Grandmother Berikoff: A Special Gift

by Natalie Voykin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmother Berikoff in her later years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill and Natalie Voykin with grandchildren, 1990.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Fred J. Chernoff

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

Settling in the Veregin Area, 1899

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life at Khutor, 1912 – 1938

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Authorized and dissolved marriages according to his wishes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Profiles

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

Anna (Anyuta) Timofeyevna Chernova (1864-1934)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alyosha Nikolayevich Chernoff (1877-1967)

Alexeii N. Chernoff (1877-1967).

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

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

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

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

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

Nikolai Nikolayevich Chernoff (1880-1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Nikolayevich Chernoff (1891-1957)

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

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

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

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

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

Feodor Nikolayevich Chernoff (1888-1982)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mikhail Nikolayevich Chernoff (1892-1966)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrey Nikolayevich Chernoff (1895-1975)

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

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

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

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

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

He is buried in a cemetery at Kamsack. Sask.

About the Author

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

My Doukhobor Ancestors

by Evgenia Kabatova

Evgenia Kabatova is a Doukhobor schoolgirl at the No. 8 Grammar School in Volgograd, Russia. Her excellent article examines the Doukhobor movement in Russia, the history of the Kabatov family and Doukhobor traditions, past and present. Reproduced from Pervoe Sentyabrya magazine (No. 26, August 12, 1999). Translated by Jonathan Kalmakoff.

In our family, the memory of our family history remains carefully preserved. Father and mother’s stories and grandmother’s memoirs have inspired me to commence a study of the history of Kabatov family and to draw up our family tree. Over the course of two years, I attended the “My Family Tree” section of the Volgograd Children’s Youth Centre. Thanks to the knowledge and skills received there, a genealogical book was begun by my elder sister Tatiana and continued by myself. It consists of the story of the Kabatov history, the life of my family, photos and memoirs of loved ones. A genealogical family tree was created and a genealogical dictionary compiled. The subject of the following work is the history of the Dukhobor movement in Russia in connection with the history of my family. 

The Kabatov family belonged to the Dukhobors (Dukhobortsy) as members of one of the largest Russian religious sects which arose in the 18th century. In Soviet times, the literature devoted to the history of this movement, to Dukhobor views and beliefs, was almost absent. Information on this sect was limited to the information in the encyclopaedic dictionary or Atheist Dictionary. The most complete, realistic and revealing histories of the Dukhobors are the books of I.A. Malakhova and N.M. Nikol’skii. In spite of the fact that these books consider the issue of Russian sectarianism from an atheistic perspective, the material collected by the authors promotes the study of the origins of the Doukhobor movement and the history of the sect’s relations with authorities.

The position of believers in modern times is told in newspaper and journal articles, which our family collect and carefully preserve.

The basic source from which it is possible to find out about Dukhobor beliefs is the Living Book (Book of Life). It consists of questions and answers, psalms, verses, incantations and spells which to this day occur among the Dukhobors – it is a source of their belief. 

A copy of this book is kept at my grandmother’s in the distant village Slavyanka in Azerbaijan republic as a family relic. I was able to get acquainted with the text thanks to my father, Vasily Fedorovich Kabatov, who wrote out the basic provisions in a copy-book and exported them to Russia, and who also made a videofilm about Dukhobor life in Transcaucasia. 

The Dukhobor Movement in Russia

The origin of Dukhoborism relates to the last quarter of the 18th century. The first Dukhobors appeared in Ekaterinoslav province among the Cossack population which was ruined and constrained by distributions of Ukrainian Cossack lands to landowners. Soon this movement spread among the state peasants, odnodvortsy and small merchants of Ryazan, Samara, Astrakhan, Voronezh, Penza, Kharkov and other provinces of the Russian Empire. 

The followers of the sect considered themselves “wrestlers for the spirit”. They asserted that “the spirit of God also serves as the spirit of vigilance”. Hence their name. 

The basis of Dukhobor dogma lay in Christian principles relating to notions about the after-life and salvation. According to Dukhobor doctrine, the official Orthodox Church with its ceremonialism and pompous services is detrimental to spiritual belief and is perishable rather than eternal: “priests are an invention of people so that it is easier to live”. The Dukhobors did not recognize communion with bread and wine, comparing this ritual to the reception of ordinary food “giving nothing good to the soul”. They rejected icons, sacraments, ceremonies, priests and monks, reckoning them superfluous. 

Dukhobors typically assert that it is not the Bible – a source of sacred precepts and instructions – but the “words” of Dukhobor leaders, psalms and the records collected by them in the Living Book that constitutes Dukhoborism. 

The Dukhobor dogma defines their attitude towards the most various questions: to politics, war, nationalism and economic systems. Referring to Christ, believers assert that all people are children of one father, God, and are therefore brothers among themselves. Therefore Doukhobors count all people, irrespective of race, nationality and creed as equal, having identical rights to life and earthly blessings. 

From the very beginning, authorities received the new movement with hostility. Dukhobors were banished to settlements in Siberia, sent to penal servitude and to obedience in monasteries 

Dukhobor resistance occured in the form of petitions and complaints to government bodies. The “Dukhobor Confession” serves as an example of this. The Dukhobors sent this justificatory declaration to the governor of Ekaterinoslav. The confession stated Dukhobor belief, demonstrating the absence in their religious views of ideas undermining the foundation of the state. The authors of the petition sought to convince authorities that it was necessary to look upon their deeds as primarily spiritual, concerned only with the salvation of the soul. In reply to this application, the petitioners were banished to Siberia. 

Thus right from the beginning, the Dukhobor movement has underwent persecutions and reprisals. A vast number of communities were broken up and Doukhobors turned into exiles and convicts. 

In 1801, the manifest of Alexander I granted amnesty to those suffering for religious belief. And in 1802 an imperial decree was issued according to which lands on the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province, the so-called Milky Waters, were allocated for Dukhobor settlement. Here believers from Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Ryazan and other provinces and from exile were settled. Dukhobors were given 15 desyatin of land, exempted from taxation for five years and given a hundred roubles travel expenses per family. 

For many years the economy of Milky Waters achieved tremendous successes. Horse breeding and sheep breeding developed, fulling mills and weaver’s linen workshops were constructed and record yields of grains and vegetables were harvested. By 1830, there were 9 large villages at Milky Waters with approximately 4000 inhabitants holding 49,235 desyatin of land. 

Evgenia Kabatova in traditional Dukhobor dress.

In the late 1830’s and early 1840’s a new wave of persecutions began. The Dukhobors were declared an “especially harmful sect”. In 1841 under the decree of Emperor Nikolai I, the Dukhobors were exiled to the uninhabited lands of Transcaucasia. Over 4,000 Dukhobors were deported and resettled on lands in the Akalkhalak and Elizavetpol districts of Tiflis province. There Russian villages were established: Slavyanka, Gorelovka, Orlovka, Kalinino, Spasovka and others. 

It was necessary to be equipped for the hardest conditions: stony mountain ground, spring and early autumn frosts, lack of water and constant attacks by Turkish and mountain tribes. In spite of this, the hardworking Dukhobors were able to quickly acclimatize to the unfamiliar environment and soon their villages were distinguished by their prosperity from the surrounding local villages. The Doukhobors lived more prosperously than the peasants of Central Russia. 

In 1887, universal compulsory military service was introduced in the Caucasus. Many Dukhobors who adhered to the principles of nonviolence were compelled to renounce their beliefs and obey civil laws. Not all obeyed, however. In 1895, as a protest demonstration against military service the Doukhobors publicly burned all the weapons in their possesion.

The reprisals against the Dukhobors were severe. Cossacks were sent to suppress the “revolt”. People were lashed and beaten, whole families were exiled from Dukhobor villages and settled in other districts of Tiflis province – without land and without the right to associate among themselves. 

Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy rose up in defence of the Dukhobors. Thanks to his articles, the world found out about the fate of the exiles. The great Russian writer dedicated the proceeds of his novel “Resurrection” to assist the Dukhobors and organized a fund to support the movement through which resources from different countries were chanelled. However, the Dukhobors’ position remained difficult and uncertain. 

The act of the Burning of Arms on June 29, 1895 has remained an unforgettable feat in people’s memory. In 1959, the Canadian Dukhobor magazine ISKRA published a list of names of believers who were thrown in prisons for refusal of military service. 

However, after the reprisals which befell them the Dukhobors continued to place their hope in God and on imperial favour which was requested in the most august name in numerous circulations. And only after repeated failures to reply to their request and further persecution by authorities did members of the sect reach the extreme decision to go abroad. The new motherland for the majority of Dukhobors became Canada. With the funds collected by L.N. Tolstoy, four steamships were chartered on which more than seven and a half of thousand Dukhobors sailed to Canada. 

However, not all left. A portion of the believers remained in Transcaucasia. Considerable difficulties fell on their shoulders. 

The Revolution, with its slogans of equality and brotherhood, did not accept sectarians even though the Dukhobors were regarded as the first founders of communistic economy in Russia, long before the origin of Marxism. The new authority did not like the Dukhobors’ independence and their prosperity based on great diligence, technology and emulation of German colonists. 

For refusing to participate in collectivization, the Dukhobors had their cattle and grain taken away and their property requisitioned. Dissatisfied families were exiled to Siberia and Kazakhstan. In the terrible years of repression, a large number of Dukhobors were arrested and dissapeared in the gulags. 

Yet still it could not break the Dukhobors. They continued to live, work and hope for a happy future. Among the Dukhobors were many heroes in the Great Patriotic War who renounced their principles in the name of protecting the motherland. They were awarded on account of their worthy efforts. 

In recent times, the Soviet press practically made no mention of Dukhobor life, even though they invariably achieved unknown economic successes. In the manufacture of milk, butter and cheese, only the Baltic could compete with the Dukhobor economy in the whole USSR. 

Years of persecutions, reprisals and exiles could not destroy the Dukhobors’ belief in kindness, justice, fairness and decency. It was their salvation in difficult times. 

My family, the Kabatov family, underwent all the difficulties that befell the Dukhobors and has passed a long and thorny way. 

A History of My Ancestors

The origins of the Kabatov family are lost in the depths of Russian history. It is known that my ancestors were natives of Central Russia. The Kabatovs appeared among the adherents of the Dukhobor movement exiled from Russia under the decree of Emperor Nikolai I in 1841. My ancestors were one of the founders of the Russian settlement of Slavyanka in the Elizavetpol district of the Transcaucasus. 

Nowadays this large settlement is several kilometers from the regional centre of Kedabek in the Republic of Azerbaijan. A mountain resort area has been created around the village. The vicinity of Slavyanka is presently an empire of botanical gardens, vineyards, market gardens, millet and potato fields and apiaries. In many places in the immediate area, mineral springs with medicinal properties flow from underground.

However, in the middle of the 19th century, this district represented a fruitless desert. The stony ground seemed unsuitable for cultivation. Yet thanks to the colonists’ diligence it was possible to transform a mountain plateau into a blossoming paradise. 

As was already mentioned, following the introduction of universal compulsory military service in the Caucasus, the Dukhobors resolved not to bear arms. In 1895 as a protest demonstration against military service, the inhabitants of Slavyanka performed the act of the Burning of Arms. My great-great-grandfather Petro Semenovich Kabatov and the inhabitants of Slavyanka led by Kuzma Tarasov, one of the leaders of the Dukhobor movement, took part in this event. Firearms and cold steel were carried by horse-drawn cart, dumped in a heap, stacked with firewood, doused with kerosene and set ablaze. The people stood facing the fire, singing psalms. They believed they had achieved a worthy cause. 

This fire was necessary. It swept away death, war and conflict. Faith and conscience made these people the first pacifists in the land. Faith that it is possible to live without killing each other, and a readiness to live according to conscience, doing everything to prevent war and violence. 

After the reprisals, many Dukhobors abandoned their accustomed surroundings and left for Canada in 1899. Those that remained hoped for the favour and indulgence of the new emperor – Nikolai II. However, their hopes did not come true – persecution and reprisals against the strong-spirited, freedom-loving Dukhobors continued. 

At the beginning of the 20th century Russia, not having had time to recover from the 1905 Revolution and war with Japan, began to make preparations for a new war against Germany. The Dukhobors steadfastly objected to these escalating events. And a number of them – basically the inhabitants of Slavyanka village including my great-great-grandfather and family – resolved upon a desperate measure. In the early spring of 1912, they left their accustomed surroundings and journeyed to their fellow countrymen and spiritual brethren in far-off Canada. 

At that time, Petro Semenovich and Tatiana Ivanovna Kabatov (my great-great-grandmother) had four children: Pavel, Grigory, Mikhailo and Nikolai. 

Upon their arrival in the new country, the Kabatovs settled in the area of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and were established in no time as Petro Semenovich was a hereditary smith, and the work of a smith in the countryside is always necessary. Within a year a fifth son, Vasily, was born to my great-great-grandparents. 

However, the Dukhobors’ quiet life did not last for long because the Government of Canada chose to relocate them on uninhabited western lands (Note: this may be a reference to the closing of Dukhobor village reserves by the Government of Canada). Tired of wandering on the land and yearning for their motherland, in 1914 the Kabatov family returned by its own means to Slavyanka.

How they were met in the motherland? As always, with difficulties. However, they had become used to starting anew – it was not the first time they grew new roots. 

The Kabatovs always adhered to the Dukhobor principle of “Toil and Peaceful Life”. The Dukhobors explain it as so: “to work, to earn one’s livelihood, to not enslave another and to not use one’s work to satisfy avidity and greed. To be content with little and what is necessary for bodily livelihood, sharing with others not only the surplus, but also what is necessary”. The Kabatovs were never afraid to work – that is why the land generously provided for them. 

My great-great-grandfather Petro Semenovich Kabatov died in 1925. My great-great-grandmother Tatiana lived to 98 years and died in 1978 in the village of Slavyanka. There their remains are buried. 

My great-grandfather Pavel Petrovich Kabatov was born in the village of Slavyanka in 1898. Like all Kabatovs, he was distinguished by a strong constitution and cheerful character. He was an exceptional smith. Till now the ramrods made by him are kept in our family. On the handle of each one is his name brand. They say that great-grandfather played the guitar and accordion well. 

In 1920, Pavel Petrovich married Maria Fedorovna Khudyakova. Great-grandmother was literate, she completed four classes at the Tiflis women’s grammar school. Maria Fedorovna was distinguished by her diligence, efficiency and kind nature. 

While Pavel Petrovich refused to directly participate in the Civil War, it placed a heavy burden on the shoulders of the family. The constant change of authorities resulted in the ruin of the peaceful country economy. In these foregone conditions, Pavel Petrovich organized forces for self-defense which courageously protected their native village from Midzhit detachments. Then regular units of the Red army crushed this group. 

In 1940, Pavel Petrovich was subjected to repression. The reason for the arrest is unknown till today. There are only piecemeal accounts of this tragedy. He was a great friend of the German colonists living in neighbouring villages. The Germans frequently asked Pavel Petrovich to assist in repairing agricultural machines and radio equipment. Such friendship seemed suspicious to local observers of the regime. Under Stalin’s order, the German population was removed from Transcaucasia and Pavel Petrovich was arrested. It took place in 1940 and in 1941 state papers arrived with the message of his death. 

The eldest son of Pavel Petrovich and Maria Fedorovna, Feodor Kabatov, was born in 1921 in the village of Slavyanka. He was my grandfather. Almost his entire life he worked as a driver in the collective farm “Il’ich Way”. 

Grandfather was very kind, caring and attentive to all. He placed great value in the education and formal training of his children. Grandfather imparted a love of engineering to each of his three sons – Pavel, Vasily and Ivan. From childhood, he accustomed them to physical and to mental work. 

In his free time, Feodor Pavlovich enjoyed reading military literature. His favourite book was G.K. Zhukov’s autobiography “Memoirs and Reflections”. In the evenings, grandfather would tell the children how he participated in the Great Patrotic War. 

War found Feodor Pavlovich in the army. In 1941, his artillery battalion was stationed in Ukraine where their military unit was encircled. Breaking out of the encirclement, grandfather found himself in occupied territory. For some time he hid among the local population, working as a smith. Then he began to make his way to the front. At the front line he was wounded and hospitalized. After recovering he found his unit and with it reached Berlin. Feodor Pavlovich participated in battles in Poland near Konigsberg. He completed the war in Germany. He was awarded with medals. 

Feodor Pavlovich had many friends of different nationalities. He easily mastered the Azerbaijan, Armenian and Georgian languages. Grandfather died in 1978. Unfortunately, I know him only from the stories of relatives. 

Doukhobor village in the Caucasus.

However, I know and love my grandmother very much – Fedosia Nikiforovna Kabatova. She is an amazing person. Now we see her seldom, as conditions in the Caucasus are very complicated. But earlier, my sister and I spent our summer vacations at grandmother’s in Slavyanka. It was an unforgettable time, the impressions of which remain for life. I remember how we impatiently waited for summer to go to our beloved grandmother. Every day that was spent in Slavyanka was interesting. 

She always had rabbits when I came. 

And what pies at grandmother’s! She baked them from ancient recipes in the Russian oven.

I remember how every evening I fell asleep to grandmother’s fairy tales. She did not read then in books, but heard them a long time ago from her mother and now told them to us, her grandchildren.

My grandmother is a very kind and sympathetic person. Besides this, she is a highly skilled craftsperson – thanks to her I learned to knit. Grandmother has worked her entire life as a teacher of geography at school. And though she has long since reached pension age, she has not retired and works to this day. 

There are presently few who may boast of knowledge of their family tree. That I know much about my relatives, I am grateful to my father. For some time he has been engaged in drafting and studying our family tree, and it is not an simple task. 

He was born in the village of Slavyanka in 1957. After completing high school, he arrived in Volgograd where in 1979 he successfully graduated from the Volgograd Polytechnical Institute, having received a degree in mechanical engineering. 

Daddy – the great conversationalist. It is always interesting to converse with him – he has seen much, was in all areas of our immense motherland as well as foreign countries. Thanks to him I too have travelled alot – I have been to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, the Caucasus, Stavropol, the Black Sea and twice to Turkey on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. 

My daddy – the inveterate mushroom picker and hunter. Every autumn we go to the woods where we spend unforgettable hours in harmony with nature. My father has achieved much in life but this is a priority. He has managed to open a business, and it requires great strength and persistence. 

Speaking of father, I should talk about my mom – Elena Petrovna Fokinoy. She was born in 1956 in Stalingrad. Mom, as well as daddy, was trained at the Volgograd Polytechnical Institute and has a degree in engineering-economics. My mom is a very kind, beautiful, sympathetic and caring woman. My sister Tanya (she is a second year student at Volgograd State University) and I feel this towards ourselves. 

Dukhobor Traditions: Past and Present

In our family some Dukhobor traditions are still kept. Regarding rites, many Dukhobors today observe only weddings and funerals. 

The atire in which my grandmother invited her girlfriends to the wedding in May 1949 is kept till today. At my request, she has described the wedding ceremony in detail. 

On the day prior to the wedding, the bride must invite her relatives or girlfriends. On the day of the wedding, between the hours of eleven and twelve, matchmakers on behalf of the groom go by horse and cart to the bride’s home carrying a barrel of wine (100 litres) and a keg of vodka (about 20 litres). At this time, attired maidens join hands and together with the bride go down the streets inviting the youth. Another attired messenger rides on horseback and invites other guests. 

The guests gather for dinner, dine and make merry. In the evening, the bride’s dowry is loaded on a cart. The bride, groom and youth sit down and carry the dowry to the home of the groom. The guests of the bride and groom follow on foot. They have supper and then disperse to their homes. The following day, everyone relaxes at home. At dinnertime, a party leaves from the home of the bride with an accordion – for the bride. They arrive at the house of the groom with songs, give greetings, dance and together with the bride and groom return to the home of the bride. There they have dinner together with the guests of the bride, make merry, have supper and carry the bride back to the home of the groom. 

It is a beautiful wedding ceremony which, of course, has substantially changed and altered over time. Dukhobor weddings are distinguished by their beauty, musicality and character. Beautiful songs resound. In some wedding songs the cult of the earth-mother is proclaimed. The Earth gives life and food – on her people are born, grow and have families. The groom thus speaks: 

I am taking a soul-girl as my wife.
I will love you, my sweet dove.
We shall live as one happy family.
Our native land will be able to feed us.
We shall not dare to hurt it.

In my family, all the women were good mistresses and skilled craftspersons. From long ago such verses were preserved: 

Our pies are a beauty.
Who tastes them say they are delicious.
It is impossible to describe, what goes into them at baking.
Particularly if you spread some sour cream over them.

It was (and is till now) a tradition to bake soroki. Thus grandmother liked to sing such verses: 

As soroki bake in the oven,
Little children gather under the window.
They are so beautiful, good-smelling and airy.
Put it in hand, then in the mouth, it’s very tasty.

Soroki are rolls made in the form of a flying bird. In one out of forty a coin is put. The one who receives it is considered lucky. In the future, they can expect good luck in all undertakings. 

All in the family love to sing. The Doukhobors sing in a capella chorus. They have beautiful voices and in songs, words full of feeling. It is not known who wrote the songs, but they were generally known by all – from youngest to eldest. Here is a passage from one: 

The soul of a person aspires towards peace, 
The strong heart castigate war, 
In peace we are devoted forever. 
We see only one purpose in peace. 

By the way, coming back to the wedding ceremony which is considered among the Dukhobors one of the most important, it is necessary to discuss wedding songs. They were not as melancholy as is typical in Russia. The songs little resemble lamentations, rather they resemble vows or wishes:

How my soul, oh my beauty, 
Is glad and exalted at seeing you.
And we won’t be now one without the other.
We shall live together in peace and accord.

My great-grandfather sang this song to my great-grandmother. And to him she replied: 

I have fallen in love with you, brave dear,
And I’m giving you my youth.
I will be your truthful and caring wife,
And our family will always be happy.

I do not know how my great-grandfather and great-grandmother got acquainted. Most likely they knew each other for a long time, as they lived in the same village. 

Doukhobors honour the dead. Actually, in this they differ little from other people.

The funeral ceremony lasts two days. On the first day, borshch and then noodles are served. Everyone eats with wooden spoons. On the second day – chicken soup. Red wine and loaves roasted in vegetable oil are obligatory. All meals are prepared in cast iron vessels in the Russian oven. 

The mournful ceremony is laconic. However, it is accompanied by songs, more truly, psalms – devoted to the hundreds of victims of the persecutions, reprisals and wars at the end of the last century. An unknown poet devoted the following verses to them: 

Your grave is not among those graves, 
That the land here keeps in itself. 
Both keeps and will maintain for centuries, 
But you are terribly far from the motherland. 
Who will plant a tree, begin to sing a song? 
Where are you, uncared for? Where are you, unwarmed? 
Scattered, poor fellow, over the world. 

Today many traditions are forgotten. Our family tries to preserve those few that remain. Ceremonies, songs, stories, fairy tales, even ancient recipes of the Russian kitchen – these also are a memory and tribute to our ancestors. 

Bibliography

  • Bonch-Bruevich V.D. The Living Book of the Doukhobors. (Geneva, 1901).
  • Bonch-Bruevich V.D. Sectarians and Old Believers in the First Half of the 19th Century. (Izbr. soch. T 1 M. 1959).
  • Kireev N. “The Dukhobor Belief and Love Did Not Disappear in Foreign Land” in The Russian Gazette (No. 27, 1994). 
  • Klibanov A.I. A History of Religious Sectarianism in Russia. (Moscow: 1965).
  • Kozlova N. “The Long Road Home” in The Russian Gazette (No. 302, 1994). 
  • Malakhova I.A. Spiritual Christians. (Moscow: 1970).
  • Maslov S. “A Century Ago in the Caucasus the Dukhobors Burnt their Weapons” in Komsomol’skaya Pravda (No. 26, 1996). 
  • Nikol’skij N.M. A history of the Russian Church. (Moscow: 1985).
  • Novitskij O. Dukhobortsy, Their History and Dogma. (Saint Petersburg: 1909).
  • Gordienko N.S. (ed.) Orthodoxy: The Atheist Dictionary. (Moscow: 1998).
  • Fedorenko F.P. Sects, Their Beliefs and Affairs. (Moscow: 1965).

A History of the Perverseff Family

by Roger Phillips

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

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

Family Origins

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

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

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

The Molochnaya and Caucasian Exile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harsh Living Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burning of Arms

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

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

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

Exodus to Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Promised Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Good Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tangleflags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A young Roger launches a flying model airplane he built.

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

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

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

Haralowka

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

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

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

Roger playing baseball at Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto in 1941.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of a Doukhobor Conscientious Objector: An Interview with Peter A. Kouznitsoff

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Peter A. Kouznitsoff (1918-) is the son of Russian Doukhobor immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1899 and settled in the Blaine Lake district of Saskatchewan. Raised on the family farm, he received his education at the Brook Hill one-room rural school. Upon completing his education, he began farming. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Peter refused to perform military service when he received his call-up papers. As a conscientious objector, he chose to perform alternative service instead. He was sent to Montreal Lake in northern Saskatchewan, where along with 70 other Doukhobor men, he worked in a road construction camp, building Highway No. 2 to Lac la Ronge. After completing his alternate service, Peter returned to Blaine Lake where he continued a lifelong career in agriculture. In the following interview, conducted by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff on October 2, 2011, Peter discusses his experiences of 70 years ago as a Doukhobor conscientious objector.

Peter A. Kouznitsoff, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, October 2, 2011.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

General

What is your full name?

Peter A. Kouznitsoff.

What is your present address?

Stensrud Lodge, 2202 McEown Ave, Saskatoon.

What is your date of birth?

September 27, 1918.

Where were you born?

I was born in Terpeniye village, in 1918 when the flu was epidemic. Mother was saying, I was so sick [from the flu] that they prepared a funeral, but I pulled through. They thought I would never make it.

What were your parent’s names and occupations?

Alec Kouznitsoff and Hrunya – she was a Dorofaeff. They were farmers. Dad was from Petrovka, but Mother was from Terpeniye.

Do you know how they got married? Mother was eligible already to get married. So Peter Dorofaeff – Grandfather – got them united with Fedya Tikhonoff. And then Grandfather told them that they were going to get married. But they were already planning with Dad that they were going to get married. Dad – he was from Petrovka. So what they did – they eloped at night [and] Alec Dargin took them to North Battleford. And they stayed at Osachoff’s – Masha – that was an Aunty to Dad. After that they moved to Tarasoff’s in Langham – that was Dad’s mother’s [family], she was married to Harry Kouznitsoff. Grandfather was very upset, but Grandmother had a different tone, she kind of toned him down. They came back. In the meantime, Grandfather moved farms two miles west and they built a new house there, and his son got another house and they built a barn and garage and all the other buildings. But he [the son] was a drunkard and the bank seized everything. But they gave Grandfather 3-4 acres where his yard was, so they didn’t touch him. But Uncle, he had another place further and moved to the farm further down. And then, when Mother and Dad came, they took over and started farming Grandfather’s place, and then they bought it from them. Grandfather’s farm was kitty-corner to where the village [of Terpeniye] was and he had 15 acres of the other quarter that was his property.

Describe your upbringing as a Canadian Doukhobor. How did it influence you growing up?

I got everything from Mother and Dad. They told me everything about it, and I just kept on.

I went to Peters Day on a wagon and all that. It was [held near] the Pozirayevka Cemetery – in the bush there was an opening [clearing], but now its all overgrown with young trees. This was to the south of the cemetery. On the east side, along the fence, they used to come with horses and wagons and tie them up there for Peters Day, but the cars were parked in front. We had to walk through the bush to the tent – a big tent they were getting from the Mennonites from Waldheim for Peters Day. Pete Padowsky and another were entitled always to bring it, and two men from each [school] division had to go and help set it up and after Peters Day, to take it down, and put it in the wagon and take it back. It was a lot of work to set it up. And they got the lumber from the lumber yard and they made the benches – where people sat. And there was a platform on the east side. If it was a hot day, they would lift the sides [of the tent] up, so a breeze would go through, and it was good. There was choirs from each district – and there was seven villages – and there was a choir from each village – Uspeniye, Terpeniye, Slavyanka, Spasovka, Pozirayevka, Horelovka, Trinity – or Troitskoye, and Petrovka. All the villages celebrated Peters Day there. There was no Prayer Home in Blaine Lake yet; the Prayer Home was built in ’32, I think. Once the Prayer Home was built, they quit that [location].

The Prayer Home was built – the way I remember – the bricks – Doukhobor bricks – were from BC. And the bricklayers came [from BC] but all the [labour] help was local. They had to haul sand and help and all that, and that’s how it was built. I [then] went to sobraniyas to the Blaine Lake Prayer Home.

Outbreak of World War Two

Where were you living when war broke out in 1939?

In ’38 I rode the freights. I rode the freight cars. My sister was in Vermillion, married to Nick Konkin. She was pregnant, and they asked me to come and look after – they had two little girls. And I rode out and stayed with them. And then I went to Edmonton, looking for a job on the freight, in the morning. And in the evening, I’d come [back] as a passenger in the engine, cause there was no freight until the next day. They let me. The engineers – they were good to me – I sat where they put the water for the old engineers – I sat on there and it was comfortable. That’s how I traveled back and forth.

And then I went to Vancouver with the brother-in-law early in April. He lost a job, and he went with me. So we went to Edmonton, and I already knew how to ride the freights. And they had a double-tanker for pigs and sheep, and we asked the guys that prepared them and they told which ones was going to Vancouver. So they went and we stayed in the [rail] yard and we got some bailing wire, and on the top [of the rail cars], there’s a little door, and pounded a few nails in this door – one from the inside, and hammered on the outside, and tied the wire to keep it shut. And so, next day, we boarded it when they put the sheep in, we kind of waited till nobody was there, and we got in with the sheep. And we got extra wire, and partitioned it [inside the car] so that the sheep don’t come close. And that’s how we went. It was nice and warm with them, and the sheep were clean, and they got used to us, and they walked in between and everything. In Kamloops they stopped and changed the engine, and they [the railway employees] were looking through the sides – because there were openings, the boards weren’t close together – and I told for Nick, we’re gonna take the wire off and lie down between the sheep so they don’t see us. And that’s the way we got [there] free. Warm. Nice. We got out at Vancouver. We had Pete Postnikoff there and Bill Dorofaeff that were already there. And I think Nick Rebalkin. But we stayed at Pete Postnikoff’s – one, and the other [at] Bill Dorofaeff’s. This is what I was doing just before the war.

When war broke out [in 1939], I was back in Blaine Lake.

What was your occupation at the time?

I was farming.

What was your marital and family status at the time?

I wasn’t married at that time. We were supposed to get married in ’41, but when I was called, we had to postpone it to ’42.

What was your personal reaction to the outbreak of war? What do you recall thinking and feeling when you first heard the news?

At that end, you know, I didn’t bother too much [with it]. Until after we got the call. Then it became personal.

What was the general reaction of your Doukhobor friends and family to the war?

Everybody was talking about the war. It was in every family there was somebody eligible [to serve]. It was on everybody’s minds.

You take when we were called [for conscription in 1941], there was people from Regina come, from the military, and they outlined everything. The work and the jail [options]. That split us. And then, they had their meetings separate. The people that were for jail, they stayed where the Prayer Home was. And in between there was an alley, and on the other side there was a library; the ones that were for camp, they had meetings there – they never had them together. My Dad came once, they saw him, he sat in the back, and they said, “your meeting is out in the back”. It divided the community.

What was the general reaction of your non-Doukhobor friends and neighbours to the war? Did it differ from the Doukhobors?

I never [spoke to them about this].

Did you belong to a Doukhobor organization during the war? If so, what organization?

Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society.

How did your local Doukhobor community mobilize in response to the war?

When everything came up, the Society, they notified people, they had meetings. They were always full. Everyone was concerned.

A national registration was carried out in 1940. The Doukhobors were permitted to register their own people. Do you recall that event?

Maybe the parents did [register for their families] – we didn’t. I don’t remember [the Doukhobor registrar].

Compulsory military training in Canada was announced in 1940. Did this change your views about the war?

Our opinion was that our religion – we were against war. So, it was there already. Conscription did not change this opinion.

How and when did you receive your call-up to perform compulsory military training?

I received the call – I think it was in the spring of ‘41. It was a letter in the mail – I’ve [still] got the call-up letter.

Opposition to Military Service

Did you object to military service when you received your call-up?

I objected, because I went to the camp. I wasn’t for jail. The way it was in my mind, constructing the highway, it was for the community, not for war. In my mind, that didn’t interfere with my [way of] thinking.

Why did you object to military service? What religious and philosophical beliefs led you to this decision?

Well, the boys talked between themselves. But, then when it came to the final thoughts – work or camp – as I understood, this came later.

Peter A. Kouznitsoff (sitting, left) sharpening axes with three other work mates, alternative service work camp, Montreal Lake, SK, 1941.  He was 21 years of age at the time.

Were there any individuals that influenced your decision?

Mother and Dad told me when I got the call, they says, “Peter, you’re old enough to make a judgment yourself. We don’t have to make it for you. And you do as you think is right.” So I made my decision.

Alternative Service

In 1941, Conscientious Objectors were allowed to perform alternative service, or jail, instead of military service. What was “alternative service” and what did this involve?

Yes. The military guys from Regina came and they explained. I wasn’t to that meeting, but Alec Postnikoff he explained all the details. It was explained and I understood what it meant.

Given your objection to military service, why did you choose alternate service?

I thought that I will be a benefit to the community by doing road work – building something – and that’s why I made my choice.

Where were you designated to perform alternative service? Did you know where you would be going and what you would be doing?

Yes. At Montreal Lake.

How long did you have to perform alternative service? When did it begin and end?

Four months. It began June 27, 1941 and we were back by the end of October.

As you know, not all Doukhobor men agreed with alternative service; some believed it was the equivalent to military service. Those who felt this way refused to report for alternative service and were fined or jailed. Why do you think they did this? How did you feel about their decision?

I think the parents had something to do with it. They thought that alternate service went against our religion. As for the boys who went [to jail], that didn’t bother me at all, that’s because it was their choice. When we came back, we were the same friends all over again. Friendships continued.

There was a [prayer] service for the boys who went to jail, on the south side of the Prayer Home, just before they went. We had a big crowd by the railway station. I don’t remember if they had a service for the boys who went to camp, but there were [many] who said goodbye at the station. We all said goodbye. I remember opening the [train car] window and looking out at them.

The Work Camp

How did you get to the work camp?

We [the boys from Blaine Lake] went on a passenger train to Prince Albert. We came there – it was about dinner time. We had lunch at the café. Then we boarded a two-tonne truck on the back [and drove] to the camp. It was already getting dark when we got to camp. We were hungry already. We walked around, the kitchen was open, we seen that there was something to eat, so we ate. We were the first boys to show up at the camp – others came later. Not everyone came at the same time.

Describe the work camp you stayed at. What was the physical layout? What kind of structures?

The camp was all tents – all the buildings. The bottoms were shiplap – wooden floor. The rest [of the tent] was canvas. And then there were skids [under the floor] – we moved two or three times. There were 83 at camp. There was 8 men in each tent with four bunk beds in each tent – one [slept] on the bottom, one on the top.

The kitchen was separate but adjoining – two tents together. Where we ate, there was long tables, we ate one on each side, and they served us. All the men ate together.

There was a confectionary tent in the camp – a little store – there was gum, chocolate bars, for five cents.

The camp moved to follow the road [construction] two or three times. Where they were, it’s all overgrown now.

Did you know of other CO work camps in the area?

There was, on the west side of Montreal Lake, the Mennonites had a work camp – they were working in the bush. That was in the park. We never visited that camp.

Did you know many of the Doukhobors at the camp when you arrived there?

From Blaine Lake there were 13, I think. And 8, I think, went to jail.

Did you make many friends with Doukhobors from other communities?

Oh yeah. Especially when we were working in the ditches – on road construction.

Who were the non-Doukhobors who stayed at the camp? What were their names and what jobs did they perform? What do you recall about them?

Only one [worker]. I think he was a Baptist.

The staff – they were all English. The foremen – they were getting a dollar a day. They had their own tents, in the same camp.

What were your assigned tasks and duties at the camp?

At the start, when you came, you had to fill out a form – what you like to do. I said that I had experience with blacksmith, so I got that job. Some said kitchen – they got that. Some applied for higher up [positions]. They had to write your qualifications – that’s how they placed you.

I started out as a blacksmith at the camp. But when I got leave to go home for the harvest – I stayed two weeks – a little bit longer than you was supposed to – one week. When I came back – it was work on the road [for me]. I was penalized by 25 cents.

Of the other Doukhobors?

Most of the boys were farmers – they knew what hard work was.

You take when I was riding the freights in Vancouver – we had to go to the sawmill – there was a guy sitting at the table – there was a lineup, we came up, he asked questions – what you were, where you from, what you did – if it was satisfactory, you got the job. When I came up, I said I was from Saskatchewan – a farmer – he gave me the wheelbarrow – and I got the job.

Describe your typical day at camp. When did you get up? When were meals? How long was spent working? When did you go to bed?

We started work at 8:00. We had breakfast before that – everyone at the same time. We had to walk out to the work site – that’s why we had to move [the camp] because it was too far to walk. We came back for dinner. The work ended at 5:00. Then the boys would walk back to camp, and everyone had supper.

Describe the construction work itself. What type of work was involved? Was it manual labour or did you operate equipment?

We were working the ditches – clearing ditches. There was about ten of us.

Others – drove the wagons. Little tractors pulled the wagon – you sat in the wagon – and then they filled it [with dirt]. When you’re coming, there was a foreman, who shouts to us to open the gates, and the bottom opened and it [the dirt] dropped. A grader then spread [the dirt]. They graveled it [the grade] afterward.

We built ten miles of road altogether in four months. It started at the north end of Montreal Lake, north of Molanosa.

There was road clearing beyond that ten miles, but they used machines for that.

Would you say that the work was difficult?

No. Not for boys who grew up on the farm.

Were there chores at the camp besides the construction work?

Some boys worked as cooks, others as janitors – they had to clean up – somebody was assigned to these tasks.

Were there any special dietary needs in camp? Were there any vegetarians?

There were vegetarians. The kitchen staff made meals without meat.

When they served [meals], some boys – they didn’t eat meat. But when they served that meat, it was so tempting, a guy took and ate, and we noticed the boys started to eat [meat]. It was pretty good.

Myself – I never was a vegetarian. My mother – she was a vegetarian.

Were there any opportunities for recreation and relaxation at the camp, when you weren’t working? What did this involve?

We had a special tent – you can write letters there and everything. We had services [there] on Sunday – we had Wasyl Makaroff from Blaine Lake who stayed at the camp as our supervisor. He sang good. For boys who wanted to sing – they sang with him. Not all of the boys sang.

Swimming – we could go down to the lake. I think a few boys did that.

We had singsongs also – the boys got together and sang English songs.

One time, we were coming to the confectionary and we thought up a game – flip a coin – if odd, you’re buying for everybody. And I got one. And to my cousin Billy Popoff and Nick Konkin – I said, once head, twice tail, you’ll never buy. So the last day, Billy Popoff, my cousin said, “How come you never bought?” And then we told him, “once head, twice tail” and then they got it, when it was all over.

What reading materials did you have in camp?

I never read anything. But the others – I don’t know.

Did you listen to the radio?

No.

Were Doukhobor spiritual sobranies and choir practices held at the camp?

Prayer meetings – every Sunday. Choir practices also on Sunday.

What main language did you speak in camp?

It was mixed. Some talked Russian mixed with English. It was about half and half. With the foreman – it was all English.

Did you interact much with the local Cree Indian residents?

No.

What visitors do you recall coming to the camp?

From Blaine Lake – quite a few came. Popoffs – I remember, and Bonderoffs, Makaroff – the lawyer. They came on the weekends – by car.

Were you allowed to take leave from the work camp?

You take Saturday evenings – they gave us a truck, a two-tonne truck. And we was allowed to go to Waskesiu. So we went for the night – and they gave us a tent. We went and we met from Blaine Lake girls there. We went swimming. We left Saturday evening after work. But we had to come back Sunday for supper.

I also had leave to go home and help with harvest for one week.

Do you recall any disciplinary problems at the camp?

No, not that I remember. Everything was going smoothly.

Were you paid for your work at the camp? If so, how much?

Ordinary labourers – was 50 cents a day. A little bit higher up [i.e. heavy equipment operators] – they did some construction – 75. Foreman – he got a dollar a day.

All and all, did you enjoy camp life?

I enjoyed it – because I met the boys, we discussed about everything. Made a lot of friends.

When your alternative service ended, how did you travel back home?

Same way. By truck from the camp to Prince Albert, and by train from Prince Albert to Blaine Lake.

When you arrived back home, how was the attitude of your family and local people towards you as one who chose not to go to war?

I didn’t see anything different, no.

What did you do once you left the camp?

I farmed, until my retirement in the late 70’s. I’ve been active in retirement playing horseshoes, tournaments all over Western Canada.

Did you continue to keep in touch with the other Doukhobor men you met at the camp?

From Blaine Lake, we kept in touch with the ones at camp and the ones in jail – we were all the same. And from other places, not really.

In Retrospect

Looking back, seventy years later, how did alternative service impact your life?

It didn’t make any difference. I did it according to my thoughts, of the parents, and all that. I still had the same beliefs after the camp.

Do you still feel as strongly today, as you did then, about your objection to war?

Yes.

Based on your experience in the Second World War, what message would you give Doukhobors today, or in the future, about war and military service?

Depends on your background. Now we’re all mixed.

We’re not supposed to have guns, we’re not supposed to drink or smoke. I never did that. Based on my belief, that’s a healthier way to live. I’m 93 years old, and no-one can guess my age!

There is a proposal to name the highway you helped build the “Highway of Peace”. What do you think of this proposal?

Oh yes. I would support that. I was thinking, it would be nice to put a marker there.

Thank you, Peter, for agreeing to participate in this interview.

Group photo of 54 Doukhobor conscientious objectors – alternative service work camp, Montreal Lake, SK, August 25, 1941.  Peter A. Kouznitsoff is standing in the second row, fifth from left (circled).

For More Information

For more information on Doukhobor conscientious objectors during the Second World War, see the following links:

Portrait of a Doukhobor Conscientious Objector: An Interview with Mike S. Nadane

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Mike S. Nadane (1918-) is the son of Russian Doukhobor immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1899 and settled in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan. Raised on the family farm, he received his early education at the Bonnybank one-room rural school before moving to the Town of Kamsack to attend high school. Upon completing his grade twelve, Mike worked at the Rexall Drugs store in Kamsack for three years and then established Nadanes Ltd., a general store with his brother Alex. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Mike refused to perform military service when he received his call-up papers. As a conscientious objector, he chose to perform alternative service instead. He was initially sent to Fort William, Ontario where he worked in a military aircraft factory. He was then sent to Montreal Lake in northern Saskatchewan, where along with 70 other Doukhobor men, he worked in a road construction camp, building Highway No. 2 between Prince Albert and Lac la Ronge. After completing his alternative service, Mike returned to Kamsack, where he raised a family and ran the store with his brother until his retirement in 1983. In the following interview, conducted by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff on September 23, 2011, Mike discusses his experiences of 70 years ago as a Doukhobor conscientious objector. 

Mike S. Nadane, Kamsack, Saskatchewan, September 23, 2011.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

General

What is your full name?

Mike S. Nadane.

What is your present address?

Eaglestone Lodge, Kamsack, SK.

What is your date of birth?

February 3, 1918.

Where were you born?

On the farm, six miles south, three miles west of Kamsack in the Bonnybank school district.

What were your parent’s names and occupations?

Sam and Tatyana (Evdokimoff) Nadane. They were farmers.

Describe your upbringing as a Canadian Doukhobor. How did it influence you growing up?

Well, my dad – we never lived in the Community. Our dad went Independent and he got his naturalization papers – from Canada – and of course with that he was allowed to buy a quarter-section of [homestead] land for ten dollars – which they were giving away – which he did.

So we lived on a farm at the time I was born. The house I was born in became a chicken coop later!  [laughter]  It was a small house; dad after several years built a house that was, you know, like a house.

Dad – he farmed. When he started farming he didn’t have enough money to buy seed wheat so he bought oats. He broke on this quarter section of land that he bought about sixty acres that were prairie – he seeded it in oats. When he finished harvesting, he had six thousand bushels of grain – a hundred bushels an acre. At fifty cents a bushel, that was three thousand dollars. That was money. So he got friendly with a Jewish chap by the name of David Shwartzman in Kamsack – who ran a store – and he went in partnership with him; sold the farm for two thousand dollars, and had this other money, and he went in partnership. Well, he stayed in the partnership for a year, and it wasn’t his cup of tea. So he bought his farm back with his two thousand dollars, and he went farming again. [laughter] Got himself a line of machinery and went back farming. That’s where he spent the rest of his life – farming. He had cows, chickens, geese, ducks – everything.

We all ate meat – we were Doukhobors, but we ate meat. Dad – he was a small boy yet – back wherever he was, it was close to the Turkish border – in Tiflis. He was eleven or so years old; he went with this farmer and he was herding pigs and cows in the bushes. This farmer – he made him come to work sunup to sunset – he’d work for him all day and then go back home at night. While he was with him, they started eating meat then. When he was just a little fella. He said, “boy, it sure smelled good”.  [laughter]  So the rest of the villagers – they went blind after sunset – that’s the way it was. He was the only who could see. And his step-father – his father didn’t go with the Doukhobors, he stayed in Russia, and his mother, she married a Dubasoff. So, he says, we’ll eat meat. So that’s the way it was. And of course when they came to Canada, they didn’t stop eating meat. His step-father – he got his citizenship papers too, and they lived on the farm also. So dad worked with him.

When I was growing up, we had neighbours close by. We were on the northwest quarter; there was a neighbour across the road and a neighbour going west. These people – they were Ukrainians – the others were Doukhobors – they had a boy. I got to know him – think I was maybe four or five – he was my age, and a boy my younger brother’s age – Sam. So we played together – we all grew up till I started going to school. Then dad moved us into town.

Although I started school in Bonnybank. My two sisters and my older brother Alex – they had a previous education and they passed their grade eight school, so they had to go to high-school, and Kamsack was the place. And dad still had this little house, so he moved us into there. I started school in Kamsack in 1924-25. I went to high school and passed my grade twelve. During the summer holidays, I went back to the farm. Worked with four horses; six foot disc; two-share plow!  [laughter] And five sections of harrows. Did a lot of walking in those days. Of course the disc and plow I rode. Helped dad all the time I was going to school – every summer. When I finished Grade Twelve, dad, of course, he had bought another quarter-section of land closer to town – two or three miles out of town. And so he had that quarter-section and he kept the other farm too. So in the summer time, we moved over to the one closer to Kamsack, cause the farm that we were on didn’t have enough pasture for the cows; we had lots of pasture with this one. So we lived in both places.

Mom – we had chickens and cows and everything. So we were never short of food, anyway. A lot of people during the Thirties, they went on relief. Dad didn’t go on relief. Or anybody who worked for him, for five dollars a month.

And that’s the way I was brought up.

When I passed Grade 12, I got a job in the drug store – after 1936-1937 I was through high school. I worked for Jack Lipsett at the Rexall Drugs store for about three years. Then my brother, he opened up a store. He was working for this David Shwartzman after he finished his Grade Eight. Dad sort of set him up on the business – it was a grocery business and dry goods too. I worked for him till the war started; then I had to go.

First I was sent to Fort William – I worked in an aircraft factory for the United States Navy. We were building Curtiss Helldivers. The deal was, of course, I got the regular wages that everyone else got, but I had to pay $25 a month to the government for being a Doukhobor. That cut my living down!  [laughter]  I was there until the war ended. After that, I came back to Kamsack and I worked for my brother, for the rest of the time, until we closed the store in 1983.

Outbreak of World War Two

Where were you living when war broke out in 1939?

In Kamsack.

What was your occupation at the time?

I was working for my brother at that time. He had his business set up at that time.

What was your marital and family status at the time?

I was married. I had my first child, Karen.

What was your personal reaction to the outbreak of war? What do you recall thinking and feeling when you first heard the news?

At first – we were friends with people and this one friend of ours, Louie Eckford, he was a chiropractor. We were together friends. He had joined the navy, and I was ready to join the navy too. But then, my folks stepped in and said “no, you can’t join the navy”. And so I didn’t join the navy. I worked for brother until I had to go to camp. First was I had to go to Fort William.

What was the general reaction of your Doukhobor friends and family to the war?

Everybody – they used to have meetings about this and that with the government when they decided we had to go to camp – they were negotiating about what they were going to do with the young people that were of call-up age. The government said that you have to go to camp – they would send us wherever we had to go, which was mostly building roads. I forget what the government wanted to pay us, but the guys who negotiated for us said, “well no, they’re going to work for fifty cents a day”. That’s what we got paid – fifty cents a day!  [laughter]

What was the general reaction of your non-Doukhobor friends and neighbours to the war? Did it differ from the Doukhobors?

They were sort of belligerent about that – friends, you know. “Oh yeah”, they said, “that’s not right”. But they couldn’t do nothing about it.

Did you belong to a Doukhobor organization during the war? If so, what organization?

My dad was what they called an Independent Doukhobor. They weren’t in the Community, you see. We had services at the Kamsack Doukhobor Society. They belonged to that organization.

A national registration was carried out in 1940. The Doukhobors were permitted to register their own people. Do you recall that event?

No. I went and registered with the government [myself]. I’ve still got my registration card.

Compulsory military training in Canada was announced in 1940. Did this change your views about the war?

No – that really didn’t change my view. What was happening was happening.

How and when did you receive your call-up to perform compulsory military training?

I forget the date.

Opposition to Military Service

Did you object to military service when you received your call-up?

Yes. I was a conscientious objector.

Why did you object to military service? What religious and philosophical beliefs led you to this decision?

Well, mostly because of my parents. Their wishes were that I don’t go to war. So I listened to father and mother.

Mike S. Nadane (centre with guitar) with two tent mates, alternative service work camp, Montreal Lake, SK, 1941.  He was 21 years of age at the time.

Alternative Service

In 1941, Conscientious Objectors were allowed to perform alternative service, or jail, instead of military service. What was “alternative service” and what did this involve?

It was explained to us what it was – I understood what it was.

Given your objection to military service, why did you choose alternate service?

I didn’t want to go to jail – and be a jailbird.

Did you have to report and register with the authorities for alternative service? What did this process involve?

Not really. When the call-up came up for us to go to camp, we got letters, and we were transported. They provided transportation for us.

Where were you designated to perform alternative service? Did you know where you would be going and what you would be doing?

Yes. They explained where we were going.

How long did you have to perform alternative service? When did it begin and end?

I think it was thirty days. I wasn’t there for four months – maybe two at the most.

The Work Camp

How did you get to the work camp?

They transported us by train to Prince Albert. And then we were put on a bus after that, going further north on Number 2 Highway past Clear Lake. We went to Clear Lake – there was a camp at Clear Lake – another work camp. We stopped there for lunch. And then they kept us going to Montreal Lake.

Did you travel alone or with others?

There were others that went with me. From Kamsack – there was Al Malakoe, Alec Kalmakoff, John Cazakoff, John Vanin from Pelly was with us. There were quite a few of us from Kamsack together.

Describe the work camp you stayed at. Where was it located?

It was at Montreal Lake.

What was the physical layout? What kind of structures?

It was all tents. Maybe 10 in a tent. I shared a tent with Al Malakoe, and Bill Malekoff – on the farm we were neighbours, half a mile apart. I forget who else we had.
The cook shack was a tent; the dining room was a tent. There were about 40 or 50 of us eating at one time, so they had a big long table there for us to have dinners, breakfasts, lunch.

They had a first aid van there for us. Outside of that, it was pretty much all tents. Everything was all temporary.

Did you know of other CO work camps in the area?

There was another camp at Clear Lake. There were 16 Doukhobors there.

Did you know many of the Doukhobors at the camp when you arrived there?

Well, the ones that were in Kamsack. And of course, a few from Veregin that I knew. Demofski and Mahonin and guys like that. John Vanin from Pelly. Yes, I knew quite a few of them.

Did you make many friends with Doukhobors from other communities?

Oh yes, we were all together. We would sing songs. Al Malakoe – he had a guitar, and we’d sing Russian songs like you wouldn’t believe!

Who were the non-Doukhobors who stayed at the camp? What were their names and what jobs did they perform? What do you recall about them?

The foreman for the roadwork. And the cook. They were good company. Nothing was said about anything. We just had one happy gang. Everybody got along.

What were your assigned tasks and duties at the camp?

I was what they called a “bull cook”. I helped the cook peel potatoes, stuff like that, and we served the tables. That took all of our time – we were steady on that. We were up early in the morning for breakfast – to get all the dishes on the tables. The cook, of course, had everything prepared, because we helped him peel potatoes and whatever was needed for him. He did the cooking, and it was ready to cook, ready to serve. There were six of us altogether [helping the cook].

Of the other Doukhobors?

The rest of the men worked on road construction – most of them. What they did, I couldn’t even tell you. Where they were working was about five or six miles north of us. So they went in the morning and they went out there in a gang and came back at night. They had their lunch out there. They had trucks – it is possible they rode out there.

Describe the construction work itself. What type of work was involved? Was it manual labour or did you operate equipment?

Most of it was manual labour.

Would you say that the work was difficult?

No, not really. Nobody strained themselves.  [laughter]

Were there chores at the camp besides the construction work?

There were fellows who cleaned the tent – swept it out, things like that. Latrines, things like that. They were assigned from among the Doukhobors.

Were there any special dietary needs in camp? Were there any vegetarians?

Yes – one especially, I’ll never forget!  [laughter]  Alex – he was from Pelly. He claimed he didn’t eat meat. But you put baloney on the table, and he lapped ‘er up like you wouldn’t believe!  [laughter]

Did the kitchen staff make traditional Doukhobor food?

I don’t remember [any Doukhobor food]. It was English food – soup, meat and potatoes.

Were there any opportunities for recreation and relaxation at the camp, when you weren’t working? What did this involve?

Everyone was pretty well on their own. Nobody really had anything really going. The boys in our tent – we would sing – and guys from other tents, they’d come in to join us. Singsongs happened often – pretty much every night.

I don’t remember playing any sports.

Possibly there were opportunities to go swimming and fishing – if you were interested enough to go some place. But I never went swimming or fishing – although the lake [Montreal Lake] was close enough.

What reading materials did you have in camp?

I don’t remember reading a lot; although we’d catch a newspaper every once in a while. But outside of that, I didn’t have any books, myself, to read. I don’t know if the other boys read or not.

Did you listen to the radio?

Gosh, you know, I don’t remember.

Were Doukhobor spiritual sobranies and choir practices held at the camp?

No prayer meetings. No choir practices [that I recall].

What main language did you speak in camp?

Mostly English – even among ourselves.

Did you interact much with the local Cree Indian residents?

No – none that I remember.

What visitors do you recall coming to the camp?

Yes – we had, the odd time, visitors. That’s so long ago, I forget what really happened. We didn’t have too many [friends and family]. Didn’t have too many visitors that way.

Were you allowed to take leave from the work camp?

No – I was there for the whole time.

Do you recall any disciplinary problems at the camp?

Not really, no.

Were you paid for your work at the camp? If so, how much?

We got paid fifty cents a day.

All and all, did you enjoy camp life?

I enjoyed it – I think everybody there enjoyed it.

When your alternative service ended, how did you travel back home?

Same way we came. In groups – some went to Blaine Lake, others [elsewhere]. Prince Albert was sort of the centre – they dispersed from Prince Albert. We took the train from Prince Albert – I did anyway, and the boys from Kamsack did.

What’s your fondest memory of the camp?

The companionship, you know. We were all together – having a good time, so to speak. We were all there for the same reason. There were no big differences of opinion among the group.

When you arrived back home, how was the attitude of your family and local people towards you as one who chose not to go to war?

Nothing very serious about anything. It happened – it happened. You went and you came back. The local Doukhobor people were supportive. The local people who weren’t Doukhobors – maybe they made comments, but it wasn’t a big deal.

What did you do once you left the camp?

I went back to work in the store. That’s where I worked until my retirement.

Did you continue to keep in touch with the other Doukhobor men you met at the camp?

Once in a while, yeah. I remember John Bondoreff – he was asking me about something one time. Every once in a while, we’d get in touch – most of the time by phone.

And the men from Kamsack who were at the camp with you – did you often talk about that experience, later in life?

Well, yeah, we always got together, and said what a good time we used to have.  [laughter]

In Retrospect

Looking back, seventy years later, how did alternative service impact your life?

I can’t really say. I did it – and that was it.

Do you still feel as strongly today, as you did then, about your objection to war?

Oh yeah. I see no reason for it.

Based on your experience in the Second World War, what message would you give Doukhobors today, or in the future, about war and military service?

Well, I’d say that war is not the answer to the questions that have to be settled. They should be settled peaceably, across the table.

There is a proposal to name the highway you helped build the “Highway of Peace”. What do you think of this proposal?

Well, I guess that’s a good idea. That’s good… I support that.

Thank you, Mike, for agreeing to participate in this interview.

Group photo of 54 Doukhobor conscientious objectors – alternative service work camp, Montreal Lake, SK, August 25, 1941.  Mike S. Nadane is standing in the third row (circled).

For More Information

For more information on Doukhobor conscientious objectors during the Second World War, see the following links:

The Hospitality of the Dukhobortsy, 1816

by Henry Downing Whittington

Henry Downing Whittington (1792-1820) was a young English adventurer who, at age 24, toured South Russia, Turkey and Armenia in 1816.  During his travels, he visited the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye on the Molochnaya River in Tavria province.  He kept a journal and recorded his impressions and exploits. His “Account of a Journey Through Part of Little Tartary: And of Some of the Armenian, Greek, and Tartar Settlements in that Portion of the Russian Empire” was published posthumously in the Rev. Robert Walpole’s “Travels in Various Coutries of the East; Being a Continuation of Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820). Whittington’s observations of the Doukhobors, while brief, provide the earliest Western account of their hospitality, kindness and generosity to a travelling stranger; three mainstays of Doukhobor religious and cultural practice.  Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

…At the distance of four versts from Altona, the last German [Mennonite] village, we crossed the Moloshnia [Molochnaya], a small river, which, like the Berda, and others of this neighbourhood, is choked at the mouth by the sand which its own stream brings down.

Terpenia [Terpeniye], which stands on its right bank, is one of eight [nine] villages inhabited by the Duchobortzi [Dukhobortsy] or Worshippers of the Spirit, a sect of Russians who reject the use of priests and pictures, and who, after undergoing much persecution, have been collected and settled on this spot, during the reign of the present Emperor.

Their population was stated to us at 1500 males. In dress and deportment [bearing] they did not appear to differ from the common Russians; but on learning that we were travellers from a distant country, they were eager to manifest to us their hospitality and goodwill.

They would receive no recompense for the refreshments which we had taken, and even crowded round our carriage with presents of live fowls, sufficient to stock it for several days. We had nothing but money to offer them in return, and this they steadily refused, saying, “God forbid that we should rob a stranger.”

Their kindness did not even end here; for just as we were about to drive off, the Starista [starosta], or chief peasant, a venerable old man, advanced with solemnity, and publicly presented us with bread in the name of the village.

We left Terpenia about nine, with the intention of travelling all night, but were detained by an accident at the Russian village of Kisliar till the next morning.


View Tavria Doukhobor Villages, 1802-1845 in a larger map

Afterword

The above account was published by Rev. Robert Walpole in 1820 in his Travels in Various Countries of the East; Being a Continuation of Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey. Unfortunately, Walpole did not record the author’s full name, either in his “Table of Contents” or in the other three places where he is mentioned, being content to write merely either “Extract from Mr. Whittington’s Journal” or “From the Journals of Mr. Whittington.” It was only thanks to the discovery of three letters written by the author to Mariana Macri, over eighty years later, that his identity has been brought to light and it is possible to piece together some details of his background.

Henry Downing Whittington (1792-1820), a Cambridge graduate, was one of a generation of young English noblemen who, following the footsteps of the romantic Lord Byron, made Classical archaeology a fashionable study and organized expeditions to the Levant (countries bordering on the east Mediterranean) to record and collect examples of ancient Greek art for the purposes of introducing Grecian taste to their homeland. He travelled to South Russia, Turkey and Armenia in 1816, followed by Greece in 1817. It was there that he met and fell in love with the Grecian maiden Mariana Macri, to whom he wrote the three letters. In 1818, he visited Italy and France before returning to England. In 1820, he set out abroad again, but was shipwrecked and drowned in the Mediterranean.

It was during Whittington’s travels through South Russia in 1816 that he encountered the Dukhobortsy. On June 19th of that year, while en route from the Mennonite village of Altona to the Russian village of Kisliar, he crossed the Molochnaya River and stopped at the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye.

Whittington found a Doukhobor population of 1,500 males settled in eight villages (he erred as there nine Doukhobor villages on the Molochnaya in 1816) along the right bank of the river. He did not discern any significant difference in their dress and bearing from their Russian Orthodox neighbors. He found them distinguished, however, in the depth of their hospitality and kindness to a travelling stranger.

During his brief stay, the Doukhobors provided him with refreshments, offered a number of live fowl sufficient to feed Whittington and his travelling companions for several days, and presented him with bread in the name of the village, all for which they refused to accept any payment.

This genuine expression of sharing and kindness stemmed from the Doukhobors’ central philosophy of love and respect for humanity. It was a religious instinct and principle with them to do all that lay within their power for a stranger and to allow no payment. Doukhobor hospitality has been noted by many a traveler over the ages; however, Whittington’s little-known memoir is surely the earliest Western account of this deep-rooted ethic.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of “Travels in Various Countries of the East; Being a Continuation of Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey”  edited by Rev. Robert Walpole (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Doukhobor Farms Supply All Needs

by Victoria Hayward & Edith S. Watson

Photographer Edith S. Watson (1861-1943) and her traveling companion, writer Victoria Hayward (1876-1958) spent the bulk of their careers traversing and documenting North America.  In 1918, after a lengthy correspondence with Peter ‘Lordly’ Verigin, they received permission to visit the Doukhobors in their communes in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.  Edith and Victoria spent much of the next three summers with them in 1918, 1919 and 1920.  They shared the Doukhobor way of life and recorded that life, through written word and photograph.  Their subjects were very often women and they captured their female subjects in moments of reality that might otherwise have been overlooked.  The following article from their visit is reproduced from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (November 22, 1919).  The accompanying photographs are reproduced by permission from “Working Light: The Wandering Life of Photographer Edith S. Watson” by Frances Rooney (Carleton University Press: 1996).  Taken together, they capture a sense of time and place among the Doukhobors through the eyes and lens of the outside world.

Doukhobors – those people who came from Russia into Canada years ago and attracted attention by their peculiar religious belief – are now conceded to be the best all-round farmers in the entire Dominion. They prove and exemplify that they can win their own complete living, including cloths, from their own farms. They grow flax, spin and weave it themselves, dress in clean linen, and are independent of the dry goods market. They raise everything they need for the table from their own fields. They build their own bugalows with wooden framework from materials chopped, hewn, dug and mixed on their own wood lot and in their own dooryard. Put a Doukhobor community down, some spring, with nothing more than ordinary farming tools, on a homestead a thousand miles from any town, and they would not starve nor freeze, nor seek help from anyone. They would go to mother earth for all they needed – and knowing how, they would get it.

A young Doukhobor girl picking up a dropped stitch while knitting, Brilliant, BC, c. 1919.  Photo by Edith S. Watson, Working Light.

The hum of “things doing” is in the atmosphere at all Doukhobor settlements just now. Works of all kinds are in progress. From whatever angle the limelight is turned upon their communities, there in the glow, are to be seen star workers – at real work. Whether the stage be set at Verigin, Saskatchewan or at Brilliant, British Columbia, the theme of the drama is practically the same. The settlement on the plains or in the mountain valley is a hive of production.

The different settlements illustrate the varied nature of this production. For these Russians, taken as a whole, are not so much specialists in one line as general farmers, although of course, with them, the crop must, as with any other farmer, be determined by the nature of the soil.

Victoria Hayward picking fruit with Doukhobor women, Brilliant, BC, c. 1919. Photo by Edith S. Watson, Working Light.

Whenever one happens on a village, coming into the big yard or passing along “the street” that runs through the length of the village, as at Vernoe in Verigin settlement, it is to have unfolded before the eyes a variety of industries, all of which spring from the tilling of the earth.

One may see a Doukhobor woman sifting homegrown clover seed for the next year’s crop. Behind this simple process of winnowing the seeds stands an army of women and children at work on the uplands, gathering the ripe clover heads into their wide aprons. Every morning the seed is brought out and spread on the quilt to dry in the sun. When it is thoroughly dry, Mme. Konkin takes the sieve in her hand, in the case of the most obstinate husks she finds the palms of her own strong hands the best kind of a mill. The outfit for this industry is very simple – a good sunny spot in the orchard behind the village where the wind is just strong enough to carry off the husk and yet not fierce enough to lose a single tiny seed. For everyone of these seedlings is precious, since clover seed raising has become a Doukhobor industry.

Harvest time, Grand Forks, BC Doukhobor Community, c. 1919.  Photo by Edith S. Watson, Working Light.

Another favorite side crop of the Doukhobors in British Columbia is millet. The feathery heads of this grain may be seen nodding in the breeze everywhere by the roadside, in patches, and its waving plumes border orchard and dooryard flower gardens with equal ease. Millet is a favorite porridge and vegetable with the Doukhobors. Served with milk and sugar or with butter it is equally delicious. On account of the natural oil it is considered very nutritious and rich in food values. These women may be seen sifting millet to separate the seed from the husk. A larger mesh of sieve is used for this work than for the clover seed.

“High cost of living” is a meaningless phrase to the Doukhobor growing everything for the home table even to the morning dish of porridge. We feed millet to our canaries, but not one in ten knows it as a breakfast food for ourselves and our families.

Her load of beans, Brilliant, BC, c. 1919. Photo by Edith S. Watson, Working Light.

The British Columbia Doukhobor no less than the plainsman raises large quantities of beans. The community lockers in each village are full of them. For each village has its bean patch. But in no sense can the Doukhobor be said to live on them. As a vegetarian he must not eat pork and beans.

The beans are women’s work. In every dooryard the picture of the woman and the drying beans is reproduced. The beans are shelled by pounding them with a billet of wood.

The Doukhobor housewife is never idle. At Brilliant, the community runs a large jam factory, and you may buy the product almost everywhere in the stores, but still there is no Doukhobor women but has her own idea of how jam should be made and fruit dried for home use. And too, she fancies the fruit that grew on “her own house” trees. So in every village the women of that village preserve most of the fruit for home consumption, and groups of them are to be seen in every yard cutting up barrels of home grown apples.

The Doukhobor community owns a large commercial jam factory, but each housewife likes to make her own jam and dry her own fruit, BC, c. 1919.  Photo by Edith S. Watson, Working Light.

Evaporation is here a force aided by two giant forces, the sun to begin with and the huge hand made brick ovens in the great kitchens which “finish the job up brown.”

The Doukhobor is a champion flax grower. Out of the flax comes eventually the mujik’s (Russian peasant’s) linen blouse, the woman’s full gathered linen skirt. But between the growing flax and the woven fine linen of the Sunday garment lies much spinning and weaving in the winter.

The clean flax fiber, after its final washing, is hung on the clothesline to dry. At this stage the flax very strongly resembles wool and cotton fiber in the wet state. The women are particularly skillful hands at the flax washing and drying, which requires skill in the fine handling of the fiber. Once the flax is dry the problem of smoothing out the snarls proves too much for any but an old hand. The old lady with her spinning wheel has the secret at her fingertips.

Harvesting flax, Verigin, SK, c. 1919.  Photo by Edith S. Watson, Working Light.

There is a Doukhobor device for solving the water question. Up and down a strong wire, anchored out in the river bottom many feet below, the water pail makes its frequent “slide for life”. The Columbia and the Kootenay are both made to give of themselves after this fashion and help with the irrigation of nearby fruit trees and vegetables. In addition to these hand made affairs the Doukhobors own several heavy steam pumps used for irrigation purposes.

Much of the success of the Doukhobor farms as a whole grows out of the fact that they are able to shift men from one front to another as they are needed. Thus in harvest time men are drawn from the fruit farms of British Columbia to the grain fields of their prairie farms.

Plastering a ceiling. Plaster is made out of dung and sand and is applied by hand and when dry is very artistic in color, c. 1919. Photo by Edith S. Watson, Working Light.

With the progress of the times new houses are being built as Doukhobor homes. Brick buildings in many instances are succeeding the wooden ones, as they in turn succeeded the old lath and plaster home of pioneer days. Prince Albert is one of the oldest of the villages at Verigin. The sides are plastered or mudded, and are of marble whiteness from many coats of whitewash. With a new roof it is still a good house. The Doukhobor love of colour is shown in the bright blue of windows and doors.

But from an architectural point of view nothing can beat the charms of the little one-story Old Europe cottage with its mud walls and overhanging sodded or thatched roof seen at Vernoe. One is struck by the resemblance of this roof to the French habitant roofs of rural Quebec, and it is evident that the early gallerie no less than the French pioneer who antedated him in Canada by several hundred years. These homemade houses made over a framework of logs appealed in the early days because of their inexpensiveness, all being made with material at hand. They appeal today because of their artistic lines, etc. standing, too, as proof that beauty in a house depends not so much on money as on taste.

An apple paring bee, Brilliant, BC, c. 1919.  Photo by Edith S. Watson, Working Light.

The Doukhobor women can be seen sitting on a handmade bench in the large room of their community house. They call this room “the church”. It answers more closely to our idea of parlor or living room – a place to meet the family and receive callers. Meals are served to visitors in “church”. But it is also entire family gathers here to pray and sing their wonderful old chants. As a rule, Doukhobor women wear kerchiefs over their heads, but when at home, they remove the plotok (kerchief) and then their close-shaven heads are revealed. The floor of “the church” is usually bare, but this must be from choice since the Doukhobor women weave very handsome rugs, and we have seen several handsome Turkish rugs owned by them.

Notes

For more Doukhobor writings and photos by Edith S. Watson and Victoria Hayward, see The Doukhobors: A Community Race in Canada, excerpted from their 1922 book, Romantic Canada (Toronto: Macmillan Company of Canada, Ltd., 1922), which examines the communal village life of Doukhobors in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. 

Shining Waters: Doukhobors in the Castlegar Area

by Vi Plotnikoff

Located in the Kootenay region at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers, Castlegar is the home of many of British Columbia’s Doukhobors. The following article by Vi Plotnikoff tells the story of Doukhobor culture and lifestyle as it evolved in the Castlegar area between 1908 and 1938.  Their unique communal way of life, sharing of resources, agrarian development, industry, schools and education, and politics and leadership are brought to life in text and photographs.  Reproduced by permission from “Castlegar, a Confluence” (Karen W. Farrer (ed), Castlegar: Castlegar & District Heritage Society, 2000).

From 1908 to 1913, the Doukhobors purchased vast tracts of land in the West Kootenay, but it was at Waterloo that they first settled in BC. Peter V. Verigin renamed the place Dolina Ootischenia meaning “Valley of Consolation”. He also named the community of Brilliant for its sparkling waters.

Village life

Upon arrival in British Columbia, the Doukhobors began constructing temporary houses. These were individual homes, small in size and constructed of logs. As lumber became more readily available, temporary houses were built as long, single-story structures.

In 1911, Peter Verigin divided the land into 100 acre plots and built houses, or doms, which were unique to the area and Tolstoyan in concept because of their uniformity. Eventually, as brick factories were built, the doms were constructed out of brick. Each dom was 32 feet by 40 feet, and was two stories high with an attic, and a half-basement for storage. The wooden buildings in the village were never painted.

Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives A-08737.

There were usually two large houses or doms in each village. They were built side by side, approximately 60 feet apart, and joined by one-story buildings in a U-shape. Often families with very young children lived in these buildings, ensuring privacy. They also served as storage areas and summer kitchens. Each large dom had a meeting room with a long table and benches, sometimes used as additional sleeping space. The enormous kitchen was the heart of each dom. It was furnished with a long dining table and benches, a large cook-stove, cupboards to store cooking utensils and dishes, and a huge petch, or Russian-style oven. By 1912, all the kitchens had piped-in water. The head man in each village and his family usually had two bedrooms on the first level. Upstairs, several small bedrooms opened off a long central hall. People slept on long, wooden beds resembling benches, lying feet to feet. Thus a family of four often occupied a small bedroom.. An attic made up the third floor. Each village usually had a room which was used as a maternity room or an infirmary. A courtyard was located in the middle of the square and used for activities, such as drying fruit, vegetables and grains. Barns and outbuildings were built behind the doms. Each village had a banya (steambath), which everyone in the village took turns using. The banya also housed a laundry.

Every village contained about seventy to one hundred persons, or ten to fifteen families, and was known as a “BC One Hundred”. The people in the villages were not necessarily related to one another, but were chosen for their skills and assigned to various villages that needed these skills.

Orchards and gardens were planted and the people produced nearly all of their food. Each garden had an abundance of sunflower plants as sunflower seeds were a favourite snack among the Doukhobors. Fruit and vegetables were dried in the sun or in drying sheds and stored for winter use. Vegetables and grains were exchanged among the villages, and wheat was shipped from the Saskatchewan Community villages, while the British Columbia Doukhobors shipped fruit to the prairies.

The economic structure of the Doukhobor community in British Columbia was based on the mir of Russian peasants. The central committee included Peter Verigin and a head man from each village, also the manager from each of the economic enterprises.

Each individual’s needs were supplied from the community fund. If a person worked outside the community, he handed over his wage to the community, where it went into a common fund from which all purchases were made. Each region had a purchasing agent and if an individual required clothing, food or supplies, he only had to ask. If he had to visit a neighbouring town for medical or business purposes, he simply asked for the funds to cover his trip. Thus, people contributed their labour to the community, and the community looked after their needs.

In 1917, under a Dominion charter, the Doukhobor community was incorporated as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB). All commune members received flour, potatoes, salt and shelter and every member received a sum of money, which varied from year to year. Widows, the elderly and the men received different amounts, depending upon their needs. Each male member was assessed an annual sum, depending on his earnings. The settlements were functioning as a single unit, with crops and produce being shared by all as necessity arose.

Daily life among the Community Doukhobors was fairly structured, with the men either working outside the community, or in various community industries. Women’s work was laid out formally, with a strict rotation of duties. One week, a woman might be cooking and serving the meals, while the following week, she would be weeding the gardens or milking the cows and separating the milk.

This system allowed each woman to work and participate in all aspects of village life. Although the women sewed most of the clothing for their families, the exception was the denim work clothes sewed for the men. These were produced in a community factory. Many of the older women spent much of their time spinning wool and knitting stockings and mittens. Shoes were sewn in a cobbler’s shop and harnesses for the horses were produced in a harness shop or chebatarna.

Children spent much of their time weeding the gardens and working in the orchards. They also helped the elderly pick nuts and wild berries. Girls learned to knit, sew and cook at an early age, and boys helped with the cattle and learned carpentery or blacksmith work. Both boys and girls up to the age of twelve wore a dress-like garment and went barefoot all summer.

Doukhobor communal workers at mealtime – Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01490.

Meals were prepared and eaten in the large kitchens with everyone in the dom sitting down to eat together. The Lord’s Prayer was recited prior to each meal. Borshch and piroghi were usually prepared for weekends. Large pots of soup were served daily, and vegetables, fruits or traditional pastries such as vareniki rounded out the meals. Cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt were also part of the diet. Tea or atvar (fruit juice) were the favourite beverages. Bread-baking was done often and in large quantities. The loaves were huge and usually round. They were baked in the petch which stood in a corner of the kitchen.

Living in a village was a social experience, for one was seldom alone. People of all ages gathered on the porches of the doms or in the courtyards in the summertime, working at drying fruits and vegetables, mending or spinning. Evening singsongs were commonplace and most winter evenings were spent in the kitchens near the petch, perhaps eating sunflower seeds. The babas (grandmothers) and children often lay on top of the warm petch and the children learned to recite psalomchiki, or listen to stories about Russia.

The young people socialized, at the sobranye which the youth from other villages attended. Sunday afternoons, group singing was popular, especially in the summer. Young people would often meet outdoors and dance to harmonicas. In the winter, boys played hockey on the sloughs, and evening gatherings took place indoors. The girls spent their winters working on needlework for their sunduk (hope chest).

On Saturdays, work stopped at noon. This was the time for visiting the banya and preparing for Sunday, when everyone attended the molenye (prayer service), and the sobranye, where business would be discussed and hymns sung. In the summertime, large sobranye were held on the meadows near the Kootenay River in Ootischenia where hundreds might attend, especially if the leader were present.

By 1922, there were fifty-seven sets of double houses, and several single ones built in the West Kootenay, and twenty-four in the Fruktova area. The largest settlement was still at Ootischenia with twenty-four villages.

Agrarian Development

Throughout their history, Doukhobors were agrarians, and upon their arrival in British Columbia, they immediately began clearing land for agricultural purposes. The first area to be cleared was Brilliant, and the second area was the lowest terrace at Ootischenia. Krestova had also been partially cleared by 1909. Soon afterwards, in 1912, the Brilliant bench, nearly all of the second terrace at Ootischenia, 160 acres in Pass Creek, several hundred acres in Krestova and nearly all of Glade was ready for planting. The Fruktova (Grand Forks) area was easier to clear because it was mostly open land, with little underbrush and a light stand of timber.

Many of the trees were more than three feet in diameter and over one hundred feet high. The timber was cut by two men using cross-cut saws, and hauled to community sawmills by sled in the winter. Smaller trees were cut and used for producing railway ties for sale and for poles, posts and small buildings on community property. Cordwood was also cut, both for sale and for use by the Doukhobors. The underbrush was cleared, using grubbing hoes, axes, saws and shovels and the brush was used as fuel for the community steam engines. A rotary drum and ratchet puller, and horses were used to clear stumps. Boulders were also removed using this method. Stubborn stumps and rocks were sometimes removed by dynamite.

Sorting apples at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01535.

As land was cleared, a five acre plot was assigned each village and the people immediately began planting. It was expected that food would be produced within forty-five days to feed a village and make it self-reliant. Crops included vegetables and berries. Wild nuts and berries supplemented the diet. Fruit trees were planted for commercial purposes, along with a large variety of berries. Grains and hay were sown in other areas. Soil at Krestova proved too sandy for successful crops; however, Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek and Shoreacres had thriving orchards within a short time. The Doukhobor communities in British Columbia used what they could, then shipped fruit to the prairies or sold it at local markets. Each village assigned about twenty men to work in the orchards and even more during peak times.

The Community Doukhobors practiced double-cropping, which entailed planting strawberries and vegetables between the young fruit trees. As the trees matured and spread, this method ceased because of the lack of sun. Ootischenia had the majority of orchards, producing apples, pears and cherries, mostly located on the second terrace. Grains, strawberries and potatoes were also grown there. Flax for linen clothing was grown in Ootischenia, the Slocan Valley and Fruktova areas. Woolen clothing was also highly utilized.

Linseed oil pressed from flax seed was used in cooking to a great extent, and the honey industry was flourishing. Flour mills were established in Fruktova, Ootischenia, Champion Creek and in the Slocan Valley, and flour was produced from grains grown on CCUB lands. Grains were grown in several places with the largest area being the northern part of the second terrace at Ootischenia. These ( crops included oats, wheat and millet. The broadcasting method was used to sow the grains, and harvesting was done by hand scythes. Various threshing methods were used, depending upon the amount of grain being threshed. If it were a small amount, large farm animals would be led over the grains, loosening hulls. Beans and peas were also threshed in this manner. If the harvest was a large one, either a horse-harnessed sled or a cog-roller was dragged over the grain. The sled was constructed out of wood, three feet by eight feet, with sharp pieces of small rocks studding the underside. This method was used by Doukhobors in the Kars province of Russia, who learned it from the Turks in Caucasia. The cog-roller consisted of a tree trunk with wooden blocks nailed into it.

Since all produce went into the central community, there was no need to separate the crops, and no need for fences. Crops were not fertilized by mineral fertilizers and there was not enough ‘natural’ fertilizer from farm animals to make much of a difference. This was cited as one of the reasons communities like Krestova did not succeed as agrarian areas.

Industry

The development of irrigation systems in the Doukhobor communities were of prime concern, and by 1912, two irrigation systems were in place in Ootischenia. A concrete tank measuring 75 feet by 125 feet and 14 feet deep was built. It held 1,000,000 gallons when full and was supplied by mountain streams. Located on the second terrace, it operated by gravity, providing water for several villages. A steam-driven, four-cylinder pump was located on the Kootenay River, supplying water to the reservoir through a fourteen-inch wooden pipe. A mill to manufacture staves for the wooden pipes was constructed in Ootischenia. The irrigation system was over seven miles long.

Doukhobor Reservoir at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives D-01927.

Several sawmills were constructed on community lands, with eight mills operating by 1912. Other enterprises soon followed, including a brickyard in Fruktova, blacksmith and woodwork shops, flour mill, and harness-making and cobbler shops. A large honey industry was developed at Brilliant.

Soon after the Doukhobors arrived, they began building their own roads, ferries and bridges. In 1913, they completed the Brilliant Suspension Bridge. The bridge was part of the public highway system until the 1960s. The inscription on the bridge stated ‘Strictly Prohibited Smoking and Trespassing with Fire Arms over this Bridge’. Roads were built, connecting the Doukhobor settlements. The Doukhobors also operated ferries at Brilliant and Glade.

By 1911, more than 50,000 fruit trees had been planted, and the Community Doukhobors purchased the Kootenay Jam Company, which was located on Front Street in Nelson, BC. In 1914, they donated jam to the Red Cross for the families of soldiers.

Although Ootischenia had the largest population of all the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia, it was in Brilliant where the biggest commercial enterprise was located. At the heart of this enterprise was the jam factory, which was relocated to Brilliant in 1915. It was called the Kootenay Columbia Preserving Works, but was better known as the Brilliant Jam Factory. The complex included a packing house, grain elevator storing prairie wheat, community store, gas pumps, offices, library, a dormitory with sleeping quarters and a dining hall for workers, also the dom of the Doukhobor leader, who also had a home in Veregin, Saskatchewan. Across the road from the complex was the CPR railway station with living quarters attached, and the Brilliant Post Office.

With the relocation of the factory to Brilliant, the production of jam was brought near the heart of the community fields and the output of jam increased. Twelve steam heated copper kettles were in use and the berries were picked and processed the same day. The factory also began manufacturing tin cans and lids for the jam. The community fields of Ootischenia, Shoreacres, Glade, Slocan Valley, Brilliant and Pass Creek provided the berries for the jam. Fruit from the Grand Forks community was shipped by rail. Harry Beach, jam-maker, introduced an old English recipe. It contained only fresh berries or fruit, pure cane sugar and water.

The irrigation system was further developed, with water from Pass Creek being brought in by wooden pipes to the Brilliant area. It was distributed by gravity flow. Two small systems located on the banks of the Columbia River brought water to the lower bench in Ootischenia in six inch wooden pipes to provide irrigation for the orchards. Staves for the pipes were supplied by mills in Champion Creek and Ootischenia.

By 1916, more land was acquired by the Doukhobors including two thousand acres of timber south of Nelson. In Ootischenia, one thousand acres were added to the lands there, extending toward McPhee and Little McPhee Creeks, and bringing in much-needed water supplies from the creeks. The rich soil of the Raspberry area was added to the Doukhobor community, and holdings in Pass Creek were extended by over 3,000 acres. Other land purchases included 360 acres in the Slocan Valley, and 240 acres across the Kootenay River from Shoreacres.

There was great demand for wood during World War I and the CCUB cleared vast tracts of land in Ootischenia, with the second terrace and the side hills between the benches cleared of underbrush and logged by 1921. By 1922, sixty acres on the upper bench were also cleared. The purchase of a steam donkey engine greatly aided stump pulling, but on the upper bench, the large trees were felled by hand, and the holes filled with dirt, thus large rocks below the surface would remain undisturbed, making the soil easier to till.

The eight mills in the CCUB provided adequate lumber for the Doukhobors, and up to three carloads daily besides. Some of the lumber was shipped to Saskatchewan for the CCUB communities, and the surplus was sold. By 1922 the sawmills dwindled to four as the lumber was exhausted.

A second brickyard was constructed in the Slocan Valley to supplement the yard in Fruktova. Bricks began to be used for the construction of the doms, and in the early 1920s, each village had at least one dom constructed out of brick, as fire protection. Other wooden doms were veneered with brick.

As the CCUB developed its industries and villages, fewer labourers were required, resulting in more men working outside of the community and contributing to the income of the CCUB. Some were skilled tradesmen, but most worked as labourers.

Doukhobor Jam Factory at Brilliant, BC, circa 1930. British Columbia Archives D-06930.

Despite the Depression, the Brilliant Jam Factory continued to flourish. Upon Peter P. Verigin’s arrival in Canada, the factory was enlarged and 24 jam kettles were in operation. The community could not keep up with the demand for fruit, so the farmers from Creston, Slocan Valley and Kootenay Lake areas began selling their produce to the jam factory.

During the Depression, household jam consisting of strawberries and apples proved the most popular because it was both economical and delicious. Commercial huckleberry jam was sold for the first time in Canada, but was not economically viable as the berries were not readily available. Other jams included plum, cherry, gooseberry, currant, apricot and peach. Large fields of raspberries were planted on fertile slopes and supplied to the factory. The Doukhobors named this area ‘Raspberry’. But it was the famous strawberry jam which was the most popular.

At peak times, sixty people could produce 1,050 cans of jam per hour, with shipments of 43,000 cases annually. Each case of jam contained 12 four pound cans. During one record-breaking trip in eastern Canada, salesman William J. Soukeroff sold 18 railway freight cars of jam.

From 1915 to 1935, Peter P. Zibin supervised the factory, followed by Mike J.Makeiff. The irrigation system in Brilliant-Pass Creek was very efficient, so it was decided to expand it by replacing the 15 inch pipe with a 24 inch pipe which was also made out of wood staves. The new pipe crossed the Kootenay River on the bridge at Brilliant. However, the wooden pipe could not withstand the pressure of water and attempts to pump it into the reservoir failed. Several Ootischenia villages obtained their domestic water from this system. The system feeding Ootischenia from McPhee and Little McPhee Creeks supplied water until 1953. A forest fire in 1933 destroyed the wooden pipes, trestles, and small pipes leading to the reservoir and damaged the watershed. This greatly reduced the output of the streams in the mountains east of Ootischenia. The water projects, which cost $438,000 to install, could not meet the needs of the Doukhobor community.

At this time, sawmills were abandoned, leaving only one sawmill and planing mill in the Slocan Valley and another planing mill at Champion Creek. They were destroyed by fire before 1938.

Schools and Education

The immigration of Doukhobors to British Columbia from Saskatchewan brought about new challenges to public education. First, there were at least 700 children of school age who had never seen a school and who knew little English. Second, there were the pacifist beliefs of the Doukhobors. Third, there was mistrust of governments by these new immigrants.

The Blakemore Royal Commission of 1912 recommended that “in order to give the Doukhobors confidence and secure their sympathy, some working arrangement might be made under which Russian teachers could be employed in conjunction with Canadian teachers and the curriculum modified so as to include only elementary subjects”.

In 1910, Peter V. Verigin constructed the first Doukhobor school in Brilliant, with eleven small schools being built in Doukhobor areas by 1920. It wasn’t until 1919 that Doukhobor girls were allowed to attend school, and even after that time boys largely outnumbered the girls.

In the next two decades many schools were built to accommodate the Doukhobor children. By 1923, school boards were held responsible for enforcing the attendance law, with compulsory age limit being fifteen years. By 1929, thirteen schools had been destroyed, mostly by arson. These activities were blamed on the extreme zealot group, who opposed the compulsory attendance law.

The name of ‘Brilliant’ was given to each of the schools within a five mile’s radius. They were identified as ‘Brilliant No. 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5’. Brilliant No. I began as a small school, with the teacher being principal for all of the five Brilliant schools. Eventually, overcrowding caused the school to close and a large brick school to be built. It was located at the junction of Pass Creek Road, Brilliant and Raspberry.

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

In 1930 the school located in the south end of Ootischenia was burned as a cover-up to a theft, so classes were relocated to the old chebatarnia. The drafty old building housed forty students, so another classroom was hastily prepared in the front section of the building. These were Brilliant No. 4 & 5 Schools. The teachers lived in a nearby communal home and walked the four miles to the Brilliant Railway Station for supplies and mail. In the ensuing years, students from this school began attending either Pleasant or Cay Creek Schools.

In 1933 a brick school was constructed in Glade, resembling the Raspberry (Brilliant) and Fructova Schools. The school included a classroom at each end and a four-room teacherage in the centre. Although modern by the standards of the day, water had to be hauled from the nearby river and toilets were outside. The teachers found that one of the hardships of living in an isolated community was the drift ferry. If one wished to cross, one would call out “Parome!” (ferry) and it would be brought to your side of the river.

In 1935, Alexander Zuckerberg was invited by Peter P. Verigin to teach Doukhobor children in Russian. Classes were conducted in various Doukhobor prayer doms. Zuckerberg taught until 1961.

The first Ootischenia School was opened in 1942, consisting of three classrooms and teacherage. The building was not insulated, and the washrooms were outdoors. Wood stoves heated each room. The school was in operation for twenty years, until a modern facility was built. It was also named Ootischenia School and opened in 1963. Despite major additions, enrollment decreased and the school closed in 1986. Both buildings remain today, with the old school being utilized as a Doukhobor community hall.

Possibly the most isolated area in which the Doukhobors settled was Champion Creek. Situated eight miles south of Castlegar on the east side of the Columbia River, it was accessible by walking from Castlegar, then rowing a boat across the river from Blueberry Creek, or horseback riding from Ootischenia. In later years, you could risk your life by driving a vehicle, because the banks were sandy and there was the possibility of landing in the Columbia.

Champion Creek had a thriving population of five hundred people among its five Doukhobor villages. Because of isolation, the men came home only on weekends and holidays. Most worked for the CPR, in lumber camps or mines. The women did the bulk of the farming on the slopes high above the Columbia, growing fruits, vegetables, berries and hay.

The teacherage was located in one of the large doms, and sparsely furnished. Classes were also held in a meeting room of a dom, which was furnished with long desks and benches. Again, there were usually twice as many boys as girls. Wages were $100 per month, while other rural schools paid $79.

John Landis, who later became Mayor of Castlegar, recalled his years at Champion Creek School in the book “School District No. 9“.

I was assigned to Champion Creek School in 1956. The single room had ample space for its eight pupils from Grades 1 to 6. The teacherage consisted of a kitchen and a bedroom. Washrooms were two outdoor facilities past the woodshed. I soon settled into my first teaching assignment. The isolated area was far removed from a library or teaching tools. My copying machine was a jelly pad, and chalk and black on boards my sole visual aid tools. The parents supplied me with fresh produce, and I in turn, wrote letters on their behalf, and when I bought my 1938 Chevy, they received transportation to Castlegar.

“1956-57 was a cold winter, and the stove was kept cherry-red. During spring breakup, I left my Chevy past Blueberry, and then called for the boys to row me across the Columbia.

“P.E. activities were held outdoors except for curling. I used paper rolled out on the floor for a rink, and ink bottle caps for rocks. Curling became the children’s favourite winter pastime.

Isolation had caught up with Champion Creek, and in the mid 1950s, all that remained were three rundown sparsely populated villages. The school closed in 1958. Children began to be bused in 1956. Electricity arrived in 1960, the road was paved, and phone and cable services were installed.

Gibson Creek’s first school was built in 1924. It was small, dark and bare. A wood stove heated the one room and the toilets were outside. Water was hauled from a neighbouring home. Living quarters for the teacher were attached to the school. By 1947, the old Gibson Creek School was deemed inadequate, and a new school was built. It consisted of a stucco building with a large classroom and teacher’s apartment, and modern amenities such as washrooms, furnace room and lots of endows. By 1960 there were electric lights. The school was situated in a remote area. To reach it, one had to branch off of Pass Creek Road and take a scenic winding mountain road. During spring, Gibson Creek overflowed its banks and washed out the road, making it inaccessible. Heavy snowfalls hampered students as they climbed the hill. In 1963, parents withdrew their children from school because of poor road conditions. After that, the road was deemed public and has been maintained by the Highways Department. Gibson Creek School was closed in 1966 and its pupils bused to Pass Creek.

In 1948, a new school was built in Tarrys, just down the road from Thrums. To celebrate the opening, an open house was held. But before a single class could be conducted, it was levelled by fire – the work of an arsonist. Subsequently, the old school was moved to the burned site. It was known as Tarrys School. In 1954, a new school was built next to the old one, and the building of 1910 vintage was finally demolished. In the ensuing years, the school population expanded, and so did the school. Today, students from Tarrys, Thrums, Glade and Shoreacres attend this modern school.

Among Doukhobor students, various activities meant an absence from school. For example, the school register during the 1940s recorded the following reasons for absenteeism: Mrs. Verigin’s funeral, Peter’s Day, pilgrimage to Verigin’s Tomb, and celebration in honour of the elder Mrs. Verigin.

In 1945, when the Cameron Report on School Finance was given, it made no specific provision regarding Doukhobor schools other than that they should be treated no differently than others. “Every effort should be made to get them into the ordinary scheme of things.”

In the 1950s, the BC Government made an all-out effort to enforce school attendance among children in Krestova and Gilpin. Forty children were seized in one pre-dawn raid on Krestova and taken to an old sanatorium in New Denver, a nearby village located on Slocan Lake. The raids on the children continued for the next six years. The children were housed and schooled but not allowed to have contact with their families, except for every other Sunday. On that day, families would travel from Krestova and from Gilpin, the latter necessitating a two day trip in winter. An eight foot high wire fence divided the children and families. A molenye was held, and favourite foods passed to the young inmates. Farewells were said through the ‘chicken wire’ fence. The children were held in New Denver until fifteen years of age. The school closed in 1959.

The Golden Years

It could be said that the early twenties were the golden years for the CCUB. The Brilliant Jam Factory was producing high yields of jams, utilizing fruit from community orchards. The sawmills, flourmills and brickyards were busy, and there was plenty of work outside of the community. Most important of all, there was a noticeable spirit of togetherness among the people.

The Death of Peter “Lordly” Verigin

But on October 29, 1924, tragedy struck the Doukhobor community. Peter “Lordly” Verigin was killed in a mysterious train explosion in Farron, BC. Dynamite had been placed near his seat. Although eight others died, it was believed that Verigin was the target. John Mackie, MLA, was one of the victims, as was Harry Bishop, a hockey player with a Nelson hockey team. Others included a rancher from Grand Forks, two businessmen, labourers and a young Doukhobor woman. Although extensive inquiries were conducted, the murders remain unsolved.

Verigin’s funeral drew an estimated seven thousand people from across western Canada, many non-Doukhobor. After a lengthy and emotional funeral, during which hymns and psalms were sung and eulogies delivered, the leader was buried on November 2, 1924. His resting place was a rocky bluff high above the Kootenay River, Brilliant and Ootischenia, overlooking the vast enterprise he had developed. An elaborate tomb with intricate carvings had been erected, but it was blown up by dynamite several years later and replaced by a plain edifice.

Some seven thousand people attended the funeral of Peter “Lordly” Verigin on a hillside overlooking Brilliant, BC. Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection.

Peter Lordly Verigin was the ideal leader for the times. He had led the Doukhobors throughout the most turbulent period in their history, when they were at the mercy of various governments. He had counseled them to reject militarism from his exile in Siberia, which precipitated their move to Canada. After the loss of community lands on the prairies he had brought his people to British Columbia and established a large communal enterprise, which was at the height of its prosperity when he died a martyr’s death. It is no wonder that he is still revered today. “Toil and Peaceful Life” was the slogan he left his people.

Six weeks after the death of Verigin, a memorial service was held at his graveside. Four thousand people attended. They decided that the successor to Peter V. Verigin should be his son, Peter P. Verigin, who was living in Russia. He did not arrive in Canada until 1927. In his absence, the CCUB Board of Directors continued to function. When Peter P. Verigin “Chistiakov’ (Cleanser) arrived, he was greeted by enormous crowds and songs composed in his honour.

The CCUB under Peter Verigin Chistiakov

Verigin immediately implemented economic and cultural initiatives and organizational restructuring. He began by giving commune status to each village, with the CCUB providing leadership to these communes. Building on the structures already in place, he established villages or ‘Families’ in units of 100 persons, while on the prairie, 25 persons were allotted to a ‘Family’. A total of eighty communes or ‘Families’ were established, with an appointed headman from each village collecting earnings from his workers, making purchases, and paying levies and rent assessments to the CCUB for the entire village. Business between individual communes was done on a cash basis.

During the 1930s, CCUB membership was declining. This was attributed to a number of factors including the Depression. Furthermore, many Doukhobors were leaving the CCUB community and moving to towns or farms. There were also a growing number of zealots who didn’t pay assessments and who were sent to live in isolated settlements.

In the early 1930s, as a response to nude parades, several hundred zealots were sent to Piers Island on the west coast of BC. Their children were dispersed among mostly non-Doukhobor families for approximately one year. They returned to the communities of Krestova and to Gilpin near Grand Forks, earning their living by selling garden produce and obtaining outside employment.

CCUB losses by depredation were enormous, with flour mills, sawmills and houses, including the leader’s home being destroyed. By 1937, estimated losses totalled $400,000. These depredations, combined with the Depression, unemployment and declining membership, were major contributing factors leading to the bankruptcy in 1937 of the CCUB operations.

Doukhobors meet at Brilliant, BC with their new leader, Peter “Chistiakov” Verigin. Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection.

In ten years, Peter P. Verigin had significantly lowered the debt of the CCUB, however it was refused protection under the Farmers’ Creditors Arrangement Act passed by the federal government during the early years of the Depression. In 1938, Sun Life and National Trust Mortgage Companies instituted foreclosure proceedings on a debt of $350,000, dismantling a communal enterprise valued at over $6 million. On the verge of foreclosure by mortgage companies, the BC government became landlords by negotiating a $296,500 knockdown price on the amount owing. Those living on the land became tenants. The Doukhobors were allowed to rent their former homes at nominal fees.

Upon the dissolution of the CCUB, the centerpiece of the community, the Brilliant Jam Factory stood dark and empty. This once-bustling enterprise was a sad reminder of the thriving, golden years of the Doukhobor community.

The Doukhobors continued to tend the former community orchards and much of the produce was sold at Farmer’s Markets. Non-Doukhobor fruit-processing plants bought the surplus. Many people moved from the villages, seeking employment. They either became Independent Doukhobors or remained ‘Orthodox’ Doukhobors.

Following the dissolution of the CCUB, Peter P. Verigin established the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC) in 1938. Under his guidance, a constitution was developed, and a ‘Declaration’ stating basic principals.

Peter P. Verigin became ill and died in a Saskatoon hospital in February 1939. His funeral was attended by thousands. He was buried in Verigin’s Tomb alongside his father. During the leadership of Peter P. Verigin, more than a dozen schools were built, including Raspberry (Brilliant) and Fruktova Schools. Besides organizing the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, he also established a strong USCC Youth organization. He left his people the following two slogans, “Sons of Freedom Cannot be Slaves of Corruption” and “The Welfare of the World is Not Worth the Life of One Child”. In 1940, at age 18, John J. Verigin, grandson of Peter P. Verigin, was appointed Secretary of the USCC, taking over many of his grandfather’s responsibilities.

Eventually, Doukhobor lands were re-surveyed, subdivided, appraised and put up for sale. By 1963, all former community lands, except Krestova, were in Doukhobor hands by virtue of sales.

Persecutions in Russia, the arduous journeys to Canada and British Columbia, breaking new ground, building new communities – the lives of the early Doukhobors were fraught with political unrest and heavy with toil. They were yearning for a peaceful life.

About the Author

Vi Plotnikoff (1937-2006) was a well known Doukhobor writer who wrote about her Doukhobor heritage for many years. She published a short story collection, Head Cook at Weddings and Funerals and other stories of Doukhobor Life (Polestar Press) and was a popular lecturer and teacher at Kootenay schools, including the Kootenay School of the Arts and Selkirk College. Prior to her passing, in a return to the roots of her oral tradition, she had begun storytelling. She also released a story CD, The Mysterious Death of a Doukhobor Leader.

Brilliant Jam Factory was Thriving Industry

by William M. Rozinkin

Among the many communal enterprises of the Doukhobor Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), the most remembered is their Kootenay-Columbia (K-C) Preserving Works Jam Factory in Brilliant, British Columbia. Purchased in Nelson in 1911 and relocated to Brilliant in 1915, it was an important industrial asset of the CCUB, processing the berries and fruit grown in its vast communal orchards. At its peak in 1934, the factory had a jam pack of 35,000 cases. Following the demise of the CCUB in 1937-1938, the jam factory was taken over by the British Columbia government. In 1943, it was destroyed by arson. The following article by Kootenay resident and historian William M. Rozinkin (1923-2007) recalls the thriving industry of the Brilliant jam factory. Reproduced by permission from the Nelson Daily News (June 9, 1967).

When the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood purchased 15,320 acres of land in B.C. interior in 1907, it launched a development program that spread throughout the Kootenay-Boundary regions. Besides some cultivated areas in Grand Forks all the rest were heavily forested and many inaccessible.

The Doukhobors, headed by Peter Lordly Verigin, faced hard pioneer work. By 1911, the communities pushed back the forests and planted 51,000 fruit trees and were building residential villages, roads, ferries and sawmills. By 1914, over 3,000 acres were under orchards and hundreds of acres planted with strawberries, raspberries and other berries. Fields of vegetables and grain were also producing abundant crops as irrigation systems began operating. More land was acquired.

With the expanding supply of fruit and berries, the CCUB purchased the Kootenay Jam Co. factory in Nelson in 1911, whose label proudly stated, “By Special Appointment, Perveyors to H.E. the Governor-General.” The factory was located on Front Street in the building later occupied by National Fruit Co.

Sorting apples at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01535.

Following the purchase, the factory became known as the Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, producers of the KC Brand products. It operated on the location for five years with six jam making kettles.

In a letter dated March 4, 1915, Mr. Verigin informed the Nelson Board of Trade that the CCUB had decided to relocate the factory from Nelson to Brilliant to be near the large plantations that supplied the factory. Besides freight costs, shipping time was also delaying the processing of berries when they were at their best, he said.

At that time the prairies were purchasing 50 per cent of their fruit from the U.S.A., 35 per cent from Ontario, and only 15 per cent from B.C.

When the KC operations began in 1911, the factory’s business amounted to $25,000, with the manufacture of 70 tons. Ninety two tons were produced in 1912 and the following year, 177 tons.

Immediately after the factory went into production at Brilliant in 1915, Mr. Verigin’s progressive policy promoted the construction of a plant for the manufacture of tin cans needed for jam distribution. In the first operating season of 1916, 150,000 cans were made.

The new jam factory now had 12 special jam-making copper kettles that operated to full capacity processing berries the same day they were received. The strict grading of incoming berries and fruit, together with supervised cleanliness, had far-reaching effects. Nothing else was used besides pure cane sugar and berries in the old English recipe introduced to the K-C operation by Harry Beach in 1911. All jam found a ready market.

With the construction of extensive irrigation systems and with an additional 1000 acres of fruit trees added by 1919, the agricultural development leaped forward, and the $100,000 factory worked at full capacity.

The K-C Preserving Works was the pride of the communities,” recalled William J. Soukoreff of Thrums. “The reputable quality of its products was known in Canada and in the U.S.A.”

Mr. Soukoreff worked from 1915 to 1928 in the offices of the CCUB and its other business holdings, the K-C Fuel Supply in Trail, Salmo Valley Lumber and Pole Col, Slocan Valley Lumber CO., and at the K-C offices in Brilliant. The CCUB also maintained businesses in Nelson and others in Brand Forks, and on the prairies. He went to work in the sales division of the factory in 1928, and recalled his successful business relations with western wholesalers and chain store establishments. Every major city in western Canada was a customer for K-C Brand jam.

The community also maintained two tomato canning plants, one in Brilliant and the other in Grand Forks. While a lot of canned tomatoes were used at home, up to 14 freight car loads were also shipped annually from Brilliant, where tomato canning facilities were located in the jam factory.

In August 1934, Mr. Soukoreff returned home from a sales trip east with orders for 18 car loads of jam from that single trip! “Favorable prairie crop conditions had a direct effect on fruit sales,” he said. Although times were hard, the 18 cars were sold at highest prices.

Doukhobor Jam Factory at Brilliant, BC, circa 1930. British Columbia Archives D-06930.

The same year the factory had a jam pack of 35,000 cases. This included 10,000 cases of strawberry jam that led in popularity, followed by plum and raspberry. Each case consisted of 12 four-pound cans of jam.

During the depression years, the combination of strawberry-apple jam appealed to the bargain-hunting housewife. It was during those years that unemployed persons picked huckleberries and made better than average wages selling them to the factory. About 2,000 cases of huckleberry jam were made in one season, and it was K-C who first introduced this jam to the prairies. Its demand was great.

Mr. Soukoreff recalled that the largest jam pack was the year after Peter Chistiakov Verigin arrived to head the community and doubled the production facilities of the K-C factory. With 24 jam-making kettles in operation, thousands of cases were loaded into 70 freight cars for eastern markets. “The largest obstacle to our sales on the prairies were the freight rates that favored the eastern producers,” he said.

Many old-timers still recall the hundreds of wagons loaded with berries and fruit that streamed to the packing sheds and factory during the summer and fall. They came from Ootischenia, Brilliant, Shoreacres, Robson, Pass Creek, Glade, and Slocan Valley. Grand Forks made heavy rail shipments.

Not only the Doukhobor communities supplied the factory. Farmers from Slocan Valley and others living along Kootenay Lake as far as Creston brought their berries by truck, while others shipped by railway.

Visitors were common at the factory, as they came to view the making of the “best jam they ever tasted”. When the Gyro Club District No. 8 held their convention in Nelson in August, 1935, they toured and had a banquet in the K-C factory. Making the trip were 170 Gyros and Gyrettes, in 42 cars. E.A. Mann, former Nelson club president, recalled the occasion. “It was a big hit with the Gyros,” he said. “The Doukhobor hospitality and cleanliness was most impressive. And their jam was good too!” The club was guided through the factory by John J. Sherbinin, business manager; Peter P. Zibin, jam maker and supervisor, and Joseph P. Shukin, executive director. For a gift each lady was given a four-pound can of jam.

The visitors saw the kettles in operation, activated by steam heat and looked after by an attendant. After the jam was cooked it was poured into smaller copper pots that were placed on wheeled “turtles” and taken to the cooler. Here the temperature was reduced and the jam received final skimming. It was then taken to the tables where it was ladled out into the sterilized cans. The protective special covering was placed on the cold contents and the can sealed with the lid. These cans were moved to the lower floor on the elevator, where labels were affixed on each can designating the contents. They were then placed in cases for shipment.

Most visitors were fascinated by the cherry-pitter and other machinery in the operation that was capable of producing up to 1,055 cans of jam per hour and produced up to 43,000 cases annually.

Among those who worked many years at the factory was Peter P. Zibin, under whose watchful supervision jam was made from 1915 to 1935. William J. Makaeff succeeded him. At peak season the factory employed up to 60 persons.

Office and staff of the Doukhobor Jam Factory at Brilliant, BC, circa 1925. British Columbia Archives C-01593.

In operating the K-C factory and other enterprises the Doukhobor communities tried to establish economic wellbeing for all its members, and where the aged, the orphaned, the widowed and the crippled also had food, clothing and shelter. During those years there was no welfare assistance to the needy, and this practice was a continuation of Doukhobor tradition.

Under the guidance of Lordly Verigin (head and organizer), all capital was turned into development of field and factory that formed the material foundation for this society that had a penniless beginning. When funds were needed for large projects, the executive office borrowed.

The rapid growth and strict religion of the Doukhobor community at times brought considerable suspicion, misunderstanding and disfavour.

In 1924, the year Mr. Verigin was killed in an unsolved train bombing, the CCUB holdings were valued at $6 ½ million, with $1 million owing.

A packing plant’s executive member also escaped death four years later when a speeding auto fired five shots at him near Castlegar. There were no arrests.

Peter Chistiakov Verigin arrived in 1927 and continued in his father’s post. In 10 years under his administration, the CCUB repaid $1 ½ million on loans and expanded manufacturing plants, built new ones, added acreages, settlements, etc. amounting to $1 million. Despite the depression of the 30’s, that caused membership to drop 43 per cent, and the attacking terrorism (total terrorist losses amounted to $1 ½ million), he reduced the debt to $319,276. In 1939 this amounted to 4 per cent of the value of community property. But it led to bankruptcy, foreclosure and ruin of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood enterprises.

Four years after Peter Chistiakov Verigin died in 1939 the Brilliant factory was destroyed by terrorists. Its replacement value was $300,000. Besides valuable equipment and large stocks of tin cans, this “largest industrial building of its kind in the interior” also had its own electric lighting plant. It had been taken over by the B.C. government following finance companies’ mortgage foreclosure. It was insured.

Another jam factory was constructed in Grand Forks in 1935. It was also destroyed by terrorists in the same year, bringing a loss of $75,000.

The CCUB has been replaced by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ as the major Doukhobor organization. It was organized by Peter Chistiakov Verigin in 1938.

 

For More Information

For more information on the Doukhobors’ Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works jam enterprise in Nelson, British Columbia, see the article, The Doukhobor Jam Factory in Nelson, British Columbia by Greg Nesteroff.