Pond Name Celebrates Buchanan’s History and Development, Doukhobor Heritage

For Immediate Release – September 1, 2008

A wetland near Buchanan, Saskatchewan has been officially named to commemorate the history and development of the village and its Doukhobor heritage. The name “Buchanan Mill Pond”, proposed by writer and historian Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, was recently approved by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.

The Buchanan Mill Pond is located along the south parameter road in Buchanan, just east of Highway No. 229. It is approximately 100 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep and covers approximately half an acre in area. Today, it is a typical-looking prairie wetland; however its historical association with the village dates back almost a century.

Our local heritage is reflected in our place names,” said Kalmakoff. “In this regard, the name “Buchanan Mill Pond” commemorates the historic flour mill in Buchanan and the contribution of its original Doukhobor builders and subsequent owners to the development of the village. It highlights the pond’s essential role in the milling operation and its subsequent role as a popular recreation spot for Buchanan residents.”

Buchanan Mill Pond from the east facing west, 2008. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The origins of the mill and mill pond can be traced to the Independent Doukhobor Elevator Company. In 1915, the company was formed by a group of Buchanan-area Doukhobor farmers and businessmen, Peter. A. Shukin, Alex M. Demosky, Nikolai N. Dergousoff, John P. Sookocheff, Joseph W. Sookocheff, Michael J. Verigin, Nikolai P. Vanjoff, John Novokshonoff and John C. and Alex C. Plaxin, for the purpose of carrying on an elevator and milling business. It was a boom time for agriculture on the Prairies, and the war years brought high prices for grain and farm products. There was also a great need for local milling facilities, as the closest mill was 14 miles away in Canora.

With an initial investment of eight thousand dollars, the Doukhobors built a 60,000-bushel grain elevator along the CNR right-of-way in Buchanan in 1915. In 1916, they built a first-class roller flour mill (50 feet long, 36 feet wide and 40 feet high) to the east of it at a capital value of one hundred thousand dollars. A large warehouse was built near the mill to receive and store the milled flour. The Doukhobors also brought in a steam shovel and excavated the dugout pond to store and provide water for the steam-engine which ran the mill.

Mill pond from the west facing east, c. 1940. The mill warehouse (gambrel roof) is at far end. Behind is the mill (elevator-shaped roof). The mill elevator is to the north (left), second from the front. Photo by Lorne J. Plaxin.

Over the next decade, the Independent Doukhobor Elevator Company operated in Buchanan, buying, selling, storing, handling, shipping and milling grain from the local area. However, a post-war recession hit the prairies; prices for grain and farm products hit record lows; credit could not be had; and many rural businesses could no longer operate profitably. In 1925, the company ceased operations and the mill and elevator were sold.

The elevator was purchased by the National Elevator Company, which continued to operate it for several decades.

Ownership of the mill changed repeatedly over the years. In 1925, it was sold to the West Milling Company Ltd. The next year, it was run by the Buchanan Farmers Milling Company (Dave Dockas, manager). In 1929, it was bought by the Buchanan Milling Company (A.W. Slipchenko, manager). Then in 1932, the Farmers Milling Company (Paul Blonski, owner) purchased the mill and overhauled it, furnishing it with new, first-class machinery and changing it over from steam to combustion engine power. In 1941, it was taken over by the Buchanan Milling Company, which operated it under several owners (Joseph Ortinsky, Walter Mysak and T. Evaniuk until 1945, followed by Morris Naruzny) until 1947, when it ceased operations and was dismantled. The mill was Buchanan’s largest industry for over 30 years.

Buchanan railway station and elevators from the west facing east, c. 1940. The mill elevator is second  from front. The mill (elevator-shaped roof) is to the south (right) of it. Photo by Lorne J. Plaxin.

After 1932, the pond ceased to be used in the milling operation, as water was no longer required for the steam engines. However, for decades thereafter, it was a popular recreation spot for Buchanan residents. In summer, the pond was used as a family picnic spot and a swimming hole. One 1948 newspaper referred to it as Buchanan’s “Beauty Spot”. In winter, it was used by schoolchildren as a skating rink. At one end, a steep hill provided an excellent toboggan run. It continued to be used by local residents until the late Sixties.  Today, the pond is a wetland and wildlife habitat.

“The mill pond was our childhood hangout,” said Lorne J. Plaxin, former Buchanan resident and son of one of the original mill owners. “It is where many of us learned to dog-paddle in summer, and skate and play hockey in winter. I lived in Buchanan during this era and am sure most would agree that the pond should be formally recognized for its historic significance.”

An old pulley wheel lies beside concrete foundations, the last remnants of the Buchanan flour mill, 2008. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The official name comes after a year of consultations by Kalmakoff to gather input and support for the name from local stakeholders. The response was collectively in favour of the name. The landowner, George Dwernychuk of Sports Grove, Alberta, provided a letter of support. The Village of Buchanan No. 331 also passed a resolution in favour of the name. As well, Lorne J. Plaxin provided an enthusiastic written endorsement.

The consultations were followed by a formal proposal by Kalmakoff to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, the Provincial body responsible for place names. The Board reviewed and investigated the name proposal in consultation with government departments and agencies. In determining the suitability of the name, the Board was guided by the Geographic Naming Policies, a stringent set of principles governing the naming of geographic features. Its decision – which supported the name Buchanan Mill Pond – was then recommended to the Minister Responsible for the Board, the Honourable Ken Cheveldayoff, who approved the decision.

Now that the name is official, the Board will supply the information to government ministries and agencies, cartographers, geographers, publishers and other persons engaged in the preparation of maps and publications intended for official and public use.

“The naming of the Buchanan Mill Pond signifies its important historic significance to the village,” said Kalmakoff. It commemorates the resourcefulness, industry and community spirit of its early residents.”

For additional information or inquiries about Buchanan Mill Pond, email Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Library and Archives Canada and the Doukhobor Genealogy Website Announce Strategic Partnership

For Immediate Release – July 10, 2008

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, creator of the Doukhobor Genealogy Website, the largest Doukhobor family history website, announced today a strategic partnership to make more resources accessible to Canadians interested in online Doukhobor family research.

Initially, Kalmakoff and LAC will focus on identifying the significant amount of Doukhobor archival material held at LAC. The material, covering 1899 to the present, includes thousands of government records, private manuscript collections, books, reports, periodicals, newspapers, photographs, and sound and video recordings. The result will be a thematic guide to help locate the material and assist in general research. The thematic guide will be available free of charge at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy as well as at www.doukhobor.org.

In addition to the thematic guide to Doukhobor records, LAC and Kalmakoff will develop a specialized web page for Doukhobor genealogy at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy. The specialized web page will be designed for those who wish to undertake genealogical research on their Doukhobor ancestors. It will provide an overview of select sources and tips for doing effective Doukhobor genealogical research while avoiding numerous pitfalls.

Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, creator of the Doukhobor Genealogy Website and Sylvie Tremblay, head of the Canadian Genealogy Centre, Library and Archives Canada, discuss the strategic partnership in Ottawa.

The Doukhobors are a Christian group that originated in Russia in the 17th century. They were persecuted in Tsarist Russia for their religious beliefs, which included pacifism, egalitarianism and communal ownership. In 1899, over 7,500 Doukhobors immigrated to Western Canada. There, they formed large communal farming enterprises. Today an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Doukhobors live in Canada with a similar number living in Russia and the Former Soviet Republics.

“I am pleased to be partnering with LAC to provide guidance and direction to Doukhobor family researchers,” said Kalmakoff. “There is a wealth of records that can help those researching their Doukhobor roots understand their past. Being able to find, locate and use them is absolutely essential.”

About the Doukhobor Genealogy Website

The Doukhobor Genealogy Website is the leading online site for Doukhobor family history. It contains research guides and indices of Doukhobor archival materials in Canada and elsewhere and offers comprehensive glossaries of Doukhobor names and naming practices, geography, maps and place names, in addition to a wealth of historical texts and English translations of Russian sources. The creator, researcher and writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff is a leading authority on Doukhobor genealogy and history. His publications are essential works for the study of Doukhobor family history. For more information, visit www.doukhobor.org.

About Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada collects and preserves Canada’s documentary heritage, and makes it accessible to all Canadians. This heritage includes publications, archival records, sound and audio-visual materials, photographs, artworks, and electronic documents such as websites. The Canadian Genealogy Centre (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy) includes all physical and online genealogical services of Library and Archives Canada. It offers genealogical content, services, advice, research tools and opportunities to work on joint projects, all in both official languages.

Media contacts:

Sylvie Tremblay
Library and Archives Canada
613-992-1638
Sylvie.Tremblay@lac-bac.gc.ca

Jonathan J. Kalmakoff
Doukhobor Genealogy Website
306-569-0074
Contact Jonathan

Georgian Doukhobors Relocate to Tambov, Russia

For Immediate Release – July 31, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Roots, An Odyssey

by Dr. Allan Markin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church of the Transfiguration at Kizhi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allan and Evelyn leaving the cruise ship with Rashid.

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

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

Memorial garden at Stalin’s killing field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Tolstoy’s estate – Yasnaya Polyana.

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

Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home

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

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

Tolstoy’s grave at Yasnaya Polyana.

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

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

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

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

Elaine Podovinnikoff at log home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cantors singing at the Kostromo Monastery.

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

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

Forced Doukhobor Schooling in British Columbia

by William Janzen

Historically, Doukhobors had not emphasized formal education. They were concerned that schools would lead their children away from their community life and religious ideals. Also, their view of ‘the God within’ made it less important. Despite these views, in Saskatchewan, the entry of Doukhobors into the public school system went relatively smoothly, in part due to its localized nature, the leniency of civil servants in enforcing attendance requirements, and the openness of the largely Independent Doukhobor population towards education. In British Columbia, however, the Doukhobors’ stronger communalism and greater hesitancy about the larger society, combined with the rigid approach of the provincial government, produced dramatically different results. The following article by William Janzen examines the forced schooling of Doukhobors in British Columbia. Reproduced by permission from his book, “Limits on Liberty, The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukhobor Communities in Canada” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), it examines three distinct periods: 1909-1913, 1914-1927 and 1927-1959.

1909-1913: Acceptance, Rejection, and a Commission of Inquiry

The story of the Doukhobors and public schools in British Columbia is complex. Virtually all the Doukhobors who moved there belonged to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. As such they had both a stronger communalism and a greater hesitancy about the larger society. The approach of the provincial government was different, too. British Columbia had had a public school system since the 1870s. It even had an attendance requirement, though it applied only to children aged 7-12, and only if they lived within three miles of a school accessible by public roads. Also, the system operated under a central Council of Public Instruction with relatively little scope for local boards. This circumstance tended to bring school issues into the arena of provincial politics even though it might have been possible to resolve them locally.

The Doukhobors’ first contact with British Columbia’s school system came soon after they arrived in 1909. By 1910, some who lived close to public schools discovered that their children were expected to attend. They then complied without complaint. In 1911 the school district of Grand Forks built the Carson school near Doukhobor lands to accommodate more Doukhobor children. Soon thereafter the Doukhobors, who were quickly becoming established in their new settlements, built a school right on their land near Brilliant. It opened in 1912 as an official public school with an all-Doukhobor board and an enrolment of forty-eight pupils. The teacher, Beulah Clarke Darlington, spoke highly of the Doukhobors and of the experience in general. In a letter to a local newspaper she stated: ‘It is a relief to find people with no pretense who are willing to work with their hands, and who show, by the wonderful development of that country, that they are capable of working with their brains as well; who are content with simple pleasures and who keep a right outlook on life because they are not striving after wealth or trying to attain a position in society which is worthless when procured.’ The Doukhobors were very pleased with Darlington as a teacher. They planned to expand class-room facilities for the coming year and encouraged Darlington to bring some of her friends also to serve as teachers.

Then, suddenly, there was an interruption. The schoolchildren were withdrawn, not to return until four years later. A major reason was the arrest of five Doukhobors who had been sentenced to three months in prison for failing to register a death. The chief constable for the Grand Forks area met with Peter V. Verigin and was informed that the Doukhobors, at a large meeting, had decided not to register births, deaths, and marriages even though the law required it. When the constable reported this information to the attorney-general he was told: ‘You may inform Mr. Verigin … that the laws of British Columbia must be obeyed … and … will be strictly carried out, without any favour being shown to him and members of his Society.’ The Doukhobors then sent a letter, dated 16 July 1912, addressed to ‘The Government of British Columbia,’ to explain their position. They said: ‘We believe that the favourable adorable power is ruling all the world and endeavour to be written in eternal life book, and propose ourselves obligation to live quietly and to employ honest labour on the earth, so as to get substance. All the human race registration we calculate unnecessary. We can say, briefly, our religion confines on two commandments to be gentle and to employ agriculture.’

Doukhobor children in flax field, Grand Forks, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01745.

The public, which at first had welcomed the Doukhobors for contributing to the economic development of the area, now became more critical. Newspapers pointed out that they were not taking the oath and that they were not co-operating fully with the 1911 census. Local citizens expressed concern that the Doukhobors were becoming numerous, that they might ‘swamp the community,’ and ‘that it would be impossible for them to be assimilated.’ In response, the Conservative government led by Premier Richard McBride appointed a royal commission to make a broad inquiry. The person chosen for the task was William Blackmore, a newspaper editor from the nearby town of Nelson.

When Blackmore came to the Doukhobor community, later in 1912, he was welcomed in an elaborate way. The Doukhobors showed him their orchards, sawmills, and other prospering enterprises, and talked of their plans for further development. They also invited him to their religious assembly, where the children sang for him. In one such ceremony, a young boy stepped forward and said: ‘We’ve been attending school during the eleven weeks it was in session, but we no longer wish to go to school again, because the teacher, though very kind, belonged to the people who had put our friends in prison.’ Blackmore stayed with the Doukhobors for almost four months and held long public hearings. He also made a trip to their settlements on the prairies. At the end he produced a report that was extensive and remarkably sympathetic to the Doukhobors but it did not relieve them from the responsibility of abiding by the established laws of the province.

Regarding their refusal to register births, deaths, and marriages, Blackmore stated: ‘They will not register because they desire to remain unmolested in their communal life. They want no interference, as they call it, which means no intrusion of any kind. They claim that birth and death are the acts of God, and call for no cognizance on the part of man; and as to marriage, they take the high ground that it is purely a matter between the contracting parties.’ Blackmore also found that the Doukhobors feared that registration would somehow lead to military service. In their own words they said: ‘The registration intimately… tied …with religious faith … we wish to be citizens of all the world, and do not wish to register our children in the Royal Crown Government books … We are not refusing to give knowledge of increase or decrease of our Doukhobor Community people in ten or five years once. But to enter in your register books we will never do it. Because we calculate we are already registered in the Book of Life before Him the Founder, which is called Eternity.’

Regarding public schools, Blackmore found that the Doukhobors were concerned that ‘education was likely to make the children discontented with the life of cultivation of the soil followed by their parents,’ and ‘separate the children from their parents and from the customs and habits of the Community.’ He reported further that the women had said that ‘among them crime was unknown, and that, whereas among educated people poverty existed, no Doukhobor ever suffered for want of food or clothing; so … while the laws spoken of were needed for other people, they did not think they were required among the Doukhobors.’

In a statement of their own, the Doukhobors listed three reasons for their objection to the public schools:

1) The school education teaches and prepares the people, that is children, to military service, where shed harmless blood of the people altogether uselessly. The most well educated people consider this dreadfully sinful such business as war, lawful. We consider this great sin.

2) The school teaching at the present time had reached only to expedience for the easy profit, thieves, cheaters, and to large exploitation working-class laborious on the earth. And we ourselves belong to working-class people and we try by the path of honest labour, so we may reap the necessary maintenance, and to this we adopt our children to learn at wide school of Eternal Nature.

3) The school teaching separates all the people on the earth. Just as soon as the person reached read and write education, then, within a short time leaves his parents and relations and undertakes unreturnable journey on all kinds of speculation, depravity and murder life. And never think of this duty, respecting his parents and elder-ones, but he looks opposite, turning themselves, enslaving of the people, for theirs own licentious and insatiableness gluttony … educated people, swallow down all the national peoples … the people suffer from not having land even a piece of daily bread … we distinctly understand instruction of Christ, we holding on to Community life and we calculate all the people on earth are our brothers.

These three objections — that education in public schools leads to militarism, that it is not practical, and that it alienates people from one another, thus militating against community life — were to be referred to again and again in the following half-century as the controversy continued.

In his report, Blackmore spoke positively of how the Doukhobors themselves provided for the education of their children:

It must not, however, be supposed that, because this misguided people refuse elementary education for their children, they do not give them the best home training.

The children are intelligent, respective, and observant. The home life is almost ideal. They are taught all the cardinal virtues with which most of us, as children, we acquainted, but which are now too often regarded as old-fashioned — such as obedience, reverence, industry, and thrift; and it is not a little to the credit of their parents to find that the chief objection that they entertain to education is the fear that secular teaching may undermine the religious spirit.

Blackmore also praised their capability as agriculturalists, their irrigation system, their large orchards, and the other enterprises that they, as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, had collectively developed. Blackmore stated:

It is not out of place at this point to comment on the wonderful success that has attended the fruit-growing operations of the Doukhobors. To them it was a new industry. They had never been engaged in it before coming to British Columbia. Yet, today, if you were to go through their orchards, you would find that they are the cleanest, the best-kept, the heaviest-cropped of any in the district…

In addition … the Doukhobors have manifested a spirit of enterprise at Brilliant by putting in a splendid concrete reservoir capable of holding 1,000,000 gallons of water, and from this reservoir the water is being piped all over the Settlement. It is to be used both for domestic purposes and irrigation.

The reservoir will be supplied partially from a creek in the mountains, and partially by an immense pumping plant which the Doukhobors have erected … on the banks of the Kootenay River. This is the largest pumping plant in British Columbia …

Besides the farming industry, the Doukhobors have established sawmills on all their properties, which are used chiefly to convert the timber into building material …They have also a good brick-making works at Grand Forks, which is producing a high-class brick, commanding a ready sale. This brick is being used in the new Government Buildings at Grand Forks, which is a fair testimony as to its quality.

While recommending that the Doukhobors should be required to obey provincial laws, Blackmore cautioned against ‘drastic steps … to force their immediate compliance,’ stating that ‘persecution is fuel to the flames of fanaticism. Withdraw the fuel, and the fire will die out.’ He suggested a policy of ‘patience with the people’ and ‘pressure on their leaders’ and that, ‘if it is found necessary to resort to prosecution and conviction ensues, it is desirable that the punishment should take the form of fines rather than imprisonment.’ Prison sentences, he felt, might nurture a martyrdom complex. He also recommended that to facilitate the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, a member of the Doukhobor Community be appointed as a sub-registrar. And to facilitate matters in the schools he said that ‘Russian teachers could be employed in conjunction with Canadian teachers, and that the curriculum be modified so as to include only elementary subjects.’ He also suggested that a permanent Doukhobor agent be appointed to serve somewhat like an Indian agent.

Most of Blackmore’s observations and recommendations were such that a mutually satisfactory compromise might have developed. But the Doukhobors’ disposition towards a compromise was drastically set back because, at the very end of the report, Blackmore recommended that their exemption from military service be cancelled. This suggestion was most upsetting to the Doukhobors. They had questioned Blackmore about the possibility of war between Britain and Germany, about the probability of Canadian involvement, and about the status of their exemption. Now they felt confirmed in their suspicion that there was a connection between registration, school attendance, and military service.

1914-1927: Pressing Community Doukhobors to Accept Schools

While Blackmore’s final recommendation disappointed the Doukhobors, the generally moderate tone of his report disappointed the authorities. Supported by local citizens, officials soon discarded his counsel for patience. They rejected a Doukhobor offer that for vital statistics, they check the Community’s records. The public wanted compliance with the existing law; to gain evidence for prosecutions they exhumed bodies and raided a village. Naturally, this approach was upsetting to the Doukhobors. Regarding the schools, the Doukhobors were now also concerned about a recently introduced program of military drills and rifle shooting. The Department of Education had started the program in order to foster ‘the spirit of patriotism in the boys, leading them to realize that the first duty of every citizen is to be prepared to defend his country.’

Early in 1914, when Doukhobor children were still not in school, the government prepared itself for an unusual course of action. It enacted the Community Regulation Act, which made the Doukhobor Community, that is, the CCUB, liable for an infraction committed by any member. The act referred particularly to infractions relating to vital statistics, school attendance, and the Health Act. It authorized officials to seize, without warrant, the goods and chattels of the Community in order to cover fines not paid by individuals. In one sense, holding the Community liable was understandable. The Doukhobors, as individuals, had little property while as a Community they had a sizeable amount. Nevertheless, as a form of collective punishment this law was a departure from Canada’s tradition of justice. More seriously, the law defined a Community member as any person who, on the oath of one witness, had been found on or about Community lands. This meant that even if the Community expelled trouble-making individuals, which it did on occasion, it could still be liable for the actions of such individuals. Obviously, the Community was extremely vulnerable.

As the authorities became more threatening, some Doukhobors, apparently against the advice of Peter V. Verigin, responded with a threat of their own. They sent a long list of grievances to Attorney-General Bowser and then said: ‘The [Community] Doukhobors, of whom there are six thousand members, are planning beforehand in this case, to all take off what clothes still remaining on them after the plunder they have been subjected to in Saskatchewan, take them and throw them into the faces of your officials in Nelson and Grand Forks, and leave themselves stark naked on the very street of the town. This will be a good illustration to show the attitude taken by the government officials in regards to Doukhobors.’ The attorney-general replied that if the clothes came off the law against indecent exposure would be enforced.

As the confrontation became increasingly intense several non-Doukhobors tried to intervene. Blackmore continued to counsel moderation in the columns of his newspaper. A lawyer from the town of Nelson wrote to the attorney-general: ‘I contend that the Grand Forks people are not playing the game square as far as these people are concerned. They welcomed them to their midst and took their money for the land, and now, when they have made a success of agriculture in that district, they want to drive them out.’ A CPR superintendent urged the government to seek a compromise so as to avoid ‘injury to the religious convictions of the Doukhobors.’ A.E. Miller, inspector of schools, was cautious, too. He predicted that ‘any attempt to enforce attendance will be met with opposition.’ Others, however, supported the action of the government. A group of Quakers from Pennsylvania who had earlier supported the Doukhobors now said: ‘The sooner the Commune is broken up, the sooner will be real progress amongst these simple, misled people.’

For a time the trends pointed towards a harsh confrontation. A.E. Miller was instructed to warn the Doukhobors that ‘the refusal to comply with the requirements as to education would mean the breaking up of their community.’ In August 1915 the attorney-general issued instructions to enforce the Community Regulations Act. At that point, however, certain technical obstacles were noticed. The property, until 1917, was registered in the name of Peter V. Verigin, not in the name of the Community. Also, school attendance was compulsory only if people lived within three miles of a school, accessible by a public road. Most roads in the Doukhobor settlements were private.

Before these legalities could be tested a compromise was reached. On 20 September 1915 the attorney-general promised a delegation of Doukhobors that no military training would be forced upon their children and that they would be excused from religious exercises. The Doukhobors in turn promised that their children would return to both the Carson and the Brilliant public schools. As a result, a period of co-operation followed. The Doukhobors built nine additional public schools although these were administered not by local boards but by an official trustee appointed by the government. At one point, in the 1920-1 school year, the enrolment rose to 414, which was more than 80 per cent of those eligible, although attendance was little more than 50 per cent. Inspector Miller, following a policy of caution and patience, did not press for full attendance.

This co-operation lasted for several years, but soon after the First World War there were strains related to the Doukhobors’ exemption from military service and to their prosperity. In February 1919 a meeting of returned soldiers in Nelson demanded that all Doukhobors be deported to Russia and that their lands be given to veterans. A meeting of citizens declared its support for the veterans and at one point twelve ex-soldiers went to Verigin to force their demands upon him. Apparently Verigin then signed an agreement to turn over the Doukhobor lands to the Soldiers’ Settlement Board but a few days later he wired Arthur Meighen, the minister of the Interior, that he had signed under duress. Meighen, the Conservative who according to George Woodcock ‘consistently proved fairer to the Doukhobors than his Liberal predecessor Frank Oliver,’ ruled that the Soldiers’ Settlement Board had no right to carry out expropriations.

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

The soldiers’ claim to the land was thus nullified but the general criticism of the Doukhobors continued, leading some Doukhobors to withdraw their children from school. However, a 1920 amendment to the Public Schools Act broadened the compulsory attendance provisions and authorized the construction of schools on the lands of the Doukhobor Community and at its expense. Also, Inspector A.E. Miller, under whose patient supervision things had worked reasonably well, was replaced by E.G. Daniels, who began to press for better attendance. In December 1922, the Grand Forks school board took legal action against eight cases of truancy. Fines were imposed and when they were not paid, some CCUB property, meaning Doukhobor Community property, was seized. However, before it could be sold, Community officials intervened and paid the fines.

In April 1923, Inspector Daniels pressed further. Fines of $50 each were levied on six parents. When they were slow in paying, a large truck, used by the Community for farm work, was seized. Again the Community paid the fines. But soon after, in May 1923, a school building was destroyed by fire. In the months that followed a total of nine schools in the Brilliant area were destroyed, the burnings in each case coinciding with an attempt on the part of the police to seize property in payment of fines.

The burning of schools was a relatively new type of action on the part of the Doukhobors. There were some acts of civil disobedience in their history, and a few times some Doukhobors had destroyed property as a way of witnessing against materialism. However, this more widespread destruction of property was a departure from their tradition. It also created a new dynamic among the Doukhobors. Those who committed these acts were a very small minority. Verigin and other Community leaders publicly declared that the Community as a whole had nothing to do with the burnings and that many of their children were still attending school. At one inquiry a teacher of a burned school testified that the Community Doukhobors had, ‘instead of burning schools, been guarding them and that the destruction has been the work of a small but fanatical element among them.’ The authorities, however, did little to apprehend the guilty individuals. Instead, they followed the orientation of the Community Regulation Act and held the Doukhobor Community liable for the depredations.

While dissociating themselves from the acts of destruction, the Doukhobor Community leaders also charged that School Inspector Daniels was using undue compulsion in pressing for attendance. They warned that if the prosecutions continued, they would not be able to guarantee the safety of other schools. In a letter to the minister of Education, dated 17 May 1923, the Doukhobors said:

It is apparent that the government is only seeking an excuse to create a quarrel with the Doukhobors, on the basis of the school issue.

Doukhobors are fanatics — so the English say, but what can we term the action of Mr.
Daniels? This is more than fanaticism. What compels them to take such measures when the school question is so favourable, and the people are living peacefully, working and cultivating their own holdings … You are only expert at ruining peaceful residents and plundering the proletariat…

There is a saying: ‘One fool can roll a stone off a mountain top into a river, but ten wise men, try as they may cannot take it up again”. Mr. Daniels rolled this stone down, although it’s not yet of very large proportions. He too must salvage it from the nether regions before it is too late.

The tension continued and in April 1924 Verigin’s own house was destroyed. He then appealed to the premier for protection and offered to provide the names of the twenty to thirty arsonists. To his surprise, there was little interest in his offer. The government, instead of seeking to apprehend the guilty individuals, levied special taxes on the Doukhobor Community in order to pay for destroyed property. On 24 October 1924, in an even more drastic event, Peter V. Verigin was killed in a train explosion, along with eight other people. The reason for the accident was never established. Many blamed the ‘fanatical’ Doukhobors but some Doukhobors thought that the Canadian government had killed him just as Russian governments had exiled their earlier leaders.

It was a traumatic time for the Doukhobors. The authorities continued to enforce the law with prosecutions, fines, and the seizure of Community property. Before long most of the Doukhobor children who had been in school were withdrawn. In April 1925, a police inspector, 10 deputies, and 100 citizens forced their way into Community warehouses and seized $20,000 worth of goods, according to the Community’s estimate. This response was unusually severe. But then, suddenly, things changed. Peter P. Verigin, the new Doukhobor leader, who would soon be coming from Russia, sent word that ‘all children should be sent to school and no protests held until he arrived.’ The Doukhobors complied and a three-year calm followed.

In summer 1925 the Doukhobor Community built five new schools and in the next few years it erected several more. When Peter P. Verigin arrived in September 1927 he said he wanted the Doukhobors to have the best possible education while retaining their religious faith. He also had plans to set up private Doukhobor schools. To assist in this matter he had brought along Paul Biriukov, a friend of Tolstoy. Provincial authorities, however, turned down the private school proposal so the effort was redirected into Russian-language classes after regular school hours, and into choirs and other cultural activities. Peter P. Verigin’s acceptance of public schools settled the question for a majority of the Community Doukhobors. Those who were not persuaded gradually became known as the Sons of Freedom.

1927-1959: Forcing School on the ‘Sons of Freedom’ Doukhobors

When Peter P. Verigin arrived in 1927, the Sons of Freedom numbered only a few hundred. Indeed, they were not a fully distinct group, However, their activities and their numbers were about to increase. In January 1929, when most Doukhobor children were in school, this group withdrew its children and announced that they would not be returning. This event resulted in ten arrests, which in turn led to a nude demonstration. Verigin who, in an earlier appeal for unity, had described the Sons of Freedom as ‘the ringing bells who cleared the way for the movement’ now disowned and denounced them. In a press release to newspapers dated 6 February 1929, he stated: ‘Please take notice that the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited, had nothing to do and will never have any connection with these people and with their dirty insolent violence, and all their stupid, childish actions, such as unclothing to the skin … these persons do not belong to the membership of the Community. The Community is not taking any responsibility for their actions materially or morally and moreover the Community refuses to consider such persons as brothers and to have any connections with them.’

In March 1929, the Sons of Freedom issued a letter addressed to ‘the Executives of all Countries: Judges, Government Inspectors, Police and all other servants of man-made laws,’ which stated:

The time has come to reveal… why we reject the Government schools and their orders. We are conscious of our history, and denote it by saying that Christ was the first Doukhobor. We are the direct Spiritual descendants of the Apostles of Christ and his followers, the so-called Christian martyrs of this time. It was the same kind of Government as the Canadian, that crucified Christ two thousand years ago … Take our Government school education; people are so hypnotized by it that they do not see that its results are demoralizing. The present Government schools are nurseries of militarism and capitalism … If there are men to be found among educated people like George B. Shaw, Tolstoy, Tagore, Gandhi, and many others, these men received enlightenment through Spiritual Regeneration, heeding the voice of Christ, and if such men are to be given honour, it was not attained by college education. Our whole history is marked by cruel persecutions by the churches, governments and capitalists. These persecutions are on account of our loyalty to Christ’s teaching and our uncompromising refusal to submit to any Authority but God’s.

In summer 1929 there were numerous acts of property destruction. In most instances it was property used by the Community Doukhobors. On 29 June three schools that the Community Doukhobors had built in 1925 were burned. In August three more schools, a flour mill, and a warehouse belonging to the group were destroyed. When two men were arrested, demonstrations involving nudity followed. As a result fifty-five men and forty-nine women were convicted for indecent exposure. Their sentence was six months at the Oakalla Prison Farm in New Westminster. It was the first mass imprisonment. Some of the prisoners’ children were held in custodial care by the province until the parents were released.

In February 1930 those who had been imprisoned were released but they now found that they were no longer accepted as members of the Doukhobor Community. They were expelled. But some Doukhobors in the ‘branch communes,’ especially in the poorer ones, welcomed them. This action led Verigin to withdraw all loyal Community Doukhobors from those areas, thus creating a more complete separation between the Sons of Freedom and the Community Doukhobors. This separation, however, did not prevent the acts of property destruction. However, to the consternation of the Community Doukhobors, the police were still not eager to apprehend the guilty individuals or to protect the community’s property. Peter P. Verigin now complained: ‘The police are standing and looking… what is the use of building schools when they are burning and dynamiting them faster than we can build them.’ The Community Doukhobors wanted the Sons of Freedom removed from their property and offered to pay the cost of a government investigation into the problems. The government instead continued with its policy of holding the Community liable for the destruction of property while arresting individuals who participated in nude demonstrations.

The provincial authorities were strengthened when the federal government, in August 1931, changed the Criminal Code so as to provide ‘a mandatory penalty of three years’ imprisonment for nudity in a public place.’ Because prison terms longer than two years are served in federal penitentiaries, the three-year penalty brought some financial relief to the provincial government. It also helped provincial politicians to project an image of ‘getting tough’ on the Doukhobors. However, lengthening the prison term was not effective as a deterrent to the nudity problem. The demonstrators wanted to make a religious witness, and the longer imprisonment could only enhance the martyrdom they sought. Instead of the demonstrations diminishing, they became larger. One participant later spoke of them in this way: ‘You see the (zealots) refused to pay their taxes, refused to comply with the ownership regulations; they just refused … and had written a kind of appeal to everyone to the effect that the time had arrived when we must take this ownership from Caesar and give it back to God … It was a wonderful sight. I doubt if this planet had ever seen anything like it… It was a protest against land ownership and all ownership — against the Caesar’s injustice that he has taken the cosmic property into his own hands.’

In spring 1932, in a second mass imprisonment, approximately 600 men and women were convicted for nudity and given three-year prison sentences, to be served on Pier’s Island, forty miles from Victoria, where special facilities had been erected. As the train carrying the convicts departed from the Kootenay Valley, the Doukhobors sang the hymns of their martyred forefathers. For them it was a spiritual pilgrimage.

Doukhobor Penitentiary on Piers Island, BC, 1934. British Columbia Archives G-00058.

No less significant than the imprisonment of the parents was the placement of their 365 children in orphanages and industrial schools in Vancouver and Victoria. Clearly, the children had to be cared for while their parents were in prison but the authorities also hoped that by exposing the children to a new environment their attitudes would change. It turned out that the children did not stay the full term. After one year, when a delegation of Independent and Community Doukhobors approached authorities with an offer of taking the Sons of Freedom children into their homes, it was accepted on the condition that they would attend public school. When the parents were released, between October 1934 and July 1935, the children were reunited with them. But it appears that few attitudes had changed. A 1947 study found ‘that some of these children are actively participating in the quasi-anarchistic activities of the present day.’

In the following years the school situation continued to be a public concern. An inspectors’ report for 1935/6 stated: ‘In the community schools and in those schools in which there is a major proportion of Doukhobors, no great progress has been made in Canadianizing this people. The persistence of the Doukhobors in maintaining their identity as such and in resisting Canadian influence is as strong as ever. While the children seem to be happy at school, they quit at the earliest possible date and at the present time there are many of school age who, supported by their parents, are defiantly absenting themselves from school.’

In 1939 the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation suggested that real Canadian homes ‘radiating the best in our Canadian mode of life’ be placed among the Doukhobors in order to help them to establish intimate contacts with ‘lovable Canadians’ and thus overcome their prejudice. Two years later, the Teachers’ Federation stated that ‘the supervision and administration of all Doukhobor schools should be vested in a single official, a trained and experienced educator of vision, initiative and wide sympathies, whose contacts with the Doukhobors will justify affection and confidence, and that it would be part of wisdom to entrust such a man with authority to adjust the curriculum.’ Some years later the federation recommended that teachers for the schools among the Doukhobors be chosen with special care, that they be given a wide liberty to adapt the curriculum to the needs of the Doukhobors, and that attendance be enforced consistently but only with fines and not with prison sentences.

For most of the Second World War period, 1939—45, the Sons of Freedom were relatively quiet. The attacks on the property of the Doukhobor Community ceased in 1938 when that body went into formal bankruptcy, having suffered from the depression, poor management, and government unwillingness to let the Community benefit from programs set up to assist industries affected by the depression. With this collapse, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) was renamed the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC). But the war and the disappearance of much Community Doukhobor property as a target did not keep the Sons of Freedom quiet for long. In 1944, there was a demonstration in which ‘women’s clothes and jewelry were burnt as symbols of the vanity of modern civilization.’ Soon after, the house of John J. Verigin, who had succeeded Peter P. Verigin as leader of the Community Doukhobors, was burned. From then until 1947 there were over 100 acts of destruction. Most of these were directed against other Doukhobors as a protest against their prosperity and materialism but some involved public property, including a CPR station, a bridge, and schools. The USCC condemned the destruction and John J. Verigin publicly asked for police protection for his followers.

To deal with the continuing problem, the government of British Columbia, in September 1947, appointed Judge H. Sullivan to conduct an inquiry. In the public hearings that followed, one person confessed to having committed twenty-five acts of vandalism in the preceding twelve years, the largest being the 1943 burning of the $400,000 jam factory at Brilliant, long owned by the Community Doukhobors but taken over by the government in 1939. This person explained: I believe that this was necessary to wake up our brothers from materialism, which is the main source of patriotism.’ One person wrote to Sullivan that ‘schools, forced upon the Doukhobors by the government, were destroyed by fire because schools are propagators of a false conception of civilization, patronizing the beast, militarism.’ Others came to the hearings and created ‘an epidemic of true and false confessions, of accusations and counter-accusations that brought an atmosphere of pseudo-religious hysteria into the courtrooms.’ After four months of hearings Judge Sullivan was exasperated. He felt it was useless to continue ‘until the crazy people are put in the mental asylum and the criminals locked up in the penitentiary.’ As for Doukhobor children, they should be educated with a view toward assimilation, he said. His brief recommendations did not, however, lead to a program of action.

Meanwhile, the nude demonstrations and acts of property destruction continued. In summer 1950, over 400 Sons of Freedom were in jail for nudity and arson. By now another commission was at work. The president of the University of British Columbia had agreed, at the request of the attorney-general, to assemble a group of social scientists for a more thorough study. Chaired by anthropologist H.B. Hawthorn, the study lasted two years and involved twelve researchers. Their lengthy report, like the Blackmore report of 1912, showed considerable sympathy and respect for the Doukhobors but called also for compliance with the laws. As a matter of strategy, it recommended ‘a balance of pressures and inducements.’ Claudia Lewis, one of the social scientists engaged in the study, advised against removing children from their parents. Instead, schooling should be made more acceptable to the Doukhobors. She suggested that Doukhobors be included on local boards, that the practices of saluting the flag and singing patriotic songs be discontinued, that some teaching of the Russian language and music be included, that the reading program be modified to include excerpts from Tolstoy, and that some aspects of the social studies program be changed, too. Notwithstanding these proposals for change, the report did not rule out prosecution as a way of dealing with cases of habitual truancy.

As with the moderate Blackmore report of 1911, the Hawthorn report was not followed, at least not immediately. The government that had commissioned the study was defeated in the 1952 election. The Social Credit party that came to power was in a minority situation at first, so in 1953 it went back to the people to get a majority. In doing so, ‘getting tough with the Doukhobors’ became a priority. The Social Credit party received the desired majority and, on 9 September 1953, 148 Doukhobor adults were arrested and imprisoned for parading nude near a school. They were taken to Vancouver in a train that had been especially prepared for them. There, the next day, a court was convened in a community hall and all those arrested were sentenced to three years at the Oakalla prison.

In addition, 104 children were loaded into buses and taken to New Denver, an old mining town, where the buildings of an old sanitorium served as their dormitory. The dormitory was surrounded by a high wire fence and the government invoked the Children’s Protection Act to make them wards of the Provincial Superintendent of Child Welfare. Occasional police raids on Sons of Freedom settlements brought in more children. In one such raid, seventy police officers entered the small village of Krestova before dawn and seized forty children. According to one mother’s account:

On January 18th [1955] at eight o’clock, in the morning my little son awoke me and come to lie down beside me as though he knew it would be the last time. Then all of a sudden we heard a loud banging on the door, we thought it would break. Three RCMP officers came in and went straight to the bed waving the clubs in their hands in front of me and my child, and they said: ‘How old is the boy?’ We told them he is only six years old. The boy started to cry and begged us not to take him, but they said: ‘Get him dressed or we’ll take him in his underwear.’ So, I dressed my little son for the last time, and he was taken from us who is not even school age. Only a mother who has gone through the same thing will know what it means to have the dearest ones taken from her.

A total of 170 children passed through the institution in its six-year history. They attended the regular public school in the town of New Denver, while evening and weekends were spent in the dormitory. Parents were allowed to visit their children two Sundays per month but they had to procure special passes. In protest most chose to see their children through the fence outside.

Understandably, the New Denver project attracted considerable controversy. Civil libertarians protested the brutality of a government that would separate children from parents in this way. Journalists wrote numerous stories about it. One reported on the death of a Doukhobor woman found hanging from a beam in her home. A nearby note from her nine-year-old daughter at New Denver said: ‘Mommy, I am lonesome for you – come and visit me. I love you. Goodbye.’

The government also publicized its point of view. It stated that it was ‘the birthright and privilege of every Canadian child to receive an education’ and that because the Sons of Freedom refused to send their children to school, the government had no alternative. It pointed out also that of the 12,500 Doukhobors in the province only about 2500 belonged to the Sons of Freedom group and that of these only about forty-six families continued to refuse to send their children to school.

For their part, the Sons of Freedom lodged a complaint with the United Nations under the Genocide Convention, which condemns the forcible transfer of children from one group to another. They also, in 1957, challenged the government’s action in the courts, arguing that the question was one of freedom of religion. However, Judge Sidney Smith did not accept that argument. In what became known as the Perepolkin case, he said:

I, for my part, cannot feel that in this case there is any religious element involved in the true legal sense. It seems to me that religion is one thing: a code of ethics, another, a code of manners, another. To seek the exact dividing line between them is perhaps perilous but I absolutely reject the contention that any group of tenets that some sect decides to proclaim form part of its religion thereby necessarily takes on a religious colour. I turn to the affidavit relied on by the appellants:… the objection to public schools is that they interpret history so as to glorify, justify, and tolerate intentional taking of human and animal life or teach or suggest the usefulness of human institutions which have been or can be put to such purposes … that public schools ‘expose their children to materialistic influences and ideals’… that Doukhobors object to education on secular matters being separated from education on spiritual matters.

This clearly to my mind involves the claim that a religious sect may make rules for the conduct of any part of human activities and that these rules thereby become … part of that sect’s religion. This cannot be so

At one point during the six-year detention of children some thirty Doukhobor women went to see Dr Campbell, British Columbia’s deputy minister of Education. Campbell told them that if they would agree to send their children to school, they would be returned. ‘We can’t change the laws of the country,’ he explained. The Doukhobor women replied:

‘We can’t change the laws of God either,’ The other Doukhobors, even though they had often sought to dissociate themselves from the Sons of Freedom, were sympathetic to them in this situation. They, too, appealed to the government but without success. Eventually, in 1959, when the parents appeared before a judge in Nelson and promised that their children would attend the regular public school, the children were returned to their homes.

Visiting Day between a wire fence for a Sons of Freedom Doukhobor schoolgirl and her parents at New Denver, BC, circa 1950.  www.newdenversurvivors.tk.

This Doukhobor encounter on education stands out for its length and its harshness. Essentially, the British Columbia government forced the Doukhobors to comply with its regulations. Some observers have argued that the government had no alternative, that the ongoing destruction of property, belonging either to the government or to other Doukhobors, reflected a way of life that, though religiously based, was prone to violence and simply could not be accommodated, and that it was natural to look to education – forced if necessary – as a long-term solution.

A closer analysis shows, however, that there could have been significant accommodations at a number of points. The government could have accepted the 1912 Doukhobor offer to take information about vital statistics from the Community’s record books and not exhumed bodies. It could have pursued the individual arsonists much more vigorously and focused less on those engaged in nude demonstrations. It could have removed military drills, flag-saluting ceremonies, and other activities from the schools much earlier. It could have incorporated Russian-language classes, Tolstoyan literature, Doukhobor music, and certain Doukhobor concerns about the teaching of history into the curriculum. It could have continued the lenient policy of Inspector A.E. Miller and not pressed for full attendance. It could have followed the moderate course recommended by Blackmore in 1912, by the Teachers’ Federation in 1939, and by the Hawthorn Committee in 1952. The government could have given the Doukhobors a broader educational liberty. Repeatedly, it chose not to do so. Ewart P. Reid wrote in 1932 that ‘much of the Doukhobor opposition to public schools arose not because of school per se … but because of the course content and methodology employed. Many of these difficulties arose because of the educational theories and practices … dividing children into grades, or using military drill … competitive tests and comparative grading … teaching history with military and political orientations, and refusing to allow the teaching of Russian did nothing to make schools more palatable, even to the Independent Doukhobors.’

The government’s policy of pressing ahead without making accommodations divided the Doukhobors, making their experience similar to that of the Mennonites. Some yielded, albeit reluctantly, while others became more determined in their resistance. Unlike the conservative Mennonites, the Doukhobors did not emigrate, though they did consider this option. Instead, they simply withheld their children from the public schools. Some engaged in nude demonstrations and a small number, probably no more than 200, destroyed buildings and other property. Regarding the underlying reasons for this behaviour, one analyst wrote in 1973 that ‘while Freedomite nude parades and destruction of Community property may have been attempts to convert Independents and Community members, incendiary attacks on schools and other non-Doukhobor property were clearly a response to attempts to enforce registration laws and compulsory education … They reacted … against what they viewed as an attempt to destroy their way of life and the faith of their children … also against the Independent and Community members’ acceptance of the forces of acculturation.’ According to this interpretation the violence was, at least to a large extent, the result of the provincial government’s refusal to accommodate a distinctive Doukhobor way of life.

In probing the reasons for the British Columbia government’s refusal to accommodate the Doukhobors there, certain similarities to developments affecting Mennonites and Doukhobors on the prairies emerge. Like the early settlers on the prairies there, the Doukhobors of British Columbia were appreciated for their contribution to the economy when they first arrived. But when the primary concern shifted from the frontier economy to social development there was no longer as much room for non-conforming groups. Also, as on the prairies, when the authorities pressed for social integration they defined religion in narrow terms and liberty on an individual basis. The narrow definition of religion in British Columbia is indicated most clearly in the Perepolkin case where it is suggested that the schooling of children is not a religious matter. The individualistic interpretation of liberty was indicated when the government defended the New Denver forced-schooling effort by saying, essentially, that the future liberty of the Doukhobor children required it.

Other explanatory factors lie in characteristics peculiar to British Columbia. Its educational structure was unusually centralized. Local school units had relatively little authority. Hence, developments in one locality could be used by politicians at the provincial level to project a ‘get-tough’ image. Also, the British Columbia educational system was unusually uniform. Unlike most other provinces, it had never had to accommodate a French-Catholic minority. Further, the approach of holding the Doukhobor Community liable for infractions committed by individuals was most unusual. It meant that law-enforcement agencies could impose fines and other punitive actions against the Community instead of looking for the guilty individuals. Community leaders were willing to help the police in identifying the individuals but the authorities showed little interest in their offers of assistance. The resulting atmosphere was poisonous, both among Doukhobors and between the government and those Doukhobors who wanted to be law abiding. If the Doukhobors could be treated as a community for purposes of liability, should they not also have been treated as a community for purposes of rights?

To say that the government of British Columbia could have been much more accommodating is not to say that accommodation would have solved all the problems. It must be conceded that there were some unusual and difficult elements among the Doukhobors. The actions by some Doukhobors to destroy the property of others, as a way of protesting against materialism and alleged departure from a true Doukhobor way of life, were a serious and persistent problem. It was probably necessary for the government to use some coercive measures in dealing with these developments but if it had granted the Doukhobors a broader educational liberty earlier on, the coercion required would probably have been much less.

The First Gorelovka Village, Blaine Lake District, Saskatchewan

by Roger Phillips

In 1899, Doukhobor immigrant settlers from Kars, Russia established a sod dugout village in the bank of a small creek six miles west of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. They named it Gorelovka after the village from whence they came.  The village existed for three years, after which it was abandoned and the Doukhobors formed two new villages, Bolshaya (Large) Gorelovka, a mile and a half north, and Malaya (Small) Gorelovka, three miles northeast. While the latter two villages are well-documented, extremely little information exists about the original dugout site from which they sprang. The following article outlines the research and fieldwork of Doukhobor descendant Roger Phillips and others to locate and record the site of the first Gorelovka village.

“By the time we arrived…it was late August. The Canadian winter was not far off. We had to build some sort of housing—huts. There were no streets laid out, it was like a village literally dug out of the ground. The wooden huts were covered with earth…We lived in these huts for about three years…It was a wild, desolate place. We felt isolated in a strange and unfamiliar land.”

So wrote John William Perverseff (my Grandfather whom everyone called Vanya in Russian) in a memoir describing how life for his family and fellow migrants began in Canada in 1899. He was 17 and his first years in this country were no picnic. With him were his wife Lucille (Lusha) along with his father William (Wasyl) and mother Elizabeth (Lisunya).

Here is where the Canadian experience began for our Gorelovka forebears in 1899. This winding ravine with a creek running through it lies approximately two miles northeast of Krydor, Saskatchewan.

John’s family was one of perhaps 40, more or less, newly arrived from Southern Russia. These immigrants had come from rail station debarkation at Duck Lake, some 40 miles to the east, in what was then the Northwest Territories. On foot and with a few horse and ox-drawn wagons, a cow or two in tow, they came with the few belongings they possessed to start a new settlement on the western plains.

Little is really known today of the village these folk established. Its location, based on oral tradition, was in a winding ravine in the southeast corner of what is now the SE ¼ of Section 26, Township 44, Range 8, West of the Third Meridian. By road it was approximately two miles northeast of the future town of Krydor, Saskatchewan, or as the crow flies, 55 miles north-northwest of Saskatoon.

There are three sources from which the village location is based: John’s writing which indicates that the migrants lived in this locale for about three years before moving to the Large Gorelovka Village we all know; information given this writer in the late 1980s by Sam Nichvolodoff, who farmed the land at the time; and a brief Nichvolodoff family history in the local history book, Bridging the Years: Era of Blaine Lake and District 1790-1980 published in 1984. Here Sam and his sister, Vera, wrote that he (Sam) and Olive (his wife) “live on the original homestead and can still find many artifacts on the site of the village.”

Lying northwest of the village site is a man-made water storage and flow system consisting of a dam and trenching. According to the late Bill Lapshinoff, village women dug a nearby trench to provide water to turn the village grist mill.

Grandfather said the original village was “literally dug out of the ground” and that poles were “covered with earth”. The earth would have been sod cut from a nearby slough and used to shape walls and cover roofs. Sam said he had found bits of leather perhaps the remains of door hinges. Grandfather referred to a lake nearby and one lies just west on Borisenkoff land, known locally as Borisenkoff Lake.

The walls of the ravine were steep and high in places making them ideal for housing dugouts into which poles were thrust to form the framework of “huts”. Grandfather wrote that these crude domiciles were not unlike those of some of their Tartar neighbours back in Kars, Russia.

Based on a study done late in 1899 by the Canadian Government’s Department of the Interior, these new settlers had eight horses, five cows, four oxen, four wagons and three ploughs. While not mentioned, they would surely have had chickens as well and sheep would soon have been added. Grandfather’s statement that the village functioned “for about three years” would have meant that agrarian life started immediately. Pictures of women—usually about ten pairs in tandem – pulling a single furrow plough to break bald prairie for gardens probably date from this time. While men who could be spared were away railway building or working on construction or for big farmers to earn money for settlement needs, the womenfolk broke ground for and planted gardens, managed the livestock, and kept the village going. Certainly these pioneering ladies were no strangers to hard physical labour.

Doukhobor researcher Jonathon J. Kalmakoff stands part way up the side of the creek bank that in places rises sharply steep and twenty feet or more high. Such topography easily facilitated the sod dugouts of the original settlement.

Back in the late 1980s, the late Bill Lapshinoff, who farmed in the Gorelovka (pronounced “Haralowka among many Doukhobors) area, showed a friend and myself where the village women had dug a channel to provide water flow to turn a grist mill wheel. About halfway between the lake on Borisenkoff’s farm and the village site, the channel lay in a copse of brush and poplar preserved from the effects of wind and water erosion. Bill thought the mill itself was east towards the village but did not know exactly where.

Something in Grandfather’s memoir that I had not stumbled on before now resonates. He wrote that when Peter “Lordly” Verigin arrived in Canada from Siberian exile in 1902, “we began communal life which we had not been living before”. Might not this new direction our Doukhobor forebears took – coming at the end of “about three years” – signal that our hut dwellers in 1902 built Large Gorelovka a mile or so north and a bit west, and Small Gorelovka some three miles northeast of the original settlement? There in the two villages our pioneering antecedents did indeed live communally for a few years more than a decade.

Presumably the first settlement provided the families for both villages although there may have been some “coming and going” with other villages this side of the Saskatchewan River. We just don’t know. In any event both Large and Small Gorelovka villages were deserted before 1920 with the communal dwellers becoming independent landowners. Grandfather Vanya and his father, Wasyl, had acquired several quarters by 1914 and after briefly living part-time in (or at least working from) buildings on the west side of the SW ¼ of Section 25, Township 44, Range 8, West of the Third Meridian in 1913, moved into a permanent home place at the northeast corner of the NW ¼ of Section 30, Township 44, Range 8, West of the Third Meridian in 1914.

I would be less than honest in saying the first hut settlement established by our ancestors was exactly where I’ve located it. I have no scientific proof that it was and the present owner states he, himself, has never found evidence of human habitation there. But based on what I’ve heard, seen, and read, I’m absolutely sure the first settlement site in the Gorelovka area existed as placed.

It is worth noting in passing that a son of the owner whose land the settlement site was on created something a stir at Haralowka School in the late 1950s when he told classmates about finding a human skull at the site. With this still vividly in mind, my cousin, Nick Postnikoff, who was one of the classmates, says that’s something he’s not likely to forget.

Notes

In preparation for this and other writeups, the author Roger Phillips and researcher and writer Jonathon J. Kalmakoff journeyed to the district west of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan on July 27, 2008 where they were joined by Nick Postnikoff (great-grandson of first Gorelovka village and Large Gorelovka village settler Wasyl Perverseff); John Lapshinoff (whose Great Grandfather Filat Lapshinoff was a first Gorelovka village and Large Gorelovka village settler); along with the owner of the land on which the first Gorelovka village was located. The site was digitally photographed, GPS coordinates were recorded and oral tradition was documented about the first Gorelovka village site and original graveyard used by the villagers. More items relating to Doukhobor history in Gorelovka, will appear from time to time.

Brands of the Doukhobor Stockmen of Alberta, 1904-2009

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff and the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation

Brands have been used to identify livestock ownership in Alberta for more than 125 years and are an essential part of its ranching heritage. The following database contains over 125 cancelled cattle and horse brands registered by Doukhobor stockmen in Alberta between 1904 and 2009. Compiled from the files of the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation, each entry includes the stockman’s name and town, brand registration date, brand description and reference information. Learn about the brands used by Alberta Doukhobor stockmen along with their history and significance. Last updated April 10, 2009.

Introduction

For almost a century, Doukhobors have played a significant role in the livestock industry of southern Alberta. As early as 1911, the Doukhobor Community supplied 100 oxen and 30 drivers to break land owned by the Canadian Wheatlands Company at Bowell and Carlstadt. From 1911 to 1920, Doukhobor work crews of 100 men and twice as many horse and oxen were hired by the Canadian Land and Irrigation Company to construct the McGregor Lake dam near Milo for the Bow River Irrigation Project. From 1915 to 1937, the Doukhobor “Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood” operated a vast communal farming and ranching enterprise in the Cowley and Lundbreck districts. Another smaller Doukhobor colony was established in the Arrowwood and Shouldice districts from 1926 to 1945. Following the demise of these communal ventures, many Doukhobors remained in the areas as individual farmers and stock growers. At the same time, throughout the Teens and Twenties, hundreds of Doukhobors settled independently on ranches and farms in the Pincher Creek, Mossleigh, Nanton, Crowfoot, Queenstown, Vulcan, Vauxhall, Skiff, Lethbridge, Rosebud and other districts. Many of their descendants continue to live and ranch in these districts today.

Doukhobor breaking prairie sod on Canadian Wheatlands project near Bowell, Alberta, c. 1912. Glenbow Archives NA-587-1.

Like other stockmen in Alberta, Doukhobor ranchers and farmers branded their livestock. The brand was a unique, highly visible, permanent mark applied to an animal for identification purposes. It was vital in determining ownership, returning strays or stolen livestock to their rightful owners, and serving as a deterrent to theft. It was a road map of an animal’s history and told a story of its owner. Sometimes, the brand became better known than the individual who used it. Under Alberta law, a brand had to be registered before it could be used, and a rigid set of specifications was followed when issuing a new brand. Only one brand of a particular design, configuration and location could be registered, to avoid potential conflicts in similar brands. The brand registration had to be kept in good standing and renewed on a regular basis. It was an offence to use an unregistered brand or to alter a registered brand.

Doukhobor Brands

The following database has been compiled from the cancelled brand files and Brand Books held by the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives. Arranged alphabetically by surname, each entry includes an image of the brand, the stockman’s name and town, brand registration, brand description and reference information.

Androsoff, William

Dates: Jun 20, 1936 – cancelled Dec 6, 1957
Brand Description: W A running bar – C. l. r
Town: Queenstown, Arrowwood
Box Number: 46
File Number: 70447

Androsoff, William S. & John

Dates: Apr 27, 1944 – cancelled Jan 22, 1981
Brand Description: B A over bar – C. r. h
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 139
File Number: 77541

Bartsoff, John

Dates: Nov 14, 1958 – last renewal date Nov 7, 1962
Brand Description: P B over quarter circle – C. r.r
Town: Raymond
Box Number: 80
File Number: 62669

Bartsoff, Peter Jr.

Dates: Nov 30, 1960 – cancelled Sep 3, 1968 (horse); June 4, 1956 – cancelled Aug 30, 1968 (cattle)
Brand Description: bar over B 7 – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Raymond, Legend
Box Number: 92
File Number: 72617

Bartsoff, Peter Sr.

Dates: Mar 13, 1962 – cancelled Dec 31, 1970
Brand Description: B P over half diamond – C. l. r
Town: Vauxhall, Raymond
Box Number: 102
File Number: 37939

Cabatoff, Peter W.

Dates: May 3, 1965 – expired Dec 31, 1969
Brand Description: P anchor over 1/4 circle – C. l. h
Town: Medicine Hat
Box Number: 100
File Number: 89387

Chernenkoff, Fred

Dates: June 29, 1950 – last renewal date Dec 28, 1954 (both)
Brand Description: (reversed) F C over bar – C. r. h – H. t. th
Town: Beaver Mines
Box Number: 53
File Number: 85929

Chernoff, Bill

Dates: Mar 19, 1941 – ? (both)
Brand Description: 1/4 circle over B C – C. r. sh – H. r.th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 17
File Number: 72933

Davidoff, John (1)

Dates: Jan 29, 1953 – transferred Dec 14, 1956 
Brand Description: 5 D (reversed) over bar – C. r. h
Town: Pincher Creek, Lundbreck
Box Number: 58
File Number: 74584

Davidoff, John (2)

Dates: ? – expired Dec 31, 1938
Brand Description: half diamond over M D – H. l. th
Town: Pincher Creek, Lundbreck
Box Number: 58
File Number: 74584

Davidoff, John (3)

Dates: Nov 24, 1952 – cancelled Oct 5, 1964
Brand Description: H 5 over half diamond – C. l. h
Town: Pincher Creek, Lundbreck
Box Number: 58
File Number: 74584

Davidoff, Mackifa

Dates: Jan 29, 1944 – cancelled Nov 13, 1948 (horse); Jan 28, 1944 – cancelled Oct 21, 1948 (cattle)
Brand Description: bar over D 1 – H. l. th – C. l. h
Town: Pincher Creek
Box Number: 21
File Number: 76878

Davidoff, Matvey N.

Dates: Jul 8, 1918 – expired Dec 31, 1933 (horse); Jul 8, 1918 – transferred Jan 29, 1953 (cattle)
Brand Description: 5 D (reversed) over bar – H. r. sh – C. r. h
Town: Cowley, Pincher Creek, Pincher Station
Box Number: 71
File Number: 66342

Davidoff, Nicholas N. (1)

Dates: Jul 30, 1951 – cancelled Dec 31, 1955
Brand Description: quarter circle over D F – C. r. h
Town: Pincher Creek, Pincher Station, Thrums
Box Number: 42
File Number: 87483

Davidoff, Nicholas N. (2)

Dates: Jan 3, 1929 – cancelled Sep 22, 1969 (cattle) Jan 3, 1929 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1953 (horse)
Brand Description: N 3 over half diamond – C. r. h – H. r. th
Town: Pincher Creek, Pincher Station, Thrums
Box Number: 42
File Number: 87483

Davidoff, Nick N.

Dates: Feb 19, 1920 – last renewal date Dec 7, 1944 (horse); Feb 19, 1920 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1948 (cattle)
Brand Description: bar over D lazy F – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Pincher Station
Box Number: 33
File Number: 56346

Davidoff, Vasilie Nikoleavitch & Bernice Dianna

Dates: Feb 1, 1968 – exp Dec 31, 1976
Brand Description: half diamond over V 7 – C. r. sh
Town: Pincher Creek
Box Number: 135
File Number: 72351

Deakoff, Mike

Dates: Mar 11, 1943 – Expired Dec 31, 1967 (cattle); Mar 11, 1943 – cancelled Sep 6, 1963 (horse)
Brand Description: M running bar D – C. l. r – H. l. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 87
File Number: 75760

Derhousoff (Hoover), Joe J.

Dates: Feb 23, 1956 – ?
Brand Description: J D over half diamond – C. l. h
Town: Throne, Coronation
Box Number: 57
File Number: 70804

Derhousoff (Hoover), Lawrence J.

Dates: Apr 6, 1956 – transferred 1956
Brand Description: half diamond over L D – C. l. h
Town: Throne
Box Number: 58
File Number: 70963

Doukhobor Fraternal Co. (c/o Peter Verigin)

Brand Book Dates: 1904-1910, 1915-1938
Brand Description: Stylized Cyrillic “D” symbol – C. r. r. – H. r. th.
Town: Yorkton, SK, Cowley

Ewashen, Alex J. Jr.

Dates: Mar 17, 1954 – cancelled Aug 19, 1974
Brand Description: A over E – C. l. sh
Town: Lundbreck, Creston, BC
Box Number: 126
File Number: 91108

Ewashen, Jacob

Dates: June 6, 1930 – transferred Nov 9, 1954 (cattle); Feb 28, 1934 – cancelled Dec 31, 1946 (horse)
Brand Description: bar over V S – C. r. h – H. r. sh
Town: Nanton, Cayley
Box Number: 65
File Number: 66530

Ewashen, Mike

Dates: Apr 9, 1943 – cancelled Nov 24, 1955
Brand Description: bar over M E – C. l. r
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 38
File Number: 75458

Ewashen, Nick J.

Dates: Feb 6, 1942 – cancelled Feb 8, 1967
Brand Description: bar over N E monogram – C. r. sh
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 81
File Number: 73783

Ewashen, Peter J.

Dates: Jun 1, 1945 – expired Dec 31, 1969
Brand Description: F running bar P – C. r.r
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 99
File Number: 79570

Ewashen, Walter James

Dates: Nov 22, 1954 – last renewal date Oct 6, 1958
Brand Description: bar over V S – C. r. h
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 65
File Number: 66530

Ewashin, George & John

Dates: May 27, 1944 – last renewal date Oct 27, 1952 (horse); May 27, 1944 – ? (cattle)
Brand Description: quarter circle over (reversed) G 3 – H. r. sh – C. r. sh
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 52
File Number: 77855

Faminoff, Joe

Dates: Nov 13, 1945 – ? (horse); Nov 27, 1945 – cancelled Oct 12, 1965 (cattle)
Brand Description: half diamond over (reversed) F 2 – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 77
File Number: 80172

Faminow, Bros & Sons (Sam, Mike, Steve)

Dates: Apr 29, 1938 – transferred Feb 10, 1943 (both)
Brand Description: F B over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 65
File Number: 71379

Faminow, Fred P.

Dates: Nov 21, 1941 – cancelled Dec 31, 1949 (cattle); Nov 21, 1941 – cancelled Nov 13, 1943 (horse)
Brand Description: cross F – C. r. h – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 17
File Number: 73666

Faminow, Sam & Sons

Dates: Dec 31, 1942 – expired Dec 31, 1962 (horse); Dec 31, 1942 – transferred Aug 6, 1959 (cattle)
Brand Description: F B over half diamond – H. l. th – C. l. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 65
File Number: 71379

Fofonoff, John

Dates: (a) Apr 23, 1945 – cancelled Dec 31, 1949; (b) Apr 23, 1945 – expired Dec 31, 1957; (c) May 5, 1934 – expired Dec 31, 1938
Brand Description: half diamond over J F monogram; (a) H. l. th; (b) C. l.; (c) C. l. neck
Town: Queenstown, Vauxhall
Box Number: 61
File Number: 68895

Fofonoff, Paul

Dates: Apr 10, 1942 – cancelled Dec 31, 1946 (both)
Brand Description: J B over bar – H. r. sh – C. l. r
Town: Queenstown
Box Number: 37
File Number: 74176

Hlookoff, Mike

Dates: Apr 28, 1942 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1946
Brand Description: M H over bar – C. r. sh
Town: Blackie
Box Number: 37
File Number: 74202

Hlookoff, Nick

Brand Book Dates: 1954-1974
Brand Description: bar over N H – C. r. sh
Town: Mossleigh

Hlookoff, Walter & Mary

Brand Book Dates: 1978-1990
Brand Description: bar over N H – C. r. sh
Town: Mossleigh

Hlookoff, Walter

Brand Book Dates: 1998-2009
Brand Description: bar over N H – C. r. sh
Town: Mossleigh

Holoboff, Darbra L.

Brand Book Dates: 1984-2009
Brand Description:  D running bar lazy H – C. l. r
Town: Arrowwood

Holoboff, Elli

Brand Book Dates: 1937-1974
Brand Description: N L inverted – C. l. sh – H. l. th
Town: Shouldice

Holoboff, Fred

Dates: May 19, 1942 – ?
Brand Description: F H over quarter circle – C. l. sh
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 15
File Number: 74474

Holoboff, George

Dates: Mar 4, 1959 – ?
Brand Description: F H over bar – C. l. h
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 68
File Number: 55024

Holoboff, Jody

Brand Book Dates: 1998-2009
Brand Description:  T running bar K – C. l. r
Town: Barnwell

Holoboff, Joseph E.

Brand Book Dates: 1978-2009
Brand Description:  N L inverted – C. l. sh
Town: Shouldice, Arrowwood

Holoboff, Joseph J.

Brand Book Dates: 1984-2009
Brand Description:  J J H – C. l. r
Town: Arrowwood

Holoboff, Mike

Dates: May 3, 1945 – cancelled Dec 31, 1973
Brand Description: M H running bar – C. l. r
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 119
File Number: 79356

Holoboff, Pete

Dates: May 16, 1929 – cancelled Feb 1, 1970 (cattle); May 16, 1929 – cancelled Dec 31, 1949 (horse)
Brand Description: P H over bar – C. r. h – H. r. sh
Town: Nanton, Cayley
Box Number: 98
File Number: 65919

Holoboff, Peter

Brand Book Dates: 1968-1982
Brand Description: quarter circle over O lazy S – C. r. h
Town: Vauxhall

Holoboff, Tom J.

Brand Book Dates: 1984-1994
Brand Description:  T running bar K – C. l. r
Town: Calgary, Blackie

Holoboff, William

Brand Book Dates: 1966-1986
Brand Description: reversed B H over bar – C. r. h
Town: Herronton, Blackie, Innisfail

Holoboff, William W.

Dates: Apr 7, 1936 – ?
Brand Description: bar over B L – H. r. sh
Town: Vulcan
Box Number: 26
File Number: 70241

Hoobenoff, John

Dates: Nov 25, 1954 – ?
Brand Description: H P over bar – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 51
File Number: 64582

Hoobenoff, N. S.

Dates: Jul 8, 1942 – ? (both)
Brand Description: W H monogram over bar – H. r. sh – C. r. r
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 16
File Number: 74718

Kabatoff, Bill (1)

Dates: Jun 6, 1939 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1963 (cattle)
Brand Description: bar over B K – C. r. r
Town: Lundbreck, Cowley, Castlegar, BC
Box Number: 87
File Number: 71933

Kabatoff, Bill (2)

Dates: Dec 31, 1939 – ? (horse)
Brand Description: half diamond over B K – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck, Cowley, Castlegar, BC
Box Number: 87
File Number: 71933

Kabatoff, Fred S.

Dates: Aug 20, 1943 – cancelled Nov 5, 1947 (both)
Brand Description: half diamond over F K – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 38
File Number: 76440

Kabatoff, Mike

Dates: Jul 12, 1934 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1942
Brand Description: quarter circle over M K – C. r. h
Town: Glenwood, Lundbreck
Box Number: 24
File Number: 69250

Kabatoff, Peter

Dates: May 13, 1943 – expired Dec 31, 1963
Brand Description: half diamond over P K – C. l. h
Town: Pincher Creek, Pincher Station, Lundbreck
Box Number: 69
File Number: 75832

Kalmakoff, Alex J. (1)

Dates: Apr 10, 1943 – cancelled Oct 16, 1946
Brand Description: A K monogram over quarter circle – C. r. h
Town: Gleichen, Kamloops, BC
Box Number: 38
File Number: 75589

Kalmakoff, Alex J. (2)

Dates: Oct 18, 1946 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1950
Brand Description: bar over A K monogram – C. r. r
Town: Gleichen, Kamloops, BC
Box Number: 38
File Number: 75589

Kalmakoff, Sam

Dates: Apr 29, 1942 – ? (both)
Brand Description: (reversed) K S over half diamond – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 7
File Number: 74207

Konkin, Alex

Dates: Jul 3, 1939 – ?
Brand Description: bar over A K – C. r. h
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 19
File Number: 71975

Konkin, Andrew

Dates: Nov 1, 1979 – cancelled Dec 31, 1983
Brand Description: lazy A over K – H. l. th
Town: Gibbons, Ardrossan
Box Number: 146
File Number: 11641

Konkin, Mabel

Dates: May 21, 1944 – ?
Brand Description: M K over half diamond – C. l. h
Town: Carseland
Box Number: 40
File Number: 82432

Konkin, William

Dates: May 28, 1943 – cancelled Feb 2, 1968
Brand Description: W K over half diamond – C. r. r
Town: Vauxhall
Box Number: 87
File Number: 76001

Kooznetsoff, Sam

Dates: Jul 20, 1950 – cancelled Feb 20, 1959
Brand Description: bar over S 2 – C. l. r
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 53
File Number: 85976

Kuftinoff, Nick

Dates: Mar 17, 1930 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1934 (both)
Brand Description: N K over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th
Town: Skiff
Box Number: 9a
File Number: 66315

Kuznetsoff, P.

Dates: Jul 26, 1955 – EXP Dec 31, 1959
Brand Description: running bar X S – C. l. r
Town: Bluffton
Box Number: 55
File Number: 69823

Maloff, Fred

Dates: Jan 14, 1952 – cancelled Oct 20, 1980
Brand Description: F V over half diamond – C. r.h
Town: Bearberry, Sundre
Box Number: 139
File Number: 87856

Maloff, George

Dates: Apr 12, 1943 – transferred Mar 14, 1945
Brand Description: (reversed) F M monogram over half diamond – C. l. h
Town: Crowfoot
Box Number: 15
File Number: 75478

Maloff, George & Son

Dates: Mar 18, 1940 – last renewal date Nov 2, 1944 (horse); Mar 18, 1940 – cancelled Dec 31, 1976 (cattle)
Brand Description: J M monogram over quarter circle – H. r. th – C. r. neck
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 134
File Number: 72268

Mushta, Anthony & Peter M. Saliken

Dates: Jun 29, 1942 – transferred Apr 12, 1947
Brand Description: N F monogram over bar – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 104
File Number: 74625

Oglaff, William

Dates: Jul 13, 1948 – ?
Brand Description: W O half diamond – C. r. r
Town: Arrowwood
Box Number: 41
File Number: 83824

Ozeroff, Paul

Dates: Dec 16, 1954 – cancelled Mar 28, 1974
Brand Description: bar over P O – C. l. sh
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 123
File Number: 65016

Parakin, John

Dates: Jul 3, 1964 – cancelled Sep 15, 1972
Brand Description: 7 P running bar – C. l. r
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 115
File Number: 93479

Parakin, Pete P.

Dates: Jun 4, 1943 – last renewal date Dec 16, 1954 (cattle); Jun 4, 1943 – expired Dec 31, 1951 (horse)
Brand Description: (reversed) P P over half diamond – C. r. sh – H. r. sh
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 52
File Number: 76048

Pereverziff, John

Dates: Apr 26, 1955 – expired Dec 31, 1959
Brand Description: running bar H P – C. r. r
Town: Lethbridge
Box Number: 55
File Number: 68418

Planidin, Mrs. Fanny

Brand Book Dates: 1937-1937
Brand Description: quarter circle over F P – H. l. sh. – C. l. r.
Town: Queenstown

Planidin, Paul P.

Brand Book Dates: 1966-1990
Brand Description: 3 P over half diamond – H. l. th. – C. l. r.
Town: Calgary

Planidin, S.D.

Brand Book Dates: 1947-1982
Brand Description: quarter circle over F P – H. l. sh. – C. l. r.
Town: Queenstown, Calgary

Podmaroff, Alex

Dates: May 21, 1945 – last renewal date Nov 5, 1964
Brand Description: A P over half diamond – C. l. r
Town: Calgary, Carstairs
Box Number: 94
File Number: 79416

Podmaroff, David

Brand Book Dates: 1990-2009
Brand Description: bar over W P – C. r. h.
Town: Calgary

Podmaroff, Marion I. (1)

Brand Book Dates: 1962-1994
Brand Description: bar over V Y – C. r. h
Town: Carseland, Calgary

Podmaroff, Marion I. (2)

Brand Book Dates: 1982-1996
Brand Description: bar over W P – C. r. h.
Town: Carseland, Calgary

Podmaroff, William

Brand Book Dates: 1947-1978
Brand Description: bar over W P – C. r. h.
Town: Carseland, Calgary

Podmoroff, Alec

Brand Book Dates: 1937-1937
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: Carseland

Podmoroff, Alec (Estate of)

Brand Book Dates: 1947-1978
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: High River, Mossleigh

Podmoroff, Alex

Brand Book Dates: 1954-1990
Brand Description: 7 A over bar – C. r. h.
Town: Hubalta, Calgary

Podmoroff, Danny

Brand Book Dates: 1982-1990
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: Olds

Podmoroff, Mike

Brand Book Dates: 1994-1994
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: Calgary

Podmoroff, Paul A.

Brand Book Dates: 1998-2009
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. l. h – H. l. th.
Town: Olds

Podmoroff, Terence

Brand Book Dates: 2003-2009
Brand Description: P P over half diamond – C. r. h – H. r. th.
Town: Exshaw

Ponomareff, Alexander

Dates: Apr 22, 1959 – ?
Brand Description: A S P – C. l. r
Town: Arrowwood
Box Number: 69
File Number: 71634

Potapoff, William P. (1)

Dates: May 11, 1933 – expired Dec 31, 1941
Brand Description: W P bar – C. l. r
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 20
File Number: 68273

Potapoff, William P. (2)

Dates: May 11, 1933 – expired Dec 31, 1941
Brand Description: bar over W P – H. l. sh
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 20
File Number: 68273

Salekin, Alex A.

Dates: Apr 2, 1942 – cancelled Oct 25, 1966 (cattle); Oct 10, 1944 – expired Dec 31, 1968 (horse)
Brand Description: quarter circle over S N – C. r. h – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 93
File Number: 74030

Saliken, Mike

Dates: Dec 31 1946 – last renewal date Oct 18, 1966 (horse); Dec 31, 1946 – transferred Dec 18, 1969 (cattle)
Brand Description: N F monogram over bar – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 104
File Number: 74625

Saliken, Peter M.

Dates: Dec 31 1946 – last renewal date Oct 18, 1966 (horse); Dec 31, 1946 – transferred Dec 18, 1969 (cattle)
Brand Description: N F monogram over bar – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 104
File Number: 74625

Samaroden, Mike

Brand Book Dates: 1962-1970
Brand Description:  S over S – C. l. h
Town: Mossleigh

Samaroden, Peter R.

Brand Book Dates: 1962-1982
Brand Description:  quarter circle over P 5 – C. r. r
Town: Mossleigh, Fort McMurray

Samaroden, Sam J.

Dates: Apr 15, 1939 – cancelled Nov 28, 1947 (horse); Apr 15, 1939 – transferred Jan 3, 1961 (cattle)
Brand Description: S over S – H. l. sh – C. l. h
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 108
File Number: 71809

Semenoff, Joe J.

Dates: Apr 14, 1938 – cancelled Dec 31, 1962 (cattle); Apr 14, 1938 – cancelled Dec 31, 1950 (horse)
Brand Description: J O over half diamond – C. r. h – H. l. sh
Town: Vulcan, Lundbreck
Box Number: 65
File Number: 71320

Semenoff, John

Dates: Jun 22, 1939 – ? (both)
Brand Description: half diamond over C inverted 7 – C. r. h – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 19
File Number: 71964

Semenoff, Pete

Dates: Feb 3, 1955 – cancelled Sep 11, 1959
Brand Description: D P over quarter circle – C. r. r
Town: Radisson, SK, Lundbreck  
Box Number: 54
File Number: 65538

Sherstabetoff, Nick

Dates: Nov 26, 1946 – last renewal date Oct 19, 1970
Brand Description: N S over quarter circle – C. l. h
Town: Mossleigh
Box Number: 124
File Number: 77591

Sherstabetoff, Peter (Estate of)

Brand Book Dates: 1954-2009
Brand Description:  half diamond over S H – C. r. r
Town: Mossleigh

Shkooratoff, Mike

Dates: Mar 14, 1940 – last renewal date Oct 27, 1952 (horse); Mar 14, 1940 – cancelled Dec 31, 1964 (cattle)
Brand Description: M S over bar – H. r. sh – C. r. sh
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 71
File Number: 72236

Shkooratoff, Paul

Dates: Oct 4, 1940 – expired Dec 31, 1952 (horse); Feb 24, 1947 – expired Dec 31, 1952 (cattle)
Brand Description: P S over quarter circle – H. l. th – C. l. h
Town: Fort Macleod
Box Number: 37
File Number: 72670

Shkuratoff, W.

Dates: Dec 20, 1948 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1952
Brand Description: S over W – C. r. h
Town: Milo
Box Number: 47
File Number: 84083

Shkurotoff, Nick

Dates: May 5, 1945 – ?
Brand Description: bar over H lazy E – C. l.r
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 22
File Number: 79486

Stoocknoff, Tom

Dates: May 27, 1935 – last renewal date Dec 30, 1939
Brand Description: T over lazy S – C. r.r
Town: Hesketh
Box Number: 26
File Number: 69800

Stoopnekoff, John

Dates: May 9, 1942 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1946
Brand Description: J S – C. r. neck
Town: Cowley
Box Number: 15
File Number: 74252

Sukeroff, Bill

Dates: Mar 24, 1950 – cancelled Sep 6, 1974
Brand Description: bar over (reversed) B S – C. l. r
Town: Vauxhall
Box Number: 126
File Number: 85383

Sukeroff, L.A.

Dates: May 8, 1952 – last renewal date Oct 17, 1956
Brand Description: half diamond over A L monogram – C. l. r
Town: Vauxhall
Box Number: 59
File Number: 88503

Sukovieff, Mike

Dates: Jun 15, 1959 – expired Dec 31, 1965
Brand Description: N B monogram over bar – H. l. th
Town: Conrich, Calgary
Box Number: 76
File Number: 78268

Tarasoff, Nick

Dates: Feb 27, 1945 – ?
Brand Description: N T over half diamond – C. l. sh
Town: Herronton
Box Number: 23
File Number: 78802

Tarasoff, Pete

Dates: Aug 4, 1953 – last renewal date Feb 1, 1963
Brand Description: bar over 7 X – C. l. h
Town: Herronton
Box Number: 89
File Number: 90570

Veregin, George J.

Dates: Jan 15, 1945 – transferred Jan 29, 1962
Brand Description: (reversed) G V over bar – C. l. r
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 76
File Number: 78602

Veregin, Peter

Dates: Jan 31, 1962 – cancelled Oct 7, 1965
Brand Description: (reversed) G V over bar – C. l. r
Town: Nanton
Box Number: 76
File Number: 78602

Veregin, William

Dates: Oct 19, 1939 – expired Dec 31, 1963 (both)
Brand Description: W V over bar – C. r. r – H. r. th
Town: Lundbreck
Box Number: 67
File Number: 46413

Vereschagin Bros.

Dates: Apr 24, 1945 – last renewal date Dec 31, 1953
Brand Description: half diamond over V B – C. l. h
Town: Michichi
Box Number: 49
File Number: 79246

Vishloff, John

Dates: Mar 26, 1942 – ?
Brand Description: J V over quarter circle – C. r. sh
Town: Burmis
Box Number: 15
File Number: 74017

Voykin, Bill

Dates: Sep 24, 1934 – expired Dec 31, 1950
Brand Description: half diamond over B V – C. r. h
Town: Cowley, Lundbreck
Box Number: 36
File Number: 69308

Voykin, Fred

Dates: May 23, 1947 – expired Dec 31, 1955
Brand Description: half diamond over F V – C. r. h
Town: Lundbreck, Macleod
Box Number: 44
File Number: 82436

Zaytsoff, Bill

Dates: Jan 28, 1928 – last renewal date Nov 2, 1944 (horse); Jan 28, 1928 – expired Dec 31, 1932 (cattle)
Brand Description: B Z over bar – H. r. th – C. r. h
Town: Queenstown
Box Number: 12
File Number: 55135

Understanding Livestock Brands

Traditionally, branding involved capturing and securing an animal by roping it, laying it over on the ground, tying its legs together, and searing the animal’s flesh with a hot iron to produce a scar – the brand. Modern ranch practice has moved toward use of chutes where animals can be run into a confined area and safely secured while the brand is applied. Today branding is more often done with chemicals, tattooing, paint or tagging.

In Alberta, registered cattle brands could be used in one of six positions on an animal: the shoulder (sh), rib (r), or hip (h) on either the left or right side. Registered horse brands could be used in one of six positions on the animal: the jaw (j), shoulder (sh) or thigh (th) on either the left or right side.

Doukhobors using oxen to break land for Canadian Wheatlands near Bowell, Alberta, ca. 1911-1914. Glenbow Archives NA-587-2.

A brand may consist of a character (letter or numeral), symbol (such as a slash, circle, half circle, cross or bar) or any combination thereof. Characters may appear upright, reversed (called ‘crazy’) or turned 90 degrees (called ‘lazy’). Each character or symbol may be distinct from another or else connected (touching), combined (partially overlaid), or hanging (touching, but arranged top to bottom). The possible combinations are endless. Usually a brand signified something unique to its owner – for instance his or her initials.

Note a brand is usually read from left to right, from top to bottom, and finally, from outside to inside where it has a character that encloses another. For instance, the livestock brand “F-P” would be read and defined as “F running bar P”.

For More Information

For more information about Doukhobor stockmen in Alberta and their brands, visit the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives website. Established by the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation in 1980, the Library and Archives is located in Cochrane, Alberta and houses a vast collection of historical and business information relating to the livestock industry, cowboys and western culture.

The cancelled brand files held at the Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives are the original files of brand requests from ranchers, farmers and businesses for a brand for horses, cattle, foxes, sheep and poultry from 1888 to 1980. This information is especially of interest to those tracing family history. Each file contains at least one sheet with information regarding the location of the owner’s grazing lands and the possible choices of brands. Many files will have lengthy correspondence relating to the brands.

The Stockmen’s Memorial Foundation Library and Archives also has the largest collection of Alberta Brand Books. Brand Books recorded all horse and cattle brands registered in the province for a specified period of years. A typical Brand Book will usually have an image of the brand, the location of the brand on the animal, and the type of animal that was branded, as well as the owner of the brand. The Brand Books contain both cancelled and currently active brands.

Spanning the Years – The Vereschagin Family

by Ann J. Vereschagin

Throughout the early twentieth century, groups of Doukhobors left Canada for the United States seeking warmer climate, economic opportunity and personal freedom. One of the most prominent of these was the family of Alex W. (1878-1946) and Virginia (1879-1930) Vereschagin. After the family was released from exile in Yakutsk, Siberia, they came to Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan in 1905. In 1907, they resettled to Cucamonga and later Los Angeles, California where they worked as labourers on fruit farms. In 1909, they and several other Doukhobor families purchased land and established a short-lived colony near Shafter, California. Then in 1913, they joined a much larger “Freedom Colony” of Doukhobors near Peoria, Oregon. They returned to California in 1916, permanently settling in Orland, where they worked together for over 60 years as a cooperative family unit, becoming outstanding builders and innovators in the fruit growing and retail-wholesale industry. Their story is documented in a 1999 family autobiography, “Spanning the Years”, written by Alex and Virginia’s Molokan-born daughter-in-law Ann J. Vereschagin (1910-2005). The following excerpt from the book is reproduced here by permission.

Cucamonga, California

Father-in-law Alexei [Vereschagin] and family did not stay long in Blaine Lake. After two winters in Canada, father-in-law said that he had had enough ice and snow in Siberia. He decided to take his family to California. That spring (1907), the family moved to Cucamonga, a small town near Pasadena in Southern California. Why Cucamonga? Father-in-law Alexei had read about California while in Siberia. He read about it in a Russian newspaper printed in Los Angeles by a Russian immigrant named [Anton Petrovich] Scherbak. Scherbak lived in Cucamonga. The newspaper was named Tehia Akeyan (The Calm Ocean). I remember that my own father read the same newspaper. No doubt it was the only newspaper in America, at the time, that was written in Russian.

Alexei corresponded with Scherbak, inquiring about living conditions and the possibilities of finding work in California. He explained to Mr. Scherbak that he had a young family and that he wanted to live in a warm climate. Mr. Scherbak convinced Alexei that he should move to Cucamonga, and even offered a shack that was on his property for them to live in.

The American-Canadian border was pretty open at that time. Father-in-law Alexei and his family arrived at the border with the Peter Jericoff family. They were required to list all of their names in English. Imagine their frustration, knowing very few words in English. Mr. Jericoff probably knew the most. He translated mother-in-law’s name (Xenia) to Virginia, which is not a typical translation for a Russian name. The other names registered were: Alex (Alexei), William/Bill (Vasily), Martha (Malasha), and John (Ivan). Note: From now on, I will use the English names, and I will refer to father-in-law as Dad V.

(l-r) Alex W. (Dad) Vereschagin, William, John, Virginia (Mom) Vereschagin holding Jane, Alex and Martha, 1909.

The family lived in Cucamonga less than two years. Dad V. worked on a farm, digging irrigation ditches with a pick and shovel – 10 hours a day at $1.50 per day. The ditches were along an orange grove, with roots that were long and buried deep. Backbreaking work! William (8 years) and Martha (7 years) started school in Cucamonga. Jane (Nastia) was born there on her brother John’s birthday, August 1st in 1908. This date was recorded on Dad V.’s last page of his English-Russian dictionary. That dictionary shows a lot of wear, so I know that it was one of his favorite books.

Next they moved to Los Angeles where Dad V. was acquainted with some Molokan families. He wanted to live near others who spoke Russian. He knew some Molokans who were draymen. They made a deal with him to supply them with hay. Dad V. had a team of horses and a wagon. He would buy the hay from local farmers and load it onto boxcars which took it to Los Angeles. He then sold it to the Molokan draymen who used it for their horses. Bill and Alex would often help. They were too young to load the hay, but they stood by to hold the team of horses. Most any movement, such as a jackrabbit running by, would frighten and agitate the horses.

Shafter, California

By this time a few more Doukhobor families had emigrated to California (Rilcoffs, Chernoffs, Durtsoffs and Poznoffs, to name a few). A real estate agent took advantage of them. In the spring of 1909, he presumably sold the group some land in Shafter (Kern County). After building small livable shacks, buying a cow and some horses, another man came and told the group that the land had not been for sale; thus, it did not belong to them; it belonged to the Kern Land Company. Note: I do not know when they were informed of this, but I do know that the Vereschagins continued living in Shafter until 1913.

In September of 1910, William, Martha, and Alex started school in a one-room country school house about a mile from where they lived. Most of the time they walked to school. If the horse was not needed for work that day, they were sometimes allowed to hitch-up the horse to a two-wheeled cart and take it to school. William was ten years old and was considered old enough to be in charge. One day when they were coming home, a jack-rabbit jumped in front of the horse. The horse got scared and took off on its own with the children hanging on for dear life. William was pulling on the reins as hard as he could, trying to stop the horse. Martha was sitting in the back with her legs hanging out and screaming for William to stop the horse because she wanted to get off. Fortunately, the children got home safely.

Martha was old enough to help with the cooking and the chores, besides helping to watch over the two little ones, John and Jane. One time John asked his mother where he had been born. She told him that William, Martha, and Alex had been born in Siberia, and that he had been born in Canada. He thought a moment and then said, ‘If I was the only one born in Canada, it must have been very lonesome for me.”

Life in Shafter was not easy. William worked with his father during the summer months. One day when they were eating their lunch out in the field, William asked his dad if perhaps tomorrow they could have two eggs, instead of one, for lunch. Years later when my husband told me about their early life in Shafter, the part about the eggs always brought tears to his eyes.

Leo was born in Shafter on November 11, 1910. He was named for Leo Tolstoy. Peter was also born there on June 27,1913. He was named for Mom V.’s dad.

Peoria, Oregon

As soon as Peter was old enough to travel and Mom V. had her strength back, the family packed up and left for Peoria, Oregon. They were forced to vacate their land, so decided on Oregon because there was quite a colony [the Koloniya Svoboda or “Freedom Colony”] of Doukhobors already living there (Vanins, Jericoffs, Popoffs and Lapshinoffs, to name a few) and my in-laws wanted to again live among their own people (Doukhobors rather than Molokans). As a group, these families had purchased a section of land. Upon arrival, Dad V. leased 40 acres from them.

Times continued to be tough. The families were all poor but they cared for one another. They helped each other to build living quarters, barns, tool sheds, and whatever was necessary for protection from the cold and rain in Oregon. They shared their produce and livestock as one big family.

Shortly after their arrival in Peoria and just as they finished adding on and patching the three-room house on the farm, the Dobrinin family [a Molokan family] arrived from Los Angeles. Having no house to move into, Dad and Mom V. invited them to move in with them. Imagine two families living in a three-room house, with no running water and no sanitary provisions in the house. The eight children had to sleep on the floor. (I wonder if this is what is meant by “the good old days.”) The Dobrinins lived with them for one winter until they accumulated enough money to get a house of their own, close by. Members of the two families continued to be very close friends throughout their lives.

My husband told me that their father once bought them a bicycle at an auction for 75 cents. The bearing on the front wheel was “shot” and there was no tire on that front wheel. Older-brother Bill had the idea to tie a rope around the wheel. It worked! Away they would go, until eventually the rope wore off.

The children started school in Peoria. It was a typical rural school with one teacher teaching all eight grades; most of the students were Russian. The Vereschagin children had to walk about two miles to go to school. The roads were bad, especially in winter when they were flooded. Luckily, there were wooden fences along the road. When the roads were flooded, they would walk on the fences; however, they couldn’t help getting their feet wet. John, being the youngest, often got his pants wet, too.

(l-r) John Vereschagin, Jim Vanin, William Vereschagin and friend, Peoria, Oregon, 1915. 

Every morning during the winter, the family had a difficult time getting the fire started in the kitchen stove. The wood would be wet because it was stored outside, unprotected from the rain. The children had to take turns blowing on the flame to keep it going. Consequently, they often arrived at school late. The teacher would send notes home, complaining about their tardiness. The notes didn’t help because, as my husband said: “There was no way to make the wood understand the problem.”

Despite the poverty, John often went to the local grocery store during the school lunch hour and bought 5 cents worth of candy. The owner, Mr. Lamar, told Dad V. about it. Dad questioned John and asked him where he was getting the money. John told him that he didn’t need any money. He just told Mr. Lamar to write it down in the book. (In those days, when you bought groceries on credit, you merely wrote it down in a book.)

In addition to farming their 40 acres, the family had to go out to work for other farmers in and around the Willamette Valley. Dad V. bought an old horse-drawn baler and a couple of horses. He hired out to cut and bale hay. William often worked with his dad. The family also worked at picking hops around the Independence area.

On July 1, 1915, another blessed event! Walter, the last child, was born. Now there were eight children in the family. Unlike many families in those days, all eight children were blessed with good health.

During the winter of 1916, Dad and Mom V. decided to move back to California, where it was warmer and there were more opportunities to earn money. Dad got on a train to go to Shafter where his friends the Rilcoffs and Poznoffs were still living. On the train, he happened to meet a real estate agent named Harrigan. Dad told Mr. Harrigan, in limited English, that he was on his way to Kern County. He was looking for good land to farm, as he had six sons and a farm was the best place to raise a family. Mr. Harrigan told him that he should get off in Orland because there was a new irrigation project (completed in 1911) and prospects were good. Dad took his advice and got off the train in Orland.

In Orland he went to see George and Dan Sturm, who were in the real estate and insurance business. They showed Dad properties that were in the irrigation project. Dad liked what he saw, but still wanted to go to Shafter before making a decision. He told them that he would stop back in Orland on his return trip.

Orland, California

In a few days, Dad V. was back in Orland and made a deal to lease, with an option to buy, 27 acres (21 acres in the irrigation project). Six acres were already planted in alfalfa and about one acre had newly planted orange trees. Another six acre plot was along Stony Creek. It was very gravely, thus not suitable for fanning. There was a small old house and a barn on the place. The farm was three miles east of Orland on County Road 12. This turned out to be the final home for the entire family unit, and became known as “the home place.”

For their move from Oregon, they put all of their “worldly goods” in one freight train boxcar. In addition to miscellaneous household articles, they had a team of horses, one cow, a wagon and a hay baler – all in the boxcar. In order to take care of the animals, Dad V. and brother-in-law Bill were allowed to ride in the boxcar at no cost. The rest of the family came the next day on a passenger train, thus arriving in Orland after the arrival of all their possessions.

Orland was a small, but thriving town when the Vereschagins stepped off the trains in 1916. (Census of 1910 showed 836 town residents.) The dirt and gravel streets had many potholes and ruts. Horse-drawn carriages were still being used. There was a ditch that ran through town. A flour mill was situated along the ditch at Fourth and Colusa Streets (present site of the city library). Besides the train depot, Orland had the usual general merchandise stores, bakery, bank, barber shop, churches, saloons, livery stables, blacksmith and harness shops, etc. There was a theater, a hotel, a bathhouse, a Chinese restaurant, a large grain warehouse, a creamery, and a chicken hatchery. The Masonic Lodge was, and still is, Orland’s tallest building (three stories). There was also an Odd Fellows Hall and two bi-weekly newspapers. The Volunteer Fire Dept. had already been organized and the Glenn County Fair began that year. The Orland Opera House was on the corner of Fifth & Colusa Streets (demolished in 1920). There was an elementary and a high school. Note: Would you believe that in 1882, Orland College opened with about two dozen students? It changed to Orland Normal School in 1886, and closed in 1892.

When the Vereschagins arrived in Orland, they had about $26.00 in cash. This was hardly enough to start housekeeping and feed a family of ten. In order to earn money to help support the family, twelve-year old Alex got up enough courage to ask Mr. Lindstrom (he owned the neighboring farm where Erik Nielsen now lives) if he would give him a job irrigating his orange orchard. Mr. Lindstrom asked Alex is he could use a shovel and knew how to divert the water from one row to another. Alex told him he could handle the job. Not only was Alex hired, but Mom V. occasionally helped Mrs. Lindstrom with the housework. Martha got a job doing housework for another neighbor – the Root family.

As the alfalfa hay crop around Orland became ready to bale. Dad and Bill went to several farmers and contracted to bale their hay. That was the beginning of the Vereschagins’ first commercial enterprise in Orland and the start of many other business ventures that were to follow throughout many years to come.
It was not easy to bale hay in 1916. The process went something like this: A team of horses pulled the baler out to the hay field. The wheels on the baler were removed in order to keep the baler stationary while in action. The horses were then hitched to the drawbar so that they could go round and round, turning the plunger which went up and down, feeding the hay into the chamber where the bales were made.

Everyone and everything had to work in precision in order to produce even-sized bales. Leo, who was about six years old, had to sit on the drawbar and keep the horses moving, so that the plunger went at a steady pace. Riding on the turnstile was similar to being on a merry-go-round. Being so young, he would often fall asleep. His dad would waken him by shouting “hun-ee.” In Russian, this means “keep them moving.” Later, that word (hun-ee) became a joke among the farmers for whom they worked.

Mom V. and Bill would pitch the hay from a stack on the ground to Dad V. who stood on the baler and fed the hay into the plunger. Alex’s job was to tie the bales with three wires to each bale. Ordinarily, this was a two-man job: one man pokes the wire into the slot on one side of the bale, and the other man ties the wires on the other side. Alex would poke the three wires on one side of the bale, then jump over to the other side and tie the wires before the next bale was formed. John’s job was to pull the finished bale away from the baler, weigh it, and write down the weight. They were paid by the ton, and not by the number of bales, so each bale had to be weighed.

Fifteen-year old Martha had the job of cooking for the crew. Since they worked long hours, she would have to cook two or three meals a day. Once in a while, she came out to help move the bales or pitch hay into the plunger. Eight-year old Jane had the job of staying home and taking care of the house and the two young ones, Peter and Walter.

Hay baling season was always in the heat of the summer. It was a hot, dusty, and dirty job. Everyone was “dead tired” at night and there was no air-conditioning in those days to cool off the house at night. Were those really the “good old days?”

When there were no hay-baling contracts, the older children worked in the hop fields east of Orland (across the Sacramento River). They would camp on the bank of the river, close to the hop fields. They would go home once a week to pick up supplies and get clean clothes. There was one problem with camping along the river: John would occasionally walk in his sleep. How did they solve the problem? They tied one leg to the tent peg. Note: “Hops” grow on vines and are used for flavor in brewing beer.

In the fall, the children went to school. Sixteen-year old Bill was not required to go to school, so he stayed home and worked with his father. The rest of the children went to the Orland grammar school. At first, they rode in a horse-drawn, two-seater cart, just like so many of the other children who lived out in the country. They all graduated from grammar school, but only Jane, Leo, and Walter were able to go to high school. The older ones had to work. Note: Neither Jane nor Leo graduated from high school; perhaps Walter did, but I’m not sure.

Dad V. did value education; however, circumstances were such that the children had to work just to make ends meet. In the words of my husband: “Our father did have in mind for us to go to school as much as was possible so that we would be ready to face the world.” Dad V. had one summer of schooling while living in Russia. He taught himself to be fluent in the reading and writing of Russian. He was also self-taught in math and in the reading and writing of English.

Typical of all families, the children had their squabbles. I heard the following story from Jane, but John said that he couldn’t remember the incident. Anyway, according to Jane, the two children had a squabble. Jane ran into the house and slammed and locked the door in John’s face. The door happened to have a glass window. She was on the inside making faces at him. John couldn’t control himself so he punched her right on the face through the glass window. The window broke into pieces, but fortunately neither of them were badly cut. I never heard how they were punished, but I am sure that the parents were very unhappy with the unnecessary expense of replacing the window.

Dad and Mom Vereschagin, c. 1917.

The first autumn after their arrival in Orland, Dad V.’s oldest brother, Vasily, and his family (wife, Dunya, son Alex and his wife Masha, and their children William and Polly) came to visit from Blaine Lake, Canada. Alex and Masha stayed and bought a small farm. Undoubtedly, everyone was excited to have blood-relatives living close by. The next spring, Masha gave birth to another daughter, Elizabeth. The Doukhobor colony in Orland was increasing.

In 1917, the United States declared war against Germany…World War I. This war had been going on in Europe since the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914.

Alex and Masha decided to return to Canada for the duration of the war because they were concerned about Alex being drafted into the U.S. Army. (In Canada, the Doukhobors had a conscientious objectors status.) Also, Masha’s brother Nikita had lost most of his left hand in a threshing machine accident in Blaine Lake. Masha was eager to go back and help take care of him. There was also the possibility that the border between the U.S. and Canada might be closed, thus making it more difficult to later leave. The war ended on November 11, 1918, but Alex and his family never returned to California.

Shortly after the war, Dad V.’s sister Paranya and family (husband George W. Popoff, son Mike and daughter Hazel) came to visit from Blaine Lake. Paranya and George had recently lost a seven-year old daughter, Polly, due to a lightning accident. They thought that a change in environment would be good for them. Just like Alex and Masha, they also bought a small farm. Mike and brother-in-law Bill were the same age, as were Hazel and sister-in-law Martha. The cousins spent a lot of time together at work and at play. For some reason, they only stayed a year, returning to Blaine Lake in the spring of 1919.

That same year, the Vanin and Jericoff families came to Orland from Oregon. The Vanins rented a house on Walker Street. They planned to stay for only a short while and then go farther south in California. (They actually later returned to live in Canada.) The Jericoffs purchased a small farm a couple of miles north of Orland, across Stony Creek, in the Lake District. I do not know exactly how long they lived in Orland, but Mr. and Mrs. Jericoff are buried in the Orland Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Another Doukhobor family who followed the Vereschagins from Oregon to Orland were the Lapshinoffs. They also bought a small farm in the Lake District. They had a young teenage daughter named Irene. I often wondered if there was another motive for both the Vanins and the Lapshinoffs to come to Orland. The Vereschagins had sons, prospective mates for their daughters. In those days, parents had a lot to do with choosing their children’s mates. An ideal mate had to be of the same heritage: preferably a Doukhobor, or at least someone who spoke Russian.

In addition to farming the “home place,” baling hay, and picking hops, the older children found other seasonal work. As they got older, they packed apricots and peaches for the Anchorage Farm which was south of Orland. Alex learned how to nail boxes for shipping the fresh fruit. Martha packed the fruit into these boxes. Others in the family worked cutting peaches and apricots for drying. When the peach cannery opened for the season in Yuba City, the older siblings went to work there. Yuba City is about 80 miles southeast of Orland. The cannery provided housing for the workers who were unable to commute each day. They also worked in an asparagus factory in Rio Vista. One time, Alex broke his finger on the job, so he returned to Orland while Martha and Jane (nicknamed Jenny) remained at the cannery to work. During orange-picking season, Alex nailed boxes at the Orland Orange Growers Packing House. The nailers were paid so much per box. Alex figured out the most efficient way to assemble the boxes, with no wasted movements. He made more money being paid per box than if he had been paid the current hourly wage.

All of the money that the children earned for working went into one family account. Not one penny went to the individual who earned the money. As was the custom, Dad V. was the head of the household. He collected and dispersed the money as he saw fit. He bought the groceries, the clothes, and paid all the bills. There was no accounting as to what is “mine” or “yours”; it was all “ours.” No doubt they got an allowance when they got older, because they did have limited money to see a movie, buy a soda, etc.

Around 1918 or 1919, Mother V. had to make an emergency trip to British Columbia to see her sister who was very ill. Since Mom V. spoke very little English, she was apprehensive about traveling alone. She was also uneasy about crossing the Canadian border. It was decided that eight-year old Leo would go along as her interpreter. He could also help her to take care of Walter. Leo must have done a good job because they did return home without any major problems.

Sometime prior to this, Dad and Mom V. made a trip together to Brilliant, British Columbia to visit her ill mother. When they got there, they were informed by the leader of the commune that they could not visit her mother in the commune. She was too ill to leave her home, so Dad and Mom had to sneak into the house at night in order to see her. This caused them to have a lot of ill feeling and disappointment toward the Doukhobor leadership. The wound never healed during their lifetime.

There was a reason for the above incident. In 1912-13, when the Doukhobors, under the leadership of Peter Verigin, decided to move to British Columbia, some Doukhobors living on homesteads in Saskatchewan refused to give up their lands and freedom. As a consequence, they were ostracized from the sect by an edict proclaimed by Peter Verigin, who had been given the title of “Lordly.” He named these dissidents ‘Independents” and told them that they were no longer welcome in the brotherhood. Dad V. was not in sympathy with Mr. Verigin’s leadership or philosophy. He wrote letters and articles in the Russian newspaper, denouncing commune living. Dad said that he did not approve of communes in Russia and did not agree with commune living in Canada. He saw it as an exploitation of innocent people that would only end in disaster. He believed in personal freedom. So, when Mom and Dad arrived to visit her sick mother, Verigin said that they could not be given permission to see her in a commune house.

In 1921, brother-in-law Bill married Irene Lapshinoff. It was not a big wedding. They were married in the Willows Justice Court, with a family dinner following. A deal was made between the Lapshinoffs and Bill, that he could move right in with them. They were getting old and Irene was their only child. On September 24, 1922, a son was born to the newlyweds. They named him Harold (Gavril in Russian) after Dad V.’s grandfather. In time, Mr. and Mrs. Lapshinoff deeded the house and farm to Bill and Irene. The seniors lived with them for a few years, both passing away in the mid-1920’s.

Left of the gentleman with child: Alex A. Vereschagin, Mike G. Popoff, Jane and John Vereschagin, Hazel G. Popoff, William and Martha Vereschagin, 1922.

On or about 1923, the Vereschagins had their first crop of prunes to harvest. They had planted about 12 acres of prunes in 1918-19. With no previous experience in prune drying, Alex and Bill visited other prune farms in the area to learn what to do. They had to build a dipping shed and drying trays. In those days, the fruit was dried by the sun, not in a dehydrator. Space was needed to spread the fruit out for drying. They chose to build the shed at the lower end of the farm, close to the creek, where there were no trees to block out the sun.

The process for harvesting prunes went something like this: A roller went around the trees to break up the large clods of dirt, so that the fruit was less likely to be bruised when it fell. A large canvas was spread under the trees, and then the fruit was knocked off with a heavy wooden mallet. When needed, a long pole was used to get the “stubborn ones.” Since some fruit always missed the canvas, the younger members of the family followed and picked the fruit off the ground into buckets. The buckets were emptied into lug boxes and then taken to the dipping shed. There, the fresh fruit was dumped into a large tub of cold water, then put into a solution of hot lye water. This caused the skin to soften so that the fruit would dry faster in the sun. The lye would also repel bees and flies.

The prunes were then spread on the trays and laid out in the sun to dry. The drying time depended on the weather. Under ideal conditions, they would dry in about a week; however, if there was a threat of rain, the trays had to be stacked and covered with canvas, thus slowing down the drying time. When it was determined that the fruit was dry enough, it was then scraped from the trays and put into burlap sacks and kept in a storage barn until sold. Note: All the fresh fruit had to be dipped, spread on the trays, and set out to dry the same day as it was picked. There could be no leftovers. This made for very long days of hard work during prune harvest.

Rosenburg Brothers were the brokers for dried fruit at that time. I believe they were based in San Francisco. The prunes were shipped in boxcars to the Rosenburg plant. Shipping them in burlap sacks was often a mess. The syrup-like juice would run off the prunes onto the sacks, causing the sacks to stick together and even tear apart in handling. At the plant, the fruit would be packaged and then marketed throughout the United States and Canada. The price for dried prunes in 1923 was $ .01 per pound. In 1926, they got up to $ .07 per pound. (In 1996 the price averaged about $ .40 per pound.)

A tragedy befell the family in 1923. Brother Peter, age ten, was killed by a horse while he was feeding it. It happened during hay-baling season. At the end of a baling day, Peter and Leo had the job of feeding the team of horses. This one particular day, for some reason, one of the horses became frightened when Peter lifted up the pitchfork after feeding it some hay. It kicked him behind the ear on the left side of his head. Peter never regained consciousness and died a few hours later. Needless to say, everyone was shocked. The family remembered him as being a very sweet, cheerful boy. He loved to sing when he worked and played. My husband remembered that he sang very loudly when he milked the cows.

The next year there was a happy event. While working in San Francisco, Martha met Bill Boyko, a Russian from the Ukraine. After a short courtship, they were married in San Francisco on June 21, 1924. They lived in San Francisco for a short time; then they moved to Orland, buying a twenty-acre farm on Road MM, a mile or so southeast of Orland. They built a two-room house, then gradually added on rooms. Not only did Bill work on his own almond and olive orchard, but he also worked for other farmers in the area and for the Vereschagins. Whenever she could, Martha worked right along with her husband, picking olives and oranges, and working at the packing houses. A year later, on June 27, 1925, a son, George, was born.

Along with other farmers in Glenn County, for a short time the family experimented with cotton. They planted about ten acres. There was a cotton gin along the railroad tracks in Hamilton City. It turned out that growing cotton was not such a good idea for the area, so the cotton farms eventually disappeared.

About this time, there was no longer a need for work horses. The Vereschagins purchased their first tractor, a 3-wheel Samson. The hay baler was converted to engine power. The family even bought their first car, a 1918 Buick. Things were looking good. Bill and Alex convinced their dad that they should go to a mechanics school in San Francisco. They needed to learn more about motors and engines. They spent a couple of winter months in the city. In addition to going to school, they socialized with the local Molokans. Bill was married; however, Alex was single. Years later, he still liked to talk about his escapades during those two months.

During the summer of 1924, about five young families of Doukhobors from Canada stopped in Orland for rest and for information about relocating in California. They wanted to buy a piece of land large enough to start a small colony. They needed to be close enough to available jobs because they would all have to work until they got enough money to buy their own land. Orland didn’t have much to offer them, so they went farther south. They found work in the newly established vineyards around Manteca, Lodi, and Stockton.

They found a piece of undeveloped land not too far from Manteca and asked Dad V. for his advice as to the quality of the land and its possibilities for growing grapes. On his recommendation, they purchased one hundred sixty acres of good farming soil about three miles from the small rural town of Manteca. To prove to the new buyers that they were not making a mistake, Dad bought the first twenty acres. Each of the families bought their own twenty acres, and the Rebins even bought several twenty-acre pieces for their relatives still in Canada. That was the beginning of the Doukhobor colony in Manteca [i.e. the Russian Colony].

In 1924, when the Manteca colonists began developing their property, Dad, Alex, and John went to Manteca to develop their 20 acres; they leveled the land, prepared it for irrigation, and planted grape vines. Jane (16 years old) went to cook and do the other household chores. Alex (21 years old) designed and built a small house and a tank house. The house is standing and occupied to this day. Note: A water tank was placed over the domestic well and above the level of the farmhouse. Gravity would then force the water into the faucets in the house. Usually, a room was built under the water tank, hence the name “tank house.”

Since it was too far from Orland, the Vereschagins were not able to continue farming this Manteca farm. Instead, they rented it out to be farmed by others.

Uncle Gavril came to visit from Canada. Dad V. decided to take him to see the farm in Manteca, and visit other Doukhobors in the San Joaquin Valley. I’m not sure whether Dad had a driver’s license – probably not. He was not a mechanic; but he did know that a car needed gasoline and oil to run. While he and Gavril were on their trip, every time Dad gassed up he also put in a quart of oil. The engine was eventually so full of oil that it would not run. Alex took the train and brought the Buick home. I was told that the car was belching smoke like a freight train. Fortunately, the older boys were able to get it back in good running condition.

When Alex was building the house in Manteca, his good friend, Mike Shlahoff, got married. The wedding took place in San Francisco. While at the wedding, Alex met the bride’s younger sister, Jeanette Covolenko. Now it so happened that Jeanette came often to visit her sister who was living in Manteca. A romance developed. In 1927, Alex and Jeanette got married in her parents’ home in San Francisco. The newlyweds returned to Orland to live in the same house with Dad, Mom, John, Jane, Leo, and Walter.

The Covolenkos were not Doukhobors; they were Baptists. They and other Russian-Baptist immigrants (Dolgoffs, Commendants, Sclarenkos, and Bamuts) came to the United States through South America. They settled on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, where the Molokans had also settled. All were good friends with the Vereschagins.

In 1926, Bill and Irene had their second son, William. Unfortunately, when he was eighteen months old, he contacted meningitis and died. How sad!

Alex A. Vereschagin, 1927.

Whenever Jane was in Manteca, Walter Poznoff would come from Shafter to visit her. They were married in Orland on October 3, 1927. (Wonder if the two sets of parents had something to do with them getting together? After all, Dad V. and Walt’s father [Vasily Pozdnyakov] had remained very good friends since their days in Siberia.) Jane left her Orland home and family to live in Shafter with Walt’s parents and his one brother, Alexander.

That same year, Dad went to Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, to visit his brother Vasya and sister Parania. While there he visited with his good friend Fred Sokorokoff. Fred had a daughter, Tina. Dad thought Tina would make a good wife for his son John. When Dad got back to Orland, he told John to write to Tina. Being a dutiful son, John did.

Since the price of prunes was down, the Vereschagins decided to ship two boxcars of prunes, with some raisins and dried peaches, to Saskatchewan. One boxcar was to go to Yorkton and the other to Blaine Lake (two communities with many Doukhobors). While the boxcars were on their way to Canada, Dad and John were also on their way, in order to be there to sell the fruit. The trip turned out to be a huge success. Dried prunes were a rare commodity in their stores. The family made $.02 more per pound for the prunes than they would have in California and could have sold even more.

Another purpose of the trip was for John to meet his “pen pal” – Tina Sokorokoff. Needless to say, a romance developed. In June of 1928, John went back to Blaine Lake on the train. He and Tina were married there in a traditional Doukhobor ceremony. Tina’s parents accompanied the newlyweds on their train trip back to Orland. They honeymooned together! Meanwhile, Mom V. prepared a bedroom for the couple. They were to live in the same house with the rest of the family: Dad and Mom V., Alex and Jeanette, Leo, and Walter.

Things continued to look good for the Vereschagins. They were able to save some money. Dad V. was looking into investing in more land. His good friend, George Sturm (a realtor), had just the place for him. Dad bought a small farm on Newville Road, west of town. The land was in the irrigation project; it had the potential to be a future home for himself or for one of his sons. He deeded the land in his wife Virginia’s name. Perhaps he thought that she should have something in her name, just in case.

The newly purchased land needed to be developed for farming. They planted almonds and oranges. There were no buildings on the property. With this additional acreage, the boys no longer had time to work in the canneries, although Alex did continue to nail boxes for the Orange Packing House for a few more years.

In 1928-29, the “stork” was a frequent visitor to the Vereschagin clan. The babies, all born healthy, were: daughter Elaine (1/31/28), born to Alex and Jeanette V.; daughter La Verne (9/3/28), born to Bill and Martha Boyko; daughter Louise (2/9/29), born to Bill and Irene V.; son Vernon (3/23/29), born to John and Tina V.; and son Robert (4/28/29), born to Walt and Jane Poznoff.

Alex and Jeanette’s marriage was having difficulties. For a short time, they went to live in the house that Alex had built in Manteca. Still, the problems continued, finally leading to a divorce in 1929. Jeanette went to live with her parents in San Francisco, taking baby Elaine with her. Along with the rest of the family, Grandmother V. had become greatly attached to Elaine. The parting was especially difficult and emotional for Grandmother and Elaine.

Meanwhile, the family dwelling was not only “bulging out the seams,” but was in need of a major remodeling job. The decision was made to build a new house. Mother V. had lived in crowded quarters and old houses all of her life. She deserved a new home. Since Alex had already had the experience of building the house in Manteca, they were confident that they could build this one, too. With Mom’s help, Alex drew up the plans for the house. Everything was custom made on the premises, even the cabinets and trimmings.

The new three-bedroom home had many conveniences: a sink with running water; a cooking stove with a warming closet on top and a water heater attachment that heated water; a large living room for entertaining company; and a basement for storing canned goods and winter vegetables. The nearby tank house had a nice extra bedroom. Leo and Walter were the first to share the room.

Mother V. had been suffering from kidney stones for many years. The local doctor had been trying to cure her problem with diet and medication. In 1930, her condition became unbearable. The doctor was able to get her into the University of California Hospital in San Francisco as an emergency patient, where she was operated on immediately. The operation was a success, but Mother died from pneumonia a few days later. She was forty years old. In the words of my husband: “May God bless her as she had a heart of gold!”

Mom Vereschagin’s funeral, 1930. (l-r) Dad Vereschagin, Alex holding Elaine, Bill Boyko behind Irene holding Louise, Martha, Walter, Bill, Leo, Jane, Walter Poznoff, Tina, John holding Vernon, Young boys, Harold behind George.

Unfortunately, I never got to meet Mother V., as she died before I met and married Alex. The family always spoke fondly other, so I felt as though I knew her. They said that she was a shy person, unpretentious, and never stood out in a crowd. She had to have been a courageous woman…living in Siberia and then crossing the ocean to unknown lands. She had eight children within fifteen years. It was exceptionally sad that she had not lived long enough to enjoy her new home.

It took a long time for the family to adjust after Mother V. passed away. Dad spent a lot of time reading Tolstoy’s classics and writing letters. Tina became the matron of the house. Not only did she have a baby (Vernon) to care for, but she was in charge of the cooking, baking, washing, and cleaning for all her in-laws living under the same roof. The men were not much help because they were busy farming. Sister Martha helped with the baking whenever she could. For Dad V., home-baked bread was a must. Note: With so many living under one roof, bread had to be baked every other day.

Not too long after Mom V.’s death, Tina’s parents, the Sokorokoffs, decided to move to Orland to be near their one and only daughter. Her only brother William also made the move. They sold their property in Blaine Lake. Dad V. and John located a small farm, suitable for a small orchard, for them to buy on County Road N. There was no house on the property. Alex built them a garage with a bedroom and a small kitchen attached. This would be their temporary home until the main house could be built.

At approximately the same time, a larger piece of property was being offered for sale not very far from the Sokorokoff place. John and Tina decided that it would make a nice location for their home, sometime in the distant future. The Vereschagins bought it and right away the men planted almond trees and alfalfa.

It was apparent that Tina needed help with her household chores. Now that Alex’s divorce was final. Dad V. felt that he should be looking for another wife. They even thought that perhaps Alex should go to Canada and look for a Doukhobor girl. Before that trip ever materialized, Dad went to a funeral in Sheridan. He saw several young Molokan girls, me being one of them. Upon his return home, he told Alex that perhaps he should go to Sheridan and see if he could find a mate. Alex did. We met. We married on May 31, 1931. 

Alex and Ann (Popoff) Vereschagin’s wedding day, 1931.

My Life Begins In Orland

When I woke up my first morning in Orland, Alex had already gone to work, baling hay. Tina was in the kitchen with Vernon. She told me that I could take my time and first get acquainted with the house. The work will come later. She showed me how the shower worked and where the outhouse was.

I spent most of the day organizing our bedroom. Before the wedding, Alex asked me what my favorite color was and how I wanted the bedroom to be painted. I chose mauve and a light green because of a picture I had once seen in a magazine. He painted the walls mauve, the ceiling a light cream, and the furniture was pale green. It was pretty – the nicest bedroom I had ever possessed! The room was not very large, but it was warm and cozy because it faced the west and there was a large shade tree outside the double window. I enjoyed spending time alone in the bedroom – reading, sewing, and thinking.

Gradually, under Tina’s supervision, I learned how to cook the foods that the family liked: borsch, lapsha, peroshki, vareniki, lapshevnik, and baked bread. I even learned how to fry bacon, because, for reasons previously mentioned, my family never ate bacon or ham.

It had been Leo and Walter’s responsibility to milk the cows, but it wasn’t long until Tina and I were milking them instead. There were usually two or three cows to milk. After milking, we used a separator (machine) to separate the cream from the milk. There was a crank that had to be turned by hand in order for the separator to work. Eventually, Alex got an electric motor to run the separator, which made the job easier. Tina and I were both pregnant at the time, so maybe that was the reason for the electric motor.

At first, Tina and I did the cooking, washing, and cleaning together, often getting in each other’s way. We decided to divide the chores into “inside” and “outside” jobs. One week I would work “outside” (milking, weeding the garden, washing clothes) while Tina would work “inside” (cooking and cleaning the house… except for our personal bedrooms). We would switch jobs every week. This division of work proved successful. We did it until John and Tina moved out and into their own home – about five years after my joining the family.

A few days after we were married, I discovered that my husband had another love. His love for “the shop” was something that I had to live with for the rest of our lives together. With that love came the perpetual smell of oil, grease, and carbon, not to mention the problem of getting the oil stains out of his work clothes. I had to keep reminding him to take his soiled clothes and shoes off before coming into the house. He finally started to wear coveralls, except in the summer, when it was too hot.

Alex loved mechanics and building things. He would buy scrap iron, used building materials, and old motors and engines. From these, he was always inventing and constructing things to make farming easier and better. It was many years before he could afford to buy anything new. Note from Virginia: One of my memories growing up was that no trip to San Francisco or Sacramento was complete without a stop at one of Dad’s favorite “junk yards.” He knew them all. “Junk yards” are never in the better neighborhoods. There was never any place for us to shop, so we would have to sit in the car and wait for him.

The “home place”, Orland, California, 1929.

Alex and a group of neighbors got together and constructed a telephone line from Orland, along Road 12, to Road P. This was common practice, known as a “farmer’s line,” which the farmers had to maintain. Telephones were mounted to the wall. Instead of dialing a number, you had to turn a crank to get the operator. (Sometimes several “cranks” before she answered.) You would tell her the number and she would connect you to the party you were calling. Each house on the line had its own special telephone ring. George (Boyko) remembers that their number was 6F13. The F stood for “farmers line,” the 6 was which farmer’s line, and the 1 and 3 denoted the rings – 1 long and 3 short. The “home place” number was 2F12 – 1 long and 2 short rings on farmer’s line 2. Everyone on the line heard all of the rings. You had to listen carefully for your own ring. Note: Listening in on other’s telephone conversations was common. News traveled fast!

It was wonderful when Pacific Telephone Company came to Northern California and replaced all rural telephone lines with new poles, new lines, and equipment. The wall phone was replaced with a desk phone and we were unable to hear our neighbor’s conversations anymore.

John was the entrepreneur of the family. When I came in 1931, he was in the chicken business. I remember him out in the chicken pen, feeding them. I don’t remember whether he sold any eggs or not, nor how much longer he kept the chickens. John also purchased some Trans American stock prior to the stock market crash in 1929. That was his first experience with buying stock. In later years, he became quite knowledgeable and successful investing in the stock market.

This is perhaps a good place to tell about my impressions of Dad V. What stands out in my memory is that you seldom saw him without a Russian newspaper in his back pocket, because he liked to read every spare moment that he had. In addition to the newspapers, he read books by Russian authors. He frequently read and quoted from the Bible. Dad also liked to write. He would practice writing his name over and over again, in both Russian and English. He wrote many letters to relatives and friends. He wrote articles for the Russian newspapers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as the Doukhobor newspaper in Canada. Most of the articles were about the Doukhobors and the Molokans, and their respective philosophies. He wrote about his views on Doukhobor life in the Canadian communes. He was not in sympathy with the leaders of the British Columbia Doukhobor sect, and wrote many articles and letters expressing his views.

Alex W. “Dad” Vereschagin (1878-1946), c. 1931. British Columbia Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01894.

My father-in-law was a very convincing speaker and conversationalist. He could stand in front of a large group and talk for hours without notes. People liked to hear him speak, so invited him to many special occasions and celebrations where he would always have something to say. Russian politics was a favorite topic of his, as well as religion.

In addition to speeches, singing was also part of any Russian gathering, and Dad loved to sing. He encouraged us to sing with him. He enjoyed getting us together in the evenings, or whenever we had company, to sing his favorite Russian songs. I hate to brag, but we did have a good chorale when we were all together. Dad had a very nice voice, as did William V. Alex, Tina, Irene, Martha, and Bill Boyko. Note from Virginia: Mom had a terrific singing voice, too!

I remember evenings when the family would gather for socializing on the front lawn. The mosquitoes would be so bad that we had to light a fire in an old pail to keep them from attacking us. The pail was perforated for air. Some dry straw was put in the bottom, then it was filled with dry manure. Once the fire and smoke died down, we all went inside.

Our social life outside of the family was limited during the early years of our marriage. We made a few friends by joining the local Grange (an organization for farmers). We occasionally went to dances in town. We seldom went to the movies. Traveling to Chico, twenty miles away, was a real treat! Tina and I only went there when the men went on business and we were able to tag along and do a little shopping. Most of our shopping was done in Orland. The doctor and the dentist were in Orland, so why go to Chico?

We would also get together with friends at each other’s houses and play cards and other games. The children would go along with their parents (no baby-sitters) and have fun playing their own games until they got tired and had to be taken home. This might sound boring, but in those days, when we were young and did not have much money, it was the only thing to do. Note: Entertaining at home was not very satisfactory, because there were so many other family members living with us.

We had a radio. Amos and Andy, Gracie Allen and George Burns, plus the news and weather reports were our favorite programs. We also had a phonograph with a few records; these were mostly the “big band” music popular at that time. One thing that we didn’t have was television. That didn’t come for twenty more years, in the 1950’s.

I shall never forget our first trip (vacation) after we got married. In between the next irrigation and mowing hay, we took a few days off and went to Mt. Shasta. It was supposed to have been our honeymoon; however, Martha, her children (George and Laverne), Leo, and Walter went with us. We camped at what used to be the Southern Pacific Shasta Springs Park. That was the spot where all trains going north or south would stop to get water for the steam locomotives. Passengers would get off the trains while they took on the water. There was a little store, cafe, and gift shop where the passengers could browse and enjoy the fresh mountain air. A short distance up the hill from the tracks there was a lovely Victorian type hotel called Mt. Shasta Springs Retreat. When the diesel engines replaced the steam engines, the hotel was sold to a religious organization and the trains no longer stopped at Shasta Springs.

The first summer, right after I was married, I learned how to hull almonds. The trees were young, so there were not too many nuts. Tina and I hulled them by hand. Somebody built a bin (hopper) under a tree into which the almonds were dumped. The hopper had holes on the bottom. The almonds would drop through the holes and onto a counter. We sat at the counter, with a gunny sack on each side of us. One sack was for the hulled (outside hulls removed) almonds and the other was for the unwanted hulls.

We picked prunes in the orchard adjoining the “home place” which belonged to a Mr. Fox. At the time, we rented the property. The next year or so, we bought the farm from Mr. Fox with the intention of building a house on it. Dad V. thought that Alex and I should live there, because it was next door and close to the shop where Alex spent most of his time. Note: In 1939, we did build our home there, right across the driveway from the “home place.”

In the early 30’s, we did not have an electric stove. During the winter, we used a wood-burning stove. During the summer, we used a kerosene stove, which I was not fond of because of the smell. The cook stove heated the water for washing and for bathing. Our first refrigerator was an “ice box.” Big chunks of ice were put in it to keep the food from spoiling. Our Maytag washing machine was inside a shed near the house. There was no plumbing nor hot water out there. We had to carry the hot water from the house and the cold water came from a faucet outside the shed.

Alex and Ann Vereschagin shortly after their wedding, 1931.

In September of 1931, three months after we were married, Alex got away from work long enough for us to go and get our wedding picture taken. I was two months pregnant, and did not want a picture taken, but the family thought we should. At the same time, we went to visit my folks in Sheridan.

With the coming of fall, it was time to pick olives and then oranges. Tina and I were exempt, because we were both pregnant; however, we did more cooking because we had extra mouths to feed. Bill and Martha Boyko picked olives for us, so we had to prepare more food for them at lunch and dinnertime. We also baby-sat with Laverne, who was about three years old. I remember that she cried a lot when her mother left her with us. George was older and had started school in September.

Note: As I sit in front of my typewriter today (9/1/93), I am thinking of the past and the things that occurred during my lifetime. I believe that my generation has experienced more progress than any other generation in history… from “the horse and buggy days” to “walking in space.” I have also witnessed big changes in our personal lives. To remember everything is impossible. I am finding it difficult to write the events exactly as they happened and in the right chronological order. If I write an incorrect date, or an event is not exact, please forgive me. I do not want to “step on anyone’s toes.” I merely want to write a brief history of events that molded our family’s life. Please be patient and read on.

More About the 1930’s

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Democrat) was elected the 32nd President. He was the only president to be elected for four terms (1933-1945).

1932 was the dawn of a new era for the Vereschagin family in Orland. It was the beginning of farming expansion and business ventures outside of farming. Growth continued for approximately thirty more years and it required three generations to accomplish the dream.

Alex and John were firm believers in real estate for a long term investment. They had confidence in their abilities. They loved the challenge to try new projects and were not afraid to take chances. Alex learned how to weld so that he could make tanks and steel buildings. When constructing service stations, they both did the plumbing and electrical wiring. They were talented men!

John’s primary talent was husbandry. He knew about plants and trees. He liked to irrigate and supervise the hired help. He played an important role in getting the best price for the farm products as well as purchasing products. John and Alex worked well together. Each one respected the other’s endeavors; they trusted one another at all times. There were differences of opinion on many projects, but they always worked them out to the satisfaction of both. John spent most of his time out in the orchards and fields, while Alex spent most of his time in the shop.

In 1932, Leo was just twenty-two years old. He wasn’t married, so his thoughts were more on his social life than on work; still, he more or less agreed to whatever his two older brothers decided to do in the way of business. When they went into the oil business, Leo became the expert on the operation and maintenance of the gasoline transport trucks. He was good at keeping the Fageol and Kenworth trucks on the road for many miles and many years. This was important because it was the oil business that put us “on our feet.” From the oil business, we were able to invest further in the agricultural business, which happens to be our most productive business today.

The youngest brother, Walter, was sixteen years old; thus a bit young in making decisions. His work at the time was to mainly help his older brothers do what they told him to do. As he got older, he was given more responsibilities.

The spring of 1932 made a big change in my life. I became a proud Mama! Our healthy, happy daughter, Virginia Lee, was born on the morning of April 30th. She was named for her grandmother, Alex’s mother. Doctor S. Iglick, sister-in-law Martha Boyko, and my mother were in attendance at the birth.

Two weeks later, on May 19th, Tina had her second son, John. Dr. Iglick and Martha were also in attendance at that birth. (Note from Virginia: I was told that John and I were a bargain. Dr. Iglick delivered both of us for $50.00.) Now we had two babies in the same house. We had to make a plan as to who got the baby bathtub first. The feeding was easy, as they were both breast fed — usually in our bedrooms. Then there was the diaper washing. Fortunately, our men bought us a new Maytag electric washing machine that even had a self-propelled wringer on it. We felt very lucky indeed. Pampers and clothes dryers had not yet been invented, so the diapers had to be hung on the line to dry. We had a big clothes line, and it seemed that there were diapers fluttering in the breeze all of the time,

In one way, it was nice that we had two babies in the house because they always had someone to play with. They became very good playmates. We each also had a live-in baby-sitter. Whenever John and Tina wanted to go somewhere, Alex and I stayed home with the children. They stayed home when we wanted to take a few hours off. Alex and I didn’t go to many movies, but we did like to go to the dances at the Grange or Memorial Halls.

The men were busy building a large barn to house the hammer-mill for grinding alfalfa hay. The alfalfa that had been planted on John’s place was coming into production and the sale of baled hay was beginning to be very competitive in the Orland area. Alex and John decided to start something new and different. There was a demand for alfalfa meal as a feed for poultry. Mr. Macy, who owned and operated the Macy Feed and Lumber store, suggested to them that they should start making alfalfa meal. He was buying the meal elsewhere for the local poultry producers. At the same time, the local farmers were shipping baled alfalfa hay out of the county.

It was a major undertaking to build that big, high barn on the new property that was to become John and Tina’s home place. They not only had to work long hours, but their construction tools were often inadequate. It also took some dare-devils to volunteer to climb to the top. Miraculously, no one got hurt and the barn was built on time. Brother-in-law Bill had an old Victor grinding mill which he sold to the family, with the agreement that his hay would be included in the process of making alfalfa meal. The old Victor grinder was propelled by tractor-power that used stove oil: a new, refined product for use in tractors. After fixing a few mechanical “bugs” and changes here and there, the men were in business processing alfalfa meal for the local animal and poultry producers. Note: This business only lasted about three years because other opportunities came up that took their time and resources.

To run the new alfalfa meal business, we were buying diesel and stove oil from Mr. Edwards, distributor in Orland for the Shell Oil Company. He suggested that we should set up a tank (500 gallons or more) and take advantage of a break in price for fuel. I think the price of diesel at the time was about $ .06 a gallon delivered. If we were to pick up the fuel at the bulk plant in Chico, the price was $ .02. Stove oil was $ .12 delivered, and would be $ .06 at the plant. That was quite a savings. We took Mr. Edwards’ advice. We bought a used truck with a flatbed and put a two-compartment 500-600 gallon tank on it. Needless to say, the truck and tank were bought from some salvage “junk yard” in Oakland. The tank didn’t have a meter, so we had to pump the fuel out of the tank by hand.

Since we were now buying diesel and stove oil from the bulk plant for the alfalfa meal business, the next logical step was that we started selling fuel to other farmers in the area. This business started in 1932-33. The family bought a couple of used Southern Pacific gasoline railroad cars, one for diesel oil and the other for stove oil. The railroad tankers were set up at the “home place” for storing bulk fuel. We purchased a small tanker truck to be used for delivering fuel to the farmers and heating oil for homes. Since our truck didn’t have a meter, the fuel had to be gravity loaded into certified, five-gallon buckets. These filled buckets were carried by hand, probably two at a time and up a ladder, and then poured into the customer’s tank. For a break in price, rather than having the fuel delivered, some farmers would bring their own steel drums to the “plant.” Note: Although this continued to be called the ‘”home place,” once the gasoline storage tanks were installed, it also became known as the ‘”plant.”

I became the bookkeeper for our fuel business. I also helped the farmers when they came to pick up their own fuel. I had to pay bills and send out invoices every thirty days. I learned how to take inventory at the end of each month and how to balance the books. I had a used hand-crank adding machine and an old cash register that did nothing but open the cash drawer -when you turned the handle. (Three years later we bought a bookkeeping machine that posted sales and credits.)

This new bookkeeping job was in addition to my other household chores. Tina and I continued to share all our “outside” and “inside” jobs. We continued to hand-hull the almonds, can the tomatoes for borscht, make sauerkraut from the extra cabbage, etc. Perhaps the only thing that changed was that our two babies were growing older and were able to entertain themselves for longer periods of time.

By now, Alex and John were getting more and more involved in expanding the bulk plant. Alex built more gasoline storage tanks. John was looking into supplying large farmers and existing service stations with fuel. Walter was beginning to take his turn in driving the small tanker truck, delivering fuel to the local small farmers, homes, and businesses. By 1933, we were supplying diesel and stove oil in Orland, Willows, Capay, Hamilton City, and Coming. We eventually got meters and hoses for the large storage tanks and for the small delivery truck; it was no longer necessary to do the back-breaking task of carrying buckets up a ladder. We were growing and expanding!

In 1934 we bought our first used Fageol truck. It had to be fitted with a large tank (3,000 gallon capacity) and, in order to make the long trips worthwhile, it was necessary to add a large trailer, also with a 3,000 gallon tank. To save money, Alex built the tanks in his shop. To make the tanks round, he used an old outmoded, but functional, roller. He used an old welder purchased from a “junk yard” in Oakland. Alex, with some help from his brother Bill, worked long hours to design, cut, roll, and weld those tanks. Then the tanks had to be mounted on the truck and trailer; a metered pump had to be added; it had to be fitted with hoses; etc. etc. etc. I don’t remember how long it took to get the transport ready to deliver fuel, but I do remember that we didn’t see much of Alex during that time.

We had been buying gasoline and diesel fuel from the Shell Oil plant in Chico. Now we were equipped and ready to purchase a larger quantity for a better price directly from a refinery (Wilshire) in Bakersfield – 400 miles way. Alex was the only one with a truck driver’s license, so he made the Fageol’s first trip. (Besides, he wanted to make sure that everything worked properly.) Since the speed limit for tankers was 25 miles per hour, it took 32 hours to make the round trip. Once John got his trucker’s license, he and Alex took turns driving. The trips were frequent, because, besides stove and diesel oils, we were also now delivering gasoline to farmers in the area. Eventually, when the truck needed repairs and updating; Leo became the ‘^truck expert” of the family. In due time, he passed his truck operator’s license and started to take his turn at the wheel.

On one of my husband’s trips to Bakersfield to pick up fuel, he was asphyxiated. He was always in a hurry, hardly ever stopping to sleep. This time he stopped in one of the small towns between Stockton and Fresno to get a cup of coffee and rest for a short while. He left the engine in the Fageol running while he dozed off. Soon he felt like he was dreaming, yet awake. He was barely able to open the door before losing consciousness and falling on the pavement. The proprietor of the coffee shop saw him fall and went to see what had happened. At first, he thought Alex was drunk, but soon realized that he had passed out from the fumes that he smelled in the cabin of the truck. He called for an ambulance. Alex was very lucky! Of course, we were notified. John, Dad, and I drove down to see him, Alex was able to return home with us. John drove the transport truck back to Orland. From then on, Alex took the time to pull over and take a nap. He had learned his lesson the hard way!

Meanwhile, Mr. Stevenson, the local Shell Oil representative, suggested that we should also consider purchasing our lubricating oils directly from a refinery. He suggested that we contact Barkow Petroleum Company in San Francisco. They had an oil blending and packaging facility in Bakersfield, in the same area as Wilshire and other small refineries. We did contact them and became the first independent oil distributors north of San Francisco.

Note: The Barkow Petroleum Company was also a family partnership. It began with a father and his two young sons. When the father died, the older son took over the running of the office, and the younger (Milton) became the traveling salesman, Milton and his wife Jewel, who traveled a lot with her husband, became very close friends of ours.

The Vereschagins’ Fageol petroleum transport truck and trailor with Mohawk sign painted on side.

We also decided to do business with Mohawk Petroleum Company, instead of continuing with Wilshire. Why? Mohawk was a small refinery, struggling to get started, and anxious for a distributor in northern California. We were looking for a supplier that would give us a good deal, and Mohawk’s offer was the best. Our association with the Mohawk and Barkow Petroleum companies continued for a long time.

Now we had to have an official name for the business. The brothers liked using “Vereschagin” in the name, and also thought that they would like to included the initial “A” in honor of their father. They wondered if “Vereschagin” might be too long and too foreign sounding; thus, too hard to remember. Mr. Marston, one of the owners of Mohawk Petroleum, said that he liked using the name “Vereschagin.” It was “one of a kind.” Once you heard it, you wouldn’t forget it. He suggested that the name could either be “A. Vereschagin and Sons” or “A. Vereschagin Oil Company.” A decision was made; the contract was signed to read: “A. Vereschagin Oil Company.” Note: After Dad Vereschagin’s death, we dropped the initial “A” and our business name became “Vereschagin Oil Company.” This name continued until 1964, when the third generation took over the management of the business. The partnership holdings were first split into five, and then merged into three, separate enterprises: Vereschagin Company, Vereschagin Oil Company, and Plaza Farms. Vereschagin Company remained a partnership, and the other two became operating corporations.

The Fageol truck had to have the name of our company and a logo painted on it for identification. Since we were selling Mohawk gasoline, its logo was to be the head of a Mohawk Indian. This “Mohawk” logo had to also be added to our small delivery truck. Although I had painted the name on the small delivery truck, these paintings had to look more professional, so we hired an Orland painter (Mr. Sevisind) to do the painting and the lettering. He did a superb job and we had the flashiest trucks in town.

Since the truck and trailer transport hauled about 6,000 gallons with each load, Alex now began working day and night to make even larger storage tanks to accommodate the loads of gasoline, diesel, and stove oil. He coaxed his friend Mike Sklarenko, who was a welder in San Francisco, to come up on weekends to help him weld the tanks. Alex and John took turns driving the transport truck to Bakersfield and back. Exhausting schedule!

Note: After we made our first sizable profit from the petroleum business, we were able to repay some debts. We paid off the Federal Land Bank on the mortgage that we had on the “home place.” I believe the debt was about three thousand dollars. We were able to pay brother Bill’s mortgage of $2,500 and sister Martha’s debt of $2,500. This was more or less to even up the family inheritance. Later, other distributions were made to Bill, Martha, and Jane, particularly when they were building their homes.

Around this time, Tina’s brother Bill Sokorokoff and brother-in-law Bill Vereschagin became partners in a business. They opened an appliance and radio store in downtown Orland on Fourth Street. The partnership lasted for several years. After selling the store, Bill S. went into real estate and Bill V. continued with his other ventures.

After the fall harvest in 1934, the two younger boys, Leo and Walter, went on an unannounced adventure together. They withdrew the $500.00 which they had inherited from their mother’s estate, bought a used Ford convertible car, and took off. They didn’t tell anybody where they were going. I remember Bill V. disguising himself one evening and driving around Orland looking for them. It wasn’t until a few days later when someone thought to call Jane that they found out they were in Shafter. Well, when their money ran out, they came back home, chagrined and apologetic. They had had their fling and were ready to go back to work. Incidentally, Walter met his future wife in Shafter.

Also in 1934, John and Tina hired a contractor from Chico to build a house on the farm bought for them by the family. They hired a contractor because they were busy and it would take too long to build on their own. There was an urgency for them to complete their house. Walter was engaged to the girl he met in Shafter, Elizabeth Karyakin. John and Tina would have to vacate their bedroom for the newlyweds. When they moved, Vernon was about five years old and Johnny was about two and a half. I remember that Johnny did not want to move because he didn’t want to leave his big family, his playmate Virginia, and his bedroom. He cried and pulled away from his mom and dad when they were ready to leave.

The first exciting thing that happened in 1935 was that brother-in-law Walter and Elizabeth got married. They were married in the bride’s home in a traditional Russian ceremony. When the newlyweds arrived in Orland, John and Tina’s former bedroom was ready for them. Elizabeth and I were now the “ladies” of the house. We shared the household chores, much like I had with Tina. Walter started driving the local delivery truck, delivering fuel to the farmers. Elizabeth would often go along with him.

We had to find a better way to hull the almonds. Up until now, we were able to keep up by hulling by hand, because the almond orchard was young and the production was light. Now we no longer could keep up, so the men decided to buy a used Miller huller. The decision was made to install the huller in the barn at John’s place. That meant that the alfalfa grinding machine had to be dismantled or moved somewhere else. I think that brother Bill took it to his farm where he continued grinding alfalfa meal. If I remember right, it had been his project in the first place.

We only used the Miller huller for one season; then we bought a brand-new Fadie Huller from the Fadie brothers in Capay. They manufactured almond hullers in conjunction with their own almond orchard business. (In fact, years later, we also bought our second huller from them, after they had moved their business to Gridley.) In time for the 1935 fall harvest, we had a mechanical huller. With the increased production, we had to hire men to knock the almonds off the trees and had to hire women to sort the almonds as they came through the huller on a belt. We also made an arrangement with the Boykos to hull their almonds. Sister Martha worked on the huller, her husband Bill worked knocking almonds for us, and in return we hulled their nuts.

The summer of 1935 was very hot! I was pregnant, and the 110 degree heat, day in and day out, made me nauseous and dizzy. I remember passing out while waiting on a gasoline customer. Early in the morning on August 4, 1935, our second child, a son, was born. Since my husband already had two daughters (Elaine and Virginia), he was ecstatic that it was a boy. We named him Alex, after his father and his grandfather. By Russian tradition, his middle name was also Alex, because that was his father’s name. Remember – Alex, son of Alex?

When three-and-a-half-year-old Virginia woke up, her Dedushka (Dad V.) told her that she had a “‘brother.” Then her dad took her into the bedroom where the baby and Mommy were resting and he also told her that she had a “brother.” I’m not sure whether Virginia knew what a brother was, but she did start calling him “Brother.” From then on, until he became an adult, he was called ‘Brother” by all members of the family.

Alex Jr. and Virginia Vereschagin, 1936.

Shortly after Alex’ birth, I developed a serious problem: I was unable to breast feed and had to pump my breast every hour or so to relieve the pain. The doctor didn’t know what to do for me. He was afraid that I might have cancer so he sent me to Doctor Enloe in Chico. Dr. Enloe was a surgeon; he prescribed immediate surgery. He convinced us that we had no other choice than to have the breast removed. Back in 1935, they didn’t have the sophisticated x-rays, biopsies, and laboratory tests that they have today. Later, we found out that surgery had not been necessary. I did not have cancer; I simply had an infection of the breast (mastitis). Unfortunately, it was too late; the breast had already been removed. When I found out the truth, I was devastated and wished that we had gotten a second opinion. Note: My entire life was affected by this surgical mistake.

Little Alex Jr. was doing just fine. The change over from breast milk to formula did not bother him at all; however, I was depressed with my disfigurement. Fortunately, I had a husband who supported me with kind words and understanding. He made me feel that my figure did not change his love for me. I always respected and loved him for that.

Another blessed event took place on October 16, 1935. A son, James, was born to Bill and Irene V. They now had three living children (Harold, Louise, and James). I went to spend a few days with Irene, helping out wherever I could. Since Alex was just two and a half months old, we had two “little ones” to keep us busy.

Everyone continued working long hours, in both farming and the oil business. Dad V. sometimes helped to wait on customers when they came to get fuel. He would also entertain the children. Usually, he spent most of his time either reading or writing or visiting with the Sokorokoffs and the Wolins (another Russian family who had settled in Orland). They had a lot in common, so they enjoyed each other’s company.

In June of 1936, Dad decided that he wanted to go to Blaine Lake to visit his relatives. He also thought it was time that Leo got married. If he took Leo along as his chauffeur, then perhaps he could meet a Doukhobor girl to marry. Although Dad didn’t come right out and tell Leo his thoughts, Leo got the picture. I remember him telling his dad that he was willing to drive him to Blaine Lake, but he was not going to Canada to find a wife. Contrary to his resolve, when Leo arrived there, he met Irene Kabatoff. Dad later told us that when he saw Irene wearing Leo’s hat, he knew that Leo was “smitten.” They were married that July at the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home in a traditional ceremony.

As soon as we heard that Leo had gotten married, Alex and I knew that we had to vacate our bedroom for the newlyweds. It was understood by our generation, without question, that the first son to get married was the first to move out. John and Tina had already moved; now it was our turn.

The question was, where to go? We had the property next door which had been designated for Alex, but we could not yet afford to build a house. So, in the interim, we decided to move into the small room in the tank house. The room was about 12×12, into which we had to crowd our bedroom set plus Virginia’s bed and Alex’s crib. I don’t think the room had a closet for our clothes. There were no bathroom facilities nor running water, so we still had to use the main house for bathing and dressing. Somehow we managed to keep our sanity for the two and a half years we stayed there.

In 1937, Alex developed a very painful case of sciatica in his leg and hip. It got so bad that he was unable to work or sleep. The doctors told him that rest was the only cure. In July we decided that perhaps the hot waters would help relieve the pain. Someone told us about Hobo Hot Springs, east of Bakersfield on the Kern River. We packed some camping gear, put the two children in the car, and took off. Alex was unable to drive so he stretched out on the back seat and I had both of the children in front with me. When we arrived at Hobo Hot Springs, we found that there was nothing there except a small hot spring, no bigger than a sauna, and one other camper. No stores and no ranger. I had to set up camp by myself which was not easy because I had never known how to pitch a tent nor start a campfire. We were right at the edge of the Kern River (not very wide at that elevation) and I worried all the time that the children (ages 5 and 2) would be swept away by the swift current. I practically tied them down at night. We stayed about two weeks. Alex took many hot baths in the spring and tried to rest. The children enjoyed the rocks and the little sand that was there. I practiced learning how to make a fire to cook our meals. Wish we had photographs to remember those two weeks, but in those days we did not take many pictures.

Alex didn’t see any improvement in his leg or hip, so we went home. The rest of the summer he continued to suffer with the sciatica. He would go to Stony Creek behind our place, taking Virginia along to bury his entire body in the hot sand, thinking that might help. He eventually got over the problem and went back to work in the shop.

Soon after Alex went back to work, we hired a man to help around the plant and to cleanup around the shop. His name was George. (I can’t remember his last name.) He was an elderly man, who came to us needing a home. The men fixed him up with a bedroom in the storage barn that was close to the house. He ate his meals with the family. After working for us for about a year, he had an accident and hurt his back. Now he was unable to work and had no place to go, so we let him stay and took care of him. Eventually, he left us. I’m not sure where he went; it may have been to a veteran’s home.

Leo, Ann and Alex Vereschagin. The old machine shop in the background, 1938.

After George left, we remodeled his bedroom in the storage bam into an office. Up until then, I had been working at a desk in the house. This new office was much better because there was more room for a desk; there were shelves for books and files, and a counter for conducting business transactions. The men installed a telephone and an electric heater. Not only was I happy with the new office, but Dad V. was happy, too. He now had his desk in the house back. Here he would sit for hours, writing his letters and articles to the Russian newspapers.

Note: When we outgrew this office and moved into another, the room became a storage room, but it continued to be called “George’s Room.” My son, Alex, who now lives at the “home place,” has a sign over the door that says: George’s Room.

Fred Sokorokoff, Tina’s father, decided to build a new house. The two-room garage was getting crowded. Son Bill needed a bedroom of his own, and Mr. Sokorokoff’s mother was also now living with them. She was close to one hundred years old and was ailing. In fact, she didn’t get to live in the new house very long because she passed away in 1939.

Mr. Sokorokoff asked Alex to design and build the house. It was, and is, a nice house with all the modem facilities of the day. It had a large glassed-in porch on two sides. Mr. Sokorokoff insisted on the best materials available at the time. He was extremely meticulous with his house, garden, and small farm. You couldn’t find even a feather on his lawn. He mowed the grass around the orchard that surrounded his home so that it, too, looked like lawn. He had a green Chevrolet touring car. He kept it in perfect condition. After his death, his son Bill sold it to a local collector of vintage cars.

To get back to the house, Alex agreed to design and build it. He had plenty to do for our own business, but he wanted to help Mr. Sokorokoff; which in return helped John and Tina. Alex also felt that the extra money he made would help the family company. You see, he did not put that money into his own bank account. It all went into the family pot, as usual.

By this time, each family was getting a small allowance for their personal use. I don’t remember the amount, but I am sure that it was not very much. All the big purchases and expenses were paid by the company with no accounting as to recipients. Likewise, all money earned went into the company account and were dispensed with no questions asked.

In 1938, the oil business continued to expand. Our one Fageol truck needed constant repair; thus was inadequate to keep up with the demand. Another transport truck was needed. We still could not afford a new truck and trailer, so Alex, John, and Leo decided to buy another used Fageol truck. Besides, a war was “brewing,” and new equipment was almost impossible to find. Fortunately, they were able to put new tanks and metered pump valves on the used transport truck.

When the second Fageol was ready for the road, we again hired the same local painter to paint the name, logo, and capacity, as required by law. We hired Leo’s friend, Ed Berkland, to alternate with Leo in driving the trucks to Bakersfield and back. We also had a relief driver by the name of Paul Blaine, to help with the driving when needed.

In the spring of 1937, Alex and I started to prepare the lot designated for our future home across the driveway from the “home place.” We first planted ash trees along the driveway and an umbrella tree on the west side for shade. We also planted a cedar deodara tree in what was to be the front of the house. To irrigate the trees during the summer, I had to tote water, two buckets at a time, from a faucet at the “home place.” The trees flourished and provided wonderful shade for many years. In fact, many of the original trees are still growing and providing shade to this day. Note: In Orland, shade trees were very important because in those days there were no air conditioners. A few homes had window swamp coolers, which were very ugly. The air coming out of a cooler was so strong that a person could not sit directly in front of it. Everything in front of the cooler, particularly papers, had to be secured for fear of blowing away.

On July 11, 1938, there was another blessed event in the family. A son, Donald, was born to Leo and Irene. Donald was Dad V. ‘s twelfth grandchild.

In 1938, Alex ordered a carload of lumber from Oregon and we actually started to build our very own home. It was a slow process because, to save money, Alex wanted to do most of the work himself. Building the house dragged on for almost a year. We had to work on our house whenever we could find spare time. Most of the time we worked way into the night under lights. I remember nailing the sub-floor myself because Alex was either driving the truck or working on a tank. We didn’t hire a carpenter until it was time to stand up the walls and the roof. Then we got Mr. Belch from Chico to help us. (He was the same carpenter who had built John and Tina’s house). We also hired more help when it came to making cabinets and window trimmings, and installing appliances.

After all the carpenter work was finished, I filled in the nail holes on all the cabinets, doors, and window trims, preparing them for painting. There were millions of nails and they were very hard to see. I would go back over and over to make sure that I had all the holes filled in with putty. Then it was up to me to paint. For best results, first time painting requires three coats of paint. The house had three bedrooms, a living-dining room, kitchen, bath, screened porch, and a service porch. It must have taken me months to complete the painting; and I was still having to do my share of the family chores plus the bookkeeping for the family business.

My sister Mary surprised us by going to Reno and marrying James Timothy (“Tima”) Loskutoff on May 21, 1938. His parents were unhappy that they did not have a traditional Molokan wedding. They insisted upon at least a church blessing and a small family reception. Sister Hazel was Mary’s bridesmaid. For some reason, we were unable to attend the festivities.

In the fall of 1938, while all the work on the house was going on, Virginia was ready to start first grade. (At that time, there was no Kindergarten in Orland.) Since she had spent her entire life surrounded by family, speaking Russian, I took her to school that first day, anticipating tears. She surprised me. She went right in, was introduced to her teacher (Miss Miller), who in turn propelled her to a few other little girls. Miss Miller said that she would call me if there was a problem I went home and waited for a phone call. Nothing happened. At two o’clock, when I went back to pick her up, she chatted all the way home about the friends that she had met and how nice her teacher was. Once she got home, she changed into her play clothes, and began playing school. After a few days of my driving her to school and back home, she started to go by herself on the school bus. Her cousin Johnny also started school in the same classroom. Perhaps their being together helped in the adjustment.

Alex was three years old, and he missed his sister. She was his only playmate at home; although she sometimes bored him by always wanting him to play house, with her as ‘”Mommy” and him always having to be the “baby.” Now Alex started to become more and more attached to Dad V., his Dedushka. They became very good friends, always speaking in Russian. (All of the children spoke Russian before they learned English.) Dedushka would take little Alex to “help” him work in the garden. They would go for rides together, either to oversee the orchard west of town, or to visit brother-in-law Bill and their son Jim. Jim was the same age as Alex, so they would have fun playing together.

Ann, Virginia, Elaine, Alex and Alex Jr., 1939.

Thinking of Virginia and Alex as small children, I just remembered the following incident:

One day, when Alex was about two and Virginia about five, Dedushka took them along for a ride. He put them in the back seat and took off. Fortunately, he never drove very fast out of the driveway. After crossing the canal and going down the road a bit, he turned around to check on the children, and didn’t see Alex. In Russian, he asked Virginia, “Where’s Brother?” She replied, “He fell out a long time ago.” Dad V. panicked, backed-up, and found Brother standing and crying on the side of the road. Alex and I took him to the doctor. After a thorough examination, the doctor said that all he had was a bruised shoulder and collar bone. At the time it was a scary incident. Now, humor has been added when retelling the story.

The fuel capacity of our old local delivery truck was inadequate. Whenever switching from stove oil to gasoline and vice versa, the truck driver had to clean out the tank. This was inefficient and costly. Furthermore, the truck was beginning to have frequent break downs. The men decided to order a new truck and chassis without a tank, pump, or meter. Alex was to build the tank himself.

There were wars going on in Europe: Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935; the Germans occupied the Rhineland in 1936; and Hitler marched into Austria in 1938. This turmoil in Europe also affected the United States. New cars and trucks were not readily available to the common folk; however, we put in an order for a new Diamond T truck. All orders were on a priority list, and it could take months, if not years, to get our new truck. We were fortunate. In June of 1937, a brand new red Diamond T truck arrived. Alex immediately went to work building the tank and outfitting it for delivering fuels. He rolled the steel, cut to shape, and welded the edges. I think the tank had three compartments for fuel. He installed the pump, valves, and meter. The finished product looked very much like a factory job. Alex was proud of his accomplishments, and everyone else was, too.

I remember Alex working late into the night on that truck. He would be banging on the steel, and the arc from the welder would light up the night sky, keeping everyone awake. Dad V. would open the window and yell: “Alex, please stop your noise and go to bed!” Alex kept going because he wanted to finish it before the Glenn County Fair, early in September. He made it! Walter and Elizabeth got to ride in the truck in the fair parade. After completing the Diamond T delivery truck, Alex changed the first Fageol truck to a semi. Now, instead of using it for the long trips to Bakersfield, the truck was used mainly to deliver fuel to big farmers and rice growers.

By 1939, we pretty well were phased out of the “livestock” business. Brother Bill V. had already taken over the hay grinding business. We women, who had been milking the cows and separating the milk, were having babies; therefore we had little time nor energy left for milking cows. Besides, we didn’t have a pasture nor the hay to feed the cows. So, we started to buy bottled milk. Thank goodness!

In February of 1939, we finally moved into our new home. It was such a relief to move out of the cramped condition in the tank-house. Although our house took a long time to complete, we were very happy with the outcome because we knew we had the best materials and good carpenters, finishers, and painters. One of our experts was my cousin, John Popoff. He installed all the hardwood floors and linoleum in the house. He was a professional, and we were fortunate to get him.

Alex and Ann Vereschagin’s new home on Road 12, 1938.

Most of our social life continued to revolve around the family. On Sundays we would meet at each other’s homes for spiritual needs, as well as a day of rest. In Russian you would say that we met to have a sobranya (a gathering). A traditional Russian meal was always part of the celebration. The adults would sit at one table, and the children got to sit together at another table. The children especially enjoyed these Sunday meetings, because they had an opportunity to play with their cousins. Occasionally, they were asked to participate in the singing of the Russian hymns. Note from Virginia: I fondly remember our Sunday get-togethers. I remember catching frogs at Fred Sokorokoff’s; lying on our backs in the front yard of the “home place,” watching for shooting stars; and the two oldest cousins, Harold and George, telling us scary ghost stories.

During this time, San Francisco was busy building Yerba Buena Island for the World’s Fair. It was a huge undertaking because the island had to be made bigger to accommodate all of the exhibits, administration buildings, parking facilities, etc. The “Expo” opened in 1939. In September of that year, John, Tina, Alex, and I took a whole day off from work and went to the fair. It was an exciting experience. We left home early and returned in the wee hours of the next morning. Later, Alex and I went one more time, this time taking our children.

In 1939, we sponsored a Russian immigrant, Mr. Byrak, to come live with us. Dad V. had corresponded with him while he, Mr. Byrak, lived in Russia and then immigrated to China. The sons felt that Dad needed to have a companion; besides, sponsoring him was a humanitarian thing to do. The Tolstoy Foundation in New York was instrumental in helping to get Mr. B. here. On our part, it took several trips to San Francisco and reams of paperwork to complete the process. He finally arrived and settled down in the tank-house bedroom. Unfortunately, he was not well when he arrived, and soon was diagnosed as having cancer of the throat. He did not live more than a few months before passing away. We took good care of him as long as he was with us. He died in the bed we provided for him. He is buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

In June of 1940, Dad V. got the idea that it was time for him to pay another visit to Canada, and he wanted to take some of his family with him. He not only wanted the companionship, but he also wanted his own choir of singers. (Remember – Russians sing a lot when they get together, both for religious reasons and for entertainment. At large gatherings, there are always lots of speeches and singing, especially between courses at mealtime. Guests are often called upon to sing their own special songs.)

Obviously everyone in the family could not go on the trip to Canada. Since the trip was conceived and organized by Dad V., he was the one who decided on his traveling companions. Those that went were: Walter and Jane Poznoff with their son, Robert; Martha Boyko with her daughter, Laverne; Irene with her son. Jimmy; Dad V., Alex, and I. Walt drove his car, and Alex drove our new four-door Chrysler sedan.

Alex and I left our two children (Virginia was eight and Alex was almost five) with my parents in Sheridan. It gave them a chance to get to better know their Dedushka and Babushka Popoff. Note from Virginia: Mom and Dad left enough dimes for us to walk each day to the nearby store for an ice cream treat. We could see the railroad tracks from the kitchen window, so got to count how many boxcars there were on the freight trains. We got to go swimming in Bear Creek with our Sohrakoff cousins. One time, Uncle John surprised us with a visit. He came on the transport truck. Best of all, I got to paint my fingernails – something my dad never let me do. I even painted Brother’s nails. Such fun!

Since this was my first long trip, I remember a lot of the details. I was going farther than I had ever traveled, and was meeting many new relatives. I remember that we ate five and six times a day in different houses. We had to bathe and change clothes often, because of the humidity. And how can anyone forget the mosquitoes? They were the biggest and fiercest I had ever seen!

I mentioned the choir. Walt Poznoff had a beautiful bass voice. Jane, Martha, and Irene sang alto. Dad V. was a strong baritone. Alex was also a baritone, and carried a tune pretty well. I was a soprano and started the songs. (Russian singing is all a cappella. The “starter” sings the first line to set the pitch and then the other singers join in. This happens with each new verse of a song.) That was our choir. We sang our songs over and over everywhere we went. In Blaine Lake, the people who heard us sing titled one of our songs as “The Vereschagin Song.”

These are but a few details from our trip: We spent our first night with the Dobrinins in Peoria, Oregon. Next we went to Medicine Lake, Washington, to visit Mr. and Mrs. Simchuk. Then we went to Shore Acres and Creston B.C. to visit some of Dad’s nieces. Everyone insisted on entertaining us, so it was exhausting. We were on a tight schedule, because we wanted to be in Blaine Lake for St. Peter’s Day (June 29th). It was cherry picking time in Creston. We all ate far too many cherries and suffered the consequences the next day. Another niece that we visited lived on a large wheat farm in Pincher Creek, Alberta, about fifty miles east of the Continental Divide. From there, it was a very long day’s journey to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We stayed in our first hotel, the King George (I think). The bathrooms were down the hall, so we didn’t have too much luxury. The next day was much easier, as we only had to go sixty miles to get to our next destination, Blaine Lake. There, we first stopped to visit with Dad’s sister Parania and husband George Popoff. They invited all of their children and other close relatives for an evening of eating, talking, and singing. We were assigned to spend the night in the homes of various relatives. We had to get some rest, as the next day was St. Peter’s Day.

What is St. Peter’s Day? The Doukhobors celebrate it every year on June 29th. This is the day, in Russia, in the year 1895, that the Doukhobors gathered all their firearms and burned them, protesting the conscription edict that all young men of military age must serve in the Russian army. It is the day to remember all of those who suffered and died for the cause. It was also Peter V. Verigin’s birthday, hence the name. It is a very important day for the Doukhobors. All work stops and everyone goes to the sobranya.

For many years on Peter’s Day in Blaine Lake, the church was not large enough to accommodate all the people, so they rented a large tent, set it up on a vacant lot, and held the services there. After the church service, everybody stayed for a family style picnic. There was never any shortage of food. Every lady tried to outdo the other. A special treat was the first watermelon of the season. They got their watermelons from Texas and/or Mexico. The shipment usually conveniently arrived around St. Peter’s Day.

The Vereschagin family, 1938. [top l-r] Irene, Tina, Harold, Irene, William, Martha, George, Ann, Walter, Jane, Elizabeth. [middle l-r] Leo, holding Donald, John, William, James, Dad, Alex, Alex Jr., Walter. [bottom l-r] Vernon, John, Louise, Laverne, Virginia, Robert.

After lunch, the older generation would all go back into the tent to listen to various choir groups perform and if there were guests from out of town, they would be asked to speak. Needless to say, we sang, and Dad V. spoke. Around five o’clock, everyone went home for chores and a rest, before returning for the evening sobranya. I remember sitting on the platform in front of the congregation, barely able to keep my eyes open. I had to stay awake, because we were expected to sing throughout the service. (To help me stay awake, I watched the huge mosquitoes on the ceiling.)

We spent the next week in Blaine Lake. To keep our social calendar running on schedule, Dad appointed his nephew (another Alexei Vasilyevich Vereschagin) to be our secretary. Alexei had to keep us posted as to where we were to go next. Without him, it could have been a disaster. He, and his wife Masha, went everywhere with us. It was hard to leave a house right after eating, but Alexei would keep us moving, so that we would be on time to the next house – and more food.

Next we had to go 200 miles farther east to Kamsack, Saskatchewan, to visit Dad’s friend, Gregory F. Vanin and family. Mr. Vanin was one of the young men savagely beaten by the Russian military in 1896. He had also been banished to Siberia. The Vanins had lived in Orland for a short while before World War I; thus, the Vanin children (Anna, Jim, and Margaret) had become good friends with William, Martha, Alex, and Jane.

It rained the entire day we traveled from Blaine Lake to Kamsack. When we got to the country road leading to the Vanin’s, it was very muddy and slippery. The mud had built up on our tires, so there was no traction. The wheels started to spin, and before we knew it, our car turned completely around and we were facing Walt’s car. Luckily, Walt was far enough behind us that we did not hit one another. It was so frightening that we actually started laughing. What an experience! That evening, I remember listening to Dad and Mr. Vanin talk about their lives in Siberia and the Doukhobor politics in Canada.

While traveling, we did not keep up with the international news. Because of the war in Europe, we had been warned that it was possible that the border between the U. S. and Canada might be closed. We didn’t take it seriously. We felt that the warning was merely to prepare us for a possible delay in crossing when we returned to the U.S. We thought that we had all the necessary papers, so we’d have no problems. We just went on our merry way; however, when we arrived back at the border, we ran into a lot of problems. The border had been closed shortly after we had entered Canada. Now, we learned that Irene and Martha did not have the proper papers and that they could not cross back into the U.S. They had to get the proper affidavits from Orland, etc., etc. We had no choice but to leave them at the border and go home to work on their release.

As soon as we got home, the paper work began. Fifteen-year old George Boyko, Martha’s son, wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife, asking for help in getting his mother home. Other affidavits and legal papers were wired to the border. Although Martha and Irene were comfortable in a hotel, they were anxious to get home. (Their children, Laverne and Jimmy, did not stay with them, but returned home with us.) Within a couple of weeks, they were released and returned to Orland by bus.

Paths and Pathfinders

by Polly Vishloff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polly, John and son Paul, 1950.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandchildren Brittany and Autumn baking with Baba. .

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

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

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

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

Polly and John in front of their pond, 2004.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~words by Ann Verigin nee Wishlow ~

Transplanted Roots

by Albert J. Popoff

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

I. Grandfather Could Make Something Out Of Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Picking Mushrooms with My Grandmother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III.    Flashbacks

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

The main street of Blaine Lake, circa 1930.

Birth and Death on the Farm

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

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

Horse power

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

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

Farm Work and Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

Albert and his dad at the threshing machine.

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

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

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

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

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

Life Before Electricity

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

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

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

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

Leonard and Sanny Popoff’s wedding picture, November 1932

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

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

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

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

Horsemen Enjoyed Mother’s Cooking

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

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

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

Travelling Salesmen

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

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

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

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

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

The Golden Age of Radio

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

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

Money was Scarce

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

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

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

About the Author

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