Leo Tolstoy’s Teachings and the Sons of Freedom in Canada

by Svetlana A. Inikova

Much has been written about the Sons of Freedom in Canada. Remarkably little scholarly attention has been devoted, however, to the ideological origins and historical genesis of this zealot group. According to Russian ethnographer and archivist Svetlana A. Inikova, the roots of the Freedomite movement can be found in the intellectual ideas and philosophical writings of Russian novelist Leo N. Tolstoy. His teachings, spread by Tolstoyans living among the Doukhobors in Canada and abroad, and adopted by Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin in Siberian exile, found fertile ground among an uneducated, mystically inclined group of sectarian zealots and exerted a definite influence on the formation of the radical wing of the Doukhobor movement. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Dr. Inikova offers an in-depth and critical examination of how the Freedomite movement in Canada was to become the unanticipated fruit of Tolstoy’s frequently misinterpreted ideas. Originally published in the Russian journal “Religiovedenie” [Moscow, Blagoveshchensk, No. 3, 2002]. Translated from the original Russian by Jack McIntosh.

In Russia, few people have heard of Canada’s “Sons of Freedom” or “Freedomites.” In recent years, two Russian newspaper articles are most likely all that the general reader might have read on that theme. There is a complete absence of scholarly publications on the Freedomites, although in Canada numerous academic works have been written about them, and newspapers have been full of articles and news items about their antisocial activity, sometimes filling whole columns. For almost a hundred years, the Freedomites have kept Canadian society in a state of tension, organizing acts of arson against schools and private homes and enterprises, bombing of railway and power lines, and scandalizing respectable citizenry by disrobing in public places and staging “nude parades” along the roads of Canada.

The Freedomite movement, an extremist socio-religious trend, originated among that portion of the Doukhobor sect that had come to be known as “Fasters,” those Doukhobors who in 1895, after proclaiming their pacifism, burned their weapons in the Transcaucasus and were driven by acts of government repression to resettle in Canada. The paradox was that the ideology of the Sons of Freedom, like that of the other Doukhobor-Fasters, was based on high ideals of non-violence. Moreover, the social and ethical aspect of the doctrine espoused by the Doukhobor-Fasters (non-participation in violence and exploitation, vegetarianism, renunciation of luxury, and communal way of life), adopted by them in 1893-94, had coalesced under the powerful influence of the ideas of Leo Tolstoy as propagated among the Doukhobors by “Tolstoyans” D. A. Khilkov, A. M. Bodyansky, S. T. Prokopenko, and N. Dudchenko, all of whom had lived since 1892 in the Transcaucasus. Not only did they conduct discussions and distribute publications of the “Posrednik” publishing house set up by Tolstoy and V. G. Chertkov, but Khilkov and Bodyansky, using the traditional genre of Doukhobor psalms, also composed catechisms for a “new” set of teachings that had not yet been accepted even by the Fasters. Their propagandistic activity was crowned with success only because many of Tolstoy’s ideas had been accepted by the leader of the Doukhobor-Fasters, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, who since 1887 had been in Russia’s far north in administrative exile, all the while maintaining continual contact with his supporters through messengers. Through the efforts of the Tolstoyans, the struggle for power typical of religious sects had been turned into a socio-religious movement destined to cause many problems for authorities at all levels.

In 1855, while still a young man, Tolstoy had expressed the need to create a new religion “purged of faith and mystery, a practical religion, one not promising future bliss, but bringing about heaven on Earth.” He understood that it would be a difficult task requiring more than one generation, but “some day fanaticism or reason” would accomplish this, Tolstoy wrote in his diary. His friends and followers went further: they attempted to utilize Tolstoy’s teachings as a lever by which, as I. M. Tregubov wrote in 1889 to D. A. Khilkov, it would be possible to “turn life around,” that is, to destroy both state and church. To this end, it was necessary to spread this teaching among the rationalist sects, especially the Doukhobors, Molokans, and Stundists. In another letter to the Tolstoyan P. I. Biriukov, Tregubov emphasized that the most suitable sectarians for this purpose are the ones who “are distinguished by extraordinary self-denial, to the point of self-crucifixion,” that is, simply put, fanatics. A. M. Bodyansky also extolled the self-denial of people of deep faith. Doukhobors, or so it seemed to the Tolstoyans, entirely met these requirements.

From 1895 on, all the activity of the Tolstoyans was concentrated on the Doukhobor-Fasters: The Tolstoyans endeavoured to let the world know about their struggle against militarism, about persecutions by the government and the suffering of these true Christians, provided them with financial assistance, and later organized their resettlement in Canada and helped them become established in their new location. Not only was Tolstoy familiar with the details of all the events taking place in “Dukhoboria,” but he was at the centre of the campaign to furnish aid to the persecuted. He repeatedly expressed in letters and conversations that the “Doukhobor cause” was most important and that it was totally absorbing him. However, neither Tolstoy nor his friends were aware that they were dealing not with a rationalistic but a mystical sect in which their leader is the very incarnate Son of God, Christ. They had no idea of the immense danger inherent in fanaticism and what kind of repercussions could result from intellectual ideas sown within an uneducated, mystically inclined people. The Freedomite movement in Canada was to become the unanticipated fruit of Tolstoy’s frequently misinterpreted ideas.

When they were resettling the Doukhobor-Fasters in Canada, the Tolstoyans saw their task as that of building in a free country a “Kingdom of Truth and Love.” However, even at the time of the move, those who were closely associated with the Doukhobors and those Tolstoyans who accompanied them en route noticed that very many of their wards were by no means keen on living communally, and that among the Fasters there were some who continued to eat meat, drink and smoke. However, that did not arouse Tolstoy’s suspicions. He believed that living people have shadows, and as he wrote to one of his English followers, Arthur St. John, who assisted the emigration of the Fasters and noted vices in their midst that were a disgrace to Christians, it would be “very useful [for the Doukhobors] to have such friends as you and our other friends. You are serving them conscientiously, reminding them of their principles, and with your help they are more keenly aware of their errors.”

In 1899 D. A. Khilkov, who had exerted so much effort towards expanding the Doukhobor movement in the Caucasus and who, quite naturally, understood better than others its true essence, became disenchanted with the Doukhobors. Once he had finally come to believe that “in no respect will anything propitious come of their settlement,” he departed from Canada, where he had helped them find land and get settled. His relations with the Doukhobors essentially had come to an end, although he continued to be interested in their life. However, in that same year, 1899, A. M. Bodyansky, a friend of Khilkov’s who had already become well known to many Doukhobors in the Caucasus, arrived in Canada from exile in Pribaltiisky kray [Baltic region]. He considered himself to be a follower of Tolstoy, was long in correspondence with him, participated in several Tolstoyan colonies and expended his whole large fortune in that cause. He had served out several periods of administrative exile for spreading Tolstoyan propaganda. Bodyansky was a man fanatically committed to an idea and for the sake of bringing it to fruition spared neither himself, nor his colleagues, nor his friends. He went to Canada with the intention of assuming the role of ideological mentor to the Doukhobors, who, in his opinion, were in need as never before “of spiritual food, models of good living, of live preaching in action.” In September, 1899, Bodyansky, who was destined to play an important part in the fate of the Doukhobors, was accepted into the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood created back in 1896 at the instigation of Peter Verigin.

In the very first years in Canada, the Christian Community showed signs of splitting. Canada opened up prospects for rapid accumulation of wealth for enterprising and industrious people such as the Doukhobors indeed were. According to Canadian law, every man from the age of eighteen had to right to an allotment – a homestead 160 acres in size, which he was supposed to make over to himself. Soon after arrival, the authorities required new settlers to assume ownership of the allotted lands. They were not prohibited from combining their homesteads, living in villages and working the land jointly, but formally, each parcel of land had to have its own owner. Thus at any time the owner of a homestead could leave the community. In this opportunity lurked great danger for the sect. Vacillation and doubts began to grow within the Doukhobor milieu. The situation that had developed was all the more dangerous in that once the sect was spared compulsory military service in Canada, the powerful unifying factor of having to contend with a government over the issue of military service had disappeared.

Bodyansky saw that for the “universal brethren,” as he often called the Doukhobors in his letters, the temptation of material prosperity was proving more difficult to withstand than the Tsar’s prisons and Cossack whips, that “the spirit of moral disintegration is very rapidly conquering” them, that the “beast of the flesh” that previously had been suppressed by religious persecution and “the blind sense of a herd moving in the footsteps of its leaders” had awakened. The hopes of Tolstoy and the Tolstoyans that the Doukhobors would create a Kingdom of Truth and Love were in danger of complete collapse. Both the Tolstoyans and those Doukhobors who had taken an active part in the movement immediately saw a threat that recent rebels would quickly become law-abiding Canadians. Both the former and the latter had a stake in impeding this process.

While still in Canada, Khilkov repeatedly wrote to Tolstoy that the Doukhobors were preparing to divide up the money collected for them and live separately. Setting his hopes on Tolstoy’s authority, he appealed to him to advise the Doukhobors to live as a commune. Reports of inclinations towards private ownership also arrived from other educated friends and helpers living among the Doukhobors. Impressed by these letters and stories, Tolstoy wrote a letter to the Doukhobors on February 15, 1900, in which he reproached them for accumulating possessions and forgetting their principles. “You see it only seems to us that it is possible to remain a Christian and still have property and keep it from other people,” he wrote, “but that is impossible. People must acknowledge this – or else in a short time, nothing will be left of Christianity except words, and unfortunately, insincere and hypocritical words… At first it may seem that between renunciation of violence, refusal of military service, and recognition of private property there is no connection… But this is not true. You see, property means that that which I consider my own, I will not give to anybody who wishes to take this thing of mine, but moreover, I will defend it against him. But to defend against another that which I regard as my own cannot be done except by violence, that is, if need be, by struggle, fighting, even killing. The teachings of Christianity cannot be taken piecemeal: it is all or nothing. It is all inseparably connected as a single whole. If a person acknowledges himself to be a son of God, then there flows from this recognition love for one’s neighbour, and in exactly the same way, love of neighbour entails rejection of violence, the uttering of oaths, military service, and property… Man does not need to provide for himself, as Christ himself said. He is provided for once and for all by God: just like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.”

S. Prokopenko, who lived with the Doukhobors, wrote sadly: “I read Lev Nikolaevich’s letter to the Doukhobors and I see that he knows little of their state of mind. In the first place, he does not know that this is sectarianism in the extreme. In the second place, he does not know that within the Doukhobor midst violence is even greater that that meted out by the Russian authorities. I say “greater,” because there is no authority that can exercise such moral violence as Doukhobors do… Lev Nikolaevich does not know that the Doukhobors possess in the highest degree a land-owning spirit and have never been otherwise.”

Tolstoy’s letter was published in England in the series Listki Svobodnogo slova by V. G. Chertkov, very close friend of Lev Tolstoy and an active participant in the campaign to defend the Doukhobors (for which he had been exiled to England) and in the organization of their emigration. The Listki were sent to the Doukhobor settlements in large quantities, and the letter was reprinted several times in separate small-format editions. It became widely known among the Doukhobors, who were well aware of the immense assistance given them by Tolstoy while they were still in the Caucasus and during their resettlement in Canada, and they regarded him as their friend. Even today, this letter is well known among Canadian Doukhobors, and the Freedomites in particular.

Dissemination of this letter was also aided by the fact that current among Doukhobors was the opinion that between “Petiushka” (P. V. Verigin) and Tolstoy there existed some sort of special invisible bond, and that Tolstoy was preaching what he had learned from Verigin. You see, Petiushka also had advised them to live in Canada as a commune. True, he had not passed on anything concerning ownership of land. In the Transcaucasus the Doukhobors had lived on state land, and the question of the moral aspects of private ownership of land had never arisen. When the Doukhobors were getting ready to depart from Russia to seek out a place to live, they were entirely permissive in regard to land purchase. One of the respected “starichki” [elders], Nikola Zibarov, wrote to Arthur St. John: “As to whether we wish to rent or buy [land – S.I.], for us it would be good to have either in mind, that is, either rental or such lands as we might buy. What would be most convenient for us would be to settle in America on government lands, if that is possible.”

Most likely the Doukhobors could have found some sort of compromise on the land question or stalled until the arrival to Canada of Peter Verigin, whose term of exile was coming to an end in the summer of 1902. Much more acute was their reaction to the demand of the government for obligatory registration of marriages and reporting to the authorities the number of births and deaths. The Doukhobors considered this to be interference in the sect’s business. They had traveled to a free country where they could live according to their own laws. Here, however, instead of Russian law, which could be evaded by bribery, Canadian law stood as an impassable wall they could not get around. The Doukhobors became perplexed, frightened, and deeply indignant.

A. M. Bodyansky decided to take advantage of the situation that had developed by attaching a Christian slant, in the spirit of Tolstoy, to their imminent struggle for independence, this time from the Canadian state. Later, in a letter to Tolstoy, he wrote: “Accordingly, even if one were to acknowledge the government of Canada as perhaps the best of governments, one had to expect efforts therefrom to turn us into Canadians devoted to the interests of the new fatherland, and not to expect any help or sympathy at all in enabling us to be better sons of humanity. I found it necessary to protect the Doukhobors against the undesirable results of such government efforts. What was necessary in this regard? In the first place, it seemed to me essential to convince the Doukhobors that to achieve the goal of a better life, people ought not associate themselves with any national state “herd” at all. In the second place, it was essential to take up such a position with them that we would in reality not belong to any state herd… The moment had come when one had either to reject any striving toward a better life, or through direct ways of bringing this life into being openly express one’s striving towards it. And I seized the moment and came out onto the new stage all the more boldly because your letter to the Doukhobors in which you advise them not to be landowners, and its publication and wide distribution by Chertkov, compelled me to believe that I would find support in this cause.”

Impressed by Tolstoy’s letter, Bodyansky, in the name of the Doukhobors, wrote a declaration to the Canadian authorities signed by twenty-two elders, and in June 1900 the Doukhobors delivered it to the government agent in Yorkton. In this declaration they announced that they could not obey government laws that violate the law of God:

1) They cannot secure land for themselves, as it belongs to God, whereas “to secure land as the property of individuals or communities constitutes a profound violation of God’s law that will more than anything else impede the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth…”;

2) They cannot register weddings in a police book; they cannot go along with marriage unions being moved “from God’s jurisdiction to that of the police…”;

3) They see no need to enter births and deaths in police books, as the Heavenly Father knows this all anyway.

In an attempt to define Bodyansky’s role in the publication of the declaration, P. I. Biriukov wrote that this friend of Doukhobors, “in sympathy with those high Christian ideals, was, so to speak, the literate voice of the Doukhobors’ protest against the Canadian government.” They themselves accepted this protest more on faith than by agreement with its content. When Biriukov asked one of the signatories how it came about that the Doukhobors signed the letter, that person replied: “… you know that we are not clever enough to understand every word. And there were words we thought inappropriate for us, but B[odyansky] is a persistent fellow and always interprets things in his own way.”

Once they had so incautiously, using someone else’s words, proclaimed to all of Canada their rejection of land ownership, they felt compelled to continue to defend the position thrust upon them. The Freedomites became the staunchest defenders of this idea. To this very day a Freedomite settlement exists at Gilpin (near Grand Forks in the province of British Columbia), whose inhabitants not only reject land ownership, but even refuse to pay any taxes on it, on the basis that “the land is God’s.”

So as to deprive the Doukhobors of any opportunity to retreat, Bodyansky hastened to send this declaration not only to the Canadian government, but also to like-minded Tolstoyans in different countries, with a request to translate it into French and German and publish it in the newspapers so that the world would know of this new heroic deed of the Doukhobors. However, he himself had a very low opinion of the Christian virtues of the “universal brotherhood.” On July 8, 1900, Bodyansky wrote to V. D. Bonch-Bruevich, the future historian of religious sectarianism, who accompanied to Canada the fourth party of Doukhobors and helped them get settled: “Notwithstanding [their] world-renowned Christian exploit, it seems to me that there is very little true Christianity among them, at least, much less than among Orthodox peasants, not to mention the rationalist sects. And a terribly repulsive characteristic of the Doukhobors is a certain slyness attainable only by sectarians holding to a secret doctrine; also, their inordinate pride.”

Bodyansky set himself the goal of not letting the Doukhobors stop their forward movement or become complacent. Accordingly he strove to stir up Doukhobor society by all possible means. Evidently it was he who brought to Canada two letters written by P. V. Verigin, one of which, dated January 4, 1896, was addressed to Nikolai Trofimovich Iziumchenko, then serving out his exile in Siberia for rejecting military service, and the other, dated November 25, 1896, to the Tolstoyan Evgenii Ivanovich Popov. Although there is no direct proof that it was Bodyansky himself who acquainted the Doukhobors with these letters, it is quite obvious that he along with the most radical of the Doukhobors used them while composing a catechism for a new belief system in which the fundamentals of Freedomite doctrine were laid out. I would like to dwell on the content of these letters in some detail.

In his letter to Iziumchenko, Verigin philosophized on the theme of true Christian living. Clearly, some of the thoughts expressed in this letter were inspired by the philosophical writings and letters of Tolstoy that had been furnished in quantity in published and manuscript form by the Tolstoyans. But Verigin, accepting these thoughts as a foundation, attempted to develop them further, taking them to their logical conclusion, arguing them to the point of total absurdity. It is difficult to tell how sincere he was, but he was sure of the originality of his thinking. In this letter Verigin tries to allay in advance any suspicion of his having borrowed ideas from Tolstoy, remarking offhandedly: “In what does his [Tolstoy’s – S.I.] philosophy consist? I have not read his works. Only by hearsay do I know that he rejects the legitimacy of modern ‘civilization,’ that is, progress.” He wrote that the ability to read and write, which Doukhobors had always regarded with disfavour, ‘destroys the attraction of the personal encounter,’ and schools corrupt the morals of children. Moreover, “all of the things by means of which literacy is achieved are obtained by hard labour, and so we have to avoid any part in the enslavement of others, in whatever manner.” Verigin announced that he does not consider labour as basic to human life, but that if we moderate our needs, it is possible to get by in tranquility without working. Citing the words of Christ: “Man does not live by bread alone,” Verigin wrote that humanity is thereby liberated ‘from the slavery of physical, unnatural labour.” A person should assume the position of a guest on the Earth and return to nature. By being abstemious in his diet, a person could, in Verigin’s opinion, have a lifespan with what he possesses of one hundred years, and in that time the Earth would return to its original state, and “humanity, along with spiritual growth, lost by Adam and Eve, would also attain a natural heaven on earth” and be fed “legitimately” – with fruit. “People would gradually become used to bodily nudity,” Verigin reasoned further, “having taken off all clothing and eaten all their bread, humanity would arrive at its original state.” True Christians “should abandon physical labour and go to spread the Gospel, that is, Christ… If some want to work, let them, but we should work exclusively on behalf of Christ. The bread of moderation thus should be bestowed from our Heavenly Father on every person, whether he works or not: “the birds of the air sow not, neither do they reap, but they are satiated.”

In his letter to E. I. Popov, Verigin discussed marriage in the spirit of Tolstoy’s postscript to his Kreutzer Sonata. He proclaimed sexual relations to be sinful and advocated chaste upbringing of children. Incidentally, in this letter Verigin did not conceal the fact that these thoughts had already been expressed by Tolstoy: “The question of sexual relations or marriage has been treated in sufficient detail and reliably in a leaflet contained in letters sent to me. This thought is probably L. N.’s… I repeat that legitimate, clean upbringing of children would be most beneficial, as L. N. also points out. Then the difference in people’s lives would be greater than it is now.” On the subject of mercy, Verigin expressed the thought that mercy presupposes not only rejection of the killing of animals, but even of the use of horses. Expressing his opposition to civilization, he reproached E. Popov for being afraid of complete simplicity. Verigin, on the contrary, regarded returning to the sources as his goal, even if humanity were to revert to the world of the apes. “My soul has been in pain, dear Evgenii Ivanovich, looking at the fruits of civilization,” he wrote. Complete satisfaction in life, in Verigin’s words, he experienced when he observed people wandering aimlessly, especially in the forest. A person would not die in the forest, if he were eating grass and roots, and in a warm climate he could even do without clothing. “Even if I did have to die of the cold and hunger, I agree that it would be better to die with honour than to be a barbarian who lives a hundred years, but at the expense of one’s environment.”

Verigin’s letters were evidently discussed among the Doukhobors closest to Bodyansky and were received by them as a new Gospel from Christ – i.e. Petiushka. These people with total sincerity desired to live true Christian lives, following every letter of their leader’s new teaching. Continuing the work perfecting the Doukhobor belief system begun back in the Caucasus, Bodyansky recruited this group of Doukhobors to work with him on the composition of a new catechism that would reflect their spiritual advancement. The catechism was written in 1900 by Bodyansky, with the participation and approval of the elders. In it Verigin’s letters were used; to be more precise, the catechism was drawn up in such a manner that the ideas expressed therein were in harmony with what Verigin had written and with which Bodyansky, in the main, agreed. Bodyansky formulated their corresponding phraseology and added ideas of his own on true Christian living. In 1901, after Bodyansky had already left Canada, he published the catechism in Geneva in the form of a small-format booklet entitled Kniga zhizni khristianskoi ili otvetnaia rech’ veruiushchego o delakh zhiteiskikh [Book of Christian life or answers of the believer to questions on matters of everyday life]. The author discovered a copy in the Museum of the History of Religion in St. Petersburg.

This book sets forth essentially the whole of Freedomite doctrine, and those who took part in its creation became the leaders of the Freedomite movement. The Kniga zhizni … opens with the same question as the title of the well-known Doukhobor psalm “What manner of man art thou?” In the original, the answer that followed was “I am a man of God.” Here at once appeared a new understanding of life and one’s place therein: “[I am] a simple man.” Further on it states that truth lies in the words of Jesus Christ: “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” and in order to be perfect, one should live as Jesus did, that is according to God’s law. One can apprehend the law of God by means of “the voice of God in human understanding.”

In the Doukhobor belief system, inner revelation played a large part in apprehending God’s will, but in actuality it was their leader who uttered the will of God, and not every believer. According to the new teaching, each person should feel within himself the voice of God. The essence of God’s law is to strive for spiritual perfection, and for this it is essential to be free, wise, and meek. At this point it was explained how to understand these qualities. Let us take note of the prerequisites for a person to be considered free: “Not to have over himself any tsar or earthly superior, but to have God within himself as tsar, neither to lord it over people nor to subordinate oneself slavishly to others, neither to swear nor take an oath, neither to borrow nor be beholden, neither to hire nor hire oneself out, not to own property, not to enter into marriage, not to indulge the flesh, neither to have fatherland nor clan nor tribe, but to acknowledge all people as kinfolk, not to conform with human laws, but to be in all things a servant of one’s own clear conscience – that is what it means to be free.” To conform to human laws means to reject the laws of God. Clearly, these formulations are very strict and uncompromising.

It is well known that there had previously been no fasting among the Doukhobors. However, Bodyansky included in the book a section entitled “On fasting,” asserting that “power of spirit over flesh” is achieved thereby. In the section “On instruction” he affirmed that the simple ability to read and write is necessary for a person to be able to communicate with people. It is necessary to learn trades that are “needed for a simple life.” But one can do without scholarly learning, inasmuch as scientific, artificial knowledge brings little that is useful and much that is harmful. “Life goes on, and will itself find everything it needs. And only that is necessary for life which life itself attains simply through experience, while everything artificially acquired damages the simplicity and directness of its path toward perfection.” A man must work, but unselfishly and only to satisfy the needs of a simple and righteous life. Work that satisfies whims based on greed is disreputable. A man should be fed “with those things intended by God for the nourishment of his flesh: fruits, roots, greens and seeds – food from plants, not from animals.” And the use of leather and oils from animals was equated to the use of meat. However, the use of the labour of animals was permissible on condition that they be rewarded with feed and tending, but with this reservation, “for a person whose conscience allows this.” It was proposed that surplus domestic animals be set free: “If you do not keep them under compulsion, you will not [need to] feed them.” And meals should be prepared simply: “the less preparation, the greater the simplicity.” Clothing should also be just as simple, for the sole purpose of protecting the body from bad weather. It should be self-made, without adornment, and “the clothing of men and women should differ little.” Only those with families should have a permanent place of residence, while “there is no reason for a single person to curtail his freedom by attaching himself to one place.” Righteous Christians seeking a simple life were supposed to live “in warm and temperate” countries, “blessed with the fruits of the earth.”

The section on property and money is very interesting. “Property” is defined as “proof of the victory of the flesh over the human spirit.” Acknowledgement of land ownership is declared to be “a sin of folly.” Property and money, the Kniga zhizni… states, are the handiwork of the devil. “It is impossible to achieve perfection in life without first having rejected the use of money.” A man in whom the spirit is stronger than the flesh should remain celibate, and he who is married should live as brother and sister or may separate [from his wife]. Marriage is within God’s jurisdiction. Marriage is designated by God for procreation. “Therefore copulation between husband and wife only avoids the sin of adultery for the husband when it is required by his wife, and for the wife only when her maternal flesh requires conception.” No kinship in terms of birth in the flesh need be recognized, but only kinship in spirit, truth and way of life. Observers of the law of God should live communally in spirit, way of life, and flesh. The spiritual commune is the Universal Brotherhood, the commune of the flesh is the family. The chief business of the communal lifestyle is the Brothers’ Home – a place for the homeless, the ill, wanderers, a place of assembly and community workshops. The commune will attain perfection “when in it there will be no place of residence other than the Brothers’ Home – God’s temple, when there will be no everyday activities apart from those done in common, when there will be no property except communal property, and when Christ’s spirit will govern the commune.” The state, as well as industrial and commercial enterprises, was declared to be under the sway of the devil.

Such are the fundamental ideas contained in the Kniga zhizni…. Also included are long discourses, clearly incomprehensible to the simple peasant, on flesh and spirit, the origins of water and air, and so on. At the beginning of the century the Kniga zhizni was well known among the Freedomites. During my visit with them in the year 2000, I was interested in ascertaining whether today’s Freedomites are aware of its existence and how they perceive the doctrine expounded therein. After reading it through, all of those whom I asked unanimously recognized it as being in harmony with Freedomite beliefs and with the ideal pursued by the old-time Freedomites (and from which their descendents have long since deviated). Not only did the Freedomites in Gilpin acknowledge the printed doctrine as their own; it unexpectedly turned out that they are in possession of the book itself. About ten years ago it had come into their hands in manuscript form, lacking the first few pages, from an old Freedomite woman, whereupon it had been typed up and several copies given out. Quite recently it had been read and discussed at meetings. To be sure, Freedomites have not abandoned the memorization of psalms and stishki and their attachment to ritual that Bodyansky had spoken out against in his new catechism.

While living in England, Vladimir Chertkov and his wife Anna exerted a definite influence on the formation of the radical wing of the Doukhobor movement. During the first years, they continually supplied Canadian Doukhobors with large quantities of books, primarily those of their own “Svobodnoe Slovo” [Free Word] publishing house, with issues of the journal of the same title and with Listki Svobodnogo slova [Free Word Leaflets]. Among these books were many ethical and religious works by Tolstoy: Kratkoe izlozhenie Evangeliia [The Gospel in brief], O polovom voprose: mysli L. N. Tolstogo, sobrannye Chertkovym [On the sex question: thoughts of L. N. Tolstoy, collected by Chertkov], Mysli o Boge L. N. Tolstogo, sobrannye iz ego pisem i dnevnikov za period 1885-1900 g. [Thoughts on God by L. N. Tolstoy, collected from his letters and diaries over the period 1885-1900], and others.

The Chertkovs carried on a voluminous correspondence with the Doukhobors, endeavouring to exhort them, maintain their enthusiasm, and inform them of the admiration that their exploits were calling forth among sympathizers all over the world. Interestingly, among their addressees were many of the individuals who formed the nucleus of the Freedomite movement. The aforementioned Nikolai Zibarov lived for a time with the Chertkovs in England; later in Canada, he continued to be in close contact with them. He wrote to the Chertkovs: “We have also received all your books and L. N. Tolstoy’s letters that you sent to our address. We shall try to send the books around to those you have indicated. Another Doukhobor, Evdokim Popov, who shared the Freedomite world view, wrote to them: “The newspapers and booklets I am receiving from you are reviving me.” The Chertkovs exchanged letters with and sent books to A. Makhortov, a prominent figure in the new movement. “Such a booklet can be important for saving the life of any … send it, we will strive with you towards the love of God’s way of living,” was Makhortov’s appeal to them. The stream of literature and letters from the Chertkovs did not remain unnoticed by the local authorities. “Dear Annushka, I don’t know, but it seems the government is angry with you. The agent himself has more than once or twice stated that you are supposedly giving us instructions,” wrote Makhortov in another letter.

The official’s interest in Anna Chertkova was not unfounded. She had composed, specially for the Doukhobors, her Prakticheskii uchebnik angliiskogo iazyka, prednaznachennyi dlia russkikh poselentsev v Amerike [Practical textbook of the English language intended for Russian settlers in America], which the “Svobodnoe Slovo” publishing house published in the second half of 1900, presenting what were in her view the most important themes of conversation. This textbook was intended to help Doukhobors propagandize their views among Canadians. It included such phrases as: “All governments are founded on violence,” “they are maintained by armies, courts, prisons, and the police,” and “we can obey only what is not contrary to our conscience.” On the matter of registering marriage, divorce, and death, the Doukhobors were supposed to answer: “We will gladly answer accurately when people ask us, but we cannot promise anything”; “a promise binds a person’s conscience and action”; “even in small things we wish to be free”; “brotherly love is higher than fleshly love”; and “we do not seek pleasure in marriage.” Further on it speaks of schooling, social injustice, and land ownership: “we are not against schools, but we are not sympathetic to compulsory education”; “there are many harmful and stupid books in the world”; “if everyone believed it his duty to work, there would not be as many hungry poor folk in the world”; “we believe that private ownership of land should not exist”; “the person who is working on a piece of land now is the one who owns it”; “on the land question it is useful to read the works of two authors: the American Henry George and our Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. For several years the Chertkovs provided this textbook to Doukhobors, which undoubtedly furthered the spread of Tolstoyan ideas among the Doukhobors and the rise of the Freedomite movement.

Thus we see that by 1900 Freedomites already had a completely formulated and accepted doctrine. Moreover, some of them had begun to put the new ideas into practice. Their activity began with adoption of the simple life: they let their beards grow so as to be natural, whereas it had been traditional among Doukhobors to shave; they replaced the age-old brightly embroidered Doukhobor apparel with the plainest of clothing. Such a change was noticed immediately by everyone, and the rest of the Doukhobors were very disapproving.

The publication by Chertkov and Bonch-Bruevich of P. V. Verigin’s letters in England in 1901 contributed to an increase in the number of followers of the new teaching. Among these letters was the letter to T. Iziumchenko of January 4, 1896. Now it became the property not of a narrow circle, but of the whole community. Doukhobors considered it themselves duty bound to acquire this “new Gospel,” and parcels full of the Pis’ma… [Letters…] arrived in Canada. The Freedomite Nick Novokshonoff, whose father Kuz’ma was one of the first Sons of Freedom, has confirmed that the Freedomites “read these letters as they read other similar materials, carefully look into them and act upon them, albeit not without making mistakes.” The publication of Verigin’s letters served as a stimulus to the movement, a push towards moving from general discussion to action.

Meanwhile, tension between the Doukhobors and the government was growing. The Canadian government was perplexed, as were the English and American Quakers who had assisted the migration of the Doukhobors and had assured everybody of the law-abiding nature of the new settlers. The Doukhobors themselves were in a very ticklish situation. They did not know what to do: stay in Canada or look for new places to live, and they tossed and turned, unable to decide on anything.

At the request of the Canadian government, Aylmer Maude, an English follower of Tolstoy who had assisted the Doukhobor migration to Canada, wrote trying to convince them that acceptance of land does not contradict God’s law, as they would be able to work it in common. He also endeavoured to explain why they were being asked to register vital statistics. This letter caused the position of some Doukhobors to waver, and opinions were divided. However, A. M. Bodyansky and his close circle of Doukhobor associates obstinately continued to uphold the proclaimed three points. It is possible that Maude, who was well known and enjoyed prestige among the Doukhobors, could have succeeded in swaying the Doukhobors towards an agreement with the government, but Bodyansky, over his own signature and that of his very close companion-in-arms Fyodor Dutov, sent Maude a very harsh rebuke. It was distributed to all the villages through the collective efforts of delegated elders. A copy of the letter was sent to the Canadian government. On October 14, 1900, at Kamenka, in the northern colony (in what was soon to become northeastern Saskatchewan), where Bodyansky was living, as well as other Tolstoyans and some Stundists, Doukhobor delegates assembled in order once again to discuss the demands of the authorities. The response of the Doukhobors, judging by its style and strong social overtone, was entirely the work of Bodyansky. In the name of the commune he proclaimed that they recognize God alone to be the owner of land, and that land ownership is the cause of social injustice when those who are not working on the land own it.

In February 1901, delegates from the Doukhobors of the southern colonies addressed the government and all nations with an appeal in which they expressed the desire to leave Canada. They requested permission from the Canadian government to remain in Canada until they found a new refuge. The Doukhobors indicated a desire to settle on government-owned land and pay rent for it. At the same time they announced that they would not pay any taxes in support of the requirements of the state, that they were renouncing all civil rights and obligations and were content that their marriages and children from these marriages be considered illegitimate. Expressing their willingness to provide general figures for statistical purposes, they categorically refused to collect them systematically. The Doukhobors appealed to the governments of North America and Turkey with an explanation of their beliefs and a request to take them in.

Tolstoy knew what was happening among the Canadian Doukhobors, being informed by mail both by Tolstoyans and the sectarians themselves. Interestingly, Tolstoy spoke out against such an extreme approach to the land question and registration of vital statistics. On January 17, 1902, he wrote to Peter Verigin in Obdorsk that he was “very much against their refusal to accept land as private property,” because on more important issues “they are departing from the requirements of Christian living,” while here, for the sake of nominal recognition of ownership of land “they are throwing their lives into disarray.” That also applied to their refusal to register marriages and births. In another letter, written to Chertkov on April 19-22 of the same year, Tolstoy remarked that “here property itself is not being rejected, but only private property outside the commune, and I think this to be unimportant and on this account it is not worth quarrelling with the government and giving enemies a weapon to use against themselves and disturb their lives; moreover, much greater compromising decisions than this will have to be made: whether to go out to earn wages doing harmful work or use someone else’s money that has been acquired by evil means. The same goes for the refusal to give information. Of course, you are right, it is not for us to judge, but, as for me personally, I would not do this.”

In February 1902 the government announced that lands allotted to the Doukhobors but not yet signed for as of the first of May would be regarded as free, but later the term was extended by another six months. Evidently the Canadian authorities had been informed that on July 29th, P. V. Verigin’s term of exile would end, and they hoped that the issue would be resolved one way or another with his arrival. Some Doukhobors, not very many, it is true (in February 1902, eighteen families), had begun to make over plots of land to themselves and leave the commune to set up farms of their own. It became perfectly obvious that a portion of the Doukhobors were prepared to enter into an agreement with the government and subject themselves to Canadian laws. The Doukhobor community was impatiently awaiting the arrival of their leader to Canada.

By the spring of 1902 all the Doukhobors had already studied Verigin’s letters. Many interpreted them as a sacred commandment, and believed it necessary as his arrival approached to accomplish something very momentous for the spiritual growth of the whole Doukhobor community, to continue that movement towards Christian ideals which they had begun in the Caucasus and for which their leader had served fifteen years in exile. Besides that, the exit from the commune of even those eighteen families could turn into a chain reaction ending in the complete collapse of the sect. Only an explosion of religious enthusiasm, and new persecution and suffering, could unite them.

The conflict with the government, the activity of Bodyansky, the Chertkovs and other Tolstoyans, the publication of Verigin’s letters, the evident danger of assimilation, and the tense expectation of the arrival of “Christ” – all this prepared the way for the events that unfolded in 1902.

In the spring of 1902 the first preachers of Freedomite doctrine began to preach from village to village. “One woman is not dressing up in pretty clothes, she is walking around the settlements in simple gray apparel, she’s breaking mirrors and saying that we must destroy all temptations, because temptations have ruined people, temptations have forced the people to work hard,” Bodyansky was informed by his Doukhobor friend Evdokim Popov. “There should be freedom not only for horses and cows, but even the land has to be liberated. People should give total freedom to all creatures and to the land, so that the land will return to the original paradise in which Adam and Eve lived. Some are releasing their horses and cows and are beginning to do their work themselves. Hitching themselves to the plough are women and men, girls and boys. Others are starting to abuse, chase them around and beat them up. Some of them have quit using milk, butter, and eggs.” Even before that, the diet of the Doukhobors in Canada had been rather meagre. Now, however, the Freedomites had totally condemned themselves to a hungry existence. Early in May another Doukhobor, Vasili Potapov, reported in the same vein to Arthur St. John: “As you see, all of these people are striving towards perfection, but how they will achieve it, I do not know,” he concluded.

Both correspondents remarked on the fact that some Doukhobors had been going on very prolonged fasts, a phenomenon that had not previously been characteristic of the sect. Thoughts of liberating their cattle had been in their minds for a long time. As early as the spring of 1901, Evdokim Popov had written to V. D. Bonch-Bruevich: “My beloved brother, what do you think about the animals we torment day and night and do not see ourselves. God created truth not just for people, but for all living things. Dear brother, where will there be a master craftsman capable of designing such a plough as could carry two people and plough the earth?! Or a conveyance such that two people [could] carry several puds [an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 36.11 lbs). Or that there be justice on Earth.” Another Doukhobor, A. S. Popov, sharing his thoughts with Bonch-Bruevich, wrote: “Surely the Lord did not create animals for humans to oppress and constrain in order to maintain their worldly life? If I wish to be liberated from slavery, I then must not have slaves, for whatever you do not wish for yourself, do not do unto others.”

In the summer of 1902 a group of Doukhobors began to go from village to village, reproaching their brethren for forsaking the spiritual for the material and agitating for them to stop constraining their cattle and to let them loose into God’s freedom. It was at that time that the name of the new wave emerged: Syny svobody [Sons of Freedom] or Svobodniki [Freedomites]. Their advocates cited the New Testament (Romans 8, 19-21): “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” In a group letter to the Chertkovs, the Freedomites wrote that they had decided to let their cattle go free, because “all existing life is God and is present in all. And if we are to love God (the first commandment), then we must without fail love all beings, from the human being down to the smallest living creature, and we must bow down to the spirit of love and truth.” Such an all-embracing pantheism, the notion of God as nature or life, had not previously been characteristic of Doukhobors. Of course, they said that “there is not one place where God does not dwell,” and “where love is, there is God,” but nevertheless they conceived of God as Spirit existing separately from the visible world. They were borrowing these new ideas from Tolstoy’s teachings.

The Freedomites requested the Immigration Agent in Yorkton to find a place for their cattle “in a land where they would not suffer from the frost and could feed themselves without human aid that is unnecessary, in our opinion.” The Canadian government was at a loss as to what it was these peculiar people really wanted, who with such toil had acquired these cattle, and now were asking to release them.

Talks with the government went on for two months. The government declared that it did not possess such lands, and insisted that the Freedomites abandon their escapade. On August 17th herdsmen abandoned their cattle “to the will of God.” Some of them were caught by farmers, but the majority were rounded up by men sent by the government. These cattle were sold at auction, and the money subsequently used to feed those same Freedomites. In their aspiration to give all living things freedom and thereby become liberated themselves, these Doukhobors were completely sincere. Not only Canadians, but even their own kindred Doukhobors did not understand them and made fun of them. Withstanding their derision was more difficult than carrying heavy loads on their backs or hitching themselves to ploughs and wagons.

Because the use of animal skins was equated with the eating of meat, the Freedomites decided to do away with that as well. In the village they went from house to house collecting horse collars, harness, leather foot-ware, and fur coats and, after stacking them up, burned them.

Then the Freedomites demonstratively began to give away the money in their possession to the government agent in Yorkton, declaring that they wished to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and henceforth not be indebted to anyone.

On the whole, Tolstoy reacted approvingly to the appearance of this new wave in Doukhoborism. On August 20th, 1902 he wrote to I. M. Tregubov that as he was thinking about them, he experienced a feeling “similar to that which I would feel watching a person crawling up a mountain I should climb, who had already climbed high and was grasping for a ledge or branch by which he could immediately pull himself yet much higher, but from which he might easily slip and fall very far. I am afraid of this, but I cannot say anything to him, because I do not know how strong he is, and his very striving gladdens me. I do not agree that we should use violence against animals or children for their own good, although such a thought has somewhere crossed my mind”. In another letter to James Mavor dated November 30th, 1902, Tolstoy wrote: “I could find their conduct to be mistaken only if I were convinced that they were ignoring more important things than the use of animals. But as I do not know that, I cannot render judgment on them. While I would not have advised them to do what they have done, I nevertheless cannot help but admire their spiritually motivated self-denial.” Three years later, when a conversation at Yasnaya Polyana turned to the Doukhobors’ attitude towards animals, Tolstoy said “…that they are releasing animals is as it should be.”

With rare exceptions, the Tolstoyans also displayed a positive attitude towards the Freedomite initiatives. P. I. Biriukov had already long since abandoned leather shoes and wore “vegetarian slippers,” as Tolstoy described them. Evgenii Popov greeted this news avidly. He had written a book on working land without the use of cattle: Khlebnyi ogorod ili iaponsko-kitaiskoe ruchnoe zemledelie [The bread garden; or Japanese-Chinese manual land-tilling]. In a letter to P. V. Verigin after the latter had already arrived in Canada, he wrote that he was delighted with the news “that the brethren have decided to reject coercion and the use of domestic cattle, because this is the direct consequence of their refusal to kill and eat animals… We must use all our mental powers, do all possible experiments on working the land without cattle and without animal fertilizer, invent foot-ware and clothing without skins and wool and such like, and if all these experiments prove unsuccessful and useless, only then will we have the right to give up the struggle.”

The Freedomites hastened to resolve the issue over cattle, as they were preparing to leave Canada for warm countries where they would be nourished by “food from God” and live like Adam and Eve. Migration agitation enveloped not only the Sons of Freedom, but also other Doukhobors who did not entirely share the radicalism of their brethren. Many were convinced that as soon as Verigin arrived, migration would begin.

P. V. Verigin was delayed in Russia due to red tape in procuring an external passport; then en route to Canada he made a side trip to visit the Chertkovs in England. In the autumn of 1902, without waiting for their leader, the Sons of Freedom set off on foot “to greet the bridegroom” and spread the good news of the new doctrine. The pilgrimage began from the village of Truzhdeniye, where its initiators were living. Six families, including old people and children, started out, taking with them neither clothing nor food. They walked from village to village, and their ranks steadily increased by three or four families from each village. Different sources fix the number of participants in the trek from 1500 to 2000 people. The number of pilgrims might have been considerably greater had not P. V. Verigin’s mother spoken out against it. One of the Tolstoyans living in Kamenka at the request of V. G. Chertkov maintained a diary in which he described everything that happened in that period. In his conversations he tried to ascertain the reasons for the pilgrimage, as the Freedomites themselves understood them: “Where are you going?” “We are going into the world to restore Christ’s behest; we will go wherever it takes us, but we will not come back. It is not permissible for us to keep money, or iron – even needles.” – “Why do you not want needles?” I asked a girl of about sixteen. “Look here, our people want to free men from the mines, so they will not be tormented. We should feed ourselves only with fruits, vegetables, grain or fowl; we think we should be clothed in leaves, or go entirely naked, because to make clothing, iron and the digging of ore is necessary. We should not bury the dead, because in order to dig a grave, you need a shovel – iron. So if someone dies, we shall leave him on the road and walk on farther”… And one old man told us: “We came out to get away from smokers and vodka drinkers, everything is bad among us, we cannot do anything.” Some of them are taking with them neither needles, nor matches, nor knives, not even bags. Homes, bread, gardens, vegetables – they have abandoned everything, saying the communal treasury will list everything and sell it and the money will go to feeding them… In the north they have also removed clothing, fur coats, and so on. An old man sent a wagon, and they seized it for the treasury. In some villages they burned or tore apart vans. We must, they say, enter into a primitive state of being. Man used to have skin like animal horn, thick, and he was without clothing, except for something on his feet.” One of the wanderers thus explained his pilgrimage: “I myself do not know where I am going, but I feel the need to go. You see, this feeling – it is the voice, the spirit of Christ, which is sending me. He is the master, and I am his messenger, I do his will, the will of the Father. Man is a stranger on the Earth; a Christian should not live in one place. No matter that I could have got settled in one place and lived peacefully for myself. No, my conscience will not let me, because it is impossible to live in tranquility when people are perishing.”

For all the variety of their motivations, they all fitted within the framework of the new worldview and complemented one another. But behind them there stood deeper goals that were very important for the sect: through suffering to recover their dampened religious enthusiasm, to unite the Doukhobors, to build an insuperable barrier between them and Canadian society, thereby preventing assimilation of their community. The vast majority of the Freedomites of that time were unaware of the deep purposes underlying their pilgrimage. On the other hand, their leaders understood them perfectly well.

Singing psalms, the huge throng of poorly dressed, hungry people proceeded along Canadian roads, horrifying the inhabitants. It was already cold, and well-wishers tried to persuade the Freedomites to return to their villages, frightening them with the onset of winter, but they replied with a rhyming couplet: “Tomu zima, u kogo very nema” [It is winter for one who lacks faith]. During the trek the Freedomites dined on raw vegetables, apples, and bread given to them by tender-hearted Doukhobors and Canadians, but there were also instance in which farmers came out with rifles to confront the wanderers. In uninhabited places the Freedomites gathered and ate wild roses and cranberries. They would spend the nights wherever they could, with people in the villages, in abandoned granaries, or in haystacks. It is a wonder nobody died of cold and starvation.

The police made an effort to return the Doukhobors to their homes, but they failed. Then the women and children were detained at Yorkton, locked in barracks, and the men allowed to go on farther. The Doukhobors had become very weak and exhausted from their wanderings and from hunger. November cold spells began, and many were compelled to return home. Only four hundred people walked as far as the town of Minnedosa. They were carted back to Yorkton and along with their families already there sent by train to their places of residence.

The Freedomites wrote concerning themselves “We are out of our minds for the sake of Christ….” They desired to place themselves on a level with the poor and not to possess anything except the spirit of God and love. They explained their vagrancy by saying that they must not care about that which is liable to decay, and that “the birds neither sow nor reap, yet the Lord feeds them.” The Freedomite pilgrimage was in complete accord not only with the Kniga zhizni… [Book of Life] and P. V. Verigin’s letter to Iziumchenko, but also with Tolstoyism in its original version. Tolstoy himself believed itinerancy to be necessary for a Christian. “That which you write concerning the need for a Christian to be homeless and itinerant was for me at the very beginning of my conversion a most joyous thought that explained everything and without which genuine Christianity is incomplete and incomprehensible,” he wrote in 1903 to E. I. Popov. The life of a wanderer followed organically from Tolstoy’s teaching, and what is more, from the Gospel. And, to be sure, the type of the Tolstoyan tramp existed in small numbers in Russia.

In December 1902 Peter Verigin arrived in Canada. The first thing he did was to tour all of the villages trying to calm people down, and he met with the leaders of the Freedomites. After expressing a high opinion of the pilgrimage, Verigin advised all of its participants to return to cattle-raising and the use of money. He declared that Canada was the very country in which Doukhobors could flourish, and that the guarantee of their prosperity is communal life, and another important prerequisite for their success is livestock, especially draught animals. To the Freedomites’ objection that sons of God should not use force against animals, Verigin replied that horses will be their co-workers and members of the commune: they would be working together to feed themselves. The “horseless ones” who had come many miles on foot to meet the leader, were disheartened by such an announcement. But the vast majority of the Doukhobors followed their leader’s counsel. However, a small group “had doubts about returning to their corrupt possessions,” seeing in this a violation of God’s law.

P. V. Verigin settled the land question just as quickly. He persuaded the Doukhobors to fulfill the requirements of the authorities, and two thousand five hundred homestead applications, filled out and signed, were handed over to the officials. Later, when in 1907 the government began to demand of the Doukhobors acceptance of citizenship, threatening them otherwise with leaving them only fifteen acres per head, Verigin purchased lands for the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in the wild mountains of British Columbia, further away from civilization, and the majority of commune members moved to the new location. As they purchased the land, the Community Doukhobors were overlooking what they had quite recently declared about the land belonging to God and that it could not be bought or sold. Community members paid to their central office taxes on the land, whereupon the managers settled with the government. However, the idea of the land being God’s, which had earlier captured the minds and hearts of the “radical Freedomites,” could not disappear without a trace. The Freedomites were a great hindrance to Verigin, who had launched feverish activity in the purchase of inventory and livestock for the commune, and the construction of mills and elevators. He could not bring himself to take any repressive measures against them, as he himself had written about the things they believed in and were preaching.

After the pilgrimage of 1902, the authorities decreed that the Freedomites be settled in three villages in the south colony and in three villages in the north colony. In these settlements policemen would periodically call in to observe the behaviour of the inhabitants. The authorities undertook to supply the Freedomites with provisions; the latter demanded that they be brought “legitimate food”: fruits and vegetables, and they refused flour. On principle the Freedomites did not wish to work, as they had abandoned physical labour. The winter and spring of 1903 they spent in painful meditation as to how they should now live and how to understand the leader who suddenly had renounced what he himself had recently written in his letters, which still represented, in their opinion, true Christianity.

In the spring of 1903 a group of Freedomites began to walk about the villages in the nude, preaching renunciation of physical labour and a return to nature. The Freedomite E. Vlasov explained the reasons for disrobing as follows: “As the Lord God created Adam naked, and we were born naked, we uncovered our flesh to display our love, if only by coming naked to approach God with pure hearts. We walked naked around the villages, begged the people not to enter into their corrupt possessions and to be like us, revealing the new life.” Another Freedomite, A. Makhortov, in a letter to the Chertkovs, emphasized that “it is necessary to pay heed to the lawful life and how Christ and the apostles lived. They achieved such perfection that they could go naked…” and further on he continued that he was still disquieted by the thought “that I find in myself a sinful body, I am ashamed of everything – can it really be that God created this? No, that is not right. This is my responsibility.” The Freedomite F. Riazantsev supposed that Adam and Eve soiled their white apparel by their sin, while Freedomites had gotten rid of passions and sin and “then we took off our clothing – manufactured by human hands, and broke the seal of the sin for which the human race is answering. We killed that sin in the flesh, in our natural state called in on all the people, putting on white apparel such as human eye has not seen from the beginning of time.”

Under the influence of the new teaching, with its incessant striving back to nature, the entire way of life of the Freedomites changed. They turned against bread, because they wanted to prove by their example that one could live “being fed by God.” “These are the foods we are now using: raw foodstuffs: oatmeal, potatoes, beets, radishes, carrots,” Makhortov was describing the life of the Sons of Freedom in a letter to Tregubov. “But even that food is not lawful, it is contrary to our conscience. We are using it because we do not have any fruit. And our main food should be fruit grown by God himself to feed mankind. We are eating raw vegetables because by this we are preaching before the eyes of the people that they should believe in nature, and that a person can live without bread.” At that time they were even eating in a special way: taking turns biting from a turnip or potato so as to stress equality. And if something had to be cut, they would use a stone. Freedomites even tried to feed themselves on ordinary grass, like peaceful herbivorous animals. Naturally, such experiments were not greeted with understanding by those around them.

Freedomites ceased interring the dead, it being impermissible to bury a corpse in the living earth. “It is imprudent for the sake of an unnecessary small matter to disturb moist Mother Earth by digging. For another thing, we must enter into the nature of Adam and Eve, that is, they did not have claws; they could not dig into the earth with their fingers; therefore, that is also unnatural for their descendents.”

After the treks of 1902 and 1903, religious pilgrimages became a tradition and turned into a sort of ritual. Every year in the spring, Freedomites set off on foot preaching around the Doukhobor settlements, and in cities near and far. In these marches, fifteen to twenty persons would take part, but in 1907 at Fort William, Ontario, eighty people participated. It became a common occurrence for them to walk along the street of their settlement or around it in the nude, singing psalms. A Freedomite would always carry a canvas bag with a change of clothing so that it would be possible at any moment to set off on a pilgrimage.

The Freedomites renounced the family, for marriage too amounts to bondage and violence. Makhortov wrote in 1904 to the Chertkovs: “And to have a peaceful life and long-lasting peace in one’s soul, I think that evil arises from appropriating something as one’s own, even, truth to tell, a wife. You live with her in the flesh, and that’s all you think about. If she happens to chat with someone about some necessary matters, I am seized with jealousy, and think the worst. And that’s how she lives, and it’s the fault of you and that brother. Thus evil emerges. It occurred to me that the law of God teaches us to love even our enemies, and I decided to live with her as brother and sister: spiritually. Only then did I begin to love everybody.” “We regard everyone as brothers and sisters, there are no husbands and wives,” Makhortov developed this theme in another letter: “All women are virgins who should prepare the lamps and meet the bridegroom, Christ, chaste.”

The sex question, to which the Tolstoyans in their letters devoted much space and which proved beyond their powers, the Freedomites resolved quickly and in a fundamental way. They entirely did away with the concept of marriage. Makhortov cited as an example for emulation the Virgin Mary, who, in his words, when God demanded it of her, gave birth to Jesus, and did not get married. The men and women slept apart, and engaged in sexual relations only when a woman wanted to have a child. Even in such an instance “a sister should make a baby openly and freely, with whomever she chooses.” Makhortov and others believed that conception is a natural thing, and should be performed in the presence of others. Indeed, over a twelve-year period two such babies were born among Freedomites. On the other hand, children were now free, no longer tied hand and foot to their mothers. It is interesting to note that the women enthusiastically supported all these ideas about family and marriage. In the Kniga zhizni khristianskoi [Book of the Christian life] it is written that man and woman should differ as little as possible externally, and the Freedomites endeavored to wear floor-length wide cotton shirts that were identical for both sexes.

The Freedomites reduced their material needs to a minimum. They would work only when necessary to earn money to buy some absolutely essential material object. They would not work for future benefit, but lived one day at a time, as indeed the Gospel calls upon believers to do, and as Tolstoy had advised in his famous letter.

Peter the Lordly, as the Doukhobors had begun to call their leader in Canada, was unable to do anything with the Freedomites. One day near one of the villages, upon meeting Verigin riding in a char-à-banc, the Freedomites attempted to unharness the horse and unseat its rider. Their action greatly angered the leader, and he promised them each “twenty-five hot ones.” Verigin forbade the communal Doukhobors from allowing Freedomites into the villages to sleep over or to give them bread. After convincing themselves that the rest of the Doukhobors would not accept what they were advocating, twenty-eight Freedomites set off for Yorkton on foot. Three miles out, they disrobed and walked into the city in the nude. They were arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment. Verigin was allowed to take the brethren back on condition that they would promise to live submissively. He tried to persuade them to give him their word, but had to leave empty-handed.

For the Freedomites, those three months served in a Regina jail were an absolute hell. They refused to come out to work or obey the orders of the prison administration, so as not to be accomplices to the violence which the jail represented. They even refused to attend to their own needs, because they had not ended up there voluntarily. They requested Christian food: fruits, vegetables and nuts, and refused to eat anything else. For this the jailers cruelly mocked them: they beat them unconscious, poured ice water over them, stuffed a man’s head into a chamber pot until he began to choke, and so on.
Verigin gradually began to apply ever more radical measures against the Sons of Freedom: he called upon the Community Doukhobors to drive out the Freedomites by force; he himself sent for the police when they organized a prayer session around his house. No admonitions or punishments of any kind were of any avail. The impression was that the Freedomites had gotten out of the leader’s control.

We are confronted with a most important and complex question, that of the Doukhobors’ attitude to their leader and his role in the Freedomite movement. As mentioned, Doukhobors believed that Christ abides in the flesh of their leaders. Although this was kept in greatest secrecy, it was impossible to hide it from the Tolstoyans who lived with the Doukhobors in Canada. The Tolstoyans were surprised, and wrote to one another and to Tolstoy about this, but nevertheless they continued to think that the Doukhobors were perceiving their leader-Christ as a prophet, a chosen one of God, a man who had achieved the highest degree of perfection. Some guessed that the Doukhobor Christ was not just a prophet at all, but was in essence the Son of God. In the summer of 1901, Matryona Krasnikova and thirteen other Doukhobor women wrote a letter to the Canadian government which produced a bombshell effect on everyone:

“Enough of your boasting of your rights, authorities, and superiority! Who is higher than the King of Heaven and God? God created the sky and adorned it with all heavenly beauty: the sun and its rays, and the moon, and the stars in their glory… Our Lord is high above all tongues, as are his blessings and to all ages his mercy… This Lord is our guide Peter Vasil’evich Verigin. His beauty is in his exceeding wisdom; in flesh he is pure. We strive towards Him, honour him as God and King and with fervent desire submit ourselves to his authority.”

These Doukhobor women were expressing the traditional point of view regarding their leader. Verigin himself, not denying the presence of the Divine Spirit within himself, explained that Christ is not God, but an angel of light sent by God. In Canada – and this had evidently begun back in the Caucasus – as a result of all the events they had endured and Tolstoyan propaganda, certain changes had taken place in the religious world view of the Doukhobors. Some Doukhobors had begun to believe that God overflows everywhere in nature, that he is in every creature and in every person. An expression such as “God in one’s soul” they began to take literally: Every person is God, one to a lesser degree and another to a greater degree, while the leader most completely incarnates this Divine Spirit. Doukhobors connected this with their old ideas of the God-leader and elevated the Divine essence within themselves. Naturally, given such an approach, the importance of each person’s inner revelation grew. Based on this, all thoughts and decisions that came into the heads of any of the Freedomites was accepted by them all as the voice of God. But this voice, if we follow their ideas, was the voice of the very Divine Spirit that in the most complete form was incarnate in their leader. And if this Spirit prompts them to do something, then that means that their leader has sent them to perform a heroic deed or to suffer. By spoken word the leader might, on the contrary, dissuade, verbally abuse or beat them, but this is done intentionally, firstly, to test whether the faith of the Freedomites and other Doukhobors is strong, and secondly, the leader must conceal who he is; otherwise, they will crucify (i.e. kill) him as they did Jesus of Nazareth.

Because this aspect of Freedomite belief was kept in strictest secrecy, any testimony from participants in the movement is for us most valuable. In 1905, one I. Mulchenko, a Tolstoyan of Ukrainian peasant origin who had previously lived in the United States, affiliated himself with the Freedomites. This is what he wrote in 1906 to the Chertkovs: “The communalists venerate Peter Verigin as Christ and God; they have even said that to my face. As for the Freedomites, I had not been aware that they acknowledge him even more as God than the communalists do. They say that he created everything that exists. In my presence they held back, but then blurted it out. Then later they began to criticize him – Peter Verigin, that is – and began to call him “king of the communalists.” I was right there among them, and I could see that this was a pretense, as they had totally acknowledged that he is God, and that he even provides the rain. At that point I could not agree, and began to say to them that he is not God, but a son of God and our brother, as are all such people, and I began to point to “Uncle” L. N. Tolstoy and to them. You see, I said, Tolstoy and Chertkov are also such people – they are sons of God, and he is a son of God, and all people are sons of God, and all are brothers to one another. Alyosha Makaseyeff and Vasili Strelaeff began to be displeased with me, and said: “Oh what kind of person are you, wanting to compare yourself to God! No, brother, he is God, and we are his children”… And he told me that when Peter orders the communalists to go after us and beat us, that is only because he is testing to see whether they will beat us or not… he thus divides us all into two parts, when he orders them to drive us away from here, and when he has divided us Doukhobors into two, he then will come to join us himself.”

Such a view of the leader and the purpose of his activities provided Freedomites with a pretext to reinterpret his words in their own way, investing in any of his pronouncements whatever meaning suited them. These notions have been maintained among Freedomites right up to the present day. Never in the Caucasus had there been any such reinterpretation of the words of leaders, never such “upside-down thinking.”

The first destructive act carried out by Freedomites was the destruction of a strip of mature wheat. Incidentally, they had grown this crop themselves without even the use of animals. Present-day Freedomites describe this occurrence as follows. Peter Verigin had arrived in the south colony at the village of Truzhdeniye, where he was shown the strip of mature wheat. He was pleased and said: “Very, very good bread-grain. Now [you] can bring it down by the heads.” Everyone understood that it was time to begin harvesting, but the Freedomites interpreted his words in their own way. During the night, eight men hitched to a wooden roller flattened part of this wheat crop, while two women stood praying and singing: “Bravely, friends, do not lose courage in your unequal battle.” One of the participants, A. Makhortov wrote about this incident, that “again our hearts were moved by the Lord to engage in spiritual work,” and that their purpose was “to show that we should not place our hopes on human science, but on God.” In another letter he explained the reason for this act even more clearly: “And we rolled the heads into moist Mother earth in order to show an example for all the people that from now on we must not disturb her, but she, moist Mother earth, should provide for man, as assigned by our Lord, fruits and vegetables.” The communalists gave them a beating, and at that the matter came to an end. However, on the fifth day after the destruction of the wheat, “The Lord revealed” to them the idea of burning a binder, as machines destroy the boundaries set by the Heavenly Father and violate moist Mother Earth, and all human inventions will be consumed by fire.” People ran up to put the fire out. Peter Verigin reported the Freedomites to the police. The arsonists were arrested and sentenced to six months in jail. Two of them did not return alive. The Freedomite V. V. Popov explained their action as follows: “… we burned an English factory-made implement by which people and every living creature are enslaved and killed, like tools of war; we burned the harvest-reaping machine just as we burned the weapons of war in Russia. Moreover, we intended to burn all machines and all depravity-creating factory-made equipment, but the Satan-serving Canadian government arrested us.”

Many years later, the son of one of those involved in the burning of the binder, Nick Novokshonoff, tried to explain the action of his father and other Freedomites: “Looking far into the future, the Freedomites condemned science and its various achievements, including the machine. They foresaw that all these conveniences achieved by science would not bring good to mankind, but the opposite – evil, unhappiness, and even death. In their pursuit of glitter, people are losing faith in God and are even forgetting him… The Freedomites burned the binder for that very reason, because it was the first machine that the Doukhobors had acquired.” The destructive activities of Freedomites were directed against civilization and its fruits.

Bodyansky’s reaction to these actions, observed from afar, is interesting. Although in a letter to Makhortov he called the Freedomite antics mistaken, he did not condemn them: “And I can by no means cast upon you even a shadow of condemnation. On the contrary, I sympathize with you whole-heartedly and with all my thinking I commend you, notwithstanding all your mistakes. And I say this: go ahead, press on toward the new life. It is better to live there, even if you make mistakes, even if you stumble at every step, than to be paralyzed on the spot, accepting spiritual death and turning from a human being into a lower creature.” Bodyansky held the Freedomites in high regard, considering them to be superior to the communalists, believing communal life to be the very lowest form. Bodyansky called attempts by Freedomites to return to the primitive state “a highly genuine, vitally important aspiration,” understanding this to mean simplicity of physical life. He believed, as did the Freedomites, that culture and science enslave and corrupt a person and make him insincere, and all of the behaviour of his friends, including the burning of the binder and public copulation, Bodyansky considered as a protest against “cultured hypocrisy and deception” and he believed it to be “a matter of the greatest importance, in every way deserving of imitation.” Bodyansky even regarded with sympathy the Freedomite aspiration to walk around in the nude, as “there is no sense in covering oneself up out of shame.” What he did reprove them for was that while exposing hypocrisy, they were tolerating violence and artificiality in their actions,” acting not out of necessity, but with deliberation. The Freedomites in turn wrote Bodyansky touching letters, believing him to be a person close to them in spirit: “Dear old Aleksasha, although we are in the flesh far separated from one another, yet by the spirit and our inner sense of the true path we are united.”

Leo Tolstoy also regarded the Freedomites with understanding. He censured Verigin for his passion for material goods: “They built a comfortable home for him, and he has servants. Despotic rule. Konkin is his minister. All this will fall apart. The nudes will come to the rescue,” he told Dusan Makovicky in August 1905. The next year, when P. V. Verigin traveled to Russia with a group of Doukhobors and visited Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy “began to speak in defense of those who had ‘disrobed’.” He referred to them as “spiritually alive.”

How could the Tolstoyan ideal of nonviolence, which the Freedomites also preached, be reconciled with their destructive and, generally speaking, violent acts? Let us first analyze the position of Tolstoy himself on this question. In 1901 in Russia, the peasants known as New Stundists – essentially Tolstoyans – living in the village of Pavlovka, Sumskii uezd [district], Kharkov guberniia [province], where at the end of the nineteenth century D. A. Khilkov and A. M. Bodyansky had led a propaganda campaign, destroyed a Russian Orthodox church. Tolstoy set forth his attitude toward this act in a letter to I. M. Tregubov as follows: “As to whether the Pavlovtsy acted well or badly when they destroyed a church, of course I would say, badly, just as badly as people who have destroyed a factory not built by them and needed by others. However, there is an extenuating circumstance, namely, that the church has been distorting the great teaching that people need, just as it would be an extenuating circumstance for those who had destroyed a factory that manufactures instruments for killing and executions.” So Tolstoy, albeit with reservations, allowed for the possibility of destroying somebody else’s property in the name of a higher purpose. As far as his own property was concerned, that was apparently not up for discussion. Everyone is free to do with property as his conscience dictates.

Accusations against the Tolstoyans streaming from the pages of the Russian Orthodox missionary press, blaming them for the actions of the New Stundists of Pavlovka, stung Tregubov and the Chertkovs to the quick. In 1902 they questioned sectarians about the permissibility of violence. They received replies from Freedomites N. Zibarov, G. Plotnikov and G. Kanygin. To the question as to whether is it a good or a bad thing to revolt against oppressors and kill rulers, they answered in an entirely Christian spirit that it is necessary to pray for one’s enemies and turn the other cheek. To the question about whether it is a good or a bad thing to destroy Russian Orthodox churches and icons, they answered very evasively: “It is not good to smash a church, because for God a person is a church and temple of the living God and icon,” while they do not wish to attend a church made by human hands; that is, they are again talking not about a church building as such, but about killing a person who constitutes God’s temple. Those who dispersed the orthodox church of Christ acted badly. Again, by the words “orthodox church of Christ” the Doukhobors did not mean the Russian Orthodox Church at all, but the inhabitants of Pavlovki and themselves. On the question of destroying an Orthodox Church, they did not give a negative answer. Further they amplified by saying that if something is theirs, they may get rid of it if they don’t need it. “And as for them [the Pavlovtsy – S. I.], as their conscience allowed, so they acted.” If, however, the opinions of owners diverged, “and some wish to destroy while some wish to preserve, they then should destroy only that which is within the sphere of their free will and conscience.” No unambiguous condemnation of violence follows from this kind of reasoning, but loopholes remain in the form of “willpower and conscience.”

As he explains the Freedomite conception of violence, the modern-day Freedomite T. Savinkoff says that “it is based on the idea that if material goods are the cause of all divisions and discord, it would then be more prudent for people to sacrifice material goods and remain alive themselves as brothers and sisters, even if naked, but alive and safe,” that is, for people’s own good, for a higher purpose, it is permissible to sacrifice material blessings – that is, property. Clearly, the position of the Freedomites on this issue turns out to resemble that of Tolstoy.

From the beginning, of course, Tolstoy’s teachings disseminated among the Doukhobors had been distorted by Verigin and his close circle. But even when preached by the Tolstoyans themselves, they passed Tolstoy’s ideas through the prism of their own worldviews and experiences. Khilkov, after his journey to Canada, aligned himself with European revolutionaries, became disillusioned with pacifism, and, as is well known, fell as a volunteer soldier at the front during World War I. Bodyansky had an extremist mentality. Once when the appeal of the Chertkovs and Tregubov “K russkim sektantam” [To Russian sectarians] came into his hands, he unexpectedly expressed himself frankly on the theme of nonviolence. He wrote that the cornerstone of Christ’s teaching was not the doctrine of nonviolence, but “the way of Christ,” that is, the aspiration to a higher life, in his view, that a “revolutionary user of force, laying down his life for others (according to our beliefs), is closer to Christ than someone jabbering only in the language of a Christian non-resistor.” Bodyansky admired the Beguny [or “Jumpers” – a radical Russian sect] of Kherson, who starved themselves rather than submit to the census, and the Pavlovtsy, who desired to suffer: “How great before the court of my judgement is the significance of a life of faith, and how worthless is knowledge of the truth without its application to life.” It is precisely this quality – living by faith – that he strove to inculcate in the Freedomites.

Ten years after the burning of the binder, Freedomites burned a very beautiful community building in the village of Otradnoye in Saskatchewan that had been built according to the wish and design of Peter the Lordly. Then once more a lull set in, and it seemed that the burning of the binder and the house in Otradnoye were regrettable atypical occurrences in the life of the Canadian Freedomites, who had completely dedicated themselves to self-perfection in the vineyards of the Christian life. For the most part, their public activity was limited to disrobing as a sign of protest against oppressive measures of the authorities. But from the beginning of the 1920s, when the government instituted a strict policy requiring the Doukhobors to accept English schools, burnings began anew, and there were times when several buildings would burn down in a single night. The destructive activity of the Freedomites was gathering momentum, and all this in the name of God and for the salvation of humanity. These people passed through prisons and insane asylums, their children were taken away to foundling hospitals and reform schools. They returned from such places sick, and some never returned. They would burn their own homes and live for ten years near the walls of the prison where their husbands, sons, and brothers were serving their sentences. All this so as not to go back on their precepts concerning God’s ownership of the land and living a peaceful life. But in spite of all their self-denial, they were doomed to defeat; they had no future. Some abandoned Freedomite ways, while others sank ever lower into vices concealed by verbose Christian phraseology.

I am reminded of a letter from Countess Alexandra Andreyevna Tolstaya to Lev Nikolaevich, in which she wrote of his responsibility towards those to whom he preached his doctrine:

Indeed self-denial is a virtue that is not easy and in general is not innate in humans. Will not the time come when, depressed by their awareness of the impossibility of fulfilling the prescriptions of the Gospel in their literal sense, they will become muddled in their thinking and fall even lower than before, however inclined to goodness they had been? Your responsibility towards them brings fear to my heart…

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

For more online articles about the Doukhobors by Svetlana A. Inikova, see Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History as well as Doukhobor Holidays and Rituals in the Caucasus.

The Doukhobor Homestead Crisis, 1898-1907

by Kathlyn (Katya) Szalasznyj

In 1899, the Doukhobors settled on homestead lands reserved for them in Saskatchewan by the Dominion government. Materially, they made substantial progress, opening up vast tracts to cultivation over a short period. Legally, however, they had problems with every step of the process. At base was their belief that land belonged to God and any division of land that recognized individual ownership was a violation of God’s laws. Exacerbating this was the Doukhobors’ misunderstanding about the way in which land would be granted, and the government’s misconception of the full implications of the Doukhobor commitment to communalism. By 1905, thousands of Doukhobors refused to take patents on their homesteads. Land hungry settlers and a growing public backlash forced the government to seek a speedy resolution to the ‘Doukhobor issue’ resulting in the cancellation of thousands of homestead entries in 1907. The following scholarly article examines the Doukhobor homestead crisis.  Reproduced by permission from “Spirit Wrestlers: Centennial Papers in Honour of Canada’s Doukhobor Heritage”, Kathlyn Szalasznyi, Gatineau, Quebec, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995 © Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Saskatchewan was a place with a future in 1905. For many it was a promising place in which to build a home. Growing political maturity, culminating in the formation of the new province, raised many questions about provincial society and the ways in which its needs would be met. Clearly, “more” was a key superlative: more central homesteads, more roads, more railways, more bridges, more school districts and improved education were just a few critical concerns facing the young province in its first year.

The first harvest at Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba, Fall 1899.  Library and Archives Canada, PA-022231.

There was another concern, one which flew in the face of the politician, the immigration official, the land agent, the farmer and the rancher, and drew hot and diverse opinions far beyond Saskatchewan’s borders. It was termed “the Doukhobor issue”, a fiery ethnic matter that involved over several hundred thousand acres of good prairie land, almost entirely in Saskatchewan, and Russian group settlers, who occupied the land but refused to obey the laws of the Dominion.

Public opinion tended to express the matter simply. Religious group settlers had arrived before the turn of the century, had been given a generous outlay of reserve land from which to select homesteads, and had been accommodated in their every request, including military exemption and communal residence. Six years later, their progress toward becoming Canadians, loyal British subjects and owners of the lands for which they had at last reluctantly signed, was practically non-existent. Refusing to take a stake and interest in Canada, their peculiar ways were more firmly entrenched than before and their leader, Peter Vasilevich Verigin, was the “King Bee” of a growing agricultural theocracy, with no regard for the rights and freedoms of the individual Doukhobor. How much longer could “these favoured children of the Department of the Interior” be allowed to tie up valuable central homestead lands and to perpetuate Little Russia on the prairie, with no interest in the development of local schools, churches or towns and or in the Canadian political process? One prairie editorial writer of the time stated it thus:

The Department of the Interior knows better than anyone else that somebody, they know who, got a good haul out of the treasury of Canada, which was cheerfully paid. A chronic “koff” almost became epidemic in this country then, and there is a peculiar value attached to a “koff” or a little “off” to one’s name today. Such attachments make it easy to get in “on the groundfloor” in the land scramble, since yet it is only Russians who need apply?

As suggested above, the Doukhobor issue centred mainly on the lands upon which the Doukhobors lived. Still owned by the Crown long after the “ordinary” homesteader would have received patent, the Doukhobors still could not decide if they wished to become Canadian landowners. By 1905, land hunger in central homesteading parts and a growing backlash toward the government that brought the Doukhobors west demanded a speedy resolution to this problem. In accordance, in the following year, the new Minister of the Interior, Frank Oliver, who succeeded Clifford Sifton, appointed a commission to investigate Doukhobor lands and to bring the Doukhobor issue to a speedy conclusion.

From the Doukhobor perspective, the issue at hand was considerably different. Initial concessions from the Canadian authorities and the creation of the reserve of land were accepted by them on their arrival, but past experience dictated a wary existence with the state. What would the laws of Canada require of them? Over a dozen Doukhobor sympathizers across the globe had helped to negotiate an initial deal for Verigin’s suffering religious people, a deal about which the Doukhobors knew extremely little. Homesteads of sixty desiatini in the Russian measure seemed generous. The Doukhobors were assured that block settlement was legally sanctioned by a cooperative farming and a hamlet clause in the Dominion Lands Act, but it was hardly what the Doukhobors later described as the desire to “live as one farm.” Instead the Doukhobor reserve provided for the development of four or five colonies throughout the West, generally settlements of under one thousand inhabitants, thus selected in order that the Doukhobor men might obtain employment on incoming railroads more readily and that, as the immigration officials openly stated, the Doukhobors might be “more rapidly Canadianized.”

Scrubbing and clearing, the Doukhobors made substantial material progress, proving their initial reputation as keen agriculturalists. In the beginning there were many problems impeding the orderly taking of lands, but the Doukhobors knew the majority of them were not of their making.

The Doukhobor reserve, a bare outline around almost unknown townships in 1899, was subject to considerable changes in its early years, shunting Doukhobor holdings back and forth. Oddly, land agents could not agree whether the Doukhobors were to possess all lands in each township or only the even-numbered ones, as in ordinary townships available for homesteading. While the North and South Reserves included all lands, Doukhobors on the Prince Albert Reserve were only allowed to settle on the even-numbered lands. Numerous village houses built upon arrival were later found to be on odd-numbered, railway lands and even outside the reserve, through no fault of the group settlers. Throughout the summer of 1901, the villages of Bogdanovka and Tikhomirnoe of the North Colony petitioned to be included in the reserve: “We are very sorry we did not know this before, as no one explained anything about it to us and now it is a year ago since we began to work the ground.”

One of the communal “barracks” houses that the Doukhobors built at Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba. Summer of 1899.  Library and Archives Canada, C-008896.

Two townships lacked water and were too heavily treed for settlement and another two overlapped with the Cote Indian Reserve. Five townships had been withdrawn for a sinister reason: because of the adverse opinion of ranchers, farmers and squatters toward the Doukhobors. Ranchers disliked the settlers for their fences. Others thought their insular ways hindered the normal social and economic development of districts and were quick to exhibit their prejudice against these “alien and servile Slav serfs of Europe, who are one degree above the monkey for civilization….” By 1900, there were reports of ranchers tearing down Doukhobor fences and driving cattle into their crops.

The early years in Canada proved that there were wide disparities in the Doukhobor understanding of landowning and village life, disparities that were not so apparent on arrival. Initially, communal holding of land, labour and capital was the general rule, imposed largely by difficult economic conditions in the settlements. Soon cracks in the communal model appeared. There were totally communalistic villages, such as Blagodarnoe in the South Colony, where “…everything to the last needle was held in common.” In contrast, the Prince Albert colony Doukhobors showed a great willingness to take lands as ordinary settlers and to reside on homesteads. By September, 1899 ninety-seven Doukhobors had applied for lands, anxious for choice quarters in the district.

Between the two extremes lay the majority of settlers, which tried to interpret Canadian land law in the light of Peter Vasilevich Verigin’s latest letters from exile. He said little about property-holding, but instructed the settlers not to build large buildings or to immerse themselves in husbandry, which suggested they might move again. Yet during the winter of 1899, Herbert Archer, a local immigration agent and J.S. Crerar, Dominion Land Agent at Yorkton, were able to complete lists of homesteaders in the North and South Reserves and to determine their potential land locations. Unfortunately, due to an oversight, the lists were not acted upon by the land agents until several critical issues preventing Doukhobor entry had emerged.

Could one hold land privately, live apart from the community and still be a Doukhobor? The “Independent” sector believed one could. The Communal Doukhobor, with the assistance of Russian ideologues living among them, held the opposite opinion. He saw the independent brethren falling to the temptations of greed and individualism. If property-holding was the temptation, then the Dominion that offered it was the tempter: compliance with the ordinances of the state could only signal spiritual decline.

The Dominion census of 1901 added fuel to the debate, as census-takers extracted information relating to families and their ages. At least three villages, Petrovka, Troudenia [Trudolubivoe] and Pozaraevka, petitioned for exclusion from this fourth census of the Dominion, writing that “…we now know that we have been written up in police-books, which we do not want.”

Coincidentally, a chiding letter from Lev Tolstoy, whose strong support had so assisted their emigration from Russia, rebuked those who had taken homestead entry, insisting that “if a man acknowledges himself to be a son of God, from that acknowledgement flows the love of his neighbour, the repudiation of violence, of oaths, of state service and of property.”

As land officials pursued the subject of homestead entry, it became clear to the Doukhobors that a separate issue, that of communal cultivation as a means of making improvements on their lands, had yet to be resolved. The Doukhobors generally cultivated lands within a six-mile radius of their villages, with hay meadows and grazing lands held in common, much as they had done under the mir landholding system in Russia. Would this cultivation be accepted in place of the cultivation regulations of the Dominion Lands Act, namely, fifteen acres on each quarter-section, usually completed within a three-year period from the date of entry?

The first Doukhobor binders cut the grain and placed it in swaths to be picked up, tied in sheaves and stooked by the women, 1903.  Library and Archives Canada, C-008893.

To the Doukhobors, communal cultivation was a natural part of operating “as one farm,” their request upon arrival in Canada. The Lands Branch did not think so. Numerous meetings and much correspondence finally resolved the issue, at least for the time. Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior who had negotiated the Doukhobors’ original agreement with the Canadian government, officially expressed homestead policy as it pertained to the Doukhobors in a letter of 15 February 1901:

And I have decided that those who will take their homesteads and accept of free land from the Government may live together in one or more villages, and instead of being compelled to cultivate each quarter-section held by each Doukhobor, that the land around the village itself may be cultivated and the work which otherwise would be required on each individual homestead may be done altogether around the village.

Sifton stressed that only Doukhobors applying for lands would be allowed to live in villages, clearly tying the cultivation concession to the larger and more immediate issue of homestead entry.

The divisive nature of Sifton’s concession was clearly upsetting to the Doukhobors. It threatened to end any semblance of a unified Doukhobor existence, as only homestead entrants and their families could remain in the villages. Outside of a small number of entrants gained at the Prince Albert Dominion Land office, the Doukhobors adamantly refused to enter for homesteads, asking instead to buy lands outrightly at ten dollars a quarter-section.

Verigin arrived in Canada on the heels of this debate and on that of the first pilgrimage of “zealots,” numbering approximately 1,800, who had repudiated all property and the enslaving of animals. He did not disappoint the Lands Branch, spending his first two months dealing with the question of landholding. For the first time on record, another key issue, that of taking an oath of allegiance in order to become British subjects, was discussed at length in relation to homesteading. Whether affirmed or sworn, oath-taking was a serious issue to the Doukhobors, who had suffered much persecution in Russia over it.

Upon inquiring of the regulations and questioning the Lands Branch closely, Verigin urged the Doukhobors to sign for lands without delay. Several years lay between entry and the time of patent, when the oath would have to be faced. Perhaps he realized that homestead entry, in itself, did not constitute placing one’s seal of ownership upon the land, especially if the entry was accomplished by a proxy committee. During March and April, 1903, entries were made for over two thousand homesteaders, representing a total of 281,660 acres in northeastern Saskatchewan and 141,140 acres in central areas. Unused reserve lands would be held until the end of the year to accommodate changes and minors. The Doukhobor reserve finally came to an end on December 15, 1904, making over 100,000 acres at Yorkton and nearly 150,000 acres in Prince Albert available.

The new era of material prosperity under Verigin’s leadership that followed him in from 1903 to 1905 was not without its problems. Many of them were tied to the land issue. Verigin’s plan to bring all obedient followers together in the Yorkton-Swan River area was questioned by the Lands Branch, particularly when it appeared that incorrect names had been affixed to proxy entries in preparation for resettlement. Independents accused Verigin of tampering with the homestead entries of forty independent Doukhobors by not informing them of pending inspection of their lands.

A detailed inspection of all Doukhobor lands would help to clarify existing irregularities and also soothe public opinion. In the light of changing demographic situation in Saskatchewan, such a measure was justifiable. Doukhobor holdings, by 1904, could be considered old lands in the heart of settlement, as the recently-constructed Canadian Northern railway line through Canora to Langham brought more settlers and lands speculators in the vicinity of the Doukhobor lands. A barrage of letters to the Lands Branch indicated that many potential homesteaders were eagerly watching Doukhobor lands, prepared to file claims for inspection on lands not being cleared.

Sample household entry from the special investigation of Doukhobor lands, 1905.

Two special investigations of Doukhobor lands came in the summer and fall of 1905, preparing the way for the Commission a year later. The first was made “to see that no member of the community was intimidated or suffering in any way from any hardship from the fact that he may have decided to secede from the community and establish himself along independent lines.” A team of homestead inspectors, including J. Seale, D.C. McNab, J.B. White and J.S. Gibson, spent several weeks touring the Doukhobor villages and recording cultivated acres, eligible homesteads and economic assets. What conclusions did these investigators reach? Doukhobor industry aside, Speers’ report stated:

The individual homesteader has never been impressed with his rights as a settler [or] his independence as an individual. Peter Verigin and the Community have controlled all earnings, all revenues, all incomes from all sources and this ruling has been considered absolute. I would recommend that the individual homesteader be impressed with his own independence and also his individual rights, and that some kind of receipt or the interim homestead receipt be given to him personally.

They also found too many entrants for the size of the community, too many lands reserved for minors and over one hundred irregularities in the age category of homesteaders. Although they could not take issue with the number of acres cultivated per communal entrant, as the community Doukhobors had cultivated more than the required fifteen acres per entrant, the inspectors were quick to point out that the independent sector had cultivated even more. The Independents were “…the very best material out of which to make citizens superior to most of the foreigners finding homes in our land in intelligence, industry, aspirations and work accomplished.” More importantly, the independent Doukhobors were “…rapidly absorbing Canadian sentiments and dropping notions peculiar to them.”

The McDougall Commission, that was to bring the Doukhobor land issue to its final conclusion, set about its work in the summer of 1906 in a brisk and efficient manner, informing Doukhobors that the “government was re-arranging its own lands.” Its first itinerary covered 1,200 miles, beginning in the Good Spirit area, then moving in a northwest direction to Buchanan, eastward to Canora, Verigin and Pelly, on to Swan River and finally, to the far western stretches of the Langham and Prince Albert lands. Its purpose was to record economic assets, inspect cultivation, take census, record homestead entrants and their whereabouts. Ideologically, the Commission was “…to discuss with the Doukhobors present their experience with and attitude towards this country, the Government and things in general.”

The Doukhobors greeted the Commission with traditional, kind hospitality, and gave no indication of ill feeling toward McDougall. In the fall of 1906 Verigin met with the Minster of the Interior to discuss the cancellation of minors’ homesteads and to try to obtain lands for communal Doukhobors from Prince Albert who wished to move to eastern lands. He also needed a letter of recommendation from Oliver for his coming trip to Russia, one purpose of which was to try to secure Russian workers for the building of western Canadian railways. There is no record that the work of the McDougall Commission was even discussed at that time.

The first official report of the McDougall Commission of 25 November 1906 traced the root of all Doukhobor difficulties to their “abject communism” which resulted in “extreme passivity and lethargy.” It blamed Verigin’s one-man leadership and an economic system that kept superstitious and illiterate followers in isolated villages. While McDougall had to admit that communal entrants had cultivated an average of 21.8 acres, he complained that their fields were not symmetrical and that they had cleared the easiest land. McDougall concluded that Doukhobor homesteads, still Crown property, should be subject to stringent homesteading rules regarding cultivation and residence. Obtaining patent for any bona fide homesteads would have to be based on ordinary conditions as he considered “…these people are even as others and subject to the same law.” He made no allowance for Sifton’s letter of concession regarding communal cultivation. Doukhobors not complying fully with existing homestead legislation were to have their homesteads cancelled. They would have an opportunity to re-enter for lands in the regular way. However, any Doukhobor not proceeding towards naturalization or compliance with the definition of the “vicinity of residence” would have to be resettled on new reservation containing seventeen to twenty acres of land per capita.

Broadside concerning the Doukhobor reserve, 1907.  Library and Archives Canada, e000009389.

McDougall returned to the Doukhobor villages in 1907 as the Commissioner of Investigation and Adjuster of Land Claims for Doukhobor lands. His first itinerary that year cancelled a total of 2,503 Doukhobor claims. It left 136 entries intact. His second itinerary, to establish reentries for lands, brought a meagre 384 Doukhobor entries, largely made by those who had opted for independence before McDougall’s work. A communal population of 8,175 had opted for relocation on the new reserves.

How had the majority of the Doukhobors arrived at their final decision regarding the land? Independently, it seemed, for Peter Verigin was abroad in Russia exploring the possibility of the Doukhobors’ return when McDougall first made his rounds. Bulgaria appeared to be another possibility for them or the fruit-growing regions of Canada, which proved their ultimate destination.

Verigin returned to Canada in February 1907. He was strangely silent about the land issue. Perhaps any strong vocal ruling at that time might have been sure evidence of the very “dictatorship” that the Commission was trying to eliminate. It is also possible that he was aware that the resolution of the Doukhobor claims by dismantling the village system was a foregone conclusion.

In the final run, it was the naturalization issue, more than that of cultivation of residence, that met with the most Doukhobor opposition.

It was always the same case that your Commission thus met. They could not, they would not naturalize. In vain we told them that our Government had promised them exemption from military service, that Quakers and others had lived for many years in Canada and had never been called on to give military service. They insisted that if they naturalized and became citizens then they would be compelled to go to war. This they would not do, as some told us [they] “would die first.” When we continued to reason with them they repeatedly told us “we do not want to own the land — all we want is to be permitted to make a living therein.”

And this was the invariable answer of the leaders and representative men of these strange people on the question of land ownership, dependent as it is upon naturalization.

Verigin’s reaction regarding the oath was simply, “whether you will take the oath or not, every man must act according to his conscience, but what must be first in our lives is reliance on the will of God in order to live within His law.” A meeting of village elders in the village of Terpennie in May 1907 proposed that fifty men could take the oath and the lands could be saved, much as homestead entry had been made by a three-man committee. Verigin addressed them:

Brothers and sisters, for myself I speak thus: if we take the oath even by having some elderly ones take it, even by this we would separate ourselves from Christ’s teaching of two thousand years. But you must see for yourselves.

The Doukhobor lands were opened immediately to settlers, facing such strong demand that only one township a day was released in each Dominion land office. The Lands Branch reported that it was delighted with the class of men receiving lands, who, even in entry, exhibited such will power, endurance and obedience to all rules. The land office staffs provided another perspective, as windows were smashed by those in line for lands and firehouses were turned on crowds. In many cases, land speculators catalyzed much of the action. Royal North-West Mounted Police inspector. Christen Junget, confessed that holding the mobs back was a nightmarish task:

I have never experienced a meaner job that this. Only the small percentage of those struggling for positions who get in are satisfied and pleased, the rest feel hurt and do not hesitate to trump up charges of any description against the police. This makes the work extremely difficult and discouraging.

A new reserve consisting of 766 quarter-sections in total was established for the communal Doukhobors. No claims for improvements were made relating to the lands lost in 1907, an estimated $682,000 worth of cultivation, clearing and crops. Yet, new entrants were required to pay the Lands Branch for improvements that had been made on the property they acquired.

Homesteaders seeking Doukhobor lands, 1907.  Library and Archives Canada, C-025694.

The Doukhobor reserve created in 1907 lasted only a decade. As the last of the communal Doukhobors left for British Columbia, the Doukhobor homesteading era closed.

Much has happened since the Doukhobors had turned their first furrow in 1899. Eastern and western land-use systems clashed. In an empty prairie, there was room for compromise. As the West filled, mir and homestead systems found themselves in full conflict, especially when public opinion was so adversely fixed on the village system that was the foundation of Verigin’s rule.

The Doukhobor homestead crisis said much about the settlers Canada had accepted in 1898-1899. They were a complex people and subject to differences among themselves. The land question mirrored the emergency of three different Doukhobor ideals regarding landowning: the Community believed the land could be for its use but not for personal ownership; the Independents saw no conflict between being private farmers, Canadians and Doukhobors; and the Freedomites or Zealots, a small but ever-present group by 1907, would not consent to use the land, let alone to own it.

The land issue also said a great deal about the workings and misworkings of the Department of the Interior as well. In the context of the broader demographic scene, the McDougall Commission’s recommendations and actions were probably inevitable. The government could simply not afford to offer concessions to one group of settlers while others waited eagerly for lands.

In the broader light, it must be admitted that homestead regulations were enforced to the letter for all by 1906. Proxy entry was eliminated. 15,000 entries that had been granted prior to June 1902 and for which patent had not been obtained, were inspected and cleared. Seven inspectors were employed in Saskatchewan to investigate irregularities regarding railway lands and to pressure railway companies to complete their selections. Maps showing available quarters were revised and posted daily.

Numerous mistakes and miscommunications by Lands Branch officials clearly added fuel to the land issue. Local land agent, Herbert Archer, of Swan River was horrified by the mistakes made by the Department of the Interior in connection with the Doukhobor lands, particularly the even-odd controversy over the early reserve, stating: “…if such a very serious blunder has been made by the Interior, the effect will be very bad.”

Many questions remain unanswered. Why was the list of Doukhobor homesteaders compiled in 1900 never filed? Why were the Doukhobors’ special farming conditions never recognized on paper? Their proxy homestead entries were made in the standard way, using ordinary forms, even though local land agents inquired whether the Lands Branch would issue special forms to reflect the Doukhobors’ special farming conditions. Later, Lands Branch officials wrote: “… they made entry on the ordinary forms, and these forms were accepted, and their entries stood in the book against lands subject to the ordinary homestead conditions.”

Doukhobor land rush in Yorkton, 1907. Library and Archives Canada, PA-022232.

The prairie “Doukhobor issue” had been resolved to the satisfaction of the Canadian public. A measure had been meted – not of quarter-sections and acres cleared – but of the extent to which Canada would or could allow its landholding system and social value to be challenged by “ethnic peculiarities.” From the Doukhobor perspective, the land issue confirmed their attitude toward the state: as brief sojourners in a temporal land, they would continue to seek the kingdom of God within and prepare for whatever adversities might lie ahead.

For More Information

For a detailed, in-depth scholarly analysis of the Doukhobor homestead crisis, see the Master of Arts thesis, The Doukhobor Homestead Crisis, 1898-1907completed by Kathlyn (Katya) Szalasznyj at the University of Saskatchewan in 1977. It provides an overview of events using the Land Records of the Department of the Interior in Ottawa and other key sources, tracing pre-immigration negotations, the granting of a Doukhobor reserve of lands for entry and the complexities of communal settlement at a time of increasing prairie land hunger and growing adverse public opinion. From the effects of the arrival of Peter V. Verigin, to the work (and blunders!) of individual land agents and including such factors as the emergence of the Sons of Freedom, this thesis is an in-depth look at Doukhobor prairie life prior to the establishment of the McDougall Commission of 1907, which resulted in the cancellation of homestead entries and Doukhobor movement to British Columbia.

Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held in Otradnoe Village, October 13, 1912

Manitoba Free Press

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was governed by general meetings that were held each year to receive the annual report and financial statement prepared by the representative committee and to vote on various matters of policy and practice brought before them. These gatherings were typically attended by two delegates from each village, the administrators in charge of community affairs and the leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin. The following is a rare extant report of the general meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Otradnoe village, Saskatchewan, on October 13, 1912, published as “A Letter to Christ’s Community from Peter Verigin” in the Manitoba Free Press, December 5, 1912. It provides remarkable insight into the administrative matters of the day, including the fall harvest, the marketing of grain through Community elevators, the British Columbia resettlement, the exchange of goods between Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and the transfer of Community property into the leader’s name.

Glory to the Lord

Dear Brothers and Sisters: – I am advising you, that on the thirteenth day of October, in Village Otradnoe, a Meeting was held; one man and one woman from each village attending.

FIRST- The Meeting was opened by repeating “The Lord’s Prayer.” The main purpose of this Meeting was to bring thanks to the Lord, for all successful life of the Doukhobors’ Community and especially for the abundant crop this year. The seeding of grain was late and in view of plenty of rain, during the summer, there was a possibility of the grain becoming frosted. In the summer the Meeting consisted of Doukhobors, all those who could come to Village Otradnoe, bringing a general prayer to the Father of the Universe, in regard to the conservation of the crop, from the frost. Now the Lord manifestly created miracles by the prayers of Christ’s Community and up until the fifteenth day of September there was no frost, and all the crop was saved. Whereas, usually in Saskatchewan, the first frost arrives somewhere about the twenty-third, twenty-fifth or twenty-eighth of August. We bring hearty thanks to our Heavenly Father for His donation to us and manifold kindnesses. Glory and Glory to Lord and God.

SECOND – The Meeting decided that all grain must be sold through our Community Office. Also that all outside earned money should, as soon as possible, be delivered to the office, this to be devoted to the payments on land in British Columbia and other expenses in emigration to British Columbia.

THIRD – The Meeting decided that all the oxen from the villages be sold and horses used instead, these horses to be taken from the Community Ranch. It was further decided that, in the Fall all the young horses should be taken from the Ranch to the villages to be broken, and although they are only young, by the Spring they would be ready to use with the plow on stubble, and also with harrow.

FOURTH – The horses belonging to the British Columbia people, and which were left in Saskatchewan, were distributed through the different villages for working purposes in these villages, and must be figured in the share of this year’s crop. For the horses’ service, the British Columbia people should receive in this regard, one-third of a share of the crop.

FIFTH – The Meeting decided to inform all our people of the Thunderhill Branch Villages, that are called the North Colony, that no seeding of the crop on their land should be done by them this coming Spring, for next Summer they will all be removed to British Columbia. However, the land of the South Colony should be once more seeded and the crop taken off. In the Spring all the horses of the North Colony branch should be brought to the South Colony branch to help in the work.

SIXTH – A Report was submitted, that our British Columbia people had this year received an abundant crop of all things: vegetables, hay, grain and fruits. This had aroused the envy of strangers, and complaints would arise that the Doukhobors were not bringing any advantages to the surrounding settlers, and information has been given, that the Doukhobors are not fulfilling the Canadian Laws.

In order to make an enquiry the British Columbia Government sent their Commissioner, who found that it was very clear that the Doukhobors did not desire to have their children taught in schools, for the schools, as a. rule, teach children to be warlike; second they learn swindling, that is usufruct, by the labour of strangers in life; and third bringing up children to disrespect their parents. The Doukhobor Society in British Columbia sent a letter to the Minister of the Interior at Ottawa; copies of this letter will be sent through the villages, in the near future.

By Christ’s teachings the children must be enlightened by the Word of God. Christ said “I have placed God’s Law in your hearts, Go and preach the gospel by word, to all people.”

SEVENTH – The Meeting decided that the surplus wheat of this year’s crop in Saskatchewan must not be sold but retained for British Columbia requirements; this wheat would be purchased from the villages.

EIGHTH – A carload of apples was shipped from the Doukhobor Society in British Columbia, as a gift to all Brothers and Sisters in Saskatchewan. All Brothers and Sisters must come to Verigin, while the weather is warm, and received the correct share of these apples. When you come for the apples you must bring a statement of the persons living in your village. For each nursing child one-half share would be given.

NINTH – The Meeting decided that all Community property, land and etc., the right of which according to the Canadian laws, must be entered in writing, should be transferred to the name of Peter V. Verigin, as representative of Christ’s Community and Trustee for Doukhobor Society in Canada.

We must give thanks, Brothers and Sisters, and bow to the ground, to the Lord and God, for all His grace and kindness to us.

Your brother in Christ,



The Community was formally a democracy in which the general meeting was the supreme governance authority. However, in practice, while Peter “Lordly” Verigin’s formal powers were small, his real influence was immense. This was due, not only to his position as hereditary leader, but to his powerful personality, superior education and intellectual prowess. Resolutions at the annual general meetings never went contrary to his advice, and during the twelve months that elapsed between meetings, he and his advisors acted as an executive with sweeping powers to make almost any decision on behalf of the Community.

Note that unlike several published reports of general meetings of the Doukhobor Community, the 1912 report does not include a financial statement.

For more information on the general meetings and accounts of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, see the 1904 Report1906 Report and the 1910 Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community.

Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Verigin, Sask, January 25, 1910

Manitoba Free Press

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was governed by general meetings that were held early each year to receive the annual report and financial statement prepared by the representative committee and to vote on various matters of policy and practice brought before them. These gatherings were typically attended by two delegates – one woman and one man – from each village, the administrators in charge of community affairs and the leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin. The following is a rare extant report of the general meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Verigin, Saskatchewan, on January 25, 1910, as published in the Manitoba Morning Free Press, March 1, 1910. The minutes provide remarkable insight into the administrative matters of the day, including the universal meaning of Christ’s teaching, the immigration to British Columbia, the election of community managers, grain for people, livestock, seed and milling, capital debts and expenditures, and more. In addition, the general account leaves no doubt of the extent of the material achievements of the Community under Verigin’s leadership at this time.

There were present one-man delegate and one-woman from each village, also some honorary members. The number of people attending was about fifty men and fifty women.

The meeting was opened by each person reading a Psalm, and all joining in the singing of the hymn, “Glory to God”, and by common expressions of hearty gratitude to God for the success of present life.

After this there was long and serious conversation in regard to the universal meaning of Christ’s teaching. It was clearly explained from the conversations that Christ in His teachings gave us to understand that God is a universal God. So there were some examples taken from the life of people before Christ’s time. People at that time understood Divinity as a destructive force, taking for instance the worshipping of thunder, winds, fire and other elements. People of such belief often themselves committed actions of destructions. Wars and ether illegal actions were allowed.

Christ clearly explained to us that the most superior force, by which the universe is ruled, is the force of good and people wishing to worship this good force must first themselves be good. By doing so one would become nearer and adapt himself to the good force of the universe what is called “God”. The winds and thunder are temporary occurrences, but the world is guarded by this force of Good.

After that, various questions of economy were presented to the meeting for consideration.

  1. It was stated to the meeting that this year was closed by the payment of all debts in full, the funds for which came from outside works and the sale of grain.
  2. The delegates from each village presented a report of the quantity of wheat, oats, barley, flax, peas, etc remaining.
  3. It was decided by all present that from this date until the arrival of new crops, six bushels of wheat be retained for the personal use of each person, and that in the spring one bushel of wheat and one bushel of barley be sown for each individual: the remainder of the land to be sown in oats. Flax and peas can be sown in accordance with the desire of each village. The majority of the members of the meeting expressed their wish that each village should keep on sowing flax and peas, and, to keep feed for the stock, one hundred bushels of oats for each team of horses and fifty bushels of barley for each yoke of oxen.
  4. It was decided that by the 15th of February each village must have the grain for people, seed grain, grain for horses and oxen separated. The seed grain must be carefully cleaned and stored in good granaries, and all balance of grain in each village, after 15th February will be hauled to railroad points for sale. As per the reports the community has at present, the grain for sale will amount to seventy five thousand dollars. Shipments of grain will be made as heretofore, through the community offices. All moneys received from the sale of grain will be deposited with the Home Bank of Canada at Winnipeg and withdrawn when required.
  5. All merchandise will be purchased, as before, through the community office at Verigin and those villages, which have credit accounts, will receive goods to the value of same. All villages having a credit account, are willing that goods be bought for villages which have none. And in view of this it was decided at this meeting that no person should purchase goods individually.
  6. An inventory of all property belonging to the community beyond the village outfits was made and is attached to general accounts.
  7. The community has in all villages about four hundred teams of working horses, valued at $350.00 per team, which amounts to one hundred and forty thousand dollars, five hundred yokes of oxen, valued at $100.00 per yoke, amounts to fifty thousand dollars, five hundred milk cows, valued at $35.00 each, amounts to seventeen thousand and five thousand dollars. Besides that there are full outfits for horses and oxen as: harness, farm implements, wagons, sleighs, etc. All affairs of the community consisting of 42 villages are in good shape.
  8. The community accounts for 1909 were presented by V. A. Potapoff, S. Reibin and M. W. Cazakoff. Accounts were found correct in every respect and approved by all present. The copy is attached here within.
  9. Vasil Potapoff and Simeon Reibin requested the meeting to allow them to resign their positions. Their resignations were very reluctantly accepted, and the meeting tendered them a hearty vote of thanks in acknowledgement of their services in the interest of the community in the past.
  10. It was decided to proceed with the election of managers of the community affairs. The following were elected for 1914 for purchasing goods and implements and distributing same to villages: Nicholas Fofonoff, of village Vernoe, Vasil Hleboff of village Lubovnoe, John Podovinikoff, who was in office at Verigin before, Alex Reibin, of village Vosnisennie, Pard Potakoff, of village Bogomdannoe, M. W. Cazakoff was re-elected as a manager of office and ministerial affairs.
  11. As the community had good heavy crops and fall success in life during the year 1909, it was decided by all those present to send no men on outside work this coming summer, but instead to increase cultivation acreage at home.
  12. It was decided by this meeting to deliver to Verigin flour mill all wheat in excess of amount reserved for the purpose of grinding and selling the flour. Prices on wheat were set as follows: For highest-grade 85¢ per bushel, and for second grade 80¢ per bushel. The villages situated at the north colony will receive for long hauling 10¢ per bushel extra, and villages Tambovkia, Trudohubivoe, Vossianie, and Petrovo and Voskresinie 5¢ per bushel extra.
  13. The question was raised before the meeting regard to the immigration to British Columbia. It was definitely shown that in Saskatchewan where the Doukhobors live at present, in consequences of wide prairies lying a considerable distance from the sea, the climate in winter is very dry and cold, the temperature is often over 30 degrees Reaumur, and therefore some sickness prevails, such as bad coughs and rheumatism. Immigration to British Columbia was decided as most necessary.

A particular report of the British Columbia climate was submitted by Peter V. Verigin and by Nicholas Ziboroff, delegates from British Columbia. The first party of community Doukhobors immigrated to British Columbia for the purpose of starting works, and has been living there for two years. They have found the climate exceedingly mild in winter: temperatures not being over 15 degrees Reaumur. This occurs about ten times during all the winter, but generally, the temperature is 3, 5 and 7 degrees below zero Reaumur, and sometimes 2, 3 and 7 degrees above zero Reaumur.

In consequence of the mountains, the water for drinking is very pure, and the air also very clear and healthy. The reporter, Peter Verigin, is under the impression that the air and waters are similar to those in Switzerland in nature, and even much more healthy. Therefore, with the view to become healthier, immigration to British Columbia has been decided on possibly sooner than intended.

In British Columbia it is possible to grow fruits of nearly all kinds: apples, pears, plums, cherries, etc. Small. fruits and vegetables are grown wonderfully good. The community has already bought about ten thousand acres of fruit lands. There is splendid timber on it for building purposes.

Toward the close of the meeting there were several conversations in regard to the necessity of the moral enlightenment of the Doukhobors as a Christian Community of the Universal Brotherhood. As already stated, God is universally good, and consequently his followers also must be good, which is their superior degree of nobleness and enlightenment. Such followers of spiritual necessity must not be blood-thirsty, and therefore their food must not be slaughterous. A person whose object is to be pure in spirit, must also be anxious about cleanliness of his body, as for instance, all houses as far as possible clean, especially in living rooms the air always must be as like as possible to the outside air, which is given by the Lord for the nourishing of all people and animal. We deem necessary the water in every village must be kept in clean wells. It is also necessary that every well must be laid round inside with stones or brick, and good pumps installed.

The meeting continued four days. It was open every day for eight hours.

With sincere wishes for every success from the Lord in their future life and with greeting to all brothers and sisters in every village, the meeting was brought to a close.

S. Reibin,
Ex-Secretary to Doukhobor Community.
Free Press, Winnipeg, March 1, 1910.

Inventory of Property Under Direct Control of Community Committee (Exclusive of Village Outfits). 
The building at Verigin station and 3 acres of land


The brickyard at Verigin and 10 acres of land


Flour and oatmeal mill at Verigin and 10 acres of land


The property at farm, including one section of land


The property at Canora, including one farm of land


The brickyard at Yorkton (brick is not included)


The land and cement enterprise at Yorkton


The land and buildings at Benito, Man.


The land at Swan River, Man.


Movable property at farm


The land, 7,410 acres, paid in full at $8.50 per acre


Twelve outfits, engines and threshing machines




Above property paid in full.
Besides that there are 13,520 acres of land purchased (British Columbia land included) which amount to $347,215.00.  Deposit paid up.


Grand Total


Statement of Future Debts
Land in Saskatchewan, payments till the year 1917


Machinery etc. in Winnipeg


Land in British Columbia, payments till the year 1914




An Account of Income and Expenditure of the Doukhobor Community in Canada for 1909
Income –
Loan from the Home Bank of Canada. Winnipeg (British Columbia excepted)


To cash received from J. Podovinnikoff of Yorkton


To cash received from village Bogdanovka for horses


To cash received from P. Labintzeff for grinding flour


To cash received for old lumber mill


To cash received from some villages for sale of cattle


To cash received from V. Golooboff, the engineer


To cash received from Jacob Iwashin for land


To cash received from K. Novokshonoff for land


To cash for sold hospital at Yorkton (last payment)


To cash received from V. Pepin




Expenditures –
By payment of old loan and interest to B.B.N.A.


By payment of old debts for brickyard at Yorkton


By payment of an old debt for elevator at Verigin


By payment of M.W. Cazakoff account


By payment of an old debt to Quakers in England


By payment on land for 1909


By payment of taxes on land for 1909


By payment of Kamenka village debts to stores


By payment of accounts with Prince Albert colony


By payment to carpenters at Wurtz’s farm


By payment of an old debt for farm of WUrtz


By payment for 500 bushels of seed oats


To purchase of live bee hives for Otradnoe village


By payment of transportation and travelling expenses, 1908


By payment of transportation and travelling expenses, 1909


To purchase of railway ticket for T. Litoshenko to Russia


By payment of an old debt for brickyard at North Colony


By payment of an old debt for lumber mills


By payment of engineer’s account for certificates


By payment of purchase for mills (stones, etc.)


To purchase of threshing outfits, deposit paid


By payment of Simeonovo village account for lime


By payment to barristers


BY payment of balance for mill at Verigin


By payments to John Nimanikin


To office expense, stationery, telegrams, postage stamps, etc.


By payment of loan to H.B. of C., Winnipeg (B.C. excepted)


To interest on above amount for nearly 8 months


By payment to V. Pepin for his expenses




Total expenditures


Total Income


Adverse balance


Above adverse balance $68,791.93 was paid from other sources, as follows:
1. Villages deposited moneys of grain sale


2. By loan of British Columbia accounts, 1908


3. By moneys from store remains as a profit




An account of Community stores at Verigin and Benito of the inventory and net profit from commercial operation, showing how income is distributed:
To cash paid for Community debts, as shown above


To cash handed over to M.W. Cazakoff


To cash paid for the debts of Canora store


To goods on hand at Benito store


To goods on hand at Verigin store


To cash paid for buildings at Verigin


To value of telephone line 57 miles long


To cash paid for the buildings at Canora


To accounts unpaid by villages




Besides accounts of Doukhobor Community as shown above, there were incomes and expenditures of villages which amount to over $200,000 for 1909. All the villages except a few have paid their debts in full. Many villages have deposited large sums of money to be kept in their credit.


The Community was formally a democracy in which the general meeting was the supreme governance authority. However, in practice, while Peter “Lordly” Verigin’s formal powers were small, his real influence was immense. This was due, not only to his position as hereditary leader, but to his powerful personality, superior education and intellectual prowess. Resolutions at the annual general meetings never went contrary to his advice, and during the twelve months that elapsed between meetings, he and his advisors acted as an executive with sweeping powers to make almost any decision on behalf of the Community.

The general account reveals the dual financial structure within the Community, consisting of the central office and treasury and the villages. All village income, sales and other general transactions were dispatched through the central office. At the same time, assets were held by the Community as a whole as well as by the villages. The general account, however, only identifies property under the direct control of the Community and not that held by the villages, giving an incomplete idea of the overall value of Community property.

In 1909, the income of the Community as a business concern amounted to $18,088.59 and its expenditures amounted to $86,880.52, not counting the incomes and expenditures of villages which amounted to over $200,000.00. This balance reflects the daring deficit financing which Verigin was undertaking, whereby, a planned excess of expenditure over income created a shortfall of Community revenue which was met by borrowing. The decision to create a deficit was made to build up the infrastructure of the Community as a self-contained entity through great investments in machinery and industrial plants.

The general account gives an incomplete idea of the overall productiveness of the Community, which, numbering over eight thousand people, was largely self-supporting. Many tens of thousands of tonnes of wheat were grown and ground into flour, vegetables grown for food, flax and wool produced, spun and woven for clothing, dairy products produced from the communal herd of cattle, and many buildings, equipment and household goods manufactured, all for internal use by the Community. None of this directly involved income or expenditure, assets or liabilities, and therefore, was not included in the general account.

Finally, in reviewing the general account it must be recalled that only ten years prior, the Doukhobors had arrived in Canada with no capital but strong hearts and willing hands, none having even the faintest knowledge of the English language, Canadian law, or modern methods of business and agriculture. The rapid material achievements of the Community over such a brief period, owing in no small part to the leadership of Peter “Lordly” Verigin is nothing short of a sociological and economic wonder.

For more information on the general meetings and accounts of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, see the 1904 Report1906 Report and the 1912 Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community.

Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held in Nadezhda Village, February 15, 1906

Manitoba Morning Free Press

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was governed by general meetings that were held early each year to receive the annual report and financial statement prepared by the representative committee and to vote on various matters of policy and practice brought before them. These gatherings were typically attended by two delegates from each village, the administrators in charge of community affairs and the leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin. The following is a rare extant report of the general meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan, on February 16, 1906, as published in the Manitoba Morning Free Press, Wednesday, April 25, 1906. The minutes provide extraordinary insight into the administrative matters of the day, including the role of women in the Community and their participation in general meetings, immigration assistance to the Yakutsk exiles, the leader’s interpretation of a Doukhobor psalm, the treatment of animals, need for a hospital, and capital expenditures. In addition, the general account leaves no doubt of the extent of the material achievements of the Community under Verigin’s leadership at this time.

The number of people attending from the 44 villages (two men delegates and one woman from each village) was 132.  Besides these there were present those in charge of various Doukhobor affairs: Nicholas Zibaroff, V. A. Potapoff, Ivan Podovinnikoff, Paul Planidin, Fedor Soukhocheff, Evan Verigin, Evan Konkin, English translator Simeon Reibin, and, as representative of the Doukhobor Social-Religious society, Peter Veigin. Total present, 141. The meeting started at 10 a.m.

  1. The meeting was opened by the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father,” by Anastasia V. Popova, delegate from Otradnoe village.
  2. Peter Vasiilivitch Verigin remarked that the meeting place (one of the village houses) was very small for so large a number of people as 141, and that the Doukhobors in the three years they lived in community should have been able to erect a larger building for meetings. All present agreed to this.
  3. Peter Verigin also expressed himself that the attendance of women at these meetings was very remarkable for our time; as all cultured people now commenced to feel that women must be equal partners with men in all their life, and probably the Doukhobors were the first to invite women to attend such a meeting, which reflected honor to the men. Peter Verigin then spoke in turn to the women, saying that women should with gratitude accept such invitation, and in future with full feeling of equal power, start on the same footing as men in our common life. The women were very satisfied and thankful.
  4. The community accounts for 1905 were then rendered, being read by Simeon Reibin. Explanations were made by those in charge of the buying of goods and implements: Nicholas Zibaroff and V.A. Potapoff, and questions having been asked by some delegates, the accounts were passed by the meeting as correct and very satisfactory.
  5. Evan E. Konkin gave an account of his expenditure while assisting the immigration of the Yakoutsk brethren. The rumour that Konkin had been spending money without keeping account during this journey was found incorrect, as he gave very particular account of income and expenditure regarding every man separately. His personal expenditure was not specially large. His account is included in the generally account for 1905.
  6. The general account having been accepted as satisfactory by the meeting, it was decided to proceed with the election of managers of community affairs for 1906. The meeting rendered its thanks to those in charge for the past year, and asked them to continue for another year, they being fully acquainted with all affairs. The following were elected for 1906.
    For purchasing goods and implements: Nicholas Zibaroff and V.A. Potapoff, re-elected and Vasil Sherstobitoff and Dimitry Gritchin in addition.
    To superintend village horses, and, if necessary to buy more: Paul Planidin and Fedor Sookhocheff, re-elected, and Simeon Negraeff and Peter Chernoff in addition. Simeon Reibin was re-elected as English correspondent and Evan Konkin was appointed assistant Russian correspondent.
  7. It was suggested to make an inventory of all property belonging to the community beyond the village outfits, viz., engines, separators, sawmills, etc., and this was then made and attached to the general accounts.
  8. Altogether, in three years’ time of community life the purchases amounted to six hundred thousand ($600,000) dollars (for 1905 about $240,000; 1904, $160,000; 1903, $200,000), and as all goods have been bought as far as possible at first hand from wholesale houses, there has been a saving of at least one hundred and fifty thousand ($150,000) dollars, for instance: Prices – enamelled saucepans costing in local towns $1 each, were bought from factory warehouses for 60c; binders, $165 for $115; cloth, 90c per yard, for 60c; Prints, 12c for 8c; Axes (Best) $1.25 for 85c; Denims, 25c for 18c; Black Drill 20c for 13c; Horses which cost were $150.00 each were bought in a large bunch of 300 heads in 1903 for $75.00 each. Deducting freight of goods and expenses of buyers there remains a net profit of 25 percent.
    At 6 p.m. the meeting was declared closed. At 1 p.m., there was an interval of 1, 1-2 hours for dinner and during the day the meeting adjourned twice to change the air of the house, singing hymns meanwhile.
  9. February 16th. All delegates met at 9 a.m., the meeting was opened with prayer of psalm, “Being born young youth from holy Clouds” . . .  Peter V. Verigin explained the meaning of this psalm for our life: “We the Doukhobors as young children accepted the Covenant from the holy Clouds, by which we should understand from holy, enlightened men who renewed the life of humanity from the time of Christ up to our own days. We must look back on the past with feelings of thankfulness as on the commencement of our life and in future more and more to strengthen and attain, passing from the age of youth to more consciously wide existence.” Referring to olden times, before Christ, Peter Verigin refused to examine or estimate the holiness of people in the sense of real truth and enlightenment, he took as an example from the Bible the life of Samson. Notwithstanding that Samson was very strong physically, once tearing the mouth of a lion, he was not ashamed to kill 30 men, whose clothing he brought as a payment to the parents of the girl he intended to marry. In conclusion Peter Verigin said that if they want examples there are sufficient holy enlightened men of newest time starting from Christ, and especially it is necessary for each man to be controlled in his life by his own conscience.
  10. The whole meeting expressed a desire that for future understanding, the meaning of community life should be more clearly defined as: – 1. Spiritual fellowship and meakness between men in which people are understanding great gentleness and (2) Material profit.
  11. The question was raised, How should we treat animals? It was decided by the whole meeting that as we are not killing animals for food we should treat them as well as possible; as for instance: especially cows, should have nice light, dry quarters, work horses should not draw too heavy loads and in winter should not be taken out of the stables for heavy work if it be colder than 20 degrees Reaumur (-13 Fah’t) and generally work should not be done with horses during very severe frosts.
  12. Sieves have been fitted all Community Flour Mills; and the meeting unanimously decided that notwithstanding the heavy crop of 1905 the sieves should be arranged to take out not more bran than 1 in 10, so not to waste the wheat uselessly. All wheat for grinding must be perfectly clean and dry.
  13. The question of building large roller flour mills was brought up. The whole meeting agreed that it was necessary to build such mills, as at present each village had, from the crop of 1905 far more wheat than was needed for one year and it would be most profitable to grind surplus wheat into flour and sell it in that form. There will be a large profit in such operation as it is possible to sell flour for more than wheat. For such purpose it will be necessary in time to build on railway lines warehouses for flour. The meeting decided to build a flour mill near the railway at Verigin Station. It will be necessary to build with flour mill an oatmeal mill as well. The whole meeting agreed that this would be very desirable, as oatmeal will be very valuable as a food, especially with milk for children.
  14. It was decided to build a warehouse for flour at Yorkton during the coming summer.
  15. Peter V. Verigin brought forward the question as to whether it would be desirable to build a hospital, as he had noticed very many Doukhobors were going to the doctors in the local towns. Our own hospital would be more useful and satisfactory in every way. At this time a letter was read from Russia from Ivan and Olga Vasileva who offered their services to the Community, one as a teacher and the other as a nurse. By the desire of the majority the question as to a hospital was left undecided, the meeting agreeing that the delegates should speak of the matter in their villages and decide definitely later.
  16. It was unanimously decided to buy about 100 teams of horses, which will be necessary for executing the railway contract. Delegate Michael Androsoff from Village Novoe remarked that it would be wise to buy young horses, 3 to 4 years old, and put same in the villages, while heavy, strong horses are sent from the villages to the railway. The latter will bear heavy work better and the young <indecipherable>. The whole meeting was in agreement with this.
  17. It was decided that for the same railway contract must be bought as soon as possible oats, and also all tools such as scrapers, wheelbarrows, shovels, etc.
  18. In conclusion the men of the meeting referred to the women delegates, asking them to tell all the women in the villages to be imbued with the sentiment of high duty as mothers of manhood; to commence in future to ennoble man; as by nature itself women are much softer in character than men. They, men in daily life are moving amid ruder surroundings, doing hard work, hauling timber, and suffering from winter colds, and there is no wonder that the character is much ruder than that of women. It is very desirable that when men will return from their outdoor work, women should give them solace and good comfort in their homes.

A psalm was then sung “Protect us Lord and have mercy upon us,” and with sincere wishes for every success from the Lord in their future life and with greetings from all to all brothers and sisters in every village, the meeting was declared ended at 7 p.m.

Glory to God.

An account of Income and Expenditures of The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in Canada, for 1905:

Income from Villages


Part 1.


Village –


1 –   Otradnoe                                                                                                   


2 –   Smirenie                                                                                                   


3 –   Nadeshda                                                                                                 


4 –   Prakuratovo                                                                                             


5 –   Spaskoe                                                                                                   


6 –   Lubovnoe                                                                                                 


7 –   Efremovo and Trushdenie                                                                         


8 –   Voskresenie                                                                                             


9 –   Trudolubivoe                                                                                            


10 – Tambovskoe                                                                                            


11 – Vossianie                                                                                                  


12 – Petrovo                                                                                                    


13 – Vernoe                                                                                                     


14 – Blagodarnoe                                                                                             


15 – Terpenie                                                                                                   


16 – Rodionovo                                                                                               


17 – Sovetnoe                                                                                                  


18 – Besednoe                                                                                                 


19 – Novoe                                                                                                      


20 – Blagoveshenie                                                                                           


21 – Slavnoe                                                                                                    


22 – Kapoostino                                                                                              


23 – Osvobojdenie                                                                                           


24 – Lebedeva                                                                                                 


25 – Lubomirnoe                                                                                              


26 – Klebodarnoe                                                                                            


27 – Pakrovskoe                                                                                              


28 – Vosnosenie                                                                                               


29 – Vera                                                                                                         


30 – Simeonova                                                                                               


31 – Tichomirnoe                                                                                             


32 – Kamenka                                                                                                 


33 – Michaelovo                                                                                              


34 – Troetskoe                                                                                                 


35 – Oospenie                                                                                                  


36 – Bogom-Dannoe                                                                                        


37 – Pavlovo                                                                                                    


38 – Blagosklonnoe                                                                                          


39 – Kolmikovo                                                                                               


40 – Ooteshenie                                                                                               


41 – Razbegaylovo                                                                                           


42 – Moesaevo                                                                                                


43 – Kirilovo                                                                                                    


44 – Goreloe                                                                                                    




Income Common


Part No 2 –


1 –   Loan from Bank B.N.A. Yorkton                                                           


2 –   To cash received from Prince Albert brothers towards


         payment for land near village Vernoe                                                         $5,000.00


3 –   To sale of 13,771 lbs of 1904 senega root at 55 cts. per lb                        


4 –   To sale of 14,060 lbs of 1905 senega root at 50 cts. per lb                       


5 –   Balance in hand from last acct.                                                                  


6 –   To cash from threshing grain from V. Salikin                                                 


7 –   To cash from threshing grain from A.F. Reibin                                              


8 –   To cash from villages (1904 debts)                                                               


9 –   To cash for sleigh, sand, etc. sold in Yorkton by Evan Podovinnikoff            


10 – To cash from V.A. Potapoff, being net profit from store sales by him            


11 – To cash for gristing from Blagoveshenie village                                              


12 – To cash from Alexaevka village for needle work                                             


13 – To cash from Yakutsk brothers:


                     M. Arishenkoff, Vosnesenie                                                              


                     M. Novokshonoff, Blagoveshenie                                                      


                     P. Kinakin, Klebodarnoe                                                                 


                     T. Markin, Oospenie                                                                          


                     N. N. Sookhocheff, Razbegaylovo                                                    


                     F. Arishenkoff, Kamenka                                                                 






Part 1, Land –


1 –  By entry fees for land, being balance due on 1,372 homesteads


      at $5.00 (except some Devil’s Lake townships)                                           


2 –  By third payment on land purchased near village Vernoe                           


3 –  By deposit on one section of land near Slavnoe                                           


4 –  By deposit on 160 acres of H.B. Co land near village Pokrovka                     


5 –  By deposit on 160 acres of land near Vossianie village                                   


6 –  By purchase of land with building, sand pit and machine for


      making cement blocks at Yorkton                                                               


7 –  By balance on house in Yorkton                                                                    


8 –  By purchase on land at Swan River, Man.                                                      


9 –  By deposit on land in Canora                                                                           




Part 2, Horses and Oxen –


1 –  By interest on purchase price of horses bought in 1903                                  


2 –  By purchase of one horse for village Slavnoe                                                  


3 –  By purchase of horse by Simeon Kabatoff, village Spaskoe                            


4 –  By purchase of oxen for village Razbegaylovo                                                


5 –  By expense of Paul Planidin and Fedor Sookocheff when


      buying horses                                                                                                 




Part 3, Implements and Machinery –


1 –   By purchase of one 25 h.p. traction engine with separator


       from Gaar, Scott & Co.                                                                             


2 –   By purchase of one 25 h.p. engine (traction) with separator


       from American Abell Co.                                                                           


3 –   By purchase of one separator from American Abell Co.                                


4 –   By purchase of 3, 25 h.p. plowing engines, Reeves & Co.,


       at $2,410 each                                                                                          


5 –   By purchase of one 25 h.p. engine (plowing) with separator,


       from Reeves & Co.                                                                                   


6 –   By purchase of one 20 h.p. plowing Reeves engine with


       separator for Devil’s Lake Colony                                                             


7 –   By purchase of one 25 h.p. plowing Reeves engine with


       Separator for Devil’s Lake Colony                                                             


8 –   By purchase of 38 binders at $115 each                                                    


9 –   By purchase of 52 mowers at $41 each                                                     


10 – By purchase 30,000 lbs of Manilla twine at $12.30 per 100 lbs                 


11 – By purchase 50 sickles at $3.75 each                                                           


12 – Balance for 1904 on binders and mowers                                                  


13 – Balance for 1904 on drills, wagons, disc harrows, etc.                               


14 – Balance for 1904 for engines                                                                     


15 – By purchase 25 wagons at $51.50 each                                                    


16 – By purchase 25 drills at $74.50 each                                                         


17 – By purchase 20 disc harrows at $35.25                                                       


18 – By purchase 60 plows at $18.00 each                                                       


19 – By purchase 30 wagons at $52.50 each                                                    


20 – By purchase 40 sleighs, 20 at $22.00 and 20 at $25.00                                


21 – By purchase 7 gang plows, 4 shares at $133.00 each                                   


22 – By purchase one hay press                                                                           


23 – By difference to Gaar Scott for exchanging 18 h.p. portable


       engine for new 20 h.p. traction, freight on same                                             


24 – By purchase of one wind stacker for separator                                             


25 – By purchase of ten bellows for blacksmithing                                                


26 – By purchase of 4 gang plows (2 shares) at $37.00 each                                


27 – By purchase of shares and the repairs from Massey Harris Co.                     


28 – By purchase of shares and repairs from Fairchild Co.                                   


29 – By purchase of one buggy                                                                            


30 – By purchase of one old sleigh and buggy for E. Podovinnikoff                         


31 – By purchase of one spring wagon                                                                 


32 – By purchase of one dray for hauling goods from railway to store                   


33 – By purchase of one wagon in Yorkton                                                            


34 – By purchase of 47 pumps                                                                            


35 – By purchase of one fanning mill                                                                      


36 – By expense of setting up machinery and certificates for engines                       




Part 4, Dry goods, etc.


1 –   By payment for dry goods, including last year debts (exclusive


       of 1905 fall purchases)                                                                             


2 –   By purchase of wheat (spring 1905) for some villages                                


3 –   By garden seed                                                                                            


4 –   By purchase of stove, tops and chimney covers                                          


5 –   By purchase of harness and shoe leather                                                    


6 –   By purchase of hardware, crockery and tools, including last


       year debts (except 1905 fall purchases)                                                    


7 –   By purchase of sugar, tea, salt and other groceries                                     


8 –   <indecipherable> grease and oil for implements                                          


9 –   By purchase of glass for windows                                                              


10 – By purchase of soap                                                                                 


11 – By purchase of footwear for winter                                                           


12 – By purchases of wool and expenses of shepherd                                          


13 – By purchase of butter and tubs for same                                                    


14 – By purchase of flour in spring 1905                                                              


15 – By purchase of cement and cement block sundries in Yorkton                      


16 – By minor purchase in Yorkton and Swan River by all villages                     




Part 5. Sundries –


1 –   By travelling expense of Yakutsk brothers                                                  


2 –   By purchase of three railway tickets from Winnipeg to


       Rosthern at $3.00 and one to Yorkton at $2.80 by Simeon


       Reibin, for Yakutsk brethren                                                                           


3 –   By payment Mr. Selchuk for transportation to California                                


4 –   By payment Mr. Vladimir Titilman for transportation                                       


5 –   By repairs for engines, separators and all implements                                  


6 –   By permits for wood and brickyard freight                                                 


7 –   By stationary and postage for general purposes                                               


8 –   By payment to H.P. Archer for his needs                                                        


9 –   By travelling expense of community officials                                                  


10 – By transportation for workmen not repaid                                                    


11 – By sundry purchase for flour mills and bridge on the North Colony             


12 – By freight on goods purchased in Winnipeg, etc.                                        


13 – By payment of loan to B.B.N.A. Yorkton, principal                                 


14 – By 4 per cent, interest on same                                                                 


15 – By school taxes at Devil’s Lake                                                                   


16 – By school taxes at Fort Pelly                                                                        


17 – By road taxes North Colony                                                                     


18 – By road taxes at South Colony                                                                  


19 – By purchase lumber, etc for building at Verigin Station                                  


20 – By expense of building in Yorkton                                                                


21 – By expenses for bags and commissions on selling seenga root


       to W. Flemming, Brandon                                                                             


22 – By exchanging on cheques and remittance                                                      


23 – By purchase of drugs in Winnipeg                                                                  


24 – By purchase of one set of stones for flour mill, North Colony                          


25 – By expenses of carpenters in Yorkton by Evan Podovinnikoff                       


26 – The expense of Evan Podovinnikoff on himself and visitors                            


27 – By school fees in Yorkton for three boys                                                        


28 – By telegrams                                                                                                  


29 – By surgical and other expenses for people with sore eyes                              






Income, Part 1                                                                                              


Income, Part 2                                                                                                


Total Income                                                                                                


Expenditure, Part 1                                                                                         


Expenditure, Part 2                                                                                           


Expenditure, Part 3                                                                                         


Expenditure, Part 4                                                                                         


Expenditure, Part 5                                                          






Grand total Expenditure                                                                                


Grand total Income                                                                                       


Adverse Balance                                                                                            


The Summary of Debts –


1 –   Hardware                                                                                                 


2 –   Glass                                                                                                           


3 –  Groceries                                                                                                   


4 –   Soap                                                                                                         


5 –   Coal oil, axle grease, etc.                                                                           


6 –   Dry goods (spring 1905)                                                                           


7 –   Leather                                                                                                     


8 –   Implements                                                                                             


9 –   Engines                                                                                                   


10 – Iron goods                                                                                                


11 – Pumps                                                                                                         


12 – Unpaid loan to B.B.N.A.                                                                          


13 – To government for homesteads                                                                 




We are paying 5 per cent per annum on all overdue accounts.


Inventory of property under direct control of Community Committee (exclusive of village outfits)


1903 – Engines


                      3 portable, two 18 h.p., one 16 h.p. of Gaar Scott Co.                


                      2 tractions, 20 h.p. one of them much damaged G.S. Co.            


                      1 traction 22 h.p. Gaar Scott & Co.                                            


1904 – Engines


                     One 25 h.p. with very bad damage, of Reeves Co.                       


1905 – Engines


                      5 traction engines, 25 h.p., Reeves Co.                                     


                      1 traction engine, 20 h.p., Reeves Co.                                         


                      1 traction engine, 28 h.p., American Abell Co.                            


                      1 traction engine, 26 h.p., Gaar Scott Co.                                   


Six separators, bought 1903                                                                             


Five separators, bought 1905                                                                            


Four saw mills                                                                                                  


One planning mill                                                                                                 


One hay press                                                                                                     


One brick machine                                                                                               


The buildings at saw mills                                                                                  


The buildings at Verigin Station                                                                         


Six grist mills                                                                                                     


The land, not including Prince Albert colony interest                                         


Outfit in Yorkton, 27 acres of land, one machine for making cement


Blocks, house for keeping cement, house for sick people. For all this


has been paid cash                                                                                            




On the remained owing                                                                                   


Interest 5 per cent, per annum                                                                           






Aforementioned inventory nearly covers all owing


An account of income and expenditure of the Evan E. Konkin, while assisting in the immigration of Yakutsk brethren:




To cash received from Simeon Reibin in Yorkton                                                 


To cash received from Simeon Reibin through bank at Moscow                            


To cash received from Peter V. Verigin through the Moscow bank


care of Mr. Doonaeff                                                                                      






Part 1 –


By purchase of ticket from Yorkton to London, England                                         


By ticket from London to Christchurch and return                                                     


By ticket from London to Moscow                                                                        


By ticket from Moscow to Yasnoe Polano and return                                               


By ticket from Moscow to St. Petersburg and return, with travelling




By ticket from Moscow to Irkutsk, Siberia, by railway                                           


By travelling expenses from Irkutsk till met brethren, and return


(on wagon)                                                                                                              


By ticket from Irkutsk to Moscow, by railway                                                        


By ticket and travelling expenses from Moscow to St. Petersburg


and return                                                                                                                


By tickets for myself and Vasily Verigin from Moscow to Libaw                             


By two tickets again with V.V. from Libaw to Mitaw, including


travelling expenses                                                                                                   


By two tickets with V.V. and travelling expenses from London to


Christchurch and return                                                                                          




Part 2 –


By purchase of 131 tickets at $11.00 each from Libaw to London on


the steamship                                                                                                    


By purchase of 143 tickets at $24.50 from London, Liverpool to


Quebec, Canada                                                                                              


By tickets for 16 children at $2.50 each                                                                  $40.00


By two tickets for A. Machortoff to Yorkton at $17.00                                         


By two tickets for L. Mackay to Yorkton                                                               


By deposit in Quebec for 31 sick people for their expenses                                  


By purchase of 123 tickets at $16.00 from Quebec to Winnipeg                        


By 31 tickets at $5.00 from Winnipeg to Rosthern                                                


By 78 tickets at $2.50 and $2.30 from Winnipeg to Verigin                                  


By nine tickets from Winnipeg to Canora and Buchanan, Sask                                




Part 3, by part payments to Yakutsk brethren on the way –




1 –   A. Reibin                                                                                                       


2 –   E. Zbitneff                                                                                                     


3 –   A. Moojelsky                                                                                                 


4 –   A. Moojelsky and E. Zbitneff (for burying two children)                                 


5 –   P. Svetlisheff                                                                                                  


6 –   F. Soukhocheff                                                                                                


7 –   Evan Oosacheff                                                                                              


8 –   A.S. Popoff                                                                                                     


9 –   F. Strukoff                                                                                                       


10 – L. Mackay                                                                                                    


11 – E. Verigin


12 – V. Shiloff


13 – E. Jmaeff                                                                                                         


14 – N. Shkuratoff                                                                                                  


15 – S. Oosacheff                                                                                                   


16 – N. Kazakoff                                                                                                    


17 – N. Sherbkoff                                                                                                   


18 – Samsonoff for wife                                                                                         


19 – P. Verigin


20 – E. Choudakoff                                                                                                 


21 – G. Posnikoff                                                                                                    


22 – E. Popoff                                                                                                       


23 – M. Popoff                                                                                                     


24 – N. Rilkoff


25 – F. Diachkoff                                                                                                    


26 – A. Verishagin                                                                                                   


27 – For renting house for party in Libaw                                                               




Part 4 –


By payment to V. Tchertkoff for his travelling expenses in connection


with the Yakutsk brothers’ transportation                                                               


By payment to Tchertkoff in account of Doukhobor transportation                        


By payment of V. Verigin debts in Siberia                                                              


<indecipherable> in Moscow                                                                               


By remittance to mother in Russia                                                                             


By telegrams on the way                                                                                          


By payments for hotels in Montreal, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk,


Libaw and Mitaw                                                                                                  


By expense on E. Konkin himself personally for four months                                   


By expense on Vasil Verigin                                                                                   


By purchase of two suits of cloth for Konkin and Vasil Verigin                                


By payment for exchange of Canadian money for Russian                                     


By balance handed to Simeon Reibin on arrival                                                  






Income, total                                                                                                  


Expenditure, Part 1                                                                                              


Expenditure, Part 2                                                                                           


Expenditure, Part 3                                                                                              


Expenditure, Part 4                                                                                           


Total expenditure                                                                                            



The Community was formally a democracy in which the general meeting was the supreme governance authority. However, in practice, while Peter “Lordly” Verigin’s formal powers were small, his real influence was immense. This was due, not only to his position as hereditary leader, but to his powerful personality, superior education and intellectual prowess. Resolutions at the annual general meetings never went contrary to his advice, and during the twelve months that elapsed between meetings, he and his advisors acted as an executive with sweeping powers to make almost any decision on behalf of the Community.

The general account reveals the dual financial structure within the Community, consisting of the central office and treasury and the villages. All village income, sales and other general transactions were dispatched through the central office. At the same time, assets were held by the Community as a whole as well as by the villages. The general account, however, only identifies property under the direct control of the Community and not that held by the villages, giving an incomplete idea of the overall value of Community property.

In 1905, the income of the Community as a business concern amounted to $189,782.90 and its expenditures amounted to $243,963.21, not counting a bank loan of $50,500.00 which Peter “Lordly” Verigin was able to secure at the very advantageous rate of 4 per cent, covered by Community assets of $61,925.00. This balance reflects the daring deficit financing which Verigin was undertaking, whereby, a planned excess of expenditure over income created a shortfall of Community revenue which was met by borrowing. The decision to create a deficit was made to build up the infrastructure of the Community as a self-contained entity through great investments in machinery and industrial plants.

The general account gives an incomplete idea of the overall productiveness of the Community, which, numbering over eight thousand people, was largely self-supporting. Many tens of thousands of tonnes of wheat were grown and ground into flour, vegetables grown for food, flax and wool produced, spun and woven for clothing, dairy products produced from the communal herd of cattle, and many buildings, equipment and household goods manufactured, all for internal use by the Community. None of this directly involved income or expenditure, assets or liabilities, and therefore, was not included in the general account.

Finally, in reviewing the general account it must be recalled that only six years prior, the Doukhobors had arrived in Canada with no capital but strong hearts and willing hands, none having even the faintest knowledge of the English language, Canadian law, or modern methods of business and agriculture. The rapid material achievements of the Community over such a brief period, owing in no small part to the leadership of Peter “Lordly” Verigin is nothing short of a sociological and economic wonder.

For more information on the general meetings and accounts of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, see the 1904 Report1910 Report and the 1912 Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community.

Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held in Nadezhda Village, February 28, 1904

Yorkton Enterprise

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was governed by general meetings that were held early each year to receive the annual report and financial statement prepared by the representative committee and to vote on various matters of policy and practice brought before them. These gatherings were typically attended by two delegates from each village, the administrators in charge of community affairs and the leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin. The following is a rare extant report of the general meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan, on February 28, 1904, as published in the Yorkton Enterprise, Vol. 8, No. 16, April 21, 1904. The minutes provide extraordinary insight into the administrative matters of the day, including the naturalization question, financial assistance to the Yakutsk exiles, the need for a Quaker-sponsored school, establishment of a brickworks and large warehouse near the C.P.R, the use of steam-powered agricultural machinery, the necessity of tea and sugar in the diet, and various capital expenditures. In addition, the general account leaves no doubt of the extent of the material growth of the Community under Verigin’s leadership, one year after his arrival from exile in Siberia.

As well as other matters, the following questions were dealt with –

1. Concerning Naturalization. Decided to refer the matter to all members of the community for their consideration and decision whether they desire to be naturalized or not.

2. Concerning Local Improvement Taxes. Decided to pay the tax of $2 per homestead demanded for 1903 but to send to Regina a deputation of two men to request for Doukhobors the right to perform work in lieu of taxation.

3. Decided to remit $500 to the Yakoutsk brethren for use of the sick and aged. Decided also to send further money, should it be needed, for the transportation of men allowed to come to Canada.

4. Accounts of receipts and expenditure for the past year were read and confirmed.

5. Decided to purchase the following for spring work:


2 saw mills (1 for Good Spirit Lake and 1 for South Colony)

1 planning machine for Thunder Hill lumber mill


6. Decided to buy one engine for steam plowing for trial whether more profitable than horse power.

7. Decided to buy one brickmaking machine.

8. Decided to try, in spring, to make and burn in each village, tiles for roofing.

9. Decided to build seed oil mills in each village.

10. Decided to build at each flour mill flax beaters as at Otradnoe; also stable and good rooms for men coming to mills.

11. Decided to buy for breeding purposes, in summer, 100 milch cows and 100 Angora goats.

12. Decided to buy, in spring, locally near Yorkton, 80,000 pounds of wool for weaving.

13. The question being raised whether, as the committee have no more money, it was desirable to buy sugar, it was decided by a majority of the meeting that tea and sugar were necessary foods and should be bought.

14. Decided to build a warehouse by C.N.R. near Vera village, logs to be hauled before the winter trails go.

15. Decided that one man must always be at warehouse near Vera, and that until said warehouse is ready, he shall be at Yorkton as during last summer, where the work of Ivan Podavilnikoff was of great advantage in buying goods cheaply.

16. Decided that the proposal of the Quakers to build a training school for Doukhobor teachers was unnecessary.

17. Decided that every village shall appoint two men as elders as was done last year, but that these men should not take a very strong part in the management of affairs.

18. Elected to effect all purchases of supplies for the entire community: Nikoloy Ziboroff and Vassili Potopoff and Peter Verigin, and to be English interpreter and to attend all correspondence, Simeon Reiben.

19. Elected to superintend all matters affecting the horses of the community, Paul Planidin and Feodor Souhotcheff.

20. Decided to hold the next meeting in the fall.

21. Elected to superintend all matters affecting the sheep of the community, Andrei Semenoff and Ivan Verigin.

An account of Receipts and Expenditures of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in Canada for 1903.



1.   To cash in hands of Paul Planidin and Nikoloy Ziboroff


      at date of Peter Verigin’s arrival                                                                     


2.   To sale, by Dominion Government, of cattle set at liberty, less


      expenditure by Government on behalf of brothers and sisters


3.   To cash received from Prince Albert brothers                                              


4.   To cash received from all villages being half of cash in hand


5.   To sale of young cattle and steers


6.   Loan from Bank at Yorkton for transportation of workers                           


7.   To cash received from villages, being balance of cash in hand                       


8.   To earnings of workers of all villages


9.   To earnings from community contract


10. To sales of senega root


11. To cash received from Prince Albert Colony in payment of


      homestead entries                                                                                       


12. To sale of useless horses                                                                                


13. Loan from Bank at Yorkton                                                                        


Total Receipts                                                                                              




Part I. – Land


1.   By entry fees for homesteads                                                                    


2.   By purchase of 13 sections of land near village Vera: paid deposit


3.   By purchase of 3 quarter sections of Hudson’s Bay CO. land


      near villages Otradnoe, Nadeshda and Smirenovkaj paid deposit                    


Total payment for land                                                                                    


Part II. – Stock


1.   By expenses in connection with the transportation of 36 horses


      received from Prince Albert brethren                                                                


2.   By purchase by Paul Planidin in Winnipeg of 35 horses at $200 each           


3.   By purchase of 5 stallions                                                                            


4.   By purchases, 300 horses at $75 each, 10 saddle horses at $65 each,


      9 mares for breeding ($1,900) and two teams with wagon, tent, etc.          


5.   By purchases from Buchanan 7 horses and from Plaxin 2 horses                  


6.   By expenses: freight from Winnipeg, cost of driving, payments to


      guides, supplies, etc.                                                                                      


7.   By purchase of sheep                                                                                  


Total expenditure for stock                                                                             


Part III. – Implements and Machinery


1.   By purchase of 6 engines with seperators                                                  


2.   By purchase of 2 saw mills                                                                             


3.   By purchase of 50 binders at $125 each                                                      


4.   By purchase of 20,000 lbs binder twine @ 13c                                           


5.   By purchase of 32 mowers @ $46


6.   By purchase of 59 walking plows @ $24


7.   By purchase of 50 gang plows @ $34


8.   By purchase of 30 disc harrows @ $36 and 15 @ $31


9.   By purchase of 20 shoe drills @ $70 and $90                                             


10. By purchase of 16 wagons, 10 @ $65 and 6 @ $72                                   


11. By purchase of 152 sleighs: 102 @ $21.50 and 50 @ $22.65                     


12. By purchase of two cutters                                                                             


13. By purchase of 234 sections drag harrows @ $11.50                                  


14. By purchase of 12 fanning mills @ $35                                                           


15. By repairs for engines and separators and engineers’ supplies                      


16. By expenses of transport of machinery from Yorkton, lubricating oil etc.


17. By expenses of setting up machinery, etc.                                                       


18. By expenses for flour mills                                                                              


19. By repairs and other expenses for saw mills                                                    


Total expenditure for implements and machinery                                              


Part IV. – Dry Goods, Hardware and General Supplies


1.   By dry goods                                                                                            


2.   By flour and garden seeds (spring 1903)                                                     


3.   By purchases of wheat (spring 1904)                                                          


4.   By purchases oats (spring 1904)                                                                 


5.   By purchases of harness and shoe leather                                                  


6.   By purchases of winter footwear                                                                 


7.   By purchases of hardware, crockery and tools                                            


8.   By purchases of sugar, tea, etc.                                                                   


9.   By purchases of salt, coal oil and glass                                                        


10. By purchases of wool                                                                                 


11. By purchases of soap                                                                                  


12. By purchases of butter                                                                                


13. By minor purchases in Yorkton and Swan River by all villages                  




Part V. – Sundries


1.   By remittance to Yakoutsk for aged and sick brethren                                    


2.   By remittance to V. Tchertkoff in acknowledgement of help to


      Doukhobors in their immigration                                                                     


3.   By remittance to A. Maude, repayment of loan                                            


4.   By payment to Joseph Konstantinovitch for his journey                                   


5.   By remittance to Moscow, to Dorieff, for books                                             


6.   By remittance to Leo Tolstoy for assistance to Pavlovtzi in penal




7.   By remittance to brothers Sherbokoff, Fofonoff, and Novokshanoff                


8.   By remittance to Tarassoff for travelling expenses                                           


9.   By remittance to Vassili Zibin                                                                         


10. By payment to C.P.R. for balance of fares                                                      


11. By salary of German engineer and blacksmith for one year                              


12. By payments to H.P. Archer, teacher at North Colony                                   


13. By freight on goods purchased in Winnipeg, etc.                                         


14. By travelling expenses of Peter Verigin and assistants                                      


15. By expenses of building house at Yorkton                                                      


16. By payment of school taxes, Devil’s Lake                                                      


17. By typewriter, stationery and postage                                                             


18. By taxes for stables and fees for timber permits                                                


19. By sundry payments in Swan River and Yorkton of outstanding


      debts of villages                                                                                          


20. By living expenses in Yorkton of Vassili Potapoff and sundry


      expenses for freight of coal oil, leather purchases                                            






Total expenditure –


      Part I.                                                                                                       


      Part II.                                                                                                     


      Part III.                                                                                                    


      Part IV.                                                                                                   


      Part V.                                                                                                     


Total expenditure                                                                                          


Total receipts                                                                                                


Balance owing                                                                                                


About half of the above balance is due for horses and balance of homestead entry fees; and the rest for supplies purchased in Winnipeg.

Peter Verigin

Nikoloy Ziboroff

Paul Planidin,


Simeon Reiben,



The Community was formally a democracy in which the general meeting was the supreme governance authority. However, in practice, while Peter “Lordly” Verigin’s formal powers were small, his real influence was immense. This was due, not only to his position as hereditary leader, but to his powerful personality, superior education and intellectual prowess. Resolutions at the annual general meetings never went contrary to his advice, and during the twelve months that elapsed between meetings, he and his advisors acted as an executive with sweeping powers to make almost any decision on behalf of the Community.

The general account reveals the dual financial structure within the Community, consisting of the central office and treasury and the villages. All village income, sales and other general transactions were dispatched through the central office. At the same time, assets were held by the Community as a whole as well as by the villages.

In 1903, the income of the Community as a business concern amounted to $166,901.00 and its expenditures amounted to $212,876.00, not counting a $4,000.00 bank loan, leaving a balance owing of $45,975.00. This balance marks the beginning of Verigin’s deficit financing program for the Community, whereby a planned excess of expenditure over income created a shortfall of Community revenue which was met by borrowing. The decision to create a deficit was made to build up the infrastructure of the Community as a self-contained entity through great investments in machinery and industrial plants.

The general account gives an incomplete idea of the overall productiveness of the Community, which, numbering over eight thousand people, was largely self-supporting. Many tens of thousands of tonnes of wheat were grown and ground into flour, vegetables grown for food, flax and wool produced, spun and woven for clothing, dairy products produced from the communal herd of cattle, and many buildings, equipment and household goods manufactured, all for internal use by the Community. None of this directly involved income or expenditure, assets or liabilities, and therefore, was not included in the general account.

Finally, in reviewing the general account it must be recalled that only four years prior, the Doukhobors had arrived in Canada with no capital but strong hearts and willing hands, none having even the faintest knowledge of the English language, Canadian law, or modern methods of business and agriculture. Peter “Lordly” Verigin had joined them from exile in Siberia in 1902, and the initial success of his leadership can be measured in material terms by the acquisitions of the Community by the end of 1903, a bare year after his arrival.

For more information on the general meetings and accounts of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, see the 1906 Report1910 Report and the 1912 Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community.

The Kylemore Doukhobor Colony

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The Kylemore Colony was a Doukhobor communal settlement established by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in the Kylemore district of Saskatchewan between 1918 and 1938. Numbering 300 people at its peak, the self-sufficient agricultural colony was organized on the principles of common ownership and the Doukhobor faith. While its existence is generally known, remarkably little has been documented about its history. The following article, compiled from a wealth of published and unpublished sources, examines the Kylemore Colony in rich, descriptive detail from its settlement and early development, communal life and organization, to the eventual demise of the Community and break-up of the colony.


In the early 1900’s, the main body of Doukhobors in Canada, under the charismatic leadership of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin (1859-1924), known as Gospodnyi (the “Lordly”), formed themselves into the spiritual, social and economic organization known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB). It was organized on a communal basis, according to the precepts of the Doukhobor faith, under the close supervision and direction of Verigin.

By 1918, the CCUB was at the height of material achievement as an industrial, agricultural, forestry and trading enterprise in Western Canada. It was incorporated under a Dominion charter with a capitalized value of over $1,000,000.00, although its total assets were estimated at several times that figure. It had landholdings in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan totaling over 50,000 acres on which were built numerous communal villages, sawmills, brickworks, jam factories, canning and fruit-packing plants, trading stores, flour mills, grain elevators, irrigation systems, reservoirs, roads and bridges, along with extensive cultivated crops, orchards and gardens. Underpinning the success of the organization was a membership of 6,000 adult Doukhobors (5,000 in British Columbia and 1,000 in Alberta and Saskatchewan) who provided a large, readily-mobilized pool of free, willing labour, guided by the slogan “Toil and Peaceful Life”.

Group of CCUB Doukhobors at Veregin, SK, c.1918. At the time, the CCUB was at the height of material achievement as an industrial, agricultural, forestry and trading enterprise. Photo courtesy National Doukhobor Heritage Village.

Verigin’s overall strategy at this time was to ensure that the CCUB became self-sufficient in agricultural production, while at the same time developing a variety of means to earn cash to fund its operations. Under this plan, grain grown by Doukhobors on the Prairies would be exchanged for fruit and timber produced by Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia. The surplus would be sold to the outside world, where wartime shortages and high prices provided profitable markets for the wheat, lumber, bricks, fruit and other outputs of the communal enterprise. In order to carry out this strategy, however, it was necessary for the CCUB to acquire additional wheat-growing land on the Prairies.

The Kylemore Purchase

To this end, the CCUB acquired a block of eighteen square miles of land, or the equivalent of half a township, in the Kylemore district of Saskatchewan in 1918. The land was acquired in three transactions. First, the CCUB leased 640 acres of Hudson’s Bay Company land (Section 8 in Township 33, Range 12, West of the Second Meridian) on April 1, 1918. The CCUB then leased an additional 109 acres of land (Legal Subdivision 8 of SE ¼ of Section 9 and Legal Subdivision 5 and 12 of the W ½ of Section 10 in Township 33, Range 12, West of the Second Meridian) from the Department of the Interior. Finally, on May 7, 1918, the CCUB purchased 10,613 acres of land (Sections 1-5, 7, 9-12, N ½ of Section 6 and S ½ of Sections 13-18 in Township 33, and Sections 32-36 in Township 34, Range 12, West of the Second Meridian) from the Chicago-based Fishing Lake Land and Farm Co. Ltd. under an agreement for sale for $265,343.00.

Taken together, these acquisitions provided the CCUB with a total landholding of 11,362 acres in the Kylemore district. Only 607 acres of the land was broken at the time – the rest was covered in dense trees and scrub. For this reason, the CCUB acquired the land for substantially less than developed agricultural land in other areas.

Doukhobor work crew clearing land at Kylemore, SK, 1920. At the time of purchase, the colony was covered in dense trees and scrub. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

At the same time, the land lay adjacent to the Canadian National Railway, which provided essential transportation access. This was a key component of Verigin’s strategy to ship agricultural and industrial goods between Doukhobor settlements and to market.

Perhaps most importantly, the ‘Kylemore Colony’ formed a large, contiguous block of land that was semi-isolated and largely self-contained, where the Doukhobors could speak their own language, practice their religion and culture, and follow their distinctive form of communal organization, separate and apart from the larger Canadian society.

Early Development and Settlement

From the outset, the colony at Kylemore was established according to the carefully laid out plans of the CCUB leadership. On June 14, 1918, just weeks after the land acquisition, CCUB General Manager Michael W. Cazakoff outlined these plans in an interview with the Manitoba Free Press while in Winnipeg, Manitoba to purchase equipment for the new colony. He declared that the majority of the lands would be dedicated to grain growing, being ideally suited for that purpose, while the lighter, south-easterly lands adjacent to Fishing Lake would be reserved for livestock-raising. There would be a settlement of families on each section. There would also be a store, in which fruit shipped from the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia would be distributed within the colony and sold publicly. Finally, an elevator would be built through which the Doukhobors in Kylemore would ship wheat to the British Columbia settlements and market their surplus and that of their neighbours.

A group of Doukhobor workers enjoys a break near Kylemore, SK, 1920. Photo No. 208 courtesy ISKRA.

The development of the colony occurred over a period of several years. Beginning in 1918, and for each summer thereafter until 1924, work crews of 65 or more Doukhobor men from British Columbia and elsewhere in Saskatchewan arrived in Kylemore to clear the land and erect buildings. Temporary tent camps were set up on Section 10 for their accommodation. To carry out this work, the main CCUB settlement at Veregin, 70 miles to the east, supplied them with six steam engines and sixty teams of horses.

Land-clearing and breaking began at the northern end of the colony along the Canadian National Railway and slowly advanced to the southern end. This backbreaking work began at sunup and ended after sundown. First, the trees were cut, then the workers used pick axes to grub the stumps. After, workers came with teams of horses and steam engines to pull out the roots and break the land with the plough. The broken land was then sown into crop the following spring. Over 1,600 acres of land were developed in this manner in 1918 alone. Thereafter, Doukhobor work crews cleared and broke an additional five hundred acres of land each year.

The first permanent village in the colony was established in 1918 on Section 9 at the former residence of W.H. McKinnon, one of the prior landowners. This ornate, eight-room, two-story wood frame structure with lumber siding was the only dwelling on the land when the CCUB purchased it. There, between 1918 and 1921, the CCUB also constructed a large central meeting house for colony members and a gornitsa (special guest quarters) where Peter V. Verigin could stay when he visited the area.

The McKinnon home west of Kylemore, SK. Built in c.1910, the large, ornate home was the only structure on the land when the CCUB purchased it in 1918. It formed part of the Chernoff Village, the first village in the colony. It was destroyed by fire in 1924. Remembering Times.

Doukhobor work crews constructed eight additional villages on Sections 6, 7, 9, 10, 31 and 33, approximately two per year, from 1919 to 1924. These were a variation of the village design used by the Doukhobors in British Columbia and consisted of a single 26’ x 26’ two-story dwelling of wood frame construction on a concrete foundation. The exceptions were two villages on Sections 9 and 31 that had twin structures. These multi-family communal doms (dwellings) were constructed using timber shipped from the CCUB sawmills in the Kootenays. Six were clad in brick supplied from the CCUB brickworks at Veregin. The remainder had cedar shake siding shipped from the Kootenay settlements. Each had a hip roof and verandah clad with cedar shakes. All had large cellars for the storage of foodstuffs.

Each village had a large barn for housing draft horses and milking cows along with numerous outbuildings including stables, sheds, granaries, chicken coops, a kuznitsa (blacksmith shop), banya (bath-house) and peche (clay oven). At least two villages had large ledniks (ice cellars) dug for cold storage. Each had a large garden plot for growing vegetables and fruit.

Unnamed twin-dom village constructed by the CCUB adjacent to the Canadian National Railway at Kylemore, SK in c.1919. Photo courtesy John J. Trofimenkoff.

As work crews completed each village, CCUB families began arriving in Kylemore to take up permanent residence in them. The first families to arrive were those of Peter S. Chernoff from Veregin, Saskatchewan and Vasily V. Solovaeff from Prekrasnoye, British Columbia in 1918. They were followed by a number of families from the Kootenays each year between 1919 and 1924. These included the families of Ivan and Michael S. Arishenkoff, Ignat A. Arishenkoff, Nikolai D. Bedinoff, Ivan V. Chernoff, Ivan I. Fofonoff, Ivan P. Hoolaeff, Ivan F. Hoodikoff, Ivan V. and Vasily I. Kazakoff, Vasily V. and Nikolai N. Konkin, Grigory N. Kanigan, Peter and Ivan S. Malikoff, Kuzma V. Kolesnikoff, Alex I. and Vasily V. Makortoff, Dmitry I., Nikolai N. and Ivan A. Malakoff, Andrew P. and Trofim W. Markin, Vasily A. Morozoff, Nikolai N. Ogloff, Peter A. Osachoff, Kuzma S. and Alex I. Pereverseff, Ivan V. and Peter, Semyon and Grigory S. Popoff, Ivan A. Postnikoff, Fyodor K. and Ivan I. Samsonoff, Ivan F. Sysoev, Ivan and Nikolai P. Sheloff, Pavel V. Planidin and Evdokim A. Sherbinin. According to oral tradition, each family was hand-picked by Peter V. Verigin to help develop the colony.

As the colony took shape, the CCUB undertook the task of constructing a large grain elevator on Section 9 along the Canadian National Railway. Beginning in 1918, work crews constructed a 120,000 bushel capacity elevator of wood crib construction on a concrete foundation. It was approximately 45’ x 60’ wide and 75’ high with a pyramidal roof and a centrally located pyramidal-roofed cupola. At the time it was completed in 1920, it was the largest elevator in Saskatchewan. Thereafter, the Kylemore Colony began receiving, storing and shipping grain in bulk quantities to the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia and to markets elsewhere.

Doukhobor work crew constructing grain elevator at Kylemore, 1919. Photo courtesy Peter and Agnes Malekoff.

The CCUB also began construction of a large trading store and warehouse on Section 9 along the rail line in 1918. The three-story structure was built of wood frame construction with a full concrete basement. It had cedar shake siding. It was 60’ x 36’ with a gambrel roof and two 20’ lean-tos. It was completed in 1922. The storefront was located at the north end of the main floor, where fruit, produce and other merchandise from the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia were distributed to the colony families as required and the surplus sold to the public, while the south end of the main floor and the basement were utilized as a warehouse. It is known that Pavel V. Planidin managed the store from 1922 to 1925 and Nikolai N. Ogloff from 1928 to 1935.

By 1924, the Kylemore Colony was thriving and prosperous, with approximately 250 Doukhobor men, women and children. It had a herd of 500 cattle, 1000 sheep and 30 horses. Over 4,000 acres of land was now under cultivation, producing substantial quantities of grain. A sizeable acreage was also devoted to pasture. The community elevator and store were now in full operation. Peter V. Verigin’s plans for the colony had begun to bear fruit.

CCUB communal structures adjacent to the Canadian National Railway at Kylemore, SK, c.1924. (l-r) CCUB grain elevator, CCUB trading store, and unnamed twin-dom village. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

The Kelvington Annex

Even as the development of the Kylemore Colony was underway, Peter V. Verigin had planned its expansion in the outlying area. In August of 1921, the CCUB purchased an additional 8,000 acres of land (Sections 3, 7, 9, 15, 17-19, 21, 27, 31 and 33, W ½ and SE ¼ of Section 5, E ½ of Section 25, all in Township 27, Range 12, West of the Second Meridian) in the Kelvington district, twenty miles to the north. It was acquired from the Winnipeg-based Canada West Security Corporation under an agreement for sale.

The ‘Kelvington Annex’ was unbroken at the time of purchase and was covered in trees and scrub, making it cheaper and more affordable than developed land in other districts. Unlike the Kylemore Colony, it did not form a contiguous block, but was segregated into separate section parcels interspersed among non-Doukhobor landholdings. However, it lay adjacent to the Canadian National Railway’s proposed Thunderhill Branch Line extension from Kelvington to Prince Albert, which, once built, would enhance its property value and provide strategic rail access.

Doukhobor work crew clearing land by hand near Kylemore, SK, c. 1924. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

The Kelvington Annex was administered as an offshoot of the Kylemore Colony. It was primarily used for summer pasturage for the colony’s horse herd, although some land-clearing and grain-growing did occur. No villages were constructed there; however, single-family dwellings were built on Sections 18 and 27 to house four families permanently stationed there. Other families were rotated from Kylemore to Kelvington on a temporary basis over summer to tend the communal horse herd, during which time they lived in tents.

Community Life and Organization under Peter V. Verigin: 1918-1924

During the era of Peter V. Verigin, the Kylemore Colony was comprised of nine (unnamed) villages containing family groupings of four to six extended families per village. All the villages in the colony were organized as one commune.

Doukhobor family at Kylemore, SK, 1920. (l-r) Mabel, Tanya, Peter, John, Peter A., Helen G., and Mike Chernoff in their chore cloths. Seems Like Only Yesterday.

The CCUB central office coordinated the agricultural and commercial operations of the colony, carried out all transactions on its behalf, managed its finances through a common treasury and provided for the daily needs of its members. This was managed out of the CCUB headquarters in Veregin, Saskatchewan. A manager elected by the members administered the day-to-day affairs of the colony and acted as an intermediary authority between the central office and colony members. It is known that in 1925, the Manager of the Kylemore Colony was Dmitry I. Malakoff and from 1926 to 1928, Nikolai I. Cazakoff. Major decisions affecting the colony were introduced at a sobraniye (general meeting) of all members where everyone could have a voice.

The CCUB owned all of the colony’s land, buildings, machinery, tools and livestock. These were distributed among the villages of the colony, so that each village possessed its own teams of horses, wagons, implements and other resources necessary to farm the acreage allocated to it. All the grain was delivered to the CCUB elevator and traded under its name, as was all stock and merchandise shipped to the CCUB store. Indeed, all proceeds from the output of the colony went to the central office.

CCUB General Manager Michael W. Cazakoff (right) inspects communal draft horses with Vasily V. Soloveoff (left) near Kylemore, SK, c.1924. Photo No. 273 courtesy ISKRA.

Individual members were expected to contribute their labour to the operation of the colony and pay an annual levy to the central office, which was mainly paid in-kind through labour rather than cash. They received no income for communal work, and when they found it necessary to work outside the colony, their earnings were deposited directly with the central office or collected by the Manager of the colony. Hence, few members of the colony actually handled money. Within this moneyless system, the colony provided for all the essential needs of its members, such as food, shelter, clothing and other supplies.

Daily life in the Kylemore Colony revolved around the cycles of the farming year. In spring, the women and men worked together in the fields sowing crops. Afterwards, in summer, they laboured to clear and break additional land. The women also dug seneca root, the sale of which was an important source of revenue for the colony. Later in summer, haying and stooking was performed by both men and women. At harvest time, the men threshed while the women prepared meals and did chores. In late fall, the men got up before sunrise, took packed lunches and traveled south toward Fishing Lake to cut wood. They would cut enough to last the colony for the whole winter and the surplus was sold locally. The days that followed were spent sawing and splitting the wood into “stove-sized” pieces. During winter, the men worked in the villages or sought outside employment. The women, elderly and children maintained the household and performed yard chores.

Doukhobors at Kanigan Village near Kylemore, SK winnow grain to remove chaff. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

The colony was almost entirely self-sufficient in food production. Colony members grew potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes and other vegetables in their large gardens. This was supplemented by fruit, jams and preserves supplied from the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia. Wild berries, nuts and mushrooms were also picked locally. Milk, cream, cheese and butter were obtained from the community cattle herd. As they kept chickens they also had a fresh supply of eggs. Meat was unnecessary as colony members were strict vegetarians. Flour was produced from the wheat they grew, which was hauled by horse and wagon 18 miles south to Foam Lake to be ground and milled. Only sugar, salt, raisins, rice and a few other staples were purchased outside the colony by the men.

The colonists also manufactured most of their own cloths, tools and furniture. The women sheared wool from the communal sheep herd which they then washed, carded, spun and wove to make cloth and yarn. They were expert in sewing, knitting, crocheting, weaving, quilt and mattress making and other handicrafts. The men produced furniture, tools and equipment and performed shoe repair, harness-making, blacksmithing, horse-shoeing and other skilled tasks.

Peter Chernoff and John Soloveoff mounted on horseback on the prairie near Kylemore, SK, c.1920. Photo No. 207 courtesy ISKRA.

While there were few opportunities for leisure, colony members still found time to enjoy the natural beauty and recreation opportunities at Fishing Lake during the hot summer months. There, at a scenic lug (meadow) on the north shore of the lake, Doukhobors throughout the colony gathered to celebrate Petrov Den’ (Peters Day), hold outdoor meetings and enjoy picnics, swimming and rafting.

A mainstay of spiritual life in the colony was the moleniye (prayer meeting) held each Sunday. According to oral tradition, each village initially conducted its own moleniye; however, over time, a number of villages joined together for this occasion. This was a time when the members of the colony abandoned their work and gathered for hours to pray, discuss spiritual matters and sing psalms. There were reputedly many exceptional singers in the colony, and the psalm singing inspired the people and reinforced their religious faith and values for the ensuing week.

A gathering of Doukhobor children at Kanigan Village near Kylemore, SK, c. 1924. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

A special highlight was when Peter V. Verigin visited the Kylemore Colony to meet with the members, hear their concerns and inspect their progress. This was a joyous occasion accompanied by special celebrations, meetings and meals. It is known that Verigin made at least two such trips to Kylemore in the summer of 1921 and the fall of 1924, and probably several more.

On the whole, life in the colony at this time was characterized, not only by hard work and sacrifice, but by simple, peaceful living in an atmosphere of happiness, comfort and harmony. This way of life is poignantly described in the historical novel Tanya, by Doukhobor writer Eli A. Popoff, which is based on the remarkable true story of Tanya Arishenkoff, the central character, who lived in the colony from 1919 until its demise.

Doukhobor shepherds tend communal sheep flock at Kylemore, SK, c.1924. Photo courtesy National Doukhobor Heritage Village.

Death of Peter V. Verigin and Aftermath

Disaster struck the Kylemore Colony in May of 1924 when one of the villages on Section 9 was destroyed in an accidental fire. This included the village dom, central meeting house, the gornitsa where Peter V. Verigin stayed and other outbuildings. During this same period, the dom at another village on Section 9 also burned to the ground.

However, these events paled in comparison to the sudden death of Verigin in October of 1924 in a mysterious train explosion at Farron, British Columbia. His passing was a devastating blow to the membership of the CCUB, who revered him as their guide, counselor and protector. The entire Doukhobor Community was thrown into shock and mourning, and the Kylemore Colony was no exception.

Leaderless and directionless, the Doukhobors at Kylemore carried on essential tasks, such as grain growing and store and elevator operations, but postponed decisions on most important issues until a replacement leader could be appointed who would help them decide. For example, the construction of village buildings to replace those which had burnt on Section 9 was suspended. The CCUB organization went into a period of slow stagnation and decline.

Larion Malakoff mounted on horseback in front of Malakoff Village dom near Kylemore, SK, c.1924. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

With financial difficulties mounting, the Directors of the CCUB decided to consolidate their debts with one creditor. The Community negotiated a loan for $350,000.00 with the National Trust Company, representing the Canadian Bank of Commerce, in December of 1925. To secure this loan, the National Trust Company obtained a blanket mortgage on all of the land and buildings on which no other creditors held liens. This meant that everything owned by the CCUB would now be encumbered with debt, including the lands of the Kylemore Colony.

Arrival of Peter P. Verigin and Reorganization

It was several years before Verigin’s son, Peter Petrovich Verigin, known as Chistiakov (the “Cleanser” or “Purger”), was able to come to Canada and assume the leadership of the CCUB. His arrival in September of 1927 was greeted by his followers with tremendous enthusiasm, who hoped for a rejuvenation of the ailing CCUB communal structure.

On his first of many visits to the Kylemore colony, Peter P. Verigin impressed his followers as a forceful, eloquent orator and a persuasive, dynamic and brilliant organizer. He declared his immediate goals to be to free the CCUB from it burden of debt and to unite the various factions of Doukhobors in Canada. Seeing and hearing him speak, the Kylemore Doukhobors firmly believed that his objectives would be achieved.

The family of Peter P. Verigin seen here at the Chernoff Village near Kylemore, SK in 1928 (l-r) John J. Verigin (his grandson), Anna F. Verigin (his wife) and Evdokia G. Verigin (his mother). Photo No. 303 courtesy ISKRA.

Almost immediately, Peter P. Verigin reorganized the CCUB on a new basis to encourage greater self-reliance, industry and diligence among its members and to foster a renewed interest in the soil and in the welfare of the commune. To this end, he decentralized the CCUB, made life less rigidly communal, and reduced the size of each commune to a new unit known as the ‘Family’, which in Saskatchewan was comprised of 25 persons.

The Kylemore Colony land, buildings, machinery, tools and livestock were redistributed to each Family to farm communally. Each Family was granted broad autonomy over its agricultural operations and business transactions. An annual assessment was still paid to the CCUB central office. However, any excess revenue from the land or from outside earnings, over and above the annual assessment, was retained by the Family. A Starshina (Elder), elected by its members, managed the day-to-day affairs of each Family. It is known that in 1928, these were: Ivan N. Konkin, Nikolai P. Popoff, Ivan I. Samsonoff, Vasily V. Solovaeff, Ivan V. Chernenkoff, Alexei I. Pereverseff, Ivan V. Popoff, Vasily A. Morozoff, Semyon S. Popoff, Ivan A. Posnikoff, Peter S. Chernoff, Grigory N. Kanigan and Ivan P. Sheloff.

John V. Soloveoff stands beside a white stallion that had belonged to Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin at the newly-formed Arishenkoff Village near Kylemore, SK, c. 1928. Photo No. 229 courtesy ISKRA.

The system of buying and selling was introduced into all aspects of relations between the CCUB central office and the Families or branch communes, as well as between individual members. Individual Doukhobors were now permitted to handle money. Thus, money transactions replaced the unwieldy barter system of earlier years.

In total, 13 Families of 25 persons (comprising one to two extended families) were set up in the Kylemore Colony in 1928. Each Family was allocated a section of land in the colony on which to live and farm. Where a village already existed on a section, it was given to the Family assigned to that section; where there was none, a new village was built for the Family placed on that section.

Accordingly, six existing villages on Sections 7, 9, 4 and 10 (thereafter known as Popoff Village, Malakoff Village, Chernoff Village, Sheloff Village, Kazakoff Village and Kanigan Village) were reassigned to Families. Three existing (unnamed) villages on Sections 6, 9 and 31 were either moved to new locations or dismantled and the materials used to build new villages elsewhere. Seven new villages (thereafter known as Chernenkoff Village, Pereverseff Village, Hoodekoff Village, Konkin Village, Makortoff Village, Samsonoff Village and Arishenkoff Village) were built for Families on Sections 2, 3, 5, 32-35. These new villages differed from the earlier villages in that they were comprised of small, single-family residences built of wood frame construction with cedar shake siding.

Vasily V. Soloveoff stands beside a Belgian draft horse at the newly-formed Arishenkoff Village near Kylemore, SK, c. 1928.  Note the communal barn under construction in foreground. Photo No. 228 courtesy ISKRA.

This reorganization resulted in changes to nearly every household in the Kylemore Colony. Consequently, throughout the summer of 1928, there was much moving to and fro, and wagons piled high with goods and chattels were continually driving in one direction or another as families relocated to their new villages. It was at this time also that the CCUB families stationed at the Kelvington Annex relocated to the Kylemore Colony, where they were incorporated into Family branch communes.

In addition to the Families, which maintained a direct connection with the CCUB central office, a provincial branch of the CCUB was set up in Saskatchewan to operate business enterprises in the various areas, including the grain elevator and trading store at Kylemore. These were now run on a wholly cash basis. The CCUB trading store now purchased the fruit it received from British Columbia and sold it to colony members, although it no longer enjoyed a trade monopoly among them. The CCUB elevator maintained a buying monopoly over all the surplus grain grown in the colony, however, it was now purchased from each Family and sold to British Columbia.

Early threshing outfit owned by the CCUB at Kylemore, SK, c. 1928. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

Community Life Under Peter P. Verigin: 1927-1931

The reorganization of the Kylemore Colony was accompanied by three main developments during the early years of Peter P. Verigin’s leadership. First, there was an expansion and consolidation of the capital assets of the colony to increase earning potential and reduce the CCUB’s massive debt. Second, colonists joined a new umbrella organization, the Society of Named Doukhobors, aimed at the unification of the main Doukhobor factions in Canada. Third, new emphasis was placed on education as the Doukhobor youth of the colony were enrolled in local schools. These developments are discussed below in greater detail.

Capital Expansion and Consolidation

The years 1928 to 1931 saw a noteworthy expansion, improvement and consolidation of CCUB capital assets in the Kylemore Colony. Buildings were erected for new villages to the value of $13,000.00. As well, leased lands (640 acres from the Hudson’s Bay Company and 109 acres from the Department of Indian Affairs) were purchased outright for $16,264.60. Also, the balance owing on the 10,613 acres purchased from the Fishing Lake Land and Farm Co. Ltd. was paid in full. Finally, land-clearing activity was redoubled in order to increase agricultural production and earnings.

New Chernoff Village dom completed in 1928 to replace the original destroyed by fire in 1924. Note the collection of machinery of that era. Seems Like Only Yesterday.

At the same time, the CCUB raised money by allowing some of its Prairie members to opt out of the communal system and buy or lease its land. To this end, 3,000 acres of hitherto-undeveloped land in the Kelvington Annex was leased or sold under agreements for sale to CCUB members. These included the families of Peter J. Goolaeff, Peter A. Morozoff, John J. and Peter J. Kanigan, Simeon A. Horkoff, Harry N. and Trofim N. Kanigan, Fred W. Antifaeff, Mike W. and Wasyl W. Bloodoff, George F. and John F. Kazakoff, Nick W. Pepin, Wasyl L. Shukin and Wasyl A. Juravloff.

Statistical data from 1931 illustrates the extent of CCUB property in the Kylemore Colony at this time. The landholdings totalled 11,774.60 acres, valued at $316,724.85. Another 4,945.23 acres of land was held in the Kelvington Annex, assessed at $87,174.62. The investment in buildings on the farm land, including houses, barns and other structures, was valued at $47,900.00. The store and warehouse along with the grain elevator were appraised at an additional $29,000.00. The investment in livestock – which included 240 working horses and 130 milking cows – was valued at $42,500.00. Finally, the investment in farm machinery was assessed at $18,500.00. Thus, the total valuation of the Kylemore Colony’s capital assets in 1931 was $541,799.47 – over half a million dollars – two years into the Great Depression.

Communal barn and horse stable at the Arishenkoff Village, one of the new villages formed in 1928 near Kylemore, SK following the reorganization of the CCUB by Peter P. Verigin. Photo No. 274 courtesy ISKRA.


Upon his arrival in Canada, all of the main Doukhobor factions – the CCUB, the Independents and the Sons of Freedom – acknowledged Peter P. Verigin as their spiritual leader. He made it his avowed purpose to heal the divisions between the groups and reestablish unity among all Doukhobors living in Canada.

To this end, in June of 1928, Verigin formed a new, all-embracing organization, the Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada, for the purpose of uniting his followers. Through a series of conferences attended by delegates from the CCUB and Independent Doukhobor settlements, the Society, under Verigin’s leadership and direction, promoted a policy of non-violence, the teachings of Christ, marriage based on love, acceptance of public education, the accurate registration of births, deaths and marriages, the peaceful resolution of disputes among members by the Society’s executive, the automatic expulsion of members who committed crimes, and more.

Doukhobor maidens at Kylemore, SK, 1927 (l-r) Milly W. Konkin, Polly W. Konkin and Mary Makortoff. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

For their part, the Kylemore colonists readily participated in the new organization, joining en masse, paying regular membership dues, sending delegates (Alexei I. Hoodekoff in 1934 and Havrila N. Kanigan in 1937) to its conferences and implementing its resolutions. By December of 1930, there were 150 male and 148 female members of the Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada from Kylemore.


From the outset of his leadership, Peter P. Verigin emphasized the importance of public education among his followers. The education of their children in English schools, and the establishment of their own Russian schools and libraries, he declared, would begin a new era for Doukhobors in Canada. His views towards education were actively promoted through the Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada.

Group of Doukhobor schoolchildren in front of North Kylemore School, 1941. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

As members of the Society, the Kylemore colonists were now committed to accept education, and from 1928 onward, began enrolling their children in Kylemore School in the hamlet of Kylemore. In 1929, the school was destroyed in a suspicious fire when a group of Sons of Freedom visited the area and classes were held in the CCUB trading store until a new school was built the same year. By 1936, Doukhobor student enrollment increased to such an extent that a second school was opened at the south end of the colony. The older school became known as the ‘North Kylemore School’ and the newer one the ‘South Kylemore School’. Colony youth also attended Russian language classes in the evenings.

South Kylemore School, c. 1936. Back row (l-r): Fred Hoolaeff, Nick Ogloff, George Arishenkoff, John Hoolaeff, Helen Morozoff, Helen Makortoff, Lucy Makortoff. Middle row: Mike Arishenkoff, Peter Arishenkoff, Bill Samsonoff, Peter Konkin, Peter Pereverzoff, Mary Hoodekoff, Donalda Mawhinney (teacher), John Cazakoff. Front row: Alex Pereverzoff Bill Morozoff, Larry Hoodekoff, Alex Hoolaeff, Mac Pereverzoff, Doris Hoodekoff, Bill Konkin, Annette Hoodekoff, Mary Konkin, Mary Pereverzoff, Nellie Makortoff. Front: Beverly Broley (teacher’s niece). Remembering Times.

Demise of the CCUB

The twelve years of Peter P. Verigin’s leadership from 1927 to 1939 saw a number of remarkable accomplishments. However, despite his concerted efforts, the Doukhobor leader was unable to eliminate the massive CCUB debt (although he did reduce this debt by over half), nor bring about a lasting unity with other Doukhobor groups (the Society of Named Doukhobors collapsed in 1937). At the same time, his irregular character and actions eroded the enthusiasm and confidence of the CCUB membership, whose zeal for utopian communal living was already in decline.

When the Great Depression struck in the Thirties, the financial situation of the CCUB deteriorated rapidly because all the communal property was mortgaged and no further loans could be negotiated due to lack of collateral. With no credit, and with membership and cash income falling rapidly, Verigin attempted to sell off CCUB assets to raise the necessary capital to enable the corporation to continue to operate, and at the same time, to stave off the ever-increasing demands of its creditors.

Front page of the Winnipeg Free Press, October 18, 1934 announcing the sale of CCUB holdings in Saskatchewan.

To this end, in October of 1934, Peter P. Verigin publicly announced that the CCUB would be selling its entire holdings – land, stock, equipment and elevators – in the districts of Kylemore, Kelvington and Veregin, Saskatchewan. This represented the wholesale liquidation of all CCUB capital assets in the province. A similar announcement was made in April of 1935. Later that month, some Saskatchewan members of the CCUB were served with notices to vacate their villages and lands. These events were met with shock and disbelief by the Saskatchewan members, who had not been consulted.

Reputedly, several offers to purchase the Kylemore lands were made to the CCUB central office in Brilliant, British Columbia; however, no sale ever materialized. Nevertheless, in April of 1936, the Saskatchewan branch of the CCUB sold the elevator at Kylemore to James Richardson. The CCUB trading store in Kylemore was closed later that year. In light of these events, all the Kylemore colonists could do was wait in anticipation of a better tomorrow. But for the CCUB, prosperity never returned.

CCUB elevator in Kylemore. When completed in 1920, it was the largest in Saskatchewan. It was sold in 1936 to J. Richardson and resold  to the Pioneer Grain Company, which operated it until 1990. Wadena News.

By 1937, a combination of complex factors, including the Great Depression, financial mismanagement, diminishing revenues, a declining membership base, mounting debts, depredations against communal property, and government assimilation efforts, all unhelped by Verigin’s increasingly erratic leadership style, led to the eventual (and arguably, inevitable) bankruptcy of the CCUB. The following year, in 1938, the National Trust Company foreclosed on its mortgage over the CCUB lands and chattels in Kylemore, Kelvington and elsewhere. Thereafter, the CCUB ceased to exist as a corporate entity.

Break-Up of the Colony

Following the bankruptcy and foreclosure of the CCUB, the Doukhobors living in Kylemore were faced with a difficult dilemma: either join the majority of their brethren in British Columbia or else remain in Saskatchewan as independent farmers. Many of them were already middle-aged, and to begin a new life with nothing, dependent only on themselves, with no Community to fall back on, must have been daunting prospect.

William W. Kanigan and his mother doing chores on their farm near Kylemore, SK, c.1940.  Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

About a third of the Kylemore Doukhobors immediately moved to British Columbia in 1938 to be part of the larger group living there. Numerous others followed the move to British Columbia during the War Years (1939-1945) to avoid the military call-up. Still others decided to abandon their old way of life altogether, take their few possessions and depart into the world unknown.

Approximately a third of the Kylemore Doukhobors chose to repurchase their lands from the National Trust Company in 1938 under agreements for sale. Payment was made on a one-third crop share basis, as the Doukhobors had little or no cash. They took possession of their land, moved in village structures (dwellings, barns, stables, etc.) or utilized existing ones on the land, and purchased on credit the necessary horses, implements and equipment to set up their own farming practices. Fortunately, there were prosperous years in the Forties, and within ten years of independent farming, all the Doukhobors obtained clear title to their land and many acquired additional land, modern vehicles and machinery for their farms.

Social gathering of Kylemore Doukhobors, c. 1947. Photo courtesy Peter and Agnes Malekoff.

While most Doukhobors stayed on as farmers, several established stores and business in Kylemore. In the Thirties, William M. Fudikuf owned a general store in Kylemore, selling everything from groceries and furniture, to cream separators and machinery. In the late Forties, Peter G. Kanigan ran a blacksmith shop, general store and gas pumps. Finally, in the Fifties, Louis L. Osachoff operated a general store in the hamlet.

Those families who remained in Kylemore continued to uphold their Doukhobor faith and culture. In the Forties, they formed the Kylemore Doukhobor Society, which became their main religious and social organization. Moleniye (prayer meetings) and children’s Sunday school classes were held weekly at the Sunderland School. Petrov Den’ (Peters Day) was commemorated annually with picnics at Fishing Lake. A local choir was organized, and visiting choirs from British Columbia and elsewhere in Saskatchewan were always welcomed. In 1954, the Society purchased the former South Kylemore School and moved it into Kylemore for use as a ‘prayer home’ or meeting house. The Society remained active until the Nineties, when, due to an aging and dwindling congregation, it was dissolved. About six Doukhobor families remain in the Kylemore district today.

Kylemore Doukhobors holding moleniye prayer service, 1959.  Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.


Today, there are few physical reminders of the CCUB colony at Kylemore. An abandoned two-story village dom stands on the north side of the No. 5 Highway, a silent sentinel of the communal past, while at least two smaller village dwellings can be found nearby. The concrete foundations of other village doms, barns and reservoirs dot the surrounding countryside. Many of the original Doukhobor colonists lay at rest in God’s Blessing Cemetery, still in active use. Recently, a stream running through the former colony was christened Blahoslovenie (Blessing) Creek in their memory.

A more enduring legacy of the Kylemore Colony is its living one. For today, the descendants of the original 300 colonists, who surely number in the hundreds if not thousands, can be found throughout Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the rest of Canada. They continue to preserve the memory of these pioneering Spirit Wrestlers.

The Chernoff Village dom (originally two stories) still stands west of Kylemore, SK. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

A dwelling from the Arishenkoff Village, shrouded in vines south of Kylemore, SK. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


  • British Columbia. Report of Royal Commission on matters relating to the sect of Doukhobors in the province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria, King’s Printer: 1913, p. 58).
  • Dawson, Carl A., Group Settlement: Ethnic Communities in Western Canada (The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited, 1936).
  • Friesen, John W. and Michael M. Verigin, The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1996).
  • Gooliaff, Cecil, Lawrence Kalmakoff, Randy Konkin, Jennifer Osachoff, Wally Vanin, Doukhobors of Saskatchewan: Past, Present and Future (November 1972).
  • Hawthorn, Harry (ed.), The Doukhobors of British Columbia (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1955).
  • Hudson’s Bay Archives, File No. RG1/21/7.
  • Kalmakoff, Jonathan J. Field research notes for Kylemore district; July 2003; June 2008.
  • Kalmakoff, Jonathan J., Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada, 1930 Saskatchewan Membership List (Regina: 2002).
  • Kelvington Historical Society, Tears Toil and Triumph, Story of Kelvington and District (Kelvington: 1980).
  • Kuroki History Book Committee, Seems Like Only Yesterday, 1892-1980: The History of Kuroki and District (Kuroki: 1980).
  • Lapshinoff, Steve, Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada, 1937 Membership List (Crescent Valley: self published, 2001).
  • Lethbridge Herald, “Doukhobors Reorganize Community Life” (April 4, 1928).
  • Library and Archives Canada, RG10, Indian Affairs, Volume 6707, Reel C-8077.
  • Library and Archives Canada, RG95, Corporations Branch, Series 1, Volume 1297, The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited.
  • Malekoff, Peter P. Personal interviews with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, July 31, 2003 and June 21, 2008.
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Doukhobor Head Here: Tells of Work New Community Hopes to Enter Into” (June 14, 1918).
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Land for New Doukhobor Settlement” (June 1, 1918).
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Views of Wadena, Saskatchewan” (May 24, 1926).
  • Popoff, Eli A. Tanya (Grand Forks: Mir Publication Society, 1975).
  • R.M. of Kelvington No. 366, Tax Rolls (1921-1939).
  • Saskatchewan Archives Board, Cummins Rural Directory Map for Saskatchewan; Map Nos. 172 & 193 (1920, 1922, 1926, 1930).
  • Snesarev, Vladimir N. (Harry W. Trevor), The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia Publication, Department of Agriculture, 1931).
  • Sysoev, Theodore I. Correspondence with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, November 8, 2008.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma, J., Plakun Trava (Grand Forks: Mir Publication Society, 1982).
  • Veregin, Nora. Personal interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, August 1, 2008.
  • Wadena Herald, “Doukhobors to Stay: Veregin Closes Deal for 10,000 Acres of Prairie Land” (June 27, 1918).
  • Wadena History Book Committee, Remembering Times: Wadena and Area Dating Back to 1882 (2 vols.) (Wadena: 1992).
  • Winnipeg Free Press, “Doukhobor Group Will Resist Any Attempt to Evict Them from Farms” (April 27, 1935).
  • Winnipeg Free Press, “Doukhobors Are Leaving Sask.” (October 18, 1934).
  • Winnipeg Free Press, “Doukhobors Will Sell Property in Saskatchewan” (April 8, 1935).
  • Woodcock, George & Ivan Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1977).

View Kylemore, Saskatchewan Doukhobor Villages, 1918-1938 in a larger map

An earlier version of this article was published in a compilation by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff and Anne Sanderson entitled Their Story in the Wadena News from July 9 to August 20, 2008. That compilation received a first place award for Best Saskatchewan Cultural Story of the Year at the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspaper Association’s 2009 Better Newspaper Competition Premier Awards.

This article was subsequently reproduced by permission in:

The Hyas Doukhobor Settlement

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Among the first settlers in the Hyas district of Saskatchewan were a group of Independent Doukhobors. Attracted by homestead lands and the promise of a railroad, the Russian pacifists arrived in 1902 to establish the village of Vozvyshenie. For five years, they lived, prayed and worked there under the motto of “Toil and Peaceful Life”, transforming the prairie wilderness into productive farmland. By 1907, however, the village experiment was abandoned, owing to the lack of railroad facilities and difficulty of getting goods to market. The story of Vozvyshenie illustrates the role of the traditional Russian village model, cooperative organization, homestead policy and the location and timing of railroad construction in the early settlement of Independent Doukhobors on the Prairies. The following article by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, a descendant of the Vozvyshenie Doukhobors, examines their little known contribution to the history and development of the Hyas district.

Origin and History

The Doukhobors were a religious group founded in 18th century Russia. They rejected the rites and dogma of the Orthodox Church and denied the authority of the Tsarist State, refusing to swear allegiance to anyone but God. Their practical, commonsense teachings were based on the belief that the spirit of God resides in the soul of every person; therefore, to kill another person was to kill God. The Doukhobors were frequently persecuted for their faith by Imperial Russian authorities and forced to live in the frontier regions of the Empire.

In 1895, the Doukhobors refused to perform military service and burned their firearms in a symbolic demonstration against violence. Their pacifist stand was met with renewed persecution by authorities and many were tortured, imprisoned or exiled. Their plight attracted international attention, and with the assistance of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Doukhobors sought refuge by immigrating to Canada.

Doukhobor women winnowing grain.  Library and Archives Canada C-008891.

In 1899, over 7,500 Doukhobors arrived in Canada, settling on three large blocks of land reserved for them by the Dominion Government in the Northwest Territories, in what are today the districts of Pelly, Arran, Kamsack, Veregin, Canora, Buchanan, Langham and Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. Following the motto of “Toil and Peaceful Life”, they cleared, broke and farmed the land and established over sixty villages, as well as flour mills, elevators, saw mills, brick factories, trading stores, roads, bridges and ferries in these areas.

During the first years of settlement, the Doukhobors adopted a communal way of life. Organized as the “Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”, they held all land, livestock, machinery and other property in common. All work in the fields was performed jointly, all produce went into a communal granary and all proceeds, including outside earnings, pooled into a common treasury. Virtually all aspects of Community life – spiritual, social and economic – were organized according to the utopian communal vision of their leader, Peter V. Verigin.

As time passed, however, many of the younger Doukhobor men withdrew from the Community and entered for individual homesteads. These men had travelled around the country working for Canadian farmers and had imbibed some independent ideas. They came to resent the narrowness and rigidity of Community life and grew tired of throwing their wage labour into a pool and getting very little out of it. They retained the essentials of their religion, particularly pacifism, but rejected the central leadership and communal lifestyle as being not essential to true Doukhoborism. Most of these “Independents” settled on their individual homesteads after leaving the communalism of the Community villages. A few, however, sought to retain the traditional village form of settlement. Such was the case of the Independent Doukhobors who settled in the Hyas district.

Arrival and Settlement

In the spring of 1902, a group of twenty-nine Doukhobors in the Buchanan district broke away from the communal lifestyle to farm independently. As all of the desirable homesteads had been taken up in that district, they were obliged to search elsewhere for land. After careful investigation of the countryside, traversing it from west to east and from south to north, they chose lands situated twenty-five miles to the northeast – a day’s journey by horse and wagon – in the Hyas district.

The Hyas district was a wilderness of rolling prairie covered with scattered poplar and scrub, interspersed with spruce, when the Doukhobors arrived. Much of the land was still unsettled. It was unsurveyed and there were no roads save for a deeply rutted pack trail – a branch of the Fort Pelly Trail – which ran through it. Nonetheless, the land met the settlers’ essential requirements: excellent soil, a good water supply, and accessible timber to build. As well, many of the settlers were already familiar with the district, having founded a short-lived village in the vicinity between 1899 and 1901.

A significant factor in their decision to locate was the Canadian Northern Railway Company’s 1902 proposal to extend a branch line from Swan River, Manitoba west through the district. When the Doukhobors inquired with the Dominion Lands Branch office about homesteads in the vicinity, they had been promised the branch line within a year or two. It was well understood at the time that rail access to distant markets would be essential if they were to prosper on their homesteads and farms in the hinterland.

Map of Vovyshenie village site in relation to present-day village of Hyas, Saskatchewan.

To this end, the Russian speaking settlers filed homestead entries on Section 6 of Township 34 and Sections 30 and 34 of Township 33, all in Range 2, West of the Second Meridian along the proposed railway route. Under the Dominion Lands Act, they could obtain patent for the land provided they cultivated at least thirty acres on each quarter-section, became naturalized subjects and swore an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

Ordinarily, homesteaders were required to build a house on their quarter-section and reside there for a period of time, usually six months a year for three years. However, the Doukhobors were granted the modifications of the “Hamlet Clause” under the Dominion Lands Act which allowed them to fulfill the residence requirements in their traditional village form of settlement and fulfill their homestead obligations without actually living on their individual quarter-sections.

The Doukhobors thus selected a suitable place on the southwest quarter of Section 6 to establish a village. It was located so that it would be more or less central to their homestead entries to minimize the travel distance between their homes and their fields. It was adjacent to a small unnamed stream which offered a reliable source of water. Stands of spruce trees were situated nearby for use for building and heating. As it was built on a rise of land, relative to the swampy lowlands to the south, it was named Vozvyshenie, from the Russian for “elevation” or “rising ground”. It was the first organized settlement in the district, predating the village of Hyas by a decade.

The village initially consisted of five 18’ x 30’ houses constructed of hand-sawn logs with low-pitched gable roofs thatched with grass. They were built in two rows facing each other across a wide central street, laid out in the Strassendorf (street village) pattern used in Russia. Behind each house was a large garden plot for use by each family. Numerous outbuildings were also built, including barns, stables, granaries, a bathhouse (banya), blacksmith’s shop (kuznitsa) and outdoor clay oven (pech’). A row of spruce trees was planted along the central street of the village.

The original families comprising the village of Vozvyshenie were those of Wasyl Swetlishnoff, John Salikin, Alexei Barisoff, Peter Negraeff, John Rilkoff, Joseph Derhousoff, Peter Sookorukoff and Semyon Kalmakoff. In the ensuing years, they were joined by the families of Alexei Katasonoff, Efim Bedinoff, Alexei Derhousoff and Zakhar Derhousoff from the Arran and Runnymede districts. Most of the village families were related to one another either directly or through marriage.

Home of Syoma and Masha Kalmakoff, Vozvysheniye village, c. 1905.  This rare period photograph is the only one of the village known to exist today.

Village Life

The Doukhobors of Vozvyshenie lived together on a free and voluntary basis, without formal leadership or institutions. Village meetings (sobranie) were held from time to time at which women and men participated equally in the decision making process, which was similar to the traditional mir in Russia. The elders (starichki) provided advice and direction for the affairs of the village. Disagreements were rare, and the Doukhobor values of love, non-violence, hospitality, simple living and justice prevailed in day to day relations.

Agriculturally and economically, the villagers organized themselves along broad cooperative lines, as they had in Russia. Homesteads, village lots, buildings, livestock and machinery were considered the private property of each household. Each family worked its homestead independent of the others. At the same time, they cooperated in common undertakings, sharing labour, draft animals and implements whenever they could be spared from their own work. To some extent, such mutual assistance was a practical necessity in the early years of Prairie settlement, when survival was paramount.

The Doukhobors were almost entirely self-sufficient in food production. They grew potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes and other vegetables in their gardens; picked wild berries, nuts and mushrooms in the forest; consumed meat and dairy products from their cattle; slaughtered their cows, pigs and chickens for meat; caught fish in the nearby rivers and streams; and grew wheat which was milled to produce flour for baking.

The villagers also manufactured most of their own cloths, tools and furniture. The women wove cloth and made garments, rugs, shawls, and hangings from homespun fabrics. The men produced furniture, boots and shoes, ladles, harnesses, horseshoes, spades, spinning wheels and various tools. Store-bought items consisted of those few items which could not be made, grown or produced in the village, such as salt, coal oil, glass, sugar, tea and soap.

As with all new settlers, the Doukhobors struggled to increase their cash income. In summer, the able-bodied men left the village to work as railway labourers and farmhands at subsistence wages while the women, children and old men managed the lands and households. It was this collective sharing of responsibilities which made their continued existence possible.

Doukhobors harvesting, c. 1907.  Library and Archives Canada C-009787.

Clearing and improving the homesteads was a slow, difficult process that took the majority of the villagers’ time and labour. Before crops could be sown, the settlers had to remove trees and scrub, drain sloughs and clear the fields of rocks. Using axes, hoes and sickles along with teams of horses hitched to walking plows, the Doukhobors could only clear ten to fifteen acres at the most in a year. All villagers old enough to work contributed towards this effort.

As parcels of land were cleared, the Doukhobors cultivated and sowed it to produce rye, barley and oat crops. They put much of it into grass for pasture and hay. As more feed was produced, additional livestock were acquired. At first, the villagers were limited to subsistence farming, with nearly all of the crops and livestock raised used to survive, leaving little, if any, surplus for sale or trade.

Diversions from the arduous work were few. Leisure was not a concept known to the Doukhobors since, according to their teachings, people were not supposed to be idle. All the same, the villagers socialized as they worked together in the village and in the fields. Work and leisure thus formed an integrated whole. Prayer meetings (molenie) were a major weekly social event on Sunday morning. Other less formal social gatherings were held from time to time.

Generally speaking, the Doukhobors shared many of the same experiences as other settlers. Isolation, loneliness, harsh weather, deprivation and adversity were met with persistence, optimism, thrift, resourcefulness and the acceptance of unremitting hard work. At the same time, their life was made easier in that they were a close-knit community and worked together, whereas a single homesteader often lived by himself, far from other neighbours.

Growth and Prosperity

In spite of the initial hardships of pioneer life, Vozvyshenie grew and even prospered. By the taking of the Census of Northwest Provinces in 1906, it was a bustling village of forty-five people living in eleven households. Now the villagers had eighteen horses, thirty-seven milk cows and forty-seven horned cattle. They had brought a large area surrounding the village under cultivation and had begun to produce a surplus of agricultural products.

By this time, the Doukhobors were no longer alone. Following the Dominion Lands Survey in 1904, in which sections and quarter-sections were laid out, hundreds of new settlers poured into the district. The vast bulk of these people were Galicians from Western Ukraine and Scandinavians – Swedes and Norwegians – who arrived via the United States. Other groups included English and Scottish settlers from Ontario and Russian and Ukrainian Evangelical Protestants who, like the Doukhobors, fled Tsarist Russia to avoid religious persecution. They all came seeking a better way of life, bringing with them a diversity of languages, manners and customs.

It was evident that the Doukhobor village was a gathering place for many of the newcomers where they met to discuss local news, weather conditions and matters relating to the land and its settlement. To some extent, the newcomers were dependent on more established settlers for advice and direction to start their own homesteads, and the Doukhobors were foremost in offering hospitality and generosity to all who came to them for assistance.

A line of spruce trees marks the central street of Vozvyshenie, a mile southwest of Hyas on Highway No. 49.

For instance, when the first groups of Russian and Ukrainian Evangelical Protestants arrived in the district, they stayed at Vozvyshenie for several days, and with the help of the Doukhobors, got to their homesteads. The two groups of settlers, being able to converse in their native language, remained on friendly terms, visited one another’s homes and engaged in lively philosophical discussions. Indeed, one Evangelical Protestant settler, Pavel Skripnik, was so impressed by the Doukhobor way of life that he converted to their faith and took the surname “Skripnikoff”.

With the influx of settlers, regular mail service became available in 1903 as the Plateau post office was opened on Fred Wright’s farm on Section 16 of Township 33. In 1905, it was moved to the general store belonging to Adolph Kennedy on Section 20 of Township 33 and renamed the Ulric post office. Then, from 1909 to 1911, it was re-opened as the Cokato post office on Tom Tetlock’s farm on Section 26 of Township 33. Mail was conveyed fortnightly by stage from Kamsack via Fort Pelly. With this convenience, settlers were better able to transact business and maintain correspondence with friends and relatives in outlaying parts of the country.

Despite the rapid growth of the district, however, the settlers were disadvantaged by the lack of accessibility and distance of markets. The main supply route, the Fort Pelly Trail, provided a tenuous link to the outside world and was often impassible by horse and wagon. Although supplies could be obtained locally at Kennedy’s or at the Hudson Bay Company store at Fort Pelly, fourteen miles to the east, the nearest market for livestock and grain was the town of Canora, located twenty miles to the south, which was too far away to be practical and economical.

The railway had been promised, but each autumn after the ground had frozen, when it came time for grain hauling, there was no sign of a railway and the settlers had to haul their grain to Canora. The Doukhobors hitched two teams of horses to a sleigh and hauled up to sixty bushels per load. The entire trip consumed two days. During the relatively mild winters of 1905 and 1906, the journey was bearable. However, during the severe winter of 1907, the heavy loads often got upset in the deep snow and it was several days before they got back to the village. Similar long and arduous journeys were made to drive the cattle the Doukhobors raised overland to Canora.

Abandonment and Dissolution

by the end of 1907, many of the Doukhobors had grown dissatisfied with the lack of railway facilities, the difficulty of getting goods to market and the resulting unprofitability of their farms. It was generally established that grain could not be profitably marketed if had to be hauled by horse and wagon for a distance greater than ten to twelve miles to a railway point.

After much deliberation, most decided that the economic benefits of relocating closer to the railhead outweighed the limitations of staying at Vozvyshenie. Consequently, eight of the eleven families abandoned their homestead entries, left the village and relocated to new homesteads which had been thrown open in the district north-east of Canora. Their partially improved homestead entries were eventually taken up by new settlers.

The departure of the majority of families led to the dissolution of the village. The remaining families – those who were unwilling or perhaps unable to abandon their efforts and relocate to another district – moved out onto their individual homesteads. As houses and barns were removed or dismantled for building materials, the physical structure of the village was reduced to the farmstead of the family homesteading the village quarter-section. Thus, the Doukhobor village of Vozvyshenie, which only a year before had bustled with activity and promise, disappeared from the map.

Log farmhouse of Alexei Barisoff – the last remaining building of Vozvyshenie.

New Beginnings

The families who stayed behind – those of Alexei Derhousoff, Zakhar Derhousoff and Alexei Barisoff – continued to prove up their entries on Section 6 of Township 34. In due course, they obtained patents to the land. They were joined by another Doukhobor family, that of Ivan Nahornoff, who arrived in the district from Russia in 1910 and purchased (desirable homesteads were now hard to come by so that new settlers had to purchase land) the southeast quarter of Section 35 of Township 33. The 1911 Canada Census reported twenty-one people in these four families. Their mixed farming operations were amongst the most prosperous and successful in the district.

Ironically, in the end, the railway eventually did arrive. In late 1911, the Canadian Northern Railway Company completed the final section of the Thunderhill Branch Line from Pelly, through the district, to Preeceville. Its construction made life significantly easier for the local settlers, ending their isolation, giving them direct access to markets, stimulating agricultural and economic growth and acting as a catalyst for local improvements, including the construction of a modern road system.

The following year, the railway company constructed a siding, with a boxcar station and loading platform, on the northwest quarter of Section 5 of Township 34. A hamlet was surveyed there, which soon boasted a post office, school, two general stores, restaurant, elevator, bank, hotel, blacksmith and livery stable along with numerous residences. It became a small commercial centre where local farmers came to ship livestock and grain to market, transact business and pick up necessary supplies and also collect mail. Thus the community of Hyas, as it came to be known, was established as it is today.

Ironically, the district’s earliest settlers, the Doukhobors, did not long remain to enjoy these modern developments. As land values soared and land grew scarcer along the new branch line, the Barisoff, Derhousoff and Nahornoff families, unable to expand their landholdings (following the arrival of the railway, the price of farmland per acre rose significantly), and desiring to live closer to their coreligionists, sold out in 1914-1915 and relocated to the Kamsack district, a predominantly Doukhobor-settled area, where they purchased new farms.


Time has erased most, but not all, traces of the Doukhobor village of Vozvyshenie. A line of spruce trees – now part of the shelterbelt surrounding the Serdachny family farm – still marks the central street of the village. A solitary log farmhouse nearby stares silently at the traffic passing by on the highway west of Hyas. Little else remains except in old records, yellowed photographs and in the memories of the villagers passed down to their descendants. Yet, the story of Vozvyshenie offers a unique perspective of the history of the district, the Doukhobor contribution to its development and the myriad factors which led to the founding of some Prairie settlements and the demise of others.

As well, the story of Vozvyshenie offers an interesting counterpoint to previous interpretations of Independent Doukhobor settlement on the Prairies. In the past, scholars had interpreted the Independents’ abandonment of communal villages as an outright rejection of that form of settlement. In the case of Vozvyshenie, however, while these Independents rejected communal ownership and living, they did not abandon the concept of “community”. Instead, they sought to maintain a community in the context of cooperativism and individual land ownership. In doing so, they opted for a form of settlement more akin to that which they had left in Russia, than either the utopian communalism of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, on one hand, or the rugged individualism of “Canadian” settlers, on the other. It was only later, when increased wealth and economic opportunity made them less dependent on each other, that the Doukhobors of Vozvyshenie discarded the traditional Russian village model as being no longer necessary for either their physical survival or the preservation of their spiritual life.


  • Barry, Bill. Correspondence. May 13-19, 2006.
  • Barschel, J.F. Paul, “A History of Canora and District” (Canora, Saskatchewan: Canora Golden Jubilee Committee, 1960).
  • Belous, Wilf. Interview. June 15, 2005.
  • Canadian Genealogy Centre, “Post Offices and Postmasters Database”.  Retrieved June 1, 2006, from http://www.collectionscanada.ca/archivianet/post-offices/index-e.html.
  • Deduke, Dan. Interview. July 3, 2005.
  • Dobbyn, Ed & Gwen Palmer, “Lasting Impressions: Historical Sketches of the Swan River Valley” (Swan River: Swan Valley Historical Society, 1984).
  • Information Services Corporation of Saskatchewan: Certificate of Title No. MM94, dated October 25, 1910, issued for NW6-34-2-W2 to Zakhar Dergowusoff; Certificate of Title No. 228MQ, dated December 22, 1910, issued for NW6-34-2-W2 to Alec Dergowusoff; Certificate of Title No. 67OW, dated October 2, 1913, issued for NW6-34-2-W2 to Joseph Derhousoff; Certificate of Title No. 200PF, dated April 14, 1914, issued for NW6-34-2-W2 to Louie Slegel; Certificate of Title No. 37MS, dated January 27, 1911, issued for NE6-34-2-W2 to Alexey Dierhousoff; Certificate of Title No. 129OW, dated October 8, 1913, issued for NE6-34-2-W2 to Joseph Derhousoff; Certificate of Title No. 204PF, dated April 14, 1914, issued for NE6-34-2-W2 to Louie Slegel; Certificate of Title No. 370, dated 1908, issued for SW6-34-2-W2 to Alexey Barisoff; Certificate of Title No. 74PU, dated April 23, 1915, issued for SW6-34-2-W2 to Louie Slegel.
  • Library and Archives Canada, Census of Canada, 1911, Saskatchewan, Mackenzie District No. 210, Sub-district No. 25, p. 6.
  • Library and Archives Canada, Census of the Northwest Provinces, 1906, Saskatchewan, Mackenzie District No. 14, Sub-district No. 27, pp. 1-2.
  • Library and Archives Canada, RG 15, Department of the Interior, Vozsvishennie Doukhobor Village File, File No. 5404684.
  • Regehr, T.D. The Canadian Northern Railway, Pioneer Road of the Northern Prairies 1895-1918. (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976).
  • Saskatchewan Archives Board, Edgar Bray, Surveyor’s Note Book, November 16, 1903, File I.73.
  • Saskatchewan Archives Board, Homestead Files: File No. 878895, Alexey Barisoff, SW6-34-2-W2; File No. 1390749, George Zadubriwski, SE6-34-2-W2; File No. 1416184, Alexey Dierhous, NE6-34-2-W2; File No. 1410052, Zakhar Dergowusoff, NW6-34-2-W2.
  • Saskatchewan Archives Board, Ulric School District No. 2432 File.
  • Statutes of Canada, 1903, Chapter 97.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. “Doukhobors” in Paul Robert Magocsi, (ed.). Encyclopedia of Canada’s People. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), pp. 422-435.
  • The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2000 edition. (Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1999).
  • The Norquay North Star, “History of Hyas Dates Back to 1910.” (May 20, 1955), p.5.
  • The Norquay North Star, “Pioneers Came to South Hyas in 1905.” (May 20, 1955), p. 4.
  • The Norquay North Star, “The History of Stenen.” (May 20, 1955), p. 6.
  • Tracie, Carl J., “Toil and Peaceful Life: Doukhobor Village Settlement in Saskatchewan, 1899-1918” (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina, 1996).
  • Woodcock, George & Ivan Avakumovic. The Doukhobors. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 240.

This article was reproduced by permission in:

The Story of Saskatchewan and its People: The Doukhobors

by John Hawkes

Born in Aylesford, England in 1851, John Hawkes came to Western Canada in 1884, worked on the railroad, homesteaded near Percival, SK for a time and then ran for the North West legislature in 1888. In 1892, he moved to Whitewood, SK where he acted in many official capacities in addition to editing The Whitewood Journal from 1897 to 1900. In 1907, he was appointed the first official Legislative Librarian for Saskatchewan. In 1924, Hawkes published the impressive three-volume history of the province, “Saskatchewan and its People” (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company). The following excerpt from his book relates his personal observations and reminiscences of the Doukhobors of Saskatchewan.  He was one of the first historians to portray the Doukhobor story as part of the broader history and tradition of the province and its people.

In the fall of 1898, or 1899, I was returning officer in the Territorial election and I was returning officer for the district for which Wm. Eakins was then returned. The district extended to the Swan River. In the course of my work as Returning Officer I arrived at the old Fort Pelly. I got there about midnight after a pretty tough trip through the Coté Reserve. I was on wheels, but there was six inches of wet snow on the ground. Just as I drove into Pelly a wagon appeared, with wheels covered with snow and frozen mud. There were five occupants of the vehicle. After we had all been thawed out by Angus McBeth’s hospitable Hudson’s Bay fire (and something else) I found that the travellers in the wagon included Fred Fischer, a fine fellow, well known, who was assistant to the Indian Agent at Coté Reserve. He was acting as guide to some Doukhobor delegates, one of whom was a Russian Prince [Khilkov], a follower of Tolstoi. The other two were ordinary Doukhobors, big solemn fellows, but capable looking. It appears that the Russian Dowager Empress had interested herself on their behalf, and the Russian Doukhobors were given leave to emigrate. They had been harassed for generations, as they preferred martyrdom rather than accept military service, which was against their religious principles, and even the Cossacks had got tired of persecuting them without results. The Doukhobors had first selected the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean as their objective, but finding it unsuitable, they had decided to take a look at the Canadian West. Hence the delegates in the wagon with Fred Fischer.

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

They were looking for running water, wood and good soil, and they were not particular where it was as they intended to live within themselves. Suitable locations far from railways or projected railways (at that time) were found at Swan River, east and west of the Assiniboine, between the present Kamsack and Togo; Devil’s Lake, south of the present Buchanan on the Canadian Northern Railway; Stony Creek, Two Creeks, and other points farther west, with which I was not familiar. The following spring large numbers of Doukhobors arrived at Yorkton. Mr. Creerar, Immigration Agent at Yorkton, took charge. I only assisted for a few weeks, but travelling on other work both winter and summer kept me in touch with them. McGreavy was Commissioner of Immigration at that time and took great interest in them, earning thereby the name of “Doukhobor Bill.”

Large log buildings were erected as depots between Yorkton and Pelly for the use of the immigrants as they were moved out to their different reservations. The Doukhobors were a big, stolid lot of people, vegetarians who would not kill anything or eat even eggs, claiming that eggs were embryo “chickens.” Neither would they use butter or grease, claiming that the milk and cream were intended for the calves, and grease could be got from dead animals; yet notwithstanding all this they were a very sturdy and hardy lot of workers. Finally they all arrived and were settled in villages.

Their houses and buildings were well built of logs and clay, a fact that is partly accounted for by many of the Doukhobors being skilled mechanics. The houses in the villages were in double rows with stables, etc. behind, and wide streets between the rows. The buildings were white-washed, and there were net fences; trees were planted in front of the houses and there were good gardens. Of course this was not done all at once. The villages were connected with good roads, many miles in length; and the Doukhobors were the first to have telephones between the villages, long distances apart of course, but built, owned and operated by themselves.

Road building on the Doukhobor community estate, Veregin district, Saskatchewan, 1918. Library and Archives Canada PA-022237.

Their system of government consisted in electing three councillors [elders] in each village who were invested with supreme control. They could marry and even divorce couples who were found incompatible. By the way, a test case was tried at Yorkton to ascertain if these divorces by the councillors were legal. It was ruled that they were not, and if the divorced parties married again, which they generally did, they committed bigamy under our laws. This put a stop to the divorces.

The intention of the Doukhobors was to live as a nation within a nation, and make their own laws, living entirely to themselves. They claimed they were “God’s chosen people.” They gave great trouble when the census was taken in 1901; they resisted the registration of births, deaths and marriages, and giving their reason for refusing information, they said “God knew it and it was nobody else’s business.” Neither would they make individual entry for their homesteads. They would not take the necessary oaths and claimed they were a community and had nothing to do with individualism. As nobody wanted the lands, which were first class, but too far from the railroad, or likely to want them for years till a railway appeared, they were not disturbed at first, but this could not be permitted to go on indefinitely; and finally they had to throw up their homesteads. They purchased the intermediate railway lands adjacent to their homesteads, getting, however, some concessions where the villages were situated. A considerable number, however, of the younger men, withdrew from the community and became independent Doukhobors. These men had knocked about the country working for farmers, and had imbibed some independent ideas. They got tired of throwing their wages into a pool, and getting very little out of it, for the Councillors divided the money, or its equivalent, according to the size of the families.

A [Community] Doukhobor could not personally own a house, or a cow or a calf or anything else, although purchased with their own money. This became very galling to those who had gone about and learned something of modern ideas, and many withdrew from the community and entered for homesteads in accordance with the regulations. Like many Indians, some of these learned more of the white man’s vices than his virtues; they not only ate meat, but drank whiskey, smoked and even swore, of course in English as there were no swear words in Doukhobor. However, they became excellent citizens as a rule. The older people and some of the younger, making a majority of the whole, stood fast to the old order.

The Doukhobors were at first very poor. Count Tolstoi had financed their passages out [of Russia] and some assistance was given from the Dominion Government, but all the fit men had to go to work, leaving the old men and women and children in the villages. They had at first no oxen or horses, but got ropes and strong young women hauled the plows with the old men between the handles. This was done principally for gardens, and not on a large scale.

Doukhobor railway construction crew, 1907. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Amongst other activities the Community took the contract to grade the Grand Trunk Pacific branch from Yorkton to Canora which meant thirty miles through a country a good deal of which was low and wet and alkaline. They made a good job of it and earned a lot of money between seeding and haying. Of course there were a great number of them to do it but the labor was well organized and the work was systematically carried out. Other Doukhobors undertook to grade some of the wet parts of the Canadian Northern between Dauphin, Manitoba, and Prince Albert, Sask., being a job that others would not accept or take hold of at any price. The Doukhobors drained the muskegs, cut the sod with spades and carried the “dirt” to the dumps in hand barrows. They got a good price per cubic yard, and they worked from daylight to dark and they made a lot of money. With this money the farms were equipped. Their living was cheap and they saved most of their earnings, and they certainly were a hard-working, happy and contented lot, both men and women. They were very religious, being literal interpreters of the Old Testament; they had prayers night and morning, and sang hymns at their work; withal they were very courteous and hospitable and would take no money for accommodation, as I frequently had to discover, but a gift to the children was allowed.

A change came over [some of] them, however. Some fanatics worked them up to fever heat. They were “God’s special children,” and God would take care of them. They should not work animals or use them in any way as they were the Almighty’s, and so on. So, many of them turned their stock loose, and hauled all their implements and wagons by hand, long strings of them being thus employed. They discarded all leather and woolen clothing, because it came from animals, and wore linen garments and rubber shoes. Some discarded all clothing, not from any immorality or immodesty, as they were wrongfully considered to do by the general public, who did not know them, but because they were following the example of the Garden of Eden. Finally large bodies [in 1902] started on the tramp “looking for Jesus.” One known as “John the Baptist” headed them as they moved slowly and solemnly along. At night they slept in the bluffs if they found any, and they gleaned their food from the fields. Their mournful dirges as they moved along could sometimes be heard for a couple of miles off. Day after day they travelled on, suffering great hardships, till they reached Minnedosa in Manitoba. By this time the weather had become severe; and the authorities now without much trouble, were able to round them up, put them into box cars on the railroad and take them back to where they started from. John the Baptist, however, protested vigorously, but he was gently lifted up and with others, deposited in a box car which was locked. The Doukhobors would not fight, as it was against their principles, but they showed they were very good wrestlers. The most violent were herded and fed west of Yorkton [in Orcadia] for awhile; the bulk went quietly back to their villages, some of the ringleaders who had broken the law, were taken to Regina Barracks; and some, who were visibly unbalanced were sent to an asylum. There was subsequently another march [in 1907] which took them to Fort William in New Ontario, but stronger measures were now used and they were returned.

Doukhobor pilgrims leaving Yorkton to evangelize the world, 1902.  Library and Archives Canada C014077.

Peter Veregin, the real leader of the Doukhobors, was an exile in Siberia, but he was liberated, and came out and took charge. He was looked upon [by his followers] as the Almighty’s Vice-regent and by the more superstitious was supposed to have supernatural powers, one of which was the gift of All-seeing. The Doukhobors obeyed him readily and he got them into line again after their bursts of fanaticism, and they got a new start. Soon after this the railways reached the Doukhobor reserves. The lands were first class and although no one else would look at them when the Doukhobors first took them up because they were so distant from a railway, yet now those lands were looked upon with envious eyes, and the trouble began to which a previous reference has been made, with the result that the Doukhobors who had hitherto been unmolested, although they had not made entry according to law, were now obliged to throw up their homesteads, as they would not consent to individual ownership.

Veregin is a great organizer, but a benevolent autocrat. He had to be supreme, but he ruled wisely. He purchased car loads of machinery including a modern flour mill which was erected at “Veregin”. Veregin is just west of Kamsack, and in the centre of the settlements consisting of numerous villages along the Assiniboine River, Stony Creek, and White Sand River. A good store was established with modern office equipment. Any one could buy at this store but no tobacco or meats were stocked or sold. You could buy biscuits or crackers as they were manufactured but if you wanted butter it was sent out for and presented to you. Steam plows were largely used and great stretches of land were cultivated and the Doukhobors became great producers. They again had horses and cattle, all of good quality and kept in fine condition, but they were seriously handicapped when they had on principle, to abandon their homesteads. As previously stated a good many deserted the community and some of the villages had to be abandoned, as the “Independents” who had taken up their individual homesteads built on their farms.

Veregin, desiring to retain his supremacy, now arranged with the British Columbia Government for fruit and farm lands, and sent out an advance party [in 1908], and after this party had erected houses and planted trees Veregin moved a large number of the Doukhobors to B. C.

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin, 1922. Library and Archives Canada PA-030798.

He had lived in great state near Veregin. He had a fine large house, with all modern conveniences including a Turkish bath. He generally drove about with his secretary and three or four handmaidens in a swell democrat [buggy] with four to six horses, acknowledging the bows of his subjects with great dignity. I have no doubt that he now has his limousine of the best; but the people are not as much in awe of him in these later years.

He has however, great power yet, and being a very able man and really devoted to the welfare of the Doukhobors as long as they recognize him as their Lord and Master, there can be no doubt he has done good service.

It is a noteworthy fact that no Community Doukhobor has ever been brought before the Courts of Justice. I believe the Doukhobors are quite sincere, and have a practical belief in the Brotherhood of Man, which belief they live up to. 

During the [First World] war they, of course, took no part in it, but they sent at least one carload of jam from British Columbia for the Canadian soldiers and if I remember correctly they presented several carloads of wheat from their farms in Saskatchewan.

I remember a couple of incidents which will give some insight into the character of this peculiar people.

Driving from Pelly to Saltcoats with my foreman (I was engineering a steel bridge across the Assiniboine River) I put up at a Doukhobor village where we got the best of treatment. Early in the morning I visited the stable, and found my foreman surrounded by several young Doukhobor inquisitors.

I overheard the following, but missed what had been said previously. Doukhobor to foreman: Tobacco smoke you? “Yes”. Oh, bad, ver’ bad. Whiskey drink you? “Yes”. “Oh, ver’ ver’ bad”; and they all scampered away doubtless under the impression that we natives were a very bad lot. They had given us of their best; everything was clean and tidy and they had made us very comfortable, yet on our offering them money they as usual shook their heads and said with smiles “All brothers”. I however left a dollar or so where they could find it.

The other incident was of a different nature. The Two Creek Village [probably Terpeniye, a Doukhobor village located in the Two Creek rural school district north of Wroxton, SK] was some twelve or fourteen miles north of the Galician [West Ukrainian] settlement which the Austrian Consul named after myself. The trail to Langenburg, another twenty-five miles, passed by a place of a Galician who was partly blind, and not able to go out to work. He had however a very energetic wife who went out to work, and earned enough to keep the pot boiling. A little girl of ten or twelve completed the family. The man managed somehow to cut and carry poles and together they built a very neat little house, finished with clay, and well whitewashed and some outbuildings were also erected. During their second year they had actually four acres in crop all spaded and hand-raked, and well fenced, as well as a good garden. A team [of horses] of any kind had never been on the place, except one was hired to bring supplies or seed, and which was bought by the woman with her earnings. They had a pig or two and some hens. All the work on the farm was literally done by hand. The crop, a good one, was cut with the sickle and threshed out with a flail on a clay platform, and the grain was cleaned by throwing it up in the wind.

Doukhobor ox cart, c. 1900.  Library and Archives Canada C-007815.

The Doukhobors evidently had noticed what these poor people were doing to make an honest living and they knew of the man’s disability through his partial blindness. They must have talked things over among themselves, for one day three stalwart Doukhobors arrived leading a pair of steers, and a heifer fresh calved. They called the Galicians to the gate and with courteous bows, asked them to accept the cattle from the Doukhobors as a brotherly gift to deserving people. The languages are different, but have something in common and I believe Galicians and Doukhobors can make themselves understood fairly well. The Galicians were very much surprised and very grateful. The ropes on the cattle were put into the hands of the Galicians and the Doukhobors, bowing and raising their caps departed quietly on foot to their village. I happened to be an eye witness of this incident. I realized what was going on, although I did not understand the language; and I thought to myself, “These people may be ill-informed and peculiar, but they practice what they preach and one cannot help but respect them.”

Arrival of the First Group of Doukhobors in Ootischenia, British Columbia, 1908

by William A. Fominoff

In 1908, the Doukhobor Community purchased vast tracts of land in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. They first settled at Waterloo, an abandoned mining camp on the Columbia River, which Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin renamed Dolina Ootischenia meaning “Valley of Consolation”. There, an advance party of 100 men and women arrived from Saskatchewan to prepare the area for future settlement. Among them was William A. Fominoff (1874-1967). The following is his account of their historic arrival. Reproduced by permission from “Castlegar, a Confluence” (Karen W. Farrer (ed), Castlegar: Castlegar & District Heritage Society, 2000).

On May 11, 1908, a party of 100 men and a few women arrived at the CPR whistle stop in Kinnaird. This was a vanguard to pave the way for their wives, children and other Doukhobor families who were compelled to move out from Saskatchewan. Their destination: Ootischenia. Amongst them was a husky young man, William A. Fomenoff, born in Russia September 1, 1874.

Kinnaird’s surrounding area was little more than a wilderness at that time. “There were no accommodations as hotels or motel units as we see them today, so we enjoyed our first night in B.C. under the bright stars, grouped around the once-important whistle stop. Sleeping bags were non-existent at that time, but we covered ourselves with what little belongings we owned,” says Mr. Fomenoff.

“Early the next morning we trekked down to the Columbia River close to the home of Mr. Landis who lived on the east side which is now known as Ootischenia. By previous arrangements Mr. Landis was expecting us. After a whistle and a shout Mr. Landis was up in a jiffy and rowed his boat across the river to pick us up. This was the only means of crossing both the Columbia and Kootenay rivers; there were no bridges nor ferries at that time. The boat could only carry five to six persons at one time including baggage,” says Mr. Fomenoff.

Group of Doukhobor Settlers at Ootischenia, British Columbia, c. 1908. British Columbia Archives A-02072.

“Nick Zeboroff, the man in charge of the party immediately guided us to a campsite left empty by previous logging operations. The camp existed out of one cook house and a large outside dining table which was hand-hewed out of one enormous tree in one solid piece, large enough to seat all the new arrivals (100 men and a few women) at one setting. The seats were made of short stumps for legs with long thin logs rolled on top of them to serve as benches.

“Alex Chernoff, the cook of this camp, had already prepared breakfast and set the plates and dishes on the table and asked everyone to be seated. After saying the Lord’s Prayer, which is a must amongst the Doukhobors, we began our meal.

“After breakfast Nick Zeboroff prepared to dispatch the new arrivals to clear the land of the majestic forest that one adorned Ootischenia. He handed out cross-cut saws, grub hoes, shovels, and other necessary tools and led the group to a designated spot approximately where the future cut off begins to Salmo. Here we proceeded to clear land of timber which was two arm spans in circumference.”

“After clearing a sizeable patch of ground we immediately cultivated it with our grub-hoes and began planting spuds and other vegetables; amongst them watermelons which were noted to be a luxury at the time. In the same months I also helped clear land at the spot where I live now,” notes Mr. Fomenoff.

“Soon after several pairs of horses and less than a dozen head of milk cows arrived from the prairie provinces. This was a great boost to our simple farm life. I helped to transport them from Kinnaird to Ootischenia with a row boat. The first animal (which incidentally was a bull) we tried to lead into the boat and row him across. The attempt failed on the spot. The next thing we did was to try and pull him by the halter with the boat. We kept his head above water with a tow line and he swam across himself. Cows were herded across in the same manner, two at a time, two men holding them by the halters while four men were rowing the boat.

View of Ootischenia from across the Kootenay River in Brilliant, British Columbia, circa 1912. British Columbia Archives A-08737.

“Next followed the horses in the same fashion, but they were not as easy to handle as the cattle were. Thanks to Mr. Dumont, the original settler of Dumont’s subdivision, who permitted us to use his property as a loading point. On his land we dismantled wagons, ploughs and all the farm equipment that was bulky and rowed it across piece by piece. With the help of horses the clearing of land had become more simplified.

“Soon after, a sawmill was constructed and lumber had become an industry apart from farming. Boards were cut in all dimensions and used to construct houses that are still in existence at Ootischenia. George Kanigan and Walter Fofonoff were sawyers on the new sawmill.

“To have a more practical way of crossing the Columbia River from one side to the other, this same year we started to build a ferry. Anchor cables were drug down deep into the ground. We hired a skilled man to supervise the basic construction of this ferry. I believe he was of French origin. He started to build it out of hand-hewed timber and the same men who were clearing the land were also helping to build the ferry.”

Doukhobor communal workers at mealtime in the Kootenays, British Columbia, c. 1912. British Columbia Archives C-01490.

Incomplete Interview Notes

“Land to him most … made by Peter Lordly Verigin his wisdom and admire that he made in development of the land. Peter Vergin lived nearby at Landis’s house which was soon bought out and Landis moved away. … more so. The logs were hewed with a broad axe used to … railroad ties and dragged down the … to the river anchor cables could still be seen which guided the ferry.

“A road was built to Dumont’s … across to … still used as a fishing trail for fisherman. “Before this and … happened where the … rope was tore off from the anchor.

“Before this Peter Lordly Verigin sent delegates to … the ferry which apparently was in good condition. Families of the men arrived and the last of the families and children got across 23rd of June safe and sound. This same day the guide cable on the ferry broke … sill and the cable … on the ferry swing across the river to the west side. … to its original spot and was repaired up again.”

After one year and one month he and his family moved to Grand Forks where he was a fruit farmer for 14 years. After that he moved to Brilliant where he resided for six years before moving back to his original place at Ootischenia where 20 years before he first started to clear land for development, and still lives there.