To the Spirit of God, I Pray and Bow

by Elena Kovshova

Today, relatively few Doukhobors remain in the Republic of Georgia, following mass emigrations to Russia over the past two decades. One of the largest remaining – but least documented – populations of Doukhobors is centered in the town of Dmanisi, formerly known as Bashkichet. In the following article, Russian journalist Elena Kovshova examines the Doukhobors of Dmanisi – the history, philosophy and culture of a disappearing people, rooted in goodness and renowned for their kindess and hospitality. Translated by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from the Russian journal “Argumenty i Fakty” (No. 4, January 27, 2010).

Dmanisi – the small Georgian town which, in recent times, has become world famous thanks to sensational archeological finds, stores many secrets within itself. Its name is connected not only to the history of early mankind, but also to the destinies of thousands of simple people who, in more recent centuries, appeared in this place.

The history of the Dmanisi Doukhobors is rooted in the depths of the history of the Russian empire, when, in the mid-seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon, with the support of the reigning [Tsar] Alexei Mikhailovich, introduced church ceremonial reforms intended to correct Russian prayer books to make them consistent with Greek practices, by replacing the two-fingered sign of the cross with the three-fingered sign, and a number of other changes. But the violent methods by which the patriarch implemented the reforms were met by hostile opposition. These actions resulted in the emergence of defenders of the “old belief” who believed that the church had departed from the old rites. Thus arose a religious social movement, whose supporters called themselves Starobryadtsy or “Old-Believers”. Later, they divided into the Popovtsy (“with priests”) and the Bezpopovtsy (the “priestless”) such as the Dukhobory or “spirit wrestlers”.

Elizaveta Bludova proudly displays her handiwork in this rushnik – a traditional Doukhobor handicraft among the Dmanisi Doukhobors.

The movement originated in the second half of the eighteenth century among the peasants of Voronezh, Tambov, Ekaterinoslav and Sloboda-Ukraine provinces. According to the Doukhobors, the world is in eternal struggle, the spirit against the flesh, and desiring brotherhood in the spirit of God’s truth, they renounced the established church dogmas and rites. It was the only way people could protest against the autocratic oppression and hypocrisy of the clergy, who were afraid of losing power, and therefore, followed in the wake of the state.

Naturally, such ideas disturbed the Tsarist government, which saw a direct threat to the state in such opinions. Therefore, an active resettlement policy was undertaken in relation to the Doukhobors. First, they were sent to Tavria province (in the Crimea) on the Molochnaya River (from which the name of the sectarians Molokane is [reputedly] derived), and then they were all expelled to the Caucasus.

Whole families of Doukhobors, with small children in their hands and shackles on their feet, made their way by foot to their places of exile. Some of them thus perished on the road while others arrived in Georgia in the district of Bashkichet, which in Turkish means “the main road”. Indeed, there was no inhabited settlement there, let alone a town; only impenetrable forest through which ran a trade route linking Georgia with Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Having arrived on this bare ground, the Doukhobors, thanks to astonishing diligence and faith, did not rail at their fate, but began life anew with nothing, hollowing out family dwellings in the ground with stone axes. They spent one year in such dugouts covered with straw, until they built houses in which many of the descendants of those first Doukhobors live to this day.

Each band of the rushnik symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the Doukhobor woman who makes it.

The house of the Bludovs is more than 150 years old. The rickety stairs, the cracked tree… The seniors cannot afford to repair the house. Nonetheless, the internal furnishing is striking: practically everything, from the wooden furniture and finishing, to all kinds of table-cloths, blankets, mats, bed-covers, is constructed, painted or woven by hand. Every corner of the house exudes exceptional hard work and perfect purity. The [traditional Orthodox] place for icons in the house is [instead] occupied by rushniki – long hand towels which are sacred to each Doukhobor.

Upon marrying, a [Doukhobor] woman should begin to sew such rushniki, although the word “sew” does not accurately reflect the volume of work involved. It is difficult to imagine that it is all done by a single mistress; sewn multi-colored satin ribbons, embroidered satin, cross-stitch, crochet, hand-drawn patterns covered with varnish, combining all the elements in a single composition. And each rushnik, or more accurately, its band, symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the needlewoman, reflecting her individual perception of the world, the successes and hardships experienced, emotions… Rushniki receive the newborn; they also cover the deceased before burial. Children are not baptized. They themselves perform the funeral service for the deceased, and at the commemoration, borshch (vegetable soup), lapsha (noodles), pastries and vodka are served.

The sunduk (hope chest) is also an indispensable feature for every “marriageable” girl. The father of the bride makes it by hand, and always without nails. On the surface a pattern is burned which is covered with lacquer, and in the corner the initials of the craftsman are put. With such a chest, and its contents, the young wife enters the family of the husband. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the woman begins to sew her “death clothes” as soon as she marries.

Doukhobors do not acknowledge church and traditional religious rites. For example, [the Orthodox custom of] drawing water for a baptism at midnight or taking it from a river, or directly from under a crane. To this day, elements of the Old Russian and Ukrainian languages have survived in the speech of these people, and as a memory of the distant past, the popular legend of the priest who did not actually hold the post, but taught others about the “true path”.

The bands of the rushnik – a Dmanisi Doukhobor handicraft – reflect the individual perceptions, experiences and emotions of its maker.

On Sundays at sunrise, Doukhobors gather in a prayer home. In sequence, one after another, they read psalms, which are transmitted from generation to generation, or else are composed directly during prayer.

God is Spirit / God is a Man, / To the Spirit of God, I pray and bow, / Thus I am a Doukhobor – so Elizaveta Fedorovna Bludova explains the essence of the psalms and teachings.

On a table at Elizaveta Fedorovna’s is an old, but good condition copy of Leo Tolstoy’s book, “Resurrection”. The novel, undoubtedly, has been read and reread many times. Her respect for Leo Tolstoy is particularly vibrant. And no wonder! His sermon on nonviolent resistance to evil, a message of love and forgiveness, liberation from crude ecclesiastical rituals coupled with a call for passive resistance to authority, and the individual spiritual component – is something for which the Doukhobors have suffered! The novel “Resurrection”, with its story of personal spiritual revival, and sharp criticism of the church embodied in the narrative, became one of the reasons for Tolstoy’s excommunication by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church. But here they honour and remember the great writer who, in the 1890’s, saved thousands of Doukhobors, assisting in their migration from sweltering Cyprus to Canada, whose climatic conditions were better suited for settlement by Russian people.

[Incidentally] few people know that the famous Russian artist Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin drew his painting “Doukhobors Praying” in Dmanisi.

Today, the Doukhobors in Dmanisi are relatively few. The first Georgian President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, proposed that the Doukhobors return to their historical homeland [of Russia]. On his orders, in 1993-1994, the [Georgian] state bought up Doukhobor houses for quite a good sum. It was then that the bulk of the [Doukhobor] youth went to Tula, Tambov, Lipetsk and Rostov regions. Others – assimilated and began to enter into mixed marriages.

Doukhobor folk patterns etched on a sunduk (hope chest) etched into the wood using pyrography, the art of decorating wood with burn marks from the controlled application of a heated tool.

Vasilisa Minakova, Chairman of the Center for Russian Culture “ISKRA”, represents the average generation of Doukhobors. She combines working as a teacher of Russian language and literature at the Dmanisi primary school with public service. At the center, English and Russian language courses are offered, and whenever possible, attention is paid to urgent problems of the elderly [Doukhobor] people.

Dmanisi has always been distinguished for its kindness and humanity – shares Vasilisa Minakova. “Three years ago, with the support of the head of regional administration Bakuri Mgeladze and the deputy from our area, the president of the pharmaceutical company “PSP”, Kahi Okreashvili, opened a dining-room in Dmanisi for needy pensioners. From 43 people, who make use of it, most of them comprise of single Doukhobors. What the dining-room means to them is self evident. In the name of all participants, I would like to thank not only the initiators, but also the directors of the dining-room Natalia Kavlelashvili, and also the whole collective for their good heart and skillful hands”. With only limited funds, without time-off on holidays, and in spite of frequent stoppage of gas and electricity, they always come out “on top”, they do not turn anyone away without a bowl of soup. There was a time when a total stranger came to the dining-room who had lost his documents; while he was replacing them, he relied largely on the goodness of the collective of this dining-room.

Surrounded by beautiful mountains, reminiscent of the Egyptian pyramids, the River Mashavera and the land, once the promised land of the Doukhobors, stretches the small town of Dmanisi. And in it live a very hospitable, very sweet, kind and hardworking people, those who consider Georgia as their homeland, who love this land, their old homes, small gardens…

These people do not seek attention to themselves: they are not inclined to stand out in front of cameras and give extensive interviews. But they do not decline to, either. So as not to offend. They do not transgress the law of love to one another. And [they desire] only that which is necessary – which is the peaceful sky above, good health, mutual assistance and care for others. From the point of view of the state or from humanitarian organizations, there is no difference – goodness is goodness.

The Doukhobor Peace Day

by Koozma J. Tarasoff

A centuries-old festival honouring the Apostles Peter and Paul, Peter’s Day (June 29th Old Calendar, July 12th New Calendar) coincides with the birth of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin in 1859 and the “Burning of Arms” in 1895. Author Koozma J. Tarasoff explores the enormous significance of this “Peace Day” to the Doukhobor movement.

The significance of the Burning of Arms event for the Doukhobors is enormous. It is the concrete act which catapulted the Doukhobors into the international arena. It was a moment when civilization was presented with an alternative strategy of living without resorting to the use of excessive force particularly the barrel of the gun, the bomb, and the deadly missile.

St. Peter’s Day is one of the centuries-old  feast days celebrated by the Russian Orthodox church in honour of the Apostles and martyrs of Christ St. Peter and St. Paul. Doukhobors evolved out of the Orthodox church environment. And while they rejected most of the trappings of the church, it was inevitable that some habits would remain. For example, Doukhobors adopted the practice of standing up at a sobranie with men on one side an women on the other. And many continued to observe certain old church holidays (e.g. Easter, Christmas, and St. Peter’s Day) as natural times in which to come together to meditate, socialize, and have a feast. They argued that participating in any one of these or other external rituals does not negate their inner core values of love, beauty, and the God within.

It was therefore natural for the Doukhobors (at the inspiration of Peter V. Verigin) to choose June 29th (Old Style Calendar; new style is July 11th) to hold a manifestation for peace. This date was at the end of the rebirth season of Spring and the beginning of Summer.  The fact that the event fell on Peter V. Verigin’s birthday is coincidental. Moreover, the centuries-old  custom of naming a child after the Orthodox saint on whose feast day the child was born continued among the Doukhobors in isolated cases. Peter V. Verigin (1859-1924), for example, was born on the 29th of June and was named for the already-important feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul. Thus, the soil for this major happening was well prepared. The manifestation had already been preceded  with the first acts of civil disobedience that year on Easter Sunday by Matvey Lebedev and ten other collegues who refused to do military training. The soil was prepared for a major happening.

Burning of Arms, June 29, 1895

The June 29th event was a historic first. For the Doukhobors this arms burning event is primarily known as Peter’s Day or St. Peter’s Day. However, it ought to be called a Doukhobor Peace Day. Why? Because  this Peace Day is pitched at the wider public if not the world. This symbolic humanitarian act is one of the most remarkable acts that the world has ever known. A group of some 7000 Doukhobors in three areas of the Russian Caucasus on the 29th June 1895 totally refused to kill other human beings regardless of
consequences. This was a new direction for the human race, one that gave hope to the notion of getting rid of militarism and the scourge of war. 

This big idea of these Russian peasants was visionary, revolutionary and non-sectarian. From the message that there is God, love and beauty in every person (in which they moved the divine from the walls and halls of the church as well as the minister and the Bible and relocated it in their hearts), they developed in simplistic fashion  a full philosophy of nonviolence, equality and love. This 1895 event transformed the Russian Spirit Wrestlers into the category of a social movement out of the narrow confines of a sect. They became true pioneers of the spirit. 

We all know that language is not static; it is an organic entity that changes with the times to be more in conformity with the new living meanings of the day. Hence today there is an urgent need for a new  terminology which fits closer the meaning of Spirit Wrestlers and their outstanding action in 1895. For me, the Doukhobor Peace Day is closer to the intended message of our ancestors — and therefore this pregnant title ought to be used as much as possible. Of course, people are free to use Petrov Dien or Peter’s Day if they like. But there is strong rationale to use the more universalistic, the more comprehensive as well as the more accurate designation. In brief, we need to embrace the joyous spirit of the real meaning of the momentous 1895 Burning of Arms event.

Perhaps the Doukhobors were ahead of their time. Perhaps not. It was Lev N. Tolstoy who described the Russian Doukhobors as ‘people of the 25th century’.  I like to look upon the 1895 message as bringing hope to a troubled society today. Guns, bombs, and missiles destroy  the very notion of civilized men, women, and children in society. Getting rid of these diabolical weapons is perhaps the first step to finding a solution to our human problems.

Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin, His Life and Role in Doukhobor History

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The following is a brief biographical sketch of Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), Russian statesman, philosopher, writer, educator and philanthropist. A sympathizer and benefactor of the Doukhobor, Lopukhin intervened with Tsarist authorities on their behalf, helped ease their sufferings in the face of persecution, and masterminded their resettlement to the Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) region in Tavria. Compiled from various Russian and English language sources (See Notes).

Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin was born 24 February 1756 in the village of Voskresenskoye, Orel province into a wealthy landowning family of the upper nobility. Plagued by a sickly childhood, he received much of his education at home. In 1775, at the age of nineteen, Lopukhin entered military service with the Preobrazhensky Regiment, but retired seven years later with the rank of polkovnik (colonel) for reasons of health.

A keen student of law, Lopukhin was appointed sovetnik (counselor) of the Moscow Criminal Court in 1782, and later he became Court President. In judicial affairs, Lopukhin was interested chiefly in reformatory aspects of the law. He once wrote that it would be better to acquit many criminals than to convict one innocent individual. However, his progressive stance resulted in a dispute with the conservative Governor-General of Moscow, J.A. Bruce, which led to Lopukhin’s forced resignation in 1785.

Thereafter, Lopukhin assumed an active role in the literary and philanthropic activities of prominent Masonic writer N.I. Novikov (1744-1818). In 1789, Lopukhin underwent a religious conversion upon recovery from a lengthy period of illness and embraced Masonry as a new, spiritual and idealistic world-view. He became Grandmaster of a Masonic lodge in Moscow, translated works of Western mystics and Freemasons, and wrote several treatises of his own. In 1790, he published ‘Nravouchitelnyi Katezhizis Istinnykh Franmasonov’, a defense of Russian Masonry that called for love of God and one’s fellow man and for constant inner, personal improvement.

In 1792, Novikov was arrested as part of Catherine the Great’s campaign to rid Russia of “the notorious new schism” of Masonry. Lopukhin was searched and interrogated for his Masonic activities. The Empress initially ordered Lopukhin into exile, but he was permitted to remain in Moscow “for the sake of his aged father.” From 1792 to 1796, Lopukhin lived and wrote in Moscow, publishing numerous literary and dramatic works.

Lopukhin’s career in the Russian civil service resumed in 1796 when Tsar Paul, recognizing his talents and abilities, summoned him to St. Petersburg and appointed him State Secretary. The following year, in 1797, Lopukhin returned to Moscow as a Senator.

In 1800, Lopukhin and Senator Spiridonov completed a three-year senatorial inspection of the provinces of Kazan, Viatka and Orenburg, in which they identified various abuses of power by the local administrations. In his report to the Tsar, Lopukhin displayed particular consideration for the peasantry.

The following year, in 1801, Tsar Alexander I ordered Lopukhin and Senator Neledinskiy-Meletskiy to undertake a senatorial inspection of the provinces of south Russia to study the status of sectarian religion in the region, and in particular, to investigate a series of complaints by Doukhobors, who had returned there from exile, about their living conditions.

Arriving in Kharkov in November 1801, Lopukhin met with the Governor and requested records relating to the history of the Doukhobors in the province. Lopukhin learned that during Catherine the Great’s reign, “several” local Doukhobors were summarily imprisoned and “not returned”. Under Tsar Paul, entire Doukhobor households were exiled into penal servitude. In August 1801, however, the exiled sectarians were returned to their former homes in Kharkov province following Tsar Alexander’s edict of release.

Portrait of Ivan V. Lopukhin (1756-1816) by Dmitry G. Levitzky.

Lopukhin was alarmed by the haste with which local authorities began “admonishing” the returning Doukhobors. He bluntly told the Governor that rebellion would surely ensue; the sectarians “did not have time to rest quietly” before they were accosted by civil and ecclesiastical officials. Lopukhin ordered the Governor to recall the “teams” sent to the districts to “counsel” the Doukhobors.

The next day, however, the Governor, “pale, with papers in hand,” rushed to Lopukhin’s lodgings with news that a bunt (rebellion) had already broken out among the Doukhobors of Izium district “where an admonition was performed.” The worried Governor informed Lopukhin that the sectarians, several of whom had already been arrested, renounced recognition of the Tsar and Jesus Christ and vowed never to pay taxes nor fulfill state obligations. The Izium land court was investigating the incident.

Lopukhin calmed the Governor by assuring him that the “rebellion” would be subdued and others prevented. The problem, as Lopukhin saw it, was that the interrogations of the Doukhobors were “needless” and “unskilled”; they served only to embitter them. The Senator defended the sectarians, remonstrating that they were “full of reverence” toward Jesus Christ and the Tsar and ready to “obey all laws” and “fulfill all land obligations”. To alleviate the situation, Lopukhin ordered the Governor to release the arrested Doukhobors and suspend the inquiry. The Governor agreed.

Lopukhin wrote a report of his investigation to the Tsar dated November 12, 1801. The Tsar was informed that the Kharkov authorities did not understand the “direct essence” of his edicts concerning the Doukhobors, that the “rebellion” was not the fault of the sectarians themselves, who displayed “faith and reverence” and “particular gratitude” towards the monarch. The Senator outlined the remedial measures he had ordered the Kharkov Governor to adopt.

During the course of his investigation, Lopukhin met for a period of several days with a sizeable group of Doukhobors. This was done in secrecy so as not to arouse “unnecessary inquisitiveness” among the Orthodox. He was impressed by the sectarians’ faith and “very fundamental and correct concepts of Christianity” and sympathized with their plight. For their part, the Doukhobors “took a liking” to Lopukhin, and they conversed openly with him about the tenets of their faith. On the last day of their meetings, the Doukhobors presented a petition to Lopukhin requesting to be established “in a separate colony” and expressing their “loyalty and real zeal toward the sovereign”.

Lopukhin wrote a second report to the Tsar, skillfully rendering the Doukhobors request. It began with a hearty defense of the sectarians in the face of unfavourable reports issued by Kharkov officials. The Senator then offered a short explanation of the Doukhobor “manner of faith”. Finally, Lopukhin relayed their request for a separate colony, using language that consciously echoed Alexander’s emphasis on legal treatment for non-conformists and his desire to lead them back to Orthodoxy. First, Lopukhin argued that the formation of a separate colony would quiet Doukhobor unrest by removing them from the harassment and animosity of local officials. Second, isolation would all but eliminate the sectarians’ ability to spread their beliefs. Finally, concentrated settlements would help well-educated, moral and patient priests bring the Doukhobors back to Orthodoxy.

The Tsar agreed wholeheartedly with Lopukhin’s proposal and immediately set in motion the consolidation of a separate Doukhobor colony in the recently incorporated lands of Novorossiya. In his January 1802 edict, the Tsar granted permission for any Doukhobor in the Novorossiya provinces to settle together in the Molochnye Vody region of Melitopol district, Tavria province, which was then a sparsely populated part of the empire. Alexander wrote to the Governor of Novorossiya that the concentration of Doukhobors, separate from other Russians, would prevent their further ruin and mistreatment, and that he considered their separation to be “a most reliable means for the extinguishing of their heresay and for the suppression of their influence on others.”  In the years that followed, the Tsar extended the edict to allow Doukhobors from across the Russian Empire to resettle in Tavria.

Lopukhin’s involvement in the “Doukhobor Affair” would determine the fate of the sect throughout Russia for the next forty years. For the first time, the Doukhobors had in Lopukhin a sympathetic high official who spoke up for the sectarians and stressed their virtues as well as their faults.  He acted as a conduit between the Doukhobors and the highest circles of Russian society, transmitting their beliefs using the language and metaphors of the Imperial Court, and in doing so, helped lay the basis for Tsar Alexander’s policy on the Doukhobors.  But for his intervention, the Doukhobors of Sloboda-Ukraine and elsewhere would have remained isolated, dispersed, voiceless and oppressed.  It is through his efforts that the Doukhobors owed a great measure of release from persecution, and also an opportunity to exist and develop as a self-contained community. 

Lopukhin left Kharkov in December of 1801 to resume his senatorial duties.  Between 1802 and 1805, he served as President of a commission “to deal with the dispute of estates in the Crimea”, travelling to the Crimea to the Crimea to settle land disputes between Tatars and Russian landlords.  In 1806, he observed the formation of national armed forces in Vladimir, Kaluga, Ryazan and Tula provinces.  In 1807, he served in the Eight Department of the Senate, a branch of the Senate which was located in Moscow. 

In 1808-1809, the “Zapiska Niekotorykh Obstoiatel’stv Zhizni i Sluzhby Dieistvitel’nago Tainago Sovietnika, Senatora I. V. Lopukhina” [“A note on some circumstances in the life and career of Acting Privy Councillor, Senator I. V. Lopukhin”] was written under Lopukhin’s dictation.  The tract contained Lopukhin’s detailed reminisces on the “Doukhobor Affair”.

In 1812, during the Napoleonic War, Lopukhin fled Moscow to escape the advancing French armies, resettling to his estate of Saviiskoye in the Baltic. In 1813, Lopukhin took a leave of absence from the Senate for health reasons, which was repeatedly prolonged.  He moved back to his family estate at Voskresenskoye and married the daughter of Moscow merchant M.E. Nikitin.  From 1814 until the end of his life, Lopukhin was a member of the Russian Bible Society, a non-denominational organization devoted to translating and distributing the Bible in Russia. 

Throughout his later career and until his death, Lopukhin was censured by Orthodox clergy, local and provincial officials, and by conservative elements within the Russian aristocracy for his efforts on behalf of the Doukhobors.  The Senator ignored the criticism until the Holy Synod (council of Orthodox bishops of the Russian Empire) reproached him for the “harmful multiplication” of Doukhobors. In response to his critics, Lopukhin composed the essay “Glas Iskrennosti” [“Voice of Sincerity”], explaining the Doukhobors’ “errors of faith”, outlining their history of persecution, and defending his activities in connection with the sect. The essay was circulated privately in 1806, but was only published posthumously in 1817.

In addition to ‘Glas Iskrennosti’, there are several historical tracts on the Doukhobors attributed to Lopukhin. The first of these, “Zapiska, Rodannaya Dukhobortsami Ekaterinoslavskoy Gubernii v 1791 g. Gubernatoru Kakhovskomu” [“Note of 1791 submitted by the Doukhobors of Ekaterinoslav Province to Governor Kakhovsky”] contains one of the earliest expositions of Dukhobor beliefs. The Note is known only in copies; the original has never been discovered.  However, scholars have ascertained that the first copy was made from a document belonging to Lopukhin.  The second tract is an 1805 note entitled “Nekotorye Cherty ob Obshchestve Dukhobortsev” [“Several Characteristics of Doukhobor Society“].While the authorship of these tracts has not been positively identified, scholars such as Svetlana Inikova have identified Masonic influences in both, and have justifiably attributed them to either an unidentified Mason or directly to Lopukhin himself. 

A prominent theme in Lopukhin’s many writings was the idea of a spiritual “inner church”, the foes of which were the secular learning and self-indulgence which kept man from following Christ and gaining “true wisdom”. Lopukhin’s ideal man, the “spiritual knight”, defended the “inner church” with the spiritual weapons of silent suffering and freely given love.  In “Glas Iskrennosti”, Lopukhin characterized the Doukhobors as the “hidden saints” of his new church.  Interestingly, perhaps the most famous convert to his idea of a new inner church was Leo Tolstoy, who became an archetype of Lopukhin’s “spiritual knight” with his “conversion” to a new non-doctrinal Christianity that abjured violence and taught that “the kingdom of God is within you”.  Tolstoy, like Lopukhin before him, would view the Doukhobors as living examples of his philosophical ideals. 

Lopukhin died at his family estate on 22 June 1816.  Among his contemporaries, he enjoyed great popularity as the epitome of the fair and disinterested judge, the philanthropist, the man who put the welfare of his Motherland before his own, the trusted advisor to the Tsars.  At the same time, his mystic writings and philosophy earned him many denigrators who accused him of hypocrisy and personal defects.  Sadly, his role and influence in the history of the Doukhobors, perhaps second only to Tolstoy amongst “outsiders” to the sect, remains largely unappreciated and forgotten.


For more about Lopukhin’s legacy as a writer and thinker see: Lipski, Alexander. “A Russian Mystic Faces the Age of Rationalism and Revolution: Thought and Activity of Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin” in Church History (Vol. 36, No. 2 (Jun., 1967), pp. 170-188; and Billington, James H. “The Icon and the Axe, An Interpretive History of Russian Culture” (New York: Random House, 1966.

For more about Lopukhin’s investigation of the Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors and the formation of the Milky Waters colony see: Fry, Gary Dean. “The Doukhobors, 1801-1855: Origins of a Successful Dissident Sect” (Ph.D thesis, American University, 1976); and Savva, Vladimir Ivanovich, “K Istorii Dukhobortsev Khar’kovskoi Gubernii” (Kharkov, Kharkov Historical-Philological Society, 1893); republished in P.N. Malov, “Dukhobortsi, ikh Istoria, Zhizn’ i Bor’ba”translated as More about the History of the Dukhobortsy of Kharkov Province on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. 

For more about Lopukhin’s role in the historiography of the Doukhobors see:Inikova, Svetlana A. Spiritual Origins and Beginnings of Doukhobor History in A. Donskov, J. Woodsworth & C. Gaffield (eds.), The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada, A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on their Unity and Diversity. (Ottawa: Slavic Research Group and Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa, 2000); reproduced on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.

This article was reproduced by permission in ISKRA No. 2020 (U.S.S.C., Castlegar, BC, July 3, 2009)

The Origin of the Freedomite Movement

by William A. Soukeroff

The Freedomite (Svobodniki or Sons of Freedom) Doukhobors began as a small, radical movement to reinvigorate the faith, restore traditional Doukhobor values and protest the sale of land, education, citizenship and registration of vital statistics. They would achieve infamy through civil disobedience, nude marches and burnings. Reproduced from Vestnik (April 8, 11 and 15, 1959), the following article by William A. Soukeroff examines the history and influences of the Freedomite movement. It was written as an attempt to educate the Canadian public about the Freedomites at a time characterized by sensationalistic, one-sided and misrepresentative news coverage of the movement. Translated by Steve Lapshinoff.


The problem of the Freedomites of British Columbia is an important link with the forceful abduction of their children and their plans of migration to the “Motherland”. It has attracted the attention of the Canadian public. Many sincerely sympathize with their plight, would like to understand them and help them, and to lessen the burden of their bitter fate. But to the many who are unfamiliar with the history of the Doukhobor movement and the conception of the Freedomites amongst them, the problem does not seem to fall into any sort of logic.

It appears to me that no logical solution to this problem can be found, not knowing how the Freedomite movement was conceived among the Doukhobors, from whence came their views on life, misled if you will. This question cannot be resolved superficially.

The religious Doukhobor sect has been in existence for over 200 years. It had periods of calm and of revivals. When they were not bothered by the authorities, the Doukhobors lived quietly and peacefully, but the moment that the authorities began to press them, there would be spurts of uprising amongst them. This is the way it was in the Transcaucasia. The refusal of military service by the Doukhobors and later the persecution of them by the government brought out the uprisings.

Religious movements often go to the extremes and fall under the absolute influence of the strongest individual in its’ midst. These extremes often surface through ideas and aspirations to adhere steadfastly to given goals, not withstanding any agreements, laws or rights of other people. With these beliefs, the Doukhobors migrated to Canada.

There was a split among the Doukhobors within the very first years in Canada. It seems that a community proclaiming universal Brotherhood would be the more united but life and ideas, like words and deeds often do not go hand in hand.

Part of the Doukhobors became attracted to private ownership in Canada and immediately began to obtain separate lots of land and to live individually. The larger part (of Doukhobors) strived to live in accordance with their religious beliefs – communally. Doukhobors always had leaders. They listened to their teachings and were guided by their advice. Peter Vasilyevich Verigin was in exile in Siberia and was unable to migrate to Canada with the Doukhobors. After a few years in Canada without a leader, many became “Free thinkers” and introduced new ideas into the Doukhobor midst.

In the material sense, during the first years in Canada, the Doukhobors encountered severe hardships as a natural occurrence. An insignificant number of respected elders did not want to accept this reality, insisting that Doukhobors pay more attention to their spiritual rather than material, i.e. strive toward spiritual attainment rather than worry about material comfort.

In 1901 Doukhobors received a book “Letters of the Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin”, released under the editorship of Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, his introductory article and with a forward by V. and A. Tchertkov.

These “Letters”, gave the Doukhobors the opportunity to get more acquainted with the philosophies and outlook of their leader. While in exile Peter V. held wide communications with many friends and sympathizers of the Doukhobors, and most importantly with people closely associated with Lev Nickolaevich Tolstoy. In these letters, Peter V. often emphasized that his expressed views appear as “Fantasies” or “Theories”. It could be said with confidence that he did not in any way think that these “Theories” and “Fantasies” would be accepted by the Doukhobors as precepts in their life. As in one of his letters of this collection (letter # 17) dated November 41h, 1896, from the village of Obdorsk to Nickolai Trofimovich Ezumchenko, he wrote the following:

I would like to see education as well as any written communication of course, dropped altogether as a trial period for a couple of years. This is, as yet only a thought, a product of fantasy. For example, our society’s old age views of education are reprehensible, and we have very few educated people amongst us. The few, if any, are self-taught. We maintain that education destroys the inclination to greet people, also, schools corrupt the morals of children, and thirdly all things through which education is actualized are obtained through great hardships, therefore, to participate in the subjugation of people in any form must be avoided.

In spite of the fact that this was not written to the Doukhobors but to an outsider, the opinion of his “theory” later manifested in the Freedomite way of life. From this is seen, that many views of the Freedomites have direct connection to these same philosophies.

In the same letter Peter Vasilyevich continues:

In my theory or understanding, in essence the order of composition should be: to drop physical labour one by one and go out to teach peace and charity which coincides with temperance. Bread is already plentiful; all that is necessary is to be less greedy. The soil, already depleted by man, would rest and replenish itself. I do not even foresee human suffering should they subject to such a theory, because by eating in moderation there would be enough (food) for a hundred years. Humanity is omnivorous, and unfortunately eats for pleasure rather than need. In a hundred years the earth would have enough time to completely recover and go back to its’ original state. And humanity would attain spiritual growth along with a natural earthly paradise, (which Adam and Eye had lost).

Further in this letter he directly states:

If people want to become Christians they should gradually cease physical labour and preach the Gospel (that is Christ).

In this letter Peter Vasilyevich brings forth arguments, which the Freedomites later attempted to fully apply to their way of life:

… That the Apostles and Christ wore clothing and ate bread is natural because both were plentiful and it should be said that Christ and Apostles could not suddenly go naked. I speak of their achievements. I propose that people would gradually get used to physical nakedness – spiritual nakedness is much more sad. Having worn out his clothing and having eaten up one’s bread, mankind would come to the condition of which I spoke earlier. I am told that all people cannot live as Christ and the Apostles did, bit I will say that this must not sway us, for I believe that all can.

These very deliberations which Peter Vasilyevich himself called “products of fantasy” became the foundation for a small group of the elderly, who sought to make manifest this fantasy into reality, and who came to the point of asceticism.

From there “theories” it can be supposed emanates the relentless struggle of the Freedomites against education, with their preaching of the New Testament and their “experiments” in practicing nudity which evoked extreme feelings of prejudice against them from the Canadian public.

The largest trek of the Freedomites (up to 3,000 people), to spread the Gospel, took place in 1902 in Saskatchewan under the slogan of “we are in search of Christ the bridegroom”. In this manner, almost immediately, from the very first years of the settlement of the Doukhobors in Canada, the Freedomites attracted attention of all the Canadian public and the government. The trek was stopped by the police in 1902. The participants were returned home and spared desertion and freezing. In November of 1902 Peter Vasilyevich Verigin arrived in Canada from Siberia. He placated the disturbed Doukhobors and advised them to begin rebuilding their lives.

The trek of 1902.

The community began to get involved with livestock and all other community inventory and life was restored to order. But in several villages the older people began to doubt and to deliberate “Petushka” (this is what they called their leader) is totally violating Christian teachings. After all he himself professed that animals are our lesser brethren, and one cannot oppress them. We preach full freedom to all life, but what sort of freedom is it for horses when they are harnessed? This is not a Christian act.” etc….

Yet the believers in the leader will always find justification for his act saying, “Petushka is only fooling the Englishmen with his doings and is only avoiding harassment from the government but he is not a betrayer of Christianity. We will not worry about this.  Let him do his job and we will do ours. This is only a test from God.”

The whole Freedomite movement, right up to the death of Peter Vasilyevich numbered not more than 200, striving to live the simplest life and subjecting themselves to self-denial and testing their endurance for the accomplishment of the goal of self perfection.

The community with Verigin at its’ head always rejected the Freedomites, and as a result they lived out of the community most of the time. At the time, their eccentricities did not bother the surrounding communities and they had little conflict with the authorities.

In 1921 and 1922, suddenly school buildings burst into flames. Eleven schools were burned. The Doukhobor community was against schools for a long time, but later accepted them on the condition that children will attend schools only to the age of 12. From that time the situation between the Doukhobors and the authorities intensified. The orthodox blamed the Freedomites for the burning of schools, although there were no individuals directly accused. The authorities were unable to find the guilty. In 1924 Peter Vasilyevich was killed by an explosion in a railway coach, by which he was travelling. The Doukhobors are deeply convinced that he was murdered by a bomb by outside evildoers, but this crime was never solved.

The Doukhobors ceased to allow their children to school in protest of this act. The authorities used repressive measures against the Doukhobors for this step, confiscating their belongings, etc. At this time a delegation from the community traveled to Russia to invite Peter Petrovich Verigin, the son of Peter Vasilyevich to come to Canada to head the Doukhobors.


With great impatience the Doukhobors awaited the arrival of a leader. In the end, in the year of 1927, P. P. Verigin arrived in Canada.  Immediately in the Doukhobor midst there was a feeling of rejuvenation.

Upon his arrival, the Freedomite movement broadened in character. (In his first speech, P. P. Verigin appealed to the Doukhobors to unite and ordered the Freedomites to drop their fanaticism.) In his second speech, concerning the movement of the three groups, the Orthodox, the farmers Independents, and the Freedomites. He named the Freedomites, “the Named Doukhobors”.  “Freedomites, he said, are called good for nothing, insane, etc. etc., but that is harsh and not true. For Christ, they are none other than the ringing of a bell awakening us. The Freedomites are our Doukhobor scouts; these are the true servants of Christ. Amidst the Freedomites, there are certain individuals, (just as in other groups) who, with their unreasonable actions, strive to blacken these glorious workers, who are on God’s path. I am appealing to them and asking these liars who work with the spirit of Satan, to leave the ranks of these pure Freedomites.” He finished his speech with the following: “The Named Doukhobors, consisting of three indivisible but different levels of growth and emanation: firstly – Freedomites “Scouts”, secondly -center Community, and third – the rear, these are the so-called Independents.”

The bringing forth of the Freedomites to the first place by P. P. Verigin, gave a start to an even bigger growth of the Freedomite movement. However, the 1930’s economic crisis also contributed to the growth of this movement. The crisis had a hard impact on the community. Many of the community members had to go outside the community in order to find work to pay the debt for the community lands. During the crisis year’s jobs could not be found. The Canadian workers traveled from one end of the country to another on freight cars, but could not find jobs anywhere. Under these circumstances the community could not function for very long.  The directors of the community started court proceedings against their own non-paying members. Some members were removed from the community for not paying dues. In the end, the (court) authorities refused to forcefully remove the community members from their land. Many community members proclaimed the slogan of “Land is God’s gift. It should not be an object of trade,” and declared themselves the Sons of Freedom. Yet in the early 1930’s there appeared placards on the community lands, with a similar slogan.  The Freedomites went from village to village and proclaimed, “(We will) forget the taxes and interests. We will put schools out of our minds.”

In the end, after long discussions with the authorities, an agreement was reached that the community would allot a separate region of land where all the non-payers (Freedomites) must settle. This was done. The Freedomites were allotted an area, now known to all as “Krestova”. Many former orthodox made their way to this Krestova, considered as the Freedomite center yet then, and looked upon by all as a leper colony.

Krestova became a haven to many independents as well, from Saskatchewan and Alberta, ruined by the depression.

In 1932, the community began to forcefully oust some 200 members, orthodox – almost half the population of the village of Glade.  Being evicted, instead of going to Krestova, they left all their belongings along the side of the road and marched to Brilliant, the center of the Christian Communities. Other Freedomites began to join their trek, as well as Doukhobors having nothing in common with Freedomites except the wish to help the protest of the ousted members from their homes, which they had built themselves. The protesters never reached Brilliant. The police blocked the road and requested that they return home. But they had been forcibly evicted from their homes and did not want to go to Krestova. In protest, taking an example from the Freedomites, they disrobed.

Freedomite camp near Nelson, British Columbia, 1929.

Thrums, where the marchers were stopped, became the center of public attention. The police arrested the nude and took them to the Nelson jail. But sympathizers of the evicted, arriving in Thrums and seeing the police also disrobed. They were then loaded onto police buses. Near Nelson appeared an encampment of tents, where the protesters were temporarily kept.

Among several hundred Doukhobor protests grew spontaneously against accumulated grievances, deprivations and disagreements of existing order.

In the end the B.C. Government allotted Piers Island, located in the Pacific Ocean near Vancouver, where close to 900 people were sentenced to 3 years for nudism.

At this time Peter P. Verigin was sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment in Saskatchewan and newspaper harassment began against all Doukhobors demanding Verigin’s deportation from Canada. While these two circumstances had nothing in common, the arrest of Verigin had an impact on the Doukhobors in Piers Island: through their imprisonment they tried to share the fate of their leader. The Freedomite children were forcibly taken away from their parents and placed in foster homes around the Vancouver area. Several infants died of neglect. Then a Special Commission of people sympathetic with the Doukhobors was formed, who decided to take the children from the foster homes and place them with Doukhobor families. In our settlement, families including ours took several children to our homes. The children were frightened and didn’t know where their parents were or why they were forced to live among strangers. This had a psychological effect on them.

On completion of 3 years imprisonment, on Piers Island, they returned to their homes (if they had any) – but the majority settled in Krestova. On this manner, people of different outlooks and beliefs were gathered in Krestova. Not surprising then, that media, sociologists and other learned people can’t find one goal or one philosophy among the Freedomites. Many do not understand why the Freedomites reject English Schools, as they see many adequately educated amongst them. By their rejection, they reveal their struggles and protests not only against schools but also against all wrongs in accordance with their beliefs of contemporary living.

As I indicated above, the Economic crisis of the 1930’s had a ponderous effect on the community. At that time, on top of the economic crisis, the community also suffered a loss as a result of the burning of community property. Orthodox, as well as surrounding communities blamed the Freedomites for the burnings, and as a result, there developed extremely acute antagonism. The community was right to defend their interests as they felt that their possessions were threatened. This led to a growth in numbers of “Non-payers” of community dues, who joined the Freedomites. As a result, in 1936-38, the community lost all their properties because of non-payment of dues. With their land lost, their community possessions sold by the courts for next to nothing, brought out not only the dissatisfaction amongst the remaining Orthodox, but was also the reason for the expansion among the ranks of the Freedomites. Many of the Orthodox realized that the Freedomites were correct in their struggle against the laws of private ownership of land, decided to join their ranks.

The Second World War also brought out turmoil among the Freedomites. Notwithstanding the fact that the Doukhobors were legally exempt from military service, the military authorities distributed call-up papers to the young Doukhobors for medical examinations. During talks with Doukhobor representatives, the military authorities indicated that these call-ups were a mere formality, and that no Doukhobor would be forced to serve in the army. Different groups settled this matter with the authorities in their own way. In British Columbia this matter was left without consequences, but in Saskatchewan several young Doukhobors took substitute labour.

Then in connection with the war, the country put into effect the registration of the populace of Canada. Many Doukhobors, not only the Freedomites refused to register considering this to be subject to military laws of the country. Almost all the Freedomites refused to register and were again imprisoned. Therefore, Freedomites according to religious convictions, always protested against all government measures contrary to their beliefs.


Analysing the question of the Freedomite movement, one cannot refute the fact that the disturbance in their midst, their protests and strife, their disagreements with the set order of present day living comes from deep, even through distracted convictions of inherent Russian sectarianism.

Sectarianism in my opinion, portrays the condition of a person newly awakened from a long spiritual sleep and not yet fully alert to his surroundings. Consequently, sectarianism often had the appearance of deformity.

Although I do not share Freedomite views upon the persistent struggle against education and assimilation, I do however believe that the movement of the Freedomites cannot be judged superficially and cannot be resolved in a forceful manner. The Canadian government cannot understand the persistence of the Freedomites. To the government, every person living in Canada must firstly be a good citizen and it looks upon him as its’ subject. Concerning the convictions and beliefs of the citizen, for this there are known existing laws and all beliefs and convictions of the people, must fit into this category on the same level of convictions of all the citizens.

The government cannot seem to take into consideration this spirit that was instilled into the Doukhobors over several generations. This open, free, fleetingly turbulent spirit that does not bow to anyone and with which all great warriors and reformers of humanity distinguished themselves.

The Canadian government and the Doukhobors are two opposite poles. For the Freedomites the Canadian government represents all Kings, Princes, Kaisers, Pharaohs, Emperors, Roman Popes, Archbishops, Patriarchs, wars and military generals. Among the Freedomites you will find Diagnoses and Pythagoras’s, Jan Husses, Luthers and other reformers and philosophers, also among them are Razins and Pugachevs.

From this kind of element, a separate group was formed called the Sons of Freedom and it was not without reason they were called “radicals”. Because many Doukhobors, upon migration to Canada, began to disagree under the influence of Canadian “freedom”, the group gathered in strength. The struggle against evil is a thorny path. In the Transcaucasus, the Doukhobors overcame great trials and tribulations and upon migration to Canada, many decided to “rest”. This “rest”, was the cause of dissension. Many, not only “rested”, but also were enticed by a more luxurious way of life. They accepted Canadian citizenship, accepted and purchased individual lots of land separate from the community. They bought automobiles, luxury furniture and began to accumulate money. But among the Doukhobors, there were people who did not succumb to this enticement, fought against it and became objects of persecution even from their own brethren. These are the kind of people the Freedomites were.

No matter how we judge them or disagree on methods of battle or their understandings, we all must acknowledge that the Freedomites did not sell out to the dollar system, nor succumb to the temptations of private ownership and did not stray from their beliefs.

Many Doukhobors would call Freedomites rebels, do not know what they want themselves. Let this be so. But Doukhobors who renounced the Orthodox Church and consequently military service were also rebels. There was also a division among the Doukhobors, yet in the Transcaucasus with their struggle against military service, some of the Doukhobors were also called “rebels”, and “traitors”. If the Freedomites did not practice nudism, one would not be able to distinguish them from Doukhobors of past generations who fought against churches and militarism. It is true that in the past, Doukhobor struggle had a specific and clear goal that which was shared by many elders of that time. The Freedomites now protest against the Canadian system in general and continue in their struggle against government schools and against assimilation with this system and to many this struggle seems foreign and incomprehensible.

What astonishes many is this persistence to follow their convictions and under no circumstances stray from them.

The government is at fault in that it tries with any means including the application of force to convert these people into its citizens.

Many people, wanting to decipher the Freedomite problem, attribute their persistence to fantasy or political propaganda and do not want to acknowledge the fact that the Freedomites can think for themselves, that these simple people are capable of having some sort of ideas or principals.

Freedomite house burning, 1950s.

The Commission on Doukhobor affairs, attempting to settle the conflict between the Freedomites and the government, invited a representative of the American, Quakers, Emmett Gulley, to Canada. Confident that this representative of an influential, religious organization related in spirit to the Doukhobors will influence them. But the outlook and methods of this representative appeared unacceptable to the Freedomites and he was unable to reconcile them with Canadian realities.

Many propose that the Freedomites need a strong spiritual leader, one who can influence them and persuade them to a different way of thinking. But this leader will have to share their views; otherwise they will not acknowledge him. Aside from this, it seems to me that the Freedomites are gradually beginning to drift away from leadership. Their independent decision to begin planning a move to the Soviet Union is witness to this. In the Freedomite midst, there have been discussions of migration to the motherland for quite some time. One of their leaders, a certain Displaced Person, Stephan Sorokin attempted to dissuade them from migrating, and even went as far as slandering against the Soviet Union. In the end, he too was convinced that the idea of returning to the Motherland, among the Freedomites was not simply by chance, not a fleeting vision, but a totally normal and even unavoidable inclination of people, torn from their own people, tradition, and from their birth place, and finally, he gave his agreement.

Speaking of Freedomite intentions to migrate to the motherland raises the question of how they will accept Soviet authority. In the condition of being unable to answer this question authoritatively, I can however only say that the Freedomites are faced with a choice: either to renounce their conviction here in Canada and to change to a superficial, formal way of performing their rituals, and to reconcile with that against which they struggle, as was done by the majority of Doukhobors; or reconcile and rebuild their lives in a new place, the Soviet Russia. Verification to this is the fact that the Freedomites cannot find an empire anywhere that would allow complete freedom; such as they understand it for man. After all, they could have found it possible to assimilate with the Russian people and to build a decent way of life, depicting their world outlook. The Freedomite delegation, having visited the Soviet Union in connection with the business of migrating there, could find nothing contradictory to their ideology, in Soviet culture or way of life. The basis of their ideology fully coincides with the ideas of Socialism and more important is abolition of private property in the Soviet Union. Their slogan of “Land should not be an object of trade” is protected by law and fully practised in life, in the Soviet Union. Let the Freedomites form their convictions about private ownership through Christian teaching. The fact remains, that in the Soviet Union they can live in agreement with this conviction, and not break the law of taught socialism, which exists in their former motherland.

To the Canadian authorities, the migration of the Freedomites comes as a convenience to rid themselves of these obstinate and restless people, who will not succumb to assimilation.

On the basis of all the above said, the reader may form the impression that I am defending the Freedomites and their method of fighting. This is definitely not the issue. It is possible for one not share these or other convictions, but one should attempt to understand them. If the Freedomites refuse to act against their conscience, against their convictions, if they renounce being a Doukhobor through word, but defend the right to live in harmony through their beliefs, for this they will answer themselves. I consider it unjust to judge people on the surface and say that the Freedomites are willful because of some whim or that they want to spite the Canadian government. It is doubtful that such people exist who would, on a whim, or from a desire to spite, would agree to suffer such hardships that the Freedomites suffer, to the extent of losing their children. Some attribute the Freedomites to excessive fanaticism. It could be said that no religion is free from fanaticism. Religious fanatics are not only those who profess the New Testament in word only. But if all churchgoers and in general all religious people professing Christianity began to do that which the New Testament teaches, they would all be considered fanatics.

The Hyas Doukhobor Settlement

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

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

Origin and History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrival and Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Village Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth and Prosperity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abandonment and Dissolution

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

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

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

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

New Beginnings

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

This article was reproduced by permission in:

History of the Doukhobors in the Rural Municipality of Good Lake

Compiled by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The Rural Municipality of Good Lake No. 274 was established on January 1, 1913.  Situated in the area surrounding Good Spirit Lake, Saskatchewan, it is comprised of Townships 28, 29 and 30 in Ranges 4, 5 and 6, west of the Second Meridian. Much of the eastern and northern portions of the municipality were originally settled by Doukhobor immigrants from Russia in 1899, who established a series of communal settlements, and later, independent homesteads, there. The following brief article outlines the history of the Doukhobors of Good Lake and their contribution to the development of the municipality over the past century.

The Doukhobors were a religious movement founded in early 18th century Russia and Ukraine. The name dukho + bortsy, meaning “Spirit Wrestlers” in Russian, was given to them in derision by church clerics to imply “those who fight against the Holy Spirit”; however, the Doukhobors adopted the name, reinterpreting it to mean “those who fight with the Spirit of God”.

The Doukhobors rejected the doctrines, rituals and priesthood of the Orthodox Church and denied the authority of the Tsarist state. Their practical, commonsense teachings were based on the belief that the Spirit of God resides in the soul of every person, and directs them by its word within them. Their teachings consist of a collection of psalms and proverbs, called the Living Book, passed down orally from one generation to the next. Their ceremony consists of a simple prayer meeting recited around a table with bread, salt and water. The Doukhobors were frequently persecuted for their faith by authorities and forced to live in the frontier regions of the Russian Empire. Over time, they developed their own unique culture, traditions and way of life.

Map of 1899 Good Spirit Lake Doukhobor reserve overlaid with RM of Good Lake boundary as of 1913.

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

In early 1899, over 7,500 Doukhobors arrived in Canada in four shiploads at the ports of Halifax and Quebec. It was the single largest mass immigration in Canadian history. The Doukhobor immigrants then travelled west by rail to Brandon, Winnipeg, Selkirk and Yorkton, where they spent their first winter in Immigration Shelters there.

That spring, the Doukhobors settled on four large tracts of homestead land reserved for them in the Northwest Territories by the Dominion Government of Canada, in the present-day districts of Blaine Lake, Langham, Pelly, Arran, Kamsack, Veregin, Canora and Buchanan, Saskatchewan.

Doukhobor Village of Kalmakovka Just Under Construction, 1899. British Columbia Archives E-09609.

One of these tracts, known as the “Good Spirit Lake Annex”, was situated along the north half of Good Spirit Lake and to the northwest along its tributary, Spirit Creek. It was comprised of 168,930 acres, or six townships (including Township 30 of the present-day RM of Good Lake). It was there that approximately 1,000 Doukhobors settled in May 1899.

Upon their arrival in the Good Spirit Lake Annex, the Doukhobors established a communal way of life. All land, livestock, machinery and other property was held in common. Working together, they cleared the forest and brush, broke the land, planted grain fields, raised livestock herds, and built eight villages, as well as flourmills, elevators, trading stores and other enterprises. Four of their villages were located within the present-day RM of Good Lake and were as follows:

In 1899, Doukhobors from Elizavetpol, Russia established a village along the east shore of Good Spirit Lake. As there was an abundance of wood, water and fish there, they named the village Blagosklonnoye or Blagosklonnovka, meaning “benevolent” or “favorable” in Russian. In 1905, the village had a population of 185 people living in 46 households, with 966 acres under joint cultivation. Villagers often gathered on the lakeshore to celebrate festivals and hold prayer meetings. The village existed until 1912. [SE 9-30-5-W2]

In 1899, Doukhobors established a village along the northeast shore of Good Spirit Lake. It was named Goreloye or Horeloye after the village in Elizavetpol, Russia from whence they came. In 1905, the village had a population of 51 people living in 5 households. The village existed until 1910. [NE 17-30-5-W2]

In 1899, Doukhobors established a village along the southeast shore of Patterson Lake. It was originally named Novo-Spasskoye after the village in Elizavetpol, Russia from whence they came. In 1902, it was renamed Kalmakovo or Kalmakovka, after the Kalmykov line of Doukhobor leaders in 19th century Russia. In 1905, the village had a population of 140 people living in 43 households, with 775 acres under joint cultivation. The village existed until 1919. [SE 30-30-5-W2]

In 1899, Doukhobors from Elizavetpol, Russia established a village along the northeast shore of Patterson Lake. In comparison to the persecution they experienced in Russia, the Doukhobors regarded their new home as a place of spiritual and physical solace. For this reason, they named it Utesheniye, meaning “consolation” or “solace” in Russian. In 1905, the village had a population of 181 people living in 47 households, with 960 acres under joint cultivation. The village existed until 1913. [SW 31-30-5-W2]

The villages followed a uniform model. Each village consisted of two rows of houses – one on each side facing into a wide, straight central street. This was the village model they brought from Russia and used extensively throughout the 19th century. The houses and all village buildings were made of log. Each village had dwellings, stables, barns, granaries, carpenter shops, blacksmiths, implement sheds, chicken houses, a banya (“bathhouse”), peche (“clay bake oven”), a prayer home and cemetery. Each dwelling had a large garden and several outbuildings behind it.

During the early years of settlement, many Doukhobor men left the villages to work on railway construction, as farm hands or general labourers. This ‘working out’ provided an important source of revenue for the Doukhobor community. The women thus played an important role in the day-to-day operations of the households and farms.

Official survey of the Doukhobor village of Kalmakovo, September 29, 1907. Saskatchewan Archives Board A36/5.

By 1905, the Dominion Government began to look with disfavour upon the Doukhobor communal way of life and adopted a new policy aimed at encouraging individual farming among them. It now insisted that the Doukhobors fulfill the strict requirements of The Homestead Act, which included individually registering for, living on, and working each homestead parcel, and swearing an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown.

A land ownership crisis ensued, which split the Doukhobor community. A minority of Doukhobors accepted private ownership, moved out of the villages onto their individual homesteads, and began independently working their land in compliance with the homestead requirements. The majority of Doukhobors, however, viewed the land ownership requirements as a violation of their religious principles; consequently, they forfeited their 160-acre homesteads and took up a 15-acre allotment per person on which to carry on their communal way of life. The forfeited homesteads were then opened up to settlers of other nationalities, resulting in a “land rush” by those eager to take up the improved lands abandoned by the Doukhobors. By 1918, the Good Spirit Lake Annex was closed altogether, and the once-thriving communal villages that dotted the Good Spirit landscape were abandoned as their remaining residents moved to the interior of British Columbia.

Doukhobor House in Kalmakovka Village near Good Spirit Lake, c. 1899. British Columbia Archives E-09607.

For the Doukhobors who remained in the RM of Good Lake as independent farmers, they continued to maintain their religious principles as members of the Society of Independent Doukhobors, and later, the Buchanan and Canora Doukhobor Societies. Materially, their story became much the same as other pioneers on the prairies. Economically, they progressed with the rest of the Canadian people, sharing their ups and downs with the booms and the depressions. Educationally, they accepted the Canadian standard and can now be found in all professions. Civically, they have helped contribute towards the grown and development of the municipality.

Doukhobor families who have historically resided in the RM of Good Lake include the following: Bartsoff, Bonderoff, Chernenkoff, Cheveldayoff, Filipoff, Fofonoff, Hancheroff, Holoboff, Horkoff, Kabatoff, Kalmakoff, Kerieff, Konkin, Kotelnikoff, Krukoff, Lazaroff, Makortoff, Maloff, Negraeff, Nichvolodoff, Obedkoff, Ostoforoff, Ozeroff, Pereverseff, Petroff, Plotnikoff, Polovnikoff, Poohachoff, Salikin, Shukin, Sookavaeff, Sookocheff, Soukeroff, Strelioff, Swetlikoff, Vanjoff, Verigin, Wishlow, Zbitnoff, Zeeben and Zuravloff. Today, many of their descendants still reside in the RM of Good Lake and surrounding area, as well as throughout the rest of the world.

This article is reproduced, by permission, in the upcoming publication, The Rural Municipality of Good Lake No. 274: A History (Canora: Rural Municipality of Good Lake, 2013) by Dianne Stinka.  For ordering information about the book, which will be launched at the Centennial celebration of the R.M. on July 27, 2013, visit the Rural Municipality of Good Lake website.