by Deanna Konkin
Deanna Konkin (1946-) is an elementary school teacher and organic gardener in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her parents and sister reside on the family farm located near the original site of Spasovka Doukhobor Village. On occasions she returns to the farm, gazes across the fields and wonders what life was like in the village many years ago. She is a collector of Doukhobor memorabilia and books and is very interested in singing. The highlight of her singing career was in 1995 when she participated in the Voices for Peace Choir. Deanna enjoys and is skilled in the crafts of her ancestry, in needlepoint, embroidery, crocheting and knitting. Her ambition is to learn the art of linen-making, draw-work, weaving, embroidering, fringing of Doukhobor shawls, as well as other native crafts before they are forgotten. In the following article, reproduced by permission from Koozma Tarasoff’s “Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living” (Ottawa: Legas Publishing, 2002), she writes about the early days on the Saskatchewan prairies and the stories of her grandparents.
The Doukhobors from the Kars area in Russia settled in Spasovka Doukhobor Village. It was located in the block of land known as the Prince Albert Colony or the Duck Lake settlement, across the North Saskatchewan River and southwest of Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. The village was 14 miles southwest, on Section 14, Township 45, Range 5, West 3rd M. Of the Colony, it was the largest village with 47 households and a population of 217. The town of Blaine Lake was 14 miles [22.5 km] southwest. All that remains today is the unmarked graveyard on a hill with a lone tree growing on it.
The people who lived there went by such names as Stupnikoff, Konkin, Podovelnikoff, Demoskoff, Pepin, Perepelkin, Kabatoff, Shukin, Holuboff, Rebalkin, Maloff, Savinkoff, Tarasoff, Berikoff, Popoff, Babakaiff, Osachoff, Chernoff, and Hoodekoff.
Many villagers would go to Prince Albert via Duck Lake to find work and earn their daily bread. The men worked on construction such as building brick office buildings and dwellings, while the women washed clothes. My grandfather, Andrei Vasilyevich Konkin and his brother Ivan sought work in Prince Albert. Once they caught a ride in a boxcar filled with lumber at the time when the train derailed and they were pinned underneath. Luckily a conductor saw them and came to their rescue, saving them from serious injuries.
Some members of Spasovka village near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. These include Andrew Konkin (back row, second from the left) and his brother John (5th from the left) as well as respected elder Vasily Konkin (2nd row, 10th person from the left holding baby), 1906.
My grandfather Vasil Konkin who lived in this village was a spiritual and religious man. It was not uncommon for him to go on foot to the Uspenie Doukhobor Village some 20 miles [32 km] away. He would disrobe under the trees, walk out onto the street and preach to the villagers about Doukhobor beliefs, brotherhood, love, and the evils of materialism. All was witnessed by my grandmother Nastia Salikin (later Boulanoff). As young 10-year-olds, she and her two friends, Masha Selivanova (Kalesnikoff, later Mrs Alex Cheveldayoff) and Polya Katelnikova (later Mrs Pete A. Rebin), witnessed the disrobing, saying to themselves: ‘Vot Konkin svobodnik pribil’ (“the Konkin Son of Freedom has arrived”).
My great, great grandfather Nicholai Stupnikoff also lived in Spasovka. He was a psychic who could on numerous occasions foretell the future. One interesting episode took place back in Russia. A distraught man came to him and told him that the Tatars had stolen his mare. Nicholai replied: ‘Be patient, soon two horses will come to your home’. This man did as he was told. Sure enough, before long his mare returned home followed by a beautiful, frisky colt.
Fedia Salikin, circa 1900
My great grandfather Fedia Salikin lived in Uspenie Village. As the first pioneers in the area, he and his family lived in avuls (dugouts) on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River.
Fedia was a devout Doukhobor who suffered greatly for his beliefs in Russia. He and Aleksei Rebin were shackled together following the mass arms burning protest. As they walked to prison, the shackles kept unbuckling and falling off. The Tatars who were escorting them saw what happened and hollered Allah! Allah! Superstitiously they believed this was some kind of incantation at work, especially when this happened three times. Finally, the commander of the troop said: ‘If you give your word that you won’t run away, you can carry your shackles’. And so they did.
In prison, Fedia and two of his friends were ordered to put on army uniforms. They refused and took their clothes off and remained this way for three days. This was in the middle of winter. A soldier came and told them that they would be shot outside by a firing squad if they did not obey. A general arrived just in time to prevent the bloodshed. The three men were led back to prison and given winter clothing. They were told they had to be sentenced first, but they never were sentenced and eventually were set free with the others.
From Uspenie, Fedia and his family moved to Verigin, Saskatchewan where he was appointed as a miller, milling wheat into flour for the Doukhobor Community (the CCUB or the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood).
When the Doukhobors began the move to British Columbia in 1908, Peter V. Verigin asked Fedia to stay and make flour and send it to the Community in BC. Instead, because of his strong faith in the leader, Fedia joined his brethren in the move west. He did not want to stay behind because he believed that he would never hear from his Doukhobor friends and relatives again. He told the leader, ‘Peter, I want to toil more’. So he and his wife Avdotia (Dunia) packed up and moved to Blagodatnoe [Blueberry Creek] BC. There he, along with others, cut heavy timbers, extracted stumps and rock in order to make way for an abundant orchard and fertile farming land.
Fedias oldest daughter Nastia (my grandmother) and her husband (my grandfather), Fyodor Andreivich Boulanoff, later moved back to Saskatchewan. The damp mountain climate and the lack of food did not agree with my grandfather’s health. First they settled in the village of Pokrovka in the Langham area. When the people in the village began to farm independently, Fyodor and Nastia and their family settled on a rented farm. They heard about good land being for sale in the Blaine Lake district and moved there. Here they felled trees, gathered roots, and prepared the soil for tilling.
My grandmother worked alongside my grandfather. She was a fully liberated woman in her time. Besides helping with the fieldwork and barnyard chores, she also was a skilled seamstress, having done the sewing for the Doukhobor Community in BC as well as for her family. An avid gardener, she grew beautiful, bountiful gardens, the excess of which she sold to neighboring towns and cities. She passed her gardening skills and love of gardening to her family and their families. She was skilled in many crafts. One of these was growing her own flax, processing it, and spinning it into yarn to be later knitted or crocheted into doilies. She also spun wool into yarn, dyed it, and knitted it into warm mittens, socks, scarves and sweaters. In addition to her excellent homemaking abilities, she managed to keep up her melodious singing, teaching her children and anyone interested to sing psalms and hymns. One could hear her golden voice carrying high above the rest when she sang at sobranias and funerals. Peter V. Verigin once remarked to her, ‘Budet truba vo ves svet, i budesh tipet’ vo ves svet’ [There will be a pipe that will carry its sound throughout all the world and you will sing to all the world]. Many years later this prophecy was fulfilled. Grandmother and her family sang at local amateur shows on radio in the 1940s. Many people listened and enjoyed their delightful a cappella sounds.
My grandfather, Fyodor, was a devoted farmer. He was one of the first to grow hull-less oats in the Blaine Lake area. He also grew wheat, barley and rye. When he lived in the Langham area, Doukhobor parents asked him to teach their youth to read and write in Russian. Years later, many of his former students approached him and thanked him for teaching them so well. He also was a captivating storyteller. He had a great talent for remembering stories he had read and was able to retell them as everyone sat around and listened in awe.
At this time I wish to extend a tribute to all my ancestors for their beliefs, struggles, and sacrifices. May they have eternal rest and peace in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.