The Antifaeff Family –  Immigration to Canada

by Ruby M. Nemanishen

In 1899, when over 7,500 Doukhobors left the Caucasus for Canada, the family of Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev remained behind in their ancestral village of Bashkichet.  Unlike his brothers, who accompanied the movement to Canada, Grigory had no desire or intention to begin life anew in a strange and unknown land.  Little did he expect that within a year, unforeseen events would catapult the family on a long and harrowing journey to the domes and minarets of Constantinople, Turkey, through Budapest, Hungary and Paris, France aboard the Orient Express, to the narrow, bustling streets of London, England, before settling on the Canadian Prairies near Langham, Saskatchewan.  Reproduced by permission from “The Antifaev – Antifave – Antifay Family in Canada, The First 100 Years, 1902-2002” by Ruby M. Nemanishen, this excerpt recounts the sensational story of one Doukhobor family’s immigration to Canada.

Background to Immigration

The Doukhobors had already moved several times before their emigration to Canada.  The Tsarist government of Russia kept driving them to more remote regions because of their pacifist beliefs and consequent refusal to perform military service.  In the mid-nineteenth century, they located in the Transcaucasian region and while there, they expressed their opposition to warfare by burning their weapons.  That date, June 29, 1895, is known as Peters Day.

Prior to emigration, the Antyufeevs lived in the village of Bashkichet situated in the Borchalinsky district of Tiflis province, Russia (now the town of Dmanisi, Georgia) near the Black Sea.

Grigory Antyufeev and family, c. 1890

The Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev family did not come as part of the mass migration of Doukhobors from Russia in 1899, as they were not followers of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin.  However, Grigory’s brothers Nikolai, Mikhailo and Alexei belonged to the so-called “Large Party” and their families were on the first ocean freighter of Doukhobors, the SS Lake Huron, arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia on January 23, 1899.  They all settled in the Pelly and Arran districts of Saskatchewan.  Shortly after arriving in Canada, Nikolai left for California and started a butcher shop, selling a variety of meats which grew into a huge packing plant.  A sister Agafia Vereshchagin remained in Russia after her husband was killed by thieving Armenians, however, her orphaned son Vasily Vereshchagin immigrated to Canada years later.

In Russia, the Antyufeevs were a wealthy family, owning many horses and cattle.  They had their own flour mill and a large blacksmith shop…also servants to look after the land.  Living conditions were wonderful in this southern region of Georgia.  The weather was mild and the soil fertile and productive…the fruit trees thrived and life was good.

An Unexpected Journey

In 1900, the family of Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev found it necessary to flee in the middle of the night, leaving everything behind, when a friend warned them that the police were coming in the morning to draft his sons for military service.  However, they managed to take gold and guns with them.  They fled along the Black Sea and eventually made their way to Turkey. 

While there, son Mikhailo contracted malaria fever and was incoherent and irrational for a month before a Turkish doctor was called upon.  The prescribed existing treatment involved shaving his head and administering a kind of powder (quinine).  In addition, sliced lemons were placed on his shaved head and wrapped in cloths, and before long he rallied and began to talk.

After the family crossed the border into Turkey they remained there for a year or more, unable to obtain passports because they were Russians.  Finally, Grigory bribed a friend who obtained Turkish passports for them.  They finally boarded the Oriental Express passenger train from Constantinople Italy…to Paris, France and then on to London, England where they arrived three days prior to Christmas.  Here they enjoyed their first Christmas dinner away from their homeland.  It was 1901.  Grigory continued to walk the streets of London still dressed like a Turk, believing he had to be “their” citizen so that he would be accepted. 

Anxiously, the family boarded a beautiful ship, the SS Ionian in Liverpool on December 26, 1901 and sailed to Canada, arriving in St. John’s, New Brunswick at 9:00 a.m. on January 5, 1902.  There was a total of 106 passengers including 10 crew members.  According to Grigory’s daughter Anna, food was plentiful and scrumptious…they realized they must have sailed first class!  The family – eleven in total – sailed on the SS Ionian as follows:

Grigory 40
Maria 40
Mikhailo 17
Petro 16
Anna 15
Feodor 10
Vasily 7
Ivan 4
Pelagea 4
Elizaveta 2

The final leg of their journey took them by train to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  En route to Saskatchewan, their two little girls Pelagea and Elizaveta died of diphtheria within a day of each other.

The New Settlers

In 1903, Grigory, Maria and family came to a homestead in Raspberry Creek in the Arlee, Saskatchewan district as an independent group.  Because they brought their guns with them, their Doukhobor neighbours did not associate with the new settlers.  Nevertheless, the Antyufeevs began the task of building their large two-storey house complete with balcony, with Roman-numeralled logs.  However, within several years the family discovered they were too isolated.  They dismantled the home and floated the logs on beams downstream on the north Saskatchewan river.  The house was rebuilt where it now stands on SE 1/4 of 8-39-9-W3 in the Henrietta district of Langham, Saskatchewan, located one and a half miles north from the Doukhobor village site of Pokrovka.

Maria Antyufeev

Grigory bought this quarter of land from the Hudson Bay Company in 1905 and some years later Grigory, Maria and family lived temporarily in the Pokrovka village homes while re-assembling took place.  To this date, several log buildings stand in the farmyard, including portions of the house.  The land is presently owned by the Kasahoff family.  This house could be seen for miles around…and became the community landmark and “meeting place”.  It was also photographed by many and caught the attention of many artists.

George William Antifaeff (as Grigory was now known) was a solidly built individual of average height, broad-shouldered and was said to be of rather strict character…inclined to be a big spender, although a very good businessman.  George and his sons all had a penchant for mechanics and on one occasion they attempted to build an airplane on the home place.  It had wings, a makeshift motor and flapped like a bird…but when George tested it off the top of the barn the only result was an injured shoulder.  It was said that Mary was a very strong-headed person and did not have a close relationship with George’s two sons, Mike and Peter and their family.  After John G. Antifaeff married, Mary and George moved to live in son Fred’s house.  When George passed away, Mary continued living here for a short time, then spent her remaining years with Anne Popoff.

Antifaeff homestead, Langham district, Saskatchewan

The Antifaeffs became well respected in the Doukhobor community and all lived within a six mile radius of each other. Everyone shared in the hardships of pioneer life…building homes, breaking the soil and farming it with horses. There wasn’t a great deal of time for socializing after the farm chores were done.  Spare time involved the entire families in berry picking, preserving and picnics.  The winters would find the women knitting warm clothes from raw wool and sewing.  However, the children would assemble at a centralized location (ball diamond) to play ball or swim in the nearby creek and skate in the winter.  The arrival of the Model T Ford in the late 1920’s provided more freedom to visit and socialize with relatives in surrounding areas.  On occasional Sundays families would gather for prayer service (sobrania) at the local school…