Spirit Wrestlers of Southern Russia

by Maria Kolesnikova

Not many hints remain of Doukhobor culture in Southern Russia. Persecuted in the past for their pacifist beliefs, modern Doukhobors search for an identity in the modern world. The following article by Dr. Maria Kolesnikova examines the Doukhobors of Tselina region, Rostov province as they struggle to maintain their faith, traditions, history and culture in twenty-first century Russia. Reproduced from “Russian Life” magazine ( Sept/Oct 2005).

Few in Russia remember the Doukhobors, the pacifist Russian Christian sect championed by Leo Tolstoy over a century ago. In fact, even the name Doukhobor evokes little reaction.

“It sounds funny. Perhaps it is an evil house spirit?” guessed Mikhail Grishin, 20, an engineering student in Rostov-on-Don. His grandmother, Maria Grishina, 80, a retired schoolteacher, does no better. “Doukhobor sounds like doushegub [murderer],” she said. Natalia Trifonova, a Rostov University professor, knows of the Doukhobors. “But they are all gone now,” she noted. “To find them you should go to Canada.

“In fact, the Doukhobors are not all gone. An estimated 40,000 still live in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. About the same number live in Western Canada, and a few hundred live in the U.S., according to Koozma Tarasoff, a Canadian historian of the Doukhobors and author of 12 books and hundreds of articles about their culture. Scattered around Russia, Doukhobor populations are centered in the Tselina region in Rostov oblast, Cherns region in Tula oblast, near Blagoveshchensk in Amur oblast and the Mirnoye settlement near Bryansk.

Doukhobors (Doukhobory in Russian), literally means “spirit wrestlers.” It was a name bestowed on the sect — which had previously been known as Ikonobory (“icon fighters”) — by a Russian Orthodox Church priest (originally, the epithet was Doukhobortsy — “wrestlers against the Holy Spirit” — and intended as an insult, but the members of the sect changed it to the more positive Doukhobors, which implies a wrestling with the Holy Spirit). The sect has its roots in the 1650s, when Patriarch Nikon’s reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church led to the Raskol, the Great Schism. Some of the schismatics [raskolniks], called Popovtsi (“Priesters”) sought a return to pre-reform traditions, eventually giving way to the movement known as Old Believers. Others, called Bezpopovtsi (“priestless”), argued for dispensing entirely with priests. Some went further still, rejecting icons, sacraments, the divinity of Christ and even the Bible. They became precursors of the Doukhobors, who developed into a distinct religious group by the early 18th century.

Natalia Trofimenko, a Doukhobor who moved to Khlebodarnoye in 1992.

The notion of God within each individual is the cornerstone of Doukhobor belief “This philosophy has no creeds and does not need any Bible, Church, icons, or priests to fulfill its needs,” Tarasoff explained. “From this notion, we support the moral imperative that we cannot kill another human being — because then we would be killing the spark of God in us. The creation of a non-killing society is the essential quest of the Doukhobors.”

Not surprisingly, Russia’s tsars saw such pacifism as a threat, as something that could undermine social order and lead to rebellion. As a result, the Doukhobors suffered through centuries of persecution and three major resettlements. Under Tsar Alexander I, they were moved to Molochnye Vody, on the border between Ukraine and Russia. Under Nicholas I, they were exiled to Transcaucasia, along the border of Georgia and Turkey. There, in 1895, the Doukhobors refused to fight in Russia’s war with Turkey, burning all their weapons in a symbolic protest against war and militarism.

The furious tsar ordered that the Doukhobors be scattered throughout Transcaucasia, “sending the father to one village, the mother to another and their children to yet a different village,” according to Doukhobor lore [oral history]. The Doukhobors pleaded for help. It came from Quakers in the United States, who shared many beliefs with the Doukhobors, most notably pacifism and anticlericalism. And it came from the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, whose own personal philosophy had, by this time, gravitated into non-violence. Tolstoy called the Doukhobors a “people of the 25th century.” The Doukhobors, for their part, called Tolstoy “our father,” after he donated $17,000 from the publication of his book Resurrection to help pay for emigration of some 7,500 Doukhobors to Canada in 1898. Despite this mass emigration, the majority of Doukhobors remained; many moved to Southern Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

Tselina region, Rostov Oblast

My qust for the Doukhobors takes me to Petrovka, a village in Tselina region, about 100 miles southeast of Rostov-on-Don. In 1921, some 4,000 Doukhobors were permitted to resettle here, establishing 21 villages (consolidated to 11 in the 1950s). Today, there are just six Doukhobor villages. Petrovka is the largest and it is by no means exclusively Doukhobor. Other inhabitants include Russian Orthodox, Armenians and Meskhetian Turks, who fled from Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Farther into the country, the asphalt road turns to dirt and cows mindlessly collaborate in the creation of a traffic jam. By the time I reach Petrovka, the dirt road has turned to mud.

Regional administrator Lyudmila Nikitina — my guide in Petrovka — offers a disapproving glance at my sandals as she dons her rubber boots. As we splash together through the mud, she explains that Doukhobors still comprise about half of the village’s declining population of 300. “It’s not as good as it used to be,” Nikitina says. “Young people cant find jobs here and they have to leave.”

I examine the streets of Petrovka, looking for traces of Doukhobor culture. Most houses appear to have porches bordered with columns, their whitewashed siding shyly hiding behind trees in the yards. On some, sheds and hen houses share a roof with the house itself. These are traditional Doukhobor homes. Newer ones use brick and have no porches, Some of the houses are well kept; some are shabby; some are deserted. The streets seem empty, with only two or three middle-aged women digging in their gardens. There are few children and men.

We approach one of the women. “You are a Doukhobor, aren’t you?” I ask. She seems proud. “Yes, I’m a pureblood,” she replies. She invites us into her house, to see a typical Doukhobor interior of three rooms with papered walls. “It’s more fashionable today than whitewash, as prescribed by tradition,” she explains. The house has painted floors, several wardrobes made in the 1970s, a television and lots of embroidery. It smells of ripe apples.

Sen (left) and Tatyana Safonova at the Petrovka cemetery.

Our hostess is Tatyana Yuritsina, a social worker in Petrovka. “Doukhobors are the nicest, the most hospitable people,” she says. “Now there are many refugees and many people of different religions here. But we have no trouble with them.”

Yet, life carries on and the Doukhobors are changing. “We used to live without fences,” Yuritsina says. “And the young, they don’t want to follow Doukhobor traditions. Take my daughter. She’s 25, and she won’t listen to me, won’t stick to the tradition.” Yuritsina speculates that her generation may be the last of the “true Doukhobors,” because only older members are clinging to their roots.

Many Doukhobors now marry outside the sect. Yuritsina’s husband Vasily is Ukrainian; she says she met him in Rostov and brought him back to Petrovka. “I don’t mind Doukhobors,” he says. “They are people, just like everyone else. And the religion isn’t important in the long run. You have to believe in God and not sin. That’s all.”

Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship

The Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship is a small home dating to the 1950s which was turned into a museum in 1991, thanks to a donation from the local collective farm, Lenin Kolkhoz. It has a collection of Doukhobor artifacts and serves as a place of worship for a few of Petrovka’s active Doukhobors.

Today, a dozen Doukhobor women have assembled in the living room, the largest room in the house. Its walls are adorned with embroidered towels and traditional costumes. A table in the far right corner holds a bust of Lev Tolstoy and albums with black and white photographs of community members. On the wall are portraits of two Doukhobor leaders, Lukeria Kalmykova and Peter P Verigin.

The Doukhobor women greet us with a traditional hymn. They are wearing long skirts with fancy, embroidered aprons, colorful blouses and white kerchiefs. Some of their attire comes from their grandmothers; some was adapted from the contemporary clothing bought at a local market. it is the sort of clothing no longer worn in everyday life.

“If you dress Doukhobor style and walk along the streets, people will look at you as if you were a savage,” says Yevdokia Bulanova, 75, a Doukhobor who lives in the village of Khlebodarnoye, five miles from Petrovka.

The women in front of me walked to the museum wearing their regular dresses. They carried their traditional Doukhobor costumes in plastic bags, then changed at the museum, like schoolchildren for a class drama performance. But the reality is that they came here to perform, and they like it.

The oldest surviving Doukhobor house in Petrovka.

Their singing seems to erase years of worry and woe from their faces. They have a certain ethereal solemnity. The words of the hymns are hard to make out, enhancing the impression that they are protecting some hidden truths. But the explanation is more banal. Years of persecution made Doukhobors in Russia drawl their syllables when singing, so that outsiders could not understand their meaning, says Lyudmila Borisova, 66, a choir member and Doukhobor activist. “Canadian Doukhobors sing much faster,” she says, “and one can actually make out the words.” Once they have started, the women do not want to stop. Their singing goes on and on. They forget about their hardships, miniscule pensions, cows that need milking, or water that only runs out of the tap a couple of hours each day.

Petrovka’s Doukhobor choir once was quite well known. Ethnographers came from Rostov and Moscow to record them singing their traditional hymns and psalms. The choir even toured Rostovskaya and neighboring provinces during the 1995-1998 centennial celebrations of Doukhobor heritage. But the choir doesn’t travel anymore. “People are scattered,” Borisova says. “We used to have a big choir, but now maybe only a dozen people remain.” Some left the village, some are too old to travel, and some are dead.

“Young people don’t come to our meetings,” Borisova says. “They are busy working and don’t have time.”

Vera Guzheva, 44, is an exception. Guzheva, who lives in the city of Taganrog, about 170 miles northwest of Petrovka, came to the meeting with her mother, Vera Safonova, who is 77. “My mother is a Doukhobor, but I’m not,” says Guzheva. “Our generation doesn’t even know who we are.”

The other women at the meeting hiss in protest.

“I’ve lived in the city for 25 years, I am not a Doukhobor anymore,” Guzheva responds.

“Who are you then? You are not a Ukrainian, you are not a Belorussian, you are a Doukhobor,” Borisova asserts.

“No one in the city knows the Doukhobors. How will I explain to people who I am?”

“You don’t need to tell them, you just have to know in your soul that you are a Doukhobor,” Borisova says.

After moving to Taganrog, Guzheva had changed to Russian Orthodoxy, thinking it was more convenient than living as a Doukhobor. During her baptismal, the priest corrected her, saying that the right name of the religion she was giving up was Doukhobortsy, not Doukhobors, a fact she didn’t know. “But in my soul I’m a Christian and a Doukhobor,” Guzheva says.

Oral History

Doukhobors in Petrovka nourish Doukhobor legends and revere names like Lukeria Kalmykova and Peter P Verigin. They remember the rituals, and, during their meetings on major holidays — Christmas, Whitsunday, Easter and St. Peter’s Day — they each read a psalm and then all perform a low bow, even though some of the women now need help standing up afterwards. But ask them to explain the essence o their belief and daily traditions, and they may give you a puzzled look.

A traditional Doukhobor bow.

There is an awkward silence when I pose this question while visiting the village of Khlebodarnoye. Yevdokia Bulanova finally speaks. “We have our Zhivotnaya Kniga [Book of Life], and you can read something about it there,” she suggests. “Nadezhda, bring it here.”

Nadezhda Trofimenko, whose home we are visiting, disappears behind the curtain separating the bedroom and living room, and returns with an old, leather-bound book, which she sets down carefully. “This is the principal Doukhobor document, here you’ll find everything,” Trofimenko says.

The Doukhobor Book of Life is the primary written artifact of Doukhobor heritage, which had been transmitted orally before 1899. Compiled by the Russian ethnographer Vladimir Bonch Bruevich while spending nearly a year in Canada transcribing Doukhobor psalms and hymns, the Book of Life preserves Doukhobor oral history and serves as a bible of their faith.

Dr. Vladimir Kuchin, 63, a researcher at Rostov-on-Don’s Anti Plague Institute, has lived in Rostov since 1958. He is a Doukhobor, and in his tiny studio apartment on the city outskirts, he archives a complete collection of the back issues of Iskra — the Canadian published Doukhobor magazine. He also stores trunk-loads of Doukhobor recordings and artifacts, which he has been collecting since 1975. He frequently contributes to local papers and to Iskra, and he said he is thinking about writing a book on Doukhobor heritage. But he must wonder whom he would be writing for. His own brother and sister have expressed no interest in their Doukhobor roots. And his parents, when they were alive, worried about his fervor for Doukhoboriana. “Dear son, why do you need all this?” they used to ask.

Kuchin’s grandparents moved to the Tselina region in 1922. They were in their thirties; his father was 10 and his mother was 8 at the time. At first, people lived in sod houses — 30 people in each home. “Their life was hard, but full of wisdom, patience and good spirit,” Kuchin says. When the Soviet state started putting up collective farms (kolkhozy), the first Doukhobor kolkhoz — Obshy Trud [Joint Labor] was set up in Petrovka, headed by Peter P. Verigin. There followed a kolkhoz named after the military commander Vasily Chapayev, and then six Doukhobor villages were united in another kolkhoz named after Vladimir Lenin. In 1928, Doukhobors in the Soviet Union dropped their stricture against army service.

“There was no other way to survive,” Kuchin says. For the most part, the Doukhobors lived an uneasy peace with the atheistic Soviet State. The government was tacitly permissive toward their religion, as long as the Doukhobors did not openly profess it.

Certainly many Doukhobors were imprisoned and exiled under Stalin. Kuchin recalls one story from Petrovka which reflects the insanity of the times. A villager, Fyodor Tomilin, made a chest for his little daughter’s toys and instruments and decorated it with a newspaper clipping that featured, among other things, a picture of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a prominent Soviet military leader arrested and executed in 1937 on trumped-up charges of treason. Some time later, another villager, Koozma Pereverzev, stopped by to borrow some tools. On his way out, Pereverzev said, “Such a young guy, and already a marshal.” Tomilin had no idea what Pereverzev was talking about. Ten days later, Tomilin was arrested and accused of treason along with Tukhachevsky and his supporters. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Tomilin insisted that he did not have any idea who Tukhachevsky was, and that no one by this name lived in this village. Only after several years in prison, when he saw Tukhachevsky’s photo somewhere else, did he understand what had happened.

Anna Sen (Safonova), center, who helped set up the Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship.

In the 1960s, political liberalization allowed the Doukhobors to be open about their beliefs. “I left my home village in 1958, when I entered Rostov State Medical Institute,” Kuchin says. “Even then I didn’t conceal my religion from my friends.”

Unfortunately for the Doukhobors, Kuchin’s example was becoming more typical. The youth left the village for the cities, where they studied, worked, lived, got married and had children. Many married people outside their religion, often assimilating into Russian Orthodoxy. In bigger cities, like Rostov, Doukhobors no longer gather to sing psalms. “Canadian [Doukhobor] visits might stir people up,” Kuchin says. “Some people would meet at Whitsunday, St. Peter’s day, and Christmas.

“Kuchin says he used to go to Petrovka quite frequently, until his father died in 1999. But he does not go any longer. It is too painful. “The things that have been happening since the 1980s and 1990s are incredible and I can hardly find the right words,” he says. “Prosperous Doukhobor villages in Tselinsky and Bogdanovsky regions have become hard to recognize. Suspicious strangers are buying up many homes; other houses are abandoned and falling apart, and yards and gardens are covered in thick weeds.

“The Doukhobor cemetery is also covered with thick grass. There, Doukhobor graves, devoid of tombstones and crosses, are marked only by fences with people’s names. Anna Sen and Tatyana Safonova lead me to the grave of the five settlers who died during the Doukhobors’ first winter in Tselina region. These people are heroes, and a memorial plaque was placed over their grave in the 1960s.

Three years ago, Lyudmila Dorokh, a longtime director of the museum and one of the best singers in the Petrovka choir, told me, “We are losing our identity as a community and the Doukhobor culture here will be gone in several years.” She is gone now, lying in this quiet cemetery. And her prediction is slowly coming to pass.

Certainly there are attempts to preserve Doukhobor culture in Tselina region. Canadian Doukhobors visited the museum several years ago and gave $200 for repairs. Regional authorities provided a tape recorder, so that locals might record Doukhobor psalms. “We are trying to preserve the Doukhobor culture, which is unique,” says Lyudmila Nikitina, the regional administrator. “Once a year, we bring children from the local school to this museum for a history class, to tell them about the Doukhobor faith and traditions. I wish we could do more before it’s too late.”

Goat and sheep herds near Khlebodarnoye. Agriculture is still the main source of income.

On the way back to the village, we meet other women from the Doukhobor museum. They are walking home, carrying plastic bags containing their traditional costumes. They show us a recently built asphalt road, which gives Petrovka a new, better connection with the outside world, for better or for worse.

Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus

by Svetlana A. Inikova

Traditionally, the life events, family and culture of Doukhobors were all shaped by the holidays contained in the Doukhobor calendar. Many were borrowed and adapted from the Orthodox Church. Others were deeply rooted in Russian folk belief. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Russian ethnographer and archivist Svetlana A. Inikova explores the holiday rituals and customs of the Doukhobors in the Caucasus, based on her ethnographic expeditions and field research among the Doukhobors of the Republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Translated from the original Russian by Koozma J. Tarasoff. Edited by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. Published by permission.

Introduction

Holidays had already been celebrated for a long time when Christianity was introduced to Russia. They provided people with an opportunity for rest, merrymaking and at least a brief respite from burdensome daily tasks. Holidays were also very important in that they coincided with the occurrence of annual changes in nature, such as the succession of seasons or the sun’s changing position in the sky. They served as reference points that clearly identified the beginning of particularly important events, such as turning cattle out to pasture, sowing time for specific crops, haymaking and harvesting. During the winter and early spring holidays, ancient Russians performed divinations hoping to accelerate the awakening of nature. During the spring and summer they prayed to their gods to grant them a bountiful harvest, whereas in the autumn they took stock of the field work that had been accomplished and thanked the spirits of the fields for their generosity.

When Christianity was introduced in 988 AD, the Church strove for the longest time to have certain folk holidays and rituals, such as Maslenitsa (“Butter Week”), abolished. Holidays that coincided with Christian celebrations were accepted by the Church, but vested with a meaning that served its purpose. Semik (“Festival of the Birch”) for instance, was a pre-Christian holiday in honour of vegetation which almost coincided with the Christian festival of Troitsa (“Trinity Sunday”). Rituals associated with the two holidays intertwined so closely that it has become impossible to distinguish between them, even though in some areas of Russia the holiday has retained its ancient name, Semik. Paskha (“Easter”) is another example. It was instituted by the Christian Church as a holiday in remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Yet Easter is also closely associated with the widespread tradition of dying eggs and, in Russia, rolling them on the ground, along grooves, and even playing with them. The egg has been a symbol of rebirth since ancient times and by rolling eggs on the ground, people hoped to increase the fertility of the soil. Many rituals and traditions have lost their profound meaning and have become simple games or pastimes. Hence, for example, most people do not realize that by eating a pancake during Maslenitsa they are actually consuming the symbol of the sun.

In this article I would like to describe the holidays celebrated by the Doukhobors and their associated rituals, some of which are still practiced today.

Doukhobor Holidays in the Early Nineteenth Century

Before settling in Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”), the Doukhobors lived among Orthodox Russians and celebrated the same traditional folk festivals. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances only, others avoided going altogether; nonetheless at home they celebrated Orthodox holidays with prayer meetings that were usually followed by visits to family and friends, while young people assembled to play games, sing and enjoy themselves in the village.

After they had settled in Molochnye Vody, the Doukhobors continued to celebrate the festivals of the Orthodox Church that were common to all Christians throughout Russia, i.e. Rozhdestvo hristovo (“Christmas”), Khreshchenie (“Epiphany”), Paskha and Troitsa, although each village also observed a patron holiday of its own which usually lasted for three days filled with festive merrymaking.

Thus, the villagers of Goreloye in Molochnye Vody chose Frol and Lavr as their patron saints, celebrating their feast day, Frolov Den’, on August 18. The Doukhobors of Bogdanovka, on the other hand, preferred Vasily the Great as their patron saint, celebrating his feast day, Vasil’ev Den’, on January 1. Also, the inhabitants of Efremovka observed November 8, the day of the Archangel Mikhail, Mikhailov Den’, as their patron holiday. The Doukhobors continued celebrating these holidays even after they had settled in the Caucasus, with the sole exception of the village of Rodionovka, which had no holiday of its own, neither in Molochnye Vody nor in the Caucasus.

While living in Molochnye Vody, the villagers of Troitskoye celebrated Troitsa in a particularly big way, whereas after establishing themselves in the Caucasus, they chose Nikolai the Wonderworker as their patron saint, honouring him on December 6. After relocating to the Caucasus, the villagers of Tambovka revered the Kazanskaya (“Our Lady of Kazan”), commemorating her feast day, Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri (“Day of our Lady of Kazan”) on October 22, instead of that of Nikolai the Wonderworker, who had been their patron saint in Molochnye Vody.

Kirilovka was a village in Molochnye Vody that celebrated its holiday, Pokrov (“Intercession and Protection of the Holy Virgin”) on October 1. In settling in the Caucasus, the villagers of Kirilovka merged with the villagers of Spasskoye from Molochnye Vody to form a single village which chose Pokrov as its joint holiday. In this case, the villagers of Spasskoye forsook their own holiday, which was Rozhdestvo Khristovo, for Pokrov.

The village of Terpeniye, the Doukhobor capital in Molochnye Vody, was renamed Orlovka when its inhabitants moved to the Caucasus, although they continued to observe Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri until the 1920’s, at which time they chose to observe Zheny Mironositsy (“Sunday of the Myrrhbearers”) or Zheny for short, as their patron holiday.

As they settled in the Caucasus, the Doukhobors founded new villages. Doukhobor elders recall that Lukeria Kalmykova, their beloved leader, “bestowed” certain holidays upon them.

Doukhobor Holidays in the Caucasus

We shall now give a systematic description of the holidays celebrated by the Doukhobors of the Caucasus throughout the calendar year.

The cycle of winter holidays or Sviatki (“Holy Days”) as it was called by Orthodox Russians, began with Rozhdestvo Khristovo, which used to be celebrated on December 25 according to the old-style calendar, and has been celebrated on January 7 after the new-style calendar was introduced following the Russian Revolution. The new-style calendar differs from the old one by 13 days.

On Christmas Eve, Doukhobors ate the traditional kut’ya (a dish prepared with boiled wheat kernels sweetened with honey); then around midnight they would assemble for worship. On Christmas Day adults would not eat breakfast and would perform their daily chores so that the entire family could sit down to enjoy Christmas dinner. It was a holiday when adults would visit family and friends while young people would enjoy themselves at vecharushki (parties of Doukhobor youth). In Rodionovka, young people would dress up and masquerade about the village. In fact, masquerading during the winter holidays was an ancient custom practiced in old Russia. The Christmas festivities lasted only one day. Christmas is still celebrated by Doukhobors in the Caucasus, although at the present time only elders attend worship on Christmas Eve, whereas for the young people it has become an occasion to get together and enjoy themselves.

All Doukhobor villages celebrate Novyi God (“New Year’s Day”). The village of Bogdanovka originally worshipped its patron saint day, Vasil’ev Den, on January 1. Eventually, however, this holiday merged with Novyi God and, unlike other villages, New Year’s festivities in Bogdanovka lasted not one but three days, during which friends and family from surrounding villages would come to visit.

In most villages on New Year’s Eve, children would go from house to house “sowing” seeds around the rooms, trying hard to throw some onto the bed as this was thought to bring prosperity to the household. The house was not to be swept until the next morning, so as not to sweep out the prosperity. Villagers welcomed the “sowers” warmly, offering them kalachi (a type of sweet bun) and pirogi (a type of pie). The children, in turn, would chant as they “sowed”:

We wish you a Happy New Year,
As we sow, sow. sow.
Loosen up your purse strings,
Spare us a few coins.

Sometimes they would add:

Lord, do produce for the Traveller,
For the Passer-by
and for the Greedy Soul.

Adults would get together and make cheese vareniki (dumplings), which was the traditional dish for Novyi God festivities. At nightfall, the villages would glitter with a thousand sparkles: it was children walking down the village streets carrying homemade torches they called “candles” or “lanterns”, which in fact were long sticks with rags tied to one end that had been dipped into paraffin oil and lit up.

The following day, on January 1, the young people would masquerade as gypsies and, while going from house to house, repeat quite a different refrain that was both humorous and foreboding:

Lady Bounty – spare a dumpling.
If you can’t spare a dumpling,

give me some pie.
Won’t give me pie,

I’ll grab your bull by the horns,
Your mare by the forelock,

take them to the fair,
And sell them for a few kopecks.

They were also treated to cakes and vodka. The festivities would then brim over into the street: people in holiday dress would stroll about the village, and children and young people would go sleigh-riding in horse-drawn sledges which the Doukhobors were reputed for. The sledges were brightly painted and each sledge owner would display his most colorful harness.

Like thousands of young girls throughout Russia, Doukhobor maidens performed divination rituals on New Year’s Eve and on all the following evenings until Khreshcheniye. They sought to divine their fate and, more specifically, get a glimpse of their future husbands. There was an array of divination rites they could chose from. For instance, a young girl might take a pail of water, hang a lock on the handle and put the key under her pillow so as to conjure up in her dreams a vision of her future husband who would come for a drink of water; or else she might bake an overly salty bun and eat it at bedtime so that her fiancé might bring her some water to quench her thirst. Young Doukhobor girls would also get together in a barn and chase sheep. Should a girl catch a ewe, it was thought that she would marry a young man; should she catch a ram, it was thought that she would marry a widower. One of the most popular divination rites was throwing a shoe over the yard gate: the direction the shoe toe pointed in as it fell was the direction the maiden would take to find her husband.

No one “sows seeds” anymore, nor do the young people dress up as gypsies. However, on New Year’s Eve in the streets of Gorelovka, children still light “candles” and adults still gather to enjoy the traditional vareniki prepared by the women.

When the new-style calendar was introduced in Russia in 1918, Doukhobors started celebrating the New Year twice: on January 1, according to the new style, as well as on January 14, according to the old style.

The Doukhobors have always celebrated Khreshcheniye and still do at the present time, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Son of man, the day divine grace was bestowed onto Jesus Christ in his human incarnation. On the eve of January 6, the Doukhobors would assemble for prayer, then on the way home, each person would try to draw some water from a well, river or spring; as this water was considered blessed, therefore endowed with purifying powers, it was sprinkled around the house, the barn and the stable; it was used in washing up and was also given to drink to the sick.

The next holiday was Maslenitsa, or Maslena, as the Doukhobors called it. It was preceded by Nedelya Sviatykh Praotsev (“Forefathers’ Week”), a time to commemorate ancestors and make traditional blini (pancakes). According to Doukhobor custom, the first pancake went to the household dog because it was believed that “man was eating the dog’s share”, a saying that stems from an old Russian legend. According to the legend, long ago, wheat plants had grain filled spires descending all the way to the ground. However, people did not treat bread with the respect it deserved. When God saw how people squandered bread, he decided to punish them by taking it away. Having grasped an ear of wheat with his hands, he began shelling it. Suddenly, when there were just a few grains left on the very top of the ear, a dog howled plaintively. God took pity on him and left him a few kernels. The Doukhobors have always had a very respectful attitude towards bread. It was considered a sin to throw out a piece of bread or to brush off bread crumbs onto the floor.

For the Doukhobors, Maslena began on Saturday and lasted for three days. Neighbors would go visiting, wishing each other a “Happy Maslena”. In certain villages it was customary to masquerade during this holiday. Mothers would sew special pockets onto their children’s belts so they could fill them with tasty kalachi given to them by housewives as they went from door to door, offering greetings.

On Sunday, young people would organize horse-drawn sleigh ride parties. Sunday evening was Proshchenoe Voskresen’e (“Sunday of Forgiveness”) when Doukhobors in groups of five to ten people would go to the homes of elders and bowing low three times beg for the forgiveness of their sins. Or they could say: “Forgive us our sins on this Sunday of Forgiveness”. And the elders would answer: “The Good Lord will forgive your sins”, then all would embrace as evidence of forgiveness. The hosts would either set the table or give the visitors some treats to take along and the group would then go to the next home.

Chistyi Ponedel’nik (“Pure Monday”) marked the beginning of Lent for Orthodox Russians. Although the Doukhobors did not observe Lent in the religious sense, they retained the name of this holiday for the last day of Maslena. In Rodionovka, Chistyi Ponedel’nik was a time to “grieve”: the villagers were sorry to see Maslena come to an end; they would eat and drink the leftovers from the holiday festivities. In the village of Spasovka, it was customary “to rinse one’s mouth” on Chistyi Ponedel’nik, whereas in Troitskoye, the first guest to enter a home was made to sit on a coat turned fur-side-out and forced to eat, as it was believed that if the guest ate well, it would be a good year for the hosts with respect to their cattle. In Novo-Gorelovka in the province of Elizavetpol, the villagers would pitch in and fry eggs together.

Nowadays, people still get together for Maslena to enjoy themselves and eat the traditional blini, although the festivities are much more modest than in the past.

There existed in Russia the age-old tradition of “ushering in the spring” on March 9. In order to hasten the arrival of warm weather, children would fling up into the air soroki (sweet buns baked in the shape of magpies). According to the Orthodox calendar, March 9 was the Day of the Forty Martyrs or Soroki as it was popularly called (soroki means both “magpies” and “forty”). In all the villages, Doukhobor women made soroki buns. They placed buttons, kopecks and other small objects into the dough, each time making a wish related to the well-being of their cattle. Later, as they ate the “little magpies”, the villagers had fun guessing what the future held for their cattle and poultry. For instance, it was believed that if a kopeck stood for a cow, the cow of the person eating the bun with the kopeck would give him plenty of milk; someone else might be lucky with his chickens, sheep or other animals. Soroki was not considered an important holiday and therefore it was a workday as usual. Today the younger generation of Doukhobors have no idea what the “little magpies” were.

March 25 was Blagoveshcheniye (“Annunciation”), a very important holiday when no one worked in all of Russia. It commemorates the announcement made to the Virgin Mary by the archangel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Son of God. It was considered a sin for anyone to work on Blagoveshcheniye, even though many people, including the Doukhobors, made a point of not celebrating the holiday in the religious sense. There was a saying that on that day “birds do not nest, maidens do not braid their hair”. On that day, Doukhobors usually assembled for worship. Women and young girls would dress up in new clothes that they would have made especially for the occasion.

Verbnoye Voskresen’e (“Palm Sunday”), the Sunday preceding Easter, was not celebrated in the religious sense, although it was a tradition for young people to call on their neighbors very early in the morning; if they found anyone of their peers still in bed, they would “whip” him or her with a pussy willow rod while reciting the whole time:

Pussy willow rod,
Whip him till he weeps.
The pussy willow’s whipping,
Not me.

Mothers would pretend to whip their young children with pussy willow rods while reciting this verse. The very same rods were later used for turning cattle out to pasture for the first time after the winter.

Doukhobors usually tried to send their cattle to pasture for the first time in the spring on the feast day of St. Egorii on April 23, Egorov Den’. However, because of the rigorous climatic conditions that prevailed where they lived in Georgia, that event was generally postponed until May. In Russia, St. Egorii was the patron saint of horses. Therefore, on Egorov Den’, all Russian peasants, including the Doukhobors, would let their horses rest, brush them down, pamper them and feed them well. This tradition has long since been consigned to oblivion.

Easter has always been one of the most important Christian holidays in Russia. During Strastnaya Nedelya (“Holy Week”), or Strashnaya as it was called, which precedes Paskha (“Easter Sunday”), Orthodox Russians were particularly devout in their observance of Lent which commenced on Chistyi Ponedel’nik and lasted for seven weeks. The Doukhobors did not fast as such during Lent; however, they were very scrupulous in their attempts to refrain from sinning both verbally and in deed during Strashnaya.

On Velikaya Pyatnitsa (“Good Friday”), women dyed eggs with onion peels and baked Easter cakes. During the night that preceded Paskha, Doukhobors would assemble for prayer, then wish each other a Happy Easter by kissing three times and exchanging eggs. In the village of Gorelovka, women would take Easter cakes to the Sirotsky Dom (“Orphan’s Home”) and hand them out to the old people after prayer. On Paskha, everyone went to the cemetery to put eggs on the graves of relatives and visit the graves of deceased Doukhobor leaders, to pray for them and to revive their memory. These rituals are still very much alive today and Easter prayer meetings are the most attended of all.

Another Doukhobor tradition was to put a few dyed eggs into the barn for the khozya (“master”) as some of them called the fairytale household spirit; others referred to it as domovoi. Children would play with the eggs, rolling them along grooves during the three days of Easter festivities.

A week after Easter Caucasian Doukhobors celebrated Krasnaya Gorka (“Glorious Hill”), a very old Russian folk festivity that originated in pre-Christian times. Villagers treated each other to eggs left over from Easter or else they dyed the eggs. At the beginning of the 20th century, this festival lost its original meaning and became a holiday for Doukhobor children and young people. Parties were thrown for children where they played with eggs and ate fried eggs. Young people would get together; girls would pitch in and make fried eggs, while the young men took care of beverages. It has been several decades now that the holiday has not been celebrated.

The second Sunday after Easter was Zheny Mironositsy, or Zheny, and was considered a holiday for women. People of all ages would get together and make the traditional fried eggs. In the 1920’s, Zheny became the holiday of the village of Orlovka instead of the festival of Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri. This occurred after the departure of some Doukhobors from Orlovka to Canada and later, Rostov, after which many Doukhobors from Gorelovka settled in Orlovka but refused to commemorate the Kazanskaya. The village then opted for Zheny as its holiday, even though some people continued to worship the Kazanskaya. In the past, Zheny celebrations lasted three days, whereas now the holiday is observed very modestly, if at all.

Seven weeks after Easter, all Doukhobor villages celebrated Troitsa, a festival that lasted for three days in honour of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Doukhobors used to say. “Trinity is when God descends onto the ranks of the righteous who are his Apostles. The first day, Jesus Christ appeared to the Apostles; he spent the second day consolidating his Throne, bestowing wisdom onto his Apostles and the power to resurrect the dead and give sight to the blind; the third day, they prayed and then went to preach in the name of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

After worship, on Troitsa, Doukhobors usually went to the cemetery to pray on the graves of their deceased leaders. During the first two days of the Troitsa holiday, they greeted each other with the words “Happy Trinity”, whereas on the third day, which was the last, they would say “Farewell”, bidding farewell to the holiday. Doukhobors still celebrate Troitsa, the elders assemble for prayer, while the young assemble to enjoy themselves. To mark spring and summer festivals, and particularly the Troitsa holiday, young people usually got together somewhere on a hillock, in a clearing or a hollow to sing and dance, keeping out of sight of the stern elders. There were also places where young people from several villages would meet so that young men could court the girls.

The next major holiday observed by Doukhobors was Petrov Den’ celebrated on June 29 in commemoration of the saints Peter and Paul. It was celebrated throughout Russia and held particular significance for Doukhobors, as it was the name day of two outstanding Doukhobor leaders: Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov who died in 1864 and Petr Vasilyevich Verigin who became leader of the “Large Party” of Doukhobors after the 1887 schism. It was for this reason that in 1895 the followers of Petr Verigin chose to burn their arms on Petrov Den’ to protest against war and violence. Thus this day soon became a holiday in memory of those who had been persecuted, having endured extreme trials and tribulations on account of their faith.

After 1895, Petrov Den’ was celebrated only by Doukhobors belonging to the “Large Party”, comprised of Doukhobors from all villages except for Gorelovka. They would assemble under the cliff where the arms burning had taken place, pray by the piously revered peshcherochki (“little cave”), a place that was particularly cherished by Lukeria Kalmykova, their beloved leader who passed away in 1886. Then they would spread about blankets and have a picnic. At present, Petrov Den’ is celebrated on July 12 according to the new-style calendar. Very few people, for the most part elderly women from the neighboring villages of Orlovka and Spasovka, still gather around the peshcherochki.

Frolov Den’, the feast day of St. Frol and Lavr, or simply Khrol as the Doukhobors call it, was the patron holiday of the village of Gorelovka, which used to be celebrated for three days. An important prayer meeting took place at the Sirotsky Dom on August 18, which marked the first day of the holiday. Later that day, Doukhobors would go visiting or welcome visitors from neighboring villages. Khrol was considered to be the holiday of matchmaking and launched the season when young men could send in matchmakers. In other villages, however, matchmaking began on the holiday of Pokrov.

Pokrov, celebrated on October 1, was the holiday adopted by the Doukhobors of Spasovka and those of Novo-Pokrovka in Kars, province. Doukhobor elders explain that this holiday was instituted in honour of the Holy Virgin who bestowed her protection upon people by covering them with her Holy Mantle.

As matchmaking rituals traditionally took place during the holiday of Pokrov, marriages began to be celebrated on Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri on October 22, after all field work had been completed. This was a holiday instituted by the Orthodox Church in honour of the Kazanskaya, the icon of Our Lady of Kazan. For Doukhobors, however, it acquired a different meaning: it was a day of remembrance for the warriors who had fallen during the siege of Kazan. Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri was the patron holiday of Tambovka as well as the villages of Orlovka, Novo-Spasovka, in Elizavetpol province, and in Novo-Troitskoye, in Kars province until the 1920’s.

The villagers of Rodionovka, which is located in the vicinity of Tambovka on Lake Paravani, did not have a holiday of their own. They too adopted Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri as their patron holiday.

For three days, beginning on November 8, Mikhailov Den’, the village of Efremovka honoured its patron saint, the archangel Mikhail. A month later, on December 6, the village of Troitskoye celebrated Nikolin Den (“St. Nikolai’s Day”) in honour of its patron saint, Nikolai the Wonderworker, or Mikola as he was called. According to the ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, the Doukhobors of Troitskoye stopped commemorating Nikolin Den’ after the Burning of Arms and in protest of the subsequent persecutions of Doukhobors, because Nikolai or Mikola also happened to be the first name of the tsar, Nicolas I. Troitskoye, however, reinstated its holiday when the Doukhobors belonging to the Large Party left for Canada.

Conclusion

It was predominantly during the autumn and winter, when field work was completed, that Doukhobor holidays were celebrated with festivities as social gatherings, parties, merrymaking in the streets and sleigh rides. It was then that people had time to enjoy themselves. Moreover, the new harvest and freshly prepared food supplies enabled Doukhobors to set a lavish table for their guests. People unfamiliar with the customs and rituals of Doukhobors of the Caucasus often had the erroneous impression that they were generally austere villagers, opposed to all forms of merriment. In actuality, the Doukhobors did enjoy festivities, although elders say that when they were young, the old people would chide them and forbid them to play musical instruments and dance; then in the same breath and with the greatest pleasure they reminisce of times they would get together and, in spite of everything, humming a dance tune, they would dance in a hollow or in someone’s house. It can be said that the Doukhobors always worked hard and enjoyed themselves just as intensely.

Editorial Note

To Ms. Inikova’s detailed and scholarly work must be added several holidays, celebrated by Doukhobors in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Caucasus, but evidently no longer observed or remembered at the time that she conducted her field research. These have been documented by the editor Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from Doukhobor oral tradition, toponymy and from ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s collection of Doukhobor psalms, songs, hymns and prayers.

Vosneseniye (the “Ascension”) was an important Christian holiday in Russia. Observed on the Thursday after the fifth Sunday after Easter, it commemorates Christ’s bodily ascent to Heaven in the presence of his disciples, following his resurrection. It was a holiday celebrated by the village of Efremovka. When Doukhobors from this village left for Canada, they named one of their new villages Vosneseniye in remembrance of this holiday.

In July, during haying time, the Doukhobors of Rodionovka village celebrated Lushechkin Pokos (“Lushechka’s Mowing”) or Kalmykov Pokos (“Kalmykov’s Mowing”) as it was also called. It was a thanksgiving festival associated with Doukhobor leader Lukeria Kalmykova, who visited the village annually at this time. People came from near and far to join the festivities. Everyone pitched in to help prepare the feast, which consisted of shishliki (a Caucasian dish prepared with marinated lamb), vareniki and slivnyi halushki (dumplings made with prunes, eaten with melted butter). Large cast iron pots and kettles were assembled to cook the food. Also, as the village was located on Lake Paravani, large quantities of fish were caught using barkasi (large fishing barges), then prepared by boiling them, allowing them to cool and then gel in large wooden tubs. After much eating, singing and thanksgiving, it was the custom for the men of the village to take their wives or girlfriends and dunk them in the lake.

On July 20 according to the old style, the Doukhobors of Slavyanka village in Elizavetpol province celebrated Ilyin Den’  in memory of St. Ilya (Elijah), the 9th century BC Hebrew prophet who proclaimed God’s judgment and retribution. In Russian folk belief, thunder, fire and lightening were believed to be the special provenance of Elijah, and people expected thunderstorms and rain each year on his feast day.

Uspenie (the “Assumption”) was a holiday celebrated by Christians throughout Russia on August 15 according to the old style. It commemorates the Virgin Mary’s passage into Heaven following her death. It was a holiday celebrated by the village of Troitskoye as well as the village of Terpeniye in Kars province. When Doukhobors from these villages left for Canada, and later Rostov, they named several of their new villages after this holiday.

Finally, it should be noted that in Canada in the early 1900’s, the celebration of traditional holidays was abolished by Doukhobor leader Petr Vasilyevich Verigin, who considered them to be unnecessary and superfluous to the spiritual development of his followers. The exception was Petrov Den’, which continued to be celebrated by Doukhobors who left Verigin’s communal organization in Canada to become independent farmers. 

For a comprehensive calendar of the Doukhobor holidays and festivals discussed in this work, click here.

About the Author

Dr. Svetlana A. Inikova is a senior researcher at the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.  Considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Doukhobors, Svetlana has conducted extensive archival research and has participated in several major ethnographic expeditions, including field research among the Doukhobors of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and a North American ethnographic expedition on the Doukhobors in 1990.  She has published numerous articles on the Doukhobors in Russian and English and is the author of History of the Doukhobors in V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s Archives (1886-1950s): An Annotated Bibliography (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999) and Doukhobor Incantations Through the Centuries (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999).

For more online articles about the Doukhobors by Svetlana A. Inikova, see Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History as well as Leo Tolstoy’s Teachings and the Sons of Freedom in Canada.

Doukhobors: An Endangered Species

by Dr. John I. Postnikoff

The following is an excerpt from an address given by Dr. John I. Postnikoff at the Postnikoff Family Reunion held in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan in 1977. Now, decades later, more than ever, his speech forcefully captures the dilemma of assimilation and cultural change challenging Doukhobors today. Reproduced from the pages of MIR magazine, No. 16 (Grand Forks, BC: MIR Publication Society, May, 1978).

…At this point, I would like to share with you some observations on our role in present and future society, and mention some facts about minority groups in general. An outside observer in our midst would be hard pressed to detect any difference between us and a group of Anglo-Saxon Canadians. I recognize the fact there may be some here from other racial backgrounds.

1. We are absolutely fluent in the English language, in fact, much more so, than in Russian. Why am I speaking in English this morning? Well, it is a great deal easier, believe me.

2. Our dress is non distinctive, call it North American. The ladies are not wearing embroidered shawls, the men are not exposing their shirt tails, and not wearing sheep skin coats. 

It was not always so, however. Our dress, speech and mannerisms are a far cry from our forefathers, who disembarked on Canadian soil in 1899. They were immigrants from Russia, members of a sect which emerged into history around the middle of the 17th century. They called themselves “People of God” or “Spiritual Christians”, implying that adherents of other sects or churches were only false Christians. The name Doukhobor, like other names treasured afterwards, was first used in anger and derision by one of their opponents, the Archbishop Serebrenikov of Ekaterinoslav in 1785. It means Spirit Wrestlers, and was intended by the Orthodox Archbishop to suggest they were fighting “against” the Holy Ghost. Its followers changed the meaning, claiming they fought “with” the spirit of God which was within them.

Allow me to skip one hundred years of history, marked by good times and bad times, persecutions and migrations, and bring you to the year 1886. Following the death of Lukeria Kalmykova (affectionately known as “Lushechka”) a major struggle developed between Lukeria’s brother Mikhail Gubanov and her apparent successor Peter Verigin concerning leadership of the group and control of the Orphan Home assets valued at roughly one million rubles. The quarrel split the sect into two factions. Those acknowledging Verigin’s spiritual leadership became known as the “Large Party”.

Since the government officials were in sympathy with Gubanov, Verigin was exiled to Siberia. This strengthened his position and his followers now regarded him as a martyr. While in exile, he met disciples of Tolstoy and became acquainted with his literature. As subsequent events proved, this had a profound affect on his outlook. He began to indoctrinate his subjects in peasant communism, pacifism, and defiance of government.

Doukhobor Leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin.

One of his directives, delivered by loyal messengers, pertained to military service, which later resulted in their expulsion from Russia. All loyal followers were not to bear arms, and to show they meant business, destroy all their weapons, which were in ample supply. This directive was obeyed, all muskets were placed in one big pile, doused with kerosene, and put to the torch.

Such a display of defiance was not to pass unnoticed by Tsar Nicholas II and his officials. Punishment, suffering, and persecution followed, which made headlines in the Western World. Quakers in England and United States, Tolstoy in Russia, rallied to their aid, and it can safety be said that without their moral and financial support, migration to Canada would never have been a reality.

Canada was suggested as a safe haven by Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist living in England. Contacts were made with the Canadian Government, which appeared sympathetic. A group headed by Aylmer Maude, Prince Khilkov, and Doukhobor delegates Makhortoff and Ivin, were delegated to find a suitable locality for resettlement. They were directed to Edmonton, where twelve townships consisting of 572 square miles were available. The party agreed this would be an ideal site, returning to Ottawa to finalize the arrangements, An obstacle however was placed in their path by the Conservative opposition and the plan did not reach fruition.

I am going to ask you to stretch your powers of imagination and consider for a moment, what kind of Doukhobor society would have evolved if the chain of circumstances had been different than what actually took place:

1. Suppose there was no opposition to the block settlement near Edmonton, and all of the 7,000 plus immigrants were allowed to settle in this area and initiate an experiment in religious communism.

2. Verigin was allowed to leave Russia, accompany his subjects to Canada and be the first to step on Canadian soil. 

3. Land ownership was acquired without the controversial Oath of Allegiance.

How would this ethnic group, tightly knit by blood ties and cultural bonds, succeed in this experiment? Would a society have emerged like the Hutterites and Mennonites, agrarian in nature, committed to self sustenance and isolation from neighbours? Such an arrangement, of course, is an attempt to form a state within a state, a Dukhoboria. Would we have fared better under this arrangement? Conflict arises whenever a minority group is pitted against a dominant majority. Interaction between them, by its very nature, is competitive and is marked by hostility at many points. I have a feeling, no concrete evidence, just a feeling, that internal dissension coupled with external pressures would have been too much for many independent souls, like my grandfather. They would have “packed it in” and set up an Independent existence on available homesteads. The venture would have collapsed like it did in British Columbia years later. Back to reality however:

1. Peter Verigin did not arrive in Canada from his Siberian exile until 1902.

2. Land was not available in one block. Settlers were split into three groups, two in the Yorkton area and one in Prince Albert. Free from Verigin’s leadership, the Prince Albert group especially were already beginning to feel at home in their new surroundings. 

3. The Canadian Government insisted on registration of vital statistics and the Oath of Allegiance as a prerequisite for land ownership. This resulted in a mass migration to British Columbia under Verigin’s instigation. Many chose not to leave and remained in Saskatchewan, including most of the Prince Albert group. They accepted the Oath of Allegiance and became independent operators on their newly acquired homesteads.

Why did some stay behind rather than move to British Columbia? Perhaps they had second thoughts about collective ownership and all its ramifications. The offer of free land, even with strings attached, was a temptation hard to resist. They came from the land, they loved the soil. To them, it was a means of livelihood and economic independence. They began to clear the land and build log dwellings with sod roofs.

Tasting independence, a luxury long denied them, they came in contact with immigrants of Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Ukrainian and Polish origin. From this point, precisely, forces of assimilation, began to alter old patterns which had been in existence for decades.

Children were enrolled in public schools where they came in contact with students of different racial origin. In school they were exposed to a new language, different from the one spoken at home. For those not destined to take up farming as an occupation, it was a natural and easy step to High schools and Universities. In a short space of time, a community which knew only agrarian skills for hundreds of years had a new breed in its midst. This was a change of major proportions. Lawyers, engineers, school teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses, accountants etc., arrived on the scene, fluent in English, different only in name. Along with their agrarian cousins, they willingly accepted all that modern technology had to offer: cars, tractors, combines, television and radio. The Russian tongue was heard less frequently and in most homes English became the language of choice.

The basic dogma of our religion became a lively issue during the First and Second World Wars, more so in the Second. I can recall mother telling me when the late Peter Makaroff was conscripted in the First World War, how the Doukhobors rallied to his aid. They threatened not to harvest their grain if Peter was taken into the army, so the government did not press the issue. In the Second World War, some of our young men did alternative service under army supervision, but there was no persecution such as experienced in Tsarist Russia. Can it be Doukhobors perform best under pressure, and a crisis of major proportions might make us realize that out cultural identity is slipping away? In peace time, the issue tends to fade into the background as it does not affect our day to day activities. In other words, “the shoe is not pinching”.

After 80 years in Canada, what is the present state of affairs? We have to admit, we are in a retreating situation. I think we are all in agreement on this point. Our language has fallen into disuse; few remain who can speak it fluently. Our prayer homes are empty; many of the former worshippers are throwing in their lot with other faiths, Baptists, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah Witnesses, United Church. Our young people are exchanging their marriage vows in other faiths.

Granted, the Doukhobor Community in Saskatoon is expert in making large crusty loaves of bread in outdoor ovens during exhibition week. We still like our borshchpirogi and blintsi. Outside of this, little remains. What I am really saying is we are not a healthy ethnic group with our heritage at our fingertips.

The number of Doukhobors claiming membership in the sect is declining at an alarming rate especially in the last years. Let us look at some figures from Statistics Canada:

Year Quantity
1921 12,674
1931 14,978
1941 16,898
1951 13,175
1961 13,234
1971 9,170

A drop of 4000 in the last 10 years. Geographical distribution per 1971 census is as follows:

Province Quantity
Newfoundland 5
Nova Scotia 10
New Brunswick 20
Quebec 220
Ontario 175
Manitoba 130
Saskatchewan 1,675
Alberta 200
British Columbia 6,720
North West Territories 10

If we estimate the number in Canada from this stock around 20,000 plus, more than half have left. Another suitable topic for my talk could be: “Lost, 10,000 Doukhobors”. We are one of the few religious groups experiencing a decline. Some examples to substantiate this in round figures:

Denomination 1921 1971
Baptists 422,000 667,000
Mormons 19,000 66,000
Hutterites & Mennonites 58,000 168,000
Pentecostals 7,000 220,000
Jehovah Witnesses 6,500 174,000

I am going to ask you once again to stretch your imagination. Assume a hypothetical situation, a gifted individual with our ethnic background arrives on the scene. He or she possesses the organizing ability of Kolesnikov, and like Lushechka, has charisma and personality. Sincere and trustworthy, he makes enough of us realize, like the whooping crane, we are an endangered species on the verge of extinction, and if we are going to salvage anything from the wreckage, we had better do something about it. There is no time to lose. He draws our attention to George Woodcock’s statement in the May 1977 issue of MIR, “unless there is a change in your attitude towards the practical things of social existence, Doukhoborism will not survive as it has existed in historic times”.

His message gets through to enough interested sympathizers. They form a committee (it seems to get anything done, you need a committee). Their terms of reference: to survey in depth, the Doukhobor dilemma and formulate a plan of action that might have some hope of reviving our cultural heritage. You will agree they have their work cut out for them. It will require tact, diplomacy, the patience of Job, and the wisdom of Solomon. They are well aware their proposals must appeal not only to all age groups but also to those who have left the sect. Hopefully they may be enticed to return. As assimilation has progressed at a faster rate in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Vancouver than in Grand Forks and the Kootenays, the situation in these areas will have to be looked at more closely.

What are the factors which give authenticity to minority groups in general? Basically only three: language, religion, and folk arts. Take these away, a minority group could hardly perform the tasks necessary for survival or train the next generation in its way of life.

The importance of language is best expressed in the 1970 Report on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. I quote: “The significance of language retention in the over all question of cultural retention is one of the most important working assumptions of this study. Language is an essential expression of a culture. Although it is noted, some groups do retain distinctive cultural traits despite their disappearing native language, (as in the case of the Acadians in the Maritimes, and Canadian Jews) the commission felt in most cases the original cultural traits survive only partially after the adoption of the dominant language. They almost disappear after several generations. Thus culture and language cannot be dissociated”.

When our Committee surveyed the language situation, this is what they discovered. Very few people remain who are fluent in Russian. Those left who came from Russia and first generation Canadians have a good working knowledge; second and third generation Canadians will not get a good score. Why has the language fallen into disuse? Because there is no economic need for it. Nearly all of us earn our bread and butter with the use of English. It is the only language we use at work. Language is like a garden; a garden requires constant attention, watering, cultivating, spraying. Neglect it and weeds take over. Language is the same. Fluency is only maintained by constant use.

Russian – the traditional language.

A similar pattern runs through all minority groups. A survey on non official languages in Canada, came up with this finding: “Fluency decreases rapidly from generation to generation. It drops sharply in the second generation and is almost non-existent in the third and older generations”. In five Canadian cities, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver among the Ukrainians, it was found 63.6% were fluent in the first generation, 18.9% in the second, dropping to .7% in the third. That is, only 7 out of 1000 knew their ethnic tongue. We would not score any better. Needless to say, the survey ended on a discouraging note. However these recommendations were put forward by the Committee. First, it is mandatory all who have a knowledge of Russian speak it in the home and other appropriate places. I asked one of my cousins if he and his wife spoke Russian. His answer was “only when we have an argument”. It seems Russian uncomplimentary words pack a more forceful punch than their English counterparts. Secondly, school boards would be approached to include Russian in the curriculum with some subjects taught in that language. Thirdly, intermarried families pose a problem. I might be unpopular for suggesting the “other” partner be encouraged to learn Russian. My wife, Audrey, mastered fifty pages of grammar, but could not continue when her teacher failed to show up for classes.

The Committee found a divergence of opinion when it tackled the problem of divine worship. Furthermore, many suggestions were charged with emotion and prejudice. I must admit my knowledge of our worship service is meagre and I have to rely on my childhood recollections here in Blaine Lake and one year in British Columbia. One thing that stands out in my memory: no individual was designated to take charge of the service; the lot usually fell to the most able orator. If the situation has changed here and in British Columbia, I apologize for my remarks. It was not only an occasion for worship, but pertinent business matters were discussed. To my dear grandmother, it was also a social occasion, she never left for worship without her supply of roasted sun flower seeds in her home-made pouch, and she must have raised the blood pressure of many a speaker trying to deliver his message above the crackle of sunflower seeds.

The Committee were amazed at the number of problems that confronted them in devising a form of worship acceptable to meet the needs of modern Doukhobor Canadians. Who will assume responsibility for religious instruction? Will we delegate one individual on a full time or part time basis, and how will he or she be paid? What will be his or her official title? Priests are anathema. He or she will require credentials. He or she would be expected to possess a basic knowledge of theology in order to express religious truths to a fairly sophisticated congregation. Dwelling only on past exploits of our forefathers, noble as they are, would soon empty the church.

What about the Bible? Pobirokhin rejected the Bible, believing it to be a source of dissension among Christians. Silvan Kolesnikov used the New Testament. Can this be a reason why many have left our ranks, many who have come to regard the Bible as a source of inspiration and spiritual truths about our Master, do not see a Bible in our prayer homes?

What about music? We have not allowed musical instruments in our prayer homes; the only music has been choral rendition of psalms and hymns. Choral psalms would have to find a place in our liturgy; although they are complex and difficult to understand, they are unique and steeped in tradition. Prayer homes will be a place where our young people exchange their marriage vows. A modern bride will not be content unless she can walk down the aisle to the strains of Wagner’s Wedding March played on the organ.

What priority will be given to Christian education for children? There has not been an organized plan of instruction to teach Bible stories and religious precepts to our youth. This was done in the home. Regular church attendance in adulthood must be initiated in childhood.

It has been suggested a scholarship be made available to an enterprising student willing to specialize in that branch of anthropology dealing with preservation and perpetuation of folk arts. Perhaps he could arouse sufficient interest to initiate a cultural museum which could serve as a focal point for preserving our past heritage. The building would have an auditorium where family reunions such as this could meet and get acquainted with their “kith and kin”.

Participation in ethnic organizations has been regarded an important means by which language and culture are maintained. In fact, the Royal Commission research reported a positive correlation between a sense of ethnic identity and participation in ethnic organizations.

I have discussed some of the problems that face us if we are to restore and preserve our heritage. Are we equal to the task? Frankly, I am pessimistic. Too much water has gone under the bridge; we have probably passed the point of no return. I would like to be an optimist, but the hard facts militate against it. My reasons are: 

1. We are not sufficiently motivated. Motivation comes from a deep conviction that a certain goal must be achieved irrespective of cost. We are not that committed. It would take a great deal of energy and sacrifice to implement the proposals suggested. This would encroach on our lifestyle, and too many of us are set in our ways. We experience no job discrimination, or social isolation.

2. We are outnumbered, twenty-two million against ten thousand. Wherever we turn, culture of the dominant majority confronts us, which in fact, we have adopted. Quebec, with a population of four million, finds the French language is threatened by the dominance of English.

3. We are a house divided, splintered into groups. We do not present a united front. How could a Son of Freedom, an Orthodox and and Independent reach a consensus on their religious philosophy?

4. Our form of worship has not been updated to keep up with the times. Our principle precept, noble and virtuous, is not an urgent problem. Should there be a war, it is inconceivable that conventional weapons would be used, where we will be asked to bear arms. Heaven preserve us from another Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What about the future? I’m going to make a prediction, knowing full well prognostication is fraught with danger. Doukhoborism as a viable cultural entity, fifty years hence, will cease to exist in the three Prairie provinces. We are witnessing its demise. Only major surgery and blood transfusions will revive it. Canadians, with Russian surnames, will be here, but there will be no common bond to unite them. Heirlooms, family albums, and long playing Russian records will be treasured as antiques, but the culture which gave them birth has been laid to rest with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.

In British Columbia, specifically in Grand Forks and the Kootenays, total assimilation is meeting resistance. The younger generation are taking concrete steps to preserve their language and traditions. The new cultural centre in Brilliant is an asset in their favour. Still the tide is against them. Cultural identity in cities is difficult to preserve. Fred Samorodin in his article in MIR, March 1977, estimates there are 4,000 souls of Doukhobor background in Vancouver, only thirty-two claim membership in the Union of Young Doukhobors. 

The idea is expressed that migration back to Russia will save the group. Such a panacea is too fantastic to merit consideration. Can you see Communist Russia accepting a religious group on our terms? We would be strangers in the land where our forefathers trod. If the “be all and end all” of our life in Canada is the preservation of our heritage, then migration was a wrong move. Verigin rendered us a disservice. We should have fought it out with the Tsar. Our leader should have realized, once he brought his subjects to “Rome” they would “do as the Romans”.

Our problem is not unique, this is history of minority groups, repeating itself. Minority groups came into existence five thousand years ago with the development of a state or a nation. Only a state with the apparatus of government, can extend law and order over sub groups, who neither speak the same language, worship the same gods, nor strive for the same values. The Aztecs of Mexico, the Maya of Yucatan, the Inca of South America, once they became minority groups, disappeared with time, to become a name only.

What about the future? We should be filled with remorse in allowing a beautiful language, rich in poetry and prose to fall into disuse. We are not taking advantage of the opportunities in Russian studies presented by our higher institutions of learning. In this regard, we are the losers and great is our loss.

However as Christians, I believe Christ is calling us to be more wide awake than ever. Firstly, we must find peace within ourselves and brotherly love towards our neighbour. As Christians, we are called to make our Community a better place to live, and take action on such issues as: the preservation of our environment; violence on television; pornography; the plight of the underprivileged here and abroad; and discrimination in any form.

Above all, let us preserve the spirit which guided our forefathers in their exodus from tyranny to freedom. Observing the 6th Commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, they were loving their neighbour as themselves. Thank you.

Calendar of Doukhobor Holidays in the Caucasus

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Our Doukhobor ancestors celebrated a number of holidays rich in tradition and meaning.  Many were borrowed and adapted from the Orthodox Church calendar.  Others were deeply rooted in pagan Russian folk belief.  Often associated with seasonal change, these holidays were times when the Doukhobors broke their normal weekly or monthly routine to celebrate together, socialize and worship.  The following is a calendar of holidays celebrated by Doukhobors in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Caucasus, including their Russian and equivalent English names, the new style (Gregorian) and old style (Julian) calendar dates on which they occurred and a summary explanation of their religious and folk significance. 

Holiday Old Style New Style Significance
Novyi God New Year 1-Jan 14-Jan The end of the old year and beginning of the new year. 
Vasil’ev Den’ St. Vasily’s Day 1-Jan 14-Jan In memory of St. Vasily (Basil) the Great, 4th century bishop of Caesarea and theologian, patron saint of Bogdanovka village.
Kreshcheniye Epiphany 6-Jan 19-Jan The shining forth and revelation of Christ as the Messiah at the time of his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.
Maslenitsa Butter Week 8th week before Easter In folk tradition, a sun festival heralding the imminent end of winter. In Christian tradition, the last week before the onset of Lent. Also called Maslena.
Soroki Day of the Forty Martyrs   9-Mar  22-Mar In memory of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, 4th century Christian Roman soldiers martyred for their faith. In folk tradition, the welcoming of spring.
Blagoveshcheniye Annunciation 25-Mar 7-Apr The revelation to Mary, the mother of Christ by the archangel Gabriel that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God.
Verbnoe Voskresen’e Palm Sunday Sunday before Easter The triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, when palm leaves were strewn before him, in the days before his Passion.
Egorev Den’ St. Egorii’s Day 23-Apr 6-May In memory of St. Egorii (George), 3rd century Roman soldier venerated as a Christian martyr.  In folk tradition, the turning out of cattle to spring pasture.
Strastnaya Nedelya Holy Week Week before Easter The week between Palm Sunday and Easter, commemorating the Passion and Christ’s death on the cross. Also called Strashnaya.
Velikaya Pyatnitsa Good Friday Friday before Easter The arrest, trial, crucifixion, suffering, death and burial of Christ.
Paskha Easter Sunday First Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. The resurrection of Christ from the dead three days after his death by crucifixion. 
Krasnaya Gorka Glorious Hill Sunday after Easter In folk tradition, a spring festival named after the high places where it was originally held, when rivers rose and flooded, making lowlands inaccessible. 
Zheny Mironositsy Sunday of the Myrrhbearers 2nd Sunday after Easter Proclamation of angels before the myrrh-bearing women at the empty tomb that Christ had risen from the dead.  Also called Zheny.
Vosneseniye Ascension Thursday after the 5th Sunday after Easter Christ’s bodily ascent to Heaven in the presence of his disciples, following his resurrection.
Troitsa Trinity 7th Sunday after Easter The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and followers of Christ while they were gathered to pray.  Also a remembrance of deceased Doukhobor leaders.
Petrov Den’ St. Peter and Paul’s Day 29-Jun 12-Jul In memory of the Apostles St. Peter and Paul, martyred in 1st century Rome.  Also, the name day of Doukhobor leaders Petr Kalmykov and Petr Verigin.
Lushechkin Pokos Lushechka’s Mowing 15-Jul c. 28-Jul c. A thanksgiving festival held during haying time, associated with Doukhobor leader Lukeria Kalmykova.  Also called Kalmykov Pokos.
Ilyin Den’ St. Ilya’s Day 20-Jul 2-Aug In memory of St. Ilya (Elijah), 9th century BC Hebrew prophet of God’s judgment. In folk tradition, associated with thunderstorms and rain.
Uspeniye Assumption 15-Aug 28-Aug The bodily taking of the Mary, the mother of Christ, from earth to Heaven after her death.
Frolov Den’ St. Frol and Lavr’s Day 18-Aug 31-Aug In memory of St. Frol (Florus) and Lavr (Laurus), twin brothers martyred for their faith in 3rd century Ilyria, patron saints of Gorelovka.  Also called Khrol.
Pokrov Intercession 1-Oct 14-Oct The 10th century deliverance of Constantinople from raiders by the appearance of Mary, the mother of Christ, who prayed for and protected the people.
Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri Day of Our Lady of Kazan 22-Oct 4-Nov In memory of Our Lady of Kazan, an icon of Mary, mother of Christ, popular in Russia since the 16th century and credited with repelling foreign invaders.
Mikhailov Den’ St. Mikhail’s Day 8-Nov 21-Nov In memory of St. Mikhail (Michael) the Archangel, one of the principal angels of Heaven, patron saint of Efremovka.
Nikolin Den’ St. Nikolai’s Day 6-Dec 19-Dec In memory of St. Nikolai (Nicholas) the Wonderworker, 4th century bishop of Myra and theologian, patron saint of Troitskoye.
Rozhdestvo Khristovo Christmas 25-Dec 7-Jan The birth of Christ.
Sviatki Holy Days 25-Dec to 7-Jan 7-Jan to 20-Jan In folk tradition, a winter solstice festival.  In Christian tradition, the period between Christ’s birth and baptism.

Notes

In Canada, the celebration of these traditional holidays was abolished in the early 1900’s by Doukhobor leader Petr Vasilyevich Verigin, who considered them to be unnecessary and superfluous to the spiritual development of his followers. The exception was Petrov Den’, which continued to be celebrated by Doukhobors who left Verigin’s communal organization in Canada to become independent farmers. With several exceptions, these holidays continue to be observed by Doukhobors in Russia and the Former Soviet Republics.

Sources

  • Bonch-Breuvich, V.D., Psalom 383 (Prazdniki) in Zhivotnaia Kniga Dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954).
  • Grigulevich, Nadezhda. “The Doukhobors of Georgia: traditional food and farming” in Koozma J. Tarasoff (ed). Spirit-Wrestlers’ Voices, Honouring Doukhobors on the Centenary of their migration to Canada in 1899  (Ottawa: Legas, 1998).
  • Inikova, Svetlana A. Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus. Retrieved 01.12.06 from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website: https://www.doukhobor.org/Holidays.htm.
  • Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief. (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1989).
  • Popoff, Eli A. Correspondence to Jonathan J. Kalmakoff re: Ilyin Den’, June 4, 2007.
  • Strukoff, Fred A. “Areshenkoff, Misha and Masha (Moojelsky)” in History coming alive : R.M. of St. Philips, Pelly and district. Volume 1. (Pelly: St. Philips/Pelly History Book Committee, 1988).

This article was reproduced by permission in the following journals and periodicals:

  • ISKRA No.1997 (Grand Forks: USCC, 2007).
  • The DOVE No. 76 (Saskatoon, DCSS, 2007).

My Memories of Grandmother and Grandfather Sookochoff

by Cyril Brown

The following is a collection of stories selected from the recently printed family history book (December, 2004) compiled and edited by Doukhobor descendant Cyril Brown. The book, entitled “Backward Glances”, is a collection of family histories, stories, memories, photos and genealogical information about his Sookochoff and Brown grandparents. As Mr. Brown states in his book, “only a very few can claim outstanding contributions to society but it is often the many uncelebrated individuals that really make a difference.” Indeed, the life stories of each of our ancestors is just as relevant a part of the historical record as the mainstream of history. Mr. Brown hopes that by sharing these stories, it will encourage others to preserve their Doukhobor family histories.

The Homestead

…The blind road which ran past the bottom of our garden near our farm home in an east/west direction was the shortest route to our grandparents the Sookochoff’s near Buchanan, Saskatchewan. Traveling two miles east from our farm on this road would lead directly into Grandma and Grandpa Sookochoff’s acreage. It was overgrown with trees whose branches stretched inward onto a wagon trail, telling the story of its infrequent use. This road was part of the original grid system laid out by the regional surveyors. Because it led you to a miniature lake or large slough, I’m not sure which, the road was abandoned. A new route half mile to the south was constructed in order to skirt this obstruction. This route however was to be taken only in a hurried state to get to our grandparents.

The blind road was impassable to most vehicles other than a horse drawn wagon in summer and a sleigh in winter. In spring a couple of meandering creeks crossed the road forcing the horses to wade knee deep through running water while dragging a sinking wagon through its soft bed. The branches of the trees would brush by the driver, who was almost always Dad, and snap back onto the next person in the line of fire. This always seemed to be at face level. The whipping action of these branches would sting severely and you soon learned to turn away and put your arms out for protection. The stinging of the branches in summer was only minor compared to the lashing you would receive on a cold 20 degree below day and your face was half frozen. This road was only passable in the early part of winter. Snow that fell on open fields would collect in the treed areas after a blizzard and would become too deep even for horses to traverse. 

The location of the original house.

Today five gnarled maple trees stand atop a slight hill as steadfast beacons marking the location where the original old two story lumber house of the grandparents once stood.  This was the house they built after settling on the homestead.  It served the Sookochoff’s well for many years and it was here my mother Mary (Masha) and two uncles, John (Ivan) and Nick (Nicholai) Jr. were born and raised. I must have visited this house in my early childhood yet my memories of it are vague at best. I do not recall any of the interior features.

In the late 1940’s Grandma and Grandpa were growing older and their youngest son Nick Jr. was the last remaining child living with them. Nick Jr. had taken over the agricultural operations and was doing the majority of work on the land.

It was during this time that I recall hearing the news of the fire that destroyed the old house. Following this disaster, there was some question as to whether they would remain on the farm or sell everything and move elsewhere. An auction sale was held and many of the items on the farm were sold. The move however failed to materialize and a decision to rebuild and remain on the land was decided.

Excitement filled the air as construction took place on the new living quarters. The new home was on a slightly different locale. A treed area two or three hundred yards to the south of the old location was cleared and became the spot for the foundation. The remaining trees on the peripheral of the new yard acted as a ready made shelter belt for the new abode.  The garden was strategically placed by a small creek that ran nearby.

The blueprint of the new house was very similar to the one a neighbor Pete Bagalow had built some years earlier. It was a design that was quite progressive and functional for its day.

The “new” house as it appears today.

I recall a spacious kitchen that had a new chrome table and chairs positioned by a sunny east window.  After a hearty Russian supper it was here that the men would linger to tell their stories. 

Grandpa’s favorite was the tale of the mysterious lights. I would listen intently even though I had heard it several times before. Grandpa was a good story teller and with each narration there would be the addition of some new details. With each revealing I found myself entrapped by the adventure he was spinning and once again I would join him as we traveling through the unfolding exploits of the account. I never knew with certainty if it was pure fiction or it wore the mask of reality. He would push his chair away slightly from the table, lean foreward and commence.

“I remember the time I was traveling home on a dark cloudy night,” he would begin. “In the distance I could see a faint light glowing and moving ahead of me near the road I was traveling on. I was sure it was someone lost and I was going to see if they needed help,” he added. “As I moved toward the light it left the road twisting and turning through the field, leading me this way and that. It finally stopped next to some trees.” He would lean into the group so only we would hear. “Well, as I came upon this certain spot, it just disappeared. All I could see were a few mounds of dirt in a grassy area. There was nothing there. No horses, cart or person, nothing,” he commented. There would be a pause and he would take out a cigarette from its case. “There was no trace of a lantern, fire or shiny object anywhere around.” Sulfur crowned matches were found, one of them lit by his fingernail and then brought to the tip of his cigarette. “Because I was so surprised by what took place, I did not mark the spot. When I did not see anyone or anything, I left. It was dark and it scared me. “This light was near the old village where I once lived as a young man and I am sure I now know what it was I had seen, “said Grandpa. He would stop, look around for and ashtray, not finding one, walk to the kitchen stove and tap the ashes from the end of his cigarette into the firebox. “It was rumored among the villagers that the leaders of the Russian emigration party before leaving Russia were given large amounts of gold coins by Queen Victoria to be used in the new settlement. They were put into pots and brought with them to America. No one would be suspicious of the pots during the voyage and they would be strong and easy to move. Once at the new land the pots were buried at a location only known to the leaders.” I listened intently waiting for Grandpa to disclose the location. “It is told that when conditions are right, gold will give off a dancing light where it is buried and then disappear when you are there,” he whispered. By this time I was convinced that we should be looking for a shovel. “If I would have been able to put two and two together right then and there, I would have been a very wealthy man today.” he said. “You can never tell, I may see it again and this time I will know what to do. It is also quite possible the leaders have returned and moved the gold to a new place and then we will never see the lights again. If they did, it will be easy to tell who they are. They will be the ones with beautiful new homes, all the best farm equipment and a new car every second year whether they grow a good crop or not,” he ended.

Grandpa leaned back in his chair an indication that he was finished and we all waited for someone else to bring forth another adventure. Both Dad and Uncle Nick were avid hunters and it wasn’t long before a hunting story was begun.

The wood/coal cooking stove was centrally located in the kitchen and supplied the needed heat for cooking and warming of the house. For additional warmth throughout the cold winter months, a downstairs coal burning furnace with ductwork leading to several registers upstairs helped warm the rooms. I marveled at the innovativeness of this heating system which evenly distributed heat to all parts of the house. Electricity and forced air were to come later.

Great-grandmother Anastasia

A formal dining area and sitting room were located just off the kitchen. The dining room contained a large ornate table and chairs with a buffet situated along a wall nearby. This room was used largely for special occasions or when many guests necessitated the need for a larger eating area.

The arched entrance between the living room and dining room gave me a slight feeling of Russian classical architectural elegance. The dining room extended into the living room and this was where the guests would congregate after the meal. It is in this room that a large white stuffed snowy owl with its sharp scaly talons stood clinging to a pedestal type base. And from here its yellow piercing eyes seemed to be scanning the room for a meal of its own.

On the wall hung a beautiful oval picture frame encircling a black and white photograph of a female figure proudly posing in her best attire.  The soft almost bluish tones of the picture suggested some very early photographic technology or hand painted sketches. I was never told who the individual was or the relationship to the family.

South of the living room and extending the full width of the house was the sun-room with its many windows. It appeared to be an inviting place to relax and enjoy after a hard days work. The hot summers and cold winters however made this room one that could be used only on a limited number of days. I’m afraid it became storage space for various items. In winter it was also a natural freezer for the prized deer carcass that was hunted that fall.

Today, with doors ajar, window openings void of glass and surrounded by numerous poplar trees which seem determined to crowd it out of existence, the bathhouse still stands. It is a fading reminder of the life lead by our grandparents and a link to our Doukhobor heritage. Light filters through the log structure that now has lost much of its plaster to the elements revealing a two room building slowly losing its battle to the forces of nature.

The banya, a forerunner of the modern day steam room stood near the old house and on the outer fringe of the garden and small creek. A wooden floor, low cedar lined ceiling and walls of mud plaster throughout the interior brought you into the change room and dry off area of the bathhouse. A cast iron door on the dividing wall to the adjacent room opened to feed a wood burning stove. It is in this room clothes were shed and towels were placed prior to entering the steam room. 

The bathhouse as it appears today.

Once inside the banya wide wooden benches lined the outer wall welcoming you to a place of rest and cleansing. A metal heater surrounded by bricks at the base and topped with rocks stood along the inner partition. They would absorb and hold the heat needed to create the steam. A wooden door and a small window were the only remaining features of this room. It was here at age eight years I had my one and only experience in a Russian bathhouse.

Occasionally my sister Lois and I had the opportunity to stay over at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s and it was on one of these occasions that I was told I would be joining the men in the steamroom. The firing of the stove to heat the rocks was previously done by Uncle Nick and we were told all was ready. Before we departed there was a brief explanation by Grandpa as to what I was going to experience. So with towels in hand we trotted off to cleanse our soles and any other part of our body that happen to be soiled that day.  After undressing and closing the door behind us we seated ourselves on the benches. A large dipper was dunked into a bucket of water and the liquid tossed on the superheated rocks. Instantly there was a hissing and steam erupted everywhere. I could barely see the doorway. The stove not only superheated the stones and made the room warm but it made the room into a suffocating steam boiler when the water was added. I wasn’t sure what the survival rate was but I was determined to tough it out. Just when I was able to see my toes, Uncle Nick would toss on another ladle of water and once again everything would disappear. After several minutes of this, the body became acclimated to the temperature and the experience became very pleasant. Everyone turned pink and I was told this was a healthy thing to experience. Soap was generously applied and then a splashing of water on our bodies to remove the residue was next.

The remains of the bathhouse heater.

During the bath it was customary to use a bunch of birch leaves on twigs in the form of a broom for whipping the backs of the bathers. Since birch trees were not native to this area, tiny hazelnut or willow twigs were used to gently beat the extremities, thereby enhancing the circulation process of the body. Thoughts of my waywardness quickly darted through my mind. Could this be someone’s opportunity to get even? The absence of twigs in the steam room made me feel reasonably comfortable the tanning of my tender little hide was not in the cards that day.

Visiting Our Grandparents

Our extended stay at Grandmas and Grandpas arose from a medical problem Mom was encountering. Occasionally I would be awakened at night to hear Mom in severe pain talking to Dad. This pain seemed to last from a few minutes to several hours and in an ever increasing frequency as the months passed. Some of these pain filled bouts were less severe than others. From the tone of their voices and from the conversation I overheard, it was something that mom would have to deal with shortly.

In the morning after a severe pain filled night, we were on our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s.  We stayed at their farm while Uncle Nick drove Mom and Dad to the Yorkton hospital. At this time we did not have the luxury of owning a car and we depended on the relatives for any long distance travel. Upon their return my sister and I as much as possible were kept from the details.  We were being spared the worry and fright of the diagnosis.

Pelagea and Nicholai Sookochoff with grandchildren Cyril and Lois Brown.

Later, Mom took us aside and informed us that she had to be away for a couple of weeks and we would be staying at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s farm.  She assured us that everything was going to be fine and we need not worry. Normally going there for a stay or overnight was a jovial one. This was generally a time that we could attack Grandpa, knock him over and claim victory or otherwise fool around until somebody got hurt. Grandpa, as we all knew, loved getting mauled by us but pretended not to. This time however things did not seem to have that note of joy.

In a couple of weeks we were packing our bags for a stay with the Sookochoff’s.  From the bits and pieces of conversation that were floating about I was able to piece together the fact that Mom was probably scheduled for an operation. We were aware of the fact that any operation had its dangers. Even though there was a note of grave concern, just to be free of the pain filled sleepless nights was encouragement enough for Mom to go forward with it.

We arrived at the farm and were left to put our things away in a smaller bedroom while Mom and Dad gave us a hug good bye and continued on to Yorkton.

 Grandma and Grandpa grew up in a Russian environment so English was a second language to them. Grandpa could converse in English well enough to make his intentions known. Grandmother, on the other hand, knew very little of the local dialect and if I was to have a conversation with her it would mean a crash course in Russian. To learn the language involved spending more time with my grandparents or taking more of an interest in the language at home. Mom was fluent in Russian, English and Ukrainian and she would have been pleased to help if I asked.  Since English was the predominant language spoken around our household, Russian was laid aside. I had previously absorbed some of it however, through listening. I knew enough Russian in this situation to keep me from starving or dying of thirst (I did much better with the obscenities).  After a week with my grandparents, I thought I was doing quite well with the Russian Immersion program.

We managed to help slightly around the house and with the chores. I don’t recall breaking anything or doing things that would have put our lives in jeopardy during our stay.

The nights were the greatest. Grandma dug out the feather bed. This was a comforter and mattress cover filled with duck down. It was the softest, fluffiest warmest thing imaginable. It was like sleeping in a cloud. Once you wiggled your way inside, it swallowed you up and kept you toasty warm all night.

I saw very little of Dad for he was at home taking care of the chores and only stopped by when a trip to the hospital was scheduled. I was missing Mom a lot although we were treated royally by Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle Nick. We were told that she was recovering nicely from the operation for a condition called piles and it would be several more days before her return. I waited patiently for the days we would be together again.

Upon her arrival home we all offered our assistance and we catered to her needs as best we could. A pillow to sit on was used everywhere by Mom during the recovery period.  The operation by Dr. Novak proved successful resolving the condition Mom had experienced and things steadily returning to normal.

Life amongst the relatives was not without its carefree sugary moments. It had become tradition in the family that John, Mary and Nick with their families would join Grandma and Grandpa and all congregate at the Yorkton Exhibition each year. This event was a time of fun for everyone, starting at the gate. Lois recalls the time when the younger generation were required to sit on the car floor while their heads were covered with blankets, skirts and jackets. Being absolutely still and quiet was a must, she remembers. This was almost an insurmountable task for youngsters in close proximity. Someone always had a comment, giggle or sneeze. This is where we remained until the car passed the ticket booth and was parked. After disembarking, we were ordered not to stray or get lost as we roamed from attraction to attraction. As the adrenaline slowly diminished we willingly squeezed into the car for the uneventful journey homeward.  The purring of the car motor and the whine of the tires on the road were sedatives to me as I faded off into a deep slumber.

Contact with other children in our age group was occasional and brief. Christmas holidays however, brought with it the good fortune and opportunity to join with our cousins in a stay at the grandparents. It was a stay that usually lasted a week. We patiently waited for the invitation as the holiday drew near.  Our first cousins at this time were those in Uncle John and Aunt Lillian Sookochoff’s family and we hoped they would be invited and joining us. The more the merrier it seemed. Kathleen, their oldest daughter was two years senior to my sister and their younger daughter Lucille was slightly younger than me. Donald their youngest was only a tot and too small to become involved.

During this time Kathleen would frequently arrive for a stay with our grandparents but I do not remember gracing Lucille’s company. We played games of cards, built card houses and the girls whispered secrets. During the day the adults involved themselves with work that required their daily consideration leaving us ample opportunity to interact with each other.  Once the flour came out we would be at grandma’s side watching and trying to assist with the bean or cottage cheese filled pirogi (Russian pies) she was baking that day. Effortlessly Grandma would roll out round balls of pastry then weave closed the filling into oblong pies for the evening meal. We each tried one of our own. It was all worth the effort once the aroma from the baking permeated the kitchen. How soft was the dough and tasty the filling after a light covering with butter.

As the sun deepened in the horizon and before the frost bit deeply into the outdoors, the empty wood box needed its last filling. Grandpa imparted the virtues of physical activity to me. If I participated, I would become big and strong. Rather than a chore of drudgery it was one of teamwork, assistance and a partnership. With an offer like this I usually consented. I would help fill a noosed rope he specially created for this task and when full, he would sling the load onto his back. After grabbing an armful of sticks, back I would trudge losing pieces of wood all along the way. I tried to get as near the house as possible before letting the load escape thereby save myself a long journey back to pick up the pieces.

As the night sky rolled out its carpet of the moon and stars, Russian prayers were said in preparation for bedtime. It started as a “repeat after me” process and as they became more familiar and further ingrained in our memories we joined in unison. With the guidance of Uncle Nick, Grandma or occasionally Grandpa, they were practiced nightly bringing us in contact with the customary Doukhobor prayers. Not knowing the language thoroughly made it somewhat more difficult for me and interpretation was required if it was going to be meaningful.

Getting to sleep in a new environment was difficult and it was occasionally preceded by playing trampoline on the bed until Grandma came into the room.

Grandfather Sookochoff

 Grandpa Sookochoff stood slightly shorter than average and was a stalwart built individual. His well tanned face, rough hand and lean muscular body were evidence of the hard work needed to run the farm. Living off the land was their means of survival and hard work was a part of that equation. Nor was work something Grandpa shied away from. The harder the task the more stubborn and persistent he became. He was very strong minded and not easily swayed from his convictions, sometimes to the frustration of his wife and children.

Nicholai Sookochoff

In their initial days of farming the Sookochoff’s as many, experienced much hardship. It meant more than just doing without money and included the real possibility of starvation as well. In my discussions with Mom, she occasionally spoke of the hunger they had endured and the many hardships they encountered while growing up with her parents in her youthful years. The most difficult times were those encountered after the move to the farm in approximately 1906 followed by the depression of the1930’s. Pride or the threat of losing everything brought their refusal to accept social assistance during these hard times. The need to subsist with nothing but than their land and labor left them with a fear never to be forgotten even in the more prosperous times. To survive and succeed meant that everyone in the family would assist with the work load.  And those years of hardship had worn lines of wisdom into Grandpa’s stern strong face.

To thrive meant being physically and emotionally strong, qualities of grave importance to Grandpa. Apart from battling the wind, rain, dust and snow this was also a time when brute force was needed to clear land, pick roots, prepare hay for livestock and thresh the grain. I remember him saying to me, “You have to be strong to make it”.

As with many Russian homes it was not uncommon to witness the men indulging in alcoholic beverages. The presence of company or an event that required a celebration often invoked the need for several drinks of vodka or home made whiskey. These were poured into shot glasses and downed in one gulp or swigs were taken directly from a bottle which then was passed around. This was followed by a frowning and puckering of ones face as testimony to the strength and harshness of the potent. The frequency of shots was monitored by grandma who whisked away and hid the bottle when the celebrities in her opinion seemed to be indulging a little too much. When Grandpa’s drinking occurred outside the home and there was no one to monitor the amounts he drank, the picture was quite different. It usually ended late at night by him loosely tying the reins of his trusted steeds to the box, starting them on their way homeward and letting them find their residence. Usually his absence was a source of great worry to grandma and many words of disapproval were uttered upon his return. Grandpa would be up early next morning and after a few strong cups of coffee he would still manage a strenuous day’s work. These celebrations usually occurred at more idle times during the farm year and he curbed his drinking when there was work to be done.

Grandpa didn’t come through life unscathed. From my earliest memories he had a stub of an arm. The loss resulted from a farm tractor accident, as Mom recalls. The earliest models of tractors didn’t have rubber tires but steel wheels with large metal lugs used for traction on the rear. It is this type of tractor that was being used by Grandpa that traumatic day. A new tractor with a foot clutch rather than the more familiar hand clutch of the previous model was in his operation. While attempting to back up and latch onto an implement, he lost his grip, slipped off and fell under the tractor. His arm dropped into the lane of the still moving uncontrolled machine and was over-run by the rear wheel. Still others nearest to grandpa report a slightly different version of the accident. It was told that the arm was over-run as well as a portion of the stomach region which was torn open and exposed by the tractor wheel. This necessitated the need for wrapping a flour sack around his waist to keep the entrails from further damage and contamination .The tractor eventually threw him out and away from its oncoming path. Its progress became impeded by the implement and the rear wheels were slowly digging holes in the soil at the time of Uncle Nick’s arrival on the scene. He was hastily placed in the car and sped to the hospital.  The arm was crushed beyond repair and necessitated the removal of the damaged portion. Recovery and adjustment must have been painful and difficult.

With the circulation impaired, it left the arm feeling cold and achy. On many occasions we would witness grandpa sitting with his partial arm tucked into a slightly ajar oven door to bring warmth and comfort to his injury. This handicap however, never seemed to restrict his daily life and I do not ever recall him complaining about its loss.

A frosted lens hid the hollowed socket of a missing eye. The scars on his forehead directly above the eyebrow told of another accident that must have brought him dangerously close to losing his life. This again was not an event I can recall but I did ask about its happening. It was not a subject that anyone cared to discuss in any detail and I can understand why.

An airplane was giving rides to those citizens in the area that cared for the experience. Mom being young and adventuresome wished to try this phenomenon and convinced grandpa to join her on a ride. They were scheduled for the next flight and waited excitedly in line for the plane to land.  As it taxied to the loading area grandpa moved foreword to board the plane.   Not paying attention or a miscalculation of the distance from the prop brought him dangerously close and then into its path. Mom indicated that grandpa had indulged in a few drinks prior to the flight and this may have also hampered his judgment as well. The impact left the skull broken and the brain exposed.

Upon being taken to Canora after the accident, Dr. Anhauser attended to his injuries. It was felt that a wound of this nature and magnitude needed special facilities and personnel who could better deal with a brain and skull reconstruction. He was flown to Winnipeg and was accompanied by Mom. She would act as an interpreter, supporter and decision maker for a time until Uncle Nick was free to relieve her as Grandpa’s care-giver.

 After hours on the operating table and weeks of convalescence, grandpa gradually started to show signs of recovery.  Mom accounts how he lived largely on a diet of buttermilk and watermelon until he started to regain his health. These were the foods he craved. This hardly seemed like a diet that could sustain life and help with the healing process. After recovery, Mom was convinced they had some undiscovered miraculous healing properties.  Amazingly enough, apart from the slight scar and indentation to his forehead, he showed no outward signs of physical disability or permanent memory loss from the injury.

His eyelid took on a puckered appearance from the absence of the eyeball and earned him the Russian nickname “kosoi” or squint-eyed from some of his peers.

At the apex of his farming career, Grandpa had acquired and operated three quarters of land most of which surrounded the homestead. Cattle were always a part of the landscape although grain was their central focus as a source of income. In his latter years of farming I remember seeing a team of horses grazing lazily on a pasture nearby. And when a source of power or transportation was needed they were used only as a last recourse. In summer chickens could be seen dusting themselves around the barnyard while others scratched vigorously with their feet looking for bits of food in the straw covered surroundings. This seemed like such a useless action to me. One that took grain from a pile easily accessible for their pecking to one of seeds scattered everywhere. It reminded me of people digging for bargains at a sale counter. The garden was always an attraction to the chickens and the fence always allowed and entry somewhere. Chickens half running and half flying scurried back to the barnyard in great haste while Grandpa or Grandma with broom in hand could be seen shooing them away.

A few shared moments with Grandpa in 1956 give rise to a gentle smile. By 1950 Uncle Nick had married Laura Holoboff and two years later an expectant mother gave birth to their first born child Lorne. Shortly thereafter Laura fell ill to polio leaving her left side partially disabled and a difficult time for the family resulted. However, in 1956 a second pregnancy brought with it another joyous occasion. The newborn and mother were healthy and in good spirits. It wasn’t long thereafter that many members of the immediate family congregated at the Canora hospital to see the newest relative and now help with his delivery home. After the arrival at the hospital, we stopped in the doorway to Laura’s room. It became apparent that not everyone was going to be permitted into the room at once. It was decided that Grandpa and I would wait in the entranceway until some of the others dispersed. I peeked in from the hallway and can recall sensing an excitement in Aunt Laura voice and seeing a glowing face. How pleased she seemed with their newest addition to the family. Comments of loveliness were being made and resemblances were being picked out as we left the group. Grandpa and I reluctantly worked our way to the public area.

As I waited, I remember sitting on a wooden oak bench next to Grandpa swinging my dangling legs as I watched events within the hospital unfold about me. It wasn’t long before a doctor in his white hospital coat hurriedly passed by. I envisioned doctors as those miracle workers who could fix every malady known to mankind.

An elderly lady in her housecoat nearby spotted him and in a shuffling manner approached him saying in a Ukrainian accent, “Dr. Danyalchuck, Dr. Danyalchuck, I have pains here, my back is sore and my leg hurts when I walk.”

I could not discern what the doctor’s reply was to her. But on his trip back from whence he came, he passed in front of Grandpa and me.

Grandpa hailed the doctor by saying, “Dr. Danyalchuck, why don’t you at least give the lady some pills or medicine to make her feel better?”

“Nickolai,” the doctor responded, “when a threshing machine is all worn out there is nothing we can do,” and then walked away. I’m sure my eyes were as big as saucers and my mouth was agape from the shock of hearing this comment. Maybe it was the doctor’s strategy to make my grandfather smile.

Grandpa and I in due time were permitted to see the new fragile infant. The visitation was a short one as I recollect. I was pleased to make Mile’s acquaintance even though I knew the young lad’s immediate goals were mainly eating and sleeping. As we departed Aunt Laura’s hand squeeze seemed to say she was glad I came. Their attention quickly turned to preparing themselves for the discharge from the hospital and the beginning of Mile’s trek through life.

Grandmother Sookochoff

Grandma’s eyes, so expressive of her mood, were the windows to her soul. Without a word spoken, a note of joy, sadness, anger or fear could easily be told by a quick glance into Grandma’s gaze.

I remember grandma being of average height and heavier set. Her dark hair then streaked with grey was parted in the center, was void of any curl and hung to the nape of her neck. A shawl was added to her head if she was scheduled to go outdoors. An apron over her housedress was most frequently worn as she went about her day to day housework. Apart from different prints on her dresses she did not stray far from the traditional Doukhobor styles.

Pelagea Sookochoff

If she wasn’t tending to the household chores of cooking and cleaning, she would sit with some knitting needles in hand and a ball of yarn tucked into her pocket or bag making some mitts, socks or sweater. So adept was she at this skill, a pair of mitts would be waiting to warm someone’s cold hands by days end. Never once did I see a pattern being followed. Yet these items always turned out a perfect fit.

Occasionally, Grandma would be found seated behind her spinning wheel and was quickly but skillfully feeding even strands of carded wool into the machine. On the spindle, tightly twisted yarn gathered ready for knitting. Grandma always encouraged us to try these skills. What seemed like such a simple procedure for Grandma turned out to be a lumpy uneven mess for me when I was at the wheel. While concentrating on pedaling the mechanism, I would unevenly distribute the wool that was being fed into the spinning wheel. This would produce skinny then thick strands of yarn, hence the lumps. I think she concluded that all men were hopeless creatures in this field and it best be left to the capable hands of the ladies. Her loving arms were always there for a hug and encouragement when the task became too difficult or frustrating.

Once she had your attention and interest, out came the knitting needles and a ball of yarn. I believe my first effort was a pair of socks since they were straight forward and quickest to complete. If the test of your job is in the wearing, I learned the term “half-life of an object” at an early age. Several holes appeared half a day after wearing the socks I made and this lead me to another of Grandma’s valuable lessons, darning. Her eyes always shone with approval at a job well done or a good effort put forth. A gentle pat on the head told you she was proud of your labors. I am sure some bragging was done thereafter.

Her hands were never idle. She could be actively taking part in a group discussion and at the same time knitting, darning, preparing supper or a whole host of other tasks. The work ethic demonstrated by this family could not leave one unaffected.

Grandma always grew an extensive garden that had bountiful fruits and vegetables of many kinds. The tomato plants of unknown variety, although never very tall, yielded massive amounts of fruit that lasted until the arrival of frost in the fall. On her travels through the garden she would hold the lower ends of her apron in one hand while with the other pick and deposit peas into the pocket she had just created. Once in the kitchen, we gladly volunteered our help with shelling the peas, knowing full well we would get to sample every second or third pod. After the tasting was done, the job become a bit more onerous but we carried on until finished or we got tired of picking up peas that shot themselves all over the kitchen. In the event of a dire situation, the warm gentle nature she possessed would often bring her to tears.

 “Oye yoy yoy,” she would utter as she shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes with the end of her apron or a handkerchief drawn from her pocket. Usually the situation would be resolved and grandma would slowly return to her former self.

Grandma’s agility and flexibility were nothing short of being remarkable even at an older age.  As evidence of this, Aunt Laura Sookochoff remembers a time when someone put a five dollar bill on the floor and challenged Grandma to pick it up with her teeth, hands held behind her back and her legs straight. Grandma widened her stance and with ease bent over, bit into the bill and then tucked it in her purse.

The Golden Years

In the early 1950’s Grandma and Grandpa Sookochoff qualified for their well deserved old age security pensions. And to receive a regular stable income after the risks associated with farming was something new and welcomed by them. Uncle Nick now married was totally managing the farm operation. The new family would need some extra room to grow and operate without imposing upon the elders. They could now spend some relaxing free time in their golden years. The decision for the grandparents to leave the farm and relocate into the town of Buchanan was made. This concept sounded like an excellent idea.

Partaking in a more leisurely way of life sounded ideal however it was a source of concern to those nearest the Grandparents. They had worked from dusk to dawn for countless years and to abruptly stop could prove disconcerting. To them working was like eating and sleeping, it had to be done daily. It was customary to live with the children who would give them the security and care in their maturing years.  It was feared that leaving the old familiar surroundings for a new establishment may prove to be too much of an adjustment for the aging Grandparents.

By coincidence, Ralph Brown my uncle the butcher and meat market owner of many years in the town, was finding refrigerators and locker plants popping up in great numbers. The need for a butcher shop was diminishing. He was at the retirement age himself and retire he did.  He and his wife Verna had planned on joining their daughter Ruth and husband Ivan Reid in Moose Jaw after giving up work. As a result, it left a square cottage styled house across the road from the United Church available for some new owners. It stood on the corner lot of Second Street one block east of Central Avenue. It had a “widow’s walk” or belvedere situated on the roof suggesting a blueprint originating near the sea. Traditionally, wives of the fishing captains stood on the “widow’s walk” to watch for signs of flags on the incoming banking schooners.  I had many opportunities to visit this home when the Browns resided there.

The retirement home of Pelagea and Nicholai Sookochoff in Buchanan, SK.

Leaving the hollow sounding wooden village sidewalk and turning onto the footpath that approached the backdoor, you were greeted by two enormous evergreens that competed for the walking space. After brushing by these trees you were confronted by a large veranda. On the veranda sat two weather beaten arm chairs overlooking the back yard while patiently waiting for someone to sit and enjoy the relaxing outdoors. At the far end of the back yard near the alleyway a small unpainted garage or large shed stood accompanied by an old model “T” Ford truck.

The front yard was surrounded by caraganas that had been trimmed to shoulder height. The lawn looked cut but dry, thin and pale. Since those were the days before water sprinklers and fertilizer, Mother Nature determined the lushness of growth.

The entrance to the front door led abruptly into the living room and did not appear to be used by anyone with any frequency. Above the door a panel of stained glass windows brought a feeling of elegance and warmth to the room. It is this house that Grandma and Grandpa Sookochoff purchased as their retirement location.

Saturdays on the farm were a day of shopping and meeting with friends and relatives. The trip to town by buggy or wagon was slow, dusty and rough. After the groceries were purchased, the mail collected and the cream can recovered from the railroad station there was time to visit with Grandma and Grandpa. On one trip, Grandpa who did not read English fluently made the mistake of asking us if the movie at the theater was any good. A question he knew would get our attention. Although we never passed by the theater or read the poster that day, we told him it was the greatest. After strongly promoting the movie we turned to saying please, please, please.  Grandpa was enjoying the attention and fuss we were making over him. I had never been to a movie and didn’t really know what to expect but I heard it was enjoyable. Grandpa finally consented.

With permission granted from our parents, off to the theater we trotted with grandpa in hand. This was a treat of treats. I knew that Mom and Dad would not have the necessary funds left over from the cream cheque to be able to join us, so they stayed behind to shop and visit. Anyway this was Grandpa’s time with us.

Although it was only mid afternoon, lights were needed at the theater due to an absence of windows. Upon entering I had to squint to see where we were going. An usher with flashlight in hand escorted us to our seats after the admissions were paid. Twenty five cents for adults and fifteen for children was the amount needed to gain entry.  Old plush seats mounted on an inclined floor made it easy to watch the movie without others obstructing the view. What a great idea I thought. As my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I spotted the ceiling fans slowly rotating overhead. They were belt driven, each ganged together by flat long strips of leather. Although they turned very slowly a hint of air movement could be felt. At the front of the theater long pleated curtains hung motionless. I was amazed by everything I saw. The lights dimmed and there came a clattering noise from the balcony overhead. A beam of light broke through the darkness and the drapes were slowly drawn back. The screen and room was flooded with colour, movement and sound.

Cartoons appeared on the screen first. My only previous experience with cartoons was those found in the Free Press or comic books at home. These had movement. How did they bring them to life? At the time I thought they were the funniest things I had ever seen. I sat there spellbound and consumed right to THE END as it flashed on the screen. Suddenly a lion’s head appeared on the screen and a roar ensued. I did not quite understand its significance at the time but it quickly faded and the title of the main feature Ma and Pa Kettle on the Farm appeared. I waited in anticipation to see what would happen. As the story unfolded it didn’t take long to realize there was a thread of truth about the exaggerated Kettle’s farm experiences to some of our day to day activities. Suddenly the movie stopped and the interior lights came on. This seemed like an abrupt ending. I looked around to see if anyone was leaving. No one moved, so I waited. There was a bustling going on in the balcony room behind us and soon the movie again continued. I was to eventually learn that movies came on two large reels and this was the threading of the second reel. It only seemed like seconds and it was all over. This time people were getting up and filing out of the theater. We rallied around Grandpa and walked the block and a half to his house. In route I asked Grandpa what he thought of the movie. He would feign a spit and say, “This is the worst movie I have ever seen.” Regardless of what he said I had the time of my life. I was convinced that this would be the last movie experience we were to have with him. The movie kept on replaying itself in my head as we slowly plodded our way homeward. For several weeks thereafter Mom and Dad had every scene told and retold to them on numerous occasions.

Another view of the Sookochoff retirement home.

The opportunity to visit Grandma and Grandpa on Saturday did not avail of itself for many months to follow and when it did I was astonished to hear Grandpa Say, “Is there a good movie at the theatre this week?” We jumped at the chance and off we went once more. Again the evaluation of the movie by Grandpa was the same. He would feign a spit and say, “This is the worst movie I have ever seen.” I concluded that this evaluation of the movie meant we would have to keep trying to find that ultimate production but today I realize it was his way of returning to the theatre with us indefinitely. In this manner I was able to see Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Marilyn Monroe and several more very memorable movies and movie stars.

 It wasn’t long thereafter the attendance at the theatre was insufficient to make it a viable operation and it closed its doors indefinitely. Although the final pages were written on the history of this establishment, grandpa had found a way to open the door to my heart and leave some ever-lasting memories within it.

The day to day activities and a large garden kept them considerably occupied. The back lawn virtually disappeared and was replaced by some very rich looking topsoil. The garden would supply them with the fresh fruits and vegetables they needed and still give them the opportunity to exercise their agricultural roots. They had adjusted to a new environment before and once more they would adapt to these new surroundings. They had each other. And here they would deal with their everyday needs as they walked through life together.

Reflections

As the years passed and I entered my teens, more responsibilities on the farm and school began to consume more of my time. I saw less and less of my grandparents. The language was a barrier whenever I wished to express my thoughts in more depth. I often regretted not putting forth the effort to become more fluent in the dialect. We would still visit them occasionally but there were fewer and fewer things that we would participate in together. Grandma and Grandpa seldom came to the farm and I felt myself drifting out of their lives. It was always with good intentions I planned on bringing them closer once more. Time waits for no one and too soon they were gone.

With pails of water loaded on a small wagon on a clear warm summer’s day Grandpa and five year old grandson Lorne Sookochoff slowly worked their way homeward. Two blocks south of the house a town dugout filled their buckets with the needed moisture for the dry garden. The afternoon was slowly descending and this would give them a chance to revive the wilted vegetables from the day’s heat.  Tired and sweaty upon his return, a dish of canned peaches was requested by Grandpa as he entered the house. After finishing a bowlful of the desired fruit he must have sensed something was wrong. He addressed Grandma with the remark that, “I will be leaving now and will see you”. He found his way to the bedroom and probably feeling uncomfortably warm, removed a pillow from the bed and lay on the floor. And it is here on July of 1961 a massive heart attack ended Grandpa’s journey with us forever.

Upon entering the Doukhobor prayer hall in Buchanan there was the stop at the casket to say my last goodbyes to Grandpa then a seat was found with the mourners. The walls were void of any decorative religious material and the room was furnished with a plain wooden table, chairs and benches. The traditional bread, salt and water on a platter graced a small stand near the wall. Another room contained a stove, cooking utensil and lunch making facilities.

The men congregated at one end of the table after bowing to the members present while the women gathered at the other. A request for a starter came to the floor and a hymn by the individual was started. After a few bars were sung by the starter the group joined in. An angelic harmony filled the room with a full rich sound unique onto itself. At the end of each verse the group would cease singing and allow the leader to continue in solo a few more bars before once again joining in. No musical instrumentation was ever used and in this true Doukhobor manner grandpa was laid to rest.

Grandma continued to live alone in Buchanan for another ten years after Grandpa’s death. A stoke resulted thereafter leaving the left side of her body paralyzed and made living unaided impossible. She rejoined Uncle Nick and Aunt Laura at the farm once more. Walking was difficult and this lead to a fall which broke her hip. At Yorkton hospital it was set then pinned and all seemed to be on the mend. Nevertheless, before her release from hospital she contacted pneumonia and it was in the summer of 1973 when she too soon was also called away.

It was in silence Mom and I drove the fifteen miles to the farm after the funeral. The event left her deeply shaken and the sorrow she was experiencing showed clearly on her somber face. Following the arrival we walked slowly throughout the garden together and it was there I voiced the comment that Grandma’s suffering had ended. This remark brought a look which told me she did not wish to see her gone under any circumstances. The deep love which existed between mother and daughter was never to end. Eventually she nodded in agreement and it was only then I saw a gradual acceptance of the parting.

Quite unknowingly perhaps, their interaction with us brought with it many wonderful things. Their quiet determination, the sense of family, the freedom to allow you to become your own self and experience things, support when you needed it, were all memories that linger in my mind. In addition to the coins that helped fill our piggy banks and the occasional push to do our best, they gave us the greatest gifts of all, their love and attention.

Grandparents Nicholas and Pelagea Sookochoff

To be a strong member of the community and a valued asset to society in the eyes of their peers is everyone’s goal, especially the Doukhobors. I believe Grandma and Grandpa can proudly say their efforts were dubbed a success.

They were brave determined individuals striking out on a dangerous voyage to a strange far off land. Grandma and Grandpa had their dreams, dreams of greater things and hopes of giving their children opportunities for a better life. Fulfilling all of ones lifetime goals can only be gauged by the person who sets them. Grandma and Grandpa had accomplished many. Operating a successful grain and cattle farm and rearing three loyal, hardworking, children was a full time task. The farm always kept pace with modern equipment and facilities to aid in the process.

 Who of us can justly say we have no regrets? A few drinks too many with errors made by relaxed inhibitions, comments made by idle chatter that injured feelings, or harsh words from the flair of ones temper, all too often escape.  Grandpa and Grandma made a few I am sure but to grandchildren they are soon forgiven if not forgotten.  In the lives of this couple, the troubles they endured were a much smaller component than the joys they shared, for the vows of their marriage remained until death did them part.

I acknowledge them for their hard work on the farm and the strides they made to improve their lot. Only a very few can claim outstanding contributions to society but it is often the many uncelebrated individuals that really make a difference.

How Deep are the Doukhobor Roots?

It almost seems commonplace that our culture motivates us to bring forth the past and find ways to preserve and continue our heritage. Its scope and breadth is dependant on the individual and what they have at their disposal during their lifetime. Some share photographs, stories, family trees and written documents while others say prayers, sing hymns and speak the language. The preparation of Doukhobor dishes often graces the tables for others to share in the taste of this culture. Handcrafted objects, tools and antiques from the bygone days created by the craftsman show the inventiveness and creativeness of the group as they fought to conquer the new land. Many still have the traditional dresses worn by their ancestors as reminders of the past. Also and not so outwardly visible but deep within us are the values and attitudes that governed these peoples lives. And it is these building blocks of the past that brings us into the present.

Change is inevitable and necessary for our survival and so it was with our ancestors as they moved throughout their history.  Undeniably some areas of Doukhoborism more and more are melting into the mainstream culture. Whether this naturally occurring process will bring the end to the old or still have deep rooted undercurrents is yet to be determined. But as we slide from generation to generation it appears as though less and less of the elements of the culture are being passed on intact. It is the fault of no one but circumstance itself. The elements of the old culture do not survive unaltered if the next generation experiences them differently.  This is a tendency that seems to be also happening to the remaining Doukhobors within Russia today.

To lose the Russian language in this country is to lose a rich unique way of expression. We have only to read a translated Doukhobor story to notice the vivid arrangement of words creating a new exciting different representation of a situation in our minds. Those who have the mastery of this language are the richer for it. No one in our immediate household or locale speaks the language or requires its use. The children do not see a need for this life skill nor have I made an effort to push it upon them.  Career-wise it almost seems to their advantage to learn French. Interdenominational marriages use the common denominator dialect, English, for the communication within the family unit and the Russian language has faded.  There are very few in the vicinity that are left to converse with and refresh the memory. Distance had also taken away the close contact needed with the grandparents that forced you back into the language. For these reasons the Russian language has gone by the wayside in our immediate family. The language nevertheless will remain abroad for centuries to come and can be reclaimed by those individuals who require it or when the need arises.

The Doukhobors religious principles which originally brought the group together are the reasons that made them so unique. These principles were not preached or shared with the general public and remained closed and unfamiliar to most inhabitants in our society. This closed nature of the group and their beliefs brought with it a loss of numbers to the Doukhobors following. Throughout the years as the elderly departed and the young married outside the Doukhobor following its numbers diminished. It also brought some suspicions from many of the citizens in the country. Often mentioning the word ‘Doukhobor’ seemed to bring a negative connotation and a look of uncertainty by people with different racial origins. This is a natural occurring reaction by those who did not fully understand the underlying beliefs. By clinging to their religious principles the Doukhobors proved to be good neighbors and strong members of society and eventually gained the acceptance in their communities as they showed their worth.  As man travels through time, the Doukhobors basic religious philosophy of God within man, the love of others and the reluctance to kill may once again surface, flourish and come to the forefront as the guiding principle to live by.  There certainly is a need to find some way to heal terrorism, war and suffering. Could this be answered by a bit of pacifism, tolerance and working together?

As individuals we can do many things to keep and perpetuate the culture and traditions of our nationality. This article in itself is my effort to keep alive as much of our family history as possible. It is something that can be passed forward through the years and hopefully brings my children and grandchildren a little closer to understanding their ancestry. We are responsible for passing on our roots to our children and each of us will do it in different ways. It has become tradition in our household to celebrate our Doukhobor roots each year before Christmas by engaging in the making of Russian tarts. It is a delicious recipe passed down from my mother some years ago. They are raspberry filled pastries smothered with cream and eaten fresh from the oven. The soft tender crust accented by the rich berries flavor leaves one begging for more. The aroma guides and holds everyone into the kitchen in anticipation of the first serving. Their considerable demand makes their existence but a few days. Friends, relatives and neighbors reappear each Christmas with a request for more of these tasty morsels. To my great delight, the daughter and son have now become involved in their creation and hopefully they will carry on the tradition. In their making we seem to honour the grandparents and great grandparents by accepting the cultural customs that has been handed down to us. For it is said to honour ourselves is to honour the past.

If we look deeply within ourselves I believe we will get a glimpse of our grandparents and more so our parents. My mother brought with her the Doukhobor language, work ethic, skills, religious beliefs, attitudes, goals and ideals only to mention a few. The view that children are to be held in the highest esteem and were of the greatest importance is only one example of the above. The tone of her voice, the strength of her conviction, her body language and comments are all representative of her true nature. These mixed with her life experiences directly or indirectly found their way to me.

From the interaction I had with my Doukhobor grandparents as a child, I could see the same loving nature of Grandma and the strong determination to succeed from Grandpa within my Mom. I believe we accept many of these same characteristic and thus our heritage lives on.

I was raised within two different cultural groups of grandparents, the Doukhobors on the one side and the English on the other. The influences of the English grandparents will be dealt with in a subsequent chapter.

I am proud of my Doukhobor heritage and proud of my grandparents. I say this because of what I have witnessed and experienced while in their association. It is this pride that gets passed on to our children.

Scenes from: To America With the Doukhobors

by Leopold Antonovich Sulerzhitsky

Leopold Antonovich Sulerzhitsky (1872-1916) was a pacifist who, like the Doukhobors, was arrested and imprisoned in 1896 for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Tsar during military call up. Upon Leo Tolstoy’s request, he took charge of the first and third ships that carried Doukhobors from Batum to Halifax. His observations were published in a diary V Ameriku s Dukhoborami (1905). The following excerpt is taken from the English translation To America With the Doukhobors (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, University of Regina, 1982). It describes, in eloquent and poignant detail, one heartbreaking scene during the Doukhobors’ voyage at sea in mid-December, 1898.

One morning after making his rounds of the sick, Dr. A. Bakunin requested that the hospital, as yet unused, be prepared. A five year old boy was ill with leukemia. His father and mother were put in the hospital with him, since the sickness was not infectious and there was no one else in the hospital. That night, after the washing of the deck, I entered the hospital and saw both doctors there. Bakunin and Mercer were busy beside the patient who was held in his father’s arms.

In answer to a question about the condition of the patient, the doctor silently opened the boy’s mouth and touched the teeth with a metal spoon. They were loose in the darkened, decomposed gums. From the boy came a heavy odor of decomposing flesh. His face was swollen. Looking significantly at me, the doctor said, “All I can do is to inject ether under the skin.”

The boy tossed and wheezed, bending now to the window, now to his mother, seeking relief from the agonizing pain. With his helpless little hands, he took hold of the shoulders, then the neck of his grieving father, saying his name with difficulty. “Grisha, dear father,” he said hoarsely, “it hurts.” 

When they made the subcutaneous injection, he tossed even more. “No – no, don’t do that Grisha,” he begged looking into his father’s eyes. Carefully, with his large clumsy hand, Grigory quieted the boy lovingly saying with a low voice, “There, there now. It won’t hurt, this will make it better. Now just wait a minute,” and he threw a quick stern glance at his wife, who, weeping, kept taking the doctor’s hands. “Do not torture him unnecessarily,” she pleaded, “He will die anyway. Let him depart peacefully.”

From the hospital which was lit by a small lamp, we walked out on the deck. Through the round window of the hospital we could see two figures bent sadly over the patient.

It was quiet on deck. The ship slept in a deep sleep. With the machinery regularly moaning, as if sighing, and the smooth sea running past the lightly shuddering ship with a hardly audible splash, the sea shone and played, silvery scaled, in the rays of a calm sad moon. And looking at this marvelous, well proportioned picture, it was hard to believe that at that moment, a little being, in terrible suffering, was uselessly struggling with death, that shows no mercy for age nor condition.

Doukhobor immigrants aboard the S.S. Lake Huron, 1899.

In the morning the boy died. It was decided to bury him the same day. On the bed in the hospital lay the little corpse, freshly dressed. Near him stood the father with head bowed and arms folded. Grief had diminished him. Deep wrinkles appeared on his face. But his sorrow was calm and full of dignity. There was no gesture of despair. But his whole giant body seemed to have become smaller. His shoulders sagged and his lips closed sternly.

And the mother looking with tender emotion at the peaceful face ravaged by sickness, whispered last words of love to him; covering her face with a handkerchief. Several times she started to weep uncontrollably, her whole body shaking with silent sobs.

It was crowded in the hospital and a choir of twenty persons stood on the deck near the open door. The choir sang psalms fitting the occasion. Relatives stood around the deceased. All were dressed cleanly in their best. Women with hands folded on their stomachs were holding clean, white, neatly folded handkerchiefs. All stood calmly with dignity as if fearing to waken the dead. The sad mournful psalm continued slowly with harmonious, drawn out sounds. One by one these were carried far out to the height of cloudless unknown distance and sunk there in the tranquil depth. When the singing was ended and the last strains had faded away a woman with a musical voice repeated a prayer with loving, pacifying intonations.

Grigory came to me on the deck and looking with tired eyes said, “I have been told that he should be sewn in a heavy canvas with an iron weight put at the feet. Then will you give me the iron? I will do it myself.” But his face changed. “Would it be possible somehow to bury him on land? The shore, of course, is right here.” With large fingers which one did not normally see shaking, he pointed to one side where Cape Mattapan (Greece) could be seen. 

Difficult though it was to refuse Grigory this request, it was impossible to grant his wish. That the little body would be dropped into the sea where there would be no grave by which one could, even mentally, go and sit – this thought particularly burdened the mother. It was hard for all the Doukhobors.

Moreover, nothing is said on this question either in the psalms or in the prayers; in their traditions nothing is said about burial at sea. This troubles many, since, while Doukhobors get along without ceremony and do not have priests to meet their everyday needs, nevertheless, in the important events of live, be it birth, marriage or death, they have developed established procedures. It is understandable that the majority assign to these formalities, established by custom, the same significance as to the essence of Doukhobor teaching. “The Christian form”, “Real Christian Custom,” could be heard more than once. But after all, where do people not confuse form with content, or even attach greater significance to form than to content?!

Grigory himself sewed his son’s body into a thin canvas and then into a tarpaulin. He himself put into the foot, an old burnt out furnace bar brought to him for this purpose from the engine room. And only when it became necessary to sew the face, did he delay with the edges of the tarpaulin. It was a little too difficult for him to cover this dear face, knowing that he would never see it again.

The mother, standing beside him, wept so bitterly that it was impossible to see her without doing the same. Many other women were also near to tears. The whole crowd was saddened. Sighs and sympathies were heard. “How is it, my dears, in the water? Right into the water?” “What sorrow!” “Is it altogether impossible on the shore?” “They say, ‘not possible’.” A lad pulled the sleeve of his grandfather and asked loudly, “Granddad, Granddad, will the fish eat him there?” “Enough chatter,” the old man answered angrily. The little boy blinked his eyelids in question and looked at the dolphins jumping in the sea, trying to resolve this question on his own.

The corpse was sewn up.

Again the mournful choir sang, and slowly the crowd moved to the edge of the deck. At the front, with a stern face, went Grigory, holding in his hands a piece of old, folded canvas, the furnace bar awkwardly showing from one side. At the side where a part of the rail had been taken down, the sad procession stopped. The engines were not working and the ship rocked gently from side to side. The moving voice of a woman sang the last prayer, accompanied by the restrained sobs of the mother. The prayer ended. The mother kissed the package for the last time and embracing it, could not part from it.

“My loving one, why were you born, to be thrown into the sea?” she cried. She was quietly led away to one side. Grigory kissed the boy on the head and handed him to me with trembling hands. He suddenly turned pale as a corpse. The whole crowd, holding its breath, awaited with anguish.

Bending over as far as possible from the deck, I opened my hands and the corpse fell into the sea. The water splashed loudly, spray flew, and the crowd as one exclaimed, groaned and ran to the side. The women sobbed out loud, and the men also were nearly all weeping, looking at one another with helpless pitiful faces. And in the clear bright emerald depth of the sea, the white bundle could be seen for a long time, gradually turning to blue. It slowly sank lower and lower. Sloping diagonal sun rays played on it, piercing the clear water, and ran shimmering after it into the mysterious cloudy depth.

But the ship shuddered, the water alongside it splashed, and again the playful waves ran past us, gently splashing against the ship. And again two spreading streams stretched out from the nose of the ship, like two whiskers of some gigantic fish calmly moving on the desert of water. And already the place where little Vladimir was dropped could not be recognized. There the sea was smiling to the sky as calmly as anywhere else, as calmly as if nothing unusual had happened. The crowd quietly broke up. 

Only Grigory and his wife remained standing a long time at the very edge, near the flag pole, pressed against one another, mournfully staring at the water along the foaming bubbling stream left by the propeller of our ship.

Spanning the Years – The Vereschagin Family

by Ann J. Vereschagin

Throughout the early twentieth century, groups of Doukhobors left Canada for the United States seeking warmer climate, economic opportunity and personal freedom. One of the most prominent of these was the family of Alex W. (1878-1946) and Virginia (1879-1930) Vereschagin. After the family was released from exile in Yakutsk, Siberia, they came to Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan in 1905. In 1907, they resettled to Cucamonga and later Los Angeles, California where they worked as labourers on fruit farms. In 1909, they and several other Doukhobor families purchased land and established a short-lived colony near Shafter, California. Then in 1913, they joined a much larger “Freedom Colony” of Doukhobors near Peoria, Oregon. They returned to California in 1916, permanently settling in Orland, where they worked together for over 60 years as a cooperative family unit, becoming outstanding builders and innovators in the fruit growing and retail-wholesale industry. Their story is documented in a 1999 family autobiography, “Spanning the Years”, written by Alex and Virginia’s Molokan-born daughter-in-law Ann J. Vereschagin (1910-2005). The following excerpt from the book is reproduced here by permission.

Cucamonga, California

Father-in-law Alexei [Vereschagin] and family did not stay long in Blaine Lake. After two winters in Canada, father-in-law said that he had had enough ice and snow in Siberia. He decided to take his family to California. That spring (1907), the family moved to Cucamonga, a small town near Pasadena in Southern California. Why Cucamonga? Father-in-law Alexei had read about California while in Siberia. He read about it in a Russian newspaper printed in Los Angeles by a Russian immigrant named [Anton Petrovich] Scherbak. Scherbak lived in Cucamonga. The newspaper was named Tehia Akeyan (The Calm Ocean). I remember that my own father read the same newspaper. No doubt it was the only newspaper in America, at the time, that was written in Russian.

Alexei corresponded with Scherbak, inquiring about living conditions and the possibilities of finding work in California. He explained to Mr. Scherbak that he had a young family and that he wanted to live in a warm climate. Mr. Scherbak convinced Alexei that he should move to Cucamonga, and even offered a shack that was on his property for them to live in.

The American-Canadian border was pretty open at that time. Father-in-law Alexei and his family arrived at the border with the Peter Jericoff family. They were required to list all of their names in English. Imagine their frustration, knowing very few words in English. Mr. Jericoff probably knew the most. He translated mother-in-law’s name (Xenia) to Virginia, which is not a typical translation for a Russian name. The other names registered were: Alex (Alexei), William/Bill (Vasily), Martha (Malasha), and John (Ivan). Note: From now on, I will use the English names, and I will refer to father-in-law as Dad V.

(l-r) Alex W. (Dad) Vereschagin, William, John, Virginia (Mom) Vereschagin holding Jane, Alex and Martha, 1909.

The family lived in Cucamonga less than two years. Dad V. worked on a farm, digging irrigation ditches with a pick and shovel – 10 hours a day at $1.50 per day. The ditches were along an orange grove, with roots that were long and buried deep. Backbreaking work! William (8 years) and Martha (7 years) started school in Cucamonga. Jane (Nastia) was born there on her brother John’s birthday, August 1st in 1908. This date was recorded on Dad V.’s last page of his English-Russian dictionary. That dictionary shows a lot of wear, so I know that it was one of his favorite books.

Next they moved to Los Angeles where Dad V. was acquainted with some Molokan families. He wanted to live near others who spoke Russian. He knew some Molokans who were draymen. They made a deal with him to supply them with hay. Dad V. had a team of horses and a wagon. He would buy the hay from local farmers and load it onto boxcars which took it to Los Angeles. He then sold it to the Molokan draymen who used it for their horses. Bill and Alex would often help. They were too young to load the hay, but they stood by to hold the team of horses. Most any movement, such as a jackrabbit running by, would frighten and agitate the horses.

Shafter, California

By this time a few more Doukhobor families had emigrated to California (Rilcoffs, Chernoffs, Durtsoffs and Poznoffs, to name a few). A real estate agent took advantage of them. In the spring of 1909, he presumably sold the group some land in Shafter (Kern County). After building small livable shacks, buying a cow and some horses, another man came and told the group that the land had not been for sale; thus, it did not belong to them; it belonged to the Kern Land Company. Note: I do not know when they were informed of this, but I do know that the Vereschagins continued living in Shafter until 1913.

In September of 1910, William, Martha, and Alex started school in a one-room country school house about a mile from where they lived. Most of the time they walked to school. If the horse was not needed for work that day, they were sometimes allowed to hitch-up the horse to a two-wheeled cart and take it to school. William was ten years old and was considered old enough to be in charge. One day when they were coming home, a jack-rabbit jumped in front of the horse. The horse got scared and took off on its own with the children hanging on for dear life. William was pulling on the reins as hard as he could, trying to stop the horse. Martha was sitting in the back with her legs hanging out and screaming for William to stop the horse because she wanted to get off. Fortunately, the children got home safely.

Martha was old enough to help with the cooking and the chores, besides helping to watch over the two little ones, John and Jane. One time John asked his mother where he had been born. She told him that William, Martha, and Alex had been born in Siberia, and that he had been born in Canada. He thought a moment and then said, ‘If I was the only one born in Canada, it must have been very lonesome for me.”

Life in Shafter was not easy. William worked with his father during the summer months. One day when they were eating their lunch out in the field, William asked his dad if perhaps tomorrow they could have two eggs, instead of one, for lunch. Years later when my husband told me about their early life in Shafter, the part about the eggs always brought tears to his eyes.

Leo was born in Shafter on November 11, 1910. He was named for Leo Tolstoy. Peter was also born there on June 27,1913. He was named for Mom V.’s dad.

Peoria, Oregon

As soon as Peter was old enough to travel and Mom V. had her strength back, the family packed up and left for Peoria, Oregon. They were forced to vacate their land, so decided on Oregon because there was quite a colony [the Koloniya Svoboda or “Freedom Colony”] of Doukhobors already living there (Vanins, Jericoffs, Popoffs and Lapshinoffs, to name a few) and my in-laws wanted to again live among their own people (Doukhobors rather than Molokans). As a group, these families had purchased a section of land. Upon arrival, Dad V. leased 40 acres from them.

Times continued to be tough. The families were all poor but they cared for one another. They helped each other to build living quarters, barns, tool sheds, and whatever was necessary for protection from the cold and rain in Oregon. They shared their produce and livestock as one big family.

Shortly after their arrival in Peoria and just as they finished adding on and patching the three-room house on the farm, the Dobrinin family [a Molokan family] arrived from Los Angeles. Having no house to move into, Dad and Mom V. invited them to move in with them. Imagine two families living in a three-room house, with no running water and no sanitary provisions in the house. The eight children had to sleep on the floor. (I wonder if this is what is meant by “the good old days.”) The Dobrinins lived with them for one winter until they accumulated enough money to get a house of their own, close by. Members of the two families continued to be very close friends throughout their lives.

My husband told me that their father once bought them a bicycle at an auction for 75 cents. The bearing on the front wheel was “shot” and there was no tire on that front wheel. Older-brother Bill had the idea to tie a rope around the wheel. It worked! Away they would go, until eventually the rope wore off.

The children started school in Peoria. It was a typical rural school with one teacher teaching all eight grades; most of the students were Russian. The Vereschagin children had to walk about two miles to go to school. The roads were bad, especially in winter when they were flooded. Luckily, there were wooden fences along the road. When the roads were flooded, they would walk on the fences; however, they couldn’t help getting their feet wet. John, being the youngest, often got his pants wet, too.

(l-r) John Vereschagin, Jim Vanin, William Vereschagin and friend, Peoria, Oregon, 1915. 

Every morning during the winter, the family had a difficult time getting the fire started in the kitchen stove. The wood would be wet because it was stored outside, unprotected from the rain. The children had to take turns blowing on the flame to keep it going. Consequently, they often arrived at school late. The teacher would send notes home, complaining about their tardiness. The notes didn’t help because, as my husband said: “There was no way to make the wood understand the problem.”

Despite the poverty, John often went to the local grocery store during the school lunch hour and bought 5 cents worth of candy. The owner, Mr. Lamar, told Dad V. about it. Dad questioned John and asked him where he was getting the money. John told him that he didn’t need any money. He just told Mr. Lamar to write it down in the book. (In those days, when you bought groceries on credit, you merely wrote it down in a book.)

In addition to farming their 40 acres, the family had to go out to work for other farmers in and around the Willamette Valley. Dad V. bought an old horse-drawn baler and a couple of horses. He hired out to cut and bale hay. William often worked with his dad. The family also worked at picking hops around the Independence area.

On July 1, 1915, another blessed event! Walter, the last child, was born. Now there were eight children in the family. Unlike many families in those days, all eight children were blessed with good health.

During the winter of 1916, Dad and Mom V. decided to move back to California, where it was warmer and there were more opportunities to earn money. Dad got on a train to go to Shafter where his friends the Rilcoffs and Poznoffs were still living. On the train, he happened to meet a real estate agent named Harrigan. Dad told Mr. Harrigan, in limited English, that he was on his way to Kern County. He was looking for good land to farm, as he had six sons and a farm was the best place to raise a family. Mr. Harrigan told him that he should get off in Orland because there was a new irrigation project (completed in 1911) and prospects were good. Dad took his advice and got off the train in Orland.

In Orland he went to see George and Dan Sturm, who were in the real estate and insurance business. They showed Dad properties that were in the irrigation project. Dad liked what he saw, but still wanted to go to Shafter before making a decision. He told them that he would stop back in Orland on his return trip.

Orland, California

In a few days, Dad V. was back in Orland and made a deal to lease, with an option to buy, 27 acres (21 acres in the irrigation project). Six acres were already planted in alfalfa and about one acre had newly planted orange trees. Another six acre plot was along Stony Creek. It was very gravely, thus not suitable for fanning. There was a small old house and a barn on the place. The farm was three miles east of Orland on County Road 12. This turned out to be the final home for the entire family unit, and became known as “the home place.”

For their move from Oregon, they put all of their “worldly goods” in one freight train boxcar. In addition to miscellaneous household articles, they had a team of horses, one cow, a wagon and a hay baler – all in the boxcar. In order to take care of the animals, Dad V. and brother-in-law Bill were allowed to ride in the boxcar at no cost. The rest of the family came the next day on a passenger train, thus arriving in Orland after the arrival of all their possessions.

Orland was a small, but thriving town when the Vereschagins stepped off the trains in 1916. (Census of 1910 showed 836 town residents.) The dirt and gravel streets had many potholes and ruts. Horse-drawn carriages were still being used. There was a ditch that ran through town. A flour mill was situated along the ditch at Fourth and Colusa Streets (present site of the city library). Besides the train depot, Orland had the usual general merchandise stores, bakery, bank, barber shop, churches, saloons, livery stables, blacksmith and harness shops, etc. There was a theater, a hotel, a bathhouse, a Chinese restaurant, a large grain warehouse, a creamery, and a chicken hatchery. The Masonic Lodge was, and still is, Orland’s tallest building (three stories). There was also an Odd Fellows Hall and two bi-weekly newspapers. The Volunteer Fire Dept. had already been organized and the Glenn County Fair began that year. The Orland Opera House was on the corner of Fifth & Colusa Streets (demolished in 1920). There was an elementary and a high school. Note: Would you believe that in 1882, Orland College opened with about two dozen students? It changed to Orland Normal School in 1886, and closed in 1892.

When the Vereschagins arrived in Orland, they had about $26.00 in cash. This was hardly enough to start housekeeping and feed a family of ten. In order to earn money to help support the family, twelve-year old Alex got up enough courage to ask Mr. Lindstrom (he owned the neighboring farm where Erik Nielsen now lives) if he would give him a job irrigating his orange orchard. Mr. Lindstrom asked Alex is he could use a shovel and knew how to divert the water from one row to another. Alex told him he could handle the job. Not only was Alex hired, but Mom V. occasionally helped Mrs. Lindstrom with the housework. Martha got a job doing housework for another neighbor – the Root family.

As the alfalfa hay crop around Orland became ready to bale. Dad and Bill went to several farmers and contracted to bale their hay. That was the beginning of the Vereschagins’ first commercial enterprise in Orland and the start of many other business ventures that were to follow throughout many years to come.
It was not easy to bale hay in 1916. The process went something like this: A team of horses pulled the baler out to the hay field. The wheels on the baler were removed in order to keep the baler stationary while in action. The horses were then hitched to the drawbar so that they could go round and round, turning the plunger which went up and down, feeding the hay into the chamber where the bales were made.

Everyone and everything had to work in precision in order to produce even-sized bales. Leo, who was about six years old, had to sit on the drawbar and keep the horses moving, so that the plunger went at a steady pace. Riding on the turnstile was similar to being on a merry-go-round. Being so young, he would often fall asleep. His dad would waken him by shouting “hun-ee.” In Russian, this means “keep them moving.” Later, that word (hun-ee) became a joke among the farmers for whom they worked.

Mom V. and Bill would pitch the hay from a stack on the ground to Dad V. who stood on the baler and fed the hay into the plunger. Alex’s job was to tie the bales with three wires to each bale. Ordinarily, this was a two-man job: one man pokes the wire into the slot on one side of the bale, and the other man ties the wires on the other side. Alex would poke the three wires on one side of the bale, then jump over to the other side and tie the wires before the next bale was formed. John’s job was to pull the finished bale away from the baler, weigh it, and write down the weight. They were paid by the ton, and not by the number of bales, so each bale had to be weighed.

Fifteen-year old Martha had the job of cooking for the crew. Since they worked long hours, she would have to cook two or three meals a day. Once in a while, she came out to help move the bales or pitch hay into the plunger. Eight-year old Jane had the job of staying home and taking care of the house and the two young ones, Peter and Walter.

Hay baling season was always in the heat of the summer. It was a hot, dusty, and dirty job. Everyone was “dead tired” at night and there was no air-conditioning in those days to cool off the house at night. Were those really the “good old days?”

When there were no hay-baling contracts, the older children worked in the hop fields east of Orland (across the Sacramento River). They would camp on the bank of the river, close to the hop fields. They would go home once a week to pick up supplies and get clean clothes. There was one problem with camping along the river: John would occasionally walk in his sleep. How did they solve the problem? They tied one leg to the tent peg. Note: “Hops” grow on vines and are used for flavor in brewing beer.

In the fall, the children went to school. Sixteen-year old Bill was not required to go to school, so he stayed home and worked with his father. The rest of the children went to the Orland grammar school. At first, they rode in a horse-drawn, two-seater cart, just like so many of the other children who lived out in the country. They all graduated from grammar school, but only Jane, Leo, and Walter were able to go to high school. The older ones had to work. Note: Neither Jane nor Leo graduated from high school; perhaps Walter did, but I’m not sure.

Dad V. did value education; however, circumstances were such that the children had to work just to make ends meet. In the words of my husband: “Our father did have in mind for us to go to school as much as was possible so that we would be ready to face the world.” Dad V. had one summer of schooling while living in Russia. He taught himself to be fluent in the reading and writing of Russian. He was also self-taught in math and in the reading and writing of English.

Typical of all families, the children had their squabbles. I heard the following story from Jane, but John said that he couldn’t remember the incident. Anyway, according to Jane, the two children had a squabble. Jane ran into the house and slammed and locked the door in John’s face. The door happened to have a glass window. She was on the inside making faces at him. John couldn’t control himself so he punched her right on the face through the glass window. The window broke into pieces, but fortunately neither of them were badly cut. I never heard how they were punished, but I am sure that the parents were very unhappy with the unnecessary expense of replacing the window.

Dad and Mom Vereschagin, c. 1917.

The first autumn after their arrival in Orland, Dad V.’s oldest brother, Vasily, and his family (wife, Dunya, son Alex and his wife Masha, and their children William and Polly) came to visit from Blaine Lake, Canada. Alex and Masha stayed and bought a small farm. Undoubtedly, everyone was excited to have blood-relatives living close by. The next spring, Masha gave birth to another daughter, Elizabeth. The Doukhobor colony in Orland was increasing.

In 1917, the United States declared war against Germany…World War I. This war had been going on in Europe since the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914.

Alex and Masha decided to return to Canada for the duration of the war because they were concerned about Alex being drafted into the U.S. Army. (In Canada, the Doukhobors had a conscientious objectors status.) Also, Masha’s brother Nikita had lost most of his left hand in a threshing machine accident in Blaine Lake. Masha was eager to go back and help take care of him. There was also the possibility that the border between the U.S. and Canada might be closed, thus making it more difficult to later leave. The war ended on November 11, 1918, but Alex and his family never returned to California.

Shortly after the war, Dad V.’s sister Paranya and family (husband George W. Popoff, son Mike and daughter Hazel) came to visit from Blaine Lake. Paranya and George had recently lost a seven-year old daughter, Polly, due to a lightning accident. They thought that a change in environment would be good for them. Just like Alex and Masha, they also bought a small farm. Mike and brother-in-law Bill were the same age, as were Hazel and sister-in-law Martha. The cousins spent a lot of time together at work and at play. For some reason, they only stayed a year, returning to Blaine Lake in the spring of 1919.

That same year, the Vanin and Jericoff families came to Orland from Oregon. The Vanins rented a house on Walker Street. They planned to stay for only a short while and then go farther south in California. (They actually later returned to live in Canada.) The Jericoffs purchased a small farm a couple of miles north of Orland, across Stony Creek, in the Lake District. I do not know exactly how long they lived in Orland, but Mr. and Mrs. Jericoff are buried in the Orland Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Another Doukhobor family who followed the Vereschagins from Oregon to Orland were the Lapshinoffs. They also bought a small farm in the Lake District. They had a young teenage daughter named Irene. I often wondered if there was another motive for both the Vanins and the Lapshinoffs to come to Orland. The Vereschagins had sons, prospective mates for their daughters. In those days, parents had a lot to do with choosing their children’s mates. An ideal mate had to be of the same heritage: preferably a Doukhobor, or at least someone who spoke Russian.

In addition to farming the “home place,” baling hay, and picking hops, the older children found other seasonal work. As they got older, they packed apricots and peaches for the Anchorage Farm which was south of Orland. Alex learned how to nail boxes for shipping the fresh fruit. Martha packed the fruit into these boxes. Others in the family worked cutting peaches and apricots for drying. When the peach cannery opened for the season in Yuba City, the older siblings went to work there. Yuba City is about 80 miles southeast of Orland. The cannery provided housing for the workers who were unable to commute each day. They also worked in an asparagus factory in Rio Vista. One time, Alex broke his finger on the job, so he returned to Orland while Martha and Jane (nicknamed Jenny) remained at the cannery to work. During orange-picking season, Alex nailed boxes at the Orland Orange Growers Packing House. The nailers were paid so much per box. Alex figured out the most efficient way to assemble the boxes, with no wasted movements. He made more money being paid per box than if he had been paid the current hourly wage.

All of the money that the children earned for working went into one family account. Not one penny went to the individual who earned the money. As was the custom, Dad V. was the head of the household. He collected and dispersed the money as he saw fit. He bought the groceries, the clothes, and paid all the bills. There was no accounting as to what is “mine” or “yours”; it was all “ours.” No doubt they got an allowance when they got older, because they did have limited money to see a movie, buy a soda, etc.

Around 1918 or 1919, Mother V. had to make an emergency trip to British Columbia to see her sister who was very ill. Since Mom V. spoke very little English, she was apprehensive about traveling alone. She was also uneasy about crossing the Canadian border. It was decided that eight-year old Leo would go along as her interpreter. He could also help her to take care of Walter. Leo must have done a good job because they did return home without any major problems.

Sometime prior to this, Dad and Mom V. made a trip together to Brilliant, British Columbia to visit her ill mother. When they got there, they were informed by the leader of the commune that they could not visit her mother in the commune. She was too ill to leave her home, so Dad and Mom had to sneak into the house at night in order to see her. This caused them to have a lot of ill feeling and disappointment toward the Doukhobor leadership. The wound never healed during their lifetime.

There was a reason for the above incident. In 1912-13, when the Doukhobors, under the leadership of Peter Verigin, decided to move to British Columbia, some Doukhobors living on homesteads in Saskatchewan refused to give up their lands and freedom. As a consequence, they were ostracized from the sect by an edict proclaimed by Peter Verigin, who had been given the title of “Lordly.” He named these dissidents ‘Independents” and told them that they were no longer welcome in the brotherhood. Dad V. was not in sympathy with Mr. Verigin’s leadership or philosophy. He wrote letters and articles in the Russian newspaper, denouncing commune living. Dad said that he did not approve of communes in Russia and did not agree with commune living in Canada. He saw it as an exploitation of innocent people that would only end in disaster. He believed in personal freedom. So, when Mom and Dad arrived to visit her sick mother, Verigin said that they could not be given permission to see her in a commune house.

In 1921, brother-in-law Bill married Irene Lapshinoff. It was not a big wedding. They were married in the Willows Justice Court, with a family dinner following. A deal was made between the Lapshinoffs and Bill, that he could move right in with them. They were getting old and Irene was their only child. On September 24, 1922, a son was born to the newlyweds. They named him Harold (Gavril in Russian) after Dad V.’s grandfather. In time, Mr. and Mrs. Lapshinoff deeded the house and farm to Bill and Irene. The seniors lived with them for a few years, both passing away in the mid-1920’s.

Left of the gentleman with child: Alex A. Vereschagin, Mike G. Popoff, Jane and John Vereschagin, Hazel G. Popoff, William and Martha Vereschagin, 1922.

On or about 1923, the Vereschagins had their first crop of prunes to harvest. They had planted about 12 acres of prunes in 1918-19. With no previous experience in prune drying, Alex and Bill visited other prune farms in the area to learn what to do. They had to build a dipping shed and drying trays. In those days, the fruit was dried by the sun, not in a dehydrator. Space was needed to spread the fruit out for drying. They chose to build the shed at the lower end of the farm, close to the creek, where there were no trees to block out the sun.

The process for harvesting prunes went something like this: A roller went around the trees to break up the large clods of dirt, so that the fruit was less likely to be bruised when it fell. A large canvas was spread under the trees, and then the fruit was knocked off with a heavy wooden mallet. When needed, a long pole was used to get the “stubborn ones.” Since some fruit always missed the canvas, the younger members of the family followed and picked the fruit off the ground into buckets. The buckets were emptied into lug boxes and then taken to the dipping shed. There, the fresh fruit was dumped into a large tub of cold water, then put into a solution of hot lye water. This caused the skin to soften so that the fruit would dry faster in the sun. The lye would also repel bees and flies.

The prunes were then spread on the trays and laid out in the sun to dry. The drying time depended on the weather. Under ideal conditions, they would dry in about a week; however, if there was a threat of rain, the trays had to be stacked and covered with canvas, thus slowing down the drying time. When it was determined that the fruit was dry enough, it was then scraped from the trays and put into burlap sacks and kept in a storage barn until sold. Note: All the fresh fruit had to be dipped, spread on the trays, and set out to dry the same day as it was picked. There could be no leftovers. This made for very long days of hard work during prune harvest.

Rosenburg Brothers were the brokers for dried fruit at that time. I believe they were based in San Francisco. The prunes were shipped in boxcars to the Rosenburg plant. Shipping them in burlap sacks was often a mess. The syrup-like juice would run off the prunes onto the sacks, causing the sacks to stick together and even tear apart in handling. At the plant, the fruit would be packaged and then marketed throughout the United States and Canada. The price for dried prunes in 1923 was $ .01 per pound. In 1926, they got up to $ .07 per pound. (In 1996 the price averaged about $ .40 per pound.)

A tragedy befell the family in 1923. Brother Peter, age ten, was killed by a horse while he was feeding it. It happened during hay-baling season. At the end of a baling day, Peter and Leo had the job of feeding the team of horses. This one particular day, for some reason, one of the horses became frightened when Peter lifted up the pitchfork after feeding it some hay. It kicked him behind the ear on the left side of his head. Peter never regained consciousness and died a few hours later. Needless to say, everyone was shocked. The family remembered him as being a very sweet, cheerful boy. He loved to sing when he worked and played. My husband remembered that he sang very loudly when he milked the cows.

The next year there was a happy event. While working in San Francisco, Martha met Bill Boyko, a Russian from the Ukraine. After a short courtship, they were married in San Francisco on June 21, 1924. They lived in San Francisco for a short time; then they moved to Orland, buying a twenty-acre farm on Road MM, a mile or so southeast of Orland. They built a two-room house, then gradually added on rooms. Not only did Bill work on his own almond and olive orchard, but he also worked for other farmers in the area and for the Vereschagins. Whenever she could, Martha worked right along with her husband, picking olives and oranges, and working at the packing houses. A year later, on June 27, 1925, a son, George, was born.

Along with other farmers in Glenn County, for a short time the family experimented with cotton. They planted about ten acres. There was a cotton gin along the railroad tracks in Hamilton City. It turned out that growing cotton was not such a good idea for the area, so the cotton farms eventually disappeared.

About this time, there was no longer a need for work horses. The Vereschagins purchased their first tractor, a 3-wheel Samson. The hay baler was converted to engine power. The family even bought their first car, a 1918 Buick. Things were looking good. Bill and Alex convinced their dad that they should go to a mechanics school in San Francisco. They needed to learn more about motors and engines. They spent a couple of winter months in the city. In addition to going to school, they socialized with the local Molokans. Bill was married; however, Alex was single. Years later, he still liked to talk about his escapades during those two months.

During the summer of 1924, about five young families of Doukhobors from Canada stopped in Orland for rest and for information about relocating in California. They wanted to buy a piece of land large enough to start a small colony. They needed to be close enough to available jobs because they would all have to work until they got enough money to buy their own land. Orland didn’t have much to offer them, so they went farther south. They found work in the newly established vineyards around Manteca, Lodi, and Stockton.

They found a piece of undeveloped land not too far from Manteca and asked Dad V. for his advice as to the quality of the land and its possibilities for growing grapes. On his recommendation, they purchased one hundred sixty acres of good farming soil about three miles from the small rural town of Manteca. To prove to the new buyers that they were not making a mistake, Dad bought the first twenty acres. Each of the families bought their own twenty acres, and the Rebins even bought several twenty-acre pieces for their relatives still in Canada. That was the beginning of the Doukhobor colony in Manteca [i.e. the Russian Colony].

In 1924, when the Manteca colonists began developing their property, Dad, Alex, and John went to Manteca to develop their 20 acres; they leveled the land, prepared it for irrigation, and planted grape vines. Jane (16 years old) went to cook and do the other household chores. Alex (21 years old) designed and built a small house and a tank house. The house is standing and occupied to this day. Note: A water tank was placed over the domestic well and above the level of the farmhouse. Gravity would then force the water into the faucets in the house. Usually, a room was built under the water tank, hence the name “tank house.”

Since it was too far from Orland, the Vereschagins were not able to continue farming this Manteca farm. Instead, they rented it out to be farmed by others.

Uncle Gavril came to visit from Canada. Dad V. decided to take him to see the farm in Manteca, and visit other Doukhobors in the San Joaquin Valley. I’m not sure whether Dad had a driver’s license – probably not. He was not a mechanic; but he did know that a car needed gasoline and oil to run. While he and Gavril were on their trip, every time Dad gassed up he also put in a quart of oil. The engine was eventually so full of oil that it would not run. Alex took the train and brought the Buick home. I was told that the car was belching smoke like a freight train. Fortunately, the older boys were able to get it back in good running condition.

When Alex was building the house in Manteca, his good friend, Mike Shlahoff, got married. The wedding took place in San Francisco. While at the wedding, Alex met the bride’s younger sister, Jeanette Covolenko. Now it so happened that Jeanette came often to visit her sister who was living in Manteca. A romance developed. In 1927, Alex and Jeanette got married in her parents’ home in San Francisco. The newlyweds returned to Orland to live in the same house with Dad, Mom, John, Jane, Leo, and Walter.

The Covolenkos were not Doukhobors; they were Baptists. They and other Russian-Baptist immigrants (Dolgoffs, Commendants, Sclarenkos, and Bamuts) came to the United States through South America. They settled on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, where the Molokans had also settled. All were good friends with the Vereschagins.

In 1926, Bill and Irene had their second son, William. Unfortunately, when he was eighteen months old, he contacted meningitis and died. How sad!

Alex A. Vereschagin, 1927.

Whenever Jane was in Manteca, Walter Poznoff would come from Shafter to visit her. They were married in Orland on October 3, 1927. (Wonder if the two sets of parents had something to do with them getting together? After all, Dad V. and Walt’s father [Vasily Pozdnyakov] had remained very good friends since their days in Siberia.) Jane left her Orland home and family to live in Shafter with Walt’s parents and his one brother, Alexander.

That same year, Dad went to Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, to visit his brother Vasya and sister Parania. While there he visited with his good friend Fred Sokorokoff. Fred had a daughter, Tina. Dad thought Tina would make a good wife for his son John. When Dad got back to Orland, he told John to write to Tina. Being a dutiful son, John did.

Since the price of prunes was down, the Vereschagins decided to ship two boxcars of prunes, with some raisins and dried peaches, to Saskatchewan. One boxcar was to go to Yorkton and the other to Blaine Lake (two communities with many Doukhobors). While the boxcars were on their way to Canada, Dad and John were also on their way, in order to be there to sell the fruit. The trip turned out to be a huge success. Dried prunes were a rare commodity in their stores. The family made $.02 more per pound for the prunes than they would have in California and could have sold even more.

Another purpose of the trip was for John to meet his “pen pal” – Tina Sokorokoff. Needless to say, a romance developed. In June of 1928, John went back to Blaine Lake on the train. He and Tina were married there in a traditional Doukhobor ceremony. Tina’s parents accompanied the newlyweds on their train trip back to Orland. They honeymooned together! Meanwhile, Mom V. prepared a bedroom for the couple. They were to live in the same house with the rest of the family: Dad and Mom V., Alex and Jeanette, Leo, and Walter.

Things continued to look good for the Vereschagins. They were able to save some money. Dad V. was looking into investing in more land. His good friend, George Sturm (a realtor), had just the place for him. Dad bought a small farm on Newville Road, west of town. The land was in the irrigation project; it had the potential to be a future home for himself or for one of his sons. He deeded the land in his wife Virginia’s name. Perhaps he thought that she should have something in her name, just in case.

The newly purchased land needed to be developed for farming. They planted almonds and oranges. There were no buildings on the property. With this additional acreage, the boys no longer had time to work in the canneries, although Alex did continue to nail boxes for the Orange Packing House for a few more years.

In 1928-29, the “stork” was a frequent visitor to the Vereschagin clan. The babies, all born healthy, were: daughter Elaine (1/31/28), born to Alex and Jeanette V.; daughter La Verne (9/3/28), born to Bill and Martha Boyko; daughter Louise (2/9/29), born to Bill and Irene V.; son Vernon (3/23/29), born to John and Tina V.; and son Robert (4/28/29), born to Walt and Jane Poznoff.

Alex and Jeanette’s marriage was having difficulties. For a short time, they went to live in the house that Alex had built in Manteca. Still, the problems continued, finally leading to a divorce in 1929. Jeanette went to live with her parents in San Francisco, taking baby Elaine with her. Along with the rest of the family, Grandmother V. had become greatly attached to Elaine. The parting was especially difficult and emotional for Grandmother and Elaine.

Meanwhile, the family dwelling was not only “bulging out the seams,” but was in need of a major remodeling job. The decision was made to build a new house. Mother V. had lived in crowded quarters and old houses all of her life. She deserved a new home. Since Alex had already had the experience of building the house in Manteca, they were confident that they could build this one, too. With Mom’s help, Alex drew up the plans for the house. Everything was custom made on the premises, even the cabinets and trimmings.

The new three-bedroom home had many conveniences: a sink with running water; a cooking stove with a warming closet on top and a water heater attachment that heated water; a large living room for entertaining company; and a basement for storing canned goods and winter vegetables. The nearby tank house had a nice extra bedroom. Leo and Walter were the first to share the room.

Mother V. had been suffering from kidney stones for many years. The local doctor had been trying to cure her problem with diet and medication. In 1930, her condition became unbearable. The doctor was able to get her into the University of California Hospital in San Francisco as an emergency patient, where she was operated on immediately. The operation was a success, but Mother died from pneumonia a few days later. She was forty years old. In the words of my husband: “May God bless her as she had a heart of gold!”

Mom Vereschagin’s funeral, 1930. (l-r) Dad Vereschagin, Alex holding Elaine, Bill Boyko behind Irene holding Louise, Martha, Walter, Bill, Leo, Jane, Walter Poznoff, Tina, John holding Vernon, Young boys, Harold behind George.

Unfortunately, I never got to meet Mother V., as she died before I met and married Alex. The family always spoke fondly other, so I felt as though I knew her. They said that she was a shy person, unpretentious, and never stood out in a crowd. She had to have been a courageous woman…living in Siberia and then crossing the ocean to unknown lands. She had eight children within fifteen years. It was exceptionally sad that she had not lived long enough to enjoy her new home.

It took a long time for the family to adjust after Mother V. passed away. Dad spent a lot of time reading Tolstoy’s classics and writing letters. Tina became the matron of the house. Not only did she have a baby (Vernon) to care for, but she was in charge of the cooking, baking, washing, and cleaning for all her in-laws living under the same roof. The men were not much help because they were busy farming. Sister Martha helped with the baking whenever she could. For Dad V., home-baked bread was a must. Note: With so many living under one roof, bread had to be baked every other day.

Not too long after Mom V.’s death, Tina’s parents, the Sokorokoffs, decided to move to Orland to be near their one and only daughter. Her only brother William also made the move. They sold their property in Blaine Lake. Dad V. and John located a small farm, suitable for a small orchard, for them to buy on County Road N. There was no house on the property. Alex built them a garage with a bedroom and a small kitchen attached. This would be their temporary home until the main house could be built.

At approximately the same time, a larger piece of property was being offered for sale not very far from the Sokorokoff place. John and Tina decided that it would make a nice location for their home, sometime in the distant future. The Vereschagins bought it and right away the men planted almond trees and alfalfa.

It was apparent that Tina needed help with her household chores. Now that Alex’s divorce was final. Dad V. felt that he should be looking for another wife. They even thought that perhaps Alex should go to Canada and look for a Doukhobor girl. Before that trip ever materialized, Dad went to a funeral in Sheridan. He saw several young Molokan girls, me being one of them. Upon his return home, he told Alex that perhaps he should go to Sheridan and see if he could find a mate. Alex did. We met. We married on May 31, 1931. 

Alex and Ann (Popoff) Vereschagin’s wedding day, 1931.

My Life Begins In Orland

When I woke up my first morning in Orland, Alex had already gone to work, baling hay. Tina was in the kitchen with Vernon. She told me that I could take my time and first get acquainted with the house. The work will come later. She showed me how the shower worked and where the outhouse was.

I spent most of the day organizing our bedroom. Before the wedding, Alex asked me what my favorite color was and how I wanted the bedroom to be painted. I chose mauve and a light green because of a picture I had once seen in a magazine. He painted the walls mauve, the ceiling a light cream, and the furniture was pale green. It was pretty – the nicest bedroom I had ever possessed! The room was not very large, but it was warm and cozy because it faced the west and there was a large shade tree outside the double window. I enjoyed spending time alone in the bedroom – reading, sewing, and thinking.

Gradually, under Tina’s supervision, I learned how to cook the foods that the family liked: borsch, lapsha, peroshki, vareniki, lapshevnik, and baked bread. I even learned how to fry bacon, because, for reasons previously mentioned, my family never ate bacon or ham.

It had been Leo and Walter’s responsibility to milk the cows, but it wasn’t long until Tina and I were milking them instead. There were usually two or three cows to milk. After milking, we used a separator (machine) to separate the cream from the milk. There was a crank that had to be turned by hand in order for the separator to work. Eventually, Alex got an electric motor to run the separator, which made the job easier. Tina and I were both pregnant at the time, so maybe that was the reason for the electric motor.

At first, Tina and I did the cooking, washing, and cleaning together, often getting in each other’s way. We decided to divide the chores into “inside” and “outside” jobs. One week I would work “outside” (milking, weeding the garden, washing clothes) while Tina would work “inside” (cooking and cleaning the house… except for our personal bedrooms). We would switch jobs every week. This division of work proved successful. We did it until John and Tina moved out and into their own home – about five years after my joining the family.

A few days after we were married, I discovered that my husband had another love. His love for “the shop” was something that I had to live with for the rest of our lives together. With that love came the perpetual smell of oil, grease, and carbon, not to mention the problem of getting the oil stains out of his work clothes. I had to keep reminding him to take his soiled clothes and shoes off before coming into the house. He finally started to wear coveralls, except in the summer, when it was too hot.

Alex loved mechanics and building things. He would buy scrap iron, used building materials, and old motors and engines. From these, he was always inventing and constructing things to make farming easier and better. It was many years before he could afford to buy anything new. Note from Virginia: One of my memories growing up was that no trip to San Francisco or Sacramento was complete without a stop at one of Dad’s favorite “junk yards.” He knew them all. “Junk yards” are never in the better neighborhoods. There was never any place for us to shop, so we would have to sit in the car and wait for him.

The “home place”, Orland, California, 1929.

Alex and a group of neighbors got together and constructed a telephone line from Orland, along Road 12, to Road P. This was common practice, known as a “farmer’s line,” which the farmers had to maintain. Telephones were mounted to the wall. Instead of dialing a number, you had to turn a crank to get the operator. (Sometimes several “cranks” before she answered.) You would tell her the number and she would connect you to the party you were calling. Each house on the line had its own special telephone ring. George (Boyko) remembers that their number was 6F13. The F stood for “farmers line,” the 6 was which farmer’s line, and the 1 and 3 denoted the rings – 1 long and 3 short. The “home place” number was 2F12 – 1 long and 2 short rings on farmer’s line 2. Everyone on the line heard all of the rings. You had to listen carefully for your own ring. Note: Listening in on other’s telephone conversations was common. News traveled fast!

It was wonderful when Pacific Telephone Company came to Northern California and replaced all rural telephone lines with new poles, new lines, and equipment. The wall phone was replaced with a desk phone and we were unable to hear our neighbor’s conversations anymore.

John was the entrepreneur of the family. When I came in 1931, he was in the chicken business. I remember him out in the chicken pen, feeding them. I don’t remember whether he sold any eggs or not, nor how much longer he kept the chickens. John also purchased some Trans American stock prior to the stock market crash in 1929. That was his first experience with buying stock. In later years, he became quite knowledgeable and successful investing in the stock market.

This is perhaps a good place to tell about my impressions of Dad V. What stands out in my memory is that you seldom saw him without a Russian newspaper in his back pocket, because he liked to read every spare moment that he had. In addition to the newspapers, he read books by Russian authors. He frequently read and quoted from the Bible. Dad also liked to write. He would practice writing his name over and over again, in both Russian and English. He wrote many letters to relatives and friends. He wrote articles for the Russian newspapers in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as the Doukhobor newspaper in Canada. Most of the articles were about the Doukhobors and the Molokans, and their respective philosophies. He wrote about his views on Doukhobor life in the Canadian communes. He was not in sympathy with the leaders of the British Columbia Doukhobor sect, and wrote many articles and letters expressing his views.

Alex W. “Dad” Vereschagin (1878-1946), c. 1931. British Columbia Archives, Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection, C-01894.

My father-in-law was a very convincing speaker and conversationalist. He could stand in front of a large group and talk for hours without notes. People liked to hear him speak, so invited him to many special occasions and celebrations where he would always have something to say. Russian politics was a favorite topic of his, as well as religion.

In addition to speeches, singing was also part of any Russian gathering, and Dad loved to sing. He encouraged us to sing with him. He enjoyed getting us together in the evenings, or whenever we had company, to sing his favorite Russian songs. I hate to brag, but we did have a good chorale when we were all together. Dad had a very nice voice, as did William V. Alex, Tina, Irene, Martha, and Bill Boyko. Note from Virginia: Mom had a terrific singing voice, too!

I remember evenings when the family would gather for socializing on the front lawn. The mosquitoes would be so bad that we had to light a fire in an old pail to keep them from attacking us. The pail was perforated for air. Some dry straw was put in the bottom, then it was filled with dry manure. Once the fire and smoke died down, we all went inside.

Our social life outside of the family was limited during the early years of our marriage. We made a few friends by joining the local Grange (an organization for farmers). We occasionally went to dances in town. We seldom went to the movies. Traveling to Chico, twenty miles away, was a real treat! Tina and I only went there when the men went on business and we were able to tag along and do a little shopping. Most of our shopping was done in Orland. The doctor and the dentist were in Orland, so why go to Chico?

We would also get together with friends at each other’s houses and play cards and other games. The children would go along with their parents (no baby-sitters) and have fun playing their own games until they got tired and had to be taken home. This might sound boring, but in those days, when we were young and did not have much money, it was the only thing to do. Note: Entertaining at home was not very satisfactory, because there were so many other family members living with us.

We had a radio. Amos and Andy, Gracie Allen and George Burns, plus the news and weather reports were our favorite programs. We also had a phonograph with a few records; these were mostly the “big band” music popular at that time. One thing that we didn’t have was television. That didn’t come for twenty more years, in the 1950’s.

I shall never forget our first trip (vacation) after we got married. In between the next irrigation and mowing hay, we took a few days off and went to Mt. Shasta. It was supposed to have been our honeymoon; however, Martha, her children (George and Laverne), Leo, and Walter went with us. We camped at what used to be the Southern Pacific Shasta Springs Park. That was the spot where all trains going north or south would stop to get water for the steam locomotives. Passengers would get off the trains while they took on the water. There was a little store, cafe, and gift shop where the passengers could browse and enjoy the fresh mountain air. A short distance up the hill from the tracks there was a lovely Victorian type hotel called Mt. Shasta Springs Retreat. When the diesel engines replaced the steam engines, the hotel was sold to a religious organization and the trains no longer stopped at Shasta Springs.

The first summer, right after I was married, I learned how to hull almonds. The trees were young, so there were not too many nuts. Tina and I hulled them by hand. Somebody built a bin (hopper) under a tree into which the almonds were dumped. The hopper had holes on the bottom. The almonds would drop through the holes and onto a counter. We sat at the counter, with a gunny sack on each side of us. One sack was for the hulled (outside hulls removed) almonds and the other was for the unwanted hulls.

We picked prunes in the orchard adjoining the “home place” which belonged to a Mr. Fox. At the time, we rented the property. The next year or so, we bought the farm from Mr. Fox with the intention of building a house on it. Dad V. thought that Alex and I should live there, because it was next door and close to the shop where Alex spent most of his time. Note: In 1939, we did build our home there, right across the driveway from the “home place.”

In the early 30’s, we did not have an electric stove. During the winter, we used a wood-burning stove. During the summer, we used a kerosene stove, which I was not fond of because of the smell. The cook stove heated the water for washing and for bathing. Our first refrigerator was an “ice box.” Big chunks of ice were put in it to keep the food from spoiling. Our Maytag washing machine was inside a shed near the house. There was no plumbing nor hot water out there. We had to carry the hot water from the house and the cold water came from a faucet outside the shed.

Alex and Ann Vereschagin shortly after their wedding, 1931.

In September of 1931, three months after we were married, Alex got away from work long enough for us to go and get our wedding picture taken. I was two months pregnant, and did not want a picture taken, but the family thought we should. At the same time, we went to visit my folks in Sheridan.

With the coming of fall, it was time to pick olives and then oranges. Tina and I were exempt, because we were both pregnant; however, we did more cooking because we had extra mouths to feed. Bill and Martha Boyko picked olives for us, so we had to prepare more food for them at lunch and dinnertime. We also baby-sat with Laverne, who was about three years old. I remember that she cried a lot when her mother left her with us. George was older and had started school in September.

Note: As I sit in front of my typewriter today (9/1/93), I am thinking of the past and the things that occurred during my lifetime. I believe that my generation has experienced more progress than any other generation in history… from “the horse and buggy days” to “walking in space.” I have also witnessed big changes in our personal lives. To remember everything is impossible. I am finding it difficult to write the events exactly as they happened and in the right chronological order. If I write an incorrect date, or an event is not exact, please forgive me. I do not want to “step on anyone’s toes.” I merely want to write a brief history of events that molded our family’s life. Please be patient and read on.

More About the 1930’s

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Democrat) was elected the 32nd President. He was the only president to be elected for four terms (1933-1945).

1932 was the dawn of a new era for the Vereschagin family in Orland. It was the beginning of farming expansion and business ventures outside of farming. Growth continued for approximately thirty more years and it required three generations to accomplish the dream.

Alex and John were firm believers in real estate for a long term investment. They had confidence in their abilities. They loved the challenge to try new projects and were not afraid to take chances. Alex learned how to weld so that he could make tanks and steel buildings. When constructing service stations, they both did the plumbing and electrical wiring. They were talented men!

John’s primary talent was husbandry. He knew about plants and trees. He liked to irrigate and supervise the hired help. He played an important role in getting the best price for the farm products as well as purchasing products. John and Alex worked well together. Each one respected the other’s endeavors; they trusted one another at all times. There were differences of opinion on many projects, but they always worked them out to the satisfaction of both. John spent most of his time out in the orchards and fields, while Alex spent most of his time in the shop.

In 1932, Leo was just twenty-two years old. He wasn’t married, so his thoughts were more on his social life than on work; still, he more or less agreed to whatever his two older brothers decided to do in the way of business. When they went into the oil business, Leo became the expert on the operation and maintenance of the gasoline transport trucks. He was good at keeping the Fageol and Kenworth trucks on the road for many miles and many years. This was important because it was the oil business that put us “on our feet.” From the oil business, we were able to invest further in the agricultural business, which happens to be our most productive business today.

The youngest brother, Walter, was sixteen years old; thus a bit young in making decisions. His work at the time was to mainly help his older brothers do what they told him to do. As he got older, he was given more responsibilities.

The spring of 1932 made a big change in my life. I became a proud Mama! Our healthy, happy daughter, Virginia Lee, was born on the morning of April 30th. She was named for her grandmother, Alex’s mother. Doctor S. Iglick, sister-in-law Martha Boyko, and my mother were in attendance at the birth.

Two weeks later, on May 19th, Tina had her second son, John. Dr. Iglick and Martha were also in attendance at that birth. (Note from Virginia: I was told that John and I were a bargain. Dr. Iglick delivered both of us for $50.00.) Now we had two babies in the same house. We had to make a plan as to who got the baby bathtub first. The feeding was easy, as they were both breast fed — usually in our bedrooms. Then there was the diaper washing. Fortunately, our men bought us a new Maytag electric washing machine that even had a self-propelled wringer on it. We felt very lucky indeed. Pampers and clothes dryers had not yet been invented, so the diapers had to be hung on the line to dry. We had a big clothes line, and it seemed that there were diapers fluttering in the breeze all of the time,

In one way, it was nice that we had two babies in the house because they always had someone to play with. They became very good playmates. We each also had a live-in baby-sitter. Whenever John and Tina wanted to go somewhere, Alex and I stayed home with the children. They stayed home when we wanted to take a few hours off. Alex and I didn’t go to many movies, but we did like to go to the dances at the Grange or Memorial Halls.

The men were busy building a large barn to house the hammer-mill for grinding alfalfa hay. The alfalfa that had been planted on John’s place was coming into production and the sale of baled hay was beginning to be very competitive in the Orland area. Alex and John decided to start something new and different. There was a demand for alfalfa meal as a feed for poultry. Mr. Macy, who owned and operated the Macy Feed and Lumber store, suggested to them that they should start making alfalfa meal. He was buying the meal elsewhere for the local poultry producers. At the same time, the local farmers were shipping baled alfalfa hay out of the county.

It was a major undertaking to build that big, high barn on the new property that was to become John and Tina’s home place. They not only had to work long hours, but their construction tools were often inadequate. It also took some dare-devils to volunteer to climb to the top. Miraculously, no one got hurt and the barn was built on time. Brother-in-law Bill had an old Victor grinding mill which he sold to the family, with the agreement that his hay would be included in the process of making alfalfa meal. The old Victor grinder was propelled by tractor-power that used stove oil: a new, refined product for use in tractors. After fixing a few mechanical “bugs” and changes here and there, the men were in business processing alfalfa meal for the local animal and poultry producers. Note: This business only lasted about three years because other opportunities came up that took their time and resources.

To run the new alfalfa meal business, we were buying diesel and stove oil from Mr. Edwards, distributor in Orland for the Shell Oil Company. He suggested that we should set up a tank (500 gallons or more) and take advantage of a break in price for fuel. I think the price of diesel at the time was about $ .06 a gallon delivered. If we were to pick up the fuel at the bulk plant in Chico, the price was $ .02. Stove oil was $ .12 delivered, and would be $ .06 at the plant. That was quite a savings. We took Mr. Edwards’ advice. We bought a used truck with a flatbed and put a two-compartment 500-600 gallon tank on it. Needless to say, the truck and tank were bought from some salvage “junk yard” in Oakland. The tank didn’t have a meter, so we had to pump the fuel out of the tank by hand.

Since we were now buying diesel and stove oil from the bulk plant for the alfalfa meal business, the next logical step was that we started selling fuel to other farmers in the area. This business started in 1932-33. The family bought a couple of used Southern Pacific gasoline railroad cars, one for diesel oil and the other for stove oil. The railroad tankers were set up at the “home place” for storing bulk fuel. We purchased a small tanker truck to be used for delivering fuel to the farmers and heating oil for homes. Since our truck didn’t have a meter, the fuel had to be gravity loaded into certified, five-gallon buckets. These filled buckets were carried by hand, probably two at a time and up a ladder, and then poured into the customer’s tank. For a break in price, rather than having the fuel delivered, some farmers would bring their own steel drums to the “plant.” Note: Although this continued to be called the ‘”home place,” once the gasoline storage tanks were installed, it also became known as the ‘”plant.”

I became the bookkeeper for our fuel business. I also helped the farmers when they came to pick up their own fuel. I had to pay bills and send out invoices every thirty days. I learned how to take inventory at the end of each month and how to balance the books. I had a used hand-crank adding machine and an old cash register that did nothing but open the cash drawer -when you turned the handle. (Three years later we bought a bookkeeping machine that posted sales and credits.)

This new bookkeeping job was in addition to my other household chores. Tina and I continued to share all our “outside” and “inside” jobs. We continued to hand-hull the almonds, can the tomatoes for borscht, make sauerkraut from the extra cabbage, etc. Perhaps the only thing that changed was that our two babies were growing older and were able to entertain themselves for longer periods of time.

By now, Alex and John were getting more and more involved in expanding the bulk plant. Alex built more gasoline storage tanks. John was looking into supplying large farmers and existing service stations with fuel. Walter was beginning to take his turn in driving the small tanker truck, delivering fuel to the local small farmers, homes, and businesses. By 1933, we were supplying diesel and stove oil in Orland, Willows, Capay, Hamilton City, and Coming. We eventually got meters and hoses for the large storage tanks and for the small delivery truck; it was no longer necessary to do the back-breaking task of carrying buckets up a ladder. We were growing and expanding!

In 1934 we bought our first used Fageol truck. It had to be fitted with a large tank (3,000 gallon capacity) and, in order to make the long trips worthwhile, it was necessary to add a large trailer, also with a 3,000 gallon tank. To save money, Alex built the tanks in his shop. To make the tanks round, he used an old outmoded, but functional, roller. He used an old welder purchased from a “junk yard” in Oakland. Alex, with some help from his brother Bill, worked long hours to design, cut, roll, and weld those tanks. Then the tanks had to be mounted on the truck and trailer; a metered pump had to be added; it had to be fitted with hoses; etc. etc. etc. I don’t remember how long it took to get the transport ready to deliver fuel, but I do remember that we didn’t see much of Alex during that time.

We had been buying gasoline and diesel fuel from the Shell Oil plant in Chico. Now we were equipped and ready to purchase a larger quantity for a better price directly from a refinery (Wilshire) in Bakersfield – 400 miles way. Alex was the only one with a truck driver’s license, so he made the Fageol’s first trip. (Besides, he wanted to make sure that everything worked properly.) Since the speed limit for tankers was 25 miles per hour, it took 32 hours to make the round trip. Once John got his trucker’s license, he and Alex took turns driving. The trips were frequent, because, besides stove and diesel oils, we were also now delivering gasoline to farmers in the area. Eventually, when the truck needed repairs and updating; Leo became the ‘^truck expert” of the family. In due time, he passed his truck operator’s license and started to take his turn at the wheel.

On one of my husband’s trips to Bakersfield to pick up fuel, he was asphyxiated. He was always in a hurry, hardly ever stopping to sleep. This time he stopped in one of the small towns between Stockton and Fresno to get a cup of coffee and rest for a short while. He left the engine in the Fageol running while he dozed off. Soon he felt like he was dreaming, yet awake. He was barely able to open the door before losing consciousness and falling on the pavement. The proprietor of the coffee shop saw him fall and went to see what had happened. At first, he thought Alex was drunk, but soon realized that he had passed out from the fumes that he smelled in the cabin of the truck. He called for an ambulance. Alex was very lucky! Of course, we were notified. John, Dad, and I drove down to see him, Alex was able to return home with us. John drove the transport truck back to Orland. From then on, Alex took the time to pull over and take a nap. He had learned his lesson the hard way!

Meanwhile, Mr. Stevenson, the local Shell Oil representative, suggested that we should also consider purchasing our lubricating oils directly from a refinery. He suggested that we contact Barkow Petroleum Company in San Francisco. They had an oil blending and packaging facility in Bakersfield, in the same area as Wilshire and other small refineries. We did contact them and became the first independent oil distributors north of San Francisco.

Note: The Barkow Petroleum Company was also a family partnership. It began with a father and his two young sons. When the father died, the older son took over the running of the office, and the younger (Milton) became the traveling salesman, Milton and his wife Jewel, who traveled a lot with her husband, became very close friends of ours.

The Vereschagins’ Fageol petroleum transport truck and trailor with Mohawk sign painted on side.

We also decided to do business with Mohawk Petroleum Company, instead of continuing with Wilshire. Why? Mohawk was a small refinery, struggling to get started, and anxious for a distributor in northern California. We were looking for a supplier that would give us a good deal, and Mohawk’s offer was the best. Our association with the Mohawk and Barkow Petroleum companies continued for a long time.

Now we had to have an official name for the business. The brothers liked using “Vereschagin” in the name, and also thought that they would like to included the initial “A” in honor of their father. They wondered if “Vereschagin” might be too long and too foreign sounding; thus, too hard to remember. Mr. Marston, one of the owners of Mohawk Petroleum, said that he liked using the name “Vereschagin.” It was “one of a kind.” Once you heard it, you wouldn’t forget it. He suggested that the name could either be “A. Vereschagin and Sons” or “A. Vereschagin Oil Company.” A decision was made; the contract was signed to read: “A. Vereschagin Oil Company.” Note: After Dad Vereschagin’s death, we dropped the initial “A” and our business name became “Vereschagin Oil Company.” This name continued until 1964, when the third generation took over the management of the business. The partnership holdings were first split into five, and then merged into three, separate enterprises: Vereschagin Company, Vereschagin Oil Company, and Plaza Farms. Vereschagin Company remained a partnership, and the other two became operating corporations.

The Fageol truck had to have the name of our company and a logo painted on it for identification. Since we were selling Mohawk gasoline, its logo was to be the head of a Mohawk Indian. This “Mohawk” logo had to also be added to our small delivery truck. Although I had painted the name on the small delivery truck, these paintings had to look more professional, so we hired an Orland painter (Mr. Sevisind) to do the painting and the lettering. He did a superb job and we had the flashiest trucks in town.

Since the truck and trailer transport hauled about 6,000 gallons with each load, Alex now began working day and night to make even larger storage tanks to accommodate the loads of gasoline, diesel, and stove oil. He coaxed his friend Mike Sklarenko, who was a welder in San Francisco, to come up on weekends to help him weld the tanks. Alex and John took turns driving the transport truck to Bakersfield and back. Exhausting schedule!

Note: After we made our first sizable profit from the petroleum business, we were able to repay some debts. We paid off the Federal Land Bank on the mortgage that we had on the “home place.” I believe the debt was about three thousand dollars. We were able to pay brother Bill’s mortgage of $2,500 and sister Martha’s debt of $2,500. This was more or less to even up the family inheritance. Later, other distributions were made to Bill, Martha, and Jane, particularly when they were building their homes.

Around this time, Tina’s brother Bill Sokorokoff and brother-in-law Bill Vereschagin became partners in a business. They opened an appliance and radio store in downtown Orland on Fourth Street. The partnership lasted for several years. After selling the store, Bill S. went into real estate and Bill V. continued with his other ventures.

After the fall harvest in 1934, the two younger boys, Leo and Walter, went on an unannounced adventure together. They withdrew the $500.00 which they had inherited from their mother’s estate, bought a used Ford convertible car, and took off. They didn’t tell anybody where they were going. I remember Bill V. disguising himself one evening and driving around Orland looking for them. It wasn’t until a few days later when someone thought to call Jane that they found out they were in Shafter. Well, when their money ran out, they came back home, chagrined and apologetic. They had had their fling and were ready to go back to work. Incidentally, Walter met his future wife in Shafter.

Also in 1934, John and Tina hired a contractor from Chico to build a house on the farm bought for them by the family. They hired a contractor because they were busy and it would take too long to build on their own. There was an urgency for them to complete their house. Walter was engaged to the girl he met in Shafter, Elizabeth Karyakin. John and Tina would have to vacate their bedroom for the newlyweds. When they moved, Vernon was about five years old and Johnny was about two and a half. I remember that Johnny did not want to move because he didn’t want to leave his big family, his playmate Virginia, and his bedroom. He cried and pulled away from his mom and dad when they were ready to leave.

The first exciting thing that happened in 1935 was that brother-in-law Walter and Elizabeth got married. They were married in the bride’s home in a traditional Russian ceremony. When the newlyweds arrived in Orland, John and Tina’s former bedroom was ready for them. Elizabeth and I were now the “ladies” of the house. We shared the household chores, much like I had with Tina. Walter started driving the local delivery truck, delivering fuel to the farmers. Elizabeth would often go along with him.

We had to find a better way to hull the almonds. Up until now, we were able to keep up by hulling by hand, because the almond orchard was young and the production was light. Now we no longer could keep up, so the men decided to buy a used Miller huller. The decision was made to install the huller in the barn at John’s place. That meant that the alfalfa grinding machine had to be dismantled or moved somewhere else. I think that brother Bill took it to his farm where he continued grinding alfalfa meal. If I remember right, it had been his project in the first place.

We only used the Miller huller for one season; then we bought a brand-new Fadie Huller from the Fadie brothers in Capay. They manufactured almond hullers in conjunction with their own almond orchard business. (In fact, years later, we also bought our second huller from them, after they had moved their business to Gridley.) In time for the 1935 fall harvest, we had a mechanical huller. With the increased production, we had to hire men to knock the almonds off the trees and had to hire women to sort the almonds as they came through the huller on a belt. We also made an arrangement with the Boykos to hull their almonds. Sister Martha worked on the huller, her husband Bill worked knocking almonds for us, and in return we hulled their nuts.

The summer of 1935 was very hot! I was pregnant, and the 110 degree heat, day in and day out, made me nauseous and dizzy. I remember passing out while waiting on a gasoline customer. Early in the morning on August 4, 1935, our second child, a son, was born. Since my husband already had two daughters (Elaine and Virginia), he was ecstatic that it was a boy. We named him Alex, after his father and his grandfather. By Russian tradition, his middle name was also Alex, because that was his father’s name. Remember – Alex, son of Alex?

When three-and-a-half-year-old Virginia woke up, her Dedushka (Dad V.) told her that she had a “‘brother.” Then her dad took her into the bedroom where the baby and Mommy were resting and he also told her that she had a “brother.” I’m not sure whether Virginia knew what a brother was, but she did start calling him “Brother.” From then on, until he became an adult, he was called ‘Brother” by all members of the family.

Alex Jr. and Virginia Vereschagin, 1936.

Shortly after Alex’ birth, I developed a serious problem: I was unable to breast feed and had to pump my breast every hour or so to relieve the pain. The doctor didn’t know what to do for me. He was afraid that I might have cancer so he sent me to Doctor Enloe in Chico. Dr. Enloe was a surgeon; he prescribed immediate surgery. He convinced us that we had no other choice than to have the breast removed. Back in 1935, they didn’t have the sophisticated x-rays, biopsies, and laboratory tests that they have today. Later, we found out that surgery had not been necessary. I did not have cancer; I simply had an infection of the breast (mastitis). Unfortunately, it was too late; the breast had already been removed. When I found out the truth, I was devastated and wished that we had gotten a second opinion. Note: My entire life was affected by this surgical mistake.

Little Alex Jr. was doing just fine. The change over from breast milk to formula did not bother him at all; however, I was depressed with my disfigurement. Fortunately, I had a husband who supported me with kind words and understanding. He made me feel that my figure did not change his love for me. I always respected and loved him for that.

Another blessed event took place on October 16, 1935. A son, James, was born to Bill and Irene V. They now had three living children (Harold, Louise, and James). I went to spend a few days with Irene, helping out wherever I could. Since Alex was just two and a half months old, we had two “little ones” to keep us busy.

Everyone continued working long hours, in both farming and the oil business. Dad V. sometimes helped to wait on customers when they came to get fuel. He would also entertain the children. Usually, he spent most of his time either reading or writing or visiting with the Sokorokoffs and the Wolins (another Russian family who had settled in Orland). They had a lot in common, so they enjoyed each other’s company.

In June of 1936, Dad decided that he wanted to go to Blaine Lake to visit his relatives. He also thought it was time that Leo got married. If he took Leo along as his chauffeur, then perhaps he could meet a Doukhobor girl to marry. Although Dad didn’t come right out and tell Leo his thoughts, Leo got the picture. I remember him telling his dad that he was willing to drive him to Blaine Lake, but he was not going to Canada to find a wife. Contrary to his resolve, when Leo arrived there, he met Irene Kabatoff. Dad later told us that when he saw Irene wearing Leo’s hat, he knew that Leo was “smitten.” They were married that July at the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home in a traditional ceremony.

As soon as we heard that Leo had gotten married, Alex and I knew that we had to vacate our bedroom for the newlyweds. It was understood by our generation, without question, that the first son to get married was the first to move out. John and Tina had already moved; now it was our turn.

The question was, where to go? We had the property next door which had been designated for Alex, but we could not yet afford to build a house. So, in the interim, we decided to move into the small room in the tank house. The room was about 12×12, into which we had to crowd our bedroom set plus Virginia’s bed and Alex’s crib. I don’t think the room had a closet for our clothes. There were no bathroom facilities nor running water, so we still had to use the main house for bathing and dressing. Somehow we managed to keep our sanity for the two and a half years we stayed there.

In 1937, Alex developed a very painful case of sciatica in his leg and hip. It got so bad that he was unable to work or sleep. The doctors told him that rest was the only cure. In July we decided that perhaps the hot waters would help relieve the pain. Someone told us about Hobo Hot Springs, east of Bakersfield on the Kern River. We packed some camping gear, put the two children in the car, and took off. Alex was unable to drive so he stretched out on the back seat and I had both of the children in front with me. When we arrived at Hobo Hot Springs, we found that there was nothing there except a small hot spring, no bigger than a sauna, and one other camper. No stores and no ranger. I had to set up camp by myself which was not easy because I had never known how to pitch a tent nor start a campfire. We were right at the edge of the Kern River (not very wide at that elevation) and I worried all the time that the children (ages 5 and 2) would be swept away by the swift current. I practically tied them down at night. We stayed about two weeks. Alex took many hot baths in the spring and tried to rest. The children enjoyed the rocks and the little sand that was there. I practiced learning how to make a fire to cook our meals. Wish we had photographs to remember those two weeks, but in those days we did not take many pictures.

Alex didn’t see any improvement in his leg or hip, so we went home. The rest of the summer he continued to suffer with the sciatica. He would go to Stony Creek behind our place, taking Virginia along to bury his entire body in the hot sand, thinking that might help. He eventually got over the problem and went back to work in the shop.

Soon after Alex went back to work, we hired a man to help around the plant and to cleanup around the shop. His name was George. (I can’t remember his last name.) He was an elderly man, who came to us needing a home. The men fixed him up with a bedroom in the storage barn that was close to the house. He ate his meals with the family. After working for us for about a year, he had an accident and hurt his back. Now he was unable to work and had no place to go, so we let him stay and took care of him. Eventually, he left us. I’m not sure where he went; it may have been to a veteran’s home.

Leo, Ann and Alex Vereschagin. The old machine shop in the background, 1938.

After George left, we remodeled his bedroom in the storage bam into an office. Up until then, I had been working at a desk in the house. This new office was much better because there was more room for a desk; there were shelves for books and files, and a counter for conducting business transactions. The men installed a telephone and an electric heater. Not only was I happy with the new office, but Dad V. was happy, too. He now had his desk in the house back. Here he would sit for hours, writing his letters and articles to the Russian newspapers.

Note: When we outgrew this office and moved into another, the room became a storage room, but it continued to be called “George’s Room.” My son, Alex, who now lives at the “home place,” has a sign over the door that says: George’s Room.

Fred Sokorokoff, Tina’s father, decided to build a new house. The two-room garage was getting crowded. Son Bill needed a bedroom of his own, and Mr. Sokorokoff’s mother was also now living with them. She was close to one hundred years old and was ailing. In fact, she didn’t get to live in the new house very long because she passed away in 1939.

Mr. Sokorokoff asked Alex to design and build the house. It was, and is, a nice house with all the modem facilities of the day. It had a large glassed-in porch on two sides. Mr. Sokorokoff insisted on the best materials available at the time. He was extremely meticulous with his house, garden, and small farm. You couldn’t find even a feather on his lawn. He mowed the grass around the orchard that surrounded his home so that it, too, looked like lawn. He had a green Chevrolet touring car. He kept it in perfect condition. After his death, his son Bill sold it to a local collector of vintage cars.

To get back to the house, Alex agreed to design and build it. He had plenty to do for our own business, but he wanted to help Mr. Sokorokoff; which in return helped John and Tina. Alex also felt that the extra money he made would help the family company. You see, he did not put that money into his own bank account. It all went into the family pot, as usual.

By this time, each family was getting a small allowance for their personal use. I don’t remember the amount, but I am sure that it was not very much. All the big purchases and expenses were paid by the company with no accounting as to recipients. Likewise, all money earned went into the company account and were dispensed with no questions asked.

In 1938, the oil business continued to expand. Our one Fageol truck needed constant repair; thus was inadequate to keep up with the demand. Another transport truck was needed. We still could not afford a new truck and trailer, so Alex, John, and Leo decided to buy another used Fageol truck. Besides, a war was “brewing,” and new equipment was almost impossible to find. Fortunately, they were able to put new tanks and metered pump valves on the used transport truck.

When the second Fageol was ready for the road, we again hired the same local painter to paint the name, logo, and capacity, as required by law. We hired Leo’s friend, Ed Berkland, to alternate with Leo in driving the trucks to Bakersfield and back. We also had a relief driver by the name of Paul Blaine, to help with the driving when needed.

In the spring of 1937, Alex and I started to prepare the lot designated for our future home across the driveway from the “home place.” We first planted ash trees along the driveway and an umbrella tree on the west side for shade. We also planted a cedar deodara tree in what was to be the front of the house. To irrigate the trees during the summer, I had to tote water, two buckets at a time, from a faucet at the “home place.” The trees flourished and provided wonderful shade for many years. In fact, many of the original trees are still growing and providing shade to this day. Note: In Orland, shade trees were very important because in those days there were no air conditioners. A few homes had window swamp coolers, which were very ugly. The air coming out of a cooler was so strong that a person could not sit directly in front of it. Everything in front of the cooler, particularly papers, had to be secured for fear of blowing away.

On July 11, 1938, there was another blessed event in the family. A son, Donald, was born to Leo and Irene. Donald was Dad V. ‘s twelfth grandchild.

In 1938, Alex ordered a carload of lumber from Oregon and we actually started to build our very own home. It was a slow process because, to save money, Alex wanted to do most of the work himself. Building the house dragged on for almost a year. We had to work on our house whenever we could find spare time. Most of the time we worked way into the night under lights. I remember nailing the sub-floor myself because Alex was either driving the truck or working on a tank. We didn’t hire a carpenter until it was time to stand up the walls and the roof. Then we got Mr. Belch from Chico to help us. (He was the same carpenter who had built John and Tina’s house). We also hired more help when it came to making cabinets and window trimmings, and installing appliances.

After all the carpenter work was finished, I filled in the nail holes on all the cabinets, doors, and window trims, preparing them for painting. There were millions of nails and they were very hard to see. I would go back over and over to make sure that I had all the holes filled in with putty. Then it was up to me to paint. For best results, first time painting requires three coats of paint. The house had three bedrooms, a living-dining room, kitchen, bath, screened porch, and a service porch. It must have taken me months to complete the painting; and I was still having to do my share of the family chores plus the bookkeeping for the family business.

My sister Mary surprised us by going to Reno and marrying James Timothy (“Tima”) Loskutoff on May 21, 1938. His parents were unhappy that they did not have a traditional Molokan wedding. They insisted upon at least a church blessing and a small family reception. Sister Hazel was Mary’s bridesmaid. For some reason, we were unable to attend the festivities.

In the fall of 1938, while all the work on the house was going on, Virginia was ready to start first grade. (At that time, there was no Kindergarten in Orland.) Since she had spent her entire life surrounded by family, speaking Russian, I took her to school that first day, anticipating tears. She surprised me. She went right in, was introduced to her teacher (Miss Miller), who in turn propelled her to a few other little girls. Miss Miller said that she would call me if there was a problem I went home and waited for a phone call. Nothing happened. At two o’clock, when I went back to pick her up, she chatted all the way home about the friends that she had met and how nice her teacher was. Once she got home, she changed into her play clothes, and began playing school. After a few days of my driving her to school and back home, she started to go by herself on the school bus. Her cousin Johnny also started school in the same classroom. Perhaps their being together helped in the adjustment.

Alex was three years old, and he missed his sister. She was his only playmate at home; although she sometimes bored him by always wanting him to play house, with her as ‘”Mommy” and him always having to be the “baby.” Now Alex started to become more and more attached to Dad V., his Dedushka. They became very good friends, always speaking in Russian. (All of the children spoke Russian before they learned English.) Dedushka would take little Alex to “help” him work in the garden. They would go for rides together, either to oversee the orchard west of town, or to visit brother-in-law Bill and their son Jim. Jim was the same age as Alex, so they would have fun playing together.

Ann, Virginia, Elaine, Alex and Alex Jr., 1939.

Thinking of Virginia and Alex as small children, I just remembered the following incident:

One day, when Alex was about two and Virginia about five, Dedushka took them along for a ride. He put them in the back seat and took off. Fortunately, he never drove very fast out of the driveway. After crossing the canal and going down the road a bit, he turned around to check on the children, and didn’t see Alex. In Russian, he asked Virginia, “Where’s Brother?” She replied, “He fell out a long time ago.” Dad V. panicked, backed-up, and found Brother standing and crying on the side of the road. Alex and I took him to the doctor. After a thorough examination, the doctor said that all he had was a bruised shoulder and collar bone. At the time it was a scary incident. Now, humor has been added when retelling the story.

The fuel capacity of our old local delivery truck was inadequate. Whenever switching from stove oil to gasoline and vice versa, the truck driver had to clean out the tank. This was inefficient and costly. Furthermore, the truck was beginning to have frequent break downs. The men decided to order a new truck and chassis without a tank, pump, or meter. Alex was to build the tank himself.

There were wars going on in Europe: Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935; the Germans occupied the Rhineland in 1936; and Hitler marched into Austria in 1938. This turmoil in Europe also affected the United States. New cars and trucks were not readily available to the common folk; however, we put in an order for a new Diamond T truck. All orders were on a priority list, and it could take months, if not years, to get our new truck. We were fortunate. In June of 1937, a brand new red Diamond T truck arrived. Alex immediately went to work building the tank and outfitting it for delivering fuels. He rolled the steel, cut to shape, and welded the edges. I think the tank had three compartments for fuel. He installed the pump, valves, and meter. The finished product looked very much like a factory job. Alex was proud of his accomplishments, and everyone else was, too.

I remember Alex working late into the night on that truck. He would be banging on the steel, and the arc from the welder would light up the night sky, keeping everyone awake. Dad V. would open the window and yell: “Alex, please stop your noise and go to bed!” Alex kept going because he wanted to finish it before the Glenn County Fair, early in September. He made it! Walter and Elizabeth got to ride in the truck in the fair parade. After completing the Diamond T delivery truck, Alex changed the first Fageol truck to a semi. Now, instead of using it for the long trips to Bakersfield, the truck was used mainly to deliver fuel to big farmers and rice growers.

By 1939, we pretty well were phased out of the “livestock” business. Brother Bill V. had already taken over the hay grinding business. We women, who had been milking the cows and separating the milk, were having babies; therefore we had little time nor energy left for milking cows. Besides, we didn’t have a pasture nor the hay to feed the cows. So, we started to buy bottled milk. Thank goodness!

In February of 1939, we finally moved into our new home. It was such a relief to move out of the cramped condition in the tank-house. Although our house took a long time to complete, we were very happy with the outcome because we knew we had the best materials and good carpenters, finishers, and painters. One of our experts was my cousin, John Popoff. He installed all the hardwood floors and linoleum in the house. He was a professional, and we were fortunate to get him.

Alex and Ann Vereschagin’s new home on Road 12, 1938.

Most of our social life continued to revolve around the family. On Sundays we would meet at each other’s homes for spiritual needs, as well as a day of rest. In Russian you would say that we met to have a sobranya (a gathering). A traditional Russian meal was always part of the celebration. The adults would sit at one table, and the children got to sit together at another table. The children especially enjoyed these Sunday meetings, because they had an opportunity to play with their cousins. Occasionally, they were asked to participate in the singing of the Russian hymns. Note from Virginia: I fondly remember our Sunday get-togethers. I remember catching frogs at Fred Sokorokoff’s; lying on our backs in the front yard of the “home place,” watching for shooting stars; and the two oldest cousins, Harold and George, telling us scary ghost stories.

During this time, San Francisco was busy building Yerba Buena Island for the World’s Fair. It was a huge undertaking because the island had to be made bigger to accommodate all of the exhibits, administration buildings, parking facilities, etc. The “Expo” opened in 1939. In September of that year, John, Tina, Alex, and I took a whole day off from work and went to the fair. It was an exciting experience. We left home early and returned in the wee hours of the next morning. Later, Alex and I went one more time, this time taking our children.

In 1939, we sponsored a Russian immigrant, Mr. Byrak, to come live with us. Dad V. had corresponded with him while he, Mr. Byrak, lived in Russia and then immigrated to China. The sons felt that Dad needed to have a companion; besides, sponsoring him was a humanitarian thing to do. The Tolstoy Foundation in New York was instrumental in helping to get Mr. B. here. On our part, it took several trips to San Francisco and reams of paperwork to complete the process. He finally arrived and settled down in the tank-house bedroom. Unfortunately, he was not well when he arrived, and soon was diagnosed as having cancer of the throat. He did not live more than a few months before passing away. We took good care of him as long as he was with us. He died in the bed we provided for him. He is buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

In June of 1940, Dad V. got the idea that it was time for him to pay another visit to Canada, and he wanted to take some of his family with him. He not only wanted the companionship, but he also wanted his own choir of singers. (Remember – Russians sing a lot when they get together, both for religious reasons and for entertainment. At large gatherings, there are always lots of speeches and singing, especially between courses at mealtime. Guests are often called upon to sing their own special songs.)

Obviously everyone in the family could not go on the trip to Canada. Since the trip was conceived and organized by Dad V., he was the one who decided on his traveling companions. Those that went were: Walter and Jane Poznoff with their son, Robert; Martha Boyko with her daughter, Laverne; Irene with her son. Jimmy; Dad V., Alex, and I. Walt drove his car, and Alex drove our new four-door Chrysler sedan.

Alex and I left our two children (Virginia was eight and Alex was almost five) with my parents in Sheridan. It gave them a chance to get to better know their Dedushka and Babushka Popoff. Note from Virginia: Mom and Dad left enough dimes for us to walk each day to the nearby store for an ice cream treat. We could see the railroad tracks from the kitchen window, so got to count how many boxcars there were on the freight trains. We got to go swimming in Bear Creek with our Sohrakoff cousins. One time, Uncle John surprised us with a visit. He came on the transport truck. Best of all, I got to paint my fingernails – something my dad never let me do. I even painted Brother’s nails. Such fun!

Since this was my first long trip, I remember a lot of the details. I was going farther than I had ever traveled, and was meeting many new relatives. I remember that we ate five and six times a day in different houses. We had to bathe and change clothes often, because of the humidity. And how can anyone forget the mosquitoes? They were the biggest and fiercest I had ever seen!

I mentioned the choir. Walt Poznoff had a beautiful bass voice. Jane, Martha, and Irene sang alto. Dad V. was a strong baritone. Alex was also a baritone, and carried a tune pretty well. I was a soprano and started the songs. (Russian singing is all a cappella. The “starter” sings the first line to set the pitch and then the other singers join in. This happens with each new verse of a song.) That was our choir. We sang our songs over and over everywhere we went. In Blaine Lake, the people who heard us sing titled one of our songs as “The Vereschagin Song.”

These are but a few details from our trip: We spent our first night with the Dobrinins in Peoria, Oregon. Next we went to Medicine Lake, Washington, to visit Mr. and Mrs. Simchuk. Then we went to Shore Acres and Creston B.C. to visit some of Dad’s nieces. Everyone insisted on entertaining us, so it was exhausting. We were on a tight schedule, because we wanted to be in Blaine Lake for St. Peter’s Day (June 29th). It was cherry picking time in Creston. We all ate far too many cherries and suffered the consequences the next day. Another niece that we visited lived on a large wheat farm in Pincher Creek, Alberta, about fifty miles east of the Continental Divide. From there, it was a very long day’s journey to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We stayed in our first hotel, the King George (I think). The bathrooms were down the hall, so we didn’t have too much luxury. The next day was much easier, as we only had to go sixty miles to get to our next destination, Blaine Lake. There, we first stopped to visit with Dad’s sister Parania and husband George Popoff. They invited all of their children and other close relatives for an evening of eating, talking, and singing. We were assigned to spend the night in the homes of various relatives. We had to get some rest, as the next day was St. Peter’s Day.

What is St. Peter’s Day? The Doukhobors celebrate it every year on June 29th. This is the day, in Russia, in the year 1895, that the Doukhobors gathered all their firearms and burned them, protesting the conscription edict that all young men of military age must serve in the Russian army. It is the day to remember all of those who suffered and died for the cause. It was also Peter V. Verigin’s birthday, hence the name. It is a very important day for the Doukhobors. All work stops and everyone goes to the sobranya.

For many years on Peter’s Day in Blaine Lake, the church was not large enough to accommodate all the people, so they rented a large tent, set it up on a vacant lot, and held the services there. After the church service, everybody stayed for a family style picnic. There was never any shortage of food. Every lady tried to outdo the other. A special treat was the first watermelon of the season. They got their watermelons from Texas and/or Mexico. The shipment usually conveniently arrived around St. Peter’s Day.

The Vereschagin family, 1938. [top l-r] Irene, Tina, Harold, Irene, William, Martha, George, Ann, Walter, Jane, Elizabeth. [middle l-r] Leo, holding Donald, John, William, James, Dad, Alex, Alex Jr., Walter. [bottom l-r] Vernon, John, Louise, Laverne, Virginia, Robert.

After lunch, the older generation would all go back into the tent to listen to various choir groups perform and if there were guests from out of town, they would be asked to speak. Needless to say, we sang, and Dad V. spoke. Around five o’clock, everyone went home for chores and a rest, before returning for the evening sobranya. I remember sitting on the platform in front of the congregation, barely able to keep my eyes open. I had to stay awake, because we were expected to sing throughout the service. (To help me stay awake, I watched the huge mosquitoes on the ceiling.)

We spent the next week in Blaine Lake. To keep our social calendar running on schedule, Dad appointed his nephew (another Alexei Vasilyevich Vereschagin) to be our secretary. Alexei had to keep us posted as to where we were to go next. Without him, it could have been a disaster. He, and his wife Masha, went everywhere with us. It was hard to leave a house right after eating, but Alexei would keep us moving, so that we would be on time to the next house – and more food.

Next we had to go 200 miles farther east to Kamsack, Saskatchewan, to visit Dad’s friend, Gregory F. Vanin and family. Mr. Vanin was one of the young men savagely beaten by the Russian military in 1896. He had also been banished to Siberia. The Vanins had lived in Orland for a short while before World War I; thus, the Vanin children (Anna, Jim, and Margaret) had become good friends with William, Martha, Alex, and Jane.

It rained the entire day we traveled from Blaine Lake to Kamsack. When we got to the country road leading to the Vanin’s, it was very muddy and slippery. The mud had built up on our tires, so there was no traction. The wheels started to spin, and before we knew it, our car turned completely around and we were facing Walt’s car. Luckily, Walt was far enough behind us that we did not hit one another. It was so frightening that we actually started laughing. What an experience! That evening, I remember listening to Dad and Mr. Vanin talk about their lives in Siberia and the Doukhobor politics in Canada.

While traveling, we did not keep up with the international news. Because of the war in Europe, we had been warned that it was possible that the border between the U. S. and Canada might be closed. We didn’t take it seriously. We felt that the warning was merely to prepare us for a possible delay in crossing when we returned to the U.S. We thought that we had all the necessary papers, so we’d have no problems. We just went on our merry way; however, when we arrived back at the border, we ran into a lot of problems. The border had been closed shortly after we had entered Canada. Now, we learned that Irene and Martha did not have the proper papers and that they could not cross back into the U.S. They had to get the proper affidavits from Orland, etc., etc. We had no choice but to leave them at the border and go home to work on their release.

As soon as we got home, the paper work began. Fifteen-year old George Boyko, Martha’s son, wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife, asking for help in getting his mother home. Other affidavits and legal papers were wired to the border. Although Martha and Irene were comfortable in a hotel, they were anxious to get home. (Their children, Laverne and Jimmy, did not stay with them, but returned home with us.) Within a couple of weeks, they were released and returned to Orland by bus.

Uncle Ivan Remembered

by Charlie Chernoff

The following is an excerpt from the recently printed family history book compiled and edited by Charlie Chernoff.  The book, entitled “Chernoff Family History – Evstafy Branch”, is a collection of memoirs, family stories and genealogical information about his Chernoff Doukhobor ancestors.  Mr. Chernoff writes about his recollection and perception of memorable incidents, relationships and personalities while growing up in the Village of Veregin, Saskatchewan in the Thirties and Forties.  Here, Mr. Chernoff recalls “Uncle Ivan”, a larger-than-life individual whose personality, accomplishments, appearance and actions left a lasting impression on one young Doukhobor boy. 

Uncle Ivan was not a bloodline uncle, in fact he was not a bloodline relative at all. His wife Dunya was a distant relative to my mother but distance mattered little in Doukhobor family relationships. It seems that distant relatives were as warmly received as close relatives. And so it was then that I was introduced to Dunya as Kuzka (diminutive of Kuzma, my Russian name) and she was introduced to me as “auntie”. Her husband Ivan then became “uncle” Ivan and from that first meeting on I was expected to address him as uncle and if referring to him in family conversation refer to him as uncle Ivan.

Author’s mother in Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1918.

This was one of the wonderful traditions of the Doukhobor way of life; distant relatives were auntie and uncle to children. Since nearly every family in a village was related in some way or another to every other family in the same and nearby villages, children had dozens and dozens of aunts and uncles. I remember my children visiting a distant, distant relative who by tradition was aunt Mary and by tradition she received our children as warmly as if they were her own grandchildren. Whenever we visited her home she would greet the children with the warmest glee imaginable then scurry off to some hiding place to bring out some candy treats. What a wonderful tradition! The children in the community were looked after by all adults (since, it seemed, they were in some distant way related) which led to warmness, harmony and safety.

Now uncle Ivan was no ordinary individual. As a young Doukhobor he was home schooled to read and write formal Russian besides speaking “Doukhobor” Russian. I better explain that there was a peculiar tradition invoked when one conversed locally because one spoke Doukhobor Russian which had its own idioms, its own inflections and its own cadence. It was not heavy with the hard “G” and harsh “R”. Many words carried the soft “H” and softer “R” that is common in the Ukrainian spoken tongue. Doukhobor Russian was accompanied by obvious gesticulations and body language which often conveyed an important message while words spoken were few. A good example is the phrase “von mahnul i pashol“.  This meant that the individual waved his arm downwards from the elbow to the palm and left, meaning he disagreed and was not going to indulge in further conversation and went his way. 

Uncle Ivan was a voracious reader, so his Russian vocabulary was much richer than the regular Doukhobor. He also wrote fluent formal Russian. It is peculiar again, that although Doukhobors conversed in Doukhobor Russian they wrote in proper and fluent Russian even though their vocabulary might be limited. I remember how impressed many of the community people were because Uncle Ivan was one of the few persons they ever met who had read and studied the New Testament. My mother had a book of the New Testament in Russian but she read only parts of it and did not study it but simply enjoyed the metaphors.

Uncle Ivan enjoyed addressing sobranias, which were meetings or prayer assemblies. Since he had an extended vocabulary he was able to wow the crowd. He was not shy so he got a lot of practice at public speaking and since his speeches were non-controversial nor demeaning the crowd enjoyed his deliveries. Dad says that one day uncle Ivan was particularly wound up and reached for many uncommon, extraordinary Russian words and phrases to make his point. The crowd was entranced and gave him a standing ovation. Later Dad was talking to Victor, a Russian gentleman with a formal Russian education who had chosen to live near the Doukhobors. Victor remarked that uncle Ivan had delivered a rousing speech but that many of the bigger, flowery words were definitely the wrong words to use. No matter the crowd loved it.

Uncle Ivan was also an accomplished artisan. When the combined communal prayer home and Peter V. Verigin residence was being constructed in Veregin he was the individual who designed and fabricated the ornamental sheet metal scroll work that adorns the upper part of the balconies. A masterful job.

The Dom at Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1935.

Uncle Ivan was a mainstay in the CCUB (the early communal organization of the Canadian Doukhobors) during its formative years. He served this organization in several capacities but over time his confidence in the continued ability of the communal enterprise to survive as a productive, vibrant, commercially successful co-operative waned so when the Communal Doukhobors and Peter V. Verigin moved to BC uncle Ivan chose to become an Independent Doukhobor and stay behind as a farmer near Veregin.

Uncle Ivan had many great qualities but he had one weakness. He enjoyed too much the “bottled devil” and visited him too often. But even when he had too much of the wrong kind of spirit in him he remained calm and demure and loving. He would always refer to his wife as his Kosha, meaning “kitten”.

To this day I vividly remember one afternoon, in late fall after the harvest was in, when uncle Ivan came ambling towards our store, a bit awkwardly, from the direction of the beer parlor. He had enjoyed an afternoon of visiting the bottled devil and had taken leave not because his thirst was quenched but because he had run out of money. He turned into our store and since it was late and everyone else had left he begged my father to fill the grocery order that his Kosha had sent with him. To fill it now but to delay payment until some time when he came into some money. Since my Dad had suffered the self same affliction years earlier he recognized that a fellow squanderer needed to be assisted without argument. As Dad began to pack the few essentials into a bag he asked me to lock the store and pull the shades.

Author as a child in Veregin, 1937.

Having done this my chores at the store were completed for the day so I retreated to our living quarters that adjoined the store. I went to my room upstairs to work on my homework. It was a couple of hours later that I came downstairs to see if Mom had supper ready. She informed me that supper was indeed ready for the table and I was to see what was delaying Dad in the store. I opened the door from the living quarters into the store only to find both my Dad and uncle Ivan bawling their eyes out. My dad had spent those couple of hours convincing uncle Ivan that his drinking was only lowering his stature amongst the community residents, distancing his sons from him and that it was a totally selfish behavior and unfair to his Kosha.  I cleared my throat and spoke up announcing supper. This gave both of them the opportunity to dry their eyes and exchange hugs and then I let uncle Ivan out the store door with his groceries.

Uncle Ivan never drank again.

In fact one day Uncle Ivan whilst in one of his expansive moods declared “Ehhh! Nikolai if I had an enemy and he were antagonizing me I would be moved to place a curse on his soul and the nature of the curse would be that he become an alcoholic”. Dad agreed this would work, then added that if he had an enemy and was being antagonized he would wish the proprietorship of a small general store upon him.

At another time I asked Dad how long it took uncle Ivan to complete work on the forty ornamental sheet metal panels. Dad replied that he had no idea but that it must have been a long time since all the ornamental perforations were cut out with a hammer and cold chisel. After some cogitation I continued with the comment that it must have been awful boring. Dad replied that he did not think so because uncle Ivan kept his companion nearby.

When I inquired as to what he meant about his companion. Dad painted this scenario – uncle Ivan would carry his tools to the shade of some trees bordering the property then drag the sheet metal under a tree settle down comfortably and commence to chisel out the perforations. Periodically he would check the landscape to make sure that no women were about then reach for his companion and take a good long pull from the jar of homebrew. Apparently this kept him going all day long with nary a complaint.

Another day after uncle Ivan had visited with us at the store and left I remarked to Dad what a decent and friendly and wise individual he was. Dad said that uncle Ivan took great pride in being known as a caring, loving individual of unquestioned integrity. Then he commenced to tell me that there were widespread rumors amongst the Independent Doukhobors that some community fund raised monies had been siphoned off never to surface again. It seems that because of uncle Ivan’s undisputed integrity and power of persuasion he was often sent alone to collect money for some project or other. There were no receipts issued nor any lists made of the exact sum given by each individual so it would have been easy to “skim” the pot. Uncle Ivan had heard stories of collected funds being skimmed more then once so, as a counterclaim, he had proudly announced to Dad that he never stole a cent. Well, he took some for a jar of homebrew now and then but that he regarded to be an “operating expense”.

Railway station and elevators at Veregin, Saskatchewan, 1935.

I learned one of life’s grandest lessons from uncle Ivan. One cold day he was warming himself near the store stove when a young, recently married man came in for groceries. Spotting Ivan the “Elder Doukhobor” sitting near the stove he sauntered over and confided that he had a family problem and maybe Ivan would hear him out and give him some advice. Uncle Ivan was not in a habit of turning anybody down so he replied that he had time to hear him out to see if he could help. The young man told a story of a running conflict with his new in-laws, that they were meddling in his and his new wife’s affairs. He said that he did not want to distance himself from them nor offend his new wife but that he needed more breathing room. Uncle Ivan waited until the young man had calmed down some then he commenced to ask questions. I was listening in without appearing to be listening in. Uncle Ivan’s question’s seemed to have little to no thread to them. They were sort of a shotgun approach to the specific problem. The young man would answer every question with considerable elucidation. After quite a number of these, pointless to my mind, questions the young man suddenly cried out, “That is it! That is what I must do!”, and he began pumping uncle Ivan’s hand and thanking him for the great advice he had given him. Of course, uncle Ivan had not given any advice at all, he had only asked questions to help define the problem. Once the problem was well defined, the young man immediately saw how it ought to be solved. Uncle Ivan’s contribution had nothing to do with offering a solution but had everything to do with defining the problem. I guess it is a technique that was often used by the elders of the Doukhobor community.

Many years later after I had worked in industry for a number of years and had been appointed supervisor of a software programming group I would often be sought out by an employee who wanted advice on how to handle a personal problem. I would recall the serious interest uncle Ivan would show in a fellow’s problem so I would try to emulate the same serious interest and then begin to define the problem by asking the employee questions. Once the problem was well defined every employee I counseled suddenly said thank you for the advice that will certainly work. No specific advice was ever given!

The Chernoff family home near Veregin, Saskatchewan as it appears today.

Aunt Dunya, Ivan’s Kosha, was also a community activist. Dunya was a practicing mid-wife who participated in the delivery of many babies for Doukhobor families who asked for her services. The Doukhobor tradition was to have mid-wives trained in the art and science of delivering newborns because they were not comfortable with outside interference even doctors. Now this was not academic training but apprenticeship type training where ladies who showed interest in providing the service worked as assistants with experienced mid-wives. Through observation and discussion and hands on practice the helpers moved on to become trusted mid-wives. We have already alluded to community specialists such as artisans but in addition there were architects, carpenters, harness makers, dental technicians, bone setters and so on. But none was as important as a mid-wife. After all, mid-wives dealt with situations which could easily escalate into life and death situations. It was an awesome responsibility for a lady to take on a mid-wife role because she knew that the “expecting” family realized that they were entrusting the mother-to-be and the child-to-be into her hands. Any miscalculation or lapse of concentration could result in the death of mother or child or both. It took an individual of uncommon resolve and self confidence with nerves of steel yet displaying outward tenderness to successfully fulfill the mid-wife role. Dunya helped deliver babies into the 1940’s. My cousin Timofey was delivered by Dunya in the early ’40’s in the family bedroom with nothing more then helpers, hot water from the kitchen, plenty of clean towels and a boundless supply of tenderness and comfort.

Uncle Ivan and his beloved Kosha are gone now. I can only regret that I did not take the time to interview him about the early days of the CCUB. Why didn’t I plumb the depths of his philosophy of life or his understanding of the Doukhobor way of life? I am certain he would have had wise contributions to make on these and other subjects because he thought deep, he thought clearly and he thought often. Also I can imagine what interesting experiences I could have recorded that Dunya had encountered in her role as a community benefactor.

As my Dad would say. I would like to kick my own behind if only I could reach.

Peter G. Makaroff, QC, Canada’s First Doukhobor Lawyer

by William H. McConnell

Peter G. Makaroff (1895-1970) came to Canada as a young boy with the Doukhobor migration in 1899. At that time, he could speak no English, but in less than twenty years, he became the first Doukhobor ever to graduate from a post-secondary educational institution. He went on to become one of Canada’s outstanding lawyers as well as a noted peacemaker and humanitarian. Throughout his life, he cherished his ties with his Russian culture, Doukhobor heritage and pacifist roots. He was a model to many Doukhobors as an educated, courageous and intelligent professional who was willing to help the underdog locally, nationally and internationally. The following article by William H. McConnell, reproduced by permission from Saskatchewan History (44, 1992, No. 3), traces the life and career of this Doukhobor role model who was always at his best working uphill against apparently impossible odds.

Peter G. Makaroff, whose family came to Canada with the first wave of Doukhobor immigration in 1899, was a pioneer in more ways than one. Brought to Canada from Transcaucasia at age five, with six brothers and sisters, after graduation in law from the University of Saskatchewan in 1918, he became the world’s first Doukhobor lawyer. He was the first member of his religion to serve on the University’s Board of Governors and to preside over the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board. In addition to his distinguished record of public service, he was also the founding member of one of Saskatoon’s principal law firms.

Peter’s father, Gregory, found communal life in the Doukhobor colony, which was ruled so strictly by Peter V. Verigin, to be oppressive and left to become an independent farmer. The migration of such dissidents gained momentum with more than a thousand “Independents” residing in the Prince Albert district shortly after 1908. While they still adhered to the main tenets of their faith, and continued to be fervent pacifists, the Independents rejected the authoritarian governmental structure of their leaders and abandoned the communal way of life. In 1916 the Society of Independent Doukhobors was organized with Peter soon becoming secretary of the new group. “Without adopting any of the pretensions of the leaders,” a leading work declares of the younger Makaroff, “he became the intellectual guide to those Doukhobors who had chosen the path of opposition to Peter Verigin but were not prepared to abandon entirely their loyalties to the sect.”

Doukhobor children brought to Pennsylvania by the Quakers in 1902 for education. Peter Markaroff appears in the front centre (with cap). Swarthmore College Collection.

 
As an independent farmer in the Blaine Lake district of Saskatchewan, Gregory Makaroff sent his children to the German-English Academy (later Rosthern Junior College) at Rosthern, which was located about twenty-five miles distant from the farm. Peter’s early inspiration came from one of his teachers, Professor Michael Sherbinin, a Russian nobleman from St. Petersburg, fluent in several languages, from another teacher, Ella Martin, a Presbyterian, from George McCraney, Liberal MP for Rosthern, and from Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was both prime minister and a distinguished lawyer. The Quakers (a community of whom resided near Borden) provided financial assistance for the education of young Doukhobors, and Peter was sent to Philadelphia to continue his schooling among them, later enrolling in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan. By that time Peter Verigin had taken half of the original Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan to the Kootenay area of British Columbia where he had bought 15,000 acres of land.

But who were the Doukhobors of whom the Makaroffs were members? There was no formal ministry nor sacraments within the Doukhobor religion, which broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the early eighteenth century. Adherents held that God dwelt within all his children, and that formal communion, preaching or prayers were unnecessary. One writer has described their religion as follows:

The Doukhobors were a priestless religious group, whose faith centred on the belief that every man carried within him the Divine Spark of the Holy Spirit. The Doukhobors were pacifists who believed that each person was a temple of the Holy Spirit. The destruction of human life was therefore regarded as a grievous sin. Their belief in the presence of the Holy Spirit led to their reliance on expressions of the Spirit (prophecies, worshipful praise and song) rather than on the written word. By the 1800s, a heritage of psalms and prayers, called the Living Book, was passed on orally from generation to generation.

With women and men separated by a central aisle in their unadorned meeting houses, believers would make simple professions of faith, much as the Quakers did elsewhere, along with reciting psalms and singing hymns. When Peter Makaroffs family and others destroyed their firearms in 1895, refused to be conscripted into the Army and resolved never to go to war, they experienced ostracism and persecution. The pacifistic character of the religion, emphasizing non-violence and universal brotherhood, brought them into collision with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist bureaucracy. The demands of the faith presented a hard test to many Doukhobors and not all of them remained steadfast, with some relapsing into the Russian mainstream.

The elder Verigin, a man of impressive charm and presence, known to his flock as “Peter the Lordly,” succeeded his mentor, Lukeria V. Kalmykova, as leader of the Doukhobors on her death in 1886. The military conscription policy, which was so contrary to their principles, having been introduced more than a decade earlier in Russia proper, was unexpectedly extended to the Caucasus region in 1887. In the same year, Verigin was exiled to Shenkursk, Siberia, where he met with other refugees and was deeply influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s philosophical anarchism, which was infused with a vein of non-doctrinal Christian pacifism very similar to that of the Doukhobors. Verigin increasingly promoted Tolstoyan tenets among his followers, advocating “non-resistance to evil,” and enjoining them not to swear oaths, eat meat, drink, smoke, or submit to military conscription.

After further persecution, the Tsarist government finally gave the Doukhobors permission to emigrate to Canada, in which they were assisted by royalties from their benefactor, Leo Tolstoy, derived from the sale of his novel, Resurrection, published in 1898. The Russian authorities admonished them that they, alone, would be responsible for their travelling expenses, that those (including Peter Verigin) who had been exiled to Siberia, or who had been called up for military service should finish their terms before leaving, and warned them that if they returned they would be banished to Siberia. The Canadian government, which was then implementing the “Sifton immigration policy” to populate the West, was grateful to receive as immigrants such hardworking agricultural settlers and as a concession to their religious scruples passed an Order-in-Council and a consequential statutory provision exempting them from future military service.

Some 7,500 Doukhobors then congregated at the Georgian port of Batum, departing for Canada in four shiploads over a seven-month period, the first immigrants embarking on the S.S. Lake Huron in late December, 1898. The fare to Winnipeg was twenty-two dollars for each passenger. After the arduous transits to Halifax and Saint John, New Brunswick, the new arrivals went overland to colonies in the Yorkton area of Assiniboia and the Duck Lake area of Saskatchewan, to a reservation of homestead land having an aggregate total of 773,400 acres. Their leader, Peter V. Verigin, arrived in Canada only on 16 December 1902, after completing nearly sixteen years of Siberian exile.

Because of the young Makaroff’s command of Russian, he was frequently in demand as a translator in Saskatchewan courts, which served a polyglot community arriving in the province before the First World War. Once, when Judge J.A. McClean of the Battleford District Court refused to allow a Doukhobor to take an oath, allegedly because the sect was not Christian and did not believe in the Bible, Makaroff, who was present, jumped to his feet and, proclaiming himself to be a Doukhobor, asserted that his co-religionists were indeed Christians, and that although it was against their principles to swear oaths, the witness could make an affirmation if allowed to do so. McClean sternly admonished Makaroff to sit down, asking him to speak to him after the court adjourned. Afterwards the judge spoke very softly and kindly to the young man, admitting that he personally knew few Doukhobors and encouraging Peter to become a lawyer to promote better understanding. Makaroff did study law at the University of Saskatchewan, graduating in 1918. He helped to defray expenses by waiting on tables in the residences, and participated extensively in athletics. He also got to know well another law student and future prime minister, John Diefenbaker, who graduated one year later. The two remained friendly although their political philosophies diverged sharply as time wore on. Another acquaintance, Helen Marshall, a non-Doukhobor who graduated in arts and science in the same year that Makaroff graduated in law, two years later became his wife.

Peter Makaroff in University of Saskatchewan football uniform, 1916. Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-B6510.

Prior to his death, Judge McClean had given instructions that his extensive law library be sold to his young acquaintance, as a result of which Makaroff acquired a valuable reference library for five hundred dollars. He began his professional practice in the Canada Building in Saskatoon in July, 1918, and was soon taking cases to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. A year later he was joined by Arthur L. Bates, the firm practicing under the style of Makaroff and Bates until the Second World War period.

Because of the Doukhobors’ preference for a simple life close to nature and their aversion to “worldly” education and the learned professions, Makaroff’s admission to the Bar was unprecedented in his religious community and he was sometimes described as the first certified professional in the sect’s two hundred and fifty year history. Far from this estranging him from his fellow believers, he was admired by most Doukhobors for his educational qualifications and marked legal abilities, and they often turned to him for advice, especially during recurrent crises. Although his legal practice was a cosmopolitan one, he always sought to help his own community whenever he could and was only the first of many Doukhobors to attend the University of Saskatchewan.

In one of his earlier cases, Prescesky v. Can. Nor. Ry., decided in 1923, Makaroff’s talent for cross-examination was apparent. His client, a young farmer, had been run down by the defendant’s locomotive at a level railway crossing, with counsel for the railway arguing that the train had given the required signal for such crossings – two long and two short blasts of the whistle with continuous ringing of the bell for each crossing – before the accident took place. Makaroff’s client was non-suited at the first trial, but the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial at which the sole point in contention was whether the requisite warning had been given. Railway counsel from Winnipeg sought to reinforce his already-strong evidence by calling the section foreman’s wife, who claimed that she could survey from her back porch railway track for a distance of four miles, including the site of the accident. Makaroff did not believe that she had actually seen the accident, and proceeded to cross-examine on that assumption. His strategy was risky, however, and could backfire, since if he were mistaken she might take the opportunity to further confirm her evidence. Makaroff decided to test her on the critical question:

Q. You say you actually stood there and heard the whistle blow four times, from the time it passed your cottage until it stopped at the accident?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Once for each crossing?

A. Sure, that’s just what I said.

Q. You mean you heard four blasts?

A. That is right.

Q. One blast for each of the four crossings?

A. Yes, that’s exactly what I said. That’s just what I heard.

The young counsel for the plaintiff then saw the jury smile and whisper to each other. His successful client later moved from Saskatoon to Vancouver, where he entered commercial life and acquired a substantial fortune.

In the early days of Makaroff’s legal career, public opinion in the province was often intolerant of immigrants of Central and East European origin, and in this respect the Law Society was no different from other organizations. On 30 June 1930, for example, Luseland barrister Frank E. Jaenicke wrote Makaroff referring to a recent entry in the Law Society Gazette stating, “efforts should be made to limit those entering the legal profession to persons of British extraction.” Mr. Jaenicke added that most of the names of those reprimanded or struck off the rolls for non-ethical conduct were of non-British origin, and he suspected that “most of the Benchers were Tories.” Makaroff replied that “at the Bar Convention here the same matter was brought up by [former Dean of Law Arthur] Moxon, seconded by [Stewart] McKercher, but before the motion was put, Mr. [H. E.] Sampson, who was the only Bencher present, got up on his feet, and tendered a very lame apology for the action of the Benchers. He gave the assurance that everything possible would be done… to correct the unfavourable impression.” A weakened motion was then passed by the Bar convention urging rectification of the matter as soon as possible.” Later in the same letter Makaroff added “… I do not give a penny for the attitude of the members of the profession towards me, but I do object to that spirit or sentiment being shared by the judiciary, which undoubtedly will be, unless something happens in the immediate future to check the tendency” In a further letter he mentioned the need for more “broad-minded and tolerant” Benchers, suggesting that more influence might be exerted by lawyers of like mind to elect such Benchers at the next Law Society election.

The Canadian authorities became increasingly critical of a small breakaway sect, the Sons of Freedom, which had formed soon after the Doukhobors arrived in Canada and the activities of which were not representative of a substantial majority of the members of the religion:

However exotic the more violent actions of the Sons of Freedom, the zealot wing of the Doukhobors, may appear to us, it is sobering to reflect that none of these extreme types of behaviour—nudism, arson, dynamiting—was part of the Doukhobor pattern of life before the sect reached Canada. Fire-raisers and nude paraders have never represented more than a small majority of an otherwise peaceful (indeed pacifist) community, anxious only to live according to its own beliefs.

In practice, however, nice logical distinctions between the mainstream Doukhobor movement and the Sons of Freedom were not always made. The peaceful majority were often confused by the public with their more zealous coreligionists, and suffered persecution along with the minority.

With the election of Conservative leader, Dr. J.T.M. Anderson, to the premiership in 1929, increasing strife developed between the Saskatchewan government and the local Doukhobor community. Between 1929 and 1931, twenty-five Saskatchewan schools were burned in Doukhobor areas around Kamsack and Canora, resulting in some arrests and imprisonments. Coincident with the arson and civil disobedience, plummeting world wheat prices adversely affected the communal economy, creating a mood of demoralization among Doukhobors which tended to increase the unrest.

In October 1924, the life of the elder Verigin had come to an untimely end when he and eight others were blown up in a railway carriage near Grand Forks, British Columbia. The mystery of his death has never been solved. Difficult adjustments were necessary after the arrival of Verigin’s son, Peter P. Verigin, from the USSR in 1927. The new leader was described by Makaroff as something of an enigma:

“…No one was sure whether he was a saint or devil or just a plain madman. He was very brilliant. He had a tremendous memory, but at the same time I think he was really a psychopath. From the day he arrived from Russia he became involved in one litigation after another. He was in and out of jail for assaults, for creating disturbances, for what not. He was quite an alcoholic and when under the influence of liquor he was absolutely beyond control. His headquarters were at Verigin near Yorkton. He became so rowdy when staying in one hotel after another that he would be chucked out of there and not allowed to come back, so he goes to work and builds his own hotel. He wasn’t there on more than one occasion before he was prohibited from going back into his own hotel.”

Dr. Anderson and Conservative Prime Minister, R.B. Bennett, were persuaded that Peter P. Verigin was the source of much of the trouble affecting the Doukhobors and decided to take action. In 1932 Verigin had been sentenced to eighteen months in the Prince Albert penitentiary for perjury and tampering with a witness in a disputed land sale agreement the previous year. They decided to spirit him out of Canada with the least publicity possible.

Neither Bennett nor Anderson had much sympathy for immigrants of non-British origin, particularly those who might be tinged with “radical sympathies” or were deemed to have engaged in political agitation against the state. Enacted by Borden’s Union Government during the Red Scare of 1919, section 98 of the Criminal Code visited with up to twenty years’ imprisonment members of vaguely-defined “unlawful associations,” one of whose purposes was to bring about political change by unlawful means. Pursuant to Bennett’s policy “of having ‘no truck nor trade’ with the Soviet Union, and placing an ‘iron heel’ on Socialism and Communism,” the notorious trial of the Toronto Communists (several of whom had Slavic names) was held in November 1931, with the above provision being described by McGill law professor, Frank R. Scott, as “unequalled in the history of Canada and probably any British country for centuries past,” for its permanent restriction of civil liberties. One of the first acts of the succeeding Mackenzie King administration, in fact, was to repeal the egregious section 98.

Among other illiberal acts, Prime Minister Bennett had also amended the Criminal Code to raise the penalty for parading while nude to three years’ imprisonment, a measure obviously aimed at the Doukhobors, and amended the Dominion Franchise Act in 1934 so as to deprive Doukhobors in British Columbia of the right to vote in federal elections. For his part, in 1929-1930, Premier Anderson advised the federal government that further Russian and Mennonite immigration into the province was not wanted, adding that he “doubted if these 5,000 people really were starving outside the gates of Moscow,” as claimed. His government also abolished the use of the French language in grade one of the public schools. It was in this era that the Ku Klux Klan was active in Saskatchewan, with the premier extolling the value of “British” immigration and institutions, a point which the Klan made in a less refined manner.

Thus, Bennett and Anderson being in accord in the final days of January, 1933, two plainclothes agents from Ottawa arrived in Prince Albert, showed the warden a document pardoning Verigin, and whisked the latter swiftly and silently away to Halifax. Anderson and Bennett obviously wished to speed the Doukhobor leader out of the country before his followers and legal counsel could intervene on his behalf.

This ploy almost succeeded. By chance, however, the Prince Albert correspondent of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix learned of the impending deportation and telephoned her city editor, who in turn telephoned a startled Makaroff; when the latter spoke to Verigin’s subordinates they were insistent that no effort or expense be spared to save their leader from deportation.

Neither Prime Minister Bennett nor the immigration authorities would accede to Makaroff’s request to hold Verigin in Winnipeg so that he could interview his client. With time elapsing quickly, the situation was becoming desperate. Makaroff then embarked on a bold chase. He took the train to Winnipeg and then travelled by air to Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and Boston. Finding that there were no flights between Boston and Halifax, he chartered a small private plane which took off at three o’clock in the morning of the day that Verigin was to be deported, flying over the Bay of Fundy without instruments. The pilot flew at a high altitude in order to avoid the treacherous downdrafts in the area and, fortunately, the flight proceeded without incident.

Russian postcard sent to John G. Bondoreff by S. Reibin and Peter Makaroff written in flight, 2 February 1933. “In view of the fact that Petyushka will be sent off the morning of 4 February and in order to see him before deportation, [we]…are flying at 130 miles per hour…” Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-A292.

Makaroff arrived in Halifax on Saturday morning shortly before the S.S. Montcalm was scheduled to depart with Verigin for Russia. He met with a frigid reception when he was brought to Verigin’s cell. Since Verigin had previously threatened to end his life, Makaroff approached the interview with some uneasiness. The Doukhobor chieftain did not appear surprised at seeing his former counsel with two other Doukhobors, but as Peter Makaroff described the encounter later to John G. Bondoreff, one of the leader’s aides: “The minute he saw the three of us as he entered the room, he immediately swung around and ran back to his cell. The officer in charge came back and said that he would not see the other two at all but wanted to speak to me.”

Because of Verigin’s death threat, Makaroff was surprised by his relatively cordial behavior towards him. He attributed Verigin’s “frequently offensive and insulting attitude” towards those around him to his hopelessness at remaining in the country, noting particularly his incivility towards Lionel Ryan, one of Makaroff’s Halifax agents.

At first Verigin advised Makaroff that he wanted no help at all, cursing all those responsible for the belated legal intervention. There was, moreover, little time to confer. It was already eleven o’clock and the Court House, where habeas corpus proceedings (ie. proceedings to determine whether a prisoner has been imprisoned lawfully) were to be instituted, was to close in two hours. In these difficult circumstances, Makaroff was able to have the hearing deferred until late February. There was at least a reprieve!

When his counsel asked Verigin whether, in lieu of deportation, he would prefer to go back to Prince Albert to finish the remainder of his jail sentence, he was met with “a long line of profanity to the effect that he had no fear of Canadian jails whatsoever. I interpreted that as instructions to do all I could to save him and told him I would do that. He pretended not to care, but his appearance contradicted his pretence.” Following this exchange, Makaroff related that Verigin “gave me every cooperation… to present his case before the Court,” adding, however, “… it would be impossible to describe in any detail his many insane tantrums… during our month’s stay there”

After these rather equivocal instructions to counsel, Makaroff applied for habeas corpus on his client’s behalf. Much of the argument before Mr. Justice Mellish centred around the instrument dated 20 January 1933, and signed by the Governor-General, Lord Bessborough, which read in part: “He is to be deported to Russia when released from custody… .” The relevant section of the Immigration Act, however, provided that an inmate could be deported only after his sentence or term of imprisonment “has expired,” and Mellish held that Verigin’s sentence had not “expired” within the meaning of that section. Roughly half of Verigin’s sentence had still to run and “he has the right if he chooses to take the limit of time allowed him before deportation…. If the prisoner is pardoned conditionally he has the right to refuse the pardon if he is unwilling to accept the conditions. If the prisoner has been pardoned (and I do not think he could be discharged from prison except in exercise of the power of pardon) he cannot in my opinion be deported.” Since Verigin had been unlawfully detained, Mellish ordered that his petition be granted and that he be released from custody.

Had the case been heard a few weeks later it is probable that the results would have been different. Verigin was a very fortunate man. One month after Mellish’s decision, the Supreme Court of Canada decided, contrary to the Nova Scotia judgment, that the prerogative of mercy could be exercised by the Crown to release a prisoner without his consent prior to the termination of his sentence. After such a pardon, moreover, his sentence could be considered to have “expired,” enabling the government to deport him under the statutory provision applying in Verigin’s case. Since the Supreme Court decision would bind all lower courts throughout Canada, had it been in effect during the Halifax proceedings, Mellish would have been constrained to decide the case against Verigin. Four months later, in Winnipeg, the federal authorities again attempted to deport Verigin, but they were frustrated this time because the local court found that, whatever statutory provisions might apply, there had not been a “fair hearing.” The government certainly seemed determined to get rid of the Doukhobor leader.

Because Makaroff was not a member of the Nova Scotia Bar, he had to engage two Halifax agents, J.J. Power, K.C., and Lionel Ryan, to present his client’s case in the local forum. He had dictated some of the affidavits over the telephone to them while en route to Halifax, and had planned much of the legal strategy. By agreement, Power was to have received a fee of five hundred dollars, but when the case was won he increased the amount, having Verigin arrested for debt under the archaic law of capias (used in England in Dickens’ time to send indigents to debtors’ prison) so that he would not abscond without settling accounts. Verigin perceived things differently. “God, through the instrumentality of Judge Mellish, released me from jail, only to be re-arrested and lodged back in jail by my own lawyer, Peter Makaroff. Send me $10,000 immediately in order to extricate me from the toils of the law again.” On learning that his ruse was detected, Verigin began railing once more. Makaroff then left town, catching up with Verigin in Winnipeg where the latter apologized to him.

Reflecting wryly about the case some years later, Makaroff recalled that he had received his appointment as King’s Counsel in 1932 from the Anderson government in part for his efforts at quelling some of the more rambunctious antics of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors. His victory in Halifax spoke well of the solicitude of the Canadian justice system for a member of an unpoular minority. Nevertheless, he sometimes wondered what Anderson and Bennett really thought about his return of Verigin to the province in 1933. He was able to see the comic as well as the more serious aspects of the transcontinental chase involving one of the world’s most colorful religious personalities. Because of the high drama of the incident, it attracted much interest in the international press.

Another series of trials of roughly the same vintage, in which Makaroff served as defence counsel, occurred after the Regina riot of 1 July 1935. The riot was the culminating episode of the On-to-Ottawa trek by a trainload of unemployed young men proceeding to the national capital to seek the help of the Conservative prime minister. When R.B. Bennett ordered the trek halted at Regina, the RCMP attempted to clear the trekkers out of Market Square, resulting in an ugly confrontation and a clash between the police and the militants with one death, much loss of property and many injuries.

In the climate of antagonism towards “political agitators” in mid-Depression times, public sympathy was clearly on the side of “law and order.” When the trekkers were put individually on trial, Makaroff was called in as defence counsel, later enlisting Emmett M. Hall, Q.C., of Saskatoon (a future Supreme Court of Canada judge) to assist with the defence. Makaroff’s assessment of the accuseds’ prospects was bleak: “The whole atmosphere was charged with hostility against the prisoners and there was slight hope of freeing any of them. Nevertheless, we fought every case all the way as they came up.” Hall later said that he and Makaroff “were pretty well isolated as far as the Regina Bar was concerned.”

Chaos during the Regina Riot, 1935. City of Regina Photograph Collection.

The legal combination of Democratic Socialist and Red Tory did all they could, however, for their beleaguered and unpopular clients. Makaroff was threatened with contempt-of-court on several occasions by the presiding judge, Mr. Justice J.F.L. Embury, when he compared the climactic assembly of trekkers in Market Square to discuss their survival with a meeting of bank directors. “Who do you think would be on trial today,” he typically asked the juries, “if the police violently and without any warning broke into a bank boardroom and clobbered the heads of the directors as they did the trekkers on trial before you?” This invocation of the spectre of class warfare and the solicitude of the police and courts for the property-owning elite, of course, was more likely to appeal to a Marxist seminar than to a right-wing judge and jurors apprehensive for their lives and property. Most of the trekkers received sentences in Prince Albert provincial jail, and many of them frankly welcomed the prospect of regular meals and accommodation, however meagre, over looking for non-existent jobs on the outside.

Coming from a Doukhobor background with its communal ethic of mutual help and sharing, especially in times of economic adversity, it is understandable that Makaroff would be attracted to the more radical wing of the Progressive party in the 1920s and to the Farmer-Labour, CCF and NDP parties in later decades. He did not agree with every policy of these left-leaning movements, however, and as a pacifist supported CCF leader, J.S. Woodsworth, in his opposition to Canada’s participation in war in 1939, a position that the mainstream CCF rejected. In one ofWoodsworth’s letters to Makaroff coinciding with the onset of the Second World War, the CCF leader enclosed a copy of the United College perodical, Vox, with an article by him containing a sentiment they would both share: “For me the teachings of Jesus are absolutely irreconcilable with the advocacy of war.” Peter disdained alike fascism and Communism, but manifested on the international plane a Tolstoyan stance of non-resistance to evil.

Peter’s first foray into politics was as a Farmer-Labour candidate in the Shellbrook constituency in the Saskatchewan provincial election of 1934. When such a staunch Conservative as North Battleford lawyer Ariel F. Sallows wrote to congratulate him on his nomination, adding that if he were beaten he hoped it would be by a Tory, Makaroff replied, “if my defeat is dependent on the realization of your hope, then I am as good as elected.” He was prescient in this case, since although he lost to a Liberal, he secured many more votes than his Conservative opponent. In this mid-Depression election he unavailingly trained his guns on the bankers and financial magnates who were impoverishing ordinary people by imposing extortionate interest rates and foreclosing mort­gages, declaring that there was no difference between the two older parties which always supported the economic establishment.

Makaroff’s only successful campaign for public office resulted in his single term on Saskatoon City Council in 1939-1940. Here, as always, he stressed the need for helping the less privileged sector of society. In a multilingual community having many immigrant families of Central and East European origin, he told Council that something should be done to amend the Old Age Pensions Act, which debarred those not speaking English or French from receiving pensions – thirteen such persons were on local relief rolls, he added. There was also an animated exchange between him and other aldermen when Council voted to abolish the Clothing Relief Bureau which supplied used clothing to those in need. One applicant, Makaroff said, was refused suitable clothing by the Bureau in which to bury his wife. He could wrap a scarf around her neck, he was told by the Bureau official, and in an enclosed coffin it was not necessary to have anything below that. “If that conversation took place it’s awful.” Alderman Caswell expostulated. “I don’t think it took place.” City Commissioner Andrew Leslie replied. “Well the woman was buried today,” said Makaroff, “and I can get an affidavit from the man any day I want it.”

Of overriding concern to Doukhobors, Mennonites, and pacifists generally was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s national plebiscite on 27 April 1942 in which he sought to be released from his pre-war pledge not to impose conscription on Canadians for compulsory overseas service. While Makaroff did not play a prominent part in the plebiscite debate, he used whatever influence he had on the “no” side. The plebiscite resulted in a lopsided 71.2 per cent majority in Quebec against releasing King from his undertaking, but in an over all Canadian majority of 63.7 per cent in favour of doing so. In Saskatoon, for example, where the pro-conscription vote was considerably higher than the national average, the “yes” majority amounted to 88.9 per cent of those voting. Accordingly, the ever-wary prime minister did nothing for two further years, and when his government finally did impose conscription for overseas service in 1944, it precipitated a national crisis. It is of some interest that in the Saskatoon region, where Makaroff s activities were centred, former University President Walter C. Murray was campaign chairman on the “yes” side, and Dean Fred Cronkite of the law school was a zone chairman.

An important wartime activity of Makaroff was advising Doukhobors on the intricacies of the National War Services Regulations, 1940 and similar laws and regulations. Since the Doukhobors had come to Canada originally under the Order-in-Council of 6 December 1898, exempting them from military service, they appeared prima facie not to be subject to the above Regulations. However, the matter was not entirely free from doubt. While section 18(1) of the Regulations exempted those professing “conscientious objections” for religious reasons, the onus fell on whomever claimed the benefit of the clause to provide their eligibility. Because Doukhobors were not expressly exempted from service in the Regulations, Makaroff had doubts about whether or not it applied, and told those asking, “… to be perfectly sure my advice is to comply with this provision of the act.” The Deputy Minister of National War Services, T.C. Davis, who conferred often with Makaroff, emphasized that to be eligible for exemption as a Doukhobor an applicant should be either a person referred to in the Order-in-Council of 1898, or the descendant of such a person; because of the Doukhobors’ objection to swearing oaths, however, an unsworn declaration in their case would be acceptable. A Doukhobor dentist from Canora was concerned about how his claim for exemption would be perceived: “If I register with the Doukhobors, as I know I should, will it not affect my professional position?” An engineer wondered about whether he was technically a British subject. Makaroff had many queries to answer.

A poignant sidelight is offered in a post-war letter that Makaroff addressed to conscientious objectors in the Rosthern federal by-election of 1948, when he ran as a CCF candidate:

“No doubt you still have a very clear memory of your unhappy days in the conscientious objector camp at Waskesiu during the last War. If so you will remember my son Robert who spent the winter and part of the summer there with you. Robert has since finished his medical course and is now a doctor at University Hospital in Edmonton, where he graduated about eighteen months ago.”

The letter emphasized the need for preventing another global war in the era of atomic weapons. Both Makaroff’s son, Robert, and daughter, Barbara, later developed flourishing medical practices.

In the wartime election of 26 March 1940, Makaroff was a CCF candidate in the federal riding of Rosthern, where there was a large Mennonite population, but he lost to Liberal Walter Tucker. Among speakers supporting him were University of Saskatchewan English professor and party activist, Carlyle King, and M.J. Coldwell, who in 1942 was to become leader of the CCF. Although Woodsworth was re-elected in Winnipeg North Centre in 1940, those who shared the pacifist sentiments of their ailing leader were rapidly losing ground and on 20 July 1940, Makaroff sent a letter to the provincial CCF convention in Regina resigning as the First Vice-President of the provincial party because he disagreed with the party’s endorsement of the war: “… By conviction I am a lifelong pacifist.” he said, “From childhood I have been steeped in the faith that it was against the will and example of the Prince of Peace for man to engage in the wholesale slaughter of his fellow man, including helpless innocent children, at the command of a superior officer.”

Doukhobor Conscientious Objectors’ camp at Montreal Lake, Saskatchewan, 1941. Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-B5475.

Although the rank-and-file of the party strongly endorsed the war effort, there was considerable understanding for Woodsworth’s and Makaroff’s pacifist position, and reconciliation when he again ran unsuccessfully in Rosthern in the 1948 by-election. He attributed his loss in the 1948 contest to Prince Albert merchant and farmer, W.A. Boucher, to “insufficient time and effort on my part;” other factors were poor organization and distribution of literature with the result that “at least six meetings were complete flops or had to be cancelled altogether.” He also charged that Liberals such as Jimmy Gardiner or Walter Tucker (who was vacating the Rosthern seat to become provincial Liberal leader) were intimidating voters by threatening to cut off family allowances and crop failure bonuses if Makaroff won. Overall, Makaroff’s record in the electoral arena was not good, but he often had to fight against the tide in difficult constituencies and he never seemed reluctant to undertake an uphill battle.

Makaroff was heartened in 1944 by the election of Tommy Douglas of the CCF as Premier of Saskatchewan and by the new government’s promotion of an array of social services including hospital insurance. Peter was an active proponent of publicly-funded medicine which he advocated in an article in the local newspaper: “It is obvious that individual or group insurance is not the answer for Saskatchewan to this urgent and perplexing problem, since nearly one-half of our people are penniless on attaining the age of sixty-five and the average family’s income is probably lower today than it was in 1936 when it was $577.” Makaroff strongly approved of Saskatchewan’s pioneering efforts in this area, including Canada’s first medicare plan as implemented by the governments of T.C. Douglas and Woodrow Lloyd in 1961-1962.

Peter’s appointment to the University’s Board of Governors after the War was strenuously opposed by the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, a resolution of which sharply criticized him as being “widely known throughout Saskatchewan for extreme pacifist views and for opposition to Canada’s active participation in the war.” The same resolution criticized his son Robert for seeking military exemption. Another of Makaroff’s appointments was as chairman of the Saskatch­ewan Labour Relations Board in which capacity he presided with ability over the Board for more than a decade, having served as counsel at first instance for employees claiming to have been wrongfully dismissed in the celebrated John East case, which established that the provincially-appointed Board was not usurping the functions of a superior court and was validly constituted.

In 1948 when the Judicial Committee in London was still Canada’s highest court, Makaroff represented Saskatchewan in an appeal in England challenging the CPR’s exemption from taxation within provincial boundaries. The provincial argument was, in part, that the constitutional incapacity to tax detracted from the postulated equality of the provinces, but Their Lordships decided against the province, finding that there was no paradigm of exact provincial equality in the Canadian Constitution. Was it purely fortuitous that the Canadian Parliament abolished overseas appeals in the following year?

Peter Makaroff addresses crowd at the dedication of Petrofka Ferry as a Saskatchewan Historic Site, 1959. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

Throughout the 1950s Makaroff continued his extensive law practice as the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, particularly in British Columbia, carried on their protests against various government measures. At the climax of one series of demonstrations in 1962, Independent Liberal Senator Donald Cameron suggested that the B.C. Sons of Freedom be placed on a reservation on one of the Queen Charlotte Islands and provided with vocational and agricultural training “to rescue them from their maladjustment.” In replying to Senator Cameron, Makaroff objected to his description of the Sons of Freedom as Doukhobors—”they have nothing to do with the Doukhobor faith,” but showed otherwise keen interest in his proposal. “Your thought that with suitable help and encouragement they might be established somewhere as a self-supporting community to live decently and in peace on some island,” he wrote the legislator, “or say, in the Peace River Region, accords with my views and deserves, I feel, a most serious consideration by the authorities concerned.” Since the Senator’s appointment was from Alberta, there could have been some irony in Makaroff’s suggestion that the Sons of Freedom be settled in the Peace River district.

When Roger Carter was one of the younger partners in Makaroff’s firm he recalls an occasion during which the latter was arguing a difficult case before Mr. Justice C.S. Davis in Prince Albert, and was ordered by the judge to desist
from broaching a certain matter which Makaroff considered to be crucial. When he persisted, nevertheless, he was fined $500 for contempt-of-court by Davis, whereupon he reached for his wallet in his back pocket, asking the judge whether he wanted the amount “in cash or in kind” The incident occurred during Diefenbaker’s term of office as prime minister, and when his fellow law student of thirty-five years ago called at the prime minister’s railway carriage, Diefenbaker noticeably warmed to Peter when he learned of what had happened earlier in the day. Diefenbaker and Davis were old foes, once having had a roundhouse fight in the Prince Albert court house.

In the early 1960s the style of Peter’s firm was Makaroff, Carter, Surtees and Sherstobitoff, but his partners, while maintaining their highest regard for him, gradually left for other pursuits. Carter went on to a professorship at the law school in Saskatoon, taking graduate work at Michigan and serving as Dean of Law from 1968 to 1974. Carter was also a founder of the University’s Native Law Centre in 1973, receiving an honorary doctorate from Queen’s in recognition of this accomplishment. Another colleague, Leslie A. Surtees, left to become a magistrate in Swift Current. Nicholas Sherstobitoff remained with the firm longer, and after an extensive practice in labour and administrative law was appointed to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in the early 1980s, becoming the highest ranking Doukhobor on any Canadian court. Like Makaroff, he had also presided earlier over the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board.

Until his death in 1971, true to his Doukhobor principles, Makaroff sought to promote international peace and goodwill through his membership in organizations like the World Federalists. He strongly supported Bill Sherstobitoff (the father of the above judge) when he sent a telegram on 19 May 1963, on behalf of the Doukhobor Society of Saskatoon, urging the Canadian government and parliamentarians not to acquire nuclear weapons. The Pearson government had changed its position in this issue, and later in the year did accept Bomarc missiles at RCAF bases at North Bay, Ontario, and La Macaza, Quebec. To the end of his life Makaroff continued to be esteemed for his steadfast adherence to principle, sometimes at considerable personal cost, and had the respect of many persons of goodwill who did not share those principles.

Peter Makaroff (far right) attending the International Meeting for Peace at the Manitoba-North Dakota border, 1966. Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

A person of strong idealism and great intellectual vigour, Peter Makaroff was a natural leader of the Independent Doukhobor movement. He achieved great distinction in his chosen profession. While he was strongly committed to traditional Doukhobor values of non-violence and brotherhood, he was not so much inclined, perhaps, to engage in Doukhobor religious services on a regular basis. For him the Doukhobor tradition was more something to be lived on a day-to-day basis, and its ideals of pacifism and sharing were also to be pursued m the political forum. He was admired by many of his fellow Doukhobors because of his valued professional counsel and activities, with one of his main services to his community being the rescue of Peter P. Verigin from deportation in 1933. He also reached out into the broader community and made friends in diverse sectors. The first Doukhobor graduate of the provincial university, he blazed a trail that many younger members of his religion followed later. It was very fitting that after his death in 1971 his ashes were strewn in the Petrovka area on the North Saskatchewan River where the Makaroffs had made their first Canadian home some seven decades earlier.

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

A History of the Perverseff Family

by Roger Phillips

Roger Phillips (1926-) was born in Tangleflags, Saskatchewan to Francis "Frank" Henry James Phillips, an English "remittance man", and Agatha J. Perverseff, a university-educated Doukhobor schoolteacher. At the age of nine, he moved with his mother to her parents home west of Blaine Lake. There, Roger enjoyed a typical Independent Doukhobor farmboy upbringing for the times, complete with hard work and responsibility. Nearly eighty years later, his Doukhobor heritage and upbringing has given Roger much to treasure and remember. His memoirs, reproduced here by permission from his book, “A History of the Phillips & Perverseff Families” provides an overview of his Perverseff family roots from their earliest origins through to their settlement on the Molochnaya, exile to the Caucasus and emigration to Canada – the ‘Promised Land’, as well as the family’s early pioneer years, and his own boyhood during the Depression.

Having introduced (my mother) Agatha into this narrative, the time is ripe to trace what is known of her early family history—one very different from (my father) Frank’s and sometimes quite turbulent. The Perverseffs (maternal line) belonged to a unique social entity. They were Doukhobors, a strongly pacifist social grouping driven by persecution in Mother Russia to migrate to Canada. I spent some time with my Perverseff grandparents as a little boy and young man and learned just enough Russian to grasp snatches of stories my Grandmother told. I refer to my grandparents now as John and Lucille, but in Russian they were Vanya and Lusha; to me they were Dyeda and Babushka. They and my Mother were my bridges to the past.

Family Origins

Scholarly sources state that the Russian surname Pereverzev (transcribed as Perverseff or Pereverseff in Canada) originates from the Russian verb pereverziti meaning “to muddle” or “to distort”. One may suppose that an early ancestor acquired this term as a nickname, which in turn was passed on to his forebears. The exact reason for such a nickname is unknown. It might be complimentary or insulting, or even ironic depending on circumstance and the individual concerned.

I recall that Russia’s Perm region, some 700 miles east of Moscow, was often alluded to by the family, for there my Pereverzev forebears purportedly dwelled and toiled until the 1700’s. Lusha had heard folk tales but the intercession of tumultuous events had insinuated themselves between her memory and that long-ago time so the connection was at best tenuous. Nevertheless, that is the first historical hint we have.

Were one to fall back on an imagination sprinkled with elusive wisps of hearsay to pierce the mists of centuries, he might conjure up images of his village-dwelling ancestors herding sheep and cattle on the steppes of Perm gubernia (province) or meeting in sobranya (a primarily religious gathering) to foster a burgeoning pacifist faith which by the 1700s was already balking against an increasingly stifling church orthodoxy and corrupt priesthood.

The Molochnaya and Caucasian Exile

If, indeed, Perm was an ancestral home, my antecedents had left it long before the migration made to the Molochnye Vody (Milky Waters) region of Tavria Province on the Crimean frontier just north of the Sea of Azov. Doukhobor researcher Jon Kalmakoff’s accessing of Russian archives reveals that the Pereverzev family in the later 1700s lived in Ekaterinoslav province, migrating about 1801 to land along or near the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province, Russia (present day Zaporozhye province, Ukraine) where they lived in Rodionovka village, farming adjoining land for some forty years. There were eight other Doukhobor villages scattered along the river and adjoining lake known as Molochnaya.

In 1845, a Pereverzev family and other Doukhobors were exiled to the forbidding Zakavkaz (Transcaucasian) region. Wild Asiatic tribes occupied this mountainous, inhospitable region and Tsar Nikolai I, hitherto unable to rehabilitate what he considered to be an incorrigible sect, opined that these mountain tribes would soon teach the Doukhobors a lesson or, better still, remove altogether this thorn from his side.

Kalmakoff, a Regina-based researcher, accessed long-forgotten Russian archives and found that the family patriarch, Vasily Mikhailovich Pereverzev, together with his wife Maria, was listed among the Doukhobors exiled to the Caucasus. His parents and siblings did not accompany him.

Seduced, one might posit, by a growing prosperity that looked askance at being driven into unpleasant exile, his parents and siblings demurred to Orthodoxy and pronounced allegiance to the Tsar. The parents were Mikhailo (b. 1802), and Maria (b. 1802); his siblings, Ilya Mikhailovich (b.1827), Pelegea Mikhailovna (b. 1828), Semyon Mikhailovich (b. 1830), Fedosia Mikhailovna (b. 1832), Irena Mikhailovna (b. 1834), Evdokia Mikhailovna (b. 1837), Evdokim Mikhailovich (b. 1839), Ivan Mikhailovich (b. 1841) and Anna Mikhailovna (b. 1843).

Ivan Vasilyevich Pereverzev (left) and unidentified Doukhobor relatives in Gorelovka village, Kars province, Russia, c. 1890.

So it was that as the middle of the Nineteenth Century approached, my maternal Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Vasily Mikhailovich Pereverzev had grown up and chosen to go into exile with his wife Maria and their two sons rather than bow to Orthodox Church and Tsarist pressure.

Their sons were Ivan Vasilyevich, to whom our branch of the Perverseffs traces our lineage, and Fyodor Vasilyevich, who founded the Fred, Andrew, and Alexander Perverseff lines. Their father, Vasily, was the only one of his line of Pereverzevs to accompany those Doukhobors who stood firm by their faith and were banished from their Molochnaya settlements between 1841 and 1845.

In the Caucasus, the Pereverzevs settled in Novo-Goreloye village in Elizavetpol province (in present-day Azerbaijan), one of four Doukhobor villages established in that province of Transcaucasian Russia.

Harsh Living Conditions

Ivan Vasilyevich, my Great-Great-Grandfather and son of the patriarch Vasily, married in the mid-1850s and his wife Aksinya bore him a son Vasily in 1859. In 1880 this son Vasily married Elizaveta Lapshinov and they had a son, my Grandfather Ivan Vasilyevich in 1883 and two daughters.

The Pereverzevs along with their fellow Doukhobors in Elizavetpol province found life harsh. Fleeting summers squeezed between frost-bitten springs and falls and deep winter snows contrasted sharply with the pleasing milder climate their elders had known in the Molochnaya region. Subsistence was based mainly on cattle and sheep raising, market gardening, and what little wheat could be grown. There was something else. An undercurrent of fear shadowed the Elizavetpol villages, with good reason.

Asiatic hill country tribesmen would occasionally swoop down on horseback on the Doukhobor villages, plundering livestock and poultry and, reputedly, even carrying off children. The hillsmen’s depredations were tempered somewhat by the retributive countering of armed Doukhobors riding out to punish the raiders. Circumstances soon offered many Elizavetpol Doukhobor families an opportunity to leave.

Aksinya Pereverzeva in Gorelovka village, Kars province, Russia, c. 1894. Her loyalty to Verigin’s Large Party resulted in a Pereverzev family schism in 1886.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, Doukhobor men were enlisted as teamsters for the Russian Army – a compromise from being actual combatants and a lucrative arrangement made by the then-Doukhobor leader Lukeria Kalmykova. The Doukhobor teamsters served faithfully and their efforts helped Russia emerge victorious from the conflict. As a reward, the Doukhobors in Elizavetpol and other areas were invited to settle in the more temperate and fertile province of Kars, newly-conquered from the Ottoman Empire. Many Doukhobors accepted, including the Pereverzevs.

The Pereverzevs’ migration to Kars in 1880 took them through Tiflis (later Tbilisi, Georgia), a city Grandmother Lusha sometimes mentioned when talking about life in Kars. Once in Kars, the Pereverzevs settled in the village of Gorelovka, named after their former home in Elizavetpol. It was one of six Doukhobor villages established in the province. There, they would live and prosper for the next nineteen years.

A Pereverzev family schism occurred in 1886 when the Doukhobor leader Lukeria (Lushechka) Vasilyevna Kalmykova died. Many Doukhobors decided to follow Petr Vasilyevich Verigin, who had been a protégé of hers, and formed what became known as the “Large Party”. Other Doukhobors maintained that Lushechka had not anointed Peter and instead sided with her officials who claimed Verigin usurped the leadership. Individuals of this persuasion established themselves as the “Small Party”. My Great-Great-Grandmother, Aksinya, was by all accounts a loyal Large Party adherent while her husband Ivan Vasilyevich sided with the Small Party. Sadly, the ill feelings this rift created forced the elderly couple to vacate the family home.

In his later years, Ivan Vasilyevich Pereverzev was a village starshina – a dignitary we would today call a mayor. His son Vasily Ivanovich became a trader as well as farmer, herdsman, and carpenter and, years later, related that on his trading expeditions he found Christian Armenian shopkeepers the most hospitable of the merchants he encountered in the Caucasus. Only after sharing a meal and an hour or two of pleasant conversation would they get down to mundane business.

Restrictions meant to better reflect their pacifism were imposed on the Large Party Doukhobors in the early 1890s, and the following obeyed Leader-in-Exile Petr Vasilyevich Verigin’s decree to forego smoking, drinking, sex, and eating meat. Late in 1894, Verigin wrote from banishment in Siberia that such denial would purify the body and bring into one fold all the animal kingdom in the Doukhobor pact of non-violence.

The Burning of Arms

A supreme test came in 1895 when Verigin ordered his followers to protest war and killing of any sort by burning their arms. This they did in dramatic fashion on the night of June 28-29. A bonfire near the villages of the Kars Doukhobors punctuated the darkness as guns and other killing instruments were put to the torch. As well, Doukhobors serving in the army laid down their rifles, refusing to kill for the state. Then it was that these folk felt the full fury of an enraged officialdom. The whippings and other means of persecution were brutal. Indeed, the “Burning of Arms”, as Doukhobor history records the event, became buried deep in the psyche of these people, a watershed act pointing them towards Canada and a new destiny.

Vasily Ivanovich (sitting) and his son Vanya (standing) Pereverzev pictured in typical Russian dress – a military style peaked cap, a coat tight at the waist and high boots. Gorelovka village, Kars province, Russia, c. 1894.

The Doukhobors wanted so little and yet so much. Above all they wished to peacefully pursue their faith, to be free to lead simple, non-violent, productive lives in a communal environment with “Toil and Peaceful Life” and “Thou Shalt Not Kill” their watchwords. Noble sentiments, indeed, but the Burning of Arms and Doukhobor soldiers rejecting the army were highly provocative acts inviting harsh reprisals by Tsarist officials. The persecution that followed seemed to leave no choice for many but to get out or perish.

Exodus to Canada

Their plight attracted worldwide attention. Journalists, writers and benefactors in several countries took up their cause. Not the least of these was the already famous Russian novelist and humanitarian Lev Tolstoy who, himself, embraced many Doukhobor ideals, becoming their staunchest ally. His financial contribution and towering talent as a writer did much to facilitate their move to Canada, an exodus that began December 21, 1898, when the first shipload left Russia. Their turn to depart set for some months later, the Pereverzevs and other villagers in Gorelovka, Kars Province, began selling off their possessions and preparing for their own departure. Overseeing preparations for our branch of the Pereverzevs was Vasily Ivanovich, now 40, who had helped shepherd the family through the harrowing times in Transcaucasia and the terrors following the Burning of Arms. He and his wife Elizaveta now had in their care a 16-year-old son, Ivan Vasilyevich, his wife Lusha, and two younger daughters, Dunya and Hanya. Ivan’s birth, on May 1, 1883, followed by two years that of Lusha (nee Negreeva). Under mutual arrangements and approving eyes Ivan and Lusha were married in 1898.

Cousin Mae Postnikoff tells Grandmother’s side of the story. Mae stayed with the Perverseff grandfolks in Blaine Lake while attending high school in the 1950s. Grandmother told her the marriage was arranged by the Pereverzev and Negreev families and confided that back in Russia she loved not Grandfather but another man her family wouldn’t condone her marrying. This “beloved” also migrated to Canada eventually moving on to British Columbia and Grandmother never saw him again. Love takes nurturing and while Lusha may not have loved Ivan at first, she did in time.

Vasily Ivanovich’s immediate and extended family was among that part of the Kars Doukhobor population scheduled to set sail for Canada May 12, 1899. At sea they lived on sukhari (dried bread) and water, reaching Canada June 6. After a lengthy quarantine they proceeded west by rail, reaching the Northwest Territories settlement of Duck Lake in early July. Detraining there, they temporarily occupied immigration sheds, regrouped, acquired settlement supplies, and underwent further documentation.

A cavalcade of Doukhobor immigrants on the move from debarkation at Duck Lake, Northwest Territories, to settle a prairie site in the summer of 1899.

Canadian unfamiliarity with the spelling and pronunciation of Russian family names resulted in their sometimes being anglicized. In our case, Pereverzev became Perverseff although family members eventually adopted Pereverseff. Today, more than a hundred years later, the Russian pronunciation of names has often given way to anglicized versions.

With August approaching and half the summer gone, Vasily and the other new arrivals to Canada were understandably restless. Having heard of the harshness of western prairie winters, they were anxious to reach their new lands, build shelters in time to get through the inevitable snows and cold, and get on with their new life. To this end they formed into groups based mainly on extended family relationships. One group of some 20 families including the Perverseffs set off with wagons and on foot for a site nearly 40 miles west of Duck Lake. With a few horse-and-oxen-drawn wagons heaped with necessities they were part of the procession that marched to Carlton Ferry, crossed the North Saskatchewan River and entered the “Prince Albert Colony”. To the newcomers this was indeed a Promised Land where they and their faith might flourish. Little did they realize then that inevitable acculturation would modify and eventually replace traditional thinking and ways with Canadian thinking and ways. Once across the river, the different groups set off to the designated areas each was to settle.

The Promised Land

Let us retrace this migration and subsequent settlement as seen through the eyes of Grandfather Vanya and his son Jack, with manuscript-typist and cousin Mae Postnikoff joining in. In a memoir, Grandfather related that the Gorelovka villagers began their journey on a fresh April morning. They spent Easter Week in the Russian Black Sea port of Batum awaiting the May 12 departure of the S.S. Lake Huron, the Canadian ship taking them to Canada. Of the 2,300 Kars Doukhobors who made the voyage by sea and ocean, 23 did not survive the rough waters and meager diet. Reaching Quebec City at the beginning of June, the new arrivals were immediately subjected to a thirty-day quarantine on Grosse Isle in the St. Lawrence River to obviate any communicable disease spread. Ten days aboard Canadian Pacific Railway “colonial” rail cars with wooden benches to sit and sleep on brought the migrants by later-July via the still largely tent city of Saskatoon to Duck Lake, the seat of a Metis uprising 14 years earlier. There, immigration sheds housed them before they departed for their settlement sites.

With a few oxen and horses and wagons and a few cows in tow the group that included Grandfather’s family wended its way westward to a point approximately a mile and a half northeast of where the town of Krydor now stands. In a ravine near a small lake they stopped. Squatters now, the migrants dug holes in the ravine walls into which they thrust poles and used sod to complete rude huts. These first “homes”, not unlike the domiciles characteristic of some of their Asiatic neighbors in Russia, provided rough shelter. Grandfather wrote that “we lived about three years” in this “wild and desolate place…isolated in a strange and unfamiliar land”.

Vanya, Lusha and their son Jack photographed in Canada c. 1903. 

A creek ran through the ravine meandering across rolling prairie situated in the SE 26-44-8-W3. Men who could be spared were away railroad building or working on construction or for established farmers earning money for settlement needs. It fell to the womenfolk to break ground for gardens, manage the livestock and keep the village going. Many years later, the late Bill Lapshinoff, a relative whose farm was nearby, showed a friend and me where village women had dug a channel to provide water flow to turn a grist mill wheel. The channel lay in a copse of brush and poplar preserved from the effects of wind and water erosion. There is no one left to tell us now, but the new settlers presumably called this first village Gorelovka after their former home village in Russia.

Grandfather further wrote that things changed when the Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin arrived in Canada from Siberian exile late in 1902. He soon convinced his Doukhobor brethren to start living communally. New villages built would hold and work land in common sharing resources equally. Grandfather noted that “we began communal life which we had not been living before”. Grandfather’s revelation indicates that it was at this time that our forebears abandoned their original dugout settlement in 1902 to build the village of Bolshaya (Large) Gorelovka a mile or so north and a bit west. The word “Large” was needed to distinguish it from the nearby village of Malaya (Small) Gorelovka established at the same time. Both derived from the original dugout settlement. Goreloye, a diminutive form of the village name, was what my grandfolks called Bolshaya Gorelovka. The word Bolshaya was not used unless one needed to distinguish the village from Malaya Gorelovka.

Bolshaya Gorelovka or Goreloye was well situated. High bordering hills tree-covered in places offered shelter from the prevailing northwest wind. A ravine with a free flowing natural spring intersected the northwest corner of the village which ran in an approximate north-south direction for about three quarters of a mile. A large slough lay near the south end and sod from its environs provided roofing. The Fort Carlton-Fort Pitt trail ran east and west just north of the village.

The spring flowed year round providing water for household and livestock use. It ran northeasterly as a creek forming a muskeg that bordered a row of gardens including the Perverseff’s. An open area, where a Russian ball game called hilki was played by youngsters in summer and on hard-packed snow in winter, divided the village into two parts. Toward the north end on the east side stood a large community barn just to the north of which a shallow well had been dug where the creek flowed. A large wooden watering trough lay beside this depression. Here, old country innovation came into play. A stout pole sunk into the ground had attached to it a smaller pole with an arm that could swivel. A pail filled at the well and hung over the arm by its handle would be swung to the watering trough and there emptied. This beat having to physically carry the pail back and forth.

Vasily, in a traditional Russian coat, with his son Vanya and daughters Dunya and Hanya photographed in Canada c. 1903. 

An indoor, closed-in brick oven was built into the wall of each village house. Oven tops covered with blankets or coats made good resting places and in winter, ideal retreats from invading cold. Soon banyas (bath houses) that had been an Old Country fixture began to appear, one of the first built by William John Perverseff, as Vasily Ivanovich Pereverzev came to be known in Canada.

The land description on which Bolshaya Gorelovka or Goreloye village stood was the SW 35-44-8-W3, North-West Territories (Saskatchewan came into being three years later). While hilly benchland rimmed the west and north, the country east and south was flat or gently rolling prairie carpeted with fescue, spear and wheat grass knee high in places, and pocked with numerous sloughs and potholes. There were poplar groves and to the north, spruce was available. The soil was mainly good black loam. To the Perverseffs and their fellow settlers, this land truly held promise.

Cousin Mae picks up the narrative: "Grandfather Vanya was an admirer of education and he was the prime mover in establishing the first Canadian public school in their midst. He did attend school in Petrofka in winter months… around 1907. The teacher was Herman Fast who was… responsible for the English spelling of our surname… It was in this school that our grandfather… learned the rudiments of the English language… [and] to read the English newspapers and get the gist of the meaning."

Grandpa really did not have a good command of the English language, but he insisted on corresponding with the Department of Education through Uncle Jack after Uncle Jack started attending school in 1911. Before that, all business was transacted through a Ukrainian intellectual immigrant with old country higher education. His name was Joseph Megas…an organizer and field representative of the Department of Education….It was he who misnamed our school to Havrilowka, which later was corrected to "Haralowka"S, but still a far cry from Gorelovka or Goreloye.

By the fall of 1902, Bolshaya Gorelovka or Goreloye had taken shape, with the new pioneers sharing the tasks of village building and taming the wild land. Although many of the men-folk were away earning money, the work of building still got done with women pitching in to fill the manpower shortage. A belief that women were hitched to ploughs to till the fields is not true. Men using oxen ploughed the fields. However women, in pairs twenty strong, did pull a small one-furrow plough to break up garden ground.

Perverseff women and children grouped in front of the Gorelovka village family home in 1904. Vasily’s wife Elizaveta (Lisunya) stands at left, Lusha holds Agatha while Jack stands beside her, with sister-in-law Hanya at right.

Unlike other blocks of Doukhobor land elsewhere, the Prince Albert Colony allotment was in alternate sections. Canadian authorities were aware that the Kars Doukhobors were more individualistic than their brethren from other areas. These so-called “Independents” had been reluctant to go along with Verigin’s 1893 edict asking all Doukhobors not only to live communally but also to share all resource ownership in what amounted to Christian Communism. Alternate sections of land amidst other nationalities imbued with the spirit of individual enterprise fostered independent farmstead development instead of living in a central communal village – a notion the Doukhobors from Kars found attractive. But for the first dozen or so years communal living did prevail.

Village buildings were simple yet sturdy. Logs trimmed to form four-sided timbers made up the main framework. Clay, grass and other ingredients were mixed with water and treaded into a paste that was plastered on both the outside and inside of the timbered walls. Poles laid lengthwise on inverted v-shaped frames supported the roofing sod cut from the marshy margins of nearby sloughs. Grey/white calcimine covered the walls inside and helped waterproof them outside.

William’s home (starting from the street and working back) had a living room that also served as a bedroom, a kitchen, a verandah, a main bedroom, then a storage room, and a brick oven. Sod cut from the environs of a nearby slough covered the roof. Out back was the inevitable outhouse. Before long, William built a bath house patterned after those popular in Russia, and eventually a small blacksmith shop was erected. Since self sufficiency was an ingrained Doukhobor trait, the Perverseffs – like their neighbors – cultivated a large garden.

The Perverseffs and fellow immigrants soon added to their initial inventory of eight horses, five cows, four oxen, four wagons and three ploughs. Horses pulled the wagons; oxen, the ploughs.

Pioneering was at first extremely labour intensive. Grain was sown by hand broadcasting; mature crops were cut with scythes and sickles; grain was threshed by men and women wielding flails. William, good with his hands and mechanically inclined, made shovels and other needed tools and implements in his blacksmith shop. When Elizabeth (as Elizaveta came to be called) wanted a spinning wheel or Lucille (as Lusha was called in Canada) needed a garden hoe, William made them. Because money was needed to buy livestock and farm machinery, William’s son John joined other young men and walked to St. Lazare, Manitoba to work on the Grand Trunk Railway (see How the Doukhobors Build Railways). A picture taken in 1907 shows him with 18 other Doukhobor men in a work party.

When time permitted, Lucille and the other women earned money, too, gathering seneca root, considered to have medicinal benefits, and selling their fine needlework or trading it for things they needed.

John and Lucille began their Canadian family in 1901 when John Ivan “Jack” was born. Agatha (my mother) followed in 1904; Nicholas “Nick” in 1907, Nita in 1911, and Mary “Marion” in 1919. John and Lucille’s first-born daughter was lost in childbirth during the sea voyage to Canada. What became known as Haralowka School opened in 1911 three quarters of a mile southeast of the village and all five children went there, with Marion also attending a new, larger brick school erected a half mile north which opened in 1930.

This image of a Haralowka home was found among the Perverseff collection or pictures and may have been the family home. It is typical of those at the time–squared log construction, a plaster covering painted with calcimine and with a sod roof. A buggy or what was often called a “democrat” is parked beside the home.

Both Bolshaya and Malaya Gorelovka were reminiscent of old country mirs (communal villages in Russia), but they were short-lived, the villagers having abandoned them by 1920 to become individual landowners. However, the name continued in the form of Haralowka school district.

Independence

William and John were among the first villagers to file for their own land, the first in 1909 being 320 acres of scrip land that had been assigned to a Boer War veteran named Thomas J. Stamp. Its legal description was NW & NE 22-45-8-W3. Located some six miles to the northwest of the village, it was used primarily for grazing. In 1912, the SW 25-44-8-W3 was acquired and buildings were erected that served as a temporary base of operations. Other land subsequently added to the family holdings included the NW 25-44-8-W3, SE 31-44-8-W3 and NE 25-44-8-W3. An old land registry map shows the Perverseff home place on the NW 30-44-8-W3. Because Haralowka district Doukhobor settlers became sole land owners, they were referred to in Russian as farmli (individual farmers) and were no favorites of the Doukhobor leader, Peter Verigin. Lucille’s parents, on the other hand, joined more communally-minded Doukhobors migrating to British Columbia.

In 1909 William journeyed to Russia to bring back his newly-widowed mother Aksinya. According to Jon Kalmakoff’s research, they returned to Canada aboard the SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, sailing from Hamburg, Germany on November 4, 1909, arriving at New York, USA on November 13, 1909. Aksinya lived in the village for three years before passing away and was laid to rest in the tiny burial ground near the top of a hill just west of the village. “Bill” Lapshinoff, the owner of the village land in the 1990s, regretted that this original cemetery had eventually been ploughed over instead of being retained historically.

The Perverseffs on their homestead. Jack and Agatha at back, Nick beside seated Vanya, Lusha and Nita. Blaine Lake district, SK, c. 1914.

For their home place William and John chose a site at the northeast corner of the quarter with the erecting of farm buildings starting immediately. The main farmyard sloped on all sides near the southeast corner to a low point at which the base of the main garden started and where spring runoff advantageously settled. A fence divided the house, great grandfolk’s cottage, summer kitchen, a small grassed field, orchard and garden from the farm utility buildings. Open to the east, this spacious area of perhaps ten acres was bounded on the south, west, and north by a three row-spruce tree shelterbelt. A caragana-lined sidewalk led from the farmyard gate to the house.

The home Vanya and Lusha moved into in 1914 was modest, probably no more than 30 by 40 feet. The front porch, entered from the south, had two inner doors, one opening into the kitchen beyond which was the one bedroom; the other, into the large living room. A bookcase and writing desk constituted John’s study and there was a large table where meals were served. A couch in one corner doubled as my bed when I stayed as a child with my grandparents. A radio was turned on mainly for the news, although I recall listening Wednesday evenings to Herb Paul, the yodeling cowboy, his program originating from Winnipeg.

The impressive barn on the Perverseff family homestead near Blaine Lake, SK, c. 1921.

A cottage built just a few steps east of the main house was a comfortable haven for William and Elizabeth. They ate their meals with the rest of the family in the main house and during the warmer months of the year, in the summer kitchen.

While the house was modest, the barn started in 1921 was anything but. The largest in the district, it was a red-painted, hip-roof type boasting cement and plank flooring, plank stalls, a harness tack room with harness repair equipment, water cistern, large hayloft area, and an ample chop bin. The north side was extended to include a cow-barn/milking area, a box stall for small calves, and a cream separating room. The barn was completed in 1922 and if ever there was a status symbol in the Haralowka district, this was it.

Down a bit from the west entrance to the barn was a windmill-powered well beside which stood a big corrugated metal watering trough. The garden and orchard extended south and west. Just north of the garden and behind the well was a Russian style bath-house and just north of it was the blacksmith shop, complete with forge and foot-pedal-driven wood lathe, a marvel that William designed and built. A few yards further north was the root cellar, while a granary and chicken coop with fenced-in yard stood south of the barn.

Implement and storage sheds were northeast of the summer kitchen. A three-car brick garage built in 1927 housed sleeping quarters for hired men and a McLaughlin-Buick car. A tree-lined lane ran a hundred yards or so north to an east-west road. The natural lawn lying west of the house and extending north and south served as an outdoor recreational area. Slough willow and poplar sheltered the south side of the garden and orchard. John, with an eye for symmetry and order, could be justifiably proud of the impressive yard.

A Good Life

Hard work and good planning combined with good wheat prices during World War I brought prosperity. The meager assets with which the Perverseffs started out had multiplied many-fold. John emerged the master planner; William, the implementer. By 1930, with the Great Depression still around the corner, they presided over a successful farming operation, with a complete line of farm machinery. They had a section of land under cultivation; three hired men during the busiest times and a hired girl when Lucille needed extra help. Cree Indian men from the nearby Muskeg Reserve signed on during fall threshing to haul sheaves and field pitch.

On the farm at any one time would be up to ten milking cows, at least eight draft horses, and a fast team of matched sorrels kept for buggy and cutter use. Selling cream and eggs provided extra income that helped tide the family over during the cash-strapped Depression years of the 1930s.

Grandfather Vanya was inordinately proud of the family’s white stallion, Safron, seen here pulling a buggy, c. 1908.

In the rhythm of farm life, seeding and harvesting took precedence over all else. Social activities followed the then-current rural pattern: visiting with relatives and friends, attending marriages and funerals, and going regularly to sobranya, first in a rural dom, a hall built for gatherings a half mile east of the farmstead; later in the town of Blaine Lake, ten miles east. Cream and eggs were delivered to Tallman, a hamlet three miles southeast, where mail was picked up and cream cans retrieved.

The main event of the year was Peter’s Day, held every June 29. It was essentially a commemoration of the trials and tribulations the Doukhobors had endured in Russia. There were prayers and the air swelled harmoniously with the a cappella singing of psalms and resonated with voices raised in discourse on the Doukhobor faith. A huge tent holding more than a hundred people was set up on grounds just southeast of Blaine Lake and a carnival atmosphere prevailed especially for the younger children who would absent themselves from the tent to play. A noon meal, served picnic style, consisted of such fare as pie-like cheese and fruit peroshki, crepe-like bliny, boiled eggs, fresh bread and fruit, especially arbus (watermelon), a universal Doukhobor favorite, if available. Life was good!

The Perverseffs did not smoke, drink alcohol, or eat meat but a diet rich in garden-grown vegetables and their own dairy products made for healthy eating. Vegetable borsch (a heavy soup), bread and cheese were staples, eaten pretty well daily.

About 1935, William and John acquired land near Blaine Lake for John’s son Nick to farm. I was present when John negotiated with the owner, Senator Byron Horner. A handshake sealed the deal – unlike today no lawyers were needed then to oversee an agreement between men whose word was their bond.

Perverseff family portrait, 1919. At back Agatha and Jack; in front, Vanya, Nita, Lusha (holding Marion) and Nick.

In 1935 William’s wife Elizabeth died. Casting further gloom was the Great Depression, the so-called Dirty Thirties, now firmly entrenched. The bottom had dropped out of wheat prices. Grasshopper and army worm infestations plagued the farmland. Only “empties” going by, a wry allusion to rainless dark clouds, conspired with wicked winds to rearrange quarter sections and penetrate homes, layering windowsills and floors with fine dust. Planted fields baked dry had to be ploughed over. Talk about good times and bad – these were really bad!

Tangleflags

Back in Tangleflags, Saskatchewan – where I lived with my parents in the late 1920’s and early 1930s – folks didn’t find the Depression quite so severe. There was more moisture – less than everyone would have liked – but enough to produce some grain, and livestock pastured better. I didn’t think anything was really out of the ordinary before we left the area in October of 1935. My friend Vernon Dubay would come over to play. I poled my raft on the lake. I walked to school or rode double on horseback with Dad or Mother or sometimes a visiting aunt. Grace Harbin, a spinster, taught at Tangleflags School, and I once penciled a rather good likeness of her attractive niece, Betty, who sat in front of me.

Born on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1926, I won a prize in the fall as “baby of the year” in a weekly newspaper contest and still wonder how such a chubby, round-faced little cherub could have been selected. Francis “Frank” Henry James Philips, an English immigrant farmer, and Agatha (nee Perverseff) had married in Lashburn at friends Bob and Dorie Sanderson’s place on December 26, 1924 and I was their first child.

I’ve speculated about why Agatha married Frank. Having attended university (Education) she was at that time considered well educated (especially for a Doukhobor). Frank wasn’t. She had mastered two languages. He knew only one. She had a quick mind. His was more plodding and his prospects didn’t really reach beyond farming. So! Was it pity for the underdog? Did she feel sorry for him because of his physical handicap (he was missing one arm)? Did his cheerfully and successfully forging ahead in the face of odds win her heart. Did his fine baritone singing voice move her? Why is something I really cannot answer.

This most glamorous image of Agatha is thought to have been taken just after she graduated from what was then called “Normal School” in April of 1924. She was immediately hired to teach for the remainder of the school year in rural Tangleflags, SK.

As the schoolteacher at Tangleflags, Agatha gained quick entree into the community. Her pupils brought her in touch with their parents and community functions with eligible bachelors usually in attendance. Just shy of eight months from the time she met Frank, they married and his little bungalow was their first home. In January, 1925 she started teaching at North Gully, close to 15 miles southwest from our place shortcutting across country. She rode Satin, a fine saddle pony, to a farmstead near North Gully School where she boarded during the week.

On one occasion, as she would later recall, Satin, likely feeling bored, decided to jump Cook’s gate [a quarter mile from our place and the beginning of the cross country shortcut]. “Bob Oswell was rounding up his horses nearby and saw me fall. He galloped over to render assistance but I was back on Satin before he reached me.” Falling off horses happened frequently in those days and it’s a wonder more people weren’t badly hurt. Satin’s faithful companion and Mother’s was Bob, a dog of mixed heritage but good character. Whenever she tethered Satin, Bob always stayed close by until they were off again.

Frank concentrated on building a proper house, and proper it truly was, the first in Tangleflags to have hardwood floors, occasioning some neighbor women to consider Mother “spoiled”. Agatha quit teaching in December and she and Frank moved into the new home the beginning of January, 1926, with me arriving a month and a half later. Agatha’s sisters Nita and Marion Perverseff came to visit in the ensuing years, and Mother chummed with a Miss Thom and Phoebe Mudge from Paradise Hill. By 1930, we had a piano in the house and a tennis court outside.

One was practically born in the saddle in those days and I was quite at home riding horseback by the time I was six. The only problem was getting on; but a fence or corral pole or anything a couple of feet high answered well enough. By the time I could ride, Frank had sold Satin and acquired Phyllis, a mare in foal who soon gave us Star, a black colt named for the white patch on his forehead. In the warm months I’d ride Phyllis to herd our cattle on Crown grassland a half mile northeast of our place. Influenced no doubt by tales of the Old West, I trained Phyllis to dig in her front feet and “stop on a dime”. If we were moving quickly and I yelled whoa, I’d have to brace myself or go for a tumble. Once, I did. I chased a gopher taking a zigzag course over the prairie. When it disappeared down a hole, I excitedly yelled whoa, and forgetting to brace myself, flew over Phyllis’ head as she stopped abruptly. I was seven at the time; my young bones were pliant, and thankfully the prairie wasn’t too hard; my feelings were the most damaged.

Frank, Agatha and “Old Bob” standing in front of the new farmhouse the couple moved into in January of 1926 at Tangleflags, SK.

Once summoned, other childhood memories flood back, jostling for attention.

Bob Oswell, whose folks farmed up in the hills southwest of us, was my idea of a cowboy. Bob always wore a beat-up old ten-gallon hat and had trained a white pony named Smokey to rear up on its hind legs when he mounted it. Watching Smokey rear up and then gallop away, Bob firmly in the saddle with a rifle in a scabbard strapped to it, convinced me to become a cowboy. But once in a long while an airplane would fly over and I’d change my mind. I figured piloting a plane was even better than being a cowboy. I even went so far as to build what vaguely resembled a plane with boards and logs in back of the old bungalow. Then I’d walk up a nearby hill to watch it get smaller, the way planes did in the sky.

Once, Frank let me plough a furrow right across a field by myself. Actually, the horses were so conditioned to this work that they needed no guidance. Still, I held the reins and kicked the foot rod that raised the ploughshares up and that released them when we’d turned around. I was pretty proud of myself and thought maybe I’d be a farmer.

I changed my mind when I fell off a straw stack. Frank was loading straw onto a hayrack and I, not paying proper attention, missed my footing and tumbled off the stack crashing down on my back. That hurt! Farming was proving to be dangerous.

Another incident altered my thinking about being a cowboy. On one occasion Aunt Marion Perverseff rode Phyllis to fetch me from school and for some reason Phyllis didn’t take kindly to riding double that day. She bucked and I fell off, much, I imagine, to the amusement of the other children.

I was fortunate to have a sister, if only for a short while. Her given names were Lorna Ruth and Agatha always remembered her as “my golden-haired girl”. Though she was more than two years younger than me, we were pretty good companions. She was my chum and we played together, happily most of the time but not without the odd sibling tiff.

Frank, Agatha, Roger and newly-born Lorna pose for a family portrait in 1928 at Tangleflags, SK.

Lorna fell dreadfully ill in the dead of winter. The last day or two before the end of January, 1933, a doctor snow-planed out from Lloydminster and took her back with him. Her death from peritonitis February 2 broke Mother’s heart and fanned the spark of a hitherto embryonic paranoia that gradually grew more troublesome and consumed her last years. I stayed with Cook’s, our closest neighbors, while Frank and Agatha were at Lorna’s hospital bedside and when they got home and told me Lorna was now with God and that I wouldn’t see her again, a terrible weight settled on me. I’ve since experienced many deaths amongst family and friends, but none that hurt more.

I wasn’t crazy about school, but I liked recess. One of our main amusements was a maypole-like swing with several chains having rungs to cling to that dangled from a rotating disk at the top of the steel pole. One person who was “it” would take his or her chain in a circle around all the other chains to which children clung. Then the youngsters would race around the pole with whoever was “it” flying high in the air. It was great fun and my turn could never come soon enough. But one day when it did, disaster struck. I was flung out and around so furiously that my hands slipped off the chain rung and my now uncharted flight path brought me into contact with a nearby woodpile. Somehow a nail gashed my skull which bled so profusely that some of the kids figured I was “sure a goner”. I survived, bloody and somewhat bowed.

In the 1930s for a few years a troop of Boy Scouts summer camped across the lake in front of Cook’s. The boys were from Lloydminster and possibly Lashburn and Marshall. Island Lake was likely chosen for this outing because it was so buoyant that drowning was practically impossible. In the evenings, if the wind was right, we could hear the boys singing around a campfire and see flames leaping into the air. I thought being a Boy Scout was alright and maybe I’d try it when I got old enough.

On the farm we grew or raised part of what we ate. We had a large garden which mostly gave us potatoes. Occasionally we’d slaughter a pig or a beef. I usually wasn’t around when that happened but the year before we left the farm, I was. I knew we were going to kill a pig and wanted no part of it. When a man Dad hired to help arrived, I headed down to the lake. Suddenly there was an awful squeal and I knew the pig was dying.

Agatha with Lorna and Roger in front of the Tangleflags house in 1932.

Grassland was needed for grazing when I was little, and there was more of it then than now. More grass meant more prairie fires and there was a bad one when I was about five. It burned to within a couple hundred yards of our place and I remember men with faces and hands smeared black from fighting it dropping in for coffee and sandwiches or heading for the dipper in the water pail. The lake probably saved us, both in cutting off the direct line of the blaze and being so handy a source for water to wet gunny sacking used to beat the flames. I was too young to comprehend what a close call we had. Instead, I childishly found the rush of activity exciting.

One tends to remember certain people. As a councilman for Britania Rural Municipality No. 502 our neighbor Joe Cook was out and about a lot in the district. He’d come riding by in his buggy, whip in one hand, reins in the other. His big walrus moustache made him quite imposing, even a bit fearsome. I rather fancied his good-looking daughter Joan, maybe because she always beat me when we raced on horseback. But she was older and paid me no mind.

British accents attested to the strong English influence in the community where the men smoked pipes and played cricket. There were garden parties, and you watched how you held your little finger when you sipped your tea. Since the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons, I, like Dad, smoked a pipe when I grew up. Eventually, though, I gave up pipe smoking as a bad habit.

I always paid heed when Bob Oswell’s dad passed in his wagon going to Bob’s place. He was built stocky, “strong as a bull”, my father said, and it seemed to me that he always scowled. And his Tyne-sider’s accent was so strong and his voice so raspy that I never understood a word he said. He was a good enough neighbor but his gruff manner told me to steer clear of him.

Nip and Tuck were a pair of greys that Dad treasured. They were big horses, Clydesdales probably, and powerful. I would watch them strain and see their muscles ripple as they pulled a wagonload of wheat up the steep hill a half mile south of our place. It was a treat to accompany Frank to Hillmond for these trips usually promised hard candy in Arthur Rutherford’s general store. I remember coyote skins hanging on a store wall – each had brought someone a $25.00 bounty. Coyotes chased bad little boys, I’d been told, but they didn’t seem so scary now.

On one Hillmond trip Bob spooked a deer with a good rack of antlers. He chased it across the road right in front of us and got a futile but good workout. This was near the Allen’s and I’d always watch hard when we passed their place. They were reputedly a “rough bunch” but I never saw anything untoward. One of the Allen girls later became a policewoman in Edmonton so I guess they weren’t so bad.

Frank, Agatha, Roger and cousin Joan Perverseff photographed in Saskatoon in 1935.

We used to have dances in Tangleflags School. I don’t recall that much about them. I’d sit on Mother’s knee. I remember once that she wore a black dress. There was other entertainment -singing, mostly. Frank was a regular in this department and always got a lot of applause when he sang old favorites like Climb Upon My Knee Sonny Boy and My Wild Irish Rose. Mother didn’t like it when some woman would go up and congratulate him.

That was one thing about Agatha. She was possessive. If Frank even looked at another woman, it upset her and she’d let him know about it. When I look back now, it seems she carried her distrust of other women to extremes. I’m convinced she’d only have been happy if Frank were actually rude to them. She was strong willed to the point of being dictatorial sometimes no doubt thinking her education (allowedly good for a woman of her time) had prepared – nay entitled – her to tell others what to do. In our realm she decided the course of events, exerting her will in everything except farm finance. Frank made it clear when they married that he would “wear the pants in the family” when it came to money matters, and he did.

Living on a farm we may have lacked some city life niceties but there were still refinements. Agatha had a piano to play and was middling good on our tennis court even sometimes beating Jack Hickman who was no slouch. The one thing Mother seemed to enjoy most in life was talking philosophy. Having Alfred Abraham, a student minister stay with us one summer, gave her unlimited opportunities. The poor young cleric must have grown weary of fending off her intellectual parries.

That was something else about Agatha – her intelligence. She had a fine memory and a mind able to manipulate and exploit what she had learned. She may not have been a genius, but I think she came closer to that than most of us. One has to wonder if there isn’t a grain of truth in the old straw that genius stands next to madness; if not Mother’s quick mind had become a nursery where paranoia took root and grew.

Lorna’s death broke Mother, who became convinced that the Tangleflags farm was cursed. There was nothing for it but to move to Haralowka where her folks would help us make a new start. This running away from a situation of growing torment became a pattern as Agatha’s paranoia worsened. A new setting initially worked wonders but in time her nerves would start bothering her and the cycle would repeat itself. Frank resisted the idea of selling out and moving but Agatha’s will prevailed. The farm auction went well enough but we had to rent our land which didn’t sell. It was now the beginning of October, 1935, and with our house empty, we slept the night at Dubay’s. The next day our Model T Ford car carried us into a new life chapter.

A young Roger launches a flying model airplane he built.

Leaving the West Saskatchewan farm he had built up out of the wilderness and the people he had come to know so well was a wrenching experience for Father. Even though the Perverseffs welcomed us with open arms and open hearts and even though they would have helped us make a fresh start with land and equipment, Frank was sorely troubled. Nurturing a growing independence and self-reliance, he’d become a successful pioneer farmer in Tangleflags—made it on his own; was what the English so prided, a self-made man. And now the thought of accepting charity (for that’s how he saw it) was too much.

Then there was Mother’s affliction. Temporarily at bay in the first weeks in Haralowka, the paranoia that tormented her would return. Frank may not have known then the precise medical term for what she had but he knew the toll it took—how miserable it made life for Agatha and those around her.

There was more. Word came from England that his Mother was dying and his Father was seriously ill. Everything, it seemed, was conspiring against him. Separation resulted with Frank going to England and Mother’s restless spirit soon taking her to California.

Haralowka

Now nine years old, I entered what I call my Russian phase, experiencing Doukhobor/Russian culture in Haralowka as an unuk (grandson in Russian). Meanwhile, Mother sampled work life in California, first as a day nurse to a Mrs. Strictland, next as governess to a Hollywood movie director’s daughter, then as personal assistant to Madam Boday, a Los Angeles dowager. In turn she became a confidant to Julia Edmunds, a leader in the Oxford Group movement, then a teacher at Harding Military Academy where a fellow teacher was nominally a prince of the long since deposed Bourbon family. Prince Bruce de Bourbon de Conde was then simply a commissioned U.S. Army officer. Like Agatha, Captain Conde had an adventurous spirit and after World War II service in Europe, ended up as an administrator in the Arab Emirates where intrigue brought him to an untimely end.

A nine-year-old learns quickly and I was soon able to speak Russian with Grandmother at an elementary level – things like, “I’m hungry”, “I wish to have water”, “shall I fetch the eggs”, “where are we going?”, “When do you want me to get the cows”, “give me”, “here”, “I want to sleep”, and (I remember ruefully now) “please give me money”. I later became friends with a second cousin named Sam “Sammy” Perverseff. His family lived a quarter mile east of us and in the winter time I would ride to school with him on his horse-drawn stone-boat. Sammy introduced me to a lot more Russian, mostly words and phrases embracing life’s seamier side. A few years older than me, taller, and good-looking, Sammy was something of a Don Juan.

My Aunt Marion was still at home when we arrived in Haralowka, but her days there were numbered, for an Edward Postnikoff was courting her and they soon married. Edward was a likely young man but poor as a church mouse. Courting wasn’t all that easy then. He had to peddle the twenty-some miles from Petrofka on a bicycle to see Marion. But he had the right stuff and with a little help from Grandfather, became a successful farmer in the district.

Roger playing baseball at Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto in 1941.

Great Grandfather William and Great Grandmother Elizabeth had lived contentedly together in their little cottage. Since Elizabeth passed away soon after we arrived, I barely got to know her. Agatha, who looked after her the last while, said she was a very wise and practical woman. To the extent that the goodness of parents can have a bearing on the way their children turn out, William and Elizabeth were truly good people and John, their son and my Grandfather, bore excellent witness to that.

William suffered through his loss and carried on. Friends came initially to commiserate and later to visit. Grandfather Samirodin with his bristling, Russian Cossack-like moustache was one who came regularly. Well into his eighties, he would walk the three miles across snow-laden fields to our place and he and William would greet each another with kisses on each cheek and traditional words praising God. His advanced age walking prowess bore testimony to the health benefits of a lifetime diet of borshch and other Doukhobor staples and the rigors of good, hard work in the outdoors.

In 1937 I stayed a short while with my Uncle Jack (Dr. J.I. Perverseff), Aunt Anne, and their daughters Joan and Dorothy at their Avenue V South home. For the brief time I was in Saskatoon I attended Pleasant Hill School. It was a short walk from Uncle Jack’s and one day as I passed the Hamms (Uncle Jack’s neighbors) their German Shepherd grabbed my lunch and trotted off with it. Mrs. Hamm saw this and brought me a couple of sandwiches in a big basin. The Hamms may have been poor folk with rough edges, but I’ll always remember Mrs. Hamm as a good-hearted woman.

The Principal at Pleasant Hill School was Sam Trerice. It happened that the Trerices were friends of Mother’s and had spent a summer holiday with us in Tangleflags. Fortunate that was for me, because I soon got into a school fight that Sam, himself, broke up. The other poor fellow was grabbed by the ear and hauled off for rough justice while I went scot free. The lesson I learned from this experience was that in life it wasn’t so much what you knew (or did) but who you knew that counted.

We didn’t have television back in the “Thirties”. About the only time one listened to the radio was to hear the news. I was too young to be interested. We did have fun, though. In winter kids would get together to play street hockey or “shinnie”; in summer, cowboys and Indians. This latter activity was eminently fair and politically correct. Some days more Indians got killed; other days, more cowboys.

Roger and his Haralowka buddy Sammy Perverseff, a second cousin.

I was soon back with my Grandparents and attending Haralowka School. Muriel Borisinkoff, Sammy’s cousin, taught there and it wasn’t long before I discovered how good she was with the strap. Big Paul Greva and I were having a dustup about midway between the school and the barn when Bill Samirodin, a school trustee, drove up to fetch his daughter. Paul and I ceased hostilities and stood like innocents watching as Bill drove by. But it was too late. He had seen us fighting and amusingly commented to Muriel about her unruly pupils. That really stung a hard taskmaster who prided herself on her discipline. Summoned to the school, Paul was strategically in tears and I tried to feign innocence as we entered the side door. The situation was bleak. With tears streaming down Paul’s cheeks, Muriel took out the wrath she would have devoted to him on me – along with my share. In time the strap was outlawed in Saskatchewan schools, but I can attest to having intimately known its application before that happened.

If kindness was a Perverseff trait, then I was blessed. William and Lucille treated me like a favorite son. They fed me well and clothed me warmly. On Saturdays I would get the huge sum of 25 cents to spend in Blaine Lake where folks from the country gathered to buy groceries, attend to other matters, or just visit. I would go to town with John and Lucille or with Sammy and his folks. Later, a Tallman elevator man put a bare bicycle together for me – bare because it lacked handlebar grips, fenders and a chain guard, but it was transportation. Grandfather paid seven dollars for it and I surely got his money’s worth.

Life wasn’t all fun. I had to fetch the cows, help milk, turn the cream separator, and churn the butter. I’d also gather the eggs, carry wood to the house, help clean the barn and do other sundry chores. Sometimes when I was out in the yard around sundown, I would hear Grandmother whistle in an odd way. It was to keep the vadema (bad spirits) away, she said. I don’t know if it worked but I never saw the need for it myself.