Frequency of Doukhobor Names in Saskatchewan in 1905

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

A study of the frequency of names offers important insights into Doukhobor genealogy, history and culture.  The frequency of a name is the number of times it occurs relative to the total name instances sampled.  This study presents data on the frequency of men’s names, women’s names and surnames found among the Doukhobors in Saskatchewan in 1905.  The study shows the popularity and variety of personal names at this time.  It also shows the absolute and relative size of families bearing a particular surname.  Overall, this study allows us to form a detailed and accurate understanding of the use of names by Doukhobors shortly after their arrival in Canada from Russia.  Compiled by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


The names for this frequency study were taken from the Doukhobor village census of 1905.  The census was taken by the Dominion Land Branch of the Department of Interior to identify eligible homestead entrants among the Doukhobors living in Saskatchewan.  It contains a substantial amount of information, including the personal names and surnames of 9,188 Doukhobors living in 69 village settlements.  As the number of Doukhobors living out of such village settlements, either in commercial towns, on homesteads or out-of-province, was extremely low at this time (estimated 25 persons or 0.27 percent of the entire population), the census can be considered comprehensive and representative of virtually all Doukhobors (estimated 99.73 percent) living in Canada at the time.


A systematic study of the census was undertaken to identify duplicate entries for persons.  None were detected, which is not surprising, given the purpose for which the census was taken.  Although the census was also taken for years subsequent to 1905, only the 1905 entries were analyzed, so as to avoid the potential for double-counts.  A name count was then conducted using computer software and a digital copy of the census to determine the frequency of the names contained therein.  Once counted, the names were deleted to further avoid the potential for double-counts.

Many names in the census are listed in a variety of spellings.  This does not reflect different usage of names but rather the language barrier between English-speaking census takers and the Russian-speaking Doukhobors, the lack of a standard transliteration system from the Cyrillic to Latin alphabet, and varying degrees of illiteracy amongst the Doukhobors as well as census-takers.  As a result, the names in the census are spelt phonetically the way they sounded.  For the purpose of this study, all variant spellings of a single name were counted together.  For example, the men’s names Wasil, Wasyl and Wasily were counted together and likewise the surnames Voikin, Woikin and Woykin.

Similarly, many personal names (but not surnames) in the census are listed in a variety of forms.  In some cases (292 persons or 3.1 percent of the entire population), the diminutive form of a standard Russian name is used, as was the common practice among the Doukhobors.  For example, the men’s name Dmitry also appears as Mitro and the women’s name Praskovia as Paranya.  In other cases (250 persons or 2.7 percent of the entire population), an Anglicized form of the standard Russian name is used.  Hence, the men’s name Mikhailo also appears as Michael and the women’s name Pelagea as Polly.  For the purpose of this study, all variant forms of a single name were counted together.

The above methodology and approach were used to overcome the challenge of analyzing large datasets, to ensure consistency, and to minimize the opportunity for manual errors in calculation.  It has also provided a more effective method for sharing data and results.

Men’s Names

The study identified a total of 72 Russian names distributed among 4,658 Doukhobor males, an average of 1 name for every 65 males.  In contrast, there were approximately 1,500 men’s names in use in Russia at the time.  From this it can be concluded that the pool from which men’s names were drawn by Doukhobors in Saskatchewan in 1905 was relatively small.

Within the pool of men’s names, a small number of names was very popular, while the greater number of names was chosen only rarely.  Therefore, it was very common for different Doukhobor males in 1905 to share the same name.

Table 1  Frequency of Men’s Names
Frequency of Men's Names

As may be seen from Table 1 above, the 10 most popular men’s names were shared by 81.86 percent (3,813 individuals) of all Doukhobor males, while more than 1 in every 2 males (55.86 percent or 2,602 individuals) bore one of the top 5 names.  In contrast, the 62 less popular men’s names, while comprising 86.11 percent of the entire pool of names, accounted for only 18.14 percent (845 individuals) of all Doukhobor males.  Of these, 38 names appear less than 10 times and 16 names appear only once

View a frequency listing of men’s names that appear in the census.  For illustrative purposes, the ten most frequent entries in the listing are reproduced in Table 2 below.

Table 2  Ten Most Frequent Men’s Names


Frequency (#)

Frequency (%)










































Women’s Names

The study identified only 39 Russian names distributed among 4,530 Doukhobor females, an average of 1 name for every 116 females.  This can be contrasted with the approximately 1,000 women’s names in use in Russia at the time.  It follows that the pool of women’s names used by Doukhobors in Saskatchewan was very small.  In absolute terms, it was almost half the size of the corresponding pool of men’s names.

Within the pool of women’s names, a remarkably small number of names accounted for the larger part of naming choices.  For this reason, it was very common for different Doukhobor females in 1905 to share the same name; almost twice as common as among Doukhobor males.

Table 3  Frequency of Women’s Names
Frequency of Women's Names

Table 3 above shows that the 10 most common women’s names were shared by 79.67 percent (3,609 individuals) of all Doukhobor females, while more than 1 in 2 females (51.90 percent or 2,351 individuals) bore one of the top 4 names.  By way of contrast, the 29 less popular names, while comprising 74.35 percent of the entire pool of names, account for only 20.33 percent (921 individuals) of all Doukhobor females.  Of these, 11 names appear less than 10 times and 5 names appear only once.

Table 4  Ten Most Frequent Women’s Names


Frequency (#)

Frequency (%)










































Here is a frequency listing of women’s names that appear in the census.  For illustrative purposes, the ten most frequent entries in the listing are reproduced in Table 4 above.


Finally, the study identified a total of 235 Russian surnames distributed among 9,188 Doukhobors, an average of 1 surname for every 39 persons.  When contrasted with the approximately 100,000 surnames in use in Russia at the time, it can be concluded that the pool of surnames used by Doukhobors in Saskatchewan was rather small.

Within the pool of surnames, there was an uneven distribution among the population; however, the effect was not pronounced, except at the very top of the frequency listing.  The most striking anomaly was the top surname in the listing, Popoff, which occurred almost three times as frequently as the second most common surname and almost fourteen times as frequently as the average.  Comparatively speaking, however, it was less common for different Doukhobors to share the same surname than personal name.

Table 5  Frequency of Surnames
Frequency of Surnames

As may be seen from Table 5 above, a quarter of all Doukhobors shared 1 of 14 surnames ranked from 1 to 14.  Another quarter shared one of 28 surnames ranked from 15 to 43.  Another shared one of 47 surnames ranked from 44 to 91.  The last quarter of all Doukhobors shared 1 of 143 surnames ranked from 92 to 235.

See the frequency listing of surnames that appear in the census.  For illustrative purposes, the ten most frequent entries in the listing are reproduced in Table 6 below.

Table 6  Ten Most Frequent Surnames


Frequency (#)

Frequency (%)











































As may be seen from this frequency study, the early twentieth century was not a time of great diversity in Doukhobor naming.  For both men and women, the 10 most frequent names account for about 80 percent of the persons named, and in each case adding the next 6 names brings the total to about 90 percent.  Generally, men’s names were more varied than women’s names, with nearly twice as many names occurring.  In both cases, however, it can be said that there was a great reliance on a relatively small repertoire of popular personal names.

This study identifies a similar trend among surnames, although the effect is not as pronounced as among personal names.  That is to say, the 10 most frequent surnames accounted for about 20 percent of the population, and the 42 most frequent surnames accounted for about 50 percent.  It can be concluded that there was a small number of large families and clans sharing common surnames, and a large number of smaller family units with diverse surnames.

From a genealogical perspective, this study underlines the problem of name ambiguity among the Doukhobors.  For example, a search for the men’s name Vasily comes up with 740 different persons sharing this name, while a search for the surname Popov shows 523 individuals with this surname.  When this personal name and surname are combined, a search identifies no less than 39 individuals sharing the name Vasily Popov.  Such ambiguity hinders the identification of specific persons in records and can potentially lead to confusion in family historical research.

Historically speaking, this study depicts names and naming patterns among Doukhobors for the year 1905.  However, it should be considered as indicative and not definitive of naming trends today.  The rate of growth in size differed among families over time.  As well, post-1905 Doukhobor immigration, while not substantial, nevertheless altered the population size and relative frequency of some names, and brought new names from Russia which did not previously occur in Canada.  Finally, new names (especially personal names) appeared among the Doukhobors after 1905 which did not occur previously either in Russia or Canada.

From a cultural perspective, the small pool of personal names and surnames may be explained, at least in part, by the small founding population of Doukhobors at the end of the eighteenth century; the Doukhobor practice of name repetition from generation to generation; and the geocultural isolation of the Doukhobors, from the late eighteenth century onwards, from external Russian naming influences.  Within these pools, the trend towards uniformity in names and naming patterns may be reflective of a broader pattern of sectarian development.


  • Lapshinoff, Steve, List of Doukhobors Living in Saskatchewan in 1905 (Crescent Valley: self-published, 1996).
  • Library and Archives Canada, Immigration Branch, Central Registry Files, Doukhobor Village Files (RG 76, Volumes 183 to 185, Parts 1 to 14) Microfilm Reel Nos. C-7337 to C-7341.
  • Petrovskii, N.A., Slovar Russkikh Lichnikh Imen (Moscow, 1968).
  • Unbegaun, B.O., Russian Surnames (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972).

This article was reproduced by permission in Onomastica Canadiana (Canadian Society for the Study of Names: December 2007, Volume 89, Number 2). Read article in journal format.

Read a distribution study by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff of Doukhobor surnames that appear in the 1905 census and search by surname or search by village.

Frequency of Men’s Names

Frequency of Women’s Names

Frequency of Surnames

Surname-Village Index for the 1905 Doukhobor Census

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The geographic distribution of a surname can tell you a lot about your family history. The following index is of Doukhobor surnames that appear in the 1905 Doukhobor Village Census in Saskatchewan. Search alphabetically by surname to find the villages in which the surname occurred in 1905. Then follow the instructions at the bottom of this page to consult the full extracted data from the census. See the Village-Surname Index to search geographically by village.


– A –

Novo-Kamenka, Trudolyubovoye.

Blagoveshcheniye, Malaya Gorelovka, Moiseyevo, Novoye.

Pokrovka, Semenovo, Terpeniye (SA), Truzhdeniye, Uspeniye (N).

Novo-Kamenka, Novo-Lebedevo, Osvobozhdeniye.

Khlebodarnoye, Lyubovnoye, Staro-Kamenka, Vozneseniye.

– B –


Gromovoye, Spasovka (S), Spasovka (SA).

Bogomdannoye, Osvobozhdeniye, Pokrovskoye, Prokuratovo.

Pozirayevka, Slavnoye, Sovetnoye, Vera.

Efremovka, Kirilovka (GS), Prokuratovo, Tambovka (S), Troitskoye (N), Trudolyubovoye, Vozvysheniye.


Kalmakovo, Petrovo, Staro-Rodionovka, Terpeniye (S), Trudolyubovoye.

Terpeniye (S), Troitskoye (N), Trudolyubovoye, Vozneseniye.

Blagodarnoye, Prokuratovo, Tikhomirnoye,

Petrovka, Uspeniye (N),

Novo-Kamenka, Truzhdeniye, Vernoye,

Staro-Terpeniye, Tambovka (S), Troitskoye (N),

Bogomdannoye, Lyubomirnoye, Osvobozhdeniye, Spasovka (SA), Tikhomirnoye, Vera,

Blagodarnoye, Nadezhda, Novo-Kamenka, Perekhodnoye, Pokrovka, Slavyanka, Staro-Kamenka, Staro-Terpeniye, Tambovka (S), Terpeniye (S), Truzhdeniye, Vozvysheniye,

Perekhodnoye, Sovetnoye, Terpeniye (SA), Uspeniye (SA), Utesheniye, Vernoye,

Petrovka, Pokrovka, Staro-Terpeniye, Terpeniye (S),

– Ch –


Blagosklonnoye, Bogomdannoye, Lyubomirnoye, Novo-Lebedevo, Pokrovskoye, Semenovo, Spasovka (S), Staro-Lebedevo, Tikhomirnoye,

Kapustino, Lyubomirnoye, Novoye, Perekhodnoye, Petrovka, Pokrovskoye, Prokuratovo, Smireniye, Sovetnoye, Spasovka (S), Spasovka (SA), Staro-Lebedevo, Terpeniye (SA), Vernoye,

South Colongy Village
Doukhobor village near Veregin, Saskatchean, c. 1911.   Library and Archives Canada – C-057053.

Blagoveshcheniye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Efremovka, Kalmakovo, Mikhailovka, Novoye, Uspeniye (N), Voskriseniye,


Prokuratovo, Trudolyubovoye,

Blagodarnoye, Gromovoye, Moiseyevo, Smireniye, Spasovka (S), Tambovka (SA), Trudolyubovoye.

– D –

Otradnoye, Sovetnoye,

Gromovoye, Spasovka (S), Troitskoye (SA).


Gromovoye, Kirilovka (SA), Moiseyevo, Otradnoye, Sovetnoye, Spasovka (SA), Troitskoye (SA).

Kapustino, Kirilovka (GS), Novo-Troitskoye, Slavnoye, Truzhdeniye, Vozvysheniye.

Lyubomirnoye, Semenovo.

Novo-Rodionovka, Semenovo, Vernoye.

Nadezhda, Terpeniye (SA), Vernoye.

Efremovka, Nadezhda, Pavlovo, Tambovka (S), Vera, Voskriseniye.

Mikhailovka, Semenovo.

Khlebodarnoye, Novo-Kamenka, Novo-Lebedevo, Staro-Terpeniye, Terpeniye (S), Vera.


– E –


Troitskoye (N).

Lyubovnoye, Truzhdeniye, Vera.



Arkhangelskoye, Malaya Gorelovka, Pokrovka.

Semenovo, Troitskoye (N), Vossianiye.

– F –

Blagoveshcheniye, Moiseyevo, Pokrovka, Novoye.

Blagosklonnoye, Slavnoye.

Arkhangelskoye, Blagosklonnoye, Blagoveshcheniye, Kapustino, Novo-Goreloye, Novo-Troitskoye, Pavlovo, Verigin, Vernoye.

Perekhodnoye, Semenovo, Sovetnoye, Terpeniye (SA), Uspeniye (N), Vossianiye.

– G –

Tambovka (S), Trudolyubovoye.


Blagodarnoye, Lyubovnoye, Vossianiye.


Bogomdannoye, Tikhomirnoye.

Bogomdannoye, Novo-Lebedevo, Osvobozhdeniye, Terpeniye (S), Tikhomirnoye, Uspeniye (N).

– H –

Lyubovnoye, Mikhailovka, Semenovo, Staro-Kamenka, Troitskoye (N), Uspeniye (N), Vera, Vossianiye, Vozneseniye.

Prokuratovo, Tikhomirnoye.

Efremovka, Khlebodarnoye, Staro-Goreloye, Truzhdeniye, Voskriseniye.

Novo-Lebedevo, Troitskoye (N), Vernoye.


Khlebodarnoye, Nadezhda, Pavlovo, Pokrovskoye, Verigin.


Besednoye, Blagodarnoye, Blagoveshcheniye, Gromovoye, Novoye, Otradnoye, Pokrovskoye, Spasovka (SA), Troitskoye (SA), Utesheniye.

Blagodarnoye, Blagoveshcheniye, Kirilovka (GS), Nadezhda, Smireniye, Spasovka (S), Staro-Goreloye, Tambovka (S).

Village of Vosnesenya, North Colony, c. 1904.  Library and Archives Canada C-000683.


Gromovoye, Pozirayevka.

Blagoveshcheniye, Bogdanovka, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Slavnoye, Spasovka (SA), Uspeniye (N), Vernoye.

Perekhodnoye, Petrovo, Uspeniye (SA), Vossianiye.

– I –

Perekhodnoye, Terpeniye (SA).

Mikhailovka, Semenovo, Uspeniye (SA).

– K –


Gromovoye, Kapustino, Perekhodnoye, Semenovo, Spasovka (S), Spasovka (SA), Terpeniye (SA), Utesheniye.

Arkhangelskoye, Besednoye, Malaya Gorelovka, Novo-Goreloye, Staro-Goreloye, Trudolyubovoye, Vera, Vozvysheniye.

Slavyanka, Troitskoye (N), Uspeniye (N).

Slavyanka, Terpeniye (SA).


Semenovo, Troitskoye (N), Vera.



Blagodarnoye, Efremovka, Gromovoye, Petrovo, Prokuratovo, Terpeniye (S), Troitskoye (SA), Trudolyubovoye, Truzhdeniye, Vera, Verigin, Voskriseniye.

Kirilovka (SA), Utesheniye.

Blagodarnoye, Khlebodarnoye, Pokrovka, Pokrovskoye, Staro-Bogdanovka, Vernoye, Voskriseniye.


Lyubomirnoye, Lyubovnoye, Moiseyevo, Slavyanka, Troitskoye (N), Troitskoye (SA), Uspeniye (N), Uspeniye (SA).

Spasovka (S).

Kapustino, Otradnoye, Perekhodnoye, Petrovo, Smireniye, Spasovka (SA), Staro-Terpeniye, Terpeniye (S), Troitskoye (N), Uspeniye (SA), Vernoye, Voskriseniye.

Uspeniye (SA), Utesheniye.





Blagodarnoye, Petrovo, Prokuratovo, Semenovo, Tambovka (S), Tikhomirnoye.


Lyubovnoye, Mikhailovka, Novo-Lebedevo, Novo-Rodionovka, Staro-Rodionovka, Truzhdeniye, Vossianiye.



Gromovoye, Pozirayevka.

Perekhodnoye, Petrovka, Terpeniye (SA), Uspeniye (SA).

– L –


Lyubovnoye, Mikhailovka, Novo-Rodionovka, Petrovo, Semenovo, Terpeniye (S), Vera.

Blagoveshcheniye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Kapustino.


Lyubovnoye, Troitskoye (N), Uspeniye (N), Vossianiye.

Kalmakovo, Slavnoye, Staro-Rodionovka, Trudolyubovoye.

Lyubovnoye, Novo-Kamenka, Novo-Rodionovka, Troitskoye (N), Uspeniye (N), Vossianiye.

Bogomdannoye, Novo-Lebedevo, Osvobozhdeniye, Tikhomirnoye.

Petrovka, Tikhomirnoye.

– M –

Nadezhda, Pavlovo, Tikhomirnoye.

Novo-Rodionovka, Trudolyubovoye, Uspeniye (N).

mikhailovka village
Village of Mikhailovka, North Colony, c. 1908.  Library and Archives Canada PA-021116.

Mikhailovka, Voskriseniye.

Gromovoye, Kalmakovo, Petrovo, Smireniye, Staro-Petrovo, Tambovka (SA), Vera.

Bogomdannoye, Lyubomirnoye, Novo-Lebedevo, Osvobozhdeniye, Staro-Lebedevo, Tikhomirnoye, Vozneseniye.

Bolshaya Gorelovka.

Besednoye, Gromovoye, Novo-Troitskoye, Otradnoye, Pokrovskoye, Pozirayevka, Slavnoye, Spasovka (S), Spasovka (SA), Utesheniye.

Bogdanovka, Khlebodarnoye, Mikhailovka, Terpeniye (S), Troitskoye (N), Uspeniye (N).

Kirilovka (SA).

Novo-Lebedevo, Vera.


Tambovka (S), Voskriseniye.

Pokrovskoye, Troitskoye (N).


Lyubovnoye, Novo-Kamenka, Staro-Kamenka, Vossianiye.

Kapustino, Otradnoye.

– N –



Bolshaya Gorelovka, Mikhailovka, Pokrovskoye, Terpeniye (SA), Troitskoye (SA), Utesheniye, Voskriseniye.

Arkhangelskoye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Gromovoye, Kalmakovo, Nadezhda, Novo-Goreloye, Perekhodnoye, Vera, Verigin.

Kirilovka (SA).

Blagoveshcheniye, Kirilovka (GS), Novo-Troitskoye, Spasovka (S), Truzhdeniye, Voskriseniye.

– O –

Kalmakovo, Mikhailovka, Otradnoye, Perekhodnoye, Uspeniye (SA), Vozneseniye.

Kirilovka (GS), Petrovo, Terpeniye (S).

Nadezhda, Pavlovo, Pokrovka, Slavyanka, Sovetnoye, Spasovka (SA), Troitskoye (SA), Vernoye.

Blagoveshcheniye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Kalmakovo, Moiseyevo, Novo-Goreloye.


Arkhangelskoye, Bogdanovka, Kirilovka (SA), Nadezhda, Utesheniye.

– P –




Pozirayevka, Voskriseniye.

south colony village
Doukhobor village near Veregin, Saskatchewan, c. 1911.   Library and Archives Canada PA-038515.

Efremovka, Vossianiye.

Spasovka (SA).

Perekhodnoye, Terpeniye (SA).

Arkhangelskoye, Blagodarnoye, Malaya Gorelovka, Novoye, Novo-Kamenka, Spasovka (SA), Terpeniye (SA).

Arkhangelskoye, Blagosklonnoye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Efremovka, Kapustino, Khlebodarnoye, Kirilovka (SA), Verigin, Vernoye.


Bogomdannoye, Tikhomirnoye.

Nadezhda, Pavlovo, Sovetnoye, Tambovka (S), Trudolyubovoye, Vera.

Arkhangelskoye, Bogdanovka, Novo-Troitskoye.

Blagosklonnoye, Kapustino, Uspeniye (N).

Lyubomirnoye, Novo-Lebedevo, Petrovka, Otradnoye, Sovetnoye, Spasovka (S), Spasovka (SA), Terpeniye (SA).


Besednoye, Blagosklonnoye, Pavlovo.

Blagodarnoye, Trudolyubovoye, Truzhdeniye.

Arkhangelskoye, Besednoye, Blagodarnoye, Bogdanovka, Kirilovka (GS), Lyubomirnoye, Malaya Gorelovka, Moiseyevo, Nadezhda, Novo-Kamenka, Otradnoye, Pavlovo, Petrovka, Petrovo, Pokrovskoye, Pozirayevka, Semenovo, Slavnoye, Spasovka (SA), Sovetnoye, Staro-Kamenka, Staro-Lebedevo, Tambovka (S), Tambovka (SA), Terpeniye (SA), Troitskoye (N), Troitskoye (SA), Uspeniye (N), Uspeniye (SA), Vera, Vernoye, Voskriseniye, Vozneseniye.

Arkhangelskoye, Kirilovka (SA), Petrovka, Slavyanka, Uspeniye (SA).

Novo-Rodionovka, Staro-Kamenka, Staro-Rodionovka, Verigin.

Lyubomirnoye, Pavlovo, Perekhodnoye, Petrovo, Pokrovskoye, Vera.



Blagosklonnoye, Kapustino, Kirilovka (GS), Nadezhda.

– R –


Pokrovskoye, Slavnoye, Vernoye.

Blagodarnoye, Petrovo, Semenovo, Tambovka (S), Terpeniye (S), Vera, Voskriseniye.

Arkhangelskoye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Malaya Gorelovka, Moiseyevo, Petrovo, Smireniye, Spasovka (S), Spasovka (SA), Uspeniye (N).

Bogdanovka, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Kapustino, Mikhailovka, Petrovka, Pokrovka, Verigin, Vozneseniye.

Kirilovka (GS), Lyubovnoye, Petrovo, Tambovka (S), Troitskoye (SA), Vozvysheniye.


– S –


Blagoveshcheniye, Kalmakovo, Otradnoye, Petrovka, Pokrovka, Slavnoye, Smireniye, Terpeniye (S), Uspeniye (SA), Verigin, Vozvysheniye.

Pozirayevka, Smireniye.

Blagoveshcheniye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Kirilovka (GS), Novoye, Novo-Goreloye, Otradnoye.

Doukhobor village gathering, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902.

Novo-Rodionovka, Staro-Rodionovka, Vossianiye.

Lyubomirnoye, Osvobozhdeniye, Tikhomirnoye.

Gromovoye, Novo-Rodionovka, Petrovo, Prokuratovo, Spasovka (SA), Tambovka (S), Tambovka (SA), Verigin.


Gromovoye, Malaya Gorelovka, Novoye, Otradnoye, Spasovka (S).



Staro-Lebedevo, Uspeniye (N).

Efremovka, Kirilovka (GS), Mikhailovka, Moiseyevo, Pokrovka, Pokrovskoye, Tambovka (S), Trudolyubovoye, Vera, Verigin, Vozneseniye.

Bogdanovka, Kirilovka (GS), Novo-Lebedevo.




Bogdanovka, Kirilovka (GS), Novo-Troitskoye, Spasovka (SA), Vernoye.


Troitskoye (N).


Gromovoye, Staro-Bogdanovka, Troitskoye (N), Troitskoye (SA).


Troitskoye (N).



Arkhangelskoye, Blagodarnoye, Bogdanovka, Khlebodarnoye, Moiseyevo, Nadezhda, Novo-Troitskoye, Perekhodnoye, Petrovka, Prokuratovo, Spasovka (S), Trudolyubovoye, Uspeniye (SA), Utesheniye, Vernoye.

Lyubovnoye, Novo-Kamenka, Staro-Kamenka, Tambovka (S), Troitskoye (N).

Efremovka, Kirilovka (SA), Mikhailovka, Pavlovo, Staro-Lebedevo, Terpeniye (S), Voskriseniye.

Gromovoye, Spasovka (SA).

Blagosklonnoye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Lyubomirnoye, Perekhodnoye, Slavyanka, Terpeniye (SA).

Kirilovka (GS), Novo-Troitskoye, Utesheniye, Verigin.

Blagodarnoye, Semenovo, Troitskoye (N), Uspeniye (N), Uspeniye (SA), Vozvysheniye.

Pavlovo, Utesheniye.

Troitskoye (N).

Mikhailovka, Novo-Rodionovka, Sovetnoye, Staro-Rodionovka, Vossianiye.

Kirilovka (GS), Pokrovka, Vozvysheniye.

Petrovka, Uspeniye (N).

– T –


Arkhangelskoye, Bogdanovka, Kirilovka (SA), Osvobozhdeniye, Pokrovka, Slavnoye, Spasovka (S), Spasovka (SA), Uspeniye (N).

Novo-Troitskoye, Semenovo, Tambovka (S), Uspeniye (N).


Novo troitskoe village
Village of Novo-Troitskoye, Good Spirit Lake Annex, c. 1900.  Library and Archives Canada C-008890.

Blagoveshcheniye, Moiseyevo, Novo-Goreloye, Tambovka (SA).

Pokrovskoye, Tambovka (S).


– V –

Osvobozhdeniye, Staro-Lebedevo.

Gromovoye, Kalmakovo, Tambovka (SA).

Bogdanovka, Vera.

Gromovoye, Terpeniye (SA), Troitskoye (SA).

Besednoye, Blagosklonnoye, Blagoveshcheniye, Kapustino, Novoye, Novo-Kamenka, Otradnoye, Prokuratovo, Staro-Kamenka.


Staro-Terpeniye, Voskriseniye.

Efremovka, Khlebodarnoye, Kirilovka (GS), Kirilovka (SA), Novo-Kamenka, Osvobozhdeniye, Pokrovskoye, Smireniye.

– W –

Arkhangelskoye, Petrovka, Pokrovka, Pokrovskoye, Terpeniye (SA).

Blagoveshcheniye, Bolshaya Gorelovka, Kalmakovo, Kirilovka (GS), Kirilovka (SA), Novo-Troitskoye, Osvobozhdeniye, Perekhodnoye, Voskriseniye.

– Z –

Pokrovka, Semenovo, Sovetnoye, Troitskoye (SA).

Nadezhda, Pavlovo, Semenovo, Uspeniye (N).

Osvobozhdeniye, Terpeniye (SA).


Kalmakovo, Malaya Gorelovka, Novo-Rodionovka, Old-Rodionovka, Slavnoye.


Nadezhda, Novoye, Otradnoye, Pavlovo, Terpeniye (SA), Utesheniye.

Kirilovka (SA).

Lyubovnoye, Mikhailovka, Staro-Kamenka, Troitskoye (N), Uspeniye (N).

Terpeniye (S).

Mikhailovka, Vera, Vossianiye.

Pokrovka, Utesheniye.


Doukhobor surnames were not evenly distributed throughout the villages in the 1905 census. They varied from area to area. Many surnames – even common ones – tended to concentrate in some areas rather than others.  At the same time, there was much family movement between villages, so be sure to check the census records for all villages in which the surname occurs.

Where a village name occurs more than once in the census, it is denoted by the first letter of the reserve in which it is located: North Reserve (N); South Reserve (S); Good Spirit Annex (GS); and Saskatchewan Reserve (SA).

Note also that several Doukhobor surnames were either not in use (i.e. Anutushkin, Makaroff, Nadain, etc.) or else did not arrive in Canada (i.e. Belovanoff, Yaschenkoff, Harelkin, etc.) until after 1905, and therefore, they do not appear in this index.

If you have found a surname that you are researching and would like to see the full data from the census, consult the Doukhobor Village Census Index by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff to obtain microfilm copies of the census held by Library and Archives Canada, or else consult the book by Steve Lapshinoff, List of Doukhobors Living in Saskatchewan in 1905 for a transcribed copy of the census.

For a frequency study of Doukhobor surnames, male personal names and female personal names that appear in the 1905 census, see Frequency of Doukhobor Names in Saskatchewan in 1905 by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. 

Village-Surname Index for the 1905 Doukhobor Census

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The geographic distribution of a surname can tell you a lot about your family history. The following index is of Doukhobor surnames that appear in the 1905 Doukhobor Village Census in Saskatchewan. Search geographically by village to find the surnames that occurred in the village in 1905. Then follow the instructions at the bottom of this page to consult the full extracted data from the census. Search alphabetically by surname .

Index – North Colony South Colony Good Spirit Lake AnnexSaskatchewan Colony

North Colony

Fofonoff, Esauloff, Kalmakoff, Negraeff, Ozeroff, Perepelkin, Pereverzeff, Plaxin, Popoff, Postnikoff, Ribalkin, Strelieff, Tarasoff, Wasilenkoff.

Barabanoff, Birukoff, Chernenkoff, Gremakin, Gritchin, Krasnikoff, Legebokoff, Malakoff, Piktin.

Chutskoff, Davidoff, Demosky, Holoboff, Hubanoff, Kabatoff, Kazakoff, Kutnikoff, Makortoff, Maloff, Negraeff, Savenkoff, Semenoff, Sofonoff, Stupnikoff, Vanjoff, Vereshchagin.

North Colony
Click thumbnail to view larger map of reserve.

Arishenkoff, Dutoff, Hancheroff, Hlukoff, Kinakin, Markin, Nazaroff, Pereverzeff, Savitskoff, Shumilin, Strelieff, Voykin, Zarubin.

Birukoff, Chernenkoff, Chernoff, Diachkoff, Kolesnikoff, Malakoff, Podovinnikoff, Popoff, Poznikoff, Saprikin, Shlakoff, Sukeroff.

Cheveldaeff, Dubinin, Gritchin, Hadikin, Ivin, Kuftinoff, Laktin, Makasaeff, Markin, Nechvolodoff, Obedkoff, Ribin, Sherstobitoff, Stuchnoff, Swetlikoff, Zmaeff, Zubkoff.

mikhailovka village
Village of Mikhailovka, North Colony, c. 1908.  Library and Archives Canada PA-021116.

Abrosimoff, Bedinoff, Bludoff, Lebedoff, Mojelsky, Perepelkin, Popoff, Strukoff, Verigin, Voykin.

Argatoff, Chernenkoff, Dutoff, Gritchin, Harshenin, Kuftinoff, Legebokoff, Malakoff, Masloff, Podovinnikoff, Shiloff, Storjeff.

Argatoff, Barabanoff, Birukoff, Gritchin, Legebokoff, Malakoff, Matrosoff, Saprikin, Tarasoff, Vanin, Voykin, Wishloff, Zarikoff.

Dubasoff, Fofonoff, Hlukoff, Mahonin, Osachoff, Planidin, Polovnikoff, Popoff, Poznikoff, Solovaeff, Stuchnoff, Sukovaeff, Zarchikoff, Zibin.

Bludoff, Bondareff, Chernoff, Fominoff, Hulaeff, Ivashin, Kabatoff, Konkin, Kuznetsoff, Negraeff, Obedkoff, Perehudoff, Poznikoff, Strelaeff, Sukeroff, Wishloff.

Babaeff, Barabanoff, Chernenkoff, Chernoff, Hlukoff, Holoboff, Kinakin, Kurbatoff, Maloff, Miroshnikoff, Nechvolodoff, Popoff, Poznikoff, Repin, Sherstobitoff, Trofimenkoff, Voykin, Wasilenkoff.

Antifaeff, Chernenkoff, Diachkoff, Diakoff, Dubinin, Efanoff, Evdokimoff, Fominoff, Hadikin, Ivin, Kabatoff, Kastrukoff, Kolasoff, Kuchin, Laktin, Popoff, Rezansoff, Sukorukoff, Terekoff, Zaitsoff, Zarchikoff.

Kinakin, Sofonoff.

Arishenkoff, Bludoff, Glaskoff, Hadikin, Mojelsky, Popoff, Potapoff, Prokopenkoff, Strukoff, Verigin, Zmaeff.

Chernenkoff, Chernoff, Malakoff, Popoff, Sherbinin, Slastukin, Stuchnoff, Vanin.

Baulin, Birukoff, Chernenkoff, Chikmaroff, Gremakin, Gritchin, Halisheff, Kotoff, Kuchin, Legebokoff, Lukianoff, Mahonin, Malakoff, Pankoff, Piktin, Saprikin.

Barisoff, Baturin, Bikanoff, Egoroff, Evdokimoff, Hadikin, Harshenin, Kanigin, Kastrukoff, Kolesnikoff, Konkin, Lebedeff, Lavrenchenkoff, Markin, Miroshnikoff, Popoff, Shustoff, Sofonoff, Sopoff, Strukoff, Sukorukoff, Susoeff, Zmaeff.

Antifaeff, Bayoff, Cheveldaeff, Fominoff, Gritchin, Hadikin, Hudikoff, Kanigin, Kolesnikoff, Lavrenchenkoff, Lebedeff, Makaeff, Markin, Plotnikoff, Popoff, Ribalkin, Sherbinin, Sukorukoff, Swetlisheff, Tarasoff, Terekoff, Zarchikoff, Zmaeff.

Barisenkoff, Birukoff, Dubasoff, Dutoff, Elasoff, Hadikin, Kalmakoff, Kastrukoff, Katasonoff, Kazakoff, Kudrin, Laktin, Makortoff, Masloff, Negraeff, Planidin, Popoff, Poznikoff, Rezansoff, Sherstobitoff, Vatkin, Zubkoff.

Village of Voznesenie, North Colony, c. 1904.  Library and Archives Canada C-000683.

Arishenkoff, Baturin, Hadikin, Larin, Malakoff, Obedkoff, Popoff, Ribin, Sherstobitoff, Zibaroff.

South Colony

Holoboff, Kalmakoff, Maloff, Polovnikoff, Popoff, Shishkin, Verigin.

Baulin, Bludoff, Chutskoff, Gleboff, Holoboff, Horkoff, Kazakoff, Kinakin, Kuchin, Perepelkin, Ponomaroff, Popoff, Remezoff, Rezansoff, Strelieff, Sukorukoff, Taranoff.

Androsoff, Cheveldaeff, Fedosoff, Fofonoff, Gnezdiloff, Holoboff, Horkoff, Hudikoff, Lapshinoff, Novokshonoff, Ostaforoff, Salikin, Samorodin, Tomilin, Trubitsin, Verigin, Wishloff.

south colony
Click thumbnail to view larger map of reserve.

Barisoff, Cheveldaeff, Dubasoff, Hancheroff, Hohlin, Kazakoff, Krigin, Parkin, Pereverzeff, Pramorukoff, Sherstobitoff, Stuchnoff, Voykin.

Chernoff, Dergousoff, Fofonoff, Kabatoff, Konkin, Lapshinoff, Morozoff, Pereverzeff, Plotnikoff, Pugachoff, Ribin, Verigin.

Arishenkoff, Elasoff, Gleboff, Hadikin, Kolesnikoff, Kuftinoff, Lavrenchenkoff, Laktin, Lebedoff, Mojelsky, Rilkoff, Rozinkin, Strukoff, Zmaeff.

Bludoff, Dorofaeff, Dubasoff, Horkoff, Hlukoff, Mahonin, Negraeff, Osachoff, Ozeroff, Planidin, Popoff, Pugachoff, Sadkoff, Strelieff, Zarchikoff, Zibin.

Androsoff, Chernoff, Cheveldaeff, Fedosoff, Holoboff, Perepelkin, Samorodin, Semenoff, Verigin, Zibin.

Diakoff, Kuftinoff, Labinsoff, Laktin, Lebedeff, Makaeff, Potapoff, Samsonoff, Savenkoff, Swetlikoff, Zbitnoff.

Danshin, Demosky, Holoboff, Konkin, Maloff, Morozoff, Obedkoff, Podovinnikoff, Popoff, Salikin, Samorodin, Semenoff, Sherbakoff, Verigin, Zibin.

Bartsoff, Cherkashoff, Dvortsoff, Hulaeff, Kazakoff, Konkin, Kuchin, Laktin, Makortoff, Ogloff, Popoff, Poznikoff, Rezansoff, Ribalkin, Rilkoff, Savenkoff, Sotnikoff.

south colony
Doukhobor village near Veregin, Saskatchewan, c. 1911. Library and Archives Canada C-057053.

Barabanoff, Barisoff, Baulin, Chernoff, Chursinoff, Halishoff, Kazakoff, Kuchin, Nahornoff, Savenkoff, Shkuratoff, Strelieff, Verigin.

Barisenkoff, Dergousoff, Filipoff, Hudikoff, Lazareff, Maloff, Panferkoff, Popoff, Repin, Salikin, Tarasoff, Zbitnoff.

Chernoff, Chutskoff, Horkoff, Konkin, Makortoff, Ribalkin, Salikin, Samoiloff, Voykin.

Barisenkoff, Bondareff, Chernoff, Danshin, Demosky, Fominoff, Hrushkin, Osachoff, Planidin, Podovinnikoff, Popoff, Swetlikoff, Zaitsoff.

Babakaeff, Chernenkoff, Chernoff, Chutskoff, Davidoff, Horkoff, Kabatoff, Kolodinin, Maloff, Novokshonoff, Podovinnikoff, Ribalkin, Semenoff, Strelieff, Tarasoff.


Bartsoff, Kuftinoff, Lazareff, Potapoff, Samsonoff, Swetlikoff, Vlasoff, Zbitnoff.

Bikanoff, Bludoff, Bulanoff, Dutoff, Konkin, Vorobieff.

Barisoff, Bikanoff, Bludoff, Dubasoff, Glagoleff, Horkoff, Kuchin, Medvedeff, Planidin, Popoff, Rezansoff, Rilkoff, Savenkoff, Sherstobitoff, Strukoff, Terekoff, Trofimenkoff.

Bartsoff, Baturin, Bludoff, Bulanoff, Dutoff, Gritchin, Kazakoff, Konkin, Laktin, Markin, Ogloff, Rezansoff, Salikin, Stuchnoff, Zubenkoff.

Abrosimoff, Barisoff, Bartsoff, Baturin, Chursinoff, Chutskoff, Glagoleff, Kalmakoff, Kazakoff, Kurenoff, Lazareff, Makaeff, Planidin, Ponomaroff, Sherstobitoff, Strelieff.

Antifaeff, Bedinoff, Bludoff, Demenoff, Dergousoff, Elasoff, Hancheroff, Kazakoff, Kuftinoff, Novokshonoff, Ponomaroff.

Fofonoff, Hlukoff, Kazakoff, Negraeff, Pereverzeff, Potapoff, Ribin, Salikin, Savenkoff, Sherstobitoff, Sukocheff.

south colony village
Doukhobor village near Veregin, Saskatchean, c. 1911.   Library and Archives Canada PA-038515.

Bedinoff, Bondareff, Chernoff, Diakoff, Dorofaeff, Fofonoff, Harshenin, Hudikoff, Kinakin, Konkin, Osachoff, Pereverzeff, Pohozoff, Popoff, Repin, Shukin, Strelieff.

Cheveldaeff, Dubasoff, Hancheroff, Kazakoff, Kinakin, Konkin, Makasaeff, Medvedeff, Nechvolodoff, Novokshonoff, Parakin, Popoff, Rezansoff, Shekinoff, Stuchnoff, Tikonoff, Vorobioff, Wishloff.

Evdokimoff, Fominoff, Gleboff, Hadikin, Herasimoff, Hulioff, Kuftinoff, Lavrenchenkoff, Lebedoff, Mojelsky, Ostrikoff, Parkin, Samsonoff, Swetlikoff, Zubkoff.

Barisoff, Bludoff, Dergousoff, Kalmakoff, Rilkoff, Salikin, Sukorukoff, Swetlishnoff.

Good Spirit Lake Annex

Chernenkoff, Filipoff, Fofonoff, Krukoff, Pereverzeff, Polovnikoff, Plotnikoff, Pugachoff, Sukeroff, Verigin.

Barsoff, Cheveldaeff, Lazareff, Makortoff, Negraeff, Obedkoff, Ostaforoff, Salikin, Vanjoff, Wishloff, Zbitnoff.

Barisoff, Dergousoff, Novokshonoff, Ogloff, Popoff, Pugachoff, Rilkoff, Samorodin, Sherstobitoff, Shiloff, Shukin, Sukocheff, Swetlishnoff, Voykin, Wishloff.

small annex
Click thumbnail to view larger map of reserve.

Androsoff, Chutskoff, Demosky, Fedosoff, Kolesnikoff, Maloff, Ostaforoff, Popoff, Ribalkin, Sherstobitoff, Strelieff, Tomilin.

Barowsky, Fofonoff, Kalmakoff, Negraeff, Ostaforoff, Samorodin, Tomilin.

Dergousoff, Fofonoff, Maloff, Novokshonoff, Plaxin, Shukin, Strelieff, Sukocheff, Terekoff, Wishloff.

novotroitskoe village
Village of Novo-Troitskoe, Good Spirit Lake Annex, c. 1900.  Library and Archives Canada C-008890.


Hancheroff, Horkoff, Kalmakoff.

Bondareff, Eletsky, Holoboff, Kabatoff, Kerieff, Kotelnikoff, Maloff, Nechvolodoff, Ozeroff, Petroff, Strelieff, Sukocheff, Sukovieff, Zibin, Zuravloff.

Saskatchewan Colony

Hudikoff, Kavaloff, Markin, Ozeroff, Plaxin, Popoff, Ribin, Shiloff, Shukin, Strelieff, Tarasoff, Vatkin.

Bolshaya Gorelovka
Cheveldaeff, Hudikoff, Lapshinoff, Malikoff, Nechvolodoff, Negraeff, Pereverzeff, Ribalkin, Ribin, Samorodin, Sukeroff, Sukorukoff, Wishloff.

Demosky, Kerieff, Markoff, Nemanikin, Ozeroff, Pereverzeff, Postnikoff, Stuchnoff, Tarasoff, Voykin, Wishloff, Zivotkoff.

saskatchewan colony
Click thumbnail to view larger map of reserve.

Malaya Gorelovka
Androsoff, Esauloff, Kalmakoff, Perepelkin, Popoff, Ribalkin, Semenoff, Zbitnoff.

Bayoff, Bulanoff, Chernoff, Efanoff, Esakin, Kuznetsoff, Lukianoff, Padowsky, Podovinnikoff, Popoff, Postnikoff, Ribin, Strelieff, Swetlisheff, Wasilenkoff.

Antifaeff, Bludoff, Bulanoff, Esauloff, Fedosoff, Kinakin, Mitin, Osachoff, Ribin, Salikin, Sherstobitoff, Swetlishnoff, Tarasoff, Wasilenkoff, Zaitsoff, Zuravloff.

Barisenkoff, Hubanoff, Kutnikoff, Maloff, Parakin, Popoff, Samoiloff.

Bludoff, Kabaroff, Kanigin, Karaloff, Kolesnikoff, Osachoff, Postnikoff, Sukeroff.

Babakaeff, Birukoff, Chernoff, Demosky, Holoboff, Hudikoff, Kabatoff, Konkin, Maloff, Osachoff, Pepin, Perepelkin, Podovinnikoff, Popoff, Ribalkin, Savenkoff, Shukin, Stupnikoff, Tarasoff.

Spasovka village gathering, c. 1902.

Chutskoff, Makortoff, Popoff, Savenkoff, Tomilin, Vanjoff.

Antifaeff, Bondareff, Chernoff, Dorofaeff, Fominoff, Ivashin, Kabatoff, Karaloff, Kuznetsoff, Nechvolodoff, Podovinnikoff, Perehudoff, Perepelkin, Popoff, Sukeroff, Vereshchagin, Wasilenkoff, Zarikoff, Zibin.

Davidoff, Demosky, Holoboff, Kasahoff, Kolesnikoff, Nechvolodoff, Osachoff, Popoff, Rilkoff, Sofonoff, Vereshchagin, Zaitsoff.

Bondareff, Hulioff, Ivin, Kolesnikoff, Konkin, Kotelnikoff, Kuznetsoff, Obedkoff, Popoff, Postnikoff, Salikin, Strelieff, Sukorukoff.


Doukhobor surnames were not evenly distributed throughout the villages in the 1905 census. They varied from area to area. Many surnames – even common ones – tended to concentrate in some areas rather than others.  At the same time, there was much family movement between villages, so be sure to check the census records for all villages in which the surname occurs.

Where a village name occurs more than once in the census, it is denoted by the first letter of the reserve in which it is located: North Reserve (N); South Reserve (S); Good Spirit Annex (GS); and Saskatchewan Reserve (SA).

Note also that several Doukhobor surnames were either not in use (i.e. Anutushkin, Makaroff, Nadain, etc.) or else did not arrive in Canada (i.e. Belovanoff, Yaschenkoff, Harelkin, etc.) until after 1905, and therefore, they do not appear in this index.

If you have found a surname that you are researching and would like to see the full data from the census, consult the Doukhobor Village Census Index by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff to obtain microfilm copies of the census held by Library and Archives Canada, or else consult the book by Steve Lapshinoff, List of Doukhobors Living in Saskatchewan in 1905 for a transcribed copy of the census.

For a frequency study of Doukhobor surnames, male personal names and female personal names that appear in the 1905 census, see Frequency of Doukhobor Names in Saskatchewan in 1905 by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. 

This index was reproduced by permission in the Bulletin Vol. 39 No. 3 (Regina: Saskatchewan Genealogical Society, September 2008).

Trek of the Doukhobors

by Betty Ward

The story of how four large groups of Doukhobors were handed across Canada by train from district to district in 1899 is a mission the details of whose drama has never been fully appreciated. It necessitated a monumental piece of fast organizing and is told in remarkable detail in the records of the Immigration Branch of the Department of the Interior. The following article by Betty Ward, reproduced by permission from Saskatchewan History (34, 1981, No. 1) outlines the frantic work of immigration officials to order supplies, fight red tape, inclement weather and inadequate shelter buildings during the months the Doukhobors were arriving. Despite these challenges, and an occasional loss of tempers from time to time, the immigration officials got the Doukhobors to the Canadian Prairies intact. 

The immigration policy of the Canadian government from 1882 to 1899 was to give to booking agents of steamship companies, or local agents in small towns, a bonus of one English pound for each adult ticket sold in Europe, $1.75 in Great Britain and Ireland, and half that for “half-tickets” – presumably children. The bonuses were given as an incentive to sell more tickets. The Canadian Government had not employed any immigration agents on the Continent, so booking agents were paid “a sufficient amount to encourage [them] to … act as agents for this country.”

When the Doukhobors came, the English Society of Friends had chartered the ships, no tickets had been issued, so no booking agents’ fees were involved. Because of this, an arrangement was made that the government would pay to a committee appointed in Winnipeg, one pound for each person, and this money would be held as a credit that could be used on the Doukhobors’ behalf when necessary.

They came, exhausted and fearful after four years of hounding and persecution from the Russian government because of their refusal to bear arms. They came as fast as they were able and before the Russian government could change its mind about letting them go, to a Canadian winter of “unprecedented cold.” Only a fraction of those who came had any means. The rest fled Russia with blind trust that nothing they might encounter in a foreign country could possibly be as bad as what they had endured in their own. They received financial assistance from the Friends (Quakers), concerned humanitarians like Leo Tolstoi, who donated royalties from his last book Resurrection to their cause, and his son, who came with them at least as far as Winnipeg, and the Canadian government, as well as private donations from many other compassionate and concerned individuals and groups, in England, Canada and the United States.

First party of Doukhobors a day’s journey from Yorkton. Library and Archives Canada C-000684.

Beginning in late January 1899 the groups landed in Halifax, Saint John, and Quebec. Interpreters were sent from Winnipeg to meet them. Chief among them was Philip Harvey. Harvey made only the first trip, and then remained at East Selkirk to supervise incoming trains. Five other interpreters shuttled back and forth across the continent at a time when travel was neither easy nor taken for granted, assisted the Doukhobors from ship to train, saw they had what they needed and understood what was happening to them, and helped at each point to divide up and load the consignments of food. They talked, listened and worked endlessly.

Six days travel from Winnipeg to Halifax. It’s interesting to read, too, that in 1899, $20 was considered sufficient for each interpreter’s expenses, plus $2.50 a day for meals.

W. F. McCreary, Commissioner of Immigration at Winnipeg, and Frank Pedley, Superintendent of Immigration, Ottawa, and their deputies, wrote countless letters during the months the Doukhobors were arriving. They scrambled to order supplies, fought red tape, frightful weather and inadequate shelter buildings, tore their collective hair, and in a gentlemanly way lost their tempers from time to time. But they got the Doukhobors to Western Canada intact.

The first letter after the first group of Doukhobors arrived was a long and detailed one from McCreary to James Smart, Deputy Minister, Department of the Interior, in Ottawa, dated February 9, 1899. McCreary’s secretary was ill, he was behind in his correspondence, working overtime and in haste. His letter shows it but tells its own story best, mistakes and all.

… in the memory of the oldest inhabitant, there has not been a more prolonged stretch of extremely cold weather, than we have had for the last two or three weeks. This morning, at nine o’clock, when I came down, the thermometer stood at forty four. [below zero, Fahrenheit] Last night, during the fire in the “Manitoba”, it stood about fifty one, and it has been running from thirty-five to forty-five, with a keen wind, for many weeks. You can readily imagine, as an old resident, what that means.

These Doukhobors have hard leather boots with a piece of balnket [sic] about the foot, and no socks. The women also, have only a half slipper with leather soles. They have not mits [sic] whatever, or, at least, very few, so that the work of getting them out to the colonies has been stationary.

Yorkton Shed is, I believe, ready, but I have not even been able to send the people from Dufferin School there, because I could not risk loading the children on the trains in such weather. It will surely, however, moderate when the new moon comes in on Friday, so that I will possibly get them out on Saturday or Sunday. As I must have this building for the Superior people. [Doukhobors coming on the Lake Superior]

I have heard from the gang of ten men whom I sent out to the White Sand Colony; [Canora area] they are getting along fairly well, but sadly hampered by cold weather, they were also some time finding timber, but have secured some now on the Hansack. [Kamsack?] They have built three houses 24 x 24 already, so that fifty or sixty Doukhobor men can be sent either there as well as to the camp at Thunder Hill, just as soon as the weather moderates.

I have a car of flour at Yorkton and the same at Cowan as well as other supplies. I have at each place five teams of horses and three of oxen. I tried to engage teamsters at Yorkton to exercise these horses taking out the flour, but Crerar wires me tonight that he cannot get a man, even for big pay to face the cold.

Certainly Providence intervened in preventing the “Superior” people from coming up here, for I believe, had they been forwarded, they would have had to remain on the cars or would have perished. …

I deem this explanation of the weather necessary, in order that both you and Mr. Pedley, may understand thoroughly why more progress has not been made in getting the people forward. In fact, I have been urging such incessantly but Prince Hilkoff will not hear of the people being forced out in this weather.

I have loaded a car of supplies here, and will ship it to end of Dauphin track Monday night, taking fifty men from Dauphin Shed. I have bought fifty pairs of heavy rubber boots, one hundred pairs of socks, fifty pairs of mits, and fifty pairs blankets…

The original intention seems to have been to settle the Doukhobors in Manitoba, which by that time was a well-organized province with schools, courts of law and other provincial institutions. In this regard, “When I learned that Hubbell was at the end of the Dauphin track,” Mr. McCreary’s letter continued,

I wired him to come down to meet Prince Hilkoff, as we wished to discuss Range 29 (in Manitoba), as I was having considerable difficulty over this matter … the Prince, after consulting with the Doukhobors has agreed to release this Range and will afterward select other three Townships … further west on the Saskatchewan.

… either the Prince or Sulerjitzky will go out with the deputation to select the villages, though, I imagine, for this winter at least, the houses will have to be erected wherever timber is found, and they can move the logs afterward to the village sites.

Now in regard to the East Selkirk Round House being ready, matters are not working very smoothly and have not from the first, for reasons which I need not explain here. I sent thirty Doukhobors down yesterday morning and wished Mr. Smith to go down with them, but so far he has not done so. I cannot possibly get away, and besides as the work is under his supervision, I could not give advice in the matter. I imagine these Doukhobors will be able to complete the building by Monday or Tuesday next, all except the roof, which Smith refused to repair, or, at least, says it cannot be done in the winter. I believe that, unless it is covered outside, or the building is plastered, or tar paper put on inside all the heat will escape through the roof and it will be impossible to heat it. We are going, however, to start all the caldrons and other stoves going and try it next week before the people come. I intend doing down on Saturday night to look over the situation there.

I presume that if these people leave [Halifax] on the 17th they will be here about the 22nd, so that we will have the work completed by that time.

Now in regard to supplies. There seems to be some hitch in the financial arrangements. From your letters I understand that the credit by the government was to be supplemented by contributions from various sources, including the Doukhobors themselves, Quakers and so forth, but so far they have not materialized. I discussed it with Prince Hilkoff tonight, and he himself is disappointed, he tells me that the money which they expected to be sent here, has to be used in paying transportation for the ‘Lake Superior’ party, which the Quakers refused to pay although they had promised. It would appear … the Government will either have to loan or guarantee a loan of seventy-five or one hundred thousand dollars to help these people out. …

Now I will send you a rough estimate of what, in my opinion will be required to feed these people, that is four thousand from now to the end of July, that will be five months…

Since fresh vegetables could not be shipped to the colonies in winter, McCreary suggested that the chief diet consist of bread, rice, barley, butter, sugar, tea, cheese, molasses, rolled oats, salt, “peper” [sic], and citric acid, “to sour their soup”. Meat was not needed as the Doukhobors were vegetarians. Their pacifist beliefs extended to the killing of any living creature, on the grounds that it was “brutalizing to the senses” as well as morally wrong. The list of foods was subject to change in different places, but it was not until they ran into trouble over some groups complaining that others were getting more variety that McCreary decided on a standard food list for all. Even at that he was sometimes over-ridden in the selections provided.

Doukhobors of the Thunder Hill Colony moving supplies from Yorkton to their villages. Library and Archives Canada C-005209.

His letter of February 9 goes on to list the staggering quantities of food that would be required, the household effects, the costs of each, plus freight costs. He figured out how much would be needed for each of thirteen different items and this is how he did it:

Each soul here is now consuming one loaf of bread per day, and this with a copious supply of vegetables, but putting one loaf as the quantity for each soul, and supposing each sack of flour will make sixty loaves of bread, … it would figure out this way, one sack of flour would feed two Doukhobors for one month … for five months, 4,000 Doukhobors require 10,000 sacks of flour. These 10,000 sacks of flour at $1.50 would mean $15,000.

He worked out each item in the same way until he came to the question of vegetables, at which point he threw in the sponge.

… It is useless to figure out these items, as, in my opinion we cannot buy them in [until] the spring but we could not freight them out [anyway]. But for the quantity we may have left on hand after feeding the people all winter, over and above what is required for seed, I think we can safely put down for this item $3,000.

This disposes of the whole supplies, although as you will notice I have not included cheese which we may have to buy, and many other items to be settled afterwards. This does not include all cooking utensils, stoves, hardware required for the buildings, such as sash and nails, farming tools, axes, hoes, farming machinery, such as mowers, rakes, plows, harrows, waggons, sleighs and so forth. Nor does it include the very large item for freighting all these goods over stiff trails to the colonies, nor the purchase of cows, clothing and so forth. I will endeavour to figure these out on a business basis and send you a copy, although it will be difficult to do so at the present time, as I pointed out before to Prince Hilkoff has not materialized the large amount of money that will be required, even to keep these people from actual starvation during the spring months. I told him to day, that there was one month last year, when every bridge in the Dauphin district was swept away, and close neibours [sic] were unable to get from [one] place to the other. The snow is now pretty deep up there and, at the Thunder Hill especially, we may expect just such a state of affairs so that a large quantity of these goods should be in there before the frost goes out, or I would not like to predict the result.

February 11, two days after his first long letter, McCreary, still labouring away without his secretary, wrote again to Pedley in Ottawa.

…I understand you have about two thousand people there, and my present idea is that you should send four trains containing about six or seven hundred people to East Selkirk, and a smaller train with from three to three hundred and fifty people, to the Dufferin School, Winnipeg, now occupied by those intended for Yorkton, who will go out on Monday or Tuesday, if we can get the temperature above forty five below, where it has been standing practically for the last three weeks. I may mention, in this connection, that these people are poorly clad for a cold climate — some of them froze their toes even sawing wood in the yard, and are laid up. I had to buy nearly two hundred pairs of moccasins, four hundred pairs of socks, and other warm clothing for the men that I am sending out to the colonies…

In regard to utensils, I presume you will have to buy some to replace those kept here. I think it should be arranged that these people should keep the utensils you buy for use on the train, as they will require them in East Selkirk. The only utensils they use here, where we have six hundred, are about twenty-four ordinary knives for peeling potatoes, many of which they have; a number of table spoons, and of these they have quite a lot made of wood; heavy iron pails for carrying up the soup and tin milk cans in which to place the soup, seven or eight people eat the soup out of one tin. The bread is also put in these tin dishes; forks they do not use at all, neither tin plates.

Owing to some of the Doukhobors at other points, getting food different from what they have here, they are making a rule that all should be fed the same – cheese is going to be cut off, as well as mollasses [sic], and fish, of which they are using some at Brandon and Portage. The regular diet is going to be potatoes, bread, cabbage where available, or if not, turnips or carrots, tea and sugar. As a substitute for vegetables, which we cannot get to the colonies, they will likely have to use cracked wheat, barley, rice or rolled oats, although they do not take kindly to porridge. Onions, of course, will be supplied to them, as well, but we cannot, I fear, get them out to the colonies, and of course they have to be imported from the south and are a little expensive.

But Frank Pedley had his own ideas. On February 15, 1889 Pedley sent off a note to R. E. Jamieson, a food merchant in Ottawa, as follows:

… the second party of Doukhobors … will … reach here next Monday or Tuesday and I would be glad if you would have the following provisions delivered at the Station here to be taken on board the several trains on arrival, the prices to be similar to those charged in connection with the provisioning of the first party: 7,500 loaves bread. 1,750 Ibs cheese. 75 Ibs tea. 160 gallons milk. 100 Ibs salt.

You will be wired when the trains leave St. John so that you will be able to judge when they will arrive in Ottawa. If any additional supplies are required you will be telegraphed to that effect.

The matter of where the Doukhobors would be settled seems to have been resolved. The only reference to it is in a letter from McCreary (sounding a bit tired and impatient by this time) to Pedley, dated May 25, 1899, when weather was no longer a problem.

Please let me know either by letter or by wire … what day you expect the Doukhobors to arrive, and will they all arrive at or about the same time, at Halifax or Quebec?

As already advised, I have purchased a large tent, 80 x 130, which I intended forwarding to Yorkton, but since Prince Khilkoff has an idea of starting a new colony up the Saskatchewan, I have held the tent here as, or course, it would not do to pull the people out to Yorkton if they were going up that line.

My intention now is to try and get rid of the 1400 Galicians who arrive tonight and who will be placed in the Round House for a time, before the Doukhobors will arrive, pitch the big tent down at Selkirk and if it is necessary to hold them over, place the entire party there. This tent will, I imagine, hold about a thousand, the Round House 1600, and, of course, if necessary, we could put three or four hundred at Portage la Prairie. …

The first year was difficult for any settler, as it was not possible to go onto uncleared prairie and turn it into a profitable farm at once. Most of the men worked for the railway, to get some cash income; and in the case of the Doukhobors the women put in the gardens, in some cases pulling the ploughs themselves, as they had no oxen or horses that first year. Those who needed help through the next winter got it from the government. When the Doukhobor men were settled into working for the railway, Mr. J. Niblock, Superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Moose Jaw wrote to Mr. McCreary on June 30 forwarding a copy of the report made to him by J. Armstrong, Roadmaster, on June 29, 1899. The roadmaster’s report said in part:

The Doukhobors are giving very good satisfaction. … are doing very well and are improving … where you can keep them together and not mix them with other men. … our greatest trouble is taking care of them, keeping them from getting pinched or jerked off the cars when moving, or hurt with slides when at work in the cuts.

By August 1899 only a handful of Doukhobors were still at Selkirk waiting for their accommodations at the new settlements on the Saskatchewan River near what is now the Borden district, and one near Duck Lake. By that time most of the villages were built and their occupants “well pleased with the country and in good spirits now.”

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

Thomas Copland, the Land Agent in Saskatoon at that time, wrote to McCreary August 26:

I have wired you re Doukhobors and location of three Villages … we had a stirring time for a few days owing to a commotion among themselves through the drawing of lots for the first location, disappointing some of them. This is all got over now and so far has resulted in good as it [before that] had seemed impossible to get them to consent to less than 75 families in the large Village,, now that is divided into two, making a selection of lands near to each village more practicable and I would not be surprised if a fourth village branches out yet. If so all the better.

The rains have been very heavy and the Rivers are in high flood, – you will therefore not wonder if running of lines takes a little longer than expected. Mr. Batter will have returned to make his own report. He was very useful. Mr. Schultz is as you said, very good with a compass, needs setting right very seldom.

The first village located wishes to know the best terms the Government will give them for the North West ¼ of Section 19-39-7 – and exact acreage. I presume 160 acres. This is required for water, there are at least 2 good springs on it.

I have also to request that you will obtain the approval of the Department for my action in allowing them to have the homesteads on the west of Tshp. 39 Rg. 7 – viz: one ¼ of Sec. 30. – all of 20 – 18 – and 6 -. Being on the spot and seeing the necessity of adding these to the first village. … A full list of names with homesteads allotted to each, will be sent you as soon as possible.

Those men who have come into this Colony from Yorkton, are delighted.

McCreary passed along this information to Pedley in Ottawa in a letter dated September 1.

You will observe that he [Mr. Copland] is making very satisfactory arrangements, and I think, while this will be a very small colony, they will get along all right. …

… Mr. Morrison … whom I have had for the last month at Duck Lake locating the large colony on the north side of the Saskatchewan returned this morning … They succeeded in getting most of the people across the River and about one half of their baggage, when the ferry broke away with the high water, and as but little could be done at present to complete the work, they returned.

There has been a great deal of trouble with these people; … each one wanting the same quarter-section, and the only way it could be settled was by drawing lots, and even then come of them would not abide by the land given them in this way – so that Mr. Morrison had to use a great deaf of diplomacy to get them settled at all.

It is difficult at present to state when the ferry will be replaced, as I understand the cable is buried in eight or ten feet of sand, and it will be useless for me to make a definite report until the matter has been finally adjusted…

In his yearly Report dated December 31, 1899, the Winnipeg Commissioner, W. F. McCreary said nothing at all of the turmoil involved in moving the Doukhobors across Canada, dismissing the difficulties by saying merely, “Public sympathy and attention have been so largely attracted by the settlement of this people … that little need be said … save as to their settlement.”

McCreary said the first group of 2,078 “souls” arrived January 27, 1899, followed by 1,973 in February; in May, 1,136 came, and July saw 2,335. Four more arrived in September and one in December. But his times and figures are inconsistent, as later in his report he speaks of the May group as the one which arrived in June. He reported the numbers variously as “7,427 souls”, and “7.354”; whereas if the above numbers are added up they come to 7,527. “There is thus,” McCreary concluded,

with some reasonable allowance for error, a total population of 7,354 souls, living in 795 houses, comprising 57 villages, and who, averaging 5 to a family, are settled on some 1,500 homesteads of 160 acres each.

The lands they have settled are fruitful, sufficient water is found in rivers, creeks, springs and wells, and the people are generally contented and satisfied with their prospects in their new home.

This article originally appeared in the pages of Saskatchewan History, an award-winning magazine dedicated to encouraging both readers and writers to explore the province’s history. Published by the Saskatchewan Archives since 1948, it is the pre-eminent source of information and narration about Saskatchewan’s unique heritage.  For more information, visit Saskatchewan History online at:

The 1899 Manitoba and Northwestern Railway Dispute with the Doukhobors

by Victor O. Buyniak

Upon arriving on the Canadian Prairies in 1899, the Doukhobors were obliged, like many other immigrants, to look for employment to supplement their income.  Railway construction was the major source of work for the majority of the able bodied men.  However, during their first summer of employment, disputes arose between the Doukhobors and railway companies, due to inadequate knowledge of each other and mutual mistrust.  This was exacerbated by those working on the Doukhobors’ behalf who had knowledge of the language, but not of the country, its laws, customs and ways of life.  The following article by Victor O. Buyniak, reproduced by permission from Saskatchewan History (40, 1987, No. 1), reveals that the Doukhobor railway workers were in practically the same position as any other new and inexperienced immigrants.  Once they became self-sufficient on their farms, they adapted to the rules and demands placed upon them and disputes with their employers ceased to occur.

By July 1899 most of the Doukhobor immigrants had arrived on the Prairies. A total of some 7,500 people settled in four colonies in what is now Saskatchewan. Some very influential individuals and organizations, including the writer, Leo Tolstoy, and the Society of Friends (Quakers), facilitated their exodus from Russia, and a number of prominent personalities accompanied the new immigrants to the land of their settlement. Among them were three men who became instrumental in arranging temporary employment for groups of Doukhobors at the Manitoba and Northwestern Railway Company in the summer and fall of 1899.

Arthur St. John, a former captain in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was at one time in the Indian service. He resigned his commission, became a pacifist and Tolstoyan, and visited Tolstoy at his estate of Yasnaya Polyana in September 1897. Through Tolstoy he became acquainted with the Doukhobor cause, served as Tolstoy’s and the English Quakers’ envoy to them in the Caucasus, and brought the group, which was in dire material need, several thousand rubles that were collected for them by their sympathizers. The Russian authorities did not like St. John any more than they liked the unorthodox and non-conformist Doukhobors – he was arrested and expelled to Turkey for trying to cause foment among the group. Regardless of his unfortunate experience in Russia, St. John became a staunch supporter of the persecuted Doukhobors. He helped them at every occasion, interceded on their behalf vis-à-vis the British authorities regarding emigration from Russia, prepared the arrival of a party of Doukhobors in the summer of 1898 in Cyprus (their first relocation place), and, when this venture ended in failure, accompanied the Doukhobor exodus to Canada. He extended his unwavering support to the group at every opportunity in Canada, until his return to England.

Leopold Antonovich Sulerzhitsky (1872-1916), became acquainted with Tolstoy through the latter’s daughter Tatyana. He was an aristocrat but also a convinced anarchist-pacifist who had served a term in prison for refusing to take the oath in the army. He became a Tolstoyan, and together with St. John he visited the Doukhobors in the Caucasus during November 1897. Sulerzhitsky greatly facilitated the arrangements for the departure of the first shipload of Doukhobors from Batum, and accompanied them to Canada. Later he became an active associate of the Director Konstantin Stanislavsky in the Moscow Arts Theatre.

Alexander Mikhailovich Bodyansky (1842-1916), was essentially a different personality. A Russian nobleman, too, he had distributed his lands to his peasants and became a practicing Tolstoyan. He became personally acquainted with Tolstoy in August 1892. He was arrested by the authorities for spreading unorthodox religious views, and was exiled to Transcaucasia where he became acquainted with the Doukhobors. For some years he was to play a controversial role in Doukhobor affairs. From the Caucasus Bodyansky found his way to the Tolstoyan colony at Purleigh in Essex, England, but his eccentricities proved unendurable to his colleagues there. He was persuaded to leave the colony and went to Canada shortly after the arrival of the Doukhobors there. He was always full of plans and projects and tried actively to work on their behalf, although not asked by them to do so, and he helped notably to crystallize their discontent vis-à-vis the Canadian authorities. Eventually, he was asked to leave Canada, and returned to Russia.

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

In brief, these were the individuals who directed the Doukhobor working parties for the railroads in 1899. To supplement their families’ income, the Doukhobors were initially obliged, like many other immigrants, to look for employment on various outside projects. An intensive construction activity by railway companies in the Prairies was an obvious source of work for the Doukhobors during their first summer in Canada. In June 1899 Sulerzhitsky helped a group of men to contract some work for the extension of the Canadian Northern Railway line.

At first both sides were content: management, as well as the workers. The Superintendent of Immigration in the Department of the Interior in Ottawa, Frank Pedley, was quite satisfied with the reports of the Doukhobors’ industriousness, adaptability to new conditions and their work ethics. In a letter to H. Harley, the Sub-Agent of Dominion Lands, Swan River District, Dauphin, Manitoba, dated 27 October 1899, he mentions, among other things:

It is gratifying to know that Mr. Charles McDougal, the Contractor on the Canadian Northern Railway, found the Doukhobors employed by him such good labourers, and I have no doubt but that they will prove very desirable settlers for our Western Country.

Other positive testimony came from the Land Agent John Ashworth, who wrote to William Forsythe McCreary, the Commissioner of Immigration in Winnipeg, on 3 November 1899:

I also made inquiries from settlers in the districts I passed through and with a few exceptions they were quite satisfied with the Doukhobors and found them willing to work, in most cases giving complete satisfaction, in fact some preferred them to the Galicians

But everything appeared to go well only for a short time. Soon the men began to leave the work, complaining that they were able to earn very little. Sulerzhitsky, who “set out to investigate the situation,” found that at some swampy stretches of the construction the men were indeed underpaid for their work, but that the main cause of dissatisfaction about insufficient earnings was really the men’s loss of communal spirit: instead of contributing their entire wages to the community as a whole, they individually charged various expenses from their earnings for themselves and for their families. Sulerzhitsky managed to rectify the situation and the men went back to work.

But, only for a while, because friction again developed. During the fall of 1899, a group of Doukhobors, working on the Manitoba and Northwestern Railway Company of Canada’s extension west of Hamiota in Manitoba, felt that they had been mistreated by their superiors and began voicing their complaints. The leader of that particular group was Arthur St. John. Although he could easily communicate with the railway administration, the rules of employment were either not precise at the time, or he and his charges did not properly understand them. Moreover, working conditions in the swampy terrain were very hard and the pay was exceedingly low.

Since McCreary was from the start associated with the general planning of the Doukhobor migration to the Prairies, was always sympathetic to the new settlers’ needs and felt himself responsible for their well-being during the initial stage of their resettlement, their complaints and expressions of dissatisfaction about the working conditions were passed on to him first. He must have mentioned the complaints in a private letter to J. S. Smart, then the Deputy Minister of the Interior, because Pedley refers to this case in a letter he wrote to McCreary, on 23 November 1899. The letter in part stated,

… I beg to leave to say that the Doukhobors had better be given to understand that if they will not take the work that is offered them at fair wages for a fair day’s work, this Department does not propose to extend itself very much in giving them assistance during the coming year. There is no reason why the majority of the men should not, under present conditions, find abundance of work and thus be able to carry their families through the winter and be in a position to make a very satisfactory start on their homesteads in the spring. This should be made plain to them so that there will be no mistake whatever as to the position of the Department.

In December 1899 a dispute developed between Doukhobor workers and railway supervisory personnel, and the immigration officials were caught in the middle. McCreary got his information from J. S. Crerar, the Agent in Yorkton, the town nearest to the Doukhobor colonies. Apparently Crerar received a statement from St. John, registering the group’s complaint regarding the Hamiota incident. In the beginning of December, McCreary who had been notified earlier by Crerar, contacted the Office of the Engineer, Manitoba and Northwestern Railway Company of Canada, in Winnipeg, demanding an explanation.

This demand resulted in the Engineer’s ordering an investigation into the matter. The correspondence concerning this case is quite extensive: telegrams and letters from the Engineer, George H. Webster, to his Roadmaster in Portage la Prairie, Robert Walters, Webster’s communication with McCreary, McCreary’s with W. J. Pace, the Accountant to McGillivray and Company and to Pedley, and, of course, the most emotionally-charged part of the incident – the letters exchanged between McCreary and Bodyansky who was then in Yorkton.

To become acquainted with the history and the individual facts of the dispute it is best to furnish some key correspondence or excerpts from all the sides concerned. First, the point of view of the Doukhobors will be presented, on the basis of St. John’s and the workers’ relation to Bodyansky, and the latter’s interpretation of the incident. Bodyansky sent the following letter from Yorkton to McCreary, dated 16 December 1899:

It is very painful to me to say what I want to tell you, but it will be much more painful to me if I keep silent. I and my fellow-believers, the Doukhobors, we left our native land with a feeling of disgust for the cruelty and injustice which the Russian Government allows itself to practice. With the hope that in Canada, we should meet better organization and better men, in a land, where reigns the most enlightened nation, we came here, but to our great regret and disappointment our hope is far from being realized. We have met not a few people from the class which has a greater power in reality than any Government. I mean the class of capitalists, who are capable of such inhuman deeds that even the Russian government is not capable of. The latter Government behaves cruelly with its opponents, but those who bring advantages to it, many rely on its help and protection, but those capitalists, I speak of, and whose names are known to you, have shown that they are even capable of starving and freezing those “cows from whom they have taken milk.” You know Sir, what I mean. You know, that in October 150 men, Doukhobors, driven by want, consented to accept the offer of the Manitoba and Northwestern, and started off for Rapid City and Hamiota. I saw myself the way they were packed in, they were huddled up on freight cars – 75 men in a car and they were obliged to travel all the way standing up, as they were too crowded and unable to move. It is known that necessity will force a man to accept the hardest conditions. But what name deserve these people, who take advantage of the helpless condition of others to suck from them as much blood as possible? Can these people number among the civilized and enlightened nations? Can they be Christians; are they really those who are so reverent that consecrating the seventh day to God they neither allow themselves, or others, to attend to business.

The Railway Company of which I speak, did not only send the workmen like cattle – they did more than that. As you know the Company promised to take the workmen and bring them back free of charge; you know that not only the Company did not fulfill its promise, but mocked them in a senseless way. They sent them on foot in the frost over 20 miles, telling them that on the station the train would take them on. But at the station they were sent on foot again, on to another station, and these unfortunate men were doomed to walk 100 miles in the frost without warm clothes, without a cent of money and without bread! On the way they had to leave the sick and slept on the prairie in a heap of straw. When their brothers in Yorkton heard of this, we at once begged the railway company through the agent of the place to take pity on them, and then only the company condescendingly consented to comply to our request and to take up the sufferers in the train, on condition that the fare for their transport should be paid in advance. We collected amongst ourselves whatever we could and presented the money.

Another instance. At the end of November another company with Mr. McGillivray by way of sympathizing with the hard position of the Doukhobors, consented to employ 150 men. They were sent. Once on the spot they were obliged to draw themselves and to carry the supplies at a distance of 25 miles. They fell into the water, and got drenched, both they and their supplies, and finally when they reached the place of work, they found everywhere continuous woody frozen marsh. They were not asked to work per day, but per yard, on condition that they took all their supplies from Mr. McGillivray’s store. For their transport they were in debt of $8 for each man and they had not a cent to return. Just think. Sir, if it is not moral to catch wild beast with traps, then how about enticing industrious people and to take advantage of their flesh and blood, their muscular work – betray the trust of strangers, who came to this country to seek refuge and protection – all this constitutes such cruelty that I do not know what to compare it with. Just think, Sir, how many lives will be shortened through these hardships! And yet men are hanged for manslaughter and murder.

I have only reminded you of two glaring cases – as for the others just as sad, but with a small number of sufferers, they are so numerous that one might write a volume about them. Many of these cases are known to you, and more known to your subordinates.

To sum up, I must tell you that at the present moment, there are many sick Doukhobors, suffering from exhaustion and cold, and over a thousand men in the South Colony are on the verge of starvation.

The following reply was sent by McCreary to Bodyansky, dated 22 December 1899:

… It is now almost a year since the Doukhobors arrived here, and during that period I have laboured hard and earnestly to do the best I could to make these people self-supporting. In the first place, I procured the contract for those in the North Colony for clearing the Right-of-Way on the Swan River Extension. They were allowed about $13.40 per acre for this work, and still were dissatisfied, notwithstanding the fact that the same work could have been contracted for with English-speaking people at about $11 per acre; and that is the price at which it is now being done on the further extension of the same road.

I am quite aware that the corporations in this country have no souls, and that they exert every means to get the most labour for the least money out of English-speaking people as well as Doukhobors. However, we have got to take the situation just as we find it, and I think the Doukhobors have had as much fair play shown them as any other class.

Now, unfortunately, instead of encouraging the Doukhobors to get over those difficulties, and do the best they can under their adverse circumstances, St. John, as you know, is a pessimist and aggravates their discomforts and discouragements instead of cheerfully trying to get over them…. While I admit the Doukhobors have been imposed upon in many cases, I am also personally aware of many cases where the Doukhobors have acted in an extremely dishonourable manner towards employers….

Now, fortunately, some time ago I have received the complaint from Mr. Crerar about these Doukhobors having to walk from Shoal Lake. I at once sent a communication to the Manitoba and North-Western Railway people and they have answered in writing, and I beg to enclose the copy of their reply, which I trust you will either be able to refute or admit.

When your letter arrived, there came on the same day one from Mr. Pace, who is accountant for Mr. McGillivray, where 116 Doukhobors went. I enclose a copy of his reply as to their statements concerning them, which would indicate that St. John had magnified the matter very much. It was never intended that these people should go down by the day, but were to work by the yard at 17 per yard; camps to be furnished by McGillivray. My letters to St. John as well as my telegrams pointed this out clearly; and I intend asking St. John, when he returns here, whether he misinterpreted this matter to the Doukhobors – if so, it was his fault. When Mr. McGillivray came in, after the first 60 Doukhobors had gone down by the day, he said that they were so slow in their movements he would take no more on those terms. Consequently, I notified Mr. Crerar, Captain St. John and Dr. Weletchkina that no more Doukhobors could get winter work there. They seemed very disappointed, and asked me to make another effort. I did so and secured five miles of work, or about 150,000 yards, at 17 c[ents] per yard; and St. John perfectly understood it.

Now, if the Doukhobors are going to dissatisfy the Railway corporations in the manner shown in these communications, then do not be surprised if the Railway companies agree among themselves next year not to employ one single Doukhobor on all their works. Two years ago the Galicians commenced making the same complaints. The C.P.R took the matter up and told their Foreman to employ no more Galicians, and not to allow one of them to work between their rails all along their lines. I saw this was practically going to mean their starvation, because the Railway companies in this country employ most labour. I represented this to the Galicians, and they asked me to intercede to be given another chance. I saw the C.P.R. President, and he said that if they would agree to work as other men were working without continually leaving their employment and complaining without real cause, he would try them again. I then sent a letter to all the Galician Colonies, stating these facts. The consequence is that the Galicians have turned out to be better men and, as you know, are getting along well. It is surprising that some of these people who have only been in the country to a year and a half, and who came with no means whatever, have been able, out of their earnings, besides supporting their families, to accumulate five or six cows. I regret to say that they make much more progress than the Doukhobors.

One of the greatest drawbacks to the success of the Doukhobors is that some of the men in charge of them are not practical, and although they are supposed leaders, they do not know as much about work as the Doukhobors themselves. For instance, St. John, educated as a soldier, knows nothing about manual labour. How can he instruct others?

Now, the Doukhobors have got to be told, and told very plainly, that they have to take such work as is offered them and be content with the same treatment as is being given to English-speaking people. You know, if you know anything about railroading, that 17 c[ents] a yard, is a good price for station work. They can board themselves; be their own bosses, and work as they desire. What more can I do? I am about tired and sick of fighting with contractors and others in the interests of these people, and if they are not satisfied with my exertions, then I will just wash my hands off the whole lot, as there are occasions when forbearance ceases to be a virtue….

St. John will be here in a couple of days, and I intend reading him your report, and, if necessary, I will go back with him to this work, inspect it myself and take sworn affidavits from the Doukhobors themselves, as well as from the other English-speaking men working along the line, and endeavour to get at the actual facts. I trust, however, this will not be necessary….

The following letters or excerpts may serve as supporting material representing the side of railway companies and contractors. In a short letter, dated 16 December 1899, the Engineer George H. Webster asked Robert Walters, the roadmaster for a detailed explanation of the incident. He received the following reply,

Regarding the attached, Mr. Crerar seems to have only one side of the story. These men in question were kept after the rest were laid off and I arranged with St. John and the men, to stay until the work was completed and he would give them transportation to Yorkton. The men did not fulfill their promise, but quit their work of their own accord, and left me without a man to fix the track. They stopped the work-train coming in from the front, and got on her and rode to Hamiota. I arrived in Hamiota the same night from the East and saw Duncan, the Foreman, and Martin, the Interpreter, and both told me that the men would work no longer, but wanted to go to Yorkton. Both Duncan and Martin told me that the men would do just as they thought fit, work as they chose. Eight and ten of them would be in the Scrub at a time, three and four times a day. If the Foreman told them to hurry up and get ties packed and dirt cast into the tracks, they would offer him the shovel and tell him to hurry up. They told the Foreman and the Interpreter that they have nothing to do with them. I wanted these men in the worst way, at that time, and I felt as though, walking to Yorkton was too good for them. They should have been horsewhipped for leaving this work and acting the way they did. I consider them the worst lot of men I have ever had, and have had more trouble with Doukhobors and their Interpreters, this summer, than I have had with Galicians for three years. Doukhobors expect a Railway Company to nurse them and feed them with a spoon, let them do as they choose, stand, sit and lay down on the work. I consider them the most expensive men in the Railway Company ever employed and will be, until a change is made in them.

Allowed to walk to Yorkton will do them good, and if we are not upheld in this, we had better not employ any more of these men. The men were well treated by us under the circumstances. They had plenty to eat, tents and stoves, and everything necessary for their comfort at this time of the year.

This man St. John is doing a great deal of harm among these men. He is or pretends to be one of themselves, in religion and all other acts, sleeps and eats with them, advocates for more wages for them, board for less than $5.50 per week, wanted men to be boarded on wet or stormy days when they were not working, for half rate, whereas it would take a bushel of grub to fill one of these big Doukhobors. This man St. John is the most useless man I ever ran across. He will cause an endless amount of trouble among these men for some one. I have had the same kind of trouble with Galicians and I found that walking to Yorkton once or twice, did them good, and I know it will do the Doukhobors a great deal of good also. It will also have a tendency to stop them from leaving work before it is completed, same as it had with Galicians.

Regarding these men walking across country to Shoal Lake, I told the Interpreter to tell them they would get no transportation and they have better walk across the Shoal Lake and from there to Yorkton, or get tickets the best way they could. These men in question were not discharged, but the men that went away with St. John, were laid off work, and were entitled to free transportation.

Grading railway prior to laying track. Photo courtesy National Archives of Canada.

In view of this information, Webster wrote a letter to McCreary on 16 December 1899, excerpts from which are quoted below:

I am sorry to say that the general opinion of our Roadmaster and all Foreman who have had the Doukhobors employed this summer is not at all favourable to these men, in fact they bitterly oppose having to take these men on to their gangs. It is quite evident from the actions of the Doukhobors themselves, that they are labouring under the delusion, that Public work in this Country were being arranged for their special benefit and that they can desert employment and behave in any manner which seems fit.

These remarks of course do not apply to all of these men, as I have heard some of them praised very highly, but it was a very small proportion of the total number we had employed last summer.

Regarding complaint against Mr. St. John made by Walters in his letter of the 9th, Mr. St. John may endeavour to justify his action on the grounds that he is endeavouring to get as much as possible for his men, but he should not forget that the men are quite inexperienced, and until they learn to speak English and have a couple of years experience in track work, that they are not worth as much per day as men who have this experience, and it is a mistake to lead the Doukhobors to expect that they should be as well paid as more experienced men. Owing to the shortage stringency in the Labour Market this fall, we have paid these men as high as $1.75 per day, and I can safely say that at least 75% of them were not worth half that much….

The Accountant W. J. Pace sent the following report to McCreary on 21 December 1899,

Referring to that portion of Bodjansky’s letter dated the 16th instant, in reference to the men who went to work for McGillivray and Company on the Rainy River Railway, I beg to state that in regard to the statement made by Mr. Bodjansky that the men had to transport themselves and their supplies twenty-five miles, such is not the case. The men with their supplies, clothing etc., were moved to Shebandowan Lake by McGillivray & Company, and their camps were built – one camp a mile and a half and the other four miles and a half beyond the lake.

The Lake being frozen at the time, it was deemed advisable to move their supplies by sleighs this four miles and a half on the ice — on account of one portion of the ice being bad and the Doukhobors congregating round the sleigh, the ice broke and let them into about two feet of water, but there was only one Doukhobor of the lot who got at all wet. The rest of them were moved on to their camp, and were perfectly satisfied there, and are at work.

Captain St. John, the man in charge of the Doukhobors says that they are perfectly satisfied.

As regards $8 for the fare, this was agreed on before they left Yorkton.

I might say that the fifty men who came down previously are more than satisfied with the treatment they received from McGillivray & Company, and for the month of November they each averaged a net amount of $31.00.

All this prompted McCreary to write his own letter of complaint to his superior Frank Pedley. This communication is dated 22 December 1899, and it reads:

I wrote the Deputy Minister a few days ago enclosing copy of a communication I had received from the Manitoba and North Western Railway Company about a complaint as to how certain men were treated on their line. Since sending that communication I have received a long letter from Mr. A. Bodyansky, one of their leaders at Yorkton, dealing with the same subject, as well as with some men who went down to work on the Port Arthur and Rainy River Road. I beg to enclose copy of Bodyansky’s letter, as well as of Mr. Pace’s reply — the Accountant for Mr. McGillivray, the Contractor on the Prince Arthur and Rainy River, and also copy of my reply to Bodyansky.

I regret to say that no more vexed question ever came before me than this whole Doukhobor business. I do not know what the result is going to be, unless they will agree to work as other people do. Unfortunately, the public sentiment will not permit us to allow them to starve. The newspapers and others would take it up in such a way that the Government would be bound to come to the rescue, as they had to do with the Galicians two years ago. Sensational articles would appear, and special correspondents sent out, which, of course, would not be a wise policy. Certainly if we are going to have this same trouble, I would ask you to send up a man, or get one here, who would take entire charge of the Doukhobors and their management, as my time will be fully taken up with other immigration in the spring and I cannot possibly give the attention to the Doukhobor matters that I have had to do during the last year.

As can be seen from the above presentation, the Doukhobors who worked in closely-knit groups during their first year in Canada and who were directed and helped by individuals equipped with a knowledge of the language, but not of the country, its laws, customs, and ways of life, were in practically the same position as any other new and inexperienced immigrants, working in groups or individually. It takes time to adjust to new circumstances. In the initial period, mistakes and false accusations are likely to be made by both sides. Due to inadequate knowledge of each other, mutual mistrust and inborn racial and ethnic preconception are very strong during this time. The railroad continued periodically to employ the Doukhobors during the next year or so until the latter became self-sufficient on their farms. Once the situation became clarified, the men adapted to the rules and demands placed upon them, and we do not hear any more of any glaring cases of disputes with their employers.

This article originally appeared in the pages of Saskatchewan History, an award-winning magazine dedicated to encouraging both readers and writers to explore the province’s history. Published by the Saskatchewan Archives since 1948, it is the pre-eminent source of information and narration about Saskatchewan’s unique heritage.  For more information, visit Saskatchewan History online at:

Doukhobor Immigration: The Potato Dilemma

by Victor O. Buyniak

In the months prior to the Doukhobors’ arrival in Canada in 1898-1899, the Immigration Branch of the Department of the Interior worked ceaselessly to coordinate the necessary arrangements for their settlement.  The following article by Victor O. Buyniak, reproduced by permission from Saskatchewan History (38, 1985, No. 2) deals with one aspect of the settlement arrangements: the exigency of providing foodstuffs, namely potatoes, for the vegetarian settlers arriving in large numbers on the Prairies in winter.  It documents the many tasks in which immigration officials were engaged as they worked with Doukhobor organizers and the need for cooperative effort over very long distances.  It also reflects the inner workings of a government department which played a pivotal role in the opening of the West.

The 1890’s was a decade of accelerated settlement of the Canadian North-West by new immigrants arriving in groups or on an individual basis. Many came from Eastern Europe. The mass migration of the Doukhobors occurred at the very end of the decade. Plans to transport and settle some 7,500 Doukhobors on the Prairies were finalized in 1898. The very first train carrying Doukhobor settlers was expected in Winnipeg late in 1898 or early in 1899. In preparation for their arrival, provisions had to be purchased and stored. Since the Doukhobors were vegetarians, most of the provisions were from field, garden and orchard produce. A very sizeable amount of potatoes had to be obtained and stored to last the new immigrants over the first winter and spring, including reserves for spring planting.

This paper deals with the problems encountered by Canadian officials on various levels and in various localities whose duty it was to buy potatoes beforehand at the lowest price and to arrange for their transport to future central points of Doukhobor settlement. They were also responsible for safe storage of the potatoes during the winter of 1898-99. In those years the process of obtaining, transporting and storing vegetables was much more complicated than it is now. An additional factor made the whole procedure even more difficult to carry out: the officials did not yet know for sure in which regions of the North-West Territories the Doukhobors would eventually settle. Yet sufficient stocks of provisions, situated in places easily accessible to the new immigrants, meant the physical well-being, if not the very survival, of the settlers during their first winter on the prairies. The story is reconstructed in chronological order from correspondence in the records of the Immigration Branch of the Department of the Interior of Canada, (Volume 183, file 65101, part 1, 1898) available on microfilm at the Saskatchewan Archives.

As early as 5 October, 1898, Aylmer Maude, an English Tolstoyan and friend of the Doukhobors, who headed a Doukhobor delegation during the preceding summer
and fall to visit and select the localities for their future settlement in Canada, raised the matter of food supplies in a letter to the Honourable Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior.

May I further request you to give instructions to the Immigration Department, as soon as the location for the Doukhobors is definitely settled, to buy such a stock of potatoes, other vegetables & rye flour as will be required to feed 2000 people through the winter. We will pay for these things but we have neither the organization nor the information to enable us to procure them in good time and at the lowest prices.

Doukhobor group in Russia, just before emigrating. British Columbia Archives D-01139.

James A. Smart, Deputy Minister of the Interior wrote William F. McCreary, the Commissioner of Immigration, who was then located in Winnipeg, on 8 October, 1898, regarding the expected arrival of the Doukhobors and the purchasing of food supplies.

Some time ago you wrote me with reference to the purchase of vegetables in view of the likelihood of the Doukhobors emigrating to Canada before the winter, and in answer to this I advised you to purchase in the meantime a considerable quantity, leaving the quantity to your judgment.

I now have to say that since arrangements have been made with Mr. Maude he has written me asking that the Department should arrange for a stock of vegetables and rye flour to be purchased, such a quantity as would feed say 2,000 people during the winter. Mr. Maude agrees to pay whatever this supply costs, but I am very anxious that you should purchase the potatoes, as well as other supplies required, at the very lowest possible price, as I promised Mr. Maude we would assist him in this matter. It may be possible that you can purchase some of these at Brandon and also at Regina and other points where they should be stored in the meantime, but I think it well to at once arrange as these supplies will certainly be needed. As I have already intimated to you some 2,200 of these people are likely to leave Batoum, on the Black Sea, for Winnipeg in a few days so that we may expect them to arrive about the middle of November. It will therefore be necessary to arrange about the vegetables at once, but as to the rye flour I think they can arrange that themselves just as well later on.

In the meantime there arose a likelihood of a second transport of some 2,000 Doukhobors arriving in the west that same winter. In addition to making the necessary travel accommodation and settlement arrangements for this group, Smart and his officials were responsible for supplying them with food provisions. Regarding this second transport, Smart wrote Maude on 11 October, 1898:

It appears to me to be very important that you should be fully advised before leaving as to whether sufficient quantities of vegetables have been purchased to meet the requirements of these people. I do not know whether it is your intention to return to Winnipeg or not… I have sent full instructions to Mr. McCreary in consequence of your request that the officers of the Department should proceed to purchase supplies, so that purchases will be made in this connection at Winnipeg, Brandon and Regina.

On 14 October, 1898, McCreary notified Smart from Winnipeg with regard to the arrangements being made in view of the possible arrival of this additional group of Doukhobors:

Some time ago potatoes could have been secured more cheaply but owing to the very heavy rains a great many of them have been lost, and difficulty is going to be experienced in getting the others out of the ground as the ground is so wet and it is costing from four to six cents a bushel to dig them and put them on the ground. I also believe as there is quite a scarcity, potatoes will be dear later on, and especially so next spring, so that these people ought to secure sufficient vegetables now and have them stored to last them as food till next July, and sufficient for seed next spring.

There is further correspondence regarding the matter of purchasing potatoes for the Doukhobors as McCreary wrote to Smart on 21 October, 1898:

I made strong endeavours to purchase potatoes here: secured one load at 32 ½ and one at 30 cents, but there was so much mud attached to them and they were so wet that I felt that they would not keep. Then again, the price commenced to run up, and this morning I cannot buy at less than 45. Quite a large quantity of potatoes here will never be taken out of the ground – in fact, one man who had agreed to let me have a thousand bushels at 35, but on going to his field found five inches of water over his potatoes—so he gave them up.

However, I have now made arrangements with two men, one James Flanaghan to purchase me potatoes at Portage la Prairie and McGregor at 30 cents, and another, Pace, to purchase them at that point at 28.1 have got half rate on these from the C.P.R. from these points to Winnipeg, and will make arrangements here for storing them, so that they can be shipped to any point, if necessary. I shall probably get five cars, about three thousand bushels, from these two sources.

I wrote Braun to try and purchase two or three thousand bushels at Brandon. He says they can be got there for 25 cents, but I rather imagine the quantity is limited. However, I intend running up there next week to look over the shed and the accommodations for cooking and will discuss the purchase of vegetables with him at that time. In the meantime, his instructions are to go on and purchase two or three thousand bushels at 25 cents, if he can get them, and put them in the Post Office cellar, and any other place he can get.

There is no money lost in purchasing potatoes at this price, as I am quite willing, if the Government will allow me, to take them off their hands at these figures, in fact, I could turn them over today and make money. The great point to be considered however is to get them in such places as they will keep till next spring, because there is no doubt that potatoes will then reach to $1 to $1.50 per bushel, and other vegetables in proportion.

What quantity of potatoes do you think should be purchased for food for these people till, say, next August, with sufficient for seed for the entire colony? … I was thinking it would require about ten thousand bushels for food and about six hundred to a thousand for seed. The latter would have to be kept in some cool place till next June.

Doukhobor women baking bread in outdoor ovens. British Columbia Archives E-07248.

Commissioner McCreary informed his superior Frank Pedley, Superintendent of Immigration on 4 November 1898 that it was possible to arrange with the Canadian Pacific Railway officials to transport the vegetables at half price but he could not make the same arrangements with another company. Writing to Pedley again on 16 November 1898 he outlined developments.

You are probably aware that I was instructed to buy a large quantity of vegetables for the Doukhobortsi who, as I was informed, would arrive here about the 15th November. I have already purchased between eight and ten thousand bushels of potatoes at Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Yorkton and Dauphin . . . also about 15 tons of cabbage. These potatoes average probably 30 to 40 cents delivered in the warehouse here. . . . The potatoes, however, I think we shall be able to save, though it will cost a little more for warehousing than I anticipated. However, from the present outlook potatoes are going to be worth from sixty cents to $1 next March, and I think I could easily place all the potatoes I have on hand at profit.

While all these solicitations were being made by all these officials on behalf of the arriving Doukhobors, it was learned that their departure from the port of Batoum had been postponed for six weeks. As a result the first trainload of Doukhobors did not reach Winnipeg until 27 January 1899. An unexpected turn of events occurred in December 1898, when the Customs Inspector in Brandon, George H. Young, cabled Smart on 21 December: “Quantity potatoes stored in cellar public building here think require attention decaying smell through offices very bad most unhealthy for officers and presume potatoes spoiling.” McCreary was ordered to investigate and apparently the matter was taken in hand and resolved as nothing more was said about the matter.

The importance of potatoes as part of the diet of an agrarian population like the Doukhobors can be seen from continuous efforts by immigration officials to secure enough of this produce during the first year of the Doukhobors’ settlement on the Canadian prairies. On 16 May, 1899, Harley wrote to Smart from Swan River: “I have bought 50 bushels of splendid potatoes for seed here at $1.25 per bushel . . .” And McCreary wrote to Smart on 4 November, 1899:

I have already bought at Yorkton about a thousand bushels of potatoes, and I am sending to-day another carload to Swan River . . . and as they will likely use most of the potatoes which they are buying now, seed potatoes, probably 2500 to 3000 bushels, should be got there before the 5th of April…

Once firmly established on Canadian soil, the Doukhobors produced enough crops, among them potatoes, not only for their own consumption and seed reserves, but also for marketing.

This article originally appeared in the pages of Saskatchewan History, an award-winning magazine dedicated to encouraging both readers and writers to explore the province’s history. Published by the Saskatchewan Archives since 1948, it is the pre-eminent source of information and narration about Saskatchewan’s unique heritage.  For more information, visit Saskatchewan History online at:

Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: Main Stages of Relations in the Late 19th & Early 20th Century

by V.O. Pashchenko & T.V. Nagorna

Most Doukhobors today are well aware of the historic relationship between Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and their forebears. However, surprising few modern Russians and Ukrainians know about the close connection between Russia’s greatest writer and the sectarians with whom he was a kindred spirit. The following article, written from a contemporary Russian and Ukrainian perspective, examines Tolstoy’s close cooperation with the followers of the Doukhobor religious community, as well as his moral and financial support of their emigration en masse to Canada in 1899. Reproduced from the Journal of Ukrainian History Vol. 3 (No. 468) (Kiev: Institute of Ukrainian History, 2006). Translated from the original Ukrainian by Khrystyna Hudyma exclusively for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.  Further translation and editing by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.  Click here for the original Ukrainian article.


The figure of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy hardly needs any additional comments: the famous Russian writer, public figure, person with an active position in the Russian Empire. However, some aspects of his public activity still remain unresearched. For instance, the fact that in 1897 Tolstoy refused the Nobel Peace Prize in favour of the Doukhobors is not well-known. As is the fact that funds raised by his publication of the novel Voskresenie (Resurrection) amounting to 32,360 rubles, Tolstoy transferred to the committee organizing resettlement of these Spiritual Christians abroad. Moreover, an average reader does not know about Tolstoy’s admiration of Doukhobor social practice, their way and peculiarities of life, and attitude to a range of different problems. The high level of social organization of Doukhobor communities allowed the writer to call them “people of 25th century”. Tolstoy borrowed these kind of thoughts, i.e. ideas of equality, priority of spiritual values, non-violence, which were too progressive for that time, from his communication with adherents of the Doukhobor movement. Taking this into account, special attention is focused on his relations with the followers of the Spiritual Christianity movement, communities of which were spread across Ukraine in the 18th-20th centuries. Furthermore, Doukhobors in the Russian Empire first appeared in the territory of Ukraine. Thus, there is information about them appearing and spreading in Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav provinces starting in the second half of the 18th century [1].

The definition of the term “Spiritual Christians” to signify this religious movement does not have unanimous agreement among modern researchers. This article utilizes this term in order to signify religious communities of DoukhoborsMolokans (“milk-drinkers”), Khristovery (“Christ-believers”) or Khlysts (“flagellants”) and Skoptsy (“castrates”). Followers of the aforementioned movements communicated with Tolstoy and his associates during second half of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century.

The Doukhobor movement at that time did not leave Tolstoy unmoved. In his articles published in 1895-1896, the writer appealed for help for the Doukhobors, called them “a phenomenon of extraordinary importance” and compared their force of influence with the appearance of Jesus Christ. Of course, such an idealization is not justified in the modern age; however Tolstoy, if we take his life position into account, had some ideological prerequisites for such assumptions.

This article attempts to trace the main stages of Tolstoy’s relations with the Doukhobors based on an analysis of his religious heritage, memoirs of contemporaries, research of late 19th-early 20th century literature, and published critiques.

This area is completely under-researched. However, some materials and books give us an opportunity to reconstruct the relations. First, correspondence between Tolstoy and Spiritual Christians was published by P. Biryukov in his work, “Doukhobors. Collection of articles, memoirs and other materials.” In his monograph “Biography of Tolstoy”, he managed to highlight the issues of Tolstoy’s close cooperation with Spiritual Christians [2]. Some aspects of Tolstoy’s activity in this area and peculiarities of the Tolstoyan movement are described in the articles of K. Grigoriev, I. Kronshtadsky, L. Tikhomirov, including articles published in Orthodox Christian publications in the 19th-20th centuries [3]. Of course, these publications are characterized by the negative attitude towards religious communities separated from the Russian Orthodox Church. Clergy and missionaries of the 19th century demonstrated a biased approach in depicting relations between Tolstoyans and Doukhobors; thus in the brochures of Ye. Bobrov and Father Nikanor, we find rather critical remarks about such cooperation [4]. Their main aim was to contradict the views of Tolstoy and to show his negative influence on the followers of Spiritual Christianity. L. Sulerzhitsky demonstrated a positive attitude toward the Doukhobors in his monographic research, viewing the main problems of resettling the faithful outside of the Empire [5]. This work is valuable in investigating the dynamics of Spiritual Christians starting from the second half of the 18th century, and the main stages of their development. Sulerzhitsky’s research is, in fact, comprised of abstracts from his notebook, where in a descriptive manner main stages of Doukhobors’ life in [North] America are portrayed. The artistic style of the material does not imply any deeper theoretical conclusions, but facilitates the accumulation of a large amount of actual data with interesting details about their life abroad.

Present day researchers do carry out some research in this area. A considerable contribution was made by V. Bonch-Bruevich, who tracked the main stages of Doukhobor immigration to Cyprus and Canada and also gave a positive portrayal of the role of Tolstoy and his associates in these events [6]. O. Yaroslavsky tried to trace the attitude of Tolstoyans towards the changes of the Soviet period, and traditionally, for a representative of Soviet historiography, was highly critical about this religious phenomenon [7].

Among other modern researches the one published by M. Zybarov and P. Planidin might be of particular interest. There is published correspondence between P. Verigin, a leader of the Spiritual Christians, and Tolstoy [8], which for a long time remained unknown to admirers and experts of the writer’s art. Today, 22 original letters from Doukhobors are stored in the department of hand-written funds of the L. Tolstoy State Museum.

Researches in this area are of vital importance considering the history of Spiritual Christians’ development and also as one of Tolstoy’s activities. One of the famous public figures of the Russian Empire was V. G. Chertkov, a close friend of L. Tolstoy. They became acquainted in 1883, but a year later, in 1884, for public speaking in defense of the religious communities Chertkov was exiled out of Russia. Consequently, he lived in Great Britain and not only was engaged in publishing (distributing L. Tolstoy’s essays banned by censorship, the “Svobodnoye slovo” newspaper, and the “Papers of “Svobodnoye slovo” collection), but also helped the Doukhobors resettle to Canada [9]. Another associate and close friend of Tolstoy was P.I. Biryukov, with whom the writer started to collaborate in 1884. P. Biryukov actively participated in preparations for the resettlement of Spiritual Christians to Canada. However, he also paid for that – beginning in 1898, he mainly lived abroad [10].

The faithful at the end of 19th century actually needed help. This is explained, first of all, by the peculiarities of Imperial legislation in the field of religion. According to then-current legal regulations, we can trace the change in state policy toward the aforementioned religious groups. Legal statutes which were published starting in the second quarter of the 19th century involved the eviction of Spiritual Christians to remote parts of the Russian Empire and also abroad [11].

Doukhobor Historical Development

Before we begin analyzing Tolstoy’s correspondence with the Doukhobors, let us dwell upon another related aspect, namely the main stages of the community’s development. It is worth mentioning that the dynamics of their number and peculiarities of development largely depended on external factors, i.e. Imperial legislation, missionary work, and influence from the ROC (Russian Orthodox Church). According to P. Biryukov, 1792 should be considered as the starting point of state-Doukhobor relations. That is the time when Ekaterinoslav governor, in one of his reports to St. Petersburg wrote that nothing connected with iconoclasm deserves any mercy [12]. He was talking about Doukhobors and Molokans who appeared at that time in Ekaterinoslav province. In his monographic work O. Novitsky suggests 1799 to be the time when authorities started paying attention to Spiritual Christians, who for a long time had influenced hearts and minds in Russia [13]. The last third of the 18th century witnessed trials against Doukhobors in Kherson province. Trials of the same kind took place against Mariupol and Ekaterinoslav Doukhobors under Kherson provincial administration. They were accused of spreading their doctrine on the streets and being accompanied by crowds.

The basis of Tsar Alexander I’s religious policy were the attempts to reduce Doukhobor activity, neither by introducing additional penalties, nor by diversifying the struggle against them, but by paying due attention to them and providing them some benefits and concessions. In 1801, Tsar Alexander I issued a royal edict, owing to which many Doukhobors were able to return home (Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, and Kherson provinces) from Siberia and the Caucasus. A fact proving the aforementioned policy on religious communities was the closing of the Doukhobor case in the Izium court of law, which gained widespread publicity due to its promotion by local authorities.

Immediately afterwards, the Doukhobors submitted a formal request asking for a separate colony. O. Novitsky and P. Biryukov consider this to be a voluntary step, whereas O. Titov points out that they agreed to the resettlement following a lengthy period of negotiations [14]. In 1802, an Imperial Edict was published which allowed Doukhobors to settle along the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province. Thus, Doukhobors from Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav provinces were exiled to the new colony, i.e. Ukrainian Doukhobors were given the priority, then came their peers from Russian provinces.

It is worth mentioning that mass relocations to Tavria province continued until 1817. In 1820, official permission to allocate an additional 5,236 acres of land to the Melitopol colonists was passed. That year, a ban was passed on further resettling, lasting, in fact, until 1824. The exact number of people exiled to Molochnye Vody is unknown. There is some information attesting that around 800 families amounting to 3,985 people lived in the Molochnaya River area in 1827 [15]. There is no evidence of Doukhobors being evicted by Alexander I to the Caucasus; however in 1821, 2,300 people already lived in Akhalkalak district of Tiflis province [16]. The percentage of Ukrainian Doukhobors among them is unknown. Nevertheless, we know that they were the first ones to be evicted. Thereupon, we can conclude that Ukrainian Doukhobors comprised the largest part of Molochnye Vody residents. Later on, Doukhobors from Voronezh, Tambov and Saratov provinces as well as from Azov, Ekaterinburg, Siberia and even Finland were settled there too.

Representatives of other Spiritual Christian branches, mainly the Molokans, also settled in the Molochnaya River area. This is due to a number of legal statutes aimed at regulating relations with other communities opposed to the Orthodox Church. After the eviction, only 59 Molokans were left in Ekaterinoslav region. However, according to an additional decree issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they were also exiled to Molochnye Vody.

Thus, in the first quarter of the 19th century, the Molochnaya River area became a center of Spiritual Christians in Ukraine. Doukhobors who lived there were exiled in 1802-20 of their own will. The total number of Doukhobors amounted to 5,000 people; amongst whom 3,000 were from Ukraine. Along with them, Molokans also lived in this area founding their own colonies in Tavria province. Another center of Spiritual Christians from Ukraine became the Caucasus. Beginning in 1819, a considerable number of Molokans from Ekaterinoslav region was exiled there.

A characteristic feature of Doukhobors in the first quarter of the 19th century was their active engagement in dealings with the authorities. This is evidenced by the considerable number of petitions and appeals to the Emperor relating to the improvement of their socio-economic conditions. These kinds of appeals had been addressed by representatives of Spiritual Christians to Alexander I throughout the whole first quarter of the 19th century. Each appeal was thoroughly considered and properly by Alexander I, and he satisfied most of the requests. However, these concessions were of small importance.

Innovations in Russian imperial religious policy started with Nicholas I’s rule. He launched an authoritarian relationship model, and his policy towards Spiritual Christians was characterized as much tougher, compared to that of Alexander I. For instance, the faithful were limited in their rights; Doukhobors and Molokans were deprived of some of the privileges they used to have. Spiritual censorial committees and special commissions were created by the initiative of the Emperor to consider the crimes of Spiritual Christians.

The reason for such a “cooling” of relations was a sudden change in the domestic policy of the Russian Empire, which was reflected in the religious sphere of life. Thus, the monarch began to consider Spiritual Christians as particularly dangerous for the nation’s peace. The main examples of such an attitude are: the introduction of censorship surveillance, publishing guidelines for Doukhobors, a cruel attitude towards the faithful during legal investigations, an expansion of the possible exile territories (with extremely unfavourable living conditions), and prohibition of voluntary resettlement. Thus, the first years of Nicholas’ I rule witnessed moderate opposition to some religious communities; the following years witnessed an open struggle against them and the development of a corresponding legal framework [17].

In the second quarter of the 19th century, several anti-religious legal acts were passed, whereas representatives of Spiritual Christians lost a whole range of privileges gained during previous periods. However, this time was important for the development of the aforementioned religious congregations, since it facilitated the intensification of their activity, increase in number, cautiousness and moderation in their attitude toward authorities, and greater influence of Spiritual Christians in the social and political life of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. As a consequence, people were persecuted by authorities for their participation in the religious communities; and their rights were restricted as well. The policy of the Russian Emperor was completely supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church had a strong influence in the territory of Ukraine and significantly affected people’s life in the Russian Empire.

The Imperial Decree of October 20, 1830 was important for the further development of Spiritual Christians. Doukhobors were proclaimed to be one of the most dangerous groups, and their preaching was prosecuted by order of the court. Exile to Transcaucasia was the main punishment, and for adult males it was call-in to the Caucasian military corps [18]. According to this decree, resettlement to Tavria province was prohibited, and Doukhobors were not allowed to hold any public office. Thus, the gradual process of the liquidation of privileges of Spiritual Christians obtained during previous times began, and Nicholas I made his first steps toward declaring their practice to be illegal [19]. The next decree in the same period was the adoption of guidelines in 1830, the main provisions of which reinforced the focus of previous legal statutes and offered no improvement in the attitude of the state toward the faithful.

Consequently, the state policy toward Spiritual Christians during Nicholas’ I rule in the second quarter of the 19th century became unfavourable for those Christian communities. In 1835, a special commission for the investigation of crimes committed by Doukhobors was created. On February 17, 1835, the “Highest Rescript” was adopted, according to which Spiritual Christians from the Molochnaya River territory were to be resettled to the Caucasus, the only exception were those who admitted their mistakes and returned to Orthodoxy. In 1835, the decision to evict Doukhobors from the Melitopol district was made, but in 1839, subsequent legal statutes prescribed definite conditions of their resettlement. First of all, in the Caucasus, Spiritual Christians obtained the same-sized plot of arable land as they had in Molochnye Vody. Second, no adult male was granted exemption from military service. Third, Doukhobors had the right to sell movables (or to take with them) and receive compensation for real estate as assessed by the special commission [20]. Sources in historic literature give information about three main waves of resettling from Ukraine and what is more important – the numbers of evicted people: 1841 – 800; 1842 – 800; 1843 – 900 [21] [Note: there were in fact five waves of Doukhobor exile from 1841-1845].

The locality known as “Doukhobor’ie” received its name after the Spiritual Christians exiled to the Caucasus. It is situated in the southern part of Akhalkalak district, Tiflis province which is bordering with Turkey. Doukhobors founded 8 villages there, namely Gorelovka, Bogdanovka, Orlovka, Efremovka, Spasovka, Troitskoye, Rodionovka, and Tambovka. Apparently, Ukrainian [Doukhobor] settlers lived together with the Russian ones. According to F. Putyntsev, the main evidences are the names of villages and the population number – 5 thousand, among which, around 3 thousand were from Ukraine. The “Wet Mountains”, the other name of this territory, was given because of its changeable climate, and much worse, if compared to Tavria province, living conditions. The only advantage was the non-interference of the state in Spiritual Christians’ affairs. According to another “Highest Rescript” issued in 1842, Doukhobors and Molokans were forbidden to buy peasants. If they had any, they were to remit the peasants to the state and receive remuneration for them afterwards. An interesting term of the document allowed all the faithful, except the most dangerous groups in the state’s view, to resettle to provinces with better living conditions. In the 19th century the most dangerous religious groups were considered those of the Khristovery, Skoptsy, Doukhobor, and Molokan communities. Thus, Spiritual Christians could not take advantage of this privilege.

In 1842, a special document was published aiming to regulate relations between state and religious congregations. First of all, the most dangerous religious groups were named: Skoptsy, Zhidovstvuyushchiye, Doukhobors, Molokans, i.e. Spiritual Christians. Zhidovstvuyushchiye was the name of one of the Molokans subgroups, namely the Subbotniks (“Sabbatarians”). According to the “Rules of resettlement of dissenters of harmful heresies”, the main type of prosecution, as in the previous period, was resettlement to the Caucasus after each case was considered in court [22]. As a result of this decree, a new one was worked out – “Rules of primary education of colonists’ children, especially of dissenters’” [23]. Parish clergy was assigned to supervise the education process. Those who completed the course passed an examination held by local priest. A special class register was used to document the examination procedure with signatures of all present. Then the results were referred to a diocesan bishop. However, it was noted that the document should be enforced soberly and carefully. According to the corresponding act of 1843, Doukhobors were forbidden to accept orthodox children to their families. Even in this way, authorities tried to avoid the growth in their population numbers [24].

Therefore, by the end of the 19th century, Transcaucasia remained the main center of Spiritual Christians. However, the events of the last decade [of that century] rapidly changed the history of the community. In 1895, P. Verigin called for the burning weapons in all Doukhobor settlements. It is possible that such views were formed as a result of his communication with Tolstoy. At the same time, those Doukhobors who were forced to carry out military duty refused to continue their service and to bear arms. The Doukhobors’ campaign of destroying weapons and anti-war protest did not pass unnoticed. About 5,000 of Doukhobors were dispersed across a large territory of the Caucasus without any land or property. The result of such measures was a high death rate among Doukhobors (about 2,000 of people died either during or after the resettlement). Doukhobor soldiers were transferred to disciplinary battalions, and P. Verigin was exiled to Obodorsk. In 1897 P. Tregubov and P.Biryukov, after their trip to Georgia, described this situation to Tolstoy. Such a difficult period in Doukhobor life was certainly linked to financial problems. Economic issues, lack of basic resources for living, and the slow process of resettlement all caused financial difficulties. According to various sources, in the second half of the 19th century, a significant number of Doukhobor migrations in the Russian Empire took place. Furthermore, more than 20,000 of the faithful went abroad (3,000-8,000 of them were from the territory of contemporary Ukraine) [25].

Tolstoy’s Correspondence with the Doukhobors

In the 1890s, Tolstoy, his friends and adherents systematically corresponded with P. Verigin, the [main] leader of the Doukhobors, and other Spiritual Christians. It is worthwhile to analyze those letters in detail to determine the level of mutual influence between the writer and Spiritual Christians. Letters sent by P. Verigin in late 1896 contain his thoughts about good and evil. He called Tolstoy “a good man”. Sincere dialogue with the writer, according to P. Verigin, was possible only by treating Tolstoy with a good spirit. “If you believe in the power of education and paper, you might be wrong” – said the Doukhobor [26]. As we can see the key concept of spirit in the Doukhobors’ doctrine finds a further interpretation in the works of their leader. In his next letters, P. Verigin develops this viewpoint and states that only one thing necessary – to keep one’s heart from evil, regardless of where one is – in church or plowing the land – this is the sole condition [27].

There are also letters of other Spiritual Christians to L. Tolstoy and P. Biryukov. As a rule, the main topics of those letters were the everyday problems and living conditions of the colonists. Furthermore, they contained sufficient information about the leaders of congregations, milestones of their biographies, based on which, and also by direct communication with the settlers, it became possible to publish a number of materials on this phenomenon of religious life of the Russian Empire [28].

For Doukhobors living in the territory of the Russian Empire, the issues of performing duties, especially the military one, were of great importance. This issue became a key point in their letters. Moreover, P. Verigin provided quite interesting explanations in defense of Spiritual Christians. First, he wrote about the well-known idea of non-violence, which was promoted by Doukhobors, but then developed the viewpoint of the equal righte of everyone to choose, and the impossibility of coercion against one’s will. He wrote that the main standpoint of their conviction was not disobedience, but a refusal to acknowledge the usage of people in any form – especially when one has to use violence [29]. At that time many Doukhobors refused to work in local administrations. The reason is the following: according to P. Verigin officers and officials refused to carry out their responsibilities because they didn’t want to rule in districts, i.e. to rule the same people as they are, and to not obey elders. According to Doukhobor belief, one must obey elders, but cannot be an “elder” himself [30]. It is important to note that Tolstoy called on the Doukhobors to not abandon public service, nor to neglect their duties. He addressed Spiritual Christians with an appeal to not oppose authorities, because their (Doukhobors’) wives and children would be the first to suffer [31]. This information refutes a wide-spread idea in the literature of the end of the 19th – and beginning of the 20th century about the crucial influence of the writer on the Doukhobors’ refusal to carry out military duties.

After P. Biryukov and P.Tregubov returned from the Caucasus, they received letters from Tolstoy. Thus, in 1897 he addressed the settlers as “My dear brothers who suffer for Christ’s teaching”, called them pioneers in spiritual struggle, thanked them for their spiritual support and help “because you are the first to follow Christ’s example, the ones who follow you will have an easier way. You are the first of many people to appreciate that. [32]” The Doukhobors responded, stating that many of their associates were being resettled to Siberia, Elizavetpol, Baku and Erevan provinces. Their letters also contain information about the appalling living conditions, unfavourable climate, and financial problems. These documents revealed a new idea that was appearing – that the faithful need to be resettled outside of the Russian Empire. Eventually, the critical situation made P. Verigin appeal to Empress Alexandra Fedorovna with a request to allow new resettlement [33]. He provided various reasons to convince the Empress. First of all, P. Verigin pointed out the misleading explanation of their name, which was falsified by the officials and clergy. Thus, “doukhobor” meant that they spiritually believe in God, he also cited evangelical texts to demonstrate that. Second, he explained the urgent need to be resettled by the significant problems of the community: “women and children are suffering there (in exile); hundreds of husbands and fathers are imprisoned; thousands of families are resettled in mountain villages, where authorities encourage local people to treat them badly”. P. Verigin also noted that more and more Doukhobor women were imprisoned, justified vegetarianism, and also explained that they carry out all the state duties except the military one, as it contradicted their belief system. He considered it possible for the Doukhobors to be resettled to one of the European countries, e.g. Great Britain, though pointed out that probably, the most favourable living conditions were those in America, where many of their associates [i.e. ethnic Russians and Ukrainians] lived already [34].

These requests were not left unnoticed by the Emperor, and resulted in the Doukhobors obtaining permission to leave the Russian Empire. First, negotiations were planned with Great Britain. An official delegation, including V. Chertkov, [and Doukhobors] I. Ivin and P. Makhortov was sent there. V. Chertkov was the one to unite those who sympathized with Doukhobors and began the resettlement preparations. However, despite calling on the public, the money raised was not enough. The Spiritual Christians appealed to the Quakers, who established the Committee of Friends organization to raise money. First, 3,200 Doukhobors were planned to be resettled outside of the Empire, but the situation had become worse. The British suggested Cyprus for this purpose. Such haste is explained by the Spiritual Christians’ desire to leave Russia as soon as possible. Therefore, the first group of Doukhobors, amounting to 1,128 people, was resettled to Cyprus. There, with the help of Quakers, they were given some land. The smaller than expected size of the group is explained by the fact that the British demanded payment of 250 rubles per each adult settler. Owing to V. Chertkov’s efforts and Quakers financial support, the funds raised were sufficient enough only to resettle 1,128 persons. They went to Larnaca (Cyprus) in August, 1898. However, climatic conditions, malaria, fever and other diseases influenced their decision to immigrate to Canada in spring 1899.

Tolstoy reacted to these events by appealing to the public. In his letter of March 3, 1898, he offerred to be a mediator between the Doukhobors and those who wanted to negotiate with them [35]. The writer diplomatically avoided the issue of who was right in the situation. He wrote “authorities, who recognize the incompatibility of Christianity with prisons, executions, and most importantly with waging wars or preparing for them or Doukhobors who consider the rule of Christianity, which denies any violence, murder, among the foremost for them, and therefore they deny military service – you cannot help seeing that this contradiction cannot be resolved. [36]”

Tolstoy cited gruesome information about state abuse in relation to Spiritual Christians. He managed to categorize main methods of interaction on the faithful. He stated that the first type of punishment was alternative ways to carry out military service, which turned out to be violent, but didn’t contradict Doukhobors’ religious doctrine. Another, more radical method, was to imprison Spiritual Christians for the period of their military service. As the writer pointed out these measures were characteristic of any country in its attitude towards unacceptable religious communities. However, there was another type of punishment in the Russian Empire: the authorities would persecute parents, wives and children of those men who denied military service in order to influence their decision. The number of families taken apart by resettlement of its members to the Caucasus and other parts of the Russian Empire made this situation quite tragic. However, we cannot agree with the writer on his viewpoint that Doukhobors still living in Ukraine experienced the same attitude. According to archival information, some of them were allowed to resettle with their families, however, in practice, positive decisions usually were made in favour of families with children.

The conditions in which the resettled Doukhobors had to live were even more terrible. Tolstoy was extremely distressed by this situation. In his letters, he mentions prohibitions on leaving their place of residence, imprisonment for not complying with the requirements of local authorities, starting from penalties for using the name of their community and ending with meeting with the family, trips to the mill, gathering firewood in the forest, etc. The writer’s diplomatic skills also deserve praise. Thus, he endeavored to justify authorities by their ignorance of these issues; however he also noted that the reason might be their unwillingness to know. Tolstoy also cited the grim statistics of high mortality rate among Doukhobors exiled in Caucasus, where about a quarter of 400 families died within 3 years after resettlement. One cannot help noticing the ironic style of interpretation of official information about resettlement abroad. Conditions for Doukhobors’ resettlement abroad included: obtaining passports according to the local laws, traveling solely on their own expense, and providing signed statements on their non-return to the Russian Empire.

Tolstoy wrote that, by chance, he was familiar with the details of persecution and suffering of the Doukhobors and, therefore, he had kept in touch with them. He also appealed to people both from Russia and Europe to support the Doukhobors in such trouble [37]. Moreover, he called upon them to help, not only by donating money, but actually contributing to the process of resettlement, since Spiritual Christians had no knowledge of foreign languages, nor had they any experience traveling abroad.

While preparing the resettlement of the first group of Doukhobors, some measures were taken for the following group too. Although they needed 88,780 rubles, the committee was able to raise only 45,000. This became known to the writer. He wrote to V. Chertkov about an option he found. Tolstoy suggested selling some of his novels, including Voskresenie, to English and American newspapers on the most favourable conditions and transferring the money to the Committee for the Doukhobors’ resettlement [38]. According to V. Bonch-Bruevich, the writer gave 32,360 rubles to the committee.

There were 2,200 Spiritual Christians in the second group. They resettled in October, 1898. The third group was accompanied by Tolstoy’s son, Sergey Lvovich, in winter 1898-1899. Another 1,700 settlers joined the first two groups. Simultaneously, 1,020 Spiritual Christians emigrated from Cyprus, accompanied by L. Sulerzhitsky. The fourth wave amounted to 2,318 Doukhobors and was accompanied by V. Bonch-Bruevich. The total number of Doukhobors living in Canada by August 1899 was 7,160 persons. Later on, a few more families decided to immigrate as well. 5,800 Doukhobors settled in the area between Yorkton (Saskatchewan) and Swan River (Manitoba); a smaller part (about 1,400) settled near Prince Albert. Thus, there were two big centres of Doukhobor localization – Saskatchewan and [after 1908,] British Columbia.

At this difficult period, P. Verigin wrote a psalm, “Declaration of Brotherhood Life”, which is considered to be one of the main and most respected Doukhobor works. The psalm’s main statements are: members of the [Doukhobor] community respect and love God, because they consider him to be the beginning of everything; they respect the dignity of every person, both among themselves and among others; members of the community perceive all life with love and admiration and try to bring up their children in the same spirit; under the word “God” they understand the power of love and life which is the core of existence; the world is constantly moving, everything strives to perfection, and everything in the world is in transition; one cannot destroy anything; every single being has life; to deprive a person of his or her life is unacceptable; members of the community believe in full freedom; any order established by force is considered illegal; the core of a person’s existence is energy, thoughts and mind; its base is water, fruits and vegetables; life in a commune is acceptable when it is based on moral principle: I would not wish for another what I do not want for myself [39].

The main ideas, set out by Verigin in this psalm, were aimed at raising the faithfull’s spirit and moral support. It essentially became popular during the period of resettlement. Moreover, its ideas were the main topic of his correspondence with Tolstoy.

During their life in Canada, the Doukhobors have managed to retain their culture. However, the community faced changes. In 1902, P. Verigin came to Canada after his exile. However, he never abandoned the hope to return to the homeland. His visit to Russia and meeting with P. Stolypin in 1906 concerning this issue wasn’t successful. In 1924, P.Verigin was killed in a train explosion. A radical party called the “Sons of freedom”, which was established after Verigin’s death, in the second half of the 20th century had about 3,000 members in Canada, those who did not want to become assimilated by the local population and lose their peculiarities. Such attitudes contributed to the emergence of ideas about a possible resettlement to USSR. In 1939, Canadian Doukhobors sent a letter to Y. Stalin with such a request. The reasons for its refusal are still unknown. Starting in 1943, the Doukhobor magazine Iskra (the Spark) had been published in Canada [40], its articles dedicated to issues of community development. Thus, many faithful were concerned with mixed marriages, losing ties with motherland, etc.

The total number of spiritual Christians in Canada at the end of the 20th century amounted to about 100,000. In 1991, Georgian Doukhobors began a resettlement to the Tula region. An interesting fact is that even today, it’s not common to lock a house in their community. Those who stayed in Javakheti (Gorelovka village) live in difficult conditions. In 1991, Russian Spiritual Christians gathered in the town of Tselina, Rostov region, where they established an organization called “The Union of Doukhobors of Russia”. Part of the faithful resettled to Bryansk region in 1999. Now they have a loyal attitude toward the Russian Orthodox Church. For instance, in Georgia they helped St. Olga Monastery and sent provision to the Orthodox Christians in Tbilisi. In 2001, Vytoki Centre released 2 CDs of Doukhobor ensemble music. In 2002, Spiritual Christians and the Vytoki ensemble participated in the international festival, “Baltic-2002” in Vilnius, Lithuania. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Doukhobor movement is popular in many regions of Russia (Rostov, Tula, Bryansk regions), Azerbaijan, Georgia, Middle East, Ukraine, Canada and USA.

As to Canadian Doukhobors, general number of their descendants is more than to 30,000. However, a long period of living abroad, mixed marriages, interactions with representatives of other religions have influenced their culture. Nevertheless, descendants of Spiritual Christians are not only interested in the peculiarities of their community, its history, but also in the ties with the motherland. It’s a well-known fact that they cooperate with the faithful from Tula region in Russia. All of that became possible owing to the help of Russian intelligentsia at the end of the 19th century. Due to its contribution, the phenomenon of Doukhobors was saved.

Another aspect is the issue of interrelations between the Doukhobor and Tolstoyan movements. Thus, it is hard to deny a considerable number of common traits in both doctrines. Missionaries and the clergy viewed the existence of different subdivisions of the Doukhobor movement as a result of Tolstoyan doctrinal influence [41], for instance the postniki (“fasters”), who did not recognized Tsar authority. The peculiarity of further contacts was the appearance of Tolstoyan adherents in Ukraine. For example, in village of Balky in Kharkov province, a religious movement based on Tolstoyan ideas became popular. The same information is known about the Sumy district of Kharkov province, where in the 1880s similar teachings were also wide-spread [42]. The main reasons to think that adherents of the Tolstoyan movement borrowed their ideas from Doukhobors and not vice-versa are the following: first of all the time of the Doukhobor movement appearing (second half of the 18th century, whereas Tolstoyan movement appeared only in the second half of the 19th century); secondly, the high interest of Tolstoy in Doukhobor ideas about the priority of human values, non-violence, respect for a person, etc. and transferring them to the Tolstoyan movement. However, this issue is a subject of further researches.

Hence, the relation between Tolstoy and Spiritual Christians began at the time of their migration within the country and continued after resettlement abroad in the second half of the 19th century. The initial stage of relations with L. Tolstoy and his associates (P. Biryukov, L. Sulerzhitsky, V. Chertkov) was characterized by a great interest in the peculiarities of the Doukhobor doctrine, their social practices, community organization, interrelation within the community, etc. The next period (1890s) was characterized by attracting public attention to the faithful’s problems, supplying them with moral and especially financial support at the time of resettlement. The third stage (beginning of the 20th century) is described by correspondence and publication of several Doukhobor-related monographs [43]. Special attention was given to the development of the community in Cyprus and Canada. The main reason lays in the fact that materials discrediting Doukhobor life abroad were published in Orthodox newspapers at the turn of the 20th century. In reaction, several works on the diasporal way of life were published. Of course, Tolstoy’s publications played an important role, especially his afterword articles for P. Biryukov’s works – “Persecution of Christians” and “Help!” published in 1895-1896. After his refusal to become a Nobel Prize Nominee, Tolstoy addressed an open letter to the Swedish newspaper Stockholm Tagblatt, with suggestion to give the prize to Doukhobors. Despite the fact the letter was published, they never received it [44]. There is information about another open letter of Tolstoy’s called “On Nobel’s Testament” in the Swedish press. In this letter, he offered to use all the money left by this entrepreneur for resettling the Doukhobors to any country of the world [45].

Public reaction was sluggish and no practical suggestions were made on how to resolve this issue.

Thereby Tolstoy and his associates’ help became important for the further development of the [Doukhobor] community. As only owing to the resettlement outside of the Russian Empire, a unique culture was retained. Despite significant financial difficulties and appalling living conditions, Doukhobors continued to promote their ideas, based on human values, brought up their children with the best human qualities in spirit of respect for elders, good, non-violence, etc.

Promising directions for further research are: analyzing the Doukhobor movement as a social phenomenon on Ukrainian lands in the period of the New Age; studying the modern stage of Doukhobor diaspora development, its number, way of life, customs and traditions, system of education, etc.; characteristics of the main aspects of cooperation between modern Doukhobors on one side, and Russians and Ukrainians on the other, in cultural, educational and other fields.


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  8. Zybarov N., Planidin P. Lev Tolstoy – Petr Verigin. Perepiska. – M., 2004. – 237 p.
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  11. Zakony o razkolnikakh i sektantakh. Vyp. 2. – M., 1903. – 228 p.
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  16. Putintsev F. Ukaz. soch. – p. 45.
  17. Nagorna T. Pomirkovane protystojannja chy vidkryta borotba: pro polituku Mykoly I shchodo dukhovnykh khrystyjan v Ukrajini (druha chvert XIX st.) // Istorychna pamjat. – 2004. – №1. – p. 118-127; Pravovi zasady dijalnosti pravoslavnykh sekt u XIX st. // Naukovi zapysky Ternopilskoho derzhavnoho pedahohichnoho universytetu imeni Volodymyra Hnatjuka. Serija: Istorija. – Ternopol, 2002. – Vyp. 2. – p. 12-16.
  18. Central State Historic Archive of Ukraine in Kyiv (CSHAUK hereafter). – Ф.442. – Оп.1. – Спр.1802 б. – Арк.85.
  19. Polnoie sobranie zakonov Rosiiskoi Imperii. – V. VI, VII, IX. – Sobranie 2, otdelenie 2. 1830-1834. – StP., 1835; Sobranie postanovlenii po chaste razkola. – StP, 1858 – 274 p.
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  21. Ib. – p. 76.
  22. Pravila o pereselenii raskol’nikov vrednykh eresi v Zakavkazskii kray. Vysochaishchee utverzhdenie 14 dekabria 1842 goda // Trudy poltavskoi uchenoi arkhivnoi komissii. – Vyp.7. – p. 170-171.
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  25. Bohoraz V. (Tan). Ukaz. soch. – p. 78.
  26. Zybarov N., Planidin P. Ukaz. soch. – p.6.
  27. Ib. – p. 29.
  28. Iz pis’ma dukhobortsa Vasi Obiedkova // Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – 84-86 p.; Pis’mo dukhobora V.A. Potapova // Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – 83-84 p.; Pis’mo dukhobortsa Vasilia Potapova k P.I. Biryukovu // Meterialy k izucheniju russkogo sektanstva i razkola. – Edd.1. – StP., 1908. – p. 158-159.
  29. Ib. – p.18.
  30. Ib. – p.20.
  31. Pis’ma L.N. Tolstogo k kavkazskim dukhobortsam v 1897 g. // Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – p. 66.
  32. Ib. – p.67.
  33. Proshenie Petra Verigina na imja imperatritsy Aleksandry Fiedorovny // Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – p. 74.
  34. Ib. – p.75.
  35. Ib. – p. 82.
  36. Ib. – p. 76.
  37. Ib.
  38. Bonch-Bruevich V. Ukaz. soch. – p. 11-12.
  39. Biryukov P. Ukaz. soch. – p. 79.
  40. Chernyshov V. Mech obojudoostryi. – K., 1998. – p. 48.
  41. Dukhobory i tolstovtsy // Terletskii V. Ochierki,issledovania i statii po sektanstvu. – Edd. I. – Poltava, 1913. – p. 33.
  42. Tikhomirov L. Novyie plody uchenia grafa L. Tolstogo // MO. – 1897. – №1-3. – Book I. – p. 25. Sulerzhitskii L. Ukaz. soch.
  43. Zybarov N., Planidin P. Ukaz. soch. – p.4.
  44. Chernyshov V. Ukaz. soch. – p.49.

The Dukhobortsy and Religious Persecution in Russia

by John Ashworth

The following lecture was delivered in April 1900 by John Ashworth at the Society of Friends (Quakers) Meeting House in Manchester, England. Reproduced from the pages of ISKRA No.1870 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., March 24, 1999), this article sets out the beliefs, practices, history and persecution of the Doukhobors in Russia, and follows their early settlement in the Canadian West.

In bringing this subject into notice I am anxious to awaken an interest on behalf of the sectarian churches in the vast country of Russia, more especially of the Dukhobortsy (Doukhobors) who are suffering in various ways for not worshipping after the manner of the State Religion, known as the Greek (Russian Orthodox) Church. The history of the Doukhobors brings home to members of the Society of Friends what our forefathers suffered in the days of George Fox, in the time of the Irish rebellion, and during the American War.

The religious communities that have suffered and are suffering persecution at the hands of the Government are principally the Baptists, Stundists, Molokans, and Dukhobortsy.

The Baptists, only a few years ago, were permitted to have full freedom for worship in their own places, but this freedom is now restricted to the Province of Livonia, Riga being their chief centre. It is only within this district that they are permitted to erect Meeting Houses. Some of their pastors are undergoing imprisonment for converting members of the Greek Church to their doctrines; and are obliged to send their children to the Orthodox schools.

The Stundists hold similar views to the Baptists. They are not allowed to have their own churches, and they are liable to imprisonment if three of them assemble for worship; they therefore attach themselves to the Baptists that they may take part in their services. Both these are allowed the Bible and hymn books, but they are not permitted to read or receive any religious literature.

The Molokans are Methodists, and they do not believe in war, and they also are not allowed to have any books. These people are scattered in different parts of Russia but mostly in the Caucasus, in order to prevent them from meeting together, yet in spite of these precautions their principles spread.

Lastly, the Dukhobortsy or “Spirit Wrestlers”. These people were first heard of about 150 years ago, and at the end of the last century or the beginning of the present their doctrines had become so clearly defined, and the number of their followers had so greatly increased, that the Government and the Greek Church considered their creed to be peculiarly obnoxious. They therefore subjected them to cruel persecution.

Doukhobor villagers

The foundation of the Spirit Wrestlers’ teaching consists in the belief that the Spirit of God is present in the soul of man, and directs him by its word within him. They understand the coming of Christ in the flesh, His works, teachings, and sufferings, in a spiritual sense. The object of the sufferings of Christ, in their view, was to give us an example of suffering for truth. Christ continues to suffer in them even now, when they do not live in accordance with the behest and spirit of His teaching. The whole teaching of the Spirit Wrestlers is penetrated with the gospel spirit of love.

Worshipping God in the spirit, the Spirit Wrestlers affirm that the outward Church and all that is performed in it and concerns it has no importance for them. The Church is where two or three are gathered together, i.e. united in the name of Christ.

They pray inwardly at all times; while, on fixed days (corresponding for convenience to the orthodox holy days) they assemble for prayer meetings, at which they read prayers and sing hymns, or psalms as they call them, and greet each other fraternally with low bows, thereby acknowledging every man as a bearer of the Divine Spirit.

The teaching of the Spirit Wrestlers is founded on tradition. This tradition is called among them the Book of Life, because it lives in their memory and hearts. It consists of psalms, partly formed out of the contents of the Old and New Testaments, partly composed independently.

The Spirit Wrestlers found their mutual relations and their relations to other people – and not only to people, but to all living creatures – exclusively on love; and, therefore, they hold all people equal, brethren. They extend this idea of equality also to the Government authorities; obedience to whom they do not consider binding upon them in those cases where the demands of these authorities are in conflict with their conscience, while in all that does not infringe what they regard as the will of God, they willingly fulfill the desires of the authorities. They consider murder, violence, and in general all relations to living things not based no love, as opposed to their conscience, and to the will of God. 

Such are the beliefs for which the Spirit Wrestlers have long endured such persecutions. Yet it may be said of them that they are industrious and abstemious, always truthful in their speech, for they account all lying as a great sin.

The Emperor Alexander I, on the 9th of December, 1816, expressed himself in one of his prescripts as follows:

“All the measures of severity exhausted upon the Spirit Wrestlers during the 30 years up to 1801, not only did not destroy that sect, but more and more multiplied the number of its adherents.”

His Majesty, wishing to isolate them, graciously allowed them to emigrate from the Provinces of Tambov and Ekaterinoslav (where they flourished) to the so-called Milky Waters in the Tauride (Tavria) Province.

In the reign of Nicholas I, severe persecutions befell them, especially for not bearing arms. Between 1850 and 1850 they were transported to the extreme borders of the Caucasus, where being always confronted with hills men, it was thought they must of necessity protect their property and families by force of arms, and would thus have to renounce their convictions. Moreover, the so-called Wet Mountains, appointed for their settlement, had a severe climate, standing, as they did, 5,000 feet above the sea level. Barley grew with difficulty and crops were often destroyed by frost.

Others of these Spirit Wrestlers were transported to the wild, unhealthy and uncultivated district of Elizavetpol, where it was thought the wild frontier tribes would probably exterminate them. Instead of that, they won the friendship of the hill tribes, and enjoyed a half a century of prosperity and peace, although in the first instance they suffered to some extent through the depredations of the inhabitants, because they carried out their principles of non-resistance.

In 1887, when Universal Military Conscription was introduced into the Transcaucasus, many of the Spirit Wrestlers, through the snare which comes with increase of worldly goods, became lax in their religious views and joined the army. This indifference continued until 1895, when Peter Verigin, whom the Doukhobors now look up to as their leader, was the means of creating a revival amongst them, and bringing them back to the faith of their fathers, and to their old custom of total abstinence from all intoxicants and tobacco. They voluntarily divided their property, in order to do away with the distinctions between rich and poor, and again they strictly insisted on the doctrine of non-resistance to violence.

The Russian Government felt that Peter Verigin would be better removed, especially as the conscription was again being introduced into the Caucasus. He was banished to Lapland, but afterwards transferred to Obdorsk, in Siberia, in order that he might be more completely cut off from his people.

In carrying out this spirit of non-resistance, however, they felt that so long as anyone possessed arms, it was difficult to keep from using them, when robbers came to steal a horse or a cow. So to remove temptation and to give proof of their principles to the Government, they resolved to destroy their arms. This decision was unitedly carried out in the three districts on the night of June 28th, 1895. In the Kars district, all passed off quietly. In the Elizavetpol district, the authorities made it an excuse for arresting 40 of them under a plea that it was a rebellion against army service. The people in the villages of Goreloye in the Tiflis district fared still worse. There a large assembly of men and women gathered at night for the purpose of burning their arms; they continued singing psalms till the bonfire had burned low, and the day had begun to dawn. Just then two regiments of Cossacks arrived on the scene, and were ordered to charge upon the defenseless crowd, without even ascertaining the cause of the gathering. They flogged the men and women with heavy whips, until the Doukhobors’ faces were cut and their clothes covered with blood.

No one was tried for this, and no one was punished, nor has any explanation or apology been offered to them. The Government in St. Petersburg depend for information upon the local authorities, who were the very people who sanctioned this crime. The newspapers dare not report such disgraceful scenes, in fact they are forbidden to do so.

Vladimir Chertkov, Paul Biryukov and Ivan Tregubov (Tolstoyans sympathetic to the Doukhobors) went to St. Petersburg to plead before the Emperor on behalf of these suffering people. Instead of seeing him they were banished without trial and without being allowed to make the matter public.

Instead of the perpetrators of these crimes being punished, Cossacks were quartered in the villages of the Doukhobors, and there insulted the women, beat the men, and stole their property. Four thousand (Tiflis Doukhobors) were obliged to abandon their houses and sell their well cultivated lands at a few days notice, and were banished to unhealthy districts where nearly 1,000 perished in the next three years, from want, disease and ill-treatment.

It may be interesting at this juncture to show, from the following discourse between a Judge and one of the Doukhobors, that some of the authorities had a tender place in their hearts.

To the conscription of the year 1895, in the district town of Dushet, there were summoned seven of the Spirit Wrestlers who were exiled to the Gory district. They were all entitled to exemption owing to domestic circumstances. They obeyed the summons, but declined to draw lots, and the village alderman was told to draw for them. A report was drawn up of their refusal, and they were sent home again. The judge determined that they were to appear before the Court on the 14th of November, and served them with notices to do so on the spot.

They appeared at the Court at 9 a.m. The Judge said, “Are you the men who refused to draw lots?” “We are” replied the Doukhobors. “And why do you refuse?” asked the Judge.

Glagolev: “Because we do not wish to enter the military service, knowing beforehand that such service is against our conscience, and we prefer to live according to our conscience, and not in opposition to it. Although by the military law we are entitled to exemption, we would not draw lots because we did not wish to have any share in a business which is contrary to the will of God and to our conscience.”

The Judge: “The term of service is now short: you can soon get it over and go home again. Then they will not drag you from court to court, and from prison to prison.”

Glagolev: “Mr. Judge, we do not value our bodies. The only thing of importance to us is that our conscience should be clear. We cannot act contrary to the will of God. And it is no light matter to be a soldier, and to kill a man directly you are told. God has once for all impressed on the heart of each man, “Thou shalt not kill.” A Christian will not only not learn how to kill, but will never allow one of God’s creatures to be beaten.”

Then said the Judge, “But nevertheless, we cannot do without soldiers and war, because both you and others have a little property, and some people are quite rich; and if we had no armies and no soldiers, then evil men and thieves would come, and would plunder us, and with no army we could no defend ourselves.”

Then Glagolev replied, “You know, Mr. Judge, that it is written in the Gospels, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” We have obeyed this injunction, and will hold to it, and therefore shall have not need of defending anything. Why, ask yourself, Mr. Judge, how we can keep our money when our brothers might need it? We are commanded to help our neighbours, so that we cannot find rest in our souls when we see them in want. Christ when He was on earth taught that we should “feed the hungry, give shoes to those who have none, and share with those who are needy.”

Then the Judge began to enquire into our circumstances, and asked how we were getting on, and how the country suited us, all about the distraint, and the Cossacks striking the women and old men, and their outraging the young women, and expressed great astonishment that soldiers whose duty it was to protect us, could turn themselves into brigands and murderers.

Then said Glagolev, “We see from this, Mr. Judge, that an army does not in the least exist for the protection of our own interests, but in order that our savings may be spent on armaments, and is no use in the world but to cause misery, outrage and murder.”

Then the Judge, who had listened to it all attentively, was greatly moved and distressed by all the cruelties which had been practiced on the Spirit Wrestlers. He condemned them, in virtue of some section or other of the Code, to a fine of three roubles, and himself advised them not to pay it.

He talked a great deal more to us, and questioned us, and said, as he dismissed us, “Hold fast to that commandment of the Lord’s.”

We went to the inn to dine, and see our friends, and before we had any dinner, the Judge came to see us, and brought us two roubles, in case we had nothing to eat. We endeavored to decline the money, saying, “We do not want it. Thank God, today we shall have enough.” But he begged us to accept it as the offering of a pure heart, and made in sincerity, and then we took it, as from a brother, and after thanking him, and bidding him farewell, went away. He showed us where he lived, expressed a wish to know more of us, and begged us to come and talk with him.

Ultimately, the Russian Government, perhaps realizing that persecution would not turn the Doukhobors from their faith, granted them permission to emigrate. They were assisted in this emigration by the Society of Friends (Quakers) in England. One colony was sent to Cyprus, where the climate proved unsuitable. Finally arrangements were made with the Canadian Government for each male over 18 years of age to have a grant of 160 acres of land in (the North-West Territories), together with a loan of one dollar per head.

In the first half of 1899, over 6,000 emigrated to Manitoba, Assiniboia and Saskatchewan – and in the Spring it was found necessary to transport the Cyprus Colony to Canada also, as many of them were suffering from fever – this bringing up the total number of Doukhobors in Canada to about 7,400.

The Russian Government apparently showed great forethought in the manner in which they carried out the persecution, by arresting the leaders and foremost men and banishing them to Siberia. At the present time 110 have been thus cruelly snatched away from their families and people, and are still in exile.

In the Autumn of last year (1899) I had occasion to visit Canada on business, when, through the kindness of the Deputy Minister of the Interior, whom I met at Ottawa, arrangements were made for my paying a visit to some Doukhobor Settlements. Upon arriving at Winnipeg, Mr. McCreary, the Immigration Commissioner, passed me forward to Mr. Crerar, the Government Agent at Yorkton, who provided me with a two horse rig, and an interpreter by the name of Captain Arthur St. John, a retired military officer, and who had become a follower of Tolstoy.

Yorkton is a town of about 600 inhabitants, at the terminus of the branch line, which is 270 miles Northwest of Winnipeg. It takes from 8:30 in the morning to about 10 o’clock at night to cover this distance.

On my journey between Winnipeg and Yorkton I got into a conversation with a contractor who was on his way to the latter place to engage 500 Doukhobors to work on the railway at $1.75 per day. He spoke well of them and thought them steady workmen. At the same time he stated that many objections were raised against foreigners being brought into the district.

On the bright, frosty morning of the 25th of October, accompanied by Arthur St. John, I drove 15 miles over the prairie to Whitesand. There we stayed the night with a Friend (Quaker) of the name of Alfred Hutchison, an Ackworth scholar, formerly of Wellingborough, England. At an early hour in the morning, we crossed Whitesand River, drove over the prairie and along the south east side of Good Spirit or Devil’s Lake, till we reached the South Colony of Doukhobors. We stopped to exchange salutations at the first two villages. I shall always remember my first impression of a Doukhobor village on that beautiful, frosty morning. A picturesque group of quaintly built chalet like houses, made of logs with turf roofs. The sides were coated with clay plaster and presented a uniform appearance. In the centre of the main room was a large oven, 5 feet square, which served the purpose of heating the hut and cooking the food. Everything showed most careful workmanship. The habits of personal cleanliness, acquired in their old country, were continued here, for it was noticeable that one of the first buildings put up was a Russian bath.

Doukhobor village

We were sorry to hear that these villagers were obliged to remove in the Spring, owing to their having planted themselves too near former settlers, and also because the land was not good enough to produce sufficient food for the needs of so many.

We next visited the villages on Paterson Lake, where the people seemed more contented and comfortable. They expressed their gratitude for what Friends (Quakers) had done in bringing them to Canada. After the usual salutations, we drove about two miles north to a ranch run by some Scotch people, Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan, who made us welcome for the night. A surveying camp was near, and the leader came and spent two hours with us. Although we were right on the prairie, thirty miles away from any town, yet so many people were gathered together that quite a pleasant evening was spent. Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan spoke highly of the Doukhobors for their honesty and faithfulness. A Doukhobor worked on their farm and they sent him the following day with his team to help the Surveyors to change their camp to twenty miles off. The women are very clever with the needle, as specimens of their handiwork showed.

After a pleasant evening, a good night’s rest, and farewell greetings, we continued our journey over the prairie to the next villages. At one time, owing to a frosty mist, we lost our trail trying to make a short cut. Fortunately, we came across some lumber men at a stream, who put us on the track, and soon we struck Williams’ ranch. Here we stopped for refreshment and to rest our horses. These farmers had also a Doukhobor working for them. Mrs. Williams told us she could trust the Doukhobors when left with herself and children, while she did not feel nearly so safe with the untrustworthy Galician settlers. As evening was approaching, we hastened to the next village, and arrived as the sun was setting.

Here we spent the night in a Doukhobor hut. I had a long conversation with the leaders of the village, through Arthur St. John. They chanted some of their psalms to us, after which we had supper of dark brown, sour bread, tea in glasses, potatoes sliced and baked in oil, which we ate according to their custom with our fingers; then a kind of soup made of macaroni, for which they provided home-made wooden spoons.

Arthur St. John, on leaving me that night, instructed a Doukhobor to accompany me on the morrow. He then walked through the night, 18 miles over the prairies to the next village.

Before retiring for the night, I endeavored to amuse the girls and boys by teaching them simple English words, and I was well repaid by their quickness in learning. After a comfortable night’s rest and a breakfast similar to the supper aforesaid, several Doukhobors escorted me some distance in the beautiful morning. We drove 18 miles over the prairie to the next village, which after some difficulty we reached about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Here we had another Russian meal, and after a friendly greeting drove to the last village on my tour. I found many poor people here, suffering more or less from the Cyprus fever.

Arthur St. John walked back to the village I had just left, whilst I drove across Dead Horse Creek to Kamsack Post Office, where I put up for the night in such accommodation as could be had. We slept in a loft; I on an old-fashioned bed, the driver in rugs on the floor and the Doukhobor boy on the kitchen floor.

The next day we drove back to Yorkton, a distance of 40 miles, arriving there about 10 o’clock at night. The last eight miles over the prairie was by brilliant starlight.

It is difficult to state clearly what the Doukhobor belief is, especially when we bear in mind that these people are what we should call illiterate. They have no written history, and what knowledge they have is handed down orally from father to son. Upon entering a meeting the custom is for the men to greet each other by bowing three times and kissing one another, and the women to do the same to each other. At the commencement, each one says a prayer. The three bows and kisses are intended to signify the cleansing of the body and the repulsion of pride; they take each other’s hands as a sign of union and love, kindly expression, good understanding, and the sense of a God revered in their souls.

During t he meetings, one after another recites the prayers he knows; they sing psalms together and explain to each other the Word of God. As almost all are illiterate, and therefore without books, all this is done from memory. They have no priests in the ordinary sense of the word; they acknowledge as priest the one just, holy, true Christ, uplifted above sinners higher than the heavens; He is their sole teacher. Thus at their meetings they hear the Word of God from each other; each one may express what he knows or feels for the benefit of his brethren; the women are not excluded from this, for, as they say, women also have understanding, and light is in understanding. They pray either standing or sitting, as the case may be. At the end of the meeting, they again kiss each other thrice as at the beginning, and then the brethren return home.

In visiting the villages of the Doukhobors one cannot help noticing that “the power that Christianity in its truest sense has of civilizing, in our acceptance of the word, is made manifest in this instance. These people, deprived of even the few necessities of life common to the children of the soil, hunted from pillar to post, made to herd like the beasts of the field, beaten, ill-treated, mother separated from their children and wives from their husbands, are today the most polite, orderly people it is possible to imagine. The villages they are building testify to the powers of organization and inherent orderliness of the people; the results of self-discipline are apparent in the people as a unit, and the very core of their religious convictions is self-restraint.

The absence of anything like noisiness or excitability strikes one the instant one moves about among the villages. The very children are curiously quiet and gentle in their mode of play, and they are miniatures of their elders in more than their picturesque costume. The quiet dignity noticeable comes from the best possible influence, the parents having apparently little trouble in training their children, other than by the example of their own quiet and industrious lives. 

There is something unutterably pathetic to those who live in this wrangling, noisy world of the nineteenth century to see the women and children of the Dukhobortsy quietly and silently bearing with a great patience the load that is laid upon their shoulders. The innate dignity of the women and their uncomplaining, untiring patience have perhaps been the reason that they have had strength given them to endure to the end trials that their magnificent physique could not alone have enabled them to withstand. They are a great people – that is undeniable; and while they are the children of the soil, they are the aristocracy of the soil, people who, to use Ruskin’s words, have found that “all true art is sacred, and in all hand labour there is something of divineness.” Their hand labour is marvelous, from the finest embroidery to the building and plastering of their houses.

Whatever we may think about the religion of the Doukhobors, we have here at the end of the nineteenth century an object lesson of what these people have suffered for conscience sake in endeavoring according to their light to advance the cause of truth and righteousness in the earth.

Well may we ask ourselves the question, “What should we do under similar circumstances?” Should we also stand true to the dictates of Christ our Master? It might be said in reply, “There is no fear of such a state of things happening in this country.” Let us pause and consider. The times are ominous. Militarism is apparently becoming rampant. Even professing representatives of the Gospel of Christ have declared a man to be a coward who attempted to carry out the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. God forbid that His people should forsake Him in their hour of trial.


John Ashworth was a member of the Society of Friends Doukhobor Committee, a Quaker body formed in England in 1897 to help the Doukhobors emigrate from Russia, and thereafter, to assist in their settlement in Canada.  His visit to the Doukhobor settlements in Canada in Autumn of 1899 – the subject of the above article – was his first of several such visits. For an account of his subsequent visit to the Doukhobors in April of 1901, see his account entitled Visit to the Saskatchewan District Doukhobors, 1901.