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.