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.
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.
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.
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.
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.