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 in Hilliers, British Columbia

by Richard de Candole

In 1947, Sons of Freedom leader Michael “the Archangel” Verigin and 70 of his followers established a 320 acre colony at Hilliers, British Columbia. While it lasted, the colonists practiced community of goods, peacefully tended their gardens and awaited the second coming of Christ. At the same time, the leadership faced accusations of incendiary attacks on Doukhobor properties in the Kootenays. The following article by Richard de Condole briefly examines the history of the controversial Hilliers Doukhobor colony to the present. Reproduced by permission from the Qualicum Time (August/September 2007).

For a short time in the 1940s and ‘50s the farm at the end of Slaney Road in Hilliers now owned by my family was the centre of considerable controversy in British Columbia.

At the time it was owned by a colony of about 70 Sons of Freedom Doukhobors under the leadership of Michael “the Archangel” Verigin who had moved there in 1947 from the Kootenays to escape persecution by fellow Doukhobors.

A rooftop view of the homesite as it is today.  Photo by Richard de Candole.

More than 7,000 Doukhobors, or Spirit Wrestlers, had immigrated to Canada in 1905 from Russia. They settled first in Saskatchewan then later the Kootenays. Because they rejected the practices and authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, were pacifists and lived communally they had been subjected persecution for over 100 years.

In Canada they proved to be equally troublesome for the authorities, refusing to swear an oath of allegiance, refusing to send their children to school, and, among the Sons of Freedom, staging nude public protests, among a number of things. The latter’s anti-materialistic views were so strongly held that they believed they were called by God to burn the possessions of fellow members who had become too materialistic.

Michael “the Archangel” Verigin (1883-1951)

During the first few years of the Hilliers colony there was a series of suspicious fires in the Kootenays which were eventually linked to Michael Verigin and co-leader Joe Podovinikoff. (During this same period the Hilliers school and community hall were burned and they were believed to have been acts of retaliation.) In the spring of 1950 they were found guilty of inciting others to commit arson and sentenced to two years in jail.

By a twist of fate Michael suffered a stroke a month after sentencing and on July 27, 1951 died of pneumonia at the age of 69. His funeral attracted a large gathering of Doukhobor and non-Doukhobor dignitaries and he was buried in a small graveyard on the property, now a registered cemetery, where the ashes of my father Corry de Candole are also buried.

The Hilliers colony, however, never recovered from the loss of their leader and by the mid-1950s most of the residents had either moved back to the Kootenays or left the Doukhobor community altogether.

In addition to the burnings and their strong views on public education, the colony also adhered to an unorthodox sexual code. As an article in Time magazine on Sept. 26, 1949 described, all property was shared including husbands and wives.

Initially there was a ban on all sexual relations until the colony was deemed to be economically self-sufficient. In late 1948 the elders lifted the ban and nine months later the first child was born. After being christened Gabriel Archangelovich First the boy was surrendered by the mother to the joint parenthood of the community.

The property had been vacant for over five years when my parents Corry and Nancy de Candole discovered it in 1963, almost by accident. They had been looking for retirement property in the area and were about to return to Alberta without finding anything that appealed to them.

E.G. Thwaites, a Qualicum Beach pioneer and father of their realtor, happened to be in the office and when he heard they had found nothing gave some advice they felt they couldn’t ignore: ‘Don’t leave the Island without looking at the old Doukhobor place.’ At the time the property wasn’t even listed. On their way to the ferry they once more drove out to Hilliers. ”As soon as we drove in the driveway Corry was immediately taken by what he saw,” remembered my mother Nancy. “The place was so peaceful and private. It was at the end of the road and totally surrounded by forest. He couldn’t wait to get back into town to make an offer.”

A view of the Doukhobor bath house interior. Photo by Richard de Candole.

They barely even noticed that the homesite was a collection of weather-beaten sheds and buildings, none of which were suitable for a house. Their offer of $9,500 for the 75 acres was accepted and that winter they hired Don Beaton and Qualicum Construction to build a 1,400 sq. ft. house my father designed in the shape of a U.

The author’s mother, Nancy de Candole in front of a Doukhobor dwelling.  Photo by Richard de Candole.

My father spent the next 20 years tearing down sheds, restoring other buildings, building a log house, and putting back into production a field that had been used by the Doukhobors to grow corn, cabbages and potatoes. He also served on the Coombs Fair board for most of that time.

My mother immersed herself in teaching piano and supporting church and environmental projects. Last year, at age 94, she moved to Qualicum Manor while my wife Wendy and I continue to live on the property.

Breaking Ground in Spasovka and Uspenie

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.

The (Almost) Quiet Revolution: Doukhobor Schooling in Saskatchewan

by John Lyons

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

I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no record of this investigation ever taking place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forced Doukhobor Schooling in British Columbia

by William Janzen

Historically, Doukhobors had not emphasized formal education. They were concerned that schools would lead their children away from their community life and religious ideals. Also, their view of ‘the God within’ made it less important. Despite these views, in Saskatchewan, the entry of Doukhobors into the public school system went relatively smoothly, in part due to its localized nature, the leniency of civil servants in enforcing attendance requirements, and the openness of the largely Independent Doukhobor population towards education. In British Columbia, however, the Doukhobors’ stronger communalism and greater hesitancy about the larger society, combined with the rigid approach of the provincial government, produced dramatically different results. The following article by William Janzen examines the forced schooling of Doukhobors in British Columbia. Reproduced by permission from his book, “Limits on Liberty, The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukhobor Communities in Canada” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), it examines three distinct periods: 1909-1913, 1914-1927 and 1927-1959.

1909-1913: Acceptance, Rejection, and a Commission of Inquiry

The story of the Doukhobors and public schools in British Columbia is complex. Virtually all the Doukhobors who moved there belonged to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. As such they had both a stronger communalism and a greater hesitancy about the larger society. The approach of the provincial government was different, too. British Columbia had had a public school system since the 1870s. It even had an attendance requirement, though it applied only to children aged 7-12, and only if they lived within three miles of a school accessible by public roads. Also, the system operated under a central Council of Public Instruction with relatively little scope for local boards. This circumstance tended to bring school issues into the arena of provincial politics even though it might have been possible to resolve them locally.

The Doukhobors’ first contact with British Columbia’s school system came soon after they arrived in 1909. By 1910, some who lived close to public schools discovered that their children were expected to attend. They then complied without complaint. In 1911 the school district of Grand Forks built the Carson school near Doukhobor lands to accommodate more Doukhobor children. Soon thereafter the Doukhobors, who were quickly becoming established in their new settlements, built a school right on their land near Brilliant. It opened in 1912 as an official public school with an all-Doukhobor board and an enrolment of forty-eight pupils. The teacher, Beulah Clarke Darlington, spoke highly of the Doukhobors and of the experience in general. In a letter to a local newspaper she stated: ‘It is a relief to find people with no pretense who are willing to work with their hands, and who show, by the wonderful development of that country, that they are capable of working with their brains as well; who are content with simple pleasures and who keep a right outlook on life because they are not striving after wealth or trying to attain a position in society which is worthless when procured.’ The Doukhobors were very pleased with Darlington as a teacher. They planned to expand class-room facilities for the coming year and encouraged Darlington to bring some of her friends also to serve as teachers.

Then, suddenly, there was an interruption. The schoolchildren were withdrawn, not to return until four years later. A major reason was the arrest of five Doukhobors who had been sentenced to three months in prison for failing to register a death. The chief constable for the Grand Forks area met with Peter V. Verigin and was informed that the Doukhobors, at a large meeting, had decided not to register births, deaths, and marriages even though the law required it. When the constable reported this information to the attorney-general he was told: ‘You may inform Mr. Verigin … that the laws of British Columbia must be obeyed … and … will be strictly carried out, without any favour being shown to him and members of his Society.’ The Doukhobors then sent a letter, dated 16 July 1912, addressed to ‘The Government of British Columbia,’ to explain their position. They said: ‘We believe that the favourable adorable power is ruling all the world and endeavour to be written in eternal life book, and propose ourselves obligation to live quietly and to employ honest labour on the earth, so as to get substance. All the human race registration we calculate unnecessary. We can say, briefly, our religion confines on two commandments to be gentle and to employ agriculture.’

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

The public, which at first had welcomed the Doukhobors for contributing to the economic development of the area, now became more critical. Newspapers pointed out that they were not taking the oath and that they were not co-operating fully with the 1911 census. Local citizens expressed concern that the Doukhobors were becoming numerous, that they might ‘swamp the community,’ and ‘that it would be impossible for them to be assimilated.’ In response, the Conservative government led by Premier Richard McBride appointed a royal commission to make a broad inquiry. The person chosen for the task was William Blackmore, a newspaper editor from the nearby town of Nelson.

When Blackmore came to the Doukhobor community, later in 1912, he was welcomed in an elaborate way. The Doukhobors showed him their orchards, sawmills, and other prospering enterprises, and talked of their plans for further development. They also invited him to their religious assembly, where the children sang for him. In one such ceremony, a young boy stepped forward and said: ‘We’ve been attending school during the eleven weeks it was in session, but we no longer wish to go to school again, because the teacher, though very kind, belonged to the people who had put our friends in prison.’ Blackmore stayed with the Doukhobors for almost four months and held long public hearings. He also made a trip to their settlements on the prairies. At the end he produced a report that was extensive and remarkably sympathetic to the Doukhobors but it did not relieve them from the responsibility of abiding by the established laws of the province.

Regarding their refusal to register births, deaths, and marriages, Blackmore stated: ‘They will not register because they desire to remain unmolested in their communal life. They want no interference, as they call it, which means no intrusion of any kind. They claim that birth and death are the acts of God, and call for no cognizance on the part of man; and as to marriage, they take the high ground that it is purely a matter between the contracting parties.’ Blackmore also found that the Doukhobors feared that registration would somehow lead to military service. In their own words they said: ‘The registration intimately… tied …with religious faith … we wish to be citizens of all the world, and do not wish to register our children in the Royal Crown Government books … We are not refusing to give knowledge of increase or decrease of our Doukhobor Community people in ten or five years once. But to enter in your register books we will never do it. Because we calculate we are already registered in the Book of Life before Him the Founder, which is called Eternity.’

Regarding public schools, Blackmore found that the Doukhobors were concerned that ‘education was likely to make the children discontented with the life of cultivation of the soil followed by their parents,’ and ‘separate the children from their parents and from the customs and habits of the Community.’ He reported further that the women had said that ‘among them crime was unknown, and that, whereas among educated people poverty existed, no Doukhobor ever suffered for want of food or clothing; so … while the laws spoken of were needed for other people, they did not think they were required among the Doukhobors.’

In a statement of their own, the Doukhobors listed three reasons for their objection to the public schools:

1) The school education teaches and prepares the people, that is children, to military service, where shed harmless blood of the people altogether uselessly. The most well educated people consider this dreadfully sinful such business as war, lawful. We consider this great sin.

2) The school teaching at the present time had reached only to expedience for the easy profit, thieves, cheaters, and to large exploitation working-class laborious on the earth. And we ourselves belong to working-class people and we try by the path of honest labour, so we may reap the necessary maintenance, and to this we adopt our children to learn at wide school of Eternal Nature.

3) The school teaching separates all the people on the earth. Just as soon as the person reached read and write education, then, within a short time leaves his parents and relations and undertakes unreturnable journey on all kinds of speculation, depravity and murder life. And never think of this duty, respecting his parents and elder-ones, but he looks opposite, turning themselves, enslaving of the people, for theirs own licentious and insatiableness gluttony … educated people, swallow down all the national peoples … the people suffer from not having land even a piece of daily bread … we distinctly understand instruction of Christ, we holding on to Community life and we calculate all the people on earth are our brothers.

These three objections — that education in public schools leads to militarism, that it is not practical, and that it alienates people from one another, thus militating against community life — were to be referred to again and again in the following half-century as the controversy continued.

In his report, Blackmore spoke positively of how the Doukhobors themselves provided for the education of their children:

It must not, however, be supposed that, because this misguided people refuse elementary education for their children, they do not give them the best home training.

The children are intelligent, respective, and observant. The home life is almost ideal. They are taught all the cardinal virtues with which most of us, as children, we acquainted, but which are now too often regarded as old-fashioned — such as obedience, reverence, industry, and thrift; and it is not a little to the credit of their parents to find that the chief objection that they entertain to education is the fear that secular teaching may undermine the religious spirit.

Blackmore also praised their capability as agriculturalists, their irrigation system, their large orchards, and the other enterprises that they, as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, had collectively developed. Blackmore stated:

It is not out of place at this point to comment on the wonderful success that has attended the fruit-growing operations of the Doukhobors. To them it was a new industry. They had never been engaged in it before coming to British Columbia. Yet, today, if you were to go through their orchards, you would find that they are the cleanest, the best-kept, the heaviest-cropped of any in the district…

In addition … the Doukhobors have manifested a spirit of enterprise at Brilliant by putting in a splendid concrete reservoir capable of holding 1,000,000 gallons of water, and from this reservoir the water is being piped all over the Settlement. It is to be used both for domestic purposes and irrigation.

The reservoir will be supplied partially from a creek in the mountains, and partially by an immense pumping plant which the Doukhobors have erected … on the banks of the Kootenay River. This is the largest pumping plant in British Columbia …

Besides the farming industry, the Doukhobors have established sawmills on all their properties, which are used chiefly to convert the timber into building material …They have also a good brick-making works at Grand Forks, which is producing a high-class brick, commanding a ready sale. This brick is being used in the new Government Buildings at Grand Forks, which is a fair testimony as to its quality.

While recommending that the Doukhobors should be required to obey provincial laws, Blackmore cautioned against ‘drastic steps … to force their immediate compliance,’ stating that ‘persecution is fuel to the flames of fanaticism. Withdraw the fuel, and the fire will die out.’ He suggested a policy of ‘patience with the people’ and ‘pressure on their leaders’ and that, ‘if it is found necessary to resort to prosecution and conviction ensues, it is desirable that the punishment should take the form of fines rather than imprisonment.’ Prison sentences, he felt, might nurture a martyrdom complex. He also recommended that to facilitate the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, a member of the Doukhobor Community be appointed as a sub-registrar. And to facilitate matters in the schools he said that ‘Russian teachers could be employed in conjunction with Canadian teachers, and that the curriculum be modified so as to include only elementary subjects.’ He also suggested that a permanent Doukhobor agent be appointed to serve somewhat like an Indian agent.

Most of Blackmore’s observations and recommendations were such that a mutually satisfactory compromise might have developed. But the Doukhobors’ disposition towards a compromise was drastically set back because, at the very end of the report, Blackmore recommended that their exemption from military service be cancelled. This suggestion was most upsetting to the Doukhobors. They had questioned Blackmore about the possibility of war between Britain and Germany, about the probability of Canadian involvement, and about the status of their exemption. Now they felt confirmed in their suspicion that there was a connection between registration, school attendance, and military service.

1914-1927: Pressing Community Doukhobors to Accept Schools

While Blackmore’s final recommendation disappointed the Doukhobors, the generally moderate tone of his report disappointed the authorities. Supported by local citizens, officials soon discarded his counsel for patience. They rejected a Doukhobor offer that for vital statistics, they check the Community’s records. The public wanted compliance with the existing law; to gain evidence for prosecutions they exhumed bodies and raided a village. Naturally, this approach was upsetting to the Doukhobors. Regarding the schools, the Doukhobors were now also concerned about a recently introduced program of military drills and rifle shooting. The Department of Education had started the program in order to foster ‘the spirit of patriotism in the boys, leading them to realize that the first duty of every citizen is to be prepared to defend his country.’

Early in 1914, when Doukhobor children were still not in school, the government prepared itself for an unusual course of action. It enacted the Community Regulation Act, which made the Doukhobor Community, that is, the CCUB, liable for an infraction committed by any member. The act referred particularly to infractions relating to vital statistics, school attendance, and the Health Act. It authorized officials to seize, without warrant, the goods and chattels of the Community in order to cover fines not paid by individuals. In one sense, holding the Community liable was understandable. The Doukhobors, as individuals, had little property while as a Community they had a sizeable amount. Nevertheless, as a form of collective punishment this law was a departure from Canada’s tradition of justice. More seriously, the law defined a Community member as any person who, on the oath of one witness, had been found on or about Community lands. This meant that even if the Community expelled trouble-making individuals, which it did on occasion, it could still be liable for the actions of such individuals. Obviously, the Community was extremely vulnerable.

As the authorities became more threatening, some Doukhobors, apparently against the advice of Peter V. Verigin, responded with a threat of their own. They sent a long list of grievances to Attorney-General Bowser and then said: ‘The [Community] Doukhobors, of whom there are six thousand members, are planning beforehand in this case, to all take off what clothes still remaining on them after the plunder they have been subjected to in Saskatchewan, take them and throw them into the faces of your officials in Nelson and Grand Forks, and leave themselves stark naked on the very street of the town. This will be a good illustration to show the attitude taken by the government officials in regards to Doukhobors.’ The attorney-general replied that if the clothes came off the law against indecent exposure would be enforced.

As the confrontation became increasingly intense several non-Doukhobors tried to intervene. Blackmore continued to counsel moderation in the columns of his newspaper. A lawyer from the town of Nelson wrote to the attorney-general: ‘I contend that the Grand Forks people are not playing the game square as far as these people are concerned. They welcomed them to their midst and took their money for the land, and now, when they have made a success of agriculture in that district, they want to drive them out.’ A CPR superintendent urged the government to seek a compromise so as to avoid ‘injury to the religious convictions of the Doukhobors.’ A.E. Miller, inspector of schools, was cautious, too. He predicted that ‘any attempt to enforce attendance will be met with opposition.’ Others, however, supported the action of the government. A group of Quakers from Pennsylvania who had earlier supported the Doukhobors now said: ‘The sooner the Commune is broken up, the sooner will be real progress amongst these simple, misled people.’

For a time the trends pointed towards a harsh confrontation. A.E. Miller was instructed to warn the Doukhobors that ‘the refusal to comply with the requirements as to education would mean the breaking up of their community.’ In August 1915 the attorney-general issued instructions to enforce the Community Regulations Act. At that point, however, certain technical obstacles were noticed. The property, until 1917, was registered in the name of Peter V. Verigin, not in the name of the Community. Also, school attendance was compulsory only if people lived within three miles of a school, accessible by a public road. Most roads in the Doukhobor settlements were private.

Before these legalities could be tested a compromise was reached. On 20 September 1915 the attorney-general promised a delegation of Doukhobors that no military training would be forced upon their children and that they would be excused from religious exercises. The Doukhobors in turn promised that their children would return to both the Carson and the Brilliant public schools. As a result, a period of co-operation followed. The Doukhobors built nine additional public schools although these were administered not by local boards but by an official trustee appointed by the government. At one point, in the 1920-1 school year, the enrolment rose to 414, which was more than 80 per cent of those eligible, although attendance was little more than 50 per cent. Inspector Miller, following a policy of caution and patience, did not press for full attendance.

This co-operation lasted for several years, but soon after the First World War there were strains related to the Doukhobors’ exemption from military service and to their prosperity. In February 1919 a meeting of returned soldiers in Nelson demanded that all Doukhobors be deported to Russia and that their lands be given to veterans. A meeting of citizens declared its support for the veterans and at one point twelve ex-soldiers went to Verigin to force their demands upon him. Apparently Verigin then signed an agreement to turn over the Doukhobor lands to the Soldiers’ Settlement Board but a few days later he wired Arthur Meighen, the minister of the Interior, that he had signed under duress. Meighen, the Conservative who according to George Woodcock ‘consistently proved fairer to the Doukhobors than his Liberal predecessor Frank Oliver,’ ruled that the Soldiers’ Settlement Board had no right to carry out expropriations.

Group of Doukhobor schoolchildren at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives D-01929.

The soldiers’ claim to the land was thus nullified but the general criticism of the Doukhobors continued, leading some Doukhobors to withdraw their children from school. However, a 1920 amendment to the Public Schools Act broadened the compulsory attendance provisions and authorized the construction of schools on the lands of the Doukhobor Community and at its expense. Also, Inspector A.E. Miller, under whose patient supervision things had worked reasonably well, was replaced by E.G. Daniels, who began to press for better attendance. In December 1922, the Grand Forks school board took legal action against eight cases of truancy. Fines were imposed and when they were not paid, some CCUB property, meaning Doukhobor Community property, was seized. However, before it could be sold, Community officials intervened and paid the fines.

In April 1923, Inspector Daniels pressed further. Fines of $50 each were levied on six parents. When they were slow in paying, a large truck, used by the Community for farm work, was seized. Again the Community paid the fines. But soon after, in May 1923, a school building was destroyed by fire. In the months that followed a total of nine schools in the Brilliant area were destroyed, the burnings in each case coinciding with an attempt on the part of the police to seize property in payment of fines.

The burning of schools was a relatively new type of action on the part of the Doukhobors. There were some acts of civil disobedience in their history, and a few times some Doukhobors had destroyed property as a way of witnessing against materialism. However, this more widespread destruction of property was a departure from their tradition. It also created a new dynamic among the Doukhobors. Those who committed these acts were a very small minority. Verigin and other Community leaders publicly declared that the Community as a whole had nothing to do with the burnings and that many of their children were still attending school. At one inquiry a teacher of a burned school testified that the Community Doukhobors had, ‘instead of burning schools, been guarding them and that the destruction has been the work of a small but fanatical element among them.’ The authorities, however, did little to apprehend the guilty individuals. Instead, they followed the orientation of the Community Regulation Act and held the Doukhobor Community liable for the depredations.

While dissociating themselves from the acts of destruction, the Doukhobor Community leaders also charged that School Inspector Daniels was using undue compulsion in pressing for attendance. They warned that if the prosecutions continued, they would not be able to guarantee the safety of other schools. In a letter to the minister of Education, dated 17 May 1923, the Doukhobors said:

It is apparent that the government is only seeking an excuse to create a quarrel with the Doukhobors, on the basis of the school issue.

Doukhobors are fanatics — so the English say, but what can we term the action of Mr.
Daniels? This is more than fanaticism. What compels them to take such measures when the school question is so favourable, and the people are living peacefully, working and cultivating their own holdings … You are only expert at ruining peaceful residents and plundering the proletariat…

There is a saying: ‘One fool can roll a stone off a mountain top into a river, but ten wise men, try as they may cannot take it up again”. Mr. Daniels rolled this stone down, although it’s not yet of very large proportions. He too must salvage it from the nether regions before it is too late.

The tension continued and in April 1924 Verigin’s own house was destroyed. He then appealed to the premier for protection and offered to provide the names of the twenty to thirty arsonists. To his surprise, there was little interest in his offer. The government, instead of seeking to apprehend the guilty individuals, levied special taxes on the Doukhobor Community in order to pay for destroyed property. On 24 October 1924, in an even more drastic event, Peter V. Verigin was killed in a train explosion, along with eight other people. The reason for the accident was never established. Many blamed the ‘fanatical’ Doukhobors but some Doukhobors thought that the Canadian government had killed him just as Russian governments had exiled their earlier leaders.

It was a traumatic time for the Doukhobors. The authorities continued to enforce the law with prosecutions, fines, and the seizure of Community property. Before long most of the Doukhobor children who had been in school were withdrawn. In April 1925, a police inspector, 10 deputies, and 100 citizens forced their way into Community warehouses and seized $20,000 worth of goods, according to the Community’s estimate. This response was unusually severe. But then, suddenly, things changed. Peter P. Verigin, the new Doukhobor leader, who would soon be coming from Russia, sent word that ‘all children should be sent to school and no protests held until he arrived.’ The Doukhobors complied and a three-year calm followed.

In summer 1925 the Doukhobor Community built five new schools and in the next few years it erected several more. When Peter P. Verigin arrived in September 1927 he said he wanted the Doukhobors to have the best possible education while retaining their religious faith. He also had plans to set up private Doukhobor schools. To assist in this matter he had brought along Paul Biriukov, a friend of Tolstoy. Provincial authorities, however, turned down the private school proposal so the effort was redirected into Russian-language classes after regular school hours, and into choirs and other cultural activities. Peter P. Verigin’s acceptance of public schools settled the question for a majority of the Community Doukhobors. Those who were not persuaded gradually became known as the Sons of Freedom.

1927-1959: Forcing School on the ‘Sons of Freedom’ Doukhobors

When Peter P. Verigin arrived in 1927, the Sons of Freedom numbered only a few hundred. Indeed, they were not a fully distinct group, However, their activities and their numbers were about to increase. In January 1929, when most Doukhobor children were in school, this group withdrew its children and announced that they would not be returning. This event resulted in ten arrests, which in turn led to a nude demonstration. Verigin who, in an earlier appeal for unity, had described the Sons of Freedom as ‘the ringing bells who cleared the way for the movement’ now disowned and denounced them. In a press release to newspapers dated 6 February 1929, he stated: ‘Please take notice that the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited, had nothing to do and will never have any connection with these people and with their dirty insolent violence, and all their stupid, childish actions, such as unclothing to the skin … these persons do not belong to the membership of the Community. The Community is not taking any responsibility for their actions materially or morally and moreover the Community refuses to consider such persons as brothers and to have any connections with them.’

In March 1929, the Sons of Freedom issued a letter addressed to ‘the Executives of all Countries: Judges, Government Inspectors, Police and all other servants of man-made laws,’ which stated:

The time has come to reveal… why we reject the Government schools and their orders. We are conscious of our history, and denote it by saying that Christ was the first Doukhobor. We are the direct Spiritual descendants of the Apostles of Christ and his followers, the so-called Christian martyrs of this time. It was the same kind of Government as the Canadian, that crucified Christ two thousand years ago … Take our Government school education; people are so hypnotized by it that they do not see that its results are demoralizing. The present Government schools are nurseries of militarism and capitalism … If there are men to be found among educated people like George B. Shaw, Tolstoy, Tagore, Gandhi, and many others, these men received enlightenment through Spiritual Regeneration, heeding the voice of Christ, and if such men are to be given honour, it was not attained by college education. Our whole history is marked by cruel persecutions by the churches, governments and capitalists. These persecutions are on account of our loyalty to Christ’s teaching and our uncompromising refusal to submit to any Authority but God’s.

In summer 1929 there were numerous acts of property destruction. In most instances it was property used by the Community Doukhobors. On 29 June three schools that the Community Doukhobors had built in 1925 were burned. In August three more schools, a flour mill, and a warehouse belonging to the group were destroyed. When two men were arrested, demonstrations involving nudity followed. As a result fifty-five men and forty-nine women were convicted for indecent exposure. Their sentence was six months at the Oakalla Prison Farm in New Westminster. It was the first mass imprisonment. Some of the prisoners’ children were held in custodial care by the province until the parents were released.

In February 1930 those who had been imprisoned were released but they now found that they were no longer accepted as members of the Doukhobor Community. They were expelled. But some Doukhobors in the ‘branch communes,’ especially in the poorer ones, welcomed them. This action led Verigin to withdraw all loyal Community Doukhobors from those areas, thus creating a more complete separation between the Sons of Freedom and the Community Doukhobors. This separation, however, did not prevent the acts of property destruction. However, to the consternation of the Community Doukhobors, the police were still not eager to apprehend the guilty individuals or to protect the community’s property. Peter P. Verigin now complained: ‘The police are standing and looking… what is the use of building schools when they are burning and dynamiting them faster than we can build them.’ The Community Doukhobors wanted the Sons of Freedom removed from their property and offered to pay the cost of a government investigation into the problems. The government instead continued with its policy of holding the Community liable for the destruction of property while arresting individuals who participated in nude demonstrations.

The provincial authorities were strengthened when the federal government, in August 1931, changed the Criminal Code so as to provide ‘a mandatory penalty of three years’ imprisonment for nudity in a public place.’ Because prison terms longer than two years are served in federal penitentiaries, the three-year penalty brought some financial relief to the provincial government. It also helped provincial politicians to project an image of ‘getting tough’ on the Doukhobors. However, lengthening the prison term was not effective as a deterrent to the nudity problem. The demonstrators wanted to make a religious witness, and the longer imprisonment could only enhance the martyrdom they sought. Instead of the demonstrations diminishing, they became larger. One participant later spoke of them in this way: ‘You see the (zealots) refused to pay their taxes, refused to comply with the ownership regulations; they just refused … and had written a kind of appeal to everyone to the effect that the time had arrived when we must take this ownership from Caesar and give it back to God … It was a wonderful sight. I doubt if this planet had ever seen anything like it… It was a protest against land ownership and all ownership — against the Caesar’s injustice that he has taken the cosmic property into his own hands.’

In spring 1932, in a second mass imprisonment, approximately 600 men and women were convicted for nudity and given three-year prison sentences, to be served on Pier’s Island, forty miles from Victoria, where special facilities had been erected. As the train carrying the convicts departed from the Kootenay Valley, the Doukhobors sang the hymns of their martyred forefathers. For them it was a spiritual pilgrimage.

Doukhobor Penitentiary on Piers Island, BC, 1934. British Columbia Archives G-00058.

No less significant than the imprisonment of the parents was the placement of their 365 children in orphanages and industrial schools in Vancouver and Victoria. Clearly, the children had to be cared for while their parents were in prison but the authorities also hoped that by exposing the children to a new environment their attitudes would change. It turned out that the children did not stay the full term. After one year, when a delegation of Independent and Community Doukhobors approached authorities with an offer of taking the Sons of Freedom children into their homes, it was accepted on the condition that they would attend public school. When the parents were released, between October 1934 and July 1935, the children were reunited with them. But it appears that few attitudes had changed. A 1947 study found ‘that some of these children are actively participating in the quasi-anarchistic activities of the present day.’

In the following years the school situation continued to be a public concern. An inspectors’ report for 1935/6 stated: ‘In the community schools and in those schools in which there is a major proportion of Doukhobors, no great progress has been made in Canadianizing this people. The persistence of the Doukhobors in maintaining their identity as such and in resisting Canadian influence is as strong as ever. While the children seem to be happy at school, they quit at the earliest possible date and at the present time there are many of school age who, supported by their parents, are defiantly absenting themselves from school.’

In 1939 the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation suggested that real Canadian homes ‘radiating the best in our Canadian mode of life’ be placed among the Doukhobors in order to help them to establish intimate contacts with ‘lovable Canadians’ and thus overcome their prejudice. Two years later, the Teachers’ Federation stated that ‘the supervision and administration of all Doukhobor schools should be vested in a single official, a trained and experienced educator of vision, initiative and wide sympathies, whose contacts with the Doukhobors will justify affection and confidence, and that it would be part of wisdom to entrust such a man with authority to adjust the curriculum.’ Some years later the federation recommended that teachers for the schools among the Doukhobors be chosen with special care, that they be given a wide liberty to adapt the curriculum to the needs of the Doukhobors, and that attendance be enforced consistently but only with fines and not with prison sentences.

For most of the Second World War period, 1939—45, the Sons of Freedom were relatively quiet. The attacks on the property of the Doukhobor Community ceased in 1938 when that body went into formal bankruptcy, having suffered from the depression, poor management, and government unwillingness to let the Community benefit from programs set up to assist industries affected by the depression. With this collapse, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) was renamed the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC). But the war and the disappearance of much Community Doukhobor property as a target did not keep the Sons of Freedom quiet for long. In 1944, there was a demonstration in which ‘women’s clothes and jewelry were burnt as symbols of the vanity of modern civilization.’ Soon after, the house of John J. Verigin, who had succeeded Peter P. Verigin as leader of the Community Doukhobors, was burned. From then until 1947 there were over 100 acts of destruction. Most of these were directed against other Doukhobors as a protest against their prosperity and materialism but some involved public property, including a CPR station, a bridge, and schools. The USCC condemned the destruction and John J. Verigin publicly asked for police protection for his followers.

To deal with the continuing problem, the government of British Columbia, in September 1947, appointed Judge H. Sullivan to conduct an inquiry. In the public hearings that followed, one person confessed to having committed twenty-five acts of vandalism in the preceding twelve years, the largest being the 1943 burning of the $400,000 jam factory at Brilliant, long owned by the Community Doukhobors but taken over by the government in 1939. This person explained: I believe that this was necessary to wake up our brothers from materialism, which is the main source of patriotism.’ One person wrote to Sullivan that ‘schools, forced upon the Doukhobors by the government, were destroyed by fire because schools are propagators of a false conception of civilization, patronizing the beast, militarism.’ Others came to the hearings and created ‘an epidemic of true and false confessions, of accusations and counter-accusations that brought an atmosphere of pseudo-religious hysteria into the courtrooms.’ After four months of hearings Judge Sullivan was exasperated. He felt it was useless to continue ‘until the crazy people are put in the mental asylum and the criminals locked up in the penitentiary.’ As for Doukhobor children, they should be educated with a view toward assimilation, he said. His brief recommendations did not, however, lead to a program of action.

Meanwhile, the nude demonstrations and acts of property destruction continued. In summer 1950, over 400 Sons of Freedom were in jail for nudity and arson. By now another commission was at work. The president of the University of British Columbia had agreed, at the request of the attorney-general, to assemble a group of social scientists for a more thorough study. Chaired by anthropologist H.B. Hawthorn, the study lasted two years and involved twelve researchers. Their lengthy report, like the Blackmore report of 1912, showed considerable sympathy and respect for the Doukhobors but called also for compliance with the laws. As a matter of strategy, it recommended ‘a balance of pressures and inducements.’ Claudia Lewis, one of the social scientists engaged in the study, advised against removing children from their parents. Instead, schooling should be made more acceptable to the Doukhobors. She suggested that Doukhobors be included on local boards, that the practices of saluting the flag and singing patriotic songs be discontinued, that some teaching of the Russian language and music be included, that the reading program be modified to include excerpts from Tolstoy, and that some aspects of the social studies program be changed, too. Notwithstanding these proposals for change, the report did not rule out prosecution as a way of dealing with cases of habitual truancy.

As with the moderate Blackmore report of 1911, the Hawthorn report was not followed, at least not immediately. The government that had commissioned the study was defeated in the 1952 election. The Social Credit party that came to power was in a minority situation at first, so in 1953 it went back to the people to get a majority. In doing so, ‘getting tough with the Doukhobors’ became a priority. The Social Credit party received the desired majority and, on 9 September 1953, 148 Doukhobor adults were arrested and imprisoned for parading nude near a school. They were taken to Vancouver in a train that had been especially prepared for them. There, the next day, a court was convened in a community hall and all those arrested were sentenced to three years at the Oakalla prison.

In addition, 104 children were loaded into buses and taken to New Denver, an old mining town, where the buildings of an old sanitorium served as their dormitory. The dormitory was surrounded by a high wire fence and the government invoked the Children’s Protection Act to make them wards of the Provincial Superintendent of Child Welfare. Occasional police raids on Sons of Freedom settlements brought in more children. In one such raid, seventy police officers entered the small village of Krestova before dawn and seized forty children. According to one mother’s account:

On January 18th [1955] at eight o’clock, in the morning my little son awoke me and come to lie down beside me as though he knew it would be the last time. Then all of a sudden we heard a loud banging on the door, we thought it would break. Three RCMP officers came in and went straight to the bed waving the clubs in their hands in front of me and my child, and they said: ‘How old is the boy?’ We told them he is only six years old. The boy started to cry and begged us not to take him, but they said: ‘Get him dressed or we’ll take him in his underwear.’ So, I dressed my little son for the last time, and he was taken from us who is not even school age. Only a mother who has gone through the same thing will know what it means to have the dearest ones taken from her.

A total of 170 children passed through the institution in its six-year history. They attended the regular public school in the town of New Denver, while evening and weekends were spent in the dormitory. Parents were allowed to visit their children two Sundays per month but they had to procure special passes. In protest most chose to see their children through the fence outside.

Understandably, the New Denver project attracted considerable controversy. Civil libertarians protested the brutality of a government that would separate children from parents in this way. Journalists wrote numerous stories about it. One reported on the death of a Doukhobor woman found hanging from a beam in her home. A nearby note from her nine-year-old daughter at New Denver said: ‘Mommy, I am lonesome for you – come and visit me. I love you. Goodbye.’

The government also publicized its point of view. It stated that it was ‘the birthright and privilege of every Canadian child to receive an education’ and that because the Sons of Freedom refused to send their children to school, the government had no alternative. It pointed out also that of the 12,500 Doukhobors in the province only about 2500 belonged to the Sons of Freedom group and that of these only about forty-six families continued to refuse to send their children to school.

For their part, the Sons of Freedom lodged a complaint with the United Nations under the Genocide Convention, which condemns the forcible transfer of children from one group to another. They also, in 1957, challenged the government’s action in the courts, arguing that the question was one of freedom of religion. However, Judge Sidney Smith did not accept that argument. In what became known as the Perepolkin case, he said:

I, for my part, cannot feel that in this case there is any religious element involved in the true legal sense. It seems to me that religion is one thing: a code of ethics, another, a code of manners, another. To seek the exact dividing line between them is perhaps perilous but I absolutely reject the contention that any group of tenets that some sect decides to proclaim form part of its religion thereby necessarily takes on a religious colour. I turn to the affidavit relied on by the appellants:… the objection to public schools is that they interpret history so as to glorify, justify, and tolerate intentional taking of human and animal life or teach or suggest the usefulness of human institutions which have been or can be put to such purposes … that public schools ‘expose their children to materialistic influences and ideals’… that Doukhobors object to education on secular matters being separated from education on spiritual matters.

This clearly to my mind involves the claim that a religious sect may make rules for the conduct of any part of human activities and that these rules thereby become … part of that sect’s religion. This cannot be so

At one point during the six-year detention of children some thirty Doukhobor women went to see Dr Campbell, British Columbia’s deputy minister of Education. Campbell told them that if they would agree to send their children to school, they would be returned. ‘We can’t change the laws of the country,’ he explained. The Doukhobor women replied:

‘We can’t change the laws of God either,’ The other Doukhobors, even though they had often sought to dissociate themselves from the Sons of Freedom, were sympathetic to them in this situation. They, too, appealed to the government but without success. Eventually, in 1959, when the parents appeared before a judge in Nelson and promised that their children would attend the regular public school, the children were returned to their homes.

Visiting Day between a wire fence for a Sons of Freedom Doukhobor schoolgirl and her parents at New Denver, BC, circa 1950.  www.newdenversurvivors.tk.

This Doukhobor encounter on education stands out for its length and its harshness. Essentially, the British Columbia government forced the Doukhobors to comply with its regulations. Some observers have argued that the government had no alternative, that the ongoing destruction of property, belonging either to the government or to other Doukhobors, reflected a way of life that, though religiously based, was prone to violence and simply could not be accommodated, and that it was natural to look to education – forced if necessary – as a long-term solution.

A closer analysis shows, however, that there could have been significant accommodations at a number of points. The government could have accepted the 1912 Doukhobor offer to take information about vital statistics from the Community’s record books and not exhumed bodies. It could have pursued the individual arsonists much more vigorously and focused less on those engaged in nude demonstrations. It could have removed military drills, flag-saluting ceremonies, and other activities from the schools much earlier. It could have incorporated Russian-language classes, Tolstoyan literature, Doukhobor music, and certain Doukhobor concerns about the teaching of history into the curriculum. It could have continued the lenient policy of Inspector A.E. Miller and not pressed for full attendance. It could have followed the moderate course recommended by Blackmore in 1912, by the Teachers’ Federation in 1939, and by the Hawthorn Committee in 1952. The government could have given the Doukhobors a broader educational liberty. Repeatedly, it chose not to do so. Ewart P. Reid wrote in 1932 that ‘much of the Doukhobor opposition to public schools arose not because of school per se … but because of the course content and methodology employed. Many of these difficulties arose because of the educational theories and practices … dividing children into grades, or using military drill … competitive tests and comparative grading … teaching history with military and political orientations, and refusing to allow the teaching of Russian did nothing to make schools more palatable, even to the Independent Doukhobors.’

The government’s policy of pressing ahead without making accommodations divided the Doukhobors, making their experience similar to that of the Mennonites. Some yielded, albeit reluctantly, while others became more determined in their resistance. Unlike the conservative Mennonites, the Doukhobors did not emigrate, though they did consider this option. Instead, they simply withheld their children from the public schools. Some engaged in nude demonstrations and a small number, probably no more than 200, destroyed buildings and other property. Regarding the underlying reasons for this behaviour, one analyst wrote in 1973 that ‘while Freedomite nude parades and destruction of Community property may have been attempts to convert Independents and Community members, incendiary attacks on schools and other non-Doukhobor property were clearly a response to attempts to enforce registration laws and compulsory education … They reacted … against what they viewed as an attempt to destroy their way of life and the faith of their children … also against the Independent and Community members’ acceptance of the forces of acculturation.’ According to this interpretation the violence was, at least to a large extent, the result of the provincial government’s refusal to accommodate a distinctive Doukhobor way of life.

In probing the reasons for the British Columbia government’s refusal to accommodate the Doukhobors there, certain similarities to developments affecting Mennonites and Doukhobors on the prairies emerge. Like the early settlers on the prairies there, the Doukhobors of British Columbia were appreciated for their contribution to the economy when they first arrived. But when the primary concern shifted from the frontier economy to social development there was no longer as much room for non-conforming groups. Also, as on the prairies, when the authorities pressed for social integration they defined religion in narrow terms and liberty on an individual basis. The narrow definition of religion in British Columbia is indicated most clearly in the Perepolkin case where it is suggested that the schooling of children is not a religious matter. The individualistic interpretation of liberty was indicated when the government defended the New Denver forced-schooling effort by saying, essentially, that the future liberty of the Doukhobor children required it.

Other explanatory factors lie in characteristics peculiar to British Columbia. Its educational structure was unusually centralized. Local school units had relatively little authority. Hence, developments in one locality could be used by politicians at the provincial level to project a ‘get-tough’ image. Also, the British Columbia educational system was unusually uniform. Unlike most other provinces, it had never had to accommodate a French-Catholic minority. Further, the approach of holding the Doukhobor Community liable for infractions committed by individuals was most unusual. It meant that law-enforcement agencies could impose fines and other punitive actions against the Community instead of looking for the guilty individuals. Community leaders were willing to help the police in identifying the individuals but the authorities showed little interest in their offers of assistance. The resulting atmosphere was poisonous, both among Doukhobors and between the government and those Doukhobors who wanted to be law abiding. If the Doukhobors could be treated as a community for purposes of liability, should they not also have been treated as a community for purposes of rights?

To say that the government of British Columbia could have been much more accommodating is not to say that accommodation would have solved all the problems. It must be conceded that there were some unusual and difficult elements among the Doukhobors. The actions by some Doukhobors to destroy the property of others, as a way of protesting against materialism and alleged departure from a true Doukhobor way of life, were a serious and persistent problem. It was probably necessary for the government to use some coercive measures in dealing with these developments but if it had granted the Doukhobors a broader educational liberty earlier on, the coercion required would probably have been much less.

A Doukhobor Romance

Victoria Daily Colonist & Lima Times Democrat

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

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

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

Oxford Roots

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

Life in Minneapolis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit to Doukhobor Colony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decision to Join Colony

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

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

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

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

Return to Minneapolis

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

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

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

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

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

Present Life

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

Afterword

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

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

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

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

Doukhobor Architecture: An Introduction

by F. Mark Mealing

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

Introduction

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

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

  1. The chief base of the life of man – thought, reason serves as (that). For material food this serves: air, water, fruits and vegetables.
  2. It is held that the life of mankind is communal, upheld through the strength of moral law, for which (this) rule serves: “Whatever I do not want for myself, that I should not wish for others.”

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

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

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

Architectural Periods

a. Russia

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

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

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

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

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

b. Saskatchewan Community Villages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c. The CCUB in British Columbia

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

1. The Community Village

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

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

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

2. Institutional Structures of the CCUB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Present

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

Figure 15. Modern house, Krestova, British Columbia.

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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.

Childhood Memories

by Alexey Ivanovich Popov

Alexey Ivanovich Popov was born February 8, 1876 in the province of Elizavetpol, Russia, in the village of Novo-Troitskoye. At the age of two, he and his family, together with a sizeable group of Doukhobors immigrated to the territory known as Kars near the Turkish border. There, they founded the village of Spasovka, where Alexey remained until manhood. Many years later, he recounted his Doukhobor childhood in his memoirs, written in 1953 but published posthumously. The following excerpt, reproduced by permission from Chapter One of “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” (Trans. Eli A. Popoff. Kelowna: 2006), chronicles the first fourteen years of Alexey’s life and provides a wealth of insight into Doukhobor life, events and beliefs, especially with respect to the upbringing and education of Doukhobor children in the Caucasus, Russia the 1880’s.

I, Alexey Ivanovich Popov, was a son of religious parents. They were a poor, peasant family of Doukhobor faith. I was born on February 25, 1877 in the Doukhobor village of Troitskoye in the Russian Gubernia of Elizavetpol, which is situated on the southern side of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia. My father was Ivan Semyonovich Popov and my mother was Anna Semyonovna Popov (Androsov). They were humble, poor peasants who made their living as tillers of the soil. They were staunch in their Doukhobor faith and devout believers in their spiritual Doukhobor leaders. As true followers of their faith my parents migrated to Canada in 1899 with the Doukhobor mass migration of that time. Here in Canada, all the days of their lives they belonged to the Doukhobor group known as the Sons of Freedom. Both of them spent considerable periods of time in Canadian prisons and endured various forms of beatings and other persecution, but they did not change their beliefs to the very end of their lives. They passed away at different times; both are buried at the same cemetery in British Columbia. In their family they had seven children – three sons and four daughters. I was their third child.

Alexei Ivanovich Popov as an adult, c. 1915.

Recollections of what my mother told me:

When my mother gave birth to me, she had a very hard time and remained ill and in bed for months after my birth. It was my father who looked after all the farm chores as well as most of the household duties. Mother told me that I was a very quiet child. Very seldom did anyone hear me cry. During her illness my mother did not have any milk in her breasts to feed me. She was also not able to get out of bed and prepare any baby food for me. As was a common practice at that time among the Doukhobors, all the mothers who were breastfeeding their children in the immediate neighbourhood took turns and came to our house to feed me. Each came at their allotted time to feed me. At the same time when they came to feed me, each of the mothers would do some of the housework and look after some of my mother’s needs. This went on up to the time that I reached two years of age.

After two years of age:

Some of the following that I write about, it seems to me that I remember it myself, but it is possible that some of it may have been told to me by my mother, when I was still a child of eight or nine years of age. I remember that I was a healthy child and remember how I walked with steady feet all over the yard, but the events that went on in the family household at that time I do not seem to recall.

The first thing I remember is that on the south, sunny side of our house, right against the wall, the ashes from our Russian bake oven were always placed in a pile. In the summer this pile got very dry. I loved to play on it and sometimes would even fall asleep, half covered in the ashes. Sometimes I would sleep here till I woke up, and sometimes someone would carry me inside the house while I was still asleep. When I was two and a half years old, I was strong enough to roam around the whole yard and even outside the yard. At one time after it was past the noon hour of twelve o’clock, my mother decided to pay a visit to the nearby shallow river where the village women placed their flax straw to soak in preparation for the next stage to be made into fiber for spinning and weaving. This was a yearly practice that was done in the fall of every year. I was allowed to go with my mother for this visit. Shortly after we had already passed the outskirts of the village, I had my first sight of a large prairie jackrabbit. He had been lying in the grass, till we came quite close to him. Suddenly he raised himself and turning towards the nearby mountain, he ran with a brisk jump towards this mountain. The mountain was a landmark in the area that was called “Troitskiy Shpeel” (shpeel means a peak or spire).

After a short while we arrived at the river. The spot chosen here was a curve in the river with a very slow flowing current. The bottom was covered with a coarse gravel with scattered round and flat rocks. The depth of the water was from 6 to 18 inches. Between the scattered rocks it was excellent to place the flax or hemp straw for soaking. These bundles of straw would then have the river rocks placed on top of them. This was done so that the current would not carry away the straw and so that the direct sun would not shine upon it. When we came to this spot my mother took off her shoes and waded into the water. She reached into the water and took out a handful of straw. She rubbed it between her hands for a while and then put it back. Apparently it was not yet ready to take out. At this same spot, a little further up river, we saw that there was another Doukhobor woman who had come to examine her material. She was also finished with her examination, so we started going back to our village together – this lady and my mother, and me following them. On our way home we did not see any other wild life. Arriving at the outskirts of our village I noticed that the sun was now setting over that same mountain, “Troitskiy Shpeel”, towards which the jackrabbit had scampered.

When we came home, mother went to milk the cows, but as for me, I felt so tired from the walk of about four miles that I immediately climbed up onto the space above the Russian bake oven where it was always warm. Feeling warm all over, I fell asleep almost at once. And it was here that I slept throughout the whole evening and night and right through the early morning. It was never the practice of my mother to wake a child to feed him the evening meal, or to move him once he was comfortably asleep. She always said – once a child is comfortably sleeping in the evening, let him be. Missing the meal won’t hurt him as much as disturbing his peaceful sleep.

In the morning I got up from my place of sleep before my other siblings got out of bed and at once told my mother that I was hungry. Mother immediately poured some milk into the earthenware dish, along with some small chunks of leftover wheat bread. I took out of the cupboard one of the hand-carved wooden spoons and heartily ate what my mother had set before me.

Being only two and a half years old, none of the household or yard chores had yet been allocated to me, and so my daily life went on as with all other children in the quiet peaceful life of our agrarian village. At this age I was already quite articulate in my speaking. Although I did not have too broad a vocabulary, this was being added to from day to day.

As usual, I was always interested in what my father did as his village work routine. It was about three weeks after the visit to the river with my mother that my father brought home on a hayrack wagon the flax and hemp straw that had been soaking in the river. He carefully placed it under a roof to dry. After a period of drying, mother would go to the shed and take small bundles of the straw and with wooden tools she would work days on end beating the straw till it would separate into fibrous strands. The straw would be thrown aside for use in making fuel bricks, and the semi-clean fiber would be taken into the house. During the long winter evenings, in a special corner of the house both mother and father would keep on tramping this semi-clean fiber with their bare feet. Every once in a while they would take this mass outside to shake out the straw from it. When this mass was reasonably clean, mother would then card it piece by piece with special hand carders. Now this fluffy mass was ready handful by handful to be spun into yarn on the home made spinning wheel. In the evening mother would spin while father would be tramping the semi-cleaned flax fiber in the corner. During the daytime mother would work with the wooden tools outside, doing the first stage of the straw separation. In the evenings my father would continue the cleaning process of tramping by foot in the corner of the house that what mother had prepared outside, while mother would be carding or spinning in another corner of the living room. This kind of work continued up until about the month of February. At this time all of the cleaning, carding and spinning should be completed. Now the spun yarn had to be made into linen and hemp cloth in a process that was very fascinating to me as a child. As I grew older the process became clearer to me, but it is still quite hard to explain step by step how the yarn eventually became a very durable linen, hemp or wool material used for sewing the clothes that were worn by all the Doukhobors. All this was done in the living rooms of almost every Doukhobor family in the village.

The spun yarn was rolled into large balls. The place for preparing the yarn for its required width of usually about two feet was chosen along the longest wall of the living room. After a rotating walk around the set up pegs on a raised bench, the resulting unrolling of the large balls of yarn into a long pattern was ready to go into the set up loom for weaving. The loom itself was an intricate homemade wooden construction that a woman had to sit at. Working with her hands to put a cross thread through the two-foot wide yarn on the rollers, and using her feet to move the thing along was an art exclusive mostly to Doukhobor women. The work of weaving on the loom to make these two-foot wide and of various lengths materials or rugs went on into the months of March, April and even May. When it became warm enough in the spring to do this, then the women would take these rugs, which were still quite coarse, to the river again. There they are again soaked in the water and then spread out on the green grass to dry in the sun. As soon as they are dry, they are again soaked and again spread out in the sun. This process softens them, and also makes them become whiter. From this material the women then sew what the family requires. From the purer and softer white material they sew women’s clothes. Some of the coarser material is coloured, usually blue, and men’s pants are sewn from it, and also some women’s work clothing. The women do all their sewing by hand, and use their own, finer linen thread. A lot of clothing material was made from sheep’s wool. The process of preparing wool into yarn for spinning and weaving was a bit different and a lot of wool yarn was used for knitting.

All of this work with flax and hemp straw and sheep’s wool was done in the wintertime, and most of it was done by the Doukhobor women residing at this time in the Doukhobor villages of the Caucasus area in southern Russia. In the summer, during haying season, these same women worked side by side with the men. The men with hand scythes would be cutting the hay, while the women, with hand rakes made of wood, would be raking the hay into little piles, which they referred to as “miniature stacks”. At harvest time the women together with the men, using hand scythes would harvest the grain, tying the grain stalks into sheaves that they would later thresh together. Threshing of the grain was also done by hand by both men and women.

Besides helping the men in the fields, Doukhobor women also planted large vegetable gardens, which they looked after from spring till fall using hand tools. Every Doukhobor family had cows, which the women milked by hand. They also looked after the sheep and it was the women’s job to shear the wool from them every spring. Every family raised chickens, ducks and geese and the women looked after these as well. Of course it was the women’s duty to cook, to sew, to wash clothes, clean house and do all other family chores including the bringing up of children. Among all of these responsibilities the women still found time to go and pick the abundant wild flowers of the Caucasus area. They also picked herbs for their own medicinal use, as well as for sale.

One other very important responsibility of Doukhobor women was that they had to pass on the Doukhobor life-concept to the children by teaching them to know from memory Doukhobor psalms, wherein was contained the aspects of the Doukhobor faith. When a child was still quite young, the mother taught them the psalms only for reciting purposes. As the child grew older, the mother was required to see that the child would start learning the melody of each psalm. This was in order that the child could participate in mass prayer meetings, which were based on the reading and singing of psalms. The melody for Doukhobor psalms was very intricate and not easy to learn, even if you were growing up as a Doukhobor. For most outsiders the melody of Doukhobor psalms is very hard to understand and almost impossible to sing in the same soul stirring way.

When I was two years and eight months old my mother taught me one short psalm, which was specially composed for children. It was easy to read and I learned to read it quite fluently. It started with: “Lord, give us your blessing.” “Thou art my God and I am your slave. You will not desert me, and I will not ever leave you” and ended with “Honour and Praise to our God”. This psalm I learned to read from memory while we still lived in the house where I was born in the village of Troitskoye (Elizavetpol Gubernia).

In the spring of the year 1880 a sizable group of Doukhobors including our villagers and also from the neighbouring village of Spasovka of our Gubernia of Elizavetpol, decided to move to the Kars area of the Gubernia of Tiflis. The distance to cover was about two hundred and fifty plus Russian “Versti” (about 150 miles). My parents decided to make this move with the group. Being merely three years old at this time, I was not too aware of the hardships of this trip. I only remember the convoy of covered wagons following one another and slowly making their way along wagon trail roads, which were often muddy and soft. The wagons were heavily loaded and sometimes got bogged down in the mud so that the team hitched to the wagon would not be able to pull the wagon out. I remember cases where all the wagons would stop and they would hitch teams from other wagons at the head of those stuck. After pulling out the stuck wagon, the whole convoy would then proceed. On the third day of our journey our convoy had to cross a river. Its depth was from one to three and a half feet. Its width was about three hundred feet and it was quite fast flowing. My father was driving a four-horse team hitched to our wagon and it appears that he had moved a bit to one side of the regular track where it was safe to cross. There was a huge unseen rock in the water that stopped the wagon and the horses could not move it. Many men from the other wagons immediately came to the rescue. They waded into the water, and finding out what the problem was, they placed themselves at the wheels and at the back of the wagon and helped to get the wagon over the rock and safely to the other side.

A sample page from Alexey’s handwritten memoirs of 1953, painstakingly translated by his son Eli A. Popoff in 2006.

At the other side of the river, all of the convoy stopped for a meal, to rest and to feed the horses. Feed for the horses was not being hauled because the wagons were overly full with all the household and other belongings that were being transported to the new place of abode. So the horses were fed merely with the local grass that they grazed and any fresh hay that could be cut on the way. The early spring green grass was not very nutritious for the horses. They weakened day by day, and so the journey was longer than it should have been. What added to the hardships was that there was much rain during this trip –making the roads wet and soggy. The wagon wheels kept sinking up to four inches – making ruts as they proceeded. Because of all this the convoy used to make as little as fifteen versti, and at the most 30 versti of travel per day (a “versta” is approximately one kilometre. – Ten kilometres is approximately 6 miles). It was fortunate for the whole convoy that the climate of this Caucasus area was reasonable during the spring. While there were times of very heavy rainfall making puddles three or four inches deep on the roads, within the same hour the sun would come out and in a short time the water would all disappear. The rain did not bother the people or their belongings because all of the wagons were well covered with good frames covered with durable canvass. The food brought along for the trip was very simple. Basically everyone had sacks full of “sookhari” or twice baked bread chunks, made from whole wheat. They had a supply of potatoes, millet grain and salted chunks of sheep’s fat. The road from Elizavetpol to the Kars area was very hilly and rocky and there was a considerable amount of forest growth all around. The territory that was being crossed was all Crown Land and therefore it was permissible to let the horses graze at every stop that was made. We children always rode in the comfort of the covered wagons, where we also slept every night. All of the men usually walked behind or beside the wagons. They did not have to drive the horses most of the time as the Caucasus horses were better trained to keep to the trails, than the Canadian horses that we have had to use. It was only once in a while when a steep hill would appear ahead that the drivers would sit down on the driver’s seat to urge and steer the horses.

In the evenings when the convoy was camping for the night, the men would gather in groups and join in light hearted discussions and usually sang joyous hymns and songs. The women would be cooking the evening meal and tending to the children’s needs. In general this migration from one area to another had its hardships, but there were also joyful times. Throughout the whole trip there was not a single occasion of misfortune or trauma to any family in the whole convoy.

In the latter part of April, our convoy reached its destination. My parents chose to settle in the village named “Spasovka” in the District of Arganov about 40 “Versti” east of the City of Kars in what was referred to as “Karsskaya Oblast” or the region of Kars in the Gubernia (or province) of Tiflis. The village of Spasovka was situated in a unique location. From the west side there was a huge long mountain. On the north, east and south sides, the river “Karsina” made a huge bend. Along the south west side and along the mountain there flowed a smaller unnamed river, which always had warm water in it. On frosty days of the winter months there was always a vapor of steam above it. At the southeast end of our village location these two rivers joined together and they flowed out of our valley in a southeasterly direction between two tall mountains of rock, which formed a gorge at this point.

Both these rivers had an abundance of fish. However these fish were of a small common variety and could not be compared to the special fish that we came to know in far eastern parts of Russia, in Siberia, province of Yakutsk.

In this, our new village of Spasovka, my parents did not have to build their new home to live in. This was because there were two parties of Doukhobors that had already moved here from our province. With one of these parties, my grandfather Semyon Leontievich Popov came here before us. These parties that had come here before us, by mutual agreement, had already allocated exactly how the village would be built. They had measured out equal lots in a long line with homes to be built facing each other. One side of the line would have the houses with the rear facing eastward, and the other side would have their rear facing westward. In the centre was a wide street running from north to south. The total length of this street was about one and one quarter “versti” (about ¾ of a mile). After all the lots were marked out and numbered – each family drew lots for the one that would be theirs.

Part of these lots covered a territory that once had the remains of a small Turkish village. This territory still had the skeletons of five Turkish dwelling homes that were not totally deteriorated. These dwellings all had the same shape and style. The structure was all under one roof and quite low to the ground level. The roof was made from turf. Each had two doors on the long side of the structure. One door led into the structures most spacious division, which had four separate divisions and was used to house the farm animals and the poultry. The other door, at the other end, led into the division where the family was to live. One of these structures still remained on the lot that grandfather drew as his allocated lot. When my parents arrived at this newly pioneered village, my grandfather greeted us at the front of this building, and this is where we settled in to live.

The first essential chore that had to be done here was to go to the place and dig the special clay, from which bricks could be made. After drying and processing the bricks, these would then be laid in proper formation to make the brick oven for baking and cooking. I remember my father and grandfather at work making the bricks, while mother was busy washing up all the clothes from the trip and doing other cleaning. From these very first days I remember my older brother and sister and myself climbing the low roofed dwelling of ours and walking all over the long roof.

Because grandfather had come here earlier, he had done some essential work that every homeowner had to do here at this time. He had tilled some of our allotted soil and sowed some barley. He did complain that the Turkish people who lived here had apparently used the soil continually for many years and he feared that the crop would be very poor. We did not have any choice at this time, so in the latter days of the month of April, we, as all others – planted our gardens, each on the allotted lots, which were also very much worked over before us.

At this time I was just three years and two months old and so all of the responsibilities of this first pioneering year did not affect me. All the responsibilities rested on the shoulders of our parents. As for us, children, free of worldly responsibilities, as soon as summer warmth came around, we headed in groups to the shallow warm river that was really right in our back yard.

There for days at a time we sat in the warm waters of the river taking hourly outings to stretch out on the warm sand of the beach. Because there were no schools in this new area where we settled, the children that came to the river ranged from two to nine years. The parents felt safe to allow the children to come here, because the river was shallow and slow flowing. The shore was not deep set, but just about even with the land’s surface and the river bottom was firm and solid. This was why all the children of our village spent all the sunny days at this river shore. In the evenings the parents always insisted that all children spend a certain amount of time learning from memory the prayers of the Doukhobors, which were called psalms. When I was four years old I learned my second psalm, which read as follows:

Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing

Let us all tearfully reflect on all the daily workings of our lives. Verily speaks to us our Lord with entreaty: “You my male servants and maid servants, devout Christians, do not forget to be faithful to God, and He will not forget you in the end time to come. In our present day, the times are very trying. We are being judged and persecuted. There has been born an evil anti-Christ. He has sent forth his evil oppressors out into the whole world. There is no place to hide for my faithful followers, neither in the mountains, nor in the caves, nor in the distant barren places. My faithful followers have to live in exile and suffer persecution for keeping to the word of God and for manifesting the teachings of Jesus Christ. But you my faithful followers rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.

Our God be praised.

Because my age group of children was not yet allocated any responsibilities, we continued to spend all our time at our favorite spot by the river. We would go there day after day. The only time we were not there was when we would see a dark cloud coming over the horizon and rumbling of thunder would be heard. At such times we would race to where the nearest covered wagons were parked and hide under their cover. For the first season, families continued to live in their covered wagons while the houses were being built. The last parties were all still living in their covered wagons. My parents were very fortunate to have the frames of the five Turkish huts that were on their allotted plot. We were sheltered in them during the first trying years. All the other families next to us were all hurrying to get their houses built. The construction of houses in this area was very simple. The walls were built from the slabs of unhewn gray rock that was freely available at the nearby foothills of the mountains. In between went layers of mixed clay mortar, which was also readily available at various spots of the valley. There was no visible forest anywhere nearby so wood was only used for window frames and doorjambs. For the roof some round poles were used sparsely, on which were laid split flat slabs of stone. On this base, plain soil was heaped, and this method was used for every roof of every building in the village. All the buildings had similar rock walls. Our village of Spasovka had 86 family residences. Each and every residence was similarly built and there was not a single wooden roofed building in the whole village.

With this form of construction, not counting the labor the cost of the buildings was very minimal. For a residence to house a family of ten with livestock from 25 to 30 head, the cost of constructing a residence would be from five to ten rubles. This expense goes specifically for the cost of glass and any ironware that was required for the buildings. It also covered anything that was needed for the large Russian oven assembled out of hand-made bricks. This oven served for all the kitchen cooking, bread baking, as well as supplying heat in the winter months. The construction of these buildings was the prime occupation of each and every family in these first years of settlement. All of the needed materials for this type of construction was readily available nearby. The forms of rock and stone slabs were all around you to the fullest of your hearts desire. There were mountains of clay for your mortar and brick baking. Water was abundant from the two rivers in the valley. The biggest detriment was the lack of forest nearby. The closest place for cutting any timber was 50 Versti away. Although there was one good thing about the timber, and that was, that for all our new settlers the state allowed a given amount for free. However to transport this timber was very difficult. In the first place there was still a shortage of horses in the first years and there was no supply of any kind of grain to feed the horses in this long and arduous journey. Even though throughout the Kavkaz Mountains there were always patches of good grass, this was not good enough to give strength for the horses to pull these heavy loads of timber for such long distances. Besides all this, horsepower was needed at home for hauling the rocks and for tilling the soil. The roads that were used to get to the timber belt were not kept up by anyone. Although the trails were somewhat packed down, the continuous summer rains would make them muddy and difficult for any kind of transportation. It was because of all of this that lumber was of the highest value in all of our villages.

There never was any talk of a sawmill to be constructed because the logs brought here were few and far between. For the absolutely essential boards the logs were cut by hand with long crosscut saws. Those families that did not have two grown men got together in pairs with other families. Since this was not an occupation that was practiced often, some of the boards that were cut were very uneven. These were the tasks that were performed by all the grown ups of the village throughout the spring, summer and fall. In the fall the gathering in of the crops took precedence over all. The first crops were very poor as these were sewn on lands that the Turkish people had been farming for many years and new land had not yet been prepared. Our children’s summer occupation that we loved best of all was our time spent by the river. Nevertheless there were times when we would go to the spots where the families were mixing the clay for mortar for the buildings. Here we would roll our own little balls of clay for our own kind of play. Sometimes we would dry them, but sometimes we would throw them at each other while they were still raw and wet. The object was to dodge them, as they hurt quite considerably. Sometimes one of the clay balls would hit a grown up person, at which time we would all be chased away. A chase from one place did not usually stop us. We would just go to another place further away where the same clay mixing was going on. Our group eventually earned the name of “mischief makers.”

When it was time for harvest all of our barefooted gang was broken up. Each went to their own family group in readiness to be taken to the fields together with the elders. Only those children stayed at home where there was an elder staying behind to allocate to them the home chores that had to be done.

Harvesting the grain at that time was very simple. The men cut down the standing grain with hand scythes, and the women raked it into small neat piles called “Kopitsi”. Then the men using special thin poles about 10 feet long, and sticking them under the pile from two sides, they would lift and carry this pile to a central place where a neat small stack would be made. This stack would be left that way till all the cutting down of the grain would be finished.

The children’s responsibility was to see that not a blade with a head of kernels in it would be left lying in the field. We would gather these individually and tie them into little sheaves with the spare straw stems. Every child would place his little sheaves separately into neat piles. These sheaves would then be taken home in the evening, where we would give them into caretaking of the parents and receive their praise according to how diligently they had worked and how many sheaves were made up. The parents kept these little sheaves separately and allowed them to be threshed separately. With the grain that resulted, the children were allowed to trade it with the local traveling merchants for goodies like apples, plums or grapes, either fresh or dried.

After the harvesting of the grain in the fields is completed, the families individually, if large families, and sometimes together with others, if small – prepare a special spot for threshing. A sizable smooth surfaced place is chosen. First it is wetted down with water and tall grass or straw is scattered loosely on it. A horse is then hitched to a special wooden roller with pegs in it, and with a rider horseback on the horse, drives back and forth on this patch until the straw is tramped in and the whole base is quite firm and solid. After this has dried, the excess straw is swept off and the reaped grain is then spread on this firm base which is called a “Katok” and the same wooden roller is hauled across, over and over until the kernels are all freed from the heads. When the men feel that all the kernels are free from the straw, they gather the straw with forks and take it away, piling it into stacks for feed. The grain is shoveled to the centre of the “Katok” and more unthreshed wheat or whatever grain is being threshed is spread around. Then the roller and the horse again commence their threshing process. After the men feel that there is about 50 or 60 “poodi” of grain (one “pood” is 40 pounds) in the centre of the “Katok”, the threshing process is halted. Now they take shovels and throw the grain into the air against the wind – thus separating the chaff from the kernels, as it is light and the wind blows it away. If there are any pieces of solid matter like dried mud chunks or small rocks – these are later removed by hand made screens.

All this harvesting work was carried out by the elders. In the meantime we children see how the elders are throwing the wheat and chaff into the wind, develop our own form of make believe. We gather in the street where there is loose dirt and make piles of it in the centre. Then cupping our hands we throw it into the air, just to see which way it blows. Because there are up to ten of us in a group, we create a regular dust storm in which you can hardly see our bodies. In the morning when we get together, all have different colored clothes. In the evening all our clothes are a dark gray. All around our eyes, nose and mouth there is a layer of black dust. We no longer look like children but like knights in black armor. In the event that we have a rainfall and the streets have puddles, we begin by racing through them, and then wrestling and before you know it we begin to go our separate and march home like fishermen coming home, wet and soggy.

It wasn’t always that we children got away with our naughty frolicking. Often either an elder man or an older woman would catch us doing something naughty and they would get after us with a willow switch, and without paying attention as to who belonged to which family, would give each one of us a good wallop on the back and chase us to our individual homes. Most of the time we were on the watch for any approaching elder, and when catching sight of one, we would immediately scatter and hide. There never was any thought of standing up to any older person of your own or any other village. If ever any child would answer harshly to any older person, he would be severely punished by his own parents at home. This meant that no child could do any mischief in any part of the village without immediately answering to any elder around. Even if he got away from the elder on the spot, he knew what he would get at home, when his mischief and disrespect of elders would be reported to his parents. This kind of upbringing allowed the Doukhobors to live in peace and harmony in their large extended families, and in their tightly knit villages. Every parent trusted their neighbouring parents to do the right thing when dealing with children’s pranks. Parents always trusted the elders’ assessment of an irresponsible occurrence, rather than the version given by a guilty teen-ager. There were no schools in our village and at most the literacy rate of the whole village was no more than 5 percent. Yet the whole village kept strictly to the above disciplinary guidelines without any exceptions.

With the oncoming colder weather, after all the fall work was done, our children’s group gallivanting came to an end. Because of general lack of warm winter clothing, most of us children now became confined to their homes. Staying at home, all we could do was think about all of the things we had done this past summer, and plan for the coming spring and summers escapades and the new things we might come up with.

During the fall and winter time of short days and long nights, because the children had no place to play and no responsibilities to fulfill and were having time on their hands, it became the duty of every parent and grandparent to teach them the prayers and psalms that contained the life-concept of the Doukhobors. These were passed on from generation to generation and were learned from memory. Families that had four or five children above four years of age, had them, every day, lined up in a row and made to recite from memory the psalms they already knew, and then separately, each one would be taught additional psalms. Up to a given age these psalms would be taught only for recitation. Later the melody of these psalms would be taught as well. In this particular winter I learned from memory my third psalm, whose contents was as follows:

“Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing”

“From the beginning of time and till now, the Lord God calleth to His faithful children: “Come to me my dear children, come to me my most dear ones. I have prepared for you the Kingdom of Heaven. Do not fear to forsake your father, your mother nor all of your race and lineage in the physical sense, but give reverence to me your heavenly Father in spirit. And the faithful children turn to Him in prayer – Oh Lord, our dear Lord it is so difficult for us to enter into your heavenly kingdom. All the pathways have gates of steel, and at the gates there stand fierce and unjust guards. And the Lord speaketh to them and sayeth: “Do not be fearful my children, do not be fearful my dear ones. I am the powerful wrestler that shall go forward before you. I shall break down all their gates of steel and I shall disperse their fierce guards. And then I shall lead you into my kingdom of heaven, where all shall reign with me as witnessed to by the God of Jacob.”

“Our God be praised”

During the winters male children under the age of 12 years had no responsibilities, so their day-to-day routine was always the same and the winters felt long. In regard to the girls it was a bit different. Beginning from the age of seven, the mothers began teaching them how to knit from the woolen yarn and even simple patching. Those families that had smaller babies, the girls were trained to take care of them. The girls were also taught to clean the floors as well as help their mothers with the washing of dishes. After the girls reach 12 years of age the mothers began to train them how to spin simple, thicker yarn for mitts and working stockings. All the spinning in our area of Kars province was done from sheep’s wool. Some sheep had been brought from our Elizavetpol province because there, most villagers had large herds of sheep. Some long horned cattle were also brought here from Elizavetpol, and these were used for milk from the very beginning of our new settlement.

When the frosts came in late fall, all work on construction was stopped. This was because in order to lay the stone walls it required mortar from the brown clay mixture. This mixture had to be handled with bare hands, and of course later this would get frozen and without a proper drying process this mortar would fall apart in the warm summer weather. Thus ,for the men folk there was less to do. All they had to do was look after cattle, horses and sheep, and in the homes they would patch the leather harness gear, repair worn boots or sew new ones. At times they would tan woolen sheepskins and sew them for wearing as short fur coats. Wood working shops did not exist here because wood was so hard to get. It was not even possible to haul logs from the forest in the wintertime. The roads were not passable. A blacksmith shop was very rare, as only a few essentials for household use or construction were ever made in the village blacksmith. There was nowhere in this area where men could go and do work for others, so in the year there were five months where the men, also, were tied to doing household and barnyard chores, the barn being part of the residence.

All the men’s main work of working the land, sowing, harvesting, and construction work could only be done in the spring and summer, so during the long winter evenings, the men – like the children spent a lot of time learning the Doukhobor psalms. This was done not only in their own homes. They also gathered in groups in neighbour’s homes. They not only read the psalms, but also in groups, sang them. On Sundays there were large gatherings for prayer meetings. At these prayer meetings everyone participated by each reading a psalm. The Doukhobors never had any special person for leading prayer services. Each and everyone participated with the reading and with the singing. That is why the children were taught from a very young age. It was always expected that each person would read a different psalm. And so if a group of one hundred gathered, the elders would be obliged to know just about that many psalms. The Doukhobors read their psalms, their prayers to God, not with the intent of absolving themselves from sin, but they read them for their own enlightenment as to how they should lead their lives. Each and every psalm had some explanation about the living spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is why the Doukhobors referred to their collection of psalms as the “Living Book”.

When a person has within his memory many Doukhobor psalms, no matter where he is, or what his circumstances are, he always has with him the instructional words contained in the psalms. No one can take them away from him, and having them always within the innermost sanctions of his being for his guidance, no one can sidetrack him, or change his deep seated and deeply rooted faith. This then, was one of the main reasons that the Doukhobors were not so concerned about grammar schools or other forms of academic learning. Their first concern was to instruct their children with the “Living Book”, their religious and moral, ethical, instructional psalms. In addition to all this the Doukhobors believed that their spiritual psalms were their own unique and bona fide life-concepts that no outsider had tampered with. Keeping firmly to the concepts contained in their psalms, the Doukhobors could safely withstand any foreign or alien influences. Their feelings were that any outside grammar teaching could still contain influences that were alien to Doukhobor thought and would infringe on or tend to obscure pure and untainted Doukhobor teachings.

During this first winter, with its short days and long nights was spent with even greater emphasis placed on spiritual aspects and the learning of psalms by both children and elders. I remember this first winter starting to turn towards spring because in February 25th of the year 1881 I became 4 years old. I really was not too aware of how good a crop we had this past year, or what other hardships my parents went through, because at my age this was not within my realm of comprehension. I do remember that the house (Saklya) that we lived in was warm and comfortable. The walls were about four feet thick. The rock walls were double layered. The rocks were laid in clay mortar in two columns, and in between the space was filled with common soil. The roof had round rafters – pine logs twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, on which were placed flat slabs of rock, a few inches in thickness. On these slabs straw was placed and then about twelve to fourteen inches of soil. There were only two windows and one door. The doorway entrance was a corridor with walls about 10 feet thick, and having a door at each end of the corridor. With only the two windows and a doored corridor entrance, the inside of the house was cozy and warm. I do not remember ever feeling cold or uncomfortable throughout the whole winter. It was only later in my life that I began experiencing a longing for the warm sunny days of summer.

Spring did come, and at the end of March the snow began to melt. It was wonderful. For just as soon as a bare spot of earth showed up, there immediately green tufts of grass started to show. By about April 10th the snow was all gone and a vaporous fog started to rise from the soil. Soon the soil warmed up and everywhere green grass appeared. Right after this, the earliest white flowers of the “maslyonka” plant, a variety of buttercups began to dot the green prairie land. These buttercups in their roots had a large kernel, the size of a peanut, which was edible. There we were in groups, armed with a special wooden rod sharpened at the end like a little shovel scampering all over the prairie meadow digging these peanuts to eat right there and to bring some home. This daily occupation of ours lasted till about the 5th of May. After this the white flowers would wither and fly away. Then there was no way you could spot the buttercup plant in the lush green grass, and besides that the peanut seed itself would get to be coarse and hard and not edible anymore. And so, for a time our children’s groups would be left without too much to do except wait for the warm sunny days to come, when we again could go to our favorite river beach to swim and bask in the warm sun. The last year’s pastime was to be repeated again this year, until such time as our parents would begin the harvest season and again get us to pick up all the loosely fallen grain.

This was the routine for all of us children, and this is what occupied my time when I was five and six years old. When I became seven years of age, that winter my parents taught me several more lengthy psalms. I remember that spring when the snow melted more rapidly and the streets were full of puddles and little creeks. Here was something new – to build little dikes and canals and float little hand made boats and make imaginary turning mills on the flowing rivulets. After this came the season of digging the buttercup roots and when that finished a new phase of my childhood development came about. My older brother Nikolay made a fish hook out of an old needle. He attached a length of string to the homemade hook and gave me my first instructions on how to catch the little fish that abounded in the same river that we loved to swim in. He showed me where to dig for the long, red earthworms, how to store them in an empty can with some earth in it, and how to attach them in short pieces for baiting the hook. He showed me how to lower the hook into the water and then patiently wait till a fish starts jerking on the line. This shallow river that we swam in seemed to have millions of these little fish. They were the size of Canadian perch and resembled them in appearance. And so, along with all other boys that were seven and eight years old this became another pastime with which we were occupied.

The little fish were very plentiful in the river, and if a boy struck a good spot he could catch from 50 to 75 of them in one day’s outing. The caught fish would be kept in a screened cage in the water. When these were brought home, the mothers would merely clean the innards and then fry them whole. When the fish was fried for some time they are smothered in a mixture of dough that is made quite thin, and then the whole mass is baked in the oven. This kind of fish in pastry, served as a very special delicacy for all of us children. It also substantially added to our dietary supplies, as in our first years in this new settlement food was not too plentiful. In our particular family this was even more so.

Alexey’s parents, Anna and Ivan Popov, c. 1915. Ivan was a very large man whereas Anna was diminutive. In this photo, Ivan is sitting while Anna is standing.

When our family was coming from our village in the province of Elizavetpol we had brought with us 4 cows. In the fall of 1882 three of these cows were stolen. On one night that fall a group of thieves came and from the far side of the barn they took apart a part of the stone wall and led the three cows away. Even with the help of the whole village, we were never able to track down the culprits or to find out where three of our best cows disappeared. From that time on, our dairy products were far more limited than in other families. Our daily food was bread made from whole-wheat flour with soup, which was made basically of potatoes and coarsely ground wheat. Borshch had potatoes and cabbage plus a large tablespoon of thick cream. Into both soup and borshch, for our family of six people, one small tablespoon of butter was added.

Therefore, the small perch that I caught with the homemade fishing tackle was a very welcome addition to our meager food supply. It was a change, it was very tasty and it cost nothing. Up to seven years of age, no outside family responsibilities were designated to me. I was still allowed to go and dig the buttercup peanuts. But when their season came to an end I was given a more serious responsibility. Most families had flocks of geese. This particular spring my mother was able to successfully hatch 48 goslings, in addition to the five older geese that we owned – making 53 in all. As soon as they grew up a bit and got trained to keep to their own flock, because of shortage of home feed, the flock had to be herded out to pasture in the meadow and also to the same river where we went swimming. The river was shallow and quiet flowing and posed no danger for the geese. In places along its banks there was a lot of lush green grass which both the older geese and the young goslings loved to feed on. Besides this, when they would plunge into the river there were all kinds of bugs that lived in the quiet eddies, and the geese young and old feasted on them. With this range free feeding, the young geese developed in leaps and bounds. My job was to keep them together, both on the range and in the water from 7 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock in the evening. After 9 o’clock I would herd the geese home where they had special housing under a solid roof with solid locking doors. It was not possible to leave the geese free overnight because there had been occasions when the large gray wolves which roamed the mountainside would sometimes come down into the village at night and kill some geese and drag them away for eating later.

In the daytimes there had not been any occasion that the wolves would come to the riverside. There were a few occasions when stray dogs would come there but they could be frightened away. On rare occasions there were serious hailstorms and some of the little goslings would be seriously hurt or even killed. Apart from these rare times of worry, we young children that looked after the geese felt free and happy. We often had time to swim in the river ourselves and lie on the shore. Sometimes we even did some fishing. The flocks of geese also enjoyed these free-range outings. At times when they would have a good feeding quickly, they would also stretch out on the sand and lie sleeping. Other times they would swim in the deeper water and then lazily stay in the shallow eddies snapping at the bugs that swam there. There were odd times when one flock of geese would get mixed up with another flock and coming home we would have different counts. To avoid disputes every family had their own markings on the feet of the geese. Some cut slits in the goose toe webs. Others cut one nail off, either, the left or right foot. All were different. And so checking the markings each family claimed their separated goslings. I do not remember that there were ever any serious disputes.

This work of pasturing geese continues from the first of June until the fifth of September when the harvest season commences. At this time the geese are not pastured at the river anymore, but they are brought out into the harvest fields where they methodically go through the harvested field and pick up every head of grain that fell aside from the main stacks. Some families who had the proper utensils brought out water for the geese into the fields and so the geese remain in the field from dawn to dark. Feeding on grain, the geese accumulated a considerable amount of fat. Thus, at home they are grain fed for no more than 2 weeks and then they are sold. The summer’s pasturing of the geese was not a troublesome one for the children. It was rather enjoyable, because the hours of work were not too exact. Morning or evening the timing could be one hour earlier or one hour later. There was however one hardship. Being bare legged all the time proved to have its disadvantages. Wetting your feet about every hour, and then being in the hot sand and sun eventually made all the skin rough, which later would have cracks appear and even open sores. The sores would bleed and be very painful. There was no medicine for this. The only thing that helped was to cover all your legs with black Caucasian oil. The oil seemed to protect the skin and going in and out of the water did not affect the skin as much.

Pasturing the geese at harvest time was more arduous. This was because the grain fields were sometimes one, two or three “Versti” from the home residence. During some hot days in the fall it would not be possible to herd the geese for such distances. This then required the young lad to get up before sunrise, and while the dew was still on the grass to get the geese into the fields and have them already fed before herding them to the river for water. In the evening it was the same problem. While the sun was still high it was too hot for the geese to trek from the river to the fields. They would get hot, open their mouths and lie down without going any farther. You could only start them from the river when the sun was already quite low. By the time they would get themselves fed it would already be getting dark. This created considerable hardships for a boy only seven years of age. Also the weather in the fall was not always calm. Sometimes it rained heavily. Other times a wind storm would come up and you would have to be fighting dust and wind against which even the geese did not want to go. There were times when the older people in the village felt that they had to come and help the young boys to bring the geese home on one or another turbulent evening. They would holler into the night and children would answer in the high-spirited children’s voices. The one saving grace for us children was that we never went in separate groups. Most of the time we had four or five groups of boys following each other, especially after dark. Each was looking after his own herd of geese. Being in a group gave us some comfort. At times, however, it used to get so dark that each of us seemed to be totally alone. All of us were quite well aware of the fact that the huge gray wolves were always not too far away from the grain fields. Thoughts of the wolves always brought a cold shudder down one’s spine.

In my eight and ninth year I did not get any additional responsibilities. There still were no schools in the village. So in the summers I herded geese and in the winters I added to my knowledge of psalms.

When I became 10 years of age I was given another responsibility. Now I had to begin herding sheep. Looking after sheep had its own season. This was from the middle of March till the tenth of June. At this time the sheep were having their lambs and the lambs had to be trained near to and around home, to stay with the herd.

After the 10th of June all the sheep in the village are brought together into one or two large herds. Specially trained Tartar herdsmen are hired, who take the sheep into the hills and graze them on especially rented crown land. They keep them here till about the fifteenth of October, and sometimes even till November 10th. They then bring the herds back to the village and every owner starts taking care of his own little group. They are pastured in and around the village till the time of the first big snowfall. Those owners who have over a hundred sheep pasture them individually. Those that have 20 to 45 usually group together and either hire a person as herdsman or take turns in herding.

All sheep have their own kind of markings. Their markings are on their ears with either one or two cuts or piercing. Herding sheep was one of my favorite responsibilities. There were many groups of boys. During dry weather and no wind, the sheep grazed quietly and the boys would organize some games. In this way, the days would go by quickly. The games could be different each time. One of the games played the oftenest was called “Na v shapki” or beat the cap. This was done by each one throwing his herding stick as far as he could. Whichever stick landed the closest, the owner would have to take off his cap and throw it in the same direction. All the boys were then permitted to run and beat this cap with their sticks a certain amount of times and then again throw their sticks. This could go on all day, and it did happen that some of the less lucky boys would have their caps beaten into shreds and come home bareheaded. To hide his shame this boy would keep his herd out till it was completely dark and then bring them home.

Sketch of merino sheep kept by the Doukhobors by Russian painter, Vasily Vereshchagin during his visit to Elizavetpol in 1863.

There was only one particular drawback in herding sheep, and that was the rainy weather. There were times when it would rain several days in a row. When it was this wet the sheep would not graze quietly but kept running around uncomfortably. For these rainy days we boys had a special garment, which was called a “Bashlik.” It was a kind of large vest that had no sleeves but did have a special parka that pulled over your head from the back. These vests were made from sheep’s wool, tightly knit and well pounded. These vests did not let the rainwater through to your body, but if it rained all day these would become so soaked and heavy that your shoulders felt like you were carrying unwieldy weights of steel that seemed to get heavier every step you took. Carrying this amount of weight from morning until evening was quite a trauma for an eight or nine year old. It was that much harder to carry this weight because the soil beneath your feet was all muddy and sticky. Some evenings it was real torture to drag one foot after another on the last stretch home and when you finally got to bed your legs would continue to feel the pain.

There was another hardship herding sheep in the spring and that was their giving birth to lambs right in the distant field where you had led them. If this were one or two lambs, you would be obliged to carry them home. If it there were more than two new born lambs, you would go to the nearest hilltop and holler at the top of your voice until someone in or near the village would hear and they would come to help.

The most frequent trauma in herding sheep in the summer was this matter of getting soaking wet, which was sometimes followed by a cold wind. There were times when one remained shuddering throughout the whole day. One other fear that always seemed to hover over you when you came closer to the mountains with your herd was the fact that you knew that the mountains abounded with large gray wolves. During my time there was never an occurrence of a pack of wolves attacking a herd of sheep. In the two years that I herded sheep there was only one occurrence of my actually seeing a large gray wolf lurking nearby. There were other older boys that let out loud shouts and the wolf disappeared into the mountains. As for myself I stood petrified and motionless for about half an hour. I was not able to move my feet. It seemed that my whole bloodstream was frozen.

There was one other occurrence that happened to me with one of my older and rather feeble sheep. This happened at the beginning of the month of December when the first snow covered most of our low-level pasture ground. About one quarter of a “versta” from our home there was a gorge through which flowed a larger river named “Karsina Reka”. This gorge stretched for about eight “versti” and three of these “versti” was in the territory of land that was allocated to our village. This gorge had banks of different elevations. Some places the height was about three times the height of prairie grain elevators, other places this elevation was lower. Most places the distance from one side to the other was about 160 feet. The river was not too wide, and it ran through the centre. At one side of the river there was the general road that ran through along the gorge, and at the other side the distance between the river and its mountainous bank varied. In places it came right to the river’s edge and in other places there were ledges of various heights, which contained luscious green grass. From the warmth of the river water there was no snow on these ledges. At places these ledges led to level pieces of land, and at other places they led directly into steep and very rocky mountainous territory. On some of these ledges even horses or cattle could graze. On others only the sheep, being more agile, could safely graze. And so in the first part of the winter, I took my sheep to these ledges. I directed my sheep to a lower ledge, which had very luscious grass on it, but the descent to it was quite steep. Going down, the sheep managed very well, but having smoothed the path going down, when I was ready to chase them back up they found it very slippery and difficult. I had to help practically every sheep to scamper up and onto more level territory. It came to the last one, a heavy older sheep that wasn’t very agile anymore. She just could not make it to the upper ledge, and with all the strength that I could muster I just couldn’t get her out of this lower ledge. It was getting dark and I had to make a quick decision. If I left her loose, she could conceivably scamper out of here later and wander into the mountains where the wolves would most certainly get her. Each of us boys had our slings for throwing stones and so I decided to use that string. I tied all four feet of the sheep as firmly as I could and left her there lying at the foot of the ledge. In the morning we would come with my father and rescue her.

I came home with the rest of the herd later than usual. When my parents asked why I was so late, I explained what happened with that one old sheep. Sheep at that time were valued from two and a half to four dollars each. To me that seemed not such a great deal. However, my parents were so upset with this possible loss that they hardly slept all night. They prayed and grieved and mother even went out into the night to carry out some kind of an ancient witchcraft ritual. She took an axe and plunged it into the ground in the middle of the road, and if everyone went around it without knocking it down, this would denote that the sheep would be safe.

In the very early morning, before dawn, my father and I went to the place where I had left the sheep. The spot was empty but there were signs of struggling. Looking further around and below, we found the dead sheep in a clump of brush. She had kept beating and turning until she fell and rolled among rocks. The whole carcass was so beat up; we could not even salvage the sheep’s skin. The loss of this sheep was a subject of grief to my parents for a long time to come. When spring came my parents did not fail to mention to me – you see that sheep would now have brought us two lambs. It was so hard for me to understand why it was that my parents were so overly concerned with this loss of one old sheep. Was it just grief for a material loss, or was it fear of loss of self-sufficiency, and possible want in the future? It was probably the latter, because we scarcely ever had anything in abundance. However in my childhood immaturity I thought that how could it be that my parents seemed to value the sheep more than they cared about me and my anguish. They continually mentioned that the sheep would have brought two lambs, and that she always fed them so well, and that her wool was of the finest quality. It was long and soft and it produced the finest of yarn. All these rebukes about my fault for this loss kept on for a whole year. For a nine-year-old child these parental rebukes about the loss of a mere older sheep gave me severe mental depression. I kept being sore at heart. At the same time it was a very indelible lesson to me to always be more careful in the future.

When I was in a more self-pitying mood I would think to myself – of course my action in getting the sheep to this luscious green ledge was not done for any kind of self-gratification. I had done this out of pity and love for the sheep. I well knew that they would be half hungry treading over grounds that were already eaten bare, but here I was directing them to a ledge of luscious green grass where not a single foot had trod, – a place you just didn’t want to leave from. And then I would reason again – true enough the thoughts came to me that if I did not take advantage of this ledge today – others would discover it tomorrow! And then of course our elders were always praising the boys that were more alert than others, and I did have the thoughts that when the elders found out that I had discovered and used this ledge for my herd before anyone else – they would say, aha, that Popov youngster finds ledges that even older herders failed to discover! And so really – this was the thought that made me venture to that steep but luscious ledge. Instead of receiving this kind of praise, it turned out that in the end I received an unforgettable lesson to be more careful rather than being more daring. Had I brought home the sheep that evening even half hungry, their suffering would have been minimal. No one would have been able to assess exactly how much was in their stomachs. My parents would have been at peace, and there would have been no rebukes to me in the future. With those thoughts of getting praise and commendations, I probably would have become unnecessarily proud and to think too much of myself. This event of the loss of a sheep brought out in me deeper thoughts of the wisdom of being careful in all matters. Not the least of this was that it is wise to be careful in material matters insofar as one’s welfare sometimes depended on saving every hair that was needed to keep the family self-sustainable.

Traumatic events be they as they were, time did not stand still. On the 25th of February 1887 I became ten years old. In this winter, after the loss of the sheep, I was more studious than before and learned a lot of new psalms. As usual there were no other particular responsibilities for young boys in these winter months. There were only the few times of warmer sunny weather when the parents would allow me to take the sheep for a drink at the river, the same river where we always swam. With the spring break we still went digging for the buttercup peanuts, but even before their season was over there was an additional responsibility given to boys our age with the beginning of the spring planting of grain.

The sowing of grain was done by hand. We did not know any other way, except using a special sack with two straps over the shoulder. The sack was open in the front and from here the sower would take the seed into his hand and scatter it fan wise. About 65 to 80 pounds of seed is placed into the sack. The opening of the sack appears under the left arm and with the right arm the sower takes fistful of seed. He scatters the seed from left to right measured by his steps. When he puts his left foot forward he fills his fist with seed. When he steps forward with his right foot he scatters the seed. This is done by the elders in the family. This job was done by my father. He scattered the seed onto the ploughed land. After this it was essential to pull harrows over the land so that the scattered seed would be covered by soil in order that the birds would not pick it up and in order for the seed to properly germinate and sprout. This part of harrowing was done quite uniquely and probably different from other places in the world. The harrows themselves were constructed right at home. The spikes that were driven into the frame of the harrow were made of dried, firm wood. Each separate frame was made for one horse to be hitched to it and drag it. Each horse would have a young boy driver. If the family did not have a boy, girls also could be seated horseback on the horse. One track of the harrow was not enough to properly cover the seed, and so it was most usual to have four horses hitched to four separate frames that would follow one after the other. Only the front horse had to have a driver. The other horses were just tied to the back end of the harrow. And so in my eleventh year I was entrusted with being the driver of the front horse. The other three followed my trail one after the other. This job was not one that required any amount of physical labour, but it did have its own peculiar difficulties. The driver of the lead horse had the responsibility of traversing the field in a straight line. Keeping this line straight was important, because on the return trip the boy had to make sure that he wasn’t going over the same trail twice, as well as he had to be sure that he was leaving no spaces uncovered.

It was always the same problem. The horses usually walked slowly and carefully. At this time of the spring the sun was usually quite warm, and so the gentle swaying of the horse, and the warm sun never failed to make the young driver start dozing. In this half asleep mood it was usually quite hard to keep your line straight. This brought about the fact that you either wandered over territory that was already covered, or also you left some uncovered spaces. What would happen was that when an elder came to check on the work, he would have a double job of getting the line straight and also having no spaces left uncovered. This slowed down the whole process of completing the harrowing of a given field that was already sowed.

In all our villages the land was divided into long narrow plots seeded on a three-year rotation basis. All the families usually worked their allotted plots at the same time. At times there were up to 50 families in the fields at the same time. When the elders would complete the sowing of a given field they would gather together in group discussions awaiting the completion of harrowing. When they felt that the young boys should by now have completed the harrowing, they would go out to the fields to check matters out. Quite often there would be poorly harrowed plots, and the elder who found such a state, would have to then take over the lead horse and correct the poor job. Sometimes, just about the whole field would have to be done over. Where the job had been ably looked after by the young driver – his elders would already start moving to another plot, and the one who had dozed on his horse and made a mess would then get serious lectures from his elders. Some very irresponsible youngsters were sometimes even punished. Thus it would happen, when horses are unhitched for noon feeding, those boys who had everything in order would be jolly and would get together and have fun amongst themselves. The unfortunate ones whose fields were poorly done would get lectures from their elders, and all of the other boys would be ribbing them about how sloppy their work turned out. Not only would the boys receive lectures from their immediate elders, other elders would also pipe in. This sometimes happened to me. Other elders would have their say – admonishing me: “How come Alyoshka, you worked so sloppily that your father had to spend so much time correcting all your errors? At this rate, if you keep up such irresponsibility – no one will ever want you for a husband, and you will never get married”

At our age this seemed to be such a dire prediction. To add to this, if one received the elders’ lectures several times throughout the spring season, you would never hear the end of this from all of your peers and friends for the whole summer. Of course the age we were, and the warm spring sun and the swaying horse were all part of the natural make-up of things. It was really not such a major sin to doze – but it was really hard to take all the consequences of this dozing. And so this simple responsibility of driving the lead horse in harrowing the fields proved to be its own kind of a painful chore.

Seeding operations are completed by about April 20th. Land is not worked again until June 10th. This gives the working animals a rest of about one month and twenty days. During this rest time I had to lead the horses out for grazing in the pasture. In the free pasture land, the horses had to be hobbled on their front feet. If a horse was exceedingly frisky he would have to be hobbled on a third back leg as well. When the horses would be all hobbled they would be allowed to graze on their own. This was the job that every boy of the village was occupied with. The pasture was common to all the villagers and so all of us boys would get together for games throughout the whole day – as the horses could not wander away too far while they were hobbled. Some of the boys who weren’t too enthusiastic to play –would catch up on their sleep that they lost in the spring. The games we played were simple. One was called “V Tsoorki” and another was called “V Doochki”. Rarely did we play ball, and sometimes the younger boys played riding horses near the river and then we would go swimming. Some of us would take this opportunity to catch fish. Pasturing horses during the rainy season was not as troublesome as with pasturing sheep. Horses did not really get upset with the rain. They either continued grazing – or would just stand quietly in one place. As for us children, we would also stay upright quietly or rest on some jutting stone outcrop, which were plentiful in our area. The only problem with horse pasturing during rainy weather was the form of hobble that was used. If the hobble was made of leather, the rain did not affect it, but if the hobble was made of rope – it would tighten when wet, and it was very difficult to get it undone when the horses would have to be herded home. Sometimes a boy would have to take his horses home all the long way from the pasture while they remained hobbled. This was a slow process and such a boy would come home a lot later.

Picture of Alexey as a young man with unidentified woman in exile in Siberia, c. 1903.

Some of the times the horses would not be herded home every night. At such times all of the horses would be brought together in a large herd where designated elders would watch over them all of the night. The elders of 15 to 30 men, who would divide into groups of four taking several shifts through each night. There were also times when the younger children would take designated horses to the village homes for work that was needed to be done in the gardens or other work within the village structure. When all of the village work would be finished, then all the horses would be divided into two or three large herds watched over by two men to each herd in the daytime and by one additional man coming in from the villages for night time watching. This general overall system continued up to June 10th.

At this time the horses would all be brought back to each individual household for preparing the land that was left as summer fallow land, that is, the land that is left for resting for one year. The plowing of these fields had its own particular routine. To each plow there were hitched from six to eight pairs of horses. The front pair had a boy rider in the ages of from ten to thirteen. Every other pair also had a rider. It was the work of these riders to guide his own pair of horses, and also see that the pair ahead of you was pulling its share. Each boy thus had to look after four horses. This meant that in the morning he would have to put on the harness onto the horses, bring them and hitch them into their proper places and then keep them moving in their proper direction following the furrow that was made. At the proper noontime, the horses would have to be unhitched, unharnessed and allowed to graze in a special field of grass left nearby. They would also have to be taken down to the river for their drink of water. All this would have to be repeated in the evening. The land that was being plowed had been already grazed and well trampled by the village cattle. The plots where the horses had to be allowed to graze were nearby. None of the stock were allowed to graze here since the year before and therefore the grass was lush and plentiful for the working teams of horses.

As I became a ten-year-old boy, it was my job to look after 4 horses. Keep them harnessed when needed, unharnessed and fed at given times, and led to water as designated. Getting the horses to water was a chore in itself, as the fields for plowing were sometimes two to three “Versti” from the river. This entire fallow plowing time proved to be exceedingly hard and trying for me as a ten year old. This was especially hard during the night routine. At 8 o’clock in the evening you had to bring the horses to the place where they were to graze, hobble them and then lie down to get some much-needed sleep. The total of your clothing for the night would be one additional light, longer length semi-raincoat. At 12 o’clock midnight you had to get up and unhobble the horses and take them for their drink at the river. You had to bring them back, hobble them again, and then again lie down to sleep. At 5o’clock in the morning you had to get up, bring in the horses, unhobble them and lead them to the workplace. During the times when it remained dry, this job, although quite hard, was still bearable. However, when the rain kept coming all night it became a real nightmare. At times you would wake up and find yourself lying in a puddle of water – as in the night it was not always easy to spot a higher piece of ground for taking your nap. This torturous spring responsibility continued each year for a period of from 28 to 34 days.

The length of time depended on whether there was more or less fallow land, and also on whether there was more or less of a rainy spell. In some years the weather was cool, and not too much rain. In other years you had spells of intense heat and also many days of wet weather. Of course when it became obvious that conditions were too extreme and hard for the young boys – there was always the fact that there was one elder, the plowman for every group of three or four boys. It was his responsibility to see that the boys were reasonably looked after. This elder was always free to catch up on his sleep during the noon break, which lasted for three hours. But during the nighttime he also took four horses and went with the young boys when they took the horses for their grazing period. He always had the boys sleeping near him and would wake them when they had to take the horses for their drink at the river, and also when they had to take them in the morning to the field which was being plowed. In the nighttime he would help the boys get on their horses to ride to the river, and on the way there would often holler to the boys by name – in case one or another of them would begin to doze while riding and perhaps allow the horse to veer away from the others and head for home instead of the river.

During the time of fallow plowing all the boys remained under the rule and instructions of the one elder designated for their group. He was the one that told them how to look after all the harness gear, how to handle the horses, when to take the breaks and so on. This elder was given the authority to discipline any boy in his group. If need be, he had the right to even use the same whip, that was used on the horses, for punishing a disobedient or irresponsible boy. There was one time that I, when I was 12 years old received a snap of the whip for being too lippy. Our elder was a distant relative by the name of Jacob Voykin. He gave me a sharp snap, that made my pants wet. The wet was not from blood! This Jacob Voykin was the elder in our group, which was made up from several families. Because you needed 12 to 16 horses for each plow, and some families did not have that many horses, it was the custom to get several families together who then shared one plow. The plows were of heavy wood construction. The only steel on the plow was the share and the cutting disc that went ahead of it. There was only one share to the plow and it threw a furrow of about 14 inches. The soil was quite heavy and it required from 12 to 16 horses to pull it fast enough to throw a proper furrow. It was with this one plow that all the land had to be tilled to supply several families with a living. Sometimes the total of these families would be twenty or more souls. All the sustenance of these 20 souls would have to be derived from the produce of their allotted plot of land. Where there were this many souls to their allotted plot, most of the time they barely had enough produce to keep themselves and their stock for the ensuing year. Others, whose families had not grown since the past allotment was made, but who had the horsepower, were fortunate enough to have some produce for sale. Some of these more fortunate families were able to rent land from the nearby peasant Tartars and always had some produce for sale. Renting land was very favorable here as after three years of giving shares to the owner – the lessee could claim ownership of the land.

I spent four years of my life doing the routines that I explained, from the age of 10 to 14 years of age, to help the family till the land for their sustenance. Despite the fact that these years remain in my memory as very trying and hard times during this growing period up of my life, I do not remember getting sick at any time in spite of the many times of being wet, cold and tired. My physical health remained at a good level and I have no bad memories of this particular period of my life.

Afterword

   Cover of Alexey Ivanovich Popov’s “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile”.

Alexey Ivanovich Popov lived with his parents in Spasovka, Kars until the age of 21, when he received his call-up for conscript service in the Russian army. He refused to perform military training, as the taking of human life ran contrary to his Doukhobor faith and beliefs. For this, in 1898, he, together with other young Doukhobor conscripts, was exiled to Yakutsk Siberia for a term of 18 years. In 1905 a Manifesto of Amnesty was issued by Russian Emperor Nikolai II, thus granting the Doukhobor exiles in Siberia their freedom. Soon thereafter, Alexey and his new bride Katerina immigrated to Canada to join their Doukhobor brethren who had arrived some six years earlier. Alexey lived for a time in the Doukhobor Community, but soon became an Independent Doukhobor, taking out a homestead at Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, where he lived and farmed until his death on August 14, 1955.

To order copies of Alexey’s fascinating life story, “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” along with various other informative Doukhobor publications written by his son, Eli A. Popoff, contact: The Birches Publishing, Box 730, Grand Forks, British Columbia, V0H 1H0, Tel: (250) 442-5397, email: birchespublishing@shaw.ca.

Porto Rico

In 1929, nine year old Elizabeth P. Maloff belonged to a family of Independent Doukhobors living in Thrums, British Columbia.  They were sympathetic to the views of the Svobodniki (“Freedomite” or “Sons of Freedom”) Doukhobors who lived in a squatter camp on the edge of their settlement. When her family joined one of their mass protests against militarism and capitalism, they were swept up in a series of sensational events that would forever change their lives.  They marched to South Slocan, where a number of protestors were arrested for indecent exposure and sentenced to Oakalla prison. The rest marched on to Nelson, where they set up a makeshift camp on the city outskirts. When the protestors refused police orders to disperse, the leaders, including Elizabeth’s father, were arrested for obstruction of justice and sentenced to Oakalla prison. The remaining protestors, including Elizabeth, her mother and siblings, were held, without arrest, in Nelson provincial prison, then transported to Porto Rico, an isolated, abandoned, barely habitable logging camp, where they were forcibly confined, without trial, until the following year. Eighty years later, Elizabeth shared these events with her family for the first time. Her story, recorded by her daughter Vera, recounts the reasons for the protests, now blurred by the passage of time, and the little-known, largely forgotten internment at Porto Rico. Reproduced by permission of the author. Foreword and Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

It all started in 1929 in Thrums where I live. The old Svobodniki Doukhobors lived here behind George Popoff’s place in a community against the mountain. That summer, my six year old brother and I, then nine, sat on our front porch and watched as the Svobodniki walked along the road in Thrums with banners declaring “Land should not be bought or sold. Land belongs to God alone.” “People must not pay taxes for land. Taxes support war.” I could feel their energy and fervour. They were inspired and joyous to be speaking out about their beliefs. There was such a commotion all along the road. My parents sympathized and didn’t pay their taxes either, and so our land was taken away. Like the Svobodniki, my parents were also against an education that promoted militarism and capitalism.

Freedomite camp on the outskirts of Nelson, British Columbia to protest the arrest and jailing of 112 of their brethren for indecent exposure, September 1929.  Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

To begin with I really wanted to go to school. The school was right here, almost in our front yard and everyone walked by on their way to school. All my playmates went and I dreamt of going to school, I was so enthusiastic, but my parents said that school taught about war. The students had to sing for the king and queen, and they said that is why we had all these wars. So mother explained, “Leeza, you can learn with your brother at home. I’ll teach you. We have some school books with lots of stories. ” I started to read and write, and I still remember that funny story, The Little Red Hen, about the chicken that did all the work and there was no help from anybody. Mother said that the chicken was like her. She was trying to wake us up so we would help her more. Mom was a good teacher. She was strict with us. Dad said that mom would make a very good nurse or a teacher, but he didn’t have those capabilities. But then we had so many visitors. People came to ask Dad for help writing letters and making signs. The old Svobodniki said that all books needed to be burnt because they were not from God but written by man. Dad loved books and had quite a collection, so he was always afraid, especially when Nastya Zarubina came around, that they would burn his books. When those Svobodniki came around, dad didn’t have the heart to send them away, but first he made sure he hid all the books. So it didn’t quite turn out; it was hard to learn with so much disturbance all the time. I had to understand these things.

You know, we had just started to live a little better. Dad worked in the Okanagan in the spring and made a little money. Mother would write letters to dad, a quick letter so that dad would feel better. She would say that she was managing and all the children were okay. I would run to the post office. Charlie Johnson owned the Thrums store and post office and he would already be carrying mail to the train station. He said, “You run quickly and get a stamp from the post office and then catch up to me. You are a fast runner.” His wife would sell me the stamp – three cents for a stamp, imagine all that trouble just for three cents, and then I would run after Mr. Johnson. Charlie Johnson was a returned soldier from World War I. His feet were damaged in the war so he limped quite badly. He said that he could have bought all the land in Thrums for taxes when people weren’t paying, but he didn’t because he understood what the rallies and protests were about. He supported them and gave people credit when they didn’t have any money for groceries. Each person paid him back, he said.

Everyone gathered to protest on the old road in South Slocan. There was a prophecy that a big war was coming and there was a saying, “You have to feed the dogs before you go hunting, so that they will follow you.” People believed that this meant they had to let the government know that Doukhobours would not participate in any war effort – they wouldn’t pay taxes that go toward war or teach their children about patriotism and fighting for one’s country. My family was there – my mom, dad, grandfather, grandmother, my brother Pete, and the twins, Luba and John, who were just a year old. I was nine years old. There were many other families too. Right away, though, the police came with trucks and busses and arrested many men and women, including dad and grandfather. We were left with mom and there were other kids with their moms. We didn’t know what to do. We were scared.

Then a strong group of Doukhobor supporters joined us. A friend of mine, Varyusha came. Her family had driven from Grand Forks and stayed in our house in Thrums on their way. It was like that then, friends would drop in, eat, stay overnight without question. Everyone was like family. When they arrived in South Slocan there was such jubilation. We had support and were energized. Mom was too, she was full of inspiration. She said we were doing the right thing, supporting all those taken away to prison. We started on a march, a pokhod [“campaign”] to Nelson to protest the jailing. On the way, we stayed overnight in a barn in Bonnington. I was so tired that I didn’t even notice where I slept. When I woke up I saw that I had been sleeping on rocks.

We got to Nelson the next day. I wanted to see my dad and grandfather, but the police herded us toward the zhuzhlitsa, a slag heap from the coal burning trains. Dad, grandfather and all those people arrested were sent to jail in Oakalla. We camped for three weeks next to that zhuzhlitsa. People brought food and the men set up tents for sleeping though many slept outside. For cooking, there was a big pot over a fire. The cook, Pavel Skripnik was a friend of Dad’s. He was from the Ukraine and educated as a priest, but he supported the Doukhobor cause. He was tall and thin, and so kind and caring. We would line up with our bowls and he would ladle some soup into them. Mother was respected and Paranya Voykin and Mr. Pereverzoff helped with the twins. Mr. Pereverzoff always carried Luba – she barely walked yet. I also felt responsible for my brothers and sister and was always keeping an eye out for them. There was no place to get clean and it was so dusty, but we children didn’t care about that; we ran around and played together. There were a lot of friends. People would come and go, but we stayed because dad and grandfather were in jail.

Then the police rounded us up and the women and all of us children were moved into the Salvation Army building. We were scared, remembering what happened to grandfather and dad. The people there gave us a little soup and we all slept together huddled on the floor. After about four days, police took us to Porto Rico, a logging camp up in the mountains close to Ymir. The men were there already. It’s funny I don’t remember how we got there. When you try to forget something, not all the memories come back right away.

The Maloff family at Porto Rico, October 1929.  (l-r) Elizabeth, John, Lusha, Luba and Peter. Photo courtesy Vera Malloff. 

When we first got to Porto Rico, I was wondering how we could live there. Porto Rico had been a large sawmill owned by the Doukhobors, but it was abandoned when the trees were all cut down. There was a big old barn, kitchen area and some bunk houses, but many of the buildings were starting to fall down and there were no doors or windows on them. That first night everyone slept together on the floor of what I think had been the eating area of that camp. The men had a lot of work to do so we could live there. Porto Rico was in a rainy, snowy area. It got very cold in the winter.

We were lucky. George Nazaroff prepared a room in the bunk house for his family – made it a little more weather proof, found fire wood, built bunk beds; but he gave the space to mom because he respected our dad a lot and since dad wasn’t there for us, he helped us out. There was a pot belly stove in our room – the police brought us some stoves. My brother Pete and I slept together on one bunk, just on the boards, and mom with the babies on another, so they would keep warmer, but we still woke up to frost on our blankets. The men did the cooking and everyone shared. Mom would go to the kitchen and bring back some soup for us. But there wasn’t much.

George Nazaroff organized a school. Though he wasn’t trained to teach, he became the teacher. And he was good. Every morning, he would sit everyone down and make sure everyone would be very quiet and listen. There were lots of children, but he controlled everyone and made sure we were peaceful. He was a peaceful guy himself and it didn’t matter how disturbed everyone was, he was calm. We didn’t have books, paper or pencils, so we learned our prayers and sang psalms and songs. Our homework was to memorize a prayer for the next day.

I remember Mr. Nazaroff and his family well. He was a heavier man and his wife was a small, thin woman. His daughter, Grace – Hrunya, was two years older than me, but her hair was still in braids like mine, with hair a little darker than my blond. Later we would talk about what happened and she reminded me how their dad helped us out and gave us their room. Sam – Syomka was the same age as me and boy, was he rambunctious and he liked to tease. We each had a different prayer or song to remember and he would often copy me and memorize what I was supposed to memorize, just for a trick. Mary, the youngest was a baby.

We came to Porto Rico at the end of September and at first it was fairly warm. We played tag and the older boys built a raft that they used to cross the creek, pushing it back and forth with long poles. Us girls stood on the bank and watched. It seemed like so much fun. Sometimes they invited us to stand on the raft and take a trip across the creek. I only got a chance to do that once. I had to help mom with the twins. We had a picture taken there. Mom got all of us organized and sitting down on a bench. The photographer, Mike Voykin was just learning how to use the camera, so we would be sitting there and he would say, “Just a minute, I have to fix something.” It was hard to keep the twins still, but finally he took the picture.

At first we were allowed visitors. Friends and relatives came all the way from Grand Forks. They brought us food and we greeted them with such joy. Then the police told us that we couldn’t have any more company. They had set up a blockade on the road to the camp with policemen stopping everybody. However, my Uncle Nick got through somehow. He asked everyone he knew in Ootishenia to give food, blankets, clothing or he said that “they will all perish.” So he filled his truck up with a huge load and came. Everyone was surprised he got through the police blockade. He teased us “Here you are you devils. Eat or you will perish like rats.” He was kind hearted, but liked to tease. He had to leave quickly though or he wouldn’t be able to get back out. I think that grandmother left with him, because after he left, she was gone too.

And then the snow came. There was so much snow it almost piled up to the roofs. The nights were so cold and long. Mom would go to the kitchen and bring us some food and we ate huddled together. Maybe people got together in the evenings, I don’t know, we stayed in our room. Luba and John were still young so we couldn’t leave them alone.

We got through that winter, and then people began to be allowed to leave. My mother’s brother, John Hoodicoff came to pick us up and we came home. There was still a lot of snow in Porto Rico when we left, but in Thrums it was early spring. It was already planting time. Mom said we had to plant a garden so that we would have food. Dad came home later in that spring.

I heard that they found three graves by the logging camp and some people know who died, but I was a child, nine years old and I don’t remember that. What happened to me is that I always tried to block that life out, but gradually it is coming back. The main thing is that I pulled through everything.

I often asked Dad why we had to have such a hard life, why he had to be so outspoken all the time and why he had go to jail. As a child, he told me that we could have had an easier life, but he spoke out against war so there wouldn’t be any cripples, no orphans, so that children would have their dads, that there must be a better way. But there was a price to pay.

………………….

This is my mother’s story. My mother, Elizabeth, is now in her nineties. The family did not know about her Porto Rico internment until recently when we found pictures of the men, women and children camped in Nelson and she began to tell us what happened when she was nine years old. In the eighty years that have passed, the reasons for the protests of the time have become blurred and the internment in the isolated, barely habitable logging camp, Porto Rico is something that few remember and many would rather forget.

Little is known about the internment of Doukhobor men, women and children in Porto Rico, so wishing to learn more I investigated the local newspapers of the time. The headline of a local newspaper, Rossland Miner of September 5, 1929 read “DOUKHOBORS JAILED WHEN TAKE TO NUDE [sic]” The reporter gave a description of arrests made August 30 of Doukhobors in South Slocan. The situation began with the police demanding the Doukhobors deliver four men who had previously “paraded nude” along the highway in South Slocan, but quickly became a struggle as the arrests were made of one hundred twenty eight Doukhobor men and women. The police officers were previously prepared.

Starting from Nelson in cars and busses of all descriptions commandeered for the purpose, the 60 special constables under the leadership of six provincial police officers drove quickly out to a point around a bend in the road about 100 yards from the South Slocan tennis courts where the fanatics were encamped. There they stopped while Inspector Cruikshank and other officers went on ahead to make the arrest of the four Doukhobors charged with indecent exposure. Sergeant Gammon explained (to the special police force) that they were required to stop any attempt made by the fanatics to prevent the arrest of their fellows and to arrest any of the Doukhobors who were stripped or started to strip. They were to arm themselves with switches and use them on any stripped members of the sect or those who showed fight….

Plying their switches viciously and dragging screaming Doukhoburs along the ground, the police officers went to work, to bring the crowd over to waiting busses, cars and trucks….

After about an hour all the Doukhobors were herded over to the trucks and nobody was left on the former camping site but some of the younger women most of whom did not disrobe, with the children.”

Subsequently the September 12, 1929 Rossland Miner headlines were:

“OKALLA [sic] JAIL TO BE FILLED WITH DOUKS. One Hundred and four were given six months for indecent exposure.” The protesters were tried five at a time with the judge saying, ‘I feel that it is time you people had a lesson.’ Speaking through an interpreter, he continued,’ Tell them they have had a fair trial….They will receive the full term imposed by the act for this offense, six months with hard labour.’….When one man protested that he was not satisfied with the trial, the magistrate commented ‘I feel it is a waste of time to explain matters to you.’ ”

It is known that some of the Svobodniki Doukhobor sect used nudity to attract attention to their message, declaring “If you will take everything from us, and do not let us live by our beliefs, then take our clothes also. We will stand before you naked in the world, but solid in our values.” Their message was often lost when the nudity was sensationalized and it became a way to incarcerate many, and to silence the protests. The effect of this nudity and subsequent imprisonment traumatized not only the children, men and women who survived Porto Rico , and the prisoners, who spent that winter in the infamous Oakalla jail doing time with hard labour, and but also suppressed the voices of a generation of Doukhobors like my mother or conversely helped create a radical movement of Svobodniki Doukhobors that over the next few years proceeded to get more extreme in their reactions to government repression.

Freedomite camp on the outskirts of Nelson, British Columbia, September 1929. Note the zhuzhlitsa (slag pile) in the background. Photo courtesy Vera Maloff.

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Afterword

Few published accounts exist of the events which led to the arrest and imprisonment of 120 Svobodniki (“Freedomite” or “Sons of Freedom”) Doukhobors at Oakalla Prison and the internment of 236 of their brethren at Porto Rico in 1929. The following is a brief summary of those events, compiled from newspaper and other archival sources.

In the late 1920’s, a number ofFreedomitefamilies, evicted from their homes in Brilliant, Glade, and elsewhere in the Kootenays by the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, established a squatter camp on the edge of Thrums, an Independent Doukhobor settlement. On August 29, 1929, 356 of them staged a march to protest the recent jailing of Paul Vatkin for what they considered to be false arrest on charges of arson and, at the same time, took the opportunity to speak out against public education that promoted militarism and capitalism. They were joined by a number of Independent Doukhobors sympathetic to their cause.

When the protesters reached South Slocan, they were confronted by six provincial police officers and 60 special constables, who arrived there from Nelson to make the arrest of four of their brethren charged with indecent exposure. In the disruption that followed, a number of the protesters publicly disrobed. The police arrested 112 protesters and transported them by truck to the provincial prison in Nelson. On September 7, 1929, 104 of the adults were convicted of indecent exposure and sentenced to six months imprisonment. On September 11, 1929, they boarded a special train which transported them to Essondale near New Westminster, from which they were taken by bus to Oakalla Prison to serve their sentences. Eight children arrested with their parents were, because of being under age, committed to the care of the Superintendent of Neglected Children and placed in institutional shelters in Vancouver.

In the meantime, the remaining 244 Freedomiteswho had not been arrested at South Slocan marched on to Nelson to protest the jailing of their brethren. When they arrived there on August 30, 1929, they were escorted by provincial police to the railway tracks on the southern outskirts of the city, where they established a makeshift tent camp near a slag heap (zhuzhlitsa) from the coal burning trains. They remained there for three weeks.

On September 21, 1929, provincial police arrived at the Zhuzhlitsa camp and ordered the Freedomitesto move. They refused to do so, claiming that they had no homes to go to. A physical clash occurred when eight of the Freedomite leaders, whom the police first took in hand, resisted arrest. After these men were subdued and arrested, they were taken to the provincial prison in Nelson; then on September 26, 1929, they were convicted of obstruction of justice and sentenced to hard labour at Oakalla Prison.  The remaining 200 Freedomite adults were confined, without arrest, in the provincial prison while 36 of their children were taken to the Salvation Army barracks; then on September 25, 1929, all 236 were transported by provincial police in busses and trucks to Porto Rico.

Porto Rico was a former Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood lumber camp situated some 15 miles south of Nelson. It had been abandoned in 1926 after it had been logged out and a forest fire destroyed the remaining timber stands. Following the mass arrests and confinements in Nelson, Doukhobor leader Peter Petrovich Verigin “offered” the camp to provincial authorities as a permanent habitat for the landless Freedomites. Provincial authorities seized the opportunity to forcibly confine the large group of radicals at the camp, without trial. Hence, it became an internment camp.

When the Freedomites arrived at the camp, they picked out living quarters from among the camp buildings, which consisted of a large sawmill, a big barn, kitchen area and several bunk houses. The majority of the buildings were windowless and doorless, and the men immediately set to work to repair their future homes to protect them against the ongoing winter, and to build basic furniture. The Freedomites eventually settled into life at the isolated, barely habitable camp.  The men did the cooking and cutting lumber for firewood, while the women cleaned and looked after the children. Everything was shared.  The provincial government supplied pot bellied stoves, along with some basic rations; however, there was a general shortage of food and supplies. These privations were alleviated, at least in part, by the supply of food, blankets and clothing by Independent and Community Doukhobors sympathetic to their plight. The provincial police maintained a blockade at the entrance to control access to and from the camp.

Despite the harsh conditions, hundreds of radical Doukhobors from Saskatchewan, Alberta and the United States voluntarily drifted into the camp, in a show of solidarity with the internees, so that by November 24, 1929, the number of Freedomites at Porto Rico had swelled to 537 persons. 

The following year, on June 27, 1930, the Freedomites forcibly confined at Porto Rico were released from the camp and permitted to make their way, under police escort, through Nelson, back to their former homes in Thrums, Brilliant, Glade and elsewhere. However, 117 of the Freedomites who voluntarily arrived at Porto Rico remained there until May 3, 1932, when they finally abandoned the camp to stage a protest march in Nelson.

Elizabeth P. Maloff’s autobiographical story, as recorded by her daughter Vera, recalls these events from the perspective of a nine-year old Doukhobor girl. Her father, Peter N. Maloff, was a prominent Independent Doukhobor (and later a historian and self-styled philosopher of the movement) who sympathized with the Freedomite stance on public education and taxes. Inspired by their energy and fervour, the Maloff family joined one of the Freedomite protests against militarism and capitalism in 1929. When they were met by police at South Slocan, Elizabeth’s grandfather was one of the protestors arrested for indecent exposure and sentenced to Oakalla prison. When the rest of the family marched to Nelson and encamped there, her father was one of the leaders arrested for obstruction of justice and sentenced to Oakalla prison. Elizabeth, her mother, grandmother, and three young siblings, along with 236 others, were first incarcerated, without arrest, in Nelson provincial prison, then interned, without trial, at Porto Rico. Her narrative is one of the few first-person accounts which exists about this obscure and little-known chapter of Doukhobor history, making it a valuable addition to our knowledge of the period.

The story of Porto Rico is also important from a broader Canadian perspective. If “internment” is defined as the confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without arrest or trial, for preventative or political reasons (as opposed to “imprisonment” which is confinement as punishment for a crime), then there can be little dispute that the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors at Porto Rico, British Columbia in 1929 were subjected to interment at the hands of the Canadian state. Canadian history is replete with examples of internment: during the First and Second World Wars, internment camps were established on Canadian soil for enemy prisons of war, as well as for civilian enemy aliens, including Austro-Hungarian immigrants in 1916-1918, Italian nationals in 1940-1945, Japanese nationals in 1942-1945, and even Canadian citizens and Jewish citizens of England considered to be ‘fascist’ or ‘disloyal’. What is remarkable, however, is that virtually every Canadian example of internment took place during wartime. The story of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors at Porto Rico, in sharp contrast, is one of the only occurrences of civilian internment during peacetime in modern Canadian history.

For a comprehensive listing of Freedomite Doukhobors arrested and incarcerated as a result of the 1929 protest march, see: Index of Sons of Freedom Inmates at Oakalla Prison Farm, Burnaby by Steve Lapshinoff. For an inventory of Freedomites forcibly interned (along with those voluntarily encamped) at Porto Rico in 1929-1930, see: Index of Sons of Freedom Camped at Porto Rico by Steve Lapshinoff. For a list of Freedomite burials at Porto Rico see: Porto Rico Doukhobor Cemetery by Lawrna Myers and Nick Kootnikoff.

JJK

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On January 18, 2013, Vera Maloff received a First Place award in the category of Adult Creative Non-Fiction for her story, Porto Rico at the 2012 Kootenay Literary Competition held at Nelson, British Columbia. The competition is hosted by the Kootenay Writers Society, a non-profit society dedicated to promoting, supporting and encouraging all writers in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Vera’s work was published in the KLC anthology, Revolution.