To the Spirit of God, I Pray and Bow

by Elena Kovshova

Today, relatively few Doukhobors remain in the Republic of Georgia, following mass emigrations to Russia over the past two decades. One of the largest remaining – but least documented – populations of Doukhobors is centered in the town of Dmanisi, formerly known as Bashkichet. In the following article, Russian journalist Elena Kovshova examines the Doukhobors of Dmanisi – the history, philosophy and culture of a disappearing people, rooted in goodness and renowned for their kindess and hospitality. Translated by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from the Russian journal “Argumenty i Fakty” (No. 4, January 27, 2010).

Dmanisi – the small Georgian town which, in recent times, has become world famous thanks to sensational archeological finds, stores many secrets within itself. Its name is connected not only to the history of early mankind, but also to the destinies of thousands of simple people who, in more recent centuries, appeared in this place.

The history of the Dmanisi Doukhobors is rooted in the depths of the history of the Russian empire, when, in the mid-seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon, with the support of the reigning [Tsar] Alexei Mikhailovich, introduced church ceremonial reforms intended to correct Russian prayer books to make them consistent with Greek practices, by replacing the two-fingered sign of the cross with the three-fingered sign, and a number of other changes. But the violent methods by which the patriarch implemented the reforms were met by hostile opposition. These actions resulted in the emergence of defenders of the “old belief” who believed that the church had departed from the old rites. Thus arose a religious social movement, whose supporters called themselves Starobryadtsy or “Old-Believers”. Later, they divided into the Popovtsy (“with priests”) and the Bezpopovtsy (the “priestless”) such as the Dukhobory or “spirit wrestlers”.

Elizaveta Bludova proudly displays her handiwork in this rushnik – a traditional Doukhobor handicraft among the Dmanisi Doukhobors.

The movement originated in the second half of the eighteenth century among the peasants of Voronezh, Tambov, Ekaterinoslav and Sloboda-Ukraine provinces. According to the Doukhobors, the world is in eternal struggle, the spirit against the flesh, and desiring brotherhood in the spirit of God’s truth, they renounced the established church dogmas and rites. It was the only way people could protest against the autocratic oppression and hypocrisy of the clergy, who were afraid of losing power, and therefore, followed in the wake of the state.

Naturally, such ideas disturbed the Tsarist government, which saw a direct threat to the state in such opinions. Therefore, an active resettlement policy was undertaken in relation to the Doukhobors. First, they were sent to Tavria province (in the Crimea) on the Molochnaya River (from which the name of the sectarians Molokane is [reputedly] derived), and then they were all expelled to the Caucasus.

Whole families of Doukhobors, with small children in their hands and shackles on their feet, made their way by foot to their places of exile. Some of them thus perished on the road while others arrived in Georgia in the district of Bashkichet, which in Turkish means “the main road”. Indeed, there was no inhabited settlement there, let alone a town; only impenetrable forest through which ran a trade route linking Georgia with Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Having arrived on this bare ground, the Doukhobors, thanks to astonishing diligence and faith, did not rail at their fate, but began life anew with nothing, hollowing out family dwellings in the ground with stone axes. They spent one year in such dugouts covered with straw, until they built houses in which many of the descendants of those first Doukhobors live to this day.

Each band of the rushnik symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the Doukhobor woman who makes it.

The house of the Bludovs is more than 150 years old. The rickety stairs, the cracked tree… The seniors cannot afford to repair the house. Nonetheless, the internal furnishing is striking: practically everything, from the wooden furniture and finishing, to all kinds of table-cloths, blankets, mats, bed-covers, is constructed, painted or woven by hand. Every corner of the house exudes exceptional hard work and perfect purity. The [traditional Orthodox] place for icons in the house is [instead] occupied by rushniki – long hand towels which are sacred to each Doukhobor.

Upon marrying, a [Doukhobor] woman should begin to sew such rushniki, although the word “sew” does not accurately reflect the volume of work involved. It is difficult to imagine that it is all done by a single mistress; sewn multi-colored satin ribbons, embroidered satin, cross-stitch, crochet, hand-drawn patterns covered with varnish, combining all the elements in a single composition. And each rushnik, or more accurately, its band, symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the needlewoman, reflecting her individual perception of the world, the successes and hardships experienced, emotions… Rushniki receive the newborn; they also cover the deceased before burial. Children are not baptized. They themselves perform the funeral service for the deceased, and at the commemoration, borshch (vegetable soup), lapsha (noodles), pastries and vodka are served.

The sunduk (hope chest) is also an indispensable feature for every “marriageable” girl. The father of the bride makes it by hand, and always without nails. On the surface a pattern is burned which is covered with lacquer, and in the corner the initials of the craftsman are put. With such a chest, and its contents, the young wife enters the family of the husband. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the woman begins to sew her “death clothes” as soon as she marries.

Doukhobors do not acknowledge church and traditional religious rites. For example, [the Orthodox custom of] drawing water for a baptism at midnight or taking it from a river, or directly from under a crane. To this day, elements of the Old Russian and Ukrainian languages have survived in the speech of these people, and as a memory of the distant past, the popular legend of the priest who did not actually hold the post, but taught others about the “true path”.

The bands of the rushnik – a Dmanisi Doukhobor handicraft – reflect the individual perceptions, experiences and emotions of its maker.

On Sundays at sunrise, Doukhobors gather in a prayer home. In sequence, one after another, they read psalms, which are transmitted from generation to generation, or else are composed directly during prayer.

God is Spirit / God is a Man, / To the Spirit of God, I pray and bow, / Thus I am a Doukhobor – so Elizaveta Fedorovna Bludova explains the essence of the psalms and teachings.

On a table at Elizaveta Fedorovna’s is an old, but good condition copy of Leo Tolstoy’s book, “Resurrection”. The novel, undoubtedly, has been read and reread many times. Her respect for Leo Tolstoy is particularly vibrant. And no wonder! His sermon on nonviolent resistance to evil, a message of love and forgiveness, liberation from crude ecclesiastical rituals coupled with a call for passive resistance to authority, and the individual spiritual component – is something for which the Doukhobors have suffered! The novel “Resurrection”, with its story of personal spiritual revival, and sharp criticism of the church embodied in the narrative, became one of the reasons for Tolstoy’s excommunication by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church. But here they honour and remember the great writer who, in the 1890’s, saved thousands of Doukhobors, assisting in their migration from sweltering Cyprus to Canada, whose climatic conditions were better suited for settlement by Russian people.

[Incidentally] few people know that the famous Russian artist Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin drew his painting “Doukhobors Praying” in Dmanisi.

Today, the Doukhobors in Dmanisi are relatively few. The first Georgian President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, proposed that the Doukhobors return to their historical homeland [of Russia]. On his orders, in 1993-1994, the [Georgian] state bought up Doukhobor houses for quite a good sum. It was then that the bulk of the [Doukhobor] youth went to Tula, Tambov, Lipetsk and Rostov regions. Others – assimilated and began to enter into mixed marriages.

Doukhobor folk patterns etched on a sunduk (hope chest) etched into the wood using pyrography, the art of decorating wood with burn marks from the controlled application of a heated tool.

Vasilisa Minakova, Chairman of the Center for Russian Culture “ISKRA”, represents the average generation of Doukhobors. She combines working as a teacher of Russian language and literature at the Dmanisi primary school with public service. At the center, English and Russian language courses are offered, and whenever possible, attention is paid to urgent problems of the elderly [Doukhobor] people.

Dmanisi has always been distinguished for its kindness and humanity – shares Vasilisa Minakova. “Three years ago, with the support of the head of regional administration Bakuri Mgeladze and the deputy from our area, the president of the pharmaceutical company “PSP”, Kahi Okreashvili, opened a dining-room in Dmanisi for needy pensioners. From 43 people, who make use of it, most of them comprise of single Doukhobors. What the dining-room means to them is self evident. In the name of all participants, I would like to thank not only the initiators, but also the directors of the dining-room Natalia Kavlelashvili, and also the whole collective for their good heart and skillful hands”. With only limited funds, without time-off on holidays, and in spite of frequent stoppage of gas and electricity, they always come out “on top”, they do not turn anyone away without a bowl of soup. There was a time when a total stranger came to the dining-room who had lost his documents; while he was replacing them, he relied largely on the goodness of the collective of this dining-room.

Surrounded by beautiful mountains, reminiscent of the Egyptian pyramids, the River Mashavera and the land, once the promised land of the Doukhobors, stretches the small town of Dmanisi. And in it live a very hospitable, very sweet, kind and hardworking people, those who consider Georgia as their homeland, who love this land, their old homes, small gardens…

These people do not seek attention to themselves: they are not inclined to stand out in front of cameras and give extensive interviews. But they do not decline to, either. So as not to offend. They do not transgress the law of love to one another. And [they desire] only that which is necessary – which is the peaceful sky above, good health, mutual assistance and care for others. From the point of view of the state or from humanitarian organizations, there is no difference – goodness is goodness.

The Manteca Russian Colony

by Rose M. Albano

In 1924, fourteen Doukhobor families from British Columbia and Saskatchewan resettled to Manteca, California seeking warmer climate and economic opportunity. There they purchased 140 acres of land and established a grape growing cooperative. The “Russian Colony”, as it came to be known, was considered one of the most successful in the United States. However, by 1941, the colony was abandoned as colonists relocated elsewhere to find employment. In the following article, descendants reminisce about growing up in the Russian Colony. The following article by Rose M. Albano is reproduced from the Manteca Bulletin (Manteca, California: May 11, 1997).

Yes…there was a Russian Colony here in Manteca. That there was such a place here comes as a complete surprise to many area residents. “About the only ones aware of the colony’s existence are those who have lived here since before the 1950s,” said Ken Hafer of the Manteca Historical Society. “Those who were here then knew that everyone who lived in the 140-acre area at the south end of Castle Road were Russians. That’s why they called it a Russian Colony,” Hafer explained. After a big influx of people to Manteca in the 1960s, everyone ceased referring to the area as the Russian Colony. “The church was gone by then, and the people didn’t refer to themselves as Russians,” Hafer said.

Residents at the Manteca Russian Colony gather to celebrate the end of apricot-picking season, circa 1930’s.

Plenty of Memories

But memories of the old Russian Colony are still fresh in the minds of a few descendants of the first settlers who continue to live in the area. Nellie Richetta (nee Reibin), whose parents came to live in the colony in the 1920s when she was two months old, remembers a very cohesive community where everyone was treated like family.

“Every adult in that community was your aunt, your uncle, your grandfather. We called aunt so and so – tyotka – or uncle so and so – dyadya,” Richetta said, phonetically spelling the Russian words she used as a child. “The elders were grandfather and grandmother. We were safe. We could be at anybody’s house. It was a very safe environment to grow up in,” she said.

The children at the colony all became fast friends. Those friendships were further cemented by the fact that they all walked to the same grammar school together. Then they all went to Manteca High School, which was the only high school in town then. “We had a lot of friends here; it was still one of the best areas in the world,” remembered septuagenarian Peter Gretchen who came to live at the colony when he was two years old. He and his wife still live on Castle Road, just across the street from his parent’s old house. “I grew up with all ethnic groups – Greeks, Mexicans, Portuguese, Italians. The Indelicatos were there. We all went to (Castle) school together. It was just a mile away.”

The school was built at the south end of Castle Road on land donated by the pioneer Castle family. It was the Castle family which sold the land to the group of 14 Russian families who came to Manteca via Saskatchewan. 

Phillip Bloudoff, who still lives next to the house where he grew up, likewise had plenty of happy memories to share about growing up in the countryside. “We had no problems growing up with the Italians, the Portuguese, the Greeks. No, no, no! We had no problems whatsoever.” Both he and Richetta are from Manteca High’s class of 1944. 

Manteca, California in the 1930’s and 1940’s was home to various immigrant labourer groups.

Russian Speaking Children

Like all children growing up in the colony, Richetta spoke only Russian until she started first grade at Castle School. “My parents usually spoke Russian to us, and we spoke to them in English,” she said with a laugh. “I wish I had kept up with my speaking and reading Russian,” she says now with regret. “But it wasn’t important then. We wanted to learn English.”

“There were also Italians and Portuguese who didn’t speak English when I went to school. But when we graduated from grammar school, we all spoke English. That’s why I don’t believe in bilingual education. And I still speak Russian,” said Bloudoff.

Immaculate Housekeepers

Like many of the few dozen families who eventually settled at the colony, Richetta’s family used horses to farm their small lands, and a cow kept them supplied with milk. “They also raised chickens, so we had our own eggs,” Richetta said. “And we worked our own fields with our horses.”

She described the women at the colony as “immaculate housekeepers.” She laughed as she described to what lengths the women went to preserve that image. “When they hung their clothes outside they had to be white, because somebody might see them. That was their claim to fame: who was the best homemaker, the best cook,” she said.


Richetta also remembered how everyone supported one another in every way. She said nobody had a need to get hired help when it came to building a house or raising a barn. “Everybody helped each other. If somebody was building the barn, everybody came to help,” she said. And that meant men women and children. “While some got busy working on the building, others fixed lunch,” she said.

The same thing happed when women met for quilting sessions. “They all helped each other make their quilts. They bought raw wool, washed it and carded it. They did everything by hand,” Richetta recalled. “Back then, too, people did not have much money to buy a lot of things,” she said.

Hard-Working People

Besides tending their small farms where they grew grapes, apricots and other fruit trees and crops year around, the men in the colony took whatever odd jobs they could get anywhere. Many of them, like Gretchen’s father, took seasonal jobs. “My dad, many times, worked for a dollar a day,” Gretchen recalled.

Peter Gretchen working behind his home at the old Russian Colony where he and his wife still live today. Photo courtesy: Rose M. Albano.

He remembered having to live and attend school for some time in Modesto, Locke, and Thorton because that’s where his father found work in the fields or in the ranches. When the jobs were done, they came back home to Manteca. “They were difficult times, but we always had food. We had a cow and chickens,” said Gretchen who was the youngest of three children. “Because the men were away working somewhere, the women often had to do all the heavy work at home in the colony,” said Richetta.

“The men went to work in factories or they worked as carpenters – whatever jobs they could get. So they hitched up the women and built the roads in some of the Russian communities. It was all manual labor. They didn’t have the money to buy the animals because they were penniless,” she said. “Everybody worked hard. Later we had tractors,” she said. 

Many of the men at the Manteca Russian Colony found employment at Spreckels Sugar. Richett’s father, who was born in Saskatchewan, found work as a mechanic at the old Manteca Canning which was then located near the rail road tracks on Yosemite Avenue. The women worked in the fields picking fruits, Richetta said. “My grandmother picked apricots, grapes, peaches. Later the women worked in the canneries.” 

Homes With Big Basements

The houses they built at the Russian Colony were simple one story homes with big basements where such staple foods as milk, sour cream, canned goods, maybe a hundred pounds or more of potatoes, sugar and flour were kept. In the summer when the valley simmered and baked in three-digit temperatures, residents retreated into their basements where “it was nice and cool,” Richetta said. The homes also were equipped with huge furnaces fed with coal. Some had water towers built behind the house complete with an extra room which was often used as a bedroom. Those who could afford it had steam rooms called banyas which also invariably included a shower room. 

A few of the old homes are still there, but the water towers are all but gone, replaced by huge satellite dishes and other comforts of modern technology.

The Russian Colony prayer home building today sits as an unoccupied residence. Built in the 1930s to facilitate religious gatherings and funerals, the building was sold in the 1960s and converted into a private home.

The community also had its own prayer home, which was a multi-purpose building where funerals, weddings and other social gatherings were held. The building is still there, but it has since been sold, remodeled and converted into a home. 

Return of the Native

The children and grandchildren of the first Russian settlers have gone on to bigger and better things in the world. 

Many of those in Richetta’s generation went into business in Manteca, Stockton, Sonora and Oakdale. Their children are now distinguished professionals in their fields. The Gretchen’s oldest son, for example, is managing director of a microelectronics company in Malta. Before that, he worked in the Philippines. His sister, Sylvia, owns a publishing company in Orinda and is president of the Tibetan Institute in Berkeley. Bloudoff’s daughter, who is married and living in Lindon, is a lawyer. 

Bloudoff said that growing up, he too never wanted to live in the country. “I wanted to be a city boy,” he laughed. But then he got married, and soon he and his wife Helene were swamped with the patter of tiny feet around their home in Stockton. Recalling his carefree days in the open country at the Russian Colony, Bloudoff began to realize that his kids did not really have enough room to play where they lived.

Fog shrouds of an old vineyard planted by Doukhobors. They marketed their grapes under the name Ruscol, for “Russian Colony”.

So he and his wife made a decision to move to Manteca. “I wanted to raise my kids in the country because I remember my own childhood,” he said. “We had lots of room to play, plenty of space and lots of things to do.  So I decided to build a house next to my folks’ where the kids could play out in the country.”  The Bloudoffs and the Gretchens say that to this day their children are grateful for being raised in the country. 

The Colony Today

The old Russian Colony still boasts a quiet, rustic and rural atmosphere.  Surrounding almond orchards and vineyards still keep it isolated from Manteca’s urban sprawl. The area, just south of French Camp Road, remains an unincorporated section of San Joaquin County. 

Some of the old homes are still there. Anna F. Reibin, whose husband was one of the three Reibin brothers who were among the first to come form Saskatchewan, continues to live in the same house her husband built more than half a century ago. Richetta’s childhood home and farm have since been sold. She and her husband now live on East Lathrop Road. But the house where she also grew up is still standing there on Castle Road with the steam bath and two-story tank house in the back.

The old Russian Colony today on Verigin Road.

The Bloudoffs and Gretchens now live in modern homes built next door to houses where they grew up. Phillip Bloudoff continues to work at Ted’s Meat Company in Stockton a company he has co-owned since 1935. The business now has two locations in Stockton. Peter Gretchen is now retired, but he and his wife continue to tend the family vineyard they bought form their parents. 

But while the area still exudes a pastoral calm, Bloudoff said “it’s a lot different now; it’s changed a lot.” Gretchen agreed. “It was a lot more country then,” he said. We never locked our doors. Now you don’t know who’s here. But before, you knew everybody. Before, you used to talk to people. Now you watch television. Life has changed completely.”

For More Information

For a listing of 73 Doukhobors living in the Russian Colony in 1930, including their names, ages, family relationships, years of immigration from Canada, and their occupations, see the 1930 United States Federal Census enumerations under Castoria Township, San Joaquin County, California.

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.

The Maintenance and Revitalization of Doukhobor Russian in British Columbia, Canada: Prospects and Problems

by Gunter Schaarschmidt

Over the past 75 years, the Doukhobor Russian dialect has sustained a slow but steady decline after reaching its peak of usage and functionality in Canada in 1940. This is in large part due to the increasing use of English, on the one hand, and of Standard Russian, on the other hand.  The following article by Gunter Schaarschmidt of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Victoria, examines the root causes of this trend and identifies a strategy for its maintenance and revitalization among the Doukhobors of British Columbia.  The author contends that to save Doukhobor Russian from imminent extinction, a second language program in Doukhobor Russian must be established at the elementary school level, with Doukhobor elders and culture incorporated into the school programs. Reproduced with the author’s permission from “Topical Problems of Communication and Culture, Collection of Research Articles of International Scholars (Moscow-Pyatigorsk, 2013).

1. Introduction

The Doukhobors are a pacifist and anarchist splinter group from the Russian Orthodox Church. Their views led Tsar Nicholas to ban them from their first concentrated settlement in the fertile Crimea to barren Transcaucasia. In 1895, the group created a huge bonfire of weaponry as a gesture to the government that they they opposed conscription. Fearing extermination for the group, the writer Leo Tolstoy with the aid of the Quakers in Great Britain enabled approximately 7,500 Doukhobors to leave Russia in 1899 and settle in Canada. Following a dispute with the Government and after living in the Province of Saskatchewan for 9 years, the colony split into two groups, with the larger group (approximately 4,000) moving to the Province of British Columbia (BC) in the years 1908-1913.

It is estimated that there are currently 25,000 Doukhobors living in Canada, 8,000 in Saskatchewan and 12,300 of them in British Columbia, with smaller groups in Alberta (3,000) and other provinces (between 1,500 and 1,700)[1]. Until the demise of the USSR there were 7,000 Doukhobors living in the Republic of Georgia, with many other members of the group dispersed all over Russia including Siberia.[2]  At the time of the group’s move to Canada, Doukhobor Russian was a language composed of two functional styles: the colloquial language based largely on a South Russian dialect and the ritual language based on Russian Church Slavonic and handed down orally from generation to generation until the early part of the 20th century.[3]  There are no written sources in Doukhobor Russian until the Book of Life (Životnaja kniga; also often translated as “Living Book”) was published in Russia by Bonč-Bruevič (1909 [1954]).[4]  The colloquial language was oral until the Doukhobors’ move to Canada and here well into the 1930s (see Section 3.1. below).

Although Doukhobor Russian (“DR”), with its estimated 15, 000 speakers[5], is as distinct from Standard Russian as Plautdietsch is from Standard German, the former has not been included as a language or as a minority language in any of the current handbooks while the latter has been (see, for example, Lewis 2009 and Moseley 2007). Plautdietsch is included as an endangered language of some 80,000 to 100,000 speakers in Canada (Moseley 2007:265; Lewis 2009: online). To some extent perhaps Russian scholars and possibly Doukhobor writers themselves are to blame for this omission since DR is often referred to as a “variety of Russian” (Makarova 2012: x) or as a “dialect” (Harshenin 1961).[6]  And yet, the Doukhobors clearly form a minority group distinct from other Russian émigré groups in three geographic areas outside of Russia: 1) the Province of British Columbia (Canada); 2) the Province of Saskatchewan (Canada); and 3) the Republic of Georgia. The possibility of revitalization and maintenance is possible in BC if something is done before the current older generation(s) disappear (Schaarschmidt 2012: 255-57); it is becoming very unlikely in Saskatchewan (Makarova 2011); and probably still has a small chance in Georgia (Lom [Lohm] 2006).

In this pilot study we shall first provide a summary of the history of DR from the first homogeneous settlement in the Crimea in 1801 until the move to Canada (Section 2); then describe the development of DR from the group’s arrival in Saskatchewan and the partial move to British Columbia, the onset of both diglossia and bilingualism in the community in BC and the present linguistic situation (Section 3); and, as DR is currently on the brink of extinction in this province, a preliminary outline of an “eleventh-hour” proposal how to go beyond the process of preservation to a systematic maintenance and revitalization process of the language (Section 4).

2.    From Koine to Leveling (1801-1899)

2.1. Some linguistic prerequisites.

According to Trudgill, new-dialect formation proceeds generally in three stages (quoted here from Kerswill 2002, 679; see also Schaarschmidt 2012, 238-9):

Stage Speakers involved Linguistic characteristics
I  Adult migrants Rudimentary leveling
II  First native-born speakers  Extreme variability and further leveling
III Subsequent generations

 Focusing, leveling and reallocation

There is a great deal of variability in the time-depth of koineization, with focusing possible already by Stage II, and the absence of focusing sometimes persisting over several generations of Stage III. In this section, we deal with Stage I, what Siegel calls the “pre-koine.” This is the unstabilized stage at the beginning of koineization. A continuum exists in which various forms of the varieties in contact are used concurrently and inconsistently. Leveling and some mixing has begun to occur, and there may be various degrees of reduction, but few forms have emerged as the accepted compromise (Siegel 1985: 373).

2.2. Rudimentary leveling: Milky Waters.

When Tsar Alexander decided to create a concentrated settlement of the Doukhobors in the area near the Moločna River (whence the English term “Milky Waters”), he also created the foundation for the rise of Doukhobor Russian, originally as a mixture of dialects, a sort of koine [i.e. a standard dialect that has arisen as a result of contact between two or more mutually intelligible varieties of the same language], later as a language with distinct functional styles (see especially Schaarschmidt 2008). The only uniting feature at this point was the ritual functional style (hereafter short: “ritual language”). We have no direct evidence of the Doukhobor colloquial functional style of this period or, for that matter, for a good 100 years before the Canadian period. The details of the koine situation of this period can thus be gleaned only from 1) the evidence provided by interviews with second- and third generation speakers in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s; 2) interference phenomena in the ritual language; and 3) the experience gained in the internal reconstruction of other languages. This evidence allows us to assert that for the Milky Waters period rudimentary leveling of the dialect features was in process and that because of the interruptions in this process caused by the migrations to Transcaucasia and Canada the leveling process took longer than it normally takes for a non-migrant community of speakers. There is no tangible evidence of a diglossic situation [i.e. where two dialects are used by a single language community] Doukhobor Russian – Standard Russian as the large majority of Doukhobors were illiterate, as was the case for four fifths of all Russians in the Empire, (acording to the first census of 1897; see, in this respect Rašin 1951: 49).

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website ( Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

2.3. Further leveling: Transcaucasia.

We may assume that the Transcaucasian period marked the continuation of the rudimentary leveling process mentioned above in Section 2.1. For the first native-born speakers, however, there probably existed a combination of extreme dialect variability and further leveling. By the time adult speakers migrated to Canada in 1899, both the variability and the leveling were part of their dialect and were, to some extent, reflected in the ritual style.

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website ( Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

There is no tangible evidence of a diglossic situation Doukhobor Russian – Standard Russian during the Transcaucasian period. There may, however, have been elements of bilingualism, as trading with the non-Slavic peoples (mainly Turko-Tatars) would have required a vehicle of communication, if only a pigeon [i.e. a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two groups that do not have a language in common] of the Russenorsk type or that used today in trading on the Russian-Chinese border area in the Far East. Many of the linguistic features collected are based on interviews with speakers in their 60s and 70s, i.e., those who migrated from Transcaucasia to Canada (see, in this respect, Schaarschmidt 2012: 241-3). We shall select here only the category of loans to illustrate the partial leveling process at this stage in language development (see also Tarasoff 1963 and Beženceva 2007:123-6). Due to the later influence of Standard Russian it is not always clear whether such loans are actually genuine loans directly from Turko-Tataric or indirect loans in a later period. This can be exemplified by the apparent Doukhobor loan from Turkic džiranka ‘deer’, for which there exist the Standard Russian variants džejran, dzeren and zeren/zerenka, referring, however, to a kind of antelope (see Fasmer 1964–73, I: 510–11; II: 95). The Doukhobor language in present-day Georgia also contains many loans from the adjacent or co-territorial non-Slavic languages but here again many assumed Doukhobor loans may in fact also be loans in Standard Russian or internationalisms, as exemplified by the loan mazun ‘matzoon/madzoon’ (a type of yoghurt), cf. Standard Russian maconi, borrowed from Armenian.

The Transcaucasian period was marked by a considerable variability in the area of phonology, morphology, lexical structure, and syntax. An apparent Doukhobor Russian innovation in morphology is the replacement of the neuter gender by the feminine gender in the first and second generations (Inikova 1995, 156). The loss of the neuter gender may have been caused by the coalescence of unstressed o, a, e in post-tonic desinences and that coalescence was then extended to stressed endings and modifiers, i.e., эта жабa [èta žaba] ‘this toad’: это сало [èta sála] ‘this lard,’ therefore моя жабa [majá žába] ‘my toad’: моё сало *[majá sála] ‘my lard.’ This coalescence can be seen widely in the Anglicization of place-names, such as Ootischenia, a locality in Castlegar, BC, referred to in a modern spelling Ooteshenie in Tarasoff (2002, 470), cf. Russian утешение ‘consolation.’

The Doukhobor settlements today are found primarily in the Republic of Georgia.

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website ( Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

The question of the revitalization and maintenance of DR in the Republic of Georgia is not within the scope of the present investigation. It seems, however, that in spite of the significant exodus of speakers to Russia, present levels of maintenance appear to be vigorous. To be sure, the chances of a successful revitalization and maintenance process of Doukhobor Russian in Georgia are decreasing rapidly because as the leader of the Georgian Doukhobor community, Tat’jana Tixonova put it: “out of the more than 6-7,000 Doukhobors who lived in Georgia at the end of the 1980s no more than 800 are left, and these are basically between 50 to 70 years old“ (Beženceva 2007, 100; translation mine – GS). A somewhat more optimistic view is expressed in Lom [Lohm]: 2006, 48 (translation mine – GS): “One must note, however, that there are often apocalyptic[7] prophecies concerning the future of the Doukhobors. Already in the 1960s the scholars predicted that the Doukhobor identity would disappear in the near future. When saying goodbye to us, a Doukhobor woman told us: ‘you know, every year we say that we are going to leave for Russia. But in the end we always stay.’”

3.    Focusing and Reallocation: 1899-1938

3.1. Saskatchewan

Focusing, i.e., the selection of one of the competing forms, was considerably impeded by the influence of the language of the “Galicians”, i.e., of Ukrainian.[8]  This influence was still felt for a short while after the move to British Columbia (see 3.2. below). Reallocation took place, for example, in the borrowing of words from English into DR primarily in the workplace (Harshenin 1964, 1967), thus narrowing the linguistic functions of either Ukrainian borrowings or traditional DR lexical items. This period also saw the beginning of diglossia since in a letter of February 1, 1899, to Leo Tolstoy the Doukhobors’ spiritual leader in exile had stated that “teaching literacy to the children, including the girls, must be considered a priority right at the start” (Donskov 1995, 43).

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website ( Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

The time for a revitalization of DR in Saskatchewan may have passed: Makarova (2011) predicts that the language will be extinct within a decade.

3.2. Move to British Columbia

The Doukhobors’ move to British Columbia in a relatively secluded area, free from interference with Ukrainian, allowed the Doukhobor community to conclude the focusing, leveling, and reallocation of linguistic features resulting in the demarcation of three functional styles: the colloquial language, the ritual language, and the written language. English – Russian bilingualism developed fully within one generation (roughly between the 1930s to the 1960s), primarily due to forced schooling in English (Schaarschmidt 2009: 35-36).

Due to the increasing use of English, on the one hand, and of Standard Russian (“SR”), on the other hand, both the colloquial DR style and the ritual language began their inevitable retreat after reaching their peaks of usage and functionality between 1801 and 1940. This is manifested in 1) a growing SR component in the diglossic DR/SR situation in the form of home-schooling in Standard Russian using old-country bukvari (primers) as well as in the launching of Russian schools maintained by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ in the main Doukhobor centres of Grand Forks and the West Kootenays in BC since 1935; 2) an increase in code-switching in the colloquial style; 3) the marginalization of the DR colloquial style or its replacement by the Standard Russian colloquial style; 4) the translation of ritual texts into English or the standardization of DR ritual texts, e.g., by removing Church Slavonicisms or obscure passages; and 5) the launching of Russian-language courses from kindergarten to Grade 12 in schools in the Doukhobor areas in the early 1980s, thus further marginalizing the DR colloquial style.

This figure is reproduced by permission from the Doukhobor Genealogy Website ( Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. All rights reserved.

4. A Strategy for the Maintenance and Revitalization of DR

4.1. The present situation

There can be no question that DR in British Columbia has sustained some heavy losses in the past 75 years, resulting in a crisis situation in our days. It is good to know, however, that there is currently a kind of revitalization of DR carried out in this province. To be sure, this “revitalization” is more aimed at recording lexical items and texts for the sake of saving as much information as possible for future generations. From efforts such as a series of thus far sixteen two-page articles of DR data in the monthly magazine Iskra (Popoff 2012) it is still a long way to the revival of DR as a vehicle of communication and a school subject. But it is a good testing ground as to how far educators in conjunction with the community are willing to go in this revitalization process.

4.2. What can be done?[9]

As in traditional native cultures, the Doukhobor elders “were the source of all knowledge and the keepers of the value and belief systems. The elders used oral language as a means of passing on their knowledge and cultures and thus education … meant that elders, language and culture were inextricably interwoven.” (Native Language Education 1986: 1; Government of Alberta 2010:2).Thus, in order to develop a Second Language Program in DR from Grades 1-3, the Doukhobor elders and cultures must be brought into the school programs. The subject DR faces stiff competition from a numerically stronger relative, i.e., Standard Russian (SR), historically a compromise language based essentially on the Moscow dialect.

The current need for the maintenance and revitalization of DR is similar to the needs of many other minority languages including autochthonous ones. We will select here one that is within our research experience and competence, viz., Lower Sorbian (a Slavic language) in Germany. About a dozen years ago, Lower Sorbian was spoken only by people older than 60 years, and it was predicted that in about 15 to 20, maximally 30 years, the language would be dead (Jodlbauer, Spieß and Stenwijk 2001: 204). The remedy for this was seen in revitalizing Lower Sorbian as a second language beginning in pre-school years. For this purpose, a special day-care centre, called Mato Rizo, was established in a district in the city of Cottbus. In that day-care centre, part of an anticipated chain of such centres called WITAJ (“welcome”), Lower Sorbian was taught as an immersion course in the hope that a new generation of second-language speakers would compensate for the losses suffered in the last two decades. In addition, as a possible interim supporting measure it was hoped that Lower Sorbian could be increasingly taught as a foreign language with English and possibly French and Russian as powerful competitors (Jodlbauer, Spieß and Stenwijk 2001: 207-208).

Like in the case of Canada’s First Nations languages, such efforts for the revitalization of Lower Sorbian require the active involvement of elders with native or next-to-native (semi-speaker) proficiency in the WITAJ project. But similar to the Doukhobor Russian situation, Lower Sorbian language activists have come out against making two languages, viz., Lower Sorbian and English compulsory subjects even though they do not agree with public opinion that learning two languages in addition to German would present a burden. Admittedly, the possible range of applicability of Lower Sorbian as a second language is very limited in present-day German society; however, the language does have a rich written tradition to look back on. On balance, then, Doukhobor Russian is more in the situation of Canada’s First Nations Languages: for the latter, especially the smaller groups like some Salish languages in British Columbia, it is often suggested that they would be better off learning a major First Nations language, such as Cree (see also Schaarschmidt 1998:463). This is similar, then, to the view expressed in the Doukhobor community that Doukhobor children should learn Standard Russian but that all efforts should be made to document as much as possible of Doukhobor Russian so as to preserve it as a museum language.

At the time of writing, only the oldest generation of Doukhobors in BC is still using the language in one or the other function. Children pick up bits and pieces from grandparents but they don’t speak it for the simple reason that their parents don’t know how to speak it any more. This situation in general implies the impending death of a language/dialect. True, there are many who would like to save the dialect and they can learn a lot from the situation of the First Nations languages in British Columbia where considerable progress has been made even in those cases where there were only 50 adult speakers. There are also opponents who either do not see any value in maintaining and revitalizing the language of the elders or view this process as an extra burden on the children in the light of Standard Russian as a school subject. It is difficult to counter value judgments except perhaps with the argument that there are benefits in maintaining something that could be of good use some day (Harrison 2010:274). The extra-burden argument does not hold water because the human brain between three and six years of age can pick up an indefinite number of languages or dialects (even closely related ones) without any difficulty (for a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of multiple-language acquisition, see Harrison 2010: 221-242). Another hindrance to the revitalization project is the auto- and heterostereotype perception of DR: 1) the Doukhobors themselves consider DR to be outdated and not good Russian (being based on a South Russian, DR is often felt to be like Ukrainian). The notion of DR being outdated is perhaps best expressed in this quote from a Doukhobor: “Personally, the so-called ‘Doukhobor dialect’ is interesting as a minor artifact of life, but the real future is in learning Standard Russian, one of the important international languages of the world” (Koozma Tarasoff, Spirit Wrestlers Blog, May 21, 2011. This negative autostereotype perception is enforced by the heterostereotype perception as exemplified by references to DR as being “artificial” and “defective” (Golubeva-Monatkina 1997: 35; translation mine – GS).

As stated in the Introduction, the present study should be viewed as a pilot study to be followed by a detailed proposal how to 1) get DR into the school system at least in Grades 1-3; 2) develop a teacher training programme and curriculum as well as teaching aids in consultation with elders; and 3) secure funding for such a programme perhaps in the form of a foundation grant as well as grants from the Provincial Government.

4.3. Getting DR into the BC school system

4.3.1. Teacher training programs

Selkirk College in Castlegar, BC, would be the most appropriate place to develop a teacher training programme and workshops as well as curriculum and teaching aids perhaps with the assistance of the University of Victoria, a traditional supporter of DR studies and teacher training initiatives since the early 1980s. A Doukhobor foundation grant would help with the financing of these efforts as well as with the preparation of the kinds of materials mentioned in 4.3.3. below.

4.3.2. Writing DR

One of the first things that were done for Sencoten, a language like DR with an oral tradition, was to develop an alphabet for the language. This was carried out by John Elliott, a non-linguist who has managed to incorporate four of his new graphic symbols into UNICODE (see and Claxton & Elliott 1994). For DR it will make good sense to use the cyrillic alphabet but perhaps with the addition of the Greek letter γ (gamma) to denote the pronunciation of Cyrillic г as either [γ] or [h] in DR as well as the letter ў to denote bilabial [w].

4.3.3. Texts, dictionaries and a grammar

A second task will be to create an archive of texts in both oral form and cyrillic letters. A grammatical outline of DR as well as dictionaries will also be essential as teaching aids.

5. Conclusion

In concluding this pilot study we wish to emphasize that we take it for granted that saving a language from extinction is just as important as ensuring the survival of an animal or plant species. As the Australian language expert Wurm (1991: 17) put it: “With the death of a language […] an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world-view has been lost forever.” And to paraphrase Harrison (2010: 274), what the elder generations of the Doukhobors know – “which we’ve forgotten or never knew – may someday save us.” It is imperative that, once a community decision has been reached to embark upon a revitalization program, a school program in DR should be started very soon, certainly while the elders are still around because creating a generation of DR as second-language speakers may make good economic sense the benefits of which might only be felt a couple of generations later.

As Harrison quoted one of his “last speakers”: “trouble is, they say they want to learn it [=the language, G.S.], but when it comes time to do the work, nobody comes around” (Harrison 2010: 249). It is noteworthy that in those cases where somebody did come around (Sencoten, Lower Sorbian), the experience has invariably been a rewarding one.


[1] This statistics are based on the possibly quite outdated information given in Popoff 1983, 117. Later figures put the totals somewhat higher, e.g., in Tarasoff 2002, 12.

[2] Current estimates for the Republic of Georgia vary widely due to a lack of reliable statistics from 800 speakers to a mere 150 (see also Section 2.3. of the present study).

[3] DR has been variously referred to as a “language’, a “dialect”, or a “variant” (of Russian). We are using “language” where many writers have been using “dialect”, and we prefer to use “style” as opposed to “dialect”. This question of nomenclature is not trivial, see also the discussion of the hetero- and autostereotype perception of DR in Section 4. of the present study.

[4] In the transliteration of cyrillic, we follow the “ISO Transliteration System”. In one instance, viz., in the discussion of the loss of the neuter gender in DR in Section 2.3., we decided to use the original cyrillic because it seemed to us to make the opposition stressed : unstressed clearer.

[5] This is on the assumption of a 60% language maintenance estimated in Schaarschmidt 1998, 466. The level of maintenance has probably shrunk to something like 50% during the last 15 years, amounting to a total of 12,500 speakers including a large number of semi-speakers.

[6] We prefer to label the relation DR – SR in BC as a diglossic situation. Due to the fact that Canadian English is rapidly becoming the first language for BC Doukhobors, there is bilingualism in addition to diglossia (Schaarschmidt 2012: 249-50). For a discussion of the various forms of diglossia, as opposed to bilingualism, see Myers-Scotton 2006: 80-89.

[7] The term “apocalyptic” seems to refer to the “Day of Judgment” said to arrive possibly in the year 2000, as quoted in Inikova 1995, 194. For some recent literature on the protection of the Doukhobors in Georgia, see also also Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Georgia: Treatment of Doukhobors (Dukhobors) and state protection available to them, 1 January 1999, GGA31028.E, available at: [last accessed 6 February 2013]. For the reduction in the number of schools with Russian instruction in Georgia and an action plan to remedy this situation, see Council of National Minorities (2012).

[8] Young (1931:185) reports many cases of intermarriage between Doukhobors and Ukrainians.

[9] Most of these steps are outlined in Hinton and Hale 2001. A convenient shortcut guide for indigenous languages can be found in FPCC 2013 (last accessed February 20, 2013).


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For More Information

For additional research about the Doukhobor dialect spoken in Canada, see Gunter Schaarschmidt’s articles Four Norms – One Culture: Doukhobor Russian in Canada as well as English for Doukhobors: 110 Years of Russian-English Contact in Canada.  Read also about his Day-trip to Piers Island: Reminiscing About the Penitentiary, 1932-1935.  Finally, for Gunter Schaarschmidt’s exclusive translations of 19th century German articles about the Doukhobors, see The Dukhobortsy, 1822-1828 by Daniel Schlatter; Passage Across the Caucasus, 1843 by Kuzma F. Spassky-Avtonomov; The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856 by Heinrich Johann von Paucker; Notes from the Molochnaya, 1855 by Alexander Petzholdt; Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864 by Alexander Petzholdt; Report from the Caucasus, 1875 by Hans Leder; and Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875 by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde. 

English for Doukhobors: 110 Years of Russian-English Contact in Canada

by Gunter Schaarschmidt

Over the last 110 years, the use of the Doukhobor Russian dialect has been gradually displaced by English among Doukhobors living in Canada. The following article by Gunter Schaarschmidt of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Victoria, examines this trend in the context of “special” or “ritual” language used by the Doukhobors in their religious ceremony. This article is reproduced with the editor’s permission from Nadezhda L. Grejdina (ed.), “Aktual’nye problemy kommunikacii i kul’tury”, Vol. 10. “Sbornik nauchnyx trudov rossijskix i zarubezhnyx uchenyx” (Moskva/Pyatigorsk: Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University, 2009), pp. 30-43. The author observes that, to the extent Doukhobor cultural and spiritual traditions will be maintained in Canada, the question is whether these will be carried out using the vehicle of Russian or English. If it is the latter, can these cultural and spiritual traditions still be considered “genuine”?

1. Introduction

The present paper will deal with a small subtopic in the discipline of sociolinguistics, i.e., the disappearance of “special” language, such as the “ritual” language as used by the Doukhobors in Canada, and its replacement by English special language. Much of what will be said about the former, also applies to the disappearance of the dialect, which is a living testimony of the various contacts the Doukhobors had in their migrations (see, for example, the many lexical items that stem from contact with non-Slavic peoples in Transcaucasia as described in Tarasoff 1963). The Doukhobors emigrated to Canada from Russia beginning in 1899 and settled first in an area near the border between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the years 1908 to 1913, a little more than half of them moved to the Kootenay district of British Columbia (Tarasoff 2002:8-14). Figure (1) shows the original Doukhobor settlements in the Province of Saskatchewan and the migration path from there to the Province of British Columbia. (Note: Permission to reproduce the map in Figure 1 from Tarasoff (1982: 100) is herewith gratefully acknowledged.). At the present time, the number of Doukhobors is estimated to be 30,000 with 13,000 residing in British Columbia. Their rate of language maintenance is about 60% (Schaarschmidt 1998:466).

Figure (1)  Map of Community Doukhobors’ Move from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, 1908-1913.

2. Ritual Language

In essence, the Doukhobor psalms and prayers contain the main elements of a tradition that is not otherwise fixed in a written form. These oral works are composed in a very ancient, Russian Church Slavonic form of language that is often no longer comprehensible even to educated members of the community. In the last 40 years, since the inception of compulsory schooling, many of the psalms and prayers have been recorded in written form. Until that time, most of them were learnt by heart and enriched with regional elements, e.g., Ukrainianisms (see Schaarschmidt 1995). The psalms embody a large part of the Doukhobor belief system, somewhat like a basic communal “constitution” (Mealing 1975:51), as, e.g., in the set of ten psalms entitled “From the Common Views of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”, one of which (No. 5) is given below with an interlinear and a free translation (some of the words have been corrected; it is not clear whether these words were typing errors in Mealing’s work, or whether they were handed down orally in this way and lost some of their grammar). (Note: The transliteration used in this paper is a hybrid of the Library of Congress (LC) system and of IPA. Thus, sh zh ch are retained from LC but c x j from IPA. This will allow a diacritic-free transliteration of Cyrillic.).

Mir     sostoit   iz    dvizhenija; vsë stremitsja k
World consists from movement;   all  strives        to
sovershenstvu i     cherez ètot  process staraetsja
perfection         and through  this  process it strives
soedinit’sja so   svoim nachalom, kak by
to unite        with its       beginning    as   if
vozvratit’ sozrevshij     plod semeni.
to return   having ripened fruit  to seed

“The world is based upon going forward; all things strive for perfection, and through this process seek to rejoin their source, as ripe fruit yields seeds [probably incorrectly in Mealing 1975:53: “as seeds yield ripe fruit”]”.

3. English For Doukhobors

The following constitutes a kind of mini-history of Russian-English contact since the arrival of the Doukhobors in Canada. The historical outline is not exhaustive and ignores many sociolinguistic variables, such as federal and provincial politics with regard to forced schooling, attitudes to Russian language use, and generational differences.

3.1. Anna Tchertkoff’s “English Grammar”

3.1.1. Anna Tchertkoff

More than 100 years ago, Anna Tchertkoff (1859-1927) received a request from the Doukhobors who had emigrated to Canada to write a textbook that would help them and other Russian immigrants learn the English language. She went to work and published such a textbook in her own publishing house in 1900. Anna Tchertkoff was the wife of Vladimir Tchertkoff (1854-1936), an outspoken defender of Doukhobor rights in the Caucasus who after publicizing their plight was exiled from Russia and settled in England in 1897. Together with his wife Anna, he translated, edited, and published Leo Tolstoy’s works. Anna and Vladimir collaborated in founding and running the Free Age Press in English and the Svobodnoe Slovo (“Free Word”) in Russian.

In her preface, Anna Tchertkoff states that the selection of lexical items and phraseological units is based on the needs that the Doukhobors in Canada will have in communicating with their Anglophone hosts. She cautions, however, that the scope and
length of the work (101 pages plus 17 pages of phonetic, orthographic, and grammatical preliminaries) cannot provide an exhaustive listing of words and sentences that a Russian immigrant might require either in Canada or the US. She is also asking readers to send her comments and suggestions that she would like to include in a planned second edition. To our knowledge, such a second edition was never published.

3.1.2. The Pedagogical Variable

Ignoring for the moment the first 17 pages (see 3.1.3. below), the main body of the text has the form of a dictionary or vocabulary lists as well as lists of phrases with the directionality Russian – English. Interspersed in this set of lists are continuous Russian language text segments with interlinear translation and phonetic transcription. The texts illustrate aspects of Canadian geography and culture. As Tarasoff puts it: “they contained propaganda, designed to assist them [the Doukhobors] against the Canadian authorities” (2002:400).

3.1.3. The Linguistic Variable

In what is possibly one of the first contrastive Russian-English analyses, Tchertkoff presents the main differences in the phonology of the two languages. She warns the reader that with her phonetic transcription using the Cyrillic alphabet, it is not always possible to automatically induce the correct pronunciation. Thus the grapheme th has two pronunciations in English, neither of which can be adequately rendered using Russian graphemes. For voiced [δ] she uses the digraph tz, admonishing the reader, however, that “it must not be pronounced as the two separate Russian letters but as one continuant sound, through the teeth, lisping…” (Tchertkoff 1900:v). For the voiceless counterpart [θ], she recommends the Cyrillic letter θ that was in use before the October Revolution. This letter is of Greek origin and originally had the sound value [θ]. However, when Russian adopted the letter, its pronunciation in Modern Greek had already changed into [f], but Russian continued to use it until 1913 primarily in names of Greek origin, such as Theodore (θedorь), even though it was pronounced as an [f].

In the remarks on the English vowel system, Tchertkoff stresses the fact that there can be both long (diphthongized) and short vowels in stressed syllables, which contrasts with the Russian phonological system where vowels under stress are always lengthened (and diphthongized). One problem in her analysis is that she takes the British English pronunciation as a basis, e.g., in words like consume and duty where in most Canadian dialects the u is pronounced [uw], not [yuw].

Standard (Moscow) Russian does not have phonemically relevant [h], so Tchertkoff renders this high-frequency English phoneme with Russian [x]. She points out, however, that “our Little Russians [i.e., Ukrainians] pronounce the letter g as [h]”
(Tchertkoff 1900:ix), forgetting, apparently, that the Doukhobor dialect does exactly the same, i.e., it has phonemic /h/. The problem here is, of course, that the Cyrillic alphabet never had a grapheme for the sound [h], and that written g is used in Ukrainian and Doukhobor Russian to denote both [h] and [g], the latter occurring mainly in borrowings (Canadian Ukrainian developed a special grapheme for phonetic [g]). In any case, a contrastive analysis of the phonological systems of Doukhobor Russian and English would predict that Doukhobor speakers should have no problem with English /h/.

In the last section of her preliminaries, Anna Tchertkoff tackles the definite/indefinite article in English. Russian does not have an article, using mainly word order to fulfill the function of the and a(n). She explains the use of the definite/indefinite article in English in terms of the known/unknown variables, postponing a more detailed analysis of this grammatical problem, and of many others, to the preparation of a second part of the grammar.

3.1.4. The Sociolinguistic Variable

The selection of the lexical items, phrases, and texts in the book is determined by two factors: 1) unlike many other grammars, Tchertkoff’s grammar is not aimed at the educated Russian reader, the leisure traveller, or the business traveller, but at the needs of the 7,500 Doukhobor immigrants in Canada; thus, the language presented is Canadian English; and 2) apart from terminology used in the Doukhobors’ daily work, the grammar concentrates on certain abstract concepts required for them to communicate their belief system and rituals to their hosts. This second factor seems to be at variance with the Doukhobors’ attitude to English. After all, they had come to Canada “to preserve the cultural identity of which their language is an intimate part” (Harshenin 1964:39). Thus, they borrowed from English what was absolutely essential to their work environment, i.e., terms relating to the railroad, the sawmills, gadgets, units of measure, money (see the list compiled by Harshenin 1967:216-30). Furthermore, until the 1930’s the Doukhobors resisted any pressure by the Canadian authorities to send their children to schools and thus expose them to daily English instruction. Perhaps this is the reason why there was never any need for a second edition, or why the planned second part never appeared: the grammar was simply not used by the Doukhobors. However, another reason may be that the Tchertkoffs returned to Russia and settled there in 1909, a move that would have cut their ties with the Doukhobor immigrants in Canada.

3.2. Interference Phenomena

In the late 1930s, a Canadian writer was able to make fun in her diary of the heavily accented English spoken by the Doukhobors, as illustrated in the following passage from her book (O’Neail 1962:104):

Eh-h-h-h, how moch monya! … And now every mawnt’
Eh,          how  much  money       and  now  every  month
we’re gonna   gyet like dot  moch  monya!
we’re   going to get   like  that  much  money
And today mawder-my weell go Nyelson
and  today  mother-my    we’ll    go to Nelson
and buy la-awtsa t’eengs! E-h-h, how lawtsa
and  buy lots of      things    Eh,     how   lots of
weell buy!
we’ll    buy

“Eh, how much money [we received], and now every month we are going to receive just as much money! And today my mother and I, we will go to Nelson and buy a lot of things! Eh, what a lot of [things] we will buy.”

The above passage shows typical Russian phonetic interference phenomena, such as palatalization before front vowels (monya, gyet, Nyelson); rendering short vowels in a stressed syllable as long vowels (mawnt’, t’eengs, mawder); t’ (aspirated) for voiceless th (teengs), and d for voiced th (dotmawder). Syntactically, we note 1) the postpositioning of the possessive, an archaism in Russian but typical of Doukhobor speech (mawder-my); 2) the frequent use of and at the beginning of utterances; and 3) the absence of a preposition in go Nyelson, possibly as a transference from mute Russian bilabial [w] for v before consonants.

When Hazel O’Neail returned to the area in 1962, i.e., 24 years later, she was able to note that “the old accent lingers in some cases, though not nearly as pronounced, and in many I caught not a trace at all. Furthermore, the offensive ‘and’ which used to preface every remark…seems to have disappeared altogether” (O’Neail 1962:141). Today, more than one generation later, only Doukhobors in their eighties and nineties show traces of an accent in English. All others speak a Canadian English of the Western variety, and for most of them English is their first language.

4. Lost Categories

4.1. Language and Culture

The loss of languages is often compared to the decimation and eventual extinction of animal and plant species. For language, changes in environment would mean that, to quote Wurm (1991:3):

the cultural and social settings in which a given language had been functioning,
usually for a very long time, have been replaced by new and quite different ones as
a result of irresistible culture contact and clash, with the traditional language
unsuited for readily functioning as a vehicle of expression of the new culture.

And to continue with Wurm (1991:17): “With the death of a language…, an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world-view has been lost forever.”

One word of caution that must be heeded by the investigator is whether the loss of linguistic categories follows the loss of the underlying cultural categories, or to put it the other way around, whether linguistic categories are retained in a language long after the underlying cultural categories have been lost. In a language revival process this interrelationship would imply that the revival of linguistic categories entails the revival of the underlying cultural categories.

Thus, in the case of Doukhobor culture, having been removed from Russian society for more than 100 years, many of the set patterns of this society were also removed and supplanted by Anglo-Canadian patterns. The Doukhobors have of course always been a society within a society but through the interaction with the dominant society, have assimilated and/or retained patterns of the latter.

The loss of the dialect reflects the general levelling of dialectal differences in the world’s languages and is therefore as general a process as the loss of lesser used languages. Revival of dialects does occur but in the case of Doukhobor Russian would be made more difficult due to the competition of the dialect with Standard Russian. This entire question must be left to a different investigation (see also below, Section 5).

The loss of a special language, such as Doukhobor ritual language, can only be compared to the loss of other special languages in the world, viz., the loss of Latin in Christian churches, the loss of the scientific functional style in many of the world’s smaller languages (and even some of the major languages), and perhaps the loss of writing systems, such as cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Mayan. An anthropologist like Mark Mealing rhetorically deplores the rendering of Doukhobor psalms in English: “can the psalms convey their true meanings if they are not heard or read in Russian?” (Mealing 1995:41); he concedes, however, that one can expect to “find something deeply present in such potent texts, even through the mask of translation” (Mealing 1995:41). This view is apparently shared by the younger generation of Doukhobors, i.e., 29 years or younger, who do not support the concept of language being a carrier of culture and belief (Friesen and Verigin 1996: 147).

There is also regional variation in this respect; thus, the 2004 festivities connected with Peter’s Day were conducted primarily in English in Saskatchewan (Note: Private communication by Larry Ewashen, Director of the Doukhobor Museum in Castlegar, BC.), while the same festivities in British Columbia were conducted in Russian. (The author of this paper was present during part of the Sunday festivities (June 27, 2004) on the grounds of the Doukhobor Museum in Castlegar, BC, and can thus vouch for this fact. It must be pointed out, however, that the choice of language in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia is apparently also audience-conditioned, i.e., with a predominantly English-speaking audience, English translations will be used at least in part of the ceremonies in the West Kootenay area as well. It may be worth noting here that the Doukhobor community in the Republic of Georgia has apparently been successful in maintaining both the dialect and the ritual style although the number of persons able to recite the psalms is decreasing there as well (for a recent analysis, see Bezhenceva 2007: 123–139).)

On the basis of translations of Doukhobor ritual texts, we can arrive at a tentative list of lost categories or untranslatable (“cultural substance”) features.

4.2. Psalm No. 166

It will be worthwhile here contrasting an excerpt from psalm No. 166 with its English translation to ascertain just what may have been lost in the translation (the annotation DP stands for discourse particle).

Mladye moi junoshi, vy  projdëte  lesy    tëmnye,
Young   my   youth     you will pass  forests dark
vzyjdite na gory         krutye, pristupite k  morju
climb     on  mountains steep    step up     to sea
chërnomu, stan’te zhe vy   na   Noev   korabl’. bujny
black          board   DP   you onto Noah’s ark        boisterous
vetry  sbushevalis’,
winds  raged
chërno more vskolyxalos’. slëzno  vosplakalis’
black    sea    heaved           tearfully cried out
mladye junoshi pered Gospodom: Gospodi, Gospodi! pochto
young    youth    before   Lord            Lord         Lord        why
dopustil  bujnye     vetry  bushevat’, morskie volny  volnovat’
(you) let   boisterous winds rage           ocean    waves  surge
chërno more kolyxat’, chto nel’zja      projti    v    Tvoj
black    sea    heave      that   impossible to-pass into Your
Erusalim-grad, posmotret’ tam  velik  stolb ognennyj, on zhe
Jerusalem-city   to-view        there great  pillar  fiery           it   DP
vozsijaet ot     zemli i    do neba.
shines      from earth  and to  sky

Notes: Vzyjdite: An archaic form, cf. Standard Russian vzojdëte. The suffix –ite is an imperative suffix not expected in this context. Stan’te: This is an imperative form instead of the expected staneteVozsijaet: Standard Russian orthography has vossijaet.

And here is the translation as taken from Mealing (1995:43-44):

“My young men, you will go on through shadowy forests, you will go up into lofty mountains, you will come to the gloomy sea, you will embark in Noah’s ship. The wild winds were uproarious, the dark sea was stirred up. The young men wept bitter tears
before the Lord: Lord, Lord! Why allow the wild winds to rage, the waves of the sea to billow up, the dark sea to heave? It is impossible for us to come to your Jerusalem-town, there to look at the great fiery pillar, it shines from earth to heaven.”

4.3. What Is Lost

The linguistic features examined in this subsection are 1) those which represent Church Slavonic elements that serve as mnemonic devices in the oral transmission of the psalms; and 2) those which due to their phonetic structure have an alliterative-parallel function and thus do not possess any semantic value.

4.3.1. The Postnominal Position of Adjectives

The postnominal position of adjectives is a normal syntactic rule for French, and yet no one would want to claim that all French translations into English are inadequate. The reason is that a normal syntactic phenomenon in French is translated into a normal syntactic phenomenon in English, i.e., the prenominal position of modifiers. In Russian, however, the postnominal position of adjectives is highly marked, whereas in the Doukhobor ritual style this position is a stylistic possibility for incorporating invariant mnemonic aids. In [the above psalm] text the postnominal position of long-form adjectives is almost the norm, while the short forms are always prenominal, cf. the opposition prenominal vs. postnominal in chërno more : k morju chërnomu and, in one and the same noun phrase, velik stolb ognennyj. (Note: The short-form adjectives are no longer used in an attributive position in Standard Russian, except in fixed idioms, such as sred’ bela dnja “in broad daylight.”). This parallelism is not always symmetric due to grammatical restrictions (mladye junoshi) or onomatopoeic preference (Tvoj Erusalim-grad).

4.3.2. Church Slavonicisms

In the [psalm] text passage above, we find this mixture of styles, on the one hand, in the adjective mladye “young” nom pl vs. Russian molodye; and, on the other hand, in the preposition pered “before, in front of” vs. Church Slavonic pred. This functional interplay of Church Slavonic and Russian forms characterizes not only the Doukhobor ritual style but also Russian poetic style. It may be argued that mladye is a phonetic spelling of molodye with the loss of the vowel in the first syllable, a phenomenon that is common in colloquial speech. The only argument against this is the fact that we are dealing here with the recital of a psalm, i.e., a formal style, in which vowel elision would seem to be prohibited. However, this question merits further study with a wider corpus.

4.3.3. Alliteration and Parallelism

The alliterative parallelism of the verb phrases with the perfective reflexives sbushevalis’vskolyxalos’slëzno vosplakalis’ and the verb phrases with the imperfective infinitives bushevat’volnovat’kolyxat’ is less concerned with the cognitive meaning of the passage in question than its contextual meaning, a feature typical of folklore genres in Russian. That the threefold matchup is not quite symmetric semantically (vosplakalis’ vs. volnovat’) is no doubt due to the conventions of oral transmission of these psalms where for the sake of memorization semantics was sacrificed to phonetics.

4.3.4. Short Form Adjectives Used Attributively

The examples in question in [the above psalm text] are bujny vetrychërno more, and velik stolb ognennyj “large, fiery pillar.” This usage of short form adjectives in an attributive function, as opposed to their restriction to a predicative function in Standard Russian, was a regular feature in Old Church Slavonic and was retained as a marked stylistic feature in poetry and Russian Church Slavonic as well as in the Doukhobor ritual style. The noun phrase velik stolb ognennyj above is semantically equivalent to Standard Russian bol’shoj ognennyj stolb but the rhythm and archaic connotation of the given construction are lost in the Standard Russian phrase and of course in the English translation as well.

5. Conclusion

To the extent that Doukhobor cultural and spiritual traditions will be maintained, the question is whether these will be carried out using the vehicle of Russian or of English. If low language maintenance levels in Russian make it necessary to carry out most, if not all culture-related activities in English, there is the question whether what is being practiced is still “genuine” Doukhobor culture, i.e., can one really speak of maintaining one’s cultural heritage while giving up the language in which it was cultivated for centuries? And, concerning the oral literature, if Russian Church Slavonic is replaced by Canadian English, and if all of hymnody is made available in a written form, certainly the style of singing will change, viz., the creative aspect; the correcting in mid-song; and the duration of ritual speech acts. This will certainly amount not only to a loss of cultural substance but also to an assimilation to the dominant Anglo-Canadian culture. There are many additional questions that need to be addressed in future research. Two of them will be mentioned here but cannot be discussed in detail at this point in time. Doukhobor Russian in Canada generally shares many features with other forms of émigré Russian in North America that are due to “incomplete acquisition” (Polinsky 2006). In addition, structural developments in Doukhobor Russian can serve to “redefine” the notion “Standard Russian” (Andrews 2006). However, Doukhobor Russian in Canada also shows important differences that are due to 1) its largely oral tradition; 2) its relative geographic isolation; 3) its deliberate resistance to the influence of Canadian English; and, last but not least, 4) the influence of Ukrainian during the first generation of settlement in Saskatchewan.

At the present time, English among the Doukhobors must still compete with Modern Standard Russian both in the replacement of the dialect and in the maintenance of ritual language. The dialect is clearly losing the battle against Modern Standard Russian but then the levelling of dialect differences in the world’s languages is widespread. Modernizing the psalms, however, may delay the complete switch to English versions. Recent efforts in this respect have resulted in a modern psalm book (USSC 1978) as well as the ongoing efforts in the Doukhobor monthly Iskra to present many psalms in a Standard Russian form. We hope to address the above questions in more detail in a future study.

A final word needs to be said about the threat of language loss. If, as Ter-Minasova put it, languages are the guardians of a people’s identity (Ter-Minasova 2007:121), then language loss should lead to the loss of identity. It is impossible to conduct a crucial experiment in that respect, that is, to subject half of a linguistic community to language loss, leaving the other half as a control group and then compare the degree of the loss of identity. What we do know, however, is that there is a family of languages, i.e., the First Nations communities in Canada, such as Cree in the Province of Alberta or Salish in British Columbia, that are engaged in an active endeavour of reversing language shift partly as a necessary healing process and a desire to regain their lost identity. It seems that their efforts serve at least as partial support for maintaining the Doukhobor ritual style, perhaps in a “reconfigured” form allowing codeswitching between cognitive structures in English and contextual-mnemonic devices in Russian/Church Slavonic (see also Rak 2004; and Schaarschmidt 2008). There is no agreement to what extent globalization is contributing to the loss of languages. On the one hand, the process of globalization is considered to be the “main despoiler of languages and cultures” (Ter-Minasova 2007:254). On the other hand, the globalization of English has directly led to the disappearance of languages only in those countries where “English has itself come to be the dominant language, such as in North America, Australia and the Celtic parts of the British Isles” (Crystal 1998:18). Crystal’s statement certainly seems to apply to the Doukhobor language which is threatened far more by the local and regional economic situation in British Columbia, Canada, than by the status of English as a global language.


  • Andrews, David R. (2006). The Role of Émigré Russian in Redefining the “Standard.” Journal of Slavic Linguistics 14: 169–189.
  • Bezhenceva, Alla (2007). Strana Duxoborija. Tbilisi: Russkij klub.
  • Crystal, David (1998). English as a Global Language. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press/Canto.
  • Friesen, John W. and Michael M. Verigin (1996). The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition. Ottawa: The Borealis Press.
  • Harshenin, Alex P. (1964). English Loanwords in the Doukhobor Dialect, 1. In: Canadian Slavonic Papers 6, 38-43.
  • Harshenin, Alex P. (1967). English Loanwords in the Doukhobor Dialect, 2. In: Canadian Slavonic Papers 9/2, 16-30.
  • Mealing, Mark F. (1975). Doukhobor Life. A Survey of Doukhobor Religion, History, and Folklife. Castlegar, BC.: Cotinneh Books.
  • Mealing, Mark F. (1995). Doukhobor psalms: adornment to the soul. In: K.J. Tarasoff and R.B. Klymasz (eds.), Spirit Wrestlers. Centennial Papers in Honour of Canada’s Doukhobor Heritage (Hull/Québec: Canadian Museum of Civilization),
    pp. 39-50.
  • O’Neail, Hazel (1962). Doukhobor Daze. Sidney, BC: Gray’s Publishing.
  • Polinsky, Maria (2006). Incomplete Acquisition: American Russian. Journal of Slavic Linguistics 14: 191–262.
  • Rak, Julie (2004). Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse. Vancouver/Toronto: UBC Press.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (1995). Aspects of the History of Doukhobor Russian. In: Canadian Ethnic Studies 27.3: 197-205.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (1998). Language in British Columbia. In: John Edwards (ed.), Language in Canada (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), pp. 461-468.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (2008). Code-switching im Sorbischen und im Duchobor-Russischen als eine mögliche Zwischenstufe in der Erhaltung und Revitalisierung von Minderheitensprachen in der EU und in Kanada. Lûtopis 55.2: 109-125.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1963). Cultural Interchange Between the Non-Slavic Peoples of the Soviet Union and the People of Russian Background in the Greater Vancouver Area. Unpublished term paper (Vancouver: UBC Slavonic Studies).
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1982). Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors. Grand Forks, BC: Mir.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (2002). Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Legas/Ottawa: Spirit Wrestlers Publishing.
  • Tchertkoff, Anna (1900). Prakticheskij uchebnik anglijskogo jazyka/Russian-English Handbook. London: A. Tchertkoff, “The Free Age Press”.
  • Ter-Minasova, Svetlana Grigor’evna (2007). Vojna i mir jazykov i kul’tur. Moskva: AST/Astrel’/Xranitel’. USCC (1978).
  • Sbornik duxoborcheskix psalmov, stixov i pesen. Grand Forks, BC: Izdanie Sojuza Duxovnyx Obshchin Xrista /Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC).
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For More Information

For additional research about the Doukhobor dialect spoken in Canada, see Gunter Schaarschmidt’s articles Four Norms – One Culture: Doukhobor Russian in Canada as well as The Maintenance and Revitalization of Doukhobor Russian in British Columbia: Prospects and Problems.  Read also about his Day-trip to Piers Island: Reminiscing About the Penitentiary, 1932-1935.  Finally, for Gunter Schaarschmidt’s exclusive translations of 19th century German articles about the Doukhobors, see The Dukhobortsy, 1822-1828 by Daniel Schlatter; Passage Across the Caucasus, 1843 by Kuzma F. Spassky-Avtonomov; The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856 by Heinrich Johann von Paucker; Notes from the Molochnaya, 1855 by Alexander Petzholdt; Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864 by Alexander Petzholdt; Report from the Caucasus, 1875 by Hans Leder; and Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875 by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde.

Ethnic Diversity Among the Early Doukhobors

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Pushkin, the 19th century Russian poet once wrote, ‘Turkic blood flows in all Russian veins’. It has also been said, ‘Scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tatar’. While many present-day Doukhobors may find it difficult to believe, it would appear that not all early Doukhobors were ethnic Russians. As the following commentary by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff suggests, a number of different ethnic groups may have contributed to, and enriched, our Doukhobor heritage.

At its peak, the Russian Empire covered vast expanses of geographic territory and encompassed many different ethnic groups, including Ukrainians, Poles, Cossacks, Finns, Lapps, Lithuanians, Estonians, Mordvinians, Magyars, Turks, Tatars, Meshcheryaks, Bashkirs, Turkmen, Uzbeks, Bulgars, Mongols, Kalmyks, Buriats, Germans, Swedes, Jews and Gypies to name just a few. Throughout history, Russians interbred with all of these ethnic groups. As these ethnic groups assimilated and became citizens of the Russian Empire, they adopted Russian names, dress, religion and language.

Many Doukhobor surnames, formed in the 17th and 18th centuries, reflect the wide ethnic diversity of the Russian Empire: 

  • The Kalmykov surname is derived from kalmyk, the name of a nomadic Mongol tribe. The surname Kasahov is derived from the term kasag, the Old Russian name for the Circassians, a north Caucasian people. The Mordovin surname is derived from mordva, the name of an indigenous tribe of people in Russia.  The Polyakov surname is derived from the term polyak, meaning Pole. The surname Novokshonov is derived from the term novokreschony meaning “newly-baptised” or “newly-converted”. This term was given to those who accepted the Russian Orthodox faith, specifically non-Christians and non-Russians such as Turks, Tatars, Mordvins, etc.

  • Several Doukhobor surnames are formed from terms borrowed from the Turkish language. These include: Argatov, Babaev, Balabanov, Baturin, Bulanov, Chekmarev, Chuchmaev, Chuval’deev, Il’yasov, Kurbatov, Makhortov, Saburlev, Sadkov, Zibarev and others. While these surnames do not necessarily indicate Turkish family origins, they reveal Turkic cultural and linguistic influences at the time of their formation. 

  • Several Doukhobor surnames are formed from Mordvinian personal names.  These include: Kinyakin, Kitaev, Kochatov, Kunavin, Kuchaev and Varakin.

  • A number of Doukhobor surnames are clearly Ukrainian in form or derivation. These include: Arishchenkov (Arishchenko), Atamanenko, Barovsky (Oborovsky), Baturin (Baturinsky), Bokovoy, Bondarev, Borisenkov (Borisenko), Butsky, Cherkashev, Chernov (Chernoy), Chernenkov (Chernenko), Chubenko, Chutsenko, Chutsky, Dimovsky, Dyachenko, Eroshchenko, Gontarenkov (Gontarenko), Khokhlin, Kobzenko, Kolbasov (Kolbasa), Kolesnik, Kovalev, Krikunov (Krikun), Lavrenchenkov (Lavrenchko), Leshchenko, Levadniy, Matveyenko, Miroshnikov, Nagornov (Nagorniy), Petrenko, Pogozhev (Pogozhiy), Planidin (Planida), Plokhov (Plokhiy), Prokopenko, Remez (Remezov), Reznikov, Rudenko, Rybin (Ryban), Rybalkin, Savenkov (Savenko), Savitskov (Savitsky), Sereda, Shtuchnov (Shtuchniy), Skripnichenko, Skripnikov (Skripnik), Sorokin (Soroka), Svetlishnov (Svetlichniy), Tertishnikov, Vanzhov (Vanzha), Vasilenkov (Vasilenko), Yaroshenko, Yashchenkov (Yashchenko), Yarovenko, Zapasnoy, Zheltenkov (Zheltenko), Zubenkov (Zubenko).

  • Several Doukhobor surnames identify Cossack roots: The Kazakov surname is derived from the term kazak, meaning “Cossack”. The Esaulov surname is derived from the term esaul, meaning a Cossack “calvary commander”. The Sotnikov surname is derived from the term sotnik, meaning a Cossack commander of a hundred men.

In the early 1800’s, Doukhobors from across the Russian Empire settled together in Tavria (Tauride) province. Russian archival records confirm that a significant minority of these settlers were of Ukrainian, Cossack and Mordvinian origin: Ukrainians from Ekaterinoslav, Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov), Poltava, Kherson and Tavria provinces; Cossacks from Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov), the Kuban and the Don; and Mordvins from Tambov and Penza provinces. 

Doukhobor oral tradition supports the view that individuals of non-Russian ethnic origin settled amongst the Doukhobors at Milky Waters, Tavria province. In his book, Toil and Peaceful Life: History of Doukhobors Unmasked, author Semeon F. Reibin recounts how the Verigin family descended from Tatar princes. In his book, Stories from Doukhobor History, folk historian Eli Popoff discusses Doukhobor families of Finnish or Mordvinian ancestry who retained their native language and customs for generations after joining the Doukhobor movement. Popoff also discusses individuals of Mongol ancestry who settled among the Doukhobors. 

After the Doukhobors were exiled to the Caucasus mountain region in the 1840’s, many learned to speak the native Turkic, Georgian, Armenian and Azeri tongues of their mountain neighbours. There is no evidence to suggest the Doukhobors intermarried with the native Caucasian peoples during this period, however they definitely interacted with them on a daily basis.

In the late 1890’s following the “Burning of Arms”, close to 100 Doukhobor military personnel were exiled from the Caucasus to the Yakutsk district of Siberia for refusing to bear arms. A handful of these young men married local women of Siberian (Tagut) ancestry before they rejoined their families in Canada in 1905.

Without a doubt, the vast majority of Doukhobors are of Slavic Russian ethnic origin. However there is no such thing as a “pure-bred” nationality. A number of different ethnic groups may have contributed to, and enriched, our Doukhobor gene-pool. There are many old photographs of dark-complexioned Doukhobors, taken at the turn of the last century, that suggest some of us aren’t as “Russian” as we’d like to believe.

Schools of the Boundary: The Doukhobor Schools

by Alice Glanville

The settlement of Doukhobors in the Grand Forks area in 1909 brought about unique, often complex challenges to public education in British Columbia’s Boundary District.  The following article, reproduced by permission from “Schools of the Boundary: 1891-1991” (Merritt: Sonotek Publishing Ltd: 1991) reveals the history and the people behind “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” in the isolated, one-room Doukhobor schools of the region, including Outlook School, Spencer School, Fruitova School, Carson School and Kettle River North School. Opposition, conflict and eventual compliance are all part of the story that, in many ways, represents the evolving role of education among this group of Russian non-conformists. 

The Doukhobors arrived in the Grand Forks Valley in 1909 after the loss of their land on the prairies. Those who came wanted to continue the communal way of life which was being challenged in Saskatchewan. They refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance which was a requirement in order to retain their land.

Their move to British Columbia, however, did not bring an end to their conflict with the authorities. The law required that children between the ages of seven and fourteen attend school and they were told that they must obey the law.

As early as 1912, Peter Verigin, the spiritual leader of the Doukhobors, had a school built on communal land at Brilliant in the West Kootenays. A commitment to formal education, however, was not part of their culture and they would withdraw their children from school to help at home. They would leave school at the age of twelve or thirteen because their labor was needed. Early leaving age was common not only with the Doukhobors but with most pioneer families.

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

Theirs was an oral education, learning psalms and hymns combined with a practical knowledge of farming and craftsmanship. According to the Blakemore Report of 1912, they were also concerned that education might lead to an assimilative process which they felt would be a threat to their communal way of life.

The basic objection to Canadian schools has been an ideological one. The most significant tenet of the Doukhobor faith has been pacifism and the schools, they felt, put too much emphasis on the glorification of war.

Certainly some justification for this concern could be found in the schools. In 1909, Lord Strathcona established a fund to support physical and military training in the schools. The Strathcona Trust Fund continued until the 1940’s and although the physical exercises underwent many changes over the years, the pacifists expressed their concern for this type of training. Some of the history books and the observance of Remembrance Day also reinforced their suspicion of the school system.

In 1915, Attorney General Bowser guaranteed that no paramilitary nor religious education would be forced on the children. Peter Verigin promised to enroll enough pupils to fill the schools that then existed. This compromise solution lasted fairly satisfactorily until 1922. The compliance was never complete since not all children attended school and some of those enrolled had irregular attendance.

Grand Forks Gazette, 1921: “The Minister of Education states that there is a total of 53 children of school age in the Doukhobor settlement of Grand Forks. According to the Dominion registration which took place in June 1918, 237 children were registered as being under the age of 16.”

The following article, “Doukhobors in the Boundary” by V. Novokshonoff, L. Reibin and M. Obedkoff, published in the Fourth Boundary Historical Report describes the early years of Doukhobor education:

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

“Each district had a school to which the children had to walk. During the winter months, the children were taken by sledges, pulled by horses. The children were taught reading; writing, grammar and some arithmetic. They went only as far as grade five or six.

“Due to the fact that the children were always speaking Russian, and often had to stay away from school in order to help at home, their progress in English was quite slow.”

After seven years of more or less compliance with education requirements, Doukhobor parents once again, in the fall of 1922, began to withdraw children from school. The precise reasons are not known. The Doukhobor community was experiencing financial difficulties, thus causing some discontent.

Grand Forks Gazette, February 1923: “Following seizure of a Doukhobor community truck by distress warrant, Doukhobor children were removed from school as a protest measure.”

Sons of Freedom children forcibly taken from their parents and detailed at New Denver, 1954.  Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

Outlook School was burned in 1923, Spencer School in 1925 and the second Spencer School was burned in 1929. Outlook School, Sand Creek School and Kettle River North were all torched the same night in the spring of 1931. Attempts were made to destroy the new brick Fruitova School. Other schools in the Kootenay area were also burned during those years.

Soon after Peter Chistiakov (Peter Verigin the Second) arrived in Canada in 1927, differences between him and the Sons of Freedom became apparent. He stated, “We will educate our children in the English school and we will set up our own Russian school and libraries.” In 1928/29, the Doukhobors, with the new leader’s encouragement, built the Fruitova School and the children attended that school on a regular basis.

In 1928, the Sons of Freedom openly declared their opposition to compulsory education for Doukhobor children. In 1932, the Sons of Freedom were sentenced to three years at a special penal colony on Piers Island. The older children were sent to the Provincial School for delinquent children and the younger ones were sent to foster homes in the lower mainland. After a year they were placed in the care of other Doukhobors, but already much emotional damage had been done.

The opposition of the Sons of Freedom lasted until 1959. At various times throughout the years it was necessary to guard the schools because of the fear of arson, as illustrated in the Grand Forks Gazette, October 1947:

“School Boards throughout the Kootenay area were being advised that insurance on schools would be cancelled unless armed guards were posted. The move resulted from new outbreaks of incendiarism.”

In February, 1954, Mr. R.H. Mclntosh, who was fluent in Russian, was appointed School Attendance Officer with the Doukhobor children as special duty. Periodic police raids took place at Gilpin and any children who were found were taken from their parents and placed in a boarding school at New Denver.

Grand Forks Gazette, March 1954: “The parents of two families of Sons of Freedom were given a suspended sentence of three days in which to send their children to school. This was the first local case where Sons of Freedom were charged under the new section of the School Act.”

In April 1954, the footbridge was moved from the North Fork to Gilpin for the convenience of the children living at Gilpin. The school bus would make the run to the bridge each day, but all to no avail.

The authorities came in for a great deal of criticism in what was considered very harsh measures, that of removing children from their families. After six years of operation, the New Denver School was closed in 1959 because the parents agreed to send their children to school. The children were returned to their families, but the emotional scars of family separation, in some cases, remain to this day.

Bomb-damaged school bus, 1962. Photo courtesy School District No. 12.

Some of the Orthodox Doukhobors were taking a more active role in the education system. In February, 1958, Eli Popoff became the first member of the Doukhobor faith to be elected as a trustee of School District #12. Special dispensation was granted so that he did not have to swear the Oath of Allegiance.

Two resolutions were put forward to the 1960 Chant Royal Commission on Education: 1. That Russian be taught as a language in B.C. schools. 2. That students start learning a foreign language as early as grade four. Today Russian is taught in the Grand Forks schools from Kindergarten to grade 12 by trained, competent teachers.

In April 1962, a school bus was badly wrecked when a bomb placed over the right rear dual wheel exploded while the bus was parked for the night in front of driver Leo Madden’s home. This terrorist act was during the time of the trial of the Sons of Freedom before their march to the coast. Families of only one or two children attending Grand Forks schools joined that march to Agassiz.

Grand Forks Gazette, 1975: “A second language pilot program in the Grand Forks School District has been approved by the Department of Education. The introduction would see the teaching of the Russian language in Grades 2 to 10.”

Outlook, Spencer and Fruitova were the three main Doukhobor schools in the Grand Forks area, but some Doukhobor children did attend other schools such as Carson and Kettle River North.

Outlook School: 1917 to 1949

Outlook School, established for the special convenience of the Doukhobor children in the school term 1917/18, was located on community property at the base of Hardy Mountain, just below the present Doukhobor Museum.

The average attendance at Outlook in 1919 was 11 and in 1920 was 13.

Miss A.J. Spence, the first teacher taught until 1923 for $85 a month. As a young teacher she had some rather unusual experiences.

Grand Forks Gazette, March, 1923: “A firebug set fire to the Outlook School; prompt action by resident teacher, Miss Spence, in getting help saved the school from destruction.”

Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1923: “There has been consternation among the Doukhobors since they were fined some months ago for not sending their children to school.”

After that experience Miss Spence resided in Grand Forks and that set the stage for a second arson attempt in June of the same year. This time they were successful in burning the school to the ground.

Grand Forks Gazette, May, 1923: “The schoolhouse is gone and no parents can be fined for failure to send children to a school that is burnt.”

The old public school in Columbia was repaired and opened as a school replacing the Outlook School which had been burnt, but as the Gazette stated, “There is no grand rush for seats.”

It appears that another school was built around 1925. Then the climax came in 1931 when three schools were burned the same night, Outlook, Sand Creek and Kettle River North Schools. The old Columbia School was again used and Nick Borisenkoff remembers the bus which was used to transport them. Mr. Vanjoff had a bus cab which he put on the back of a wagon and in winter it was put on a sleigh.

Another Outlook School was built and used until 1949 when the children were bussed into school in Grand Forks.

Besides Miss Spence other teachers at Outlook School were: Miss L. Hayes 1923/24, Mrs. M. Lyttle 1924/25, Miss E. Russell 1925/26, Miss A. Shaw 1927/28, Miss M.S. Fisher 1928/29, Miss A. Marsinek 1929-31, Miss B. McCallum 1931-35.

In the 1935/36 school year, the Outlook School was listed under Fruitova School with Miss B. McCallum and Mrs. Todhunter as teachers. When the school closed in 1949, Mrs. Kay Peterson was the last teacher.

Spencer School: 1920 to 1929

Spencer School was opened in 1920 to serve the students of the immediate Doukhobor villages and the last village at Spencer as well as any non-Russian students living in the area. The school was near the top of Spencer Hill across from what was known as the Prune Orchard and overlooking several large community houses below, near the present Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast.

It was managed, as were other Doukhobor schools by an official trustee with P.H. Sheffield as the school inspector. Alex Verigin, former manager of Pope & Talbot, was a student at Spencer and remembers Mr. Sheffield as being very observant and good.

Spencer School from the west, c. 1920’s.  Photo courtesy Isabelle Nelson.

Miss M. Smith, the first teacher, taught from 1920 to 1922 at a salary of $1200 per year. Miss M. Jeffers taught from 1922 to 1923, and then Miss Isabelle Glaspell came in 1923 and stayed until January 1925. These teachers remembered and appreciated the fruit and vegetables which the Doukhobor people brought them.

Isabelle Nelson (nee Glaspell) bought a Model T Ford and would drive it to school on Monday morning and stay there for the week, returning to her home in Grand Forks on Friday. Her father, Hugh Allen Glaspell was principal of the Grand Forks Central School at that time. The attached living quarters at the back of the school provided adequate living quarters for her. She even had the convenience of a tap in the kitchen and a large Airedale terrier for company as well as protection.

In a letter Isabelle relates: “It was in October 1924 that Peter Verigin was killed. After that no students would come to school. I was required to open school every morning, wait half an hour and if no students came I could go home. That was the situation until January 1st when the school was closed. After that I went to Pullman, Washington and graduated in Home Economics.”

Isabelle Glaspell (Nelson).  Photo courtesy Isabelle Nelson.

Grand Forks Gazette, March 1925: “The Doukhobor school at Spencer was destroyed by fire. This is the 8th school in the Kootenays which has been burned in recent months.”

The children from Spencer went to the Carson School and some of the Carson students were required to walk to the Columbia school. Then in the 1926/27 term, the Doukhobors erected the second one-room school at Spencer with a residence attached for the teacher. Other teachers at Spencer were: Miss Ruth Axam (Mrs. Gordon McMynn) 1926/27, Miss A.I. Tait 1927/28 and Miss Lents-man 1928/29 when the school was closed. In August 1929, the school was burned.

Fruitova School: 1929 to 1949

The Fruitova School opened in April 1929, with Miss M.E. Tapping as the first teacher. Mr. Sheffield, the inspector, noted in the 1928/29 Annual Report that: “At Fruitova the Doukhobor community erected a model brick school to accommodate two divisions. Furnished living rooms for two teachers are also provided in this building, which is the most complete and best appointed rural school that I have seen.”

The brick used for the building came from the Doukhobor brick factory just below the site of the school. The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood built the school with a school room on each end and a teacherage in the middle. Some teachers did stay there for awhile, but seemed to prefer travelling back and forth to Grand Forks, each day. Eventually the teacherage was converted into another classroom.

The Cook family, who lived on Hardy Mountain, were the only non-Russians to attend the Fruitova School. In place of a School Board, Mr. Dunwoody was appointed as an official trustee.

John Malloff, presently a trustee on the Grand Forks School Board, remembers his happy years at Fruitova School. Lily Forrester, principal from 1942 to 1949, remembers a sleigh bringing the students from Spencer and Carson to Fruitova in the winter and a wagon bringing them in the spring and fall until a bus was provided.

Fructova School Heritage Site, Grand Forks, British Columbia.

School records show the following teachers at Fruitova School during the early 1930s: 1929/30 1930 to 1933 Division 1 Mrs. Todhunter Miss M.M. McDonald 1933 to 1935 1935 to 1937 Division 1 Mrs. Todhunter Miss K.M. Porter Division 2 Miss E.W. Lightfoot Miss E.W. Lightfoot Division 3 Miss E.G. James.

Esther Gipman and Anna Graham, residents of Grand Forks, both taught at Fruitova School. With the consolidation of school districts, Fruitova School was closed in 1949 and the students were bused into the Central School in Grand Forks.

In 1984, close to $200,000 was spent to renovate the Fruitova School (now called Fructova). This attractive building, with a beautiful sweeping view of the valley, now serves as a centre for the Doukhobor Historical Society of British Columbia.

Despite the struggles, the mistakes and the misunderstanding of many years, people now recognize our multicultural society whereby students of many different cultures are accommodated in our school system. This accommodation has resulted in all students attending school on the same basis and with many going on to further their education.

Carson School: 1908 to 1935

The rural areas responded to the need to educate their children by building their own one-room schools whenever sufficient numbers warranted it. Ten children were required to open a school, eight with an average attendance of six to maintain it. Carson School, named after the town of Carson, was opened in 1908 with 15 students. Carson was named by the McLaren brothers in memory of their mother Isabella Carson McLaren. The school, a little white frame building, was located on the bench overlooking the Customs.

J.H. Reid taught in 1909/1910, R.T. Pollock in 1910/1911, and Miss Annie Ross in 1911/1912. Miss N.C. Reid in 1912/13, Miss J.L Munro in 1913/14, James Hislop in 1914/15, R.G. Newbauer in 1915/16, Miss M.E. Morrison in 1916/17, Miss E.G. Frame from 1917 to 1919, and Miss R. Ross in 1919/20.

Carson School boys in 1924. Doukhobor boys sometimes wore a dress-like garment. Photo courtesy Helen Campbell.

Helen Campbell, who later became matron of the Grand Forks Hospital, taught at Carson for two years from 1923 to 1925. After she taught at Carson, she taught for one year on the prairies and then trained for a nurse. Other teachers were Olive Rooke and Pearl Redgrove (Webster). Nellie Ralph (Ritchie) and Bob Lawson, residents of Grand Forks, were students at Carson School.

The school was conveniently located near the Doukhobor communal property and many of the Doukhobor children did attend this school. In 1915 a special appeal was made to the Doukhobors to send their children to this school. It seems there was concern about the closure of the school because of the lack of the required number of students. In 1928 the teacher, Elizabeth McKinnon, reported that the majority of students were Doukhobors.

The Carson School was burned in April 1935, but the crumbling foundation remains as a reminder of the once busy school.

Kettle River North School: 1898 to 1928, 1946 to 1952

The North Fork area had settlers coming into its valley in the 1890’s. Again the desire and the determination for an education for their children resulted in the building of several schools. Three log schools, Kettle River North, Sand Creek and Brown Creek, typical of the many log rural schools in British Columbia, were built up the North Fork.

Kettle River North, eight miles up the valley on the west side of the Granby River – the first of these schools – was opened in 1898. The first school classes were held in the Seattle Clark home on the flat land below the former Fisher home. Pat Terrion was the first teacher and Russell Hill was the school secretary from 1898 until his death in 1907.

With the Wassholms, Mills and Clarks making up the required number of 10 students, the residents constructed a small log school on a flat south of the Steinson home, the former Ralloff home. Helen Erickson (Wassholm), now 92 and living in Grand Forks attended this school.

George Evans remembers walking or riding to school with Florence Miller, one of the teachers who boarded at the Evans home. When Florence Miller decided to leave for the coast and train for a nurse, her sister May, a high school student, taught at the school until Flora Johnson took charge.

Goldie Miller (nee Cooper) writes: “In 1915 when they moved from Eholt, the Cooper family lived on the Jardine place, now owned by Frank and Joyce Flanagan. Five Cooper children plus a cousin, George Birt, whose father had died nine days before Armistice 1918, attended the school. Sister Lucy Wilson lived in a cabin and had three children going to school. The Thompson boys rode a horse from their farm, now Carl Stone’s, a six-mile-ride each way. The Brown Creek School, which would have been much closer, did not open until 1920.

“Our family sometimes went to school in a buggy and we did try using a cutter, but our weather was too cold in winter, so we went only part time. To my parents, school wasn’t important and if we just learned to read and write we were fortunate indeed. Most of the time we walked the 4 1/2 miles each way and certain times of the year we left home at break of day and got home at dusk.

“Nels and Anna Tofelt lived with their parents in a small house on the hillside between Fishers and the school. Our teacher, Miss Becker, must have been a real Christian lady because all the songs we learned were hymns.

School kids in front of Kettle River North School, c. 1920’s. Photo courtesy Boundary Museum.

“A shed was built for the horses and each of the children brought oats for the horse’s lunch. We used slates and chalk, plastacine and colored sticks to build with. Our drinking water was brought from a spring and each family had its own drinking cup.”

A 1908/09 Report states the sanitation rules for the drinking water: “See that the water bucket is scrubbed each week. Get a cover for it to keep the dust out. Do not drink out of the common drinking cup before allowing some of the water to run over the edge of the cup that is to be applied to the lips.”

February, 1927, the log school was partially destroyed by fire. A frame building was constructed near the Jack Kenyon place, some distance north of the original school. The contractor was John Barisoff who built the school and outbuildings for $790. The sum of $500 was borrowed from Mrs. Plath at eight per cent interest for payments on the new school. This school was closed in 1928, after operating for only a year.

In the later twenties most of the children came from the Doukhobor settlement (the Seabrook farm). The teacher, Ruby Smith, reported that eight of the children not attending school were Doukhobor, but six of the nine enrolled were Doukhobor children.

From the 1927/28 School Report: “Owing to a reorganization of the Doukhobor community and a redistribution of their people, the North Kettle School closed as did three others in the Kootenays.”

This vacant school was torched in 1931.

In 1946, a new Kettle River North School was built about a quarter of a mile north of the original school. This school was closed in 1952 and the children bused to Grand Forks. The frame building was moved to West Grand Forks where it became a home.

Transplanted Roots

by Albert J. Popoff

The following three stories are selected from 120 articles in a recently printed family history book (April, 2003) complied and edited by Albert J Popoff. The book, entitled “Transplanted Roots”, is a collection of family histories, stories, memories, photos, poems and genealogical information about his Popoff, Androsoff and Makranoff grandparents and their many descendants. Mr. Popoff states in the Introduction to his book, “We let the media worry about the big events and record the history of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But the big story is only part of history. Each of us has an interesting story to tell. Our small stories are just as relevant part of the historical record as the big picture. We need to take time to make sure that the smaller details of life are preserved. If we don’t do it, no one will and in the long run we will be the poorer for it”.Mr. Popoff hopes that by sharing these stories, it will encourage others to preserve their family histories.

I. Grandfather Could Make Something Out Of Nothing

Of all the Popoff cousins of my age, I was fortunate to have spent the most time with my Popoff Grandparents.  My parents farmed only a half-mile from the grandparent’s farm, so it was convenient to visit and spend time with them.  Later, when grandmother and grandfather retired to the Town of Blaine Lake, we moved into their farmhouse because it was larger and the yard had better water quality.  The grandparents came often to help with the farm work and to visit, especially when company or relatives arrived.  When my sister Lillian began high school in Blaine Lake, she and I stayed with our Popoff Grandparents, especially in the wintertime when roads were not passable for vehicles and the four mile trip to town took over one hour by horse drawn sleighs.  I started grade one in the Blaine Lake Public School and continued there for 4 years.  When my sister graduated from grade 12, I switched to the rural Greystones School and was then responsible for transporting my two brothers to school to begin grade one.  Grandfather restored an old one horse buggy for his grandchildren to use in the summer and a cutter (sleigh) in the winter time

Grandfather was not a huggy/kissy type of person.  He could be quite stern and did not tolerate much foolishness from the grandchildren when they were underfoot.  On the other hand he had the patience to teach us skills and allow us to hang around as he went about his work.  I can attribute my woodworking interest and the ability to fix things to my grandfather, who thoughtfully transferred his knowledge and skills to me.  I liked to work alongside my grandfather as he seemed to be able to make something out of nothing.  He could make or repair a harness from tanned leather, craft tools and parts from scrap pieces of iron, make wagon and sleigh parts from dried hardwood trees, and build most anything from scraps of wood and boards.  I was fascinated how useful articles were created from very basic raw materials

Alexey and Katerina Popoff with their grandchildren, Albert, Lloyd, Jack and Lil.

Working at the forge in the blacksmith shop was a special experience.  My job was to turn the crank of the rotary “bellows”.  In the centre of the forge grandfather would light the anthracite coal.  I would turn the fan that brought air to the burning coals so that they became white-hot.  Grandfather would place the iron that needed shaping into the glowing coals.  I had to keep the air flowing, not to fast and not to slow, but with ongoing verbal instructions, I was able to get the air flow just right.  Grandfather would keep checking the iron until it reached the correct temperature.  After what seemed to be long time, he would take out the white-hot steel with long tongs and begin fashioning the metal into a different shape, using a heavy hammer on a large anvil.  I admired his strength and skill as he raised the hammer over his head with one muscular arm, while holding the hot iron with tongs in the other hand. He would then bring the hammer down at just the right place and speed to create the shape that he had in his mind. Sometimes grandfather would put the hot iron into a pail of water or oil to create the right hardness and temper. Other times he was able to “weld” two pieces of white-hot iron together.  Sparks would fly; smoke and steam would fill the shop as a steel bar would become a garden hoe or a part to fix a broken wagon.

We worked together for an hour or two at a time.  I would become tired and hot but I would stick to my assigned task.  Grandfather and I would emerge from the shop all covered with soot and dust.  I gained a good appreciation why it was called a blacksmith shop.  Grandfather and I both had that feeling of satisfaction as we admired the finished products that we created together. 

Grandfather also enjoyed making things out of wood.  There were parts of an old loom on the farm that was crafted by hand from wood that was harvested from the woods along the river.  I also found a homemade wood lathe that was powered by a foot treadle.  I salvaged the pioneer piece so I could turn wooden items.  I did not have the strength to operate the treadle and work on the spinning wood at the same time.  I installed an electric motor that made it a lot easier to fashion interesting shapes on the wood lathe with tools that were handmade on the forge.  Grandfather used to make toy wagons for the grandchildren to play with around the farm.  The design was a two wheeled version similar to a chariot.  The box was large enough for one child to fit into.  The handle was made from a dried hardwood sapling.  It was an all-wood design.  Even the wheels were wooden discs. Grandfather took the time to create dovetail corner joints for added strength.  Even modern day carpenters find it a challenge to make dovetail joints using electric power tools, but grandfather made these unique and strong joints using basic hand tools.  I never did learn that skill.

We had much enjoyment playing with the small wagons that grandfather made.  The wooden wheels would squeal as they turned on wooden axles, not unlike the larger version Red-River carts that brought goods, and settlers to the prairies.  The last large project that we worked on together was building the kitchen cupboards in mother’s summer kitchen.  I operated the electric table saw and Grandfather made sure that everything fit together as he patiently assembled the cabinets.

Living with the Popoff Grandparents in the town of Blaine Lake was a pleasant experience.  Grandmother doted on us.  Her cooking was excellent and always a big hit with a hungry boy.  Grandfather had diabetes so he followed a strict diet and prepared his own meals.  One of the staples that he baked was a dark rye bread.  I never developed a taste for his heavy and strong tasting bread.  I preferred grandmother’s light and fluffy white or whole wheat bread and buns.  Grandmother would drink scalding hot water that she cooled down by pouring it into the saucer and then sipped the hot water, sometimes loudly.  To flavour the drink, she would put a sour raspberry candy in her mouth.  I liked the candy but never did develop a taste for hot water.  It was years later that I learned that drinking tea from a saucer was not acceptable social behaviour.

The grandparents were very involved with “vetcherooshky”.  These were evening get-togethers with other Doukhobor couples, in each others homes.  The evening consisted of visiting to catch up with the latest news, then singing Doukhobor psalms for an hour or so, followed by a lunch.  I was too young to be left alone, so if my sister was away for the evening, I had to accompany the grandparents on their social outings with their friends.  It was not much fun for an active boy like me to be seen and not heard.  Now I wish I had paid more attention to what was discussed and sung. 

When I started grade one my Russian speaking abilities were better than my English language skills.  My theory was that people spoke only Russian when they became old.  Mrs. Macdonald was my grade one teacher and she had a daughter Jean, my age.  I was so surprised when I went to the Macdonald home to attend Jean’s birthday party and Jean’s elderly grandmother spoke excellent English and did not know any Russian at all.  That experience ended my language theory.  My Russian speaking abilities remained at a basic level to be able to communicate with my two sets of grandparents as I was growing up.  I took a few months of Russian School but never did learn to read and write but now I wish that I had put more effort into it.

One of my grandparents best friends were the Podivelnikoff’s.  She was a tall woman and her husband, Henry, was less than 4 feet tall, about my height.  I found it amusing to see this odd couple.  She seemed always to be in command of this little man.  Henry was my size, and I seemed to inherit his clothes when he no longer had use for them.  Needless to say his tastes were very much different than those of a somewhat shy farm boy trying to fit in with the town kids.  I resisted wearing Henry’s clothing and did not want to be seen in old people’s clothes.

These are just some of my memories of my Popoff Grandparents.  The memories are very pleasant and I was privileged to spend a lot of quality time with my Grandmother and Grandfather Popoff.  I was very saddened when they died in a car crash.  I was 14 years old when they passed away.

II. Picking Mushrooms with My Grandmother

Activities around the farm were segregated in to men’s and women’s work, so it was not often that I had an opportunity to work alongside my grandmother Popoff.  One of the activities that we both enjoyed was picking wild mushrooms in the nearby pastures.

There were the ordinary white prairie mushrooms that sprung up after a rain.  Everyone, even the children, knew that these were edible, so we used to pick those anytime we saw them and brought them to the kitchen.  The only problem with this variety was that they got wormy within hours of coming out of the ground, so it was a challenge to find mushrooms without worm holes.  There were also round white fungi that we called “puff balls”.  These were not edible but fun to whack like a baseball, especially when they ripened and had brown powder inside.

Grandmother would take me on special mushroom picking excursions. We hunted for interesting mushrooms that grew within the poplar bluffs about a half-mile from the house.  I would go the day before on my bicycle and scout out where the bush mushrooms were abundant.  Mushrooms need very special conditions to grow, so they were not always available nor in the same location.

Grandmother taught me the different varieties of edible mushrooms.  There were the delicate mushrooms that were white underneath and had colourful tops that were depressed slightly in the centre.  Grandmother referred to these mushrooms mostly by their colour.  Most were delicate shades of gray, but there were also yellow topped ones and some that were a beautiful purple.  These were my favourite mushrooms because of the many interesting colours and they were usually plentiful, so more time could be spent picking and less time hunting for them. 

Another interesting variety were tan coloured with tops that were very deeply depressed in the centre, often exposing the yellow webs underneath.  I was informed that were called “poddoobniki” which in Russian meant that they grew under oak trees.  I kept reminding grandmother that we did not have any oak trees growing anywhere, and she would laugh heartily.  An interesting feature of these mushrooms is that they never had any worms in them dispelling the theory that such mushrooms are poisonous.  These were grandmother’s favourite because they had a strong flavour and were meaty when cooked.

Grandmother was very careful to point out to me the mushrooms that were very poisonous and warned me not to even touch them.  She called most of them by a Russian word, meaning “flykillers”, because even the flies died when they landed on these deadly mushrooms that looked pretty because they had an orange top with a white lacey design.  I learned later that this variety was called “the angel of death”.  An interesting mushroom that mimicked the deadly ones, grandmother called “krasniye holowky”, meaning “red-headed”. The name was very descriptive because they had a brick red domed head.  This mushroom grew very large and instead of the typical web system beneath the head, it was white and spongy.  They never had any worms, regardless of the size.  It was not unusual to find some that were 10 inches across and 12 inches high.  One mushroom would almost fill a pail that we brought to carry back our treasures to the house.  When the pails became full, grandmother would gather up her large apron, making a hammock-like container that held many mushrooms very well.

Katerina Popoff poses with her spinning wheel. She spent many hours spinning wool to knit stockings, mitts and sweaters. 

We would bring the bounty of mushrooms and spread them out on the table in the summer-kitchen.  I would cut off the dirt covered ends and grandmother would chop the mushrooms up into large frying pans on the wood-burning stove and slowly simmer the mushrooms for hours.  When most of the moisture evaporated, Grandmother would add a generous amount of butter and fry the mushroom into a tasty and fragrant dish.  These mushrooms tasted like mushrooms should taste and not like the store-bought variety that we now use for cooking.  Why is my mouth watering as I write this account?

Years later while on a visit to the Natural History Museum in Regina, I was drawn to the mushroom display. I recognized the varieties of mushrooms that I used to pick with my grandmother Popoff.  All of a sudden I spotted the “red-headed” mushroom but it was labeled as poisonous.  Reading further I learned that if cooked for a long time the poisons were drawn off.  I was even more impressed that grandmother not only knew what variety of mushrooms to pick, she also knew how to cook them and make them safe for all of us to enjoy. 

One time I picked and brought some wild mushrooms to my mother that I was sure were safe, but my mother was not familiar with them and would not take the chance to cook and feed the mushrooms to us.  After grandmother was gone, I never had the courage as an adult to pick and eat wild mushrooms, but I was often tempted, because I remember the tasty mushroom dishes that grandmother prepared for us. 

What an impression my grandmother left with me!  So much so, that almost 50 years later, I can vividly recall picking and eating wild mushrooms with my grandmother Popoff.  It was something special that her and I shared together. 

This is just one account of the many memories that a Grandmother left with her grandson.

Alexey Ivanovich Popoff was born February 8th, 1876 in the province of Elizavetpol, Russia, in the village of Spasovka.  At the age of two, his parents, together with a sizeable group of Doukhobors immigrated to a territory near the Turkish border known as the Oblast of Kars.  They founded the Village of Spasovka.  Alexey lived here until the age of 21 when he was called for military service.  He refused to take part in the training and the taking of human life.  For his refusal, in 1898 he, together with other colleagues, was exiled to Yakutsk Siberia, for a term of 18 years.  In 1905 a Manifesto of Amnesty was issued by Russian Emperor Nikolai when a son was born to him.  The Doukhobors exiled in Siberia were given their freedom.  Alexey and his new bride Katerina came to Canada to join the rest of the Doukhobors who arrived some 5 years earlier.  Alexey lived for a time in the Doukhobor Community but he soon became an Independent, taking out a homestead at Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, where he lived until his death on August 14, 1955. Alexey and Katerina had one daughter (Anne) and four sons (Nick, Leonard, Fred and Eli)

Katerina Timofeevna (Makrranoff) Popoff was born November24, 1889 in the village of Baranchi in the province of Perm, Russia. Katerina’s father was a follower of a writer, mystic and religious leader, Captain Ilyin.  Contrary to the strict edicts of the State Orthodox Church, they gathered secretly for religious meetings, singing religious hymns and prayer services.  They were known as Jehovists”, practiced temperance and were against military training.  When Katerina was 6 years old, her father was exiled to the Yakutsk district in Siberia.  Katerina’s mother, Anna Grigorievna, with her five little children decided to voluntarily follow her husband.  After living together several years in Siberia, Katerina’s father was recalled to Russia to be tried on more serious charges of sedition against the state and church.  He was convicted and sentenced to more remote and severe parts of Siberia away from his wife and family.  The family went through very difficult times.  Katerina, at the age of 10 had to go out working among the more established settlers in the region known as “Skoptsi”  When she reached the age of 15 Katerina accepted a proposal of marriage from Alexey Ivanovich Popov.

III.    Flashbacks

My memories are fleeting thoughts. They seem to come as flashbacks at various times while I am doing something else, but disappear when I pick up a pen and paper to record them. I have been able to capture a few memories of growing up on a farm 4 miles from the small town of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan.  I was fortunate to grow up on a mixed farm and experience many interesting events during a time when there was a major transition to the “modern world” that we know today.

The main street of Blaine Lake, circa 1930.

Birth and Death on the Farm

Birth and death on the farm was almost an everyday occurrence.  Births were always taking place, especially in the spring.  Chicks and ducklings would be pecking their way out of their egg shells, kittens were born in the barn loft with their eyes closed, twin lambs that had to be hand fed from a bottle, frisky calves and long legged colts.  Bunnies and baby owls found their way into our ever changing menagerie.  Assisting my dad with “midwife” duties for calving cows was a learning experience.  I felt very sad when a cow or calf (sometimes both) would die in the birthing process.  Dad spent many a sleepless night in the barn helping the animals give birth.

I soon learned that everything that was born eventually had to die.  Life cycles on the farm were short.  Pigs, sheep, and cattle were slaughtered for food, usually in the late fall so that the meat could be frozen.  It was a difficult day for me when my pet steer Donald, which I raised from a small calf, had to join others from the herd to be trucked for sale to a slaughter house.  Getting to keep the proceeds from the sale of Donald helped to soften the blow somewhat.  Children would help with the beheading of chickens by catching and holding the victim on the chopping block.  As I got older I was able to wield the axe.  “Albert, go and kill a chicken for lunch”, mom would say.  It was traumatic when pets died, often accidentally run over by a vehicle or machinery.  Most enjoyed a respectful burial out behind the barn because it was easy to dig in the sandy soil.

Horse power

I witnessed the transition from 4 legged horsepower to the gasoline variety.  Draft horses were used to pull hay racks, wagons, sleighs and stoneboats.  A stoneboat was a simple platform on skids that was used like an utility vehicle around the farm.  The horse was a much respected animal and farmers took good care of them.  Horses provided year round transportation.  In the summer my brothers and I travelled the 2 ½ miles to Greystones School by buggy.  In the winter travel was by a horse drawn cutter (sleigh).  Although I was only about 12 years old, I was responsible for feeding, harnessing, hitching, and driving the horses.  In addition to transporting my younger brothers, we would pick up some neighbours along the way.  One particular horse we used was old, white, and heavy set, called Kaiser.  Kaiser would never want to leave his stable and take us to school.  It took a lot of coaxing to get Kaiser to slowly plod along; often making us arrive late for school (it was a good excuse).  The farm schools had a barn for the horses to stay in.  The return trip from school was the exact opposite situation.  Kaiser was so anxious to get back to his own stall, if we didn’t quickly jump into the buggy or sleigh, Kaiser would leave without us, galloping all the way home like a young race horse.

Dad brought us a small brown pony we called Tootsie.  Tootsie was never broken for riding and that was a challenge for me.  I was finally able to get an old saddle on her back and climbed on for a pony ride.  Tootsie took off like a bullet and although I hung on for dear life, I fell off as the saddle rotated because it was not cinched tight enough.  Poor Tootsie spent most of the summer in the pasture with a saddle hanging under her belly.  I also tried to ride another horse that we had, bare back.  As the horse started to trot, I was not able to stay on because the horse was so large around and my legs too short.  I fell off and landed on my back across a corral rail and injured myself.  That ended my horseback riding attempts.

Farm Work and Harvest

There was always much work to do on the farm.  All the family was expected to pitch in and help with whatever one was capable of doing.  One of the assignments for the youngest was to feed the chickens and gather their eggs on a daily basis.  Sometimes the old clucking hen did not want to part with the eggs she just had laid and would give your hand a mean peck.  This was overcome by grabbing the hen behind the head and holding it while the other hand retrieved the eggs.  Another obstacle was the big white leghorn rooster who would attack anyone coming into his domain.  The only recourse here was to outrun the rooster back to the house with a tearful tale, explaining why all the eggs were broken.

A very young Albert is struggling with the controls on the binder while his dad drives the John Deer tractor.

As I got older, the work became more difficult and the responsibilities became greater.  One of the enviable job assignments was to drive the tractor.  Later when my feet could reach the pedals, driving the truck was a big thrill.  Dreaded jobs were gathering stones, roots and potatoes.  Shovelling grain in a hot dusty granary was a chore hated by everyone.  Young children were often recruited because they could work in a very small space and the grain could be filled up to the very peak of the roof.  If you didn’t keep up to the input, either the grain would spill on the ground, or the grain auger would get blocked.  Either misdemeanor meant getting a stern lecture.

Harvest was always the busiest time of the year.  It was a crucial period because of the weather, availability of threshing crews with their horses and the threshing equipment.  Before self-propelled combines took over the harvesting operation, the process was very labour intensive.  First the standing grain was cut down with a binder that tied the grain stalks into sheaves.  A stooking crew had to pick up the sheaves and set them up in stooks so that the grain could dry and be ready for threshing.

Threshing was a very big operation that involved a dozen or more men, 5 or 6 teams of horses hitched to large racks, a large stationary threshing machine driven by a long belt from the flywheel of a tractor.  The men would gather the sheaves from the stooks and load them on the horse drawn racks.  The big load would be driven to the stationary threshing machine.  Sheaves were dropped in one by one into a feeder that ingested the sheaves into a revolving cylinder that threshed out the grain.  A variety of shaking sieves and wind tunnels separated the grain from the straw and chaff.  The grain was elevated by a chain and bucket assembly into an adjacent bin or a wagon.  The straw was blown by a large fan like device through a long tube, into large straw piles.  My dad was usually the threshing pit-boss who ensured that everything was running well.  He took pride in being able to set up his threshing machine with precision and he took special care to create well shaped straw piles.  This was a challenge when the direction of the wind would change frequently.

Albert and his dad at the threshing machine.

The men worked hard and were paid a decent wage, but the unsung hero during harvest time was my mother.  She worked twice as hard as anyone and received little recognition for her dedication and superhuman efforts.  Mother had to cook three large meals a day, plus a mid afternoon lunch that had to bundled up and taken to the field where the men were working.  I enjoyed this time the best.  The sandwiches made from fresh baked bread, sugar coated homemade donuts, cakes, pies, fresh squeezed lemonade and that special “harvest coffee” that was made sweet with great quantities of sugar and fresh cream.  The hungry men devoured a mountain of food.  I felt grown up eating a field lunch with the harvest crew and being able to drink tea and coffee.  I was proud of my dad who was always so organized and efficient as he managed the harvesting operation.

Mother seemed to take all the work in stride.  Besides cooking for 10-15 men, she was left alone to do all the other farm chores such as milking the cows, separating the cream from the milk, and feeding the animals.  She would have to kill half dozen chickens, pluck them and prepare them for the main meal.  Vegetables had to be picked or dug from the garden and added to the nutritious meals.  Food was cooked on a wood burning stove under unbearable heat.  Sometimes mom would have some help, but often she carried on by herself, never complaining and always cheerful.  In addition to all the work, mom still had to keep house and take care of us children and anybody who happened to drop by for a meal or visit.

The harvest crew would work till dark, tend to their horses, have a late supper and go to sleep in a bunkhouse on wheels.  The men would get up at the crack of dawn, feed and water their horses, have a hearty breakfast and be off for another day of threshing.  If it rained or the machinery broke down, the men and horses would get a welcomed rest, but not my mother.  She still had to feed the crews, even if they were not working and waiting for the weather to break.  An added chore for mom was to wash the men’s work clothes with equipment that was not automatic and required hand work to wring out the clothes and hang them on a clothesline to dry.

Hired help was needed throughout the year for large projects like haying, land breaking and building construction.  Free room and board was expected by the hired hands.  Sometimes immigrant individuals or families would be available to help.  At other times native individuals or whole families would be recruited from the nearby Indian Reserves.  Sometimes the native families would set up a camp on a remote part of the farm, living in tents and generally being self-sufficient.  This was a better arrangement than constantly picking up and returning the native workers to their homes on the Indian Reserve.

As a child, it was always interesting to interact with those who were hired to help on the farm.  Teaching English to the new Canadians was a challenge.  I can clearly recall trying patiently to demonstrate the difference in pronunciation between “rake” and “rack”.  I guess I did a good job, because that particular individual became a well known doctor and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, College of Medicine.

Life Before Electricity

Electric power was installed on our farm in the mid 1950’s, even though there was a major power line running by the farm since the 1930’s.  The CCF Provincial Government had a farm electrification program that provided a connection to the power grid for all farm families at a flat rate (I believe it was about $600).  Prior to electricity, life was different.

Lighting at night was achieved with kerosene lamps.  The light from the flickering flame was marginally better than a candle and much better than sitting in the dark.  It was a constant chore to fill the glass lamps with kerosene, trim the wicks and clean the glass globes (sometimes called chimneys).  It was not easy to read and do fine work by the light given off by these devices that had improved only slightly since Biblical times.  A more refined light source was a pressurized gas mantle lamp that was known by the brand name of Coleman.  These lamps were difficult to get started and keep going, so they were used only during special occasions, usually when visitors came.  A small pump was used to pressurize the high test gas.  The gas vapours went through a “generator” and burned within a “mantle” made of delicate fabric ashes that would break with the slightest jarring of the lamp or when a moth would fly into it.  When that happened, it was a major operation to get the Coleman lamp repaired and working again.  The gas lamp made a constant hissing noise and was usually hung from a hook in the ceiling to keep it safe and to better distribute the light.  My dad was an expert at keeping this cranky system working properly.  Of course he sometimes got upset because of the money and time spent to provide light, especially during the long winter nights.  Lighting in the barns was obtained from portable kerosene and gas lanterns.  Battery operated flashlights were used for emergency lighting, like when one had to go at night down the path to the outdoor toilet.  The batteries did not last a long time (this was before ‘energizer’ batteries) so it seemed that when one needed the flashlight, either the batteries were dead, the bulb burned out or the flashlight misplaced.

Cooking took place on a wood burning stove.  In the winter the kitchen was a cozy warm place to be, but no one wanted to be there during the summer heat.  It was torture for the ladies to stand over a hot stove for hours on end, cooking large meals.  One of my basic chores was to make sure that the wood box was kept full.  The wood had to be carried from a large woodpile located somewhere in the back yard.  Needless to say the supply of wood did not always keep up with the demand.  An associated chore was to keep the water reservoir on the side of the stove full of soft water.  The water became warmed and was used for washing and bathing.

Cold drinking water had to be drawn from an outside well in the yard and carried into the house in pails.  A communal dipper would sit in the drinking water pail for a quick sip.  Our yard water well had a rope and pulley affair to raise the water.  One of the signs of a child’s strength was being able to pull up a full pail of water up from the bottom of the deep well.  My parents were not impressed when I accidentally dropped the pail and rope into the well.  Dad would have to get a grappling hook affair at the end of another rope to snag the pail and bring it to the surface.  Large containers of cream would be lowered inside the cool well to keep the cream fresh.  I was not a popular person when the rope slipped and I dropped the cream container into the well.  The water in the well was polluted for a long time and not suitable for drinking.

Leonard and Sanny Popoff’s wedding picture, November 1932

Another deep well in the barnyard supplied the livestock with water.  Sometimes there were 50 or more thirsty animals to keep watered.  On a hot summer day the cattle drank huge quantities of water.  A hand pump was used to pump water into a large trough.  This was another task that I did not like.  It was not only boring, but in the heat of the sun, very tiring to manually handle the big metal pump for hours at a time.  To mechanize this task we had a large stationary one cylinder engine.  It was next to impossible for me to start the engine by turning the big flywheel with a crank with one hand while manually “choking” the carburetor with the other.  It took more effort to start the iron beast than to pump the water by hand.  If the engine backfired it could do serious damage to one’s knuckles.  What a relief when electric power came to the barnyard and an electric motor was installed.  All it took to fill the cattle water trough was a flip of the switch.  Of course I had to come back in an hour or so to turn off the motor because the water would overflow and make a soggy mess for the cows to stand in.  I spent one summer trying to invent a way that would turn off the electric motor automatically when the trough got full.  I planned a float and lever system that would flip the off switch when the water level reached the top of the trough, but I never got it implemented.

To wash clothes, mom was fortunate in later years, to have a gas powered washing machine.  The gasoline motor was hard to start, noisy, smelly and difficult to keep running.  In spite of these problems it was much easier than washing clothes the old fashioned way; by hand on a scrub board.  Solar energy was used to dry the clothes.  The wet clothes would be attached with clothes pins on long wire clotheslines.  They dried quickly on a hot day with a gentle breeze.  High winds, dust and frost made drying clothes more challenging.  Often in the freezing weather wet clothes were hung about the house over doors and chairs to dry.  Bed sheets smelled so fresh and clean when they were freeze dried in the winter time.

Human power was used for many things.  In the blacksmith shop, the drill, the saw, the forge and the grindstone were all operated by hand.  That was often my job.  I enjoyed being with my father and grandfather as they worked making and repairing things, unless I wanted to be doing something else.  Even the homemade wood lathe that I had was turned by pumping it with one foot, much like the sewing machine that mom used in the house.  It wasn’t easy to keep the lathe turning fast enough and at the same time applying the chisels to the spinning wood.  Another manual job that I did not look forward to was churning butter.  It seemed to take hours of cranking the churn before the cream would begin to change into butter.  Like many chores, the first 5 minutes was okay; then I would become bored and wanted to do something that was more fun.

It is easy to imagine how farm electrification was welcomed and the labour saving devices that electricity enabled.  We never had much money, so it took a few years to purchase the power tools and appliances that are common today.  A refrigerator and electric stove were welcome additions for my mother in the kitchen.  I installed an electric motor on the old lathe and enjoyed making things on it.  When I was in high school, circa 1956, dad bought me a table saw, a scroll saw, and a power drill.  I learned carpentry from my two grandfathers and was able to adapt power tools to my woodworking projects. 

Horsemen Enjoyed Mother’s Cooking

There were many interesting characters that I was able to observe from a boyhood perspective and imagination. One such person was Pat Keeney.  Pat would travel the local area on a buggy leading a beautiful stallion that he sold for stud services to local farmers.  Pat always seemed to come to our place at mealtimes because he knew that mom was hospitable and an excellent cook.  He would not leave hungry.  If we were not home when he arrived, Pat would just make himself at home and take a nap on the cot in the summer kitchen.  I would be startled when walking into a room and finding an old man snoring away.  I don’t recall that we ever used the services of his stallion.  The Blaine Lake History book relates a colourful history about Pat and his family.

Another horse person was Gus Basiove. Gus immigrated to Canada from Armenia and married a local Doukhobor girl, Elizabeth Popoff (no relation to us).  Gus usually showed up at our place at mealtime, making extra work for mother who was already overworked with other chores.  He drove a flashy convertible, wore a red brocade vest, with a gold watch chain and sported gold teeth.  He certainly made an impression on me because most local men dressed in drab overalls and drove plain vehicles.  Gus was a horse buyer and trader.  I later learned that the old horses that he purchased ended up in a ‘glue factory” or were shipped to Europe for human consumption.  Horses were plentiful and cheap because farmers were making the transition to gas powered tractors.  Sometimes Gus would leave horses and other animals at our place in appreciation for the hospitality he was shown.  I believe that is how Tootsie and Kaiser came into my life.  I also obtained a dog this way, called Rover.  Gus said that the dog was a special cattle and sheep dog, but to me Rover was just a good and faithful companion for many years.

Blaine Lake was honored to be the home of Senator Ralph Byron Horner.  Senator Horner was an avid horseman who imported horses from eastern Canada.  Senator Horner always wore old clothing when in the community saying he looked forward to getting out of the formal wear required in Ottawa.  He was skilled with a stock knife and came every spring to our place to perform that surgery on male bull calves that turned them into docile steers.  The Senator felt that a hearty meal prepared by mother was sufficient payment for his veterinary services.  The Senator’s son, Norval, provided the same service for us after his father died.  Albert Horner, (a nephew) farmed near our place and was noted for raising and showing draft horses that won many prizes at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.

Travelling Salesmen

In some ways the marketing and distribution system 50 years ago provided better service and was more instantaneous than the e-commerce of today’s internet.  Travelling salesmen would come to our farm with their line of products and demonstrate their application, usually to the house wife, who purchased what she liked or needed.  It was an appreciated service—most of the time.

Back Row: Leonard, Lillian, Sanny. Front Row: Lloyd, Albert, Jack.

The Watkin’s man would have suitcases full of sweet smelling spices like cinnamon and vanilla, food colouring, herbs for pickling and other products that were needed in the kitchen.  The Rawleigh’s product line was more medicinal in nature and was required for the many home remedies of the day.  Iodine, liniments, salves and camphor were always kept on hand to cure aches, pains and ailments such as colds and flu.  The Fuller Brush man would arrive with cleaning supplies and equipment.  Mother would get a break from her work, have a chance to sample some of the goods, purchase what she needed and usually get a small gift as a token of appreciation.  Of course the salesman would not turn down the invitation for tea and fresh baking.

Another type of salesperson would show up on occasion with more expensive products, such as encyclopedias, vacuums, pots and pans and vibrating massage chairs.  These people used high pressure sales techniques because most farm families did not have spare money to purchase the expensive products.  Mother was talked into buying a set of encyclopedias because the salesman convinced her that they were required for the better education of her wonderful children.  Of course, if she bought that day, she would receive, absolutely free, a cabinet to store the large set of books.  The only income that mother had was the receipts from the sale of farm produce such as eggs and cream.  Five gallons of fresh cream would net her about $5.00 each week.  Mom had to use the “easy payment plan” to pay for the encyclopedias.  It took her many years to discharge her financial commitment.  Father was not impressed with mom’s decision, but there is no doubt in my mind that the very informative set of reference books did contribute to my education and motivated me to higher learning. 

Our family also obtained vacuum cleaners, stainless steel cooking pots, and a vibrating massage chair, in a similar manner, but dad was more directly involved.  He did not always have the resistance to withstand the big sales pitch.  Years later the government passed ‘cooling down” legislation that permitted a person to legally back out of an at-home purchase after 48 hours of more rational reflection.

The Golden Age of Radio

Radio provided some entertainment in the busy life of farm living.  The radio also brought a bit of the outside world into the home.  Mother enjoyed listening to the serial ‘soaps’ such as “Ma Perkins”.  Dad would listen to “Hockey Night in Canada” and get the latest grain and cattle prices.  As children, we tried not to miss the adventures of “The Lone Ranger” and we knew when it was “Howdy Doody Time”.  Sister Lil would get a chuckle from “Our Miss Brooks” and “Fibber Macgee and Molly”.  There were dramas like “Boston Blackie” and the Lux Mystery Theatre was another favourite.

The radio was powered by large batteries and had to be connected to a long outdoor antenna.  The main problem was that the rather expensive batteries would go dead and the tubes would burn out with prolonged use.  This meant that the radio time was rationed out. 

Money was Scarce

Our family never had much money, or so it seemed to us youngsters.  We would receive a token allowance of about 10 to 25 cents a week.  For that amount it was possible to buy a few soft drinks and chocolate bars.  We were also encouraged to save money and put it into the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Blaine Lake.  I still have my first bank book with the regular hand entries of my deposits and the earned interest.

Nothing was purchased that could be made at home.  The men folk were handy at carpentry and ironwork.  The ladies would grow all their own food and make the clothing for the children.  Only staples like flour, sugar and salt were bought.  It seemed a luxury to order some clothing items from the Simpson’s (now Sears) and Eaton’s catalogue.  As I got older I became conscious that the “town kids” dressed a lot better and more stylish than the “farm kids”.  I was very embarrassed and self-conscious to be seen in farm overalls. 

My parents were very thrifty and not extravagant in their spending or lifestyle.  This was a common trait of many people who went through the great depression and drought of the 1930’s.  Even now, 50 years later, I find it difficult to break the frugal habits of my childhood.  I still go through an effort to shop for the best price and have a real feeling of satisfaction to “save” some money on a purchase.

About the Author

Albert J Popoff was delivered by his Grandmother Katerina on January 26, 1941 on the family farm near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan as the eldest son of Leonard and Sanny (Onishenko) Popoff.  Albert grew up on the family farm that his grandfather pioneered and attended nearby rural and town schools.  Albert obtained a Civil Engineering degree at the University of Saskatchewan where he also pursued his post graduate studies.  Mr. Popoff was the traffic and planning engineer for the City of Saskatoon for 7 years and in 1973 he joined the Saskatchewan Department of highways and Transportation where he held a number of challenging and responsible positions.  In 2001 Mr. Popoff was presented with a distinguished service award by his peers in recognition of extraordinary service in the field of transportation engineering in Canada.  Mr. Popoff is married to Grace, daughter of Helen (Boulanoff) and Peter Strelive.  They have 2 sons, Jeffrey and Russell.  Grace and Albert are now semi retired and live in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley.