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.

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

For Immediate Release – August 8, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negrave.

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

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

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

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

Doukhobors in Russia and Canada. Photo courtesy Patti Negrave.

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

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

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

plaque. Photo courtesy Patti Negrave.

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

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

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

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

Mikhailovka Doukhobors Commemorated by Spring Naming

For Immediate Release – November 29, 2008

A spring near Thunder Hill, Saskatchewan has been officially named to commemorate the Doukhobor pioneer settlers of Mikhailovka. The name “Mikhailovka Spring”, proposed by Doukhobor researcher and writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, was recently approved by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.

Mikhailovka Spring is located on the NW 1/4 of 36-34-30-W1, two miles south of Thunder Hill, Saskatchewan and four miles northwest of Benito, Manitoba. It flows into an adjoining creek which empties half a mile east into the Swan River. It flows year-round and is considered an excellent source of fresh and abundant natural water.

“Place names reflect our country’s rich cultural and linguistic heritage,” said Kalmakoff, a leading authority on Doukhobor geographic names. “In this case, the name Mikhailovka Spring commemorates the Doukhobors of Mikhailovka, their settlement and their story.”

Mikhailovka village, 1908. The spring was located along the creek beside the bridge, center. Library and Archives Canada, PA-021116.

The village of Mikhailovka (Михаиловка) was established at the spring in 1899 by Doukhobors from Tiflis, Russia who fled to Canada to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. It was the first Doukhobor village in Canada. For eighteen years, the villagers of Mikhailovka lived, worked and prayed together under the motto of “Toil and Peaceful Life”. Then in 1917, the village was abandoned as villagers relocated to individual homesteads in the area or to communal settlements in British Columbia.

The Doukhobors of Mikhailovka had a strong and direct connection to the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “Indeed, the spring was the primary reason the settlers chose the site for their village. They dammed the spring and utilized it as a drinking water source and as a water source for their farming operations. In many ways, it defined the village settlement. Travellers of the Fort Pelly Trail, which ran past the village, also used the spring as a source of nourishment.”

The prominence of the spring at Mikhailovka was noted as early as 1899, when the famous Canadian woman journalist Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon (1862-1933), writing under the pen-name Lally Bernard, made note of it in her book “The Doukhobor Settlements” which describes her visit to the Doukhobors of Mikhailovka village that year.

Another view of Mikhailovka village, 1908. The spring was located along the creek near the bridge. Library and Archives Canada, PA-021129.

The official name comes after a year of consultations by Kalmakoff to gather input and support for the name from local stakeholders. The response was firmly in favour of the name. The landowners, Robert and Daren Staples of Benito, Manitoba, provided a letter of support. The Benito Doukhobor Society also endorsed the naming project. As well, the Rural Municipality of Livingston No. 331 passed a resolution in favour of the name.

The consultations were followed by a formal detailed proposal by Kalmakoff to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, the Provincial body responsible for place names. The Board reviewed and investigated the name proposal in consultation with government departments and agencies. In determining the suitability of the name, the Board was guided by the Geographic Naming Policies, a stringent set of principles governing the naming of geographic features. Its decision – which supported the name Mikhailovka Spring – was then recommended to the Minister Responsible for the Board, the Honourable Ken Cheveldayoff, who approved the decision.

Now that the name is official, the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board will supply the information to government ministries and agencies, cartographers, geographers, publishers and other persons engaged in the preparation of maps and publications intended for official and public use.

“The naming of Mikhailovka Spring reflects the area’s strong Doukhobor heritage and their important contribution to its historic development,” said Kalmakoff. “The name is a culturally important connection between past generations, present and future.”

For additional information or inquiries about Mikhailovka Spring, email Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Day-trip to Piers Island: Reminiscing About the Penitentiary, 1932-1935

by Gunter Schaarschmidt

From 1932 to 1935, over 600 Sons of Freedom were interred in a special penitentiary built on Piers Island in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada. Seventy-three years later, on June 17, 2008, Dr. Gunter Schaarschmidt of the University of Victoria returned to Piers Island and visited some of the physical features left from the penitentiary camp site. The following is an account of his observations and photos from his excursion. Reproduced by permission from ISKRA No. 2011 (Grand Forks, USCC, October 3, 2008).

On June 17, 2008, the University of Victoria Retirees Association organized a day-trip to Piers Island just 0.8 km (about half a mile) northwest of the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal on the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island. The island is inhabited by some 300 people many of whom live there for only part of the year. The island is accessible only by private boat – there are no roads except a dirt circle dirt road and walking trails criss-crossing the island. There are no stores but there is a Fire Station and an emergency helicopter landing site. For the retirees group one of its members and an island resident had chartered the harbour ferry that is normally used for Eco-trips from the pier at the end of Beacon Avenue in Sidney. The group assembled in the Piers Island parking lot next to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal and was ferried to the island in two trips. One of the trips arrived at a southern pier across from the ferry terminal, the other at the pier of the property that had been built on the same site as the Penitentiary for the Sons of Freedom (svobodniki), a radical group of Doukhobors, on the north side of the Island.

Plan of Piers Island, British Columbia. Note the Doukhobor penitentiary was located on ten acres in the northwest corner of the island, off of Satellite Channel.

Why was there a need for the creation of the Penitentiary on Piers Island for the Sons of Freedom, far away from their area of settlement in 1908? First of all, one must clearly differentiate between the group of Freedomite Doukhobors (svobodniki) and the Doukhobors as a whole, a pacifist philosophical movement. Lest it be thought that the group of Freedomites are all extreme anarchists, “there are many sincere and creative personalities in the group” (see Tarasoff 2002:93 who devotes an entire section to some of them on pp. 93-98). In fact, the Freedomite group has been very productive in writing diaries and autobiographies (see Rak 2004:115-142).

Figure 1. The old pier post of the camp (the new pier is farther to the right out of range of the photograph). Photo by Gunter Schaarschmidt.

An excerpt from a government document describes the establishment of the camp in part as follows (HWC/WJ 1934:1):

In May and June, 1932, at Nelson and Grand Forks, B.C., 303 males and 285 females of the faction above-named (”the Sons of Freedom faction of the Doukhobor sect”) were convicted of having publicly displayed themselves in a nude condition, and were sentenced to three years imprisonment in the British Columbia Penitentiary.
There being no accommodation for these convicts at the New Westminster Institution, arrangements were made to construct a temporary penitentiary at Piers Island, British Columbia.

Figure 2. Another view of the old pier post. Photo by Gunter Schaarschmidt.

The incarceration of the Freedomites proceeded in 18 escorted parties consisting of between 9 and 40 individuals, from August 11, 1932, to December 22, 1932. None of them served their full sentence of three years. No doubt the most important reason for their early release was a cost-saving effort in the difficult economic situation of the Depression years in Canada (see Skolrood 1995:27). Rationalizing, the warden H.W. Cooper wrote on June 20, 1934 (HWC/WJ 1934:13):

The object of the Administration has been to induce in the Sons of Freedom , confidence in Canada and Canadian ways so that upon their release they will be better citizens of the Dominion. There are signs that this has, to some extent, been attained.

Figure 3. View from the former campsite to the new pier post looking out to the NE. Photo by Gunter Schaarschmidt.

However, others do not quite see it that way stating that “their (the Sons of Freedom) attitudes were unchanged, in fact, their resolve to disobey the state was enhanced by a consciousness of martyrdom achieved at comparatively little person discomfort” (Woodcock & Avakumovic 1968:318).

The release of the Sons of Freedom proceeded in various stages – the last group of about 30 men was transferred to the New Westminster penitentiary before June, 1935. The camp was then demolished for the most part except the wharf and two buildings that had housed the penitentiary officers and matrons.

Figure 4. The owner’s flag post of property No. 119 is on the same spot as the old camp flag post. Photo by Gunter Schaarschmidt.

Of the University of Victoria retirees group visiting the island in June this year, not many knew about the “Doukhobor period”. It is, however, well remembered by the residents of Piers Island. In fact, on a small table with other information about the island, our host had placed a photograph of the campsite with the sign “Piers Island Penitentiary” attached to the pier post. This had apparently been given to him by the real estate agent at the time of the purchase of the property. Skolrood’s book (click here to read Doukhobor chapter) has a full page of photographs accompanying his chapter entitled “The Doukhobor Period, 1932-1935” (Skolrood 1995:14-32). This is a chapter well worth reading for anyone interested in the history of the Doukhobor movement as seen from the perspective of a former resident of Piers Island.

Figure 5. Rear view of the camp site (now property No. 119). Photo by Gunter Schaarschmidt.

Included are four photographs that I took of some of the physical features left from the penitentiary camp site. There is first and foremost the old pier post in Figures 1 and 2 (but without the sign “Piers Island Penitentiary”). Figure 3 shows today’s pier looking out to the NE. Then, there is the site of the camp flag post now marked by the owner’s maple-leaf flag (Figure 4). And, finally, there is the rear view of the new owner’s property which for some reason evoked in me the sight of the former women’s compound (Figure 5). Mentally, I had the eerie feeling of Doukhobor voices united in song in the beautiful surroundings of the camp whose barbed-wire fencing no doubt prevented the camp inhabitants from enjoying the scenery as much as we visitors were able to do more than three quarters of a century later.

References

  • HWC/WJ (1934). Piers Island Penitentiary (Memorandum from H.W.Cooper, Warden, British Columbia Penitentiary, to Superintendent of Penitentiaries, Ottawa).
  • Rak, Julie (2004). Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse. Vancouver/Toronto: UBC Press.
  • Skolrood, A. Harold (1995). Piers Island: A Brief History of the Island and Its People 1886-1993. Lethbridge, Alberta: Paramount Printers.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (2002). Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living. Ottawa: LEGAS/Spirit Wrestler Publishing.
  • Woodcock, George & Ivan Avakumovic (1968). The Doukhobors. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Notes

To read about Gunter Schaarschmidt’s research about the Doukhobor dialect spoken in Canada, see Four Norms – One Culture: Doukhobor Russian in Canada and also English for Doukhobors: 110 Years of Russian-English Contact in Canada.  For his translations of 19th century German articles about the Doukhobors, see The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856 by Heinrich Johann von Paucker and Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864 by Alexander Petzholdt.

Doukhobors Featured in 100 Saskatchewan Stories Documentary Series

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The Doukhobors are featured in an episode of 100 Saskatchewan Stories, a thirteen-part television documentary that tells the story of the people, places and events in the history of Saskatchewan. The half-hour episode, entitled “Left, Right & Centre – Part 1”, originally premiered on the Saskatchewan Communication Network (SCN) on January 25, 2006. It has since been regularly aired by SCN.

In 1899, over 7,500 Doukhobors emigrated from Russia to Saskatchewan in order to escape religious persecution. They settled in large blocks of homestead land reserved for them in the Pelly, Arran, Kamsack, Veregin, Canora, Buchanan, Langham and Blaine Lake districts. There, they cleared and broke the land, planted grain fields and established over sixty communal villages as well as brickworks, sawmills, flourmills, gristmills, elevators, warehouses, general stores, blacksmith shops, roads, bridges, ferries and other communal enterprises. In 1907, a crisis over land ownership resulted in hundreds of thousands of acres of Doukhobor homestead lands reverting to the Crown. Thereafter, the majority of community Doukhobors relocated to British Columbia while independent Doukhobors settled on individual homesteads. Subsequent Doukhobor settlements were established in the Veregin, Kylemore, Sheho, Insinger, Kelvington, Wadena and Watson districts in the Teens and Twenties. Following the demise of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in 1937-1938, the communal lands in Saskatchewan were sold and the vast communal enterprise was dismantled.

The 100 Saskatchewan Stories episode “Left, Right & Centre – Part 1” tells the unique story of the Doukhobors in Saskatchewan. The story is woven together with photographs, illustrations, music, interviews, narration and archival and current footage.  The episode features extensive interview footage with Doukhobor writer and historian Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, who discusses the Doukhobor contribution to the 100-year history of the province. A four-minute Flash streaming video excerpt of the Doukhobor episode “Left, Right & Centre – Part 1” on 100 Saskatchewan Stories is available below.

“Doukhobor immigration has had a profound effect on the character and prosperity of Saskatchewan,” said Kalmakoff. “They were the largest single mass immigration of settlers to Canada, and for that reason alone, they remain unique in their contribution to Saskatchewan.”

100 Saskatchewan Stories is a documentary series alive with the history of Saskatchewan. It is a celebration of the province’s past with a shining outlook for its future. The stories cover the province geographically and span a timeline from the pioneers who first broke soil, to the scientists who have developed some of the latest cutting edge technologies.

100 Saskatchewan Stories is produced by Dacian Productions Inc. and produced and directed by Regina-based filmmaker Jarrett Rusnak. “The series builds bridges between our people, and connects us to our land,” said Rusnak. “Some stories will make us laugh, others will make us cry, and many will surprise us. All the stories will captivate us.”

For information or inquiries about the 100 Saskatchewan Stories television series or to obtain a DVD copy of the series visit the 100 Saskatchewan Stories website at: http://www.dacian.biz/100/indexGO.html.

Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor Available Online

For Immediate Release – June 15, 2008

The Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor, a vast compilation of over 785 documents from the early twentieth century relating to the arrival and settlement of the Doukhobors in Canada, has been added online to the Multicultural Canada website.

James Mavor

James Mavor (1854-1925). LAC PA-126982.

James Mavor (1854-1925) was a preeminent Canadian political economist, University of Toronto professor, writer, social activist and art collector. In 1898, at the request of Petr Kropotkin, Mavor was instrumental in facilitating the Doukhobor migration from Russia to Canada. He continued throughout his life to be a staunch supporter of the Doukhobors following their settlement in Canada.

His collected works consist largely of correspondence, from the initial inquiry by Petr Kropotkin to Mavor in July 1898 to the arrival of the Doukhobors in 1899, and the first years of their settlement in Saskatchewan. Important correspondents include government officials such as Clifford Sifton and James A. Smart of the federal Department of the Interior and W.F. McCreary, Commissioner of Immigration in Winnipeg, and Doukhobor spokesmen and leaders such as Leo Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vladimir Chertkov, D. Khilkov, and Petr Verigin. Subsequent correspondence is mainly concerned with the period 1906-1907 and 1919 when Doukhobor communities were under threat of expropriation of their lands. The collection also contains printed material, including pamphlets and other articles gathered by Mavor on the Doukhobors; Mavor’s own notes and reports, including a daybook kept during his trip to Western Canada in 1899; and photographs of Doukhobor settlements in Canada. Some of the material is in Russian.

Telegraph from Peter Verigin to James Mavor, 1912.

Record from the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor.

Originally housed for decades in the University of Toronto Library, the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor was digitized and made available online in May of 2008 through the Multicultural Canada website. It is accessible through search and browse pages that link to an online database. Every record in the database contains the title, name of author, date, subject, summary description, and a link to the associated set of document images. The digitized images reflect the original physical condition of the records. Some of the records are aged and discoloured or have extremely faded ink. Others may have tears, folds, or other markings.

The collection host, Multicultural Canada, is a coalition of Canadian libraries, universities, educational and cultural institutions dedicated to collecting and preserving the historic records of Canada’s diverse cultural groups and providing free and greater access to them online.  The Multicultural Canada website includes digitized collections, learning modules and the Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples. 

The online digitized Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor is a tremendous new research source for historians, writers, students, genealogists and anyone interested in the early Canadian history of the Doukhobors.

To access and search the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor, visit the Multicultural Canada website at: http://multiculturalcanada.ca/node/1523.

Doukhobor Place Names Database Renamed ‘The Doukhobor Gazetteer’

For Immediate Release – June 6, 2008

Over the course of their three hundred-year history, the Doukhobors have both influenced, and been influenced by, the culture and geography of the places where they have settled and lived. For the first time ever, a comprehensive record has been compiled of the places of historic, cultural and religious significance to the Doukhobor people, presenting them in detail.

The ‘Doukhobor Place Names Database’ was originally conceived in 1999-2000 by writer and historian Jonathan J. Kalmakoff as a compilation of the origin and meaning of some 200 select Doukhobor village names. In the years that followed, Kalmakoff continued to expand the database, painstakingly gathering facts and details for hundreds of additional entries associated with the Doukhobors, including populated places such as localities, settlements, schools, post offices, railway sidings, subdivisions, streets, farms, bridges, cemeteries and parks, as well as natural geographic features such as lakes, streams, springs, bays, islands, hills, mountains, caves, woods, rocks and valleys.

Today, with over 1,000 entries, the database is the most complete and detailed database of Doukhobor geographic information ever compiled, with entries for place names, features and locations, large and small, well-known and obscure, past and present, throughout Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Armenia, Cyprus, Canada and the United States. It has been made available online and is searchable by keyword, feature type, geographically and alphabetically.

Each entry in the database contains a wealth of information relating to: the feature type; cross-references to current, previous and alternate names; the Russian (Cyrillic) spelling of the name; the origin and meaning of the name; current and previous political borders and administrative boundaries; the history of the place or feature, including dates of establishment and abandonment; the legal land description of the place or feature; the geographic coordinates (latitude, longitude) of the place or feature; and other descriptive information.

Recently, a number of researchers have suggested that the database has become much more than a compilation of place name origins; it is an important and authoritative online reference source for Doukhobor geographic information. To reflect this greater scope and purpose, the database has now been officially renamed ‘The Doukhobor Gazetteer’. It is believed that the new name provides a more accurate picture of what the database is about.

The Doukhobor Gazetteer is a tremendous achievement of detail and extraordinary research. Jonathan J. Kalmakoff has put in a prodigious amount of work to provide an accurate and definitive listing of Doukhobor geographic information. Packed with historical detail, interesting facts and entertaining anecdotes, it gives a fascinating panorama of Dukhoboria – the land of the Doukhobors. Ideal for browsing, its simple, easy-to-use format makes it the perfect reference companion for research and general interest purposes.

The Doukhobor Gazetteer will be continually updated with new information and additional features to ensure the user of data reliability and usability. The next phase of development will be to link the text entries to online maps utilizing Google Maps and Google Earths interactive software. It is anticipated that this new phase will be largely completed by fall as project volunteers conduct fieldwork over the summer to gather and compile GPS geographic coordinates of historic Doukhobor sites.

The Doukhobor Gazetteer can be accessed online through the Doukhobor Genealogy Website at https://www.doukhobor.org/gazetteer-intro.html.

Doukhobors Featured at Canadian Council of Archives National Conference

For Immediate Release – May 26, 2008

The Doukhobors were among the topics featured at the Canadian Council of Archives National Conference held in Regina, Saskatchewan May 24 to 25, 2008. The conference programme included a presentation by Doukhobor writer, historian and web-designer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The two-day conference was an important meeting place for users of archives, including genealogists, researchers, teachers, librarians, historians, students, curators, volunteers, and anyone with interest in Canada’s documentary heritage. It was intended to enhance archival users’ know-how and expertise and strengthen their relationship with the archival community. Entitled “Archives and You!” it is Canada’s only national conference for users of archives.

The conference included first-rate plenary sessions, as well as “Ask the Experts” roundtable discussions to permit the exchange of ideas on topics such as the management of small private archives, the management of digital records, the preservation of photographs, and the management of personal archives. There were also nine concurrent workshops covering specialized topics such as privacy and access, basic records management, ethnic genealogy and the creation of ethnic archives, linking youth to archival work and local history, and the preservation of home records. Additional activities included exhibits and tours of local archives in the Regina area.

One of the concurrent workshops held on May 24th featured the presentation, “Researching Your Russian Doukhobor Roots” by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. His workshop provided an overview of Doukhobor history and highlighted the special challenges and advantages faced by Doukhobor genealogists. Topics included migration and settlement in Russia and Canada; names and naming patterns; the importance of oral tradition; as well as select archival resources, including ship passenger lists, census records, membership lists, vital statistic records, homestead documents and cemetery information. His presentation also outlined recent archival discoveries in Canada, Russia and the Former Soviet Republics of importance to Doukhobor family historians. The Doukhobor workshop was well attended, with participants travelling from as far away as Nelson, British Columbia and Ottawa, Ontario to attend it.

Jonathan J. Kalmakoff presenting at Canadian Council of Archives National Conference, 2008.

Participation in this national event was an exceptional opportunity to share the Doukhobor story with members of the Canadian archival community.” said Kalmakoff. “It was exciting to promote a broader understanding of the Doukhobors’ place in Canada’s documentary heritage.”

The conference host, the Canadian Council of Archives, is a coordinating body whose mission is to nurture and sustain the nationwide efforts of over 800 archival organizations – member institutions all operating independently but sharing a common passion for Canada’s rich and wonderfully varied history. Millions of documents, heritage photographs, maps and audio-visual material are held in these institutions, nationally, regionally and locally. The Council’s goal is to work with its many stakeholders and partners to ensure preservation of and access to all these materials for teaching, learning, promotional and general interest purposes.

For additional information or inquiries about the Canadian Council of Archives or the Archives & You! national Conference, please visit the CCA web site at: http://www.cdncouncilarchives.ca/.

Spring Name Commemorates Doukhobors of Petrofka

For Immediate Release – May 5, 2008

A spring near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan has been officially named in recognition of the Doukhobor pioneer settlers of Petrofka. The name “Petrofka Spring”, proposed by Doukhobor researcher and writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, was recently approved by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.

Petrofka Spring is located on the SW 1/4 of 31-42-6-W3 on the picturesque west bank of the North Saskatchewan River, twelve miles south of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. It is situated in the Petrofka Recreation Site, a popular riverbank spot for camping, picnicking and hiking. The spring flows east down the riverbank to the river. It flows year-round and provides an excellent source of clean, cool, fresh and abundant water.

View of Petrofka Spring. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“The naming of Petrofka Spring is of immense cultural and historic value,” said Kalmakoff, a leading authority on Doukhobor geographic names. “It is a lasting legacy for future generations, and one that helps recognize the contribution made by the Doukhobors of Petrofka to the development of the area.”

The village of Petrofka (Petrovka, Петровка) was established near the spring in 1899 by Doukhobors from Kars, Russia who fled to Canada to escape persecution for their pacifist beliefs. Following the motto of ‘Toil and Peaceful Life’, they lived, prayed and worked together, transforming the prairie frontier into productive farmland. By 1911, Petrofka had a mixed population of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and German settlers. The village existed for a number of years before it was finally dissolved in 1929.

“The Doukhobors of Petrofka had a direct connection with the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “When they settled along the river, the Doukhobors found an abundant source of spring water, fertile land, trees and rolling hills reminiscent of their homeland in the Caucasus region of Russia. Building their settlement near the spring, they used its natural waters for drinking, household, irrigation and agricultural purposes. It was the lifeblood of the settlement.”

View of the pathway leading to Petrofka Spring. A sign reminds visitors that it is untreated water. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The official name comes after a year of consultations by Kalmakoff to gather input and support for the name from local stakeholders. The collective response was overwhelmingly in favour of the name. The Ministry of Environment, which owns the land on which the spring is located, submitted a letter of support. The Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society also backed the naming project. As well, the Rural Municipality of Blaine Lake No. 434 passed a resolution in favour of the name. Finally, the Riverlands Heritage Region provided an enthusiastic written endorsement.

The consultations were followed by a formal proposal by Kalmakoff to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, the Provincial body responsible for place names. The Board reviewed and investigated the name proposal in consultation with government agencies and departments. In determining the suitability of the name, the Board was guided by the Geographic Naming Policies, a stringent set of principles governing the naming of geographic features. Its decision – which was solidly in favour of the name Petrofka Spring – was then recommended to the Minister Responsible for the Board, the Honourable Ken Cheveldayoff, who approved the decision.

Now that the name is official, the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board will supply the information to government ministries and agencies, cartographers, geographers, publishers and other persons engaged in the preparation of maps and publications intended for official and public use.

“The main objective of this naming project is to ensure that the Doukhobors are recognised by all Canadians as a fundamental part of our country’s heritage and that there is a need for their historical sites to be acknowledged,” said Kalmakoff. “Now that the name Petrofka Spring has been adopted, there is an opportunity to recognize the historic Doukhobor presence in the area and to garner wider community recognition.”

A short distance from the spring, a historic marker on the scenic North Saskatchewan River bank commemorates the historic Petrofka Ferry. Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

“An official ceremony to commemorate the naming of the spring is planned for later this spring, and will be hosted by the Riverlands Heritage Region in cooperation with other local stakeholders,” said Maurice Postnikoff, Vice-President of the Riverlands Heritage Region. “It is important that we celebrate our rich and diverse local heritage through endeavours such as this.”

For additional information or inquiries about Petrofka Spring, email Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

New Book Traces History of Langham, Saskatchewan and District

For Immediate Release – August 1, 2007

A new local history book has been published for the Langham, Saskatchewan area. The book, entitled “Langham & District History, 1907-2007” traces the history of the community from its origins as a small prairie railway siding, through its incorporation as a town, to its development into a modern centre.

The book, published by the Langham & District History Book Committee, outlines the early tide of immigration, land surveying, and settler groups that arrived in the area at the turn of the last century. It then follows the footsteps of the dreamers, visionaries and entrepreneurs who established Langham and district. An extensive section details the biographies of local families. Memories of the rural and town schools are vividly recalled in the book. The many places of worship and prayer are also well described. The story traces the social and political evolution of the town, the development of local services and institutions, along with details of memorable local events. The book closes with an album of memories containing beautiful historic photographs of Langham and district.

Main Street, Langham, Saskatchewan, circa 1907.

The Doukhobors, one of the original settler groups in the Langham area, are well represented in the book. Writer and historian Jonathan J. Kalmakoff contributed an article outlining the history of the Doukhobors, from their origins and beliefs in Tsarist Russia, through to their arrival and settlement in the Langham district. Copies of early Doukhobor immigration documents are included, along with surveyors’ maps of Doukhobor villages, village histories and lists of the original Doukhobor pioneer settlers.

Kalmakoff became involved with the local history book when he was contacted by the organizing committee to provide an overview of the Doukhobors. “I am excited and honoured to have contributed towards this book”, said Kalmakoff. “It is important that the Doukhobor contribution to the history and development of Langham is documented. This book tells their story for present and future generations.”

The book contains a number of detailed biographies submitted by local Doukhobor families, including the Antifaev, Bludoff, Bondaroff, Boulanoff, Chudyk, Demoskoff, Fedosoff, Givotkoff, Harelkin, Holoboff, Kasahoff, Nemanishen, Osatchoff, Ozeroff, Perehudoff, Popoff, Rebalkin, Sherstobitoff, Shukin, Stushnoff, Tarasoff and Woykin families. Many other Doukhobor families are referenced throughout the book.

Kirilovka Doukhobor village near Langham, Saskatchewan, circa 1907.

A history of the Langham Doukhobor Prayer Home, along with detailed transcriptions of the Bogdanovka (Ceepee), Kirilowka (Epp), Pakrowka (Henrietta) and Tambovka cemeteries by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff also commemorate the Doukhobor settlers of the Langham area.

Readers with a general interest in the area will find this well-illustrated book a welcome addition to their coffee table or reference library. Genealogists and family historians will find it useful for its biographical information, summaries of the area’s settlement, details of where people came from and how they arrived, and information about community institutions.

Town of Langham Website“Langham & District History, 1907-2007” is a 703-page hardcover book available for $50.00, tax included.  A limited edition of 500 books have been published and 450 have already been sold.  For further information about the book, or to order copies, visit the Town of Langham web site at: http:/www.langham.ca/html/centennial.html.