Spring Name Commemorates Doukhobors of Petrofka

For Immediate Release – May 5, 2008

A spring near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan has been officially named in recognition of the Doukhobor pioneer settlers of Petrofka. The name “Petrofka Spring”, proposed by Doukhobor researcher and writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, was recently approved by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.

Petrofka Spring is located on the SW 1/4 of 31-42-6-W3 on the picturesque west bank of the North Saskatchewan River, twelve miles south of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. It is situated in the Petrofka Recreation Site, a popular riverbank spot for camping, picnicking and hiking. The spring flows east down the riverbank to the river. It flows year-round and provides an excellent source of clean, cool, fresh and abundant water.

View of Petrofka Spring. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“The naming of Petrofka Spring is of immense cultural and historic value,” said Kalmakoff, a leading authority on Doukhobor geographic names. “It is a lasting legacy for future generations, and one that helps recognize the contribution made by the Doukhobors of Petrofka to the development of the area.”

The village of Petrofka (Petrovka, Петровка) was established near the spring in 1899 by Doukhobors from Kars, Russia who fled to Canada to escape persecution for their pacifist beliefs. Following the motto of ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’, they lived, prayed and worked together, transforming the prairie frontier into productive farmland. By 1911, Petrofka had a mixed population of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and German settlers. The village existed for a number of years before it was finally dissolved in 1929.

“The Doukhobors of Petrofka had a direct connection with the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “When they settled along the river, the Doukhobors found an abundant source of spring water, fertile land, trees and rolling hills reminiscent of their homeland in the Caucasus region of Russia. Building their settlement near the spring, they used its natural waters for drinking, household, irrigation and agricultural purposes. It was the lifeblood of the settlement.”

View of the pathway leading to Petrofka Spring. A sign reminds visitors that it is untreated water. 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 collective response was overwhelmingly in favour of the name. The Ministry of Environment, which owns the land on which the spring is located, submitted a letter of support. The Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society also backed the naming project. As well, the Rural Municipality of Blaine Lake No. 434 passed a resolution in favour of the name. Finally, the Riverlands Heritage Region 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 agencies and departments. 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 was solidly in favour of the name Petrofka Spring – 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 Saskatchewan Geographic Names 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 main objective of this naming project is to ensure that the Doukhobors are recognised by all Canadians as a fundamental part of our country’s heritage and that there is a need for their historical sites to be acknowledged,” said Kalmakoff. “Now that the name Petrofka Spring has been adopted, there is an opportunity to recognize the historic Doukhobor presence in the area and to garner wider community recognition.”

A short distance from the spring, a historic marker on the scenic North Saskatchewan River bank commemorates the historic Petrofka Ferry. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“An official ceremony to commemorate the naming of the spring is planned for later this spring, and will be hosted by the Riverlands Heritage Region in cooperation with other local stakeholders,” said Maurice Postnikoff, Vice-President of the Riverlands Heritage Region. “It is important that we celebrate our rich and diverse local heritage through endeavours such as this.”

For additional information or inquiries about Petrofka Spring, email Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

A Fading Minority: The Doukhobors’ Continued Struggle For Survival

by Hedvig Lohm & Ilya Chkhutishvili

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of Georgia’s Doukhobors resettled to Russia, driven by regional instability, ethnic tensions and economic hardship.  Those who remained became minorities in their own villages. Now, land reforms are forcing those who are left to apply for Russian citizenship.  Should the Doukhobors leave, it is feared that new ethnic disputes may erupt between their Armenian and Georgian neighbours.by Hedvig Lohm and Ilya Chkhutishvili originally appeared in the e-magazine “Georgia Today” (31.08.2007) www.georgiatoday.ge/.

The Dukhobors are an ethnic Russian religious community who today reside in Russia, the Caucasus and Canada. While the word ‘Dukhobor’ means ‘Spirit Wrestler’ in Russian, today the Dukhobors living in Georgia are facing a more earthly struggle. Since the Dukhobors’ legal documents for the lease of land have been disputed by the Ninotsminda rayon’s municipal administration, this community may lose all legal rights to its land – the Dukhobors’ only source of income. If the issue of land ownership is not resolved, most Dukhobors are likely to give up the struggle to continue living in Gorelovka, Georgia, and leave for Russia. Such a development would contribute not only to the loss of a colorful and unique population group, but is also a cause for concern among local Armenians who worry that if the Dukhobors leave, the Georgian government will settle ecological migrants from Adjara and Svaneti in Gorelovka, a move which could become a source of new disputes between the Georgian newcomers and the local Armenian community.

The Dukhobors represent one of the oldest ethnic minorities in Georgia. In late 18th century Tsarist Russia, sects of religious dissenters such as the Dukhobors, Molokans, Staroveri (“Old Believers”) and Subbotniks were treated as pariahs. The Russian rulers were concerned that they would spread their heresies and seduce ‘true’ Orthodox believers. Consequently, in 1839 an ultimatum was given to the sectarians: convert to Orthodoxy, or leave for the newly conquered Caucasus region. Most of them decided to go into exile. In 1839-1845 the Dukhobors settled in the two Georgian regions of Javakheti and Dmanisi, Kedabek in today’s Azerbaijan, and Kars in today’s Turkey. Of these early exiles, the Dukhobors in Ninotsminda rayon are the only ones that remain.

Group of Doukhobor women in Gorelovka village, Georgia.  GeorgiaToday.

The Dukhobors lived through very hard times during the 19th century, weathering both conflicts with Tsarist Russian authorities and disputes within the community. At the end of the 19th century there were a total of 10,000 Dukhobors in the Javakheti region spread through eight villages. During the Soviet collectivization process in the 1930s, the Dukhobor’s communal system of redistributing agricultural lands was destroyed. However, the Dukhobors were used to working on collective lands and most of them were able to easily adapt to the new Communist system. Consequently, their kolkhozes turned into some of the most efficient and profitable in the entire Soviet Union. Ethnically, their villages remained predominantly Dukhobor, though in some villages a few Armenian families resided as well.

The end of the Soviet era, however, saw many Dukhobors leaving Georgia and by the late 1980s a wave of resettlement to the Russian Federation was already in full swing. There were several reasons why the Dukhobors left for Russia. During the last part of the Perestroika years and the collapse of the Soviet Union Georgia was in turmoil. In addition, Georgian ethno-nationalist politics were on the rise while at the same time “Javakh” the Armenian, then paramilitary, organization took de facto control over the Javakheti region.

One of the main initiators of this resettlement process was Maria Uglova, who was a chairperson of the Spasovka kolkhoz. The Dukhobors who left with Uglova resettled in Russia’s Tulskiy oblast. The migrant Dukhobors moved primarily to Tulskiy and Rostovskiy oblasts, as well as to Stavropol krai. From 1979 to 1989 the number of Dukhobors in Ninotsminda decreased from 3,830 to 3,165. By the mid-1990s about 1,400 Dukhobors remained in Georgia, about 50 of them in Dmanisi.

Already by the early 1990s the Dukhobors had become minorities in seven of their eight original villages. In 1997 there was another wave of migration from Javakheti. Lyuba Goncharova, the new chairperson of the Gorelovka kolkhoz, arranged a resettlement of around 300 people to Bryanskiy oblast. By the end of the decade, the Russians were now a minority in seven of the eight Dukhobor villages. Gradually the ratio of Dukhobors in Gorelovka also changed from an absolute majority to a situation where the Armenian population is now larger. Today there are about 504 Dukhobors, 551 Armenians and 31 Georgians in Gorelovka.

The agricultural cooperative “Dukhoborets” which was established after the fall of communism in Gorelovka village on the remains of an old kolkhoz, provides the Gorelovka Dukhobors with a sense of collective security. The cooperative is weak and not very profitable, but still provides a small income to most of the remaining Dukhobor families in Gorelovka. It also functions as a social security institution for the entire community of Dukhobors. As one of the leading Dukhobors explains, the credo of the cooperative is “to help the Dukhobor community”.

In 1997 the cooperative was one of the biggest agricultural unions in the region. At present the cooperative has one major challenge: the “Dukhoborets” land lease contract is being disputed by the local authorities. In 2002, then gamgebeli Rafik Arzumanyan signed a lease contract with the Dukhoborets cooperative in Gorelovka. According to the contract the cooperative leases 4,290 ha of the original 7,700 ha that made up the Soviet kolkhoz. However, this contract is now disputed by the current gamgebeli, who claims that the Dukhoborets contract falls short of both the initial lease decision made by the gamgeoba (Georgian for “village council”) and a proper map delineating exactly which lands are being leased. The contract also lacks the proper signature of the Public Registrar and a registration number from the Public Registry. Dukhoborets representatives claim, however, that none of these mistakes can be blamed on the cooperative – rather, they fall under the concept of ‘administrative trust’, meaning that the responsibility for creating a legal lease document lies with the authorities and not with a private person or entity.

Sirotsky Dom building in Gorelovka village, Georgia.  GeorgiaToday.

If the cooperative closes or the land lease contract is not acknowledged by the local gamgeoba, most Dukhobors in Gorelovka are likely to give up the fight to continue living in Gorelovka and leave for Russia. Already many of them are applying for Russian citizenship. If the cooperative continues to function, however, it could be a better choice for the Dukhobors to stay, since they are provided with income and still have a collective point of security.

The European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) is assisting the Dukhobor community in their relations with the local government and helping them to maintain their cultural heritage and present living place. As the total number of Dukhobors in Georgia has decreased to 700, another wave of emigration will lead to the loss of this minority from Georgia. To help resolve the legal problems of the Dukhobor community, ECMI in cooperation with other organizations is trying to convince local and state authorities of the importance of the Dukhobors issue. For now, with no specific actions taken either at the state or local level, the fate of the Dukhobors in Georgia remains an unknown.

Notes

For a thorough and comprehensive examination of the issue of land ownership and inter-ethnic relations among the Doukhobors, Armenians and Georgians of Ninotsminda rayon (district), in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, see Hedvig Lohm’s study, Doukhobors in Georgia.

Since the writing of this article, the remaining Doukhobors in Georgia have chosen to resettle to Russia as part of President Putin’s highly-publicized repatriation scheme. Arrangements are being made for their resettlement to the village of Maly Snezhetok in Tambov province, Russia. For more about the resettlement, see the articles Georgian Doukhobors Relocate to Tambov, Russia and More Georgian Doukhobors Move to Tambov by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff and also The Doukhobors in Malyi Snezhetok by Evgeny Pisarev.

Oospenia Spring Commemorates Doukhobor Pioneers

For Immediate Release – August 23, 2006

A spring near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan has been officially named to commemorate the Doukhobor settlers of the area. Oospenia Spring, the name proposed by Doukhobor researcher and writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, was recently approved by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.

Oospenia Spring is located on the NW 1/4 of 31-43-5-W3 on the scenic west bank of the North Saskatchewan River, eighteen kilometres south-east of Blaine Lake. It issues from the top of the river bank to form a small, crystal clear pool. The pool overflows down the bank to the flats, and from the flats, into the river. Flowing year-round, it is an excellent source of clean, cool, fresh and abundant water.

“Place names define our landscape and help record our history,“ said Kalmakoff, a leading authority on Doukhobor geographic names. “In this regard, the naming of the spring provides official recognition of the Doukhobors of Oospenia who made a significant contribution to the history and development of the area in which it is located.”

View of Oospenia Spring. Photo courtesy Donna Choppe.

The village of Oospenia was established near the spring in 1899 by Doukhobors from Kars, Russia who fled to Canada to escape persecution for their pacifist beliefs. For five years, the Russian-speaking settlers lived in dug-outs on the river bank before constructing a log village on level ground nearby. Following the motto of ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’, they lived, prayed and worked together, transforming the prairie wilderness into productive farmland. By 1913, Oospenia was abandoned as villagers relocated to individual homesteads or to communal settlements in British Columbia.

“The Doukhobors of Oospenia had a direct and meaningful association with the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “Indeed, the spring was the primary reason they chose the location for their village site. Throughout the history of their settlement, the Oospenia Doukhobors utilized the spring as a drinking water source and as a water source for their livestock and farming operations. In many ways, it helped define the village settlement.”

The official name comes after two and a half years of consultations by Kalmakoff to gather feedback on the suitability and acceptance of the name from persons familiar with the area. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The owner of the land on which the spring is located, Brenda Cheveldayoff, submitted a letter of support. The Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society also endorsed the naming project. As well, the Rural Municipality of Blaine Lake No. 434 passed a resolution in favour of the name.

The consultations were followed by a formal proposal 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 was firmly in favour of the name Oospenia Spring – was then recommended to the Minister Responsible for the Board, the Hon. Eric Cline, Q.C. who approved the decision.

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

For Kalmakoff, the naming of Oospenia Spring was a personal project. His great-great-grandparents, Grigory and Maria Ivin, were among the original group of Doukhobors who founded the village of Oospenia and used the spring in their daily life.

“Oospenia Spring is not just a name on a map or sign,” said Kalmakoff. “It signifies that the contribution of the Doukhobors of Oospenia was substantial to the area and will assure the continued remembrance of them and their deeds by generations that follow.”

For additional information about Oospenia Spring, see the article Doukhobor Dugout House Unveils Monument Commemorating Oospenia Spring by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Good Spirit Lake Annex – Historical Tour

On Saturday, June 20, 2007, the National Heritage Doukhobor Village hosted a guided motor coach tour of Doukhobor historical sites, landmarks and points of interest in the Good Spirit Lake and Buchanan areas of Saskatchewan.

Approximately sixty people took part in the excursion, which travelled through the heart of “Good Spirit Country”, visiting some of the original Doukhobor village and related sites, exploring surviving buildings and structures, and learning about the Doukhobors who inhabited them, their surroundings, and the events that took place within them.

“One of the primary objectives of the tour was to emphasize the historical significance of the Doukhobor contribution to the development and growth of the area”, said Keith Tarasoff, tour organizer and chairman of the National Heritage Doukhobor Village.

Tour participants exploring the Krukoff Homestead near Good Spirit Lake.

In 1899, over 1,000 Doukhobors from Elizavetpol and Kars, Russia settled in the area on 168,930 acres of homestead land reserved by the Dominion Government for their use. The reserve was known as the “Good Spirit Lake Annex”. There, they cleared the forest, broke the virgin prairie, planted grain fields, kept livestock herds and established eight communal villages as well as gristmills, blacksmith shops, granaries and barns. Living, praying and working under the motto of “Toil and Peaceful Life”, they transformed the prairie wilderness into productive farmland. By 1918, the Annex reserve was closed as Doukhobors relocated to communal settlements in British Columbia or to individual homesteads in the area. Those who remained established successful independent farming operations and thriving businesses.

Original 1899-era barn from Blagosklonnoe Village at the Krukoff Homestead.

The tour of the Good Spirit Lake Annex departed from the Doukhobor Prayer Home in Canora at 1:00 p.m. and commenced with a visit to the Krukoff Homestead, established on the site of Blagosklonnoye Village and containing an original village barn as well as a house constructed from bricks from the original village prayer home. The tour then passed the Blagosklonnoye Cemetery site, along with the Staro-Goreloye Village and Cemetery sites, before visiting at the Hancheroff House, an original village home relocated from Staro-Goreloye to its present site in the early 1900’s. A brief stop was made at Devil’s Lake School, a main Doukhobor school in the area during the first half of the twentieth century. The tour then passed through the Kalmakovka Village and Cemetery sites, the Utesheniye Village and Cemetery sites, and the Sukovaeff House, an original village home relocated from Utesheniye to its present site in the early 1900’s. A group moleniye service and commemoration was held at Novo Troitskoye Cemetery, where a major effort is underway to restore the site and preserve the cemetery for the future. The tour then passed through the vicinity of the Novo-Troitskoye Village site and the Moiseyevo Cemetery and Village sites, where at the latter, several original village structures remain.

Tour participants conduct a moleniye service at Novo-Troitskoe Cemetery near Buchanan.

The excursion proceeded to the Village of Buchanan, the main commercial centre in the area and a significant hub of Doukhobor activity throughout much of the twentieth century. A stop was made at Lois Hole Memorial Park, which commemorates the late Lois (nee Verigin) Hole, a former Buchanan resident of Doukhobor ancestry who became a successful market gardener, prominent book publisher and Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta. Afterwards, the tour stopped at the Buchanan Community Hall where participants were treated to refreshments courtesy the Village Council and to an extensive historic photo display courtesy Lorne J. Plaxin.  The tour then resumed, passing the Plaxin & Verigin General Store site and the Buchanan Doukhobor Prayer Home, built in 1916 to serve the needs of the Doukhobors in the surrounding area. A stop was made at the foundations of the Independent Doukhobor Flour Mill and Elevator, which was built in 1916 and operated until the Forties, as well as the foundations of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Store and Warehouse which operated in the Twenties and Thirties.

The tour continued west of Buchanan, where it passed the Novo-Goreloye Village and Cemetery sites, the Village of Buchanan Cemetery, the Kirilovka Village and Cemetery sites, and the site of Dernic Siding and Hamlet. On the return leg, the tour visited the Buchanan Historic Monument, located east of Buchanan along Highway No. 5. Constructed of millstones from the villages of Novo-Troitskoye and Utesheniye, it stands as a memorial to the Doukhobor pioneer settlers of the Buchanan area. As a concluding highlight, a group photo was taken in front of the monument. The tour then returned to the point of departure at 6:30 p.m.

Tour group photo at the Buchanan Historic Monument on Highway No. 5 east of Buchanan.

Throughout the five and a half-hour excursion, expert tour guides Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, a Regina-based researcher and writer and Lorne J. Plaxin, a Preeceville-based local historian, provided an informative and entertaining historical narration.  Both have family roots in the Good Spirit Lake Annex area. Tour participants also shared interesting stories and anecdotes about the people and places. These included Fred Krukoff, who spoke about the Blagosklonnoye village site while Margaret Hancheroff described the Hancheroff House from Staro-Goreloye village.  

“A lot of the people who accompanied the tour were amazed at what we were able to show them,” said Jonathan Kalmakoff. “Many presumed that there was nothing left to see, when in fact, there are plenty of existing historic sites, buildings and landmarks that people pass every day without knowing or appreciating their history or purpose. Through the tour, they were able to have an enjoyable visit, and most importantly, learn a little more about their Doukhobor heritage and culture.”

Highway map of Buchanan and Good Spirit Lake, Saskatchewan.

“It was a privilege to take part in the Good Spirit Lake Annex tour,” said Lorne Plaxin. “A profound feeling of belonging was very evident as the tour bus passed each village or cemetery site. Indeed, the recollections and anecdotes shared by many of the tour participants reminded us all of our rich heritage. We can indeed be proud of our ancestors’ accomplishments and legacy.”

For additional information or inquiries about the tour of the Good Spirit Lake Annex and other Doukhobor historic sites in Saskatchewan, contact the National Heritage Doukhobor Village at Box 99, Veregin, Saskatchewan, S0A 4H0. Phone number (306) 542-4441.

Doukhobor Dugout House Unveils Monument Commemorating Oospenia Spring

For Immediate Release – July 11, 2007

In 1899, a group of Doukhobor immigrants from Russia reached the North Saskatchewan River in what was to become the Blaine Lake district of Saskatchewan. Weary from their thousand miles’ journey, they stopped alongside a cool, abundant spring on the west bank of the river. Finding it an ideal location for settlement, they established a dugout village there which they named Oospenia. In the years that followed, the spring was the lifeblood of the Doukhobor settlement.

Now, one hundred and eight years later, long after the abandonment of the village, the spring is the centrepiece of the Doukhobor Dugout House site, a provincial heritage site with historic buildings, cultural artefacts, live exhibits and guided tours depicting the history of the Oospenia Doukhobors.

Stone monument commemorating Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

On July 11, 2007, at its season opening ceremony, the Doukhobor Dugout House unveiled a stone monument commemorating the spring. The monument, made of 30’ x 18’ x 6’ native fieldstone, is engraved with the official name of the spring, “Oospenia Spring”, recently designated by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.  It will be positioned alongside the spring. 

The Honourable Eric Cline Q.C. (left) and Jonathan J. Kalmakoff (right) unveil the stone monument commemorating Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

The ceremony, presided over by keynote and motivational speaker Norm Rebin, was attended by over three hundred people. It opened with the Lord’s Prayer recited in Russian by Jeanette Stringer and in English by Brenda Cheveldayoff. On hand to present greetings were a number of dignitaries, including Dr. Margaret Kennedy, Heritage Foundation; Joe Chad, Tourism Saskatchewan; John Reban, Reeve, RM of Blaine Lake No. 434; Don Atchison, Mayor of Saskatoon; Denis Allchurch, MLA Rosthern-Shellbrook; the Honourable Eric Cline Q.C., Minister of Industry and Resources; Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, Doukhobor writer and historian; and the Honourable Lorne Calvert, Premier of Saskatchewan.

The monument was officially unveiled by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, who originally recommended the name “Oospenia Spring” to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, together with the Honourable Eric Cline, Q.C., who approved the name last year as Minister responsible for the Board.

Jonathan J. Kalmakoff addresses the crowd attending the Oospenia Spring monument unveiling. Photo by Donna Choppe. 

Kalmakoff paid tribute to the essential role of the spring in the early settlement history of the Doukhobors. “The Doukhobors of Oospenia had a direct and meaningful association with the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “Indeed, the spring was the primary reason they chose this location for their village. The spring nourished them, providing the settlers with a source of good, clean drinking water and a water source for their livestock and farming operations.”

Minister Cline commended the Doukhobor Dugout House for its preservation of Doukhobor heritage. “The story of the Doukhobors is an important chapter in the history of the Province,” said Minister Cline. “We are making sure that this part of our collective history is not forgotten. I am honoured to help inaugurate the monument commemorating Oospenia Spring and the Doukhobors who lived here.”

Members of the public enjoy a walkabout tour of the site following the ceremony. Photo by Donna Choppe.

The ceremony concluded with a keynote address by Norm Rebin about the “Value of Collective Memory”.  In his speech, Rebin celebrated changing societal attitudes towards the Doukhobors, their historic contribution to the settlement of Canada, and their place in the multicultural mosaic. “Our ancestors would weep,” said Rebin, “if they could see us gathered here today, in the spirit of good will and brotherhood.”  “This is a revelatory place. It shows how far the Doukhobors have come,” said Rebin, referring to the fact that Doukhobors once looked upon the government as oppressors but are now working hand in hand with them to restore the site.

A walkabout tour of the Doukhobor Dugout House site with costumed guides followed, along with a historic plough pulling re-enactment by twelve Doukhobor women belonging to the Saskatoon Doukhobor Society.  Refreshments, including Doukhobor bread and other traditional dishes, were also served.

Lorne Calvert, Premier of Saskatchewan (left) tours the Doukhobor Dugout House

site with Norm Rebin, Master of Ceremonies. Photo by Donna Choppe. 

Premier Calvert, who arrived just after the pulling of the plough, took a walkabout tour of the site before giving a short speech for those in attendance. He spoke of the hard work that goes into preserving a heritage site such as the Dugout House and the importance of such projects. “Without the good people that are doing this, this place would be lost,” said Premier Calvert.

The stone monument placed in the Oospenia Spring. Photo by Donna Choppe.

For information or inquiries about Oospenia Spring and other on-site attractions, including group tours, special events, and hours of operation, contact the Doukhobor Dugout House web site at: http:/www.doukhobordugouthouse.com.

The Molokan Arrival in Manitoba, 1905

Manitoba Free Press

In 1905, a group of 160 Molokans living in Kars, Russia, weary of civil unrest and strife in their country, decided to emigrate. In June of that year, they took coastal ships from Russia to Western European ports where they boarded transatlantic ships bound for Canada. Disembarking at the port of Quebec, they boarded trains for the Canadian West, seeking land to settle on and farm. They arrived at Winnipeg, Manitoba in July, arousing widespread interest and curiosity among the city residents. They received a hearty welcome from local Doukhobors and Russian émigrés who encouraged them to stay. The following account of the Molokan sojourn in Manitoba is reproduced from the Manitoba Free Press articles “A Strange People Reach the West” (July 5, 1905) and “Welcome Molokans” (July 6, 1905). Preface and Postscript by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Preface

The Molokans referred to in this story immigrated to Canada aboard three ships. First, 112 Molokans (Bukharev, Dvornin, Fadeev, Fetisov, Kholopov, Kulikov, Metchkov, Mokshanov, Morozov, Novikov and Samarin families) sailed to Canada aboard the SS Southwark. This Dominion line steamship departed June 22, 1905, under Captain J.O. Williams, from the port of Liverpool, England. It carried 867 passengers. After 10 days at sea, the vessel arrived at the port of Quebec on July 1, 1905. View shiplist. Another 24 Molokans (Cheremisin, Pluzhnikov, Shubin and Treglazov families) departed aboard the SS Montreal. This Canadian Pacific line steamship departed July 18, 1905, under Captain T.C. Evans, from the port of Antwerp, Belgium. It carried 267 passengers. After 12 days at sea, the vessel arrived at the port of Quebec on July 29, 1905. View shiplist. Finally, 24 Molokans (Kudinov, Machov, Planin, Prokhorov, Pudov and Shetuchin families) sailed to Canada aboard an unidentified ship.

Group of Russian Molokans, similar in dress and appearance to the group which arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1905. New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Digital Image ID: 50667.

A Strange People Reach the West

Party of Molokans from Transcaucasia Arrive

Yesterday the train brought over one hundred Molokans, including women and children, from the Kars district in Transcaucasia. That country being joined to the Russian empire in 1878, the Doukhobors and Molokans were located there. Those who wish to see the aspect and attire of these new immigrants may find them at the immigration building. They are somewhat different from the Doukhobors in dress, although the features of their faces are much similar.

Resemble the Doukhobors

The Molokans are Russian dissenters who have sprung up from the same origin as the Doukhobors, and it is believed by some, received their religious tenets from the English Quakers one century ago, which teaching they have partially modified. Unlike the Doukhobors, the Molokans have not objected to their sons being enrolled in the army, although they have always been a peacable and law-abiding people. They also differ from the Doukhobors by the reference they pay to the teaching of the Bible in their religious services, and by the solemnity they attribute to the sacred rite of matrimony.

As soon as the arrival of the Molokans became known, a well known Doukhobor rancher visited the immigration building and greeted them in their own tongue. He shook hands with the grey-bearded man who seemed to be the oldest one of the party, and the following conversation took place between them:

“When did you arrive?” “This morning,” answered the aged Molokan. “Have a good journey?” “Thanks, fairly good.” “Where did you come from?” “From the Kars district.” “How many miles were you living from the town of Alexandrovsk?” “About thirty.” “Were you very far from the Doukhobor settlement?” “Why, we were living right between their villages. Our villages were scattered among the Doukhobors.”

“I suppose you are used to raising cattle? There are many empty homesteads in this part of the country which is very good for mixed farming.” “We can raise cattle, but we believe more in raising grain, and the produce from the earth. We believe God has especially blessed farming for the welfare of man.”

Immigration Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba where160 Molokans stayed in 1905. It served both as an arrival location and as a way station for immigrants traveling to other destinations in Western Canada. Library and Archives Canada, C-042728.

“Then one of the younger men enjoined, “We have not seen any good land all the way from the east.” “This you mean probably the rocks and hills and water courses you saw before reaching Kenora” “Yes, that was the kind of land we saw.” “You need not be anxious; you will see very good soil indeed in the northwest. Everybody praises this country for its wheat.”

“We have been raising excellent wheat, barley and oats in the Kars district. Corn and buckwheat could not grow because the land was too high above the level of the sea.” “Yes, I know it is situated on a plateau. Then it seems the climate you will meet here will not be unfamiliar to you.”

“I hope good men will show us where to pick up better land, but your time of harvest seems to be much later than in the country we left. When we started from there one month ago the wheat began to throw its ear, and here it is only raising its green blade from the ground. Some of our brothers have settled in Los Angeles, California, and they like very much that country.” “So do those that have lived here for years too.”

Informed of Naval Mutiny

“Did you hear that the fleet of the Black Sea is in a state of mutiny, and that those that are sent to fight the strikers say they would not lift their hands against their brethren.”

“Yes, I believe that,” said a younger Molokan, with an intelligent face, while the older men looked at the informant suspiciously, as if he were giving false statements.

1911 Census map showing the Immigration Hall on Higgins Avenue adjacent to the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“Yes, a similar case occurred in Tiflis, where the soldiers refused to fight against the mob. But then the Cossacks were called to the spot and charged the crowd. The people are very excited against the landlords in the Caucasus, in some places they stripped the priests of their robes and shaved half of their hair. They tore off the sacred pictures and other articles from the churches, and smashed them and stamped them under their feet.

Describe Scenes of Murder and Pillage in their Country

“In several villages they shot the noblemen, took from them the estates, and divided the land between them. They also compelled the noblemen to sign a resignation of their property in favour of the peasants.

“In one instance the prince and owner of one estate refused to comply with their demands, but his son signed a resignation to suit them. They let go the son but they killed his father. But then there were some other noblemen who would not submit to the arrogance of the population. They avenged the old aristocrat’s death by killing his son.

“Oh, fancy what bloody occurrences are heard of in your country,” exclaimed the naturalized Doukhobor. “Who are those people who killed the noblemen? They are in Tiflis, you said?”

“They are the Georgians, an Asiatic tribe of the Greek creed, who live in Transcaucasia, of which Tiflis is the main city. These people abused the priests, despised the sacred shrines and images, and then they said to their priests; What need have we of you. We don’t want to feed you and to support you, and to be fooled any longer by the kind of religion you teach us.

Photo of a Molokan elder from the Caucasus taken in Los Angeles, California, c. 1905. New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Digital Image ID: 490797.

“Do you expect to stay over Sunday in Winnipeg?” asked the Winnipeger, turning to the grey-bearded patriarch. “Yes, most likely,” he answered. “We have not yet quite settled our minds as to our movings.”

Welcome Molokans

Mr. and Mrs. Sherbinin Entertained Last Evening in Their Honor

The newly-arrived party of Molokans from Russia received a hearty welcome yesterday afternoon at Mrs. Sherbinin’s cottage, 72 Shultz street, where a group of them were entertained. Mrs. Sherbinin was assisted by several prominent ladies of the city, while Mr. Sherbinin entertained the men. Friendly conversation was indulged in, hymns were sung, and refreshments were served. The new-comers made an impression upon their Canadian entertainers as being an intelligent and pious people.

The features of the men seemed to be more like those of the Icelanders than of the Slavs of southeastern Europe. Through circumstances they have been denied school advantages, the Russians refusing to allow them schools of their own, while the people refused to send their children to Russian schools to be taught religious doctrines and usages contrary to the faith of their parents. Through home teaching, however, the great majority of them are able to read. Their devotional music appeared, judging from their chanting of a psalm, to be very similar to that of the Doukhobors. Their beliefs are said to differ from those of the latter people in that they do not absolutely refuse to do military service, though they are peaceably inclined to such an extent that a main consideration in leaving Russia was that their sons might not be sent away to the war; and that they are not purely vegetarian in their diet, but hold themselves free in this respect. They have elders in their villages who conduct their religious services, but they do not observe the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, holding that these are to be given a spiritual interpretation.

The future movements of the party are not yet announced. A number of the families have near relatives in southern California, and have a natural desire to join them, but their tickets were only to Winnipeg, and they are at present getting information which will determine their future movements. In Russia the Molokans are much more numerous, it is stated, than the Doukhobors.

Photo of Molokans from the Caucasus taken in Los Angeles, California, c. 1905. New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Digital Image ID: 490797.

Postscipt

Despite their initial interest in the Canadian West, the Molokans ultimately moved on; between July and September 1905, they crossed the border into the United States and continued southwest to Los Angeles, California. View border crossing records. The records do not indicate why they chose to depart; perhaps they found the climate too cold and inhospitable; maybe they were discouraged by the Canadian Shield, the region of rocky, hilly, forested land with numerous lake which they observed on their rail journey west to Winnipeg; or perhaps Canadian immigration agents failed to assist them to locate the fertile Prairie farmland where the Doukhobors had settled, further west. Certainly, they had numerous relatives in southern California, and naturally desired to join them. In any case, one can only conjecture what might have been the result if this group of Molokan immigrants had remained in Canada, established a colony, and helped settle the West as pioneer farmers.

A New Beginning…

by Annie B. Barnes

The following vignette offers a glimpse of the inner voices of Doukhobor women who until now have not had a chance to reveal their societal worth as homemakers and career people. Reproduced with permission from Annie B. Barnes, “Doukhobor Women in the Twentieth Century” in Tarasoff, Koozma J. (compiler and editor). Spirit Wrestlers Voices. Honouring Doukhobors on the Centenary of their migration to Canada in 1899 (Ottawa: Legas, 1998).

The S.S. Lake Huron steams towards Grosse Isle, the “Quarentine Island” in Quebec on 21 June 1899. The girl’s hands grip the ship’s rail tightly. Twenty-seven days earlier she left the port of Batum on the Black Sea. Her home in the village of Terpeniye in Kars province is a world behind her. A strange land lies ahead. 

What promise does it hold for this thirteen-year old Doukhobor girl? The immediate future will mean an additional twenty-seven days in quarantine becaue of a smallpox outbreak during the voyage. She looks for reassurance from her mother beside her: are they really in Canada?

Doukhobor Immigrant family, 1899

The future will be living with a Mennonite family in Manitoba where her father and older brothers find work. It will be some time before they can proceed to the village of Nadezhda in the South Colony of the North-West Territories (now the province of Saskatchewan). While living with the Mennonites, Annie will spend only one glorious day at school with her brothers. Despite her tearful pleas to remain, despite the urging of her Mennonite teacher, she will stay at home. She is needed to gather wheat kernels in the field and to knit woolen stockings for her father and brothers for the winter. Her father says girls do not need to go to school. The future holds no opportunity to learn to read or write.

The future will be marraige at eighteen years of age, formalized only by receiving the blessing of both sets of parents. She will give birth to five children at home and strive to allow each one of them some formal education. There will be many years of hard work on the farm, the death of a son and a husband within a four-year period, and finally a peaceful ending to her life on 17 April 1964.

The girl at the ship’s rail was Annie (Hlookoff) Zarchikoff. The Hlookoffs and their six children were on the last of the four ships that brought approximately 7,500 Doukhobors to Canada, of which only a fifth were male. Over 12,000 remained in Tsarist Russia.

In 1990 Annie’s great-great-granddaughter, Hannah Barnes, was born in a modern hospital in Edmonton, Alberta. Vaccination programmes had eliminated the scourge of smallpox. She lives with her parents and brother in a condominium and has a library of picture-books and videos. She attends school and ballet classes and education is certain. She travels by car and jet airplane. Doukhobor history is a pleasant folk-tale related by her Baba. Her future seems secure. But her parents worry about the escalating violence in city schools, the immorality and the growing crime element. They plan to eventually flee the pressure and pollution of the big city. They, like the Hlookoffs nearly a hundred years ago, want a better future for their children.

Every Doukhobor woman today has an ancestor who felt the biting lead tip of the Cossack whip and who had the courage to leave a homeland of persecution. The ancestors believed that freedom from having to bear arms against a fellow human being and right to worship in their own way would be worth the unknown hardships they would have to endure.

Childhood Memories

by Alexey Ivanovich Popov

Alexey Ivanovich Popov was born February 8, 1876 in the province of Elizavetpol, Russia, in the village of Novo-Troitskoye. At the age of two, he and his family, together with a sizeable group of Doukhobors immigrated to the territory known as Kars near the Turkish border. There, they founded the village of Spasovka, where Alexey remained until manhood. Many years later, he recounted his Doukhobor childhood in his memoirs, written in 1953 but published posthumously. The following excerpt, reproduced by permission from Chapter One of “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” (Trans. Eli A. Popoff. Kelowna: 2006), chronicles the first fourteen years of Alexey’s life and provides a wealth of insight into Doukhobor life, events and beliefs, especially with respect to the upbringing and education of Doukhobor children in the Caucasus, Russia the 1880’s.

I, Alexey Ivanovich Popov, was a son of religious parents. They were a poor, peasant family of Doukhobor faith. I was born on February 25, 1877 in the Doukhobor village of Troitskoye in the Russian Gubernia of Elizavetpol, which is situated on the southern side of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia. My father was Ivan Semyonovich Popov and my mother was Anna Semyonovna Popov (Androsov). They were humble, poor peasants who made their living as tillers of the soil. They were staunch in their Doukhobor faith and devout believers in their spiritual Doukhobor leaders. As true followers of their faith my parents migrated to Canada in 1899 with the Doukhobor mass migration of that time. Here in Canada, all the days of their lives they belonged to the Doukhobor group known as the Sons of Freedom. Both of them spent considerable periods of time in Canadian prisons and endured various forms of beatings and other persecution, but they did not change their beliefs to the very end of their lives. They passed away at different times; both are buried at the same cemetery in British Columbia. In their family they had seven children – three sons and four daughters. I was their third child.

Alexei Ivanovich Popov as an adult, c. 1915.

Recollections of what my mother told me:

When my mother gave birth to me, she had a very hard time and remained ill and in bed for months after my birth. It was my father who looked after all the farm chores as well as most of the household duties. Mother told me that I was a very quiet child. Very seldom did anyone hear me cry. During her illness my mother did not have any milk in her breasts to feed me. She was also not able to get out of bed and prepare any baby food for me. As was a common practice at that time among the Doukhobors, all the mothers who were breastfeeding their children in the immediate neighbourhood took turns and came to our house to feed me. Each came at their allotted time to feed me. At the same time when they came to feed me, each of the mothers would do some of the housework and look after some of my mother’s needs. This went on up to the time that I reached two years of age.

After two years of age:

Some of the following that I write about, it seems to me that I remember it myself, but it is possible that some of it may have been told to me by my mother, when I was still a child of eight or nine years of age. I remember that I was a healthy child and remember how I walked with steady feet all over the yard, but the events that went on in the family household at that time I do not seem to recall.

The first thing I remember is that on the south, sunny side of our house, right against the wall, the ashes from our Russian bake oven were always placed in a pile. In the summer this pile got very dry. I loved to play on it and sometimes would even fall asleep, half covered in the ashes. Sometimes I would sleep here till I woke up, and sometimes someone would carry me inside the house while I was still asleep. When I was two and a half years old, I was strong enough to roam around the whole yard and even outside the yard. At one time after it was past the noon hour of twelve o’clock, my mother decided to pay a visit to the nearby shallow river where the village women placed their flax straw to soak in preparation for the next stage to be made into fiber for spinning and weaving. This was a yearly practice that was done in the fall of every year. I was allowed to go with my mother for this visit. Shortly after we had already passed the outskirts of the village, I had my first sight of a large prairie jackrabbit. He had been lying in the grass, till we came quite close to him. Suddenly he raised himself and turning towards the nearby mountain, he ran with a brisk jump towards this mountain. The mountain was a landmark in the area that was called “Troitskiy Shpeel” (shpeel means a peak or spire).

After a short while we arrived at the river. The spot chosen here was a curve in the river with a very slow flowing current. The bottom was covered with a coarse gravel with scattered round and flat rocks. The depth of the water was from 6 to 18 inches. Between the scattered rocks it was excellent to place the flax or hemp straw for soaking. These bundles of straw would then have the river rocks placed on top of them. This was done so that the current would not carry away the straw and so that the direct sun would not shine upon it. When we came to this spot my mother took off her shoes and waded into the water. She reached into the water and took out a handful of straw. She rubbed it between her hands for a while and then put it back. Apparently it was not yet ready to take out. At this same spot, a little further up river, we saw that there was another Doukhobor woman who had come to examine her material. She was also finished with her examination, so we started going back to our village together – this lady and my mother, and me following them. On our way home we did not see any other wild life. Arriving at the outskirts of our village I noticed that the sun was now setting over that same mountain, “Troitskiy Shpeel”, towards which the jackrabbit had scampered.

When we came home, mother went to milk the cows, but as for me, I felt so tired from the walk of about four miles that I immediately climbed up onto the space above the Russian bake oven where it was always warm. Feeling warm all over, I fell asleep almost at once. And it was here that I slept throughout the whole evening and night and right through the early morning. It was never the practice of my mother to wake a child to feed him the evening meal, or to move him once he was comfortably asleep. She always said – once a child is comfortably sleeping in the evening, let him be. Missing the meal won’t hurt him as much as disturbing his peaceful sleep.

In the morning I got up from my place of sleep before my other siblings got out of bed and at once told my mother that I was hungry. Mother immediately poured some milk into the earthenware dish, along with some small chunks of leftover wheat bread. I took out of the cupboard one of the hand-carved wooden spoons and heartily ate what my mother had set before me.

Being only two and a half years old, none of the household or yard chores had yet been allocated to me, and so my daily life went on as with all other children in the quiet peaceful life of our agrarian village. At this age I was already quite articulate in my speaking. Although I did not have too broad a vocabulary, this was being added to from day to day.

As usual, I was always interested in what my father did as his village work routine. It was about three weeks after the visit to the river with my mother that my father brought home on a hayrack wagon the flax and hemp straw that had been soaking in the river. He carefully placed it under a roof to dry. After a period of drying, mother would go to the shed and take small bundles of the straw and with wooden tools she would work days on end beating the straw till it would separate into fibrous strands. The straw would be thrown aside for use in making fuel bricks, and the semi-clean fiber would be taken into the house. During the long winter evenings, in a special corner of the house both mother and father would keep on tramping this semi-clean fiber with their bare feet. Every once in a while they would take this mass outside to shake out the straw from it. When this mass was reasonably clean, mother would then card it piece by piece with special hand carders. Now this fluffy mass was ready handful by handful to be spun into yarn on the home made spinning wheel. In the evening mother would spin while father would be tramping the semi-cleaned flax fiber in the corner. During the daytime mother would work with the wooden tools outside, doing the first stage of the straw separation. In the evenings my father would continue the cleaning process of tramping by foot in the corner of the house that what mother had prepared outside, while mother would be carding or spinning in another corner of the living room. This kind of work continued up until about the month of February. At this time all of the cleaning, carding and spinning should be completed. Now the spun yarn had to be made into linen and hemp cloth in a process that was very fascinating to me as a child. As I grew older the process became clearer to me, but it is still quite hard to explain step by step how the yarn eventually became a very durable linen, hemp or wool material used for sewing the clothes that were worn by all the Doukhobors. All this was done in the living rooms of almost every Doukhobor family in the village.

The spun yarn was rolled into large balls. The place for preparing the yarn for its required width of usually about two feet was chosen along the longest wall of the living room. After a rotating walk around the set up pegs on a raised bench, the resulting unrolling of the large balls of yarn into a long pattern was ready to go into the set up loom for weaving. The loom itself was an intricate homemade wooden construction that a woman had to sit at. Working with her hands to put a cross thread through the two-foot wide yarn on the rollers, and using her feet to move the thing along was an art exclusive mostly to Doukhobor women. The work of weaving on the loom to make these two-foot wide and of various lengths materials or rugs went on into the months of March, April and even May. When it became warm enough in the spring to do this, then the women would take these rugs, which were still quite coarse, to the river again. There they are again soaked in the water and then spread out on the green grass to dry in the sun. As soon as they are dry, they are again soaked and again spread out in the sun. This process softens them, and also makes them become whiter. From this material the women then sew what the family requires. From the purer and softer white material they sew women’s clothes. Some of the coarser material is coloured, usually blue, and men’s pants are sewn from it, and also some women’s work clothing. The women do all their sewing by hand, and use their own, finer linen thread. A lot of clothing material was made from sheep’s wool. The process of preparing wool into yarn for spinning and weaving was a bit different and a lot of wool yarn was used for knitting.

All of this work with flax and hemp straw and sheep’s wool was done in the wintertime, and most of it was done by the Doukhobor women residing at this time in the Doukhobor villages of the Caucasus area in southern Russia. In the summer, during haying season, these same women worked side by side with the men. The men with hand scythes would be cutting the hay, while the women, with hand rakes made of wood, would be raking the hay into little piles, which they referred to as “miniature stacks”. At harvest time the women together with the men, using hand scythes would harvest the grain, tying the grain stalks into sheaves that they would later thresh together. Threshing of the grain was also done by hand by both men and women.

Besides helping the men in the fields, Doukhobor women also planted large vegetable gardens, which they looked after from spring till fall using hand tools. Every Doukhobor family had cows, which the women milked by hand. They also looked after the sheep and it was the women’s job to shear the wool from them every spring. Every family raised chickens, ducks and geese and the women looked after these as well. Of course it was the women’s duty to cook, to sew, to wash clothes, clean house and do all other family chores including the bringing up of children. Among all of these responsibilities the women still found time to go and pick the abundant wild flowers of the Caucasus area. They also picked herbs for their own medicinal use, as well as for sale.

One other very important responsibility of Doukhobor women was that they had to pass on the Doukhobor life-concept to the children by teaching them to know from memory Doukhobor psalms, wherein was contained the aspects of the Doukhobor faith. When a child was still quite young, the mother taught them the psalms only for reciting purposes. As the child grew older, the mother was required to see that the child would start learning the melody of each psalm. This was in order that the child could participate in mass prayer meetings, which were based on the reading and singing of psalms. The melody for Doukhobor psalms was very intricate and not easy to learn, even if you were growing up as a Doukhobor. For most outsiders the melody of Doukhobor psalms is very hard to understand and almost impossible to sing in the same soul stirring way.

When I was two years and eight months old my mother taught me one short psalm, which was specially composed for children. It was easy to read and I learned to read it quite fluently. It started with: “Lord, give us your blessing.” “Thou art my God and I am your slave. You will not desert me, and I will not ever leave you” and ended with “Honour and Praise to our God”. This psalm I learned to read from memory while we still lived in the house where I was born in the village of Troitskoye (Elizavetpol Gubernia).

In the spring of the year 1880 a sizable group of Doukhobors including our villagers and also from the neighbouring village of Spasovka of our Gubernia of Elizavetpol, decided to move to the Kars area of the Gubernia of Tiflis. The distance to cover was about two hundred and fifty plus Russian “Versti” (about 150 miles). My parents decided to make this move with the group. Being merely three years old at this time, I was not too aware of the hardships of this trip. I only remember the convoy of covered wagons following one another and slowly making their way along wagon trail roads, which were often muddy and soft. The wagons were heavily loaded and sometimes got bogged down in the mud so that the team hitched to the wagon would not be able to pull the wagon out. I remember cases where all the wagons would stop and they would hitch teams from other wagons at the head of those stuck. After pulling out the stuck wagon, the whole convoy would then proceed. On the third day of our journey our convoy had to cross a river. Its depth was from one to three and a half feet. Its width was about three hundred feet and it was quite fast flowing. My father was driving a four-horse team hitched to our wagon and it appears that he had moved a bit to one side of the regular track where it was safe to cross. There was a huge unseen rock in the water that stopped the wagon and the horses could not move it. Many men from the other wagons immediately came to the rescue. They waded into the water, and finding out what the problem was, they placed themselves at the wheels and at the back of the wagon and helped to get the wagon over the rock and safely to the other side.

A sample page from Alexey’s handwritten memoirs of 1953, painstakingly translated by his son Eli A. Popoff in 2006.

At the other side of the river, all of the convoy stopped for a meal, to rest and to feed the horses. Feed for the horses was not being hauled because the wagons were overly full with all the household and other belongings that were being transported to the new place of abode. So the horses were fed merely with the local grass that they grazed and any fresh hay that could be cut on the way. The early spring green grass was not very nutritious for the horses. They weakened day by day, and so the journey was longer than it should have been. What added to the hardships was that there was much rain during this trip –making the roads wet and soggy. The wagon wheels kept sinking up to four inches – making ruts as they proceeded. Because of all this the convoy used to make as little as fifteen versti, and at the most 30 versti of travel per day (a “versta” is approximately one kilometre. – Ten kilometres is approximately 6 miles). It was fortunate for the whole convoy that the climate of this Caucasus area was reasonable during the spring. While there were times of very heavy rainfall making puddles three or four inches deep on the roads, within the same hour the sun would come out and in a short time the water would all disappear. The rain did not bother the people or their belongings because all of the wagons were well covered with good frames covered with durable canvass. The food brought along for the trip was very simple. Basically everyone had sacks full of “sookhari” or twice baked bread chunks, made from whole wheat. They had a supply of potatoes, millet grain and salted chunks of sheep’s fat. The road from Elizavetpol to the Kars area was very hilly and rocky and there was a considerable amount of forest growth all around. The territory that was being crossed was all Crown Land and therefore it was permissible to let the horses graze at every stop that was made. We children always rode in the comfort of the covered wagons, where we also slept every night. All of the men usually walked behind or beside the wagons. They did not have to drive the horses most of the time as the Caucasus horses were better trained to keep to the trails, than the Canadian horses that we have had to use. It was only once in a while when a steep hill would appear ahead that the drivers would sit down on the driver’s seat to urge and steer the horses.

In the evenings when the convoy was camping for the night, the men would gather in groups and join in light hearted discussions and usually sang joyous hymns and songs. The women would be cooking the evening meal and tending to the children’s needs. In general this migration from one area to another had its hardships, but there were also joyful times. Throughout the whole trip there was not a single occasion of misfortune or trauma to any family in the whole convoy.

In the latter part of April, our convoy reached its destination. My parents chose to settle in the village named “Spasovka” in the District of Arganov about 40 “Versti” east of the City of Kars in what was referred to as “Karsskaya Oblast” or the region of Kars in the Gubernia (or province) of Tiflis. The village of Spasovka was situated in a unique location. From the west side there was a huge long mountain. On the north, east and south sides, the river “Karsina” made a huge bend. Along the south west side and along the mountain there flowed a smaller unnamed river, which always had warm water in it. On frosty days of the winter months there was always a vapor of steam above it. At the southeast end of our village location these two rivers joined together and they flowed out of our valley in a southeasterly direction between two tall mountains of rock, which formed a gorge at this point.

Both these rivers had an abundance of fish. However these fish were of a small common variety and could not be compared to the special fish that we came to know in far eastern parts of Russia, in Siberia, province of Yakutsk.

In this, our new village of Spasovka, my parents did not have to build their new home to live in. This was because there were two parties of Doukhobors that had already moved here from our province. With one of these parties, my grandfather Semyon Leontievich Popov came here before us. These parties that had come here before us, by mutual agreement, had already allocated exactly how the village would be built. They had measured out equal lots in a long line with homes to be built facing each other. One side of the line would have the houses with the rear facing eastward, and the other side would have their rear facing westward. In the centre was a wide street running from north to south. The total length of this street was about one and one quarter “versti” (about ¾ of a mile). After all the lots were marked out and numbered – each family drew lots for the one that would be theirs.

Part of these lots covered a territory that once had the remains of a small Turkish village. This territory still had the skeletons of five Turkish dwelling homes that were not totally deteriorated. These dwellings all had the same shape and style. The structure was all under one roof and quite low to the ground level. The roof was made from turf. Each had two doors on the long side of the structure. One door led into the structures most spacious division, which had four separate divisions and was used to house the farm animals and the poultry. The other door, at the other end, led into the division where the family was to live. One of these structures still remained on the lot that grandfather drew as his allocated lot. When my parents arrived at this newly pioneered village, my grandfather greeted us at the front of this building, and this is where we settled in to live.

The first essential chore that had to be done here was to go to the place and dig the special clay, from which bricks could be made. After drying and processing the bricks, these would then be laid in proper formation to make the brick oven for baking and cooking. I remember my father and grandfather at work making the bricks, while mother was busy washing up all the clothes from the trip and doing other cleaning. From these very first days I remember my older brother and sister and myself climbing the low roofed dwelling of ours and walking all over the long roof.

Because grandfather had come here earlier, he had done some essential work that every homeowner had to do here at this time. He had tilled some of our allotted soil and sowed some barley. He did complain that the Turkish people who lived here had apparently used the soil continually for many years and he feared that the crop would be very poor. We did not have any choice at this time, so in the latter days of the month of April, we, as all others – planted our gardens, each on the allotted lots, which were also very much worked over before us.

At this time I was just three years and two months old and so all of the responsibilities of this first pioneering year did not affect me. All the responsibilities rested on the shoulders of our parents. As for us, children, free of worldly responsibilities, as soon as summer warmth came around, we headed in groups to the shallow warm river that was really right in our back yard.

There for days at a time we sat in the warm waters of the river taking hourly outings to stretch out on the warm sand of the beach. Because there were no schools in this new area where we settled, the children that came to the river ranged from two to nine years. The parents felt safe to allow the children to come here, because the river was shallow and slow flowing. The shore was not deep set, but just about even with the land’s surface and the river bottom was firm and solid. This was why all the children of our village spent all the sunny days at this river shore. In the evenings the parents always insisted that all children spend a certain amount of time learning from memory the prayers of the Doukhobors, which were called psalms. When I was four years old I learned my second psalm, which read as follows:

Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing

Let us all tearfully reflect on all the daily workings of our lives. Verily speaks to us our Lord with entreaty: “You my male servants and maid servants, devout Christians, do not forget to be faithful to God, and He will not forget you in the end time to come. In our present day, the times are very trying. We are being judged and persecuted. There has been born an evil anti-Christ. He has sent forth his evil oppressors out into the whole world. There is no place to hide for my faithful followers, neither in the mountains, nor in the caves, nor in the distant barren places. My faithful followers have to live in exile and suffer persecution for keeping to the word of God and for manifesting the teachings of Jesus Christ. But you my faithful followers rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.

Our God be praised.

Because my age group of children was not yet allocated any responsibilities, we continued to spend all our time at our favorite spot by the river. We would go there day after day. The only time we were not there was when we would see a dark cloud coming over the horizon and rumbling of thunder would be heard. At such times we would race to where the nearest covered wagons were parked and hide under their cover. For the first season, families continued to live in their covered wagons while the houses were being built. The last parties were all still living in their covered wagons. My parents were very fortunate to have the frames of the five Turkish huts that were on their allotted plot. We were sheltered in them during the first trying years. All the other families next to us were all hurrying to get their houses built. The construction of houses in this area was very simple. The walls were built from the slabs of unhewn gray rock that was freely available at the nearby foothills of the mountains. In between went layers of mixed clay mortar, which was also readily available at various spots of the valley. There was no visible forest anywhere nearby so wood was only used for window frames and doorjambs. For the roof some round poles were used sparsely, on which were laid split flat slabs of stone. On this base, plain soil was heaped, and this method was used for every roof of every building in the village. All the buildings had similar rock walls. Our village of Spasovka had 86 family residences. Each and every residence was similarly built and there was not a single wooden roofed building in the whole village.

With this form of construction, not counting the labor the cost of the buildings was very minimal. For a residence to house a family of ten with livestock from 25 to 30 head, the cost of constructing a residence would be from five to ten rubles. This expense goes specifically for the cost of glass and any ironware that was required for the buildings. It also covered anything that was needed for the large Russian oven assembled out of hand-made bricks. This oven served for all the kitchen cooking, bread baking, as well as supplying heat in the winter months. The construction of these buildings was the prime occupation of each and every family in these first years of settlement. All of the needed materials for this type of construction was readily available nearby. The forms of rock and stone slabs were all around you to the fullest of your hearts desire. There were mountains of clay for your mortar and brick baking. Water was abundant from the two rivers in the valley. The biggest detriment was the lack of forest nearby. The closest place for cutting any timber was 50 Versti away. Although there was one good thing about the timber, and that was, that for all our new settlers the state allowed a given amount for free. However to transport this timber was very difficult. In the first place there was still a shortage of horses in the first years and there was no supply of any kind of grain to feed the horses in this long and arduous journey. Even though throughout the Kavkaz Mountains there were always patches of good grass, this was not good enough to give strength for the horses to pull these heavy loads of timber for such long distances. Besides all this, horsepower was needed at home for hauling the rocks and for tilling the soil. The roads that were used to get to the timber belt were not kept up by anyone. Although the trails were somewhat packed down, the continuous summer rains would make them muddy and difficult for any kind of transportation. It was because of all of this that lumber was of the highest value in all of our villages.

There never was any talk of a sawmill to be constructed because the logs brought here were few and far between. For the absolutely essential boards the logs were cut by hand with long crosscut saws. Those families that did not have two grown men got together in pairs with other families. Since this was not an occupation that was practiced often, some of the boards that were cut were very uneven. These were the tasks that were performed by all the grown ups of the village throughout the spring, summer and fall. In the fall the gathering in of the crops took precedence over all. The first crops were very poor as these were sewn on lands that the Turkish people had been farming for many years and new land had not yet been prepared. Our children’s summer occupation that we loved best of all was our time spent by the river. Nevertheless there were times when we would go to the spots where the families were mixing the clay for mortar for the buildings. Here we would roll our own little balls of clay for our own kind of play. Sometimes we would dry them, but sometimes we would throw them at each other while they were still raw and wet. The object was to dodge them, as they hurt quite considerably. Sometimes one of the clay balls would hit a grown up person, at which time we would all be chased away. A chase from one place did not usually stop us. We would just go to another place further away where the same clay mixing was going on. Our group eventually earned the name of “mischief makers.”

When it was time for harvest all of our barefooted gang was broken up. Each went to their own family group in readiness to be taken to the fields together with the elders. Only those children stayed at home where there was an elder staying behind to allocate to them the home chores that had to be done.

Harvesting the grain at that time was very simple. The men cut down the standing grain with hand scythes, and the women raked it into small neat piles called “Kopitsi”. Then the men using special thin poles about 10 feet long, and sticking them under the pile from two sides, they would lift and carry this pile to a central place where a neat small stack would be made. This stack would be left that way till all the cutting down of the grain would be finished.

The children’s responsibility was to see that not a blade with a head of kernels in it would be left lying in the field. We would gather these individually and tie them into little sheaves with the spare straw stems. Every child would place his little sheaves separately into neat piles. These sheaves would then be taken home in the evening, where we would give them into caretaking of the parents and receive their praise according to how diligently they had worked and how many sheaves were made up. The parents kept these little sheaves separately and allowed them to be threshed separately. With the grain that resulted, the children were allowed to trade it with the local traveling merchants for goodies like apples, plums or grapes, either fresh or dried.

After the harvesting of the grain in the fields is completed, the families individually, if large families, and sometimes together with others, if small – prepare a special spot for threshing. A sizable smooth surfaced place is chosen. First it is wetted down with water and tall grass or straw is scattered loosely on it. A horse is then hitched to a special wooden roller with pegs in it, and with a rider horseback on the horse, drives back and forth on this patch until the straw is tramped in and the whole base is quite firm and solid. After this has dried, the excess straw is swept off and the reaped grain is then spread on this firm base which is called a “Katok” and the same wooden roller is hauled across, over and over until the kernels are all freed from the heads. When the men feel that all the kernels are free from the straw, they gather the straw with forks and take it away, piling it into stacks for feed. The grain is shoveled to the centre of the “Katok” and more unthreshed wheat or whatever grain is being threshed is spread around. Then the roller and the horse again commence their threshing process. After the men feel that there is about 50 or 60 “poodi” of grain (one “pood” is 40 pounds) in the centre of the “Katok”, the threshing process is halted. Now they take shovels and throw the grain into the air against the wind – thus separating the chaff from the kernels, as it is light and the wind blows it away. If there are any pieces of solid matter like dried mud chunks or small rocks – these are later removed by hand made screens.

All this harvesting work was carried out by the elders. In the meantime we children see how the elders are throwing the wheat and chaff into the wind, develop our own form of make believe. We gather in the street where there is loose dirt and make piles of it in the centre. Then cupping our hands we throw it into the air, just to see which way it blows. Because there are up to ten of us in a group, we create a regular dust storm in which you can hardly see our bodies. In the morning when we get together, all have different colored clothes. In the evening all our clothes are a dark gray. All around our eyes, nose and mouth there is a layer of black dust. We no longer look like children but like knights in black armor. In the event that we have a rainfall and the streets have puddles, we begin by racing through them, and then wrestling and before you know it we begin to go our separate and march home like fishermen coming home, wet and soggy.

It wasn’t always that we children got away with our naughty frolicking. Often either an elder man or an older woman would catch us doing something naughty and they would get after us with a willow switch, and without paying attention as to who belonged to which family, would give each one of us a good wallop on the back and chase us to our individual homes. Most of the time we were on the watch for any approaching elder, and when catching sight of one, we would immediately scatter and hide. There never was any thought of standing up to any older person of your own or any other village. If ever any child would answer harshly to any older person, he would be severely punished by his own parents at home. This meant that no child could do any mischief in any part of the village without immediately answering to any elder around. Even if he got away from the elder on the spot, he knew what he would get at home, when his mischief and disrespect of elders would be reported to his parents. This kind of upbringing allowed the Doukhobors to live in peace and harmony in their large extended families, and in their tightly knit villages. Every parent trusted their neighbouring parents to do the right thing when dealing with children’s pranks. Parents always trusted the elders’ assessment of an irresponsible occurrence, rather than the version given by a guilty teen-ager. There were no schools in our village and at most the literacy rate of the whole village was no more than 5 percent. Yet the whole village kept strictly to the above disciplinary guidelines without any exceptions.

With the oncoming colder weather, after all the fall work was done, our children’s group gallivanting came to an end. Because of general lack of warm winter clothing, most of us children now became confined to their homes. Staying at home, all we could do was think about all of the things we had done this past summer, and plan for the coming spring and summers escapades and the new things we might come up with.

During the fall and winter time of short days and long nights, because the children had no place to play and no responsibilities to fulfill and were having time on their hands, it became the duty of every parent and grandparent to teach them the prayers and psalms that contained the life-concept of the Doukhobors. These were passed on from generation to generation and were learned from memory. Families that had four or five children above four years of age, had them, every day, lined up in a row and made to recite from memory the psalms they already knew, and then separately, each one would be taught additional psalms. Up to a given age these psalms would be taught only for recitation. Later the melody of these psalms would be taught as well. In this particular winter I learned from memory my third psalm, whose contents was as follows:

“Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing”

“From the beginning of time and till now, the Lord God calleth to His faithful children: “Come to me my dear children, come to me my most dear ones. I have prepared for you the Kingdom of Heaven. Do not fear to forsake your father, your mother nor all of your race and lineage in the physical sense, but give reverence to me your heavenly Father in spirit. And the faithful children turn to Him in prayer – Oh Lord, our dear Lord it is so difficult for us to enter into your heavenly kingdom. All the pathways have gates of steel, and at the gates there stand fierce and unjust guards. And the Lord speaketh to them and sayeth: “Do not be fearful my children, do not be fearful my dear ones. I am the powerful wrestler that shall go forward before you. I shall break down all their gates of steel and I shall disperse their fierce guards. And then I shall lead you into my kingdom of heaven, where all shall reign with me as witnessed to by the God of Jacob.”

“Our God be praised”

During the winters male children under the age of 12 years had no responsibilities, so their day-to-day routine was always the same and the winters felt long. In regard to the girls it was a bit different. Beginning from the age of seven, the mothers began teaching them how to knit from the woolen yarn and even simple patching. Those families that had smaller babies, the girls were trained to take care of them. The girls were also taught to clean the floors as well as help their mothers with the washing of dishes. After the girls reach 12 years of age the mothers began to train them how to spin simple, thicker yarn for mitts and working stockings. All the spinning in our area of Kars province was done from sheep’s wool. Some sheep had been brought from our Elizavetpol province because there, most villagers had large herds of sheep. Some long horned cattle were also brought here from Elizavetpol, and these were used for milk from the very beginning of our new settlement.

When the frosts came in late fall, all work on construction was stopped. This was because in order to lay the stone walls it required mortar from the brown clay mixture. This mixture had to be handled with bare hands, and of course later this would get frozen and without a proper drying process this mortar would fall apart in the warm summer weather. Thus ,for the men folk there was less to do. All they had to do was look after cattle, horses and sheep, and in the homes they would patch the leather harness gear, repair worn boots or sew new ones. At times they would tan woolen sheepskins and sew them for wearing as short fur coats. Wood working shops did not exist here because wood was so hard to get. It was not even possible to haul logs from the forest in the wintertime. The roads were not passable. A blacksmith shop was very rare, as only a few essentials for household use or construction were ever made in the village blacksmith. There was nowhere in this area where men could go and do work for others, so in the year there were five months where the men, also, were tied to doing household and barnyard chores, the barn being part of the residence.

All the men’s main work of working the land, sowing, harvesting, and construction work could only be done in the spring and summer, so during the long winter evenings, the men – like the children spent a lot of time learning the Doukhobor psalms. This was done not only in their own homes. They also gathered in groups in neighbour’s homes. They not only read the psalms, but also in groups, sang them. On Sundays there were large gatherings for prayer meetings. At these prayer meetings everyone participated by each reading a psalm. The Doukhobors never had any special person for leading prayer services. Each and everyone participated with the reading and with the singing. That is why the children were taught from a very young age. It was always expected that each person would read a different psalm. And so if a group of one hundred gathered, the elders would be obliged to know just about that many psalms. The Doukhobors read their psalms, their prayers to God, not with the intent of absolving themselves from sin, but they read them for their own enlightenment as to how they should lead their lives. Each and every psalm had some explanation about the living spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is why the Doukhobors referred to their collection of psalms as the “Living Book”.

When a person has within his memory many Doukhobor psalms, no matter where he is, or what his circumstances are, he always has with him the instructional words contained in the psalms. No one can take them away from him, and having them always within the innermost sanctions of his being for his guidance, no one can sidetrack him, or change his deep seated and deeply rooted faith. This then, was one of the main reasons that the Doukhobors were not so concerned about grammar schools or other forms of academic learning. Their first concern was to instruct their children with the “Living Book”, their religious and moral, ethical, instructional psalms. In addition to all this the Doukhobors believed that their spiritual psalms were their own unique and bona fide life-concepts that no outsider had tampered with. Keeping firmly to the concepts contained in their psalms, the Doukhobors could safely withstand any foreign or alien influences. Their feelings were that any outside grammar teaching could still contain influences that were alien to Doukhobor thought and would infringe on or tend to obscure pure and untainted Doukhobor teachings.

During this first winter, with its short days and long nights was spent with even greater emphasis placed on spiritual aspects and the learning of psalms by both children and elders. I remember this first winter starting to turn towards spring because in February 25th of the year 1881 I became 4 years old. I really was not too aware of how good a crop we had this past year, or what other hardships my parents went through, because at my age this was not within my realm of comprehension. I do remember that the house (Saklya) that we lived in was warm and comfortable. The walls were about four feet thick. The rock walls were double layered. The rocks were laid in clay mortar in two columns, and in between the space was filled with common soil. The roof had round rafters – pine logs twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, on which were placed flat slabs of rock, a few inches in thickness. On these slabs straw was placed and then about twelve to fourteen inches of soil. There were only two windows and one door. The doorway entrance was a corridor with walls about 10 feet thick, and having a door at each end of the corridor. With only the two windows and a doored corridor entrance, the inside of the house was cozy and warm. I do not remember ever feeling cold or uncomfortable throughout the whole winter. It was only later in my life that I began experiencing a longing for the warm sunny days of summer.

Spring did come, and at the end of March the snow began to melt. It was wonderful. For just as soon as a bare spot of earth showed up, there immediately green tufts of grass started to show. By about April 10th the snow was all gone and a vaporous fog started to rise from the soil. Soon the soil warmed up and everywhere green grass appeared. Right after this, the earliest white flowers of the “maslyonka” plant, a variety of buttercups began to dot the green prairie land. These buttercups in their roots had a large kernel, the size of a peanut, which was edible. There we were in groups, armed with a special wooden rod sharpened at the end like a little shovel scampering all over the prairie meadow digging these peanuts to eat right there and to bring some home. This daily occupation of ours lasted till about the 5th of May. After this the white flowers would wither and fly away. Then there was no way you could spot the buttercup plant in the lush green grass, and besides that the peanut seed itself would get to be coarse and hard and not edible anymore. And so, for a time our children’s groups would be left without too much to do except wait for the warm sunny days to come, when we again could go to our favorite river beach to swim and bask in the warm sun. The last year’s pastime was to be repeated again this year, until such time as our parents would begin the harvest season and again get us to pick up all the loosely fallen grain.

This was the routine for all of us children, and this is what occupied my time when I was five and six years old. When I became seven years of age, that winter my parents taught me several more lengthy psalms. I remember that spring when the snow melted more rapidly and the streets were full of puddles and little creeks. Here was something new – to build little dikes and canals and float little hand made boats and make imaginary turning mills on the flowing rivulets. After this came the season of digging the buttercup roots and when that finished a new phase of my childhood development came about. My older brother Nikolay made a fish hook out of an old needle. He attached a length of string to the homemade hook and gave me my first instructions on how to catch the little fish that abounded in the same river that we loved to swim in. He showed me where to dig for the long, red earthworms, how to store them in an empty can with some earth in it, and how to attach them in short pieces for baiting the hook. He showed me how to lower the hook into the water and then patiently wait till a fish starts jerking on the line. This shallow river that we swam in seemed to have millions of these little fish. They were the size of Canadian perch and resembled them in appearance. And so, along with all other boys that were seven and eight years old this became another pastime with which we were occupied.

The little fish were very plentiful in the river, and if a boy struck a good spot he could catch from 50 to 75 of them in one day’s outing. The caught fish would be kept in a screened cage in the water. When these were brought home, the mothers would merely clean the innards and then fry them whole. When the fish was fried for some time they are smothered in a mixture of dough that is made quite thin, and then the whole mass is baked in the oven. This kind of fish in pastry, served as a very special delicacy for all of us children. It also substantially added to our dietary supplies, as in our first years in this new settlement food was not too plentiful. In our particular family this was even more so.

Alexey’s parents, Anna and Ivan Popov, c. 1915. Ivan was a very large man whereas Anna was diminutive. In this photo, Ivan is sitting while Anna is standing.

When our family was coming from our village in the province of Elizavetpol we had brought with us 4 cows. In the fall of 1882 three of these cows were stolen. On one night that fall a group of thieves came and from the far side of the barn they took apart a part of the stone wall and led the three cows away. Even with the help of the whole village, we were never able to track down the culprits or to find out where three of our best cows disappeared. From that time on, our dairy products were far more limited than in other families. Our daily food was bread made from whole-wheat flour with soup, which was made basically of potatoes and coarsely ground wheat. Borshch had potatoes and cabbage plus a large tablespoon of thick cream. Into both soup and borshch, for our family of six people, one small tablespoon of butter was added.

Therefore, the small perch that I caught with the homemade fishing tackle was a very welcome addition to our meager food supply. It was a change, it was very tasty and it cost nothing. Up to seven years of age, no outside family responsibilities were designated to me. I was still allowed to go and dig the buttercup peanuts. But when their season came to an end I was given a more serious responsibility. Most families had flocks of geese. This particular spring my mother was able to successfully hatch 48 goslings, in addition to the five older geese that we owned – making 53 in all. As soon as they grew up a bit and got trained to keep to their own flock, because of shortage of home feed, the flock had to be herded out to pasture in the meadow and also to the same river where we went swimming. The river was shallow and quiet flowing and posed no danger for the geese. In places along its banks there was a lot of lush green grass which both the older geese and the young goslings loved to feed on. Besides this, when they would plunge into the river there were all kinds of bugs that lived in the quiet eddies, and the geese young and old feasted on them. With this range free feeding, the young geese developed in leaps and bounds. My job was to keep them together, both on the range and in the water from 7 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock in the evening. After 9 o’clock I would herd the geese home where they had special housing under a solid roof with solid locking doors. It was not possible to leave the geese free overnight because there had been occasions when the large gray wolves which roamed the mountainside would sometimes come down into the village at night and kill some geese and drag them away for eating later.

In the daytimes there had not been any occasion that the wolves would come to the riverside. There were a few occasions when stray dogs would come there but they could be frightened away. On rare occasions there were serious hailstorms and some of the little goslings would be seriously hurt or even killed. Apart from these rare times of worry, we young children that looked after the geese felt free and happy. We often had time to swim in the river ourselves and lie on the shore. Sometimes we even did some fishing. The flocks of geese also enjoyed these free-range outings. At times when they would have a good feeding quickly, they would also stretch out on the sand and lie sleeping. Other times they would swim in the deeper water and then lazily stay in the shallow eddies snapping at the bugs that swam there. There were odd times when one flock of geese would get mixed up with another flock and coming home we would have different counts. To avoid disputes every family had their own markings on the feet of the geese. Some cut slits in the goose toe webs. Others cut one nail off, either, the left or right foot. All were different. And so checking the markings each family claimed their separated goslings. I do not remember that there were ever any serious disputes.

This work of pasturing geese continues from the first of June until the fifth of September when the harvest season commences. At this time the geese are not pastured at the river anymore, but they are brought out into the harvest fields where they methodically go through the harvested field and pick up every head of grain that fell aside from the main stacks. Some families who had the proper utensils brought out water for the geese into the fields and so the geese remain in the field from dawn to dark. Feeding on grain, the geese accumulated a considerable amount of fat. Thus, at home they are grain fed for no more than 2 weeks and then they are sold. The summer’s pasturing of the geese was not a troublesome one for the children. It was rather enjoyable, because the hours of work were not too exact. Morning or evening the timing could be one hour earlier or one hour later. There was however one hardship. Being bare legged all the time proved to have its disadvantages. Wetting your feet about every hour, and then being in the hot sand and sun eventually made all the skin rough, which later would have cracks appear and even open sores. The sores would bleed and be very painful. There was no medicine for this. The only thing that helped was to cover all your legs with black Caucasian oil. The oil seemed to protect the skin and going in and out of the water did not affect the skin as much.

Pasturing the geese at harvest time was more arduous. This was because the grain fields were sometimes one, two or three “Versti” from the home residence. During some hot days in the fall it would not be possible to herd the geese for such distances. This then required the young lad to get up before sunrise, and while the dew was still on the grass to get the geese into the fields and have them already fed before herding them to the river for water. In the evening it was the same problem. While the sun was still high it was too hot for the geese to trek from the river to the fields. They would get hot, open their mouths and lie down without going any farther. You could only start them from the river when the sun was already quite low. By the time they would get themselves fed it would already be getting dark. This created considerable hardships for a boy only seven years of age. Also the weather in the fall was not always calm. Sometimes it rained heavily. Other times a wind storm would come up and you would have to be fighting dust and wind against which even the geese did not want to go. There were times when the older people in the village felt that they had to come and help the young boys to bring the geese home on one or another turbulent evening. They would holler into the night and children would answer in the high-spirited children’s voices. The one saving grace for us children was that we never went in separate groups. Most of the time we had four or five groups of boys following each other, especially after dark. Each was looking after his own herd of geese. Being in a group gave us some comfort. At times, however, it used to get so dark that each of us seemed to be totally alone. All of us were quite well aware of the fact that the huge gray wolves were always not too far away from the grain fields. Thoughts of the wolves always brought a cold shudder down one’s spine.

In my eight and ninth year I did not get any additional responsibilities. There still were no schools in the village. So in the summers I herded geese and in the winters I added to my knowledge of psalms.

When I became 10 years of age I was given another responsibility. Now I had to begin herding sheep. Looking after sheep had its own season. This was from the middle of March till the tenth of June. At this time the sheep were having their lambs and the lambs had to be trained near to and around home, to stay with the herd.

After the 10th of June all the sheep in the village are brought together into one or two large herds. Specially trained Tartar herdsmen are hired, who take the sheep into the hills and graze them on especially rented crown land. They keep them here till about the fifteenth of October, and sometimes even till November 10th. They then bring the herds back to the village and every owner starts taking care of his own little group. They are pastured in and around the village till the time of the first big snowfall. Those owners who have over a hundred sheep pasture them individually. Those that have 20 to 45 usually group together and either hire a person as herdsman or take turns in herding.

All sheep have their own kind of markings. Their markings are on their ears with either one or two cuts or piercing. Herding sheep was one of my favorite responsibilities. There were many groups of boys. During dry weather and no wind, the sheep grazed quietly and the boys would organize some games. In this way, the days would go by quickly. The games could be different each time. One of the games played the oftenest was called “Na v shapki” or beat the cap. This was done by each one throwing his herding stick as far as he could. Whichever stick landed the closest, the owner would have to take off his cap and throw it in the same direction. All the boys were then permitted to run and beat this cap with their sticks a certain amount of times and then again throw their sticks. This could go on all day, and it did happen that some of the less lucky boys would have their caps beaten into shreds and come home bareheaded. To hide his shame this boy would keep his herd out till it was completely dark and then bring them home.

Sketch of merino sheep kept by the Doukhobors by Russian painter, Vasily Vereshchagin during his visit to Elizavetpol in 1863.

There was only one particular drawback in herding sheep, and that was the rainy weather. There were times when it would rain several days in a row. When it was this wet the sheep would not graze quietly but kept running around uncomfortably. For these rainy days we boys had a special garment, which was called a “Bashlik.” It was a kind of large vest that had no sleeves but did have a special parka that pulled over your head from the back. These vests were made from sheep’s wool, tightly knit and well pounded. These vests did not let the rainwater through to your body, but if it rained all day these would become so soaked and heavy that your shoulders felt like you were carrying unwieldy weights of steel that seemed to get heavier every step you took. Carrying this amount of weight from morning until evening was quite a trauma for an eight or nine year old. It was that much harder to carry this weight because the soil beneath your feet was all muddy and sticky. Some evenings it was real torture to drag one foot after another on the last stretch home and when you finally got to bed your legs would continue to feel the pain.

There was another hardship herding sheep in the spring and that was their giving birth to lambs right in the distant field where you had led them. If this were one or two lambs, you would be obliged to carry them home. If it there were more than two new born lambs, you would go to the nearest hilltop and holler at the top of your voice until someone in or near the village would hear and they would come to help.

The most frequent trauma in herding sheep in the summer was this matter of getting soaking wet, which was sometimes followed by a cold wind. There were times when one remained shuddering throughout the whole day. One other fear that always seemed to hover over you when you came closer to the mountains with your herd was the fact that you knew that the mountains abounded with large gray wolves. During my time there was never an occurrence of a pack of wolves attacking a herd of sheep. In the two years that I herded sheep there was only one occurrence of my actually seeing a large gray wolf lurking nearby. There were other older boys that let out loud shouts and the wolf disappeared into the mountains. As for myself I stood petrified and motionless for about half an hour. I was not able to move my feet. It seemed that my whole bloodstream was frozen.

There was one other occurrence that happened to me with one of my older and rather feeble sheep. This happened at the beginning of the month of December when the first snow covered most of our low-level pasture ground. About one quarter of a “versta” from our home there was a gorge through which flowed a larger river named “Karsina Reka”. This gorge stretched for about eight “versti” and three of these “versti” was in the territory of land that was allocated to our village. This gorge had banks of different elevations. Some places the height was about three times the height of prairie grain elevators, other places this elevation was lower. Most places the distance from one side to the other was about 160 feet. The river was not too wide, and it ran through the centre. At one side of the river there was the general road that ran through along the gorge, and at the other side the distance between the river and its mountainous bank varied. In places it came right to the river’s edge and in other places there were ledges of various heights, which contained luscious green grass. From the warmth of the river water there was no snow on these ledges. At places these ledges led to level pieces of land, and at other places they led directly into steep and very rocky mountainous territory. On some of these ledges even horses or cattle could graze. On others only the sheep, being more agile, could safely graze. And so in the first part of the winter, I took my sheep to these ledges. I directed my sheep to a lower ledge, which had very luscious grass on it, but the descent to it was quite steep. Going down, the sheep managed very well, but having smoothed the path going down, when I was ready to chase them back up they found it very slippery and difficult. I had to help practically every sheep to scamper up and onto more level territory. It came to the last one, a heavy older sheep that wasn’t very agile anymore. She just could not make it to the upper ledge, and with all the strength that I could muster I just couldn’t get her out of this lower ledge. It was getting dark and I had to make a quick decision. If I left her loose, she could conceivably scamper out of here later and wander into the mountains where the wolves would most certainly get her. Each of us boys had our slings for throwing stones and so I decided to use that string. I tied all four feet of the sheep as firmly as I could and left her there lying at the foot of the ledge. In the morning we would come with my father and rescue her.

I came home with the rest of the herd later than usual. When my parents asked why I was so late, I explained what happened with that one old sheep. Sheep at that time were valued from two and a half to four dollars each. To me that seemed not such a great deal. However, my parents were so upset with this possible loss that they hardly slept all night. They prayed and grieved and mother even went out into the night to carry out some kind of an ancient witchcraft ritual. She took an axe and plunged it into the ground in the middle of the road, and if everyone went around it without knocking it down, this would denote that the sheep would be safe.

In the very early morning, before dawn, my father and I went to the place where I had left the sheep. The spot was empty but there were signs of struggling. Looking further around and below, we found the dead sheep in a clump of brush. She had kept beating and turning until she fell and rolled among rocks. The whole carcass was so beat up; we could not even salvage the sheep’s skin. The loss of this sheep was a subject of grief to my parents for a long time to come. When spring came my parents did not fail to mention to me – you see that sheep would now have brought us two lambs. It was so hard for me to understand why it was that my parents were so overly concerned with this loss of one old sheep. Was it just grief for a material loss, or was it fear of loss of self-sufficiency, and possible want in the future? It was probably the latter, because we scarcely ever had anything in abundance. However in my childhood immaturity I thought that how could it be that my parents seemed to value the sheep more than they cared about me and my anguish. They continually mentioned that the sheep would have brought two lambs, and that she always fed them so well, and that her wool was of the finest quality. It was long and soft and it produced the finest of yarn. All these rebukes about my fault for this loss kept on for a whole year. For a nine-year-old child these parental rebukes about the loss of a mere older sheep gave me severe mental depression. I kept being sore at heart. At the same time it was a very indelible lesson to me to always be more careful in the future.

When I was in a more self-pitying mood I would think to myself – of course my action in getting the sheep to this luscious green ledge was not done for any kind of self-gratification. I had done this out of pity and love for the sheep. I well knew that they would be half hungry treading over grounds that were already eaten bare, but here I was directing them to a ledge of luscious green grass where not a single foot had trod, – a place you just didn’t want to leave from. And then I would reason again – true enough the thoughts came to me that if I did not take advantage of this ledge today – others would discover it tomorrow! And then of course our elders were always praising the boys that were more alert than others, and I did have the thoughts that when the elders found out that I had discovered and used this ledge for my herd before anyone else – they would say, aha, that Popov youngster finds ledges that even older herders failed to discover! And so really – this was the thought that made me venture to that steep but luscious ledge. Instead of receiving this kind of praise, it turned out that in the end I received an unforgettable lesson to be more careful rather than being more daring. Had I brought home the sheep that evening even half hungry, their suffering would have been minimal. No one would have been able to assess exactly how much was in their stomachs. My parents would have been at peace, and there would have been no rebukes to me in the future. With those thoughts of getting praise and commendations, I probably would have become unnecessarily proud and to think too much of myself. This event of the loss of a sheep brought out in me deeper thoughts of the wisdom of being careful in all matters. Not the least of this was that it is wise to be careful in material matters insofar as one’s welfare sometimes depended on saving every hair that was needed to keep the family self-sustainable.

Traumatic events be they as they were, time did not stand still. On the 25th of February 1887 I became ten years old. In this winter, after the loss of the sheep, I was more studious than before and learned a lot of new psalms. As usual there were no other particular responsibilities for young boys in these winter months. There were only the few times of warmer sunny weather when the parents would allow me to take the sheep for a drink at the river, the same river where we always swam. With the spring break we still went digging for the buttercup peanuts, but even before their season was over there was an additional responsibility given to boys our age with the beginning of the spring planting of grain.

The sowing of grain was done by hand. We did not know any other way, except using a special sack with two straps over the shoulder. The sack was open in the front and from here the sower would take the seed into his hand and scatter it fan wise. About 65 to 80 pounds of seed is placed into the sack. The opening of the sack appears under the left arm and with the right arm the sower takes fistful of seed. He scatters the seed from left to right measured by his steps. When he puts his left foot forward he fills his fist with seed. When he steps forward with his right foot he scatters the seed. This is done by the elders in the family. This job was done by my father. He scattered the seed onto the ploughed land. After this it was essential to pull harrows over the land so that the scattered seed would be covered by soil in order that the birds would not pick it up and in order for the seed to properly germinate and sprout. This part of harrowing was done quite uniquely and probably different from other places in the world. The harrows themselves were constructed right at home. The spikes that were driven into the frame of the harrow were made of dried, firm wood. Each separate frame was made for one horse to be hitched to it and drag it. Each horse would have a young boy driver. If the family did not have a boy, girls also could be seated horseback on the horse. One track of the harrow was not enough to properly cover the seed, and so it was most usual to have four horses hitched to four separate frames that would follow one after the other. Only the front horse had to have a driver. The other horses were just tied to the back end of the harrow. And so in my eleventh year I was entrusted with being the driver of the front horse. The other three followed my trail one after the other. This job was not one that required any amount of physical labour, but it did have its own peculiar difficulties. The driver of the lead horse had the responsibility of traversing the field in a straight line. Keeping this line straight was important, because on the return trip the boy had to make sure that he wasn’t going over the same trail twice, as well as he had to be sure that he was leaving no spaces uncovered.

It was always the same problem. The horses usually walked slowly and carefully. At this time of the spring the sun was usually quite warm, and so the gentle swaying of the horse, and the warm sun never failed to make the young driver start dozing. In this half asleep mood it was usually quite hard to keep your line straight. This brought about the fact that you either wandered over territory that was already covered, or also you left some uncovered spaces. What would happen was that when an elder came to check on the work, he would have a double job of getting the line straight and also having no spaces left uncovered. This slowed down the whole process of completing the harrowing of a given field that was already sowed.

In all our villages the land was divided into long narrow plots seeded on a three-year rotation basis. All the families usually worked their allotted plots at the same time. At times there were up to 50 families in the fields at the same time. When the elders would complete the sowing of a given field they would gather together in group discussions awaiting the completion of harrowing. When they felt that the young boys should by now have completed the harrowing, they would go out to the fields to check matters out. Quite often there would be poorly harrowed plots, and the elder who found such a state, would have to then take over the lead horse and correct the poor job. Sometimes, just about the whole field would have to be done over. Where the job had been ably looked after by the young driver – his elders would already start moving to another plot, and the one who had dozed on his horse and made a mess would then get serious lectures from his elders. Some very irresponsible youngsters were sometimes even punished. Thus it would happen, when horses are unhitched for noon feeding, those boys who had everything in order would be jolly and would get together and have fun amongst themselves. The unfortunate ones whose fields were poorly done would get lectures from their elders, and all of the other boys would be ribbing them about how sloppy their work turned out. Not only would the boys receive lectures from their immediate elders, other elders would also pipe in. This sometimes happened to me. Other elders would have their say – admonishing me: “How come Alyoshka, you worked so sloppily that your father had to spend so much time correcting all your errors? At this rate, if you keep up such irresponsibility – no one will ever want you for a husband, and you will never get married”

At our age this seemed to be such a dire prediction. To add to this, if one received the elders’ lectures several times throughout the spring season, you would never hear the end of this from all of your peers and friends for the whole summer. Of course the age we were, and the warm spring sun and the swaying horse were all part of the natural make-up of things. It was really not such a major sin to doze – but it was really hard to take all the consequences of this dozing. And so this simple responsibility of driving the lead horse in harrowing the fields proved to be its own kind of a painful chore.

Seeding operations are completed by about April 20th. Land is not worked again until June 10th. This gives the working animals a rest of about one month and twenty days. During this rest time I had to lead the horses out for grazing in the pasture. In the free pasture land, the horses had to be hobbled on their front feet. If a horse was exceedingly frisky he would have to be hobbled on a third back leg as well. When the horses would be all hobbled they would be allowed to graze on their own. This was the job that every boy of the village was occupied with. The pasture was common to all the villagers and so all of us boys would get together for games throughout the whole day – as the horses could not wander away too far while they were hobbled. Some of the boys who weren’t too enthusiastic to play –would catch up on their sleep that they lost in the spring. The games we played were simple. One was called “V Tsoorki” and another was called “V Doochki”. Rarely did we play ball, and sometimes the younger boys played riding horses near the river and then we would go swimming. Some of us would take this opportunity to catch fish. Pasturing horses during the rainy season was not as troublesome as with pasturing sheep. Horses did not really get upset with the rain. They either continued grazing – or would just stand quietly in one place. As for us children, we would also stay upright quietly or rest on some jutting stone outcrop, which were plentiful in our area. The only problem with horse pasturing during rainy weather was the form of hobble that was used. If the hobble was made of leather, the rain did not affect it, but if the hobble was made of rope – it would tighten when wet, and it was very difficult to get it undone when the horses would have to be herded home. Sometimes a boy would have to take his horses home all the long way from the pasture while they remained hobbled. This was a slow process and such a boy would come home a lot later.

Picture of Alexey as a young man with unidentified woman in exile in Siberia, c. 1903.

Some of the times the horses would not be herded home every night. At such times all of the horses would be brought together in a large herd where designated elders would watch over them all of the night. The elders of 15 to 30 men, who would divide into groups of four taking several shifts through each night. There were also times when the younger children would take designated horses to the village homes for work that was needed to be done in the gardens or other work within the village structure. When all of the village work would be finished, then all the horses would be divided into two or three large herds watched over by two men to each herd in the daytime and by one additional man coming in from the villages for night time watching. This general overall system continued up to June 10th.

At this time the horses would all be brought back to each individual household for preparing the land that was left as summer fallow land, that is, the land that is left for resting for one year. The plowing of these fields had its own particular routine. To each plow there were hitched from six to eight pairs of horses. The front pair had a boy rider in the ages of from ten to thirteen. Every other pair also had a rider. It was the work of these riders to guide his own pair of horses, and also see that the pair ahead of you was pulling its share. Each boy thus had to look after four horses. This meant that in the morning he would have to put on the harness onto the horses, bring them and hitch them into their proper places and then keep them moving in their proper direction following the furrow that was made. At the proper noontime, the horses would have to be unhitched, unharnessed and allowed to graze in a special field of grass left nearby. They would also have to be taken down to the river for their drink of water. All this would have to be repeated in the evening. The land that was being plowed had been already grazed and well trampled by the village cattle. The plots where the horses had to be allowed to graze were nearby. None of the stock were allowed to graze here since the year before and therefore the grass was lush and plentiful for the working teams of horses.

As I became a ten-year-old boy, it was my job to look after 4 horses. Keep them harnessed when needed, unharnessed and fed at given times, and led to water as designated. Getting the horses to water was a chore in itself, as the fields for plowing were sometimes two to three “Versti” from the river. This entire fallow plowing time proved to be exceedingly hard and trying for me as a ten year old. This was especially hard during the night routine. At 8 o’clock in the evening you had to bring the horses to the place where they were to graze, hobble them and then lie down to get some much-needed sleep. The total of your clothing for the night would be one additional light, longer length semi-raincoat. At 12 o’clock midnight you had to get up and unhobble the horses and take them for their drink at the river. You had to bring them back, hobble them again, and then again lie down to sleep. At 5o’clock in the morning you had to get up, bring in the horses, unhobble them and lead them to the workplace. During the times when it remained dry, this job, although quite hard, was still bearable. However, when the rain kept coming all night it became a real nightmare. At times you would wake up and find yourself lying in a puddle of water – as in the night it was not always easy to spot a higher piece of ground for taking your nap. This torturous spring responsibility continued each year for a period of from 28 to 34 days.

The length of time depended on whether there was more or less fallow land, and also on whether there was more or less of a rainy spell. In some years the weather was cool, and not too much rain. In other years you had spells of intense heat and also many days of wet weather. Of course when it became obvious that conditions were too extreme and hard for the young boys – there was always the fact that there was one elder, the plowman for every group of three or four boys. It was his responsibility to see that the boys were reasonably looked after. This elder was always free to catch up on his sleep during the noon break, which lasted for three hours. But during the nighttime he also took four horses and went with the young boys when they took the horses for their grazing period. He always had the boys sleeping near him and would wake them when they had to take the horses for their drink at the river, and also when they had to take them in the morning to the field which was being plowed. In the nighttime he would help the boys get on their horses to ride to the river, and on the way there would often holler to the boys by name – in case one or another of them would begin to doze while riding and perhaps allow the horse to veer away from the others and head for home instead of the river.

During the time of fallow plowing all the boys remained under the rule and instructions of the one elder designated for their group. He was the one that told them how to look after all the harness gear, how to handle the horses, when to take the breaks and so on. This elder was given the authority to discipline any boy in his group. If need be, he had the right to even use the same whip, that was used on the horses, for punishing a disobedient or irresponsible boy. There was one time that I, when I was 12 years old received a snap of the whip for being too lippy. Our elder was a distant relative by the name of Jacob Voykin. He gave me a sharp snap, that made my pants wet. The wet was not from blood! This Jacob Voykin was the elder in our group, which was made up from several families. Because you needed 12 to 16 horses for each plow, and some families did not have that many horses, it was the custom to get several families together who then shared one plow. The plows were of heavy wood construction. The only steel on the plow was the share and the cutting disc that went ahead of it. There was only one share to the plow and it threw a furrow of about 14 inches. The soil was quite heavy and it required from 12 to 16 horses to pull it fast enough to throw a proper furrow. It was with this one plow that all the land had to be tilled to supply several families with a living. Sometimes the total of these families would be twenty or more souls. All the sustenance of these 20 souls would have to be derived from the produce of their allotted plot of land. Where there were this many souls to their allotted plot, most of the time they barely had enough produce to keep themselves and their stock for the ensuing year. Others, whose families had not grown since the past allotment was made, but who had the horsepower, were fortunate enough to have some produce for sale. Some of these more fortunate families were able to rent land from the nearby peasant Tartars and always had some produce for sale. Renting land was very favorable here as after three years of giving shares to the owner – the lessee could claim ownership of the land.

I spent four years of my life doing the routines that I explained, from the age of 10 to 14 years of age, to help the family till the land for their sustenance. Despite the fact that these years remain in my memory as very trying and hard times during this growing period up of my life, I do not remember getting sick at any time in spite of the many times of being wet, cold and tired. My physical health remained at a good level and I have no bad memories of this particular period of my life.

Afterword

   Cover of Alexey Ivanovich Popov’s “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile”.

Alexey Ivanovich Popov lived with his parents in Spasovka, Kars until the age of 21, when he received his call-up for conscript service in the Russian army. He refused to perform military training, as the taking of human life ran contrary to his Doukhobor faith and beliefs. For this, in 1898, he, together with other young Doukhobor conscripts, was exiled to Yakutsk Siberia for a term of 18 years. In 1905 a Manifesto of Amnesty was issued by Russian Emperor Nikolai II, thus granting the Doukhobor exiles in Siberia their freedom. Soon thereafter, Alexey and his new bride Katerina immigrated to Canada to join their Doukhobor brethren who had arrived some six years earlier. Alexey lived for a time in the Doukhobor Community, but soon became an Independent Doukhobor, taking out a homestead at Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, where he lived and farmed until his death on August 14, 1955.

To order copies of Alexey’s fascinating life story, “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” along with various other informative Doukhobor publications written by his son, Eli A. Popoff, contact: The Birches Publishing, Box 730, Grand Forks, British Columbia, V0H 1H0, Tel: (250) 442-5397, email: birchespublishing@shaw.ca.

Childhood Recollections

by Tanya Postnikoff

In her later years, Doukhobor Tanya (Makaroff) Postnikoff (1891-1982) wrote down her memories of growing up in Terpeniye village near Kars, Russia and in Petrofka village near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. The following excerpt, taken from her “Childhood Recollections”, is yet another rich and colourful example of Doukhobor oral tradition preserved in writing for future generations.

I remember very little of my Postnikov grandparents because we lived at opposite ends of our village, Terpeniye, in Russia. I can only recall two occasions when I visited them – once when grandmother was very ill, near death, and my mother, Paranya, was going on foot to visit her and I attached myself to her. I recollect that grandma, on that occasion, was already too ill to talk. I can’t remember anything of her looks or appearance, however, even then, I sensed the kindness in her heart and the deep love that she had for her children and grandchildren. 

As for grandfather, all I can recall is the occasion when mother and I visited them on a very warm day. We had heard that he was very ill, and when we arrived, we found him tottering about outside, heavily bundled in a heavy winter topcoat and obviously suffering from severe chills. Soon after this occasion grandfather took a turn for the worse and passed away. In appearance, I remember him to be a tall, slim man, taller than his son Nikolai (my father-in-law) yet with a strong similarity in their facial features. This is about all that I can remember.

It was a large family – five sons and three daughters – eight children in all. Nikolai (my future father-in-law) became a son-in-law of the Bondarevs and went to live with his bride’s parents and their family. The Patriarch or head of the Bondarev family was Lavrentii or Lavrusha for short. As a result, the family became known as the Lavrovs, and were always referred to by that nickname. At that time, their family consisted of five sons and two daughters.

Nikolai, my father-in-law to be, had at that time been working as a freighter on a wagon train. In an accident, he fell under a heavily laden freight wagon and both his legs were crushed between the heavy steel-rimmed wheels and the cobble-stoned military highway. The doctors refused to attempt to set the multiple fractures and decided to amputate. It was a common bone-setter (a Molokan with no schooling) who saved the situation. He did such a good job of bone-setting, that Nikolai retained full use of his legs for his entire lifetime. While convalescing, he would walk about supporting himself on two canes, and because of this was nicknamed Starichok (“oldster”) which stuck to him for life. His family, in turn, was alternately referred to as either Lavrovs or Starchikovs.

Wedding photo of Wasil & Tanya Postnikoff (left)

Nikolai’s convalescence lasted a long time, and while he was unable to work, their oldest son, Semeon, was gradually taking over the support of the family. One day Semeon with his mother, Nastya, decided to bring a wagonload of clay, which the villagers used to mix with fine hay or chaff in order to stucco all their stone-walled buildings. The excavation site was treacherous with overhanging walls and while working in it, Nastya was almost completely buried by a sudden collapse of an overhanging wall and the landslide that descended upon her. There were many other clay-diggers at the site at the time, and they managed to extricate Nastya from the mound of heavy clay and dirt. She must have suffered internal injuries, however, for soon thereafter she became ill and eventually passed away.

Nastya’s mother had been living with the family for several years prior to Nastya’s death. She was a kindly compassionate soul, beloved by all the children. Needless to say, she had her hands full in trying to discipline the large family of growing children. Sometime after Nastya’s death, Nikolai met and married his second wife, Mavrunya, who had also been widowed by the death of her husband, Nikolai Konkin. There were two daughters from that marriage, Elizaveta and Praskovia. Mavrunya was much younger than Nikolai and their marriage was more a union of convenience than anything else. She was a widow with two little girls who needed support, while he, in turn, needed her to manage his household with a large family of children. Thus, they faced the world together and managed not only to survive, but to bring up their families as well.

Nikolai had six sons and two daughters from his first marraige. With Mavrunya, they had six sons and one daughter. When their youngest son was born, Mavrunya’s father, who was noted for his wit, insisted that the baby be named Yosef (“Joseph”) after the Biblical story of Jacob, whose twelfth son carried that name. 

All in all it was a very large family group and yet Nikolai and Mavrunya not only managed to feed each hungry mouth, but were very hospitable and generous with outsiders. When they settled in Canada (Petrofka, Saskatchewan) there was a constant flow of immigrant settlers who were moving in to find their places in the newly opened country. Many of them, needy as they were, got stranded in Petrofka and were fed and sheltered, free of charge, for months at a time, in the Postnikoff mud-plastered, sod-roofed, humble household.

Going back in time, Nikolai himself had four brothers, the first of whom was Semeon, then Mikhailo, Dmitry and Ivan. He also had three sisters, Nastya, who married Vasily Vereshchagin, next Dasha, whose husband was Ivan Planidin, and the third one was Paranya, married to Gregory Makarov.

And now I will try to tell all that I can recollect about the Makarovs. I can remember grandpa and grandma Makarov quite well; they came to Canada with their family. Grandpa was injured on the train en route to their destination, Petrofka. His finger was crushed somehow by the car couplings of the train. It became infected (probably gangrene) and he died soon after. Grandma survived him by seven years and was totally blind when she passed away. They had only four children, three sons and one daughter. The sons’ names were Nikolai, Semeon and Gregory, my father. They all lived together in one family for a long time. The daughters’ name was Polya, an aunt whom I never saw because when in Russia, the family moved from Elizavetpol to Kars, while she and her husband remained behind. 

The Makarov family lived in one house. Nikolai had six children, Semeon had four while Gregory, my father, also had six. My aprents broke away from the rest a year or two before immigrating to Canada (1899) and farmed independently in that interim. The house we lived in was newly built, but very small and crowded for a family of eight, yet somehow there was always room even for guests (to think that nowadays people who own two, three or four houses sometimes complain that they are too crowded to entertain visitors!!).

My mother used to tell us that in the past, when they had been living in the Tavria province, in Milky Waters, the newly formed sect of Doukhobors decided to break away from the Russian Orthodox Church and denounced its hierarchy. They refused to register their children in Church records and defied the age-old custom of burial with a priest in attendance. On one occasion, some practical jokers allowed a priest to officiate by the grave-side, and when the ceremony was completed, seized the priest and announced that they would throw him into the grave as well, in accordance with the rule that the “dead should be buried with a priest”. Soon after this, the pressure from Church and government officials slackened off, and the Doukhobors were allowed to settle in the Elizavetpol province. Here they lived for a period of twenty years or so. Then, because land for farming was getting scarce, six villages decided to move to Kars (an area that has been under Turkey since 1918). Here, our village of Terpeniye was the largest and in it resided the leading Verigin family. In Kars, the Doukhobors resided for some twenty years. 

For some time, pressure had been increasing on the part of the Government to compel them to accept military service. The Doukhobors refused to comply, however, and soon were subjected to punitive persecution, such s exile to Siberia, violence, etc. These measures failed to shake the Doukhobor faith, however, and the Tsar’s Government then decided to solve the problem by exiling this steadfast group beyond the borders of Russia. Leo Tolstoy and the Quakers appealed to Queen Victoria of England to allow the Doukhobors to settle in Canada. Their plea was successful, and soon, several thousand immigrants assembled in the Black Sea port of Batum where for two weeks they waited while a coal freighter was being converted and readied to accommodate them as passengers.

The Trans-Atlantic journey took a whole month and was full of hardship. When they finally arrived in Quebec, the authorities promptly placed the entire group under quarantine because cases of smallpox had appeared among the passengers. After the quarantine was lifted, a fast-moving passenger vessel arrived; it was trim and neat and the children were delighted with its appearance. This boat took us to the city of Quebec where we went ashore to be met by a large group of men and women, some of whom may have been Quakers. The ladies in the group began tossing mint candy into the crowd of eager children and a wild scramble commenced. My brother Peter and myself were too young to join the general rush and felt quite left out, until a couple of ladies approached us and filled our pockets full of fragrant mints. After some time, the entire boatload of immigrants were taken aboard a train, the destination point being Selkirk, Manitoba. Here too, we stayed for a week or two prior to departure for our final ultimate settlement points.

At this point, I would like to go back and make a few remarks about my grandmother. Grandma loved me very much and tried hard to imbue me with a sense of piousness. She spent endless hours teaching me to recite psalms among which was one I still remember well. She also taught me a zagovorie (“incantation”) allegedly endowed with magical powers to stop a nosebleed or other small ailments – this too, I remember and can still recite. I can recall how hurt I was when my playmates refused to play with me, saying that my grandma was teaching me witchcraft. 

Prairie Doukhobor dwelling, circa 1901

The hardships and privations of the first few months of our pioneer life are unforgettable. We all lived in canvas tents which provided poor shelter against the cold, incessant rains. The tents dripped and leaked, so that everything inside was soggy and cold. It was next to impossible to build a fire or sustain it for long. To add to our torture, clouds of ravenous mosquitoes were constantly tormenting us – there was simply no refuge from them. Our diet was poor and inadequate, lacking in protein. All of this added up to a life of constant, almost intolerable suffering and misery. The nearest railway point was Rosthern, Saskatchewan, and that meant that to obtain flour and salt, the men would go some thirty miles afoot and return heavily laden with a hundred pounds of flour, ten pounds of salt, and whatever else each of them could afford and/or carry. It seemed incredible now that so many survived.

At this point, I would like to describe an occurance in which my two cousins Mavrutka (Fast) and Lisunya (Lastowsky) and myself were involved, and which nearly spelled disaster for us. We three were sent by our mothers to pick wild garlic for borshch. Our search finally brought us to the riverbank (North Saskatchewan) where we found a boat (the only one the village had), which we promptly untied from its mooring, climbed in, and were off! This was happening toward evening; the sun was low and we three were all about the same age – eight or nine years old. The main-stream current, by some quirk of fate, propelled us toward the shore where we climbed out, and tied the boat to a stump. 

It was getting late and with darkness came the fear of wolves! We remembered that somewhere nearby there was a homestead owned by Isaac Neufeldt, a Mennonite farmer, and for whom Nikolai Postnikoff was working at the time. I recall that the Neufeldt girls were painting the kitchen floor when we timidly knocked on their door. They spoke no Russian, didn’t know who we were, and soon summoned their father, who spoke Russian well. We told him that we three were daughters of Nikolai Postnikoff. The farmer did not want to wake Nikolai up (he had had a hard day and was already sleeping) so old Isaac ordered his daughters to put us up for the night. We slept in the hayloft that night. The wind had risen and whistled and moaned through cracks and knot-holes – it was a weird, sleepless night for me – an unforgettable night!

Early the next morning, old Isaac informed Nikolai that three little girls claiming to be his daughters had spent the night there. Nikolai was astonished. “Three little girls?”, “My daughters?” When he saw us, he was flabbergasted. “What are you doing here – how did you get here?” he yelled at us. We had, meanwhile, concocted a wild story about how Hrishka Konkin, a local mischievous brat, had enticed us into the boat, rowed us across the river, and abandoned us to our fate. Hrishka’s reputation was so notorious that Nikolai readily believed our story, which, of course, was a lie from “A” to “Z”. “Wait till I get ahold of that little devil!” he roared, “I’ll fix it so he won’t be able to sit down for a month!” 

The boat was still tied to the stump where we had left it last night, and as we were crossed, we three sang an old Russian song – something about Cossacks returning to their native villages. Our absence apparently had caused a great deal of alarm and fear about our safety, and as our boat approached the shore, the bank was lined with a large crowd of anxious people. Our mothers were hysterical with joy and relief at the sight of us – it was a highly emotional experience indeed! We soon learned that our boating adventure had not gone unnoticed. Someone had seen us board the boat and head downstream. The alarm was sounded and runners were dispatched to the village of Terpeniye, some miles downstream, where quickly, a boat was launched in the hope of intercepting us as we drifted in that direction. Their efforts and vigil were fruitless, of course, and lasted throughout the night.

At the time, I was terrified, expecting a severe beating from my father, who was always quick to punish his children mercilessly for any misdemeanor. My grandmother, seeing my terror and knowing what was in store for me, took me to bed with her, and when father entered, she intercepted him, saying that he had better not touch me, that I was blameless, and that it was my cousin Mavrutka who was the ringleader of our escapade. Fierce though he was by nature, my father broke into tears – which both astounded and, of course, delighted me.

Refusal of Military Service

by Gregory F. Vanin

The following is a letter from Doukhobor Gregory F. Vanin to Russian ethnographer Vladimir D. Bonch-Breuvich outlining Vanin’s experience as a young military conscript during the “Burning of Arms” in Russia in 1895. Translated by George Stushnoff and reproduced from the pages of The Dove magazine, Volume 32 (Saskatoon: October 1996), this article is a dramatic and powerful account of the torture and incarceration of Doukhobor conscripts who refused military service as conscientious objectors.

Dear brother Vladimir Dmitrovich,

I will attempt to write about my denial of military service in Russia. I feel the younger generation needs to know that part of our history. This has been written about in the past, but not by me, and the writings were not complete historically and they were not factual. I have now become an old man 74 years of age and all this happened a long time ago – hard to remember it all, where and what happened to me. Nevertheless, I will try to write whatever I can recall, which may be brief but true.

The Burning of Arms, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean.

I will begin when the Doukhobors burnt their weapons in 1895 when I participated in this bloody work at the age of 21. I was already married and it so happened that I also participated in the bloody execution by Cossack whips when Esaul (Cossack Commander) Praga gave his orders in the village of Bogdanovka, to the right and to the left, day and night, sparing no one.

Then they immediately deported us to the village of Goriski where I spent only one and a half months till three military men arrived taking me away without my relatives knowing whereto. They brought me to the Goriski military disciplinary battalion and at this time brought three of my friends here, Shcherbinin, Kinyakin, Makhortov; so we became four and we were told there that our lot was drawn by an elder at the Akhalkalak district and we were required to report for service and so we were to be examined and measured.

We asked them why measure us because we will not serve. Then they forcefully undressed us and did what they had to with us and told us that they will send us to the Ekaterinodarski Vanapski reserve battalion where we will be forced to serve.

They did not allow us to bid farewell to our families and sent us away by convoy. When they brought us there they immediately placed us in different companies. Kinyakin and I into the second company, Shcherbinin into the third company and Makhortov into the first company. For me and Kinyakin, the Sergeant Major at once ordered us to take off our clothes and put on soldiers uniforms. We reply that we would not wear uniforms, we would not even serve. Then they forcefully took off our clothes, put on the uniforms and cut our hair. It was already evening, at nine o’clock the Sergeant Major commanded a prayer service, we sang the Lord’s Prayer, then we were shown our beds where we must sleep. 

We slept the night and in the morning the whole company arose at the same time and went outside for their duties. The two of us remained seated on our beds on one lower bunk and since our own clothing was still with us we put it on and remained sitting. We noticed the Sergeant Major coming straight toward us and laughingly says to us: “What, are you boys ready to go home?” We remain quietly seated, he looks at us and goes away. Then returning abruptly he tells us boys to follow him, the company Commander wants us in his office. We came, he was sitting; we stopped and stood. The commander rose up, looked us over and tells the Sergeant to go and bring the uniforms. Immediately he brought them and laid them in front of us. Then the Commander orders: “Vanin, put on the uniform!” I replied I will not wear the uniform and I will not serve. He started scolding me with bad words and cries at me with all his might, “I will knock your head off” while he pulls a knife out of its sheath and for a long time he shouted at me, stamping his feet on the floor while I stood motionless. Then he turns to Kinyakin and orders him: “Kinyakin, put on the uniform.” He also replied that he will not wear and will not serve. Then he got even angrier and scolded us for a long time but did not hit us, and we didn’t put on the uniforms. Eventually he asked us why we didn’t want to serve our Sovereign. We answered because he teaches people to kill but Christ forbid the killing of people. We believe in Christ and the Sixth Commandment says not to kill.

Saying nothing to us he sat at the table, wrote something and ordered the Sergeant Major to take us away and lock us up in a dark cell and no food but bread and water. He led us away and locked us up. Then after three days they brought Shcherbinin and Makhortov and locked them up. Shcherbinin sat in a row with me and we were able to converse quietly. The prison had a small opening and I heard him groaning, and then he began to explain how they tortured him, forcing him to do gymnastics and to run but he didn’t want to do these and would fall to the ground. They would trample him with their feet, kick him, pressed their knees into him and dropped him over a wooden bar. The uncommissioned officers were horribly nasty to him and from that time he became sick, something inside was injured. But Makhortov was not beaten and we sat in the jail cells for almost a month when they brought here another ten of our young friends from the Kars and Elizavetpol region in 1896 and they were no longer allocated to companies but put us all together in a military jail and through a military court ordered us to proceed under a convoy to a disciplinary battalion.

When they brought us there they locked us up in a stronghold that was guarded both inside and outside both day and night. Sometime before us, Lebedev’s party which had been serving but then refused, were already here in jail and each had already received by 30 lashes with thorny rods, and were forced to learn the ways of war.

They then allocated our group into companies and I, once again, remained here with another friend Chevildeev in the third company. Here, they handled us quite differently, forcefully dressing us in torn and all patched uniforms, took away our own clothing and showed us where we will be sleeping. In the morning two companies woke up and went outside to perform their duties and we two also dressed up and stood in the cell. Shortly an elderly company Commander came straight towards us; with a wide and long beard, appearing very scary, he was called Akinchits. Approaching us, without saying anything, instantly he cried out: “Chevildeev, stand straight, raise your nose”. Poking me with his boot, he yells: “Vanin, hold your head higher, raise your shoulders” while hitting me on the chin. Then he questions us, if we will serve our Sovereign. We replied no, we will not, so he didn’t ask us anything else but turned to the Sergeant Major and directed him to bring the executioners here, while telling us to come into the corridor. 

We went and stood there, noticing two executioners carrying several bunches of thorny branches, bound together in bundles of five – which always are soaked in barrels of water so that they would not break up. Also four soldiers were coming who were going to hold us and two soldiers with guns. The executioners took their coats off, rolled up their sleeves, took into their hands by a bundle of branches – awaiting the command. Then the Commander ordered the soldiers: “first lay down Chevildeev” but to me he said: “but Vanin, you must stand here and watch”. Then the soldiers took Chevildeev and laid him down on the cement floor face down, his hands tied behind his back. Pulled his pants down, revealed his buttocks, sat down on him, two on his head and two on his legs. One soldier with a gun stood at the head and the other at the feet, holding their guns in readiness. The executioners stood one on each side. The Commander then told the Sergeant Major: ” count the lashes, there must be 30 lashes”. He, himself turned away, and walked off a distance, not being able to look upon such a bloody scene. The Sergeant Major in command cried out to begin. And the branches began to whistle in the air. The first one swung to the left, then to the right, then with all his might he struck at the naked flesh, then the other, from the other side, in similar manner with all his might, beating rather occasionally. Blood squirted in all directions, the back, turning blue, began to swell. After that they locked him up in a cold prison cell, this happened in wintertime.

Russian Prison Warden and Guard, c. 1890. Photo by John Foster Fraser.

I stood motionless, paralyzed with fear and looked upon this bloody pitiful scene, while my heart was dying from the horror. Then the Commander approached saying: “Well Vanin, you got scared. You will now serve”. I replied with a trembling voice, “No I will not”. Then he ordered: “Lay this one down too”. I stood motionless, paralyzed with fear and looked upon this bloody pitiful scene, while my heart was dying from the horror. Then the Commander approached saying: “Well Vanin, you got scared. You will now serve”. I replied with a trembling voice, “No I will not”. Then he ordered: “Lay this one down too”. They lay me down the same way and gave me also thirty lashes, hot as fire. Then they lifted me up and started putting my pants on, they would not come on, barely came on, sticking to my bloody flesh. And in the same way they locked me also in the cold prison.

It was like that for all of us that were in that battalion, practically all of us were beaten with the thorny branches in the same way. Except that some got more, some less. And in that battalion there was a church and the priest also fulfilled his disciplinary role by inducing us forcefully so that we would attend their church to pray to God, that our ancestors had already rejected several hundred years ago.

Twice a day, morning and evening, all imprisoned soldiers had to attend church. There were four companies and each company had by 10 Doukhobor boys in it. The commanders marched the soldiers to church, all the soldiers went but we stood still. The priest explained to us that if we called ourselves Christians then we must attend his church. Then the secondary officers and the soldiers would grab us and drag us, while we would cling unto trees that grew there and they couldn’t tear us away, so they would beat our hands with belts, sabers, knives. And so goes the struggle throughout the whole battalion, until they drag us into church, then we stand there doing nothing while they all got down on their knees we just stood. Then the priest would walk through putting the incense under our noses, but we would wave the smoke away with our caps, while he would stare at us in anger.

My God, if you had only seen, dear brother Vladimir Dmitrovich, what they did to us there, even forced us to mix clay (manure). Crawled up to our bellies, made bricks and different other kinds of jobs. We were vegetarians, did not eat meat, but they would not allow such food that we could use. Told us to devour from the same pot that the soldiers eat. So we would come for dinner or supper, sit at the table, put a piece of wormy rye bread into our pockets, go back to the prison and eat it with water, and that’s how we survived. We were so worn out and sick with chicken blindness from a lack of food, barely staying alive. When the first Lebedov party of Doukhobors arrived at the disciplinary battalion, General Maslov didn’t want to have them tortured with thorns but wanted to exile them at once to Siberia. However the local administration – Sub-General Morgunov, Doctor Preobrazhenski and priest Stepanovski and others did not want to exile immediately to Siberia, kept us all in jail and tortured us for a year and a half. They wanted us to give into everything and force us to serve and so we were left barely alive but refused to give in. One of our friends, Mikhail Shcherbinin died there in the disciplinary battalion from the beatings. They allowed us to bury him, so we buried him in Doukhobor tradition. Then they exiled us to (Yakutsk) Siberia for 18 years.

Now the continuation of our history and our experiences in Siberia will be written by others. I am now concluding the writing of my version. Our remaining friends, who struggled for the truth in the disciplinary battalion, are very few, almost all of them have departed into life everlasting.

Your brother,

Gregory F. Vanin
Veregin, Saskatchewan, Canada
April 15, 1947