Doukhobor Development in the Ebenezer District

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Few people would associate Ebenezer, Saskatchewan with the Doukhobors.  After all, no Doukhobors have ever lived in the small farm community located ten miles north of Yorkton.  However, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) played a significant, if little known, role in the history and development of the village.  Between 1910 and 1920, the CCUB built the first railroad through the district, which led to the formation of the village; constructed the village’s first grain elevator; owned a large portion of the village site; and erected a number of buildings in the village and surrounding district.  Drawing upon a broad range of unpublished sources, Jonathan J. Kalmakoff sheds light on the Doukhobor connection to Ebenezer.

Early Contact with Ebenezer District Settlers

In the early days of settlement in Saskatchewan, the CCUB purchased goods and supplies at the Town of Yorkton, the main trading and distribution centre in the region.  To get there, the Doukhobors followed the old Fort Pelly Trail which ran in a south-westerly direction from their village settlements in the Veregin district, through the Ebenezer district, to Yorkton.  As there were no roads and few bridges in the area at the time, the trail, with its deep ruts made by the Red River carts of Indians and fur traders, was an important transportation route.  The thirty mile trip by horse and wagon took a whole day each way.

While passing through the Ebenezer district, the Doukhobor teamsters became acquainted with many of the settlers living along the trail.  Oftentimes, they stopped at their farm houses to rest their teams of horses, and when night overtook them, to secure food and lodging.  Elder residents of the district still recall the fine horses used on the Doukhobor wagon teams.  

The Fort Pelly Trail circa 1907.  The ox-cart trail ran in a south-westerly direction from Fort Pelly, through the Doukhobor village settlements and the Ebenezer district, to Yorkton.

The Doukhobors developed a particularly strong rapport with the German Baptist settlers who had arrived in the Ebenezer district from Russia between 1885 and 1897.  Like the Doukhobors, the Baptists were persecuted by Tsarist authorities and many had fled Russia to avoid military service.  Most still spoke Russian and were able to converse with the Doukhobors in their own language.  Their relations were marked by mutual respect and cooperation. 

For instance, in October 1911, Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin donated land owned by the CCUB to the German Baptist congregation living in Yorkton for a church site at Betts Avenue and Darlington Street.  Prior to that, they had to travel ten miles by horse and wagon to attend services at the West Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Building the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway

In the fall of 1909, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway announced its plans to build a branch line from Yorkton, north through the Ebenezer district, to Canora.  The contract for the right-of-way clearing and grade construction of the thirty mile line, valued at over $70,000.00, was awarded to the CCUB in March 1910. 

The Doukhobors were well positioned to carry out the contract. According to the report of the general meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Veregin in January of 1910, the CCUB had a workforce of over one thousand, five hundred men, four hundred teams of working horses and five hundred yokes of oxen living within a day’s travel of the work.  

In mid-May 1910, after completing their spring sowing, Doukhobor work crews assembled in Yorkton to commence construction of the line.  They supplied their own tools, equipment, horses and food for the work.  A portable camp was set up for shelter, cooking, eating and sleeping.  At the camp, Doukhobor women cooked for the crews and boys tended the horses.  Water was hauled from nearby wells and feed oats were purchased from settlers along the line for the horse teams.   

Doukhobor workers on the construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line between Yorkton and Canora, 1910. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Following the route surveyed by the railway engineers, the Doukhobors cleared the right-of-way for the grade.  This arduous work involved draining sloughs, filling in low alkaline areas, chopping out trees and stumps, moving large rocks and cutting through knolls and slopes over which to construct the grade.  Much of this work was done by hand, using spades, pick-axes, saws and hatchets. 

The Doukhobors built up the grade using two-horse slushers and four-horse fresnels.  These large scrapers had handles attached to the back end.  As the teamster drove the team, a second man held the handle allowing the sharp front edge to cut into the ground and fill the bucket or scoop.  This load was then hauled to the grade and dumped, gradually building the grade up and forward, resulting in a solid and level embankment above the ground surface on which to lay ties and rails. 

Grading the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line prior to laying track, 1910. Photo courtesy National Archives of Canada.

Labouring from daybreak to dark, the Doukhobor grade crews passed through the Ebenezer district in early June and reached Canora by late July 1910.  The track-laying, fence-making and telegraph crews followed close behind.  The Doukhobors then returned to their villages for the harvest season.  Shortly thereafter, in mid-August 1910, the first steam locomotive rolled over the new line.  By June 1911, regular freight and passenger service was established.  The Ebenezer district was now connected by rail to the rest of the Province!

Establishment of the Village

The arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway marked the beginning of the village of Ebenezer.  Following its established practice of laying out townsites at regular intervals along the line, in early June 1910, the railway company purchased 24 acres for a village site on the NW 1/4 of 25-27-4-W2 located ten miles north of Yorkton.  Railway engineers then surveyed and subdivided the site into lots, which sold for $150.00 per business lot and $50.00 per residential lot.  A building boom followed, bringing goods and people into the village. 

Plan of the Ebenezer village site.

The village site was initially named “Anoka” by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, possibly after the city of the same name in Minnesota.  However, the German Baptist settlers preferred the name “Ebenezer” as taken from the Bible in 1 Samuel 7:12 meaning “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us”.  In the summer of 1910, they successfully petitioned railway officials to rename it “Ebenezer” to correspond with the name of the post office and church used west of the village since 1891.

Surrounded by a well-settled and flourishing agricultural district, the village experienced rapid growth, prosperity and development.  Within six months, the village boasted a railway station, two grain elevators, two general stores, two lumber yards, an implement dealership, two blacksmith shops, as well as rows of houses and outbuildings.

Ownership of Village Lots

Following the establishment of the village in 1910, the CCUB purchased eight residential lots (Lot Nos. 27 to 34 of Block 2) along 1st Avenue. They purchased an additional twelve business lots (Lot Nos. 1 to 12 of Block 2) on Main Street between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue. It would appear that the Doukhobors planned to resell the lots for profit. A 1912 advertisement by the CCUB in the Manitoba Free Press lists them for sale. Over the years, a number of the lots were sold. Those lots which the CCUB retained were eventually sold for taxes in 1938 to the R.M. of Orkney No. 244. Thereafter, they were resold for residential development.

1916 tax roll for the R.M. of Orkney No. 244 showing Doukhobor-owned lots in the Village of Ebenezer.

The First Elevator in Ebenezer

Ebenezer became a grain delivery point on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway when the CCUB built its first elevator in the summer of 1910.  In return for erecting a “standard” elevator, the railway company granted the Doukhobors free land rental along its right of way and a guarantee of a monopoly at that point.  The elevator would receive, store and ship grain in bulk quantities from the surrounding district.  Prior to that, local farmers had to haul their grain ten miles by horse and wagon to Yorkton. 

Unidentified woman and child sitting in front of Doukhobor-built elevator c. 1930.  It was the first of four elevators built in the village of Ebenezer.

A Doukhobor work crew built the 25,000 bushel capacity elevator of wood crib construction on a concrete foundation.  It was about 30′ x 30′ wide and 70′ high with a pyramidal roof and a centrally located pyramidal-roofed cupola.  Attached to the elevator was a driveway and receiving shed built of frame construction.   An office and engine shed was built about 20 feet from the elevator.  Near the office, the Doukhobors dug a bell-shaped well lined with unmortared brick for watering horses.

Once the elevator was operational, local farmers brought loaded wagons into the receiving shed where they were first weighed on the scale and then lifted using hand operated crank hoists to dump the grain into a receiving pit below.  The grain was carried from the pit to the top of the elevator by means of the “leg”, a continuous belt with carrying cups.  From the top, the grain was dumped into a bin.  To ship the grain, the bin was emptied into a hopper and back down into the pit where it was then carried back up the “leg” to the direct spout to the waiting rail cars.  The equipment was powered by a stationary gasoline engine in the engine shed.

Unidentified woman and children standing in front of the Doukhobor-built elevator in Ebenezer c 1930.

The CCUB operated the elevator for a short time and then sold it to the Minneapolis-based Atlas Grain Company in June 1911.  Later, in August 1917, it was bought by the Winnipeg-based N. Bawlf Grain Company.  The elevator ceased operation in 1932 at the height of the Depression.  Following its sale to the Calgary-based Alberta Pacific Grain Company in 1941, it was dismantled.  The concrete foundation still stands, a reminder of the structure that once dominated the Ebenezer skyline. 

Building Construction in Ebenezer and District

The village of Ebenezer experienced its biggest building boom from 1910 to 1920.  During this period, the CCUB hired itself out as a building contractor to local businessmen and residents.  The CCUB enjoyed a competitive advantage over other building contractors because it had a large, readily mobilized pool of free, willing labour and produced most of its own building materials, including lumber from its sawmill at Thunderhill and brick from its brick factories in Yorkton and Veregin.  Moreover, the Doukhobors’ reputation for fast, quality construction was well known and they were trusted for their fair and honest business ethics.  They were contracted to construct a number of buildings in the village and surrounding district, some of which are still standing today.

Doukhobors on construction work, circa 1910. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Interestingly, when the Census of Canada was taken on June 1, 1911, a work crew of eight Doukhobors were enumerated at the Ebenezer townsite. Headed by Alex Cheveldaeff, it included John Cheveldaeff, George and Alex Ostoforoff, Peter Zaitsoff, William Shishkin, Mike Zibin, William Sherstobitoff and Wasyl Dootoff. Their occupations were listed as carpenters and labourers.

The Border Block

In May of 1911, local businessman Robert Border contracted the CCUB to build a large general store, adjoining business building and residence on Main Street between 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue.  All buildings were of wood frame construction with brick exterior.  The general store was approximately 30′ x 35′ with a flat roof and full concrete basement.  The adjoining business building was approximately 25′ x 25′ with a flat roof.  The residence was approximately 15′ x 25′ with a gable roof and full concrete basement.

The general store was leased to Mr. Wallman, then Mr. Fiddler, and later to Mr. Margulles.  The adjoining business building was a pool room and a restaurant.  The pool room was managed by Adam Lehman and Julius Wegner followed by Fred and Albert Betker.  The restaurant was managed by Mr. Malcolm from 1917 to 1926.  Robert Border lived in the residence, also the real estate office, until 1928 followed by Mr. Linden from 1928 to 1930.  A fire of unknown origin destroyed all of the buildings in 1930.

The Goulden Farm

In circa 1911, local farmer William Goulden contracted the CCUB to build a large residence and barn on his farm on the SE 1/4 of 4-28-3-W2.  The residence was of wood frame construction with a brick exterior.  It was 26′ x 26′ with a hip roof, verandah and full concrete basement.  The barn was 28′ x 56′ of cinderblock construction with a gambrel roof.  The Doukhobors also dug a bell-shaped well lined with unmortared brick for a water supply.

The Doukhobor-built Goulden residence c. 1942.

The Goulden family lived in the farmyard until the Thirties, when it was sold for taxes.  Thereafter, it was leased to several families.  In 1942, it was bought by Reynold and Edna Bohn who lived in the farmyard until 1947.  In 1949, the residence was dismantled and the materials were used to build several new buildings in the village.  The barn burned down in 1997. 

The Doukhobor-built Goulden Barn, c. 1990.  It was constructed of timber from the CCUB sawmills in British Columbia and brick and cinderblock from the CCUB brickworks in Yorkton, SK. Photo courtesy Al & Bernice Makowsky.

The Janzen Block

In June of 1920, local businessman Wilhelm Janzen contracted the CCUB to build a large hotel, two adjoining business buildings and residence on Main Street between 3rd Avenue and 4th Avenue.  All buildings were of wood frame construction with brick exterior.  The two-storey hotel was 22′ x 35′ with a flat roof and full concrete basement.  The two business buildings were each 25′ x 25′ with a flat roof.  Finally, the two-storey residence was 15′ x 25′ with a gable roof and full concrete basement.

The Doukhobor-built Janzen Block c. 1940.  (l-r) residence, business building, hotel and second business building.

The hotel was originally leased to Toys Restaurant.  Later, Wilhelm Janzen operated a general store there.  In 1929, Wilhelm’s son Dave took over the store and one business building and operated them until 1967.  His son and daughter-in-law David and Betty Janzen then took over the business for one year.  In 1968, the buildings were sold to Martha Dreger who operated the store until 1988.  At this time, the business building was dismantled.  In 1992, the store was sold to the village.  The now-vacant building remains one of the most prominent structures on the village Main Street.

The Janzen Block today.  It remains one of the most prominent structures on the village Main Street.

Wilhelm Janzen and his wife lived in the residence until 1947.  His son and daughter-in-law William and Violet Janzen then lived there until 1999, when it was sold to Brenda Murray.  The second business building accompanied the property.  Both buildings are still standing and in use.

The Barn at Deckert’s Farm

In 1914, the CCUB obtained the permission of local farmer Samuel Deckert to build a barn on his land on the SE 1/4 of 27-27-4-W2 where the Fort Pelly Trail crossed the Little Whitesand River, a tributary of the Whitesand River.  The barn would be used as a stopping place where Doukhobors could rest their horses and take shelter while traveling in and through the Ebenezer district.

The Doukhobor barn in 2005.  It once served as a stopping place for Doukhobors travelling on the Fort Pelly Trail through the Ebenezer district.  The lean-to at the north end was used as an office of Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin.

The two-storey barn was built of timber frame construction on a concrete foundation.  It was 30′ x 45′ with a gambrel roof.  It had twelve box stalls for horses.  The loft provided overhead storage for hay and bedding.  A 15′ x 45′ lean-to attached to the west end of the barn was used as a blacksmith and tack room.  A 15′ x 30′ lean-to attached to the north end of the barn was used as an office by Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin when he travelled through the area.  Inside the barn, the Doukhobors dug a well lined with unmortared brick for watering horses.

By all accounts, Deckert was a good friend of the Doukhobors, particularly Peter “Lordly” Verigin. Fluent in Russian, German and English, he often acted as an interpreter for the Doukhobor leader during business transactions in Yorkton. As well, Deckert made regular visits to the Doukhobor settlements in the Veregin district.  

Violet Janzen, daughter of Samuel Deckert, recalls that Peter “Lordly” Verigin often visited the Deckert household, located on the adjoining quarter-section, when he stopped at the barn.  On one such occasion in about 1920, he brought the family a wooden barrel of apples from the CCUB orchards in British Columbia – a rare treat on the prairies in those days!

Another view of the Doukhobor barn in 2005.  Built in 1914, it is the oldest barn in use in the Ebenezer district until its destruction in 2009.

The barn was used regularly by the CCUB as a stopping place into the 1920’s.  Following the death of Peter “Lordly” Verigin in 1924, the general managers of the CCUB offered to sell the barn to Samuel Deckert.  When he declined to purchase it, they abandoned it outright.  Thereafter, Deckert utilized the barn in his farming operation.  In 1946, his son Sam S. Deckert took over the farm and operated it.  In 1986, the farm was bought by Doug Fairhead.  The barn remained in use until 2009, when a “plough wind” blew through the yard, destroying it. The well, formerly within the barn, is still in use today. 

Conclusion

By the mid-1920’s, the commercial activity of the CCUB in the Ebenezer area came to an end.  The reasons for this are several.  First, following the death of Peter “Lordly” Verigin in 1924, the CCUB organization went into decline, ceasing many of its commercial and trading operations.  Secondly, a post-war depression had set in, causing prices for lumber, bricks and other output of CCUB enterprises to collapse.  Finally, as Ebenezer’s building boom ended, the demand for construction materials and labour dropped sharply.  In the years that followed, the connection between Ebenezer and the Doukhobors faded into memory. 

However, looking back today, within a short space of time, the Doukhobors made a lasting contribution to the history and development of Ebenezer, helping to create the transportation, agricultural and business infrastructure that defines this small farm community to this day.

Bibliography

  • Barry, Bill, “Geographic Names of Saskatchewan” (Regina: People, Places Publishing, 2005).
  • Barschel, J.F. Paul, “A History of Canora and District” (Canora, Saskatchewan: Canora Golden Jubilee Committee, 1960).
  • Bohn, Edna. Telephone Interview. July 11, 2005.
  • Celebrate Saskatchewan Committee, “Reunion ’80, A Time to Remember Ebenezer, Saskatchewan” (Ebenezer, Saskatchewan: Celebrate Saskatchewan Committee, 1980).
  • Donskov, Andrew (ed), J. Woodsworth (trans), “Leo Tolstoy and Peter Verigin: Correspondence” (Ottawa: Legas, 1995).
  • Fairhead, Clifford. Telephone Interview. July 11, 2005.
  • Hluchaniuk, Laurie & York Colony Research (Association), “Yorkton: York Colony to Treasure Chest City” (Yorkton, Saskatchewan: Yorkton Centennial Committee, 1982).
  • Janzen, Violet. Telephone Interview. June 24, 2005.
  • Library and Archives Canada, Census of Canada, 1911, District 210: Mackenzie; Sub-district 9; page 1.
  • R.M. of Orkney No. 244, Tax Rolls. 1916-1939.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J., “Pictorial History of the Doukhobors” (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Modern Press, 1969).
  • The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2000 edition. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1999.
  • The Canora Courier, “G.T.P. Trains Are Now Running.” (1911, June 22).
  • The Manitoba Free Press
    • “Report of General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community Held at Verigin, January 25th, 1910.” (1910, March).
    • “The Doukhobor Community of Verigin, Sask., offer for sale” (1912, June 28).
  • The Yorkton Enterprise
    • “All the District Happenings.” (1911, May 26).
    • “All the District Happenings.” (1911, June 8).
    • “All the District Happenings.” (1917, August 2).
    • “All the District Happenings.” (1920, June 17).
    • “Doukhobors Are Busy.” (1910, September 22).
    • “G.T.P. To Canora.” (1910, March 31).
    • “Topics of Local and General Interest.” (1911, October 5).
    • “Train in Two Weeks on G.T.P.” (1910, July 28).

This article was reproduced by permission in the following publications:

  • ISKRA, No. 2018 (Grand Forks: USCC, May 4, 2009).
  • Ebenezer Book of Memories, Centennial 1905-2005 Centennial (Ebenezer, Saskatchewan: Ebenezer Centennial Committee, 2005).
  • The Dove, Vol. No. 69 (Saskatoon: Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan, Jan. 2002).

Doukhobors in the Boundary

by Vera Novokshonoff, Lucy Reibin & Marion Obedkoff

Woven into the fabric that is Grand Forks are many different nationalities, and, with their personalities, their skills and their culture, they have enhanced “the Boundary” and given to this city a character all its own. Of all these nationalities, the Doukhobors, by their very numbers and distinctive culture have had a more profound effect on the character and life of the community than any other group. The following article by Vera Novokshonoff (Kanigan), Lucy Reibin (Plotnikoff) and Marion Obedkoff (Grummett) outlines the history and settlement of the Doukhobors at Grand Forks in the Boundary region of British Columbia. Reproduced by permission from Boundary Historical Society, Report Nos. 3 and 4, 1964.

Historical Background

The Doukhobors comprise a large percentage of the population in the Boundary District. A religious sect of Russian origin, their history dates back some 300 years. Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say of their religious background:

“The name Doukhobor was given by the Russian Orthodox clergy to a community of non-conformist peasants. The word signifies “spirit-fighters” and was intended by the priesthood to convey that they fight against the Spirit of God, but the Doukhobors themselves accepted it as signifying that they fight, not against, but for and with the Spirit. The foundation of the Doukhobors’ teaching consists in the belief that the Spirit of God is present in the soul of man, and directs him by its word within him. They understand the coming of Christ in the flesh, His works, teaching and sufferings, in a spiritual sense. The whole teaching of the Doukhobors’ is penetrated with the Gospel spirit of love; worshipping God in the spirit, they affirm that the outward Church and all that is performed in it and concerns it has no importance for them; the Church is where two or three are gathered gather, i.e. united in the name of Christ.”

“They hold all people equal and brethren. Obedience to Government authorities they do not consider binding upon them in those cases when the demands of the authorities are in conflict with their conscience; while in all that not infringe what they regard as the will of God they willingly fulfill. They consider killing, violence and in general all relations to living beings not based on love as opposed to their conscience and to the will of God. They are industrious and abstemious in their lives, and living up to the standard of their faith present one of the nearest approaches to the realization of the Christian ideal which has been attained. In many ways they have a close resemblance to the Quakers.”

Their renunciation of rituals of the Russian Orthodox Church, as worshipping man-made images or ikons brought upon them persecution by Church and state in Tsarist Russia. This was intensified by their refusal of military service. Influential humanitarians, particularly the famous writer Tolstoy and the Society of Friends in England interceded in their behalf, and arrangements were finally made and some 7500 Doukhobor immigrants came to Canada in 1899, settling in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Group of Doukhobor immigrants aboard the SS Lake Superior, 1899. British Columbia Archives E-07233.

Subsequently, a majority of them refused to comply with the swearing of the oath of allegiance under the Homestead Act, and lost their lands which they had worked on. These were taken away from them. They then decided to move to move to British Columbia, where by purchasing land, instead of accepting grants, they avoided the necessity of swearing to swear the oath of allegiance. They settled predominantly in the West Kootenay and Boundary Districts.

Arrival in Grand Forks

Land was purchased in 1909 by their leader Peter Lordly Verigin. John Sherbinin, Sr., who in later years established Boundary Sawmills Ltd., was his interpreter at the time. John Sherbinin learned the English language in Swan River, Manitoba where he worked in a store the year these people came into Canada. Another associate during the purchasing was Nick S. Zeboroff.

The purchases consisted of the Coryell Ranch (the site of the Brick Yard) from the Coryell family; Murray Creek (presently Outlook) which was open range; the Vaughan Ranch (at the foot of Spencer Hill) from the Vaughans; 4th of July Creek (Spencer) from Hoffman; and the Collins place from H. W. Collins. This involved a total of 4,182 acres.

In March 1909, 12 men came over to Grand Forks by train, with two women accompanying to cook for them. These people amongst the Doukhobors were known as postniki, ones who wished to be abstemious to the point of not eating butter to eliminate the necessity of keeping cows, which would lead to having to sell calves for butchering.

The first group managed to house themselves in rough dwellings that were on the property. Until the warm weather opened up, they were occupied cleaning things up on the place. Another group of 14 came in April.

Industries

They put up a small sawmill just below the site of the present Doukhobor cemetery, and started to produce rough lumber (there was no planer) for the construction of their communal dwellings. Later, when a factory was established a brick siding was put on these buildings.

Logs were cut in the vicinity and were brought to the mill on horse-drawn dollies. In the winter sleighs replaced the dollies. Soon as the supply of logs was exhausted on the place, the sawmill would be moved to another suitable location. William Fofonoff was the sawyer; Alex A. Wishloff, the engineer and Philip P. Stoochnoff, the fireman.

Orchards

The same year, spring of 1909, they planted fruit trees – apples, pears, Italian prunes, cherries, and other plants, such as currants, gooseberries, raspberries, etc. George C. Zebroff and Andrew J. Gritchen were in charge of the orchards. The wives and families of the men-folk came over in the summer of 1909, to join in the communal effort.

Brick Plant

Production of bricks began the same year (1909) beside the clay pit where the Coryells had run a small plant. The same crude machinery was used. Horses supplied the power to turn the clay mixer. Bricks one at a time, were taken by hand and put in rows to dry, which took two weeks. They were put in a pile leaving air space between each brick, old bricks piled around them and covered with clay so there would be no air space. A big fire was built on both sides to burn until the bricks got red hot. Air was let in from the top to make the fire burn stronger. This went on for about a month and had to be under constant watch to make sure the fire did not get too hot for the bricks to melt, nor too cold for them to turn black. After this process, the bricks were put under a roof for further drying.

Doukhobor community brick factory at Grand Forks, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01714.

As early as 1910, the workers produced 22 to 24 thousand bricks a day. Even at that slow pace, 2 million bricks were produced during the summer. William Razinkin was the original man in charge. Later on, Mike Demoskoff and John Gritchen were prominent in the making of bricks. In time, machinery replaced horse-power, and the operation was put on a more efficient and productive basis. Bricks from the plant were widely sold. Their good quality established a wide and well known reputation.

Flour Mill

The Flour Mill was put up in 1910, with two men handling its operation. Wheat, grown in the valley, was brought to the mill and milled by grinding on a large stone without refining or discarding anything in the process. Bread made of this flour was dark, but very healthy. William Fofonoff (the original sawyer) was the miller, later replaced by his brother Peter. In 1917-18 production of linseed oil was started at the flour mill. This became a favourite product with the Doukhobor people. They were and still are particularly fond of using it with sauerkraut.

Development

The work of the first settlers that came in 1909-10 was to prepare living quarters and other primary facilities for those that were to follow. The lumber produced by the first sawmill was used in building communal dwellings, the first of which was built in 1910 near the site of the Flour Mill just below the present Doukhobor cemetery at Sion, formerly known as Fruktova.

Also in 1909, work was started on building an irrigation pipeline. A trench 2 to 3 feet deep was dug from First of July Creek to Sion following a line above the roadbed of the Great Northern Railway, and pipes were laid extending for about 2 miles to bring water to the newly planted orchards and gardens. A few years later when the Great Northern dismantled the railway track, the pipes were relocated to follow the road bed and enlarged to 6 inches in diameter to carry more water. Later another pipeline was built to supply homes with drinking water, taken from a creek running halfway up the mountain at Sion. Water was also piped at the Outlook settlement for drinking as well as for irrigation purposes.

In 1911-12 there followed more Doukhobor settlers with their families, so that by 1913 there were approximately 1000 souls living in the vicinity of Grand Forks.

With more people, the work of development progressed more rapidly. In those years there were built approximately 24 large communal dwellings by the newcomers. At the same time, the planted trees started to bear fruit, so that besides supplying the local needs, fruit was also shipped to other markets. A fruit packing plant was built in 1920. In those years a total of 120 to 130 carloads of fruit – apples, pears, prunes, etc. were shipped annually to outside markets, as well as some berries such as strawberries, black currants, raspberries, etc.

Doukhobor community blacksmith, Grand Forks, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01735.

The lumbering industry also expanded, sawmill operations were extended, tracts of timber stands taken and worked, so that about half of the men were employed in the lumbering industry. At that time most of the heavy work such as plowing and cultivating the land was done by horses, for which purpose every communal village had a team of excellent work horses, hay and feed for which were grown on communal lands.

Altogether the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd., to which the first Doukhobor settlers belonged, notwithstanding the fact that they lost their lands in Saskatchewan and had to go heavily into debt to buy land and other necessities, by dint of hard work and frugal living had built a thriving economy in the first two score years of life in Grand Forks, which continued to grow and increase in value.

It was still growing when in 1935 a canning factory was built to process tomatoes and other small fruits such as strawberries and raspberries. Unfortunately, this factory was burned down in the same year. Then came years of economic depression, starting in 1929 and continuing for a decade which had a serious effect on the economy and which was one of the reasons that brought the foreclosure on the mortgages held by financial companies, The Sun Life Assurance Co. and The National Trust Co. and the subsequent buying of the land by the Government of British Columbia to prevent mass evictions.

We deem it proper to return back and look on some other facets of Doukhobor life.

Communal Way of Life

At the head was the central administration under the leadership of Peter Lordly Verigin. The people were split up into villages represented by the large apartment-like houses, where from about 35 to 40 members resided. Each village operated separately, with particular tasks assigned to its members. Where necessary, the men were sent out to earn money outside the community, while the rest including the older folk, women and children had to do the work at home. In charge of each village was an appointed “Elder.” All the members contributed to the community according to their capacity, and were doled out equal portions according to their needs. In other words, you put into the community what you earned or produced, and received in equal measure with the rest of the members, what you required. Concentration was on a pure and simple life, without luxuries.

A policy of austerity was in effect both for spiritual and economic reasons. During the wartime in 1914, children were not fed any bread and ate a thick noodle soup instead. The rest of the folk were on a frugal diet of mamalyha made of beans, peas and wheat cooked together. At the time the Community had food in abundance, but it was not indulged in out of compassion for the suffering by the rest of the world.

Housing

A regular .pattern persisted in the building of homes. The main floor of the two storey brick houses contained the large communal kitchen and social centre or living room; the bedrooms were upstairs. In the kitchen, a long table or two stood alongside the windows with a special table for the children. The stove was in about the centre of the room, and there would also be a brick Dutch oven. The living room was used for occasions like a marriage, prayer meetings, singing group, a funeral or for visitors. Adjacent to the large brick house, there was a U-shaped unit of one floor rooms. These provided room for the older folk to sleep in, as well as washing and storage facilities.

Doukhobor community home, Grand Forks, BC. British Columbia Archives C-01729.

Meals

For each large communal house, two women, interchanging weekly had to do the cooking, and the baking of the large round loaves of bread in the Dutch oven. Children ate at a separate table from the adults. Four persons ate out of the same bowl using wooden spoons. This may sound unsanitary, but the fact remains that in those years there were few illnesses among the people and they were very healthy.

After everyone sat down at the table, a hymn would be sung. After saying grace, everyone would eat quietly, without making a racket with the utensils or idle chatter.

The most well-known Doukhobor dish is borshch – a type of vegetable soup. Other dishes were rice soup; cereal made from wheat; cooked halooshki, (dumplings in soup); blintsi (a sort of pancake); vinigret (a salad of beets, apples, beans, dilled cucumbers and sauerkraut); kvas (grated cucumbers and green onions thinned with water); vegetables and fruit. Tomatoes and cucumbers (as well as cabbage for sauerkraut) were salted in big crocks for winter use. Bread was dried, (like crumpets) for eating with rice soup. The main beverage was a fruit juice made from dried apples, prunes and other fruit.

Prayer Meetings

Prayer meetings in the early years were held early in the morning (before breakfast) on Sundays, as well as on some other days. It was the custom then to attend prayer meetings attired in homemade linen clothes, and in the summer months barefoot. Persons entering the meeting greeted the congregation with the words: “Glory to God!” To which those gathered replied: “We glorify and thank God for His grace!” At the meeting the women stood on the right side and the men on the left; in the center between them stood a table on which bread, salt and water was placed. Each person recited a psalm standing before the table. After recitations three psalms were sung and the Lord’s Prayer was said, the end of which all present bowed touching the ground, and said that they bow to God, His Son, Christ and the Holy Ghost. There followed the singing of hymns and discussion on any important matter that happened to come up.

In later years with the coming of Peter P. Chistiakov Verigin, the form of the prayer meeting reverted back to that practiced by Doukhobors in Russia in times past, as follows: On entering the meeting hall, a person greeted those present with the words “Glorious God is praised”, and the congregation answered: “Great is the name of the Lord and His glory is throughout the world.” Some of the men, women as well as children recited psalms, after which the congregation sang psalms at which time the second man in the first row came up to the first man, they clasped each other’s hand and bowed to each other two times, then kissed each other and bowed once more, then the second man turned and bowed to the women and they bowed in reply. After a number of men performed this ritual, which denoted their reverence for the spirit of the divine life that is part of man, their forgiveness and love for each other, the women performed the same ritual of reverent bowing. This being accomplished, a man stepped out near the table and recited the Lord’s Prayer, at the conclusion of which he said: “Here we kneel in reverence to Father, Son and the Holy Ghost,” and the congregation bowed to the ground. The reciter then said: “Christ has arisen,” and the congregation answered: “In Truth He has arisen.” The second time they bowed to the ground they said: “Eternal memory to Witnesses of Truth.” The third time they bowed saying: “God grant the living good health, forgive us and strengthen us in Your ways.” After this a few hymns were sung and time was devoted to discussions on matters of social and spiritual significance.

Weddings

When a young couple decided to get married, the boy, along with his parents, went to the girl’s house to ask her parents for the hand of their daughter.

In the ceremony that followed, everyone read prayers and then someone would read the Lord’s Prayer. The parents gave the couple their blessing and wished them luck. Then the couple kissed both his and her parents and bowed to their feet.

Doukhobor women haying on community land, Grand Forks, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01721.

The wedding took place two or three days later, for there were no engagement parties or rings given. The bride gathered her belongings together with the bedding and tied them up in a bundle (there were no hope chests at that time).

On the wedding day, the groom, along with his parents, went on a horse and buggy after the bride and her parents. When they arrived at the groom’s place, everyone exchanged greetings and wished the couple luck. Only the 30 to 40 members who lived in the big house, where the lived, attended the wedding. The food served was the same as a Sunday dinner. There was borshchplove, and atvar (a beverage made out of fruit). The clothes which the bride and groom wore were their best Sunday clothes.

Funerals

The dead were not taken to a mortician but were bathed and dressed at home. The coffin was also made at home. People came during the daytime as well as in the evening to share the grief with the mourning family. Prayers and psalms were sung in honour of the dead person. There were no dinner lunches served as there are now.

The dead were buried two and a half days after they died. On the next day the family and close relatives went to the grave to pay their respects to the dead. They sang hymns and other songs.

After a period of six weeks, the friends and relatives gathered once more at the grave in memory of the dead person. Once again they read prayers sang hymns. This ritual was repeated after a year was up.

Education

No special outfits were worn by the children when they went to school. Both boys and girls up to twelve years of age wore a dress-like garment. They wore no shoes and had nothing on their heads. The school age was limited to the age of 12 years, so very few children went to school; mostly boys.

Each district had a school to which the children had to walk. During the winter months, the children were taken on sledges pulled by horses.

The children were taught reading, writing, grammar and some arithmetic. They only went as far as grade five or six. Due to the fact that the children were always speaking Russian, and often had to stay away from school in order to help at home, their progress in English school was quite slow.

One of the first schools called “Carson School” was built close to where the Hill View Store is presently located. Later there was a school built at Fruktova.

At home the children were taught to read and write in Russian.

Skills and Crafts: The Process of Making Linen Cloth from Flax

The flax seeds were planted very closely together, in the Spring time. When the seeds were ripe, the whole plant was pulled out and tied into bundles. These bundles were set upright, in the sunny fields, so that they would dry thoroughly. Wooden clubs were used to thresh the flax so that all the seeds fell out.

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

The stocks were then soaked in water for about two weeks. When the stocks were saturated with water, they were put into bundles and once again dried in the sun. Then, the stocks were put into a block of wood (that had been hollowed out), and were threshed by a large wooden hammer to soften the cellulose. They were then put through home-made combs dividing the stock into thin fibres (by now, all the waste materials had fallen off). The thin fibres were put through a spinning wheel and put tightly on a wooden roll. After the yarn was taken off the wooden roll, it was put into a solution of hot water and flax seed in order to make the yarn slippery. It was wrung, pounded and hung out to dry. When it was dry, the yarns were separated and put on a home-made machine for weaving. There were about 30 yards in one weaving. The cloth was then ready for bleaching.

White ash (taken from burnt weeds and sunflower stems) was gathered and put into boiling water. After this solution stood for a while, it was strained through a canvas sheet. The cloth was placed in that solution and stayed there for two days. A thorough washing was given to the cloth after it was taken out of the solution; and it was placed in the sun to dry. When the cloth had dried, it was placed on a wooden roller used for ironing, and pounded with a flat stick which resembled a scrub board. Then the cloth was ready to be used for sewing.

After the sheep had been sheared, the wool was washed, dried and combed with home-made combs. It was then spun into a yarn on a spinning wheel. The yarn was placed in a paste made out of hot water and flour. After the yarn was dried, it was put on a home-made weaving machine. The cloth was washed with soap and water in a process of preshrinking. It could be dyed with different colours. The woolen yarn was also used to knit stockings, mittens and sweaters.

Other Skills and Handicrafts

The women busied themselves with other handicrafts such as embroidering, and crocheting various pieces. The men carved wooden spoons, salt and pepper shakers and various pieces of furniture. They also made spinning wheels as well as different of machines for weaving cloth. Harnesses were made out of leather, which was bought in bulk. There were shoemakers who made fine quality shoe of leather.

Conclusion

It seems proper to note that in October of 1924 the Doukhobor Community was bereaved by the tragic loss of Peter Lordly Verigin, who was killed in a deliberately set explosion of a passenger car in a C.P.R. train while on his way from Brilliant to Grand Forks. The explosion occurred just after the train left the station at Farron, B.C. He was an outstanding personality and gave leadership in the spiritual as well as the economic life of the Community, which deeply felt the loss of their revered leader. His place as the leader of the Doukhobors was taken by his son, Peter P. Chistiakov Verigin, who came to Canada in October, 1927 and who died in February, 1939.

Doukhobor farm near Grand Forks, BC, circa 1930. British Columbia Archives C-02659.

After it became evident that the lands and property of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood would be foreclosed by the companies holding mortgages, he re-organized the Community under the new name of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, to which belong most of the Doukhobors living at present in Grand Forks. The name of Peter Petrovich Chistiakov Verigin is still revered by his followers.

The members of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, while living on an individual basis are still favour of establishing a communal or co-operative way of life. At the present time, they have in Grand Forks a large cooperative store and a service garage under the name of Sunshine Valley Co-op Society.

This brings to a close this short summary of the history of the Doukhobor people in the Grand Forks and Boundary area.

View Grand Forks, British Columbia Doukhobor Villages, 1909-1939 in a larger map

Pacifism and Anastasia’s Doukhobor Village

by John W. Friesen

Following the death of Peter “Lordly” Verigin in 1924, his companion Anastasia F. Holuboff (1885-1965) was recognized by several hundred Doukhobors as his successor. The majority of Community Doukhobors, however, proclaimed Verigin’s son Peter “Chistiakov” Verigin as their leader. Disappointed, Anastasia and her followers broke away from the Community and in 1926 moved to the Shouldice district of Alberta where they established a break-away village. The following article by John W. Friesen, reproduced by permission from Alberta History (41(1) 1993), recounts Anastasia’s communal experiment in social, geographical and economic isolation. A combination of factors, including leadership style, internal dissension, land shortages and crop failures led to the eventual dissolution of the village in 1943.

The Doukhobor belief in pacifism originates from a conviction that every creature of God has a right to life. Doukhobors are fundamentally Russian in origin, and their beginnings were formalized in 1785 when a Russian Orthodox Archbishop named Ambrosius, called them “Doukhobortsi” or “Spirit Wrestlers.” He argued that their protestations against the state church were tantamount to fighting against the Spirit of God. The Doukhobors adopted the name, insisting that their interpretation of a living faith required a constant “wrestling in the Spirit.” Their orally-perpetuated belief system evolved, rather than being formally articulated, and consisted of communalism, pacifism to the extent of being vegetarians, an hereditary system of selecting leadership, a complete rejection of the written word, and a rejection of all forms of institutionalized religion including the priesthood. Doukhobors believe that each individual has a “Divine Spark” within them which entitles them to equality in the community and a right to life.

Doukhobor origins in Canada go back to 1899 when 7,500 souls immigrated from Russia and settled on the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border west of Winnipeg. During this time Canada was actively recruiting immigrants through the office of Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, and from 1890 to 1914, settlers from many parts of Europe and the United States took advantage of the generous invitation to receive title to free land. The Doukhobors established their first homes in the Kamsack-Yorkton district of Saskatchewan and built a series of 61 communal villages under one managing body. Four of the villages were temporary sites and 57 became functional. For a few years all went well, but the Canadian government became uneasy about the communal governance of the settlements and took steps to dismantle the organization.

Anastasia Holoboff (1885-1965). Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

After attacks by the Federal government and strong local community opposition to their communalism, the Doukhobors relocated to British Columbia in 1907. Their refusal to register communal property individually meant that their Saskatchewan lands were confiscated and assigned to incoming settlers. Their refusal cost them a total of 258,880 acres, of which 49,429 were cultivated. It was a boon for new immigrants to occupy lands already tilled, and in the frenzy of settlement no one paid much attention to Doukhobors.

As a token concession, the government made some of the lands available to the Doukhobors as a reserve, on the basis of fifteen acres per person. A total of 236 Doukhobors opted for individual land registration and thus became known as “Independent Doukhobors.” A smaller, more aggressive faction objected to their treatment and staged a public protest against the “militarism” of the government in the form of a march. Thereafter, they became known as the “Sons of Freedom.”

In British Columbia, Doukhobor life took on an entirely different format. Grain farming and cattle-raising were replaced by fruit-growing and the operation of sawmills, a brick factory and two jam factories. Some of the men worked for non-Doukhobor neighbours and contributed their earnings to the community – the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) – through their leader, Peter V. Verigin. New homes were built comprising a total of 90 villages, each containing one or two large houses, each accommodating 30 to 50 people.

In 1915, an Alberta base was added to the CCUB. Verigin saw the advantage of establishing an Alberta “depot” to provide grain and flour to British Columbia members who in turn would furnish garden produce and other supplies to the Alberta farmers. He purchased 12,000 acres of farmland in the Cowley-Lundbreck area and placed three hundred people on the land. Verigin also supervised the building of a flour mill and two elevators.

The Alberta connection functioned effectively until the dissolution of the CCUB. There were occasional incidents of protest against the Alberta Doukhobors during the years following the First World War because of their pacifism, but for the most part there was little disruption of life in the community over such matters.

The CCUB was dismantled in 1938 due to a sudden and unprovoked bank foreclosure on the organization. Although the community had nearly $8 million worth of property, two business firms – National Trust and the Sun Life Assurance Company – held a series of demand notes worth four per cent of their total worth, or $319,276. The notes were called and the British Columbia Supreme Court allowed foreclosure action to commence. The way was then clear for the British Columbia government to take title to Doukhobor lands and properties. When the CCUB was dismantled, some lands were sold to Doukhobor adherents on a crop-share basis and the rest were liquidated to pay off the bank debt. The story of the foreclosure is a blot on Canadian history.

Residents of Anastasia’s village: Polly Verigin, Dunya Anutooshkin (seated) and Nastya Verigin, c. 1927.

On October 24, 1924, the revered leader of the CCUB, Peter the Lordly, died in a mysterious train explosion when he was travelling to Grand Forks. A much respected man, Peter the Lordly virtually ran the CCUB single-handedly, even though a board of trustees legally existed.

It is a Doukhobor custom that when a leader dies there is a six-week period of mourning. When the mourning is over the community reconvenes and a new leader is elected. After Peter the Lordly’s death, his longtime female companion, Anastasia Holuboff, wanted to be the next leader but she was defeated. Instead, the congregation chose Peter’s son, Peter Petrovich Verigin, who was living in Russia. He was subsequently contacted and moved to Canada to take over the CCUB. Anastasia was deeply offended; after all, it was she who had lived and travelled with Peter the Lordly for twenty years and she knew all of his teachings.

She reacted to the rejection by forming a breakaway group called “The Lordly Christian Community of Christian Brotherhood” and in 1926 she moved to Alberta. Anastasia purchased 1,120 acres of land near Shouldice and subsequently supervised the building of the first homes. From a small beginning, the village population eventually peaked at 165 souls with twenty-six separate homes on site.

From the very beginning, Anastasia’s village functioned quite differently from other Doukhobor settlements. Always there was an element of uncertainty about its stability and an atmosphere of mistrust prevailed. Administratively, Anastasia was never Peter Verigin’s equal, so she was constantly working to keep the community together. She lacked the dignity with which Verigin had carried himself, and she never gained the measure of respect that he had commanded.

Anastasia’s method of governance was to insist on respect from her villagers. On moving into the village, each resident was asked to sign a membership form with the following rules called, “Principal Points of the Doukhobor Religion”: Doukhobors do not have mortiferous firearms; do not kill animals for food; do not use intoxicating liquors; and do not smoke or chew tobacco.

Anastasia’s governance style revealed itself in numerous other day-to-day affairs as well. One former village resident suggested that when the first garden produce of the season was brought in, Anastasia insisted that she be the first to partake of it. She also saw herself as the principal spiritual resource for the village and personally took to teaching Doukhobor philosophy and community regulations to the children. She gathered her young charges together in the early hours of the morning and taught them to sing Doukhobor psalms and memorize the main tenets of Doukhobor ideology. Herself once a member of Peter Verigin’s travelling choirs, she placed considerable stress on music. She also decried materialism and militarism and originated a series of strict regulations in this regard.

This large barn served the whole community at Anastasia’s village. It was built in 1927 and is still in use.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

She was known to mete out lengthy sermons to offenders who often escaped her diatribes simply by leaving the scene.

Following Peter the Lordly’s example, Anastasia originally purchased the farmlands for her settlement in her own name. Verigin said he would do this for the protection of the community when they first migrated to British Columbia, and true to his word, he did set up a board of directors for the CCUB and eventually turned all properties over to the organization. Anastasia also established a board of directors (consisting of three members) but she never signed the lands over to her community. Thus at her death there was a legal question about ownership. The actual village site and surrounding farmland were willed to her niece (recently deceased) who, along with her husband, maintained the village buildings and grounds to the present. Although resident in British Columbia, they spent summers at the village site to undertake maintenance work.

Anastasia’s board of directors was elected for one year terms and were primarily charged with looking after agricultural activities. Despite many attempts to live according to the spirit of brotherly love extolled by Doukhobors, there were frequent disputes (even fist-fights) among members of the village and Anastasia was not always able to successfully intervene. As a result there were frequent departures as people moved to more desirable places. When this happened, in most cases they forfeited their goods to the village and left with only the clothes on their backs. Some demanded a share of the goods and argued until some kind of settlement was made. This constant turmoil reflected badly on Anastasia’s abilities as leader and did little to maintain the morale of the membership or attract other Orthodox Doukhobors to the settlement. It also reflected poorly on a community allegedly bound by the principles of rationality which was to result in respect for one another by living in harmony. Despite this, the community became skilled at growing garden produce and contracted with members of the nearby Blackfoot Indian Reserve to trade these for coal supplies. They also obtained permission to do berry-picking on the reserve.

Doukhobor pacifism was internally put to the test when Anastasia appointed a close friend of hers, Wasyl (William) Androsoff, to run the village farm. The irritation caused by the appointment increased when Androsoff refused to move to the village. In addition, he and his brother, Ivan, also used community machinery to farm their own land. At William’s death, Ivan (also called John), took over farming operations until Anastasia’s passing. Her brother Michael is also reported to have helped with farming operations and as a reward Anastasia signed a quarter section of land over to him.

In some ways, Anastasia’s village was a communal experiment in isolation. It was an isolation from social interchange, and an isolation of economics and belief. In the first instance, village members were encouraged to have little to do with outsiders even though a certain amount of trade went on with neighbours. Also, when times were tough, Anastasia assigned certain men to work for neighbouring farmers. When work was done a strict reporting of activities away from the village to Anastasia was required. The philosophy of “them and us” was adhered to, which meant that everyone outside the village was considered an outsider – including other Doukhobors. Since Anastasia’s group was considered a renegade faction by mainline orthodoxy, there was an unspoken regulation about having too much to do with them. There were exchange visits between Anastasia’s people and those in the Alberta settlements near Lundbreck, but these were intermittent and basically social in nature.

Non-Doukhobor neighbours who still reside near the former village tell of sitting listening to Doukhobor singing emanating from the village. It was a beautiful and haunting sound, but carried a message of social distance in philosophy and practice. It was certainly difficult to operationalize the principle of loving one’s brother if social isolation was awarded such prime billing.

There is no indication that members of Anastasia’s village experienced public censure because of their pacifism during the period of the Second World War. On a national scale there were many Doukhobors who resisted participation in any alternative service program such as that yielded to by the Mennonites and Hutterites. Although some Doukhobor leaders in Saskatchewan tried to cooperate with the government push for alternative service, many young men resisted and at one time nearly 100 of them spent four months in prison in Prince Albert. In British Columbia, resistance was much more pronounced and the Sons of Freedom particularly gained press for staging public demonstrations. Inexperienced with this kind of upheaval, government officials tried to downplay the problem. Countless meetings were held and finally it was agreed that the Doukhobors should be disfranchised. On November 2, 1944, a form of taxation for Doukhobors was devised with monies derived therefrom going to the Red Cross. With the war nearly over, the proposal received endorsation by the majority of Doukhobors and additional conflict was defused. In evaluating the entire episode, one would have to praise government officials for their patience, dedication and long suffering in trying to accommodate Doukhobor beliefs.

Besides the question of the quality of administration in Anastasia’s village was the matter of institutional connection. With only limited social and economic ties to the local community, residents of the village also functioned with memories of having been forced to leave the membership of mainline orthodoxy when they sided with Anastasia after Peter the Lordly’s death. Combined with Anastasia’s inability to run a tight ship, this lack of institutional affiliation created an island community in an alien society and its demise was almost certain from the beginning. After all, who in Alberta, in a period of wartime, could really become concerned about the inner struggles of a remote pacifist, communal, renegade, Russian-derived group of people? Without vital connections, the experiment could not last.

When the Doukhobors first came to Canada they were seen as a very appealing kind of immigrant. They knew how to farm, they promised not to engage in any acts of civil disobedience, and they asked for little from the Canadian people. As time went on, however, a very negative image of Doukhobors evolved, partially brought on by the “leave us alone” philosophy of the Doukhobors themselves and Canadian suspicions of their pacifist, communal lifestyle. It did not help that the militant Sons of Freedom faction which originated after the seizure of Saskatchewan lands received so much publicity. In their zeal to discourage a growing materialism among their orthodox counterparts they sometimes engaged in acts of civil disobedience and violence to make a point. They set fire to buildings to illustrate the fleeting security of material goods. They burned schools in order to express their disdain for public education which they saw as part of the process of yielding to the Canadian value system of materialism, consumerism and militarism.

Undoubtedly the apparent inconsistency between what was promulgated as pacifist ideology, and demonstrated in acts of aggression (even if only against one’s own colleagues), drew little public support for the Doukhobor cause. An even more isolated and eccentric experiment (such as Anastasia’s village), would almost certainly be bypassed or stretch Canadian tolerance to its very limits.

Sources contend that the village never formally died; instead it simply dwindled away. By 1945, only Anastasia and her companion, Fedosia Verigin, remained on site. They lived alone there until 1960 when they moved to Calgary and spent their summers at the site. Anastasia died on November 24, 1965, and Fedosia on October 26, 1981. They are buried side by side in the cemetery located at the north end of the village.

Anastasia’s original house (and attached bath house). The structure is still standing.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Physical reminders of the former village structure are numerous and include Anastasia’s original house (and attached bath-house), her newer home (built in the 1950s), a big barn and grain bin, the prayer home, and a several other buildings. Memories of life in the village also remain, locked in the inner recesses of the hearts of older Doukhobors who were once a part of this experience.

About the Author

John W. Friesen is an ordained clergyman of the United Church of Canada. He is Minister of Morley United Church near Calgary, Alberta. He also holds a joint appointment as Professor in the Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary. He has published several articles on the Doukhobors. His book with Michael M. Verigin, The Community Doukhobors, A People in Transition (Borealis Press, 1996) is a detailed examination of the history of the Doukhobors in Alberta.