by Jonathan E. Rhoads
On February 20, 1900, Jonathan E. Rhoads, a Quaker visitor from the United States, accompanied an immigration officer from Rosthern, Saskatchewan to the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye near the North Saskatchewan River. His personal experiences, observations and impressions were later published in his book, “A Day with the Doukohobors” [sic] (Philadelphia: Wm H. Pile and Sons, 1900) and subsequently in the Manitoba Morning Free Press on March 1, 1902. With superb imagery and evocative detail, the traveler describes the Doukhobors’ history, prosperity and progress, observance of Canadian law, courtesy and customs, meals, dress and industry, music, as well as their village, homes, interiors, stables and bathhouses. In doing so, he provides the reader with a rare and fascinating first-hand account, from an impartial, outside perspective, of the Doukhobors shortly after their arrival in Canada.
Rosthern Feb. 20 — The winter dawn had not yet broken when we started through bars of lemon-colored light along the horizon and the lower rosy edges of purple-gray clouds basked towards the east, gave promise of a perfect day. Here and there among the little houses of the town could be seen an ascending column of smoke beckoning that there were others whom necessity or inclination urged to be abroad betimes, but for the most part the very houses seemed asleep. All nature had the hushed expectancy that befits the birth of new day. So rarely still was the air that the barking of a dog, at a farmhouse miles away, was distinctly audible, filtered and clarified through the frosty atmosphere. The cold had sprinkled the polished woodwork of the cutter with rime, and the team – that was matched, neither as to size, color, nor pace but was tough as whip-cord and as game as pheasants – was enveloped in the white halo of their own condensed breath. Bundling ourselves up in ample furs, we gave word and the hostler let go the team’s heads. They reared and snorted for the space of half a minute, till my companion feared the sorrel would lose his balance and fall backwards onto the cutter. Having in this approved western manner, thus indicated their nettle and spirit, they condescended at length to exhibit something of their speed, for they dashed down the street at a gait that was reminiscent of the team race at the Winnipeg Industrial, going over a couple of crossings with a back-breaking jar that was like to have dislocated one’s spinal column. After forty rods of this hippodrome racing they steadied down to a long, fast, swinging trot, the “proputty” “proputty” of their feet making music on the bare frozen roads. When, in a few minutes, the little town was left behind, and the broad prairie stretched before us, the dominant note changed to the banging of the runners as they struck some lump on the snow-trail and the noise of the team’s hoofs changed to a quick crunching pattern.
There were two of us, the immigration officer and myself. We were up in Saskatchewan, in the gore of country, between the two forks of the mighty river that gave the territory its name. It is a new country, ten years ago the undisturbed home of the fox and the Indian. Five summers ago there was nothing to see of the hustling little town of Rosthern we had just left. The long grading of the railway that swung in a shallow curve northward from Regina, and the naked telegraph poles, were the only objects that broke the monotony of the, except the water tank that could be seen above the scrubby timber growth that covered the site of the town. On still mornings the beaver colonies could be seen at work in the little streams that flowed into the Saskatchewan. The long lines of freight trains were sometimes visible winding their way over the prairie trails, bringing peltries from the western fur, or returning thither with the season’s supplies. In the spring, there were no squares of black plowing that marked where the husbandman had begun to subdue to the needs of mankind the fertile soil of this part of the Canadian Northwest, and in the autumn the click of the binder would have been listened for in vain. But, although it is still a new country, it has undergone a transformation. It is dotted with homesteads and diapered with fields. Comfortable, if not pretentious homes can be seen on every hand. Commodious barns and outbuildings attest the thrift and the thoroughness of the men who have selected the spot for their home. If luxury and style are conspicuous by their absence, so also is poverty, and the sense of hopeless acquiescence in misfortune that too often accompanies it. The poorest settler is rich in hope and the sublime confidence in the future of the locality, which is one of the characteristics of the west. He knows that a wise investment of skilful labor will, with favoring seasons and fertile soil, in a few years put him in an enviable position of competence, and the knowledge makes him feel the peer of any, and serves to stimulate him to more strenuous endeavor.
A Prospering District
We had nearly thirty miles to travel before we could reach our destination, for we were going straight west to the further bank of the north fork of the Saskatchewan. The intervening country varied little, if at all, from the average of Canadian prairie. Shallow hollows alternated with rolling crests, much of it covered with poplar and willow saplings, the tender green and brown of which made, with the dazzling snow, a color scheme beautiful in its harmony. An occasional twisted, gnarled oak, whose stunted deformity proclaimed its proximity to the polar limit of its growth, was almost the only variant to the tree life of the plain. The land was nearly all upland in character, few if any hay meadows being passed on the way. Each few miles could be seen the neat outbuildings erected by the Territorial government to protect the well bored for public use. The material progress of the settlement was illustrated and epitomized on nearly every farm. The original “shack” in which the settler first lived could be seen abandoned – to the use of the hens. Next in the scale of progression came the little log house, which, when continued success had warranted the erection of a neat frame dwelling, was regaled to use as a granary or implement shed. In some few cases a further advance had been made and a commodious brick dwelling evidenced the financial well being of the farmer. A number of windmills could also be seen affording fresh testimony of the district’s advance in material prosperity.
My companion beguiled the way by narrating instances of the improvement in the condition of the settlers and the district, as suggested by the various houses we passed. Yonder house with the big barn was So-and-So’s place. He came here in ‘96 and made enough money to pay his homestead fee. That was his herd over here by the straw-stack – over twenty of them and he had sold six or seven this fall. That place with the windmill belonged to a man who came here from Germany four years ago. He had $600. Now he has three-quarters of a section of land, all the implements he needs, three as fine working teams could be found in the Territories, good framed house and all necessary conveniences and in his granary 4,500 bushels of wheat. In yonder little house lived a Swede. He had nothing when he came out in ‘98. He worked on the section and at threshing and did his homestead duties cultivated this farm at the intervals between other work. There he was hauling cordwood to Rosthern, with his ox team. In five years’ time he would be as prosperous as any farmer around. All of them, three or four years since, were in the same condition that he was today. And, with countless iteration, and some slight variations in the individual instances, the story was the same – that of competence and comfort having been extracted from the fertile soil of the Canadian prairie.
After a time settlement grew sparser. As the river was approached the homesteads grew more and more scattered, and sometimes a house was not in sight in any direction. Far to the north rose the graceful outlines of the Blue-Hills, a golden saffron where the morning light caught their snow-clad sides, the belts of timber of their base showing wonderful seal brown colorings, and the shadowed scaurs and ravines intersecting them blue with the blueness of a June sky. Closer at hand could be seen the mile-wide valley trenched out by the Saskatchewan, and between the fringing zones of birch, elm, and poplar ran a snowy riband, marking the course of the great river. When we approached the crest of the bank, and stopped to breathe our team before negotiating the precipitous descent, we looked on a scene that was worth coming far to see – a panorama combining many of the elements of pastoral beauty.
A Perilous Passage
But a few moments could be allowed for the contemplation of the scenery, for the crossing of the valley was a proposition demanding present and practical solution. Of trail there was scarce semblance. For three hundred feet our path lay down a slope as steep and as smooth as a toboggan slide. At its foot were a few willow scrub, and then came a clear drop of fifty or sixty feet. If the team became unmanageable, and could not be stopped at the foot of the slide, the prospect of the drop beyond was not reassuring. However, two miles away, against the skyline on the opposite bank was the Doukhobor village of Terpennie we had driven near thirty miles to see, and one of us, at least, did not propose to turn back after coming so far. The interpreter said he would walk down, so as to lighten the load and pilot the way. He started slowly and cautiously, but soon the slope and his weight increased his speed. His feet twinkled faster and faster through the powdery snow, that rose up and enveloped him waist high, like a halo, above which his rotund body and gesticulating arms could be seen as he rushed to what seemed almost certain destruction. But Providence, in the shape of the aforementioned willow bushes, interposed, and he crashed into their interposing boughs, and fell, a portly, breathless heap of humanity, among their protected branches. Next it was my turn. I grasped the lines short, braced myself against the foot rail, and chirrupped to the team. But neither of them exhibited the slightest inclination to proceed. The sorrel was particularly rebellious, and plunged and reared on the edge of the steep in a most nerve -racking fashion. Finally, with delicate little steps and snorts of fear, they were persuaded to essay the descent.
Until a little more than half way down, all went well. Then one of them slipped, and in a second cutter and team were slithering down, the former on their haunches. Down below I could see my companion scramble with frantic haste out of our line of descent. His plump figure could be seen through the blinding snow-mist raised by the horses, crashing through the underbrush with an agility out of the proportion to his weight. At the foot of the hill I partly succeeded in pulling the team to the left, thus avoiding the sheer drop ahead, and giving the horses an opportunity of catching their feet. The thin, limber willow twigs sang like whips as, bowing my head and straining on the lines, we dashed into the brush. There was a moment’s wild rush, then a plunge, and a bump, and the cutter was still – jammed against a tree stump whose top was covered with snow. The horses shook themselves, gave a snort or two and then the brown proceeded nonchalantly to help himself to some outcropping tufts of slough grass. Neither of the team had a scratch, and no injury was apparent to the cutter. My companion “lost his English” as he described the slide and went off into German and Russian and Polish and Magyar in recounting its incidents. Only one difficult place remained to be negotiated – where a small stream from a ravine flowed across the track. One of the horses fell while being led over the glair ice and had to be dragged across. But with the exercise of care that the whiffletrees did not strike any stumps, we wound our way down the valley, and on to the ice-bound, snow-covered Saskatchewan.
Across this noble river, nearly thrice as wide as the Red at Winnipeg, we went diagonally upstream, skirting an island nearly in its centre – on the farther side of which we could see a yawning black slit in the river’s snowy mantle, where the swift, inky current boiled over its rocky bed. Up stream a little ravine wound upward from the river affording an easy natural gradient, by which to gain the general level. Halfway up we met a party of five Doukhobors – grave, deliberate men, large of stature, slow of speech, with an unaffected natural courtesy, both simple and dignified. We reined up that my companion might speak, and one of them, with whom he was acquainted, introduced us to the four. Each, as his name was mentioned, lifted his heavy black fur cap and bowed. They told us the village was half a mile from the top of the ravine, and that they were on their way to cut some logs for building next spring. They had been cutting ever since they came off the section when it froze up. They would float some of the logs down in the spring, but those that were nearer were being hauled in by the oxen. They lifted their hats again and bowed as we drove on. “Talk about French politeness,” said my companion, “it’s not in it with the courtesy of these people.” They raise their hats whenever they meet each other, and differ from Frenchmen in that they are quite as polite to their own people as they are to strangers. I’ve traveled a great deal, and never saw such genuine simplicity and courtesy. Wait till you get to the village and you’ll see that all I’ve said is true.
We were now almost at the point where the ravine opened out on the general level. A good trail led all the way to the village, which could be plainly seen a short distance ahead. We passed two yokes of oxen, hitched one ahead of the other, hauling some building logs, slug under the axels of a wagon. The logs were fully forty feet long – so long that chains had to be substituted for the usual wagon reach. The oxen were in the very pink of condition, and swung their heads with their legs as they contentedly rolled along, chewing their cud. The men lifted their caps and hailed us in Russian, to which the interpreter replied, and a few minutes afterwards we drove into the village.
Doukhobor house, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902. Glenbow Archives NA-949-103.
The Village of Terpennie
The impression it made at first sight was odd and prepossessing. Outside the Doukhobor communities, the like is not to be seen elsewhere in the Canadian west. Imagine a street half as broad again as Main street, Winnipeg, lined on each side with long low yellow buildings, roofed with sod or thatch. The gable end of each of these is towards the road, from which it is separated by a neatly railed garden. Each building – they are from fifty to sixty feet long – is divided into almost equal parts by a door admitting into an inner porch. Doors at opposite ends of this admit, the one towards the road to the dwelling house, and the one remote to it to the stable. The buildings are all one story high, though a small window in the gable showed that the upper portion is used, presumably for purposes of storage. The walls of all the buildings are of immense thickness, and have a pleasing chrome tint. They have almost as smooth and finished an appearance as the best plaster work of a Canadian artisan. The sod roofs are laid with the care and almost regularity, of shingles. The yard at the side of the buildings is swept clean and free from dust, chips, and other debris– indeed the first person we saw in the village was a woman sweeping the snow covered yard. It reminded one of the Dutch cleanliness that scrubs the very roadways.
Hardly had our team come to a standstill before a dozen of the villagers came hurrying forward to proffer assistance in unhitching and stabling the horses. The men doffed their caps, as they advanced with ceremonious politeness and the women crossed their arms over their breasts and bowed, accompanying the movement with a quick intake of breath, similar to that given by a Japanese when accosting an acquaintance. All the men were of good physical type, indeed most of them were splendidly built. The deputy headman of the village, who came in the absence of the chief, to invite us to his house, was a magnificent specimen of manhood. Considerably over six feet in height, broad of shoulder and deep of chest, he would have made no mean antagonist in any competition demanding strength and staying power. The women were not nearly as well built. They were all comparatively shorter than the men, stockily and sturdily built, but lacking in any natural grace or charm. Their faces at about the same age were very similar – indeed, they all seemed to have been turned out of the same mould, being round and with little or no play of feature. Their lips were full, their noses short, almost snubby, their eyes set wide apart, and lack-luster and expressionless. The girls and young women were thick of waist and ankle, and like the men, slow, almost ponderous in their movement. The older women were shapeless as ill-tied-up bundles and their skins were of a color like parchment and seamed with innumerable wrinkles.
The Home and Stable
These observations were made as I stood watching a half-dozen lads un-harness the team. They were led through the same door from which the headman had emerged to welcome us, but instead of turning to the left – to the portion of the building occupied by himself and family – they were taken to the other end, used as a stable. We followed them in to assure ourselves of their good treatment. It was almost dark for two panes of glass, each not a foot square, were the only means of lighting it. But barring the darkness and the lack of ventilation, the building was as comfortable as any stockman could desire. The walls – of turf thirty inches plastered within and without made the warmest of stables.
The stalls were neatly divided by peeled pole partitions, and the mangers were similarly constructed. Bedded comfortably on straw were three milk cows, five or six young stock and a fine team of oxen. All were in the very pink of condition and, in fact, they seemed fit for either the show-ring or the butcher.
This duty to the team performed, we crossed the inner hall into the living room. As we entered, the headman took off his hat in welcoming salutation – replacing it a moment afterwards – and his wife, daughter and daughter-in-law bowed. They led us to the store, where after divesting ourselves of our fur coats and while warming ourselves, we had the opportunity of inspecting the interior arrangements of a Doukhobor home.
The room was about fourteen broad and twenty feet in length. Its floor was of earth, packed smooth and hard as though made of boards. The walls were smoothly plastered and neatly whitewashed. Two windows, each about three feet square supplied the apartment with light. The sashes, being set almost flush with the outside of the thick turf wall, gave window ledges fully two feet in breadth on the inside, and on these were a number of house plants, thrifty and carefully tended and evidently much prized. Among them were two that had been brought all the way from Batoum on the Black Sea.
A Doukhobor Interior
The principal object in the room was the large stove and oven, built in the corner at the right of the entrance. It was about seven feet square, made, as was the building, of plaster. It was constructed on somewhat the same lines as a baker’s oven, the heat from the firebox passing directly into the oven, heating the plaster floor and roof to the necessary temperature for baking, the fire being raked out to prevent the smoking of the articles to be cooked before the latter were put in. The heat absorbed and retained by the thick plaster will maintain the oven at the proper baking heat for hours. The top of the oven is about six feet high, and the space intervening between it and the roof – about four feet – is often used in winter as a bed place. While not as soft and yielding to the body as springs and mattresses, no exception could be taken to its warmth on a cold winter night. At the side of the oven were three square chambers – cupboards without doors – built into its sides. They were each about a foot square, and of about the same depth. In them were piled socks, mitts, and similar articles to dry. One corner of the oven was built up almost to the roof. It also contained a hot air chamber. An ordinary American stovepipe carried off the smoke.
Around three sides of the room ran a bench. On the sides opposite the stove and the entrance it was of thick planed plank, supported by stout legs and scrubbed to a spotless cleanliness. But on the other side the bench was continued flush with the front of the stove, and completely filled the broad space between it and the opposite end of the room. It thus formed a broad shelf, from twelve to fourteen feet in length, and more than six feet in width. The boards were polished a dark brown by constant use. This shelf was the family sleeping place. There was ample room for two parties of sleepers on this shelf. The bed clothing – beautifully made and spotlessly clean – was neatly rolled in a big bundle. Here slept the headman and his wife, and his sixteen year old daughter.
While inspecting the sleeping arrangements, the headman took us out to the hall again and showed us the apartment of his married son. It was a tiny room, not more than nine by six feet, in which there was hardly room for a small bed, a huge chest and a tiny box stove. Like the general living room, the interior was neatly white-washed, and kept spotlessly clean. A shelf or two contained a few domestic treasures and articles of feminine use and adornment. The bed linen was carefully rolled up at the one end of the bed, as was the case in the general room. The floor, too, was of packed earth, as in the other instance.
The Doukhobors, like all continental peoples, are fond of pictures. Highly colored religious lithographs oleographs of German and Russian production hung about the walls, and were evidently not among the least prized of the room’s furnishings. These formed a striking contrast with the calendars issued by the Rosthern merchants, which divided the honors with them. In one house, I saw a reproduction of Raphael’s Madonna del Sista, and overlapping it was a picture of an excited Irishwoman belaboring a bawling donkey that had stopped on the track in front of an approaching train.
Almost equally startling contrasts could be met with wherever the eye looked. The east and the west met here. On the wall could be seen the Russian counting machine, – a light frame with variously colored wooden beads, strung on wire, almost identical with that used by primary teachers in number lessons. It came to Russia, hundreds of years ago, and is a modification of the Chinese machine, the earliest denary system of mathematics known. The headman said he was now able to calculate, without the aid of the machine, though he was much faster with it. At the interpreter’s request, he went through some lightning calculations with the instrument, performing not only additions and subtractions, multiplications, with a rapidity that would move many an accountant to envy. On the bare bed-bench could be seen a spinning-wheel, antique and quaint in shape, that suggested memoirs of the fair Marguerite. In sharp contrast with these old-world relics were the American alarm clocks, ticking against the wall, and the modern cheap stove, used to heat the apartment – for the big oven was used almost wholly for baking.
The Doukhobor’s History
We set down on the edge of the bed-bench and talked to the head man. He told us his name was Jacob Iwachin (Ewashen) and that he came out with the first migration to Canada. He told us somewhat of the disabilities and privations they had suffered while in Russia. “According to our religion,” said he, “we may not lift arms. We could not with conscience enter military service to fight. But we told the Russian government that we would do anything for the nation’s service except fight. They told us we could go into the forestry branch, which is part of the army services, and this we willingly did, and for years we served the term of our conscription in planting and caring for the thousands of acres of trees set out by the Russian government. But after a time – in the reign of the last Nicholas – they tried to compel us to carry guns, and because we would not, they said we were not good Russians. And they drove us from our farms, and harried us like the partridges on the mountains. They imprisoned the men and ill-treated our women. They burned our homes and drove us down towards the Caucasus in winter. There many of our little children died of cold and exposure. But God looked down, and He is just, and in the spring we built and tilled, and sowed, and the good God gave us a good harvest from soil that had never yielded well before. And in a few years we had made homes in our new place, and then the government sent the Cossacks on us again. They took our crops, our cattle, our money, and all that we had. They burned our houses. Some of our leading men they drove into exile. Many were sent to the salt mines and lead mines of Siberia. The prisons were full of men whose only crime was that they refused to learn to slay their brethren. My brother is in Siberia – at a salt mine in Irkutsk. He has been there eighteen years, and nothing can de done to get him out. He will die there, exiled and martyred. He was a teacher, and because the people loved him, and he made many believe as he did, they took him from his wife and his baby and made him walk for months chained to a felon, and buried him alive in a mine. Will not God judge these men? Yes, surely He will, and He will give us and him strength to bear our sorrow.” And the man lifted his cap, and bowed his head in silent prayer for the brother in his living death, while his wife sobbed quietly as she rocked herself on a low stool. His simple eloquence, though it may have lost much in translation, was very affecting. His voice vibrated with a wonderful resonance as he spoke of the sufferings of his people.
His fine, impressive and picturesque presence, and the natural grace and dignity of his gestures, were very striking. In a little time he resumed: “We did all we could. We told the government we would do anything except learn to fight. I do not think the Tsar knew how his officers were treating us. We hear he is kind and hates war. We sent him letters and petitions but he took no notice, I do not think his officers gave them to him. And all the time the cruelty of the Cossacks went on. But the good God gave most of us strength to hope and endure, though it was very dark. And at last the heart of the Tsarina was moved at our sufferings. One of the petitions reached her, and she spoke on our behalf. We had heard of America, that there men may worship God as they please, and we asked to go there, where we would not vex the Russian government. And the good Tsarina got for us leave to go. She sent her messengers to us with the good news, and we knew that God had pity on our sufferings. They promised us that the government would buy our farms, and that men would be sent to value them. And we got ready with joyful hearts, for the day of our deliverance drew near. The evaluators came and they said the government would give us $165,000 for our farm buildings. They would give us nothing for the land, and the buildings were worth much more, but we made no complaint. They said we should have the money when we got to Batoum. We got there, but the money did not come. We waited two weeks and sent messages, but still it did not come. We could have sold the houses and barns for more than this, if we had broken them up, but the government meant to prevent us going. One ship had sailed, and the captains would not wait, and we heard that the government meant to prevent us going after all, so we sailed and left it, and we have not received it yet. The people of the villages around Rosthern should have got $32,000 of this money if the government had sent it.”
Contented With Canada
“And so you are glad you came to Canada?” asked the interpreter. “We are all very glad,” answered Iwachin, brightening at the change of subject, and speaking earnestly and impressively. “We cannot tell you how glad. We appreciate the freedom here very much. Yes, this is the place. There is no comparison between this and Russia. All the people have been most kind, and we cannot tell you how grateful we are. We are trying to serve the government, and the country, and God. We shall be very happy here. We will work hard, and the good God will prosper us.
Our conversation as to the past history of the sect was interrupted by the entrance of another Doukhobor, whose incoming was marked by the same ceremonious salutations that had greeted ourselves. Soon afterwards the good wife announced that the meal was ready, and the four men – Iwachin, the newcomer, who rejoiced in the name of Kusnizoff (Kooznetsoff), the interpreter and myself, sat down at the table, which was placed in the corner of the room so as to utilize the benches along two of its sides. The wife waited on us, and the daughter and daughter-in-law sat on the bench – which was so high that their feet were six inches above the floor – and knitted.
A Doukhobor Meal
The table was covered with a coarse clean linen cloth. At one end and one side were placed two finer linen towels, each about six feet long and as broad as a pocket handkerchief. They were ruched or ruffled along the edge of the table, and their purpose I was at a loss to conceive, till the interpreter took one end and placed the other across my knees, when I perceived it was to be used as a napkin or serviette. Evidently the theory of communism obtained even in so small a matter as dinner appointments. Plates – one of them ordinary white heavy ironstone china, the others of quaintly decorated Russian ware, were placed on the inside of the ruffled napkins, but of knife or fork there was never a sign.
Doukhobor village gathering, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902.
The goodwife brought up a dish of well cooked potatoes, fried in butter. Fortunately there was a spoon, so that we could help ourselves by that means, but it was evident that fingers were to take precedence over forks. We helped ourselves to the potatoes, and Iwachin cut me off a chunk of bread from the big loaf, and Kusnizoff performed a similar office for the interpreter. There was an abundance of excellent butter, and this, with a bowl of loaf sugar, and tumblers of scalding hot and strong tea formed the meal. The two Doukhobors picked the potatoes from their plates with a neatness and daintiness that neither myself nor the interpreter could hope to emulate, but the long drive in the keen winter air had given me an excellent appetite, and I contrived to do ample justice to the simple fare. The bread was the worst item of the menu. It was very dark in color – about the shade of tobacco – and sour and bitter to the taste. It is ground, “forthright,” in their own mill, and is made from a mixture of wheat, barley, and rye. Its composition probably accounted for the breads color, but nothing could excuse its sodden, sour heaviness. The “flapjacks” of the most unskillful tenderfoot that ever “batched” on the prairie were culinary triumphs by comparison. The wonder is, that with so small a variety of food, and that so badly cooked – for the Doukhobors are strict vegetarians, eating fish, but never meat – that they are such splendidly developed types of manhood.
The goodwife did not use a teapot in pouring the tea, but a samovar, or Russian tea urn, and, as stated above, it was drunk from tumblers instead of cups. All the Doukhobors have sweet teeth, and both Iwachin and Kusnizoff frequently took a lump of sugar from the bowl, and ate it as a relish with the bread. They did not spread the butter on their bread either, but helped their plates with their jack-knives, and ate it with them in the same manner as we would cheese. The meal was preceded and concluded by a grace devoutly said, and Iwachin, despite the differences between his and our code of table manners, presided as host with an urbanity, kindliness, and courtliness that could not have been exceeded. His conversation showed him to be a man of keen observation and shrewd intelligence. He understood thoroughly the theory of representative government as it exists in Canada, and showed himself familiar with the machinery of municipal government. He took a live interest in the education of his people, and made many enquiries as to how the government proposed to deal with this important question.
He told me of the work of Mr. Scherbenin, in Hierolofka (Horelovka), an adjoining village. Mr. Scherbenin is a disciple of Tolstoi, and, though a Russian or rank, and with influential friends and with an education and ability that would have ensured him a brilliant career in the Russian diplomatic or military service, renounced all for conscience sake, and threw in his lot with these simple, brave, patient people. His home in Hierolofka is distinguished from those of the other villagers only in the number of its books and the presence of many scientific instruments. He can make himself understood in every European tongue, and speaks, reads and writes eleven languages with native facility. Yet he walled and plastered his own clay dwelling, and lives the simple communal life of these peasantry as though he had never known a superior station. He has established a school and teaches daily, in addition to primary subjects, the communal theology of Tolstoi, the Canadian system of municipal and federal government, western methods of agriculture and the usages of mercantile business. By virtue of his blameless life and his wide knowledge, he is the arbiter and oracle and final court of appeal to these unlettered folk, who regard him with feelings nearly akin to veneration.
The headman wanted to know if they could not have a teacher who could speak both English and Russian located in every village. He said they were as yet poor, but they would soon be able to pay him well. All were anxious to learn English, but how could they when there was none to teach? Both Kusnizoff and Iwachin frequently asked the interpreter and myself for the English names of some of the things about the house and farm, and would repeat them with the proud satisfaction of a child that has learned a new word, repeating it, with explanatory phrases in Russian, to his wife and daughters, and using the new term on every possible occasion, in order to memorize it. Among their other enquiries were many as to the possibility of securing from the Russian government the money due from the sale of their buildings, of which they had been defrauded.
The Doukhobor’s Dress
The dress of the men differ little from that of the familiar type of Doukhobor seen on the streets of Winnipeg. For outdoor wear, Kusnizoff had a coat of sheepskin, double-breasted and with the pelt outside, with wide flowing skirts, and a cap of Russian military style. Below this was a sort of blouse – a kind of vest with sleeves, something like a stable-man’s jacket – full pantaloons, tucked into heavy knee boots. Iwachin’s garb was similar, excepting that his blouse was somewhat more decorated with embroidery, and that his big overcoat was dyed black. All these garments, including the boots, were made by the Doukhobors themselves.
The three women of Iwachin’s household also wore the characteristic national dress. The mother wore a blouse of curious cut, of woolen material, in a color a sort of washed-out electric blue, and a short woolen skirt, much heavier and coarser in weave, and striped red and white in the direction of its length. Coarsely knitted and warm grey stockings were visible below this, and strong roughly made and heavy boots completed the exterior portion of her attire, with the exception of the peculiar cap of Liberty worn by the patriots of the French Revolution. The cap is generally ornamented with a rosette or red, and its top decorated with a tuft of the same color. The daughter was dressed in the same general style as the elder woman, except that the apron and trimmings were of a brighter color. The garments of her sister-in-law were beautifully embroidered in colors, and were finished with more attention to the niceties of appearance than was the case with the other two women of the household. All wore boots as heavy as those of a British farm laborer, and, as was to be expected, their walk was clumsy and heavy as that of men broken down from excess of hard physical labor. None of the women of the village were equal in physique to the average of the men. Few were more than five feet three in height, but all appeared strong and inured to work. Of the nearly two hundred people inhabiting the village, I saw no variation in the type of women, all being short, thick of waist and ankle, with round faces and full, expressionless features.
During the meal, I had admired the beautiful decorative work done by the needle on the garments of the daughter-in-law, and at its conclusion the woman of the house displayed specimens of their weaving, dyeing, and embroidery. The articles they exhibited were both useful and ornamental in character. Some of the weaving was particularly fine, the texture of some of the table linen being equal to that produced by the best looms of Belfast. Nearly all the linen was woven with a simple check or diaper pattern in red at the side and ends, and much taste and skill were shown in the arrangement of these. The dark woolen cloth, of which the women’s skirts were made, much resembled Irish frieze. The clothes of the men were made of similar material, but generally lighter in color. Some of the kerchiefs worn by the women were beautifully embroidered in fine wools, work being as well executed as the most captious critic of art needle work could desire, the design being usually regular or geometric, and almost ecclesiastic in simplicity and harmony. The knitting shown me by the daughter-in-law, was as fine as that of the famous Shetland shawls, and of the same gossamery quality. The staple colors for woven fabrics seemed to be browns, fawns, and grays, but in knitted work, and in the more decorative portions of the good intended for personal wear, brilliant coloring is general. The dyeing, the spinning and the weaving are all done by the community. The yarn is spun on the old-fashioned distaff. For the dyeing aniline dyes are coming into general use, and I saw the communal loom, – in sections, for it was not yet put together, and had not been used since the village was founded. It was a primitive wooden arrangement, that would look curiously archaic besides the modern mechanical marvels that fabricate the textiles in general use, but its effectiveness when operated skillfully was beyond question.
When we had finished examining and admiring the work of the women, Iwachin signified through the interpreter his wish that we should see his treasures – to wit, his library. From under the sitting bench running around two sides of the room he produced a box, eighteen inches in length, and a foot in height and breadth. It was as solidly constructed as a treasure chest. It was clamped at the corners with quaintly shaped forgings. Its lock was nearly as massive as that of an English cathedral, and the key was fully six inches long in length and was as beautiful as it was heavy. When the lid was thrown back, the family library could be seen.
Four books bound richly in leather, the bindings beautifully tooled and chased, two of them brass bound at the corners in the way that Bibles used to be, a McCormick catalogue, and half a dozen pamphlets or tracts, completed the catalogue. Iwachin handled them lovingly, and “read aloud a passage or two from the Bible, which was printed – as, indeed, were all with the exception of the implement booklet, – in the Russian character. Kusnizoff could not read, – he said he would learn to read in English, not Russian – but Iwachin read, to us some Christian communal theories from a pamphlet by Tolstoi, for whom, in common with all of his race and religion, he had the highest reverence, as the embodiment of all the personal and public virtues. He told the interpreter that when he learned to speak English – he had just started and learning it was slow, because he was not often in town, and it was very seldom that anyone speaking English came to the village – he would learn to read in English, for he wanted to find out about Canadian government, and Canadian usages, and Canadian history, and these things he knew he could learn by reading books and newspapers. But he thought it would take much trouble, and time, and patience to read the English characters. “The Russian letters,” he said, “are easy to read; not so the English.” I told him it was all a matter of use, whereat he laughed assertingly, displaying as he did so strong, glistening and regular teeth.
A Doukhobor Concert
During the meal Iwachin had promised to get in some of the villagers to sing, and while we had been looking at the books, and our host had been expressing his appreciation of the difficulty and intricacy of the English tongue, they had been coming in by ones and twos. The ceremonious kindliness which had greeted our arrival had marked the greeting given to each newcomer. Each had been formally presented to the interpreter and myself and the men had taken off their caps with a magnificent sweep, and bowed in the Russian manner, and then had shaken hands in the British fashion. The women had bobbed in the “charity curtsey”, and had then betaken themselves to the edge of the bed-bench where their strongly shod feet hung a foot above the earthen floor. There were eight of them in all, short, thickset, sturdy figures, and in their curious head dresses,, their braided over-jackets and brilliantly embroidered aprons of red, green or blue, they formed a picturesque party. The men sat together about the table, and chatted freely with each other in the interval preceding the commencement of the music, but the women said never a word, but sat mute, with downcast eyes, till Iwachin signified the concert might begin. Kusnizoff acted as precentor. He had a reedy but not inharmonious tenor voice, and was evidently the musical authority of the village. Iwachin explained to us that they would sing principally hymns and psalms. He seemed somewhat apologetic about it, and explained that they could sing songs but thought it better not, as there were some young girls present. The explanation mystified us somewhat, as these grave and God-fearing people seemed the most unlikely to sing anything comic or risqué. So I merely said that I sung psalms in metre myself every Sabbath morning in church – for my Presbyterian pastor was not present to controvert my statement as to my regularity in attendance – and settled down to an enjoyment of the musical programme. There was a moment’s silence, and then Kusnizoff’s quavering voice could be heard, “feeling” after the notes as if uncertain of the key, but singing truer and fuller after the second bar. The others joined with voices of varying sweetness and power in a rude and effective harmony.
The music was very slow and mournful in character, and it was all in the minor, many of the intervals and phrases having an almost weird effect. All the voices were nasal in quality, but though the singing would have offended every canon of musical criticism, the combined result was far from unpleasing. In general the men and women sang in unison though occasionally Iwachin, who possessed a rich rough baritone, dropped into harmony, and his wife, whose voice was a pure and strong alto, frequently attempted a part. The women all sang with downcast head, and without any expression whatever, whether facial or musical, but the men seemed to enter much more fully into the spirit of the music, and sang as if they realized the significance of the selections. It was a “Song of Deliverance” Iwachin told the interpreter, though a more mournful poem of praise it had never been my lot to hear. If this weird air symbolized musically the Doukhobor sense of joy, it would keep the imagination working overtime to conceive the solemnity of a Doukhobor dirge.
After I had praised their rendition of this song, they proceeded to give a metrical psalm. It was a curious composition from a musical point of view, being a sort of choral fugue, the harmony being made by the repetition of parts, in the same manner as the rounds or catches we used to sing at college. Like the preceding song, it was in the minor, and in the frequent and disorderly crossing of parts, the irregularity of its measure, and the oddness of its intervals, it came near to being a complete realization of musical chaos. In its formlessness it suggested remotely, the overture in Haydn’s “Creation.” Next they sung something that was much more cheerful – something that had unexpected slurs and yodels, and was brighter, if more barbaric. Every verse or section was started, solus by Kusnizoff, the others not joining in till the second or third bar. Each verse was completed with an unpleasant flattening of its concluding tone, and an accentuation of the nasal quality of the voice, and the note would be chopped off with a clock by the chorus, the precentor, apparently by virtue of his office, prolonging the note for a noticeable interval after the others were silent.
Kusnizoff seemed delighted at my praise of the singing and exhibited almost childish pleasure when I told him that never, in all the concerts I had attended in Europe and America, had I heard music similar to that which they were entertaining us. After four or five selections had been sung, I asked them to sing the only Russian air I knew: “Long live the Tsar,” the Russian nation anthem, the air of which is similar to most in the hymn, “God the All-Terrible.” My request, when interpreted, was discussed with some animation, but finally Iwachin explained that, when they thought of all that the Russian government had made them endure, they could not sing the anthem. They were not Russians now, he said; they had come out to Canada to serve God and to be Canadians, and as soon as they knew enough of the language they would sing the Canadian national hymn. He requested me to sing for their entertainment, and was politely skeptical when I said that nothing but considerations of friendship and the desire for their continued good opinion prevented my compliance.
Doukhobor house, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902. Glenbow Archives NA-949-102.
The musical programme must have taken considerably more than half an hour, and in all that time the women maintained their attitude of listless stolidity. The only exception was a little girl of some ten or twelve years of age, who sang but little, but who peered shyly around the edge of the stovepipe at me and to whom I doubtless appeared as strange as would a visitor from Mars.
A Stroll Through the Village
After I had formally thanked them for their music, and Kuznizoff had made a florid speech in reply thereto, Iwachin suggested that we should stroll through the village. The women, on leaving, dropped Iwachin, his wife, the interpreter and myself each one of their bobbing curtsies, and the men lifted their hats with the with the wide-spreading sweep of a Russian military salute as they departed.
The village consisted of but one long street. It ran in a straight line, and was about a hundred and fifty feet in breadth. It was neatly fenced with rails on either side, and the buildings were all arranged with their gable end to the road. All were built on the same general plan as that of Iwachin’s – with a middle entry, the dwelling portion nearest the road, and the stable in the other end of the building. Occasionally a pole fence could be seen running back from the road to the depth of the lot, but in general there was no division between the communal properties. At the rear of every stable were one or more fine stacks of well cured hay, some of the villagers having as much as fifty tons. We went into several of the stables and saw the cattle. All were in the very pink of condition, fit, indeed for the butcher. In every yard was a building used as a granary. Its construction was in every case as careful as that of the dwelling house, the walls having well built “footings” and being carefully plastered and neatly whitewashed. Built against the granary in almost every instance was a lean-to implement shed, well stocked with binders – a McCormick in every instance – harness, plows, mowers, rakes and every necessary agricultural implement. Out in the yard were to be seen wagons and sleighs. The hayracks were carefully put on platforms ready to be put on. About the whole village was an air of method, of care, of cleanliness and of order that would compare favorably with that of many a Canadian homestead. The care of their possessions was evidenced on every hand. Inside the implement sheds I found the binder canvasses carefully rolled away, and even the irons of their planes had been greased to protect them from rust!
Further Evidence of Prosperity
All the granaries had more or less grain in them. One man had 600 bushels of wheat, 1,100 bushels of barley and 400 bushels of oats. Another had 830 bushels of wheat and 600 bushels of oats and barley, and many others seemed to have almost, if not quite, equal amounts of grain, though I did not enquire the exact quantities in other than these two instances. Semen Chernoff, whose grain crop is the one last mentioned, told me many interesting facts through the interpreter. From him I gathered that the communal system is losing many of its adherents, and is rapidly being replaced by the rights of the Individual. He was a tall, ungainly fellow, black of eye and torrential of speech. Evidently he had become seized of the fact that an individual’s value to a community is in direct ratio to his ability as a worker. “My three sons,” said he, “worked on the section last summer. They worked hard for six months. They came home with $500. They put the money into the village treasury. Sherbinnen’s two sons went away with mine and came back with them. They worked on the same section. They put into the treasury only $180. Next summer my boys go on the section again, but they will not put their money into the treasury. Oh, no! They will buy cattle and plows with it for themselves. Is it right in the eyes of the good God that my boys should each turn in twice as much as has his?”
Volumes of political economy could not have stated the case of the individual as against the community with greater brevity or force. Nor was this the only instance that came under my observation during my stay of the loosening hold the Doukhobors have upon communistic theories. At first they would not agree to make entry for their homestead lands individually, but wanted the Interior Department to transfer the land en bloc, after the performance of the necessary duties by the community. This, of course, the Department refused to do, insisting on the carrying out of the departmental regulations in the matter of individual entry and individual performance of homestead duties. For more than a year the matter was debated between the government and the Doukhobors, but, as far as the Rosthern settlement is concerned, the matter is settled. The settlers have acceded in every particular to the regulations of the Department, and six months ago land was entered for individually by almost every male of required age in Terpennie. While I was there, I made out the necessary receipts for the $10.00 homestead fees for four men, the money being paid to the interpreter, as an official of the Department. As an indication of the rapidly increasing prosperity of the settlement, they are buying land in large quantities nearly every homesteader wanting to enlarge his holdings by purchase. Chernoff, Iwachin, Kusnizoff and Popoff all wanted me to make influence with the Interior Department, in order that they might select government land for purchase near them. At present the government refuses to sell any of this land, for the reason that the railway grants have not been selected by the companies. With the rapid influx of settlement into the Rosthern country, they fear that others may secure the lands when they are thrown open for sale, though, by right of longer residence and repeated applications to purchase, they feel they have a priority of claim.
Observance of Canadian Law
But the most significant sign of the increasing acceptance of Canadian usages and laws, is afforded by the Doukhobors’ changed attitude towards the marriage laws. Marriage is, with the Doukhobors, not a civil contract, but a religious sacrament, their belief in this regard being in practice what the Catholic belief is in theory. Their tenets in the matter of marriage have never been interfered with by the Russian government. The registration of marriage is there unknown, and, naturally, when they came to Canada, they continued to marry and be given in marriage without notifying the department of vital statistics, and having their unions registered. They hold that no man and woman should continue to live together as man and wife unless they love and reverence each other. For two who are incompatible in disposition to continue to live in the marriage relation they regard as a sin. Far better would it be for the unhappy couple to separate, and, if so disposed, each seek more congenial partners. Hence, when the Doukhobors first came to Canada, and their advent was made the theme of criticism by newspapers and politicians, who knew little of their customs and beliefs, and were only desirous of discrediting the government during whose administration they migrated, it was stated, and, till the truth was known, it was generally believed, that the Doukhobors were “free lovers,” and that their indiscriminate cohabitation was a disgrace to the land they selected for their homes. As a matter of fact, few people are more chaste.
Their belief as to marriage is the logical outcome of their religious system, but their history sows that they dissolution of the marriage tie is practically unknown. In the last fifty years, Iwachin told me, there had been but one instance, among all the thousands of Doukhobors, of separation between man and wife. Can any other community on earth point to such a record as this? And, moreover, the Rosthern Doukhobors, at least, have shown their willingness, in this as in every other matter, to obey in the spirit and letter the Canadian law. Every marriage solemnized in Terpennie since the beginning of 1901 has been registered, and every birth also. The Doukhobors realize that the Canadian laws are conceived in a spirit of equity, and designed for the protection of civil rights, and are rapidly modifying their practice in many matters so as to conform to the changed conditions of life in a country where laws are framed with a view to the stability and strength of the social fabric.
A Visit to the Communal Bathhouse
It is generally known that the Doukhobors are a scrupulously clean people. They have a communal bath house, which Iwachin took me to see. It was a clay-wattled building, similar in construction to every other in the village and was about twelve feet by twenty in size. Half the building was in the ground, the walls not being more than four feet above the level. The door was very small and low, and was approached by a rough stair case. In its interior the building was divided into a larger and smaller room by a transverse partition. The lesser compartment was the one nearer the entry, and was the furnace room. A big fire place, built of clay, occupied nearly the whole of it. This was surrounded by prairie boulders, or moraines, some of them nearly three feet in diameter.
When any of the community desire to bath, they take a load of wood to the bathhouse and make a huge fire. In an hour after the boulders are thoroughly heated. The bathers then go into the larger inner room and after disrobing, stretch themselves on the wooden benches by which it is surrounded. The fire is taken out, and then pails of water are thrown over the pile of stones. The whole building is at once filled with stream. The bathers remain in the stream chamber for an hour or more, then wash, with cold water, don their clothing, and the bath is finished. Iwachin told me the bathhouse was generally in use three or four times a week, men and women using it on alternate days.
It had been in use yesterday, the building being still warm. He offered to have it heated for me early the following morning, if I would stay overnight, and care to take a bath. He said he had had a bath after the Turkish fashion, with hot air instead of stream, but he greatly preferred the Russian method. So necessary do the Doukhobors consider frequent bathing, that they built the communal bathhouse before they even erected their own residences, living in tents, or under wagons, till it was completed.
A Doukhobor Wedding
We strolled back to the village street, noting on every hand the signs of thrift, industry, frugality and prosperity. By this time we numbered quite a large party, every villager to whom I was introduced deemed it his duty to accompany us, and assist in doing the honors of the place. Every villager we passed raised his hat or bowed with the same ceremonious courtesy that had marked Iwachin’s behavior. The children peeped curiously at the interpreter and myself from behind dark entries or around the edges of haystacks. At one house we found the people – that is, the women – in a state of great domestic bustle and excitement. Enquiry found that there was going to be a wedding that afternoon – that the bride was expected at any moment. The woman of the house became almost voluble as she narrated the circumstances to the interpreter. It was her boy who was to be married, and he and his father had driven over to the village of Hierolofka, and would return with the bride and her father. She gave us all a most cordial invitation to the marriage ceremony and the subsequent feast, all of the time sweeping away the snow from the front of the entry with a vigor that betokened her natural excitement. We assured her that we would certainly be present and then left her to conclude her preparations for the reception of the bridal party. She called us back, however, that we might look at the newly plastered and whitewashed tiny bedroom at the back of the entry, and pointed with pride to the new sheet iron stove, the home-made wooden bed – (there was no bed clothing – the bride would bring that) – the wooden pins on the wall, the gay McCormick calendar, and the other simple domestic necessities, needed by the bridal couple.
Then we went on, at Iwachin’s request, to see the first baby born and registered in Terpennie. It was a sturdy little fellow, just beginning to creep, and his delighted crowing at finding himself the cynosure of such a distinguished and numerous party – for we by this time numbered fully a score – showed that he realized to the full his temporary importance. His younger sister, an infant not two months old, was lying in the high ended and quaintly shaped oaken cradle, that was as substantially built as a line of battle ship. It was not on rockers, as is usual, in Canada, but was suspended from the ceiling by two thongs of hide, and swung instead of rocked. The mother was lifting the cloth from the baby’s face, to let us see it, when we heard a shout from outside, and knew that the bridal party had come. We caught a glimpse of a rapidly driven farm sleigh, and hastily making our adieu to the historic child, the sleeping infant, and the proud mother, we hurried up the street to the house we had recently left.
We found the whole village there on our arrival. The sleight had been driven into the cleanly swept courtyard, and the villagers were ranged round it in a semi-circle between it and the house. In the middle of the sleigh box was the great marriage chest, and on it, facing the tail-board, were the bride and groom, both bravely appareled, the girl especially being brilliant in red, green and purple. On the other edge of the chest, facing the horses, were two other girls, both prospective brides, though their grooms were not in evidence. Seated on the tailboard of the sleight was the bride’s father, and when we came up, he was in the middle of a long prayer, beseeching Heaven to bless the approaching union, to give to the young couple the blessing of fruitfulness, to grant his daughter the love of her husband, the affection of her husband’s parents, and the favor of the village. It was an impressive scene of the villagers in gala dress, with the wide-spreading valley beyond, the snowy plain, and the brilliant sunshine, all combining to make a picture that will dwell long in the memory.
When at length the father had completed his prayer he helped his daughter down from the big chest and out of the sleigh. He kissed her, and gave her hand to the groom, who likewise saluted the bride. Holding each other by the hand, the pair entered the house, the father and the rest of the wedding cortege following. At the door they were met by the father of the groom, who welcomed them with a brief speech, and many bows. Then the assembly, which up to the present had been decorously silent, broke into a hubbub of chatter. The bride was surrounded by the girls of the village, who examined her attire,
passing remarks on the embroidery and other adornments. The elder women bustling about in the preparation of the great marriage feast. The men chatted during the interval, on farm work, the prospects for the spring, and the approaching pilgrimage of the Rosthern merchants to the village, for the purpose of holding the annual sales of implements, etc. The groom seemed as at Canadian weddings, the least important individual in the gathering, and for a long time I looked about for him in vain. When at length he was pointed out to me, I was greatly surprised at his extreme youth. His father said he was 18; but he looked no more than 14. His face was boyish, almost childish, and his general bearing and behavior that of an undeveloped callow stripling. The bride, they told me, was also 18. She was half a head taller than her affianced, broad of hip and shoulder, and deep of chest. She carried herself, too, with a quiet dignity and gentleness that prepossessed us greatly.
I gathered that the principals had but little to do with the arrangement of marriage among the Doukhobors. The alliances are negotiated by the parents, though it is to be supposed that any existing attachments are given some consideration. But, owing to the extreme youth at which marriages are contracted, and the mental habit existing among the Doukhobor children of subordinating their individual judgment to that of their parents, it is but rarely that any complications are made by prior attachments.
The day was rapidly closing in, when the villagers gathered for the marriage song service. For an hour they would sing the psalms and hymns, and then would partake of the great wedding feast. The odor of vegetable soup filled the house, and the young men busied themselves arranging the borrowed tables so as to utilize to the utmost every available inch of room. The father of the groom pressed me to remain to the festival. They would sing, he said, for an hour, and then partake of the wedding meal and then would come the conclusion of the religious ceremony, when he, the father of the groom, would beseech the Almighty’s blessing on the youthful pair, after which the bride’s relatives would rive back home. But the interpreter explained that we had a long way to drive ourselves through a country that was but sparsely settled, and little traveled, and moreover, there was the difficult crossing of the Saskatchewan valley to be made. So, though reluctantly, we had to send for our team. While we were waiting for them the good wife served us scalding tea, in tumblers, and we ate more of the soggy black bread, being entertained, while eating, by the signing – for the musical portion of the service had commenced.
Ewashen family, c. 1902. (l-r) John, Jacob Jr., Jacob Sr. John Kooznetsoff, Anastasia (nee Kooznetsoff), Mary.
Facts as to Progress
In the intervals between the various songs, Iwachin gave us a few general facts as to the progress and present position of the Rosthern settlement of Doukhobours. In Terpennie – the village we were visiting – there were between 100 and 170 inhabitants – forty-seven families in all. Between them they had twenty horses, a hundred and thirty cattle, and forty sheep. In the village of Hierolofka, ten miles away, there were five hundred cattle and a hundred horses. Last fall the Terpennie people had plowed with nine ox or horse teams, in three weeks 325 acres of land, an, with the amount of breaking done, they would have this year a thousand acres under cultivation. Their principal crop would be wheat, but much barley and flax would be grown. Last year the crops were good, he said, but they had sold none of the grain yet. The present price was too low. They would wait, he said, until they got a railroad, and then they could get a better price for their grain. They did not know when they would get the road built, but they believed Mr. Sifton would see that they had proper shipping facilities. They had ten grist mills, operated by water power at Terpennie and Hierolofka. To get the necessary water supply, the Terpennie people had built a canal two miles long – all of it by the spade, and all of it done by the women of the village while the men were working in the fields or on the railroad. It was completed last fall, and would be in operation this spring. The stones used were those formerly in the old Hudson’s Bay fort at Prince Albert, and were teamed nearly a hundred miles. The flour, is, of course, ground “forthright,” and would make the same dark bread in general use among the Doukhobors.
The residents of Terpennie have 47 homesteads. This year the Hierolofka people will have 4,000 acres cropped. As an instance of the extensive nature of their farming operations, they purchased last year forty binders, seventy mowers, and a hundred and twenty plows. Nearly all this was bought on credit, and no better comment on their commercial reliability need be adduced than the fact that, on Jan. 1 of this year, though hardly a bushel of grain had been sold, less than fifteen per cent was unpaid, and this is regarded as being good as the bank. They make use of everything – like Autolycus, they are “snappers up of unconsidered trifles,” picking up nails, old horseshoes, or such things, and carrying them home and putting them to use. They buy only absolute necessities, having learned in the hard school of Muscovite tyranny that economy is wealth. At the towns in which they deal, the merchants are anxious that more of the same class of settlers should come into the country. They say that much opposition was at first manifested at the Doukhobor immigration, but that those who know them best have nothing but praise for them, either as farmers or citizens. In a very few years the Doukhobors will be in an enviable financial position – in fact wealthy. They are peaceable, law-abiding, industrious and thrifty, are anxious to learn English speech and desirous of following Canadian customs.
Good-Bye to Terpennie
While Iwachin and the interpreter had been telling me these facts, I had been munching morsels of the black bread, and sipping the scalding uncreamed tea, and, in the pauses of the conversation, listening to the weird minor music of the wedding, and watching the preparations for the feast that would follow. The room was strong with the odor of vegetable soup, and the air hot and oppressive from the crowding of so many people in such a small space. I was not sorry, therefore, when it was announced that the team was ready. There was much handshaking and bowing and removing of caps as we left the room. The boyish bridegroom was pushed forward by his mother to make his adieux, and his dignified, emotionless bride curtsied in stateliest fashion as we went through the door. Iwachin and Chernoff and a few of the village lads came out to see us off, and nearly all the rest continued at the song service, and the drone of their monotonous chant was the last thing we heard of Terpennie.
We bundled ourselves up comfortably in our furs, and left with many courteous wishes from our hosts for a safe journey, and continued health and long life, and general prosperity, and all other desirable blessings. In a few minutes Terpennie was a low black blot silhouetted against the burning western sky. Down the easy grade we wound into the valley of the Saskatchewan, and in the purple gloaming of the winter dusk, crossed the river, and safely climbed the precipitous bank beyond. It was quite dark when we reached the eastern level. For a while we journeyed quietly, each absorbed in the memory of all that we had that day seen and learned of these God-fearing, tenacious, industrious people. And the interpreter voiced my own unspoken thought when he exclaimed: “Well, they were good Russians, and they’ll make good Canadians.” J.R.
Special thanks to Corinne Postnikoff of Castlegar, British Columbia for her assistance with the data input of this article.