Doukhobors in the Kootenay, 1909

In June 1909, an unidentified correspondent with the Rossland Miner newspaper visited the new 2,700-acre Doukhobor colony at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers in British Columbia. Only a year after its establishment, the colony already boasted 675 members, recent arrivals from the Prairies, who had cleared 350 acres of heavy forest and planted 10,700 fruit trees along with large vegetable gardens. They set up two sawmills, which were busy cutting lumber for the houses of the different villages to be located on the land, and a preliminary irrigation system was established. Greatly impressed with their untiring industry and deep optimism of further development, the correspondent writes about their history, religious beliefs, communal society, vegetarianism, gender equality, dress and overall generosity and courtesy. Reproduced from the Daily News Advertiser (Vancouver BC), June 23, 1909

Last week a representative of the Rossland “Miner” visited the new colony of Doukhobors at Waterloo, B.C., and writes his impressions as follows.

Imagine a community of nearly 700 men, women and children, without a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a druggist, store, saloon, butcher shop, gaol or police officer, pauper or courtesan, where all of the population are vegetarians and teetotalers, so far as alcoholic beverages are concerned, and who neither chew nor smoke tobacco, and you will have an idea of the Doukhobor settlement at Brilliant, formerly Waterloo, on the Columbia River, about 25 miles from this city.

The inhabitants are Socialists, pure and simple, as everything is held in common. The men and the women work for the community, and all property is owned by the community, and all moneys derived from the sale of the products of the soil go into a common fund. They constitute one big family. The children, until they are able to work, are allowed to play or attend school, where a rudimentary education is given them. As soon as they are strong enough to toil they join the ranks of the workers and become part of the producers.

There are no drones in this human hives. When old age comes on and the limbs become unfit for arduous toil, the superannuated Doukhobors are treated just the same as when they were useful to the community. One of the Doukhobors explained this to the “Miner” representative, about as follows: “Old men and old women, when breakfast comes, eat breakfast; when dinner comes, have dinner; when supper comes, have supper. Rest of time they sit in house if weather is bad, but if weather fine they go in the sun and enjoy themselves. When they want shoes, hat, coat, vest, they go to the shop and get them.”

The former Waterloo mining and lumber camp (est. 1896) where the Doukhobors first settled in 1908. The two-story building at the left was used as the Brilliant Post Office and branch office of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, with the John W. Sherbinin family living upstairs. The two-story whitewashed log building to the right was used as a communal kitchen and cafeteria. The two-story building to its right served as the community store-house for the receipt and distribution of goods and supplies. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

Elementary School

Questioned as to the school, the Doukhobors stated that as the schools were provided for the children, where they learned to read, write and figure; in other words, they are given a primary education. The desire is not to over educate them. They do not want them to become doctors, lawyers, school masters, or scholars, but tillers of the soil, like their fathers and mothers.

Another feature of the Doukhobors is that they are opposed to war and will take no hand, act or part in it. In Russia, where they come from, they were knouted for refusing to serve in the army, but preferred death under the cruel knout to taking part in slaying their fellow men. One of the cardinal parts of their creed is that they are opposed to the shedding of the blood of anything that lives, and hence they are vegetarians, drawing the line even at fish. They have been called by some “Russian Quakers.”

Doukhobor Religion

As to their religion, it was explained to the “Miner” representative as follows:

They follow as closely as possible the teachings of Christ in doing only that which is good to their fellow man, and of not resenting violence when it is offered against their persons or property. When one cheek is smitten they turn the other to the smiter. They lead clean, honest lives, wronging neither man nor dumb creates and make their living by the sweat of their brow, directly from the soil.

Should a member of the community desire at any time to leave, he gives notice of his wish and his or her share is apportioned and he or she is given it in the form of money. Should he or she afterwards regret their action and desire to return they can repurchase their interest and again become members of the community.

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin’s older brothers Prokofy and Vasily and family at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya) in c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Women with the Hoe

The women work in the fields the same as the men, doing the light tasks, such as hoeing and planting. It was an interesting sight to see groups of them coming in from the fields at noon and in the evening. Each had a hoe on his shoulder and they laughed and chatted with each other as they made their way to the public dining room, where they dined with their children.

They are usually attired in dark skirts with waists of varied material, generally calico and of different colors, according to the taste of the wearers. Each wears a large apron. The headdress consists of a large handkerchief covering the hair and the sides of the face and tied in a knot at the throat. A portion of the handkerchief falls for a considerable distance down the shoulders. Their feet are covered with rough shoes, and not a few of them were without stockings. Apparently there is not a corset in the community.

A few are comely, others have the “fatal gift of beauty,” while not a few are homely. They are deep chested, wide-hipped, clear eyed and have the red badge of health in their cheeks in most instances. A few of the older ones show the effects of hard toil in stooped shoulders and deeply-marked lines in their faces. They seemed to be cheerful and contented, while their children were veritable pictures of health, vitality and strength, lively and full of pranks. The children were generally barefooted.

One feature that struck the visitor was their universal politeness and kindliness. The men respectfully salute their fellows, whether men or women, whenever they meet, by raising their caps with cheerful words of salutation. The stranger visiting the place is shown the same sort of courtesy, the children being particularly polite.

Strong, Hardy Men

The men nearly all wear a peaked cap and in most instances black coats, all of which are of the same cloth and pattern; dark trousers and heavy shoes. They are manufactured by them at home in most instances. The men are large, strong, athletic and active looking. They are nearly all light complexioned, with blue and gray eyes, although there are a few of the pronounced brunette type with flashing black eyes.

It was noticed that they all were able to read, as when they came to the Post Office they looked over the letters and selected whatever was directed to them.

Peter Verigin is the head man of the colony. He is a fine looking, large man, of commanding appearance. Although he has been in Canada for several years he has not yet learned to speak English. John Sherbinin is his interpreter and is a young man of ability, who speaks English fluently, and from him the following particulars concerning the community were learned:

Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin working in his vegetable garden at the Waterloo camp, Dolina Utesheniya, c. 1911. A.M. Evalenko, The Message of the Doukhobors (1913).

Last year the community, after a thorough inspection of the various portions of the Province, on the part of their agent, purchased through Willoughby & Mauer, of Winnipeg, 2,700 acres of land near Waterloo. This included 67 acres belonging to H.B. Landers [sic Landis] and 14 acres owned by James Hartner.

This land extends along the Columbia River’s east bank for a distance of two miles and along the south bank of the Kootenay river for a mile and a half. The land extends from the river front to the foot of the mountains, which rise almost perpendicular at the eastern boundary of the land. The land is beautifully located on three benches. The first bench is 100 feet above the level of the river and a quarter of a mile wide. The second bench is 200 feet above the river and about a mile wide. The third bench is 350 feet above the river and about a quarter of a mile in width. The three benches represent former beds of the Columbia River and the soil is a rich alluvial, being ideal fruit and vegetable land. The valley of the Columbia is wide at this point and the sun has ample opportunity of warming the oil and making “things grow.”

The First Arrivals

On May 12, 1908, the first installment of Doukhobors arrived from the prairies, consisting of 80 men, three women and two children.

Last year a little over 200 acres were cleared and a considerable quantity of vegetables raised, such as potatoes, cucumbers, water melons, citron melons, turnips, radishes, etc., and about 700 fruit trees were planted.

This year, so far, 150 acres have been cleared and 10,700 trees planted, including plums, cherries, prunes, apricots, nectarines, walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. Besides there have been 6,000 grape vines planted on the sunny slopes of the benches. Then there are 18,000 seedling apple, pear and quince trees purchased in Iowa, which will be set out later, they being at present in beds. A very large number of gooseberries, currants and blackberries have been set out, which will produce considerable fruit this year. This season there have been a good sized acreage devoted to potatoes, onions, beets, buckwheat, water melons and other vegetables.

The community has had in operation for a considerable time a portable sawmill that cuts about 5,000 feet of lumber a day. Another and a larger mill has been purchased and is at present at Castlegar on board the cars. This will soon be placed in position and will cut from 30,000 to 40,000 feet a day. It will be used to cut lumber for the houses of the different villages that are to be located on the land of the community. It will not only be used at Waterloo but at Pass Creek, where the community has purchased 2,000 acres of land.

A ferry has been put in at Waterloo, which will carry thirty tons, and a second ferry has been placed in position in the Kootenay River, which is only a little smaller than the one at Waterloo.

Returning to the additions to the colony, Mr. Sherbinin stated that fifteen came in July last from the prairies, consisting of two men, three children and ten women. April of the present year 190 men arrived from the prairies. Within the past few days, 500 arrived at Waterloo, a considerable portion of whom were women. About 150 have gone to near Grand Forks, where the community owns 1,000 acres of land, and some are working for others clearing land. The present population of the Waterloo community is about 675.

Group of early Doukhobor settlers to Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), c. 1909. BC Archives A-02072.

Asked as to the future plans of the community, Mr. Sherbinin stated that the intention was to continue the work of clearing, till 2,700 acres at Waterloo was cleared and set out in fruit, thus making it the largest orchard in the Province. A road is being built to Pass Creek, from Waterloo, which with all its winding will be about ten miles in length. If the Province constructed this road it would cost at least $12,000, but the Doukhobors are doing it themselves without asking for a cent from the public coffers. The 2,000 acres that the community owns at Pass Creek will be cleared and part of it used for growing vegetables and the remainder for hay and pasturage.

Asked where the Doukhobors came from, Mr. Sherbinin said that they were from the Caucasian Provinces that lie in Southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas, and principally from Tiflis and Kars. They are from the cradle of the Aryan race. The Doukhobor society is three or four hundred years old. They came to Canada first in 1898, because dissatisfied with the adverse conditions in Russia, and particularly the compulsory service required of them in the army, preferring death at the hands of the Cossacks to service in the army. There are about 7,000 of them in Canada at present. In Saskatchewan there are 40 villages each containing from 75 to 350 people. It is the intention to transfer all of these to the Province inside of the next five years.

Asked the reason for the change of residence place the reply was that as the Doukhobors are vegetarians and used to a fairly warm climate, it was too cold for them on the prairies, while the weather here was free from intense cold. On the prairies they cannot raise fruits, vegetables and nuts, which form so large a portion of their diet, but here they can be easily grown, and hence their preference for this section of the country.

First crop of tomatoes grown by Doukhobors at Waterloo (Dolina Utesheniya), 1908. SFU MSC121-DP-152-01.

Vegetarian Menus

The “Miner” representative dined twice with the Doukhobors during his visit, having luncheon and dinner. At luncheon he had a vegetable soup, made of potatoes and fragrant herbs, thickened with milk and butter and seasoned with salt. It was very good. Black bread made of whole wheat, evidently mixed with rye. It was sweet and wholesome. Two fresh eggs; then there was raspberry jam, raisins and plums stewed together, butter and cheese, and water instead of tea. For dinner the menu was as follows: noodle soup, flavored with parsley and seasoned with salt. A slab of cheese; black bread, raspberry jam, two eggs, and water instead of coffee.

From the standpoint of a vegetarian the meals were satisfying, and the “Miner” representative enjoyed them very much. They were given with such kindness and such heartfelt hospitality that added zest to them.

What most impressed the “Miner” representative during his visit was the untiring industry of the members of the community. In a very short time they have cleared, ploughed and made a veritable garden a tract of 350 acres that was last year virgin forest. Not only the stumps and roots have been removed but every stone. The soil has been pulverized to as fine a point as it can be.

Water has been piped to the cultivated land so that trees and vegetables can be irrigated. It is the intention to flume in larger supplies of water from McPhee Creek, so that every acre of the 2,700 can be irrigated.

When the entire tract has been planted it promises to make the largest orchard in the Province. It is understood that most of the fruit raised will be canned or dried for shipment to the larger centres of the Dominion. The task already accomplished is an immense one, but what lies before them in improving the two tracts at Waterloo and Pass Creeks and the one at Grand Forks is much larger. Besides they intend to acquire other areas of raw land which they will improve. What they have done already is an object lesson of great value, as it shows what the soil of the Columbia River Valley is capable of yielding to property directed and energetic effort.

Doukhobor land-clearing on the First Bench immediately north of the Waterloo camp, 1912. Doukhobor Commission Photographs, BC Archives File GR-0793.5.

To the Socialist of this section a visit to Waterloo will give him a view of Socialism at short range, as his doctrines are fully carried out by the Doukhobors.

The vegetarian will find much to commend when he looks into the diet of the Doukhobors. He will see men and women doing hard work on a vegetable diet.

The temperance advocate should also be interested in what he can see in this community and can study the effects of total abstinence in a community of several hundred.

The lover of peace cannot help but admire the courage which the Doukhobors have displayed in sticking to their anti-war doctrine.

Those who are interested in humanity and how man is working his way to a higher destiny, can find food and reflection in this simple, plain and God-fearing community.

A Pilgrimage to the Peshcherochki

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In a hidden river gorge in the remote and rugged highlands of Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Georgia lies a grotto where, for nearly two centuries, Doukhobors have gone to seek solitude, consolation and serenity.  It is also the site of one of the most momentous and tumultuous events in their history – the Burning of Arms.

The Peshcherochki (Пещерочки) is a place of extraordinary natural beauty and is imbued with immense historical, cultural and spiritual importance to the Doukhobor people.  Indeed, it is considered one of the most sacred sites in Doukhoborism.

The Peshcherochki. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

So when the opportunity arose to visit the Caucasus in July of 2015, I jumped at the chance to see and experience this holy and historic place for myself!   

I accompanied a group of eight other Canadian Doukhobors on a three-week tour of Doukhobor settlements throughout the Caucasus.  It was an exceptionally thrilling experience, visiting places steeped in heritage and tradition that I had only read about in books.  Throughout our trip, I shared my knowledge of the historical significance of the sites with the other participants.  Treading in the footsteps of our ancestors, it was a profoundly moving and meaningful journey.   

After spending our first week travelling throughout northeast Turkey, we made our way into Georgia.  We arrived at the village of Gorelovka, the largest of eight Doukhobor settlements on the Javakheti Plateau, a large, high-altitude grassland surrounded by the Javakheti Range or Mokryi Gori (‘Wet Mountains’).  It was once the capitol of Dukhobor’ye, the popular 19th century name given to these uplands by Russian travellers and officials, owing to its predominantly Doukhobor population.  The Doukhobors themselves called the plateau Kholodnoye, or the ‘cold place’ on account of its high elevation and cool climate. Today, however, the village and surrounding plateau is home to thousands of Armenian migrants, with only a hundred and fifty or so Doukhobors remaining. 

Gorelovka village, facing southwest towards the Svyataya Gora. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Situated at the forks of two small rivers, Gorelovka comprised three long parallel streets, with houses aligned on both sides of each street.  While many dwellings were occupied by newcomers, they still retained distinctive Doukhobor stylings, with sharp-pitched roofs, verandahs with decoratively-carved beams, whitewashed walls, and sky-blue trim on eaves, door and window frames.  Some were clad in metal roofing, while others still had thatch.  The Doukhobor yards were neat and orderly, with well-kept gardens and outbuildings; those of the Armenians were less tidy, with livestock kept penned and piled manure drying for use as heating fuel.  The once-spotless streets were rutted and covered in cow dung as the newcomers drove their cattle over them to the hills and back daily.  Above us, storks nested on the tops of power poles; a natural phenomenon unique to this village.    

Home of Nikolai (Kolya) Sukhorukov in Gorelovka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In Gorelovka, we met Nikolai Kondrat’evich Sukhorukov, Tat’yana Vladimirovna Markina and Yuri Vladimirovich Strukov.  Nikolai, or Kolya, was a tall man in his sixties with inquisitive blue eyes and a long white beard.  Having moved to Simferopol in the Crimea in the 1990s for work, he returned several years ago, desiring a simpler, more wholesome life.  Tat’yana was a young woman in her late twenties with dark brown hair, warm brown eyes and a kind smile.  Raised here, she left to attend university in Tyumen in Siberia, where she now worked as a geologist.  However, she came back each summer to live in her family home.  Yuri, in his late thirties, had a stocky build with blond hair and cheery blue eyes.  Having lived for years in the Georgian resort town of Borjomi, he returned here because he felt it was a better place to raise his young family.  They would be our constant hosts and guides during our stay, showing us tremendous hospitality and generosity.

Attending moleniye at the Sirotsky Dom in Gorelovka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We spent our first day with our hosts attending a moleniye (‘prayer service’) at the historic Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) in Gorelovka, followed by a hike through the scenic countryside along Lake Madatapa, then an open-air moleniye and picnic beside the ruins of the 19th century khutor (‘farmstead’) of the Kalmykov dynasty of Doukhobor leaders.  Of these remarkably memorable events, I will write separately.

On the morning of our second day, our hosts organized a convoy of vehicles from among local Doukhobors to take our group to the much-awaited Peshcherochki.  Our driver was Sergei Mikhailovich Yashchenkov, an affable retired kolkhoz (‘collective farm’) tractor driver.  Kolya also accompanied us on our drive.  

As we drove west from Gorelovka along a pothole-laden paved road, the land was flat and divided into fields of oats, barley and rye.  A kilometer to our north stood a large wooded hill.  “The Spasovsky Kurgan,” said Kolya, pointing to it.  This kurgan (‘mound’), I learned, took its name from the village of Spasovka, which lay on its opposite side.  “There is much wildlife on the hill,” added Sergei, eagerly. “There, in its woods, one can find deer, wolves, fox and wild boar”.  Sergei, it turned out, was an avid outdoorsman.  

The Spasovsky Kurgan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Within minutes, we arrived at Orlovka and turned south off the highway through the village.  It was noticeably smaller and poorer than Gorelovka, with several houses standing empty and derelict along its single street.  “My family once lived here” Sergei wistfully remarked. “But now, only two Doukhobor households remain.”  Many homes, I found out, were taken up by Armenians after most Doukhobors relocated to Russia in the 1990s.  The dilapidated state of the village left me feeling melancholy… 

From Orlovka, we continued south along a heavily-rutted dirt road.  The flat, cultivated fields soon gave way to rolling grassland.  Herds of grazing cattle and sheep dotted the treeless landscape.  To our west loomed a massive hill, if not a small mountain.  “The Svyataya Gora,” observed Kolya solemnly.  “It is sacred to our people”, he added. “Atop it lies the grave of a saint, a holy man.”  Each summer, I learned, Doukhobors gathered to pray on this ‘holy mountain’ that marked the western boundary of Dukhobor’ye.  Its imposing presence and enormity left a powerful impression on me.       

The Svyataya Gora towers over the horizon above the plateau. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After three or so kilometers, we turned off the road and drove cross-country to the east.  Within a kilometer, we came to a stop on a broad, grassy plateau with rocky outcroppings.  We exited the vehicle and surveyed our surroundings.  Behind us, the Svyataya Gora dominated the horizon.  In front of us, the ground dropped away precipitously, and we found ourselves standing at the edge of a deep gorge, staring down its steep, rocky walls.  A small river ran along its bottom.  “The Zagranichnaya,” explained Kolya, pointing to it.  The Zagranichnaya or ‘transboundary’ river was so named because when the Doukhobors arrived on the plateau in the 1840s, its source lay across the Turkish border. It was here on the banks of this river where the Peshcherochki stood.

I was brimming with anticipation… We were nearing our destination!

On the plateau overlooking the Zagranichnaya River gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Within minutes, we were joined by the rest of the convoy and soon our entire group was anxiously assembled on the plateau.  Kolya then led us to the head of a trail, obscured by undergrowth, which gradually descended into the gorge.  We slowly and cautiously made our way downward, single-file, along the narrow, rock-strewn path.  As we did, the faint sound of trickling water grew louder as it tumbled over rocks and echoed off the gorge walls. 

Dar’ya Strukova descends along the narrow rocky path into the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Once we reached the bottom of the gorge, I instinctively looked around and uttered an involuntary “wow”!  The scene that greeted us was truly breathtaking.  The dark, sheer sandstone walls of the gorge, 10 to 15 meters high, towered above us on one side.  The Zagranichnaya babbled and rippled past us on the other.  The floor of the gorge teemed with tall waving grass, patches of brush and scattered boulders, bathed in the rays of the midday sun.  The far side of the gorge, 30 to 40 meters distant, sloped gently up to the horizon.  It felt as though we had entered a different world from that above.   

The flat grassy bottom of the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The place where we stood was a sharp outside bend of the Zagranichnaya which, over millennia, had cut into the surrounding rock to form the vertical cliff or cut bank overlooking us.  The lower rock stratum, being comprised of softer, more porous rock, had been further eroded by the meandering river to form a shallow cave-like opening or rock shelter at the base of the cliff.  Lying on a north-south axis, the cavity was a meter or so deep, two to three meters high, and over 80 meters long.  It was entirely open to the outside along its length. 

This was the Peshcherochki of lore and legend!    

Near the opening of the grotto at the bottom of the gorge. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I paused to consider the Doukhobor name of this feature.  It was derived from the Russian term peshchera, commonly translated as ‘cave’.  This puzzled me somewhat, since it was not technically a cave, as its opening was wider than it was deep.  However, I then recalled that the term also referred to a ‘grotto’ or ‘hollow’ which described the feature perfectly.  It also occurred to me that though it formed a single chamber, Doukhobors always referred to the feature in the plural (Peshchery), and always in diminutive, affectionate terms (Peshcherki or Peshcherochki).  Such was the uniqueness of the Doukhobor dialect!    

Within the grotto, there was a deep stillness in the air that made the slightest sound – the buzz of an insect’s wing, the cracking of a twig, or the rustle of grass – distinctive and pronounced.  Just beyond us, the hum of the river formed a soundscape of natural white noise that had a strangely soothing, relaxing and centering effect.  And the mottled light and shadow that played upon the rock face evoked a sense of serenity and contentment.  As I took in the sights and sounds of this place, my senses awakened and I felt a deep sense of peace.

The Zagranichnaya River. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Our group fanned out and began to explore the Peshcherochki.  As we did, we learned from our hosts about the legends and traditions associated with it.

Alcove in grotto wall containing hand inprint and floral emblems. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

At the south end of the grotto, Yuri beckoned us toward a small, rocky alcove where an imprint in the shape of a hand could be seen.  “Doukhobors believe it is the hand print of Christ,” he declared, “who hid here from his persecutors.”  “At one time,” he added solemnly, “the impression was so clear that you could make out the fingerprints.  But it became faded and worn over time by so many people placing their palms over it.”  Accordingly, he asked us not to touch it, only to kiss it, which we did in reverence.

A few paces further, Tat’yana pointed out to us the word “Dukhobor” faintly inscribed in Cyrillic on the grotto wall.  In another spot, three faded floral symbols appeared etched and painted on the rock.  “Our people believe that these images have always been here,” she explained, “and that they appeared naturally and divinely and not by the hands of man.”  We kissed them out of veneration and respect.   

A faded floral symbol etched on the rock face of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We then gathered around Kolya, who had halted along the grotto.  “There is a legend,” he proclaimed, “that the Golubinaya Kniga is buried somewhere near the Peshcherochki.”  The ‘Book of the Dove’, I discovered, was a mythical book in Slavic folklore said to contain all knowledge – the entire assembled wisdom of God.  “Doukhobors,” he continued, “no matter how few remain, must carry out our mission to preserve this holy place and book, otherwise triple as much will be asked from us on Judgement Day.” 

Khatochka at the far end of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We slowly made our way to the far north end of the grotto, which was enclosed by a man-made facade so as to form a small khatochka (‘little hut’).  The rock face naturally formed two adjacent walls, one running lengthwise and another spanning the width, along with most of the ceiling.  Another two masonry walls were built along the opposite length (with a window enclosure) and width (with a doorway) with a masonry tile roof.  The outward-facing exterior walls were whitewashed while the window sill, door frame and door were painted sky-blue.  A rising sun symbol was inscribed over the entrance.  Built by Doukhobors in the 19th century, it served as a place of prayer and repose. 

Khatochka interior. The natural rock face is enclosed by a man-made facade to form a small chamber lined with stone benches. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We entered the khatochka and found ourselves in a small, dimly-lit chamber, 4 meters wide by 5 meters long, lined with low stone benches.  The interior masonry walls were etched with floral symbols, while lush ferns grew out of the damp rock face.  We lingered therefor a long while, lost in our own thoughts and prayers.

Natural rock wall forming the Khatochka ceiling with ferns growing on rock face. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“According to tradition,” said Kolya quietly and reverently, “this was a favorite place of Doukhobor leader Luker’ya Vasil’evna Kalmykova (1841-1886), who loved to spend time here in summer in deep spiritual reflection.”  Indeed, Doukhobors have long associated the Peshcherochki with the memory of ‘Lushechka’, as the much-beloved leader was affectionately known.

Doukhobor leader Luker’ya (Lushechka) Vasil’evna Kalmykova (1841-1886). BC Archives C-01444.

During the last five years of her life, I knew, Lushechka often withdrew here with her protégé, Petr Vasil’evich Verigin, whom she counselled on the teachings and traditions of the sect and imbued with the understanding and aspiration to fulfill his future role as leader.  It was a matter of significance to Canadian Doukhobors, as descendants of the Large Party who followed him after her passing.  Understandably, it was not mentioned by our hosts, being descendants of the Small Party who rejected his leadership.    

Floral symbols etched in the khatochka interior. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

It was no wonder why Lushechka was drawn to this place.  There was something spiritual, powerful and beautiful about the grotto… something that inspired contemplation and communion with God and nature among all who came here.  It gave rise to a sense of shelter and safety from the outside world, and brought about a feeling of comfort and solace from suffering.

These sentiments were echoed in the 19th century Doukhobor psalm engraved in the rock face above us as we exited the khatochka.  It read (translated from Russian[1]) as follows:

Be happy, o grotto, rejoice, o wilderness! For, herein is a refuge of the Lord our God, a true shelter and a comforting, protective covering - victory over my enemies and banishment to adversaries, weaponry against the unbelievers and hope to true believers. O, Thou Holy Mother of God, ever-present helper – in our misfortunes Thou hast been our devoted defender.”
19th century Doukhobor psalm inscribed on the wall of the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

According to tradition, Lushechka had these words inscribed on the wall of the Peshcherochki to consecrate it as a haven of peace and comfort, a place of sanctuary and sanctity for believers.  It was unknown whether she composed them herself or whether they already existed in the repertoire of psalms forming the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’).  Whatever their origin, they stood as a constant guide and enjoinder to all Doukhobors to gather here in fellowship, and to be happy and rejoice.

Doukhobor psalm inscription and commemorative plaque above the khatochka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

And rejoice here they had, over the ages.

“Doukhobors have long been coming here,” Yuri told us.  “Since their arrival in the Caucasus in the 1840s, our people have met at the Peshcherochki every summer to pray, sing and eat together.”  Indeed, among Doukhobors, the grotto was not only a sacred place of worship but also an important site of cultural celebration and social interaction.

I knew that in the 19th century, Doukhobors gathered here annually to celebrate Petrov Den’ – the feast of St. Peter celebrated on June 29th.  This holiday held particular significance to them, as it was the name day of their leader, Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov, late husband of Lushechka, who died in 1864.  They would assemble in the grotto to pray, then spread about blankets on the plateau above and have a picnic.  The young people gathered in a nearby hollow, out of sight of the stern elders, to sing and dance.    

Historic celebration of Petrov Den’ at the grotto in 1917. Anna Petrovna Markova and her brother Petr Petrovich (‘Istrebov’) Verigin are seated at the back, with their mother Anna Fedorovna Verigina and friend Maria Fedorovna Perepelkina in front. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

I asked Kolya whether Doukhobors still held Petrov Den’ at the Peshcherochki.  “Some do,” he thoughtfully replied. “Those from Spasovka, Orlovka and other villages still meet here on that day.”  Evidently, they were descendants of the Middle Party who recognized Verigin as leader but remained in the Caucasus.  “But our Gorelovka people,” he clarified, “meet here on the first Sunday following Troitsa.”  After Lushechka’s death, the Small Party and their descendants observed Troitsa (‘Trinity’) here instead. 

This year, the Gorelovka people had postponed their annual Troitsa commemoration at the Peshcherochki by several weeks to coincide with our visit; a testament to their genuine goodwill and sense of brotherhood towards us.

Wild flowers growing in the bottom of the gorge near the grotto. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Nowadays, I found out, it was not only Doukhobors who came to the Peshcherochki.  It was also visited by Armenians, who set burning candles on the rocky ledges while praying to God here, as evidenced by the wax remnants we found throughout the grotto.

At this point, we left the grotto and Kolya led us to the banks of the Zagranichnaya where several lush, large berezy (‘birch’) and verby (‘willow’) trees were growing.  “If you carefully break off the young branches,” he eagerly explained, “they will take root when planted.  Let us do so, now, to commemorate our visit!”  Following his lead, we each took turns planting saplings in the soft, marshy riverbank – a fitting, living testament to our journey here. 

The writer planting a birch sapling on the banks of the Zagranichnaya. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Thereafter, we slowly ascended back up the trail to the plateau above.  It was here, on this windswept grassy plain, on a rocky outcropping some fifty meters from the edge of the gorge, that one of the most important events in the history of the Doukhobors took place 120 years earlier – the Burning of Arms.

Rocky outcropping on the plateau above the Peshcherochki where the Burning of Arms took place, facing west. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

On Petrov Den’ in 1895, Doukhobors gathered at the Peshcherochki as was customary.  This time, though, members of the Large Party brought with them all the weapons in their possession, piled them together on the plateau above, then surrounded the pile with wood, poured on kerosene and set them on fire.  As the weapons twisted and melted in the flames, the Doukhobors gathered around, prayed and sang psalms of universal brotherhood.  It was a peaceful mass demonstration against militarism and violence. 

This dramatic act of defiance had been carefully timed to correspond to the name day of Petr Vasil’evich Verigin, who became leader of the Large Party in 1887, while the site was deliberately chosen because of its deep religious symbolism.  Indeed, it was aspired to evoke the words of the psalm inscribed in the grotto, years earlier at Lushechka’s behest, and solidify their importance.

The Burning of Arms, a painting by Michael M. Voykin (1974).

For their part, Tsarist authorities viewed it as an act of rebellion.  Two squadrons of mounted Cossacks were dispatched, posthaste, to the Peshcherochki to pacify the protestors and quell the civil disorder.  Once they arrived, the Cossacks charged the praying crowd of men, women and children, slashing through them with whips.  Many were brutally beaten and some severely injured when they were trampled by horses.  The dazed and bloodied Doukhobors were then forcibly herded to Bogdanovka for questioning.

In the days that followed, Cossack troops were billeted in the Doukhobor villages, where they ravaged the homes of the Large Party, taking food, smashing furnishings, beating males and raping females without check or rebuke.  Thousands were then banished, without supplies, to poor Georgian villages in oppressively hot and unhealthy climates, left to scrape by as best they could, or survive on whatever charity the local Georgians and Tatars dared give them under threat of arrest.  Many perished in exile.

The Burning of Arms site facing west. The Svyataya Gora towers in the distance. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I felt a mixture of emotions as I reflected on these momentous events.  It filled me with sadness that such a place of natural beauty and peace could have witnessed such needless cruelty and suffering.  At the same time, I felt immensely proud and moved by the unwavering courage and steadfast faith that those Doukhobors demonstrated in the face of such adversity.  And I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the legacy of faith, tradition and community they had imparted to us through their actions.

It was thus indeed fitting that the Burning of Arms was commemorated by a bronze plaque mounted on the walls of the Peshcherochki, which read (translated from Russian[2]) as follows:

Here on the 29th of June, 1895, the Doukhobors made their stand for the ideal of peace, and against war and killing. Upon this spot they symbolically burned their firearms. For this great deed they suffer persecution and torture from Tsarist authorities of that time. These peace makers are our own ancestors. In memory of their heroism and steadfastness in the cause of peace and brotherhood throughout the whole world, we, the Canadian Doukhobors, during our visit place this memorial plaque, in witness of our gratitude.  On behalf of the Doukhobors of Canada, J. J. Verigin August 1966. ‘Peshcheri’, Village of Orlovka, Akhalkalak District, Georgian SSR.” 
Bronze plaque commemorating the Burning of Arms presented by Canadian Doukhobors and mounted on the grotto wall in 1966. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Once our entire group had reassembled on the plateau, our hosts spread blankets about on the grass, and after reciting the Otche Nash (‘Lord’s Prayer’), treated us to a picnic.  It was a sumptuous feast – with cheese, bread, honey, roast chicken, sausage, tomatoes, pyrohi, green onions, watermelon, apricots and plums – all homemade and home grown by the Gorelovka Doukhobors. 

Picnicking on the plateau above the Peshcherochki. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

As we broke bread together, Kolya relayed the ongoing efforts of Georgian Doukhobors to preserve and protect the Peshcherochki.  “There are few of us left here,” he lamented, “but no matter how hard it is for us, we will live near this sacred place and care for it.”  Several years earlier, we learned, the President of Georgia announced that it would be granted zapovednik (‘reserve’) status, thus entitling it to funding and legal status as a historic site.  To date, however, the presidential decree had not come into force.

Group photo at the Burning of Arms site above the Peshcherochki. (Back l-r) Sergei Yashchenkov, Jared Arishenkoff, myself, Lisa Seminoff, Tat’yana Markina, Dar’ya Strukova, Yuri Strukov, Andrei Conovaloff. (Front l-r) Verna Postnikoff, Linda Arishenkoff, Hannah Hadikin, Alex Ewashen, Brian Ewashen, Mila Kabatova, Kolya Sukhorukov, unidentified Doukhobor lady. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

We assembled for a final group photograph at the rocky outcropping where the Burning of Arms took place and then departed for Gorelovka. 

As we made our way back through the Javakheti countryside, I recalled that among her many prophecies, Lushechka had also made one specifically about this location, in which she spoke about Doukhobors returning to the Peshcherochki.  This prophecy was published in William A. Soukoreff, Istoriya Dukhobortsev (North Kildonan: J. Regehr, 1944 at 64-65) in which it was written (translated from Russian[3]):    

“The Doukhobors will be destined to leave our homeland and to stay in distant lands, to test their faith and to glorify the Lord, but I tell you, wherever Doukhobors may come to be, wherever they may end up going, they shall return to this place. It is their ‘Promised Land’, and when the Doukhobors return, they will find peace and comfort.”

Lushechka foresaw that the Doukhobors would wander far from this location, both physically (from the Peshcherochki) and spiritually (from the true understanding represented by the psalm inscribed there), but would inevitably return to both, thus ensuring the fulfillment of their sacred mission.

Indeed, our Doukhobor ancestors had left their homeland for distant Canadian shores, where their faith was sorely tested, many times.  Most never returned.  Yet more than a century later, we, their descendants, had journeyed to the Peshcherochki, gathered with our brethren who remained here, and together, found tranquility and solace in this sacred place. 

Perhaps, in a way, Lushechka’s prediction had come true after all…


After Word

Special thanks to Barry Verigin and D.E. (Jim) Popoff for proofreading this article, providing valuable feedback, and offering translation assistance.

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA Nos. 2143, October 2019 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

End Notes

[1]English translation of the psalm courtesy D.E. (Jim) Popoff.

[2] English translation courtesy ISKRA No. 1091 (July 8, 1966).

[3] English translation of prophesy (as published in W.A. Soukoreff) courtesy D.E. (Jim) Popoff.

‘The Long and Endless Journey’, Brief Memories of the Perepelkin Family

By William J. Perepelkin

Towards the end of his life, William J. Perepelkin (1922-2012) of Castlegar, British Columbia wrote a short memoir about his parents, Ivan N. and Nastya (nee Planidin) Perepelkin and grandparents Nikolai N. and Mary I. (Evdokimoff) Perepelkin during their life in the Doukhobor Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood between 1899 and 1939. On account of Nikolai’s skills in farming, livestock raising and brick-making, and on the advice of the leaders, the family frequently moved between Doukhobor settlements within and between the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Perepelkin describes their various journeys and experiences as members of the communal organization, along with the hardship and dislocation that followed the demise of the Community and its foreclosure by creditors. He wrote these memories down in the form of a letter to his nephew Fred Samorodin, who years later, transcribed it into the following article. Foreword by Frederick T. Samorodin. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Foreword

Hazel Samorodin (1929-2015), my mother, daughter of Ivan Perepelkin and Nastya Perepelkin nee Planedin, was the third of their six children. “Uncle Bill”, William J. Perepelkin (1922-2012) was Hazel’s oldest brother and the second-born sibling. Folded inside one of my adult diaries, its details almost forgotten, I have found and transcribed the “Brief Memories of the Perepelkin Family” written by my uncle, William Perepelkin and addressed to me from a time I do not recall, initially, having seen the memoir! It adds to details on my family tree and to help tie in some earlier childhood recollections of mine on scattered details of my mother’s own childhood memories.

Fred Samorodin October 6, 2020


On August 19, 1898, Grandfather Nicklai (Nikolai Nikolaevich Perepelkin 1875-1965) with his family in a group of 1,126 (Doukhobor) persons from two villages in the Caucasus – Rodionovka and Efremovka, immigrated temporarily to Cyprus. On April 18, 1899 they sailed (from Larnaca) on the S.S. Lake Superior and landed in Montreal with 1,036 other Doukhobors on May 9, 1899. Then their journey west started (un)till they reached Saskatchewan (then known as the ‘North West Territories’). They established themselves in the village of Kamenka, near Kamsack. They lived there until Peter ‘The Lordly’ Verigin came from his exile in Russia to Canada in 1902.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated in Kamenoye village, SK in the 1906 Census of Northwest Provinces.

As soon as he came, Verigin started to reorganize the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (Doukhobors). During this time the Canadian Government was confiscating parts of the Doukhobor lands. Peter Verigin bought land around the town of Verigin and also a brick factory in Yorkton. By his advice our family moved to Yorkton to work in the brick factory. Since then, the long and endless – so to speak -journey started for our family.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin, brickmaster, and family enumerated in Yorkton, SK in the 1911 Canada Census.

For short periods, under the advice of P.V., they moved to a farm, also near Yorkton, which our people called – “Burtseva Farma”. It was bought by the Community to raise cattle and some grain crops, I guess! I can’t recall the farmer’s name that they bought the farm from. He was of German descent, I think.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated in Plorodnoye (Glade), BC in the 1921 Canada Census.

After a short time, our family was moved to British Columbia, to Kirpichnoye (‘Claybrick’) in the Slocan Valley. We have family pictures of that period. From there, also under the advice of P.V., they were moved to Plodorodnoye (Glade), where they lived until 1924.

(l-r) Ivan (John), Nikolai, Peter, Mary and Elizabeth Perepelkin at Kirpichnoye in the Slocan Valley, c. 1915.

Then, on the advice given again, in the spring of that year (1924), the family was moved to Verigin, Saskatchewan and settled on Section 1 of the CCUB lands. That year, in the fall (October 29, 1924) Peter Verigin got killed in the train explosion near Farron, BC. Grandfather Nicolai was very close to both Verigins – Peter V. as well as his son, Peter P., and felt the tragedy deeply. On Section 1 we lived with two other families—Bloodoffs and Faminoffs, until the arrival from Russia of Peter P. Verigin (‘Chistiakov’) in 1927.

Nikolai N. Perepelkin family enumerated on Section 1, Veregin district, SK in the 1926 Census of Western Provinces.

In the year 1929, Chistiakov advised our family to move to Section 3, known as ‘Khutor’ (‘ranch’ or ‘farmstead’), which we did, to live with two families of Chernoffs: Nicolai Chernoff with his four daughters and Ivan Chernoff, with his family of five sons. The CCUB was already gradually falling apart, so the land that was jointly cultivated before, was split up, favouring those who had more power or seniority. And, the Chernoffs, having lived there longer than us, took over the two northern quarter sections, which were a full 160 acres each, with no swaps that were left to us on the southern 1.5 quarters—which has a slough across the length (of the property), leaving us only about 105 usable acres. The other quarter and Community buildings and also a huge slough in the middle! So, between these two southern quarters we had only about a total of 205 acres. Then, the Community allotted us the northern part of Section 1, which was across the C.N. Railway line from the farm buildings. This part was not quite cleared of poplar and other brush, which we eventually cleared. This gave us another strip which we could farm!

Anastasia (nee Planidin) (right), wife of Ivan N. Perpelkin near Veregin, SK, c. 1926.

In the years, 1936-37, Chistiakov went around the province of Saskatchewan to all Doukhobor Communities, advising them to move to BC. This he, Chistiakov, advised, not only to Community (CCUB) Doukhobors, but to Independents as well, saying: “Переселяйтесь в Колумбию! Землю не купите! Переселятесь как в Батум! Переживайте где у брата – где у свата!!” [Move to [British] Columbia! Don’t buy property! Move as you (once did) moved to Batum, Georgia (when preparing to emigrate to Cyprus/Canada). Settle in with a brother or a father-in-law!]

Mary Perepelkin holding granddaughter Hazel while very ill at one year of age, Veregin SK, 1929.

We (the Perepelkins) already had accumulated a lot of property: had 16 work horses and four young yearling colts, several cows, all the farm equipment needed to farm the land: a binder, McCormick-Deering for harvesting grain crops; a brand new Case mower for cutting – the first of its kind in Verigin (the first to have gears in an oil bath); a disc harrow, 5 sections of a toothed harrow; a Massey-Harris cultivator. In other words, we were all set to farm! The price of wheat went up to $1.05 a bushel and the yield was fair as compared to the early Thirties, when we barely got our seed back, and the price of feed wheat was 10 cents a bushel.

In 1937, Grandfather Nicolai took Peter Chistiakov’s advice to heart and started to disperse what we could. After the Depression, everyone was poor, so most goods, cows and horses went almost for nothing: $10.00 a head! Grandfather and Dad met with Joe Shukin, who was manager of the CCUB at the time, to deal with property being left behind, such as summer-fallow (which is land that had over 100 plus acres ready for seeding).

Advertisement for a McCormick-Deering binder, similar to the one Nikolai N. Perepelkin acquired while farming near Veregin, SK in the 1930s.

If I remember rightly, we then moved to ‘Vesyoloye’ (Lebahdo-Winlaw) in BC which was also CCUB property at the time – we would not have to pay rent to the CCUB for three years. In the meantime, the CCUB would sell our field under summer fallow, to whomever, at whatever price they could get.

So we started to prepare for the move! Uncle Pete (Peter N. Perepelkinl) and Dad went to Winnipeg and bought a 1934 Chev pickup. This was in 1937. In the spring of 1938 the folks rented a boxcar from the CNR and loaded a team of horses, two cows and other household goods, potatoes, etc. And on April 10th, 1938, Dad with two nice dogs we had, Gyp and Jack, took off for BC in the boxcar with the livestock. I don’t remember how long it took them to get to Lebahdo – about three days, I believe. There were some buildings on the property, although they were in very poor shape, but a shelter, anyway! There were some things that were taken to Auntie Elizabeth Fominoff, who lived at Claybrick, not far away.

Perepelkin siblings (l-r): Hazel ( Samorodin), William holding Frederick, Elma (Hadikin), Una (Voykin). Veregin SK, 1936.

On June 10, 1938, after three days of travel, we, the whole Perepelkin family arrived at ‘Vesyoloye’ on the pickup, dragging behind a trailer with the mower I mentioned earlier. I remember, the fastest we drove, even on paved roads was 45 miles per hour. Much of the road was not paved then!!

So we started to settle down, to fix up buildings. We got permission from the CCUB to wreck a bunkhouse, which was not being used anymore from way up Cougar Creek on the Little Slocan River. It took a few days hauling by horse and wagon to bring the salvaged lumber down. We slept up there a couple of nights while stripping the boards off the sides of the building. So finally we settled down – in a way! Some people would never believe what it was like! Looking back, I could not believe how much work was done in such a short period of time!

Then, in the spring of 1939, William Soukeroff (CCUB official) and a man named Wilson (R.N. Wilson, Sun Life loan manager) – I believe, came to our place and declared, that the Sun Life Assurance Company was foreclosing on the CCUB mortgage, and our agreement with the CCUB was no longer valid! The land now belonged to the Company, and we had to buy the property! I don’t remember if a written notice was given! The agreement would amount to half a crop payment on anything we produced! Seeing that, Grandfather said that: “We have no money, and under the circumstances, we will not buy the land!”

Perepelkin family interviewed about their eviction from Community farm at Winlaw, BC. Vancouver Sun, July 10, 1939.

So we went on living: planted our gardens, etc. On June 7th, 1939, Dad and I were cultivating potatoes of which we had a big field. The cultivator was drawn by a horse, which I led. Suddenly, we heard a lot of screaming; and looking from where the noise came, we saw a truck and a number of men around the buildings (on the property) and an RCMP car standing on the highway. So we stopped our work and went to see what was happening. Upon coming closer, we saw the men were taking anything they could get their hands on and loading the truck, and then driving to the (gravel) highway and unloading everything between the barbed wire fence and the highway! That is a very wet area! There was no more than 10 feet of space. When we moved to “Vesyoloye”, there was only a passible road for horse and wagon. The main road to the Slocan Valley was across the Slocan River. They started to build the main highway that same year, and it was finished in early 1939. It was gravel, of course, and as the traffic went by, the rocks flew up against our tents. And, of course, my brothers, Frederick and George were just – I didn’t know what to say or do! I remembered when we had Bible study in school (We had a very religious teacher). The quote was: “And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also!” (Matthew 5:40).

Somehow all fear left me! I took off my clothes and threw them at the Deputy Sheriff. Then the other family members took off their clothes! I don’t remember who all did, because the Deputy Sheriff and another man led me to the highway. I remember, I called the Deputy “Adolf Hitler”, for which he whacked me across my face! I was actually very angry at this time and a bit bigger than the Deputy. I was going to return the favour. However, a few neighbours gathered around, and a good lady by the name of Polly Rilkoff came up and stopped me from doing so!

Our family gradually settled down by bringing tents, which they made from used material they got from CM&S (Consolidated Mining and Smelting) (now Cominco) in Trail, BC. So after a while they (the Sheriff’s gang) brought everything (took) that we had: (they) let our cows and horses loose on the road, which our neighbours, the Munch brothers impounded! But a good neighbour named Frank Bailey contacted the Government at the time and freed the livestock at no cost to us! So we got two tents, and finally more—covered most of our (remaining) belongings, and settled down for the rest of the summer along the highway, in the bog—a very wet area. But, having a fairly dry summer, we fared as best as we could!

Nikolai and Mary Perpelkin, Lebahdo Flats, BC, 1948.

We stayed in the bog by the highway until October 22, 1939, when Dad decided to move us out of the coming cold weather. And it was getting cold!! Seeing as we had no money, he arranged with a woman named Mary Markin, in Slocan Park for accommodation. Our rent would be paid by labour; clearing brush and pulling stumps, with our horses.

Meantime, Grandfather and Grandmother decided to stay put! So the neighbour I mentioned before, Frank Bailey, came and asked Granddad what he intended to do, seeing as it was getting cold with winter approaching! He asked grandfather if he had any money! Grandfather answered: “Have no money and gonna die here!” Mr. Bailey told him to move back into the houses and he will take care of the rest. So he wrote to the right people and got Grandfather and Grandmother their pensions, as they were of pensionable age. So they moved back!

We lived out our terms of rent by work, and Mary Markin told us, that if we can’t pay rent, we would have to move out! Then Dad went to Glade, where he found some Community buildings that were half empty. Where we decided to move. This was in the spring and summer of 1941. That is how we landed once more in Glade (Plodorodnoye).

Dear Fred: This is an afterthought. As you know, it is hard to remember everything! After we were evicted, a lady reporter (seems to me, her name was Terry) from the Vancouver Sun came to interview us! You could probably get information from the ‘Sun’.

Sorry about my writing! When thoughts come, I have to hurry and put them down before I forget them! If there is something you don’t understand, or is not clear, don’t be afraid to write and ask! Writing something like this, at my age, is kind of hard. When a thought comes, one had to hurry and write it down before losing it!

Best Wishes from your

Uncle Bill Perepelkin

(l-r) Son-in-law Timothy N. Samorodin, a young Freddy Samorodin and grandfather Nikolai N. Perepelkin, Lebahdo Flats, BC, 1953.

P.S. Further recollections by your mother: Before our final move to BC, Father or Grandfather brought our Great-Grandmother (Grandfather’s mother) to BC. (I can’t even recall her name! – We just called her ‘Babushka’ [Anna Ilinichna (nee Muzhelskaya) Perepelkin, b. 1848]. She was left temporarily with relatives, who lived at a place known as ‘Fort Pila’ near Shoreacres. She was in her late 90’s and blind. She later was moved to live out her final days with our Grandparents (at Lebahdo Flats). But at the time of our eviction she was temporarily given shelter by a neighbour in a small shack with a dirt floor, where she stayed for four months before she moved back in with our Grandparents. During the eviction, your Aunt Una Voykin (4th sibling) and I were away at Perry’s Siding, picking strawberries, and missed all the excitement!


Afterword

The following is a summary of the many places where the Perepelkin family lived as members of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood during the 44-year period between 1895 and 1939. This rather unsettled existence, described by the writer William J. Perepelkin as a “long and endless journey”, together with the trauma associated with the break-up of the Community and their eviction from Community lands by foreclosing creditors in 1939, may have contributed to some family members subsequently becoming associated with the radical Sons of Freedom in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties.

Place of ResidenceYears
Rodionovka village, Akhalkalaki district, Tiflis province, RussiaPrior to 1895
Nizhne-Machkhaani section, Signakhi district, Tiflis province, Russia (exile)1895-1898
Island of Cyprus1898-1899
Kamenka village, Kamsack district, SK1899-1905
Novo-Kamenka village, Arran district, SK1905-1907
CCUB brick factory, Yorkton, SK1907-c.1913
Burtsevo settlement, Hamton district, SKc.1913-c.1915
Kirpichnoye village, Winlaw district, BCc.1915-c.1918
Plodorodnoye settlement, Glade district, BCc.1918-1924
Section 1-30-1-W2 village, Veregin district, SK1924-1929
Khutor village, Veregin district, SK1929-1938
Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1938-1939
Road allowance (evicted), Lebahdo district, BC1939-1939
Slocan Park & Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1939-1941
Glade & Veseloye village, Lebahdo district, BC1941-

Illustrated Interview: Mr. Peter Verigin, the Doukhobor Leader, 1904

By W.S. Wallace

In July 1904, future Canadian historian, librarian and editor W. Stewart Wallace (then a University of Toronto student) accepted a journalism assignment by The Westminster, an illustrated monthly religious magazine for the home. His task: to secure an interview with Peter Vasil’evich Verigin of the village of Otradnoye, Saskatchewan. In the brief 18 months since his arrival in Canada from Siberian exile, the charismatic Doukhobor leader had (to the widespread amazement of many Canadians) united the independent, communalist and radical Doukhobors under his leadership, soothed the disquiet amongst them, resolved the immediate problem of homestead entries, convinced all but a tiny minority of his followers to accept a communal form of organization and to cooperate with the Canadian government, and raised the Doukhobors’ well-being from poverty towards self-sufficiency. Wallace’s illustrated interview offers a rare and intimate glimpse of Verigin between the early establishment of his Utopian community, and the land crisis and resulting schism that would erupt only 18 months later. Reproduced from The Westminster, New Series, Vol. V, No. 5, November 1904 (Toronto: The Westminster Co., Limited). All editorial comments in square brackets are by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Agreeably to instructions from the Editor of The Westminster, I drove out from Yorkton to obtain an interview with Peter Verigin, the “leader of the Doukhobors.”

When my Doukhobor guide and I lit in at Otradnoe, Mr. Verigin’s village, we found Mr. Verigin away at Swan River, fifty miles farther north, endeavoring (as I afterward learnt) to dissuade the [radical] Thunder Hill Doukhobors from going off on the pilgrimage of July 12-15, 1904. He was at his familiar task of moderating the excesses of his own people.

Two days later Mr. Verigin drove into Otradnoe, and I saw him for the first time. I had expected to see a bearded, buirdly Russian peasant, with an inexplicable genius for organization – a kind of peasant king, like [Scotch poet] Robbie Burns, but what I saw was quite different. The man who met my eye that evening in Otradnoe was a well-groomed gentlemen of heroic proportions, who drove a luxurious democrat and splendid blacks [buggy and team], and was followed by an interpreter [almost certainly Semion F. Reibin] who carried his umbrella and shawl. He wore a Panama hat and white neglige shirt, and carried gloves and a lace handkerchief. In appearance, he was handsome and of a fine presence. His face was charming and sunny, but inscrutable as the deep, deep sea. There is no more charming or sunny or courteous man in two hemispheres than Mr. Verigin; his courtesy is so unfailing it is like a mask, and no man can see behind it.

It is not yet two years since Mr. Verigin came to Canada from the prisons of Siberia; but in that time he has wrought wonders among the Doukhobors. Two years ago the Doukhobors lived in low cabins of logs and mud; to-day (thanks to Mr. Verigin) they have a brickyard and are building houses of brick. Two years ago they hitched their women to the plows; now they are using 25-horse-power, double-cylinder Reeves engines that plow 25 acres a day. Two years ago they ground their flour by windmill; now they are running four grist-mills and four saw-mills. Three years ago they did not have one threshing machine outfit to bless themselves with; to-day they have four portable engines and three traction engines, all run by Doukhobor engineers. Two years ago they were a disorganized and fanatical rabble, dwellers in the Cave of Adullam [Biblical cave where David hid from Saul], restless and malcontent; now they are perhaps the most hopeful and ambitious people in America.

These are some of the things that must be laid at the door of Mr. Verigin. But perhaps the most notable and impressive of his achievements has been his organization of the Doukhobors on the communistic system, which works without a hitch. It is not too much to say that he has in two years evolved out of virtual anarchy a system of political economy that may be described as strictly ideal: behind every feature of it lies a living principle, a Biblical truth; for there are no men who are such faithful and relentless “doers of the word” as the Doukhobors.

Mr. Verigin welcomed me in the ceremonious Russian (for he cannot speak the English), and then there was a silence in the sunlight while the interpreter hurried up.

I explained my business with Mr. Verigin; and Mr. Verigin said, in reply, that it was very pleasing to him to have visitors from so far. At the same time he spoke very feelingly about the falsehoods that had been printed by the newspaper men of Canada regarding the Doukhobors.

I explained that, for my part, I was not a newspaper man, but was merely a humble student at the university; and that explanation proved the open sesame to Mr. Verigin’s heart. He said that since I was a student he would be very pleased to talk with me, and he hoped he would have something worth hearing.

We went into the garden, and Mr. Verigin was soon on his knees beside a magnificent cucumber bed. With genuine Doukhobor pride he pointed out its beauties and enquired if I had seen the like of that in my travels. He was in a happy mood, happy in being home once more, and soon the honest perspiration stood out on his forehead as he helped remove the frame of logs around the bed.

He asked about the [Russo-Japanese] war with great apparent interest. What was the latest news? Had Port Arthur fallen? S.W. – No, not yet; but its fall is daily expected. Do you take a great interest in the war? Mr. V. – Very great. S.W. – Would you like the Japanese beaten? Mr. V. (epigrammatically) – I should like to see both sides beaten. S.W. – I see you are a disciple of Leo Tolstoy’s. Mr. V. – Yes, Count Tolstoy is a very dear friend of mine. He also is a Doukhobor, and he has written to me that he intends to come out here to Canada before he dies.

The Interpreter – You see, Mr. Verigin stayed at Count Tolstoy’s house when he came out of Siberia. The Russian Government would not let him see his wife, but gave him two days to leave Russia, and he stayed over night at Count Tolstoy’s. He had been in Siberia for sixteen years, in three hundred prisons; and he has five brothers there now, two dead and three living. The Russian Government regarded them all as dangerous because they loved and obeyed Christos.

From the interpreter I learnt also a fact that shed considerable light on the social status of Mr. Verigin, namely, that Mr. Verigin’s father was a rich and notable man, and that his sons had all been educated by a family tutor. From this, I think, the deduction may safely be made that the Verigins are what we should call radical aristocrats, like Manlius Capitolinus [4th century BC Roman populist leader] or Lord Rosebery [19th century British liberal Prime Minister]. They are patricians who have gone over to the side of the plebs.

Mr. Verigin has a monumental wit, and it cropped out everywhere in his conversation. Speaking of Prince Oukhtomsky, editor of The Viedemosti of St. Petersburg, who was up at the settlements lately [in May 1904], he told how he had brought offers of help to the Doukhobors from the Russian Government (a fact that did not appear in the daily papers), and added that the Doukhobors, when they heard he was a newspaper man, had “nearly hanged him.” To anyone familiar with the Doukhobor horror of killing of any kind, the idea of Prince Oukhtomsky being hanged by Doukhobor hands from a Doukhobor roof-tree, was full of the wildest humor. Mr. Verigin made it quite clear that Prince Oukhtomsky was not welcome at the Doukhobor settlements with offers of help from Russia; but the last thing that could have happened to him was hanging.

When I spoke of the Doukhobor as Socialists Mr. Verigin objected on the score that [Russian radical] Socialists killed people, and the Doukhobors did not. “Here,” he said, “there are no kings and queens, there are only prairie chickens, and we cannot kill them.”

Asked where and when he was born, he smiled and said his memory did not extend back that far, adding severely that he did not see any good purpose to be pursuing such inquiries.

At breakfast we were Mr. Verigin’s guests, and Mr. Verigin went out of his way to apologize to us for the wooden spoons that were set beside our plates. He said (parodying the hopeful, ambitious language employed by himself and the rest of the Doukhobors) that he had intended to get gold spoons; but that, according to the old Russian proverb, gold spoons lead men to steal, and so he had stuck to the wooden spoons.

On the afternoon of the second day, I drove with Mr. Verigin to see the new steam plow start, and in charge of it we found an angry American engineer, who was “sick to death of this gol-darn country, and wanted to git out of it.” Mr. Verigin promised him that he would get back somehow; he said that the horses were all breaking [being broken, trained], but that, failing other things, the engineer could ride back to Yorkton (fifty miles) in his own steam plow. This in light of the fact that the engine was not very satisfactory) was a good example of Mr. Verigin’s colossal wit.

I asked Mr. Verigin when he first became a vegetarian and forswore meat.

Mr. V. – It was about twenty years ago. One day I was out shooting, and when I had shot a young bird, the mother bird came right to my feet and settled there. This made me stop and think, and I inquired of myself if it was a Christlike action to kill the animals; and after much thought I came to the conclusion that it was not. Since that day I have not touched meat.

S.W. – Do you not eat fish? Mr. V. – No. S.W. – Then what do you make of the fact that Christ, we are told, bade the fishermen to let their nets down on the other side of the ship, so that they caught more than the nets could hold? Mr. V. – Well, in those days some men ate each other; it would have been foolish for Christ to teach them not to eat fish. But now we have learnt to love one another; and we should learn to love the fish also. In those days men were not prepared for the extreme truth and Christ was satisfied to teach them a half-way doctrine, to break the truth down to them; but we, who are more enlightened, should live up to the spirit of Christ, beyond the letter.

S.W. (after a profound pause) – And do you not kill mosquitoes? Mr. V. (laughing) – Oh, no.

I asked Mr. Verigin how long he thought the community system would last, if he did not think the younger Doukhobors would break away; but could not get no satisfactory answer. Mr. Verigin did say the Doukhobors intend to break up their villages in five years; but that was only one of his monstrous jokes. He seemed to think the community system had kept the Doukhobors from becoming the dirt under the feet of the railway men, and had given them a start; but about the future he would not speak. “One cannot provide for to-morrow,” he said.

Speaking of the seven [radical Doukhobor] men at Swan River who were preaching a new pilgrimage, he said, “You should pay no attention to them.”

Asked if he were glad to see the younger Doukhobors learn English, he replied, “Oh, of course, very glad.”

With reference to schools, he said there were already two [Quaker] schools among the Doukhobors where English was taught, but that they were not Government schools. As soon as they had good homes, then the Doukhobors would see to the schools.

Asked when he first conceived the idea of getting a steam plow, he said he could not remember when the idea came to his head. He had long intended to try which was cheaper, horses or engines. He made it quite clear it was not solicitude for the horses that had prompted him.

Speaking of the Canadian Government, he said they had been all kindness to the Doukhobors. But when he was pressed for an answer to the question, Did the Doukhobors consider themselves Canadian? He confessed the Doukhobors were neither Russian nor Canadian, but were Christians, and acknowledged no king but King Jesus. This was his definition of the political position of the Doukhobors.

He said he was very glad to see English settlers come in among the Doukhobors.

In the evening Mr. Verigin did a very beautiful thing. He gathered about him the boys and girls of Otradnoe, and walked out with them two miles to a certain field. The boys and girls – the boys with their Dutch-like “carosses” and voluminous blue trousers, and the girls with their white “plattoks” (head-kerchiefs) – went before with locked arms, singing their quaint spring songs; and Mr. Verigin followed with some grown-ups, flicking the mosquitoes with his lace handkerchief. When they came to the objective field, the children stopped and formed in a half-circle, and Mr. Verigin briefly thanked them for weeding out that field. Then they turned and walked back, with locked arms, singing as before.

Now it is instructive to notice in what capacity Mr. Verigin performed this small and pleasing ceremony, for it is eloquent of his whole position among the Doukhobors. It was not as “leader of the Doukhobors” for that term, as applied to Mr. Verigin, is a misnomer. Among the Doukhobors all men are equal. It was merely as one of the four commissioners elected for the current year to transact the business of the Doukhobor Trading Co., for this is the only official position occupied by Mr. Verigin. If Mr. Verigin were not re-elected next year he would give up his lace handkerchief and go back to the plow. Only, there is small danger of his not being re-elected. Technically, he is only the equal of the stable-boy; actually he is looked up to by all as the man best fitted to manage affairs. It is Pericles [5th century BC Greek politician and general] and the Athenian Democracy all over again; extreme democracy culminating in one-man rule. A remarkable coincidence is the fact that Mr. Verigin always adheres in the assembly to Pericles’ policy of speaking last. In this, in his Olympian imperturbability, in his inscrutable mind, he is a second Pericles; and he rules the minds of the Doukhobors as Pericles ruled those of the Athenians.