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

For Immediate Release – October 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor Available Online

For Immediate Release – June 15, 2008

The Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor, a vast compilation of over 785 documents from the early twentieth century relating to the arrival and settlement of the Doukhobors in Canada, has been added online to the Multicultural Canada website.

James Mavor

James Mavor (1854-1925). LAC PA-126982.

James Mavor (1854-1925) was a preeminent Canadian political economist, University of Toronto professor, writer, social activist and art collector. In 1898, at the request of Petr Kropotkin, Mavor was instrumental in facilitating the Doukhobor migration from Russia to Canada. He continued throughout his life to be a staunch supporter of the Doukhobors following their settlement in Canada.

His collected works consist largely of correspondence, from the initial inquiry by Petr Kropotkin to Mavor in July 1898 to the arrival of the Doukhobors in 1899, and the first years of their settlement in Saskatchewan. Important correspondents include government officials such as Clifford Sifton and James A. Smart of the federal Department of the Interior and W.F. McCreary, Commissioner of Immigration in Winnipeg, and Doukhobor spokesmen and leaders such as Leo Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vladimir Chertkov, D. Khilkov, and Petr Verigin. Subsequent correspondence is mainly concerned with the period 1906-1907 and 1919 when Doukhobor communities were under threat of expropriation of their lands. The collection also contains printed material, including pamphlets and other articles gathered by Mavor on the Doukhobors; Mavor’s own notes and reports, including a daybook kept during his trip to Western Canada in 1899; and photographs of Doukhobor settlements in Canada. Some of the material is in Russian.

Telegraph from Peter Verigin to James Mavor, 1912.

Record from the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor.

Originally housed for decades in the University of Toronto Library, the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor was digitized and made available online in May of 2008 through the Multicultural Canada website. It is accessible through search and browse pages that link to an online database. Every record in the database contains the title, name of author, date, subject, summary description, and a link to the associated set of document images. The digitized images reflect the original physical condition of the records. Some of the records are aged and discoloured or have extremely faded ink. Others may have tears, folds, or other markings.

The collection host, Multicultural Canada, is a coalition of Canadian libraries, universities, educational and cultural institutions dedicated to collecting and preserving the historic records of Canada’s diverse cultural groups and providing free and greater access to them online.  The Multicultural Canada website includes digitized collections, learning modules and the Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples. 

The online digitized Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor is a tremendous new research source for historians, writers, students, genealogists and anyone interested in the early Canadian history of the Doukhobors.

To access and search the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor, visit the Multicultural Canada website at: http://multiculturalcanada.ca/node/1523.

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

p>For Immediate Release – March 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Russian Book Chronicles the Doukhobors

For Immediate Release – December 31, 2007

A new book has been published in Russian about the Doukhobors. Strana Dukhoboriya by Alla Bezhentseva was published in Tbilisi, Georgia by Russkii Klub in late 2007. The English translation of the title is “Land of the Doukhobors”.

Cover of Strana Dukhoboriya

Cover of Strana Dukhoboriya.

Strana Dukhoboriya documents the historical origins and development of the Doukhobors over the past two hundred and sixty years. It begins with the birth of the Christian Protestant doctrine in mid-eighteenth century South Russia. It then follows the lives of early teachers Siluan Kolesnikov, Ilarion Pobirokhin and Savely Kapustin who spread the Doukhobor faith among the Russian peasantry and formed the core of the sect’s worship and devotions. The history of the Doukhobor community is traced from its establishment at Molochnye Vody in 1801 through to its expulsion to the Caucasus in 1841-1845. The book explores the pivotal events of the late nineteenth century which helped define the modern face of Doukhoborism. It follows the immigration to Canada – the second homeland of the Doukhobors – and the problems they encountered with integration into the society and culture of North America. It also examines the little-known history of the Doukhobors during the Soviet period, through Perestroika and the fall of the Soviet Union, to the present period, including recent mass immigrations of Doukhobors from Georgia to the Central Russian provinces of Tula, Bryansk and elsewhere.

The appendix to Strana Dukhoboriya contains a rich and detailed exposition of Doukhobor culture in Georgia today. It studies traditions, past and present, including local dialect, food and dishes, ceremonies, as well as songs and psalms. It includes a selection of psalms from the Doukhobor Zhivotnaya Kniga or “Living Book”. As well, it contains a parting word from the Doukhobor elders of Dmanisi, Georgia, the hometown of the author. It concludes with a detailed bibliography and interview of the author by Georgian journalist Nino Tsitlanadze.

The author, Alla Nikolayevna Bezhentseva, was born in Tbilisi, Georgia and currently lives in the town of Dmanisi, a district administrative centre with a significant Doukhobor population. She has a PhD in civil engineering and taught engineering design at “Gruzgiprogorstoi” Institute in Sukhumi for fifteen years. She has designed numerous buildings throughout Georgia including theatres, houses of culture and recreation, government administrative buildings and hotels. She is actively involved in a number of women’s and humanitarian organizations, notably the Union of Russian Women in Georgia. She is also an accomplished writer, having written a number of Russian and Georgian language texts and materials.

Author Alla Nikolayevna Bezhentseva

Author Alla Bezhentseva speaks at the book release in Tbilisi, Georgia in December, 2007.

Bezhentseva’s Doukhobor research was sponsored and published by the Russkii Klub (“Russian Club”), a Georgian-based cultural and educational organization dedicated to the promotion of cooperation, friendship and mutual understanding between the states of Russia and Georgia. Fittingly, her book was released in December 2007, symbolically declared the “Year of Russian Language” in Georgia. The book release, which took place at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Tbilisi, was attended by Russian and Georgian dignitaries as well as members of the Doukhobor community in Georgia.

Georgian Doukhobor Choir performs at Book Release

A Doukhobor choir from Dmanisi, Georgia performs at the book release in December, 2007.

At a time when Russian culture generally, and Doukhobor culture in particular, in Georgia is in serious decline, Bezhentseva’s book graphically illustrates the life, doctrines, history and traditions of the Doukhobor community in Georgia. It is a valuable and interesting source of information for present and future generations.

Book Release of Strana Dukhoboriya

Book release at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Tbilisi, Georgia in December, 2007.

Strana Dukhoboriya (IBSN 978-9941-0-0088-1) is a 152-page Russian language book. To read, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the book, free of charge, visit the Russkii Klub website. By special arrangement with the author and publisher, an English translation of select chapters is underway and will appear on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website in early 2008.

Student Seeks Participants From Across Canada to Broaden Research

by Sonya White

Are you interested in Doukhobor pasts, presents, and futures in Canada? Would you like to share your views on the importance that memory has in contemporary visions of Doukhoborism? Learn about University of Toronto Master’s student Sonya White’s research on Doukhobor memory, history and healing and how you can participate in her research interview. Her call for interview participants, originally focused on British Columbia Doukhobors, has now been broadened to include Doukhobors living in other parts of Canada.

Hello from British Columbia – the information below was originally posted on the Doukhobor Message Board in September as a means of generating interest in my university research on conflict, memory, and healing in the West Kootenay and Boundary Doukhobor community in British Columbia. My initial research suggests that the 20th century depredations and conflicts in British Columbia affected the daily lives of Doukhobors across Canada. I am therefore hoping to broaden my research to explore the effects that the 20th century conflict had on Doukhobors living in other parts of Canada. I would like to invite interested members of the Doukhobor community in Canada to participate in an interview with me by telephone or email – the questions will focus on the effects of the B.C. depredations and conflict on the lived experiences of Doukhobors who resided outside of the West Kootenay and Boundary regions. Please contact me by telephone at 1-(250)-421-2055 or by email at swhite@oise.utoronto.ca for more information. Thank you. Sonya White

Dear reader of the Doukhobor Genealogy website,

Hello. My name is Sonya White. I was born and raised in Cranbrook, British Columbia and am presently working on my Master’s degree in adult education and community development at the University of Toronto. My mother grew up in a West Kootenay Doukhobor family and I have spent time in the West Kootenay and Boundary regions with adults and elders who have taught me about Doukhoborism and Doukhobor experiences in British Columbia. I am returning to the West Kootenay and Boundary regions this autumn to conduct a series of research conversations about memory, history, and healing.

I am initiating this research project as part of my Master’s degree to explore the ways in which memories of conflict persist in the lives of people who have lived through experiences of conflict. Specifically, I will be asking questions about the different ways in which diverse members of the Doukhobor community in south-central British Columbia live with and remember their experiences of 20th century Doukhobor conflict. I am conscious of the broad reach that conflict has and am therefore interested in speaking with people who experienced the 20th century conflict as direct participants or indirect non-participants.

Sonya White, University of Toronto Masters student researching Doukhobor memory.

As the researcher, I will be conducting individual interviews with adult and elder Doukhobors who lived in the West Kootenay and Boundary districts of British Columbia during periods of 20th century conflict. I believe in effectively representing a diversity of experiences and am hoping to interview men and women of different ages and different affiliations to the heterogeneous Doukhobor community who experienced the conflict as discussed above. If you fit this criteria, or know of people who fit this criteria and might be interested in having a research interview with me, please contact me directly or pass my contact information on to those people who might be willing to get in touch with me.

You might wonder why this research is important. I believe that it holds many potential benefits for Doukhobor people and non-Doukhobor people who are interested in knowing more about how people find peace after conflict has been resolved. Specifically, I see this research as being important and of interest to the broader Doukhobor community because it aims to accomplish the following goals:

  • it will make an important contribution to the public understanding of Doukhobor history and experience in western Canada;
  • it will validate and legitimize the knowledge of a minority cultural community in Canada;
  • it will explore the ways in which different generations of Doukhobors experienced the “Doukhobor troubles”;
  • it will give diverse members of the Doukhobor community in Canada an opportunity to reflect on their experiences of conflict and ask how these memories of difficult pasts should be integrated into a contemporary understanding of Doukhoborism today;
  • and it will identify different strategies for living with difficult pasts and learning to heal from direct or indirect experiences of conflict.

If you have specific questions about this research and/or would like to participate in a research interview with me, please contact me by telephone at (250)-421-2055, by email at swhite@oise.utoronto.ca, or by mail:

Sonya White
1631 Staple Crescent
Cranbrook, British Columbia
V1C 6J1

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Sonya White

Georgian Doukhobors Relocate to Tambov, Russia

For Immediate Release – July 31, 2007

Fifty-seven Doukhobors have recently resettled from the Bogdanovka region of the Republic of Georgia to the province of Tambov in central Russia. Their families, numbering up to seven hundred and sixty Doukhobors, are expected to join them from Georgia in September. This was reported by the Russian news agency Regnum today.

The Doukhobors have settled in the village of Malyi Snezhetok in the Pervomaysky district, ninety kilometres north-west of Tambov city, the administrative capital of the province. There, they are temporarily housed in a school dormitory, with a small local staff providing the migrants administrative support, including food, lodging and basic necessities, while a new suburb is being built with permanent accommodations for them.

The suburb will be named Novoe (“new”), marking the beginning of the Doukhobors’ new life in Russia. It will consist of two hundred panelboard houses on forty square meter lots for the Doukhobor families. A shop, medical clinic and a retirement home for the Doukhobor elderly will also be built. Construction of the buildings, roads, waterworks and electrical works is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

The Doukhobors resettling to Tambov will be offered employment in the local market garden and nursery, “Snezhetok Ltd.” They will also have the opportunity to establish peasant collective farms and individual farmsteads, the Russian news agency noted.

General map of Doukhobor resettlement from the Caucasus to Tambov, Russia in 2007.

The relocation of the Georgian Doukhobors is part of the Russian Federation’s ambitious six-year program to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of millions of Russians residing in former Soviet republics. The resettlement program, decreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 22, 2006, is intended to help revive the Russian economy and compensate for the country’s staggering demographic crisis – high mortality rates and low birth rates are believed to be draining the Russian population of some 700,000 people a year.

The Doukhobors, who are among the first to participate in the resettlement program, have received strong support from Russia’s top political leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, Premier Mikhail Fradkov, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, Director of the Federal Migration Service Konstantin Romadanovsky and Tambov Governor Oleg Betin. They were deliberately chosen to resettle to Tambov on account of their expertise in agricultural production.

For the village of Malyi Snezhetok, the arrival of the Doukhobors is warmly welcomed. In addition to doubling the population, the Doukhobors will provide a tremendous boost to the local economy, offset an acute labour shortage in the agricultural industry, and help facilitate the improvement and expansion of local infrastructure. The village school, previously slated for closure, will now remain open with the impending arrival of over sixty Doukhobor children.

Having considered several different options for relocation, the Doukhobors chose Tambov on account of its large agricultural sector, temperate climate, steppe geography, and its favourable linguistic, cultural and religious environment. In this regard, the interests of the Doukhobors, the Russian Federation, and Tambov local and provincial administrations coincided.

Under the resettlement program, the Doukhobors are assisted with their travel arrangements and primary accommodation, including the registration of their legal and social status, as well as with jobs, municipal and pension services, preschool, school and professional education, Regnum said. In addition, local and provincial authorities provide administrative support for the Doukhobors, including food, temporary lodging and basic necessities.

An important factor is the cost of housing. While the Russian Joint Stock Company “Tamak” has contracted to construct the Doukhobors’ homes in Malyi Snezhetok, it is not for free. The cost to complete each panelboard house is estimated at a minimum of six thousand roubles per square meter of living space. The Doukhobor migrants do not currently possess the required funds; therefore Russian authorities are developing various repayment schemes for them, including financial grants and compensation and credit facilities.

Notwithstanding this assistance, the resettlement is not without problems. The Doukhobors have encountered numerous legal obstacles in connection with the receipt of visas, the certification of participants in the resettlement program, and with citizenship. In response to this, the representative of the Doukhobor community Ivan Astafurov has voiced his concern over the slow pace at which the Doukhobors are being allowed to relocate with their families to Tambov.

Tambov Governor Oleg Betin recently visited Malyi Snezhetok and toured the suburb construction site. He met with local officials responsible for coordinating the resettlement as well as with the Doukhobors. He assured them that “their resettlement will be aided and supported at the highest levels in the Russian Federation” and pledged to work with local, provincial and federal officials to expedite their relocation.

Tambov is the ancestral home of many of the Doukhobors, whose forebears resettled from there to Tavria in the early 1800’s, and later to the Caucasus in the 1840’s. The province is located in central Russia, along the confluence of the Tsna and Studenets rivers, and borders on Penza, Saratov, Ryazan, Lipetsk and Voronezh provinces. Tambov’s economy is primarily industrial, with major sectors including mechanical engineering, metalworking and the chemical industry. Agriculture is a smaller but still important economic sector; its production focuses on grains, potatoes and sugar beets.

Since 1989, more than 3,000 Doukhobors have relocated from the Caucasus to the provinces of Krasnodar, Stavropol, Tula, Orel, Bryansk and elsewhere in Russia, driven by regional instability, ethnic tensions, land reform, economic hardship, as well as a longing to return to the Motherland. Once the latest resettlement to Tambov is completed, it is estimated that less than one hundred Doukhobors will remain in the Bogdanovka region of Georgia.

For updated information on the Doukhobor resettlement, see the articles More Georgian Doukhobors Move to Tambov by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, The Doukhobors in Malyi Snezhetok by Evgeny Pisarev (translated by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff) and also Tambov Doukhobors on Russian News by Drugie Novosti (translated by Koozma J. Tarasoff).

The (Almost) Quiet Revolution: Doukhobor Schooling in Saskatchewan

by John Lyons

In British Columbia the long and often violent conflict between the Sons of Freedom and the British Columbia government over schooling diverted attention from the fact that developments among the Doukhobors who lived elsewhere did not parallel those of the Pacific province. The subject of this article by John Lyons, reproduced by permission from Canadian Ethnic Studies (1976, Vol 8, No. 1), is the provision of public education for Saskatchewan Doukhobors. It deals only in passing with the Doukhobors early educational experiences in the old Northwest Territories and the attempts to provide private schools for them; but rather concentrates rather on the period after Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. After surveying some aspects of provincial school policies, the article deals with each of the three Doukhobor sub-sects, the impact of these policies on them and the circumstances surrounding their eventual acceptance of public schooling.

I

Throughout the 1890’s the British settlers in the Northwest Territories attempted to develop a territorial school system that was to their liking. Just as success appeared to be imminent, a new challenge arose. In 1898 the superintendent of education, D.J. Goggin, declared “… one of our most serious and pressing educational problems arises from the settlement among us of so many foreign nationalities in the block or “colony system . . .” He suggested guidelines for the approach to be used in dealing with these newcomers: “To assimilate these different races, to secure the cooperation of these alien forces, are problems demanding for their solution, patience, tact and tolerant but firm legislation.” Between January and June of the following year there arrived in the territories a group which was to test the patience, tact and tolerance of territorial, provincial, and federal governments for decades to come.

These settlers, the Doukhobors, were members of an obscure Russian pacifist sect which had emerged following the religious upheavals in seventeenth century Russia. Rejecting all authority, both spiritual and temporal, and intent upon living a simple agricultural life, the sect suffered exile and repression for their refusal to recognize and obey the Tsar’s government. The group came to the attention of western Europe and North America in 1895 when a new wave of persecution broke out because of their refusal to serve in the Russian army. Canada offered them asylum and, in 1899, with the aid of Russian Tolstoyans and British Quakers, 7,363 Doukhobors settled in three large relatively isolated reserves in Assiniboia and Saskatchewan Territories.

Their long history of persecution in Russia had endowed them with a deep suspicion of outsiders and especially of governments. Despite the assurance of their Russian sponsor, Count Leo Tolstoy, that they would accept public schooling, neither the views of their leader, Peter V. Verigin, nor their own regarding schooling were very clear.

Schooling was not widespread in nineteenth century Russia and those schools which did exist were dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist government. Such schools were seen by the Doukhobors as agencies of assimilation, bent on destroying their religion and culture. Literacy, however, was not totally unknown among them and attempts were made to provide leaders with some formal schooling. Except for the leaders, schooling was not seen as necessary and the bulk of the group did not appear to be aware of the concerns of either their leaders or Canadian officials.

Despite the concern expressed by Goggin about educating non-British immigrants, little was done about this issue until Saskatchewan achieved provincial status in 1905. The new province on its formation retained the educational structures and policies which had been developed by the government of the Northwest Territories. School districts were formed as the result of local initiative and, once formed, school boards then exercised considerable power. They had the power to enact compulsory attendance by-laws, to permit instruction in “foreign” languages and/or religion (between three and four p.m.) and to employ and dismiss teachers. By these powers and through an effective control of the purse-strings, which allowed them to release or withhold money with little outside control, local trustees had a considerable impact on what was taught, and how it was taught. The provincial government did, however, retain the right to appoint an official to organize school districts in areas where the residents failed to take the initiative on their own.

Although the first such official was appointed in 1906, it was not until two years later, when many Doukhobors were preparing to leave the province, that organizational work began among Doukhobor settlements. In 1907 Joseph Megas, the supervisor of Ruthenian schools, established two schools among the Doukhobors near Rosthern, during his efforts to set up schools in neighbouring Ukrainian areas. Megas’ work among the Ukrainians was so successful that it was expanded and in 1911 he became supervisor of schools in foreign-speaking districts. His initial successes in organizing local school districts in Doukhobor areas were among the Independent Doukhobors of the Saskatchewan Colony, and he was able to report in 1910: “Even the reluctant phlegmatic Doukhobors have awakened and school districts are being organized in their very community settlements at their own request.”

It is doubtful that the “reluctant phlegmatic Doukhobors” he was talking about were members of the “community settlements.” Soon after their arrival in Canada rifts began to appear within Doukhobor ranks. These divisions were caused by many factors including their settlement in three widely separated colonies, the continued Siberian exile of their leader, Peter V. Verigin, the influence of Quakers and Tolstoyans in some of the villages and the general impact of the new land itself. The largest group were those who remained loyal followers of Verigin. This group attempted to preserve the culture and religion that they had developed in Russia. From his exile, Verigin urged his followers to continue their life of communalism, pacifism and vegetarianism, stressing the virtues of hard work and a simple life. After Verigin’s arrival in Canada in 1902 he organized his followers into a vast communal organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (C.C.U.B.) and began consolidating them in the “South Colony” near Yorkton. This process was interrupted by the federal government’s abolition of the Doukhobor reserves in 1904 and by the repossession of the bulk of their lands in 1907 when the Doukhobors refused to swear the oath of allegiance required under the homestead act.

Doukhobor student at rough-hewn desk in Hanna Bellow’s school on the Canadian Praries, 1903. Tarasoff Collection, British Columbia Archives.

The Community Doukhobor’s attitude toward schooling at this time is difficult assess. At first the Doukhobors had to depend largely on private efforts for the schooling they received. The schools established by the-Society of Friends (Quakers) near Good Spirit Lake and Petrovka were at first encouraged by Verigin, but the fear soon grew that the real purpose of these schools was the conversion of the Doukhobors’ and attendance declined. Another school, established near Thunderhill in the North Colony by Herbert Archer, an English Tolstoyan, continued to operate and even received C.C.U.B. assistance. By 1905, six years after their arrival in Canada, only two schools had Doukhobor children enrolled; Archer’s school and a public school at Devil’s Lake north of Yorkton.

A second and much smaller group, the Sons of Freedom, challenged Verigin’s leadership soon after he arrived in Canada in 1902, feeling that he was not living up to his own teachings. This group, who tended to be drawn from the poorer settlements in all three colonies, used nude parades and arson as a means of protesting changes which threatened their way of life. Verigin expelled the leaders of this faction from the C.C.U.B. because of their extreme methods of protest, but, despite this, the federal government granted them a share of the remaining Doukhobor land allotments in 1907. When Verigin moved over half of his followers to British Columbia, however, these reactionary elements were left in Saskatchewan. The Sons of Freedom and their sympathizers within the C.C.U.B. remained within the communal system on the prairies acting as a reactionary brake on innovation and opposing any form of accommodation with the larger society.

The third group, including most settlers in the prosperous “Saskatchewan Colony” north of Saskatoon, also rejected Verigin’s leadership. They abandoned communal ownership and took title to their lands giving up membership in the C.C.U.B. These Independent Doukhobors also remained in Saskatchewan when the move to British Columbia occurred. Having already accepted one aspect of Canadian life, private ownership of land, this group was more open than the other Doukhobors to the acceptance of other Canadian institutions.

By 1913 nearly half of Canada’s Doukhobors were still in Saskatchewan. In contrast to those who had moved to British Columbia, almost all of whom were loyal members of Verigin’s Community, the Saskatchewan Doukhobors were divided into three sub-sects, a fact which both assisted and hindered the efforts of those attempting to provide public schooling to the sect. Each Doukhobor sub-sect had its own attitude toward education, which makes the story of their acceptance of public schools rather complex. Because of the powers granted to local school boards, the attitudes of and approaches used by non-Doukhobors complicated the question still further. A review of developments among each group reveals the extent to which education was welcomed, accepted or opposed.

II

In all Independent Doukhobor settlements, the foundations for formal education had been laid prior to the 1907 land seizure by work of dedicated Quakers and Tolstoyans. These early experiences and the tolerant approach of the Saskatchewan government encouraged the Independents to accept public schooling while remaining Doukhobors.

The man largely responsible for bringing public schooling to the Doukhobors in the North Colony area was Herbert P. Archer. An English Tolstoyan who had been the secretary of the pro-anarchist Brotherhood Church in England, he came to Canada in 1899 to become the Community’s English teacher and advisor. In February 1907, Archer and two Doukhobors filed a petition with the Department of Education for the formation of Bear’s Head School District. While the petition proposed to take in five villages, only the Independent Doukhobors appear to have been involved in this move:

We, Doukhobors living in the Swan River Valley, not members of the Doukhobor Community hereby petition to have School Districts formed in our several localities. There are not among us men able to write English and so form Districts according to law; we also do not desire that we wait until the Doukhobor Community organize Districts so that our children may learn English and appoint a Commissioner to manage same.

Once the school district was established, Archer underwent a program of teacher training and received a teaching certificate in order to teach in the school.

Archer was also responsible for assisting in the formation of other school districts in the North Colony. In 1912 when Porcupine School District was formed, the poll sheet showed fourteen names, all Doukhobor and all in favour of the proposal to establish a school. For the next twenty years the school district was administered by an all- Doukhobor school and a Doukhobor secretary-treasurer. The only case of truancy recorded in the district occurred in 1932 when an English resident was charged with refusing to send his children to school.

Herbert Archer was quite successful in establishing public schools among Doukhobor and non-Doukhobor alike in the North Colony area. In addition to teaching school himself, he also served as a school trustee in Bear’s Head School District, as secretary-treasurer for most of the new school districts and as secretary of Livingstone Municipality which he was largely responsible for forming. It was due to the patient leadership provided by Archer that a sizable number of Independent Doukhobors in North Colony were able to integrate into the life of the area. When Archer died in 1916, after nearly twenty years of selfless labour among the Doukhobors of the North Colony, he left behind him a prospering group of Doukhobor-Canadians.

In 1906 the American Quakers re-opened their school at Petrovka among the Saskatchewan Colony Doukhobors. At first, there were only thirteen pupils in attendance but, as Community members moved away, Verigin’s influence declined and their Mennonite neighbours accepted schooling, Doukhobor attendance improved. When Megas’s campaign to form public schools in the area began to bear fruit, attendance declined as pupils began attending schools nearer their homes. The school’s principal, Benjamin Wood, approached the Department of Education to establish a public school and when this was accomplished in 1912 he reported:

Friends (Quakers) having fulfilled the purpose intended, it would be better for them to withdraw and give room to the Doukhobors, who themselves are now well off, to shoulder the responsibilities; for if this be not done now they will lean indefinitely on Friends, so long as Friends will do for them, what they should do for themselves.

By 1912 a school board was elected, and Peter Makaroff, a young Doukhobor, who had studied in Quaker schools in Canada and the United States, was granted a provisional certificate to teach in the new public school.

The pattern of settlement of the Doukhobors in the Saskatchewan Colony was probably a major factor in encouraging education. Doukhobors here were granted only every second section of land and, therefore, came in close contact with many other settlers. One such group, the Mennonites, strongly favoured education and since some of their attitudes, especially regarding pacifism and the teaching of patriotism in the schools, were in accord with those held by Doukhobors, the favourable reception they gave to schooling probably hastened Doukhobor acceptance.

By 1912 the children of most of the Independent Doukhobors in Saskatchewan were attending public schools. The migration to British Columbia relieved the Independents of much of the suspicion of public schooling still held by Community members and made acceptance of these schools much easier. Where trouble did occur it seems to have been due more to the intolerance of the English-speaking settlers than to the intransigence of the Independent Doukhobors. The hostility of the English-speaking settlers was probably due to a combination of factors such as jealousy of the prosperity of these “foreigners”, resentment of their pacifism during World War I or even a conviction that none but British settlers belonged in the country.

Areas where trouble occurred were generally areas of mixed ethnicity. In one area, an alliance of Community Doukhobors who opposed the school because of its cost and English-speaking settlers who resented the control of Independent Doukhobors over it, petitioned the Department of Education to close the school. In another, attempts were made by the non-Doukhobor chairman of the school board to prevent Independents from voting for or acting as trustees because of their military exemption. In another, a group of Doukhobors and Mennonites petitioned the Department of Education to prohibit the singing of patriotic songs in schools. When the offending songs were banned, the Department then received a second petition from non-sectarians, criticizing the Department’s interference in local school affairs. In another district negotiations regarding the formation of the district were held up for three years, with many fears being expressed by apprehensive pro-school English speaking residents that the Doukhobor majority would vote against it. When the vote was held, in 1914, the only negative votes were from other English-speaking settlers. While problems did occur in areas where large numbers of Independent Doukhobors lived, such problems were generally little different from and certainly no more severe than in many other parts of Saskatchewan.

World War I had an impact both on the Community members and on the Independents. The prosperity of the latter during the war-time economic boom led to a number of defections from the C.C.U.B. Verigin tried to prevent this by denouncing the Independents as non-Doukhobors and informing the federal government that they were liable for conscription. The attempt failed when the Society of Independent Doukhobors, which had been formed in 1916, gained government recognition of their military-exempt status. Although school attendance was not compulsory at the beginning of the war, the Independents had generally accepted schooling and those who left the Community at this time followed their lead in this regard. Just as they saw the economic advantages of individual land ownership it is probably that they could also see the economic advantage of schooling for their children. The war itself led to demands for more stringent treatment of aliens and public opinion placed more pressure on groups such as the Doukhobors to conform in such matters as public education.

Doukhobor students attend Hanna Bellow’s Quaker school in Good Spirit Lake District. British Columbia Archives E-7306.

For the Independents, however, such pressure was not necessary. While there were aspects of Canadian society with which they were not in agreement, they generally integrated themselves well into the life of Saskatchewan. By 1914 most Independents had enrolled their children in public schools and by the 1920’s a number of them were employed as teachers in those schools.

The traditionally Independent areas had, by the 1930’s accepted public schooling for two decades. The educational progress in these areas was similar to most other Saskatchewan regions populated by European immigrants. It was with pride that Blaine Lake Doukhobors could say in 1932:

Among the Doukhobors of the Blaine Lake district there are nine public schools, almost entirely under the supervision of Doukhobor trustees and teachers. We have 13 qualified teachers, four doctors, one practicing lawyer, about 12 university students, and approximately 30 high school students all of which proves that we are in favor of having our children educated.

III

Because the village of Veregin was the heart of the C.C.U.B. in Saskatchewan, the history of public schooling there is of particular interest. Developments here seem to illustrate, in many respects, the fears and apprehensions of the Community about schooling and the problems that the closely knit members encountered with their non-Doukhobor neighbours in accepting public schooling.

Initial steps were taken to establish a school district in Veregin in June, 1911. The plan was immediately opposed by the local M.P., L.K. Johnston. He claimed that the Community members would soon move to British Columbia, that the proposed district had “not more than one Canadian born child of school age,” and few Independent Doukhobors, that none of the newly formed school committee were property owners and concluded that there was “no great need of haste in this organization but that the main object is to boom the village rather than to meet necessity.” The department, in the light of Johnston’s comments, prevented the immediate creation of the district. The tentative school board, its secretary-treasurer, and M.W. Cazakoff, the Saskatchewan manager of the C.C.U.B., all wrote to the department refuting Johnston’s arguments. Cazakoff’s position is of particular interest:

. . . Mr. J.K. Johnston . . . has been of the opinion, all along, that this school was unnecessary. He being unmarried, and having no children is trying to deprive our children of an education. Then too, he would be liable to extra taxes, and this he would rather not pay.

Cazakoff stated further that half of the Community members were remaining in Saskatchewan and that at least 60 Community children were in the district.

Three months later Cazakoff again wrote requesting that a school inspector be sent to Veregin to settle the problem of a school site. The problem of the site occurred because the C.C.U.B. offered the school board free land south of the railway where most of the Community children were located, while the English-speaking and Independent settlers were located to the north of the rail line. The question was finally settled in 1913 when the official trustee accepted the Community’s donation of three acres as a school site.

Although Cazakoff had donated land on which the school was to be built, he was not fully in favour of full Doukhobor involvement in public education. Apprehension about complete participation in Canadian society had not disappeared; governments and their agencies were still seen as institutions needed only by the wicked. Before a proper school had even been built in Veregin the official trustee broached the subject of compulsory attendance. Cazakoff wrote to the deputy minister of education:

. . . I do not think it advisable for the government or any school trustees to enforce the compulsory education on the children of the Doukhobors . . . and I might say to you friendly, that if the government enforced compulsory education on the Doukhobors, it would only make trouble for the government as well as the Doukhobors, and would bring no beneficial results.

Realizing the power that a local school board had over attendance laws, Cazakoff began to work for the return to local control. The minister of education was presented with a petition from 80 per cent of the district’s ratepayers, over half of whom were Doukhobors, calling for the re-establishment of a school board. In June, the village councillors complained about the school: “an edifice measuring 14 feet by 16 feet and is at present accommodating 80 scholars, who when in attendance represent another ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ . . . (It is likely, however, that the bulk of these students were Community children only sent to school to embarrass the official trustee.) In July, another letter from the village of Veregin protested a plan by the official trustee to rent as a temporary classroom the second floor of the pool room, with a low roof, only one small window at each end and which had to be reached by means of a ladder.

Although the Community realized the advantages of local control, when the department finally agreed to the re-establishment of a school board the men Cazakoff recommended as suitable trustees were all non-Doukhobors. When, however, an Independent was elected to the new board, Cazakoff demanded his dismissal. C.C.U.B. leaders were, at this time, still attempting to discredit the Independents and trying, by all means at their disposal, to discourage Community members from following their example.

John A. Kalmakoff, Independent Doukhobor schoolboy, Canora, Saskatchewan, 1915. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In 1917, Saskatchewan passed the School Attendance Act which required all children between the ages of seven and fourteen to attend school and by which the head of the provincial police was appointed chief attendance officer. An amendment to the act the following year allowed the government to seize property to pay the costs of fines and to impose jail terms for chronic offenders. Because the Community held itself and its members aloof from local government, the English-speaking settlers and the Independents ran Veregin schools to suit themselves and in 1917 a truant officer was appointed to enforce the new provincial attendance laws. Although the C.C.U.B. objected to compulsion, Community boys were sent to school. The Community, however, still depended on the provincial government to protect it against local excesses: this trust was not misplaced. In September 1919 Cazakoff wrote to W.M. Martin, the minister of education, for permission for boys to remain at home to help with the harvest. Martin’s reply quoted school law to show that trustees had the authority to excuse children over twelve to help at home but if the local board proved uncooperative that the department would deal with the problem.

Little attempt seems to have been made to enforce this regulation strictly regarding Doukhobor girls. It appears to have been an example of the provincial government overtly bowing to wartime publicly pressure favouring general conformity while covertly continuing a policy of relative tolerance. In 1923 Veregin School Board contacted the department asking how to make community girls attend school, and whether this would be wise considering the additional cost involved. The deputy minister’s reply to this query seems to epitomize the Saskatchewan government’s approach to the whole question of Doukhobor schooling to this point:

It is probably, therefore, that your board should take steps to provide accommodation for these children and compel their attendance when that is provided. In the meantime, the matter may be held in abeyance pending a departmental investigation.

There is no record of this investigation ever taking place.

With the death of Peter V. Verigin in 1924, his son, Peter P. Verigin became the leader of the C.C.U.B. The following year he wrote a letter to his followers instructing them to send their children to the public schools. One author wrote, “A group of 30 to 40 Community children were first marched up to the door of the Veregin Village school in 1926; this was a spontaneous act on the part of the Doukhobor people.” It seems likely that these were the formerly truant Doukhobor girls.

The government’s policy of local control did, however, result in a measure of C.C.U.B. participation in local affairs, if only to protect their own interests. Even after the Community members became involved in local school politics, they found their power limited. Their land was registered as belonging to the C.C.U.B. and, therefore, they were ineligible to vote on money by-laws, but one observer stated “they still demand a vote in all matters and apparently get it.” Government by local individuals known to Community members was more readily acceptable than control by outsiders. Because Doukhobors were acquainted with the operation of village councils within their sect they found little conflict between their opposition to government and the existence of municipal councils or school boards.

The provincial government’s own policies also encouraged the development of Doukhobor trust. The government’s laws gave the Community little cause to feel threatened during this time, and the Doukhobors responded by attending school in increasing numbers. The success of this approach was most evident in 1922. In that year school attendance among all of the immigrant groups in Saskatchewan was sufficiently high enough for the Saskatchewan government to abolish the post of director of education among new Canadians. In 1925, when the new leader Peter Petrovich Verigin recommended that all Doukhobor children should attend schools, almost all Community members in Saskatchewan readily complied. This was the first time that the Community had been given an unequivocal stand in favour of schooling by their leaders. This was a turning point in the sect’s history. The question of public schooling among Saskatchewan’s Doukhobors appeared to have been settled.

The story of the Community’s attitudes toward public schooling in Veregin School District seems to illustrate the approach that C.C.U.B. members adopted in the rest of Saskatchewan. Although they did not oppose schooling, they retained a mistrust of
government involvement which slowly decreased as the province, through its actions, proved to them that it did not intend to use the schools to change their faith. As Doukhobors accepted public schooling, the degree of local control granted to Saskatchewan school districts encouraged them to become involved in the operation of the schools and to shape them to suit their needs.

The attitude of Peter Petrovich Verigin encouraged this development. From the time of his arrival in Canada he praised education. At a meeting in October, 1927 he declared:

Let our Doukhobors become professors, yet Doukhobors, but let not him who received knowledge for the purpose of exploiting the people, rather for the ushering in of the new era and all this we shall begin on this day.

A small number of reactionary C.C.U.B. members still hesitated, however, and it was this group, the Sons of Freedom, that caused trouble over the next decade.

Verigin’s original plans to organize a purely Doukhobor school system failed, but he was successful in promoting public schooling. On his arrival in Canada he was faced with three distinct groups of Doukhobors and he looked on it as his duty to unite them. In the summer of 1928 he attempted to hasten the healing process by creating a new organization, The Society of Named Doukhobors. Hoping to embrace all of the sub-sects, its charter stressed non-violence, marriage based on love, registration of birth, deaths, and marriages, internal settlement of all minor Doukhobor disputes, expulsion of criminals, and the acceptance of public schooling (except where hatred or imperialism were taught.) Community members readily joined, as did a few Independents but the zealots rejected the organization because of its compliance with government regulations.

Doukhobor children – village of Otradnoye, Saskatchewan, c. 1918.  Tarasoff Collection, British Columbia Archives

As members of the Named Doukhobors, Community members were now committed to accept schooling. By the spring of 1930 the school attendance in Veregin was so good that an additional classroom had to be added and only six children had failed to enroll. Five months later the inspector wrote:

During the past ten months pressure has been brought to bear upon the board to secure the attendance of all the children residing within the district. Quite a number of children were to attend for the first time in their lives.

Problems occurred in Doukhobor areas which would not have developed in other school districts. For example, due to the increase in school population an attempt was made to rent space in a neighbouring United Church Hall in Veregin. Doukhobor opposition to organized religion led the board to cancel the move. While this was a minor issue it serves to point out an important aspect in the approach of the province to education. In Saskatchewan, the local school boards were required to take local pressure into account and adjust their actions accordingly. The success of this policy can be seen in the results of the debenture referendum for a new classroom in Veregin in 1931: “The Doukhobors and particularly those termed Community Doukhobors, voted solidly for the by-law.”

One major factor in breaking down prejudice in Saskatchewan was the growing number of Independents. Not only were people leaving the Community because of Peter P. Verigin’s leadership, but starting in 1931 Community lands were being sold to C.C.U.B. members in order to raise money. These people remained members of the Named Doukhobors but ceased to live communally. The religious tenets of some of these individuals remained unchanged but the changed economy increased the contacts with non-Doukhobors and hastened the process of integration. By 1937, when the C.C.U.B. collapsed in financial ruin, both the Independents and the Community members had accepted public schooling and private land ownership. Their fears of Canadian society had diminished enough that they had integrated into it. Government was no longer looked on as necessary only for the wicked, and in some cases Doukhobors had themselves become involved in politics. This development took place in spite of a clash between the Sons of Freedom and the provincial government which occurred in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

IV

Saskatchewan, between 1928 and 1937, faced a direct challenge to its educational policies from members of the Sons of Freedom. The sect’s growth in numbers and in militancy after many years of relative calm is undoubtedly due to many factors but it is significant that this period of conflict corresponded to the only time that the Saskatchewan government abandoned the policy of patience and tact which Goggin had recommended. It also corresponded with Peter P. Verigin’s leadership of the C.C.U.B. and J.T.M. Anderson’s term as premier.

From 1905 until 1928 Saskatchewan had been ruled by Liberal governments. These governments had adopted a somewhat tolerant stance towards non-English-speaking immigrants, a position that was not always popular with English-speaking settlers. There were other sources of political dissatisfaction evident in many parts of the province and the Conservative leader, J.T.M. Anderson, was able to capitalize on them and take over the premiership in 1929.

Anderson had been active in the Saskatchewan educational scene for many years; he had been involved in teacher training, served as a school inspector, and between 1919 and 1922 been Director of Education among New Canadians. As early as 1920 Anderson’s political ambitions were evident to some who felt he was using his position for political gain. Although he denied these aims at that time, four years later he became leader of the Conservatives and was elected to the legislature in 1925. The main thrust of his campaign, in the 1929 provincial election, was against sectarianism

The Doukhobors and other Slavic immigrants felt particularly threatened by his campaign. Anderson had little respect for Slavs and in his book. The Education of the New Canadian, had quoted Steiner as follows:

There is in the Slav a certain passivity of temper, a lack of sustained effort and enthusiasm, an unwillingness to take the consequences of telling the truth, a failure to confide in one another and in those who would do them good, a rather gross attitude toward sexual morality, and an undeniable tendency towards anarchy. They have little collective wisdom, even as they have no genius for leadership, scant courtesy towards women, and other human weaknesses to which the whole human race is heir.

Anderson did hold some hope for the future cultural improvement of the Slavic immigrant if the public school system approached the matter properly:

Occasionally . . . where a sympathetic Canadian teacher has been in charge of the public school, a settlement is found where the bright rays of Canadian life have permeated the cloudy atmosphere in which these people live.

These assimilationist ideas formed a major plank in Anderson’s 1929 platform. This platform was also endorsed by the Saskatchewan Ku Klux Klan, which was experiencing a measure of popularity at that time. The Klan drew its support from people of British and Scandinavian background who were concerned about the number of Slavic and French-speaking settlers “who seemed neither capable nor desirous of assimilation.” The program also drew approval from the Orange Lodge and Bishop Lloyd, the Anglican Bishop of Prince Albert who described the takeover by “dirty, ignorant, garlic-smelling, unpreferred continentals.”

Anderson denied any link with the Klan and no direct connection has ever been proven to have existed between his campaign and that of the xenophobes, but the Conservatives “directed into political channels the emotionalism which had arisen out of the social composition of the province and which had been heightened by the Klan.” Certainly in the popular mind the two were connected and in the election in June, 1929 the areas where the Klan was strongest voted Conservative and the areas with concentrations of Catholics and eastern Europeans returned Liberals. The Liberals were reduced to a minority position and three months later Anderson became premier.

Just at the time of the 1928-1929 election campaign Peter P. Verigin, the new C.C.U.B. leader, was attempting to unite all of the Doukhobor factions into the Society of Named Doukhobors. The Named Doukhobors’ acceptance of public schooling came at the same time as the Klan and the Conservatives were attacking “foreigners” and aiming to use the schools as an agent of assimilation. This resulted in a renewed determination on the part of many reactionary Community members – the Sons of Freedom – to oppose public schooling.

Opposition to Community policies was not new in Saskatchewan. Unhappy about the discrepancy between Peter V. Verigin’s life style and his teachings, the Sons of Freedom saw it their duty to lead the sect to the path of “pure” Doukhoborism. To this end they formed a reactionary core of opposition to all innovation, particularly to any government involvement or to any indication of Community acceptance of luxury. Until the 1920’s their activities consisted largely of preaching and of open attacks on Community opulence. The bulk of these Sons of Freedom had been left in Saskatchewan when the migration to British Columbia took place. Because the Saskatchewan government had taken a tolerant and non-coercive approach toward them, until 1928 they caused little difficulty except within the Community itself.

Group of young Doukhobors, Harilowka district in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, 1930. Library and Archives Canada, C-008888.

The Sons of Freedom had continued to look upon the letters written by Peter V. Verigin from his Siberian exile as the guide to their life. They soon rejected Peter P. Verigin as they had rejected his father, for failing to live up to these high standards. Many of them refused to agree to the reorganization of the C.C.U.B. or to the acceptance of government schools because they saw this as a betrayal of Doukhobor traditions. Accordingly, in June, 1928, the Saskatchewan Sons of Freedom issued an anti-school manifesto, declaring that they would boycott all public schools.

It is difficult to ascertain how effective the Sons of Freedom boycott of schools in Saskatchewan was in the winter of 1928-1929. Long winter holidays, transportation difficulties, a tolerant approach toward truancy, and control by local school boards all delayed a realization of the problems which lay in store. At first the boycott appeared to be quite ineffective and one inspector reported:

The children absented themselves for a few days and then slowly returned until at the present time I do not know of one case close to Veregin where any non-attendance exists. A few cases exist close to Arran and North-East of that village.

By fall the problem had become more serious and reports began to appear of low attendance in other Doukhobor areas. In an election year this boycott was a political embarrassment so in the spring of 1929 Freedomite children were forced to attend schools. That June, schools in Doukhobor areas were struck by arsonists.

The outbreaks in Saskatchewan appear to have been caused by Freedomite apprehensions about the wave of “anti-foreign” sentiment which swept the province during the late 1920’s and by disillusionment with Peter P. Verigin’s leadership. His acceptance of public schooling, increased enforcement of compulsory attendance laws, and the 1928-1929 election campaign convinced the Sons of Freedom that a wave of persecution similar to those they faced in Russia was about to begin. Complicating the issue were problems concerning Verigin’s personal qualities. In spite of his oratorical prowess and his business acumen, Verigin had faults which were evident to his followers as well as to other Canadians. These shortcomings led some disgusted Community members to become Independents and others to join the Sons of Freedom in an effort to purify the movement.

J T.M. Anderson’s distinctly anti-Doukhobor stance seems to have been just what Saskatchewan Freedomites had feared, a fact which initially tended to increase depredations. Between 1929 and 1931, twenty-five schools and much C.C.U.B. property was destroyed. Anderson demanded that the C.C.U.B. underwrite the cost of insurance in Doukhobor areas and threatened to follow British Columbia’s policy of charging the C.C.U.B. for the cost of all depredations unless the fires ceased. When challenged by the Named Doukhobors who maintained that one is innocent until proven guilty he retorted:

If you and your leader are prepared to acknowledge loyalty to our sovereign and country – if you both are prepared to endorse our public school system; if you are prepared to give allegiance to what the Union Jack stands for, then there is no cause for further argument or discussion.

Anderson was not convinced by Verigin’s protestations of innocence in the arson cases and announced that his government would take severe measures: “To discipline foreigners who defied the laws of Canada and the traditions of the people.”

The first move in that direction was an amendment to the School Act requiring all trustees to be able to read and write English and to subscribe to a declaration of naturalization. The federal Conservative government, in order to assist the Conservative governments of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, amended the Criminal Code to increase the penalties for public nudity. In 1933, despairing of other methods, Premier Anderson and Prime Minister R.B. Bennett made an illegal attempt to deport Verigin.

These actions on the part of the government tended to increase anti-government feeling among Doukhobors just at a time when the C.C.U.B. was expelling those who were not living up to the code of conduct of the Named Doukhobors. While at first this increased the ranks of the Sons of Freedom and increased truancy, arson and nudity in Saskatchewan, by 1934 the tide had turned.

The moderation exercised by Saskatchewan civil servants and judges seemed to placate the fears of the Sons of Freedom. The official responsible for the application of the new school laws among Community Doukhobors tended to ignore complaints about trustees not complying with the new regulations as long as they were doing their jobs. Judges in nudity trials granted short sentences to mothers to avoid child-care problems, sentenced most men to only three months and dealt out few three year sentences. Saskatchewan, from the outset, dealt only with the leaders and in this way avoided alienating and challenging large numbers of Doukhobors. The government’s concern to find and punish the guilty parties was most clearly shown in its offer of a reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of school arsonists. No attempt was made in Saskatchewan, to blame all Doukhobors for the depredations.

Since the local ratepayers, Community, Independent and non-Doukhobor alike were responsible for replacing the burned schools, the terrorists enjoyed little support from fellow Doukhobors. When the Saskatchewan Sons of Freedom were released from prison they found themselves expelled from the C.C.U.B. Lacking a rallying point they were forced either to depend on friends and relatives for support or to move to the more hospitable atmosphere of the isolated British Columbia village of Krestova where British Columbia’s Freedomites had settled. The terrorists’ depredations in Saskatchewan, therefore, decreased annually and, in 1937, the collapse of the Community brought them to an end. The presence in British Columbia, both of isolated strongholds and of the opportunity for martyrdom, may have induced Saskatchewan’s Sons of Freedom to move there. Those who remained in Saskatchewan after Anderson’s defeat in 1934 generally integrated into Saskatchewan society. The few Freedomites who remained in Saskatchewan accepted education around this time and suspicions of government diminished to the extent that during World War II no violence occurred. By the late 1940’s when British Columbia was in the throes of renewed Freedomite depredations, Saskatchewan’s Doukhobors had become integrated into all aspects of the life of the province.

Some authors have attributed part of Saskatchewan’s success to the zealot concentrations in British Columbia:

. . . religious opposition to education, the burning of schools, and nude parades, have made their appearance first in British Columbia and a milder form of sympathetic reaction occured in Saskatchewan.

This was not quite so. Until the late 1920’s the Sons of Freedom were concentrated in Saskatchewan. While school burnings did occur in British Columbia in the mid-1920’s there were no similar moves in Saskatchewan where no undue pressure was being placed on the sect. In the later outbreak of trouble, it was in Saskatchewan where the anti-foreign campaign of J.T.M. Anderson and the Ku Klux Klan were having their impact that Freedomite declarations of intention to boycott school, school burnings, and nude parades first took place. These outbreaks between 1929-32 were just as extensive as those in British Columbia.

Saskatchewan’s success in obtaining the cooperation of the Doukhobors in the field of schooling seems to have been due to a number of factors, the most important of which was the tolerant approach of the provincial government. In times of stress the provincial government bowed to public pressure and passed stringent laws but the civil servants and judges in Saskatchewan would appear to have used considerable discretion in their execution and enforcement. The only major exception to this tolerant approach by the government was during the period of Anderson’s government but even his hard-line policies were tempered by the open-minded implementation by local officials and judges.

Probably Saskatchewan, with its large ethnic blocks developed a degree of tolerance that would not have developed in areas with a largely homogeneous population. This tolerance prompted a “go slow” approach which succeeded to a much greater degree than any attempted coercion would have. After the defeat of Anderson’s government and the Liberal return to power, Doukhobor opposition to public schooling largely disappeared.

Undoubtedly the settlement pattern in Saskatchewan also increased the rate of acculturation and integration. The residence requirement of the homestead laws broke down the unity of the Independents in the early years of settlement, especially in Saskatchewan Colony where Doukhobors did not form a solid bloc. The introduction of modern agricultural machinery, by reducing the manpower needed on the farms, tended to have the same effect on the Community members in the 1920’s and 1930’s, a process which was increased by the sale of Community lands to individuals.

Saskatchewan’s faith in the wisdom and ability of local people to handle their own problems was another major factor in its success. Allowing local school boards to deal with the problems of truancy and arson broke down Doukhobor solidarity. Having Independents and Community members deal with the recalcitrant zealots avoided the confrontation with outside government officials which would have served only to increase tension.

important aspect of Saskatchewan government policy which encouraged Doukhobor acceptance of schooling was the policy dealing with individuals as such, not as groups. Independents, who were citizens, were granted full rights of citizenship. Terrorists and lawbreakers were searched out as individuals and punished for their offences and, while the provincial or local government often had to bear the brunt of the cost of their actions, no one except the lawbreaker was held responsible. This policy created confidence in government and encouraged Doukhobor involvement with, and commitment to, such institutions as the public school.

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.

Novo-Spasskoye – A Doukhobor Village

by Sonya Stepankin

The Doukhobor village of Novo-Spasskoye (later renamed Kalmakovo) was established in 1899 in the Good Spirit Lake district of Saskatchewan. For the next fourteen years, it was home to over thirty Doukhobor immigrant families. The following essay by Sonya Stepankin is reproduced from Essays on Pioneer Days in Saskatchewan (Regina: Women’s Canadian Club, 1927). Written from a Doukhobor women’s perspective, it portrays life in one Doukhobor village, from the early struggle for survival, through to the difficult, often painful, choices that led to its eventual abandonment.

From the southern slopes of the Caucasus they came – a band of exiles for conscience’ sake – seeking freedom to follow the tenets of their simple faith without fear of persecution. 

Their forefathers, imbued with an appreciation of that evasive something called “Spiritual Life” had become known as Doukhobors (signifying “Spirit Wrestlers”) and, staunch in their belief that an implicit obedience to the command, “Thou shalt not Kill” was demanded of them, had suffered exile, and torture, and death, and banishment to the living death of Siberia. They had been driven from their homes in a fertile region of the valley of the (Molochnaya) and had been herded into mountain villages already occupied by Tartar subjects of the Tsar.

These Tartars, by robbery and murder, had reduced life to one continuous fear, and to this, the Government added the tyranny of the Cossacks and the knout. Such were their miseries, and so wretched was their condition, that the sun soaked mountain valleys became to them, all that is conveyed in that dread name, Siberia. So much so, that they called the place of their exile “New Siberia”.

Generations of Doukhobors had endured this persecution for conscience sake, before their unhappy plight was discovered by an English Quaker named John Bellows. He laid the facts of their case before the Society of Friends (Quakers), whose hearts warmed with ready sympathy for their fellow Christians in distress. The Friends felt it incumbent to strive for some measure of relief for the Doukhobors, and by their efforts Count Tolstoy was interested. 

Being exceedingly sympathetic to the Doukhobors’ pacifist attitude towards war, the Count used his influence at court, and eventually through intercession with the Tsar, release, in the shape of permission to migrate en masse, was granted. 

The English Society of Friends raised the funds necessary for transportation to Canada, and early in 1898, (four) shiploads left Batum on the Black Sea for Halifax.

The first ship to set sail called at the island of Cyprus for the purpose of breaking the monotony of the long voyage, and giving he immigrants an opportunity to rest. These good intentions, however, proved a fatal mistake, for fever ravaged the company and many dead were left behind.

The other (three) ships sailed direct to Halifax, where approximately seven thousand Doukhobors disembarked, being met by representatives of the American Society of Friends, who accompanied them to their destination. The American Quakers had undertaken the expense of the land journey and they also presented to the older people, especially those in poor health, a sum of money averaging about five dollars each.

The land assigned them by the Canadian Government was in the Northwest Territories, the nearest railway point being Yorkton, where they arrived in May (1899). The blocks allotted to them lay on both sides of what is now the Canadian National railway track, between the present towns of Veregin and Buchanan, and from Yorkton the track began.

Doukhobor village, circa 1901.

Accustomed to living in village groups, going back and forth to their field work, the Doukhobors had no conception of homestead life, and expected to continue their village system, therefor the families formerly occupying the same village in the Caucasus formed themselves into groups to establish new villages.

Striking off to the north and west, following a trail for fifty miles, one group reached the head of Devil’s Lake, and the abundance of wood, water and fish prompted them to search for a clearing in which to locate their village. The site they chose was a stretch of trail a mile further north, and they named the spot Novo-Spasskoye after the village (Spasovka) they had left – home – in spite of all its distresses.

And now, the Land of Promise a reality, and the wearisome journey accomplished, they assembled to offer fervent thanks for mercies vouchsafed. But mingled with the praise was a prayer, an unquashed cry from wives and mothers for protection for the men whose hardest task was upon them. For upon the men and youths devolved the necessity of facing this new, strange world to provide the means of existence; living and working among people whose language was incomprehensible and whose food was revolting, for, manifestly, a scrupulous fulfilment of the Divine command, “Thou shalt not Kill” prohibited the eating of flesh.

Back to the train at Yorkton turned the men, and the desolate women watching them down the trail, cried aloud in their anguish. But the poignant note of terror, characteristic of the parting of other days, was lacking; for then, men had been trampled under Cossack hoofs, flogged by the knout or driven to the living death of Siberia. And the old people, pathetic in their homeless plight, drew comfort from the thought that such scenes could never be repeated upon their children’s children, to save whom they had uprooted themselves, leaving the graves of their dead, and braving the unknown in their old age.

However, tears were futile, work was pressing. Shelter was imperative; wells must be dug; ground broken; and the women, with the men too old for work among strangers, turned to their immediate problem. To a people with babies, the ailing, and the aged among their number, and lacking any vestige of shelter, the speediest means of protection from the elements was their natural choice, and they dug caves in the earth, supporting where necessary with logs; and branches, grass and soil provided roofing material.

Tools were scarce, and in the open space among the poplars, the women used every means necessity could devise to break the ground to receive the precious seed that represented their supply of vegetables for the year. Some woman’s foresight had prompted the bringing of seed of the stinging nettle, a weed whose rapid growth would supply early greens for vegetable soup, which formed their principal dish.

Both soil and tools had been provided by the Society of Friends, but inevitably there was some shortage when divided among seven thousand. In spite of the inadequacy of tools, shelters for approximately three hundred persons were achieved on the village site. This lay paralleled a stretch of trail connecting two ranch houses. To the ranchers, the advent of the settlers spelt loss of livelihood, but they (the Doukhobors), innocent of wrongdoing, strayed on the ranchers’ land cutting logs, and when ordered off, laboriously tried to explain that they had been given to understand it was a free country, therefor, the trees were God’s trees and they could claim a right to them. Despairing of making them realize his ownership, the rancher fired a charge of bird shot among them, and the pierced ear lobe of one of them always proved that fact to possible skeptics.

Ruined as their business was, the ranchers, be it said to their honour, befriended the settlers, who thankfully undertook the care of a cow and a calf in exchange for the milk, and were grateful for permission to strip the potato vines, and the rhubarb, of their leaves for use in soup.

Flour, bedding, clothing, was supplied by the unfailing Friends, whose interest, augmented by the Press publicity of the religious migration, aroused widespread sympathy, and considerably increased the relief fund organized by the Friends in aid of the seven thousand souls, inexperienced in the rigours of a northern winter. In addition, there was a safe supply of fish in the lake, and an abundance of wild fruit, so that in their eager return in the fall, the men found much cause for thankfulness. There were shelters; there was food, and several unexpected possessions from the barrels packed by the Friends.

Of all this the men knew nothing, reading and writing being a rare accomplishment among them. This lack of direct and easy communication made the separation a great ordeal, causing a total cessation of family life; consequently the homecoming was fraught with far deeper significance than the term commonly implies. Each side lived over again the days since the hour of parting. Nearly every day had brought some new experience, and tears alternated with laughter as they recounted in detail, failure and success, hardship and compensation, sorrow and joy.

Enchanting to the women was the men’s’ account of the people they had lived among; the strangeness of their language, their food, their clothing, and most of all, their homes, filled with superfluous furniture. How spendthrift these people seemed, needlessly piling up the expense of living, and careless of the life to come!

This period of family life was very precious; like a jewel set between the blank of separation behind, and the threat of it before them. it made the oncoming spring season of lamentation because once again, the “little death” was upon them. A thousand miles they (the men) went to work, tramping the trail to Yorkton on the first lap of their journey, via Winnipeg, to Medicine Hat. Here they worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway, striving to accumulate sufficient to make better provision for the next winter, in addition to supplying the immediate need for various equipment to improve the primitive living quarters of their families.

Doukhobor women pulling plow, circa 1901.

Appalled by the intensity of the cold they had for the first time experienced, the villagers applied themselves to the building and plastering of log houses that would defy the frost, and some semblance of a village rose on each side of the trail. Lumber floors were a luxury, few, if any, possessed, but the hard tramped earth served the purpose, and spared the lumber for furniture fashioned by the men. Work on the land speeded up, for they had been the happy possessors of a plough. The fact that oxen and horses were both a minus quantity did not daunt them, for the women roped themselves together and cheerfully supplied the power, singing their beloved folk songs as they turned the furrows.

Having rescued their fellow Christians from persecution, the Quakers had no intention of leaving them to work unaided, their own salvation. Besides material help, they were anxious to pass on the benefits of their own experience. To this end they built schools and sent teachers from England and Philadelphia. The Friends themselves had evolved a very clear idea of the value of education, but their magnificent offer was not generally appreciated among the Doukhobors, who looked upon “book learning” as entirely superfluous, preferring their children to help in the work at home. Consequently, through lack of support the Friends’ expensive project collapsed, and realizing the futility of further effort, they quietly withdrew.

At the time of the Doukhobor exodus from Russia, their leader, Peter Verigin, was a prisoner in Siberia. Later, freedom to join his people in Canada was granted, and he assumed control of the settlements in 1902. From that time the affairs of the village were conducted along community lines. The wages of the men were pooled to form a common fund and from the fund every family drew its quota of supplies according to its number. Such foodstuffs as they could not produce, material for clothing and for bedding, footwear, and household dishes, were all distributed from the common fund, and all kept strictly down to the minimum. Machinery, cattle, and all the needs of the village as a whole were supplied out of the common fund.

Their leader (Peter “Lordly” Verigin) made his home in the largest village, which was nearly forty miles from Novo-Spasskoye. In order to have a suitable place in which to transact business, and to hold meetings on the occasion of his periodic visits, he had a spacious building (dom) erected. It was of smooth red brick manufactured in the community brickyard. It was lighted by a dozen or more fine large windows. A veranda with much fancy woodwork ran the whole length and across the front, while an ornate balcony spanned the front gable, all tastefully painted in light colours. The interior was divided into one large room for public use, and smaller rooms as living quarters for the leader and his retinue. 

Standing fairly central to the village, the building dominated the humble log dwellings of the men who, year after year, endured months of separation from their families in order to maintain the common fund; and where many a woman, lamenting, worked with a pang in her heart for her absent man.

Besides their work in the field, the women contributed a large share to the handicrafts of the community. They grew flax, and steeped and dried and dressed it, spinning a strong linen thread and weaving a linen which gave almost interminable wear. The men made the bedsteads, and the women filled the ticks and pillows with feathers (from the moulting poultry) patiently stripped off the quill. The blankets they made of fleece stretched between two covers. The fleece was sheared from the sheep by the women, who carded and spun it, knitting for the whole family, and cleverly lining the mitts and socks of the outdoor workers with fleece, rendering them so snug and warm as to defy almost any cold.

Patiently they sewed by hand every garment worn by the whole community except those of the men who went away to work. Five widths went into the making of their own dark skirts, gathered into a waist-band, over their bright blouses which buttoned up to the throat, and at the wrists. Their head shawls were worn in and out of the house, over the hair in a braid tucked under the shawl. The dresses of the girls of all ages were merely a duplicate of their mothers; and the home made suits consisted of long trousers gathered into a waist belt, over which was worn the shirt, tunic-fashion. As a change from strenuous work, and by way of decoration, they did fine drawn thread work, achieving exquisite, lacy effects.

 

Varied as were their handicrafts, they lamented the fact that their independence was not complete; shoes, for instance, had to be bought, and regretfully, they remembered the slight protection needed in their native climate; and the old people told how big a dollar was, when almost their sole needs from the store were needles and matches. Longingly they thought of the wild figs whose sweetness rivaled the honey used instead of sugar, and of the wild grapes of the mountains; and they yearned for a breath of the scented, moisture laden air of the valleys of home. But human lives were more precious than this, and, singing their folk songs, they toiled to make a home in this country of freedom.

The men, travelling, working, were learning, observing, comparing, learning the language and the law, especially as it related to homestead rights; observing the comfortable living on the farms; comparing men’s pride of ownership with their own lot. By degree, heresy crept into their thoughts and into their conversation, and the subject of separation from the community became an absorbing topic among them. Estrangement from the community at large would be an inevitable result, with possible petty persecutions, but increasing faith in their own judgement forced the conviction upon them that the wiser investment of their labour – their only capital – would be the land, and the bolder, more enterprising spirits withdrew from the community to enter upon the obligatory (homestead) residence duties.

Their example encouraged others to follow their lead, and many whose better judgement urged them to independence were restrained by their womenfolk, who feared the hazards. In vain the men protested their ability to provide but the women pleaded for the security which only community life could guarantee, and their tears and prayers prevailed for the time being. Time and again, ambitious men returned to the argument, but the women stood firm for assured provision in sickness and old age. Besides, they were bred and born, and had their being in a village, and shrank from the isolation of the homestead.

Presently, other questions turned up. They had now been in Canada between eight and nine years and the Government began to insist on naturalization. Apprehensive of their position as private citizens, many Independents were welcomed back into the fold, together with such possessions as they had managed to accumulate. When the fear of military law was removed by exemption being granted, many returned to their homesteads, so that the community system was disrupted, and the leader began negotiations for a block of land in British Columbia.

On their withdrawal from the community, the Independents were allowed the property they had taken in on their re-entry, and ruefully they contemplated their possessions, consisting of a cow and a steer, or a cow and a horse, or some equally ill assorted team, or perhaps only one animal. With their meager household goods, and, in rare cases, a piece of farm machinery, this constituted all their worldly goods; representing the sum total of all their valuable capital after ten years of working out.

Narrowly were they watched by the men restrained by their womenfolk, and by the time their leader’s plans were nearing completion, many took matters into their own hands, determined to avail themselves of their homestead rights, and their decision crystallized into action the wavering attitude of others to swell the ranks of the Independents. Those who lacked the courage to venture and were yet reluctant to relinquish their homestead rights, decided to remain in the community until time should prove the success or failure of the Independents, and they, with the many faithful adherents, moved to British Columbia in 1911 to continue the community regime; the privilege to re-enter being extended to all who had withdrawn.

Doukhobor village house, circa 1901.

The village was deserted! The spot which had been the scene of such varied activities for thirteen years was silent with the mournful stillness of abandoned homes. Forlornly employ stood the little houses, with missing windows like hollow eye sockets, the doorways gaping into vacancy, and weeds in possession of the garden patches. 

The village was dead, but the surrounding country resounded with life. Scattered spots of light from lamp lit cottage windows broke the darkness of the bush, like beacons signalling a challenge to nature’s undisputed sway, and children’s’ voices swell and shrill, dispelled the age long silence. The sight and sound of labour was succeeded by blooming gardens and plots of ripening grain.

But there were tears! Behind many lighted window a woman sobbed out her loneliness, wearying of the monotony, longing for the humanity of the village, with its impact of spirit upon spirit, its neighbourliness, its bickering! Hearts were wrung by the severance of close family ties; mothers and daughters were in, or out, of the community according to the decision of their menfolk, and no letters could be exchanged to ease the heartache, nor written to unburden the mind; the mountains were between, and they lacked the ability to bridge them with the written word.

Work was their only respite, and side by side with the men they subdued the forest and brought the wild land to subjection. Early and late they toiled, sustained by the thought of ultimate ownership, stimulated by the fact that every hand’s turn was to their benefit. And between whiles, they reared their children and tended young stock and poultry. They grew tomatoes and cucumbers in quantities to supply their table the year round, in addition to the common vegetables, so that their borshch was plentiful and delicious. This vegetable soup, taking the place of meat, is made as follows: While potatoes are boiling, cabbage is shredded, onion chopped, and both fried in butter; tomatoes are added, or it is varied with different vegetables. The potatoes are taken from their water and crushed, or mashed; they are returned to the water, the fried vegetables with their generous amount of butter, are added, and the whole is sharpened with vinegar. The red tomato, green cabbage and golden butter present an appetizing appearance, and the sharp tang of the vinegar further whets the appetite. A bowl of borshch with a thick slice of bread forms a substantial meal.

They baked and churned, and washed and cleaned, and on Saturdays prepared the steam bath, so that the whole family should greet the Sabbath day with scrupulous personal cleanliness. They plastered the buildings and sheared the sheep and in winter, they spun, and knitted, and sewed, filling bed ticks and pillows with feathers, and comforters with fleece, while some of their menfolk turned to good account the troublesome bush, hauling stove wood and willow fence pickets to Yorkton, while others fished through the ice on the lake.

Their labours were rewarded, and the second ten years produced a very different statement of effects from that of the first ten. Almost without exception an additional quarter section, or more, had been bought adjoining the original homestead, whereon had been erected a frame house and good buildings, which always included a bath-house, and in most cases, a garage.

The telephone in every house made the women forget the meaning of loneliness, and the automobile had robbed the homestead of its isolation. The fine schoolhouse had rendered communication with distant relations a common occurrence, for the children wrote their parents’ letters in English, receiving answers from far-away cousins in the same tongue.

Of all the progress that ten years had brought, these schoolchildren were the most vital. Canadian in speech, dress and sentiment, they bound the older generations with bonds of blood to the country of their adoption, bringing customs into the homes, welding a chain of happy associations, creating an atmosphere of home where before had been only a refuge. The children “belong”. “I was born in Saskatchewan, and I hope to live here until I die,” vied the children of the schoolhouse.

The ten years had effaced the village. A black hole yawned, or grassy mound showed the remains of the banks around the little houses, long since demolished for their logs. Beside the trail that had formed the village street, various herbs proclaimed the dormant gardens, and scattered maples revealed the love of beauty in the hearts of the exiles. The red brick meeting house had become a farm-house surrounded by its wheat fields, and from the old trail the wheat fields stretched in the characteristic sunlit spaces of Saskatchewan.

Men who called the village home in the first hard years, motor through without a regret that nothing more than a momento remains to recall the attempt at paternal autocracy.

Forced Doukhobor Schooling in British Columbia

by William Janzen

Historically, Doukhobors had not emphasized formal education. They were concerned that schools would lead their children away from their community life and religious ideals. Also, their view of ‘the God within’ made it less important. Despite these views, in Saskatchewan, the entry of Doukhobors into the public school system went relatively smoothly, in part due to its localized nature, the leniency of civil servants in enforcing attendance requirements, and the openness of the largely Independent Doukhobor population towards education. In British Columbia, however, the Doukhobors’ stronger communalism and greater hesitancy about the larger society, combined with the rigid approach of the provincial government, produced dramatically different results. The following article by William Janzen examines the forced schooling of Doukhobors in British Columbia. Reproduced by permission from his book, “Limits on Liberty, The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukhobor Communities in Canada” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), it examines three distinct periods: 1909-1913, 1914-1927 and 1927-1959.

1909-1913: Acceptance, Rejection, and a Commission of Inquiry

The story of the Doukhobors and public schools in British Columbia is complex. Virtually all the Doukhobors who moved there belonged to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. As such they had both a stronger communalism and a greater hesitancy about the larger society. The approach of the provincial government was different, too. British Columbia had had a public school system since the 1870s. It even had an attendance requirement, though it applied only to children aged 7-12, and only if they lived within three miles of a school accessible by public roads. Also, the system operated under a central Council of Public Instruction with relatively little scope for local boards. This circumstance tended to bring school issues into the arena of provincial politics even though it might have been possible to resolve them locally.

The Doukhobors’ first contact with British Columbia’s school system came soon after they arrived in 1909. By 1910, some who lived close to public schools discovered that their children were expected to attend. They then complied without complaint. In 1911 the school district of Grand Forks built the Carson school near Doukhobor lands to accommodate more Doukhobor children. Soon thereafter the Doukhobors, who were quickly becoming established in their new settlements, built a school right on their land near Brilliant. It opened in 1912 as an official public school with an all-Doukhobor board and an enrolment of forty-eight pupils. The teacher, Beulah Clarke Darlington, spoke highly of the Doukhobors and of the experience in general. In a letter to a local newspaper she stated: ‘It is a relief to find people with no pretense who are willing to work with their hands, and who show, by the wonderful development of that country, that they are capable of working with their brains as well; who are content with simple pleasures and who keep a right outlook on life because they are not striving after wealth or trying to attain a position in society which is worthless when procured.’ The Doukhobors were very pleased with Darlington as a teacher. They planned to expand class-room facilities for the coming year and encouraged Darlington to bring some of her friends also to serve as teachers.

Then, suddenly, there was an interruption. The schoolchildren were withdrawn, not to return until four years later. A major reason was the arrest of five Doukhobors who had been sentenced to three months in prison for failing to register a death. The chief constable for the Grand Forks area met with Peter V. Verigin and was informed that the Doukhobors, at a large meeting, had decided not to register births, deaths, and marriages even though the law required it. When the constable reported this information to the attorney-general he was told: ‘You may inform Mr. Verigin … that the laws of British Columbia must be obeyed … and … will be strictly carried out, without any favour being shown to him and members of his Society.’ The Doukhobors then sent a letter, dated 16 July 1912, addressed to ‘The Government of British Columbia,’ to explain their position. They said: ‘We believe that the favourable adorable power is ruling all the world and endeavour to be written in eternal life book, and propose ourselves obligation to live quietly and to employ honest labour on the earth, so as to get substance. All the human race registration we calculate unnecessary. We can say, briefly, our religion confines on two commandments to be gentle and to employ agriculture.’

Doukhobor children in flax field, Grand Forks, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01745.

The public, which at first had welcomed the Doukhobors for contributing to the economic development of the area, now became more critical. Newspapers pointed out that they were not taking the oath and that they were not co-operating fully with the 1911 census. Local citizens expressed concern that the Doukhobors were becoming numerous, that they might ‘swamp the community,’ and ‘that it would be impossible for them to be assimilated.’ In response, the Conservative government led by Premier Richard McBride appointed a royal commission to make a broad inquiry. The person chosen for the task was William Blackmore, a newspaper editor from the nearby town of Nelson.

When Blackmore came to the Doukhobor community, later in 1912, he was welcomed in an elaborate way. The Doukhobors showed him their orchards, sawmills, and other prospering enterprises, and talked of their plans for further development. They also invited him to their religious assembly, where the children sang for him. In one such ceremony, a young boy stepped forward and said: ‘We’ve been attending school during the eleven weeks it was in session, but we no longer wish to go to school again, because the teacher, though very kind, belonged to the people who had put our friends in prison.’ Blackmore stayed with the Doukhobors for almost four months and held long public hearings. He also made a trip to their settlements on the prairies. At the end he produced a report that was extensive and remarkably sympathetic to the Doukhobors but it did not relieve them from the responsibility of abiding by the established laws of the province.

Regarding their refusal to register births, deaths, and marriages, Blackmore stated: ‘They will not register because they desire to remain unmolested in their communal life. They want no interference, as they call it, which means no intrusion of any kind. They claim that birth and death are the acts of God, and call for no cognizance on the part of man; and as to marriage, they take the high ground that it is purely a matter between the contracting parties.’ Blackmore also found that the Doukhobors feared that registration would somehow lead to military service. In their own words they said: ‘The registration intimately… tied …with religious faith … we wish to be citizens of all the world, and do not wish to register our children in the Royal Crown Government books … We are not refusing to give knowledge of increase or decrease of our Doukhobor Community people in ten or five years once. But to enter in your register books we will never do it. Because we calculate we are already registered in the Book of Life before Him the Founder, which is called Eternity.’

Regarding public schools, Blackmore found that the Doukhobors were concerned that ‘education was likely to make the children discontented with the life of cultivation of the soil followed by their parents,’ and ‘separate the children from their parents and from the customs and habits of the Community.’ He reported further that the women had said that ‘among them crime was unknown, and that, whereas among educated people poverty existed, no Doukhobor ever suffered for want of food or clothing; so … while the laws spoken of were needed for other people, they did not think they were required among the Doukhobors.’

In a statement of their own, the Doukhobors listed three reasons for their objection to the public schools:

1) The school education teaches and prepares the people, that is children, to military service, where shed harmless blood of the people altogether uselessly. The most well educated people consider this dreadfully sinful such business as war, lawful. We consider this great sin.

2) The school teaching at the present time had reached only to expedience for the easy profit, thieves, cheaters, and to large exploitation working-class laborious on the earth. And we ourselves belong to working-class people and we try by the path of honest labour, so we may reap the necessary maintenance, and to this we adopt our children to learn at wide school of Eternal Nature.

3) The school teaching separates all the people on the earth. Just as soon as the person reached read and write education, then, within a short time leaves his parents and relations and undertakes unreturnable journey on all kinds of speculation, depravity and murder life. And never think of this duty, respecting his parents and elder-ones, but he looks opposite, turning themselves, enslaving of the people, for theirs own licentious and insatiableness gluttony … educated people, swallow down all the national peoples … the people suffer from not having land even a piece of daily bread … we distinctly understand instruction of Christ, we holding on to Community life and we calculate all the people on earth are our brothers.

These three objections — that education in public schools leads to militarism, that it is not practical, and that it alienates people from one another, thus militating against community life — were to be referred to again and again in the following half-century as the controversy continued.

In his report, Blackmore spoke positively of how the Doukhobors themselves provided for the education of their children:

It must not, however, be supposed that, because this misguided people refuse elementary education for their children, they do not give them the best home training.

The children are intelligent, respective, and observant. The home life is almost ideal. They are taught all the cardinal virtues with which most of us, as children, we acquainted, but which are now too often regarded as old-fashioned — such as obedience, reverence, industry, and thrift; and it is not a little to the credit of their parents to find that the chief objection that they entertain to education is the fear that secular teaching may undermine the religious spirit.

Blackmore also praised their capability as agriculturalists, their irrigation system, their large orchards, and the other enterprises that they, as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, had collectively developed. Blackmore stated:

It is not out of place at this point to comment on the wonderful success that has attended the fruit-growing operations of the Doukhobors. To them it was a new industry. They had never been engaged in it before coming to British Columbia. Yet, today, if you were to go through their orchards, you would find that they are the cleanest, the best-kept, the heaviest-cropped of any in the district…

In addition … the Doukhobors have manifested a spirit of enterprise at Brilliant by putting in a splendid concrete reservoir capable of holding 1,000,000 gallons of water, and from this reservoir the water is being piped all over the Settlement. It is to be used both for domestic purposes and irrigation.

The reservoir will be supplied partially from a creek in the mountains, and partially by an immense pumping plant which the Doukhobors have erected … on the banks of the Kootenay River. This is the largest pumping plant in British Columbia …

Besides the farming industry, the Doukhobors have established sawmills on all their properties, which are used chiefly to convert the timber into building material …They have also a good brick-making works at Grand Forks, which is producing a high-class brick, commanding a ready sale. This brick is being used in the new Government Buildings at Grand Forks, which is a fair testimony as to its quality.

While recommending that the Doukhobors should be required to obey provincial laws, Blackmore cautioned against ‘drastic steps … to force their immediate compliance,’ stating that ‘persecution is fuel to the flames of fanaticism. Withdraw the fuel, and the fire will die out.’ He suggested a policy of ‘patience with the people’ and ‘pressure on their leaders’ and that, ‘if it is found necessary to resort to prosecution and conviction ensues, it is desirable that the punishment should take the form of fines rather than imprisonment.’ Prison sentences, he felt, might nurture a martyrdom complex. He also recommended that to facilitate the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, a member of the Doukhobor Community be appointed as a sub-registrar. And to facilitate matters in the schools he said that ‘Russian teachers could be employed in conjunction with Canadian teachers, and that the curriculum be modified so as to include only elementary subjects.’ He also suggested that a permanent Doukhobor agent be appointed to serve somewhat like an Indian agent.

Most of Blackmore’s observations and recommendations were such that a mutually satisfactory compromise might have developed. But the Doukhobors’ disposition towards a compromise was drastically set back because, at the very end of the report, Blackmore recommended that their exemption from military service be cancelled. This suggestion was most upsetting to the Doukhobors. They had questioned Blackmore about the possibility of war between Britain and Germany, about the probability of Canadian involvement, and about the status of their exemption. Now they felt confirmed in their suspicion that there was a connection between registration, school attendance, and military service.

1914-1927: Pressing Community Doukhobors to Accept Schools

While Blackmore’s final recommendation disappointed the Doukhobors, the generally moderate tone of his report disappointed the authorities. Supported by local citizens, officials soon discarded his counsel for patience. They rejected a Doukhobor offer that for vital statistics, they check the Community’s records. The public wanted compliance with the existing law; to gain evidence for prosecutions they exhumed bodies and raided a village. Naturally, this approach was upsetting to the Doukhobors. Regarding the schools, the Doukhobors were now also concerned about a recently introduced program of military drills and rifle shooting. The Department of Education had started the program in order to foster ‘the spirit of patriotism in the boys, leading them to realize that the first duty of every citizen is to be prepared to defend his country.’

Early in 1914, when Doukhobor children were still not in school, the government prepared itself for an unusual course of action. It enacted the Community Regulation Act, which made the Doukhobor Community, that is, the CCUB, liable for an infraction committed by any member. The act referred particularly to infractions relating to vital statistics, school attendance, and the Health Act. It authorized officials to seize, without warrant, the goods and chattels of the Community in order to cover fines not paid by individuals. In one sense, holding the Community liable was understandable. The Doukhobors, as individuals, had little property while as a Community they had a sizeable amount. Nevertheless, as a form of collective punishment this law was a departure from Canada’s tradition of justice. More seriously, the law defined a Community member as any person who, on the oath of one witness, had been found on or about Community lands. This meant that even if the Community expelled trouble-making individuals, which it did on occasion, it could still be liable for the actions of such individuals. Obviously, the Community was extremely vulnerable.

As the authorities became more threatening, some Doukhobors, apparently against the advice of Peter V. Verigin, responded with a threat of their own. They sent a long list of grievances to Attorney-General Bowser and then said: ‘The [Community] Doukhobors, of whom there are six thousand members, are planning beforehand in this case, to all take off what clothes still remaining on them after the plunder they have been subjected to in Saskatchewan, take them and throw them into the faces of your officials in Nelson and Grand Forks, and leave themselves stark naked on the very street of the town. This will be a good illustration to show the attitude taken by the government officials in regards to Doukhobors.’ The attorney-general replied that if the clothes came off the law against indecent exposure would be enforced.

As the confrontation became increasingly intense several non-Doukhobors tried to intervene. Blackmore continued to counsel moderation in the columns of his newspaper. A lawyer from the town of Nelson wrote to the attorney-general: ‘I contend that the Grand Forks people are not playing the game square as far as these people are concerned. They welcomed them to their midst and took their money for the land, and now, when they have made a success of agriculture in that district, they want to drive them out.’ A CPR superintendent urged the government to seek a compromise so as to avoid ‘injury to the religious convictions of the Doukhobors.’ A.E. Miller, inspector of schools, was cautious, too. He predicted that ‘any attempt to enforce attendance will be met with opposition.’ Others, however, supported the action of the government. A group of Quakers from Pennsylvania who had earlier supported the Doukhobors now said: ‘The sooner the Commune is broken up, the sooner will be real progress amongst these simple, misled people.’

For a time the trends pointed towards a harsh confrontation. A.E. Miller was instructed to warn the Doukhobors that ‘the refusal to comply with the requirements as to education would mean the breaking up of their community.’ In August 1915 the attorney-general issued instructions to enforce the Community Regulations Act. At that point, however, certain technical obstacles were noticed. The property, until 1917, was registered in the name of Peter V. Verigin, not in the name of the Community. Also, school attendance was compulsory only if people lived within three miles of a school, accessible by a public road. Most roads in the Doukhobor settlements were private.

Before these legalities could be tested a compromise was reached. On 20 September 1915 the attorney-general promised a delegation of Doukhobors that no military training would be forced upon their children and that they would be excused from religious exercises. The Doukhobors in turn promised that their children would return to both the Carson and the Brilliant public schools. As a result, a period of co-operation followed. The Doukhobors built nine additional public schools although these were administered not by local boards but by an official trustee appointed by the government. At one point, in the 1920-1 school year, the enrolment rose to 414, which was more than 80 per cent of those eligible, although attendance was little more than 50 per cent. Inspector Miller, following a policy of caution and patience, did not press for full attendance.

This co-operation lasted for several years, but soon after the First World War there were strains related to the Doukhobors’ exemption from military service and to their prosperity. In February 1919 a meeting of returned soldiers in Nelson demanded that all Doukhobors be deported to Russia and that their lands be given to veterans. A meeting of citizens declared its support for the veterans and at one point twelve ex-soldiers went to Verigin to force their demands upon him. Apparently Verigin then signed an agreement to turn over the Doukhobor lands to the Soldiers’ Settlement Board but a few days later he wired Arthur Meighen, the minister of the Interior, that he had signed under duress. Meighen, the Conservative who according to George Woodcock ‘consistently proved fairer to the Doukhobors than his Liberal predecessor Frank Oliver,’ ruled that the Soldiers’ Settlement Board had no right to carry out expropriations.

Group of Doukhobor schoolchildren at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives D-01929.

The soldiers’ claim to the land was thus nullified but the general criticism of the Doukhobors continued, leading some Doukhobors to withdraw their children from school. However, a 1920 amendment to the Public Schools Act broadened the compulsory attendance provisions and authorized the construction of schools on the lands of the Doukhobor Community and at its expense. Also, Inspector A.E. Miller, under whose patient supervision things had worked reasonably well, was replaced by E.G. Daniels, who began to press for better attendance. In December 1922, the Grand Forks school board took legal action against eight cases of truancy. Fines were imposed and when they were not paid, some CCUB property, meaning Doukhobor Community property, was seized. However, before it could be sold, Community officials intervened and paid the fines.

In April 1923, Inspector Daniels pressed further. Fines of $50 each were levied on six parents. When they were slow in paying, a large truck, used by the Community for farm work, was seized. Again the Community paid the fines. But soon after, in May 1923, a school building was destroyed by fire. In the months that followed a total of nine schools in the Brilliant area were destroyed, the burnings in each case coinciding with an attempt on the part of the police to seize property in payment of fines.

The burning of schools was a relatively new type of action on the part of the Doukhobors. There were some acts of civil disobedience in their history, and a few times some Doukhobors had destroyed property as a way of witnessing against materialism. However, this more widespread destruction of property was a departure from their tradition. It also created a new dynamic among the Doukhobors. Those who committed these acts were a very small minority. Verigin and other Community leaders publicly declared that the Community as a whole had nothing to do with the burnings and that many of their children were still attending school. At one inquiry a teacher of a burned school testified that the Community Doukhobors had, ‘instead of burning schools, been guarding them and that the destruction has been the work of a small but fanatical element among them.’ The authorities, however, did little to apprehend the guilty individuals. Instead, they followed the orientation of the Community Regulation Act and held the Doukhobor Community liable for the depredations.

While dissociating themselves from the acts of destruction, the Doukhobor Community leaders also charged that School Inspector Daniels was using undue compulsion in pressing for attendance. They warned that if the prosecutions continued, they would not be able to guarantee the safety of other schools. In a letter to the minister of Education, dated 17 May 1923, the Doukhobors said:

It is apparent that the government is only seeking an excuse to create a quarrel with the Doukhobors, on the basis of the school issue.

Doukhobors are fanatics — so the English say, but what can we term the action of Mr.
Daniels? This is more than fanaticism. What compels them to take such measures when the school question is so favourable, and the people are living peacefully, working and cultivating their own holdings … You are only expert at ruining peaceful residents and plundering the proletariat…

There is a saying: ‘One fool can roll a stone off a mountain top into a river, but ten wise men, try as they may cannot take it up again”. Mr. Daniels rolled this stone down, although it’s not yet of very large proportions. He too must salvage it from the nether regions before it is too late.

The tension continued and in April 1924 Verigin’s own house was destroyed. He then appealed to the premier for protection and offered to provide the names of the twenty to thirty arsonists. To his surprise, there was little interest in his offer. The government, instead of seeking to apprehend the guilty individuals, levied special taxes on the Doukhobor Community in order to pay for destroyed property. On 24 October 1924, in an even more drastic event, Peter V. Verigin was killed in a train explosion, along with eight other people. The reason for the accident was never established. Many blamed the ‘fanatical’ Doukhobors but some Doukhobors thought that the Canadian government had killed him just as Russian governments had exiled their earlier leaders.

It was a traumatic time for the Doukhobors. The authorities continued to enforce the law with prosecutions, fines, and the seizure of Community property. Before long most of the Doukhobor children who had been in school were withdrawn. In April 1925, a police inspector, 10 deputies, and 100 citizens forced their way into Community warehouses and seized $20,000 worth of goods, according to the Community’s estimate. This response was unusually severe. But then, suddenly, things changed. Peter P. Verigin, the new Doukhobor leader, who would soon be coming from Russia, sent word that ‘all children should be sent to school and no protests held until he arrived.’ The Doukhobors complied and a three-year calm followed.

In summer 1925 the Doukhobor Community built five new schools and in the next few years it erected several more. When Peter P. Verigin arrived in September 1927 he said he wanted the Doukhobors to have the best possible education while retaining their religious faith. He also had plans to set up private Doukhobor schools. To assist in this matter he had brought along Paul Biriukov, a friend of Tolstoy. Provincial authorities, however, turned down the private school proposal so the effort was redirected into Russian-language classes after regular school hours, and into choirs and other cultural activities. Peter P. Verigin’s acceptance of public schools settled the question for a majority of the Community Doukhobors. Those who were not persuaded gradually became known as the Sons of Freedom.

1927-1959: Forcing School on the ‘Sons of Freedom’ Doukhobors

When Peter P. Verigin arrived in 1927, the Sons of Freedom numbered only a few hundred. Indeed, they were not a fully distinct group, However, their activities and their numbers were about to increase. In January 1929, when most Doukhobor children were in school, this group withdrew its children and announced that they would not be returning. This event resulted in ten arrests, which in turn led to a nude demonstration. Verigin who, in an earlier appeal for unity, had described the Sons of Freedom as ‘the ringing bells who cleared the way for the movement’ now disowned and denounced them. In a press release to newspapers dated 6 February 1929, he stated: ‘Please take notice that the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited, had nothing to do and will never have any connection with these people and with their dirty insolent violence, and all their stupid, childish actions, such as unclothing to the skin … these persons do not belong to the membership of the Community. The Community is not taking any responsibility for their actions materially or morally and moreover the Community refuses to consider such persons as brothers and to have any connections with them.’

In March 1929, the Sons of Freedom issued a letter addressed to ‘the Executives of all Countries: Judges, Government Inspectors, Police and all other servants of man-made laws,’ which stated:

The time has come to reveal… why we reject the Government schools and their orders. We are conscious of our history, and denote it by saying that Christ was the first Doukhobor. We are the direct Spiritual descendants of the Apostles of Christ and his followers, the so-called Christian martyrs of this time. It was the same kind of Government as the Canadian, that crucified Christ two thousand years ago … Take our Government school education; people are so hypnotized by it that they do not see that its results are demoralizing. The present Government schools are nurseries of militarism and capitalism … If there are men to be found among educated people like George B. Shaw, Tolstoy, Tagore, Gandhi, and many others, these men received enlightenment through Spiritual Regeneration, heeding the voice of Christ, and if such men are to be given honour, it was not attained by college education. Our whole history is marked by cruel persecutions by the churches, governments and capitalists. These persecutions are on account of our loyalty to Christ’s teaching and our uncompromising refusal to submit to any Authority but God’s.

In summer 1929 there were numerous acts of property destruction. In most instances it was property used by the Community Doukhobors. On 29 June three schools that the Community Doukhobors had built in 1925 were burned. In August three more schools, a flour mill, and a warehouse belonging to the group were destroyed. When two men were arrested, demonstrations involving nudity followed. As a result fifty-five men and forty-nine women were convicted for indecent exposure. Their sentence was six months at the Oakalla Prison Farm in New Westminster. It was the first mass imprisonment. Some of the prisoners’ children were held in custodial care by the province until the parents were released.

In February 1930 those who had been imprisoned were released but they now found that they were no longer accepted as members of the Doukhobor Community. They were expelled. But some Doukhobors in the ‘branch communes,’ especially in the poorer ones, welcomed them. This action led Verigin to withdraw all loyal Community Doukhobors from those areas, thus creating a more complete separation between the Sons of Freedom and the Community Doukhobors. This separation, however, did not prevent the acts of property destruction. However, to the consternation of the Community Doukhobors, the police were still not eager to apprehend the guilty individuals or to protect the community’s property. Peter P. Verigin now complained: ‘The police are standing and looking… what is the use of building schools when they are burning and dynamiting them faster than we can build them.’ The Community Doukhobors wanted the Sons of Freedom removed from their property and offered to pay the cost of a government investigation into the problems. The government instead continued with its policy of holding the Community liable for the destruction of property while arresting individuals who participated in nude demonstrations.

The provincial authorities were strengthened when the federal government, in August 1931, changed the Criminal Code so as to provide ‘a mandatory penalty of three years’ imprisonment for nudity in a public place.’ Because prison terms longer than two years are served in federal penitentiaries, the three-year penalty brought some financial relief to the provincial government. It also helped provincial politicians to project an image of ‘getting tough’ on the Doukhobors. However, lengthening the prison term was not effective as a deterrent to the nudity problem. The demonstrators wanted to make a religious witness, and the longer imprisonment could only enhance the martyrdom they sought. Instead of the demonstrations diminishing, they became larger. One participant later spoke of them in this way: ‘You see the (zealots) refused to pay their taxes, refused to comply with the ownership regulations; they just refused … and had written a kind of appeal to everyone to the effect that the time had arrived when we must take this ownership from Caesar and give it back to God … It was a wonderful sight. I doubt if this planet had ever seen anything like it… It was a protest against land ownership and all ownership — against the Caesar’s injustice that he has taken the cosmic property into his own hands.’

In spring 1932, in a second mass imprisonment, approximately 600 men and women were convicted for nudity and given three-year prison sentences, to be served on Pier’s Island, forty miles from Victoria, where special facilities had been erected. As the train carrying the convicts departed from the Kootenay Valley, the Doukhobors sang the hymns of their martyred forefathers. For them it was a spiritual pilgrimage.

Doukhobor Penitentiary on Piers Island, BC, 1934. British Columbia Archives G-00058.

No less significant than the imprisonment of the parents was the placement of their 365 children in orphanages and industrial schools in Vancouver and Victoria. Clearly, the children had to be cared for while their parents were in prison but the authorities also hoped that by exposing the children to a new environment their attitudes would change. It turned out that the children did not stay the full term. After one year, when a delegation of Independent and Community Doukhobors approached authorities with an offer of taking the Sons of Freedom children into their homes, it was accepted on the condition that they would attend public school. When the parents were released, between October 1934 and July 1935, the children were reunited with them. But it appears that few attitudes had changed. A 1947 study found ‘that some of these children are actively participating in the quasi-anarchistic activities of the present day.’

In the following years the school situation continued to be a public concern. An inspectors’ report for 1935/6 stated: ‘In the community schools and in those schools in which there is a major proportion of Doukhobors, no great progress has been made in Canadianizing this people. The persistence of the Doukhobors in maintaining their identity as such and in resisting Canadian influence is as strong as ever. While the children seem to be happy at school, they quit at the earliest possible date and at the present time there are many of school age who, supported by their parents, are defiantly absenting themselves from school.’

In 1939 the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation suggested that real Canadian homes ‘radiating the best in our Canadian mode of life’ be placed among the Doukhobors in order to help them to establish intimate contacts with ‘lovable Canadians’ and thus overcome their prejudice. Two years later, the Teachers’ Federation stated that ‘the supervision and administration of all Doukhobor schools should be vested in a single official, a trained and experienced educator of vision, initiative and wide sympathies, whose contacts with the Doukhobors will justify affection and confidence, and that it would be part of wisdom to entrust such a man with authority to adjust the curriculum.’ Some years later the federation recommended that teachers for the schools among the Doukhobors be chosen with special care, that they be given a wide liberty to adapt the curriculum to the needs of the Doukhobors, and that attendance be enforced consistently but only with fines and not with prison sentences.

For most of the Second World War period, 1939—45, the Sons of Freedom were relatively quiet. The attacks on the property of the Doukhobor Community ceased in 1938 when that body went into formal bankruptcy, having suffered from the depression, poor management, and government unwillingness to let the Community benefit from programs set up to assist industries affected by the depression. With this collapse, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) was renamed the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC). But the war and the disappearance of much Community Doukhobor property as a target did not keep the Sons of Freedom quiet for long. In 1944, there was a demonstration in which ‘women’s clothes and jewelry were burnt as symbols of the vanity of modern civilization.’ Soon after, the house of John J. Verigin, who had succeeded Peter P. Verigin as leader of the Community Doukhobors, was burned. From then until 1947 there were over 100 acts of destruction. Most of these were directed against other Doukhobors as a protest against their prosperity and materialism but some involved public property, including a CPR station, a bridge, and schools. The USCC condemned the destruction and John J. Verigin publicly asked for police protection for his followers.

To deal with the continuing problem, the government of British Columbia, in September 1947, appointed Judge H. Sullivan to conduct an inquiry. In the public hearings that followed, one person confessed to having committed twenty-five acts of vandalism in the preceding twelve years, the largest being the 1943 burning of the $400,000 jam factory at Brilliant, long owned by the Community Doukhobors but taken over by the government in 1939. This person explained: I believe that this was necessary to wake up our brothers from materialism, which is the main source of patriotism.’ One person wrote to Sullivan that ‘schools, forced upon the Doukhobors by the government, were destroyed by fire because schools are propagators of a false conception of civilization, patronizing the beast, militarism.’ Others came to the hearings and created ‘an epidemic of true and false confessions, of accusations and counter-accusations that brought an atmosphere of pseudo-religious hysteria into the courtrooms.’ After four months of hearings Judge Sullivan was exasperated. He felt it was useless to continue ‘until the crazy people are put in the mental asylum and the criminals locked up in the penitentiary.’ As for Doukhobor children, they should be educated with a view toward assimilation, he said. His brief recommendations did not, however, lead to a program of action.

Meanwhile, the nude demonstrations and acts of property destruction continued. In summer 1950, over 400 Sons of Freedom were in jail for nudity and arson. By now another commission was at work. The president of the University of British Columbia had agreed, at the request of the attorney-general, to assemble a group of social scientists for a more thorough study. Chaired by anthropologist H.B. Hawthorn, the study lasted two years and involved twelve researchers. Their lengthy report, like the Blackmore report of 1912, showed considerable sympathy and respect for the Doukhobors but called also for compliance with the laws. As a matter of strategy, it recommended ‘a balance of pressures and inducements.’ Claudia Lewis, one of the social scientists engaged in the study, advised against removing children from their parents. Instead, schooling should be made more acceptable to the Doukhobors. She suggested that Doukhobors be included on local boards, that the practices of saluting the flag and singing patriotic songs be discontinued, that some teaching of the Russian language and music be included, that the reading program be modified to include excerpts from Tolstoy, and that some aspects of the social studies program be changed, too. Notwithstanding these proposals for change, the report did not rule out prosecution as a way of dealing with cases of habitual truancy.

As with the moderate Blackmore report of 1911, the Hawthorn report was not followed, at least not immediately. The government that had commissioned the study was defeated in the 1952 election. The Social Credit party that came to power was in a minority situation at first, so in 1953 it went back to the people to get a majority. In doing so, ‘getting tough with the Doukhobors’ became a priority. The Social Credit party received the desired majority and, on 9 September 1953, 148 Doukhobor adults were arrested and imprisoned for parading nude near a school. They were taken to Vancouver in a train that had been especially prepared for them. There, the next day, a court was convened in a community hall and all those arrested were sentenced to three years at the Oakalla prison.

In addition, 104 children were loaded into buses and taken to New Denver, an old mining town, where the buildings of an old sanitorium served as their dormitory. The dormitory was surrounded by a high wire fence and the government invoked the Children’s Protection Act to make them wards of the Provincial Superintendent of Child Welfare. Occasional police raids on Sons of Freedom settlements brought in more children. In one such raid, seventy police officers entered the small village of Krestova before dawn and seized forty children. According to one mother’s account:

On January 18th [1955] at eight o’clock, in the morning my little son awoke me and come to lie down beside me as though he knew it would be the last time. Then all of a sudden we heard a loud banging on the door, we thought it would break. Three RCMP officers came in and went straight to the bed waving the clubs in their hands in front of me and my child, and they said: ‘How old is the boy?’ We told them he is only six years old. The boy started to cry and begged us not to take him, but they said: ‘Get him dressed or we’ll take him in his underwear.’ So, I dressed my little son for the last time, and he was taken from us who is not even school age. Only a mother who has gone through the same thing will know what it means to have the dearest ones taken from her.

A total of 170 children passed through the institution in its six-year history. They attended the regular public school in the town of New Denver, while evening and weekends were spent in the dormitory. Parents were allowed to visit their children two Sundays per month but they had to procure special passes. In protest most chose to see their children through the fence outside.

Understandably, the New Denver project attracted considerable controversy. Civil libertarians protested the brutality of a government that would separate children from parents in this way. Journalists wrote numerous stories about it. One reported on the death of a Doukhobor woman found hanging from a beam in her home. A nearby note from her nine-year-old daughter at New Denver said: ‘Mommy, I am lonesome for you – come and visit me. I love you. Goodbye.’

The government also publicized its point of view. It stated that it was ‘the birthright and privilege of every Canadian child to receive an education’ and that because the Sons of Freedom refused to send their children to school, the government had no alternative. It pointed out also that of the 12,500 Doukhobors in the province only about 2500 belonged to the Sons of Freedom group and that of these only about forty-six families continued to refuse to send their children to school.

For their part, the Sons of Freedom lodged a complaint with the United Nations under the Genocide Convention, which condemns the forcible transfer of children from one group to another. They also, in 1957, challenged the government’s action in the courts, arguing that the question was one of freedom of religion. However, Judge Sidney Smith did not accept that argument. In what became known as the Perepolkin case, he said:

I, for my part, cannot feel that in this case there is any religious element involved in the true legal sense. It seems to me that religion is one thing: a code of ethics, another, a code of manners, another. To seek the exact dividing line between them is perhaps perilous but I absolutely reject the contention that any group of tenets that some sect decides to proclaim form part of its religion thereby necessarily takes on a religious colour. I turn to the affidavit relied on by the appellants:… the objection to public schools is that they interpret history so as to glorify, justify, and tolerate intentional taking of human and animal life or teach or suggest the usefulness of human institutions which have been or can be put to such purposes … that public schools ‘expose their children to materialistic influences and ideals’… that Doukhobors object to education on secular matters being separated from education on spiritual matters.

This clearly to my mind involves the claim that a religious sect may make rules for the conduct of any part of human activities and that these rules thereby become … part of that sect’s religion. This cannot be so

At one point during the six-year detention of children some thirty Doukhobor women went to see Dr Campbell, British Columbia’s deputy minister of Education. Campbell told them that if they would agree to send their children to school, they would be returned. ‘We can’t change the laws of the country,’ he explained. The Doukhobor women replied:

‘We can’t change the laws of God either,’ The other Doukhobors, even though they had often sought to dissociate themselves from the Sons of Freedom, were sympathetic to them in this situation. They, too, appealed to the government but without success. Eventually, in 1959, when the parents appeared before a judge in Nelson and promised that their children would attend the regular public school, the children were returned to their homes.

Visiting Day between a wire fence for a Sons of Freedom Doukhobor schoolgirl and her parents at New Denver, BC, circa 1950.  www.newdenversurvivors.tk.

This Doukhobor encounter on education stands out for its length and its harshness. Essentially, the British Columbia government forced the Doukhobors to comply with its regulations. Some observers have argued that the government had no alternative, that the ongoing destruction of property, belonging either to the government or to other Doukhobors, reflected a way of life that, though religiously based, was prone to violence and simply could not be accommodated, and that it was natural to look to education – forced if necessary – as a long-term solution.

A closer analysis shows, however, that there could have been significant accommodations at a number of points. The government could have accepted the 1912 Doukhobor offer to take information about vital statistics from the Community’s record books and not exhumed bodies. It could have pursued the individual arsonists much more vigorously and focused less on those engaged in nude demonstrations. It could have removed military drills, flag-saluting ceremonies, and other activities from the schools much earlier. It could have incorporated Russian-language classes, Tolstoyan literature, Doukhobor music, and certain Doukhobor concerns about the teaching of history into the curriculum. It could have continued the lenient policy of Inspector A.E. Miller and not pressed for full attendance. It could have followed the moderate course recommended by Blackmore in 1912, by the Teachers’ Federation in 1939, and by the Hawthorn Committee in 1952. The government could have given the Doukhobors a broader educational liberty. Repeatedly, it chose not to do so. Ewart P. Reid wrote in 1932 that ‘much of the Doukhobor opposition to public schools arose not because of school per se … but because of the course content and methodology employed. Many of these difficulties arose because of the educational theories and practices … dividing children into grades, or using military drill … competitive tests and comparative grading … teaching history with military and political orientations, and refusing to allow the teaching of Russian did nothing to make schools more palatable, even to the Independent Doukhobors.’

The government’s policy of pressing ahead without making accommodations divided the Doukhobors, making their experience similar to that of the Mennonites. Some yielded, albeit reluctantly, while others became more determined in their resistance. Unlike the conservative Mennonites, the Doukhobors did not emigrate, though they did consider this option. Instead, they simply withheld their children from the public schools. Some engaged in nude demonstrations and a small number, probably no more than 200, destroyed buildings and other property. Regarding the underlying reasons for this behaviour, one analyst wrote in 1973 that ‘while Freedomite nude parades and destruction of Community property may have been attempts to convert Independents and Community members, incendiary attacks on schools and other non-Doukhobor property were clearly a response to attempts to enforce registration laws and compulsory education … They reacted … against what they viewed as an attempt to destroy their way of life and the faith of their children … also against the Independent and Community members’ acceptance of the forces of acculturation.’ According to this interpretation the violence was, at least to a large extent, the result of the provincial government’s refusal to accommodate a distinctive Doukhobor way of life.

In probing the reasons for the British Columbia government’s refusal to accommodate the Doukhobors there, certain similarities to developments affecting Mennonites and Doukhobors on the prairies emerge. Like the early settlers on the prairies there, the Doukhobors of British Columbia were appreciated for their contribution to the economy when they first arrived. But when the primary concern shifted from the frontier economy to social development there was no longer as much room for non-conforming groups. Also, as on the prairies, when the authorities pressed for social integration they defined religion in narrow terms and liberty on an individual basis. The narrow definition of religion in British Columbia is indicated most clearly in the Perepolkin case where it is suggested that the schooling of children is not a religious matter. The individualistic interpretation of liberty was indicated when the government defended the New Denver forced-schooling effort by saying, essentially, that the future liberty of the Doukhobor children required it.

Other explanatory factors lie in characteristics peculiar to British Columbia. Its educational structure was unusually centralized. Local school units had relatively little authority. Hence, developments in one locality could be used by politicians at the provincial level to project a ‘get-tough’ image. Also, the British Columbia educational system was unusually uniform. Unlike most other provinces, it had never had to accommodate a French-Catholic minority. Further, the approach of holding the Doukhobor Community liable for infractions committed by individuals was most unusual. It meant that law-enforcement agencies could impose fines and other punitive actions against the Community instead of looking for the guilty individuals. Community leaders were willing to help the police in identifying the individuals but the authorities showed little interest in their offers of assistance. The resulting atmosphere was poisonous, both among Doukhobors and between the government and those Doukhobors who wanted to be law abiding. If the Doukhobors could be treated as a community for purposes of liability, should they not also have been treated as a community for purposes of rights?

To say that the government of British Columbia could have been much more accommodating is not to say that accommodation would have solved all the problems. It must be conceded that there were some unusual and difficult elements among the Doukhobors. The actions by some Doukhobors to destroy the property of others, as a way of protesting against materialism and alleged departure from a true Doukhobor way of life, were a serious and persistent problem. It was probably necessary for the government to use some coercive measures in dealing with these developments but if it had granted the Doukhobors a broader educational liberty earlier on, the coercion required would probably have been much less.