The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856

by Heinrich Johann von Paucker

During the Oriental (Crimean) War (1853-1856), Imperial Russian Army regiments stationed on the Caucasian Front were billeted in Dukhobor settlements. One such soldier was Heinrich Johann von Paucker, a young Baltic German military cadet quartered in the village of Rodionovka.  Paucker kept a journal and recorded his observations of his Dukhobor hosts, with whom he came in regular contact. Having a keen ethnographic eye, he documented the geography and climate, historical background, religious beliefs, customs and practices and religious services of this unique people – virtually unknown to western members of the Russian Empire. His account was published anonymously in German as “Die Duchoborzen in Transkaukasien” in the Baltic journal “Baltische Monatsschrift” (Volume 11, Riga: Jonck & Boliewsky, 1865, pp. 240-250); republished under his name in the German journal “Deutsche Rundschau für Geographie und Statistik” (Volume, 4, Lepzig: October; November 1881, pp. 18-21; 66-69). Available in English for the first time ever, this exclusive translation provides the reader with an extraordinarily rare, in-depth glimpse into this little-known period of Doukhobor history, for which few other published sources exist. Translated by Gunter Schaarschmidt for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Afterword and editorial comments by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

When roaming through the Great Russian Empire in its more distant parts, one comes upon ethnic groups and religions that are not known at all, or only known by name, to we Western members of the Empire. These groups and religions still offer the investigator a large scope for study. Included in these groups is the sect of the Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia with whom I came in frequent contact during the last Oriental War [Russian name for the Crimean War, 1853-1856] because the regiment in which I had the honour of serving had been assigned to their villages for a base-camp during the winters of 1854-1855 and 1855-1856. This small ethnic group which dwells so far from the Motherland at the border of European civilization (one could almost say outside this civilization) was of such great interest to me in its isolation that I felt obliged to record my observations in writing. Perhaps they deserve a more general interest, too, especially since everything concerning the Schism in Russia [the Raskol or splitting of the Orthodox Church into an official church and the Old Believers movement in the 17th century] is covered by a veil of secrecy that has been lifted only in very recent times.

Geography and Climate

The land of the Dukhobortsy, the so-called Dukhoborye is located in the Western part of the Akhalkalakian circle and occupies the entire plain adjoining the Turkish border. This plain, almost 3,000 feet above sea level and traversed by low mountains that are covered by early snowfalls, is open only towards the Turkish side and gives the impression of a lifeless desert. The snow usually begins to fall in September and disappears in March but sometimes lingers into April. Nonetheless the cold is moderate and seldom exceeds 10-12˚ Réaumur [-12.5˚ to -15˚ Celsius]. But the amount of snow is quite significant and it is so loose that drifts are caused by the slightest of winds and this drifting snow can at times last for several days in a row. In the winter 1854-55 an entire village was literally buried by such a violent storm and there was not enough manpower to shovel away the snow mass, so that it became necessary to tear away the straw roofs of the stables in order to drop food and water through the openings for the animals.

The inhabitants don’t have much of a summer – in the short season they have to hurry to bring in the hay crop and prepare for the winter months. The hay is usually stored in the backyard in large bundles. The Dukhobortsy employ a strange unit of measure when they sell hay: they sell it by the cord – the price is approximately 9-12 rubles depending upon the amount and the quality of the hay. Hay is extremely important as a merchandise among the Dukhobortsy since their only source of [outside] income are loads of hay delivered for Crown and private enterprises. The Dukhobortsy keep relatively few cattle although the latter would be very necessary for them because the Kisyak or manure must be used in these bare, woodless steppes not only as a heating fuel but also for construction – you don’t find any wooden buildings at all. The walls of the houses are produced simply from Kisyak cut into blocks and are carefully whitewashed. There is no ceiling; instead there is a plain roof consisting of rafters and covered with a thick layer of straw. Nonetheless the huts are roomy and bright. The local Kisyak does not give off heavy fumes when heating, like among the Armenians, probably because the Dukhobortsy dry it very carefully and store it wrapped in straw in a shelter – a process that the Armenians should copy from their neighbours.

There is no way to grow grain [wheat] in these areas although the inhabitants have never tried to grow it and most probably spared themselves unnecessary labour. The land here seems really not capable of producing anything but grass. The impression of this lifeless steppe is very sad – there are miserable individual villages but no forest, no field, no garden or lawn, in some places there are meagre vegetable gardens in the yards. The inhabitants must buy the necessary grain for their consumption from the bazaars of Akhalkalaki or Alexandropol which are approximately 60-70 versts [an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 1.0668 kilometers] away. The climate is on the whole very unhealthy: people suffer often from fevers and many die from typhoid every year. However, many doctors are of the opinion that the diseases are rather the result of the close living quarters and the damp dwellings than of the unhealthy climate.

Historical Background

The Dukhobortsy attract our attention because of their religion that differentiates them both from the Greek Orthodox Church and from the other sects of Russia as well as because of the mysterious nature of their religion. One could call them the Quakers of the Greek church since like the latter they believe in the direct effect of the holy spirit; their main teachings, however, consist in their peculiar conceptualization of the soul, the mind, and the heart. They do not possess any written records that would elucidate their religious beliefs. These are laid down only in their oral tradition. But since the individuality of each person who hands down the tradition plays an important role, their dogmas are not as clear as seems to be the case with other sects. If the authorities had found a written record among them in the years of persecution, such a record would of course have been incontrovertible evidence of heresy.

The 16th and 17th centuries in Europe were a time of general turmoil and politico-religious revolutions; Russia, too, was not exempt from this. In Russia, the revision of the parish registers by Patriarch Nikon caused different interpretations (tolki). The so-called Old Believers adhered to the [old] ritual to the letter and sought to maintain the sanctity and inviolability of the Orthodox Church. However, others became opposed to the dogma itself – this trend eventually led to the formation of the Dukhobortsy sect. The many foreigners that the Tsar had called into Russia no doubt contributed to feeding the spirit of the religious disputes by importing many ideas from their old country into their new home country.

In the first years of their existence the Dukhobortsy, i.e., Spirit-Wrestlers, formed a single sect with the Ikonobortsy, i.e., icon-wrestlers, because like the latter the Dukhobortsy rejected icons as attempts at idolatry; later, however, when they intensely developed the teaching of the effect of the holy spirit, they separated [from the Ikonobortsy] and adopted their present name. The Dukhobortsy derive the origin of their belief from the three boys in the fiery stove mentioned by the prophet Daniel [the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Daniel 3:1-30] but designate a certain Siluan Kolesnikov, who lived in the village of Nikolskoye in the Province of Ekaterinoslav at the end of the last century, as the founder of their belief system. However, while they recognize Kolesnikov as a famous religious hero, others maintain that their sect had been founded already at the beginning of the 18th century and that its origin was in the Province of Tambov. It seems that the latter view is more correct because even though their traditions begin with Kolesnikov, these traditions existed already earlier and were widely spread in the southern provinces of Chernigov, Kursk, Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, Voronezh, Tambov and Saratov. The Dukhobortsy, like all dissenters, had to endure severe persecution and oppression until a new star rose for them with the government of Alexander I.

In the year 1801 the government considered it necessary to resettle the adherents of this sect to a more distant area. For this purpose the Dukhobortsy were allotted a huge segment of untilled land called Molochnye Vody [Milky Waters] in the Province of Tavria in the district of Melitopol as a new residence. At first only 30 families were sent there. They started tilling the land with great zeal. Soon rumours about the free and happy life of the new settlers reached those left behind and caused them to ask for permission to move there as an entire group. This permission was granted. As a result the Dukhobortsy formed a colony consisting of 9 (nine) villages in the Crimea. The names of these villages can still be found today in the Caucasus, e.g., in the Akhalkalakian district: Bogdanovka, Troitskoye, Spasskoye, Rodionovka, Tambovka, and Goreloye, or, near Bashkichet or Elizavetpol: Akimovka, Terpeniye, and Gavrilovka. The Dukhobortsy reproduced so vigorously that by the year 1832 their number had grown to 800 families with 4,000 members of both sexes.

They could have lived happily and contentedly in Tavria especially since they excelled in considerable work ethic and good management but soon the old spirit of rebelliousness and of religious fanaticism was stirring among them. They began to interpret their resettlement to the Crimea as an apocalyptic event, openly preached their faith, and were disobedient to the authorities. Thus, for example, they refused to supply recruits to the Governor General of Kherson by arguing that those recruits would have to swear an oath of allegiance which oath would be prohibited by their religion. Punishing them achieved nothing so that the authorities arrived at an agreement that under such circumstances they would accept the Dukhobortsy’ word of honour. The numerous complaints and remonstrations by local authorities finally led to a decision in 1841 to resettle the sectarians to Transcaucasia, which decision was carried out in the same year.

Religious Beliefs

Let us now examine more precisely the religious notions of this sect. What is peculiar is their development of the doctrine of the Trinity and of Christ’s person. While they believe in a triune God [God in three persons], He reveals himself as such only in the human soul: God the Father in the power of memory, God the Son in the wisdom of reasoning, and the Holy Ghost in volition and conation. Their [the Dukhobortsy’] conception of the entire earthly life of our Saviour is symbolical and they interpret this life as a mystical habitation of Him in man’s heart. In accord with their doctrine He is conceived and born from the words of Archangel Gabriel in the soul of every person. Here He preaches the word of truth, suffers, dies, and rises again from the dead. Therefore even those who have never read the Gospel or heard about Christ must recognize His inner workings because Jesus is the human conscience that teaches everyone to distinguish between good and evil.

Furthermore, the Dukhobortsy are convinced that not only Christians but also Jews, Muslims, and non-believers enter the kingdom of heaven and that on Judgment Day all people will rise from the dead in spirit. Concerning the Day of Judgment, the torments of hell will consist in the eternal pangs of conscience. The soul is God’s image but after the fall of man the image disappeared, memory was weakened and man forgot what he had been before, reasoning became deadened, and the will was no longer governed by the Holy Ghost and thus turned towards evil.

The biblical story of Adam and Eve is regarded by the Dukhobortsy as a symbolic image of our earthly existence. The soul had already fallen earlier, before the creation of the world, together with the other evil angels. The world was created only as a prison to which they were transferred for their sin. Thus sin came into the world not with the fall of man but Adam and Eve were themselves already created as sinners. This teaching underlies the commandment not to mourn the deceased because they have been pardoned and death has redeemed them from wandering on this earth. They see in Abel’s fate the persecution of the just by the unjust or the Cains; [they see] in the march of the Israelites through the Red Sea and in the decline of the Egyptians the perdition of the sinners and the salvation of the believers.

They completely reject the sacraments; likewise they have no clergy and do not even attribute any importance to the decrees of the general councils which otherwise are recognized by most sects of the schism. They reverence the saints and apostles of the Greek Church as mere humans who, although born in sin, led a life pleasing to God. They consider crossing oneself a useless ceremony and therefore refrain from doing it; neither do they pray for their fellow-men and enemies; and they do not even mention those “who have power over us” in their prayers because everyone already has enough to pray for himself.

An important doctrine in practice is that of the equality of all people. Thus there are no masters and servants among the Dukhobortsy but only completely equal “brothers”. For this reason the children call their father simply “elder” and they call their mother “keeper”; the men use the term “sisters” when addressing their wives while the latter call their husbands “brothers”; none of them use the term “Dad” which is otherwise so popular in Russian because, as they say, all people are brothers, only God alone is our father. As an expression of thanks they use the phrase “may God help you”. They do not bear arms and further consider war a sinful and unjust activity, citing in support the doctrines of love and compassion in the Gospel as well as the Seventh Commandment. This view of religion demands that its adherents live in larger communities so that in case of someone’s mishaps everyone can help the individual. They must also avoid quarrelling and any kind of brawl as well as using indecent or abusive language. And while they must not drink wine or spirits, curiously they are allowed to smoke tobacco which is so taboo among the Old Believers. They do not practice fasting.

Once an elderly Dukhobor recounted to me a very charming symbolic story which I will try to render here in its entirety:
“Far, far away from here, in a region inaccessible to the human mind, there is an azure ocean and in that ocean there is an island. Once in a while, muffled in thick fog, it reveals itself to the seafarer but constant waves stir the ocean and prevent man from setting foot on the island. This ocean and the island represent human destiny which, obscure and dark, lies ahead of us until man forces his ship through the wild surf into the quiet harbour of death. On the island there is a high temple which is not man-made and has been here from the first day of creation. The vault [ceiling] rests on as many pillars as there are religions in the world. At every pillar there is a person who is in the process of professing the religion represented graphically on the pillar. One single pillar is made of pure gold – it is the symbol of the pure and true belief in God who created the island as well as heaven, earth, and water. All the other pillars are made of stone representing the false wisdom of the human spirit petrified in his sins. All these pillars including the golden one are covered with marble representing the ignorance of man that deprives him of an unobstructed view into the light of divine doctrine. And while nobody is able to see the gold, everyone tells the other that he is holding the golden shaft of belief in his hands. Centuries pass, the world ages oppressed by the wrath of the Creator of all things. And then comes the hour of the general and terrible decline – the billows of the ocean wallow blood and fire, the sky collapses, the earth’s joints tremble violently, and the magnificent temple, not man-built, falls. The marble chips off and the golden pillar glitters and it alone illuminates the entire world where there is only darkness and agony. Now all men recognize the gold and fall on their faces blinded by the light of divine truth. Woe to those who held a stone shaft in their hands while those who listened to their inner Christ will be saved because only in Him there is salvation. We are all blind and do not know who is holding the gold of true belief in his hands.”

Customs and Practices

Let us say a few words about the outward appearance of our Transcaucasian Dukhobortsy, about their practices and customs, and their domestic life! Most of them are tall and robust; all men, except the old ones, shave their beards leaving just a moustache. They cut their hair and, together with their clothing consisting of wide trousers and a cloth jacket, thus resemble the looks of the Germans who had settled in Transcaucasia. When you see one of these Russian sectarians drive by on a covered wagon with iron axles and harnessed with two horses, you could easily mistake him for a German colonist. The female sex deserves the epithet “fair sex”; however, it is not the usual type of a Russian village beauty, i.e., of robust health; rather in the pale, oval faces of these girls and women there is a somewhat nobler expression that harmonizes splendidly with their cleanliness, grace, and carefully selected clothing. The latter consists of a white, often very elegant chemise with wide, stitched sleeves and a coloured skirt; their head is covered by a low round small cap very artfully made of various coloured triangular flaps. Their hair is clipped a little in front – the married women hide their hair at the back under the cap, while the girls wear braids. The women are very industrious, get up early and, before sunrise, have already taken care of everything connected with domestic chores after which they usually busy themselves with some or other needlework. In the evenings they very much love socializing and gather under whatever pretext in someone’s house where before long the young lads show up and they spend the evening with work, fun, and laughter.

The character of the female sex is marked by a considerable vivacity and frivolity so that even marital fidelity is not held in high esteem among them. The passion for dressing up has contributed a lot to the decay of morals. The men view their wives’ conduct with lenience and do not on their own accord seek to punish them for being unfaithful. Incidentally, if one of the women goes too far and does not know how to hide her amorous adventures properly, she is subjected to a harsh punishment: she is led naked through the village streets and is pelted with excrement and dirt. Such a case occurred during our stay in Rodionovka and the procedure was stopped only through the intervention of the troop commander.

On the whole, the Dukhobortsy do not attribute any importance to matrimony. To get married requires only the good will of two adult persons of different sex, mutual love, and the parents’ consent. The transaction on such an occasion is roughly the following: the relatives and acquaintances of bride and bridegroom gather in the house of the bridegroom’s or the bride’s parents where the oldest family member pronounces the two man and wife, without any further promises or even written contracts. As a result divorce is very easy because just the simple desire of the married couple to get divorced is sufficient. After the completion of the divorce both parties are completely free. In spite of being so easy, however, divorce is a rare occasion.

In the old days the Dukhobortsy were known for their diligence and their good management but nowadays little has remained of that except a certain cleanliness and orderliness. In the Crimea they practiced extensive agriculture as well as cattle- and horse-breeding. Likewise they possessed large flocks of sheep and practiced the art of weaving. When they resettled to Transcaucasia they had to give up all of this because in many respects the character of the new region was not conducive to continuing these former activities. In this deserted steppe where trade was dominated by a few enterprising Armenians, there was no choice but to devote oneself to [wagon] cargo transporting since it was the most lucrative form of income.

This on the whole lazy life, we believe, has produced the now dominating addiction to alcoholic beverages which, after all, are forbidden by the doctrine of this sect. In Dukhoborye everyone, men, women, boys, and girls, drinks very heavily. No meeting proceeds without some hard drinking. When they visit one another, they sit down at a large table and discuss their everyday concern with a glass of brandy. The more they drink the more solemn and concentrated they become until their mood gives vent to the singing of an Old Testament psalm. Rocking back and forth, supporting their heavy heads with their hands, they keep sitting until one of them begins: “Oh brothers!” After that nothing makes sense any more since all words get absorbed by a lengthy monotonous screaming of the chorus.

Notwithstanding their drunkenness the Dukhobortsy are very frank and honest – they do not steal nor do they break their word of honour. Since they never swear oaths they instead value a simple promise that much more.

Like all Russian sectarians the Dukhobortsy, too, believe in religious customs: every morning, before and after a meal as well as at night before going to bed, the entire family forms a circle and the head recites aloud the Lord’s Prayer or a psalm.

Religious Services

Finally we shall say a few words about their divine service. Every person, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and non-believers, can visit the Dukhobortsy’ house of prayer because of their tenet that man cannot desecrate God’s temple by his presence but only by bad deeds. On a bright winter day on a holiday we set out to attend a divine service. The crowd of the devout, all in festive clothing, presented a very friendly picture. We joined the procession that was moving to the end of the village where the house of prayer was located. We entered with all the others. At the entrance the crowd divided – the men lined up to the left, the women to the right, apparently according to age. The room where we found ourselves was furnished in a very simple manner; at the far end there was a wooden table with salt in a wooden salt barrel and bread; otherwise there were no further ornaments.

After everyone had been seated as assigned, the choir leader began the psalm: “Thus speaks the Lord, the God of Israel” etc. whereupon the choir joined in. It is very noteworthy that their sacred songs consist of different biblical texts that are often taken out of context and occasionally arranged in a meaningless way. After the end of the singing the second-eldest stepped in front of the table, took the hand of the eldest, and both of them twice bowed very low to each other, then they kissed and bowed for the third time. After that the third stepped forward and began the same procedure with the former two, and then that procedure made the round, first for all the men and then the women. In spite of the long duration of this ceremony we had waited for it to end and, leaving the house, we addressed an elder with the request to explain to us the significance of those bows and kisses. He replied: “One must worship God’s image in one’s fellow man because man represents God on earth.”

Because of this doctrine the Dukhobortsy lapse into a peculiar form of idolatry in spite of the fact that they reject icons. That is because they select from their midst a handsome boy whom they call the “mother of God”, and whom they worship in superstitious awe like a deity. This custom may partially explain the demoralization of the female sex because this boy gathers around him a kind of court consisting of the young girls of all villages, and no girl can be wed without having spent some time there. It goes without saying that this mother of God generis masculini [Latin for “of the male sex”] is severely persecuted by the authorities but they seldom succeed in locating the boy in question and stemming this abuse.

In the above I have only attempted to put down my personal observations of a peculiar form of the Russian Schism and I implore the disposed reader not to try to measure this short sketch in terms of the standards of a thorough scientific treatise.

Afterword

Heinrich Johann von Paucker (1839-1898) was a Baltic German from the province of Estonia in the Russian Empire. As a youth, he received an excellent classical education at Revel (now Tallinn) and Mitau (now Jelgava). In 1855, at age sixteen, he joined the Life-Guards Lithuanian Regiment of the Imperial Russian Army as a cadet and was immediately transferred to the Caucasian Front of the Oriental (Crimean) War.

In the Caucasus, Paucker’s regiment was billeted in the Dukhobor village of Rodionovka in the Akhalkalaki district of Tiflis province during the winters of 1854-1855 and 1855-1856. During his stay there, the young military cadet came to closely observe and study his Dukhobor hosts, with whom he came in regular contact. He kept journals, and with a keen ethnographic eye, recorded his detailed observations of this unique people, little known to western members of the Russian Empire.

At the time, the Dukhobors had been settled in the Akhalkalaki district for less than a decade, having been exiled there from Tavria province in 1841-1845. This relocation had brought about profound and rapid changes in the social, cultural and economic life of the Dukhobors, who were still adjusting to the harsh realities of their new physical environment, as well as the disruption wrought by the Oriental War, when Paucker stayed among them.

Paucker described in detail the geography and climate of Dukhobor’ye – the “land of the Dukhobors” (which, significantly, is the first recorded usage of that name). The climate, he noted, was overall very unhealthy and many Dukhobors, not yet acclimatized to their new surroundings, suffered and died from fever. There on the high mountain plateau, spring came late and winter early; there was no way to grow grain in the short season. The Akhalkalaki Dukhobors, he observed, had thus abandoned their traditional agricultural economy and relied on contracts for wagon transport and the sale of hay for income, with which they bought grain for their consumption in nearby market towns. At the time of writing, they had not yet established the large horse and cattle herds for which they would later become known. He noted also that there were no wooden buildings in the barren, treeless region; the Dukhobors had adapted by constructing their homes from bricks of dried cattle manure.

Recounting their history, Paucker identified the Dukhobors’ origins in the Russian Schism of the 17th century; a time of general religious turmoil when some dissenters, imbued with new ideas introduced by foreigners, rejected the dogma and authority of the Orthodox Church. He traced the growth of the sect from early 18th century Tambov and Ekaterinoslav, through the severe persecutions and oppressions of later that century, to their settlement in Tavria at the beginning of the 19th century, whereafter they enjoyed an era of peace, toleration and prosperity. Later on, stirred by a spirit of “rebelliousness” and “religious fanaticism”, they began to openly preach their faith and disobey the authorities, which led to their exile to Transcaucasia.

Paucker gave a concise summary of Dukhobor religious philosophy, which rejected church institutions, sacraments, icons and clergy in favour of a simple, individual-based religion founded on egalitarianism, love and compassion. He noted the Dukhobor belief in the indwelling of God in every person, as well as their figurative, rather than literal, interpretation of the Trinity. They refused to bear arms and avoided quarrels and abuse. They did not possess any written records about their beliefs, which, he observed, were passed down by oral tradition.

Of particular interest is Paucker’s description of the outward appearance and character of the Dukhobors. The Dukhobor men, he observed, were tall and robust with clothing resembling that of the German colonists in Russia. The same observation had been made by earlier writers, and it is generally accepted that the Dukhobor men adopted aspects of their dress from their Mennonite neighbours while living in Tavria. He noted the noble beauty of the Dukhobor women, and their industry, cleanliness, grace and carefully selected clothing, of which he provided a full description. In general, he found the Dukhobors to be orderly, frank and honest, but lacking the diligence and good management for which they were renowned in Tavria. He also observed that many Dukhobors had lapsed from their prohibition against alcohol, and now drank heavily.

Paucker observed that the Dukhobor community played an important role in reinforcing the behavior and morality of its individual members “so that in case of someone’s mishaps everyone can help the individual”. For example, he recounted how, as punishment for infidelity, a Dukhobor woman was led through the village streets and pelted with excrement and dirt. Inexplicably, however, he inferred from this incident that Dukhobor women generally did not hold marital fidelity in high esteem; a sweeping statement unsupported by the historical evidence.

Paucker discussed the religious customs of the Dukhobors, noting the importance of prayer in their daily lives and describing in detail their unique marriage ceremony and religious service. He also noted the Dukhobor custom of bowing to one another, in reverence to the spirit of God that dwells within each man; a custom he mistakenly confused for idolatry.

Finally, Paucker made note of a boy whom the Dukhobors held in inordinately high esteem; who held court in the villages, and whom they referred to as Bogorodets (masculine form of Bogoroditsa or “Mother of God”). While not identified by name, this could only have been Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov (1837-1864), the youngest in a line of hereditary Dukhobor leaders dating back to the time of Kapustin. Paucker noted he was severely persecuted by Tsarist authorities, however, they seldom succeeded in locating him; presumably he was concealed by his followers. His account thus provides significant insights into the early life of this important historical personage.

Paucker’s writings are among the remarkably few sources of detailed, published information about the decade immediately following the Dukhobor exile to Transcaucasia; a little-known and little-explored period of Dukhobor history.  His work is thus an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the era.

As for Paucker himself, following the Oriental War, he was promoted to the rank of officer and transferred to the Light-Infantry Battalion in Riga in 1858. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant. In 1860, he transferred to the Telegraph Corps and served as Chief of Telegraph Stations in Voronezh and later Yaroslavl. After receiving his discharge from the Imperial Russian Army in 1864, he settled in Wesenberg (now Ravkere), Estonia where he took up teaching and translation work. He also served as a civil servant for the Estonian Provincial Government. From 1865 until his death he published a large volume of translations and original works on various subjects.

Significantly, Paucker’s first published work was on the Dukhobors, which appeared anonymously (under the initial “K”) as Die Duchoborzen in Transkaukasien in the Baltic journal Baltische Monatsschriften in 1865. Anonymous publication was common in Russia at this time, as the state censorship regime was particularly severe and maintained a strict vigilance over the publication of written materials, removing or banning anything it considered even remotely ‘subversive’. Hence, many writers, fearing reprisals from Imperial censors, published their works under initials or pseudonyms.  Sixteen years later, in 1881, Paucker republished the article under his own name in the German journal Deutsche Rundschau für Geographie und Statistik.

Special thanks to Jack McIntosh, former UBC Slavic languages bibliographer, for identifying the anonymous author of the 1865 publication of Die Duchoborzen in Transkaukasien as being Heinrich Johann von Paucker.  

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of the original German text of Heinrich Johann von Paucker’s “Die Duchoborzen in Transkaukasien” in Baltische Monatsschrift (Volume 11, Riga: Jonck & Boliewsky, 1865, pp. 240-250), visit the Google Book Search database.

The Kylemore Doukhobor Colony

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The Kylemore Colony was a Doukhobor communal settlement established by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in the Kylemore district of Saskatchewan between 1918 and 1938. Numbering 300 people at its peak, the self-sufficient agricultural colony was organized on the principles of common ownership and the Doukhobor faith. While its existence is generally known, remarkably little has been documented about its history. The following article, compiled from a wealth of published and unpublished sources, examines the Kylemore Colony in rich, descriptive detail from its settlement and early development, communal life and organization, to the eventual demise of the Community and break-up of the colony.

Introduction

In the early 1900’s, the main body of Doukhobors in Canada, under the charismatic leadership of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin (1859-1924), known as Gospodnyi (the “Lordly”), formed themselves into the spiritual, social and economic organization known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB). It was organized on a communal basis, according to the precepts of the Doukhobor faith, under the close supervision and direction of Verigin.

By 1918, the CCUB was at the height of material achievement as an industrial, agricultural, forestry and trading enterprise in Western Canada. It was incorporated under a Dominion charter with a capitalized value of over $1,000,000.00, although its total assets were estimated at several times that figure. It had landholdings in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan totaling over 50,000 acres on which were built numerous communal villages, sawmills, brickworks, jam factories, canning and fruit-packing plants, trading stores, flour mills, grain elevators, irrigation systems, reservoirs, roads and bridges, along with extensive cultivated crops, orchards and gardens. Underpinning the success of the organization was a membership of 6,000 adult Doukhobors (5,000 in British Columbia and 1,000 in Alberta and Saskatchewan) who provided a large, readily-mobilized pool of free, willing labour, guided by the slogan “Toil and Peaceful Life”.

Group of CCUB Doukhobors at Veregin, SK, c.1918. At the time, the CCUB was at the height of material achievement as an industrial, agricultural, forestry and trading enterprise. Photo courtesy National Doukhobor Heritage Village.

Verigin’s overall strategy at this time was to ensure that the CCUB became self-sufficient in agricultural production, while at the same time developing a variety of means to earn cash to fund its operations. Under this plan, grain grown by Doukhobors on the Prairies would be exchanged for fruit and timber produced by Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia. The surplus would be sold to the outside world, where wartime shortages and high prices provided profitable markets for the wheat, lumber, bricks, fruit and other outputs of the communal enterprise. In order to carry out this strategy, however, it was necessary for the CCUB to acquire additional wheat-growing land on the Prairies.

The Kylemore Purchase

To this end, the CCUB acquired a block of eighteen square miles of land, or the equivalent of half a township, in the Kylemore district of Saskatchewan in 1918. The land was acquired in three transactions. First, the CCUB leased 640 acres of Hudson’s Bay Company land (Section 8 in Township 33, Range 12, West of the Second Meridian) on April 1, 1918. The CCUB then leased an additional 109 acres of land (Legal Subdivision 8 of SE ¼ of Section 9 and Legal Subdivision 5 and 12 of the W ½ of Section 10 in Township 33, Range 12, West of the Second Meridian) from the Department of the Interior. Finally, on May 7, 1918, the CCUB purchased 10,613 acres of land (Sections 1-5, 7, 9-12, N ½ of Section 6 and S ½ of Sections 13-18 in Township 33, and Sections 32-36 in Township 34, Range 12, West of the Second Meridian) from the Chicago-based Fishing Lake Land and Farm Co. Ltd. under an agreement for sale for $265,343.00.

Taken together, these acquisitions provided the CCUB with a total landholding of 11,362 acres in the Kylemore district. Only 607 acres of the land was broken at the time – the rest was covered in dense trees and scrub. For this reason, the CCUB acquired the land for substantially less than developed agricultural land in other areas.

Doukhobor work crew clearing land at Kylemore, SK, 1920. At the time of purchase, the colony was covered in dense trees and scrub. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

At the same time, the land lay adjacent to the Canadian National Railway, which provided essential transportation access. This was a key component of Verigin’s strategy to ship agricultural and industrial goods between Doukhobor settlements and to market.

Perhaps most importantly, the ‘Kylemore Colony’ formed a large, contiguous block of land that was semi-isolated and largely self-contained, where the Doukhobors could speak their own language, practice their religion and culture, and follow their distinctive form of communal organization, separate and apart from the larger Canadian society.

Early Development and Settlement

From the outset, the colony at Kylemore was established according to the carefully laid out plans of the CCUB leadership. On June 14, 1918, just weeks after the land acquisition, CCUB General Manager Michael W. Cazakoff outlined these plans in an interview with the Manitoba Free Press while in Winnipeg, Manitoba to purchase equipment for the new colony. He declared that the majority of the lands would be dedicated to grain growing, being ideally suited for that purpose, while the lighter, south-easterly lands adjacent to Fishing Lake would be reserved for livestock-raising. There would be a settlement of families on each section. There would also be a store, in which fruit shipped from the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia would be distributed within the colony and sold publicly. Finally, an elevator would be built through which the Doukhobors in Kylemore would ship wheat to the British Columbia settlements and market their surplus and that of their neighbours.

A group of Doukhobor workers enjoys a break near Kylemore, SK, 1920. Photo No. 208 courtesy ISKRA.

The development of the colony occurred over a period of several years. Beginning in 1918, and for each summer thereafter until 1924, work crews of 65 or more Doukhobor men from British Columbia and elsewhere in Saskatchewan arrived in Kylemore to clear the land and erect buildings. Temporary tent camps were set up on Section 10 for their accommodation. To carry out this work, the main CCUB settlement at Veregin, 70 miles to the east, supplied them with six steam engines and sixty teams of horses.

Land-clearing and breaking began at the northern end of the colony along the Canadian National Railway and slowly advanced to the southern end. This backbreaking work began at sunup and ended after sundown. First, the trees were cut, then the workers used pick axes to grub the stumps. After, workers came with teams of horses and steam engines to pull out the roots and break the land with the plough. The broken land was then sown into crop the following spring. Over 1,600 acres of land were developed in this manner in 1918 alone. Thereafter, Doukhobor work crews cleared and broke an additional five hundred acres of land each year.

The first permanent village in the colony was established in 1918 on Section 9 at the former residence of W.H. McKinnon, one of the prior landowners. This ornate, eight-room, two-story wood frame structure with lumber siding was the only dwelling on the land when the CCUB purchased it. There, between 1918 and 1921, the CCUB also constructed a large central meeting house for colony members and a gornitsa (special guest quarters) where Peter V. Verigin could stay when he visited the area.

The McKinnon home west of Kylemore, SK. Built in c.1910, the large, ornate home was the only structure on the land when the CCUB purchased it in 1918. It formed part of the Chernoff Village, the first village in the colony. It was destroyed by fire in 1924. Remembering Times.

Doukhobor work crews constructed eight additional villages on Sections 6, 7, 9, 10, 31 and 33, approximately two per year, from 1919 to 1924. These were a variation of the village design used by the Doukhobors in British Columbia and consisted of a single 26’ x 26’ two-story dwelling of wood frame construction on a concrete foundation. The exceptions were two villages on Sections 9 and 31 that had twin structures. These multi-family communal doms (dwellings) were constructed using timber shipped from the CCUB sawmills in the Kootenays. Six were clad in brick supplied from the CCUB brickworks at Veregin. The remainder had cedar shake siding shipped from the Kootenay settlements. Each had a hip roof and verandah clad with cedar shakes. All had large cellars for the storage of foodstuffs.

Each village had a large barn for housing draft horses and milking cows along with numerous outbuildings including stables, sheds, granaries, chicken coops, a kuznitsa (blacksmith shop), banya (bath-house) and peche (clay oven). At least two villages had large ledniks (ice cellars) dug for cold storage. Each had a large garden plot for growing vegetables and fruit.

Unnamed twin-dom village constructed by the CCUB adjacent to the Canadian National Railway at Kylemore, SK in c.1919. Photo courtesy John J. Trofimenkoff.

As work crews completed each village, CCUB families began arriving in Kylemore to take up permanent residence in them. The first families to arrive were those of Peter S. Chernoff from Veregin, Saskatchewan and Vasily V. Solovaeff from Prekrasnoye, British Columbia in 1918. They were followed by a number of families from the Kootenays each year between 1919 and 1924. These included the families of Ivan and Michael S. Arishenkoff, Ignat A. Arishenkoff, Nikolai D. Bedinoff, Ivan V. Chernoff, Ivan I. Fofonoff, Ivan P. Hoolaeff, Ivan F. Hoodikoff, Ivan V. and Vasily I. Kazakoff, Vasily V. and Nikolai N. Konkin, Grigory N. Kanigan, Peter and Ivan S. Malikoff, Kuzma V. Kolesnikoff, Alex I. and Vasily V. Makortoff, Dmitry I., Nikolai N. and Ivan A. Malakoff, Andrew P. and Trofim W. Markin, Vasily A. Morozoff, Nikolai N. Ogloff, Peter A. Osachoff, Kuzma S. and Alex I. Pereverseff, Ivan V. and Peter, Semyon and Grigory S. Popoff, Ivan A. Postnikoff, Fyodor K. and Ivan I. Samsonoff, Ivan F. Sysoev, Ivan and Nikolai P. Sheloff, Pavel V. Planidin and Evdokim A. Sherbinin. According to oral tradition, each family was hand-picked by Peter V. Verigin to help develop the colony.

As the colony took shape, the CCUB undertook the task of constructing a large grain elevator on Section 9 along the Canadian National Railway. Beginning in 1918, work crews constructed a 120,000 bushel capacity elevator of wood crib construction on a concrete foundation. It was approximately 45’ x 60’ wide and 75’ high with a pyramidal roof and a centrally located pyramidal-roofed cupola. At the time it was completed in 1920, it was the largest elevator in Saskatchewan. Thereafter, the Kylemore Colony began receiving, storing and shipping grain in bulk quantities to the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia and to markets elsewhere.

Doukhobor work crew constructing grain elevator at Kylemore, 1919. Photo courtesy Peter and Agnes Malekoff.

The CCUB also began construction of a large trading store and warehouse on Section 9 along the rail line in 1918. The three-story structure was built of wood frame construction with a full concrete basement. It had cedar shake siding. It was 60’ x 36’ with a gambrel roof and two 20’ lean-tos. It was completed in 1922. The storefront was located at the north end of the main floor, where fruit, produce and other merchandise from the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia were distributed to the colony families as required and the surplus sold to the public, while the south end of the main floor and the basement were utilized as a warehouse. It is known that Pavel V. Planidin managed the store from 1922 to 1925 and Nikolai N. Ogloff from 1928 to 1935.

By 1924, the Kylemore Colony was thriving and prosperous, with approximately 250 Doukhobor men, women and children. It had a herd of 500 cattle, 1000 sheep and 30 horses. Over 4,000 acres of land was now under cultivation, producing substantial quantities of grain. A sizeable acreage was also devoted to pasture. The community elevator and store were now in full operation. Peter V. Verigin’s plans for the colony had begun to bear fruit.

CCUB communal structures adjacent to the Canadian National Railway at Kylemore, SK, c.1924. (l-r) CCUB grain elevator, CCUB trading store, and unnamed twin-dom village. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

The Kelvington Annex

Even as the development of the Kylemore Colony was underway, Peter V. Verigin had planned its expansion in the outlying area. In August of 1921, the CCUB purchased an additional 8,000 acres of land (Sections 3, 7, 9, 15, 17-19, 21, 27, 31 and 33, W ½ and SE ¼ of Section 5, E ½ of Section 25, all in Township 27, Range 12, West of the Second Meridian) in the Kelvington district, twenty miles to the north. It was acquired from the Winnipeg-based Canada West Security Corporation under an agreement for sale.

The ‘Kelvington Annex’ was unbroken at the time of purchase and was covered in trees and scrub, making it cheaper and more affordable than developed land in other districts. Unlike the Kylemore Colony, it did not form a contiguous block, but was segregated into separate section parcels interspersed among non-Doukhobor landholdings. However, it lay adjacent to the Canadian National Railway’s proposed Thunderhill Branch Line extension from Kelvington to Prince Albert, which, once built, would enhance its property value and provide strategic rail access.

Doukhobor work crew clearing land by hand near Kylemore, SK, c. 1924. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

The Kelvington Annex was administered as an offshoot of the Kylemore Colony. It was primarily used for summer pasturage for the colony’s horse herd, although some land-clearing and grain-growing did occur. No villages were constructed there; however, single-family dwellings were built on Sections 18 and 27 to house four families permanently stationed there. Other families were rotated from Kylemore to Kelvington on a temporary basis over summer to tend the communal horse herd, during which time they lived in tents.

Community Life and Organization under Peter V. Verigin: 1918-1924

During the era of Peter V. Verigin, the Kylemore Colony was comprised of nine (unnamed) villages containing family groupings of four to six extended families per village. All the villages in the colony were organized as one commune.

Doukhobor family at Kylemore, SK, 1920. (l-r) Mabel, Tanya, Peter, John, Peter A., Helen G., and Mike Chernoff in their chore cloths. Seems Like Only Yesterday.

The CCUB central office coordinated the agricultural and commercial operations of the colony, carried out all transactions on its behalf, managed its finances through a common treasury and provided for the daily needs of its members. This was managed out of the CCUB headquarters in Veregin, Saskatchewan. A manager elected by the members administered the day-to-day affairs of the colony and acted as an intermediary authority between the central office and colony members. It is known that in 1925, the Manager of the Kylemore Colony was Dmitry I. Malakoff and from 1926 to 1928, Nikolai I. Cazakoff. Major decisions affecting the colony were introduced at a sobraniye (general meeting) of all members where everyone could have a voice.

The CCUB owned all of the colony’s land, buildings, machinery, tools and livestock. These were distributed among the villages of the colony, so that each village possessed its own teams of horses, wagons, implements and other resources necessary to farm the acreage allocated to it. All the grain was delivered to the CCUB elevator and traded under its name, as was all stock and merchandise shipped to the CCUB store. Indeed, all proceeds from the output of the colony went to the central office.

CCUB General Manager Michael W. Cazakoff (right) inspects communal draft horses with Vasily V. Soloveoff (left) near Kylemore, SK, c.1924. Photo No. 273 courtesy ISKRA.

Individual members were expected to contribute their labour to the operation of the colony and pay an annual levy to the central office, which was mainly paid in-kind through labour rather than cash. They received no income for communal work, and when they found it necessary to work outside the colony, their earnings were deposited directly with the central office or collected by the Manager of the colony. Hence, few members of the colony actually handled money. Within this moneyless system, the colony provided for all the essential needs of its members, such as food, shelter, clothing and other supplies.

Daily life in the Kylemore Colony revolved around the cycles of the farming year. In spring, the women and men worked together in the fields sowing crops. Afterwards, in summer, they laboured to clear and break additional land. The women also dug seneca root, the sale of which was an important source of revenue for the colony. Later in summer, haying and stooking was performed by both men and women. At harvest time, the men threshed while the women prepared meals and did chores. In late fall, the men got up before sunrise, took packed lunches and traveled south toward Fishing Lake to cut wood. They would cut enough to last the colony for the whole winter and the surplus was sold locally. The days that followed were spent sawing and splitting the wood into “stove-sized” pieces. During winter, the men worked in the villages or sought outside employment. The women, elderly and children maintained the household and performed yard chores.

Doukhobors at Kanigan Village near Kylemore, SK winnow grain to remove chaff. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

The colony was almost entirely self-sufficient in food production. Colony members grew potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes and other vegetables in their large gardens. This was supplemented by fruit, jams and preserves supplied from the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia. Wild berries, nuts and mushrooms were also picked locally. Milk, cream, cheese and butter were obtained from the community cattle herd. As they kept chickens they also had a fresh supply of eggs. Meat was unnecessary as colony members were strict vegetarians. Flour was produced from the wheat they grew, which was hauled by horse and wagon 18 miles south to Foam Lake to be ground and milled. Only sugar, salt, raisins, rice and a few other staples were purchased outside the colony by the men.

The colonists also manufactured most of their own cloths, tools and furniture. The women sheared wool from the communal sheep herd which they then washed, carded, spun and wove to make cloth and yarn. They were expert in sewing, knitting, crocheting, weaving, quilt and mattress making and other handicrafts. The men produced furniture, tools and equipment and performed shoe repair, harness-making, blacksmithing, horse-shoeing and other skilled tasks.

Peter Chernoff and John Soloveoff mounted on horseback on the prairie near Kylemore, SK, c.1920. Photo No. 207 courtesy ISKRA.

While there were few opportunities for leisure, colony members still found time to enjoy the natural beauty and recreation opportunities at Fishing Lake during the hot summer months. There, at a scenic lug (meadow) on the north shore of the lake, Doukhobors throughout the colony gathered to celebrate Petrov Den’ (Peters Day), hold outdoor meetings and enjoy picnics, swimming and rafting.

A mainstay of spiritual life in the colony was the moleniye (prayer meeting) held each Sunday. According to oral tradition, each village initially conducted its own moleniye; however, over time, a number of villages joined together for this occasion. This was a time when the members of the colony abandoned their work and gathered for hours to pray, discuss spiritual matters and sing psalms. There were reputedly many exceptional singers in the colony, and the psalm singing inspired the people and reinforced their religious faith and values for the ensuing week.

A gathering of Doukhobor children at Kanigan Village near Kylemore, SK, c. 1924. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

A special highlight was when Peter V. Verigin visited the Kylemore Colony to meet with the members, hear their concerns and inspect their progress. This was a joyous occasion accompanied by special celebrations, meetings and meals. It is known that Verigin made at least two such trips to Kylemore in the summer of 1921 and the fall of 1924, and probably several more.

On the whole, life in the colony at this time was characterized, not only by hard work and sacrifice, but by simple, peaceful living in an atmosphere of happiness, comfort and harmony. This way of life is poignantly described in the historical novel Tanya, by Doukhobor writer Eli A. Popoff, which is based on the remarkable true story of Tanya Arishenkoff, the central character, who lived in the colony from 1919 until its demise.

Doukhobor shepherds tend communal sheep flock at Kylemore, SK, c.1924. Photo courtesy National Doukhobor Heritage Village.

Death of Peter V. Verigin and Aftermath

Disaster struck the Kylemore Colony in May of 1924 when one of the villages on Section 9 was destroyed in an accidental fire. This included the village dom, central meeting house, the gornitsa where Peter V. Verigin stayed and other outbuildings. During this same period, the dom at another village on Section 9 also burned to the ground.

However, these events paled in comparison to the sudden death of Verigin in October of 1924 in a mysterious train explosion at Farron, British Columbia. His passing was a devastating blow to the membership of the CCUB, who revered him as their guide, counselor and protector. The entire Doukhobor Community was thrown into shock and mourning, and the Kylemore Colony was no exception.

Leaderless and directionless, the Doukhobors at Kylemore carried on essential tasks, such as grain growing and store and elevator operations, but postponed decisions on most important issues until a replacement leader could be appointed who would help them decide. For example, the construction of village buildings to replace those which had burnt on Section 9 was suspended. The CCUB organization went into a period of slow stagnation and decline.

Larion Malakoff mounted on horseback in front of Malakoff Village dom near Kylemore, SK, c.1924. Photo courtesy Fred J. Chernoff.

With financial difficulties mounting, the Directors of the CCUB decided to consolidate their debts with one creditor. The Community negotiated a loan for $350,000.00 with the National Trust Company, representing the Canadian Bank of Commerce, in December of 1925. To secure this loan, the National Trust Company obtained a blanket mortgage on all of the land and buildings on which no other creditors held liens. This meant that everything owned by the CCUB would now be encumbered with debt, including the lands of the Kylemore Colony.

Arrival of Peter P. Verigin and Reorganization

It was several years before Verigin’s son, Peter Petrovich Verigin, known as Chistiakov (the “Cleanser” or “Purger”), was able to come to Canada and assume the leadership of the CCUB. His arrival in September of 1927 was greeted by his followers with tremendous enthusiasm, who hoped for a rejuvenation of the ailing CCUB communal structure.

On his first of many visits to the Kylemore colony, Peter P. Verigin impressed his followers as a forceful, eloquent orator and a persuasive, dynamic and brilliant organizer. He declared his immediate goals to be to free the CCUB from it burden of debt and to unite the various factions of Doukhobors in Canada. Seeing and hearing him speak, the Kylemore Doukhobors firmly believed that his objectives would be achieved.

The family of Peter P. Verigin seen here at the Chernoff Village near Kylemore, SK in 1928 (l-r) John J. Verigin (his grandson), Anna F. Verigin (his wife) and Evdokia G. Verigin (his mother). Photo No. 303 courtesy ISKRA.

Almost immediately, Peter P. Verigin reorganized the CCUB on a new basis to encourage greater self-reliance, industry and diligence among its members and to foster a renewed interest in the soil and in the welfare of the commune. To this end, he decentralized the CCUB, made life less rigidly communal, and reduced the size of each commune to a new unit known as the ‘Family’, which in Saskatchewan was comprised of 25 persons.

The Kylemore Colony land, buildings, machinery, tools and livestock were redistributed to each Family to farm communally. Each Family was granted broad autonomy over its agricultural operations and business transactions. An annual assessment was still paid to the CCUB central office. However, any excess revenue from the land or from outside earnings, over and above the annual assessment, was retained by the Family. A Starshina (Elder), elected by its members, managed the day-to-day affairs of each Family. It is known that in 1928, these were: Ivan N. Konkin, Nikolai P. Popoff, Ivan I. Samsonoff, Vasily V. Solovaeff, Ivan V. Chernenkoff, Alexei I. Pereverseff, Ivan V. Popoff, Vasily A. Morozoff, Semyon S. Popoff, Ivan A. Posnikoff, Peter S. Chernoff, Grigory N. Kanigan and Ivan P. Sheloff.

John V. Soloveoff stands beside a white stallion that had belonged to Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin at the newly-formed Arishenkoff Village near Kylemore, SK, c. 1928. Photo No. 229 courtesy ISKRA.

The system of buying and selling was introduced into all aspects of relations between the CCUB central office and the Families or branch communes, as well as between individual members. Individual Doukhobors were now permitted to handle money. Thus, money transactions replaced the unwieldy barter system of earlier years.

In total, 13 Families of 25 persons (comprising one to two extended families) were set up in the Kylemore Colony in 1928. Each Family was allocated a section of land in the colony on which to live and farm. Where a village already existed on a section, it was given to the Family assigned to that section; where there was none, a new village was built for the Family placed on that section.

Accordingly, six existing villages on Sections 7, 9, 4 and 10 (thereafter known as Popoff Village, Malakoff Village, Chernoff Village, Sheloff Village, Kazakoff Village and Kanigan Village) were reassigned to Families. Three existing (unnamed) villages on Sections 6, 9 and 31 were either moved to new locations or dismantled and the materials used to build new villages elsewhere. Seven new villages (thereafter known as Chernenkoff Village, Pereverseff Village, Hoodekoff Village, Konkin Village, Makortoff Village, Samsonoff Village and Arishenkoff Village) were built for Families on Sections 2, 3, 5, 32-35. These new villages differed from the earlier villages in that they were comprised of small, single-family residences built of wood frame construction with cedar shake siding.

Vasily V. Soloveoff stands beside a Belgian draft horse at the newly-formed Arishenkoff Village near Kylemore, SK, c. 1928.  Note the communal barn under construction in foreground. Photo No. 228 courtesy ISKRA.

This reorganization resulted in changes to nearly every household in the Kylemore Colony. Consequently, throughout the summer of 1928, there was much moving to and fro, and wagons piled high with goods and chattels were continually driving in one direction or another as families relocated to their new villages. It was at this time also that the CCUB families stationed at the Kelvington Annex relocated to the Kylemore Colony, where they were incorporated into Family branch communes.

In addition to the Families, which maintained a direct connection with the CCUB central office, a provincial branch of the CCUB was set up in Saskatchewan to operate business enterprises in the various areas, including the grain elevator and trading store at Kylemore. These were now run on a wholly cash basis. The CCUB trading store now purchased the fruit it received from British Columbia and sold it to colony members, although it no longer enjoyed a trade monopoly among them. The CCUB elevator maintained a buying monopoly over all the surplus grain grown in the colony, however, it was now purchased from each Family and sold to British Columbia.

Early threshing outfit owned by the CCUB at Kylemore, SK, c. 1928. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

Community Life Under Peter P. Verigin: 1927-1931

The reorganization of the Kylemore Colony was accompanied by three main developments during the early years of Peter P. Verigin’s leadership. First, there was an expansion and consolidation of the capital assets of the colony to increase earning potential and reduce the CCUB’s massive debt. Second, colonists joined a new umbrella organization, the Society of Named Doukhobors, aimed at the unification of the main Doukhobor factions in Canada. Third, new emphasis was placed on education as the Doukhobor youth of the colony were enrolled in local schools. These developments are discussed below in greater detail.

Capital Expansion and Consolidation

The years 1928 to 1931 saw a noteworthy expansion, improvement and consolidation of CCUB capital assets in the Kylemore Colony. Buildings were erected for new villages to the value of $13,000.00. As well, leased lands (640 acres from the Hudson’s Bay Company and 109 acres from the Department of Indian Affairs) were purchased outright for $16,264.60. Also, the balance owing on the 10,613 acres purchased from the Fishing Lake Land and Farm Co. Ltd. was paid in full. Finally, land-clearing activity was redoubled in order to increase agricultural production and earnings.

New Chernoff Village dom completed in 1928 to replace the original destroyed by fire in 1924. Note the collection of machinery of that era. Seems Like Only Yesterday.

At the same time, the CCUB raised money by allowing some of its Prairie members to opt out of the communal system and buy or lease its land. To this end, 3,000 acres of hitherto-undeveloped land in the Kelvington Annex was leased or sold under agreements for sale to CCUB members. These included the families of Peter J. Goolaeff, Peter A. Morozoff, John J. and Peter J. Kanigan, Simeon A. Horkoff, Harry N. and Trofim N. Kanigan, Fred W. Antifaeff, Mike W. and Wasyl W. Bloodoff, George F. and John F. Kazakoff, Nick W. Pepin, Wasyl L. Shukin and Wasyl A. Juravloff.

Statistical data from 1931 illustrates the extent of CCUB property in the Kylemore Colony at this time. The landholdings totalled 11,774.60 acres, valued at $316,724.85. Another 4,945.23 acres of land was held in the Kelvington Annex, assessed at $87,174.62. The investment in buildings on the farm land, including houses, barns and other structures, was valued at $47,900.00. The store and warehouse along with the grain elevator were appraised at an additional $29,000.00. The investment in livestock – which included 240 working horses and 130 milking cows – was valued at $42,500.00. Finally, the investment in farm machinery was assessed at $18,500.00. Thus, the total valuation of the Kylemore Colony’s capital assets in 1931 was $541,799.47 – over half a million dollars – two years into the Great Depression.

Communal barn and horse stable at the Arishenkoff Village, one of the new villages formed in 1928 near Kylemore, SK following the reorganization of the CCUB by Peter P. Verigin. Photo No. 274 courtesy ISKRA.

Unity

Upon his arrival in Canada, all of the main Doukhobor factions – the CCUB, the Independents and the Sons of Freedom – acknowledged Peter P. Verigin as their spiritual leader. He made it his avowed purpose to heal the divisions between the groups and reestablish unity among all Doukhobors living in Canada.

To this end, in June of 1928, Verigin formed a new, all-embracing organization, the Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada, for the purpose of uniting his followers. Through a series of conferences attended by delegates from the CCUB and Independent Doukhobor settlements, the Society, under Verigin’s leadership and direction, promoted a policy of non-violence, the teachings of Christ, marriage based on love, acceptance of public education, the accurate registration of births, deaths and marriages, the peaceful resolution of disputes among members by the Society’s executive, the automatic expulsion of members who committed crimes, and more.

Doukhobor maidens at Kylemore, SK, 1927 (l-r) Milly W. Konkin, Polly W. Konkin and Mary Makortoff. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

For their part, the Kylemore colonists readily participated in the new organization, joining en masse, paying regular membership dues, sending delegates (Alexei I. Hoodekoff in 1934 and Havrila N. Kanigan in 1937) to its conferences and implementing its resolutions. By December of 1930, there were 150 male and 148 female members of the Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada from Kylemore.

Education

From the outset of his leadership, Peter P. Verigin emphasized the importance of public education among his followers. The education of their children in English schools, and the establishment of their own Russian schools and libraries, he declared, would begin a new era for Doukhobors in Canada. His views towards education were actively promoted through the Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada.

Group of Doukhobor schoolchildren in front of North Kylemore School, 1941. Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

As members of the Society, the Kylemore colonists were now committed to accept education, and from 1928 onward, began enrolling their children in Kylemore School in the hamlet of Kylemore. In 1929, the school was destroyed in a suspicious fire when a group of Sons of Freedom visited the area and classes were held in the CCUB trading store until a new school was built the same year. By 1936, Doukhobor student enrollment increased to such an extent that a second school was opened at the south end of the colony. The older school became known as the ‘North Kylemore School’ and the newer one the ‘South Kylemore School’. Colony youth also attended Russian language classes in the evenings.

South Kylemore School, c. 1936. Back row (l-r): Fred Hoolaeff, Nick Ogloff, George Arishenkoff, John Hoolaeff, Helen Morozoff, Helen Makortoff, Lucy Makortoff. Middle row: Mike Arishenkoff, Peter Arishenkoff, Bill Samsonoff, Peter Konkin, Peter Pereverzoff, Mary Hoodekoff, Donalda Mawhinney (teacher), John Cazakoff. Front row: Alex Pereverzoff Bill Morozoff, Larry Hoodekoff, Alex Hoolaeff, Mac Pereverzoff, Doris Hoodekoff, Bill Konkin, Annette Hoodekoff, Mary Konkin, Mary Pereverzoff, Nellie Makortoff. Front: Beverly Broley (teacher’s niece). Remembering Times.

Demise of the CCUB

The twelve years of Peter P. Verigin’s leadership from 1927 to 1939 saw a number of remarkable accomplishments. However, despite his concerted efforts, the Doukhobor leader was unable to eliminate the massive CCUB debt (although he did reduce this debt by over half), nor bring about a lasting unity with other Doukhobor groups (the Society of Named Doukhobors collapsed in 1937). At the same time, his irregular character and actions eroded the enthusiasm and confidence of the CCUB membership, whose zeal for utopian communal living was already in decline.

When the Great Depression struck in the Thirties, the financial situation of the CCUB deteriorated rapidly because all the communal property was mortgaged and no further loans could be negotiated due to lack of collateral. With no credit, and with membership and cash income falling rapidly, Verigin attempted to sell off CCUB assets to raise the necessary capital to enable the corporation to continue to operate, and at the same time, to stave off the ever-increasing demands of its creditors.

Front page of the Winnipeg Free Press, October 18, 1934 announcing the sale of CCUB holdings in Saskatchewan.

To this end, in October of 1934, Peter P. Verigin publicly announced that the CCUB would be selling its entire holdings – land, stock, equipment and elevators – in the districts of Kylemore, Kelvington and Veregin, Saskatchewan. This represented the wholesale liquidation of all CCUB capital assets in the province. A similar announcement was made in April of 1935. Later that month, some Saskatchewan members of the CCUB were served with notices to vacate their villages and lands. These events were met with shock and disbelief by the Saskatchewan members, who had not been consulted.

Reputedly, several offers to purchase the Kylemore lands were made to the CCUB central office in Brilliant, British Columbia; however, no sale ever materialized. Nevertheless, in April of 1936, the Saskatchewan branch of the CCUB sold the elevator at Kylemore to James Richardson. The CCUB trading store in Kylemore was closed later that year. In light of these events, all the Kylemore colonists could do was wait in anticipation of a better tomorrow. But for the CCUB, prosperity never returned.

CCUB elevator in Kylemore. When completed in 1920, it was the largest in Saskatchewan. It was sold in 1936 to J. Richardson and resold  to the Pioneer Grain Company, which operated it until 1990. Wadena News.

By 1937, a combination of complex factors, including the Great Depression, financial mismanagement, diminishing revenues, a declining membership base, mounting debts, depredations against communal property, and government assimilation efforts, all unhelped by Verigin’s increasingly erratic leadership style, led to the eventual (and arguably, inevitable) bankruptcy of the CCUB. The following year, in 1938, the National Trust Company foreclosed on its mortgage over the CCUB lands and chattels in Kylemore, Kelvington and elsewhere. Thereafter, the CCUB ceased to exist as a corporate entity.

Break-Up of the Colony

Following the bankruptcy and foreclosure of the CCUB, the Doukhobors living in Kylemore were faced with a difficult dilemma: either join the majority of their brethren in British Columbia or else remain in Saskatchewan as independent farmers. Many of them were already middle-aged, and to begin a new life with nothing, dependent only on themselves, with no Community to fall back on, must have been daunting prospect.

William W. Kanigan and his mother doing chores on their farm near Kylemore, SK, c.1940.  Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

About a third of the Kylemore Doukhobors immediately moved to British Columbia in 1938 to be part of the larger group living there. Numerous others followed the move to British Columbia during the War Years (1939-1945) to avoid the military call-up. Still others decided to abandon their old way of life altogether, take their few possessions and depart into the world unknown.

Approximately a third of the Kylemore Doukhobors chose to repurchase their lands from the National Trust Company in 1938 under agreements for sale. Payment was made on a one-third crop share basis, as the Doukhobors had little or no cash. They took possession of their land, moved in village structures (dwellings, barns, stables, etc.) or utilized existing ones on the land, and purchased on credit the necessary horses, implements and equipment to set up their own farming practices. Fortunately, there were prosperous years in the Forties, and within ten years of independent farming, all the Doukhobors obtained clear title to their land and many acquired additional land, modern vehicles and machinery for their farms.

Social gathering of Kylemore Doukhobors, c. 1947. Photo courtesy Peter and Agnes Malekoff.

While most Doukhobors stayed on as farmers, several established stores and business in Kylemore. In the Thirties, William M. Fudikuf owned a general store in Kylemore, selling everything from groceries and furniture, to cream separators and machinery. In the late Forties, Peter G. Kanigan ran a blacksmith shop, general store and gas pumps. Finally, in the Fifties, Louis L. Osachoff operated a general store in the hamlet.

Those families who remained in Kylemore continued to uphold their Doukhobor faith and culture. In the Forties, they formed the Kylemore Doukhobor Society, which became their main religious and social organization. Moleniye (prayer meetings) and children’s Sunday school classes were held weekly at the Sunderland School. Petrov Den’ (Peters Day) was commemorated annually with picnics at Fishing Lake. A local choir was organized, and visiting choirs from British Columbia and elsewhere in Saskatchewan were always welcomed. In 1954, the Society purchased the former South Kylemore School and moved it into Kylemore for use as a ‘prayer home’ or meeting house. The Society remained active until the Nineties, when, due to an aging and dwindling congregation, it was dissolved. About six Doukhobor families remain in the Kylemore district today.

Kylemore Doukhobors holding moleniye prayer service, 1959.  Photo courtesy William W. Kanigan.

Conclusion

Today, there are few physical reminders of the CCUB colony at Kylemore. An abandoned two-story village dom stands on the north side of the No. 5 Highway, a silent sentinel of the communal past, while at least two smaller village dwellings can be found nearby. The concrete foundations of other village doms, barns and reservoirs dot the surrounding countryside. Many of the original Doukhobor colonists lay at rest in God’s Blessing Cemetery, still in active use. Recently, a stream running through the former colony was christened Blahoslovenie (Blessing) Creek in their memory.

A more enduring legacy of the Kylemore Colony is its living one. For today, the descendants of the original 300 colonists, who surely number in the hundreds if not thousands, can be found throughout Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the rest of Canada. They continue to preserve the memory of these pioneering Spirit Wrestlers.

The Chernoff Village dom (originally two stories) still stands west of Kylemore, SK. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

A dwelling from the Arishenkoff Village, shrouded in vines south of Kylemore, SK. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Bibliography

  • British Columbia. Report of Royal Commission on matters relating to the sect of Doukhobors in the province of British Columbia, 1912 (Victoria, King’s Printer: 1913, p. 58).
  • Dawson, Carl A., Group Settlement: Ethnic Communities in Western Canada (The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited, 1936).
  • Friesen, John W. and Michael M. Verigin, The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1996).
  • Gooliaff, Cecil, Lawrence Kalmakoff, Randy Konkin, Jennifer Osachoff, Wally Vanin, Doukhobors of Saskatchewan: Past, Present and Future (November 1972).
  • Hawthorn, Harry (ed.), The Doukhobors of British Columbia (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1955).
  • Hudson’s Bay Archives, File No. RG1/21/7.
  • Kalmakoff, Jonathan J. Field research notes for Kylemore district; July 2003; June 2008.
  • Kalmakoff, Jonathan J., Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada, 1930 Saskatchewan Membership List (Regina: 2002).
  • Kelvington Historical Society, Tears Toil and Triumph, Story of Kelvington and District (Kelvington: 1980).
  • Kuroki History Book Committee, Seems Like Only Yesterday, 1892-1980: The History of Kuroki and District (Kuroki: 1980).
  • Lapshinoff, Steve, Society of Named Doukhobors of Canada, 1937 Membership List (Crescent Valley: self published, 2001).
  • Lethbridge Herald, “Doukhobors Reorganize Community Life” (April 4, 1928).
  • Library and Archives Canada, RG10, Indian Affairs, Volume 6707, Reel C-8077.
  • Library and Archives Canada, RG95, Corporations Branch, Series 1, Volume 1297, The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited.
  • Malekoff, Peter P. Personal interviews with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, July 31, 2003 and June 21, 2008.
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Doukhobor Head Here: Tells of Work New Community Hopes to Enter Into” (June 14, 1918).
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Land for New Doukhobor Settlement” (June 1, 1918).
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Views of Wadena, Saskatchewan” (May 24, 1926).
  • Popoff, Eli A. Tanya (Grand Forks: Mir Publication Society, 1975).
  • R.M. of Kelvington No. 366, Tax Rolls (1921-1939).
  • Saskatchewan Archives Board, Cummins Rural Directory Map for Saskatchewan; Map Nos. 172 & 193 (1920, 1922, 1926, 1930).
  • Snesarev, Vladimir N. (Harry W. Trevor), The Doukhobors in British Columbia (University of British Columbia Publication, Department of Agriculture, 1931).
  • Sysoev, Theodore I. Correspondence with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, November 8, 2008.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma, J., Plakun Trava (Grand Forks: Mir Publication Society, 1982).
  • Veregin, Nora. Personal interview with Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, August 1, 2008.
  • Wadena Herald, “Doukhobors to Stay: Veregin Closes Deal for 10,000 Acres of Prairie Land” (June 27, 1918).
  • Wadena History Book Committee, Remembering Times: Wadena and Area Dating Back to 1882 (2 vols.) (Wadena: 1992).
  • Winnipeg Free Press, “Doukhobor Group Will Resist Any Attempt to Evict Them from Farms” (April 27, 1935).
  • Winnipeg Free Press, “Doukhobors Are Leaving Sask.” (October 18, 1934).
  • Winnipeg Free Press, “Doukhobors Will Sell Property in Saskatchewan” (April 8, 1935).
  • Woodcock, George & Ivan Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1977).

View Kylemore, Saskatchewan Doukhobor Villages, 1918-1938 in a larger map

An earlier version of this article was published in a compilation by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff and Anne Sanderson entitled Their Story in the Wadena News from July 9 to August 20, 2008. That compilation received a first place award for Best Saskatchewan Cultural Story of the Year at the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspaper Association’s 2009 Better Newspaper Competition Premier Awards.

This article was subsequently reproduced by permission in:

History of the Doukhobors in the Rural Municipality of Good Lake

Compiled by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day with the Doukhobors

by Jonathan E. Rhoads

On February 20, 1900, Jonathan E. Rhoads, a Quaker visitor from the United States, accompanied an immigration officer from Rosthern, Saskatchewan to the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye near the North Saskatchewan River.  His personal experiences, observations and impressions were later published in his book, “A Day with the Doukohobors” [sic] (Philadelphia: Wm H. Pile and Sons, 1900) and subsequently in the Manitoba Morning Free Press on March 1, 1902.  With superb imagery and evocative detail, the traveler describes the Doukhobors’ history, prosperity and progress, observance of Canadian law, courtesy and customs, meals, dress and industry, music, as well as their village, homes, interiors, stables and bathhouses.  In doing so, he provides the reader with a rare and fascinating first-hand account, from an impartial, outside perspective, of the Doukhobors shortly after their arrival in Canada.

Rosthern Feb. 20 — The winter dawn had not yet broken when we started through bars of lemon-colored light along the horizon and the lower rosy edges of purple-gray clouds basked towards the east, gave promise of a perfect day. Here and there among the little houses of the town could be seen an ascending column of smoke beckoning that there were others whom necessity or inclination urged to be abroad betimes, but for the most part the very houses seemed asleep. All nature had the hushed expectancy that befits the birth of new day. So rarely still was the air that the barking of a dog, at a farmhouse miles away, was distinctly audible, filtered and clarified through the frosty atmosphere. The cold had sprinkled the polished woodwork of the cutter with rime, and the team – that was matched, neither as to size, color, nor pace but was tough as whip-cord and as game as pheasants – was enveloped in the white halo of their own condensed breath. Bundling ourselves up in ample furs, we gave word and the hostler let go the team’s heads. They reared and snorted for the space of half a minute, till my companion feared the sorrel would lose his balance and fall backwards onto the cutter. Having in this approved western manner, thus indicated their nettle and spirit, they condescended at length to exhibit something of their speed, for they dashed down the street at a gait that was reminiscent of the team race at the Winnipeg Industrial, going over a couple of crossings with a back-breaking jar that was like to have dislocated one’s spinal column. After forty rods of this hippodrome racing they steadied down to a long, fast, swinging trot, the “proputty” “proputty” of their feet making music on the bare frozen roads. When, in a few minutes, the little town was left behind, and the broad prairie stretched before us, the dominant note changed to the banging of the runners as they struck some lump on the snow-trail and the noise of the team’s hoofs changed to a quick crunching pattern.

There were two of us, the immigration officer and myself. We were up in Saskatchewan, in the gore of country, between the two forks of the mighty river that gave the territory its name. It is a new country, ten years ago the undisturbed home of the fox and the Indian. Five summers ago there was nothing to see of the hustling little town of Rosthern we had just left. The long grading of the railway that swung in a shallow curve northward from Regina, and the naked telegraph poles, were the only objects that broke the monotony of the, except the water tank that could be seen above the scrubby timber growth that covered the site of the town. On still mornings the beaver colonies could be seen at work in the little streams that flowed into the Saskatchewan. The long lines of freight trains were sometimes visible winding their way over the prairie trails, bringing peltries from the western fur, or returning thither with the season’s supplies. In the spring, there were no squares of black plowing that marked where the husbandman had begun to subdue to the needs of mankind the fertile soil of this part of the Canadian Northwest, and in the autumn the click of the binder would have been listened for in vain. But, although it is still a new country, it has undergone a transformation. It is dotted with homesteads and diapered with fields. Comfortable, if not pretentious homes can be seen on every hand. Commodious barns and outbuildings attest the thrift and the thoroughness of the men who have selected the spot for their home. If luxury and style are conspicuous by their absence, so also is poverty, and the sense of hopeless acquiescence in misfortune that too often accompanies it. The poorest settler is rich in hope and the sublime confidence in the future of the locality, which is one of the characteristics of the west. He knows that a wise investment of skilful labor will, with favoring seasons and fertile soil, in a few years put him in an enviable position of competence, and the knowledge makes him feel the peer of any, and serves to stimulate him to more strenuous endeavor.

A Prospering District

We had nearly thirty miles to travel before we could reach our destination, for we were going straight west to the further bank of the north fork of the Saskatchewan. The intervening country varied little, if at all, from the average of Canadian prairie. Shallow hollows alternated with rolling crests, much of it covered with poplar and willow saplings, the tender green and brown of which made, with the dazzling snow, a color scheme beautiful in its harmony. An occasional twisted, gnarled oak, whose stunted deformity proclaimed its proximity to the polar limit of its growth, was almost the only variant to the tree life of the plain. The land was nearly all upland in character, few if any hay meadows being passed on the way. Each few miles could be seen the neat outbuildings erected by the Territorial government to protect the well bored for public use. The material progress of the settlement was illustrated and epitomized on nearly every farm. The original “shack” in which the settler first lived could be seen abandoned – to the use of the hens. Next in the scale of progression came the little log house, which, when continued success had warranted the erection of a neat frame dwelling, was regaled to use as a granary or implement shed. In some few cases a further advance had been made and a commodious brick dwelling evidenced the financial well being of the farmer. A number of windmills could also be seen affording fresh testimony of the district’s advance in material prosperity.

My companion beguiled the way by narrating instances of the improvement in the condition of the settlers and the district, as suggested by the various houses we passed. Yonder house with the big barn was So-and-So’s place. He came here in ‘96 and made enough money to pay his homestead fee. That was his herd over here by the straw-stack – over twenty of them and he had sold six or seven this fall. That place with the windmill belonged to a man who came here from Germany four years ago. He had $600. Now he has three-quarters of a section of land, all the implements he needs, three as fine working teams could be found in the Territories, good framed house and all necessary conveniences and in his granary 4,500 bushels of wheat. In yonder little house lived a Swede. He had nothing when he came out in ‘98. He worked on the section and at threshing and did his homestead duties cultivated this farm at the intervals between other work. There he was hauling cordwood to Rosthern, with his ox team. In five years’ time he would be as prosperous as any farmer around. All of them, three or four years since, were in the same condition that he was today. And, with countless iteration, and some slight variations in the individual instances, the story was the same – that of competence and comfort having been extracted from the fertile soil of the Canadian prairie.

After a time settlement grew sparser. As the river was approached the homesteads grew more and more scattered, and sometimes a house was not in sight in any direction. Far to the north rose the graceful outlines of the Blue-Hills, a golden saffron where the morning light caught their snow-clad sides, the belts of timber of their base showing wonderful seal brown colorings, and the shadowed scaurs and ravines intersecting them blue with the blueness of a June sky. Closer at hand could be seen the mile-wide valley trenched out by the Saskatchewan, and between the fringing zones of birch, elm, and poplar ran a snowy riband, marking the course of the great river. When we approached the crest of the bank, and stopped to breathe our team before negotiating the precipitous descent, we looked on a scene that was worth coming far to see – a panorama combining many of the elements of pastoral beauty.

A Perilous Passage

But a few moments could be allowed for the contemplation of the scenery, for the crossing of the valley was a proposition demanding present and practical solution. Of trail there was scarce semblance. For three hundred feet our path lay down a slope as steep and as smooth as a toboggan slide. At its foot were a few willow scrub, and then came a clear drop of fifty or sixty feet. If the team became unmanageable, and could not be stopped at the foot of the slide, the prospect of the drop beyond was not reassuring. However, two miles away, against the skyline on the opposite bank was the Doukhobor village of Terpennie we had driven near thirty miles to see, and one of us, at least, did not propose to turn back after coming so far. The interpreter said he would walk down, so as to lighten the load and pilot the way. He started slowly and cautiously, but soon the slope and his weight increased his speed. His feet twinkled faster and faster through the powdery snow, that rose up and enveloped him waist high, like a halo, above which his rotund body and gesticulating arms could be seen as he rushed to what seemed almost certain destruction. But Providence, in the shape of the aforementioned willow bushes, interposed, and he crashed into their interposing boughs, and fell, a portly, breathless heap of humanity, among their protected branches. Next it was my turn. I grasped the lines short, braced myself against the foot rail, and chirrupped to the team. But neither of them exhibited the slightest inclination to proceed. The sorrel was particularly rebellious, and plunged and reared on the edge of the steep in a most nerve -racking fashion. Finally, with delicate little steps and snorts of fear, they were persuaded to essay the descent.

Until a little more than half way down, all went well. Then one of them slipped, and in a second cutter and team were slithering down, the former on their haunches. Down below I could see my companion scramble with frantic haste out of our line of descent. His plump figure could be seen through the blinding snow-mist raised by the horses, crashing through the underbrush with an agility out of the proportion to his weight. At the foot of the hill I partly succeeded in pulling the team to the left, thus avoiding the sheer drop ahead, and giving the horses an opportunity of catching their feet. The thin, limber willow twigs sang like whips as, bowing my head and straining on the lines, we dashed into the brush. There was a moment’s wild rush, then a plunge, and a bump, and the cutter was still – jammed against a tree stump whose top was covered with snow. The horses shook themselves, gave a snort or two and then the brown proceeded nonchalantly to help himself to some outcropping tufts of slough grass. Neither of the team had a scratch, and no injury was apparent to the cutter. My companion “lost his English” as he described the slide and went off into German and Russian and Polish and Magyar in recounting its incidents. Only one difficult place remained to be negotiated – where a small stream from a ravine flowed across the track. One of the horses fell while being led over the glair ice and had to be dragged across. But with the exercise of care that the whiffletrees did not strike any stumps, we wound our way down the valley, and on to the ice-bound, snow-covered Saskatchewan.

Doukhobor Courtesy

Across this noble river, nearly thrice as wide as the Red at Winnipeg, we went diagonally upstream, skirting an island nearly in its centre – on the farther side of which we could see a yawning black slit in the river’s snowy mantle, where the swift, inky current boiled over its rocky bed. Up stream a little ravine wound upward from the river affording an easy natural gradient, by which to gain the general level. Halfway up we met a party of five Doukhobors – grave, deliberate men, large of stature, slow of speech, with an unaffected natural courtesy, both simple and dignified. We reined up that my companion might speak, and one of them, with whom he was acquainted, introduced us to the four. Each, as his name was mentioned, lifted his heavy black fur cap and bowed. They told us the village was half a mile from the top of the ravine, and that they were on their way to cut some logs for building next spring. They had been cutting ever since they came off the section when it froze up. They would float some of the logs down in the spring, but those that were nearer were being hauled in by the oxen. They lifted their hats again and bowed as we drove on. “Talk about French politeness,” said my companion, “it’s not in it with the courtesy of these people.” They raise their hats whenever they meet each other, and differ from Frenchmen in that they are quite as polite to their own people as they are to strangers. I’ve traveled a great deal, and never saw such genuine simplicity and courtesy. Wait till you get to the village and you’ll see that all I’ve said is true.

We were now almost at the point where the ravine opened out on the general level. A good trail led all the way to the village, which could be plainly seen a short distance ahead. We passed two yokes of oxen, hitched one ahead of the other, hauling some building logs, slug under the axels of a wagon. The logs were fully forty feet long – so long that chains had to be substituted for the usual wagon reach. The oxen were in the very pink of condition, and swung their heads with their legs as they contentedly rolled along, chewing their cud. The men lifted their caps and hailed us in Russian, to which the interpreter replied, and a few minutes afterwards we drove into the village.

Doukhobor house, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902. Glenbow Archives NA-949-103.

The Village of Terpennie

The impression it made at first sight was odd and prepossessing. Outside the Doukhobor communities, the like is not to be seen elsewhere in the Canadian west. Imagine a street half as broad again as Main street, Winnipeg, lined on each side with long low yellow buildings, roofed with sod or thatch. The gable end of each of these is towards the road, from which it is separated by a neatly railed garden. Each building – they are from fifty to sixty feet long – is divided into almost equal parts by a door admitting into an inner porch. Doors at opposite ends of this admit, the one towards the road to the dwelling house, and the one remote to it to the stable. The buildings are all one story high, though a small window in the gable showed that the upper portion is used, presumably for purposes of storage. The walls of all the buildings are of immense thickness, and have a pleasing chrome tint. They have almost as smooth and finished an appearance as the best plaster work of a Canadian artisan. The sod roofs are laid with the care and almost regularity, of shingles. The yard at the side of the buildings is swept clean and free from dust, chips, and other debris– indeed the first person we saw in the village was a woman sweeping the snow covered yard. It reminded one of the Dutch cleanliness that scrubs the very roadways.

Hardly had our team come to a standstill before a dozen of the villagers came hurrying forward to proffer assistance in unhitching and stabling the horses. The men doffed their caps, as they advanced with ceremonious politeness and the women crossed their arms over their breasts and bowed, accompanying the movement with a quick intake of breath, similar to that given by a Japanese when accosting an acquaintance. All the men were of good physical type, indeed most of them were splendidly built. The deputy headman of the village, who came in the absence of the chief, to invite us to his house, was a magnificent specimen of manhood. Considerably over six feet in height, broad of shoulder and deep of chest, he would have made no mean antagonist in any competition demanding strength and staying power. The women were not nearly as well built. They were all comparatively shorter than the men, stockily and sturdily built, but lacking in any natural grace or charm. Their faces at about the same age were very similar – indeed, they all seemed to have been turned out of the same mould, being round and with little or no play of feature. Their lips were full, their noses short, almost snubby, their eyes set wide apart, and lack-luster and expressionless. The girls and young women were thick of waist and ankle, and like the men, slow, almost ponderous in their movement. The older women were shapeless as ill-tied-up bundles and their skins were of a color like parchment and seamed with innumerable wrinkles.

The Home and Stable

These observations were made as I stood watching a half-dozen lads un-harness the team. They were led through the same door from which the headman had emerged to welcome us, but instead of turning to the left – to the portion of the building occupied by himself and family – they were taken to the other end, used as a stable. We followed them in to assure ourselves of their good treatment. It was almost dark for two panes of glass, each not a foot square, were the only means of lighting it. But barring the darkness and the lack of ventilation, the building was as comfortable as any stockman could desire. The walls – of turf thirty inches plastered within and without made the warmest of stables.

The stalls were neatly divided by peeled pole partitions, and the mangers were similarly constructed. Bedded comfortably on straw were three milk cows, five or six young stock and a fine team of oxen. All were in the very pink of condition and, in fact, they seemed fit for either the show-ring or the butcher.

This duty to the team performed, we crossed the inner hall into the living room. As we entered, the headman took off his hat in welcoming salutation – replacing it a moment afterwards – and his wife, daughter and daughter-in-law bowed. They led us to the store, where after divesting ourselves of our fur coats and while warming ourselves, we had the opportunity of inspecting the interior arrangements of a Doukhobor home.

The room was about fourteen broad and twenty feet in length. Its floor was of earth, packed smooth and hard as though made of boards. The walls were smoothly plastered and neatly whitewashed. Two windows, each about three feet square supplied the apartment with light. The sashes, being set almost flush with the outside of the thick turf wall, gave window ledges fully two feet in breadth on the inside, and on these were a number of house plants, thrifty and carefully tended and evidently much prized. Among them were two that had been brought all the way from Batoum on the Black Sea.

A Doukhobor Interior

The principal object in the room was the large stove and oven, built in the corner at the right of the entrance. It was about seven feet square, made, as was the building, of plaster. It was constructed on somewhat the same lines as a baker’s oven, the heat from the firebox passing directly into the oven, heating the plaster floor and roof to the necessary temperature for baking, the fire being raked out to prevent the smoking of the articles to be cooked before the latter were put in. The heat absorbed and retained by the thick plaster will maintain the oven at the proper baking heat for hours. The top of the oven is about six feet high, and the space intervening between it and the roof – about four feet – is often used in winter as a bed place. While not as soft and yielding to the body as springs and mattresses, no exception could be taken to its warmth on a cold winter night. At the side of the oven were three square chambers – cupboards without doors – built into its sides. They were each about a foot square, and of about the same depth. In them were piled socks, mitts, and similar articles to dry. One corner of the oven was built up almost to the roof. It also contained a hot air chamber. An ordinary American stovepipe carried off the smoke.

Around three sides of the room ran a bench. On the sides opposite the stove and the entrance it was of thick planed plank, supported by stout legs and scrubbed to a spotless cleanliness. But on the other side the bench was continued flush with the front of the stove, and completely filled the broad space between it and the opposite end of the room. It thus formed a broad shelf, from twelve to fourteen feet in length, and more than six feet in width. The boards were polished a dark brown by constant use. This shelf was the family sleeping place. There was ample room for two parties of sleepers on this shelf. The bed clothing – beautifully made and spotlessly clean – was neatly rolled in a big bundle. Here slept the headman and his wife, and his sixteen year old daughter.

While inspecting the sleeping arrangements, the headman took us out to the hall again and showed us the apartment of his married son. It was a tiny room, not more than nine by six feet, in which there was hardly room for a small bed, a huge chest and a tiny box stove. Like the general living room, the interior was neatly white-washed, and kept spotlessly clean. A shelf or two contained a few domestic treasures and articles of feminine use and adornment. The bed linen was carefully rolled up at the one end of the bed, as was the case in the general room. The floor, too, was of packed earth, as in the other instance.

The Doukhobors, like all continental peoples, are fond of pictures. Highly colored religious lithographs oleographs of German and Russian production hung about the walls, and were evidently not among the least prized of the room’s furnishings. These formed a striking contrast with the calendars issued by the Rosthern merchants, which divided the honors with them. In one house, I saw a reproduction of Raphael’s Madonna del Sista, and overlapping it was a picture of an excited Irishwoman belaboring a bawling donkey that had stopped on the track in front of an approaching train.

Almost equally startling contrasts could be met with wherever the eye looked. The east and the west met here. On the wall could be seen the Russian counting machine, – a light frame with variously colored wooden beads, strung on wire, almost identical with that used by primary teachers in number lessons. It came to Russia, hundreds of years ago, and is a modification of the Chinese machine, the earliest denary system of mathematics known. The headman said he was now able to calculate, without the aid of the machine, though he was much faster with it. At the interpreter’s request, he went through some lightning calculations with the instrument, performing not only additions and subtractions, multiplications, with a rapidity that would move many an accountant to envy. On the bare bed-bench could be seen a spinning-wheel, antique and quaint in shape, that suggested memoirs of the fair Marguerite. In sharp contrast with these old-world relics were the American alarm clocks, ticking against the wall, and the modern cheap stove, used to heat the apartment – for the big oven was used almost wholly for baking.

The Doukhobor’s History

We set down on the edge of the bed-bench and talked to the head man. He told us his name was Jacob Iwachin (Ewashen) and that he came out with the first migration to Canada. He told us somewhat of the disabilities and privations they had suffered while in Russia. “According to our religion,” said he, “we may not lift arms. We could not with conscience enter military service to fight. But we told the Russian government that we would do anything for the nation’s service except fight. They told us we could go into the forestry branch, which is part of the army services, and this we willingly did, and for years we served the term of our conscription in planting and caring for the thousands of acres of trees set out by the Russian government. But after a time – in the reign of the last Nicholas – they tried to compel us to carry guns, and because we would not, they said we were not good Russians. And they drove us from our farms, and harried us like the partridges on the mountains. They imprisoned the men and ill-treated our women. They burned our homes and drove us down towards the Caucasus in winter. There many of our little children died of cold and exposure. But God looked down, and He is just, and in the spring we built and tilled, and sowed, and the good God gave us a good harvest from soil that had never yielded well before. And in a few years we had made homes in our new place, and then the government sent the Cossacks on us again. They took our crops, our cattle, our money, and all that we had. They burned our houses. Some of our leading men they drove into exile. Many were sent to the salt mines and lead mines of Siberia. The prisons were full of men whose only crime was that they refused to learn to slay their brethren. My brother is in Siberia – at a salt mine in Irkutsk. He has been there eighteen years, and nothing can de done to get him out. He will die there, exiled and martyred. He was a teacher, and because the people loved him, and he made many believe as he did, they took him from his wife and his baby and made him walk for months chained to a felon, and buried him alive in a mine. Will not God judge these men? Yes, surely He will, and He will give us and him strength to bear our sorrow.” And the man lifted his cap, and bowed his head in silent prayer for the brother in his living death, while his wife sobbed quietly as she rocked herself on a low stool. His simple eloquence, though it may have lost much in translation, was very affecting. His voice vibrated with a wonderful resonance as he spoke of the sufferings of his people.

His fine, impressive and picturesque presence, and the natural grace and dignity of his gestures, were very striking. In a little time he resumed: “We did all we could. We told the government we would do anything except learn to fight. I do not think the Tsar knew how his officers were treating us. We hear he is kind and hates war. We sent him letters and petitions but he took no notice, I do not think his officers gave them to him. And all the time the cruelty of the Cossacks went on. But the good God gave most of us strength to hope and endure, though it was very dark. And at last the heart of the Tsarina was moved at our sufferings. One of the petitions reached her, and she spoke on our behalf. We had heard of America, that there men may worship God as they please, and we asked to go there, where we would not vex the Russian government. And the good Tsarina got for us leave to go. She sent her messengers to us with the good news, and we knew that God had pity on our sufferings. They promised us that the government would buy our farms, and that men would be sent to value them. And we got ready with joyful hearts, for the day of our deliverance drew near. The evaluators came and they said the government would give us $165,000 for our farm buildings. They would give us nothing for the land, and the buildings were worth much more, but we made no complaint. They said we should have the money when we got to Batoum. We got there, but the money did not come. We waited two weeks and sent messages, but still it did not come. We could have sold the houses and barns for more than this, if we had broken them up, but the government meant to prevent us going. One ship had sailed, and the captains would not wait, and we heard that the government meant to prevent us going after all, so we sailed and left it, and we have not received it yet. The people of the villages around Rosthern should have got $32,000 of this money if the government had sent it.”

Contented With Canada

“And so you are glad you came to Canada?” asked the interpreter. “We are all very glad,” answered Iwachin, brightening at the change of subject, and speaking earnestly and impressively. “We cannot tell you how glad. We appreciate the freedom here very much. Yes, this is the place. There is no comparison between this and Russia. All the people have been most kind, and we cannot tell you how grateful we are. We are trying to serve the government, and the country, and God. We shall be very happy here. We will work hard, and the good God will prosper us.

Our conversation as to the past history of the sect was interrupted by the entrance of another Doukhobor, whose incoming was marked by the same ceremonious salutations that had greeted ourselves. Soon afterwards the good wife announced that the meal was ready, and the four men – Iwachin, the newcomer, who rejoiced in the name of Kusnizoff (Kooznetsoff), the interpreter and myself, sat down at the table, which was placed in the corner of the room so as to utilize the benches along two of its sides. The wife waited on us, and the daughter and daughter-in-law sat on the bench – which was so high that their feet were six inches above the floor – and knitted.

A Doukhobor Meal

The table was covered with a coarse clean linen cloth. At one end and one side were placed two finer linen towels, each about six feet long and as broad as a pocket handkerchief. They were ruched or ruffled along the edge of the table, and their purpose I was at a loss to conceive, till the interpreter took one end and placed the other across my knees, when I perceived it was to be used as a napkin or serviette. Evidently the theory of communism obtained even in so small a matter as dinner appointments. Plates – one of them ordinary white heavy ironstone china, the others of quaintly decorated Russian ware, were placed on the inside of the ruffled napkins, but of knife or fork there was never a sign.

Doukhobor village gathering, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902.

The goodwife brought up a dish of well cooked potatoes, fried in butter. Fortunately there was a spoon, so that we could help ourselves by that means, but it was evident that fingers were to take precedence over forks. We helped ourselves to the potatoes, and Iwachin cut me off a chunk of bread from the big loaf, and Kusnizoff performed a similar office for the interpreter. There was an abundance of excellent butter, and this, with a bowl of loaf sugar, and tumblers of scalding hot and strong tea formed the meal. The two Doukhobors picked the potatoes from their plates with a neatness and daintiness that neither myself nor the interpreter could hope to emulate, but the long drive in the keen winter air had given me an excellent appetite, and I contrived to do ample justice to the simple fare. The bread was the worst item of the menu. It was very dark in color – about the shade of tobacco – and sour and bitter to the taste. It is ground, “forthright,” in their own mill, and is made from a mixture of wheat, barley, and rye. Its composition probably accounted for the breads color, but nothing could excuse its sodden, sour heaviness. The “flapjacks” of the most unskillful tenderfoot that ever “batched” on the prairie were culinary triumphs by comparison. The wonder is, that with so small a variety of food, and that so badly cooked – for the Doukhobors are strict vegetarians, eating fish, but never meat – that they are such splendidly developed types of manhood.

The goodwife did not use a teapot in pouring the tea, but a samovar, or Russian tea urn, and, as stated above, it was drunk from tumblers instead of cups. All the Doukhobors have sweet teeth, and both Iwachin and Kusnizoff frequently took a lump of sugar from the bowl, and ate it as a relish with the bread. They did not spread the butter on their bread either, but helped their plates with their jack-knives, and ate it with them in the same manner as we would cheese. The meal was preceded and concluded by a grace devoutly said, and Iwachin, despite the differences between his and our code of table manners, presided as host with an urbanity, kindliness, and courtliness that could not have been exceeded. His conversation showed him to be a man of keen observation and shrewd intelligence. He understood thoroughly the theory of representative government as it exists in Canada, and showed himself familiar with the machinery of municipal government. He took a live interest in the education of his people, and made many enquiries as to how the government proposed to deal with this important question.

He told me of the work of Mr. Scherbenin, in Hierolofka (Horelovka), an adjoining village. Mr. Scherbenin is a disciple of Tolstoi, and, though a Russian or rank, and with influential friends and with an education and ability that would have ensured him a brilliant career in the Russian diplomatic or military service, renounced all for conscience sake, and threw in his lot with these simple, brave, patient people. His home in Hierolofka is distinguished from those of the other villagers only in the number of its books and the presence of many scientific instruments. He can make himself understood in every European tongue, and speaks, reads and writes eleven languages with native facility. Yet he walled and plastered his own clay dwelling, and lives the simple communal life of these peasantry as though he had never known a superior station. He has established a school and teaches daily, in addition to primary subjects, the communal theology of Tolstoi, the Canadian system of municipal and federal government, western methods of agriculture and the usages of mercantile business. By virtue of his blameless life and his wide knowledge, he is the arbiter and oracle and final court of appeal to these unlettered folk, who regard him with feelings nearly akin to veneration.

The headman wanted to know if they could not have a teacher who could speak both English and Russian located in every village. He said they were as yet poor, but they would soon be able to pay him well. All were anxious to learn English, but how could they when there was none to teach? Both Kusnizoff and Iwachin frequently asked the interpreter and myself for the English names of some of the things about the house and farm, and would repeat them with the proud satisfaction of a child that has learned a new word, repeating it, with explanatory phrases in Russian, to his wife and daughters, and using the new term on every possible occasion, in order to memorize it. Among their other enquiries were many as to the possibility of securing from the Russian government the money due from the sale of their buildings, of which they had been defrauded.

The Doukhobor’s Dress

The dress of the men differ little from that of the familiar type of Doukhobor seen on the streets of Winnipeg. For outdoor wear, Kusnizoff had a coat of sheepskin, double-breasted and with the pelt outside, with wide flowing skirts, and a cap of Russian military style. Below this was a sort of blouse – a kind of vest with sleeves, something like a stable-man’s jacket – full pantaloons, tucked into heavy knee boots. Iwachin’s garb was similar, excepting that his blouse was somewhat more decorated with embroidery, and that his big overcoat was dyed black. All these garments, including the boots, were made by the Doukhobors themselves.

The three women of Iwachin’s household also wore the characteristic national dress. The mother wore a blouse of curious cut, of woolen material, in a color a sort of washed-out electric blue, and a short woolen skirt, much heavier and coarser in weave, and striped red and white in the direction of its length. Coarsely knitted and warm grey stockings were visible below this, and strong roughly made and heavy boots completed the exterior portion of her attire, with the exception of the peculiar cap of Liberty worn by the patriots of the French Revolution. The cap is generally ornamented with a rosette or red, and its top decorated with a tuft of the same color. The daughter was dressed in the same general style as the elder woman, except that the apron and trimmings were of a brighter color. The garments of her sister-in-law were beautifully embroidered in colors, and were finished with more attention to the niceties of appearance than was the case with the other two women of the household. All wore boots as heavy as those of a British farm laborer, and, as was to be expected, their walk was clumsy and heavy as that of men broken down from excess of hard physical labor. None of the women of the village were equal in physique to the average of the men. Few were more than five feet three in height, but all appeared strong and inured to work. Of the nearly two hundred people inhabiting the village, I saw no variation in the type of women, all being short, thick of waist and ankle, with round faces and full, expressionless features.

Beautiful Weaving

During the meal, I had admired the beautiful decorative work done by the needle on the garments of the daughter-in-law, and at its conclusion the woman of the house displayed specimens of their weaving, dyeing, and embroidery. The articles they exhibited were both useful and ornamental in character. Some of the weaving was particularly fine, the texture of some of the table linen being equal to that produced by the best looms of Belfast. Nearly all the linen was woven with a simple check or diaper pattern in red at the side and ends, and much taste and skill were shown in the arrangement of these. The dark woolen cloth, of which the women’s skirts were made, much resembled Irish frieze. The clothes of the men were made of similar material, but generally lighter in color. Some of the kerchiefs worn by the women were beautifully embroidered in fine wools, work being as well executed as the most captious critic of art needle work could desire, the design being usually regular or geometric, and almost ecclesiastic in simplicity and harmony. The knitting shown me by the daughter-in-law, was as fine as that of the famous Shetland shawls, and of the same gossamery quality. The staple colors for woven fabrics seemed to be browns, fawns, and grays, but in knitted work, and in the more decorative portions of the good intended for personal wear, brilliant coloring is general. The dyeing, the spinning and the weaving are all done by the community. The yarn is spun on the old-fashioned distaff. For the dyeing aniline dyes are coming into general use, and I saw the communal loom, – in sections, for it was not yet put together, and had not been used since the village was founded. It was a primitive wooden arrangement, that would look curiously archaic besides the modern mechanical marvels that fabricate the textiles in general use, but its effectiveness when operated skillfully was beyond question.

When we had finished examining and admiring the work of the women, Iwachin signified through the interpreter his wish that we should see his treasures – to wit, his library. From under the sitting bench running around two sides of the room he produced a box, eighteen inches in length, and a foot in height and breadth. It was as solidly constructed as a treasure chest. It was clamped at the corners with quaintly shaped forgings. Its lock was nearly as massive as that of an English cathedral, and the key was fully six inches long in length and was as beautiful as it was heavy. When the lid was thrown back, the family library could be seen.

Four books bound richly in leather, the bindings beautifully tooled and chased, two of them brass bound at the corners in the way that Bibles used to be, a McCormick catalogue, and half a dozen pamphlets or tracts, completed the catalogue. Iwachin handled them lovingly, and “read aloud a passage or two from the Bible, which was printed – as, indeed, were all with the exception of the implement booklet, – in the Russian character. Kusnizoff could not read, – he said he would learn to read in English, not Russian – but Iwachin read, to us some Christian communal theories from a pamphlet by Tolstoi, for whom, in common with all of his race and religion, he had the highest reverence, as the embodiment of all the personal and public virtues. He told the interpreter that when he learned to speak English – he had just started and learning it was slow, because he was not often in town, and it was very seldom that anyone speaking English came to the village – he would learn to read in English, for he wanted to find out about Canadian government, and Canadian usages, and Canadian history, and these things he knew he could learn by reading books and newspapers. But he thought it would take much trouble, and time, and patience to read the English characters. “The Russian letters,” he said, “are easy to read; not so the English.” I told him it was all a matter of use, whereat he laughed assertingly, displaying as he did so strong, glistening and regular teeth.

A Doukhobor Concert

During the meal Iwachin had promised to get in some of the villagers to sing, and while we had been looking at the books, and our host had been expressing his appreciation of the difficulty and intricacy of the English tongue, they had been coming in by ones and twos. The ceremonious kindliness which had greeted our arrival had marked the greeting given to each newcomer. Each had been formally presented to the interpreter and myself and the men had taken off their caps with a magnificent sweep, and bowed in the Russian manner, and then had shaken hands in the British fashion. The women had bobbed in the “charity curtsey”, and had then betaken themselves to the edge of the bed-bench where their strongly shod feet hung a foot above the earthen floor. There were eight of them in all, short, thickset, sturdy figures, and in their curious head dresses,, their braided over-jackets and brilliantly embroidered aprons of red, green or blue, they formed a picturesque party. The men sat together about the table, and chatted freely with each other in the interval preceding the commencement of the music, but the women said never a word, but sat mute, with downcast eyes, till Iwachin signified the concert might begin. Kusnizoff acted as precentor. He had a reedy but not inharmonious tenor voice, and was evidently the musical authority of the village. Iwachin explained to us that they would sing principally hymns and psalms. He seemed somewhat apologetic about it, and explained that they could sing songs but thought it better not, as there were some young girls present. The explanation mystified us somewhat, as these grave and God-fearing people seemed the most unlikely to sing anything comic or risqué. So I merely said that I sung psalms in metre myself every Sabbath morning in church – for my Presbyterian pastor was not present to controvert my statement as to my regularity in attendance – and settled down to an enjoyment of the musical programme. There was a moment’s silence, and then Kusnizoff’s quavering voice could be heard, “feeling” after the notes as if uncertain of the key, but singing truer and fuller after the second bar. The others joined with voices of varying sweetness and power in a rude and effective harmony.

The music was very slow and mournful in character, and it was all in the minor, many of the intervals and phrases having an almost weird effect. All the voices were nasal in quality, but though the singing would have offended every canon of musical criticism, the combined result was far from unpleasing. In general the men and women sang in unison though occasionally Iwachin, who possessed a rich rough baritone, dropped into harmony, and his wife, whose voice was a pure and strong alto, frequently attempted a part. The women all sang with downcast head, and without any expression whatever, whether facial or musical, but the men seemed to enter much more fully into the spirit of the music, and sang as if they realized the significance of the selections. It was a “Song of Deliverance” Iwachin told the interpreter, though a more mournful poem of praise it had never been my lot to hear. If this weird air symbolized musically the Doukhobor sense of joy, it would keep the imagination working overtime to conceive the solemnity of a Doukhobor dirge.

After I had praised their rendition of this song, they proceeded to give a metrical psalm. It was a curious composition from a musical point of view, being a sort of choral fugue, the harmony being made by the repetition of parts, in the same manner as the rounds or catches we used to sing at college. Like the preceding song, it was in the minor, and in the frequent and disorderly crossing of parts, the irregularity of its measure, and the oddness of its intervals, it came near to being a complete realization of musical chaos. In its formlessness it suggested remotely, the overture in Haydn’s “Creation.” Next they sung something that was much more cheerful – something that had unexpected slurs and yodels, and was brighter, if more barbaric. Every verse or section was started, solus by Kusnizoff, the others not joining in till the second or third bar. Each verse was completed with an unpleasant flattening of its concluding tone, and an accentuation of the nasal quality of the voice, and the note would be chopped off with a clock by the chorus, the precentor, apparently by virtue of his office, prolonging the note for a noticeable interval after the others were silent.

Kusnizoff seemed delighted at my praise of the singing and exhibited almost childish pleasure when I told him that never, in all the concerts I had attended in Europe and America, had I heard music similar to that which they were entertaining us. After four or five selections had been sung, I asked them to sing the only Russian air I knew: “Long live the Tsar,” the Russian nation anthem, the air of which is similar to most in the hymn, “God the All-Terrible.” My request, when interpreted, was discussed with some animation, but finally Iwachin explained that, when they thought of all that the Russian government had made them endure, they could not sing the anthem. They were not Russians now, he said; they had come out to Canada to serve God and to be Canadians, and as soon as they knew enough of the language they would sing the Canadian national hymn. He requested me to sing for their entertainment, and was politely skeptical when I said that nothing but considerations of friendship and the desire for their continued good opinion prevented my compliance.

Doukhobor house, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902. Glenbow Archives NA-949-102.

The musical programme must have taken considerably more than half an hour, and in all that time the women maintained their attitude of listless stolidity. The only exception was a little girl of some ten or twelve years of age, who sang but little, but who peered shyly around the edge of the stovepipe at me and to whom I doubtless appeared as strange as would a visitor from Mars.

A Stroll Through the Village

After I had formally thanked them for their music, and Kuznizoff had made a florid speech in reply thereto, Iwachin suggested that we should stroll through the village. The women, on leaving, dropped Iwachin, his wife, the interpreter and myself each one of their bobbing curtsies, and the men lifted their hats with the with the wide-spreading sweep of a Russian military salute as they departed.

The village consisted of but one long street. It ran in a straight line, and was about a hundred and fifty feet in breadth. It was neatly fenced with rails on either side, and the buildings were all arranged with their gable end to the road. All were built on the same general plan as that of Iwachin’s – with a middle entry, the dwelling portion nearest the road, and the stable in the other end of the building. Occasionally a pole fence could be seen running back from the road to the depth of the lot, but in general there was no division between the communal properties. At the rear of every stable were one or more fine stacks of well cured hay, some of the villagers having as much as fifty tons. We went into several of the stables and saw the cattle. All were in the very pink of condition, fit, indeed for the butcher. In every yard was a building used as a granary. Its construction was in every case as careful as that of the dwelling house, the walls having well built “footings” and being carefully plastered and neatly whitewashed. Built against the granary in almost every instance was a lean-to implement shed, well stocked with binders – a McCormick in every instance – harness, plows, mowers, rakes and every necessary agricultural implement. Out in the yard were to be seen wagons and sleighs. The hayracks were carefully put on platforms ready to be put on. About the whole village was an air of method, of care, of cleanliness and of order that would compare favorably with that of many a Canadian homestead. The care of their possessions was evidenced on every hand. Inside the implement sheds I found the binder canvasses carefully rolled away, and even the irons of their planes had been greased to protect them from rust!

Further Evidence of Prosperity

All the granaries had more or less grain in them. One man had 600 bushels of wheat, 1,100 bushels of barley and 400 bushels of oats. Another had 830 bushels of wheat and 600 bushels of oats and barley, and many others seemed to have almost, if not quite, equal amounts of grain, though I did not enquire the exact quantities in other than these two instances. Semen Chernoff, whose grain crop is the one last mentioned, told me many interesting facts through the interpreter. From him I gathered that the communal system is losing many of its adherents, and is rapidly being replaced by the rights of the Individual. He was a tall, ungainly fellow, black of eye and torrential of speech. Evidently he had become seized of the fact that an individual’s value to a community is in direct ratio to his ability as a worker. “My three sons,” said he, “worked on the section last summer. They worked hard for six months. They came home with $500. They put the money into the village treasury. Sherbinnen’s two sons went away with mine and came back with them. They worked on the same section. They put into the treasury only $180. Next summer my boys go on the section again, but they will not put their money into the treasury. Oh, no! They will buy cattle and plows with it for themselves. Is it right in the eyes of the good God that my boys should each turn in twice as much as has his?”

Volumes of political economy could not have stated the case of the individual as against the community with greater brevity or force. Nor was this the only instance that came under my observation during my stay of the loosening hold the Doukhobors have upon communistic theories. At first they would not agree to make entry for their homestead lands individually, but wanted the Interior Department to transfer the land en bloc, after the performance of the necessary duties by the community. This, of course, the Department refused to do, insisting on the carrying out of the departmental regulations in the matter of individual entry and individual performance of homestead duties. For more than a year the matter was debated between the government and the Doukhobors, but, as far as the Rosthern settlement is concerned, the matter is settled. The settlers have acceded in every particular to the regulations of the Department, and six months ago land was entered for individually by almost every male of required age in Terpennie. While I was there, I made out the necessary receipts for the $10.00 homestead fees for four men, the money being paid to the interpreter, as an official of the Department. As an indication of the rapidly increasing prosperity of the settlement, they are buying land in large quantities nearly every homesteader wanting to enlarge his holdings by purchase. Chernoff, Iwachin, Kusnizoff and Popoff all wanted me to make influence with the Interior Department, in order that they might select government land for purchase near them. At present the government refuses to sell any of this land, for the reason that the railway grants have not been selected by the companies. With the rapid influx of settlement into the Rosthern country, they fear that others may secure the lands when they are thrown open for sale, though, by right of longer residence and repeated applications to purchase, they feel they have a priority of claim.

Observance of Canadian Law

But the most significant sign of the increasing acceptance of Canadian usages and laws, is afforded by the Doukhobors’ changed attitude towards the marriage laws. Marriage is, with the Doukhobors, not a civil contract, but a religious sacrament, their belief in this regard being in practice what the Catholic belief is in theory. Their tenets in the matter of marriage have never been interfered with by the Russian government. The registration of marriage is there unknown, and, naturally, when they came to Canada, they continued to marry and be given in marriage without notifying the department of vital statistics, and having their unions registered. They hold that no man and woman should continue to live together as man and wife unless they love and reverence each other. For two who are incompatible in disposition to continue to live in the marriage relation they regard as a sin. Far better would it be for the unhappy couple to separate, and, if so disposed, each seek more congenial partners. Hence, when the Doukhobors first came to Canada, and their advent was made the theme of criticism by newspapers and politicians, who knew little of their customs and beliefs, and were only desirous of discrediting the government during whose administration they migrated, it was stated, and, till the truth was known, it was generally believed, that the Doukhobors were “free lovers,” and that their indiscriminate cohabitation was a disgrace to the land they selected for their homes. As a matter of fact, few people are more chaste.

Their belief as to marriage is the logical outcome of their religious system, but their history sows that they dissolution of the marriage tie is practically unknown. In the last fifty years, Iwachin told me, there had been but one instance, among all the thousands of Doukhobors, of separation between man and wife. Can any other community on earth point to such a record as this? And, moreover, the Rosthern Doukhobors, at least, have shown their willingness, in this as in every other matter, to obey in the spirit and letter the Canadian law. Every marriage solemnized in Terpennie since the beginning of 1901 has been registered, and every birth also. The Doukhobors realize that the Canadian laws are conceived in a spirit of equity, and designed for the protection of civil rights, and are rapidly modifying their practice in many matters so as to conform to the changed conditions of life in a country where laws are framed with a view to the stability and strength of the social fabric.

A Visit to the Communal Bathhouse

It is generally known that the Doukhobors are a scrupulously clean people. They have a communal bath house, which Iwachin took me to see. It was a clay-wattled building, similar in construction to every other in the village and was about twelve feet by twenty in size. Half the building was in the ground, the walls not being more than four feet above the level. The door was very small and low, and was approached by a rough stair case. In its interior the building was divided into a larger and smaller room by a transverse partition. The lesser compartment was the one nearer the entry, and was the furnace room. A big fire place, built of clay, occupied nearly the whole of it. This was surrounded by prairie boulders, or moraines, some of them nearly three feet in diameter.

When any of the community desire to bath, they take a load of wood to the bathhouse and make a huge fire. In an hour after the boulders are thoroughly heated. The bathers then go into the larger inner room and after disrobing, stretch themselves on the wooden benches by which it is surrounded. The fire is taken out, and then pails of water are thrown over the pile of stones. The whole building is at once filled with stream. The bathers remain in the stream chamber for an hour or more, then wash, with cold water, don their clothing, and the bath is finished. Iwachin told me the bathhouse was generally in use three or four times a week, men and women using it on alternate days.

It had been in use yesterday, the building being still warm. He offered to have it heated for me early the following morning, if I would stay overnight, and care to take a bath. He said he had had a bath after the Turkish fashion, with hot air instead of stream, but he greatly preferred the Russian method. So necessary do the Doukhobors consider frequent bathing, that they built the communal bathhouse before they even erected their own residences, living in tents, or under wagons, till it was completed.

A Doukhobor Wedding

We strolled back to the village street, noting on every hand the signs of thrift, industry, frugality and prosperity. By this time we numbered quite a large party, every villager to whom I was introduced deemed it his duty to accompany us, and assist in doing the honors of the place. Every villager we passed raised his hat or bowed with the same ceremonious courtesy that had marked Iwachin’s behavior. The children peeped curiously at the interpreter and myself from behind dark entries or around the edges of haystacks. At one house we found the people – that is, the women – in a state of great domestic bustle and excitement. Enquiry found that there was going to be a wedding that afternoon – that the bride was expected at any moment. The woman of the house became almost voluble as she narrated the circumstances to the interpreter. It was her boy who was to be married, and he and his father had driven over to the village of Hierolofka, and would return with the bride and her father. She gave us all a most cordial invitation to the marriage ceremony and the subsequent feast, all of the time sweeping away the snow from the front of the entry with a vigor that betokened her natural excitement. We assured her that we would certainly be present and then left her to conclude her preparations for the reception of the bridal party. She called us back, however, that we might look at the newly plastered and whitewashed tiny bedroom at the back of the entry, and pointed with pride to the new sheet iron stove, the home-made wooden bed – (there was no bed clothing – the bride would bring that) – the wooden pins on the wall, the gay McCormick calendar, and the other simple domestic necessities, needed by the bridal couple.

Then we went on, at Iwachin’s request, to see the first baby born and registered in Terpennie. It was a sturdy little fellow, just beginning to creep, and his delighted crowing at finding himself the cynosure of such a distinguished and numerous party – for we by this time numbered fully a score – showed that he realized to the full his temporary importance. His younger sister, an infant not two months old, was lying in the high ended and quaintly shaped oaken cradle, that was as substantially built as a line of battle ship. It was not on rockers, as is usual, in Canada, but was suspended from the ceiling by two thongs of hide, and swung instead of rocked. The mother was lifting the cloth from the baby’s face, to let us see it, when we heard a shout from outside, and knew that the bridal party had come. We caught a glimpse of a rapidly driven farm sleigh, and hastily making our adieu to the historic child, the sleeping infant, and the proud mother, we hurried up the street to the house we had recently left.

We found the whole village there on our arrival. The sleight had been driven into the cleanly swept courtyard, and the villagers were ranged round it in a semi-circle between it and the house. In the middle of the sleigh box was the great marriage chest, and on it, facing the tail-board, were the bride and groom, both bravely appareled, the girl especially being brilliant in red, green and purple. On the other edge of the chest, facing the horses, were two other girls, both prospective brides, though their grooms were not in evidence. Seated on the tailboard of the sleight was the bride’s father, and when we came up, he was in the middle of a long prayer, beseeching Heaven to bless the approaching union, to give to the young couple the blessing of fruitfulness, to grant his daughter the love of her husband, the affection of her husband’s parents, and the favor of the village. It was an impressive scene of the villagers in gala dress, with the wide-spreading valley beyond, the snowy plain, and the brilliant sunshine, all combining to make a picture that will dwell long in the memory.

When at length the father had completed his prayer he helped his daughter down from the big chest and out of the sleigh. He kissed her, and gave her hand to the groom, who likewise saluted the bride. Holding each other by the hand, the pair entered the house, the father and the rest of the wedding cortege following. At the door they were met by the father of the groom, who welcomed them with a brief speech, and many bows. Then the assembly, which up to the present had been decorously silent, broke into a hubbub of chatter. The bride was surrounded by the girls of the village, who examined her attire,
passing remarks on the embroidery and other adornments. The elder women bustling about in the preparation of the great marriage feast. The men chatted during the interval, on farm work, the prospects for the spring, and the approaching pilgrimage of the Rosthern merchants to the village, for the purpose of holding the annual sales of implements, etc. The groom seemed as at Canadian weddings, the least important individual in the gathering, and for a long time I looked about for him in vain. When at length he was pointed out to me, I was greatly surprised at his extreme youth. His father said he was 18; but he looked no more than 14. His face was boyish, almost childish, and his general bearing and behavior that of an undeveloped callow stripling. The bride, they told me, was also 18. She was half a head taller than her affianced, broad of hip and shoulder, and deep of chest. She carried herself, too, with a quiet dignity and gentleness that prepossessed us greatly.

I gathered that the principals had but little to do with the arrangement of marriage among the Doukhobors. The alliances are negotiated by the parents, though it is to be supposed that any existing attachments are given some consideration. But, owing to the extreme youth at which marriages are contracted, and the mental habit existing among the Doukhobor children of subordinating their individual judgment to that of their parents, it is but rarely that any complications are made by prior attachments.

The day was rapidly closing in, when the villagers gathered for the marriage song service. For an hour they would sing the psalms and hymns, and then would partake of the great wedding feast. The odor of vegetable soup filled the house, and the young men busied themselves arranging the borrowed tables so as to utilize to the utmost every available inch of room. The father of the groom pressed me to remain to the festival. They would sing, he said, for an hour, and then partake of the wedding meal and then would come the conclusion of the religious ceremony, when he, the father of the groom, would beseech the Almighty’s blessing on the youthful pair, after which the bride’s relatives would rive back home. But the interpreter explained that we had a long way to drive ourselves through a country that was but sparsely settled, and little traveled, and moreover, there was the difficult crossing of the Saskatchewan valley to be made. So, though reluctantly, we had to send for our team. While we were waiting for them the good wife served us scalding tea, in tumblers, and we ate more of the soggy black bread, being entertained, while eating, by the signing – for the musical portion of the service had commenced.

Ewashen family, c. 1902. (l-r) John, Jacob Jr., Jacob Sr. John Kooznetsoff, Anastasia (nee Kooznetsoff), Mary.

Facts as to Progress

In the intervals between the various songs, Iwachin gave us a few general facts as to the progress and present position of the Rosthern settlement of Doukhobours. In Terpennie – the village we were visiting – there were between 100 and 170 inhabitants – forty-seven families in all. Between them they had twenty horses, a hundred and thirty cattle, and forty sheep. In the village of Hierolofka, ten miles away, there were five hundred cattle and a hundred horses. Last fall the Terpennie people had plowed with nine ox or horse teams, in three weeks 325 acres of land, an, with the amount of breaking done, they would have this year a thousand acres under cultivation. Their principal crop would be wheat, but much barley and flax would be grown. Last year the crops were good, he said, but they had sold none of the grain yet. The present price was too low. They would wait, he said, until they got a railroad, and then they could get a better price for their grain. They did not know when they would get the road built, but they believed Mr. Sifton would see that they had proper shipping facilities. They had ten grist mills, operated by water power at Terpennie and Hierolofka. To get the necessary water supply, the Terpennie people had built a canal two miles long – all of it by the spade, and all of it done by the women of the village while the men were working in the fields or on the railroad. It was completed last fall, and would be in operation this spring. The stones used were those formerly in the old Hudson’s Bay fort at Prince Albert, and were teamed nearly a hundred miles. The flour, is, of course, ground “forthright,” and would make the same dark bread in general use among the Doukhobors.

The residents of Terpennie have 47 homesteads. This year the Hierolofka people will have 4,000 acres cropped. As an instance of the extensive nature of their farming operations, they purchased last year forty binders, seventy mowers, and a hundred and twenty plows. Nearly all this was bought on credit, and no better comment on their commercial reliability need be adduced than the fact that, on Jan. 1 of this year, though hardly a bushel of grain had been sold, less than fifteen per cent was unpaid, and this is regarded as being good as the bank. They make use of everything – like Autolycus, they are “snappers up of unconsidered trifles,” picking up nails, old horseshoes, or such things, and carrying them home and putting them to use. They buy only absolute necessities, having learned in the hard school of Muscovite tyranny that economy is wealth. At the towns in which they deal, the merchants are anxious that more of the same class of settlers should come into the country. They say that much opposition was at first manifested at the Doukhobor immigration, but that those who know them best have nothing but praise for them, either as farmers or citizens. In a very few years the Doukhobors will be in an enviable financial position – in fact wealthy. They are peaceable, law-abiding, industrious and thrifty, are anxious to learn English speech and desirous of following Canadian customs.

Good-Bye to Terpennie

While Iwachin and the interpreter had been telling me these facts, I had been munching morsels of the black bread, and sipping the scalding uncreamed tea, and, in the pauses of the conversation, listening to the weird minor music of the wedding, and watching the preparations for the feast that would follow. The room was strong with the odor of vegetable soup, and the air hot and oppressive from the crowding of so many people in such a small space. I was not sorry, therefore, when it was announced that the team was ready. There was much handshaking and bowing and removing of caps as we left the room. The boyish bridegroom was pushed forward by his mother to make his adieux, and his dignified, emotionless bride curtsied in stateliest fashion as we went through the door. Iwachin and Chernoff and a few of the village lads came out to see us off, and nearly all the rest continued at the song service, and the drone of their monotonous chant was the last thing we heard of Terpennie.

We bundled ourselves up comfortably in our furs, and left with many courteous wishes from our hosts for a safe journey, and continued health and long life, and general prosperity, and all other desirable blessings. In a few minutes Terpennie was a low black blot silhouetted against the burning western sky. Down the easy grade we wound into the valley of the Saskatchewan, and in the purple gloaming of the winter dusk, crossed the river, and safely climbed the precipitous bank beyond. It was quite dark when we reached the eastern level. For a while we journeyed quietly, each absorbed in the memory of all that we had that day seen and learned of these God-fearing, tenacious, industrious people. And the interpreter voiced my own unspoken thought when he exclaimed: “Well, they were good Russians, and they’ll make good Canadians.”   J.R.

Special thanks to Corinne Postnikoff of Castlegar, British Columbia for her assistance with the data input of this article.

The Doukhobors on Cyprus

by Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov

Following the Burning of Arms in 1895, the Doukhobors in Russia were severely persecuted by Tsarist authorities. Thousands were exiled to remote, unhealthy regions where many perished from famine, disease and exhaustion. Their situation became untenable. In March 1898, after several years of letter-writing campaigns, the Doukhobors gained permission to leave their homeland. In choosing a suitable place for settlement, they were guided and assisted by Leo Tolstoy, Russian and English Tolstoyans and the Society of Friends (Quakers) in England who gathered funds for their departure. After considering Texas, Turkistan and Manchuria, the Doukhobors finally selected the island of Cyprus, which was part of the British Empire at the time. Despite reports brought by Doukhobor scouts of poor soil and a hot climate, once the decision was made, resettlement of the Doukhobors on the island proceeded quickly. The first group of 1,126 arrived there in August 1898. Tolstoyan writer Pavel I. Biryukov (1860-1931) joined them to help coordinate their settlement. His observations were published in the journal article “Dukhobory na Kiprie” [The Doukhobors on Cyprus] in ‘Svobodnoe slovo’ (Purleigh, England), No. 2, 1899: 22-55 and republished in his book “Dukhobortsy: sbornik statei, vospominanii, pisem i drugikh documentov” [The Doukhobors: collected articles, reminiscences, letters and other documents] (St. Petersburg: I.N. Kushnerev, 1908). Over a century later, this rare historic manuscript is made available for the first time in English in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive. Translated from the original Russian by Jack McIntosh.  Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

On the 19th of August, 1898 (n.s.), an event of great importance in the history of the Russian people took place: 1,126 Russian Doukhobor peasants left Russia irrevocably.

Readers know from the preceding chapter how difficult it was for them to live in Russia.

Apart from separate cases of exile that began as far back as 1886, more than 4,000 Doukhobors were brought to ruin and evicted from their homes in July 1895 and scattered among Georgian villages, where after three years they had lost approximately 1,000 persons who died from various illnesses and had run through the remainder of whatever belongings they had managed to hold onto at the time of their exile.

Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov (1860-1931).

Throughout those three years the authorities in the Caucasus had tried to crush the persistence of the Doukhobors in their religious requirements and, finally acceding to their petition, the government decided upon a most extreme measure – it permitted the separately resettled Doukhobors to emigrate from Russia without the right to return to their motherland.

Up to that time this measure, this concession, had seemed so unlikely that neither the Doukhobors themselves nor especially their neighbours in the Caucasus, right up to the last minute when the steamship sailed, did not believe it would happen. The distrust of the natives of the Caucasus in such a comparatively humane solution of the Doukhobor problem spread to such an extent that, as Doukhobors have told me, their Caucasian acquaintances who were seeing them off were urging them to the very last minute not to go, not to fall for this trap. They were assured that this solution of having them set sail was nothing but a death sentence by sinking. “As soon as you are off shore and still within cannon range,” said the far-seeing Caucasians, “the steamer crew will stay in the boat, throw you onto the steamship, and from the shore they’ll fire a cannonball and sink all of you.”

However, the ship was not sunk, and all 1,126 Doukhobors safely disembarked on the island of Cyprus on the 26th of August.

Many may find it strange that the Doukhobors moved to Cyprus. I am unable to provide a good explanation of the main reason for this project. Although I was not even sympathetic to it, I was not in a position to criticize it severely, as for various reasons I was far from the resettlement arrangements until events themselves drew me into the affair.

As I observe life in Cyprus now, I can say that the thought of permanent settlement of the Doukhobors in Cyprus, if such an idea was actually entertained, could only have occurred to a person entirely unfamiliar with Cyprus or someone understanding nothing about the living conditions of the Russian peasant.

Similar thoughts had been expressed previously, but the resettlement proceeded so quickly that Cyprus was a sad necessity. The two Doukhobors [Ivan Ivin and Petr Makhortov] who had been sent to Cyprus to meet the first party found it unsuitable for settlement, but neither their telegram nor their letter could halt the onrushing current, and the out-migration of the first party went on as if of its own accord.

I feel guilty that I, among others, yielding to the influence of the Doukhobor representatives who had related to us the dire predicament of their brethren, insisted on their immediate departure, which possibly brought about this mass movement, whereas in the beginning it had been proposed to move them out gradually in small parties; then, probably, the consequences of the out-migration would not have been so deadly.

People who are locked into a room, knowing that they are unable to open the door, in spite of the calamitousness of their situation, will inevitably strive for a better arrangement within the walls of that room; and conversely, people who have been locked in a room and have arranged for themselves a tolerable life there, will undoubtedly at the first opening of the doors rush into the free space, abandoning the relative comfort of the room and preferring the unknown of future freedom. Similarly also the Doukhobors, exhausted under the yoke of their three-year administrative supervision and having received permission to leave Russia, could scarcely contain their burst of enthusiasm and at the first sign of encouragement on our part they began to collect their passports and head for Batum.

When they were still in Batum, a new complication arose, one not foreseen by the leaders of the resettlement – the guarantee demanded by the English government of the island of Cyprus of 250 rubles a head ensuring a two-year sojourn here in addition to return travel to the homeland. The sum required was not readily available; moreover, more than 1,000 Doukhobors were assembled in Batum and were put up there in an encampment awaiting resolution of their fate.

For those of us taking part in the resettlement arrangements who were living in England, this was a very difficult and worrisome time. We felt an enormous responsibility for these 1,000 lives and the almost palpable impossibility of helping them get out of this virtually unbearable situation.

After fresh negotiations with the government of Cyprus, a guarantee of up to 150 rubles a person was added, and at last an opportunity emerged to make up the lacking portion of the monetary guarantee through the auspices of persons enjoying the confidence of the English government. Due credit should go to the energy with which the Quaker Committee to Aid the Suffering and its subsection – the Doukhobor Committee – acted. In three days part of the money was collected (50,000 rubles), part of the guarantee amounting to 165,000 rubles and permission was obtained for the Doukhobors to land on Cyprus.

Now, after 51 burials already performed on Cyprus and another unknown number about to occur, one would like to think that perhaps it would have been better if that guarantee had not been collected and permission to land on Cyprus had not been obtained. However, at the time there was real rejoicing, and as soon as the telegram was received announcing that the Doukhobors had set off for Cyprus, I got ready to travel there to meet them and offer assistance in getting them settled.

The doubts that are arising now that the result obtained by such strenuous efforts was not the best are also confirmed by the fact that, judging from the accounts of the Doukhobors themselves, at the time of our intense activity in England, they were not idle either in Batum.

Long accustomed to independent living, as soon as they arrived in Batum, having found out from the English consul the size of the required guarantee, they prudently decided to look for another solution; some of them discussed the possibility of crossing the Turkish frontier, others, more energetically aspiring to the West, engaged in talks with an agent of Messageries Maritimes [a French steamship line] and had already chartered two steamships which undertook to deliver them to Marseilles, with the right to live there three months, at a cost of fourteen rubles a head. On the eve of the day when on of these steamers was due to sail to Marseilles, the telegram arrived from England saying that the guarantee had been collected and permission granted to travel to Cyprus. That telegram decided matters. “If it had not been for that telegram,” several Doukhobors told me, “we would already be in Canada.” And in fact, who knows what turn events would have taken? Some of the Doukhobors might have found work on the docks of Marseilles, while some might have moved on farther, and the 50,000 ruble sum collected, so unproductively wasted here, might have been used by that party for the crossing to Canada.

However, what is done already cannot be undone, and as the fates decree, we are living, falling ill and dying on Cyprus.

II.

As a consequence of the inconvenient schedule of the steamship, I was unsuccessful in meeting the Doukhobors during their disembarkation. I arrived in Cyprus three days after their arrival, that is, on the 29th of August.

When it arrives at the city of Larnaca, the ship stops rather far from shore. As soon as the ship dropped anchor and I surveyed the distant shore and pier, I noticed right away to the right of the pier a cluster of tents and people standing around and walking among them. I aimed a telescope their way and recognized Doukhobors standing in groups on the shore, in white shirts and blue trousers and in their special cut of Cossack peaked caps.

I began to press the boatman, who was bringing my things, and soon, along with my associates in this affair, the [Quaker] Englishman [Wilson] Sturge, we drove up to the pier. In a few minutes I was running to find my Doukhobor friends. They turned out to be in quarantine.

The “Quarantine Office” is a rather large courtyard enclosed within a high fence on the side facing the sea and is located at the outskirts of the city. One side consists of sheds adapted for living space. The Doukhobors were housed partly in these sheds, where they soon set up bunks, and partly in 60 tents pitched quite close together in the courtyard.

When I walked up to the gates of the quarantine, I found them locked. Fortunately, there was a small window with enough space for me to stick my head through and even exchange kisses with my friend, the Doukhobor Vasily Andreyevich Potapov. We had not seen one another for three years. I found him much changed; he had lost weight and aged in that time. Three years of exile had taken its toll. But in his spirit, of course, he had grown still stronger, more clear thinking and more serene.

The Doukhobor Vasily Andreyevich Potapov. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01491.

We exchanged greetings and bows, and the very latest information on our mutual wellbeing. Soon after my arrival they began to bring provisions and bread and began to pass it in through the quarantine guard; Potapov was diverted to attend to these matters, and I, after having a word with others, also turned away and set out for the hotel to figure out with my associates how to proceed further. I acknowledge that penetrating through the joy of meeting there was something bitter and unexpected – that lock on the gates, that violence with which the Doukhobors were met during their first step in a free land.

To be completely candid, I admit to yet another feeling I experienced when I caught sight of the Doukhobor encampment on the shore. That feeling may be roughly expressed in the words: “Oh oh, so this is how it is for them here!” Although I had been aware that the Doukhobors would have to land in Cyprus, I was still vaguely hoping that perhaps something would prevent that and they would not end up here. Often I suppressed that feeling and said to myself: “well, Cyprus – why not? I really don’t know the island. Maybe things will be fine here: a warm climate, humane English governance, the proximity of Russia,” and so on. But that feeling of foreboding mixed with hope again broke through and was upsetting my plans.

Now that I had seen the Doukhobors who were already here, I had renewed energy and confidence in Cyprus and a desire to use all my powers to find everything good here, and perhaps under the influence of this urge, or perhaps simply under the spell of the achieved goal and imminent rest after the long journey, I spent that evening somehow especially happy, I feasted my eyes on the moon and the sea and enjoyed the mediocre orchestra playing in the café on the quay; I had an excellent sleep and awoke with great hopes.

The next day the senior doctor once again called in at the quarantine courtyard, for some reason counted the men, women and children again and then allowed me to enter the quarantine so that I could see and exchange greetings with all who were there. Toward evening the governor granted permission to open the quarantine, and the Doukhobors themselves walked into the city for provisions. Their knowledge of the Tatar language proved very useful, as the local Turkish tongue is similar to Tatar, and many of the Doukhobors began to make themselves understood by the local inhabitants.

The governor gave permission for the Doukhobors to remain in quarantine for no more than three weeks. But it would have been impossible for them to remain there any longer than that. The station courtyard and the buildings around it faced directly southward, and by midday the heat grew so intense that even the healthiest could hardly stand it.

One of my associates in this enterprise, [Arthur] St. John [an English Tolstoyan], who had already been living on the island and been actively engaged in studying it, found outside the city a place for the temporary stationing of the Doukhobors – a government-owned orchard with a nearby spring supplying enough water. The government, upon request, provided enough sanitary necessities along with restrictions that prevented the Doukhobors from making use of the orchard.

Fortunately, on the first day of our presence in Larnaca, news came that the farm we were renting, the Athalassa chiflik [farm], in the local parlance, could be occupied the very next day.

Sturge and St. John set out early in the morning the next day to take possession of the farm, while I remained with the Doukhobors to accompany the first party to their place of residence.

Over those two days I spent most of my time with the Doukhobors in the quarantine. In my conversations with them I tried to explain to them the reason for their landing on Cyprus; although they knew this in general terms, I was trying to make their situation better understood and freely accepted, suggesting to them that although Cyprus indeed was an unavoidable way out of their predicament, it would be up to them to choose whether it would be a permanent place of residence or a temporary location. From the very outset, I found in them a reasonable attitude toward this question. Nobody prejudged the issue, because sitting within the four walls of the quarantine and strolling only around the bazaar, it was impossible to decide on a final resolution. Many were attracted by the low prices of the fruit, especially grapes, a pound of which could be bought for less than a kopeck, tomatoes, eggplant and other green vegetables. This showed them that green vegetables and fruit grow here in abundance. Others were frightened by the locals telling them about the absence of water and lumber; all this for the time being merely gave them material for discussion of the issue, but they were far from a decision. In the first few days the decision leaned more on the positive side, so that the liberated Doukhobors already began to consider the possibility of freeing others of their brethren who remained in the Caucasus, and their opinion is reflected in my correspondence those first few days.

The health situation in the quarantine, in spite of the confined quarters, seemed satisfactory; at least, there were no complaints and the doctor’s medical inspection was reassuring.

The death of Timofey Makeyev, one of the brethren, on the day of arrival, did not spoil this mood among either the Doukhobors or the doctors, and everyone unanimously took this to be the outcome of a long illness, apparently consumption, which had been afflicting him for several years.

At the Quarantine Office, those who had not been exposed to smallpox were vaccinated. To me, the senior doctor expressed amazement at the civilized nature and modesty of the Doukhobors, who were not resisting all these manipulations.

Finally the day was set for the dispatch of the first party to Athalassa, around 280 persons, and after midday we began to load the hired oxcarts with baggage, tents, and the elderly, weak, and small children. At about four o’clock everything was ready, and a wagon train consisting of forty-two oxcarts set off on the road toward Nicosia, the main administrative centre of the island.

I remained in Larnaca for another two hours and around six o’clock left on a mule to catch up with the wagon train accompanied by the Turkish policeman placed at my disposal by the obliging governor of Larnaca in the event of possible misunderstandings.

I caught up with the last oxcart after approximately 9 or 10 versts [an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 1.0668 km] and passed ahead along the wagon train, overtaking carts and men and women moving along on foot. The sun had already set, but it had not gotten dark. The clear southern moon was shining almost as brightly as the sun. The wagon train stretched for several versts, and it took me a long time to overtake the first oxcart.

Bullock wagons on the road from Larnaca to Nicosia, Cyprus along which Doukhobors travelled en route to Athalassa in late 1898. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

From Larnaca to Nicosia along the main road was 26 English miles, that is, 39 versts. Athalassa is situated not far from the main road, on the left side, three miles short of Nicosia.

I caught up to the first oxcarts half way along the road where they had already stopped for a rest by a coach house yard or “dukhan” in Tatar, or simply “khana” in the local language. The rest of the carts caught up and were arranged to allow the oxen to feed. After a three-hour stop, the first oxcarts again headed out and at around four o’clock in the morning arrived safely in Athalassa.

One by one the carts began to draw up, unload, and were set up in an encampment down below beyond the garden near the stream flowing there. With extraordinary eagerness, the children and old women hurried to the stream. The children began to play and splash around in it, and the grandmothers began to scoop up water, boil it, and do washing. In Larnaca the lack of fresh water had made itself felt, and there had not always been enough for washing. Now they were glad to have plenty of it.

Around 8 o’clock the last oxcart drew up. The move had been completed with complete success. Tents were pitched, fires lit, and life began in full swing in the new location.

Athalassa chiflik is regarded as one of the favorable locations on Cyprus in terms of agriculture. Sufficient water supply, well-managed fruit orchards, with date-palms, fig, orange, lemon, olive and mulberry trees, gardens with various young green vegetables, several tracts with young plantings of olive and mulberry trees and around 500 dessiatines [an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 1.0925 hectares] of good arable land. Farm buildings in good shape, house with 5-6 rooms, a barn and granaries. All this was rented from the Eastern and Colonial Association for 200 pounds a year, i.e. 2000 rubles.

Mention of the Eastern and Colonial Association leaves me with an unpleasant sensation. I am little acquainted with the activities of this company and its members, but I know one thing, that for everything they were selling to us, for all the services they were rendering, we paid very dearly, yet at the same time, with every sale made or service rendered, they were making out that they were very sympathetic to us and were doing good deeds.

Toward evening, as soon as the newly-arrived party had to some extent come to grips with their situation in the new location, I headed back to Larnaca on my mule, this time without the police escort, whom I had already let go that morning.

The party that had arrived in Athalassa were all from the one village, Efremovka. For three years they had lived in disorder and now they were reunited in their new location. Right away they came up with the idea, with my support, of building a village right here and calling it Efremovka. That is how it was both in Tavria Province and also in the Caucasus; so also it should be here. Everybody was emboldened in spirit and full of hope. There were several who had fallen ill, and they were sympathetic to them, but they said that this was inevitable and that it was a good thing that up to now they had managed despite the difficulties of the journey. I left for Larnaca, traveled all night, got a little lost when I arrived in the city and only at 3 a.m. reached the hotel, very tired from the long, unaccustomed trip, but content with what had been accomplished.

Although the move to Athalassa had generally been comparatively successful, one circumstance threw a dark shadow that left a bad impression on me and my friends. The Athalassa area was rented by Armenians and the land had been worked half and half by some neighbouring inhabitants. Our arrival had upset all this, and the renters living on the farm, the foreman and the workers were obliged to leave before we arrived. Some of them had left previously, but others were still just starting to get ready in our presence, and we saw how they loaded up their little donkeys with various goods and chattels and left for somewhere else. This situation struck the Doukhobors unpleasantly as well. At the first expression of dissatisfaction with their position, they told me: “Why take land away from others? We were not seeking that. We heard that there is plenty of land not belonging to anybody, government land – that is the kind we need. But to drive away a man who worked and fed himself here – that is not Christian.” Unfortunately, regardless of their wishes, we repeated that un-Christian act many times over.

III.

The next day I got up early and hurried to the quarantine, where more than 800 Doukhobors remained.

After the first party left there was a little more room; there was now an opportunity to walk between the tents and distinguish faces, and I endeavored to become acquainted with them and remember those I had already seen back in the Caucasus.

I related to them how settlement had gone in Athalassa and what I had found there, approximately how much land and other benefits, and right there we decided at a general council that it would be possible to send another party of about 250 to Athalassa, as there is enough land there, it was constricted standing around in the quarantine, and in the near future the purchase of new land was not to be counted on. But since to carry out this measure it was still necessary to have the agreement of my associates Sturge and St. John, it was decided to wait for their return from Nicosia, where they had remained to inspect farms offered for purchase.

As soon as our arrival became known, offers of farms for sale poured in. However, the price for them nevertheless rose, as everybody wanted to take advantage of this good opportunity to sell assets that had lain idle for a long time. We knew this and were not rushing to make purchases. The Doukhobors understood this well themselves and were in no hurry, but on the contrary, urged one another to take their time. But when they discovered what was being paid in Athalassa for cattle and associated goods, they were aghast and began to say that it would be better for them to spend the winter in Athalassa if only not to have to make such unprofitable deals.

They decided to wait for Sturge, and for the time being it was thought better to spend time in the quarantine. But the cramped conditions in quarantine soon made themselves felt. The number of sick people rose and two more children died, a boy of six and a little girl four years old.

I remember how the death of that boy hit me. Previously I had not seen dead bodies among the Doukhobors and had not heard their funereal singing. In the morning I walked to the quarantine and heard singing in one corner of the courtyard. I was interested to find out who they were and what they were singing, and I went over in that direction. There a small shed stood, put together with boards, in which two or three Doukhobor families were housed. The closer I came, the more clearly I could make out the singing and my heart grew ever heavier. I knew that generally speaking, the tunes of Doukhobor psalms are doleful, and I was not paying enough attention to this melancholy feeling when I carelessly went into the shed and stopped at the threshold. There sitting in a circle were several men and women with sad faces and slowly, with long drawn out words and slight bobbing of their heads, they were singing a psalm. On a bench in their midst lay on his back with his little legs stretched out, a fine-looking young boy, his face white with a waxy transparency, in a clean new Doukhobor costume. Tears came to my eyes, but I held back, bowed to the people seated there and withdrew.

This was the first death I had seen in Cyprus, and it made a very strong impression on me. When I saw that dead boy, some inner voice told me: “Well, now, see here, it’s only the beginning!”

A day later, the little girl also died. These two deaths alarmed the doctors too. After the girl’s death, the local governor called me in and said with a stern and serious expression that according to the report of the sanitation inspector, sanitary conditions among the Doukhobors were very bad, he was afraid of an epidemic, and he asked me to take immediate action to improve the situation.

At the same time he added that after consulting with the sanitation inspector, he decided to suggest to me either to rent houses in the city and house the Doukhobors in them, or to rent one building and set it up as a hospital in which to keep the sick ones who could not be treated in the camp. I heard him out, and as I could not and would not make all these arrangements on my own, I summoned Sturge by telegram and went to inform the Doukhobors of this. They silently heard what I had to say, without protest, but in fact the news of a hospital being set up seemed to bother them more than the news of expected deaths.

View of the island of Cyprus, c. 1898.

During these days in quarantine, there was another occurrence that somewhat darkened our then still very optimistic mood and at the same time served to bring me still closer to these people.

When I returned from Athalassa and walked into the quarantine, two elderly Doukhobor men approached me and said that they wanted to ask me what to do. “One of our lads has been indulging in wine, we’re very much ashamed, we are not thinking of him or ourselves, but what are we to do with him?” Of course I was surprised by this, and could not find anything to say, and we decided that we needed to collect our thoughts and talk about this. Soon thereafter, the next morning, it seems, the governor invited me to his quarters and told me that one of the Doukhobors had got drunk, began a brawl, and had been taken in to the police station, where he had spent the night. “If you would like to see him, I can give you a pass.” I took it and went to the police station. Admittedly, I was much grieved by this unexpected scandal. An occurrence that is so common among ordinary people was looked upon by the Doukhobors of this party as a crime. It was precisely the commonplace nature of this situation that more than anything else both weighed heavily on me and angered me, because it provided a pretext for any shortsighted person who did not know them well to say: “you see, this shows there is nothing special about them,” which of course my associate Sturge, who always kept himself rather aloof from the Doukhobors, did not miss the opportunity to say. As soon as he found out about it, he immediately said: “Alors ils ne sont pas meilleurs que les autres!” [“So, they are no better than others!”]

However, because I knew that they are beaucoup meilleurs que les autres [much better than others], I was not put off and went to rescue the wretch. I found him sitting under a tree in the courtyard of the police station. The “brawling lad” turned out to be an old fellow about 50 years old; his swollen red face, teary eyes and uncertain, trembling movement betrayed him to be a man suffering from the effects of hard drinking. The police obligingly released him upon my initial request, on my recognizance, and I led him back to the quarantine. This unfortunate fellow already was expressing great repentance for what he had done, and regret for bringing shame on the community, but it was clear that although he acknowledged all this, he could not guarantee that it would not happen again. I took him back to quarantine and delivered him into the hands of several elders who had come to meet me. They surrounded him and began to tell him off for his misdemeanor. He bowed, begged forgiveness, and did not know what to do. That evening a council gathered.

From conversations with several persons with whom I was more closely acquainted, I found out that Nikolai Borisov – that was the name of the ailing old fellow – had already been suffering for a long time, about ten years, from heavy drinking and had even taken treatment for it. From time to time, sometimes for months at a stretch he had remained sober, but then fell back into the old habit. Such behaviour on his part once forced the Doukhobors during their exile at one of their councils to expel him from the community. As was the custom, he was given his portion and some money and asked to live on his own; in his grief he began to carouse even more, drank up everything in sight and showed up to implore the community in the name of Christ for refuge; from that time on they have not driven him out. Several times they advised him to return to his former associates, that is, to move back with the Small Party, but he did not want to hear of it. They advised him not to leave the Caucasus, and did not even obtain a ticket for him, but he sneaked onto the steamship, and they did not spot him until the ship was en route.

“What are we to do with him?” the elders said to me, “a lost soul, not one of us, but what are we to do about it? Just one person, but he is shaming a thousand, and not just a thousand, but all three thousand plus – just one person, but nonetheless it is painful.” Some advised him to head back to the Caucasus; at times he himself even agreed to this, but nobody could bring himself to act on this.

I did not want to venture advice, worried about my influence on one side or the other, and especially on the side of repressive measures, as I had heard from some of the Doukhobors that they felt ashamed, in particular, to face us friends who were assisting them. “With you,” the Doukhobors told me, “it is not so embarrassing, we regard you as one of our own, but with the Quaker it is very shameful: he is writing to his own people – what are they going to think!” I was very worried that they would repeat the previous expulsion, and thus nevertheless decided to go to the council, there to express not my own opinion, but that of Christ as to the guilty party. I came and read out to them two passages from the Gospels: one about the judgment of the sinful woman, and the other, the words of Caiaphas to the effect that it is better for one man to die rather than the whole nation perish; after reading that and explaining why I had read it out, I withdrew. The council decided to be patient for a while, but if he himself asks for it, to give him the fare for his return to the Caucasus.

It was touching to see the concern with which they discussed this problem and their struggle between community pride and compassion, and how the latter won out in the end.

The governor displayed a rather benevolent attitude to all this. He told me that it was a great pity that this had happened, and that it could affect the general impression. But when I pointed out that, surely, this was one man in a thousand, he agreed that this occurrence was extremely exceptional. I asked him what would happen if 1000 workers in the city of of Larnaca were to find themselves in the same predicament as the Doukhobors, i.e. without work but given a secure existence. Without hesitation, he replied: “They would all be getting drunk!” Then he asked me what I would do with this man. Sensing indecisiveness in my answer, he decided to answer for me, pointing to a tree near where we were standing, and made a gesture with his hand at his throat, adding “hang him!” and at that he burst out laughing. This was his little joke just for my benefit, as he knew what my firm beliefs were.

When he found out about this episode, Sturge, as I mentioned already, remained most upset and the next morning, after heading for the quarantine and gathering a small circle of elders around him, he spoke to them in Russian, saying that if the Doukhobors continue to engage in drunkenness, the Quakers will terminate their assistance. At that the Doukhobors kept silent.

IV.

Meanwhile, with the arrival of Sturge the question of sending a second party to Athalassa was definitely resolved. It was decided to do this as soon as possible, and already the next day was designated for sending the first half of the second party, and the remainder the day after that. I divided the party in two, having experienced the inconvenience of moving a very large oxcart train.

This time I could not accompany the party, as I had been drawn away by another matter.

On the day of departure of the second part of the second group, we went with Sturge and the Doukhobor Vasily Potapov to Kouklia, one of the farms belonging to the Eastern Association to discuss working on a half and half basis.

When we returned to Larnaca from Kouklia, I learned that the second part of the second group had already set off. There was now more room in the quarantine, and both we and the Doukhobors were glad at the hope that we would get by without a hospital.

In principle, the Doukhobors themselves were not against a hospital, but they did not want to incur major expenses. Having endured many different illnesses, they were already accustomed to doctors in the Caucasus and were not afraid of them. But they had already become aware back there that doctors are “expensive”; “they would even like to charge less,” one Doukhobor told me, “but they cannot, because they are not supposed to in accordance with their science.” It is that “expensive” science that the Doukhobors much fear, knowing the monetary cost, as they know both how to earn it and how to renounce it.

Our journey to Kouklia had a significant result. We were successful in concluding an agreement with the director of the Eastern Association according to which he took on 10 Doukhobor families as workers going halves on conditions that, although they were not even profitable, were not excessively onerous. The company provided cattle, implements, partial housing and materials for construction of the housing shortfall. The Doukhobors were obliged with these materials to build enough dwellings, to cultivate as much as they were able the fields and at harvest time, to return to the owner the seed and after paying the government tax, they would receive half of the remaining harvest. Hay would be left for the owner for feeding the oxen.

One advantage of settling the Doukhobors there was that there was flowing water and land suitable for gardening, which the director agreed to make available to the Doukhobors for 10 shillings a donum [Cypriot field measure equal to approximately 1/12 of a Russian dessiatine], that is, approximately 60 rubles per dessiatine annually. For Cyprus this price was very moderate, as water there is very expensive.

This settlement, although temporary, as the Doukhobors had no intention of living permanently as sharecroppers, would have been one of the most successful, as here the Doukhobors without great expense could have begun at once to work productively, had it not been for the fever spreading in that place. When the company was inviting the Doukhobors to go there, we were warned that this place is not as healthy as Pergamos. Everyone was saying that Pergamos was healthy (comparatively). At this they added that, of course, if certain precautions were taken, to live and work in Kouklia would be very good. All this the Doukhobors also were aware of, and the desire to begin work as soon as possible overcame their apprehension about disease, and the agreement was concluded. When the Doukhobors arrived and started work, the administrator who sympathized with the Doukhobors, an Armenian who speaks Turkish and French, expressed to me his satisfaction, as he had noticed that the Doukhobor women work alongside the men. “This augurs well for success,” he told me, “Armenians here have not been successful, because their women do not work and so when the men got sick, the work was suspended. With you, I can see, that will not happen: when the men get sick, the women will work.”

From these words I could see that disease was already assumed to be an inevitable fact of life. But the Doukhobors by this time did not want to retreat, and were hoping they could cope with the fever. But in fact within those two months they all came down with it. Although only the two children died, they all had a sickly, exhausted appearance and were already thinking that by spring they would have to leave for Pergamos, and if they would have to stay in Cyprus in the spring, they expected to get to Kouklia only long enough to get some work, and the residents of Pergamos promised to help them with this.

On the same trip we looked over the chiflik of Pergamos and in a few days it was decided to purchase it.

Some of the Doukhobors headed there right away and also to Kouklia.

About one hundred persons still remained in the quarantine. Those who remained were the ones who did not have tents and were living in barns, as there was no accommodation prepared in Pergamos and it would take several days to make the rundown Turkish houses there suitable for habitation.

Pergamos indeed turned out to be a most healthy place, by virtue of its elevation, and the fresh water available from several wells there. Its shortcomings were that there was no flowing water there and it would be necessary to make substantial expenditures on irrigation of the land. In addition, the relative lightness of the soil, i.e. its low fertility and finally and most important, there were only about 40 dessiatines in all, an area of land far from sufficient to feed the 460 persons living there. Having confirmed the healthfulness of this place, I pressed for the settlement there of all the rest, especially because it was possible to find more land to rent in the vicinity.

The last shortcoming, the small amount of land, turned to their advantage after it was decided that the Doukhobors would not remain in Cyprus. As I already mentioned, that part of the group, about 200 persons, was still in the quarantine. They were the most patient ones, but even they, barely able to stand sitting around , agreed to go to Pergamos and spend the nights there under the open sky, “covering themselves a little with something” – anything to get away from the quarantine with which they were so fed up. Taking advantage of a free evening, I went to visit them in the quarantine to read and chat with them. That evening was one of the best I spent in Cyprus.

I read out for them the article “Doukhobory v nachale XIX stoletiia” [“Doukhobors at the beginning of the 19th century” – a late 19th century reprint of the 1805 article “Nekotorye cherty ob obshchestve Dukhobortsev” [“Several Characteristics of Doukhobor Society”]]. It turned out to be unknown to them and they were amazed at the faithfulness of its rendering of the essence of their doctrine, social structure and history.

In confirmation of the truth of what was written, they recited for me several psalms on which the instructional part of that article was based. Those psalms are beautiful and aroused in all of us a good and serious frame of mind, and for a long time we conversed amicably, recalling previous times of persecution and comparing them with those of the present. Little by little the conversation moved to the present state of affairs in Cyprus, and here in candid conversation for the first time I heard and clearly understood the already firmly formed opinion of the Doukhobors that it was impossible for them to live in Cyprus for long. This opinion had hardened, influenced by their gradually growing familiarity with Cyprus. To be sure, as far as I could gather from general conversations with them, the thought of living in Cyprus had never been to their taste. However, as prudent people, they had not been able to reject Cyprus sight unseen and, trusting people who had rendered them brotherly assistance, they had decided to try even Cyprus, especially in the absence of any other more definite proposal.

Cypriots gathering straw for animal feed, c. 1898.

But the resettlement of the Doukhobors had been conceived by them in terms of a particular plan and with conditions they had clearly expressed in their petition to the Empress and in Petr Verigin’s letter to her. They petitioned for the opportunity to settle all together in one place where they could engage in their characteristic toil. Their striving to find a place to settle is similar to that of the people of the Bible to find the promised land and to establish there the Kingdom of God in accordance with the teachings of Christ. I often noticed them expressing this idea in my conversations with them. As they spoke of their firm resolve to die for the truth, they not infrequently confessed to me this human weakness: “Of course,” they said, “we would go that far, to the death if need be, we have decided to withstand everything, even unto eternal life, but we all want to see how we can all live together, we all want to fulfill everything and live as a Christian community should.”

It is hard to condemn these people for this their “great” weakness, and few there are, I believe, who, knowing this, would not wish to help them in this.

The more they got to know Cyprus, the more clearly they could see that this dream was not destined to be realized here.

From information gathered from various sources, it turned out that although it was possible to find in Cyprus the quantity of land needed to settle the whole community, in the first place it would have to be purchased for a very high price (100 rubles a dessiatine or more), and in the second place, it would be scattered all over the island in small pieces, which of course would be extremely inconvenient for communal farming. Moreover, from questioning of local residents they found out that the living and working conditions on the island were to such an extent the opposite of what they were used to, that their main strength – their farming knowledge gained over the ages – would count for nothing. It would mean working in the winter and hiding from the heat in the summertime. Housing, clothing, food, labour, i.e. the sum total of their farming existence would have to be different; everything would have to be learned anew. It was obvious that they would not have enough to eat for long; the prospect was that they would have to depend for their sustenance on kind people – this would be all right, but is this really necessary and is there really nowhere that their toil is needed and where they can receive a decent return so that they can be proud of their labour? Added to this: the unbearable heat for seven or eight months, accompanied by fever, dysentery, and often, death.

From the local inhabitants they discovered that there had already been several attempts to settle foreigners on the island. The English had brought in Hindus; other nationalities, Circassians, Maltese, Armenians and Jews, had come, and all this had ended in disease, death, and the departure of the survivors.

All of this led them to conclude that Cyprus was no good for them, and I could not help but agree with them.

Soon, in about two days, the remaining party headed for Pergamos and at last the quarantine, to the general relief of both the Doukhobors and the local authorities, was vacant, after which, in accordance with all the regulations of “the expensive science,” they covered it over with lime.

V.

Having finished with Pergamos and Kouklia, I set off to call on the folk at Athalassa. I had not seen them for about ten days. The 560 people who were settled in Athalassa were stretched out in an encampment extending about one verst. About 100 of them had been placed in a house belonging to the estate, while the ones living in tents had decided to build themselves huts. In the first days of the settlement of the first party in Athalassa, plans for construction were very ambitious; they decided to recreate the whole village of Efremovka, for which they selected a good location on a hill. But by the time of my second arrival the mood had changed here as well. In Athalassa, all the time the heat was especially palpable. The farm itself was located in a hollow that acted like a convex mirror collecting the sun’s rays in an area shielded from the wind.

Several Doukhobors told me the same thing I had already heard in quarantine; I assembled some of the elders to hear out their opinion more thoroughly, suggesting to them that they write of this to England, which they did. After making some arrangements for provisions, I returned again to Larnaca, and from there set out for Pergamos and Kouklia.

By that time the Doukhobors had received a letter from the Quakers in England. Here is the full text:

“Dear friends,

We are glad to know that after many obstacles and difficulties, you have safely arrived in Cyprus.

Our heartfelt wish is that with the Lord’s blessing you will be able on the island to build a habitation for yourselves and your children; and we have no doubt on that score, as by virtue of your patient staying-power and industriousness with which you excelled in your previous life you will be able to establish yourselves well, and here you will be free from government compulsion that would force you to do what is contrary to your conscience.

May it be possible for you in your new habitation to preserve your conscience pure of sin before God and man.

We were very glad and grateful for the opportunity to take part in the cause of your liberation and to extend to you the hand of brotherly assistance.

Although we are foreign to you in language and nationality, we are nevertheless united with you in the doctrine which forbids both us and you from any war, as that is against the teaching and example of the One who preached peace.

We have heard from those who are acquainted with your past history that your life was imbued with fear of God, honest love of toil and a brotherly disposition to one another, and we felt we could be so bold as to offer the government of Cyprus the large monetary guarantee that they, not without reason, had demanded of us before granting permission for you to settle on the island so that you would not be a burden, either to the government or to the other residents.

We feel that we can rely on you to make the best of the conditions under which you, by the will of God, are now settled.

We have wanted every step of our participation in your destiny to be guided by the Spirit of Truth, and we are confident that you also are basing all your actions on that spirit.

Therefore both you and we can trust that your resettlement in Cyprus is in accord with God’s will and will be a blessing for you.

We strongly desire that your brothers in Russia will also be able to depart from there. Together with your other friends, we shall pursue that goal.

Your example and the boldness with which you will be able to demonstrate in your striving to improve your new living conditions will also very much assist our efforts in this matter.

We are sending this letter by the hand of our friend and brother Wilson Sturge, who is now among you, and to whom we ask you to give brotherly attention and cooperation. With a greeting of Christian love we remain, your brothers.

For the Committee appointed by the English Society of Friends for Assistance to the Doukhobors, signed

John Bellows (secretary). Friends Community House London

2nd day of the 9th month, 1898.”

This letter was read out by me in all three colonies, of course.

In Pergamos I met with the same generally held opinion. I read to them the Quakers’ letter and suggested that they send a reply, which I wrote myself at their request, virtually at their dictation, only editing their thoughts; their letter appears below.

They greeted the Quakers’ letter with touching gratitude, in spite of the total discord between its content and the actual state of affairs. The letter described the Doukhobor settlement in Cyprus as a blessing from God, whereas they were merely enduring it as yet another painful trial. Here is their reply:

Larnaca, Cyprus. 20.9.98
To the Friends – Quakers from the Doukhobors living in Pergamos and Kouklia.

“Firstly, brothers, we bring you profound gratitude, such as we do not know how to express, for your brotherly concern for us and your assistance.

Secondly, we wish to explain to you our predicament and request that you not discontinue your help.

As our brethren Ivin and Makhortov previously explained to you, life for us here is very difficult, and it is most unlikely that we will be able to stay here long.

Our chief concern is for us to be all together as a whole community, but this is impossible here because there is little suitable cheap land here, and if we were to buy expensive land, for the same amount of money we could travel over to America and Canada, which attracts us with its wide open spaces and a climate that is similar to that in which we lived in the Caucasus for 50 years.

Even if it were possible for all our brethren to settle here, we dread the hot climate, which is similar to that which we suffered from in exile and where, out of 4,000 persons, about 1,000 of us already died.

Here eight persons have already died, and many are ill with the same diseases we had in exile: fever, dysentery, eye diseases and blindness.

In one location where it is healthier, the soil is worse – stony and with little water; where the soil is fertile, that is where the diseases are. Ten of our families have taken up sharecropping in the Kouklia estate, which belongs to the Eastern Company.

It might even turn out all right for us here, but our predecessors, Armenians who lived here, all came down sick to the last man, and we expect the same thing.

Moreover, even at the more elevated places the heat can be unbearable, and we came here while it was not yet the hottest time of year.

Taking everything into consideration, we can see that there is no life for us here; we will not flourish here, but wither.

So therefore, we fervently implore you not to enter into large expenditures on establishing us here, but if at all possible to move us from here to a place more suitable for living. As we have heard, Canada is such a place. And with patience and in submission to God’s will we shall await our turn, until with the aid of our friends we shall succeed in joining our brethren.

We are aware that many of our brethren yet remain in the Caucasus under severe repression and without means of subsistence, and our first request is for them. And we hope that our friends will not forget about us here either and will relieve our situation.

We very much are afraid of distressing you with this letter, but we want to tell you the whole truth and frankly express our opinion so as not to be later held to account before you and before God. —

We also thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your letter that we received and read. May the Lord save you.

On behalf of the whole commune, [signed]:

Vasily Potapov, Grigory Glebov, Fyodor Zhmaev, Vasily Popov, Vasily Razinkin, Pavel Popov, Petro Lobyntsev.”

This decision, firmly supported by all the Doukhobors and reinforced more and more with each passing day by the course of events, significantly changed their attitude toward the tasks facing them in Cyprus.

It was decided to get settled temporarily, while striving to do everything as cheaply as possible in order to save as much money as they could for the journey to Canada, from which they had already begun to receive favourable reports about the large amount of free land, about concessions offered by the Canadian government to settlers, about wage levels, and so on. The main barrier to an immediate move was, as was reported from England, that there is no money for the voyage, and that which is now being collected has to go toward the resettlement of the remaining 2000 persons presently in exile in the Caucasus; thus the turn of the Cyprus Doukhobors will not come soon.

Athalassa farm in Cyprus occupied by Doukhobors in 1899. BC Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

All these considerations led to the decision, come what may, to spend the winter in Cyprus, and so it was necessary to build houses. In Pergamos, just as in Athalassa, at first they were planning for a large village, but when they realized the impossibility of a durable settlement, they decided to build at minimal expense, as much as possible making use of what remained intact in the ruins of an old Turkish settlement. Getting to work, they began to plaster walls, reinforce collapsed ceilings, dig out debris, and within two or three days several families were already living in the houses, while others continued the work.

That is how life began in all three settlements.

This is how I organized my time: my main lodging was in Larnaca. I myself spent a good deal of time traveling back and forth. I would head for one end of the island, for example, to Pergamos and Kouklia for two or three days, hen return to Larnaca and have a good rest – timing these rest periods to coincide with days when mail arrived or was dispatched. Then I would set out for the other end to Athalassa, and after three days or so return again to Larnaca, and after taking care of whatever matters were necessary in that city, head once more for Pergamos and Kouklia. My visits to the colonies I also tried to coordinate with visits there by the doctors, after which it fell to me to dispense prescribed medicine and carry out some instructions from the doctor. In addition to matters concerning provisions and concerns about buildings, one of my main activities, appreciated most of all by the Doukhobors, was reading letters received by post, and sometimes articles from periodicals and booklets. This took up a lot of time, because one letter or article would have to be read out about ten times, as it was impossible to read it to many at once, yet everyone wanted to know what they said.

Often, after reading and conversation about the topic of what had been read, one of the older Doukhobors would begin to tell about the olden days. I had no time to write them down, but I heard a lot of interesting things; something of what I heard I shall try to bring forth in another place.

Little by little they began to set about their agricultural work. They began first in Athalassa, as the farm there was in full operation. Then in Kouklia, where everything was also almost ready for work. Last of all in Pergamos, as there it was necessary to start all over with cattle, feed, and equipment.

VI.

Little by little life was being put in order, and all would have been fine, but they all had decided to wait for spring and their turn to leave; they were especially energized by news that the “Gorskie”, that is, the ones who had remained scattered in Gori Uezd were preparing to depart, that enough money had been collected for their migration, a steamer hired, and their departure was immanent. As the remaining parties of Elisavetpol and Kars Doukhobors could travel on their own account, it would appear that it was now the Cyprus Doukhobors’ turn; they breathed sighs of relief when they heard this news and said: “Perchance the Lord is not lacking in mercy, and they are going to shift us out of here.”

All would have been well, say I, had it not been for the illness and death that had begun to afflict the Doukhobors when they were still in the quarantine and had intensified after their resettlement in the different locations in the colonies.

The cause of all the illness, as was clearly understood by the Doukhobors themselves, from the old to the young, and was clearly recognized also by me and everyone else who saw the ailing and dying, was the unbearably hot climate of Cyprus.

That the reason for all the illness was the local conditions can be easily seen from the fact that they all came down with them, to an even greater extent those who had not been ill in the Caucasus. But those who had already been sick previously – the weak, children, old men and women – were dying. The nature of these diseases is local and the time of their occurrence, the period of intensified infection, corresponds to the time and period of intensified infection of the local diseases.

Of course, these illnesses and deaths, in spite of the steadfast and steady patience of the Doukhobors, could not but affect their attitude toward Cyprus and their general morale.

Although they did believe those who told them that with the onset of winter, these illnesses would cease or at least subside, they also knew that the hot weather would return, along with renewed illness and that terrible debilitating heat, mosquitoes and the slack time of summer unemployment; all this loomed before them and compelled them to implore people they regarded as brothers to help them extricate themselves from this predicament.

Nevertheless, work continued at its own pace. Building work went on simultaneously in all three colonies. Building projects were completed earliest in Kouklia; there were few there and it was only necessary to buy boards for doors, windows and tables, and beams for the lintels. The rest of the materials belonged to the Company and was on site.

In Athalassa, house construction was somewhat delayed because, owing to its remoteness, I could not get there often, and lumber was delivered there later.

However, toward the end of October, construction was completed in all three colonies, the matter of provisions had been dealt with, and to the great satisfaction of everyone, diseases had even begun to abate as the heat diminished.

My personal affairs were calling me to other tasks, and seeing that my presence in Cyprus was no longer necessary, I decided to leave, especially in view of the arrival of one more Russian [Evangelical Christian] friend of the Doukhobors, Ivan Stepanovich Prokhanov, who had energetically gone into action.

By the time I left, we counted 51 dead and around a hundred sick.

As they bid me farewell, the Doukhobors begged me to use all of my powers to find ways for them to leave Cyprus (“certainly try, as you yourself know best,” they said.)

And I left them with this hope.

I gained very much from those three months with the Doukhobors. Aside from personal satisfaction from associating with such people, I was glad to have been able to examine this community up close and see it in all its variety of types and characters. I saw true heroes who have endured torture, such as Ivan Baev, who had received over a hundred lashes at the time of the Cossack execution, who with a good-natured smile related how he had been entirely unable to stand after that punishment.

“My head was in a fog, and I couldn’t feel anything. It’s as if I had neither spine nor legs; I couldn’t control one arm, but only had feeling in my chest and one arm,” he said. Then there is Egor Khodykin, who suffered for a long time from similar torture and yet has maintained up to this time a clear, firm Christian consciousness. Among them I also saw weak persons, suffering, at times even grumbling, but who have kept holding on with all their might to others and who have not lost one of the principal Doukhobor virtues – their sense of human dignity.

I saw the serious, stern faces of mothers burying their children, who answered words of condolence and sympathy in this way: “There is nothing for it, we have gone this far, we will put up with it for God, for the truth.”

Squalid conditions in a typical Cypriot peasant home, c. 1898.

I also observed simple, bustling, superstitious peasant women uttering a spell “against fire” while at the same time instructing their children in the very highest of Christian truths.

As I became acquainted with them, I saw that this whole – at first glance ignorant – mass has its own history, its own martyrs for the truth and freedom, its own heroes and prophets whose stories are passed on from generation to generation for edification. All this together leaves an impression of a kind of unconquerable strength that is so precious that any unproductive waste of it summons a painful response in the heart of any person who knows them.

If the Doukhobors obtain little of worth from Cyprus, it is true that Cyprus will receive a lot from them. In my presence religious debates have already begun, and, as might have been expected, Greek Orthodox Christians regard Doukhobors as heretics and often break off these discussions, fearing enticement. The Moslem Turks, on the other hand, openly sympathize with them, mentioning only the difficulty of fulfilling their religious ideals. But both the former and the latter look upon them kindly and respectfully, and the presence of the Doukhobors in Cyprus cannot vanish without a trace.

November 10, 1898
P. Biryukov
Larnaca, Cyprus

Afterword

As noted in Biryukov’s account, when the Doukhobors landed on Cyprus on August 26, 1898 aboard the French steamship Le Douro, everything seemed quite promising. The Mediterranean island was beautiful, and the fertile land, lush vegetation and seaside climate reminded the Doukhobors of their ancient home at Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters). At first sight, the only disadvantage was the lack of buildings.

Following a sojourn of several weeks in quarantine at Larnaca, parties of Doukhobors were settled at Athalassa, Kouklia and Pergamos. In each of these places, the Doukhobors proceeded to build small agricultural villages, constructing homes of Caucasus-style mud bricks and preparing the soil for planting vegetables.

By fall, however, it became clear that the Doukhobor resettlement was not working out by any means as well as the Tolstoyans and Quakers had hoped. Various disagreements had developed among the Doukhobors about the value and extent of communal versus individual farming. They indulged in endless debates about social and economic issues. Lack of leadership and adjustment to the new, unfamiliar physical environment also took its toll on any potential Doukhobor success.

According to some writers, the Russian Tolstoyans such as Biryukov who joined the Doukhobors on Cyprus, despite their best intentions, seem to have to have done very little more than spread discontent among the settlers by complaining about the conditions on the island, and lose their heads in the disorganization all around them.

As a consequence, neither housing nor farming went ahead as quickly as they should have done. Many Doukhobors continued to live in damp tents pitched in marshy spots infested with mosquitoes; those who did live in houses were forced to exist in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions. These poor living conditions and a limited diet (vegetables were not ready for consumption for months after planting, milk was available only in condensed form, and eating meat was against religious requirements) combined with the impure water and unendurable climate of the locality caused outbreaks of serious illness among the weakest of the Doukhobor settlers. Two months after the arrival in Cyprus, the first two deaths occurred. Many others lingered in a sick and weakened state. In the months that followed, 108 Doukhobors perished from famine, disease and exhaustion. This was an even higher mortality rate than the Doukhobors had experienced while in exile in the Caucasus following the Burning of Arms.

The hopes with which the Doukhobors had come were slowly dissipated, and their discontent with Cyprus was increased by the urgings of Biryukov and other Russian sympathizers who, having in the first place hastened their settlement on the island, now pressed on them the need to leave Cyprus as the only hope of evading extinction. Finally, the news reached them that the Doukhobors remaining in Russia had decided on a new destination, a place where the climate was more like that of their homeland. Any will that the Doukhobors ever felt to succeed on Cyprus was now finally dissipated, and they had no other thought than to join the emigration to Canada.

Finally, on April 27, 1899, the Doukhobors boarded the steamship Lake Superior to cross the Atlantic to Canada where their brethren awaited them, thus ending their unsuccessful settlement experiment on Cyprus.

For More Information

For more information about the short-lived Doukhobor settlement experiment on Cyprus in 1898-1899, the factors leading to its establishment and the reasons for its ultimate failure, see: A Courteous and Well-Conducted Community by Carla King and With the Doukhobors on Cyprus by Ivan Stepanovich Prokhanov.

Shining Waters: Doukhobors in the Castlegar Area

by Vi Plotnikoff

Located in the Kootenay region at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers, Castlegar is the home of many of British Columbia’s Doukhobors. The following article by Vi Plotnikoff tells the story of Doukhobor culture and lifestyle as it evolved in the Castlegar area between 1908 and 1938.  Their unique communal way of life, sharing of resources, agrarian development, industry, schools and education, and politics and leadership are brought to life in text and photographs.  Reproduced by permission from “Castlegar, a Confluence” (Karen W. Farrer (ed), Castlegar: Castlegar & District Heritage Society, 2000).

From 1908 to 1913, the Doukhobors purchased vast tracts of land in the West Kootenay, but it was at Waterloo that they first settled in BC. Peter V. Verigin renamed the place Dolina Ootischenia meaning “Valley of Consolation”. He also named the community of Brilliant for its sparkling waters.

Village life

Upon arrival in British Columbia, the Doukhobors began constructing temporary houses. These were individual homes, small in size and constructed of logs. As lumber became more readily available, temporary houses were built as long, single-story structures.

In 1911, Peter Verigin divided the land into 100 acre plots and built houses, or doms, which were unique to the area and Tolstoyan in concept because of their uniformity. Eventually, as brick factories were built, the doms were constructed out of brick. Each dom was 32 feet by 40 feet, and was two stories high with an attic, and a half-basement for storage. The wooden buildings in the village were never painted.

Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives A-08737.

There were usually two large houses or doms in each village. They were built side by side, approximately 60 feet apart, and joined by one-story buildings in a U-shape. Often families with very young children lived in these buildings, ensuring privacy. They also served as storage areas and summer kitchens. Each large dom had a meeting room with a long table and benches, sometimes used as additional sleeping space. The enormous kitchen was the heart of each dom. It was furnished with a long dining table and benches, a large cook-stove, cupboards to store cooking utensils and dishes, and a huge petch, or Russian-style oven. By 1912, all the kitchens had piped-in water. The head man in each village and his family usually had two bedrooms on the first level. Upstairs, several small bedrooms opened off a long central hall. People slept on long, wooden beds resembling benches, lying feet to feet. Thus a family of four often occupied a small bedroom.. An attic made up the third floor. Each village usually had a room which was used as a maternity room or an infirmary. A courtyard was located in the middle of the square and used for activities, such as drying fruit, vegetables and grains. Barns and outbuildings were built behind the doms. Each village had a banya (steambath), which everyone in the village took turns using. The banya also housed a laundry.

Every village contained about seventy to one hundred persons, or ten to fifteen families, and was known as a “BC One Hundred”. The people in the villages were not necessarily related to one another, but were chosen for their skills and assigned to various villages that needed these skills.

Orchards and gardens were planted and the people produced nearly all of their food. Each garden had an abundance of sunflower plants as sunflower seeds were a favourite snack among the Doukhobors. Fruit and vegetables were dried in the sun or in drying sheds and stored for winter use. Vegetables and grains were exchanged among the villages, and wheat was shipped from the Saskatchewan Community villages, while the British Columbia Doukhobors shipped fruit to the prairies.

The economic structure of the Doukhobor community in British Columbia was based on the mir of Russian peasants. The central committee included Peter Verigin and a head man from each village, also the manager from each of the economic enterprises.

Each individual’s needs were supplied from the community fund. If a person worked outside the community, he handed over his wage to the community, where it went into a common fund from which all purchases were made. Each region had a purchasing agent and if an individual required clothing, food or supplies, he only had to ask. If he had to visit a neighbouring town for medical or business purposes, he simply asked for the funds to cover his trip. Thus, people contributed their labour to the community, and the community looked after their needs.

In 1917, under a Dominion charter, the Doukhobor community was incorporated as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB). All commune members received flour, potatoes, salt and shelter and every member received a sum of money, which varied from year to year. Widows, the elderly and the men received different amounts, depending upon their needs. Each male member was assessed an annual sum, depending on his earnings. The settlements were functioning as a single unit, with crops and produce being shared by all as necessity arose.

Daily life among the Community Doukhobors was fairly structured, with the men either working outside the community, or in various community industries. Women’s work was laid out formally, with a strict rotation of duties. One week, a woman might be cooking and serving the meals, while the following week, she would be weeding the gardens or milking the cows and separating the milk.

This system allowed each woman to work and participate in all aspects of village life. Although the women sewed most of the clothing for their families, the exception was the denim work clothes sewed for the men. These were produced in a community factory. Many of the older women spent much of their time spinning wool and knitting stockings and mittens. Shoes were sewn in a cobbler’s shop and harnesses for the horses were produced in a harness shop or chebatarna.

Children spent much of their time weeding the gardens and working in the orchards. They also helped the elderly pick nuts and wild berries. Girls learned to knit, sew and cook at an early age, and boys helped with the cattle and learned carpentery or blacksmith work. Both boys and girls up to the age of twelve wore a dress-like garment and went barefoot all summer.

Doukhobor communal workers at mealtime – Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01490.

Meals were prepared and eaten in the large kitchens with everyone in the dom sitting down to eat together. The Lord’s Prayer was recited prior to each meal. Borshch and piroghi were usually prepared for weekends. Large pots of soup were served daily, and vegetables, fruits or traditional pastries such as vareniki rounded out the meals. Cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt were also part of the diet. Tea or atvar (fruit juice) were the favourite beverages. Bread-baking was done often and in large quantities. The loaves were huge and usually round. They were baked in the petch which stood in a corner of the kitchen.

Living in a village was a social experience, for one was seldom alone. People of all ages gathered on the porches of the doms or in the courtyards in the summertime, working at drying fruits and vegetables, mending or spinning. Evening singsongs were commonplace and most winter evenings were spent in the kitchens near the petch, perhaps eating sunflower seeds. The babas (grandmothers) and children often lay on top of the warm petch and the children learned to recite psalomchiki, or listen to stories about Russia.

The young people socialized, at the sobranye which the youth from other villages attended. Sunday afternoons, group singing was popular, especially in the summer. Young people would often meet outdoors and dance to harmonicas. In the winter, boys played hockey on the sloughs, and evening gatherings took place indoors. The girls spent their winters working on needlework for their sunduk (hope chest).

On Saturdays, work stopped at noon. This was the time for visiting the banya and preparing for Sunday, when everyone attended the molenye (prayer service), and the sobranye, where business would be discussed and hymns sung. In the summertime, large sobranye were held on the meadows near the Kootenay River in Ootischenia where hundreds might attend, especially if the leader were present.

By 1922, there were fifty-seven sets of double houses, and several single ones built in the West Kootenay, and twenty-four in the Fruktova area. The largest settlement was still at Ootischenia with twenty-four villages.

Agrarian Development

Throughout their history, Doukhobors were agrarians, and upon their arrival in British Columbia, they immediately began clearing land for agricultural purposes. The first area to be cleared was Brilliant, and the second area was the lowest terrace at Ootischenia. Krestova had also been partially cleared by 1909. Soon afterwards, in 1912, the Brilliant bench, nearly all of the second terrace at Ootischenia, 160 acres in Pass Creek, several hundred acres in Krestova and nearly all of Glade was ready for planting. The Fruktova (Grand Forks) area was easier to clear because it was mostly open land, with little underbrush and a light stand of timber.

Many of the trees were more than three feet in diameter and over one hundred feet high. The timber was cut by two men using cross-cut saws, and hauled to community sawmills by sled in the winter. Smaller trees were cut and used for producing railway ties for sale and for poles, posts and small buildings on community property. Cordwood was also cut, both for sale and for use by the Doukhobors. The underbrush was cleared, using grubbing hoes, axes, saws and shovels and the brush was used as fuel for the community steam engines. A rotary drum and ratchet puller, and horses were used to clear stumps. Boulders were also removed using this method. Stubborn stumps and rocks were sometimes removed by dynamite.

Sorting apples at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01535.

As land was cleared, a five acre plot was assigned each village and the people immediately began planting. It was expected that food would be produced within forty-five days to feed a village and make it self-reliant. Crops included vegetables and berries. Wild nuts and berries supplemented the diet. Fruit trees were planted for commercial purposes, along with a large variety of berries. Grains and hay were sown in other areas. Soil at Krestova proved too sandy for successful crops; however, Brilliant, Ootischenia, Pass Creek and Shoreacres had thriving orchards within a short time. The Doukhobor communities in British Columbia used what they could, then shipped fruit to the prairies or sold it at local markets. Each village assigned about twenty men to work in the orchards and even more during peak times.

The Community Doukhobors practiced double-cropping, which entailed planting strawberries and vegetables between the young fruit trees. As the trees matured and spread, this method ceased because of the lack of sun. Ootischenia had the majority of orchards, producing apples, pears and cherries, mostly located on the second terrace. Grains, strawberries and potatoes were also grown there. Flax for linen clothing was grown in Ootischenia, the Slocan Valley and Fruktova areas. Woolen clothing was also highly utilized.

Linseed oil pressed from flax seed was used in cooking to a great extent, and the honey industry was flourishing. Flour mills were established in Fruktova, Ootischenia, Champion Creek and in the Slocan Valley, and flour was produced from grains grown on CCUB lands. Grains were grown in several places with the largest area being the northern part of the second terrace at Ootischenia. These ( crops included oats, wheat and millet. The broadcasting method was used to sow the grains, and harvesting was done by hand scythes. Various threshing methods were used, depending upon the amount of grain being threshed. If it were a small amount, large farm animals would be led over the grains, loosening hulls. Beans and peas were also threshed in this manner. If the harvest was a large one, either a horse-harnessed sled or a cog-roller was dragged over the grain. The sled was constructed out of wood, three feet by eight feet, with sharp pieces of small rocks studding the underside. This method was used by Doukhobors in the Kars province of Russia, who learned it from the Turks in Caucasia. The cog-roller consisted of a tree trunk with wooden blocks nailed into it.

Since all produce went into the central community, there was no need to separate the crops, and no need for fences. Crops were not fertilized by mineral fertilizers and there was not enough ‘natural’ fertilizer from farm animals to make much of a difference. This was cited as one of the reasons communities like Krestova did not succeed as agrarian areas.

Industry

The development of irrigation systems in the Doukhobor communities were of prime concern, and by 1912, two irrigation systems were in place in Ootischenia. A concrete tank measuring 75 feet by 125 feet and 14 feet deep was built. It held 1,000,000 gallons when full and was supplied by mountain streams. Located on the second terrace, it operated by gravity, providing water for several villages. A steam-driven, four-cylinder pump was located on the Kootenay River, supplying water to the reservoir through a fourteen-inch wooden pipe. A mill to manufacture staves for the wooden pipes was constructed in Ootischenia. The irrigation system was over seven miles long.

Doukhobor Reservoir at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives D-01927.

Several sawmills were constructed on community lands, with eight mills operating by 1912. Other enterprises soon followed, including a brickyard in Fruktova, blacksmith and woodwork shops, flour mill, and harness-making and cobbler shops. A large honey industry was developed at Brilliant.

Soon after the Doukhobors arrived, they began building their own roads, ferries and bridges. In 1913, they completed the Brilliant Suspension Bridge. The bridge was part of the public highway system until the 1960s. The inscription on the bridge stated ‘Strictly Prohibited Smoking and Trespassing with Fire Arms over this Bridge’. Roads were built, connecting the Doukhobor settlements. The Doukhobors also operated ferries at Brilliant and Glade.

By 1911, more than 50,000 fruit trees had been planted, and the Community Doukhobors purchased the Kootenay Jam Company, which was located on Front Street in Nelson, BC. In 1914, they donated jam to the Red Cross for the families of soldiers.

Although Ootischenia had the largest population of all the Doukhobor settlements in British Columbia, it was in Brilliant where the biggest commercial enterprise was located. At the heart of this enterprise was the jam factory, which was relocated to Brilliant in 1915. It was called the Kootenay Columbia Preserving Works, but was better known as the Brilliant Jam Factory. The complex included a packing house, grain elevator storing prairie wheat, community store, gas pumps, offices, library, a dormitory with sleeping quarters and a dining hall for workers, also the dom of the Doukhobor leader, who also had a home in Veregin, Saskatchewan. Across the road from the complex was the CPR railway station with living quarters attached, and the Brilliant Post Office.

With the relocation of the factory to Brilliant, the production of jam was brought near the heart of the community fields and the output of jam increased. Twelve steam heated copper kettles were in use and the berries were picked and processed the same day. The factory also began manufacturing tin cans and lids for the jam. The community fields of Ootischenia, Shoreacres, Glade, Slocan Valley, Brilliant and Pass Creek provided the berries for the jam. Fruit from the Grand Forks community was shipped by rail. Harry Beach, jam-maker, introduced an old English recipe. It contained only fresh berries or fruit, pure cane sugar and water.

The irrigation system was further developed, with water from Pass Creek being brought in by wooden pipes to the Brilliant area. It was distributed by gravity flow. Two small systems located on the banks of the Columbia River brought water to the lower bench in Ootischenia in six inch wooden pipes to provide irrigation for the orchards. Staves for the pipes were supplied by mills in Champion Creek and Ootischenia.

By 1916, more land was acquired by the Doukhobors including two thousand acres of timber south of Nelson. In Ootischenia, one thousand acres were added to the lands there, extending toward McPhee and Little McPhee Creeks, and bringing in much-needed water supplies from the creeks. The rich soil of the Raspberry area was added to the Doukhobor community, and holdings in Pass Creek were extended by over 3,000 acres. Other land purchases included 360 acres in the Slocan Valley, and 240 acres across the Kootenay River from Shoreacres.

There was great demand for wood during World War I and the CCUB cleared vast tracts of land in Ootischenia, with the second terrace and the side hills between the benches cleared of underbrush and logged by 1921. By 1922, sixty acres on the upper bench were also cleared. The purchase of a steam donkey engine greatly aided stump pulling, but on the upper bench, the large trees were felled by hand, and the holes filled with dirt, thus large rocks below the surface would remain undisturbed, making the soil easier to till.

The eight mills in the CCUB provided adequate lumber for the Doukhobors, and up to three carloads daily besides. Some of the lumber was shipped to Saskatchewan for the CCUB communities, and the surplus was sold. By 1922 the sawmills dwindled to four as the lumber was exhausted.

A second brickyard was constructed in the Slocan Valley to supplement the yard in Fruktova. Bricks began to be used for the construction of the doms, and in the early 1920s, each village had at least one dom constructed out of brick, as fire protection. Other wooden doms were veneered with brick.

As the CCUB developed its industries and villages, fewer labourers were required, resulting in more men working outside of the community and contributing to the income of the CCUB. Some were skilled tradesmen, but most worked as labourers.

Doukhobor Jam Factory at Brilliant, BC, circa 1930. British Columbia Archives D-06930.

Despite the Depression, the Brilliant Jam Factory continued to flourish. Upon Peter P. Verigin’s arrival in Canada, the factory was enlarged and 24 jam kettles were in operation. The community could not keep up with the demand for fruit, so the farmers from Creston, Slocan Valley and Kootenay Lake areas began selling their produce to the jam factory.

During the Depression, household jam consisting of strawberries and apples proved the most popular because it was both economical and delicious. Commercial huckleberry jam was sold for the first time in Canada, but was not economically viable as the berries were not readily available. Other jams included plum, cherry, gooseberry, currant, apricot and peach. Large fields of raspberries were planted on fertile slopes and supplied to the factory. The Doukhobors named this area ‘Raspberry’. But it was the famous strawberry jam which was the most popular.

At peak times, sixty people could produce 1,050 cans of jam per hour, with shipments of 43,000 cases annually. Each case of jam contained 12 four pound cans. During one record-breaking trip in eastern Canada, salesman William J. Soukeroff sold 18 railway freight cars of jam.

From 1915 to 1935, Peter P. Zibin supervised the factory, followed by Mike J.Makeiff. The irrigation system in Brilliant-Pass Creek was very efficient, so it was decided to expand it by replacing the 15 inch pipe with a 24 inch pipe which was also made out of wood staves. The new pipe crossed the Kootenay River on the bridge at Brilliant. However, the wooden pipe could not withstand the pressure of water and attempts to pump it into the reservoir failed. Several Ootischenia villages obtained their domestic water from this system. The system feeding Ootischenia from McPhee and Little McPhee Creeks supplied water until 1953. A forest fire in 1933 destroyed the wooden pipes, trestles, and small pipes leading to the reservoir and damaged the watershed. This greatly reduced the output of the streams in the mountains east of Ootischenia. The water projects, which cost $438,000 to install, could not meet the needs of the Doukhobor community.

At this time, sawmills were abandoned, leaving only one sawmill and planing mill in the Slocan Valley and another planing mill at Champion Creek. They were destroyed by fire before 1938.

Schools and Education

The immigration of Doukhobors to British Columbia from Saskatchewan brought about new challenges to public education. First, there were at least 700 children of school age who had never seen a school and who knew little English. Second, there were the pacifist beliefs of the Doukhobors. Third, there was mistrust of governments by these new immigrants.

The Blakemore Royal Commission of 1912 recommended that “in order to give the Doukhobors confidence and secure their sympathy, some working arrangement might be made under which Russian teachers could be employed in conjunction with Canadian teachers and the curriculum modified so as to include only elementary subjects”.

In 1910, Peter V. Verigin constructed the first Doukhobor school in Brilliant, with eleven small schools being built in Doukhobor areas by 1920. It wasn’t until 1919 that Doukhobor girls were allowed to attend school, and even after that time boys largely outnumbered the girls.

In the next two decades many schools were built to accommodate the Doukhobor children. By 1923, school boards were held responsible for enforcing the attendance law, with compulsory age limit being fifteen years. By 1929, thirteen schools had been destroyed, mostly by arson. These activities were blamed on the extreme zealot group, who opposed the compulsory attendance law.

The name of ‘Brilliant’ was given to each of the schools within a five mile’s radius. They were identified as ‘Brilliant No. 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5’. Brilliant No. I began as a small school, with the teacher being principal for all of the five Brilliant schools. Eventually, overcrowding caused the school to close and a large brick school to be built. It was located at the junction of Pass Creek Road, Brilliant and Raspberry.

Group of Doukhobor schoolchildren at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives D-01929.

In 1930 the school located in the south end of Ootischenia was burned as a cover-up to a theft, so classes were relocated to the old chebatarnia. The drafty old building housed forty students, so another classroom was hastily prepared in the front section of the building. These were Brilliant No. 4 & 5 Schools. The teachers lived in a nearby communal home and walked the four miles to the Brilliant Railway Station for supplies and mail. In the ensuing years, students from this school began attending either Pleasant or Cay Creek Schools.

In 1933 a brick school was constructed in Glade, resembling the Raspberry (Brilliant) and Fructova Schools. The school included a classroom at each end and a four-room teacherage in the centre. Although modern by the standards of the day, water had to be hauled from the nearby river and toilets were outside. The teachers found that one of the hardships of living in an isolated community was the drift ferry. If one wished to cross, one would call out “Parome!” (ferry) and it would be brought to your side of the river.

In 1935, Alexander Zuckerberg was invited by Peter P. Verigin to teach Doukhobor children in Russian. Classes were conducted in various Doukhobor prayer doms. Zuckerberg taught until 1961.

The first Ootischenia School was opened in 1942, consisting of three classrooms and teacherage. The building was not insulated, and the washrooms were outdoors. Wood stoves heated each room. The school was in operation for twenty years, until a modern facility was built. It was also named Ootischenia School and opened in 1963. Despite major additions, enrollment decreased and the school closed in 1986. Both buildings remain today, with the old school being utilized as a Doukhobor community hall.

Possibly the most isolated area in which the Doukhobors settled was Champion Creek. Situated eight miles south of Castlegar on the east side of the Columbia River, it was accessible by walking from Castlegar, then rowing a boat across the river from Blueberry Creek, or horseback riding from Ootischenia. In later years, you could risk your life by driving a vehicle, because the banks were sandy and there was the possibility of landing in the Columbia.

Champion Creek had a thriving population of five hundred people among its five Doukhobor villages. Because of isolation, the men came home only on weekends and holidays. Most worked for the CPR, in lumber camps or mines. The women did the bulk of the farming on the slopes high above the Columbia, growing fruits, vegetables, berries and hay.

The teacherage was located in one of the large doms, and sparsely furnished. Classes were also held in a meeting room of a dom, which was furnished with long desks and benches. Again, there were usually twice as many boys as girls. Wages were $100 per month, while other rural schools paid $79.

John Landis, who later became Mayor of Castlegar, recalled his years at Champion Creek School in the book “School District No. 9“.

I was assigned to Champion Creek School in 1956. The single room had ample space for its eight pupils from Grades 1 to 6. The teacherage consisted of a kitchen and a bedroom. Washrooms were two outdoor facilities past the woodshed. I soon settled into my first teaching assignment. The isolated area was far removed from a library or teaching tools. My copying machine was a jelly pad, and chalk and black on boards my sole visual aid tools. The parents supplied me with fresh produce, and I in turn, wrote letters on their behalf, and when I bought my 1938 Chevy, they received transportation to Castlegar.

“1956-57 was a cold winter, and the stove was kept cherry-red. During spring breakup, I left my Chevy past Blueberry, and then called for the boys to row me across the Columbia.

“P.E. activities were held outdoors except for curling. I used paper rolled out on the floor for a rink, and ink bottle caps for rocks. Curling became the children’s favourite winter pastime.

Isolation had caught up with Champion Creek, and in the mid 1950s, all that remained were three rundown sparsely populated villages. The school closed in 1958. Children began to be bused in 1956. Electricity arrived in 1960, the road was paved, and phone and cable services were installed.

Gibson Creek’s first school was built in 1924. It was small, dark and bare. A wood stove heated the one room and the toilets were outside. Water was hauled from a neighbouring home. Living quarters for the teacher were attached to the school. By 1947, the old Gibson Creek School was deemed inadequate, and a new school was built. It consisted of a stucco building with a large classroom and teacher’s apartment, and modern amenities such as washrooms, furnace room and lots of endows. By 1960 there were electric lights. The school was situated in a remote area. To reach it, one had to branch off of Pass Creek Road and take a scenic winding mountain road. During spring, Gibson Creek overflowed its banks and washed out the road, making it inaccessible. Heavy snowfalls hampered students as they climbed the hill. In 1963, parents withdrew their children from school because of poor road conditions. After that, the road was deemed public and has been maintained by the Highways Department. Gibson Creek School was closed in 1966 and its pupils bused to Pass Creek.

In 1948, a new school was built in Tarrys, just down the road from Thrums. To celebrate the opening, an open house was held. But before a single class could be conducted, it was levelled by fire – the work of an arsonist. Subsequently, the old school was moved to the burned site. It was known as Tarrys School. In 1954, a new school was built next to the old one, and the building of 1910 vintage was finally demolished. In the ensuing years, the school population expanded, and so did the school. Today, students from Tarrys, Thrums, Glade and Shoreacres attend this modern school.

Among Doukhobor students, various activities meant an absence from school. For example, the school register during the 1940s recorded the following reasons for absenteeism: Mrs. Verigin’s funeral, Peter’s Day, pilgrimage to Verigin’s Tomb, and celebration in honour of the elder Mrs. Verigin.

In 1945, when the Cameron Report on School Finance was given, it made no specific provision regarding Doukhobor schools other than that they should be treated no differently than others. “Every effort should be made to get them into the ordinary scheme of things.”

In the 1950s, the BC Government made an all-out effort to enforce school attendance among children in Krestova and Gilpin. Forty children were seized in one pre-dawn raid on Krestova and taken to an old sanatorium in New Denver, a nearby village located on Slocan Lake. The raids on the children continued for the next six years. The children were housed and schooled but not allowed to have contact with their families, except for every other Sunday. On that day, families would travel from Krestova and from Gilpin, the latter necessitating a two day trip in winter. An eight foot high wire fence divided the children and families. A molenye was held, and favourite foods passed to the young inmates. Farewells were said through the ‘chicken wire’ fence. The children were held in New Denver until fifteen years of age. The school closed in 1959.

The Golden Years

It could be said that the early twenties were the golden years for the CCUB. The Brilliant Jam Factory was producing high yields of jams, utilizing fruit from community orchards. The sawmills, flourmills and brickyards were busy, and there was plenty of work outside of the community. Most important of all, there was a noticeable spirit of togetherness among the people.

The Death of Peter “Lordly” Verigin

But on October 29, 1924, tragedy struck the Doukhobor community. Peter “Lordly” Verigin was killed in a mysterious train explosion in Farron, BC. Dynamite had been placed near his seat. Although eight others died, it was believed that Verigin was the target. John Mackie, MLA, was one of the victims, as was Harry Bishop, a hockey player with a Nelson hockey team. Others included a rancher from Grand Forks, two businessmen, labourers and a young Doukhobor woman. Although extensive inquiries were conducted, the murders remain unsolved.

Verigin’s funeral drew an estimated seven thousand people from across western Canada, many non-Doukhobor. After a lengthy and emotional funeral, during which hymns and psalms were sung and eulogies delivered, the leader was buried on November 2, 1924. His resting place was a rocky bluff high above the Kootenay River, Brilliant and Ootischenia, overlooking the vast enterprise he had developed. An elaborate tomb with intricate carvings had been erected, but it was blown up by dynamite several years later and replaced by a plain edifice.

Some seven thousand people attended the funeral of Peter “Lordly” Verigin on a hillside overlooking Brilliant, BC. Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection.

Peter Lordly Verigin was the ideal leader for the times. He had led the Doukhobors throughout the most turbulent period in their history, when they were at the mercy of various governments. He had counseled them to reject militarism from his exile in Siberia, which precipitated their move to Canada. After the loss of community lands on the prairies he had brought his people to British Columbia and established a large communal enterprise, which was at the height of its prosperity when he died a martyr’s death. It is no wonder that he is still revered today. “Toil and Peaceful Life” was the slogan he left his people.

Six weeks after the death of Verigin, a memorial service was held at his graveside. Four thousand people attended. They decided that the successor to Peter V. Verigin should be his son, Peter P. Verigin, who was living in Russia. He did not arrive in Canada until 1927. In his absence, the CCUB Board of Directors continued to function. When Peter P. Verigin “Chistiakov’ (Cleanser) arrived, he was greeted by enormous crowds and songs composed in his honour.

The CCUB under Peter Verigin Chistiakov

Verigin immediately implemented economic and cultural initiatives and organizational restructuring. He began by giving commune status to each village, with the CCUB providing leadership to these communes. Building on the structures already in place, he established villages or ‘Families’ in units of 100 persons, while on the prairie, 25 persons were allotted to a ‘Family’. A total of eighty communes or ‘Families’ were established, with an appointed headman from each village collecting earnings from his workers, making purchases, and paying levies and rent assessments to the CCUB for the entire village. Business between individual communes was done on a cash basis.

During the 1930s, CCUB membership was declining. This was attributed to a number of factors including the Depression. Furthermore, many Doukhobors were leaving the CCUB community and moving to towns or farms. There were also a growing number of zealots who didn’t pay assessments and who were sent to live in isolated settlements.

In the early 1930s, as a response to nude parades, several hundred zealots were sent to Piers Island on the west coast of BC. Their children were dispersed among mostly non-Doukhobor families for approximately one year. They returned to the communities of Krestova and to Gilpin near Grand Forks, earning their living by selling garden produce and obtaining outside employment.

CCUB losses by depredation were enormous, with flour mills, sawmills and houses, including the leader’s home being destroyed. By 1937, estimated losses totalled $400,000. These depredations, combined with the Depression, unemployment and declining membership, were major contributing factors leading to the bankruptcy in 1937 of the CCUB operations.

Doukhobors meet at Brilliant, BC with their new leader, Peter “Chistiakov” Verigin. Simon Fraser University Doukhobor Collection.

In ten years, Peter P. Verigin had significantly lowered the debt of the CCUB, however it was refused protection under the Farmers’ Creditors Arrangement Act passed by the federal government during the early years of the Depression. In 1938, Sun Life and National Trust Mortgage Companies instituted foreclosure proceedings on a debt of $350,000, dismantling a communal enterprise valued at over $6 million. On the verge of foreclosure by mortgage companies, the BC government became landlords by negotiating a $296,500 knockdown price on the amount owing. Those living on the land became tenants. The Doukhobors were allowed to rent their former homes at nominal fees.

Upon the dissolution of the CCUB, the centerpiece of the community, the Brilliant Jam Factory stood dark and empty. This once-bustling enterprise was a sad reminder of the thriving, golden years of the Doukhobor community.

The Doukhobors continued to tend the former community orchards and much of the produce was sold at Farmer’s Markets. Non-Doukhobor fruit-processing plants bought the surplus. Many people moved from the villages, seeking employment. They either became Independent Doukhobors or remained ‘Orthodox’ Doukhobors.

Following the dissolution of the CCUB, Peter P. Verigin established the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC) in 1938. Under his guidance, a constitution was developed, and a ‘Declaration’ stating basic principals.

Peter P. Verigin became ill and died in a Saskatoon hospital in February 1939. His funeral was attended by thousands. He was buried in Verigin’s Tomb alongside his father. During the leadership of Peter P. Verigin, more than a dozen schools were built, including Raspberry (Brilliant) and Fruktova Schools. Besides organizing the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, he also established a strong USCC Youth organization. He left his people the following two slogans, “Sons of Freedom Cannot be Slaves of Corruption” and “The Welfare of the World is Not Worth the Life of One Child”. In 1940, at age 18, John J. Verigin, grandson of Peter P. Verigin, was appointed Secretary of the USCC, taking over many of his grandfather’s responsibilities.

Eventually, Doukhobor lands were re-surveyed, subdivided, appraised and put up for sale. By 1963, all former community lands, except Krestova, were in Doukhobor hands by virtue of sales.

Persecutions in Russia, the arduous journeys to Canada and British Columbia, breaking new ground, building new communities – the lives of the early Doukhobors were fraught with political unrest and heavy with toil. They were yearning for a peaceful life.

About the Author

Vi Plotnikoff (1937-2006) was a well known Doukhobor writer who wrote about her Doukhobor heritage for many years. She published a short story collection, Head Cook at Weddings and Funerals and other stories of Doukhobor Life (Polestar Press) and was a popular lecturer and teacher at Kootenay schools, including the Kootenay School of the Arts and Selkirk College. Prior to her passing, in a return to the roots of her oral tradition, she had begun storytelling. She also released a story CD, The Mysterious Death of a Doukhobor Leader.

Doukhobors in the Boundary

by Vera Novokshonoff, Lucy Reibin & Marion Obedkoff

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

Historical Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrival in Grand Forks

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

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

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

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

Industries

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

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

Orchards

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

Brick Plant

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

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

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

Flour Mill

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

Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communal Way of Life

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

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

Housing

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

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

Meals

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

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

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

Prayer Meetings

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

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

Weddings

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

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

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

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

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

Funerals

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Skills and Handicrafts

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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