New Parks Canada Plaque Acknowledges National Significance of Doukhobors at Veregin, Saskatchewan

For Immediate Release – August 8, 2009

On July 18, 2009, the Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada (HSMBC) unveiled a commemorative plaque at the National Doukhobor Heritage Village (NDHV) in Veregin, Saskatchewan, acknowledging the national significance of the Doukhobors at Veregin and proclaiming its affiliation with the family of national historic sites.

Opening address by Irene LeGatt of Parks Canada at the unveiling ceremony. Photo courtesy Patti Negrave.

The unveiling ceremony was presided over by Irene LeGatt of Parks Canada. It opened with the Lord’s Prayer recited by John Cazakoff of Kamsack and the singing of O Canada by Sonia Tarasoff of Canora. Official greetings from the Government of Canada and the NDHV followed. The official party was then introduced, which consisted of Constable Brett Hillier of the Kamsack RCMP detachment; Garry Breitkreuz, Yorkton-Melville MP on behalf of Jim Prentice, Minister of Environment and Minister Responsible for Parks Canada; Keith Tarasoff of Canora, Chairman of the NDHV; Eileen Konkin of Pelly, an 18-year member of the NDHV Board; and Laura Veregin of Benito, a 20-year NDHV Board member.

The official party unveiled the 2’ x 3’ bronze plaque, which has inscriptions in English, French and Russian. The inscription reads as follows:

“Established in 1904 by followers of the communal ideals of Peter V. Verigin, this settlement served as the administrative, distribution and spiritual centre for Canada’s Doukhobor communities. The original Prayer Home, machine shed, grain elevator and foundations of the old store remain to bear witness to this community’s first period of settlement, as well as to their collective toil and utopian ideals. The striking design and scale of the Prayer Home reflect the authority and vision of Peter Verigin as well as the spiritual and cultural significance of this place for Doukhobors.”

Unveiling of the historic plaque. (l-r) Irene LeGatt, Parks Canada; Garry Breitkreuz, MP; Keith Tarasoff, NDHV Chairman; Brett Hillier, Kamsack RCMP Detachment. Photo courtesy Patti Negrave.

After the plaque was unveiled, Irene LeGatt read its inscription in English and French, and Laura Veregin read its Russian version.

“The Canadian Government is proud to welcome the Doukhobors at Veregin to the family of national historic sites,” stated Garry Breitkreuz, MP. “Today’s commemoration will help Canadians appreciate the impact of early immigration policies on the development of the Canadian West. As with other immigrants, the Doukhobors embarked on their journey to Canada with dreams of freedom and prospects of peace. The story of the Doukhobors is an inspirational one of hardship and perseverance, determination and faith, and is an important chapter of our history,” Breitkreuz said.

Eileen Konkin then provided a brief overview of the 300+ year history of the Doukhobors, and their historic significance in Veregin.

Garry Breitkreuz, MP discusses the national significance of the Doukhobors at Veregin. Photo courtesy Patti

Negrave.

The program concluded, as it had began, with hymns sung by the Heritage Choir, which had many of its members dressed in traditional Russian costumes. Lunch was then served and the dignitaries and attendees were escorted on a tour of the village.

“Today’s event is a milestone for the National Doukhobor Heritage Village,” Keith Tarasoff noted. “Its not often that we have an honour of this statute to celebrate.”

Fleeing religious persecution in Russia, approximately 7,400 Doukhobors immigrated to Canada in 1899. With the aid of Leo Tolstoy and sympathetic groups like the Quakers, 750,000 acres were secured in Western Canada for the Doukhobors. In exchange, the Canadian Government gained skilled agriculturalists to help populate and develop its western frontier. In addition to their agricultural background, the Doukhobors brought with them strong beliefs in communalism, pacifism, and rejection of institutional religion. “Toil and Peaceful Life” was the central tenant of the Doukhobor philosophy.

Eileen Konkin, NDHV Board member from Pelly, SK provides an overview of the 300+ year history of the

Doukhobors in Russia and Canada. Photo courtesy Patti Negrave.

As with other immigrant groups, the Doukhobors encountered hardships, but persevered and established many industrious villages and enterprises. Central among these communities was the village of Veregin. Established in 1904, the original Veregin settlement – of which the Prayer Home, machine shed, grain elevator and foundations of the old store survive – was the administrative, distribution and spiritual centre for the region during the first period of Doukhobor settlement in Canada. An industrial hub as well, at its height Veregin boasted a brick yard, brick store, store house, four grain elevators, machine shed and a flourmill. Veregin retained its important role in Doukhobor society until 1931 when spiritual and administrative headquarters were relocated to British Columbia. Its subsequent decline marked the end of the first phase of Doukhobor settlement.

The spectacular Prayer Home reflects the settlement’s importance to the Doukhobors as a religious and cultural centre, as well as the authority and the vision of the leader of the Doukhobors, Peter V. Verigin. Restored in 1980, the Prayer home was declared a Provincial Heritage Property in 1982. Doukhobors at Veregin was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2006.

Laura Verigin, NDHV Board member from Benito, MB reads the Russian inscription of the Parks Canada historic

plaque. Photo courtesy Patti Negrave.

Since its creation in 1919, the HSMBC has played a leading role in identifying and commemorating nationally significant places, persons and events – such as the Doukhobors at Veregin – that make up the rich tapestry of our country’s cultural heritage. Together these places, persons and events comprise the System of National Historic Sites in Canada. The HSMBC is an expert advisory body on historical matters. On the basis of its recommendation, the Government of Canada has designated more than 900 national historic sites, almost 600 national historic persons and over 350 national historic events. The HSMBC considers whether a proposed subject has had a nationally significant impact on Canadian history, or illustrates a nationally important aspect of Canadian history.

The placement of a HSMBC commemorative plaque – such as the one unveiled in Veregin – represents the official recognition of historic value. It is one means of educating the public about the richness of our culture and heritage, which must be preserved for future generations.

NDHV Board and members gather in front of Parks Canada historical plaque. Photo courtesy Patti Negrave.

For additional information or inquiries about the Doukhobors at Veregin or other national historic sites, visit the Parks Canada – National Historic Sites of Canada website.

The (Almost) Quiet Revolution: Doukhobor Schooling in Saskatchewan

by John Lyons

In British Columbia the long and often violent conflict between the Sons of Freedom and the British Columbia government over schooling diverted attention from the fact that developments among the Doukhobors who lived elsewhere did not parallel those of the Pacific province. The subject of this article by John Lyons, reproduced by permission from Canadian Ethnic Studies (1976, Vol 8, No. 1), is the provision of public education for Saskatchewan Doukhobors. It deals only in passing with the Doukhobors early educational experiences in the old Northwest Territories and the attempts to provide private schools for them; but rather concentrates rather on the period after Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. After surveying some aspects of provincial school policies, the article deals with each of the three Doukhobor sub-sects, the impact of these policies on them and the circumstances surrounding their eventual acceptance of public schooling.

I

Throughout the 1890’s the British settlers in the Northwest Territories attempted to develop a territorial school system that was to their liking. Just as success appeared to be imminent, a new challenge arose. In 1898 the superintendent of education, D.J. Goggin, declared “… one of our most serious and pressing educational problems arises from the settlement among us of so many foreign nationalities in the block or “colony system . . .” He suggested guidelines for the approach to be used in dealing with these newcomers: “To assimilate these different races, to secure the cooperation of these alien forces, are problems demanding for their solution, patience, tact and tolerant but firm legislation.” Between January and June of the following year there arrived in the territories a group which was to test the patience, tact and tolerance of territorial, provincial, and federal governments for decades to come.

These settlers, the Doukhobors, were members of an obscure Russian pacifist sect which had emerged following the religious upheavals in seventeenth century Russia. Rejecting all authority, both spiritual and temporal, and intent upon living a simple agricultural life, the sect suffered exile and repression for their refusal to recognize and obey the Tsar’s government. The group came to the attention of western Europe and North America in 1895 when a new wave of persecution broke out because of their refusal to serve in the Russian army. Canada offered them asylum and, in 1899, with the aid of Russian Tolstoyans and British Quakers, 7,363 Doukhobors settled in three large relatively isolated reserves in Assiniboia and Saskatchewan Territories.

Their long history of persecution in Russia had endowed them with a deep suspicion of outsiders and especially of governments. Despite the assurance of their Russian sponsor, Count Leo Tolstoy, that they would accept public schooling, neither the views of their leader, Peter V. Verigin, nor their own regarding schooling were very clear.

Schooling was not widespread in nineteenth century Russia and those schools which did exist were dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist government. Such schools were seen by the Doukhobors as agencies of assimilation, bent on destroying their religion and culture. Literacy, however, was not totally unknown among them and attempts were made to provide leaders with some formal schooling. Except for the leaders, schooling was not seen as necessary and the bulk of the group did not appear to be aware of the concerns of either their leaders or Canadian officials.

Despite the concern expressed by Goggin about educating non-British immigrants, little was done about this issue until Saskatchewan achieved provincial status in 1905. The new province on its formation retained the educational structures and policies which had been developed by the government of the Northwest Territories. School districts were formed as the result of local initiative and, once formed, school boards then exercised considerable power. They had the power to enact compulsory attendance by-laws, to permit instruction in “foreign” languages and/or religion (between three and four p.m.) and to employ and dismiss teachers. By these powers and through an effective control of the purse-strings, which allowed them to release or withhold money with little outside control, local trustees had a considerable impact on what was taught, and how it was taught. The provincial government did, however, retain the right to appoint an official to organize school districts in areas where the residents failed to take the initiative on their own.

Although the first such official was appointed in 1906, it was not until two years later, when many Doukhobors were preparing to leave the province, that organizational work began among Doukhobor settlements. In 1907 Joseph Megas, the supervisor of Ruthenian schools, established two schools among the Doukhobors near Rosthern, during his efforts to set up schools in neighbouring Ukrainian areas. Megas’ work among the Ukrainians was so successful that it was expanded and in 1911 he became supervisor of schools in foreign-speaking districts. His initial successes in organizing local school districts in Doukhobor areas were among the Independent Doukhobors of the Saskatchewan Colony, and he was able to report in 1910: “Even the reluctant phlegmatic Doukhobors have awakened and school districts are being organized in their very community settlements at their own request.”

It is doubtful that the “reluctant phlegmatic Doukhobors” he was talking about were members of the “community settlements.” Soon after their arrival in Canada rifts began to appear within Doukhobor ranks. These divisions were caused by many factors including their settlement in three widely separated colonies, the continued Siberian exile of their leader, Peter V. Verigin, the influence of Quakers and Tolstoyans in some of the villages and the general impact of the new land itself. The largest group were those who remained loyal followers of Verigin. This group attempted to preserve the culture and religion that they had developed in Russia. From his exile, Verigin urged his followers to continue their life of communalism, pacifism and vegetarianism, stressing the virtues of hard work and a simple life. After Verigin’s arrival in Canada in 1902 he organized his followers into a vast communal organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (C.C.U.B.) and began consolidating them in the “South Colony” near Yorkton. This process was interrupted by the federal government’s abolition of the Doukhobor reserves in 1904 and by the repossession of the bulk of their lands in 1907 when the Doukhobors refused to swear the oath of allegiance required under the homestead act.

Doukhobor student at rough-hewn desk in Hanna Bellow’s school on the Canadian Praries, 1903. Tarasoff Collection, British Columbia Archives.

The Community Doukhobor’s attitude toward schooling at this time is difficult assess. At first the Doukhobors had to depend largely on private efforts for the schooling they received. The schools established by the-Society of Friends (Quakers) near Good Spirit Lake and Petrovka were at first encouraged by Verigin, but the fear soon grew that the real purpose of these schools was the conversion of the Doukhobors’ and attendance declined. Another school, established near Thunderhill in the North Colony by Herbert Archer, an English Tolstoyan, continued to operate and even received C.C.U.B. assistance. By 1905, six years after their arrival in Canada, only two schools had Doukhobor children enrolled; Archer’s school and a public school at Devil’s Lake north of Yorkton.

A second and much smaller group, the Sons of Freedom, challenged Verigin’s leadership soon after he arrived in Canada in 1902, feeling that he was not living up to his own teachings. This group, who tended to be drawn from the poorer settlements in all three colonies, used nude parades and arson as a means of protesting changes which threatened their way of life. Verigin expelled the leaders of this faction from the C.C.U.B. because of their extreme methods of protest, but, despite this, the federal government granted them a share of the remaining Doukhobor land allotments in 1907. When Verigin moved over half of his followers to British Columbia, however, these reactionary elements were left in Saskatchewan. The Sons of Freedom and their sympathizers within the C.C.U.B. remained within the communal system on the prairies acting as a reactionary brake on innovation and opposing any form of accommodation with the larger society.

The third group, including most settlers in the prosperous “Saskatchewan Colony” north of Saskatoon, also rejected Verigin’s leadership. They abandoned communal ownership and took title to their lands giving up membership in the C.C.U.B. These Independent Doukhobors also remained in Saskatchewan when the move to British Columbia occurred. Having already accepted one aspect of Canadian life, private ownership of land, this group was more open than the other Doukhobors to the acceptance of other Canadian institutions.

By 1913 nearly half of Canada’s Doukhobors were still in Saskatchewan. In contrast to those who had moved to British Columbia, almost all of whom were loyal members of Verigin’s Community, the Saskatchewan Doukhobors were divided into three sub-sects, a fact which both assisted and hindered the efforts of those attempting to provide public schooling to the sect. Each Doukhobor sub-sect had its own attitude toward education, which makes the story of their acceptance of public schools rather complex. Because of the powers granted to local school boards, the attitudes of and approaches used by non-Doukhobors complicated the question still further. A review of developments among each group reveals the extent to which education was welcomed, accepted or opposed.

II

In all Independent Doukhobor settlements, the foundations for formal education had been laid prior to the 1907 land seizure by work of dedicated Quakers and Tolstoyans. These early experiences and the tolerant approach of the Saskatchewan government encouraged the Independents to accept public schooling while remaining Doukhobors.

The man largely responsible for bringing public schooling to the Doukhobors in the North Colony area was Herbert P. Archer. An English Tolstoyan who had been the secretary of the pro-anarchist Brotherhood Church in England, he came to Canada in 1899 to become the Community’s English teacher and advisor. In February 1907, Archer and two Doukhobors filed a petition with the Department of Education for the formation of Bear’s Head School District. While the petition proposed to take in five villages, only the Independent Doukhobors appear to have been involved in this move:

We, Doukhobors living in the Swan River Valley, not members of the Doukhobor Community hereby petition to have School Districts formed in our several localities. There are not among us men able to write English and so form Districts according to law; we also do not desire that we wait until the Doukhobor Community organize Districts so that our children may learn English and appoint a Commissioner to manage same.

Once the school district was established, Archer underwent a program of teacher training and received a teaching certificate in order to teach in the school.

Archer was also responsible for assisting in the formation of other school districts in the North Colony. In 1912 when Porcupine School District was formed, the poll sheet showed fourteen names, all Doukhobor and all in favour of the proposal to establish a school. For the next twenty years the school district was administered by an all- Doukhobor school and a Doukhobor secretary-treasurer. The only case of truancy recorded in the district occurred in 1932 when an English resident was charged with refusing to send his children to school.

Herbert Archer was quite successful in establishing public schools among Doukhobor and non-Doukhobor alike in the North Colony area. In addition to teaching school himself, he also served as a school trustee in Bear’s Head School District, as secretary-treasurer for most of the new school districts and as secretary of Livingstone Municipality which he was largely responsible for forming. It was due to the patient leadership provided by Archer that a sizable number of Independent Doukhobors in North Colony were able to integrate into the life of the area. When Archer died in 1916, after nearly twenty years of selfless labour among the Doukhobors of the North Colony, he left behind him a prospering group of Doukhobor-Canadians.

In 1906 the American Quakers re-opened their school at Petrovka among the Saskatchewan Colony Doukhobors. At first, there were only thirteen pupils in attendance but, as Community members moved away, Verigin’s influence declined and their Mennonite neighbours accepted schooling, Doukhobor attendance improved. When Megas’s campaign to form public schools in the area began to bear fruit, attendance declined as pupils began attending schools nearer their homes. The school’s principal, Benjamin Wood, approached the Department of Education to establish a public school and when this was accomplished in 1912 he reported:

Friends (Quakers) having fulfilled the purpose intended, it would be better for them to withdraw and give room to the Doukhobors, who themselves are now well off, to shoulder the responsibilities; for if this be not done now they will lean indefinitely on Friends, so long as Friends will do for them, what they should do for themselves.

By 1912 a school board was elected, and Peter Makaroff, a young Doukhobor, who had studied in Quaker schools in Canada and the United States, was granted a provisional certificate to teach in the new public school.

The pattern of settlement of the Doukhobors in the Saskatchewan Colony was probably a major factor in encouraging education. Doukhobors here were granted only every second section of land and, therefore, came in close contact with many other settlers. One such group, the Mennonites, strongly favoured education and since some of their attitudes, especially regarding pacifism and the teaching of patriotism in the schools, were in accord with those held by Doukhobors, the favourable reception they gave to schooling probably hastened Doukhobor acceptance.

By 1912 the children of most of the Independent Doukhobors in Saskatchewan were attending public schools. The migration to British Columbia relieved the Independents of much of the suspicion of public schooling still held by Community members and made acceptance of these schools much easier. Where trouble did occur it seems to have been due more to the intolerance of the English-speaking settlers than to the intransigence of the Independent Doukhobors. The hostility of the English-speaking settlers was probably due to a combination of factors such as jealousy of the prosperity of these “foreigners”, resentment of their pacifism during World War I or even a conviction that none but British settlers belonged in the country.

Areas where trouble occurred were generally areas of mixed ethnicity. In one area, an alliance of Community Doukhobors who opposed the school because of its cost and English-speaking settlers who resented the control of Independent Doukhobors over it, petitioned the Department of Education to close the school. In another, attempts were made by the non-Doukhobor chairman of the school board to prevent Independents from voting for or acting as trustees because of their military exemption. In another, a group of Doukhobors and Mennonites petitioned the Department of Education to prohibit the singing of patriotic songs in schools. When the offending songs were banned, the Department then received a second petition from non-sectarians, criticizing the Department’s interference in local school affairs. In another district negotiations regarding the formation of the district were held up for three years, with many fears being expressed by apprehensive pro-school English speaking residents that the Doukhobor majority would vote against it. When the vote was held, in 1914, the only negative votes were from other English-speaking settlers. While problems did occur in areas where large numbers of Independent Doukhobors lived, such problems were generally little different from and certainly no more severe than in many other parts of Saskatchewan.

World War I had an impact both on the Community members and on the Independents. The prosperity of the latter during the war-time economic boom led to a number of defections from the C.C.U.B. Verigin tried to prevent this by denouncing the Independents as non-Doukhobors and informing the federal government that they were liable for conscription. The attempt failed when the Society of Independent Doukhobors, which had been formed in 1916, gained government recognition of their military-exempt status. Although school attendance was not compulsory at the beginning of the war, the Independents had generally accepted schooling and those who left the Community at this time followed their lead in this regard. Just as they saw the economic advantages of individual land ownership it is probably that they could also see the economic advantage of schooling for their children. The war itself led to demands for more stringent treatment of aliens and public opinion placed more pressure on groups such as the Doukhobors to conform in such matters as public education.

Doukhobor students attend Hanna Bellow’s Quaker school in Good Spirit Lake District. British Columbia Archives E-7306.

For the Independents, however, such pressure was not necessary. While there were aspects of Canadian society with which they were not in agreement, they generally integrated themselves well into the life of Saskatchewan. By 1914 most Independents had enrolled their children in public schools and by the 1920’s a number of them were employed as teachers in those schools.

The traditionally Independent areas had, by the 1930’s accepted public schooling for two decades. The educational progress in these areas was similar to most other Saskatchewan regions populated by European immigrants. It was with pride that Blaine Lake Doukhobors could say in 1932:

Among the Doukhobors of the Blaine Lake district there are nine public schools, almost entirely under the supervision of Doukhobor trustees and teachers. We have 13 qualified teachers, four doctors, one practicing lawyer, about 12 university students, and approximately 30 high school students all of which proves that we are in favor of having our children educated.

III

Because the village of Veregin was the heart of the C.C.U.B. in Saskatchewan, the history of public schooling there is of particular interest. Developments here seem to illustrate, in many respects, the fears and apprehensions of the Community about schooling and the problems that the closely knit members encountered with their non-Doukhobor neighbours in accepting public schooling.

Initial steps were taken to establish a school district in Veregin in June, 1911. The plan was immediately opposed by the local M.P., L.K. Johnston. He claimed that the Community members would soon move to British Columbia, that the proposed district had “not more than one Canadian born child of school age,” and few Independent Doukhobors, that none of the newly formed school committee were property owners and concluded that there was “no great need of haste in this organization but that the main object is to boom the village rather than to meet necessity.” The department, in the light of Johnston’s comments, prevented the immediate creation of the district. The tentative school board, its secretary-treasurer, and M.W. Cazakoff, the Saskatchewan manager of the C.C.U.B., all wrote to the department refuting Johnston’s arguments. Cazakoff’s position is of particular interest:

. . . Mr. J.K. Johnston . . . has been of the opinion, all along, that this school was unnecessary. He being unmarried, and having no children is trying to deprive our children of an education. Then too, he would be liable to extra taxes, and this he would rather not pay.

Cazakoff stated further that half of the Community members were remaining in Saskatchewan and that at least 60 Community children were in the district.

Three months later Cazakoff again wrote requesting that a school inspector be sent to Veregin to settle the problem of a school site. The problem of the site occurred because the C.C.U.B. offered the school board free land south of the railway where most of the Community children were located, while the English-speaking and Independent settlers were located to the north of the rail line. The question was finally settled in 1913 when the official trustee accepted the Community’s donation of three acres as a school site.

Although Cazakoff had donated land on which the school was to be built, he was not fully in favour of full Doukhobor involvement in public education. Apprehension about complete participation in Canadian society had not disappeared; governments and their agencies were still seen as institutions needed only by the wicked. Before a proper school had even been built in Veregin the official trustee broached the subject of compulsory attendance. Cazakoff wrote to the deputy minister of education:

. . . I do not think it advisable for the government or any school trustees to enforce the compulsory education on the children of the Doukhobors . . . and I might say to you friendly, that if the government enforced compulsory education on the Doukhobors, it would only make trouble for the government as well as the Doukhobors, and would bring no beneficial results.

Realizing the power that a local school board had over attendance laws, Cazakoff began to work for the return to local control. The minister of education was presented with a petition from 80 per cent of the district’s ratepayers, over half of whom were Doukhobors, calling for the re-establishment of a school board. In June, the village councillors complained about the school: “an edifice measuring 14 feet by 16 feet and is at present accommodating 80 scholars, who when in attendance represent another ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ . . . (It is likely, however, that the bulk of these students were Community children only sent to school to embarrass the official trustee.) In July, another letter from the village of Veregin protested a plan by the official trustee to rent as a temporary classroom the second floor of the pool room, with a low roof, only one small window at each end and which had to be reached by means of a ladder.

Although the Community realized the advantages of local control, when the department finally agreed to the re-establishment of a school board the men Cazakoff recommended as suitable trustees were all non-Doukhobors. When, however, an Independent was elected to the new board, Cazakoff demanded his dismissal. C.C.U.B. leaders were, at this time, still attempting to discredit the Independents and trying, by all means at their disposal, to discourage Community members from following their example.

John A. Kalmakoff, Independent Doukhobor schoolboy, Canora, Saskatchewan, 1915. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In 1917, Saskatchewan passed the School Attendance Act which required all children between the ages of seven and fourteen to attend school and by which the head of the provincial police was appointed chief attendance officer. An amendment to the act the following year allowed the government to seize property to pay the costs of fines and to impose jail terms for chronic offenders. Because the Community held itself and its members aloof from local government, the English-speaking settlers and the Independents ran Veregin schools to suit themselves and in 1917 a truant officer was appointed to enforce the new provincial attendance laws. Although the C.C.U.B. objected to compulsion, Community boys were sent to school. The Community, however, still depended on the provincial government to protect it against local excesses: this trust was not misplaced. In September 1919 Cazakoff wrote to W.M. Martin, the minister of education, for permission for boys to remain at home to help with the harvest. Martin’s reply quoted school law to show that trustees had the authority to excuse children over twelve to help at home but if the local board proved uncooperative that the department would deal with the problem.

Little attempt seems to have been made to enforce this regulation strictly regarding Doukhobor girls. It appears to have been an example of the provincial government overtly bowing to wartime publicly pressure favouring general conformity while covertly continuing a policy of relative tolerance. In 1923 Veregin School Board contacted the department asking how to make community girls attend school, and whether this would be wise considering the additional cost involved. The deputy minister’s reply to this query seems to epitomize the Saskatchewan government’s approach to the whole question of Doukhobor schooling to this point:

It is probably, therefore, that your board should take steps to provide accommodation for these children and compel their attendance when that is provided. In the meantime, the matter may be held in abeyance pending a departmental investigation.

There is no record of this investigation ever taking place.

With the death of Peter V. Verigin in 1924, his son, Peter P. Verigin became the leader of the C.C.U.B. The following year he wrote a letter to his followers instructing them to send their children to the public schools. One author wrote, “A group of 30 to 40 Community children were first marched up to the door of the Veregin Village school in 1926; this was a spontaneous act on the part of the Doukhobor people.” It seems likely that these were the formerly truant Doukhobor girls.

The government’s policy of local control did, however, result in a measure of C.C.U.B. participation in local affairs, if only to protect their own interests. Even after the Community members became involved in local school politics, they found their power limited. Their land was registered as belonging to the C.C.U.B. and, therefore, they were ineligible to vote on money by-laws, but one observer stated “they still demand a vote in all matters and apparently get it.” Government by local individuals known to Community members was more readily acceptable than control by outsiders. Because Doukhobors were acquainted with the operation of village councils within their sect they found little conflict between their opposition to government and the existence of municipal councils or school boards.

The provincial government’s own policies also encouraged the development of Doukhobor trust. The government’s laws gave the Community little cause to feel threatened during this time, and the Doukhobors responded by attending school in increasing numbers. The success of this approach was most evident in 1922. In that year school attendance among all of the immigrant groups in Saskatchewan was sufficiently high enough for the Saskatchewan government to abolish the post of director of education among new Canadians. In 1925, when the new leader Peter Petrovich Verigin recommended that all Doukhobor children should attend schools, almost all Community members in Saskatchewan readily complied. This was the first time that the Community had been given an unequivocal stand in favour of schooling by their leaders. This was a turning point in the sect’s history. The question of public schooling among Saskatchewan’s Doukhobors appeared to have been settled.

The story of the Community’s attitudes toward public schooling in Veregin School District seems to illustrate the approach that C.C.U.B. members adopted in the rest of Saskatchewan. Although they did not oppose schooling, they retained a mistrust of
government involvement which slowly decreased as the province, through its actions, proved to them that it did not intend to use the schools to change their faith. As Doukhobors accepted public schooling, the degree of local control granted to Saskatchewan school districts encouraged them to become involved in the operation of the schools and to shape them to suit their needs.

The attitude of Peter Petrovich Verigin encouraged this development. From the time of his arrival in Canada he praised education. At a meeting in October, 1927 he declared:

Let our Doukhobors become professors, yet Doukhobors, but let not him who received knowledge for the purpose of exploiting the people, rather for the ushering in of the new era and all this we shall begin on this day.

A small number of reactionary C.C.U.B. members still hesitated, however, and it was this group, the Sons of Freedom, that caused trouble over the next decade.

Verigin’s original plans to organize a purely Doukhobor school system failed, but he was successful in promoting public schooling. On his arrival in Canada he was faced with three distinct groups of Doukhobors and he looked on it as his duty to unite them. In the summer of 1928 he attempted to hasten the healing process by creating a new organization, The Society of Named Doukhobors. Hoping to embrace all of the sub-sects, its charter stressed non-violence, marriage based on love, registration of birth, deaths, and marriages, internal settlement of all minor Doukhobor disputes, expulsion of criminals, and the acceptance of public schooling (except where hatred or imperialism were taught.) Community members readily joined, as did a few Independents but the zealots rejected the organization because of its compliance with government regulations.

Doukhobor children – village of Otradnoye, Saskatchewan, c. 1918.  Tarasoff Collection, British Columbia Archives

As members of the Named Doukhobors, Community members were now committed to accept schooling. By the spring of 1930 the school attendance in Veregin was so good that an additional classroom had to be added and only six children had failed to enroll. Five months later the inspector wrote:

During the past ten months pressure has been brought to bear upon the board to secure the attendance of all the children residing within the district. Quite a number of children were to attend for the first time in their lives.

Problems occurred in Doukhobor areas which would not have developed in other school districts. For example, due to the increase in school population an attempt was made to rent space in a neighbouring United Church Hall in Veregin. Doukhobor opposition to organized religion led the board to cancel the move. While this was a minor issue it serves to point out an important aspect in the approach of the province to education. In Saskatchewan, the local school boards were required to take local pressure into account and adjust their actions accordingly. The success of this policy can be seen in the results of the debenture referendum for a new classroom in Veregin in 1931: “The Doukhobors and particularly those termed Community Doukhobors, voted solidly for the by-law.”

One major factor in breaking down prejudice in Saskatchewan was the growing number of Independents. Not only were people leaving the Community because of Peter P. Verigin’s leadership, but starting in 1931 Community lands were being sold to C.C.U.B. members in order to raise money. These people remained members of the Named Doukhobors but ceased to live communally. The religious tenets of some of these individuals remained unchanged but the changed economy increased the contacts with non-Doukhobors and hastened the process of integration. By 1937, when the C.C.U.B. collapsed in financial ruin, both the Independents and the Community members had accepted public schooling and private land ownership. Their fears of Canadian society had diminished enough that they had integrated into it. Government was no longer looked on as necessary only for the wicked, and in some cases Doukhobors had themselves become involved in politics. This development took place in spite of a clash between the Sons of Freedom and the provincial government which occurred in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

IV

Saskatchewan, between 1928 and 1937, faced a direct challenge to its educational policies from members of the Sons of Freedom. The sect’s growth in numbers and in militancy after many years of relative calm is undoubtedly due to many factors but it is significant that this period of conflict corresponded to the only time that the Saskatchewan government abandoned the policy of patience and tact which Goggin had recommended. It also corresponded with Peter P. Verigin’s leadership of the C.C.U.B. and J.T.M. Anderson’s term as premier.

From 1905 until 1928 Saskatchewan had been ruled by Liberal governments. These governments had adopted a somewhat tolerant stance towards non-English-speaking immigrants, a position that was not always popular with English-speaking settlers. There were other sources of political dissatisfaction evident in many parts of the province and the Conservative leader, J.T.M. Anderson, was able to capitalize on them and take over the premiership in 1929.

Anderson had been active in the Saskatchewan educational scene for many years; he had been involved in teacher training, served as a school inspector, and between 1919 and 1922 been Director of Education among New Canadians. As early as 1920 Anderson’s political ambitions were evident to some who felt he was using his position for political gain. Although he denied these aims at that time, four years later he became leader of the Conservatives and was elected to the legislature in 1925. The main thrust of his campaign, in the 1929 provincial election, was against sectarianism

The Doukhobors and other Slavic immigrants felt particularly threatened by his campaign. Anderson had little respect for Slavs and in his book. The Education of the New Canadian, had quoted Steiner as follows:

There is in the Slav a certain passivity of temper, a lack of sustained effort and enthusiasm, an unwillingness to take the consequences of telling the truth, a failure to confide in one another and in those who would do them good, a rather gross attitude toward sexual morality, and an undeniable tendency towards anarchy. They have little collective wisdom, even as they have no genius for leadership, scant courtesy towards women, and other human weaknesses to which the whole human race is heir.

Anderson did hold some hope for the future cultural improvement of the Slavic immigrant if the public school system approached the matter properly:

Occasionally . . . where a sympathetic Canadian teacher has been in charge of the public school, a settlement is found where the bright rays of Canadian life have permeated the cloudy atmosphere in which these people live.

These assimilationist ideas formed a major plank in Anderson’s 1929 platform. This platform was also endorsed by the Saskatchewan Ku Klux Klan, which was experiencing a measure of popularity at that time. The Klan drew its support from people of British and Scandinavian background who were concerned about the number of Slavic and French-speaking settlers “who seemed neither capable nor desirous of assimilation.” The program also drew approval from the Orange Lodge and Bishop Lloyd, the Anglican Bishop of Prince Albert who described the takeover by “dirty, ignorant, garlic-smelling, unpreferred continentals.”

Anderson denied any link with the Klan and no direct connection has ever been proven to have existed between his campaign and that of the xenophobes, but the Conservatives “directed into political channels the emotionalism which had arisen out of the social composition of the province and which had been heightened by the Klan.” Certainly in the popular mind the two were connected and in the election in June, 1929 the areas where the Klan was strongest voted Conservative and the areas with concentrations of Catholics and eastern Europeans returned Liberals. The Liberals were reduced to a minority position and three months later Anderson became premier.

Just at the time of the 1928-1929 election campaign Peter P. Verigin, the new C.C.U.B. leader, was attempting to unite all of the Doukhobor factions into the Society of Named Doukhobors. The Named Doukhobors’ acceptance of public schooling came at the same time as the Klan and the Conservatives were attacking “foreigners” and aiming to use the schools as an agent of assimilation. This resulted in a renewed determination on the part of many reactionary Community members – the Sons of Freedom – to oppose public schooling.

Opposition to Community policies was not new in Saskatchewan. Unhappy about the discrepancy between Peter V. Verigin’s life style and his teachings, the Sons of Freedom saw it their duty to lead the sect to the path of “pure” Doukhoborism. To this end they formed a reactionary core of opposition to all innovation, particularly to any government involvement or to any indication of Community acceptance of luxury. Until the 1920’s their activities consisted largely of preaching and of open attacks on Community opulence. The bulk of these Sons of Freedom had been left in Saskatchewan when the migration to British Columbia took place. Because the Saskatchewan government had taken a tolerant and non-coercive approach toward them, until 1928 they caused little difficulty except within the Community itself.

Group of young Doukhobors, Harilowka district in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, 1930. Library and Archives Canada, C-008888.

The Sons of Freedom had continued to look upon the letters written by Peter V. Verigin from his Siberian exile as the guide to their life. They soon rejected Peter P. Verigin as they had rejected his father, for failing to live up to these high standards. Many of them refused to agree to the reorganization of the C.C.U.B. or to the acceptance of government schools because they saw this as a betrayal of Doukhobor traditions. Accordingly, in June, 1928, the Saskatchewan Sons of Freedom issued an anti-school manifesto, declaring that they would boycott all public schools.

It is difficult to ascertain how effective the Sons of Freedom boycott of schools in Saskatchewan was in the winter of 1928-1929. Long winter holidays, transportation difficulties, a tolerant approach toward truancy, and control by local school boards all delayed a realization of the problems which lay in store. At first the boycott appeared to be quite ineffective and one inspector reported:

The children absented themselves for a few days and then slowly returned until at the present time I do not know of one case close to Veregin where any non-attendance exists. A few cases exist close to Arran and North-East of that village.

By fall the problem had become more serious and reports began to appear of low attendance in other Doukhobor areas. In an election year this boycott was a political embarrassment so in the spring of 1929 Freedomite children were forced to attend schools. That June, schools in Doukhobor areas were struck by arsonists.

The outbreaks in Saskatchewan appear to have been caused by Freedomite apprehensions about the wave of “anti-foreign” sentiment which swept the province during the late 1920’s and by disillusionment with Peter P. Verigin’s leadership. His acceptance of public schooling, increased enforcement of compulsory attendance laws, and the 1928-1929 election campaign convinced the Sons of Freedom that a wave of persecution similar to those they faced in Russia was about to begin. Complicating the issue were problems concerning Verigin’s personal qualities. In spite of his oratorical prowess and his business acumen, Verigin had faults which were evident to his followers as well as to other Canadians. These shortcomings led some disgusted Community members to become Independents and others to join the Sons of Freedom in an effort to purify the movement.

J T.M. Anderson’s distinctly anti-Doukhobor stance seems to have been just what Saskatchewan Freedomites had feared, a fact which initially tended to increase depredations. Between 1929 and 1931, twenty-five schools and much C.C.U.B. property was destroyed. Anderson demanded that the C.C.U.B. underwrite the cost of insurance in Doukhobor areas and threatened to follow British Columbia’s policy of charging the C.C.U.B. for the cost of all depredations unless the fires ceased. When challenged by the Named Doukhobors who maintained that one is innocent until proven guilty he retorted:

If you and your leader are prepared to acknowledge loyalty to our sovereign and country – if you both are prepared to endorse our public school system; if you are prepared to give allegiance to what the Union Jack stands for, then there is no cause for further argument or discussion.

Anderson was not convinced by Verigin’s protestations of innocence in the arson cases and announced that his government would take severe measures: “To discipline foreigners who defied the laws of Canada and the traditions of the people.”

The first move in that direction was an amendment to the School Act requiring all trustees to be able to read and write English and to subscribe to a declaration of naturalization. The federal Conservative government, in order to assist the Conservative governments of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, amended the Criminal Code to increase the penalties for public nudity. In 1933, despairing of other methods, Premier Anderson and Prime Minister R.B. Bennett made an illegal attempt to deport Verigin.

These actions on the part of the government tended to increase anti-government feeling among Doukhobors just at a time when the C.C.U.B. was expelling those who were not living up to the code of conduct of the Named Doukhobors. While at first this increased the ranks of the Sons of Freedom and increased truancy, arson and nudity in Saskatchewan, by 1934 the tide had turned.

The moderation exercised by Saskatchewan civil servants and judges seemed to placate the fears of the Sons of Freedom. The official responsible for the application of the new school laws among Community Doukhobors tended to ignore complaints about trustees not complying with the new regulations as long as they were doing their jobs. Judges in nudity trials granted short sentences to mothers to avoid child-care problems, sentenced most men to only three months and dealt out few three year sentences. Saskatchewan, from the outset, dealt only with the leaders and in this way avoided alienating and challenging large numbers of Doukhobors. The government’s concern to find and punish the guilty parties was most clearly shown in its offer of a reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of school arsonists. No attempt was made in Saskatchewan, to blame all Doukhobors for the depredations.

Since the local ratepayers, Community, Independent and non-Doukhobor alike were responsible for replacing the burned schools, the terrorists enjoyed little support from fellow Doukhobors. When the Saskatchewan Sons of Freedom were released from prison they found themselves expelled from the C.C.U.B. Lacking a rallying point they were forced either to depend on friends and relatives for support or to move to the more hospitable atmosphere of the isolated British Columbia village of Krestova where British Columbia’s Freedomites had settled. The terrorists’ depredations in Saskatchewan, therefore, decreased annually and, in 1937, the collapse of the Community brought them to an end. The presence in British Columbia, both of isolated strongholds and of the opportunity for martyrdom, may have induced Saskatchewan’s Sons of Freedom to move there. Those who remained in Saskatchewan after Anderson’s defeat in 1934 generally integrated into Saskatchewan society. The few Freedomites who remained in Saskatchewan accepted education around this time and suspicions of government diminished to the extent that during World War II no violence occurred. By the late 1940’s when British Columbia was in the throes of renewed Freedomite depredations, Saskatchewan’s Doukhobors had become integrated into all aspects of the life of the province.

Some authors have attributed part of Saskatchewan’s success to the zealot concentrations in British Columbia:

. . . religious opposition to education, the burning of schools, and nude parades, have made their appearance first in British Columbia and a milder form of sympathetic reaction occured in Saskatchewan.

This was not quite so. Until the late 1920’s the Sons of Freedom were concentrated in Saskatchewan. While school burnings did occur in British Columbia in the mid-1920’s there were no similar moves in Saskatchewan where no undue pressure was being placed on the sect. In the later outbreak of trouble, it was in Saskatchewan where the anti-foreign campaign of J.T.M. Anderson and the Ku Klux Klan were having their impact that Freedomite declarations of intention to boycott school, school burnings, and nude parades first took place. These outbreaks between 1929-32 were just as extensive as those in British Columbia.

Saskatchewan’s success in obtaining the cooperation of the Doukhobors in the field of schooling seems to have been due to a number of factors, the most important of which was the tolerant approach of the provincial government. In times of stress the provincial government bowed to public pressure and passed stringent laws but the civil servants and judges in Saskatchewan would appear to have used considerable discretion in their execution and enforcement. The only major exception to this tolerant approach by the government was during the period of Anderson’s government but even his hard-line policies were tempered by the open-minded implementation by local officials and judges.

Probably Saskatchewan, with its large ethnic blocks developed a degree of tolerance that would not have developed in areas with a largely homogeneous population. This tolerance prompted a “go slow” approach which succeeded to a much greater degree than any attempted coercion would have. After the defeat of Anderson’s government and the Liberal return to power, Doukhobor opposition to public schooling largely disappeared.

Undoubtedly the settlement pattern in Saskatchewan also increased the rate of acculturation and integration. The residence requirement of the homestead laws broke down the unity of the Independents in the early years of settlement, especially in Saskatchewan Colony where Doukhobors did not form a solid bloc. The introduction of modern agricultural machinery, by reducing the manpower needed on the farms, tended to have the same effect on the Community members in the 1920’s and 1930’s, a process which was increased by the sale of Community lands to individuals.

Saskatchewan’s faith in the wisdom and ability of local people to handle their own problems was another major factor in its success. Allowing local school boards to deal with the problems of truancy and arson broke down Doukhobor solidarity. Having Independents and Community members deal with the recalcitrant zealots avoided the confrontation with outside government officials which would have served only to increase tension.

important aspect of Saskatchewan government policy which encouraged Doukhobor acceptance of schooling was the policy dealing with individuals as such, not as groups. Independents, who were citizens, were granted full rights of citizenship. Terrorists and lawbreakers were searched out as individuals and punished for their offences and, while the provincial or local government often had to bear the brunt of the cost of their actions, no one except the lawbreaker was held responsible. This policy created confidence in government and encouraged Doukhobor involvement with, and commitment to, such institutions as the public school.

Novo-Spasskoye – A Doukhobor Village

by Sonya Stepankin

The Doukhobor village of Novo-Spasskoye (later renamed Kalmakovo) was established in 1899 in the Good Spirit Lake district of Saskatchewan. For the next fourteen years, it was home to over thirty Doukhobor immigrant families. The following essay by Sonya Stepankin is reproduced from Essays on Pioneer Days in Saskatchewan (Regina: Women’s Canadian Club, 1927). Written from a Doukhobor women’s perspective, it portrays life in one Doukhobor village, from the early struggle for survival, through to the difficult, often painful, choices that led to its eventual abandonment.

From the southern slopes of the Caucasus they came – a band of exiles for conscience’ sake – seeking freedom to follow the tenets of their simple faith without fear of persecution. 

Their forefathers, imbued with an appreciation of that evasive something called “Spiritual Life” had become known as Doukhobors (signifying “Spirit Wrestlers”) and, staunch in their belief that an implicit obedience to the command, “Thou shalt not Kill” was demanded of them, had suffered exile, and torture, and death, and banishment to the living death of Siberia. They had been driven from their homes in a fertile region of the valley of the (Molochnaya) and had been herded into mountain villages already occupied by Tartar subjects of the Tsar.

These Tartars, by robbery and murder, had reduced life to one continuous fear, and to this, the Government added the tyranny of the Cossacks and the knout. Such were their miseries, and so wretched was their condition, that the sun soaked mountain valleys became to them, all that is conveyed in that dread name, Siberia. So much so, that they called the place of their exile “New Siberia”.

Generations of Doukhobors had endured this persecution for conscience sake, before their unhappy plight was discovered by an English Quaker named John Bellows. He laid the facts of their case before the Society of Friends (Quakers), whose hearts warmed with ready sympathy for their fellow Christians in distress. The Friends felt it incumbent to strive for some measure of relief for the Doukhobors, and by their efforts Count Tolstoy was interested. 

Being exceedingly sympathetic to the Doukhobors’ pacifist attitude towards war, the Count used his influence at court, and eventually through intercession with the Tsar, release, in the shape of permission to migrate en masse, was granted. 

The English Society of Friends raised the funds necessary for transportation to Canada, and early in 1898, (four) shiploads left Batum on the Black Sea for Halifax.

The first ship to set sail called at the island of Cyprus for the purpose of breaking the monotony of the long voyage, and giving he immigrants an opportunity to rest. These good intentions, however, proved a fatal mistake, for fever ravaged the company and many dead were left behind.

The other (three) ships sailed direct to Halifax, where approximately seven thousand Doukhobors disembarked, being met by representatives of the American Society of Friends, who accompanied them to their destination. The American Quakers had undertaken the expense of the land journey and they also presented to the older people, especially those in poor health, a sum of money averaging about five dollars each.

The land assigned them by the Canadian Government was in the Northwest Territories, the nearest railway point being Yorkton, where they arrived in May (1899). The blocks allotted to them lay on both sides of what is now the Canadian National railway track, between the present towns of Veregin and Buchanan, and from Yorkton the track began.

Doukhobor village, circa 1901.

Accustomed to living in village groups, going back and forth to their field work, the Doukhobors had no conception of homestead life, and expected to continue their village system, therefor the families formerly occupying the same village in the Caucasus formed themselves into groups to establish new villages.

Striking off to the north and west, following a trail for fifty miles, one group reached the head of Devil’s Lake, and the abundance of wood, water and fish prompted them to search for a clearing in which to locate their village. The site they chose was a stretch of trail a mile further north, and they named the spot Novo-Spasskoye after the village (Spasovka) they had left – home – in spite of all its distresses.

And now, the Land of Promise a reality, and the wearisome journey accomplished, they assembled to offer fervent thanks for mercies vouchsafed. But mingled with the praise was a prayer, an unquashed cry from wives and mothers for protection for the men whose hardest task was upon them. For upon the men and youths devolved the necessity of facing this new, strange world to provide the means of existence; living and working among people whose language was incomprehensible and whose food was revolting, for, manifestly, a scrupulous fulfilment of the Divine command, “Thou shalt not Kill” prohibited the eating of flesh.

Back to the train at Yorkton turned the men, and the desolate women watching them down the trail, cried aloud in their anguish. But the poignant note of terror, characteristic of the parting of other days, was lacking; for then, men had been trampled under Cossack hoofs, flogged by the knout or driven to the living death of Siberia. And the old people, pathetic in their homeless plight, drew comfort from the thought that such scenes could never be repeated upon their children’s children, to save whom they had uprooted themselves, leaving the graves of their dead, and braving the unknown in their old age.

However, tears were futile, work was pressing. Shelter was imperative; wells must be dug; ground broken; and the women, with the men too old for work among strangers, turned to their immediate problem. To a people with babies, the ailing, and the aged among their number, and lacking any vestige of shelter, the speediest means of protection from the elements was their natural choice, and they dug caves in the earth, supporting where necessary with logs; and branches, grass and soil provided roofing material.

Tools were scarce, and in the open space among the poplars, the women used every means necessity could devise to break the ground to receive the precious seed that represented their supply of vegetables for the year. Some woman’s foresight had prompted the bringing of seed of the stinging nettle, a weed whose rapid growth would supply early greens for vegetable soup, which formed their principal dish.

Both soil and tools had been provided by the Society of Friends, but inevitably there was some shortage when divided among seven thousand. In spite of the inadequacy of tools, shelters for approximately three hundred persons were achieved on the village site. This lay paralleled a stretch of trail connecting two ranch houses. To the ranchers, the advent of the settlers spelt loss of livelihood, but they (the Doukhobors), innocent of wrongdoing, strayed on the ranchers’ land cutting logs, and when ordered off, laboriously tried to explain that they had been given to understand it was a free country, therefor, the trees were God’s trees and they could claim a right to them. Despairing of making them realize his ownership, the rancher fired a charge of bird shot among them, and the pierced ear lobe of one of them always proved that fact to possible skeptics.

Ruined as their business was, the ranchers, be it said to their honour, befriended the settlers, who thankfully undertook the care of a cow and a calf in exchange for the milk, and were grateful for permission to strip the potato vines, and the rhubarb, of their leaves for use in soup.

Flour, bedding, clothing, was supplied by the unfailing Friends, whose interest, augmented by the Press publicity of the religious migration, aroused widespread sympathy, and considerably increased the relief fund organized by the Friends in aid of the seven thousand souls, inexperienced in the rigours of a northern winter. In addition, there was a safe supply of fish in the lake, and an abundance of wild fruit, so that in their eager return in the fall, the men found much cause for thankfulness. There were shelters; there was food, and several unexpected possessions from the barrels packed by the Friends.

Of all this the men knew nothing, reading and writing being a rare accomplishment among them. This lack of direct and easy communication made the separation a great ordeal, causing a total cessation of family life; consequently the homecoming was fraught with far deeper significance than the term commonly implies. Each side lived over again the days since the hour of parting. Nearly every day had brought some new experience, and tears alternated with laughter as they recounted in detail, failure and success, hardship and compensation, sorrow and joy.

Enchanting to the women was the men’s’ account of the people they had lived among; the strangeness of their language, their food, their clothing, and most of all, their homes, filled with superfluous furniture. How spendthrift these people seemed, needlessly piling up the expense of living, and careless of the life to come!

This period of family life was very precious; like a jewel set between the blank of separation behind, and the threat of it before them. it made the oncoming spring season of lamentation because once again, the “little death” was upon them. A thousand miles they (the men) went to work, tramping the trail to Yorkton on the first lap of their journey, via Winnipeg, to Medicine Hat. Here they worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway, striving to accumulate sufficient to make better provision for the next winter, in addition to supplying the immediate need for various equipment to improve the primitive living quarters of their families.

Doukhobor women pulling plow, circa 1901.

Appalled by the intensity of the cold they had for the first time experienced, the villagers applied themselves to the building and plastering of log houses that would defy the frost, and some semblance of a village rose on each side of the trail. Lumber floors were a luxury, few, if any, possessed, but the hard tramped earth served the purpose, and spared the lumber for furniture fashioned by the men. Work on the land speeded up, for they had been the happy possessors of a plough. The fact that oxen and horses were both a minus quantity did not daunt them, for the women roped themselves together and cheerfully supplied the power, singing their beloved folk songs as they turned the furrows.

Having rescued their fellow Christians from persecution, the Quakers had no intention of leaving them to work unaided, their own salvation. Besides material help, they were anxious to pass on the benefits of their own experience. To this end they built schools and sent teachers from England and Philadelphia. The Friends themselves had evolved a very clear idea of the value of education, but their magnificent offer was not generally appreciated among the Doukhobors, who looked upon “book learning” as entirely superfluous, preferring their children to help in the work at home. Consequently, through lack of support the Friends’ expensive project collapsed, and realizing the futility of further effort, they quietly withdrew.

At the time of the Doukhobor exodus from Russia, their leader, Peter Verigin, was a prisoner in Siberia. Later, freedom to join his people in Canada was granted, and he assumed control of the settlements in 1902. From that time the affairs of the village were conducted along community lines. The wages of the men were pooled to form a common fund and from the fund every family drew its quota of supplies according to its number. Such foodstuffs as they could not produce, material for clothing and for bedding, footwear, and household dishes, were all distributed from the common fund, and all kept strictly down to the minimum. Machinery, cattle, and all the needs of the village as a whole were supplied out of the common fund.

Their leader (Peter “Lordly” Verigin) made his home in the largest village, which was nearly forty miles from Novo-Spasskoye. In order to have a suitable place in which to transact business, and to hold meetings on the occasion of his periodic visits, he had a spacious building (dom) erected. It was of smooth red brick manufactured in the community brickyard. It was lighted by a dozen or more fine large windows. A veranda with much fancy woodwork ran the whole length and across the front, while an ornate balcony spanned the front gable, all tastefully painted in light colours. The interior was divided into one large room for public use, and smaller rooms as living quarters for the leader and his retinue. 

Standing fairly central to the village, the building dominated the humble log dwellings of the men who, year after year, endured months of separation from their families in order to maintain the common fund; and where many a woman, lamenting, worked with a pang in her heart for her absent man.

Besides their work in the field, the women contributed a large share to the handicrafts of the community. They grew flax, and steeped and dried and dressed it, spinning a strong linen thread and weaving a linen which gave almost interminable wear. The men made the bedsteads, and the women filled the ticks and pillows with feathers (from the moulting poultry) patiently stripped off the quill. The blankets they made of fleece stretched between two covers. The fleece was sheared from the sheep by the women, who carded and spun it, knitting for the whole family, and cleverly lining the mitts and socks of the outdoor workers with fleece, rendering them so snug and warm as to defy almost any cold.

Patiently they sewed by hand every garment worn by the whole community except those of the men who went away to work. Five widths went into the making of their own dark skirts, gathered into a waist-band, over their bright blouses which buttoned up to the throat, and at the wrists. Their head shawls were worn in and out of the house, over the hair in a braid tucked under the shawl. The dresses of the girls of all ages were merely a duplicate of their mothers; and the home made suits consisted of long trousers gathered into a waist belt, over which was worn the shirt, tunic-fashion. As a change from strenuous work, and by way of decoration, they did fine drawn thread work, achieving exquisite, lacy effects.

 

Varied as were their handicrafts, they lamented the fact that their independence was not complete; shoes, for instance, had to be bought, and regretfully, they remembered the slight protection needed in their native climate; and the old people told how big a dollar was, when almost their sole needs from the store were needles and matches. Longingly they thought of the wild figs whose sweetness rivaled the honey used instead of sugar, and of the wild grapes of the mountains; and they yearned for a breath of the scented, moisture laden air of the valleys of home. But human lives were more precious than this, and, singing their folk songs, they toiled to make a home in this country of freedom.

The men, travelling, working, were learning, observing, comparing, learning the language and the law, especially as it related to homestead rights; observing the comfortable living on the farms; comparing men’s pride of ownership with their own lot. By degree, heresy crept into their thoughts and into their conversation, and the subject of separation from the community became an absorbing topic among them. Estrangement from the community at large would be an inevitable result, with possible petty persecutions, but increasing faith in their own judgement forced the conviction upon them that the wiser investment of their labour – their only capital – would be the land, and the bolder, more enterprising spirits withdrew from the community to enter upon the obligatory (homestead) residence duties.

Their example encouraged others to follow their lead, and many whose better judgement urged them to independence were restrained by their womenfolk, who feared the hazards. In vain the men protested their ability to provide but the women pleaded for the security which only community life could guarantee, and their tears and prayers prevailed for the time being. Time and again, ambitious men returned to the argument, but the women stood firm for assured provision in sickness and old age. Besides, they were bred and born, and had their being in a village, and shrank from the isolation of the homestead.

Presently, other questions turned up. They had now been in Canada between eight and nine years and the Government began to insist on naturalization. Apprehensive of their position as private citizens, many Independents were welcomed back into the fold, together with such possessions as they had managed to accumulate. When the fear of military law was removed by exemption being granted, many returned to their homesteads, so that the community system was disrupted, and the leader began negotiations for a block of land in British Columbia.

On their withdrawal from the community, the Independents were allowed the property they had taken in on their re-entry, and ruefully they contemplated their possessions, consisting of a cow and a steer, or a cow and a horse, or some equally ill assorted team, or perhaps only one animal. With their meager household goods, and, in rare cases, a piece of farm machinery, this constituted all their worldly goods; representing the sum total of all their valuable capital after ten years of working out.

Narrowly were they watched by the men restrained by their womenfolk, and by the time their leader’s plans were nearing completion, many took matters into their own hands, determined to avail themselves of their homestead rights, and their decision crystallized into action the wavering attitude of others to swell the ranks of the Independents. Those who lacked the courage to venture and were yet reluctant to relinquish their homestead rights, decided to remain in the community until time should prove the success or failure of the Independents, and they, with the many faithful adherents, moved to British Columbia in 1911 to continue the community regime; the privilege to re-enter being extended to all who had withdrawn.

Doukhobor village house, circa 1901.

The village was deserted! The spot which had been the scene of such varied activities for thirteen years was silent with the mournful stillness of abandoned homes. Forlornly employ stood the little houses, with missing windows like hollow eye sockets, the doorways gaping into vacancy, and weeds in possession of the garden patches. 

The village was dead, but the surrounding country resounded with life. Scattered spots of light from lamp lit cottage windows broke the darkness of the bush, like beacons signalling a challenge to nature’s undisputed sway, and children’s’ voices swell and shrill, dispelled the age long silence. The sight and sound of labour was succeeded by blooming gardens and plots of ripening grain.

But there were tears! Behind many lighted window a woman sobbed out her loneliness, wearying of the monotony, longing for the humanity of the village, with its impact of spirit upon spirit, its neighbourliness, its bickering! Hearts were wrung by the severance of close family ties; mothers and daughters were in, or out, of the community according to the decision of their menfolk, and no letters could be exchanged to ease the heartache, nor written to unburden the mind; the mountains were between, and they lacked the ability to bridge them with the written word.

Work was their only respite, and side by side with the men they subdued the forest and brought the wild land to subjection. Early and late they toiled, sustained by the thought of ultimate ownership, stimulated by the fact that every hand’s turn was to their benefit. And between whiles, they reared their children and tended young stock and poultry. They grew tomatoes and cucumbers in quantities to supply their table the year round, in addition to the common vegetables, so that their borshch was plentiful and delicious. This vegetable soup, taking the place of meat, is made as follows: While potatoes are boiling, cabbage is shredded, onion chopped, and both fried in butter; tomatoes are added, or it is varied with different vegetables. The potatoes are taken from their water and crushed, or mashed; they are returned to the water, the fried vegetables with their generous amount of butter, are added, and the whole is sharpened with vinegar. The red tomato, green cabbage and golden butter present an appetizing appearance, and the sharp tang of the vinegar further whets the appetite. A bowl of borshch with a thick slice of bread forms a substantial meal.

They baked and churned, and washed and cleaned, and on Saturdays prepared the steam bath, so that the whole family should greet the Sabbath day with scrupulous personal cleanliness. They plastered the buildings and sheared the sheep and in winter, they spun, and knitted, and sewed, filling bed ticks and pillows with feathers, and comforters with fleece, while some of their menfolk turned to good account the troublesome bush, hauling stove wood and willow fence pickets to Yorkton, while others fished through the ice on the lake.

Their labours were rewarded, and the second ten years produced a very different statement of effects from that of the first ten. Almost without exception an additional quarter section, or more, had been bought adjoining the original homestead, whereon had been erected a frame house and good buildings, which always included a bath-house, and in most cases, a garage.

The telephone in every house made the women forget the meaning of loneliness, and the automobile had robbed the homestead of its isolation. The fine schoolhouse had rendered communication with distant relations a common occurrence, for the children wrote their parents’ letters in English, receiving answers from far-away cousins in the same tongue.

Of all the progress that ten years had brought, these schoolchildren were the most vital. Canadian in speech, dress and sentiment, they bound the older generations with bonds of blood to the country of their adoption, bringing customs into the homes, welding a chain of happy associations, creating an atmosphere of home where before had been only a refuge. The children “belong”. “I was born in Saskatchewan, and I hope to live here until I die,” vied the children of the schoolhouse.

The ten years had effaced the village. A black hole yawned, or grassy mound showed the remains of the banks around the little houses, long since demolished for their logs. Beside the trail that had formed the village street, various herbs proclaimed the dormant gardens, and scattered maples revealed the love of beauty in the hearts of the exiles. The red brick meeting house had become a farm-house surrounded by its wheat fields, and from the old trail the wheat fields stretched in the characteristic sunlit spaces of Saskatchewan.

Men who called the village home in the first hard years, motor through without a regret that nothing more than a momento remains to recall the attempt at paternal autocracy.

A Doukhobor Wedding Dress

by Leslee Newman

In 1867, a wedding dress was handmade and worn in a traditional Doukhobor wedding ceremony in the Caucasus, Russia.  Thereafter, it was carefully preserved and passed down through the generations.  Today, over one hundred and forty years later, this historic garment is part of the extensive collection of Doukhobor artifacts held at the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.  The following commentary, reproduced by permission from the Saskatoon Sun, April 25, 1999, outlines the story of the dress from its origins to present.

Within sight of Mount Ararat, which according to the Bible was the resting place of Noah’s ark, Onya Kabaroff and Fedyor Perehudoff pledged their union. The young Doukhobor couple began their life together in 1867. Half a world away in North America, four provinces joined to form a new country, Canada. Onya (Anna) and Fedyor (Fred) could not have known that they would someday leave their small village in the Russian province of Georgia to make this new country their home.

Anna’s mother began to prepare for her daughter’s wedding long before the special day. She spun flax into thread, wove the thread into cloth, sewed the cloth into a full length dress. The dress has long sleeves, with gathering so fine at the wrists and neck, and embroidery so delicate, that it challenges you to imagine producing such work by the light of a flickering flame. A hand-woven geometric-patterned band decorates the hemline.

The blue woollen apron also was made from hand-woven cloth. After washing and carding, the wool was spun, then woven into a fine cloth. The apron was gathered at the waist. The hem was decorated with a colourful woven band and hand-knit lace.

Dress worn by Onya Kabaroff on her wedding to Fedya Perehudoff in 1867 in Russia.

The short, padded vest was hand-sewn from cotton. Since cotton was not a cloth that could be produced at home, it was likely purchased on a rare trip to a large trading centre. All items must have been lovingly prepared by Anna’s mother for her daughter’s hope chest.

Thirty-two years after their marriage, Anna and Fred made the heart-wrenching choice to leave their home and travel with 7,500 others of Doukhobor faith to Canada. Leo Tolstoy, the well-known Russian writer, sponsored Doukhobor immigration to what is now Saskatchewan, financing the trip with proceeds from his book Resurrection. The Quakers, another pacifist group, also came to their aid.

Anna’s wedding dress was packed and made the long journey from Russia to the tiny village of Ospennia, 15 kilometres southeast of Blaine Lake in what was then, Canada’s North West Territories.

It is likely that Anna wore her dress on Sundays and special days like the annual June 29th commemoration of the Burning of Arms. On that day, a large tent was set up to house the people who gathered for prayers, songs and ceremony.

Firm in their belief in the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” Doukhobors rejected the call to serve in the Russian military. On June 29, 1895 they collected their weapons and burned them. Thousands were punished with death or exile. Doukhobors have commemorated June 29th faithfully since that time.

On Anna’s death in the 1930s, the dress was handed down to her daughter, Dasha (Dora) Postnikoff. When Dora died, Anna’s dress went to Dora’s daughter Agatha. It was donated to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum by Anna’s granddaughter, Agatha Stupnikoff, on behalf of the Postnikoff family.

“The people then tried very hard to accept the Canadian way of life, so they switched over to Canadian dress quite early. Anna’s dress came out only on special occasions,” recalled Agatha.

“Doukhobour people come from all walks of life. It isn’t a nationality, it’s a belief,” Agatha explained as she mused about the exodus from Russia her grandparents joined in 1899. They were not young people, both in their fifties when they came to Canada, with the strength of their belief sustaining them through hardship.

Agatha Stupnikoff’s sensitivity to her family’s story and Doukhobor history was shared by her husband Sam. Motivated by their desire to preserve these cherished garments, they consulted family members, then offered the wedding outfit to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.

Ruth Bitner, WDM Collections Curator, accepted the donation with gratitude, stating “Despite the fact that people from so many different cultures made Saskatchewan their homes, the WDM has few examples of traditional clothing. Costumes like this are a tangible reminder of personal journeys, leaving the familiar culture of the homeland for an unknown future in faraway Saskatchewan.”

For More Information

The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum (WDM) is the museum of social and economic history for the Province of Saskatchewan. It is a network of four exhibit branches in the cities of Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton. For more information about the WDM, its programs, events, exhibits, and the many Doukhobor artifacts in its holdings, visit the WDM web site at: www.wdm.ca.

A Doukhobor Romance

Victoria Daily Colonist & Lima Times Democrat

“All the world loves a lover” – and his story. What follows is the story of Arthur Fortesque, a well-born, Oxford-bred Englishman and nephew of the Chief Steward of the Duke of Portland, who fell in love with Olga Varinhoff, a Doukhobor maiden in Canada in 1901. Renouncing caste, inheritance and English tradition, he married her and adopted her religion, customs and way of life. This story is a composite of two articles: a feature in the Victoria Daily Colonist published October 22, 1902, and a Lima Times Democrat feature published March 27, 1909. Although largely forgotten today, it is surely one of the most remarkable romances in Canadian and Doukhobor history. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The birth a few days ago [in March 1909] in a little town in the far Canadian Northwest of a baby girl recalls to the few who knew of the incident one of the most remarkable romances in history – the romance of Arthur Fortesque, a nephew of the Chief Steward of the Duke of Portland, and Olga Varinhoff, a Doukhobor maiden, then less than 20 years of age.

The story was suppressed carefully at the time, and the passing of a few years obliterated the memory of it among those friends of the young nobleman who were aware of it, for naturally it was the most pronounced kind of a mesalliance [Victorian term for a marriage with a person of inferior social position].

Oxford Roots

Fortesque, handsome and dashing, a recent graduate from Oxford University, where he took an honor course, disagreed with his family, and went to the Canadian West as a remittance man [Victorian term for an Englishman living abroad on funds remitted from his family in England, usually to ensure that he would not return home and become a source of embarrassment]. He was daring and devil-may-care by nature, and unless he kept it a secret carefully hidden, he was heart whole and fancy free. He reached Winnipeg when that city was just beginning to boom, and for some time, he hung around the western town, making friends among the restless western souls like himself who thronged the place. At Oxford, Fortesque had been a figure in athletics and at one time, he was prominently identified with rowing and aquatics. His name was familiar to many of the Englishmen he met in Winnipeg during his first few weeks there and he became popular with them. However, the wanderlust within him conquered his ambition to become a Winnipeg business man and he drifted south to Minneapolis, Minnesota across the line.

Life in Minneapolis

Fortesque lived in Minneapolis for two years, arriving there in 1899. He became known as a landscape painter of some distinction, but being perennially hard up when trying to subsist on money he received from his artistic endeavors, he succumbed to the persuasion of Fred W. Gretton, now senior member of the sign-painting combination of Fortier-Gretton on 213 Hennepin avenue, and began decorating windows for people who desired to secure stained glass effects without the expense of stain.

At this sort of enterprise Fortesque, who was then a fashionably-clad and handsome youth of 25, made good wages and supplemented his remittance from England of $100 a month.

In 1901, he refused to receive longer any financial aid from his uncle in England, who is Chief Steward of the estate of the Duke of Portland, and decided to make his own way in the world. This decision on the part of Fortesque appears to have been due to a religious conviction. Early in his Minneapolis career he became interested in Christian Science, and he continually preached the doctrine of Mrs. [Mary Baker] Eddy’s cult during his residence with Gretton, who regarded the views he expressed as visionary in the extreme and his declination of an income from his father’s estate as nothing short of suicidal.

It was at this time that the idea of visiting the Doukhobor colony in Western Canada formed in Fortesque’s mind. Sociology had been a hobby with him, and as the idea took form, he determined to get some money together and make a study of the customs and religion of the strange community of “Russian Quakers” to the north.

Fortesque first heard of the Doukhobors when he reached the ancient Canadian city of Quebec, and the story had been of deep interest to him. These people, he was told, had left their own homes in Russia because of their strange religious beliefs. The Russian government had hounded them until their spirit was bowed and broken. They would not fight because of their creed, and they had sought Canada, as the Puritans sought America in the pursuit of happiness and religious liberty. The Canadian government had given them grants of land, in the far West, and there they were living as communalists, apart from the world, industrious, peaceful, happy.

The tale appealed to Fortesque as little more than mythient, but in the West he heard more of this strange people and read a great deal about them, and the longing to understand them, to know their creed, ethics and simplicity of life, possessed him relentlessly. To this end, Fortesque left Minneapolis for Assiniboia [district], ostensibly for the reason that he felt more at home under the British flag.

Visit to Doukhobor Colony

It was midsummer 1901 when Fortesque reached the first of the Doukhobor colonies on the Saskatchewan River. He had bought a horse and outfit and he intended to go from colony to colony making friends with the dim notion of eventually publishing an account of his life among the Canadian Doukhobors. Behind this ambition, preserved for the future, was his expectation that he would one day return to England and claim his own among his own people. But here fate intervened.

Fortesque was “hiking” along a dusty trail in the Doukhobor country one hot afternoon when he came in sight of a spectacle that caused him to pull up short in bewilderment. Some distance to one side of the track he was following, he made out a band of women dressed in the gorgeous attire of the Dukhobortsy, laboriously hauling a plow, 16 to a yoke. Behind them, guiding the handles of the implement, trudged a broad-shouldered Doukhobor man.

The sight angered the young nobleman, and spurring his horse, he dashed across to a point where the human drudges must pass. Slowly and toilsomely, they came on, the women chanting in a minor key as they tugged at the ropes. Then they were abreast of him, and from the moment his eyes first rested on the sweet face of one of the women, a mere girl in her teens, Fortesque forgot his anger. The girl gazed at him shyly as she passed, and Fortesque thought hers the sweetest face he had ever seen.

The incident passed from the young man’s mind at the time, and he continued his journey to the outlying colonies, spending considerable time with each one. He was struck by their evident earnestness and sincerity in renunciation of the world’s vanities.

Then, one night, in a little cabin in one of the furthest colonies, when he was fighting off the lonesomeness that possessed him and the physical weariness, the face of the plow girl flashed into his memory. Responsive to the promptings of his impulsive nature, Fortesque started next morning for the colony where he had seen the girl, determined to seek her out and dispel the strange fancy that had taken hold of him by hearing her talk and by observing the crudities [unrefined nature] he knew she must possess.

The search for the girl presented more difficulties than the Englishman anticipated, and the longer he hunted, the stronger became the desire to see the girl’s face again. At last, by accident, he saw her among a group of women coming from a little church [prayer home]. Through friendship with the leaders of the colony, Fortesque was presented to the girl. Her name, he learned, was Olga Varinhoff.

Fortesque liked the name. The girl met him shyly but without affection, for simplicity was a part of her nature. Her clothes were outlandish, Fortesque admitted to himself, but despite his attempts to rid himself of the charm this peasant girl had for him, the young nobleman found her surprisingly sweet and womanly. She was different from any woman he had ever met.

Day after day, he spent more and more time with her, accompanying her on her journeys to and from work, for the girl would not consent to shirk her duties in the community.

In the end, Fortesque sank his pride and acknowledged to himself that he loved Olga Varinhoff, Doukhobor maiden. With the admission came a great happiness for he found that the girl cared for him, and disregarding British convention and Doukhobor custom, he took the little woman in his arms and kissed her after the manner of the Anglo-Saxon.

Decision to Join Colony

Fortesque, following this, made arrangements to become a member of the colony. He sent no word to his people. He decided his future in a moment, relinquishing his chance for fortune and title in his love for the peasant girl. He renounced the faith of his father and swapped the Church of England for the sect of the Doukhobors.

Some of his friends in the West heard of it and did their best to dissuade him. They warned him that his fancy for the girl would soon fade. But Fortesque turned his back on all objections and convincing the leaders of the colony that he was in earnest, he was received with the customary ceremonies into the community of the Dukhobortsy.

Soon afterwards, he and Olga Varinhoff were married, and in accordance with their rules of communal life, his brothers and sisters helped him and his bride to build a home. Fortesque adopted, in part, the Doukhobor dress and entered into the fullest extent into the life of the strange people with whom he had thrown in his lot, becoming by adoption a ‘Doukhobor of the Doukhobors’ and a vegetarian of pronounced views.

Fortesque’s action cut him off forever from his friends in England. His family, learning of his marriage sometime after it took place, disinherited him and forgot his existence.

Return to Minneapolis

It was back in Minneapolis that Fortesque’s extraordinary story was exposed to curiosity-mongers. He returned there from Assiniboia in October 1902, nine months after he left. He was bare-footed, his hair was 18 inches long, of the silken blond variety, and he refused to answer any questions that seemed to him unworthy of the mental effort necessitated in ordinary conversation.

“I have nothing at all to say about my change of faith,” said Fortesque when asked by a Minneapolis reporter. “I did not [just] become a Doukhobor because my wife is of that faith. I joined the band because I believe they are right, and there is excuse for my change of heart in the beliefs of other men, much more distinguished than I am. Tolstoi believes the Doukhobors are right, and so do scores of men in England quite as brilliant thinkers as he is. The trouble with them all is that they have not the courage of their convictions. I have nothing but my convictions to bother me. I would not be rich if I could be so now by the mere turning of my hand. I will never wear shoes again so long as I may live – that is, if they are made of leather. I may wear felt shoes in the winter, and I might even be persuaded to wear canvas shoes with rubber soles in the summer. I don’t want to go into all the ramifications of the Doukhobor belief. It would take too long, and might excite ridicule from unthinking people.”

But the interesting feature of this episode was that Fortesque was on his way to England, where he proposed to influence the British government, through influential relatives, to set apart a territory in South Africa to which the Doukhobors may remove from Assiniboia and be unhampered in their religious faith by the interference of government.

“I do not say what my intentions are, said Fortesque, “but there is certainly no reason why a people should not be permitted to do what it pleases with its own. I think our turning of our cattle into the hills was our own private business. We decided that it was wrong to work cattle. The government authorities have rounded the cattle up and sold them, but that, while unfortunate, is not our fault. I believe that the British government, which is able to get along with all sorts of Mohammedan sects in India and evade friction, ought to be able to find a corner in its broad dominions for so inoffensive a body as the Doukhobors, and I am going to find out whether or not this is so.”

Fortesque then left for Chicago on the Milwaukee road. When asked whether he intended to travel bare-footed, he curtly informed the newspaper man that it was none of his business, and refused to discuss any phase of his mission thereafter, the outcome of which is unknown.

Present Life

At present [in March 1909], by reason of his education, Fortesque has become one of the leaders of the colony. He and his wife live peacefully and apparently happily in Assiniboia district. They resent intrusion on the part of strangers and seem content to let the outside world do what it will. They have two children now, one but recently born.

Afterword

The story of the Englishman Arthur Fortesque and the Doukhobor maiden Olga Varinhoff has all the makings of a best-selling novel or Hollywood movie: romance, drama and adventure, with a dash of scandal and controversy tossed in for good measure. Not surprisingly, after the story first broke in October 1902, it was carried by dozens of newspapers throughout the Canadian and American West and caused quite a stir. It must be recalled that in the Victorian era, social class barriers were rigid and stratified; much more so than they are today.

According to the story, Fortesque (spelled Fortescue in some accounts), well-born and Oxford-bred, left England over a family disagreement in the late 1890’s. He sailed to Canada, arriving via Quebec City, and stayed briefly in Winnipeg, Manitoba before departing stateside for Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1899. There he lived and worked for two years as a landscape and window painter. During this time, he drew a monthly remittance from his uncle, the Chief Steward of the Duke of Portland (in some accounts his uncle is identified as the Duke of Portland). In mid-1901, the 25-year old Fortesque travelled to the Saskatchewan and Assiniboia districts of the Northwest Territories to visit the Doukhobor colonies. There, he met and fell in love with a Doukhobor maiden, Olga Varinhoff (possibly a misspelling of Varankoff, Varabioff, Vanin or Verigin), then less than 20 years of age. Renouncing his upper-crust English birthright, he married her and adopted the Doukhobor religion, customs and way of life. Thereafter, Fortesque fell in among the Doukhobor zealots who, in late 1901, released their horses and cattle into the wild and refused to use animal products. It was at the height of this hysteria that Fortesque returned to Minneapolis in late 1902, with bare feet and long hair, en route to Chicago. He was ostensibly travelling to England to persuade the British Government, through his influential relatives, to set apart land in South Africa for the Doukhobor zealots to live according to their beliefs. It is not known whether Fortesque carried out his mission; in any case, the Doukhobor zealots did not relocate to South Africa or elsewhere abroad. What is known is that by 1909, Fortesque was still living among the Doukhobors of the Assiniboia district (probably in the North or South Colony) with his wife and two children, where he attained a measure of local leadership on account of his education.    

Nothing is known about the fate of Arthur Fortesque after 1909.  A cursory search reveals no trace of him or his family among the Doukhobors in the available census and other records for the period.  His story is virtually forgotten among Doukhobors living in Canada today.  Clearly, further historical and genealogical research needs to be carried out to verify and elucidate this most interesting Doukhobor love story.

Special thanks to Corinne Postnikoff of Castlegar, British Columbia for assisting in the data input and proofing of this article.

Doukhobor Architecture: An Introduction

by F. Mark Mealing

When Russian Doukhobors emigrated to Canada, they brought ideological and folklife traditions that generated the distinctive character of their architecture.  The following article by F. Mark Mealing Ph.D., adapted and reproduced by permission from Canadian Ethnic Studies (XVI, 3, 84), describes and comments upon the five distinctive periods of architectural forms of which we have a record: Russian, Saskatchewan Community Village, British Columbia Communal Structures, Transition and Present.  The earlier forms are characterized by Plain ornamental style and communally-oriented function; the recent forms reflect, in their variety, the impact of social forces including internal division and external pressures of politics, economics and acculturation.

Introduction

The Doukhobors, a pacifist sect, arose in Russia, most likely during the Raskol or Orthodox Schism (1652). Their theology and resultant political views generated the most bitter opposition from Church and State, resulting in discrimination and often the harshest persecution through the late seventeenth, eighteenth, and portions of the nineteenth centuries. Tsar Alexander I granted a measure of peace with settlement land in the Milky Waters (Molochnye Vody) region of the Crimea in 1801; but after his death persecution was renewed and the Doukhobor communities were exiled to the Caucasus. Increased pressures, then religious revitalization, and in response punishments and abuses rationalized emigration as a tactic of social survival. This emigration was aided by Tolstoyans, Populists, and the London and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings of the Society of Friends, and brought the most devout Doukhobors to Canada, starting in 1899. The Doukhobors took up homestead land in Saskatchewan; but the majority, newly organized into a commune, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB), lost the land between 1905 and 1907, probably as a joint result of misunderstanding, some intransigence on the part of the Doukhobors, and the ethically imperfect policies of the Secretary of the Interior’s Ministry of the period. The CCUB purchased land in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia and operated there for a generation; when to its unremarkable financial and administrative weaknesses were added the hostility of the provincial government and the upheaval of the 1929 Depression, the communal enterprise collapsed. For the next twenty years, its one-time members and the dissident Sons of Freedom sub-sect worked slowly and sometimes violently through a period of social and economic disaster. In the early 1960s, individuals began to repurchase the land on which they had been squatting; since this repurchase, a modest social flowering has occurred and the use by the Sons of Freedom of techniques of violent political action has been diminished.

Doukhobors have borne a great deal of pressure and dislocation over the life of their society so far; one impact of these forces has been the selection of plain functions for architecture. Consider the implications of these excerpts “From the General Principles of the CCUB,” dating from the 1890s in Russia:

9. The chief base of the life of man – thought, reason serves as (that). For material food this serves: air, water, fruits and vegetables.

10. It is held that the life of mankind is communal, upheld through the strength of moral law, for which (this) rule serves: “Whatever I do not want for myself, that I should not wish for others.”

Plain and communal living styles – analogous to Western experiments, including those of Anabaptist sectarians – are encapsulated here. The results for Architecture were a marked antipathy to the usual Russian peasant tradition of richly applied ornament, and a primarily communal function for buildings until the collapse of the CCUB and the hegemony of Western economic patterns. Applied ornament is replaced by a severe but evident concern with simple line, texture and colour; communal usage is evidenced in massive industrial installations and in multiple-family dwellings of replicated pattern.

Coincidences of leadership, technological change and history made the CCUB experiment in Canada perhaps the most highly developed and integrated experiment the Doukhobors have achieved to date. The dissident Sons of Freedom early adopted a very modest approach to housing, building small cabins, often of salvage materials (and, in the period 1930-1965, often burned by their owners or others); their zealous anti-materialist views were often visited upon other Doukhobors by some members. A third discrete grouping, the Independents, left the commune during the Homestead crisis in Saskatchewan, and rapidly integrated into Western lifestyle, adopting the architecture of their neighbours.

This brief survey of Doukhobor structures is limited by time and opportunity to five major phases: (1) Russian Villages; (2) CCUB Community Villages of Saskatchewan; (3) CCUB installations in British Columbia (which set the style for those developed also in Saskatchewan and Alberta); (4) buildings of the Collapse period; (5) Present styles.

Architectural Periods

a. Russia

Little data survive from the early period in Russia; most significant is the single illustration, from Baron von Haxthausen’s “Studien…” depicting Terpenie, the village of the leader Savely Kapustin, after 1818 [Fig. 1].

Figure 1. Sketch of Terpeniye village, Tavria province, Russia by Baron Von Haxthausen, 1843. Note the row of dwellings and outbuildings along wide central street. Note Sirotsky Dom (Orphans Home) in background.

The administrative site is enclosed in the background. The middle-distance four-roomed ‘Guesthouse’ and the second-story porch adorning the “Village House” (r. foreground) are elements that appear again in recent Canadian structures. No one has been able to explain adequately to me the Three Babas, the wooden pillars in the centre of the administrative section.

Figure 2. Sketch of Lukeria’s Besedka (Summer Pavilion) by H. F.B. Lynch.

A few photographs survive of buildings in the Caucasus region, including long, low homes and one rather ornate residence for the leader Lukeria Kalmikova [Fig. 2].

b. Saskatchewan Community Villages

The CCUB villages in Saskatchewan were laid out according to a standard plan. Forty homes, each with its own garden lot and dairy barn, were set astride a wide avenue and divided by a short street, terminated by community buildings (warehouses, bathhouse, etc.) at one end and a small park at the other. A settled village, Khristianovka [Fig. 3], shows growing saplings on the avenue, developed gardens (sunflowers grown for ornament and seed in yard at right), and a neighbourly grouping in the street.

Figure 3. Khristianovka Village, Saskatchewan, circa 1903. British Columbia Archives, Tarasoff Collection.

Figure 4. Women and children placing turf on Doukhobor house at Petrovka, Saskatchewan. British Columbia Archives E-09610.

At least three distinctive house types were employed. The single house in Petrovka [Fig. 4] with its perimeter porch and full loft, accommodates probably two brothers and their families. Construction is of mud-plaster, probably over small logs, with a thatched roof. A house in Veregin [Fig. 5] varies in its low, flat-ridged sod roof supported by purlins and supplemented by a side-length pent-roof; its garden is fenced by a hedge. Another house from Verigin [Fig. 6] appears essentially identical with the previous example, but a taller thatched roof is present, as is a small rack with “found” ornate tree limb uprights.

Figure 5. House, Veregin, Saskatchewan, circa 1911. Library and Archives Canada C-057053.

Figure 6. Houses, Veregin, Saskatchewan, circa 1903. Library and Archives Canada A-019333. 

After the bulk of the CCUB members moved to British Columbia in 1908-1912, most of the villages fell rapidly into disuse and dilapidation, and today only a few isolated ruins remain, although a handful of buildings are under restoration at Verigin, Sask. In their time, these villages represented the transplantation of a traditional plan that reflected certain Russian cultural traits: use of wood and mud-plaster in construction, the rectilinear organization of buildings across a central avenue (appropriate to a structured commune), and a general ideal of equality.

c. The CCUB in British Columbia

When the CCUB reestablished itself in the far West, in the isolated interior of British Columbia, its structures were more insular, more tightly organized, and innovative in physical design. The range of structures expanded, extending between small outbuildings to large industrial complexes. Families were accommodated in private dormitories, but ate, worked and worshipped together in standardized village groupings. Many persons, but not all, laboured in community enterprises, and at certain dates, all who could gathered for major festival celebrations. Thus there was a temporal and spatial flow between village and complex. Planning extended to the largest blocks of land, upon which villages were located on carefully related sites.

1. The Community Village

Between 1908 and 1912, some 5,550 souls were settled in perhaps 90 villages in nine major regional areas (Brilliant, Ootischenie, Champion Creek, Pass Creek, Shoreacres, Glade, Krestova, and three sections of Grand Forks). Their unique design has been ascribed to Peter V. Verigin, the spiritual leader of the period; it has been suggested elsewhere that the Big House design resembles Russian Mennonite examples, which may be true of facade but is in no way true of the interior plan. The typical village was composed of two “Big Houses’, their floor plans mirror-imaged, backed by a U-shaped Annex or “Apartment,” and the placement of these units produced a quiet, enfolding courtyard. Where transportation was direct, Big Houses were clad in community-manufactured brick, otherwise in unpainted clapboard siding. Behind the Annex was located a small Barn for horse and dairy cow and, further yet, a large laundry/banya (steam-bathhouse). Hotbeds, herbs, and potherbs were placed immediately south or west of each Village, which further sat upon about 100 acres of land and was responsible for agricultural production therefrom. The Big House included on the main floor an Assembly room in the front, used for worship; an L-shaped kitchen/refectory in the rear; and eight private family dormitories on the next floor, typically occupied by two single persons of the same sex or a young married couple. Elders and larger married families occupied the larger individual Annex rooms.

Figure 7. Community Village at Brilliant, British Columbia, 1973.  Courtyard view shows Annex L, Big House L.  British Columbia Archives  I-06198. 

Oral sources state that after an initial village was constructed above Brilliant, measurements were simply copied manually for all subsequent villages, those in Grand Forks tending to be only two to three inches larger overall. Deviance from the standard plan is extremely rare; the number of ornamental roof ventilation dormers varies from 0 to 4; one village in Shoreacres has the porch extended on two sides and a lean-to rear room added; a village at Brilliant possessed a sunken lower story used for storage, shoemaking and basketry; another in Grand Forks had a large fruit storage warehouse on site. Those few villages that survived the ideological troubles of the 1940s and early 1950s, intervening vandalism and neglect, and the acculturated demolition and construction of the past twenty years, are generally occupied by single families [Fig. 7.]. While the buildings are plain in design, an austere decoration and proportion saves them from aesthetic mediocrity. The most conspicuous decorative elements are the gross placement of the buildings in the landscape, typically on the rims of glacial benches facing adjacent rivers or creeks; and minor finish details, including nonfunctional curved archways, uniform interior paint schemes (colours of choice being chocolate brown, dark green, ochre red and middle blue on woodwork, and whitewash tinted with laundry blueing), and handcrafted furnishings.

2. Institutional Structures of the CCUB

Figure 8. Industrial Centre, Brilliant, British Columbia, 1924. British Columbia Archives  A-08913. 

The major industrial and administrative centre of the CCUB was the Jam Factory complex at Brilliant, on the Kettle Valley Line of the CPR. Here were located sawmills, the famous Kootenay-Columbia Preserving Works, a grain elevator, office and warehouse buildings, a residence and retreat for the leader, and several community villages [Fig. 8]. In several other parts of the West Kootenay, a number of remarkable buildings were erected, of which the jewel was perhaps the Glade Community Hall [Fig. 9], with its gambrel roof, second-story porch – all of elegant proportions. Also noteworthy was the duma’et (retreat) built for Peter V. Verigin near what is now the site of his tomb [Fig. 10]. Regrettably, none of these buildings now survive.

Figure 9. Community Hall, Glade, British Columbia, circa 1929. Library and Archives Canada  A-019841. 

Figure 10. Dumaet or retreat home of Peter V. Verigin on bluffs above Brilliant, British Columbia, circa 1915. British Columbia Archives, Tarasoff Collection.

Another large CCUB complex was located at Verigin, Sask., with administrative buildings, grain elevators, and warehouses, etc., of which one magnificent example, the Leader’s Office and Residence, survives and functions as a museum [Fig. 11].

Figure 11. Sirotsky Dom (Orphans Home), Veregin, Saskatchewan, circa 1918. The remarkable porch ornamentation, identical with that of Figure 9, was executed by Ivan Mahonin; the upper tracery is in cut tin. British Columbia Archives C-06513. 

While these sites were physically planned to support the economic life of the CCUB, they were occasionally used for major community assemblies. It is clear from this use, however, that Commune administrators and members held their material and ideological lives to be perfectly integrated – at least ideally, if not always in fact. In those cases in which the assembly was pointedly outside the complex, it was never far distant.

Transition

When the CCUB moved to British Columbia, it purchased land outright, but used a deficit loan system of mortgages to finance its development. To pay off these debts, most male Community members worked for a portion of the year off their land, which the women then maintained, and their salaries serviced the loans. The burden of the loan system, the alienation imposed by outside work, and the hostility of the western Canadian establishment combined in the Depression to crush the CCUB. The National Trust and Sun Life corporations purchased the mortgages and began foreclosure proceedings, but the CCUB contested financial distressal in the Provincial courts on the basis that it was composed of farm workers, and had paid off the bulk of its debts. The B.C. Supreme Court judged that the CCUB was a corporation and not an individual within the meaning of the Farmer’s Protection Act, and upheld the foreclosure; consequently, on an outstanding debt of about $260,000, the CCUB was foreclosed on approximately six million dollars of capital, plus improvements, goods on hand, stock and implements. The B.C. Provincial Cabinet immediately paid off this balance and acquired trusteeship, allowing Doukhobors to squat in their villages at nominal tax “rentals,” but the means of controlling their economy was lost or beyond control.

Figure 12. Big House, Grand Forks, British Columbia, now derelict.

The massive blow to the economic and social structures, the very spirit of the community, resulted in almost a generation of aimlessness, anomie and violence. Zealots and criminals fired villages and industrial buildings: dispirited occupants neglected and could not afford maintenance; villages were slowly abandoned, and littered about with lean-to’s, shoddily converted into one- or two-family dwellings [Fig. 12]. People now built small one-family houses in various styles, some preserving the old “Russian” second-level porch in the West Kootenay region.

The slow development of plain transitional housing is also evident in the materials, style and relative placement of houses in nearby Thrums. The Sons of Freedom occupied, then burned, the Villages of Krestova; here they periodically erected small houses laid out in traditional Russian village plan, which were periodically burned when their owners purged themselves of materialism, or when criminal elements bent on manipulation of community politics felt the need for terrorist action.

Figure 14. A banya (steam house) in Krestova, British Columbia.

Even under such pressures, some Doukhobors did not give up their plain but perceptive aesthetic. This is well illustrated by two examples: the little banya or steam-bathhouse in Krestova [Fig. 13], perfectly proportioned and located in an orchard, on a bank, before a row of alders; or the row of farm-house and outbuildings in Glade [Fig. 14], placed with a clear sense of spatial rhythm.

Figure 14. Glade, British Columbia, 1966. British Columbia Archives, Tarasoff Collection.

The Present

Several currents are presently to be observed: many Sons of Freedom maintain the small, Plain dwellings they developed during the 1930s, as in this recent view from Krestova’s Lower Village [Fig. 15]. Most Doukhobors now live in owner-constructed houses which, to meet CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) requirements, follow commercial designs which can be epitomized as Western Contractor-built style. Between these extremes occur a fair range of housing, from more-or-less restored Community Village homes to slowly enlarged and expanded single dwellings and the universal folk-housing of the latter twentieth century, mobile homes. Two not-quite-conflicting values are expressed in this society: a taste for the idealism of traditional plainness (illustrated in the last illustration by about a decade’s delay between completion of the hall and painting of the exterior), and a need to demonstrate success by the majority culture’s standards—which enjoin conformity to those standards.

Figure 15. Modern house, Krestova, British Columbia.

Contemporary community buildings include commercial buildings, entirely adaptive to Western standards and styles, and the Community hall. These are usually small halls with stages, commonly one-story high with a basement kitchen/refectory, of extreme plain style and finish. They still serve the dual functions of earlier times: religious and community meetings with their sacred and less-sacred characteristics; the hall at Pass Creek is typical. Exceptions include two large-scale halls in Grand Forks [Fig. 16] and Brilliant, contemporary structures of technically elaborate design.

Figure 16. Community Hall, Grand Forks, British Columbia.

Conclusion

The Doukhobors who arrived in Canada brought with them the resources of eastern European peasantry modified by the unique ideals of their sectarian faith. They established functional building styles displaying an aptness for technology and demonstrating an aesthetic ideal of plain style and the social and religious ideals of communal life. Early settlement in Saskatchewan was characterized by the recreation of the traditional Russian village. With the loss of their land and removal to British Columbia, a wholly novel material expression of the social ideal of communalism arose, drawing equally upon Russian and Northern American traditions, and upon the innovative community village complex. When the CCUB collapsed under internal and external pressures, the ethnic community suffered great distress. Architecture became individualized and expressed two needs: simple survival coupled with the plain tradition; and vindication through an achievement ethic dictated by the majority culture’s models.

Several lines of development for the future are apparent. The idealistic minority continues to build small, plain houses, and conventionally-styled homes also proliferate in the region. The “mobile home” has become excessively visible over the past ten years, but it is presently difficult to judge the varying impacts of human need, shoddy construction, community pressure, personal taste and the other intangibles that will determine this device’s prevalence. Community buildings tend to austere design and finish, although the most recently constructed are technically ambitious and highly adapted to the choral musical performance that is at the heart of Doukhobor tradition.

The Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan blends solidly into the multiethnic makeup of that province. British Columbia has had a much less tolerant history, and Doukhobors there are still recovering from a generation of experiencing inferior status, retreat from the visions and trials of the past and adaptation to the pressures of the present. A tiny handful of zealots among the Sons of Freedom agitate for repudiation of modern materialism, while the province’s economic and political climate challenges the real social achievements of the majority of Doukhobors. For many years the Doukhobors of the province have been in a constructive transition: now the rest of its population joins them in the hopes and fears that attend an uncompleted experiment.

Childhood Recollections

by Tanya Postnikoff

In her later years, Doukhobor Tanya (Makaroff) Postnikoff (1891-1982) wrote down her memories of growing up in Terpeniye village near Kars, Russia and in Petrofka village near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. The following excerpt, taken from her “Childhood Recollections”, is yet another rich and colourful example of Doukhobor oral tradition preserved in writing for future generations.

I remember very little of my Postnikov grandparents because we lived at opposite ends of our village, Terpeniye, in Russia. I can only recall two occasions when I visited them – once when grandmother was very ill, near death, and my mother, Paranya, was going on foot to visit her and I attached myself to her. I recollect that grandma, on that occasion, was already too ill to talk. I can’t remember anything of her looks or appearance, however, even then, I sensed the kindness in her heart and the deep love that she had for her children and grandchildren. 

As for grandfather, all I can recall is the occasion when mother and I visited them on a very warm day. We had heard that he was very ill, and when we arrived, we found him tottering about outside, heavily bundled in a heavy winter topcoat and obviously suffering from severe chills. Soon after this occasion grandfather took a turn for the worse and passed away. In appearance, I remember him to be a tall, slim man, taller than his son Nikolai (my father-in-law) yet with a strong similarity in their facial features. This is about all that I can remember.

It was a large family – five sons and three daughters – eight children in all. Nikolai (my future father-in-law) became a son-in-law of the Bondarevs and went to live with his bride’s parents and their family. The Patriarch or head of the Bondarev family was Lavrentii or Lavrusha for short. As a result, the family became known as the Lavrovs, and were always referred to by that nickname. At that time, their family consisted of five sons and two daughters.

Nikolai, my father-in-law to be, had at that time been working as a freighter on a wagon train. In an accident, he fell under a heavily laden freight wagon and both his legs were crushed between the heavy steel-rimmed wheels and the cobble-stoned military highway. The doctors refused to attempt to set the multiple fractures and decided to amputate. It was a common bone-setter (a Molokan with no schooling) who saved the situation. He did such a good job of bone-setting, that Nikolai retained full use of his legs for his entire lifetime. While convalescing, he would walk about supporting himself on two canes, and because of this was nicknamed Starichok (“oldster”) which stuck to him for life. His family, in turn, was alternately referred to as either Lavrovs or Starchikovs.

Wedding photo of Wasil & Tanya Postnikoff (left)

Nikolai’s convalescence lasted a long time, and while he was unable to work, their oldest son, Semeon, was gradually taking over the support of the family. One day Semeon with his mother, Nastya, decided to bring a wagonload of clay, which the villagers used to mix with fine hay or chaff in order to stucco all their stone-walled buildings. The excavation site was treacherous with overhanging walls and while working in it, Nastya was almost completely buried by a sudden collapse of an overhanging wall and the landslide that descended upon her. There were many other clay-diggers at the site at the time, and they managed to extricate Nastya from the mound of heavy clay and dirt. She must have suffered internal injuries, however, for soon thereafter she became ill and eventually passed away.

Nastya’s mother had been living with the family for several years prior to Nastya’s death. She was a kindly compassionate soul, beloved by all the children. Needless to say, she had her hands full in trying to discipline the large family of growing children. Sometime after Nastya’s death, Nikolai met and married his second wife, Mavrunya, who had also been widowed by the death of her husband, Nikolai Konkin. There were two daughters from that marriage, Elizaveta and Praskovia. Mavrunya was much younger than Nikolai and their marriage was more a union of convenience than anything else. She was a widow with two little girls who needed support, while he, in turn, needed her to manage his household with a large family of children. Thus, they faced the world together and managed not only to survive, but to bring up their families as well.

Nikolai had six sons and two daughters from his first marraige. With Mavrunya, they had six sons and one daughter. When their youngest son was born, Mavrunya’s father, who was noted for his wit, insisted that the baby be named Yosef (“Joseph”) after the Biblical story of Jacob, whose twelfth son carried that name. 

All in all it was a very large family group and yet Nikolai and Mavrunya not only managed to feed each hungry mouth, but were very hospitable and generous with outsiders. When they settled in Canada (Petrofka, Saskatchewan) there was a constant flow of immigrant settlers who were moving in to find their places in the newly opened country. Many of them, needy as they were, got stranded in Petrofka and were fed and sheltered, free of charge, for months at a time, in the Postnikoff mud-plastered, sod-roofed, humble household.

Going back in time, Nikolai himself had four brothers, the first of whom was Semeon, then Mikhailo, Dmitry and Ivan. He also had three sisters, Nastya, who married Vasily Vereshchagin, next Dasha, whose husband was Ivan Planidin, and the third one was Paranya, married to Gregory Makarov.

And now I will try to tell all that I can recollect about the Makarovs. I can remember grandpa and grandma Makarov quite well; they came to Canada with their family. Grandpa was injured on the train en route to their destination, Petrofka. His finger was crushed somehow by the car couplings of the train. It became infected (probably gangrene) and he died soon after. Grandma survived him by seven years and was totally blind when she passed away. They had only four children, three sons and one daughter. The sons’ names were Nikolai, Semeon and Gregory, my father. They all lived together in one family for a long time. The daughters’ name was Polya, an aunt whom I never saw because when in Russia, the family moved from Elizavetpol to Kars, while she and her husband remained behind. 

The Makarov family lived in one house. Nikolai had six children, Semeon had four while Gregory, my father, also had six. My aprents broke away from the rest a year or two before immigrating to Canada (1899) and farmed independently in that interim. The house we lived in was newly built, but very small and crowded for a family of eight, yet somehow there was always room even for guests (to think that nowadays people who own two, three or four houses sometimes complain that they are too crowded to entertain visitors!!).

My mother used to tell us that in the past, when they had been living in the Tavria province, in Milky Waters, the newly formed sect of Doukhobors decided to break away from the Russian Orthodox Church and denounced its hierarchy. They refused to register their children in Church records and defied the age-old custom of burial with a priest in attendance. On one occasion, some practical jokers allowed a priest to officiate by the grave-side, and when the ceremony was completed, seized the priest and announced that they would throw him into the grave as well, in accordance with the rule that the “dead should be buried with a priest”. Soon after this, the pressure from Church and government officials slackened off, and the Doukhobors were allowed to settle in the Elizavetpol province. Here they lived for a period of twenty years or so. Then, because land for farming was getting scarce, six villages decided to move to Kars (an area that has been under Turkey since 1918). Here, our village of Terpeniye was the largest and in it resided the leading Verigin family. In Kars, the Doukhobors resided for some twenty years. 

For some time, pressure had been increasing on the part of the Government to compel them to accept military service. The Doukhobors refused to comply, however, and soon were subjected to punitive persecution, such s exile to Siberia, violence, etc. These measures failed to shake the Doukhobor faith, however, and the Tsar’s Government then decided to solve the problem by exiling this steadfast group beyond the borders of Russia. Leo Tolstoy and the Quakers appealed to Queen Victoria of England to allow the Doukhobors to settle in Canada. Their plea was successful, and soon, several thousand immigrants assembled in the Black Sea port of Batum where for two weeks they waited while a coal freighter was being converted and readied to accommodate them as passengers.

The Trans-Atlantic journey took a whole month and was full of hardship. When they finally arrived in Quebec, the authorities promptly placed the entire group under quarantine because cases of smallpox had appeared among the passengers. After the quarantine was lifted, a fast-moving passenger vessel arrived; it was trim and neat and the children were delighted with its appearance. This boat took us to the city of Quebec where we went ashore to be met by a large group of men and women, some of whom may have been Quakers. The ladies in the group began tossing mint candy into the crowd of eager children and a wild scramble commenced. My brother Peter and myself were too young to join the general rush and felt quite left out, until a couple of ladies approached us and filled our pockets full of fragrant mints. After some time, the entire boatload of immigrants were taken aboard a train, the destination point being Selkirk, Manitoba. Here too, we stayed for a week or two prior to departure for our final ultimate settlement points.

At this point, I would like to go back and make a few remarks about my grandmother. Grandma loved me very much and tried hard to imbue me with a sense of piousness. She spent endless hours teaching me to recite psalms among which was one I still remember well. She also taught me a zagovorie (“incantation”) allegedly endowed with magical powers to stop a nosebleed or other small ailments – this too, I remember and can still recite. I can recall how hurt I was when my playmates refused to play with me, saying that my grandma was teaching me witchcraft. 

Prairie Doukhobor dwelling, circa 1901

The hardships and privations of the first few months of our pioneer life are unforgettable. We all lived in canvas tents which provided poor shelter against the cold, incessant rains. The tents dripped and leaked, so that everything inside was soggy and cold. It was next to impossible to build a fire or sustain it for long. To add to our torture, clouds of ravenous mosquitoes were constantly tormenting us – there was simply no refuge from them. Our diet was poor and inadequate, lacking in protein. All of this added up to a life of constant, almost intolerable suffering and misery. The nearest railway point was Rosthern, Saskatchewan, and that meant that to obtain flour and salt, the men would go some thirty miles afoot and return heavily laden with a hundred pounds of flour, ten pounds of salt, and whatever else each of them could afford and/or carry. It seemed incredible now that so many survived.

At this point, I would like to describe an occurance in which my two cousins Mavrutka (Fast) and Lisunya (Lastowsky) and myself were involved, and which nearly spelled disaster for us. We three were sent by our mothers to pick wild garlic for borshch. Our search finally brought us to the riverbank (North Saskatchewan) where we found a boat (the only one the village had), which we promptly untied from its mooring, climbed in, and were off! This was happening toward evening; the sun was low and we three were all about the same age – eight or nine years old. The main-stream current, by some quirk of fate, propelled us toward the shore where we climbed out, and tied the boat to a stump. 

It was getting late and with darkness came the fear of wolves! We remembered that somewhere nearby there was a homestead owned by Isaac Neufeldt, a Mennonite farmer, and for whom Nikolai Postnikoff was working at the time. I recall that the Neufeldt girls were painting the kitchen floor when we timidly knocked on their door. They spoke no Russian, didn’t know who we were, and soon summoned their father, who spoke Russian well. We told him that we three were daughters of Nikolai Postnikoff. The farmer did not want to wake Nikolai up (he had had a hard day and was already sleeping) so old Isaac ordered his daughters to put us up for the night. We slept in the hayloft that night. The wind had risen and whistled and moaned through cracks and knot-holes – it was a weird, sleepless night for me – an unforgettable night!

Early the next morning, old Isaac informed Nikolai that three little girls claiming to be his daughters had spent the night there. Nikolai was astonished. “Three little girls?”, “My daughters?” When he saw us, he was flabbergasted. “What are you doing here – how did you get here?” he yelled at us. We had, meanwhile, concocted a wild story about how Hrishka Konkin, a local mischievous brat, had enticed us into the boat, rowed us across the river, and abandoned us to our fate. Hrishka’s reputation was so notorious that Nikolai readily believed our story, which, of course, was a lie from “A” to “Z”. “Wait till I get ahold of that little devil!” he roared, “I’ll fix it so he won’t be able to sit down for a month!” 

The boat was still tied to the stump where we had left it last night, and as we were crossed, we three sang an old Russian song – something about Cossacks returning to their native villages. Our absence apparently had caused a great deal of alarm and fear about our safety, and as our boat approached the shore, the bank was lined with a large crowd of anxious people. Our mothers were hysterical with joy and relief at the sight of us – it was a highly emotional experience indeed! We soon learned that our boating adventure had not gone unnoticed. Someone had seen us board the boat and head downstream. The alarm was sounded and runners were dispatched to the village of Terpeniye, some miles downstream, where quickly, a boat was launched in the hope of intercepting us as we drifted in that direction. Their efforts and vigil were fruitless, of course, and lasted throughout the night.

At the time, I was terrified, expecting a severe beating from my father, who was always quick to punish his children mercilessly for any misdemeanor. My grandmother, seeing my terror and knowing what was in store for me, took me to bed with her, and when father entered, she intercepted him, saying that he had better not touch me, that I was blameless, and that it was my cousin Mavrutka who was the ringleader of our escapade. Fierce though he was by nature, my father broke into tears – which both astounded and, of course, delighted me.

Paths and Pathfinders

by Polly Vishloff

On October 2, 2004, Polly Vishloff (nee Verigin) was the keynote speaker at “Paths and Pathfinders”, a symposium honouring extraordinary women pioneers of Mission, British Columbia.  During her address, she gave an account of her life as a Doukhobor over the past eighty years.  Polly’s experience highlights the importance of hard work, strong family ties and community roots.  Readers will enjoy her many heartfelt memories and rich experiences.  Her address is reproduced below by permission.

…Thank you for this honour.  When I was asked to speak about my life I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but after I thought about it, I said to myself, “My life is different and I should share my experiences with others.”  So here I am.  It’s not going to be easy to put 80 years into a short talk but I’ll try.

Polly Vishloff speaking at “Paths & Pathfinders: Women Pioneers of Mission, BC” in 2004.

You all know that I am a Doukhobor, but what does that really mean?  So to begin, I have to give you a little bit of history: The name ‘Dukho-bortsi’ which means ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ was given to a group of dissident Russian peasants in 1785 by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Doukhobors adopted this name because they felt this meant they were struggling for a better life by using only the spiritual power of love, and not by using forms of violence or force.  This was a practical commonsense religion that could help people live a contented, happy life on earth.  But it was more than a religion; it was a way of life, or social movement.  In living together as a closely-knit group for several centuries, they developed many unique cultural customs and traditions.  The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that when Doukhobors were living up to the standard of their faith, they presented “one of the nearest approaches to the realization of the Christian ideal which has ever been attained.”

In Russia the Doukhobors had one leader who was a woman (Lukeria Kalmykova), she took over after her husband died.  She lived in a different village from where the Verigins lived.  She took, into her home, a young man named Peter Vasilyevich Verigin to train him for leadership.  She died 5 years later and he took over as the new leader.

Peter Verigin asked the Doukhobor people to start living cleaner lives.  First he asked them to share their wealth with those less fortunate.  The Verigin family was quite well off.  Then he asked them to quit smoking, drinking and eating meat.  My grandfather was a brother to this man.

Then he asked them to say “NO” to war.  This and other messages were sent by Verigin while in Siberian exile to his followers in the Caucasus through faithful messengers. The ones that were already in military service did just what their leader asked and were beaten.  Many died and the rest were sent to Siberia where the authorities felt they would parish from the extreme cold.  Doukhobor understanding says, ‘we are all God’s people and it is wrong to take a life.’  The faithful in the 3 separate Doukhobor settlements got all their guns together and at the same time on the same day, built huge fires and burned all their guns.  Cossacks and soldiers entered one village and beat those people as they stood around the fire singing.  The date was June 29, 1895.  Many of the faithful were driven away from their homes. 

My grandfather Vasily Verigin – Peter Verigin’s brother – was one of the messengers and knew his life was at stake, but he did it anyway.  When the authorities found out, they were going to shoot him but a follower of Leo Tolstoy heard this.  Leo Tolstoy was a famous Russian author and Doukhobor sympathizer.  This man intervened and my grandfather’s life was spared and he was sent to Siberia instead.  There was a lot of suffering going on due to these bold moves by the faithful.  Leo Tolstoy heard of this and started working to get the Doukhobors out of Russia.  Canada accepted them; Canada needed good workers and that’s what they were.

Doukhobor women feeding workers on farm in Saskatchewan. British Columbia Archives, C-01356.

With financial aid from Tolstoy and a group of Quakers who also supported their non-violent cause, they landed in Canada.  The Doukhobors were given virgin land in what is now northern Saskatchewan and part of the Northwest Territories.  My parents were about 6 years old when the move was made in 1899.  My grandmother on mother’s side was a widow with 5 daughters.  Their lives would have been very difficult had they not been in this community.

In Saskatchewan, the men had to go out and earn money so the resourceful women hitched themselves to a plow and broke up soil for gardens.  In 6 years, they had worked a lot of land and planted crops.  They had built homes, grew flax and made their own oil.  They had a brick plant, flour mill, and brick ovens in which they baked their bread.  At this point, the Government said they had to swear allegiance to the Crown in order to keep their land.  Some did and became know as Independent Doukhobors.  The rest said they serve “God only”.  They had to leave.

This group bought land in British Columbia around Castlegar, Brilliant, and Grand Forks.  Here they planted orchards, built new homes for themselves, built a flourmill and a brick factory.  My Dad was a beekeeper and looked after about 100 beehives.  Everywhere we lived after that, my Dad always had bees.  Later they built a jam factory.

Each settlement had 2 large brick houses (where about 25 people lived) and included a courtyard and a few smaller houses in the back for older people.  The women took turns cooking and everyone ate together.  Everyone shared the steam bath.  Once it was fired up, several men would go in at one time, then women and children would take their turns.

Polly in front of her mother Polly with aunts Dunya Anutooshkin (seated)t Nastya Verigin at Shouldice, Alberta, c. 1927.

Wheat for baking bread and other delicious foods was grown in Saskatchewan which was far away, so in 1915 land was purchased in the foothills of Alberta and several families moved there to grow wheat.  This is the area where my husband grew up.  I don’t know what year my parents got married.  They were living around Brilliant, British Columbia, and after several years, I came into the picture.  Sister Mary was 13, my brother Peter was 6 and then there was me.  I was born on June 25, 1923.  Mom said it was “at strawberry time”.

After the tragic death of Peter Verigin (who was the leader), my parents and about 25 families moved to Alberta under the leadership of Anastasia Holoboff.  I was 3 years old.

There are several other Doukhobor groups. Besides the Independents, some are called Canadian Doukhobors, and the largest group is the Spiritual Communities of Christ, and of course you’ve all heard of the Sons of Freedom.  They make up about 5% of the Doukhobor population.

Under Anastasia’s leadership, a colony was established two miles from Shouldice, Alberta.  There were several other Doukhobor families already farming in this area.  A prayer home was built and Doukhobors from around the area gathered for prayers on Sunday mornings.

In this colony, every family built their own individual homes.  My dad had to be different.  He put in a bay window and that’s where my mother kept her geraniums.  Everyone had a half-acre of land where they planted their own gardens.  There were 2 rows of houses with a street down the middle.  Families with older parents built a small house in back of the larger family home and all meals were eaten together in the main house.  Each backyard not only contained a garden but also a brick or clay oven for baking bread, a steam bath, and an outhouse further back.

There was a lovely spring at the top of the colony property and water was piped down, through the street, with taps placed along it after each 4th house.  Water was brought into the homes by pail and it kept us young people busy.  We had wood stoves, no electricity, and used coal oil lamps.  Young people had to bring in the wood and the coal.

At the very bottom of the street was a water tank and train tracks.  The train, which was both, a passenger and freight train, would stop here and replenished its water supply for the steam engine.  Once in a while, I would go for mail.  In those days girls didn’t wear slacks but I would dress up like a boy in my brother’s clothes and climb onto the train and stand behind the engine and get a ride into Shouldice, pick up the mail and then walk the two miles back home along the railway track.  The colony was three miles from Shouldice by road and sometimes I’d come back that way hoping for a ride but sometimes I’d have to walk the three miles back.

Polly on tractor at her sister Mary’s  farm, Nanton, Alberta, 1940.

Our colony was called “The Lord’s Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”.  There was a big barn, half for cows and half for horses.  Families took turns milking the cows.  There was a room in this barn where the milk was shared.  Just outside its door was a large metal triangle with a straight rod for striking it.  When the milk was ready for distribution, the triangle was struck and the sound carried throughout the village.  That meant it was time for me to grab a syrup or honey pail and run to get our milk.  The bigger the family, the more milk they got.  When it was time for your family to do the milking, the kids would go from house to house to gather the vegetable and fruit peelings to feed the cows.

At one end of the village was the school.  In summer we went to school barefoot and ran home for lunch.  Parents took turns doing janitor work here, which also included bringing firewood for the central stove.

There was one couple that had no children so they had us kids coming in the middle of the week to teach us songs.  Sunday morning was prayer time and singing at their place for us young kids (our very own Sunday School!).  I loved to sing.  That was at 6:00 in the morning.  Prayers were taught to us at home by parents or grandparents.  I had no living grandparents, so I loved to go to my friend’s place, the Tamilins.  Their grandparents lived in a small house in back and they all had meals together.  And it looked so nice seeing a big family at the table.  That’s when I decided I wanted to have a big family, like six children but I settled for four.

We all celebrated “Peter’s Day” on June 29th.  It was a big picnic by the river and everyone came from all around.  On this day we commemorated the burning of all firearms in Russia.

At school we played softball a lot.  I loved it.  I remember weeding with Mother in the garden and I felt like my back was breaking and it was just so hard for me to weed.  Then someone would come along and say they were organizing a softball game.  I’d ask my mother if I could go and she always said, “Yes” and all of a sudden, everything healed and I would run off to play.

Verigin family. Back L-R: Mary, Peter, and Polly. Front L-R: Peter W. and Polly Verigin, c. 1940.

During the Depression, my dad took a job on a farm to look after cattle.  He was paid $15.00 for that month.  Being vegetarian, we had great gardens and plenty of food.  We grew lots of sunflowers and sitting around and eating them was a great past-time.  Sometimes, we would take something from the garden, like a lettuce, and give it to the conductor on the train and he would let us ride in the coach.  One day while riding in the coach, there were two ladies sitting there looking out the window and saying, “Look at all the sunflowers.  They must have lots of chickens!”  It made me chuckle to myself, because we were the chickens.  Flour came in 98-pound cotton bags, so a lot of our clothing was made from flour sacks.  Nothing was wasted.  Everything was recycled.  We wove rugs from worn out clothing and Mom planted her geraniums in any used tin cans.  That’s where she started her bedding plants also.

After living together on this colony for about 14 years, a lot of people wanted to get out on their own.  That would be around 1940.  I would have been around 17 years old.  My uncle and aunt had a married daughter living in Whonnock and she wasn’t well.  They wanted to help her out and decided to leave the colony and move to that area.  I think they were the first to leave the colony.  My cousin Bill rode his bicycle around the area looking for property.  He happened to be on Dewdney Trunk Road when he saw a place for sale and they bought it.  This property had a house on it that had belonged to Mrs. King, sister to Cecil, Ted, and Jack Tunbridge.

Mother and I came out by train to visit our relatives.  Our tickets were to Vancouver but I told the conductor we were getting off in Mission City.  He called it Mission Junction.  We got off the train and there was no one there to meet us.  I asked the station agent if he knew where the Verigin’s lived and he hadn’t even heard of them.  I began to worry that maybe we’d gotten off at the wrong place.  We’d called it Mission City and here we’d gotten off at Mission Junction.

Then I spotted cousin Bill coming along on his bicycle.  He told us to leave everything at the station and come along with him.  He pushed the bike to Cedar Street with us walking along beside him.  He said, “Now you start thumbing a ride and someone will pick you up.”  He gave us directions on where to go and rode away.  Someone did stop and give us a ride and we arrived at his home before he got there.

Auntie and cousin Peter were in Sardis picking hops.  Within a day cousin Bill had arranged a ride for us and we got to Sardis and were hired on to pick hops too.  What a great opportunity to earn some money.  At home I’d have to go out and do housework and that was not my cup of tea.  Even though hop picking meant long hours of work, I loved it and we had a chance to visit with each other while we worked.

Polly Vishloff (nee Verigin) in Mission, British Columbia, c. 1943.

The following year Dad came to Mission by car and was able to earn some money by picking strawberries.  Now there were 3 other families from our colony living in Mission.  Dad found a piece of property owned by Jack Tunbridge that was not far from Uncle’s place.  It was all bush with a creek running through it and very swampy.  The higher ground was very rocky and there was a gravel pit at one end, close to the road.  The municipality had extracted gravel from this area but it wasn’t good enough and therefore abandoned it.  Dad bought the nine acres for $100.00.  The year was 1940.

Now we had to sell our own house to finance the move to Mission.  The next spring our house sold for $175.00.  We then moved to my sister Mary’s home in Nanton, Alberta.  They were renting a farm there and could use help at harvest time.  In the meantime, Mother and I wove rugs and sold them.  Dad found work on other farms.  At harvest time, Peter and I worked on binders.  That was the way wheat was cut.  The binder tied cut wheat into bundles, and then we lowered the bundles in rows.  We also watched to be sure the binders didn’t run out of twine.  These two binders were pulled by a tractor.

In the fall we were ready to move to our new place.  We came by car and I remember Mom’s spinning wheel tied to the back of the car.  We got a lot of attention along the road.  At that time there was no Hope-Princeton Highway so we came down the Fraser Canyon (which was an amazing experience for people born and raised in the prairies!).  We drove between 20 and 25 miles an hour.  Dad would be driving along this narrow windy trail of a road saying, “Look at the river down below, just look.”  We were all frightened and kept reminding him to watch the road.

And here we were in Mission City and at our Uncle’s and Auntie’s place.  This was November, 1941.  We arrived late in the evening.  Auntie had a beautiful bouquet of dahlias on her table.  I asked here where she got them and she said from her garden.  In Alberta, we had frost two months earlier that killed off all the flowers and I couldn’t believe that they could still be blooming.  Early the next morning, I had to go outside and see for myself and sure enough, they were there.  This was truly the land of opportunity; with berries to pick, canneries, just all kinds of nice ways to make a living.  We lived at our relatives until Dad and brother Peter had cleared some land and partly finished our new house, then we moved into it.  There was still a lot to do inside but by summer, we had moved in.  During this time I picked strawberries, then raspberries and then went to work at the Alymer cannery, which was located along the Fraser River at the Railway Bridge.  I really enjoyed my work there.  The following year Mrs. Lacroix promoted me to supervisor.

My uncle Larry came later with 2 sons and 2 daughters and they built and started the Cedar Valley Store, which still exists.  By now there were over 30 Doukhobor families living in Mission, most of them in the Cedar Valley area.  Later my Uncle Larry and his family moved to Creston.

A few years later, while enroute to Alberta to visit my sister and her family, I stopped in Creston to visit my cousins.  While visiting there, I met John Vishloff.  He had come from Nanton to visit his folks who had moved there from Alberta.  We seemed to have a lot in common and got along very well.  In March of 1947, he came to Mission and we were married in April.

Wedding in Canyon, British Columbia, 1947. (l-r) Agnes and Mary (nee Verigin) Ewashen, John, Polly and Alex Wishlow.

First we lived with his parents in Creston, then came to Mission and lived with mine were I worked for the cannery and John worked for the Coop where they made jam.  We went back to Creston at the end of the season and in April of 1948 our son Paul was born.  Although both my mother and John’s mother were both Midwives, I wanted to be modern and had a doctor and the baby was born in the hospital.

After the summer harvest was over, we decided to move to Mission for good.  There were more opportunities here for John to work.  My Dad said, “I have started building a garage and because John is a handyman, if he wants to finish it, you can live in it.”  Maybe they were tired of us living with them.  John finished building our one room house and we moved in.  We were very happy in this one room house.  At last we were on our own.  Our couch made into a bed at night and there was still room for the crib.  Mother baby-sat Paul while I worked at the cannery.  When Paul was a little over a year old, mom suffered a heart attack and died.  I felt quite guilty about her death because she had been looking after Paul for me while I worked.  I found her death very hard to bear.  But about a year later we were blessed with a beautiful daughter.  We named her Naida, which in Russian, means ‘hope’.  Now we had two cribs in our little one room house, that also had a kitchen and everything else.  I was able to use Mom’s washing machine and we all used their steam bath.

We bought half an acre of land and John built us a 2-bedroom house on it.  It had a kitchen, living room, a small storage room, a bathroom and 2 bedrooms.  John prepared the plans for the house.  I said to him, “We’ll have a bathroom in the house?  That’s just for rich people!”  I’m glad he didn’t listen to me.

Polly, John and son Paul, 1950.

For entertainment, we used to go to a drive-in theatre and the children still remember getting treats.  We always brought along a quart of milk.  Pop was expensive.

John also built a holiday trailer that we pulled with our car when we visited our relatives each summer.  We traveled to Creston and to visit my sister in Alberta.  My brother never married so my sister’s children were the only close relatives that I had and they meant a lot to me.  I still have a very close relationship with them.

Most of the time, John drove to Vancouver to work.  He worked hard because he had to work on our house after he came home from work.  People gathered in homes on Sunday for prayers and everyone sang together.  Even without the modern conveniences that we have now, they still had time to socialize.  Our old leader, Anastasia came over to visit one time and suggested that the Doukhobors buy up some cemetery plots.  That makes me feel good, knowing that my family is all there in one area.

In 1952, our son Lawrence was born and in 1957, Tom was born.  With 4 healthy children we felt so rich, but now the house was getting way too small.

My dad died in January 1959.  We inherited half of his property and now we could build a bigger home.  The municipality said that in order to subdivide, we had to build a road and that’s how Vishloff Street came about.  We built a bigger house and the children helped too.  Maybe that’s why they are such capable adults.  In those days, the building codes were different and we could move into our house long before ‘final inspection’, which we did.  Our window openings were covered with plastic but we had so much more room.  By winter we had installed real windows.

All our children went to Cedar Valley School and came home for lunch.  Both John and I grew up in Doukhobor communities and never felt discrimination.  We didn’t realize that our children could be discriminated against.  There were some tough times for them but they grew up and we’re very proud of them.

Family photo, 1960.  (l-r standing) Lawrence, Paul (l-r seated) Polly, Naida, John and Tom.

When Paul graduated from high school, he went to Abbotsford to get his grad picture taken.  He was walking with a friend and was hit by a car and died instantly.  The driver of the car said he was blinded by lights from an oncoming car.  My greatest consolation was that we had 3 other children.  Because Paul excelled in Chemistry, the school presented a trophy in his memory.  It was won by Glen Randal that year.  They gave this trophy for several more years.

Graduation time was always very painful for us and I was very relieved when all our other children graduated.  But life must go on.  The support we felt from the community was wonderful.  One of our neighbours, Glenys Szabo got me involved in curling.  I loved that sport but always felt a little guilty about the work I should be doing at home, while I was out curling.

I worked at Berryland Cannery in Haney and then started working for the Fraser Valley Record, one day a week.  The women I worked with were just great.  I worked with the paper for 20 years.

One day I told the girls I had some extra time and wanted to do some volunteer work to give something back to this great community.  Margery Skerry steered me to Heritage Park.  There I helped make blackberry jam and quilted.  The quilts were raffled and I made more good friends there.

The children grew up and got married. Naida and Marcel bought my brother’s house next door to us.  It was just wonderful watching the grand children grow up.  Lawrence was a little further away with his 2 boys.  Tom settled across the pond and we saw their children often.  The grand kids would come over and help me kneed bread and roll out dough for some specialty Russian foods we make.  One day Brittany came over to help.  She picked up the rolling pin and held it and I asked, ‘where’s my rolling pin?’ and she said, “I don’t know, I’ve got mine.”  When she was out of flour, she’d say, “I need more powder.”  They moved away later but I was glad I was there for them when they were small.  Peter would come from next-door carrying his blanket, early in the morning.  Most of the time I’d still be in bed.  He’d lay down beside me for a few minutes, then say, “Okay Baba, get up and make kasha.”  He’d have breakfast with us and then go home and have another breakfast.  I can still see in his blue pajamas, wearing his red boots, carrying his blue blanket, his ‘bunnies’.  I grew up without grandparents and I really missed not having them and I really relished my role as grandma, or Baba.

Grandchildren Brittany and Autumn baking with Baba. .

I forgot to mention our pond.  It used to be a swamp and John turned it into a beautiful pond by engineering and building a dam.  When our children were growing up, all the neighbourhood children came to swim in this pond.  It is now more like a wild bird sanctuary with water lilies, ducks, geese, and blue herons.

We suffered another tragedy 3 years ago, when our son-in-law from next door was killed in an accident.  We miss him very much.  Now the grandchildren from next door are all married and gone from here, but I feel a great bond with them all.  One grandson, David, visited recently from Saskatchewan.  He said, “I’ll never forget the Christmases we celebrated here at your place.”  On Christmas Eve, the whole family would come over for a vegetarian meal, sing Christmas carols, and exchange gifts.  At times even Santa would show up.

I am still puttering around keeping myself busy.  We still plant a garden every year, it just keeps getting smaller.  I make jams, borsch and bread.  I also spin, weave, knit and embroider.  I could go on for a long time, but I think I’ve shared enough.

In closing I’d like to say that Doukhobor beliefs about living clean healthy lives seemed radical 60 years ago – we didn’t smoke, drink or eat meat.  When I was a teenager, smoking was very popular, now everyone knows how harmful it is.  We all know excessive drinking leads to no good.  When I was young, vegetarians were unheard of.  Now there are many vegetarians.  There were very few pacifists in this country, then.  But when George Bush was talking about going to war with Iraq, people were protesting not only in the US and Canada, but all over the world.

Polly and John in front of their pond, 2004.

According to my Doukhobor teachings, violence cannot be overcome with more violence; it can only be overcome through understanding and love.  Where there is love, there is God.  Yes, I’m very proud to be a Doukhobor and proud to be living in Mission, where we’ve come in contact with so many wonderful people.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my life with you.  I would like to end my talk by reading this poem written by Ann Verigin of Grand Forks, British Columbia called ‘I am a Doukhobor’.  Then we will end this presentation by having my friend Vi Popove and my daughter, Naida Motut, sing a Russian folk song.

I am a Doukhobor
I cannot deny there is a higher power
That helps me face every moment and hour
Whose love flows through each man and each flower

I am a Doukhobor
I search for truth and strive for perfection
I believe that Christ showed the perfect direction
For a life of peace a life without question

I am a Doukhobor
In the spirit of love I search for the light
And try to live to the highest sense of right
That I can perceive through the day and the night

I am a Doukhobor
I am a Doukhobor I sincerely feel a love for my brother
And because we all have one heavenly father
It makes sense to me to love one another

I am a Doukhobor
I long for the day when all wars would just cease
When man could continue to toil while at peace
When the love in all people would greatly increase

I am a Doukhobor
I know love is right so I must take a stand
I’ll reach out to my brother, I’ll give him my hand
There is room for us all in the bountiful land

~words by Ann Verigin nee Wishlow ~

Petrofka

by Alex J. Bayoff

In his later years, Alex J. Bayoff (1906-1989) wrote down his memories of growing up in the Doukhobor village of Petrofka near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. In clear, simple and sincere style, he depicts the life and times of the village in the context of his family experience.  Originally written as a memoir for family and friends, it is now published for a wider internet audience, by special permission of the family, in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive.  Readers will enjoy the rich details and vivid memories of the early years of Doukhobor pioneer settlement on the Prairies. Edited by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Author’s Note

After filling our stomachs with a sumptuous supper at the home of Nick and Mary Trofimenkoff, we sat around at the card table for an evening of cards. Conversation drifted from one subject to another. Somehow we started talking about the early Doukhobor villages and I mentioned a few happenings in the village of Petrofka. They seemed to have interested Nick, so he suggested that I write an article about Petrofka. After carrying that idea in my mind, it seemed that the Bayoff family had something to do about it in a small way. Since that was the case, my good wife Daisy suggested that I write a small history of the Bayoffs while Dad was still around, so he could relate the events first hand. I agreed to that.

The facts related in my article are mostly from the memory of Dad, and what I heard previously from Grandpa Dmitry, my Mother and later from my own experience. The story is a true story to the best of my knowledge. Nothing has been added or exaggerated. I have written as I have heard it told to me or as I have experienced it. Also nothing has been taken away to make the story more presentable. I therefore must say in advance that some passages of the story may be looked upon as vulgar. I tried to relate things as it happened, nothing taken away. Therefore if I have offended any of the readers, I humbly apologize. I must thank Samuel Postnikoff and Peter P. Makaroff in relating some of the happenings that I had overlooked.

Early in the spring of 1899 a convoy of wagons left Novo-Troitskoye (Kars province – ed.) in Trans-Caucasia to the nearest railroad station. Seven families left the peaceful village, a home of some 50 families. The train would take them to Batum, a port city on the Black Sea, and then to Canada. It was a sad occasion for the families that were left behind, and a sadder occasion, yet full of hope for the 7 families, all packed and going on a new unknown adventure, leaving their homes and most of their belongings with those who stayed behind. The Bayoff family was one of the seven. Dad was 11 years old. There was his Grandfather Grigory Vasilyevich, who was quite old, yet not too old to be the boss of the family, with full control of the money and how it was to be spent. Next in control were Dad’s Father and Mother, Dmitry and Lukeria. The rest of the family, Uncle Gavril and Aunt Anna were younger than Dad. As I have mentioned before, Dad was 11 years old, not old enough to remember everything and could be too young and have missed some valuable information.

The wagons were loaded with the most necessary articles, such as bedding and clothing, some dishes, etc., and a good supply of dried bread and homemade cheese. They figured they could live on dried bread and cheese and water. They left everything else behind, which was a heart-breaking farewell; leaving a comfortable home, agricultural tools or implements, cattle, sheep, horses, but mostly friends and relatives. There was singing of hymns and a lot of praying, a lot of kisses and a lot of tears. So was the parting with the village of Novo-Troitskoye and friends as the wagons began to move.

Port of Batum, embarkation point for Doukhobor immigrants. British Columbia Archives C-01560.

Dad’s Aunt and her husband, Petro Katasonov, acquired all of the Bayoff property and belongings and drove the wagon with the Bayoffs and their trip supplies to the railroad station. Since there were seven families leaving the village, there must have been seven wagons. It took the best part of two days on the road before they arrived at Erzurum, where they would board a freight train. Sitting on their bundles of belongings, it was far from comfortable, but with a lot of hymns and prayers, they arrived at Batum where they met with the rest of the Doukhobors. There were about 2,000 gathered from most of the Doukhobor villages, meeting in Batum.

A British freighter unloaded a ship load of cattle, and was waiting to pick up the 2,000 Doukhobors. You can only imagine the condition of the ship after the cattle were unloaded. That was to be their home for the next 28 days. They saw a lot of work to be done before they could board the ship. No time was to be wasted. They buckled down, cleaned up every part of the ship, scrubbed everything until the ship looked and smelled as if it had never had cattle on it. They then started the carpentry work. In about two weeks of hard work, the ship was ready. Bunks, tables, benches, dining area, wash rooms, etc. were ready. The crew of the ship Lake Huron was impressed by the workmanship and cleanliness of the Doukhobors, and they were very cooperative in every way they could be. The Doukhobors then wasted no time in boarding the ship.

So with singing of hymns and a lot of praying the ship began to move. The ship stopped in Constantinople for supplies. They were advised to take care of some of their supplies, so the men went and bought as much of the fruit and other items as they thought they may need. Certain items were provided: bread, sugar and hot water. There were rumors that the bread and sugar were provided by the Quakers. There were two Quakers on the boat, one of them was Mr. Elkinton, the other Dad did not remember.

It was pleasant going on the Mediterranean Sea. Sailing was quite smooth as most of the time the shore line could be seen, and the towns and cities as they passed by. As soon as the ship passed Gibraltar, things began to change. The land disappeared and the ship began to roll. The going was slow. They could see smoke in the distance behind them; that smoke turned out to be a ship which would catch up to them, then leave them behind with its smoke disappearing in the distance ahead of them. There were many ships passing them in a similar manner.

Some people began to get sea sick. A lot of the older people spent most of their time in bed, getting up only to have a bite to eat and wash up.

Although the ship rolled violently, Dad says he enjoyed the ride. He said it did not bother him, and he spent most of the day on deck with the young people. However, things were not without trouble; one old man died and had to be buried at sea. Dad well remembers that incident. They put the body in a sack or perhaps wrapped it in a sheet, tied a stone to him and slid him overboard, with their customary funeral by singing and prayer, Somehow the stone worked loose from the body and the body came to the surface. The ship did not stop, and with singing of hymns they watched the body disappear in the distance. Most of the Atlantic was rough. When it wasn’t rough it was foggy, the fog horns blowing a deafening roar, signaling other vessels, should there be any, so as not to collide.

Port of View of Gibraltar from SS Lake Huron, bringing a group of Doukhobors to Canada, 1899. Library and Archive Canada PA-022228.

Eventually word was passed that land would be in sight soon. What a relief! The rolling of the ship began to ease. The older people began to get out of their bunks. What a joy, they were nearly there! They were nearing the Gulf of St. Lawrence when as if by magic everyone perked up, some crying, some laughing, and most everyone praying to God that they were arriving safely. In due time they saw the outline of land, and the buildings began to take shape. That was Halifax.

On arrival at Halifax, they prayed, thanking the Lord for their safe arrival. After going through mountainous waves and fog, it must have been with the help of some divine power that they arrived safe and in good health. Later they learned that the same ship, the Lake Huron, after loading a cargo of lumber destined for England, broke up in the Atlantic Ocean and sank. They were convinced more than ever that the Lord had saved them for the future.

From Halifax, they were taken to an island which they called Quarantine (Grosse Ile, Quebec – ed.). After strict examination, they were pronounced free from any contagious disease, and physically in very good shape. The examining physicians admitted that they never had seen such a healthy group of immigrants as the Doukhobors. After the word was passed ahead, about the cleanliness of the people, the officials mingled quite freely with the Doukhobors and tried to be as helpful as possible. They were then taken to Quebec City by boat. After a rest period they were escorted to the train which was a far cry from the freight cars of Russia. They arrived in Selkirk (Manitoba – ed.) where the Government of the North West Territories equipped the Military Barracks with food and lodging. Here they rested and went shopping, buying whatever they could take without too much trouble. The people were then given a choice as to where they wanted to go. The choices were Prince Albert district or Yorkton. A large portion chose Prince Albert and the events will be described about the Prince Albert group.

At Selkirk the Bayoffs and Popoffs (Makaroffs) bought two horses and a wagon each. There were others, but Dad does not remember who they were. The train stopped at Duck Lake and that was their destination as far as the train ride was concerned. The wagons were loaded with freight and other belongings. Only the very old and weak rode. The rest walked behind the wagons. Those who had no wagons were not left behind. Tents must have been bought in Selkirk, as they certainly were put to use. There were rains and bad weather that spring. The (North Saskatchewan – ed.) river crossing was by Carlton Ferry. Getting out of the river valley, there were hills to cross, and in some cases they had to double up the teams to haul a load at a time.

The party had now reached a hill, called Crown Hill, about four or five miles west of the present Village of Marcelin, which also is adjacent to Windsor Lake School area. This is as far as they could go together, as this was the place from which they spread out to locate their villages. Five groups chose to be near the river: Spasovka (River Hill) was the most northerly; going south Slavyanka, then Uspeniye, then Terpeniye and most southerly Petrofka (Petrovka – ed.). The Haralowka (Gorelovka – ed.) group did not want to go too far, so they located a few miles south of Crown Hill. Pozirayevka and Troitskoye were some distance west of the river.

The Bayoffs and Popoffs (Makaroffs) chose Petrofka. Of course, as will be seen, there were a lot of others in the group, but the story deals mostly with the Bayoff family, with mention of others from the same village,

Doukhobor women digging drainage for a new settlement in the West. British Columbia Archives C-01369.

The elders, my great grandfather was one of them, chose a place about 5 miles south of present Petrofka (Golovinka – ed.). After scouting around, they decided that the brooks were not good enough, so they retraced their steps back north where the brooks seemed much better. In fact one of the brooks (Petrofka Spring – ed.) later became the choice of the present Petrofka picnic grounds, just north of the bridge. That same brook runs through grandfather’s land, just below the picnic grounds.

The location of the village had now been decided upon. Now the big task was erecting buildings. As a temporary measure some people dug into the bank of a hill, making a cave, where they had temporary shelter. Grandfather Dmitry and the boys, my Dad and Uncle Gabriel were very young but helpful. They built a shack and were reasonably comfortable.

My Great-Grandfather Grigory was not satisfied with Petrofka, so the three of them, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather and Dad went south to the vicinity of Borden. They scouted a bit and chose an area which could have been where the present village of Langham is located. They acquired the proper papers for homestead purposes. Grandfather and Dad spent one summer there and did a good piece of breaking. They began to miss their friends they left behind in Petrofka so they packed up and came back to Petrofka.

Now came the task of building. Not all had horses or wagons, so those who had horses and wagons had to help haul logs for the buildings for others. Grandfather worked hard. I do not know how long it took to build. I have lived in that house, which was quite large with several rooms and it had built-in bunks and benches all around the wall. It was a log house, but had a large cellar, an attic and a shingle roof. Although they had only four horses to start with, the barn had room for eight, then there were cows, chickens and ducks. A good well was in the yard. As Dad and Uncle Gabriel grew up and Aunt Anna was getting to be a big girl they had to build another house on the same property, as privacy had to be respected. I also remember a shop was built for blacksmithing. I have seen them shoe horses. Later that shop was used by transient immigrants, Russians who were good smiths and worked there, paying Grandfather a small percentage for the use of the shop and tools. The Bayoff place was like a station, as a lot of Russian newcomers made it their stopping place. Grandfather built two trestles on top of which they would place a log, with one man on top and one on the ground pulling a long saw for sawing planks, beams and joists. The newcomers were happy to earn some money and then move on to look for a place to settle. I have been told, and later witnessed myself, that the homes of Nikolai and Mavra Postnikoff and Styopa Esakin were always open for transients, and there were plenty of them passing through Petrofka. Petrofka was their resting place.

Petrofka established itself fairly fast, after the officials showed them where to start building. The houses sprang up fast. I would not be surprised that some of the houses could have been built from the Bayoff man-powered sawing of planks. The villagers were allowed to measure up their lots. They got together and staked out every lot before the building of their homes. Later came the surveyors who were surprised to see that all the houses were properly placed on their respective lots.

There were a lot of problems. Most of the families acquired horses or oxen. The nearest store was at Borden and that was far away, especially for oxen. Besides they were too busy with field work. The animals were overworked and needed rest. The next town was Rosthern, 22 miles, but crossing the river created a problem. They acquired a boat so they now could cross the river. Not too often, but it did happen, that they walked to Rosthern, and brought their supplies on their backs. Even sacks of flour were brought in that way. They say necessity is the mother of invention. We had some very inventive and capable people in Petrofka. Dad tells me one such man was one of the inventors, or a better word, improviser. This man was John Strelioff. I knew him too as I often played with his son, also called John,

Going for flour in the Rosthern district of Saskatchewan, 1899. British Columbia Archives C-01355.

This man wanted to improve the river crossing. Instead of oars he devised a paddle wheel attached to the boat, and put a crank onto it. According to Bad, by cranking the paddle wheel they could, cross the river in half the time. That was very welcome and worked just fine, but he still had to walk to Rosthern and carry supplies on his back. So he improvised the wheel barrow by using a very large wheel. Dad does not remember where the wheel came from, but the diameter of the wheel was about 4 feet. That made pushing it with a load quite easy, as that size of a wheel rolled easily over small obstructions. John Strelioff actually pushed that barrow to Rosthern and brought a lot more supplies that way instead of carrying them on his back. He also made a bicycle. He used 2 wheels from spinning wheels, made sprockets from a spade and made a chain with links shaped from wire. The bicycle actually worked, but as far as Bad remembers there was no talk of it ever being used to go to Rosthern.

Soon the ferry (Petrofka Ferry – ed.) appeared. Everybody was happy. They could drive to Rosthern by team and wagon. Then buggies appeared which provided a little more speed and comfort. Conditions further improved when Waldheim appeared. It was only 8 miles then. The railroad made it possible to take trips to Saskatoon. Soon after, a grocery and confectionary store opened up, owned by Mr. Eagleson, who also had the Post Office with the title of Petrofka. Petrofka was a fast-growing village so the government, to keep peace among our people, empowered one of the early English speaking citizens as a judge; so we actually had a judge in our village. Dad does not remember the name of the judge, however he did not stay long as there were no disputes, no fights – in other words the judge had nothing to do so he left.

Events were moving rapidly. People became more settled. Russian and Ukrainian immigrants came in larger numbers, stopping in Petrofka to rest and consider their next move. The Bayoffs, Postnikoffs, Makaroffs and Esakins housed a lot of these people. They were all good people. In exchange for their keep they would work a few days sawing planks or work in a blacksmith shop. The shop was kept busy by sharpening plowshares and other iron work. Some of these nice people decided to stay on in our village and became one of us. They married our Doukhobor girls and settled down with them. Just to mention two of them, Peter Dobroluboff married a Kousnitsoff girl, and Stanislav Lostowski married Elizabeth Mitin, a widow.

With the never ending task of survival, with very little money, the building and seeing that there be enough money to feed and clothe the family, the task seemed insurmountable; yet against odds, there was time for socializing, such as it was. Most of them had not experienced the more extravagant upper level of social living, so there was no complaint. They would gather at the neighbor’s house for a talk or a singsong if they were in the mood. That went on when the people moved on to their homesteads, perhaps with a little more enthusiasm, because of the distance between them. Grandpa bought the school house, and had lots of room for visitors; Grandma (Lusha) Lukeria would always provide lunch. Quite often we would go to visit Grandpa and Grandma.

On one occasion, when we arrived at Grandpa’s, we found that we were not the only visitors. There were Salikins. Grandpa and Grandma were very close friends with Tanya and Nicholas. Philip Gulioff was also there. Tanya was a very likable woman, very sociable and usually the life of the party. Philip had a chair by the cupboard. He reached out his hand and began tapping on a tin dishpan. Pretty soon there developed a rhythm to his tapping. Tanya did not waste any time, jumped up, and executed a few graceful steps, approached Grandma, and said, ”come on Lusha, lets show them like we used to when we were young.” Grandma was reluctant at first, but then Philip began tapping with more lively music, at least to them and to me that was music. Philip increased the volume and gusto. It must have been hard for Grandma to resist. There was their chance to live again their young days in Russia. They began to move, and what a performance, their aprons swinging, their hands and arms gracefully swinging, their feet moving gracefully. They moved in a semi circular motion. They were so smooth; they were actually floating, using their arms and hands as in ballet. It did not mean too me much then, but as I think about it, I still can picture that dance. I have seen some ballet dancing, but I have not seen anything so smooth. If you have seen the Russian skaters, then you will see what I mean. They danced apart, but their movement of arms and hands were in perfect unison. You could almost say that the Russian peasants were born with a certain amount of ballet in them.

Grandpa Dmitry and Grandma Lusha Bayoff, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan.

Lusha and Tanya were grandmothers, but really they at that time were young women even if they were Grandmothers. That was the first time I had seen Grandma Bayoff act this way. Everyone enjoyed themselves. It was a very pleasant visit. The Salikins visited them often, but I have not heard of Grandma and Tanya performing again. Perhaps Philip was not around.

Our young people grew up fast, and with the help of these Russian people soon a football team was formed (soccer ball). Every Sunday there were football games. I remember seeing them play. Dad was a goalkeeper. They even took part in Rosthern Sports day and nearly won one game. They blame the loss on the party the night before.

The first few years during the period of orientation life was hard, especially when one had to carry flour from Rosthern on their backs. So the elders of Petrofka and the other villages decided to build a flour mill. The Petrofka elders, including my Great Grandfather Grigory, foresaw the possibility of a water-driven wheel for supplying the power, and that was one reason they retraced their steps back north and settled at the present sight. It was closer to the creek. This creek (Radouga Creek – ed.) running through Uncle Paul Makaroff’s farm was the ideal location for the mill. It being centrally located between Petrofka and Terpeniye and Troitskoye, although other villages co-operated. The mill was located near Timothy Vereschagin’s home, not far from the present Brookhill School. To create a large enough water head, they dug by hand roughly two miles, more or less, a channel diverting the flow to create a high enough waterfall. They had done a wonderful job, a civil engineering job. It is surprising what necessity can do. The mill was built and put to work. The flow of water was enough to make the mill operational. The capacity of the mill was large enough to supply the need of the community. According to Dad, the mill produced very good flour. Dad does not remember how many years the mill worked, but he remembers that, supposedly, government men came along, removed the grinding stone, and gave them orders not to build another mill, but to buy flour as the other citizens did. If it was the government, I think it was very inconsiderate of them. The mill was destroyed, but the evidence is still there. I well remember, when I went to Makaroff’s to swim with Pete and Joe, the channel was still evident, although in a very deteriorated condition.

There was another mill built, whether before the destruction of the Petrofka mill or later, Dad does not remember. This other mill was built in the village of Troitskoye. It was a steam powered mill. The engine was a stationary one, but on wheels and had to be pulled by horses. Dad remembers one incident during the construction of this mill. There was a Chernoff who seemed to have been in charge of the job. A very capable and meticulous man, whose motto was perfection, for which he took pride and credit. As the story goes, on one occasion he observed that one worker had not been too accurate with his work, so he called out to this worker “this does not look too good, how did you level it”. The worker replied “I have leveled it by eye”. Chernoff was not satisfied; he called, “s— on your eye, use the level”. The order must have been carried out, as the mill was constructed, and produced very good flour. This also did not last long. To the sorrow of the people it was dismantled just like the Petrofka mill, supposedly by government men. Who knows?

We had some very strong men in Petrofka. The river that brought in logs used to flood at times, the large logs being two feet in diameter. To get them out of the river and drag them to shore required a lot of strength. Dad mentions one man, Pete Padowski. I remember him. He was a quiet man, yet a big man. He would drag the log over the bank to where the wagon stood. People asked him why he did not use the oxen. He answered that if he could not drag it over the bank the oxen certainly could not. Besides he saved the oxen to pull the wagon. Later on when the people began to buy cars, Padowski bought a car, and this I saw myself, to change a tire he called his wife to set the block under the axle, as he lifted the car by hand, without a jack.

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

Grandfather Dmitry, with the help of Dad and Uncle Gabriel (Gavril – ed.), built the two houses, the necessary barns, dug a well and built a bath house. According to Dad, it was the second bath house in the village. So it was used by a lot of villagers. The custom was that the women go first to take a bath. They came in a group, as many as the bath house could hold, until all the women had their bath, so some were undressing as some were bathing, as all of them could not get in at once. As the rumor goes Grandpa was there bringing in water, etc., and seeing that the women had everything for their bath. He even washed some of the ladies backs to hurry the process. The first bathhouse was built on Reban’s lot, and was used as a community bathhouse. Families took turns to heat and supply water. Each family provided their own hazel nut brooms for steaming themselves and supplied their own soap.

Well, going back to Grandfather, helping the ladies was not the only good deed he did. He was some sort of a doctor. Usually Sundays, sometimes a visitor would come from another village to have Grandfather let blood. That I have witnessed myself. Grandma would roll up the person’s sleeve, tie a towel on the arm to have a vein stand out, while Grandpa opened up a little black box and produced small gadget which he called a lancet. After setting the gadget, he asked Grandma to hold a can. Pretty soon I heard a little click and I saw blood running out while Grandma caught the blood with the can. I don’t know whether it cured the person of the ailment, but all I know is I got pretty sick watching it. I know that Grandpa never charged anyone for this.

Another person worthy of mention was Mavra (Mavrunya) Postnikoff, wife of the ferryman, Nikolai, nicknamed Starchik. This good woman performed marvelously as a midwife, making deliveries in a large community. As far as I know, her record was that all the babies she delivered have lived. I and brother Pete are credited to her work.

As I have mentioned before, there were two Quakers on the boat. They must have evaluated the Doukhobors from every possible angle. The conclusion must have been in our favor as shortly after the villagers got themselves established, or caught up with the necessary housing, the Quakers contacted our elders and others of the village asking if Petrofka would like to have a school. The majority of the people agreed that it would be desirable to do a little learning at this time, being in a new country. That proved to the Quakers that we were a progressive people and wanted to better ourselves. The buildings were shipped from the U.S. pre-fabricated. The school had two classrooms and the teacherage was a two-story house. Mr. and Mrs. Wood and their daughter must have been the first teachers. Mr. Wood took the adults and Miss Wood the children. Russian classes and singing were given by Herman Fast, the father-in-law of our Mrs. Fast (Mavrunya), her husband being Nicholas Fast. I started in that school before I was five years old. By then there were two other teachers, Miss Martin and Miss Moore. They changed the teachers every year or two. It is understandable that the teachers needed a change, as a Doukhobor village with people who did not speak English does not provide much social life for a teacher. This school was used until the municipality was created, at which time the Government built a new Petrofka school, No. 23, about a mile north of the village.

The Quaker school attracted people from other villages, hoping for some learning. Dad mentions that at this time the housing situation became quite critical, as most of the homes were built just for their own families. Dad said he went as high as grade 3, but Mother said she used up one short pencil. She liked school and advanced quite rapidly, but her girl friends started to call her a “Professor”, so she quit and got married.

As Mothers are, my Mother was a kind-hearted, capable woman. She visualized that education was helpful in many ways, so she started my and Pete’s schooling at home. She instructed us in the Russian language. As I have mentioned before, she attended Russian classes taught by Herman Fast. She must have studied hard because she knew enough to give us a start in our studies. By the time we were 5 years old, both Pete and I knew how to read and write Russian.

Doukhobor village gathering, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902.

This Quaker built and sponsored school is credited with giving Dr. Nicholas Zbitnoff, presently of Ukiah, California, his start in schooling. With a lot of courage and fortitude, a lot of hard work and hard times, Dr. Zbitnoff became one of the most respected medical practitioners and surgeons. His education began in Petrofka.

I started English School at the village with my teacher being Miss Moore or Miss Martin. I was somewhere between four and five years old. I was given a slate and a slate pencil. I took this slate with me to the new Petrofka School north of the village. I think slates were used for the first year or two. We had a bottle of water on our desks and a clean rag to wash and dry our slates. We could not wash our slate until the teacher checked our work, thus checking our mistakes if any. The transition to paper was quite rapid. It was more convenient, and not so messy. Sometimes I feel that I should have kept on with the slate. Perhaps I would have been a smarter person.

As human nature goes, our people at times were subjected to ridicule. One such incident worthy of mention happened while a few of our boys were hired during threshing to pitch bundles, or haul sheaves, as a few dollars earned was quite helpful. This was across the river on one of the German families’ threshing outfits. The German people were hospitable. In spite of their good nature and friendliness, there were one or two young boys who were picking on one of our quietest boys. This chap was William L. Strelioff. They could not get him riled up, as he would ignore their picking on him. He would just move away from them. They must have made their minds up to see how much he could take. They did the meanest thing that could happen. One of them piddled into William’s cap. This made our boys very angry. Alyosha Rebin, Paul and Pete Rebin’s father shouted loudly, “We cannot take that, grab your forks and follow me. We must stop that once and for all times”. Alyosha was not a very big man, perhaps 140 pounds, but what he lacked in size, he made up in courage. There were only 3 or 4 of our boys, so with pitch forks in hand they followed Alyosha. The local boys did not feel like giving ground at first, but then changed their minds when Alyosha layed his fork across the back of one of them. They turned and ran with our boys after them, branding two or more of the local boys. The threshing was stopped for that day. The owner of the machine called the police who took everyone to Rosthern. Court was held. What a sight! The branded boys took their shirts off to show the 3 beautiful marks on their backs made by three-pronged pitch forks. The judge charged each one of our boys and the local boys $7.00, told the local boys not to use our boys’ caps for that purpose and told our boys not to use pitch forks for fighting. Dad was one of the pitch fork gladiators. Threshing resumed the next morning. If there was hostility, they did not show it. There was no bad language used and even more friendly relationship prevailed. Threshing season ended without further incident.

As time marched on, changes began to take place. People of Petrofka began to acquire land, mostly around the village. Since most of us had barns by now, they would drive their horses to their farms to work for the day and come back to the village for the night. I used to watch them come home in the evenings about sundown, driving their teams of four horses. To me it was a beautiful sight. Later on, one by one, they moved out of the village completely and started all over on their farms. However, the village did not diminish in size for awhile, as new arrivals had it nice to occupy the vacated buildings. Sundays the farmers would come to the village, either to visit, or just to see their friends and relatives and to play a game of ball, (hilki) or football. As the second generation grew up, bicycles and even cars began to appear. The children enjoyed going to the store to buy candy. Then there was the Post Office. As the older generation became too occupied with their farming, and building, football suffered. The younger generation became interested in baseball. Young people of the other villages began to visit Petrofka just to play and drink some cider at the store. Blaine Lake came into existence, so there was another team to play against. I believe it was in the early twenties that Petrofka had a sports day of their own. There were teams from across the river as well as from Blaine Lake. Big Pete Padowski was at the gate collecting admission to the grounds.

Father John Bayoff holding Alex, Dunya (John’s wife), Gabriel Bayoff. Seated are Dmitry and Lusha Bayoff with Anna Bayoff standing beside her.

The original store keeper, the Eaglesons, moved out because of schooling for their children. The store was then moved to Nick Makaroff’s house with Nick Postnikoff running it. The Post Office remained in Petrofka until most of the villagers moved out to their farms. Then the Post Office was moved 5 or 4 miles west of the village, but still keeping the name. Later when Nick Makaroff went to his farm, he took his store with him. Nick Postnikoff went with the store and stayed there until he died. They also had the Post Office called Radouga. Alex (Lioxia) Strelioff then opened a store in Makaroff’s house for a while, and then moved his store to Robin’s barn, running the store until he died. After that Paul Voykin opened up the store on his farm, 3 miles west of the village.

Sports were not the only hobbies. We also had some very talented people as well as strong and inventive people that I have mentioned before. Petrofka was always famous for its singers. I do not remember too much of the older people, but the younger generation really got the reputation. Under the direction of Samuel Postnikoff, who also was a very good singer, being a soloist at times, he produced a choir from our country boys and their wives that was outstanding in performance. Another cousin of mine, Edward Postnikoff was an outstanding member of the choir taking solo parts at times. I believe they were the nicest group of young boys and ladies that I have heard at that time. They entertained civic organizations in Saskatoon as well as performing on C.F.Q.C. radio.

We also had very prominent people in their respective ways. Fred Lovroff (Postnikoff) through hardship and perseverance became one of the famous artists of that time. His exhibits were shown in most of the important art displays in many countries. Later, Samuel’s daughter, Jeannette, became very prominent in her painting of live art. Our cousin Fred Post (Postnikoff) is another Petrofka product whose paintings of scenery could rank with the best. Another person was my Uncle Peter Makaroff, who became the first lawyer from Petrofka. He was also the first school teacher of the country Petrofka school which I attended. He must have played an important part in the history of Saskatoon, as there was a street named after him. The family of Mike and Grunya Postnikoff were instrumental in having a street named after them. However, the next generation produced a lot of professional people, not only from Petrofka but from most of the other villages as well. There were teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, druggists, engineers, dentists, etc.

In a lighter vein, Petrofka even had a pool room, only one table. I do not know how long it was in business or how it faired, as I was too young to realize what it was. It lasted only a few years.

We also had comedians. At this time I will relate one of the many occurrences. It happened one evening when a load of supplies, etc., came in from Rosthern. Naturally wine was one of the items brought in. Then a party had to take place, which was in Nickolai Popoff’s place, a brother of Grandfather Makaroff. As the party was in progress, the host, Nickolai Popoff revealed some important conclusions. Evidently he witnessed one of the bread and wine acts, a religious ceremony in a Mennonite church. There was a plate of bread broken into small pieces and a small jigger of wine. These were passed around the congregation and whoever wished to take part took a piece of bread and wet their lips with the wine. He mentioned how the people were misled, and that a sip of wine would entitle them to a place in heaven. He went on to say that here we drink it by the gallon and even then we are not sure if we be qualified for a place in heaven.

As the municipal school opened up, the school in the village closed up. Grandpa Bayoff bought the school and moved it to his homestead, about a mile north of the village. George Strelioff bought the teacherage and moved it about half a mile north of the village. Besides the house and other buildings in the village, Grandpa Makaroff built a two-story house on the outskirts of the village. Rebins also built their house on the northern outskirts of the village. All others had their farms, some close to and some not so close to the village. Dad built our house about 2 miles north of the village and Uncle Gabriel, still further north.

Pete and Alex Bayoff in the village of Petrofka, c. 1910.

Aunt Anna, who became Mrs. George Postnikoff, moved quite away south west of the village. Eventually every family moved out. Paul Voykin opened a store on his farm about three miles west of the village. The Petrofka Post Office was also moved to a farm west of the village. Sometime later Eli Gulioff opened a store and a barber shop close to the ferry.

So now the Petrofka Bridge carries the name of the once hustling and very active hamlet full of happiness, hard times and good times and some sorrowful. This has been blown away as if by a gust of wind, leaving only the spiritual members of Petrofka’s graveyard to remind us of its existence. Petrofka as well as other villages have done their duty and served their purpose in providing a link between those who came ahead and the new immigrants, keeping them together and helping one another to settle themselves for a new life in a new and strange country. That purpose had been accomplished. At this point it’s worthy of mention, Dad’s saying that we should be grateful to the good Queen Victoria for accepting us, and to our far-seeing elders who had enough courage to organize this move. Also we shouldn’t forget the help we received from Count Leo Tolstoy and the Quakers, and last but not least, to honour our ancestors who, through extreme hardship, brought us into this country where we so far have lived in harmony with other peoples of various races and religions.

We were then settled on the farm, north of the village, building, working the land, raising stock and poultry and gardening. Most of the Sundays we went to the village to mingle with friends and relatives and to see if there was any mail. In a few years of struggle, which included a lot of land clearing, we suddenly found ourselves solvent. The buildings were up, the implements paid for, the mares in foal and the cows heavy with calf. There were a few dollars put away under the mattress. As Dad wanted to increase the horsepower so that we could have two outfits of four animals, he thought he had a bargain on mules. So he bought a team. That is when you have to test your nerves.

They stopped working whenever they felt like it and would not move, no matter what, until they decided to. Something like our present unions, only the unions were justified in going on strike. Who knows, maybe the mules were justified. Dad could not figure that out so he traded them in on a new wagon and a nice new shiny buggy.

Life on the farm was a lot of hard work, as all of our people experienced. We had to do without things that we would have liked. Pete and I were too young to be of much help except to bring the cows from the pasture at milking time. Mother would go out in the field with Dad, who was either fencing or clearing land. One of the quarters had a lot of bush. I have seen Mother drive a team (of horses – ed.) hooked to a tree or bush, while Dad was swinging the axe to chop the roots. In the evening came milking time and supper making, and at bed time Mother would help us wash our feet, as Pete and I went bare footed a lot. Our poor Mothers, how they worked!

Then there were embarrassing times too. Mother tells of one incident when a Mounted Policeman drove into the field where Mother was plowing. She was wearing Dad’s overalls over her dress. The Policeman asked if she was a man or a woman and said “if you are a woman you better pull those overalls off”. Being scared, Mother complied. I do not remember her saying anything, whether she put them on again when the Policeman left.

Doukhobors threshing the grain harvest. Library and Archives Canada PA-022242.

Our yard was about a mile and a half from the bush, approaching the river and at that time it seemed as if it were full of coyotes. Some evenings they become quite musical. It seemed as though they had a whole choir. There were tenors, basses and sopranos. It was not uncommon to see a coyote come into the yard in broad daylight and grab a chicken.

As I have mentioned before, we had acquired a new buggy. The best way to train a horse is to do it when they are two years old. The only suitable horse we had then was a nice two year old stallion. He was quite gentle and well behaved. We used to hitch him up to the new buggy to go to the village for the mail. So one Sunday we took him to the neighboring church. At that time most of the driving was done by horse and buggy, so there were a lot of horses tied to the fence posts. Dad tied our young stallion next to the other horses and we all went into church. During the sermon we were attracted by the shrieking of horses. Dad went out and saw our young horse trying to be playful. Dad immediately moved him over away from the other horses and made sure that he tied him securely. The church service continued then without further interruption.

People as a whole were getting more affluent, so a change was forthcoming. Our neighbors bought a car. Then, as there were a few dollars under the mattress, brother Pete asked Dad to buy a car since the neighbors had one and Pete wanted to be equal. Dad did not want to rush into such an expense and so said, “No, we are not ready for it.” Pete began to cry as he was only 4 years old. Wiping his eyes and whimpering, he said the neighbors had a car so must we. Dad drew his attention to the fact he was small and could not do the work like the neighbors did, and because they had a big family, could earn a lot of money. At this point Pete, still crying, said, “What is keeping you from having a big family?” Dad and Mom took notice of that remark, especially coming from a four year old. After a little deliberation, they took the easy way out and bought a brand new Gray-Dort car.

In 1914 came the war. Dad, as well as other young men was called up, including Uncle Pete Makaroff who had just finished law school. I have heard that while pleading the case of the Doukhobors, Uncle was handled pretty rough by the police. A temporary release was obtained, due to the fact that the crops would soon be ready to harvest. They decided that our boys would be able to harvest the crops. Our people, seeing the seriousness of the situation, organized a meeting on the day of St. Peter and St. Paul, for prayer and to decide what to do. They agreed to send 5 or 4 men to Ottawa to plead our case. This meeting was held on the farm of Uncle Nicholas Makaroff, and was initiated as the first meeting in Saskatchewan in memory of the one held in Russia when they gathered all the firearms and burned them. That was on the day of St. Peter and St. Paul. In the District of Blaine Lake, as far as I know, these prayer meetings were held every year after that. This at times became a very large occasion, sometimes lasting two days. We had visitors from California and other parts of the U.S.A. to help bring back the memory of the first meeting in Russia for the burning of the firearms. Molokans were frequent visitors. At least on one occasion we had visitors from the Quakers.

As mentioned before, at the first historic meeting in Saskatchewan, they agreed to send a delegation to Ottawa. I do not remember if the delegates were elected or volunteered. They were Uncle Nick Makaroff, George Strelioff and the others I do not remember, but could have been from the district of Yorkton. These delegates did a good job convincing the government that we were let into Canada for the development of the North-West Territories. Documents showed that the good Queen Victoria exempted us from military service for 99 years. We were not bothered any more until the Second World War of 1939. At that time, our young men eligible for military service were exempt from it again, provided they did manual work in work camps. One of the camps was located just north of Prince Albert. They allowed one senior person to be with the boys to see that the boys behaved and that they were not abused. Pete was practicing dentistry in Meadow Lake. As he was the only dentist for a large territory, reaching from Meadow Lake all the way to Lenningrad, they decided to let him stay, but he had to pay a portion of his earnings to the war effort.

Group of Doukhobor girls, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, 1930. Library and Archives Canada PA-022240.

Now going back to 1918, the First World War came to an end November 11, 1918. Then the Spanish influenza came along. There were only a few people who did not get sick. I do not remember if Grandpa was sick or not. I remember that I was the last one of our family to get it. While I was able to move around, Grandpa would come and we would take the car to visit some sick neighbors. I was 11 years old, just old enough to think I knew a lot. However, I was lucky enough not to get caught by the police. They rode through the country quite frequently.

The two quarter sections of land that we owned were not adjacent to one another. This created inconvenience in moving machinery from one place to another and being a whole day away from home we also had to carry food and water for the midday feeding of the horses. My parents saw a chance to buy a half-section together and so they made a deal with Eli Strelioff, who at that time had an agreement of sale with a Mr. Smith of New York. Dad took over that agreement of sale and so we moved to about three miles south of Marcelin, and about 15 miles from our Petrofka home. The Petrofka property was sold to William Postnikoff who acquired the home quarter; and the other to Fred Dargin. It was in the spring of 1919.

To me at the time it seemed unfair; we had just settled properly at the Petrofka farm and then we had to start from scratch again. Moving is bad enough if you have some place to move to, but on the new farm there was a small 10′ X 12’ shack, one granary, no barn, and as the saying goes, “no nothing”.

Dad and Mother must have had extra strong intestinal fortitude. I had just turned 12 and pitched in with all my might. I missed three years school. It was hard work. We had to put up an addition to the shack, dig a well, build a barn, a chicken house and a workshop. There was more bush than we would have liked, so every spare day we were in the bush. I was old enough to handle a team, while Dad swung the axe.

The first crop, 1919, looked very good, but when we started cutting it, it was so full of rust that you could hardly see the horses in front of you. The yield was very poor. One of Dad’s best friends and neighbors in the village, Pete Reban, insisted that he would like to come all that way to thresh. It was not for the money, but to see where we were. It was a happy occasion in spite of the poor crop year. The two friends, Dad and “Uncle Pete” (we called him Uncle, as Dad and he were so close) had a real pow-wow. Paul was there too and we enjoyed his wit and humor.

There were bad and good years, plus hard work. It was very discouraging. It was hard to hit the right time to sell grain, due to changing markets. On top of that, we had to pay 20 cents exchange on American money. However, we buckled down and in 1925 we had a very good crop. The prices for grain were good. We paid up for the land, bought a new car, a Chrysler Sedan, built a new house and barn, bought another half section of land and were back in debt. Then the Depression began to spread. I started University and Pete, after trying University, switched to Normal School. He taught our home school, Gillies, for six years for $400.00 a year, for which he had to do the janitor work also. That $400.00 he turned over to the family. It was very welcome. Crop failure and quotas did not help any. Seeing no future in teaching, Pete started University again, and in 1940 graduated from the Northwestern University in Chicago and began his practice of Dentistry in Meadow Lake in 1940. He is still there at the time of writing this article, enjoying his retirement, after more than 40 years of practice. He still does work, if you can catch him at home, and he enjoys it. He still attends dental seminars and other dental meetings. He says once a dentist you want to keep abreast of new developments for the sake of knowing.

Group of young Doukhobors, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, 1930. Library and Archives Canada C-008888.

As for myself, I too got fed up with the Depression, and went to Minneapolis, where I got my Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering; at the same time did a year of research work for a Masters Degree in Hydraulics. There were no jobs there either – very discouraging. I got a job in a hardware wholesale at a salary of $18.00 per week. Then I fell in love and got married to Mary Rogich. I moved into Mary’s home. She lived with her Mother and brother. Mary’s Mother was a wonderful woman, kind-hearted and very generous. After about a year I realized that I was not making any headway and I did not feel like sponging on the good nature of Mary’s Mother. Jobs in engineering or other types were non-existent. You got some sort of consideration if you joined the army. That was not for me. In the fall, I persuaded Mary to come to the farm with me. We would not have to pay rent, and at the same time have the best food that nature can give us. Besides I had an interest in the farm. Then when times got better, I could get an engineering job and we could try our luck at it. Mary was a city girl and could not see her way to become a farmer’s wife. It was my duty to provide for my family, and I could not do it for the year we tried in the city. So I decided to stay on the farm and at the same time keep my equity in the farm; she decided to go back to her Mother. It was hard on both of us. We loved one another, but as we have found out, people cannot live on love alone. It was harder on Mary as her Mother was a widow, and. it was Mary’s duty to be with her, or near her. Mary was a wonderful wife, but somehow the conditions were against us. The Thirties were rolling on, so was the Depression, so it would be foolish for me to quit farming to look for another job. I tried.

I concluded that the Depression and hard times was 90% responsible for the breaking up of this my family. We were not the only victims of the Depression. Banks went broke and people lost all their belongings. Many committed suicide. The first job I got was in 1939 when I managed to get on the crew for building a boiler for the Saskatchewan Power Commission. That job paid 25 cents an hour. I lived in the Barry Hotel, ate out and managed to bring some money home.

Then the war broke out and in 1940 I joined the M & C Aviation Co. to design aircraft parts. After the war was over I could get ten jobs. I worked for Underwood and McLellan for several years, then took time out to build four houses in Saskatoon. Just prior to this time I received word that I was divorced from Mary. Then in a few years I re-married Daisy Sawley, who helped me build the four houses. I then went back to surveying, working for Webb and Webster for a few years more. Mother died in 1962. That knocked the energy out of me, so I retired from my engineering work.

Two good things resulted in my varied life. One is that Mary gave us a wonderful Daughter whom we love very much. This is partly the cause of me writing this article, as our Daughter knows very little of my background. The other good thing that happened was when I met Daisy. It is surprising how much can be accomplished when two people pull together. Diana, our Daughter comes to visit us quite often. Daisy and Diana get along very well, so well that I sometimes feel jealous, but I am happy that they get along so well. We thank Mary, Diana’s Mother, from the bottom of our hearts for giving us such a wonderful Daughter.

It would be inconsiderate of me not to mention the help and advice of my loving wife. She gave me encouragement, help and support in writing this article. . She is a true Christian and a Good Samaritan. When Mother was sick, she took her into our home, and looked after her. Now we have Dad, who is harder to look after, Daisy does not complain, and takes things as they come.

There are only three old Bayoff’s left. There will be no more Bayoff’s of this dynasty to carry on. The branch of Uncle Gabriel’s dynasty was terminated when Fred died, leaving three ladies, Olga, Anne and Elsie. If they do have children, they will not carry the name. Of Dad’s, mine and Pete’s branch, most likely Diana will be stuck with writing the last chapter of our dynasty. God Bless her and give her good health and strength, and I hope she is happy being in the family. We also thank Edward and Mary Postnikoff from the bottom of our hearts for taking care of Grandpa Dmitry in his last days, and taking care of his funeral in the best of Doukhobor traditions. Thank you Edward and Mary.

Labor Day of 1983, we went to Manitou Beach (Watrous, Saskatchewan – ed.) for a swim in the pool, as it was closing for the season. Dad enjoyed himself very much. He stayed in the pool for three hours. When he got out he said, “Goodbye pool, I will never see you again”. The pool buildings burned down early that fall and Dad died March 30, 1984.

I am now the official old man (starichok or “elder” – ed.) of my family, even though I do not feel that old. It is just the honorary recognition I must accept.

Alex Bayoff,

Saskatoon, SK., May 1985

Vanya Bayoff – The Execution

by Alexander M. Bodyansky

The following article is a true, first person autobiographical account by Doukhobor Vanya Bayoff (1864-1901) outlining his brutal torture and persecution during the “Burning of Arms” in Russia in 1895. It was recorded by Alexander Mikhailovich Bodyansky, a Russian nobleman and Tolstoyan who visited the Doukhobors in Canada in early 1900. Reproduced from ISKRA No.1883 (December 15, 1999) and ISKRA No. 1884 (January 12, 2000), (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C.), it is a powerful and riveting account of extraordinary spiritual depth, endurance and heroism.

All right, let me tell you about my life, though you’re not going to find this interesting. Of my boyhood, what is there to say? I grew, just as our boys nowadays grow. We live differently by our understanding than the Russians do. The Russians are strict with their children, sometimes beating them. As we understand it, this is an impossibility; a deadly sin.

Once or twice I saw how an adult beat a small child and I was so grieved over it, so grieved that I nearly joined in this fight myself. A child, no matter what sort, is more pure than an adult, and how are you going to beat him anyway, when he’s no stronger than a little chick? He’s completely defenceless. No, thank God, we have no such practice. I dare say that it all comes from a lack of understanding. Oh, the poor unfortunate Russians.

And now, I remember something – What I saw as I was travelling across Russia on my way to visit Peter Vasilyevich (Verigin) in Archangelsk province. I was travelling on a steamer along the Volga where the forest is entirely fir and spruce. The steamer broke down and they moored it to a dock and began repairing it. To us, the deck passengers, they announced that we would be standing until evening. There was a village right there, so I went for a stroll and a look around to see how the people live, and I thought I’d buy some provisions, because things are expensive on the boat.

I ask the man at the dock whether there is a store here where I can buy some bread. He answers that there is no bread in the stores but that one can buy it at any home. I go up to one of the nicer looking houses, say hello, and ask if they have bread for sale. There is a man sitting in a chair on the porch. He looks like some sort of merchant. He says I can buy some, and inquires whether I am a passenger from the steamer, at which time he calls his son out. A boy of about 12 comes bounding out and when he notices me he stops and stares. Now I don’t know what it was about me that he found so strange. Whatever it was he saw, he just fixed his eyes on me, mouth wide open, and stared. And what do you think? The parent takes and shoves his fist right into the boy’s mouth, and he must have scraped his finger on one of those little teeth, because he pulled his hand back and slams his foot square into the boy’s stomach, who curls right over while his father swears. I didn’t want the bread any more after witnessing this shamelessness, and I turned to leave. Where are you going he yells, its not you I clipped. They’ll bring the bread right now. You have clipped me, I say. Just think about what you have done. And what, says he, have I done (and he clutches his sides). Maybe you want me to teach my son to gawk? You wicked spirit, say I, to drive the boy in the mouth and darken his soul. So what are you, he asks, a priest soliciting for the church service. Well, here’s five kopecks. Probably can’t hold a service on five kopecks. I had already walked away, and didn’t carry the conversation any further.

There was another time, near the town of Mezen’ when I had to spend the night at a hunter’s house. His wife brought in the flounder, a flat fish fried on a pan, and set it on a table. Here is how they do it: the fish will have kvass or something poured over it, and children eat first. They dip their barley bread into the pan with the grease and eat it, and when they’ve eaten up the sauce, the adults eat the actual fish. One little girl, perhaps six years old, stood up and reached across the table. Her hand must have slipped, for she tipped over the entire frying pan. And, oh, how her mother flew into a rage! She grabbed the girl by the hair – can you imagine? – she picked her up by the hair and threw her onto the floor, leaving hair between all her fingers. Its terrible to imagine such ferocious people. Grandfather, what do you think, where does this cruelty come from? Why do they have no God? I think it is because they have used up all their God on services, priests, and all sorts of holiness, grandfather! We do not have any of this, thank God.

I’m not saying this to brag. After all, among us you’ll find all sorts of people. I’m just saying that there is less stupidity with us. If there is a villain among us, he was either born that way or became so of his own will, but a good person does not turn into a villain. That woman, you see, the hunter’s wife who I said had pulled the girl’s hair, was really a good person. She took the girl on her lap as soon as she started to cry, she caressed, comforted, fed, and lulled her to sleep on her breast, in her arms. As long as they sat, she held her and did not eat herself.

We do not permit any beating of children, grandfather, because we are people of different thinking. We believe that all children are born of God’s spirit, and incarnated through man. And you know, grandfather, you will not hear these words from us: father, mother, son and daughter. We consider these words to be harmful, because through these very words the larger gains authority over the smaller. We completely forbid the use of these words. For us the elder and the younger are addressed in the same fashion: Petya, Vasya, Tanya, or else: parent, old man, nanny, missus. It has been this way with us since the olden days. We had this custom when we still lived in depravity and in alliance with the Russian government.

My parent – now that I have begun to speak, I must speak truthfully – liked to drink. Everyone in those days drank. I myself tried the poison, though it has always been repulsive to me. Wine I could drink, but vodka turned my insides, and if I ever drank it, it was only when travelling on the carriers, and my companions made me drink it for fortitude. But now I know that there is no truth in this whatsoever. As if the body’s strength were increased by vodka – this is self-deception and nothing more, and there is great danger in this because one can become dependent on this item. It would seem that my parent had this dependency. Now the business of drinking also took a different form with us than with the Russians. When our people drank, and there were great drunkards among us, they never became violent and there was none of the debauchery. If they got drunk, even to the brink, they would still quieten down without a fuss. Nor did my parent ever raise a fuss, and he drank often; a week would not pass without him drinking to the brink. He’d drink his fill, sleep it off, take a shot for his hangover, and get to work. And in matters of business he was an intelligent man. We had everything we needed. There were two of us in my family – I and my younger brother. My brother went into the army, but I had the privilege of staying home and helping my parent.

I was twenty-two years old then. And he says to me: get married, Vanya – take Tanya Novokshonova. And I, still young, didn’t understand much of anything, so I figured: everyone is getting married, so why don’t I? There was no great desire in me for marriage, I’ll admit. You can believe this or not, as you wish, but I was odd in this way from quite early on, and I used to wonder yet as a boy why there were men and why there were women. One could have lived without this, and it would have been better. And I still think that way today – that’s how ingrained these thoughts became to me from any early age. I probably shouldn’t have gotten married, but I did it like this: since my parent had told me to get married, I decided that that is what I must do. I had great respect for my parent as a very smart person; everyone had this respect for him; he was a village elder. And since he had told me I ought to get married, I figured that I ought to get married, that he knows best what ought to be done, so I’ll get married. My parent sent the matchmakers and Tanya and I became one family.

It was right at this time that our discord began among our people. You must have heard about this. Well, I’ll tell you a little: when our previous mistress Lukeria Kalmykova died, our elders kissed the hand of Peter Vasilyevich (Verigin), meaning that he was to be our master and to run our Orphan’s Home. Everything went as it should: Peter Vasilyevich became our master. But then something happened that no one had expected. Our deceased mistress had a brother whom they called Gubanov, and this brother secretly submitted an application to the court in Tiflis, requesting that he be made heir to the estate as consisting of our Orphan’s Home, with the capital and so on that went along with it, as well as the farmstead belonging to the home, the livestock and the sheep. The court did everything according to that request and paid no attention to the fact that our community hired a lawyer to dispute it. This lawyer told us afterwards that he could not do a thing in the courts since we were not legally recognized as a society and therefor could not legally possess property collectively. Thus the Orphan’s Home belonged not to us but to Gubanov, the heir of his sister’s estate, along with the capital and so forth. But then they called a halt to the proceedings, set up an investigation, and interrogated the neighbouring inhabitants, Armenians, Georgians and Tatars. And everyone testified to the same thing: that the Orphan’s Home with its capital and so forth had always been our common property. Only Gubanov must have taken them a bribe after this, because things took a turn for the worse: they arrested Peter Vasilievich along with five of our elders and sent them off to Arkhangelsk province. Dondukov-Korsakov was the senior commander at that time. It was after this that our discord began.

All together we were, it was said, about fifteen thousand people. Well, some of us were on Gubanov’s side, though not many – perhaps about three thousand, no more. And such a rift formed between us that whenever the “signed” and “unsigned” (as the Gubanov party and the large party were then called) met any place, there would be swearing and fighting without fail. This discord kept up for a few years. But when Peter Vasilyevich wrote to us from exile, and through messengers passed the word to us that this is not the way to live, that we ought to live as Christians, a great change took place among our people, and through the letters and messengers of Peter Vasilyevich a spirit of freedom, truth and love – God’s spirit – began to filter through our people. We, the large party, started gathering more frequently, and we began to examine life, to discuss, and to learn from one another. And if you can believe it, such an inspiration arose among us that even teenagers would stand up at meetings and deliver sermons. We gave up quarrelling with the Gubanov party, and we also gave up smoking and the drinking of intoxicating beverages, and stopped using abusive and unclean words (an unclean word is one that names the Devil). Then we shared our possessions evenly among everybody, and then we burned our guns. But that was somewhat later.

There were some old men among us who did not stand behind Gubanov, but neither did they welcome these changes in their lives. They wanted everything to be as of old, though they did not approve of Gubanov. My parent was one of these. Whereas I, grandfather, when our people started talking about a Christian life, I soaked up those speeches as the soft earth drinks the rain. These speeches brought such a sweetness to my soul, that I would walk many miles to wherever there was a gathering in order to hear them. Now this irritated my parent, and a discord arose in our family. My parent started getting drunk more often, he started picking on my mother and myself, he became malicious and even used abusive words, horribly nasty soldier words. My Tanya was in a state of hesitation at first because my parent had always treated her very affectionately. I don’t think that he actually had sinful intentions; he simply let himself go to the point of indecency in his drunkenness, but it was through this that we finally parted for good.

There we were, sitting at the table, and my parent as usual had been drinking. When he drank he always treated Tanya affectionately and joked with her, which she liked at first, but later got to dislike it. Here he had been drinking more than usual. He didn’t bother eating, but kept pestering Tanya, which we all found disgusting, but what are you going to do? He put his arms around her and started laughing. Now my mother says to him, what are you doing, old man, come to your senses! Are you after young flesh? When she uttered this completely unseemly phrase, Tanya stood up with a look of disgust, and walked right out of the house. I went out after her and caught up to her in the yard. Where are you going Tanya, I ask. I will not stay here, she says. I’m going home. You can come with me if you like or, if you don’t want to, its up to you, but I’m going home. I asked her to wait and went back into the house. Mother, I say, I’m going to the Novokshonovs. Go wherever you like, says my parent, but my mother keeps silent. I bowed and left. I never went back after that.

I spent a week with Tanya’s family. I kept thinking that we would go back, that my parent or mother would call for us. My mother did come by once, but only to share her grief. It was as though my parent had lost his mind; he even beat her. He drank, yelled, swore, promised to wipe me from the face of the earth, to inform on me to the authorities and tell them that I am in alliance with Verigin so that they would send me into exile, that I have no respect for the Tsar or the authorities. My mother sat a while and cried, then she went home. I was not myself. I just didn’t know what to do. I was at my wit’s end. I wanted to help everyone, even answer with my life, if necessary, and blow the spirit of malice out of everyone. But I could not understand how to do this.

My brother came home on a pass from the service. After this it seemed that our life took a turn for the better. I and Tanya stayed on at her parent’s place, to begin with because my parent did not call us back, and Tanya would not have gone back anyway, but also because it would already have been inconvenient for us to return: my parent maintained his old position: he ate meat, smoked a pipe, drank vodka, while Tanya’s whole family had adopted the new way. And finally, as a result of the changes in our lives our understanding was growing not daily, but hourly, while those who continued in the old way also maintained the old way of understanding things. My parent therefor became for me, and I for him, as virtual strangers to each other.

During this time, many changes took place in our people. They arrived at a point where they decided to burn all people-killing weapons in order to stop being people-killers, sons of the devil. This decision gladdened me more than anything. I had always felt that this is the way it should be, that people should not be killers, because you see, human dignity is lost through this. I had not been able to clearly understand this beforehand, but when they spoke about it I immediately understood and my soul rejoiced as never before, as if someone born blind had been given sight, such a joy I felt in my spirit. During this time, while I was living at Novokshonov’s, I came to understand many other things as well, things about which I had not previously thought, because I was now living freer and was able to attend meetings whenever I wanted. These meetings, I’ll tell you, did everything; never would our people have had the kind of understanding that you will now find among our people had it not been for those meetings. No one taught us, and as you know, there were few literate people among us, but I will relate one story to you.

Not long ago an English doctor came here to Yorkton from a town in Ontario. He was sent, as Feodor Karlovich explained, by an English Christian society, not the Quakers – no, a different group. They sent him in order to set up a hospital in one of our villages because they had learned that many among us, of those who had been in exile, were sick with the Transcaucasian fever. He also wanted to take portraits of our elders and to talk about faith. Five people had discussions with him, Nikolasha Fofanov, Aldosha Popov, Efimushka Vlasov, Aliosha Makhortov, and myself. We were in Yorkton at that time, and that is why we had the discussions, whoever was there spoke, while Feodor Karlovich translated. Having spoken with us, the doctor asked him, saying to him: Very well, I’m pleased with all of it, but these are educated people – pointing at us – and I would like to speak with some uneducated people, as I have heard that in Russia the people are uneducated. Feodor Karlovich laughed and turned to us: which one of you has a university education, admit it! Well all right, who is literate? And who among us was literate? I am illiterate, Nikolasha also, and Aldosha – well he knows a little, and he can read, but his writing is extremely poor; he can barely trace out his letters. Efimushka and Aliosha are also illiterate. And this is what Feodor Karlovich said to the doctor, which greatly surprised him. Now I can’t explain to you what it was about us that made him think we were educated, because all we talked about was human life, the earth, wealth, power, authority, rights – we didn’t talk about anything else. But its clear that we spoke with understanding if he thought we were educated.

Anyway, I told this story just so that it would be clear at least that we do now possess understanding, and its easy to compare myself and the sort of understanding I had when I lived with my parent, with what I acquired afterward. And we all acquired this understanding; we got it through mutual unification and communication, and had it not been for this we would have remained in our previous situation, in a great stupor. And I – thank God! – if I am still alive at this moment, though my death is near (as you yourself can see, I’m barely alive) it is because I am at peace, as I say, after everything that I have been through, and I have peace only because I acquired in my understanding the tranquility of life, a true peace of mind, an understanding that I gained at our meetings, while our discord was in progress and I was living with Tanya’s parents, and then in exile. 

Peter Vasilievich sent his expensive rifle, which cost three hundred rubles; they sent a letter with it, requesting that it be burned. After this it was decided that we gather all the arms that anyone among us had and burn them. We decided to hold the burning on St. Peter’s day, and began gathering the arms to one place. On St. Peter’s day, about three mile out of Bogdanovka, in 1895, several thousand of our people gathered together, started a giant bonfire, and dumped a number of wagon loads of arms onto it – rifles, pistols, daggers, swords, everything.

But before we gathered our weapons, the Gubanov people found out about it; they see that we are gathering our weapons together, although they don’t know for what, and they decided that we were gathering our weapons in order to go to war on Goreloye, to take the Orphan’s Home from them, and destroy them.

And so they made these things known in Tiflis, to Governor Shervashidze, who believed them and immediately sent Cossacks and infantry, and he himself went on the following day. He arrived at Bogdanovka right on St. Peter’s day. He sees that there is nearly no one in the village – only the old and young. Where is everyone, he asks. No one knows. He sends the Cossacks out to search for them, and they straggle and straggle in the hills and ravines but find no one; it was a foggy day in the mountains, making it difficult to see. Then they went out a second time and found them. What transpired next – you don’t believe yourself when you think about it. I was afraid of one thing, that I would not contain myself and would start fighting, and harm my soul. You can beat me as much as you want – this I can take (that is how it seemed to me then; I had not yet experienced the Cossack whips, and did not know for myself what sort of people these were). What I was afraid of was that I would intercede for someone else and get involved in a fight, because for me to see someone being beaten – its an impossible thing. You see, you can allow beating when you are in a craze, and you think that beating only causes pain for the person, but when you understand that with each blow you drive the spirit of malice into the person and torment his spirit, how can you possibly allow for beating?

Listen, grandfather, do you know what I think about the soul and about human life? I’m going to interrupt my story here and explain it to you, because this to me is of more worth than anything.

All life comes from the spirit – this is how I understand it, grandfather. All strength comes from the spirit, for if the flesh acts, it is not really the flesh acting, but rather the spirit captive within the flesh. Its difficult for me to convey my opinion, grandfather, but I have a strong desire to do so. Now, when I talk about spiritual things, my spirit rejoices and neither earth nor bodily life do I feel; I become spirit, grandfather, that is how good I feel when I think and speak of spiritual things. In my thinking, grandfather, all action is from the spirit, and there is a spirit in everything, though there are different kinds of spirits, low and high, and then there are incarnated spirits and incorporeal spirits. Only understand here, grandfather, that there are no entirely incorporeal spirits – only transitory – these are the incorporeal. That spirit which does not have its own bodily form, but appears in spiritual expression – first in one body, then another that accepts it – is a transitory incorporeal spirit, and that which has its own body is an incarnate spirit. 

The spirit of love, for instance, is an incorporeal, higher spirit, because it can live in you and in whomever you wish who accepts it, but it is not yours and it is not mine, but higher, and if someone accepts it, then he himself is elevated to that height. And every sort of sin, be it lustful or cunning, is also an incorporeal spirit, only for man it is base, degrading, whereas for an animal it is all right, for those for which it is meant, but if a man takes it on, he becomes unworthy. Furthermore, if it firmly settles within a person, then the higher or baser spirit enters the makeup of that person’s spirit, and becomes incarnate. Incorporeal spirits, grandfather, do not live or act, but they exist, the high ones and the low ones; they are inactive, but everything that happens is from them, and you understand, grandfather, that through every creature there comes into being one spirit or another, from which that creature then develops. 

This, grandfather, is my understanding, because this is the way I see it happening. And those among us who understand, understand it like this. Our position is that we develop our spirits in such a manner that we integrate in ourselves the spirit of freedom, truth and love, and so that though this the human spirit becomes beautiful and blissful, and has a free existence in and of itself. Do you understand what I am saying, grandfather? We must confer to ourselves the spirit of truth, love and freedom. This is the most high and blissful spirit, whereas the unclean, base spirits we must, like poison, avoid. It is through these things that the human spirit becomes beautiful, and all that is beautiful is in bliss because it is beautiful, and it lives in freedom, is dependent on nothing, because it is beautiful. Do you understand, grandfather, that the human spirit can blossom and can wither? It can blossom in all the lovely colours of the rainbow, dear grandfather, only we must unceasingly maintain cleanliness so that no baseness of any kind creeps into our spirit. This I think, grandfather, is the biggest lesson, and the most difficult task for man, the preservation of cleanliness, yet it is essential for the attainment of a blissful existence. The unclean cannot be blissful; all evil and baseness passes on to grief and death. Therefor more than anything it is necessary to avoid uncleanness and baseness, in order that we not do anything unworthy for the human spirit. If I do not do anything worthy, this is still not a tragedy. The tragedy is in the unworthy deed, because it leaves an unclean mark on life forever, which nothing can smooth over.

And so I too, grandfather, have always tried to avoid falling into uncleanness, and to avoid committing unworthy acts, speaking untruths, cheating, offending or raging. And if this had happened with me it would have tormented me. And here, when we were being driven from our prayer at the Burning of the Arms, what went on here overwhelmed us with confusion and made every limb tremble. And you understand, grandfather, that if I am in such a position that the higher or the lower spirit is pressing itself upon me, wishing to be incarnated in me, and I resist this, then it will fade from life, but to whatever extent I do embody it, either the lower or the higher spirit, depending which one I serve, can grow through me and develop into life.

At one point a Cossack thrust his horse upon me. Their senior officer commanded: attack! and they drove their horses right into living people. One cossack drove his horse towards me and I, seeing this, placed one foot forward and put my weight on the other foot, holding out my elbow and my hip. He rode upon me, whipping his horse – the horse has no desire to push itself upon me – he pulls and tears its lip with the bit, whips it in the rear and across the brow – the horse only rears up on its hind legs, but will not advance upon a human. And that is the way it was with everyone. Not a single person was trampled and there was nothing they could do. And what was it they wanted? They wanted to break apart our circle and having broken it, herd us like cattle to the governor. 

And what did we do? We, when we saw that the Cossacks were riding upon us, we shouted for the women and old men to move into the centre, while we stood on the outside in several circles holding hands. They had been ordered to drive us in, but we said that we would go ourselves, that there was no need to chase us. But they were out to have fun or make mockery, which is easier to do with women and old men, and so they wanted to break apart our circle and then scatter us in all directions. Then for the first time I tasted the Cossack whip and I learned that a great spirit of animosity can be driven into a man with it, but thank God! I was saved from that. When his horse refused to advance on me he turned it sideways to me and began to lay strips into me. Many times he struck me, and with each strike I flinched not from pain, but from lawlessness; lawlessness was being beaten into me, but I held fast and would not let it in and, thank God! I endured it successfully. And because of that I now live in peace. Except that up to that point I had thought that the most odious thing of all is to see others beaten before you, but after this I realized that it is even more odious when you yourself are beaten. 

We arrived in Bogdanovka, having sort of walked and sort of been driven, and stood before the governor. Here again what transpired was beyond any comparison. It even got to the point where the governor himself, infuriated, started going after our passports and beating us with a stick. You see, they had begun handing him their own service cards and he would not take them so they dropped them at his feet, and this is when he became infuriated. After this they instigated an execution for us. And here my story will soon come to an end.

I’m working out in the yard, cleaning something up and I look: the gate swings open and four plain Cossacks step in along with a fifth officer of some kind, and my parent was with them as well. He was an elder at that time and when they sent the Cossacks and soldiers to us for the execution, he took them around to the homes of those who were reckoned to be insurgents. And so to us, to Novokshonovs, he brought no less than five. I paid no attention to this, but continued my work. The Cossacks went into the house and my parent went back to the gate. Some time had passed; I heard some sort of hubbub coming from the house, and then a woman’s cries, which I make out to be Tanya’s. I cross the yard to the door, where I meet two Cossacks leading Tanya by the arms. Her hair was down, she was not herself, then she saw me and cried, intervene, intervene! oh, help! 

I approached, but here it happened that other Cossacks ran in front, and I remember that one of them had a bloodied nose and brow – to which Tanya had treated him. The officer was standing in the back, motioning with his hand and shouting, come here quickly! This he shouted at the other Cossacks who were standing at the gate. Now the first Cossacks grabbed me by the arms and from behind by the throat. Others ran up and also grabbed my arms and torso. I had not yet spoken a word nor raised a hand before they had me completely restrained. Thank God! This was my good fortune because I blanked out from this. Either from the tight grip on my throat or from everything, altogether, I completely blanked out for perhaps an hour. I was told afterward that I had fought them off in such a frenzy that nine Cossacks were barely able to restrain me; three had me by each arm, two around the neck, holding me by the collar from behind, and one held me around the waist. That is how they led me, and Tanya they led ahead of me.

But I do not remember any of this, how they led me or where. I started to come around just before Tanya stopped screaming. When she stopped, I came to my senses. As a result of her stopping. I see Tanya, stripped and lying face down, her entire backside striped by whips. One Cossack is standing at her feet, another at her head, a third beside her with a whip. The one at her head bent down and grabbed her under the arms to lift her. I see all of this and feel nothing. And even now, if the entire scene presents itself to me, I just close my eyes and I see all of it. I see the Cossack commander standing on the porch with his feet apart, smoking, and I see my parent behind him against the wall, also standing on the porch. I remember that I wanted to look at Tanya again, but here I once again became unconscious. I only remember that I resisted and struggled again, and they fell on me and brought me down.

I began to come around from the blows of the whip. They were pressing my legs so hard that my joints ached, someone was sitting on my back, and on both arms as well, while the blows came one after another, becoming stronger as the time passed because I was coming to my senses – gaining consciousness. Then again they became less painful, and then I stopped feeling the beating entirely. I was as if completely on fire and could not feel whether they were beating me or not. Then they jabbed me in the side and I realized that they had stopped beating me. And what should I do? Probably I should stand up. I wanted to get up but I don’t know how to do it, what to move first, my hands or my feet. I remembered my hat and began to run my hand over the ground. A Cossack must have guessed; he pushed my hat over with his foot and kicked my hand. 

Now I pulled my knees up under me, and my elbows, and stood on all fours. I can hear Tanya’s voice: godless, evil people! That was the first thing that I heard. Up until then, from the time they had grabbed me in the yard, I didn’t hear a thing, only buzzing, z-z-z-z like the ocean. Tanya’s voice seemed to wake me from a sleep and I immediately began to feel better and began to stand up. I see both my mother and my mother-in-law helping me. The Cossacks are laughing about something. I don’t know what, and I think to myself: let them laugh. Actually, they were chuckling at my mother pulling my pants on for me. I wanted to pull them up myself, but I couldn’t bend down; my back had stiffened up like a post. Mother and Tanya pulled my pants up and led me by the arms; I could not walk by myself; I was burning like a fire, and I could not bring my thoughts together. What had happened? Why did they beat me? They beat Tanya as well; what will be next? I can’t understand a thing.

Then I lay motionless for about three days – I could not even turn over; thus they transported me, lying down, into exile. After this my entire body broke out in boils; I thought I was going to rot. The boils tormented me for about three months. As one went down two would puff up next to it. And I just lay there thinking – how much thinking I did during that time! But what they had tortured me for, I could not figure out. Perhaps on my parent’s request. It seemed probable; he was angry with me over many things, for leaving to go live with my father-in-law, for no longer respecting him as I had before, and for much more, but why had they beaten Tanya? What was she guilty of? He couldn’t have held animosity toward her, but then he couldn’t have asked that they beat me to death either, and they did beat me to death, you see, my life was holding by a thread when they stopped beating me, and three years have passed since then and I still haven’t recovered.

I didn’t even have any desire to come to Canada. Why go when I’ll die tomorrow, if not today? But since the whole family was going I couldn’t stay behind. I figured that I’d die on the way, but here I am. But I won’t be living much longer, this I know; as time passes I just grow worse. And what do I need to live for, anyway? As I understand it, all that could be taken away from me has already been taken, and through my ordeal so much malice has faded from my life that nothing more than this can be demanded of me. As I see it, all of the malice which pressed itself upon me, I brought to nothing. I did not embody it in myself. And now I am at peace for my entire life, and will die in peace. There is only one thing that bothers me, when I ask the question: what would I have done had I not blanked out when they grabbed me? And what would I have done had I been able to overpower the nine men who held me? And here it seems to me that only because the situation did no allow this, and not because I did not allow it, did the malice not enter into me. A man cannot be perfect; it seems to me that in a different circumstance I would not have kept myself from malice…

My parent did not come to Canada, nor did he allow my mother to come, while my brother was exiled to Siberia.

Editorial Note

The term “execution” as used here, it the direct translation of a somewhat archaic Russian term denoting punishment, as in a punitive expedition to carry out a Tsarist “executive” order (in this case, to punish the Doukhobors for their insurrection against Tsarist regulations regarding military service, oaths of allegiance, etc.). Although the Russian term was also used to denote corporal punishment such as flogging, it does not have the English language connotation of capital punishment (i.e. by hanging). 

The narrator, Doukhobor Vanya Bayoff, died in Canada in 1901 at the age of thirty-seven, having suffered right to his death with some sort of complicated, serious ailment, undoubtedly inflicted upon him by the barbaric “execution” employed by the Russian government on the Doukhobors.