New Russian Book Chronicles the Doukhobors

For Immediate Release – December 31, 2007

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

Cover of Strana Dukhoboriya

Cover of Strana Dukhoboriya.

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

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

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

Author Alla Nikolayevna Bezhentseva

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

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

Georgian Doukhobor Choir performs at Book Release

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

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

Book Release of Strana Dukhoboriya

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

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

Georgian Doukhobors Relocate to Tambov, Russia

For Immediate Release – July 31, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Roots, An Odyssey

by Dr. Allan Markin

In July of 2004, Dr. Allan Markin and his wife Evelyn of Penticton, British Columbia embarked on a month-long odyssey in Russia, the land of their Doukhobor ancestors. In the following article, reproduced with permission from the Vancouver Sun (October 9, 2004), Allan recounts their experiences of Russian people and places and their exploration of ancestral roots. Mr. Markin observes that as Doukhobors, “part of our hearts will (always) remain in Russia”.

As the creaking Aeroflot jetliner lands at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport I am reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s words: “forgetting the past is like losing the sight of one eye.”  My wife Evelyn and I have convinced ourselves that we are merely tourists in Russia, but the truth is that our ancestors, some 7,500 Doukhobors, left Russia in 1898/99 to escape religious and political persecution.

Approximately 12,000 Doukhobors stayed behind. This historical heritage haunts many Canadian Doukhobors and compels them to search for their roots in Russia.

Starting in St. Petersburg, our month-long odyssey will culminate in a visit to a Doukhobor village south of Moscow, with many stops along the way.

In “St. Pete,” a tour through the Hermitage Museum leaves us breathless. It is said that the Hermitage contains a collection so vast (nearly 3 million exhibits) that if one were to spend just one minute at each exhibit it would take several years to see the entire collection. A private guide is highly recommended.

Near St. Petersburg, in the town of Pushkin, is the Catherine Palace. This stunning “summer place” presents architectural details and decorations ranging from classical elegance to baroque indulgence. Its “amber room” is a world treasure.

Plundered by Nazis during the Second World War, the “amber room” has been restored to its original grandeur. One stands in awe of its inlaid amber panels and designs, with Florentine mosaics and sculptures, and feasts on the fusion of exquisite art, craftsmanship, decadence, opulence, and aristocratic self-indulgence. It is here that I first begin to understand what motivated my ancestors to shun materialism in favor of a simple, agrarian lifestyle.

Later, at the Peterhof Palace, with its dozens of gilded cascades and fountains inspired by Peter the Great’s wish to build a palace that would rival France’s Palace of Versailles, my sense of ancestral roots begins to deepen in an oddly ironic way.

I am starting to understand why my ancestors moved to Canada, but cannot escape the wonders of St. Petersburg. The great Kirov Ballet at the Mariinskiy Theatre, the glorious architecture along St. Petersburg’s canals, the boisterous Nevskiy Prospect, that grand street of international shops, cafes, street markets, and night life that continues long into the “white nights” of St. Petersburg.

Aboard the cruise ship, Allan poses with a tour guide dressed as “Peter the Great”.

We leave all this behind when we board our river cruise ship, the MV Zosima Shashkov. It will be our floating hotel as we sail along the lakes, rivers, and canals that will bring us to Moscow.

There are many stops along the way. In Petrozavodsk we note that statues of Lenin remain standing, and streets named after famous communist leaders (except for Stalin) have kept their names. A public referendum determined that nothing would be gained by trying to re-write history, so these traces of the former Soviet Union endure.

On the island of Kizhi, a UNESCO  site, we experience the great wooden Church of the Transfiguration, with its twenty-two cupolas (domes). This is just one of many examples of the religious orthodoxy that the Doukhobors broke away from in Russia, which earned them the name “spirit wrestlers”, and resulted in the persecution that caused them to seek safe haven in Canada.

The Church of the Transfiguration at Kizhi.

In Russia one sees many churches and cathedrals. Their icons, frescoes, and elaborate decorations suggest religious self-indulgence. But one has to marvel at the great religious art and architecture in Russia, much of it now in the process of recovery and restoration.

Kizhi also boasts two original 17th Century peasant houses. One contains a ceiling-mounted cradle, a “loolkya” in which an infant would sleep within reach of a mother’s toe that would conveniently rock the cradle at night. This is a very special moment for me; I slept in such a cradle in infancy and early childhood. I’m amazed at how quickly an inanimate artifact can vivify pleasant memories of a distant past.

Allan sitting next to a ceiling-mounted cradle (loolkya) in a 17th century peasant house.

We meet more art when our little ship sails in to Mandrogi, a planned community where some of Russia’s top artists and craftspeople live in an environment devoted to the advancement of traditional arts and crafts. In several workshops I am reminded of Canadian Doukhobor women (my mother among them) who have been producing fine weaving, knitting, and embroidery for more than 100 years.

In Goritsy we are brought face-to-face with current problems plaguing many small Russian communities. Several town drunks meet us as we leave the ship after breakfast. We are moderately fluent in Russian so we walk into “town” and converse with the “locals.”

Old woman in Goritsy. Note the simplicity of her modest home.

An old woman invites us into her modest home and we enjoy a wonderful chat. She was hoping that we were doctors who could help her with her ailing throat. She lives alone, tends to her small garden and prays to the icon in the corner of her kitchen. We leave with a sad feeling; life for old people in Russia is pretty tough these days.

This is emphasized in another village along the Volga, where I am confronted by a limping old woman who declares that “Putin has reduced my pension to 1500 rubles a month, so now I have to beg. If I could do it, I’d put a bullet in his temple myself.” I address her in Russian. When she hears this, she starts to cry. I see my hard-working grandmother’s face, lined and creased by worry and the sun when we lived on subsistence farming in the Kootenays. I have to turn and walk away.

A lonely spire sticks out of the water along the Volga Canal.

Later we sail through the Volga Canal built during Stalin’s rule. The canal was constructed by forced labour and dug entirely by hand, with the loss of some 100 workers daily. Many communities were flooded in the bargain. We sail over some of them. There is little evidence of their existence, but we do pass by a spire that sticks out of the water, a silent reminder of the town that lies beneath.

The Russians have an expression that eloquently describes projects that were constructed at the cost of many human lives. “ Built on the bones,” they say. I am starting to feel grateful to my ancestors for having the foresight and wisdom to move out of harm’s way to Canada.

Allan and Evelyn leaving the cruise ship with Rashid.

This becomes poignantly clear after we arrive in Moscow. Our driver, a Tatar named Rashid, takes us to one of Stalin’s “killing fields” on the outskirts of the city. On a quiet evening, after a summer rain deep in a birch wood, we stand in silence at the site where as many as seventy thousand people were put to death and buried in mass graves.

Across the road is a horse stable that was converted into a prison. It is rumored that Beria, head of the NKVD under Stalin, was held here. Nearby stands an abandoned foundation for an office building. The work had to stop when the excavators began unearthing human remains.

Memorial garden at Stalin’s killing field.

Before us is a large rectangular plot edged with small yellow flowers. This is one of the burial ditches. It is difficult to speak. It is difficult to keep from weeping. I recall stories of my ancestors who were beaten in 1895 after they burned all their weapons to take a stand against war and violence. Some died. Others were banished to Siberia. These too are my roots.

Ironically, when we leave our ship in Moscow, we move to the Hotel Rossija (Hotel Russia), a 2900 room monolith across the street from the Kremlin.  I remember meeting with a regional governor from Siberia on a previous consulting assignment to Russia and hearing him proudly tell me that he and his colleagues stay at the Rossija when in town on “government” business. I recall the “killing fields” and Russian history of the past century; the hotel conveys a malevolent feeling, which is mitigated by the spectacular view of Red Square and the Kremlin from our room.

A view of the Kremlin from the hotel room in Moscow. board the cruise ship, Allan poses with a tour guide dressed as “Peter the Great”.

The wonderful city of Moscow provides more relief from grim thoughts of Russian history. With a daytime population of some 14 million people, Moscow’s squares, monuments, markets, theatres (we enjoyed three Russian plays in top national theatres), shopping complexes, restaurants, fast-food kiosks, museums, and massive traffic jams challenge all the senses.

Fortunately, Rashid negotiates the traffic with skill and daring. We conclude that Vancouver traffic would bore him.  Moscow has three times the number of motor vehicles than it had five years ago and traffic problems are worsening daily.

Still we get around quite well. We visit the Kremlin, the fabulous Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art, and the Borodino Panorama Museum with its spectacular depiction of the battle between Russian troops and Napoleon’s army. We dine at the great Boris Gudinov Restaurant.

Western-style consumerism is flourishing in Moscow. Top international fashions and finest automobiles are everywhere. A “stretched” Lincoln limousine seems to be the “wedding car” of choice. New construction is everywhere. Heritage buildings are being restored. Tour buses are packed from morning to night. There are casinos and nightclubs everywhere. Shoppers crowd the streets and markets.

We chat with many Muscovites. Some think that the “new economy” is just what Russia needs. Others have mixed feelings, and some are very skeptical about the future. I see the crumbling Khrushchev-era apartment blocks and conclude that the future for many Russians is still pretty grim.

At Tolstoy’s estate – Yasnaya Polyana.

It’s almost too much for the senses, so our departure for Yasnaya Polyana, Leo Tolstoy’s estate two and a half hours south of Moscow is a very pleasant change. My sense of “roots” becomes more pronounced knowing that Tolstoy played a major role in arranging the Doukhobors’ emigration to Canada and helping to finance the journey.

Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home

During our visit to Yasnaya Polyana we discovered an orphanage in desperate need of assistance. The Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home houses and educates 55 children of all ages. We have established a network of reliable contacts through whom we have been able to send money to help the orphanage purchase school supplies and personal items like toothbrushes for the children’s use. Readers who would like more information about how they could help should contact Allan Markin at 250-493-6150, or by email to: amarkin@shaw.ca.

At Yasnaya Polyana the rest of the trip fades in to the background. Dr. Galeena Alexeeva, a top Tolstoy scholar, takes us on a private tour. We view the house where Tolstoy lived and worked; we stroll the tree-lined walks until we reach his grave, a simple grass-covered mound of dirt on the edge of a ravine. There is a powerful serenity in this place.

Tolstoy’s grave at Yasnaya Polyana.

The dignity of the site, without a monument or grave marker at Tolstoy’s own request, is a poignant illustration of the simple, spiritual life that the great writer  found in his later years. Doukhobors owe much to Tolstoy. Standing at his grave I felt that, in a small way, I was repaying some of the debt.

In Yasnaya Polyana we are delighted to meet Elaine and Alfred Podovilnikoff from Grand Forks, BC. They, along with their children and grandchildren, are building a log home in the village.

“My soul is in Russia,” says Elaine with conviction. “This is something that I simply have to do, not just for me but for my children and grandchildren, so that they will be more fully aware of who they are and where their roots lie.”

 We marvel at Elaine’s and Alfred’s excitement, their ability to laugh at the seemingly insurmountable challenges, and their fervent commitment to their roots.

Elaine Podovinnikoff at log home.

Yasnaya Polyana is near Tula, a city of 700,000 that was the industrial heart of the former Soviet Union’s weapons manufacturing industry. Many of the factories are now closed, but Tula still enjoys its reputation as the home of Tula “praniki,” tasty little cakes that remind one of biscotti with filling. We stop at one of the many roadside stands where these delicacies are sold, later washing them down with generous shots of premium Russian vodka.

Also in Tula we stumble into a “state” store that stocks beautiful shiny black caviar, which is not easy to find in Russia these days. The price is great so we stock up for later feasting.

Our final stop on this “roots odyssey” is Archangelskaya Selo ninety minutes south of Tula. This village is home to several hundred Russian Doukhobors who were forced to flee hostilities in Georgia in the last century.

The village sits in the middle of the vast Russian steppe. Cows and goats roam the streets. A horse-drawn wagon rolls past. Life is agrarian, simple. Mostly older people live here now, although there is a new school and community hall.

The country surroundings remind me of life in rural BC sixty years ago. But the residents don’t seem to mind. They are hospitable to a fault.  Fred Plotnikoff and his Russian wife Paulina treat us to a grand luncheon.  Fred is formerly from the Kootenays and was a school chum of mine at Mt. Sentinel High School in South Slocan. He has taken up permanent residence in Russia and seems very happy with his decision to plant new roots in ancestral soil.

Russian Doukhobors – the Markins – treat their guests to some kvas and song.

I am happy to discover that my namesake lives in the village, but disappointed to learn that he is away. We pay a visit to his home anyway and his parents welcome us. They honor their Canadian guests with a drink of kvas (a fermented concoction whose main ingredient is bread) and a couple of “spirited” Russian folk songs. Singing, it has been said, connects people “heart to heart.” This ancestral Doukhobor link has endured.

All too soon we are back in Moscow and on a Boeing 767 headed for Seattle. We are laden with souvenirs, mementos, memories, and mixed feelings.

One thing is certain, however. Part of our hearts will remain in Russia. On the great Volga; at the Kremlin; on a canal embankment in St. Petersburg eating Russian ice cream. It will be impossible to forget the glorious singing by cantors at the Kostromo Monastery, or being invited to sing Russian folk songs and some old rock and roll with the resident band on the cruise ship.

Cantors singing at the Kostromo Monastery.

Another memory that will linger forever is having dinner with Rashid’s family in their state-issued apartment and feeling his blind teenage daughter’s gentle hands explore my Canadian face. Such experiences, and our exploration of ancestral roots, have added so much value to our Russian odyssey.

This Russian parting expression says it all: “dosvidanya”…until we meet again.

Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus

by Svetlana A. Inikova

Traditionally, the life events, family and culture of Doukhobors were all shaped by the holidays contained in the Doukhobor calendar. Many were borrowed and adapted from the Orthodox Church. Others were deeply rooted in Russian folk belief. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Russian ethnographer and archivist Svetlana A. Inikova explores the holiday rituals and customs of the Doukhobors in the Caucasus, based on her ethnographic expeditions and field research among the Doukhobors of the Republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Translated from the original Russian by Koozma J. Tarasoff. Edited by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. Published by permission.

Introduction

Holidays had already been celebrated for a long time when Christianity was introduced to Russia. They provided people with an opportunity for rest, merrymaking and at least a brief respite from burdensome daily tasks. Holidays were also very important in that they coincided with the occurrence of annual changes in nature, such as the succession of seasons or the sun’s changing position in the sky. They served as reference points that clearly identified the beginning of particularly important events, such as turning cattle out to pasture, sowing time for specific crops, haymaking and harvesting. During the winter and early spring holidays, ancient Russians performed divinations hoping to accelerate the awakening of nature. During the spring and summer they prayed to their gods to grant them a bountiful harvest, whereas in the autumn they took stock of the field work that had been accomplished and thanked the spirits of the fields for their generosity.

When Christianity was introduced in 988 AD, the Church strove for the longest time to have certain folk holidays and rituals, such as Maslenitsa (“Butter Week”), abolished. Holidays that coincided with Christian celebrations were accepted by the Church, but vested with a meaning that served its purpose. Semik (“Festival of the Birch”) for instance, was a pre-Christian holiday in honour of vegetation which almost coincided with the Christian festival of Troitsa (“Trinity Sunday”). Rituals associated with the two holidays intertwined so closely that it has become impossible to distinguish between them, even though in some areas of Russia the holiday has retained its ancient name, Semik. Paskha (“Easter”) is another example. It was instituted by the Christian Church as a holiday in remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Yet Easter is also closely associated with the widespread tradition of dying eggs and, in Russia, rolling them on the ground, along grooves, and even playing with them. The egg has been a symbol of rebirth since ancient times and by rolling eggs on the ground, people hoped to increase the fertility of the soil. Many rituals and traditions have lost their profound meaning and have become simple games or pastimes. Hence, for example, most people do not realize that by eating a pancake during Maslenitsa they are actually consuming the symbol of the sun.

In this article I would like to describe the holidays celebrated by the Doukhobors and their associated rituals, some of which are still practiced today.

Doukhobor Holidays in the Early Nineteenth Century

Before settling in Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”), the Doukhobors lived among Orthodox Russians and celebrated the same traditional folk festivals. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances only, others avoided going altogether; nonetheless at home they celebrated Orthodox holidays with prayer meetings that were usually followed by visits to family and friends, while young people assembled to play games, sing and enjoy themselves in the village.

After they had settled in Molochnye Vody, the Doukhobors continued to celebrate the festivals of the Orthodox Church that were common to all Christians throughout Russia, i.e. Rozhdestvo hristovo (“Christmas”), Khreshchenie (“Epiphany”), Paskha and Troitsa, although each village also observed a patron holiday of its own which usually lasted for three days filled with festive merrymaking.

Thus, the villagers of Goreloye in Molochnye Vody chose Frol and Lavr as their patron saints, celebrating their feast day, Frolov Den’, on August 18. The Doukhobors of Bogdanovka, on the other hand, preferred Vasily the Great as their patron saint, celebrating his feast day, Vasil’ev Den’, on January 1. Also, the inhabitants of Efremovka observed November 8, the day of the Archangel Mikhail, Mikhailov Den’, as their patron holiday. The Doukhobors continued celebrating these holidays even after they had settled in the Caucasus, with the sole exception of the village of Rodionovka, which had no holiday of its own, neither in Molochnye Vody nor in the Caucasus.

While living in Molochnye Vody, the villagers of Troitskoye celebrated Troitsa in a particularly big way, whereas after establishing themselves in the Caucasus, they chose Nikolai the Wonderworker as their patron saint, honouring him on December 6. After relocating to the Caucasus, the villagers of Tambovka revered the Kazanskaya (“Our Lady of Kazan”), commemorating her feast day, Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri (“Day of our Lady of Kazan”) on October 22, instead of that of Nikolai the Wonderworker, who had been their patron saint in Molochnye Vody.

Kirilovka was a village in Molochnye Vody that celebrated its holiday, Pokrov (“Intercession and Protection of the Holy Virgin”) on October 1. In settling in the Caucasus, the villagers of Kirilovka merged with the villagers of Spasskoye from Molochnye Vody to form a single village which chose Pokrov as its joint holiday. In this case, the villagers of Spasskoye forsook their own holiday, which was Rozhdestvo Khristovo, for Pokrov.

The village of Terpeniye, the Doukhobor capital in Molochnye Vody, was renamed Orlovka when its inhabitants moved to the Caucasus, although they continued to observe Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri until the 1920’s, at which time they chose to observe Zheny Mironositsy (“Sunday of the Myrrhbearers”) or Zheny for short, as their patron holiday.

As they settled in the Caucasus, the Doukhobors founded new villages. Doukhobor elders recall that Lukeria Kalmykova, their beloved leader, “bestowed” certain holidays upon them.

Doukhobor Holidays in the Caucasus

We shall now give a systematic description of the holidays celebrated by the Doukhobors of the Caucasus throughout the calendar year.

The cycle of winter holidays or Sviatki (“Holy Days”) as it was called by Orthodox Russians, began with Rozhdestvo Khristovo, which used to be celebrated on December 25 according to the old-style calendar, and has been celebrated on January 7 after the new-style calendar was introduced following the Russian Revolution. The new-style calendar differs from the old one by 13 days.

On Christmas Eve, Doukhobors ate the traditional kut’ya (a dish prepared with boiled wheat kernels sweetened with honey); then around midnight they would assemble for worship. On Christmas Day adults would not eat breakfast and would perform their daily chores so that the entire family could sit down to enjoy Christmas dinner. It was a holiday when adults would visit family and friends while young people would enjoy themselves at vecharushki (parties of Doukhobor youth). In Rodionovka, young people would dress up and masquerade about the village. In fact, masquerading during the winter holidays was an ancient custom practiced in old Russia. The Christmas festivities lasted only one day. Christmas is still celebrated by Doukhobors in the Caucasus, although at the present time only elders attend worship on Christmas Eve, whereas for the young people it has become an occasion to get together and enjoy themselves.

All Doukhobor villages celebrate Novyi God (“New Year’s Day”). The village of Bogdanovka originally worshipped its patron saint day, Vasil’ev Den, on January 1. Eventually, however, this holiday merged with Novyi God and, unlike other villages, New Year’s festivities in Bogdanovka lasted not one but three days, during which friends and family from surrounding villages would come to visit.

In most villages on New Year’s Eve, children would go from house to house “sowing” seeds around the rooms, trying hard to throw some onto the bed as this was thought to bring prosperity to the household. The house was not to be swept until the next morning, so as not to sweep out the prosperity. Villagers welcomed the “sowers” warmly, offering them kalachi (a type of sweet bun) and pirogi (a type of pie). The children, in turn, would chant as they “sowed”:

We wish you a Happy New Year,
As we sow, sow. sow.
Loosen up your purse strings,
Spare us a few coins.

Sometimes they would add:

Lord, do produce for the Traveller,
For the Passer-by
and for the Greedy Soul.

Adults would get together and make cheese vareniki (dumplings), which was the traditional dish for Novyi God festivities. At nightfall, the villages would glitter with a thousand sparkles: it was children walking down the village streets carrying homemade torches they called “candles” or “lanterns”, which in fact were long sticks with rags tied to one end that had been dipped into paraffin oil and lit up.

The following day, on January 1, the young people would masquerade as gypsies and, while going from house to house, repeat quite a different refrain that was both humorous and foreboding:

Lady Bounty – spare a dumpling.
If you can’t spare a dumpling,

give me some pie.
Won’t give me pie,

I’ll grab your bull by the horns,
Your mare by the forelock,

take them to the fair,
And sell them for a few kopecks.

They were also treated to cakes and vodka. The festivities would then brim over into the street: people in holiday dress would stroll about the village, and children and young people would go sleigh-riding in horse-drawn sledges which the Doukhobors were reputed for. The sledges were brightly painted and each sledge owner would display his most colorful harness.

Like thousands of young girls throughout Russia, Doukhobor maidens performed divination rituals on New Year’s Eve and on all the following evenings until Khreshcheniye. They sought to divine their fate and, more specifically, get a glimpse of their future husbands. There was an array of divination rites they could chose from. For instance, a young girl might take a pail of water, hang a lock on the handle and put the key under her pillow so as to conjure up in her dreams a vision of her future husband who would come for a drink of water; or else she might bake an overly salty bun and eat it at bedtime so that her fiancé might bring her some water to quench her thirst. Young Doukhobor girls would also get together in a barn and chase sheep. Should a girl catch a ewe, it was thought that she would marry a young man; should she catch a ram, it was thought that she would marry a widower. One of the most popular divination rites was throwing a shoe over the yard gate: the direction the shoe toe pointed in as it fell was the direction the maiden would take to find her husband.

No one “sows seeds” anymore, nor do the young people dress up as gypsies. However, on New Year’s Eve in the streets of Gorelovka, children still light “candles” and adults still gather to enjoy the traditional vareniki prepared by the women.

When the new-style calendar was introduced in Russia in 1918, Doukhobors started celebrating the New Year twice: on January 1, according to the new style, as well as on January 14, according to the old style.

The Doukhobors have always celebrated Khreshcheniye and still do at the present time, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Son of man, the day divine grace was bestowed onto Jesus Christ in his human incarnation. On the eve of January 6, the Doukhobors would assemble for prayer, then on the way home, each person would try to draw some water from a well, river or spring; as this water was considered blessed, therefore endowed with purifying powers, it was sprinkled around the house, the barn and the stable; it was used in washing up and was also given to drink to the sick.

The next holiday was Maslenitsa, or Maslena, as the Doukhobors called it. It was preceded by Nedelya Sviatykh Praotsev (“Forefathers’ Week”), a time to commemorate ancestors and make traditional blini (pancakes). According to Doukhobor custom, the first pancake went to the household dog because it was believed that “man was eating the dog’s share”, a saying that stems from an old Russian legend. According to the legend, long ago, wheat plants had grain filled spires descending all the way to the ground. However, people did not treat bread with the respect it deserved. When God saw how people squandered bread, he decided to punish them by taking it away. Having grasped an ear of wheat with his hands, he began shelling it. Suddenly, when there were just a few grains left on the very top of the ear, a dog howled plaintively. God took pity on him and left him a few kernels. The Doukhobors have always had a very respectful attitude towards bread. It was considered a sin to throw out a piece of bread or to brush off bread crumbs onto the floor.

For the Doukhobors, Maslena began on Saturday and lasted for three days. Neighbors would go visiting, wishing each other a “Happy Maslena”. In certain villages it was customary to masquerade during this holiday. Mothers would sew special pockets onto their children’s belts so they could fill them with tasty kalachi given to them by housewives as they went from door to door, offering greetings.

On Sunday, young people would organize horse-drawn sleigh ride parties. Sunday evening was Proshchenoe Voskresen’e (“Sunday of Forgiveness”) when Doukhobors in groups of five to ten people would go to the homes of elders and bowing low three times beg for the forgiveness of their sins. Or they could say: “Forgive us our sins on this Sunday of Forgiveness”. And the elders would answer: “The Good Lord will forgive your sins”, then all would embrace as evidence of forgiveness. The hosts would either set the table or give the visitors some treats to take along and the group would then go to the next home.

Chistyi Ponedel’nik (“Pure Monday”) marked the beginning of Lent for Orthodox Russians. Although the Doukhobors did not observe Lent in the religious sense, they retained the name of this holiday for the last day of Maslena. In Rodionovka, Chistyi Ponedel’nik was a time to “grieve”: the villagers were sorry to see Maslena come to an end; they would eat and drink the leftovers from the holiday festivities. In the village of Spasovka, it was customary “to rinse one’s mouth” on Chistyi Ponedel’nik, whereas in Troitskoye, the first guest to enter a home was made to sit on a coat turned fur-side-out and forced to eat, as it was believed that if the guest ate well, it would be a good year for the hosts with respect to their cattle. In Novo-Gorelovka in the province of Elizavetpol, the villagers would pitch in and fry eggs together.

Nowadays, people still get together for Maslena to enjoy themselves and eat the traditional blini, although the festivities are much more modest than in the past.

There existed in Russia the age-old tradition of “ushering in the spring” on March 9. In order to hasten the arrival of warm weather, children would fling up into the air soroki (sweet buns baked in the shape of magpies). According to the Orthodox calendar, March 9 was the Day of the Forty Martyrs or Soroki as it was popularly called (soroki means both “magpies” and “forty”). In all the villages, Doukhobor women made soroki buns. They placed buttons, kopecks and other small objects into the dough, each time making a wish related to the well-being of their cattle. Later, as they ate the “little magpies”, the villagers had fun guessing what the future held for their cattle and poultry. For instance, it was believed that if a kopeck stood for a cow, the cow of the person eating the bun with the kopeck would give him plenty of milk; someone else might be lucky with his chickens, sheep or other animals. Soroki was not considered an important holiday and therefore it was a workday as usual. Today the younger generation of Doukhobors have no idea what the “little magpies” were.

March 25 was Blagoveshcheniye (“Annunciation”), a very important holiday when no one worked in all of Russia. It commemorates the announcement made to the Virgin Mary by the archangel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Son of God. It was considered a sin for anyone to work on Blagoveshcheniye, even though many people, including the Doukhobors, made a point of not celebrating the holiday in the religious sense. There was a saying that on that day “birds do not nest, maidens do not braid their hair”. On that day, Doukhobors usually assembled for worship. Women and young girls would dress up in new clothes that they would have made especially for the occasion.

Verbnoye Voskresen’e (“Palm Sunday”), the Sunday preceding Easter, was not celebrated in the religious sense, although it was a tradition for young people to call on their neighbors very early in the morning; if they found anyone of their peers still in bed, they would “whip” him or her with a pussy willow rod while reciting the whole time:

Pussy willow rod,
Whip him till he weeps.
The pussy willow’s whipping,
Not me.

Mothers would pretend to whip their young children with pussy willow rods while reciting this verse. The very same rods were later used for turning cattle out to pasture for the first time after the winter.

Doukhobors usually tried to send their cattle to pasture for the first time in the spring on the feast day of St. Egorii on April 23, Egorov Den’. However, because of the rigorous climatic conditions that prevailed where they lived in Georgia, that event was generally postponed until May. In Russia, St. Egorii was the patron saint of horses. Therefore, on Egorov Den’, all Russian peasants, including the Doukhobors, would let their horses rest, brush them down, pamper them and feed them well. This tradition has long since been consigned to oblivion.

Easter has always been one of the most important Christian holidays in Russia. During Strastnaya Nedelya (“Holy Week”), or Strashnaya as it was called, which precedes Paskha (“Easter Sunday”), Orthodox Russians were particularly devout in their observance of Lent which commenced on Chistyi Ponedel’nik and lasted for seven weeks. The Doukhobors did not fast as such during Lent; however, they were very scrupulous in their attempts to refrain from sinning both verbally and in deed during Strashnaya.

On Velikaya Pyatnitsa (“Good Friday”), women dyed eggs with onion peels and baked Easter cakes. During the night that preceded Paskha, Doukhobors would assemble for prayer, then wish each other a Happy Easter by kissing three times and exchanging eggs. In the village of Gorelovka, women would take Easter cakes to the Sirotsky Dom (“Orphan’s Home”) and hand them out to the old people after prayer. On Paskha, everyone went to the cemetery to put eggs on the graves of relatives and visit the graves of deceased Doukhobor leaders, to pray for them and to revive their memory. These rituals are still very much alive today and Easter prayer meetings are the most attended of all.

Another Doukhobor tradition was to put a few dyed eggs into the barn for the khozya (“master”) as some of them called the fairytale household spirit; others referred to it as domovoi. Children would play with the eggs, rolling them along grooves during the three days of Easter festivities.

A week after Easter Caucasian Doukhobors celebrated Krasnaya Gorka (“Glorious Hill”), a very old Russian folk festivity that originated in pre-Christian times. Villagers treated each other to eggs left over from Easter or else they dyed the eggs. At the beginning of the 20th century, this festival lost its original meaning and became a holiday for Doukhobor children and young people. Parties were thrown for children where they played with eggs and ate fried eggs. Young people would get together; girls would pitch in and make fried eggs, while the young men took care of beverages. It has been several decades now that the holiday has not been celebrated.

The second Sunday after Easter was Zheny Mironositsy, or Zheny, and was considered a holiday for women. People of all ages would get together and make the traditional fried eggs. In the 1920’s, Zheny became the holiday of the village of Orlovka instead of the festival of Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri. This occurred after the departure of some Doukhobors from Orlovka to Canada and later, Rostov, after which many Doukhobors from Gorelovka settled in Orlovka but refused to commemorate the Kazanskaya. The village then opted for Zheny as its holiday, even though some people continued to worship the Kazanskaya. In the past, Zheny celebrations lasted three days, whereas now the holiday is observed very modestly, if at all.

Seven weeks after Easter, all Doukhobor villages celebrated Troitsa, a festival that lasted for three days in honour of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Doukhobors used to say. “Trinity is when God descends onto the ranks of the righteous who are his Apostles. The first day, Jesus Christ appeared to the Apostles; he spent the second day consolidating his Throne, bestowing wisdom onto his Apostles and the power to resurrect the dead and give sight to the blind; the third day, they prayed and then went to preach in the name of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

After worship, on Troitsa, Doukhobors usually went to the cemetery to pray on the graves of their deceased leaders. During the first two days of the Troitsa holiday, they greeted each other with the words “Happy Trinity”, whereas on the third day, which was the last, they would say “Farewell”, bidding farewell to the holiday. Doukhobors still celebrate Troitsa, the elders assemble for prayer, while the young assemble to enjoy themselves. To mark spring and summer festivals, and particularly the Troitsa holiday, young people usually got together somewhere on a hillock, in a clearing or a hollow to sing and dance, keeping out of sight of the stern elders. There were also places where young people from several villages would meet so that young men could court the girls.

The next major holiday observed by Doukhobors was Petrov Den’ celebrated on June 29 in commemoration of the saints Peter and Paul. It was celebrated throughout Russia and held particular significance for Doukhobors, as it was the name day of two outstanding Doukhobor leaders: Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov who died in 1864 and Petr Vasilyevich Verigin who became leader of the “Large Party” of Doukhobors after the 1887 schism. It was for this reason that in 1895 the followers of Petr Verigin chose to burn their arms on Petrov Den’ to protest against war and violence. Thus this day soon became a holiday in memory of those who had been persecuted, having endured extreme trials and tribulations on account of their faith.

After 1895, Petrov Den’ was celebrated only by Doukhobors belonging to the “Large Party”, comprised of Doukhobors from all villages except for Gorelovka. They would assemble under the cliff where the arms burning had taken place, pray by the piously revered peshcherochki (“little cave”), a place that was particularly cherished by Lukeria Kalmykova, their beloved leader who passed away in 1886. Then they would spread about blankets and have a picnic. At present, Petrov Den’ is celebrated on July 12 according to the new-style calendar. Very few people, for the most part elderly women from the neighboring villages of Orlovka and Spasovka, still gather around the peshcherochki.

Frolov Den’, the feast day of St. Frol and Lavr, or simply Khrol as the Doukhobors call it, was the patron holiday of the village of Gorelovka, which used to be celebrated for three days. An important prayer meeting took place at the Sirotsky Dom on August 18, which marked the first day of the holiday. Later that day, Doukhobors would go visiting or welcome visitors from neighboring villages. Khrol was considered to be the holiday of matchmaking and launched the season when young men could send in matchmakers. In other villages, however, matchmaking began on the holiday of Pokrov.

Pokrov, celebrated on October 1, was the holiday adopted by the Doukhobors of Spasovka and those of Novo-Pokrovka in Kars, province. Doukhobor elders explain that this holiday was instituted in honour of the Holy Virgin who bestowed her protection upon people by covering them with her Holy Mantle.

As matchmaking rituals traditionally took place during the holiday of Pokrov, marriages began to be celebrated on Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri on October 22, after all field work had been completed. This was a holiday instituted by the Orthodox Church in honour of the Kazanskaya, the icon of Our Lady of Kazan. For Doukhobors, however, it acquired a different meaning: it was a day of remembrance for the warriors who had fallen during the siege of Kazan. Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri was the patron holiday of Tambovka as well as the villages of Orlovka, Novo-Spasovka, in Elizavetpol province, and in Novo-Troitskoye, in Kars province until the 1920’s.

The villagers of Rodionovka, which is located in the vicinity of Tambovka on Lake Paravani, did not have a holiday of their own. They too adopted Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri as their patron holiday.

For three days, beginning on November 8, Mikhailov Den’, the village of Efremovka honoured its patron saint, the archangel Mikhail. A month later, on December 6, the village of Troitskoye celebrated Nikolin Den (“St. Nikolai’s Day”) in honour of its patron saint, Nikolai the Wonderworker, or Mikola as he was called. According to the ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, the Doukhobors of Troitskoye stopped commemorating Nikolin Den’ after the Burning of Arms and in protest of the subsequent persecutions of Doukhobors, because Nikolai or Mikola also happened to be the first name of the tsar, Nicolas I. Troitskoye, however, reinstated its holiday when the Doukhobors belonging to the Large Party left for Canada.

Conclusion

It was predominantly during the autumn and winter, when field work was completed, that Doukhobor holidays were celebrated with festivities as social gatherings, parties, merrymaking in the streets and sleigh rides. It was then that people had time to enjoy themselves. Moreover, the new harvest and freshly prepared food supplies enabled Doukhobors to set a lavish table for their guests. People unfamiliar with the customs and rituals of Doukhobors of the Caucasus often had the erroneous impression that they were generally austere villagers, opposed to all forms of merriment. In actuality, the Doukhobors did enjoy festivities, although elders say that when they were young, the old people would chide them and forbid them to play musical instruments and dance; then in the same breath and with the greatest pleasure they reminisce of times they would get together and, in spite of everything, humming a dance tune, they would dance in a hollow or in someone’s house. It can be said that the Doukhobors always worked hard and enjoyed themselves just as intensely.

Editorial Note

To Ms. Inikova’s detailed and scholarly work must be added several holidays, celebrated by Doukhobors in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Caucasus, but evidently no longer observed or remembered at the time that she conducted her field research. These have been documented by the editor Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from Doukhobor oral tradition, toponymy and from ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s collection of Doukhobor psalms, songs, hymns and prayers.

Vosneseniye (the “Ascension”) was an important Christian holiday in Russia. Observed on the Thursday after the fifth Sunday after Easter, it commemorates Christ’s bodily ascent to Heaven in the presence of his disciples, following his resurrection. It was a holiday celebrated by the village of Efremovka. When Doukhobors from this village left for Canada, they named one of their new villages Vosneseniye in remembrance of this holiday.

In July, during haying time, the Doukhobors of Rodionovka village celebrated Lushechkin Pokos (“Lushechka’s Mowing”) or Kalmykov Pokos (“Kalmykov’s Mowing”) as it was also called. It was a thanksgiving festival associated with Doukhobor leader Lukeria Kalmykova, who visited the village annually at this time. People came from near and far to join the festivities. Everyone pitched in to help prepare the feast, which consisted of shishliki (a Caucasian dish prepared with marinated lamb), vareniki and slivnyi halushki (dumplings made with prunes, eaten with melted butter). Large cast iron pots and kettles were assembled to cook the food. Also, as the village was located on Lake Paravani, large quantities of fish were caught using barkasi (large fishing barges), then prepared by boiling them, allowing them to cool and then gel in large wooden tubs. After much eating, singing and thanksgiving, it was the custom for the men of the village to take their wives or girlfriends and dunk them in the lake.

On July 20 according to the old style, the Doukhobors of Slavyanka village in Elizavetpol province celebrated Ilyin Den’  in memory of St. Ilya (Elijah), the 9th century BC Hebrew prophet who proclaimed God’s judgment and retribution. In Russian folk belief, thunder, fire and lightening were believed to be the special provenance of Elijah, and people expected thunderstorms and rain each year on his feast day.

Uspenie (the “Assumption”) was a holiday celebrated by Christians throughout Russia on August 15 according to the old style. It commemorates the Virgin Mary’s passage into Heaven following her death. It was a holiday celebrated by the village of Troitskoye as well as the village of Terpeniye in Kars province. When Doukhobors from these villages left for Canada, and later Rostov, they named several of their new villages after this holiday.

Finally, it should be noted that in Canada in the early 1900’s, the celebration of traditional holidays was abolished by Doukhobor leader Petr Vasilyevich Verigin, who considered them to be unnecessary and superfluous to the spiritual development of his followers. The exception was Petrov Den’, which continued to be celebrated by Doukhobors who left Verigin’s communal organization in Canada to become independent farmers. 

For a comprehensive calendar of the Doukhobor holidays and festivals discussed in this work, click here.

About the Author

Dr. Svetlana A. Inikova is a senior researcher at the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.  Considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Doukhobors, Svetlana has conducted extensive archival research and has participated in several major ethnographic expeditions, including field research among the Doukhobors of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and a North American ethnographic expedition on the Doukhobors in 1990.  She has published numerous articles on the Doukhobors in Russian and English and is the author of History of the Doukhobors in V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s Archives (1886-1950s): An Annotated Bibliography (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999) and Doukhobor Incantations Through the Centuries (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999).

For more online articles about the Doukhobors by Svetlana A. Inikova, see Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History as well as Leo Tolstoy’s Teachings and the Sons of Freedom in Canada.

New Israel: Transformation of a Branch of Russian Religious Dissent

by Sergey Petrov

Novyi Izrail’ or New Israel is a small religious movement of Spiritual Christians that emerged in Russia in the late nineteenth century. Its beliefs include the worship of God in spirit and truth, the rejection of traditional Orthodox religious practices and an emphasis on rationalism. The following scholarly article by Russian religious historian Sergey Petrov examines the origins and history of New Israel and investigates the radical reform of the sect undertaken by its most famous leader, Vasily Semenovich Lubkov (1869-1931). One of the principal questions the author addresses is the amazing similarity between the character of the New Israelite movement and that of another Spiritual Christian group, the Doukhobors. This is no coincidence, he contends, as he demonstrates how Lubkov, heavily influenced by the Doukhobors, whom he lived amongst in the Caucasus for a time, consciously and deliberately emulated them, which led to a radical reformation of the New Israelites, and ultimately the immigration of a part of the sect to South America in the early twentieth century.

Introduction

The question of the genesis of the group of Russian religious dissenters called Dukhovnoye Khristantsvo or “Spiritual Christians” as well as the degree and the character of the influence they exerted on each other at different times under a great variety of circumstances has been and remains a somewhat obscure subject. Conjectures and hypotheses concerning the origins of the Spiritual Christians go as far as the alleged links of the Russian sectarians to early Christian heresies, Gnosticism, Manichaenism, medieval Cathars and Balkan Bogоmils. Other scholars saw the phenomenon of the mass dissent among Russian peasantry as the indirect output of the Western Reformation, particularly, the radical movements of Quakers and Anabaptists. Finally, one more group of scholars attribute the appearance and rise of Spiritual Christians to Russians themselves and believe that those dissent movements were born on the Russian soil as a result of re-thinking of traditional Orthodoxy.

Not all of the sectarians known under the umbrella term “Spiritual Christians”, explicitly called themselves that way, although their self-consciousness as those “worshiping God in spirit and truth” as opposed to those practicing “outward” and “fleshly” forms of worship, is obvious. Contemporary researchers of Russian sectarianism usually apply the name to the Khristovschina (“Christ-faith”), Skoptsy (“Castrates”), Molokany (“Molokan”), Dukhobortsy (“Doukhobors”) and Izrail’ (“Israel”) movements, a branch of the latter being the subject of this paper. Orthodox Bishop Aleksii (Dorodnitsyn) of Sumy, who published an extensive article on Israel communities in Eastern Ukraine, based mainly on personal observations of the author, testifies that members of the Israel communities called themselves “Spiritual Christians”.

Early leaders of the New Israel sect (l-r): Porfirii Katasonov, Vasily Lubkov, Vasily Mokshin.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

The purpose of the present paper is to explore the origins and the history of one of the more recent groups of Spiritual Christians that became known under the name of New Israel, and to investigate the reasons and the meaning of the radical reform of the sect, undertaken by the prominent leader of New Israel, Vasily Semenovich Lubkov (1869 – ca. 1931). One of the questions that will need to be raised in this connection is an amazing similarity between the character and the results of the reforms and the doctrine and practice of a much more renowned sect of the Doukhobors. The relatively high proportion of the scholarly attention to the latter group is explained by the dramatic immigration of the Doukhobors to Canada after a period of severe clashes with the Russian civil authorities with the monetary help of the famous Leo Tolstoy and the British Quakers. The alleged connection and, possibly, a common origin of New Israel and Doukhobors has been a subject of some speculation and considerable controversy in the scholarly discourse. It seems likely, however, that the nature of such a similarity was a conscious and deliberate imitation of the latter by the former that resulted in a thorough revision and amendment of the theory and practice of Lubkov’s organization and finally led a part of New Israelites to the immigration to South America.

Sources

The available literature on New Israel is not at all rich and consists almost entirely of books and articles published in the Russian language. A feature of virtually all of the sources is their tendentiousness or a high degree of subjectivity. The sources of information on the Israel movement can be divided into three subgroups – 1) writings by the sectarians themselves (including texts of the songs), usually incorporated into books produced by outsiders, 2) non-sectarian observers, most of them Orthodox priests or professional anti-sectarian missionaries, and later on Soviet atheist writers who had a clear intention of destroying the sect, with very scarce exceptions when the purpose was to justify the dissidents, sometimes overemphasizing their real and imagined good qualities, and 3) a small group of authors, who tried to come up with a relatively objective and unbiased accounts.

Among the most comprehensive books on the subject is a highly sympathetic account written by Vladimir Dmitrievich Bonch-Bruevich (1873-1955), a socialist scholar of the Russian religious dissent. The book by Bonch-Bruevich under the title Novyi Izrail’ was published in 1911 as Volume 4 of his series of materials on Russian sectarianism and Old Belief . One of the main merits of the Bonch-Bruevich’s book is the great number of original documents it contains, including numerous writings by the New Israel leader Vasily Lubkov and other members of New Israel. The views of Bonch-Bruevich are highly pro-sectarian, for he tended to see Russian religious dissenters as a force of protest against monarchy and the evil social structure of the Russian Empire.

A number of books on Russian sectarians were written by their natural opponents, clergy of the Orthodox church. In spite of the subjectivity, their authors give substantial first-hand evidence concerning the topic. Volumes I and III of Khristovshchina published by a professional Orthodox anti-sectarian missionary Ivan Georgievich Aivazov (b. 1872) consist of court rulings, legal documents, police reports, testimonies given by a wide circle of those involved, examples of the sectarian religious poetry and other materials . Among other books of the Orthodox anti-sectarian writers of special interest for us have been a book on Khristovshchina and Skoptsy (Castrates) by Konstantin Kutepov and a review of all known sects attempted by a priest and church historian Timofei Ivanovich Butkevich. Another priest and missionary, Simeon Nikol’sky, published a theological analysis and a refutation of the Catechism of the New Israel community in 1912.

Journal articles on New Israel, a large number of which appeared at the end of nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century in the church press, especially in Missionerskoe Obozrenie (“The Missionary Review”) and newsletters and bulletins of various church districts (Eparkhial’nye Vedomosti) also contribute to the task of building a broad picture of the origins and development of the New Israel movement, although the main purpose of those articles was to teach parish priests how to fight the sectarians more efficiently.

Semen Dmitrievich Bondar’, an official of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, published a book on a wide circle of dissident religious movements . Bondar’ was commissioned by the Ministry to the South of Russia in order to conduct a research of the sects. The author, apparently did not feel any sympathy towards the sectarians, but his account is characterized by a high degree of diligence and factual accuracy.

The only contemporary attempt to investigate the mechanisms behind the New Israel immigration to Uruguay, was made by a journalist, V. M. Muratov, who published an unbiased and impartial analytical article on the New Israel move to South America.

The New Israel movement entered a phase of decline following the emigration of the part of the adherents of the sect to Uruguay that occurred in 1911-1914 and the establishment of the Soviet regime in Russia, although occasional data on New Israel does occur in the 1930s in the Soviet anti-religious press, for example in Dolotov’s book on church and sectarianism in Siberia and the critical book by S. Golosovsky and G. Krul’, Na Manyche Sviashchennom (“On ‘Sacred’ Manych”) on the New Israelite planned community in Sal’sk district, authorized by the Soviet authorities in the 1920s.

Literature

The most prominent scholar of religion of the Soviet period who wrote about New Israel was Aleksandr Il’ich Klibanov (1910-1994), whose Istoriia religioznogo sektantstva v Rossii (“The History of the Religious Sectarianism in Russia”) is one of the most comprehensive books on the subject. Klibanov conducted a number of field trips, among those a trip in 1959 to Tambov area where the Israel sect originated. Klibanov describes his experiences during that trip in his book Iz mira religioznogo sektantstva (“From the World of Religious Sectarianism”).

The only work on the Israel/New Israel movement published in English is The Russian Israel by Dr. Eugene Clay, a US researcher of Russian sectarianism and Old Belief of Arizona State University. The article contains a brief historical account of the movement along with the tables showing the leadership transfers and partitions within the sect as well as the dates of both ecclesiastical and civil trials of the sectarians.

The purpose and the subject of the present paper necessitated the use of literature on another sect of Spiritual Christians, the Doukhobors. Already mentioned, Obzor (“Review”) by Butkevich contains a fair amount of information on the Doukhobor history and teachings, of course, from the Orthodox standpoint. The part that is of especial interest for the present paper is the original Confession of Faith composed by the Ekaterinoslav Doukhobors. The dissertation The Doukhobors, 1801-1855 by Gary Dean Fry, which gives a concise, accurate and highly objective account of the Doukhobor history, beliefs and living conditions within a broad panorama of the Russian economical, political and ideological context, has also been extensively used.

History

Kopylov and the Fasters

One of the branches of the so-called Spirit Christians in Russia, along with more widely-known groups such as the Khristovshchina (Christ-faith”), Molokans and Doukhobors, was a clandestine movement called Izrail’ (“Israel”) which began in the first quarter of nineteenth century. The group first appeared among the Orthodox peasantry in Tambov province as a reaction against the superficiality of personal spiritual experience within the state-sanctioned church. An official report of the Tambov provincial government of 10 April 1851 stated that the sectarians “call the Christian (Orthodox) faith the faith of the Old Adam, not renewed in the spirit. They consider church sacraments mere rituals” . The founder of the movement was Avakum (also spelt Abakum) Kopylov, a peasant of Perevoz village in Tambov province. Kopylov was an ardent reader of the Orthodox literature, especially Lives of the Saints, and apparently tried to imitate the life of the Orthodox ascetics. He fasted frequently for long periods of time, abstaining from any kind of food altogether. Once, after having fasted for 40 days in a row, he felt he was taken to Heaven in spirit and talked to God face to face. He said God had commissioned him to “study books” in search of salvation and spread this knowledge around. Allegedly, Kopylov then went to the local Orthodox bishop and told him what had happened. The bishop, according to the story, approved of the Kopylov’s experience and gave him a few Orthodox books, among them “On Duties of a Christian” by the Orthodox bishop Tikhon Zadonsky. The story hardly has any factual truth behind it, but it can clearly be interpreted in the sense that Kopylov and his followers saw themselves as Orthodox Christians, although they tried to enhance and enrich their Orthodoxy with strict asceticism, piety and personal experience with the Divine.

Members of the New Israel sect in Uruguay, c. 1914.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

Kopylov preached celibacy, temperance, abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, meat, fish, garlic, onion and potatoes, and emphasized fasts as an efficient means of spiritual progress. Many of Kopylov’s followers had a “spiritual spouse” from among the members of the group that were assigned by the prophets. Such spouses were supposed to support and comfort one another spiritually. Any sexual intercourse was, nevertheless, forbidden. Kopylov’s followers did not call themselves “Israel”. Rather, they referred to their community simply as postniki (“fasters”), bogomoly (“those who pray to God”), or “The Faith of New Jesus Christ”, according to the evidence brought forward by Aivazov and Butkevich. It is difficult to say, though, how Kopylov himself called his group. In any case, his followers began using both postniki and bogomoly for self-identification rather early, and the term postniki survived until at least 1959 when Klibanov conducted field research in Tambov province. The meetings of the postniki consisted in reading the Bible and Orthodox literature on practical ways of attaining personal sanctity, singing of the Orthodox prayers and songs composed by themselves, revealing the sins of the members and their public confession, and prophecies. At the same time, the followers of Kopylov faithfully attended Orthodox services and very often were a lot more accurate and serious than the average Orthodox people in terms of observance of church rules and generosity towards the priesthood. Even in 1901, followers of Kopylov, being asked by Orthodox clergy about their religious affiliation, answered that they were “Orthodox postniki”.

Soviet scholar Klibanov conducted field research in the Tambov area as late as 1959; that is, when the Orthodox church was completely stripped of all former privileges. In a conversation with a faster, Klibanov learned that the members attended the Orthodox church if they wished. The same person said that fasters observed and revered essentially the same things as the Orthodox, but only in a better, firmer and more complete manner. The main point of their deviance from the Orthodox doctrine was the belief that the priests were not quite worthy since they didn’t live a holy life and, therefore, the sacraments performed by the priests were not as effective as the immediate and unmediated relationship with God at their meetings.

Anti-sectarian Orthodox writers often insisted that the leaders of the Fasters were revered by their followers as incarnations of Christ and the Virgin Mary. There is no evidence that Kopylov saw himself as Christ or a divine figure, but later developments of the theological thought of his co-religionists apparently contain an idea of spiritual christhood. According to the above mentioned Report, published by Aivazov, the sectarians believed that Jesus Christ was a man whom Holy Spirit chose to dwell, therefore everyone who attains grace of the Holy Spirit and is spiritually reborn may be called Christ. On the same basis a woman who is likewise favored with God’s grace and spiritually reborn may be called the Virgin Mary. Notably, the sectarians cited the following assertion from the book by Tikhon Zadonsky to substantiate their argument: “everyone is called by the name of his progenitor”.

Possibly, the concept of incarnate christs becomes a part of the Fasters’ doctrine at a later time. In 1901 Aivazov cites Fasters who openly called their female leaders bogoroditsa (“God-bearer” or “Virgin Mary”) and asserted that there may be more than one christ; although Aivazov’s testimony should be treated with a degree of caution due to his decidedly anti-sectarian bias. In any case, the opinion that the Fasters worshiped their “living christs” instead of the historical Christ, seems to be a misunderstanding. Rather, it can be said that the Fasters saw the divinity of their leaders in terms of a symbolical analogy with the Biblical figures. The real object of their worship, rather, was the Holy Spirit seen as a force and an agent of the divine in the world. The living voice of the Fasters, their songs, bear witness of that, for the Holy Spirit is the permanent theme and hero of practically all the known songs, and not historical figures of distant or recent past, present, or future.

It is interesting to look at the version of the emergence of the movement told by Faster Ivan Seliansky as cited by Klibanov. According to Seliansky, Tat’iana Chernosvitova, the closest collaborator of Kopylov (Bondar’ calls her Kopylov’s spiritual wife , and Kutepov – his bogoroditsa ) initiated the movement. She lived in celibacy, but had a vision of an angel who predicted that Chernosvitova would bear a son. However, the son the angel referred to was not a natural baby, but Avakum Kopylov, who was spiritually born through Chernosvitova’s preaching. Seliansky draws an analogy between that story and the Gospel account of Christ’s birth, saying: “Do you comprehend? You see, it was such a spiritual matter! Sometimes they get confused – he (Christ) was born. Perhaps, Jesus Christ was not born of Virgin Mary, maybe she begot him spiritually.”

In 1834, about 20 years after the movement began, the local government became aware of the activity and influence of Avakum and Tat’iana Chernosvitova, and arrested both of them and one of their followers. They were mistakenly charged with spreading of the Molokan heresy, which was a mass dissent movement and a real dilemma for the local administration at that time. None of the arrested betrayed any of their friends, and no more arrests followed. All three were found guilty in 1838. Avakum was sentenced to imprisonment in one of the Orthodox monasteries “till he repents”, but, being an old man of 82 years, died before the sentence could be fulfilled.

Avakum Kopylov was followed by his son Filipp who changed the teachings of his father by adding sacred dances in the spirit as an expression of joy that the worshipers felt at their meetings. Those dances were called by Fasters themselves khozhdenie v Dukhe (“walking in the Spirit”), and explained as an imitation of King David who danced before the Lord, which might have been borrowed from ecstatic practices of other religious movements of the Russian peasantry. Aleksii Kaninsky, who was a parish priest in Perevoz village, the birthplace of the Fasters, wrote in his article on the religious situation in the village, that Filipp Kopylov visited a number of Orthodox holy sites throughout Russia, and on his way back stayed for a long time in another village in Tambov province, Sosnovka. Sosnovka at that time was a stronghold of the Skoptsy (Castrates) sect, that practiced ecstatic dances (radeniia) at the meetings, so upon return to his native village, Perevoz, Filipp introduced certain customs of the Skoptsy into the teaching of his group . Bondar’ and Aivazov are in agreement that the “walking in Spirit” was an innovation brought about by Filipp after his father’s death.

Another interesting feature of the Faster worship meetings were the so called deistviia, or “actions”. Eugene Clay defines them as “a sermon or prophesy in action” similar to those employed by the Biblical prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel. Those symbolical actions might include crowning a member with a wreath, which meant that he/she lived a pious life, or tying up another member’s eyes which revealed his/her spiritual blindness.

Katasonov and the Israel Sect

Filipp Kopylov’s hired worker and co-religionist, Porfirii (also known as Parfentii or Perfil) Petrovich Katasonov, was at first a member of Filipp’s group, but later on, he split off and founded a separate organization that came to be called Israel. The formal pretext for the separation was, apparently, the introduction of the dances by Filipp, which Katasonov disapproved of as a deviation from Avakum’s tradition. Nevertheless, Kaninsky, Kutepov, Aivazov and Butkevich assert that the real reason was most likely the struggle for the power within the group and the outgoing and energetic personality of Katasonov, who thought he would ascend as a leader on his own. Filipp’s followers remained in the Tambov area, but their movement never grew to be as strong and wide-spread as the clandestine church of the Katasonovites.

Katasonov, who apparently was not nearly as strict an ascetic as Avakum or Filipp, relaxed the dietary rules and let his followers eat and drink anything except meat and alcohol. He also changed the meaning of the institution of spiritual wives, admitting the possibility of sexual intercourse between spiritual spouses under the guidance of the spirit, while sex within official marriage remained formally prohibited. The real innovation brought about by Katasonov was the creation of the regular organizational structure of his church. Because of the mass migration of peasantry from Tambov, Samara and Voronezh provinces to the fertile North Caucasus caused by economical reasons, as well as due to the missionary activities of Katasonov and his followers, the new movement spread rapidly, especially throughout Southern Russia and by the time of Katasonov’s death in 1885 it had up to 2000 local groups. Communities were organized into okruga, districts with “apostles” and “archangels” as their heads. Bondar’ indicates that there was a certain shift towards more critical and even hostile attitude towards the official Orthodoxy. Numerous trials of the members of the Israel sect on the charges of blasphemy took place in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the Israelites continued to attend the Orthodox church, follow church rituals and worship icons. Many of the Katasonovites, including their leader, didn’t consider it wrong to “repent” and “convert” to Orthodoxy when arrested and put on trial in order to get released.

Symbolical actions, or sodeistviia, continued to be an important part of the meetings. A number of sources (Bondar’, Butkevich, Bishop Alexii Dorodnitsyn) mention that “walkings in the Spirit” were as frequent among the Katasonovites as among the Fasters, which may mean that the disagreement between Katasonov and Filipp Kopylov was essentially not of doctrinal nature, even if the dispute about sacred dances was brought up as a formal pretext for the separation.

The New Israel congregation in San Javier, c. 1930.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

The Orthodox clergy and people often referred to both Fasters and Katasonovites as khlysty. The latter term can be interpreted either as “flagellants” or as a distorted word Khristy, that is “Christs”. Khlysty was a derogatory name of one of the earliest movements of religious sectarianism in Russia. It appeared in the middle of the seventeenth century and spread throughout the North and central part of the country. Members of that group called themselves God’s People. They believed in the multiple incarnations of Christ, Virgin Mary, apostles and other Biblical figures in living people, practiced asceticism and gathered in secrecy calling on the spirit to descend upon them and move them to dance and prophesy. The Khristovshchina did not recognize any sacred texts and had a very elaborate mythology pertaining to their leaders and their miraculous deeds. Khristovshchina was a secret society and there were quite a few myths and legends associated with their clandestine meetings that circulated within Russian society. They were accused of participating in sexual orgies, flagellating themselves, using flesh and blood of killed babies in their rituals etc. In reality all of those accusations appear to be quite groundless, but the word khlysty came to be used as a strong pejorative and derogatory qualifier to define any religious dissenting group of a secret or ecstatic nature. It was a general tendency among many Russian and Soviet scholars of religious sectarianism to link khlysty with the Fasters and the Katasonovites by default. This view is shared by A. I. Klibanov. However, in spite of the long tradition and certain similarities between the two groups, such a view is very hard to substantiate with provable facts. Most of the sources and literature on the Faster and Israel movements treated khlysty as well. In fact, in some cases (eg. Kutepov) khlysty were the main object of the investigation, while Fasters or Katasonovites were mentioned in the context of the greater discourse devoted to khlysty.

In spite of efforts to give regular structure and doctrinal unity to the denomination, the human factor contributed to the partition and disintegration of the Israelite movement that occurred immediately after Katasonov died in 1885. The enormous emphasis placed upon a person led to the lack of the internal balance and as soon as the gravitational center ceased to exist, the structure could no longer be preserved.

A number of Katasonov’s collaborators assumed power and christhood in different parts of the country. The most prominent among them were Roman Likhachev, who governed the Israel communities in Ekaterinodar (now Krasnodar) region, Petr Danilovich Lordugin of Georgievsk , the leader of the Terek communities (now parts of Stavropol’ krai, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria), Vasily Fedorovich Mokshin and Ivan Markov in Voronezh, Iakov Kliushin in Stavropol’ and others. Those leaders did not recognize each other as legitimate heirs of Katasonov, although, according to Bondar’, their worship and doctrine remained unchanged.

The Birth of the New Israel Movement

The New Israel movement appeared around 1890 in the Voronezh district in Russia as a branch of Israel or Old Israel, as New Israelites began to call the Katasonovites. Certain aspects of the ideology and practices of New Israel proved to be more appealing to a broader range of people and Vasily Lubkov, who soon became an outstanding leader of the denomination, was by far a more gifted and skilled organizer than the rest of his competitors in other branches of the Israel sect.

The first head of New Israel was Vasily Fedorovich Mokshin, a peasant of Dankovo village in the Voronezh district, who converted to the Israel sect during his stay in the town of Taganrog. Mokshin was charged with spreading the khlysty heresy in 1880 and exiled to the Caucasus. He allegedly repented and returned to his native land in 1883 where he died in 1894. Mokshin, in all probability, did not enjoy a wide recognition as the heir of Porfirii Katasonov, according to Bonch-Bruevich, who cited Lubkov: “elders… did not want to recognize him and did not let people come to him under the threat of damnation, proclaimed him an anti-christ… He rejected the whole Israel, condemned them for the unbelief and began to plant a New Israel”. Mokshin, apparently, understood his mission as uniting the “remnants of Israel” everywhere and first used the term New Israel referring to his followers as opposite to the Old, and unworthy, Israel. Nevertheless, he was never accepted as a leader by the Katasonovites other than in the Voronezh area.

The future leader of New Israel, Vasily Semënovich Lubkov, was born in the town of Bobrov in 1869 into an Orthodox family. By his own account, Lubkov experienced a conversion in 1886 when he was 17 and became an active member of Mokshin’s sect. He was first arrested at the young age of 18 and then exiled to Elizavetinka (sometimes called Akstafa, by the name of the adjacent railway station) in Elisavetopol’  province (now Azerbaijan). An energetic and enthusiastic proselyte, he got to know many people of many faiths, perhaps taking advantage of his job, for he worked as a train conductor and traveled extensively throughout Transcaucasia. It should be noted that Akstafa was a station halfway between the largest cities of the Russian Transcaucasia, Tiflis and Baku.

Vasily Lubkov had a difficult time trying to find a spiritual haven in the land of his exile. He called this land a “desert”, for there was no “fullness of God” there. At first he was welcomed by another exiled Katsonovite, Fedor Kirillovich Poslenichenko, who considered himself a spiritual christ (as well as Adam, Abraham and a number of other Biblical figures) and whom Lubkov eventually condemned as a pretender and a false teacher. The Old Israel group of Poslenichenko is described by Bondar’ and a few original materials pertaining to the group were published by Aivazov. At last, Lubkov met a man who later came to be called “the first-born of Israel”, Andriusha, or Andrei Poiarkov, and a group of people who recognized Vasily as their spiritual guide, was formed.

Finally, Lubkov was summoned to Tiflis, but suspected he would probably be arrested again, so he preferred to flee and hide himself in Doukhobor villages in one of the least accessible parts of Transcaucasia .

Other sources says Lubkov also lived in Ardagan, Kars province, that is, precisely in the area settled by the Doukhobors, although it is hard to define whether Lubkov’s stay at Ardagan refers to the period of his exile or hiding. There is a good reason to believe that Lubkov’s contact with the Doukhobors during his stay in Transcaucasia and the ideas he was exposed to there played an important role in the changes New Israel was to undergo, both doctrinally and organizationally, which will be discussed further on.

Lubkov was still in exile in 1894 when he heard of Mokshin’s death. In order to come back to Central Russia he had to leave the province where he was obligated to reside according to court sentence. Nevertheless, he came back to Voronezh soon thereafter and was acknowledged as the new leader and christ. From then on, Lubkov had to live under constant threat of arrest until the Manifesto of 1905 was published. The Manifesto permitted many groups of religious dissenters to legalize their existence.

The Living ‘Christ’

Before Lubkov was accepted as christ by the communities in Voronezh, he had to withstand his rivals. Two cases of unsuccessful competition with Lubkov within Mokshin’s group refer to the attempts of Ivan Kir’ianov, Mokshin’s “Apostle John” and Gerasim Chernykh, Mokshin’s “Moses”, both of whom had limited success among Mokshin’s sheep in Voronezh district. A researcher of Russian sectarianism, S. D. Bondar’ says about those who followed Lubkov’s competitors: “These were people who were looking for a new “incarnated christ” and could not find one”. As soon as Lubkov learned of these “christs”, he came from Caucasus and “spiritually defeated” both of them, that is, convinced the sectarians that he was the real “christ”. The cases of competition and rivalry within the group were not limited to those two cases, however. Lubkov mentions more opponents in his autobiography. From then on, Lubkov saw his primary tasks as 1) absorbing whatever worthy elements were left of Old Israel; 2) reforming and updating teachings, practices and the structure of his community; and 3) propagating New Israel among the general population in a systematic and regular form.

Contemporary testimonies help us see in detail how communities of Old Israel, deprived of any adequate leadership and often referred by New Israelites as “in ruins”, were shaken and absorbed by the impact of Lubkovites.

The growth of New Israel took place mostly by swallowing up scattered Old Israel groups. The Orthodox missionary and priest Simeon Nikol’sky says: “What is remarkable, “New Israel” spreads only among the khlysty. At least, it is so in Stavropol province. … But even among the khlysty there are doubts about recognition of the “New Israel” heresy. Some of the khlysty in a given village accept the “newlywed christ”, others remain faithful to the belief of their fathers…” . The changes the followers of Old Israel had to accept were too radical for many, who saw Lubkov as literally eliminating the most basic tenets of their faith.

An article by A. Anan’ev published in Missionerskoe Obozrenie (“The Missionary Review”) in 1915, tells a story of a group of Katasonovite communities in Samara province. Ivan Koroviadsky, a follower of the deceased Katasonov, made a considerable and quite successful effort trying to spread the teachings of his admired christ as he understood them. However, one of the basic beliefs of Israel is the doctrine of the living christ, that is, a chief, who is supposed to lead his followers at all times in a very tangible and material manner. Anan’ev writes, describing the preaching of Koroviadsky: “The whole truth consists in the Source of Wisdom, the living God-Christ… The living Christ is always on earth”. That was the point where Koroviadsky ultimately got into an inconsistency. He was not aware of any available and worthy candidate for christhood nor he was quite sure of himself as a christ to step forward and claim it as did the “Apostle John” and “Moses” of Mokshin. He communicated to his fellow-believers the idea of a living christ, but failed at the attempt to show them one. Therefore, his unsatisfied followers started to look elsewhere and when somebody by occasion told them of new sectarians living some 60 kilometers away, they immediately rushed there in their pursuit of a living christ. The attempt was successful; they learned about Lubkov, went to see him, and, finally, left poor Koroviadsky who was unable to show them a real christ. At a joint meeting all the communities established by Koroviadsky condemned their former teacher and joined New Israel.

Lubkov was trying to rethink the history of his movement to present himself as a rightful heir of past leaders. In addition to the portraits of Katasonov found, according to Bonch-Bruevich, in almost any house of the members of Israel , the sectarian iconography was enriched by a triple portrait representing Vasily Lubkov in the center surrounded by Katasonov and Mokshin. Lubkov was also aware of Avakum Kopylov as the initiator of the movement and held him in high esteem , although the personality of Katasonov, the leader of a much larger organization, apparently overshadowed the memory of Kopylov, who remained a figure of local importance.

New Israel farmers harvesting in Uruguay, 1940.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay

Lubkov’s Reforms

In spite of opposition, Lubkov succeeded in unifying a considerable portion of the Old Israel communities. Lubkov’s followers came to call him Papa or Papasha, meaning Daddy. At first the New Israelites continued to attend Orthodox churches and kept icons in their homes. They met secretly or semi-secretly and had to use priests’ services to maintain the legality of their births and marriages. The essence of Lubkov’s reform that will be discussed at more length in the next section, was the rationalization of traditional Israel teachings. Reason seemed to occupy a central place in Lubkov’s theological discourse, dietary limitations (except alcohol and tobacco) were lifted, ecstatic manifestations almost disappeared. Bondar’, however, argues, that when there were no Orthodox visitors at the meetings, New Israelites did dance and jump in the traditional ecstatic manner as late as in 1912. Bonch-Bruevich’s book also contains an Epistle written by Lubkov, probably, in 1906. In this epistle, Lubkov gives recommendations and orders mostly pertaining to the family life of his followers and the internal order of the meetings. Among other things, article 11 states: “The meeting must be orderly, with joy, burning love, powerful preaching. Walking in joy (a euphemism for ecstatic dancing – S. P.) is not permitted except at a marriage” . Bonch-Bruevich’s footnote, however, seriously amends the meaning of the cited advice: “In the original this paragraph reads as follows: 11. The meeting must be orderly, with joy, burning love, powerful preaching. Walking in joy is permitted when there are no worldly people and at a marriage.” The paragraph, corrected by Lubkov, demonstrates the ambiguity of the sectarians in this matter. To what extent the sacred dances continued to be practiced among New Israelites, remains disputable, but the fact that the ecstatic component was greatly reduced and marginalized by Lubkov, cannot be doubted.

Another innovation brought about by Lubkov were so called sodeistviia, dramatizations of gospel themes presented publicly. Eugene Clay believes that “these ceremonies were extensions of the symbolic prophetic actions (deistvie), the “sermons in deeds” which originally were spontaneously performed by a prophet before a small congregation”. The sodeistviia were indeed in many ways the hallmarks of Lubkov’s reform. The first sodeistvie, dramatizing the Last Supper of Christ, took place in 1895. Around 800 of Lubkov’s followers gathered to watch and participate. Naturally, Lubkov personified Christ. During that sodeistvie, evangelists, apostles and other members of the New Israel hierarchy were appointed. The second dramatization, The Sermon on the Mount, was arranged in 1900. Lubkov addressed the crowd of his followers with a 5-hour-long speech on God, the soul, life and death and other important matters. The third sodeistvie, called Transfiguration, and the first one after legalization, was presented in 1905 in the town of Piatigorsk in Stavropol province. An eyewitness and a participant of the event, New Israelite N. I. Talalaev wrote: “There were more than 5 thousand people. There was a colonel and with him a squadron of 40 Cossacks with rifles to protect us so that nobody would bother us… Then many of the worldly men believed. All those days Cossacks and gendarmes were protecting us and a huge crowd looked at our assembly which was in the street, in the middle of the day, (of) our open Christian faith called New Israel.” There Lubkov abolished all the marriages the sectarians had entered into according to the Orthodox ritual. Instead, he ordered everyone to find a new spouse from among the members to enter into a new, spiritual marital union. Bonch-Bruevich depicts this “family reform” in a very sympathetic way, emphasizing the idea of the woman’s emancipation and liberation from oppression and mistreatment common in the marriages where the spouses did not love each other, but had to live together because of the legal status of their marriage. Often, when only one of the married couple belonged to New Israel, the other took advantage of the opportunity to have a “spiritual spouse” from among the co-religionists. Thus, many such marriages had been de facto broken by the time Lubkov proclaimed them of no validity. Other authors, like Bondar’, say that this reform was a complete disaster and mention “destroyed households” and “abandoned wives”. The new form of marriage promoted by Lubkov was based upon love alone. For Lubkov and his faithful, such a radical reform was a way of strengthening families, and soon thereafter he announced that divorce was permitted in the sect only once and that it would not be tolerated any longer unless under exceptional circumstances. In 1905 according to the Manifesto on Religious Toleration New Israelites received the right to conduct the registry of civil statistics of their members independently from the Orthodox church and in 1906 Lubkov permitted his followers to remain in marriages that were performed according to the Orthodox rite.

At that time New Israelites returned the icons and other objects of the Orthodox faith to the priests. Lubkov and other New Israelites always pointed out the fact that they returned the icons to the church and not destroyed them.

In 1907 the fourth and the last sodeistvie called “Zion” took place, where a new (and third) concubine of Lubkov (commonly called Mamasha, or Mommy) was presented to the people as the “daughter of Zion”. It should be said that Lubkov’s concubines (he had at least three of them) played an important role in the sect and were revered by the members, although, apparently they did not influence the decision-making in any way. Lubkov’s first Mamasha had a title of Mount Sinai, the second – Mount Tabor, and the third – Mount Zion. The consecutive replacement of Mamashas was considered a symbolical action of great spiritual significance in itself. It meant the progress of Lubkov from one stage to another, even more glorious stage.

The concept of spiritual progress which Lubkov expressed through the exchange of concubines may shed some light on the significance of the new, spiritual marriage that New Israelites were to enter. This spiritual marriage might have been a sodeistvie of a sort, signifying a new phase of spiritual development of the members of the denomination, although this matter certainly requires further research.

The days of the sodeistviia became feast days for New Israel. In addition to the “great feast” celebrated for three days in a row (May 30, 31 and June 1) in the memory of Lubkov’s exile and return, the dates of the three first public actions (February 3, October 20 and October 1) were celebrated respectively as the coming down of Jerusalem, Sermon on the Mount for the 21st century, and the Transfiguration day.

In May, 1905 the first legal Conference of the New Israel communities was convened in the city of Rostov. The Conference adopted the first published document in which the doctrine of New Israel was systematized as required by the law for the purposes of the legalization of the denomination. This document was entitled “The Brief Catechism of the Basic Principles of the Faith of the New Israelite Community” (Kratkii katekhizis osnovnykh nachal very Novoizrail’skoi obshchiny). It was published with the permission of the official censor in 1906 in Rostov.

Building God’s Kingdom

The first attempt to gather New Israelites in one place to live according to their faith dates back to the first years of the twentieth century. Lubkov called them to move to a distant and sparsely populated region of Russian Central Asia, Golodnaia Step’ (the “Hungry Steppe”), but the place apparently justified its sinister name and the experiment soon failed leaving many New Israelites impoverished. The second try of this kind took place in 1908 and the location of the future community chosen by Lubkov appears quite traditional for Russian sectarians; this time his followers moved to Transcaucasia, very close to the former place of Lubkov’s exile, the town of Akstafa. The second attempt was more of a success, and Lubkov himself moved to Akstafa. A New Israelite wrote: “Formerly our brethren were exiled to Transcaucasia, and now, on the contrary, hundreds and thousands of people go (there) voluntarily…”. A total of about 5,000 people followed their leader to build the God’s Kingdom on earth. In 1912 Bonch-Bruevich visited their colonies and was impressed by the relatively high living standards of the colonists and the above average level of their technological advancement. However, Bondar’ mentions bad climate in the new land, and states that some of the colonists preferred to go back home.

In spite of the newly found religious liberty, although rather unstable and fragile, and a tentatively successful colonization effort, Lubkov did not feel he was obtaining exactly what he sought. By 1910 he already thought about leaving Russia altogether and building his Zion in a brand new land. He felt their freedom was not going to last for too long. He wrote to a group of New Israel elders: “…inform all the churches… so that the people would be ready for any incident. The matter is as follows: dark clouds are approaching Israel, the priests and the administration decided to work energetically toward the uprooting of the new sect in Northern Caucasus.” In October, 1910 the Governor of the Caucasus issued a circular letter concerning the activity of the New Israel sect. As a result, in 1910 and 1911 a number of the New Israelite communities were closed down. Most of the Orthodox churchmen and missionaries regarded New Israel as an offspring of khlysty and, as such, not eligible for legalization and not deserving of toleration; an opinion that they vigorously defended and promoted. Occasional arrests of the sectarians resumed. In those circumstances Lubkov decided to move his flock elsewhere and departed for the United States in 1910 or 1911. A group of New Israelites wrote to their friends imprisoned in Voronezh in May, 1911: ” if the freedom given by our Ruler will not be returned, we will have to leave our native Holy Russia for a free country where there is no persecution or oppression on the account of faith.”

According to M. V. Muratov, a journalist who investigated the background, conditions and circumstances of the New Israel immigration, Lubkov who left for North America together with a prominent New Israelite Stepan Matveevich Mishin, could not find anything suitable in Canada or California, the lands in which they took special interest in because the Doukhobors and Molokans, respectively, settled there. Soon Mishin got utterly disappointed with the idea of emigration and left for Russia. Upon return he conveyed his unfavorable opinion to their fellow believers and advised them to stay home. Lubkov, however, was in no mood to give up. He finally reached an agreement with the government of Uruguay that was seeking colonists at that time. The future colony was allotted 25.000 hectares of land and was officially founded on July, 27 1913. The New Israelite immigration continued until August, 1914 when the First World War broke up and put an end to the mass migration. Muratov says the total of about 2000 sectarians moved to Uruguay, which, according to Klibanov, accounted for approximately 10% of the sect membership.

The colony known under the name of San Javier and inhabited mostly by the descendants of the Russian immigrants exists in Uruguay up to this day, but its history knew two waves of re-emigration. A number of the colonists desired to go back for a variety of reasons, from homesickness to dissatisfaction with new conditions to disappointment with Lubkov’s religion. The main engine of the repatriation, though, was the growing disillusionment of Lubkov himself with the new country and the perspectives of building God’s Kingdom in the isolated far-away land. Apparently, the energetic and anxious personality of Lubkov could not put up with the tranquility of a sleepy place where nothing was ever going on.

New Israel congregation in San Javier, c. 1950.   Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

The great experiment that was taking shape in Soviet Russia following the First World War and the Revolution, could not leave Vasily Lubkov indifferent and, when he learnt (apparently through his old friend Bonch-Bruevich who became Vladimir Lenin’s personal secretary) about the favorable treatment of formerly oppressed sects by the new Communist government, he made up his mind to go back. A prominent figure among the San Javier New Israelites, Trofim Efremovich Zhidkov, arrived in the USSR in 1923 on a special mission for Lubkov. In 1925 a Conference of New Israel communities in Kropotkin (Krasnodar krai) decided to found a co-operative of fellow-believers and invited the Uruguayan New Israelites to join. At first the Soviet government saw the sectarian co-operatives as similar to state-promoted collective farms and permitted their operation. The district of Sal’sk in Rostov province, a very sparsely populated area, was suggested by the government as a site for sectarian colonies. According to Soviet authors Golosovsky and Krul’, who published a critical book on New Israelite communitarian efforts in the 1920s, about 50% of the population of Sal’sk district (17,500 out of 35,000) were sectarians – Molokans, Doukhobors, Baptists, New Israelites, Adventists and others. In 1925 Lubkov and a group of over 300 re-emigrants went to the USSR. The new colony consisted of a few thousand people from across the USSR and Uruguay and operated as the share-holding company “New Israel”. However, as the political preferences of the authorities changed in the 1930s, the sectarians turned into “enemies of socialism”, their co-operative became a collective farm and was renamed “Red October”, and Lubkov, then a man in his early sixties, was arrested and his further destiny is unknown. Probably, he was exterminated or died in prison. Other sectarian co-operatives and communes shared the same fate. The religion of New Israel continued both in the USSR, semi-legally or illegally, and Uruguay, but the modern history of the sect lies beyond the focus of the present paper.

New Israel and the Doukhobors

Shared Similarities

Although Lubkov was concerned with the task of substantiating and defending his position as a legitimate heir of the past christs, he changed his organization so much that it came to resemble Doukhobors and even Protestants much more than Old Israel. There is considerable disagreement in the sources regarding the alleged ties or shared origin of Israel and the Doukhobors. It should be taken into account that Lubkov himself promoted the idea of a common source that both his denomination and the Doukhobory came from. Bonch-Bruevich upheld this view. Bonch Briuevich says: “Israel and Doukhoborism… are so close to each other, that a person who is not aware of the details of the sectarian opinions, would never tell them apart”. Bonch-Bruevich went as far as to arrange for a meeting of the representatives of New Israel with the Doukhobory in Transcaucasia and noticed that both parties expressed virtually identical opinions on a wide variety of important subjects.

So, it appears that Bonch-Bruevich explained the similarities between the two denominations mostly by their common origin from a hypothetical united church of Spiritual Christians. Klibanov, a Soviet scholar of religion, also could not but affirm those similarities, although his explanation of them differs radically from that of Bonch-Bruevich. Klibanov, following the old tradition of mainstream Orthodox sect classification, linked Lubkov’s followers along with the Katasonovites and the Fasters, with the old Russian Khristovshchina. For him as a Marxist, the main force behind all social changes was economics. In conformity with this view, the Israel sect was viewed as a version of the Khristovshchina, but transformed and changed in order to serve the new capitalist forms of economy better. Klibanov’s opinion of the New Israel/Dukhobor relationship was shaped in accordance with the same logic. Lubkov’s emphasis on “reason” and “free thought” instead of the ecstasy of his predecessors was seen by Klibanov as a reflection of the worldview shared by “small and middle bourgeoisie” that comprised a major segment of the New Israelites, especially their hierarchy. Klibanov, who frequently cites Bonch-Bruevich’s book, gives the following explanation of the similarities with the Doukhobors: “For as much as the masses of New Israelites were getting rid of the ascetic prohibitions of the old Khristovshchina, and the various forms of the mystical ecstasy were being pushed out of their worship, they were approaching the Doukhobors in their religious views”. A real insight into the core of the problem is given in another document cited by Klibanov, a Report sent to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church by a group of New Israelites in 1909. In that Report the representatives of the sect argued that their denomination had nothing in common with the khlysty, but “in all probability, had a close brotherly kinship with the Doukhobors”. Klibanov stated that the New Israelites so emphatically rejected the idea of their affinity with the Khristovshchina, it was as if they were defending their relation to Adam and Eve against the evolutionary theory with its ape ancestor.

Bondar’, the official who wrote a review of sectarianism, noted, that the matter of the essence and origins of New Israel was “an object of controversy” in the literature on sectarianism. He argued, however, that New Israel as well as other sects of Israel and Fasters were a branch of the khlysty.

The missionaries Aivazov and Nikol’sky unanimously supported the idea of the khlysty character and genesis of the Israel sect, their argument being based primarily on the ecstatic manifestations at the Israel meetings and the idea of the incarnation of Christ in living men.

Butkevich in his Review upheld a view of the Israelites, who he called by a derogatory popular term shaloputy throughout his book, as a separate entity, although sharing many features with the Khristovshchina. Nevertheless, a few pages later, in a chapter about New Israel, Butkevich affirmed that the latter were just a variety of the khlysty, which demonstrates either the force of the mental inertia, or an inaccurate handling of facts.

Eugene Clay of Arizona State University sees the Israel sect as an independent religious movement that grew out of Orthodoxy rather than an offshoot of any other sect of Spiritual Christians. The issue of the New Israel/Dukhobory relationship is not discussed in the article on the Israel sect. However, Clay calls Lubkov a “sincere admirer of the Dukhobors”, which in a way points out to the clue and names the true reason of the New Israel reformation.

History of the Doukhobors

It is appropriate to give a brief account of the Doukhobor history, doctrine and practice in order to evaluate the nature of the changes made by Lubkov. The genesis of the Doukhobors who were among the most prominent and widely-known branches of the Spiritual Christians seems somewhat obscure. There was some speculation on the foreign roots of the sect. Particularly, Quakers were named as the possible originators of the Doukhobors. Fry also believes that certain shared history with the khlysty is possible, although far from being proved.

The birthplace of the Doukhobors was the southern part of Tambov province. According to P. G. Ryndziunsky, a Soviet researcher of anticlerical movements among the Russian peasantry, the emergence of the movement dates back to 1760s. The movement faced considerable persecution and the first trial of proto-Doukhobor sectarians occurred in 1768. However, oppression did not stop the movement and the exiled sectarians spread their views outside their native province, including Ekaterinoslav (now Khar’kov, Ukraine) province, the territory Fry considers the second focus of the movement.

In 1802 the Doukhobors’ plea to be settled in a separate colony was granted by Tsar Alexander. They remained there until 1842 when they were moved to the provinces of Transcaucasia by order of Nicholas I. There they established a quasi-theocratic autonomous entity referred by them Doukhoboria. By the 1890s the Doukhobor sect split into a few fractions, with so-called Bol’shaia Partiia (the “Large Party”) being the most radical. Partly under the influence of Leo Tolstoy and under the charismatic leadership of Petr Verigin, they adapted strict pacifism, vegetarianism, and community of goods that led them to a serious opposition to civil authorities. Finally, in 1899 the majority of the Transcaucasian Doukhobors left Russia for Canada where they still live in the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The initial period of their life in Canada was marked by a deep disappointment with Western capitalism and occasional clashes and mutual misunderstanding with Canadian authorities. The first generation of Doukhobors more than once thought about returning to Russia, and tried to reach an agreement on this matter with the Russian state, but the First World War, civil unrest and lack of genuine interest and involvement from the side of Tsarist officials made repatriation impossible. As we saw, the same kind of feeling played out in the case of the New Israelites and their immigration to Uruguay.

So, how and in what sense was New Israel related to the Doukhobors? There hardly was any shared origin: by the time the proto-Israel movement, the Fasters, emerged, the bulk of the Doukhobor community was already far away on the Milky Waters. Besides, which is even more important, the Fasters and Kopylov began as “improved Orthodox”, recognized the Church sacraments, read Orthodox spiritual literature and even sought the ecclesiastic approval while Doukhoborism was a protest movement from the very first days of its existence, fiercely rejecting every form and outward symbol of the official Church. Ryndziunsky cites numerous testimonies of the earliest participants of the movement to this effect, for example: “you should not go to the church, made by hands of men, there is no salvation in it, also you should not worship icons, for those are also painted by the hands of men, nor should you confess your sins and take communion from the priests.”

The Fasters and Old Israel were based upon mysticism and ecstatic worship, while the Doukhobors earned the fame of a rationalistic sect. The Fasters and Old Israel were clandestine movements during the time of oppression and never tried to get legalized even after the policy of religious toleration was proclaimed. The Doukhobors, on the contrary, never made a secret of their convictions, living their faith even under very unfortunate circumstances. The followers of Kopylov and Katasonov had no explicit communitarian aspirations or millenarian ideas of the Kingdom of God. Instead, they understood the Kingdom in strictly spiritual terms. The Doukhobors, in their turn, always emphasized the community and their self-identification as the chosen people led them to a desire to be separate from the world in a literal way. This is not to say that the Israel movement did not have anything in common with other branches of Spiritual Christians. All of them share the ideas of worshipping God in spirit and truth, of primacy of the spiritual content over material form, and either reject Scripture or understand it allegorically. However, the differences are too serious to admit the speculation on some genetic kinship between the two movements.

The New Israel prayer home in San Javier as it appears today.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

Lubkov’s “Neo-Doukhoborism”

How is it, then, that the New Israel sect of Vasily Lubkov managed in a short time to rid itself of practically all those features that separated the Israel sect and the Doukhobors so that his denomination earned the name of “neo-Doukhoborism”?

There are a number of considerations that allow for an opinion that Lubkov might have consciously attempted to change the doctrine and practice of the sect he governed in order to make it resemble the Doukhobors whom he admired and that he was exposed to such a strong influence during his exile. Of course, this assumption requires separate and thorough research in order to assess the degree and the mechanisms of such an influence, but certain observations concerning the matter will fit the purpose of this paper.

Klibanov believed that New Israel was approaching Doukhoborism gradually in the process of dropping the old ecstatic forms of worship and placing more emphasis on rationalism. Being a Marxist, Klibanov thought that rationalization was necessitated by the development of capitalism which favored rational faith. However, the new capitalist type of economy was no obstacle to the emergence and rapid spread of ecstatic Pentecostalism in exactly the same time period. Besides, the kind of organization New Israel was did not leave much space for natural development, sorting things out etc. It was an authoritarian organization where the word of the “Papa” was the law. Bonch-Bruevich said: “The leader, Christ – that’s who the chief of the organization is. His power is unlimited and absolute”.

The Israel sect takes a peculiar and ambiguous place among other sects of Spiritual Christians. In comparison with their “elder brothers”, Molokans and Doukhobors, the Israelites look weaker and less wholesome for a number of reasons. Lack of a fixed or written doctrine led to disunity, feeble organization created internal disorders, secrecy gave way to rumors and false accusations, absence of positive publicity aggravated the situation and, finally, the association with the “baby-eaters” khlysty stigmatized the sect and deprived it of all opportunities. Vasily Lubkov realized all these things too well and he had to deal with the problem.

Members of the Israel sect, due to the secrecy of their faith and outward Orthodoxy were rarely exiled to Transcaucasia. Even when they were, it was usually done on a case by case basis, rather than en masse. The exiles usually came back to their native lands, as did Katasonov, Mokshin and Poslenichenko. Whereas other sectarians, Molokans and Doukhobors, lived in Transcaucasian provinces as permanent settlers, considering that land their earthly homeland and enjoyed a considerable freedom of worship. Lubkov, who was exiled to Transcaucasia when he was 19 and where he spent a number of years, should have felt quite lonesome spiritually in a place where his co-religionists were not at all numerous, not very well known, and even if known, probably under the shameful name of khlysty. It was difficult for Lubkov to find spiritual companions in Transcaucasia, in spite of the variety of faiths and denominations existing there. Moreover, Lubkov mentions representatives of a number of other branches of Russian religious dissent as people he tried to make friends with, but without any success. “I have been to many meetings, where gather people who look for bliss, all of them are haughty and bad people, as Molokans, Baptists, Pashkovites, Sabbath-keepers, Jehovists, Brethren of Universal Community , Stundists, Jumpers and others.” A rather negative characteristic of Molokans and Baptists that Lubkov met on his way to the place of exile is reiterated elsewhere in his autobiography. Interestingly, the Doukhobors who were quite numerous and prominent in the Caucasus, did not appear on Lubkov’s black list.

According to Bonch-Bruevich, after having been summoned to Tiflis, Lubkov was hiding in the mountainous villages of the Doukhobors with whom he might have established a close relationship. There is also the testimony of the Vladikavkaz missionary I. Kormilin (not supported by any other evidence, though) that Lubkov at some point was a resident of the town of Ardagan in Kars province, that is, right in the area where thousands of the Doukhobors resided. The future leader of New Israel might feel something of an inferiority complex comparing the sad circumstances of the fragmented Israel with the vibrant faith of the surrounding Doukhobors. Besides, the time of Lubkov’s sojourn in Kars province coincided with a rise of the radical movement among the latter of which Lubkov must have been an eyewitness.

Luker’ia Kalmykova, the female leader of Dukhoboria, died in 1886 without having left any direct heir. The matter of leadership and continuity of leadership was crucial for the Doukhobors since their colonies were a state within a state with their own internal rules, security forces, social protection mechanisms, and, last but not least, a communal treasury that was traditionally entrusted to the chief. Petr Verigin, a favorite of the deceased leader, claimed his rights to the throne. At the same time, the closest relatives of Kalmykova, wealthy men with good connections to the regional government, did the same. The majority (generally the poorer people) led by Verigin formed the Large Party, while better off Doukhobors joined ether Middle, or Small, Parties.

Verigin lost the case in the court and the Large Party separated from the rest under the banner of revival and religious radicalism. The Large Party Doukhobors adopted communism and denounced any exploitation, proclaimed vegetarianism and non-resistance. In 1895 the Doukhobor radicals publicly burned all the guns they possessed as a sign of their non-violent stand which provoked brutal repression. In 1896 Verigin asked the Royal family to let his followers settle elsewhere in Russia as a compact group or else permit them to emigrate. In 1899 the Large Party Doukhobors left for Cyprus and then for Canada.

The Doukhobor Influence

Such was the background of Lubkov’s sojourn in Transcaucasia. In his writings, he repeatedly reflected upon those events and brought parallels between the two sects. Lubkov compared Kalmykova with Mokshin, and the situation within Old Israel after Katasonov’s death with the power crisis of the Doukhobors after Luker’ia Kalmykova died. Interestingly enough, he calls Luker’ia by the diminutive Lushechka. To understand what Lubkov really meant by that, we must know that the members of the Israel sect were known for calling their own brethren by diminutive names, a practice unknown among other sects of Spiritual Christians (except Doukhobors). The controversial claims to the leadership among the Doukhobors by Verigin were used to explain the way the christhood was transferred to Lubkov himself, that is, “orally, to a (spiritually) close person”.

The Doukhobor theology was likewise employed by Lubkov. Some of the early accounts of the Doukhobor doctrine found in the “The Book of Life” (Zhivotnaia Kniga) had a form of Questions and Answers. Lubkov quotes almost verbatim from the Doukhobor original, a fact noted by Bonch-Bruevich. In “The New Sermon and the Prophecy of the Holy Israel” written by Lubkov and published by Bonch-Bruevich, the New Israel “Papa” recommended such an answer to a question about the sectarians’ attitude to the church: “Question: Why don’t you respect the (Orthodox) Church? Answer: We respect the holy church… the assembly of the faithful, and your temples and rites are alien to us, we do not expect them to bring salvation.”

The Doukhobor “Book of Life” has almost identical answer to the same question. A piece in the form of Questions and Answers written by Stepan Mishin, a prominent sectarian who traveled with Lubkov to North America, also has a few allusions to the Doukhobor views on the essence of church and the spiritual understanding of baptism. At that, we should remember, that before Lubkov the Israelites never proclaimed the emphatic denial of the Orthodox Church with all its rules, rites and teachings a part of their own worldview.

Matryoshka doll figurines line the streets of San Javier, Uruguay, symbols of Russian culture brought by the New Israel sect.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

Frequent references to God as “reason” and “mind” and emphasizing the role of reason, reasoning and common sense in Lubkov’s writings surprisingly resemble the highly rationalistic theological opinions of the Doukhobors, who even understood the Holy Trinity as the unity of memory, reason and will. In his short pamphlet “About God”, Lubkov stated that God is a “reasonable Spirit” who chose to dwell in “reasonable souls”, to move humans toward “spiritual growth and consciousness” and let them develop a “reasonable faith”. In the “Handbook of the New Israel Community”, Lubkov stated that the New Israelites recognize only one God, namely “the doctrine of sound reason, which is the spirit of life”. This emphasis on reason, hardly typical of the Old Israel sect, might have been adopted from the Doukhobors, especially from Verigin’s radical branch.

Contemporary observers noticed that the personalities of Verigin and Lubkov had a lot in common. Muratov openly compares both sectarian leaders, characterizing Lubkov as a “man of unusual energy and strong will, never giving up in spite of any obstacles and, like Verigin, taking into account only his own desires”.

The obsession with the idea of community-building also seems to be imported from Transcaucasia. The mystical and otherworldly perspective of the Fasters and Old Israel sect never gave any space to communitarian or millenarian ideas. For them, the Kingdom of God was an otherworldly, although highly desired, spiritual condition of ecstatic joy; something immaterial, rather than literal and tangible, whereas Lubkovites were taught that the Kingdom of God is the “righteous, moral, perfect life of men on Earth” that they were supposed to build.

Finally, the idea of emigration may be regarded as a reflection, probably to a certain degree unconscious, of Lubkov’s wish to be in all aspects equal to the Doukhobors, although apparently the New Israelites were in an incomparably better off position than the Doukhobors at the time they left Russia as it was noted by Muratov.

Summarizing this paper, it should be said that the religious history of humankind knows quite a few examples of amazing and unexpected interference and intersection of ideas and personalities, at times resulting in very remarkable phenomena of the religious thought and practice. However, it is not always easy to uncover and reveal the true nature of such influences, especially when the available historical material appears to be inadequate. This paper is an attempt to shed some more light on the genesis and development of a small Russian religious movement that has hardly ever enjoyed a noticeable amount of scholarly attention. But, being as small as it is, the sect of New Israel and its uncommon history occupies a unique place in the annals of the Russian religious dissent and serves as a good illustration of the hidden force of chance and the great role of personality.

About the Author

A native of Russia, Sergey Petrov has a strong personal and scholarly interest in Russian sectarian religious studies.  He earned a Masters Degree at the University of Calgary and his thesis, Nikolai Il’in and his Jehovists Followers: Crossroads of German Pietistic Chiliasm and Russian Religious Dissent dealt with a Russian millenarian movement of Jehovists, which emerged in 1840s under the direct influence of German Pietistic Chiliasm and, particularly, writings by Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary.  His current work focuses on Russian and Ukrainian Evangelical Christians in Western Canada as a distinct group of religiously motivated settlers, similar to the Doukhobors, Hutterites, and Mennonites.

Canned Doukhobor Borsch?

by Greg Nesteroff

Canned soup? Sure. But canned borsch? “Why not!” thought two young Doukhobor entrepreneurs in 1955. Using an age-old family recipe, they marketed their ready-to-eat Doukhobor vegetable soup under the Kootenay Valley “Genuine Borsch” brand.  The world, however, was not ready for canned borsch and the enterprise failed before it began.  However, it left behind some colourful labels, now prized collectibles.  Reproduced by permission from the Castlegar Current (October 25, 2007).

Canned borsch?

Hey, why not, thought Peter Makonin and Fred Makaroff in the spring of 1955. The two Glade men formed a company, Kootenay Valley Food Products Ltd., and went to a cannery in Kelowna to whip up some test batches. Jars were, for whatever reason, deemed unviable.

The Makonins ran a store near the ferry landing and were natural entrepreneurs. But the enterprise failed before it began: health regulators said the cabbage had to be boiled for 90 minutes, by which time it turned to mush. So the duo gave up, although not before they printed thousands of labels.

“There were cases of them,” recalls Makonin’s son, Peter Jr. “I forget exactly how many.”

Kootenay Valley Brand “Genuine Borsch” label (obverse), 1955. 

The labels periodically pop up on eBay, selling for $1 to $10 each. In 2006, a woman in Ontario bought an old house and discovered 4,000 in her basement. She’s since been selling batches of 100. Nick Denisoff, also of Glade, has about 90 which he sells in handcrafted frames: “I got ahold of them and ended up making kitchen plaques, just for fun,” he says. “I do the matting and framing.”

The label has also appeared on at least one t-shirt.

As for the borsch itself, “the recipe was my mom’s,” says Makonin’s daughter, Elaine Strelive. “Just a regular Doukhobor borsch recipe.” She recalls her mother and aunt going to Kelowna to supervise the test run.

Kootenay Valley Brand “Genuine Borsch” label (reverse), 1955. 

Today Strelive does some catering, and says the secret to making good borsch is “all the fresh ingredients you can get. The vegetables are most important. Then you need cream. It’s very time consuming. If I start making borsch I have to set aside at least two or three hours.”

The world may not have been ready for canned borsch, but at least it left behind some colourful souvenirs.

My Memories of Grandmother and Grandfather Sookochoff

by Cyril Brown

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

The Homestead

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

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

The location of the original house.

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

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

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

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

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

The “new” house as it appears today.

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

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

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

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

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

Great-grandmother Anastasia

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bathhouse as it appears today.

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

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

The remains of the bathhouse heater.

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

Visiting Our Grandparents

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

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

Pelagea and Nicholai Sookochoff with grandchildren Cyril and Lois Brown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandfather Sookochoff

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

Nicholai Sookochoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmother Sookochoff

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

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

Pelagea Sookochoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Golden Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another view of the Sookochoff retirement home.

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

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandparents Nicholas and Pelagea Sookochoff

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

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

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

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

How Deep are the Doukhobor Roots?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Life Story

by George P. Stushnoff

In his later years, George P. Stushnoff (1922-2001) wrote about the history and settlement of his family in the Langham district of Saskatchewan and of growing up there in the Twenties to the Forties.  In simple and straightforward style, he recalls the everyday scenes of Doukhobor life on the Canadian Prairies.  Written in 1990, his “Life Story” was published posthumously in 2003 in “The Stushnoff Family History: Kirilowka and Beylond” by Fred & Brian Stushnoff.  Reproduced by permission.

Alexei and Anna Stushnoff were the earliest settlers of my family name.  Born in Russia – he moved to the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus Wet Mountain region, east of the Port of Batoum on the Black Sea, and some 50 miles west of Tibilisi (Tiflis) Georgia.  To escape from religious persecution, they came to Canada because the Canadian government by Order-in-Council granted them religious freedom and military exemption from war service, which was not available in Russia.  They traveled by refurbished cattle freighters from Batoum and arrived at the Port of Quebec on June 21, 1899, then went by train to Manitoba, Yorkton, and Saskatoon.  A much larger contingent went on to Rosthern to settle in the Blaine Lake area.  The Saskatoon group, including my parents, settled originally in the Doukhobor village of Kirilovka, 4 miles west of Langham.  Others of this group settled at Bogdanovka village at Ceepee and still others settled the Pokrovka village in the Henrietta school district.  My grandparents arrived in Canada with no personal possessions except their clothing.  Their two sons, Peter (my dad) and my Uncle John were 10 and 16 years of age respectively.  Peter married Helen (Hannah) Voykin.  John married Dora (Doonya) Woykin while living in the village of Kirilovka.

My grandfather Alexei had one married brother who arrived at the same time and settled in the same village.  His name was Dmitry and his wife was Maria. Dmitry and Maria had one son and four daughters.  Alexei’s twin sister Anyuta also arrived married from Russia.  Her husband was Savely Dimovsky. Alexei and Anna had a daughter who died back in Russia at 16 years of age.

Alexei Stushnoff family c. 1914. (Back L-R) John, Nick, Pete; (Middle L-R) Dora, Alexei, Anna, Helen; (Front L-R) John, Pete, Bill. Photo courtesy Fred Stushnoff.

Prior to 1906, the village produced goods more or less for self-sufficiency as lands were broken up gradually.  The first crops were used predominantly for feeding the increased livestock herds of cattle and horses.  My parents did not move into the Lutheran-Lynne school district until 1919.  At that time, cattle and grain were taken to Langham and shipped to Winnipeg.  Sometimes the returns did not cover rail shipping costs.  Saskatoon and Rosthern were the nearest trading centres and sources of supplies.  In the first two years, groceries were brought in by backpacking.  Even bags of flour were carried this way in emergencies.  Other times, several men would pull a load of wheat to Saskatoon and return with a load of flour.  Garden vegetables were hauled occasionally to Saskatoon by team and wagon and sold from door to door.  By late afternoon, any unsold vegetables were sold at minimum prices to restaurants so that groceries could be purchased before store closing and returning home during the night.  We depended on the horses to take us home while we slept in the wagon box.  The return trip took two nights and one day plus a day in digging and preparing the vegetables for sale.

Development took place by working communally in the village.  My dad Peter was only 10 years of age upon arrival in Canada.  As he grew up he began earning and saving his own money building railroads.  Upon getting married to Helen Voykin, he and his brother John struck out on their own by jointly renting out a 1/2 section of land, which was later purchased by Paul Edie (East 1/2 of S-31, T-38, R-8, W-3M).  On August 30, 1919, my dad made a purchase agreement on the home place (NE 1/4 of S-29, T-38, R-8, W-3M) from Tumble Company Ltd. as the original owners of title granted to them on August 19, 1919.  The home quarter, without any buildings, was valued at $5000.  Title was attained on December 30, 1925.  It had originally been designated as school land with a legal right-of-way for the Battlefords Trail.  The countryside had lots of bush and grass (parkland) with a few scattered settlers.  No graded roads existed.  The Saskatoon/Battleford Trail cut diagonally across the Northeast quarter.

Most of the prairie sod was broken a little at a time with a two-furrowed gang plow pulled by 4 horses.  After all the grassland was broken, additional acres were made by pulling trees out by their roots.  The trees were either chopped down or bulldozed and the land ploughed with a tractor and breaking plow.

The first set of buildings on our farm consisted of a house, granary, horse bam, cow barn, and a chicken coop.  These were made of logs, with clay-mudded walls and a sod-covered roof.  They were all set in a row and adjoining one another.  Later, a modest two-storey wood-frame house was built, with dimensions of 14′ x 20′.  A year or two later, a lean-to kitchen was added on the end.  It had a clay-mudded floor to begin with, and later, a wooden board floor was put in.  The farmyard also had a clay-mudded, log-walled, sod-roofed steam bath house (banya) which was put into operation every Saturday night.  Neighbours were always welcome.  Our Norwegian and English neighbours often paid us a visit.  It became my job to heat up the stones and supply the water.

Peter A. Stushnoff family c. 1927. (Back L-R) Bill, Pete; (Front L-R) Mary, Helen, Annie, George, Peter. Photo courtesy Fred Stushnoff.

No modern buildings were put up until I started farming in 1948.  In 1928, after a Model T Ford was purchased, we managed to build a little garage for it.  It was made out of axe-hewn and split poplars with a cedar shingled roof.  This was a big spending splurge just before the great Depression of the 30s when land was sold to pay the taxes.

Later, Uncle John and his family moved to the Canora, SK, area.  His son Alex remembers riding on the freight train in 1934 with their horses and cattle to the Canora district.  Later, most of Uncle John’s family moved to British Columbia.

There were no roads to speak of in these early times.  There was a Saskatoon/Battleford Trail that ran diagonally across the farm that dad bought in 1919.  As lands became cultivated and fenced, people were forced to develop trails along the surveyed road allowances.  So the Trail became a hit-and-miss affair and was eliminated by the mid-Twenties.  I was born in 1922 and have a recollection of one Ford Model T traveler who tried to follow the Trail.  I remember opening a gate to let him through our land.  We privately kept a trail across our farm to shorten the distance to Uncle John’s place.  We used to visit back and forth with our cousins quite frequently.  We were almost like brothers and sisters.  There doesn’t seem to be such closeness between cousins anymore.  As cars became common, municipalities started grading up the low spots so that the cars wouldn’t get stuck in the sloughs of water in spring and after heavy rains.  More popular roads became graded their full length.  Grading probably began in the mid-Twenties and accelerated in the Thirties.  Farm grid-roading and gravelling started in the Fifties and completed in the Sixties.  As Councillors of the R.M. of Park, Norman Westad and myself had the grid road built through this community, past the Lynne School and connecting the No. 14 highway with the No. 5 at Ceepee.  For my ancestors, modes of travel commenced with walking, then proceeded to the use of oxen, horses, buggies, wagons, bicycles, cars, trucks, trains, and finally, airplanes.

Our post office was 10 miles away at Langham and neighbours would take turns bringing out the mail, which probably averaged once a week.  Rural mail delivery came to our place, I believe, in the early Thirties, every Tuesday and Friday.  In winter it was delivered using horses and sleigh.  There was no mail for us before the establishment of the Langham post office.

Most illnesses were treated at home with home remedies.  We didn’t seem to have needed any doctors except when my younger sister was born.  Dr. Matheson from Asquith came out to the farm.  Mother had arranged for our cousins to pick up my sister and me and go out for the whole day picking strawberries along the roadsides.  When we came home, we saw our new baby sister and other evidence that a doctor had been there.  When I was in about grade six or seven, I sprained my ankle playing football at school.  My dad took me to a Mennonite self-taught chiropractor (naturalist).  He had my ankle set and bandaged.  I limped for a while and it gradually healed perfectly.

Lynne School was located 2 miles south of our farm and was of frame construction with stucco finished walls and tin roof shingles.  It had a full basement with a coal-fired furnace.  When I started school, there were about 40 students from Grades 1 to 8, plus my brother Bill and Clifford Lindgren taking Grade 9 by correspondence.  Later I also took my Grade 9 and 10 by correspondence and finished Grade 11 and 12 at the Langham High School in 1941.  I also earned enough money, being a janitor for Lynne School, to buy myself a brand new bicycle.  I was so proud of it!  I didn’t mind the extra early hours I had to get up on winter mornings so I could fire up the furnace and have the school warm enough for classes.  Of course, when it was -40, it never warmed up till the afternoon.  Kids spent the mornings huddling around the floor heat register.

Looking back on harvest, to me it was the best of times and the worst of times!  The crops were cut with horses and binder and I usually ended up having to do the stooking with my sister Annie.  The first day was an adventure, especially if the crop was good and the stocks were free of Russian thistle.  Day after day the job became more tedious!  My dad bought a George White threshing machine and a Lawson tractor.  Every fall, Dad would line up about eight or more farmer customers for whom we threshed.  While Dad and my brother Pete operated the threshing outfit, my brother Bill and I would haul sheaves, each with a team of horses and a hayrack.  This job was really a test of endurance.  There were eight teams on the crew, four to each side of the threshing machine.  You had to load up your rack while three unloaded.  Of course most people took pride in their work by bringing in a reasonably good load and on time so that the machine didn’t run half-empty.  There was always one or two workers who rounded off their load a little smaller and always had time for a rest in between.  Not me!  My foolish pride made me work till I ached all over!  Since the family owned the threshing outfit, I felt obligated to set a good example of work ethic rather than slacking off and embarrassing them.  However, the social contacts were a good experience plus the most wonderful food was served.  The servings of food were only equaled on festive occasions such as Christmas or weddings.

Winter evenings were a time for sitting around the wood heater and eating sunflower seeds and visiting relatives.  To help prepare the wood supply, trees were chopped down and hauled into the yard.  Many wood-sawing bees were held in the neighbourhood.  There were never-ending chores of feeding cattle and horses twice a day, and palling water from the well to water them.  And, there was the stinky job of cleaning out the manure from the barn and hauling it by stone-boat to spread out in the fields.

Young unmarried adults used to take turns hosting parties in their homes over the weekends.  This meant overnight stays, so you can imagine wall-to-wall people sleeping on the floor on all available homemade mattresses and blankets.  Some of these were brought along to keep warm in the sleigh, since the party goers came from as far as 10 miles away.  These were not exactly pajama parties; people slept in their clothes, if sleep were possible.  My 12 year old cousin, Johnny Malloff, who came along with his older brother Bill, kept annoying one of the older guys by repeatedly tickling his feet.

George & Laure (Petroff) Stushnoff wedding photo, 1946. Photo courtesy Fred Stushnoff.

In summer we used to gather at the ball diamond and play baseball with pickup teams.  The better players were selected for the ball team that competed at the various sports days.  We had some winners!  Our team even played at the Saskatoon Exhibition.  I am referring to the Doukhobor boys from Ceepee/Henrietta communities when I talk about our team.  We maintained close cultural ties.  For several years the ball diamond was located on my brother Bill’s farm.  It was also a place for picnics and Peter’s Day.  As I was growing up, I was really a part of two communities.  I played on the Lynne School softball team, which was one of the best in the district, and I was goaltender for their hockey team.  When I attended Langham High School I was also on the softball team that played against Borden, Radisson, and Maymont.  My schoolmates from Lynne School (Ivan Thue, Larry Aune, and Norman Westad) were also on the team.  In hockey we sometimes played against the adult Doukhobor team from west of Langham, with whom I also had close relationships.

Christmas was celebrated strictly as celebrating Jesus’ birthday through worship services.  There was no gift giving.  However, it wasn’t long before the commercialized Canadian custom had its negative impact.  So much to be said for assimilation!  Our most important cultural/religious event was the commemoration of Peter’s Day on June 29 of each year.  On June 29, 1895, our ancestors, while still in Russia, collected all of their personal weapons and made a huge bonfire out of them as a sincere declaration of refusal to bear arms or participate in military service.  It stemmed from the religious belief, “Thou shalt not kill,” or destroy the body’s temple in which God resides.  The soul, being the image of God, resides in every human body, without exception.  It was the Burning of the Arms that precipitated severe religious persecution and consequent migration to Canada.  The Doukhobor decision to migrate to Canada was made only after Canada passed an Order-in-Council.  Some boys were imprisoned while others served in labor camps. I, personally, was exempted from service because I happened to be employed in two high-priority essential industries: education and agriculture.  The government seemed to respect that more than the legal religious freedom that had been granted by law.

I started my off-farm career teaching school after a short 12-week stint at the Saskatoon Normal School.  I taught at Worthington School, southwest of Loon Lake; Morin Creek School, west of Meadow Lake; Henrietta School, west of Langham; and Smeaton public and high school.  I resigned in June 1947.

My dad operated the farm till the spring of 1948 when I took over by renting.  Dad gave me 4 horses and 2 cows plus the old horse machinery consisting of a gang plow, 4 sections of harrows, a disc, a seed drill, mower, and binder.  Since Dad decided to retire at 60, I quit teaching school and took up farming.  After the war, there was a shortage of new tractors so my first attempt at motorized farming was the purchase of a Wyllis-Overland Jeep in 1949.  It served the double purpose of tractor and automobile.  After a good crop in 1950, I managed to trade the Jeep as a down payment on a new International 3/4 ton truck and a W6 tractor.  We grew wheat and raised cattle, milked around six cows and sold cream.  Later, we raised 4000 broiler chickens per batch, turning 3 1/2 batches per year.

While farming, in 1952 I volunteered to canvass the district for interest in Rural Electrification.  It was a successful venture and electricity came through in 1953 to this particular region.  SaskPower put in the power after I proved that 75% of the farmers would sign up and pay their deposit of $750.

In 1955, I organized the Central Park 4-H Beef Club which later became a multiple project club including beef, grain, automotive, gun safety, and home economics.  In all, I was 4-H leader for 13 years, with 3 of those years as the district chairman.  I served as a trustee on the Lynne School Board until its integration into the Saskatoon West School Division at Langham.  I also served a 3-year term on the R.M. of Park municipal council.  My voluntary services also included the chairmanships of the Farmers Union Local and the Langham Doukhobor Society.

In 1968, at 45 years of age, I quit farming and took on a job with the Federal Dept. of Indian and Northern Affairs.  I leased the farmland to Mitch Ozeroff for 8 years, and then made an agreement for sale to my daughter Sandra and her husband Edward Walker in 1976.

In 1973, I transferred to the Dept. of Secretary of State to administer the program of Human Rights and Multiculturalism.  In these past years I lived in Prince Albert, Yorkton, Regina, and finally in Saskatoon, where I retired in 1988.  Laura and I now live in the Brandtwood Estates, a seniors condominium in Saskatoon.

George & Laura Stushnoff, 1999. Photo courtesy Fred Stushnoff.

As Russian speaking people of the Doukhobor (“spirit-wrestlers”) faith, our people have retained the traditional worship and funeral services to this very day.  Traditional clothing was always worn for worship services, but lately, it is only worn on occasion, such as a choir costume for special festivals.  Traditional foods of borshch, blini (crepes), perohi (vegetable and fruit tarts), ploe (rice and raisins), vereniki, and lapshevnik (a noodle and egg cake) are still very much in vogue.  We are just beginning to conduct our worship services in both Russian and English languages, eventually becoming English for the sake of all the intermarriages taking place.

Doukhobor to Doukhobor marriages are becoming a rarity.  With freedom and democracy breaking out in Eastern Europe, we feel that our pacifist beliefs are coming of age and should be shared with the rest of society.

George P. Stushnoff (1922-2001) exemplified the Doukhobor ideals of toil and peaceful life. Chairman of the Saskatoon Doukhobor Society and the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan for many years, George strove to preserve and share the Doukhobor way of life, and to promote inter-cultural harmony in his community. He once stated that “I find it spiritually fulfilling to participate in promoting local and international harmony among all people.” In 1995, he recieved the United Nations 50th Anniversary “Global Citizen” Certificate for contributing to the advancement of peace and global harmony.

Paths and Pathfinders

by Polly Vishloff

On October 2, 2004, Polly Vishloff (nee Verigin) was the keynote speaker at “Paths and Pathfinders”, a symposium honouring extraordinary women pioneers of Mission, British Columbia.  During her address, she gave an account of her life as a Doukhobor over the past eighty years.  Polly’s experience highlights the importance of hard work, strong family ties and community roots.  Readers will enjoy her many heartfelt memories and rich experiences.  Her address is reproduced below by permission.

…Thank you for this honour.  When I was asked to speak about my life I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but after I thought about it, I said to myself, “My life is different and I should share my experiences with others.”  So here I am.  It’s not going to be easy to put 80 years into a short talk but I’ll try.

Polly Vishloff speaking at “Paths & Pathfinders: Women Pioneers of Mission, BC” in 2004.

You all know that I am a Doukhobor, but what does that really mean?  So to begin, I have to give you a little bit of history: The name ‘Dukho-bortsi’ which means ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ was given to a group of dissident Russian peasants in 1785 by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Doukhobors adopted this name because they felt this meant they were struggling for a better life by using only the spiritual power of love, and not by using forms of violence or force.  This was a practical commonsense religion that could help people live a contented, happy life on earth.  But it was more than a religion; it was a way of life, or social movement.  In living together as a closely-knit group for several centuries, they developed many unique cultural customs and traditions.  The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that when Doukhobors were living up to the standard of their faith, they presented “one of the nearest approaches to the realization of the Christian ideal which has ever been attained.”

In Russia the Doukhobors had one leader who was a woman (Lukeria Kalmykova), she took over after her husband died.  She lived in a different village from where the Verigins lived.  She took, into her home, a young man named Peter Vasilyevich Verigin to train him for leadership.  She died 5 years later and he took over as the new leader.

Peter Verigin asked the Doukhobor people to start living cleaner lives.  First he asked them to share their wealth with those less fortunate.  The Verigin family was quite well off.  Then he asked them to quit smoking, drinking and eating meat.  My grandfather was a brother to this man.

Then he asked them to say “NO” to war.  This and other messages were sent by Verigin while in Siberian exile to his followers in the Caucasus through faithful messengers. The ones that were already in military service did just what their leader asked and were beaten.  Many died and the rest were sent to Siberia where the authorities felt they would parish from the extreme cold.  Doukhobor understanding says, ‘we are all God’s people and it is wrong to take a life.’  The faithful in the 3 separate Doukhobor settlements got all their guns together and at the same time on the same day, built huge fires and burned all their guns.  Cossacks and soldiers entered one village and beat those people as they stood around the fire singing.  The date was June 29, 1895.  Many of the faithful were driven away from their homes. 

My grandfather Vasily Verigin – Peter Verigin’s brother – was one of the messengers and knew his life was at stake, but he did it anyway.  When the authorities found out, they were going to shoot him but a follower of Leo Tolstoy heard this.  Leo Tolstoy was a famous Russian author and Doukhobor sympathizer.  This man intervened and my grandfather’s life was spared and he was sent to Siberia instead.  There was a lot of suffering going on due to these bold moves by the faithful.  Leo Tolstoy heard of this and started working to get the Doukhobors out of Russia.  Canada accepted them; Canada needed good workers and that’s what they were.

Doukhobor women feeding workers on farm in Saskatchewan. British Columbia Archives, C-01356.

With financial aid from Tolstoy and a group of Quakers who also supported their non-violent cause, they landed in Canada.  The Doukhobors were given virgin land in what is now northern Saskatchewan and part of the Northwest Territories.  My parents were about 6 years old when the move was made in 1899.  My grandmother on mother’s side was a widow with 5 daughters.  Their lives would have been very difficult had they not been in this community.

In Saskatchewan, the men had to go out and earn money so the resourceful women hitched themselves to a plow and broke up soil for gardens.  In 6 years, they had worked a lot of land and planted crops.  They had built homes, grew flax and made their own oil.  They had a brick plant, flour mill, and brick ovens in which they baked their bread.  At this point, the Government said they had to swear allegiance to the Crown in order to keep their land.  Some did and became know as Independent Doukhobors.  The rest said they serve “God only”.  They had to leave.

This group bought land in British Columbia around Castlegar, Brilliant, and Grand Forks.  Here they planted orchards, built new homes for themselves, built a flourmill and a brick factory.  My Dad was a beekeeper and looked after about 100 beehives.  Everywhere we lived after that, my Dad always had bees.  Later they built a jam factory.

Each settlement had 2 large brick houses (where about 25 people lived) and included a courtyard and a few smaller houses in the back for older people.  The women took turns cooking and everyone ate together.  Everyone shared the steam bath.  Once it was fired up, several men would go in at one time, then women and children would take their turns.

Polly in front of her mother Polly with aunts Dunya Anutooshkin (seated)t Nastya Verigin at Shouldice, Alberta, c. 1927.

Wheat for baking bread and other delicious foods was grown in Saskatchewan which was far away, so in 1915 land was purchased in the foothills of Alberta and several families moved there to grow wheat.  This is the area where my husband grew up.  I don’t know what year my parents got married.  They were living around Brilliant, British Columbia, and after several years, I came into the picture.  Sister Mary was 13, my brother Peter was 6 and then there was me.  I was born on June 25, 1923.  Mom said it was “at strawberry time”.

After the tragic death of Peter Verigin (who was the leader), my parents and about 25 families moved to Alberta under the leadership of Anastasia Holoboff.  I was 3 years old.

There are several other Doukhobor groups. Besides the Independents, some are called Canadian Doukhobors, and the largest group is the Spiritual Communities of Christ, and of course you’ve all heard of the Sons of Freedom.  They make up about 5% of the Doukhobor population.

Under Anastasia’s leadership, a colony was established two miles from Shouldice, Alberta.  There were several other Doukhobor families already farming in this area.  A prayer home was built and Doukhobors from around the area gathered for prayers on Sunday mornings.

In this colony, every family built their own individual homes.  My dad had to be different.  He put in a bay window and that’s where my mother kept her geraniums.  Everyone had a half-acre of land where they planted their own gardens.  There were 2 rows of houses with a street down the middle.  Families with older parents built a small house in back of the larger family home and all meals were eaten together in the main house.  Each backyard not only contained a garden but also a brick or clay oven for baking bread, a steam bath, and an outhouse further back.

There was a lovely spring at the top of the colony property and water was piped down, through the street, with taps placed along it after each 4th house.  Water was brought into the homes by pail and it kept us young people busy.  We had wood stoves, no electricity, and used coal oil lamps.  Young people had to bring in the wood and the coal.

At the very bottom of the street was a water tank and train tracks.  The train, which was both, a passenger and freight train, would stop here and replenished its water supply for the steam engine.  Once in a while, I would go for mail.  In those days girls didn’t wear slacks but I would dress up like a boy in my brother’s clothes and climb onto the train and stand behind the engine and get a ride into Shouldice, pick up the mail and then walk the two miles back home along the railway track.  The colony was three miles from Shouldice by road and sometimes I’d come back that way hoping for a ride but sometimes I’d have to walk the three miles back.

Polly on tractor at her sister Mary’s  farm, Nanton, Alberta, 1940.

Our colony was called “The Lord’s Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”.  There was a big barn, half for cows and half for horses.  Families took turns milking the cows.  There was a room in this barn where the milk was shared.  Just outside its door was a large metal triangle with a straight rod for striking it.  When the milk was ready for distribution, the triangle was struck and the sound carried throughout the village.  That meant it was time for me to grab a syrup or honey pail and run to get our milk.  The bigger the family, the more milk they got.  When it was time for your family to do the milking, the kids would go from house to house to gather the vegetable and fruit peelings to feed the cows.

At one end of the village was the school.  In summer we went to school barefoot and ran home for lunch.  Parents took turns doing janitor work here, which also included bringing firewood for the central stove.

There was one couple that had no children so they had us kids coming in the middle of the week to teach us songs.  Sunday morning was prayer time and singing at their place for us young kids (our very own Sunday School!).  I loved to sing.  That was at 6:00 in the morning.  Prayers were taught to us at home by parents or grandparents.  I had no living grandparents, so I loved to go to my friend’s place, the Tamilins.  Their grandparents lived in a small house in back and they all had meals together.  And it looked so nice seeing a big family at the table.  That’s when I decided I wanted to have a big family, like six children but I settled for four.

We all celebrated “Peter’s Day” on June 29th.  It was a big picnic by the river and everyone came from all around.  On this day we commemorated the burning of all firearms in Russia.

At school we played softball a lot.  I loved it.  I remember weeding with Mother in the garden and I felt like my back was breaking and it was just so hard for me to weed.  Then someone would come along and say they were organizing a softball game.  I’d ask my mother if I could go and she always said, “Yes” and all of a sudden, everything healed and I would run off to play.

Verigin family. Back L-R: Mary, Peter, and Polly. Front L-R: Peter W. and Polly Verigin, c. 1940.

During the Depression, my dad took a job on a farm to look after cattle.  He was paid $15.00 for that month.  Being vegetarian, we had great gardens and plenty of food.  We grew lots of sunflowers and sitting around and eating them was a great past-time.  Sometimes, we would take something from the garden, like a lettuce, and give it to the conductor on the train and he would let us ride in the coach.  One day while riding in the coach, there were two ladies sitting there looking out the window and saying, “Look at all the sunflowers.  They must have lots of chickens!”  It made me chuckle to myself, because we were the chickens.  Flour came in 98-pound cotton bags, so a lot of our clothing was made from flour sacks.  Nothing was wasted.  Everything was recycled.  We wove rugs from worn out clothing and Mom planted her geraniums in any used tin cans.  That’s where she started her bedding plants also.

After living together on this colony for about 14 years, a lot of people wanted to get out on their own.  That would be around 1940.  I would have been around 17 years old.  My uncle and aunt had a married daughter living in Whonnock and she wasn’t well.  They wanted to help her out and decided to leave the colony and move to that area.  I think they were the first to leave the colony.  My cousin Bill rode his bicycle around the area looking for property.  He happened to be on Dewdney Trunk Road when he saw a place for sale and they bought it.  This property had a house on it that had belonged to Mrs. King, sister to Cecil, Ted, and Jack Tunbridge.

Mother and I came out by train to visit our relatives.  Our tickets were to Vancouver but I told the conductor we were getting off in Mission City.  He called it Mission Junction.  We got off the train and there was no one there to meet us.  I asked the station agent if he knew where the Verigin’s lived and he hadn’t even heard of them.  I began to worry that maybe we’d gotten off at the wrong place.  We’d called it Mission City and here we’d gotten off at Mission Junction.

Then I spotted cousin Bill coming along on his bicycle.  He told us to leave everything at the station and come along with him.  He pushed the bike to Cedar Street with us walking along beside him.  He said, “Now you start thumbing a ride and someone will pick you up.”  He gave us directions on where to go and rode away.  Someone did stop and give us a ride and we arrived at his home before he got there.

Auntie and cousin Peter were in Sardis picking hops.  Within a day cousin Bill had arranged a ride for us and we got to Sardis and were hired on to pick hops too.  What a great opportunity to earn some money.  At home I’d have to go out and do housework and that was not my cup of tea.  Even though hop picking meant long hours of work, I loved it and we had a chance to visit with each other while we worked.

Polly Vishloff (nee Verigin) in Mission, British Columbia, c. 1943.

The following year Dad came to Mission by car and was able to earn some money by picking strawberries.  Now there were 3 other families from our colony living in Mission.  Dad found a piece of property owned by Jack Tunbridge that was not far from Uncle’s place.  It was all bush with a creek running through it and very swampy.  The higher ground was very rocky and there was a gravel pit at one end, close to the road.  The municipality had extracted gravel from this area but it wasn’t good enough and therefore abandoned it.  Dad bought the nine acres for $100.00.  The year was 1940.

Now we had to sell our own house to finance the move to Mission.  The next spring our house sold for $175.00.  We then moved to my sister Mary’s home in Nanton, Alberta.  They were renting a farm there and could use help at harvest time.  In the meantime, Mother and I wove rugs and sold them.  Dad found work on other farms.  At harvest time, Peter and I worked on binders.  That was the way wheat was cut.  The binder tied cut wheat into bundles, and then we lowered the bundles in rows.  We also watched to be sure the binders didn’t run out of twine.  These two binders were pulled by a tractor.

In the fall we were ready to move to our new place.  We came by car and I remember Mom’s spinning wheel tied to the back of the car.  We got a lot of attention along the road.  At that time there was no Hope-Princeton Highway so we came down the Fraser Canyon (which was an amazing experience for people born and raised in the prairies!).  We drove between 20 and 25 miles an hour.  Dad would be driving along this narrow windy trail of a road saying, “Look at the river down below, just look.”  We were all frightened and kept reminding him to watch the road.

And here we were in Mission City and at our Uncle’s and Auntie’s place.  This was November, 1941.  We arrived late in the evening.  Auntie had a beautiful bouquet of dahlias on her table.  I asked here where she got them and she said from her garden.  In Alberta, we had frost two months earlier that killed off all the flowers and I couldn’t believe that they could still be blooming.  Early the next morning, I had to go outside and see for myself and sure enough, they were there.  This was truly the land of opportunity; with berries to pick, canneries, just all kinds of nice ways to make a living.  We lived at our relatives until Dad and brother Peter had cleared some land and partly finished our new house, then we moved into it.  There was still a lot to do inside but by summer, we had moved in.  During this time I picked strawberries, then raspberries and then went to work at the Alymer cannery, which was located along the Fraser River at the Railway Bridge.  I really enjoyed my work there.  The following year Mrs. Lacroix promoted me to supervisor.

My uncle Larry came later with 2 sons and 2 daughters and they built and started the Cedar Valley Store, which still exists.  By now there were over 30 Doukhobor families living in Mission, most of them in the Cedar Valley area.  Later my Uncle Larry and his family moved to Creston.

A few years later, while enroute to Alberta to visit my sister and her family, I stopped in Creston to visit my cousins.  While visiting there, I met John Vishloff.  He had come from Nanton to visit his folks who had moved there from Alberta.  We seemed to have a lot in common and got along very well.  In March of 1947, he came to Mission and we were married in April.

Wedding in Canyon, British Columbia, 1947. (l-r) Agnes and Mary (nee Verigin) Ewashen, John, Polly and Alex Wishlow.

First we lived with his parents in Creston, then came to Mission and lived with mine were I worked for the cannery and John worked for the Coop where they made jam.  We went back to Creston at the end of the season and in April of 1948 our son Paul was born.  Although both my mother and John’s mother were both Midwives, I wanted to be modern and had a doctor and the baby was born in the hospital.

After the summer harvest was over, we decided to move to Mission for good.  There were more opportunities here for John to work.  My Dad said, “I have started building a garage and because John is a handyman, if he wants to finish it, you can live in it.”  Maybe they were tired of us living with them.  John finished building our one room house and we moved in.  We were very happy in this one room house.  At last we were on our own.  Our couch made into a bed at night and there was still room for the crib.  Mother baby-sat Paul while I worked at the cannery.  When Paul was a little over a year old, mom suffered a heart attack and died.  I felt quite guilty about her death because she had been looking after Paul for me while I worked.  I found her death very hard to bear.  But about a year later we were blessed with a beautiful daughter.  We named her Naida, which in Russian, means ‘hope’.  Now we had two cribs in our little one room house, that also had a kitchen and everything else.  I was able to use Mom’s washing machine and we all used their steam bath.

We bought half an acre of land and John built us a 2-bedroom house on it.  It had a kitchen, living room, a small storage room, a bathroom and 2 bedrooms.  John prepared the plans for the house.  I said to him, “We’ll have a bathroom in the house?  That’s just for rich people!”  I’m glad he didn’t listen to me.

Polly, John and son Paul, 1950.

For entertainment, we used to go to a drive-in theatre and the children still remember getting treats.  We always brought along a quart of milk.  Pop was expensive.

John also built a holiday trailer that we pulled with our car when we visited our relatives each summer.  We traveled to Creston and to visit my sister in Alberta.  My brother never married so my sister’s children were the only close relatives that I had and they meant a lot to me.  I still have a very close relationship with them.

Most of the time, John drove to Vancouver to work.  He worked hard because he had to work on our house after he came home from work.  People gathered in homes on Sunday for prayers and everyone sang together.  Even without the modern conveniences that we have now, they still had time to socialize.  Our old leader, Anastasia came over to visit one time and suggested that the Doukhobors buy up some cemetery plots.  That makes me feel good, knowing that my family is all there in one area.

In 1952, our son Lawrence was born and in 1957, Tom was born.  With 4 healthy children we felt so rich, but now the house was getting way too small.

My dad died in January 1959.  We inherited half of his property and now we could build a bigger home.  The municipality said that in order to subdivide, we had to build a road and that’s how Vishloff Street came about.  We built a bigger house and the children helped too.  Maybe that’s why they are such capable adults.  In those days, the building codes were different and we could move into our house long before ‘final inspection’, which we did.  Our window openings were covered with plastic but we had so much more room.  By winter we had installed real windows.

All our children went to Cedar Valley School and came home for lunch.  Both John and I grew up in Doukhobor communities and never felt discrimination.  We didn’t realize that our children could be discriminated against.  There were some tough times for them but they grew up and we’re very proud of them.

Family photo, 1960.  (l-r standing) Lawrence, Paul (l-r seated) Polly, Naida, John and Tom.

When Paul graduated from high school, he went to Abbotsford to get his grad picture taken.  He was walking with a friend and was hit by a car and died instantly.  The driver of the car said he was blinded by lights from an oncoming car.  My greatest consolation was that we had 3 other children.  Because Paul excelled in Chemistry, the school presented a trophy in his memory.  It was won by Glen Randal that year.  They gave this trophy for several more years.

Graduation time was always very painful for us and I was very relieved when all our other children graduated.  But life must go on.  The support we felt from the community was wonderful.  One of our neighbours, Glenys Szabo got me involved in curling.  I loved that sport but always felt a little guilty about the work I should be doing at home, while I was out curling.

I worked at Berryland Cannery in Haney and then started working for the Fraser Valley Record, one day a week.  The women I worked with were just great.  I worked with the paper for 20 years.

One day I told the girls I had some extra time and wanted to do some volunteer work to give something back to this great community.  Margery Skerry steered me to Heritage Park.  There I helped make blackberry jam and quilted.  The quilts were raffled and I made more good friends there.

The children grew up and got married. Naida and Marcel bought my brother’s house next door to us.  It was just wonderful watching the grand children grow up.  Lawrence was a little further away with his 2 boys.  Tom settled across the pond and we saw their children often.  The grand kids would come over and help me kneed bread and roll out dough for some specialty Russian foods we make.  One day Brittany came over to help.  She picked up the rolling pin and held it and I asked, ‘where’s my rolling pin?’ and she said, “I don’t know, I’ve got mine.”  When she was out of flour, she’d say, “I need more powder.”  They moved away later but I was glad I was there for them when they were small.  Peter would come from next-door carrying his blanket, early in the morning.  Most of the time I’d still be in bed.  He’d lay down beside me for a few minutes, then say, “Okay Baba, get up and make kasha.”  He’d have breakfast with us and then go home and have another breakfast.  I can still see in his blue pajamas, wearing his red boots, carrying his blue blanket, his ‘bunnies’.  I grew up without grandparents and I really missed not having them and I really relished my role as grandma, or Baba.

Grandchildren Brittany and Autumn baking with Baba. .

I forgot to mention our pond.  It used to be a swamp and John turned it into a beautiful pond by engineering and building a dam.  When our children were growing up, all the neighbourhood children came to swim in this pond.  It is now more like a wild bird sanctuary with water lilies, ducks, geese, and blue herons.

We suffered another tragedy 3 years ago, when our son-in-law from next door was killed in an accident.  We miss him very much.  Now the grandchildren from next door are all married and gone from here, but I feel a great bond with them all.  One grandson, David, visited recently from Saskatchewan.  He said, “I’ll never forget the Christmases we celebrated here at your place.”  On Christmas Eve, the whole family would come over for a vegetarian meal, sing Christmas carols, and exchange gifts.  At times even Santa would show up.

I am still puttering around keeping myself busy.  We still plant a garden every year, it just keeps getting smaller.  I make jams, borsch and bread.  I also spin, weave, knit and embroider.  I could go on for a long time, but I think I’ve shared enough.

In closing I’d like to say that Doukhobor beliefs about living clean healthy lives seemed radical 60 years ago – we didn’t smoke, drink or eat meat.  When I was a teenager, smoking was very popular, now everyone knows how harmful it is.  We all know excessive drinking leads to no good.  When I was young, vegetarians were unheard of.  Now there are many vegetarians.  There were very few pacifists in this country, then.  But when George Bush was talking about going to war with Iraq, people were protesting not only in the US and Canada, but all over the world.

Polly and John in front of their pond, 2004.

According to my Doukhobor teachings, violence cannot be overcome with more violence; it can only be overcome through understanding and love.  Where there is love, there is God.  Yes, I’m very proud to be a Doukhobor and proud to be living in Mission, where we’ve come in contact with so many wonderful people.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my life with you.  I would like to end my talk by reading this poem written by Ann Verigin of Grand Forks, British Columbia called ‘I am a Doukhobor’.  Then we will end this presentation by having my friend Vi Popove and my daughter, Naida Motut, sing a Russian folk song.

I am a Doukhobor
I cannot deny there is a higher power
That helps me face every moment and hour
Whose love flows through each man and each flower

I am a Doukhobor
I search for truth and strive for perfection
I believe that Christ showed the perfect direction
For a life of peace a life without question

I am a Doukhobor
In the spirit of love I search for the light
And try to live to the highest sense of right
That I can perceive through the day and the night

I am a Doukhobor
I am a Doukhobor I sincerely feel a love for my brother
And because we all have one heavenly father
It makes sense to me to love one another

I am a Doukhobor
I long for the day when all wars would just cease
When man could continue to toil while at peace
When the love in all people would greatly increase

I am a Doukhobor
I know love is right so I must take a stand
I’ll reach out to my brother, I’ll give him my hand
There is room for us all in the bountiful land

~words by Ann Verigin nee Wishlow ~

Transplanted Roots

by Albert J. Popoff

The following three stories are selected from 120 articles in a recently printed family history book (April, 2003) complied and edited by Albert J Popoff. The book, entitled “Transplanted Roots”, is a collection of family histories, stories, memories, photos, poems and genealogical information about his Popoff, Androsoff and Makranoff grandparents and their many descendants. Mr. Popoff states in the Introduction to his book, “We let the media worry about the big events and record the history of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But the big story is only part of history. Each of us has an interesting story to tell. Our small stories are just as relevant part of the historical record as the big picture. We need to take time to make sure that the smaller details of life are preserved. If we don’t do it, no one will and in the long run we will be the poorer for it”.Mr. Popoff hopes that by sharing these stories, it will encourage others to preserve their family histories.

I. Grandfather Could Make Something Out Of Nothing

Of all the Popoff cousins of my age, I was fortunate to have spent the most time with my Popoff Grandparents.  My parents farmed only a half-mile from the grandparent’s farm, so it was convenient to visit and spend time with them.  Later, when grandmother and grandfather retired to the Town of Blaine Lake, we moved into their farmhouse because it was larger and the yard had better water quality.  The grandparents came often to help with the farm work and to visit, especially when company or relatives arrived.  When my sister Lillian began high school in Blaine Lake, she and I stayed with our Popoff Grandparents, especially in the wintertime when roads were not passable for vehicles and the four mile trip to town took over one hour by horse drawn sleighs.  I started grade one in the Blaine Lake Public School and continued there for 4 years.  When my sister graduated from grade 12, I switched to the rural Greystones School and was then responsible for transporting my two brothers to school to begin grade one.  Grandfather restored an old one horse buggy for his grandchildren to use in the summer and a cutter (sleigh) in the winter time

Grandfather was not a huggy/kissy type of person.  He could be quite stern and did not tolerate much foolishness from the grandchildren when they were underfoot.  On the other hand he had the patience to teach us skills and allow us to hang around as he went about his work.  I can attribute my woodworking interest and the ability to fix things to my grandfather, who thoughtfully transferred his knowledge and skills to me.  I liked to work alongside my grandfather as he seemed to be able to make something out of nothing.  He could make or repair a harness from tanned leather, craft tools and parts from scrap pieces of iron, make wagon and sleigh parts from dried hardwood trees, and build most anything from scraps of wood and boards.  I was fascinated how useful articles were created from very basic raw materials

Alexey and Katerina Popoff with their grandchildren, Albert, Lloyd, Jack and Lil.

Working at the forge in the blacksmith shop was a special experience.  My job was to turn the crank of the rotary “bellows”.  In the centre of the forge grandfather would light the anthracite coal.  I would turn the fan that brought air to the burning coals so that they became white-hot.  Grandfather would place the iron that needed shaping into the glowing coals.  I had to keep the air flowing, not to fast and not to slow, but with ongoing verbal instructions, I was able to get the air flow just right.  Grandfather would keep checking the iron until it reached the correct temperature.  After what seemed to be long time, he would take out the white-hot steel with long tongs and begin fashioning the metal into a different shape, using a heavy hammer on a large anvil.  I admired his strength and skill as he raised the hammer over his head with one muscular arm, while holding the hot iron with tongs in the other hand. He would then bring the hammer down at just the right place and speed to create the shape that he had in his mind. Sometimes grandfather would put the hot iron into a pail of water or oil to create the right hardness and temper. Other times he was able to “weld” two pieces of white-hot iron together.  Sparks would fly; smoke and steam would fill the shop as a steel bar would become a garden hoe or a part to fix a broken wagon.

We worked together for an hour or two at a time.  I would become tired and hot but I would stick to my assigned task.  Grandfather and I would emerge from the shop all covered with soot and dust.  I gained a good appreciation why it was called a blacksmith shop.  Grandfather and I both had that feeling of satisfaction as we admired the finished products that we created together. 

Grandfather also enjoyed making things out of wood.  There were parts of an old loom on the farm that was crafted by hand from wood that was harvested from the woods along the river.  I also found a homemade wood lathe that was powered by a foot treadle.  I salvaged the pioneer piece so I could turn wooden items.  I did not have the strength to operate the treadle and work on the spinning wood at the same time.  I installed an electric motor that made it a lot easier to fashion interesting shapes on the wood lathe with tools that were handmade on the forge.  Grandfather used to make toy wagons for the grandchildren to play with around the farm.  The design was a two wheeled version similar to a chariot.  The box was large enough for one child to fit into.  The handle was made from a dried hardwood sapling.  It was an all-wood design.  Even the wheels were wooden discs. Grandfather took the time to create dovetail corner joints for added strength.  Even modern day carpenters find it a challenge to make dovetail joints using electric power tools, but grandfather made these unique and strong joints using basic hand tools.  I never did learn that skill.

We had much enjoyment playing with the small wagons that grandfather made.  The wooden wheels would squeal as they turned on wooden axles, not unlike the larger version Red-River carts that brought goods, and settlers to the prairies.  The last large project that we worked on together was building the kitchen cupboards in mother’s summer kitchen.  I operated the electric table saw and Grandfather made sure that everything fit together as he patiently assembled the cabinets.

Living with the Popoff Grandparents in the town of Blaine Lake was a pleasant experience.  Grandmother doted on us.  Her cooking was excellent and always a big hit with a hungry boy.  Grandfather had diabetes so he followed a strict diet and prepared his own meals.  One of the staples that he baked was a dark rye bread.  I never developed a taste for his heavy and strong tasting bread.  I preferred grandmother’s light and fluffy white or whole wheat bread and buns.  Grandmother would drink scalding hot water that she cooled down by pouring it into the saucer and then sipped the hot water, sometimes loudly.  To flavour the drink, she would put a sour raspberry candy in her mouth.  I liked the candy but never did develop a taste for hot water.  It was years later that I learned that drinking tea from a saucer was not acceptable social behaviour.

The grandparents were very involved with “vetcherooshky”.  These were evening get-togethers with other Doukhobor couples, in each others homes.  The evening consisted of visiting to catch up with the latest news, then singing Doukhobor psalms for an hour or so, followed by a lunch.  I was too young to be left alone, so if my sister was away for the evening, I had to accompany the grandparents on their social outings with their friends.  It was not much fun for an active boy like me to be seen and not heard.  Now I wish I had paid more attention to what was discussed and sung. 

When I started grade one my Russian speaking abilities were better than my English language skills.  My theory was that people spoke only Russian when they became old.  Mrs. Macdonald was my grade one teacher and she had a daughter Jean, my age.  I was so surprised when I went to the Macdonald home to attend Jean’s birthday party and Jean’s elderly grandmother spoke excellent English and did not know any Russian at all.  That experience ended my language theory.  My Russian speaking abilities remained at a basic level to be able to communicate with my two sets of grandparents as I was growing up.  I took a few months of Russian School but never did learn to read and write but now I wish that I had put more effort into it.

One of my grandparents best friends were the Podivelnikoff’s.  She was a tall woman and her husband, Henry, was less than 4 feet tall, about my height.  I found it amusing to see this odd couple.  She seemed always to be in command of this little man.  Henry was my size, and I seemed to inherit his clothes when he no longer had use for them.  Needless to say his tastes were very much different than those of a somewhat shy farm boy trying to fit in with the town kids.  I resisted wearing Henry’s clothing and did not want to be seen in old people’s clothes.

These are just some of my memories of my Popoff Grandparents.  The memories are very pleasant and I was privileged to spend a lot of quality time with my Grandmother and Grandfather Popoff.  I was very saddened when they died in a car crash.  I was 14 years old when they passed away.

II. Picking Mushrooms with My Grandmother

Activities around the farm were segregated in to men’s and women’s work, so it was not often that I had an opportunity to work alongside my grandmother Popoff.  One of the activities that we both enjoyed was picking wild mushrooms in the nearby pastures.

There were the ordinary white prairie mushrooms that sprung up after a rain.  Everyone, even the children, knew that these were edible, so we used to pick those anytime we saw them and brought them to the kitchen.  The only problem with this variety was that they got wormy within hours of coming out of the ground, so it was a challenge to find mushrooms without worm holes.  There were also round white fungi that we called “puff balls”.  These were not edible but fun to whack like a baseball, especially when they ripened and had brown powder inside.

Grandmother would take me on special mushroom picking excursions. We hunted for interesting mushrooms that grew within the poplar bluffs about a half-mile from the house.  I would go the day before on my bicycle and scout out where the bush mushrooms were abundant.  Mushrooms need very special conditions to grow, so they were not always available nor in the same location.

Grandmother taught me the different varieties of edible mushrooms.  There were the delicate mushrooms that were white underneath and had colourful tops that were depressed slightly in the centre.  Grandmother referred to these mushrooms mostly by their colour.  Most were delicate shades of gray, but there were also yellow topped ones and some that were a beautiful purple.  These were my favourite mushrooms because of the many interesting colours and they were usually plentiful, so more time could be spent picking and less time hunting for them. 

Another interesting variety were tan coloured with tops that were very deeply depressed in the centre, often exposing the yellow webs underneath.  I was informed that were called “poddoobniki” which in Russian meant that they grew under oak trees.  I kept reminding grandmother that we did not have any oak trees growing anywhere, and she would laugh heartily.  An interesting feature of these mushrooms is that they never had any worms in them dispelling the theory that such mushrooms are poisonous.  These were grandmother’s favourite because they had a strong flavour and were meaty when cooked.

Grandmother was very careful to point out to me the mushrooms that were very poisonous and warned me not to even touch them.  She called most of them by a Russian word, meaning “flykillers”, because even the flies died when they landed on these deadly mushrooms that looked pretty because they had an orange top with a white lacey design.  I learned later that this variety was called “the angel of death”.  An interesting mushroom that mimicked the deadly ones, grandmother called “krasniye holowky”, meaning “red-headed”. The name was very descriptive because they had a brick red domed head.  This mushroom grew very large and instead of the typical web system beneath the head, it was white and spongy.  They never had any worms, regardless of the size.  It was not unusual to find some that were 10 inches across and 12 inches high.  One mushroom would almost fill a pail that we brought to carry back our treasures to the house.  When the pails became full, grandmother would gather up her large apron, making a hammock-like container that held many mushrooms very well.

Katerina Popoff poses with her spinning wheel. She spent many hours spinning wool to knit stockings, mitts and sweaters. 

We would bring the bounty of mushrooms and spread them out on the table in the summer-kitchen.  I would cut off the dirt covered ends and grandmother would chop the mushrooms up into large frying pans on the wood-burning stove and slowly simmer the mushrooms for hours.  When most of the moisture evaporated, Grandmother would add a generous amount of butter and fry the mushroom into a tasty and fragrant dish.  These mushrooms tasted like mushrooms should taste and not like the store-bought variety that we now use for cooking.  Why is my mouth watering as I write this account?

Years later while on a visit to the Natural History Museum in Regina, I was drawn to the mushroom display. I recognized the varieties of mushrooms that I used to pick with my grandmother Popoff.  All of a sudden I spotted the “red-headed” mushroom but it was labeled as poisonous.  Reading further I learned that if cooked for a long time the poisons were drawn off.  I was even more impressed that grandmother not only knew what variety of mushrooms to pick, she also knew how to cook them and make them safe for all of us to enjoy. 

One time I picked and brought some wild mushrooms to my mother that I was sure were safe, but my mother was not familiar with them and would not take the chance to cook and feed the mushrooms to us.  After grandmother was gone, I never had the courage as an adult to pick and eat wild mushrooms, but I was often tempted, because I remember the tasty mushroom dishes that grandmother prepared for us. 

What an impression my grandmother left with me!  So much so, that almost 50 years later, I can vividly recall picking and eating wild mushrooms with my grandmother Popoff.  It was something special that her and I shared together. 

This is just one account of the many memories that a Grandmother left with her grandson.

Alexey Ivanovich Popoff was born February 8th, 1876 in the province of Elizavetpol, Russia, in the village of Spasovka.  At the age of two, his parents, together with a sizeable group of Doukhobors immigrated to a territory near the Turkish border known as the Oblast of Kars.  They founded the Village of Spasovka.  Alexey lived here until the age of 21 when he was called for military service.  He refused to take part in the training and the taking of human life.  For his refusal, in 1898 he, together with other colleagues, was exiled to Yakutsk Siberia, for a term of 18 years.  In 1905 a Manifesto of Amnesty was issued by Russian Emperor Nikolai when a son was born to him.  The Doukhobors exiled in Siberia were given their freedom.  Alexey and his new bride Katerina came to Canada to join the rest of the Doukhobors who arrived some 5 years earlier.  Alexey lived for a time in the Doukhobor Community but he soon became an Independent, taking out a homestead at Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, where he lived until his death on August 14, 1955. Alexey and Katerina had one daughter (Anne) and four sons (Nick, Leonard, Fred and Eli)

Katerina Timofeevna (Makrranoff) Popoff was born November24, 1889 in the village of Baranchi in the province of Perm, Russia. Katerina’s father was a follower of a writer, mystic and religious leader, Captain Ilyin.  Contrary to the strict edicts of the State Orthodox Church, they gathered secretly for religious meetings, singing religious hymns and prayer services.  They were known as Jehovists”, practiced temperance and were against military training.  When Katerina was 6 years old, her father was exiled to the Yakutsk district in Siberia.  Katerina’s mother, Anna Grigorievna, with her five little children decided to voluntarily follow her husband.  After living together several years in Siberia, Katerina’s father was recalled to Russia to be tried on more serious charges of sedition against the state and church.  He was convicted and sentenced to more remote and severe parts of Siberia away from his wife and family.  The family went through very difficult times.  Katerina, at the age of 10 had to go out working among the more established settlers in the region known as “Skoptsi”  When she reached the age of 15 Katerina accepted a proposal of marriage from Alexey Ivanovich Popov.

III.    Flashbacks

My memories are fleeting thoughts. They seem to come as flashbacks at various times while I am doing something else, but disappear when I pick up a pen and paper to record them. I have been able to capture a few memories of growing up on a farm 4 miles from the small town of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan.  I was fortunate to grow up on a mixed farm and experience many interesting events during a time when there was a major transition to the “modern world” that we know today.

The main street of Blaine Lake, circa 1930.

Birth and Death on the Farm

Birth and death on the farm was almost an everyday occurrence.  Births were always taking place, especially in the spring.  Chicks and ducklings would be pecking their way out of their egg shells, kittens were born in the barn loft with their eyes closed, twin lambs that had to be hand fed from a bottle, frisky calves and long legged colts.  Bunnies and baby owls found their way into our ever changing menagerie.  Assisting my dad with “midwife” duties for calving cows was a learning experience.  I felt very sad when a cow or calf (sometimes both) would die in the birthing process.  Dad spent many a sleepless night in the barn helping the animals give birth.

I soon learned that everything that was born eventually had to die.  Life cycles on the farm were short.  Pigs, sheep, and cattle were slaughtered for food, usually in the late fall so that the meat could be frozen.  It was a difficult day for me when my pet steer Donald, which I raised from a small calf, had to join others from the herd to be trucked for sale to a slaughter house.  Getting to keep the proceeds from the sale of Donald helped to soften the blow somewhat.  Children would help with the beheading of chickens by catching and holding the victim on the chopping block.  As I got older I was able to wield the axe.  “Albert, go and kill a chicken for lunch”, mom would say.  It was traumatic when pets died, often accidentally run over by a vehicle or machinery.  Most enjoyed a respectful burial out behind the barn because it was easy to dig in the sandy soil.

Horse power

I witnessed the transition from 4 legged horsepower to the gasoline variety.  Draft horses were used to pull hay racks, wagons, sleighs and stoneboats.  A stoneboat was a simple platform on skids that was used like an utility vehicle around the farm.  The horse was a much respected animal and farmers took good care of them.  Horses provided year round transportation.  In the summer my brothers and I travelled the 2 ½ miles to Greystones School by buggy.  In the winter travel was by a horse drawn cutter (sleigh).  Although I was only about 12 years old, I was responsible for feeding, harnessing, hitching, and driving the horses.  In addition to transporting my younger brothers, we would pick up some neighbours along the way.  One particular horse we used was old, white, and heavy set, called Kaiser.  Kaiser would never want to leave his stable and take us to school.  It took a lot of coaxing to get Kaiser to slowly plod along; often making us arrive late for school (it was a good excuse).  The farm schools had a barn for the horses to stay in.  The return trip from school was the exact opposite situation.  Kaiser was so anxious to get back to his own stall, if we didn’t quickly jump into the buggy or sleigh, Kaiser would leave without us, galloping all the way home like a young race horse.

Dad brought us a small brown pony we called Tootsie.  Tootsie was never broken for riding and that was a challenge for me.  I was finally able to get an old saddle on her back and climbed on for a pony ride.  Tootsie took off like a bullet and although I hung on for dear life, I fell off as the saddle rotated because it was not cinched tight enough.  Poor Tootsie spent most of the summer in the pasture with a saddle hanging under her belly.  I also tried to ride another horse that we had, bare back.  As the horse started to trot, I was not able to stay on because the horse was so large around and my legs too short.  I fell off and landed on my back across a corral rail and injured myself.  That ended my horseback riding attempts.

Farm Work and Harvest

There was always much work to do on the farm.  All the family was expected to pitch in and help with whatever one was capable of doing.  One of the assignments for the youngest was to feed the chickens and gather their eggs on a daily basis.  Sometimes the old clucking hen did not want to part with the eggs she just had laid and would give your hand a mean peck.  This was overcome by grabbing the hen behind the head and holding it while the other hand retrieved the eggs.  Another obstacle was the big white leghorn rooster who would attack anyone coming into his domain.  The only recourse here was to outrun the rooster back to the house with a tearful tale, explaining why all the eggs were broken.

A very young Albert is struggling with the controls on the binder while his dad drives the John Deer tractor.

As I got older, the work became more difficult and the responsibilities became greater.  One of the enviable job assignments was to drive the tractor.  Later when my feet could reach the pedals, driving the truck was a big thrill.  Dreaded jobs were gathering stones, roots and potatoes.  Shovelling grain in a hot dusty granary was a chore hated by everyone.  Young children were often recruited because they could work in a very small space and the grain could be filled up to the very peak of the roof.  If you didn’t keep up to the input, either the grain would spill on the ground, or the grain auger would get blocked.  Either misdemeanor meant getting a stern lecture.

Harvest was always the busiest time of the year.  It was a crucial period because of the weather, availability of threshing crews with their horses and the threshing equipment.  Before self-propelled combines took over the harvesting operation, the process was very labour intensive.  First the standing grain was cut down with a binder that tied the grain stalks into sheaves.  A stooking crew had to pick up the sheaves and set them up in stooks so that the grain could dry and be ready for threshing.

Threshing was a very big operation that involved a dozen or more men, 5 or 6 teams of horses hitched to large racks, a large stationary threshing machine driven by a long belt from the flywheel of a tractor.  The men would gather the sheaves from the stooks and load them on the horse drawn racks.  The big load would be driven to the stationary threshing machine.  Sheaves were dropped in one by one into a feeder that ingested the sheaves into a revolving cylinder that threshed out the grain.  A variety of shaking sieves and wind tunnels separated the grain from the straw and chaff.  The grain was elevated by a chain and bucket assembly into an adjacent bin or a wagon.  The straw was blown by a large fan like device through a long tube, into large straw piles.  My dad was usually the threshing pit-boss who ensured that everything was running well.  He took pride in being able to set up his threshing machine with precision and he took special care to create well shaped straw piles.  This was a challenge when the direction of the wind would change frequently.

Albert and his dad at the threshing machine.

The men worked hard and were paid a decent wage, but the unsung hero during harvest time was my mother.  She worked twice as hard as anyone and received little recognition for her dedication and superhuman efforts.  Mother had to cook three large meals a day, plus a mid afternoon lunch that had to bundled up and taken to the field where the men were working.  I enjoyed this time the best.  The sandwiches made from fresh baked bread, sugar coated homemade donuts, cakes, pies, fresh squeezed lemonade and that special “harvest coffee” that was made sweet with great quantities of sugar and fresh cream.  The hungry men devoured a mountain of food.  I felt grown up eating a field lunch with the harvest crew and being able to drink tea and coffee.  I was proud of my dad who was always so organized and efficient as he managed the harvesting operation.

Mother seemed to take all the work in stride.  Besides cooking for 10-15 men, she was left alone to do all the other farm chores such as milking the cows, separating the cream from the milk, and feeding the animals.  She would have to kill half dozen chickens, pluck them and prepare them for the main meal.  Vegetables had to be picked or dug from the garden and added to the nutritious meals.  Food was cooked on a wood burning stove under unbearable heat.  Sometimes mom would have some help, but often she carried on by herself, never complaining and always cheerful.  In addition to all the work, mom still had to keep house and take care of us children and anybody who happened to drop by for a meal or visit.

The harvest crew would work till dark, tend to their horses, have a late supper and go to sleep in a bunkhouse on wheels.  The men would get up at the crack of dawn, feed and water their horses, have a hearty breakfast and be off for another day of threshing.  If it rained or the machinery broke down, the men and horses would get a welcomed rest, but not my mother.  She still had to feed the crews, even if they were not working and waiting for the weather to break.  An added chore for mom was to wash the men’s work clothes with equipment that was not automatic and required hand work to wring out the clothes and hang them on a clothesline to dry.

Hired help was needed throughout the year for large projects like haying, land breaking and building construction.  Free room and board was expected by the hired hands.  Sometimes immigrant individuals or families would be available to help.  At other times native individuals or whole families would be recruited from the nearby Indian Reserves.  Sometimes the native families would set up a camp on a remote part of the farm, living in tents and generally being self-sufficient.  This was a better arrangement than constantly picking up and returning the native workers to their homes on the Indian Reserve.

As a child, it was always interesting to interact with those who were hired to help on the farm.  Teaching English to the new Canadians was a challenge.  I can clearly recall trying patiently to demonstrate the difference in pronunciation between “rake” and “rack”.  I guess I did a good job, because that particular individual became a well known doctor and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, College of Medicine.

Life Before Electricity

Electric power was installed on our farm in the mid 1950’s, even though there was a major power line running by the farm since the 1930’s.  The CCF Provincial Government had a farm electrification program that provided a connection to the power grid for all farm families at a flat rate (I believe it was about $600).  Prior to electricity, life was different.

Lighting at night was achieved with kerosene lamps.  The light from the flickering flame was marginally better than a candle and much better than sitting in the dark.  It was a constant chore to fill the glass lamps with kerosene, trim the wicks and clean the glass globes (sometimes called chimneys).  It was not easy to read and do fine work by the light given off by these devices that had improved only slightly since Biblical times.  A more refined light source was a pressurized gas mantle lamp that was known by the brand name of Coleman.  These lamps were difficult to get started and keep going, so they were used only during special occasions, usually when visitors came.  A small pump was used to pressurize the high test gas.  The gas vapours went through a “generator” and burned within a “mantle” made of delicate fabric ashes that would break with the slightest jarring of the lamp or when a moth would fly into it.  When that happened, it was a major operation to get the Coleman lamp repaired and working again.  The gas lamp made a constant hissing noise and was usually hung from a hook in the ceiling to keep it safe and to better distribute the light.  My dad was an expert at keeping this cranky system working properly.  Of course he sometimes got upset because of the money and time spent to provide light, especially during the long winter nights.  Lighting in the barns was obtained from portable kerosene and gas lanterns.  Battery operated flashlights were used for emergency lighting, like when one had to go at night down the path to the outdoor toilet.  The batteries did not last a long time (this was before ‘energizer’ batteries) so it seemed that when one needed the flashlight, either the batteries were dead, the bulb burned out or the flashlight misplaced.

Cooking took place on a wood burning stove.  In the winter the kitchen was a cozy warm place to be, but no one wanted to be there during the summer heat.  It was torture for the ladies to stand over a hot stove for hours on end, cooking large meals.  One of my basic chores was to make sure that the wood box was kept full.  The wood had to be carried from a large woodpile located somewhere in the back yard.  Needless to say the supply of wood did not always keep up with the demand.  An associated chore was to keep the water reservoir on the side of the stove full of soft water.  The water became warmed and was used for washing and bathing.

Cold drinking water had to be drawn from an outside well in the yard and carried into the house in pails.  A communal dipper would sit in the drinking water pail for a quick sip.  Our yard water well had a rope and pulley affair to raise the water.  One of the signs of a child’s strength was being able to pull up a full pail of water up from the bottom of the deep well.  My parents were not impressed when I accidentally dropped the pail and rope into the well.  Dad would have to get a grappling hook affair at the end of another rope to snag the pail and bring it to the surface.  Large containers of cream would be lowered inside the cool well to keep the cream fresh.  I was not a popular person when the rope slipped and I dropped the cream container into the well.  The water in the well was polluted for a long time and not suitable for drinking.

Leonard and Sanny Popoff’s wedding picture, November 1932

Another deep well in the barnyard supplied the livestock with water.  Sometimes there were 50 or more thirsty animals to keep watered.  On a hot summer day the cattle drank huge quantities of water.  A hand pump was used to pump water into a large trough.  This was another task that I did not like.  It was not only boring, but in the heat of the sun, very tiring to manually handle the big metal pump for hours at a time.  To mechanize this task we had a large stationary one cylinder engine.  It was next to impossible for me to start the engine by turning the big flywheel with a crank with one hand while manually “choking” the carburetor with the other.  It took more effort to start the iron beast than to pump the water by hand.  If the engine backfired it could do serious damage to one’s knuckles.  What a relief when electric power came to the barnyard and an electric motor was installed.  All it took to fill the cattle water trough was a flip of the switch.  Of course I had to come back in an hour or so to turn off the motor because the water would overflow and make a soggy mess for the cows to stand in.  I spent one summer trying to invent a way that would turn off the electric motor automatically when the trough got full.  I planned a float and lever system that would flip the off switch when the water level reached the top of the trough, but I never got it implemented.

To wash clothes, mom was fortunate in later years, to have a gas powered washing machine.  The gasoline motor was hard to start, noisy, smelly and difficult to keep running.  In spite of these problems it was much easier than washing clothes the old fashioned way; by hand on a scrub board.  Solar energy was used to dry the clothes.  The wet clothes would be attached with clothes pins on long wire clotheslines.  They dried quickly on a hot day with a gentle breeze.  High winds, dust and frost made drying clothes more challenging.  Often in the freezing weather wet clothes were hung about the house over doors and chairs to dry.  Bed sheets smelled so fresh and clean when they were freeze dried in the winter time.

Human power was used for many things.  In the blacksmith shop, the drill, the saw, the forge and the grindstone were all operated by hand.  That was often my job.  I enjoyed being with my father and grandfather as they worked making and repairing things, unless I wanted to be doing something else.  Even the homemade wood lathe that I had was turned by pumping it with one foot, much like the sewing machine that mom used in the house.  It wasn’t easy to keep the lathe turning fast enough and at the same time applying the chisels to the spinning wood.  Another manual job that I did not look forward to was churning butter.  It seemed to take hours of cranking the churn before the cream would begin to change into butter.  Like many chores, the first 5 minutes was okay; then I would become bored and wanted to do something that was more fun.

It is easy to imagine how farm electrification was welcomed and the labour saving devices that electricity enabled.  We never had much money, so it took a few years to purchase the power tools and appliances that are common today.  A refrigerator and electric stove were welcome additions for my mother in the kitchen.  I installed an electric motor on the old lathe and enjoyed making things on it.  When I was in high school, circa 1956, dad bought me a table saw, a scroll saw, and a power drill.  I learned carpentry from my two grandfathers and was able to adapt power tools to my woodworking projects. 

Horsemen Enjoyed Mother’s Cooking

There were many interesting characters that I was able to observe from a boyhood perspective and imagination. One such person was Pat Keeney.  Pat would travel the local area on a buggy leading a beautiful stallion that he sold for stud services to local farmers.  Pat always seemed to come to our place at mealtimes because he knew that mom was hospitable and an excellent cook.  He would not leave hungry.  If we were not home when he arrived, Pat would just make himself at home and take a nap on the cot in the summer kitchen.  I would be startled when walking into a room and finding an old man snoring away.  I don’t recall that we ever used the services of his stallion.  The Blaine Lake History book relates a colourful history about Pat and his family.

Another horse person was Gus Basiove. Gus immigrated to Canada from Armenia and married a local Doukhobor girl, Elizabeth Popoff (no relation to us).  Gus usually showed up at our place at mealtime, making extra work for mother who was already overworked with other chores.  He drove a flashy convertible, wore a red brocade vest, with a gold watch chain and sported gold teeth.  He certainly made an impression on me because most local men dressed in drab overalls and drove plain vehicles.  Gus was a horse buyer and trader.  I later learned that the old horses that he purchased ended up in a ‘glue factory” or were shipped to Europe for human consumption.  Horses were plentiful and cheap because farmers were making the transition to gas powered tractors.  Sometimes Gus would leave horses and other animals at our place in appreciation for the hospitality he was shown.  I believe that is how Tootsie and Kaiser came into my life.  I also obtained a dog this way, called Rover.  Gus said that the dog was a special cattle and sheep dog, but to me Rover was just a good and faithful companion for many years.

Blaine Lake was honored to be the home of Senator Ralph Byron Horner.  Senator Horner was an avid horseman who imported horses from eastern Canada.  Senator Horner always wore old clothing when in the community saying he looked forward to getting out of the formal wear required in Ottawa.  He was skilled with a stock knife and came every spring to our place to perform that surgery on male bull calves that turned them into docile steers.  The Senator felt that a hearty meal prepared by mother was sufficient payment for his veterinary services.  The Senator’s son, Norval, provided the same service for us after his father died.  Albert Horner, (a nephew) farmed near our place and was noted for raising and showing draft horses that won many prizes at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.

Travelling Salesmen

In some ways the marketing and distribution system 50 years ago provided better service and was more instantaneous than the e-commerce of today’s internet.  Travelling salesmen would come to our farm with their line of products and demonstrate their application, usually to the house wife, who purchased what she liked or needed.  It was an appreciated service—most of the time.

Back Row: Leonard, Lillian, Sanny. Front Row: Lloyd, Albert, Jack.

The Watkin’s man would have suitcases full of sweet smelling spices like cinnamon and vanilla, food colouring, herbs for pickling and other products that were needed in the kitchen.  The Rawleigh’s product line was more medicinal in nature and was required for the many home remedies of the day.  Iodine, liniments, salves and camphor were always kept on hand to cure aches, pains and ailments such as colds and flu.  The Fuller Brush man would arrive with cleaning supplies and equipment.  Mother would get a break from her work, have a chance to sample some of the goods, purchase what she needed and usually get a small gift as a token of appreciation.  Of course the salesman would not turn down the invitation for tea and fresh baking.

Another type of salesperson would show up on occasion with more expensive products, such as encyclopedias, vacuums, pots and pans and vibrating massage chairs.  These people used high pressure sales techniques because most farm families did not have spare money to purchase the expensive products.  Mother was talked into buying a set of encyclopedias because the salesman convinced her that they were required for the better education of her wonderful children.  Of course, if she bought that day, she would receive, absolutely free, a cabinet to store the large set of books.  The only income that mother had was the receipts from the sale of farm produce such as eggs and cream.  Five gallons of fresh cream would net her about $5.00 each week.  Mom had to use the “easy payment plan” to pay for the encyclopedias.  It took her many years to discharge her financial commitment.  Father was not impressed with mom’s decision, but there is no doubt in my mind that the very informative set of reference books did contribute to my education and motivated me to higher learning. 

Our family also obtained vacuum cleaners, stainless steel cooking pots, and a vibrating massage chair, in a similar manner, but dad was more directly involved.  He did not always have the resistance to withstand the big sales pitch.  Years later the government passed ‘cooling down” legislation that permitted a person to legally back out of an at-home purchase after 48 hours of more rational reflection.

The Golden Age of Radio

Radio provided some entertainment in the busy life of farm living.  The radio also brought a bit of the outside world into the home.  Mother enjoyed listening to the serial ‘soaps’ such as “Ma Perkins”.  Dad would listen to “Hockey Night in Canada” and get the latest grain and cattle prices.  As children, we tried not to miss the adventures of “The Lone Ranger” and we knew when it was “Howdy Doody Time”.  Sister Lil would get a chuckle from “Our Miss Brooks” and “Fibber Macgee and Molly”.  There were dramas like “Boston Blackie” and the Lux Mystery Theatre was another favourite.

The radio was powered by large batteries and had to be connected to a long outdoor antenna.  The main problem was that the rather expensive batteries would go dead and the tubes would burn out with prolonged use.  This meant that the radio time was rationed out. 

Money was Scarce

Our family never had much money, or so it seemed to us youngsters.  We would receive a token allowance of about 10 to 25 cents a week.  For that amount it was possible to buy a few soft drinks and chocolate bars.  We were also encouraged to save money and put it into the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Blaine Lake.  I still have my first bank book with the regular hand entries of my deposits and the earned interest.

Nothing was purchased that could be made at home.  The men folk were handy at carpentry and ironwork.  The ladies would grow all their own food and make the clothing for the children.  Only staples like flour, sugar and salt were bought.  It seemed a luxury to order some clothing items from the Simpson’s (now Sears) and Eaton’s catalogue.  As I got older I became conscious that the “town kids” dressed a lot better and more stylish than the “farm kids”.  I was very embarrassed and self-conscious to be seen in farm overalls. 

My parents were very thrifty and not extravagant in their spending or lifestyle.  This was a common trait of many people who went through the great depression and drought of the 1930’s.  Even now, 50 years later, I find it difficult to break the frugal habits of my childhood.  I still go through an effort to shop for the best price and have a real feeling of satisfaction to “save” some money on a purchase.

About the Author

Albert J Popoff was delivered by his Grandmother Katerina on January 26, 1941 on the family farm near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan as the eldest son of Leonard and Sanny (Onishenko) Popoff.  Albert grew up on the family farm that his grandfather pioneered and attended nearby rural and town schools.  Albert obtained a Civil Engineering degree at the University of Saskatchewan where he also pursued his post graduate studies.  Mr. Popoff was the traffic and planning engineer for the City of Saskatoon for 7 years and in 1973 he joined the Saskatchewan Department of highways and Transportation where he held a number of challenging and responsible positions.  In 2001 Mr. Popoff was presented with a distinguished service award by his peers in recognition of extraordinary service in the field of transportation engineering in Canada.  Mr. Popoff is married to Grace, daughter of Helen (Boulanoff) and Peter Strelive.  They have 2 sons, Jeffrey and Russell.  Grace and Albert are now semi retired and live in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley.