doukhobors). While the boxcars were on their way to Canada, Dad and John were also on their way, in order to be there to sell the fruit. The trip turned out to be a huge success. Dried prunes were a rare commodity in their stores. The family made $.02 more per pound for the prunes than they would have in California and could have sold even more.

Another purpose of the trip was for John to meet his “pen pal” – Tina Sokorokoff. Needless to say, a romance developed. In June of 1928, John went back to Blaine Lake on the train. He and Tina were married there in a traditional Doukhobor ceremony. Tina’s parents accompanied the newlyweds on their train trip back to Orland. They honeymooned together! Meanwhile, Mom V. prepared a bedroom for the couple. They were to live in the same house with the rest of the family: Dad and Mom V., Alex and Jeanette, Leo, and Walter.

Things continued to look good for the Vereschagins. They were able to save some money. Dad V. was looking into investing in more land. His good friend, George Sturm (a realtor), had just the place for him. Dad bought a small farm on Newville Road, west of town. The land was in the irrigation project; it had the potential to be a future home for himself or for one of his sons. He deeded the land in his wife Virginia’s name. Perhaps he thought that she should have something in her name, just in case.

The newly purchased land needed to be developed for farming. They planted almonds and oranges. There were no buildings on the property. With this additional acreage, the boys no longer had time to work in the canneries, although Alex did continue to nail boxes for the Orange Packing House for a few more years.

In 1928-29, the “stork” was a frequent visitor to the Vereschagin clan. The babies, all born healthy, were: daughter Elaine (1/31/28), born to Alex and Jeanette V.; daughter La Verne (9/3/28), born to Bill and Martha Boyko; daughter Louise (2/9/29), born to Bill and Irene V.; son Vernon (3/23/29), born to John and Tina V.; and son Robert (4/28/29), born to Walt and Jane Poznoff.

Alex and Jeanette’s marriage was having difficulties. For a short time, they went to live in the house that Alex had built in Manteca. Still, the problems continued, finally leading to a divorce in 1929. Jeanette went to live with her parents in San Francisco, taking baby Elaine with her. Along with the rest of the family, Grandmother V. had become greatly attached to Elaine. The parting was especially difficult and emotional for Grandmother and Elaine.

Meanwhile, the family dwelling was not only “bulging out the seams,” but was in need of a major remodeling job. The decision was made to build a new house. Mother V. had lived in crowded quarters and old houses all of her life. She deserved a new home. Since Alex had already had the experience of building the house in Manteca, they were confident that they could build this one, too. With Mom’s help, Alex drew up the plans for the house. Everything was custom made on the premises, even the cabinets and trimmings.

The new three-bedroom home had many conveniences: a sink with running water; a cooking stove with a warming closet on top and a water heater attachment that heated water; a large living room for entertaining company; and a basement for storing canned goods and winter vegetables. The nearby tank house had a nice extra bedroom. Leo and Walter were the first to share the room.

Mother V. had been suffering from kidney stones for many years. The local doctor had been trying to cure her problem with diet and medication. In 1930, her condition became unbearable. The doctor was able to get her into the University of California Hospital in San Francisco as an emergency patient, where she was operated on immediately. The operation was a success, but Mother died from pneumonia a few days later. She was forty years old. In the words of my husband: “May God bless her as she had a heart of gold!”

Mom Vereschagin’s funeral, 1930. (l-r) Dad Vereschagin, Alex holding Elaine, Bill Boyko behind Irene holding Louise, Martha, Walter, Bill, Leo, Jane, Walter Poznoff, Tina, John holding Vernon, Young boys, Harold behind George.

Unfortunately, I never got to meet Mother V., as she died before I met and married Alex. The family always spoke fondly other, so I felt as though I knew her. They said that she was a shy person, unpretentious, and never stood out in a crowd. She had to have been a courageous woman…living in Siberia and then crossing the ocean to unknown lands. She had eight children within fifteen years. It was exceptionally sad that she had not lived long enough to enjoy her new home.

It took a long time for the family to adjust after Mother V. passed away. Dad spent a lot of time reading Tolstoy’s classics and writing letters. Tina became the matron of the house. Not only did she have a baby (Vernon) to care for, but she was in charge of the cooking, baking, washing, and cleaning for all her in-laws living under the same roof. The men were not much help because they were busy farming. Sister Martha helped with the baking whenever she could. For Dad V., home-baked bread was a must. Note: With so many living under one roof, bread had to be baked every other day.

Not too long after Mom V.’s death, Tina’s parents, the Sokorokoffs, decided to move to Orland to be near their one and only daughter. Her only brother William also made the move. They sold their property in Blaine Lake. Dad V. and John located a small farm, suitable for a small orchard, for them to buy on County Road N. There was no house on the property. Alex built them a garage with a bedroom and a small kitchen attached. This would be their temporary home until the main house could be built.

At approximately the same time, a larger piece of property was being offered for sale not very far from the Sokorokoff place. John and Tina decided that it would make a nice location for their home, sometime in the distant future. The Vereschagins bought it and right away the men planted almond trees and alfalfa.

It was apparent that Tina needed help with her household chores. Now that Alex’s divorce was final. Dad V. felt that he should be looking for another wife. They even thought that perhaps Alex should go to Canada and look for a Doukhobor girl. Before that trip ever materialized, Dad went to a funeral in Sheridan. He saw several young Molokan girls, me being one of them. Upon his return home, he told Alex that perhaps he should go to Sheridan and see if he could find a mate. Alex did. We met. We married on May 31, 1931. 

Alex and Ann (Popoff) Vereschagin’s wedding day, 1931.

My Life Begins In Orland

When I woke up my first morning in Orland, Alex had already gone to work, baling hay. Tina was in the kitchen with Vernon. She told me that I could take my time and first get acquainted with the house. The work will come later. She showed me how the shower worked and where the outhouse was.

I spent most of the day organizing our bedroom. Before the wedding, Alex asked me what my favorite color was and how I wanted the bedroom to be painted. I chose mauve and a light green because of a picture I had once seen in a magazine. He painted the walls mauve, the ceiling a light cream, and the furniture was pale green. It was pretty – the nicest bedroom I had ever possessed! The room was not very large, but it was warm and cozy because it faced the west and there was a large shade tree outside the double window. I enjoyed spending time alone in the bedroom – reading, sewing, and thinking.

Gradually, under Tina’s supervision, I learned how to cook the foods that the family liked: borsch, lapsha, peroshki, vareniki, lapshevnik, and baked bread. I even learned how to fry bacon, because, for reasons previously mentioned, my family never ate bacon or ham.

It had been Leo and Walter’s responsibility to milk the cows, but it wasn’t long until Tina and I were milking them instead. There were usually two or three cows to milk. After milking, we used a separator (machine) to separate the cream from the milk. There was a crank that had to be turned by hand in order for the separator to work. Eventually, Alex got an electric motor to run the separator, which made the job easier. Tina and I were both pregnant at the time, so maybe that was the reason for the electric motor.

At first, Tina and I did the cooking, washing, and cleaning together, often getting in each other’s way. We decided to divide the chores into “inside” and “outside” jobs. One week I would work “outside” (milking, weeding the garden, washing clothes) while Tina would work “inside” (cooking and cleaning the house… except for our personal bedrooms). We would switch jobs every week. This division of work proved successful. We did it until John and Tina moved out and into their own home – about five years after my joining the family.

A few days after we were married, I discovered that my husband had another love. His love for “the shop” was something that I had to live with for the rest of our lives together. With that love came the perpetual smell of oil, grease, and carbon, not to mention the problem of getting the oil stains out of his work clothes. I had to keep reminding him to take his soiled clothes and shoes off before coming into the house. He finally started to wear coveralls, except in the summer, when it was too hot.

Alex loved mechanics and building things. He would buy scrap iron, used building materials, and old motors and engines. From these, he was always inventing and constructing things to make farming easier and better. It was many years before he could afford to buy anything new. Note from Virginia: One of my memories growing up was that no trip to San Francisco or Sacramento was complete without a stop at one of Dad’s favorite “junk yards.” He knew them all. “Junk yards” are never in the better neighborhoods. There was never any place for us to shop, so we would have to sit in the car and wait for him.

The “home place”, Orland, California, 1929.

Alex and a group of neighbors got together and constructed a telephone line from Orland, along Road 12, to Road P. This was common practice, known as a “farmer’s line,” which the farmers had to maintain. Telephones were mounted to the wall. Instead of dialing a number, you had to turn a crank to get the operator. (Sometimes several “cranks” before she answered.) You would tell her the number and she would connect you to the party you were calling. Each house on the line had its own special telephone ring. George (Boyko) remembers that their number was 6F13. The F stood for “farmers line,” the 6 was which farmer’s line, and the 1 and 3 denoted the rings – 1 long and 3 short. The “home place” number was 2F12 – 1 long and 2 short rings on farmer’s line 2. Everyone on the line heard all of the rings. You had to listen carefully for your own ring. Note: Listening in on other’s telephone conversations was common. News traveled fast!

It was wonderful when Pacific Telephone Company came to Northern California and replaced all rural telephone lines with new poles, new lines, and equipment. The wall phone was replaced with a desk phone and we were unable to hear our neighbor’s conversations anymore.

John was the entrepreneur of the family. When I came in 1931, he was in the chicken business. I remember him out in the chicken pen, feeding them. I don’t remember whether he sold any eggs or not, nor how much longer he kept the chickens. John also purchased some Trans American stock prior to the stock market crash in 1929. That was his first experience with buying stock. In later years, he became quite knowledgeable and successful investing in the stock market.

This is perhaps a good place to tell about my impressions of Dad V. What stands out in my memory is that you seldom saw him without a Russian newspaper in his back pocket, because he liked to read every spare moment that he had. In addition to the newspapers, he read books by Russian authors. He frequently read and quoted from the Bible. Dad also liked to write. He would practice writing his name over and over again, in both Russian and English. He wrote many letters to relatives and friends. He wrote articles for the Russian newspapers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as the Doukhobor newspaper in Canada. Most of the articles were about the Doukhobors and the Molokans, and their respective philosophies. He wrote about his views on Doukhobor life in the Canadian communes. He was not in sympathy with the leaders of the British Columbia Doukhobor sect, and wrote many articles and letters expressing his views.

Alex W. “Dad” Vereschagin (1878-1946), c. 1931. British Columbia Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01894.

My father-in-law was a very convincing speaker and conversationalist. He could stand in front of a large group and talk for hours without notes. People liked to hear him speak, so invited him to many special occasions and celebrations where he would always have something to say. Russian politics was a favorite topic of his, as well as religion.

In addition to speeches, singing was also part of any Russian gathering, and Dad loved to sing. He encouraged us to sing with him. He enjoyed getting us together in the evenings, or whenever we had company, to sing his favorite Russian songs. I hate to brag, but we did have a good chorale when we were all together. Dad had a very nice voice, as did William V. Alex, Tina, Irene, Martha, and Bill Boyko. Note from Virginia: Mom had a terrific singing voice, too!

I remember evenings when the family would gather for socializing on the front lawn. The mosquitoes would be so bad that we had to light a fire in an old pail to keep them from attacking us. The pail was perforated for air. Some dry straw was put in the bottom, then it was filled with dry manure. Once the fire and smoke died down, we all went inside.

Our social life outside of the family was limited during the early years of our marriage. We made a few friends by joining the local Grange (an organization for farmers). We occasionally went to dances in town. We seldom went to the movies. Traveling to Chico, twenty miles away, was a real treat! Tina and I only went there when the men went on business and we were able to tag along and do a little shopping. Most of our shopping was done in Orland. The doctor and the dentist were in Orland, so why go to Chico?

We would also get together with friends at each other’s houses and play cards and other games. The children would go along with their parents (no baby-sitters) and have fun playing their own games until they got tired and had to be taken home. This might sound boring, but in those days, when we were young and did not have much money, it was the only thing to do. Note: Entertaining at home was not very satisfactory, because there were so many other family members living with us.

We had a radio. Amos and Andy, Gracie Allen and George Burns, plus the news and weather reports were our favorite programs. We also had a phonograph with a few records; these were mostly the “big band” music popular at that time. One thing that we didn’t have was television. That didn’t come for twenty more years, in the 1950’s.

I shall never forget our first trip (vacation) after we got married. In between the next irrigation and mowing hay, we took a few days off and went to Mt. Shasta. It was supposed to have been our honeymoon; however, Martha, her children (George and Laverne), Leo, and Walter went with us. We camped at what used to be the Southern Pacific Shasta Springs Park. That was the spot where all trains going north or south would stop to get water for the steam locomotives. Passengers would get off the trains while they took on the water. There was a little store, cafe, and gift shop where the passengers could browse and enjoy the fresh mountain air. A short distance up the hill from the tracks there was a lovely Victorian type hotel called Mt. Shasta Springs Retreat. When the diesel engines replaced the steam engines, the hotel was sold to a religious organization and the trains no longer stopped at Shasta Springs.

The first summer, right after I was married, I learned how to hull almonds. The trees were young, so there were not too many nuts. Tina and I hulled them by hand. Somebody built a bin (hopper) under a tree into which the almonds were dumped. The hopper had holes on the bottom. The almonds would drop through the holes and onto a counter. We sat at the counter, with a gunny sack on each side of us. One sack was for the hulled (outside hulls removed) almonds and the other was for the unwanted hulls.

We picked prunes in the orchard adjoining the “home place” which belonged to a Mr. Fox. At the time, we rented the property. The next year or so, we bought the farm from Mr. Fox with the intention of building a house on it. Dad V. thought that Alex and I should live there, because it was next door and close to the shop where Alex spent most of his time. Note: In 1939, we did build our home there, right across the driveway from the “home place.”

In the early 30’s, we did not have an electric stove. During the winter, we used a wood-burning stove. During the summer, we used a kerosene stove, which I was not fond of because of the smell. The cook stove heated the water for washing and for bathing. Our first refrigerator was an “ice box.” Big chunks of ice were put in it to keep the food from spoiling. Our Maytag washing machine was inside a shed near the house. There was no plumbing nor hot water out there. We had to carry the hot water from the house and the cold water came from a faucet outside the shed.

Alex and Ann Vereschagin shortly after their wedding, 1931.

In September of 1931, three months after we were married, Alex got away from work long enough for us to go and get our wedding picture taken. I was two months pregnant, and did not want a picture taken, but the family thought we should. At the same time, we went to visit my folks in Sheridan.

With the coming of fall, it was time to pick olives and then oranges. Tina and I were exempt, because we were both pregnant; however, we did more cooking because we had extra mouths to feed. Bill and Martha Boyko picked olives for us, so we had to prepare more food for them at lunch and dinnertime. We also baby-sat with Laverne, who was about three years old. I remember that she cried a lot when her mother left her with us. George was older and had started school in September.

Note: As I sit in front of my typewriter today (9/1/93), I am thinking of the past and the things that occurred during my lifetime. I believe that my generation has experienced more progress than any other generation in history… from “the horse and buggy days” to “walking in space.” I have also witnessed big changes in our personal lives. To remember everything is impossible. I am finding it difficult to write the events exactly as they happened and in the right chronological order. If I write an incorrect date, or an event is not exact, please forgive me. I do not want to “step on anyone’s toes.” I merely want to write a brief history of events that molded our family’s life. Please be patient and read on.

More About the 1930’s

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Democrat) was elected the 32nd President. He was the only president to be elected for four terms (1933-1945).

1932 was the dawn of a new era for the Vereschagin family in Orland. It was the beginning of farming expansion and business ventures outside of farming. Growth continued for approximately thirty more years and it required three generations to accomplish the dream.

Alex and John were firm believers in real estate for a long term investment. They had confidence in their abilities. They loved the challenge to try new projects and were not afraid to take chances. Alex learned how to weld so that he could make tanks and steel buildings. When constructing service stations, they both did the plumbing and electrical wiring. They were talented men!

John’s primary talent was husbandry. He knew about plants and trees. He liked to irrigate and supervise the hired help. He played an important role in getting the best price for the farm products as well as purchasing products. John and Alex worked well together. Each one respected the other’s endeavors; they trusted one another at all times. There were differences of opinion on many projects, but they always worked them out to the satisfaction of both. John spent most of his time out in the orchards and fields, while Alex spent most of his time in the shop.

In 1932, Leo was just twenty-two years old. He wasn’t married, so his thoughts were more on his social life than on work; still, he more or less agreed to whatever his two older brothers decided to do in the way of business. When they went into the oil business, Leo became the expert on the operation and maintenance of the gasoline transport trucks. He was good at keeping the Fageol and Kenworth trucks on the road for many miles and many years. This was important because it was the oil business that put us “on our feet.” From the oil business, we were able to invest further in the agricultural business, which happens to be our most productive business today.

The youngest brother, Walter, was sixteen years old; thus a bit young in making decisions. His work at the time was to mainly help his older brothers do what they told him to do. As he got older, he was given more responsibilities.

The spring of 1932 made a big change in my life. I became a proud Mama! Our healthy, happy daughter, Virginia Lee, was born on the morning of April 30th. She was named for her grandmother, Alex’s mother. Doctor S. Iglick, sister-in-law Martha Boyko, and my mother were in attendance at the birth.

Two weeks later, on May 19th, Tina had her second son, John. Dr. Iglick and Martha were also in attendance at that birth. (Note from Virginia: I was told that John and I were a bargain. Dr. Iglick delivered both of us for $50.00.) Now we had two babies in the same house. We had to make a plan as to who got the baby bathtub first. The feeding was easy, as they were both breast fed — usually in our bedrooms. Then there was the diaper washing. Fortunately, our men bought us a new Maytag electric washing machine that even had a self-propelled wringer on it. We felt very lucky indeed. Pampers and clothes dryers had not yet been invented, so the diapers had to be hung on the line to dry. We had a big clothes line, and it seemed that there were diapers fluttering in the breeze all of the time,

In one way, it was nice that we had two babies in the house because they always had someone to play with. They became very good playmates. We each also had a live-in baby-sitter. Whenever John and Tina wanted to go somewhere, Alex and I stayed home with the children. They stayed home when we wanted to take a few hours off. Alex and I didn’t go to many movies, but we did like to go to the dances at the Grange or Memorial Halls.

The men were busy building a large barn to house the hammer-mill for grinding alfalfa hay. The alfalfa that had been planted on John’s place was coming into production and the sale of baled hay was beginning to be very competitive in the Orland area. Alex and John decided to start something new and different. There was a demand for alfalfa meal as a feed for poultry. Mr. Macy, who owned and operated the Macy Feed and Lumber store, suggested to them that they should start making alfalfa meal. He was buying the meal elsewhere for the local poultry producers. At the same time, the local farmers were shipping baled alfalfa hay out of the county.

It was a major undertaking to build that big, high barn on the new property that was to become John and Tina’s home place. They not only had to work long hours, but their construction tools were often inadequate. It also took some dare-devils to volunteer to climb to the top. Miraculously, no one got hurt and the barn was built on time. Brother-in-law Bill had an old Victor grinding mill which he sold to the family, with the agreement that his hay would be included in the process of making alfalfa meal. The old Victor grinder was propelled by tractor-power that used stove oil: a new, refined product for use in tractors. After fixing a few mechanical “bugs” and changes here and there, the men were in business processing alfalfa meal for the local animal and poultry producers. Note: This business only lasted about three years because other opportunities came up that took their time and resources.

To run the new alfalfa meal business, we were buying diesel and stove oil from Mr. Edwards, distributor in Orland for the Shell Oil Company. He suggested that we should set up a tank (500 gallons or more) and take advantage of a break in price for fuel. I think the price of diesel at the time was about $ .06 a gallon delivered. If we were to pick up the fuel at the bulk plant in Chico, the price was $ .02. Stove oil was $ .12 delivered, and would be $ .06 at the plant. That was quite a savings. We took Mr. Edwards’ advice. We bought a used truck with a flatbed and put a two-compartment 500-600 gallon tank on it. Needless to say, the truck and tank were bought from some salvage “junk yard” in Oakland. The tank didn’t have a meter, so we had to pump the fuel out of the tank by hand.

Since we were now buying diesel and stove oil from the bulk plant for the alfalfa meal business, the next logical step was that we started selling fuel to other farmers in the area. This business started in 1932-33. The family bought a couple of used Southern Pacific gasoline railroad cars, one for diesel oil and the other for stove oil. The railroad tankers were set up at the “home place” for storing bulk fuel. We purchased a small tanker truck to be used for delivering fuel to the farmers and heating oil for homes. Since our truck didn’t have a meter, the fuel had to be gravity loaded into certified, five-gallon buckets. These filled buckets were carried by hand, probably two at a time and up a ladder, and then poured into the customer’s tank. For a break in price, rather than having the fuel delivered, some farmers would bring their own steel drums to the “plant.” Note: Although this continued to be called the ‘”home place,” once the gasoline storage tanks were installed, it also became known as the ‘”plant.”

I became the bookkeeper for our fuel business. I also helped the farmers when they came to pick up their own fuel. I had to pay bills and send out invoices every thirty days. I learned how to take inventory at the end of each month and how to balance the books. I had a used hand-crank adding machine and an old cash register that did nothing but open the cash drawer -when you turned the handle. (Three years later we bought a bookkeeping machine that posted sales and credits.)

This new bookkeeping job was in addition to my other household chores. Tina and I continued to share all our “outside” and “inside” jobs. We continued to hand-hull the almonds, can the tomatoes for borscht, make sauerkraut from the extra cabbage, etc. Perhaps the only thing that changed was that our two babies were growing older and were able to entertain themselves for longer periods of time.

By now, Alex and John were getting more and more involved in expanding the bulk plant. Alex built more gasoline storage tanks. John was looking into supplying large farmers and existing service stations with fuel. Walter was beginning to take his turn in driving the small tanker truck, delivering fuel to the local small farmers, homes, and businesses. By 1933, we were supplying diesel and stove oil in Orland, Willows, Capay, Hamilton City, and Coming. We eventually got meters and hoses for the large storage tanks and for the small delivery truck; it was no longer necessary to do the back-breaking task of carrying buckets up a ladder. We were growing and expanding!

In 1934 we bought our first used Fageol truck. It had to be fitted with a large tank (3,000 gallon capacity) and, in order to make the long trips worthwhile, it was necessary to add a large trailer, also with a 3,000 gallon tank. To save money, Alex built the tanks in his shop. To make the tanks round, he used an old outmoded, but functional, roller. He used an old welder purchased from a “junk yard” in Oakland. Alex, with some help from his brother Bill, worked long hours to design, cut, roll, and weld those tanks. Then the tanks had to be mounted on the truck and trailer; a metered pump had to be added; it had to be fitted with hoses; etc. etc. etc. I don’t remember how long it took to get the transport ready to deliver fuel, but I do remember that we didn’t see much of Alex during that time.

We had been buying gasoline and diesel fuel from the Shell Oil plant in Chico. Now we were equipped and ready to purchase a larger quantity for a better price directly from a refinery (Wilshire) in Bakersfield – 400 miles way. Alex was the only one with a truck driver’s license, so he made the Fageol’s first trip. (Besides, he wanted to make sure that everything worked properly.) Since the speed limit for tankers was 25 miles per hour, it took 32 hours to make the round trip. Once John got his trucker’s license, he and Alex took turns driving. The trips were frequent, because, besides stove and diesel oils, we were also now delivering gasoline to farmers in the area. Eventually, when the truck needed repairs and updating; Leo became the ‘^truck expert” of the family. In due time, he passed his truck operator’s license and started to take his turn at the wheel.

On one of my husband’s trips to Bakersfield to pick up fuel, he was asphyxiated. He was always in a hurry, hardly ever stopping to sleep. This time he stopped in one of the small towns between Stockton and Fresno to get a cup of coffee and rest for a short while. He left the engine in the Fageol running while he dozed off. Soon he felt like he was dreaming, yet awake. He was barely able to open the door before losing consciousness and falling on the pavement. The proprietor of the coffee shop saw him fall and went to see what had happened. At first, he thought Alex was drunk, but soon realized that he had passed out from the fumes that he smelled in the cabin of the truck. He called for an ambulance. Alex was very lucky! Of course, we were notified. John, Dad, and I drove down to see him, Alex was able to return home with us. John drove the transport truck back to Orland. From then on, Alex took the time to pull over and take a nap. He had learned his lesson the hard way!

Meanwhile, Mr. Stevenson, the local Shell Oil representative, suggested that we should also consider purchasing our lubricating oils directly from a refinery. He suggested that we contact Barkow Petroleum Company in San Francisco. They had an oil blending and packaging facility in Bakersfield, in the same area as Wilshire and other small refineries. We did contact them and became the first independent oil distributors north of San Francisco.

Note: The Barkow Petroleum Company was also a family partnership. It began with a father and his two young sons. When the father died, the older son took over the running of the office, and the younger (Milton) became the traveling salesman, Milton and his wife Jewel, who traveled a lot with her husband, became very close friends of ours.

The Vereschagins’ Fageol petroleum transport truck and trailor with Mohawk sign painted on side.

We also decided to do business with Mohawk Petroleum Company, instead of continuing with Wilshire. Why? Mohawk was a small refinery, struggling to get started, and anxious for a distributor in northern California. We were looking for a supplier that would give us a good deal, and Mohawk’s offer was the best. Our association with the Mohawk and Barkow Petroleum companies continued for a long time.

Now we had to have an official name for the business. The brothers liked using “Vereschagin” in the name, and also thought that they would like to included the initial “A” in honor of their father. They wondered if “Vereschagin” might be too long and too foreign sounding; thus, too hard to remember. Mr. Marston, one of the owners of Mohawk Petroleum, said that he liked using the name “Vereschagin.” It was “one of a kind.” Once you heard it, you wouldn’t forget it. He suggested that the name could either be “A. Vereschagin and Sons” or “A. Vereschagin Oil Company.” A decision was made; the contract was signed to read: “A. Vereschagin Oil Company.” Note: After Dad Vereschagin’s death, we dropped the initial “A” and our business name became “Vereschagin Oil Company.” This name continued until 1964, when the third generation took over the management of the business. The partnership holdings were first split into five, and then merged into three, separate enterprises: Vereschagin Company, Vereschagin Oil Company, and Plaza Farms. Vereschagin Company remained a partnership, and the other two became operating corporations.

The Fageol truck had to have the name of our company and a logo painted on it for identification. Since we were selling Mohawk gasoline, its logo was to be the head of a Mohawk Indian. This “Mohawk” logo had to also be added to our small delivery truck. Although I had painted the name on the small delivery truck, these paintings had to look more professional, so we hired an Orland painter (Mr. Sevisind) to do the painting and the lettering. He did a superb job and we had the flashiest trucks in town.

Since the truck and trailer transport hauled about 6,000 gallons with each load, Alex now began working day and night to make even larger storage tanks to accommodate the loads of gasoline, diesel, and stove oil. He coaxed his friend Mike Sklarenko, who was a welder in San Francisco, to come up on weekends to help him weld the tanks. Alex and John took turns driving the transport truck to Bakersfield and back. Exhausting schedule!

Note: After we made our first sizable profit from the petroleum business, we were able to repay some debts. We paid off the Federal Land Bank on the mortgage that we had on the “home place.” I believe the debt was about three thousand dollars. We were able to pay brother Bill’s mortgage of $2,500 and sister Martha’s debt of $2,500. This was more or less to even up the family inheritance. Later, other distributions were made to Bill, Martha, and Jane, particularly when they were building their homes.

Around this time, Tina’s brother Bill Sokorokoff and brother-in-law Bill Vereschagin became partners in a business. They opened an appliance and radio store in downtown Orland on Fourth Street. The partnership lasted for several years. After selling the store, Bill S. went into real estate and Bill V. continued with his other ventures.

After the fall harvest in 1934, the two younger boys, Leo and Walter, went on an unannounced adventure together. They withdrew the $500.00 which they had inherited from their mother’s estate, bought a used Ford convertible car, and took off. They didn’t tell anybody where they were going. I remember Bill V. disguising himself one evening and driving around Orland looking for them. It wasn’t until a few days later when someone thought to call Jane that they found out they were in Shafter. Well, when their money ran out, they came back home, chagrined and apologetic. They had had their fling and were ready to go back to work. Incidentally, Walter met his future wife in Shafter.

Also in 1934, John and Tina hired a contractor from Chico to build a house on the farm bought for them by the family. They hired a contractor because they were busy and it would take too long to build on their own. There was an urgency for them to complete their house. Walter was engaged to the girl he met in Shafter, Elizabeth Karyakin. John and Tina would have to vacate their bedroom for the newlyweds. When they moved, Vernon was about five years old and Johnny was about two and a half. I remember that Johnny did not want to move because he didn’t want to leave his big family, his playmate Virginia, and his bedroom. He cried and pulled away from his mom and dad when they were ready to leave.

The first exciting thing that happened in 1935 was that brother-in-law Walter and Elizabeth got married. They were married in the bride’s home in a traditional Russian ceremony. When the newlyweds arrived in Orland, John and Tina’s former bedroom was ready for them. Elizabeth and I were now the “ladies” of the house. We shared the household chores, much like I had with Tina. Walter started driving the local delivery truck, delivering fuel to the farmers. Elizabeth would often go along with him.

We had to find a better way to hull the almonds. Up until now, we were able to keep up by hulling by hand, because the almond orchard was young and the production was light. Now we no longer could keep up, so the men decided to buy a used Miller huller. The decision was made to install the huller in the barn at John’s place. That meant that the alfalfa grinding machine had to be dismantled or moved somewhere else. I think that brother Bill took it to his farm where he continued grinding alfalfa meal. If I remember right, it had been his project in the first place.

We only used the Miller huller for one season; then we bought a brand-new Fadie Huller from the Fadie brothers in Capay. They manufactured almond hullers in conjunction with their own almond orchard business. (In fact, years later, we also bought our second huller from them, after they had moved their business to Gridley.) In time for the 1935 fall harvest, we had a mechanical huller. With the increased production, we had to hire men to knock the almonds off the trees and had to hire women to sort the almonds as they came through the huller on a belt. We also made an arrangement with the Boykos to hull their almonds. Sister Martha worked on the huller, her husband Bill worked knocking almonds for us, and in return we hulled their nuts.

The summer of 1935 was very hot! I was pregnant, and the 110 degree heat, day in and day out, made me nauseous and dizzy. I remember passing out while waiting on a gasoline customer. Early in the morning on August 4, 1935, our second child, a son, was born. Since my husband already had two daughters (Elaine and Virginia), he was ecstatic that it was a boy. We named him Alex, after his father and his grandfather. By Russian tradition, his middle name was also Alex, because that was his father’s name. Remember – Alex, son of Alex?

When three-and-a-half-year-old Virginia woke up, her Dedushka (Dad V.) told her that she had a “‘brother.” Then her dad took her into the bedroom where the baby and Mommy were resting and he also told her that she had a “brother.” I’m not sure whether Virginia knew what a brother was, but she did start calling him “Brother.” From then on, until he became an adult, he was called ‘Brother” by all members of the family.

Alex Jr. and Virginia Vereschagin, 1936.

Shortly after Alex’ birth, I developed a serious problem: I was unable to breast feed and had to pump my breast every hour or so to relieve the pain. The doctor didn’t know what to do for me. He was afraid that I might have cancer so he sent me to Doctor Enloe in Chico. Dr. Enloe was a surgeon; he prescribed immediate surgery. He convinced us that we had no other choice than to have the breast removed. Back in 1935, they didn’t have the sophisticated x-rays, biopsies, and laboratory tests that they have today. Later, we found out that surgery had not been necessary. I did not have cancer; I simply had an infection of the breast (mastitis). Unfortunately, it was too late; the breast had already been removed. When I found out the truth, I was devastated and wished that we had gotten a second opinion. Note: My entire life was affected by this surgical mistake.

Little Alex Jr. was doing just fine. The change over from breast milk to formula did not bother him at all; however, I was depressed with my disfigurement. Fortunately, I had a husband who supported me with kind words and understanding. He made me feel that my figure did not change his love for me. I always respected and loved him for that.

Another blessed event took place on October 16, 1935. A son, James, was born to Bill and Irene V. They now had three living children (Harold, Louise, and James). I went to spend a few days with Irene, helping out wherever I could. Since Alex was just two and a half months old, we had two “little ones” to keep us busy.

Everyone continued working long hours, in both farming and the oil business. Dad V. sometimes helped to wait on customers when they came to get fuel. He would also entertain the children. Usually, he spent most of his time either reading or writing or visiting with the Sokorokoffs and the Wolins (another Russian family who had settled in Orland). They had a lot in common, so they enjoyed each other’s company.

In June of 1936, Dad decided that he wanted to go to Blaine Lake to visit his relatives. He also thought it was time that Leo got married. If he took Leo along as his chauffeur, then perhaps he could meet a Doukhobor girl to marry. Although Dad didn’t come right out and tell Leo his thoughts, Leo got the picture. I remember him telling his dad that he was willing to drive him to Blaine Lake, but he was not going to Canada to find a wife. Contrary to his resolve, when Leo arrived there, he met Irene Kabatoff. Dad later told us that when he saw Irene wearing Leo’s hat, he knew that Leo was “smitten.” They were married that July at the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home in a traditional ceremony.

As soon as we heard that Leo had gotten married, Alex and I knew that we had to vacate our bedroom for the newlyweds. It was understood by our generation, without question, that the first son to get married was the first to move out. John and Tina had already moved; now it was our turn.

The question was, where to go? We had the property next door which had been designated for Alex, but we could not yet afford to build a house. So, in the interim, we decided to move into the small room in the tank house. The room was about 12×12, into which we had to crowd our bedroom set plus Virginia’s bed and Alex’s crib. I don’t think the room had a closet for our clothes. There were no bathroom facilities nor running water, so we still had to use the main house for bathing and dressing. Somehow we managed to keep our sanity for the two and a half years we stayed there.

In 1937, Alex developed a very painful case of sciatica in his leg and hip. It got so bad that he was unable to work or sleep. The doctors told him that rest was the only cure. In July we decided that perhaps the hot waters would help relieve the pain. Someone told us about Hobo Hot Springs, east of Bakersfield on the Kern River. We packed some camping gear, put the two children in the car, and took off. Alex was unable to drive so he stretched out on the back seat and I had both of the children in front with me. When we arrived at Hobo Hot Springs, we found that there was nothing there except a small hot spring, no bigger than a sauna, and one other camper. No stores and no ranger. I had to set up camp by myself which was not easy because I had never known how to pitch a tent nor start a campfire. We were right at the edge of the Kern River (not very wide at that elevation) and I worried all the time that the children (ages 5 and 2) would be swept away by the swift current. I practically tied them down at night. We stayed about two weeks. Alex took many hot baths in the spring and tried to rest. The children enjoyed the rocks and the little sand that was there. I practiced learning how to make a fire to cook our meals. Wish we had photographs to remember those two weeks, but in those days we did not take many pictures.

Alex didn’t see any improvement in his leg or hip, so we went home. The rest of the summer he continued to suffer with the sciatica. He would go to Stony Creek behind our place, taking Virginia along to bury his entire body in the hot sand, thinking that might help. He eventually got over the problem and went back to work in the shop.

Soon after Alex went back to work, we hired a man to help around the plant and to cleanup around the shop. His name was George. (I can’t remember his last name.) He was an elderly man, who came to us needing a home. The men fixed him up with a bedroom in the storage barn that was close to the house. He ate his meals with the family. After working for us for about a year, he had an accident and hurt his back. Now he was unable to work and had no place to go, so we let him stay and took care of him. Eventually, he left us. I’m not sure where he went; it may have been to a veteran’s home.

Leo, Ann and Alex Vereschagin. The old machine shop in the background, 1938.

After George left, we remodeled his bedroom in the storage bam into an office. Up until then, I had been working at a desk in the house. This new office was much better because there was more room for a desk; there were shelves for books and files, and a counter for conducting business transactions. The men installed a telephone and an electric heater. Not only was I happy with the new office, but Dad V. was happy, too. He now had his desk in the house back. Here he would sit for hours, writing his letters and articles to the Russian newspapers.

Note: When we outgrew this office and moved into another, the room became a storage room, but it continued to be called “George’s Room.” My son, Alex, who now lives at the “home place,” has a sign over the door that says: George’s Room.

Fred Sokorokoff, Tina’s father, decided to build a new house. The two-room garage was getting crowded. Son Bill needed a bedroom of his own, and Mr. Sokorokoff’s mother was also now living with them. She was close to one hundred years old and was ailing. In fact, she didn’t get to live in the new house very long because she passed away in 1939.

Mr. Sokorokoff asked Alex to design and build the house. It was, and is, a nice house with all the modem facilities of the day. It had a large glassed-in porch on two sides. Mr. Sokorokoff insisted on the best materials available at the time. He was extremely meticulous with his house, garden, and small farm. You couldn’t find even a feather on his lawn. He mowed the grass around the orchard that surrounded his home so that it, too, looked like lawn. He had a green Chevrolet touring car. He kept it in perfect condition. After his death, his son Bill sold it to a local collector of vintage cars.

To get back to the house, Alex agreed to design and build it. He had plenty to do for our own business, but he wanted to help Mr. Sokorokoff; which in return helped John and Tina. Alex also felt that the extra money he made would help the family company. You see, he did not put that money into his own bank account. It all went into the family pot, as usual.

By this time, each family was getting a small allowance for their personal use. I don’t remember the amount, but I am sure that it was not very much. All the big purchases and expenses were paid by the company with no accounting as to recipients. Likewise, all money earned went into the company account and were dispensed with no questions asked.

In 1938, the oil business continued to expand. Our one Fageol truck needed constant repair; thus was inadequate to keep up with the demand. Another transport truck was needed. We still could not afford a new truck and trailer, so Alex, John, and Leo decided to buy another used Fageol truck. Besides, a war was “brewing,” and new equipment was almost impossible to find. Fortunately, they were able to put new tanks and metered pump valves on the used transport truck.

When the second Fageol was ready for the road, we again hired the same local painter to paint the name, logo, and capacity, as required by law. We hired Leo’s friend, Ed Berkland, to alternate with Leo in driving the trucks to Bakersfield and back. We also had a relief driver by the name of Paul Blaine, to help with the driving when needed.

In the spring of 1937, Alex and I started to prepare the lot designated for our future home across the driveway from the “home place.” We first planted ash trees along the driveway and an umbrella tree on the west side for shade. We also planted a cedar deodara tree in what was to be the front of the house. To irrigate the trees during the summer, I had to tote water, two buckets at a time, from a faucet at the “home place.” The trees flourished and provided wonderful shade for many years. In fact, many of the original trees are still growing and providing shade to this day. Note: In Orland, shade trees were very important because in those days there were no air conditioners. A few homes had window swamp coolers, which were very ugly. The air coming out of a cooler was so strong that a person could not sit directly in front of it. Everything in front of the cooler, particularly papers, had to be secured for fear of blowing away.

On July 11, 1938, there was another blessed event in the family. A son, Donald, was born to Leo and Irene. Donald was Dad V. ‘s twelfth grandchild.

In 1938, Alex ordered a carload of lumber from Oregon and we actually started to build our very own home. It was a slow process because, to save money, Alex wanted to do most of the work himself. Building the house dragged on for almost a year. We had to work on our house whenever we could find spare time. Most of the time we worked way into the night under lights. I remember nailing the sub-floor myself because Alex was either driving the truck or working on a tank. We didn’t hire a carpenter until it was time to stand up the walls and the roof. Then we got Mr. Belch from Chico to help us. (He was the same carpenter who had built John and Tina’s house). We also hired more help when it came to making cabinets and window trimmings, and installing appliances.

After all the carpenter work was finished, I filled in the nail holes on all the cabinets, doors, and window trims, preparing them for painting. There were millions of nails and they were very hard to see. I would go back over and over to make sure that I had all the holes filled in with putty. Then it was up to me to paint. For best results, first time painting requires three coats of paint. The house had three bedrooms, a living-dining room, kitchen, bath, screened porch, and a service porch. It must have taken me months to complete the painting; and I was still having to do my share of the family chores plus the bookkeeping for the family business.

My sister Mary surprised us by going to Reno and marrying James Timothy (“Tima”) Loskutoff on May 21, 1938. His parents were unhappy that they did not have a traditional Molokan wedding. They insisted upon at least a church blessing and a small family reception. Sister Hazel was Mary’s bridesmaid. For some reason, we were unable to attend the festivities.

In the fall of 1938, while all the work on the house was going on, Virginia was ready to start first grade. (At that time, there was no Kindergarten in Orland.) Since she had spent her entire life surrounded by family, speaking Russian, I took her to school that first day, anticipating tears. She surprised me. She went right in, was introduced to her teacher (Miss Miller), who in turn propelled her to a few other little girls. Miss Miller said that she would call me if there was a problem I went home and waited for a phone call. Nothing happened. At two o’clock, when I went back to pick her up, she chatted all the way home about the friends that she had met and how nice her teacher was. Once she got home, she changed into her play clothes, and began playing school. After a few days of my driving her to school and back home, she started to go by herself on the school bus. Her cousin Johnny also started school in the same classroom. Perhaps their being together helped in the adjustment.

Alex was three years old, and he missed his sister. She was his only playmate at home; although she sometimes bored him by always wanting him to play house, with her as ‘”Mommy” and him always having to be the “baby.” Now Alex started to become more and more attached to Dad V., his Dedushka. They became very good friends, always speaking in Russian. (All of the children spoke Russian before they learned English.) Dedushka would take little Alex to “help” him work in the garden. They would go for rides together, either to oversee the orchard west of town, or to visit brother-in-law Bill and their son Jim. Jim was the same age as Alex, so they would have fun playing together.

Ann, Virginia, Elaine, Alex and Alex Jr., 1939.

Thinking of Virginia and Alex as small children, I just remembered the following incident:

One day, when Alex was about two and Virginia about five, Dedushka took them along for a ride. He put them in the back seat and took off. Fortunately, he never drove very fast out of the driveway. After crossing the canal and going down the road a bit, he turned around to check on the children, and didn’t see Alex. In Russian, he asked Virginia, “Where’s Brother?” She replied, “He fell out a long time ago.” Dad V. panicked, backed-up, and found Brother standing and crying on the side of the road. Alex and I took him to the doctor. After a thorough examination, the doctor said that all he had was a bruised shoulder and collar bone. At the time it was a scary incident. Now, humor has been added when retelling the story.

The fuel capacity of our old local delivery truck was inadequate. Whenever switching from stove oil to gasoline and vice versa, the truck driver had to clean out the tank. This was inefficient and costly. Furthermore, the truck was beginning to have frequent break downs. The men decided to order a new truck and chassis without a tank, pump, or meter. Alex was to build the tank himself.

There were wars going on in Europe: Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935; the Germans occupied the Rhineland in 1936; and Hitler marched into Austria in 1938. This turmoil in Europe also affected the United States. New cars and trucks were not readily available to the common folk; however, we put in an order for a new Diamond T truck. All orders were on a priority list, and it could take months, if not years, to get our new truck. We were fortunate. In June of 1937, a brand new red Diamond T truck arrived. Alex immediately went to work building the tank and outfitting it for delivering fuels. He rolled the steel, cut to shape, and welded the edges. I think the tank had three compartments for fuel. He installed the pump, valves, and meter. The finished product looked very much like a factory job. Alex was proud of his accomplishments, and everyone else was, too.

I remember Alex working late into the night on that truck. He would be banging on the steel, and the arc from the welder would light up the night sky, keeping everyone awake. Dad V. would open the window and yell: “Alex, please stop your noise and go to bed!” Alex kept going because he wanted to finish it before the Glenn County Fair, early in September. He made it! Walter and Elizabeth got to ride in the truck in the fair parade. After completing the Diamond T delivery truck, Alex changed the first Fageol truck to a semi. Now, instead of using it for the long trips to Bakersfield, the truck was used mainly to deliver fuel to big farmers and rice growers.

By 1939, we pretty well were phased out of the “livestock” business. Brother Bill V. had already taken over the hay grinding business. We women, who had been milking the cows and separating the milk, were having babies; therefore we had little time nor energy left for milking cows. Besides, we didn’t have a pasture nor the hay to feed the cows. So, we started to buy bottled milk. Thank goodness!

In February of 1939, we finally moved into our new home. It was such a relief to move out of the cramped condition in the tank-house. Although our house took a long time to complete, we were very happy with the outcome because we knew we had the best materials and good carpenters, finishers, and painters. One of our experts was my cousin, John Popoff. He installed all the hardwood floors and linoleum in the house. He was a professional, and we were fortunate to get him.

Alex and Ann Vereschagin’s new home on Road 12, 1938.

Most of our social life continued to revolve around the family. On Sundays we would meet at each other’s homes for spiritual needs, as well as a day of rest. In Russian you would say that we met to have a sobranya (a gathering). A traditional Russian meal was always part of the celebration. The adults would sit at one table, and the children got to sit together at another table. The children especially enjoyed these Sunday meetings, because they had an opportunity to play with their cousins. Occasionally, they were asked to participate in the singing of the Russian hymns. Note from Virginia: I fondly remember our Sunday get-togethers. I remember catching frogs at Fred Sokorokoff’s; lying on our backs in the front yard of the “home place,” watching for shooting stars; and the two oldest cousins, Harold and George, telling us scary ghost stories.

During this time, San Francisco was busy building Yerba Buena Island for the World’s Fair. It was a huge undertaking because the island had to be made bigger to accommodate all of the exhibits, administration buildings, parking facilities, etc. The “Expo” opened in 1939. In September of that year, John, Tina, Alex, and I took a whole day off from work and went to the fair. It was an exciting experience. We left home early and returned in the wee hours of the next morning. Later, Alex and I went one more time, this time taking our children.

In 1939, we sponsored a Russian immigrant, Mr. Byrak, to come live with us. Dad V. had corresponded with him while he, Mr. Byrak, lived in Russia and then immigrated to China. The sons felt that Dad needed to have a companion; besides, sponsoring him was a humanitarian thing to do. The Tolstoy Foundation in New York was instrumental in helping to get Mr. B. here. On our part, it took several trips to San Francisco and reams of paperwork to complete the process. He finally arrived and settled down in the tank-house bedroom. Unfortunately, he was not well when he arrived, and soon was diagnosed as having cancer of the throat. He did not live more than a few months before passing away. We took good care of him as long as he was with us. He died in the bed we provided for him. He is buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

In June of 1940, Dad V. got the idea that it was time for him to pay another visit to Canada, and he wanted to take some of his family with him. He not only wanted the companionship, but he also wanted his own choir of singers. (Remember – Russians sing a lot when they get together, both for religious reasons and for entertainment. At large gatherings, there are always lots of speeches and singing, especially between courses at mealtime. Guests are often called upon to sing their own special songs.)

Obviously everyone in the family could not go on the trip to Canada. Since the trip was conceived and organized by Dad V., he was the one who decided on his traveling companions. Those that went were: Walter and Jane Poznoff with their son, Robert; Martha Boyko with her daughter, Laverne; Irene with her son. Jimmy; Dad V., Alex, and I. Walt drove his car, and Alex drove our new four-door Chrysler sedan.

Alex and I left our two children (Virginia was eight and Alex was almost five) with my parents in Sheridan. It gave them a chance to get to better know their Dedushka and Babushka Popoff. Note from Virginia: Mom and Dad left enough dimes for us to walk each day to the nearby store for an ice cream treat. We could see the railroad tracks from the kitchen window, so got to count how many boxcars there were on the freight trains. We got to go swimming in Bear Creek with our Sohrakoff cousins. One time, Uncle John surprised us with a visit. He came on the transport truck. Best of all, I got to paint my fingernails – something my dad never let me do. I even painted Brother’s nails. Such fun!

Since this was my first long trip, I remember a lot of the details. I was going farther than I had ever traveled, and was meeting many new relatives. I remember that we ate five and six times a day in different houses. We had to bathe and change clothes often, because of the humidity. And how can anyone forget the mosquitoes? They were the biggest and fiercest I had ever seen!

I mentioned the choir. Walt Poznoff had a beautiful bass voice. Jane, Martha, and Irene sang alto. Dad V. was a strong baritone. Alex was also a baritone, and carried a tune pretty well. I was a soprano and started the songs. (Russian singing is all a cappella. The “starter” sings the first line to set the pitch and then the other singers join in. This happens with each new verse of a song.) That was our choir. We sang our songs over and over everywhere we went. In Blaine Lake, the people who heard us sing titled one of our songs as “The Vereschagin Song.”

These are but a few details from our trip: We spent our first night with the Dobrinins in Peoria, Oregon. Next we went to Medicine Lake, Washington, to visit Mr. and Mrs. Simchuk. Then we went to Shore Acres and Creston B.C. to visit some of Dad’s nieces. Everyone insisted on entertaining us, so it was exhausting. We were on a tight schedule, because we wanted to be in Blaine Lake for St. Peter’s Day (June 29th). It was cherry picking time in Creston. We all ate far too many cherries and suffered the consequences the next day. Another niece that we visited lived on a large wheat farm in Pincher Creek, Alberta, about fifty miles east of the Continental Divide. From there, it was a very long day’s journey to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We stayed in our first hotel, the King George (I think). The bathrooms were down the hall, so we didn’t have too much luxury. The next day was much easier, as we only had to go sixty miles to get to our next destination, Blaine Lake. There, we first stopped to visit with Dad’s sister Parania and husband George Popoff. They invited all of their children and other close relatives for an evening of eating, talking, and singing. We were assigned to spend the night in the homes of various relatives. We had to get some rest, as the next day was St. Peter’s Day.

What is St. Peter’s Day? The Doukhobors celebrate it every year on June 29th. This is the day, in Russia, in the year 1895, that the Doukhobors gathered all their firearms and burned them, protesting the conscription edict that all young men of military age must serve in the Russian army. It is the day to remember all of those who suffered and died for the cause. It was also Peter V. Verigin’s birthday, hence the name. It is a very important day for the Doukhobors. All work stops and everyone goes to the sobranya.

For many years on Peter’s Day in Blaine Lake, the church was not large enough to accommodate all the people, so they rented a large tent, set it up on a vacant lot, and held the services there. After the church service, everybody stayed for a family style picnic. There was never any shortage of food. Every lady tried to outdo the other. A special treat was the first watermelon of the season. They got their watermelons from Texas and/or Mexico. The shipment usually conveniently arrived around St. Peter’s Day.

The Vereschagin family, 1938. [top l-r] Irene, Tina, Harold, Irene, William, Martha, George, Ann, Walter, Jane, Elizabeth. [middle l-r] Leo, holding Donald, John, William, James, Dad, Alex, Alex Jr., Walter. [bottom l-r] Vernon, John, Louise, Laverne, Virginia, Robert.

After lunch, the older generation would all go back into the tent to listen to various choir groups perform and if there were guests from out of town, they would be asked to speak. Needless to say, we sang, and Dad V. spoke. Around five o’clock, everyone went home for chores and a rest, before returning for the evening sobranya. I remember sitting on the platform in front of the congregation, barely able to keep my eyes open. I had to stay awake, because we were expected to sing throughout the service. (To help me stay awake, I watched the huge mosquitoes on the ceiling.)

We spent the next week in Blaine Lake. To keep our social calendar running on schedule, Dad appointed his nephew (another Alexei Vasilyevich Vereschagin) to be our secretary. Alexei had to keep us posted as to where we were to go next. Without him, it could have been a disaster. He, and his wife Masha, went everywhere with us. It was hard to leave a house right after eating, but Alexei would keep us moving, so that we would be on time to the next house – and more food.

Next we had to go 200 miles farther east to Kamsack, Saskatchewan, to visit Dad’s friend, Gregory F. Vanin and family. Mr. Vanin was one of the young men savagely beaten by the Russian military in 1896. He had also been banished to Siberia. The Vanins had lived in Orland for a short while before World War I; thus, the Vanin children (Anna, Jim, and Margaret) had become good friends with William, Martha, Alex, and Jane.

It rained the entire day we traveled from Blaine Lake to Kamsack. When we got to the country road leading to the Vanin’s, it was very muddy and slippery. The mud had built up on our tires, so there was no traction. The wheels started to spin, and before we knew it, our car turned completely around and we were facing Walt’s car. Luckily, Walt was far enough behind us that we did not hit one another. It was so frightening that we actually started laughing. What an experience! That evening, I remember listening to Dad and Mr. Vanin talk about their lives in Siberia and the Doukhobor politics in Canada.

While traveling, we did not keep up with the international news. Because of the war in Europe, we had been warned that it was possible that the border between the U. S. and Canada might be closed. We didn’t take it seriously. We felt that the warning was merely to prepare us for a possible delay in crossing when we returned to the U.S. We thought that we had all the necessary papers, so we’d have no problems. We just went on our merry way; however, when we arrived back at the border, we ran into a lot of problems. The border had been closed shortly after we had entered Canada. Now, we learned that Irene and Martha did not have the proper papers and that they could not cross back into the U.S. They had to get the proper affidavits from Orland, etc., etc. We had no choice but to leave them at the border and go home to work on their release.

As soon as we got home, the paper work began. Fifteen-year old George Boyko, Martha’s son, wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife, asking for help in getting his mother home. Other affidavits and legal papers were wired to the border. Although Martha and Irene were comfortable in a hotel, they were anxious to get home. (Their children, Laverne and Jimmy, did not stay with them, but returned home with us.) Within a couple of weeks, they were released and returned to Orland by bus.


By Alex J. Bayoff

In his later years, Alex J. Bayoff (1906-1989) wrote down his memories of growing up in the Doukhobor village of Petrofka near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. In clear, simple and sincere style, he depicts the life and times of the village in the context of his family experience.  Originally written as a memoir for family and friends, it is now published for a wider internet audience, by special permission of the family, in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive.  Readers will enjoy the rich details and vivid memories of the early years of Doukhobor pioneer settlement on the Prairies. Edits in square brackets by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After filling our stomachs with a sumptuous supper at the home of Nick and Mary Trofimenkoff, we sat around at the card table for an evening of cards. Conversation drifted from one subject to another. Somehow we started talking about the early Doukhobor villages and I mentioned a few happenings in the village of Petrofka. They seemed to have interested Nick, so he suggested that I write an article about Petrofka. After carrying that idea in my mind, it seemed that the Bayoff family had something to do about it in a small way. Since that was the case, my good wife Daisy suggested that I write a small history of the Bayoffs while Dad was still around, so he could relate the events first hand. I agreed to that.

The facts related in my article are mostly from the memory of Dad, and what I heard previously from Grandpa Dmitry, my Mother and later from my own experience. The story is a true story to the best of my knowledge. Nothing has been added or exaggerated. I have written as I have heard it told to me or as I have experienced it. Also nothing has been taken away to make the story more presentable. I therefore must say in advance that some passages of the story may be looked upon as vulgar. I tried to relate things as it happened, nothing taken away. Therefore if I have offended any of the readers, I humbly apologize. I must thank Samuel Postnikoff and Peter P. Makaroff in relating some of the happenings that I had overlooked.         

Early in the spring of 1899 a convoy of wagons left Novo-Troitskoye [Kars region] in Trans-Caucasia to the nearest railroad station. Seven families left the peaceful village, a home of some 50 families. The train would take them to Batum, a port city on the Black Sea, and then to Canada. It was a sad occasion for the families that were left behind, and a sadder occasion, yet full of hope for the 7 families, all packed and going on a new unknown adventure, leaving their homes and most of their belongings with those who stayed behind. The Bayoff family was one of the seven. Dad was 11 years old. There was his Grandfather Grigory Vasilyevich, who was quite old, yet not too old to be the boss of the family, with full control of the money and how it was to be spent. Next in control were Dad’s Father and Mother, Dmitry and Lukeria. The rest of the family, Uncle Gavril and Aunt Anna were younger than Dad. As I have mentioned before, Dad was 11 years old, not old enough to remember everything and could be too young and have missed some valuable information.

Port of Batumi, embarkation point for the Doukhobors en route to Canada. BC Archives C-01560.

The wagons were loaded with the most necessary articles, such as bedding and clothing, some dishes, etc., and a good supply of dried bread and homemade cheese. They figured they could live on dried bread and cheese and water. They left everything else behind, which was a heart-breaking farewell; leaving a comfortable home, agricultural tools or implements, cattle, sheep, horses, but mostly friends and relatives. There was singing of hymns and a lot of praying, a lot of kisses and a lot of tears. So was the parting with the village of Novo-Troitskoye and friends as the wagons began to move.

Dad’s Aunt and her husband, Petro Katasonov, acquired all of the Bayoff property and belongings and drove the wagon with the Bayoffs and their trip supplies to the railroad station. Since there were seven families leaving the village, there must have been seven wagons. It took the best part of two days on the road before they arrived at Erzurum, where they would board a freight train. Sitting on their bundles of belongings, it was far from comfortable, but with a lot of hymns and prayers, they arrived at Batum where they met with the rest of the Doukhobors. There were about 2,000 gathered from most of the Doukhobor villages, meeting in Batum.

A British freighter unloaded a ship load of cattle, and was waiting to pick up the 2,000 Doukhobors. You can only imagine the condition of the ship after the cattle were unloaded. That was to be their home for the next 28 days. They saw a lot of work to be done before they could board the ship. No time was to be wasted. They buckled down, cleaned up every part of the ship, scrubbed everything until the ship looked and smelled as if it had never had cattle on it. They then started the carpentry work. In about two weeks of hard work, the ship was ready. Bunks, tables, benches, dining area, wash rooms, etc. were ready. The crew of the ship Lake Huron was impressed by the workmanship and cleanliness of the Doukhobors, and they were very cooperative in every way they could be. The Doukhobors then wasted no time in boarding the ship.

So with singing of hymns and a lot of praying the ship began to move. The ship stopped in Constantinople for supplies. They were advised to take care of some of their supplies, so the men went and bought as much of the fruit and other items as they thought they may need. Certain items were provided: bread, sugar and hot water. There were rumors that the bread and sugar were provided by the Quakers. There were two Quakers on the boat, one of them was Mr. Elkinton, the other Dad did not remember.

It was pleasant going on the Mediterranean Sea. Sailing was quite smooth as most of the time the shore line could be seen, and the towns and cities as they passed by. As soon as the ship passed Gibraltar, things began to change. The land disappeared and the ship began to roll. The going was slow. They could see smoke in the distance behind them; that smoke turned out to be a ship which would catch up to them, then leave them behind with its smoke disappearing in the distance ahead of them. There were many ships passing them in a similar manner.

View of Gibraltar from SS Lake Huron, bringing a group of Doukhobors to Canada, 1899. Library and Archives Canada, PA-022228.

Some people began to get sea sick. A lot of the older people spent most of their time in bed, getting up only to have a bite to eat and wash up.

Although the ship rolled violently, Dad says he enjoyed the ride. He said it did not bother him, and he spent most of the day on deck with the young people. However, things were not without trouble; one old man died and had to be buried at sea. Dad well remembers that incident. They put the body in a sack or perhaps wrapped it in a sheet, tied a stone to him and slid him overboard, with their customary funeral by singing and prayer, Somehow the stone worked loose from the body and the body came to the surface. The ship did not stop, and with singing of hymns they watched the body disappear in the distance. Most of the Atlantic was rough. When it wasn’t rough it was foggy, the fog horns blowing a deafening roar, signaling other vessels, should there be any, so as not to collide.

Eventually word was passed that land would be in sight soon. What a relief! The rolling of the ship began to ease. The older people began to get out of their bunks. What a joy, they were nearly there! They were nearing the Gulf of St. Lawrence when as if by magic everyone perked up, some crying, some laughing, and most everyone praying to God that they were arriving safely. In due time they saw the outline of land, and the buildings began to take shape. That was Halifax.

On arrival at Halifax, they prayed, thanking the Lord for their safe arrival. After going through mountainous waves and fog, it must have been with the help of some divine power that they arrived safe and in good health. Later they learned that the same ship, the Lake Huron, after loading a cargo of lumber destined for England, broke up in the Atlantic Ocean and sank. They were convinced more than ever that the Lord had saved them for the future.

From Halifax, they were taken to an island which they called Quarantine [Grosse Ile, Quebec]. After strict examination, they were pronounced free from any contagious disease, and physically in very good shape. The examining physicians admitted that they never had seen such a healthy group of immigrants as the Doukhobors. After the word was passed ahead, about the cleanliness of the people, the officials mingled quite freely with the Doukhobors and tried to be as helpful as possible. They were then taken to Quebec City by boat. After a rest period they were escorted to the train which was a far cry from the freight cars of Russia. They arrived in Selkirk [Manitoba] where the Government of the North West Territories equipped the Military Barracks with food and lodging. Here they rested and went shopping, buying whatever they could take without too much trouble. The people were then given a choice as to where they wanted to go. The choices were Prince Albert district or Yorkton. A large portion chose Prince Albert and the events will be described about the Prince Albert group.

Grosse Isle, Quebec, where inspection, quarantine and hospital facilities awaited Doukhobor immigrants to Canada. Library and Archives Canada 3362040.

At Selkirk the Bayoffs and Popoffs (Makaroffs) bought two horses and a wagon each. There were others, but Dad does not remember who they were. The train stopped at Duck Lake and that was their destination as far as the train ride was concerned. The wagons were loaded with freight and other belongings. Only the very old and weak rode. The rest walked behind the wagons. Those who had no wagons were not left behind. Tents must have been bought in Selkirk, as they certainly were put to use. There were rains and bad weather that spring. The [North Saskatchewan] river crossing was by Carlton Ferry. Getting out of the river valley, there were hills to cross, and in some cases they had to double up the teams to haul a load at a time.

The party had now reached a hill, called Crown Hill, about four or five miles west of the present Village of Marcelin, which also is adjacent to Windsor Lake School area. This is as far as they could go together, as this was the place from which they spread out to locate their villages. Five groups chose to be near the river: Spasovka (River Hill) was the most northerly; going south Slavyanka, then Uspeniye, then Terpeniye and most southerly Petrofka [aka Petrovka]. The Haralowka [aka Gorelovka] group did not want to go too far, so they located a few miles south of Crown Hill. Pozirayevka and Troitskoye were some distance west of the river.

The Bayoffs and Popoffs (Makaroffs) chose Petrofka. Of course, as will be seen, there were a lot of others in the group, but the story deals mostly with the Bayoff family, with mention of others from the same village.

The elders, my great grandfather was one of them, chose a place about 5 miles south of present Petrofka [briefly called Golovinka]. After scouting around, they decided that the brooks were not good enough, so they retraced their steps back north where the brooks seemed much better. In fact one of the brooks [Petrofka Spring] later became the choice of the present Petrofka picnic grounds, just north of the bridge. That same brook runs through grandfather’s land, just below the picnic grounds.

Doukhobor women digging drainage for a new settlement in the West. BC Archives C-01369.

The location of the village had now been decided upon. Now the big task was erecting buildings. As a temporary measure some people dug into the bank of a hill, making a cave, where they had temporary shelter. Grandfather Dmitry and the boys, my Dad and Uncle Gabriel were very young but helpful. They built a shack and were reasonably comfortable.

My Great-Grandfather Grigory was not satisfied with Petrofka, so the three of them, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather and Dad went south to the vicinity of Borden [to Tambovka village established there]. They scouted a bit and chose an area which could have been where the present village of Langham is located. They acquired the proper papers for homestead purposes. Grandfather and Dad spent one summer there and did a good piece of breaking. They began to miss their friends they left behind in Petrofka so they packed up and came back to Petrofka.

Now came the task of building. Not all had horses or wagons, so those who had horses and wagons had to help haul logs for the buildings for others. Grandfather worked hard. I do not know how long it took to build. I have lived in that house, which was quite large with several rooms and it had built-in bunks and benches all around the wall. It was a log house, but had a large cellar, an attic and a shingle roof. Although they had only four horses to start with, the barn had room for eight, then there were cows, chickens and ducks. A good well was in the yard. As Dad and Uncle Gabriel grew up and Aunt Anna was getting to be a big girl they had to build another house on the same property, as privacy had to be respected. I also remember a shop was built for blacksmithing. I have seen them shoe horses. Later that shop was used by transient immigrants, Russians who were good smiths and worked there, paying Grandfather a small percentage for the use of the shop and tools. The Bayoff place was like a station, as a lot of Russian newcomers made it their stopping place. Grandfather built two trestles on top of which they would place a log, with one man on top and one on the ground pulling a long saw for sawing planks, beams and joists. The newcomers were happy to earn some money and then move on to look for a place to settle. I have been told, and later witnessed myself, that the homes of Nikolai and Mavra Postnikoff and Styopa Esakin were always open for transients, and there were plenty of them passing through Petrofka. Petrofka was their resting place.

Petrofka village, near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. BC Archives C-01605.

Petrofka established itself fairly fast, after the officials showed them where to start building. The houses sprang up fast. I would not be surprised that some of the houses could have been built from the Bayoff man-powered sawing of planks. The villagers were allowed to measure up their lots. They got together and staked out every lot before the building of their homes. Later came the surveyors who were surprised to see that all the houses were properly placed on their respective lots.

There were a lot of problems. Most of the families acquired horses or oxen. The nearest store was at Borden and that was far away, especially for oxen. Besides they were too busy with field work. The animals were overworked and needed rest. The next town was Rosthern, 22 miles, but crossing the river created a problem. They acquired a boat so they now could cross the river. Not too often, but it did happen, that they walked to Rosthern, and brought their supplies on their backs. Even sacks of flour were brought in that way. They say necessity is the mother of invention. We had some very inventive and capable people in Petrofka. Dad tells me one such man was one of the inventors, or a better word, improviser. This man was John Strelioff. I knew him too as I often played with his son, also called John.

This man wanted to improve the river crossing. Instead of oars he devised a paddle wheel attached to the boat, and put a crank onto it. According to Dad, by cranking the paddle wheel they could, cross the river in half the time. That was very welcome and worked just fine, but he still had to walk to Rosthern and carry supplies on his back. So he improvised the wheel barrow by using a very large wheel. Dad does not remember where the wheel came from, but the diameter of the wheel was about 4 feet. That made pushing it with a load quite easy, as that size of a wheel rolled easily over small obstructions. John Strelioff actually pushed that barrow to Rosthern and brought a lot more supplies that way instead of carrying them on his back. He also made a bicycle. He used 2 wheels from spinning wheels, made sprockets from a spade and made a chain with links shaped from wire. The bicycle actually worked, but as far as Bad remembers there was no talk of it ever being used to go to Rosthern.

Doukhobors going for flour in the Rosthern District of Saskatchewan. BC Archives C-01355.

Soon the ferry [Petrofka Ferry] appeared. Everybody was happy. They could drive to Rosthern by team and wagon. Then buggies appeared which provided a little more speed and comfort. Conditions further improved when Waldheim appeared. It was only 8 miles then. The railroad made it possible to take trips to Saskatoon. Soon after, a grocery and confectionary store opened up, owned by Mr. Eagleson, who also had the Post Office with the title of Petrofka. Petrofka was a fast-growing village so the government, to keep peace among our people, empowered one of the early English speaking citizens as a judge; so we actually had a judge in our village. Dad does not remember the name of the judge, however he did not stay long as there were no disputes, no fights – in other words the judge had nothing to do so he left.

Events were moving rapidly. People became more settled. Russian and Ukrainian immigrants came in larger numbers, stopping in Petrofka to rest and consider their next move. The Bayoffs, Postnikoffs, Makaroffs and Esakins housed a lot of these people. They were all good people. In exchange for their keep they would work a few days sawing planks or work in a blacksmith shop. The shop was kept busy by sharpening plowshares and other iron work. Some of these nice people decided to stay on in our village and became one of us. They married our Doukhobor girls and settled down with them. Just to mention two of them, Peter Dobroluboff married a Kousnitsoff girl, and Stanislav Lostowski married Elizabeth Mitin, a widow.

With the never ending task of survival, with very little money, the building and seeing that there be enough money to feed and clothe the family, the task seemed insurmountable; yet against odds, there was time for socializing, such as it was. Most of them had not experienced the more extravagant upper level of social living, so there was no complaint. They would gather at the neighbor’s house for a talk or a singsong if they were in the mood. That went on when the people moved on to their homesteads, perhaps with a little more enthusiasm, because of the distance between them. Grandpa bought the school house, and had lots of room for visitors; Grandma (Lusha) Lukeria would always provide lunch. Quite often we would go to visit Grandpa and Grandma.

On one occasion, when we arrived at Grandpa’s, we found that we were not the only visitors. There were Salikins. Grandpa and Grandma were very close friends with Tanya and Nicholas. Philip Gulioff was also there. Tanya was a very likable woman, very sociable and usually the life of the party. Philip had a chair by the cupboard. He reached out his hand and began tapping on a tin dishpan. Pretty soon there developed a rhythm to his tapping. Tanya did not waste any time, jumped up, and executed a few graceful steps, approached Grandma, and said, ”come on Lusha, lets show them like we used to when we were young.” Grandma was reluctant at first, but then Philip began tapping with more lively music, at least to them and to me that was music. Philip increased the volume and gusto. It must have been hard for Grandma to resist. There was their chance to live again their young days in Russia. They began to move, and what a performance, their aprons swinging, their hands and arms gracefully swinging, their feet moving gracefully. They moved in a semi circular motion. They were so smooth; they were actually floating, using their arms and hands as in ballet. It did not mean too me much then, but as I think about it, I still can picture that dance. I have seen some ballet dancing, but I have not seen anything so smooth. If you have seen the Russian skaters, then you will see what I mean. They danced apart, but their movement of arms and hands were in perfect unison. You could almost say that the Russian peasants were born with a certain amount of ballet in them.

Grandpa Dmitry and Grandma Lusha (nee Kalmakoff) Bayoff, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan.

Lusha and Tanya were grandmothers, but really they at that time were young women even if they were Grandmothers. That was the first time I had seen Grandma Bayoff act this way. Everyone enjoyed themselves. It was a very pleasant visit. The Salikins visited them often, but I have not heard of Grandma and Tanya performing again. Perhaps Philip was not around.

Our young people grew up fast, and with the help of these Russian people soon a football team was formed (soccer ball). Every Sunday there were football games. I remember seeing them play. Dad was a goalkeeper. They even took part in Rosthern Sports day and nearly won one game. They blame the loss on the party the night before.

The first few years during the period of orientation life was hard, especially when one had to carry flour from Rosthern on their backs. So the elders of Petrofka and the other villages decided to build a flour mill. The Petrofka elders, including my Great Grandfather Grigory, foresaw the possibility of a water-driven wheel for supplying the power, and that was one reason they retraced their steps back north and settled at the present sight. It was closer to the creek. This creek [Radouga Creek] running through Uncle Paul Makaroff’s farm was the ideal location for the mill. It being centrally located between Petrofka and Terpeniye and Troitskoye, although other villages co-operated. The mill was located near Timothy Vereschagin’s home, not far from the present Brookhill School. To create a large enough water head, they dug by hand roughly two miles, more or less, a channel diverting the flow to create a high enough waterfall. They had done a wonderful job, a civil engineering job. It is surprising what necessity can do. The mill was built and put to work. The flow of water was enough to make the mill operational. The capacity of the mill was large enough to supply the need of the community. According to Dad, the mill produced very good flour. Dad does not remember how many years the mill worked, but he remembers that, supposedly, government men came along, removed the grinding stone, and gave them orders not to build another mill, but to buy flour as the other citizens did. If it was the government, I think it was very inconsiderate of them. The mill was destroyed, but the evidence is still there. I well remember, when I went to Makaroff’s to swim with Pete and Joe, the channel was still evident, although in a very deteriorated condition.

There was another mill built, whether before the destruction of the Petrofka mill or later, Dad does not remember. This other mill was built in the village of Troitskoye. It was a steam powered mill. The engine was a stationary one, but on wheels and had to be pulled by horses. Dad remembers one incident during the construction of this mill. There was a Chernoff who seemed to have been in charge of the job. A very capable and meticulous man, whose motto was perfection, for which he took pride and credit. As the story goes, on one occasion he observed that one worker had not been too accurate with his work, so he called out to this worker “this does not look too good, how did you level it”. The worker replied “I have leveled it by eye”. Chernoff was not satisfied; he called, “s— on your eye, use the level”. The order must have been carried out, as the mill was constructed, and produced very good flour. This also did not last long. To the sorrow of the people it was dismantled just like the Petrofka mill, supposedly by government men. Who knows?

Cattle crossing the central village street of Petrofka, c. 1910. Note the post office (not visible) was located behind the tall house on the left side of the street. Courtesy Peter Cox.

We had some very strong men in Petrofka. The river that brought in logs used to flood at times, the large logs being two feet in diameter. To get them out of the river and drag them to shore required a lot of strength. Dad mentions one man, Pete Padowski. I remember him. He was a quiet man, yet a big man. He would drag the log over the bank to where the wagon stood. People asked him why he did not use the oxen. He answered that if he could not drag it over the bank the oxen certainly could not. Besides he saved the oxen to pull the wagon. Later on when the people began to buy cars, Padowski bought a car, and this I saw myself, to change a tire he called his wife to set the block under the axle, as he lifted the car by hand, without a jack.

Grandfather Dmitry, with the help of Dad and Uncle Gabriel [Gavril], built the two houses, the necessary barns, dug a well and built a bath house. According to Dad, it was the second bath house in the village. So it was used by a lot of villagers. The custom was that the women go first to take a bath. They came in a group, as many as the bath house could hold, until all the women had their bath, so some were undressing as some were bathing, as all of them could not get in at once. As the rumor goes Grandpa was there bringing in water, etc., and seeing that the women had everything for their bath. He even washed some of the ladies backs to hurry the process. The first bathhouse was built on Reban’s lot, and was used as a community bathhouse. Families took turns to heat and supply water. Each family provided their own hazel nut brooms for steaming themselves and supplied their own soap.

Well, going back to Grandfather, helping the ladies was not the only good deed he did. He was some sort of a doctor. Usually Sundays, sometimes a visitor would come from another village to have Grandfather let blood. That I have witnessed myself. Grandma would roll up the person’s sleeve, tie a towel on the arm to have a vein stand out, while Grandpa opened up a little black box and produced small gadget which he called a lancet. After setting the gadget, he asked Grandma to hold a can. Pretty soon I heard a little click and I saw blood running out while Grandma caught the blood with the can. I don’t know whether it cured the person of the ailment, but all I know is I got pretty sick watching it. I know that Grandpa never charged anyone for this.

Another person worthy of mention was Mavra (Mavrunya) Postnikoff, wife of the ferryman, Nikolai, nicknamed Starchik. This good woman performed marvelously as a midwife, making deliveries in a large community. As far as I know, her record was that all the babies she delivered have lived. I and brother Pete are credited to her work.

As I have mentioned before, there were two Quakers on the boat. They must have evaluated the Doukhobors from every possible angle. The conclusion must have been in our favor as shortly after the villagers got themselves established, or caught up with the necessary housing, the Quakers contacted our elders and others of the village asking if Petrofka would like to have a school. The majority of the people agreed that it would be desirable to do a little learning at this time, being in a new country. That proved to the Quakers that we were a progressive people and wanted to better ourselves. The buildings were shipped from the U.S. pre-fabricated. The school had two classrooms and the teacherage was a two-story house. Mr. and Mrs. Wood and their daughter must have been the first teachers. Mr. Wood took the adults and Miss Wood the children. Russian classes and singing were given by Herman Fast, the father-in-law of our Mrs. Fast (Mavrunya), her husband being Nicholas Fast. I started in that school before I was five years old. By then there were two other teachers, Miss Martin and Miss Moore. They changed the teachers every year or two. It is understandable that the teachers needed a change, as a Doukhobor village with people who did not speak English does not provide much social life for a teacher. This school was used until the municipality was created, at which time the Government built a new Petrofka school, No. 23, about a mile north of the village.

Scene of frivolity in the village of Petrofka. British Columbia Archives C-01658.

The Quaker school attracted people from other villages, hoping for some learning. Dad mentions that at this time the housing situation became quite critical, as most of the homes were built just for their own families. Dad said he went as high as grade 3, but Mother said she used up one short pencil. She liked school and advanced quite rapidly, but her girl friends started to call her a “Professor”, so she quit and got married.

As Mothers are, my Mother was a kind-hearted, capable woman. She visualized that education was helpful in many ways, so she started my and Pete’s schooling at home. She instructed us in the Russian language. As I have mentioned before, she attended Russian classes taught by Herman Fast. She must have studied hard because she knew enough to give us a start in our studies. By the time we were 5 years old, both Pete and I knew how to read and write Russian.

This Quaker built and sponsored school is credited with giving Dr. Nicholas Zbitnoff, presently of Ukiah, California, his start in schooling. With a lot of courage and fortitude, a lot of hard work and hard times, Dr. Zbitnoff became one of the most respected medical practitioners and surgeons. His education began in Petrofka.

I started English School at the village with my teacher being Miss Moore or Miss Martin. I was somewhere between four and five years old. I was given a slate and a slate pencil. I took this slate with me to the new Petrofka School north of the village. I think slates were used for the first year or two. We had a bottle of water on our desks and a clean rag to wash and dry our slates. We could not wash our slate until the teacher checked our work, thus checking our mistakes if any. The transition to paper was quite rapid. It was more convenient, and not so messy. Sometimes I feel that I should have kept on with the slate. Perhaps I would have been a smarter person.

As human nature goes, our people at times were subjected to ridicule. One such incident worthy of mention happened while a few of our boys were hired during threshing to pitch bundles, or haul sheaves, as a few dollars earned was quite helpful. This was across the river on one of the German families’ threshing outfits. The German people were hospitable. In spite of their good nature and friendliness, there were one or two young boys who were picking on one of our quietest boys. This chap was William L. Strelioff. They could not get him riled up, as he would ignore their picking on him. He would just move away from them. They must have made their minds up to see how much he could take. They did the meanest thing that could happen. One of them piddled into William’s cap. This made our boys very angry. Alyosha Rebin, Paul and Pete Rebin’s father shouted loudly, “We cannot take that, grab your forks and follow me. We must stop that once and for all times”. Alyosha was not a very big man, perhaps 140 pounds, but what he lacked in size, he made up in courage. There were only 3 or 4 of our boys, so with pitch forks in hand they followed Alyosha. The local boys did not feel like giving ground at first, but then changed their minds when Alyosha layed his fork across the back of one of them. They turned and ran with our boys after them, branding two or more of the local boys. The threshing was stopped for that day. The owner of the machine called the police who took everyone to Rosthern. Court was held. What a sight! The branded boys took their shirts off to show the 3 beautiful marks on their backs made by three-pronged pitch forks. The judge charged each one of our boys and the local boys $7.00, told the local boys not to use our boys’ caps for that purpose and told our boys not to use pitch forks for fighting. Dad was one of the pitch fork gladiators. Threshing resumed the next morning. If there was hostility, they did not show it. There was no bad language used and even more friendly relationship prevailed. Threshing season ended without further incident.

As time marched on, changes began to take place. People of Petrofka began to acquire land, mostly around the village. Since most of us had barns by now, they would drive their horses to their farms to work for the day and come back to the village for the night. I used to watch them come home in the evenings about sundown, driving their teams of four horses. To me it was a beautiful sight. Later on, one by one, they moved out of the village completely and started all over on their farms. However, the village did not diminish in size for awhile, as new arrivals had it nice to occupy the vacated buildings. Sundays the farmers would come to the village, either to visit, or just to see their friends and relatives and to play a game of ball, (hilki) or football. As the second generation grew up, bicycles and even cars began to appear. The children enjoyed going to the store to buy candy. Then there was the Post Office. As the older generation became too occupied with their farming, and building, football suffered. The younger generation became interested in baseball. Young people of the other villages began to visit Petrofka just to play and drink some cider at the store. Blaine Lake came into existence, so there was another team to play against. I believe it was in the early twenties that Petrofka had a sports day of their own. There were teams from across the river as well as from Blaine Lake. Big Pete Padowski was at the gate collecting admission to the grounds.

Father John Bayoff holding Alex, Dunya (John’s wife), Gabriel Bayoff. Seated are Dmitry and Lusha Bayoff with Anna Bayoff standing beside her.

The original store keeper, the Eaglesons, moved out because of schooling for their children. The store was then moved to Nick Makaroff’s house with Nick Postnikoff running it. The Post Office remained in Petrofka until most of the villagers moved out to their farms. Then the Post Office was moved 5 or 4 miles west of the village, but still keeping the name. Later when Nick Makaroff went to his farm, he took his store with him. Nick Postnikoff went with the store and stayed there until he died. They also had the Post Office called Radouga. Alex (Lioxia) Strelioff then opened a store in Makaroff’s house for a while, and then moved his store to Robin’s barn, running the store until he died. After that Paul Voykin opened up the store on his farm, 3 miles west of the village.

Sports were not the only hobbies. We also had some very talented people as well as strong and inventive people that I have mentioned before. Petrofka was always famous for its singers. I do not remember too much of the older people, but the younger generation really got the reputation. Under the direction of Samuel Postnikoff, who also was a very good singer, being a soloist at times, he produced a choir from our country boys and their wives that was outstanding in performance. Another cousin of mine, Edward Postnikoff was an outstanding member of the choir taking solo parts at times. I believe they were the nicest group of young boys and ladies that I have heard at that time. They entertained civic organizations in Saskatoon as well as performing on C.F.Q.C. radio.

We also had very prominent people in their respective ways. Fred Lovroff (Postnikoff) through hardship and perseverance became one of the famous artists of that time. His exhibits were shown in most of the important art displays in many countries. Later, Samuel’s daughter, Jeannette, became very prominent in her painting of live art. Our cousin Fred Post (Postnikoff) is another Petrofka product whose paintings of scenery could rank with the best. Another person was my Uncle Peter Makaroff, who became the first lawyer from Petrofka [and first Doukhobor post-secondary graduate]. He was also the first school teacher of the country Petrofka school which I attended. He must have played an important part in the history of Saskatoon, as there was a street named after him. The family of Mike and Grunya Postnikoff were instrumental in having a street named after them. However, the next generation produced a lot of professional people, not only from Petrofka but from most of the other villages as well. There were teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, druggists, engineers, dentists, etc.

In a lighter vein, Petrofka even had a pool room, only one table. I do not know how long it was in business or how it faired, as I was too young to realize what it was. It lasted only a few years.

We also had comedians. At this time I will relate one of the many occurrences. It happened one evening when a load of supplies, etc., came in from Rosthern. Naturally wine was one of the items brought in. Then a party had to take place, which was in Nickolai Popoff’s place, a brother of Grandfather Makaroff. As the party was in progress, the host, Nickolai Popoff revealed some important conclusions. Evidently he witnessed one of the bread and wine acts, a religious ceremony in a Mennonite church. There was a plate of bread broken into small pieces and a small jigger of wine. These were passed around the congregation and whoever wished to take part took a piece of bread and wet their lips with the wine. He mentioned how the people were misled, and that a sip of wine would entitle them to a place in heaven. He went on to say that here we drink it by the gallon and even then we are not sure if we be qualified for a place in heaven.

Mr. and Mrs. S.E. Bushe with the Strelioffs on the Petrofka ferry. Saskatoon Public LIbrary – LH-9768.

As the municipal school opened up, the school in the village closed up. Grandpa Bayoff bought the school and moved it to his homestead, about a mile north of the village. George Strelioff bought the teacherage and moved it about half a mile north of the village. Besides the house and other buildings in the village, Grandpa Makaroff built a two-story house on the outskirts of the village. Rebins also built their house on the northern outskirts of the village. All others had their farms, some close to and some not so close to the village. Dad built our house about 2 miles north of the village and Uncle Gabriel, still further north.

Aunt Anna, who became Mrs. George Postnikoff, moved quite away south west of the village. Eventually every family moved out. Paul Voykin opened a store on his farm about three miles west of the village. The Petrofka Post Office was also moved to a farm west of the village. Sometime later Eli Gulioff opened a store and a barber shop close to the ferry.

So now the Petrofka Bridge carries the name of the once hustling and very active hamlet full of happiness, hard times and good times and some sorrowful. This has been blown away as if by a gust of wind, leaving only the spiritual members of Petrofka’s graveyard to remind us of its existence. Petrofka as well as other villages have done their duty and served their purpose in providing a link between those who came ahead and the new immigrants, keeping them together and helping one another to settle themselves for a new life in a new and strange country. That purpose had been accomplished. At this point it’s worthy of mention, Dad’s saying that we should be grateful to the good Queen Victoria for accepting us, and to our far-seeing elders who had enough courage to organize this move. Also we shouldn’t forget the help we received from Count Leo Tolstoy and the Quakers, and last but not least, to honour our ancestors who, through extreme hardship, brought us into this country where we so far have lived in harmony with other peoples of various races and religions.

Doukhobor home, North Saskatchewan River. British Columbia Archives C-08529.

We were then settled on the farm, north of the village, building, working the land, raising stock and poultry and gardening. Most of the Sundays we went to the village to mingle with friends and relatives and to see if there was any mail. In a few years of struggle, which included a lot of land clearing, we suddenly found ourselves solvent. The buildings were up, the implements paid for, the mares in foal and the cows heavy with calf. There were a few dollars put away under the mattress. As Dad wanted to increase the horsepower so that we could have two outfits of four animals, he thought he had a bargain on mules. So he bought a team. That is when you have to test your nerves.

They stopped working whenever they felt like it and would not move, no matter what, until they decided to. Something like our present unions, only the unions were justified in going on strike. Who knows, maybe the mules were justified. Dad could not figure that out so he traded them in on a new wagon and a nice new shiny buggy.           

Life on the farm was a lot of hard work, as all of our people experienced. We had to do without things that we would have liked. Pete and I were too young to be of much help except to bring the cows from the pasture at milking time. Mother would go out in the field with Dad, who was either fencing or clearing land. One of the quarters had a lot of bush. I have seen Mother drive a team [of horses] hooked to a tree or bush, while Dad was swinging the axe to chop the roots. In the evening came milking time and supper making, and at bed time Mother would help us wash our feet, as Pete and I went bare footed a lot. Our poor Mothers, how they worked!

Pete and Alex Bayoff in Petrofka village.

Then there were embarrassing times too. Mother tells of one incident when a Mounted Policeman drove into the field where Mother was plowing. She was wearing Dad’s overalls over her dress. The Policeman asked if she was a man or a woman and said “if you are a woman you better pull those overalls off”. Being scared, Mother complied. I do not remember her saying anything, whether she put them on again when the Policeman left.

Our yard was about a mile and a half from the bush, approaching the river and at that time it seemed as if it were full of coyotes. Some evenings they become quite musical. It seemed as though they had a whole choir. There were tenors, basses and sopranos. It was not uncommon to see a coyote come into the yard in broad daylight and grab a chicken.

As I have mentioned before, we had acquired a new buggy. The best way to train a horse is to do it when they are two years old. The only suitable horse we had then was a nice two year old stallion. He was quite gentle and well behaved. We used to hitch him up to the new buggy to go to the village for the mail. So one Sunday we took him to the neighboring church. At that time most of the driving was done by horse and buggy, so there were a lot of horses tied to the fence posts. Dad tied our young stallion next to the other horses and we all went into church. During the sermon we were attracted by the shrieking of horses. Dad went out and saw our young horse trying to be playful. Dad immediately moved him over away from the other horses and made sure that he tied him securely. The church service continued then without further interruption.

People as a whole were getting more affluent, so a change was forthcoming. Our neighbors bought a car. Then, as there were a few dollars under the mattress, brother Pete asked Dad to buy a car since the neighbors had one and Pete wanted to be equal. Dad did not want to rush into such an expense and so said, “No, we are not ready for it.” Pete began to cry as he was only 4 years old. Wiping his eyes and whimpering, he said the neighbors had a car so must we. Dad drew his attention to the fact he was small and could not do the work like the neighbors did, and because they had a big family, could earn a lot of money. At this point Pete, still crying, said, “What is keeping you from having a big family?” Dad and Mom took notice of that remark, especially coming from a four year old. After a little deliberation, they took the easy way out and bought a brand new Gray-Dort car.

In 1914 came the war. Dad, as well as other young men was called up, including Uncle Pete Makaroff who had just finished law school. I have heard that while pleading the case of the Doukhobors, Uncle was handled pretty rough by the police. A temporary release was obtained, due to the fact that the crops would soon be ready to harvest. They decided that our boys would be able to harvest the crops. Our people, seeing the seriousness of the situation, organized a meeting on the day of St. Peter and St. Paul, for prayer and to decide what to do. They agreed to send 5 or 4 men to Ottawa to plead our case. This meeting was held on the farm of Uncle Nicholas Makaroff, and was initiated as the first meeting in Saskatchewan in memory of the one held in Russia when they gathered all the firearms and burned them. That was on the day of St. Peter and St. Paul. In the District of Blaine Lake, as far as I know, these prayer meetings were held every year after that. This at times became a very large occasion, sometimes lasting two days. We had visitors from California and other parts of the U.S.A. to help bring back the memory of the first meeting in Russia for the burning of the firearms. Molokans were frequent visitors. At least on one occasion we had visitors from the Quakers.

Group of Doukhobor girls, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. Library and Archives Canada, PA-022240.

As mentioned before, at the first historic meeting in Saskatchewan, they agreed to send a delegation to Ottawa. I do not remember if the delegates were elected or volunteered. They were Uncle Nick Makaroff, George Strelioff and the others I do not remember, but could have been from the district of Yorkton. These delegates did a good job convincing the government that we were let into Canada for the development of the North-West Territories. Documents showed that the good Queen Victoria exempted us from military service for 99 years. We were not bothered any more until the Second World War of 1939. At that time, our young men eligible for military service were exempt from it again, provided they did manual work in work camps. One of the camps was located just north of Prince Albert. They allowed one senior person to be with the boys to see that the boys behaved and that they were not abused. Pete was practicing dentistry in Meadow Lake. As he was the only dentist for a large territory, reaching from Meadow Lake all the way to Lenningrad, they decided to let him stay, but he had to pay a portion of his earnings to the war effort.

Now going back to 1918, the First World War came to an end November 11, 1918. Then the Spanish influenza came along. There were only a few people who did not get sick. I do not remember if Grandpa was sick or not. I remember that I was the last one of our family to get it. While I was able to move around, Grandpa would come and we would take the car to visit some sick neighbors. I was 11 years old, just old enough to think I knew a lot. However, I was lucky enough not to get caught by the police. They rode through the country quite frequently.

The two quarter sections of land that we owned were not adjacent to one another. This created inconvenience in moving machinery from one place to another and being a whole day away from home we also had to carry food and water for the midday feeding of the horses. My parents saw a chance to buy a half-section together and so they made a deal with Eli Strelioff, who at that time had an agreement of sale with a Mr. Smith of New York. Dad took over that agreement of sale and so we moved to about three miles south of Marcelin, and about 15 miles from our Petrofka home. The Petrofka property was sold to William Postnikoff who acquired the home quarter; and the other to Fred Dargin. It was in the spring of 1919.

To me at the time it seemed unfair; we had just settled properly at the Petrofka farm and then we had to start from scratch again. Moving is bad enough if you have some place to move to, but on the new farm there was a small 10′ X 12’ shack, one granary, no barn, and as the saying goes, “no nothing”.

Dad and Mother must have had extra strong intestinal fortitude. I had just turned 12 and pitched in with all my might. I missed three years school. It was hard work. We had to put up an addition to the shack, dig a well, build a barn, a chicken house and a workshop. There was more bush than we would have liked, so every spare day we were in the bush. I was old enough to handle a team, while Dad swung the axe.

The first crop, 1919, looked very good, but when we started cutting it, it was so full of rust that you could hardly see the horses in front of you. The yield was very poor. One of Dad’s best friends and neighbors in the village, Pete Reban, insisted that he would like to come all that way to thresh. It was not for the money, but to see where we were. It was a happy occasion in spite of the poor crop year. The two friends, Dad and “Uncle Pete” (we called him Uncle, as Dad and he were so close) had a real pow-wow. Paul was there too and we enjoyed his wit and humor.

There were bad and good years, plus hard work. It was very discouraging. It was hard to hit the right time to sell grain, due to changing markets. On top of that, we had to pay 20 cents exchange on American money. However, we buckled down and in 1925 we had a very good crop. The prices for grain were good. We paid up for the land, bought a new car, a Chrysler Sedan, built a new house and barn, bought another half section of land and were back in debt. Then the Depression began to spread. I started University and Pete, after trying University, switched to Normal School. He taught our home school, Gillies, for six years for $400.00 a year, for which he had to do the janitor work also. That $400.00 he turned over to the family. It was very welcome. Crop failure and quotas did not help any. Seeing no future in teaching, Pete started University again, and in 1940 graduated from the Northwestern University in Chicago and began his practice of Dentistry in Meadow Lake in 1940. He is still there at the time of writing this article, enjoying his retirement, after more than 40 years of practice. He still does work, if you can catch him at home, and he enjoys it. He still attends dental seminars and other dental meetings. He says once a dentist you want to keep abreast of new developments for the sake of knowing.

Group of young Doukhobors, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, c. 1930s. Library and Archives Canada C-008888.

As for myself, I too got fed up with the Depression, and went to Minneapolis, where I got my Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering; at the same time did a year of research work for a Masters Degree in Hydraulics. There were no jobs there either – very discouraging. I got a job in a hardware wholesale at a salary of $18.00 per week. Then I fell in love and got married to Mary Rogich. I moved into Mary’s home. She lived with her Mother and brother. Mary’s Mother was a wonderful woman, kind-hearted and very generous. After about a year I realized that I was not making any headway and I did not feel like sponging on the good nature of Mary’s Mother. Jobs in engineering or other types were non-existent. You got some sort of consideration if you joined the army. That was not for me. In the fall, I persuaded Mary to come to the farm with me. We would not have to pay rent, and at the same time have the best food that nature can give us. Besides I had an interest in the farm. Then when times got better, I could get an engineering job and we could try our luck at it. Mary was a city girl and could not see her way to become a farmer’s wife. It was my duty to provide for my family, and I could not do it for the year we tried in the city. So I decided to stay on the farm and at the same time keep my equity in the farm; she decided to go back to her Mother. It was hard on both of us. We loved one another, but as we have found out, people cannot live on love alone. It was harder on Mary as her Mother was a widow, and. it was Mary’s duty to be with her, or near her. Mary was a wonderful wife, but somehow the conditions were against us. The Thirties were rolling on, so was the Depression, so it would be foolish for me to quit farming to look for another job. I tried.

I concluded that the Depression and hard times was 90% responsible for the breaking up of this my family. We were not the only victims of the Depression. Banks went broke and people lost all their belongings. Many committed suicide. The first job I got was in 1939 when I managed to get on the crew for building a boiler for the Saskatchewan Power Commission. That job paid 25 cents an hour. I lived in the Barry Hotel, ate out and managed to bring some money home.          

Then the war broke out and in 1940 I joined the M & C Aviation Co. to design aircraft parts. After the war was over I could get ten jobs. I worked for Underwood and McLellan for several years, then took time out to build four houses in Saskatoon. Just prior to this time I received word that I was divorced from Mary. Then in a few years I re-married Daisy Sawley, who helped me build the four houses. I then went back to surveying, working for Webb and Webster for a few years more. Mother died in 1962. That knocked the energy out of me, so I retired from my engineering work.

Two good things resulted in my varied life. One is that Mary gave us a wonderful Daughter whom we love very much. This is partly the cause of me writing this article, as our Daughter knows very little of my background. The other good thing that happened was when I met Daisy. It is surprising how much can be accomplished when two people pull together. Diana, our Daughter comes to visit us quite often. Daisy and Diana get along very well, so well that I sometimes feel jealous, but I am happy that they get along so well. We thank Mary, Diana’s Mother, from the bottom of our hearts for giving us such a wonderful Daughter.

It would be inconsiderate of me not to mention the help and advice of my loving wife. She gave me encouragement, help and support in writing this article. . She is a true Christian and a Good Samaritan. When Mother was sick, she took her into our home, and looked after her. Now we have Dad, who is harder to look after, Daisy does not complain, and takes things as they come.

There are only three old Bayoff’s left. There will be no more Bayoff’s of this dynasty to carry on. The branch of Uncle Gabriel’s dynasty was terminated when Fred died, leaving three ladies, Olga, Anne and Elsie. If they do have children, they will not carry the name. Of Dad’s, mine and Pete’s branch, most likely Diana will be stuck with writing the last chapter of our dynasty. God Bless her and give her good health and strength, and I hope she is happy being in the family. We also thank Edward and Mary Postnikoff from the bottom of our hearts for taking care of Grandpa Dmitry in his last days, and taking care of his funeral in the best of Doukhobor traditions. Thank you Edward and Mary.

Labor Day of 1983, we went to Manitou Beach [Watrous, Saskatchewan] for a swim in the pool, as it was closing for the season. Dad enjoyed himself very much. He stayed in the pool for three hours. When he got out he said, “Goodbye pool, I will never see you again”. The pool buildings burned down early that fall and Dad died March 30, 1984.

I am now the official old man [starichok or ‘elder’] of my family, even though I do not feel that old. It is just the honorary recognition I must accept.

Alex Bayoff,

Saskatoon, SK., May 1985

Map of Petrofka village and related sites, located off Highway 12, 55 km north of Saskatoon, 20 km south of Blaine Lake, SK.