New Year’s Among the Early Doukhobors

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

As we approach the eve of the New Year’s, it is a timely opportunity to examine how this cultural holiday was traditionally celebrated by our 18th and 19th century Doukhobor forebears in Russia.

Ancient Russian Folk Holiday

For centuries in Russia, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (collectively New Year’s or Novy God) has been celebrated as a folk holiday on January 13/14 under the Old (Julian) Calendar.

Many of the traditions and rituals associated with this celebration dated back to pre-Christian, pagan times, and centred around house-to-house visiting by groups of young people, costumed as characters from folk tales, as well as the preparation and sharing of special food and drink.

When Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and its teachings in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they discarded many folk holidays and religious feast days as being unnecessary and superfluous. Interestingly, however, they continued to observe Novy God as a holiday, maintaining many ancient South Russian folk customs associated with it. These customs are described below as follows:

House to House Visits

On New Year’s Eve, Doukhobor children would gather together and go from house to house in their village, chanting the following greeting as they went:

Сейим сейим посиваем
Новый год устриваем
А вы наши люди
Чего либо дайте
Хуч у хату позавите
Хуч на двор унасите.

Seeds, seeds we are sowing,
We are celebrating the New Year
And you, our people,
Give me something,
Invite us into your home,
Or bring it outside.

As they chanted this greeting, they ‘sowed’ seeds around each room in the house, trying hard to throw some onto the bed as this was thought to bring prosperity to the household. The house was not swept until the next morning, so as not to ‘sweep out’ the prosperity. Villagers warmly welcomed these youthful ‘sowers’ into their homes, offering them kalachi (a type of sweet bun), pirohi (baked pies) and other sweets.

Adults got together together to make cheese vareniki (dumplings), the traditional dish for New Year’s festivities. At nightfall, the villages were aglitter as children walked up and down the village street carrying homemade torches they called ‘candles’ or ‘lanterns’ which were in fact long sticks with rags tied to one end dipped into paraffin oil and lit.

Moleniye

Early New Year’s morning, between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., villagers attended moleniye (prayer meetings) held at their meeting house or one of the village dwellings. There, they would eat bread and drink water, while giving thanks to God for these necessities of human existence. After giving thanks, one villager would state his or her views on the moral life and exhort his brethren to a closer adherence to the teachings of Christ, and then another would do the same.

After the prayer meeting, the villagers would disperse to their own homes, where an extra amount of prayers and psalm-reciting was undertaken.

One particularly noteworthy psalm recited on New Year’s Eve was as follows:

Новый год бежит – во яслях лежит, О, Кто? – Отрока благого нам небо дало. О, чудо! Как время было, – места не было родить чистой девице – Богородице. О, где – В Вифлееме граде, в нищенском доме, спокойном. Идите прямо – укажут вам. О, кто? – Иосиф старенький, Богу миленький, пут вам скажет. Пастушки Его перед Творцом смиряются; ангелы поют, Царя ведают, строят, дары. Воспоем и мы песню новую, Христову, Будешь похвален, ото всех прославлен, с девой со пречистой, с матерью со Чристовой. Кто не внушался, тот человеком остался не вем. Богу нашему слава.

A new year has begun – [a child] is lying in a manger. Oh, who? Heaven has given us a blessed Son. Oh, miracle! When the time came, there was no place for the pure virgin – the Mother of God – to give birth. Oh, where? In the town of Bethlehem, in a poor home, a peaceful one. Go there now – someone will show you. Oh, who? Old Joseph, who is dear to God, will tell you the way. Shepherds humble themselves before the Creator; angels sing, acknowledging the King, bringing gifts. Let us also sing a new song, a song for Christ. And You will be praised and glorified by all, with the purest virgin, the mother of Christ. One who is not filled with awe [by this], remains an ignorant person. Glory to our God. (Translated by Natasha Jmieff).

Festivities & Rituals

Later that day, the young people would masquerade as gypsies, and would go houses to house chanting as they went, and were treated with cakes and vodka. The festivities and socializing would then spill over into the street: villagers in their best holiday dress would stroll about the village, and the children and young people would go sleigh-riding in brightly painted and harnessed horse-drawn sledges.

Young Doukhobor maidens also performed ancient divination rituals (such as taking a pail of water beside their bed, hanging a lock on the door handle, putting a key under their pillow or baking and eating an overly-salty bun) so as to conjure up images and glimpses of their fate, particularly that of their future husbands.

Early Celebration in Canada

Doukhobors continued to observe these traditional New Year’s festivities after their arrival in Canada in 1899, at least initially. The major difference was that after 1894, the followers of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin abandoned meat-eating and vodka-drinking altogether.

Also, in 1903, they moved their observance of New Year’s from January 13/14 under the Old (Julian) Calendar to December 31/January 1 under the New (Grigorian) Calendar.

At a 1908 all-village congress held by the Doukhobor Community in Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, set aside the traditional Doukhobor festivities associated with New Year’s. Thereafter, among Community Doukhobors, the holiday was formally shorn of most folk custom and external ceremony.

Traditions Maintained

However, not all traditional New Year’s customs were set aside by Doukhobors.

Among those Doukhobors living independently on the Prairies, the tradition of going outdoors with a lit torch to welcome in the coming year was maintained by at least some families, well into the 1950s and 1960s. Meanwhile, in the Kootenay and Boundary regions of BC, the tradition of ‘sowing seeds’ (Сейим сейим посиваем) existed in some village settlements well into the 1950s and 1960s, and indeed, even into the 1980s. Many families in BC continued to recite the psalm, “A New Year has Begun” (Новый год бежит) to the present day. Finally, many Doukhobor families throughout Canada still cook vareniki on New Year’s.


Bibliographic Sources

  • Chernoff, Katherine, Calgary, AB. Correspondence with writer re: Kootenay Doukhobor New Year’s customs, December 31, 2023;
  • Inikova, Svetlana, “Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus”;
  • Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1989);
  • Konkin, Evseyevich Konkin to Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir Dmitr’evich correspondence dated February 12, 1909 in Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir D., Zhivotnaia kniga dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954;
  •  Nelson Daily News, January 15, 1910;
  • Osachoff, Linda, Canora, SK. Correspondence with writer re: Prairie Doukhobor New Year’s customs, January 5, 2021;
  • Poogachoff, Polly (Kalmakoff), Kamloops, BC. Correspondence with writer re: Kootenay Doukhobor New Year’s customs, December 31, 2023;
  • Slastukin, Katie, Grand Forks, BC. Correspondence with writer re: Boundary Doukhobor New Year’s customs, December 31, 2023;
  • Verigin, Elmer, Castlegar, BC. Correspondence with writer re: Prairie Doukhobor New Year’s customs, January 5, 2021; and
  • Walton, Lorraine (Saliken), South Slocan, BC. Correspondence with writer re: Kootenay Doukhobor New Year’s customs, December 31, 2023.
Image: Konstantin Aleksandrovich Trutovsky, “Christmas Carols in Little Russia, 1864. Saint Petersburg State Russian Museum collection.

Doukhobors Built Agro-Industrial Complex amid Orchards in Grand Forks

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The Doukhobor ‘Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood’ at Grand Forks is probably best historically known for its religious pacifism, large brick communal homes, and once-vast fruit orchards. Less recognized, but also important are the many local agricultural and industrial enterprises it established. The following article examines the Doukhobor agro-industrial complex created west of the city from 1909 to 1939, and its contribution to the growth and development of the Kettle Valley.    

Land Acquisition

Between 1909 and 1912, Peter V. Verigin on behalf of the Community purchased 4,182 acres of land west of Grand Forks.[i] These acquisitions included the historic Coryell Ranch in February 1909; Newby Ranch in March 1909; Vaughan Ranch in November 1909; Spencer/Macey Ranch in May 1910; Collins Orchard in July 1910; Hoffman Ranch in April 1911; Capsey Ranch in April 1912; and Pettijohn/Bell Ranch in December 1912; among others.

Community lands and orchards along Spencer Hill, c. 1918. BC Archives No. C-01718.

By 1931, the Community’s holdings expanded to 5,104 acres to include the historic Ashfield/Dinsmore Ranch acquired in June 1913; Hardy Bros Ranch in July 1919; Ward/Perkins Ranch in March 1921; Averill Estate between March 1924 and June 1928; and Hammer/Dewdney Ranch in May 1930.[ii]

These landholdings were grouped by the Community into three somewhat distinct geo-administrative areas and given rich, evocative Russian names as follows:

  • Descriptively named Dolina Fruktovaya (the ‘Valley of Fruit’) or simply Fruktovoye by Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin,[iii] this tract was bounded by Spencer Hill to the north and west, Saddle Mountain to the north and east, the Kettle River to the south and east and the Covert Ranch to the south. In 1932, it was renamed Sion (‘Zion’) by Verigin’s son and successor, Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin;
  • Christened Dolina Khristovaya (the ‘Valley of Christ’) or simply Khristovoye by Peter V. Verigin,[iv] the tract was bounded by Eagle Mountain and Saddle Mountain to the south, Hardy Mountain to the west, Observation Mountain to the east and Smelter Lake to the north; and
  • Ubezhishche, a name given by Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin meaning (place of) ‘refuge’ or ‘hideway’,[v] was bounded by Spencer Hill and Hardy Mountain to the east, the U.S. border to the south, July Creek and its tributaries to the west and Skeff Creek to the north.

Communal Settlement

Between 1909 and 1912, 713 Doukhobor men, women and children from Saskatchewan were resettled at the new Grand Forks colony.[vi] By 1921, their number had increased to 928 persons;[vii] and by 1931, to 1,000 persons.[viii]

They were primarily housed in large, two-storey brick communal homes, each with a capacity of 30-40 persons. Some 25 such communal homes were built, each with a large barn, several single-family frame dwellings and numerous outbuildings. Each communal home was situated on approximately 100 acres of arable land which it was allotted to manage and maintain. 

Large group at Doukhobor prayer meeting at Grand Forks. Boundary Museum and Archives, Item No. 1991_055_094.

Two to four communal homes were each administered as a village unit.[ix] Numbering 11 in total, these villages originally received numbers rather than names (e.g. Village No. 6). However, by the 1940s, many of them came to be descriptively known by the predominant family grouping that resided in them (e.g. Popoff Village, Novokshonoff Village, etc.) while others acquired quaint nicknames (e.g. London, Sleepy Hollow, Paris, etc.) and even more colourful Russian epithets.

Agricultural Development

The Grand Forks colony was acquired by the Doukhobors, first and foremost, for large-scale fruit-growing. While a small acreage was already under mature orchard when they purchased it,[x] most was virgin ranchland, open or lightly wooded. There were also some hundred acres of rough, forested land. Working together under the motto ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’, the Doukhobors rapidly cleared and cultivated it.

By 1912, the Doukhobors set out 50,000 apple, plum, pear, prune and cherry trees on 593 acres, making them (by far) the largest fruit grower in the Boundary.[xi] By 1921, the colony had some 85,000 fruit trees on 1,000 acres coming into full bearing; 2,000 acres cultivated in small fruit (strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries) as well as vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers), grain (wheat, oats), and forage (alfalfa, clover, timothy), with the remainder in pasture and timber.[xii]

Doukhobors cherry picking west of Grand Forks, c. 1915. BC Archives No. C-01716.

To support their orchard development, beginning in 1911, the Doukhobors established an extensive gravity-flow irrigation system, using over 30,000 feet of flume, ditch and self-manufactured wood stave pipeline to convey water from July Creek and tributaries, Ward Lake, Hardy Creek, and the Kettle River to their fruit trees.[xiii] In May 1911, they had 100 acres under irrigation; the following year, 230 acres; and by 1923, over 758 acres irrigated.[xiv] They also completed a large concrete and earthen irrigation reservoir (later known as Saddle Lake) in the draw near Hardy Mountain by 1919.[xv]

Undoubtedly, what contributed to the early and rapid success of the Doukhobors as fruit growers was their large pool of communal labour. All of the men, women and children of the colony were engaged in the growing effort on an unpaid basis. In return for their labour, the Community supplied its members with food, clothing, shelter and other necessities. This arrangement gave them a competitive advantage vis-à-vis other orchardists as their cost of fruit production at all stages was significantly less.

Agro-Industrial Enterprises

From the outset, the Doukhobor Community saw opportunities to expand their operations beyond merely growing fruit and other agricultural produce, and began to engage in the secondary manufacture of agricultural byproducts as well as other industrial commodities.

Between 1909 and 1939, an agro-industrial complex was established for the mass production of agricultural and industrial goods, both for the Doukhobors’ own domestic use and for commercial sale. Most of these enterprise coalesced at the rough geographic centre of the colony, in Fruktovoye, between what is today Spencer and Canning Roads and also along Mill Road.

Each of these agro-industrial enterprises is discussed below.

Brick Factory

Upon acquiring the Coryell Ranch in February 1909, the Community inherited Frank Coryell’s small-scale brickworks, which comprised a horse-powered clay mixer, a small hand-operated brick molding machine and large, promising clay pit.[xvi] By March, they substantially updated the brickworks by adding a steam power plant, a ‘Martin’ industrial brick-making machine and other modern equipment and turned out a million first-class bricks by the end of the summer.[xvii] The refurbished plant had a capacity of 24,000 bricks daily.

Community brick factory with Spencer Hill and Hardy Mountain in background, c. 1922. Simon Fraser University No. MSC130-3580.

The Doukhobor brick-making process can be described as follows: clay was manually excavated from the adjacent pits and loaded into carts, which were drawn by horse up to a hopper chute, then dumped into the side mixer and combined with specific quantities of dried sand and water. The mixture was then filled into brick molds and compressed by the brick-making machine into raw ‘wet’ bricks. The raw bricks were placed on a 300-foot conveyor leading to a series of drying sheds, where they were stored for 1-2 weeks. Once air-dried, the bricks were stacked to form up to 10 kilns, which were fired for up to a week, using cordwood and sawmill slabs and ends, to produce the final bricks.

The manufactured bricks were used by the Doukhobors themselves to face the two-storey communal homes in the Grand Forks colony as well as in many in their colonies at Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek, Shoreacres and elsewhere. They were also used in various Community undertakings, such as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam factory at Brilliant, warehouses, retail stores, Community schools and other endeavors.

Many of the bricks manufactured at the Community brick factory were also sold commercially to builders throughout the Boundary. Some of the best-known structures built with the brick include the Davis Block,[xviii] Bower & Pribilsky Block,[xix] Royal Bank Building[xx] and Kerman Block[xxi] on Market Avenue, the Perley School Annex[xxii] and old Court House[xxiii] on Central Avenue, the old Post office[xxiv] on 4th Avenue, as well as the Beran Residence[xxv] on Hardy Mountain Road and the Glaspell Residence on Highway 3.[xxvi] Hundreds of thousands of bricks were also shipped to the Trail Smelter, with 325,000 shipped in April 1917 alone.[xxvii]

In 1927-1928, the Community brickworks were substantially enlarged under Doukhobor leader Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin, with increased mechanization and manufacturing capacity expanded from 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 bricks annually.[xxviii]   

The brickyard ceased operation in 1932; however, many of the buildings and equipment remained until the 1940s through the 1970s. Today, the depressions of the clay pits can still be seen today near the corner of Spencer and Reservoir Roads.

Sawmill

In 1909, the Community erected a sawmill in Fruktovoye with which to manufacture rough lumber for building their homes and village structures.[xxix] Operated for the Doukhobors’ own use, it was a small portable sawmill with a capacity of 10,000 board-feet per day, powered by a self-propelled steam engine.  There was no planer.

It was originally located below Village No. 5 (Hremakin village) near Saddle Mountain along present-day York Road.[xxx] Logs cut along the north bank of the Kettle River and south foot of Saddle Mountain were brought to the mill on horse-drawn dollies or sleighs (in winter).

Community sawmill near brick factory, c. 1924. Touchstones Museum of Art and History.

When the supply of logs was exhausted in one place, the sawmill was moved to another location. By about 1918, it was relocated north adjacent the Community brickworks.[xxxi] There, it milled logs cut from the west and north foot of Saddle Mountain, east foot of Eagle and Hardy Mountains, and south foot of Spencer Hill. 

During this time, the Grand Forks Community also maintained commercial logging, pole-cutting and sawmill camps on leased Crown timber limits at Cedar Creek on the North Fork (1923-1925),[xxxii] Myers Creek near Midway (1924-1927),[xxxiii] and elsewhere.

In 1927, the Community sawmill operation was relocated to Ubezhishche along July Creek at Village No. 10 (Horkoff village) near present-day Gibbs Creek Road and greatly expanded.[xxxiv] It operated as a 35,000 board-per-day facility and manufactured lumber for commercial sale from the Community’s extensive timber lots there. Much of the output was shipped south to the United States. It produced upwards of 2 million board-feet of lumber and 3,000 poles annually and had an adjacent planing mill, pole-making operation and box factory.[xxxv]

After 12 years of operation at this location, having survived an arson attempt in August 1931[xxxvi] and the July Creek Forest Fire of August 1934,[xxxvii] it was destroyed by incendiarism in October 1939 at a loss of $30,000.00.[xxxviii]

Flour Mill

In 1910, the Community established a stone grist mill to grind their wheat into flour in Fruktovoye.[xxxix] Operated for their own use, it had a capacity of 100 bushels of flour per day. Beside it stood a 10,000-bushel granary for storing wheat prior to milling. It was located beside Village No. 5 (Kootnikoff village).

The Doukhobor flour-milling process can be described as follows: a pair of large millstones was used as the grinding mechanism. The bottom or ‘bed’ stone was fixed into position, while the upper or ‘runner’ stone rotated above it. Motive power from a stationary steam engine was directed to the runner stone by a shaft which went through its middle and turned it. Wheat was fed from a chute above between the stones, where it was ground into flour collected in a hopper below. The distance between millstones could be adjusted to vary flour courseness.

The bread made of the mill’s wholegrain flour was dark but very healthy. Nothing from the manufacturing process was wasted: weed seeds, cracked and broken grains, bran and other mill screenings were sold commercially as chicken feed.[xl]

Community flour mill, c. 1920. BC Archives No. C-01722-14.

In 1917, the production of linseed oil was started at the flour mill.[xli] Flax or linseed was mechanically pressed to produce cooking oil. A seed-cleaning plant was also added during this period.

In 1930, the Community flour mill was shut down.[xlii] Six years later, in 1936, an arson attempt wiped out surrounding buildings, but the flour mill building itself survived because of its laminated wood.[xliii] Another arson attempt in May 1946 destroyed a barn and implement shed but the mill remained undamaged.[xliv]

Beginning in 1962, the flour mill was retrofitted as an electric hammer mill by the Doukhobor Milling Heritage Society and reopened in May 1964.[xlv] The new, modern process created a cleaner, more refined product and could handle a higher volume of wheat processing – up to 200 pounds an hour. It was sold throughout the Kootenay-Boundary as the famous ‘Pride of the Valley’ flour.

Today the flour mill still stands on Mill Road, named after it. It is jointly managed by the Doukhobor Milling Heritage Society and Boundary Museum Society and continues to mill grain on demand.

Fruit Packing Houses

In order to process fruit from their orchards as they came into bearing, the Community built a large packing house in 1912.[xlvi] Located in Khristovoye at Village No. 3 (Vanjoff village) along present-day Hardy Mountain Road, it was a two-storey, 100 by 30 foot wood-frame structure with concrete basement and gable roof. It had a fruit box-making plant on the second floor.

Large and small fruit grown in the colony arrived by wagonload to the packing house. There, it was received, unloaded, and weighed. It was then turned out on tables, graded and sorted, culling the bruised, spoilt or small fruit aside, and packed into boxes. The packed fruit was stored in the basement until shipment. It was shipped from the adjacent Great Northern VV&E Phoenix Branch at Copper Junction.

Community fruit packing house (left) at Village No. 3 (Vanjoff village), c. 1921. Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ.

The packing houses also processed Community-grown vegetables for outside markets, which were grown in massive quantities. In 1912 alone, the Community sold 8,000 100-lb. sacks of potatoes from Grand Forks.[xlvii]

By 1919, the Community’s orchards were coming into full bearing and a second fruit packing house was built.[xlviii] Located in Fruktovoye south of the Community brickworks at the corner of present-day Reservoir and Canning Roads, it was a two-storey, 100 by 60 foot wood-frame structure with elevator lifts, concrete basement and monitor-style roof. As there was no adjacent railway, fruit packs were hauled to the Community warehouses in Columbia Flats for shipping.[xlix]

By 1920, the Community packing houses were shipping 120-130 railcar-loads of fruit annually – apples, pears, plums and prunes as well as strawberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries – to outside markets.[l] This included 50 carloads of Italian prunes alone.[li]

Community fruit packing house, workers’ rooming house and granary near brickyard, c. 1928. BC Archives No. C-01376-14.

Tomato Cannery

In August 1912, the Doukhobors installed a small fruit and vegetable cannery at Grand Forks for their own use.[lii] Then in 1924, the Community erected a large, commercial-scale tomato canning plant beside their Community flour mill.[liii] It was the first cannery established at Grand Forks.

Operated as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, large volumes of tomatoes harvested from the Community fields were brought to the plant, where they were cleaned and blanched in large copper kettles filled with boiling water, then plunged into smaller copper pots filled with cold water, then finally poured into sterilized 28-oz. cans, topped with water and sealed. Sold under the ‘K.C. Brand’ label, they were marketed across Western Canada.  It operated until 1936, when it was destroyed by arson.[liv]

Label for K.C. Brand tomatoes canned at Grand Forks, c. 1924. UBC Rare Books and Special Collections.

Fruit Evaporator

In 1924, the Community erected a commercial-scale fruit evaporating plant beside their flour mill – the first permanent facility of its kind at Grand Forks.[lv] Small fruit and berries picked from the Community fields were brought to the plant. Once dehydrated, fruit was preserved at one-tenth of its original weight. In its first year of operation, some 12,000 lbs. of small fruit and berries was dehydrated into 1,200 lbs. of dried fruit.[lvi] The dried fruit could be stored for extended lengths of time without spoilage.

Most of the dehydrated fruit was sent to the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam factory in Brilliant. Once it arrived, it was soaked in water for several hours, after which it returned to practically its original state with all its colour and nutrients retained. It was then processed into jam. The plant operated until 1936, when it was destroyed by incendiarism.[lvii]

Jam Factory

As early as 1912 and again in 1923-1924 and 1927-1928, the Community proposed building a jam factory at Grand Forks to serve its orchards there.[lviii] However, each time, the Community elected instead to focus on developing and expanding its Brilliant jam factory. It was not until 1935 that the Doukhobors established a local jammery – the first ever in Grand Forks.

In spring 1935, the existing fruit packing house near the brick factory was retrofitted as a jam plant. A brick veneer was added to the building exterior.[lix] Twelve steam-activated jam-making kettles, ordered from England, were installed on the upper floor.[lx] Fruit and vegetable canning equipment was also ordered.[lxi] It had a production capacity of 12 tons of jam per day.

Community jam factory (former fruit packing house) at Grand Forks, 1935. BC Archives No. C-01592.

Adjacent to the north, a two-storey, brick 40 by 36 foot boiler house with concrete foundation and monitor-style roof was built to supply steam power to the jam plant.[lxii] A 30-foot high water tower was erected nearby to supply water to the boilers.[lxiii] An adjacent wood lot was stocked with cordwood, slabs and board ends from the Community sawmill to fire the boilers.

Over the first two weeks of August 1935, considerable quantities of strawberries, raspberries, cherries and other small fruit arrived at the new plant from the Community fields and from other Grand Forks fruit growers under contract.[lxiv] It was sorted and stored in the basement of the jam plant.

When production began, the fruit was brought to the main floor, where it was cleaned, peeled, de-cored/de-stoned, then cut into pieces and/or crushed. It was then taken to the second floor, where equal portions of fruit pulp and sugar were placed in each large copper kettle and cooked for 15 minutes while continually stirred. Once cooked, the kettles were emptied into smaller copper pots and wheeled over to long cooling trays filled with cold water, in which they were placed. As the jam cooled, it received a final skimming, and was then ladled by hand into sterilized cans and sealed.

The jammery operated roughly ten days, producing 194,250 lbs. of jam.[lxv] However, on August 17, 1935, the jam plant building burned to the ground in an incendiary blaze.[lxvi] It was a devastating blow to the Community with $100,000.00 in losses, including $40,000.00 of jam that was not shipped to market because of a delay in receiving jam tin labels from the printer.[lxvii] The arsonists were never brought to justice.

The jam factory boiler house still stands, having been converted, along with adjacent former Community buildings, into a family home in 1979.[lxviii] It is located on Canning Road, named after the jam factory.

Warehouses

Railway facilities played an important role in Community operations, both for receiving incoming goods and supplies purchased from Eastern Canadian manufacturers, and for shipping outgoing agricultural and industrial commodities (bricks, lumber products, fruit and preserves) to market. This required the establishment of Community warehouses for storing goods before their internal distribution or outside export, as the case was.

Plan of GNR Weston station yards showing Peter Verigin (Community) warehouse, c. 1918. Boundary Museum and Archives.

In circa 1912, the Community built a two-storey, 45 x 60 foot warehouse near the Great Northern Weston station in Columbia Flats, near present-day Northfork Franklin Road.[lxix] It was used for the shipping of produce to points on the Great Northern VV&E line. In about 1923, it was sold following the dismantling of the Weston station yards.

In 1912, the Community built a two-storey brick 75 x 50 foot warehouse with concrete basement and elevator lift near the Canadian Pacific west end station in Columbia Flats on present-day Donaldson Avenue.[lxx] The basement was used for fruit cold storage, the main floor for storing dry goods, while the upper floor was divided into living quarters and offices for the Community branch manager.

The Community store warehouse operated for 27 years. In 1940, it was purchased by Peter S. Polonicoff and run as Polonicoff’s Store until its closure in 1984.[lxxi] Today the building stands in good structural condition and has been converted into two heritage-style apartments.

Community warehouse and store near CPR west end station, c. 1935. Pam Faminoff.

Workers’ Cafeteria & Apartments

Another facility that supported the Community agro-industrial complex was a large, two-storey brick 40 x 30 foot rooming house. Built in 1918 in Fruktovoye adjacent to the fruit packing house, it housed a communal kitchen on the main floor for the Doukhobor workmen labouring at the various adjacent enterprises.[lxxii] Originally, the upper floor housed a Community shoemaker’s shop; after 1928, the shoemaker’s shop was relocated to the Community warehouse in Columbia Flats.[lxxiii] Thereafter, the upper floor was converted to workers’ sleeping quarters. In 1979, the structure was refurbished and is now a private residence.[lxxiv]

Former Community granary (left) and workers’ rooming house (right) near brickyard site, 1949. Simon Fraser University No. MCS130-5618-01-2.

Conclusion

In July 1936, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. declared bankruptcy during the height of the Great Depression.[lxxv]

Its collapse resulted from a combination of complex factors, including low prices assigned to agricultural and industrial products during the Great Depression; burdensome interest rates on its mortgaged properties; a declining membership base, increasing the debt load on fewer members; members who defaulted on annual allotments; the enormous losses to its capital assets suffered from incendiarism; as well as financial mismanagement.[lxxvi]

In June 1937 and May 1938 it was placed under receivership by creditors who foreclosed upon the company and its property valuated at $4,000,000.00 for a total debt of $360,580.64.[lxxvii] Thus ended the largest agro-industrial enterprise ever undertaken in the Boundary and the largest experiment in communal living ever attempted in North America.

Enduring to this day is the Doukhobor example of bringing forth the bounty of the land, with the help of fertile valley soil and a moderate climate, fueled by the desire to work together in community towards a common purpose. The Doukhobors’ contribution to the early agricultural and industrial growth and development of Grand Forks deserves to be recognized and acknowledged.


After Word

An earlier version of this article was originally published in:

  • ISKRA No. 2185, April 2023;
  • Grand Forks Gazette, May 24 and 31, 2023; and
  • Trail Times, May 30 and June 17, 2023.

End Notes

[i] W. Blakemore, Report of Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria BC: King’s Printer, 1913) at 31. See also Certificate of Title Nos. 1155D, 14260F, 52D & 49126F, 14274F, 14262F, 14141F, 42009F, 14269F, 15D & 42183F & 48428F & 42008F & Map 523, 14262F, Similkameen Land District.

[ii] Snesarev, Vladimir N. (Harry W. Trevor), The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia Publication, Department of Agriculture, 1931). See also Certificate of Title Nos. 14257F, 47277F, 49665F, 50579F, 49666F, 42104F, 55398F, Similkameen Land District.

[iii] The first known recorded use of the names Dolina Fruktovaya is found in a letter from Peter V. Verigin to his followers dated August 5, 1909: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. 016-004-001-001. The first known recorded use of Fruktovoye is found in a December 7, 1910 letter from Peter V. Verigin to followers: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-079-003. The name was still in use on January 1, 1931: Snesarev, ibid. The first known recorded use of the name Sion for the same area is found in a letter by Peter P. Verigin to his followers dated October 18, 1932: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-036-002. This tract comprised District Lot Nos. 453, 2651, E ½ 518, E ½ 1025, E ½ 1027, 365, 364, Blocks 10, 13-16 of Lot 497, Blocks 21-22 of Lot 517, and 1699.

[iv] The first known recorded use of the names Dolina Khristovaya is found in a Record of Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Income and Expenditure dated August 7, 1909: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-049-001. The first recorded use of Khristovoye is found in a December 7, 1910 letter from Peter V. Verigin to followers: Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DC-079-003. This tract comprised District Lot Nos. 538, 334, 333, 332, 1494.

[v] The first known recorded use of the name Ubezhishche is found on January 1, 1931 in Snesarev, supra note 2. This tract comprised District Lot Nos. W ½ 1027, Sub-Lot 8 of Lot 2701, W ½ 1025, Sub-Lot 5 of Lot 2701, W ½ 518, 1737, 2681, 2657, Sub-Lot 4 of Lot 2701.

[vi] Blakemore, supra, note 1 at 35.

[vii] 1921 Canada Census, Yale District No. 25, Grand Forks Sub-District No. 52, pp. 1-25.

[viii] Snesarev, supra note 2.

[ix] These village units were not compact; rather the comprised 2-4 large communal homes in proximity to one another over 200-400 acres of land.

[x] The acreage acquired by the Doukhobors that was already in orchard was relatively small. It included 10 acres on the Vaughan Ranch (Grand Forks Gazette, May 24, 1902 and December 23, 1905); 30 acres on the Collins Ranch (Grand Forks Sun, 1910.07.09); 65 acres on the Newby Ranch (Nelson Daily News, March 20, 1908; Grand Forks Sun, June 2, 1911; Greenwood Ledge 1912.04.25; Grand Forks Gazette 1912.04.20); and 8 acres on the Hoffman Ranch (Grand Forks Sun, June 2, 1911). These 113 acres of orchard ranged from fifteen to twenty years old and in full bearing, to five years old and just beginning to bear by 1912.

[xi] Blakemore, supra, note 1 at 32. Indeed, by 1911 the CCUB was the largest fruit grower in the Boundary Region, and second only to the Coldstream Ranch at Vernon (with 650 acres planted) in the combined Okanagan-Boundary Region. The next-largest fruit grower in the Boundary was the Kettle Valley Irrigated Land Co. with 340 acres planted, while in Grand Forks in particular, the next largest fruit grower was W.H. Covert with 140 acres planted.

[xii] Grand Forks Gazette, May 13, 1921.

[xiii] Province of British Columbia, Department of Lands, Water Rights Branch, Water License Nos. 5393 dated January 20, 1888, renewed July 22, 1926; 5394 dated October 24, 1888, renewed July 22, 1926; 8502 dated November 9, 1926, renewed July 10, 1933; 710 dated February 2, 1914; 289 dated November 9, 1889, renewed July 22, 1926; 290 dated June 13, 1916; 5397 dated August 3, 1914, renewed July 22, 1926; 9557 dated May 8, 1914, renewed January 20, 1936; 2689 dated May 9, 1917, renewed May 10, 1926; 5391 dated August 8, 1911; 699 dated June 12, 1913; 8499 dated April 8, 1911, renewed July 10, 1933.

[xiv] In May 1911, the CCUB had the fourth-largest irrigation system in the Kettle Valley covering 100 acres: Grand Forks Sun, May 19, 1911. At the time, the three largest irrigation enterprises in the valley were that of the Covert Estate (280 acres), L.A. Campbell (220 acres), and Kerman and Kerby & Atwood (180 acres). By 1912, the Society increased its irrigated acreage to 230 acres; and by 1923, to over 758 acres.

[xv] Nelson Daily News, August 22, 1919; Vancouver Daily Sun, August 27, 1919. See also: Province of British Columbia, Grand Forks Water District, May 3039 dated February 1, 1983 re: Water License No. 58084.

[xvi] Vera Novokshonoff, Lucy Reibin & Marion Obedkoff, “Doukhobors in the Boundary” in Boundary History: Third Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 1964 and Boundary History: Fourth Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 1964; William Rozinkin, “Grand Forks Brick Plant Launched in 1909” in Nelson Daily News, May 26, 1967. See also: Grand Forks Sun, May 27, 1902, May 16, 1905, June 21, 1907.

[xvii] Grand Forks Sun, March 13, 1909, June 5, 12, 19 & 26, July 3, 1909; Grand Forks Gazette, March 18, 1909; Greenwood Ledge, June 10, 1909; Boundary Creek Times, November 5, 1909; Report about incomes and expenditures for relocation to Columbia and payment in part for lands for 1911 year and for the period from the beginning of 1912 up to August 10, 1912, Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-052-006.

[xviii] Grand Forks Sun, March 13 & 20, June 5 & 19, 1909.

[xix] According to the Boundary Creek Times, November 5, 1909: all the bricks for the several new brick blocks (i.e. David Block, Bower & Pribilsky Block, Royal Bank Building, etc.) in Grand Forks are made by the colony of Doukhobors who bought the Coryell ranch and are buying the Vaughan ranch.” This is corroborated by a review of the bricks used in these buildings, carried out by Jan DeHaan, MFA – Ceramics, owner/operator of Kettle River Pottery on September 11, 2020 for the writer, which found that the colouring and quality (weathering degradation and lime popping) of the bricks in question were consistent with Doukhobor-manufactured brick from Grand Forks. Chemical isotope testing of the brick is required for absolute verification. 

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Robert Hobson, M.C.I.P. Survey Coordinator, Grand Forks District Heritage Survey, A Report to the Grand Forks District Heritage Advisory Committee (July 1986) at 94.

[xxiii] Ibid; William Blakemore, Report of the Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria: Government Printer, 1913) at 33.

[xxiv] Blakemore, ibid.

[xxv] Joe Beran, “A Bohemian Immigrant in Canada” in Boundary History: Fifteenth Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 2006 at 47-48; Boundary History: Sixteenth Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 2014) at 101.

[xxvi] Melvin Glaspell, “The Glaspells of Grand Forks” in Boundary History: Twelfth Report of the Boundary Historical Society, 1992 at 136; Grand Forks District Heritage Survey, supra, note 22.

[xxvii] Greenwood Ledge, April 12, 1917; Vancouver Sun, April 16, 1917; The Standard, April 21, 1917; Creston Review, April 24, 1917; Rozinkin, supra, note 16.

[xxviii] Grand Forks Gazette, November 25, 1927; Nelson Daily News, November 21, 1927; Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1928; Rozinkin, supra, note 16.

[xxix] By June 1909, the Doukhobor sawmill was producing lumber for the first two-storey brick communal home in Grand Forks, being Village No. 5 (Kootnekoff/Nevokshonoff Village) located on present-day Mill Road: Grand Forks Gazette, June 17, 1909. See also: Edmonton Journal, May 2, 1910; The Canada Gazette, May 12, 1910 at 179; Grand Forks Sun, July 2, 1910; Nelson Daily News, December 2, 1911; Blakemore, supra note 23 at 33.

[xxx] Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16; Florence Kalmakoff, Interview by Anne Verigin for the writer, March 25, 2021.

[xxxi] The Community sawmill was still in its original location in December 1914: The Daily Province, December 21, 1914; but had already relocated to the brickyard by May 1923: Grand Forks Gazette, May 18, 1923. Photographic evidence indicates it was relocated between 1918 and 1922: Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC130-3580.

[xxxii] In 1923-1924, the Community was awarded the tender for one or more Crown timber sales (X5285 and possibly X4773, X5440 and/or X6755) at Cedar Creek on the North Fork (Granby) River to cut several tens of thousands of lineal feet of railroad ties, poles, saw logs and cordwood over 2 years: Grand Forks Sun, February 9, July 13, August 31, 1923 and November 28, 1924. The Community established a camp near Stanwell Siding on the CPR Kettle Valley Railroad, which was used for shipping purposes. In May 1925, some 1900 ties, 21,000 lineal feet of poles, 5500 board-feet of saw logs, 2300 fence posts and other chattels belonging to the Community were seized by provincial police and sold by public auction at Stanwell Siding to satisfy fines levied against the colony for the failure to send its children to public school: Grand Forks Sun: May 1 & 8, 1925.

[xxxiii] In April 1924, the Community was awarded the tender for timber sale X5222 to cut 5,100,000 feet of saw logs and 96,000 ties over 3 years at Cedar and Marsh Creeks, west of Midway: Greenwood Ledge, February 14 to April 23, June 5 & 19, 1924; Journals, Legislative Assembly of BC 1924, Volume LIV, and December 9, 1924. The Community established a logging camp and sawmill at McArthur Siding on the GNR VV&E Railway, which was used for shipping purposes: Greenwood Ledge, May 15, October 10, December 4, 1924, February 19, 1925, April 8, 1926, November 17, 1927; Grand Forks Sun, May 16, 1924, April 16, 1926; Nelson Daily News, February 22, 1927.  

[xxxiv] The expanded sawmill was relocated from Myers Creek to Fourth of July Creek near Grand Forks in November 1927: Nelson Daily News, February 22, 1927; Greenwood Ledge, November 17, 1927; Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1928; Snesarev, supra, note 2.

[xxxv] Nelson Daily News, November 21, 1927; Snesarev, supra, note 2; Nick D. Arishenkoff and Cecil W. Koochin, “Life in the Doukhobor Commune” in MIR Vol. 2, No. 3-6, September 1974.

[xxxvi] Grand Forks Gazette, October 9, 1931.

[xxxvii] Nelson Daily News, July 31, 1934; Grand Forks Gazette, August 2, 1934.

[xxxviii] Grand Forks Gazette, October 19, 1939.

[xxxix] Edmonton Journal, May 2, 1910; Nelson Daily News, December 2, 1911; Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16.

[xl] Cranbrook Herald, November 12, 1925 to January 28, 1926; Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Fruit Store in Cranbrook, BC, 1925-1926” in the Cranbrook Townsmen, February 17, 2022.

[xli] Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16; Snesarev, supra, note 2; Sheila Gardezi, “The Essential Mill” in Route 3, Fall 2010 at 23.

[xlii] Grand Forks Gazette, May 14, 1964.

[xliii] Steve Lapshinoff, Depredations in Western Canada Attributed to the Sons of Freedom, 1923 to 1993 (Krestova: self-published, 1994) at 6; Gardezi, supra, note 41 at 23.

[xliv] Grand Forks Gazette, May 30, 1946.

[xlv] Grand Forks Gazette, May 14, 1964; Gardezi, supra, note 41 at 23.

[xlvi] W. Blakemore, Photographs, Royal Commission on Matters Relating to the Sect of Doukhobors in the Province of British Columbia, 1912, British Columbia Archives, Item No. GR-0793.5, Accession No. 197904-015; Mike Sookochoff, Grand Forks, interview by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, April 25, 2020.

[xlvii] T.R. Powers, Grand Forks: Royal Commission on Doukhobors (1912), Proceedings, Volume 1; BC Archives GR-0793.2.1.

[xlviii] Nelson Daily News, August 20, 1935; Vancouver Daily World, September 1, 1921; Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16.

[xlix] Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1928.

[l] Doukhobors in the Boundary, supra, note 16.

[li] Grand Forks Gazette, Sept 27, 1918.

[lii] Grand Forks Gazette, August 17, 1912.

[liii] The cannery erected in 1924 was a large-scale commercial plant intended primarily for tomatoes but which could also be used for other vegetables as well as fruit: Nelson Daily News, March 13, 1924; Snesarev, supra, note 2; Gardezi, supra, note 41 at 23. Interestingly, in April 1925, 1110 lbs. of canned fruit (10 lb. tins) and 10 cases of tomatoes (24 oz. tins) were confiscated from the new cannery by provincial police to satisfy fines levied against the colony for the failure to send its children to public school: Grand Forks Gazette, April 17, 1925.

[liv] The tomato cannery is believed to have been destroyed by arson in March 1936: Lapshinoff, supra, note 43; however, it is possible the building (by then inoperative) was destroyed by incendiarism in May 1946: Grand Forks Gazette, May 30, 1946.

[lv] As early as 1915, the Community installed an evaporator at its Brilliant jam factory: Nelson Daily News, February 21, 1913, December 2, 1914 and March 6, 1919. Once dehydrated, fruit was preserved without spoilage at 1/10 its original weight; when required, dried fruit was soaked in water and returned to practically its original state with all colour and nutrients retained. The evaporator erected at Grand Forks in 1924 served the same end: Snesarev, supra, note 2; Gardezi, supra, note 41 at 23.

[lvi] In April 1925, 1180 lbs. of dried fruit (equivalent to 11,800 lbs. of fresh fruit) were confiscated from the new evaporator by police to satisfy fines levied against the colony for failing to send its children to public school: Grand Forks Gazette, April 17, 1925

[lvii] The fruit evaporator is believed to have been destroyed by arson in March 1936: Lapshinoff, supra, note 43; however, it is possible the building (by then inoperative) was destroyed by incendiarism in May 1946: Grand Forks Gazette, May 30, 1946.

[lviii] Nelson Daily News, January 8, 1912; “Report of Consular Agent, W.S. Riblet, Nelson, BC.” in Daily Consular and Trade Reports, No. 76, March 30, 1912 at 1289; Blakemore, supra, note 1; Grand Forks Gazette, April 13, 1923, February 8 & 15, 1924, March 21, 1924; Vancouver Daily World, February 21, 1924; Nanaimo Daily News, March 19, 1924; Grand Forks Gazette, November 25, 1927, March 30, 1928.

[lix] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935. The bricks forming the factory building veneer were self-manufactured at the adjacent Community brickworks.

[lx] Grand Forks Gazette, November 25, 1927.

[lxi] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935.

[lxii] Alex Padmoroff, Grand Forks, interview by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, March 17, 2020.

[lxiii] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935.

[lxiv] Grand Forks Gazette, August 15, 1935.

[lxv] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935.

[lxvi] Grand Forks Gazette, August 22, 1935; Nelson Daily News, August 20, 1935.

[lxvii] Ibid.

[lxviii] Sheila Gardezi, “From Toil to Peaceful Life” in Route 3 (Spring 2010) at 15-17.

[lxix] Plan of Great Northern Railway, Grand Forks, B.C., Weston Yard, c. 1918 (Boundary Museum & Archives Society); Letter dated April 24, 1919 from Nicholas J. Chernenkoff, CCUB to B.E. Paterson, Chairman, Committee of Enquiry & Research, Soldier Settlement Board in James Mavor Doukhobor Collection, Simon Fraser University.

[lxx] Grand Forks Gazette, August 17, 1912, February 15, 1913; Grand Forks Sun, September 6, 1912.

[lxxi] Grand Forks Gazette, July 18, 1940; Elizabeth Faminoff, “Polonicoff’s Store – A Personalized Reflection of the Past” in ISKRA, April 26, 2000 and in Boundary History, 17th Report of the Boundary Historical Society at 115.

[lxxii] Padmoroff, supra, note 62.

[lxxiii] Ibid; Anne Verigin, Grand Forks, interview by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, March 19, 2023.

[lxxiv] Sheila Gardezi, “From Toil to Peaceful Life” in Route 3 (Spring 2010) at 15-17.

[lxxv] The Victoria Daily Times, July 14, 1936.

[lxxvi] K.J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava (Mir Publication Society: Grand Forks, 1982) at 153-154; S. Jamieson, “Economic and Social Life” in H.B. Hawthorn (Ed.), The Doukhobors of British Columbia (University of British Columbia, 1955) at 52-56.

[lxxvii] Ibid; Winnipeg Tribune, June 30, 1937 at 39; Medicine Hat News, June 29, 1939; National Trust Company v. The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. (SCC) [1941] SCR 601, [1941] 3 DLR 529; 23 CBR 1; Medicine Hat News, June 29, 1939.

The Flax Mill at Petrofka

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Following their arrival on the Canadian Prairies in 1899, the Doukhobors regularly grew crops of flax. The fibers of the plant were retted, spun and woven to produce linen, while the seeds were fried, ground and pressed to extract cooking oil. The following is a history of the mill erected by the Doukhobors of Petrovka (aka Petrofka) village on the North Saskatchewan River to manufacture flax seed oil.

Background

In August 1899, 155 Doukhobor immigrant settlers arrived at the North Saskatchewan River, 12 miles south of present-day Blaine Lake, SK. There, on its west bank, they chose a site with a strong spring of clear water, rolling grassy hills and warm sandy soil that reminded them of their former home in the Kars region of Russia.[i] They named their village Petrovka (Петровка) after their spiritual leader, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, and his name day, Petrov Den, a Doukhobor religious holiday.[ii]

Petrovka village, c. 1903. The millhouse (circled) appears at the upper northwest end of the village. BC Archives Item No. C-01623.

The village initially consisted of 24 crude half-dugouts built into the side of a ravine running down into the river.[iii] However, by the following year, the Doukhobors moved to a more level upland site, where they built 28 log houses facing into a single central street.[iv] Labouring under the motto, “Toil and Peaceful Life”, the Petrovka Doukhobors strove to improve their material circumstances.

Within a few short years, the industrious villagers increased their horse herd from 11 to 41, cows from 5 to 93, sheep from none to 38, plows from 6 to 15, and cultivated acreage from 30 to 1,257 acres.[v] In 1901, they established a water-powered grist mill for grinding wheat into flour on a creek 3 miles north of the village jointly with the villages of Troitskoye and Terpeniye.[vi] That same year, they began operation of a river ferry crossing[vii] and established a Quaker-run school in the village.[viii]  

It was during this period of rapid progress and development that the Doukhobors of Petrovka decided to build a mill (Russian: mel’nitsa) for the production of flax oil in their village.

Building the Mill

The task of designing, building and operating the flax mill was given to Ivan Fedorovich Strelioff.[ix] Strelioff had established a reputation in the village for being a “very inventive and capable” individual with a knack for improvisation and innovation.[x]

For instance, Strelioff built a boat with a foot-crank-operated paddle wheel for crossing the North Saskatchewan River in half the time it took a boat with oars.[xi] Before there was a ferry crossing, and villagers had to walk 20 miles east to Rosthern for supplies, then carry them home on their backs, he assembled a wheelbarrow-like cart with a large, 4-foot diameter wheel, enabling him to easily push large loads of supplies over rough terrain to Rosthern and back.[xii] Strelioff also made a bicycle, using wheels from spinning wheels, homemade sprockets made from a spade and a chain with links shaped from wire.[xiii]  

Harnessing his creativity, Strelioff designed a rolling stone crusher mill of the type used by the Doukhobors in the 19th century Russian Caucasus. Using a slab of limestone drawn from the riverbank, he dressed it by hand to fashion a large, circular 3-foot-diameter, 8-inch-thick millstone.[xiv] He dressed another limestone slab to form a 5-foot-diameter, 8-inch-thick circular concave base.[xv]  

19th century Ottoman stone crusher mill, similar to that built in Petrovka village. Image: Wikipedia.

Standing the millstone upright on the base (which lay flat), he fixed a long horizontal shaft through the hole in the middle of the millstone. The horizontal shaft was fixed to a vertical shaft that freely rotated in the hole in the middle of the base. The millstone was thus held upright by the axis and the handle of the horizontal shaft could be pushed, causing the millstone to roll along the circumference of the base.  

Strelioff also designed and built various ancillary equipment for the mill, including a frying plate and oil press, both of which are described in detail below.

A two-storey log structure with clay-plaster and a sod roof was erected in the village to house the grinding mill, frying plate and oil press. The millhouse was located at the northwest end of the village.[xvi]

Processing Flax

With the flax mill operational, the processing and milling of flax (Russian: len) at Petrovka followed a fairly well-established routine.

In late summer, the women of the village harvested the flax fields.  The flax was pulled up from the roots (rather than cut with a scythe or sickle) and tied into a bundle or sheaf.[xvii] The sheaves were then hauled to a hardened, well-trodden area of the harvested field, known as the ‘threshing floor’ (Russian: tok) where the women beat the heads of the sheaves with a hand-held wooden mallet (Russian: chekmar’), loosening the seeds from the seed heads.

Doukhobor women threshing flax using wooden mallets in Saskatchewan, c. 1904. BC Archives, Item No. I-67671.

Once the seeds were threshed, the sheaves were taken down to the river for soaking or ‘retting’. They were placed in 6 to 18 inches of water, anchored down by smooth river rocks so that the current would not carry them away.[xviii] After a week to ten days, the flax was cleared of its outer, wood-like straw, leaving the inner, cotton-like fibers. The fibers were given a final washing, then carried up the steep bank to the village, where they was placed on clotheslines to dry.[xix] Once dry, it was spun on spinning wheels into yarn, then woven on a loom into linen for sewing garments. 

Meanwhile, the women and children rubbed the skins off the threshed flax seeds by hand at the threshing floor, then hauled the seed in bags to the village flax mill for processing.[xx] When there was a sufficient volume of flax seed for milling, Ivan Fedorovich Strelioff operated the mill as follows:

Milling Process

As raw flax oil has a flat, unpalatable taste, the flax seeds were first fried on a frying plate (Russian: skovoroda) set upon a stone base; the stone was plastered around to keep the smoke, fire and heat concentrated under the plate.[xxi] The flax seeds were roasted over a low fire and stirred frequently, until a certain taste was obtained.

The next step was grinding. A horse was hitched to the horizontal shaft of the grinding mill (Russian: mel’nitsa). Roasted flax seeds were spread along the track of the rolling millstone. The horse was then walked around the mill, causing the millstone to roll along the circumference of the base, crushing the seed.[xxii] Several rounds were made, with the seeds continually mixed to ensure thorough grinding. Once ground, the crushed seeds were removed and the process was repeated with more seed. 

Petrovka village plan. The millhouse (circled) stood at the upper northwest corner of the village. Saskatchewan Archives Board, Item No. S-10947.

The final step was extraction. This was done by a homemade oil press (Russian: stupa) made of a hollowed-out log with grated metal filters at the bottom.[xxiii] The ground flax seed was placed inside the hollowed-out log. A second, upper log (that fit smoothly into the hollowed-out log, via a spiral screw drive) was then attached. The miller then walked around, turning this wooden spiral to create proper pressure; thus the oil was extracted and oozed through the grated metal filters at the bottom of the press into pails. To release the pressure and to take out the oil cakes left at the bottom of the press, the spiral lever was spun in reverse. Once the extracting process began, it continued day and night until completed.  

The oil cakes, a nutritious byproduct of the extracting process, were fed to the village cattle.[xxiv] The raw extracted oil was run through a fine filter, then poured into bottles or cans for domestic use.

The flax oil (Russian: olifa or oleya) was used by the Doukhobors for frying potatoes and other foodstuffs, and for pouring over sauerkraut, a particularly favorite dish of their people.

Operation and Dismantling

The flax mill at Petrovka was the only one of its kind in the district; the only other plant in the Doukhobor ‘Saskatchewan Colony’ was operated by Mikhail Mikhailovich Chernoff, 16 miles north in the village of Spasovka.[xxv] The Petrovka mill was community owned and maintained, serving not only the village, but also the neighbouring villages of Troitskoye and Terpeniye. It operated for a decade, from 1901 to 1911, at which time most villagers moved out onto their individual homesteads.

Thereafter, the millhouse ceased operation and was dismantled for building material, with the millstone and base laid out on the ground beside. Peter P. Makaroff (1906-1997), whose family homesteaded the village quarter, recalled playing near the abandoned millstone as a young boy.[xxvi] Jeanette (nee Postnikoff) Lodoen (1936-2023), whose family later purchased the village quarter, similarly recalled playing near the stone in her girlhood.[xxvii] Indeed, the millstone lay at the former village site, half-buried and largely forgotten, for over seventy years.

Jeanette (nee Postnikoff) Lodoen (right) and cousin Lanny standing on the abandoned millstone, 1942. Photo Courtesy Jeannete Lodoen.

Commemorative Monument

In 1985, Gregory and Zonia Postnikoff, then-owners of the village quarter, donated the millstone and its base to the Town of Blaine Lake to serve as a commemorative historic marker.[xxviii] Peter Esakin excavated and hauled the stones to their new location. The stones were installed in a memorial garden on a concrete pad and enclosure beside the Blaine Lake Wapiti Public Library.

Millstone marker at Blaine Lake Wapiti Public Library park. Photo: Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In 2012, as part of the Town of Blaine Lake Centenary, a bronze plaque was installed at the millstone marker, inscribed as follows:[xxix]

Bronze plaque inscription at millstone commemorative monument, Blaine Lake, SK. Photo: Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Today the millstone marker at Blaine Lake commemorates the industry, ingenuity and pioneer spirit of the Doukhobors of Petrovka and their expert miller, Ivan Fedorovich Strelioff. It also stands as a testament to what can be locally achieved, using the material resources at hand, when neighbours work together for a common purpose.

Millstone marker at Blaine Lake Wapiti Public Library park. Photo: Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After Word

A detailed analysis by the writer of Doukhobor village grain-growing during the 1899-1912 period reveals that flax typically constituted 2-3 percent of total grain production.

For example, in the year 1900, Petrovka and other villages of the Saskatchewan Colony produced a total of 12,913.5 bushels of grain, of which flax comprised 2.6 percent of total bushels:  

Saskatchewan Colony Village[xxx]Wheat (bu)Oats (bu)Barley (bu)Flax (bu)
Troitskoye38513524554
Uspeniye1,07764845617
Spasovka70030020060
Pozirayevka No. 1400755525
Pozirayevka No. 2 (Tambovka)5002002005
Terpeniye50025025050
Petrovka86047830730
Horelovka1,6009001,02526
Kirilovka No. 2 (Bogdanovka)18694733
Kirilovka No. 1146120024
Kirilovka No. 3 (Pokrovka)156892223.5
Total6,5103,2892,767347.5

Similarly, in the year 1904, the South Colony, Devil’s Lake Annex and North Colony produced a total of 191,480 bushels of grain, of which flax constituted 2.8 percent of the total bushels:  

Colony [xxxi]Wheat (bu)Oats (bu)Barley (bu)Flax (bu)
South Colony4026149,94823,3963,584
Devil’s Lake Annex10,31712,1315,646895
North Colony17,08516,56910,673975
Total67,66378,64839,7155,454

The small volumes of flax relative to total volumes of grain grown by Doukhobor villages highlights the fact that Doukhobors only grew as much flax as they required for domestic purposes (i.e. linen and oil production). That is, the Doukhobors did not grow a surplus volumes of flax for commercial sale.

The flax mill at Petrovka village was built according to the model used by the Doukhobors in 19th century Russia. Numerous other mills were established in Doukhobor villages during the same 1901-1903 period which followed this same model. Other villages confirmed to have built flax mills include the following villages:

Colony[XXXii]Villages with Flax Mills
Saskatchewan ColonyPetrovka, Spasovka
North ColonyVoznesenniye
South ColonyBlagoveshcheniye, Otradnoye, Nadezhda, Spasovka, Smireniye, Vernoye.
Devil’s Lake AnnexMoiseyevo.

Clearly, not every Doukhobor village erected a flax mill.  Typically, a flax mill established in one village also served the neighbouring 2-3 villages in the immediate vicinity.

Essentially the same flax milling technology was exported by the Doukhobor Community from Saskatchewan to British Columbia in the 1908-1913 period, where flax mills were established at Grand Forks (Fruktovoye), Ootischenia (Kamennoye), Pass Creek, Glade and Krestova.


After Word

This article was originally published in:

  • The Shellbrook Chronicle, June 22, 2023.
  • ISKRA (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ) No. 2189, August 2023.

End Notes

[i] Peter J. Serhienko, “Settlement of the Petrofka Village,” in Bridging the Years, Era of Blaine Lake and District, 1790-1980 (Blaine Lake, SK: Town of Blaine Lake and Rural Municipality of Blaine Lake #434, 1984) at 23.

[ii] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, The Doukhobor Gazetteer (unpublished manuscript, 2002), https://doukhobor.org/pn-detailsafe1.html?rec=203.

[iii] William B. Harvey, “Schedule of Doukhobor Villages and Statistics, November 1899”, Library & Archives Canada, Immigration Branch Records (RG 76, Volume 184, File 65101, Part 6), Microfilm Reel No. C-7338; Carl J. Tracie, “Toil and Peaceful Life” Doukhobor Village Settlements in Saskatchewan 1899-1918 (Regina: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1996) at 86.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Petrofka Village File, Library & Archives Canada, RG15V1164 F5391335; Tracie, supra, note 3 at 148.

[vi] John Ashworth, “Flour Mills Built by the Doukhobors” in Manitoba Free Press Home Journal, May 9, 1901; Jonathan E. Rhoads, “A Day with the Doukhobors” in Manitoba Morning Free Press, March 1, 1902; Peter J. Serhienko, “Radouga Creek” in Bridging the Years, supra, note 1 at 33.

[vii] Joseph Elkinton, “Work Among the Doukhobors” in Friends’ Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Seventh Month 26, 1902) at 474; Joseph Elkinton, The Doukhobors, Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903) at 36-38; J. J. McKenna, Dominion Land Surveyor, “Report” in Department of the Interior, Report of the Surveyor General of Dominion Lands for the Year ending June 30, 1904 (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1904) at 112.

[viii] Michael Sherbinin, “From the Doukhobors” in Friends’ Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Seventh Month 13, 1901) at 441; The Friend, A Religious and Literary Journal, No. 19, Vol. LXXVI (Seventh Day, Eleventh Month 22, 1902) at 1; J.E., “The Doukhobor Situation” in Friends’ Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Eighth Month 16, 1902) at 521; “Petrofka S.D. #23” in Bridging the Years, supra, note 1 at 261.

[ix] Peter P. Makaroff, “Paul Makaroff” in Bridging the Years, supra, note 1 at 569.

[x] Alex J. Bayoff, Petrofka (Saskatoon: self-published, 1985), https://doukhobor.org/petrofka.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, field visit to Blaine Lake, July 27, 2008.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Jeanette Lodoen, Interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, October 20, 2020.

[xvii] Victoria Hayward, Romantic Canada (Illustrated with Photographs by Edith S. Watson), (Toronto: Macmillan Company Canada Ltd., 1922) at 234.

[xviii] Ibid; Victoria Hayward and Edith S. Watson, “Doukhobors Beat H.C.L. – Farms Supply All Needs” in Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, November 22, 1919; Alexei I. Popoff, “Childhood Memories” in Autobiography of a Siberian Exile (Eli A. Popoff, trans.), (Kelowna: self-published, 2006).

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Fred J. Chernoff, The Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan to Canada (Winnipeg: self-published, 1992).

[xxi] “Extracting Oil from Flax Seed” in Blaine Lake 1912-1962 Golden Jubilee (North Battleford: McIntosh Publishing Co. Ltd., 1962).

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Peter P. Makaroff, “Paul Makaroff” in Bridging the Years, supra, note 1 at 569.

[xxvii] Lodoen, supra, note 16.

[xxviii] Jeff Postnikoff, Interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, June 12, 2023.

[xxix] Barbara Reban-Mascho, June 10, 2023.

[xxx] Saskatchewan Colony Statistics, December 31, 1900 Department of Interior. Library & Archives Canada, Microfilm Reel No. C-7338.

[xxxi] Letter, Peter Verigin to Alex Moffat, Acting Commissioner of Immigration, January 17, 1905, Library and Archives Canada, RG 76, Vol. 184, file 65101, part 7.

[xxxii] Doukhobor Village Files, Library & Archives Canada, Record Group 15, Volumes 754-758, File 494483; Volumes 1163-1168, Files 5391335, 5404640-5404692, 5412425-5412501, 5412973.

Kut’ya – A Traditional Doukhobor Christmas Recipe

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Kut’ya (Cyrillic: Кутья) (pronounced: KOOT-yah) is a cold wheat porridge/pudding, sweetened with honey, traditionally made by Doukhobors in Russia and the Caucasus at Christmas for centuries. It is customarily served on Christmas Eve, following the evening prayer meeting, to family and friends.

The following Doukhobor recipe for Kut’ya was shared with the writer by Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now living in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.

Ingredients

3 cups wheat4 tablespoons brown sugar
½ to 1 cup poppy seeds1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup honey¼ teaspoon salt
Ground nuts, raisins or diced fruit if desired

Instructions

  1. Clean the wheat by spreading it on a plate and removing any green kernels, foreign seeds, chaff, etc. Rinse it well in a colander. Soak the wheat in 6-8 cups of fresh water overnight for approximately 8 hours.
  2. Cook the wheat.
    a. Stovetop: add 6 cups of water and wheat to pot and bring to a boil. Skim the residue off the top. Turn to low heat, cover and simmer for 4-5 hours, stirring frequently and adding more water as needed.
    b. Slow Cooker: add 6 cups of water and wheat to slow cooker. Cook on high heat for half an hour, then reduce to low heat and cook for 6-8 hours.
    The wheat will expand as it cooks to approximately twice its volume. It is done when the kernels burst open and the white germ appears. Drain off excess water in a colander.
  3. Place poppy seeds in a small bowl and pour 1 cup of boiling water of it. Let it sit for 15 minutes then drain. The poppy seed may then either be ground or added whole to the wheat.
  4. In a large measuring cup, combine honey (can be melted in the microwave), brown sugar, vanilla and vanilla with 1 cup of boiling water. Stir until honey is completely dissolved. Add to wheat mixture and stir thoroughly.
  5. Add ground nuts and/or diced fruit if desired to wheat mixture.
  6. The wheat mixture should be porridge- or pudding-like in texture. Cool in refrigerator. Serve either hot or cold. Makes 10-12 cups/servings.

Notes

The making of Kut’ya at Christmas is a millennia-old Orthodox tradition practiced throughout the former Russian Empire. When the Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox church in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox customs and traditions. However, they continued to make Kut’ya at Christmas, modifying and imbuing the practice with their own religious meaning and significance. Learn more about the historical, religious and cultural aspects of Christmas Among Doukhobors.

When the Doukhobors first arrived in Canada in 1899, they initially continued to make Kut’ya at Christmas. However, at an All-Doukhobor Congress at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, and to focus on its wholly spiritual aspects, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Christmas, including Kut’ya making. Thereafter, the recipe eventually fell into disuse and was forgotten by many – but by no means all – Canadian Doukhobors. The Doukhobors who remained in Russia and the Caucasus continue to make Kut’ya to this day.

Let us revive this centuries-old, traditional Doukhobor recipe!

Image Credits: Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Categories
Historical

Paska – A Traditional Doukhobor Easter Recipe

By Jonathan Kalmakoff

Paska (Cyrillic: Паска) (pronounced: PAH-skah) is a round, egg-enriched sweet bread, traditionally made by Doukhobors in Russia and the Caucasus at Easter for centuries. It is customarily served on Easter Sunday, following the morning prayer meeting, to family and friends.

The following Doukhobor recipe for Paska was shared with the writer by Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now living in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.

Ingredients

flour (2 kg initially; more as needed)sugar (600 grams)
warm milk (1 litre)salt (1 teaspoon)
eggs (10)yeast (30 grams dry/100 grams fresh)
melted butter (600 grams)raisins (200 grams)
icing sugar (10 table spoons)vanillin (4 grams)

Instructions

  1. Sift flour so that it is well saturated with air.
  2. In a bowl, add 8 tablespoons of flour. Add in the yeast and 4 teaspoons of sugar, along with a little warm milk.  Mix yeast mixture well, cover bowl with a tea towel and put in a warm place for 15 minutes.
  3. In another bowl, pour in the egg. (If making icing under Step 11, pour in egg yolks only, and separate egg whites into a different bowl and put in fridge to chill.). To the eggs, add the salt and start beating, gradually adding the sugar to get a lush, creamy texture that leaves a light pattern behind.
  4. In another bowl, combine the rest of the milk and flour.  Slowly beat in the egg yolk/sugar mix. Add in the yeast mixture (once it has sat for 15 minutes), then the melted butter.
  5. Begin kneading the dough mixture, adding in the vanillin. While kneading, add up to 100-200 grams of additional flour, if necessary, to ensure a soft, smooth elastic texture (however, do not add too much!). Continue to knead the dough thoroughly for up to 40 minutes.
  6. Once kneaded, cover the bowl of dough with a tea towel and put in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ hours. The dough will be yellowish in colour because of the volume of eggs used.
  7. In the meantime, while the dough is rising:
    • Rinse the raisins with water, drain, then place on a tea towel to dry. Once dry, dust the raisins with two tablespoons of flour; and
    • Grease 10 large coffee tins (or other cylindrical baking tins) with butter.
  8. Once the dough has risen, stretch it out on a countertop (dusted with flour), add in the raisins and knead/roll until the raisins are evenly distributed.
Raw paska dough in tin forms. Image: Vasily Stroyev.
  1. Divide the dough into roughly 10 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball and place into a coffee tin; each ball should fill approximately half of the tin. Cover the cans loosely with a towel and leave for 20 minutes until the dough slightly rises out of the tins.
  2. Put tins in oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 35 minutes. Then take out tins and place on countertop on their sides, turning them from time to time, as they cool over 15 minutes. They should then be easily removed from tins.
Baked paska, removed from tins, cooling on tray. Image: Vasily Stroyev.
  1. This next step is optional, as Doukhobor paska did not traditionally have icing. Beat the chilled egg whites together, then add icing sugar and whip well until it is a thick, frothy consistency. Optional: add a dash of lemon or orange juice to taste. Then, using a spatula, add icing mixture generously to the top of each of the completely cooled loafs. Optional: add sprinkles to the top of the icing mixture before it hardens. Allow the icing to dry well before serving.  
Doukhobor paska with decorative icing added. Image: Vasily Stroyev.

Notes

History

The making of Paska at Easter is a millennium-old Orthodox tradition practiced throughout the former Russian Empire. When the Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox church in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox customs and traditions. However, they continued to bake Paska at Easter, modifying and imbuing the practice with their own religious meaning and significance. Learn more about the historical, religious and cultural aspects of Easter Among Doukhobors.

In the Doukhobor South Russian dialect, the bread is called Paska (Паска), which is also its name in Ukrainian. In modern Russian it is called Paskha (Пасха).

Unlike Orthodox Russians and Ukrainians, who braid the loaves or imprint them with crosses and other religious symbols, Doukhobor loaves are left plain and unadorned. This is a very important religious and cultural distinction that reflects Doukhobor iconoclast beliefs.

When the Doukhobors first arrived in Canada in 1899, they initially continued to bake Paska at Easter. However, at an All-Doukhobor Congress at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, and to focus on its wholly spiritual aspects, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Easter, including Paska baking. Thereafter, the recipe eventually fell into disuse and was forgotten by many – but by no means all – Canadian Doukhobors. The Doukhobors who remained in Russia and the Caucasus continue to bake Paska to this day.

Additional Baking Tips

Some Canadian Doukhobor users of this traditional recipe have suggested the following tips and tricks:

  • Combining Ingredients: It may be less cumbersome to follow a common bread recipe method of ‘proofing’ the yeast mixture separately, but combining and mixing the rest of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, vanillin, raisins) together at once.
  • Tins: Coffee tins or cylindrical baking tins must be very well greased or else lined with parchment paper to avoid sticking. Cylindrical spring-form pans with detachable bottoms and openable sides may work best.
  • Fill the tins between 1/3 and no more than 1/2 with dough balls to avoid significant overflow.
  • Recipe Size: This is a large recipe that makes the equivalent of about 5 dozen buns. Consider halving the recipe ingredients for a smaller amount.
  • Cooking Time and Temp: Although the loaves may be browned on top, they may not be thoroughly baked inside. Consider baking instead at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-50 minutes.

Let us revive this centuries-old, traditional Doukhobor recipe!

Categories
General

Christmas Among the Doukhobors

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

For over three centuries, Doukhobors have celebrated Christmas, a festival commemorated annually by Christians across the globe. As we once again make ready to do so, it is essential to remind ourselves how this holiday is understood in Doukhobor religious philosophy, how it differs in key aspects from that of other Christian denominations, as well as the Doukhobor cultural and folk traditions associated with Christmas.

Orthodox Christmas

Since the introduction of Christianity to Russia in 988 AD, Rozhdestvo Khristovo or ‘the Nativity of Christ’ (Christmas) was celebrated by the Orthodox Church to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. It was traditionally observed under the Julian (Old) Calendar, which ran thirteen days behind the Gregorian (New) Calendar, putting it on January 7th rather than December 25th when it is now commonly observed.

To the Orthodox, Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God incarnate, born to the Virgin Mary by immaculate conception through the Holy Spirit. That is, he was considered the literal, supernatural embodiment of God on earth, having taken on human body and human nature, who performed miracles, cured the sick and raised the dead.

The Orthodox celebration of Rozhdestvo Khristovo was preceded by a forty-day fast, during which meat, dairy products and eggs were not eaten, and parishioners engaged in prayer and charity. When the festival finally arrived, church attendance was compulsory by law.[i] On the evening of Christmas Eve, parishioners attended the church liturgy service, whereafter they went home and ate a meal of twelve meatless dishes. That night, they returned to church for an all-night vigil to observe Jesus’ birth. After hours of standing (the Orthodox church had no seats) and praying, the priest led a procession out of the church, with the parishioners carrying icons and candles led by the priest burning incense in a censer. They circled the building until midnight, after which they returned home. On Christmas morning they once again returned to the church to attend the nativity liturgy service after which they went home for feasting and merriment.

Winter Doukhobor village scene. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Doukhobor Repudiation of Orthodox Christmas

During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they outwardly continued to celebrate Rozhdestvo Khristovo in the obligatory manner. Some went to church for appearances’ sake; while others made excuses to not attend at all. At home, they observed the festival with simple moleniye (‘prayer meetings’) followed by visits among fellow believers.

However, by this time, Rozhdestvo Khristovo had already acquired an inner, spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors that differed substantially from that of their Orthodox neighbours, and which was founded on dramatically different ideas concerning God and Christ.

They ceased to believe that the Christmas fast offered any spiritual advantage to the soul; for true fasting was not in abstaining from food but from vice and gluttony. Attending the church at Christmas was not essential to salvation, for they believed the ‘true’ church was not built by human hands – it was spiritual, invisible and within us. The priest’s conduct of Christmas mass was unnecessary, for they understood the Spirit of God resided in the soul of every person and could be directly understood and interpreted – without need of an intermediary – by listening to the voice within.  

Indeed, Doukhobors came to view the Orthodox observance of Christmas – with its complex and elaborate ritual, Slavonic chanting, burning of incense, lighting of candles, bowing and crossing, as well as the resplendent robes of the priest and the richly adorned church with stained glass windows, gold candelabras and crucifixes, icons, sacred relics and ornately decorated domes – to be a contrived, outward sensory and material experience that served only to distract from a true, inner spiritual understanding of the holiday.

What is more, they believed that the Orthodox depiction of Christ’s birth and existence as something ‘mystical’, ‘superhuman’, ‘supernatural’ and ‘otherworldly’ was an artificial embellishment introduced by the church in order to mystify and confound its followers as to his true nature.

Doukhobor household in winter. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Christ and Christmas as Understood by Doukhobors

According to Doukhobor belief, Jesus was neither immaculately conceived nor born of a virgin, nor was he the literal Son of God incarnate in human flesh. Rather, he was an ordinary mortal man, born to an ordinary woman named Mary. In the physical sense, Jesus was no different from other men. In the spiritual sense, however, God chose Jesus as his anointed one by endowing him with divinely-inspired, extraordinary spiritual intelligence in his soul, lucid and enlightened beyond that of his fellow man.[ii]  Because of this, Jesus was able to attain the highest, purest, most perfect understanding of God’s Law, and was therefore the Son of God, a man, but not God himself.

Doukhobors believed that Jesus’s enlightened teachings and life revealed mankind’s true meaning and purpose, which was to fulfill God’s Law – to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. God’s Law was manifested in Jesus through his loving attitude toward other people.[iii] The role of his followers, Doukhobors believed, was to emulate Christ by living, as he did, according to God’s Law, to strive to follow his example, and thus be saved through their own works.[iv]

For Doukhobors, then, Christmas marks the day when the world was given a child to lead the world through God’s Law to peace on earth – good will among men. Doukhobors celebrate it as a sign of honour and glory for Jesus Christ.[v] We observe this occasion during all the days of our life as we endeavor to emulate him in our own actions.[vi]  

Doukhobor Christmas Customs in Russia

Once Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and its teachings in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they discarded many Orthodox feast days as being unnecessary and superfluous. However, they continued to celebrate Rozhdestvo Khristovo as an important holiday in accordance with their own beliefs and interpretations. In doing so, they adapted some of the Christmas holiday rituals and customs from the Orthodox, imbuing them with new meaning and significance.

Both during their settlement along the Molochnaya River near the Sea of Azov (Molochnye Vody) from 1801-1845 and in the Caucasus (Zakavkaz) from 1841-1899, Doukhobors are recorded as having celebrated Christmas over a three day period commencing January 6th, being Christmas Eve under the Old (Julian) Calendar.[vii]

On Christmas Eve, the men performed their daily agricultural chores while the women cleaned the house and baked, cooked and prepared food for the upcoming Christmas feast.[viii] At dinner, Doukhobor families ate twelve meatless dishes, a tradition retained from Orthodoxy, which might include any of the following dishes: borshch (cabbage-based soup), vareniki (boiled dumplings with savory fillings), lapshevniki (‘baked noodles’), pyure iz fasoli (‘mashed beans’), rybnyi kholodets (pickled fish), kvashenye ogurtsy (pickled cucumbers), kartoshniki (‘mashed potatoes’), pyrohi (‘baked savory pies’) and pyroshki (‘baked sweet tarts’), bliny (‘pancakes’), holubtsy (‘cabbage rolls’), kvashenaya kapusta (‘sauerkraut’), vinaigrette (‘salad’), kasha (‘rice porridge’), uzvar (homemade fruit juice), and always, kutya (a boiled wheat dish sweetened with honey).[ix] In the evening, grandmothers recited psalms while the family gathered to listen.[x] 

At midnight on Christmas Eve, Doukhobor villagers assembled at a common dwelling or prayer home to hold a moleniye (‘prayer meeting’).[xi] The Christmas moleniye traditionally began with the Doukhobor psalm, Narodilsya nam Spasitel (‘Our Savior was Born’)[xii] which reads as follows:

“Our Savior is born, an Enlightener to the whole world. Sing praises to Him. All the world glorifies Him eternally. Rejoice ye, prophets who have the power of prophesizing, those who are with their oath! The Savior is coming at the last moment. Sing praise to Him, in joyous sweet songs, sing and play to Him. A star is travelling from the East to the place of the new-born prophet. The angles are singing in unison, expressing their love with the sound of their voices. Animals announce with their voices to the shepherds that a miracle has happened. There are clear signs announcing the birth of Christ. Three Wise Men bring Him the most precious gifts; gold frankincense and myrrh. The Father of the future ages offers you rich gifts. He came here to redeem the poor mankind. Eternal God was born and has taken human flesh. Glory be to our God.”[xiii]

Early Christmas morning, Doukhobor villagers again gathered for moleniye to worship, then returned home.[xiv]  The adults would not eat breakfast and would carry out their morning chores.[xv]  Children were given nuts or fruit as a special treat.  Throughout the afternoon, Doukhobors would stroll through the village streets, singing psalms and greeting friends and neighbours,[xvi] with the following customary greeting: Na zdorov’ye! (‘To Health!’), to which the customary reply was Slava Bohu! (‘Thank God!’).[xvii] 

Later, the entire family would sit down to enjoy Christmas dinner, which typically consisted of the same dishes enjoyed the night before; however, meat dishes such as roast goose, chicken or pork were also included.[xviii] In the evening, the adults would visit or host relatives and friends while the young people enjoyed themselves at vecherushki (‘parties’).[xix]  Often, the young people would dress up and masquerade about the village, an ancient Russian folk custom.[xx]

The third and final day of the Christmas celebration (today, Boxing Day) was spent in much in the same manner – with merry visiting, singing and feasting throughout the village.

Winter open-air Doukhobor prayer meeting. J. Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Doukhobor Christmas Commemoration in Canada

These Christmas traditions continued to be practiced, without change, through the 20th century to the present day by the Doukhobors of Gorelovka, Georgia and surrounding villages. However, among the Doukhobor followers of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, several significant changes were made to the Christmas celebration after 1887. 

First, in November 1894, those Doukhobors stopped eating meat in accordance with the teachings of Verigin, then in exile in the Russian Far North, brought back by his messengers to his followers in the Caucasus.[xxi]  Thereafter, no meat (including fish) was consumed as part of the Christmas feasting.

Second, following their migration to Canada in 1899, the Doukhobors initially continued to celebrate Christmas as they had in Russia, over a three-day period according to the Julian (Old) Calendar. In January 1901, the Swan River Star reported, “The Doukhobors appear to know how to celebrate Christmas. Their feast lasted three days and commenced on Jan. 6. They still use the old style of counting time.”[xxii] However, by 1903, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that “they have disregarded the Russian and adopted the Canadian calendar and are beginning to observe Canadian holidays and festivals.”[xxiii] Thereafter, the Doukhobors celebrated Christmas twelve days earlier in accordance with the Gregorian (Old) calendar, on December 24-26.  

Third, at an all-village congress of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood held in Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to modernize and simplify their worship, discarded many of the traditional rituals, psalms and feasts observed by the Doukhobors.[xxiv] Thereafter, Christmas continued to be observed within the Community, however, the celebration was paired down from three days to a day and a half, with worship services still held on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, but with the feasting and revelry reduced to a more modest scale befitting that of Christ’s followers.[xxv] Some of these changes were also adopted by Independent Doukhobors who left Verigin’s Community, to greater or lesser degrees.

In the years that followed, new psalms and hymns were added to the existing repertoire of those traditionally sung during Doukhobor Christmas moleniye [xxvi] while the foodstuffs enjoyed at their Christmas feast varied according to local availability and economic conditions.[xxvii] However, the essence of the traditional Doukhobor Christmas celebration, as it evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries continued to be observed by many Canadian Doukhobors well into the 1950s, and indeed, to the present.

Doukhobor villagers assembled outdoors in winter. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Conclusion

Although there was none of the ubiquitous commercialism associated with Christmas today, including notions of gift-giving, Santa Clause, Christmas trees and outdoor light displays, Christmas as traditionally understood and celebrated by Doukhobors was and is a most meaningful and anticipated event.


After Word

Publication

A previous version of this article was originally published in:

Doukhobor Christmas Prayer Service

To experience and participate in a traditional Doukhobor Christmas prayer meeting, contact your nearest Doukhobor society or organization to find in-person dates and times or whether online streaming of services are available.

Traditional Doukhobor Kut’ya Recipe

To prepare traditional Doukhobor Kut’ya like that mentioned above, see the following Doukhobor Kut’ya Recipe. This recipe was adapted from that shared by Doukhobor Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now residing in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.


End Notes

[i] In Imperial Russia, receiving the Orthodox sacraments and attending church on Sundays and feast days was compulsory by law: see for example, M. Raeff, Imperial Russia, 1682-1825 (Michigan, University of Michigan, 1971); D. Longley, Longman Companion to Imperial Russia, 1689-1917 (New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2000).

[ii] Regarding the Doukhobor belief in Jesus, born a man, see: Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir Dmitr’evich, Zhivotnaya Kniga Dukhobortsev (St. Petersburg: V.M. Volf, Sib. Nevskiy Pr., 1909), Psalms 1 (Q/A 3), 7 (Q/A 10), 12 (Q/A 6 and 8, 64, 71, 73, 85, 88, 94 and 375.

[iii] Regarding the Doukhobor understanding of Jesus as a keeper of God’s Law, see: Zhivotnaya Kniga, ibid, Psalms 2 (Q/A 14, 15 and 16), 4 (Q/A 7), 5 (Q/A 17), 7 (Q/A 11 and 12), 8 (Q/A 24, 25, and 26), 9 (Q/A 24), 47 (Q/A 1) 59 (Q/A 4), 185, 373 and 374.

[iv] Regarding the Doukhobor understanding of salvation through emulating Christ, see: Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii, Psalms 1 (Q/A 1), 2 (Q/A 31, 71), 3 (Q/A 79), 5 (Q/A 44), 9 (Q/A 45), 11 (Q/A 56), 14 (Q/A 5), 65, 67, 69, 74, 96, 137, 157, 170, 176, 192, 210, 217, 227, 229, 237, 277, 300, 311, 316, 319, 320, 333, 375, 384, 385 and 415.

[v] Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii, Psalm 383.

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Novitsky, Orest Markovich. Dukhobortsy: Ikh Istoriia i verouchenie (Kiev, 1882) at 254-255.

[viii] Stroev, Vasily (Tula, Russia), correspondence with the writer, November 25, 2020.

[ix] Stroev, ibid; Svetlana Inikova., Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Genealogy Website); Linda Osachoff (Canora, SK), correspondence with the writer, December 18, 2020.

[x] Stroev, supra, note v.

[xi] Stroev, ibid; Inikova, supra, note vi; Goncharova, Lyubov. Malaya Sibir’ – Duhoboriya. (Bryansk, 2012 at 278); Lyubov Goncharova (Moscow, Russia), correspondence with the writer, December 20, 2020.

[xii] Народился нам Спаситель, Goncharova, ibid.

[xiii] Vladimir Dmitr’evich Bonch-Breuvich, Book of Life of Doukhobors (Translated Version by Victor O. Buyniak) (Saskatoon, Doukhobor Societies of Saskatchewan, 1978), Psalm 340.

[xiv] Stroev, supra, note v; Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xv] Inikova, ibid.

[xvi] Novitsky, supra, note iv; Stroev, supra, note v; Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xvii] Stroev, ibid.

[xviii] Stroev, supra, note v.

[xix] Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xx] Inikova, ibid.

[xxi] Grigory Verigin, Ne v Sile Bog, a v Pravde. (Paris, Dreyfus, 1935), chapter 10.

[xxii] Swan River Star, January 9, 1901.

[xxiii] Winnipeg Free Press, April 6, 1903.

[xxiv] Minutes of Community meeting, 1908 December 15, Nadezhda village. (SFU Item No. MSC121-DB-025-002); Letter from Peter Vasil’evich Verigin to Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy dated February 2, 1909 in Gromova-Opulskaya, Lidia, Andrew Donskov, and John Woodsworth, eds. Leo Tolstoy–Peter Verigin Correspondence (Ottawa, Legas: 1995) at 87-88; Letter from Ivan Evseyevich Konkin to Vladimir Dmitr’evich Bonch-Breuvich dated February 12, 1909 in Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii.

[xxv] Wendy Voykin (Castlegar, BC), correspondence with the writer, December 18, 2020.

[xxvi] For example, some of the Doukhobor psalms and hymn traditionally sung at Christmas moleniye in Brilliant, British Columbia include: Psalms: Chistaya Deva Mariya; Rechyot Khristos Uchenikam Svoim; Vysoko Zvezda Voskhodila. Hymns: Kto v ubogikh yaslyakh spit; Nyne vse vernye v mire likuyut; Dnes’ my likuem v kupe vospevaem; Vot Spasitel’ s nebes k nam soshyol; Vnov’ Khristos narodilsya; Vspomnim te slova Khrista; Tikhaya noch’, divnaya noch’; Khristos v Tebe dusha nashla ( New Year’s to the tune of Auld Lang Syne).  Very special thanks to Mike and Mary Kanigan of Ootischenia, BC for sharing this list with the writer, via Wendy Voykin.

[xxvii] For instance, it is doubtful whether the Doukhobors had the luxury of enjoying all the foodstuffs mentioned for their Christmas feast during the hardships of their early settlement in Saskatchewan after 1899 and in British Columbia after 1908.


Doukhobors Made Jam, Not War

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

During the First World War (1914-1919), the overwhelming majority of Doukhobors in Canada opposed the conflict, based on strongly-held pacifist tenets. Relying upon the exemption from military service granted to them under Order-in-Council No. 1898-2747 by the Dominion government upon their arrival in Canada, they not only refused enlistment and conscription, but actively resisted any direct, partisan support for the war effort.

Notwithstanding their staunch anti-war position, many Doukhobors felt great compassion for those suffering from the conflict. This prompted them to seek opportunities to provide humanitarian aid in ways that did not run counter to their pacifist principles. One most notable example was their donations of jam.

Since 1911, the Doukhobor Society had been communally producing hundreds of tons of the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ of jams, jellies and preserved fruit each year at its jam factory and canning facilities in Nelson and later Brilliant, BC under its business enterprise, the ‘Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works.’[1] And when the Nelson Daily News reported in late 1916 that soldiers were asking for jam, this stirred the Society into action.

The Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works as seen at Brilliant, BC, sometime between 1919 and 1923. British Columbia Archives, D-06930-141.

On Sunday, December 10, 1916, a mass meeting of members of the Doukhobor Society was held at Brilliant, where their leader Peter V. Verigin told them of the sufferings of the men at the front, and of the recent losses at the Somme and on the Ancre.[2] The reaction of those gathered was one of shock and compassion.

Living apart from the world, and being mainly illiterate, the rank-and-file members of the Society had been largely unaware of the monumental scale of human devastation occurring on the European continent, and when told this, the Doukhobor women wept.[3] Once informed, however, they set to act.

The women at the meeting resolved to gift a railcar load of jam, made by fruit grown by them in their own orchards and gardens, and manufactured at their jam factory in Brilliant, to the convalescent and sick soldiers in hospitals across Western Canada, their wives and children.[4]

Jam was rationed within the Society, and those at the meeting realized that in sending the carload to the soldiers, they would have to go without it themselves.[5] Nonetheless, they were willing to do so as an expression of their sympathy and desire to help those who were suffering.

The carload comprised 5,000 five-pound tins totaling 24,000 pounds (12 tons) of jam from the last season’s pack.[6] It was valued at $5,000.00 at the time and was composed chiefly of strawberry jam, the Doukhobors understanding “that the soldiers like strawberry better than plum and apple and jams of that kind.”[7]

Labelling Room at the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works in Brilliant, BC. c. 1916. University of British Columbia, Rare & Special Books Collection and University Archives.

The gift was formally conveyed by the Doukhobor women to British Columbia Premier Harlan C. Brewster in Victoria on December 15, 1916 via William Blakemore, newspaper editor of The Week and former commissioner of the 1912 Royal Commission on Doukhobors.[8] It was expressed on behalf of the women that, “You know we do not believe in fighting; we are anxious to see the war end, but we will do what we can to assist those who are suffering through the war.”[9]

Premier Brewster publicly conveyed the thanks of the province and the soldiers “to the women whose kindness of heart ha(d) prompted this generous gift”.[10] He also arranged through government and private channels for the distribution of the jam in “in such manner that the wishes of the donors for its full usefulness shall be fulfilled.”

Headline from the Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916.

The jam consignment had originally been given to the Province of British Columbia; however, by mid-January 1917, provincial authorities in charge of the distribution found that the “quantity was so large that it would be well to share it with outside institutions.”[11] The Doukhobors readily consented to the other provinces sharing in the gift. Premier Brewster subsequently notified the Doukhobors through William Blakemore that “Communication has been made with representatives of the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta with the result that the offer has been gratefully accepted.”[12]

Accordingly, 14,000 pounds of the consignment was kept in BC, and was turned over to Major J.S. Harvey, commandant of the Military Convalescent hospital at Esquimalt, for use in the convalescent hospitals and homes in that province.[13] The remaining 10,000 pounds was distributed through the Mewburn wholesale supply house as follows: 2,000 pounds to the St. Chad’s Military Convalescent Hospital in Regina, SK; 2,000 pounds to the Returned Solders’ Association in each of Calgary and Edmonton, AB; and 4,000 pounds to the Returned Solders’ Association in Winnipeg, MB.[14]

In addition to being distributed through military hospitals to convalescing soldiers, a free jam gift was made through local women’s patriotic clubs and veterans’ committees to every soldier’s household in those cities.[15] 

The donation elicited many public expressions of appreciation of the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Doukhobors. For instance, Miss Violet M. Ryley, the General Organizing Dietician for Military Hospitals in Canada wrote, “Jam is the most universally popular delicacy on the soldier’s menu, whether he is sick or well, and no gift could be more welcome.”[16]

It was also widely applauded across the Canadian press, with the Vancouver Province calling it a “magnificent gift”[17], while the Edmonton Journal wrote, “the Doukhobors have conscientious scruples against fighting. But they are at any rate helping to win the war with good honest jam.”[18]

Headline from the Edmonton Journal, February 22, 1917.

The outpouring of public appreciation for the jam donation came at a time when Doukhobors across Western Canada encountered widespread discrimination and censure because of their refusal to actively participate in the war effort. These sentiments can be seen in the backhanded reporting by some newspapers such as the Edmonton Journal, which wrote that “their donation of fruit jams to convalescent soldiers… went a long way to atone for their pacifist attitude”.[19]

Inspired by the overall response, the Doukhobor Society redoubled its assistance. One month later, in January of 1917, Peter V. Verigin declared that the Society would make a donation of two more carloads (48,000 pounds or 24 tons) of Doukhobor jam worth $10,000.00; this time for shipment overseas to the soldiers at the front.[20]

Yet again, in January of 1918, the Doukhobor Society (now incorporated as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood) donated another carload (20,000 pounds or 10 tons) of jam worth $5,000.00 from its jam factory in Brilliant to the Canadian Military Hospitals Commission for distribution to convalescing soldiers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.[21]

This latest (and what would be the last) consignment comprised 7,500 pounds of strawberry jam, 7,500 pounds of raspberry jam, and 5,000 pounds of various other kinds, including peach and plum.[22] The Community members, in making their gift, reiterated “their abhorrence of war and that it is against the tenets of their faith to go into battle” but that they were quite prepared to assist those who suffered as a result of it.

The public response was once again overwhelmingly positive, with the Regina Leader-Post writing, for example, that the “universally popular” jam consignment gifted by the Doukhobors “is recommended as being just like mother used to make.”[23]

In total, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood gifted 92,000 pounds (46 tons) of jam worth $20,000.00 ($375,000.00 in today’s dollars) to convalescing soldiers and their dependent families across Western Canada between 1916 and 1918. This was by no means the only humanitarian aid provided by Doukhobors in the First World War; however, it was undoubtedly the most popular and well-known example.

In making these donations, the Doukhobors navigated between two of their fundamental religious values: demonstrating compassion and brotherly love for those in distress because of war, while fulfilling the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

Headline from Calgary Herald, February 2, 1918.

After Word

An earlier version of this article was originally published in:

4 pound tin of Doukhobor ‘K.C. Brand’ strawberry jam. Courtesy Greg Nesteroff.

End Notes

[1] Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, “The Doukhobor Jam-Making Enterprise” in West Kootenay Advertiser, 23-30 April and 7, 14, 21 May 2020: https://tinyurl.com/7938yz47; https://tinyurl.com/4h7ka3kk; https://tinyurl.com/43axfdjk; https://tinyurl.com/pr8f6yc5; https://tinyurl.com/vjj9pcuj; Greg Nesteroff, The Doukhobor Jam Factory in Nelson, B.C.: https://tinyurl.com/tywvxh.

[2] Nelson Daily News, December 28, 1916.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid; Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916; Grand Forks Sun, December 22, 1916; Kelowna Record, December 28, 1916; Vernon News, December 28, 1916; The Montreal Star, January 3, 1917; Greenwood Ledge, January 4, 1917; Similkameen Star, January 5, 1917; Creston Review, January 5, 1917; The Montreal Gazette, January 11, 1917; Brantford Daily Expositor, January 27, 1917; Macleod News, February 1, 1917; Munson Mail, February 17, 1917; Courtney Review, February 22, 1917; Hedley Gazette, March 15, 1917.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916.

[9] Nelson Daily News, December 28, 1916.

[10] Victoria Daily Times, December 15, 1916.

[11] Nelson Daily News, January 11, 1917; The Province, January 8, 1917.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid; Edmonton Journal, February 22, 1917.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Calgary News Telegram, January 7, 1918.

[17] Vancouver Province, January 8, 1917.

[18] Edmonton Journal, February 22, 1917.

[19] Edmonton Journal, June 16, 1917.

[20] Edmonton Journal, February 22 and December 31, 1917.

[21] The Leader Post, January 3, 1918; Montreal Daily Star, January 5, 1918; Brantford Daily Expositor, January 7, 1918; Calgary News Telegram, January 7, 1918; Kingston Whig-Standard, January 8, 1918; Edmonton Bulletin, January 17, 1918; Calgary Herald, February 2 and 4, 1918; Macleod News, February 7, 1918; Alderson News, February 7, 1918; Irma Times, February 7, 1918; Bow Island Review, February 8, 1918; Kamloops Telegram, February 14, 1918; Munson Mail, February 14, 1918; Bassano Mail, February 14, 1918; Claresholm Review-Advertiser, February 15, 1918; Drumheller Review, February 22, 1918; The Ledge, March 14, 1918; Lethbridge Telegram, April 2, 1918.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Regina Leader Post, January 3, 1918.

Doukhobors in the Kootenay, 1909

In June 1909, an unidentified correspondent with the Rossland Miner newspaper visited the new 2,700-acre Doukhobor colony at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers in British Columbia. Only a year after its establishment, the colony already boasted 675 members, recent arrivals from the Prairies, who had cleared 350 acres of heavy forest and planted 10,700 fruit trees along with large vegetable gardens. They set up two sawmills, which were busy cutting lumber for the houses of the different villages to be located on the land, and a preliminary irrigation system was established. Greatly impressed with their untiring industry and deep optimism of further development, the correspondent writes about their history, religious beliefs, communal society, vegetarianism, gender equality, dress and overall generosity and courtesy. Reproduced from the Daily News Advertiser (Vancouver BC), June 23, 1909

Last week a representative of the Rossland “Miner” visited the new colony of Doukhobors at Waterloo, B.C., and writes his impressions as follows.

Imagine a community of nearly 700 men, women and children, without a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a druggist, store, saloon, butcher shop, gaol or police officer, pauper or courtesan, where all of the population are vegetarians and teetotalers, so far as alcoholic beverages are concerned, and who neither chew nor smoke tobacco, and you will have an idea of the Doukhobor settlement at Brilliant, formerly Waterloo, on the Columbia River, about 25 miles from this city.

The inhabitants are Socialists, pure and simple, as everything is held in common. The men and the women work for the community, and all property is owned by the community, and all moneys derived from the sale of the products of the soil go into a common fund. They constitute one big family. The children, until they are able to work, are allowed to play or attend school, where a rudimentary education is given them. As soon as they are strong enough to toil they join the ranks of the workers and become part of the producers.

There are no drones in this human hives. When old age comes on and the limbs become unfit for arduous toil, the superannuated Doukhobors are treated just the same as when they were useful to the community. One of the Doukhobors explained this to the “Miner” representative, about as follows: “Old men and old women, when breakfast comes, eat breakfast; when dinner comes, have dinner; when supper comes, have supper. Rest of time they sit in house if weather is bad, but if weather fine they go in the sun and enjoy themselves. When they want shoes, hat, coat, vest, they go to the shop and get them.”

The former Waterloo mining and lumber camp (est. 1896) where the Doukhobors first settled in 1908. The two-story building at the left was used as the Brilliant Post Office and branch office of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, with the John W. Sherbinin family living upstairs. The two-story whitewashed log building to the right was used as a communal kitchen and cafeteria. The two-story building to its right served as the community store-house for the receipt and distribution of goods and supplies. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

Elementary School

Questioned as to the school, the Doukhobors stated that as the schools were provided for the children, where they learned to read, write and figure; in other words, they are given a primary education. The desire is not to over educate them. They do not want them to become doctors, lawyers, school masters, or scholars, but tillers of the soil, like their fathers and mothers.

Another feature of the Doukhobors is that they are opposed to war and will take no hand, act or part in it. In Russia, where they come from, they were knouted for refusing to serve in the army, but preferred death under the cruel knout to taking part in slaying their fellow men. One of the cardinal parts of their creed is that they are opposed to the shedding of the blood of anything that lives, and hence they are vegetarians, drawing the line even at fish. They have been called by some “Russian Quakers.”

Doukhobor Religion

As to their religion, it was explained to the “Miner” representative as follows:

They follow as closely as possible the teachings of Christ in doing only that which is good to their fellow man, and of not resenting violence when it is offered against their persons or property. When one cheek is smitten they turn the other to the smiter. They lead clean, honest lives, wronging neither man nor dumb creates and make their living by the sweat of their brow, directly from the soil.

Should a member of the community desire at any time to leave, he gives notice of his wish and his or her share is apportioned and he or she is given it in the form of money. Should he or she afterwards regret their action and desire to return they can repurchase their interest and again become members of the community.

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin’s older brothers Prokofy and Vasily and family at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) in c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Women with the Hoe

The women work in the fields the same as the men, doing the light tasks, such as hoeing and planting. It was an interesting sight to see groups of them coming in from the fields at noon and in the evening. Each had a hoe on his shoulder and they laughed and chatted with each other as they made their way to the public dining room, where they dined with their children.

They are usually attired in dark skirts with waists of varied material, generally calico and of different colors, according to the taste of the wearers. Each wears a large apron. The headdress consists of a large handkerchief covering the hair and the sides of the face and tied in a knot at the throat. A portion of the handkerchief falls for a considerable distance down the shoulders. Their feet are covered with rough shoes, and not a few of them were without stockings. Apparently there is not a corset in the community.

A few are comely, others have the “fatal gift of beauty,” while not a few are homely. They are deep chested, wide-hipped, clear eyed and have the red badge of health in their cheeks in most instances. A few of the older ones show the effects of hard toil in stooped shoulders and deeply-marked lines in their faces. They seemed to be cheerful and contented, while their children were veritable pictures of health, vitality and strength, lively and full of pranks. The children were generally barefooted.

One feature that struck the visitor was their universal politeness and kindliness. The men respectfully salute their fellows, whether men or women, whenever they meet, by raising their caps with cheerful words of salutation. The stranger visiting the place is shown the same sort of courtesy, the children being particularly polite.

Strong, Hardy Men

The men nearly all wear a peaked cap and in most instances black coats, all of which are of the same cloth and pattern; dark trousers and heavy shoes. They are manufactured by them at home in most instances. The men are large, strong, athletic and active looking. They are nearly all light complexioned, with blue and gray eyes, although there are a few of the pronounced brunette type with flashing black eyes.

It was noticed that they all were able to read, as when they came to the Post Office they looked over the letters and selected whatever was directed to them.

Peter Verigin is the head man of the colony. He is a fine looking, large man, of commanding appearance. Although he has been in Canada for several years he has not yet learned to speak English. John Sherbinin is his interpreter and is a young man of ability, who speaks English fluently, and from him the following particulars concerning the community were learned:

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin working in his vegetable garden at the Waterloo camp, Dolina Utesheniya, c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Last year the community, after a thorough inspection of the various portions of the Province, on the part of their agent, purchased through Willoughby & Mauer, of Winnipeg, 2,700 acres of land near Waterloo. This included 67 acres belonging to H.B. Landers [sic Landis] and 14 acres owned by James Hartner.

This land extends along the Columbia River’s east bank for a distance of two miles and along the south bank of the Kootenay river for a mile and a half. The land extends from the river front to the foot of the mountains, which rise almost perpendicular at the eastern boundary of the land. The land is beautifully located on three benches. The first bench is 100 feet above the level of the river and a quarter of a mile wide. The second bench is 200 feet above the river and about a mile wide. The third bench is 350 feet above the river and about a quarter of a mile in width. The three benches represent former beds of the Columbia River and the soil is a rich alluvial, being ideal fruit and vegetable land. The valley of the Columbia is wide at this point and the sun has ample opportunity of warming the oil and making “things grow.”

The First Arrivals

On May 12, 1908, the first installment of Doukhobors arrived from the prairies, consisting of 80 men, three women and two children.

Last year a little over 200 acres were cleared and a considerable quantity of vegetables raised, such as potatoes, cucumbers, water melons, citron melons, turnips, radishes, etc., and about 700 fruit trees were planted.

This year, so far, 150 acres have been cleared and 10,700 trees planted, including plums, cherries, prunes, apricots, nectarines, walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. Besides there have been 6,000 grape vines planted on the sunny slopes of the benches. Then there are 18,000 seedling apple, pear and quince trees purchased in Iowa, which will be set out later, they being at present in beds. A very large number of gooseberries, currants and blackberries have been set out, which will produce considerable fruit this year. This season there have been a good sized acreage devoted to potatoes, onions, beets, buckwheat, water melons and other vegetables.

The community has had in operation for a considerable time a portable sawmill that cuts about 5,000 feet of lumber a day. Another and a larger mill has been purchased and is at present at Castlegar on board the cars. This will soon be placed in position and will cut from 30,000 to 40,000 feet a day. It will be used to cut lumber for the houses of the different villages that are to be located on the land of the community. It will not only be used at Waterloo but at Pass Creek, where the community has purchased 2,000 acres of land.

A ferry has been put in at Waterloo, which will carry thirty tons, and a second ferry has been placed in position in the Kootenay River, which is only a little smaller than the one at Waterloo.

Returning to the additions to the colony, Mr. Sherbinin stated that fifteen came in July last from the prairies, consisting of two men, three children and ten women. April of the present year 190 men arrived from the prairies. Within the past few days, 500 arrived at Waterloo, a considerable portion of whom were women. About 150 have gone to near Grand Forks, where the community owns 1,000 acres of land, and some are working for others clearing land. The present population of the Waterloo community is about 675.

Group of early Doukhobor settlers to Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), c. 1909. BC Archives A-02072.

Asked as to the future plans of the community, Mr. Sherbinin stated that the intention was to continue the work of clearing, till 2,700 acres at Waterloo was cleared and set out in fruit, thus making it the largest orchard in the Province. A road is being built to Pass Creek, from Waterloo, which with all its winding will be about ten miles in length. If the Province constructed this road it would cost at least $12,000, but the Doukhobors are doing it themselves without asking for a cent from the public coffers. The 2,000 acres that the community owns at Pass Creek will be cleared and part of it used for growing vegetables and the remainder for hay and pasturage.

Asked where the Doukhobors came from, Mr. Sherbinin said that they were from the Caucasian Provinces that lie in Southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas, and principally from Tiflis and Kars. They are from the cradle of the Aryan race. The Doukhobor society is three or four hundred years old. They came to Canada first in 1898, because dissatisfied with the adverse conditions in Russia, and particularly the compulsory service required of them in the army, preferring death at the hands of the Cossacks to service in the army. There are about 7,000 of them in Canada at present. In Saskatchewan there are 40 villages each containing from 75 to 350 people. It is the intention to transfer all of these to the Province inside of the next five years.

Asked the reason for the change of residence place the reply was that as the Doukhobors are vegetarians and used to a fairly warm climate, it was too cold for them on the prairies, while the weather here was free from intense cold. On the prairies they cannot raise fruits, vegetables and nuts, which form so large a portion of their diet, but here they can be easily grown, and hence their preference for this section of the country.

First crop of tomatoes grown by Doukhobors at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), 1908. SFU MSC121-DP-152-01.

Vegetarian Menus

The “Miner” representative dined twice with the Doukhobors during his visit, having luncheon and dinner. At luncheon he had a vegetable soup, made of potatoes and fragrant herbs, thickened with milk and butter and seasoned with salt. It was very good. Black bread made of whole wheat, evidently mixed with rye. It was sweet and wholesome. Two fresh eggs; then there was raspberry jam, raisins and plums stewed together, butter and cheese, and water instead of tea. For dinner the menu was as follows: noodle soup, flavored with parsley and seasoned with salt. A slab of cheese; black bread, raspberry jam, two eggs, and water instead of coffee.

From the standpoint of a vegetarian the meals were satisfying, and the “Miner” representative enjoyed them very much. They were given with such kindness and such heartfelt hospitality that added zest to them.

What most impressed the “Miner” representative during his visit was the untiring industry of the members of the community. In a very short time they have cleared, ploughed and made a veritable garden a tract of 350 acres that was last year virgin forest. Not only the stumps and roots have been removed but every stone. The soil has been pulverized to as fine a point as it can be.

Water has been piped to the cultivated land so that trees and vegetables can be irrigated. It is the intention to flume in larger supplies of water from McPhee Creek, so that every acre of the 2,700 can be irrigated.

When the entire tract has been planted it promises to make the largest orchard in the Province. It is understood that most of the fruit raised will be canned or dried for shipment to the larger centres of the Dominion. The task already accomplished is an immense one, but what lies before them in improving the two tracts at Waterloo and Pass Creeks and the one at Grand Forks is much larger. Besides they intend to acquire other areas of raw land which they will improve. What they have done already is an object lesson of great value, as it shows what the soil of the Columbia River Valley is capable of yielding to property directed and energetic effort.

Doukhobor land-clearing on the First Bench immediately north of the Waterloo camp, 1912. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

To the Socialist of this section a visit to Waterloo will give him a view of Socialism at short range, as his doctrines are fully carried out by the Doukhobors.

The vegetarian will find much to commend when he looks into the diet of the Doukhobors. He will see men and women doing hard work on a vegetable diet.

The temperance advocate should also be interested in what he can see in this community and can study the effects of total abstinence in a community of several hundred.

The lover of peace cannot help but admire the courage which the Doukhobors have displayed in sticking to their anti-war doctrine.

Those who are interested in humanity and how man is working his way to a higher destiny, can find food and reflection in this simple, plain and God-fearing community.


After Word

It should be noted that all references to ‘Brilliant’ in this 1909 article refer exclusively to the Doukhobor settlemens in the Valley of Consolation (Dolina Utesheniya) on the southeast side of the Kootenay-Columbia confluence. The lands known as ‘Brilliant’ today on the northeast side of the confluence were only purchased by the Doukhobor Society three years later in 1912.

The Doukhobor Trading Store in Blairmore, Alberta

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Although the historical Doukhobor connection to Cowley and Lundbreck, Alberta is well known, few would associate them with the Crowsnest Pass.  Yet for decades in the Teens, Twenties and Thirties, the Pass was an important market for Doukhobor communally-grown field and garden products. And for a brief time, they even established a commercial retail outlet there. This article traces the forgotten history of the Doukhobor trading store in Blairmore.

Background

Beginning in 1915, the Doukhobor enterprise known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (‘CCUB’) purchased land near Cowley and Lundbreck for a new agricultural colony.[1] Within several years, it acquired over 14,000 acres of some of the best grain-growing and grazing land in the foothills, on which over 250 Doukhobors established a dozen settlements.

The Russian-speaking settlers lived communally. All goods and property were held in common, all fieldwork and animal husbandry was done jointly and all income was deposited in a central treasury. They did not receive wages for their labour, but were provided with all basic necessities by the organization. Sober-minded, industrious and simple-living, they embodied their motto of ‘Toil and Peaceful Life.’

A Doukhobor communal home north of Lundbreck, AB, c. 1920. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

To bring their land to peak production, the Doukhobors practiced irrigation and worked it with heavy machinery, running six steam engines. To store their grain, they built a 35,000-bushel grain elevator at Lundbreck in 1915[2] and a 70,000-bushel elevator at Cowley in 1916,[3] along with large warehouses at each point for their supplies. And in 1922, they moved the Pincher Creek flour mill to Lundbreck to commercially mill wheat.[4] 

In addition to grain-growing, the CCUB raised several hundred head each of draft working horses, shorthorn dairy cattle and wool-bearing sheep.[5] Being strict vegetarians, they did not raise animals for meat. For livestock feed, they produced large quantities of hay and forage crops. And they grew huge truck gardens of assorted vegetables.  

The Doukhobors kept some farm products for their own consumption and shipped railcar loads to CCUB settlements in B.C. in exchange for fresh fruit, jams and other goods produced there. Surplus grain was marketed by rail. Surplus feed, flour and vegetables were sold locally or else conveyed by wagon-load up the Crowsnest Pass, where they found a ready market at high prices.[6]

Indeed, the Pass trade proved lucrative enough that in 1924, the Doukhobors endeavored to establish a permanent commercial presence there.    

From at least 1917 to 1937, Doukhobors from Cowley and Lundbreck, AB traded communally-grown farm and field products up the Crowsnest Pass, where they found a ready market. Mundy’s Map of the Province of Alberta, 1912.

Store Purchase

In February 1924, the CCUB purchased the former Poggiali store premises in Blairmore from realtor and insurance agent Chrystom J. Tompkins and CPR agent James J. Murray of Frank.[7] The $4,000.00 purchase was made under an agreement for sale whereby payment was made in three yearly installments, with title transferring to the purchasers upon payment in full.[8]

Notice of Blairmore store acquisition by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Blairmore Enterprise, February 7, 1924.

The premises (Lots 10, 11 and Pt A of Block 2) was located at the east end of Blairmore on Victoria Street (now 20th Avenue), the town’s main thoroughfare, near the corner of 13th Avenue (now 135th Street) at the present site of 13601 and 13609 20th Avenue.

The store (Lot 10) was of a typical boomtown design – a two-story, rectangular 35 x 45 foot wood-frame structure with whitewashed clapboard exterior and a rectilinear false façade attached to a gable roof to given an impression of a larger size from the street.[9] The façade had large display windows and a bracketed cornice. The main floor housed the store and upper floor contained office/living quarters.  

It was built in 1910 or early 1911 by Italian immigrants Antonio and Angelina Poggiali who ran a grocery and dry goods store there (as part of a chain of three stores in Blairmore, Bellevue and Frank) in conjunction with their next door residence/rooming house until May 1922, when they sold out to Tompkins and Murray and moved to the Bronx, New York.[10]

Fire insurance map of the Doukhobor store property (marked in red) at Blairmore, AB. This September 1931 patch covers the original October 1925 map, which had the words ‘Flour and Feed’ superimposed over the buildings. Western Canada Fire Underwriters Association.

A 20 x 20 foot post-frame barn with hip roof (Lot 11) and a 20 x 25 foot log stable with hip roof (Lot A) at the rear of the property housed up to four horses used to pull the store drays (low, flat delivery wagons without sides used to haul freight).[11]

Retail Operations

The CCUB assigned Nicholas J. Verigin (1866-1950) to manage the new store, assisted by his son-in-law Alex M. Salekin (1885-1957). A nephew of Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin, Nicholas was regarded for his integrity and knowledge of basic business principles. Alex, a kucher (‘coachman’) for the Doukhobor leader when he visited the locality,[12] shared these qualities and also possessed basic fluency in English. Relocating from Lundbreck, they took up residence above the store with their combined family of eight.

Reporting to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta (the CCUB’s Alberta subsidiary) branch office in Cowley, the men were responsible for all aspects of store inventory management and sales.  

When a freight load of Doukhobor products arrived at the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Blairmore from Cowley and Lundbreck, the men drove the store drays and teams down Victoria Street to the depot, where they transferred sacks, boxes, bales and pallets from the standing railcar to the station platform, and from the platform to the dray. It sometimes took several wagon-loads to haul away the entire shipment.

Blairmore, east main street, about 1925. Doukhobor store marked in red. Crowsnest And Its People.

The stock was then hauled back to the store, unloaded and stored until needed. In this regard, Verigin and Salekin erected a one-story 52 x 45 foot wood-frame warehouse on a concrete slab foundation with flat slanted roof (Lot 11) adjoining the east side of the store in mid-1924[13] using lumber shipped from the CCUB’s Kootenay sawmills. Samples of merchandise were prominently displayed in the store windows.

The store primarily sold local communally-produced flour (100 lb sacks), livestock feed (baled grass, alfalfa and clover and 100 lb sacks of oats) and chicken feed (100 lb sacks of cracked/broken grains, bran and other mill screenings). It also offered bagged wool as well as fresh eggs, butter, cheese and cream by the pound, and a wide array of seasonal fresh vegetables including potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, carrots and cucumbers.

In addition to field and garden products produced by the CCUB at Cowley and Lundbreck, the store brought in seasonal fresh fruit (apples, pears, plums, peaches and cherries) grown in the CCUB orchards in the Kootenays along with the famous ‘K.C. Brand’ jams produced at the CCUB jam factory in Brilliant. Communally-milled lumber, poles, shingles and fence posts from the Kootenays were likely sold on order.

The Doukhobors sold goods at prevailing local prices.[14] However, its costs were markedly lower than other retailers since the CCUB produced all its own goods and used unpaid communal labour at all stages of the supply chain without the intervention of middlemen or commission agents. Its only external cost was for rail freight, which all local merchants bore. The store thus earned a higher profit margin than its local competitors.  

Doukhobor market produce was immensely popular in the Pass. Blairmore Enterprise, May 5, 1927.

The Doukhobors did not advertise in the local Blairmore Enterprise newspaper, relying instead on established word of mouth, particularly among Ukrainian, Polish, Czech and other immigrant coal miners and laborers. Based out of the store, Verigin and Salekin sold and delivered dray loads of goods throughout Blairmore and surrounding towns within a 3-5 mile radius, such as Sentinel, Coleman, Lille, Hillcrest, Frank, Bellevue and Maple Leaf.

In addition to selling farm products, the Doukhobors offered cartage services, hauling freight by wagon for hire. For instance, Veregin and Salekin were engaged to haul rock, cement and supplies by local Italian contractor H.J. Pozzi for the cribbing of Lyon (now Blairmore) Creek near 9th Avenue (now 131st Street) between March 1924 and February 1925, earning $450.00.[15]   

Paul N. Potapoff (1885-1958), branch manager of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta in Cowley, made periodic visits to Blairmore to oversee and inspect the store operation, examine the ledger and account books and collect the cash revenue held in the office strong box.[16]

Letterhead of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited, the CCUB’s Alberta subsidiary. University of Alberta Archives.

Family Life

The Verigin and Salekin family lived the same simple life as other members of the CCUB. They were issued clothes (shoes, boots, etc.), foodstuffs (flour, salt, grain etc.) and provisions in exchange for living and working at the store. Their days were spent in communal labour with few opportunities for leisure.

Nikolai’s wife Anastasia and their daughter, Alex’s wife Mary, performed all domestic tasks including cooking, baking, housecleaning, washing, sewing and mending clothes and child-rearing. They milked the milk cow allotted to the family and grew a vegetable garden behind the store for their own use.

Upon their arrival in town, the youngest Verigin child Anastasia attended the Blairmore Public School. The Salekin children followed upon reaching school age. On enrollment, the Doukhobor children spoke only Russian, but over the course of the year, readily acquired English and excelled at their studies.

Alex M. Salekin, his wife Mary (nee Verigin) and sons Peter (left) and Wasyl (right), Blairmore, AB, c. 1924. Courtesy Margaret Salekin.

In terms of spiritual life, the family held prayer meetings (moleniye) on Sunday mornings in their living quarters, conducted in the Russian language. The afternoon was spent in group singing of hymns and folk songs or visiting Doukhobor friends and family in from Cowley and Lundbreck, followed by Sunday dinner.

Community Upheaval

After a successful first year, the Doukhobor store in Blairmore seemed poised to continue business operations into the foreseeable future, had it not been for a series of events that left the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood devastated and divided.

Following the death of Peter V. Verigin in a mysterious train explosion at Farron, B.C. in October 1924, the CCUB was plunged into grief over the loss of their leader. Members withdrew children from public schools for a four-month period of mourning.[17] By December, a split arose over succession. The minority ‘Leaders’ group comprised of CCUB officials and Veregin’s family members backed his niece Anastasia Holuboff and the status quo; while the majority rank and file ‘Working Brothers’ chose his son Peter in Russia and called to replace the managerial elite with their own candidates, or at least someone different from those in charge.[18]

In the upheaval following Peter V. Verigin’s death, Doukhobor ‘Workers’ organized to gain a greater voice in the affairs of the CCUB and to oust the existing managerial elite. Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925.

Amidst this upheaval, Nicholas J. Verigin found himself at odds with the CCUB majority on several fronts. He had continued to let his children attend public school in Blairmore. As a Verigin family member, he was presumed by default to support Holuboff as successor. And as a member of the ‘Leaders’ group who held a good job in the CCUB, he was now viewed as a privileged apparatchik (‘functionary’) and nepotee living on the shoulders of the working Doukhobors.   

Eviction from Community

Consequently, within weeks of the election of a ‘Working Brother’ to the Cowley branch directors in January 1925,[19] the Verigin and Salekin family in Blairmore ceased receiving supplies and rations from the CCUB, their milking cow sent to winter in Cowley was not returned to them, they were relieved of their posts at the store, and were allegedly advised they were no longer members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood.[20] 

Notice of disavowal of debts of Nicholas J. Verigin and Alex M. Salekin by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Blairmore Enterprise, February 19, 1925.

In February 1925, Community officials printed a notice of disavowal of debt in the Blairmore Enterprise and Lethbridge Herald: “The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited, wish to state that they will not be responsible for any debts incurred by Aleck Seliken and Nick Veregin, who were running our store in Blairmore.  All business may be transacted care of head office, Cowley. Dated at Cowley, Alberta, this 16th day of February, 1925.”[21]

What was expected to happen next was that the Verigin and Salekin family would vacate the store to be replaced by another Doukhobor family who would carry on the business on behalf of the CCUB. However, Nicholas stood his ground and refused to leave, claiming he was entitled to the property as his share of the communal organization.[22] A stalemate ensued for the rest of 1925.  

In the interim, the CCUB at Cowley and Lundbreck continued to sell field and garden products throughout the Pass by the wagonload.[23] At the same time, the CCUB Grand Forks branch opened a Doukhobor fruit store in Cranbook on the other side of the Pass in 1925-1926.

By 1926, local CCUB officials decided on a new tack. Upon obtaining legal title to the store property in February,[24] they purported to sell it to land surveyor John D. Anderson of Trail, B.C. by agreement for sale in April.[25] Anderson subsequently initiated eviction proceedings against the Doukhobor ‘squatters’.

The Verigin-Salekin-Glookoff household residing in the CCUB store property at Blairmore, Alberta, 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces.

By then, Nicholas had more family living on the property. At the taking of the Census of Prairie Provinces in June 1926, the occupants were: Nicholas, 60, wife Mabel (Anastasia), 52, and daughter Mabel (Anastasia), 15; their daughter Mary, 25, husband Alex Salekin, 26, and sons Pete, 5, Wasyl, 4, and Alexander, 5 months; and their other daughter Helen (Hanya), 35, husband Kuzma W. Glookoff, 36, and daughter Mabel (Anastasia), 16. Listed on the same lot in a different building was their niece Vera, husband Jack J. Smoroden, both 34, and children John, 15, Jack, 6, and Vera, 4.[26] 

Faced with eviction, Nicholas doubled down on his ownership claim, producing a 1924 letter from his uncle, the late Peter V. Verigin, purportedly deeding him the premises.[27] This unexpected move frustrated not only the eviction action but Anderson’s purchase, with title reverting to the CCUB in October 1926.[28]        

Nicholas then went on the offensive.

Lawsuit

In January 1927, Nicholas launched a suit in the Supreme Court of Alberta against the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood alleging that he was unlawfully expelled from it because he educated his children according to the laws of Canada and claiming $21,466.00 as recompense for 26 years of labour performed for the organization, $5,000.00 damages and an order establishing his right to the Blairmore property.[29]

Nicholas J. Verigin’s lawsuit against the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood for recompense of communal labour and his share of communal assets made national headlines. Calgary Herald, January 25, 1927.

The suit was an important test case, for if successful, it would set a major precedent and make it possible for other members to secede from the CCUB with significant financial ramifications to the organization. However, on cross-examination, CCUB officials rebutted the claims by contending they had always counseled that the children be sent to public schools when possible; that Verigin was mistaken in his belief that he was expelled; that he was still a member with full rights; and that he would be given a comfortable living for the rest of his life.[30] After a 3-day trial in June 1927, the case was dismissed on the basis that Verigin failed to prove he was in fact expelled.

Nicholas remained undeterred. In mid-September 1927, he filed a formal appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal alleging that, irrespective of whether he was evicted, the CCUB, by organizing itself in such a way that individual member shareholders were debarred from obtaining their share of the organization’s assets, and by removing its children from public education, was contrary to public policy.[31]

If Verigin’s initial lawsuit threatened to pave the way for member succession from the CCUB, his appeal threatened the communal organization’s very existence, since for the first time in the history of Canadian courts, it was alleged that the formation of community along the lines of the Doukhobors’ was illegal.

Settlement & Transfer to Nicholas Verigin

Only days before the appeal was to be heard, Nicholas’ first cousin, Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin, arrived in Calgary, Alberta from Russia to assume leadership of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in Canada.[32] Recognizing the tremendous risk to the organization posed by the appeal, the new leader promptly and quietly settled the matter out of court in October 1927 by agreeing to transfer the Blairmore property to Nicholas in exchange for a withdrawal of the appeal.[33]

Transfer of the Blairmore store property from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Ltd. to Nicholas J. Verigin for $1.00, January 9, 1930. Alberta Land Titles South.

Following these somewhat dramatic events, Nicholas J. Verigin lived at the property with his family for another 4 years. By September 1931, Nicholas, now widowed,[34] sold the property by agreement for sale and moved to Pincher Creek with son-in-law Alex M. Salekin and family, where they farmed as Independent Doukhobors.

Thus ended the brief but unique and eventful Doukhobor communal tenure in Blairmore.

Epilogue: Subsequent Owners

Between September 1931 and March 1936, the premises was an auto-wrecking business owned by Silva Sicotte.[35] From December 1937 to August 1953, it operated as ‘East End Service Garage’ run by J.L. ‘Pat’ McLeod.[36] On or around August 1953, the buildings, now in rough condition, were demolished, leaving only the warehouse concrete foundation remaining until at least 1973.[37]  

From 1937 to 1953, the former Doukhobor store at Blairmore was operated as the ‘East End Service Garage’. Crowsnest Museum and Archives, CM-BL-06-54.

After Word

Special thanks to Ian McKenzie, Crowsnest Heritage Initiative, for his kind support and assistance throughout the development of this article.

An abridged version of this article was originally published in:

Today, the site of the Doukhobor store is occupied by the residence at 13601 20th Ave and Soo Blairmore (formerly Royal Canadian Legion) at 13609 20th Ave in Blairmore, AB.

End Notes

[1] For general information about Doukhobor settlement in Alberta, see: John W. Friesen and Michael M. Verigin, The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1996) at 47-48, 106-109; Barry Potyondi, Where the Rivers Meet, A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939 (Lethbridge: Robins Southern Printing, 1990) at 163-166, 208-209; Margaret Salekin, “Doukhobor History of the Lundbreck-Cowley Area of Alberta” in ISKRA Nos. 2034-2036 (2010) and Doukhobor Heritage: https://tinyurl.com/yc6226an; Koozma J. Tarasoff, Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors (Mir Publication Society, 1982) at 113.

[2] List of licensed elevators and warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division (Ottawa: Dept. of Trade and Commerce, 1915/1916); F.W. Godsal, ‘The Mail Bag’, The Grain Growers’ Guide, May 17, 1916.

[3] List of licensed elevators and warehouses in the Western Grain Inspection Division (Ottawa: Dept. of Trade and Commerce, 1916/1917); Grain and Farm Service Centers. c. 1, v. 37, Jul-Dec 1916; Blairmore Enterprise, September 29, 1916; Bellevue Times, September 29, 1916; Calgary Herald, October 2, 1916.

[4] Lethbridge Herald, April 22, 1922 and May 11, 1922; Blairmore Enterprise, September 13, 1923, October 25, 1923 and May 22, 1924; Irma Times, May 4, 1923; Redcliff Review, May 10, 1923; American Miller and Processor, Volume 28, 1923.

[5] For CCUB Alberta livestock statistics, see: Blairmore Enterprise, April 28, 1921; Lethbridge Herald, March 23 and 27, 1922, November 5, 1926 and September 4, 1928; Snesarev, V.N., The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia, Department of Agriculture, 1931), Appendix 1; Liuba Verigin, “The Alberta Doukhobors”, an unpublished paper prepared for the Institute of Doukhobor Studies, Castlegar, B.C., April 21, 1976.

[6] Lethbridge Telegram, March 1, 1917; Calgary Herald, February 10, 1920; Lethbridge Herald, November 5, 1926 and May 12, 1932; Blairmore Enterprise, May 5, 1927; Potyondi, supra, note 1 at 165.

[7] Blairmore Enterprise, February 7, 1924; Transfer of Title dated February 3, 1926 from Chrystostom J. Tompkins and James Johnston Murray to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Limited re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 4860 DI on February 13, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 34E dated February 13, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party. 

[8] Ibid. According to the newspaper account, the Community leased the property from Tomkins and Murray in February 1924. However, the transfer documents show that when the Community obtained title in February 1926, it paid $1,500.00 against the property, then valued at $4,000.00. This indicates an ‘agreement for sale’ arrangement, whereby the purchaser takes immediate possession of a property, which is paid for by installments, while the seller retains title as security until payment in full is received. Agreements for sale were a very common means of purchasing property in Western Canada in the Teens and Twenties.

[9] Blairmore, Alberta Fire Insurance Map (Winnipeg: Western Canadian Fire Underwriter’s Association; October 1925, Revised September 1931). Note the 1931 version of the map has a patch glued over Lots 10-11 of Block 2; however, an analysis of the map sheet under light confirmed that all buildings shown on the 1931 patch appeared in the original 1925 sheet; the only difference being that the words “Auto Wrecking” superimposed on the buildings in 1931 originally read “Flour and Feed” in 1925: Peter Peller, Spatial and Numeric Data Services, University of Calgary Archives, correspondence with the writer, October 27, 2020. 

[10] In 1906, Italian immigrants Antonio and Angelina Poggiali and family resettled from New York City to Blairmore, Alberta. In September 1909, they purchased Lots 8-11 of Block 2 at the east end of town: C. of T. No. KM-218, September 7, 1909. By mid-1911, they built two near-identical rectangular two-storey wood-frame structures: the family residence (main floor) and 9-room rooming house (upper floor) on Lot 8; and a grocery store (main floor) with residential space (upper floor) on Lot 10: 1911 Canada Census, District 3, Dub-District 5, p. 32; Henderson’s Alberta Gazetteer and Directory for 1911, p. 89. In October 1913, Antonio expanded the A. Poggiali & Co. retail grocery business, hiring contractor H.J. Pozzi to build 2 new brick stores at Bellevue and Coleman: Blairmore Enterprise, October 17, 1913. However, the expansion soon led to financial difficulty. By April 1914, he held a big cash sale at all three stores, evidently to pay off creditors: Bellevue Times, April 17, 1914. In May 1914, the Canadian Credit Men’s Trust Association seized $6,700 of stock at the 3 stores and sold it by tender: Bellevue Times, May 1, 8, 15, 1914. The same month, Antonio made an assignment of the rest of his estate to creditors: Bellevue Times, May 15 and October 16, 1914. Evidently, Antonio lost the Coleman and Bellevue stores; however, the store in Blairmore (in Angelina’s name) continued to operate: Henderson’s Alberta Gazetteer and Directory for 1914, p. 197: 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces, District 39, Sub-District 10, p. 8. In fall 1915, the Lot 8 residence was stripped and remodeled, removing the rooming quarters and façade: Blairmore Enterprise, July 2, October 1, November 5, 1915. Antonio was operating the Lot 10 store and living at the Lot 8 residence in June 1921: 1921 Canada Census, District 8, Sub-District 28, p. 15. In May 1922, the Poggialis sold the property to Tompkins and Murray and moved to New York: C. of T. No. 27-O-157, May 4, 1922.

[11] Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map, supra, note 9.

[12] Margaret Salekin, correspondence with the writer, May 16, 2022.

[13] In Transfer of Title dated January 9, 1930 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Ltd to Nicholas J. Verigin re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 3097EE on January 15, 1920, February 13, 1926, Veregin attested to building the warehouse. As the warehouse appears in the October 1925 version of the Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map, supra, note 9 superimposed with the words “Flour and Feed” over it, it was most likely constructed in 1924 during the operation of the trading store.

[14] A common complaint by English Canadian merchants in Western Canadian towns were Doukhobors sold retail goods was that the Doukhobors’ large pool of unpaid labour enabled them to undercut the local market by selling goods for less than local merchants could afford to; however, research by the writer indicates that the Doukhobors routinely sold goods at prevailing rates, relying instead upon their greater profit margins for the same prices.

[15] Blairmore Enterprise, May 27, 1926; see also the March 6, 13 and 20, April 17, June 26, July 10, December 4, 1924 and January 1, February 19, 1925 editions.

[16] See for example Blairmore Enterprise, January 1, 1925.

[17] Doukhobors belonging to the Community had long been hesitant of public education, fearing it would lead their children away from communal life and their pacifist religious ideals. In the two years prior to Peter V. Verigin’s death, fanatics within the Community burned 8 schools to the ground in British Columbia: The Province, June 1 and 4, 1923; Vancouver Sun, August 12, 1923, April 1, 1924; Vancouver Daily World, June 30, 1923; Grand Forks Gazette, November 23, 1923. Upon his death, Community members withdrew their children from public schools altogether, ostensibly for a period of mourning, until May 1925: Grand Forks Gazette, March 6, 1925; The Province, April 8, 1925; Regina Leader-Post, June 23, 1927. For a comprehensive treatment of Doukhobor schooling see: William Janzen, Limits on Liberty, The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukhobor Communities in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990).

[18] Winnipeg Tribune, December 4, 1924; Nelson Daily News, December 8, 1924, March 4, 14 and 19, 1925; Winnipeg Free Press, December 11, 1924; Victoria Daily Times, December 17, 1924; Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925; The Province, March 18, 1925; Blairmore Enterprise, April 2, 1925; Times Colonist, March 28, 1925.

[19] On January 3, 1925, the appeal of the Doukhobor workers of the Cowley branch of the Community was met by the placing of one of their members, John P. Bojey, on the board of directors: Lethbridge Herald, January 8, 1925.

[20] Lethbridge Herald, February 18, 1927. Nicholas J. Verigin’s sacking from the Community was by no means an isolated case. In the same period, other Community managers belonging to the ‘Leader’ group were relieved of their positions, including Nicholas’s brother Peter J. Verigin in Veregin, Saskatchewan, his cousin Larion W. Verigin (another nephew of the late leader) in Brilliant, and Wasyl W. Lazareff in Trail, British Columbia: The Province, March 14, 1925; The Leader-Post, June 23, 1927.   

[21] Blairmore Enterprise, February 19, 1925; Lethbridge Herald, February 14, 1925.

[22] Lethbridge Herald, January 25, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, 1927.

[23] Supra, note 6. There is no evidence that the Blairmore store continued to sell CCUB products after February 1925.

[24] Supra, note 7.

[25] John Drummond Anderson was no stranger to the Doukhobor Community. In 1909, he was hired by the government to survey the road built by the Doukhobors connecting Pass Creek to Brilliant; between 1909-1911, he hired several community members to clear land on his ranch, 7 miles north of Trail on the Columbia River at Sullivan and Murphy Creek; and during the same period he sold the Doukhobor Community fruit from his orchard ranch for their jam factory: Royal Commission Into All Matters Pertaining to the Doukhobor Sect in British Columbia, Transcription of Proceedings, Trail, B.C. Sept 3, 1912 at 148-150; BC Archives GR-0793. In 1915, Anderson sold the Doukhobor Society 525 acres of land south of Castlegar: Nelson Daily News, 1915.02.15. And in 1925, he surveyed the Veregin Subdivision in West Trail for the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood: ‘Plan of Subdivision of Part of Sawmill Block, Reserve, Part of Block 16, Map 465 & Map 465A. With respect to the Blairmore property, it was transferred to Anderson by Transfer of Title dated March 31, 1926 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited to John Drummond Anderson re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 4781 on April 13, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 34D dated April 13, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party.

[26] 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces, Alberta, Division 49, Sub-Division 11, p. 17.

[27] Lethbridge Herald, January 25 and April 19, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, 1927.

[28] Transfer of Title dated October 1, 1926 from John Drummond Anderson to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta, Limited re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 6757 on December 27, 1926, with new Certificate of Title No. 35F dated December 27, 1926 issued in the name of the latter party.

[29] Calgary Herald, January 25, 1927; Calgary Albertan, January 25, 1927; Winnipeg Tribune, January 26, 1927; Lethbridge Herald, January 25 and 27, February 18 and April 19, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, January 27, February 3 and 17 and April 21, 1927.

[30] The Province, June 22 and 23, 1927; Regina Leader-Post, June 22, 23 and 27, 1927; Montreal Gazette, June 22 and 23, 1927; Edmonton Journal, June 22, 23 and 24, 1927; The Montreal Daily Star, June 22, 1927; Calgary Albertan, June 23, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, June 23, 1927.

[31] Edmonton Journal, September 14, 1927; Calgary Herald, September 14, 1927; Regina Leader-Post, September 14, 1927; Montreal Gazette, September 14, 1927; Grand Forks Gazette, September 14, 1927.

[32] Upon arriving in Calgary from Moscow, Peter P. Verigin met with a number of Doukhobor delegates from the Community as well as ex-community members, his first cousins Peter J. Verigin and Larion W. Verigin: Calgary Herald, October 6 and 12, 1927; Calgary Alberta, October 7, 1927; Edmonton Journal, October 7 and 10, 1927;

[33] Calgary Herald, October 13, 1927; Blairmore Enterprise, October 20, 1927. Although Nicholas J. Verigin’s appeal was settled in October 1927 and he continued to reside at the Blairmore store in the interim, it was two years before the property was legally transferred into his name:  Transfer of Title dated January 9, 1930 from the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood of Alberta Limited to Nicholas J. Verigin re: Lots 10 and 11 in Block 2 and the most southerly 62 feet of Lot A in Block 2, Plan 2897R Blairmore, and registered as No. 3097 on January 15, 1930, with new Certificate of Title No. 42C dated January 15, 1930 issued in the name of the latter party.

[34] Nicholas J. Verigin’s wife Mabel (Anastasia) died in Blairmore in October 1930 after a short illness: Blairmore Enterprise, October 16, 1930.

[35] Legal title to the property passed from Nicholas J. Verigin to Silva Sicotte by Transfer dated November 23, 1932 and registered as No. 2969 on November 29, 1932, with new Certificate of Title No. 47E dated November 29, 1932 issued to the latter. Evidently, the purchase was made under a prior agreement for sale as the words “Auto Wrecking” were already superimposed on the buildings in the September 1931 Blairmore, Alberta Fire insurance Map: supra, note 9. As only $1,000.00 of the property value of $3,300.00 was paid on transfer, the agreement for sale presumably commenced around September 1931.

[36] From December 1937 to August 1953, the property was held by a succession of legal owners: Certificate of Title No. 52H dated December 13, 1937 issued to Charles Robert Luchia; Certificate of Title No. 61A dated April 2, 1943 issued to Arctic Oil Sales Limited; Certificate of Title No. 68H dated October 2, 1945 issued to Gas & Oil Products Limited; and Certificate of Title 94Z dated August 29, 1953 issued to Anglo American Exploration Ltd. However, the premises was continuously operated during this period as ‘East End Services’ by proprietor J.L. ‘Pat’ McLeod, presumably under lease: Blairmore Enterprise, December 19, 1941, December 18, 1942, June1 and 15, 1945; Lethbridge Herald, August 22, 1938, June 15, 1940, August 9, 1950 and February 22, 1952.

[37] According to Keith Sprlak, a lifetime resident of Blairmore who assumed ownership of the property in June 1973, there were no structures on the property (other than a concrete pad where the warehouse once stood) since the mid-1950s. Given that the last newspaper reference to East End Services dates to February 1952, it is reasonable to presume that the buildings were demolished either immediately prior or after the property changed hands in August 1953: Keith Sprlak, Blairmore, AB, interview with the writer, April 21, 2022.  

Easter Among Doukhobors

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

This weekend we celebrate Easter, a festival commemorated by Christians across the world. As we do so, it is important to remind ourselves how this holiday is understood in Doukhobor religious thought and teaching, and how it differs in significant respects from that of other Christian denominations; the Doukhobor folk customs and traditions connected to Easter; and the significant historic events associated with its celebration.

Orthodox Easter

Since the introduction of Christianity in Russia in 988 AD, Paskha (Пасха) or ‘Easter’ was celebrated by the Orthodox Church as a holiday in remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. It was traditionally held (on the first Sunday after the spring equinox and full moon with dates varying year-to-year) according to the Julian (Old) Calendar then used in Russia, which fell one or five weeks later than the Gregorian (New) Calendar.

Among the Orthodox, Jesus Christ was considered the incarnation of God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. That is, the Orthodox considered Christ the literal supernatural embodiment of God on earth, having taken on a human body and human nature. His suffering and death on the Cross, the Orthodox believed, was followed by his actual, physical, bodily resurrection. This concept of events formed the foundation of the Orthodox faith, and its belief that Christ’s death and resurrection were part of God’s plan for man’s salvation and redemption through Christ’s atonement for man’s sin.

The Orthodox celebration of Paskha was preceded by twelve weeks of Lent, during which the faithful fasted and practiced repentance, forgiveness and prayer. When the festival finally arrived, it was considered a day of mandatory church attendance, where believers attended a midnight service on the eve which abounded in ornate ritual and ceremony. It began with a procession out of the church building, with the faithful carrying icons and candles led by the priest burning incense in a censer. The procession circled the building and returned to the closed front doors, where the priest read from the Gospel. The faithful then re-entered the church and continued the service of Easter matins, which were entirely sung. This was followed by a divine liturgy, with singing and readings by the priest, and concluded with the sacraments of the holy communion.

Following the church service, Orthodox Russians celebrated Paskha with feasts and merriment along with the exchange of colored eggs, traditionally dyed red with onion skins. Among the Orthodox, Easter eggs traditionally symbolized resurrection and new life, while the red colouring symbolized the blood of Christ on the cross.

Easter among Doukhobors

During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they also outwardly celebrated Paskha in the traditional manner. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances sake; others avoided going altogether, having already rejected the physical church in favour of the ‘inner church’ within themselves; nonetheless at home they celebrated with prayer meetings, followed by visits to family and friends.

However, by this time, Paskha had acquired an inner, spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors that differed substantially from that of the Orthodox, and which was founded on dramatically different ideas concerning the nature of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection, and the basis of man’s salvation.

Jesus Christ

In order to understand the Doukhobor concept of Jesus Christ, it is first necessary to discuss the Doukhobor notion of the Trinity.

Doukhobors rejected the Orthodox dogmatic concept of the Holy Trinity (i.e. one God coexisting in three separate persons) as being incomprehensible and counter to any rational understanding. Instead, they likened the Trinity in metaphorical terms to God the Father represented by our ‘Memory’, God the Son represented in our ‘Reasoning Conscience’ (??????’) and the Holy Spirit represented by our ‘Will’. Doukhobors believed these qualities to be God-given and thus divine. The Doukhobor concept of the Trinity is described in the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’) in Psalms 1 (Q/A 5), 3 (Q/A 89), 5 (Q/A 42 and 49), 6 (Q/A 12), 11 (Q/A 68), 64 and 65.

Regarding Christ, Doukhobors rejected the concept of the immaculate conception and that God the Son was literally and supernaturally embodied in human form in Mary’s womb. They considered this to be an artificial embellishment introduced by the established church in order to mystify and confound believers as to Christ’s true nature. Doukhobors instead believed that Mary was simply a woman, who like any other woman, gave birth to an ordinary mortal man, in this case, Jesus of Nazareth. The Doukhobor belief in Jesus, born a man, is found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 1 (Q/A 3), 7 (Q/A 10), 12 (Q/A 6 and 8, 64, 71, 73, 85, 88, 94 and 375.

Doukhobors believed that God chose Jesus as his anointed one by endowing him with the divine quality of ‘Reasoning Conscience’ of the highest degree. Possessing extraordinary spiritual intelligence in his soul, lucid and enlightened beyond that of his fellow men, Jesus was able to attain the highest possible understanding of God’s Law. Since Jesus attained the highest, purest and most perfect form of ‘Reasoning Conscience’ possible for a man, and ‘Reasoning Conscience’ was ‘God the Son’ in the Doukhobor metaphorical sense of the Trinity, thus, Jesus was a Son of God.

According to Doukhobor belief, Jesus’s enlightened teachings and life revealed mankind’s true meaning and purpose, which was to fulfill God’s Law – i.e. to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. God’s Law was manifested in Jesus through his loving attitude toward other people. The Doukhobor understanding of Jesus as a keeper of God’s Law can be found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 2 (Q/A 14, 15 and 16), 4 (Q/A 7), 5 (Q/A 17), 7 (Q/A 11 and 12), 8 (Q/A 24, 25, and 26), 9 (Q/A 24), 47 (Q/A 1) 59 (Q/A 4), 185, 373 and 374.

The Resurrection

Like the Orthodox, Doukhobors believed that Jesus was crucified by his oppressors and that he suffered and died on the cross. The Doukhobor account of Jesus’s death by crucifixion is relayed in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 1 (Q/A 14), 8 (Q/A 15, 29), 71, 89, 114, 141, 204, 208, 212, 253, 349, 350, 357, 359, 361, 362, 363, 366, 367, 372, 391, 400, 404, 410 and 415.

Also like the Orthodox, Doukhobors believed that on the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected. However, they rejected the idea that his resurrection was literal and physical (bodily), as this defied logic and common sense. Instead, Doukhobors believed that Jesus’ resurrection was metaphorical: he rose again spiritually in the hearts of righteous people and continues to be resurrected to this day in those who follow his teachings. This Doukhobor understanding of the Resurrection is reflected in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 8 (Q/A 11), 14 (Q/A 6), 80, 112, 132, 189, 217, 312, 339, 349, 352, 361, 362, 367, 383 and 410.

Salvation

While the Orthodox believed that Jesus died to atone for our sins and in so doing, earned our salvation, Doukhobors reject this notion entirely. For Doukhobors, the idea that his death served as some kind of ‘divine bargain’ for the salvation of others was contrary to the very essence of his teachings. Rather, Doukhobors understood salvation as being attained through the emulation of Jesus, by living, as he did, according to God’s Law and thus earning our redemption through our own good works. That is, for Doukhobors, the essence of Christ (i.e. Reasoning Conscience) exists in the soul of every person awaiting only recognition; and those who respond to the Christ within and strive to follow his example will be saved. This Doukhobor concept of salvation is found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 1 (Q/A 1), 2 (Q/A 31, 71), 3 (Q/A 79), 5 (Q/A 44), 9 (Q/A 45), 11 (Q/A 56), 14 (Q/A 5), 65, 67, 69, 74, 96, 137, 157, 170, 176, 192, 210, 217, 227, 229, 237, 277, 300, 311, 316, 319, 320, 333, 375, 384, 385 and 415.

The Meaning and Significance of Easter for Doukhobors

In light of the Doukhobor concepts of Christ, the Resurrection and Salvation, what is the significance of Easter among them?

Doukhobors understand Jesus to have been born, to have lived, and died in the flesh. His soul, the perfect embodiment of divine Reasoning Conscience, is eternal. He arose in spirit and continues to arise in those who follow his teachings (i.e. true Christians), not in word but in deed. Paskha (‘Easter’) for Doukhobors is thus the celebration of Jesus Christ’s spiritual resurrection within each of us. The Doukhobor celebration of this ‘New Easter’ is described in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 6 (Q/A 66), 14 (Q/A 14), 86 and 383.

Doukhobor Easter Customs in Russia

Once Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and its teachings in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox feast days as being unnecessary and superfluous. However, they continued to celebrate Paskha as an important holiday in accordance with their own beliefs and interpretations. In doing so, they adapted some of the Easter holiday rituals and customs from the Orthodox, imbuing them with new meaning and significance.

Strashnaya

Unlike the Orthodox, the Doukhobors did not fast during Lent except in a spiritual sense. However, they were very scrupulous in their attempts to refrain from sinning, both verbally and in deed, during Strastnaya Nedelya (‘Holy Week’), or Strashnaya as it was called among Doukhobors, which preceded Paskha.

Velikaya Pyatnitsa

On Velikaya Pyatnitsa (‘Good Friday’), the women of each Doukhobor village dyed eggs with onion peels and baked Easter cakes. The folk custom of coloring Easter eggs was borrowed from the Orthodox, but its symbolic meaning was reinterpreted by Doukhobors as a way to “celebrate the joyful resurrection of Christ and to glorify the name of God”: Zhivotnaya Kniga, Psalm 14 (Q/A 6). There is historical evidence of this practice among the Doukhobors of Tavria guberniya (‘province’) in what is now Ukraine in the early 19th century, as well as in the Caucasus in the late 19th century.

Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye

During the night that preceded Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye (‘Easter Sunday’), Doukhobors would assemble for a moleniye (‘prayer meeting’).

In the early 19th century, Doukhobors in Tavria guberniya gathered in the village of Terpeniye to hold the Paskha prayers. The moleniye was held either inside the Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) or, if weather permitted, outside in the courtyard in front of this building.

In the latter 19th century, after being exiled to the Caucasus, the Doukhobors chose a central location in each of the three districts in which they settled, where people from the surrounding villages would congregate to commemorate Paskha.

  • in Tiflis guberniya in what is now Georgia, they met on the flat, rocky plateau above the sacred cave-like grotto known as Peshcherochki near the village of Orlovka.
  • in Elisavetpol guberniya in present-day Azerbaijan, they gathered at a sacred grove (svyashchennaya roshcha) on the outskirts of Slavyanka village, which had a well-ordered and carefully-tended orchard, a summer pavilion where visiting Doukhobor leaders stayed, and a refreshing mineral spring.
  • in Kars oblast’ (‘region’) in modern Turkey, they met on a high, wide plateau that overlooked the surrounding plains and villages. Referred to as Vozle Verbochek (‘beside the pussy willows’) it was situated next to a grove of trees planted, according to Doukhobor tradition, by Christ and the apostles.

When greeting one another at Easter, 19th century Doukhobors would proclaim: “Khristos voskres!” (“Christ has Risen!”), a phrase borrowed from Orthodox tradition. Among Orthodox believers, the customary response was: “Vo istinu Khristos voskres!” (“Truly, Christ has Risen!”). However, Doukhobors subtly adapted this response to say instead: “Vo istinnykh Khristos voskres!” (“In the righteous, Christ has Risen!”) meaning that Christ has risen among his true believers (in the spiritual sense).

At the end of the prayer meeting, it was customary for Doukhobors to then wish each other a Happy Easter by kissing three times and exchanging colored eggs.

In some villages, such as Gorelovka, it was also customary for Doukhobor women to take Easter cakes known as paska (a round, egg-enriched sweet bread made with raisins) to the Sirotsky Dom and hand them out to the old people after prayers.

After the Easter moleniye, it was also customary for Doukhobors to visit their local cemeteries and visit the graves of deceased relatives, putting colored eggs on the graves, to pray for them and to revive their memory.

Yet another Doukhobor tradition, dating back to pre-Christian Russian tradition, was to put a few dyed eggs into the barn for the khozya (‘master’), as some called the fairy tale spirit said to inhabit it; others referred to it as domovoy.

Doukhobor children in each village would play with the colored eggs they received, rolling them along grooves during the Easter festivities.

Doukhobor Easter Commemoration in Canada

Doukhobors continued to observe these traditional Easter festivities after their arrival in Canada in 1899, at least initially. The major difference was that after 1903, the Doukhobors moved their observance of New Year’s from the Old (Julian) Calendar to the New (Grigorian) Calendar.

At a December 1908 all-village congress held by the Doukhobor Community in Nadezhda village near Veregin, Saskatchewan, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Easter. Strashnaya and Velikaya Pyatnitsa were no longer actively celebrated as part of the Easter celebration. However, a special moleniye continued to be held on the Sunday of Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye to commemorate Easter.

Also, a new Easter salutation evolved into use in Canada at the moleniye on Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye:

  • Greeting: “Slava Hospodu (“Glory to God). Response by those gathered: “Slavim, blahodarim Hospadu za Yevo Milost’ (“We glorify and thankfully gift Him with blessings for His grace.)
  • This new greeting was followed by the traditional Doukhobor Easter greeting described above.

Two other greetings were developed by Doukhobors in Canada that reference Christ’s spiritual resurrection; however, they are not associated exclusively with Easter. At every moleniye, the following greetings are given in the form of an exchange between the two sides (men and women) gathered. These are as follows:

  • Greeting: “Slaven Bog proslavilsya!” (“Our praiseworthy God has been given His due recognition!”).  Response: “Velikoye imya Gospodnee i slava Evo po vsey zemle!” (“Great is the name of the Lord (God), and His honor is felt throughout the world!”).
  • Additional Greeting: “S prazdnikom vas, s svetlym Khristovym Voskreseniem!” (“Greetings to you this day, commemorating the day of Christ’s resurrection, which gave light to the world!”)

Significant Historic Events

No discussion of Easter would be complete without mentioning the seminal historical event associated with this holiday: the Doukhobor repudiation of military service.

On Easter day in 1895, Doukhobor conscripts then in active duty in the Russian Imperial Army carried out a series of protest actions in accordance with the careful instructions of their exiled leader, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, as communicated through his loyal messengers.

When the commander of the company arrived and congratulated his soldiers on the Easter holiday, saying: ‘Christ has Risen’, each Doukhobor soldier answered: ‘In the righteous, Christ has risen’ rather than the customary Orthodox response of ‘Truly, Christ has risen’. Following this, each Doukhobor soldier advised his commander that he believed in Christ in deed, and would be serving Christ by denying and rejecting all violent regimes. He then handed the officer his rifle, saying ‘this is why I ask you to accept this rifle from me because all this is unnecessary for me and contradicts my consciousness and the spiritual feeling of my soul.’

It was the Doukhobor conscript Matvei Vasil’evich Lebedev who carried out this action first, and his brave endeavor became known to the whole regiment and everyone questioned: What happened to him? Some soldiers assumed he went insane, while others whispered, quietly and cautiously, that he was correct in his actions. For taking this courageous stand, Lebedev was tortured, beaten and put into a punishment cell, where he was not given food except for bread and water.

Others, empowered by Lebedev’s example, followed and soon almost 60 Doukhobor conscripts in active service (at the time) in the Caucasus returned their arms and equipment. They were all arrested, beaten, tortured and put into isolation away from the other soldiers. A number died from this cruel and inhumane treatment. Finally, they were sent to the disciplinary battalion at Ekaterinograd Fortress where they underwent additional punishment and inhuman cruelties. In the years that immediately followed, over 180 Doukhobor conscripts took this action. They were all exiled for a term of 18 years to the isolated and remote Yakutsk region in Eastern Siberia.

The actions of the Doukhobor army conscripts during Easter of 1895 set off a much wider protest within Doukhobor society against violence, killing and militarism, which would culminate with the Burning of Arms, later that same year.

Conclusion

As we once again commemorate Easter, celebrating Christ’s spiritual resurrection within us, today and every day, let us once more proclaim in our hearts and to each other: Khristos voskres! … Vo istinnykh Khristos voskres!


After Word

Publication

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA No. 2161, April 2021 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

Doukhobor Easter Prayer Service

To experience and participate in a traditional Doukhobor Easter prayer meeting, contact your nearest Doukhobor society or organization to find in-person dates and times or whether online streaming of services are available.

Traditional Doukhobor Paska (Easter Loaf) Recipe

To prepare traditional Doukhobor Paska (Easter loaf) like that pictured and mentioned above, see the following Doukhobor Paska recipe. This recipe was shared by Doukhobor Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now residing in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.

Traditional Doukhobor Easter Egg Decorating

To prepare simple, traditional Doukhobor Easter eggs like those pictured above: (1) Take half a cup of crushed, dried onion peels (outer brown husk, not onion itself) and boil in 2-3 cups of water until tea-like in colour. As the peels boil they will dye the water a reddish-brown hue. Add more or less water for desired hue. Remove peels while continuing to boil the dyed water. (2) Briefly soak small leaves of any herbs or greenery (dill, parsley, thyme, etc.) in separate bowl of water for 1-2 minutes. (3) Press a wet leaf firmly against each unpainted, raw egg, securing tightly around egg with thread. Add a leaf to both oblong sides of egg. (4) Immerse raw, wrapped eggs in boiling dye water for 6-8 minutes until hard-boiled. Then remove and cool. (5) Once cooled, remove thread and leaves. There should be a white, undyed imprint of the leaf. (6) Arrange decorated eggs for display and/or enjoy them as part of your Easter meal! This technique was shared by Doukhobor Mila Kabatova, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, now residing in Tbilisi, Georgia.


Bibliographic Sources 

  • Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir D., Zhivotnaia kniga dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954);
  • Inikova, Svetlana A., Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Heritage: www.doukhobor.org);
  • Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1989);
  • Konkin, Evseyevich Konkin to Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir Dmitr’evich correspondence dated February 12, 1909 in Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir D., Zhivotnaia kniga dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954;
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Doukhobors Will be Canadians”, April 6, 1903;
  • Minutes of Community meeting, 1908 December 15, Nadezhda village. (Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-025-002);
  • Novitsky, Orest M., Dukhobortsy. Ikh istoria I verouchenie (Kiev: 1882);
  • Poznikoff, Liza, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 1, 2021;
  • Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, “About Our Faith” (U.S.C.C. website: uscc-doukhobor.org);
  • Veregin, Barry, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 12, 2021;
  • Verigin, Peter Vasil’evich to Tolstoy, Lev Nikolayevich correspondence dated February 2, 1909 in Gromova-Opulskaya, Lidia, Andrew Donskov, and John Woodsworth, eds. Leo Tolstoy–Peter Verigin Correspondence (Ottawa, Legas: 1995) at 87-88; and
  • Voykin, Wendy, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 1, 2021.

Feature Photo Credit: Traditional Doukhobor Easter paska loaves and easter eggs by Mila Kabatova, formerly of Troitskoye village, Georgia, now residing in Tbilisi, Georgia.