Grandmother Berikoff: A Special Gift

by Natalie Voykin

Dunia (nee Chernenkoff) Berikoff (1897-1965) came from Russia as a small child of one and a half years. With no prior education and a peasant background, Dunia had a heart of gold as she lived through the difficulties of resettlement, first in Saskatchewan and then in British Columbia. She participated in the experimental community of Hilliers on Vancouver Island from 1946 to 1950, after which she moved back to the BC interior to settle in the ‘zealot’ community of Krestova. When the zealots trekked to the coast in 1962, she followed them, carrying only a bundle containing the sum of her earthly possessions. When she died in a Vancouver hospital, she was dressed in the traditional clothes she was carrying with her. Written from the heart by Natalie Voykin, the following is an ode to Grandmother Berikoff, who connected her Doukhobor belief in God with practical everyday life. Reproduced by permission from “Spirit-Wrestlers’ Voices. Honouring Doukhobors on the Centenary of their migration to Canada in 1899” Koozma J. Tarasoff (ed). (Ottawa: Legas, 1998).

On the evening of 12 February 1965 the nurse at the Vancouver General Hospital greeted us with unexpected news: grandmother had died! Disbelief, grief, flashed through me like a bolt of lightning. How could it be? Just hours before my beloved grandmother was very much alive, smiling and talking. I wanted to see her at once. I ran into her room. My grandmother lay there, quiet and peaceful. I gathered her in my arms and held her close to my heart. Her body was still warm, but limp.

I wept. Slowly I released her. Her two braids of hair fell loose by her shoulders. Her long white gown made her look like an angel.

Grandmother Dunia Berikoff was just a year and a half old when her father fled the harsh persecution at the hands of both Church and State in the Russian homeland for the principles the family and their community stood for. Believing that life is a sacred gift of God abiding in all people, the Doukhobors considered it wrong to destroy life and hence wrong to bear arms, and consequently were subjected to severe punishment and incarceration. Whole families were sent into exile. In other cases children and parents were separated. Communities were disrupted. Conditions of life were made impossible. At this point, Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy stepped in and helped organize and finance the exodus to Canada.

Shortly after her mother’s death, in 1899 little Dunia boarded the S.S. Lake Huron in Batum along with her father Misha Chernenkoff and hundreds of other Doukhobors driven into exile for their faith. A month later they arrived in Halifax and almost immediately headed west to the Canadian prairies – their new home. For all who came, it was to be a strange and challenging experience.

Finding it a particular challenge coping with his infant daughter in this new environment, Misha Chernenkoff soon married a young Doukhobor girl who became Dunia’s stepmother, thereby adding yet another complexity to the life of the growing child. Dunia found the needed warmth and love from her Aunt Malasha, who looked after her little needs and made her feel welcome at this stage of her life. Dunia remained ever grateful to this aunt for her tenderness and caring, and for the beneficial influence she exercised on both her outward and inner (spiritual) development.

Her family being of peasant background, no formal schooling was included in Dunia’s upbringing in the settlement of Aaron (on the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border). Life’s experiences were her teachers. Life’s events were marked by the seasons; Dunia’s birthday, for example, was associated with the harvest season.

In her late teens Dunia fell in love, but as her intended was not a verushchii (i.e., not a believer of the Doukhobor faith), her father disapproved. She married Koozma Berikoff, a handsome, charismatic, sports-loving lad. Though of Doukhobor upbringing, Koozma indulged in meat-eating and social drinking, both foreign to Dunia, who adhered to the strict Doukhobor tradition of refusing to eat animal flesh. Obliged to accommodate her husband’s habits, she was especially bothered by having to prepare meat (in particular, chicken) at harvest time to feed the men from the surrounding community who came to help take in the crop.

By this time the newly-weds had established their home on a 160 acre (65 hectare) farm with few conveniences, and begun raising a family. Two days before the New Year of 1912, their first-born, Florence (Fenia) arrived. Three years later came a son, Alex, followed by two more daughters – Mabel (Nastia) and Harriet (Grunia). She engaged in the routine duties of farm and family, but always had an inner feeling in her heart telling her there was more to life than her isolated experience on the prairies.

After several years misfortune befell the family. One evening, upon bringing full pails of milk down to the cellar from the barn, Koozma accidentally hit his head with severe force against a low beam spanning the cellar entrance. The local doctors could do very little about the serious headaches, sore eyes and other disorders which followed. Relatives managed to raise enough money to send Koozma (then 40) to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (USA), and while the operation there was successful, he died of a hemorrhage when he attempted to get out of bed some time later (because of nursing staff shortages he had been left unattended at the time).

The tragic death of her husband brought Dunia untold hardships. With four children ranging in age from three to sixteen and with no knowledge of English, and no government social programs yet in existence, she was obliged to depend mostly upon her own resources and limited help from relatives, along with the power of God for protection and guidance.

The Doukhobors’ first leader in Canada, Peter V. (‘the Lordly’) Verigin, had worked with his people in their efforts to bring about the realization of God’s ‘universal spirit of oneness’ – the building of a heaven on earth. The Doukhobor people lived, toiled and prayed for this goal endeavoring to share their lands, resources and talents in harmony with the natural environment, with themselves and the world around them. But this ‘new social order’ was perceived as a significant threat by certain elements of the established Canadian society who believed in ‘every one for himself’. In 1924 Verigin was killed by an explosion near Farron in the high Kootenay Mountains, while travelling by train from Brilliant to Grand Forks.

Now a leaderless flock in a still new and unfriendly environment, the Canadian Doukhobors sent a delegation to Verigin’s son, then living in Russia – Peter P. Verigin, who had adopted the pseudonym Chistiakov (‘the Cleanser’) and was informally known as Petushka – to come and help restore order to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) established by his father. Arriving in 1927, he fascinated his new Canadian followers with his stamina and dynamic spirit; the wisdom expressed in his charismatic voice drew the attention of Doukhobors from all sections of the community.

He held a special fascination for Grandmother Dunia’s eldest daughter Florence, in whom she had instilled a strong belief in God and in Doukhobor principles. She would ask friends and neighbors to take her with them when they went to hear him speak. His dynamic personality not only inspired her own spirituality, but eventually took the whole family in a whole new direction, to the zealot ‘Sons of Freedom’ movement.

In 1930 Dunia gained further inspiration through a visit from her brother, Alex Chernenkoff (then living in British Columbia), who told her and her family about the spiritual stirrings going on among young people in Doukhobor communities throughout Canada. She did her best to live out her sense of spiritual awareness as she and her children coped with life on the farm.

When Verigin was arrested in 1932 and sent to prison in Prince Albert, Dunia and Florence took part in successive protests, even to the point of disrobing on the highway, to call attention to the injustice directed at their leader. They themselves were arrested and held for a time in a women’s prison at North Battleford. While the younger children were initially taken to foster homes, they were eventually allowed to be cared for by relatives until the family was reunited.

For some time Dunia had been cherishing the idea of the communal way of life adopted by Community Doukhobors in British Columbia, and following her prison experience, she was led – by her faith and the dictates of her heart – to leave her farm (unsold) in Saskatchewan and take her family and possessions out west, settling in the village of Krestova, B.C., just a few doors away from her half-brother.

By this time Florence had married a young Saskatchewan farmer, Joseph Podovinikoff, a Doukhobor who fervently shared her aspirations and ideals and her family’s conviction in the rightness of communal living. He (along with other family members) persuaded his father to sell their prairie homestead and follow the Berikoffs to the B.C. interior, settling in Slocan Park.

Dunia’s son Alex married a beautiful, kind and thoughtful young woman named Natasha, who was exceptionally talented as a handcraft artist and dearly loved by all who knew her. One day, when Natasha was seven months pregnant, she and her brother died after eating some contaminated processed food brought from town.

A day or two later Florence was in the process of giving birth to her first baby, attended by an elderly Doukhobor midwife and her mother-in-law Nastia. After many hours of labour, a baby girl finally arrived – lifeless, not breathing. But Nastia, who had brought up seven children of her own, was so elated at the new baby girl that she refused to give up. Wrapping the baby up, she cuddled it close to her heart and began walking to and fro in the living room, all the time breathing into the baby’s mouth. All at once she heard a cry – the baby was alive!

They named her Natasha after Florence’s sister-in-law, whom they had just laid to rest in Krestova. Florence had also been enchanted with the spirited character of Natasha portrayed in Tolstoy’s epic novel “War and Peace”.

Both Babushkas – Dunia (Berikoff) and Nastia (Podovinikoff) – had a significant influence on my life. I spent a great deal of time in my early years with my much-beloved Grandmother Podovinikoff, who lived close by and took care of us children while our parents were busy clearing land or weeding or picking strawberries to earn money for the next winter’s supply of groceries and warm clothing.

But I felt a special love for Grandmother Berikoff, who, living eight kilometers away up the mountain in Krestova, visited us as often as she possibly could. When I was older, I would stay at her house for a week or so. An extraordinary person (in my eyes), she always kept her modest home in perfect order and cleanliness; its atmosphere was always warm, homey and nurturing. I always remember the feeling of security, strength and beauty evoked by her presence.

Dunia Berikoff’s family, Krestova, BC, 1937. (l-r) Uncle Alex; my father Joseph; grandmother Dunia; holding me, Natalie at 2 months old; Aunt Harriet; my mother Florence; and Aunt Nellie.

One particularly vivid memory is of standing by Grandmother Berikoff’s side as she opened the lid of a large shortening can to inspect the precious garden seeds she had gathered the previous autumn – each variety wrapped in white cotton bundles – to determine what needed to be planted in early spring. I remember the mysterious, invigorating, aroma that came from this special seed collection – a heavenly whiff of gentle potency unlike any other I had experienced. When spring came, once she had worked the soil in her garden patch into neat, straight rows, Grandmother Dunia would drop the seeds into them ever so gently, all the while affirming out loud: na priezzhago i na prikhozhago – signifying that the food to be produced from this seed by Mother Earth was not only for her and her family but also to share with strangers who might come riding or walking by. Grandmother was a prime example of Doukhobor kindness and loving hospitality.

In line with Doukhobor custom, the first question my grandmother would ask was whether the visitor was hungry; somehow there was always food to share. And, I must add, she was a wonderful cook – resourceful in converting simple and modest means into imaginative and successful creations. Very handy with her knitting needles, she sewed all her own clothes, always in the neatest fashion; she was unable to read patterns, but her socks, mittens and slippers were expertly executed, many times with intricate designs.

Her petite physical stature belied her formidable capabilities. I remember from my visits that her days never ended without reciting the psalm she taught me:

My guardian angel, do guard and protect my soul, strengthen my heart and also all my thoughts. Grant me, O Lord, Thy protection for the sleep of the coming night, peace for the physical body, salvation for the soul and for the mouth to utter prayer. Glory be to God.

These were the words I was invariably put to bed with. This was the time, too, to talk about the day’s events, before Grandmother sent me off to sleep by gently stroking my back. It was ‘heaven’! And one of the first duties in the morning was to wash my face and hands. Grandmother told me to always start the day by saying: Gospodi blagoslovi (roughly translated: ‘Lord, may thy blessings abide’).

The death of Peter P. Verigin in 1939 left the B.C. Doukhobor community (including Krestova) in a rather unsettled state. In searching for answers amid the many different interpretations which surfaced, some in the village could not hold back their feelings of extreme frustration at the injustices and misunderstandings they perceived on the part of the government. But Grandmother Berikoff did not take part in this radical trend.

Her life underwent a radical change, however, when she was introduced to a certain Michael Verigin (a distant relative and close associate of Peter P. Verigin) who had moved from the Verigin district in Saskatchewan to Vancouver with his wife and son to operate a rooming house and work in the labour force on the side.

Peter P. (Chistiakov) Verigin had at one point told Michael that ‘the Father wanted to see him’, although Michael did not understand what that meant at the time. Several weeks after the leader’s death, Michael happened to be walking down a street in Vancouver when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning around, he saw his late friend standing beside him, and heard his voice say: ‘The time is now. Come, the Father is ready to see you.’ Boarding a train at the station, the two men sped away ‘swiftly upward’ to a place where ‘the Father met with Michael’, instructing him to come back to earth and deliver a message to the Doukhobor people.

Some listeners utterly discredited his message, while others accepted it, at least in their own way. The message essentially urged all Doukhobors to:

Stop thinking, doing and living in unconstructive ways. Begin to organize yourselves in communities where all can live in the spirit of communal brotherhood, working for peace and harmony. Share and learn to overcome greed, selfishness, jealousy and mistrust.

A particular part of the message was directed toward the ‘Sons of Freedom’:

Enough burning and jails for you. When one of you goes to jail there are ten people who must work to support you. You come and work together in the community where everything is held in common, where one person works and that goes to support ten people, the women, the children, the elders and the indigent.

Michael appealed to Doukhobors to help him launch the ‘New Spiritual Community of Christ’, to share his vision of a cooperative social and economic order of security based on the traditional teaching of ‘toil and a peaceful life’. Time and again he tried to convince those who would obtain ‘migration through jails’ that the real migration was inner transformation, a change of heart from one of negativity and destruction to one of holy, peaceful construction.

Another conspicuous part of this multifaceted ‘message’ was the requirement to abolish bonds of ownership in marriage. Women must be freed from male domination.Grandmother Berikoff came forth as one of a group of six women and six men to launch this new order, under the name ‘Elders of the Spiritual Community of Christ.”

The new order, however, met with a mixed reception from the larger Doukhobor community. Some accepted the idea of communal living based on non-possessiveness – in respect not only to material possessions but also to the private family unit – while others felt threatened by the concept. The core group of twelve people Michael established at Krestova was soon disrupted by an extremist segment and forced to move to a homestead formerly occupied by one of his followers.

The communal kitchen, bathhouse and store (supplied with staples bought wholesale) was supplemented by a school, where one young mother taught basic reading and writing skills in both English and Russian, along with lessons in Doukhobor culture. The extremists, however, seeing the store and school as violating the sacredness of their fundamental beliefs, attacked again: a large group came out from Krestova, threw out the school furnishings and set the buildings ablaze. Once more homeless, Michael and his Elders were offered temporary accommodation by a sympathetic family living in nearby Robson.

Even though I as a ten-year-old had not yet attended any school, my parents (Florence and Joseph) were indeed concerned about their children’s education. After yet another attack by the Krestova group, Michael resolved to relocate further afield, away from trouble. He asked my father to accompany him on an exploratory trip to Vancouver Island, where a suitable location was quickly found, purchased and occupied (thanks to the former owners’ willingness to move out immediately following the sale).

The new community established near the village of Hilliers toward the end of June 1946 (shortly after an earthquake in the area) immediately began to draw attention from far and wide. My parents readily accepted their invitation to young families with children to come and help construct the Community, arriving there lock, stock and barrel in 1947. A large kitchen, sleeping quarters, storeroom, prayer-hall, school, steamhouse and gardens all had to be set up and put in place. It was in this school that I received my first formal education, through a curriculum organised by the community itself in both Russian and English.

Grandmother Berikoff was one of the women actively participating in this new experience, drawing upon her expertise in household affairs, involving herself in finances, organizing cooking groups, laundry, gardening and other duties. Her contribution to the stability and order of the community was recognized by Michael and the other Elders, many of whom came to her for advice and direction.

Unfortunately, the distance from the mainland did not ensure peace. This time the extremists not only destroyed property (worth thousands of dollars) but fabricated accusations which landed both Michael and my father (his secretary) in jail, charging that his vision of fulfilling certain prophecies in the Doukhobor psalms was nothing but a personal fantasy.

Michael died soon after being released from prison; he and other elders who had passed away from old age were buried in a special Community cemetery at Hilliers. The remainder, about four years after the experiment began, moved back to the B.C. interior, but did not lose sight of Michael’s original ideology. They spent about a year at Gilpin, near Grand Forks, but feeling isolated from the main body of the Doukhobor community in the Kootenays (where they still considered their roots to be), they accepted an invitation to occupy a communal property in Krestova. Once more they constructed a place to live and work, and once more they settled down to practice their faith.

I remember Grandmother telling me one spring in the mid 1950s how the Elders had decided to renew their appeal to the Doukhobor community’ to join the new order and build a true brotherhood of selfless sharing, Grandmother Berikoff was even sent door-to-door along the dusty streets of Krestova to spread the message of love she carried in her heart. But none of the Elders’ efforts (Grandmother’s included) met with any positive response.

Grandmother Berikoff in her later years.

Now a married woman with two children, living some thirty kilometers away in Castlegar, I still kept in close touch with Grandmother Berikoff, whom I loved immensely. It was a matter of some amazement to me that she always knew when I needed her most, even though she had no telephone. She would show up at my doorstep with a basket of fresh strawberries, or a package of knitted socks, slippers or mittens to help meet whatever might be the need. When the babies were sick, she was there to help, like a guardian angel. As a young and inexperienced gardener, I watched as she virtually produced magic during her short summer visits to our home with her simple but effective handling of soil and plants. ‘Do this’, she would advise, and, sure enough, the weak shoots would quickly develop into strong, shiny, productive plants.

Grandmother was a never-ending source of interesting conversation for me and my family. Her philosophy and knowledge fuelled my insatiable thirst for ideas, my wonder at the underlying factors that motivated her quest and worked such a powerful and meaningful influence on her character. The oneness of the life we shared and her indestructible faith in God left a deep imprint on my heart. Her stamina and the natural intelligence that guided her filled me with unbounded love and respect. Our tea-time sharings – another experience of heaven – were especially memorable. She would explain the many psalms she knew by heart on a spiritual level, and we would talk about their hidden symbolic meaning and source – this was an entirely natural unfoldment in our relationship.

Grandmother Berikoff applied her belief in God to practical everyday life. For example, when my babies were restless and unable to sleep peacefully, she had healing remedies which worked. After helping me bathe my new-born (the air and water temperature had to be warm and comfortable!) she would hold the baby in one hand and pour a pitcher of lukewarm water over her for a rinse, then wrap the baby in a warm towel, all the while affirming: kak s gusochki vody vsia skorb’ i khodor’ba (roughly: ‘like water off a goose, all negativity is washed clean and gone’). In Grandmother’s presence I had the feeling that all was well with my world.

In the autumn of 1962, when I was eight months pregnant with our third child, the outbreak of Freedomite unrest in the Kootenays reached its peak. With local prisons unable to accommodate all the sect members charged with acts of terrorism, the authorities had constructed a special fireproof prison for them at Agassiz. Many supporters of the Freedomite cause began a trek to Agassiz to draw attention to what they saw as a great injustice against the Doukhobor people.

At Grandmother’s urging, my husband and I, who similarly felt our people were being misunderstood and unfairly treated, decided to join the protest. We sold our home, stored furniture at my in-laws, and followed the trek – living in tents, sharing rides, finances and moral support. The march took us through Castlegar, Grand Forks and on through Princeton, where in late September we stopped to camp in Bromley Park. Feeling the onset of labour, I (together with my husband) headed for the nearest hospital. When stopped by an RCMP roadblock along the way, I told them they could deliver the baby themselves if that was their choice. We were given immediate clearance! Our beautiful daughter Katya was born in Princeton on 26 September 1962.

I felt surrounded by love and care: the wonderful doctor who delivered the baby, a sympathetic Princeton family who took us into their home after my release from hospital, and, above all, my mother, who was a guardian angel to me during this time. My father had little time to attend to his own family, involved as he was with the many relationship problems among the trekkers, the authorities, the press and the representatives of the towns and villages through which we marched. Grandmother, too, needed all the energy she could muster to organise and keep order among the group of Elders, by this time all of senior years.

One incident in particular left an indelible imprint on my heart. By” late autumn we had reached the town of Hope, where we were obliged to stop. Many local people offered shelter to the crowd of people descending upon this small town. On one rainy day Grandmother and I sat face to face on some apple boxes in a small station house; between us was a bundle about one metre square wrapped in dark blue cloth and neatly tied in a knot on top, containing all her earthly possessions. As we sat there, just the two of us, not knowing where we were going or where it would all end, I felt a sense of tremendous love and respect for her, of sharing in some mysterious way in her deep faith, of the whole world being on our side.

Upon finally arriving (weeks later) at the Agassiz Mountain site, the families set up their palatki (tents) in a neat row alongside the road leading to the prison. The local garbage dump, surprisingly, yielded several old stoves still in usable condition, which after some cleaning and fixing provided warmth and a place to cook. It was amusing to see chimneys made out of recycled juice tins. Even a small steam bath-house was erected from scrap timber and served for both baths and laundry. Plastic was bought to provide a shield from the rain and wind.

While the authorities indeed had their hands full (they had no choice but to allow events to unfold), they were pleased to find their concerns over sanitation problems and adverse incidents unjustified, noting only cleanliness and tidiness in and around the tent dwellings, and the snow-white laundry hung out to dry.

Grandmother Berikoff and her group of Elders occupied the first tent down the lane from us. They held together as a small unit of ten people, living according to their traditional communal order, uncomplainingly making the best of a difficult situation.

When I think back on this period, it all seems like an adventurous dream. It was indeed a learning experience of togetherness, one of fulfilment and revelation – my husband and our three children (five-year-old Daniel, three-year-old Tamara and three-month-old Katya), and Grandmother Dunia by my side, for advice.

Bill and Natalie Voykin with grandchildren, 1990.

After several months my husband, children and I moved on to Vancouver, where Grandmother would often come to visit us, sharing a ride with friends from the camp who had occasion to make a trip to the ‘Big City’. For me it was a special time of sharing her company.

Now and again during these visits she would complain about chest pains. She was seventy-five years old. She was examined several times by a doctor, who eventually asked her to go to hospital for further observation. She obliged reluctantly, commenting that any of the elders who ended up there ‘did not make it back’. While I naturally rejected this suggestion, it did leave me with a sense of fear and dread. The third day there, during our visit she shared with us a dream she had had, one she could not explain:

A most beautiful young woman appeared and stood at the foot of my bed. She just looked at me and said nothing.

Grandmother also mentioned the clothes she had prepared for herself in case ‘something did happen’ to her – a white homespun linen skirt and blouse, hand-made slippers and a fine white woolen shawl with tiny pink rosebuds. They were part of the bundle she had carried throughout the trek.

As I sat by her bedside, Grandmother wanted to go over a psalm, one that dealt with the meaning of life, God and the ‘Universal Laws of Being and Knowing’. “I do want to be prepared”, she said, “when I go to meet the Great One.”

The following evening the ‘beautiful young woman’ took the hand of my beloved Grandmother and led her to meet ‘the Great One’. I held her warm body close to my heart and sobbed. My teacher, guide and angel had finished her earthly journey. I realized I had to go on alone without the benefit of her wisdom, strength and unshakeable faith upon which I had relied so heavily. Now it is my turn, for now my own seven grandchildren turn to me for spiritual support.

I am convinced that Grandmother Dunia Berikoff was a special gift to me from God, and perhaps to others, too, who now have the opportunity to read and share this account of a rare and most precious angel who came to earth to fulfill her mission of unselfish love.

Grandmother Berikoff was laid to rest in the cemetery next to the Agassiz encampment, alongside twenty others who had shared in the trek. May their souls rest in the blessedness of the Heavenly Peace they earned and so richly deserve!

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

by Fred J. Chernoff

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

Settling in the Veregin Area, 1899

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life at Khutor, 1912 – 1938

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Authorized and dissolved marriages according to his wishes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Profiles

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

Anna (Anyuta) Timofeyevna Chernova (1864-1934)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alyosha Nikolayevich Chernoff (1877-1967)

Alexeii N. Chernoff (1877-1967).

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

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

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

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

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

Nikolai Nikolayevich Chernoff (1880-1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Nikolayevich Chernoff (1891-1957)

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

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

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

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

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

Feodor Nikolayevich Chernoff (1888-1982)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mikhail Nikolayevich Chernoff (1892-1966)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrey Nikolayevich Chernoff (1895-1975)

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

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

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

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

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

He is buried in a cemetery at Kamsack. Sask.

About the Author

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

A History of the Perverseff Family

by Roger Phillips

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

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

Family Origins

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

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

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

The Molochnaya and Caucasian Exile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harsh Living Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burning of Arms

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

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

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

Exodus to Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Promised Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Good Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tangleflags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A young Roger launches a flying model airplane he built.

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

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

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

Haralowka

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

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

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

Roger playing baseball at Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto in 1941.

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

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

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

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

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

Roger and his Haralowka buddy Sammy Perverseff, a second cousin.

I was soon back with my Grandparents and attending Haralowka School. Muriel Borisinkoff, Sammy’s cousin, taught there and it wasn’t long before I discovered how good she was with the strap. Big Paul Greva and I were having a dustup about midway between the school and the barn when Bill Samirodin, a school trustee, drove up to fetch his daughter. Paul and I ceased hostilities and stood like innocents watching as Bill drove by. But it was too late. He had seen us fighting and amusingly commented to Muriel about her unruly pupils. That really stung a hard taskmaster who prided herself on her discipline. Summoned to the school, Paul was strategically in tears and I tried to feign innocence as we entered the side door. The situation was bleak. With tears streaming down Paul’s cheeks, Muriel took out the wrath she would have devoted to him on me – along with my share. In time the strap was outlawed in Saskatchewan schools, but I can attest to having intimately known its application before that happened.

If kindness was a Perverseff trait, then I was blessed. William and Lucille treated me like a favorite son. They fed me well and clothed me warmly. On Saturdays I would get the huge sum of 25 cents to spend in Blaine Lake where folks from the country gathered to buy groceries, attend to other matters, or just visit. I would go to town with John and Lucille or with Sammy and his folks. Later, a Tallman elevator man put a bare bicycle together for me – bare because it lacked handlebar grips, fenders and a chain guard, but it was transportation. Grandfather paid seven dollars for it and I surely got his money’s worth.

Life wasn’t all fun. I had to fetch the cows, help milk, turn the cream separator, and churn the butter. I’d also gather the eggs, carry wood to the house, help clean the barn and do other sundry chores. Sometimes when I was out in the yard around sundown, I would hear Grandmother whistle in an odd way. It was to keep the vadema (bad spirits) away, she said. I don’t know if it worked but I never saw the need for it myself.

The Antifaeff Family –  Immigration to Canada

by Ruby M. Nemanishen

In 1899, when over 7,500 Doukhobors left the Caucasus for Canada, the family of Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev remained behind in their ancestral village of Bashkichet.  Unlike his brothers, who accompanied the movement to Canada, Grigory had no desire or intention to begin life anew in a strange and unknown land.  Little did he expect that within a year, unforeseen events would catapult the family on a long and harrowing journey to the domes and minarets of Constantinople, Turkey, through Budapest, Hungary and Paris, France aboard the Orient Express, to the narrow, bustling streets of London, England, before settling on the Canadian Prairies near Langham, Saskatchewan.  Reproduced by permission from “The Antifaev – Antifave – Antifay Family in Canada, The First 100 Years, 1902-2002” by Ruby M. Nemanishen, this excerpt recounts the sensational story of one Doukhobor family’s immigration to Canada.

Background to Immigration

The Doukhobors had already moved several times before their emigration to Canada.  The Tsarist government of Russia kept driving them to more remote regions because of their pacifist beliefs and consequent refusal to perform military service.  In the mid-nineteenth century, they located in the Transcaucasian region and while there, they expressed their opposition to warfare by burning their weapons.  That date, June 29, 1895, is known as Peters Day.

Prior to emigration, the Antyufeevs lived in the village of Bashkichet situated in the Borchalinsky district of Tiflis province, Russia (now the town of Dmanisi, Georgia) near the Black Sea.

Grigory Antyufeev and family, c. 1890

The Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev family did not come as part of the mass migration of Doukhobors from Russia in 1899, as they were not followers of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin.  However, Grigory’s brothers Nikolai, Mikhailo and Alexei belonged to the so-called “Large Party” and their families were on the first ocean freighter of Doukhobors, the SS Lake Huron, arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia on January 23, 1899.  They all settled in the Pelly and Arran districts of Saskatchewan.  Shortly after arriving in Canada, Nikolai left for California and started a butcher shop, selling a variety of meats which grew into a huge packing plant.  A sister Agafia Vereshchagin remained in Russia after her husband was killed by thieving Armenians, however, her orphaned son Vasily Vereshchagin immigrated to Canada years later.

In Russia, the Antyufeevs were a wealthy family, owning many horses and cattle.  They had their own flour mill and a large blacksmith shop…also servants to look after the land.  Living conditions were wonderful in this southern region of Georgia.  The weather was mild and the soil fertile and productive…the fruit trees thrived and life was good.

An Unexpected Journey

In 1900, the family of Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev found it necessary to flee in the middle of the night, leaving everything behind, when a friend warned them that the police were coming in the morning to draft his sons for military service.  However, they managed to take gold and guns with them.  They fled along the Black Sea and eventually made their way to Turkey. 

While there, son Mikhailo contracted malaria fever and was incoherent and irrational for a month before a Turkish doctor was called upon.  The prescribed existing treatment involved shaving his head and administering a kind of powder (quinine).  In addition, sliced lemons were placed on his shaved head and wrapped in cloths, and before long he rallied and began to talk.

After the family crossed the border into Turkey they remained there for a year or more, unable to obtain passports because they were Russians.  Finally, Grigory bribed a friend who obtained Turkish passports for them.  They finally boarded the Oriental Express passenger train from Constantinople Italy…to Paris, France and then on to London, England where they arrived three days prior to Christmas.  Here they enjoyed their first Christmas dinner away from their homeland.  It was 1901.  Grigory continued to walk the streets of London still dressed like a Turk, believing he had to be “their” citizen so that he would be accepted. 

Anxiously, the family boarded a beautiful ship, the SS Ionian in Liverpool on December 26, 1901 and sailed to Canada, arriving in St. John’s, New Brunswick at 9:00 a.m. on January 5, 1902.  There was a total of 106 passengers including 10 crew members.  According to Grigory’s daughter Anna, food was plentiful and scrumptious…they realized they must have sailed first class!  The family – eleven in total – sailed on the SS Ionian as follows:

Antyufeev
Grigory 40
Maria 40
Mikhailo 17
Petro 16
Anna 15
Feodor 10
Vasily 7
Ivan 4
Pelagea 4
Elizaveta 2

The final leg of their journey took them by train to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  En route to Saskatchewan, their two little girls Pelagea and Elizaveta died of diphtheria within a day of each other.

The New Settlers

In 1903, Grigory, Maria and family came to a homestead in Raspberry Creek in the Arlee, Saskatchewan district as an independent group.  Because they brought their guns with them, their Doukhobor neighbours did not associate with the new settlers.  Nevertheless, the Antyufeevs began the task of building their large two-storey house complete with balcony, with Roman-numeralled logs.  However, within several years the family discovered they were too isolated.  They dismantled the home and floated the logs on beams downstream on the north Saskatchewan river.  The house was rebuilt where it now stands on SE 1/4 of 8-39-9-W3 in the Henrietta district of Langham, Saskatchewan, located one and a half miles north from the Doukhobor village site of Pokrovka.

Maria Antyufeev

Grigory bought this quarter of land from the Hudson Bay Company in 1905 and some years later Grigory, Maria and family lived temporarily in the Pokrovka village homes while re-assembling took place.  To this date, several log buildings stand in the farmyard, including portions of the house.  The land is presently owned by the Kasahoff family.  This house could be seen for miles around…and became the community landmark and “meeting place”.  It was also photographed by many and caught the attention of many artists.

George William Antifaeff (as Grigory was now known) was a solidly built individual of average height, broad-shouldered and was said to be of rather strict character…inclined to be a big spender, although a very good businessman.  George and his sons all had a penchant for mechanics and on one occasion they attempted to build an airplane on the home place.  It had wings, a makeshift motor and flapped like a bird…but when George tested it off the top of the barn the only result was an injured shoulder.  It was said that Mary was a very strong-headed person and did not have a close relationship with George’s two sons, Mike and Peter and their family.  After John G. Antifaeff married, Mary and George moved to live in son Fred’s house.  When George passed away, Mary continued living here for a short time, then spent her remaining years with Anne Popoff.

Antifaeff homestead, Langham district, Saskatchewan

The Antifaeffs became well respected in the Doukhobor community and all lived within a six mile radius of each other. Everyone shared in the hardships of pioneer life…building homes, breaking the soil and farming it with horses. There wasn’t a great deal of time for socializing after the farm chores were done.  Spare time involved the entire families in berry picking, preserving and picnics.  The winters would find the women knitting warm clothes from raw wool and sewing.  However, the children would assemble at a centralized location (ball diamond) to play ball or swim in the nearby creek and skate in the winter.  The arrival of the Model T Ford in the late 1920’s provided more freedom to visit and socialize with relatives in surrounding areas.  On occasional Sundays families would gather for prayer service (sobrania) at the local school…

A Roundtrip to the Homeland: Doukhobor Remigration to Soviet Russia in the 1920s

by Vadim Kukushkin

Following the Russian Revolution, an increasing number of Doukhobors in Canada began to turn their eyes to their homeland, where momentous changes were taking place. Many had never completely abandoned the dream of returning to the land of their birth. To this end, between 1922 and 1926, forty Independent Doukhobor families from the Veregin, Kamsack and Pelly districts of Saskatchewan remigrated to the Soviet Union. Their aim was to help their homeland to establish the new life following the Revolution. Settling in the Melitopol district of the Ukrainian province of Zaporozhye, they established two villages and formed the Independent Canadian Doukhobor Collective Farm, using modern farm machinery brought from Canada. The resettlement flourished until 1927, when the young men received calls to serve in the Soviet army. Refusing to bear arms, the Doukhobors hastily sold their homes and machinery and returned to Canada. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Dr. Vadim Kukushkin chronicles the promise and failure of the Doukhobor remigration to Soviet Russia in the 1920s. 

By the end of the First World War, Canadian Doukhobors were in a state of flux. In a climate of instability and increasing pressure for assimilation and conformity, many Doukhobors wondered if Canada was indeed the land where they could freely pursue their way of life. Various resettlement schemes began to float within the community. An increasing number of Doukhobors, including Peter Verigin himself, began to turn their eyes to the homeland, where momentous changes were taking place. Despite their economic success in Canada, the Doukhobors never abandoned the idea of returning to Russia. Similar to other diaspora groups, they saw their Canadian exile as a temporary condition to be followed by an eventual return to the land of their ancestors. Throughout the years of emigration, the dream of return was kept alive in Doukhobor songs and oral tradition.

The Russian revolution of February 1917 for the first time made the idea of return a feasible one. By doing away with the tsarist monarchy and proclaiming the freedom of religion, it removed the greatest obstacle that stood in the way of moving back to the homeland. In a telegram dated 27 March 1917, Peter Verigin informed Russia’s Provisional Government of ten thousand Doukhobors “willing to return to Russia as good farmers and horticulturalists.” The Russian authorities reacted favourably, although they balked at the idea of exempting the returning Doukhobors from military service at a time when Russia was straining all its resources to fight the war. Before any practical scheme could be worked out, however, the Provisional Government was brought down by the Bolshevik coup of October 1917.

While more research is needed on Doukhobors’ attitudes to the Russian revolutions of 1917, the new Soviet government clearly had the support of at least a certain part of the community, which viewed the collectivist and internationalist tenets of the Communist doctrine as similar to Doukhobor teachings. Russian revolutionary songs such as Otrechemsya ot starogo mira (Let Us Renounce the Old World) and others had entered the Doukhobor song repertoire. Although the idea of return circulated through all segments of Canada’s Doukhobor community, interest in Soviet Russia was strongest among the approximately 7,000 Independent Doukhobors, who lived in several compact clusters in eastern Saskatchewan (around Kamsack, Verigin, Pelly and Buchanan) and western Manitoba (Benito).

As early as February 1920, the Independent Doukhobors of Kamsack inquired with immigration authorities in Ottawa about sending delegates to Soviet Russia to “ascertain what the conditions are there” and find ways of giving aid to their suffering brethren in the Caucasus region. The idea had to be postponed, however, until political situation in Russia became less volatile. During the next two years, the prospects of return and the election of delegates to Russia remained the subject of heated debates at Doukhobor community meetings. In March 1921, the Independents sent a letter to the Soviet government, which hailed the “dawn of freedom [which] shines in our motherland” and asked for admission to Russia. To deal with the issues of remigration, they established the Immigration Committee, responsible to the Community of Independent Doukhobors.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924). The Soviet leader took a keen interest in the remigration of Doukhobors from Canada.

For their part, the Bolshevik leadership showed a considerable interest in Russian pacifist sects who had been victimized by the tsarist government, viewing them as potential allies in the building of the new social order. Doukhobors, Molokans, Old Believers and other Russian sectarians were seen as “natural” communists, even if their communism was rooted in religion rather than scientific Marxism. To secure the sectarians’ support of the new regime, Soviet decrees of 1 January 1919 and 14 February 1920 exempted them from military service provided they proved the conscientious nature of their refusal to carry arms and abstained from anti-Soviet agitation. Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin showed a personal interest in the matter. In August 1921, he instructed officials who dealt with the Doukhobor petition for admission to “give permission immediately and respond with extreme courtesy”. In October the same year, the Soviet government established a Commission for Settlement of State Farms, Unoccupied Lands and Former Estates with Sectarians and Old Believers (known as Orgkomsekt). The Commission issued an appeal To Sectarians and Old Believers Residing in Russia and Abroad, which invited victims of tsarist religious persecution to return and contribute to Russia’s agricultural development. The document was penned by Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, a Russian folklorist involved in arranging the Doukhobor migration to Canada and now a high-ranking Soviet official.

The Doukhobors’ well-known experience in cooperative mechanized farming made them a highly desirable class of returnees. Facing a shortage of capital and skilled workforce, the Soviet state sought the help of Russian emigrant workers and farmers willing to contribute their American-acquired knowledge, money and resources to the economic rebirth of the country. Soviet policy towards returning emigrants was defined in a series of decrees passed in 1921-22, which welcomed the arrival of farming and industrial collectives (increasingly referred to as “communes”), organized in consultation with Moscow. Such collectives were required to bring enough supplies and machinery (as well as foodstuff and clothing) to run a collective farm or an industrial establishment without taxing the scant resources of the Soviet state. Machinery and goods imported by the communes into the Soviet Union were admitted duty-free.

Responsibility for coordinating the movement of immigrant communes to the Soviet republics was vested in the Permanent Commission for the Regulation of Industrial and Agricultural Immigration. The Society of Technical Aid to Soviet Russia, organized in 1919 by a group of Russian emigrants in New York, did the practical recruitment work in Canada and the United States. Its functions also included purchasing supplies and machinery for the departing groups and taking care of transportation and visa matters. In 1922-23, the Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal branches of the Society organized three Ukrainian-Canadian agricultural groups, which settled on the steppes of Southern Ukraine.

Because of Doukhobors’ geographical and cultural isolation, they were a harder target for remigration agitators than were Russian and Ukrainian immigrants who lived in major urban centres. From the beginning, the Society focussed its attention on the Independents, whose pro-Soviet leanings were known in New York and Moscow and who had already gone further than Community Doukhobors towards arranging a move to the homeland. In mid-1922, the Society’s Central Bureau reported to Moscow that despite the “individualist” farming practices that set the Independents apart from Community Doukhobors, with due care they “could be steered towards communalist or cooperative landholding”.

In July 1922, a meeting of Independent Doukhobors in Kamsack elected Larion Taranoff and Vasily Potapoff, a former associate of Peter Verigin who had broken with his leader, as delegates to Soviet Russia to survey potential settlement locations and negotiate a relocation scheme. They carried a list of 281 families prepared to move immediately and a petition of to the Soviet government, in which the Doukhobors requested an opportunity to “choose one of the unoccupied tracts of land in the southern part of Russia, where [they] could practice wheat farming and horticulture”. The petition also asked for “full and absolute” exemption from military service and the right of religious instruction for Doukhobor children.

Potapoff and Taranoff spent three months touring Russian and Ukrainian provinces and meeting with Soviet officials, including the head of the All-Russian Executive Committee Mikhail Kalinin and the influential Commissar of Foreign Trade Leonid Krasin. They were especially impressed with the fertile plains in the Salsk district of Southern Russia, which already had several settlements of Doukhobors who had moved there in 1921-22 from the Caucasus. The Soviet authorities, however, refused to grant the Salsk lands to Canadian Doukhobors on the grounds that these lands had been reserved for commercial horse breeding.

Instead, the Doukhobor delegates were offered a tract in the Melitopol district of the Ukrainian province of Zaporozhye, close to the old Doukhobor settlements on the Milky River. The area already had several villages populated by Russian Doukhobors who had recently relocated from the Caucasus. Each Doukhobor family returning from Canada was to receive 43 acres of land as individual property and the same amount under a thirty-year lease. The land was to be held in reserve until settlement was completed. The Doukhobors were also promised exemption from military service, a three-year release from property taxes, and the freedom to choose individual, cooperative or communal form of farming at their own discretion. All business aspects of the relocation (the purchase of agricultural machinery and supplies, travel and passport arrangements) were to be handled by the Central Bureau of the Society for Technical Aid to Soviet Russia in New York.

By April 1923, the remigration movement was underway. The first party of the returnees, totalling 22 people, left on 11 April 1923 from New York along with several other agricultural groups from Canada and the United States. Their destination was Liepaja – a Latvian port which served as the main gateway to the USSR for returning immigrants. The total cost of belongings they took to Russia was a mere $2,000. The group also owned about $5,800 in cash. On arrival to Zaporozhye, the returnees founded a village, which they named Pervoye Kanadskoye (First Canadian), obviously believing that it would be followed by others.

Canadian Doukhobor emigrants to the Soviet Union on board the SS Empress of Scotland, Sept. 15, 1926. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Canada’s plummeting real estate market became a major obstacle to the further progress of the return movement. In the early 1920s, the price of developed farmland fell to $25-30 per acre, which in many cases did not cover even the original purchase price, to say nothing of later investments. In the summer of 1923, the Society for Technical Aid to Soviet Russia began negotiations with Northwestern Trust Company about a bulk sale of the Doukhobor lands at $25 per acre, but no agreement was reached. The fact that many farms were mortgaged was an additional difficulty. In search of a solution, the Doukhobor Immigration Committee asked the Soviet government for a credit of $2,000,000 to buy out their lands, but Moscow had no funds available for the Doukhobors.

More important for dampening Doukhobors’ enthusiasm for resettlement were the warning signs that began to come from Russia with letters and stories from the first returnees. Anton Popoff, Alex Horkoff and John Malakhoff – three “scouts” who made a round-trip to Russia in 1924 in order to investigate conditions at Melitopol – painted a bleak picture of life in Soviet Ukraine, sowing further doubts in the minds of potential returnees. The delegates spoke of the “poverty, misery and despair” in the villages populated by Caucasian Doukhobors and local Ukrainian peasants. A visit to Moscow left them with an impression that “Russia had abandoned God”, that “Jews entirely hold the rule over the country of the Soviet Union”, and that any opposition to Communism was rooted out with an iron hand.

Contradictory reports from the USSR added more fuel to the debates among the Independent Doukhobors. The community became divided into the “radical” and “conservative” factions. The “radicals”, led by Potapoff, George Podovinnikoff (the secretary of the Immigration Committee) and Andrew Konkin, insisted on proceeding with the resettlement scheme. The “conservatives” – Peter Vorobieff, N. Morozoff, John Dergausoff and Doukhobor lawyer Peter Makaroff – advocated a more cautious approach and took Soviet promises with a grain of salt. The majority of the latter group came from a better-established part of the Doukhobor community, while the radicals had little to lose in Canada.

In this situation, relentless propaganda remained the only way to keep remigration going. During 1923-25, three members of the Society for Technical Aid’s Central Bureau were dispatched from New York to agitate for resettlement in the Doukhobor communities of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia.

There were home-grown agitators as well: Boris Sachatoff and Victor Kavtaradze – two Russian immigrants of non-Doukhobor extraction who lived in Kamsack. Both were somewhat shadowy characters, whose backgrounds and status in the Doukhobor community remain little known. Sachatoff was a Russian Jew who had converted to Leo Tolstoy’s teachings and married a Doukhobor woman. He came to Canada via the United States and made a living as a real estate agent, watchmaker and owner of a jewellery store in Kamsack. Kavtaradze (also known as Kaft) was a Georgian, who boarded with Sachatoff and worked as a teacher at the local Russian-language school. He had a bad reputation with the RCMP, who considered him a “dangerous agitator” and possibly a Soviet agent, who received money from Moscow. Well-educated and amicable, Sachatoff and Kavtaradze had apparently managed to earn the respect of the local Doukhobors and had considerable authority in the community. By late 1923, however, Sachatoff lost interest in Russia and, along with Verigin and a group of other Doukhobors, became an ardent supporter of resettlement to Mexico. For several months, the Mexican project was floated in the community but failed to attract considerable interest.

The propaganda efforts apparently had some effect, although the movement of the Doukhobors to Russia remained at levels well below initial expectations. In February 1924, the second party of returnees – 23 Doukhobor farmers from the Kamsack area – left Canada for the homeland. They travelled through Constantinople to Odessa with $5,000 in cash and the same amount in property. In late January 1925, a third group, numbering 14 people from Kamsack and Pelly, headed for Melitopol. The Soviet authorities, however, grew increasingly frustrated with the slow progress of the Doukhobor resettlement. The land tracts near Melitopol, calculated to accommodate 2,000 Doukhobor families, remained idle and had to be leased to local peasants. In July 1926, Ivan Kulyk, deputy trade representative of the USSR in Canada, travelled to western Canada to gather first-hand information about the prospects of further remigration and try to breathe new life into the sagging recruitment campaign. Kulyk’s conversations with the Doukhobors revealed that only 100 families still seriously considered moving to the USSR.

The actual number of the returnees turned out to be even smaller. In the late summer of 1926, 17 more Doukhobor families from Kamsack, Pelly and Verigin (57 people in total) sold their land to the Ukrainian Immigration and Colonization Association of Edmonton and on 15 September sailed off to Russia. The newcomers settled apart from the earlier arrivals in the newly founded village of Vozdvizhenka (from vozdvizhenie – Russian for “exaltation”). With the arrival of this group, organized Doukhobor emigration to Russia all but ceased, although individual families continued to arrive as late as August 1927.

The precise statistics of Canadian Doukhobors who returned to Russia between 1923-27 is difficult to establish – neither the Canadian nor the Soviet government appear to have kept a complete tally of the returnees. According to a Soviet survey of immigrant agricultural communes conducted in July 1925, only 72 Doukhobors (probably excluding children) had returned to the USSR by that time. Adding the 57 people that came in 1926 and perhaps about a dozen later arrivals, we can estimate that probably no more than 160-180 Doukhobors (children included) participated in the entire return movement. Genealogist Jonathan Kalmakoff has found that the majority of the returnees had not arrived in Canada in 1899 – the year in which the main Doukhobor immigration occurred – but came in 1910-12 as members of the non-Veriginite “Middle” and “Small” Parties. This interesting finding may suggest that remigration was a more attractive option for the less established members of the community, who retained closer ties with the homeland and had less time to accumulate large property in Canada. The amount of property and cash the returnees were able to take to Russia also shows that few among them were prosperous farmers.

More research is needed about the life of Canadian Doukhobors in the USSR, but even the existing fragmentary evidence shows that it was far from the idyllic picture that many of them must have portrayed in Canada. The majority of Doukhobor families brought little money and machinery that would allow establishing viable mechanized farms from scratch. Like other returned emigrants, the Doukhobors also ran into problems with local peasants who considered them to be kulaks (derogatory Russian word for “rich peasant”) and stole their property. Relations with local authorities were also less than cordial. A 1924 Soviet government inspection of immigrant agricultural collectives working in the USSR put the Doukhobor group in the category of failures and recommended its “liquidation or a radical reorganization”. Soviet sources indicate that Doukhobors began to abandon the Melitopol settlements shortly after arrival. Sixteen of the seventy-two Doukhobors had left the First Canadian settlement by July 1925.

The Petr V. Ol’khovik family in the Doukhobor village of Vozdvizhenka, 1926. Like most of the villagers, the Ol’khoviks returned to Canada by 1928.

The drafting of young Doukhobor men into the Red Army, which appears to have begun in 1927, was the last straw for the Canadians. After their petitions to Bonch-Bruevich and other old friends such as I.M. Tregubov brought little result, the return trek to Canada began. In August 1927, the Canadian immigration officer in Riga reported the first case of Doukhobors returning from the USSR: three families (11 people in total) who claimed to have been misled by Soviet agitators from New York and asked for readmission into Canada. The returnees were held up at Riga pending instructions from Ottawa. Soon afterwards, the Riga office received an application for entry to Canada from 135 more Doukhobors, most of whom had arrived in the Soviet Union in 1926-7 and lived at the Vozdvizhenka settlement.

Meanwhile, the matter attracted the attention of Canada’s Doukhobor community. In late September, the Immigration Committee of the Community of Independent Doukhobors at Kamsack sent a petition to the Department of Immigration and Colonization “with a humble request for a Permit of Entry in favor of the said Independent Doukhobors at present residing in Russia.” By the time it reached Ottawa, Canadian immigration authorities had already decided that the return of several dozen families disillusioned by their Soviet experience would be advisable not only on economical grounds (all the returnees being “agriculturalists”) but could also serve as a potent weapon against Communist agitation in Canada. “I think that the effect of their return will be to kill propaganda by the Soviet Agents and at the same time make these people and their friends a lot more contented than they have been in the past”, Assistant Deputy Minister Frederick Blair pointed out in his memorandum. On 13 September, the Department of Immigration ordered unconditional admission of Canadian-born among the Doukhobors. The rest could be admitted “if mentally and physically fit”.

During the summer of 1928, the majority of Canadian Doukhobors returned to Canada, although a few families remained in the USSR. The Soviet resettlement experiment was over, proving a complete failure and leaving its participants with a sense of betrayal and disillusionment for years.

Notes

Click here to view a list of 150 Doukhobor ship passengers who arrived in UK ports between 1922 and 1927 in transit to the Soviet Union. Information includes the surname, name, age, family unit, occupation, port of departure, arrival date, port of arrival and ship name for each Doukhobor passenger. View an index of ship passenger lists containing Doukhobors returning to Canada from the Soviet Union between 1927 and 1930. Information includes the ship name, port and date of departure, port and date of arrival, number of passengers and Library and Archives Canada microfilm numbers and online images of original ship passenger lists.

About the Author

A native of Russia, Dr. Vadim Kukushkin earned a Bachelors Degree at Chelyabinsk University, Russia in 1991 and a Masters Degree at Perm University, Russia in 1994. He continued his research at Carleton University, where he received his PhD Doctorate in 2004. Dr. Kukushkin is currently the Grant Notley Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta, Department of History and Classics. He has published a number or articles on Russian immigration and ethnic history in Canada.

Hilliers Communal Farm was Short-Lived

by Andrei Bondoreff

In 1947, Sons of Freedom leader Michael “the Archangel” Verigin and 200 of his followers established a 348 acre communal farm at Hilliers, British Columbia. There, the colonists cleared and tilled the land, set up apiaries, planted orchards and large vegetable gardens. While it lasted, the small communal farm was quiet, peaceful and industrious. Nonetheless, it set off a firestorm of controversy and rumours and made many of their Islander neighbors nervous about the “potential danger” the Doukhobors posed to the region. Reproduced by permission from the Times Colonist (December 07, 2008), the following article by Andrei Bondoreff examines one of Vancouver Island’s most extraordinary communal experiments.

For six short years, the Vancouver Island community of Hilliers was home to a small peaceful communal settlement that made many Islanders nervous. In early spring of 1947, folks in the rural district about 60 kilometres north of Nanaimo noticed that a group of people had purchased and begun working 348 acres together.

The commune’s 200 inhabitants cleared and tilled the land, set up apiaries, planted hundreds of fruit trees and cultivated thousands of strawberry plants and raspberry bushes along with large vegetable gardens. They began building a small sawmill to provide lumber for barns, residences, a dining hall and a canning plant. They even built a school.

In May 1947, the Daily Colonist reported “an interesting sight is furnished by the women in their full white blouses, pulled down over their full skirts, and kerchiefs worn peasant-style on their heads, stooping low to the earth and putting every inch of soil through a sieve, making a picture reminiscent of Biblical times, silhouetted against the background of rolling hills.”

A group of “Spiritual Community of Christ” members working their communal gardens at Hilliers, BC, 1947. Koozma J. Tarasoff collection, BC Archives, C-01624.

These “interesting” people were from the diverse Doukhobor community living in the Interior. They came from an offshoot of the fundamentalist branch known as the Sons of Freedom. Leadership issues and differing views of schooling led to a rupture that brought the breakaway group to Hilliers.

During the colony’s first few months, spokesman Joe Podovinikoff announced that “private property was the cause of world troubles.” He added, “not only do we renounce private ownership in matters of land and money; we also believe that private ownership of persons and families, including women and children, belongs to the old order.”

This set off a firestorm of controversy. It wasn’t long before the public was titillated with lurid stories of “wife-sharing” or “wife-swapping.” Churchmen were up in arms. Rev. Hugh A. McLeod, pastor of the First United Church at Victoria, said it was “degrading man and woman to the level of the beasts” and had “within it the seeds of slavery.” Dean Cecil Swanson, president of the Vancouver Ministerial Association, told the Daily Colonist that it was “tragic that these people should have been allowed to colonize in Canada and be given a sort of preferred status among us.”

Members of the Doukhobor community at Hilliers, BC, 1947; Koozma J. Tarasoff collection, BC Archives, C-01625.

The Daily Times speculated that the “settlement may cause some concern to wealthy landowners at nearby Qualicum Beach. It is less than five miles from the famed resort where millionaires have summer homes and retired generals, titled gentry and high officers of the army, navy and air force have settled.”

Rumours of the possible migration of 3,000 Doukhobors to the Island inflamed the Parksville Board of Trade, which attempted to rally its counterparts in Port Alberni, Courtenay, Comox, Campbell River, Nanaimo and Duncan against the “potential danger” the group posed to the region. “If Doukhobors spread as they have in the Kootenays it is only a matter of time until they will reach your district,” wrote Parksville Board of Trade secretary Ron Thwaites.

It wasn’t long before the colony and the newspapers began battling. Spokesman Podovinikoff criticized the media for the ways it characterized the group. “We would like to protest to the newspapers and others against calling us ‘Doukhobors’… for us that name is an empty shell.” According to him, they had changed their name to the Elders of the Spiritual Community of Christ. He also added, “We beseech the public and all the Christian world to believe that we have come here not to transgress the law but fulfil it. There are no gross motives in this endeavour and all the reports of swapping wives are sheer misrepresentation of facts.”

Doukhobors bucking wood at Hilliers, BC, 1947. Koozma J. Tarasoff collection, BC Archives, C-01628.

Provincial officials were calm. The attorney general’s department said: “We have not heard of any wife-swapping among the Island Doukhobors. If there is such a practice, it would give grounds for divorce — that is all.” Dr. J.B. Munro, the deputy minister of agriculture who owned property nearby and like the Doukhobors enjoyed beekeeping, said, “I know nothing of my new neighbours, haven’t heard of any lawlessness and haven’t missed any bees.” Neighbours of the commune said the communalists were “conservative and mild-mannered people.”

Real estate agent E.D. Thwaites of Qualicum Beach complained that too much had been made of the settlement and that publicity was unnecessarily affecting real estate sales on the whole Island. According to him, there was nothing wrong with the communalists and they made no trouble. “The trouble with Doukhobors is that they don’t mix … if anyone is living alongside two of them he may as well be without neighbours.”

In April 1951, Comox MLA H.J. Welch called the communal group at Hilliers “first-class citizens.” He said that women were joining women’s institutes and the men farmers’ institutes.

Michael ‘the Archangel” Verigin and a group of women who helped organize the Doukhobor Community at Hilliers, BC, 1947. Koozma J. Tarasoff collection, BC Archives, C-01627.

When an “agitator” from a violent wing of Sons of Freedom in the Kootenays arrived at the colony and urged a new campaign of “bombings and fire raids,” he was “stripped, decked with a necklace of tin cans and ejected from the community.”

There were conflicting reports of stripping at the colony. In 1952, newspapers in Vancouver reported nude demonstrations. However, “surprised” RCMP officers told the Daily Times: “We have received no information to substantiate these reports … we have a man at Hilliers and I’m sure he would have reported a nude parade.”

By then, the colony was in decline. In November the Daily Colonist reported that it had “been losing residents for weeks and the RCMP stated that they had no idea why they were going.” “As a rule, the Doukhobors are close-mouthed with us,” said an officer.

The fact that the group’s leader Michael “the Archangel” Orekoff, who assumed the name Verigin, had died in July 1951 played a big part in the colony’s disintegration.

In December the property was up for sale and by February, the Daily Colonist reported that the settlement was a “ghost town.” The group had all returned to the Kootenays, bringing an end to one of Vancouver Island’s most extraordinary communal experiments.

The British Columbia Community Regulation Act

by Koozma J. Tarasoff

The following article concerns the notorious anti-Doukhobor British Columbia Community Regulation Act (British Columbia Statutes, 1914, Chap. II, pp. 65-68), a notorious anti-Doukhobor Act which violates the Canadian Charter of  Rights and Freedoms. This discriminatory legislation is still on the books.

The British Columbia Community Regulation Act defines Community members as anyone “living under communal or tribal conditions” and holds each member responsible for the registration of births, marriages and deaths in the community, for regular school attendance of all community children between the ages of seven and fourteen, and for compliance with the Health Act. Conviction for an offense under this Act allows for the seizure of goods and chattels of the Community for the offenses of its members. Proof of membership is arbitrary and blatantly discriminatory:

“It shall be sufficient proof that a person is a member of a community if it be shown on the oath of one witness that such person has been found in, upon, or about lands in the Province which are occupied by two or more persons under tribal or communal conditions of family life and residence in this Province.” (British Columbia, Community Regulation Act, 19l4: 65).

In March 4, 1914, the (then) Attorney General William Bowser introduced the Act to deal with unruly Community and zealot Doukhobors in British Columbia (see Tarasoff, K.J., Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors, 1982: pp. 123-129). Later, in December 1922, the authorities fined eight parents of Community Doukhobors for failure to send their children to school regularly. When the fines were not paid, Provincial Police Inspector W.R. Dunwoody issued distress warrants using the said Act. The incorporation of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in 1917 now allowed the seizure of Community property, whereas in 19l5 it had not been technically community property. A quantity of property was seized, but before it could be sold, the Community paid the amount due and made arrangements for students to return to classes.

In the early 1920s, a number of Doukhobor schools in the interior of British Columbia were destroyed by arson. The last school was burnt in February 1925, following the committal to jail of two parents for failure to send their children to school. In reaction, a boycott occurred and more parents refused to send their children to school. The Grand Forks magistrate levied fines totaling $4,500 on 35 parents whose children failed to appear in school. Inspector Dunwoody led a force on horseback of 10 constables and 100 citizens who forced their way into Community warehouses at Grand Forks and seized lumber, supplies and office equipment. The goods were sold for $3,360 but Community Doukhobors claimed the loss to be $25,000. The action seemed to be effective. The Community paid the remaining fines and children began returning to classes. And by the summer of 1925 Doukhobor carpenters were busy rebuilding the schools that had been destroyed. A temporary truce had been reached.

For many years I have wondered what has happened to that notorious Act which today goes against the Charter of Canada. This past week, Dr. John McLaren, a distinquished Law professor at the University of Victoria responded to my request. He wrote as follows:

“I was surprised to hear that the Community Regulation Act, 1914 might still be in force, but my inquiries and those of our Reference Librarian suggest that that is the case. The last printed version of the Act in the BC statutes is in the Revised Statutes of 1960. Thereafter, there were no recorded changes to it through to 1979 when it disappears from the Revised Statutes of that year. However, it was not repealed either by specific legislation for that purpose or by the Statute Revision Act which is passed when the statutes undergo formal revision and directs what happens to statutes previously in force. Any statute mentioned in the previous revision or passed since (e.g. since 1960) is repealed where the new revision (e.g. 1979) contains an act covering the same subject matter. The problem with the CR Act is that it is not mentioned in the 1979 Revised Statutes. Presumably then it remains in force, as not repealed. There is no mention of the Act in the most recent Revised Statutes of 1996. Moreover, it does not appear in the index of statutes in force in the annual volumes of statutes produced each year (not since the 1979 volume).

I am puzzled that the Act is still in force it would have escaped the attention of those in the Attorney General¹s department responsible for making provincial legislation jibe with the Charter. If I am right and it is still technically in force (perhaps forgotten) then perhaps we need to let them know that they have a secret cuckoo in their nest and suggest that they formally repeal it.”

Indeed, it is time now to formally write the B.C. Attorney General with a request that the Community Regulation Act be repealed as being not only anti-Doukhobor, but also not in tune with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This can best be done through the Doukhobor Unity Committee. Let’s act now!

To contact the B.C. Attorney General with your concerns about the Community Regulation Act, please write to: Attorney General Geoff Plant, Box 9044, Station Provincial Government, Victoria, British Columbia, V8V 1X4 or email the Attorney General.