Doukhobors in Alberta

by Michael M. Verigin

The following is an excerpt from an address given by Michael M. Verigin at the Doukhobor Centennial Celebration held in Calgary, Alberta on April 3, 1999. It contains an excellent historic summary of the Doukhobor settlement in Alberta. Reproduced from the pages of ISKRA magazine, No. 1875 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., June 16, 1999

Dear Brothers & Sisters, Boys and Girls:

As I stand here before you today, and see so many of our Brethren who had to travel so many miles from far away, from Saskatchewan and British Columbia, to come here to Calgary, I couldn’t help but think, how much different everything would have been, if things had turned out as planned 100 years ago.

Before moving to Canada from Russia, the Doukhobors first sent delegates to look at suitable land and location. Two delegates came, Ivan Ivin and Peter Makortoff, with their wives and children, and (to assist them with the inspection of lands) Prince Dmitry Hilkoff and Aylmer Maude, arriving in Ottawa on September 12, 1898.

The first locality inspected was near Edmonton. A most promising location was found not far from Beaver Hill Lake, 276,480 acres or 12 townships of 36 square miles each, where the whole Doukhobor community could have been settled. But after returning to Ottawa to finalize the plans, these arrangements were upset and the Doukhobors were not allowed to settled here in Alberta and had to look for land elsewhere. As we all know now, they settled in Saskatchewan, and after the land loss in 1907, more than half moved into the Interior of British Columbia.

Prior to acquiring lands in British Columbia, Peter Lordly Verigin, in July of 1907, inspected lands in southern Alberta, especially in the vicinity of Lethbridge and Raymond, where he made inquiries into the various processes connected with the sugar beet industry.

In 1911, the census reported that there were 45 Doukhobors in Alberta. These were men who’d come from Saskatchewan to break prairie sod with oxen, for a British farming company near Suffield. In 1912, again about 100 workers came to work on Lake McGregor Dam near Milo.

In the summer of 1915, the first land was bought for permanent settlement, in the Cowley/Lundbreck area of south-western Alberta. Additional land was bought in the vicinity, in 1916 and 1917 and, at its peak, the CCUB in Alberta had close to 13,500 acres, with 300 members living in 13 small settlements (Bogatoi RodnikBozhiya MilostBozhiya SeloGradovaya DolinaKrasivaya DolinaSibirStupnikovo Selo, etc).  

Doukhobor Community Flour Mill, Lundbreck, Alberta c. 1916.

They soon built a large elevator in Cowley, and elevator and a flour mill in Lundbreck. They were raising over 300 head of horses, 9 of which were pedigreed mares, 7 purebred Percheron stallions, one of which was valued at $5,000. Nearly 400 head of shorthorn cattle and 5 purebred bulls. Every year, the Community threshed close to 100,000 bushels of grain.

In 1917, Peter Lordly Verigin rented for the CCUB, three sections of land from James McGregor, near Queenstown, in the Vulcan area, on a crop share basis. Since there were no grain elevators nearby, grain had to be hauled to Cluny, a distance of nearly 15 miles, where the nearest post office was located. After the tragic death of Peter Verigin in 1924, this land was then rented by Paul Planidin and sons for a short while and eventually bought by them.

In 1926, 1 3/4 sections of land was bought by Anastasia Holoboff, or Anastasia Lord’s as she was more commonly known, and her followers, near Shouldice, also in the Vulcan area. The settlement was known as the Lordly Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, and was independent of all other Doukhobor villages in western Canada. The village consisted of 26 homes constructed in keeping with the pattern used in Russia and Saskatchewan, a main street with houses on both sides. On the south side, the far end of the street, was a large Prayer Home. Nearby was a spring, which supplied water for all the village needs, and was also piped to the far north end, to a CPR water tower and railway siding, which was named “Anastasia” in honour of Anastasia Lords. Here too, close by, was the village cemetery, and on the north-west side a large horse barn and blacksmith shop. On the north-end, was the school, with grades from 1 to 8.

The village had a population of 165 members who were involved in farming. And although this was choice farm land, there was an insufficient amount of it owned by the community, and it became necessary for many members to work outside the village to supplement their income.

In the mid 1920’s, at about the same time as the communal settlement of Anastasia Lords was being established, other Doukhobor settlers, mainly from Saskatchewan, were moving into the area and setting up independent farms. In a few short years, there were as many independent Doukhobors living in the area, mainly near Shouldice, Queenstown, Mossleigh and Arrowwood, as there were in the communal village.

The census reports indicate that in 1931 there was a total of 786 Doukhobors reported for Alberta, 297 in the Cowley/Lundbreck area, 391 in the Mossleigh/Shouldice area, and 98 in other parts of the province.

In 1938, because of a debt of less than 4% of the total value of the CCUB in the three western provinces, the mortgage companies foreclosed, and the communal enterprise of the Doukhobors came to an end. The Shouldice colony too, with shortage of land and several poor crop years, came to an end in the mid 1940’s. Those who remained, and did not move away, bought farms individually in the area.

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

In 1953, the Doukhobors in the Shouldice, Mossleigh and Arrowwood locality built a Prayer Home near Mossleigh and registered their society as the United Doukhobors of Mossleigh and District. In the same year, the Doukhobors of Cowley and Lundbreck also began building a new Prayer Home at Lundbreck, which they registered as the United Doukhobors of Alberta, Cowley-Lundbreck.

Today, there are very few Doukhobors living in these two areas, as very few of the descendents of these original settlers remained in farming. The majority chose white collar professions and left for the cities. The greatest concentration of Doukhobors in this province is in this city, Calgary. There is also a considerable number in Edmonton and Lethbridge and, no doubt, some in practically every town in this province.

This year, the Doukhobors are commemorating 100 years since their arrival from Russia to Canada. Many Centennial celebrations will be taking place in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. This celebration here today, is the first in Alberta, and we are very pleased that so many have come to join us. Later in the year, we hope to have a commemorative gathering in the Shouldice-Arrowwood area and at Cowley-Lundbreck.

Brothers and Sister, Boys and Girls: In this very historical year for our Doukhobors people, let us all try our very best to create more unity amongst ourselves, let us forget our petty differences, if we have any, and by applying the Golden Rule in our everyday life, of loving thy neighbour and Toil and Peaceful Life, with God’s help, we will make this 1999 Centennial year, a year that we, our neighbours, our children and grandchildren will be proud to remember in the years to come.

Michael M. Verigin
Calgary, Alberta
April 3, 1999